HC Deb 09 July 1948 vol 453 cc793-816

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Snow.)

3.15 p.m.

Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)

Britain has not fully discharged her duty to the men who have been crippled and blinded and who have lost their health in two wars. We are now in a period of inflation, and I want to preface my remarks by observing that inflation hurts all, but particularly those who live on small fixed incomes, and they include all pensioners. It therefore behoves all of us, including those who speak for pensioners, not to make proposals which are so big that they aggravate inflation and thereby bring hardship upon all, including those for whom they speak. Nevertheless, the inflation spiral has left our disabled persons behind, and the time has come, for reasons which I hope to show, when their position must be considered.

May I examine a few figures very briefly? There are 700,000 men and women who have been disabled in the two world wars and who survive at this day. Approximately half of them came from each of those two wars. Of them, there are 50,000 who have been disabled in the highest degree, or who are said to be 100 per cent, pensioners. They receive a rather complex compensation from the State, including a basic pension, and, in a few cases, special allowances. I will deal with their case later. I want to start by dealing with the balance of 650,000 who are below the 100 per cent. mark—people with partial disablement—and their particular situation. The majority of them are in jobs, and, doubtless, the wages which they receive have, over the past 30 years or during the lesser times in which they have been employed, risen as inflation has proceeded, and many may think that, because these people are in jobs and have, on that account, enjoyed the rise in wages which has accompanied inflation, we have no further liability for them. I hope I may show that our liability nevertheless remains, and that it is due to be considered now.

Let us think about some of these disabled persons, who they are, where they are and how they fare. Their disability is with them during all their waking hours. It sometimes denies them their sleep, it affects their lives when at work or at play, or when they are resting in their homes. No one who has not lost a leg can know how much more difficult it is to stand in a queue, to get on a bus or to maintain the ordinary daily task of living, quite apart from the question of undertaking a job in a factory or an office. No one who has not lost a hand can know how much more difficult it is to dress one's self and shave one's self in the morning. No one who has not lost a hand can know how much more it costs one in one's ordinary daily life at home because one cannot put a new washer on the tap or put up a piece of wallpaper or undertake some other small job but must pay someone else to do it. No one who has not had a piece of shrapnel in his hip can appreciate how uncomfortable it is to sit in the cheapest seats at a cinema.

I mention these homely details because they are part of the daily life of the partially disabled people. No one who has not studied this matter realises fully that the bulk of these 650,000 men, though they are in jobs, are in worse jobs than they would have had had they not been partially disabled. It was to compensate them for all these difficulties in their daily life and for the handicap which would arise in their work, their play and the daily conduct of their affairs that we gave them war pensions. We may ask ourselves what the pension we gave them was for. It was not specifically to make up for the loss of a job. It was to give general compensation by way of a makeweight for the daily handicap which their disability placed upon them.

Statements have been made by Ministers of Pensions from the first statement made in the first annual report of the Minister of Pensions in 1917 all through the period since then, which confirm the view that this compensation was a makeweight. In the very first Royal Warrant itself will be found a paragraph, which is repeated in the last Royal Warrant in 1946, and which says that the assessment of compensation for a disabled person shall be made by comparison between a disabled and a normal person of the same sex without taking into account his earnings in the job which he was in before, or in any other job, and without taking into account any other extraneous circumstances—a simple comparison between the fit and the disabled person obtained by medical assessment. It is very important that we should remember that, lest we be misled into thinking that these 650,000 men are being properly dealt with by us on account of the fact that they are in jobs.

In 1919, after a Select Committee, Parliament came to arrangements as to the method and the amount of compensation which would be given to these people and to all our war disabled. It was then decided—I will take the private soldier for these considerations because I do not want to be too long or too complex—that the flat rate 100 per cent. pension for the private soldier, sailor or airman would be £2 a week. That figure remained until 1946 when it was raised to £2 5s. a week. Let me take, by way of example, the compensation of a man who lost his leg above the knee. He would have received £1 4s., that is, 60 per cent. of the £2 in 1919. Owing to the increase which was made in 1946 that person would now receive £1 7s. In addition, he would receive 60 per cent. of the wife's allowance, which is 6s. at present; so that would be his portion now. The increase in his compensation which has taken place over this period of 29 years is 12½ per cent.

Now let us see what has happened to money in the meantime, because it is fair to observe that the 24s. which we gave him in those days were different shillings from those which we use now—not only are they now made of cupro-nickel, but they do not buy as much. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated in this House recently that, as between the year 1938 and the present year, the purchasing power of the £ taken over a wide range of ordinary consumption goods, had dropped by 60 per cent. We might say that a pound that was worth 20 real shillings in 1938 is worth 12 now. That shows how the consideration which we gave to these men at that time has altered even over the past few years.

These compensations or pensions are not directly related to the cost of living, nor are they directly related to wages. They are figures arrived at by empirical attention to all the circumstances, by common sense, and though they are not strictly related to wages or to the cost of living, they obviously bear some relation to it. Quite clearly one would not give a pension to a man without any regard whatever to the income which anybody else has; one would take into account what his brother might be receiving or what he might have been receiving. One would think about all those things, and one of the measures that one would use as to what was a reasonable amount to give him was what the money would buy, and what were the wages of his fellows around him in similar circumstances. To that extent, therefore, it is relevant to take wages into account.

I want to show, therefore, what has happened to wages during the period between 1919 and now. An agricultural labourer in 1919 received 36s. a week; today he receives 90s., an increase of 140 per cent. In 1922 the agricultural labourer received only 28s.; his wage has now risen to 90s., as I have said; in that case an increase of 220 per cent. A group of 14 different craftsmen in the engineering industry received an average wage at that time of 56s.; last year, which is the latest date for which I have a figure, they received 102s., a rise of 83 per cent. There is the measure by which the incomes of fellows whose situations are comparable to those of the ordinary private soldier, sailor or airmen, have been increased.

However, the makeweight which we give him, because of all the factors I have mentioned, has been increased by only 12½ per cent. That increase from 40s. to 45s., which I complain is not enough, took place in December, 1946. Since then there has been a further increase in wages and a further fall in the value and purchasing power of the £. The further increase in wages is substantial. In January, 1946, the average wage of a man in this country was 114s.; today it is 128s.—a further rise of 12½ per cent. in the wages of an ordinary person since the last—and only—rise in the basic rate of pension.

The makeweight, if it is to make weight, should rise pro rata with the fall in the purchasing power of money and the consequent rise in wages; otherwise we are not giving to these people the degree of compensation which we thought fit to give in 1919. In the intervening years not merely costs, but standards, have risen and we ought to take them into account also, so that a pro rata rise in the basic rate—the least that is just—can be made. To do less than adjust the compensation to the altered circumstances of today is to treat this group of our fellow citizens ungenerously and to leave them at a disadvantage owing to their services, which we are no longer willing to compensate at the rate which we thought was just, so long ago. If I have been able to show a case for compensating these 650,000 people who are in work, I do not think pleading is needed for the lesser number of partial pensioners who are not in work. Clearly, their incomes are infinitely less and the compensation is due to them on grounds not merely of equity but of genuine hardship.

There remains the group of disabled ex-Service men and women whom I excluded at the beginning of my statement, namely, the 50,000 who are disabled in the highest degree. They receive a flat-rate pension of £2 5s. a week. Many of them who are unable to work receive £1 unemployability allowance, and if such a person was married he would receive 10s. for his wife. That 10s. was the figure given for the wife in 1919. She, therefore, has not risen by 12 per cent. There has been no rise at all. Such a man with one child would receive 7s. 6d. for that child. The income of such a man, wife and child, therefore, would be £4 8s. 6d., which is £2 less than the average wage paid to a man today.

These groups of whom I am speaking may be in receipt of an attendant allowance, which may vary from 10s. a week to the common figure of £1 or, in very exceptional cases where the man may have lost both hands and both his eyes, even to £2 a week. Adding the £4 8s. 6d. to the £2 attendant allowance in that very severe case, it would be possible to attain the high figure of £6 8s. 6d., when it might be thought that we were not treating our disabled men so badly; but only 250 out of 650,000 are in that category, and only 4,000 receive the attendant allowance. Therefore the special allowances to which I have made full reference do not alter the case that the overwhelming majority of our partially disabled pensioners are not getting enough to compensate them, and the majority of our severely disabled pensioners are living on money which is so much below the average rate today as to be ungenerous, and even mean. If a man who is bedridden, paralysed, or blinded were to give himself the luxury of 10 cigarettes a day and one pint of beer a day, providing nothing for his wife, it would cost him £1 1s. 6d. a week out of his pension of £4 8s. 6d. and, if he also has to find rent, there would not be very much for comfort.

I realise that the group of ex-Service men and women to whom I have made reference are not the only disabled persons. In our industrial life there are serious accidents from time to time, and there are parallel cases in industry. They are a lesser number and the House need not be worried about the extent of the accident rate in industry. But there are a number, and we have been talking of them in the earlier Debate today. My feeling is that they, who have had to put up with the same compensation terms as those to which I have made reference, need the same consideration as I am asking for war victims. This becomes a matter of supreme interest to the whole Trade Union movement and I appeal to the Trade Union movement to throw in their weight with us in the ex-Service movement, so that together we may bring the rates for all who are disabled by the accidents of war or the accidents of industry up to rates of which we could be proud.

At Whitley Bay this week the miners held their trade union meeting and there it was disclosed that they have introduced a scheme for further contributions and further benefits for those of their number who are disabled in industry. They have done so under the Industrial Insurance Act. This House contemplated that the allowances which the Government were giving to disabled persons were not adequate, and for that reason a provision went into the Bill, which was passed only a year or two ago, making it possible for the rates for those in industry to be raised. The miners have come to an arrangement with the Coal Board under this Act whereby, subject to the formal approval of the Minister, they are to institute a scheme for augmenting disability pensions in that industry. The Coal Board are to pay three-quarters of the contributions and the miners one quarter, and the result is that the miners are to get £1 a week extra when disabled in the highest degree.

Today we have a situation in which a miner who loses both his legs, or is blinded, will get £1 a week more disability pension than is paid to the soldier, sailor or airman who suffered the same disability in defending our country—perhaps I might even say in defending our mines and defending the organisations which are part of the life of this country, such as the Miners' Union itself. That is an intolerable state of affairs. I am sure the House and the country will say, "Good luck to the miners. Lucky for them that there is a Section of an Act passed by the Labour Government under which they can so wisely improve their position." But may I point out that since the coalmines are losing money, three-quarters of the cost of the improvement of their position comes out of the pockets of the taxpayers? Why should the taxpayers virtually give £1 a week more to a miner who loses his legs or his eyes than to a soldier, sailor or airman who suffers the same disability? I cannot believe that the Government can leave that position as it is. I congratulate the miners, particularly the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) who made such a great contribution towards the miners' scheme. Let them, with their powerful influence throughout the country, with their powerful representation in this House, now come and help us in the ex-Service world to secure similar conditions for our people.

What I am trying humbly to put forward today are not my views alone: they are the views of the British Legion, which has nearly 1,500,000 members in this country: they are also the views of the Royal Air Force Association, which has a very large membership; and I am also speaking for the disabled soldiers' organisations, those smaller bodies which care for particular sections of the blinded and maimed. It is our intention to initiate a campaign in this House, in the other House, in the Press and in the constituencies to call attention to a case which I believe stands on its own merits, but which is so strongly fortified by the action which has been taken by the National Union of Mineworkers this very week.

May I ask that all who served in the two wars, whether they be in organisations or whether they be private individuals, and their wives and children, and all citizens who sympathise with them, join together and form our own unofficial union of public opinion which will have no less power and influence upon the mind of this House and upon the mind of the Government than has the National Union of Mineworkers. May I not say, on behalf of this House, to the soldiers, sailors and airmen who went out to fight our battles with such valiant heart, "We will do our duty. You did yours"?— All you had hoped for, all you had, you gave To save Mankind—yourself you scorned to save.

3.43 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)

I listened with the respect which all my colleagues in all parts of the House always give to the observations made by the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), observations which he makes with such power and sincerity when he is dealing with that subject which he has made his own. Let me say how proud I was to join with him as he went step by step through his argument until, if I may say so, he arrived at Whitley Bay. It was when he arrived at Whitley Bay that he got into difficulties, and let me make it perfectly clear that the difficulties in which he found himself would have been present had he been considering, for example, the wages paid to a worker in uniform, because that is how we on this side of the House regard a soldier.

We say that if we consider the wages of a worker in uniform then we will address ourselves to questions of national finance and give that worker in uniform the best we possibly can. Similarly if I were asked if I agreed with the amount of money which is being received by the injured ex-Service man I would say "certainly not." If I were asked, further, would I agree to pay an increase in my Income Tax to give him more, I would say "most certainly." It is when the hon. and gallant Member gets to Whitley Bay, as I put it, and gets to the point where all this is mixed up with collective bargaining that I must join issue with him, if I may do so without sounding a dissentient note. May I put it in this way? We are already giving tremendous support to the movement in which he so passionately and rightly believes, and we have made a direct contribution.

In the course of his observations the hon. and gallant Member referred to the increase to £2 5s. 0d. It will be particularly present in the minds of hon. Members that that increase came as a consequence of representations made and pressed and argued in all parts of the country by the Trade Union movement, and particularly by the National Union of Mineworkers with whom I have been so closely associated. Therefore, it must not be thought that there is a difference between us in our intentions as to what the ex-Service man should get. I merely want to say that we are doing so much and we should be given full credit for it. We are making the first efforts and the first claim, and succeeding, and we should receive full support, because undoubtedly the people who are served so well by the hon. and gallant Member will receive, and have received in that respect, the benefits of our efforts. They have received them in many other respects.

When we consider the scheme which has just been agreed between the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Coal Board we are considering something which is a matter of direct relationship between two sides in the industry. The argument of the hon. and gallant Member must be treated as being fallacious because he is obviously not making a comparison between the basic rates payable to the injured Service man and the basic rate payable to the injured workman. He is making a comparison of both joint schemes, one payable in respect of the soldier and the other in respect of the worker in industry. Then later in his argument he brought in the supplementary scheme, which is a very different thing.

If any benefit comes, as it undoubtedly will, to the people whom he serves, as a consequence of some advantage which we receive in the mining industry, it will come as a consequence of Section 83 of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946. That Section would not have been on the Statute Book but for the efforts of the National Union of Mineworkers. There again tribute should be paid to the work we have already done in relation to this important task.

I come now to the most controversial part of the observations made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He tried to link up the money being lost in the coal industry with our supplementary scheme. I oppose in the most emphatic terms any suggestion of that kind. It would be very faulty indeed to infer anything at all from this suggestion of loss on the one hand and the supplementary scheme on the other. The National Coal Board, which is doing such a magnificent job, has inherited certain deficiencies in the shape of economically unsound pits which it is running for the benefit of the nation. It is bound to lose money where it is carrying on work in those pits.

Side by side with that is the fact that the industry is making money, and not losing it, on the change-over from the liability in respect of workmens' compensation to liability in respect of industrial injuries under the new scheme. The coal industry will not have to pay anything like as much in their accounts in respect of industrial injuries in post 5th July cases as they had to pay in respect of workmen's compensation payments. The saving to the coal industry will amount to millions of pounds per annum. That being so, it would be perfectly fair for the National Union of Mineworkers to say that they want that fund which has been saved set aside for the purpose of providing benefits for their men under Section 83 of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. If we did that, then we would have incomparably greater benefits under our supplementary scheme than those we are now receiving. Let me pay a tribute to the restraint of the miner, because he does not ask for all the money saved. He asks only for part of the amount which has been saved to the industry out of this very business of providing compensation for injured people.

He has gone further. The miner has agreed, through his delegates, by a unanimous decision, to go back on the idea of a non-contributory scheme which had been the whole basis of the negotiations for years. He will be contributing under this scheme as much as is contributed under the general scheme. The contribution for a worker under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act is 4d. a week. That is precisely the additional sum which will be paid by the miner under the supplementary scheme. In other words, he will pay 4d. a week, or double the rate of contribution that the non-miner will pay, and he will provide £500,000 a year towards the benefits which he will receive. I hope I have made it clear that this is a matter of negotiation between workers and employers in the industry. It is in no way affected—

Sir I. Fraser

It does not seem to me that what the hon. Gentleman has said has any bearing whatever on the matter. I did not criticise the miners: I said good luck to them. Would he answer my question? Is it a fact that the taxpayers will pay three-quarters of the money in order to give the miner an extra £1 which the other man will not get? I do not want it to be thought that I am criticising. I say good luck to the miner, and I ask him to come and help us.

Mr. Williams

Surely the answer is that I have already indicated two important respects in which we have helped them. That is the first part of my answer. The second part of my answer is that the proportions are wrong. It is not a question of three-quarters. It is a question of 4d. a ton as against 4d. per individual. It would be absolutely absurd to take those figures and not to take into account the saving to the coal mining industry in the change-over. It would be utterly wrong to talk about a loss, and the taxpayers paying the money, just because it so happened that in this particular period there may be a loss. That, I think, is a complete answer to the hon. Member. I was very happily supporting the hon. Gentleman until he used these words. Although he did say good luck to the miner, he also compared the position of the miner, after he had had the full benefits of the supplementary scheme, with the position of the injured soldier, and he said that this was an intolerable state of affairs If that is not criticism of our supplementary scheme, I would like to know what it is.

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

Is it not a fact that when my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) used the word "intolerable," he meant that it was quite wrong that, when the needs of the disabled men were the same whether disabled in war or in industry, one should get one amount of money and the other should receive a different amount? Does he not accept that? As the State is the employer in both instances, to use his own words, should not the State see that those injured, either in industry or in war, should receive exactly the same compensation?

Mr. Williams

My answer is that the question of need is only one of the many questions which must be considered. The question of loss must be considered. The differentiation of rate resulting from the differentiation of risk as between one industry and another must be considered. The history of workmen's compensation payments has to be considered. My answer to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) is that precisely the same question could be asked in relation to wages. Wages are paid in respect of need and other factors. Certainly by comparison with the non-soldier, the soldier is not getting as much in income when doing his job as many men working in industry. That argument may be overwhelming, but it is an argument which will ultimately, I claim, come from this side of the House and not from the other side. If we are considering these schemes and making comparisons, I think we should go further and compare matters other than the sections of one scheme with another. Although the point in relation to need is important, so is the point in relation to financial loss.

There are several persons who under the Royal Warrant will be getting sums far above those quoted by the hon. Member for Lonsdale because of differences of rank. So far as the industrial injuries scheme is concerned, that point does not arise. There are other factors which arise by reason of there being or not being a contribution by the persons concerned which make it perfectly clear that the comparison between the two is utterly wrong because it is a comparison of dissimilars. They are entirely dissimilar things, and I think that to attempt a comparison will injure the case put forward by the hon. Member for Lonsdale, and his views will be frustrated by going the wrong way about it. If we consider not the basis of comparison but what we are prepared as a nation to do for the injured soldier, then I say that he deserves the very best that we can do, but once let this question be intermingled with the question of collective bargaining, and I shall oppose that link-up as strongly, sincerely and passionately as the hon. Member for Lonsdale put his case.

3.58 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)

I think that the House—such as is left of it—was very interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), but I submit that a great deal of it was irrelevant to the argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). I would reinforce what my hon. Friend said, and emphasise that during the whole of his remarks he did not make one single attack on the miners. His speech was one of good will and gratitude that the miners had succeeded in gaining so much. All that he asked was that the miners, having been successful, should now come to the help of disabled ex-Service men to enable them to get the same benefit that they themselves had got.

I would like to express the sense almost of resentment which I feel every time I listen to a Debate on war pensions. There is something oddly un-British in our attitude towards our war veterans, especially the war disabled. I think that we are naturally a kindly and humane people and also a fair-minded people; and yet today we are spending £80 million to £100 million a year in placing Germany on her feet and caring for her people and, incidentally, looking after her war veterans, while at the same time we cannot spend as many thousands on our own men.

It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Snow.]

Sir T. Moore

That seems to me to be so inconsistent. I have nothing against the German war veterans, the German wounded who are disabled or blind, but I feel it is strangely illogical that we should be spending this vast sum of money each year in maintaining the German war wounded while leaving our own under such unfair conditions.

I have tried for some time to find out the reason, to find out some justification for this attitude, and I have come to the conclusion that there is one thing which has animated not only this Government but other Governments, and that is that they have based the war pensions on the amount of discomfort and inconvenience suffered by the war pensioner, instead of basing it on the power to earn which has been denied to him as a result of his disability. That is fundamentally wrong. Pensions should be based on the capacity to earn, on the amount the man previously earned, or on the amount he might have earned if he had not been disabled. That is where the whole system of war pensions has gone wrong for the last 25 years, and it is up to this Government, or some Government soon, to put it right.

Whether we compare war pensions with the cost of living, with civilian wages, or even with the pensions paid to miners, the contrast is always against the man who fought and suffered for his country when it was in need. That is surely all wrong. As my hon. Friend said—and I have looked into these figures in connection with cases in my own constituency—in the case of a 100 per cent. war disability pension, which is for the man who has lost two hands, is blind and so on, assuming he has a wife and child, the man gets £4 10s. from the State at the outside—in fact it is a little less.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions (Mr. Blenkinsop)

The hon. and gallant Member is omitting any of the special allowances that we pay for attendants.

Sir T. Moore

I am taking the basic figure. My hon. Friend gave the House the details, which I do not want to go over again.

Sir I. Fraser

In nine cases out of ten there would not be an attendant allowance.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I wish to make it clear that the figure quoted by the hon. and gallant Member is not the maximum figure.

Sir T. Moore

This is the maximum figure for nine cases out of ten. We have to take the general argument in this matter. We cannot go into every detail of every case throughout the country. Of course, there are people getting far more, but I am referring to the large percentage of men on behalf of whom my hon. Friend was speaking. I wish to point out that the amount we are paying to a man who has to maintain himself, his wife and child, who is possibly bedridden, in great pain and unable to earn anything, is less than we pay to a young girl who is a first-class shorthand-typist.

Mr. Blenkinsop

indicated dissent.

Sir T. Moore

It is no good the Parliamentary Secretary saying that that is not the case, because we have all had personal experience of this in our constituencies. We know what we pay to a shorthand-typist in commerce. We know that we pay £6 for a first-class person, but where can we find a 'disabled man, with a family to support, getting £6?

Mr. Driberg (Maiden)


Sir T. Moore

I know that it may be the case in one or two isolated instances, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not hide himself behind one or two isolated cases, because the country and this House will not stand for it. My hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale said that a pensioner wants a few comforts in the shape of a pint of beer or a few cigarettes daily, the cost of which eats into his very low pension.

Mr. Driberg

Since the hon. and gallant Gentleman is attempting to import so much irrelevant prejudice into the Debate, would he agree that it is also a great deal less than is paid to company directors?

Sir T. Moore

I do not follow that argument at all—

Mr. Driberg

Think it out. It will dawn gradually.

Sir T. Moore

No doubt it was a good point to make.

Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

It was a rotten point to make.

Sir T. Moore

Thank you. Like most Members of the House who are old soldiers, and as one who has the privilege of serving with what I regard as the grandest regiment in the British Army, I feel that so long as this stigma remains on our conscience and we permit the present scale of war pensions to continue, we cannot be a happy people.

4.7 p.m.

Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)

In the few minutes at my disposal I would like to associate myself entirely with the observations of the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). I am sure we shall agree that, in a remarkable and restrained speech, he presented a true picture to the House. An unfortunate atmosphere, however, has been created since my hon. Friend spoke. We are not here to consider the relative merits or demerits of the amounts paid to those injured in industry and those injured in the national service in the Armed Forces. To my mind the only relevance of the action of the miners, with whom the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) is associated, is this: the fact that the Miners' Union and the Coal Board realise the inadequacy of the payments made to miners in respect of industrial injuries should quicken the conscience of this House and the country about the inadequacy of pensions paid in respect of war injuries.

Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)

The trade unions have been trying for years to get the rates increased.

Mr. Bowen

Then let them continue. Is this the time to stop?

Sir I. Fraser

I hope Members opposite will not get cross; we only want to thank them.

Mr. Bowen

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) seems to be very peeved about any suggestion that present rates are not adequate.

Dr. Morgan

I object very much to that personal attack. I do not object to any such thing. I merely wish to point out that the trade unions have been trying for years to get higher pensions.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

I thought the hon. Gentleman rose to answer a remark made by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), but it seems that he wants to make a speech.

Mr. Bowen

I hope that the efforts of the trade unions, coupled with those outside, will be continued. Any suggestion which helps to create an atmosphere of friction or competition in this matter is out of place—

Mr. Driberg

Who started it?

Mr. Bowen

It is not a question of who started it, but of considering the matter on its merits. If we examine the matter dispassionately no one could possibly justify our present pension rates. Clearly, the time is long overdue for a basic increase in all these rates. One hon. Member talked about the position of miners arising out of collective bargaining. I am not suggesting that war pensions are a matter for collective bargaining, but a matter of putting right something that is wrong and giving people who certainly deserve it a square deal. We are at present giving them a raw deal.

I am not going to go into the figures. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Lonsdale has given illustrative examples of the most unsatisfactory position at present, but to my mind one of the matters which illustrates quite clearly the unsatisfactory nature of the present position is the amount of assistance week by week which has to be given by voluntary charitable institutions to these people. No doubt there is a prominent place for these charitable institutions in making particular benefits available to pensioned people, but I do not think it is right that those voluntary organisations should have to help in order that those people may be able to keep body and soul together. That is a responsibility which is on the nation and which should be met from the Treasury.

As it is now, these pensioned people have to depend on national assistance, voluntary organisations or help from their own families, or they have to turn to other sources in order to have anything like a decent standard of living. These people, whether they are 60 or 100 per cent. disabled, have lost something out of their lives. We talk about people who have given their lives—who have given their tomorrow for our today. The injured person is giving part of his today. The least we can see is that he is in a position to maintain himself decently without looking to the charity, of either organisations or individuals.

In addition to that, he should be in a position to buy reasonably modest luxuries, as some recompense for the contribution he has made to us and to the nation. We are not asking that this subject should be treated in an extravagant fashion, but if we are going to be parsimonious about the expenditure of public money, let us not be parsimonious in this particular direction. I hope the Minister will give us fresh hope that the position will be reviewed in the very near future. The only increase in these rates, both as regards partially disabled and totally disabled, has been 12½ per cent. in 29 years. When one remembers what has happened with regard to the purchasing power of money and to wages, it is highly unsatisfactory, and something should be done about it without delay.

4.14 p.m.

The Minister of Pensions (Mr. Marquand)

I think perhaps I may be entitled to claim the indulgence of the House since, while it is not the first time that I have addressed it, it is the first time that I have had the pleasure of addressing it in my new office. As is the case on these occasions, there are many specialists present who have devoted, as has the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), years of their lives to working for ex-Service men and who have studied details of the administration of my Ministry in a way that I myself have not yet had the opportunity of doing. As I have been in the office only a very few days, the House will appreciate that I am still a learner. There is much I have still to learn, and the House, therefore, will not expect me this afternoon to be able to answer some of the more detailed points that have been raised. I want, while I hold the office, to make sound judgments, and so I must not make hasty judgments.

I would also like to point out to the House that the main case which has been this afternoon is obviously a case of a wide general nature on which, in any event, a decision of the whole Government and not of the Minister himself would be necessary. If there were to be some general and all-round improvement, it could only be made after consultation with my colleagues. Clearly, then, no special decision could be announced this afternoon, but I do intend to take into account everything that has been said, and I will take the earliest opportunity of reading very carefully all that hon. Members on both sides of the House have said.

I would not like this first opportunity of mine to pass without saying a word of appreciation of the great services which my predecessor rendered while he held this appointment. I would like to join in the expressions of appreciation which were made to him a short time ago, and to add my own good wishes for his success in his new post. Whatever criticisms may be made, nobody, at any rate, would dare to say that Mr. Buchanan's attitude was cynical, or un-British, if I may quote a phrase from the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore). Every hon. Member of this House from time to time has cases which he has to bring to the attention of the Minister, and all of us who brought cases to Mr. Buchanan's attention know how they were received, and feel grateful for the spirit in which they were considered. To follow a predecessor who has done that, of course, makes my task very much easier in some ways, since he has, as it were, blazed the trail for me. In some ways, however, it makes it much more difficult for me, because, though I certainly hope to follow his good example, I cannot possibly hope to excel his achievements.

The first opportunity which I had as Minister of Pensions to play any official part at all, as it happens, was last Saturday, when I visited the Rookwood Hospital near my own constituency, and I had the honour of meeting there men who had undoubtedly exhibited great bravery in battle, but who seemed to me today, if I may speak of something of which, fortunately, I have had no experience myself, to be exhibiting even greater bravery in their daily lives. I do not want the House to think for one moment that I do not appreciate what these men have done or that I am not moved by experiences like that in the deepest possible manner with sympathy for what they have gone through. The Ministry will continue to treat these cases, while I am Minister, in the spirit of social service, regarding itself as charged with the duty of paying the debt which the whole nation owes to these men for what they have done for the nation.

As I said, I am still learning, and I have learned a great deal more this afternoon. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Lonsdale, and other hon. Members who have spoken, for the information they have given me and for the opportunity they have given me to hear some of the great knowledge which they possess on this subject. I am not always clear on some of the details, but perhaps I may make some general observations which occur to me after hearing what has been said.

We must remember that we are discussing this general question against a background of a determined effort by the Government to check inflation and to bring down prices. A general reduction of prices might be just as beneficial as any general increase in incomes to pay those prices, and we must not forget that that effort is going on. As I have said already, I do not think that the full effects of the Budget recently introduced have yet been felt, and we must not conclude that inflation will continue and that prices will continue to rise. In fairness we must also remember that we should take into account all the incomes paid to other unfortunate persons in the community, as well as to the war disabled, by the various social services, and the Government has, I think, recognised that there is an obligation to take into account all the other payments that are made to other sections of the community.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Lonsdale, in making comparisons with the incomes of other sections of the community, compared the wages of 1919 with wages today. In reading past Debates on this subject, I have noticed that too often there has been a tendency to compare the wages today with the wages as they were in 1932. I am glad that he did not do that today, and I have no criticism to make of what he said about the movements of wages since 1919. If we were to make comparisons with 1932, then it would be fair to remind the House that there was no reduction in the pension payments to take account of the fall in the cost of living which took place during the years of the depression.

Another general observation I would like to make is that to grant 90s. a week as the basic pension, which has been mentioned outside the House, though it was not mentioned here this afternoon, would, I am advised, cost the taxpayer £34 million a year. In all these matters we have to bear in mind—undoubtedly nobody really disputes this—what the total cost to the taxpayer of any improvement might be. I have read previous Debates on this subject, and I find that my immediate predecessors, including Mr. Buchanan, whose work is so highly appreciated, felt that in all the circumstances—the circumstances of the provision of new and extended social services for all classes in the community and the necessity to watch any upward movement of incomes carefully in the light of the inflationary situation—given some limit, as limit there must be, to any increased expenditure that was possible, the best results from the possible expenditure would come from concentrating upon improving the lot of the most severely disabled and unemployable.

The House will recognise that a great deal has already been done in pursuit of that policy which my predecessors followed. We must remember that the allowances for the most severe cases have been very greatly increased during recent years, in some cases, I believe, as much as doubled. Also we must not forget that even those who have obtained employment but have obtained jobs rather lower in earning power than the jobs they previously held, have had specific compensation on that account.

Sir I. Fraser

Could the Minister say how many are in that class?

Mr. Marquand

I am sorry I cannot do that without notice, but I should be glad to write—

Sir I. Fraser

I think the Minister will find that it is only a handful, under 2,000.

Mr. Marquand

If allowances are being paid to men who have suffered that disability, then clearly all who have suffered the disability are entitled to them.

Sir I. Fraser

Under 2,000 out of three-quarters of a million.

Mr. Marquand

I do not dispute the figure. If it is under 2,000, then it means that less than 2,000 suffer from that disability. However, I shall be glad to look into it. I also want to remind the House that a great deal has been done over the years in improving the ability of the disabled to obtain employment. Coupled with our success in maintaining full employment during the last three years, this has meant that a surprisingly large proportion of the pensioners are wage earners. I asked for what figures were available on this point and I found that the Ministry of Labour records show that out of a total of 700,000 registered disabled ex-Service men, 43,000 only, or 6 per cent. were unemployed. The Ministry of Pensions took some sample inquiries of a fairly wide coverage and found that of all war pensioners of all kinds, over 80 per cent. appear to be at work, and that of the war pensioners reckoned as 100 per cent. disabled, 40 per cent. are at work. That is an important point which must be borne in mind in considering the earnings of pensioners. The remainder, those who are not in work and are not earning wages, have substantial supplementations. Nobody suggests, I think, that we should reduce those supplementations in order to improve the basic rate.

Reference was made to the new injuries scheme for miners, and it was evident that there was some difference of opinion between the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) and hon. Members opposite about that. I do not wish to enter into that controversy, but I think the hon. Member for Wigan was right in pointing out that at least some measure of the improved opportunities given to miners by this scheme, over and above what is available to the rest of the community, is explicable by the special circumstances of the mining industry and its past history. I have not time to say much about that this afternoon, but I will say that it will be carefully considered.

By raising the previous 40s. rate to 45s. when the new National Industrial Insurance scheme was introduced, we recognised that there must be some relation between these various schemes of compensation for industry and those for war disabled. As I said earlier, I will study carefully what was said about the miners' scheme and its reactions upon the payments made by my Ministry. I also undertake to study most carefully, and I hope most sympathetically, all the evidence that has been put before me this afternoon, and the other evidence which will undoubtedly be put before me, as time goes on, by the various associations and individuals who have special knowledge and experience in this matter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Half-past Four o'Clock.