HL Deb 08 November 1955 vol 194 cc321-3

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the dissatisfaction caused by the failure to implement the undertakings regarding retired pay given to those officers who retired under the terms of the Royal Warrant (and corresponding instruments) of 1919; whether they are aware of the adverse effects of this failure on the supply of suitable officers for the Services; whether arty statement on this most important matter can now be made; and whether it is proposed to give any special terms to the few survivors of those officers who retired before 1914.]


My Lords, the noble Lord must, I think, be aware, from two or three debates on this subject, that Her Majesty's Government cannot accept the implications of the first two parts of his Question. None the less, I can say, as was announced last week in another place, that the review currently in progress of the Pensions Increase Schemes includes in its scope the officers in whom the noble Lord is particularly interested.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the statement he has just made will cause the most grievous disappointment amongst the old officers concerned? With reference to his statement about the first two parts of the Question, is he aware that the Prime Minister recently said: "We stand by all our promises," or words to that effect? Those promises were not made by the present Government, but were inherited by them; but is the noble Earl aware that they were accepted as promises by the officers concerned, and that an immense amount of harm has been done by the failure of successive Governments to implement those promises?


My Lords, I wish to ask a supplementary question on the reply of the noble Earl. As he said, this matter has been before your Lordships' House for two or three years. I wish to ask whether there is any likelihood whatever of anything being done to alleviate the distress from which these officers are suffering. I would remind your Lordships that these officers are almost weekly getting fewer and fewer: they are dying fast, because all of us who were in the First World War are getting very old. I hope the noble Earl will be able to tell us that something will be done in the not too far distant future.


My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, says this matter has been before the House for two or three years, I would remind him that there was passed last year an Act which directly affected these officers. The noble Lord, Lord Jeffreys, continues in his charge of breach of faith. I know that the noble Lord feels strongly on this subject, but I think it is a pity that he should accuse successive Governments over the last twenty years of what amounts to breach of faith. I should like to remind the noble Lord of what was in the Warrants to which he refers by reading just one sentence from the R.A.F. Warrant. It says: No officer shall be entitled to claim here after any pay, pension, or other advantage conferred by any provision in this scheme in the event of any such provision being at any time added to, varied or cancelled. I think the meaning of that sentence is clear.


My Lords, arising out of that, I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government this question. The last time this subject was debated the Government were asked to look especially at the few remaining cases of officers who retired before 1914 and who are still receiving the same rates of pension. I should like to know whether anything has been done for these officers. I should also like to ask what material progress, if any, is represented by the review to which the noble Earl referred in his Answer.


My Lords, I have always been told that for the last hundred years every Lord Chancellor, on taking his seat, has signed a patent guaranteeing to himself his pension free of all taxes. I have always been told, also, that no Lord Chancellor has been able to get the Treasury to implement that policy. I hope that this is not going to be a similar tale.


My Lords, on that point I may say that it was because the Income Tax Act, 1919, said that wherever a pension was given free of all taxes it was to be understood that it was to be subject to income tax and surtax.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Earl for answering a question to which I had not a ready reply. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, asked about the 1914 pensioners. As we said in the last debate, we have looked into these cases. I think it is fair to say that in the majority of them these men retired from the Services at a comparatively early age—that is somewhat obvious—and subsequently took other employment. Many also have private means. The investigation has already had some result, and I can say that there are two Naval officers who had not applied for increases to which they were entitled, but which they are now receiving. An award has also been made to an Army officer who recently became eligible. I might add that if the noble Lord is aware of hardship amongst any officers of the 1914 class, we should be glad to hear of it. The noble Lord also asked what material progress, if any, is represented by the review. I can assure him that progress has been made. The noble Lord will be aware that owing to economic difficulties an autumn Budget has been introduced. None the less, Her Majesty's Government have continued their review of the Pensions Increase Scheme and have promised to announce their conclusions in due course.

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