As the House knows, Service Regulations make provision for two forms of annuity to holders of the Victoria Cross. First, an annuity of £10 is payable to all other ranks awarded the Victoria Cross. Secondly, officers and other ranks who are unable to earn a livelihood owing to age or infirmity may receive payments up to a maximum of £75 a year, less any non-contributory pension or annuity received from public funds. There are approximately 220 holders of the Victoria Cross for whom the United Kingdom Government are responsible. About 130 of these are receiving the £10 annuity and 12 are receiving payments of up to £75 a year under the second arrangement to which I have referred.
We propose to replace these arrangements by new ones, under which all holders of the Victoria Cross for whom the United Kingdom Government are responsible, both officers and other ranks, will be paid an annuity of £100 irrespective of need or any other conditions. This, like the existing payments, will not be taxable.
I trust that this change will commend itself to the House.
Does my right hon. Friend realise that his Answer will give very great satisfaction to all holders of the Victoria Cross? Is he aware that his close personal interest in this matter is very much appreciated by all members of the Victoria Cross Association?
May I join with the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood (Sir J. Smyth) in expressing gratitude to the Prime Minister for his interest in the matter and say that we on this side of the House are very glad to share in the efforts of the hon. and gallant Member for Norwood and are very grateful for the conclusion?
There is no provision for financial awards to holders of the George Cross. There has been for some time, as the House knows, a good deal of feeling, and some confusion indeed, about the way in which the longstanding financial awards for the Victoria Cross have been operating. I undertook to see whether I could straighten this out and get an agreement. I did not undertake to do in the short time more than that.
While we appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says, may I ask whether the position is not somewhat anomalous in view of the distinction between the Victoria Cross and the George Cross? Would the right hon. Gentleman undertake to look into the matter and see whether something similar should not be provided for holders of the George Cross?
Is it necessary to take very much time over this? It is a very short decision to make. There are not very many holders of the George Cross, which is supposed to be an award of equal rank to the Victoria Cross, and this discrimination surely is undesirable in the circumstances.
I will look into it, certainly. I should like to get the facts, figures and numbers. I undertook to do what was requested in the Question and I have answered the Question. I do not wish to anticipate supplementary questions, but it would be helpful to the House if I made a further observation about this which interests people. One of the difficulties is that we can do all this by Royal Warrant but the question of assistance from the National Assistance Board has been raised. We cannot alter that except by Act of Parliament, but the chairman of the Board has assured me that he has given instructions that any case of a holder of the Victoria Cross applying for National Assistance shall be referred to headquarters, and, as the House knows, the Board has certain discretionary powers which can be exercised in individual cases and I shall therefore be greatly surprised if any difficulty Of this kind arises.