§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]
§ 8.39 p.m.
§ Brigadier Sir John Smyth (Norwood)
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the very important subject of pensions for the Armed Forces, which is the subject proposed for this Adjournment debate. As we are left with rather a shorter time than we expected and as so many of my hon. Friends are interested in the subject and want to speak, I shall try to curtail considerably the remarks I intended to make.
As a Service pensioner myself, I must declare an interest. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War will wind up the debate in place of the Minister of Pensions, which 1549 will be very agreeable to us. We are particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for being present on the Front Bench to listen to the debate. I know that he has had a very long day, but he has been so intimately concerned with this subject in various capacities that we value his presence here very much. He was Financial Secretary to the Treasury when we put through our first big increase in disability pensions in the Budget of 1952, and he has been Minister of Pensions over a number of years. He is generally regarded, I know, by the ex-Service associations, and certainly by myself, as probably the greatest Minister of Pensions this country has ever had. I say that with considerable weight of authority of outside opinion.
We are very fortunate indeed to have him in his present position, because although the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Pensions are very important people for the Service pensioner, they are not as important as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is the Chancellor of the Exchequer who decides what increase, if any, can be made. Almost more important, he is responsible for trying to keep the cost of living as steady as possible, which is a big factor in the life of the pensioner.
Today, pensioners of a certain class had a big Christmas present when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in a Written Answer to a Question which I had put down to him announced that the new type patella tendon-bearing limb is ready for issue at the beginning of next year. This is very welcome to certain hon. Members particularly the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), who has been very interested in the matter of the limbless for many years, to my certain knowledge, and to B.L.E.S.M.A., who are absolutely delighted at this announcement. It will mean that 25,000 below-the-knee amputees who up to the present have had to wear that very uncomfortable strap and harness and belts, with things over their shoulders, will have a very much easier and more comfortable limb and will be able to walk more naturally by using the unrestricted muscles of their thighs instead of walking simply by mechanical means. This new limb was first invented by the United States and it has been perfected by the Roehampton Research 1550 Department. I think that one might call it the independent deterrent against premature old age, particularly as it started in one country and has been adapted and perfected in another.
This Government's record on pensions of every sort has been extremely good by comparison with that of any other Government which we have ever had in this country. The disability pension has been more than doubled since 1951 and, even more important from my point of view, we have increased materially the special allowances to certain classes of people about whom, even at the end of my time in the Ministry of Pensions I was rather worried. Those were the elderly, badly disabled man who was unable to work and the elderly war widow. Their allowances have been greatly increased and I am certainly much happier about them today than I have been previously.
With regard to the ordinary Service pensions in the light of the increases announced recently, this is the sixth pension increase since the end of the war. The first was in 1947. Then there were increases in 1952, 1954, 1956, 1959, and lastly the one which has just been announced. The last one is by far the largest. It is twice as large as any other at a cost of £22 million a year, including the £4.4 million for the Service pension element. The Service element of this increase covers 112,500 pensioners of the Armed Forces. Everyone will agree, although they might not agree with the actual amount of the grant, that there is an important provision in the new increases in the flat rate of £20 which is given to people over 70. This is what one might call a booster, which is what is wanted for the elderly, to whom a sedative is of very little use.
The expression "booster" comes from Australia. An Australian V.C. friend of mine who came home the other day for the July reunion told me when he arrived here that he would never have got here without a booster. He is just on the point of 70, as are the majority of the 259 V.C.s still living. He was really like the man who went to his doctor and said, Doctor, it is no good you telling me that I am burning the candle at both ends. I have come to you for some more wax". This is what my friend said to his doctor. The doctor gave him some 1551 more wax in the shape of an injection, which was marvellous, because when my friend walked into my flat I do not think the effect of the booster had worn off.
I do not think that the Civil Service pensioner can be compared with the Service pensioner. I have always been of that opinion. I hold that opinion more firmly today than I have ever done. I have a great regard for civil servants, with whom I have worked very happily in two Ministries. The civil servant has settled employment up to the age of 60. He is able to live a more or less regular married life. He can buy a house at the beginning of his marriage with a good prospect of being able to live in it for a good many years, or being able to let it, or at any rate being able to live in it at the end of his service. The schooling of his children is comparatively easy.
The Service man lives a very unsettled life indeed compared with the civil servant. He is subject to premature retirement. He is probably constantly on foreign service. He has separations. He has extreme difficulties in educating his children. There is very little comparison between the two. In addition, in wartime he has the danger, the separation from his family, the necessity to keep up two establishments, and all the anxiety of being away from his family.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman will not overlook the fact that in wartime the civil servant goes to war as well.
§ Sir J. Smyth
I will not argue that point with the hon. Gentleman. Most people would agree that the difference is very great indeed. With a class of person like the Far Eastern prisoners of war, who spent three years in a prison camp and then had to come back and try to readjust their lives, it is fantastic to try to—
§ Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)
As one of such people, I should like to say how grateful I am to my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) and others who worked so hard for those former prisoners of war.
§ Sir J. Smyth
I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for those remarks. It 1552 was this House which, on an all-party Motion moved by me about 11 years ago, allowed me to put through a Measure which obtained for the Far Eastern prisoners of war about £5 million, and that has been of great comfort to them.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
Concerning the Civil Service. a great number serving out in the Far East in Hong Kong, Malaya and elsewhere went into the bag, and that should not be forgotten.
§ Sir J. Smyth
I think that, by and large, there is a big difference. I do not think that it would apply if we had another global war. In such a case all the medals and disability pensions would probably go to hon. Members of this House and there would be great competition to get into some little trench in the jungle or the desert. However, we are today considering the past and not what may be in the future.
The war disability pension has a slight advantage over the industrial injuries pension, and that is not generally known. There is not a great difference but there are a number of little differences in the allowances. It must be remembered that the war disability pension is paid probably as a result of injuries sustained on the battlefield overseas. However, there should be introduced some sort of extra amenity for the Service pensioner compared with the person who served only at home. In this connection, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) said in an excellent speech on 26th November that he thought that too much notice was being taken of medical evidence when assessing the cases of ex-Service men. I think my hon. Friend was saying that the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance doctors did not give enough weight to the nature of the shock or mental and physical strain which men undergo long before they apply for pensions.
I gave an example of this when I spoke in the House on 7th July, 1958. I spoke of the sinking of our two armoured cruisers, the "Dorsetshire" and the "Cornwall", by Japanese bombers in the Indian Ocean. I pointed out that both ships broke up and sank within eight minutes and that the survivors had to spend 36 hours in the water fending off the sharks before being rescued. Few of 1553 them put in for pensions at that time and, when they did—because not many of them had past medical records—few of them obtained pensions.
I want to draw attention to three anomalies in the Service pension as it exists today, taking into account the recently announced increases. The worst-off pensioner is the older officer. I am concentrating on officers tonight because I know that other hon. Members, particularly the hon. and galant Gentleman the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), will I am sure speak on behalf of the other ranks. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will, no doubt, fill in any gaps I leave. It is a sad fact that the men who come off worst under our pensions scheme are the older officers who retired years ago and who probably fought in both world wars.
The maximum addition they get out of the recently announced increases is 12 per cent., and that is the same as has been awarded to those who retired only 6½ years ago. The latter group get the same proportionate increase as the pensioner who retired under the 1919 code, which goes back 43 years and those who retired under the 1945 code, which goes back 17 years. The pension of a captain under the age of 60, including the recent increase, will be £299 a year. In contrast, a captain retiring under the 1962 code will get £725 a year, a difference of £426.
I think the House will agree that that is much too great a discrepancy between the older retired officer and the new. I put it to the Minister for his consideration that those under the 1919 code should have had an increase of 20 instead of 12 per cent. and those under the 1945 code an increase of 15 instead of 12 per cent.
The second anomaly, which is the worst of all, is that of officers' widows pensionable before 4th November, 1958. I have examined the pension schemes of other countries and this is the worst anomaly that I have ever met in any pension scheme in any country. The pre-1958 widow is the only case of which I know where a so-called existing widow suffers from such a division between that of "existing" and "future" pensions. There are 5,600 "existing" officers' widows today who were be- 1554 reaved before 1958 and they are more than half of all the Regular officers' widows. Under new increases, in the pre-1958 class a widow of a captain will get only £142 a year, and £162 a year if she is over 70. The widow of a lieutenant-colonel will get only £232 a year or £252 a year if she is over 70, These are very poor awards for the widows of men who have given such long service to their country.
"Future" widows, those after 1958, will receive one-third of their husband's retirement pension and the same increases as the officers in accordance with the code that they are under. I have called these elderly officers and the widows that I have mentioned, in an article that I wrote for the Officers' Pensions Society, which was syndicated all over the country, the new poor in our society, and I feel that they are rather a blot on our escutcheon because they probably inherited old houses in a bad state of repair, which they cannot keep up, and they are finding life very difficult indeed.
§ Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that many of these are people whose husbands did not contribute to the National Insurance Act, 1948, and, therefore, they are not in a position to draw more than the National Insurance pensions? These are also the people who would be the last, whether one considers it to be right or wrong, who would turn to National Assistance for support, yet they are condemned to do this by virtue of the parsimonious treatment that they are receiving under these provisions.
§ Sir J. Smyth
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that very important and pertinent point.
The last point which I want to mention is one which causes a great deal of bitterness in the Service, to my certain knowledge, and that is with regard to the commutation of pensions. Officers are allowed under certain conditions to commute half their retirement pension, the conditions being that they pass a medical examination, etc. We can be certain that the Exchequer sees to it that it does not lose under those arrangements, but the point is that when a pension increase is given those officers 1555 who have commuted half their pension get only half the increase. I maintain that their pension as it originally was, was given for services rendered for a certain period, and I do not believe that anything should be allowed to alter that fact or that anything should be taken away. If the Government consider that the pension is insufficient and that an increase should be given, these people should get the whole of the increase.
Why do officers commute their pensions? In some cases, they may wish to buy a house, or use the money for some other special purpose, but in my experience by far the greater number of officers commute their pensions because they are acutely conscious of the miserable pension their widows will get. I therefore maintain that these people are made to suffer in two ways, and I ask my right hon. Friend to give very serious consideration to this matter—I know that it cannot be done today—when next these pensions come up for review. It is because of the Government's extremely good record over pensions of every sort over the past 11 years that I have hopes that my right hon. Friends will consider righting some of the anomalies I have mentioned which at very small cost to the Exchequer, could brighten the lives of a class of people to whom we all owe a very great deal.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
It is indeed a pleasure to follow, if I may call him so, my friend the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth). He has paid tribute to the Chief Secretary in his former capacity as Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, and I would echo that tribute, but the right hon. and gallant Gentleman himself has no mean record of his own work when he served at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, of his work for the Far East prisoners of war, of his work for his less fortunate friends who hold the Victoria Cross, and of his work as governor of Roehampton. It is a pleasure to follow him.
We are now talking of ex-Service men, but for whose sacrifices in two world wars there would have been no House of Commons, no debate—no Britain 1556 worth speaking about—and particularly about the older of those ex-Service men, and the widows of some of them.
I want, first, to echo the thanks accorded by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to the Minister of Health for the wonderful job that has just been accomplished for limbless ex-Service men. The new artificial limb for men with amputations below the knee is a scientific break-through, and B.L.E.S.M.A. has asked me to express tonight its thanks to the Minister, especially for the way in which he has consulted the limbless ex-Service men over the last twelve months while experimenting on the new limb. The Minister has brought them into full consultation, and I know from personal experience how much they appreciate it. After all, it is the men who have to use artificial limbs who are likely to know most about them.
The very wonder of this scientific and technical achievement demands that the fitting should be equally scientific. I shall not go into details, but will only mention that B.L.E.S.M.A. asks the Minister to make sure that everyone who fits a limbless ex-Service man with this new limb should be scientifically and technically trained in the fitting. It would be spoiling a good ship for a ha'p'orth of tar if we did not accompany every one of the new limbs of which I am speaking with what is called the multilateral artificial foot, the one which will move in a variety of ways, as distinct from the more old-fashioned bilateral one which moves only from side to side.
When we examined the new Pensions (Increase) Bill for civilians, some of us tried to show that the Bill treated unjustly older civilian pensioners, those who had suffered longest the erosion of their pensions and whose original pensions were very much smaller than those now granted after the same kind of work. We have just had striking examples of this in the figures given by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman.
Whatever is true of the civilian pensioner in this respect is true even more of the long retired Service pensioner. The Government give a 12 per cent. in crease in respect of pensions awarded before 1956 and then, realising the special hardships of old pensioners, they 1557 add £20 for those over 70. This new feature for the civilian pensioner was quite a valuable one, and some of us welcomed it although we said that it did not go far enough in the case of very old civilian pensioners. but benefits far less the Service pensioner.
As the right hon. and gallant Gentleman pointed out, a Service man retires earlier. For instance, I am informed that, whereas 45 per cent. of Civil Service pensioners will receive some benefit under Clause 2 of the Pensions (Increase) Bill, only 15 per cent. of Armed Forces pensioners will get any benefit from that £20 lump sum at all.
The only really just way of dealing with older Service pensioners, as with the older civilian pensioners, is to extend the escalator percentages back into the years before 1956. Those who retired six and a half years ago will get the full 12 per cent. increase, but those who retired twenty or forty years ago will still receive only the 12 per cent. increase plus £20 if they are over 70. Many of those who retired as early as 1945 will be under 70 and will not receive the £20.
The Officers' Pensions Society suggests in this connection the kind of approach which we suggested in the debate on the Pensions (Increase) Bill, but which the Minister would not have. The Society suggests that there should be two new escalator features added to the Royal Warrant, 15 per cent. increase for the 1945 group and 20 per cent. for those who retired under the 1919 code. I believe that this is bare justice to the older Service pensioner and that the Government who have failed to concede something like this for the civilian pensioner should at least concede it to the Armed Forces pensioner.
A Service man under 60 will not receive a pension increase at all. This is the result of moving over the formula from civilian life, where 60 is the normal retiring age. I am informed that there are about 30,000 retired commissioned officers and many more men who, because they are under 60, will get no benefit from the pension increase at all. This age bar makes sense, I believe, for civilians where the normal retiring age is 60, but it is an injustice when we apply it to the Armed Forces, where the retiring age is mach earlier.
1558 I will illustrate the disparities which exist, even after the granting of the increases for which we thank the Minister tonight. Since 1945, the cost of living has more than doubled, but a 1945 Service man's pension has increased by less than half. Since pre-war, the cost of living has more than trebled, but the pension of an old colonel pensioner has gone up by 58 per cent. if he is under 70, or, if he is over 70 and gets the £20 under the parallel provision to Clause 2, by only 61½ per cent. There has been a treble increase in the cost of living and just over a 50 per cent. increase in pension. If that is true of the colonel, it is true of every officer. These percentages roughly obtain throughout the ranks of Service men.
But we have always said that we should not merely compensate for the rise in the cost of living. What makes hardship harder to endure is a sense of injustice. The old, retired Service man undoubtedly feels this when he discovers that one who retires from exactly the same job that he was doing but some years later draws double the pension that he is drawing. This is a question not of charity for the Service men, although I am one of those who believe that "charity" is one of the loveliest words that the Greeks gave us and regret that it has been so misused in the past, but of simple justice for which these old men are asking.
All that I have said in many debates about widows applies, more than ever, if possible, to Service widows. The nonparty group in this House to which I belong, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Sir R. Cary), constantly presses the claims of disabled ex-Service men, those who stumble about our streets, who were blinded or maimed in the defence of freedom. It is significant that these men, at their last annual conference, gave overwhelming priority to the demands that they are making for better treatment of Service widows. They placed it even before their demands for an upgrading of their own disability pensions, which is urgently due.
I think that this is right. No one makes greater sacrifices—perhaps not even the men who never came back—than the wives who lose their loved ones 1559 and carry both the sorrow of bereavement and its bitter economic consequences for the rest of their lives, merely because their men were in the Armed Forces. But the present scales mean that some Service men's widows have to go to National Assistance to supplement their pension, especially, as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Eden) pointed out, if they are too old for their husbands to have qualified for National Insurance and if they are widows of disabled ex-Service men. As I pointed out to the Chief Secretary when he was Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, if their husbands die, very often after having been nursed through years of 100 per cent. disability by these women, and if the death cannot be attributed to their war wounds, it is very difficult for the Ministry to accept them as war widows.
The ordinary Service man's widow's pension is less than that of the Civil Service widow—a quarter compared with onethird—and I understand—I think that this is what the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood was calling attention to—that the proposals discriminate between what are called "existing widows", a strange title, those who were bereaved before 4th November, 1958, and what are called "future widows", an even stranger title, and that they distinguish between these two groups, both as regards widows' pension and children's allowances, to the disadvantage of the pre-November, 1958, widow. Having categories of widowhood is utterly absurd and wrong. I echo the plea of the right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood to level up the pensions of existing widows and to bring them into the full benefits given to the post-November, 1958, widow.
I am a very simple man. I do not like receiving letters like the one which I shall read to the House. This lady writes:I was so pleased to see that someone had kindly remembered the widows of this country. I get less income than a neighbour, whose husband is in prison, for receiving stolen goods, not his first time, either. Her National Assistance is larger than my Service pension. So much for husbands, who were heroes not so long ago.After bringing up our children we have grown rusty over any training we had when young. And no one wants to retrain us.1560So we get the dishwashing and sweeping up jobs. Three Service widows (over sixty) I know, whose husbands were killed in Hitler's war, have applied to National Assistance to eke out their tiny pensions. Our husbands didn't give their lives for their wives to live as paupers.As long as somebody can write in that way—and I have no reason to doubt that what she says is true—wonderful as the work of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance over the post-war years has been, there is still something wrong with a system which allows a bitter letter like that to be written.
We are engaged in a process of bringing the pensions of various groups of pensioners who have been on pension for quite a long time a little more nearly into line with the rising cost of living and the rising standards of life in an affluent society. For Service men these new provisions are a step forward, but they do least justice to those who need the help the most—that is, those who have been on pension the longest.
Of all ex-Service men, those who concern me—and, indeed, everybody in the House—the most are the disabled. A 100 per cent. disabled ex-Service man gets 97s. 6d. a week. Since April, 1961, when this figure was granted, it has dropped in value—the figures are the Minister's—to 91s. 9d. I plead with the Government, now that they have tackled the general question of public service pensioners and, in the Royal Warrant, the question of Service pensioners in general, to turn at once, as a matter of urgency, to the pensions of disabled ex-Service men and to do some really hard thinking about the women whose terrible duty it has been to give the lives of their husbands to the country often after devoted nursing of war-shattered men.
In an earlier debate on this very topic, the hon. and gallant Member for the New Forest (Sir O. Crosthwaite-Eyre) expressed what should be the heart of our attitude to this question, when he said:… if we really want a successful recruiting scheme our first job is to see that those who have served us in the past receive a proper tribute to their service. Let us not try to build for the future without acknowledging our duties to the past."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 625.]At a recent memorial service that I attended to those who had died in the 1561 war, the preacher reminded us that somewhere in the Far East, in Burma, is a memorial which simply says:For your tomorrows we gave our todays.It is in that spirit, I am certain, that every hon. Member who participates in the debate will be thanking the Government for what they have done in the proposals up to date, but begging them to improve them still further.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
As the debate started rather late, I propose to limit my remarks, particularly as my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth), who opened the debate, made an excellent speech and covered fairly wide ground. To enable hon. Members on both sides to have more time to speak, I will spend only a few moments in referring to the widows.
As has been said, the Government have an excellent record in pensions, but why have they fallen short in dealing with the case of the Service widows? For several years- we have known—it has been quoted in debate after debate—the most pitiful circumstances in which these ladies are living. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) has given one instance and many of us have had similar letters. The gravest injustice of all is to widows who lost their husbands before 4th November, 1958. They have been callously discriminated against because, for the first time in the 200 years since the pensions were established, they have been dubbed "existing" widows.
Even in industry today much more is being done for widows in many cases than the Government are doing for these ladies we are discussing. I am a trustee of a works pension fund. As is the custom in recent years in forward-looking concerns, a considerable amount of the fund is invested in equities because, over a period of 15 or 20 years, the equities will keep pace with inflation and one can hand out extra payments to the widows.
This is a matter which must be looked at again. The pensions for future widows were improved to one-third of their husband's pay, but they were left on obsolete rates which the Grigg Committee described as derisory. 1562 There are about 7,800 officers' widows on these rates, which it is proposed to increase by 12 per cent.
As we have been told, those over 70 will get an extra £20 a year. What will be the difference for a lady in her late 60s and ailing? She will still be worse off than she was 10 years ago. Many of these widows have to resort of National Assistance but, as we know, a great many others will not do so because their pride will not let them. If one tries to tell them that it is not National Assistance in that sense but a supplementary pension, they will not hear of it.
I had a letter earlier this year from an old lady who could not buy sufficient coal to keep her room warm. I cannot understand why these people are being ignored to this extent. It is disgraceful that elderly widows should be subjected to such poverty and misery. I understand that Armed Forces' pensions have been dictated by the Royal Prerogative and that recipients are unable to argue their case. Similar increases designed for civil pensioners are applied to them, to their detriment. The Royal Prerogative should be exercised to ensure that this is no longer the case.
I ask for a biennial review of these pensions, and, indeed, for my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has done so much for pensioners, to go somewhat further. Vast sums are being spent on various enterprises—defence, education and social services. Why do we treat widows worse, I imagine, than probably any other nation in the world? I hope that my right hon. Friend will let us have the figures of what other nations pay widows in similar circumstances. I make the strongest protest in the words at my command in asking that something should be done for these ladies right away.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)
The right hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) put the case for officers and their wives, as has the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey). I make no complaint about that. But officers' salaries are discussed in terms of thousands of pounds while their widows' pensions are discussed in terms of hundreds 1563 of pounds, and not a word has been said about the widows of other ranks.
The Government fixed November, 1958, as a dividing line in these pensions. The widows of other ranks who died before then got nothing at all, but one never hears of that from hon. Members opposite. The lower other ranks do not now get anything like the pensions which have been referred to tonight. They do not get a total pension per year of £100. What is required in the allocation of money for pensions is a great reduction in the vast disparity between the pensions of officers and the pensions of other ranks—in other words, a better distribution of the money.
There should be fair shares for all, the "old sweats" as well as the "brass-hats" Perhaps some of the later Tory speakers will deal with the law pensions of men, and particularly those paid to widows of other ranks. When mention is made of National Assistance, it should be remembered that practically all the widows of other ranks are on National Assistance, unless they go out to work.
Tonight's subject is mainly long service pensions, not disability pensions, but as we are on the Adjournment Motion the debate is wide open. I make no complaint about that, but I hope to devote my speech to long-service pensions. This is the first debate arranged by the Government on increases in the Armed Services long-service pensions. This is the purpose of the debate as a corrolary to the Pensions (Increase) Act for the Civil Service.
§ Commander Pursey
I thank the hon. Lady. I have one Tory member to support me, though I expect to lose the hon. Lady's support in due course.
As I was saying, this is the first debate arranged by the Government on the increase in long-service pensions, although there have been four previous increases since the war. One reason is that this Tory Government have no wish to advertise the miserably low rates of Service pensions for which they have been responsible during the last eleven years, particularly those paid to other ranks.
A large number of these n.c.o.s and other ranks are receiving mere pittances. 1564 Only £1 per week or less is paid to an able seaman or private, and only 30s. or less to a petty officer or n.c.o. after twenty-two or more years' service for Queen and country. Incredible though it may sound, a large number of other ranks pensioned since the last war are receiving a lower rate of pension than men pensioned after the First World War, forty years ago. In fact, there are men still being paid pensions under the Crimean War scheme and earlier schemes. They are being paid a pension of ½d. per day per year of service, with further halfpennies for petty officer service, and farthings for leading seaman service. [Laughter.] I do not know what the joke is. I suggest to the Chief Secretary that this is a very serious matter. He does not know the first thing about it, nor do the other Ministers sitting beside him. Had they known, they would have done something about it long ago.
Moreover, no scale increase at all has been made in the pensions of men discharged at 40 during the seventeen years since the last war, and none will be made for several years for many men until they reach the age of 60. In other words, these pension increases which we are now considering for men who are 60, generally speaking—because there is a disability Clause—can apply only to men due for pension twenty years ago, that is, in 1942 or earlier.
Our last debate on pensions was on a private Member's Motion on 25th May, 1962, and as a result of my speech on that occasion I received a deluge of pitiable letters and complaints, and this month, as a result of a letter to the Press, I received a further deluge of cases which are quite pathetic. Many of these people are on National Assistance. I am, therefore, able today to deal with actual cases of serious human interest in this curious network of pension anomalies and niggardliness.
The House tonight is not concerned with the current rate of pensions paid on discharge, but in view of the tributes paid to the Government it is right to put on record the present basic rate for an able seaman and a private, namely, £2 7s. 8d. At the beginning of the year they were entitled to a 5 per cent. increase, but the Government refused this and paid them only 2½ per cent. Instead of receiving £2 11 s. 4d. for these six 1565 months they received only £2 7s. 8d., so that even now, in spite of the basic increase, the pension is 10s. less than National Assistance, and is still far below subsistence level.
My main concern tonight is to sound a clarion call for Britain's forgotten army—the thousands of n.c.o.s and men from all three Services who have been discharged since V-day and who are in the twenty years "no-man's-land" age group of 40–60, and who, consequently, have not received a penny increase from any of the pensions increase schemes in the last seventeen years.
§ Commander Pursey
Certainly. The hon. and gallant Member is bound to help me. He is bound to waste time, and confuse the position more than it is confused now.
§ Captain Elliot
I believe that the figures he has given refer to able seamen after twenty or twenty-two years' service. He will remember that for the last few years there have been far greater opportunities for these men to earn quite a good pension if they serve for another five or ten years.
§ Commander Pursey
The hon. and gallant Gentleman ought not to intervene in a subject about which he knows practically nothing. On 27th June, 1962, HANSARD printed a schedule of all the pensions. I do not want to spoil my speech by taking up the point made by the hon. and gallant Member. With respect, he is just talking arrant nonsense, and wasting time.
I wish to expose the grave injustices done to these veterans of the war, and to make a special appeal on behalf of large categories of "old sweats" who are not yet 60 but who were pensioned, first, in the five years from 1945 to 1949 or later, on the old 1919 basic rates of, for example, £1 2s. 9d. for an able seaman, and, secondly, in the period from 1945 to 1956 at the new 1945-50 basic rate of £1 6s. 4d. for all three Services.
Furthermore, some 1930 basic rate pensioners are receiving even less pension than is provided on those 1919 and 1945 rates. A private in the Lincolnshire Regiment, pensioned since the war after 1566 twenty-three years' service, receives only 14s. per week, or 2s. per day. Let hon. Members try to 'aught that one off! This is 4s. 4½d. less than the Army, 1919, basic rate of 18s. 4½d., established after the First World War, over twenty-five years earlier.
Even with the 5d. per day Service age pension at 55 the pension now, seventeen years later, is only 16s. 11d. per week—about half the present pension. What a pension! Please note that this is not a freak case; 14s. is the 1930 basic rate for all three Services, with slight variations in respect of periods of service of twenty-one, twenty-two and twenty-four years.
How did these miserable pensions grow up? Like Topsy. In 1831, the foundation stone was laid by William IV. There was an Order in Council on 24th August. I have my own copy if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would like to borrow it. The rate was ½d. per day pension per year of service of twenty years' service, giving 10d. per day, or 5s. 10d. a week. This pension is given in the schedule of the Minister of Defence and is referred to in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 27th June, 1962, which I have mentioned. It is still being paid to the older Chelsea pensioners.
So that there may be no question of dealing with history I will bring this figure right up to date. It was awarded for eighty-eight years until 1919 and was my pension rate when I served on the lower deck. Additions for petty officer and leading seamen service were ½d. and a ¼d. respectively per day per year of service. These amounts were awarded until 1949 or later. I had a letter today from the Minister of Defence saying that he does not know when they stopped. Such pensions are still being paid and will be for many more years. In 1865, the Admiralty offered the Greenwich Hospital pensioners 5d. a day alt 55 and later another 4d., at 70, to leave the hospital. Otherwise, pensioners would still be at the Royal Naval College, as are Army pensioners at Chelsea Hospital.
In 1876, payment consisted of ld. per day pension and, with good conduct and badges of merit, the pension totalled 6d. In 1855, the service increased to twenty-two years and the Admiralty refused to pay the two extra 1567 halfpennies. In 1887, thirty-two years later, the Admiralty agreed to pay the two extra halfpennies. In 1919, after the First World War, there was a new basic rate, but the 1831 rate was continued and the ½d. per day was trebled to 1½d. a day. This basic rate was 2s. 9d. per day or 19s. 3d. a week. The 6d. for good conduct remained. The age pay continued at 5d. at 55 and 4d. at 65 to be paid to all pensioners. This 1½d. per day rate continued for twenty-six years until 1945 and was awarded until 1949 and it is still being paid to thousands of pensioners from all three Services.
For the Army the same basic rate of 18s. 4½d. per week obtained for twenty-one years. For the Royal Air Force it was 21s. per week because they served twenty-four years. This is the basic rate for which we are tonight discussing increases, over forty years after its introduction. In 1925, the 4d. age increase at 65 was abolished. In 1930, the new reduced basic rates were: Army, 14s.; Navy, 14s. 8d.; and Royal Air Force, 16s. with the 5d. increase at 55 only, and a Navy reduction of 4s. 7d. in 1945. On 19th December, after the Second World War, there was a new basic rate, a flat-rate of £1 6s. 4d. with no additions and twenty-two years' service for all three Services.
Incredible though this may sound, the increase for the R.A.F. was only a single Id. more than the 1919 basic rate with the addition. Check the HANSARD schedule. For naval pensioners the old 1919 rate—with good conduct and age increases, namely, £1 8s.—was higher than the new rate of £1 6s. 4d. So my Lords graciously offered them the option of the old 1919 rate or the new 1945 rate. What a scheme! What a pension!
The dice were further loaded against the new scheme because the Admiralty stated that the old 1919 rate would be increasable by the age additions and also at the age of 60 by the 1944–47 Pensions (Increase) Acts and any further Acts. This was 9s. 10d. more. On the other hand, the new £1 6s. 4d. would be for life, andit would not be increasable by the award of age additions nor under the Pensions (Increase) Acts.1568 The HANSARD schedule shows the 1945 rate to have been three times increased to £2 2s. 4d., but no one since pensioned at 40 has yet been able to draw these three increases and this pension. In other words, that is all "pie in the sky", on paper, waiting for them to come of age at 60. The option remained open until 1949 or later and different men gambled different ways, for a slight increase forthwith and a fixed rate for life, or for a low scale for fifteen years and then an increase of 5d. a day and an increase five years later at 60.
So much for the facts. What has been the result in actual pensions being paid today? The general Army figure of the 1919 pension now being paid to privates below 60 is only £1 1s. 3½d. This is the basic 18s. 4½d. which some still draw, plus the 5d. per day increase at 55. There are also odd variations such as £1 4s. and £1 5s. 6d. Even these higher pensions are only about a half of the present-day pension of £2 7s. 8d. for a private. The n.c.o. with a basic rate of £1 3s. 8d. and three increases in 1952, 1956 and 1959 receives only £1 18s., which is 9s. 8d. less than the current rate for a private.
How ridiculous can we become? I shall give a few picked Army examples to prove my case. A real "old sweat" joined the Suffolk Regiment in 1900 at the time of the Boer War. He is 83 and was pensioned under the 1919 scale in 1921 at 18s. 4½d. He has drawn this for over forty years, admittedly with increases, but those only in recent years. When the first pension increase was made in 1946, after waiting twenty-five years, he was 68, but he was ruled out by the means test. At some stage he was overpaid £90, so the War Office clawed back that £90 which meant two years of his pension "gone west".
Even now at his great age, with four increases—my hon. Friend said the older men were well off-he receives only £2 11s., or 6s. 6d. less than National Assistance and less than next year's private's pension of £2 1ls. 4d. This is "a man who never was" as far as the Secretary of State for War is concerned because, although his pension has been calculated to two decimal places, the right hon. Gentleman says that there is no such case. The short point is that the War Office does not know what pensions it is paying.
1569 The following cases are Second World War ones. In 1946, twenty years' service, now aged 54, 1ls. 4½d.—1s. above the amount received by the 10s. widow about whom we hear so much. In 1945, twenty-two years' service, 14s., 1930 rate; after an argy-bargy with the War Office, he was given the 1919 18s. 4½d.; even now, at 11th December, 1962, at the age of 60 and with four increases, his pension is only £2 6s. 11d. In 1945, nineteen and a half years, 14s. 3½d., and the explanation:I came out of the R.A. with group 14 I explained I was in for 21 years. They were not interested. I was in group 14 and out I had to come. On 19th September, 1962, I was 55 and received the 5d. per day, and my pension is now 17s. 2d.Numerous other cases could be quoted.
I turn now to naval cases. The A.B.'s 1919 basic rate is 19s. 3d., and, if lucky, plus 6d. for good conduct, badges and medals. Many are still drawing only £1 2s. 9d. Others have reached 55 and are receiving the 5d., but this gives them only £1 5s. 8d. Petty officers since the Second World War are being paid such low pensions as £1 6s. 3d., £1 7s. 7d., £1 9s. 6d., and £1 9s. 9d. Their basic rate is also the £1 2s. 9d. for able seamen with additions for leading seamen and petty officers.
I wish to establish once and for all, particularly with hon. Members opposite, that these additions are the 1831 halfpennies and farthings previously referred to, that these ridiculous amounts are still being paid and will continue to be paid until the end of this century. Undated Admiralty documents issued with the option of the 1919 or 1945 pension stated for the former:Rank additions for each year of service as leading rate ½d. a day and as petty officer ¼d. a day.I will give examples of the current pension, and I will give them at dictation speed for the benefit of hon. Members opposite and I hope that they will be able to take them in, and it will also make it much easier for the Official Reporters. I hope that hon. Members opposite will be able to follow me. If they lose me, they may stop me and I will recapitulate:Eight years 360 days as P.O. and C.P.O. rank at double Petty time (plus 110 days C.P.O. allowance) allows 18 complete years at ½d. for each year's service as such, equals 9d. Balance at 100 days C.P.O. and P.O. time 1570 doubled and added to six years—138 days service as Leading rate at double Petty time, allows 13 complete years at a farthing a day for each year's service as such, equals 3¼d.According to my arithmetic the total addition is 1s. 0½d.—and that is quoted from an Admiralty pensions letter. With the A.B.'s basic of 2s. 9d. a day plus 6d. for good conduct, equals 3s. 3d., the extra 1s. 0¼d. gives a pension of 4s. 3¼d. per day or £1 9s. 10¾d. per week. These calculations are what is known as multiple values. This is explained in the dictionary assymbols which fulfil the algebraic conditions of a problem when different values are given them.
§ Captain John Litchfield (Chelsea)
The very last thing I want to do is to waste time, but as the hon. and gallant Member has been in play for 30 minutes and is presumably coming up to about half time, may I ask whether he does not think that his remarks would be assisted by allowing other hon. Members on both sides of the House to support him?
§ Commander Pursey
It certainly would have been so if I had not been interrupted. I could quote other low pensions. There must be thousands of them. I thought that my classic case was that of a son receiving double the pension paid his father. I now have an even better illustration in which a younger brother has a pension which is double that of his elder brother. Could anything be crazier?
What do the pensioners think about these petty pensions? I hope that I shall be successful in translating a few lower deck and barrack room remarks into Parliamentary language. One writes:I hope that I won't be charged under the Official Secrets Act for sending you the official documents with details of my lousy pension.Musicians have low pensions. One writes:I have played 'Rule Britannia' all round the world and I'm now playing Rule Britannia' about my blank blank pension.Another writes:My low pension would be a good advertisement for recruiting. I don't think I would make a good recruiting sergeant.A petty officer asks:Were pre-1950 Regular Forces only third class, as the difference in pensions—only one-third—seems to suggest?1571 A war record runs:Battle of River Plate, the Mediterranean, Matapan, evacuation of Crete and Greece, Malta bombardments, came home for a rest, instead Russian convoys, and finally Far East. All for £1 4s. 10d.—22 years' service but no increase in pension.A countryman writes:When I joined, a farm labourer's wage was 22s. 6d. and the prospect of £1 a week pension was something. Today, farm labourers' wages are £9 or £10, and good luck to them. But my basic pension is the same quid a week as when I joined.Other comparisons are:When I first drew my low pension, it would pay the rent. Now it won't pay the rates.Another:My idea, when in the Service, of a newsagent's and tobacconist's shop has gone west; my present pension wouldn't keep me in cigarettes—if I could afford to smoke.Many pensioners are reluctant for friends and even relations to know their pensions. Others take steps to avoid their pensions being known. One cycles three miles to the next village so that his village will not know his pittance. What a sorry state of affairs and what a serious check on recruiting. Naturally, some say, "Do not join the Forces. The Government will always let you down. If you do, join as late as possible to reduce the twenty years wait for 60. If you have joined, get out as early as possible. You will do better outside".
Pensioned at 40 a chief stoker gets a job as a stoker, instead of being in charge. A chief petty officer becomes a labourer in a dockyard. Pensioners are forced to take the lowest jobs and private employers, particularly in personal jobs, often consider the pension when arranging wages.
What emerges from this investigation? [AN HON. MEMBER: "TOO long a speech."] Why did you let them lose all the time in the previous debate? Anyhow, there is an extension until eleven o'clock. What are you in trouble about?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Our practice, to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman must conform, is that observations are addressed to the Chair.
§ Commander Pursey
I apologise, Mr. Speaker.
1572 What emerges from this investigation is: first, the several pension basic rates; secondly, the half dozen or so scales since the war; thirdly, the multiplicity of payments to other ranks, which provide nearly as many permutations as the football pools. I have no hesitation in saying that the present Armed Service pension system for other ranks of a low basic scale at 40 with long delayed occasional cost of living dole increases on a percentage basis but not for twenty years is a national scandal which in the Tory so-called affluent society should have been abolished long ago.
The Armed Forces are the only State service who have to wait for twenty years, but actually it is only the other ranks, because the officers—take naval officers, for example—retire at 45, 50, 55 and 60, according to rank, and so receive the age-60 increase with much less delay than the ratings.
What should be done to clear up this pensions confusion? There are three obvious answers. First, there should be one rate for the job, namely, the same pension for the same rating for the same period of service, whatever the date of pension. Secondly, in future when pensions are increased for serving men pensions already in payment should also be increased by the same amount. As has been said, the Government have accepted the principle of a biennial review for future pensions. Why not for present pensions? Thirdly, pending one rate for the job, a worth-while pension increase should be made forthwith to those thousands in the seventeen years since the war who have been on the low pensions and received no increase under the Pensions (Increase) Act. In point of fact, it is not the older ones. It is the ones that have received no increases at all.
Why have these miserable pensions continued for so long, the majority for nearly half a century? The only reason is that Service pensioners are not organised like the National Federation of Old Age Pensions Association, or the Police Federation. Moreover, if officers and their wives were suffering to the same extent as the men and their wives the senior admiral of the Navy, the senior field marshal of Army and the senior 1573 marshal of the Royal Air Force would petition the Government and publish letters in The Times and elsewhere.
Why do not senior officers press the case for justice for the men who trained them and made their success possible? I challenge Tory Members to press the case for redress for the men as they have done for the officers, and in consequence for themselves. The Government, aware of no action by anyone, including M.P.s, are trading on the loyalty of the Regular forces, both in the Services and outside, and I warn the Government that they cannot retain loyalty at half price and still get the recruits they need.
The newspapers and even the experts of the B.B.C. make no attempt to really explain this injustice. It seems that they consider the problems involved to be far too complex for them to expose in a proper way. Yet once the facts are assembled any journalist would soon discover that a strong human interest story can be produced.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.