HC Deb 24 November 1953 vol 521 cc163-8
2. Sir Edward Keeling

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence whether he will announce an in crease in the retired pay of the 359 officers still surviving on 20th January, 1953, who were given, in 1919, rates which were to vary with the cost of living, but which, in spite of the rise in that cost, have not been increased since they were anchored in 1935 at 9½ per cent. below the 1919 rates; and how many of the 359 have died since the Minister of Defence promised on 20th January, 1953, that their case would be most earnestly considered.

3. Mr. Marlowe

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence whether, having regard to the inadequancy in present circumstances of the rates of pensions paid to retired officers of the Armed Forces, he will now rescind the order by which these were pegged at 9½ per cent. below the amount they had been in 1919.

4. Miss Ward

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence whether he will make a statement on the results of the further consideration being given to the retired officers' pay covered by the Stabilisation Order, 1935.

5. Brigadier Peto

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence whether he will make a statement on the retired pay of officers who suffered a 9½ per cent, cut in 1935.

6. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Parmentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence what improvements he will make in the pay of ex-officers retired in 1919.

Mr. Birch

In answer to Question No. 2, the death of 23 of the 359 officers who were surviving on 29th January last has been reported since that date.

With permission, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will answer the general point in this Question and Questions Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 at the end of Questions.

Mr. Marlowe

Has my hon. Friend taken any steps to impress upon the Prime Minister the importance of these Questions?

11. Mr. Swingler

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence if he will now take steps to ensure that no officer on retired pay receives less than the rates of the 1945 code.

Mr. Birch

I regret that I am unable to give the required undertaking.

Mr. Swingler

What concession will the Prime Minister be announcing?

12. Mr. Wigg

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence what it would cost to raise the retired pay of officers whose rates were stabilised at 9½ per cent. below the 1919 level to the level of retired pay awarded to officers who retired after 19th December, 1945.

Mr. Birch

The total cost is estimated at about £355,000 a year.

Mr. Wigg

Will the hon. Gentleman draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that as such a small sum is involved, there would be acceptance on both sides of the House if he would agree to make this concession?

At the end of Questions

The Prime Minister (Sir Winston Churchill)

I have asked leave to reply to Questions 2 to 6 myself because the matter is not one which concerns the Ministry of Defence alone.

Her Majesty's Government have carefully considered whether, without departing from the principles which have hitherto governed pensions increase, they could grant some relief to those retired Service Officers whose pensions were affected by the operation of the sliding-scale which was in force after the First World War, and whose pensions were stabilised in 1935 at 9½ per cent. below the 1919 level. Although the stabilisation was favourable to those concerned, the cost of living has now for some years risen beyond the 1919 level and those affected have felt for a good many years past that they have cause for complaint.

The sliding-scale and the stabilisation affected not only retired officers of the Armed Forces but civilian Crown servants as well. Action to remedy the situation in their case would require legislation to amend the recent Pensions Increase Act. While the Government recognise the hardship which, in the light of later events, the pre-war stabilisation has created, they have, after much consideration, come to the conclusion that it would not be possible to treat this problem as a special case at a time when so many other demands are pressing.

Sir E. Keeling

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reply and the decision of the Government are wholly unacceptable to many hon. Members on both sides of the House, who will not rest content until the just grievance of these officers, which is stronger than that of any civilians, is redressed?

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Is the Prime Minister aware that he is creating the impression that he wants to solve this problem by allowing this small and dwindling number of men to die out altogether, and so in that way the problem will be solved? In view of the very small amount of money involved, will he not reconsider this very deplorable position?

Hon. Members


Mr. Marlowe

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in all quarters of the House this is regarded as an outrageous decision, and one which must inevitably have repercussions on the Government, in that there are many hon. Members on this side of the House who are not prepared to see the Service Estimates go through without a Vote unless this matter is satisfactorily dealt with?

Hon. Members


Mr. Shinwell

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman how much it would cost to provide the suggested increase for these retired officers and also, since he mentioned the position of ex-Crown servants, how much it would cost to provide an increase in the civil pensions?

The Prime Minister

The cost for the officers would amount to £200,000 in a year and for the civil servants about the same amount.

Mr. Shinwell

Following upon that answer, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will not agree that the amount can hardly be regarded as substantial in view of the justification of the claim which is being made?

The Prime Minister

I think it remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman in the long years in which he and his—[Hon. Members: "That is no answer."]—colleagues were in office, if they felt so strongly on the matter, did not deal with it themselves.

Mr. Manuel

That is not good enough.

Brigadier Peto

Is the Prime Minister aware that his answer today will be regarded by those few old officers who still survive, despite the cut, as a betrayal of the trust they have previously held in him?

The Prime Minister

I was well aware that the answer I gave would not be received with satisfaction, and it was for that reason that I felt it ought not to be given by a Departmental Minister but by someone speaking with the considered authority of Her Majesty's Government.

Dr. King

The Prime Minister's case is that he cannot put right this injustice because there are so many other injustices which have to be put right. Is he aware, for example, that the pension of the totally disabled soldier today is three-quarters of what it was when we were in office, in 1946? Is it not the case that other injustices on parallel groups of he should put right this injustice and the men?

The Prime Minister

I am well aware of the very large number of hard and difficult cases which the economic movement of events since the war has brought into being all over our country.

Major Legge-Bourke

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman—

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

So the right hon. Gentleman is not the hon. and gallant Gentleman's friend now?

Major Legge-Bourke

—if he would agree that the argument which he has adduced to justify this decision simply comes down to the old question of whether we are to give priority of attention to those who have served the country in time of war or whether we are to level them up with the civilian population, and that the majority of hon. Members in this House would prefer to see those who served their country in time of war properly rewarded as befits the service they have rendered? Would he bear in mind that his answer is thoroughly unsatisfactory, not only to the generation concerned, but also to those who come after them?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We cannot pursue this matter further at this stage.

Mr. Wigg

On a point of order. For the third time, in view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Prime Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I, for one. shall seek an early opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment.


Mr. Paget

I beg to ask leave to adjourn the House under Standing Order No. 9 on a matter of urgent public importance, namely. The statement made by the Prime Minister with regard to these ex-officers.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Gentleman is technically late in proposing his Motion, because I was on my feet and I had called for the Bills to be presented. But in this case I do not want to stand on that technicality, though preserving its use for a future occasion. I would point out that the subject which has been raised is no new matter, and the House should seek another method of debating the issue if it sees fit. I cannot rule that this matter is within the terms of the Standing Order.