HL Deb 14 March 1944 vol 131 cc15-27

THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY rose to ask His Majesty's Government what steps, if any, it is proposed to take in view of the Resolution adopted by the House of Lords on 8th December, that "in the opinion of this House the rate of allowances for children of officers killed on service is too low, and should be raised"; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, before I make any remarks on this Motion I should like to offer my apologies to your Lordships for not having been in my place a week ago to-day when the Motion was down to be moved. My absence was due to private reasons, and I had no possible chance of being here. I feel sure your Lordships will acquit me of any intention to be discourteous to the House, and if any individual came down to support or oppose my Motion that day I hope he will accept my apologies. The subject of this Motion—the allowances granted to widows and children of officers who have died or been killed on service—has been before your Lordships' House on two previous occasions. I do not apologize for bringing it before your Lordships again, but I ask the indulgence of the House if in the remarks which I make there is a considerable amount of repetition. On June 30 last I introduced a Motion calling attention to the low pensions and allowances granted to the widows and children of officers killed on service. The instances I gave referred entirely to naval officers, but I took care to point out that my remarks were meant to apply to all the officers of all three Services, because equivalent ranks receive the same pensions. It was my endeavour to argue that what was really required was a considerable increase in the basic rate of the pensions and allowances given to the widows and the children, and that no tinkering about with the rise and fall of the cost of living would meet the case. The reply given by the Government on that occasion was that matters affecting war pensions and allowances were at that moment under review and that the Minister of Pensions hoped to make a statement on this subject in the following month—in July. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to withdraw my Motion, but as I did so I said that if the increases were not adequate I should ask your Lordships' help again on behalf of the widows and children of those who had fallen in the national cause.

The result of that review of pensions was issued in a White Paper in July, 1943. It had been awaited, I have no doubt, with high hopes by many widows striving to bring up their families on inadequate means, but, if so, their disappointment must have been very great, for the result of that review was that widows' pensions were raised by 5s. 3d. a week and children's allowances by 2d. a day. Not considering that these adjustments were in every way adequate, I put down a Motion which was in perfectly straightforward terms—"that in the opinion of this House the rate of allowances for children of officers killed on service is too low, and should be raised." That was perfectly definite. Your Lordships' attitude on that occasion left no doubt as to your views on the subject, and the Motion was accepted without a Division. No expression of opinion could have been more pronounced. Three months have now elapsed, but so far as I know no notice of any sort has been taken of your Lordships' considered opinion on this important subject. There are others far better qualified to defend the dignity of the House than I am and I shall say no more on that subject, but I know very well what I think.

As many of your Lordships may not have been present on the occasion when these matters were discussed before, I will very briefly give an indication of what these allowances and pensions amount to at the present time—that is after the rise of last July. I must refer continually to widows' pensions although they are not mentioned in my Motion. The widows' pension and the children's allowances are so closely associated that they cannot be discussed apart. I do not want to occupy your Lordships' time or weary the House with a long list of figures. I am going to confine my instances to two ranks. The first will be that of Captain in the Royal Navy, whose opposite numbers are full Colonel in the Army and Group Captain in the Royal Air Force. These are men of mature age, with years of experience and service behind them, who have to bear great responsibilities and have every prospect of advancement in their own Service should they survive the war. Their children would probably he of school age—that is over eight years. If one of these officers dies on service his wife receives £230 a year pension and £36 for each child. To assist in the education of a child over eight years a further allowance fixed at a maximum of £50 is procurable. Therefore if there are three children and they get the maximum possible the widow will get £488 a year, less Income Tax on her pension. That does not seem much when you know that there are unmarried girls in factories earning much more at the present time.

Now I will take the next case, the junior officers, Lieutenants in the Navy, Captains in the Army and Flight Lieutenants in the R.A.F. We know what they are doing. We know of the gallant young men that we hear flying about over our heads night and day, of the Lieutenants in command of our destroyers and submarines. The captain of the "Stubborn" is a Lieutenant. Your Lordships know better than I do what has been done by Captains in the Army, who are now dying in scores every week. Their children are, particularly if they are the families of Regular officers, probably under eight years of age. Their widows receive a pension of £150 per annum and each child gets £36. If there are two children then the widow gets £222 in all. My Lords, boys are getting more than that in wages at the present time. A young widow of this sort cannot do much to supplement her pension because the care of two children of tender age will occupy most of her time. Those two children by their very existence are a bar, or at all events a prejudice, to her chances of remarriage. It certainly is not worth while for a young couple to have children at the present time. It is not only not worth while, but it is unwise and improvident of them to do so. These young officers are among the finest stock we possess from which to propagate our race. Can we afford to disregard that aspect at the present time?

Twenty-five years ago we lost the flower of one generation, and at the present time at a rapid rate we are losing that of the succeeding generation. Surely we ought at the present time to be doing everything in our power to develop our children, morally, mentally and physically to the highest degree, for a lot lies ahead of them in the years to come. What I am asking for now is not in any way extravagant. If the nation really cannot afford to increase widows' pensions it can at least make it possible for widows to bring up their children in the way which their dead fathers had intended and for which they had worked. A child's subsistence allowance lasts for eighteen years and its school allowance for ten years, so that at the end of twenty years the whole charge would disappear. And not every officer that is killed is married, and not every widow has children, so that the charge is not a very great one, and it is a very economical way of helping the widows to get through the most difficult years of their widowhood during which they have to provide for their children's education. If we do that generously we shall at least have done something towards paying off the debt that we owe their husbands who have lost their lives in our defence. It is upon the poor men that meagre allowances fall most heavily, upon those who have no private means with which to supplement their pay. There are great numbers who have nothing to look to besides their pay. No doubt the desire to do well for their children has been one of the chief incentives which enabled them to carry on. Surely we can and should enable their widows to carry on their struggle and give the children the education their fathers had hoped to provide.

The principle has been acknowledged, for it is laid down that the Minister before authorizing the payment of an education allowance must satisfy himself that the education proposed is of the same type as the child would have had had the father survived. With the total allowance for a child fixed at £86 a year that is impossible. If your Lordships would consult Whitaker's Almanac you will find a list of 200 schools, the headmasters of which attend the Headmasters' Conference. In only four of those schools can a boy be taken as a boarder for less than £70 a year. No doubt some of these schools have special arrangements for the sons of fallen officers. I reckon that 90 per cent. of the officers killed have always hoped to send their children to boarding schools. They believe education ought to go on all through the day and not during school hours only, and for that reason they like to send their children to a boarding school. No doubt some of these schools have arrangements for helping the children of fallen officers, but that is a charitable act on the part of the school authorities. Why should these children have to look to charity? They belong to the nation and it is the nation's duty to see they do not want.

Perhaps the Government are withholding the allowances because of the great schemes they have in view to help education, but these schemes, however good they may be, are not now in working order and it will be some time before they can be made available. There will be time enough to consider forcing pensioners to come in under those schemes and enjoy their benefits when the time comes that they are in working order. Meanwhile, the health and education of these children have to be looked after by means of the system which now exists. In the interval the children have to be fed and clothed as well as educated. My Lords, I beg you to support me in asking the Government to deal generously in this matter. I very much hope when the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government makes his statement it will be to assure you that in view of the almost unanimous opinion expressed in this House three months ago the matter has been reconsidered. I hope he will go further and say this time that increases are about to be made which this time it will be possible to calculate in pounds and not in pence. I beg to move.


My Lords, I did not happen to be present on the previous occasion when my noble friend brought this question before your Lordships' House and I wish now most earnestly and sincerely to support the Motion that is before us. All of us who think about these things, and particularly those of us who have served as soldiers, realize the tragedies that have occurred in the lives of some officers not only in the last war but in this one. We know how the whole life of an officer can be wrecked by war. We have seen him go off to fight for his country, leaving those near and dear to him behind. This is not a matter that will wait. I have no doubt that all those in this House know of instances where assistance is required now, and instances where there is definite poverty. It may be asked why this Motion does not embrace the men, too, but ipso facto if anything is done for the officers of course the men also will profit in a like way. I feel that in view of what is going on in our country in regard to analogous matters of this sort we ought to respond to this Motion. In fact I do not see how we dare not to do so. It is a worthy one and one which must touch us all. I fail to see why there should be any laxity in coming to a decision on this matter. After all, as my noble friend has said, it is not an enormous sum that is involved and it is not a permanent sum. Surely in these days, when so much is being expended on people who are not risking their lives, it is time that we in this House should register the strongest possible opinion that something should be done in the direction which my noble friend has suggested. As I have said, there is no question that some of these families are in dire poverty at the moment. I feel that I should give wholehearted support to my noble friend in his Motion.


My Lords, I would like to make one brief point on this matter in support of the Motion. In past days it was always assumed when a man became an officer that he had certain funds of his own, and was in fact a man of substance. In those circumstances the pension that was given to his widow was a good and proper gesture by the Government, but it was, not so essential to the officer's family as it is nowadays when officers may, and very frequently do, come from families which have no substance of their own for the youngsters to live on if the father is killed. Therefore I feel that an increase should be made now when it is no longer the case that officers come from moneyed families.


My Lords, as my noble friend the Leader of the House is unfortunately unable to be in his place for the next few days, he has asked me to reply to the Motion which the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, has moved. I think I should inform your Lordships that immediately after the noble Earl last moved on this subject, my noble friend took the matter up with his colleagues to see what could be done to deal with the points that the noble and gallant Earl impressed on the attention of the House. I had a conversation with the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, again this morning on the subject. It is quite clear that the problem is not one that can be dealt with in the simple form in which the noble and gallant Earl presented it to us. As the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, indicated a moment ago, the question of pensions is one which affects all ranks in the Services, and it would quite obviously be impossible to deal with the question of allowances for officers' children in isolation and without regard to the allowances for other ranks in these days when other ranks often come from precisely the same class as officers came from in the past and are equally anxious to send their children to public schools.

As your Lordships are aware, the Government, following representations in another place, have announced their intention of undertaking discussions on the pay and allowances of members of the Forces. Whilst the allowances, which your Lordships have under consideration to-day, are not directly covered by the discussions to which I have referred, and whilst I am certainly in no position to undertake any commitment whatever on behalf of His Majesty's Government, it would I am sure be wrong for me to make a final reply to the Motion before your Lordships when these conversations are still in progress. I think your Lordships will understand that the statement of Government policy on an issue of this nature should be made in both Houses at the same time. I will undertake, on behalf of my noble friend, that this shall be done, so far as your Lordships' House is concerned, and I can assure the noble and gallant Earl that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, has already adequately represented to Ministers concerned, his feelings and the feelings of those who support him.

I would add, if I may, that I realize how widespread is the support of the views of the noble and gallant Earl in this matter, but I trust the House will be good enough to defer any further consideration of the subject until these conversations have ended. The delay for which I am asking is not a long one. I dislike asking your Lordships to defer this matter, but in view of the whole of the Parliamentary position I hope that in the circumstances you will be good enough to do as I ask.


My Lords, may I be allowed to make a suggestion? If these conversations are going on with members of another place, although they do not specifically cover the subject raised by the noble and gallant Earl on this and previous occasions, why should not the noble and gallant Earl and others who have taken particular interest in this matter be included in these conversations? The noble Lord who is so admirably leading your Lordships' House in the absence of the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said that any announcement should be made simultaneously in both Houses. But apparently there is to be no simultaneous consultation of both Houses. I throw out the suggestion hoping that it may commend itself to the Government and to your Lordships.


My Lords, may I ask what is the position now in regard to this Motion? What is the effect of the proposal made by the noble Lord who is representing the Leader of the House? Shall we be called upon to negative this Motion, or shall we be asked to agree that it be adjourned? I should like an answer to that question because if we are to take any action we should be clear how the matter stands. I do not often agree with my noble friend opposite, Lord Strabolgi, but I do agree that the noble and gallant Earl, who has taken infinite trouble over this matter, and has so frequently championed the cause of the sailors, soldiers and airmen, should be asked to take part in the consultations which are now going on. I hope that an expression of that view from both sides of your Lordships' House may lead to such a course being adopted. My immediate reason for rising was to ask what is meant by the noble Lord's statement, because it is not quite clear whether we are to accept this Motion or defer it.


My Lords, if I may be allowed to intervene, I am sorry if I did not make my meaning clear. All I am asking is that the noble and gallant Earl should be good enough to defer his Motion for a short time.


To adjourn it?


To adjourn it. I perhaps may be allowed to add that I have myself represented to the people who are considering this matter the sense of the noble and gallant Earl's speeches on previous occasions which I spent Sunday in re-reading with great interest. I will certainly talk to the Leader in another place who is at present engaged in these conversations and see whether the suggestion which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, made can be accepted.


My Lords, before the noble and gallant Earl replies, I think we ought to have it made quite clear what really is the position with regard to this question of pensions. So far as pay and allowances are concerned, the issue was raised in another place in the general discussion on the Estimates. The Government then agreed to inquire into the question of the pay and allowances of serving members of the Forces. About the same time a Bill came before another place which referred specifically to pensions, pensions of civil servants. Pensions of officers were also to be dealt with in connexion with it, but, nevertheless, it was a Bill entirely connected with pensions. The noble Lord has suggested that this question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Cork, which is a question entirely connected with pensions and not with pay and allowances, is to be considered in the course of consultations on pay and allowances. Well, I would like to know before we dismiss the subject to-day whether that will be in order, and whether, when those consultations take place, it may not be said: "This is a question of pensions and not of pay and allowances, and it ought more properly to be considered in connexion with the Pensions Bill." Two or three weeks ago I raised in your Lordships' House the issue of officers' pensions. Surely this is a matter connected with officers' pensions, widows' pensions and the pensions payable for children. Therefore I venture to ask the noble Lord who is replying for the Government, before we come to a conclusion on this matter, that he will make it quite clear that the issue will be committed to this pay and allowances discussion and that it will not be thrust aside as being alien to it.


My Lords, before the noble Earl, Lord Cork, replies, I would, like to appeal to the noble Lord who is replying for the Government to take note of what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids. The noble Lord said that pensions for the children of officers and pensions for the children of other ranks were related; they are, but I should like to ask him to bear in mind Lord St. Davids' point that when pensions for children originally started a great number of officers had some private means. Not one officer in a thousand has any private means to-day. I hope the noble Lord will be able to give us an assurance—in case your Lordships' House is not consulted in this before the Government decide—that that point will be brought out and given attention to by the Government.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord who is speaking for the Government if I correctly understood his reply to Lord Strabolgi to be to the effect that the Government consider it would not be possible, in the event of any discussions taking place in which members of the Government and members of the other House were concerned, to include members of this House in those discussions.


I did not say so.


I raised this because, if it were as I thought, I wanted to support the point made by Lord Strabolgi. It will be within the memory of your Lordships that a very definite expression of the opinion of this House was recorded in support of the plea put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Cork, on a previous occasion. There ought, I think, to be no misunderstanding, or any feeling that when the subject was previously discussed here an inconclusive attitude existed. As a matter of fact the view of your Lordships was made very plain and an unmistakable expression of it was given. If it is possible for representatives of this House to be included in the forthcoming discussions, is there not the clearest reason why the noble Earl, Lord Cork, who, as Lord Jessel said, has devoted so much time to this matter, should be one of those chosen? The noble Lord really has had the support of the House given to him unmistakably in this matter. The point which has been raised by Viscount Elibank gives an additional reason why we should have some clarification from the Government spokesman in this connexion. I appeal to the noble Lord who is replying for the Government to make it clear in representations which he may put before the Government that the Earl of Cork has already had the support of this House.


My Lords, I think that what most of us here want is an assurance from Lord Woolton, who is replying for the Government to-day, that two things should take place. First, we should like an assurance that there will be a widening of the scope of the informal inquiries which we understand are proposed in another place. That is to say that they should be enlarged so as to in-chide the specific point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Cork, about the children of officers killed on active service. It is a very hard case, the particular case in which he is interested, and we all think that it requires to be dealt with. An assurance, that that would be included in whatever consultations take place in conformity with the promise given in the House of Commons would go far to satisfy many of us. The other point which, I think, appeals to all of us here, is that if members of the other House are engaged in consultations on the wide question of pensions as affecting all classes and ranks, would it not be a good plan that members of this House who have taken a special interest in it—notably Lord Cork himself, if I may say so, for he is a man who has done perhaps more than any other to help in this matter—should join in these consultations in some way? If these two points were conceded, if we could be told that they are considered reasonable by the Government, I, for one, and I think most of us here as well, would be entirely satisfied, provided, of course, it is made plain that there is not going to be too long a delay. I think we all feel somewhat uneasy about these matters, and I hope it may be possible for the noble Lord to meet us on both points.


My Lords, it was to ask for that assurance that I rose from my seat while my noble friend was speaking and was suppressed by semaphore from the Front Bench. That was the assurance that I wanted to get—that the noble Lord would undertake to see that this matter would be discussed in the course of these representations which are now being made to the Government and that a statement would be made in this House. I thank the noble Lord for his reply, and I feel sure that everybody here will be glad that the matter is being discussed again. I do not understand that it is being discussed because of the unanimous—or almost unanimous—expression of opinion in this House, but rather because of the somewhat rough handling the Government received in another place. How much better for the prestige of the Government it would have been if they had taken a friendly warning given by those who are their friends in this House. We have at sea a signal which we make to any ship which appears to be steering into trouble: "You are standing in to danger." The captain of a ship who receives that signal, if he is wise, makes haste to verify his position. The Government ignored that signal, and are very nearly on the rocks in consequence. I have, all along, fully recognized that if the wives and the children of the officers were to have pension allowances increased, it would follow that the wives and children of other ranks and ratings would have theirs increased, and that was what I hoped would be the result. I felt quite sure that if the officers obtained this the men would do so too, but I was not so sure that if the men obtained it the officers would do so. That is why I referred particularly to the children of officers.

Now that the whole range of allowances is to be reviewed, we must hope that the fighting man will obtain some sort of recompense for the dangers which he runs. I do not believe that the men do care so much about themselves, even if the basic pay cannot be raised, but they care very much about the conditions in which their families have to live now, and in which they will have to live in the future. The position is accentuated where those families lived in a community where almost everybody is engaged in the same trade. Your Lordships will recall that in the Bury St. Edmunds by-election two Ministers took the trouble to go down to speak on behalf of the Government candidate, and they said that the Government were going to look after the widows. Let the Government start to do so now, with the widows of the men who have given their lives in the national cause. In view of what the noble Lord has said from the Front Bench, I feel that I cannot ask the House to divide, and therefore I ask leave to withdraw my Motion; but I shall bring the matter up again if we do not obtain satisfaction as a result of this debate.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.