§ Captain Prescott (Darwen)
I wish, if I may, to raise a certain question with regard to Royal Air Force pay and allowances. It is to one aspect in particular to which I wish to draw the attention of the House, and it is a matter which has caused great dissatisfaction and misunderstanding in the Royal Air Force. While I am very glad to see my right hon. and gallant Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Balfour) here, and while I know he will fully appreciate and follow any arguments that are produced to the House on this matter, I cannot help regretting that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air is not here, because this matter has received such great publicity and has caused such dissatisfaction, that possibly words from him would have reverberated perhaps a little further than those of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State.
The House will be fully aware that in April of this year, a White Paper was brought out by the Government with regard to pay and allowances, not only in the Royal Air Force but in the Army and the Navy, and that White Paper was produced as a result of certain pressure from this House. It received considerable publicity in the Press, by radio, and by other means, and indeed it was generally referred to as the White Paper on Increased Pay and Allowances. But in some respects no increase whatsoever was given. Indeed, the White Paper resulted, in certain cases, in a decrease of net pay to certain men, in particular in the Royal Air Force. Therefore it is quite understandable that when the men realised the position they were disconcerted and, indeed, amazed that this decision should have arisen as the result of the White Paper on Pay and Allowances which had been so heralded and from which they expected so much.
I am concerned with one aspect to-day as it concerns the Royal Air Force—the position of the pay and allowances in respect of an airman who is married but whose wife is childless. On this point I addressed a Question to my right hon 646 Friend the Secretary of State for Air on 24th May. I asked him whether he was aware thatsince the recent revision of pay and allowances, an airman who is married and without children and is in the highest paid R.A.F. trade rating (Group 1) has to make a compulsory allotment of 1s. 9d. per day as opposed to is. 6d. per day previously; and whether, as the allowance in respect of the wife has not been increased, he will reduce tha allotment to the previous figure of is. 6d. per day."—[OFFCIAL REPORT, 24th May, 1944 Vol. 400, c. 721.]Now I do not think I need read in full the reply of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air. His answer in effect amounted to this; that the compulsory allotment had been increased for administrative reasons and in order to place the R.A.F. on the same footing as operated in the Army and in the Navy. He pointed out, which was quite true that the joint receipts of such an airman and his wife—the wife having no children —remained exactly the same as before the White Paper on increased pay and allowances had been brought out. Now it is perfectly true that the joint receipts of the airman and the wife remain the same, but the proportion in which they receive those joint moneys is not the same because—if I may give an example—as every hon. Member will know, for a man to enable his wife to receive an allowance, it is necessary for him to make a compulsory allotment. That allotment having been made by the airman, his wife receives the allowance to which she is entitled under the allowance regulations. After this White Paper had been introduced, and was put into force in the Royal Air Force, the compulsory allotment to be paid by an airman for his wife—who had no children—to receive art allowance was increased. Therefore the effect was that the airman himself had less money to spend than he had heretofore, although it was quite true that his wife would receive more money than she had before the introduction of the White Paper, but the increase in the money she received would come from her husband by way of deductions from his pay and not from any increased grant from public funds.
Now quite apart from the necessity of maKing that alteration in order to achieve uniformity between the three Services, the matter to which I wish primarily to direct the attention of the House to-day is the manner in which that new basis of 647 payment was introduced into the Royal Air Force. Apparently no previous explanation or warning was given to Air Force personnel that at the next pay parade married men whose wives had no children would receive a reduced amount of money because an increased compulsory allotment had been brought into force. From what I gather from my constituents, and other Air Force personnel who have spoken to me, on the pay parade the men lined up for their pay in the usual way. They were paid their money, they looked at it, and for no reason which they could understand they received less than they had received the week before or, indeed, in recent weeks. Quite naturally they asked themselves this question, "The White Paper on increased pay and allowances has just come into operation. We have not got an increase in pay, we have got a decrease in pay, and why is that?" I can assure my right hon. and gallant Friend that that question was asked very extensively in the Air Force during the months of May and June and it caused some considerable dissatisfaction. I do not wish to exaggerate my case or, indeed, to use any language which is other than restrained. But I must quite forcibly direct the attention of my right hon. and gallant Friend to the very unfortunate manner in which these new pay and allowances were introduced.
The position was, apparently, realised by the Air Ministry because after, I think, the first pay parade, the whole procedure was reversed, and it was decided that Air Force personnel of the category I have mentioned should be paid on the previous rates of pay, and that the compulsory allotment should not be increased as it had been increased on the previous week. That was done, again I understand without the position being fully explained to the men. So again they were bewildered in the next week, although quite pleased, to find that they had more money than they had the previous week. The increased compulsory allotment which the men had paid one week was not paid over to their wives right away and that caused some dissatisfaction. I understand that the whole scheme of increasing the compulsory allotment in these cases was temporarily abandoned and, indeed, it has not yet been brought into effect, the reason being, so I am informed, that it has been neces- 648 sary to print many new forms or vouchers for the wives of R.A.F. personnel to use.
I must put it to my right hon. and gallant Friend, that if it was necessary that those new forms or documents should be printed, surely it must have been known beforehand. Why should not the introduction of the new system have been deferred until the Air Ministry were properly ready and prepared to put it into full effect without any of this trouble and all these worries and misunderstanding which have arisen? I understand that the new scale to which I have been referring will, in fact, be brought into effect on 1st July. Presumably by that time, the new forms and documents will have been printed, but my purpose in raising this matter to-day is not to create any trouble, especially in times such as these, but to try to ensure, if I can, that personnel of the category I have mentioned in the Royal Air Force, shall really understand the position, and that my right hon. and gallant Friend will make a statement which will receive perhaps some notice in the Air Ministry and among Air Force stations, so that this dissatisfaction, which has largely arisen owing to a misunderstanding, may be dispelled.
I confess that I am not entirely happy that the allowance to a married woman without children has not been increased, and I think there is a considerable case for arguing that an allotment to a wife who has no children should be increased from the present basis. I understand that one argument is that in the case of wives of airmen who have no children they will be doing work of national importance and therefore they do not require an increase in their allowances as in the case with wives who have children and therefore cannot do full-time work of national importance. However, I really cannot think that that is an argument for denying an increase of allowances in cases such as those. You cannot force a woman into a factory to do work of national importance by paying her insufficient money and thereby requiring her to do other work to supplement her income. I put it to my right hon. and gallant Friend that the dependants of all Service personnel are entitled to such allowances as will enable them, irrespective of any effort in another direction, to maintain a proper standard of life. Therefore, I would suggest to him that possibly the allowances that are 649 paid to childless wives might be reconsidered. However, that is not my prime object in bringing this matter to his notice to-day.
Perhaps I should give some facts and figures with regard to the compulsory allotment which has to be made under the new regulations by an airman to his wife before she can claim an allowance, the wife being childless. As I understand it, the position is this. The men who are affected are men whose basic rate of pay varies between 4s. 9d. and 9s. All those men, when and if the new regulations are again reintroduced, will have to make an increased allotment to their wives—the wives having no children —although the allowance to the wives is in no way increased.
The increased allotment varies from 3d. a day to 9d. a day, or 2s. to 5s. a week. My right hon. and gallant Friend will be well able to understand the concern which arose among personnel when, after the White Paper on increased pay and allowances had been brought out, some received 5s. or 2s. a week less than they received the previous week. That is my case, and I would request that the increase of this compulsory allotment, without any increase in the allowance to the wife, might be reconsidered. Although I appreciate the necessity, from an administrative point of view, of co-ordinating the three Services, and having them on the same basis, I suggest that when you issue a White Paper on increased pay and allowances it is inopportune and ill-advised to reduce your allowances so that the net pay of the man becomes less, and the allowance of the wife becomes slightly more, more because the money has been taken from her husband and not for any other reason. Be that as it may, I hope my right hon. and gallant Friend will be able to make a clear statement with regard to this class of case and will be able to dispel the great bewilderment which has existed, and still exists, in the Royal Air Force to-day on this matter.
I have tried to state my case as clearly and as moderately as I can, because I wish to emphasise again this is not the time for exaggerated statements. It may be within the recollection of the House that it was I, together with my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison), who first asked Questions on this subject. These Questions were 650 taken up in many quarters and eventually the lion. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) gave notice that he would raise the matter on the Adjournment. As the original Question was instigated by me, I requested that I might be allowed to raise the matter on the Adjournment to-day. The hon. Member for Maldon agreed, and I would like to say that I appreciate his courtesy in that respect. I hope my right hon. and gallant Friend will deal fully with this matter to-day because it is causing great concern. I hope he will be able to dispel that concern because it is so undesirable and, I am quite sure, if all the facts are known, is so unnecessary.
Mr. Ballenger (Bassetlaw)
Although we all recognise that the Questions my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Darwen (Captain Prescott) put on the particular issue which he has raised to-day were the first Questions in this House on this subject he is not by any means the only. Pioneer——
§ Captain Prescott
When I said that my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) and I first raised this question, I was limiting my observations to the question of the in creased compulsory allotment for wives who were childless.
§ Mr. Bellenger
We all recognise that, but we know that this particular aspect is but one of a series of anomalies and inequalities—almost say injustices—from which the Air Force alone have not been the chief sufferers. The Air Force personnel before this White Paper, Command 6521, was introduced by the Government, were paying a different rate of allotment towards family allowances from the other two Services and I do not think there should be any distinction between the three Services in these matters. What we ought to work for is equality rather than differentiation, and I do not think the Air Force could have any cause to grumble at being put on the same terms as their larger sister Service, the Army. The way the whole matter was put before the public caused something more than misapprehension. The way in which the Air Force and the public were told what this White Paper meant was almost wilfully misleading. My hon. and gallant Friend opposite has spoken about the rates for childless wives. The Air Force is not alone in that. The differ- 651 ence between the childless wife and the wife who has a child applies to all three Services. I do not know whether my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned this point—I regret I was not in the House for the early part of his speech—but does the House realise that a childless wife is not only a woman who has no children? It means a mother who has had children. If those children have passed school age it means that children's allowances cease and the mother is dubbed "childless."
§ Captain Prescott
While that is a definite point, I imagine that in the Air Force there would be comparatively few of those cases.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not think that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary will attempt to answer this case to-day, because we ought to have the Secretary of State for War here to answer for all three Services. The issue has been raised in relation to the Air Force, but it is an issue which is relevant to all three Services and we ought to have a much more authoritative answer than the one we shall get from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to-day. I want to substantiate the suggestion that there was wilful misrepresentation. If there was not, then the officials of the Service Departments did not know their job, because the public were led to believe that the increase from 25s. to 35s. a week for the private soldier, or lowest paid airman or seaman, would be a 10s. increase all round, whereas nothing of the sort has happened, or is likely to happen, because that 10s. increase from 25s. to 35s. is dependent on the rate of pay the man is drawing.
In the Air Force the majority of men—I think over go per cent.—are on rates of pay of more than 4s. a day. They are tradesmen, quite different horn the Army, and on the average they receive higher rates of pay than men in the Army. What was the rate of allotment that a man in receipt of 4s., or more, a day had to make before the White Paper came out? It was 10s. 6d. a week. He had to make this allotment in order that his wife could get a family allowance. Therefore, if you take more than 90 per cent. of the Air Force on these higher rates of pay the wives of those men were already receiving 32s. a week—21s. 6d. Government allowance and 10s. 6d. maximum allotment—before the Government White Paper came 652 out to raise this sum to 35s. a week. What most people read in the newspapers, or heard on the wireless, was a misrepresentation by a Government Department, because it is well known that the Press and the B.B.C. are guided by what are known as "hand-outs" from Press officers of Government Departments. What the Press said on this issue was not entirely their own, but was what they were fed with by Government Departments. Therefore, the Air Force have a sense of grievance in that they were led to believe that there would be a substantial rise in family allowance for their wives, if they had children, whereas, in fact, when it came to receiving their own pay, they had to Make a larger allotment. They said, "Is this what the Government mean when they say they are going to give higher family allowances? It is we who are having to contribute to that increase by a higher allotment." That is my first complaint against the Air Force in particular, although it applies to all three Services.
As regards equalising the allotment of all three Services, I wonder that the Air Force have "got away with it" for so long. Where a man gets a substantial rate of pay he has to make a substantial allowance for his wife, and most men do. I have never advocated that we should do away altogether with the qualifying allotment. I have only advocated that the Government should reduce the qualifying allotment and give higher Government allowances. When we argued this case before three members of the War Cabinet who investigated these matters we suggested that the Government allowance should be fixed at a certain sum and that men should add to that allowance a rate of allotment varying with their rates of pay. The Government did not accept that suggestion. They said that wives with children would get only 35s., and that the Government's contribution to that would vary according to the amount of allotment that the man paid. That is unfair, and the Government are laying up a great deal of trouble for themselves in the future. It is often said that when you are giving it is better to give generously, especially at a time like this when in many cases men are giving generously of their lives. It is better to give generously than to have this bargaining, as if it were one merchant selling goods to another who wanted to buy. That is not the way to 653 treat the Services, and I am surprised at the attitude that the Government have adopted.
The next point I would like to comment upon is the difference the Government make between childless wives and wives with children. I understand the reason at the back of the Government's mind. It was advocated in the informal deputation which met the three members of the War Cabinet. A much greater emphasis was placed on bettering the position of the child than any other dependant. It is true that the Government made a substantial advance in the child's allowance. They raised it from 9s. 6d., 8s. 6d. or 7s. 6d. per week in the case of one, two or three children, to 12s. 6d. a week for each child. I welcomed that, but it should not stop there, with the children. You have to take mothers into account, and the Government did not treat them in the same substantial fashion. When they say that, because a mother has brought up children to the school-leaving age and then ceases to get an allowance because the child is no longer at school, she must be dubbed a "childless" wife, and thus lose part of her own family allowance, I think that is an insult to the women who are bringing up children to be conscripted to fight for their country. I do not think it elevates the position of parenthood to make these invidious distinctions. How far we can persuade the Government to rectify an obvious injustice I do not know.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
Was not an undertaKing given at the conference that these anomalies would be considered also?
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
I think I can answer that point. The Government have said that they are considering the anomalies and will make a new statement shortly, but have refused to meet the Committee of Members of the House. It is hoped that the anomalies which are mentioned to-day will be considered by the Government when they are looking into the matter.
§ Mr. Bellenger
If that is the case—and I understand that the Under-Secretary assents to the position—I hope that the matters to which we are calling attention will be rectified, and I shall be satisfied if they are, but, failing such an undertaking which I doubt very much the right 654 hon. and gallant Gentleman will give us, the House must bring pressure to bear on the Government at an early date and force their hand as we forced it before when we compelled the Government to grant the improvements specified in the White Paper.
There is one further point to which I should like to call attention. This affects the R.A.F. as well as the other Services. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) has been putting down a series of Questions to the Secretary of State for War asking when the Government are going to make a statement as to 'dependants' allowances.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
On a point of Order. The Debate is obviously taking a wider scope than the specific item raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Captain Prescott). Is it within our competence to call for the presence of someone who can speak more widely than the Under-Secretary of State for Air can possibly speak with regard to his own Department?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
Any Debate on the Adjournment can wander on to almost any subject except legislation. Anyone can ask for another Member of the Government to attend, but it is up to the Government to say who they think is the most suitable person to be present.
§ Captain Prescott
I raised the matter of R.A.F. pay and allowances and I notified my right hon. and gallant Friend of the specific points that I wanted to raise. Therefore, I really do not think that any opprobrium should be put on him.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This is coming to a second speech—a defence of the Government after an attack which is going too far.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I do not think any complaint will be made about what I am going to say. Pay and allowances include all allowances, and the dependants' allowance is one of them. If I wished, I could bring into the Debate something which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would be justified in saying he would not answer because it is not dealt with by his Department—War Service Grants, which are dealt with by the Minister of Pensions. Because the Service Departments will not recognise their responsi- 655 bilities, we have set up some elaborate machinery for granting a dole, subject to a means test, which should never be in these times.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) that I have a pretty shrewd idea what is in Order on the Debate and I am sure that, if I were out of Order, I should be pulled up. Still, I want to focus attention on the point that I am raising in special relation to the Air Ministry. These matters not only affect the Air Ministry but the other Service Departments, and I should be glad if a messenger could be sent to the War Office to ask the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary to come and hear what we are saying about his Department as well as saying it to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.
However, to revert to dependants, in the case of many single soldiers and airmen, dependants' allowances are just as important to them as family allowances are to the married men. There are thousands of single men who were helping to maintain a respectable home before they were conscripted. When we take these men, we use the most paltry means not to give them dependants' allowances or to put them in the position of helping their mothers, as they were doing in civil life. We do everything possible to deny those mothers the dependants' allowance by the machinery which we set up, which tends to make them pass through the fine meshed sieve of Assistance Board investigation. The Departments do not carry out the investigation themselves but pass it on to the Assistance Board. I know from my very large correspondence that this is one of the most burning topics for single Service men, and it has not been put right in the White Paper. It has not been tackled. We have been given the assurance that the Government are thinking over these matters, but he who gives quickly gives twice.
Let them give quickly, because we are led to believe by Government speakers that the end of the war with Germany is in sight. I am not going to say whether it is or not, but the Financial Secretary to the War Office 656 gave a date as to the end of the war, If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, I should be glad if he would tell us. I know that when responsible Ministers make statements like that we must believe that they know a great deal more than we do and, therefore, there is a probability, to put it no higher, of an early ending to the war with Germany. If that is the case, how much more urgent are our demands, because we hope that when that war ends a considerable number will be demobilised, and when they are, there is not the same necessity for these allowances. The necessity is there now and the Government should deal with the problem now.
I think the Government have not been quite as fair as they might have been to their officers, but the other ranks are in greater numbers and, therefore, when we make a case we speak for the majority of the men in the Services. But many of these officers who are drawn from the ranks, and have to serve a period in the ranks before they are given commissions, are not men of the same substance as prevailed in days gone by, when officers were able to buy their commissions. They are in almost as necessitous circumstances as many of the other ranks. The Government have not treated those officers, especially those with families, in too generous a manner.
The War Service Grant is administered by the Minister of Pensions and, therefore, it is not within the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's province to understand the subject, though he should, because it is part and parcel of the pay and allowances of the R.A.F., but one does not expect a reply in detail to the point that I wish to put. The basic level of the War Service Grant was raised, in the White Paper, from 18s. to 22s. a week. The Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Families Association, who act as agents for the Government and who are financed to a certain extent by the Government, have themselves said it is not enough. I do not know whether the Government pay attention to what Members say in the House, but I should think they would pay attention to an Association which has, spread over the country, 20,000 voluntary workers in constant contact with members of the Services and their dependants. This organisation is much larger than the Army Welfare 657 System. The Army Welfare System has probably about 1,300 local welfare officers. They have county welfare officers and Command welfare officers, two of whom are Members of the House.
The 1,300 local welfare officers of the Army attempt to deal with problems affecting a number of men which we cannot mention even if we know the figure. It is a vast number. The Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Families' Association has 20,000, and that is not enough. Therefore I suggest that they have very good evidence to substantiate any statement that they make in this respect, and the statement which they have made is that the Government's advance of the basic minimum of the War Service Grant to 22s. a week for an adult is not enough. I hope the Government will pay regard to responsible Members who have studied the subject and spoken and written on it, and to those other outside organisations which the Services make use of, not only the S.S. & A.F.A., but other voluntary bodies like that, and will be guided by what they all say. If they do not, I think we are right in forming the opinion that the Government are not serious in this matter. It is a very dangerous thing for the Government not to be serious in matters which affect millions of Service men and women and their dependants.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows the efforts that are made to keep up the morale of the air crews, and a splendid body of men they are. I can conceive no more important means of affecting the morale of some of these young men, Who have to do their duty under arduous circumstances, than to go off on their job knowing that their dependants, wives, children or mothers, may be suffering in any way at home. I think it is the duty of the House not to see that they get the bare necessities, which is all that the Government's policy has been directed to so far—and in that they have not been very successful—but to pay those men and their dependants generously, if you like, to err on the side of generosity and over-pay them a little. There will not be much danger of that. The country has never done that to Service men and their dependants, and I do not suppose it ever will. To-day we are putting forward a reasonable demand to the Under-Secretary for Air. We ask him not to fob us off with some stalling 658 answer, but to go straight to the target and give an answer which will mean to us an "O.K."
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
Both the hon. Members who have spoken were perfectly correct when they said that one of the causes of this trouble was that the matter was not made sufficiently clear in advance. It was not made sufficiently clear in the White Paper itself to start with. Throughout the White Paper, as one of the footnotes remarks, Army ranks are quoted "for the sake of brevity," and it adds:the increases apply throughout on the same basis to all the Services.It may be that that footnote refers to one particular appendix, but the implication of this practice of quoting only Army ranks throughout was that it was going to be pretty much the same in all the three Services. There is one passing reference to the fact that there will be some increases in the scales of qualifying allotments in the Royal Air Force, but there is not one word in the whole document to indicate clearly that at the next pay day a large number of men in the Royal Air Force would find that they were drawing less money than they had been drawing before.
The hon. and gallant Member for Darwen (Captain Prescott) was correct, too, when he described the dismay that occurred at that next pay parade, when, without any explanation, thousands of men found that they were actually getting less money than they had been having, after all the talk about these new increases in pay and allowances that they had heard. I myself, the day after, happened to meet some of my friends in the Royal Air Force, and they greeted me with black looks and a unanimous query, "Where's our increase?" They went on to say that "it said on the wireless" that there were to be generous increases all round, and they asked, "Where was the mistake? Where was the slip up? What has happened in Parliament?" They were deeply disappointed and dismayed about it.
Then came the postponement of the arrangemen As we have heard, the new scheme, after all, was not to be put into operation for about a month. The pay offices were instructed to revert to the old scales forthwith. When I ventured to suggest at Question Time that 659 that in itself indicated the unsatisfactory nature of the position, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State was quite indignant about it and said that my suggestion was "misleading." Well, I do not think that the Under-Secretary will tell us to-day that they would have made that adjustment anyway and postponed putting the new arrangements into force, even if there had not been all this discontent, misunderstanding, and fuss about it. It seems to me an obvious case of post hoc propter hoc.
§ Mr. Driberg
It means cause and effect. A rather cynical friend of mine suggested to me that the postponement for a month or so had been arranged in the hope that in the course of that month all the fuss about this matter would die down and that the opening of the invasion would take everybody's minds off such trivialities. I naturally repudiated that; it was a most unworthy suggestion, and I am glad to see the Under-Secretary nod his head in confirmation. To my mind, there is nothing to be said for the argument which has been advanced that at a time like this, during the supreme crisis of the war, we should not debate these Service grievances. That is an entirely mistaken idea. It seems to me that it is precisely because the men in the Forces are engaged in the bloodiest battles of the war that we in this House should be particularly alert and anxious to guarantee them the utmost financial security. It is perhaps impertinent to talk about the morale of the troops, which is uniformly magnificent, but if there is anything that can contribute to building up that morale, it is the feeling that if they have some grievance about something that is not quite right, it can be put right by being aired in this House. Conversely, nothing would be more depressing for them than to feel that they are completely gagged and that if they want to have something said on their behalf in criticism of Service arrangements or conditions, nothing can be said about them.
I agree with what the hon. and gallant Member for Darwen said about childless wives being forced to work in factories. It may be that the man-power situation has been such that the Minister of Labour has been obliged to call up and direct 660 into war work married women without children. That is quite another point. If it is necessary from the man-power point of view to do that, that is another argument; but these women should not be forced to go to work in a factory through sheer penury. When a Service man who has held a good job in civilian life, which has enabled him to maintain his family in comfort, goes into the Forces, the maintenance of his family must become a charge on the State. The woman should not be forced to work in a factory for that reason. I hope that what has been said to-day will be read and studied and considered seriously, not only by the Under-Secretary who is with us to-day, but by all those in the Service Departments who, we have been told, are now reconsidering these anomalies, and that, when the Government's statement is made, next week or the week after, it will be found to contain a satisfactory solution of these problems.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
One feels pleased that this opportunity has presented itself to deal with the question of pay and allowances on a wider scale than would have been possible in the ordinary Adjournment Debate. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said that he did not think the Government were serious in this matter. I do not agree with him. I think that they are serious and that what they want is the pressure of Parliament and public opinion to give them a lead as to what should be done. I always think that the Government answer to the pressure when it becomes powerful enough. We should, therefore, try to tell the Under-Secretary of State for Air how we feel about these matters, which concern not only his Department but all the Services. The problem that concerns me is that of the single man whose parents are fairly well to do, that is to say, their means do not bring them within the possibility of getting assistance from the State. If the son makes an allowance to his parents and their means are above a certain point, they get nothing further from the State. That is bad enough, but it becomes worse when the son loses his life.
The parents naturally think that when their son has given his life for the State the State should give them something by way of monetary assistance, but there are now thousands of cases of parents who are getting nothing. It has been held in this 661 war that unless the parents can show need the State cannot help them. There are about 24,000 parents who are getting nothing from the State for the loss of their sons because their incomes are above a certain level. They get a letter from the Department consoling them and telling them that there is no pension for the time being until their circumstances reduce them to the point where they can apply. That is causing great concern in the country, and the time has come when Parliament will have to recognise the appeal that is made by these deserving people. I asked the Prime Minister whether, when the Debate takes place, the question of parents' pensions would be one of the matters discussed, and he said that as far as he knew it would be. I gathered from that that this point was being examined by the committee which has been set up to discuss anomalies.
I hope that what I have said will arouse the attention of the powers that be to the crying demand throughout the country for the recognition of parents who have lost their sons. I cannot find any justifiable reason why something should not be done for them. We are not asking very much for them, but a recognition of that kind would go a long way to show that the State appreciates the sacrifices they have made. The suggestion I have made is that an allowance of, say, 10s. a week should be given to parents until such time as they were in need. I have been asked whether I would continue this payment for all time. I suggest that there should be a time limit and that the pension should be paid until the son would have reached 26 had he lived. That is the age at which marriage would normally take place. Some such recognition for parents would go a long way to ease that aching pain which they suffer through their loss of their son. I have a number of cases in my own constituency of working-class parents whose only boy has gone out and given his life. The husband is earning £4 or £5 a week, and because that takes him out of the need class nothing is given for the loss of the son. It is hard to convince these people about the need of the country for their sons when the State gives them nothing for the loss of their sons. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to put before those he represents the feeling of the country that something should be done in this direction.
§ Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State knew, when he woke up this morning, that he was going to have to face this ordeal. All of us are sorry for him and I am sure he knows that we are not blaming him for the things we are talking about. I support the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) in his plea for what is called the childless wife. It is most unfortunate that people should be compelled to go out to work because they have had money taken away from them which they previously had. Whatever powers the Minister of Labour may have and exercise to send people out to work, there should not be additional power by the reduction of money when people's children cease to live at home. I would next raise the anomaly of the widow whose pay is reduced the moment her husband is killed, and that loss of money is added to what she is suffering by her bereavement. This anomaly should be removed, and I hope it will be, when the Government come to consider the matter more fully.
I pass to another case. I have not the figures with me at the moment, because some of us have not come as fully documented as we might have done to this rather sudden Debate. I understand that certain N.C.Os. have a grievance. A man may be a corporal. He makes a compulsory allotment of a certain amount of money to his wife. If he then becomes a sergeant he gets a slight increase in pay, but he has to make a very much bigger compulsory allotment, with the result that the net amount left to him is actually smaller than he had when he was a rank below. That is a curious anomaly which I hope will be dealt with. I do not know whether it applies to all three Services or only to the Army. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) says he thinks it applies in all three. It certainly applies in the Army, to warrant officers and sergeants.
Another point concerns the Minister of Pensions. I am glad to see his Parliamentary Secretary is on the Front Bench. I refer to the matter of dental treatment. I have pursued this matter with the Parliamentary Secretary with a mild degree of success during some months, and he has been most helpful. Dependants of Servicemen are very often in need of dental treatment, but get no allowance 663 for such treatment unless they can prove that their dental trouble is so bad that it will cause them to go to hospital for some quite different reason. I submit that that is wrong. If they are entitled to treatment for other diseases they should be entitled to treatment for dental ailments, which should be classed as an illness. It is uneconomic to wait until people have to go to hospital for some much more expensive treatment.
I know that the Parliamentary Secretary has done much to improve conditions. He has tried to bring the worst authorities and districts up to the level of the best authorities and he has brought in various illnesses in connection with childbirth which were not previously there. For example, he has said that where it is considered that a woman who is going to have a child is suffering from bad teeth, she may have the treatment, for the sake of herself and the child. That is only one type of case. Dental treatment should in every case be considered in exactly the same class as any other kind of illness, and the same grant should be made.
I support the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in his claim for parents' pensions, which many of us have demanded for some considerable time. It is curious that while in every other respect pay and allowances are higher than they were before, in this one respect they are lower. Previously, a parent simply had to be a parent and lose a child, in order to get a pension, whereas now they have to go, to all intents and purposes, before the public assistance authorities.
§ Captain Prescott
Is it not a fact that, in the last war, Army pensions were granted only on a flat rate without a means test, if the soldier killed had been under the age of 26 when he enlisted and if he was unmarried?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
No, the hon. Member has already made a very long speech, and there can be no more pointing out.
§ Mr. Bellenger
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. If you are to prevent one hon. Member from "pointing out," could you not apply the rule universally?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I was about to stop the question if it had been too long, but it remained a question up to that point.
§ Mr. Dugdale
I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member will dispute that although a limited number of people were entitled to the pension, it was paid without question, and that the same class of people should be entitled to it to-day. Much has been done to improve allowances. I do not dispute that, or say that £50,000,000 is nothing—even though some of the money may have been taken back with one hand after being given with the other; but most of the £50,000,000 has gone in allowances and very little in pay. We have been told how wonderful it is that soldiers are now getting a payment of 5s. a day. To the best of my knowledge, that applies only to soldiers who have served for four long and weary years, in this country, perhaps then in Africa and finally, maybe, in India. After all that time, a soldier may be entitled to the princely sum of 5s. a day, but it does not apply to most soldiers. Indeed, the general increase throughout the Services, as the result of this White Paper, has been about 3d. That is not a sum of which any Member of Parliament can be very proud. I hope that, as a result of this short and rather sudden Debate, the Government will be moved to do something on more generous lines. I can assure them that their generosity will be appreciated by the troops who are now serving so gallantly overseas.
§ Mr. McEntee
I do not want to do so. I want to make only one point with the Under-Secretary of State for Air in regard to airmen and a complaint that they have made to me. It is unusual for me to get letters of complaint from airmen, soldiers or sailors serving overseas, but I have never had so many complaints about any 665 one thing as I have had about these imaginary increases. They say: "We thought we were going to get them, but in fact, when we received our pay, we found that we had less than we had before. The wireless and the Press told us that we were to get an increase in pay and allowances. It is true that our wives have received increased allowances, but we are getting less now than we got before the allowances were granted." I do not understand why that should be, but as a considerable number of airmen have written to me about it there must be something in it, and the grievance ought to be redressed as soon as possible. I want to stress that there is serious concern about it in the Air Force.
Another point concerns mothers of young men and women who have lost their lives in the Services. I had a case brought to my notice which I put to the Minister, and I hope it will receive the most serious consideration. A woman wrote to me and said that she had lost her son and had applied for the mother's pension, only to be told that because she was working in a factory she could not get any pension at all, unless her circumstances changed for the worse later, when she could apply again. I made some inquiries in regard to the woman's circumstances. I asked her whether she had any reason which gave her more right to a pension than other people. She replied that her circumstances were rather different from those of other people. "Before my boy joined the Air Force" she said, "he was out of work for a long time. Then he went to work a little time and then he had an illness, for which he was away from work for several weeks. I had no income and I was not working at that time. All I had was the earnings of the boy, or what he got from the Labour Exchange and the Ministry of Health. Because of his illness and the consequences, I ran into debt very heavily. Then my boy was called up and went into the Service. I only had the income that I got from him because he was in the Service. I went to work myself because I was faced with the debt contracted before he went into the Service by reason of his illness and unemployment. Because I went to work to try to meet the liabilities incurred when he was in civil life, I am told. I cannot get anything at all as I am earning a certain amount of money."
666 More inquiries should be made in regard to such individual cases, and it should be done through the local organisations. In the case of the ordinary Serving man, we take his liabilities into consideration. We find out whether, before he joined up, he was buying a house or had contracted to pay for insurance policies. There should be similar inquiry in the cases of women who are under an obligation to make certain payments, and it should not be laid down that they get no pension at all merely because they are earning a shilling or two over the amount laid down by the Ministry as entitling them to an allowance. I hope that the Services generally will give consideration to that point, and that whoever has to administer it, either the Ministry of Pensions or whoever it may be who is responsible for all three Services in such cases, will grant pension, and that there will not be such rigid adherence to the limit of the money they are earning at the time—that other considerations will be taken into account. With unemployment allowances in normal times there are certain disregards. People may have an income from certain sources but it is disregarded in calculating the amount of the income they have at the time. Their cases are considered in that way, and I think that, in general, cases of the kind I have mentioned should be more generously treated than they are at the present time.
§ Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)
I intervene in this Debate only for a few moments to put two points to my right hon. and gallant Friend. The first point is the one which was put a moment ago by my hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee). There are in the Royal Air Force a number of corporals and some sergeants whose compulsory allotments have been increased under the White Paper proposals. I agree with my hon. Friend that that has aroused a feeling of resentment among those non-commissioned officers whose compulsory allotments have been affected. I appreciate the reason why the compulsory allotment in these cases has been increased. It is a fact that the corporal in the Royal Air Force was more favourably placed in relation to his compulsory allotment than the corresponding ranks in the Army and, I believe, in the Royal Navy, and it is a fact that the White Paper proposals have brought the ranks concerned in the 667 Royal Air Force into line with the ranks concerned in the other Services.
I agree that in the case of men who are promoted to the rank of corporal or sergeant in the future, it would be right that their compulsory allotment should be placed upon the same basis as the compulsory allotments of similar ranks in the other Services. But it is not quite fair to those men who have been accustomed to make a compulsory allotment at a certain rate, that, as a condition of receiving the higher family allowances they will now receive under the White Paper, their compulsory allotment should be increased. I would suggest that in the case of these non-commissioned ranks of the Royal Air Force who are affected by this proposal, those who are at present having deducted the lower rate of compulsory allotment should continue to make the same rate of compulsory allotment as they pay at present. It would, I suggest, be fair not to alter the condition of those who are at present receiving the advantage which they undoubtedly do receive under the present arrangements. If my right hon. and gallant Friend feels that he cannot go so far as that I would suggest that those who are at present making the lower scale of allotment, who will be affected by this proposal, should be given the option of remaining upon their present rates of compulsory allotment and their present rates of family allowances; that is to say, if a man elected to do so he should be permitted to go on under the conditions of pay and allowances which he is receiving at present. If he was given that option it might well be that some of the men who are affected would prefer to retain the rates of family allowances and compulsory allotment that were in existence before the White Paper proposals were adopted, rather than be put upon the new rates. It might be some solution of this difficulty if they were given the option of doing so.
The other point I desire to raise concerns the assessment of war service grants. I raise this point because I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions here. It is a point which I have put to him on several previous occasions, and to which I have referred in previous Debates. Hitherto I have not succeeded in persuading my right hon. Friend or the Minister to accept my view. This is a point which 668 affects those families who are purchasing their house under a building society mortgage. In assessing a war service grant the rent which is paid by the family is one of the principal factors which is taken into consideration. But if the Service family are not tenants but are owner-occupiers, purchasing their houses under a building society mortgage, they, of course, pay no rent. The weekly payments which they make to the building society are dealt with by the Ministry of Pensions in making their assessment in this way. Part of the payments, of course, represent interest on a mortgage debt; the other part of the weekly payments are repayments of instalments of capital. In assessing the war service grant the Ministry allow, as a charge on the family income, that part of the weekly payment which represents the mortgage interest, but do not allow that part which represents a repayment of the mortgage debt. I understand the ground upon which that is justified to be that it is considered that a man ought not to be put in the special position of being assisted to repay a mortgage debt on his house. I would suggest to my right hon. and gallant Friend that that is not a very generous line of approach. In fact the result of what is done is that when the man comes out of the Services he will find that he is four or five years further off the time when he will completely repay the mortgage on his house than he would have been if he had not served.
I suggest to my right hon. and gallant Friend that that is a hardship which these men ought not to be expected to bear. This is not a case where one ought to look with too much particularity at the exact purpose for which the money is paid. It would put the owner-occupier fairly on the same basis as the tenant if the total weekly payments which a family make for their home, whether they are buying it or renting it, should be taken as the basis of the assessment for war service grant. If my right hon. Friend is not prepared to go so far as that I would suggest to him that the same course should be taken in their cases as is taken in the case of the widow. The widow is now, of course, entitled to a rent supplement in respect of a certain part of her rent. Precisely the same position as that which I have just described arises as regards a widow if she is purchasing her house on a building society mortgage. But 669 what is being done in that case is that the Ministry of Pensions take the Schedule A assessment of the house, they calculate the weekly sum which represents the Schedule A assessment, and they allow the widow that sum as her rent supplement. Therefore, she does get something which represents the weekly cost of the house to her. I would suggest to my right hon. and gallant Friend—no doubt he will not be able to deal fully with this to-day—that the same system should be applied in assessing the war service grants to Service men as in the case of a widow. If that were done it would go some way to meet the injustice which the present system imposes upon these owner-occupiers. I hope my right hon. and gallant Friend will be able to give me some encouragement upon these points, or at least say that consideration will be given to them.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams (Ogmore)
I think the Minister will realise by now that the speeches that are being made are speeches that do not concern his Department in particular, but I am quite sure hon. Members are delighted to have the opportunity of bringing forward a number of grievances they have received from their constituents. The point I should like to emphasise to the Minister and to the other Service Ministers is that in all these cases of hardship of dependants—mothers, wives—they have to be supplemented by somebody. In other words, if they do not receive justice in a direct manner, they have to have supplementation from some source or another. I know that a great deal is done by the soldiers' and sailors' help societies and so on, but I think it should be the primary function of this House to see that allowances and allotments are laid down in such a manner as to avoid persons having to make applications to charitable and other organisations, or for that matter even public assistance committees, in order to help out the Service men or Service men's dependants. As a matter of general principle I should like to see the Service Ministers face up to that as one of the significant facts of our experience.
I do not want to repeat what has been said by other hon. Members, but I want the Minister to realise that what has been said can be supplemented in detail by every hon. Member in the House. I raise my voice here in order to indicate that 670 I feel precisely the same in this regard as the other hon. Members who have spoken. I am delighted at the opportunity given to us by the hon. and gallant Member for Darwen (Captain. Prescott) and the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) in bringing this forward by way of the Motion for the Adjournment to-day.
The special cases cited to me are those of the mother whose son or daughter has been killed in the service of the country. She should receive recognition in a weekly payment for the loss of her son or daughter, regardless of whether he or she was contributing to the household before enlistment. The other is that of the mother whose son is now serving, and who has practically nothing to live on except the allotment. She must seek outside assistance. The allowance in this case should be adequate and based on need. I trust the Service and Pension Ministers will face up to these matters properly.
The general case is the feeling that people were deceived, after the White Paper had received such publicity. It was thought that everyone was to benefit, but it was soon realised that that was not so, that the amount received was really insignificant compared with the statements made by way of broadcasting, and certainly by way of publicity in the Press. I am quite sure that there is a general feeling in the House that that ought to be rectified, that the feeling of deception ought to be allayed as quickly as possible, and that the contents of the White Paper ought to reveal, in substance, what is felt by the people at large. These are the points in my mind as regards that, and I mention them in order that the Minister may realise that there is a very general feeling throughout the country on this matter.
§ Sir Robert Tasker (Holborn)
I have two short questions to ask my right hon. and gallant Friend. May I call attention to the fact that there is a certain scale of pension for the non-commissioned officers in the Army? My point is that the same scale should be given to men in the Royal Air Force who hold equivalent positions. I understand that in the Royal Air Force, being a new arm, this was somehow overlooked. I am sure my right hon. and gallant Friend will cause that injustice to be repaired. I am not so sure about my second point, but my right hon. and gallant Friend is in a 671 position to make a pronouncement upon it. It concerns the Air Transport Auxiliary.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)
If I might interrupt my hon. Friend, I would like to say that that does not come under the administration of my Department but under the Department of Aircraft Production.
§ Sir R. Tasker
I thank my right hon. and gallant Friend for his explanation, because the difficulty is to know to whom to apply. I thought I might, perhaps, engage his support in seeing that the proper channels are used in order that these men and women who are risking their lives—they seem to be like Mohammed's coffin, somewhere between heaven and earth—whether they are civilians or in the Air Force, get proper compensation. Apparently, there is no one to look after them, and if they are killed, as many of them are while working for the Air Force, there is no compensation, as I understand, from the Government for their relatives.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
I think it is a privilege to emphasise what has been said on the question raised by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). I have always felt a little hurt in regard to this question of pensions where the son has fallen in battle. Many cases have been brought to my notice, and I have put them to the Minister of Pensions. I have been met very courteously by his Department, but very often, I am sorry to say, I have had to listen to the story over and over again that there was no need in the home, and that no pension could be granted. I have a very vivid recollection of a very human story told to me by a man in my own division. His lad, flying in a plane practically across his own homestead, crashed almost on his own doorstep. That man came to me and brought out from his pocket a photograph of a beautiful lad. Both of us could scarcely speak about it, because the story was so touching. This man had a big family of grown-ups, and I have lived long enough to know that it is not all income when you have a big family of adults. There is another side to the balance sheet. Sometimes it is just as well to have a small family as it is to have a family of wage-earners.
672 That father could not understand, and I do not think there is a parent in this land who can understand, that when a son has made an allotment to the home of 7s. a week and that allotment has been paid while the lad was living and fighting for his country, as soon as he crashes and his life is taken the allotment ceases, and the lad goes out of existence as far as the country is concerned. That lad will never go out of existence so far as his home and his parents are concerned, and you can never convince people that where there has been an allotment made by a son something should not be done for that particular home when he has been killed. The father in this particular case said to me, "If they had only given us something to go to the Post Office for we would have felt at least that there was some acknowledgment for services rendered."
I have noticed that the Minister of Pensions, when he has been questioned on this matter, has always replied in the one way. Possibly it is the only way he can reply under the law as it stands. He has always said that we give more money today by this means than we would give by a flat-rate pension. I am not sure whether he is correct in that, but whether it is correct or not does not alter the fact that you cannot take away the sting of death from a home by treatment as in this case. One could go on reciting other similar cases but, like previous speakers, I do not want to repeat myself. I have cited one case and that is enough to help us to see the need for some alteration in the law whereby it will be possible for the parents of such sons to have some recompense.
I feel that it is unworthy of a rich country like ours to raise the standard rates of pay of everybody and yet give nothing at all in these cases. The lad has given his life, or the girl has given hers, and there is nothing more to be paid. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I am sure is as sympathetic in this matter as we are, to talk this matter over again in his Department and see whether some way cannot be found whereby these particular cases will receive what we consider to be a fair deal, so that men and women who have given their lads will know that some acknowledgment will be given for the life that has been taken.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I am very pleased, like other Members, that the very earnest and energetic Member for Darwen (Captain Prescott) has raised this matter. Let us consider how the matter arose. There was a very animated Debate in this House, which was widely publicised in the Press. The general feeling in this House, and in the country, as a result of that Debate, was that there was going to be an increase in the pay and in the allowances. The Government, sensitive to that feeling, arranged for a number of Members of this. House to meet Ministers and discuss this question. There was a unanimous feeling among the Members who met the Ministers that there should be an increase in the basic pay. There are one or two other Members here who were present at the discussions, and I think they will agree that there was a unanimous feeling that there should be an increase in basic pay. That applies to all the Services and to all grades. I do not know what the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) is muttering about, but I say that there was unanimous feeling.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
The hon. Member must not think that he is the only Member who is allowed to mutter.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am quite aware that that is the one thing of which the hon. and gallant Member is capable; but it would be much more interesting to other Members if they knew what he was muttering about.
§ Sir A. Southby
I was reminding my hon. Friends that what happened in the conference was, by special request, understood to be confidential.
§ Mr. Gallacher
But, despite the special request, certain Members gave information, which enabled the Beaverbrook and Kemsley Press to publish all that took place in the conference. That knocked the bottom out of the confidential nature of the conference.
§ Sir A. Southby
It does not mean that. It simply means that the hon. Member is able to make a statement, but other Members are not allowed to answer it.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Some of us drew attention to the fact that everything the conference had discussed had been published in the Press; and there was no question 674 about the exact nature of the reports which appeared in the Press. Therefore, it is permissible, surely, to say that the Members were unanimous on the question of increasing basic pay. As a result of that conference, there was increased feeling in the country that there would be an increase in basic pay. Of that, the men in the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force felt certain. But as Member after Member has pointed out, the result was that, instead of there being an increase in basic pay, the men of the Air Force that particular week got a reduction. The Minister says that it was necessary to coordinate the three Forces. It would be easy to co-ordinate the three Forces without making a reduction for the Air Force. The Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) made a very touching appeal to the Government to show generosity. It is very difficult to get the Government to show generosity.
Let me give an illustration. The "Evening Standard" and the Kemsley Press published a report of what took place at the conference and they said that the Communist Member proposed a 12s. 6d. flat rate for the children, but that he fount himself outbid by certain others, who proposed first 15s. and then 20s I said at that time that I would propose 12s. 6d., but that if the Government were generous enough to offer £1 a week to the children I would guarantee not to move to reduce it. I knew that there was not the faintest possibility of the Government facing up to a proposition of £1 a week. The Government were backed by those who had made such opposition to the children of the unemployed getting another shilling. The proposition was made at that conference with the Ministers—this was not unanimous, but it was made —that the compulsory allotment Should be done away with altogether, and that the wives of soldiers, sailors, and airmen should get an allowance from the Government, quite independent of any allotment that might be made by the men. If they had done away with the compulsory allotment that would have brought co-ordination in a much better form than by reducing the amounts received by the men in the Air Force. Even now, the Department that is considering anomalies must take this into account. If they are not prepared to do away with the compulsory allotment, they should reduce it to the absolute minimum. This all-important 675 question of the airmen who are not married, but who have mothers at home—I have had many such cases brought to me—was raised at the conference, and attention was drawn to the fact——
§ Captain Cobb (Preston)
Is it in Order for an hon. Member to disclose to the House what took place at a conference which was supposed to be confidential?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Actually, that is not a matter of Order, but it is going to be very difficult if we have these disclosures, because other Members may choose to reply. Perhaps I might remind hon. Members who are discussing this conference that, if it was understood to be private, it will be very difficult for these conferences in future, if the proceedings are to be disclosed here in Debate.
This is the first time that I have disclosed anything which happened at the conference. The only reason I do it is that everything which happened at the conference was disclosed in the Kemsley and Beaverbrook Press. Not a single word was disclosed in the "Daily Worker." I never divulged a word outside of what happened in the conference, but the Beaverbrook Press, the Kemsley Press, and the Camrose Press had contacts at the conference, and they published everything, exactly. These were not speculations about what might have been said, but everything was published exactly.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I and other Members drew attention to it, and the chairman of the conference deprecated such things. Otherwise, I would not have mentioned it. I will not refer to the conference. I will refer to what has happened in my own experience. The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Murray) referred to the case of an airman who was killed, and whose father said, "If only we went to the Post Office each week, we should feel that there was some acknowledgment." Let the Minister try to think what that means. Mothers have come to me about their cases. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) may think 676 that there is something to laugh about when a Member is talking about mothers who have sons in the Air Force.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
The hon. Member is not justified in saying that. It is true that my attention was wandering from what he is saying, and that I listened to something that was said behind me; but I was not laughing at what he was saying, and he has no right to say that.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If the hon. Member allows his mind to wander in such a way that he makes an obvious facial gesture while a Member is dealing with a particular subject——
§ Captain Cobb
Might I explain to the hon. Member that I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), "What a wonderful thing it would be to have on one's tombstone, I died listening to Willie Gallacher'."
I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that nothing would please me better than to read it on his tombstone. When an election takes place, I shall see a lot of tombstones representing the hon. and gallant Member and his hon. Friends, and I say the more the merrier, because that will be something really to laugh about, It shows the type of mind with which we have to deal when we are discussing questions that affect very largely the mothers of the working class. The mother has her son taken away and he is killed; she is then asked if he has been contributing to the maintenance of the home. Maybe, she has been sacrificing herself to try to train her son for a profession. Maybe, she has been spending every penny she could get on that lad before he was taken, not getting anything from the lad, but giving everything herself. In another six months, if he had not been taken away, he might have been in a position to make some recompense to the mother for all her sacrifices, but he is taken away and killed, and she gets nothing. Maybe, she has been directed to a job. She gets nothing. What do these mothers say? They say, "They have taken away my son, my son is dead and now I am forgotten." Do hon. Members ever think—does the 677 Minister ever think—about the thousands of forgotten mothers of this country and about the effect of a contribution from the Exchequer—something from the country? It is not a matter of finance. Maybe, they are not in need of the 10s. It would mean that these mothers, every week, as they went to collect the 10s., or whatever it might be, would have the feeling, "My lad is not forgotten and I am not forgotten." That is the important thing, and it should be taken note of.
In regard to wives without children, this is a question of getting cheap labour. A wife is entitled to so much per week, but if the Minister directs her to a job—we are directing them all to jobs now—the childless mother gets about 12s. or 15s. less than the other. This means that, if she is directed to a job by the Minister of Labour, she is actually taking Its. a week of her pay which ought to be part of her allotment, so that the actual payment she receives for the work she is doing for a Government Department is 12s. less than that of the other girl. That means that there are Departments playing into one another's hands, because they are getting cheap labour in these particular jobs, and I suggest that this idea of treating the wives of the soldiers as cheap labour, and taking 12s. off their allowances because of directing them to do a job, is the sort of scandal that should be ended without hesitation. Every wife should have the right to an allowance in her own behalf without compulsory allotment, and she should have that right whether there are children or not. If it is a question of directing any of these women to work, they should get the same wages as other women, and that in no way should interfere with the allowance which they are receiving. There should be no question of taking res. off their allowance in order to subsidise the wages in the job they are doing. I suggest that these matters should be seriously considered by the Department which is considering anomalies, and that they should try'to get all these questions straightened out and adopt a generous and decent attitude towards the soldier and his dependants.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
The question which the hon. and gallant Member for Darwen (Captain Prescott) has raised regarding the treatment given to members of the R.A.F., is one which I hope the Under-Secretary will appreciate 678 to the full. I should imagine that there are very few hon. Members in this House who have not received letters of complaint in regard to the manner in which these people feel they were misled in respect of the recent increases. I agree that it should be an easy matter to smooth the differences out, in view of the fact that members of the R.A.F. were hitherto in a rather more favourable position, but I feel that those who are responsible for drawing up these improvements might have given some consideration to the manner in which the position might have been eased by way of gradually making the position of the R.A.F. conform to that of all other Services. I gather that the proposal made by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) may offer some assistance in that regard, and I hope it will receive consideration. It is not that we receive one letter; we have received numerous letters, because so many members of the Services and their wives were misled when the improvements were first announced to this House and reported over the air by the B.B.C. I hope that this matter will receive not only sympathetic consideration, but consideration of a constructive kind whereby the differences might, if not immediately, gradually be alleviated.
The other point, that of the childless wife, is to me a very important one. I recall that soon after these improvements were announced, I received a letter from a wife whose husband was in the Services and who is the mother of three children. The youngest one has just passed the age of 14 and the mother says: "Now I am classed as a childless wife, and I receive an allowance less than that of the mother or wife who happens to be, at the present moment, in the position of having one or two children in the home under 14 years of age." Then she says that her duties in the home are equally as responsible as those of the woman with younger children. She goes on, "Despite the fact that I have reared three children, I am forced now to go out and seek employment." That position ought never to have arisen; it is grossly unfair. Furthermore, this woman had arrived at a stage in her life when probably she was unfit to go out to work. I hope that, as a result of this discussion, points of that kind will be taken into consideration by the members of the Government appointed for the purpose of considering anomalies. There are 679 a number of anomalies, some of which may not be capable of solution, but an anomaly of the kind that I have mentioned could easily be remedied, and should be on the basis of justice.
The Government have not too good a record on the subject of allowances. It fell to my lot, in February, 194o, to move the first Amendment in Supply dealing with the subject of allowances of those who were in the Services. It was about a quarter to twelve at night when my Amendment was permitted to be moved, and we managed to get 6d. a day from that Debate. We can be grateful that we have moved so far at this stage, but this House has literally had to push the Government in order to get any reform whatever. One would almost be justified in saying that it has been compelled to use dynamite. When one comes to consider the subject of the parents of the men and women in the Services, the record of the Government is far blacker. This subject was raised when the first Conscription Bill was going through this House. I remember raising the position of the apprentice lads whose parents, in many cases, had taken every bit of money they had had in the bank and devoted it to apprenticing them or putting them to learn a profession. Now we find that they have even done that sort of thing in regard to their girls, because the girls are involved as well as the lads. These parents placed the last of their resources behind these boys and girls for the purpose of giving them a training for their future, and now, should those boys and girls be killed, and they apply for a small pension, they are asked to state their means. They have already disposed of their means, but unless they are on the poverty line they can get nothing whatever. That statement is perfectly justified. I wish the conscience of this House was so stirred that it was prepared to force the Government on this issue, as it has forced them on other issues.
I was one of the Members of this House who met a deputation representing parents about a month ago. That deputation stated that large organisations are growing up in every part of the country on the one subject alone of the recognition of the parents whose boys or girls have been lost in war. One of the mothers put it to us in this way, and as only a 680 mother can. She said: "We may not be in a poverty-stricken condition, we may not be very well-off, but none the less we feel that, having given our lives to the training of these boys and girls, we are justified in asking for some recognition from the Government of the services that we have rendered to the country." It was suggested that the least we could offer them as a recognition of those services was Dos. a week. They want some recognition, and I ask that that shall seriously be considered. I have no desire to see organisations grow up throughout the country for the purpose of forcing the Government on a subject of this kind. I believe that if every hon. Member of this House was asked his views on this subject, he would say immediately, "I agree that there should be some recognition of the services rendered." If the Government gave them 10s. it would not be too much. At least, there would be some sort of appreciation shown to the parents of those boys and girls who have made the supreme sacrifice in this war.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
I remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air, a fortnight or three weeks ago, answering questions on complaints about the treatment of the dependants of airmen themselves, indicated that he was of opinion that the White Paper had been accepted by the House after there had been a Debate. I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) will agree that I interjected, "When was the Debate?" and the hon. and gallant Member himself got up and asked that question. That shows that the Secretary of State for Air, and possibly the Air Ministry too, have completely misconceived the attitude of the House as a whole as far as the matter is concerned. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Darwen (Captain Prescott) has done good service to all Servicemen and their dependants in managing to raise this matter to-day. There is only one thing I should like to mention, and, if I may use the fantastic expression of the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull), if I can "pin down the mind" of the Secretary of State for Air to this particular thing, I shall have done something worth while. I have come across eases this week-end in which wives have not yet received even the meagre increases that were mentioned and agreed 681 to by the Government in the White Paper. Although the White Paper was issued some three or four months ago, I should be very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air give a satisfactory answer, and I feel under an obligation to raise it to-day.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)
On 24tn May my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Darwen (Captain Prescot) raised by means of Questions in this House, issues concerning the introduction of new scales of allotment in relation to the increases in pay and allowances in the White Paper and, in particular, with reference to childless wives. I am glad to be able to reply to him on this issue and, I trust, on some of the other issues that have been raised by hon. Members in respect of Royal Air Force pay and allowances. I would say to him at the outset that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air is sorry that he has not been able to be here to listen to this Debate. On the other hand, I am sure he and the House will appreciate that the hazards of our Parliamentary time-table are such that while on the one hand the Debates to-day have finished earlier and so given a good opportunity for hon. Members to raise many issues, on the other hand, my right hon. Friend, with heavy operational commitments in respect to the Royal Air Force, could not have been expected to know that things were going to work out this way.
The Debate has ranged very widely and many issues have been raised, from a question to me as to when the war with Germany will end from my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) —a question to which I cannot give him any satisfaction except to say that in my own personal view the enemy is still very powerful and it is going to be a long and arduous task before we have Germany finally beaten. From that it passed quickly from the treatment of dental treatment for pregnant women to questions as to the basic principles of parents' pensions. We dealt quickly with issues which are the responsibility of the War Office and questions such as pensions scales and the principles of pensions which, of course, do not come under the Air Ministry. So I know the House will excuse me, and not expect me to reply 682 upon matters of such wide scope. Nevertheless, I share with hon. Members as, I trust, a good Parliamentarian, the pleasure at an opportunity having been given to this House to express its view on so many of these large issues. I am quite sure the Ministers of the various Departments, and the Government as a whole, will take note of all that has been said as regards these wide matters which are outside what I can speak about.
I come to the basic question as to why the Royal Air Force had to increase its allotments. Our action in this respect was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, and one or two other hon. Members. I think it is only fair to the House, as it is only fair to my Department, that I should give some explanation as to why we have had to do this and what is the position to-clay. The only respect in which changes in the White Paper affect the Royal Air Force less favourably than they affect the Royal Navy and the Army is that the qualifying allotments of certain airmen have had to be increased. This was foreshadowed. If hon. Members will turn to page 3 of the White Paper, they will see these words are used:These scales will be on a generally similar basis in all three Services and will result for the most part in a reduction of the present scales, though there will be some increases in the Royal Air Force.The reason why these increases were necessary was that the qualifying allotments for these airmen were lower than those laid down for soldiers and airmen on similar rates of pay. This again is due to the fact that our system in the Royal Air Force has been that the allotments are based simply on scales of pay, whereas in the other two Services the allotments are based partly on pay and partly on rank.
§ Captain Balfour
I am coming to that, but in the range where the changes take place—if the hon. Member will allow me to make my points, as I have listened to all he said and I hope I shall give him satisfaction—whereas in the other two Services the allotments are based partly on pay and partly on rank, we have a straight-through scale of allotments based on pay only. Now the variations did not matter much so long as the wives of soldiers and sailors got the full benefit 683 of the additional allotments paid by their husbands, but the new scheme now introduced is based on the principle of making a wife's total receipts up to a definite minimum amount, and if our qualifying allotments had not been increased the State would have been contributing to the Air Force wives a larger share than it would have been contributing to the wives of soldiers and sailors on the same rates of pay.
Althernatively, the wives of airmen would have had to receive a smaller total allowance than the wives of soldiers and sailors on the same rates of pay. One of two things would happen—either the Air Force would have been paying a lower allotment, the total receipts of the family being the same as in the Army and Navy, therefore the Government giving more in respect of the Royal Air Force, or, alternatively, we kept to our previous allotments, with the same amount given by the State to the Air Force wife as to the Army wife, and the total emoluments of the Air Force wife would be lower. So we had to standardise the allotments as closely as we could. However, the House will appreciate that the change only affects airmen on rates of pay ranging from 4s. 9d. to 8s. a day, and they are as follows. On 4s. 9d. and over but less than 5s. 6d. a day, the old qualifying rate of allotment was is., the new qualifying rate of allotment is 1s. 3d. On 5s. 6d. and over but not exceeding 8s. a day pay, the qualifying old rate of allotment was 1s., the new rate is 1s. 6d.
Even with these increases no airman has to pay a higher allotment than a soldier or sailor on a similar rate of pay. That is a point I would like hon. Members to appreciate—in no case has an airman to pay a higher allotment than a soldier or sailor on a similar rate of pay. Of course, many of these airmen who are now to pay an increased allotment have, in addition to this compulsory allotment, been making voluntary allotments, and it is, of course, open to them to reduce, should they so wish, their voluntary allotments in view of the increase in their compulsory allotments, but I do not think that many of them will do so.
§ Captain Prescott
Would my right hon. and gallant Friend allow me to interrupt for a moment? He has referred to the basic rates of pay and the allotment which 684 will have to be made. 1s it not a fact, in addition to those he has mentioned, that previously for a basic rate of pay for 9s. per diem the compulsory allotment was is. 6d. whereas under the new rates it will be 1s. 9d.?
§ Captain Balfour
No, on a daily rate of pay of 9s. the Royal Air Force compulsory allotment is still is. 6d. a day. I want here, though, to stand in a white sheet as regards my Department in one correction we have had to make and which I have announced in reply to a question from an hon. Member. This is in the graduated scale of allotments as compared with what we first put forward. In this graduated scale we first thought that the increased allotment for airmen in the pay range between 7s. and 8s. a day would have to be is. 9d. instead of is., but this was due to a miscalculation and it was found that an. increase to Is. 6d. would be appropriate. We have made that adjustment. The increase of allotments is only in the range of pay of 4s. 9d. and over, and in no case is there an increase of allotment beyond 6d. a day.
I now come to the question of childless wives. The White Paper stated clearly that there would be no increase in the State contribution to childless wives. It is not for me to argue to-day the Governmental decision on that particular issue. I want to explain the reason why the allotment has been increased for the airman in respect of the childless wife, in the same way as the allotment has been increased in respect of the wife with a child. Again, the change concerns only those within the pay range of 4s. 9d. to 8s. a day and the wives of airmen have had their allowances increased by the amount of the increase in their husbands' qualifying allotment. That is to say there has been no increase in the childless wives' receipts from the Government; the only increase has been in respect of higher compulsory allotment from the airman and consequently the lower amount which the airman receives on pay day. I know, and I admit. it straight away, that there has been some misunderstanding and indignation about this particular action. But I want to put this point to the House, and I hope it will receive a wide measure of publicity: There is real truth in the fact that it is not administratively practicable to work a scheme in which a childless airman pays a smaller 685 qualifying allotment than the airman with a child. This is the reason: The rate of qualifying allotment is determined by reference to the airman's pay, and his allotment is charged against the airman's pay account by the unit, or base, accounting officer. That officer has no information whatever as to whether the airman has a child and, therefore, could not very well operate a scale of allotment which varied according to whether or not there were children in the family. We had no alternative but to apply the increased qualifying allotment to all married airmen, whether they had children or not, but even with these increases the childless airman and his wife are no worse off than childless sailors and soldiers on similar rates of pay. Any of the childless airmen who were previously making voluntary allotment could recoup themselves by reducing or discontinuing that allotment. I, personally, think that resentment against increased qualifying allotment is a rather academic issue, because family income is looked upon as a joint pool. A wife can send back to her husband, if she wishes, part of her allotment and her husband can reduce his voluntary allotment.
As to the way in which the White Paper was introduced, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Darwen said that the White Paper was announced in such headlines as "Increases of Pay," and my hon. Friend the Member for Basset-law went so far as to say that there was some wilful misrepresentation. I assure the House that this is not so. I think misunderstanding is in some part due to the very heavy pressure there is on such available space as there is in newspapers to-day, compared with what we used to have before the war. Before the war any leading paper would have printed the White Paper in full, and could have had the opportunity of analysing it much more fully. In these days, when we live on headlines, and when somebody says there is an increase here and there, there is liable to be a deduction that it is an all-round increase. There is no ground whatsoever for the suggestion that the changes were announced by the Government in such a way as to justify many of the higher rank and file in believing that the Government were granting an increase to them. The White Paper stated categorically:His Majesty's Government are satisfied that no general increase of pay is required.686 Hon. Members may or may not agree, but at any rate that is a positive and clear statement. The White Paper went on:Increases will be granted only to non-tradesmen private soldiers.There is no ground for a charge either of misrepresentation, or that these changes were not announced clearly to anybody who cared to read the White Paper.
My right hon. and gallant Friend is now attempting to rebut my suggestion that there was wilful misrepresentation and has implied that the Press were responsible for the misunderstanding because they did not read the White Paper properly. Was any information given to the Press by the Press officers of his Department or any other Service Department, to explain what the White Paper really meant?
§ Captain Balfour
I did not say that it was the fault of the Press; I said that in peace-time the whole White Paper would have been reproduced. I do not know whether we gave any information to the Press or not, but the White Paper was available and, as I have said, in peace-time all of it would have been published and commented on in a much wider way than was possible in present circumstances.
§ Mr. Driberg
Could not the White Paper itself have been made much clearer if it had not been stated in only Army terms, and could not the matter have been explained to Air Force personnel before the actual changes were made at the pay parades?
§ Captain Balfour
It is very hard to explain to all personnel in many parts of the world something we are trying to get out in a few hours. Quite rightly, at the request of hon. Members of this House, the Government were trying to introduce these reforms quickly. It may well be that if the same opportunity occurred again we could improve upon our action. I am sure that both the hon. Member and I could improve upon our past actions if we had the chance to do so.
§ Captain Balfour
I am not prepared to give a view on that. It is a new point. Unless I read all the White Paper 687 in relation to the Royal Air Force I would not like to give a view on it, but I hope that to-day's Debate will clear away misunderstanding. As I have said the White Paper made it clear that there was to be no general increase in the higher ranks and said, as regards family allowances:His Majesty's Government have decided that a substantial improvement should be made in the position of families of those men who are in the lower' ranges of pay,and added that, the State's contribution would decrease as the man's pay and, consequently, his qualifying allotment increases.
The hon. Members for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) and Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) said there had been delay in the actual issue of the increased family allowances. One of the earliest complaints that we received, when the effect of these new R.A.F. allotments was realised, was that, although the increased qualifying allotments, as set out in the way I have given, were being deducted from the airmen's pay as from 4th May, the increased payments to wives would not actually be issued till some weeks later. That was because of administrative difficulties—the calling in of paybooks and re-issuing of them. So, to meet that position, I called one of those "towards midnight" conferences when I realised the effect of these proposals and the misunderstanding which was evidently coming about. I received about a dozen letters from Members on the same day on the same point and when a Minister receives 12 letters on one point on one day he knows there is something in it and it is a matter which must be looked into. I called my officials together and went into the question and that night we did two things. We got authority from the Treasury to defer the increased allotments till the increased allowances of the wives were actually in issue, from 4th May to 5th July, when we anticipated that the last of these pay-books of new allowances would be out. The Government are contributing 3d. to 6d. a day more to the increased family allowances and the airmen concerned are contributing 3d. for 6d. a day less than was provided for in the White Paper. The increased allowances, though issued on a later date, will be paid from the earlier date of 4th May. The number of allowance books issued by 1 p.m. on 688 26th June was 223,000. The whole issue of nearly 400,000 will be completed at the latest by 1st July. Those wives will get their payment retrospectively to 4th May and meanwhile the men will not have been paying the increased qualifying allotment but from that time they will be so doing.
§ Captain Balfour
If the hon. Member will let me have problems affecting particular men I will give a considered reply, but it is not fair to expect me to give a snap decision on a particular point.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) suggested, firstly, that we should not alter the present position of the lower allotments. Such a suggestion is not practicable because it would mean in effect that the Air Force were getting a higher rate of family allowances than the Army or the Navy. His second suggestion was that those on the lower scale of allotments should be allowed to opt for the future so as to continue paying the lower scale of allotment and receive a lower family allowance. If we allowed that, it would be defeating the object of the Government in producing these measures, which is to give an increased amount to the wives for their family life.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn (Sir R. Tasker) asked first about the Air Transport Auxiliary. That is not within the province of the Air Ministry. It belongs to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Secondly, he talked about the pension scale for warrant officers. That comes within the province of the Ministry of Pensions. The hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) said he had some individual cases, and he dealt with complaints from airmen overseas. I hope that what I have said has shown, firstly, that our scale of allowances is now broadly the same as that of the Army and Navy and that in no case does a man in the Air Force pay a greater allotment than a corresponding man in the Army or Navy on the same rate of pay, and secondly, that our rates of family allowance are no worse for the airmen than for the Army.
§ Captain Balfour
Because the basic principle of our allotment is different from that of the Army. Ours is related to pay only and the Army bring in both pay and rank. For instance, one hon. Member mentioned the case of a man who was promoted to sergeant and who would have to pay a higher rate of allotment and would finally have less money. That does not actually apply to the Royal Air Force. The three Services are all broadly equated to-day. The men of the Air Force should feel that any confusion that attended the introduction of these increased scales has been set-off by positive action on our part, firstly in delaying the payment of these allotments until the wife gets the higher amount of family allowance and, secondly, that they are just about the same as in the Army and the Navy. I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for having given me this opportunity Of clearing up these misunderstandings of a very complicated subject which we in the Air Ministry tried to tackle and, though we may have made mistakes here and there, I hope the House will appreciate that they have, at any rate, been the subject of swift action in the endeavour to rectify them.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)
I wish to deal with one point raised by my right hon. and gallant Friend in his full and, to me, satisfactory reply. I take him up on the point he made that the three Services are broadly equated. I think that is absolutely true, but what I want to suggest is that we are bound to have further increases in pay and allowances during the next few years. More especially is that true since the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken the brake off the cost of living. It is apparent from what has been said by hon. Members that the House is dissatisfied with the method of introducing the recent increases in allowances. The White Paper was primarily the responsibility of the Secretary of State for War and these other points have emerged since. The suggestion I would like to make is that there should be set up an inter-Departmental committee on the whole question of Service pay and allowances, which should be put under the general supervision of the Lord President of the Council, in order that when any subsequent increases are given the whole thing from the point of view of the three Services should be treated 690 equally. There should be a considered White Paper brought out representing the points of view of the three different Services and the various scales should be set forth in that White Paper showing how they affect Service personnel in each of the Services. If we created such a committee and allowed the Lord President of the Council, as Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Minister of Defence, to deal with the matter, we should not have these anomalies arising at a late stage when people do not comprehend what the reactions of the increases as applied to one particular Service will be on the other two.