HC Deb 16 February 1951 vol 484 cc755-845

11.5 a.m.

Brigadier Head (Carshalton)

I beg to move, That this H[...]use views with concern the situation which, owing to the increase in the cost of living, now confronts those in receipt of war pensions; and, while recognising the difficulties of the present financial situation, expresses the hope that His Majesty's Government will review this question to ensure that the rate of war pensions conforms with the national obligation towards those concerned. I realise only too well that there are very many hon. Members who are both better qualified and more deserving of having the privilege of moving this Motion than I am. There are very many here who have devoted a great deal of their time and energy both to work in voluntary organisations and in sitting on committees concerned with this subject. The only merit I can claim for myself is that, through the undiscriminating fortune of the Ballot Box, I at least selected this subject from a very strong feeling of sympathy with the men and women whom we shall be discussing today.

There are sometimes occasions in the House in which all considerations of party matters and party prejudice, and the natural antagonism that derives from the somewhat different views of the two parties in the House—I am sorry, I should say the three parties—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they? "]—well, two parties at any rate—are cast aside. It is my sincere hope that today we shall be able once again to cast aside party matters, and to look at the case on its merits and from an impartial point of view. This, above all, is not a party matter, and in that particular context I am extremely glad that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) is to second the Motion from the other side of the House.

It is a characteristic of wars that all too often the sufferings which they cause are apt to be quickly forgotten. That is in no way due to ingratitude. It is due partly, I think, to the rush and bustle, inevitable after a war, of people getting back into civilian life; and after that, life goes at a great rate. The subject we are discussing today is not one in which the individuals concerned are particularly vocal. That, I think, is to their credit.

There is no doubt that very genuine suffering and hardship exist amongst these people at present. I know that there will be hon. Members who say, "You could hardly raise this question at a worse time. Here are we, in the greatest of economic difficulties, just about to engage in a vast re-armament programme and everyone everywhere is looking round for reductions in expenditure"; but where the subject concerned is one in which there is any feeling that the nation is not fulfilling its obligations, there is no reason at all for not discussing it—in fact, there is all the more reason for raising it and seeing by what means, even though there may be difficulties, the full national obligation can be met.

It is neither decorous nor traditional for this country in any way to fulfil less than its obligations as regards men and women in receipt of war pensions. Although, as I shall mention, much has been done, undoubtedly this country has lagged behind, for instance, such countries as Canada, Australia and France in this respect. I have put down the Motion so that we may perhaps assess the feelings of the House and in the hope that the Minister of Pensions may be able to accept the Motion. The right hon. Gentleman cannot, of course, decide this until he has heard the debate and what we have all had to say, but I repeat that I have not put down the Motion in any attempt to apportion blame or to state anything concerned with either the past or the future, which is on party lines.

It should be less than fair if I did not mention at the start that I have heard in all quarters that in this matter, in certain respects, the Ministry of Pensions has been most sympathetic and helpful. I have heard great praise of the last two Ministers of Pensions, and particularly Mr. Buchanan, whose presence we all enjoyed so much in the House. Some of the permanent staff at the Ministry, I think, became a little worried at one time because his qualities erred on the generous side, but for that we are all eternally grateful. I am quite sure that, from what we know of him, the present Minister of Pensions will be equally, if not more sympathetic.

The point about this undoubted help of the Ministry is that it was selective. It was given to individuals who were in particular circumstances of difficulty and hardship. That might be very well, but I would point out that the total number concerned was only some 6 per cent. of those in receipt of disablement pensions. There is, I know, an argument that we must help those who are in the greatest hardship. That is true, but I would point out that very many men in receipt of disablement pensions go back into civilian life and say: "Now that I have got this Government help, I have got to make my own way in life; that is what the Government give me, and I must get on with it." They settle down to whatever their work is, and their struggle is to keep going.

For a proud man and a man of character to apply on the grounds of hardship is like a confession of failure, and many men do not like doing it. Some hon. Members may say that there is a good deal to be said against the selective system, and the first point to be made is that we are leaving a widespread underpayment and justifying it by exceptional circumstances in other cases. I do not believe that that is the right way to set about this problem, and therefore my first concern is to discuss this question of the basic rates of disability pensions.

The basic rate of a disability pension is 45s.; in 1919, it was 40s.; that is to say, in 32 years, it has gone up by 5s. I do not want to engage in any discussion of relative values of pensions. I think all hon. Members will agree that since 1919, for reasons entirely outside the control of the men concerned, in effect their disability pension has been reduced by more than half. That is the undoubted position with which we are confronted, and I do not think that anybody would argue about that fact.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me? If he is going to make that point, he must also point out that in 1939 the Con- servative Party reduced the pension—[Interruption]. I am sorry; the hon. and gallant Gentleman is making a point perfectly fairly, but he must also make the point that the Conservative Party in 1939 reduced the pension to 32s. 6d.

Brigadier Head

Do we want to drag up the past?

Commander Pursey (Hull, East)

You do not, but we will.

Brigadier Head

I shall not give way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. If he wants to wreck this debate by quacking at my speech, he had better go into St. James's Park and quack at the ducks. In reply to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), may I say that I' am not concerned either with our record or the record of his party on this matter.

Commander Pursey


Brigadier Head

So far as the hon. and gallant Gentleman is concerned, I am not going to give way to him during my speech.

The point I am trying to make is that, whatever the arguments or bitterness which any hon. Member likes to bring up —and I hope they will not—these men were receiving 40s. in 1919 and are receiving 45s. today.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman give way? In making that point, surely he must also complete the story by referring to the dependants' allowances?

Brigadier Head

I am coming to dependants' allowances, I assure the hon. Gentleman. I am not attempting to score a point; all I am trying to do is to assess the relative position of these men today, as compared with 1919, and I would certainly concede to hon. Members opposite that they have been very sympathetic on this matter of pensions. I am trying to show that these men have been paid and my point is that we are here today to see whether the present pensions are all right.

I was saying that, owing to circumstances outside the control of these men, their pensions have been reduced by more than half. A great many of these pensioners are older men and are at a particular disadvantage compared with younger men. If a man has a disability in having to hump round a wooden leg, when he reaches 50 or 60, it becomes a great deal more burdensome than in the case of much younger men. The average age of the 1914–18 men is now 60Û, so that hon. Members will appreciate that these men, in particular, are competing under very great difficulty as compared with their colleagues who do not suffer from this disablement.

Therefore, the first point I want to place before the Minister of Pensions is this question of reviewing the basic rates. I know that there are many objections to such a course. Some may say that in 1919 the country was comparatively well off and the rate was a pretty lavish one, but that after 1919 the "Geddes Axe" came along and cut everything down that could be cut. It did not touch these pensions, however, which would appear to suggest that they were not considered to be too high. Suppose the "Geddes Axe" had come along and had reduced that 40s. to about—shall we say?—18s. I believe there would have been an immense national outcry. The fact is that, on account of the decrease in the value of money, we have done exactly that thing which would have caused an immense outcry if it had been done suddenly. It has been done nevertheless. and we must realise it.

The other objection which I am sure will be raised is that, if we start altering the basic rate of disability pension, we shall be embarking upon a very wide field, because it is linked with the industrial injuries pension. The first point about that is that the industrial injuries scheme is contributory, and, if we take that as an analogy to the war disablement pension, we should take the industry in which the greatest danger exists and in which there is the highest percentage of injuries—the coalmining industry. If we examine that industry, we find that it is accepted that the basic rate of 45s. is not enough, and so it has been raised to 65s.—or raised by about half. That is because of the high rate of accidents and the fact that miners have to undergo very great dangers.

How is it that there is a contributory scheme by the miners and also a payment from the National Coal Board? The National Coal Board have been kind enough to send me figures for the period from August, 1948, to December, 1949—a period of a year and a half. The miners' contributions in that period amounted to £855,000, but the National Coal Board's contribution was £3,123,000, which is a rate of between £2 million and £3 million a year. I am not making any party points; all I am pointing out is that in this case the National Coal Board's money is the taxpayers' money. In the miners' case, the equivalent disability pension has been raised by 20s. because it was inadequate. That seems to me an additional and very strong reason for not only raising the present basic rate, but for not using as an argument this question of the industrial injuries scheme.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

Is it not a fact that the miner has to live on his pension, but that a disabled ex-Service man with a 100 per cent. disablement pension of 45s. a week will be in receipt of an unemployability supplement, a constant attendance allowance, or a hardship allowance?

Brigadier Head

That is a valid point in certain cases, but the hon. Member will agree, I am sure, that many disabled miners are capable of doing, and indeed do, light work within the organisation of the pits, where they can work above ground.

A further objection, which is a forceful one today, is that it would be too expensive. I appreciate that the whole question of expenditure is a critical factor today. As I said before, I do not want to be controversial, but, to put it mildly, some very large sums of money have been floating about recently—I do not think I will specify them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?]—on ventures about which we all know. Well, if hon. Members want it, on ventures like—

Commander Pursey


Brigadier Head

Well, yes, that sort of thing. The point is that at moments of great financial stringency, there are great sums of money floating about, and what I want to see, and what I am sure hon. Members opposite want to see, is the Minister of Pensions grabbing some of that money rather than that it should go elsewhere.

Mr. H. Kynd

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman make it clear whether he is only asking for an increase in the basic rate of privates or in that of all ranks, commissioned and non-commissioned?

Brigadier Head

My point is that there should be a rise in the basic rate of 45s. How far it goes up the scale would depend on what the Minister of Pensions could pull out of his pocket. I do not want to say to the right hon. Gentleman that there should be an increase of so much for the basic rate, so much here and so much there. That, I suggest, would not be worth the paper it was written on. The thing is that I want the Minister to get some money out of the Treasury and then to use it in the directions in which this House thinks it will have the most effect. My first objective is the basic rate, for the reasons I have put forward.

There are two further points which I wish to raise quite briefly. One would not arise so acutely if there were a rise in the basic rate. It is the question of the hardship allowance. As hon. Members know, if a man receives an injury which makes him incapable of fulfilling the job in which he was employed before he was disabled, he can receive a hardship allowance in addition to his percentage rate on pension; but, as hon. Members also know, it cannot go above the 45s. or 100 per cent. basic rate. The present low basic rate of 45s. causes considerable hardship to certain men, which is the reverse of what it was intended to do. I have been given particulars of many such cases, but will content myself by giving the House just one example. It is the case of a man who before the war was a miner, and who was then earning £12 a week. [HON. MEMBERS: "Before the war?"] Yes, he was getting £12 before the war.

Mr. Wigg

He must have been a company director.

Brigadier Head

No, he was not a company director, and if the hon. Member for Dudley wishes, I will send him full particulars of the case. Today, that man is incapable of doing that job, and is earning £4 10s. a week.

Mr W. T. Williams (Hammersmith, South)

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman saying that there was a miner in Great Britain earning £12 a week before the war?

Brigadier Head

I am. I have this information from an extremely reliable source, and, as I say, I will send the exact particulars to the hon. Member for Dudley, and we will then, if necessary, discuss it afterwards. I am not talking about the 1914 war; I am talking about the 1939 war. It might have been in 1940 or 1941, for all I know, but before that man went to the war and was disabled he was making £12 a week. The point is that he has lost an enormous amount, and because of the rule that no compensation can go above the 45s., it is impossible properly to compensate him for what he lost in the service of his country.

I wish now to say a word on the question of widows. Since it was known that this debate was to take place, I have received a few letters from widows. I know some hon. Members will say, "Well, you cannot judge a widespread case on a few individual letters." I quite appreciate that, but what I have also found, from information given to me by organisations interested in this matter, is that there is today really widespread hardship among widows of both men and officers.

Roughly, they fall into two categories. They are either widows who are getting old, of 60 years of age or so, and who cannot work, or widows of the last war, who are really the hardest hit, especially those with two or three children. There are really heartrending cases in that category. I will not read out any of the letters, but I believe that if the country as a whole knew more about the distress among these people, it would be very worried. I know that air-raids are very unpleasant things, but to my mind the worst thing in a war is to get shot at and to be either wounded or killed. These men made those sacrifices. Indeed, if they had not, we should not be discussing this matter today. The point is that we have a great obligation to the women whom they left behind.

I remember when much younger reading Captain Scott's last letter in which he wrote—I cannot remember the exact words—something to this effect: "Surely, this great country of ours will see that those who are dependent on us will he looked after" I remember that particular passage making a great impression on me at the time, because it occurred in a dramatic letter written in exceptional circumstances. It is equally an obligation on the people of this country to look after the widows of these men.

It is extremely difficult for me to recommend the exact way in which the Minister could best fulfil this task, but one point I would particularly stress and bring to his notice is the present allowance for children. They are getting £36 a year for a child. Nowadays, when one thinks of what is paid for children who are sent to foster parents and for children who are sent to approved schools and so forth, this sum is very low in comparison. These widows with children cannot go out to work. They have to look after the children up to a certain age.

I commend to the Minister of Pensions that particular subject of widows, both of officers and of men. I suggest that it is nobody's fault that officers' widows have been brought up to be used to certain standards. They were officers' wives and it is accepted in the Services and elsewhere that there is a different rate of pay and standard for the officers. Many of these widows are at the moment living in great difficulty on a very much lower standard, and they have had the spectacle recently of a very steep increase in marriage allowances for wives of men serving in the Forces, while their own pensions have not been increased at all.

I am sure it has been evident to the House and to the Minister that I am very far from being an expert on the subject, but what I wished to do was to bring it before the House in the hope that I could represent the point of view of a great many people in the country, of all political persuasions, and the point of view of a great many Members of this House. I am convinced that there is very considerable hardship among these men and women and we have to realise that that hardship is not going to be stopped. It is going to be intensified—and again I speak non-politically—because everyone will agree that the cost of living is likely to go up and the value of money to decrease.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister will consider this matter very sympathetically. I know that he, with all the battery of the Ministry behind him, could bring guns to bear which would probably blow up a great deal of my argument, but I hope and believe that that will not be his purpose in replying to the debate. I feel that he will deal with the subject sympathetically. I realise, however, that in viewing it sympathetically he will need support in scraping round the Treasury to see what he can get there. I am convinced that he would be very much helped in his visit to the Treasury if he could take round a HANSARD that would indicate unanimity of opinion in this House. I hope that that is the way in which the case will be conducted.

On practically every memorial of both world wars three words are written— "Lest we forget. "I am quite certain that neither the country nor the House wants to forget, and I hope that today we do not forget these people, because if we did, I do not think we should be acting as true representatives of a very fair-minded and warm-hearted people.

11.33 a.m.

Mr. Paget (Northampton)

I beg to second the Motion.

When this House was discussing the question of Private Members' time I made the suggestion to other back benchers that we should resist the blandishments of the Whips and not allow Private Members' time to be stolen and converted into either Government time or Opposition time, because that is what happens when a Private Member puts down a Motion on which there is strong party feeling one way or the other. I am very glad today that we are discussing a Motion that cuts right across the House and which raises no kind of party issue. Therefore I accepted with very great pleasure the invitation of my friend the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) to second this Motion from these benches.

The hon. and gallant Member has thrown a good deal of emphasis on the basic rate. For my part I shall put rather less emphasis upon that. One should appreciate that the comparison between the rates payable now and the rates payable in 1919 is not a true comparison. One must look at the pension against the economic background, the position with regard to employment and the position in regard to social insurance. The pension which was given to totally disabled men in 1919 was, in the overwhelming majority of cases, their living.

It was what they were expected to live on.

Generally speaking, the basic pension today is an addition to a living which is otherwise provided. It is provided by the man's job—and one must again remember that the vast majority of these men are in employment—and it is provided in other cases by certain supplementary allowances which did not exist in those days. The true comparison is not to compare the position in 1919 with the position today but to compare the position in February, 1946, when the 45s. was put up, with the position today.

Like the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton, I am not going into an argument as to the value of the £, but I do not think there will be any dispute that it does not buy so much now as it did in 1946, and this addition, which we feel and which we felt in 1946, to be an addition to the man's living, is a smaller addition today. He should get back in purchasing power to what it was then when we can afford it, and as soon as possible. After all, a man who is injured to the extent which makes him eligible for 45s. a week has had great enjoyment taken from his life apart from any other economic circumstances. That is something for which he can never be compensated. Compensation is the wrong word. Measurement would be better. We adopted a measure in 1946 and that measure is not working to the same extent today. Now there are other things which are additions to living, if I may put it that way.

Mr. Wigg

Before my hon. and learned Friend leaves his comparison of what happened after the First and Second World Wars he should get it clear in his mind that after the first war 69 per cent. of men who applied for disability pensions were refused, whereas after the last war 70 per cent. of applications were granted.

Mr. Paget

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was going to deal with that point later, and if he has the opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will be able to make the point. I am dealing at present with that part of the pension which we felt, both when 32s. 6d. was suggested and eventually when 45s. was decided upon, should be an addition to a man's living because of the injuries which he has suffered. In that same sort of category one has the 10s. pension to a wife and 7s. 6d. for a child. There are also fairly generous payments made with regard to the education of children.

Perhaps I should declare an interest here. I have made myself responsible for some children whose father was killed in the war, and for their education I have received most generous treatment from the Ministry. Perhaps the House will permit me, if I may digress for a moment, to tell one little story. Last Christmas my little girl received from the civil servants—the officials at the Ministry of Pensions in Nottingham—a very nice book as a Christmas present. It was a purely personal effort on the part of those officials, but it does show a very charming attitude which has come into this Ministry, and I think we must associate it with the charming influence which we all knew in this House of "Geordie" Buchanan.

Having dealt with this aspect, of what we contemplate as an addition, one then comes to the other aspect; and frankly this is where, if only a limited amount of money were available, I would personally apply the priority. First, there is the unemployability addition—the unemploy-ability supplement, as it is called. That comes into operation where a man by reason of his injuries is unable to earn more than £52 a year. It was originally 10s. In 1945 it was increased to 20s., and in 1948 it went up to 30s. If the man is married there is an additional 6s. for his wife. That is not a living today. I feel that this upward step which was last taken in 1948 certainly ought to be continued now. If the man by reason of his injuries is unable to earn a living, something more should be provided to enable him to live, in addition to that which has always been contemplated as an addition to the basic pension.

The next matter which requires high priority consideration is the constant attendance allowance. That varies between a minimum of 20s. and a maximum of 40s. Again one has to look at these things in the context of the employment situation. In the old days there was not such a demand for female labour, and female wages were nothing like so high, but where a man requires a nurse, 40s. a week is not enough. The lady who for 40s. a week looks after a man who is totally unable to help himself is giving him of her charity. But that is really the duty of the nation. I believe that that is an aspect which should be considered, but I think that in fairness one should also recognise the extent to which the Ministry has gone to make these supplementary allowances — unemployability and constant attendance—more available to the pensioner.

Since 1945 the number in receipt of the unemployability allowance has risen from 6,800 to 19,000. That has been a result of the energy of a Minister who has considered it his duty to pay pensions rather than to avoid paying them. With regard to constant attendance, there again we have had a very big rise in the number in receipt of this allowance, since 1945—and we should remember that they were injured then—the number has risen from 3,700 to about 8,500.

Those are aspects which we must remember, but, none the less, I feel that in both those directions the top limit at least should go up in the existing circumstances of today. I do not mean for a moment that everybody who is receiving these allowances should necessarily get more, but I do say that there are cases in which some should get more. If there is a limited amount of money available that is a matter which should have a high priority.

Perhaps I might illustrate what I mean by some figures which 1 have here. A man who is unemployable, with a wife and two children, gets a basic pension of 45s. a wife's allowance of 16s., children's allowance of £1 and unemployability supplement of say 30s., a total of 111s. That is a terribly tight living today. There is nothing additional there for a man with a wife and two children. Here we are contemplating that these people should have something additional. On the other hand, the man may have a job at home which brings him £1 a week; that would enable him to help his wife who is earning £1 a week also. In that sort of case there is a certain amount of addition. Those are the kind of differences which should be contemplated when one is dealing with these cases and distinguishing between incomes which may be sufficient and those which clearly are not sufficient.

I have been dealing with these points in inverse order, and I now come to what I regard as the highest priority of all, and that is the case to which the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton referred—the widow. It seems to me that where a man gave his life in order that we may be here—for that is what it comes to—his widow's home should be provided for. I do not think it is an answer to say, "Well, there is full employment. The wife can go out and earn money." If there are children they are entitled to be looked after by their mother, and that should be regarded as her job. I feel that it is the duty of this nation to provide for the homes of widows who have young children. The pension should be such as to allow a widow to make her job that of looking after the home and making a home for those children, and she should be able to do so in reasonable comfort. That should really be the first priority.

I should like to emphasise that this is in no sense whatever a criticism of the Ministry of Pensions. I think probably the Ministry of Pensions is the one Ministry about which there would be almost complete agreement on both sides of the House when one says that it has done a grand job and that we are very grateful to it. I want to read a passage from the Report which was issued by the Ministry in March last: The prompt and regular payment of a cash award after entitlement has been established is not an end in itself. The full conception of social service calls for something more—friendly contacts, the human touch, social rehabilitation. Steadily improving provisions are well enough but complete satisfaction is not achieved if to the individual the administration appears remote or bureaucratic. An individual is helped in his adversities not only by practical assistance but by the knowledge that someone has been sympathetic, that someone has thought that his affairs mattered, that someone has found time to dwell on them. It is on these principles that the work of the Ministry of Pensions is developing. The award of a pension by the Department entitles the individual to more than merely the payment of a sum of money. It gives his a passport to the goodwill of a large Government Service, to the benefit of a sympathetic interest in his affairs and to such help as may he given or obtained for him in solving his problems. Those are not mere words. I believe that has been the spirit of this Ministry and I am constantly coming into contact with it. I believe we should all like to pay our tribute to the great tradition which was, if not started, certainly very largely developed by a very loved figure in this House, "Geordie" Buchanan.

11.53 a.m.

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

After the tumult and shouting of the past few days, it is very nice to be able to come to this House to discuss a problem on which there should be no real vital difference of opinion between the two sides. We may have our differences of opinion with regard to what is the best method of dealing with this problem, but a desire to help and serve the ex-Service men and their dependants in this country is, I am sure, generally held by hon. Members of all parties. I should like to thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head)—I know it is not the tradition of this House to refer to Members of the Opposition as friends, but, as fellow ex-Service men, what else can we be but friends and comrades in this great cause? He has put forward with great moderation a case which he has obviously studied carefully, not only with great moderation, but with great sincerity.

Since December, 1947, we have had nine debates on war pension matters. Hon. Members will recall that in the debates of July, 1948, April, 1949, and March, 1950, we dealt fully with the system of war pensions and allowances and the cost of living. I hope that hon. Members have carefully studied the OFFICIAL REPORTS of those debates and also the 25th Report of the Ministry published last October. I do not wish to cover all the old ground, but I think it would be to the advantage of the House if we got the background of what has so far determined the Government's policy on war pension matters. I know only too well the difficulties that today confront many pensioners in trying to make both ends meet. Those of us who have had experience of hard times can speak with a certain amount of feeling on these matters. No one, I am sure, will claim a monopoly of understanding and sympathy in this matter.

Since the Labour Government was elected in 1945, no fewer than 60 improvements have been made in the war pensions code. The hon. and gallant Member who moved the Motion talked about odd sums lying about at the Treasury which might be used for the benefit of ex-Service men. The annual cost of these improvements is £11 million. They have involved during the past five years an expenditure of £46 million. How has this money been spent? It has been largely concentrated upon those who really need help, the unemployable and others severely handicapped, upon those who have suffered a lowering of their standard of employment and upon pensioners who have families to support.

The money provided for this purpose could, of course, have been used to grant an undiscriminating increase of, say, 10s. a week in the basic rate of disablement pension, benefiting large numbers—and thereby being of greater political advantage—who are not in special need of help, but who have shared in the vastly improved social services and increases of wages which have taken place in the last few years. A rise of 10s. a week in the basic rate would mean an average increase of about 4s. a week. For the majority of pensioners it would be 2s. or 3s. a week—an extra packet of cigarettes. But the Government, bearing in mind the national circumstances, decided—rightly in my opinion—on a selective approach. I think all hon. Members have now had much personal experience of how generously and sympathetically we have endeavoured to apply this policy to the individual pensioner and especially to those who cannot earn, or who are handicapped in earning normal wages because of their disability.

I should like the House to have as background some rather important figures. Altogether there are about 710,000 disablement pensioners of both wars. About 53,000 of them are in receipt of total disablement pension. Of this number it is estimated that a little more than one half are pensioned for tuberculosis. Some 240,000 are pensioned at 20 per cent. and 147,000 at 30 per cent. Thus there are nearly 400,000 pensioners whose disablement is relatively small.

There are nearly 19,000 pensioners receiving the unemployability allowance of 30s.; some 5,000 of these pensioners are suffering from tuberculosis—roughly 80 per cent. are 1939 war pensioners. Therefore 8,300 are receiving a constant attendance allowance at rates varying between 10s. and 40s., and 4,550 pensioners receive both the constant attendance allowance and the unemployability supplement. There are nearly 18,000 receiving the allowance for a lowered standard of occu- pation and the majority qualify for the maximum payment of 20s. So that, in addition to pension and family allowances, there are today some 45,000 pensioners benefiting substantially by the policy of giving help where it is most needed. It may be of interest that the comparable figure in 1948 was 15,000. Today it is 45,000.

Although the vast majority of the 1914–18 War pensions were stabilised over 20 years ago we have given in the Ministry very close attention to the problem of the elderly pensioners, which I was glad to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman raise. These elderly pensioners' average age is now just over 60. During the past five years, over 14,000 awards of one kind or another have been made to this class of pensioner. Over 7,000 of these awards represented a substantial increase in the existing pension. The generous re-assessment of these longstanding awards to the 1914–18 War pensioners is another instance of the policy of giving help on an individual basis.

It may be interesting to the House to know that last year 170 of the 1914–18 ex-Service men who had not applied for a pension, after a lapse of 30 years, with all the difficulties for the medical side of our movement in assessing the problems that they created, were granted a pension for the first time. I should like here to make a protest against a leading article in an evening newspaper published in London, which said that disability pensions are being pared down, and that the approach seemed to be that the man's disability should be decreased so that we could reduce the pension.

Commander Pursey

What paper was that?

Mr. Simmons

The "Star"—a very dim star. I should say. I think the facts I have just given answer that statement.

The financial effect of these supple. mentary payments and the more generous system of dependants' allowances made available during the last four years—I may say that over 500,000 of the disablement pensioners are married and receiving allowances for their wives and children—is'well illustrated in the Tables which can be found in the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Reports of the Ministry, especially Tables D1 and D2 in the Twenty-fourth and Table I in the Twenty-third Report. I shall not quote these Reports because I see they are fairly well distributed around the House, but I ask hon. Members to examine those Tables, and they will see the progress which has been made.

If hon. Members want a simple picture of the various components of disablement and widow's pension today they should read pages 22 and 31 of the Twenty-fifth Annual Report of the Department. In judging what is being done for all classes of pensioners I would remind the House that it is not sufficient to consider only the basic rate of pension. There are other substantial items such as additions for rank, treatment allowances, allowances for the family, and there has been a very big increase in the allowances for the family since we removed the ban. and a quite considerable number of wives and children are benefiting who had been denied provision over a long period of years. There are over-age children allowances, education allowances, the three main supplements, clothing allowances. artificial limbs and appliances. Here. as the wearer of an artificial limb myself. I would pay tribute to the craftsmanship of those responsible for artificial limbs, and to the care which is bestowed on every "amputee" by the fitters, and to those responsible for seeing that the men can go out from the limb-fitting centre as comfortable and happy as possible. There are, too, motorcars and tricycles, and rent allowances. All these things have to be borne in mind when we are considering this problem.

Despite the fact that the majority of the 100 per cent. disabled men are in employment, the average weekly payment made to each 100 per cent. disabled pensioner, which was £2 7s. 10d. in 1938 is £4 today. That figure must be borne in mind when we hear so much talk about the 100 per cent. disability pensioners having to live on their pensions. My right hon. Friend's predecessor. the present Minister of Health, over two years issued a challenge for cases to be brought to his notice where 100 per cent. disabled men were living on £2 5s. a week. During that two years there were eight such cases, and in every one we were immediately able to grant supplementation. It was just the fact that they had not been brought to our notice that they had not had benefit sooner, and they were brought to our notice through the development of our welfare service.

No disabled ex-Service man need live solely on his basic war pension. In addition to the pension provisions and supplementation, he receives, in common with all the rest of our citizens, free medical care for his wife and children and family allowances for his children after the first. We have an entirely different background for the ex-Service man now, and regard him as a citizen. It is a very different background from that which we had for the ex-Service man as a citizen at the end of the 1914–18 war, and that must be borne in mind when we are considering this problem.

Bearing in mind the national resources and the heavy additional expenditure on re-armament, I believe that the system of pensions and allowances, adjusted carefully and flexibly to the needs of the individual, with specially substantial benefits for the very severely disabled and those in need of constant care and attention at home or in hospital, has been the right policy. We have travelled far since the old days. The war pensioner today has to satisfy far less stringent conditions than were laid down in 1919 and 1939. On all sides there is recognition of human administration and a generous interpretation of the war pension provisions.

But this is not all. A most important feature of the Ministry's work is the rehabilitation of the war disabled and his resettlement in the life of the community. I attach the greatest importance to this. The men who suffer, mentally as well as physically, have to be brought back as active members of the community. When disablement has been reduced to its lowest level by medical treatment the pensioner must often be helped and prepared in a practical way towards a job suitable to his disability. The responsibility for placing persons in suitable work is, of course, one for the Ministry of Labour, whose disablement resettlement officers are in close touch with our regional welfare officers. This co-operation has been fostered by interdepartmental meetings. I have had the privilege of attending some of those meetings, and I am pleased to report that there is a complete partnership and liaison between the two Departments in doing their best.

For instance, out of a sample of just over 6,000 unemployed pensioners, mostly long-term unemployed, who sought help from our welfare officers, some 64 per cent, has been placed in employment. Of the remainder, some 700 were found to be unemployable, and, of course, these will be getting the unemployability supplement. I can assure the House that on the vital matter of employment the position of war pensioners generally is that the vast majority are not impeded in following employment because of their war disabilities. This is, perhaps, not surprising when it is remembered that some 240,000 are pensioned at 20 per cent. and 147,000 at 30 per cent., giving nearly 400,000 pensioners whose disablement is relatively small.

In pages 15 and 16 of the Twenty-fourth Report of the Department my right hon. Friend's predecessor gave some figures which shed useful light on the employment problems of war pensioners. What is the general position today? The House, I am sure, will be interested to know that a recent count at the employment exchanges showed that out of 196,000 male persons registered for benefit, only some 12,000 were war disablement pensioners. This figure of 12,000, of course, does not cover all war pensioners who are not working. There are those who have the unemployability supplement; there are those who are in hospital for treatment, and there are those not registered; but the comparative smallness of the figure of 12,000 does, I suggest, indicate that the employment position of war pensioners is generally good.

I claim the indulgence of the House to give two practical illustrations of the great work which is being done to enable even the most severely disabled to find a place in the community. Paralysed pensioners who have lost the use of their legs can now, in a high proportion of cases, be restored to a working life. They are no longer condemned to complete inactivity. Hon. Members may recall that in November, 1949. the Duchess of Gloucester House, Isleworth, was opened by Her Royal Highness as a residence for paraplegic pensioners who are able to work but who have no homes, or whose condition is not sufficiently restored to permit them to live at home without nursing assistance. This house is situated in a centre of light industry, and we must pay a tribute to the way in which local employers have co-operated in finding suitable work for these pensioners.

I should like to give the House some details of an individual pensioner whom I met myself when going round Ministry establishments. This is a man who, by his own courage and modern rehabilitative methods, has obtained an established post in a Government Department. He was a lad of 21 when he lost both arms and his left eye at Arnhem. He was fitted with artificial arms, and first of all tried a job in a coal mine but was unable to continue. He became depressed, and he was seen by our welfare officer who talked over his problems with him and gave him new hope. He secured a temporary clerkship and slogged away with the hooks that served him as fingers until he could write, type, sort papers and keep books as well as his colleagues. Now he has passed the examination which makes him an established civil servant. I am sure we would all pay tribute to the courage of that man. This heartening and inspiring story is a tribute to the ex-Service people who have served this country.

I have spoken about pensions and supplementary allowances, and about some medical activities of the Department, but I am sure all hon. Members will agree that an important factor is the spirit in which the work is being done. The Ministry of. Pensions has ceased to regard itself as merely an organisation to pay pensions and provide treatment when asked to do so. It has humanised its approach, and that spirit is in evidence at all levels of the Department from the Minister down to the messenger. There is realisation of the fact that we are members of a service. It strives to help each individual pensioner to overcome his difficulties and to help to solve his problems, whatever they may be.

As a means to that end my right hon. Friend's predecessor, with whom I had the privilege of serving for two years, set up the welfare service, about which all hon. Members know, and later also the home craft service. The extent to which pensioners have welcomed the service may be gauged from the fact that welfare officers, located at all our welfare offices and hospitals throughout the country, have conducted over a quarter of a million interviews. Pensioners are still coming with their problems—mainly outside the pension field—at the rate of 1,400 a week. Help of one kind or another has been given to over two-thirds of the pensioners concerned. Here let me pay tribute to the work of the voluntary workers in helping us in our welfare and home craft services, to the ex-Service organisations for giving us this voluntary work, and to the War Pensioners Committee and other voluntary organisations.

My right hon. Friend will deal with the points raised by the mover and seconder of this Motion, and with others which may be raised later. In conclusion, I should like to say that we regard the task which we have been assigned as a sacred trust. We shall strive, in the spirit in which we approach their problems, to show all who have suffered wounds and disability in the service of this country that in the Ministry of Pensions they will find understanding friends, willing and anxious to give every assistance in the service of those who gave Britain so much.

12.15 p.m.

Brigadier Peto (Devon, North)

I rise to support the Motion so eloquently moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), and seconded so ably by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I have taken an interest in war pensions and disability pensions ever since I came into the House in 1945. From personal experience of the Ministry of Pensions, I have nothing but the highest praise for the manner in which I have always been received, and in which I have been treated by medical boards, and in other ways. There is no doubt, as the Parliamentary Secretary has just said, that the Ministry has a very warmhearted feeling towards pensioners, and this feeling is most ably assisted by the comparatively new welfare service.

During the last five years, I have had a great many cases to deal with, a large number of which were tuberculosis cases. In those cases, I think, it is particularly difficult to assess whether or not they are entirely attributable to war. The Parliamentary Secretary gave us a remarkable figure. He said that out of 53,000, 100 per cent. disability pensioners, 50 per cent. were due to tuberculosis. That is a very remarkable figure, and it must be extremely difficult to assess for certain whether or not they are due to war injuries, or whether they are due to some hereditary cause. Before I leave the Ministry of Pensions, I should like to say that I have found that, not only are they sympathetic, but where there is a doubt they nearly always err on the side of giving the benefit of the doubt to the pensioner.

Having declared my general interest in this subject, I should like also to say that I have a personal interest; that I, too, like the Parliamentary Secretary, am a pensioner, but I do not aspire as a result of my speech, or of anything that may be said today, to an increase in my own emoluments. The Parliamentary Secretary said that there had been nine debates on this very topic in the past five years. I took part in most of those debates, and on 18th December, 1947, I initiated an Adjournment debate which, like this one, was supported by an hon. Member opposite, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. G. Cooper). During that debate I quoted from a letter, written by a gentleman who has taken a considerable interest in this topic, Sir David Smith, in the "Yorkshire Post" of 13th October, 1947. in which he said: Why, when the purchasing value of the pound has been halved and wages of workers have risen by as much as 150 per cent. have pensions been raised by only 12½ per cent.? That was in December, 1947. There is no doubt that the purchasing power of the pound has decreased since 1945, 1946 and 1947. The terms of the Motion are: That this House views with concern the situation which, owing to the increase in the cost of living, now confronts those in receipt of war pensions.… We recognise that there has been a considerable increase in the cost of living. We are here today to decide whether or not we should recommend that something should be done about it by the Ministry of Pensions. Almost daily one reads of negotiations being carried out by big unions on behalf of their members to get better conditions. In recent times, we have read of increased wages being granted to farm workers and increased wages recommended for the railwaymen. As the Minister knows, the disabled have no union to fight for them. We are their union.

Commander Pursey

Hon. Members opposite were their union.

Brigadier Peto

This is a non-party debate.

Commander Pursey

The hon and gallant Gentleman has said so.

Brigadier Peto

I say so again. I intend to debate this matter on that level. We are here to find out whether there is something which we can recommend to the Minister and which he can accept in order to assist those who are suffering disability and who are not sufficiently recompensed.

There are two associations which might be considered the unions of these men. One is the British Legion and the other an association known as B.L.E.S.M.A. These two associations have done their utmost to further the cause of the disabled. Has there been any increase in the pensions to the disabled comparable to the considerable increase in wages granted in various industries over the past five years? I would say that there has not. I know that it is not fair only to consider the basic rate, and it has never been my attitude to do so. We know that the crux of this matter relates to February, 1946, when the basic rate was put up by 5s. and the rate of pension was divorced from the cost of living. It was tied then to the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act of that year.

I remember Mr. Buchanan replying to a debate in which he said that in his opinion that was a right course and there was no reason why it should be altered. He said that if a man suffered an injury to his hand in industry for which he received a fixed rate, why should another man be paid a different rate because he suffered an injury to his hand in another way? Now is the time when we must consider again whether the rate of pension should not once again be looked at from the point of view of the cost of living, instead of only from the point of view of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act.

Like many other hon. Members, I have a number of examples which I could quote. I have with me particulars of an ex-Regular captain who was 100 per cent. disabled in the 1914–18 war. He has a wife and child and he complains, not unnaturally, that he is finding it difficult to make both ends meet. He complains particularly that the rates in his area have gone up from 8s. to 25s. a week, and that he is now paying £15 a year for National Insurance. He says in his letter: I know that people still think that the British one-pound note is a one-pound note, but it is not. I am totally disabled and cannot earn a penny more. It is very hard to live. I could just manage in 1939. That is a typical example which relates his hardship to the present cost of living.

Much has been made of the supplementary allowances paid in addition to the basic rate. I am perfectly willing to concede to the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) or to any other hon. Member that the Labour Government have been extremely generous with regard to allowances.

Commander Pursey

Why drag us into it.

Brigadier Peto

I am quite ready to concede that. If one does not do so, hon. Members opposite are the first to complain that we are only thinking of the basic rate. I am not thinking of the basic rate. I am thinking of the present rate which anyone can get, including allowances, which in my opinion is insufficient in view of the present cost of living. We have to decide today whether or not we can recommend the Minister to give some increase.

I have mentioned the railwaymen, and I think I am right in saying that two of their unions have just refused a suggested increase of £7 million. That, at any rate. makes the disabled a little wistful; I will not put it higher than that. They read that a recommendation for an increase of £7 million is turned down. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to suggest to the Treasury that a similar increase of £7 million should be given to his Ministry with a view to it being distributed, as he thinks fit, to the disabled. I can promise him, speaking as one who knows a good many disabled, that they are very unlikely to turn down such an offer.

I feel perfectly confident that if the Minister is not able to give any forecast of what he will do, he will try his best to do something. I remember asking him in a supplementary question what his forecast was with regard to the future and the reply came back quickly: "Despite my name, I am no prophet."I would like him to be more definite by way of prophecy today as to what he will be able to do, and I trust that he will accept the Motion on the Order Paper.

12.28 p.m.

Mr. Frank McLeavy (Bradford, East)

I support the Motion which has been moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head). I congratulate him on the very reasonable way in which he made his speech. I think that whatever criticism there may be of the failure of past Governments to deal effectively and fairly with the problem of the ex-Service men, it is a very healthy sign today to find that on both sides of the House there appears to be almost complete agreement upon the terms of the Motion. I hope that will sustain Members on both sides in their effort to do what is fair and just to the disabled ex-Service men. Parliament has a special responsibility for the care of disabled ex-Service men and also for the old age pensioners. These people are having to face the problems of life with the disadvantages of disablement or old age. Each in their own sphere have given their best years in the service of the nation, and it is the duty of Parliament to do its best to see that they are able to enjoy life.

It will be agreed that we cannot discuss the financial aspects of this problem without reference to the welfare and resettlement side. I was very glad that the Parliamentary Secretary dealt with this in his speech. The financial side is undoubtedly important, but there must also be the desire to enable the disabled ex-Service men to live a full life in its broadest sense. We must give disabled ex-Service men the. opportunity to feel that they are still useful members of the community. That is just as important as the financial consideration. The welfare services of the Ministry of Pensions since 1945 have become a live instrument in bringing care and attention to the disabled. It is rather surprising that it took Parliament until 1946 to appoint welfare officers at the local offices and hospitals of the Ministry. The human side of the welfare services in our relationship with the disabled is of vital importance.

I should like to refer to a case which I dealt with on behalf of one of my constituents to illustrate the point I am making. It is the case of a 100 per cent.

disabled ex-Service man of the First World War. He wrote to me saying that he and his wife wanted to visit their son who was in a hospital outside London. The son was also a 100 per cent. disabled ex-Service man of the last war. The father explained that because of his physical condition resulting from his disablement, he was unable to travel by rail and was not able, therefore, to take advantage of the facilities offered to him by the Ministry of Pensions. I took up the case with the then Minister of Pensions, who is now the Minister of Health, and within a few days special arrangements were made for an ambulance of the Ministry of Pensions to transport the father and mother to the hospital to see their son and stay a few days, with transport also -being provided to take them home again to Bradford. It is this side of the welfare services which is so vitally important.

We want to feel that we are not only doing justice to these disabled ex-Service men from the point of view of providing adequate compensation, but that we are helping them to play a greater part in the life of the community and to enjoy life to a fuller extent than would otherwise be possible. Any money that is spent on welfare services for disabled ex-Service men is money well spent. These people who are paying so dearly for the services they rendered to the nation in its time of need are deserving of the best we can give them. I am very glad that we are united on this very human problem. The sort of case I have quoted can no doubt be multiplied by other Members. We shall be doing something of great value if we can bring in the human element to meet the needs of these people. I can imagine the joy the father and mother felt when provision was made for them to visit their son.

The Twenty-fifth Report of the Ministry of Pensions makes it very clear how welfare work is closely integrated with the work of the resettlement officers. The Report states that during that period 3,300 unemployed pensioners of the 1939 War sought the assistance of the welfare officers and, through the services of the Ministry of Labour, 58 per cent. have been found employment. Of the remainder—1,400—many are undergoing treatment or training. In addition to those found employment, some 500 have been assisted to change their occupation or to obtain resettlement grants. The Report goes on to explain how the welfare officers have established friendly contacts with the management in large businesses and industrial concerns and have arranged for adjustments in working conditions.

We are also entitled to be proud of the great progress that has been made in the provision of artificial limbs. There has been almost a revolution in the technique of providing means for the disabled to get about, means to enable them not only to do a job of work but also to join in sports and recreations of all kinds. This is a factor which is sometimes forgotten by Parliament and the nation. Year after year, without much publicity, the Ministry of Pensions have been quietly improving the means to enable disabled people to take their part in the industrial life of the community.

It will be generally agreed by every hon. Member that if an ex-Service man can have the opportunity of becoming a useful member of society, and if he can be provided with the equipment, or the necessary limbs and the necessary training, take his place in the ordinary industrial activities or political or social activities of the country, he will then be a happier man. This process enables him to live a kind of life that is worth living. Therefore, I feel that the work of the Ministry is progressively improving.

Do not let us forget the motor car. It almost created a sensation when it was decided to provide cars for certain types of seriously disabled ex-Service men. I do not think that if we had mentioned this idea 20 years ago, it would have been received with the same enthusiasm as it met with when it was brought in during the last Parliament. These men are entitled to the very best that the nation can give them.

Reference was made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman to the question of pensions and their re-adjustment. Personally, I do not believe there is any great case for the increase of the basic pension of 45s. a week. Whatever money may be available—I hope this Motion is not going to be merely a Motion passed this morning and not implemented in some way by the Government; I want to be perfectly frank about that—should be used for those who are in most need of it. There has been a lot of misrepresentation, perhaps unconsciously, on this ques- tion of pensions. Too often, when we talk about an ex-Service man having to live on a 45s. pension, we do not say a word about the fact that he may be getting also a normal wage in the particular trade in which he is engaged. The impression has been created that somehow or other 45s. is the only amount that a disabled ex-Service man has to live on.

I say quite frankly that where a 100 per cent. disabled ex-Service man is in full employment and getting a normal wage, there is no case for further increasing the basic rate of 45s. a week in view of the fact that there must be a limitation on the amount of money available for this purpose. What I do say is that many of the cases that have been cited this morning indicate that it would be reasonable because of need to make some adjustment of allowances. There is no disputing that there are cases where there is real need for some adjustment of the supplementary allowances which are at present being paid.

I hope sincerely, even in spite of our financial position, which was referred to by the hon. and gallant Member, that in some way or other we shall find it possible —whether it be for the disabled ex-Service men or for the old age pensioners, many of whom probably served in one of the wars—to alleviate the financial difficulties which arise from any slight increase in the cost of living. I hope that we shall do our best unitedly as a Parliament to see that, whatever political differences we may have, nothing shall prevent us from doing justice, whether it be to the ex-Service men or to the old age pensioners who rightly deserve every possible consideration of Parliament and the nation.

12.44 p.m.

Mr. Wood (York, Bridlington)

I always find it a great pleasure to be in agreement with Members on the other side of the House, and it is a particular pleasure to find myself in such full agreement with everything that has been said by the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. McLeavy), who also happens to represent a Yorkshire constituency. I may say that I was very worried just now. I saw another Yorkshire Member, whose constituency happens to march with mine, leaving the Chamber. I am delighted that he has returned, so perhaps we shall later have the benefit of his experience.

Commander Pursey

Why drag me into the speech? There is a ban on interruptions on the other side of the House this morning.

Brigadier Head

Silly old man.

Mr. Wigg

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) to refer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) as a "silly old man "?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I did not hear that remark, but I hope there will be no more interruptions because a great many hon. Members want to speak.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

Is it wrong to tell the truth?

Mr. Wigg

The remark was made, and I think that the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton should withdraw it.

Brigadier Head

I should like unreservedly to withdraw my accusation and to express the hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman to whom I referred will live up to that reputation during the course of this debate.

Commander Pursey

Is that me?

Mr. Wood

I hope, now that the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has got that off his chest—

Mr. Wigg

Not yet.

Mr. Wood

—he will allow me to proceed with my speech. I hope the hon. Member for Bradford, East will forgive me if I do not follow closely what he said in his speech, but I should like to associate myself with what he said about the welfare services of the Ministry of Pensions. I also have had experience of the personal interest which is taken by the officers of the Ministry, and in particular perhaps I might mention my own regional officer, who has always given most careful and kind consideration to any problem put before him. I agree with the hon. Member about the provision of motor cars, which has been such a tremendous boon to badly disabled men of the last war.

I want to stress the great pleasure which all of us on all sides of the House have found in the benefits which have been produced by the Ministry of Pensions in the last few years. I have had some experience having the honour to serve on the Minister's Central Advisory Council, of seeing not only the work of the Ministry but also the work of the previous Minister, the present Minister of Health. We have had one meeting with the present Minister and I am certain that his sympathy for the 'pensioners will be no less than that of his predecessor. I would also like to mention the great sympathy of the Parliamentary Secretary of which some of us cannot be in any doubt, having heard his clear and sympathetic speech this morning.

The Twenty-fifth Report of the Ministry, to which some reference has been made this morning, contains a number of interesting facts and a number of improvements which all of us, not only in this House but in the country, can do nothing but welcome. Even I am old enough to remember the terrible penalty which disabled men suffered through having delayed their marriage till after they went off to the war, and having in the war been unlucky enough to lose an arm or a leg, and when they came back and married their faithful girl friend, they found that she could not be included in their system of allowances. Now that grievance has been put right, and the faithful wife has been placed in the same position as the wife who was married prior to the husband's enlistment.

We have heard a certain amount from the Parliamentary Secretary about allowances. We are certainly in sympathy with all the allowances which the Ministry has granted, whether for wives and children, constant attendance, or unemployability. In the last few years there has been a small increase in the basic rate. I can say, particularly after hearing the Parliamentary Secretary speak. that the policy of the Ministry is and has been to hold the basic rate firm and to pay more generous allowances and supplements.

The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of a "selective approach." This has a great deal to recommend it, but only 45,000 men—this is the Minister's figure—of the 710,000 pensioners receive supplements. I am not talking of the allowances for wives and children. On this side of the House we agree entirely that those who are in the greatest need should have the most help, but the point I am trying to make is that life at the present time is harder not only for the 45,000 men who receive the supplements but also for the other 665,000 who do not receive anything but the basic rate.

Mr. Wigg

They have jobs.

Mr. Wood

I am coming to that point in a moment. The difficulties for the 665,000 men who do not receive supplements are increased from two causes. The first is that of which we have talked already, the rising cost of living. The second is that they happen to be getting older all the time, which is unfortunately an unavoidable factor that we have to face.

If I direct some of my remarks a good deal towards the position of the limbless ex-Service men, I hope that I shall be forgiven. The position of the limbless and ageing ex-Service men is relevant in this connection. Re-assessment of their pension has been found rather difficult in practice. I think I am right in saying that the pensions of many of the 1914–18 limbless men have not been re-assessed for 20 or 30 years, although obviously a man who was disabled in the 1914–18 war was less disabled then than he is at the present day. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree with me, because he probably knows it much better than I do, that 32 years with an artificial limb is, to say the least of it, a bit of a strain.

The Parliamentary Secretary told us just now that the average age of the 1914–18 ex-Service war pensioners was 60, which is getting on. I do not think that those men are as able-bodied—if one can put it like that—as they were at the end of the first war. The limbless pensioners have the advantage that their disability is demonstrably attributable to war service. If they went into the Army with two legs and two arms and came out with one of those limbs missing, quite obviously their disability is attributable to war service. They have the corresponding disadvantage that an amputation is generally thought to remain constant and not to become more disabling.

Therefore, I would ask the Minister to give us an undertaking when he replies—as I am sure he will be willing to do—that he will look most sympathetically at this question of re-assessment for the older pensioners, and particularly the older limbless pensioners who are thought to remain constantly the same. Perhaps he might get over the difficulty which has obtained in the past by regular examination of such pensioners.

We have heard a certain amount, particularly from the mover and seconder of the Motion, about the widow's pension and the hardship from which a number of widows are suffering. Except in the case of death in war, the widow's pension can be paid only if the death after the war is directly attributable to the pensioner's war service. Here again, I should like to bring in the limbless, who are once again in a particular difficulty. It is often very difficult to prove that limblessness actually hurries on or causes death. I would again ask the Minister to look sympathetically at this point and to take into consideration all the factors which bring about the death of limbless war pensioners.

Something has been said about the inadequacy of the widow's pension and of the hardship suffered by these widows. I would certainly support everything that has been said about it. I had a case the other day of a widow whose health had been disastrously affected by her husband's death and who was finding it very difficult to exist on the pension with which she was provided. It is particularly hard for the widows of very badly disabled men of all kinds who try, after their husband's death, to exist on this pension. While the pensioner was alive, if he was badly disabled, his wife was kept more busy than most wives, trying to look after him. She could not go out to work and, for the very reason for which we are having the discussion today, found it difficult to save anything while he was alive and thereby put by something to keep herself after his death.

Another point which I want to mention is the lower assessment for some disabilities as between the last-war pensioner and the first-war pensioner. There may be a very good answer; if so, I should very much like to hear it. For some disabilities, the 1939 war pensioner received a lesser pension than did his fellow of the 1914–18 war. This is particularly true of amputations, and I think that the reason which the Minister has put forward for this decrease in pension is the advance in surgery and the improvements in artificial limbs. But I put to the Minister the counter-argument that there are ex-Service men of the 1914–18 war who are at present having amputations and being fitted with present-day artificial legs, and who are pensioned at the previous higher rate.

The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) mentioned the question of unemployability. This has been talked about a good deal and no doubt will be discussed a lot more; therefore, I do not want to say very much about it except that in these days of a high level of employment, it is particularly to the disadvantage of the limbless or otherwise disabled pensioner who cannot get work, however generous it is possible to imagine the Ministry to be. P. is quite possible for an unemployed man, whose unemployment is caused by his disability, to be trying to exist—I hope hon. Members opposite will not question this, because I think it is correct —on three or four pounds a week, even if his unemployment is attributable to his pensionable disability. For such a man, in comparison with an able-bodied person, that is rather a "poor" do and he is relatively very much worse off—hon. Members opposite will probably make this point—than many of his companions of the first war who lived under an economy in which a great deal of unemployment happened to exist. Of course, the position of the man whose unemployment is not directly attributable to his war service, but may be the result of his growing age or generally progressively feeble health, is correspondingly worse.

Another point that I wish to raise was put—very much better than I shall put it—to the Minister at one of his meetings. It is the question of what I call the multiple disability. Hon. Members will agree that to be without both arms, particularly if those arms have been amputated above the elbow, to be without the use of one's legs through paraplegia, or to be blind or disabled in any of a number of other ways, is considerably more disabling in the proper sense of the word than other disabilities which are pensioned at the 100 per cent. rate. If there is any doubt about this, surely there can be no doubt that the man who has lost two legs plus one arm is, by simple mathematics, worse off than the man who has lost two legs. All those men, however, are pensioned at the same 100 per cent. disability rate.

The Treasury would find great difficulty, if the Minister were to put this point to them, in coming to a solution of the problem, by which, on my suggestion, some of the men would be assessed at rates greater than 100 per cent. The Treasury would have a fit if we talked about 200 per cent. disability. A simple method by which this might be overcome would be to reduce by half, if necessary, the assessments, although not the pension, of the disabilities, thereby making some of the 100 per cent. disabilities, who are not actually as badly disabled as other 100 per cent. disabled persons, only 50 per cent.; they could be regarded as 50 per cent. disabilities and be given, if necessary, the pensions they are now receiving. But to the very badly, or multiple, disabled person, a greater pension than is now possible could be given.

One aspect of this proposal which might commend itself to the Treasury or to the Ministry is its comparatively small cost. I do not know the number of paraplegics or war-blinded people, but I do know that from the two war together there are only 80 men without arms and only 30 who have lost more than two limbs. The figures are not, therefore, very large.

I should like the Minister to consider most sympathetically this question of the basic rate and the particular aspect to which I have referred and about which I have been concerned for a long time. I should like to have his answer to the suggestion that there should be a principle by which equal compensation is given for equal disability, whatever the rank of the persons affected. This proposal would have far-reaching consequences, and obviously could not be brought into effect at present.

Consider the case of a promising young soldier, about to rise up the ladder of promotion, who goes into action and is unlucky enough to receive severe wounds and is later pensioned at the 100 per cent. rate. For the rest of his days, he gets a pension of 45s. a week unless the Ministry decide to increase it. On the other hand, had he been lucky on that first occasion and survived the whole war and risen to the rank of warrant officer, or had he done even better and been commissioned, then on receiving those grievous wounds he would have been pensioned, for the same disability at the 100 per cent. rate, but as a warrant officer would have got 61s. 8d. a week for the rest of his life, or, as a commissioned officer, even more. It may be that the reason for this distinction is the unpleasantness of going through the rest of the war, but I cannot believe that that is the principle underlying this distinction between ranks for the same disability. The present position is demonstrably unjust because it suggests that one man's legs, arms or health are more valuable than another man's.

The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) asked how high the rise in the basic wage should go. I make no pretence of suggesting the answer, but I believe that if the Minister decided to raise the lowest rate of pension he might do worse than follow the principle by which the lowest pensions could be progressively raised, thereby limiting this inequality—as I see it, and unjustifiable inequality—and gradually eliminating it altogether. Perhaps when he replies the Minister will be kind enough either to point out the mistake in my reasoning, which I may have made unknowingly, or to give recognition, at least, to the principle that we should in the future gradually work towards the principle of equal reward for equal disability.

I am quite aware of the difficulty of arguing from experience in other countries. but the recent plans for an increase in the basic rate in Australia cannot but be galling to ex-Service men here, who now realise that men there are receiving an increased basic rate. Perhaps these men in Australia were wounded only 100 yards away from themselves, and it must seem odd to them that people who were wounded quite close to them should receive so very much better treatment than they are able to get for themselves.

When the Parliamentary Secretary began his speech, he remarked on the difference of atmosphere in this Chamber between the last two days and today. I believe that this debate has a certain relevance, coming so soon after our discussions on defence. Yesterday and the day before, we were discussing how to prevent a third world war. Today, we are talking about how best to pay the debts we owe for the last two wars. Ex-Service men after both these wars were promised that they would return to a land fit for heroes to live in. I do not think it was actually put in those words after the last war, though the same sentiment remained, but that is not exactly what they found. Those heroes came back and found that they had a really hard struggle to get a living.

The young men whom we are proposing to call up, whom we are asking to volunteer, will willingly come forward, whether or not the Minister of Pensions does anything about this debate. But I think it is very difficult for us to call upon their wives and friends and ask them to allow the men to go entirely willingly if they can foresee the result either of losing their husbands or friends —and that is the worst of all—and getting what is an inadequate widow's pension on which to exist; or, alternatively, finding their husbands or friends returning home damaged in physique and health and realising that life is going to he a very difficult struggle.

I am certain that all of us support nearly every benefit which the Government has granted to these people in the last few years, but I think it is important that we should try to put first things first. I think that we would all agree that the first duty of a great nation is to prevent hardship to those who have suffered in its defence.

1.13 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) who opened the debate spoke as if he did not wish to make any references to the administration of pensions in the past and the greatly improved administration of recent years. I do not think that was a good idea, because a review of that kind cannot fail to be helpful in a discussion like this. The hon. and gallant Gentleman complained that the Minister's administration was too selective today. I do not think the Minister can be too selective or too personal in his consideration of the pensioners' claims, because those claims are by their very nature of a personal character, and I think it is quite right that he should be selective and personal.

I would like to quote one personal case. I happen to have a letter, which was not written for the purpose of this debate, but was written to me by the Minister as far back as 21st December in connection with the case of a constituent of mine in Aberdeen. On this question of a personal touch, I would like to quote one paragraph from his letter: After you wrote to the Minister, he arranged for the man "— I will not give his name— to be again examined and also to be X-rayed. Our medical officers have now reviewed all the evidence in the light of the reports of these examinations, and have recommended that the man should undergo a course of inpatient treatment and investigation. This is being arranged, and, whilst in hospital, the man will receive treatment allowances. You will be pleased to learn that the Minister has also decided to grant treatment allowances with effect from 5th November, the date when the man was certified to be unable to work. The allowances, with arrears, will shortly be paid to him. That case does not stand by itself; it is only one of dozens or scores of cases on which I have had similar letters, showing the personal touch which the Minister applies to the various cases that come before him, and I think that is a very good thing. When he said that the Minister was too selective and too personal in his consideration of these cases, the hon. and gallant Gentleman's view was not very well founded.

I should like to say two things at the outset. First, I am strongly in favour, as we all are here, of the very best pensions and allowances being given for those who have served in the Forces, given of their best and whose lives have been maimed. They should receive better pensions, better unemployment allowances, better constant attendance allowances and occupational allowances, and treatment which is as good as the exigencies of our national situation will permit them to have. I am sure the House will also agree that these pensions should be related to the cost of living at the time when they are actually received by the pensioners. In passing, I should like to observe that the same practice should, in my view, be applied to the old age pensioners, who should receive pensions bearing a direct relation to the cost of living at the time when they actually receive them.

There is a certain phrase which has been in common use in recent years and which embodies an axiom for all citizens in general, but for old people and war pensioners in particular. It has been so applied since 1945 to an ever-increasing extent. That phrase is the well known "equality of opportunity." There are thousands of citizens with recent war service who have lost not only their opportunities in life, but, what is a very important thing, their equality of opportunity in life with their comperes.

These men lost not only their opportunity of making up for lost time, but the opportunity of developing their faculties and of taking part with all their comperes, colleagues and rivals in the race of life. Those who did not go to the war, those who did not suffer from the ravages of war and those who passed through the war unscathed—lucky people—have not lost their opportunities to anything like the same extent as those who are now pensioners, who suffer from the tremendous disability of having lost their equality of opportunity with both their rivals and their colleagues in life.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested that we ought not to look back. I think it is instructive to look back on this matter. In looking back, it is bound to stir the emotions, but emotions are not enough. If we look back a few years, we see how the problems of war pensioners have grown, how badly they have been treated in the past, how niggardly, very often, has been the recognition of their needs, and how slow has been the progress in increasing and improving the benefits to which they are entitled.

I think it is fair to say that, compared with the past, the treatment of war pensioners today is vastly improved. The scope of the Ministry of Pensions has been widened, the humanitarian spirit which inspires it today is of a higher, better, nobler and more effective kind than in former years, and the financial benefits to which the pensioners are entitled have been greatly increased. The magnitude of the problem relating to pensioners is evident from the fact that over one million disabled men from the two wars and their dependants today draw pensions and allowances.

Let us look back for a moment. We find that in 1922 the Labour Party in opposition pressed for the setting up of a Select Committee to consider war pensions. In 1924, during the minority Government when Labour was in office without power, the Minister of Pensions brought about an important improvement, to which the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) referred today, by directing that the pensioner should be given the benefit of the doubt at pension tribunals. He also increased the parents' and dependants' pensions.

Then we come to the years 1929–31 when, again, there was a minority Labour Government in office without power. The then Minister of Pensions took another important step; he abolished the seven-years' time limit on pension claims. I do not want to make a party matter of this, and, indeed, I am not; I am merely referring to the history to which the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton thought it inadvisable to refer, because I think it instructive to remind the House of the past. But there still remained much to be done.

In 1938—and this again was referred to by the hon. Member for Bridlington—a pensioner who married after being disabled, and who was unable to get work, received only 40s. a week, the same as a single man. That was an inhuman practice, a penalty on marriage, and I am sure the House will agree when I say that it was contrary to public interest and policy. That man who then received only 40s. a week now gets 91s. a week.

In 1939, certain proposals before this House were regarded as unsatisfactory. It should be recorded that it was due to the energies and activities, indeed, the revolt in this House of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams), now my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, that the pension rates were improved. Then followed the years of war. Since 1945, the present Government have made over fifty improvements in the pension system. They admitted the right of pensioners who marry to receive pensions for their dependants; they increased the war widows' pensions and rent allowances; they increased parents' pensions, orphans' pensions, and they set up new appeal tribunals. They appointed welfare officers and developed rehabilitation and re-employment services to a much higher degree of effectiveness, and they provided that badly disabled men should have cars tax-free and insurance paid, together with upkeep allowances. The hon. Member for Bridlington also referred to that.

It is worth noting that war widows' pensions of the lowest rank, are, in general, 9s. a week higher than the highest widows' pensions paid under the National Insurance Act. It is also worth noting that 60 per cent. of the claims in respect of the Second World War were accepted, while, when in former years the onus of proof was on the claimant, only 27 per cent. were accepted. Let me remind the House of some of the—I was going to say inhumanities, but that is perhaps too strong a word—prejudicial aspects of administration in regard to pensions in former years.

Mr. Geoffrey Hutchinson (Ilford, North)


Mr. Hector Hughes

The hon. and learned Gentleman may speak later. I want to continue my argument.

In the inter-war years, the Governments then in power refused marriage allowances to pensioners who married after disablement. They refused children's allowances to married pensioners in respect of any child born more than nine months after disablement. The House will admit, I am sure, that these were very cruel and unnatural provisions, and contrary to public interest and policy. When we look back, it seems incredible that in 1939 when war broke out the Government then in power presented a Pensions Warrant which laid down a basic rate of 32s. 6d. for the totally disabled soldier. This was far below the 1919 rate of 40s.

Since 1945, it is no exaggeration to say that the Government have banished the spirits of Mr. Bumble, Mr. Scrooge and Mr. Pecksniff, and have sought to give "Oliver Pensioner" more, thus eliminating Twist from the lives of many who have done their best for King, country and democracy. In 1948, the Minister sent to each disabled pensioner a letter and a leaflet, and, in view of the complaint of the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton about the Minister being too selective and too personal, I think it right to remind the House of the personal line which the Minister took in sending those letters. The leaflet set out the rights of each pensioner and asked this question: Are you sure that you are receiving all the allowances to which you are entitled? With that leaflet went the following personal letter: During recent years many improvements have been made in the pensions and allow- ances paid by my Department to the war disabled and their dependants. I have found, however, that those who are entitled to some of the benefits are not always aware of them and consequently have not claimed them. I am therefore sending you with this letter a leaflet giving up-to-date information. Please read it. If you feel that you may be entitled to any of these additional benefits, kindly write as shown in the leaflet. Within the powers that are given to me, I want to help the war-disabled in every way I can. That is why I have appointed a Welfare Officer at each of the local offices of my Department. If you think he can help you in any way, write to the Welfare Officer at your Regional Office, asking him for an appointment to see you and giving him days and times which are convenient to you. I think the House will agree that that was not too personal. It was a right and proper thing for the Minister to do, and it is indicative of the kindly, humanitarian spirit which has actuated the administration of his Department.

The Minister acted upon the new principle that the award of a pension entitled the individual to more than money. Money is not enough. The Minister took the view that it should be a passport to the goodwill of Government service, to the benefit of a sympathetic interest in the pensioner's affairs, and helping him in solving his problems. In the Minister's view it entitles the pensioner to be shown what his rights and interests are, to friendly guidance towards help, to put him on a personal footing with social welfare, to show him that he is not a mere cipher, not one of a million pensioners, but is one person with a special claim on the community which he fought to save at grievous loss to himself. The Ministry of Pensions has truly become a war pensioners welfare service. I need not remind the House of the diverse and comprehensive character. of the various services that are available. The results of this policy cannot be measured only in money. It has increased the sum total of human happiness not only for the pensioners themselves but for their dependants and their whole families.

I hesitate to trouble the House with figures, but I should like to remind the House of some of the more striking ones. During the last two years, 1949–50, the number of unemployability supplementaries in payment has doubled. The number of allowances for lowered standard of occupation has increased by 70 per cent. The number of constant attendance allowances has increased by 22 per cent. and these three now total £2,700,000 per annum. These increases show how the special needs of individual pensioners are being met. There has been a virtual increase of expenditure on pensions, as compared with the peak year, of £6,760,000. There are other interesting sets of figures given in detail on page 24 of the Twenty-fifth Report of the Ministry of Pensions.

I should also like to draw the attention of the House to two remarkable tables which appear on pages 10 and 11 of the Ministry's Twenty-fourth Report. They are very extensive and I will not quote them beyond one set of figures. On these two pages there is an analysis of the weekly payment being made to 25 severely disabled pensioners of the 1914 war, receiving constant attendance allowance at the maximum rate together with unemployability supplement. Let us compare the pensioners of the 1939 war with the pensioners receiving pensions out of the First World War; that is, the basic pension plus addition for rank or service, allowance for wife and children, constant attendance allowance, sickness or disablement benefit under National Health Insurance Acts. We find that in 1939 the total payment to such a man was £3 a week while today the total payment is £6 18s. 6d. It is more than doubled.

Let me refer now to the actual welfare work, the advisory work and more personal work which is not reported in either of these Reports. However, I have in my hand some statistics regarding this welfare work during the year ending 31st December last and the figures are remarkable. These figures were given by the late Minister of Pensions speaking in Leeds recently. The number of interviews in regional offices and domiciliary visits were 73,000. Help was given in 64 per cent. of the cases. Pensioners who sought the help of welfare officers in Ministry hospitals numbered 25,000. Widows and dependents who took advantage of the welfare service numbered 2,300. Peace-time pensioners visited were 125. Visits to severely disabled pensioners in their homes numbered 17,600. These are figures which do not appear in either of these reports and they are figures which indicate the personal character of the welfare work which is being carried on by the Ministry.

The number of criticisms made about the personal character of the administration of this Ministry are quite unfounded. The Minister can answer them better than I can.

Mr. Wood


Mr. Hector Hughes

Please let me finish. The figures I have given are indeed an answer in themselves. They show that in 1945 the work of the Ministry was in its infancy as compared with the work it is doing today. Since then it has achieved greater stature. No one will say that it has yet reached its full stature, but it has done a great deal to remedy the disadvantage to which I referred when I rose to speak.

I began by talking of the inequality of opportunity between the pensioners and the rest of the community, and I think the House will agree that this Ministry has done a great deal to mitigate and diminish that inequality of opportunity which is one of the great disadvantages from which war pensioners suffer today.

Mr. Wood

Before the hon. and learned Member sits down, would he explain to the House in what terms my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) accused the Minister of being too selective and personal? Perhaps he would also explain for the benefit of myself and other hon. Members exactly what that phrase means?

Mr. Hector Hughes

I made a note at the time when the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton was speaking and he did use those words. He said that the Minister was too selective and too personal in his administration. I gathered that he meant that the Minister should not deal with individual cases as individual cases. If he did not mean that then I do not know what his expression meant. It struck me as such a strange kind of criticism to level at the Minister that I decided to address myself to that when I spoke. That is why I made the speech I have just made.

1.38 p.m.

General Sir George Jeffreys (Peters-field)

I wish, in the first place, to support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) in the appeal he has made in the interests of pensioners, and with reference to the rise in the cost of living. Since I paid my tribute in a debate only about three weeks ago, I will join only very briefly in the tribute paid to the work of the Ministry and say that my remarks, such as they are, will be in no sense hostile to the Ministry. I have had the honour of being a member of the Central Advisory Committee for something like six years, and I hope that even if I have not been able to help, at least I have not been in any sort of way non-cooperative. I do appreciate the work which has been done by the Minister and his predecessors.

This question has been debated in the House on a number of occasions and it has been urged, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), whom I am very pleased to see in the House, that if the Government will not agree straight away to an increase in the basic rates or in the rates of pensions generally, at least they should agree to an inquiry. The world being inhabited by human beings, no system and no Ministry is perfect and incapable of any improvement. I suggest that it would not commit the Government to anything if they agreed to such an inquiry or, if they like to call it so, a review—which I think is the term used by my hon. and gallant Friend—of the conditions and of the whole question in the light of the increase in the cost of living.

Such an inquiry would, as I say, commit the Government to nothing and it would be bound to throw light on the conditions at present prevailing. If it made recommendations I quite agree that there would be a strong moral influence on the Government to comply with them. If, on the other hand, it made no recommendations, the Government would be exactly where they now stand. I believe, however, that it would be likely to make some recommendations both as to the rates of pension and also as to the necessity for the simplification of the system—a point on which I have spoken before. I do not suggest that many cases are not provided for by supplemental allowances of various kinds. but there are so many supplemental allowances, and so many different conditions are provided for, that the system has become extremely complicated, and I suggest that it might be greatly simplified with advantage.

I agree also with my hon. and gallant Friend that the basic rate of 45s. for total disablement, while I realise there are allowances on top of it, ought now to be increased in view of the very great increase in the cost of living. I believe that at present, owing to the increased cost of living, many of the older pensioners in particular are really in very considerable need. I do not propose to go into any details on these pensions. I have spoken on this subject on various occasions before, but I simply wish to record my strong support of my hon. and gallant Friend's case.

I wish to add one word on the question of widows' pensions, and I refer particularly to the widows of officers.

Commander Pursey

Why the distinction?

Sir G. Jeffreys

I shall tell the hon. and gallant Member why. I refer particularly to widows of officers because if those officers had any considerable property at all—no doubt, some hon. Members think it is very wrong that they should—their widows are mulcted in Death Duties. Death Duties, and possibly very substantial ones, have to be paid, and then the Government, having fined a woman for the loss of her husband, and possibly fined her heavily, give her a very small pittance in the way of an allowance. That is the reason why I am specifying officers. I do not think widows' pensions are sufficient in any case, but I do allude particularly to officers whose dependants may have to pay Death Duties.

What I wish to do particularly today is to make an appeal on behalf of those officers of the Armed Forces who are drawing pensions under the 1919 Royal Warrant and corresponding instruments for the Fleet and the R.A.F. That Royal Warrant makes particular reference—it is the only one that does—to the cost of living. It laid down the following: The rates will be subject after five years to revision either upwards or downwards according as the cost of living rises or falls. After July 1st, 1924, a further revision may take place every three years. Those words, I submit, constitute a promise. They were certainly taken as a promise by those concerned, though I believe I am right in saying that the Government claim the word "may" gives them the option of disregarding the preceding sentence which states: The rates will be subject…to revision. It is a very serious matter for those affected.

I fully realise that when I refer to the Government it is really one Department of the Government which is responsible; that is, the Treasury, which is the chief Department with which the Minister and the Service chiefs have to deal. It thinks of saving money and of very little else. That is at the bottom of a very great deal of the trouble about pensions, allowances and expenditure generally.

The general position now is that the cost of living is very much above that of 1919. Not only is there no increase made on account of that rise in the cost of living, but all pensions of £600 a year and over are well below the 1919 figure. Although the value of money has fallen, the cost of living has risen greatly. No form of pension or retired pay under that Warrant gets any increase over the figure of 1919, since when wages and salaries have very greatly risen in the world at large. Yet those affected had a guarantee that the rates would be revised upwards or downwards—I again emphasise those words—with the cost of living. The Government were very quick indeed to revise downwards.

Commander Pursey


Sir G. Jeffreys

I can tell the hon. and gallant Member when. What happened was this. From 1919 to 1922 the cost of living rose, but the Royal Warrant said that revision should be after five years, so no action was taken. Thereafter the cost of living fell steadily for a number of years, and from 1924 onwards the pensions were reduced accordingly, until in 1933 they had been reduced by 11 per cent. below the basic rates of 1919.

Mr. H. Hynd

Under a Tory Government.

Sir G. Jeffreys

The Treasury under any Government. The hon. Member can ask his own Ministers how they get money out of the Treasury.

Mr. Bing (Hornchurch)

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that the Treasury, under the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), was so strong that they were able to subdue that powerful personality?

Sir G. Jeffreys

I am suggesting exactly what I said. Under any Government the Treasury is very strong indeed, and, as I think the Minister knows very well, it has a great stranglehold on every Government Department.

I have certain figures which I should like to quote. As I was saying, in 1933 the rate of basic pension had been reduced by 11 per cent. below the basic rate of 1919. There was no question whatever of the Government exercising any option as to their action in that case. They exercised the option all right when the cost of living was falling. In 1934 there was again a slight rise in the cost of living figure, and further rises seemed to be likely. The Government then decided to consolidate and stabilise—those where the words used officially—the rates of retired pay, and in 1935 they were stabilised at 9½ per cent. below the rates of 1919.

Mr. H. Hynd

A Tory Government.

Sir G. Jeffreys

The agreement of those affected was neither asked nor was it given. By the Pensions (Increase) Acts of 1944 and 1947, increases were granted on the lower rates; that is to say, up to £400 a year there was a 10 per cent. grant, and that brought them back to the 1914 figure; up to £750 a 5 per cent. grant, leaving them still well below the 1919 figure; on pensions above that figure there was no increase.

I suggest this is a matter which requires attention and action. The words of that Royal Warrant were certainly regarded as a promise by all those concerned. They are the only people who, in certain cases —in the lower rates of pensions—have the 1919 rate and no more. All on the higher rates have pensions at less than the 1919 rate. Is there anyone else, whether in the pension world, the world of employment, or salaries, who is getting nothing more than 1919 rates? The cost of living has increased enormously, the value of money has decreased enormously, yet these people—old men they are now—are in receipt of the 1919 rate. Government action was regarded, and is regarded, as a breach of faith by those affected and I think that to this day it is doing a certain amount of harm. Those affected very likely have sons who have ideas about entering one of the three Services as Regulars and they are told, "This is the way you may be treated." I think it is doing harm to the Services in that way.

Senior officers, who have borne the greatest responsibility, are the hardest hit and none of them is young. I would remind the House that there is such a thing as Income Tax, but in this, or any other form of pension which is above the very lowest rate, Income Tax is duly deducted, again by the Treasury. They do not give us any chance on that. Therefore, any increase that is given—

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)


Sir G. Jeffreys

I will give way in a minute—any increase which may be given is really a very much smaller increase than it appears to be on paper.

Mr. Ross

Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves that point, is he suggesting that Income Tax is payable on disability pensions?

Sir G. Jeffreys

No, I am not suggesting anything of the kind, but it is payable on other pensions. I support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton most strongly in the appeal he has made, an appeal which I think it is generally agreed was not only eloquent, but was made with very great moderation. I hope the claims of these old soldiers and sailors who retired on the 1919 Royal Warrant and who are the only people in this country who are now drawing not more but less than the rates of 1919, will be given the justice which is due to them and that the allowances which were contemplated in the Warrant of 1919 and the corresponding increments for the Admiralty and Air Force should be given to them now when the cost of living has risen so enormously.

1.54 p.m.

Commander Pursey (Hull, East)

I hope the hon. and gallant Member for Peters-field (Sir G. Jeffreys) will not feel that I have not been considering what he has been saying if I do not follow him in his detailed arguments. If I could have his attention for a moment—

Sir T. Moore

Do not be petulant.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

A naval broadside.

Commander Pursey

If I could have the attention of the hon. and gallant Member—

Sir T. Moore

Do not get petulant.

Commander Pursey

When the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) happens to occupy the Chair, I shall pay attention to what he says. I do not wish to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield, but the point which I—and a lot of other people —would like to get clear as regards his speech, is what he was talking about, because this debate has been mainly on disability pensions on which no Income Tax is levied. I can appreciate that all that the hon. and gallant Member said is in order, because the Motion is not confined to disability pensions, but apparently the subject to which he devoted the whole of his speech —and I make no complaint about it, but only want to get clear what he was talking about—as I understand it, was the ordinary Service pensions paid irrespective of disability. All the complaints he was making were entirely complaints against his own Government between the two wars. I shall be quite happy to give way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman if he will make those points clear, not only for my benefit, but for the benefit of many other hon. Members on this side of the House. What pensions was he dealing with?

Sir G. Jeffreys

I do not think that anybody could have mistaken what I was dealing with. I was dealing, in the first part of my speech, definitely with war disability pensions. The Motion does not say "disability." It says "war pensions and allowances." In the latter part of my speech I was dealing with the Service pensions of those who retired under the Royal Warrant from the Army, the Fleet and the Royal Air Force in 1919. Have I made that clear? The other point to which the hon. and gallant Member referred was a Tory Government. I think I made it clear that my complaint was not against any Government; indeed, so did my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head). It was against the treatment which had been meted out to those affected by all Governments and was particularly against the influence of the Treasury.

Commander Pursey

Now I will make the point quite clear: no Income Tax whatever is paid on disability pensions and allowances.

Sir G. Jeffreys


Commander Pursey

I am not going to give way again to the hon. and gallant Member.

Sir G. Jeffreys

That is exactly what I said.

Commander Pursey

A ban was put on interruptions as far as the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) was concerned when he opened the debate from the other side of the House. So as to make my position clear, I am quite prepared to give way to any hon. Member on any side of the House, but I am not prepared to give way to the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield a second time. The point I want to get clear is that no Income Tax is paid on disability pensions.

Sir G. Jeffreys

No one said it was.

Commander Pursey

The hon. and gallant Member has been making a big argument about the reduction of various pensions by virtue of Income Tax. The first point I want to make clear is that I know nothing about this deal which is supposed to have been made between certain hon. Members on this side of the House and certain hon. Members opposite whereby Conservative Members, apparently, are making Labour speeches from their benches and Labour Members are making Conservative speeches from these benches. [Interruption.] The hon. Member missed the opening of the debate.

Mr. Hector Hughes

I hope the hon. and gallant Member was not referring to me.

Commander Pursey

As far as the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) is concerned, apparently a guilty conscience needs no accuser. Let me make another point quite clear. This subject of pensions for disabled men, widows and children has been one of the main preoccupations of the Labour Party for the last 50 years and if they had had some help from hon. Members opposite between the wars a lot of these complaints would not be made today. As far as I am concerned, so that there can be no doubt about my position, I will say that I am of the third generation of ex-Service men and I have lived with this problem for 60 years. I was not brought into it by the accident of war, whereby other people who had adopted other professions for their livelihood were then, by accident, drawn into the Services. I decided to make a contribution to my country's service by making it my life career.

Sir T. Moore

I did the same.

Commander Pursey

I am able to take on the hon. and gallant Gentleman and to do any job he is able to do, but I am not wasting any more time on him.

The Motion, when read, is, of course, quite innocuous, and with a number of the arguments put forward from the other side of the House practically everybody on this side of the House would agree; and I am prepared to agree largely with the arguments on both sides. [Laughter.] I thought I should catch a lot of fish on that hook. But now we come to the disagreements. What I disagree with are the facts and assumptions on which hon. Members base their arguments, and when hon. Gentlemen opposite say this is not a party political issue, I would ask: does the mere fact that one or more of them say that this is not a party issue, turn them from Dr. Jekylls into Mr. Hydes? The main point of this Motion is to tie it up with the nonparty debate we have had in the last two days about defence. In other words, it is all part of electioneering.

Sir T. Moore


Commander Pursey

It is an attempt on their part to try to make up to the ex-Service men.

Brigadier Head


Commander Pursey

Oh, no. The hon. and gallant Member refused to give way to me when I said that all I wished to do was to ask him a friendly question. I am quite prepared to give way to anybody else in the House, but I am certainly not going to give way to him. The whole point about this debate is that it is set against the background of the "phoney" political war in the country at this moment.

Brigadier Head


Commander Pursey

It is as "phoney" a political war as the proper war in 1939 and early 1940 was "phoney."

Sir T. Moore

What nonsense you do talk.

Mr. Wigg

On a point of order. Is it in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to describe what my hon. and gallant Friend is saying, as "nonsense"?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, "What nonsense you talk." However. I have not uttered a word.

Commander Pursey

Hon. Gentlemen opposite interrupt although they previously adopted the attitude that there should be no interruptions and made an appeal that there should be no interruptions. I did not get up to interrupt anybody. I ask hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite just to be patient, because they are going to get these doses of their own medicine whether they like it or not; so they might just as well make up their minds not to waste time, and so possibly cut short the time for other speakers.

Now, of course, one reason why the Tory Party do not want to look over their shoulders is that the phantom of their treatment of the serving Service men and of the ex-Service men haunts them all the way through their political careers. To refer to pay today would be out of order, but for illustration I will just say something about it in one sentence. The Tory Party opposed for 60 years any increase in Service men's pay. I myself, during ten years on the lower deck. received the same rates of pay—

Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

How right that was.

Commander Pursey

—as were fixed after the Crimean War of 1854, 60 years before.

Now I come to the question of disability pensions, and there the Tory record is just as bad, if not worse. I will give one or two spot examples to illustrate what I am saying. I have already got it on record in HANSARD, and if the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr is interested, I will give him an autographed copy of the Report, and that will save any further interruptions from him. The hon. and gallant Member for PetersfieldI mention him because he made the point—trotted out the old war-horse of an inquiry. I thought that we had run that one to death. In the last Parliament we had a debate on a Motion about that.

The argument was that there had been only one Select Committee, and that in 1919. At that time the whole position of the disability pensions was in chaos. It was a disgrace to the Government of the day, and, in addition, the majority of the ex-Service men under the Tory Governments were largely unemployed and entirely dependent on charity. What was the argument afterwards? Ex-Service men's organisations have been mentioned by more than one speaker, including the British Legion. The idea was put forward for a Select Committee by the Labour Party, and the British Legion's representatives in the House on the other side voted 100 per cent. against having a Select Committee.

Then there came the question of improving pensions, and the Labour Government moved a Motion for improving pensions and having a Select Committee. There was a Division and the whole of the Tory Party went into the Lobby against the proposal. There was later an argument for an inquiry, and on 26th March. 1925, the then Prime Minister, the late Mr. Baldwin, said: The Government are not aware of any grounds on which the appointment of a Select Committee…would be justified."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1925; Vol. 182, c. 599.] The whole history of the Tory Party stinks as regards the Services and ex-Service men, and now they have the idea of posing as the advocates of the ex-Service men. Of course, the ex-Service men know they double-crossed them before, and they know a Tory Government would double-cross them again.

Mr. Profumo (Stratford)


Commander Pursey

I shall give way, but I shall give way in my own time. In fact, the attitude of the ex-Service men to the Tory Party is that they are far better in Opposition. The ex-Service men know what the Tory Party would do if they were the Government, despite what they are saying now, and that they are saying it although they do not intend to carry it out if they are returned to power. Therefore, the answer is to keep them permanently in Opposition.

Mr. Profumo

I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way. I am trying to follow his argument, as I am sure my hon. Friends are, but I cannot quite make out from what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said whether he is in favour of the Motion or not. Is he speaking against the Motion? I should like to get this clear. The Motion was proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend and was seconded by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), and sympathy with it has been expressed from the Government Front Bench. Therefore, this is not a party matter. From what I can make out from the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech, he is attacking this side of the House for having raised this matter. If that is so, will he please remember that his own side support the Motion? Therefore, can we have a constructive speech, instead of bickering?

Commander Pursey

The answer to the hon. Member's intervention is—So what?

Mr. Profumo


Commander Pursey


Mr. Profumo

The hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech stinks.

Mr. J. Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)

He is crackers.

Mr. Wigg

On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Gentleman opposite to say that my hon. and gallant Friend is "crackers"? [An HON. MEMBER: "He is."] May be, but it is very important to establish what is in order, and to know what is to happen if interruptions are made during a speech on that side of the House, when there are interruptions of a speech on this side of the House.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I did not hear the remark.

Sir T. Moore

Would you help this debate, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, by giving some instructions to hon. Members opposite on how a debate should be conducted, and on what is a point of order?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think that arises at the moment.

Commander Pursey

It is a strange thing that there have been only one or two hon. Members opposite present during the debate, and then we get people who have not heard the previous debate, and know nothing whatsoever of what has gone on, coming in and apparently wanting to turn the whole debate into a kind of entertainment. I am quite serious about this, and I am more concerned about the ex-Service man than the majority of hon. Members opposite. I want to make quite certain that there is no question of the Government being led off on any false scent by the Opposition to the detriment of the ex-Service man.

Mr. Profumo

What is the hon. and gallant Gentleman going to do?

Commander Pursey

I will come back to what should be done for the ex-Service man later on. If the hon. and learned Gentleman—I believe he is learned, although it would appear to be more of a negative factor than a positive one—will wait until the end, his curiosity will be satisfied and he will know what I am prepared to do.

A particular point raised by the Opposition was the cost of living. In 1919, when the basic rate was fixed, the cost of living was 215. In 1946, when the 45s. was fixed, the cost of living was less, so we must start from that basis as far as the cost of living is concerned. What was done by the Tory Party about pensions and the cost of living? In 1939 they reduced the basic rate for the 100 per cent disabled man from 40s. to 32s. 6d.; in other words, by over 33 per cent., and at that time paid two different rates, so that a man who lost a limb in the First World War got so much and the man who lost the limb in the Second World War got 33⅓ per cent. more. Yet today they have the audacity to stand up there and pose as sweet innocents and argue that this is not a Tory Party political matter.

Mr. Paget

On a point of order. We have been hearing an interesting historical review of political performances, but has it anything at all to do with this Motion?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I was hoping that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would come to the Motion before the House. I would remind him that a great many hon. Members want to speak in this debate.

Commander Pursey

With all due respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, this is. the one point where I would submit that I am in order, because it is one of the main points made by the Opposition in comparing the 1919 figure of 40s. with the 1946 figure of 45s. The point is that this Motion is part of a campaign that started in 1948. That is not very long ago, and even that should satisfy my hon. and learned Friend who seconded the Motion, for reasons best known to himself but quite unknown to me. The point I want to ask—and this may puzzle the Tory Party—is: Does this originate with the Communist wing of the British Legion and their fellow-travellers? Until recently the hierarchy of the British Legion was composed of the President, the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), Colonel Gordon Larking and Mr. Griffin, the £1,750 secretary of this voluntary organisation. At the time of this campaign a special feature article was contributed to the "Daily Worker" headed "Five Bob Rise in 29 Years. Ex-Service Pensions are a Generation Out-of-Date."

Mr. Paget

On a point of order. What in the world has the British Legion and what it pays to its officers got to do with this Motion?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I was rather reluctant to intervene because I was hoping that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was coming to his point. I would remind him that he has spoken for 20 minutes already.

Commander Pursey

It is a strange thing that when hon. Members on this side want to speak they should be hindered by their own colleagues. There has been reference to the British Legion, and if hon. Members want to learn anything about the British Legion they should refer to the "Daily Worker." I was referring to one of the hon. Gentleman's fellow-travellers with the Communist Party in the British Legion. Now I hope this will be up to date. Monday's "Daily Worker" in a report on the Metropolitan Area of the British Legion, says: Another resolution urged the stepping up of the demand for the basic rate for disability pensions to £5 10s. weekly ('to bring the 1946 demand of £4 10s. up to date'). Perhaps that will satisfy the legal mind of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton. What I want to know is: What is the Opposition advocating on this question of disability pensions? It is no good saying they are suggesting this, that or the other. What we want to be able to do is to get our teeth into something. This feature article in the "Daily Worker" was signed by no other than Colonel Gordon Larking, the then Chairman of the British Legion, and I should like to ask the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale whether he still supports that article, whether he has ever taken any steps to dissociate himself from it, and whether the Tory Party and the British Legion are tied up with the Communist line of trying to create trouble with the ex-Service man, and following the Communist line throughout the country today.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I really cannot see how this is connected with the Motion. I hope the hon. and gallant Gentleman will try to keep to the Motion.

Commander Pursey

I will leave that and go on to another point.

Brigadier Clarke

What is going to happen now?

Commander Pursey

Never mind. I know what is going to happen now. There is no question at all that this matter of disability pensions has been made a Tory Party political campaign.

Sir T. Moore

Repetition now.

Commander Pursey

Never mind about the repetition. They do not attempt to come down to factual figures and say what they want. They go on playing about with one thing after another. Let me come to a specific point. A point has been made about the widows. Now, everyone is in sympathy with giving widows more. But what about the other widows, the widows who have lost their husbands under other conditions of service? The ex-Service man's widow gets 9s. a week more than the ordinary widow. The same thing occurs when it comes to these disability pensions in a comparison of the figures. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North gave some of the figures, and I say quite frankly that these disabled ex-Service men are not, by a long way, in the lower income groups of this country. Moreover, in many cases they have had their pensions more than doubled by the Labour Government. The Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Ministry of Pensions gave the comparative figures: 45s. basic plus allowances, going up to £7 10s. the minimum in a list of samples is £5 15s. and the maximum £9 13s. Now what is the argument?

Captain Ryder (Merton and Morden)

Am I to understand from the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument that he is suggesting these war pensions should be reduced?

Commander Pursey

I gave the hon. and gallant Gentleman credit for more sense than that.

Brigadier Clarke

There is very little sense to follow. My hon. and gallant Friend is only trying to follow the argument.

Commander Pursey

Do not try to follow; just listen, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot find button B to get his money back, press button A.

On the question of pensions, why did not the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton give the full picture, because there is no such thing as a 45s. pension. That horse does not exist. If a man is 100 per cent. disabled, he is either in full employment or getting an unemployability supplement. I will give an example. A constituent of mine who lost two limbs is 100 per cent. disabled. He receives a basic pension of £2 5s., 10s. for his wife and 10s. constant attendance allowance, which is not the maximum. That is a total of £3 5s. tax-free. His wage is £5 4s. 8d. a week and he receives a Chelsea Hospital pension—it will be seen that there are other sources of income open to these men—of 5s. His total weekly income is therefore £8 14s. 8d., largely tax-free, which is equivalent to more than £9 a week.

Brigadier Clarke

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is picking out an individual case.

Commander Pursey

I am putting a perfectly straightforward, factual case. All that hon. Members opposite have done has been to pick out the minimum payment cases as an argument for increasing the disability basic rate. I could give the case of an officer getting £250, plus allowances for wife, children, education and so on. He may have a salary of £1,000 a year. If his basic pension is doubled he will receive another £250 plus, which will give him £1,500 a year, with over £500 free of Income Tax. I am not saying that anything they are getting is too much. The answer to this problem is not charity, not pensions, but to train them and get them a job so that they can be independent. There is a far larger number of people worse off than some of these disabled pensioners, through no fault of their own.

Only one reference has been made to N.C.O.s—that was of a man getting 61s. 8d. a week. Nearly one-quarter of these disability pensioners come under higher pension rates by virtue of their rank. Nothing is said about that. A number of them are in hospitals where, no matter what their disability, they are being paid the full rate. The Parliamentary Secretary gave the proportion of minor disability pensioners, most of whom are in full employment. It is not a question of the basic rate; it is not even a question of the basic rate plus allowances. The question is: What is the income coming into the home and what are the demands on that income? That is the basis on which we should work.

Viscount Cranborne (Bournemouth, West)

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman proposing a means test?

Commander Pursey

I am not proposing a means test. That is a valueless interruption. The only way to find out the different circumstances as between A and B is to know what are their total incomes and their total liabilities. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is a means test."] The policy of the Labour Government has been to improve the position of those who are worst off. Not only has that been done, but the number of cases accepted by the Minister as being attributable has been largely increased. We have a process entirely different from that of the Tory Party. Their main principle was to find any way in which they could refuse the pensions. The policy of the Labour Government has been to increase the type of cases to be brought under the Royal Warrant and to increase the allowances of those who are worst off.

When it comes to a question of employment or of age, there is a case to be met. It has been stated that 60 is the average age for the first-war man. No hon. Member opposite has said that at 65 such a man gets another 26s. and if married 42s. old age pension, to which he is rightly entitled. When the Opposition put forward these cases, let them give the complete cases. I do not object to their selecting the worst examples to justify their case, but let them in fairness to the remainder of the people in the country and to the Ministry and the Government give some of the examples where it is doubtful if a case could be made for a further increase.

We are brought back to the point that there is no question that the Labour Government's policy of increasing the number eligible, increasing the allowances, particularly the constant attendance allowance and the unemployability allowance, is the right one. The hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) said that if there is to be any increase in the basic allowance, it should be on a graduated scale so far as higher officers are concerned. That brings us nearer to the point which he was advocating, namely, equal pensions for equal disability.

Hon. Members opposite know that they are stewing in their own juice, so far as ex-Service men are concerned, both in regard to pay and disability pensions. The ex-Service men know the record of the party opposite, and they know that they will get a better deal from the Labour Government. They know that, in spite of censure Motions, political manoeuvres and attempts to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they will get better service from the Labour Government than from a Tory Government.

2.28 p.m.

Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)

I should like, in supporting the Motion, to express my thanks to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) for using his luck in the Ballot to give us an opportunity of debating this matter today and to the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who has now left the Chamber, for the entirely non-party basis on which he seconded it and launched this debate on a most useful basis. If I do not read to the House any of the Ministry's pamphlets it is not because I have been too idle to read them, or that I do not admire the way in which they are drawn up, but because I know that many other hon. Members want to speak, and I do not desire to detain the House for more than a few minutes.

I have been here since the beginning of the debate, and I have not heard—although the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes), who is not in his place, seems to have heard—any criticism of the conduct of the Ministry. I think that we have been unanimous on both sides of the House in expressing admiration of the administration of the Ministry in this matter. I am sure that when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton was speaking of the Minister being selective and personal, the context was quite obvious. He was not complaining that special allowances were made in special cases, but that the figures showed that it was a relatively small proportion of the cases which received supplementary allowances.

I did not hear from my hon. and gallant Friend, and I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North, is wrong in thinking he heard from him, an accusation that the Minister was being unduly selective. If I do not read pamphlets to the House it means no discourtesy to the Ministry, and if I do not follow the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), it also means no discourtesy to him—only that in view of the rather elaborate character of his arguments I prefer to study them before I venture to deal with them.

I wish to intervene in the debate to ask the Minister to give careful consideration to what I believe to be a serious gap in the supplementary allowances now given. The 100 per cent. disabled pensioner can get his constant attendance allowance, which everyone agrees with and thinks is most desirable, which of course covers his nursing, but I have been very struck—I do not know whether other hon. Members have had the same experience—by the large number of pensioners whose disability does not justify a 100 per cent. award but is such that they are compelled to buy for themselves constant domestic assistance. Some may agree with me that the task of making a bed with only one arm is a very fearsome task indeed. Some of us cannot even cook with two hands, let alone with one.

I have in mind in particular the case of a widower with a single arm amputation who has no one to look after him. In his case the cost of domestic assistance which he has to buy as a result exclusively of his disability is such that it results in a subtraction rather than the addition to his income which we should like to see. I earnestly ask the Minister to review this matter when he considers the whole position.

I do not believe that under the existing machinery of supplementary allow- ances there is any possibility of meeting those cases except where the award is 100 per cent. I appreciate the difficulties and obviously any additional allowances would have to be very small and very selectively directed to the particular case I have mentioned—the man who can have no one to care for him and has necessarily to incur the cost of domestic assistance. I beg the Minister, when he reviews this matter at the next opportunity, to see if he can make some concession to help men in this category.

2.34 p.m.

Mr. Shackleton (Preston, South)

I do not want to take part in any politics, not because I think there are no political aspects of the matter, but because I want to put the order of priority of the cases my right hon. Friend should take up with the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he comes to ask for improvements. In the first place, I should like to join with the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) in asking my right hon. Friend to consider the position of the disabled man living alone who needs help. I do not know how far the provision of home and domestic help by the local authorities can go to meet the needs of these men, but it is worth while seeing that full use is made of such assistance as may be available to them. The most important work the Ministry are doing is in the field of their welfare services. All Members agree as to the great value of this work. I should prefer, if there are any shortcomings in that service, that those shortcomings should be the first to be made good.

The next point is the most distressing problem of all, the position of unemployed ageing pensioners who are not eligible for unemployment supplements. Once they are out of work they cannot get a job. The numbers may not be very great. They may represent a total of 12,000. Cannot something be done to help them? May I also ask the Minister again, through the Minister of Labour, to take special steps to see that ageing disabled people are not discharged in preference to younger men, particularly in Government Departments, although I admit that Government Departments have been doing their bit in taking on disabled people. Some special effort should be made to keep these people in employment. Next in the queue are the widows. I shall not go into this question in detail, but will merely ask my right hon. Friend to put them very high on the list.

I should also like to make a plea for parents. I am not advocating a flat-rate parents' pension, but that more generous consideration should be given in the matter of the earnings which do not count against a pension being granted. That is a small concession which will not cost a great deal of money. It is a concession which will be of real value to these people who are in a very difficult position. Finally, I am sure that all Members would like to see an increase in the basic rate, but at the present moment, when it is obviously impossible to grant everything that we should like, I stress again that the right approach, which I also think is the Government's view, is to meet need first rather than to increase the basic rate. There may be other examples where the Minister can make improvement, but I urge him to continue along these lines.

2.37 p.m.

Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

With one exception, the debate has been on a high level. We all feel the same way regarding pensions. The hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey), ploughs his lonely furrow. He makes the same speech whether we are discussing salmon, white fish or anything else. We now know his views on the British Legion and that most of us in the British Legion are fellow travellers. I now find that I am a fellow traveller and a Communist. I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member about the British Legion, but having made a protest on their behalf, I will leave it at that.

If the pensions that are being paid now are right, then the pensions that were being paid in 1946 were too much, which is a reductio ad absurdum. To put it another way, if the pensions were right in 1946, they cannot be right now in view of the rise that has taken place in the cost of living. We will not go into the reasons for this rise but keep this debate completely non-party. The fact is that the cost of living has gone up a great deal more than is shown by the figures in the various cost-of-living indices.

These people are really having a hard time. Without going into the details which have already been given, I say to the Government that they must look into these figures again and give these ex-Service men, especially limbless ex-Service men, increased pensions. I suggest also that their pensions should be linked up in some way with the cost of living. None of us know where this increase in the cost of living will end—the figures are going up monthly.

I should also like to draw the Minister's attention to war widows. I have a case of a lady who is getting 38s., which is the highest amount she can obtain, as a widow of a man on the lower deck. A similar widow in the 1914–18 war gets £3 6s. She is the widow of a chief stoker. We have heard a lot of political arguments about how the Conservatives treated these people in the past and how well the Socialists are treating them now. That is not the point. The cost of living has gone up, and anybody who was reasonably catered for in 1946 with 38s. a week cannot be reasonably catered for now. The whole question should be re-examined.

I should like to draw attention to the manner in which some of our Dominions and Colonies are dealing with disabled people. I know that the cost of living in Australia may be higher than it is here and the comparison perhaps is not absolutely fair. Nevertheless however we compare it, it must be admitted that men are getting better treatment there than they are here, as is also the case in New Zealand, America and several other countries. Those limbless men, particularly those who have completely lost the power of their limbs, and who, therefore, are unable to continue the livelihood which they once pursued, should be given some compensation for that fact, though I would not advocate a means test such as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull, East has suggested.

I should also like the Minister to look into the 100 per cent. disability man, who is much happier if he is working. Some of them are grateful for the 100 per cent. pension, but at the same time they would like to be able to do something without getting the 100 per cent. disability pension cut. I know a man who is paralysed from the waist downwards through a landing craft falling off its davit and pinning him on the shore. He was before the war boatman at the sailing club where I sailed, and his occupation was looking after the boats. That man can still splice a rope and do minor repairs, but he cannot be employed and given a regular income because if that were so, he would not be able to draw his pension or his disability would be re-assessed.

Mr. H. Hynd


Brigadier Clarke

He will see this in the paper tonight, but that is what he tells me.

Mr. Shackleton

Did the hon. and gallant Gentleman raise this case directly with the Minister?

Brigadier Clarke

I am referring to the boatman who was employed before the war at the sailing club where I sailed. He did not ask me to raise it, but he is convinced that if he earned a few more pounds par week, his pension would be cut. If the Minister says that it is not true, I shall immediately take up the case. Perhaps the Minister will answer that when he replies. I have nothing more to add to the very full statement of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head). I hope the Minister will see his way to help these pensioners and the war widows.

Mr. Speaker

A number of hon. Members want to address the House on this subject. I would point out that we have exactly half an hour left before starting the winding up speeches and I cannot please everybody.

2.45 p.m.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

Whatever differences of opinion have been expressed, this debate will convince disabled ex-Service men that they have the sympathy of every side of the House, and incidentally it will bring to the notice of the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) the sort of points which he ought to know about disability pensions. I do not happen to be so unfortunate as other hon. Members who have spoken as to be a war pensioner, but I have a certain amount of personal interest in the matter, having been one of eight children left by a private soldier killed in the First World War, so that I have some experience of war pensions.

Before I became a Member of this House, for a number of years I dealt with the correspondence of other hon. Members, and I am struck by the great difference between the number of pension cases that we used to have to take up with the Minister and the smaller number we have today, which is an indication of the very much better treatment which has been given in recent years. I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West, and the hon. and gallant Member for Devon, North (Brigadier Peto), when they indicated in their speeches that the position of the pensioner was relatively worse today than it was previously.

I contend, and the figures prove it, that there has been an overall increase in the amount paid to pensioners which has more than compensated them for the difference in the cost of living. I say "overall." I know there are exceptions, and that, of course, is the whole point of this debate. The fundamental question is, given a limitation in the amount of money available, how that money is going to be best distributed. Either we are going to increase the basic pension all round, or we are going to continue the present policy of the Minister, which is to look for the difficult cases and spend the money in that direction.

There is a general feeling that there ought to be something done. I agree with that, and if I jump straight away to the question of the basic pension it is only because of the shortness of time. I think this is worth looking at very carefully, because it is the whole crux of the matter. I took the liberty of interrupting the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), when he was making his opening speech, on this question of whether it is suggested that not only the basic pension for a private should be raised, but that we should go right up the scale to the top, where I believe the maximum pension is £420 a year. Is it suggested that these higher pensions as well as the lower pensions should have their basic rate increased? I should be fully in favour of raising the 45s. basic rate, but if it is suggested that right up the scale the rate should be increased I would say that that is not the best way to apply the public money we have available.

It has been pointed out that in many cases where there is 100 per cent. pension the pensioners are earning full wages or salaries. I do not think I should be accused of being personal if I asked whether it is suggested, for example, that an hon. Member of this House drawing a 100 per cent. pension should have his basic pension increased. There are exceptional cases. In fact, I believe it would be true to say there are no two cases of disablement pensioners which are alike. Their needs vary tremendously, and those needs have to be looked at separately.

I believe it is true that 60 per cent. of the pensioners who are drawing the maximum rate of basic pension are actually in employment today and, therefore, if we are going to turn our eyes away from the raising of the basic pension what are we going to suggest to the Minister as improvements? I do not think I need go into any detail on that, because other hon. Members have talked about the special cases of widows and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) mentioned the case of the parents' pension. There has also been the question of the hardship allowance. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Carshalton referred to the question of the limitation under which hardship allowances cannot be increased beyond the basic rate. I think this is the first priority for any improvement that is made.

In the case of widows I must fundamentally disagree with the special case put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) when he spoke specially of the widows of officers. That is putting it on a wrong basis. When we look at this matter from the point of view of hardship, we must look first of all at the hardship of those whose incomes are less and who are suffering more. It is all very well to talk about the burden of death duties upon certain widows of officers, but that is a wrong approach to the question.

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton brought forward a case which aroused certain comment on this side of the House, when he spoke of the prewar miner whose earnings were £12 per week. There was some disagreement about whether the figure was right, but let me accept the figure for the moment. I suggest to him respectfully that in bringing forward a case like that he is raising a very dangerous principle. He suggested that a man who had been earning Ex a week and who became disabled ought to be compensated to that amount as a minimum.

Where do we draw the line? There might be the director of a series of companies earning three or four thousands a year. People in salary brackets like those were not always officers. Some joined the ranks and did very gallant service. Let me take the example of a director whose pre-war earnings were £3,000 a year and who lost both his legs when serving as a private soldier. To say that his minimum pension should be £3,000 is asking the Minister to do the impossible. We must find some sort of basis, and it is not easy to know exactly where the line ought to be drawn. We have had an argument from His Majesty's Opposition in regard to food subsidies, that we should not just put them up for everybody but only for those who need them and not to those who do not need them. If that argument is good in that way, it may be applied in other ways.

Brigadier Head

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for giving way. I think it was perhaps an unfortunate example which I chose, where the wage was too high to be representative. I had no intention of suggesting that there should be a pensions scale comparable with the earnings up to that very large figure.

Mr. Hynd

I appreciate that that is an extreme case and I indicated the kind of difficulty that immediately arose in my mind when the hon. and gallant Gentleman brought it forward.

I shall deal with one more point only, in view of the shortage of time, and it is related to the scale of pensions. I suppose that the idea underlying the pensions principle when it was first established was that a private soldier or other rank would be someone whose normal means were much lower than those of an officer. It is possible that in the course of the last two wars the circumstances have very greatly changed. It might easily be that people who suffered disability while they were serving as other ranks might have had normal means on a much higher level than those of other people who suffered disability while they were officers. The principle of basing the pension on the rank at the time the wound was received seems to require reconsideration.

The hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) brought forward a principle which, when we begin to think about it, is almost revolutionary. I was glad he did, because perhaps it was better that it came from him than from someone like myself, but I thoroughly agree with him that in present circumstances this is a matter that needs looking at. I understand, if my information is correct, that in Canada and Australia there is this principle in operation, up to the rank of captain at any rate, of equal pension for equal disability. We ought to look seriously at this matter and wonder whether we could adopt it altogether or in some modified form.

I have great sympathy with the Minister in trying to meet all the demands which come upon him. Naturally, everyone who has served in the Forces and who afterwards gets an illness or an accident is inclined to attribute it to military service. The Minister must have many headaches in that connection. While his pension system is fairly watertight, I wonder whether there is not still a little elasticity required in the working of his Department.

I have in mind the case of a man whom I knew before the war as a big, strapping fellow. He volunteered in the Territorials, became a sergeant and was captured at St. Valery. He served for three or four years in a prison camp in Silesia. Since then, he has been suffering from tuberculosis and he is still unable to work. That man is refused a pension because the doctors say that at the time he left the Army his medical examination showed no trace of tuberculosis. We all know what happens in a case like that. A chap is coming home. He is burning with excitement to get home. He either dodges the medical examination or tries to deceive the doctors rather than be held up for a couple of days at the transit camp. He will sign any document to say there is nothing wrong with him so that he can get home to see his wife and family. That is exactly what happened in this case. That man cannot get a pension.

I know the argument that we must ultimately rely on medical opinion, but surely any sensible person will say that a man who was known to be fit before he spent several years as a prisoner of war, who came home and went almost straight into a sanatorium, is entitled to a pension. That is why I say that some kind of elasticity is required even beyond the stage of the appeal tribunal and the opinion of the medical officers of the Minister. I do not think we can go all the way yet with "fit for service, fit for pension," but in addition to welfare schemes and sympathy from the Ministry there is a little bit further that the Minister might go in the very exceptional cases.

2.59 p.m.

Captain Ryder (Merton and Morden)

Like other hon. Members on this side of the House, I am very glad that the Motion has been supported from the other side. I do hope this matter will not become an avenue for party politics. Surely it is in the interest of the men for whom we are talking that it shall not become a subject of party controversy, and I hope that will be agreed to on all sides of the House.

There is, of course, a natural tendency for a party which is in Opposition to represent to the Government the cases that are brought to its notice, and it is very natural that the Minister for his part should seek to defend the Administration of which he is in charge and for his Friends to support him; but that should not be built up into a suggestion that the matter is one of party difference. The same process went on when the Labour Party was in Opposition.

From what I have heard from both sides of the House, I am quite sure that we all feel that we have a very solemn duty towards these pensioners and that it should be discharged in a non-partisan spirit. As far as I am concerned, the Minister has my sympathy—he is dealing with a very difficult matter. What we are trying to do by this Motion is to strengthen his hand so that he may go to the Treasury and ask for a little more money. Where the money is to come from is for the Treasury to decide; it is for them to scrape the barrel. All that we are asking the House to do is to strengthen the hand of the Minister.

The case which has been put today arises because of the increase in the cost of living, a matter for which the Minister is in no way responsible. I shall not dwell therefore on that aspect, but it is an essential part of the case and must be mentioned. I do not wish to become controversial by referring to the state of things before the war, but there is no disputing that the purchasing power of the pound has fallen since 1945, and we are concerned in that the curve seems to be getting even steeper. That is why our attention is directed to this particular class of people.

Against that, I have a list of some 60 improvements which have been effected—some small, some considerable—in various pensions. During the debate we on this side have referred particularly to the basic rate. Anyone who studies the matter appreciates that it is all very complex. The incidence of disablement has an infinite variety, and it is hard to compare one case with another. On the other hand, a direct comparison of the basic rate is not a fair comparison as far as the Minister is concerned. We have to consider all the various supplementary allowances which go to make it up. As far as I can see—I am ready to be corrected if I am wrong—the various supplementary disablement allowances for the disabled apply to only about one in 20 cases, while allowances for families apply to about half. The basic rate therefore has a big significance, although, as I admit, it does not afford a full comparison as it stands.

The argument is put forward that no pensioner is dependent entirely on his pension. That may be true in many cases, but there are others where that argument does not apply. I should like to refer to what I feel is the simplest type of case, where the various supplements may or may not apply, and where the person concerned may or may not be earning money from an occupation. I refer to widows over the age of 40, whose basic rate of pension has been increased since 1945 from 32s. 6d. to 35s. When all other factors are considered, that bears no relation to the increased cost of living. The widows of officers, I think have had no increase whatever since 1944. I ask the Minister to consider both these cases. I have referred to widows because theirs is the simplest and most direct case to understand, but my remarks apply in general to all categories of pensioners. We are putting forward a general case, and are not arguing on any one specific category.

I turn now to one or two anomalies. There is the fact that disablement pensions are tax free, and rightly so, but that widows' pensions are subject to tax. Look at this from the woman's point of view. What it amounts to is that where the family which loses, through disablement, the earning capacity of the husband, the compensation is tax free. But if the woman loses not only the earning capacity or her husband but also his companionship, and all that that means in family life and to the children, she is taxed; if the husband is not killed, the compensation is tax free, but if he is killed the compensation is taxed. That seems to me to be a matter which we should ask the Minister to investigate and to which he should give his consideration.

There is only one other short point. There seems to be a power of discretion vested in the Minister to deal with special cases of hardship where disablement is concerned, but not, as far as I can see, where widows are concerned. I understand that these cases do crop up occasionally. One could, for instance, imagine a widow whose child was unable to attend school, either from mental or physical infirmity, and whose financial liabilities are thereby greatly increased. One can see that there might be cases of special hardship in such circumstances, and I would like to ask the Minister whether he should not ask for increased powers of discretion in respect of war widows.

I should like to end by saying that we hope, in supporting this Motion, to be able to strengthen the hand of the Minister, so that, if the Motion is carried, he will be able to go to the Treasury fortified. On the other hand, if the Motion is not carried, I fear that he will have a very weak case to put before the Treasury.

3.7 p.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

Of course, the hon. and gallant Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) is quite right. I entirely agree that this ought to be a non-party issue, but then I also think that defence ought to have been a non-party issue, and that the subject of meat supplies from the Argentine ought also to have been a non-party matter. The truth of the matter is that hon. Gentlemen opposite choose to call a matter non-party just as long as it suits them.

I remember in the last Parliament, in debates on the Services, joining forces with the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) and chasing the Minister of Defence and the Secretary of State for War on a non-party basis, but that does not alter the fact that, as soon as it suits the Tory Party, away goes the non-party label. I have not the least doubt that every hon. Gentleman opposite quite genuinely says, with his hand on his heart, "This is a nonparty issue," but I believe that, should the day come when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) thinks it will help him to get back to 10, Downing Street quickly, then down will go a Motion of censure.

When the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton says that he has moved this Motion on a non-party basis, I am very sorry, but I just do not believe him. The intentions of the hon. and gallant Gentleman at this moment may be all right, but I also remember something else about him. At that Box the night before last, there he stood and delivered his speech in a quiet and almost mincing way—a very different person from the one whom we see on the Tory benches night after night interrupting and harrying Ministers. I am convinced—and I entirely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey)—that the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton is certainly Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And I believe it suits him and the Conservative Party today to come to the House on a non-party basis.

There is only one other point on the political aspect which concerns me, and that is the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I have a great respect for my hon. and learned Friend, but he is a political innocent. The Tory Party in this country like reactionary parties in other countries, are always searching the dustbins of Left-wing parties not only for policies but also for political dupes who will support them. Consequently, it so happens that it suited the Tories to get my hon. and learned Friend to put his name to this Motion. Having said that, may I turn for the few moments at my disposal to—

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

The hon. Member has already wasted most of them.

Mr. Wigg

The hon. Gentleman may think they are wasted, but I think it is very important indeed to make this particular point.

Mr. Paget

As I understand the hon. Member's point, the Opposition were wrong yesterday in making defence a party issue. Why, then, does the hon. Member find it necessary to be equally foolish today?

Mr. Wigg

Because, as far as I am concerned, it is "once bitten, twice shy."

As I said, I have had a terrible shock in the last 10 days. I believed that the party opposite would be prepared to cooperate in the best interests of the country; but we have seen what has happened in the last week or so, and particularly on defence. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, I will hit them with all I have got, not only in this House, but in the country. I believe that if they ever came to power, they would constitute a terrible threat not only to Great Britain, but to the rest of the world.

My right hon. Friend who is now Minister of Pensions is a very kindly and humane man, and I am sure he will carry on the traditions pursued so successfully by the Ministry of Pensions during the last few years. I think he ought to stand on the doorstep of the Treasury and get some more money, and, when he has got it, perhaps he might come down to this House and discuss the best ways of spending it. There is one way in which I am sure it should not be spent, and that is by an increase in the basic pension. To add 5s. to the basic would cost £5 million, and that sum of money could go a long way to doing a lot of good.

I do not want unnecessarily to make another party point, but it is a fact that the pensioners of the First World War are getting older, and there are a considerable number of men who ought today to be in possession of a pension and who are not. Of the men who applied for pensions under the 1919 Warrant, 70 out of every 100 were turned down. Since the end of the last war the proportion is almost exactly the opposite.

Mr. Hutchinson


Mr. Wigg

I am sorry I cannot give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman, but I have only two minutes left.

Before the debate, I gave my right hon. Friend the Minister a number of examples where, I suggested, help ought to be given. I will only mention one. It is the case of a guardsman weighing 14 stone who lost a leg and has a very short stump. I ask my right hon. Friend whether he can give that man some mechanical assistance for propelling his bicycle to and from his job. The Minister then quite properly says that the regulation will not allow him to do that. In Heaven's name, let him get that regulation altered. I also hope that he will do something about the lowered income allowance.

One of the reasons why the party opposite failed in their administration of pensions between the two wars was because they tied up the pensions for the Regular Army with war-time pensions. We took a very big step forward in getting the payment of pensions transferred from the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, to the Ministry of Pensions. The administration is now much more humane, which is a very important factor.

I hope my right hon. Friend will badger the Service Departments if he finds them tending to go off the rails. He must see that his officials watch the Services Pension Warrant very closely, because the reason why in 1939 the Conservative Party reduced the pension for Second World War pensioners from 40s. to 32s. 6d. was because the pension rate for the Regular Army had been fixed at 32s. 6d. as far back as 1920. I would like to elaborate this point, but I promised to conclude my speech by 3.15 p.m. and I intend to keep my promise.

I am quite sure that hon. Members on all sides will support the Minister in. first of all, going to the Treasury and getting as much as he can from them, and secondly, when he has got the money, in supporting him, when he decides to spend it, in giving the maximum amount of benefit, not only to the men who already have pensions, but in bringing within the scope of his Pension Warrant that considerable number of men who were turned down after the last war or who now, through the passing of the years, need the help he can give them.

3.15 p.m.

Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

This is the first major debate on this subject since the change took place at the Ministry of Pensions. May I there- fore offer the thanks of ex-Service men, and I think of Members in all parts of the House, to the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Health? Within the limits of policy he was a kindly and understanding Minister. May I say "welcome" to the new Minister and wish him luck with his job? I should like to thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) for having initiated this debate, and to say how happy I am, as an ex-Service man, that it has been conducted so generally in a non-party manner with an evident desire in all parts of the House to seek facts rather than to score points.

I could myself have wished that the previous Government had set up a Select Committee after the end of the war. There was one after the First World War. That is not to say that a Select Committee at any odd time is a good thing, but when a major event like that takes place and hundreds of thousands of people are wounded and a whole new situation arises in a new era, then I think it is as well for the nation to examine and explore what it is doing. It is by no means certain that the method and system of 1919 is the best method and system 30 years later.

The Select Committee of 1919 laid down that a pension should be paid upon a medical assessment, and I want to dwell for one moment on the importance of this matter. What they meant was that one examined the disabled member, comparing him with a fit person of the same age and sex, in order to ascertain how far the damage that had been done to him was a handicap to him in his way of living, without regard to his employment now or before the war and without regard to extraneous circumstances.

Those words are almost a quotation from the Royal Warrant and they make clear what the Select Committee and Parliament had in mind, and what Ministers of all parties have subsequently supported. So the pension was to be paid, on medical examination, for a handicap arising out of disability. It was not to be paid by having regard to the idiosyncrasies of the individual, to his capacity for work and to his earning power. I shall come back to that in a moment.

There have been two major changes in war pensions in the years since before the war. The first was that the marriage allowance previously paid to those married before the disability appeared was made by the Labour Government after the war to apply to all wives and children whenever the marriage or the birth occurred. That was a notable reform greatly welcomed by the British Legion and by ex-Service men generally and by the House.

The other major reform took place during the war years. It was the one to which the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) referred, when the benefit of the doubt was given to the claimant rather than to the Ministry; so that from that time onwards the door of the Ministry of Pensions was so much more open and it was the duty of the Ministry to try to help people to come in, rather than to try to invent reasons for keeping them out. That was a notable achievement and development. There have been no other material change in policy.

I shall not go over the facts of the basic rate, but I will just deal with a point that has emerged in this debate, and that is the extent to which hardship and the circumstances of each case, or the selective way of approach, is the right method of assessment. I am not going to argue that one way is harsh and the other way is kind. I am merely, without passion and most calmly, going to ask the House to examine which is the better way from the various points of view. Parliament and successive Governments of all parties have until recently taken the view that the medical assessment was the right way and that, so far as possible, hardship examinations, tests of income and employability should be avoided. In our social service it has been the attempt of Parliaments of all parties over the last 25 years to get as far away as possible from individual tests of means.

We have developed much from the days when the old fashioned means test was so greatly criticised by hon. Members opposite, and we have moved on a non-party basis to try and get away from these things. Now it is beginning to creep back, and especially in this Administration—the selective method, choosing those hardest hit, and the suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Hull, East (Commander Pursey) that we should look into the incomes of A and B—those will be found in HANSARD tomorrow to be his words—and compare the liabilities of A and B. That is the method of examining the individual circumstances rather than dealing with a medical assessment of the disability. I am not going to say that it is wholly wrong to look into the individual circumstances, but I do say that we must not go too far in the direction of making war pensions into a dole. We should seek, on the other hand, to make them a statutory right which all can claim on account of a medical assessment of the disability.

There are good reasons for this. One is that in so far as the pension is related to earnings we discourage the man from earning more, and nothing contributes more greatly to his happiness than to go out to work and be successful. A premium on idleness is the worst present to give to a disabled man. Secondly, I think it is distasteful to the national conscience that the efforts which the disabled man himself makes to do a job of work and earn as much as he can should be the very means of reducing the compensation which was given him for his disability. So I say: do not take this selection principle too far, because it has already gone a considerable distance in the past ten years.

I have one observation to make on employment. It is no new thing that disabled ex-Service men have a high degree of employment. According to the figures given us today in that admirable speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, there are some six per cent. unemployed in the sample which he gave. Throughout the whole of the inter-war period the figure was 9 per cent., and the Parliamentary Secretary himself admitted that his figure did not include all those who were not registered, and so on. The fact is that between the wars unemployment among disabled ex-Service men was much lower than among the average of the community, and now it is four times as high. There are good reasons for that. I only want to make clear that the claim that full employment has made a difference to the policy that should be pursued is not true. It has made no difference, because there has been good employment for these men all the time. I come back to my other point. Parliament never intended employability to be a test, and we should not now make it a test beyond a certain point.

In the brief time which remains to me may I summarise the position of our disabled ex-Service men as I see it? Half of them are from the First World War and their average age is over 60. Disabilities get harder as one gets older; that point has been well made by many speakers in the debate. Amongst the men who have been disabled in the highest degree I want to make reference to a particular class. I was glad that the hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) brought this point to the notice of the House. They are men with what may be called double disabilities. A man who is blinded in both eyes, or has lost both arms, or both legs, is said, in the technical jargon, to be 100 per cent. disabled. This jargon really means very little, but it is the measure adopted for pensions purposes.

A man who has lost both eyes and both hands is still 100 per cent. disabled and he gets the same basic pension and the same allowance for his wife and children and all the same augmented allowances as the other man. The only thing he may get extra is another £1 a week attendance allowance. I have personally under my immediate care 14 men who have lost both their arms and both their eyes and, two or three of them, a part of their hearing as well. Even if the mathematicians are to be upset about this I nevertheless ask them to agree that it is possible to imagine such a thing as 200 per cent. disablement. I ask that the basic rate for these men should be at least double, or it should take into account all these disabilities, or a special augmented attendant allowance should be given. The House will imagine the tremendous strain on a wife or attendant of a man who has lost both arms and eyes or, indeed the few scores of others who are wholly bedridden.

There are in our midst a number of seriously disabled men, about 45,000 altogether, whose incomes from the Ministry of Pensions have during the past 10 or 12 years been doubled, some of them slightly more than doubled and some slightly less than doubled. These are the more seriously disabled men. To that extent their income has moved up as the cost of living has moved up, because during that period it has virtually doubled. For the men of the Second War, those disabled in the highest degree, the pension is double or better than it would theoretically have been on the outbreak of war. The reason for that is the special allowances which the Parliamentary Secretary and others have mentioned and also the fact that there was a special rate of 32s. 6d. when war broke out.

That rate existed since 1920 and was approved by all the Parliaments between 1920 and 1939 and it was there when war broke out. In my opinion it was a low rate and many of us in this House, including notably my hon. Friends and I, the right hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and the Deputy-Speaker, as he now is, during the war years protested about this 32s. 6d. so that it was fairly soon assimilated to the 40s. which was the rate from the previous war. It is rather an academic question because very few men were wounded before the assimilation took place. Those that were wounded were still in hospital and, therefore, there will not be many men who ever got 32s. 6d. and no more than a handful who will feel they are doing pretty well now.

Nevertheless, be it placed on record that the seriously disabled, whether from the First or the Second World War, have, to a large extent, had their money from the Ministry, for one reason or another, more or less doubled. The fact remains that in spite of this these 45,000 men are now getting by way of compensation from the Ministry pensions between £1 and £2 a week less than the average wage of today. That wants looking into.

I mentioned 45,000. This leaves 672,000 who are not eligible for any of the special allowances, and to whose case I want now to turn. There are 150,000—or possibly 200,000—men who were disabled in the First World War, and who are war pensioners still surviving, who have had only between 9 per cent. and 14 per cent. increase in their pension. These 150,000 men—and they may number 200,000—are those of the First War still surviving who were married when they were disabled.

I shall give an example of what they got and get. Here is a man who lost his leg above the knee. He is 60 per cent. disabled, so that in 1919 he got 24s. for himself and 6s. for his wife, being 60 per cent. of the 10s. wife allowance—30s. altogether. He now gets 33s. That is a rise of 9 per cent. If he was a single man the rise is slightly better—12½ per cent. I cannot feel that the changes that have taken place between 1919 and the present time would justify a small pension like that for 150,000 men.

Mr. Shackleton

Would the hon. Gentleman allow me? I am sure he does not want to be unfair, but he is leaving an impression which is a little unfair, because in the case, for instance, of the 100 per cent. disability pensioner, there has been an average overall increase of over 60 per cent.

Sir I. Fraser

Yes. The hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way promptly. I did not want to be discourteous, but I have only six minutes left now. I do not think I am being unfair at all. I have said that 45,000 men disabled in a high degree have had their pensions doubled, but that there are 150,000 who have only this meagre pension. That is perfectly true.

Now a very few words about officers and N.C.Os. The doctrine that one leg is equal to another is a very attractive equalitarian doctrine. It is not, of course, true, attractive as it is. The engine driver's eye is of more value than other folk's eyes. The hand of the violinist is of more value than the hand of the clerk or of the director or of the trade union secretary. Moreover, all men are not equal. It is hardly to be supposed that their limbs would be equal. Nor are all chances equal. Nor is life equal. Identical twins do not necessarily arrive at the same end result. I would not claim to be the equal of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull, East.

Commander Pursey

Why bring me into it?

Sir I. Fraser

I do not, therefore, think we need assume that, as a matter of right, a pension should be brought together as between officers and men. I think rather that we should look at the equities in this matter. Now, it is true, contrary to the case in an earlier age, that officers are drawn from all classes now. It is true that all men have the chance to become officers. It is true that, if one is disabled, it is a matter of luck to some extent whether one was disabled in the first few months of one's military career, when a private or a corporal, or whether one was disabled later in one's military career when one had become a sergeant major or had got a commission. To that extent it is a bit of luck or bad luck when the man gets disabled, and there is a little difficulty in justifying basing a pension upon something so arbitrary as that.

On the other hand, most of us would think that differentials should not be lightly disregarded; they are well understood in many spheres of life; they have their meaning in Army pay, and they should perhaps have their reflection in the pensions. At any rate I would say this: do not let us knock down the rates for officers and N.C.O.'s. Let us rather bring the rank and file up, if we are to go in for an equalitarian doctrine. In particular, do consider that the undertaking to the man who was an officer 30 years ago in not being kept now, because the money in which he is paid has lost its value. Therefore, there is an equity to him to be considered.

I have examined some very interesting figures given to me by Mr. Dudley Sears, who is an economist and statistician at Oxford University, and he tells me that taking into account the things which working-class people buy and use, the things reflected in the cost of living interim index work backwards to 1938 and forwards to the present day, so that now for the first time we have a yardstick which covers this vital period—the period when the two indices change. The Minister will understand that. Doing this we find that this index would have shown, in 1938 100, in 1946 151½, and it would show now 187.

That means that the rise of 5s given in 1946 should have been a rise of £1; we are that much behind-hand before we start taking into account what has happened in the past five years, and the rise which should now be given on this basis is 16s., so that the basic rate should now be £3 16s. If it is said "We have already compensated some of those disabled in peculiar manners by peculiar arrangements," let us invite the Minister to talk that over with our advisory committee. All these pensions should at least be raised by the difference between 100 and 187, which is very nearly double. Some have been doubled, a very small number. My claim is that to be fair all should have been doubled, and that is why the whole of the basic rate has got to be taken into account.

Can the nation afford this? Let me just mention this one figure. In 1920, after the First World War, we spent 3.6 per cent. of the national Budget income, excluding self-balancing items, on war pensions. We are now spending 1.5.

Mr. Shackleton

The hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like.

Sir I. Fraser

This is before the rearmament programme began to be reflected in the Budget. I am not saying that is the whole of the answer, but it is something to bear in mind in considering whether we can afford it or not. I would remind the House that we are now paying for the war disabilities of two wars. Then we were paying for one war. Half our pensioners now are from the First World War, and we must remember that when it is perhaps said. "We cannot afford it."

It is hard, and perhaps it is even wrong, to measure in shillings the strain and effort of standing on one leg to catch a bus, or shaving with one hand or without being able to see one's self in the mirror, or trying to put up a piece of wallpaper with only one leg, or to mend a tap with one hand, or the cost of paying every time a man goes to work, or the strain of sleepless nights. It is hard to measure these things in shillings. If we do measure compensation of them in shillings, then they ought to be old-fashioned shillings, and, if that is impossible, they should be shillings which will buy something in the terms of today. That is why this Motion, which my hon. and gallant Friend moved so capably, mentions the cost of living.

I conclude by saying that yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer warned us of the burdens which are to fall upon this nation. They will, I am sure, be widely accepted and widely met, but let this House and this nation see that the men and widows who have already lost so much of life and limb, and who are already left behind in the economic race, are not called upon to bear more than their fair share of the national burden.

3.41 p.m.

The Minister of Pensions (Mr. Isaacs)

There is not much time left for me to deal with all the matters which have been raised. I make no complaint about that. When I was asked how long I would require in which to reply, I said that I thought that it would be better for me just to listen and absorb what facts and information I could get, rather than to make a long rambling explanation. I would have liked a little more time to consider some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) because I am sure that some of his remarks—probably because he was trying to get as much of his case over in as short a time as possible—were rather torn from their context and may result in some misunderstanding if they are not examined again.

With the exception of a few small breezes, this has been a non-party debate, and it is quite right that it should have been. The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head), who opened the debate, set the example. He said that the purpose of the debate was to allow the Minister to absorb and assess the feelings of the House. I have assessed the feelings of the House, and I find it difficult to sort them out. He said, "Let the Minister get the money out of the Treasury and put it to the use which he considers best." That is the job. Until we know what amount of money we are likely to get, if any—I must put in that proviso because I have not received any offers—it is difficult to decide how any money provided should be allocated.

I shall approach that problem without the slightest hesitation because I shall consult the Central Advisory Committee, whose advice was so valuable to my predecessors, as it is to me, on matters of this kind, and get their guidance. I think that the case made by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton was a good and sound one. He put it without bitterness and did not try to score any points. The main thing which struck me in the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) was his reference, lightly touched on by other hon. Members, to the spirit not only of the Ministry of Pensions but of the staff of the Ministry in dealing with these cases. That is rather important. I do not mean the official side—the "blokes" at the top who get all the limelight—but the fellow at the bottom and the girl behind the counter.

Mention was made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton of a little orphan girl. I like to think that she is my little girl. It will be a long time before the hon. and learned Member for Northampton shakes out of the mind of the Northampton branch of the Ministry of Pensions the feeling they share in the life of that little child. That is why they went to the trouble of buying a book and sending it to her for Christmas. That is the right spirit. I am happy to hear and accept these expressions of approval of the staff of the Ministry because I know how much they are appreciated. I know how very interested the staff are in these cases. These people are in the Civil Service, but they are in a sympathetic and friendly service and, of course, they are always "civil."

The hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) raised a number of questions which in the main are problems that are being examined at the moment by the Central Advisory Committee. These problems are being given due attention, and the Committee will no doubt take into consideration the emphasis which has been given to them in the debate. The Central Advisory Committee is a very useful body. It consists of representatives of all the ex-Service men's organisations, as well as representatives from the three parties in the House. I have attended the Committee only once, but I have read reports of their previous meetings, from which it is evident that they know what they are talking about.

It is only proper that I should pay tribute to Members who have spoken in the debate and who are members of that Committee. The discussions which take place in the Committee are frank and confidential, but in spite of the fact that it is quite natural, without any malice aforethought, in a debate of this nature to let out something that has been said in these confidential discussions, nothing of the sort has happened today. I can only say that the Committee are examining these problems in the same spirit in which the subject has been discussed in this debate. We have decided to check up on the results as we go along.

Reference has been made to aged pensioners with amputations. My predecessor has appointed a Committee to examine this problem and to make a report. I can assure the House that any extensions that can be made on that line will be followed up, if it can possibly be done and there is justification for it. Many hon. Members have asked for equal compensation for equal disability irrespective of Army rank. That is another matter under examination by the Committee which will have to be considered. From my experience some years back in another sphere, the trouble in matters of this kind is that as soon as we move into the field of equality, someone comes along and says that he has always received more than someone else and asks for the differential to be maintained. We have heard a lot about these differentials in connection with another Ministry. It does not matter what it is, there will always be someone who has had 10s. more and who will express dissatisfaction—with adjectives I could not use in the House of Commons—if he does not continue to receive it.

The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) spoke of pensions being reduced after 1922 when the cost-of-living figure fell. Those were not disablement pensions but Service pensions. Disablement pensions were not affected. These were pensions for Service, for which we have no responsibility. It has also been suggested that the unemployability supplements should not be regarded as a means test. It is said that if it should be a test, it should be a test beyond a certain point. That always raises the question at which point it should be a test. In fact, it is not a test so far as earnings or means are concerned. The unemployability supplement is not a dole. The test is not what is a man's income, but whether his disability makes him unemployable and whether he is able to get any employment. He may be a man with £500 or £1,000 a year, and if he claims this supplement, the only evidence is—does the disability prevent him from going to work?

Sir I. Fraser

That was not my point at all. My point is that if we move along in that direction of hardship, unemployability and all the rest of it, we will get to the point where it becomes a dole.

Mr. Isaacs

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point. He, like myself, had to put too much into too short a time; but if that is cleared up satisfactorily, that is all right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) and the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) referred to the employment of the disabled. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South said something about an employer discharging an aged pensioner, and he asked whether such men could get any preference. Unfortunately, there is no authority to prevent these people from discharging such men, and I do not think that there is any intention to get any such authority. On the other hand, there is the possible link with the Ministry of Labour. They deal with the disabled, and one of the points I have had something to do with in the last two years has been the training of disabled workers. I have seen what St. Dunstan's can do with blind men and with men without hands. The Ministry of Labour, through their disabled persons' employment centres, have taken up the position that there are very few people to whom it is absolutely impossible to give some training.

Mr. Shackleton

Why did they sack one of their own trained men?

Mr. Isaacs

If my hon. Friend will give me an example, I should like to take it up.

Mr. Shackleton

I have given the Minister an example—a 59-year-old disabled man who was sacked and who will never get another job.

Mr. Isaacs

I cannot answer that. My hon. Friend talks about a 59-year-old man. Where does he work, what is his address?

Mr. Shackleton

I have written to the Minister and given him the details.

Mr. Isaacs


Mr. Shackleton

Three weeks ago.

Mr. Isaacs

Since I have been in the Ministry?

Mr. Shackleton


Mr. Isaacs

I know nothing about it, but I will look into it.

I was saying that the Ministry of Labour, through their service, aim at employing everyone possible who can be trained for employment. They have their factories and services, which employ these people, a considerable number of whom, but not the majority, are disabled ex-Service men.

The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West, talked about a 100 per cent. disabled man who was not allowed to work or earn a living. He is quite wrong about that, and if he sends me particulars about the particular individual whom he has in mind, we will see that one of our welfare officers calls upon him and gives him full information on what he is entitled to do.

We have heard a great deal on the question of the basic versus the supplementary pension. It is very difficult to decide the issue on the cases we have heard and to say whether we could put the balance in favour of increases in the basic and no supplementary increases, or increases in the supplementary and none in the basic. That is the difficulty today. I think it would be wise, however, without going into a mass of detail, if I did recite the actual allowances that are available so that those who read the OFFICIAL REPORT can themselves decide whether they are getting all that they are entitled to. It will be borne in mind that my predecessor sent to every disabled person and to every pensioner throughout the land and overseas a leaflet asking him whether he was sure he was getting what he was entitled to. A great response has come from them, but as there may be still some people who do not know, I would like to refer to these facts.

In addition to the basic rates, there is an allowance for wives, and 516,000 of them are in payment. There are allowances for children, varying in amount for different ages, and 447,000 of them are in payment. There is an educational allowance to disabled pensioners' children, and they number 2,880, and to widows' children, 13,400. The unemployability supplements number 18,810 and for the lower standard of occupation there is payment of 17,800 allowances. For constant attendance allowances, payment is made to 8,400, and clothing allowance to 40,000. As has been mentioned this afternoon all these are to have some examination.

There is also a treatment allowance, paid last year to 59,000 and then there is the question of motor cars, motor tricycles, artificial limbs and other miscellaneous services. In the case of widows, the widows' pensions now in payment number 188,000 and there are allowances to the children of widows, rent supplements and other services which come under the welfare scheme. These figures show that the pensioners are taken care of to the utmost possibility and utmost extent within the scope of the services covered by the Warrant.

We come to the question of review, with which I will close. For some years I was a trade union official and I negotiated wages on behalf of the workers. Then I became chairman of the wages and salaries committee of a large municipal corporation and had to negotiate wages on behalf of the employer, who in that case was both employer and taxpayer. I feel that in this case I am the trade union secretary on behalf of these pensioners. It will be my job in due course to present a case to the Treasury and to negotiate for what I can get on the pensioners' behalf. At the same time, I have to remember that I am on the employers' side, that is, the State, and that we have to consider the taxpayers as well.

I hope that the House will accept it from me that I approach this problem in the light of having seen the disabled men. Sometimes I think it takes a darned sight more courage to carry on since having the disability, than it did to live before getting the disability. I have been impressed with the disabled men's cheerfulness and courage. I shall approach my task in that light.

I close this debate by making this considered statement to the House. The Motion now before the House refers to the need for recognising the difficulties of the present financial situation, and that indeed must have due weight and full consideration in my approach to the numerous points raised in the debate. The Motion further expresses the hope that His Majesty's Government will review the position. I can satisfy the hope for review. The debate has shown that the problem is not just one question but many questions. The term "war pension" is not related exclusively to the basic rates or to any percentage of disability, but to many supplementary items of cash and kind covered by the Royal Warrant. They will all be reviewed in relation to the difficulties of the present financial situation which we know to be most formidable. In the light of the debate, backed by the spirit of this Motion, and in the light of what I have said, I accept the Motion on behalf of the Government.

Question put, and agreed to.


That this House views with concern the situation which, owing to the increase in the cost of living, now confronts those in receipt of war pensions; and, while recognising the difficulties of the present financial situation, expresses the hope that His Majesty's Government will review this question to ensure that the rate of war pensions conforms with the national obligation towards those concerned.
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