Amendment to Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
I was dealing with the question as to what particular grievances were exercising the minds of those people and organisations who were supporting not necessarily the precise terms of my Amendment, but the idea that there should be an independent inquiry into the present position. I do not think it would be fair to the House or to other speakers if I enumerated those many grievances, but there is one matter of so general a character that perhaps I can be forgiven for dealing with it now. It is whether there is a case today for raising the basic rate of pension. I believe there is a strong argument in favour of such a step. The argument of the Ministry is that their very substantial exertions have been directed towards alleviating the lot of the person who has 100 per cent. disability, and who is in need of a special allowance of some kind. During the last few months there has been a very substantial increase in supplementary allowances but on the other hand, there has been no change at all in the basic rate. The overwhelming majority of pensioners have remained unaffected by the increased supplementary allowances. Indeed, I am told that for every 30 pensioners only one qualifies for the additional supplementary allowance.
Is the hon. Gentleman including wives and children in that proportion?
The figure relates to pensioners only.
Surely the hon. Gentleman should not include in that calculation persons with a small amount of incapacity. There are 200,000 additional wives and 250,000 additional children, and additional allowances have been given primarily to persons with 60, 70, 80, 90, or 100 per cent. incapacity
I can give those details. We shall have detailed information, because the Minister will be able to assist us on this matter. I certainly do not want to give figures which would in any way misrepresent the position.
The hon. Gentleman said that one out of 30 are benefiting as a result of the bounty given by the Government, but surely it is a gross distortion of the position not to mention that 140,000 wives and 120,000 children are brought in for the first time.
Hon. Members opposite seem to think that I am anxious to underestimate the improvements which have been made by the Government within recent months. I certainly am not. The point I want to make is that the basic rate has not been changed with the result—I speak approximately and no doubt other Members will be able to give exact figures—that some 700,000 have not been affected by recent changes.
No doubt the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) will have an opportunity of speaking and of dealing with the matter, but to the best of my information—and I have made an honest endeavour to get hold of the right information—that is so.
Read the Ministry of Pensions Report.
Now that it has been raised let me deal with this question. As I have said, there has been a substantial increase in supplementary allowances. For example, there was an increase in four months from 17,000 to 24,000, or 7,000 altogether. What is exercising my mind is—would these have been introduced earlier if an inquiry had been held in 1946? Would these 7,000 people have had the allowances they are now receiving in 1947 instead of 1949 if we had had an inquiry then? [Laughter.]
This is not a laughing matter. It is a very serious thing.
In the next 12 months, no doubt there will be some improvements in supplementary allowances. [Interruption.] I am not bickering, but I am trying to be reasonable in looking at the cases of persons who deserve sympathetic consideration. No doubt during the next 12 months there will be further increases in supplementary pensions. The Minister and those who resisted an inquiry in 1946 have made some 40-odd changes since, and my complaint about that is that, while we all welcome these improvements and advances, a piecemeal proposition of that kind is not nearly as satisfactory as an inquiry into the whole matter because then all those improvements might be introduced with greater rapidity.Those 7,000 to whom I have referred and who are now receiving better allowances might have got them long ago had an inquiry been held. I believe there will be allowances given in the next 12 months which the people who will receive them should have got long ago. It is almost 30 years since we have had an inquiry, so let us have one now and see if, as a result of that inquiry, we cannot get improvements of the kind already introduced, started with greater rapidity. The Minister is in a difficult position. He is feeling his way. The Treasury is all the time placing its clammy hand upon him. That is one of the difficulties, but to my mind the fact that the Government have introduced all these improvements—and I give them full credit for them—is in itself an argument for an inquiry. It is one of the most powerful arguments that one could have. The Government have refused an increase in the basic rate. I want to suggest one or two arguments in an attempt to show that this is something which should be the subject matter of a careful inquiry from an independent source. It has been said that since 1919 the rate has only increased some 12½ per cent. Let us take the year 1931, which is a particularly favourable year to select. The pensions which some several hundred thousand are in receipt of—and they are the overwhelming majority of pensioners—is only 12½ per cent. more than that given in 1931. Either the amount they are receiving today is wholly inadequate or the amount they received in 1931 was extravagant, because the cost of living, including the cost of the ordinary amenities of life and particularly small luxuries, has advanced so much that to compare 1931 and 1949 on the basis of a 12½ per cent. increase is absolutely unfair to the pensioners. What we ask for is that there should be a closer relationship between the basic pension and the value of money today. I do not think any Member of this House would dispute that that is a valid basis for argument, and that we cannot possibly justify the present basic rates.
Before the hon. Gentleman develops his argument I should like to ask him if he is aware that the Conservative Party were in office in 1931 and thought that pensions were too high, because it reduced them to 32s. 6d. for the Regulars, and subsequently in 1939 reduced the rate for the war disabled man to the same figure?
I am not interested in what the Conservative Party thought in 1931, but what I am interested in is whether the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) thought it was inadequate or extravagant in 1931?
I certainly did not.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's statement, and if he takes the view that 40s. was adequate or at least not extravagant in 1931, can he possibly say that 45s. now is the rate equivalent to 40s. then?
In answer to the hon. Gentleman, I would say that there is no pensioner receiving 45s. alone. He must have an additional income.
The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) has had more than his fair share of interruptions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is interrupting now?"] He has given way to me.
On a point of Order. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) did not say that he rose on a point of Order.
The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) is presumably addressing me on a point of Order.
On a point of Order. How does the hon. Member for Rugby come to be addressing the Chair at all?
If the hon Gentleman who is addressing the Cha gives way, other hon. Members are entitled to intervene.
The hon. Member gives way to me in order that I may put a point. I wish to put that point, which is to ask him whether, in order that we may the better compare the figures for 1931 with the figures for 1949, he will give us the corresponding figures for the cost of living in those two years? That would help us to assess the adequacy of the payments.
I am sorry that I cannot give those precise figures. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I do not think there is anything extraordinary about that. We are told by Government spokesmen that the comparative value of the £1 today is 12s. That gives us some basis of comparison. Certainly, the purchasing power of the £1 in 1931 is not more than 12s. now. I think that that is quite enough for the purposes of my argument. It has been said that most of these people, if, they are not in employment—this is the point which was put to me by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg)—are receiving supplementary allowances and that they are considerably better off than they were. That was undoubtedly the position.Apart from those people, the overwhelming majority of pensioners are in employment and are not in receipt of any supplementary allowance. They are on the basic rate which was fixed in 1919, and which operated in 1931. The only answer which I have heard from the Minister of Pensions to the request to give these people an increase is, "If these people are working, they are receiving the benefit of the general rise in wages." I have heard no other argument.
What more does the hon. Member want?
I shall analyse that argument, if hon. Members opposite will allow me. An ex-Service man cannot be said to be receiving from the general rise in wages any extra benefit over the community as a whole. When pensions were originally fixed it was not on the balls of unemployment. They were fixed in 1919 on the basis that the overwhelming majority of the pensioners would be working. The payment of pensions, whether of 40, 50, 60 or 100 per cent., was not on the basis of compensation for unemployability. Ever since the system was introduced the overwhelming majority of the men have been in employment. There is no change in circumstances of that kind, but there has been a general rise in wages, in which everyone has participated. The change which has been considerable has been the loss in value of the pension to the person who has been able to work.There are many factors in this position which we tend to ignore. If the pensioner has a substantial degree of incapacity he is not in as good a position from the competitive point of view, although he is working, as is a hale and hearty person who suffers from no incapacity. I am not suggesting that this is the general position, but in many instances the pensioner's earning power is affected by his incapacity. It is unfair to the people concerned that we should ignore points of that kind. Further, a pensioner often works when it probably would be far better, from a medical point of view, if he did not work. He cannot afford to bring up or he does not feel justified in bringing up his family on the pension available to him. I should like to refer to letters which I have had. I have had a host of them. Let me refer to one of them. Here is one from a person who is not a constituent of mine. He suffers from 100 per cent. incapacity. He is a married man with one child and he is entitled to £3 5s. a week. The point he makes is: "I do not feel that it would be honourable for me to attempt to keep my wife, myself and my child on £3 5s. a week. Therefore, I make a special effort to go out to work." That man is individually assessed for three separate incapacities and he has been awarded 80 per cent. under one heading, 70 per cent. under another and 40 per cent. under the other. In his letter he says:
He refers to his own incapacity and then he says something which is particularly significant:"The Minister has given figures of the number of men who whilst drawing 100 per cent. disability pension, are able to work. The words should be 'have to work,' for the rate of pension is so meagre. Those who become eligible for the extra grants are those whose case is so hopeless that they are unable even to do such cripples' work as making baskets, artificial flowers, etc. But there are thousands of others who are considered able to do something, and it is they who must toil under discomfort and pain out of sheer necessity. A man assessed at 100 per cent. disability with a wife and child gets £3 2s. 6d. Is it human to expect him to live on it, a rate lower than an organised worker will take, and considering that but for his disability he might have been among the best paid workers in the land? And where is the so-called compensation to him for his sufferings? He must go out to work to keep his family, although he would prefer to take life easier."
"Should you in any way refer to my case as an example, I should not like my name to be divulged, as my employers are unaware of the extent of my disability."
I am very reluctant to interfere at all in the hon. Gentleman's speech, but he has not given the House half the picture. I have been given figures for the 100 per cent. disability for a man, wife and child. If I am wrong, the hon. Member can ask the Minister to correct me. The figures are: 45s. for the man himself; 30s. unemployment supplement; 10s. for his wife and 7s. 6d. for a child. That makes a total of £4 12s. 6d. If I am wrong, I stand subject to correction. The hon. Gentleman must tell the full story and not give the wrong figures.
We may get more expert opinion than mine later on in the Debate. I have no reason to think that the figure which this man gives in his letter is wrong and I have every reason to think that the hon. and gallant Member who interrupts me is wrong. I hope that the Minister will correct me here and now if my correspondent's figure is wrong. That would be the most satisfactory thing for him to do. The figure is that for sufferers who have a wife and one child, the entitlement, if they are at work, is £3 5s. per week. If that figure is wrong, I hope that the Minister will correct me here and now.
The hon. Member asks me to correct him. He should know that it is never possible in individual cases to say what the correct figure should be without first looking at the papers to see that the man in question is getting all that to which he is entitled. I have written to every pensioner in the land stating what his entitlement is and asking him to let me know if he is not getting it. Perhaps the hon. Member will kindly send me details of the case. It may be that the man is eligible for the special allowance to supplement inadequate wages due to inability. If that is so, I shall be glad to consider the case.
I do not wish to pursue this further but it is—
What I say is that if a person suffering from 100 per cent. disability considers his pension to be inadequate and goes out to work, after working a full week he would normally receive £3 5s. for himself, his wife and one child. In some cases there may be circumstances to qualify him for more. However, the man to whom I am referring is not in receipt of any more than that.The fact that wages have increased is in itself an argument in favour of an increase in the basic rate. We have had increases of from 80 to 200 per cent. in wages. Every day we hear fresh information about advances in wages. Today we have had news suggesting that both the police and His Majesty's Judges may receive a rise in pay. The reason for these rises in pay is the rise in the cost of living. The Royal Commission of 1919, when the original rates were laid down, made it quite clear that the object of the basic pension was in some way to compensate for the loss of ordinary amenities by the person suffering war injuries. If that is the basis, can it be said that the person who at that period was getting 40s. a week to compensate him for loss of amenities is adequately compensated at 45s. a week now for the loss of the same amenities? There is a substantial divergence of opinion whether the basic rate should be increased. It is a matter on which the ex-Service organisations feel very strongly. There is certainly a prima facie case for an increase, and that is surely an argument for the whole matter to be carefully investigated by an independent tribunal. The question is becoming all the more acute because the pensioner of the 1914–1918 war is now reaching a difficult period, particularly if he is a manual worker. Imagine the position of a manual worker of about 60 years of age with a 40 per cent. disability. The purchasing power of his pension today cannot be compared with what it was before the war. Why does the Minister resist the suggestion for an inquiry? He may say that there is nothing to inquire into. I do not see how he can reconcile that attitude with the fact that improvements have been made since he resisted the proposal to have an inquiry. The number in receipt of supplementary allowances has increased from 17,000 to 24,000. Surely that was a matter which called for an inquiry. Does the Minister now suggest that the matters calling for inquiry no longer exist? It may be said that there is already adequate machinery for carrying out inquiries of this kind. It has been suggested that one side of the machinery of the Central Advisory Committee can look into the matters with which we are concerned. Under the terms on which the Central Advisory Committee was set up the Minister can seek as advice over a wide field. I understand one of the complaints to be that it can only give advice on matters on which it's advice is sought. Has the Minister sought the advice of the committee on the desirability of setting up an independent inquiry? I am sure that if that question was put to the committee the committee would definitely be in favour of setting up such an inquiry. We know that the majority of the members of that committee are in favour of an inquiry. Since the initiation of the movement for an inquiry, welfare officers have been established by the Minister. No doubt they are doing very good work indeed. Surely their experience and the information they have gleaned could best be sifted by an inquiry so that the improvements to which ex-Servicemen are entitled could be given to them with the least possible delay. I am sorry that I have detained the House for so long. It is in part due to intervention by others for which I may have been responsible. I ask the Minister to look at this matter again. I do not believe there is magic in a Royal Commission although that is the machinery I suggest in my Amendment. These questions are reflected in terms of human suffering and human kindness and they exercise the minds of ex-Service organisations, the pensioners and all of us who are concerned with the welfare of pensioners. Some of these questions are difficult ones from the point of view of our own financial position and by reason of the fact that there is a link-up with industrial injuries. All I ask is that these questions should be referred to an independent body so that they may be sifted and that we may have an expert Report on them. Fortunately the industrial worker has machinery whereby, if he considers that his wages or his basic disability payments are inadequate, additional arrangements can be made. I am sure that the supporters of this Amendment share my pleasure that arrangements of that kind have been made. However, ex-Service men have no machinery whereby through some private arrangement the basic pension payable to these 700,000 people can be supplemented by an additional payment. All these supplementary payments to industry fall on the public. The persons in receipt of them make an appropriate contribution but in the end the burden falls on the public just as the burden falls on the public as a whole if any improvement is made in the basic rates of pensions payable to ex-Service men. The setting up of machinery for an independent inquiry will dissipate the dissatisfaction which undoubtedly exists among pensioners and ex-Service men as a whole. We shall then have the help of an expert report on all sorts of problems on which people, all of whom are equally sincere, are very divided. I refer in particular to the possibility of an increase in the basic rate. The only motive I have in raising the matter is to ventilate what I believe to be a genuine grievance on the part of pensioners at the moment. My argument in favour of an inquiry is that if there is one the whole of the matter can be sifted. I believe that an inquiry will result in further betterment to the pensioner. Whether it does or whether it does not, if we are to discharge our duty properly, if the pensioner is to be conscious that we are trying to do the best we can for him in present circumstances, the proper way is to institute an inquiry on the lines I suggest. In the past the Minister has indicated his objections to such a step. I hope he will reconsider this matter. I do not think this is a question on which the House should he divided, if possible—
On a point of Order. Surely the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) is displaying gross discourtesy to the Chair and to the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the House? Will he please stand up if he sees fit to interrupt?
There may be differences between the Minister and those who support this Amendment but there were over 60 Members on the Government side who put their names to a Motion asking for an inquiry. I have no doubt that many more are in sympathy with the contents of that Motion but thought it would be better not to put their names to it. I speak after conversation with the persons concerned when I say that they are with us, in the sense that they sympathise with the object—and I do not see who could not do so—of bringing this matter forward, as well as with the specific suggestion I have made.The reason why I say that this is a matter on which a Division should be avoided if possible is that I do not think there is any real division on the point that we all want to do what is best for these people. I do not think that the majority of hon. Members opposite who have interrupted me really believe that everything possible is being done at the moment. It is not a question of finding fault with a Minister, but I do not think that everything practicable is being done at the moment any more than I thought so 12 months ago before those many changes were made. If there were an inquiry of this kind, the attention of people appropriate to deal with it would be concentrated on the possibility of further advancement and of greater alleviation of the lot of these people. That is why I hope the Minister will be able to concur with the suggestion of an inquiry. I do not place any magic upon the specific form of it provided that it is held by an independent body of suitable persons to look into the question. If the Minister looks at this matter again sympathetically and is prepared to meet the persons who have supported the Motion in that way, he will certainly not be doing anything which could reflect to his own discredit or to the discredit of his party; he would be doing something which would meet with the approval and the appreciation of the rank and file of ex-Service men throughout the country, and in doing so he would be helping himself in his task of assisting the pensioners and ex-Service men to face the world in what to many of them today are very difficult circumstances.
I beg to second the Amendment.
As this is my first appearance at this pox, and my first attempt to address this House in this Parliament, I trust I shall receive the sympathy of my hon. Friends on all sides.In view of the questions earlier this afternoon, I would, first say that my Ministry wishes to express sincere sympathy with the dependants of those who were killed and wounded in the trouble with which we are concerned. They are doing all they can to expedite dealing with claims for pension and benefit. All victims, including the widows of those killed or who have died of wounds will be eligible for the full war pensions benefits. In the case of widows and dependants receiving Service allowances, those allowances will continue to be paid by the Admiralty for 13 weeks after death. Before the termination of the payment of the Service allowances, an appropriate award under the War Pensions Naval Order will have been determined and notified.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a question? I suppose by "these troubles" he refers to the outrageous behaviour of the Chinese Communists on the Yangtse? Do I understand him to say that these people will be treated as pensioners on a war footing—as indeed they are—who have taken part in war operations?
Yes, all of them will be eligible for the full benefits under the War Pensions Order.For the purpose of this Debate hon. Members should have considered three documents. There should be before them the Civil Estimates, Class 8, for the new financial year. They should also have in mind the Supplementary Estimate of last year for £2,417,000 which the House has already approved without Debate. And to understand fully what all these Estimates mean, and how much is paid to different classes of pensioner, they should also have studied carefully the 23rd Report of the Ministry. Very little discussion on war pensions has taken place in the earlier years of the present Parliament but in July last there were two general Debates. Since then there has been a fairly long Adjournment Debate in which warm approval was expressed on all sides of the House for the new welfare service. There were also Debates on the Pensions Appeals Tribunals Bill which passed without a Division at any stage.
May I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Adjournment Debate of December, 1947, on which I raised this same subject?
I do not wish to repeat much of what has been said on previous occasions, but I must refer to certain major matters and try to bring up to date the story already told in the previous Debates and especially in the 23rd Report. I would say in passing that no one who has not read that Report properly is really qualified to take part in this Debate.First, let me repeat what has been said many times before. A war pension is money compensation for loss of physical function due to war injury; it is not intended to be a pensioner's sole income. A war pensioner is a member of the community like other citizens. Indeed, our whole effort is constantly directed through hospitals, treatment centres, limb fitting centres, training and rehabilitation centres, and so on, to bring him back after his injury into the normal life of the community. We desire that no war disabled man shall feel that he is in the category of the forgotten men but, instead, that he shall feel that in this Ministry there are those who care for him and care about his problems. We stress, with all the emphasis at our command, that our enlarged welfare staff is composed of officers who, by training and temperament, are fully qualified to be, and are in fact, the pensioners' friend and the friend and adviser of all ex-Service personnel and their dependants who have a claim on their services. Like other members of the community the war pensioner may be in employment and earning wages. Nobody denies that the vast majority are in employment. Neither does anybody deny that the majority, even of those classified as 100 per cent. disabled, are in employment; but if pensioners are out of employment or absent from work through sickness, then, like other members of the community, most of them are entitled to unemployment insurance, sickness benefit, old age' pension or other provisions of our national social services. When comparisons are made between war pensions payable today and those payable in 1920 it is too often forgotten that the general social services in 1920 bear no comparison with those of today. All too frequently in those days the pension was the injured man's sole income. I speak of this from personal experience, because I have been unemployed as a disabled ex-Service man. If in those days a man experienced an illness or disease unconnected with his war service, or if his wife or children became ill, the pensioner had to meet medical expenses as best he could or go without the necessary medical attention. Today, the National Health Service comes to his aid. The consequence of the development of the general social services and the provision of full employment has been that no pensioner of the private soldier rank need be wholly dependent today upon his war pension. In July last my right hon. Friend told the House that he did not know of a single 100 per cent. disabled man whose sole income was his basic pension of 45s. a week. That statement was reprinted in more than one ex-Service journal and in several newspapers. As a result, over a period of nine months not more than seven or eight cases of that kind have been discovered. In every one of these cases we have been able to pay the pensioner one or more of the various supplements which are available. In this connection I should like to quote an actual case which was brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister by a Member of this House. A young unmarried pensioner, suffering from tuberculosis, was trying to live on his pension of 45s. A welfare officer was sent immediately to see him and took him a grant of £5 from the King's Fund to pay for extra luxuries. Within a few days of this case being brought to our notice, unemployability supplement of 30s. and constant attendance allowance of 30s. were awarded—an addition of £3 a week. The secretary of the M.P. who had raised the case was overwhelming in her praise and thanks to the Minister. It was most regrettable that we did not know of that man and his position earlier, but the fact that when we did know of him we were able to deal with him in that way proves the need for my right hon. Friend's letter to pensioners, which has already brought us a very good response. It proves also that we will remedy an injustice as quickly as possible whenever we learn of it. If any Member of this House is aware of a case where he thinks there is a grievance of that kind, he has only to see the Minister or myself or write to the Department to be assured that the same treatment will be applied as in the case I have described.
Was that man from Scotland?
It was a London case. These supplements are an essential part of our present system of war pensions. They are integral to the Government's policy of providing the maximum benefit to those who have been most severely injured and whose needs are greatest. Examples of the working of these supplements, and the way in which the benefits have been varied according to the needs of the individual, are given in tabular form in the 23rd Report of the Ministry. Perhaps I may refresh the minds of hon. Members by quoting one or two of the instances which are given. In the 1914–18 war a pensioner with a wife and one child, who was married before disablement, would receive 40s. basic pension, 10s. wife allowance and 7s. 6d. child allowance.
From what page of the Report is the hon. Gentleman reading?
Page 10. In that case the total amounted to 57s. 6d. On the 1939–45 war pensions scale, introduced in 1939, a pensioner would have received 32s. 6d. basic pension, 5s. wife allowance and 5s. child allowance, making a total of 42s. 6d. Today he would be drawing 98s. 6d., which is made up of 45s. 0d. basic pension, 16s. wife allowance. 7s. 6d. child allowance and 30s. unemployability supplement. That case, I think, is a fair sample. I could quote others.
What was the total in the case the hon. Gentleman has just quoted?
The total is 98s. 6d. a week.
And he can still apply for more.
I do not want to weary the House with a lot of quotations. I think that that case is probably a fair sample.If we are to have comparisons from say, the Legion, let us have all those which are relevant, including that of today with the Chamberlain Government rates of 1939, when the basic rate was a bare £1 12s. 6d., compared with £2 5s., with supplementations, today. I have given one example of supplementations. There is also the position of men undergoing treatment. By the 1939 Chamberlain figures, a man receiving treatment allowance would be drawing £1 2s. a week, 5s. for his wife and, 8s. 4d. for his two children, making a total of £1 15s. 4d. In present circumstances, he would be drawing £2 5s. instead of £1 2s., 16s. for his wife instead of 5s., and 15s. instead of 8s. 4d. for his two children, making a total of £3 16s., plus 5s. family allowance and £1 6s. special allowance if he is not in receipt of sickness benefit. Therefore, without the additions, the difference is one of between £1 15s. 4d. and £3 16s.
As the hon. Gentleman has given us these very interesting figures, can he tell us how the general level of wages has gone up since that time and what relation the figures bear to the cost of living? It would be very interesting to make these comparisons; otherwise the hon. Gentleman's figures have no value whatever.
The noble Lord does not put me off as easily as that. I may be new here but I have spoken before outside the House and I am not thrown off my stride by an irrelevant question. like that. I have already—
Does the hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that a courteous invitation to him to give the cost of living and wages figures is an irrelevant interruption? They may prove his case. Will he give the figures?
I said it was an irrelevant interruption because we are dealing with pensions which are not, and are not intended to be, the sole income of the pensioner.
This is a small point, but is it not the fact that in that particular case, those figures represented the only income?
The basic pension is not the only income.
It was in the case the hon. Gentleman was quoting.
Under the 1939 Chamberlain figures the widow would get £1 2s. 6d. and 10s. for two children, a total of £1 12s. 6d. Today the same widow would be getting £1 15s., plus £1 2s. for two children and a 7s. rent allowance, making a total of £3 4s., compared with £1 12s. I know that perhaps certain hon. Members do not like these comparisons, but other comparisons have been made. Every hon. Member has been circularised with comparisons and the whole campaign of the British Legion has been for comparisons. If we are to have comparisons, let us have them all. not just some of them.
Get back on the quarter deck, will you?
Is a Minister entitled to address an offensive remark, "Get into your pew," to an hon. Member?
I did not hear what was said, but the hon. and gallant Member persisted in trying to interrupt.
May I tell you what the Minister was saying? Pointing in a most insolent way he said, "Get back on your quarter deck." Is that proper language for a Minister to use to you, Mr. Bowles?
No, but I do not think it was addressed to me.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will withdraw it. I heard him make the remark and he has been long enough on the Front Bench to know that he should address the Chair.
If I have offended the dignity of the House, I will withdraw it. I knew the hon. and gallant Member was an Admiral and the remark came naturally.
I only wanted the comparison between concrete sums. I want to know the value in the first case as compared with the second so that it would be a fair and complete comparison.
I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member wants me to do his arithmetic for him, but all the figures are available in publications of the House. I am giving comparisons which are relevant to this Debate and comparing the position now with that which existed before this campaign was started. It has often been repeated in propaganda put out by the British Legion that in the last 20 years the basic rate has been increased by only 121 per cent. As a matter of fact, it has been increased for the 1939 war pensioner by 38 per cent. The statement is less than half true when it is said that the increase has been 12½ per cent. for the 1914–18 war pensioner, as it ignores the increase in supplementary payments and the wide extension of eligibility for those payments. In fact the average payment made to 100 per cent. disabled pensioners of private soldier rank was £2 7s. 10d. in the year ended March, 1939, £3 17s. 3d. in the year ending March, 1948, and £4 2s. at 31st March, 1949. That is an increase between 1938 and today of 72 per cent.For lower degrees of disablement the increase, of course, is not so great for the simple reason that the misfortunes of those men are less than those of the most severely disabled. But even for those the increase in actual payments has been 33 per cent. The vast majority of these men have benefited, of course, from the increase in wage rates, of which much play has been made in this Debate. Those wage rates appear to me to be used as part of a campaign to divide the ex-Service man from the non-Service man and play off one against the other and say, "Look at the greedy trade unionists, getting increases in wages." What hon. Members who take that line forget is that the ex-Service men themselves are benefiting by increased wage rates. It is true that they may have to pay a high rate of Income Tax on the wages but they have an advantage over ordinary wage earners in that all the pension allowances are tax-free. During the years the present Government have been in power, there has been a steady stream of improvements in the number of allowances, the amount of allowances and eligibility for allowances. It was suggested in the Debate in July that the number of allowances in payment was too small in relation to known cases of need among pensioners. Accordingly, my right hon. Friend set himself to ensure that every pensioner should be made aware of all these new improvements, a job which the Legion ought to have done themselves. He not only developed the Welfare Service and gave 100,000 personal, private and voluntary interviews to pensioners, but also sent to almost every pensioner a personal letter and leaflet—of which every hon. Member has received a copy—asking if they were sure they were receiving all the benefits to which they were entitled. Within a few weeks, every pensioner will have received such a letter and leaflet. The result of all this and the humane and sympathetic administration was the Supplementary Estimate which the House recently approved. It provided for an additional £1,405,000 in pensions, gratuities and treatment allowances over and above Estimates previously presented. Other Supplementary Estimates attracted much attention and provoked much sound and fury, but this went by almost unnoticed. I wish to say something about some of the main allowances. The rate of the unemployability supplement, which is paid to a man prevented by war disablement from entering or keeping his place in the employment field, is 30s. weekly and it carries an extra 6s. for a dependent wife, making a total basic pension of 91s. for man and wife. At 31st March, 1948, 8,300 of these supplements were in payment. Today there are 13,020, an increase of approximately 57 per cent. The special hardship allowance is paid up to a maximum of 20s. where a pensioner is employable hut, because of his disablement, is incapable of following his former occupation, or one of an equivalent standard. Twelve months ago 2,250 of these allowances were in payment and today the number is 10,160, an increase of 350 per cent. The constant attendance allowance is paid to totally disabled pensioners who require help in every-day matters, and the rate ranges from 10s. to 40s. a week. A year ago 5,000 allowances were in payment. Today there are 6,650 of these allowances, an increase of 33 per cent. Grouping the three supplementary allowances together, we find there has been an increase in the 12 months from 15,550 to 29,830, a percentage increase of 92 per cent. After all these figures, who dare cast my right hon. Friend in the rôle of Scrooge, the miser? With his leaflet inviting pensioners to "Have a go" and by helping them with their questions and then, if their questions seem somewhere nearly right, saying "Give him the money, Barney," he is rather more in the character of Wilfred Pickles than of Scrooge.
Who is "barmy."
I was looking across at the other side of the House.
Then I must raise a point of Order and call attention to the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary has described someone in this House as "barmy."
I am afraid that the noble Lord is wrong. I did not refer to anyone as being "barmy"; he used the word himself, and therefore my reply to him, when he used that word, was that I was looking at the other side of the House.
Quite seriously, I do not know about whom the hon. Gentleman is talking. Who is the person to whom he addressed his remark. Who is Barney or "barmy"? Is it one of his hon. Friends who is sitting beside him?
It is apparent that the noble Lord fails to listen to the most human programme broadcast by the B.B.C.If the administration of my right hon. Friend is to be attacked by hon. Gentlemen opposite by comparing it with previous administrations, they must, on the figures I have already given, attack it for extravagance, not for parsimony. Let us see how the figures of total expenditure compare. In 1919–20, the year after the end of 1914–18 war, the Ministry's benefit expenditure, that is, on pensions, medical treatment, provision of artificial limbs, etc., but excluding the cost of administration, was £94 million. The peak was reached in the following year, 1920–21, when the figure was £100 million. In 1921–22 there was a drop of £10 million. A further big decline took place in 1922–23, when total benefit expenditure was £76,500,000. Thus, expenditure in the fourth post-war year after the 1914–18 war was 75 per cent. of that of the first post-war year. Thereafter, the expenditure declined steadily and continuously until the outbreak of the 1939 war. Hostilities in the 1939 war ceased in 1945, and in the following year, 1946–47, the total benefit expenditure in respect of both wars was £82 million. In 1947–48 it rose to £85 million; and in 1948–49 it further increased to £86 million. Provision has been made for expenditure of £84 million in 1949–50. Thus, expenditure in the fourth post-war year is expected to be 102 per cent. of that in the first post-war year. The anticipated expenditure in 1949–50 is £2 million in excess of that spent in 1946–47, compared with a drop of 17½ million in the comparable period after the 1914–18 war. Pensioners of both wars have benefited from the improvements reflected by this increase. Thus, the expenditure on 1914–18 war pensions, which declined by nearly £5 million in the five years from 1938–39 to 1943–44, rose in the following five years by some £3 million, despite the steady decrease in the number of pensions by death. This again proves that the 1914–18 pensioner is not regarded by this Ministry as a forgotten man. The leaflets sent out have reminded the first war pensioner that the amount of pension is open to sympathetic review if there has been material and permanent worsening of the war disablement. Substantial numbers of applications are coming in, and in the large majority of the cases a medical examination is arranged. During the four years up to December, 1948, some 2,400 a the 1914–18 war pensioners were given increased assessments The effect of the leaflets and Welfare Service is shown by the fact that in the nine months since July, 1948, approximately 2,000 of this class of pensioners have received increased awards. A lot of cases remain to be investigated. Since January, 1949, some 7,200 applications for review of final awards have been received, and decisions have so far been reached in 3,800 cases. Increases have been authorised in about 750 cases. The average increase in assessment is 29 per cent. I am convinced that far greater benefit results to the needy and suffering from this policy of stabilising the rate of basic pension and supplementing it according to need than would follow from making an increase in the basic rate. That would be to make a gift, at a time when we are warned of the growing burden of our social services, to many thousands who do not need it. The great majority of Members of this House approved the recent Budget proposals. They will not be surprised to learn, therefore, that I have no great changes to announce today. The Budget is the background against which we have to review all our problems. In spite of the economic position, this Government have made close upon 50 improvements in the position of war pensioners and their dependants, and last year presented a Supplementary Estimate. It is the worst kind of partisan political propaganda for those who know the real position to make demands which they know are at the moment impossible—demands which were never made when a Tory Government was in power. I believe that the majority of ex-Service men are grateful to this Government for the new outlook in the Ministry of Pensions and for the concessions made, after waiting since 1920 to get them from other Governments. The Legion leaflet actually states the concessions, and the complaint against the Government is that they have made concessions for which the Legion has been asking since 1920. I am sure that true patriotism still burns in the breasts of the ex-Service men of this country, because I am one of them, and that it burns so strongly that they would resent being made pawns in a political game in a time of national emergency and necessity.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the demand for an inquiry is making someone a pawn in a political game? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes."] What possible motive other than to ascertain the facts could there be in asking for an inquiry?
I am suggesting that the whole set-up of the campaign against the Government on pensions must be a political campaign because it ignores the good work which the Government have done.In spite of the fact that this House has approved of the Budget, and while we realise the economic position of the country, there are, however, further improvements which the Government have decided to make. I refer, first, to widows of the 1914–18 war in receipt of modified pensions. In July, 1948, modified pensions granted to certain widows under the provisions of Articles 16A and 17A of the 1914–18 war Warrants were increased to 26s. a week, that is, to the equivalent of the National Insurance rates of widows' pensions, but the position remained that a comparable 1939–45 World War widow received the higher pension of 35s. a week—or more, according to her late husband's rank. The Government have decided to remove this disparity of rates, and accordingly a 1914–18 war widow at present receiving a modified pension under Articles 16A and 17A of 1914–18 Warrants will, if she is over 40, or has children or is incapable of self-support, have her pension increased to the standard rate—35s. for the widow of a private, and the appropriate higher rate for the widow of a non-commissioned officer or commissioned officer. The new rates will take effect as from the first pay day in June. This review will be automatic; application is not necessary. Secondly, with regard to the conditions of the award of the special hardship allowance to 1914–18 war pensioners, an additional allowance may be paid to a partly disabled pensioner who, in consequence of war disablement, is permanently incapable of resuming his former occupation, or one of an equivalent standard. The maximum allowance is 20s. per week, but the total pension and the allowance may not exceed an amount equivalent to a pension at the 100 per cent. rate. For pensioners of the 1939–45 war the comparison is made between the present and pre-Service occupation. For the 1914–18 war pensioner, eligibility depends on a change of occupation having taken place after 1st July, 1945, and a comparison of the changed occupation with that regularly followed for a reasonable period up to that date. When he announced this condition Mr. Buchanan suggested that it might be necessary to look at this date again and some hon. Members have expressed concern at the small numbers of allowances paid to 1914–18 war pensioners compared with the 1939–45 war pensioners. The Government have therefore decided that in future the test shall be a comparison between the pensioner's present occupation and the most favourable which he followed for a reasonable period between 1st July. 1944, and 1st July, 1945. Unemployment among men was at a lower level in 1944 than in 1945. Thus I hope that a substantial number of claimants may benefit from this change. This change in the qualifying conditions for payment of the allowance will take effect as from the first pay day in June. Application will be necessary. Then there is the new Royal Warrant. As the House is aware, the Government have decided that the Minister of Pensions is to be responsible for the administration of pensions in respect of disablement or death arising from future peace-time service in the Armed Forces. A new Royal Warrant to be issued shortly gives effect to that decision. It does not provide for a new pensions scheme for the peacetime Forces, but makes broadly the same provisions for pensions and other grants as those contained in the existing 1939 war Warrant of April, 1946, and amending warrants, which it consolidates and will replace. The definition of "war service" is replaced by a definition of "service," which covers part-time service in the Auxiliary and Reserve Forces. The new Warrant will embody the pension improvements which have been made since the last amending Warrant of 8th May, 1947, was issued, most of which have been announced in the House in Debates or in reply to Questions, and it will embody the two new improvements which I have just announced. The Warrant is, of course, a prerogative instrument; when signed by the King and the Minister it v. ill, by His Majesty's Command, be laid before Parliament. Corresponding provisions will be made for the Naval and Air Forces. The instrument for the Naval Forces is an Order in Council made under the Naval and Marine Pay and Pension Act, 1865. The instrument for the Air Force is an Order by His Majesty made under the Air Force (Constitution) Act, 1917. Both instruments, when signed, will be laid before Parliament in accordance with the provisions of their respective Acts—
Would the hon. Gentleman allow me to ask a question? In view of the fact that these instruments cannot be amended, will the Government follow the precedent which Sir Walter Womersley initiated, or at any rate practised. By laying a draft Warrant, so that the provisions can be looked at before it is too late to amend them?
The Minister will deal fully with that, but the position remains as the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said at the time. I am sorry, I did not finish my sentence.
I am very sorry. I did not mean to interrupt the hon. Gentleman.
The instrument for the Air Force is an Order by His Majesty made under the Air Force (Constitution) Act, 1917. Both instruments, when signed, will be laid before Parliament in accordance with the provisions of their respective Acts, which do not adopt either the affirmative or the negative Resolution procedure.More important than the payment of pensions is the need to help the disabled man and woman to regain as fully as possible a normal life in society. This we seek to do through our administration. I cannot take time to describe the admirable work of our hospitals and our other medical services. I can only ask hon. Members to read for themselves what is said about them in the Report. If there are hon. Members who are interested in this work and who have never visited one of these hospitals, I should be glad to arrange visits for them. I need hardly say, I hope, that hon. Members are welcome to visit our offices and treatment centres near their own constituencies. I wish to quote some of the tributes the Ministry has received with regard to the service given at our institutions. This one is from the "News Chronicle" of 19th April this year. It is the story of a man who met with an accident. The man's father writes:
That is one tribute to our work at Roehampton, of which I myself have had personal experience. Another letter reads:"…it was thought that my son would be on his back for the rest of his life; that he would never be able to walk again. But a great miracle has taken place. Thanks to the Queen Mary's Roehampton Hospital limb-fitting centre, he is able to go about again. The doctors and fitter…challenge the world to make such another case as my son's walk."
Those are indications of the work, the humane work, we are doing in the hospitals and limb-fitting centres and we hope that hon. Members will take the opportunity of seeing some of them."May I express my deep appreciation of the courtesy and kindly consideration extended to patients attending the limb-fitting centre. From the reception clerks, the surgeon, the limb-makers and training instructor, I received that friendly co-operation that is so reassuring to one who is, perhaps, oversensitive to his affliction."
Surely the hon. Gentleman would not wish to give a wrong impression. All these hospitals have gone on for a long time, and every Minister of Pensions, quite properly, points out the valuable work which has been done. It is in no sense a party matter.
I am very surprised at the noble Lord. I was not using this as a party matter. I am reporting on the work of the Ministry and I am entitled at this Box to be proud of the work which the Ministry is doing. I say that we have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary we are proud of our achievement, and we are glad that under the National Health Service we are able to make many of our services available to every citizen who may need them. One new method of helping the severely disabled to adjust themselves to daily life has been inaugurated—
I think that the hon. Gentleman unconsciously is being very unfair. What I said was that every Minister of Pensions has, quite rightly, called attention to the splendid work done by these hospitals. The hon. Gentleman is deliberately attempting to give the impression that this is the work of the present Government. It is not.
I certainly rate the intelligence of hon. Members on both sides of the House higher than does the noble Lord. One new method of helping the severely disabled to adjust themselves to daily life has been inaugurated by my right hon. Friend. It is the provision of small motor cars. Up to date 164 of these have been delivered to pensioners. The value of this amenity is best expressed in the pensioners' own words. My right hon. Friend has received many letters from pensioners who have received cars under the car scheme. Recently there was a heading in one of the newspapers which stated:
A man who has been disabled for years is now able to get about, thanks to the Ministry's provision."Dick has got 8 horse-power legs—all free."
Under a Labour Government.
I should like to quote from a couple of letters. The first says:
The other states:"I would like to record my thanks for the presentation to me today of the Ministry car. It is difficult for one who is not similarly afflicted to realise the tremendous change this will bring about to my whole life and happiness. My wife and I will have a far greater opportunity of pleasure. There will be no need to anxiously consider such things as distances from bus stops and the agony of soreness will not come as a sort of retribution for a day in the country or by the sea."
The welfare officers make it their prime duty to help the pensioner in his adjustment to the normal life of the community. Up to the present, approximately 100,000 interviews have taken place, including 17,000 with pensioners in hospitals. Interviews are continuing at the rate of 2,000 a week. These interviews have not been confined to pension matters. A wide range of other matters has been dealt with by the welfare officers. They have maintained close liaison with other Government Departments and with local and voluntary bodies. Their activities have covered social service, insurance, housing, health and employment problems. There is a very close liaison on these matters with the disablement resettlement officers of the Ministry of Labour. I should like to take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour for the splendid co-operation afforded by the staff of his Department. They have given the utmost help in solving these problems. Welfare officers have visited Remploy factories, vocational training centres and rehabilitation units. When necessary the Minister of Labour has made available his local premises for interviewing where the Ministry of Pensions has no local office. Regular group meetings between welfare officers and managers of employment exchanges and divisional resettlement officers are taking place. There have been 33 such meetings since 1st February, 1949. The experience of the last few months has been most encouraging and we have great hopes of what may be achieved in the course of a longer period by two Departments working together in such close harmony. I think that most hon. Members who have written to my right hon. Friend or myself about the problems of their pensioner constituents will have noted the care that we take to ensure that employment or training is secured wherever it is appropriate, and to satisfy ourselves that the pensioner is aware of the possibilities of help from other social services as well as our own. The House knows that I can speak with intimate knowledge of these matters. My first experience with the Ministry was just before the end of the 1914–18 war. As an ex-Service man who never rose higher than the rank of private, I was prepared to go into the Ministry with a very keen eye to find fault. I have no doubt that somewhere in the archives the Ministry have a dossier putting me down, as a rather difficult and intractable kind of chap. Probably that would be true, but I add the proviso that the spirit prevailing at the Ministry in those days made one difficult and intractable. Apart altogether from my personal experience, my short term of office in the Department has convinced me that we are working along the right lines. There is no need for any special inquiry. All the facts are on record in the 23rd Report Additional facts—"It is with great pleasure and deep gratitude that I acknowledge the presentation of an 8 h.p. Ford Anglia car for my use. This is the greatest piece of good fortune I have experienced since the loss of a second leg in January, 1939. My wife and I will now be able to enjoy a much fuller life together, and she joins me in appreciation of the practical way in which the Ministry have endeavoured to alleviate my severe disability."
The hon. Gentleman has said that all the facts are in the Report. He has already added to some extent to those facts by the figures he has given today. Will he give us one more additional figure? Will he give us the latest figure, up to 31st March of this year, of the number of 100 per cent. disablement pensions?
The Minister will reply to the Debate and a question like that could be reserved until then.All the facts are on record in the 23rd Report. Additional facts, as they become known, are placed immediately before the Central Advisory Committee. It meets once a month. It has on it members of war pensions committees of ex-Service organisations and eight Members of this House, drawn from the three parties. A reasonable and proper inquiry is taking place here and now in the form of a Parliamentary Debate. To ask for anything else is to ask for a vote of censure on my right hon. Friend and his administration.
Before he sits down, will the Minister say whether the Central Advisory Committee has been asked for its views about whether an inquiry should be held and, if so, what was the answer?
I rise to support the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen). I hope that I shall put the case for the appointment of a committee or commission of inquiry with moderation and reasonableness and with no intention whatever of attacking the Minister or the Ministry of Pensions. The general position as to pensions is still not entirely satisfactory, although I would say at once that the attitude of the Minister of Pensions—and perhaps I might say the attitude of the Ministry especially under the former Minister, Mr. Buchanan—has been more sympathetic of late, more helpful and more willing to consider modifications of the system and of the regulations. The appeals procedure has been simplified and made more elastic, but it is not only in that respect that simplification is required. Simplification is needed of the regulations concerning pensions. These have become more and more complicated and involved as one concession after another has been wrung from the Treasury—I put it in that way because that is about what will happen. With it all, the basic rate of disablement pension remains too low. It has never kept pace with the decline in the value of money and the consequent increase in the cost of living.I should like to refer briefly to some of the points which require attention. First, I would say that the payment of pension and special hardship allowance shoud not be limited to the amount of the 100 per cent. rate. There should be a right of appeal, in this as in other matters, to an independent tribunal against the refusal of hardship allowance. Next, war pensioners ought to receive a similar benefit to that received by other contributors under the National Insurance Act, in view of the fact that they pay a similar contribution. When a married man applies to the Ministry for benefit, the amount of his wife's allowance granted by the Ministry of Pensions is deducted from the standard wife's allowance under the insurance scheme. That, I would submit, should not be the case. Next, the right of appeal should be given to the 1914–18 men whose pensions claims are refused because they are outside the seven-year time limit; and, in this connection, I would submit that further provision should be made for the consideration on appeal of the cases of pensioners whose wounds, with increasing age, cause them increasing trouble, pain and disability. There are such cases, and I have personal knowledge of them. As men get older, their disabilities are apt to be accentuated and they become more serious, and I think that reconsideration in these cases should be given as freely as possible. I was very glad to hear the announcement made by the Parliamentary Secretary as to the revision of the regulations for war widows' pensions, and I was particularly glad to hear about the improved allowances, which, in my opinion, by themselves would justify the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Cardigan. It is an indication that there was something which it is now admitted required investigation, and the fact that it has been done is evidence that the matter has been brought to attention by this Amendment. As to the terms of pensions of the widows of the 1914–18 men, they should be brought absolutely into line with those of the wives of men whose death was due to service in the 1939–45 war. While these matters are under consideration, it should be borne in mind that when an officer is killed when owning property exceeding a very few thousands of pounds, the income from which would be very small, Death Duties are deducted from that property. Thus, with one hand, the widow is heavily fined for her loss, and, with the other, she is given a pittance, for it is only a pittance, of a pension by the Government. That matter also requires investigation. For all these reasons and for others, it is desirable that a Royal Commission, or at least a Select Committee, should be set up to inquire into the whole position regarding war pensions and allowances. I suggest that this Royal Commission or Select Committee should also inquire into the reduction of retired pay and pensions under the provisions of the (Royal Warrant and the corresponding instruments for the other Services of 1919. That retired pay was reduced between 1924 and 1933 by amounts up to 11½ per cent. on account of the alleged fall in the cost of living at that time, and it was absolutely standardised—arbitrarily, I would say—in 1935 at 9½ per cent. below the basic rates of 1919. It has never been raised in conformity with the rise which has followed in the cost of living since—and it is a very big rise now—as was definitely promised in the Royal Warrant and the corresponding instrument of 1919. Surely, a comprehensive inquiry is necessary into the whole complicated medley of regulations of our pensions system, with all the additions, subtractions and amendments that have been made. Surely, it is also desirable that such an inquiry should be made by an impartial commission or committee, which, I suggest, should be divorced as far as possible from party politics. I am not speaking as a party politician, but as an old soldier with very long service, and I hope that this matter will be inquired into by a commission or committee which is independent of party politics. The Government would not be committed by appointing such a body, although I admit that if the committee, as I believe it would, were to recommend some considerable changes, the Government would be morally bound to accept them. Surely, the Government are not afraid of the recommendations of an impartial committee? I hope that such a committee, if appointed, will not be a Departmental Committee, because I am afraid there would be objections to that, and there certainly would not be complete confidence in its judgment and recommendations. The recommendations of an impartial committee would carry great weight, and on them, in due course, could be based a simpler, fairer scheme of pensions than any which we have had hitherto. I hope this matter will be considered by the Minister and that he may see his way to agree to the appointment of such a commission or committee to inquire into this whole matter.
I rise to oppose, lock, stock and barrel, this Amendment for a Royal Commission to inquire into war pensions and allowances When I came into the House this afternoon, I received a telegram from the British Legion at Hull. This is what it said:
"Commander Pursey, House of Commons London.
They got it wrong, like they always do. This is a proposal for a Royal Commission. The reply I sent back was this:This branch British Legion respectfully requests your support for Motion to be moved by Captain Bowen for Select Committee re war pensions.—British Legion, Hull."
"British Legion, Hull.
The puritanical Post Office refused to accept the real word, for which "Pygmalion" is a substitute, and I had to make a compromise on "ruddy." Now, I must disclose my interest in this subject. I am of the third generation of ex-Service men in my family covering a period of 100 years. My grandfather, as a private, fought in the Crimean War of 1854, was wounded and was invalided out with a pension of sixpence per day, and he lived to a great old age. My father was invalided out of the Navy. I started my career in a naval orphanage, so that, when it comes to the question of what I know about this subject, I suggest that I have got nothing to learn about it, since I have lived with it all my life. Furthermore, as a result of my national campaign against this war pensions delusion—because there is a lot of psycho-neurosis about it—at public meetings and in the Press, I have probably had more letters on this subject from all over Great Britain and Ireland than any other hon. Member in the House. I had no intention of dealing with the question of the organisations which are supporting this Amendment. I do not wish to get into undue controversy with the hon. Member who moved the Amendment, because, unfortunately, he did not know half of his subject. The question of the organisations which are supporting this campaign will not bear investigation. The Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Families Association, the Forces Help Society and the Disability Pensions Committee are not organisations in terms of membership; they are self-appointed charities battening on and cadging from the public. As far as the three main organisations are concerned, the Royal Naval Old Comrades Association have never wholly committed themselves to supporting this complaint, and, to a large extent, their membership oppose it from a political point of view. The Royal Air Force Association is in much the same position. The British Legion is a minority organisation with a membership of, approximately, one million out of a total of 10 million ex-Service men.Reply your telegram before Debate, will oppose Motion lock, stock and ruddy barrel.—Commander Pursey."
I will give way in a moment, but I am not going to be interrupted in the middle of a sentence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I will give way in my own time; I only sought to intervene once during the previous speeches.The British Legion, as I have said, is a minority organisation and has a membership of only one million out of 10 million ex-Service men, a large number of whom are counted two or three times, as are Members of this House, by virtue of their being members of several branches—I am a Member of three—and a large number are only club members who are not interested in this campaign at all. Moreover, in Labour constituencies, they are in favour of the Government's policy.
I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman for giving way. I was wanting to raise this point before he mentioned the British Legion. He referred to the Disability Pensions Committee battening on the public and cadging for charity. Can he give any instance where the Pensions Committee has asked for charity.
Had the hon. and gallant Gentleman not interrupted me he would have found out that I was about to deal with the Disability Pensions Com- mittee. They have no standing in this matter at all.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman quoted them as having battened on the public and cadged for charity. Can he substantiate that statement?
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will allow me to continue my speech, I shall deal with the point. I repeat that the Disability Pensions Committee have no standing in this business whatsoever; they are a self-appointed crowd who might equally be the Ancient Order of Frothblowers.
I am not going to give way again. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment claimed that this matter has the support of the branches of the British Legion. A large number of its branches do not support it; they disagree with this party political racket and would have taken no action whatever about it but for the fact that they were forced to do so by the Pall Mall circus headed by the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). That will do for branches and organisations.I am quite prepared to be non-controversial. All sides of the House wish to do their best for the disabled and the handicapped; where we differ is as to what is the best plan. The Tory Party, the British Legion, and other private organisations, cashing in on this misery of human lives, a quarter of a century too late, and making a wrong appreciation of the situation, now support what they have always previously opposed, namely, a Select Committee and an increase in pensions. The present Government and the Labour Party contend that the best plan is to grant whatever extra money is available to the hard cases, in particular to those who cannot work and thus earn-an income. We on this side of the House wholeheartedly support that policy. As regards the proposal for a Royal Commission, all I would say about it is that this is the worst possible moment to have chosen for suggesting it in the whole 30 years of war pensions and disablement, and I will tell the House why.[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will answer my own question; I do not want hon. Members opposite to ask "Why," This is the first year of the greatest social security measures ever introduced in any country in the world. A major inquiry into war pensions and allowances of over one million pensioners, widows and dependants, plus the fact that there are probably another half million who would like to have pensions and cannot get them, must inevitably include an inquiry into hospitalisation, rehabilitation, training, and the employment of all war pensioners. It must also include industrial injuries because these are co-related with the same basic disability pensions and numerous similar allowances. In fact, not only would the Ministry of Pensions factor have to be investigated, but also that of the Ministries of Health, National Insurance and Labour. It just does not make sense. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Hon. Members opposite can answer that point in their own speeches. I say that it does not make sense, and I shall come hack to that again in a moment. There are two main factors in the present war pensions controversy—the first, wounds pensions, and the second ill-health. As regards wounds pensions, practically all the claims were accepted and settled long ago. Therefore, there is little or no argument on that score. The only thing there is the argument in favour of increasing the amount which, as I shall later show, is not justified on the facts. As regards ill-health, while there is a general argument for increased payments—again not justified—the main argument to get the ill-health attributable to war service. But ill-health is now covered by the National Health Service so the question arises: Why try to get it accepted as attributable to war service? The answer is simply "In order to get the higher amounts allowed for war cases." Therefore, the real crux of this argument of attributability is not a Ministry of Pensions one, but a social service one. The solution is to bring the social service payments up to the level of the war disabilities when there will be no anomalies, no question of attributability, and no complaints. That is the answer. In their latest statement of claims just issued, the British Legion, after two years of research, argument and campaigning on a scale never before known in this country, can only produce 12 arguments, and most of those are minor ones. For instance, four of them are about widows; I shall leave other hon. Members on this side to deal with them. One is the argument that 35s. for a widow is not sufficient. But that is not an argument for war pensions; that is an argument for social service. How many hon. Members opposite are there today who are prepared to advocate more than 35s. a week for widows in this country? Not one. The point about the widows and the 35s. is just that. Why did the Opposition not advocate a higher sum than 35s. for widows when the National Insurance. Scheme was going through the House? In fact, the 12 points put forward by the British Legion are not arguments for an inquiry at all; they are arguments why there should not be an inquiry, because they provide the information which, so it is argued, an inquiry should seek. A point which has not registered with the Tory Party or the British Legion is that war pensions is only another name for social security for a limited number of the community. Will any hon. Member opposite dispute that? That is all it is. If the Liberal Party, a Member of which introduced this Amendment this afternoon, had introduced social security and a national health scheme in 1914, there would have been no question of this duplicated scheme for war wounds and ill-health. The war cases would have received the same treatment as those under the National Health Scheme and there would have been no Ministry of Pensions. So, if that argument is carried to its logical conclusion, the British Legion will put the Ministry of Pensions out of business and, of course—as they are doing—they will put themselves out of business, too, although nobody will complain of that. Will the Opposition support the case for the same payments for industrial and civilian injuries and ill-health as for war cases, with some simple supplement for war service? Then we shall get rid of all this duplication, as the Labour Government should get rid of it in time, as they develop the social services. I will pass to the bones of the war pensions problem—disabilities, basic pensions, employment, the cost of living and the argument about the Select Committee. What is the case for an increase in the basic rate of pensions? In fact what is the case for doubling the basic rate—and I challenge the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale to deny, as he is continually trying to do up and down the country, that the advocacy of the British Legion is to double the basic rate. On 9th July last year the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale drew a sensational and harrowing picture of 750,000 men
Let me be quite frank. This is just plain nonsense and pure theatrical exaggeration, as I will show."who have been crippled and blinded, and who have lost their health in two wars."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1948; Vol. 453, c. 793.]
Would the hon. and gallant Member explain what is wrong in that sentence? Can the hon. and gallant Member explain if the figure is wrong or if there were not people blinded, maimed and crippled?
I have no wish to take any advantage of the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale. If he had been listening and if he had waited until I had finished my sentence he would have heard me say, "as I will now go on to show." Let the hon. and gallant Member just wait for it. The figures are common ground, in the "child's bible" or the "child's guide"—the Ministry Report which has already been referred to. Let us consider, first, disabilities. Roughly half the 750,000 are for each of the two wars—half for each war—but as the half from the first war have received 30 years' consideration, largely by Tory Governments, there should be no cause for complaint from there.
Let the hon. and gallant Member make it in his own speech. Of the 400,000 pensioners of the second war—and this is the important point of the hon. and gallant Member's exaggeration—less than one-third were suffering from wounds and blindness, and they have practically all been granted adequate, if not liberal, pensions and allowances. The other two-thirds were for diseases, mostly of the chest and so on. That is the main problem of the disabled—not this theatrical story of 750,000 wounded, blinded and so on.
Wounded, blinded and what?
Wounded, blinded and so on. A large number of these cases never saw the enemy. In fact, as a result of being in the Forces those with a low disability were under better conditions than if they had been living in our own blitzed cities.
Is the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) now arguing that a disease of the lungs, whether the man faced the enemy or not—and many do not in modern warfare—is not a very serious disability?
If my hon. Friend will wait, I shall deal with those cases. I am stating the facts, which have been grossly exaggerated. Let me repeat, in the second war less than one-third of the pensions were for wounds and blindness. The remaining two-thirds were for other diseases, largely result of pre-Service life but aggravated as a result of war service and, where shown to be such, accepted by the Ministry. Moreover, dealing with the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan), 47,000 T.B. cases have been accepted; I fully approve of that and would advocate it. There is no question of my being at cross purposes with the hon. Member for Rochdale or other hon. Members on this side of the House. Less than one-fifth are 50 per cent. disabled, although the loss of four fingers counts as a 50 per cent. disablement. The total number of 100 per cent. disabled is only 52,000, so this figure of 750,000 is a factual figure which gives no actual indication of the disability of the pensioners.Let us next consider the pensions. Everyone discusses the 100 per cent. basic pension for the private—45s., to which I have no objection—and this again gives an entirely false picture, because no one receives this basic pension alone. This is only the foundation; everyone entitled to this basic sum is either employed or receives additional allowances, such as 30s. unemployability supplement, as well as allowances for his wife and children, family allowances, education, and so on. Moreover—a figure never quoted by the Opposition or the British Legion—nearly 180,000 officers and N.C.O.s—actually 23 per cent.; nearly a quarter—receive additional allowances for their rank. For instance, N.C.O.s receive up to 61s. 8d. and the figures for officers go higher still. An Army captain receives £240 a year, plus allowances for his wife and children and other allowances. Take the case of the man who receives £250. A lot of disabled professional men earn a salary of over £1,000 a year. Is it suggested that their basic pension should be doubled, and that they should go up another £250 a year plus, to bring their income up to £1,500 plus, with over £500, plus allowances, free of Income Tax? It does not make sense. I will now come to the bottom of the scale, and take the private's case. Here is one of a constituent of mine. He is a first war man, with a leg and an arm missing. He has a wife. He is, therefore, assessed at 100 per cent., and receives £2 5s. basic pension, 10s. for his wife, and 10s. constant attendance allowance—£3 5s. tax-free. He earns a full wage of £5 4s. 8d. a week—and good luck to him—and he gets 5s. Chelsea Hospital pension, making his total weekly income £8 14s. 8d., which is worth more than £9 a week subject to tax. Is it suggested that his basic pension should be doubled? It is just ludicrous. Even this is not the full general picture. Nearly 15,000 pensioners are in hospital, and nearly all receive 100 per cent. pension and allowances for themselves and their wives and their families irrespective of disability. The question I put to the Opposition and to the British Legion on this is whether all these pensioners, of whom I have given examples—and they run into many thousands—should have their pensions doubled? Should the pensions be brought up, in the case of privates, to £6 10s., in the case of N.C.O.s to £9 16s., and in the case of officers to £500, all plus pension allowances, plus wives' and children's allowances, plus family allowances, education allowances, and the like? That is the proposal of the Tory Party and the British Legion and the other interested parties.
On a point of Order. What has this to do with the Amendment which has been moved?
The whole Debate has been very wide, and all war pensions questions are relevant.
Further to that point of Order. The hon. and gallant Member is telling the House what our demands are, yet all we are asking for is an inquiry, and therefore it seems to me that his remarks are rather wide.
As I say, the whole Debate has been very wide.
This problem today cannot be discussed in a vacuum, as though it had been raised today for the first time. There has been one of the worst party political rackets in our lifetime conducted throughout the country for the last two years, and the demands of the British Legion—and that is the organisation which has been quoted here today—are for doubling the basic rate. I challenged its President, the hon. Member for Lonsdale to deny that that is the fact, and he accepted it, so who is the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) to intervene?Let us consider employment, because that is the main factor here. Give everyone possible a job, and the whole problem will be solved. This is the Government's object, and they have gone a long way towards solving it. The present Minister of Pensions, on 9th July last year, stated that out of 50,000 totally disabled, 40 per cent. were at work, and out of the other 700,000 only 6 per cent. were unemployed. The Minister of Labour on 5th April, stated in a Written Answer:
So the real problem of the disability pensioner is not the problem of the 750,000, but the far smaller problem of 40,000 unemployed who are capable of work, and, in particular, the 5,000-plus who require sheltered employment. Mark you, practically all those 5,000 have the maximum pension and allowances. What is the history of the argument for a Select Committee? In 1919 the one and only Select Committee was appointed, because war pensions were then a new problem, and there were no social security schemes, and it was necessary to inquire into the facts. That is not so today. We have social security schemes and all the facts are known; the whole position is an open book, and we have 30 years' experience. Previous attempts to obtain a Select Committee have always been defeated by successive Tory Governments. For example, on 20th February, 1923, Major Cohen said in the House:"The number of disabled ex-Service unemployed on 21st February, 1949, was 40,404. Of these, 35,121 were regarded as capable of work under ordinary conditions, and 5,283 as needing sheltered employment." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th April, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 181.]
"As a responsible official of the British Legion…I think it is all wrong that the ex-Service men of this country should be brought into party politics in this manner…The remedy suggested…is that a Select Committee of this House should be set up to go into the whole question. I do not think that is necessary or even desirable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1923; Vol. 160, c. 918–919.]
He got the wrong Government.
Then there was Mr. Rogerson, a Conservative, who said in the same Debate—[Interruption.]
Let them have it. The Opposition do not like it.
Good stuff, is it not? Lap it up.
Who wrote all this?
Hon. Members opposite should not ask silly questions.
I am quoting from the OFFICIAL REPORT. Mr. Rogerson said:
He opposed the setting up of a Select Committee and voted against an increase in pension. The then Minister of Pensions, Major Tryon, said:"I am a member of the national executive of the British Legion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February. 1923; Vol. 160, c. 950.]
"I am sure that unemployment is responsible for a large amount of the heavy pressure which is now placed upon the Pensions Ministry."
I wanted to ask my hon. and gallant Friend whether he said the pension was 33s.?
I am quite prepared to help anybody on either side of the House, but I think my hon. Friend should allow me to go on or otherwise I shall take up too much time.
It does not matter—go on.
Major Tryon said:
Today we have full employment. Later he said:"I am sure that unemployment is responsible for a large amount of the heavy pressure which is now placed upon the Pensions Ministry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1923; Vol. 160, c. 972.]
A Division was called. Among the 307 Tory supporters who voted against both the Select Committee and an increase in pension, there were half a dozen who are still Members of this House, and who now have their names on the Order Paper asking for a Select Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who are they?"] Let hon. Members wait for it. I have informed them that I should raise that matter, so that they can have no complaint of my crowning them with British Legion laurels in their absence, for the valiant part which they played for the improvement of ex-Service men's war pensions. First, there was the noble Lord the hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). He was warned of this, and I make this challenge to him that he has deliberately absented himself from the Chamber in order not to reply to the challenge which I am going to make. There were also the hon. Members for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon), Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald), West Ealing (Sir F. Sanderson), Antrim (Sir W. O'Neill), and the junior Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), who, at that time, had not become a displaced person from elsewhere. Three years later, in 1925, there was a memorial to the Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin, for a Select Committee, signed by 249 M.P.s, so there is nothing new in collecting signatures for a Select Committee on war pensions, nor is there anything new in how to deal with them. It is simply a question of who put their names down, and when, and whether it is for the benefit of the pensioners, or a political move, as it is now. At that time the present Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He would not provide any more money for war pensions which were then hopelessly inadequate, both in numbers and amount, and a disgrace to this great country for which those ex-Service men had fought in the First World War. In the OFFICIAL REPORT for 26th March, 1925, we find that the then Prime Minister, Mr. Baldwin, stated:"We have been urged to have an inquiry. Of course, the Amendment cannot be accepted. That was well known by those who put it down."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1923; Vol. 160, c. 982.]
Presumably, the Government of today is in precisely the same position, but someone else will answer for them later. On 26th May, 1925, there was a Debate on the Estimates for the Ministry of Pensions. The Labour Party moved to reduce the vote by £100. In the Division, several of the Tory ex-Service Members voted against their own Government as a mark of disapproval of the existing conditions. What is of first importance today is that some 40 of the present Tory M.P.s, who now have their names on the Order Paper for a Select Committee, then neither spoke nor voted for either a Select Committee or an increase in pensions, which again, at that time, were disgraceful. Those Members included a number who are now on the Opposition Front Bench; for example, the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). In order not to take an undue advantage of him I informed him, so that, as the leader of the gang, he could inform the others, and they could be present in the House to make a defence, if they have any defence to make. The others included the right hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) and the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank). I have not attempted to award British Legion laurels to the lesser lights. Did any of them then champion the cause of the ex-Service man and his pension? HANSARD—the great recording angel of all time—records not one. Not to omit the hon. Member for Lonsdale, I take him separately. It is more important, so far as he is concerned. As the political head of what is supposed to be a non-political organisation, leading and fanning this exaggeration, he himself, who was in the House at that time, said not a word in favour of a Select Committee or increases in pensions and, in spite of other ex-Service Members of the Tory Party having the courage to go into the Lobby against their Government, like a lamb he went into the Lobby with the Government. I appreciate that it is no argument that Members should not change their minds. Obviously, the Tories must do a lot of this. The point, however, is that when there was a very real need to increase war pensions after the First World War, the Tory M.P.s regularly and solidly voted against both a Select Committee and an increase in pensions. Can they, therefore, today expect anyone who knows the facts of this story to treat them seriously on this subject of war pensions?"The Government is not aware of any grounds on which the appointment of a Select Committee…would be justified."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1925; Vol. 182, c. 599.]
On a point of Order. In order to help us to understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument, would you ask him, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to let us know when these questions are intended to be rhetorical and when they are intended to seek information?
The hon. and gallant Member knows perfectly well that that is not a point of Order. I think that the fewer interruptions the better, because the speech has been going on for quite a long time already.
Can they, therefore, today expect anyone to treat them seriously about this subject on war pensions, because quite frankly I cannot? It is simply a case of facing both ways and trying to get the best of both worlds. The House and the country, however, have a right to know why there is this Tory somersault, and why they have double-crossed the ex-Service man? I hope that we shall hear the explanation later this evening from a selected spokesman of the noble band who always opposed a Select Committee and increased pensions between the two wars.I pass now to the cost-of-living argument which has been raised by the Opposition. In 1919, when the basic pension was fixed at 40s., the cost-of-living index was 215. When the Labour Government increased the basic pension to 45s. in 1946, the index was 203. If the cost of living argument were accepted, either in 1946 or today, the pension would be less than 40s. of 1919 and not the 45s. which it is today; so I hope that I have torpedoed that argument. Moreover, the Tory Party, in 1939, actually reduced the basic pension by 18 per cent., so that the Second World War 100 per cent. disability man received only 32s. 6d., as compared with the First World War man's 40s. for the same injury. This was a most abominable decision. The Second World War man has thus had his pension increased by over 33 per cent.—and there are 400,000 of them; over half the 750,000—not 12½ per cent, as argued by the British Legion and its ill-informed fans. Another largely fictitious complaint by the British Legion is the number of cases turned down by the appeal tribunals. The answer is that a large number are put up who ought not to be, and who never stand a chance of being accepted. I have with me a report written last year by one of the Legion's headquarters officials, who for some years over a period represented over 2,000 cases on their behalf at tribunals, and he has certainly "spilled the beans" of the British Legion racket. He writes:
even only slightly exaggerated, if at all—"I enclose my summary sheets of cases handled by the Pensions Tribunals. You will observe that most of them are really hopeless cases and were a waste of time and money to bring before the Tribunals. Seventy per cent. of the cases presented by the Legion had no chance of success and were for such complaints as bronchitis, rheumatism, gastritis etc."—
and no reason for the British Legion's interference."The public have been led to imagine that the Legion's Pension Department is fighting for men wounded or crippled by war service and victimised by the wicked Ministry of Pensions. In actual fact, I found such cases very rare, and men who were really wounded or had lost a limb were given every help and consideration in Ministry of Pensions hospitals, which I have myself visited. Their pensions were granted automatically, and in 90 per cent. of the cases there was no complaint"—
I had three gems which illustrate this latter type:"The cases which were sent in by the Legion could be divided as: 30 per cent. genuine, but for complaints not related to war (cancer, epilepsy, etc.); 30 per cent. 'try-ons;' bronchitis and asthma type where the condition had worsened a little and the appellant thought that he might stand a chance of a pension for aggravation; 10 per cent. where the Ministry had not sufficient information…or where there was an element of doubt; 30 per cent. 'mugs,' scroungers and humbugs.
That is the real spirit of the genuine disabled man, who is satisfied with his assessment and his pension, and whose main object is to have a worthwhile job and be independent of everyone. The scrounger type in which the British Legion specialise, is not typical—"When I get my artificial leg fitted, I shall start up in my own business again, in the boot and shoe trade. I will then return this loom to give some other disabled man a chance of earning a living and being independent."
That is a caddish thing to say.
I would repeat it but for the fact that it is already on record in HANSARD—except for a very small minority of the 10,000,000 ex-Service men and women.
I understood the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) to use the word "cad." If so, it should be withdrawn.
I am President of the British Legion in my constituency. I know the quality, the heroism and unselfish patriotism of these men. To hear the hon. and gallant Member speak of my ex-Service men in these terms is to me a contemptible and caddish act on his part.
The hon. Member must withdraw the word "cad" or "caddish." That is an unparliamentary expression which cannot be allowed. I ask him to withdraw.
I cannot withdraw it. I shall withdraw from the House.
Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to standing Order No. 21 (Disorderly Conduct), ordered Mr. BAXTER to withdraw immediately from the House during the remainder of this day's Sitting; and he withdrew accordingly.
Without repeating my speech. I would point out that I gave an analysis by an official of the British Legion of the percentage of the disabled cases, including the scroungers. I am referring to the minimum type of scrounger. I am prepared on any occasion to pay a tribute, as I have done at public meetings, to the British Legion, but it is not a question today of buttering up the British Legion. The majority of the 10,000,000 ex-Service men and women strongly resent the exploitation of the ex-Service man for charity by the British Legion, or for politics by the Tory Party. I have no time to go into the political racket, because that is what it is. I wrote an article six months ago in "The Fleet," entitled "British Legion disability pension campaign facts—no case for Select Committee," which I circulated to all Members. Every argument there has been proved correct, particularly by the Sowerhy by-election where the Tory candidate tried to cash in on this subject and failed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] It is in his election address and in the "Valley Times," of which I have a copy. It is no good repeating my remarks in response to the parrot cry "Nonsense."I admit quite frankly that there are some hard cases of ex-Service men, but they are largely the result of ordinary life and not of service, and are a social service problem. No one would fight harder for the bona fide case than I would, but they are few and far between. It is the exceptional hardship case of the unemployed which needs special consideration, and not the comparatively well-off man in full employment. The ex-Service man and his family were never better off, actually, and relatively to the cost of living, than they are today, and what is more the majority freely admit it. This is an unworthy agitation worked up by the British Legion's well-paid Pall Mall circus and provincial mandarins largely in Tory constituencies. In Labour constituencies the position has been explained and accepted as a fair deal, and resolutions carried of appreciation of the many improvements and in favour of the Government's policy. Moreover, so certain am I that this Government has given the ex-Service man a square deal and done more for him than any other Government—with 50 improvements in four years—that I challenge the hon. Member for Lonsdale, or any other of his Legionnaires, to a public debate in any Tory constituency on my motion, "Is the British Legion redundant and Poppy Day unnecessary?" We can then thresh out this war pension fantasy and delusion and show the ex-Service men and women the true picture. This is not the type of speech which brings bouquets and headlines in the papers—those will come to Members opposite who give the hard-luck stories. The British Legion Journal next month, as in the past, will publish the names of those who support the Motion, in the worst form of undue political pressure. But I am just as sincere and just as concerned about bona fide disabled ex-Service men as anyone else. I am convinced, however, that it is high time the real facts were known—even "The Times" does not appreciate them—and the country as well as the disabled man ceased being bluffed; because it is sheer bluff by the British Legion in the greatest charity scandal of the century and the worst party political racket of our times. The sponsors of this Amendment had every right, no matter how misguided, to move the Amendment. Equally so, everyone else who thinks fit has every right to oppose it. Such Amendments enable a subject to be ventilated and, though sometimes taken to a Division, are generally, by leave, withdrawn. We have been told that it is not desired to take this Amendment to a Division, but for my part, whatever the sponsors may wish to do, I hope that tonight this Amendment will be carried to a Division. The time is long overdue when this House and the country as a whole, as well as the ex-Service men, should know exactly where we stand on this important subject. I say to my hon. Friends on this side of the House; cease being bluffed by the chicanery and speciousness of this campaign. There is no case on any point for a Royal Commission, a Select Committee, or an increase in the basic pension. The Government's policy is the right one, namely, full employment for everyone possible and to improve the lot of the few remaining hardship cases. This policy is also in the best interests of the ex-Service man, as I know from considerable experience. For these and other reasons, my hon. Friends should have no hesitation in facing up to their responsibility to the remainder of their constituents and the great majority of the ex-Service men, instead of being led away by a minority movement, and I ask them to go into the Lobby to support the Government in its policy as stated in "Labour Believes in Britain," namely, a "Fair deal for the disabled."
I should like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the concessions he has announced on behalf of the Ministry of Pensions. I will, recall them to the minds of Members. First, there was the widows' concession. That is long overdue. It is one of the matters which the British Legion put to the Minister in a deputation a few weeks ago, and which the British Legion has put in similar terms to successive Government's for the past 25 years. I thank the Ministry for having met that point. The other concession is extending the special allowance, called "the hardship allowance," which henceforth will be payable to a few more than in the past. A few thousand men of the First War are able to qualify for this allowance and a very few of the Second War. I do not know the figure, but it is probably between 5.000 to 7,000. Perhaps we can be given the figure at the end of the Debate. These people will get something from 5s. to £1 added to their pensions if they have fallen into a worse job because of their condition than they previously held.A large number of men are left out of this hardship allowance, namely, those who never had a job and therefore cannot have fallen into a worse one. All the men of the First War are left out, unless they lost the job they had in 1944 instead of 1945—one year's batch, so to speak, will now be able to qualify. The only possible satisfactory solution, apart from raising the basic rate, would have been to extend this hardship allowance so that it became applicable to the overwhelming percentage of ex-Service men of both wars. However, the course which has been taken is something which I welcome, and for which I thank the Ministry. I shall give the House an example of this type of case. Mr. H. is a farm worker. He suffers from bronchitis and receives a 50 per cent. pension. He is married and receives a pension of £1 7s. 6d. He has been unemployed since 1940. He is not eligible for any of the special allowances, whose value I am the first to praise in their proper place. That is all he gets, and it is his disability of bronchitis which disables him from working and adding to his income: nor is his case met today. I shall do no more today than place on record that the concessions will be studied by us and that I welcome them. I am speaking for the British Legion tonight and not for any party. I have one observation to make to the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey), and that is to thank him for his courtesy in warning me that he was going to make some reference to me in his speech. I cannot see that there is any particular charge for me to answer, unless it be this: that in 1925, in a Debate on war pensions, when I had been in this House for five months—I was 25 years of age, and I was only a humble member of the British Legion—I voted for the then Conservative Government against a Motion to reduce the Minister's salary by £100. That is the charge which the hon. and gallant Member has made against me. It is a convention in this House to regard a reduction of the Minister's salary, even more than a reduction of the Vote itself, as a vote of confidence and it is, therefore, not surprising to anyone who understands the ways of this House that I so voted. My more senior Conservative friend Major Cohen voted against the Conservative Government on that occasion. If there is a vote tonight—and I noted the appeal of the hon. and gallant Member that there should be—it will be for Members opposite to decide whether they will follow me or Major Sir Brunel Cohen. The general charge made against Members on this side—and I deal with this not from a party point of view, but because I want it to go on record for all the branches of the British Legion who will read my words—is that the Conservative Party opposed a Select Committee in 1923 or in 1925, or both, and that they are now being inconsistent in proposing such a committee now. Observe that in 1923 and 1925 the Labour Party, by inference and according to my recollection, proposed a Select Committee and voted for it. Today, presumably, they will vote against it—I do not know. Does it not mean that it is the duty of the Opposition, whether Left or Right, to call attention to people's grievances? Does it not mean that that is a recognised part of our political system? Is it not very unnecessary, and quite misleading to people who do not understand these matters, that—
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the Conservative Opposition are now playing politics in this matter?
I was going to say that there are three possible explanations of the conduct of Parliament, as looked at objectively by persons outside. One is that all Members play politics all the time, and are, accordingly, knaves; the other is that all Members indulge in political action all the time, and are not on that account knaves, because politics is the art of Government and our politics implies Government and Opposition. The third is that some Members do what they do sincerely because they believe in what they are doing at the time when they do it. Right hon. and hon. Members may choose between these three different suggestions, but it need not be assumed that politics is a wicked activity; it is one which most Members in this House are proud to undertake. Why then, when Members take action which they are prepared to stand up and defend, should they be attacked and told that they are indulging in party rackets?
May I put this point, as one who does not propose to vote for the Government tonight, even though there is a three-line Whip? The hon. Member will remember that when this matter was first mooted, a circular was sent to all Members of Parliament from British Legion branches telling us that our action in this matter would be reported to all members of the British Legion. Surely the hon. Member would deprecate threats of that kind on the part of the British Legion against Members of Parliament.
It is hard to carry all these things in one's head, but I think the hon. Member is referring to a letter which he had from the Chairman of Austin's Branch, in his own constituency.
All of us received similar letters.
No, all Members.
No. The letters which went out to all Members of Parliament, over which headquarters of the British Legion had any control and which were drafted by headquarters, were prepared in the most carefully worded terms. Persuasion and argument of the mildest and most reasonable kind were used. What may have been done by a branch in Birmingham, in its enthusiasm, I do not know.
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but he has very fairly stated that it is the business of an Opposition, whatever Government may be in power, to present legitimate grievances. Obviously it is far easier for members of an Opposition to support those grievances, and, therefore, I would ask the hon. Gentleman, as he is speaking above party, to say that in those circumstances it is far more embarrassing for hon. Members on this side of the House to support grievances of this kind than it is for hon. Members opposite, and that therefore he should deprecate any statement of any kind to any Member of Parliament—I often think it may be a breach of privilege—that any action he takes is going to be reported to a large section of his electors.
I am not an expert in the precedents that govern these matters, but I should not think it would be wrong for a Member to hold himself accountable to his constituents, or wrong for a society interested in any particular improvement to publish the names of those who support it. I should have thought that proper. I might add that there is also a point of taste here although I doubt whether it is privilege. Recently when the Legion published the supporters of my Motion for a Select Committee, in its journal, it published the names of those who supported it, but not the names of those Members who did not support it or the names of those who changed their minds.Before leaving the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull, I should like to say that he raised his voice and became very dramatic about a case in Southend, which he helped by calling attention to the man's needs. He did not tell the House that he publicised this case in one Sunday newspaper and by writing to various people about it, and blamed the Legion for having neglected the man before he had made any inquiries as to whether the Legion had done anything for the man. The Legion had, in fact, helped the man twice when he was in trouble with his rent, and it was the Legion which got him the pension about which the hon. and gallant Member was so proud, and about which he talked.
There is no question of a withdrawal. I made up my mind not to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but this is a personal charge. What I have done is on public record. The letter I wrote to the paper saying that the pension had been got by the British Legion was not published, but that was not the point I wrote to the paper about. [Laughter.] It is no good hon. Members trying to score by laughing about something that did not arise in the first instance. The problem which arose was the problem of the man being evicted from his house. The British Legion spoke about helping this man over a period of years. If my information is correct once they gave him a few grocery tickets and a few pounds. Over a period of years, therefore, the amount of help was limited to a matter of a few pounds. His pension case went through in the ordinary course, and I make no point about that, but there is nothing for the Legion to crow about as to the help they gave this man out of the millions of pounds they cadge from this country every year.
I was not crowing; I was only inviting the hon. and gallant Member to find out the facts as to what the Legion has done in this case before publishing the wrong facts. I now publicly invite him to do that. Incidentally, I have asked him to meet me in this House on four occasions, and he thinks that no useful purpose would be served by so doing. In 25 years in this House I have not known of a Member of any party who has felt that no useful purpose would be served by meeting a man who is also interested in the well-being of ex-Service men.I deplore more than I can say the tone of parts of this Debate, and in the time that remains to me I want to try to get hon. Gentlemen to think about the matter in a different spirit. I want to make two constructive proposals. All down our history we have done a little and then a little more for our ex-Service men who have been disabled in war. At one time we grievously neglected those who were disabled in industry. Then came legislation in the Victorian era, which dealt with disablement in industry by means of workmen's compensation. There was a different system for those disabled in industry. Then the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), when he was Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in the Coalition Government conceived the idea of assimilating the method whereby persons hurt in industry are treated to the method which had become familiar and had stood the test of time in dealing with war service men, namely, that compensation should be based upon medical assessment of the injury sustained and should be paid by the State rather than based upon the wages earned and paid by an insurance company. He and I talked this over together and decided that it would be a good thing. The first steps in that direction were taken in the days of the Coalition Government and the scheme was finally implemented in the National Health Insurance Act prepared largely during the Coalition Government and enacted by the Labour Government. More and more those who have stood out for preference for ex-Service men are coming to realise that with the rising social conscience and rising social services, the time may be approaching when some kind of assimilation, or at any rate reconciliation, between the two systems ought to take place. The trade unions are composed of ex-Service men and non ex-Service men, and they take as much interest in one as in the other. They are a patriotic body of citizens, skilful in bargaining and carrying great influence. The Government of today is based upon their electoral strength and largely financed by them. They have, therefore, enormous political power and during the past two or three years—[Interruption.] I hope I have not said anything controversial. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] During the past two or three years they have obtained great concessions in addition to social security measures, which have a common origin in all parties. [Laughter.] I do not know why hon. Members laugh.
The hon. Member is speaking the truth. I know him.
The trade unions have obtained enormous benefits for their members in rises in wages during the last three years. Even since the White Paper was published in February, 14 months ago, wages have risen in this country by no less than £90 million. I welcome that rise, but it is quite clear to me from what has been said in trade union circles, that in spite of the appeal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to press expenditure in the consumption field, trade unionists cannot submit to any ceiling being put to wages. On the contrary, they feel that the rises which they have been holding back, though not completely, will inevitably take place and will perhaps be spurred forward by the continued high taxation and the absence of any concession in the Budget.In fact, the moderate increase in the cost of living which the Budget itself imposes, amounting to some two points, will, in their view—and they have said this publicly and I do not doubt it will be repeated—lead to increases in wages during the coming year. If, as the Chancellor tells us, there is only a limited fund of goods and services out of which any material improvement in our life can come, unless and until we greatly increase our production, it is obvious that someone must hold back a bit, if anything is to be done for our disabled ex-Service men. I am making an appeal to the trade unions on two grounds. The first is that they make themselves ready in mind to consult with us in the British Legion—
as to concerted action which we and they might take in the interests of their ex-Service and other members as well as in the general interests of the community, so that we may invite the Government, through the Ministry of Pensions and the Ministry of National Insurance, to consider what improvements should be made in the disability pensions and allowances to both the ex-Service categories and the industrial categories. I ask them if they would do that. I should not be unwilling therefore, if the Government chose, instead of accepting this proposal for a Royal Commission, to propose a Select Committee to consider the wider question which I have now raised, to thank them for that, and to regard it as a most valuable alternative suggestion.The other constructive suggestion I want to make is this: None of us has enough information about the exact position of those ex-Service men and women of the two wars who are in the towns and villages throughout the country. Industry and the trade unions have not enough information about the disabled from industry. I cannot make any suggestion with regard to that matter; it will be for the trade unions to find out the facts. We in the British Legion would be willing to offer to the Government to pay for a survey of all the ex-Service men in the country, by means of sample surveying, provided that the Government will give us the facilities, that is to say the addresses of say 70,000 or 7,000 out of the 700,000. Either a 10 per cent. or a I per cent. survey, provided that the names were chosen under expert advice, would enable us to get a sample showing the position of ex-Service men in various situations. I am not suggesting that the British Legion would undertake the survey or that the Ministry should undertake it, but that we should get some university, Oxford, Cambridge or London, or some other independent impartial body to find out the facts for us. We should be willing to do that, provided that the Ministry will set up some sort of independent committee to study the survey and to advise us here and advise the nation what deduction should be drawn from it. We know that the Minister has written a letter to every pensioner and that he has appointed welfare officers. Those are useful acts on his part, both actual and psychological. We also know that last year, as was so justly claimed by the Parliamentary Secretary, a supplementary vote was asked for because the unemployability allowance had been increased and other concessions had been made. The changes which have been made during the past 12 months have been quite formidable and have included not only new ideas but great increases in the numbers of those receiving the older allowances. We were told that the attendant allowance which was paid to 5,000 men before, is now paid to 7,000 I am not pretending to give accurate figures but merely to call the attention of the House to the fact of those allowances being received by thousands more persons. I do not think that the diatribes of some hon. Members are justified in regard to the action of the British Legion in this matter. We have advocated these things, and it is indeed a by-product of our campaign that these changes of which we are all so proud have taken place in the last 12 months—not that they wholly satisfy the British Legion, but they at least justify it in the sense that if the changes do good, it is not fair to talk of them as a political racket. Even though I take up just a minute or so more of the time of the House I feel that I ought to defend the British Legion against that charge and to do it publicly. This campaign started in the annual conference of the British Legion. It was not the invention of any of our officials in the head office and least of all of its so-called political president. It was an expression of opinion, to some extent damped down and held in check by us, the leaders, because we realised the difficulties of the country. It burst out at conference after conference, until at the last conference a resolution was carried, against the advice of the platform, demanding that war pensions be doubled. The claim made by the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull that that was Legion policy is quite true in that sense, but it was a conference of the Legion of 2,000 delegates from all constituencies, including the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member, that demanded this campaign. When we go to meet our constituents at Whitsun at the next conference, there will be no complaint, I can assure the House, that we have gone too far or that we have taken political action. On the contrary, the complaint will be: "Why have you not demanded this doubling? Why have you asked for a committee to go into the matter? We, the Legion, are convinced that it is overdue." That is the message which the leaders of the Legion will receive, but we shall explain that we want to carry with us both sides of the House and informed opinion in the country and that that is why we have asked for an inquiry. I shall try briefly to make the case for an inquiry. The history of war pensions is one of demands by the Opposition, whichever party it was, for this and that, and demands by the British Legion and other ex-Service men's organisations for this and that. When the pressure becomes sufficiently severe the Government of the day gives something away. It throws crumbs of comfort to this or that section as soon as the pressure in public opinion or in this House reaches a certain point. That is the experience, and it ought not to surprise politicians. Nor is it a disgraceful thing. It is the way our democratic system works. It is the way it has worked and the way it will work. I could give the House chapter and verse for all this, but I will not go into it because it is quite well known. However, I will give notable examples. In 1943 there was great dissatisfaction about a number of things. The first was that just before the war the Government had fixed the basic rate for soldiers injured in the new war at a lower rate than that which was being paid to the older men of the First World War. The older men were still getting their £2 plus a certain allowance and the other men were to have 32s. 6d. That was done by the Conservative Government about the time of the outbreak of war. It was not noticed by anybody.
Surely what the hon. Gentleman has just said is not true. The 100 per cent. rate for a Regular soldier had been fixed at 32s. 6d. a week many years before and the Government's action in 1939 in fixing the rate at 32s. 6d. for the disabled men of 1939 to 1945 was merely a logical act of policy to bring them into line with the Regular soldier.
I was trying to be short. I will now do it the long way and I hope that the hon. Member will be satisfied. In 1920 the rate was fixed for the Regular Army. It was lower than the First World War rate. I thought it was a shocking act on the part of the Government which did it, but it was an act which was maintained by two Labour Governments, so if there is a party point it is all square.
However, I do not make a party point. [Interruption.] No, I do not wish to. That has no relevance. The fixing of rates lower than 40s. was all wrong, and whenever I was in this House or when I had a voice in this matter I opposed it. In 1939 I was not in this House or an official of the Legion. Many of us of all parties in this House got a campaign going in 1943 against the Conservative Minister in the Coalition Government. He was very obdurate indeed. After we had fought him for some time—you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, took an active part in that, although you must now forget that, of course—
A lot of us on both sides did so.
Yes, a lot of us on both sides did so—the rates for the two wars were assimilated, the unemployability allowance was introduced and the emphasis was changed so that whereas before the claimant had to prove his case in certain matters, which was most difficult, thereafter he got the benefit of the doubt. Those were great improvements obtained under pressure. In 1945 we asked for a Select Committee, and the then Minister of Pensions, who is now the Postmaster-General, refused a Select Committee but introduced a good many benefits which were of very great value. He doubled the unemployability allowance, which was important to a few men. He introduced the marriage allowance and the children's allowance for all, which was the most valuable thing he could have done.It is only fair to observe that the Beveridge Report was already on its way and family allowances as a principle had already been admitted by the House. Hon. Members opposite tend to claim so much in relation to the 40 or 50 concessions which have been made, and it is only fair to note this. Many of them are extremely small and the total bill for them all is very limited, and they do not in any way meet the case which the Legion has been trying to put to the country and the House; and that is why we again ask that the basic rate shall be materially increased or that a Committee shall be set up to look into the matter to see what anomalies there are and to examine the different principles in the war pensions and industrial injuries schemes. I want to deal briefly with some of the points made against our arguments. First of all, it is asked why, as the Tories voted against a Select Committee in 1923, we are bringing the proposal forward now? The circumstances are quite different.
The hon. Gentleman has talked about whatever party was in opposition and referred to the Labour Party, when in Opposition between the two wars, on one or two occasions putting forward the question of a committee of inquiry. I want to tell the hon. Gentleman that for certain reasons I signed the document. I told a large pensions committee about it last night. I am a member of the pensions committee for Birmingham. Will the hon. Gentleman agree that the circumstances when those committees of inquiry were demanded by the Labour Opposition were that thousands of our ex-Service men were selling matches in the streets and turning barrel organs because they were unemployed, which is not happening today?
In so far as that unhappy condition related to men who were not war pensioners, and it did—
They were war pensioners.
—it is quite irrelevant to the Debate. There are one or two differences. In those days, rightly or wrongly, deflation was in process and we were approaching gold parity, and the result was that prices were falling. Prices are now rising, and there is therefore that difference. There is another difference. There had been the Select Committee of 1919 and 1920 which had produced two Reports, and therefore the nation had, through a Select Committee, examined the whole question of what was its duty to the disabled and how it should fulfil it. It has not done that after this second war. Circumstances alter cases. I hope I have said enough to show that there is no inconsistency in voting for a particular course at one time and voting for an opposite course on what appears to be the same thing, 20 years later. Hon. Members opposite will find out, when they have been in this House for 20 years, that circumstances alter cases. It has been said that the great majority of the disabled are in work, that that is a new factor related to the Government's full employment policy and that because of it we owe these men nothing more.
The Minister did not say that.
That is, in effect, what has been said today.
No. That is most unfair.
I did not say that the Minister said it. It has been said from the other side of the House. The argument is said to be—it has been said to be by the Minister in other speeches; he has not spoken yet—that because the majority of the men are in employment there is no need to do anything more for them. That is his main argument against giving an increase to 650,000 disabled men. Full employment amongst disabled men is no new thing, nor is it related in any way to the full employment taking place in the country now. Unemployment amongst disabled men over the past 25 years, come war, come peace, has been round about 10 per cent. It is 8 per cent. today, and the difference between 8 and 10 is the measure of the full employment throughout this country at present. The reason why disabled men are employed is because great efforts were made by voluntary organisations between the wars and now by the Disabled Persons Act—
Passed by a Labour Government.
—by the Ministry of Labour itself, and by employers and trade unions. They are in work because we take enormous trouble to get them in work, and because they are courageous, self-reliant fellows who want a job. They help themselves and we help them. However, it is no new thing to say they are in work, because they have been in work over the last 30 years. Nevertheless there is increasing unemployment amongst the older ones now, and I estimate that 30 per cent. of all the disabled men of the First World War are now unemployed. I should be glad if the Minister could show any figures which would prove that figure to be too high. I also estimate that of the new war-disabled, 15 per cent. are now unemployed.There is a problem which wants looking into and which Members of Parliament cannot look into because they have not the time. Nor can we trust any Government to look into it. No Government is to be trusted without outside bodies to challenge it and watch it and without an Opposition to question it, challenge it, and keep it up to scratch. If Governments could be trusted without those spurs, then totalitarian Govern- ments could be trusted, but we have found in this country that no Government can be trusted for long not to take advantage of the people or hide things from them, unless there is a vigilant Opposition, vigilant outside societies and citizens and newspapers to keep it "on the dot." I am not saying anything about this Government as compared with any other. I say no Government can be trusted by the people unless they maintain all these pieces of democratic machinery for keeping it in order. That is why it is proper and right that we should raise this matter and that the Legion should seek the support of all Members of Parliament without fear or favour, and should take such support as it gets wherever it comes from, from whatever party. Hon. Members who give us their names and their help will be our friends; those who do not, will still be our friends, in the hope that we can win them over to our point of view during the next few months, during the next year, or later on. But because we go out campaigning, explaining our case, hon. Members must not imagine that we are in the least concerned with what party they belong to. Believe me, we are not. This campaign started with the rank and file as I have said. It was not invented by me or any of us at headquarters. All we have tried to do is to put the case forward fairly. Now we have embarrassed the Government and it has been more embarrassing to the Government when the two Opposition parties and 50 or 60 of the Government's supporters have joined us. But the Government must not be so squeamish about this. I do not blame the Government for putting on a three-line whip. The Government have their own reasons and, so far as they have given them to us, they are not satisfactory. The Government are entitled to their reasons, to their vote, to their three-line whip. I make no complaint. Let the Government not complain because we are going on with the campaign, and because we shall seek support and take it wherever we can find it. We believe that our case is a sound one, that it is our duty as an organisation to put it forward; and we shall not be put off by any talk about party rackets. Just a word about the cost of living, because some false figures have been given today. The real figure, I think I am right in saying, is that the purchasing power of the £ has fallen 15 per cent. in the last three years. Now I want to deal with some objections that have been made to a Select Committee, so that none of them may carry weight against us. In this House on 29th October last year the Leader of the House gave as a reason for objecting to a Select Committee that we must not lightly override the customary Parliamentary control of finance. He said that as if it were a principle which inhibited the setting up of a Select Committee for such a purpose as this. I just place that on record because I do not know what he meant. I think he must have been saying it in the hope that it would influence people who do not appreciate Parliamentary procedure as he does. It is perfectly clear that we can have a Select Committee, there is no constitutional reason against it. Indeed, we had one in 1919, and, more recently, we had one during the war to decide whether women's legs should be paid for at the same rate as those of men. Both of those committees later involved expenditure, but the expenditure was authorised under Parliamentary control and the principle of Parliamentary control is not in any way prejudiced. Lord Addison, in another place, answering a Debate on this subject—in which incidentally the Government were defeated—said that the Government could not agree to a Select Committee because of the imputation—that is the only word I shall quote from the noble Lord—of negligence or lack of care on the part of the Government. In our minds there is no imputation of neglect whatever. Neglect would lie in the fact that the Government either did not pay up or did not inquire, but there is no neglect, or imputation of neglect, if they hold this inquiry for which we are asking. I can assure the Government that, far from the British Legion blaming them in any way, we should be delighted if the Government would give us this inquiry. Nor would we look upon that as a censure. I have also to answer the charge made by various hon. Members opposite that we in the Legion only give half the facts. That is absolutely untrue. In every speech I have made, and it has been published widely in our Journal, I have explained how, during the past years—I have used the words "particularly in the past three years"—the allowances paid to the most seriously disabled have been increased greatly and, in many cases, doubled. I have never hesitated to make that clear. There is no argument from this side of complaint that the Government have not increased greatly the allowances to the severely disabled. Yet the totals which these men receive, except in the case of some 200 or 300 of them. are still a pound or two below the average wage of today. I repeat: the totals which 20,000, 30,000 or 50,000 severely disabled men receive, with all their allowances, are still a pound or two below the average wage of today. Nevertheless, these allowances and amounts of money have been doubled and added to considerably in the past ten years, and especially in the past three years. It is not therefore particularly a complaint for these men which would justify a national campaign. That is not what we are complaining about. It is almost agreed between us that the circumstances of the most severely disabled can well be met round the table by discussion between us and the Minister. Indeed, I pay tribute to all Ministers of Pensions, including the right hon. Gentleman who is now Postmaster-General, and the present Minister, whom we have met. They are humane, kind and good in dealing with small classes or individuals; they do their very best. What is between is not really the stuff which Government speakers have been putting up in order to knock us down. What is between us is that 650,000 men and women are being paid only 12½ per cent. more to compensate them for their disability than they were being paid 30 years ago. That is a fact, and it remains an unsatisfied grievance. The pension was not related to their earnings or employment, and it still is not; so that the question whether they are employed or unemployed, well-paid or ill-paid, is quite irrelevant. They were given a sum of money based upon a medical assessment of the eyes or the arm or the handicap which their particular bullet, disease or shell caused them—a handicap in doing, their job and leading their daily lives It is quite irrelevant for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to talk about certain men earning high wages or salaries. I myself—I say this in no boastful spirit—earn a very good living, but that does not relieve me of my disability. It rests with me day and night, but I conquer it and get over it, as do thousands of other people. The pension is not paid in relation to a man's income or to his employment or unemployment; it is paid on a medical assessment of the handicap from which he suffers. That is how it should be. That is how we want it to continue. Whatever was right 30 years ago, must be wrong now because circumstances have changed so enormously. It is not only the cost of living that has changed—and I challenge the assertion of the hon. and gallant Member that the cost of living has not changed in that time. So much has it changed that the Government themselves have thrown over the old cost-of-living index as being unrepresentative. Therefore, any reference back to the old cost-of-living index is now beyond proof, incapable of proof or of relevance or assimilation to the present-day argument [Interruption.] That is true; that was why it was thrown over. Moreover, the ordinary things of those days are still the ordinary things of today, but the luxuries of those days have become the commonplaces of today; standards of living have changed; the whole world has moved forward towards better standards of living in the past 30 years. Not only in the past three years, but in the past 30 years there have been great changes, and these should be reflected in the makeweight which we give to these people to make up for their disability, just as they are reflected in everybody else's wages and salaries. That is our argument. Now, about the nation's expense in this matter. In 1947–48 there were 817,000 persons—men, officers and nurses—in receipt of pensions; in the last financial year there were 719,000, so that the number has dropped by about 100,000. The bill has dropped also from £52.8 million in the former year to £49.6 million last year. In view of what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary, however, I think I must add to this sum the supplementary figure of £1,400,000.
In either case the point I am making is still valid. In the last financial year the bill has dropped by either £2,250,000 or £1,250,000, depending on whether the figure I have given includes the Supplementary Estimate. I do not make much of this except to point out to the nation and to the House that this bill is dropping, because men of the First World War are beginning to get old and to die. Therefore, anything we do in this field is something which fades away with the effluxion of time. It is very important to bear that in mind, because expenditure that goes on for ever, is much harder to bear than expenditure that is for a time only. Let me remark now on the relationship of these charges to our Budget.
May I very respectfully raise a point of Order, about which I feel very deeply? This is a Debate which will be very closely examined throughout the country and I should like to point out to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, with respect, that it is now nearly five hours from the time when the Debate should have started; that we are still on only the fifth speech, and that there is an enormous number of Members who would be anxious to contribute to the Debate. May I ask you whether you would be kind enough to give advice to Members who are addressing the House so that they would consider the fact that there are so many more of us who would like to put our points of view?
That is not a point of Order. Although the speeches today have been inordinately long, it is not within the power of the Chair to limit them to shorter duration.
I respect the point which the hon. Gentleman has raised. I had no idea I had been talking for so long; I was moved by what I said. I shall very gladly try to cut down what I have to say to two or three more sentences.What will be the cost of the kind of concession which the Legion would like to see result from a Select Committee? It is no good pretending that we want a Select Committee for fun. We want it because we believe our case is just and that it will show itself. To double the war pensions would cost £30 million; to add 50 per cent. would cost £15 million. I just want to give these figures, and then I have finished. In the year 1919 the cost of war pensions represented 3.6 per cent. of the Budget of that year; the year before last it represented 1.65 per cent.; last year, 1.6; next year, according to the Estimate, it will be 1.5 per cent. It is rather interesting that in a Budget which is twice as big as in 1919 we are spending half as much—[Interruption]—on looking after the disabled, and in this instance there are the men of two wars to care for, rather than of one war only. I use these figures only to show that this nation can afford the consequences of any inquiry that may come out of this Debate. I earnestly beg our friends opposite—of whom I know there are many—to do their best to get the Government to yield on this matter, if not now, then during the next year. Nothing could be better for this country and for our politics than that we should take this controversy out of the public political field and put it into a quiet committee room where members in a Select Committee, under the control of a Government majority, could consider it. I know that the Amendment is for a Royal Commission, but the idea is the same. I personally would, of course, welcome a Royal Commission; the prestige of the inquiry would be enhanced; but a Select Committee will do. In my judgment a Departmental Committee will do, providing it is not an internal committee but is a Departmental Committee of the kind, for example, that the Postmaster-General set up to consider broadcasting. An independent one would do. I defer to the wish of the House to hear other speakers and thank hon. Members for hearing me for so long, and I beg the Government to reconsider their attitude in this matter.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) on his non-party speech. He has defended the Conservative Party with very great skill at every point at which it is likely to be attacked. That of course may be purely accidental. I want, however, to take up his first and, I think, perhaps most important point, namely the difference between the position now and as it was after the first war.The hon. Member, in his efforts to be fair, pointed out that there was a great difference and that it was no charge against hon. Members opposite that in 1923 and 1925 they voted for the Tory Government and that if it was a charge against them the charge would equally he against hon. Members on this side who then voted for a Select Committee and now oppose it. I am going to maintain that there are differences which the hon. Member did not bring out. In 1919 there was a Select Committee which drew up a pension code which resulted in the refusal of 69 per cent. of those who applied for pensions. That is to say of every 100 who applied for a pension as a result of the pension code of 1919, 69 did not get it. This time, in respect of the 1939 war, the Ministery are making awards in about 70 per cent. of the cases. What a contrast. The hon. Member says he wants no Select Committee held behind closed doors. He also says any Committee appointed must be independent. I differ from him. If there is to be an independent committee I should be quite prepared to have a committee appointed with not one Member of this House nor of the Government. I should be quite satisfied with two officials of the British Legion. If the hon. Member would be prepared to set up a committee composed of Mr. Griffin and Mr. Webb I should be prepared, and I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) would also be prepared, to pledge ourselves in advance to fight for the attainment of those things they set down in the order of priority in which they set them down. The hon. Member for Lonsdale has gone into the British Legion case at great length and has been very careful time after time to skate round the question of the position of British Legion officials. I hold the view that there is something more in the position of the disabled man than the mere grant of money and so does Mr. Griffin of the British Legion. See what he wrote in the "British Legion Journal" in March, 1948:
He went on to say:"Rehabilitation and re-establishment by training and employment, if you take the long view, are even more important than the flat rate."
That is the policy I believe to be right and that is the policy which I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull believes to be right. He does not carry me with him when he attacks the British Legion in the way he has attacked it. The British Legion, like every human organisation, consists of good and bad people, of silly people and wise people. The British Legion in its 6,000 branches, at head office and in the work done by men like Mr. Griffin and Mr. Webb is doing a magnificent job not only for the disabled man but for the chap who comes out of the Forces and has to settle down in civilian life. I very much regret that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull should have used the words he did which led to the protest of the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter) but the hon. Member for Wood Green has achieved his object and will get the maximum publicity for his protest. I do not think there is very much between them if the particular remark happened to be rather cheap. I wish to state the order of priorities which should be taken in connection with pensions. The British Legion have circulated every hon. Member of this House with a list of 12 points which they think should be tackled. They did not give the order of priority, but I shall do it for them. I think the reason why in 1939 the Conservative Government reduced the pension to 32s. 6d. for the Second World War disabled man was because, without protest from the Tory Party, attack after attack was made on the pay and conditions of the Armed Forces of the Crown. They attacked the conditions of men whom discipline prevented from replying. The 32s. 6d. rate for disabled men had existed for many years without any right of appeal. One of the steps which this Government are most to be congratulated is the granting of a right of appeal to the Regular and National Service man who is now disabled. I shall give two actual cases of what happened under Tory rule. While I have been a Member of this House an hon. and gallant Member opposite spoke to me about a young man whose name I shall not give unless I am pressed to give it, who in 1922 incurred a grave disability. For 26 years this man had no pension. He was a nervous wreck and lived on the charity of his friends. He reached the point when life was not worth living. By an odd stroke of fortune I happened to remember the case and to recall that I was orderly sergeant when this chap went sick and therefore I was able to give direct testimony about his case. As a result we had this wrong put right after a period of 26 years. But this kind of thing was quite a common experience for the Regular soldier and sailor. The second case came to my notice in the last two or three days, not from a constituent of mine, it concerns a man who joined the Royal Navy in 1912 and got his discharge in 1929. He lost a leg and since that time he has lost another leg and has been to Roehampton where he has been fitted with artificial limbs. He pays great tribute to the kindness with which he has been treated, but he goes on to say:"We must face this pensions problem in a realistic and statesmanlike manner, and gain immediate help for those who need it most.'
The reason why he cannot get a pension is because his claim to pension was not considered by the Ministry of Pensions but by the Service Departments and there was no right of appeal. Therefore, I say one of the most important things which can be done by the Minister of Pensions is not only to bring under his control those who will get disablement pensions in the future but those who have already gone into civilian life suffering from disabilities like this fellow and who have no hope at all."Whilst I was in Roehampton there were ex-soldiers who lost a leg from the same complaint as myself and they have got pensions. Good luck to them; but why cannot I get one too?"
Will the hon. Member make it clear whether he is arguing in favour of a Royal Commission to look into anomalies such as those he has mentioned?
I am arguing on behalf of ex-Service men and therefore—
I am arguing in favour of the ex-Service men—
And against the Amendment?
And against the Amendment.
I thought that the whole of the hon. Member's argument was in favour of the Amendment.
On the contrary, I am saying that the British Legion have drawn up 12 points which they have circulated, and that if the hon. Member for Lonsdale likes, he could set up his own inquiry inside the British Legion, and so far as I am concerned I would accept the outcome of that, because the people I suggested would draw up a list of things that need to be done in the order in which they needed to be done. Successive Ministers of Pensions since this Government came into power have had to deal with the black reaction of the previous 30 years, and I am now going on to say, if the hon. and gallant Member is not too dense to understand it, that one of the things that is wrong with the pensions Warrant, one of the reasons why Ministers of Pensions have had such an enormous job to do is because of the way in which the hon. and gallant Member's party treated the Regular in between the two wars. I hope that that is clear.
Perhaps I might assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not too dense to understand it, but if that is true, which I deny, surely it is yet another reason why there should be a Royal Commission?
I do not wish to push this argument too far but I should have thought that even the hon. and gallant Gentleman would appreciate that there is nothing to inquire into, if it is already established what needs to be done. One only inquires, if one has to delve into the question of what needs to be done.There are at the moment two things which badly need to be done. One is to deal adequately with the position of the Regular and the National Service man, not only those who are to come but those who have been discharged. I have given two examples. I want to give another example. One of the most shocking things the party opposite ever did was to decline to give a pension to the ex-Service man who married after his disablement. They did that, not only because they were looking after the bawbees, the rate of Income Tax and other such matters, but because they had a very poor and a very mean view of human nature. They had such a low view of the womanhood of this country that they thought that if they allowed the ex-Service man on pension to take to himself a wife, crowds of women would marry such fellows in order to get the pension. At the same time, their meanness did not stop there. They refused to grant an allowance for a child if the child was born nine months after the soldier left the Service. Again they thought that the ex-Service man and his wife would have child after child so as to get increased allowances. In other words they saw in the humble people of these islands, the ordinary men and women of these islands, the kind of mean things which they themselves do. I wish to deal with one of the most tragic cases which I have ever met in my life. If this does not bring a blush to the cheek of hon. Gentlemen opposite all I can say is that they are past praying for. The soldier here concerned, who is now dead, lived in Stoke-on-Trent, not far from my house. He was very badly wounded indeed and was in such a condition that for the rest of his days he had to carry his arm in supports. With great gallantry the girl he had left behind him stuck to him, married him and they took a small shop. Subsequently, four children were born. In 1935 that man died and there was an inquest, the finding of which was that he had died from war wounds; there was no room for excuse or argument about the cause of death. That woman was refused a pension. Although her own health was bad, she had to go on working. Then her eldest daughter joined the W.A.A.F. Unfortunately this poor girl was thrown out of a lorry and broke her spine; and so the poor mother, having brought up a family and looked after her husband in those tragic circumstances, finds herself for the rest of her life looking after her daughter. It is true that the daughter has a 100 per cent. pension. I say that the Minister of Pensions and Members of this House ought to press to undo, or make up to women in that position for, the meanness of the Conservative Party during the last 30 years. Therefore, I say that there is no case for inquiry. Any man who has studied this problem and who is really concerned with the well being of the ex-Service man and understands how he lives, knows exactly what needs to be done. I am suggesting two lines of action that should be taken and which should be taken as early as, possible. I have gone to great trouble to find out what the attitude of the Conservative Members of Parliament in my part of the world happened to be in between the wars in relation to the British Legion. After a great deal of searching I came across, in the "County Express" a paper which circulates across the southern parts of Staffordshire and Worcestershire, an account of a speech by a former Member of this House who has now retired from politics. He was a distinguished Member of the party opposite. He was addressing the British Legion in 1932, and he was "giving them the works." It is very interesting to note that this was not in 1923 or 1925; this was the Tory Party in the very hey-day of its power. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. G. Ward) grins; he has nothing to grin about; he ought to be ashamed of it.
I shall grin when I like without consulting the hon. Member.
The gentleman to whom I was referring was addressing a British Legion audience. He said:
He then went on to say:"If service taught them anything it must have taught them that it was not a case of everyone for himself but of every man pulling together to put the good old country right."
He was talking about the means test—"He was distressed at times to see so many people ready to forget the ex-Service men and what they did. He was proud of the fact that ex-Service men showed a wonderful spirit of independence and he rarely found an ex-Service man on the 'cadge.' He bade them to take very great care. He was sure that in times ahead the case of the ex-Service man would be harder than ever. He could not help thinking"—
That is his English, not mine. His contribution to the well-being of the ex-Service men of Worcestershire was to urge that when they came under the means test, members of the British Legion should serve on the bodies which decided their cases. There is never a word there about increases in pensions, about asking for a bit more. We were in the hey-day of the Conservative Party's triumph. They did not then need to talk about—"that when those committees were dealing particularly with the cases of ex-Service men, and when they wanted to pay due regard to the fact that the ex-Service man's disability pension should not be reckoned as part of his means they could not do better than take into account and take on to their bodies for advice Members of the British Legion."
The hon. Member seems to be quoting from a speech in 1932. I wonder if he has forgotten 1929–31?
We are talking about 1932. I should have thought that the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) would have appreciated that. He has been in the House long enough to know that in 1932 his party, had they wanted to, could really have done something.
The hon. Member has referred to me. We did not do what his miserable party did; we did not produce two million unemployed.
The noble Lord's Party did even better. They produced three million unemployed. If he wishes to debate the question of the unemployed I am prepared to accommodate the noble Lord in his own constituency, but at the present moment we are discussing whether his party tried to help the ex-Service man. I am saying, despite what the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) said, that this proposal for a Select Committee is not an honest proposal concerned with the well-being of the ex-Service man. What it is concerned to do is to exploit political prejudice. I hope that hon. Members on this side of the House will resist the temptation and realise that they will be best helping the ex-Service man if they go into the Lobby tonight in support of the Government, thereby endorsing what has been done and saying to the Government, "Go even faster; the faster you go the better we shall be pleased."
Time is passing and may I, for the sake of brevity, say that I support the suggestion that a Select Committee, or some form of inquiry, should be set up, if only for the purpose of satisfying public opinion. If they are satisfied that everything is perfect with our pensions system, I cannot understand why the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) and other hon. Members who have spoken from the opposite side of the House should be scared of any such inquiry. If it said that it is unnecessary, there are several inquiries, set up by the Government, going on in this country today which a good many of us think are unnecessary.I will give briefly one of the reasons why I should like to see such an inquiry set up. It has to do with the question of the basic rate of a disability pension. Today it is very hard to say exactly what is represented by this 45s. 100 per cent. basic rate of pension. As those who know about these things are aware, it was fixed as a result of the Select Committee in 1919. There is no question that at that time it was meant to be related to the wage of an agricultural worker or a general labourer. It was meant to be roughly equivalent to what was then considered to be a living wage. As the House knows it was raised to 45s. to bring it into alignment with the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. No one claims today that 45s. is a living wage, and it is bolstered up by a fairly elaborate, and in many respects a generous, system of allowances and supplementary allowances. Recently there has been a demand that there should be some increase in the basic rate of pension. I have always found it very difficult to support that claim, because I cannot see what the basic rate of pension is meant to represent. Unless one clearly knows what it is meant to represent, it is difficult to argue whether it is too high or too low. No one claims that it is a living wage and it is not in any way tied to the cost of living. In fact, it is just a figure in the air which has to be considered with the very elaborate and complicated system which has been built up under our pensions system. Some good could come out of an' inquiry to decide whether that basic rate should or should not be tied to something in future, so that we can see whether it is al a proper level. I pass from that to one or two other questions about which hope further inquiry will be made either by the Ministry of Pensions or some independent committee. Most of these points are old chestnuts to the Minister, but they may not be known by all hon. Members. There is the question of what is usually known as the 100 per cent. plus—that is, a bit extra for the man suffering from multiple injuries. The 100 per cent. rate roughly covers a man who has suffered the loss of any two limbs, a foot and a hand or a double amputation of the legs or arms. Unfortunately, there are many pensioners who have suffered even more grievous injuries than the loss of two limbs. It is interesting to note, as I think the Minister will agree, that the 100 per cent. award covers a wider range of injuries than the whole scale between 20 per cent. and 100 per cent. With the most meticulous care the Ministry assess a man up to 100 per cent. In the case of a limbless man they do it to the nearest inch of the stump. Once they get to 100 per cent., they throw up the sponge altogether and say that it is impossible or too difficult to assess above that level. A case was mentioned by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) of a man who could have been awarded either an 80 per cent., a 70 per cent. or a 60 per cent. disability pension for three different injuries. I would only repeat that the 100 per cent. pension covers a wider scale of injuries than the range between 20 per cent. and 100 per cent. I would also inform the House that in New Zealand, South Africa and America it has been found possible to go above our 100 per cent. in making assessments. The Ministry say that it cannot be done, but if it can be done in these other countries, I feel that if the will were present it could be done here. That is one of the matters into which a Select Committee could inquire. Another question is that of an increasing pension with advancing age. Sixty-eight per cent. of our pensioners are what are known as ailment cases. I recognise that in the last few years, especially since the apppointment of welfare officers, a more sympathetic hearing is given when applications are made for pensions to be upgraded. There is no difficulty with a man suffering from an ailment being put into a higher category as he becomes older. But that is not the case with the limbless man. The older a man gets, his stump never gets shorter. Therefore, he always remains on the same basis. I do not need to tell any hon. Member that it is an effort and a strain for a man to cart around all his life an artificial limb or, sometimes, two artificial limbs. One need only see a double amputee who is getting older to realise that the limbs he has had to carry around have done his health no good. There seems to be a case for some form of automatic up-grading of the limbless man or the double amputee as he grows older. That has been done in Canada. The hon. Member for Dudley spoke about widows' pensions. I only hope that he will support pensions being paid to the pre-1939 widows. That is a fairly big subject, and I do not wish to go into it now; but I should like to ask the Minister one question. I am glad to see that the Parliamentary Secretary, in reply to a Question on 22nd February, said that pensions had been awarded to one-third of the widows of pensioners who had died in the last five years. Again, it would be interesting to know what percentage of these pensioners were in fact limbless. It is comparatively easy for the widow of a man drawing an ailment pension to prove that he had died as a result of that ailment, but it is extremely hard for a widow to prove that a limbless pensioner died from the fact that he had lost his limbs, although, in point of fact, that may be the case. Anyone who has seen a double amputee knows that these people do get rather fat owing to the fact that they cannot engage in normal activities, and that it must affect the heart to some extent. I hope the Minister can make a concession in this particular case. The gap has been narrowed by the introduction of the National Insurance scheme, but now the 100 per cent. pensioner is excluded from that scheme, and his widow cannot draw if her husband was receiving the 100 per cent. disability pension. I think that a case could be made out that where a pensioner, owing to his disablement, is excluded from the terms of the National Insurance scheme, his widow should automatically draw the pension when her husband dies. There is one other question which I think might well be included for consideration either by the Select Committee or the Minister, and that is where it is not possible to give a rent allowance to a man drawing the unemployability supplement. If one is receiving 30s. a week, there is a great deal of difference between paying 26s. for a council house or a few shillings a week for a cottage. This has been admitted in the case of the widow's pension, and there is a widow's allowance which can be drawn along with the unemployability allowance. I hope the Minister will see his way to have an inquiry into the whole complicated system of our pensions scheme, but that, if he does not have an inquiry, he will at least give consideration to the points which I have made.
In this Debate a great deal of heat was very quickly developed. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) said that we should try in the course of the Debate to avoid partisan points, and I think he tried to do so, although for the greater part of his speech he was subject to constant interruptions. I thought myself that the Parliamentary Secretary struck a truculent note when he referred to the demand for an inquiry as being partisan politics. We are indebted to the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) for his wise speech, which I think cooled the atmosphere in the House. I shall myself try to be moderate in what I have. to say.In my opinion, the case for an inquiry has been made out by the speeches of the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) and the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg). That case is for an inquiry over a very wide field, and I think there are at least four arguments why an inquiry into the scale and administration of war disability pensions should be instituted. My first reason is this. The hon. and gallant Member for East Hull made a very interesting suggestion, which was followed by the hon. Member for Lonsdale, when he said that the time had come or was approaching when we should integrate the war pension system with the scheme of National Insurance. That is a valuable suggestion. After all, we have moved forward a great deal since the time when these war pensions were first instituted. I pay my tribute to the Government for the steps they have taken in the direction of social security in which they have had our blessing and all our support—for we were pioneers. I think there is now a case for the merging of the two schemes. We should look again at the question of what war pensions are really designed to cover because we have accepted the principle of the State being responsible for unfortunate people who are not able to fend for themselves. Of course, war pensions are more than that. The Par- liamentary Secretary said that a war pension is a monetary compensation for loss of function due to war injury. I am not sure that there is not now a case for merging the two Ministries. I think that the administrative side of both Ministries would benefit by such merging, and that if we are to advance towards a really comprehensive scheme of social security in which the State accepts liability for all this suffering and for the maintenance of the sufferers, that kind of integration is necessary. The hon. Member for Lonsdale also contemplated this. An inquiry into this matter would be a real contribution to good Government and to progressive administration. The second reason for an inquiry which I deduced from the two speeches I have mentioned is this. Very serious allegations have been made against the British Legion. I am not sure whether these reflections are meant to be cast—
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the point about the integration of the two Ministries and the bringing about of one comprehensive scheme of social insurance, does he not agree that the setting up of a commission to give special facilities or special advantages to ex-Service men which industrial employees would not get, would actually conflict with the aim he has in view?
That would be so if the commission were set up for the express purpose of ensuring special advantage to the ex-Service man, but that is not what is intended. By putting his query in that form, the hon. Member admits the validity of the argument which I am putting forward.To come back to the second point, I was saying that very serious allegations have been made against the British Legion, and I am not sure whether they are intended as a reflection on other associations of ex-Service men. They are allegations of a very sweeping character. The hon. and gallant Member made the British Legion out to be a puppet of the Tory Party; he said that it specialised in the scrounger type of ex-Service man, and that it was sponsoring one of the worst political rackets of our time. A body with which so many ex-Service men get into intimate contact, which has branches all over the country, which advises them, whether rightly or wrongly and one to which so many of them turn for guidance and advice in matters which so closely affect their material security should not be subject to charges of that description unless they are fully investigated and are proved or disproved. Therefore, there is not only a case for an inquiry into war pensions, but for an inquiry into the administration of and the way in which claims are pressed by such bodies as the British Legion. From my own perhaps limited experience, I entirely refute what the hon. and gallant Member said. There are many branches of the British Legion in my constituency, some of them very vigorous, and from my acquaintance with them I should say that they are very far indeed from being puppets of the Conservative Party. In fact, in many of the most vigorous branches, in my opinion—and, of course, I have not asked the people for their political opinions but I have some reason to believe this to be true—many of the rank and file are members of the party opposite, and it is they who are most insistent in this demand for an inquiry into the whole system of war pensions. The third point which emerges from the two speeches is this. The hon. and gallant Member for East Hull said in the concluding part of his speech—maybe it was what he would have called "a theatrical exaggeration" but these were his words—that it was high time the real facts were known. He said that even "The Times" did not know the real facts and that it was time people ceased to be bluffed. If one wants to "debunk" anything, an impartial inquiry is the best way to do it, and if "The Times" is being bluffed, perhaps a Royal Commission is the only agency which can convey the truth to "The Times." That kind of argument admits that the public do not know the real facts of this rather complex scheme of pensions, and therefore I say it is our duty to do all we can for those who suffered these injuries while coming to the aid of their country in time of mortal peril and it is our duty to show the country what is actually being done and see whether more can be done. On the point of information alone, on the arguments used by hon. Members opposite there is a strong case for an impartial inquiry and an inquiry on the highest level—that of a Royal Commission. The fourth argument which I would put forward follows particularly from the speech of the hon. Member for Dudley. He admitted the case for an inquiry, he quoted anomalies in the present system and he said he would be prepared to see set up an inquiry by two officials of the British Legion itself. That is a most ludicrous proposal. Would it really satisfy the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull? The kind of inquiry we want now is an inquiry which will convince the public opinion of this country. If one wants to uncover the malign administration of past Conservative Governments—and I have no reason at all to argue against its being uncovered—could the British Legion inquiry do it? On that ground, too, an impartial inquiry is necessary. I would gladly admit and gladly praise the real advancement made by the present Government even in this field of war pensions. The letter by the Minister to all pensioners about claims, and improvements such as the provision of a car for the disabled, are indications, and I should like in particular to pay my tribute to the new spirit brought into the Ministry by Mr. George Buchanan when he was Minister for Pensions. I think the present Minister has continued the administration in that spirit. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary, speaking from that Box, said that the Government made this a vote of confidence or a vote of censure. If there was anything which made this Debate a hostile affair and introduced controversy into it, it was a gesture of that kind. I say, let us all consider the case on the merits and the merits alone. Even apart from what hon. Members opposite have said and the arguments to which I have referred, there are grounds on the merits in the war pensions system itself to make a public inquiry essential. To attack Conservative Governments of the past—and I say this as one whose favourite pastime is attacking the administration of Conservative Governments of the past—is merely to tilt at windmills in this debate. Among the points that should be investigated is the question whether the basic pension of 45s. should be increased. The Minister admitted that 52,000 people are now receiving the basic pension for 100 per cent. disability. Another question is, Is it really satisfactory that a war widow without children should receive only 35s. a week and no rent allowance? If I am told that that is the rate under National Insurance, I say that that is no answer at all. Again, why cannot the position of the widow of the 1914–18 war be made as good as the position of the widow of the last war? Other matters for inquiry are rights of appeal against rejection of claims for hardship allowances and against the refusal of unemployability supplementary payments. There is another thing I should like to see investigated. I have never understood why the rate of pension given to a man, or to his widow or to his family, should depend on the rank he held in the Army. I think that that is a distinction that should have been swept away a long time ago, and that the pension should be given according to the merits of the individual case. I see nothing that can be lost by an inquiry. I propose to look at the question solely on its merits. I hope the House will vote on the question, and that in judging of its merits the House will decide for an inquiry. That is the least we can do.
I should like at the outset to thank the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) who has had made such an admirable contribution to our Debate, for his great courtesy in allowing me to make the winding-up speech from this side of the House, instead of availing himself of the opportunity he had of winding up, since the Amendment is a Liberal Party Amendment. I should like to express my gratitude to him and to his colleagues for this. I may say in passing, as a member of one of the oldest "trade unions," namely that of Front Benchers and Privy Councillors, that it cannot be complained that we have taken an undue amount of time in the Debate, because I think I am the first Privy Councillor to speak, and that the average length of the speeches of back benchers has been 52 minutes. Not that we complain about that, but I have only a few minutes to speak before the Minister of Pensions gets up. Despite some appearances to the contrary—and that is to put it in a somewhat mild form—in this Debate this question of war pensions and the administration of the Ministry of Pensions is, as it ought to be, a non-party political question, and I cannot think that a request for an inquiry—a Royal Commission—into the present position of pensions in any way derogates from that. There is nothing new about it. As hon. Gentlemen have pointed out, and as they are quite entitled to point out, there was a similar Amendment directed to or against—whichever phrase hon. Gentlemen like to use—the Government of the day in 1923, and on which a number still in the House—I think my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I—supported the Government, as we were bound to do as Members of the Government, and for which a number of hon. Gentlemen still in the House—I think at least two on the Treasury Bench—voted. If we on this side are charged with inconsistency, then it is equally inconsistent for those right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and others who supported the Amendment for the Royal Commission then, when there were no less grievances felt by the British Legion and ex-Service men than there are today, to resist this Amendment now. If we are charged with inconsistency, then there is inconsistency on both sides.What I should like to address myself to in the short time I have to address the House, is the question, What are the reasons which have been urged by hon. Gentlemen opposite against the inquiry? We have had a number of speeches, some of them of a very violent character, from the benches opposite. For example, there was the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) who, as the hon. Member for Merioneth said, made one or two most wounding observations about the British Legion. He said the British Legion "looks after scroungers," and went on to make other injurious charges about it. The hon. Gentleman must be a very brave man. Either he is not going to stand for East Hull at the next Election or, if he is going to stand, he is a very brave man to incur the ill-feeling by his attack upon them, of millions of ex-Service men throughout the country. I congratulate him upon his bravery. If he thinks that the British Legion, composed of millions of people of all parties and no party, is an organisation to look after scroungers he is entitled to say so in this House. As a member of the British Legion, I repudiate that entirely. I think that what he says is completely untrue, and one of the most offensive things I have ever heard said in this House about a non-party organisation of ex-Service men.
I did the right hon. Gentleman the courtesy of writing to him to say that I was going to deal with these matters. He was not in the House while I was speaking to hear anything that I said. I am not disputing what I said. I do not ask for any privilege here. I have said these things on public platforms, and there is no question about it at all, that the British Legion is a minority organisation and does not represent the maximum number of ex-Service men and women in the country.
I am very interested in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's fourth speech today. I heard the first quarter of an hour of his main speech and then went out to get some food, but I was back in time to hear the last ten minutes of it. I am quoting what he said as told me by a number of people. His interruption is wholly irrelevant. He thinks that I am sarcastic. On the contrary, I was paying him a sincere tribute by saying that he is a very brave man, and that I refute his statement and regard it as wholly offensive. I hope that will go on record, too.I should like to turn to a less controversial speech which was made by the Parliamentary Secretary. I am sure that he did not mean to give the impression—and the Minister of Pensions will correct it if he did give the impression—that the very fine system which we have in this country for looking after the pensioners of both world wars is in any sense a party matter. The references which he made to Roehampton and other places seem to give the impression that this was something quite new which had not been done by previous Governments. I should like to say that it has been done by all Governments. I go further and congratulate him—which may seem an odd thing for someone as aggressive as I usually am—on the improvements which he has made, like his immediate predecessor and others before him, in the system. We have had an exceptionally good lot of Ministers of Pensions. Those of us in Opposition have often been critical of them. I have often been critical of the Minister of Pensions belonging to my own side. I was critical of some of the things which my right hon. Friend, who is no longer in the House, did when Minister of Pensions in the Coalition Government. I appeal to the Minister, when he winds up for the Government, to emphasise the fact that this question of war pensions is not and should not be a party question. The only point at issue tonight is whether or not the request which has been made to the Government, not merely by hon. Members on this side of the House but by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway and by at least 60 hon. Members opposite, that there should be some form of inquiry, of which a Royal Commission is thought to be the best, into the present position of pensioners is or is not justified. That is the only question at issue tonight. In that connection I should like to refer to one or two points, in the brief time at my disposal, made by the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). He made one of the most eloquent speeches on the subject of pensions that I have ever heard in this House. In view of his disability it was a remarkable physical effort. He stated two facts which have not been answered by any hon. Gentlemen opposite who have resisted the demand for an inquiry. I understood him to say that on the whole—my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—men with total disability pensions are receiving only 12½ per cent. more than they did 10 years ago and that, speaking generally total disability pensions were still £1 or £2 less than wages. That is one of the things into which a Royal Commission would inquire. I put this last point not from a party point of view but very earnestly to hon. Gentlemen opposite who originally agreed with us on this side of the House that there should be a Royal Commission. We have this basic rate. One Government after another has added to it. I fully admit that this Government has added to it. The mere fact that there have been all these additions from time to time, largely, let it be remembered, as a result of the campaign which has been carried on by the British Legion and other bodies interested in the welfare of ex-Service men, seems to make the need for some form of impartial inquiry greater than it would otherwise be. The answer of an impartial person would be that if it had not been for the points put by the British Legion this and other Governments would never have made the improvements they did.
That is a perfectly fair inference. I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman say that it is not. All bodies, trades unions or whatever they are, concerned with the interests of a particular body of people are entitled to claim credit when they have put forward their views in favour of improvements in conditions if those views are accepted by the Government.
Apart from the efforts of the British Legion, successive Labour Party Conferences since the 1914–18 war have pledged themselves to bring the pensions up to a humane level without, any urging from the British Legion.
That may be so, and all the more credit to them for having done so. However, the hon. Gentleman will not persuade this House as a whole nor will he persuade his constituents that the British Legion is not a very important factor in this case and despite the wounding remark his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Hull made about it, I would say that the British Legion still remains the best association of ex-Service men in this or any other country.It is not only the British Legion which makes this demand. There is a great number of other bodies, as is shown in the statement issued by the Legion. There is the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association, the Disability Pensions Committee, the Forces' Help Society, the Lord Roberts Workshop, the Officers' Association, the Old Contemptibles Association and a number of other bodies including the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Family Association. Surely, the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull does not suggest that all these people are playing a political game and that every one of them has been influenced by the Tory Party. Of course no responsible hon. Gentleman opposite holds any such view. Only a few extremists hold that view. The arguments in favour of an inquiry are overwhelming and I cannot understand why the Government refuse it. If they have a good case why should it not be put to the Royal Commission? In sitting down I want to make these concluding remarks. I do not know if they will be accepted even by all my hon. and right hon. Friends because, as I said, this is not a party matter. However, I hold very strongly, and have done ever since the 1914–18 war, that pensions arising from death or disability in the Armed Forces of the Crown should be higher and better than those paid for similar misfortunes in any industry, however hazardous or however meritorious, including, for example, coalmining. In other words, the Service man injured in the course of his profession should receive greater compensation than that of anybody in any other form of occupation. It may be an old-fashioned, out-of-date, true-blue Tory view, but it is held by millions of ex-Service men throughout the country, quite irrespective of their political opinions, and it is the view which, through the agency of the Legion, is being pressed upon this House. I would say this—and this is truly my last sentence and I hope this will appeal to the Minister of Pensions because it is a point that has not been brought out in this Debate—that it must be remembered that today thousands of young men are being enlisted compulsorily in the Armed Forces of the Crown. The situation is different from that in the old days of the voluntary Army, Navy and Air Force. They were often badly treated, but they went in of their own free will. They had to put up with the pay and conditions, including pensions because enlistment was a voluntary act on their part to join the Forces. Today they are being compulsorily enlisted, and it is the duty of this House and of this Government to pay them or their relatives and dependants compensation either for death or any form of injury higher than that which anybody would receive in civilian life. That is so because there is nothing comparable to service in the Armed Forces of the Crown. For all those reasons, and with my apologies to the House for rather desultory remarks because they had to be put into a short compass, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree to this inquiry and will not treat it, as it should not be treated, as a party political matter.
I am glad that we have had this Debate today, and I cannot complain about anything that was said during the course of it. Some heat was engendered, I know, but none of it was directed against me. There was no accusation of harshness, no accusation of want of sympathy. One or two individual cases which were quoted were cases which had not been sent to me; they were not cases which I had turned down through lack of consideration or sympathy. In saying that, I must thank the hon. Members for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) and Merioneth (Mr. Emrys Roberts) for what they said about my administration. If there had been a burning sense of grievance outside this House, then we would have had a Debate of a very different character from that which we have had today.Some of the points raised in the Debate, especially those mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) and the noble Lord the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Lord Willoughby de Eresby) were points which had been put to me already by a deputation from the main ex-Service organisations. I propose to reply to those points to the deputation in detail, and I will make copies available through the usual channels so that hon. Members who wish to see my detailed reply to those points will have an opportunity to do so, and to study them. It would take too long tonight to go through each of those in detail, and in any case that is not what this Debate is about. The Debate is about whether or not there should be a Royal Commission. I will also, where new points have been raised tonight, consider them carefully, as I always do, and discuss them with my Central Advisory Committee. However, two of the points which were listed in the 14 placed before me by the deputation, and which have been listed again in the 12 circulated by the British Legion to hon. Members before this Debate, have already been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in the two improvements which he has already announced this afternoon. I say "improvements" because I hope that word can be commonly used instead of the word "concessions." I do not regard the improvements which I and my predecessors have been able to make in the war pensions code as concessions wrung out of an unwilling Government by outside pressure. Before passing to my next remarks I hasten to say to the right hon. Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) that, of course, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary did not wish to suggest in any way that the administration of the Ministry of Pensions hospitals was in the slightest degree varied according to whichever party was in office. Of course, the hospitals are run by the doctors—the professional men—to the maximum degree of their great skill, and Roehampton was as good a place as it could be under Sir Walter Womersley or under any previous Minister as it is today; there is no doubt about that. Referring to the suggestion that every improvement which is made is a concession, I resented the remark by the hon. Member for Lonsdale that all these improvements were a by-product of British Legion agitation; that the Government from time to time threw out crumbs of comfort, as he called them, in response to agitation and pressure from outside. If these improvements which have been made in the last four years are a by-product of anything at all, they are a by-product of the pamphlet "Let us Face the Future" and the promise therein contained. If it is party politics to claim credit for what the Government have done, then I plead guilty to being a party politician and I am not ashamed of it. Before I pass from the remarks of the hon. Member for Lonsdale, I should like to refer to the case which he quoted.