§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [14th October], "That the Lords Amendments be now considered."
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The Debate which began last Thursday on this very important subject was not completed, and I was under the impression would be continued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher). I am prepared to give way to him, but if he does not wish to speak now, I propose to make my remarks. I was sorry I was not able to be present on the last occasion, but I was glad to notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gold stone) stated explicitly that there was a large section of opinion in this House who did agree with the House of Lords in the Amendments that they suggest to the Bill, which we sent up to them. I desire to give my reasons for supporting that position and urging upon the Government even yet, though it is late in the day, to consider whether or not they cannot make this Naval and Military War Pensions Bill a real live measure. I shall be interested to know when the right hon. Gentleman addresses the House why the Government could not see their way to adopt the proposals which he was good enough to make to the Committee. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in opening this discussion, pointed out that the original proposal before the Committee was for a complete reconstitution of the different authorities who now deal with pensions, and the absorption of their various functions by one new Government authority. I regret extremely that the original draft of the Bill did not carry out what the right hon. Gentleman who is in charge now (Mr. Hayes Fisher) had in his mind with regard to the whole measure. We know one reason why the Government declined to proceed with the whole of that scheme, and the Chancellor, in his speech, pointed out one of the reasons when he said that the new body which was to be created was to be founded upon the Royal Patriotic Corporation, and to be primarily supported by voluntary funds as is the case with that corporation. It is upon that rock that this particular scheme has been wrecked, because I think before this discussion is completed we shall have con- 2058 vinced the House. We do not need to convince the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, because he agreed before he was in charge that what we are proposing now is the right thing to do. I think also we will have no difficulty with the House. The only difficulty we may have is with the Government, and I hope before we have finished the discussion we may convince them that it is worth their while to go back on their proposal, and, at any rate, to accept so much of the Lords Amendment as will make this Committee a real national one.
I would remind the House of the very serious statement which was made, first in the House of Lords and then in the House of Commons. When this Bill was being discussed in the House of Lords, Lord Crewe stated, in the course of the discussion, that it had never been the intention of the Government, and I want hon. Members to realise what this means, that the operations of this body that they were setting up to deal with pensions, disablement pensions, pensions on account of death and so on, should be subject to the daily questions of Members of Parliament. The Government stated, through the mouth of Lord Crewe in the House of Lords, that the Cabinet had never intended, from the beginning, that the interests which are bound to be under this most important human Bill affected, and the welfare of those who are bereft in the War, and the partially and totally disabled, should be the subject of any questions put in this House by Members. That was repeated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that the whole Bill was framed on the principle that it would be a voluntary body and that it would not be a Government body, and that they should never allow, so far as they were concerned, the Members of the House of Commons to interrogate daily, if they cared, some Minister who was in charge of this scheme. We know that already there have been two important Committees to deal with this matter. One dealt with the pensions which are to be given to the widows and children of men who were killed in the War, and to partially and totally disabled men. The second dealt with the pensions which were to be given to the wives of officers who were killed in the War, and to their children. The House of Commons has never discussed either of those two White Papers at any length, and they remain, presumably, with all their defects, the considered judgment of the Cabinet.
2059 If the Chancellor of the Exchequer intervenes in this Debate, I want to know from him how it is that the Cabinet can justify, for example, the difference in the pension that is paid—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The question does not arise on considering the Lords Amendments. It is a wholly different question, outside this altogether. We are now considering the question whether we shall take the Lords Amendments into consideration.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
On a point of Order, on this question of the Lords Amendments, I submit that it is absolutely essential for this House to consider the aspect of the case which the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) proposed to deal with. The gist of the change made in the House of Lords, as stated by Lord Crewe there, was to convert the Statutory Committee proposed by the Bill from, so to speak, a private or voluntary Committee on which there was Government representation into a Government Committee on which there was voluntary representation. The whole difference between the Bill as amended in the House of Lords, and as it left this House, is substantially this, that as it left the Commons it was a Bill setting up private voluntary machinery with Government assistance, and it came back from the Lords as a Bill constituting a new Government Committee responsible to Parliament. The question of disabled soldiers, and their training, I submit to your consideration, is strictly relevant to that point for this amongst other reasons, that the business of training the disabled soldiers and fitting them for their return to civil life is one of the functions deputed to the Statutory Committee in the Bill. Under the existing Royal Warrant for military pensions in regard to partial disablement, the pension is made proportionate to the incapacity of earning, and the two functions cannot be separated, and have both got to be dealt with by the Statutory Committee. My submission to you, Sir, is this, that the Statutory Committee is deputed to do the public duty of dealing with the training of dis- 2060 abled soldiers, and also of dealing with supplementary pensions, and in the course of those duties it has functions of estimating the capacity of the disabled soldier and all those public duties which are cast upon it. The House of Lords has said that this, shall be a public Committee, and it is germane to the inquiry in this House to-night to decide whether or not the Lords proposal that the Statutory Committee, which is the central body, to administer these new functions, should be essentially a Government Committee or a private Committee. In that sense I submit respectfully that we cannot decide satisfactorily on the real merits of the Lords Amendments without going into the question of the functions which are deputed to it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is quite clear that the point which the House has to consider is whether this Committee is of a proper nature, or whether it is to be a Statutory Board set up by the Government to administer Government funds. The idea that upon that discussion we can go into the question whether reports of Committees which have already been issued make adequate provision for those they were intended to compensate is quite outside the discussion. You cannot discuss that. It has no relevance whatever either to this Bill or to the question of whether we are to consider the Lords Amendments.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I quite understand your point of view, Sir, and I think I can put my case without referring to either of the two Select Committees, of which the House have in their possession, I think, three White Papers. May I remind the House of the rather serious position in which Members are going to allow themselves to be put, even if they accept the Lords Amendments, by the declaration of policy in the House of Lords by the Cabinet through Lord Crewe, namely, that it has never been the intention of the Government that Members of the House of Commons should be able by the ordinary method of questions to control the operations of this new pensions authority? That is a very serious point requiring some amount of consideration. But leaving that, I will put my appeal on this ground—that if we accept the part of the Lords Amendments which makes a difference in the constitution of the Committee, making it a real national Committee instead of a Committee dependent upon voluntary funds, we thereby improve the Bill. The 2061 Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that the Government's policy is to reject certain parts of the Lords Amendments. He pointed out that they were going to ask the House to disagree with the main Amendment, which reconstitutes and renames the statutory authority, striking out all association with the voluntary side, and making it a complete Government authority. I want to give reasons why the Government should persuade themselves that that is a mistake, and why they ought to adopt the Amendment passed by the House of Lords. If you, Sir, think that that would be more conveniently done on the direct Motion to disagree with the Lords Amendment, I can speak then instead of now; but I thought that if I could do it on the general Motion, I need not speak again when we come to the question of agreeing or disagreeing with the Lords Amendment, and thereby save time.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is quite entitled to proceed now if he prefers to do so. The matter is open for discussion.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Possibly the best way will be for me to finish my remarks now, and avoid speaking on the second opportunity. I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill one or two simple cases, showing why we ought to accept some part of the Lords Amendment and make this a National Committee. There are a great number of cases which the scheme sent up to the Lords by the Commons does not touch at all, but which ought to be touched by some method or other, and which deserve the consideration of the House of Commons. I have in my hand, for example, a typical letter, which came to me in this morning's postbag—a letter which illustrates this point, and incidentally proves that what the Government's scheme proposes to do is a hindrance to the recruiting effort which is now being made. The writer says:—I am one of two sons who are the sole support of a widowed mother and a brother who is mentally deficient and a permanent invalid. If one of us joins the Army, in the event of his being killed, would his mother be entitled to any pension: and if she predeceased her invalid son, would the pension be continued in the hitter's favour?There is the ground of one's objection to the House of Commons scheme, and of one's support of the House of Lords scheme. Every Member of the House knows that in addition to the widows and orphans of soldiers there are a great 2062 number of other people to whom no pension is guaranteed by this scheme, and to whom any pension at all must be paid out of voluntary contributions.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the hon. Member is now going into the question of the amount of the pensions, and the persons to whom they are to be granted. That is a matter of administration, which is settled by the naval or military authorities. It is a matter for criticism of the naval or military authorities who issue the particular pensions scheme. It is only very remotely, if at all, connected with this Bill.
§ Mr. HOGGE
If I may respectfully say so, I think you are labouring under some misapprehension. This Bill does deal with pensions, apart from those which are decided by scale, and which are, as you say, administered by the War Office and the Admiralty. There are, under this Bill, all the pensions which are not settled by scale, all the allowances given to any kind of dependants, and all the care, training and employment of partially and totally disabled soldiers. That is all within the Bill. I respectfully suggest that what you said applies to the scale pensions, which I left alone.
§ Mr. HOGGE
The words of the Bill are "out of funds at their disposal." What the Chancellor of the Exchequer said was that the first effort was to be a voluntary one, and that if that effort failed the Treasury would then supply the money. The gravamen of the criticism which many of us want to make is that there are any number of duties, including those which I have mentioned, cast upon this Committee, but there is no promise of money. The Lords Amendments make it necessary to provide that money.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I thought that that was what the hon. Member was driving at—that what he wanted was money, that he wanted to screw money out of the Government for this particular purpose. That cannot be done on the Question, "That the Lords Amendments be now considered." The only way to do that is in Committee, and in Committee the only way in which a Grant can be made is on the recommendation of a Minister of the Crown. It is futile to discuss that on the question whether we shall agree or disagree with Lords Amendments.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I would like to submit to you that so far as these dependants' pensions are concerned, I understand that the matter is entirely left to the local committees—that is to say, the local committees will advise the Statutory Committee as to the amount of the pensions. But, in addition to that, we have been given definitely to understand by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that if the funds to support this Bill, which are supposed to be voluntary, are inadequate, then the State will come forward and assist them.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
What the hon. Member for East Edinburgh is asking is that the State should do it now. That cannot be done on this Motion. The hon. Member is quite entitled to say that, in his opinion, in the event of the State eventually finding the money for the pensions, the body set up by the Lords is a better body to administer it than the body set up by the Commons. The hon. Member is entitled to use that argument; but to take particular instances, and to say that a man has not got what he ought to have, or a widow has not got what she ought to have, and that proper arrangements have not been made, is not relevant to the present discussion.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Perhaps I should draw my remarks to a conclusion by confining myself to the one point which is essential as far as the House of Commons is concerned—that if we accept the Amendments sent down to us by the Lords we will be enabled to keep a better grip, and a better control of this measure than we could under the form in which the Bill left this House. We have been informed that it is not at all the idea of the Government that we in the House of Commons should be able to put such questions, for example, as we have been in the habit of putting in regard to insurance payments, or anything of that kind. There is no Minister in control of the scheme, and the only authority is an outside authority. We had therefore better watch what we are doing. If we agree to the policy suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer we shall lose our opportunity of criticising this scheme when necessary. As it is perfectly obvious that the State must ultimately come in and do its duty by these people, the machinery provided by the House of Lords is infinitely better than that provided by the House of Commons. Therefore I hope the House will not agree with the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am 2064 sorry if I got out of order in my criticism; it was quite unintentionally. Presumably on the various Amendments we may come in more direct contact with these points if necessity arises.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I desire respectively to concur most strongly with every word that has fallen from the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) as to the great superiority of the machinery provided by the Bill as amended in the House of Lords over that provided by the Bill as it left this House. I will keep myself strictly within the limits of your ruling, Sir. The main question which we are discussing in the general Debate on the Lords Amendments as a whole is this: Is it better that we should have a public, official, Government body to deal with the functions entrusted to it by the Bill, or that we should have a private voluntary body with some, it may be good, Government representation upon it and, it may be, much Government assistance, but still in essence a private charitable body not responsible to Parliament? On that question I submit the main consideration must be: what are the functions given by the Bill to be administered by this body? Are they functions essentially public in character, or are they functions which are really private and properly attributable to voluntary charity?
My submission is that they are plainly public functions, public duties, and public duties of the first importance—duties with an importance which is both permanent and temporary. They are of temporary importance because the provision which we make under this Bill is one that must greatly affect recruiting, and they are therefore very important at this minute in this day of this week in view of the recruiting rally which is going on, and which we all wish well. They are also of great permanent importance. I want, as I myself have had particular opportunity of considering that aspect of the matter, to begin with the question of the training of disabled soldiers—the bringing of them back so far as possible into civil life by putting them in the way of again earning their own livelihood. I was one of the members of Sir George Murray's Committee. We were all absolutely unanimous in our Report on that subject. That duty, in my view, is expressed by the Committee as essentially a public duty. It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, on the subject of your ruling, that it is germane to this Debate, merely as a 2065 statement of principle, to quote the paragraphs in the Murray Report which laid down the proposition that this is a public duty, and that the State ought to perform it. I submit it is relevant, because, if it is a public duty, then it is improper to delegate that public duty to a purely private body. At the outset of the Report in paragraph 2, in the very forefront of the Report, we said:—At the outset, we desire to express our opinion that the care of the soldiers and sailors who have been disabled in the War is an obligation which should fall primarily upon the State, and that this liability cannot be considered as having been extinguished by the award of a pension from public funds. We regard it as the duty of the State to see that the disabled man shall be, as far as possible, restored to health, and that assistance shall be forthcoming to enable him to earn his living in the occupation best suited to his circumstances and physical condition.At the end of the summary of our recommendations, which we completed in paragraph 31, we say:—
For the purpose of carrying out these functions we propose, in paragraphs 17, 19, and 21, the formation of a public committee acting under a Government Department, and therefore—we did this deliberately—and for this reason responsible to Parliament.
- "(i.) The care of soldiers and sailors disabled in the War is a duty which should be assumed by the State.
- (ii.) This duty should include (a) the restoration of the man's health, where practicable; (b) the provision of training facilities, if he desires to learn a new trade; (c) the finding of employment for him, when he stands in need of such assistance."Paragraph 17. We have already expressed the opinion, on which we desire to lay particular stress, that the care of the soldiers and sailors who have been disabled by reason of service in the War is an obligation which should be undertaken by the State But it is evident that no single Department of the Government could conveniently exercise functions so varied and so extensive—including, as in our view they do, the care of the disabled man's health, the provision of industrial training, and the finding of employment for him.Paragraph 19. In order to ensure that proper attention is paid to the various needs of the disabled men we recommend the appointment of a Central Committee for the care of disabled soldiers and sailors, acting under the direction, of some existing Government Department—and so on. I need not read the rest of the paragraph.Paragraph 21. Such a Committee should include representatives of the Admiralty, of the War Office, of the Board of Trade, of the Local Government Board, of the Board of Education (in relation to technical training), of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, of the National Health Insurance Joint Committee, of employers of labour, of trade unions or other labour organisations, and of the existing voluntary agencies obtaining employment for discharged sailors and soldiers.Those duties are duties which in my submission ought to be performed by a public body to which money is supplied annually by Parliament. This body is to be a private body, and you can judge of the 2066 private character of the body by the way the representatives of the Government have said that they intend to deal with it. In the House of Lords the other day Lord Crewe said, "We do not intend to give an annual sum of money; that is not our proposal at all. We only propose to give a lump sum." I ask the House, is the giving of a lump sum of money once and for all the proper way of supplying—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Hon. Members cannot get away from this money question. This is not the proper time for dealing with it, and I have said so repeatedly. I will ask the hon. Member not to digress wider by introducing this larger question, which can only be raised in Committee. There is a Standing Order which says that all questions of demands for money can only be introduced first in Committee on the proposal of the Government of the day.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I stand corrected, Mr. Speaker, but may I say that your attention was engaged for the moment, for I said I merely took the money question to illustrate the private character of the body to which the Government proposes these duties shall be entrusted. My argument was that if it was not a purely private body, obviously the Government would never have made such a proposal, which I venture to characterise as a preposterous proposal. I am not asking for money, and I obey your ruling most strictly. The one question is as to the character of this body and its functions, and I shall confine my attention solely to these, and I give you my assurance I will not say a single word which, in my opinion, is not strictly relevant to those points. The next point is this: Under a Royal Warrant of last year there was a provision in regard to pensions for disabled soldiers who should be dependent on their capacity, or incapacity, to earn for themselves. To-day that is so. That being so, obviously you must have some body, some tribunal, some authority whose duty it is to estimate the soldier's earning capacity. Are we really going to be faced with this position, that the military authorities will estimate the earning capacity of a soldier and that this private body will be entrusted with the duty of putting that individual soldier in the way of earning his livelihood for the future? Can anybody imagine such a ridiculous suggestion? I say ridiculous, because it does seem to me that you cannot imagine anything more calculated to make men who do not want to go to the trouble to earn because they have got a pension. One 2067 thing we have got to be careful about is that we want to assist men in such a way that it will be better for them and better for everybody.
The only other aspect of the matter that I desire to submit for the consideration of the House is this: We shall have to face an army of able-bodied soldiers at the end of the War, who, if I may use the expression, will have to be reintegrated into our industrial fabric. That operation is obviously one of a very much vaster character than the operation of providing disabled soldiers and sailors with employment. I do not know if the House knows what at the present time are the figures of disabled soldiers. Roughly they are about 1,000 a month. The total up to date is something between 13,000 and 14,000. I am not for the moment calculating sailors. The number is a comparatively small one, and the evidence we have had is that up to the present time there is no difficulty in those disabled sailors getting employment. Of course, there will be a big difficulty. What I want to put before the House is that it is quite obvious that a body which may be capable of dealing with disabled soldiers may not be a suitable body for dealing with the vastly larger problem of putting back into our industrial system, and our agricultural system, a whole body of able-bodied soldiers at the end of the War. I do say this: it will be much easier to find employment for disabled soldiers, if you do not separate the work from that of the body identified with the solution of the larger problem. The relevance of that consideration is this, if the body to which the administration of this Act is entrusted is a public body starting as a public body, subject to Parliamentary control, it will, so to speak, to begin with, get in training with the work upon disabled soldiers, and it can be enlarged at the end of the War for the purposes of the larger problem.
In regard to some industrial employments it may be that the advantage of having the same body will not be as great as in others. In some of them, and hon. Members below the Gangway will agree with me in this—it is very desirable that the two problems should be dealt with by the same general organisation, local and central. But as regards agriculture—there is a peculiar emphasis that one can put upon this consideration!—obviously you will only get men into agriculture who are, so to speak, sardined in, or sandwiched between others, placed head and tail 2068 amongst able-bodied men. This Bill proposes to leave the whole of the functions of dealing with disabled men for all purposes, industrial and agricultural, to this voluntary Committee. I say, with great respect, that we should have a public body which will be subject to public control, and subject to the directions of Parliament, and in regard to which we can, if we think fit—and I think it is probable we shall think fit—at the same time, say, in regard to agriculture we leave the matter to the Board of Agriculture and its organisation, allowing this Committee merely to ascertain the numbers of those who want to go into agriculture. These would be handed over to be dealt with by the Board of Agriculture and the local organisation, whatever it may be. If you have a public body for the purpose, it is capable of development along the lines I have suggested. In conclusion, I put forward two reasons: Firstly, in its nature and for all purposes, a private body will be unsuitable for any of the functions under this Bill, except subsidiary, voluntary functions in regard to supplementary and additional allowances. That can be worked into the public body. Secondly, the public body is one which can be developed on even wider lines when we have to deal with the larger problem.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
I would like to explain the position in which we stand. Last July a Bill passed this House to make this supplementary provision for pensions, grants, and allowances to our soldiers and sailors, their widows, and their dependants. That Bill received considerable consideration at the hands of this House. It was debated, certainly at two full sittings, and after that consideration it was sent to another place. It was, at an unfortunate time, sent to the House of Lords. At that time they had no desire, or had not the time, to give that treatment to it that they thought the subject deserved. At a later period they drastically altered the Bill, both as to its nature and constitution. What we have got to consider is, not whether we can substitute for this Bill a very much bigger one dealing with the subject perhaps from a much larger point of view, but whether or not the Bill as it was returned to this House is better 2069 machinery for the proposed carrying out of certain arrangements that must be made for supplementary pensions, and the carrying out of these arrangements for the time being, until we can get a bigger Bill. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, standing at this box a week ago, gave every encouragement to the House to believe that His Majesty's Government were ready to consider a much bigger Bill than this. The House knows perfectly well, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) said to-day that so far as I am concerned I have always been in favour of a larger Bill. I have always thought it was absolutely necessary to have a larger Bill to bring into order the confusion and the chaos. A condition of affairs suitable, perhaps, for the Crimean War, and possibly suitable as a makeshift for the Boer War, is not a state of things which we can possibly support when we have to treat this subject on such a gigantic scale, and with the new development, if I may say so, of public functions. I was very glad when my right hon. Friend, the other day, gave every indication in his speech that he, too, was of that opinion. He said there were three alternatives, the first thing being to drop this Bill and bring in a new Bill. He gave his reasons why we cannot do that. He said the Government were too busy, the Cabinet had not the time to give it proper consideration, the Departments were too busy, and that we must wait for a little time, probably the spring of next year, for that measure. But I want to assure the House that that matter is under the most careful consideration of the Government at the present time, and that we have every reason for hope, now that everybody is being persuaded that this subject requires a much more drastic and thorough treatment.
Let me indicate to the House what happens. Take the case of a soldier discharged from the Army, disabled either from wounds or disease. To whom does he go to have his pension fixed? To the Commissioners of Chelsea Hospital. I was myself a Commissioner of Chelsea Hospital for three years, and I do not want to underrate the value of their work. I know what splendid and hard work is done there. At the same time, does anybody know who are the Commissioners, or who will be sitting there on a particular day? Supposing a sailor is discharged from the Navy through injury or disease, he has to go to the Admiralty or Green- 2070 wich Hospital. But supposing, as my hon. and learned Friend says, after his discharge he has got his pension, and the State undertakes the new obligation, which I quite agree ought to be, of providing for him, caring for him, training him, and finding him employment, then he has to go to an entirely different body. Under this Bill, as it passed the House of Commons, it would have been to the Statutory Committee; under the Bill, as it passed the House of Lords, it would have been to a more or less other Government Department. But, at all events, it would have been to some utterly different Department from the present institution. With regard to the pensions, at present the new Statutory Committee is to decide who are dependants, and, after the Statutory Committee has decided that, then the War Office or Admiralty is to decide what scale is to be adopted, or, at all events, at what they ought to be assessed.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
It does not really say it in the Bill, but my hon. Friend knows the Government have undertaken it.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I was alluding to scale pensions. I say there is chaos and confusion at present in dealing with this class of case, but the Statutory Committee will have to decide who are the dependants, and then the War Office or the Admiralty will have to decide what amount of pension they receive. It is quite true that they may come back to the statutory body and ask for a supplement to their pension; but confusion, I think, is only more confounded by that. Take the case of widows. The War Office or the Admiralty will examine and decide the Government rate of pension to the widow, but if she wants more than the flat rate, and ought to have more than that, she would have to go to the Statutory Committee. It would not make very much difference if it was to another Government Department. There would still be two Government Departments dealing with the same set of papers, calling the same evidence, and making the same inquiry. I could goon multiplying cases to show it is absolutely necessary to my mind that, when 2071 we have a big Bill, you must really reconstitute all these Departments, co-ordinate them, and bring all matters connected with pensions, allowances and grants to soldiers and sailors, under one pension board in one pension building. That is my argument. After the men are discharged from the Army or the Navy they are no longer soldiers or sailors of a military, fighting quality. For my part, I think it would be infinitely better—all my colleagues, perhaps, are not in agreement with that, but I am stating my own view, and it is certainly held by a great, and, I think, an increasing number—that all these matters ought to be decided by one pension board in one pension building, so that everybody interested in any one of these cases in any aspect whatever may know where to address himself, and may know that the body which decides shall be found. It should not be some War Office clerk or Admiralty clerk, however estimable, but these matters of vital importance to the individual should be decided by some tribunal responsible to Parliament for these matters. If we could have the scheme, I should then like to see all the auxiliary bodies, if they could not be in that building, at all events in close communication with it.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Auxiliary voluntary bodies collecting funds, so that they could take the many hard cases which there always must be, I do not care what rules or regulations are made. However generous you may be, there are always cases which do not come within your rule and those could be sent on to an auxiliary or voluntary body. But, as I say, the Government have not the time to give to this subject just at present, and considering that it is a year since the hatching of this Bill began by the Select Committee that we appointed last November, considering that we want to deal with this matter thoroughly, you must have some kind of inquiry by some committee or other into the whole of the circumstances surrounding this very difficult problem. Therefore, I say we cannot expect a Bill, at all events, till the spring of next year. Meanwhile, what are we to do? Are we to adopt the alternative of dropping the Bill and have no machinery going on all through the winter for supplementing the flat rate of pension, for giving pensions and allowances where 2072 perhaps they are not given at all, for dealing with innumerable cases awaiting decision as regards dependants, and of setting up some kind of machinery, inadequate it may be, to make a beginning in dealing with the discharged soldiers and sailors totally disabled, as many of them are, or partially disabled?
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will be patient, I was submitting my reasons for dismissing the first alternative of dropping this Bill and waiting for a bigger Bill. The hon. and learned Member says, "Why do you not accept the Lords Amendments?" My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given his reasons for that. He says, "No, the Lords Amendments practically set up another Government Department, looking solely for State money."
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Personally, I believe that if you set up a body of that kind, not connected with any voluntary organisation, you will not get a single penny. If it is known that a Government Department is set up for relief with State money, then I do not think you would get any voluntary subscriptions or voluntary aid. The hon. and learned Member asked me, "Then why do not you take the Bill as it left the House of Lords?" I am giving reasons why my right hon. Friend would not accept the Bill as it left the Lords. My right hon. Friend said he could not set up another Government Department looking solely for State money, unless that Department was framed on entirely different lines from those framed by the House of Lords, and unless that Department were reconstituted, and the other Departments absorbed within this, or reconstituted, as he puts it, so that there shoud not be public money running from every possible tap. I must say, if I had been Chancellor of the Exchequer I should have said exactly the same thing. I should have been perfectly willing to have a reconstituted board relying inanity on State money, but I would never have constituted it as it is under the Bill as amended by the House of Lords. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said what he is going to do, and I hope the House will accept his advice, that is, put the Bill back again, accepting many of the Lords Amendments that are good, but put- 2073 ting it back in its main feature of restoring the connection with the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation, thus making it a more or less voluntary body, more or less relying on voluntary funds.
The hon. and learned Member kept on alluding to this body as a charitable and private body, and he said the body set up by the House of Lords would be a public body, an official body, and a Government body. Do let us look at the Bill. Can you really say that this body as composed in the Bill as it left this House is a private, a charitable, and a non-Government body? And can you call the other body, as composed by the House of Lords, on the other hand, a public body, an official body, and a Government body? What is the difference? The House of Lords reduced the members nominated by the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation from six to two, but they did not only do that. They struck out the Local Government Boards for England, Scotland, and Ireland, and they struck out the representatives of the National Health Insurance Joint Committee. They gave eighteen nominees to the Government, instead of twelve, but they struck out the nominees of the Local Government Boards. I do not think it is possible to say that one of these bodies is a public official body and the other is a charitable, non-official body. There really is not all that difference between the two. The body proposed to be set up is in the main a public body. After all, the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation only nominates six members. You cannot say that the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation controls this body. Of course it cannot. It will be a body entirely independent of the Corporation. The Corporation consists of all the lords lieutenant, the chairmen of county councils, the lord mayors, and mayors and the heads of all the great local authorities throughout England, Ireland and Scotland. By making them practically members of that Corporation you establish a connection between the central body and the local body. As the Bill left the Lords there is no connection between the central body and the local body. The great advantage of connecting it with the Patriotic Corporation is that you do not get this connection, and I hope this fact will commend itself to the House.
One or two points have been raised with regard to the treatment of the disabled. Surely this statutory body is as good a body as the one set up by the House of Lords. One of the first things which the 2074 statutory body will have to deal with is to frame a committee for the special purpose of dealing with disabled soldiers and sailors. On that committee you must put representatives of the Board of Trade, Labour Exchanges, employers and employed, and people of that character. Surely it is quite possible that the Statutory Committee set up in this Bill will form at least as good a Committee as the body indicated by the House of Lords. Some day we shall know a great deal more about this subject and how to treat it. All we can do now is to experiment. I quite agree that you must link up in all probability the operations of any committee that you set up to deal with discharged soldiers and sailors and wounded soldiers with some other body when this War is over, and that body will have to deal with the vast number of men after demobilisation, who will have to find some way into commercial employment in this country. There is nothing in this Bill to prevent that.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer says quite plainly that if the House does not like the Bill as it left the House of Commons, with some Amendments made by the House of Lords, it will have to go without it, and he cannot go to the extent of setting up a separate department as indicated in another place. Under these circumstances it is not advisable that we should take this Bill as an experiment, and work it to the best of our ability during the next six months, and then we shall have learned a very great deal more than we know now as to the extent and scope of this problem I think it would be a gigantic mistake to lose the Bill, and set up no machinery, and go six more months without doing anything in this matter. I am sure that would cause great disappointment throughout the country. Meanwhile, if we adopt this Bill, we can set up our 240 local committees and see what we can do. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has indicated that he will make a substantial Grant to this body, and with that we can carry on a great deal of very useful experimental work. We all want to accomplish the same thing, and get to work, and treat this problem seriously. None of us want to go back on the word of our leaders on this subject, namely, that those who have fought and bled for us, and are still fighting and bleeding for us, shall be more generously treated by the country than they have ever been before. We will not go back one iota on 2075 that, and therefore I think we shall be well advised if we adopt this measure as the best machinery for the present for dealing with a question which requires a great deal more experience than we have yet had. Then we may look forward next year to a more substantial treatment of this question with a view of dealing with it in a more drastic and proper way.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has appealed to us not to lose this Bill. The best way to do that would be to agree to the Lords Amendments. I must say that although the speech made by the Parliamentary Secretary has been an able one, he has not convinced me that it would be wiser to risk a further disagreement with the Lords than to accept their Amendments. I think the right hon. Gentleman has treated this matter rather lightly, because really the situation is a most serious one. This question was first brought forward by the Government on the occasion of a Bill which was framed upon a very distinct understanding, and that was that the money, practically all the money, was going to be forthcoming from the Prince of Wales' Fund. If that had not been in the mind of the Government we never should have had this Bill at all. We know the history of this question. It was found impossible to obtain any promise on the part of the Prince of Wales' Fund trustees of money from them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was then appealed to, and he announced here, and the same announcement was made in the House of Lords on behalf of the Government, that the Government would see that the necessary funds were forthcoming for the finance of this Bill. It became perfectly clear that public money must to some extent be expended under the provisions of this Bill. The whole question was changed when that announcement was made, and the Lords in attempting to set up a body more responsible to Parliament than the body proposed in the original Bill were only carrying out their duties and were really teaching the Commons, if I may put it in that way, what their duty would be in this respect. I do not think we need to argue the point that where public money is given, in whatever shape or form, there ought to be some means of raising the question of its method of expenditure in this House. Under the Bill as it stands it is acknowledged that there are no such means. It has been said that that is the 2076 object of the promoters of this Bill. We say that there ought to be some such means, and the Lords say so as well, and for that purpose they propose a body which at any rate would have a certain responsibility to the Government and the public.
The right hon. Gentleman has asked what is the difference between the two proposals. It lies in this, that the Government Bill was based upon giving authority to what they call a Statutory Committee of the Royal Trustees of the Patriotic Fund Corporation. That is a private corporation, and they would have no responsibility to the public. On the contrary, the House of Lords has set up a body called a Board, the great majority of its members being appointed directly by the Crown. Undoubtedly it would so operate that any important question in regard to their administration and expenditure of public money could then be brought before this House. I think the Government are making a very grave mistake in not availing themselves of the opportunity which the House of Lords has given them of retreating from an unsustainable position. I still hope that the Government may be able to see, from the observations made in this House, that there is some real reason why they should reconsider their position. It is suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that if we set up a body like this, we ought not to do it except by a big Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has foreshadowed that we are going to have a big Bill. I would ask him when? Is it to be this year or next year?
It is important that this question should be taken in hand at once. The Government are to blame for having taken more than a year to deal with it. It was brought up last March, and the measure could have been referred to a Committee, but the Government did not do that. They retained the matter in their own hands, and the result has been that we have not had an opportunity of thoroughly discussing this matter. Apart from the question of a big Bill, I suppose that the proposals made by the House of Lords afford by far the best first step towards the larger measure. If we are going to have a measure under which all the various pensions authorities are to be brought together, we had much better start with a nucleus such as is provided by this Bill than give to another private body the functions which undoubtedly will have to be given to the existing body. The Chancellor of the Ex- 2077 chequer has said he cannot do all this without interfering with Chelsea and Greenwich, but I do not see why we cannot. Chelsea and Greenwich are very useful institutions, but they only deal with one kind of pension. I think I am right in saying that the origin of those two institutions was the pensioning of soldiers and sailors after their term had expired, and after injury either in peace or war. It was not to meet the enormous question of how you are going to deal with widows, children and dependants of the thousands of persons who die in a great War like this. In my opinion Chelsea and Greenwich could go on perfectly well, notwithstanding the existence of a new Government Department, to deal with a much larger question. Inasmuch as it is foreshadowed that we are not going to leave things as they are, it would be very much better to have a Department to consider the whole question, and start them as a Board at once responsible to this House. We might start them with the duties mentioned in this Bill, and also give them the duty of formulating a scheme and bringing it before the Government, and, if possible, promoting legislation, or advising legislation, to place the whole question of pensions on a more satisfactory footing in the course of the next few months. If we have Chelsea and Greenwich and the new body all working independently without anybody having a permanent position, we shall find things get worse. We want to deal with this subject more rapidly, and we want the best men we can get in responsible positions to advise the country and the Government about the various scales of pensions, and I think it would be very much better for us to recognise that this new body is to be responsible to Parliament, instead of being merely a committee of the Royal Patriotic Fund Corporation. I hope, therefore, the Government may see their way to allow this Amendment, which cannot do any harm to the scheme, in order that we may really get on and be in agreement with the other House, who undoubtedly, in this case, have given far more consideration to the problem than the Cabinet itself gave to it before this scheme was brought before this House.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I would like to add a word in support of what has been said from these benches. The main Amendment put forward by the House of Lords, in my view, very much strengthened the broad 2078 principle adopted and accepted by the Government. I gather that this Bill is regarded as a mere makeshift measure, which will have to be amended very soon, and perhaps in the course of this year. Even if that be true, and I think it probably is true, we had best begin as well as we can and with the best sort of committee that we can get. My own view is that once the Royal Patriotic Corporation is firmly embodied in this scheme it will be very difficult to get any change. We have nothing at all to say against the good work that has been done by many of the voluntary organisations dealing with our soldiers and sailors. We believe that matters like the training of disabled soldiers for work ought to be distinctly within the control of this House, and ought to be done not by a committee which will once a year make a report, but by a Committee directly responsible to this House, under some Minister to whom we can address questions day by day as grievances of soldiers arise. I do not believe that can be done under the scheme put forward, and I find myself in the unusual position of believing that the Amendments of the House of Lords strengthen the Bill. Many of us, on the Second Reading, before the Bill went to the House of Lords, took exactly the same line, as will be remembered, as the other House has taken. I believe that a larger measure will be required presently, dealing with the whole question of the training and employment of disabled soldiers; but, in my opinion, it will not delay the measure in the least if this Amendment is now accepted. The measure could go forward just the same. When we hear about delay, we know that this Bill was hung up in the Lords for six or seven weeks. The result of their Amendments has been to improve the Bill, and even if we disagree with some of the other Amendments I hope that this main Amendment with regard to the Committee itself will be accepted by the Government.
§ Mr. HOHLER
When the Bill was first introduced I opposed it on the ground that no provision was made by the Government in regard to funds, but since then, as the result of the opinion of the House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has pledged the Government to make some financial provision, and I understand a generous one, in regard to these wounded soldiers and sailors. He has also told us that if we insist upon the Amendments proposed by the House of Lords in their entirety this Bill will be lost, and we shall have to wait 2079 till some future and indefinite date when the matter may be rediscussed and considered and a new Bill introduced. Much as I should have preferred the Bill on quite different lines, and much as I should have preferred a Department to deal with it, with a Minister to whom we could address questions, I honestly believe, now that we have got a pledge from the Government in both Houses that this money will be forthcoming, we should be doing our wounded soldiers and sailors a great disservice if we accepted the Lords Amendment and practically killed the Bill. Really, this Amendment introduced by the Lords falls far short of what this House, when the matter comes to be considered and discussed, will require. These various bodies who deal with pensions should be all coordinated, and should form one single body. There should not be these public funds dispensed here, there, and everywhere, at considerable expense, with different staffs. We have never really had a fair opportunity of discussing either the pensions scheme for soldiers and sailors or for officers. We had a general Debate upon it, but we had no opportunity of proposing Amendments, and I am satisfied that there are an infinity of cases which will arise and as to which no provision has been made at all. Under this Bill these bodies will be called into existence throughout the country. They will have to propose their scheme, and we shall see what it is by the time any future Bill which will be inevitable is introduced. Meanwhile, what is happening? Let me give one illustration. I know a number of such cases, but one is good enough. A young fellow joined the Army. When he left his father was in full work, maintaining a wife and family. It is quite true to say that he asked for no separation allowance, and indeed he could not have obtained it if he had done so, because there was no need for assistance, but since he has been serving at the front the breadwinner has died, and there is a widow and family.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the hon. Member was not here when we went very thoroughly into that aspect of the question and when I was obliged to rule that it was not pertinent to the matter which we are now discussing. It is proper criticism of the War Office, or Admiralty, or whoever administers those particular funds, but it is not relevant to this matter.
§ Mr. HOHLER
Should I be in order in saying that I am quite satisfied under the provisions of the Bill, if we pass it substantially as it passed through this House, defective and insufficient as I think it is, great relief can be given to many deserving wounded soldiers and sailors and those dependent on them. I therefore do ask the House to reject the House of Lords Amendment and pass the Bill substantially as it passed the House. I am personally satisfied that a longer delay will be disastrous both to our men, and also to voluntary recruiting which we all have so much at heart. I therefore do ask that this Bill shall go through and that the Amendment shall be rejected.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
Many and in fact all of us in this House who take a particular interest in this matter have been very sorry indeed to find that the Government were not able in another place to come to some definite arrangement and agreement. We all feel that this is a very urgent matter, and every one of us would rather have an imperfect Bill at once than have a delay which may be followed at some future, indefinite time by another Bill. I understand my hon. Friend behind me to say that he would not. I wish I shared his ardour for the ideal and his confidence that it will be realised. I wish like him we had sufficient confidence that we could get a really first-rate Bill if this one were destroyed. I do not think that would be the case. I rise for the purpose of saying two things. In the first place, there are many things in the Lords Amendments which we prefer to the particular way in which this Bill left this House, but I understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who in regard to the dispensing of public funds has the last and the dominating word, adheres to the original scope of the Bill, because that indicates for the time being that recourse is to be had to private funds and that public funds are only to come in to assist. If that is the case, one can understand the argument for the Committee. I also understand that if we have a Board, as we certainly ought to have in any really thorough-going Bill, the Board would not be constituted exactly as the House of Lords suggested, but it would be much more closely connected both to the Exchequer and much more closely responsible to this House.
It seems to me that what this House has to do now is to take those steps which are 2081 best calculated to get a Bill of some kind on this point at once. I have very grave doubts whether if we agree to the Lords Amendments we are not injuring the prospects of the Bill even more than if we differ from many of them, but I do ask my right hon. Friend and his right hon. Colleague to do all that they can even now when this goes back to the other place to come to some friendly agreement with the House of Lords in the matter. This is precisely one of those cases in which the two Houses of Parliament ought not to find any difficulty in agreeing. I hope that the Government will try to accept as many of the Amendments of the other place as possible in order that the Bill, so made up and so completed, shall have the really cordial support of the other House as well as of this House. On these grounds, with a good deal of reluctance, I shall support the Government in their Motion to reject the main one of these Amendments, not because I think the Government plan is very good, or because the House of Lords plan is perfect, but because, after what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, it seems to me that we run more risk of losing the Bill than if we try and adhere to these Amendments. But if to save the life of a very imperfect and inadequate Bill we reject the principle of the Lords Amendments, I do hope my right hon. Friend will indicate to this House when we come to deal with the Amendments that there are a number of them which he can accept. I hope particularly that those which deal with the local committees, subject to rather careful scrutiny of some of the phrasing of the Sub-sections, will pass into law, together with that part which came from this House, because it seems to me that the work of the local committees is quite as urgent, if not more urgent, than the work of the Central Committee. However much you alter the central authority and perfect it, and however closely you make it responsible to Parliament, it is upon the work of the local committees that you must rely, and I am anxious to get these local committees at work at once, because otherwise the enormous amount of work which has to be done will never be overtaken by those persons who wish to undertake it to the best of their ability.
§ Question, "That the Lords Amendments be now considered," put, and agreed to.
§ Lords Amendments considered accordingly.