§ 4.33 P.m.
§ General Sir Georģe Jeffreys (Petersfield)
I desire to call attention to the position under the Pensions Increase Act, 1944, with special reference to the pensions of the Armed Forces. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) will deal with the comparable, though not identical, case of civil servants and other civil pensioners. There are two schemes under the Act. The first, under Section one, grants an increase in the lower range of pensions which is not inconsiderable, and with that particular Section I do not intend to deal at all. It is as to the second scheme under Section two that I wish particularly to say a few words.
This Section two is applicable only to officers and not to other ranks and it provides—on pensions not exceeding £400 a year an increase of 10 per cent.; on pensions between £400 and £600 an increase of 7½ per cent.; and on pensions between £600 and £645 enough to bring the total up to £645. On pensions over £645 there is no increase whatever. In the case of officers who retired under the Royal Warrant of 1919 and corresponding instruments these increases are considered inadequate and, indeed, they are thought to amount to a breach of faith on the part of the Government, certainly by the officers affected, for reasons I will now outline. In 1919 new rates of retired pay were laid down. I will refer to these, if I may, as the basic rates of 1919. The Royal Warrant provided, and I quote: 2981The rates will be subject after five years to revision either upwards or downwards according as the cost of living rises or falls. After 1st July, 1924, a further revision may take place every three years.What happened was that after a brief rise in the cost of living in the period from 1919 to 1922—a rise which was not taken into account because the period was less than five years—the cost of living fell steadily, and with it fall retired pay was reduced until, in 1923, it had been reduced to 11 per cent, below the basic rates. In 1934 there was a slight rise in the cost of living figure, and the reduction became only 10 per cent. Then the Government decided to consolidate and stabilise the rates of retired pay, and in 1935 this stabilisation was carried out at 9½ per cent, below the basic rates of 1919.
The position, therefore, is that on pensions below £400, the full amount was restored, on pensions between £400 and £650, 7½ per cent. out of the 9½ per cent. was restored, and on all pensions over £645 nothing at all was restored. I submit that, in fairness, the whole 9½ per cent. and the whole of the reduction in retired pay should be restored. The claim is not for additional retired pay, but for the restoration of reductions made. It is not to be wondered at that this action of the Treasury—this stabilisation in disregard of all that was laid down in 1919 —should be regarded as a breach of faith by those affected. I can assure the House that it is so regarded, and that the feeling exists very widely. Such a feeling does the Treasury no good. The increase in retired pay announced in the recent White Paper accentuates the grievances of those old officers who retired under the terms of 1919. If those terms, involving rises as well as falls according to the cost of living, had been carried out, the middle rates of retired pay, that is to say, of those about the rank of commander in the Royal Navy or of lieut.-colonel in the Army, would have approximated to those laid down in the latest White Paper.
I will now say a word as to the cost of such a restoration. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in a former Government stated that the cost would amount to, approximately, £850,000 a year. Surely, that is a small sum compared with our immense present day expenditure? It is an amount which I think we can well afford. Let it not be thought that this 2982 matter only affects old soldiers and sailors. Serving and prospective officers, some of whom the Minister of Labour said just now he had been interviewing and who had some doubts about their future, are watching and wondering, in view of the treatment of their predecessors, what their treatment is likely to be and what the value of present day promises in the White Paper is likely to be when their turn comes to leave the Service. In view of the very short time available, I will say no more now, but I hope that this matter may be further considered and that the restoration of the basic rates may be carried out in the not far distant future.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
It is now 22 minutes to five on the last day of a long Parliamentary sitting which has extended from 22nd January until today. Today, twenty minutes before we adjourn for the Easter Recess, we have, for the first time, found an opportunity of dealing with about 750,000 retired State pensioners. When we come to deal with them, we are allocated half an hour. We have had time enough this Session to cast the steel industry into confusion, we have had time to listen to Ministers talking on subjects which they do not understand, but it is only in the last 22 minutes of a long sitting that we have any time to deal with the 750,000 retired servants of the State who have had an exceedingly raw deal at the hands of the State.
I am not going to attempt, in the seven minutes which is the maximum I can have, if I am to allow the Government to reply, to add to the case which has been stated. But I will do one thing today. I will make my protest against the way these men have been treated, and against the conduct of successive Governments in this connection. I will be precise. I protest at the meanness shown by Governments up to 1935 on this subject and at their giving the least they could by way of compensation for the increased cost of living to the retired State pensioners. I protest against their meanness in consolidating the increase in pensions at a time when the cost of living had fallen to its lowest point. I protest against their conduct from 1935 until 1944, when the cost of living was rising, in denying a single penny of relief to these 750,000 people. I protest that in 1944, when, after two years of agitation 2983 in this House I obliged them to do something, they did the meanest, miserablest least they could in the circumstances of that time. I swore that I would compel them to do something when I came back to this House. I protest that in 1945, when they were asked to produce a new and better Bill, they "diddled" us with the use of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act to carry on the existing inadequate pensions. I protest against the fact that they dishonoured the pledge they made when the Expiring Laws Continuance Act was brought before this House. When that Act was before the House, I raised this very point and I received from the hon. Gentleman opposite, whose word is worthless—it is time we had some plain speaking in this House, and I do not care what he replies today because I shall not believe a word of it until it is implemented—
§ Mr. House (St. Pancras, North)
Is it in Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for an hon. Member to allege that a statement by the Parliamentary Secretary is worthless?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Gentleman is not out of Order, but whether such expressions are advisable is another matter. It is a question of taste.
§ Mr. Brown
I make no apology. I say that the promise the hon. Gentleman made last November has been proved to be worthless. He promised the House of Commons that he would not wait for the Expiring Laws Continuance Act of last November to expire next November before this matter was reviewed. He promised that it would be gone into as soon as possible. He recognised that there were anomalies in the 1944 Pensions (Increase) Act, and promised that he would consider them as soon as possible. Yet when I asked the Government, as I did a few weeks ago, what they intended to do, I got the reply that there was no prospect of any legislation on this subject this Session. What does that mean but that the assurance which the hon. Gentleman gave last November was utterly worthless from the point of view of these 750,000 people?
I do not want to attempt to add to the case which has been put by my hon. and gallant Friend, but I want to denounce the Government for their mean, callous, cruel, indifferent, treatment of 750,000 2984 old servants of the State. I tell the Government that the effect of their ill-treatment is that the word of the Government counts for nothing in the world of the public service today. I say that one of the Achilles' heels of this Government this contemptuous Government—contemptuous of Parliament, and of its obligations to its servants—will prove to be the public service of this country. I warn them that we are tired of them, that we do not believe a word they say to us. We regard them as very much in the category of cardsharpers. That is strong language, but it is about time the House of Commons heard some plain language when we are dealing with people who do not understand anything but plain language.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member's language is in bad taste, though not out of Order. In my opinion the words used are undesirable.
§ Mr. Brown
I am merely telling the Financial Secretary what people are saying outside this place. There was a time when Governments would have been sacked for less unworthy conduct than they have exhibited towards the poor people for whom I am pleading today. One of the things I will do, by the grace of God, if this kind of conduct continues, is to denounce the Government in appropriate terms, and leave them to do what they like. Something a little stronger than myself is what is needed to deal with this kind of set-up. There is a fellow whose statue appears outside, whom we might invoke in this connection. Unless the Government honour their pledge of last November, nothing will be done for these people until next November, and then, for all I know, all that will be done will be to extend the existing Act. Since the Expiring Laws Continuance Act was passed, the Government have been compelled to give more money to serving civil servants, serving soldiers, serving teachers and the like. They were compelled to do that Why? Because if they had not, there would have been a walk out. But these old men are helpless. They cannot walk out, because their period of service has come to an end. So the Government sit back and do nothing on their behalf.
What a spectacle. Apparently we have reached the stage when this Labour Government, from whom labour will have 2985 to be protected before this Parliament is through, in its dealing with the weakest section of the community, can do nothing except "diddle" them in the way in which these old folk have been "diddled." All it does is to give the Civil Service fair words plus the Control of Employment Order, which forbids them to walk out. This is a strange set-up. At any rate, I have made my protest today. I do tilt think it matters two hoots what the Financial Secretary says. He is not even a Minister. In the Treasury they regard him as the weakest and most complacent Financial Secretary they have ever had there in my lifetime. This is blunt talk, but it ought to be said. Few Ministers have counted very much in the Departments in which they have served. The present Financial Secretary is regarded in the Treasury as the weakest, most pliable and most complacent instrument they have had to deal with yet. We want Ministers there who can deal with officials, who are strong enough to recognise a just claim when it is made, and to be able to insist that something is done about it. I have not the slightest confidence that the hon. Gentleman will do anything, and I do not think it matters, therefore, what he says.
I have made my protest today, and at every opportunity I will continue to make that protest on behalf of these hundreds of thousands of retired people, badly treated during their service, and defrauded in their retirement. I denounce it in the name of everything I hold to be decent, reasonable and just in the relationship between the State and its servants.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) has raised the question of the rates of retired pay for officers, and although what he said overlaps with the question raised by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) I will first deal with what he said. The hon. and gallant Gentleman stated the facts clearly and truthfully. After the Great War, increased rates of retired pay for officers were introduced. They were granted as a result of the increase in the cost of living which, as all of us remember, occurred after that war. The arrangement then made was that rates should be subject to a revision, 2986 up or down, of not more than 20 per cent. That went on until 1935 by which time, as, I think, the hon. and gallant Gentleman himself very properly said, the cost of living had gone down, and revisions had taken place. In 1935, the Government decided that the pay and pensions of State servants in general should be stabilised. Thereafter, of course, the cost of living could go up or down but there was a general feeling, at the time, which did materialise, that the cost of living was going down.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I am coming to that. Generally speaking, the cost of living in the early nineteen twenties did begin to go steadily down. In 1935, a halt was called and it was felt by those concerned, including the officers, that the time for stabilisation had arrived.
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
Not by the officers themselves. They were never consulted. Entirely unilateral action was taken by the Treasury.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I will deal with the hon. Member for Rugby later if I have time. I am now trying to answer the points raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield, according to the facts as I know them.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
It was decided that there should be stabilisation. At that time, the cost-of-living index figure stood at 140.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member was not interrupted when he was speaking. He might extend the same courtesy to the Financial Secretary.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman, we have the correct figures at the Treasury. The one place where I think you may expect to get the correct figures is at the Treasury. I would add that I have as much regard for these people as anybody else, and desire equally with others to see justice done to them. Moreover, I have no axe to grind with members of my union outside.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
The figure was stabilised at 155. At the time they were given the rate was stabilised at a figure above the then cost of living. It was not until 1944, when changes were made by the passing of the Pensions (Increase) Act, that something further was done for those on the lower rates of pension. The position now is that under the 1944 Act those in the lower ranges have had their pensions returned to practically, if not entirely, the 1919 level. The 1944 Act gave 10 per cent. to those below £400 a year, something less than this to those up to £645, and nothing to those above that figure. Therefore, if the 1919 cost-of-living figure is to be the yardstick, those up to £645 have got something, and those up to £400 a year have had practically the whole of the cost of living increase returned to them, and are back where they were in 1919. That is the position. But as I said in the Debate in November last, although this is the case, this matter will be fully considered before the 1944 Act cornes to an end. The promise I gave then stands, for retired officers, as well as civil servants. The whole matter will be reviewed, and what anomalies and injustices there are will be dealt with, and, I hope, ironed out.
In the few minutes left at my disposal I propose to deal as far as I can with the speech of the hon. Member for Rugby.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
The hon. Member did a very clever thing. He preferred not to argue his case but to make a series of 2988 assertions and charges which, frankly, have no basis whatever in fact. I am inclined to think he will live a very long time. If there are Powers above or below who watch us humans on this earth, in neither place so far as I can see will they desire to have the hon. Member among them, because whatever the conditions there might be, he would still find fault with them and have a great deal to say in opposition.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
The hon. Member talked about the meanness of the Government up to 1935. I was not a Member of that Government. It was the Government of hon. Members opposite who cheered the hon. Gentleman when he made that assertion. In so far as any Government was mean, it was their Government, and not ours. The hon. Member protested against the rates which were fixed under the 1944 Act. Again, it was not this Government that brought in that particular Measure, although I admit that some Ministers who now sit on this Bench were Members of the Coalition Government at that time.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I am dealing with what the hon. Gentleman said. He made no reference to what the right hon Gentleman who then sat for East Edinburgh said in that Debate. The hon. Gentleman charged the Government with meanness and said that they had been responsible as a Government for fixing the rates. I am reminding him that it was not this Government that was in power at that time. He said it was time we had plain speaking. There is a good deal to be said for plain speaking, and, in so far as I can in the few minutes left, I intend to indulge in it. The hon. Member said that declarations made by me last November, to the effect that this matter would be dealt with before next November when he said this Act expired, had been proved worthless. I made no such declaration, nor did I ever say—because it is untrue—that the Act would expire next November. This Act will not even expire next December. The 2989 hon. Member might have made himself acquainted with the facts of the case. If he had done so he would know that this Act will continue until 31st March, 1947.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
No. What did I say in November last? The hon. Member had said that the present Act contained anomalies and that there was a feeling about it in all quarters of the House. In reply to this, I said:the Government will study what has been said during this Debate, and will consider what has been said sympathetically, to see what, if anything, can be done to put this matter on a satisfactory and permanent basis.Then the hon. Member for Rugby interrupted me and said:Cannot the Minister go further and do the job in three months? If he cannot do justice to it in three months, something must be wrong.In reply to this interruption I said:I am sorry that I cannot give any assurance of that kind. I did not go into the matter in the fullest detail but quite frankly now that the hon. Gentleman presses me, let 2990 me say that those covered by the Act are not the only people who have a small pension or who find that the cost of living does not allow that pension to go as far as it previously did. All sorts of people are in the same position, such as people living upon small annuities, or savings and small pensions, not received from the State.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 5945; Vol. 415, C. 1185 and 1186.]Later on I again emphasised that I could give no promise of any kind except that before the Act did expire something would be done to iron out the anomalies, and if it were found that injustices had occurred, that they would be dealt with.
May I say as my final word that this matter is now under active consideration, and not only under active consideration but under consideration with the people most concerned, namely, the staff side of the Civil Service Whitley Council? As a result I hope that as soon as possible proposals implementing the decisions reached can be presented to the House.
§ It being Five o'Clock, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of yesterday, till Tuesday, 30th April, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of yesterday.