A rather strange thing is that last year when this legislation was put through to grant war service grants my hon. friend, who is very alert as a rule, and other hon. members, advanced no arguments along that line. The question was not advanced in the house. We put a definite limitation-
May I say just a word on that? Of course the reason why there may be mistakes in the legislation of last year-and I am wondering that we have not found dozens of flaws, instead of the few that seem to exist-is that in the speech from the throne, in January, this government envisaged the introduction of this legislation, but it was not brought down until long after. We asked for it in the house continually, but right up to almost the very last minute the house was sitting the government was not ready to bring it down. Time after time I asked the minister when it would be brought in; and I do not think there was ever less opportunity to debate an important piece of legislation in this parliament than was the case in connection with this measure. It is all very well to say we had time, but if I remember correctly the bill was brought in and given first reading one day, and we were asked to debate it the very next day. There was no opportunity to get the reaction of veterans' organizations or of the country at large, and with the limited opportunities hon. members had to deal with that legislation I wondered when the first explosion would come with respect to flaws in it. That is the answer to the minister's question, as to why people were not alert to the flaws in the measure as it went through. When legislation is being rushed through parliament you cannot expect hon. members to do justice to it. The responsibility definitely rests upon the government, and nowhere else.
Certainly I do not appreciate the political angle being introduced into this very fine discussion I was having with the hon. member for Lake Centre. I want to tell my hon. friend the leader of the opposition that we worked on this legislation for two solid years. We worked in this very building until two and three o'clock in the morning. We consulted veterans' organizations all across Canada in regard to the terms of this legislation. I also want to tell the hon. gentleman that this is the most generous war service gratuities legislation ini the world at the present time. I do not like this sort of political sneaking such as my hon. friend interjects into what was a very fair-minded discussion with the hon. member for Lake Centre.
"If you can keep your head when those about you are losing theirs-". However, that is the situation with reference to the first question raised by my hon. friend. The matter has not been disposed of as yet. This has been done in England, but last year the house imposed a limitation, as my hon. friend knows, in regard to those who were receiving benefits under the Dependents Allowance Act, and that may possibly cut away quite a lot of people who are entitled to benefits.
I am afraid I am too much of a Caledonian to make any promises at the moment.
The third point raised by my hon. friend was in regard to the R.A.F. That matter also is receiving consideration at the present time, and it is a very difficult question. They have gratuity legislation over there, but I am going to look into the question of the extent to which our boys who went there before 1939 are protected by the gratuity legislation in the old land. Perhaps by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week I may be able to refer to the matter again.
Since the minister is feeling happy again may I ask whether the brief presented on March 5 by the president and secretary of the soldier settlers association of Canada has yet been considered by the cabinet and, if so, whether the decision has been a little more lenient than was the case previously?
I must commend my hon. friend for his persistence and sincerity in regard to this
matter. This question was reviewed by the government on August 25 last, and the recommendation was rejected. About a month ago my hon. friend and a delegation of two, I think, met me in my office, and I promised that I would bring the matter again to the consideration of the government. The government has reaffirmed its former stand, but has decided that the rate of interest chargeable against old soldier settlers should be reduced from 5 per cent to 3J per cent. That will apply not only to those under the Veterans Land Act, not only to those who were old soldier settlers and reenlisted in this war, but also to all soldier settlers under the Soldier Settlement Act.
As a member of the committee which dealt with veterans' affairs in the last parliament, and being very much interested in the problem, I should like to say that as far as I have any influence at all with the minister I would urge him sincerely to give the most favourable consideration possible to making war service gratuities part of a soldier's estate. Those who have lost loved ones in this war, who expected that when they came back they would receive this gratuity, cannot understand why it should be withheld because there sons lost their lives fighting for their country. I am sure the withholding of these gratuities will not be upheld by the government in the future, and I think the sooner this step is taken the better it will be.
The other matter I wished to bring to the attention of the minister is this. I understand that under the regulations a person who reaches England during this war will be entitled to the benefits of the War Veterans Allowance Act, whereas in the last war a man who reached England and was kept there through no fault of his own received no benefit at all. I realize that the number who would be affected by what I am saying may not be very large, owing to the fact that if a man draws a small pension he can come under the act even if he did not get out of Canada during the last war and also because of the provision that veterans of two wars receive the allowance. But I know a few estimable
people who served in the last war, who got as far as England but no further, through no fault of their own, who to-day are told that nothing can be done for them until they reach the age of seventy, the same as any other citizen who was not in the army at all. In view of the fact that presumably those who reach England during this war will receive the benefit of the war veterans allowance. I urge upon the minister that the old veterans of the last war should not be treated less generously.