HL Deb 18 October 1944 vol 133 cc611-30

2.53 p.m.

THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY had given Notice that he would move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House it will be necessary to institute an inquiry after the conclusion of hostilities to examine the past methods of administering the Acts and Royal Warrants relating to Service pensions, and to report what steps, if any, are necessary for the removal and prevention of legitimate grievances.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, after the abortive debate which took place in this House a week ago on a somewhat similar Motion I took the advice then given me by the Leader of the House and put down, in his words, "a more general proposition" in order to have it more properly debated. It may not have been quite convenient to debate that Motion as it stood, but, as for the debate itself, there was nothing to find fault with. In fact, with the interposition of the noble Lord, Lord Rushcliffe, and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, I consider it was raised to a high level, and the Leader of the Opposition did not find anything of which to complain. I venture to think that if at the conclusion of that debate the question had gone to a Division there was a very strong body of opinion, even if not a clear majority, in support of the Motion. In so far as I am responsible for the error in the wording of the Motion I apologize, but I do not apologize for the loss of time which resulted from the phrasing of that Motion. The Motion had been down on the Paper for several days, and if anybody has to apologize for the loss of time in the debate I suggest it is the Government. It would have been perfectly easy to change the wording of that Motion before it came on without altering the principle by one iota.

The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, did not really attempt to controvert the arguments that were brought forward in favour of the Motion. His great talents were concentrated on persuading your Lordships that it was not the proper time to raise the matter. This is what he said: …it is asking more than is reasonable to ask from the Government such a declaration, in the very pinch of the war, which has still to be decided, that this post-war inquiry will be set up. Many and great schemes have come before your Lordships' House, and many more are on their way here, for dealing with what the Government intend to do after the war. Surely this relatively small matter, to obtain justice and fairness for most deserving people, might be included in the post-war programme. It is true, as the Lord Chancellor said, that the war is not yet decided, but we are all living and planning and banking on victory, which we know is going to come, if it does not come, what is the use of all your great schemes? They will be blown sky high; they will not be worth the paper they are written on.

All [...] am asking for to-day is an expression of opinion that an inquiry will be, necessary at the conclusion of this war to examine the past methods of administering the Acts and Royal Warrants relating to service pensions and to report what steps, if any, are necessary for the removal and prevention of legitimate grievances. Both the noble Lords I have mentioned gave examples of how necessary such an overhaul would be. Lord Rushcliffe spoke from his own experience on a Committee which was set up for this very purpose, to inquire into the anomalies of the pensions after the last war; while the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, described himself, as you will remember, as shocked by the way a case brought to his notice had been dealt with, and he found fault with the wording of the regulation under which that award had been given. I am quoting no mean opinion where the matter is one of right and justice. However, I think the greatest argument in favour of my Motion was in the words of the Lord Cbancellor, and was contained in his statement when he was referring to the pensions appeal tribunals, of which he said that, according to his information, they were working well. These are his words: The proportion of cases upon which, on appeal, it has been found possible and right to alter the original decision is very considerable. That may be a tribute to the appeal tribunals, and a proof that they are working well, but surely it is a reflection on those who gave the decisions in the first place. Not all the questions relating to pensions and allowances can be referred to the tribunals. May it not be that in a very considerable number of the cases that cannot be referred to the tribunals the decisions might be reversed, considering that they were taken by the very same people?

During the debate last Wednesday I mentioned the case of a widow who had been refused any educational allowance for her boy because of the poor circumstances of the boy at the end of 1939. Last Saturday morning I got a letter from the mother saying that she had on the 13th, two days after the debate in this House, received a communication from the Ministry of Pensions, saying that she had now been granted an educational allowance of £35 a year for the boy. Her original application went in six months ago, and during that time nothing at all had altered—neither the circumstances of the family, nor the regulations governing the awards—and yet it has been found possible to reverse the decision. It would appear, then, that it is possible to interpret these regulations in a humane way. If this had been done in the first place that unfortunate lady would have been saved six months' financial worry, superimposed upon all her other troubles.

That case cannot be unique. I myself have known rather similar cases. The noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, gave an instance only the other day of a lady who had written and asked whether her second child, who is approaching the age at which he could receive an allowance, would be allowed to have it. She got back an official answer to the effect that it could not be considered now—overlooking the fact that that good lady had to plan her budget ahead. No consideration was given. I took up the particular case I quoted to your Lordships because the lady in question was the widow of a ranker officer, and therefore possibly might not find it quite so easy to get her grievance brought forward as other people might. You may say, why do not all the cases go to the tribunal? but that does not answer. Tribunals have to administer the regulations. They have not got a free hand, and it is no part of their duty to suggest alterations or modifications. The inquiry I ask for would give that power. It would deal with the working of the regulations in retrospect, would be able to see whether they rub hardly here and there, and could recommend the changes necessary to remove any of the injustices and hardships.

The Lord Chancellor reminded the House that the war had still to be decided. That is of course true. It is because that decision may not come for several months that it is very important in every way to give some assurance that you will have this inquiry and so satisfy the country as well as this House and render it unnecessary to go to a Division. Having people about the country suffering from a sense of grievance is bad. It is not healthy, it forms cells of discontent. Every grievance is talked about and repeated from person to person. This touches everybody—every woman in/the country who has a husband or son serving abroad and who may lose him at any moment. It is just like a stone thrown into a pond. The ripples go outwards, and the reactions are felt far and wide. You cannot stifle discussion of this sort.

A statement to the effect that the Government will take every step, including an impartial inquiry, after the war will forestall any grievances, stymie all this grumbling, and strike a note of encouragement in many homes in this country. A comprehensive inquiry is the only practical way of getting at the facts. In what way would the Government suffer through committing themselves to such an inquiry now? I am sure it is the Government's intention to be kind and just and fair to everyone bereaved by the war. Why not proclaim the fact now? Anyhow I ask, if such an assurance is not forthcoming, that the House should register its opinion that an inquiry will be necessary at the conclusion of hostilities if we are to be fair and just to all who have suffered through the war. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House it will be necessary to institute an inquiry after the conclusion of hostilities to examine the past methods of administering the Acts and Royal Warrants relating to Service pensions, and to report what steps, if any, are necessary for the removal and prevention of legitimate grievances.

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to support the Motion moved by the noble and gallant Admiral. As he reminded us, this matter was discussed as recently as last Wednesday, when the Motion which he moved was that a Select Committee should be set up, as after the last war, to go into these matters. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, took what I consider a perfectly sound constitutional point—namely, that Select Committees are not set up by the Government but by Parliament, and therefore in form at any rate the noble and gallant Admiral's Motion was not right. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack put to the House what was the Government's substantial objection to acceptance of the Motion. He said that this is not the time to give such a pledge. He pointed out that the Select Committee of 1919 was set up, not during the war, but after the Armistice, after the fighting had ceased, and when the financial situation of the country was beginning to be surveyed as an after-war problem. For these and other reasons, he said, it was premature for the Government to give any such pledge at the present time. It seems to me, on the best consideration I can give to it, that the present Motion of the noble Earl meets in substance the objections which were raised last week.

What is Lord Cork's object? His object is simply this—and it is one with which everyone must have complete sympathy—to secure that grievances, if grievances exist, shall be considered and dealt with by an impartial tribunal. He does not mind, I gather, whether it is a Select Committee or a Royal Commission or any other form of inquiry so long as the inquiry is impartial and comprehensive. The Lord Chancellor pointed out that the 1919 inquiry was held when the financial situation of the country was beginning to be surveyed as an after-war problem. We do not know what the financial position of the country will be after the war, but none the less the Government have entered into every kind of commitment. They have accepted in substance the recommendations of Sir William Beveridge. What the financial situation will be I do not know, nor probably do they, but none the less they are prepared to implement these recommendations to a large extent to secure freedom from want after the war.

On the Order Paper to-day we have the Second Reading of the Unemployment Insurance (Increase of Benefits) Bill. The Government are prepared to-day to pass legislation which will provide for further benefits for the unemployed. They have passed the Education Act, and given promises and pledges that the school-leaving age will be raised. I do not quarrel with these things in the least—it is probably all perfectly right. I am only quoting these examples to show that the Government have entered into pledges now to do certain things after the war, all of which will certainly cost money. Take the Act passed the other day for which the Minister of Labour was responsible—the Act to ensure priority to people who have lost their jobs during the war so as to ensure that they will go back to them when the war is over. What Lord Cork is afraid of, and what some of us are afraid of, is that with all these claims on the benevolence of the State, the people for whom he is concerned—namely, the serving soldier, sailor, and airman—may be by-passed, overlooked, and disregarded. What he wants to ensure is that that shall not happen, that a pledge shall be given to them now that their claims will be considered along with the claims of other people.

It would be a most serious misfortune if the view should gain ground—and certainly it already exists—that the obligations of the State to other sections of the community are not reflected the Government's attitude to the soldier, sailor, and airman. We know—everyone knows —that but for them none of these other advantages would be possible at all. They and they alone will be responsible for victory, and without victory all these advantages would be lost and no one would get anything. Therefore, Lord Cork says, and says rightly, that in considering these things we should be satisfied that their claims will be looked into and, if grievances exist, that they will be put right. If this inquiry finds that no grievances exist, everyone will be satisfied and nothing need be done, but in so far as grievances exist they should be put right and justice should be done. I do not myself think for a moment that a mere departmental inquiry by the Minister of Pensions is sufficient. What is needed, as the noble and gallant Admiral said, is a comprehensive inquiry by an impartial tribunal which can hear in evidence the grievances of those who think they have them, and winch can report accordingly.

There is just one other point. If I may say so, the Government for another reason would be very well advised to accept this Motion and give this pledge now. If they do not, organizations representing soldiers, sailors, and airmen wild make their own inquiries, and there will be a great many reports by a considerable number of organizations. These reports may be conflicting, they will certainly be embarrassing, and it would be very much better for all concerned if there were what the noble Earl, Lord Cork, asks for, an impartial and comprehensive inquiry. That would give satis- faction to those who are concerned and to whom everybody wishes to do justice, and it would allay grievances if grievances exist. For that reason I warmly support the Motion which my noble and gallant friend has moved.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, I think it was Bernard Shaw, and if my memory serves rightly, in The Devil's Disciple, who wrote that the British soldier could stand up against anything except the British War Office. If I might adapt Shaw, I think I might say that the British soldier, sailor or airman can stand up equally against anything except the British Treasury. There is just one particular aspect of this matter about which I would like to say a word this afternoon, because it is practically impossible to spend three or four years in one of the Services, as I have done, without acquiring a certain knowledge of it, and that is this question of "acting rank" and "temporary rank." They call it "temporary rank" in the Army, in the Air Force they call it "acting rank," but to all intents and purposes the terms mean the same thing.

The position, put very shortly, is something like this. It is understandable that there should have been a proviso, promotion being as rapid as it generally is in war-time, that pension rights should not be acquired by officers merely by virtue of their holding acting rank. All they get is the rank and the pay. They do not become eligible for pension nor, if they are killed or die on active service, do their widows or children. I suggest to your Lordships that, having regard to the length of the conflict, the state of affairs which has arisen might have been foreseen. To take a concrete case. A friend of mine has been serving abroad in a foreign theatre of war for four and a half years. He was, in May, 1940, an Acting Lieutenant-Colonel and he is an Acting Lieutenant-Colonel to-day. In respect of that four and a half years he draws nothing towards a pension either for himself, or for his widow should he be killed, and he will draw nothing as long as he holds the acting rank. That I know—and I speak from experience and from inside knowledge of those who feel very strongly on this matter, at any rate in the Middle East—is a very great injustice. I suggest very strongly to your Lordships that it cries out for a remedy. It is one of the first things to which the Government should direct their attention when they amend these regulations in regard to pensions.

This important matter is raised not for the first time and it has been argued very ably by the noble and gallant Earl who has lent his prestige to it. I would ask your Lordships to picture for a moment the position of a man who has had the honour and glory not to mention the exhilaration and appalling weight of responsibilty of commanding in battle abroad a British Armoured Division. He returns to this country and what happens to him? He gets the pay and the rank of a Colonel, one of the gentlemen you see wandering up from Whitehall to lunch at one of the Clubs in Pall Mall. It is a bit of a come-down and it rankles. Take another example. Why should a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm lose his flying pay because he has been wounded? That surely is a scandal. There are many men in all branches of the Services at home and abroad who hold acting rank several steps above their war substantive rank but they are not eligible for pensions, nor are their widows or dependents, in respect of that rank. The solution of the problem seems to me to be a very simple one; that is for the Government to say in effect that a certain period of service, say two years, or any period they like to fix, even eighteen months or two and a half years, shall henceforth qualify a man for these pension rights. If you do that then this very real grievance will be remedied.

It seems to me a very sorry state of affairs that these people. who are fighting in all the four corners of the globe, should be treated like this. You do not do this kind of thing in the munition factories. There the trade unionists see to that, and Mr. Bevin takes very good care that the people employed in them are well paid and well fed and looked after. I think your Lordships will agree that we must look after our men who are fighting abroad and who, according to General Eisenhower, in his cable to the New York Herald to-day, still have a lot of bitter fighting ahead of them. I commend to His Majesty's Government Kipling's counsel: O! it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, go away,' But it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the band begins to play. I hope I am wrong, but it seems that the band is going to go on playing for some time. It has taken us five years to hang out our washing on the Siegfried Line. I hope your Lordships will strongly support this Resolution.

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, in a few words I want to support the Motion of my noble and gallant friend Lord Cork. I am not going to repeat anything I said on a previous occasion. I wish in particular to observe that I cannot understand why the noble Lord who replies for the Government should have any hesitation about accepting this Motion. It is not suggested on behalf of the Government that the existing Royal Warrants are altogether satisfactory or that there are not serious grievances which have arisen in their operation. If they were to set up the contention that the Warrants are perfect and that no inquiry whatever would be needed, that at any rate would be a logical argument, but at present I am unable to understand why—with the practical admission that the Warrants are imperfect and that they are applied sometimes with a great lack of justice as regards the recipients of benefits under them—there should be any difficulty in accepting the opinion of this House that it will be necessary to institute an inquiry after the conclusion of hostilities. It is not as if the noble and gallant Admiral had fixed a date, nor is it as if he has specified the nature of the inquiry he wants. It seems to me to be an inquiry of a most harmless character, and I very much hope that the noble Leader of the House will be able to accept the Motion.

There is one other thing I should add. Since the matter came before your Lordships a week ago I took the opportunity of reading through the whole of the relevant Royal Warrants connected with this matter. I do not intend to take up the time of the House in criticizing them, but I do express my opinion with a very wide knowledge of documents of this character that they are not satisfactory, that there are various ways in which they might be amended, and that in the interests of justice it is very desirable that there should be an inquiry as soon as a suitable opportunity occurs.

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I should just like to say a few words in support of the Motion. The noble and gallant Earl who raised the matter gave the instance of a young widow who asked whether she could get a pension for her child in a year or two's time. She was told, I understand, that she could not be given an answer now. I have had a great number of communications from young officers saying it is the uncertainty that worries them. They say they do not know whether or not, if they are killed, their widows will get any pension until a child becomes of pensionable age. That is one of the things that should be inquired into.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support the Motion, because we have had a good deal of experience of similar Motions in the Canadian Parliament and I think in other Parliaments in the British Dominions. It must not be forgotten that Governments of their own Motion have from time to time introduced legislation that has met to no inconsiderable extent the complaints made. In the last few years legislation has created appeal tribunals which have exercised a very salutary effect upon decisions heretofore given. A Canadian friend of mine has brought to my notice the case of a widow whose husband died in uniform on duty in South Africa. She was refused a pension and she appealed to the tribunal which also refused. Then notice of appeal was given under a provision in the Statute that any question of law could be raised before a Judge of the High Court. Although she was represented by counsel before the tribunal on her application for leave to appeal to a Judge on a question of law, neither she nor her solicitors received notice of the time when the Judge would deal with the application, which was considered by the Judge without the applicant or anyone on her behalf having notice that the Judge was considering her application. All that happened was that an intimation was sent saying that leave to appeal was refused. In my view that was a gross miscarriage of justice. That is the type of case in which a Judge should have decided after argument whether a point of law existed. To my mind there was very clearly a point of law for the reason that there is a provision in the Royal Warrant that in case of doubt the applicant shall receive the benefit of the doubt. Where one doctor asserts that the condition of the soldier was aggravated by his service and the pensions doctor says it was not, you have then one in favour and one against the claim of the widow, and the rule of law as I have always understood it is that where there is such a division of opinion there is a reasonable doubt and the matter must be resolved in favour of the applicant if the law provides as it does here that the applicant shall have the benefit of the doubt.

That widow's husband when he was in civil life was a motor salesman in Surrey. He was examined twice and was given a certificate that he was fit to go abroad. He died in a train in South Africa in the performance of his duty. The view expressed by the pensions doctor was that that man's condition—coronary thrombosis—could not in any sense be attributed to his service or be aggravated by it. On the other hand a very eminent doctor said that it could be so aggravated and was aggravated. The pensions doctor, however, said that it could not be aggravated, that it was constitutional, and that was the end of it. The man had been in perfect health for ten years and one of the members of the tribunal said that in view of the final report made upon him by the medical officers he would not have let the man go abroad but would have sent him to hospital. In the last war the same point was raised about rheumatic fever and it was held ultimately that when a heart condition developed from rheumatic fever a pension was payable. At least, I am so informed. One eminent specialist said that the condition was aggravated by the man's service, that the condition was such as to require quiet, and that the moment the man had to engage in exercise the condition was aggravated and brought about a fatal result. I am not going to discuss the merits or demerits of that case any further. I am only expressing the views given by medical men.

The British Legion and other service organizations are constantly bringing to the attention of the Ministry of Pensions conditions as they find them. It was? only last year that legislation was enacted at the instance of the Government because of the representations made as to the necessity for appeal. The question as to the benefit of the doubt has been the subject matter of discussion in every Parliament in the British Dominions, I believe. In Canada it was discussed at great length and a whole afternoon was taken up in the House of Commons there with discussion about the benefit of the doubt. The position should be made clearer than it has been in the past. To say that every applicant shall have the benefit of reasonable doubt would seem fair to all reasonable men; but there has been no definitive expression of opinion from those in ultimate authority as to what meaning should be attached to the paragraph in the Royal Warrant dealing with this matter. That should be done, but in the case to which I have referred opportunity to discuss the point of law involved was refused. I support the Motion with the greatest satisfaction and pleasure, because I believe an inquiry is desirable. In the Dominions inquiries have been held either before Commissions or Committees.

I disagree with my noble and gallant friend, however, when he asks the Government to express their intentions. In one of the Dominions, in answer to the question "What are the Government's intentions?" the reply was: "The intention of the Government will be made known if, as and when legislation is introduced to deal with the subject matter in question." That is the proper constitutional reply. It is not a question of the Government's intentions as expressed in legislation dealing with any matter, which is a vastly different thing. To ask a Government antecedently to express an intention with respect to matters is one thing; to express it in Parliamentary form in Statute is another. With the case to which reference has been made, the case in which intention has been legislatively expressed with respect to pensions, education and other matters, I will not again deal. I think that the Motion as it now stands, seeking merely an inquiry with respect to the administration of the pension laws of this country, is something that is in keeping with what has been done in every one of the self-governing Dominions, so far as I know. Such an inquiry could not but be advantageous to everybody, not least for the reason last mentioned by my noble friend Lord Rushcliffe that it would obviate the danger of creating cells of discontent. I am bound to say that I saw a General Election conducted in Canada largely with respect to the administration of the Pensions Act. That is something to be avoided, and if I, as more or less a stranger, may say so, this is one of the countries in the world that has been able to keep clear of the ballot box in the ultimate decisions upon matters of justice and fair play towards, and the proper treatment of, those who have offered their lives in the defence of the State.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, last week the noble Earl, Lord Cork, raised in your Lordships' House the question of Service pensions, a subject to which the noble Earl has devoted great attention, and on which he speaks, as we all know, with great knowledge and authority. He asked at that time for a definite assurance on the part of 'His Majesty's Government that they would set up, after the war, a Select Committee to consider this question. As your Lordships will remember, the Motion, as it was at that time drafted, raised a number of practical difficulties which were pointed out by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, Viscount Samuel, and others. Lord Cork suggested in the debate that the Motion might be altered. He made the suggestion at the end of the debate, and he has reverted to the question to-day. Though our rules of order are extremely wide, I do not think that this would have been a very satisfactory mode of procedure. I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Earl that he did not press his Motion, on that occasion, to a Division, but decided instead to table another Motion not open to the same technical objections.

With that fighting spirit, if I may say so, for which the noble Earl is renowned in the Navy, he put this second Motion on the Paper for the earliest possible day, and he has introduced it with the speech which your Lordships have heard this afternoon. I think that is proof that there is no desire to stifle, or indeed no possibility of stifling, discussion on this subject. The fact that in your Lordships' House you should have no fewer than two debates in five days on this subject should reassure the noble Earl. He spoke of stifling discussion. I cannot believe that he would maintain that attitude in the light of what has happened.


My Lords, I do not think I said anything about stifling discussion.


My Lords, if he did not say anything about it, I am certainly very glad to withdraw what I said. Now I want to make it clear at the outset that there is no difference in any quarter of the House, so far as I know, either on the Front Bench or any other Bench, as to the object which we all seek to attain. I think—indeed I know—that all of us, if I may use the words of the noble Earl's Motion, desire the "removal and prevention of legitimate grievances." I am quite certain there is not a single noble Lord in this House who would not say that the welfare of Service-men comes very high, if not above all else, in his thoughts. The only question before us in this House to-day is what is the best machinery to employ for this purpose, and what is the proper time to decide upon the nature of this machinery. That is the only question involved in this Motion.

As I hope to show your Lordships, this question is not really quite so simple as it looks. The pensions question has been described—indeed If think it has been so described this afternoon—as a post-war problem, and the point was made by one or two speakers that His Majesty's Government have found no difficulty in tackling other post-war problems. But I suggest that this question of pensions is entirely different from such questions as social security, health service, education and so on, in one important respect. It is not a question of the money that is to be spent. One speaker, I think it was Lord Rushcliffe, said we were going to spend enormous sums; we did not know how much. That is not the question. The question really is one of uncertainty as to the nature and scope of the problem which we have to face in this particular matter. In the other cases which have been mentioned—those great schemes of reconstruction—all the essential factors are before us. We know exactly what alterations in the law are necessary to produce the desired results in the future. That is not the position in regard to Service pensions.

Here there are a number of factors which are at present entirely unknown. The noble Earl's Motion refers to no definite moment for the setting up of this inquiry. He does not say when it is to be held. He uses the general phrase "after the conclusion of hostilities." Now I do not complain of that in the least. We none of us know yet when and in what circumstances such an inquiry as this could be set up. The noble Earl himself does not say what hostilities he means. He does not say whether it is the end of hostilities with Germany, or the end of hostilities with Japan. I appreciate the difficulty of the noble Earl, because none of us yet know exactly how this war is going to end. It may end all at one moment just as the last war ended. It may end by some gradual, slow, steady disintegration of the enemy. That may be the way in which it will come to an end. And yet, in spite of this uncertainty, this House is asked in the noble Earl's Motion to express a definite view without knowledge of any of those circumstances. I do not put that forward as a mere debating point. To my mind it is right and important to emphasize the inevitable vagueness of the proposition which is being put 'before your Lordships. I do not complain of that—the vagueness, as I say, is inevitable.

But may I draw your Lordship's attention to another defect in this Motion? It assumes that at the indefinite moment, to which I have referred, when some hostilities come to an end, methods of pensions administration will call for inquiry. That may be the position; I do not deny it at all. I hope it will not be, but it may, and in that case, if at that time the methods of pension administration give cause for an inquiry, there will, of course, have to be an inquiry; there is no doubt about that. I would not seek to-day to rule out that possibility, but at present we do not know what the position will be, and I think that it would be a very great mistake to assume that legitimate grievances in this sphere cannot be removed without an inquiry, or that grievances which exist now will still exist when the time for the inquiry comes.

As your Lordships know, or should know, numbers of these grievances are continually in process of being removed. The pensions situation never has been static, and it is not static at present. My right honourable friend the Minister of Pensions has said again and again that if any real grievance is shown to exist he will advise the Government to remedy it. As your Lordships will remember, there was a very exhaustive review carried out in 1943 which gave a considerable measure of satisfaction to ex-Servicemen and their representatives. Nor was that review by any means final; there have been further improvements made since. I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, referred to some of them in his speech this afternoon. While the Government hope—and I make no bones about this—that these improvements have removed the main grievances and that no further alterations of importance will be found to be necessary, they are still ready to examine any further substantial complaints which may arise.

The noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, in his speech last week, said with regard to those who feel that they have grievances: … their number would be much reduced if they knew that their case would be judged by a sympathetic and impartial tribunal instead of being, as in some cases they are, dismissed by the arbitrary rule of the Minister, against whose decision there does not happen to be an appeal. He gave the impression—I do not know whether he intended to do so—that my right honourable friend the Minister was not perhaps a malevolent but at all events a very autocratic dictator who, without any advice, came to his own arbitrary conclusions. No doubt somebody, whatever the system may be, has to take final decisions, and presumably under our constitutional system the man who should take the final decision is the Minister who is responsible to Parliament; but it is clear, I agree, that the Minister ought to have proper machinery to enable him to receive advice. And in fact machinery for this very purpose of bringing complaints to the Minister already exists and, so far as I know, is functioning quite efficiently. I was a little surprised that in the whole of this debate there has been no reference to the machinery in question, and it is quite possible that there are some noble Lords who are not aware that it exists.

In fact, however, there is already in existence what is known as the Central Advisory Committee, which is set up for the precise purpose of bringing grievances to the notice of the Minister. This Committee was set up by Statute and its membership is very comprehensive; it is fully representative of all those who, in their various capacities, work for the welfare of ex-Servicemen and their dependants. It includes Members of Parliament representing all the major political Parties, one member of your Lordships' House (Lord Nathan, whom I am very glad to see here this afternoon), three chairmen and one other experienced member of the War Pensions Committees, which, as your Lordships know, are independent bodies who give voluntary assistance to the Minister throughout the country and are able to keep in the closest and most constant touch with the feelings of ex-Servicemen, and four members of the British Legion. It is, in fact, as representative a body as any appointed to deal with this subject could be.

This Committee has the very widest possible terms of reference. To it the Minister can bring any criticism of a pension system of a general nature or which raises a point of principle. Equally from the other side any member of the Committee can bring to the notice of the Committee any matter of a similar nature which comes to his attention, with a view to having it fully discussed. That is the machinery which is already in existence, and I am sure the House will agree that it is not ill-devised for the purpose for which it was brought into being. It is always open to any noble Lord to bring to the notice of my noble friend Lord Nathan any point which requires investigation. I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, did in fact consult the noble Lord with regard to the cases which he has raised in this House. I do not know whether Lord Morris, who put several very important points, mentioned them to Lord Nathan. I feel quite sure, however, though I speak for the noble Lord without having consulted him, that he would be very ready to give any point brought to his attention the fullest consideration.

I should add that the Minister of Pensions empowers me to say that he will not hesitate to consult the Committee if there is any good reason for him to do so, and he also asks me to tell your Lordships that he is very ready personally to discuss points of substance with any responsible critic; and that if Lord Cork, Lord Trenchard or any other noble Lord who has spoken has any definite grievance or difficulty which he desires to put before the Minister, such as the delay in reaching decisions to which the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, referred, the Minister would warmly welcome a talk with him. I hope—I shall not go further than that—that it is unlikely than any really serious, legitimate, material grievance will pass through this very elaborate sieve without having been given proper consideration. But if, in spite of all these precautions, it is found, at the end of the war, or very near the end of the war, that these grievances still persist, surely that is the time for the noble Earl, Lord Cork, to raise the matter in this House. I can assure him that His Majesty's Government at the proper time will be very ready to give to any views expressed by the House their most sympathetic consideration. But to press this Motion now, when the circumstances in which the inquiry might be held are completely unknown, and when it is not even known whether an inquiry will be necessary, would surely be both premature and unjustifiable.

The noble Earl and other noble Lords have ventilated their views this afternoon, and indeed, as I think the House knows I have great sympathy with what they say on many of these questions. They have expressed their concern. I suggest to the noble Earl that the proper course is now to withdraw this Motion, reserving, as strongly as he likes, in the speech which he will make at the end of the debate, his right to raise the question again whenever he thinks it proper to do I in my turn will readily give him the assurance that I will bring what has been said this afternoon to the notice of the Government. I believe that that is the wise and proper course to adopt, and I hope that the House will adopt it. A Division on this matter, on which there is no disagreement as to the object to be achieved but only as to the machinery to be adopted, would surely be deplorable.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, in a recent debate on this subject, speaking with all his experience as a Prime Minister of Canada, warned the House of the danger of making this question a political issue. He spoke very wisely on that subject, and I hope that the House will be guided by the grave warning which he then gave. To adopt the course which I now propose to the noble Earl would, I believe, safeguard all the rights of the noble Earl and his friends on this matter, and would enable them to raise this question again at any time when they felt that it was proper to do so, and when, as I say, the nature of the problem could be more easily assessed by the Government and by the House.


My Lords, may I ask the Leader of the House before the noble and gallant Earl replies—


Order, order

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should very much like to meet the views of the Leader of the House, and I know perfectly well that his sympathies are with us in the points that have been raised, but I would remind him that, accompanied by three other noble Lords, I met him and two other Ministers. It was then suggested that I should see the Minister of Pensions, and I left the room believing that I was going to have an interview on this point with the Minister. I thought it had been arranged. But I have never heard one single word since.


There may have been a misunderstanding. I do not know the facts, but it is quite possible the Minister was expecting to receive an approach from the noble Earl—like Lord Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan.


That may be. I cannot see that this question of pensions is entirely different. The noble Viscount quoted some remarks I made in the last debate in this House. I said then that when we got a calmer atmosphere and knew what our future commitments were we could have all this reviewed. We know that we shall have to do what we can for these pensioners at the end of the war. It seems to me it is quibbling to ask whether it is at the end of the hostilities with Japan or the hostilities with Germany. I believe it would be a note of encouragement to a great number of people in this country if they knew there was another chance for them and that their cases would be reviewed. I want to reassure these people now, and I believe it is possible and would do no harm at all. As to the raising of political issues, there is nothing political about it. I am perfectly sure that if we go to a Division, however that Division goes, there will be members of all Parties on both sides, and I propose to ask those who believe that such a Committee will be necessary to vote that way this afternoon.

On Question, Motion agreed to.