I beg to move,
That it is expedient to make provision for raising, as from the first day of July, nineteen hundred and twenty-three, the percentages by which pensions not exceeding one hundred pounds a year to which the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1920, applies, may be increased, and to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, in the case of such of the pensions to which that Act applies as are payable out of moneys provided by Parliament, of such sums as may be required in consequence of such
percentages being so raised, so, however, that the percentages shall not be raised above the following limits:
Hon. Members in all parts of the Committee are familiar with the legislation that was passed in August, 1920, in order to increase the rates of certain pre-War pensions having regard to the increase which had taken place in the cost of living up to that time. The proposal before the Committee this afternoon is one which is designed simply and solely to increase the percentages in response to many requests which have been made, and which are in keeping with the unanimous Resolution of this House passed in May, 1923. At this stage all I propose to do is to give as clearly as possible a summary of the legislation of 1920, and what the effect of our proposals will be. Any objections which hon. Members may raise can be replied to later, having regard to the fact that we are in Committee. The Committee will recall the character of the legislation of 1920. It provides as regards pre-War pensions not exceeding £50 a year for an increase not exceeding 50 per cent.; for pensions between £50 and £100 in the case of unmarried persons and for pensions between £50 and £130 a year for married people, not exceeding 40 per cent. Between £100 and £150 in the case of unmarried persons, and between £130 and £200 in the case of married persons an increase was provided not exceeding 50 per cent. Briefly those were the increases provided by the Act of 1920, but, as the Committee knows, that Act contained a number of limitations and restrictions which have been the subject of criticism since.
First of all, that Act laid down that the pensioner must reside within the British Isles. Secondly, it imposed age limits, and it also laid down certain restrictions as regards income limits of £150 from all sources in the case of single people, and £200 per annum in the case of married people. Those were the broad limitations and restrictions of the Act of 1920, and when that Act was passed, the Government of the day made it perfectly clear that their immediate object was to try and confer some benefit on the poorer classes of pensioners who were severely penalised on account of the increase in the cost of living, and they desired to give this assistance not, of course, to all pensioners as a whole.
When we came to consider the problem, we found that certain investigations had been carried out by our predecessors in office, but on account of the General Election and for other reasons the introduction of legislation was delayed. There is not the least doubt, however, that there was a kind of agreement to grant the percentage increases from the 1st July last, and we are proposing to give effect to that in the Resolution which we have placed on the Paper to-day. May I, at this stage, indicate, roughly, the broad fundamental point on which the Government had to make up their minds. They had to decide, in the congested state of Parliamentary business, whether they would confine themselves in this Bill to a mere increase, that is an immediate increase with retrospective effect to the 1st July, 1923, of the percentages in force, or go beyond that and try to introduce legislation which would either modify or remove the restrictive conditions in the Act of 1920. We have not forgotten the Motion which was moved in this House on the 16th May, 1923, by my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. J. Robertson). It is a fact that that Resolution went beyond the mere percentages increase, and pleaded also for the removal of the restrictions to which I have, referred. The Government, however, came to the conclusion that if an attempt were made to try even to modify the restrictions apart altogether from trying to remove them, we should be involved in legislation which would necessarily call for much discussion in this House, and would lead at the same time to certain administrative and other difficulties, and would, I am afraid, involve considerable cost or outlay which the Government is hardly prepared to shoulder at the present time.
A little later in the few words which I propose to address to the Committee I shall try to outline what that cost would be. At the moment, as the Resolution indicates, let me make it plain that for all practical purposes the Resolution is the Bill which will follow. We propose to introduce a distinction in the pensions up to £50 per annum, and to provide that in the pensions up to £25 there will be a total increase not exceeding 70 per cent.; in the case of pensions between £25 and £50 a total increase not exceeding 65 per cent.; and in the case of pensions between £50 and £100 a total increase not exceeding 50 per cent., which, as hon. Members will realise, marks, I think, not an inconsiderable change in the range of pensions up to £100 per annum but leaves the existence allowance of 50 per cent. on pensions above that sum untouched. Above that figure the legislation of 1920 stands. Those are the proposals on their financial side as briefly and plainly as I can possibly put them I now come to the cost of the scheme. Under the Act of 1920 approximately 100,000 people, or rather less, are affected, and the cost so far has been about £1,000,000 a year, in the terms of the proposals which we are now submitting to the Committee the extra charge will be about £300,000 per annum, so that exactly what is involved by this proposal will be plain to hon. Members. But I have to add that, having regard to the fact that we are giving retrospective effect to this proposal to July, 1923, that will involve an additional amount within the present year of £225,000. Consequently, the Government have given, for the purposes of this immediate increase and the retrospective effect of it, a sum of £525,000 within this financial year. In round figures that is a little more than half a million of an additional amount.
Now I come to examine some of the criticisms which have been offered, not only during the Debate which took place on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell, but also by different organisations and bodies and by many hon. Members since. In the first place, it may be asked to-day, "Why do you propose to continue the restrictions as regards residence within the British Isles?" If we had been able to modify or remove certain of those restrictions, we should have been only too glad to do so, but the Government felt that those restrictions and modifications must stand together and form the subject of separate legislation. In any case, the immediate cost would be considerable, and we have, of course, to keep in view the additionsl outlay that would have been involved if the wishes of hon. Members had been carried out.
The additional cost in respect of this item would have been rather more than £60,000, but that would have only been one item. I put that down as one of the difficulties which we have to keep in mind, but that there are other difficulties which hon. Members have referred to.
That was dealt with under the legislation of 1920, and hon. Members are aware that a good deal of pressure has been brought to bear to modify it or sweep it away altogether. Let me make it plain what the modification of this means limit would involve. If it were modified as regards pensions of £150 single and £200 married, I am advised the cost per annum would be about £552,000, which would mean over another half a million. Of course if the limits as to total means were abolished altogether and simply swept away root and branch the cost to the State would run into several millions. I quite agree with hon. Members in not seeking to penalise thrift in any shape or form, but I would remind the House that having regard to the fact that we have provided rather more than half a million, we thought it best to take the first step by increasing the percentages, and the other changes must form the subject of separate legislation if at any time the Government find themselves able to embark upon that course.
I could not say off-hand what is their average age, but the retiring ages are well known to my hon. and gallant Friend, and he will keep in mind the exceptions, in the case of the police and others, in which the retiring age is very often low. These are the main outlines of the proposal. There are certain other difficulties which have been raised in the House from time to time regarding the position of pensioners in Ireland, but on that I think I can best state the position by telling the Committee that all classes of pensioners in Ireland are included for whom we are responsible, and that certainly includes the Royal Irish Constabulary, whose case is the one that has been mainly raised by hon. Members in past Debates.
No, Sir. It is perfectly clear that the Dublin Metropolitan Police were transferred completely under the recent legislation, and the Government of this country is not, constitutionally or otherwise, responsible for them, so that I think that any legislation of this kind could not be applied to them. I have taken advice upon that point, and there does, not seem to mo to be the slightest doubt about it. I think I have said enough, in this brief summary, to indicate the scope of the proposals. I can readily believe that hon. Members will press for a removal of part of the restrictions, but let me say to them again that the Government have had to decide between doing something at once, in the present state of Parliamentary business, and, possibly, having the matter delayed, and the cost very greatly increased, if a more ambitious scheme were attempted On these grounds, having regard to all the facts and keeping in mind the consideration that the door is not necessarily closed as regards the future, I ask the Committee to pass this Resolution.
May I say at the outset how deeply disappointed I am at the niggardly way in which the Government is attempting to deal with this very pressing and urgent question? Three hundred thousand pounds is the limit which they set to their benevolence to these old people, who have been admitted on all sides to be deserving of the utmost sympathy from the Government. It will take a good deal to make these poor old souls believe that this is the utmost that the Labour Government can do for them. I do not wish to go into controversial matters, but only a few days back the Government were willing to forgo many
millions to satisfy some feeling of their own, and now, when it comes to dealing with these old pre-War pensioners of the Navy, the Army, the Police and the Civil Service, all that they can find is a paltry sum of £300,000. We must, of course, take it; we shall not be able to vote against it; but there are one or two points in connection with it that I should like the Committee to bear in mind. The hon. Gentleman, in his very clear statement, referred to the Resolution introduced in the House by the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Robertson) on the 16th May, 1923. He introduced it in a way which carried with it the unanimous support of the House. It is not quite as the Parliamentary Secretary has stated. He has only told half the story. In addition to what the hon. Gentleman said, the Resolution went on to say that it was brought forward in order
to amend other provisions of a limiting and restrictive character which have disqualified many deserving pensioners from receiving benefit under the Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1923; cols. 553 and 554, Vol. 164.]
The last thing in the world that I should wish to do would be to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman, but I did not understand that to be included in his statement. That was part of the Resolution which was carried unanimously by the House, and for the Government to pretend that they have not the authority of the House to bring forward now a Money Resolution providing for doing away with these limitations, is, to my mind, not worthy of them. They have had full authority from the whole House to get rid of these restrictive limitations, so as not to put a penalty on thrift, nor to put any prohibition upon any of these pensioners if they like to go and live in any of the British Dominions; and I do hope that the hon. Gentleman, before the Bill is introduced, will think better of it, and allow these restrictions to be removed. I imagine that I should be out of order if I attempted now to move an increase in the sum proposed by the Gov- ernment, because, from what the hon. Gentleman has said, he has not provided for the question of doing away with these restrictive limitations. There is no provision for that in the sum of £300,000.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he has made any provision to make the conditions compulsory, and not discretionary, as they are at the present moment? Surely he is not going to allow some authorities to use a discretion absolutely to deny any increase, as is done in some cases in regard to old age pre-War pensioners. There are some authorities to-day that have definitely refused to grant any increase whatsoever, and a great number have never given the full increase allowed under the Act, while a great many others are agitating to reduce the increases which they have already given. Surely, the hon. Gentleman is not going to ask the House to pass any more of these discretionary provisions in the new Measure. If so, it will create a great hardship on these pre-War pensioners, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind, and will not allow those authorities which are trying to hurt these poor old people to have their way and refuse to give them the increase in their pensions which everyone is anxious that they should have.
May I ask whether, if no provision is made now to meet the ease of the removal of these limitations, and to make the new Act mandatory instead of discretionary, we shall be allowed, when the Bill is before the House, to move Amendments to provide for the inclusion of such provisions? I am rather afraid that they will be out of order, so that the Government, by restricting the amount now to the paltry sum of £300,000, is definitely stopping the House from expressing an opinion upon this urgent public question. That is not treating the House fairly, nor is it, if I may say so, treating the Government party fairly either, because the Prime Minister himself, during the Election and quite recently, has definitely stated in so many words that it was his intention to deal with this question and to give these people the very maximum that it was in his power to give. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer also has said the same. While I am not in any way going to vote against the provision of any sum, however small it may be, I do ask the hon. Gentleman to do his best to meet these questions, knowing perfectly well that, in making provision for them, he will have practically the unanimous support of the House. I was going into one or two other questions, which, perhaps, however, had better be left till we reach the Committee stage of the Bill, but when the hon. Gentleman talks about making provision for the poorer pensioners, is he really doing so under this proposal? Does he realise that the returns furnished to the House not so many years ago show that a large number of pre-War pensioners are drawing not more than 10s. a week? How, in Heaven's name, can they keep going, even with this small increase? The whole question is a very big one, and I venture to say that if it is met in a broad spirit, it will go a long way towards meeting the difficulty. If it is approached in that spirit by the hon. Gentleman, I believe I shall not be wrong in saying that he will carry with him the whole House in his endeavours to remedy this state of affairs.
This Bill seems to me to be a mean Bill. It is really an act of cowardice on the part of the Government to produce this Measure and to suggest that it is what the House asked them to do when it passed a Resolution in 1923; and to say that it is produced in this form in order to save Parliamentary time, and that at some later time the old people who are shut out of this Bill are to have their cases considered, is really a mockery. A great many of them are over 70–75 or 80, and I even remember one case in which the pensioner's age is 82; and to say that in a few years' time their case is to be considered is to mock at them.
If we had remained in power, a Bill on broader lines than this would already have been part of the law of the land. Even assuming that we were wrong, does that make this Government right? As I have said, however, if we had been in power, a Bill on broader lines would long ere this have been brought in. The Parliamentary Secretary says that to remove the residence limit would cost £60,000 a year. Surely, that is not outside his financial power. This will necessitate a Supplementary Estimate as it is, for, as far as I know, none of this £300,000 or £500,000, has been provided for in the Budget. The hon. Gentleman is bound to come forward with a Supplementary Estimate, and, surely, it is not asking too much that it should include the £60,000 required to remove what has turned out to be a great injustice and detriment to the pensioners, who, after all, are entitled, just as much as anyone else, to go with their children to the Dominions if they think they are going to get a better life for the children in those Dominions. They can only do so now at the cost of not receiving any increase on their pre-War pensions. I am quite certain that if we had been in power that limitation would have been struck out.
There is another question which I think is extremely important. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn (Sir J. Remnant) referred to it when he said that this will not make any of the schemes mandatory. This new Bill will not force the local authorities, who have refused to take advantage of the 1920 Act to come in now and take advantage of it. When the 1920 Bill was before the House of Commons—I myself introduced it—I remember very well what happened. We were advised by the then Law Officers that the word "may" in Section 3 meant "shall." All Parliamentarians know the snag as to the word "may" meaning "shall." It has turned out in practice that, although "may" means "shall" in some cases, the "may" used in that particular Section does not mean "shall," but still means "may." Unless, therefore, a local authority chooses to bring in a scheme, and the Treasury approves it, the pensioner does not get any increase at all. Speaking from memory, I think it would cost about £14,000, or some very small sum, a year, to turn that "may" into "shall," as the House of Commons intended it to be originally in 1920. The House never intended that a local authority, having been given power by the House to increase the pensions, should shirk its duty and refuse altogether to increase them.
What the House intended, and what the House was told would happen, was that local authorities would be called upon to produce schemes, which, subject to Treasury sanction, would come into force. The great bulk of the local authorities have done so; there are only, if I remember rightly, 20 or 30 local authorities who have not taken advantage of the Act, and there are fewer still who have refused to produce any scheme. As this would cost such a very few thousands a year, I do urge the Government at least to make this Resolution wide enough to allow of an Amendment to the Bill in that respect. As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn has said, and as, indeed, the Parliamentary Secretary warned us, this Resolution is, in effect, the Bill itself. The Bill will be in the form of this Resolution, and nothing can be added to the Resolution. When we come to consider the Bill, the answer will be, "No, that is increasing the charge upon the subject." Therefore, it will not be possible to turn the "may" into "shall," nor to remove any one of the restrictions, because it is not covered by the Financial Resolution. I do urge the Government to withdraw this Resolution to-day. I would rather delay it two or three more days and get a Bill that is a real fulfilment of the intention of the House of Commons. I ask the Government to reconsider the matter, and, at least, to cover the two points that I have mentioned. I should like them also to cover the wider point, but I realise that the additional £550,000 required to remove the income limit altogether is a very large sum.
That is the estimate which the representative of the Treasury has given us, and I must accept that. I feel that I am not justified in asking them to increase their costs by over £500,000; but these two other matters are relatively small—they would not cost, between them, more than £70,000 or £80,000 a year—and it is very well worth while to remove what are real hardships, real grievances and real drawbacks to the pensioners at so low a cost. I therefore urge the Government to withdraw the Resolution to-day. We shall not delay it. We shall lose no time. I am perfectly certain that my hon Friends here would assist the Parliamentary Secretary with the Resolution, and, if necessary, would deny themselves the making of speeches in order to benefit the pensioners, if he would withdraw it today and bring it in in a widened form on another day, so that justice may be done and the mistake of the House of Commons in 1920 may be remedied. In 1920 we were told that the Bill as then introduced would cost the country annually from £1,500,000 to £2,000,000. I think that that was the figure; perhaps the hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong. It has never amounted to that. It has never cost anything like £1,500,000 to £2,000,000 a year. It is now costing £1,000,000 a year.
According to the White Paper it is costing £1,000,000 a year, and there is, under this proposal, to be an addition of £300,000, but even that will not bring it up to the minimum cost which the House of Commons in 1920 thought was going to be reached. I urge the Government to withdraw the Resolution and come before the House with something which the House wants to give to the pensioners. The hon. Gentleman will then get the Resolution through with all the help that we can give him.
I rise to associate myself with the appeal that has just been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans). The truth is, of course, that, when we deal on the Floor of the House or in Committee with questions of this sort, we find ourselves in a very different atmosphere from that which prevails when we are asked these questions and appealed to by these deserving people, who have not always had a full measure of justice. It is quite true that the constitutional rule is a wise one which requires the further expenditure of money to be conditioned by the willingness of the Government of the day to propose it. I do not wish to see that rule altered, because it is an essential protection to the finances of the country. But in the present instance it does appear that the Financial Secretary is putting forward a Resolution so limited in terms as, in effect, to deny to the House of Commons or the Committee any opportunity, even within reasonable limits, of remoulding it or amending it at all. While I quite see that the responsibility is bound to be primarily the responsibility of the Government, and that it is for this Labour Government to say, now that they are in office, what they feel they really can do in connection with these unfortunate people, at the same time I cannot help thinking that they would be willing to give the House of Commons and the Committee a wider latitude than this Resolution gives. We all want to act reasonably. While all parts of the House are sympathetic towards these hard cases, we all know that the country has a terrible burden to bear, and we must act reasonably; but this Resolution, as it is put down to-day, really ties the hands of Members of Parliament completely, and makes it impossible for them to take any effective step to mould or modify these arrangements should they think it well to do so. The hon. Gentleman has giver, one or two examples of how it would be apparently quite reasonable to enlarge it. The Rules of the House do not permit private Members to do it. It would no doubt be possible to consider whether one could not move to leave out some words in the Resolution which might for the time being bring the Government up with a round turn, but we none of us wish to take measures of that sort. In all parts of the House hon. Members have given pledges and assurances and expressions of their sympathy, which was quite genuine, and they find the door is clanged against them so that they are unable to take the smallest effective part in making those pledges good.
I doubt the accuracy of the statement that had the late Government continued in office they would have introduced legislation to put this matter on a sound basis, but I nevertheless welcome the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans). I believe on this occasion the Labour Government is making a serious, if not a disastrous, mistake in endeavouring to avoid dealing with the serious situation with regard to superannuation. As I understand it, there are three methods of dealing with pensions. The men and women who were pensioned prior to the date in 1920 are treated on one basis, then for a period of about two years you get another method of super- annuation, and subsequently you have the post-War method, which is a third method of dealing with the subject. To endeavour to deal with the superannuation of ex-Government servants, men who have served in the police, the Civil Service and the Army and the Navy, on such a chaotic basis is extremely unsatisfactory to the Government service and to the Government itself. I should like to ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to be a little more definite and explicit with regard to the promise of further legislation. I am as anxious as he is that no time should be lost in coming to the rescue of the more poorly paid pensioners. Will he make a definite statement that he and the Government are prepared to deal with the larger question in the immediate future? It seems to me that a man in receipt of a pension just below £100 per annum is likely under these proposals ultimately to secure a larger annual payment than the man in receipt of exactly £100 per annum, and if that is the case it is an entirely new point so far as Government proposals on the subject of superannuation are concerned.
But there is a further point with which I am particularly concerned, because it is proposed by Order in Council to deal with Army and Navy Pensioners on this basis if this Resolution is passed. I want to ask the Secretary to the Treasury to let me have a reply in regard to the following typical case. A pre-War pensioner was in receipt of £41 per annum in return for 21 years' service in the Army. On the outbreak of the Great War he re-enlisted and served for an additional five years, rising to the rank of Captain. As the result of that additional five years' service the pre-War pension was re-assessed and to-day he is in receipt of £71 9s. 7d. It appears that, had he not re-enlisted, the pre-War pension under this proposal would have been reassessed and increased by 65 per cent., and he would have received £67 14s. 3d. Does the difference between the £67 14s. 3d. and £71 9s. 7d. represent the increased pension to which the Government feel that man was entitled for his re-enlistment, for his distinguished service and his promotion to a Captaincy? I feel very strongly that this question is too large and too complex to be dealt with in this way. I want to join in
the appeal to the Government to withdraw this Resolution in order that a complete, comprehensive and equitable proposal may be laid before the House The men we are talking about retired on pension before 1920. I cannot speak with any authority with regard to the life of the average civil servant and the average naval and military pensioner, but I incline to think, so far as the Civil Service is concerned, the average life of a pensioner retiring at or about 60 years of age, is no more than five or six years, so that as far as a large proportion of these pensioners are concerned it must be true that, taking the law of averages, their numbers are almost exhausted. I think that is a very important point for consideration. My final words are to quote from a letter I received to-day from a man who retired at 60 and has been on pension for about 10 years. He says:
The bulk of the pensioners who have been struggling on for the last 10 years-to exist on their pension and to keep up appearances are left to continue the struggle to the bitter end.
The proposal embodied in the Resolution deals only with the lowly-paid pensioners, who are not representative of the whole. I admit the claims of the more poorly paid men to the full, but the great body of pensioners whom we are considering to-day do not fall within this category, and I hope sincerely that the appeal which has been made will be heartily responded to.
I rise to endorse what has been said by every Member who has spoken so far and to request the Government to withdraw this Resolution. It is an insult to pensioners and an absolute violation of promises and pledges. I want to say a word about the lower paid pensioners. The man who was getting 10s. a week after 22 years' service in the Army or the Navy spent in an unhealthy climate is now to get an addition of 1s. 5d. a week. He is old and unemployed, and there is no other means of existence, and he has the alternative of starvation or the workhouse. That is a pleasant prospect for a man in his declining years. What generous treatment it is from a party that boasts that it is the protagonist of the under-dog, and what a boon to the Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer that nearly all the men affected by this Resolution are over 65 years of age and are dying off rapidly. Many of them are starving and in rags and many are in the workhouse. I have a sheaf of letters from these pensioners, and the first I took up this morning was from a man who had been wounded, had five war medals for 15 years' service, served in Africa and India, and was drawing 10d. a day. Does this Resolution really strike the Government as being consonant with the flowery speeches trumpeted from every platform in the country proclaiming themselves as the champions of the unfortunate individuals who through stress of circumstances were down and out? The £300,000 mentioned in the Resolution, I take it, includes the cost involved by its retrospective action.
I misunderstood. I gather this increase is to cost £300,000 a year. I think that will cease to be a cost to the. Exchequer in five years' time.' These men are old, and they are dying off very rapidly. They average nearly 70. They are coming on to the Old Age Pension and with the means limit there will be money saved, and this is a diminishing cost which will disappear practically in five years' time. I think the Financial Secretary should have stated that when he said this would cost £300,000 a year. It is not really £300,000 a year at all. Anyhow, the sum is absolutely inadequate to keep these men from hunger and privation. I attended on Saturday a meeting of the executive council of naval and military warriors, and the members one and all expressed their absolute wholehearted disgust, not on their own behalf, but on behalf of all those who are trying to eke out a miserable existence. From the point of view of the Army and Navy, I think the words of Napier are true to-day, where he says, at the end of the last chapter of the "Peninsular War":
Thus the war terminated, and with it all remembrance of the veterans' services.
I join with those men in expressing in the most emphatic way my disgust at this totally inadequate Resolution. If they were not a patriotic body, and if they had the power to strike and were willing to strike, they would have got all they asked for and much more long ago. I well
remember the Resolution, exactly two years ago, moved by a Labour Member and hotly supported by the Labour party, on this very subject. I should like to read it, more especially because I helped to draft it.
In the opinion of this House the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1920, are inadequate in meeting the case of the Army and Navy pensioner, who has been mm bio to save during the period of his employment by the State, and who, after long periods of service in all parts of the British Empire, has been thrown on the labour market unskilled and often broken down in health and unfit to work, and, further, that in the opinion of this House the Government should take immediate steps to apply the Jerram scheme to all naval pensioners.
How is it that the Labour parry, who produced and so warmly supported that Resolution, should now have the effrontery to introduce a Resolution of the character which we are now considering? I feel it to be my duty, if this Resolution is not withdrawn, to move the rejection of the Bill, on Second Reading, lock, stock and barrel, and in doing this I have the concurrence of the executive council of the Navy and Army Pre-War Pensioners' Association.
I want to turn to another aspect of this matter and to me a very painful one. The Resolution is hedged about by restrictions as regards means. The original Act was similarly encumbered with such restrictions and over and above them all there was a definite limitation of £150 a year in the case of a single man and £200 in the case of a married one. Feeling, as I did, that the men concerned were drawing a pension for service actually performed, I also felt that any restriction operating in connection with the means limit was obviously unfair, except such an overriding restriction as would prevent any individual from drawing more than the post-War scale. Feeling this very strongly, I took such action as lay in my power to secure the object I had in view. I drafted a pledge, which was printed and circulated in practically every constituency throughout the country at the last Election I am an ardent fisherman. I cast my fly over almost every stretch of water in the country, and, unlike most fishermen—I am not going to exaggerate—I was more than satisfied with the results, for I hooked with the greatest case the very largest fish that swim in the Labour pools. I have the very pledge here, signed by a large number of members of the Ministry, not to speak of a larger number all signed by Members of the Labour party. I hold in my hand the actual pledge which was signed by the Prime Minister and the Lord Privy Seal. I regret that neither of them is in his place. The Home Secretary—I regret that he is not here—was not content with signing the pledge but even sent a letter, stating in the strongest possible terms, three days before polling day, that he would do all in his power to assist in achieving the object I had in view. I mention the Home Secretary because I should like to draw attention to his emphatic pledge, in view of his performance last Thursday in the matter of the reinstatement of the police strikers. I shall have much pleasure in circulating these letters and pledges round the Committee for inspection, if anyone wants to see them and to see their genuine character.
The pledge was a definite promise on the part of the pledger to vote in support of the removal of the means limit in pre-War pensions. I propose to put those pledges to the test. If all those Members of the Government and of the Labour party who signed the pledge carry out their promise and do not break their vows they will come into the Division Lobby with me and vote for the rejection of the Bill which they themselves will have introduced. The Bill will be rejected and they will then be bound in honour to bring in a new Bill which will remove the means limit. We have had some experience of broken pledges in the last few weeks. If they break this pledge it will be the fourth that they have broken in vapid succession: Service pay, ex-ranker officers, police strikers, and now pre-War pensioners. Some people collect stamps and other butterflies. I am making a hobby, and have been for the last few weeks, of collecting broken pledges, and I propose publishing my collection illustrated by photographs of the vow-breakers. Surely a pledge is a document which has got to be honoured. If hon. Members opposite think it has not, they are dragging politics to a depth of damnation which it is not possible to describe. The vast majority of the electorate, they know well, are wholly ignorant concerning the financial capacity of the country, and the Labour candidates are prepared to take advantage of this ignorance to promise impossibilities if it will lead to securing a few votes. Look at the Minister for War. I regret that he is not here too. He went to the Home Secretary's division two or three days before the by-election and announced that his party would give the old age pension of 15s. to everyone at the age of 65. He is a responsible person and he knows full well that that proposal would cost £110,000,000 a year. What was he suggesting that for? It was to get their votes—and a most immoral way of doing it. It is simply a question of inciting and inflaming the minds of those who understand nothing of finance. I wonder whether that is right. Is it fair? I consider it is most immoral, yet I see hon. Members opposite sitting with a smile on their face. Apparently they have got accustomed and hardened to it. If my conception concerning pledges is wrong, I do not think any decent man ought to touch politics at all. If, however, I am right, every pledge-breaker should be pilloried and branded as a liar. I have been a Member of the House for some six years, and my experience is that it is difficult for any Member under the most auspicious circumstances to run absolutely straight, but if there is nothing evil in a broken pledge politics indeed has sunk to a low level.
I wish to ask the Financial Secretary one or two questions which are very pertinent to this Resolution. It will depend very largely on his reply how any action of mine, and I should think of many hon. Members will be shaped. I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to raise the means limit for old age pensions to some level which he has not yet defined. He has practically told the Committee so. I want to know if all those men who come under categories A and B in this Resolution, that is, whose original pensions did not exceed £100 a year, will on reaching the age of 70 be entitled to receive their service pensions, increased under the 1920 Act and this Resolution, in addition to that old pension. Can he give me an anwer to that now? My second point is this, that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer defines the new means limit for old age pensions—at present it is £50—if it is raised to £100, will he guarantee to remove restrictions of every sort and description on pre-War pensions which are below the limit of £100, so that in every case the man can draw the full 70 per cent. increase, plus his old age pension, if it comes within the limit prescribed? Many of these men are 70 years of age, and the remainder are approaching that age; they are over 65 years of age, so that the questions I am now putting are of real importance. I am sure the Committee will forgive my anxiety in regard to this subject. My anxiety is two-fold—to keep these old warriors out of the workhouse and to prevent any recurrence of this wholesale pledge-breaking to which the Labour party has shown itself prone. I regret it, but, at the moment, the slogan of the Labour party should be, "I buy your votes and I break my vows."
I should like to associate myself with almost everything that has been said in regard to this question. I find myself bitterly disappointed by the statement of the Financial Secretary. I cannot understand the Government bringing in proposals of this kind, remembering the pledges that were made not only by themselves but by their followers, and the fact that at the present time from all sides of the Committee, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Members are pressing them to do justice to these people in regard to whom pledges have been given over and over again that justice should be done. I want to add my plea to the Financial Secretary to withdraw this Resolution, otherwise if it goes to a vote I should certainly be compelled to vote against it.
The Financial Secretary has told us that it would involve legislation to deal with the questions that have been raised from both sides of the Committee to-day; but I would point out that frequently there have been agreed Measures passed in this House with very little loss of time. Surely, a Measure of this kind, strongly supported from all quarters, could be looked upon as an agreed Measure and would be passed without any very great loss of time. We are told that it is a question of cost. May I remind the hon. Member that not very long ago this House voted five cruisers. I do not want to make too much capital out of that, but, surely, he might cut out one cruiser and try to deal justly by these old people. At all events, I do not think he would be opposed from his own benches if he could see his way clear to cut out one cruiser and do justice to the pensioners.
May I give two illustrations of hardship? Here is a case of two men working side by side in a post office, one a bachelor, known not to save, the other a married man with children who buys his house. The first obtains an increase of his pension but the other, under this proposal, is denied an increase, although he is a widower with an invalid daughter. Here is a quotation from a letter of a hard case:
For two years I was allowed £40 per year, being a married man. I had the misfortune to lose my wife, and £40 per annum was taken from me. Having no one to look alter me, I had to engage a nurse-housekeeper. I am only able to get about by the aid of crutches and a bath-chair, and it costs me £42 per annum, which I am not allowed to claim. My age is now 74½ years.
Then, again, very minute questions are asked when pensioners are making their claims. Here is an example of one from a Post Office official to one of the pensioners:
With reference to the statement attached to your claim for an increase of your pension, I have to request that you will furnish an estimate of the value of nourishment supplied by your children during the illness of your wife, and the days within which such nourishment was supplied.
Questions of that sort are not in accordance with the wish of any Member of this House. Every hon. Member is exceedingly anxious that something should be done to remedy such cases as these, and I hope that the Financial Secretary will agree to the very evident desire of the Committee. If so, he will have the advantage of doing something to carry out the election pledges of the Government, and he will have the advantage of satisfying his own followers. If this question were left to a free vote, without the party Whips on, we could carry our ideas by an overwhelming majority. I do, therefore, hope that the Financial Secretary will yield to the desire of the Committee, withdraw this Resolution, and make preparation to bring in a Bill covering all the pledges that have been made. In that case, we can assure him of a great deal of support from all parts of the House, and everyone will desire to help the Measure through as quickly as possible.
I can only imagine that the reason that the Government have not provided more money for these poor pensioners is that when they have been in office for a little time the army of bureaucratic officials which will be created when the mines and the land have been nationalised will all require pensions, and there will be no money left for these unfortunate old people. I should like to know from the Financial Secretary why he, splits up the pensions not exceeding £50 into two parts—the pensions not exceeding £25, and the pensions exceeding £25 but not exceeding £50. What will it cost to give a level up of 70 per cent. all round, instead of the 65 per cent. at present proposed? Why is the differentiation made? The Committee has a right to know. There is another point of injustice, which is only a small point and very few men are affected, and it appears to me that is all the more reason why the injustice should be removed. I refer to the provision as to pensions for single men and married men. Clause 2, paragraph 3, of the Act of 1920 stipulates that the pensioner must satisfy the pension authority that his means, including the pension, are less than £150 a year if unmarried or £200 a year if married. Under that Clause, the Minister of Pensions, when dealing with an application must, according to Treasury Regulations, require a certified statement of the income of the wife of the married man. My point is this that there are a certain number of applications sent to the Ministry of Pensions on behalf of married men who have not seen their wives for 10 or 20 years; they have been deserted and the wives are probably dead. I think it would be presumed in a Court of law that they were dead. In those cases, where a certificate is required, the married man has no chance at all of getting any increase of pension. The Ministry of Pensions or some other Department could easily bring forward Regulations to deal with that class of case, which is creating hardship. These men have a right to look to the present Government for some redemption of the pledges which they have given, especially as it will not cost very much. Nothing like the millions would be required to carry out these pledges as are required to carry out some of the more reckless pledges which the Government have given.
A further point which I wish to drive home, and in regard to which I wish to press for a removal of the grievance, is the provision that the pensioner must reside in the British Isles. I see no justification whatever for that stipulation. There are large numbers of men of the Royal Irish Constabulary who have been pensioned after perhaps 20 years' service and who are not necessarily old. Many of them have sons and daughters abroad. These men were turned out of their own country—driven out at the point of the sword. Why should not they be allowed to go to live in one of our Dominions and to spend their days there in useful work? They lived under the most appalling conditions during their last years in Ireland Many of them had their wives murdered, and they were lucky not to be murdered themselves. I appeal for the removal of this disqualification. I understood the Financial Secretary to say that the cost of that proposal would be £65,000. On what estimate does he base that statement? I cannot see that it would cost much more money to send out the remittances abroad. It would only be the cost of the postage.
The country is being rapidly disillusioned as to the value of the Government's pledges, and if hon. Members opposite are going to claim any respect in the country for their pledges they had better take this opportunity of withdrawing this Resolution and providing another one which will more adequately meet the needs of the case.
I join with other hon. Members in saying that we are disappointed with the proposals of the Government to meet what was the unanimous decision of the House last year. I am quite sure that this proposition will be nobody's baby. While I appreciate the point that was made by many speakers that the Government and hon. Members on these benches are pledged to a fulfilment of what was contained both in the letter and in the spirit of last year's Resolution, I am also confident that neither any member of the Government nor any hon. Member on the Benches behind the Government is desirous of avoiding the fulfilment of their pledges, and if hon. Members opposite or below the Gangway will help us to keep those pledges, here is an excellent opportunity for the Government to take back this Resolution and meet the contentious points that have arisen. The Resolution which anticipates the Bill does everything but meet the injustices that have arisen out of the Increase of Pensions Act of 1920. It aims at slightly increasing the percentage increase to meet the cost of living, but does nothing to meet the anomalies and injustices which the House was convinced last year it was more necessary to remove in some ways even than it was to increase the percentage.
On the question of whether it should be discretionary or compulsory on the part of the local authorities to give effect to the provision of the Bill, what is the objection to turning the word "may" into "shall"? If it be argued that there may be considerable opposition from local authorities, the answer is that the vast majority of local authorities have carried out the provisions of the Clause with the word "may," while the objections of the minority who have not carried out the desire of the House cannot be represented as the objections of a majority. I hope that we shall have inserted in the Bill an amendment of the existing Act in order that local authorities, however small they may be in number, shall be compelled to do what the majority of local authorities have had the decency to do without compulsion. These local authorities would not object to the others being compelled to do what they have done.
On the question of residence within the British Isles, I am anxious to avoid repeating any arguments that have been put forward already, but I made a special point of it last year, and I wish to reinforce what was said by the hon. Member who has just sat down. He mentioned that pensioners of the Royal Irish Constabulary, by the special circumstances which have arisen, have in many instances had to seek other countries in which they might earn their livelihood or spend the rest of their days. We should endeavour to meet the unfortunate circumstances of those pensioners, to say nothing of the other pensioners in this country who, if they have to go to other countries, should be allowed to go where they wish. I will not confine myself to the Dominions, but say that such men should have the right to go to any part of the world they desire. It is known that the families of large numbers of Irishmen have migrated to America, and if those Royal Irish Constabulary pensioners have children who have gone to America it is not right that they should be debarred from joining their children there merely because the Act of 1920 contained a restrictive provision, and I hope the Act will be amended so that pensioners may go to any part of the world they like and receive their pension there, provided that the necessary safeguards are forthcoming that those who receive the pensions are the persons entitled to them.
On the general question of pensions increase, I cannot understand why we have created even more anomalies by making such differentiation in the percentage of increase. The cost of living at the moment is 73 per cent. above the pre-War cost, and the highest increase proposed by the Financial Secretary is 70 per cent. That may be getting very near the mark. But the question which is exercising the minds of the old pre-War pensioner is not so much the increase in the cost of living over pre-War pensions as the fact that since the War there has been a higher appreciation of the status of Government servants, which has resulted in a difference between the new-pensions and the pre-War pensions, not of 73 per cent. increase, but of 173 per cent. increase over the pre-War scale. The old pensioners are a class who are not able to carry out any extensive agitation or organised effort, but they rendered services which were equal in value, so far as the community were concerned, to those services which were rendered by those who came at a later date, who have had their standard raised to 173 per cent. increase compared with pre-War figure, while for the older pensioners there is proposed little more than 70 per cent. increase to bring them into line with the post-War pensioners. I confine myself to these few remarks now, because I am hopeful that when the Financial Secretary comes to reply he will indicate a little more fully what are the difficulties with regard to the points raised, and, if he will meet the anomalies and injustices created by the present Act, I am confident that he will have the support of all parties in this House in carrying an amending Bill to effect that object.
I rise to endorse heartily the appeal that has been made from every quarter of the Committee to the Financial Secretary to withdraw this Financial Resolution. The Financial Resolution is a very useful document and has great advantages. It helps the House of Commons to realise the exact amount of expenditure which the House will be called upon to provide, but it also has great disadvantages, and on this occasion the disadvantages are that, if we pass this Financial Resolution, we are cribbed, cabined and confined. We cannot alter or amend it. My hon. Friend must realise that every Member of this House is anxious to amend that Resolution. He knows that we are all pledged, and those of us who are pledged are determined to see that our pledges are carried out. I am certain that that is the position which the Government also would desire, just as much as we. I give them the credit of wanting to do what they regard as their level best for these ex-service pensioners, but our contention is that they are doing that in a most niggardly and almost inhuman fashion. They are pledged to do their level best, and they come forward with a Resolution which has not received a single word of commendation from any quarter of the Committee.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has promised to deal with the case of the Royal Irish Constabulary pensioners. Many of my Friends in this House have kept the case of these gallant men before the House, and I am anxious to know whether the Government intend to maintain the restrictions which at present exist. Why should an ex-Royal Irish Constabulary pensioner if, because of his Royal services, Ireland is no longer a place in which he can live in peace, be cut off from joining his family anywhere else and drawing there the pension to which by his services he is entitled? I put the point with regard to these gallant men as well as with regard to the other ex-service pensioners. I remember, as I had something to do with the Act of 1920, that the House then intended that these men should be justly and fairly treated. The hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Hayes) has drawn attention to the use of the specific word "may." We were told when the Bill was passing that the word "may" meant "shall," and we find all over the country some local authorities doing the decent thing and others not, because they shelter themselves behind what is called the permissive use of the word "may." I would ask my hon. Friend to take that into consideration when he is introducing the Bill.
We are told that the concessions demanded will cost the country something like £70,000 or £80,000. It is false economy to say that because it would cost for an amount of this kind therefore we are not going to have a decent Bill. The Government must realise that these men have been promised a reasonable and substantial increase. They are now faced with the fact that they are offered what is but little more than they had in the past, and I appeal to the Government to obey what I feel sure is their own instinct and the desire of every Member of this House, to withdraw this Resolution and to bring forward another, a fairer and more equitable resolution, for which they will receive the support of every Member of this House.
There would be no disposition I think, on the whole, to quarrel with the course which the Debate has taken, but before I say a word about what the Government propose to do I wish to take some exception to the speech that was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson). During the whole of that speech he indulged in charges of breaches of faith and broken pledges. I wish to make it plain to the Committee that the issue which faced the Government was simply the issue of introducing this immediate Measure to improve the percentages or of embarking upon large legislation which would necessarily take some time for discussion and which was bound up with the general question regarding the old age pensioners in this country. But I do not take any further exception to it this afternoon because I believe that we have a perfectly fair reply. The hon. and gallant Member completely ignored the fact that during a considerable portion of the time to which he referred the Government of his party was in power and nothing was done to give effect to these pledges, and moreover he entirely ignored that what we put forward this afternoon is on all fours with what his own leaders on the Front Bench proposed not so very long ago.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that the services which he has rendered in connection with this matter have been altogether outside party lines, but he made a violent party attack on us.
The hon. and gallant Member referred to the original Resolution of 1920. I am bound to point out that it was just as rigid as the present Resolution. These Resolutions admit of very little discussion or amendment. The difficulty of any Government, in a case of this kind, is to bring forward proposals which will meet the views of hon. Members without going to extremes. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench made it plain that he spoke for his party, and that, he did not ask us to abandon the means limits, which I said would cost, at all events as regards the limits on pensions, about £552,000 per annum. Of course it would cost some millions of money if they were abandoned altogether. That was not pressed, however. What have emerged are requests for amendment of the law in two special directions. First, there is the case of pensioners who are resident outside this country; and, secondly, there, was the point as to "may" and "shall"—a legal point with which it is not very difficult to deal. May I refer, first of all, to speeches which have been made with regard to the alteration of the percentage increase as between pensions of £25 and £50? The object of that is to give a higher rate of percentage increase to a very poorly paid class of pensioners. Although we have to exclude the great rise in the cost of living in previous years, yet it is true to say that when we bring the percentage increase up to date, we have gone very near to what is the actual increase in the cost of living, not only in July of last year but also substantially to what is the increased cost now. Therefore, we are able to say this afternoon that we have gone a long way to meet the case of the poorest class of pensioners, and have brought that class up almost in strict terms to the present increase in the cost of living. This is a substantial remedy in the interests of these people.
The next point raised is a legal question, regarding "may" and "shall" in the Act of 1920. For all practical purposes, this turns on what has been done by the police authorities and similar bodies in Great Britain. As far as we can make out, there was an understanding in 1920 that this Clause was of a compulsory character. But experience proves that that was not so, and that a certain number of the local authorities—they were only a small number—did not give effect to this increase of pensions, at all events, on the full scale. Let me put the actual facts before the House. Only four local authorities in this country have refused altogether to give their pensioners the benefit of the increase.
Whether it is four or eight, it is a very small number. Certain of the local authorities have not increased their pensions in the full terms of the meaning of the Act of 1920. Other local authorities have introduced different variations which fall short of the full application of that measure. I will put the matter on a monetary basis. The strict position is that if the Act of 1920 had been fully applied by the local authorities, the gross cost on the 1920 basis would have been about £256,000 per annum. In fact, the cost incurred by these local authorities, to the extent to which they have given effect to the provisions of the Act, is about £238,000. So that there is less than £20,000 of monetary difference on the failure of certain local authorities fully to apply the terms of the Act. There is not a great deal in it from the point of view of cash, but I agree that there is a great deal in it from the point of view of uniformity, and it does seem undesirable, if certain local authorities do their full duty voluntarily under that Act, that certain other local authorities should escape. But I am bound to remind the House that there is very serious difficulty in any effort to coerce a local authority in this matter. It is true that when we pass general legislation we, in effect, coerce local authorities, but as a rule we take the precaution of consulting them in advance. There is a certain difference in this matter as regards the police, where the cost is borne as to 50 per cent. by the local authority and as to 50 per cent. by the State. That principle applies also, of course, to the increase of pensions, and if any further increase of pension is suggested, it is debatable how far, short of compulsion, the local authority will give effect to that further increase.
In response to the request of hon. Members in all parts of the House, I am quite willing to take the risk which is undoubtedly involved, and to do everything in my power, within the limits of an amended Resolution, to get the local authorities to act uniformly. I do not disguise the fact that there will be difficulty in the matter. I can only say to the House that if they will give me an opportunity I will do my best to overcome it. The second point referred to residence outside the British Isles. In my introductory speech I made it perfectly plain that my personal sympathies were altogether with the removal of that restriction which, while the original Clause was intended to apply to the increase in the cost of living in Great Britain, no doubt did debar certain people who had earned a kind of right and who should not be penalised because of the accident of residence in other parts of the world, Our only reason for delaying a remedy on that point was that it was bound up with other changes which might form the subject of legislation. Hon. Members have pressed me on that second point, and, accordingly, although it will cost an additional £60,000 or move over and above the £500,000 which we are providing in this financial year, or £300,000 in a normal year, I am willing also to give effect to that suggestion.
I could not say offhand. Everybody covered by the 1920 legislation will get the benefit of the increase, irrespective of his place of residence. That is as I understand it. Let me, in summary, indicate the position, in order that there may be no misunderstanding.
Before the hon. Gentleman does that, may I ask him a question? Did I understand him to state that when the right hon. Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) said that he would not press the Government for the £560,000, in order to do away with the means limit Clause, my right hon. Friend was understood to be speaking for the Opposition and the Conservative party? I, for one, oppose that idea.
It is not for me to say how far speeches delivered from the Front Opposition Bench represent the views of other members of the party opposite. The right hon. Member for Colchester, when told that the concession as to the means limit, applied to the actual pension, would in fact, cost £560,000, most frankly and openly recogmised that he could not press that proposal. As that must be the subject of future legislation with which all kinds of other questions will be bound up, it could hardly be pressed upon the Committee now. At all events I could not give a guarantee on that point. What I am going to do is this. Having regard to the course of the discussion, I will withdraw this Resolution, and I will introduce an amended Resolution to abolish the restriction as regards residence, and to achieve the second point of uniformity among local authorities. I will put that Resolution on the Order Paper in the hope that all sections of the House, without prejudice to any future legislation, will give assent to the Resolution with little or no discussion. If hon. Members will agree to that course, there should be no difficulty whatever in getting the "Resolution through in the amended form.
What are the Government going to do with the means limit? What is in the background? The whole of the Members who have spoken, and many others, are pledged to vote for the abolition of the means limit. What is the Government's intention? Will they tell us something? Will they bring in a Bill later on? Although it might cost £500,000 this year, it will cost very much less in five years, and eventually will disappear altogether.
The means limit is bound up with similar questions in regard to Old Age Pensions. I should hope that legislation would be introduced to deal with the latter matter, but, obviously, I cannot bind the Government to that course to-day.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has made a very conciliatory speech, and has made proposals which go some way to meet the objections to the Financial Resolution on the Paper, but I must take exception to remarks which he made in criticism of the way in which the objections were put forward from this side of the Committee, and particularly to his complaint that the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) had used too strong language. The Financial Secretary seemed entirely to have forgotten the delays that have taken place in introducing this Measure, and, secondly, the very definite pledges which were made during the General Election by the leaders of his own party. He made no apology to us for having delayed the realisation of those pledges, although Members in all parts of the House have reminded him of them. The Government have had four months to consider the question. The late Government were prevented from introducing their Measure only because of the Dissolution. A Bill had been drafted and was down for consideration when the Dissolution occurred. The present Government have had four months to deal with the matter, and they had before them the pledges of their leaders. They have had also reminders from the Association of Navy and Army Pensioners. How came the leaders of the party at the General Election to sign this declaration?
That was signed by the present Prime Minister, and by the Deputy Leader of the House. What does it mean? Does it mean that the right hon. Gentleman will pledge himself at some future time, or does it mean a pledge that he will do his best here and now? We are having these pledges constantly before us and the Prime Minister recently said he thought it very undesirable to sign these questionnaires. I have always thought so. I never sign them, but hon. Gentlemen who have signed them and have gained votes by doing so, have no right to come here and say they are going to reconsider the matter. We have a right to press them for some reasons why they cannot carry out their pledge in this manner, and although, as I say, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has endeavoured to meet some of the views expressed on this side, it is only right to point out that it was not till the Government had been pressed upon this matter both by hon. Members on this side, and by hon. Members below the Gangway opposite and, in fact, had been told practically that the House would not pass this Resolution unless its provisions were increased, that they now agree to do so. I hope some explanation will be given of these broken pledges, and that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will not take exception to those on this side who are driving these matters home, and who believe that the whole life of the country will be upset if the practice is established of candidates giving electioneering pledges and afterwards entirely ignoring them.
I think the Government have done a very happy thing in agreeing to withdraw this Resolution, and I quite understand the difficulty of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in not being able to give a definite pledge, at this moment, that the question of the means limit is to be decided here and now. I understand that matter will be reconsidered by the Treasury and by the Minister of Pensions, and that every effort will be made to come to a solution which will meet the views of the great bulk of Members of the House. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gwynne) told us that the Government of which he was so distinguished an ornament were going to bring in a much more generous Bill than the Bill outlined in this Resolution, but were prevented from doing so by the Dissolution. He went on to say that the Labour Government had actually had four months in which to bring in this Bill, but had not done so. What was his Government doing during the twelve months they were in office? They had the same reproaches hurled at them by the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson). He was not quite so
violent then as he is now, but in substance he used the same arguments when the late Government were in office, and so did the hon. Member for Holborn (Sir J. Remnant), and in fact Members in all parts of the House did so. I have a copy of a Resolution which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. J. Robertson) this time last year, and seconded by the present Financial Secretary to the Admiralty. That Resolution is as follows:
That in the opinion of this House the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1920, are inadequate"—
I hope the hon. Member for Eastbourne remembers this—
to meet the needs of pre-War pensioners, and that further legislation should be passed to augment the increases allowed by that Act and amend other provisions of a limiting and restrictive character which have disqualified many deserving pensions from receiving benefit under the Act.
Why did not the Government, of which the hon. Member for Eastbourne is a Member, accede to that request? Why did they vote it down? Why did not hon. Gentlemen opposite take action in regard to this unfortunate Resolution which we still hear re-echoing? Why did they not meet a little earlier during the long Autumn Recess and ask the Government to relieve the plight of these poor old men, many of whom have died in the interval? Because, forsooth, the Government could not find time during their 12 months of office—in which they did precious little—to bring forward this matter. At any rate, "There is joy in the Kingdom of Heaven over one sinner that repenteth," and we can very well understand that there will be joy among the angels this afternoon. I have listened to this Debate throughout and I feel sure the Committee is in earnest. Might I say very humbly to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, that before he brings in his next Resolution he should consult some of the Members of this House who have taken an interest in this subject—Members on both sides of the House and some of his own supporters as well—and try to get an agreed Measure. By doing so the hon. Gentleman will save a great deal of time and a great deal of his own credit and the Government's credit as well.
While I welcome the statement of the Financial Secretary that he will withdraw the Resolution, I feel that the financial provisions indicated are entirely inadequate to meet the needs of certain cases. I propose to show by one instance the inadequacy of these proposals. I understand that up to a certain point there is to be a variation or graduation in the scale of percentage additions to pre-War pensions, but that there is a series above that point involving a considerable number of men which will be shut out entirely from any advance on this scale of percentages. I have here some figures relating to pre-War pensions which apply to the police officers. Men, who were police constables before the War, receive a pension of £1 2s. Men who qualify for pensions to-day will receive £3 4s. The pre-War scale went from £1 2s. up to £2 1s., the latter figure applying to superintendents. Superintendents now retire at £6 5s. Men who, up to a certain date, were rendering service in the higher ranks of the police force are receiving the low pensions I have indicated, and whatever may happen in the future, as far as I can see, even when this Bill is introduced they will still be penalised, while the lower-grade men will only receive in some cases 30 per cent. increase, and in some cases less. To sustain my point, I do not think it necessary to adduce any single case, but I have a letter from a man in my own constituency, whom I know very well, who states that after serving 23 years in the police force he was retired in 1917, and he is now receiving, as an inspector's pension, £8 13s. 10d. per month. Had this man been kept in the police force until the 1st April, 1919, his pension to-day would be £21 per month. There, hon. Members will see, is the difference between a man having a bare existence and having an adequate remuneration. Unless special provision is made in this Bill, this man, and possibly thousands like him, will not receive any adequate advance on the very meagre pensions they are getting at present. I hope the Financial Secretary, when he brings in this amended Resolution, will make adequate provisions in every case for a fair and reasonable advance on all pre-War pensions.
I had the pleasure last year of moving the Resolution which has been referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), and I do not think the Government with which I am associated can be accused of having broken a single pledge to the men referred to in that Resolution. Listening to the pleading speeches made from the other side of the Committee by men who formerly sat on this side, one would think that the Members of the Labour party had only dropped into politics within the last four years. As a matter of fact, last year, when I moved the Resolution which has been quoted, I pleaded with all the ability and power I had for the abolition of the Thrift Clause. I pleaded for some consideration for pensioners who were overseas. I pleaded for other reforms in connection with the pre-War pensioners, but hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite forget that they, and the Governments with which they were associated, imposed these conditions upon the pensioners, and not the Labour party. It is not many years ago since 1920, but I do not remember a single protest being made even by the hon. Member who has given us the choicest denunciation of broken pledges when these conditions were introduced.
Did you vote against your own Government on this matter? Did you take them into the Division Lobby? No, you sat quietly and silently. There was a protest in 1921, and it was repeated in 1922 and 1923, and not a single one of the hon. Members opposite who have raised this matter voted against their own Government. In 1923 I moved the Resolution which has been referred to and now we have all this denunciation and all this talk about broken pledges.
I do not think any sensible elector will accuse the Labour party of breaking their pledges. The electors who support the Labour party are more sensible than to believe that inside four months we can undo, as I say, all the bungling, all the pledge breaking, all the vote catching done by hon. Gentlemen who are now sitting opposite, but who were sitting on these benches. We have made a beginning to undo the injustices which the Coalition Government and the Tory party have done in years past to men who served the country. The Labour party are making a real beginning, and I believe they will continue to have the confidence of those electors who believe in the Labour party and believe they are doing something to sweep away the inequalities which hon. Members opposite created.
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has, I think, created two records this afternoon. One is that he has delivered the most violent speech I have ever heard delivered from the Treasury Bench. In the second place, in a long Parliamentary experience, I cannot remember another instance where, with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the Leader of the House present, the Government have had to call upon a Junior Whip to come to their assistance, in a speech of exceptional violence, in order to endeavour to undo the bad effect caused by the undue mildness of their own Financial Secretary. The hon. Gentleman has worked himself up into a great and, I have no doubt, a sincere heat over this matter, but I wish he had been present earlier in the Debate, when the Financial Secretary himself, I am informed, admitted that this Resolution did not meet the just demands of the House and that the Government intended to withdraw it and to replace it with one which would be more acceptable to the House as a whole.
Under those circumstances, I fail to see what good purpose has been served by the speech of the hon. Gentleman, who seems to think that he has scored a great point when he says that those on this side did not take the opportunity which they might have taken last year of redressing this grievance, but he has missed the whole gravamen of the charge which my hon. and gallant Friend has brought against the Government, which is that there has never been, in the history of pledges in this House, a more cynical difference between the pledges made in the country by Members of the Government on this subject and the manner in which they are prepared to carry out those pledges when they are elected and in power. That is the charge we bring against the hon. Gentleman and his Government, and it will take more than the indignation of a Junior Whip to do away with the effect that the difference between their pledges in the country and their method of carrying them out would certainly have, not only upon the thousands of pensioners in the country generally, but upon their dependants and others and those who are interested in their case, and the hon. Gentleman, instead of working himself up to such a white heat of indignation, ought, as a member of the Whips' Office, to have gone to the Leader of the House, and suggested that in future, when they bring forward a Resolution of this kind, they should bring forward a Resolution which carries out their election pledges, and not one which, more or less, goes entirely against them.
If I may intervene in this somewhat heated controversy between the Whips and, may I say, the scorpions, I am bound to observe that it is not often that we in this House get the opportunity of so rich and rare an example of Satan rebuking sin as we have been privileged to observe this afternoon in the conduct, first, of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans), followed, very ably, by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winter-ton) and the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gwynne). These hon. and right hon. Gentlemen seem entirely to forget that, not only did the Government, of which they were such shining Members, entirely fail to carry out this obligation to do justice to the pre-War pensioners, an obligation which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir T. Davidson) and the hon. Baronet the Member for Holborn (Sir J. Remnant) have both been constantly and very sincerely pressing for recognition, but the right hon. Member for Colchester, as he told us himself, was the very Minister who introduced the Pre-War Pensions (Increase) Act of 1920, out of which this whole imbroglio has grown. I have never been able to understand quite why it was thought necessary, in introducing that Measure, to put these limitations upon the pensioners.
I am glad to observe that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fareham agrees with me there, and I have no doubt that at the time, if he had the opportunity of speaking in the Debate, he pointed out that it was grossly unfair. But, coming away from that to the undertaking which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has just given, let me say this: We all welcome the generous manner in which he has recognised the obligations of the Government with regard to the question of domicile and the question of introducing the obligatory words compelling local authorities to carry out the spirit of this Act, but when he tells us that there is no call from the House of Commons for the means limit to be removed let me assure him that he is labouring under a profound illusion. Whatever the right hon. Member for Colchester may have said of his own beliefs in this matter—and doubtless the fact that he was the father of the Pre-War Pensions (Increase) Act of 1920 may to a certain extent have coloured the beliefs—I beg to assume the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that those of us—and it must surely be the greater number of Members of this House—who are involved in this matter, and who signed these pledges, signed them with the intention of carrying them out. At least, I can speak for myself in saying that.
There is indeed a strong point in what the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham urged. There has been a change in the situation. Up to the time when the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham caused to be circulated these pledges, although there had been a great deal of sympathetic talk about these regrettable injustices to pensioners, there had been no definite promises given, but at the last General Election those promises were given, and the country, and in particular the pensioners, expect those pledges to be implemented and look to the Government, I assure them, to carry out those pledges. If the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has been brought to believe that the country will grudge this money, if those who advise him on this question have told him it is too much to spend on rectifying an injustice, and that the country will not support him in rectifying that injustice, let me tell him that those who so advise him are wrong, and that the country looks for this injustice to be remedied. Now, since the hon. Gentleman is considering, as I understand, the terms of a new Resolution which he proposes to introduce shortly, may I ask him to outsider two other points?
In the first place, why does he limit the beneficiaries under this Resolution to people who receive less than £100 pension? I have made a rough calculation, taking the two classes of persons who will be affected by the Resolution as it stands now. Let us take the case of a man who receives a pension of £100 a year and who, therefore, is liable to receive a statutory increase of 50 per cent., and let us take the case of a man who to-day is receiving a pension of £125 a year. We may take it for granted that the person receiving £125 a year, speaking broadly, has contributed longer or more valuable services to the State than the pensioner who receives £100, yet what is the result of the Government's proposal? The result is this, that the man with £100 gets a 50 per cent. increase, which brings his pension up to £150 a year, or £25 a year more than the £125 a year pensioner, who gets no increase at all. Not only is that a most extraordinary anomaly in the Government's proposal, but if the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will look at the discrepancies which are created by the three varying percentages which he has set up, affecting the £25 pensioner, the £50 pensioner and the £100 pensioner, be will find that in a lesser degree exactly the same situation is created in respect of those varying amounts of pension. I hope that, when he introduces his amended Resolution, he will take that point into consideration, and so frame it as to do substantial justice to all the pensioners. That is the first point.
The second point that I wish to suggest to him is this—and it is particularly borne out by the unfortunate effect of that Clause, to which we have had reference to-day, where "may" was used for "shall," where, instead of making the words obligatory, they were made optional. He creates a series of percentages, and he says that the increases shall not be more than 70 per cent., 65 per cent., 50 per cent. Who is to be the judge? You may get one local authority increasing its pensions by the maximum, and you may get another local authority, possibly in the same neighbourhood, increasing its pensions only by a half. Surely the lesson of the Pre-War Pensions Act is that you must not leave this thing to the discretion of the local authorities, but that you must lay down a hard and fast rule to apply over the whole country. I am not, as a rule, in favour of hard and fast rules, but when you are trying to remedy what is a clear and patent case of injustice like this, there is only one way in which to bring it about, and that is to make the same regulation apply throughout the length and breadth of the land.
There is one final consideration which I will ask the Financial Secretary to bear in mind when he is considering the means limitation—and I think it is over ripe for consideration—and that is this: It is all very well to say that, if you take away the means qualification, it means so much greater a call upon the Exchequer. That is quite true, but there is no means limit for the poet-War pensioners. When a post-War pensioner gets his pension, you do not take into account whether he is earning this or that. The whole purpose of this Resolution is to bring the level of pre-War pensions approximately up to the level of post-War pensions. If, therefore, in the greater case of the post-War pensions, you make no deductions for means, it is clearly grossly inequitable to make any deductions in the case of pre-War pensions. I hope the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will consider these three suggestions in the friendly spirit in which they were put forward.
In view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has agreed to withdraw the Resolution, I do not intend to deal at any length with the arguments which have already been put forward. He has told us that he has attempted in his scheme to give a larger percentage of benefit to those who receive the lowest range of pensions, and I have had figures worked out as to what these men actually would have received had the proposal put forward by the Financial Secretary been adopted by the Committee. I must say—and I think the Committee will agree—that there has rarely been a greater piece of effrontery than to put forward, as a response to an election pledge, sums which amount to what I am going to tell the Committee in a moment. A pensioner, before the 1920 Act, received 8d. a day. It was increased by 4d., making 1s., and then in answer to the pledge, they gave at the Election, the Government were going to give an increase, under this scheme, of 1⅗d. a day.
I wonder how many votes the Prime Minister and the Lord Privy Seal, when they loosely gave their pledges at the last Election that they would do all in their power to do away with the residence qualification and the means limitation, would have got if it was known that, when the thing actually appeared in cold print, a man was going to get only l⅗d. a day extra? I wonder if they would have considered it a fair redemption of those promises? You cannot run away from Election pledges in this way. We have been reminded from the other side, as usual, that an opportunity was given to members of our party to carry out this reform. That is true, but we did not pledge ourselves, and try to buy votes at the Election by it, and then run away from it directly we got into power, and I hope we shall see an end to that loose promising at Elections, which is detrimental to the best interests of our country. I am very glad that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has withdrawn this Resolution. It was perfectly obvious, from the first, that it was futile to proceed, and I do not think the excuses he gave were quite worthy of him.
The Government, having broken a pledge, seem now very anxious to do a deal. The hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. J. Robertson), inspired by an extraordinary sense of casuistry, said, "I have been in this game for many years." What game? The game of breaking pledges?
That was in reply to interruptions on the other side. Those interruptions showed the way in which you are treated when you bring home to the Members on the other side the gross injustices inflicted by them on pre-War pensioners.
As the hon. Gentleman pointed rather definitely to me, may I say that I only interrupted because he was breaking all the Rules of the House by referring to us as "you" instead of "hon. Gentlemen"?
The hon. Member a year ago spoke with very great fervour in favour of doing justice to these men, and removing every possible restriction. Having got into power on the pledge given, in consequence of my hon. Friend's Resolution, he turns round and says, "You cannot expect us to carry out this pledge; the other people did not do it."
It is within the recollection of the Committee that I never said anything of the kind. What I did say—and I hope the hon. Gentleman will be fair to me—was that you could not expect a Labour party in four months to sweep away all the results of bungling and pledge-making of the other side for many years past.
I did not expect the hon. Gentleman to do anything of the kind. I will put to him this direct question: Did he give this pledge? Did every single member of the Government give this pledge, not only to introduce this legislation, but to introduce it immediately? The question is one which brooks of no delay. My hon. Friend says he cannot, in five minutes, implement every pledge he has given. The point is: Has he any intention at all of implementing this pledge? These men are not living—they are dying. How long is he going to wait? The Financial Secretary is very eloquent on questions of finance. This is no question of finance; this is a question of honour. You encouraged the aspirations of these men. Every day the question has been asked in this House in the present Parliament, When are you going to give the pensions that you promised? When are you going to implement those pledges? The only answer we could get was, that there was not time. These things should have been done in the winter, and now a great many of these men have perished. It has resulted in a, very great saving to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He comes down here and, with the utmost calmness, tells us that this is a financial question. Were the ranker officers a financial question? Were the police strikers a financial question?
I share the abhorrence of my hon. Friend who asked, Why is it given to a Socialist Government to break all these pledges? I find an explanation of it in a speech delivered by the Prime Minister at York, in which he said, never give a pledge, never say you are going to do anything, but within reason always keep people expecting that you are going to do something. That is the whole political philosophy of the Socialist Government, and it was supplemented by an expression of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, who exclaimed to a sympathetic audience, "What a wonderful game we are playing!" It is a wonderful game, but this game is played with human stakes, and I demand justice to these men, not only because they are entitled to it, but because they were promised it. Two of these men in my constituency have committed suicide, waiting for these pensions that were promised. Everyone involved in this Bill is day after day asking, "When are we going to get these pensions? We are ailing, we are weak, and we want them." Is the Financial Secretary going to say that this is a pure question of finance? He can unveil War memorials, but these men are the real memorials to the greatness of this country, and you can surely spend a little money upon them.
The Financial Secretary, who drafts memoranda with the same fluency with which he speaks, has endeavoured to indicate to this Committee that he is granting vast increases to these people. He is doing nothing of the kind. What is he giving to these pensioners? For those who have a pension up to £25 a year, it is 20 per cent. increase, and nothing more. For those up to £50 a year, it is 15 per cent. increase, and nothing more, and for those with less than £100 a year, it is 10 per cent. increase, and nothing more. Does he realise that he is endeavouring to fool this Committee? The man with a basic pension of £25 per annum, under the proposals of the Government, is going to receive five princely pounds a year. Are the pre-War pensioners, who are now living in such great numbers in the workhouses, going to be enabled to come out? Are they going to be in any better position as a result of getting £5 a year more? Is this the way the Financial Secretary carries out his pledges? Pensioners who get a basic pension of £50 a year are to have the princely increase of £7 annually, and those with £100, £10.
I say to the Committee they, the Government, are fooling these men. There is no pensions increase at all. The Government are giving with a miserly, niggardly hand, and they are deceiving the people who put them there. The hon. Gentleman, by his proposals, will not cam the gratitude of these men, but the contempt, which he richly deserves, of the whole country. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who put the pensioners in the workhouse?"] Who put them in the workhouse? This is a question of getting them out of the workhouse. Now is your opportunity. My hon. Friends are not going to get away with it in the country by saying, "We did not take these men out of the workhouse, but kept thorn there in order to say that the Conservative party put them there." Do they want to make capital of this kind out of this question? This is not a party question, but a question of doing justice to men who deserve justice, and have been promised justice. I have a letter in my pocket from the Home Secretary, in which he pledged himself to do all these things which the Financial Secretary has refused to do this afternoon. My hon. Friend who has just sat down gave a wonderful illustration, which should bring home to the imagination of the Committee what this really means. A man who receives 1s. pension now gets 1s. 1d. A man who gets 1s. 6d. pension is going to get 1s. 8⅖d. A man who has got 2s. 3d. pension is going to get 2d. increase, and a man who has 3s. is to get 3s. 3d.
These increases will not purchase cigarettes. These men are in the workhouse, and either this Bill means they are coming out of it, or it is not worth passing into law. Why induce the Committee to believe, as the Financial Secretary does in his Memorandum, that it is not necessary, or that it would be inadvisable, to increase the pensions of those getting over £100 a year, because they would then be getting more than the others. He speaks in his Memorandum of bringing these men into line with the cost of living, which is now said to be 71 points above the pre-War figure. The object of this Bill is to do nothing of the kind, but to put these pre-War pensioners upon a level with the post-War pensioners, and, unless you are doing that, you are not doing justice at all. A pre-War pensioner, a private in the Army, gets 1s. 3d. maximum, whereas a post-War pensioner can get 2s. 7½d. A pre-War able-bodied seaman gets 1s. 2d., whereas a post-War pensioner, for exactly the same service, gets 3s. 6d. These men are in the evening of their days. Cannot you do them a little justice while there is yet time? I do plead with the Financial Secretary to consult his conscience and his honour in this matter. He has made certain concessions in regard to removing certain objectionable Clauses in the Bill. He says that it will no longer be necessary for the pensioner to reside in the British Isles. Well and good. But there are other things which have to be remedied in this Bill, and one of them concerns the widow, who has a child over 16 years of age. You can do justice very cheaply to her, and I do hope the Financial Secretary will give way on that as well. Another point is with regard to the age of widows, who must be 40 in order to get the increase, and the pensioner must be over 60 years old. I hope the Financial Secretary will promise to put those things right, now that he has the opportunity.
These men who are concerned, whose hopes have been buoyed up day after day as the result of the pledges given, have no other resources but their pension. What is the good of 10s. 6d. a week to a man nearly 70 years old? He simply cannot live on it. His pay has been entirely inadequate during the whole period, and if you are going to do anything for him, I do beg the Financial Secretary to do it with a generous hand. The evening of one's days should be the most beautiful period of the life of a man or a woman. The clouds have been hang- ing over these people long enough, and I do ask the Financial Secretary, before we leave the Committee this evening, to do something to dispel those clouds, so that the setting sun reflect its peace and beauty in their eyes.
I have listened to every speech made this afternoon, and, as some 15 or 20 hon. Members have joined in the Debate, it is not easy to avoid repeating certain things that have been said before. I regret very much that the Financial Secretary, who always speaks so admirably, should have spoken so early in the Debate, because, personally, I and I know a number of other Members are so keen on this matter that I see the danger of the Committee agreeing to what he has held out—[An HON. MEMBER: "Never!"]—and thus deprive themselves of any sort of opportunity of getting the means limit removed from the 1920 Act, or of getting other Amendments to that Act put into force which we desire, because it is perfectly true that if and when my hon. Friend does bring in the next Financial Resolution, we, on this side, cannot, nor can any private Member, move to increase the money, or move any Amendment which shall be held by you, Sir, to increase the charge upon the subject. Therefore, we are absolutely in the hands of the Government in this matter, and I do beg the Government not to limit what they say they will do in the matter of bringing in this new Financial Resolution, to the two matters of residence abroad, and changing "may" into "shall," but will give serious consideration as to whether, in fact, they cannot amend the 1920 Act so as to do away with the means limit. I do not want to bring any heat into this Debate. I regret really that this thing should not be looked upon as being above party politics.
The hon. Gentleman who says "hear, hear" from the Front Government Bench makes it very difficult for me, because, of all the speeches that I have ever listened to coming from either the Front Government Bench or the Front Opposition Bench, his was the most antagonistic. But I feel I must, without bringing any party into this, stress the fact of the danger that I see the House now runs of accepting the proposal of the Financial Secretary to bring in an amended Resolution, the danger of not getting really what in justice is due to these pre-War prisoners. May I take a case for the sake of argument which has not boon mentioned this afternoon—that of the pro-War teachers? I suppose that everybody will agree that the pre-War teacher was less well paid than either of the Services or the Civil Service. The case of man after man has come to my knowledge retiring upon a pension of £30 per year. Under the 1920 Act he gets an extra £15, that is £45 a year. I have got some figures about this—
They were specifically excluded from the Fisher Act of 1918. I give the House the figure in order to show how the case is standing. There are 5,605, or there were on 31st March, 1923. In the last three years 1,435 have died. There is not one of those 5,005 pre-War teachers, pre-1919 teachers, who is not over 70 years old. Imagine their satisfaction to-morrow when they read what the Financial Secretary is going to do for them! Most of them will not come in at all under the amended Resolution. What they mostly want is the elimination of the means restriction. Indeed, let me go further and say what they really want is the elimination of Section 2 of the Act of 1920. The average length of service of these men is 40 years. Whether you take the case of the teachers or whether you take—which is oven more true in this respect—the case of the Army, the Navy, and the Police force, the very men who are concerned here are the men who have built up the Services, and are responsible in the main for the greatness of the particular Service to-day. The average salary enjoyed by these pre-War teachers, these 5,605 teachers, was £104. The average salary of those who came under the Fisher Act of 1918 was £255. I can leave it there, because it is less than half per cent. Prior to 1919 these men were getting less than half those who retired after the Fisher Act came into operation. Let me make one more point. The hon. Gentleman opposite on the Government Bench says that his party have not broken pledges. Let this be quite clear The
National Association of Retired Teachers took the precaution, before the last General Election, not only to state very clearly to every candidate who was standing for Parliament exactly what they wanted—and they will not be content with what the Financial Secretary has offered—but they have collected the answers from every quarter of the House. The hon. Gentleman who said that the Labour party has broken no pledges cannot remember what the case was that was put before the candidates by the pre-War teachers. The question was this:
Will you help to eliminate the means limit and to raise the pension of those who were pre-1919 teachers?
I will only trouble the House with three answers that were- given by right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench. In the first place, there is the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies. His reply was:
I desire to assure you that you may rely upon me doing everything possible to secure sympathetic consideration in the case of the old retired teachers' pensions. I realise they are quito inadequate in existing circumstances.
Before I read out the other two answers I have here—and I have got also in this document beside mo answers from Members on every side of the House—and if the Conservative party had given the pledges which they have given in this document and were going about to break those pledges, I should speak precisely in the same way as I am now speaking. I am quoting the pledges of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, because they and they alone have the power to move in the matter of the Financial Resolution, upon which they found their Bill, and from which the old age pensioners alone can expect justice. There is the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. He replied in this way—before he got in, and whilst he was fighting his election—
It is a matter to which many Members of the Labour party have given much attention, and the party, I know"—
He spoke not only for himself but his party—
will whole-heartedly support any effort made on the lines indicated.
Finally, there is the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. In reply, he said this:
The objects of the National Union of Retired Teachers have my cordial sympathy.
The memorial presented has the support of myself and of the Members of the Labour party.
If that be so, what answer is it to the National Association of Retired Teachers to say that you will merely bring in the two Amendments suggested in a new Financial Resolution to which the Financial Secretary has referred? It does not touch the fringe of the subject. I for one refuse in this instance to be bound by anything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) said in his speech. He was not talking for me on that occasion. I want to see the whole means limit eliminated, and if the Financial Secretary says we cannot afford it, I cannot consider that a proper answer to me. How can he dare say so? How can he say that he cannot afford the cost? How much money which would come into the State coffers is he sacrificing by the repeal of the McKenna Duties? Suggestions were asked recently as to how money was to be found. This is a reasonable suggestion, and I put it forward, as to how the money is to be found. The McKenna Duties money will actually come in if it is only allowed to come in by a continuation of the duties, and there you will have ample money to do practically the whole thing; to put right this very just grievance of men, most of whom are over 70 years of age, and, I suppose, men most of whom can look forward to not very many more years, as they have already outdistanced the ordinary span of life. If the only answer to them is that fresh legislation in the future is to be brought in I think they will be very disappointed to-morrow. I do beg the House not to be too satisfied, whilst thankful to the hon. Gentleman for what he is going to do. I do beg the House not to be satisfied for that, and I for one should like to see the Government pledged to remove the means limit and thoroughly to amend the Act of 1920.
Their was one point made by an hon. Gentleman opposite in regard to the police. There is a second exception, the age-limit exception, which excludes all men over 60 years, and hits the police force very hard indeed. It is difficult to understand why the exception should be made. I suppose that the assumption was that a man below 60 would be able to find some work to eke out his old age pension. As a matter of fact, men between 50 and 60 find it difficult to obtain any work, and most of these men will be found living on their pension. In their case this disability has entirely prevented the growth of a large increase of police pension since 1920, and I would urge the hon. Gentleman, specially on behalf of these men, that this age limit should be removed, and all police pensioners should obtain the benefit which other pensioners will obtain under the Resolution.
I shall occupy a very few minutes of the Committee, but I rise in fulfilment of one of these pledges of which we have heard so much in the course of the Debate. Obviously, there can be only one honourable course for any man who is under a pledge, and that is to redeem it at the first possible opportunity. It seems to me that the discussions in this House have lately developed into a kind of bickering about the honour of Members and the honour of parties, illuminated by that most primitive form, already well-known to us in our schooldays, as tu quoque. I am interested in regard to the removal of the means limit in regard to old age pensions. I know quite well that when first elected a Member of this House I secured a certain number of votes by giving on that question an unconditional pledge. When the Motion was brought forward in, I think, December, 1922, by hon. Members opposite, although it was not, perhaps, a singularly agreeable thing for any Member to do, I felt I had no other course to pursue but to go into the Lobby with hon. Members opposite, and keep company with some other members of my own party who were under similar obligations. Therefore, these rebukes and counter-rebukes leave me cold. Although that is the line I have had to pursue, I do not feel there is anything dishonourable about the position of my leaders, or other members of the Conservative party, because, as a party, we were not pledged on that occasion, and the party did not come into power in consequence of any pledges on the subject. That is what constitutes the difference between Members on this side and hon. Members opposite.
For hon. Members opposite have been watching the Coalition Government and the Conservative Government, and whenever either of those Governments have to refuse some Motion upon the score of expenditure or finance, we have been treated to derision and insult. We have always been told, "See what we will do when we come into power; we will find the money that you are too mean to provide," The party has been four months in power. We want to be reasonable in the matter; some of us are reasonable. We know that a certain time must elapse, that is to say Parliamentary time, before they can deal with many questions which they, no less than ourselves, sincerely have at heart. Had it been necessary for this particular Resolution to have been delayed for four months, or it might be for six or seven months, we should not have complained; but the point about it is that whenever some topic does come up in this House to which they are strictly bound it is not a question of breaking pledges that is of moment for us, but to see that they keep them. There is only one other point I wish to deal with. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, if I construed him aright, argued, as a reason, that there was some more ambitious and general scheme of legislation with which they were in gestation. I should have thought that was exactly the reason why they should have taken the step we indicated this afternoon. Supposing they had not got any such general scheme in their minds, even if we said to them, "Please remove this limit," it would have been a valid retort to say, "Sorry, we cannot do that, because if we do it to any one class all classes will come forward with similar demands." But if you are going to do it to all pensioners, since the whole includes the part, why not make a beginning with the very deserving class we are discussing this afternoon? We do not feel, when we see an opportunity of geting something, on the instant, too much confidence in their promise of what they propose to do in the future.
I had no wish to take part in the Debate, because I had the idea that the Government themselves are not responsible for the methods. I would like to see the means of disqualification taken away, but I regret very much the tone that has entered into the discussion. Hon. Members seem to think that the Government have to pay all the money that they are anxious to vote. I want to remind them that the 1920 Act has not been carried out by a very big number of local authorities yet. In connection with the teaching profession, local authorities had certain power. I believe in some cases they adopted that power. The correction I tried to make a short time ago dealt with the County of Lanark. I was on the education authority, and we made the pensions of the old teachers who had retired up to £100. We had the power apparently, and we did it; and there are so many heart-rending cases, as quoted here, that this difficulty will still arise with public authorities who refuse to carry out their powers. I think the same will apply to police pensions. Half of the money is supplied by the State and half by the rates. If hon. Members opposite care to make it compulsory on education authorities, and on public authorities to pay whatever is passed here, I personally have no objection, but they will be up against this difficulty, that it is mainly their supporters on public authorities who refuse to carry it out. These people maintain that if they are to find the money they have the right to say how the money is to be spent.
Some help is being given up to £100. I know that hon. Members would like very well to get that amount exceeded, but I can assure them that among the people that we represent they consider a pensioner with £100 as fairly well off. It may be that in other ranks they are much better paid. I was listening very carefully to the Debate to-night, and it reminded me of the Debate we had a year ago when we tried to take away the means disqualification ill connection with old age pensions. It will be remembered that, to get a pension at 70, they must have had no savings and have made no provision for a rainy day. Hon. Members opposite walked into the Lobby against that proposal. When that comes up, the probability is that their party will be tested again. I know—
I know that there is always this difference, that the Conservative party, or even the Liberal party in Opposition, is much more advanced than in power, and they have an opportunity to-night, and they have taken full advantage of it. I think the Government should do away with the means disqualification and the restriction as to where the pensioner should live, because, after all, if we are going to give a pension, we have no right to hedge it round with conditions of that kind.
I only wanted to say, to avoid future misunderstandings, that there is no pledge given by many of my hon. Friends not to criticise the amended form of the Resolution when the hon. Gentleman brings it forward. He has done what was obviously right in with drawing a Resolution to which many Members in all parts took exception, and he has undertaken to bring in a Resolution in an amended form. But he added rather ominous words, that when such amended Resolution is introduced, it will be passed with small discussion. There is no definite pledge on that point.
If the means limit is abolished, it will amount to nearly £1,000,000. Can my hon. Friend show that in a case of such importance the nation cannot pay £1,000,000? If he cannot, he must know where he can find the money. The old age pensioners will not be satisfied unless the means limit be removed. Any Resolution brought in which does not abolish that limit will be illusory, most unsatisfactory, and a fraud on the old people.
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether he is going to consider the Resolution in the light of all the matters which have been brought up in the Debate, particularly with a view to increasing the amounts that will be payable, because a great many people are very anxious about this, and would like to know what action he will take?
Lieut.-Colonel JOHN WARD:
I would just like to put one question to the hon. Gentleman opposite relating to this Resolution before it is withdrawn. It is not because I wish to delay the business of the Committee. I should like to know, seeing that this Resolution increases the pensions dating from a certain date, that owing to the bungling of the Treasury the pensioners themselves will not lose as a result of this bungling of the Treasury or someone connected with this Resolution. I hope, whatever is decided, it will date from the date of this Resolution, even if the amended Resolution is brought in at a much later date. I am under the impression that we ought to get a retrospective application at least to the date in the present Resolution. I have a labour opponent in my constituency, and I have collected a great many of the addresses of the Labour men all over the country, and I do not think there is scarcely one who did not recommend the removal of the means' disability in the Old Age Pensions. Therefore, if the Front Bench are giving any general expression of the opinions of their friends behind them, it is certain that that will be included in any pension system. I take it the Government will agree to carry out the generally expressed desire of their own friends, not merely in this House but in the country. I am anxious to know whether it will be understood that by allowing this Resolution to be withdrawn those who would have got an increase of pension from a certain date stated in the Resolution will not have their pension order fixed back, merely because of a mistake or a failure to grasp the mentality of this House for the moment by the Government.
In reply to the two hon. Members who have raised questions as regards the pledge which I gave this afternoon, that would cover only two points. I cannot go beyond the pledge in reply to the two points I have given. As regards the question raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward), let me assure him that the few days' delay in getting the Resolution through will not in any way prejudice the people affected. A retrospective effect will be given to July, 1923.