I am sorry to detain the House at this late hour, but I feel I am bound to ask the attention of hon. Members for a little while to the
case of the pensions which have been paid to certain ranker officers. On 13th March, on the Motion "That Mr. Speaker, do now leave the Chair," on going into Committee of Supply on the Army Estimates, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Nottingham (Captain Berkeley) moved as an Amendment, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hackney seconded
That in the opinions of this House professional Ranker Officers of the Army should receive equal treatment as regards retired pay or pension."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1924; col. 2640, Vol. 170.]
The suggestion of the Prime Minister on that occasion was agreed to by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Baldwin). It was that the whole question should go to an independent Committee of three presided over by our old friend Mr. George Barnes. That was accepted by
220 votes to 201, or rather the Amendment was rejected with these figures. The Committee reported against the plea of these gentlemen. Several of us have tried since to get an opportunity to discuss this matter in this House. The Government have said: "Oh, no, it went to a Committee, the Government accepted the Committee's Report, and, therefore, the incident is closed." I do call particular attention to this—and I go back again to the Debate on 13th March, and I must make two quotations. The Prime Minister in mentioning his suggestion that the matter should go to an independent Committee made this statement:
The case is not quite straightened out. It is not quite clear. Many ex-parte statements have been made. These need to be sifted and carefully weighed before being finally concluded. How many have been? None! Under these circumstances the House will consult business if nothing else, the best business way of doing its work if it will agree that the whole matter should come before an authoritatively agreed committee—
Then these words follow, and with this the Prime Minister sat down:
So that this House can act upon whatever report the Committee presents to it.
I am asking that the House should have an opportunity of acting upon the Report. The Leader of the Opposition in concurring with the proposal to refer it to an independent Committee said:
It will be invaluable for this House to have this matter sifted by an expert Committee. The result of their investigations and the evidence on which they base their conclusions will come before this House in their report. We shall then, all of us, be in a far better position than we should be after a couple of hours' debate to decide what is the best thing to do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1924; col. 2666, Vol. 170.]
When are we going to get a chance of deciding? There can be no doubt that the reference of the Prime Minister and of the Leader of the Opposition gave many Members who voted for it the belief that they would have an opportunity of determining the issues which are now, as I say, undetermined.
May I now say a few words on the merits of the case. My opinion is—I have gone into it with great care—that the Barnes Committee rejected the plea of the ranker officers not so much on its own intrinsic merits, but because they felt
that if they granted this plea there would be all sorts of consequential claims which the Treasury would be compelled to meet. May I read one paragraph of the Report to support my claim—
It has to be remembered that if on grounds of special merit or hardship express conditions are to be set aside in favour of one particular class it would be by no means easy to refuse a hearing to any other class, who, admitting that their conditions as to pay and pension had been fulfilled might plead that special merit or hardship made it proper that the conditions should be modified in their favour.
In my opinion the hardship and the urgency of this case—and it is quite unique in its hardship—would undoubtedly have been met if it were not for the fact that people were afraid that other consequential claims would be made which might land the State in a large sum of money. What is the case of these gentlemen? When the war broke out there was a difficulty in securing proper training for the new battalions, and here were these gentlemen, retired non-commissioned and warrant officers of the Army. Urgent request were made to them to come forward and give, at a moment's notice, their lifelong professional services in helping to train the new battalions. They came. The Barnes Committee makes this rather interesting reference on that point—
We may say in passing that we accept the view put forward on their behalf that morally and practically they had in some cases little choice but to accept.
Let it go at that. They went on drawing their non-commissioned pensions of 25s. and 30s. a week. They got the pay of their rank, being given temporary commissions. At the close of their service they got the gratuity paid to temporary officers and they are then told: Go back to your 25s. or 30s. a week pension. They received no addition to their pension whatever in respect of their commissions for war service. Here you have these gentlemen, under pressure in many cases, as admitted by the Barnes Committee. They go up to the status and responsibility and expenditure of officer rank, many of them remain in that rank for a considerable time, they reach the position of commanding battalions in the field in some cases, in some cases they even reach field rank, and there is no question as to whether they discharged their duty.
Having been on that status they go back to 25s, or 30s. a week. I have always held that you could not take these highly specialised officers, and then say: "We have done with you; go back to your old non-commissioned officer pension." Some addition must be made to their pensions in respect of their commissions, and they claim retired pay at the minimum rate of £150 a year. It is pointed out that the Army Council did give in March, 1918, temporary commissions to certain noncommissioned officers raised from the ranks and the answer now given to the House is that that was due to the critical need of Chat time. These men retired at the minimum officers' rate of £150 a year although their commissions were temporary. The answer is really disingenuous because some of the cases in 1918, being given temporary commissions and finally retired on officers' pay did not get this temporary commission till about the armistice.
The case of the Royal Marines is well known and it is precisely a similar position. They got temporary commissions, and were temporarily retired on the minimum officers' rate of £250 a year. I see that the Barnes Committee rejected the claim because of its possible ultimate reaction in a system which they said was "honeycombed with anomalies." According to that you have only to make your anomalies numerous enough and then you cannot remove any of them. That is a most disquieting doctrine and a very strange one. A deputation of the Members of this House met the late Secretary of State exactly a year ago, and I made then a suggestion of a small character ad hoc to avoid all these comparatively consequential cases. It was that you ought to give these gentlemen £8 a year for every year or part of a year of their commissioned service and add that to their pensions. The total cost would be about £80,000 the first year and would be a diminishing amount, and capitalised it would mean about £500,000 a year. Let me read Lord Derby's reply on that point. On 27th July he said in reply to those of us who came to him,
You will remember Dr. Macnamara made a suggestion on a rather smaller scale. I should like very much to have met him if I could. It has the merit of being considerably less expensive, but even Dr. Macnamara's proposal would cost about half a million pounds, and I am afraid the pro-
vision of that sum of money is too serious to contemplate.
You cannot ride off on that. You really have to go into the merits of the case. I made a similar request to the Government. I cannot ask for time to discuss this now at this period of the Session, with so many other urgent preoccupations, but I want, in view of what the Prime Minister said, to ask if the Government will undertake to give us an opportunity—and the House was clearly led to expect it—for discussing this matter when we meet again in October? It is intolerable that gentlemen who have held high command and responsible positions, and have been put on the scale of expenditure of commissioned officers, should have to go back, in order to keep their wives and families on 25s. or 30s. a week, and take up labourer's work or casual work for which they are entirely unfitted and unequipped, or, if they do not do that, become submerged by poverty. I put this request to the Government: Can we have an assurance that we shall, as a House of Commons, be allowed to discuss this matter when the House meets in October?
Major STROTHER STEWART:
I crave the indulgence which the House always generously extends to Members who rise to address it for the first time, and I promise that, at this very late hour, my remarks shall not be very long. I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity of making my first speech in this House on behalf of those who have served this country, and whom I believe to have been somewhat badly treated. There are only some 2,500 of them, and no one can exaggerate the value of their services. One thing that we want to avoid, in dealing with those who have served this country during its crisis, is that they should suffer any feeling of unfairness. These men find that others in similar circumstances are getting retired pay at a rate which enables them to live in a similar position to that which they occupied while they were in the Army. Take the man who completed his 18 years' service during the War, when actually serving in the field, and was promoted from non-commissioned rank to full commissioned rank, before Army Order 159 of the 7th May, 1918, was issued. That man has to revert to the ordinary pension of a soldier, while others of similar rank who happen to have served a few days extra to him, though probably not so long altogether, and who were promoted after the 7th May, 1918, actually receive retired pay at double the rate that he gets.
Such things are bound to cause a great feeling of unfairness in the minds of these gallant men. It is all very well to say, as the Commissioners said, that they are simply getting that which they contracted for. It means that these men who, at the call of patriotism, without any idea of extracting a favourable bargain from the country, came forward at their country's call, are to be penalised, whereas they should be on an absolute equality with others who served under similar conditions. This gives the Government a chance to give a generous gesture to those who served our country, and whom already we are beginning to forget. There is a great deal in what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) as to the reversion of these men from a, position of a certain amount of financial stability which they occupied during the War. It is to their credit that they did accept the position of commissioned officers when it was offered to them, and it is very wrong and very unfair to them that they should have to revert to an entirely different status. We all agree that it is a bad and cruel thing that anyone should live in a position of discomfort and poverty, but it is crueller to raise people from that position and then thrust them back into it again. There should be no question of dealing with these men on cold legal points. There is far too much of that, not only in this connection, but also in connection with all sorts of restrictions as far as pensions are concerned. We want to look upon these men for what they did, and we cannot deal too generously with them. Many Members of the Government, unfortunately, misled these men to expect that when they came into power they would fulfil certain promises made to them. It is often said that the Government are in office, but not in power, but on this question there is not a shadow of doubt that if they wished to fulfil those promises they could rely on an absolute majority of the House of Commons. I support the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell in asking the Govern- ment to give us an opportunity of voting and coming to a decision on this question.
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member opposite on making his maiden speech in such a sterling cause, and I hope he will continue to speak for such causes for the rest of the time he is in the House. I should like to ask the Minister of War how it comes about that the Admiralty treat their ranker officers so much better than does the Army. I have a statement here, showing that the Navy and Marines enlisted 20,000 pensioners during the War, and the Army 50,000. The Admiralty treated their men generously indeed, I think. When they retired they retained their rank, and the temporary officers in the Navy and Marines get £250 to £300 a year, where the temporay officer in the Army gets £75; a sergeant-major in the Navy and Marines gets £150 to £180, and in the Army £80 to £100; a colour-sergeant, £105 and £75 respectively; a sergeant, £95 and £65 respectively; a corporal, £75 and £59 respectively; and a private £60 and £47 respectively. I want to ask the War Minister how it is that the Navy can get that through, and his office cannot. I know the War Minister is a very kindly man indeed—I have met him on these committees—and I ask him seriously to consider the state of these Army men and compare it with that of their comrades in the sister Service. Our men in the Navy and Marines are treated very much better, and why should not those who came forward and helped to train the Army in the early days of the war get proper treatment? I think it ought to be gone into very carefully. If it were put to a vote, I am sure that every Member of the House who served in the war would come out and vote for equal and fair dealing with the ex-ranker officers.
I have some difficulty in making up my mind as to what particular point in this discussion to tackle. I am told by the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) that he only wants a promise that in the latter part of this Session the matter shall be discussed.
No. The undertaking given by the Prime Minister was as follows, if the OFFICIAL REPORT be right:
The whole matter should come before an authoritatively agreed committee, so that this House can act upon whatever report the committee present to it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1924; col. 2665, Vol. 170.]
I will accept that Report—"an authoritatively agreed Committee." Therefore, first of all, it is appointed with authority, and it makes a report, distinctly, that the claim put forward by the ex-ranker officers is not sustained.
It is admitted by the right hon. Gentleman and every one of his suporters that the War Office acted perfectly in accordance with every obligation.
There is not a single point of any obligation under Army Orders or Regulations in respect of the pay, gratuities or emoluments of these men that the War Office, has not carried out. The whole case of these ranker officers is that there has been no breach of faith on the part of the War Office. It is submitted, however, that these men have a special claim. I have failed to find where their special claim comes in. If it were admitted that they have a special claim for the additional emoluments now claimed I agree entirely with the report of the Committee that there are thousands, tens of thousands, of others who have equally good claims. It is said by my right hon. Friend, in a free and easy way, that the mere fact that the claims could be multiplied indefinitely ought to be no argument against the granting of this claim which, admittedly, is not based upon any breach of obligation. I do not know where that kind of argument will lead us.
To justice! It is admitted that no injustice has been caused. There is no injustice. It may be said that there is hardship. Is there no hardship in hundreds of thousands of cases that take place? Can you have a war without anomalies? What is the use of saying that because there are anomalies, there is no reason why they cannot be rectified? You cannot rectify all of them, it is utterly impossible.
These men knew perfectly well what their pay and their gratuities were to be. The scale of gratuities had been fixed in 1907, and was in the Army warrant of that year, and every one of these men, who put in a signed application for their commission, knew that. We are not dealing with people who did not know what they were undertaking; we are dealing with people who knew perfectly well what were the conditions of the engagement upon which they were entering. The plea of a good deal of simplicity on the part of these men is being put forward.
There was no compulsion upon any single one of these men to accept these temporary commissions. In every case, without exception, a signed application had to be made asking for a temporary Commission. In every case they knew the conditions of their appointment. They knew the amount of the gratuities they could look forward to. The conditions of the Army Warrant of 1907 had been in existence for years. They were not entering upon anything of which they did not understand all the conditions. I am asked how it is that the Admiralty have treated their men in such a generous way as compared with the Army. That is not a question for me to answer. I am only responsible at the moment for one particular department, and in that department it is admitted by everybody that every condition has been honourably observed. In such circumstances, what am I to say when a debate is raised in this manner? It was agreed by the House that there have been, I will not say misleading statements, because I do not want to use a provocative expression. In any case we all admit that there was a great deal of misunderstanding. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
No, what I was saying is that at the very beginning of this Session there was a great deal of misunderstanding as to what was the character of the ex-ranker officer's claims, and the general basis upon which they were founded. Answers were given to hon. Members in every section of the House who were properly desirous of carrying out their pledges. But in carrying out election pledges every Member of this House is interested in finding out what, after all, were the conditions in which the pledges were given. [Laughter.] This is not at all a laughing matter. When the Prime Minister himself made a similar statement in this House, is was received with applause. Everybody knows of the whirlwind of missive that come from north, south, east and west on Members during an election period, and everyone knows the impossibility of Members giving full attention to the answers to those communications in all circumstances.
It saves candidates and would-be members a great deal of trouble. However, I will not carry that point any further, except to say that consequent upon the misunderstanding resulting from that particular cloud of election communications, and the impossibility of giving anything like carefully considered replies to such communications this Committee was set up. It is an authoritative Committee. It has reported upon the facts that have been presented. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman's statement as to the evidence, I agree with him that the full report of the evidence should be laid before the House. I regret that the full report of the evidence is not in the hands of all Members. But it shall be in their hands in a week or two. The fact that they have not received it yet is not due to any act or delay on my part. But here is a case in which it is admitted that the War Office has carried out every obligation into which it has entered.
These men knew perfectly well what to expect. They are not simpletons. As a rule they are very well educated men. They knew as clearly as daylight what conditions they were accepting. The Committee merely says that, so far as they are concerned, they are prepared to accept the statement that morally, they had no alternative except to accept these commissions.
Every paragraph of the Report of the Committee, which went most carefully into the matter, is dead against the claim of these ranker officers. It is held to be not a claim legally established or morally established. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I cannot understand on what particular ground you can establish a moral claim for these men against tens of thousands of others.
An individual member of a party can only give a pledge binding himself. There was no Labour Government in existence at the time my right hon. Friend gave the pledge. So far as that is concerned, if we went into the conditions of the questionnaire extracting that pledge we should find, I think conclusively, that while perhaps it is not deliberately intended to mislead, the implication left upon the minds of anyone reading it would be something exactly contrary to the facts. I would also like to draw the attention of the House to this matter—that the Armistice was concluded on 11th November, 1918, that the very first moment the claim of the ex-ranker officer is submitted is two years later and it would never have come into existence at all, had it not been for the fact referred to by my right hon. and gallant friend who spoke earlier. In one sentence I conclude. The report of this authoritative Committee is dead against the claim of the ex-ranker officers. I have no power to carry it any further; the Cabinet have fully considered every paragraph and have gone most carefully into the whole report and they have decided to accept the report in its entirety.
I do not propose to introduce into this Debate a single word of bitterness, if I can avoid dong so, and I do not desire to create any ill feeling, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War of the exact terms of the Prime Minister's pledge. It is true the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald) was not then Prime Minister, but ho was the leader of the Labour party, and he made a promise on behalf of the Labour party. Now I will part from that subject. This is far too serious a question for these men, who are rapidly disappearing year by year, to be dealt with in that spirit, and I propose to fix myself on a statement made by the Secretary of State which I took down. He said:
They knew the conditions perfectly well. They were laid down in the regulations.
What are those conditions? They are set out in the War Office memorandum issued in support of the Prime Minister's view that he has been misled. They have not varied for years, and they deal with two subjects—first the officer who is called up to serve again, and second the pensioner who is re-enlisted during a time of national crisis and who is entitled to draw pension with full pay. I believe if the ex-ranker's case has been lost before the Committee it is because they did not put their real point and the real strength of the case before the Committee, but proceeded on a matter which, to my mind, did not affect them in the least, namely, what some other people had got. I was fighting on another point in this matter, and I reluctantly gave way and fell in with the proposal of the Prime Minister, when my own idea was to take the vote of the House on this subject and that for a very strong reason What I wish to point out is this, and I make this challenge to the right hon. Gentleman: before the War there never was such a thing as a temporary officer. You could have an officer with the acting rank of adjutant and sometimes as major, but you could never have a private acting as an officer. These men could never have been called upon to rejoin, and an officer could. I think I am right in saying that a warrant officer could, but a non-commissioned officer could not. There is
here a clear case of re-enlistment, and in the forefront of the case that was skilfully drawn up and well considered to support the view that the Prime Minister had taken it is stated that a pensioner re-enlisting during a time of national emergency may draw his pension in addition to his pay during the period of his service, but he shall not receive any addition to his pension in respect of such service. That is clear as long as he remains a, private soldier. But I again challenge the Secretary of State for War to point to a case of a private who has ever before held acting rank as an officer.
Did I refer to a private holding the acting-rank of an officer? I said distinctly that the scale of gratuities that these gentlemen knew of when they were accepting a temporary Commission was the scale of gratuities that had been fixed in the case of territorial Officers, and in the case of civilians accepting officer rank in 1907. The hon. Gentleman is dealing with a point entirely different. They knew their gratuities. These gratuities are very much bigger than any gratuities given to the regular officer, and they knew the scale laid down in 1907.
I cannot allow the Secretary for War to escape from the challenge I am making. He says that these pensioners knew their conditions perfectly well, and they were laid down in the Warrant of 1907. I say they did not and could not, because at that time, and until this war broke out, no such rank as that of temporary officer ever existed in regard to a private enlisting in His Majesty's service. Therefore, I want to show to him how weak is his excuse. What does he have to introduce? The Territorial officer. That had nothing to do with a private. Then what does the right hon. Gentleman go on to say? He introduces the word "civilian." These men were not civilians. They were Army pensioners, and there was an express provision made that they should re-enlist. I make no complaint as to their rejoining. I would have made no complaint if they had been left in their non-commissioned rank. But the men of whom I am speaking are men who gave valiant service. One I know, a lieut.-colonel in the Warwickshires, got the D.S.O. Let us
see what the War Office statement says, This is what they say. On page 5, paragraph 10, this is what the War Office say:
It has been alleged that the men did not know what Commissions they were being offered.
The War Office answer is that
in every case an application was made for a temporary Commission.
Yes, but there was at that time nothing in the War Office regulations in regard to temporary commissions when these men were called up. Then the War Office circular goes on to say: "And the men knew that the pension could not be increased by temporary service as a soldier, and they had no ground for thinking it could be increased by temporary service as an officer. Did you ever hear such an argument? These men who served in the ranks and were subsequently put up in command, surely they would not be expected to anticipate getting merely the same payment as they would have had as private soldiers. They were doing training work at home and were doing splendid service. One of them rose to the great distinction of Lieutenant-Colonel. May I not put it in this way? Was it not a blot on the War Office that these men should never have risen to such a position before? We are told that these men sent in signed applications for temporary commissions and that they knew that the pension would not be increased by temporary service. Also that they had no ground for thinking it would be increased by temporary service as an officer. Why did not the War Office go further and say to these men: "We told you when you were enlisted that you would only get the pay of your rank when you left"?
It cannot be right. It is as wrong as wrong can be. Now let us see what happened afterwards. The Committee to whom the matter was referred found as a fact that in substance these men had no option but to sign these agreements, and, all in the commotion of war, with things changing every day, they did not know, and they were not informed. Then came a period of grave anxiety—the gravest in the war—the final German advance in 1918. What did you then do? You could not get officers except in one way, and you said to certain soldiers who were serving, not as volunteers but on attestments: "Resign your position, take a commission as an officer, and we will give you tem- porary rank which shall cease at the end of the war, and we will then give you a pension on certain conditions." You did that. Do you not think that these men, who bad been serving you at the Front since 1914, are just as well worthy of consideration as men equally gallant, I doubt not, but who, on the request of the country, resigned their position as privates and took commissioned rank in May, 1918? I am only asking for these men the same conditions as for the others.
I think the right hon. Gentleman, and the Committee took a wholly wrong view of what their functions were in this matter. I am satisfied that the generosity of this House would have awarded to these men the same reward that any other men would have got, if we had only had a Division that night. I am, only speaking on behalf of these men, and I should not have cared so long as we were willing to pay the money. If we were willing that it should be paid, who could object—and we should have been willing. This Report dealt with the case on the basis of a legal claim; but do you suppose that if we had had a legal claim I should have troubled to raise this question in the House? We should have got it out of you somehow. It was because we knew that we had not a legal claim that these questions were put at the election, and that is the reason why we are raising it in this House. All that we have said—all that I at any rate have said—on behalf of these men, is that they have not had justice, and when I point to what happened in 1918 I say the injustice is apparent. I do not want to appeal to any other injustice or any emoluments that other men have got. I say, "Good luck to them," but I want the same for these men. Under the Pay Warrant of May, 1918, when these men resigned their service as privates and took commissions, the pay and pension that they took did not differ largely from what the ranker officer—I know the right hon. Gentleman understands what I mean by that term—took. It was a matter of, I think, some £10. The ranker officer whose case I am now putting forward would have got about £70 a year, and, under the first Warrant, what I call the 1918 commissioned officers would have about £80. It was not very much of a trouble, and the question did not really arise until the Pay Warrant of September, 1919, which, to my mind, was the secret of the whole injustice. That document—it was Army Order 324—in substance recites that, having regard to the increased cost of living, the pay and pensions of all officers would be increased. It is immaterial, therefore, that advance to the regular officer. But when we come to the officer of 1918, to whom I have referred—I think the right hon. Gentleman follows me—what do we find? Under Regulation 4, Table 16, Army Order 321, the gratuities on retirement of officers commissioned from the ranks during the Great War, as shown in Article 572A of the Pay Warrant, will be increased 50 per cent. Why any distinction between the pensioner who had served since 1914, and the man who had been serving a short time at March, 1918? There is our injustice, our grievance! I see it! I can feel it! It is as clear as can be! The Warrant goes on to say that the retired pay shall be £150 instead of £80. What about that! Take the case of a lieutenant-colonel, a D.S.O., who fought with his regiment on the ridges in France. They were splendid, all of them—officers and men! What has he got? He is brought under the same warrant of September, 1919 Army Order 325, Table 5, which says that a man has to have an increase of a halfpenny per day. Take the higher increase—that would be Class I—including warrant officers under Class II—it is 2d. a day. That cannot be right. I do protest. We knew we had no legal claim. If we had had, do the Government suppose that there are Members of this House capable of getting it? There is no doubt about it! Our case, in my humble judgment, is the best case that has ever been been put before the House. How can you reconcile this treatment of these men who gave up so much to serve their country and have given equally fine service, who returned to the Army, who enlisted at our request, and who knew nothing of the difference in the rank of temporary captain or lieutenant as between themselves and the regular officer. We are told in a letter drawn up by the War Office that they must have known it. I say they must not have known it. I say in all honesty—I should not have known it myself. But had I been distinguished enough to be promoted I should have been at the trouble to inquire. I dare say I should have been satisfied with that and said I trusted my country. It is all wrong. Then in your troubles you would do anything for the man who tried to anticipate your troubles and serve you. Now you will do nothing. I do not mean you. I know the difficulties of things. But that is a way it strikes these men. It is bitterness and gall to them. I know that those for whom I speak would be glad to do it. We do not want to exact the uttermost farthing. All we want is a fair and reasonable pension. Then comes the galling blow ender that warrant of 1919 a man who was promoted to commissioned instead of private rank in May, 1918, and may never have seen a battle after it, is drawing a pension of £150 instead of £80. What is my Lieut.-Colonel drawing? £70, plus 2d. a day. I submit that I have made out a case on behalf of these men that the Government should honour, and I believe, if the Prime Minister had been here, he would have been pleased to say "after all, when I made my promise I was right. I fell into an error subsequently through no fault of mine, but I will honour it now and I will do right to these men." I trust he will do so and, if not, some other means will be taken on a later occasion to raise the point again and take the sense of the House.
The speech of the Secretary of State, delivered on 4th August, 1924, 10 years after the outbreak of the War which has led to the case which is now being brought before the House, will strike astonishment and dismay into the minds of all those who are seeking to defend the fighting services. I certainly did not expect, and I think no other Member of the House expected, that the right hon. Gentleman, who has shown himself on other occasions very sympathetic towards the claims of the fighting men, would have dismissed so summarily this very valid claim. It is a matter of extreme surprise to myself and my friends that he should have brushed it aside and based himself so legalistically upon the Report of the Committee. I take a particular interest in the case, because it was my privilege to raise the matter on a previous occasion when the Committee was appointed. I rejected the idea of a Committee and divided the House on the question. My reason for doing so was because I feared precisely what has come to pass, that if this matter were put before a Committee the Committee would consider itself bound by the purely legal view of the case and would not be able to import into the matter those considerations of moral claim and generosity which the House of Commons would have brought into it as a matter of course. Is not that precisely the attitude the Committee has felt itself bound to adopt? There has never been any contention that there was a legal claim on behalf of these men. When I outlined their case in March last I opened by saying there was no legal claim. I will put two points of criticism which I hope the House will accept. In the first place it ill became the State after profiting by the help and aid of this class of men to rely upon a purely local view of the case. My second point is that where a promise had been given by a party in the name of a party which subsequently came to occupy the high position of governing the country, even if that promise had been lightly given, it ought to be kept. I urged at the time that the documentary evidence showed that the promise had not been given quite so lightly. The Prime Minister wrote a letter in specific terms. I quoted that letter on a previous occasion and I will quote it again now.
The difficulty in dealing with this question is that you have to make up your mind which is the party. There was then the Parliamentary Labour party, the Independent Labour party, and the Trade Unionist party. My hon. and gallant Friend commanded a battalion in the war, and I should have thought from what he saw of the work of the troops he would have had more sympathy for those for whom we are trying to obtain this concession.
I do not put this matter forward in any controversial
spirit. I was pointing out that there is the Parliamentary Labour party, the Independent Labour party, the Trade Unionist party, and other parties similarly organised, and you cannot expect the headquarters of an organised body of men seeking to redress a grievance to go behind the word of the leader of their party. The Prime Minister at the time was the leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and he was accepted by the country as the spokesman of the Labour party, and he wrote this specific letter:
I am much obliged by your letter with the enclosed questionnaire. You can depend upon the Labour Party doing everything it possibly can in the House of Commons to carry out the four principles of your questionnaire with which both they and I are in hearty agreement.
That was not the Prime Minister's first letter on this subject, because in the previous June he wrote:
I am in receipt of your letter of the 11th inst. We have been interested in this subject all along and will continue fighting for this until something is done.
If I may return to the findings of the Committee, this is the difficulty. The two points which I put to the House on the last occasion were, firstly, the question of treating these men generously; and, secondly, when a party is pledged to a certain thing, that pledge ought to be kept. Neither of those considerations has been taken into account by the Committee at all, and the Committee has proceeded purely on the War Office legal view. At the end of their report they passed a vote of thanks to the gentleman from the War Office who attended before the Committee, and put the War Office point of view. I am not blaming the Committee for doing that. I expected it, and for that reason I objected to the appointment of the Committee in the first place. Almost at the beginning of their report, they repeated the entirely fallacious argument put forward by the War Office in its memorandum, the argument that if you conceded the claim of these men, how were you going to resist the claim of commissioned officers who were promoted to major-generals, or of privates who were promoted to sergeants? Like my hon. friend opposite, I regret that something was not done on behalf of the rankers by their representatives to meet that point. It is not, in fact, a point at all. It is a pure superficiality.
The argument put forward is that if you concede to these ex-rankers the retired pay which they are claiming, then you must give a major-general's pension to every captain who took the temporary rank of major-general during the War, and has now reverted to his captain's rank. Was there ever a special Army order or notice that one class of captain on promotion to major-general should get the pension of a major-general and another class of captain, who had the misfortune of being so much superior, that they were promoted beforehand should not have the pension? It is a ridiculous piece of superficiality. It is an argument that would not impose upon a child, and how it came to be put into cold print and reiterated so as to become the whole burden of this report, passes my comprehension.
The whole case of these ex-ranker officers stands, as we have always contended, alone. If you admit the case of these ex-rankers, you do not open the door to every other kind of consequential claim. You are levelling up, as the first point of the questionnaire made plain, 2,500 men, who happen to be in a ruck by themselves, with 50,000 men who are happily well off. That is the whole claim these men have put forward. I do submit to the Secretary of State for War that he ought to reconsider his decision. I perfectly understand, when he is being badgered on all sides, his showing a little heat, and allowing his irritation with interrupters to carry him a way into making disparaging remarks about the ex-rankers, but I want him, before this Debate is over, to withdraw those remarks.
Did I make any disparaging remarks? Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman quote one? What I desired to establish was this: In my opinion, while I would give to these gallant men all the credit to which they are entitled, I really cannot see that they have a moral claim because of greater gallantry than anybody else. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nobody said so."]
If the word "disparagement." is the wrong word to use. I gladly withdraw it. I do not mean to say that the Secretary of State for War disparaged the gallantry of these men, but he did disparage their claims. What the right hon. Gentleman
said was, "It is all very well for you to say these men came forward in a fine spirit of self-sacrifice to help the country. Perhaps they did, but they knew what they were about, and signed specific applications for commissions. They knew what they were doing." Nothing of the kind. Read the report of the Committee. I say that is the kind of statement—I will withdraw the word "disparagement," if that is objected to—that ought not to remain uncorrected. The Committee, in paragraph 9 of their report, state:
We may say in passing that, we accept the view put forward on their behalf that, morally and practically they had, in most cases, little choice but to accept.
Is that a case of the free rushing forward to grasp these commissions which the Secretary of State for War requests the House to believe is the real truth of the matter? Nothing of the kind. The right hon. Gentleman ought to give credit where credit is due, and not take away the credit from them of having come forward, without considering what reward they were to get, because the country was in an hour of great peril. I will read this extract from paragraph 10—
it was pointed out to us that many men took temporary commissions because they were induced to do so by their superior officers, and in the hour of the country's need, few troubled overmuch to examine the full financial implications of their re-engagement. There is no doubt truth in these contentions.
And then creeps in the influence of the previous White Paper, and the Committee, I am sorry to say, seek to take away from the public spirit in which these ex-rankers acted. I conclude by asking the Secretary of State to reconsider his decision. We have asked him to give us an opportunity of discussing this report. Surely the points that have been put forward in the very learned speech by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Gillingham (Sir G. Hohler) and the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Camberwell and the few remarks of my own on the points which the report has not taken into account show him that there is a case to be debated, and on which the House of Commons ought to have an opportunity of coming to a decision.
May I remind him of what the Leader of the Opposition said when he induced
sufficient of his followers to vote with the Government to prevent the Motion being carried. It was a very near division, and the Government was saved only by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin). Therefore, the Government ought to be most scrupulous to carry out any undertaking implied in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. This is what he said. He accepted the idea of the Committee. He said it would be invaluable for this House to have the matter sifted by an independent Committee. He continued:
The result of their investigations and the evidence on which they base their conclusions will come before this House with their report. We shall then all of us be in a far better position than we would be after a couple of hours debate to decide what is the best thing to do. If the report should be in favour of making considerable concessions and is adopted it will have to be embodied in an estimate and then can be debated. If the report turns down all the demands of those interested, and if the Government support the Committee, then it will be open to anyone to put down a motion to censure the Government, and in any case we shall get a division upon it.
In view of all that has passed in this Debate, in view of the implied pledge given by the Leader of the Opposition as the price of his support, and in view of what the Prime Minister himself said, I call upon the Secretary for War to give an opportunity to this House in the Autumn Session to debate this matter and take a division upon it.
I only rise because I think it would be a pity if it went out that there were none of us sitting here above the Gangway who desired that the Government should give time for discussion. So far as I am concerned it is a very old question. This case of the ex-ranker officer came before me a long time ago. I gave my promise because I understood that the party, through the office at Eccleston Square and through the Prime Minister, had pledged their word to the ex-ranker racers. Now that the matter has been discussed all kinds of questions arise. One question that is raised is that there were 4,000,000 men who volunteered. What about them? I never heard that that was said in this House when £100,000 was voted to a number of gentlemen who had no claim what soever to a farthing. The money was voted to them because the House thought they were morally and equit- ably entitled to it. These men, on the two occasions on which I answered the questionnaire, I thought were entitled to something more than they were legally entitled to because of the circumstances. I do not want to argue that, but only to ask those who argue that the 4,000,000 have not been properly dealt with. Whose fault is that? It is our fault.
If there is any injustice that requires remedying, you cannot get out of it by saying that because you will not do a bigger thing therefore you will not do the smaller. I do not understand reasoning of that sort, and I am one of those who think that the wounded and disabled and their dependants have been abominally treated by this House. I have done my best to raise the matter. I have sat here waiting for the Pensions Ministry Vote to come on. Nobody has called for it. I think that is a standing disgrace to the present House, but that is no reason why you should not do justice in this case. It seems to me there is no answer to it. Any of us who were here on that afternoon know that if the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) had not joined in the appeal we would have carried the Motion and the thing would have been settled there and then. Everybody knows that, and I cannot help thinking that the Secretary of State for War must admit that on that afternoon numbers of Members who intended to go into the Lobby with us went into the Lobby with the Government, feeling sure that the two statements made, one by the Prime Minister and the other by the Leader of the Opposition, that we should have an opportunity of discussing the report would he carried out. Now you have had an inquiry, and we ask that we shall have an opportunity of determining the question. I think it is coming to a pretty fine pass that the Minister can stand at that Box and deny to the rest of the House of Commons the right to have a vote on this subject. I know the Government can say. "Put down a vote of censure." That is a very easy way of getting out of it. They know that people like myself would not want to vote for a vote of censure to turn out the Government on a matter of this kind. The Government, I think, are taking a very mean advantage of this business by putting forward an argument of that kind.
I feel on this matter that the least they can do is to help those of us who have given our pledged word on this matter to have a debate and come to a decision. It is no use saying that there will not be time. There will be plenty of time when we meet again, if we have only the will to do it. It is no use saying that it is only a few people who have pledged themselves. I believe that in this House there are something like 400, and I put it to my friends if it is not true that the bulk of us gave the pledge that is talked about. If we gave that pledge without making ourselves acquainted with what that pledge involved, we are not fit to sit in this House. If I gave a pledge on any subject and in ignorance of what that pledge meant, I am not fit to sit here. It is bad enough to give a pledge when it does not involve the personal livelihood of different men and women, but when it does I think it is an outrage that we should come here and try to get out of it in any way. I know these men are only a handful—2,500. If they had happened to be 200,000 I am sure that the pledge would have been honoured. To me it is a perfect outrage that men should argue that because they are only 2,500 it does not matter. The other argument is that there are so many millions we cannot right any of them. I think that is an admission of weakness that no Government ought to admit. If this country is rich enough to give £100,000 each to two three individuals, rich enough to embark on a great war, it ought to be rich enough to take care of those who are victims of that war, whether they are 1,000 or 200,000. It is for that reason I beg the right hon. Gentleman. I think the Leader of the House ought to be here. It is not a matter for the War Department. It is a matter for the Leader of the House, and he ought to tell us that the Government will give us a day. If the Government adhere to the decision not to give us a day I hope sufficient of us will take whatever measures are necessary to get the day.
The Minister for War has my entire sympathy as a good man struggling with adversity, because, first of all, he is struggling with the promise made by the Leader of his own party before the General Election. I have no information, but I should not be surprised if the right hon. Gentleman himself gave the same pledge.
I am very glad to hear that, but every Labour man, every Labour candidate I had anything to do with or that I came near in my small sphere of influence, certainly gave a pledge in the most unqualified way. I know that I was asked to give a pledge, and I refused on the ground that I did not know enough about it and wanted to inquire into the facts. I was told I might do myself a great deal of damage, because, though the men were few in number, they were by their character and services in the war certain to be influential; and if they could be influential against a candidate who refused to answer the question in the way they desired, of course, they could be influential in favour of any candidate who did answer the question in the way they desired. I have not the faintest doubt that the Labour party did itself a very great deal of good by what everybody regarded as an official pronouncement by the Labour party through its recognised leader in favour of these men's case. In my view, a man coming here with an impartial mind and wishing to have his mind made up with facts, the arguments of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir G. Hohler) are absolutely unanswerable, and I believe that is the feeling of the entire House.
There were many Members present when this question was raised before, and many Members on this side of the House who went into the Lobby in support of the Government because they were told by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition that in any ease after the Committee of Inquiry had ascertained the facts the Report would be before us and that he should give the decision. The Committee was not to decide; the War Office was not to decide; the Minister for War was not to decide. Does the Minister for War imagine that anybody who had the cause of the ex-ranker officer at heart would have been satisfied to let the War Office decide it? Of course not. Or does he imagine the Minister for War would have been allowed to decide it, being as he is in this question at any rate entirely under the thumb of the War Office? I do not for a minute believe that this decision is the decision of the right hon. Gentleman. It is the decision of those who control his Department. I am afraid I must say who control him in this matter. I cannot believe that any Member of this House of any party could listen to the facts and arguments as they have been put before us by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir G. Hohler) and come to any other conclusion than that these men have been not illegally treated—no, they signed a paper and entered into a legal contract—but shabbily treated. The House believes that they have been shabbily treated, and the right hon. Gentleman does so also in his own heart. All we are asking is that this question may be debated in this House in such circumstances as the House can come to a free conclusion upon it. The Prime Minister gave a pledge to that effect. That was a pledge of which he understood the consequences. He allowed my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition also to give a pledge and never contradicted him. That was a pledge the Prime Minister understood, and it is those pledges that all of us who are present in this House to-night call upon the Government to redeem, otherwise we shall he grievously disappointed. I for one shall consider it a grave and gross breech of faith if the pledges are not honoured and if the House is not allowed to divide.
I should like to make a statement, with the permission of the House. Upon one thing we are all agreed: that pledges given to this House under definite and open conditions must be carried out. I am not the master of the time of the Government in any sense whatever. The Leader of the House is not here; the Prime Minister is not here but I am quite sure he will give the very fullest consideration to the representations made in respect first of all of the statements made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition The whole of this discussion will come before the Prime Minister, probably tomorrow morning. I shall certainly see to it that his attention is directed to it at the first possible moment, with a view to carrying out whatever pledges have been given. Upon that it will be for him to determine as to whether, in the coming portion of the Session, he will be able to apportion a day for a discussion of the whole subject. I will myself lay before him fully the character of the pledges which, it is said, were given, so that he can for himself determine the action to be taken. I cannot add anything further at this moment. I will lay before the Prime Minister to-morrow morning all that has been said in respect of pledges this evening, and, of course, he will decide such action as he thinks right to take.
I only intervene to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will take care to represent to the Prime Minister that, without dissent in this discussion, it is agreed among us that undoubtedly the House gave the vote which it did on the 30th March on the definite understanding, arising out of what the Prime Minister said, that it would come before the House if the Committee turned it down. [Interruption.] After what has happened I think I am entitled to put the point that the right hon. Gentleman should represent the sense of the House, and that significance, of the speeches of all speakers of all parties, including members of his own party, to the Prime Minister with regard to the undertaking which led us to suppose that a debate would take, place if the Committee turned the matter down.
I have already stated that I will lay before the Prime Minister the character of the pledges which were said to be given and the representations given by the Leader of the Opposition oil a previous occasion. I will also tell him that in respect of the desire for a debate in the latter part of the Session there has not been a dissonant voice. I cannot say more.
The House is in an unfortunate position. Efforts have been made on many occasions to have this matter raised in order to obtain a direct and honourable decision. Owing to the pressure of other questions, this very important matter has been delayed until this time. Nevertheless, the Government were quite aware that the question was going to be raised. They knew it, was an issue on which all Members of the House felt very strongly and on which they Wished to press their views on the Government, and I think it extremely strange in these circumstances, and I should say wanting in courtesy to the House, for the Government not to give us the opportunity of discussing it. We recognise that the Secretary of State cannot give a pledge in regard to giving the time of the Government for this purpose, but, under the circumstances, knowing that a request was to be made, it was surely the duty of the Leader of the House to be here so that he could have spoken with authority and satisfied Members on this point. Now we are in the position that we have only a hypothetical pledge. We know that the right hon. Gentleman will put the representation before the Cabinet and the Prime Minister that he has made with all the eloquence and force at his command, but we have no security that when he has made that representation of the views of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) and the hon. Member fur the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Storry-Deans) the, Prime Minister will feel that it is his duty to give that pledge. It is because of the pledge that the matter has arisen, and we are, in the circumstances, very anxious to have something very definite from the Government. This may be the last opportunity we shall have to have something definite from the Government. [Interruption.]
The hon. Member has done so much and has received so little, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman has told us that we can put down a Motion. But he knows perfectly well that if a Motion is put down, it will be regarded as a Motion of Censure, and that at once more pressure will he brought, to bear upon hon. Member's above the Gangway to vote for the Government, irrespective of the merits of the case, and some Members below the Gangway will also be influenced. What will be the result? It will not be a vote on the merits of this question. It will not be decided even by the recommendations and arguments of the Committee's Report, hut it will be a question of confidence or no confidence in the Government. I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would not regard that as an honourable way to decide the question. I think there should be some means of communicating with some responsible member of the Government. It is perfectly true we do not expect the Prime Minister to be here, but we understand that one of the reasons why we should have a Deputy-Leader of the House, is that we should have someone here to give a decision in the absence of the Prime Minister. That was one of the reasons why we increased the salary of the Deputy-Leader of the House. I know that the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) put a very strong case against it, but when we knew it was for the purpose of having a member of the Government constantly in touch with the House of Commons and able to give an answer to the House of Commons when a question of this kind arose, we thought it only fair that the Prime Minister should be relieved of the responsibility of being in constant touch with the House. It is perfectly true that the right hon. Gentleman is willing to do all he can. We accept his assurance but if we neglect the opportunity now of obtaining something stronger we may never have another opportunity. For myself I think it would be a mistake to let this debate conic to an end without the House obtaining a more definite assurance than has been given. I am not going to argue the merits of this question at this time of the morning. The right hon. Gentleman, as is usual, has given the War Office point of view, but so far as I understand from no other quarter of the House has the official point of view been supported. There is therefore a uniformity of view in spite of the report of the Committee. I only regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is not here because undoubtedly the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was one of the cardinal factors in the last debate. It was the speech that moved the Government. We are called the patient oxen for saving the Government, but I do not know what animal to call the Opposition who saved the Government on that occasion by the very definite assurance which was given that this House would have an opportunity of dealing with the matter in the light of the Report. He pointed out perfectly fairly that many Members had given pledges on this matter without fully understanding all the facts He suggested therefore that a Committee should investigate, and that it was the duty of hon. Members to give the Committee a chance with the assurance that when the Committee had made the investigation, when its Report was available, and if that Report was against the claims of the ex-ranker officers there should be an opportunity for a free vote of the House irrespective of its results. That statement was made in the presence of the Prime Minister and also in the presence of the Secretary of State for War. They accepted that statement. Their silence meant acquiescence, and even if they themselves did not specifically give the pledge their listening in silence was an implied pledge. In these circumstances I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the only course now is to give the undertaking. There is going to be plenty of time in the autumn. What we want is not an ineffective Debate of this kind, in which no vote can be taken; we want a Debate in which a vote can be taken. There should be no difficulty on the part of somebody representing the Government to give the undertaking for such an opportunity for discussion and decision on the part of the House, and I do not think the House should allow this Debate to come to an end without such an assurance.
I think it would be a great pity if the House failed to discharge its duty by sitting all night on behalf of these men. Everybody here scorns willing to see this thing through. It would he a great misfortune if they departed upon the undertaking or partial undertaking given by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of Stab, for War. Last work the Leader of the House expressed his view quite clearly upon the matter. His reply to a question was
I cannot accept the hon. and gallant Member's interpretation of the remarks mode in the course of the debate on this subject and I regret I can hold out no hope of facilities being given for a discussion.
It is perfectly clear that the right hon. Gentleman if he adheres to that point of view, will he of exactly the same mind to-morrow when the right hon. Gentleman lays before him the interpretation this House puts upon that Debate. When the right hon. Gentleman was pressed further he said:
That is the interpretation given by the Government to the conclusion stated in the report.
What does the Secretary of State for War offer to-night? He offers to lay
before the Leader of the House the gist of this Debate and to make it clear to the Leader of the House that this House considers that it has a right to discuss this matter. The House was perfectly clear on that before.
May I ask the attention of my hon. and gallant Friend to this statement? I said that whatever may have been said about other pledges, pledges given in this House under open conditions must, above all things, be carried out. I have pledged my word that I will call the Prime Minister's attention to what has been said about the pledges, that I will report to him the desire of the House to Debate the Report without a dissentient voice. In these circumstances I suggest to my hon. and right hon. Friends that the matter might rest there until to-morrow morning. There was nothing hypothetical about that. I have pledged myself to bring the matter to the personal attention of the Prime Minister, and to let him know that there is not a dissentient voice in respect of a discussion on the Report. I can carry that statement no further.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not told us that he himself will support it. That is all I want. He has come as near to that as he can, and I beg to ask him to say that he does support it.
With all due deference I do not think that my right hon. Friend followed quite clearly what I was endeavouring to say. It is a matter of very great importance, for this reason, that once the House does get an opportunity of deciding this question it means that these men's claims are granted. We only lost our case by 19 votes, and that upon the clear and specific understanding that there was to be a full discussion. The Prime Minister said in his speech that "before this House comes to a decision about these 2,500 men the House ought to know exactly what it is committing itself to"; and, further, that "when an authoritative Committee has reported the House could act upon the Report which the Committee presented." That is what the Prime Minister said. I want to make that clear in view of what followed. It embodies the condition upon which the Leader of the Opposition consented to save the Government. Having made it clear, only last week, when we asked for the implementation of that pledge, the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the House, said that the Government did not place that interpretation upon the Debate. In these circumstances does the Secretary for War really mean that he considers, without any possible doubt, that the Prime Minister will grant a day, because if he does grant this day these men's claims are granted, and the fact that we have sat up so late at night will be amply rewarded? If he does not mean that I and my hon. Friends here are prepared to sit up all night, and I can assure him if he cannot gauge the feeling for himself, these men are going to have their claims, Minister of War or no Minister of War, War Office or no War Office, and the strength of their demand will increase in proportion to the measure in which it is resisted.
I confess I cannot rouse the enthusiasm that any of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen have in this case. I happen to be one of the few people who are, not pledged to anything in this House outside of being a Socialist, and consequently I am free to act in most things as I desire. When I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camber well (Dr. Macnamara) waxing eloquent in this matter and denouncing the Minister for War for what he is doing for these men, I could not help remembering how, when he held office, he assessed the life of a child at one shilling a week. I had hoped that the House would have waxed eloquent on much bigger things—the whole question of soldiers' pensions. The Member for North-West Camberwell was a Member of a Government which reduced, without any tribunal or committee, mothers' pensions for their lads who were killed in the War. No protest was then ever raised on the Liberal Benches
I withdraw that. The point I was coming to is this: It is all hypocrisy when a man who only paid a shilling a week for a child comes and demands more money for ex-ranker officers. It is not playing the game. Their own Government reduced the pensions of mothers of soldiers and gave them no tribunal or committee. But while I condemn them and hon. Gentlemen opposite, I expect a new standard from our own. Front Bench, and I think the right hon. Gentleman should give another day. Unless he does that he will get defeated. I do not think that Members on the other side will question this, that things they voted against last year o they have voted for this year, not because there was any change in their views but because a new Government is in office.
I was going to say this to the Minister for War. While I have no regard for men who do that, I think the. Government will be defeated on the next occasion, and it would be better to get up and say that these men will be given what they ask. Most of our men have given their pledged word. I have not, but I think it would he a much more gracious thing if, instead of giving another day and wasting time, the Minister was to get up and say, during the intervening period, "We have decided to grant these men their demands, even although we think it is wrong, because we have pledged ourselves."
I think the point made by the Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) was a powerful one. After all, the Deputy-Leader of the House lives quite close by, and a message could be sent to him and in a few minutes the House could be told "Yes" or "No," whether we will have a day. The right hon. Gentleman, when talking about the statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT mentioned by the Member for North-West Camberwell referred to the so-called pledges, or words to that effect. But these are definite pledges recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT; statements made, not only by the Leader of the Opposition, but by the Prime Minister himself. They are in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I should have thought that having heard them read there could be no two opinions as to what they mean. On the other hand, the House has been reminded that only last week definite information was given from the Treasury Bench that the Government hold that no pledge was given. The House does not know where it stands.
In all quarters of the House there is the feeling that we are not certain that the statements of the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition are definitely looked upon as certain, and none of us are willing to give up the Debate unless we are certain. For this reason I beg to move the Adjournment of the Debate in order to get some assurance that this, Measure will be discussed. I hope the Motion will be accepted, so that we may bring the necessary pressure upon the Government.
I rise to reinforce the arguments put forward by the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). He called the attention of the House to a very important point that we have to take into consideration, namely, the whole atmosphere in which the Debate took place. There is a passage in the Prime Minister's speech on 13th March which is relevant. It was a full day's discussion of the question as to whether the House would be wise to ask the Committee or whether it should take an immediate decision. The Prime Minister said:
My suggestion is this: When I saw the position in which this question was—I have no majority; hon. Members opposite have no majority; hon. Member's below the Gangway on this side have no majority. It is impossible for the Government to say We have decided to do so and so, and are putting on our whips and we shall make this question one of confidence. …' I considered how best to approach the matter and I suggested that a Select Committee should be set up drawn from all parties in this House, with an appeal to hon. Members who compose it to sit as severe judges listening to the evidence and coming to an independent decision. That suggestion however, for one reason or another, has been rejected. [HON. MEMBERS: 'Hear, hear!'] I have more faith in some Members than they apparently have in themselves. It was my intention to get
hon. Members for the House of Commons to do their duty and come to an independent decision upon the matter, so that they could guide the whole House as to what its duty was. I suggest now that the thing should be done in a somewhat better way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1924; col. 2663, Vol. 170.]
There is no way of reading that statement except that this Committee was meant to guide, not merely a small section of the House at 25 minutes past one in the morning, but all parties in the House, so that the whole House could come to a decision. On the matter of the Report, may I be allowed to show that the Committee was unduly guided by the legal point of view and the technical point of view. This is borne out in every section of this Report of the Committee's proceedings. Take paragraph 8. It says:
The present system has, like any system of the sort, its advantages and disadvantages, but it is a coherent and intelligible system and we see no reason to doubt that it was generally understood. Two illustrations will make the working of the system quite clear. A retired Captain taken into employment for the war who rose to the rank of Major-General would receive the pay of Major-General and in addition the retired pay of a Captain. At the end of his period of service his pay of Major-General would, of course, cease, and he would then only receive his retired pay as Captain. A retired Corporal re-enlisting for the war and rising to the rank of Sergeant-Major would receive the pay of Sergeant-Major, and in addition his Corporal's pension. At the end of his period of service his pay as Sergeant-Major would, of course, cease and he would then only receive his Corporal's pension.
All I can say about that is that the present Royal Warrant works in a coherent and intelligible way. In the barracks those who understand it are known as barrack-room lawyers because they are supposed to have technical and expert knowledge. The Committee itself was actuated unduly by technical exports and advisers. Paragraph 15 says:
The decision to grant these favourable terms to a small body of Royal Marines was taken in the summer of 1919. We are satisfied that, but for this decision and also the prior offer to serving soldiers in May, 1918, which is dealt with below, little Of nothing would have been heard of the claim which has been the subject of the present inquiry. It is only right to point out that the appellants who appear before as did not ask for the Marine terms (£250 per annum) but for the terms given in the Army to permanent regular officers. We shall return later to the case of the
Marines and the terms of the offer of May, 1918, but would only say here that in our judgment they did not constitute a sufficient reason for re-opening the question of the status or retired pay of the ex-ranker officers. These had accepted the temporary commission with the pay and prospects attached to it, and, although it is no doubt true that some accepted at the time as a matter of duty without regard to conditions, these conditions must have been fully known to all long before October, 1920. In any case the appellants were in exactly the same position as the civilian and the territorial officer in this respect, and were paid exactly the same gratuity.
Paragraph 17 says:
We proceed to offer some observations on the plea that marine officers are admittedly given better terms than temporary army officers. It is said to be anomalous that there should be such a disparity between the treatment of the officers of the two services. In regard to tins we have to point out that the whole treatment a men and women for war services was honeycombed with anomaly. The greatest of all the anomalies was between those who served in the trenches for 1s. a day in 1914, and those who came in later to positions of comparative comfort and who were paid half-a-dozen times as much. Large numbers of the first were killed and many left dependants but meagrely provided for. The majority of the second came home and were paid substantial gratuities.
I suggest that the report which is meant to guide one to a fair decision outside the purely legal arguments of this kind shows that the Committee was widely moved by technical and legislative arguments. Take paragraph 21:
It was explained to us that in drafting the warrant of 3rd May, 1918, an unfortunate mistake was made. The intention was to restrict the terms offered to combatant officers. The warrant mentioned the combatant corps in which commissions were offered, but did not specify combatant commissions. Sortie six months ago claims to bring the quartermasters—who do not hold combatant commissions—under the warrant were advanced. Legal advice was taken by the War Office, and the legal opinion was to the effect that by reason of the omission of the word 'combatant' in the warrant the claim of the quartermasters appointed after the date of the warrant to the combatant corps specified in the warrant could not be resisted. Accordingly, their claim was allowed. Considerable stress was laid upon this matter by some of the present claimants, but we think it has little direct bearing upon the problem before us.
Any untrained man reading that paragraph must come to that conclusion, and no man desiring to do justice to these men could do otherwise, that this report was unduly technical and legal. We are asked to distinguish between the com-
batant and the non-combatant soldier. Everybody knows quite well it would be quite impossible for many combatant soldiers to do their duty but for the non-combatant soldiers. It was a Regulation up to near the end of the War that physical training non-commissioned officers were kept as long as possible from going into the combatant services in order to train efficiently those who were going out. There was a good deal of ill-feeling about that Regulation. I suggest to the House that paragraph 24 will also bear out the legal and technical point of view. Paragraph 24 is perhaps the most cynical in the report. It says:
Some of the appellants have suffered by virtue of having to relinquish status as well as emoluments, to which, as officers, they have become accustomed, and which carried with it certain rights in civil life. This phase of the matter was put to us with some feeling by one of the witnesses. We do not belittle it. And many of them feel keenly the fact that, after rendering distinguished service in the War, their pensions, even reassessed, is so incommensurate with that service. One officer, who had risen to high rank, finds his pension increased by 8½d. to a total of 3s. 11d. per day. Some have had much difficulty in finding work. We can only express our regret and say that exactly the same lot has befallen many of the officers who had been civilians, or who had been Territorial officers. These have experienced hardship and deprivation just as severe, and have made no claim to higher status or retired pay.
All I can say about this paragraph—because it would require an unlimited military vocabulary—is that this is not merely the language of the legalist but of the Sinites and Pharisees as well. It is a technical and legal report which does not do justice to this body of men. I hope before the House adjourns we shall keep the debate going until the Leader of the House is communicated with on the telephone and informed that Members on all sides of the House have the desire and feeling expressed of 31st March, should be carried into effect.
May I respectfully make an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I think he has seen in this debate that a very strong feeling exists in this House on the subject. He has gone a considerable distance towards meeting the views of the House. Can he go just a little further and say, what would satisfy hon. Members on the other side of the House, that he would use his personal influence with the Prime Minister to-morrow to give the House an opportunity of debating this subject? I am quite certain that no right hon. or hon. Member has more sympathy with the ex-ranker in his heart than the Secretary of State. I am perfectly certain that in every opportunity that has presented itself since he came into office he has shown his sympathy with men who served in the War and why he cannot go a little further with this handful of extremely badly-treated men and do justice to them, I cannot understand. I feel sure he could go the whole length, but he is one of those new democratic leaders upon whose shoulders the responsibility of government has descended, and he has fallen into the trammels of bureaucracy. I do not look upon him as a trifler with the views of these men. I look in that part of the. House from which inspiration comes, even to the best regulated Secretaries of State, and I see the finger of the War Office, the finger of the bureaucrat, the finger of the permanent staff holding him and preventing him doing justice. Never has a plea been advanced on the part of any section of the House that ought to have a more telling effect on the Treasury Bench than this appeal to-night. It would probably meet the wishes of the House if the Secretary of State would give us the undertaking that has been suggested, that he should use his personal influence with the Leader of the House to secure to us an opportunity of discussing this question.
During the three and a-half hours' Debate we have had no speakers whatever who have supported the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of War. I think the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) was going to give support to him but he changed his mind as he went on. The Minister has had no support whatever, and I do suggest, to use a barrack-room term, that it is time the Leader of the House should "show a leg." We in this House have voted him an extra £3,000 a year, and it is not asking too much to ask him to come across the road from his official residence to give the assurance for which we are asking. We do, of course, accept the word of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State that he will use his best endeavour, but he knows perfectly well that that is not an official assurance upon which we can thoroughly rely. It is a significant fact that on this anniversary—the tenth anniversary—of the War that this Debate should have started, and that we should find ourselves in this curious position, that all this time afterwards we should still be asking for justice for these men who did slit h wonderful work in those days 10 years ago. Ten years ago did we stop to look at contracts? The men were needed, and they came forward. They did not hesitate in any way whatever. Now we are told that they are to be held strictly to their legal rights only. My experience of the Army is that nobody expects to be held closely to the word, to the letter, of those Royal Warrants. Those Royal Warrants are not understood by the great majority, and even if they were understood they would take the risk and do what is the right thing, and in my opinion the most striking contribution we have hail to the Debate to-night was that of the hon. and gallant Member who showed the difference in pensions that was being given to our ex-rankers in the Navy and in the Army. I really did not realise those figures before.
No one wants to make any comparison between the two Services—what they did was equally valuable in the War—but I am quite sure no Member of the Navy would ask for a moment that the men of his own Service should be rewarded by pensions up to 50 per cent. more than those awarded to men of similar grading in the Army. The public, when they have these figures put before them, will never agree that this shall be allowed. At the next General Election the electors will certainly hear about what has been said in support of abrogating the pledges made by the Prime Minister. As to obligations, we have heard different opinions. It has been said that these ranker officers were under no obligation to accept this contract. The obligation, in my opinion, was the obligation of patriotism. Let us consider what was the position of a number of men who went out to fight in the War, as regards their employers. We know that the employers of this country came forward generously, and in many cases they paid money—although they were getting no benefit from the work of these men because they had gone to fight for the country—they continued to pay sums for the support of their wives and families. They were under no obligation except that of patriotism; they were under no legal obligation. Yet we are told that the Government must be tied entirely by what is legal. The right hon. Gentleman, I know, has pleased many in the War Office since his appointment. They were a little bit scared when they first knew that they were going to have a Secretary of State who was, as the last speaker said, one of the new democratic leaders. But they found very soon that it was convenient to have one of these new democratic leaders because they had never had a Secretary of State for War who agreed so fully with the official view of things.
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should get away sometimes from the official view. He should take the broader view, because that is what the country expects of him. Supposing we could get the Leader of the House here tonight there are two things we might ask. The promise that we shall have a day set apart when we re-assemble in the Autumn to discuss this matter or that we should extend this part of the Session by an extra day and deal with this matter straight away. It is a matter of grave importance. This extra money to these men makes a great difference to their style of living, and I have spoken to a number of these men and know their difficulties. There is one man of whom am thinking who did wonderful work as a machine-gun officer at Hill 60. He told me that the addition to the money he was getting was this addition of 2d. a day, and the man shook with shame and indignation When he spoke to me about that 2d. a day for the work he had done. We have heard to-night of the protection that was given by the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) to the Prime Minister on the last occasion when this matter was debated. The guardian angel was then found on the Front Opposition Bench. One does not want to make any party references to the thing. We all recognise that the right hon. Gentleman did what he thought was right in the matter then, but I think if he was here to-night, in view of this great opposition that has been put up against the attitude of the Secretary of State, that the right hon. Member for Bewdley would be the very first to have admitted that he made a mistake on that occasion, and that he would do his best to stand by us in the future. I am sure we shall get his support when this matter comes forward for further debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War has mentioned that he was extremely sorry—I am sure he was—he was unable to put the full report before the House as promised. We have not had a full explanation why we have not had the evidence put before us. Surely if the Government had put on pressure, it could get things done. Before I sit down there is one thing I want to mention to show how little this Committee understood about the Army in many respects. The most marked of all is this sentence that has already been read, "The greatest of all the anomalies was between those who served in the trenches for a is a day in 1914"—nobody served for a 1s. a day; the rate was, I think, 1s. 6d., "and those who came in later." Then there was the reference to the "comparative comfort." What a great knowledge of the War the members of the Committee who penned that had? The comparative comfort in 1915! The comparative comfort of the second battle of Ypres. The comparative comfort in the following year for the men who served on the Somme—the comparative comfort to the men the year after at Passchaendale, and the men who were involved in the great retreat in 1918, and finally of those who went across those fever-stricken places which the Germans had left and who died like flies of influenza. That. I think, stamps the Report of this Committee as the Report of men—well meaning, perhaps—but men who understood nothing of the conditions under which the Army served, and therefore were not in a fit position to give a ruling on this most important question.
Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON, Junior:
I do not propose to detain the House for many moments, but I should like to associate myself with the appeal that has been made to the Secretary of State for War for facilities to be granted for a further Debate on this important question. In spite of the fact that the Committee that was appointed to inquire into this question has come to the conclusion that the ex-ranker officers have no legal case, yet it seems to me clearly that there may be other grounds upon which they may be entitled to the consideration of this House. If that be so, a further Debate can serve a useful purpose. But, while taking this view, I take exception to sonic of the remarks that have been passed in this Debate, and I am sure that hon. Members on these benches have listened with very great amusement to some of the arguments that have been put forward by hon. Members below the Gangway. The last speaker chided the Secretary of State for War for having, what he celled, the "official mind." He also referred to the fact that we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Great War, and that to-day, on this tenth anniversary, these ex-ranker officers have not had their grievances remedied.
I would ask whose fault is that? Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that for the four years following the conclusion of the great War the Government of this country was under a Liberal Prime Minister, and that for part of that time the War Office was under the charge of another Liberal Minister, while the right hon. Gentleman who has led the attack in this Debate was a distinguished member of that self-same Government So far as hon. Gentlemen opposite are concerned, surely their memories are not so short as that they have forgotten that for a period of 12 months a distinguished Conservative was in charge at the War Office. I would suggest that while that is no reason for denying these men justice, it is a reason why hon. Members below the Gangway and opposite should be the very last people to gibe and rebuke the Labour Secretary of State for War. At the same time I would also appeal to the Secretary of State for War to consider very sympathetically the appeal that has been made to him tonight, and, if it be the intention of the House that these men are not entitled to their claim, the House should be able to express itself in the proper fashion. There can be no fear on the part of the Government why this Debate should not take place, and I would strongly urge the Secretary of State to consider that view.
I anticipate that the right hon. Gentlemen is wondering why some of us who have been watching and assisting, so far as we can, the case of these ex-ranker officers, are so tenacious in our requests to him to give us some- thing more definite than he has agreed to do. The reason is that the Leader of the House regards this case as entirely closed. He has stated that, and stated it as recently as last week. Therefore, this is, so to speak, our last opportunity of getting a promise from the Government to carry out what we regard as the promise made, during the discussion on 13th March. But there are one or two points which I believe have not been made by previous speakers, and I think there is an additional reason for providing us with an opportunity of adequate discussion in that the evidence is not yet available. Had the evidence been available we should have been in an infinitely better position to discuss the case of these officers. Not only should we have had a fuller revelation of what they thought or of what they did, but we should also have had an opportunity of making suggestions which we know were laid before the Committee for the consideration of the Government. Therefore I submit that the fact that the evidence is not available is another and very strong reason for asking the right hon. Gentleman to secure for us, as he can easily do if he wishes, a promise of another day in the autumn for the debate.
A good deal has been said, and I think the right hon. Gentleman himself rather emphasised it, that these men had no pressure put on them and that when they volunteered they knew everything they were entering into. I think that is entirely an unreal atmosphere. In order to understand the position we have to put ourselves back to the position in which the War Office was at the time. There was very great pressure put upon these men.