§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. William Deedes (Ashford)
I beg to move,That this House, recognising the difficulties of many retired officers, pensioned other ranks and widows of the armed services and of former members of the Colonial Service, Overseas Civil Service and Sudan Civil Service, especially the older among them, whose pensions have diminished in value since they were first awarded; and bearing in mind the Conservative Government's pledge in 1959 that pensioners should continue to share in the good things which a strong expanding economy will bring, urges Her Majesty's Government to regard the difficulties of these pensioners as a first charge in the next economic phase, and to declare anew the principles which should govern the level of pensions granted by Her Majesty's Government in respect of the armed services and by Her Majesty's Government or any Commonwealth government in respect of the overseas services.Those hon. Members who have studied the intricacies of the Service and overseas pensions will be aware that this is not a very easy subject to present concisely or coherently and fairly. So that the House may have some idea of what this Motion seeks to encompass, I should explain that we are talking about 51,000 retired officers, 31,000 of them under 60, all of whose pensions fall under no less than seven codes. There are, in addition, about 10,550 officers' widows. Then we have a much larger body of other ranks under the family pensions schemes, many of whom—sergeants and warrant officers and equivalent ranks—deserve particular attention.
In considering colonial pensions, we are concerned with about 15,000 pensioners, including 4,000 widows, and we are particularly concerned with about 5,000 of them whose pensions are below the equivalent rates in the United Kingdom. Thus, we have two separate categories of pensions, both inadequate, both giving rise to great distress and 836 each demanding, for reasons which I shall show, a somewhat different approach.
Service pensions have been, for some time, the subject of a Motion on the Order Paper standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Maccles-field (Sir A. V. Harvey) and the names of 232 other hon. Members. Colonial pensions are the subject of a similar Motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) and the names of 113 other hon. Members.
Having had perhaps more than a fair share of fortune in the Ballot which governs these debates, I thought that the fairest thing would be to try to bring these two campaigns together in one Motion. That will involve a certain duality, but I hope, for the sake of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and of my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Technical Cooperation—whom we welcome warmly here today—that it will not necessarily involve dichotomy. It would be vain to try to cover both fields comprehensively, and I shall not try to do so. But the fact that 350 hon. Members have put their names to the two Motions I have referred to shows that this is a House of Commons matter, so the more widely we distribute the task of talking about it the better it will be discharged.
I have one more word to say as a preliminary. I do not think that anyone can study these pensions without being dismayed by the complexity—indeed, the confusion—we have allowed to gather around them. This is no small cause of injustice in itself, because it is extraordinarily difficult for any section of these pensioners to explain its grievances in terms which we, let alone the outside world, find it easy to grasp. Relatively few have grasped it, which is one of the tragedies. For this reason I hope that the House today will concern itself more with results than with origins.
We are not responsible for the origins, but we are responsible for the results. I have no doubt that if each labyrinthian thread is followed back to source some kind of defence can be made of it. That has happened over and over again when this subject has been debated in this House and in another place. There 837 comes a time when we ought to try to look at the whole thing in the round and say that we cannot square these results with our consciences.
I want to talk, first, about pensions of former Colonial Service officers, and what I leave out, which I know will be much, I know that some of my hon. Friends will supply. This is a singular problem. It relates, in particular, to about 5,000 people—about 2,800 former officers and 2,300 widows—whose rates of pension are below the United Kingdom level. This is because the territories or Governments paying them have not given increases corresponding to those given by the United Kingdom.
I am not going to enumerate these territories, though other hon. Members may, but the special case of Sudan is well known. This is in a class by itself, because the Sudan has an unusual history. The problem here has not been the assumption of independence, but the supersession of government by a new national State from which we were unable, or failed, to get guarantees in respect of former officers. I do not think that our part in this matter of the Sudan pensions has been distinguished, and I hope that it will be elaborated on by some of my hon. Friends, but for reasons of time I must embrace it in my remarks.
In a general sense, all these 15,000 Colonial Service Pensioners deserve consideration in so far as they have been the victims of inflation and their pensions have slid below current values since they were last increased. They should, as the Motion implies, be the first charge on our resources at the end of the present economy phase. That, I think, ought to touch the national conscience. But the question of the minority whose rates are below the rest touches national honour. While we have, beyond all reasonable doubt, accepted constitutional responsibility for these people as servants of the Crown, we have hitherto insisted that the increases needed to bring them to our level remain the responsibility of the territories concerned.
Let us consider the implications of that. A colonial officer is subject to the order of the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London. He must go where he is told, and to this extent it is fortuitous where he ends his service. 838 Very often the best officers are sent to the most difficult territories.
As I understand the position, there are 35 independent territories, of which 29 have granted increases as generous as our own—in some cases more generous. Six have granted increases below that line, and another six of the 29 have fallen below the line in respect of those getting £400 a year or less. There are also eight independent governments of which four have granted increases and four have not. It is said that our policy in respect of these 12 territories and four governments is to persuade them otherwise, and that this is a continuous and continuing process. So is the fall in the standard of life of the pensioners concerned. The sum at stake needed to bring these 2,800 pensions into line is about £176,000; with widows —£285,400.
I confess that I have been moved and disturbed by reading some of the remarks—which I shall not quote—made earlier this year by Lord Boyd in another place. He spoke with the authority of one who for five years was Colonial Secretary, the longest period since "Joe" Chamberlain. He leaves me with no scintilla of doubt that the ultimate responsibility for these colonial servants rests with the Secretary of State for the Colonies. There can be no wriggling out of it. It is inscribed in the White Paper of 1954. The issue confronts us squarely whether, if the territories and Governments concerned will not do so, we are prepared to top up these pensions.
The arguments against doing so seem weak and unworthy. It is said that it would be unfair to those who have acted generously. We then have to explain why we acted otherwise for former servants of India, Pakistan, Burma and Palestine. We may argue special circumstances there, but that argument examined in detail really will not convince. Worst of all is the excuse that if we top up now those paying in full will be tempted to default. But that argument is the argot of the thieves' kitchen. It is for us to set a standard. Our level of conduct should be equivalent to the highest; not in expectation of the lowest.
Let us get away from the statistics involved and consider whom we are dealing with in human terms. These colonial 839 servants are men and women who have been engaged in what in my view is the most difficult feat ever attempted by any Empire in history, that of dismantling itself and imparting to its former dependencies its own instruments of Government. To some of us that is by no means the least worthy phase of our imperial story. It called for, and still does in places like the Federation and Kenya, the highest of human qualities in those who are there—a high degree of faith, courage, loyalty and integrity. Surely it is on that plane that we ought to judge this question.
I do not want to leave this without suggesting a possible solution. I think that we must put a term to these negotiations with the defaulting territories. When it expires—and I am not going to put a date to it—we should inform all the territories that we propose to top up—on loan. We should do so from a fund known as the Colonial Pensions Loan Fund. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, fulfilling his responsibilities, would publish a return to Parliament annually—a short paper setting out how we and each territory were meeting our obligations each year.
That would not doom the prospect of settlement; it might enhance it. Nor would such a public paper hold a pistol to the heads of the territories, because as stewards for the taxpayer we would be obliged to publish it. The White Paper, carrying forward such debit as accrued each year, would show us where we stood, and would emphasise the nature of the loan. I think that it would be a not unreasonable way of meeting an exceptional situation. In the years ahead, when all these pensioners are dead, perhaps a debt will remain on our hands. I can only say that we can write it off and that it would be easier written off than the debt of honour that we are accumulating in this matter.
I must turn at once to service pensions. What do we find here? There are seven separate retired pay codes for officers, each divided for officers over and under 60, and for other ranks there are five codes, again divided between those over 60, invalided or incapacitated and benefiting from pay increase warrants, and those under 60 who have not all so benefited. Among these, in both classes, it is the warrant officer and sergeant 840 who come off relatively worst. A warrant officer Class I, in particular, gets half or less than half under the 1945–50 code what successors get under the 1962 code. Alas, examination of the other ranks position underlines the common factor in this dismal story: it is the minorities in the higher ranks who come off relatively worse. That is why officers tend to dominate this theme.
Hon. Members are aware of the anomalies and the distress which have resulted for this rank, but it may be that the outside world is less aware. I must, therefore, cite one or two examples. A major in the under 60 class, with maximum service, who retired between 1914 and 1945, receives £448. In all, there are still about 1,000 officers in this class. Under the 1962 code such an officer will receive £930. On the 1950 code, which is much nearer our present day, and which applies to officers retiring between 1950 and 1955, such a major receives £500 against today's £930.
It is true that officers aged over 60—and they account for 40 per cent. of the total—have received small pay increases from time to time, but the fact remains that a major with maximum service on the 1962 code will receive double the retirement pay of the man who was retired on the 1919 code, and he is also getting all the increases.
These disparities spread, to a greater or lesser degree, up to the rank of general—in which ranks there are 30,000 officers under 60 and 20,000 over 60. So we find the colonel of today with the retired pay of lieutenant-general under the 1919 code, and vice versa. Is it surprising that there is a degree of bitterness in all this, bearing in mind that such figures omit the terminal grants which retired officers have received since 1950?
In such times as we are still going through we can all make good use of lump sums. The pre-1950 officer who has commuted a portion of his pension to find such a lump sum finds the fact that he is denied any subsequent pension increase in respect of that portion an added source of bitterness. It is the sternest of Treasury rules—I will not dignify it by using the word "principle"—that these rates, unjust though they seem, are immutable. Immutability is our Maginot Line.
841 In reality, five times since 1945 we have had to step up Service pay and pensions in order to get the men we want to safeguard our future. In doing so we have recognised quite clearly how much pension rates, as well as pay rates, count in drawing the volunteers. But those people whom we no longer want have been left with minor increases of 5 per cent. in 1956 and 10 per cent. in 1959.
Let us measure the situation in terms of 1956. Since that year wage rates have risen 25 per cent. and earnings by a good deal more, while the value of the £ has fallen by 10 per cent. and the cost of living has risen by 20 per cent. By what conceivable principle do we establish justice with a code of pensions which leaves officers retired between 1950 and 1955 with little more than half the pensions introduced this year? I am trying, for the sake of all concerned, to use modes-ate language, but I suggest that our defence in this matter can be described only as shifty.
We plead the Royal Warrant. All these rates are introduced by Royal Warrant, and that, we say, is immutable. We also call in aid the statement of the Grigg Committee on recruiting—now four years old—to the effect that there was no case for any change in officers' pensions, and that the present level did not constitute a deterrent to recruiting. I do not find such language acceptable.
We know the truth—and before this debate is over it will be repeated many times. We have suffered acutely from inflation; that has left many suffering hardship, some more than others, but if we single out one class of pensioner for aid we know that all public service pensioners are likely to demand like treatment, and that might cost—according to the way in which it is done—anything from £5 million to £80 million.
The degree to which colonial and Service pensions may be held, on grounds of retirement, age, the age of children, children's education, and conditions of service, to be somewhat apart from the general run of public service pensions, or inseparable from them, is something that I propose to allow other hon. Members to argue. What concerns me is that in this field we find inexcusable examples of hardship and injustice, and such distress is not alleviated or ex- 842 cused by saying that it is part and parcel of something else which is either too big for us, or we are too poor to tackle.
So we stand on our heads. We reverse the main principles applied in respect of both war disability pensions and retirement pensions. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance has long recognised that in respect of the recipient of disability pensions special care must be taken in respect of old age. His rates, his comforts, and his extra allowances are judged with that in mind. My right hon. Friend acknowledges that to the man who fought at Mons every winter gets a little longer, and every fire in the winter gets a little weaker.
Surely that principle applies to those who were not wounded as it does to those who were, but in their case we put exactly the reverse principle into operation. The older the man the worse his pension and the greater his hardship. That cannot be right, and it cannot be defended. This is not the only grievous inconsistency of principle that one unravels here. The Motion alludes to the pledge of the Government that pensioners should continue to share in the good things which a strong expanding economy will bring.
That is not my ironic interpretation; those are the actual words of the manifesto—heaven help us. In respect of retirement pensions we have sincerely tried to apply that principle. It was our boast that the proposals contained in the National Insurance Act, 1960, were not designed merely to compensate pensioners and others for a diminution in the value of their pensions due to rising prices. In the words of a Government spokesman:On the contrary, it is a series of proposals in substantial measure to increase the real standard of those provisions, certainly predominantly so, and to a far greater extent than the three preceding Measures."—[OFFFCIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1960; Vol. 630, c. 220.]How in the world do we measure that statement with the pensions being received by the former servants of the Armed Forces? The fact is that the so-called "principle of immutability" is not a principle at all but a policy. It is a flat contradiction of the policy 843 we aim to pursue in the wider field of pensions. Therein lies its transparent unfairness.
But we have yet to come to the hardest case of all—that of the officer's widow. The 10,500 widows of officers are divided into two classes—those whose husbands died before November, 1958, and those whose husbands died after that date. From November, 1958, those who subsequently lost their husbands received improved pensions of one-third of their husbands' retired pay. Existing widows, numbering about 8,000, were left on the old basic rates, which the Grigg Report described in these words:Existing scales of family pensions result in widows receiving ludicrously low payments.If they were ludicrous then they are more ludicrous now.
The effect was to give many officers' widows less than the National Insurance pension. There are 2,570 officers' widows whose pensions are £127 2s. The National Insurance pension is £149 10s. In simple terms, these pensions have risen by over 15 per cent. in the last decade; the cost of living has risen by 29 per cent., and the National Insurance pension by 77 per cent. There are 3,688 Regular officers' widows of over 74 years of age whose pensions render them eligible for National Assistance. One could add some special pleading about the vicissitudes which a soldier's wife must share with her husband—and the soldier's wife of the past had to share many more of those vicissitudes than does the present soldier's wife.
Let us deal with this matter precisely in the terms which Grigg might have used. Is the son of an officer's widow whose mother is living on National Assistance and a pension likely to be an enthusiastic candidate for Sandhurst? I doubt it. Hon. Members must search their consciences and decide whether they are happy that the widow of, for example, a promoted ranker officer with perhaps thirty year's service should now have recourse to National Assistance.
In fairness to my hon. Friend, I must add that I do not think that the Government stand entirely alone in the dock on this matter. It seems to me strange that with the increases in pay and pensions negotiated from time to time for 844 the Armed Forces senior officers have not seen fit to take a stand on behalf of the retired and elderly officers. Admirals of the Fleet, marshals of the Royal Air Force and field marshals occupy a special place. They never retire and they receive the latest rates of half-pay regardless of when they ended their service. Why were not more voices raised more strongly on behalf of those who have served their time? Why was not a bargain struck retaining a small fraction of these increases for them? The rises which have gone to the Forces since 1945 represent an enormous sum. Are we to understand that every senior service officer accepts the principle of the immutability of pensions?
Of course, the figures alone do not convey the full idea of the hardship. Some years ago I made in the House a speech on pensions in which I suggested that what hurt many pensioners was not so much their own penury, but the rising prosperity of others. That is an aspect of this business upon which I think that the House would do well to reflect, because it is particularly true in this sphere. My noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) is very fortunate in his choice of house when he visits council houses in his constituency. He is offered cocktails. I wonder whether—I am sure that he has—my noble Friend has taken a glass of sherry with some of these pensioners and has known, as I have known, that afterwards, if the bottle is to last for its allotted span, they will have to forgo one or two drinks themselves. This is the seamy side of the affluent society.
Unhappily for my hon. Friend who is to answer this debate, it is not just an affluent society. It is also a very jealous society. It will work to rule, but not to the Tenth Commandment. We are all very conscious and very critical of what the other fellow is getting. I say "we" advisedly. This mood induces a kind of arthritic condition in the thinking of modern Governments. It makes them readier to tolerate a small blazing injustice than the threat of public resentment.
What ought we to do? What can someone who sincerely believes in the present income policy of Her Majesty's Government, as I do, fairly recommend?
845 Ultimately, there is only one sensible answer—the conquest of inflation. I think that one ought to say, and let it be said at once, that among all the reasons for stopping inflation, here is one of the most compelling. Always pensioners go to the wall. The effect of the pay pause on those under 50 is very different from the effect of the pension freeze 3n those over 70. Some of these facts strengthen one's resolve to see the battle through.
More specifically, I think that our policy on Service pensions must fall under three heads. First, there are those in the category which is hit hardest, the Service widows—the "existing" widows as they are called—who are not asking for the latest rates but to be put on the same basis as other widows of members of the Armed Forces and the Civil Service. In 1960, that would have cost us £350,000. Since then 1,500 of these widows have died, so I suppose that the cost now would be less. I sincerely hope that this widow's mite falls within the range of the "guiding light" prevailing, in which case there is hardly an excuse for delay.
Secondly, there is the much wider sphere of hardship which includes the Service pensioners existing on codes which have been discarded for present purposes. The Motion says that they should be afirst charge in the next economic phase.I have not said that because I consider it good enough, but because I want the decision which we reach today to be one which the strongest adherent to the Government's incomes policy can feel that he can support. We must leave the Government in no doubt where the House stands in this matter.
Thirdly—I do not expect my hon. Friend to say much about this today—Ministers will have to apply their minds afresh to the principles involved. That is mentioned in the latter part of the Motion. I believe that we are approaching the limit of what may be done by ad hoc solutions in Pensions (Increase) Measures. It is not seemly that this great country, with its vaunted Welfare State, should be, apparently, well behind the practice of other lands in adopting a system such as "percentage pensions" and the like.
846 Some ideas on this theme were well made out by Air Marshal Sir Gerald Gibbs, on 3rd February, in an article in a newspaper in which I must declare an interest. He advocated, quite simply, payment of all pensions as a percentage of current active pay. A pension of 40 per cent. on £2,000 would be £800. If the active pay went up to £2,400, pensions for all would be £960.
This might be regarded as "pie in the sky" were it not for the fact that so many other countries are doing something of this kind. France, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, West Germany, Italy, Denmark, Holland and Spain all raise retired pay in relation to the cost of living. What do we do when we enter Europe? To my way of thinking there is no moral justification for widening margins between standards of salaries and pensions to former servants of the State. We, of all nations, should recognise the relationship between past and present service. To this wider aspect I say that Ministers must surely turn their minds. It is humiliating not only for pensioners, but, in my view, for a Government, that the welfare of these minorities should be governed by hand-to-mouth methods dolled up to look like principles.
I know that standards have changed, but I am sure that we should not belittle the place of the Service family in our national life. We owe a good deal to the tradition which has impelled sons to follow with pride their fathers and grandfathers into the Services. Some of these families were first in the field with every British Expeditionary Force, and glad we were to know that they were there. Some of the survivors are among these pensioners about whom we are talking today, and it is sad to have soured that tradition.
I would add this. I think that in any country that seeks to keep its greatness—a matter which is troubling a good many minds today—there must always be a capacity to render what Stanley Baldwin called "the service of our lives." For some of whom we are talking today that was a service at risk. A nation which fails to acknowledge that properly does not merely impoverish its former servants; in a deeper sense it impoverishes itself. To a degree 847 which we do not recognise, because so much of it has been quietly givenFrom quiet homes and first beginningsthis nation has given of its best to the world through service.
Though times have changed and traditions have moved, I believe that it must go on doing so. Indeed, it is. In the spirit which moves young men to enter voluntary service overseas and to go to distant parts of the world alone, there is a new promise for this country. Such calls are now, I fear, beyond the reach of most of us here. But their ideals are not. The ideals of such service are in our keeping, and I think that we should behave accordingly.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Commander Harry Pursey (Kingston upon Hull, East)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) on his luck in the ballot and for choosing this important subject of Service pensions for his Motion. I have no hesitation either in congratulating him on his speech.
§ Commander Pursey
I believe that this is the first time in eighteen years in the House that I have risen to speak without the object of attacking the enemy. Today I am on a different wavelength, but I do not want to leave the House under any misapprehension. I want to make it clear from the beginning that I am off on a different course and I am going into action with all guns firing—not single guns, but salvoes.
With an omnibus Motion such as this, as the hon. Member has said, various hon. Members will deal with different subjects. I propose to limit my remarks to the long service pensions of the lower ranks of the Armed Forces. The present scandalous position as regards these Service pensions is shown in Cmnd. 1666 of 1962, "Service Pay and Pensions". I hope that the Financial Secretary has his copy of this, because I want him to help me with my reading and also with my arithmetic so that I get my arguments correct. It gives a typical example of the Tory one law for the rich and the other for the poor. Far example, of from £2,000 to £3,300 a year for the at the top of the scale we have pensions 848 generals and at the bottom a paltry 2s. 4d. a day pension, or £2 1ls. 4d. a week and £133 9s. 6d. a year, for able seamen and privates.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the field marshals, the admirals of the fleet, and the marshals of the Royal Air Force. That is the £3,300 figure. I am not concerned only with that figure. I am concerned with all the flag ranks, which start at £2,000 and go upwards. These "top brass" pensions of £2,000 to £3,300 are greater than the salary of by far the great majority of people after a life career. In addition, Note (2) under "Retirement Benefits" for officers on page 56 states:Terminal grants will continue to be three times the annual rate of retired pay or pension.That, I assume, means—I am prepared to give way and be corrected if I am wrong—that the "top brass" receive a golden handshake of £6,000 to £9,900, nearly £10,000 as compared with the meagre private's grant of £400. This puts these gentlemen almost in the Dr. Beeching category. Therefore, I hope that we shall hear nothing today about increased "top brass" pensions and grants but rather that some other hon. Members will press the case for increased pensions and grants for the lower ranks of able seamen and privates, as I intend to do, and for a reduction in the large disparity between the pensions and grants at the top of the list and those at the bottom.
The problem of long service pensions, despite the many ramifications as indicated by the hon. Gentleman, has a simple general principle. Over the centuries in this great and wealthy country, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the pay of the men of the Services, which is outwith this debate, has been a national scandal and the pensions of the lower ranks a national disgrace. Even today, after ten years of Tory Government and in the so-called Tory affluent society, with their claim that the average wage is £X per week—different people give different figures—the basic pension for the able seaman and the private after their full period of twenty-two years' pensionable service is based on what? I would like any hon. Member opposite to answer that question. What is it based on? They do not 849 know. Therefore, I have to tell them. It is based on a lower level than National Assistance. Have I the agreement of hon. Members opposite? After twenty-two years' pensionable service, plus three years boys' time, which is twenty-five years, the basic pension for the able seaman and the private is less than National Assistance in this great Welfare State today.
I hope some hon. Members opposite will deal with this problem, because if they got the basic pension right for the able seaman and the private and lifted that, other rates would go up, including those for the sergeant and the warrant officer. Throughout the centuries seamen and soldiers, their wives and children, and especially their orphans, have been objects of charity. As an orphan I was an object of charity, and even today the House may consider that I am still an object of charity. If so, that is O.K. by me. We have had Greenwich Hospital for the Navy, and Chelsea Hospital for the Army. If proper pensions were paid to soldiers today, they would gladly leave Chelsea Hospital. It would then be vacant for accommodation purposes for the London University or some other educational establishment that cannot find living accommodation in the centre of London.
We have also had the several orphanages and also public appeals and funds for the Crimean War, the Boer War and the First World War. We still have the appeals, by tin-rattling on street corners, for the ex-Servicemen and their families by the British Legion, the Army Benevolent Fund and the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund. Fortunately, the Senior Service have always deprecated this tin-rattling business and made their own arrangements to collect funds for the Royal Naval Benevolent Trust. The present-day able seaman and private, with a basic pension of only 2s. 4d. a day, specially with a wife and child, is still an object of charity, as I will show later.
Properly to appreciate this pension problem, it is necessary to go back to the Crimean War of 1854. I do not agree with the hon. Member that we deal not with origins and only with results, although I shall not bore the House with a lone historical review. But 850 I can speak from personal knowledge. My grandfather had a Crimean War pension. He was the first of three generations. The hon. Member referred to families. Look at what three generations produced in my family. My grandfather fought in the Crimean War and was wounded, and 50 years later the basic of my lower deck pension was the same as his. Surely the hon. Member would not like to argue that we ought not to go back to origins. He would not deny me that.
I will quote a few official figures which should shock some hon. Members on the Tory benches. My grandfather's pension, as a result of being wounded and having a disability, as a private in the Royal Marines, started at 6d. per day. That was from 1856. He drew it for 58 years until 1914. That year will register with some hon. Members present as the outbreak of the First World War.
Somewhere along the half-century he collected another 6d. That was probably one of his old-age increments. We heard the old-age argument earlier in the previous speech. He also collected a Greenwich Hospital pension, which at the end was 8d., and I believe he had two increments, of 5d. at one age and 3d. at another. The result was that in comparatively modern times, in 1914, at the age of 79, he drew the magnificent pension of ls. 8d. per day.
The salient pension facts are that in 1853 the Admiralty circular letter No. 121 of 14th June established continuous service and dealt with pensions. These were then granted—and this is an important point to deal with today—after ten years, 15 years and 20 years. The basic rate of pension was ½d per day pension per year of service, which produced 10d. per day pension for 20 years' service. It should, however, be appreciated that ½d was not the smallest coin used, because in the letter there is a discussion about 15s. 2½d. a year for a second-class petty officer instead of 7s. 7¼d I will deal with farthings in my time later. Those who are quick at arithmetic will appreciate that 7s. 7¼d. is a farthing per day for the 365 day-year.
I jump 30-odd years to 1885—but hon. Members should not expect an increase of pension, not at all. The Government 851 increased the period of service from 20 to 22 years—and what else? They refused to pay the two extra halfpennies. Successive Governments for 30 years refused to pay these two halfpennies. In fact, they were not paid until 1917 when, as a result of unrest in the Grand Fleet during the First World War, certain important reforms were hurriedly introduced, and the basic pension became 11d. per day pension for 22 years' service. The result was that my original basic pension for eight years on the lower deck was a halfpenny per day pension per year of service, which would have been 4d. per day pension. Admittedly, there were some extra pennies for petty officer grade and good conduct badges and also for the good conduct medal for 15 years of undiscovered crime—if one got the medal. I am not so sure whether I should have got the medal. The fact remains that a halfpenny per day was my basic.
After the First World War, basic pay and pension, which had largely remained static for over 60 years, obviously had to be appreciably increased. I need quote only one sentence from the Admiralty statement of May, 1919, to confirm my halfpennies story.The basic rate of pensions will be l½d. a day instead of ½d. a day for each year of service.Some ten years later an important development occurred. Again, hon. Members should not expect an increase of pension—not at all. A decision was made to decrease the long service pension and to drop the three halfpennies per day as the basic and to use pennies per week. It looked better in the aggregate. Three halfpennies per day was 10½d. per week. This basic was reduced to 8d. per week—a cut of five halfpennies or 2½d. per week and nearly 24 per cent. This new basic of 8d. per week pension per year of service appears to have continued to the 1939 war and maybe afterwards—at which point I insert a question mark.
A brief note is necessary about the Admiralty's dealings in facthings in comparatively recent times. In the 1925 Appendix to the Navy List, the increase for a second-class petty officer or leading seaman was a farthing a day, but it 852 was shown as 7s. 7d. a year. It should have been 7s. 7¼d. as it was in 1853, 70 years earlier. In fact, then it would have been double, as I quoted earlier. But the Admiralty had rounded off the figure to their advantage instead of to the pensioner's and so deprived him of a farthing a year or two farthings in a leap year! In the 1935 Appendix, only four years before the last war, the Admiralty were quite blatant about farthings and gave the increase for a second-class petty officer or leading seaman rate as a farthing a day, and so presumably paid the 7s. 7¼d. up to and during the war—at which point I insert another question mark.
Some hon. Members on both sides of the House have the 1939 and post-war history of long-service pensions, and some of it has been referred to. I hope that they will deal with the lowest pensions—the basic for the able-seaman and the private. I will not do so, as I wish to deal with the present position. Here I tune in with the hon. Member but with difference ammunition, probably more like dynamite.
After the last war the Labour Government of 1945–50 produced a new basis for Service pensions and laid a good foundation for further improvements. Unfortunately for the A.B. and the private, successive Tory Governments, with the rising cost of living, which they have done nothing to try to control until this pay pause nonsense, have failed to deal properly and adequately with the basic rate of the lower ranks.
The point to be emphasised is that long-service pensions are deferred pay. This is one of the reasons for the comparatively low pay. The time is coming when every one will have a long-service pension and this reason for low Service pay will no longer count. I ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to follow me in checking his document, because my board school education may not allow me to read it correctly and my arithmetic may lead me to wrong results.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treassury (Sir Edward Boyle)
The hon. and gallant Member is doing very well.
§ Commander Pursey
The hon. Gentleman, with his university education, can correct me if I go wrong, because I have no wish to put up skittles for him easily to knock down.
On page 58 of the document, "Service Pay and Pensions", headed "Table II for Ratings, Soldiers and Airmen New Weekly Rates", the first pension given is:Below Corporal—for each of first 22 years —2s. 4d.Is this correct? In other words, for 22 years' service he is granted for each year the value of a packet of fags. The first example given is:Private with 22 years service Weekly Pension 51s. 4d.or £2 11s. 4d. This figure is important and I wish to be correct in discussing it. Are there any additions, as in the past, for good conduct and for good conduct badges and for the Good Conduct Medal? Apparently not. I make no complaint about that. I favour a uniform flat rate for all of the same grade.
Is there any extra allowance, for example, for a married man with wife and one child at school for whom there is no family allowance? Apparently not. Therefore the pension for all three is £2 11s, 4d. a week. But what is its present Welfare State basis? Unemployment, sickness and retirement benefit is £2 17s. 6d. or 6s. 2d. more. Even National Assistance is £2 13s. 6d. for a householder, or 2s. 2d. more. If any hon. Member opposite considers that my figures are wrong I will give way and let him correct them, but I seem to be carrying the House with me unanimously. So I am doing quite well.
Why should a man serve 22 years, or even perhaps 25 years, for £2 11s. 4d.? A man who has been in prison can obtain the full £2 13s. 6d. National Assistance, plus rent, on release, and all other benefits without any difficulty in justifying them or having to undergo a detailed means test. Therefore, why serve 22 years or even 25 years, because of the three years boys' time which did not count for pension? Lower ranks at the age of 40 in high unemployment 854 areas find difficulty in obtaining worthwhile work, as witness the reports of the Regular Forces Employment Agency. It may be argued by hon. Members opposite that these men can draw unemployment benefit, but this benefit is limited in time.
The man requires rent and food for his wife and child and therefore he is forced to go to National Assistance. He then receives 2s. 2d. to bring his long-service pension of £2 11s. 4d. up to £2 13s. 6d. He will also receive £1 16s. 6d. for his wife and perhaps £1 for his child, according to age, making £5 10s. a week. These are the figures with which hon. Members opposite should deal. They are concerned about officers and senior officers' widows having to seek National Assistance. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Reference was made to officers' widows having to seek National Assistance, but if I am wrong I will withdraw.
§ Sir E. Boyle
Surely there is one possibility which the hon. and gallant Member has not considered. A private with 22 years' service who receives this sum can also seek a job. The great majority of them will have reached nothing like retirement age. The hon. and gallant Member in fairness ought to have considered that position.
§ Commander Pursey
I would not have expected it from the Financial Secretary. He should see a doctor to have his ears tested. He could not have been listening. I do not want to go back and "recap". [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."'] I have dealt with unemployment in high unemployment areas and I have said that what a man receives from the State after 25 years' service as his basic pension is less than National Assistance. It may be argued that these men can draw unemployment benefit, but, as I have said, that benefit has a time limit. I am also ready to admit that some of them get jobs, but the lower ranks, the able seamen arid the privates, have little to offer in civil employment, and in areas of high unemployment they are out of work. There is no question about that.
Some of the man's pension may be disregarded by the National Assistance Board in making up allowances, and all three members of the family will 855 have refunded from the Board National Health Service charges for teeth, spectacles and prescriptions. The man will require what welfare food he can get from the school far his child, that is milk and orange juice and so on, but where does he find the money for that? Again he has to obtain it from National Assistance.
How does the man get a house at present day excessive prices and rents? Admittedly, he receives a terminal grant of £400, but how far will that go towards a house and equipment? He will not be an attractive council house tenant. In any case today council houses are limited mainly to slum clearance tenants and therefore the able seaman or the private will be the victim of the speculator in condemned or near-condemned houses. The man, his wife and child are already objects of charity, as they have been throughout the centuries, and it will not be long before he has to seek charitable aid and undergo a second means test from his ex-Service organisation and the British Legion.
I challenge the Financial Secretary to tell the House what National Assistance benefits and unemployment benefit an ex-able seaman or private can obtain and for how long? He may require clothing, bedding and shoes from National Assistance. What a start in a new life at the age of 50 in the Tory affluent society. The hon. Gentleman has plenty of time to find out by his bush wireless what the figures are. If he can produce a better picture than I have, so much the better. If he has not got the National Assistance figures, I can provide him with the documents—
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member, but he mentioned a retirement age of 50—
§ Commander Pursey
The Minister of Defence should have his photograph taken for a recruiting poster, in the pose of Kitchener in the First World War, pointing his finger and saying, "Your Country Needs You," with a second 856 slogan "See the World at Government Expense—and after 25 years' service return to National Assistance." A recruiting pamphlet should also be produced to show what can be obtained by an ex-A.B. or private from the Welfare State and National Assistance after his 25 years' service in one of the Defence Services.
The main arguments in this serious and distressing matter—for serious distress there is amongst these people, as well as those referred to by the hon. Member for Ashford—of the grossly inadequate long-service pension for the lower ranks can be summed up as follows. First, the fact that the basic pension of the able seaman and the private after 22 years', or even 25 years' service—is only £2 1ls. 4d. a week, or 2s. 2d. below the National Assistance level, is a national scandal and, after ten years of Tory misrule, is a disgrace to the Tory Government and the Tory Party.
Second, the Government should forthwith take steps to make an appreciable increase in the basic pension of the lower ranks. Third, the vast difference between the general's £2,000 to £3,300, plus superlative pension, and the grossly inadequate £133 a year for the lowest ranks should be greatly reduced by stepping up the lower level to a much higher level.
Fourth, pious Tory Motions, such as the one we are now discussing, saying:… that pensioners should continue to share in the good things which a strong expanding economy will bring …are not enough. That is nonsense, anyway, as I have shown, and mere bunkum in an attempt to camouflage the fact that the pension of the lower rating is based on scales lower than National Assistance.
Fifth, what is required is not "pie in the sky" but "pie on the plate," and fair shares for the able seamen and privates as well as for the generals after a full period of service for the State. Sixth, the present several different rates of pensions for the same period of service because of different dates of award—the point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, and I am with him there—should be completely abolished.
Seventh, there should be one rate of pension for the whole grade for the 857 same period of service, and all increases should apply to all pensions, whatever the date of award. Eighth, all pensions should be tied to the cost of living, and full increases made without undue delay.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Sir Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) will not expect me to follow him in his interesting historical review of naval pensions. I found it interesting to go back with him to the Crimean War and to learn that people then thought in terms of farthings, halfpennies and pennies, but I can truthfully say that the whole thinking of the House and the country has changed radically since those days. Today's rates of pension bear no relation to those of the past. I would add that it is universally recognised that these pensions are given to those who have earned them as a matter of right, and in no sense as a matter of charity.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman was, perhaps, a little unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who introduced the Motion, when he suggested that my hon. Friend was probably much more interested in senior officers and better-off people than in the ordinary man. The whole philosophy on this side of the House indicates an interest in people of all ranks, with no exclusion. I feel that that philosophy was behind my hon. Friend's Motion and his speech, and I most sincerely congratulate him on the very able way in which he made his case. He has a well-thought-out Motion, which needs no Amendment and can call for united support from all sides of the House.
I emphasise that on this side it is not intended as a mere pious Motion, that we mean business and want action from the Government as soon as we can get it. I am with my hon. Friend in all that he said about the pensions of the Armed Forces, but I should like to say something about those others who are re-referred to in the Motion, such as the pensioners and the widows of those formerly in the Colonial Civil Service, the Overseas Service and the Sudan Civil Service.
I do not propose to make a long speech, because on an occasion like this the more speeches that are made the 858 better. I well remember that in a previous debate we were given the wisdom of a former Financial Secretary to the Treasury—now the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall)— who pointed out that in matters like this the more who speak the greater the impression on the Treasury. That is what we want—to make a great impression on the Treasury.
This is in no way a new subject— it has been discussed in the House on innumerable occasions—and it has the sympathy of all, including all my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench. We had a useful discussion immediately before the Christmas Recess on overseas pensions, initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney). If I may say so, there is perhaps no hon. Member who has done more for the Overseas Civil Service pensioners than he has; we have great admiration for the way in which he has stuck to his guns on this matter.
It was in that debate that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury so shrewdly said:… the difference … is between the whole House of Commons and the Treasury …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1961; Vol. 651, c. 1601.]I think that that is so.
Bearing in mind that it is the view of the House of Commons as opposed to the Treasury view, it is quite fair that on this occasion we should ask the Government to regard the difficulties of these pensioners, and the widows, as a first charge in the next economic phase. Surely the Government cannot find anything to disagree with in that. The House has frequently paid tribute to the members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service, and there is no doubt that their devoted work has done much to make the Commonwealth of today possible.
Perhaps the matter was best expressed nearly two years ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), now the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. He said of these men:… upon this … select body of men depends …the success of everything that we are trying to do in the emergent countries … they are teachers of the most important skill which our country has to impart to others 859 —that of fair and just administration … —they are ambassadors for our way of life."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1960; Vol. 626, c. 1133.]That is so, but in spite of this I think that all hon. Members believe that those same men are allowed to retire on pensions that are totally inadequate to their needs. Some suffer hardships—many suffer great hardship—and I believe that that is especially so amongst the older men who had to retire on far lower rates of pension. Their need today is great, and it is, perhaps, worth recalling that they were the people who went overseas in the real pioneer days, when it was real hardship, when they had no modem drugs and the risk of serious and possibly permanent illness was always there. They are the people who should now have the greatest help.
For a great many of them time runs fast, and I urge the Financial Secretary to realise that in many of these cases help must be given before it is too late, because if we do not act quickly it will be beyond our power to be of help to them. The Treasury has often fobbed us off by saying that in truth the charge should be a charge on the overseas Governments of the newly independent territories and not on Her Majesty's Government. We should recognise that we recruited those men in this country and posted them wherever we needed them, often regardless of their individual choice.
It seems that if the emergent countries do not have the financial strength to look after these people we should recognise what is a very clear moral obligation. It may be that if we do not want to make the payments directly we could make them indirectly. After all, we are giving massive sums in aid to these territories and I cannot see why we cannot make it an essential part of that aid that they should meet these obligations which all hon. Members feel are justified.
In this matter there has been a blot on our record. We now have the chance, if the Motion is accepted, to begin taking steps to put the matter right. There are many people in the overseas services and in the Armed Forces who have given to this country devoted service but who find themselves 860 in great need. The matter is urgent. It cannot wait, and I urge the Financial Secretary to accept the Motion without any reservations of any kind.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I have spoken on this subject on numerous occasions since I came to the House, from both sides, on what has always seemed to me quite a simple thing. It is that since the Government must bear the responsibility for the value of what is their currency, they are under an obligation to pay their obligations in good money. That seems a quite simple proposition.
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who so ably opened the debate, suggested that the solution of this problem was the conquest of inflation. That may be so, but that philosophy would merely postpone the solution because inflation is going on all the time and will continue to go on. I speak today strictly for myself. I believe that a buoyant economy requires a measure of inflation. I look back to history and to the times of stable or falling prices. Those are the times of misery, starvation and unemployment. When our economy is working well prices are rising. Three to 4 per cent. a year may be the amount by which it is necessary to write off one's debts.
As I say, I speak for myself and I realise that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not agree with me. They believe that inflation should be fought all the time and that it should be stopped. Nonetheless, it is their actual policy. Time and again prices have gone up, and there was a 2 per cent. rise last month. That will go on because hon. Gentlemen opposite are not a party of Enochs communing with God. That is not the way they work. I wish they did.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health is my favourite character in the Tory Party. If we had his sort of view then Toryism would fulfil its proper function—of a nasty medicine applied periodically to an advancing economy—and we should not have had them hanging about for twelve years. But the austere prophet is not the real exemplar of the Tory Party. The exemplar of hon. Gentlemen opposite is a 861 much more human figure, the figure of the lady who… whispering 'I will ne'er consent',— consented.Look how they consent, to the dockers, to the Surtax payers, to the 77 unions we have heard about, and to the property owners and shareholders who are not having any real Excess Profits Tax. Maybe it is the course of piety, virtue and prudence to resist, but surely this Government must know that a girl cannot always win. Considering their past experience, I say strongly to hon. Gentlemen opposite that, in this game which is going on, it is utterly indecent to place the burden on those least able to bear it, particularly on public servants and especially on retired ones. There is no sense in this and no decency, either.
If one is seeking to recruit and is offering a career and pension as part of that offer then the things being offered represent, in a sense, deferred pay. People are not going to go on accepting that deferred pay when they know it will be paid to them in bad money. In this connection, I refer to a report which was recently published by a committee of the Army League on the subject of officer recruitment. The report stated:If government fail to maintain the purchasing power of the retired pay offered to young men on joining they in their turn, when they have retired, may well find themselves in the same position as older retired officers today and their confidence is bound to be undermined.The report continued:Officers' serving pay and future pensions are now reviewed biennially to keep them in line with the cost of living. National Insurance pensions are also reviewed and have been kept ahead of inflation. Disability pensioners and war widows are awarded the latest rates whenever these pensions are improved. But illogically the pensions of regular officers already retired and officers' widows are said to be immutable. Their conditions of award should be revised and in the same way as serving pay, these pensions should be constantly reviewed and increased fairly and squarely with increases in the general cost of living. In this way, the confidence of traditional Service families, an important source of officer recruitment, will be restored, and a gap will be closed in the otherwise greatly improved career structure of the Army.That dealt, of course, with officers' pensions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has often pointed out, there are as many Service 862 families in the other ranks as among the officers. It is from these families that we are getting the very best of our recruits.
By treating retired uncles, and, indeed, even worse in the case of these widows, mothers, grandmothers and aunts, in this shabby way we are creating a bias against recruitment in the very places where we get our best recruit. And for so little money. When we think what we are paying in order to get the recruits for our professional services, the cost of this kind of grievance is trivial. Let us compare it for a moment. Let us for a moment take the case—as the hon. Member for Ashford said, the hardest case of all—of the widows. I have here lists of them—widows of distinguished officers now drawing National Assistance, and, perhaps even more tragic, widows who will not draw National Assistance. I remember one letter—I quoted it before—which read:With my husband's rank and good service, I would rather starve than go to National Assistance. I have severe arthritis in both legs. Am also a diabetic and must go to hospital for treatment each month. I am only a ranker's widow with no private means.What is the cost involved? About £300,000. We can add that amount to the Colonial Service Vote and we still have not got the price of the annual upkeep of the Royal Yacht. In all conscience, if the Queen's Services cannot be treated with this greater decency, if we cannot afford that, then we are not a society which can afford a Royal Yacht.
Again, let us take the next figure, the figure necessary to bring all these Service pensions up to the limit which we are now offering as our bargain to the people whom we are asking to come in. and that is doing less than to bring those pensions up to their purchasing power at the date they were offered and when the bargain was made. But to bring them all up to the present, as we do in National Insurance and all the other things, it would cost about £15 million. Compare that with the other things on which we spend £15 million. Then, if we did this not only to Service pensions but to all pensions the cost would be £60 million or £70 million.
Our private independent deterrent costs £200 million, and does it exist for 863 much more than prestige purpose? Does it really follow that the honour and prestige of this country would not be served even if we spent up to one-quarter of that sum to treat those who have served the Queen honestly in all capacities with ordinary decency and honesty? That is what we are up against.
This is not a big figure. Even if we say, taking these Service pensions—and they are different from any reasons we have given—there may be a stronger case, but even with the stick-in-the-mud argument which we always get from the Government that "If we do this we shall have to do it in other cases", with the sort of level of Budgets today, can one even budget with any accuracy or with any idea that at the end of the year one's figures will come out within £60 million or £70 million of what one thinks they are?
We are dealing with a marginal payment which is really too small for Budgetary forecasts, even if we do it for the lot, and that is really the price of the honour of our community in respect of those who have served us in the past.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
I am very glad to follow the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who, I am sure, always speaks with sincerity. However, I am sorry that he brought in the question of the value of the nuclear deterrent. He will recognise, of course, that there are differences of opinion in the House on that subject, but the very men dealing with the new deterrent are those drawing pensions, those concerned with what he said. I will not follow that line of argument, because it would be out of order in this debate.
I thought that the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) was less than fair to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). I got the impression that he covered a wide field of pensioners both in the Colonial Service and in the Armed Forces, of all ranks, and made certain criticisms, but in saying that I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend on what I thought was one of the best expositions of the case that I 864 have heard in the House of Commons since 1945. I am sure that the whole House and the country are indebted to my hon. Friend for bringing forward this Motion today.
My hon. Friend was kind enough to refer to the Motion which stands in my name and in the names of about 230 other hon. Members on both sides of the House. Here I should like to express my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. E. Johnson) for the part he played in getting that Motion under way. I think that it is generally recognised that if one gets over 200 signatures the House is really concerned about the problem. I pressed the matter week after week on my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench and we were told, "It is being looked into." Today, we do not intend merely to be told that this matter is to be looked into. At the end of the debate we want some information: but I will refer to that later.
The various societies and organisations looking after the interests of pensioners have, I think, done an extremely good job. I refer to the Officers' Pensions Society, the British Legion and others who are struggling with very limited funds to represent the cause of the people in their organisations. I recognise—I try to see all paints of view in the matter—the need for the Government's wages policy because unless that wages policy is maintained and inflation, which has been referred to, is checked, the very people who will suffer will be the pensioners and those on small fixed incomes.
As we have been told in recent weeks, the economy is improving. We must have our priorities in the correct order, and surely these very people, particularly the widows, are top of the list. The nurses, with whom all in the House and in the country have great sympathy, are wealthy, especially the younger ones, compared with the widows we are discussing today. I do not think that one could put in too strong language the desperate plight in which they are living. We must get away from the idea that retired officers' and widows' pensions are immutable. Thirty-nine per cent. of officers over 60 years of age are from time to time awarded some pension increase. It is 5 per cent, here, sometimes 865 a little more there, and sometimes less, but that does not by any means meet the case. The older a retired officer becomes the more he has to reduce his standard of living as costs increase, and that is where it really hurts.
I am discussing all ranks, not just officers. In doing so, one must recognise, however, that most officers serve to a later age than the other ranks. It is more difficult for them to get employment in civil life. Since the war other ranks coming out of the Service as radar operators and technicians have had very little difficulty in obtaining civilian employment. Virtually, we have had full employment since the end of the war, well below the figure which has been mentioned by the Opposition.
The hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East spoke about the difficulties of these men. After twenty-two years' service they are still comparatively young, in their late thirties or early forties, and can easily get good and well paid jobs. That also must be taken into account.
But the most glaring hardship of all is that of the widows. These pensions were first introduced, I am told, in 1707. The hon. and gallant Member did not go back as far as that. He went back only 109 years.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I have no doubt. With regard to the period around 1880 to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred, perhaps the lone representative of the Liberal Party here this morning will, when he catches Mr. Speaker's eye, make reference to Mr. Gladstone's meanness at that time.
Until 1958 the widows of officers of the same rank received the same pension regardless of the date of bereavement. Those who became widows after 4th November, 1958, were granted improved pensions of one-third of their husband's retired pay. Before that date they were left on the old basic rates. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said, these were described by the Grigg Committee as ridiculously low payments. If the payment was low then, what is it today?
866 No other public service widow has been discriminated against in this way. Why should it be done to Service widows? They are not asking for the latest rates, but they should be taken off this century-old system and be put on the same basis as all Armed Forces and Civil Service widows.
Many officers' widows are receiving less than National Insurance pensions. In the defence debate earlier this year, I gave an instance of the widow of a lieutenant-commander and referred to the pension she was receiving and the fact that she was also receiving National Assistance. The Admiralty was kind enough to read my speech and the Civil Lord wrote to me for details, and I heard this morning that through a charity she has been given another £100 a year. I am very pleased about that. But this widow had a stroke of good fortune. That is not the way to approach the problem. The approach must be on a much wider basis.
I am told that there are 3,688 Regular officers' widows over 74 years of age. Some are widows of colonels, and some of commanders. But the people who are really hurt are the 2,570 widows of lieutenants in the Royal Navy, captains in the Army and flight-lieutenants in the Royal Air Force, whose husbands mostly were rankers who had risen to commissioned rank. They get a pension of £127 2s. per annum. The State widow's pension last year was £149 10s. Surely that is not justice.
As the hon. and learned Member for Northampton said, there are many of these cases. There is the case of the widow of a major, who is 84 years of age, receiving a Service pension of £167 14s. and National Assistance of £1 15s. a week.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
I shall come to that if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me to make my speech in my own way. I did not interrupt him during his speech, and he went on for 40 minutes.
There is an instance of an Army captain's widow aged 83 receiving a Service pension of £127 2s. per annum and National Assistance of £1 10s. 6d. per week. This is not good enough.
867 As has already been said, some of our best tradition arises through recruitment from the Service families generation after generation. They do not have to be encouraged by looking at television advertisements to enter the Armed Forces. They do so because there is a tradition in their families. I have paid visits to Cranwell and elsewhere, and I know that the very best young men there are the sons of these families. They are not necessarily the sons of officers. The sons of all ranks decide to follow the careers of their fathers and grandfathers.
But these families have become embittered over the treatment which is given. The young men see the hardship and the unfairness of the way in which their relatives have been treated, and it is discouraging them from going into the Services. When we are told by Service Ministers that they have had slightly to lower the standard at Dartmouth and Cranwell or elsewhere, that is the reason. It is happening because we are losing the traditional entrants, and we cannot afford this.
The widows of officers and other ranks bereaved before 4th November, 1958, should be granted one-third of their husband's retired pay. The principle of immutability should be abandoned for the Armed Forces. Retired officers under 60 years of age should not be excluded from receiving Service pensions increases. One can easily get a job when one is 40, but when one is 54 or 55 it is a different story—especially if one has lived in difficult climates overseas and suffers from dysentery and all the other things involved in long service overseas. This applies, of course, to other ranks.
The widows of other ranks discharged before 1st September, 1950, receive no Service pension, except the widows of certain warrant officers Class I. The only pension received by many of these widows is the old 10s. a week State widow's pension which has never been increased. I hope that I am meeting the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point in mentioning that.
The widows of other ranks discharged between 1st September, 1950, and 4th November, 1958, receive very small pensions provided that the husband completed long service, thirty-two years for 868 a private or corporal and twenty-seven years for a sergeant. For example, the widow of a corporal with full service receives 11s. 7d. a week, and the widow of a sergeant with twenty-seven years' service 11s. 7d. a week plus a child's pension of 4s. 2d. a week.
The widows of other ranks discharged on or after 4th November, 1958, can all receive the improved rate of one-third of the husband's pension provided that the husband has completed twenty-two years' service. For example, the widow of a corporal with twenty-two years' service receives 18s. 4d. per week or, if the corporal had thirty-two years' service, 31s. 8d. per week, and that of a sergeant with twenty-seven years' service 34s. 8d. a week with a child's pension of 11s. 6d. a week.
This pensions business, as I see it, with all the different grades is most complicated to follow. I do not know how the Treasury does it. The whole system wants overhauling and simplifying.
I do not think that we can be told today merely that the Government will look into the matter and that, possibly, there will be legislation in the next Session. The total cost involved in these improvements for widows, even if we include those of other ranks, is under £1 million a year. Therefore, I must ask the Financial Secretary, who is a goodhearted man, to look into the matter and exert every conceivable pressure he can upon the Cabinet, because unless something is done for the widow before this Session finishes there will be trouble. I do not often utter threats from these benches, but I must say that there is a considerable amount of dissatisfaction.
Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend to give the Prime Minister and his colleagues the full gist of this debate and ensure that something is done for the widows and also that the matter of pensions overall is looked into and dealt with when the economy improves. Something must be done for the widows. I recognise that it may have to be done by easy stages, but I ask that something shall be done for them over the next three months.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
I welcome the Motion introduced so eloquently by the hon. Member for 869 Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and congratulate him upon his success in the Ballot. I do not propose to cover the whole field dealt with in the Motion, but I want to make it clear that I approve of his observations on the subject of retired overseas civil servants. I think it is true that we owe them some debt of honour.
I intend to direct my remarks mainly to those who serve in the Armed Forces. I am sufficiently old to recall, though not fully to have experienced, the unhappy years in the 'twenties and 'thirties when the men who had been called heroes in the 1914–18 war were trudging the streets trying to find jobs in order to earn sufficient to live on.
Fortunately, in the days since the last war the conditions have not been so severe, but to some extent history has been repeating itself. Owing to the erosion in the value of the pensions granted, there are undoubtedly many retired people from the Services, officers and other ranks, who feel discarded and forgotten, and there is undoubtedly a considerable amount of despair and exasperation. This is intensified by these anomalies and inequalities which arise very largely from the so-called principle of immutability—the idea that once a pension has been granted, however many years ago, it must not be altered. In fact, there have been modifications, as hon. Members know, but. if anything, these modifications and pensions increases have tended to widen the inequalities rather than to lessen them. There are undoubtedly great disparities, and the main effect of these is to cause the older men to reduce their standard of living more than those who retired more recently, and that, again, is true of all ranks.
Many examples have already been given, and I am not going to burden the House with many more. A major who retires on the 1962 code will get 95 per cent. more than one who retired ten years ago received. That is nearly double, and he will also receive a terminal grant of £2,790, while the one who retired 12 years ago receives nothing. It is very difficult to explain the reasons for these disparities, and illustrations can also be provided in the case of other ranks.
The most striking examples of hardship and distress are found among the 870 widows, and I think that is generally agreed. Following the Report of the Grigg Committee, a hard-and-fast line was drawn between the widows of those who died before 4th November, 1958. and those who died afterwards. A distinction is made between what are called "existing widows" and "future" widows. The word "existing" is ironical, because, in many cases, that is exactly what it is; they are existing, and a number of them are having to rely on National Assistance. A captain's widow, aged 83, is living on a pension of £127 per annum.
I think I am right in saying that there are a number of the older widows who not only have to rely on National Assistance but are in a position in which their pension is of no value at all, because if they were receiving no pension they would get the same amount from National Assistance. These are the widows of men who have had many years in the Services and had risen to comparatively high rank; this also in spite of the increases given in 1956 and 1959 under the Pensions (Increase) Warrants. There is the case of a widow of a lieut.-commander, 80 years of age, who wrote:I am having to rely on National Assistance, and I am often cold and hungry while waiting for my pension.There is the case of the widow of a Lieut.-colonel who wrote:I have had to cut down on food this month to buy a much wanted pair of shoes. I have tried to get work, but my age is against me.Her age is 72. The widow of a lieut.-commander writes:I avoided applying for National Assistance by working hard, but my health has broken down. I must now swallow my pride and apply for National Assistance.It may be said that that is all wrong and that there should not he any pride, but we all know quite well that there is that feeling.
Next, there is the case of the widow with children. As I understand it, "existing widows" of all officer ranks receives £37 per annum for a child up to the age of 16. That is the total amount for feeding, clothing and educating a child, and at the age of 16 it is reduced to £32. One can understand this feeling of despair. Reverting again to the elderly widow, I am told, and I think 871 hon. Members have already mentioned it, that there are about 5,000 of these "existing widows" who are receiving no increase. No doubt, they are dying off, and, perhaps, that is the policy—simply to let them die off—but, surely, while some hard-hearted statistician may say that this is the best solution, we can find some more humane remedy than merely to wait until they die.
I am told that the Government have said that these ladies cannot be singled out for special treatment, but surely it is not a case of special treatment being asked for but of the adverse treatment that they are now receiving. The hon. Member for Ashford asked what we were to do. I have studied the recommendations put forward by the British Legion, the Officers' Pension Society and in the numerous letters written to me. I say, first, that we should abolish this distinction between the widows whose husbands died before and those who died after 4th November, 1958. I can see no rhyme nor reason in it. Let them all be treated alike. Secondly, let us bring more into line the pensions of those who retired in past years with pensions of those who retired more recently. It may be that we cannot go as far as Sir Gerald Gibbs suggested, but I am sure that something could be done to remove some of these extreme inequalities.
I have also noticed a recurring theme in the various memoranda sent to me, and it is a demand for a regular review. In the concluding remarks of a statement sent to me by the British Legion, containing some very interesting tables of figures, there is this sentence:This table stresses the need for a regular review of pensions.For some time, I have advocated, not only for service pensions but for public servants, that there should be a biennial review, but that does not mean that we should not do something now. It does not mean that the Government should wait for two years to act, but that, over and above any immediate action taken, we should introduce some regular review the results of which could be published in a White Paper, in order that these matters may be brought to the attention of Parliament at regular intervals, and, incidentally, help to take this question outside the realm of party politics.
872 I have tried to bring this about by introducing a Private Member's Bill, so that this should be brought to the attention of Parliament at regular intervals. With regard to those who have been in the Services, I think it would be an additional advantage, and would help to overcome the difficulty arising from the fact that pensions are granted under the Royal Warrant and are therefore not so easily debated. I think the regular review would result in regular debates in this House. I introduced my Private Member's Bill on 27th March, 1962, and I am not going to take this opportunity to deliver a Second Reading speech on my own Bill, although it was on almost precisely the same subject as the Motion now before the House.
The object of the Bill was twofold— to ensure that we should have comparative figures showing the pensions paid to those who retired in past years and pensions being granted now, and to provide a special cost-of-living index appropriate to the elderly. It is sometimes said in answer to those who ask for a special old-age pensioners' index that that would not necessarily be to their benefit, because standards of living might rise and they might get increases even more than the index of their cost of living. I do not think that that applies to Service pensions.
But in my Bill, which the House gave me leave to introduce, I propose two criteria. One is the comparison between past pensions and current pensions and the other is the special cost-of-living index. It is not limited to Service pensions but also covers public service pensions, and I have no doubt that if my Bill were carried it would bring to light many anomalies and hardships. There is a specially strong case for Service pensions and I very much regret that my Bill has not made better progress. Unfortunately, each Friday it has met that familiar word, "Object". I quite understand the reasons for objecting to a Bill which has not been discussed by the House.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) will not proceed further along a course which he himself knows is not right.
§ Mr. Wade
I do not propose to proceed further on that. I have mentioned it only because the Bill has a direct bearing on the subject of the debate and because I am most anxious that something should be done. All I am saying, and I then dismiss the subject, is that I regret that a Bill on this subject, presented to the House under the Ten Minutes Rule procedure, should be objected to when it had the support of Members of all parties. I am sorry that it has not made further progress and I am bound to say that I think that that is due to deliberate obstruction by the Government. It appears to me that they have no intention of allowing the Second Reading of this Bill to take place.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am afraid that the hon. Member is being less than fair in proceeding with something which he knows to be out of order.
§ Mr. Wade
I am trying to make the point that my Bill is one of the remedies. The hon. Member for Ashford asked what we could do, and I think that there is immediate action which can be taken.
The biennial review which I have advocated would also provide the long-term answer, because problems of this kind will continue to arise. It would bring to light a number of injustices, some mentioned today. The danger is that we have a debate like this, and perhaps something is done, and then the storm blows over and the whole subject is forgotten. I do not intend that it shall be forgotten if I can help it, and I think that that goes for some hon. Members opposite.
I have had many letters, many of them rather sad, but there is at least one in a somewhat lighter vein. It comes from a retired colonel. I hope that I shall not be out of order in quoting a letter which incidentally mentions my Bill. Having regretted that my Bill has not received a Second Reading, this correspondent says:I have always found that if you do not at first succeed, the thing to do is to have another go at it. I well remember a Brigadier during the war telling me when I wanted the use of a Tank Corps workshop which he had misappropriated for canteen stores 'Over my dead body will you get it'.874 He goes on to say how he got it through certain other channels and he says:I am afraid I do not know much about Parliamentary procedure, but I have no doubt you will eventually succeed.I hope for the sake of the pensioners whose cause we are debating today that we shall succeed.
There is a widespread feeling that the Government's attitude on this subject has been far too callous. I have made my point about my Bill—perhaps out of order—but I recognise that there are hon. Members in all parties who are concerned about this subject. I hope that one result of the debate will be that some action will be taken. I am not particularly interested in what Mr. Gladstone said or did in 1885, but about what happens now and I hope that something will be done for these people in order that Parliament may be able to say that it has acted honourably towards those who have given many years and in some cases most of the working years of their lives to the service of their country.
§ 1.6 p.m.
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Waver- tree)
I hope that the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) will forgive me if I do not follow him on the topic which he raised, but many of my hon. Friends want to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and time is reasonably short. However, it is time in this debate, the dualism of which has already been recognised in a brilliant speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), now to swing back for a short time to overseas pensioners. I should like first to thank my hon. Friend for embodying in his Motion part of another Motion in my name and now that of 120 other Members, though most from this side of the House.
I will not labour in detail the need of various cases despite the fact that premiums were taken compulsorily from overseas servants yet un-funded. It has been established beyond peradventure in the debates on this subject, particularly that on 21st December, 1961, that these widows and pensioners are in considerable need. During that debate, my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that most Governments 875 had responded well and he went on to say:… if the House ever desires the information it is quite possible to publish the state of play' at any given time in a Written Answer."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1961; Vol. 651, c. 1604]But what happened when I tried to find out the "state of play"? On 12th March, I asked about Ghana and Malaya and received a reply from the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations saying that pension increases granted by independent Commonwealth Governments were a matter for those Governments. So it has been virtually impossible to find out the "state of play." But my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Technical Co-operation wrote only the other day to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) saying:We will continue to keep up the pressure,and in another letter he said:What we have done, and continue to do, is to draw the attention of Governments, both independent and dependent … to the increases provided by the U.K. Pensions (Increase) Acts …But when I asked what reply we got from the Government of Ghana after drawing their attention to the Pensions (Increase) Act, my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations said that the letter sent on 19th January, 1960, calling that Government's attention to the Act, did not call for a reply.
I have had the same sort of reply a number of times. It seems that there is lack of administrative co-operation between various Government Departments in this respect. Yet I have here a letter from the Colonial Office, dated 9th January last, to the Secretary of the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association saying:… I am directed by Mr. Secretary Maudling to inform you that a personal request for early action in this matter has recently been sent to the Governor.That was the Governor of Gambia. Is there one approach for a big country and another approach for a small? Or is it that in the past we have just forgotten about the pensioners of territories overseas?
I understand the Treasury argument to be twofold. First, that the overseas 876 pensioners were employed by overseas Governments, and secondly, that two-thirds of the Governments concerned have paid out well. On the first point—that these pensioners have always been employed by overseas Governments—I ask my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury a question I have asked him before but to which I have never had an answer. When was the principle that the overseas civil servants were employed by overseas Governments first enunciated? I have here a letter from an overseas civil servant who says:We were appointed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, were posted by him to the territories in which we served, we were governed by Colonial Regulations … drawn up by the Secretary of State, and never applied in any territory by the local legislature. We were disciplined by him if we misbehaved ourselves, and if we fell sick were medically boarded, and if unfit for further service we were compulsorily retired by the Secretary of State. The Governor of the territory was under the Control of the Secretary of State and obeyed his orders; if he didn't he got the sack !What happens when one asks the Secretary of State about this? On the 12th April last I asked him… what steps were taken "—I emphasise the word "were"—to inform ex-members of the Colonial and Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Services, on first appointment, that the responsibility to pay pensions lay with overseas Governments.The reply was:An offer of appointment is made to the public service of a particular territory. Is is accompanied by a statement of the principal conditions of service in that territory … "— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1962; Vol. 657, c. 1483.]That may be so, but I am talking of the past, of many years ago. I have documents here dating from 1919, long before Ghana was ever heard of. Two are letters of appointment. The first says:… you are to understand that you will be subject to any regulations which may hereafter be introduced by or with the sanction of the Secretary of State.A letter of appointment in 1928 said:You should understand that you will also be subject to any regulations which may be hereafter introduced by, or with the sanction of, the Secretary of State.There is nothing there about employing Governments, but admittedly both letters 877 refer to regulations on pensions published by the Colonial Office in 1913 and in 1927. I have looked carefully through those regulations. There is not one word about overseas employing Governments in either document. The Secretary of State, however, is mentioned in virtually every paragraph. I fail to understand the Treasury's argument. I hope that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will tell us when this principle was first enunciated, and where.
All hon. Members have much sympathy with what Lord Boyd said in another place. He was Secretary of State for over five years and it was his belief then that he, as Secretary of State, and the Colonial Office were responsible. He stated, in Colonial No. 306 in 1954, that it was one service under the Crown. I hope that the Government will look into this very difficult position.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when he was Secretary of State, met the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association sixteen months ago and, according to a report I have here,He undertook to consider, if necessary in consultation with his colleagues, what more should be done if his present expectations of further increases during the current year were not largely fulfilled.That was sixteen months ago and it is worth remembering that Colonial Service pensioners die at the rate of one every day. Still one third of the territories fail to bring up their pensions to the level of those in the United Kingdom under the 1959 Act. This may only be a minority of pensioners, but since when have we in Britain decided that minorities do not matter? We have a moral obligation to see that they are all right and that we do not take the attitude, "I'm all right, Jack", or "the majority are all right".
I wish to say something about the Sudan pensioners in particular. The Sudan Civil Service used to regard itself as the elite of those serving overseas. But its members now find themselves as "cinderellas", particularly after the remark made on the 18th April by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland), who had asked him to 878 make further representations to the Sudan Government. The reply was:I do not consider the further representations to the Sudan Government would serve any useful purpose …In reply to a further question, he added:… we have no hope that any further representation will have any success."— [OFFICAL, REPORT, 18th April, 1962: Vol. 658, c. 485.]I agree that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State paid great tribute to the Sudan Civil Service, but he said that pensions were purely a matter for the Sudan Government. Is it surprising that a very famous man who has been Governor-General not of the Sudan but of Nigeria, but who spent most of his time in the Sudan writes:The pensioners, whom I represent, are now therefore left without any hope at all that they position will be alleviated, seeing that neither the Sudan nor the British Governments will help them. This situation seems to accord little with the many statements made by British Ministers at various times, such as that made by Mr. Eden in the House of Commons on the 12th of February, 1953, when he said:'Her Majesty's Government will certainly not forget what they have done, and will keep their interests in mind.'".One remembers also what was said at the Conservative Conference on 14th October last year:We intend in the coming years, as in the past, that the old shall share in the rising national prosperity.In 1959 we lent the Sudan £5 million. Last year we lent them £500,000 for aircraft, and in March of this year we promised them another £500,000 for veterinary research. These were admirable things to do, but surely we have to consider the people who made veterinary research and the whole state of Sudan possible? I hope that in anything that is done for the Overseas Civil Service the Sudan pensioners will be brought in on an equal footing.
Of course, it is really four territories about which we are talking, the worst offenders—Ghana, Malaya, Ceylon and Singapore. Ceylon even has the effrontery, when another territory puts up pensions, to dock from its part of the pension what another territory has given. I do not understand this.
§ Sir E. Boyle
It might be convenient if I make the point now because I do not want to make too long a speech at 879 the end of this debate. While in Singapore their increases in general have been inferior, they are equal or superior to United Kingdom Acts for the lowest pensions up to £350. In view of the fact that some territories pay less compared with Britain for the lowest pension, it is fair to point out that Singapore does more for the people at the bottom of the scale.
§ Mr. Tilney
That is done for political reasons, because most pensioners with less than £300 a year live in Singapore and have a vote.
I believe that there is a strong argument for the Government taking over these pensions and reclaiming the money from the Governments concerned. Why do not they do this? Is it that they are frightened that Ghana or the other territories will default? If they are frightened, surely the default should fall on the broad back of the Treasury rather than on the backs of poor pensioners? Why, if Ghana behaves like this, should we promise £5 million towards the Volta Dam? I do not understand why we cannot use the sanction of monetary power against people who do not look after our people—people who made their State possible.
I know that the Treasury will say that topping up is a risky business, for two reasons. First, that other territories would default on their basic pensions, and, secondly, that the increases which have been given by countries such as Nigeria—which has played the game very well indeed—would be lost, and Nigeria would feel aggrieved. But we already top up in the case of Pakistan. She pays a basic pension, and we top up, and have done so for years, so I do not understand why the Treasury appears not to be consistent.
There is, of course, a financial stringency, and to be fair to the Treasury point of view I should like to make two suggestions. I prefer the second to the first. The first is that a confidential private fund might be established, and we could then view sympathetically any request from those below the scale of the United Kingdom Pensions Increase Acts if they had no considerable income elsewhere. This would eliminate the necessity for pensioners to go on National Assistance, and it would also 880 enable countries which have carried out their moral obligations not to feel aggrieved. There might be some difficulty in estimating what would be required, but surely we could overestimate for the first year and carry forward a small reserve into the next? It might be a kind of charity, but at least it would be private.
I prefer another method, which is to draw a line on some date. Some may say that it ought to be in 1950 after the big surge of salary rises in the late 'forties. I would prefer a date such as the Independence of the Gold Coast, and on its becoming Ghana, which was later, and for the Government to say that they will be responsible for any topping up of the basic pension before that date.
If there is to be another Pensions Increase Act, to which reference has been made in the Press, it would be intolerable if nothing were done for the Overseas Civil Service pensioners. I am sure that something will be done for them, hut if, unfortunately, nothing were done, it would make the gap, for which we have a moral responsibility, even greater. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider this, because this affects us not only politically. It is much more important. It will affect recruitment from those whom we hope will continue to serve the Crown overseas, and they are wanted in large numbers. They are bound to be affected in their views.
Sympathy may be given from the Front Bench, but sympathy does not buy meals, and if nothing is done the pensioners, their friends, and the people will make up their minds about what they themselves will have to do.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I join in recognising how indebted the House is to the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deeds) for his comprehensive and exhaustive speech. He covered all categories of colonial and Service pensions.
I hope that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) will forgive me if I do not follow him on the subject of colonial pensions. I am sure that everyone recognises the injustice of the situation and the pressing 881 need for immediate action to deal with it. One can make passionate speeches stressing the hard cases, and point out the distress and misery which has undoubtedly been caused and give many instances in which this has happened.
Reference was made to widows and their Service pensions. I agree that here there is a very strong case indeed. The right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir R. Robinson) referred to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) and criticised his reference to the fact that in the last century payment was calculated in facthings. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman was right in his criticism when one considers the relationship in regard to the value of money.
I want to deal with the matter referred to by the hon. Member for Ashford at the end of his speech, when he was dealing with Service families. I want to quote a typical instance, the case of a constituent of mine about whom I wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for War at the beginning of this year. My constituent's father served as a Regular soldier. He retired in January, 1911, volunteered in 1914, and was fully discharged in 1918, having served for twenty-six years. He received a pension of 22s. 9d. a week. At that time it meant that with this glorious sum a week he could buy 10 cwt. of coal, pay the rent on his house, and have 4s. 8d. left for cigarettes and other comforts.
His son—and this is an example of a Service family where the tradition of serving in the Army was carried on—joined the forces (in 1919. He served in Southern and Northern Ireland, twice in Germany, in Belgium, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and retired with the rank of warrant officer. He took his pension as a sergeant after twenty-six-and-a-half years' service, that is, half a year more than his father. He gets a pension of 27s. 4d. a week, enough to buy 2 cwt. of coal and have 4s. 4d. left over. The Financial Secretary will say, "He can take a job." But this is a pension; this is a payment made by a grateful country for loyal service given to it.
882 I have referred to the £1 7s. 4d. that my constituent got. In the days when my constituent served, the prospects of promotion were very poor, because of the set establishment. There was a host of unpaid lance-corporals and acting sergeants whose unpaid rank did not count for pension. It must also be remembered that my constituent's pension is taxed on the present taxing system, which is rather different from that of 1918. After completing twenty-two years' service today a sergeant receives £3 17s. 11d. a week, plus a gratuity of £607 15s. Moreover, I (understand that that pension will be increased in about July of this year. I do not suggest that that is too much; I dare say that a case could be made out for increasing it. But the comparison between the two rates of pension shows how badly treated is the older type of Service pensioner.
I communicated the contents of my constituent's complaint to the Under-Secretary of State for War, pressing on him the obvious unfairness, and the need for a review. In reply, he said that the Service pensions were not normally subject to change once they had been awarded, that the special increases granted by pensions increase warrants were not intended to restore fully the original purchasing power of the pension, and that they were paid only to those who had reached the age of 60—or 40 in the case of widows—or to those who, because of some infirmity, were permanently prevented from following regular full-time employment.
I understand that my constituent must wait until he is 60 before he receives an increase, and that the princely sum of £ 17s. 4d. that he is now getting will then be increased to £2 16s. 5d. a week. The Minister went on to say that to increase Service pensions generally, or to exempt them from Income Tax, would conflict with the Government's policy, and that he could hold out no hope of such a measure being adopted. That was presumably the Government's view in January of this year. I only hope that as a result of this debate that policy will be changed.
I have quoted what I regard as a typical example. It is patently unjust that those who have served their country so well should be treated so unfairly. It is obvious how much the value of 883 the pension has diminished. The Motion refers to a strong, expanding economy. I am not sure about the choice of those words, but I have no doubt that the case for a generous increase in Service pensions has been fully made out.
I have listened to the speeches of many hon. Members opposite, urging strongly upon the Government that something must be done. They contained a current of veiled threats about what action will be taken if nothing is done by the Government. I hope that the Government will listen to the speeches of hon. Members opposite, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will act upon their threats by taking as strong action as they can. Finally, I hope that the Government will not merely pay lip service to the Motion in piously accepting it, and doing nothing, but will take effective action to implement it in the near future.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine (Rye)
I am sure that most hon. Members present desire to catch the eye of the Chair, so the observations that I wish to make will be contained in a small compass. First, I support the excellent speeches which have been made not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who, in an attractive way, put his points forward for the consideration of the House, but also by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir R. Robinson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), in connection with ex-Colonial Service pensioners. After what has been said by my hon. Friends there is not much that can be added.
The reason why I strongly support the case is that whatever we may feel about the position of old pensioners they are in a special category, because they have not been receiving the rates of pension that they would have received had they continued in the service of the country. Secondly, they have served the Commonwealth well and are specially deserving of our support. My hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree put forward some all-embracing arguments, but I have heard the case put against them in three different ways, to which I shall refer briefly.
884 The first argument is that their case is the responsibility of the colonial territory concerned. That is not true, because we have already topped up some, and, having done that, I fail to see how that argument can possibly be logically applied to others. The second is that if we accept responsibility for them it will be unfair to the generous countries. My hon. Friend the Member for Waver-tree has dealt with that point. The Secretary of State is the person who moved these servants about in different parts of the Commonwealth, and he must accept liability for them, in which case they are entitled to the pension which they should rightly receive, paid by this Government. The third argument is that it might encourage default if the pensions were topped up. That argument is clearly dealt with by the fact that the Secretary of State and, through him, the Government are responsible.
Another factor is the amount of money involved if the Government agree to do what we ask. On my figures, 2,830 pensioners are receiving less than United Kingdom rates. The total cost of bringing them up to date would be £176,000. In addition, there are 2,300 widows, and it would cost £110,000 to bring their pensions up to United Kingdom rates. That makes a total of £286,000, and in comparison with the figures with which the Treasury is used to deal it is such a small amount that it would make very little difference if the Government accepted liability forthwith.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has gone off to have some well-earned refreshment, but perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Technical Co-operation will draw his attention to my next point. On 21st December, the Financial Secretary said that he would not write out a list of the Governments where improvements were being considered, but that if the House desired the information it would be possible to publish a statement at any given time, by way of a Written Answer.
Like the hon. Member for Wavertree, I tried this operation. My constituents are people who when they see something like that stated by a Minister of the Crown believe that it has some meaning. They suggested that I should put down 885 a Question to find out what the state of play was. There were certain difficulties which had to be overcome before the Question could go on to the Order Paper at all, and by the time that I got the Question down to the Chancellor asking for the state of play in the sort of language in which Questions have to arrive on the Order Paper, the first thing that happened was that I received a note to say that the Chancellor had transferred the Question to the Commonwealth Relations Office.
In due course I received a reply from the Commonwealth Relations Office which said quite simply, "None, Sir." Having overcome all the difficulties a few weeks ago, we get from a different Department the answer "None." I should like my hon. Friend to ask the Financial Secretary to be good enough to tell us what he meant when he said in December:We know of three at least where improvements are currently being considered."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1961; Vol. 651, c. 1604.]and how we can get a Written Answer which will tell us what the position is. If he is able to tell us today so much the better, but perhaps we could have some guidance for the future.
Just a word or two about Service pensions. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) suggested that it would be a good thing if we had inflation as a constant feature of our economy. I am happy to see the hon. and learned Gentleman in his place, because I want to congratulate him on the success which his Government had in achieving just that.
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
I was going on to claim our share.
I have here the total percentage rise in the cost of living on the various occasions when there have been Pensions (Increase) Acts. During the period 1945–50, there was a 57 per cent. increase in the cost of living. Between 1956–60, there was a 6 per cent. rise, which, of course, is a very modest amount compared with what the hon. and learned Gentleman's Government achieved.
§ Mr. Paget
The hon. Member should not underrate his efforts. After all, at that time there was a fall in the cost of living and a fall in the cost of our incomes. During our period of Government there was a rise in the cost of living elsewhere and in the cost of incomes very much larger than here. His great credit lies in beating the rest of the world at this game.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I hope that my hon. Friend, before accepting any nonsense like that, will bear in mind—
§ Mr. Godman Irvine
I understood the hon. and learned Member for Northampton to say that he thought I was being unfair in giving him credit for this enormous increase during those years. If I understood him correctly a little earlier, he said that the more inflation we had the better, and I was only taking a kindly interest in what his Government had achieved during that period. My point is that during the period which intervened before the last Pensions (Increase) Act, the total increase in the cost of living was 6 per cent. whereas between the last Pensions (Increase) Act and today there has been an increase of 10 per cent. So perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will give us a little credit for that.
The point I was going to make was that the time may well have arrived when the Government should give consideration to the question of a Pensions (Increase) Act. There seem to me to be certain matters which such an Act would not cover, and if the matter were left simply to a Pensions (Increase) Act we should still have the difficulty about the widows to which so many have referred today, widows who, in 1958, got one-third of their husbands' pensions. These regulations do not affect the pre-1958 widows, and it is in respect of those widows that I would ask the Government especially to have a look.
I know that if my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) has the privilege of catching 887 your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, he may refer to something in relation to National Assistance so far as widows are concerned. I feel that it is quite wrong that if there is a case where a widow should be receiving National Assistance because her rate of pension is well below, there is not some way whereby the Government can find out what the difference is and, without having to go to the National Assistance Office, see that the rate of pension is at least brought up to that level.
There are two other matters I wish to mention which would not be covered by a Pensions (Increase) Act in an adequate way. Not long ago I came across a constituent of mine who was invalided out of the Navy in 1889 as a boy, just after the Boxer Rebellion. His pension was well under £100 a year. He was an invalid and had been most of his life. When I saw him he had an invalid wife. A Pensions (Increase) Act will not help such a case in an adequate way.
The fact that we have Service pensions that have been brought up to a certain level in relation to the present levels of Service pay only means that those who are not qualified to receive those pensions feel that there is something just a little wrong about it. The other day someone who had retired twelve years ago told me that a man of the same rank as himself who had recently retired was receiving three times the pension that he was receiving. That is the sort of injustice which the Government must attack, whether we have a Pensions (Increase) Act or not.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I am very pleased to have the opportunity of taking part in this debate. I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) on being successful in getting three ballots in eighteen months; I should like to know how he does it. I should also like to congratulate him on the subject which he has chosen for debate and on the very excellent way in which he put his points. I think that it was one of the best speeches I have ever heard in the House, and I hope that it will have a very good effect on the Government Front Bench today.
888 I have supported both my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey) in their Motions, and I should like to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree that he may have another chance on Thursday to discuss the subject of overseas pensions and perhaps to get something worthwhile in the debate on the Jamaica Independence Bill.
Some weeks ago, I together with the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) received a deputation of overseas civil servants when in Jamaica. I know that they are particularly anxious in regard to their future. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford mentioned that a fundamental principle was that the pensions were immutable. Their immutability has been stressed on several occasions. He said they were as immutable as the Maginot Line, but the Maginot Line was well breached, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will breach the Treasury wall with this Motion today.
§ Miss Vickers
I think that the hon. and learned Member will remember that the pensions were tied to the cost of living.
§ Miss Vickers
I understand at one time pensions were tied to the cost of living and pensioners do not wish that ever to be done again because the cost of living does on occasions go down.
I hope that the necessary action will be taken for all the categories mentioned in this Motion. There is one category of pension, however, which has not been mentioned. I referred to this during the debate on the Navy Estimates, but I have not yet received a reply. I should be grateful, therefore, if my hon. Friend could today give me a definite assurance about it. The people whom we have been discussing today are mostly not affected by the pay pause. There has 889 been a continuous pause for them with regard to their pensions. But there are people serving today who are affected by the pay pause, people in the Armed Forces Who have their pay paid in two stages. They are anxious about what is to happen when they retire, because they may retire when they are getting less pay than they would have been receiving had the pay pause not been in force. Are they to retire on a pension based on the amount of money they have been paid on their retirement because of the pay pause? Or will they receive a pension based on the amount of money they would have received had there not been a pay pause? This is an extremely important point for a number of people who may find themselves facing a considerable financial loss in the year of their retirement.
In 1954 the Prime Minister said:Nor did we repeat the contemptuous gesture of September, 1951, by creating a division between the existing pensioners and the future pensioners."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1954; Vol. 530, c. 1480.]I regret to say, however, that we did not take the opportunity then to clear up these divisions between different categories of pensioners. It has been mentioned by several of my hon. Friends that there are many differences—in fact there are seven—in the pay codes. My hon. Friend the Member for Rye (Mr. Godman Irvine) referred to the increases in the cost of living. What he did not mention was the percentage increases to persons concerned. In the 1919 code as fixed in 1935 the first pension increase was in 1944. By then the cost of living had gone up by 57½ per cent. but the percentage increase for an officer over 60 had gone up by only 7½ per cent. As late as the 1956 code, which increased the pension in 1959, there was an 8 per cent. increase in the cost of living, but only an increase of 4 per cent. for officers. It is important to note that their rises have not in any way kept pace with the increases in the cost of living. Those who retired in January, 1962, had no rise when the cost of living went up by 6 per cent. so that they are not in line with the present cost of living figure.
Lord Beveridge said that a pension is a sum of money on which people depend for their livelihood when they are past work and on which their dependants depend when they are dead and 890 gone. Lord Beveridge was one of the greatest experts, and we have had the privilege of his advice for a great number of years. I fully agree with his statement. The people with whom we are concerned today are Service men and their widows, the Overseas Civil Service personnel, and particularly the Sudan people who were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree. I should like to include those civil servants in the Admiralty and the Admiralty constabulary because, to my mind, these people are facing difficulties.
In a debate in another place, it was said that when these people took their employment they signed a contract and the terms of service were well known to them. What they did not know, and what many of them could not visualise, was the possibility of there being two world wars and of what was going to happen regarding the cost of living and the devaluation of the £. For these reasons, I do not think it fair to say that they knew the terms of service when they signed the contract and that therefore they must abide by the decisions which they took. It is also the case that the Government decides at what age these people retire and, as was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey), the year in which a person retires can make a great difference.
I should like to have a definition of "hardship". Before I knew that this debate was to take place I wrote to the Secretary of State for Air with regard to Air Force personnel who retired in 1948 or earlier. What was contained in the reply which I received holds good, I gather, for all other Service personnel who retired then. The Minister said:I realise that the value of these pensions has been reduced by the rise in the cost of living since 1946. It is, however, a very long standing principle that public service pensions once awarded are not changed, except when the fall in the value of money has been such that pensioners are suffering real hardship.I should like to know what is the definition of "real hardship" because the cases which we have heard today would in my opinion point to real hardship.
I have a number of retired persons in my constituency and people who like to live in Devon because the climate 891 there is warmer perhaps than in other parts of England and more suitable to their health. We have Service people in large numbers because in the old days, before centralised drafting, people came from individual ports and made their homes there. Later they decided to retire there. I know of one widow aged 88 whose husband gave splendid service in the Royal Navy and she gets £127 in pension and National Assistance amounting to £3 5s. a week. I have a list of widows—eighteen in all—who are over 70 and, with one exception, they receive less than £200 a year in pension. One, the widow of a lieut-quartermaster receives only £70 9s., and National Assistance amounting to £1 6s. 6d. a week. I ask hon. Members how they think that these people can possible live even a reasonably comfortable life when receiving only those amounts of money.
It has been suggested that quite a number of people do not like to claim National Assistance. I have here a letter from someone who is receiving National Assistance and who states:Even with National Assistance, this is not living, it is just existing. I often have no food in the house for two days till the grant is due. I am often cold and hungry.This person was made a gift of £2 as a Christmas present, and she wrote:I was going to be alone, and was expecting my usual menu. Everything then seemed changed. I ran to invite a friend who is 84 to spend Christmas with me. Never had a chicken been more feted, with vegetables, a sausage each and a little seasoning. A baby plum pudding and a cup of coffee. A lovely fire, for I had bought a bag of coal. The Queen could not have been happier.The fact that £2 can bring so much happiness as that may make many of us feel guilty that we have not done more in the past to see that these people get a greater Share of the benefits of our so-called affluent society.
One of the greatest difficulties is that there are two classes of widow. There are those whose husbands died before 4th November, 1958; their husbands fought in one or two world wars. The second class is where the husband died after 1958. The first still gets a ridiculously low pension and the second gets one-third of her husband's retired pay. I should have thought that both these widows should be on the same 892 basis, especially bearing in mind that the first has gone through two world wars and probably brought up her family in very difficult circumstances. Surely she should be considered on an equal basis with the widow whose husband died after 1958.
When one is reminded that a Sandhurst cadet, on joining, gets £291 a year, plus his food and lodging, one sees the difference between them and these elderly people, and that, again, leads us to consider the dire necessity to take action now. We have heard a lot about student nurses and other nurses, for whom we have much sympathy, but a student nurse gets £10 a month, plus her board and lodging. The National Insurance widow is also better off than these Service widows. The Ministry of Pensions is more generous to a widow whose 'husband was not killed in the service of his country than we are to the widow whose husband was killed in the service of this country. If his death is not attributable to his service, his widow gets a better pension.
The Forces Pension Scheme of 1953 provided for the first time, for widows of other ranks to have some help. In reviewing this, the Grigg Report, Cmd. 455, pointed out that despite that, these pensions were still inadequate. I will not repeat the figures because they have been given several times, but I hope that this will be borne in mind when my hon. Friend replies.
I should like to refer to the difficulties experienced by the Admiralty constabulary. Most of these are ex-Servicemen; priority is given to ex-Royal Marines and ex-naval personnel. Their major difficulty is the continual change in their retirement age. The Admiralty wrote on 11th August, 1959, that retirement being reviewed at frequent intervals had the object of establishing as soon as possible whether any further lowering of the age, which was then 65, would be necessary during 1959. I gather that the Admiralty's object is to lower the number employed from 3,500 to 1,600. The age has since been lowered to 63 years.
The Treasury wrote on 1st April one of the most complicated letters which I have ever tried to read:The position of those who at the age of 60 have less than 20 years service is dealt with 893 by persuading them if possible to complete 20 years reckonable service. But where it is not possible to do so there is no entitlement to superannuation allowance other than reckon-able service at date of retirement.As the Admiralty are bringing down the age from 65 to 63 and possibly to 60, which is the Civil Service retiring age, I do not see how these people will ever get any reckonable service. I do not see how they can complete 20 years in order to get a pension under these conditions. I hope that this matter will be cleared up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree mentioned the Sudan. I have always taken a special interest in that country, and I supported his comments in a previous debate. I remind the House how few are concerned and how little they are receiving. Altogether 932 persons are receiving from £1 to £100 a year; 165 are receiving from £200 to £300 a year; and three are receiving from £1,400 to £1,500 a year. Of the widows, 192 are receiving £100 to £200, one is receiving £400 and one is receiving £500. Of the 932, 325 are between 60 and 70 years, 132 are between 70 and 80 and 17 are over 80. So I hope that notice will be taken of what my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree said. The Earl of Kimberley in a previous debate stated that this territory was the responsibility of what was then His Majesty's Government. I think that these people have a great claim on us.
I do not see why Service men's pensions should always be geared to the Civil Service retirement at 60 years of age, because the whole life of a Service man is sompletely different. I am not underrating the work of the Civil Servants, but I think that the whole House will agree that their life is less dangerous. They do not have to split up their families as Service people do. In particular, many of the people about whom we are speaking did not see their husbands for one or two years at a time. Transport is now much easier and, particularly in the Army and the Air Force, though not so much for the Navy, women go overseas with their husbands. In those earlier days, the present widows had a special responsibility in bringing up their children and managing their own home affairs alone. It is now purely at the Government's whim what the retiring age will be, and one studies 894 anxiously the Ministry of Defence White Paper to find out what is to be the future of many of these people.
I have here a book about the difficulties of ex-service people getting jobs. I agree with what was said on this point by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. This book gives a list of people who cannot find jobs in the Plymouth area, where we have not full employment. If you are a commander aged 49 or a major aged 52 or a squadron leader aged 42, it is not at all easy to get a job. These people cannot get their full pensions until they are 60. This is the point which I wish to bring home.
When they were giving their service, it was before the Welfare State—and I include all the people mentioned in the Motion; it was before the National Health Service and in many cases before fully free education. For these reasons they should have special considerations. Many of the Service men, as an insurance, invested their money in a house in order that their widows should have somewhere to live. One of the main difficulties of the moment is that these widows have not the money to keep up these houses. Repairs are falling due, but they cannot find the money for them. The other day a chimney fell from a house which I know very well and it cost nearly £50 to mend it. We had to try to find some voluntary funds because it was impossible for the owner herself to pay for it.
I want to end by making three suggestions to my right hon. Friend. In the first I do not think that I shall be particularly popular with some of the Service organisations. I feel strongly that we cannot wait for a Pensions (Increase) Act, because that will not help many of these people. For instance, 107 widows are dying every month. These old Service people are dying off in great numbers. I suggest that it might be considered possible for the Government immediately to pay a lump sum into some of the well known trusts. I am thinking, for instance, of the Greenwich Hospital Fund. I know that at the moment there is a waiting list of widows for this fund. If a lump sum could be paid in for these elderly women to help their immediate needs, it would be very acceptable.
895 I said at the beginning that I should not be very popular with the Service organisations because very naturally they are hoping for a more generous gesture on the part of the Government by way of a Pensions (Increase) Act. They may feel that if I put this point forward it may stop that happening. However, I know how long it takes to get Acts through and I sincerely hope that the Government will consider this suggestion.
Secondly, Service people do not pay into any pension fund. As we have a new State pension, could not they be allowed voluntarily, if they wish to, to pay into this Fund? They get much better pay now and many of them will not want to see their wives in the same position as they have perhaps seen their mothers and they may like to take this opportunity to pay into the Government pension fund.
Finally, I hope that pensions will be reviewed, as suggested in the Grigg Report, biennial, because this is the only way in which the Government can keep a continual eye on those who are really in need.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)
We cannot allow hon. Members opposite to monopolise the debate, otherwise we shall have to report this monopolistic attitude to the Restrictive Practices Court. I had no intention of intervening in the debate, but, as nobody from this side of the House appears to wish to address the House, I should like to say a few words. I have listened to much of the debate and the case has been deployed with considerable skill and undoubted sincerity. That sincerity is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I want to say this on behalf of the Labour Party, if it has not been said already. It may have been said before I came into the Chamber. The Labour Party would be unanimously in favour of increasing pensions, particularly of widows. This is a practical proposition which could be put into operation immediately, or, at any rate, without much delay. The Labour Party would also be in favour of some consolidation of all the pension schemes which are operating.
896 I want to address myself to two points only. One is a matter referred to by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir A. V. Harvey), who spoke not only with sincerity but at times almost with passion. I thought that he was going to pounce on his hon. Friend the Financial Secretary. At any rate, he spoke with great persistence and insistence and demanded that something should be done at once.
I will anticipate the speech that the Financial Secretary will make. He will express sympathy. There is no question about that. He will express heaps and heaps of sympathy. He will do that with the utmost amiability and undoubted sincerity, because I am sure that he agrees with what has been said. However, he will inform the hon. Member for Macclesfield and his hon. Friends and my hon. Friends and all concerned that it could not be done now, first, because if the Government do something for the widows there will be a demand by somebody else that something should be done for them, and, secondly, because the country's economic position would not permit it.
The Financial Secretary will say that in due course—I use the language which the Financial Secretary has been inflicting on the Committee during the Finance Bill; I have heard it several times—when there is some change in the economic situation all these matters will be put right.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I do not use commonplace language of that sort. In more elegant fashion, if not with eloquence, I say that the Financial Secretary will tell us that When the economic position is put to rights all the people who are suffering hardship will have a fair and square deal. It will not be good enough merely to say that.
I will tell the hon. Member for Macclesfield and all concerned how to put this right and how to bring pressure to bear on the Government. It cannot be done on a Friday afternoon. It has been tried often. It cannot be done by means of a Private Member's Bill, if that were permissible. If 200 Members of the Tory Party made up their minds on a Motion—[HON. MEMBERS: "They 897 have."]—and threatened the Government that, if they do not do something they will vote against them, the pensioners would receive a measure of relief. They probably would not get all they want, but some immediate relief would be provided.
That is how it can be done. It cannot be clone in any other way. Why should it not be done? In other words, I advise hon. Members opposite to have the courage of their convictions and force the Government to do what they think ought to be done.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The right hon. Gentleman is acting like an elder statesman—he is one—and giving good advice. However, when he was Minister of Defence I did not notice that 200 of his colleagues stood up and made these demands.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am not speaking to my own colleagues. [Laughter.] I want to be very generous about it. I am speaking to those who say that something must be done and who speak with great compassion and sincerity. If they want something to be done, that is the way to do it. I am giving them advice gratuitously, without fee or any hope of reward.
If the hon. Member challenges me on the subject of service pensions, I remind him that as Minister of Defence I had the opportunity, with the consent of the Treasury, of raising pensions and I did so. It was not with the altogether gracious consent of the Treasury—far from it. We had to fight for it inside, as the Financial Secretary will know very well. I had to fight for these things and I occupied a more senior post than the Financial Secretary now occupies, but in his case I am certain that these honours and pleasures are only deferred, because he has great ability.
When I was Minister of Defence I succeeded not only in increasing the pay of officers and other ranks in the three Services, but in increasing their pensions and gratuities. It cost £77 million in all. There was great difficulty in inducing the Treasury to concede the demand. Hon. Members opposite are pushing at an open door, because the Labour Party would gladly assist in relieving the hardships and vicissitudes of these people.
898 In what I am about to say I have no desire to offend—far from it. Far be it from me to offend hon. Members opposite. We have listened today to harrowing tales of hardship, which concern me as much as they do hon. Members opposite, of widows of retired officers and those previously associated with the overseas service, the Colonial Service and otherwise. We have heard of people not applying for National Assistance because their pride prevents it, because they believe that there is a stigma of pauperism about it, which there is not, but one understands their attitude.
I wonder whether any longer we shall hear all the glowing tales about a Tory affluent society. Today, we have heard that thousands, indeed hundreds of thousands, of widows of retired officers from the Services and the various civil services, colonial and otherwise, are suffering hardship. What about those cases of whom we hear nothing? There must be many thousands.
There is still a great deal of poverty in the country. There is far too much of it. This impoverishment must be removed. It must be thrown overboard, never to reappear, if we are to brag about an affluent society. There is a great deal of work that both sides of the House must undertake before things are put to rights. Meanwhile, I hope that the Government will respond to the demand made upon them today.
I hope that, in spite of my attempt to anticipate his speech, the Financial Secretary will confound me by saying that the Government will agree and that something will be done immediately for the widows, or, at any rate, without undue delay, and that an attempt will be made to consolidate the pensions schemes so that relief can be found for the many people who are in need.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ Captain John Litchfield (Chelsea)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has done a great service to a very deserving class of persons in moving this Motion. As one of the retired Regular officers in the House I should like to assure him that our brother officers outside the House will feel that they owe a great debt to him for having selected this cause from among all the other possible subjects which, 899 with his very wide sympathies and interests, he might have chosen, and also for the eloquent and moving way in which he spoke.
The Motion covers the Overseas Civil Service as well as the Armed Services. I was deeply stirred by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) on the Overseas Civil Service. I proposed, however, to confine myself to the pensions of the Armed Services and of the widows of those who served, in which, of course, I must declare an interest. I speak now as a member of the House and not as a retired officer.
There is no dispute or difference of feeling in any part of the House that the Service pensions and widows' pensions have not kept pace with the rise in the cost of living. This is common ground, and it is also common ground, and I do not propose to quote any further individual cases or figures, that particularly in the case of widows and the older Service pensioners real hardship exists, especially among those who possess no private means and who for one reason or another are unable to earn modern wages.
In my constituency of Chelsea, which is largely a residential district, there are many older officers and ratings and their widows to whom the affluent society has brought a steadily declining standard of living and who are now living, if not in destitution, at any rate in some cases in a condition of unrelieved austerity and perpetual anxiety.
This situation is not one which should be tolerated in a society which prides itself on having the most enlightened social conscience in the world and which twice in a generation has called upon the Armed Services for its salvation. It costs nothing to call men heroes, but when it comes to rewarding them for their services, after those services are no longer needed and have been forgotten, the old, old files are dug out of the Treasury vaults and the old, old arguments are trotted out again in the House as excuses either for postponing action or for doing nothing. I recognise that we have not yet heard the Financial Secretary and that it may be that he will say to us something which, if we had heard it earlier, might have rendered the debate unnecessary, but I 900 beg leave to doubt it and I must address one or two stern words to him.
We in the House and people in the country have short memories. Politicians, and particularly Governments, are more easily moved by pressure than by the strict merits of a case. I do not blame the present Government any more than any other Government for this. I think that it is fair to say that the present Government have done more than any other Government for pensioners, but, like all the Governments before them, they are bad employers. They really must do something about this. I ask Ministers, and particularly Treasury Ministers, to be more than civil servants and to look at this problem in human terms and on its merits.
What do we seek to do in supporting the Motion? First, I suggest, we are trying to force upon the Government a recognition and an admission that this problem exists, that it is serious and that the present rate of pensions are totally inadequate and unrelated to needs. Secondly, we are asking the Government to do something about it now, because there is great urgency in the case of the older pensioners and older widows.
I speak now only for myself when I ask the Government to look at this question, not as a matter of expediency, but as a matter of principle. By that I mean that until some kind of principle or yardstick to which pensions can be related and against which they can be measured is introduced, this problem will always be with us and we shall have perpetually the same dreary, dismal process repeating itself.
First, the pensions are awarded, then the cost of living goes up and there is a degree of inflation. Then there is hardship and constituents badger their Members and Members badger the Government. The Government then say that they cannot do anything, and in the end they submit to pressure and move a little forward. That is how it goes on, time and time again. All this pain and grief and anxiety could be avoided, and with very little added strain to the economy, by relating pension rates to an easily definable yardstick. I urge on the House, and I urge strongly on Ministers, that this principle of immutability should be thrown overboard and that a new approach should be adopted.
901 It is a curious fact to me, as I think the hon. and gallant Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Commander Pursey) mentioned, that this principle of relating pensions to some definite yardstick or scale is already accepted by Her Majesty's Government and has always been accepted, but only in the case of the very highest ranks. The field marshals, the admirals of the Fleet and the marshals of the Royal Air Force have their half-pay, and good luck to them. I am glad that they should have it. They have rendered the greatest service to their country. But to accept this principle for the men at the very top, who are undoubtedly in less need than some of their subordinates, seems to me to make a mockery of the Government's arguments on immutability.
No doubt the familiar Treasury argument will again be brought out—though I hope not—by the Financial Secretary; that if the Government do what we now ask them to do for the Services, the same treatment will necessarily have to be applied to the whole of the Civil Service and to all Government employees. I do not want to be drawn into an argument about what it would cost, and whether it would be right. I merely say that it is a narrow view, and represents the traditional Treasury technique of playing off one Department against another.
I remember, as a young officer in the Admiralty, the convulsions that shook Whitehall in the 1930s when the question of marriage allowance for naval officers was under consideration. There was an unanswerable case for it—I do not think that anyone disputed that—and there was the usual Treasury resistance. In the end, there was a compromise. It was decided that the Royal Navy could have its marriage allowance if the Army would surrender its forage allowance for officers who were not mounted; what was taken from the non-existent horses was given to the naval wives. With this was introduced the principle of equality.
There is no such thing as equality between the conditions of service in the Armed Forces and those in the home Civil Service. This has already been referred to and, perhaps, I may briefly mention one or two points of difference which we all recognise. How can one relate or equate life in the field, or at sea or in the air, with permanent 902 existence in a Government office, and the somewhat sheltered—perhaps one might say, in the case of the lower ranks, dreary—life in Whitehall? In the Services, there is unpaid overtime—a thing not yet accepted in the Civil Service except in the highest ranks. There is a degree of hardship and, I suppose, risk, and direct personal responsibility in the Services, and a very high degree of disturbance and separation—or, at any rate, there was in the case of the older pensioners, with whom we are chiefly concerned today.
Furthermore, I remind the House that, particularly in the case of the older pensioners and the widows of older pensioners, there was, until very recently, compulsory retirement for the average officer in any of the Services at a very much earlier age than is the case with civil servants. For example, an officer who was retired at 45 at the end of the war would, had he been a civil servant, have gone on until he was 60 or 65, and might still be serving, but because he was retired in 1945 he never had the opportunity to benefit from the 1960 code, or the codes between 1945 and 1960; or to benefit from the large capital gratuities that have been and are being paid to officers. I therefore beg my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary not to put to the House the Treasury myth that Service pensions must be equated with those in other branches of Government service. That is absolute nonsense, and does not bear a moment's consideration.
I am not an older pensioner, but I can quote my own case as a hypothetical example. If I had died five or six years ago, after thirty-eight years' service in the Royal Navy—during the latter part of which I held considerable responsibilities—my widow, with three children, would now be getting a pension of £5 10s. a week. I do not say that she would not have been able to feed herself, but that is not the kind of reward to offer the widows of officers and ratings with thirty-eight or forty years' service under the Crown.
With the best will in the world, and on the most charitable interpretation, I cannot comprehend the Government's approach to this problem, and I hope that we shall hear something very much better this afternoon. We have on record the hope expressed by the Prime Minister 903 and many other senior Ministers that everyone in the country will share in the benefits of the affluent society. Why, then, is there this persistent and perpetual blindness to the most deserving and loyal class of all? I must express deep suspicion of Her Majesty's Government in this respect, although I hope to have that suspicion relieved within the next hour.
The Government seem to me to be ready to accept inflationary settlements which cost the country and the economy far more than anything we ask for this afternoon. They are ready to accept, without any deep public condemnation, inflationary settlements when confronted with threats from powerful organised bodies; but when faced with women, or with unorganised loyal former Service pensioners, they seem to find very good reasons for doing practically nothing about it. They appear to think that those whom they know are loyal enough, or who have not the power to obstruct their policies, can be abandoned.
Just after the war I remember that there was "floating round" Whitehall one of the most illuminating documents I have ever seen. It was an unimportant matter. It did not affect policy. It affected only about 30 chief petty officers and petty officers in the Navy, and would have cost, if approved, about £100. It went round the Admiralty—and one or two other Departments. It was supported unanimously by every officer and civil servant to whom it was minuted. It then went to the top, and was returned to me marked, "Not approved" in red ink, with the words, "There does not appear to be a sufficient number of men affected to justify proceeding with this proposal," That attitude that, if there is not enough pressure behind it, the merits of the case do not matter, must be abandoned by any Government deserving of our support.
I hope that even if the Government cannot give us a final answer this afternoon this case will be judged on its merits, and the Financial Secretary will be able to give us some comfort. Speaking for myself, and I know that there are others with me, I will not accept any further procrastination on this issue. If our right hon. Friends expect us to continue to sit silently behind them in the 904 future, they will have to do a great deal better than they have done so far in resolving this problem.
§ 2.38 p.m.
§ Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)
As one whose parliamentary duty it now is to be concerned primarily with Commonwealth and Colonial affairs I want to speak about Commonwealth and Colonial pensions. I can add very little to what has already been said about the need for some increase in Service pensions. That has been extremely eloquently emphasised on both sides of the House, harrowing cases have been adduced, the need for an increase is common ground, and I do not think for a moment that it will be challenged by the Financial Secretary. I want to turn to the wider issues of the effect on the public interest in general of what I think is very widely admitted to be the shabby treatment of the pensioners of the Colonial and Commonwealth service and of the Armed Forces, and to the broader economic issue of whether an increase is possible.
I believe that the treatment of existing and retiring colonial servants, and of their widows, is of the very highest importance, not only for them but for the future of the newly-independent countries that now form the greater part of the Commonwealth. Our treatment of the great staff of that enormous entity the British Empire in the winding-up process is of the utmost importance not only to the individuals concerned, but to the newly-independent countries. It is on that treatment and the provision of sufficient justice—to enable them to continue serving, for a number of these people are still serving in these areas—that the existing and ex-colonial servants will consider continuing their service in these areas.
I realise that the Government have maintained that it is the business of the new independent countries to shoulder this burden. I realise also that there is a strong case for the Government, from their point of view, saying that the burden should rest on these territories, some of which have shouldered the burden already—some wholly and some to a certain degree. But is this really an intelligent way of arranging our relation. ships with these newly-independent countries?
905 Is it not a fact that we are, rightly, helping these countries on a grand scale and are lending or giving them—lending at quite uneconomic rates of interest with small expectation of immediate return—sums running into tens and hundreds of millions of pounds? It is right that we should do this, but it is totally illogical, at the same time, to try to impose—especially on those countries which find it particularly difficult, for example, the African leaders, to comply—an obligation of maintaining salaries and pensions on existing and ex-colonial servants.
There is great political odium attached to this for the African leaders. We must be frank about this. If we shoulder a greater share of this burden—which is in terms of hundreds of thousands of pounds rather than millions—that would be a much greater service that we could do for these countries than increasing the loans and gifts which we make to them, out of which, of course, they pay—when they pay—their obligations to the existing servants. This is really a psychological point and it seems obtuse of Her Majesty's Government to attempt rigorously to impose this burden for the adequate treatment of these individuals on these new Governments while, at the same time, treating them generously on capital account, as it were, in our gifts and loans.
It would be much better, even if the Government feel that they cannot shoulder any net increase at all in this burden, for them to do it by means of lending and giving marginally less on capital account—just a few hundred thousands pounds less—to these Governments, thereby taking the necessary part of this burden. It would be far more politically adroit to do this and it would ensure that these unfortunate individuals are decently treated. It would make it possible for many more of them to continue their service, perhaps in Africa or South-East Asia and other parts of the independent Commonwealth.
I am appalled at the waste of talent one sees among ex-colonial civil servants. Many of them return to Britain and, while some of them are not in financial need, they get jobs—perhaps quite well-paid ones as secretaries of golf clubs, and so on—but the work in which they have great experience is wasted.
906 They have invaluable knowledge of these parts of the world, but because we give our aid in this clumsy way, instead of shouldering these burdens, it would seem that these people cannot be used—perhaps in Africa, except for psychological reasons of the African leaders—where they would have invaluable services to give.
This is an extraordinarily clumsy way of doing things and I urge the Government to look into the matter. I realise the difficulties. The Government might suggest that they would be penalising those of the independent countries who have shouldered the burden or that it would set a bad precedent. We know that in some African countries it is politically difficult for the leaders to do this but, at the cost of some anomalies and inequities between the different countries, it would be worthwhile for the British Government, one way or another, to undertake this burden.
For many years I have spoken in the House about the Service pensions issue. I make no apology for dealing with the question of the pensions of officers and officers widows along with those of the other ranks. The two come together but it would be totally wrong if it were thought that my hon. Friends and I were uninterested in the pensions of officers and their widows. This is of the highest interest. It has been said that there are no bad troops, only bad officers. If we want to see first-rate Armed Forces the treatment of officers and their widows must have our close attention.
I shall not deal with cases of individual hardship. Examples of this have already been given today. The Government, rightly in my view, although this view is not universally shared, have pinned their faith to completely voluntary services—to raising the three Armed Services and the necessary officers by voluntary means. I believe that that is the right course but it means, naturally, comparatively small services which must be of the highest quality. Who can doubt that the quality of the officers, n.c.o.s, warrant officers and all ranks will be profoundly affected by the treatment which Service pensioners receive? The degree of recruitment which can be achieved will also be greatly affected by this.
907 The very strict Treasury view of the immobility of pension rates—which, actually, has not been maintained—and the doctrine of that immobility has been breached several times already. That doctrine should be abandoned now and these rates should be looked at like any other pension rates—in equity in regard to the cost of living.
I shall be surprised if the Financial Secretary controverts either the personal need for the increases or the arguments I have adduced. He will probably base his arguments on the necessity for economy. He will probably refer to any change having wide repercussions. The word "repercussions" will probably be used. It usually is in Treasury circles, when referring to these sort of increases.
One must have a sense of economic proportion. I ask the Financial Secretary—no one on the Government benches has a better economic brain, or a better sense of economic proportionalities than he—whether he seriously intends to tell us that the increases in question have any very significant effect one way or another on the balance of the economy, on the inflationary pressure to which we are subject? Is my hon. Friend correct in saying that even if the very maximum repercussions of concessions here occurred, the expenditure would be much above £50 million or £60 million? I do not imagine for one moment that repercussions on that scale would occur—the Treasury is good at limiting repercussions—but let us say that it failed to limit them completely and expenditure of that magnitude was incurred. If my arithmetic is right—it probably is not—that represents 1.5 or 2 per cent, of the national budget—a perceptible sum, but not gigantic.
When we think of inflationary pressure, it is surely sums of a totally different order of magnitude which are in question. After all, I do not think that the Financial Secretary will disagree that the level of investments throughout the economy, the level of wages, undoubtedly, and, of course, the level of the Government's income through direct taxation, the sums raised through Surtax, for example—the sum involved in the Surtax concession is a slightly larger one than the very largest one we have in question here—and the 908 sums realised, and still being realised after the new tax, in capital gains, altogether dwarf the figures that we have in question here. It would, of course, increase the inflationary pressure to make these concessions—any concession does so, other things being equal—but to a quite insignificant degree. Therefore, I should be quite interested to hear what economic arguments the Financial Secretary can put to us which to a rational man can balance the private and public interest which there is in doing some justice here.
Finally, I come back to the principle adduced by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), in his admirable speech. He said that we should honour the Service principle, and that the families and individuals concerned in the Colonial and Commonwealth Service or in the Armed Services had lived by the principle of "service". I think that he is right. These men and their widows have lived on the principle that they wished to give service to the community in return for sensible and reasonable remuneration. This is a very important principle to keep alive in our present affluent society. I and, I think, all my hon. Friends would think that to keep alive, in our present very commercial and very, very acquisitive society, the principle that it is a worthwhile life to live not by attempting to acquire the maximum possible fortune, but by giving service for a reasonable remuneration is of the highest importance.
At the cost perhaps of alienating the hon. Gentleman's sympathies, I would simply say that this is the Socialist principle. It is what we on this side of the House mean by "the Socialist principle", that it is a higher and better thing to live that way, to give one's life—for reasonable remuneration, of course—in the service of a particular cause rather than to give it—there is nothing wrong in it, of course, but we think it is at a rather lower level—simply to the ideal of private acquisitiveness.
Therefore, like others in all parts of the House, my hon. Friends and I think this a cause worthy of our support, and we shall be very interested to hear what broad reasons the Financial Secretary can give us why the Government should not make a substantial effort to 909 meet the arguments which have been adduced on both sides of the House.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I feel that I have been here before in the sense that during the eight years that I have had the privilege of representing my constituency there have been four or five Pensions (Increase) Acts in which I have been interested. I really believe that the time has come for the Government to make up their minds to deal with the situation in which pensioners find themselves in some other way.
We are very much indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). The only point where I differed from him was in connection with his statement about senior Service officers. He said that senior officers might have pressed more for an increase in pensions when an increase in Service pay was under consideration. I do not believe that to be true. The average senior Service officer has pressed, and is pressing, for such increases. The real villain of the piece throughout has been the Treasury. The Treasury has an armoury of protective equipment which defeats the spines of the fretful "porpentine". The Treasury is able to find every possible excuse for not doing things.
While I am on the subject of the Treasury, I think that it is wonderful that we should find that two of the speakers from the other side of the House are Privy Councillors who had some responsibility for Service conditions and that they are supporting us in the idea that there ought to be improvement in pensions. I think that I may pray that in aid to some extent in showing the necessity for getting at the Treasury in these matters.
Every letter that one writes asking for pensions questions to be considered is dealt with more or less in the following way. If one wants the widows to have better pensions, one is told that every kind of widow would have to have better pensions. If one wants a Pensions (Increase) Act, one is told that there will also have to be increases for everybody who is affected by such an Act. It is interesting to note that a question on this subject was asked two or three months ago, and it appeared 910 from the Answer that the cost of a 5 per cent. pensions increase in the public sector would amount to £10 million. Of this £10 million, the Services represented £2,400,000, so that the matter, from a financial point of view, is not one that is too difficult, even under existing stringent conditions.
When we come to the question of the widows, there we find an anomaly that was created in 1960, when somebody—I do not know why—decided that 4th November, 1958, was to be the date, so that the conditions of widows whose husbands died before that date were made very much worse, from a pensions point of view, than those whose husbands died subsequently. My argument is directed to the fact that we have to be wholesale in dealing with these pensions, because the complications are so very considerable. It is only recently that the pensions of widows of other ranks have been affected. I think that that was in 1953, but that, in its turn, has produced the most startling anomalies for a very worthy section of pensioners—the quartermaster-rankers.
It is very tragic to read of a widow about 70 years of age who is not eligible for a penson because her husband never held the rank of warrant officer, Class I, and held his emergency commission for less than five years. But he had twenty-eight years' service. That cannot be right, and this is the sort of thing that has to be looked into. There are many other cases, but I will give only another one. A major-quartermaster with total service of twenty-five years left a widow who is ineligible for a pension because her husband had not held the rank of warrant officer, Class and had less than five years' service as an emergency commissioned officer. That is a very cruel thing. Here is a type of persons who have worked themselves up through the ranks, right up to major or major-quartermaster. Nothing has been said about that, merely, I suppose, because there are so many of these anomalies which hit various categories so much.
We are bedevilled by words like "stabilisation", "immutability" and many other expressions of that kind. What we want to do is to get down to the examination of the whole pensions 911 structure, and, although there is an essential emergency which ought to be dealt with forthwith in regard to the pre-1958 widows, on the long-term policy it cannot be a good thing to have these constant debates on the question of similar Service pensions increases.
I remember that the first time I raised this matter was on a Pensions (Increase) Bill, when I found that because the cases of officers came under the Royal Warrant it was necessary for me, in order to get a debate, to move an Amendment saying that I was not in favour of increased pensions being paid to civil people until the Services were dealt with. We are still bedevilled with these old ideas and forms of warrants, which are a serious cause of the complications in these matters. I understand that in the War Office there is a department which looks after questions arising about future pensions. There ought to be a department in the War Office, and in the other Services as well, looking after past pensioners and what their position is today. To sum up: first and foremost, pre-1958 widows ought to be paid an increase forthwith. Secondly, there should be a Pensions (Increase) Measure. Thirdly, and most important, the whole system of Service pensions ought to be reorganised and reconsidered in the various Service Ministries in consultation with the Treasury in the light of the existing anomalies.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. E. C. Redhead (Walthamstow West)
I should like to join with other hon. Members who have paid a well-deserved tribute to the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) in choosing his good fortune in the Ballot to draw attention to this important matter, and also to join in the congratulations offered to him not only on the ability of his speech, but on the sincerity with which he delivered it. I entirely agree that he has done a very valuable service in bringing to the attention of the House—admittedly not for the first time—the legitimate sense of grievance and injustice of the categories of public service pensioners to whom his Motion refers.
This has been a very revealing and illuminating debate, in which many hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken with deep conviction and obvious sincerity. It has been particu- 912 larly significant in being one of those rare occasions when not one voice has been raised in defence of the attitude which the Government have hitherto adopted on this matter. I hope that the significance of that will be remembered by the Financial Secretary when he replies, and more especially when he reports to his Cabinet colleagues on the debate.
It has been rightly emphasised that we are dealing with officers and former public servants to whom the country has not merely a legal obligation, but very deep moral obligations. However, when the hon. Member for Ashford justifiably calls to his aid and to reinforce his appeal to the Government on this issue the Conservative pledge of 1959 thatpensioners will continue to share in the good things which a strong expanding economy will bring",I remind him and his hon. Friends that that pledge was related to a wider category of pensioners than the limited categories referred to in the Motion.
I think that he showed an awareness of that fact, but it is as well that the House should take note of the fact that that pledge related to the position of National Insurance retirement pensioners, vast numbers of whom have no vocational pension to supplement their meagre basic pension and whose only recourse is to National Assistance. It was speaking of them in 1959 that the Prime Minister himself said:Our aim is to go on giving them a rising share of rising national prosperity.I therefore express the hope, in all sincerity, that the hon. Member and his hon. Friends will be no less vocal in pressing for the implementation of that pledge in relation to that numerous and sorely pressed section of the community when the opportunity occurs. In more appropriate circumstances, I would question his belief and his affirmation today that the pledge has been implemented in respect of those who are customarily referred to as old-age pensioners. I do not wish to pursue that now, for it would be inappropriate to do so on this Motion.
Coming a little nearer to the categories with whom the Motion is concerned, recognise that much of the argument has been on the basis of the contention of comparability of treatment, and I 913 impress on the House the fact that the pledge related to the position of United Kingdom public service pensioners who, although in some instances they may have received some measure of supplementation of their original pensions by a succession of Pensions (Increase) Acts, particularly the 1959 Act, in many instances still fall far from an adequate compensation for the measure of the depreciation in the real value of their original pensions. Far less can they be said to be enjoying an equitable share of the rising national prosperity.
I emphasise that fact because it has been a constantly repeated theme, not only of this debate but of earlier discussions on this subject, that numbers of those referred to in the Motion have been unjustly denied the benefits of the United Kingdom Pensions (Increase) Acts and that these benefits should be conceded to them.
I do not dissent in the slightest from that contention. On the contrary, I fully agree with it. But it would be wrong to assume that even the 1959 Act—the sixth since 1944 and perhaps the best of the series, though still not adequate—represents the limit of justice and equity. I submit, as the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) put to the House, that the time is ripe for a review of that Act. Indeed, I believe that the time is ripe for a review of our traditional principles by which public service pensions generally are computed and adjusted.
Initially, such pensions are related to pay at the time of retirement, and any subsequent adjustment to take account of depreciation in money values is entirely a matter of the grace and favour of the employing body— conceded, usually, on a purely partial basis and only after considerable agitation and pressure, depending largely on the degree of sympathy attracted by those who are aggrieved among Members of this House.
I say frankly—and this is a view which I believe is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House—that there is something rather pathetic—indeed, distasteful and disturbing—in the spectacle of pensioners, of whatever category, who, during their working years, served the community and the State well, who have no powerful organisation behind 914 them—no compelling weapon to wield—having to come periodically, virtually cap in hand, not for a fair share of rising prosperity but for bare justice in seeking to have their pensions increased to a level a little nearer to the value they originally bore and which their conditions of service entitled them to expect.
To demonstrate that even the application of the 1959 Act to the Overseas Civil Service pensioners who have hitherto been denied its benefits would still not suffice to do justice altogether, I give two examples out of many. A clerical officer of the United Kingdom Civil Service who retired ten years ago is today receiving nearly £100 a year less in pension than those of the same grade who retire today—a difference of 25 per cent.
The corresponding figure for executive officers is nearly £150 less—or 25½ per cent. less in real value. Even in the two years since the passage of the 1959 Act, there has been a further fall in value of approximately 6 per cent. to 7 per cent. These examples are typical not only of the Civil Service, but of other former public servants. A loss of one-fifth to one-quarter of the value of a public service pension in a period of ten to twenty years is the general picture, notwithstanding the measure of compensation provided by the 1959 Act. I think therefore that the case has been abundantly made, and that it is time to review the provisions of that Act.
I have referred to these more general facts to show that the position of those pensioners covered by the Motion cannot be wholly divorced from the treatment of pensioners generally, and that the mere extension to them of the Pensions Increase Act would give no assurance that they shared in the increasing prosperity of the country, but would only provide the minimum of justice in removing an undoubted anomaly.
Nevertheless, the position of those with whom the Motion is concerned reveals aspects of particular hardship and injustice, a double degree of unfairness and an indefensible degree of anomaly, for if the plight of those to whom the Pensions (Increase) Act applies is as I have described it, how 915 much worse is the position of those who are still denied its benefits?
Other hon. Members with more knowledge that I have dealt with the subject of forces pensions. They have argued their cases forcibly and convincingly, and I do not think it appropriate, nor do I think that it would be fruitful, to start trying to make comparisons between one category of public servant and another. I do not intend to traverse that area of the Motion again, but I want to touch on Overseas Civil Service and Colonial Service pensions.
I submit, in all earnestness, that it has been clearly established, not for the first time, that these pensioners, who by reason of purely fortuitous circumstances have been denied pension increases, have suffered a grievous wrong, and I take a great deal of encouragement from the fact that that has been the universal view expressed on both sides of the House today.
Some successor Governments to former Dependencies and Colonies have accepted liability for the payment of pensions to former Overseas Civil Service and Colonial Service officers, and have also agreed to apply the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1959, or to give a comparable increase to those provided by that Act. But some have not, either because they will not, or, as they claim, that they cannot by reason of financial considerations.
I do not dissent, obviously not, from the Government using every effort to persuade those Governments to meet this obligation to former officers, but I suggest that there must be a time limit upon these efforts at persuasion, that the line must be drawn somewhere unless these pensioners are perpetually to suffer victimisation because two Governments cannot agree on who shall bear the burden. I submit that most earnestly for the consideration of the Government.
Hitherto, Her Majesty's Government have repeatedly reaffirmed that responsibility for the payment of pension increases is a matter for decision by the Governments concerned, but I submit that this Government ought not to shuffle out of their moral responsibility in this purely legalistic way. We are here dealing with human beings, and, 916 furthermore, officers who have served their country faithfully and well and deserve decent treatment in their retirement.
These officers were Crown servants. Whatever sort of ingenious argument is adduced, whatever quibbles are utilised in an attempt to argue against the justice of their claim, these men were Crown servants whose conditions of service, as has been repeatedly said in this debate, were under the control of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and as we have seen in another place only recently when these matters were discussed, former Secretaries of State for the Colonies, notably Lord Boyd, have accepted that this was so.
Moreover, in many instances the territories in which these officers happened to serve—and which finally determined whether or not they should get pension increases—were decided by the Secretary of State. It was by his allocation that their ultimate pension position was fortuitously determined. Surely such chance considerations, the results of which could not have been foreseen by the officers concerned, should not decide such a vital issue for these people.
The position is rendered even more anomalous by the fact that in the case of Burma, India, and Pakistan, Her Majesty's Government have accepted responsibility for "topping up" the pension, as it is called. I know that it is argued that this is due to entirely exceptional circumstances, but I am not persuaded that the resultant anomaly is any easier to bear in consequence, or that it absolves the Government from a moral responsibility in respect of those who have been denied elementary justice.
The hon. Member for Ashford referred to the fact that there were about 5,000 pensioners—2,900 ex-Colonial Office servants, and about 2,900 widows—who fall below the equivalent of the United Kingdom standards. I express the hope, as other hon. Members have earlier, that the Government will no longer try to ride off this problem by pleading that only a very small number of people are affected. We do not measure justice by the numbers involved. This is a real, human problem, which has a command not only upon our humanity but our sense of obligation.
917 It has been stated authoritatively in another place that the cost of applying the United Kingdom Pensions (Increase) Act to these officers will be approximately £286,000 a year, and it will be a rapidly diminishing sum. However stressful our economic difficulties may be, I cannot imagine that that represents a serious burden to the Treasury.
Special reference has been made to the pensioners of the Sudanese Government. I endorse the words of the hon. Member for Ashford; this is a matter upon which our national honour is touched, for here the Government have invoked the additional argument that the Sudan was never a member of the Commonwealth. I have no hesitation in stigmatising that as a thoroughly unworthy, legalistic quibble. No one who has read the considered, reasoned and well-documented case put forward by the Sudan Government British Pensioners' Association can be otherwise than conscious of a sense of shame that Her Majesty's Government could treat these officers in the way they have been treated. I venture to suggest that it borders upon bad faith, inasmuch as the assurances given to these officers demonstrably have not been fulfilled.
The aggrieved pensioners with whom we are primarily concerned are officers whose loyal and devoted service paved the way to, and made possible, independence in many former Dependencies and Colonies in which they previously served. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are proud of this country's record in preparing and granting independence to the overseas territories. Surely it is unjust in the extreme that the officers upon whose work this record is largely based should find themselves the victims of their own meritorious services. I urge the Government no longer to be content to put off the case on behalf of these officers with the kind of arguments that we have hitherto received.
The hon. Member for Ashford spoke of confusion and complexity in the whole field. We would all agree with that. We would agree, too, that it is itself a compelling reason for a new declaration of principle, not only to clarify the obscurities of the present conflicting practices but, indeed, for an entirely new look over the whole field of pensions practice.
918 I join with those hon. Members who have suggested that the time has come when we should cease to deal with these problems in a piecemeal fashion, but should get down to a re-examination of basic principles. Above all, I would plead for more legislative enactments, something built into legislation governing principles, some provision that would obviate the spectacle of periodically having to deal with contentions of this character, of pensioners having to come, as I said before, cap in hand, pleading for some adjustment of their pensions which have already become seriously devalued by circumstances beyond their control.
I hope that today the Government will not rely for their defence on the steps which they have taken to avoid inflation as being the greatest contribution to the needs of the people of whom we have spoken in this debate. I suggest that even though the Government's policies in these respects were quite impeccable and completely valuable—a contention with which, I am sure, the Financial Secretary would not expect me to agree—we are talking here about people Who have not yet caught up with the consequence of earlier waves of inflation. Even if Government policy were successful it would still leave these folk in arrears, lagging behind. They deserve better from their country than the position in which the Government, apparently, have hitherto been content to lead them. This, I feel to be a reproach upon the country as a whole. I believe that it is something which is on the conscience of every hon. Member of the House.
I hope that the Government will be responsive to the deep sense of conviction and sincerity that has manifested itself in this debate and that the Financial Secretary will be able to give us, in his reply, a positive and, at long last, some encouraging indication that action is to follow, and swiftly.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Edward Boyle)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), at the end of his most distinguished speech this morning, said that he thought that a number of people in this country were inclined not always to observe the Tenth Commandment 919 about jealousy. I think I can say with the agreement of the entire House that after my hon. Friend's speech this morning no one is going to be jealous because he has more than once been lucky in the Ballot this Session.
By chance my hon. Friend and I first knew each other many years ago, and, indeed, he gave me a good deal of encouragement when I first showed an interest in politics. I hope he will not think it patronising of me when I say that I have never listened to a better speech on a Private Member's day, or expect to do so. I was particularly impressed with one point which my hon. Friend made at the end of his speech when he said that we ought not to underrate the Service tradition in British life.
I am quite sure that my hon. Friend is right. That applies to the tradition in many families serving in the Armed Forces and, indeed, in many other families the tradition of rendering public service to the community. We frequently, particularly at this time of the year, discus's general economic affairs in the House. Very rightly we pay a good deal of attention to the importance of an expanding economy over the years and to rising living standards for ordinary families in the country. But do not let us forget the needs of those without whom the framework of our society could not possibly exist. I entirely agree with all that has been said today on the importance of this subject.
As has been said, this Motion is in two parts. It deals with problems of former members of the Colonial Service and also with the pensions of officers and widows. I think that I will follow the example of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and say something first on the subject of pensions for ex-Colonial and overseas civil servants and then, in the second half of my remarks, come back to pensions for the Armed Services.
First, may I say something in reply to the interesting speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I am sorry that he does not take part more often in our general economic debates as we should all enjoy discussing these issues with him. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman 920 that periods of history in which prices. particularly farm prices or prices for raw materials, fall very rapidly have been periods of stagnation and growing social disquiet and misery. But I believe that it is consistent to hold that view and at the same time maintain that one of the causes of inflation since the war, namely, a tendency for wage increases to be copied where there was no justification for it, has led to a great deal of unnecessary misery for those living on fixed incomes. It is that sort of inflation particularly that the incomes policy of the Government is designed to combat. It seemed to me that in his interesting speech the hon. and learned Gentleman took a rather global view of inflation. Many of us would agree about the undesirability of social misery caused by falling world prices and falling prices of primary products. But, none the less, I still hope that with his powerful intelligence the hon. and learned Member might agree with some of the arguments in Chapter V of the famous O.E.E.C. report on prices.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I should be prepared to defend the proposition that the standard of living of pensioners has to a great extent suffered precisely because of the recurrent tendency since the war for increases in personal incomes to advance more rapidly than increases in national production.
I come first to the question of pensions for ex-Colonial and overseas civil servants. As has been stated, this subject has been debated a number of times in this House and in another place. The last debate was a recently as 21st December. Before rehearsing the general arguments I wish to answer a perfectly fair point put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), in the course of the powerful speech which he made, in the subject of the lack of information. I said to my hon. Friend that I thought it would be possible for hon. Members to discover the state of play regarding what overseas countries were 921 doing about pensions increases, and I wish to answer the point which he made.
The detailed information sought by my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member regarding the state of play in dependent overseas territories has always been given by the Secretary of State for the Colonies in so far as it has been available to him. The difficulty has arisen in the case of the independent Governments. Hon. Members will, I am sure, appreciate that details of pension matters are not only not within the Parliamentary responsibility of British Ministers who cannot properly answer in this House regarding these detailed matters which are the responsibility of those Governments, but in addition, quite genuinely the detailed questions are not always within the direct official knowledge of Government Departments. I believe that much depends on the form in which the Question is put down.
There is general knowledge as to what independent Governments are doing overseas on this question. The difficulty comes when my hon. Friend or another hon. Member puts down a Question requiring some rather detailed answer about the number of people involved. It is there the difficulty arises. But, in the light of what my hon. Friend said, I will discuss the question with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, although I do not believe that it would be impossible for hon. Members to receive general information about the way in which these matters are going. On the general subject of the Government's responsibilities here, I cannot add a great deal to what I and others have said in previous debates on this subject.
§ Sir E. Boyle
The right hon. Gentleman is an old hand; he was first in the House the year before I was born. We all recognise his knowledge.
Of course, the Chancellor and the Government will take due note of all that has been said in the debate. But the Government's policy has always been the same as that of their predecessors—that just as in the United Kingdom the responsibility for increasing pensions falls on the employer, so the cost of any increase in overseas pensions is the responsibility of the employing Governments who pay these pensions.
922 My hon. Friend for Wavertree asked me how long this principle dated back, because a number of people have contended that a new principle has been introduced in connection with the terms of employment of members of the Colonial and Overseas Services. My hon. Friend repeated the statement in Colonial Paper No. 306 of 1954 that overseas service officers were constitutionally servants of the Crown and subject throughout their careers to Colonial regulations, which constitute the Secretary of State as the ultimate authority for appointments, discipline and general conditions of employment. That is true, but it is equally true, and also stated in the early paragraphs of Colonial Paper No. 306, that the term "Her Majesty's Colonial Service" has been in use for well over a century to describe the members of the public services of the Colonies and protectorates and other territories dependent upon Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.
Originally, the Colonial Service consisted of officers from Britain and from amongst British Colonies, but as time went on staffs were increasingly built up from the indigenous populations of the overseas territories, although it was always necessary to recruit large numbers of men and women from Britain and other Commonwealth countries.
I notice that Colonial Paper No. 306 goes on to say,Although the members of these services are directly employed and paid by the territorial Government, they are under the general direction and control of the Secretary of State for the Colonies.I have made inquiries about this while the debate has been going on. All I can say is that the principles on which the Government have taken their stand in earlier debates, and on which I must take my stand again today, date back for as long as anybody in the Colonial Office can remember. When the important White Paper of 1954 on the reorganisation of the Colonial Service was published, those principles dated back as far as anyone could remember—as far as living memory.
I cannot give my hon. Friend a more precise answer than this, except to say that at any rate no one questioned it at the time. When the Paper was published no one had any doubt that this was the 923 principle on which successive Governments had acted and that this principle applied equally to the basic pensions and to any persions increase which might be paid.
§ Mr. Tilney
Will my hon. Friend consider looking at the Regulations Relating to Pensions and Gratuities to be made to European Officers, dated the Colonial Office, November, 1913, which says:Pensions and gratuities will, in the case of the grant-aided Protectorates, be submitted to the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury for their sanction. …
§ Sir E. Boyle
I will certainly look at that or any other document which my hon. Friend cares to send me. I cannot see at first sight that those words invalidate what I have been saying. I merely quoted the 1954 document because it seemed to me that it was an important and significant document, as it dealt with the whole reorganisation of the Colonial Service when it ceased to be called the Colonial Service and became instead the Overseas Service.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that the pensioners are not concerned with the niceties of the legal position? There is an obligation on the part of the Government to pay them, and we ought to see that they are properly paid.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I fully appricate the strong feelings there are on this subject, but I was asked a specific question. Although I am always ready to debate fairly with any hon. Member, it seems to me to be a little unfair to rebuke a Member of the Government who is trying to answer a specific question put by a Member of the House during a debate.
The Government have always said—I repeat it today—that the course they have followed and are following in what is, I agree, a difficult field is one which is best calculated to serve the interests of all concerned. As I have said, the pensions that form the subject matter of this debate have always been regarded as the responsibility of the overseas Governments concerned. In earlier debates I have stated the very real disadvantages and difficulties which could arise if this were to be breached. Not only would it be a question of the United Kingdom making pensions in- 924 creases in the place of Governments who had for the time being felt unable or unwilling to do so, but it would also be very likely that the overseas Governments who have so far accepted their responsibilities in full would consider themselves unfairly treated when increases which other Governments had failed to grant were met by the United Kingdom. That is a point which I have made in earlier debates. I still believe it to be true.
In all these matters we must take into account, not only the countries which were mentioned this morning—they are the territories which have granted pensions increases which are generally inferior to those under the United Kingdom Acts—but also the effect on the very much longer list of territories which have in fact granted pension increases in general at least as generous as those under the United Kingdom Pensions (Increase) Acts to date.
§ Mr. Brian Harrison (Maldon)
A few minutes ago my hon. Friend complimented my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) on his speech. Possibly he did not hear my hon. Friend demolish this argument that he has just advanced.
§ Sir E. Boyle
Much as I admired the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, I did not think that he demolished this particular point which I have made in the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford—I was coming on to say this—made a particular proposal this morning regarding some loan scheme for topping up pensions. I have a full note of the proposal and, of course, it will be examined. I do not think that my hon. Friend would expect me to comment on this scheme in the course of the debate. Obviously at first sight I can, as I am sure the whole House can, see certain difficulties about it, but let me assure my hon. Friend and all hon. Members that the Government will take full notice of that proposal and all proposals which have been made.
I thought that the purpose of this debate was very much more that I should hear what hon. Members constructively had to suggest on this subject than simply that hon. Members should have to listen to the statement of the Government's policy.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Does the hon. Gentleman understand that, so far as I can interpret his speech, he is the best goalkeeper this Government have? If he played for England, we should win the World Cup.
§ Sir E. Boyle
Whilst that is perfectly legitimate, I do ask the right hon. Gentleman not to indulge too much in personalities in this debate.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I know. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but it is a matter on which a good many serious points have been raised. I want to say something on the subject of Service pensions in a moment. I have one more thing to say on the subject of overseas pensions. I am doing my best to reply to the point. Whilst I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's comments, I hope that we shall not have to have more personal interventions during the rest of my speech.
I particularly wished to refer to the point that hon. Members raised about India, Pakistan and Burma pensioners, because on this I believe there is a certain amount of misconception in the House. The circumstances in the case of these pensioners were very different. In the first place the Secretary of State for India was statutorily responsible for prescribing the pay and pensions of persons appointed by him to civil posts. Secondly, India discharged—and this is the point—her responsibility for paying British pensioners by a special arrangement, namely the payment of a capital sum to meet the annual pension liability.
While the Pakistan and Burma Governments are still paying the basic pensions of their own pensioners, for the purpose of the payment of pension increases it would not be possible to distinguish between members of the former India and Burma service, most of whom were members of the unified service before the separate Burma services were formed. The whole statutory position of the Secretary of State for India, afterwards the Secretary of State for India and Burma, was quite different from the statutory position of the Secretary of State for the Colonies with regard to the rest of the Overseas Service.
§ Mr. Redhead
Would the hon. Gentleman be good enough to say whether the special settlement with India in discharge of her liability in respect of pensions specifically included pension increases?
§ Sir E. Boyle
I have a full note on that subject. Before the transfer of power, India and Burma had agreed to pay pension increases similar to those in the United Kingdom Act of 1944. At the time of the transfer of power, negotiations were in progress for the application of the 1947 Pensions (Increase) Act passed in this country. The Governments of India and Pakistan agreed to apply provisions similar to those in this Act to the Armed Forces. They were not willing to do so for civilian pensioners at that time.
Then we had the special position that faced the United Kingdom in 1948 and, having regard to a number of factors—the fact that it was obviously unjust to distinguish between Armed Forces and civilian pensioners and a number of other considerations—it was considered right that the British Government should assume responsibility for granting pension increases to the extent that successor Governments were unwilling to do so. But this was part of the special legislative situation that arose after the transfer of power in 1947. I would say, with great respect, that when one considers that the Secretary of State for India had a quite separate relationship and furthermore that there was at the time a prospect, which materialised, of a quid pro quo, because of the transfer to the United Kingdom of liability for Indian pensions against a capital payment by the then Dominion Governments, it is not unfair to say that this was a special case and one should not regard it as a precedent for the rest of the Overseas Service.
§ Mr. Redhead
Nevertheless, would not the hon. Gentleman agree that that takes us at the most only up to the 1947 Pension (Increase) Act and that the more substantial Act of 1959, in the light of the hon. Gentleman's statement, was clearly not included in that settlement yet Her Majesty's Government have accepted liability under it for ex-officers of the Indian Civil Service?
§ Sir E. Boyle
That is so, but I do not want to spend too long on a single point. I am not seeking to mislead the House. There were separate negotiations and discussions as to whether this principle should be extended to the 1952 pensions Act and the matter was argued afresh on that occasion. I am willing to write to any hon. Member and tell the story in greater detail, which I think bears out the general principles which I put before the House.
In the last ten or eleven minutes that are left, I want to say something about the pensions of the Armed Services. I say straight away, with respect to one or two of my hon. Friends, that I do not believe that it could really be right to deal with the question of retired officers and other ranks separately from the Civil Service and other forms of public service pensioners. That is to say, I think that we have to look at the problem of the Services in the context of public service pensioners as a whole.
There are two reasons that strike me in that connection. I shall have something to say about widows in a moment, but if we have the widow of a serving army officer and the widow of another public service pensioner living side by side in almost the same financial circumstances it would not be possible—indeed, if we had that situation, the House would not stand for it—on grounds of equity to deal with them on completely different principles.
Secondly, and I say this with respect, though it is true: do not let us make too sharp a distinction between the various ways in which people served their country during the war. I know how true it is that none of us would be here today at all but for the services of quite a limited number of people in saving the country at a critical moment, but not everyone in the Armed Services is in the front line in time of war, and in the last war quite a number of people who had to work in London during the blitz also had to undergo quite a degree of hardship and risk.
That is what I mean by saying that there would be great difficulties in trying to deal with this outside the scheme of public service pensions as a whole—
§ Sir E. Boyle
I must ask my hon. Friend to forgive me, because I have something to say on the general principle of widows' pensions in reply to what has been said in this debate.
As the House knows, the principles that have governed the attitude of Governments ever since 1920 have been as follows. Pensions are given in return for service, are related to salary and length of service at the age of retirement, and are financed in accordance with that principle. They are not given on the basis of subsistence or need. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford—and this is his one point with which I really disagree—to try in any way to assimilate the principle of public service pensions with the sort of pensions given to the disabled, which are managed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions, could be part of our system, but, of course, the Government, like all good employers, have a moral obligation to their former servants. That obligation should be met by alleviating the worst hardships caused by rises in the cost of living, and pensions increase has always been given when hardship has arisen as a result of a substantial rise in the cost of living since the previous Measure.
It is worth remembering that there have been no fewer than five Pensions (Increase) Acts since the latter part of the war—in 1944, 1947, 1952, 1956 and 1959. The combined effect of those Acts, as we see if we study them in detail, has been, of course, to give the largest percentage increase to the oldest and smallest pensions—
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
It is not only a question of a moral right to safeguard the position of the pensions and pensioners of the Armed Forces. It is absolutely essential to safeguard them if one is to continue the flow of suitable officers into the Services. That is very important, especially as the last published figures for entry into the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst showed that only fifty candidates were considered suitable. It is obvious that the entry is being severely interfered with by the Government's attitude.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I am glad that my hon. Friend has made that point, but it is fair to say—and I do not say this as a 929 debating point—that the Grigg Committee, which considered the whole question of recruiting—and certainly cannot be accused of being unsympathetic towards the Services of the Crown and, in particular, retired officers and widows —said that it would be wrong to isolate Service pensioners from the general body of public pensioners for special treatment. The House should remember that that specific point was made by the Grigg Committee.
The benefit of Pensions (Increase) Measures has, of course, been limited to those over 60 or who have retired prematurely on the grounds of incapacity or ill health, or, in the case of widows, who are over 40 or have dependent children. Throughout the whole history of pensions increases we have always adopted the principle that Prerogative Instruments are the right way for increasing pensions for the Forces. In recent years considerable improvements have been made in current pension terms for Service men and widows. I say this particularly with regard to widows, because this subject has been raised by a number of hon. Members; as a result of the recommendations of the Grigg Committee, new pensions arrangements were introduced for those widowed on or after 4th November, 1958.
The Government considered very carefully whether it would be possible to extend these improvements to what I quite agree are, unhappily, called "existing widows"—those whose husbands died before 4th November, 1958, and who receive pensions which were introduced from 1st December, 1952. The Government decided that there was no basis on which these widows could be distinguished from other categories of existing pensioners and that to reassess their pensions in the light of the recommendations of the Grigg Committee could not be justified unless all other public service pensions were to be reassessed at the same time.
The reason why the Government took this view—why, in their view, it would not have been possible to distinguish these widows from other existing pensioners—was that we should remember that the entire Service family pensions structure was reviewed in 1952 and that all widows received the rates that were 930 then introduced, which was quite an important step. It was the only occasion in post-war years that the principle of immutability has been broken. It was only possible because the previous existing scheme had been in force for well over a century and had become hopelessly out of date.
In addition, we should remember that Service family pensions are particularly favourable and are non-contributory. Compared with the Services, the Civil Servant, who has enjoyed a widow's pension scheme only since 1949, must contribute towards it whereas the Service man pays nothing. One must remember that just as there seems an injustice either side of 4th November, 1958, just as strong feelings are felt in the Civil Service about the situation there. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Since we have been discussing Service widows, hon. Members should not under-rate the hard feelings that are felt about the dividing line on either side of the 1949 Act.
§ Mr. Pagetrose—
§ Sir E. Boyle
The House has treated me in what has been a difficult speech with fairness and I wish to proceed, for there is only a minute left.
§ Sir E. Boyle
No, only one minute remains and I wish to say that I agree that when we are talking about hardship we have not merely to consider absolute hardship but what seems to be hardship. It is not just a question of people's absolute standards of living but the standards to which they have become used and the changes involved. I entirely appreciate this point, and the strong feelings that are felt about it.
I am trying to explain the principles on which the Government act today and the reason why they have not been able to take certain decisions which hon. Members would have liked them to take. I wish to make it plain that the Government take full account of the strong feelings that have been expressed on both parts of the Motion and I beg my hon. Friend to believe that even if we are not able to agree with him today, that is not because I do not entirely appreciate the very human aspects of 931 the problems we have been rightly discussing today.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That this House, recognising the difficulties of many retired officers, pensioned other ranks and widows of the armed services and of former members of the Colonial Service, Overseas Civil Service and Sudan Civil Service, especially the older among them, whose pensions have diminished in value since they were first awarded; and bearing in mind the Conservative Government's pledge in 1959 that pensioners should continue to share in the good things which a strong expanding economy will bring, urges Her Majesty's Government to regard the difficulties of these pensioners as a first charge in the next economic phase, and to declare anew the principles which should govern the level of pensions granted by Her Majesty's Government in respect of the armed services and by Her Majesty's Government or any Commonwealth government in respect of the overseas services.