Orders of the Day — Argentine Railways (Pensioners)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20 July 1949.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Williams Mr John Williams , Glasgow Kelvingrove 12:00, 20 July 1949

The matter I wish to bring before the House tonight concerns 300 to 400 persons in this country who were formerly employed on the railways in Argentina or are the widows of such railwaymen and normally in receipt of a pension in respect of such employment. In February of this year, when the Argentine Government prohibited all remittances from that country, payment of these pensions ceased and the pensioners were placed in a very serious position, especially having regard to the fact that, due to years of absence from this country, the majority of them would not be qualified under any State pensions scheme.

Last April I asked a Question in this House about the non-payment of these pensions and, later, I had correspondence with the Foreign Office. I much appreciate the readiness with which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has provided all available information concerning this matter. Continued delay in the resumption of payments, however, compels me to raise it again.

To give an idea of the nature of this problem, I shall quote from a letter I received last March from a constituent of mine, Mrs. Elizabeth M. Clarke of 17, Pitt Street, Glasgow. She writes as follows: I am in receipt of a small pension in respect of my husband's employment with the Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway Company. It seems there are now going to be difficulties over the payments of pensions to those living here. I am a widow and have received a pension almost 11 years now. I came from the Argentine two-and-a-half years ago and received my pension regularly until recently … I had to pay £5 14s. for a power of attorney to get my pension. I had to send the money in February last to a firm of notaries public in the City of London [name and address given]. After sending that money I had to pay 5s. 8d. for a survival certificate which has to be sent to the Argentine every three months through the Argentine Consul in London. … This is the first I have had to send. … My pension is less than 20s. a week and it is all I have to depend on. Last payment I received was in February last. Some time last March these pensioners, as some informed me, received news that payments would be resumed soon within modified limits. The remittances were to be allowed up to a certain point. The figure given might seem liberal, but the question of arrears came in as well as the cost of living bonus allowed from 1st January last which still remains unpaid, and not one penny has yet been paid to these people in the last five months.

As a representative of these pensioners has stated: Whilst permission has been given for the remission up to 250 pesos per month for each pensioner, this money is not forthcoming … These pensions are being put to various expenses most of which mean payments to the Argentine Government representatives here, although no money is being received from that country to meet these demands … The latest ruling is that all pensioners here must submit a print of their right thumb on a form supplied by the Argentine pension authorities. This has to accompany a duly authenticated signature and the whole has to go to the Argentine Consul for his legislation. He will no doubt charge a fee, though he has been written to on this matter, but no reply has been received to date. I appreciate that the payment of these pensioners is the responsibility of another Government and that His Majesty's Government cannot answer for the intentions of another Government. I also understand that these and other payments were involved in the recent meat negotiations with the Argentine and that it was hoped to see a resumption of such essential payments at a fairly early date. When it was learnt that sterling remittances which have remained blocked in Buenos Aires as a result of exchange difficulties would be released, the pensioners began to ask a few questions. They ask how soon payments are likely to be resumed. Will arrears be paid en bloc? Will all future pensions be paid in full?

It has been asked by some of these pensioners whether, as a temporary measure, it will be possible for money collected for the firm holding the power of attorney, to be handed to the British Embassy in Buenos Aires and an equivalent sterling payment made by His Majesty's Treasury to the London bank which has been handling these payments. In conclusion, I can only plead with my hon. Friend that he, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will give this matter further attention so that payment of these pensions may be resumed at an early date.