HL Deb 11 July 1962 vol 242 cc315-35

6.20 p.m.

LORD WINDLESHAM rose to call attention on to the hardship imposed on ex-Regular members of the Polish Forces resident in this country by the refusal of successive British Governments to grant a pension to them; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in March of this year I put down a Question on the subject of the Motion I have on the Order Paper to-day, the subject of pensions for Regular Polish ex-Servicemen, and in view of the reply which I obtained at the time from the First Lord, replying for the Government, which I considered to be unsatisfactory, I told him then that I would raise the matter again at the earliest possible moment. I am grateful to the usual channels for giving me time to-day in order to do so. My reasons for thinking that the reply I obtained was unsatisfactory I shall give a little later, but meantime, for the benefit of such noble Lords who are not perhaps fully conversant with the Polish contribution in the last war, I might remind your Lordships of one or two things before I go on to the main part of my speech, which contains a plea to do a certain thing.

May I remind your Lordships that the contribution of the Poles in the last war in all three Services was very considerable indeed, and I believe that is beyond dispute. It was considerable in the Navy, and I rather hope for a little contribution later from the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition, who with his great knowledge of the Navy will remember very well what the Polish contribution was during the war from the naval point of view. Then, also, the noble and gallant Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Fraser of North Cape, who I am sorry to see has just left the Chamber, will also remember the substantial contribution which the Poles made. The sinking of the cruiser "Gram" off Narvik early in the war was one event which will still be in your minds.

Where the air was concerned, you have only to go to Northolt and look at the Polish War Memorial there and count the numbers. In Fighter Command it was said between one-seventh and one-eighth of fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain were Polish. There is no need for -me to take the time of the House going over the Battle of Britain. We know what Mr. Churchill said about it. For one out of seven or eight of the pilots to be provided by the Polish Air Force was a very considerable achievement. Where the Army was concerned—and I will speak a little more about that later—there was, of course, the First Polish Armoured Division which eventually went to France with the 21st Army Group, and General Anders Second Polish Corps in Italy under the command of Field Marshal Lord Alexander of Tunis. I am again a little sorry that since in this House we enjoy the company of no fewer than four noble and gallant Field Marshals who had that Polish Corps under their command, none of them has seen fit to take part in the debate to-day. No doubt they are busy elsewhere.

I have no intention at this time of the evening of playing on sentiment. This is not a sentimental matter basically; it is a matter of fairness, of what is fair and right. Therefore, I will spare you a long list of stories about poor old men working lifts, sweepers in museums, and so on, though I could easily go on for a long time on that subject. But I will spare you that, because I want to stick to the facts of the matter. I have been impressed in the last few weeks by the extraordinary ignorance of this matter I have encountered practically everywhere. One noble Lord came up to me in the Prince's Chamber not long ago and said: "I am sympathetic to your ideas because I served with the Poles in the War, but we cannot do anything for them that we do not do for our own ex-Service men." I am not asking for anything for the Poles which is not done for our own ex-Service men; I am just asking that they should not have less.

What I really want, and what I am asking the First Lord, as spokesman for the Government, for, is a fair answer to a perfectly straightforward, fair question. Why are Polish ex-Regular personnel treated less well than their British counterparts when it was clearly laid down and understood in the Anglo-Polish Agreement of August 5, 1940, that they would be treated the same as British Servicemen in every respect? The Treasury answer to this could be as follows: "Pensions precisely were not mentioned in the agreement ". But then we assumed that we should emerge the victors at the end of the War, as indeed we did, and it was assumed that our Allies, Poles and others, Dutch, Belgians, Greeks and Norwegians, would be able to return home and draw their pensions in their own countries, pensions they had earned in peace and war. That was assumed, and a very reasonable assumption it was.

But came the Yalta Conference, and at Yalta an agreement was entered into by ourselves and our American allies with the Russians, admittedly in circumstances obtaining at the time which we could not disregard. I do not blame Mr. Churchill at all for what he did at Yalta; he had to do it. But the fact remains that at that point Poland was divided, split up, and a Government imposed upon it on that day; and from that day onwards 99 per cent. of the Poles serving under British command were not able to go home and get pensions. Even if they had gone home, and a few did, though inadvisedly in my opinion, they certainly would have got no pensions and would have done well if duress did not descend upon them. Therefore—and this is what I want to make clear—as a result of Yalta they had to come to us; they could go to nobody else to get the pension, not only for their war service under our command but their pre-war service in their own country, which was of value to us eventually because we profited by it.

Again, the saving to the British purse was fairly considerable. We acquired at the outset of the war a substantial body of trained men in all three Services. We did not have to pay to train them. They were perhaps defective in modern techniques, but they were trained men with years of service behind them, particularly in the case of the Army. The 2nd Polish Corps came from Russia, as refugees virtually, under their great leader, General Anders. The British Army picked them up, fed them, clothed them, formed them into units and formations and despatohed them to Palestine for training, where I, among others, was responsible to the Commander in Chief, Middle East, for that training. An Army corps is a very large number of soldiers, and that corps had only three or four months' training before they were fit and ready to join General Alexander's order of battle in Italy. A British corps would have taken two years from scratch to get to that point. Therefore a tremendous saving in money, though it is difficult to say exactly what it was, was effected to the British purse, and it is just a small part of that which these few old survivors are now asking for—a sum immeasurably less.

When the First Lord answered me in March he said that my contention that in other countries pensions were being paid to Polish ex-Servicemen was incorrect. I had, of course, taken the trouble to look it up before, but I have taken a great deal more trouble since to look it up again, and I can assure the noble Lord that, unless our sources of information are wrong in the most extraordinary way, in Canada the War Veterans have announced in a pamphlet that pensions are being paid already. It states quite clearly: Veterans of Canadian, Commonwealth and Allied Forces who served in World War and who have resided in Canada at least ten years will be treated the same as Canadian ex-Servicemen where pensions are concerned.

In France, the circumstances are a little different; and in any case we must remember that the French Army at the end of the war had no Polish formations under their command; neither were they signatories to the Yalta Agreement. Nevertheless, last year the French Government reached a decision by which it recognised the pre-war years of professional service in Poland, the service with all Allied Forces during the war (as we did) and the years of employment in France after the war, as forming one whole period of service entitling the Poles to the right of pension on the ground of securité sociale. As from that date such pensions have been paid in France to Poles who are over 65 years of age. That is the position in France. The point is that the pre-war service in Poland is recognised as forming part of the whole.

Finally, about a year ago in the United States a member of Congress proposed that the Congress of the United States of America should introduce an amendment to Section 109 of Title 38 of the United States Code, according to which any person who served on active service in the armed forces of any Government allied to the U.S.A. in World War I or II, and who has been a resident in the United States of America for at least ten years, should benefit to the same extent as if such service had been performed in the armed services of the United States. Mr. Robert Kennedy was approached in this matter, recognised its importance and supported the proposed amendment by a letter to Mr. Gleeson, administrator of foreign matters, and that amendment was filed under number HR3546. Whether any Polish ex-servicemen in the United States have in fact drawn a pension, I am not sure; I think it is possible that they have not. But that the clear intention is that they should, seems unmistakable.

What worries me a little on all this is this: if our Government put up a stand in regard to this matter and say "No", how is it that the present Prime Minister, writing to The Times precisely eleven years ago to-day, in 1951, wrote as follows: We in Britain have a deep and lasting debt to the Poles. The stories of the Battle of Britain, of Tobruk, of Monte Cassino and the discovery of the V1 would have been different without them. Can we truthfully say that we have discharged that debt while Poland is under the domination of a tyrannical foreign Power, and while in this country officers with 30 or 40 years' distinguished service"— and other ranks, I should like to add— go from place to place seeking employment as dish-washers or liftmen? We are asking at the moment for no special treatment for the overwhelming number of Poles now in this country"— this was written by the present Prime Minister. What we do suggest is that Her Majesty's Government should consider whether a scheme could be adopted whereby the comparatively small number of ex-regulars "— that is, Polish ex-regulars— should receive a military pension.…". There is the word "pension". The Prime Minister puts it much better than I ever could. He has put my case for me. That was in 1951. He made similar remarks on the same lines in 1952 and 1954; and Sir Winston Churchill, as is, I think, quite well known, spoke in a most firm and strong manner in favour of the Poles at the end of the war. The present situation therefore seems extraordinary.

What new factors have emerged to make the Prime Minister change his mind? When he advocated pensions to these people eleven years ago the sum of money involved was far higher than it is now, because during the past eleven years a great many of these people have died—many in destitution, I might say. So perhaps some new factor has emerged to make Mr. Macmillan change his mind. It is extremely difficult to know what it can be. Perhaps the First Lord will inform us in due course. The numbers themselves are very small indeed and are dwindling fast. In 1955, the latest reliable year for figures, seven years ago, there were 1,000 over 65. I am speaking now of all ranks. This has nothing to do with officers. This is non-commissioned officers and the like, and members of the Sea Service. There were 1,000 over 65, and about 3,300 between 60 and 65. That number must be much smaller now. Compare those figures with 8,000 killed and 30,000 wounded in the war. It is hard not to be a little emotional on the subject. I have heard it said, and I believe, that besides Polish ex-Service-men there are a lot of other Poles who would not be eligible, either because they never served in the Services or because they did not serve long enough. Certainly there are a great many such people.

Perhaps it is thought that unfounded claims would be put forward. I think that most unlikely. Those of us who know the Poles know that they are people who do not cheat at all. They are not that kind of people. In any case, even if a few "black sheep" tried it on, the Polish Resettlement Board have their records. They have now been passed, as I understand it, to a section at the War Office called the Polish Aftermath Section. These records are full and accurate. I have no reason to think that they are not. So perhaps if the gentlemen at the Treasury feel that this is going to be made use of by the wrong people, they are being unduly pessimistic.

Before I sit down, I should like to assure the noble Lord who is to reply that I am quite aware of the situation regarding disability pensions, grants, terminal grants—I know all about them. I have gone into them. I know that considerable sums of money were paid out at the end of the war, and since, to individuals under these headings: some disability, some not. But this is not what the Poles are asking for—and you must look at it through their eyes. To be a professional in their Services is a great honour. When a man joins it is for life; it is his life, it is his profession, and he feels strongly about it, and that when he has finished his time he will be treated still as a soldier or sailor and get his pension, and he will not be "dished out" with charity. He does not want charity. I believe myself that it is not the amount of the pension that these Poles are in the least interested about; I think that it is the fact that they feel they are entitled by their service to a pension, however small. I believe that is really what they want and, upon my soul! I cannot see what conceivable ground there could be for refusing it.

I have been asked: what is the sum involved? I do not know. If the number is 3,000 or 4,000 people, and the average pension, ranking from senior officer at the one end down to private soldier at the other, came out at, say, £250 or £300 a year, or something of that sort, for 3,000 or 4,000 people, it is about £1 million, and it would dwindle fast because these men are old. I gave the last figures seven years ago, of men over 65; they would now be over 70, and not living in very agreeable circumstances, most of them. So I would say that ten years would probably complete the whole thing. What has happened to us that we can say it cannot be done? Cannot we afford it? Of course we can afford it, but we will not do it. Will it create a precedent? Not at all! The Belgians went home, the Greeks went home, the Dutch and Norwegians went home, and drew their pensions but the Poles did not go home because they had no home to go to.

Finally, before I resume my seat I should like to ask your Lordships to put yourselves in the position of a Polish private soldier, let us say—let us forget the General—who has fought his way up from the Battle of Cassino through Italy against the German Army. When he hears the terms of the Yalta Declaration, which comes down to headquarters, to corps headquarters, and brigade, he hears that his home town has gone, that it is included in Russia, that he cannot go home. He is told that the Government in Poland will be the Lublin Committee, fifteen men of whom only one was a Pole, and he a Communist. What was he fighting for? What is the future for him? Did they come out of the line and leave a hole in Alexander's order of battle? They did not. They stayed and fought it out. If we cannot do anything for these poor old men now, all I can say is it is a very black day for this country. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, the reason I have taken the liberty of intervening in this debate to support the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, is the fact that I had the privilege—and it certainly was a privilege—to have two squadrons of Poles under my command during the war. I do not at this hour intend to rehearse again the facts which the noble Lord has placed before your Lordships in his usual logical and lucid manner. From what he said it seemed to me that the facts are plain and speak for themselves. The Poles made a great contribution, and it seems to me that we are being at the least niggardly. The Treasury are hiding behind the letter of the law. The Treaty, as the noble Lord stated, said that the Poles would be treated the same in every respect as our own men; but the fact that the word "pension" was not mentioned is what the Treasury, in their usual manner, grab at as an excuse for this pettifogging lack of thanks to gallant men who have lost their all, and live in our country having come to our help in our time of need. If Canada, if France and if the U.S.A. can do it, surely we can. I would ask the noble Lord who is to reply, if his answer is unfavourable, which I suspect it will be, to go back to his colleagues and tell them exactly what has been said in this House to-night. I beg leave to support the noble Lord opposite.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, seldom in one's life does one have to say that one is ashamed of the behaviour of one's own country, but I am afraid this is one of the few cases in all my political life when I can only look on our behaviour towards some of the most gallant allies that a nation ever had with shame at the way we have treated them. In 1940 we stood alone. General Sikorsky went to Mr. Churchill and said, "Are you going to fight?". The reply was, "Yes". The General then said, "Then the Poles will fight beside you as equals". The Prime Minister welcomed them to our side as equals, and when the events of the war took an unexpected turn and it was apparent that these gallant men, to whom we all owe so much, could not go back to their own country, I remember in this very Chamber the Prime Minister saying that we would offer them British nationality and treat them as wall as we treat our own people. Those were the facts, and no amount of legalistic, administrative wriggling and jargon can get out of that great debt of honour which we owe to these men.

Some people say, "Well, after all, we must treat them the same as we treat the British, and they served under British command for only five years. The British Territorials, who would have been in the British Army for only that time, would not be treated like a British Regular." But the Briton was able to go back to his own country, back to his business, his home, his own job, back to a country where he had a civilian occupation and in which he spoke the language. These men were going to a country whose language they did not speak, with no skill to offer except the skill of their miltiary service and their swords. I cannot conceive that any officer or N.C.O. or other rank in any branch of the British Service would feel an injustice or envy if we treated these few surviving Poles in the same way as if their entire service had been spent under British command; because, as the noble Lord so rightly said, during that critical moment in the war we got the benefit of all those prewar years of training and skill which those men obtained in their own country. Nor can it be said that it would create a precedent as regards other Allies, because they all had their own countries to go back to and were treated generously by their own Governments. Those are the two main excuses that will be given, but neither of them are valid in honour.

One cannot say too much about the sadness of these cases, when a general who commanded a corps has literally been working at night as a dishwasher in an hotel, when others of these men work as porters and liftmen—men Who bore high rank and who received high British decorations. The result is that these men are living in this ghastly sadness, and are now getting too old to work. They are getting to an age where they cannot continue any form of employment, and now they are just living as best they can on National Assistance and what very small funds they possess and on what private charity can be found to supplement them. If it is said, "Why cannot they go to the National Assistance Board and ask for a little extra?", my Lords, there is such a thing as pride. Pride is one of the few things those elderly and gallant officers have got left, and they cling to it.

Why could not these obligations, which the Prime Minister recognised so clearly eleven years ago, be fulfilled? I can only conceive that he is up against the very formidable machinery of the Ministry of Pensions and the Civil Service. I only pray that those civil servants who produce these logical, well-argued cases as to why we should treat these men so shabbily will not themselves, after a lifetime of serving the British Government, find themselves penniless exiles in a foreign nation dependent on such National Assistance as is available. There is a saying that we should do unto others as we would they should do unto us. I appeal to the hearts of those civil servants and Ministers, that they should consider our gallant allies and think how they would like to be treated if they were in that same position themselves, which we all hope they will never be.

What other countries have done may or may not be better than what we have done, but, my Lords, to me that is irrelevant. The Poles fought under British command at sea, in the air and on land, in their thousands. It is for us to give an example of the generous way to treat these gallant men. I cannot but pity my noble friend the First Lord if he has, as a junior Minister—or, at least, not as a Cabinet Minister—to put the Treasury case; he who had a gallant war record and who knew not only by hearsay tout probably very closely the gallant way in which those Poles fought. He cannot, of course, in answering this debate, change the policy of Her Majesty's Government. All I ask him is not to close the door, but to report to his colleagues in the Cabinet the evident feeling—if I judge it aright—of the whole of this House, and ask them to think again and remember the honour of this country.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, I, too feel very strongly on this matter, and I am glad to have listened to the moving appeal which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has just made to us. He was closely associated with General Sikorsky and he has good knowledge of the circumstances. I should like to associate myself with all he has said, and particularly those moving words which referred to the sad circumstances in which many of those who fought with the Polish Forces find themselves in this country. It is indeed sad that officers who held high positions in the Polish Forces, having received high honours from His Majesty King George VI, should be in the position of having to live in the greatest austerity. But that is only a small part of the problem, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Windlesham for raising this matter, because, rest asured, the appeal which is being made so well to-day is widely supported, even if it may be echoed by only a few in this House to-day. My noble friend Lord Windlesham speaks with intimate knowledge of the Service side of this subject, and I support all that he has said.

I think we can all feel sympathy with the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty. We know that, with his brilliant war record, his sympathy is great, as others have said; but he has the hard task of persuading the stony hearts of the Treasury and, goodness knows! that is going to take some doing. But, as my noble friend Lord Gosford said, I hope he will return to his colleagues after this debate, whatever may be the degree of adverse answer which we shall probably receive, and convince them that it is not compassion for which we are asking: it is justice, equity, and the same sort of treatment of our gallant Allies as we should wish to have meted out to our own men. My noble friend Lord Windlesham has given convincing reasons. The other nations have all recognised what their fellow countrymen did in this country, but the Poles had no country to which to return.

There is no need to reinforce what my noble friend Lord Windlesham has said, or the knowledgeable words of the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. But may I ask for the indulgence of the House for a few minutes while I look at the cause of this problem. Before World War I, I knew intimately what is now Poland, and I went there regularly. Let us remember that it was Poland which had to fight for her liberty after the Great War had finished. Their war went on into 1919, when they had to fight against the Soviets.

I visited Poland regularly several times a year throughout the life of the Republic. I remember, as others in this House, will remember, that at Easter, 1939, the Pact with Poland was signed. It was understood that we were going to support Poland against any possible opponents. What did we do? We signed this Pact, and it was like offering a trader a shop, saying you were going to support him by trading there, but giving him no money with which to trade. There was no support given. Even the £4 million of gold (I think it was) promised after that agreement, was withheld, through some difficulties. I remember being in Poland in August or September, 1939, and going to the great Arsenal, Stalova Vola, and seeing the Bofors guns being made under licence. We had agreed to support the Poles, but those guns were in cases for despatch to this country. I say that just from the civilian side.

I will not weary the House for long, but I want to add my earnest appeal to the noble Lord who is dealing with this Motion. My noble friend Lord Windlesham has persisted for quite a long time in his determination to put this matter forward. He will have the support and gratitude of innumerable Englishmen who knew the circumstances, as well as a possibility of mitigating the most unfortunate state of some of those whom his Motion aims to benefit. Clearly, many of us feel that on our honour lies a stain of omission, and we as Englishmen should recognise the debt we owe to Poland.

7.0. p.m.


My Lords, may I support all the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate? I am filled with shame at the record of our country in this matter, as the Prime Minister was a few years ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said. What has happened to make him change his opinion? What has happened to make members of the Government change their opinion? There is no reason at all of which I am aware. I do ask the noble Lord who is to reply if he will let his colleagues, and especially the Prime Minister, know the feelings of all the Members of this House in the matter, and I ask only that the matter be considered again.

7.1 .p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that anybody can fail to have been impressed by the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has made—or, indeed, perhaps particularly, by the speech made by my noble friend Lord Astor; because I know how he personally has occupied himself in this matter, and has got up a fund for this purpose. I suppose, too, that everybody in this House can remember the circumstances in which we went to war: the gallantry of the Poles and the Polish people; the terrible fate which overtook them; and the events which made it impossible for so many of them, after five or six years of exile from their country, fighting all over the world, and having won a reputation unsurpassed by any other troops, to return home. Those who remained in this country after the war and made their homes among us have a claim on us—a claim which Her Majesty's Government fully recognise. Sir Winston Churchill put it in this way in 1945—and these are his words—when he said: We should think it an honour to have such faithful and valiant associates dwelling among us as if they were men of our own blood. My Lords, indeed we do regard it as an honour, and at the outset of what I have to say I want to make it quite clear on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that we recognise our obligations and join with the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in paying tribute to these men and to their courage.

I should like, if I may—and I apologise for it—to take up a little of your Lordships' time in recalling what successive British Government have done for Poles who have stayed in this country, because I think it fair, when taking into account the terms of the noble Lord's Motion, also to take into account what in fact we have done. And if I mention the sums of money which have been spent, it is not, of course, because they have been given in any grudging spirit, but because they are some indication of the importance which has been attached by successive Governments to the subject. Whatever we have been able to do has, of course, been fully, justly and honourably deserved.

The Motion which the noble Lord has before the House refers only to ex-regular members of the Polish forces in this country. I do not know whether he meant to exclude those who were not regulars, but since we are considering a simple question (if it is simple) of suffering and distress, I do not see how one can differentiate between ex-regulars and ex-servicemen generally, since the latter just as much as the former were uprooted by the war and deprived of their livelihood and of their normal prospects of a career—and, of course, their contributions to the allied cause during the war were indistinguishable. At all events, what I propose to say next applies to them all without distinction as to whether they were regulars or non-regulars before 1939.

Polish ex-servicemen enjoy all the benefits which the State provides on precisely the same terms as British subjects. There is no discrimination against them of any kind because they are, or were, of Polish nationality. Thus, provided they contribute to the National Insurance Scheme and fulfil the other usual conditions, they are entitled to benefit under it in exactly the same way as any other British citizen. In the same way, any Pole in this country over the age of 16 who is suffering need or hardship by the standards laid down in the National Assistance Act is entitled to assistance as though he were a British citizen.

Now I am afraid it is true, my Lords, as I know from a debate that we had in your Lordships' House on the pensions of Forces' widows, that a great many people seem to regard National Assistance as a form of charity. I very much wish—and I am sure your Lordships do—that this were not the case. It certainly should not he so. National Assistance is part of the fabric of the modern system of social service which we have in this country, and is paid for from taxation. There must be some British citizens in similar circumstances to those to whom my noble friend has referred, and I hope that if they are in need of National Assistance they take it. I hope that no Pole who is in need will feel that there is any shame in taking what is his right.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord this, as he has made that point: what, for instance, is the pension which a retired British Lieutenant-General receives, and what is the pension which we give a retired Polish Lieutenant-General—someone of equal rank? Could he give us the figures?


Perhaps my noble friend will let me go on with what I was going to say, because I was going to come to that point. That is the first point which I want to make: that the Government have, so far as the normal social benefits are concerned, carried out Sir Winston Churchill's wartime pledge to the letter. Polish ex-Service-men are treated exactly as if they were of our own blood.

But, my Lords, we have done more than that. We recognised after the war that something more had to be done to help these men to Settle down in their new home. Your Lordships will remember the Polish Resettlement Corps, which was formed in 1946 as a unit of the British Army, and which provided a home and support for many thousands of Poles until they could be resettled either in Britain or elsewhere. The cost of the Polish Resettlement Corps was something like £28 million. A great deal of effort and expanse was also devoted to obtaining suitable jobs for the Poles. The Ministry of Labour in fact found employment for about 82,000 men of the Resettlement Corps. Nor were others neglected. Seventeen thousand dependants of members of the Resettle- ment Corps, and Poles who decided not to join the Corps, also were found jobs. Special training arrangements were provided, and special agreements were negotiated on their behalf with both sides of industry.

Assistance was provided for Poles who wished to emigrate. About 14,000 took advantage of this, of whom nearly 13,000 received direct financial aid at a cost of nearly £1 million. Since the Polish Resettlement Act was passed in 1947, over £10½ million has been spent on special schemes of education for Poles in this country. That Act provided, too, for Polish hostels, largely for the benefit of ex-Servicemen Who were unable to look after themselves in a home of their own, and for families waiting for a home. In 1948 about 40 of these hostels were providing shelter for 16,500 Polish men, women and children. I am glad to say that the need for these hostels has now nearly disappeared, thanks to the success of our various resettlement measures. There are only five of them left, where 400 or so elderly and disabled persons ate fed and cared for and another 300 families are housed. Since 1947 they have cost the taxpayer £8½ million. Over £5 million has also been spent on hospital treatment outside the hostel scheme for Polish ex-Service-men and their dependants.

My Lords, this is what has been done. As former Servicemen, we have treated them as generously as we have been able to treat our own soldiers, sailors and airmen. They received war gratuities on exactly the same basis. All those who were disabled as the result of service in the British Forces, and the widows and dependants of those who died as a result of that service, received disability pensions and allowances under broadly the same conditions as British Servicemen did. About 4,500 disablement pensions and 460 widows' and dependants' pensions are now being paid at a cost of £¾ million a year. The total expenditure under this heading has been nearly £8½ million.

My Lords, this is a substantial catalogue of aid, and the cost of it has added up to the equally substantial total, up to now, of over £60 million. As I have said, we do not, of course, begrudge this expenditure, for there can have been few better causes; and, of course, the service which these men rendered to this country in fighting our enemies as well as their own is not measurable in pounds, shillings and pence. But it is worth remembering, when the suggestion is made, as I think it has been made this afternoon, that the British Government have behaved with a lack of generosity or consideration for the difficulties of these our war-time Allies who have since sought refuge in this country.

Now, my Lords, I should like to say a few words about the specific proposal for further aid which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has made. The pensions which we pay to our own soldiers, sailors and airmen, are not designed to alleviate hardship. I made it clear in the debate on Service pensions a year ago that they are occupational pensions; they are part of the contract entered into when these men joined the Forces. They are given for service rendered to the Crown, and they vary in amount according to the length of service given. To qualify at all for such a pension, our own officers and men must have been Regulars, and they must have given a minimum period of service which was certainly a great deal longer than the duration of the war.

It has been suggested that we ought to alter our pensions code in such a way as to take account of the pre-war service of Polish ex-Servicemen with the Polish Government; in other words, that we should assume the obligations of the Polish Government towards these men. But, my Lords, this suggestion raises a very real difficulty. For example, we do not know what these obligations were, or, for that matter, what obligations of the same kind the Polish Government may have had towards others in their service, such as civil servants, lawyers, teachers, and so on, who, although they were not Regular soldiers, nevertheless fought as Servicemen under British command during the war. Why should we single out only those who served the Polish Government as Regular soldiers, sailors and airmen?


My Lords, might I interrupt my noble friend, if he will forgive me? Perhaps he might ask the people advising him to get in touch with the Canadian Government and the French Government, who seem to have solved this problem.


If the noble Earl will allow me to get on with my speech, I am coming to that point a little later on. By their action in coming to Britain to fight, these others also forfeited whatever benefits they might otherwise have looked forward to from their own Government, and it seems to me that we could not, and should not, draw the line where the noble Lord has suggested—to say nothing of ex-Service men of other nationalities who may to-day find themselves in a similar plight. My Lords, I really do not think it would be reasonable to expect the British taxpayer to accept as a general proposition that he should foot the bill for pensions given for services rendered, mainly before the war, to a foreign Government. In any case, as I said earlier, and as my noble friend said, this is a question of relieving hardship, and, in this case, it is quite impossible to distinguish between men who were Regulars and those who were not.


My Lords, may I put this point? When a Pole Reserve officer who was a doctor, or an engineer, or a lawyer, came to England, after a certain time he was able to offer something. He had something to sell; he could be a doctor, or an engineer, and make his career. In peace time, the Regular soldier who had no training except as a fighting soldier, at a certain age, has nothing he could offer. It is a very real distinction.


I think that follows in some cases, but I do not think it follows in all. For instance, with a Polish civil servant, I think you would find it difficult to say that he had something to offer. Therefore I would ask your Lordships to consider whether it is really justified to treat these men, who are already able to make full use of all the facilities provided by the State for the relief of hardship on the same footing as every other citizen of this country, more generously than we have been able to treat our own soldiers, sailors and airmen. Successive Administrations have felt that they could not justify this, and I may say that these appeals have been considered, and rejected, at the highest level by successive Prime Ministers. I am afraid I must confirm once again, as I did in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in this House on March 21, that this is also the view of the present Government.

Nor is the British Government alone in taking this view. In the United States, in Canada, and in France, Polish ex-Servicemen enjoy the normal disability pensions and social service benefits available to Servicemen and citizens of those countries. In addition, the United States and Canada pay certain benefits to veterans—that is, men, who may be Poles, who comply with certain conditions—who served in their Armed Forces or in the forces of their Allies. In the United States, Poles who are not naturalised benefit only if they served in the United States Forces. In Canada, the benefit takes the form of an allowance, subject to a means test, payable at 60, or earlier if the veteran is handicapped. In the United States, service with the armed forces can be counted towards retirement pensions payable under the social service system, and, in addition, allowances for those handicapped are also payable. We take the view that the men who served in the Armed Forces, whether our own countrymen or Poles, are fully covered by the National Health Service, the National Assistance, National Insurance, and Family Pensions Schemes, and, if disabled, by war pension schemes. These are comparable to the benefits which are granted by the United States and Canadian Governments.

My Lords, I hope you will not think in what I have said that Her Majesty's Government are in any way unsympathetic to the members of the Polish Forces who settled in this country after the war. I have tried to show what we have done, and to indicate what store has been set by the pledge given by Sir Winston Churchill at the end of the war. I will, of course, report to my colleagues the feelings of your Lordships, and ask them to read the speeches which your Lordships have made; but I hope that you will think that the reasons I have given for being unable to accept the noble Lord's Motion are sound ones, and that the noble Lord himself will feel that the ordinary welfare arrangements available in this country to Poles and Britons alike are adequate in this as in other cases.

7.18 p.m.


My Lords, at this time of the evening it is not right to keep you very much longer, and I shall not do so. But before I sit down again, I should like to say that my reaction to the noble Lord's reply is one not so much of disappointment as of disgust. It is a strong word, but I think that the equivocation which we have just heard is not quite up to the standard of what one expects from the Government of this country.

The noble Lord said one or two things—and I have made one or two notes here—which seemed to show that he really did not understand the point that I was trying to make—maybe it was my fault. He said that Polish ex-Servicemen are treated in exactly the same way as our own men. But, my Lords, they are not. If they were, why are they not getting pensions? I cannot put it much clearer than that. The noble Lord, of course, was referring to war-time Servicemen, and in fact there was a little applause from the Labour Bench when he said that he saw no reason why the non-Regulars should not be treated as well as the Regulars. But the point is that they would not have served long enough. Surely that is quite clear. If any Polish Serviceman has not enough service to qualify for a pension, then he does not get it. But if he has enough service, then he should get it. That is the point we are trying to make; and no amount of talk about disability pensions and grants will make the slightest difference to those of us who feel that way.

The noble Lord made great play of the fact that the pension was not meant to alleviate hardship. It may or may not. I myself, get a pension, but whether I am enduring hardship or not is a matter of opinion. The fact remains that pensions are cash, and the recipients use them for whatever purpose they think best. They have earned them in pursuit of their chosen professions. Those men who have given such excellent service in the Territorial Army do not expect pensions and do not get them, but the Regulars expect pensions and they should get them. It is as clear as that.

The noble Lord made play with the fact that in Canada and the United States it was the Poles who had served in the Armed Forces of those countries who drew pensions—if he did not say that, I am sorry.


My Lords, I did not mean to make any play with that. The noble Lord has a very suspicious mind. I pointed out that in Canada and the United States, pre-war service with the Polish Army was not taken into account.


My Lords, in that case I have read the regulations wrong and will read them again. If your Lordships will read my speech in the Official Report, you will see that what I quoted as having been said in the American Congress covers the Poles who served with the Allied Forces in the Second World War and are now drawing pensions.

Finally, the noble Lord mentioned a matter of £8½ million. I am not clear over what period of time that sum had been disbursed. Perhaps he can tell us.


In what context?


If the noble Lord has no recollection of the speech he has just made——


I gave two figures of £8 million. One was the amount of pensions which had been paid since the war.


My Lords, that means £8½ million over seventeen years—half a million a year: not a princely sum in regard to the number of people concerned. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the answer, I cannot find myself able to withdraw my Motion.

On Question, Motion negatived.