HC Deb 08 March 1945 vol 408 cc2231-4
The Prime Minister

Since the announcement that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made on 6th February, on the subject of gratuities and other release benefits for members of the Forces, the Government have been examining the claims of other classes of similar benefits. The House will realise that in the case of the Armed Forces, a gratuity was given after the last war and that there was a natural expectation that a similar gratuity would be given after the present war. The Government accordingly felt that their scheme for the resettlement of members of the Forces would not be complete without the provision for the payment of a gratuity.

The Government have had to consider all the analogous classes of the community there were to whom a gratuity should also be given. They have come to the conclusion that this benefit should be extended, though on a reduced scale, to certain members of the Civil Defence Services where remuneration throughout the war has been related to Army rates of pay and where, therefore, the basis adopted for the settlement of remuneration, and the facilities available for negotiation, are not comparable with those normally existing in industry.

The Government have, accordingly, decided that a war gratuity shall be paid to whole-time members who have served under Civil Defence conditions for not less than six months from 3rd September, 1939, in the Civil Defence Services, the local authority Fire Guards, the Auxiliary Police, the Auxiliary Fire Service, and the National Fire Service, excluding, of course, those who were whole-time members of the former local authority or police fire brigades. Gratuity will also be paid to other ranks of the Royal Observer Corps and to the Auxiliary Coastguards. Special considerations apply to officers of the Royal Observer Corps, and this question must be separately examined. The gratuity will be payable on the same general principle as, but at three-fourths the rate of, that payable to the Armed Forces. The basic rate for men will thus be 7s. 6d. for each completed month of whole-time service from 3rd September, 1939, and for women 5s. a month. The gratuity, together with any post-war credits due in respect of Civil Defence service, will be credited to Post Office Savings Bank accounts after a date which will be determined later on the principles applied to the Armed Forces. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Home Security will notify local authorities shortly of the detailed arrangements. No application need be made at present by those who have left the Civil Defence service, and who may, nevertheless, be entitled to a gratuity.

The Government have also given careful consideration to claims which have been put forward on behalf of other classes of people. The Government have felt obliged to consider how far the principles governing their decision to give financial benefits already announced apply to these cases and, after giving the most sympathetic thought to the matter, they have come to the conclusion that they cannot justify the extension of such benefits in any form to classes who are employed under the recognised conditions for the industry or profession to which they belong, and who receive an industrial or professional rate of pay.

The Government are aware that this decision, which they have reached only after the fullest consideration, will cause disappointment in some quarters, and, in particular, perhaps, in the case of the Women's Land Army, whose claims have, I know, made a special appeal to a number of hon. Members. I hope, however, that those who are disappointed will recognise the impossibility of extending concessions beyond those already indicated without opening the door to an unending succession of new and extended claims which could not be differentiated on any logical basis.

Dr. Edith Summerskill

In view of the fact that these Services are to be given a gratuity because their payment is related to the payment made in the Services, is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that women in the Land Army, after their board and lodging has been deducted from their pay, are left with an amount equivalent to that received by the women in the Services? Can he, therefore, explain this discrimination?

The Prime Minister

Be it far from me to attempt to argue out, in detail, the very extensive and complicated provisions of the statement I have had the duty to make to the House.

Sir Hugh O'Neill

May I ask a question with regard to a point which the right hon. Gentleman did not make quite clear? Does the grant of gratuity to members of the Civil Defence Services apply to people who belonged to it for any period of six months after 3rd September, 1939?

The Prime Minister

I deprecate answering questions of detail like that without having an opportunity to consider them, because I might find that I was leting my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exechequer in for an expenditure of millions by a mere casual answer. I could not run the risk of that.

Miss Ward

In view of the unfair discrimination against the Women's Land Army—a very gallant body of women—will there be an opportunity for discussion of this whole question at a very early date?

Viscountess Astor

And before the right hon. Gentleman answers, may I ask if it is not true that the members of the Women's Land Army are underpaid, overworked, and very often badly housed? Will the right hon. Gentleman, in the largeness of his heart, consider that?

The Prime Minister

That is one of those sweeping generalisations which we have come to regard as characteristic of the Noble Lady. I hesitate to draw any deductions therefrom, but anyhow, there is no question whatever of our discussing the merits of the different proposals which have been made. I am clearly of the opinion that the House should find the time to debate this matter, but it is for the Leader of the House to say what is the most convenient way of fitting it in with the already crowded course of Government Business.

Mr. Alexander Walkden

Is the Prime Minister aware that the negative announcement he has made with regard to the Women's Land Army will cause very deep and bitter disappointment? They have been called an army, they are not recruited through the employment exchanges, they are required to live in hostels, they have been paid on lower terms than Civil Defence workers or the auxiliary services. They have many special merits—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech"]—which should be taken into account.

The Prime Minister

When we listen to my hon. Friend's account of all the arguments in favour of making a payment to the Women's Land Army, we should realise how very strong must have been the arguments which led us to take the opposite view.

Mr. Granville

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, as I have a Question down—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member must be aware that he cannot get up on a point of Order unless I sit down. I do not think we ought to pursue this any more. This is becoming a regular Debate. We must get on with our business.