§ In order to unify the administration of such pensions, grants, and allowances as are hereinafter mentioned, there shall be a Minister of Pensions, who shall be the Paymaster-General, and shall be advised by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Admiralty, the Financial Secretary of the War Office, and the Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board.
§ Major H. TERRELL
I beg to move, after the word "unify" ["Ho unify"], to insert the words "and for the purpose of exercising the powers and duties transferred to and vested in the Minister of Pensions hereby constituted."
This is a purely drafting Amendment. The Bill states that in order to unify the administration of pensions a Minister of Pensions shall be constituted. The Ministry is not going to administer pensions. It is going to administer the funds out of which pensions are going to be paid, and it is quite wrong to use the words which appear in this Clause. This loose drafting may afterwards give rise to difficulty. Surely the better phraseology to use is that 540 which I have suggested. The difficulty that may arise is this: To a certain limited extent the Ministry of Pensions under this Bill will administer some of the pensions—that is to say, pensions which are given to infant dependants would be strictly administered by the Minister of Pensions—but it is quite wrong to say that the Ministry of Pensions are going to administer pensions. They are going to grant pensions, and the persons who receive the pensions will administer those pensions as they think fit. The phraseology which I suggest might meet that difficulty hereafter. You cannot unify the administration of pensions. My Amendment is to unify the exercise of the powers. The Bill proposes to transfer certain powers and duties to the Minister of Pensions. The Bill is for the purpose of that transference, and it forms the Ministry of Pensions to exercise those powers and duties so transferred, and is for no other purpose.
§ Mr. BARNES
I would suggest that the hon. Member should have given us his Amendment before we had his speech. We have had a speech more or less about some words, and nobody can understand the speech. It would be far better if hon. Members give us their exact Amendment before they give us their speech.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I would urge the Government not to accept this Amendment. The one thing that was decided by the Committee on the previous occasion was to put in these words "to unify the administration of pensions," and it would falsify the position we took up before if this Amendment were accepted.
§ The PAYMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. A. Henderson)
For the reasons stated by both of the previous speakers, the Government must resist this Amendment. It appears to me to be adding unnecessary phraseology, and what we ought to do is to keep the Bill as clear as possible.
§ Amendment negatived.541
§ Mr. S. WALSH
I beg to move to leave out the words,who shall be the Paymaster-General, and shall be advised by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Admiralty, the Financial Secretary of the War Office, and the Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board.For the reason that the Paymaster-General has just assigned as the reason why the previous Amendment should be rejected, namely, for the unity of administration, I move this Amendment. To unify administration is the whole purpose of this Bill. That is the set purpose of this Clause. In order to unify the administration of pensions a Minister of Pensions is to be appointed. It seems to me, and I believe it is the feeling of a great many hon. Members, that we ought to treat the Minister of Pensions and the Ministry of Pensions on exactly the same lines as every other State Department has been treated. I have not a single word to say as to the gentlemen who are brought in as obligatory advisers of the Ministry. They are all honourable men. But when a Minister is being appointed to the most stupendous Department that has ever been created in English politics—that is what this Ministry is—why he should be called upon, under a statutory obligation, to submit himself for advice to three particular people is more than I can understand. The Clause says:There shall be a Minister of Pensions, who shall be the Paymaster-General, and shall be advised by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Admiralty, the Financial Secretary of the War Office, and the Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board.Desirable as these Gentlemen are, competent as they are in their own business, they have no right to be brought back again into this Bill, because we were hoping the night before last that we had got rid of them for this purpose. What necessity is there that these Gentlemen should be brought in by this indirect process? The whole structure of the Bill gives to the Minister all the assistance he desires and all the assistance possible. Let hon. Members look at Clause 3. The Statutory Committee is now preserved, and Clause 3 provides thatThe Statutory Committee shall render to the Minister of Pensions advice and assistance in respect of any matter on which such advice and assistance is requested by the Minister.542 Clause 5 says, in Sub-section (1):The Minister of Pensions may appoint such secretaries, officers, and servants as the Minister may, with the sanction of the Treasury, determine.Clause 8, Sub-section (1), says:There shall be transferred and attached to the Ministry of Pensions such of the persons employed under the Admiralty, the Commissioners of the said hospital, the War Office, and the Statutory Committee, in or about the execution of the powers and duties transferred to the Minister of Pensions by this Act, as, subject to the consent of the Treasury, may be agreed between the several authorities above mentioned and the Minister of Pensions.Sub-section (2) says:The Minister of Pensions may from time to time distribute the business of the Ministry amongst the several persons transferred thereto in pursuance of this Act in such manner as the Minister may think fit…Surely, under these Clauses, there is given to the Minister all the powers and assistance that he can desire, and to lay upon him the statutory obligation to consult these three Gentlemen, eminent and competent as they may be, is to place upon him an obligation which has never been imposed upon any Minister in the whole history of politics. To what purpose can it be? If a man is compelled by Statute to consult with certain other Gentlemen—every one of whom in his own Department is almost overwhelmed with work—and if he is not only compelled to consult with them, but to receive their advice, he may be compelled to await that advice. This must inevitably lead to delay. The one thing that has been almost heartbreaking to the nation at large, and to this House, has been the awful delay-that has taken place in administration. Some of the Gentlemen at the head of these Departments—and I say it without the slightest feeling, because they are as good men as could ever be at the head of a Department—have broken down completely under the enormous burden of their work. Delay has followed delay, until the whole nation has felt what a horrible muddle they were in; not because of the lack of competence of any single man at the head of a Department, not because they desire to neglect their work—they have done their work to the best of their ability, and it has not 543 been the fault of a single Minister—but because of the fault of the system. Two nights ago we were hopeful that we were breaking down that system, and were establishing a system under which we should have direct responsibility and should give to the Minister with that direct responsibility the fullest possible power. In every other respect this Bill seems to me to go a great way in that direction, but why the Minister should have imposed upon him under a statutory obligation these hon. Gentlemen I cannot understand.
The one thing I hope for is that the unceasing triplication and quadruplication of this business should end,- that there should be a person responsible whom we could hang if we get at him directly, and that there should not be this perpetual cloaking up. We do not want a Minister to be able to say "I cannot get along because I was not able to receive my report from such and such a body. At such a particular time I got into correspondence with that particular Department with which, under the law, I am compelled to consult and whose advice I must at least consider, and there has been much delay, with the result that I have been unable to carry out the Statutory obligations imposed upon me." Cannot we get away from that sort of thing? This pensions business is going to last half a century at the very least, and we should start with the utmost simplicity, consistent with the utmost efficiency and speed. As the Minister will receive, under the Clauses I have quoted, all the assistance possible—and in that respect the Bill is very emphatic—surely he ought not to have imposed upon him this burden which we all desire to see removed. This provision in the Bill cannot make for simplicity, and it cannot make for despatch, and it cannot make for the removal of the trouble under which hon. Members have been suffering for so long.
§ Colonel Sir H. GREENWOOD
In supporting the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for the Ince Division of Lancashire (Mr. Walsh), I would ask the attention of the House to words which we find in the Act establishing the Ministry of Munitions.For the purpose of supplying munitions for the present war it shall be lawful for His Majesty to appoint a Minister of Munitions.544 Then follows what, to my mind, is quite irrelevant:to hold office during His Majesty's pleasure.One wants, in supporting the Government's new Bill, to have some very clear reason why the precedent, so plainly established when establishing the Ministry of Munitions, should be thrown over. I quite agree with the hon. Member (Mr. Walsh) that the Ministry of Pensions will become, next to the Navy, the largest spending Department of the State. It will be a Department employing thousands and thousands of people, and which must sooner or later be housed in its own premises. Its work will be the most controversial possible, for the next generation at any rate, and it ought to have at its head not only a whole-timer, but a strong Minister, and it is no reflection on the right hon. Gentleman, who has the support of all of us, to say that it must have a Minister who does not want any advice other than he can get from his own officials, and who is prepared to come to this House and face the fire with his own decisions, and, as the hon. Member as just said, take the gallows if he fails and a peerage, possibly, if he succeeds.
§ Sir H. GREENWOOD
All I can hope is the first Minister of Pensions will never become a peer. But more remarkable things than that have happened. When the Ministry of Munitions was set up the Minister was compelled to take from many Departments of State many more than will be affected by this Bill, Civil servants and others, to assist him. He was compelled to employ vastly more people and spend more money than the Minister for Pensions can ever be asked to employ or spend, and yet he was not compelled to take advice from any other Department. My own feeling is that the natural reluctance of capable and powerful Ministers to give up work which they have supervised up to the present is at the back of the inclusion of these three right hon. Gentlemen. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has just said about their merits and that sort of thing. That goes without saying. But for three busy Ministers, especially the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty and the Financial Secretary to the War Office, to imagine that they have got time to deal with the pensions that this Bill contem- 545 plates, is really to strain the seriousness and the patience of this House. One of my reasons for supporting the complete and clean cut away of these pensions from the Admiralty and the War Office is to leave the Secretaries of both Departments free from the burden of these pensions which now absorb so much of their time. It is their business to assist in the prosecution of the War. It is particularly the business of the Minister of Pensions to look after those who have fallen or suffered or those dependent upon them. Then my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Local Government Board really has no status in the new Bill at all. He is supposed to represent the Statutory Committee, but the power of the Statutory Committee under the new Bill is so insignificant that a Minister of his position and capacity is not required. In my opinion he, least of the three, has any right to be incorporated under this Bill. I hope that these three Ministers will see that by refusing to permit the Committee to relieve them of duties that are auxiliary to the prosecution of this War, by staying in the Bill, they are also handicapping and thwarting the desire of any Minister of Pensions to be master in his own household, and they would be best advised by accepting what I hope, will be the general opinion of the Committee and standing out of the Bill.
There was one phrase used by the Mover of the Amendment with which we will all agree heartily—that is, that the duties which the new Minister of Pensions will have to discharge, both in the near and even more in the distant future, will be stupendous. I am not sure whether the Mover of the Amendment quite realises what is the effect of a great deal of his speech. His speech was directed to showing the Minister of Pensions as being overweighted and overburdened with the work, and it was also directed to showing that he should be relieved of the necessity of having to consult anybody else. As to the burden of the work I agree entirely, but accepting most cordially the nomination or appointment of the present Minister of Pensions, I think it unfortunate that he should be a man who, we know, is engaged in very laborious work in other directions—and, indeed, he has told us himself that he could not accept the position with regard to pensions, because 546 he was engaged in other work, unless he was given a Parliamentary Secretary. And accepting all that has been said as to the stupendous character of the burden thrust upon the Minister of Pensions, I think that that leads us to this, that it would be better, without criticising for a moment the excellent qualifications of the Minister, if we could have looked forward to having a Minister who would be, to use the regular phrase, a whole-timer. But that very fact seems to me to indicate a strong reason for rejecting this Amendment.
I hope that the Minister will not think that I am saying anything against him personally. I am not. We have to deal with these questions on general grounds. He has come to deal with this work since he has been acting as Pensions Minister, through his position of Paymaster-General, and he has secured many excellent reforms. But he must come more or less new to this work. The three Gentlemen who are, in the Bill as it stands, to assist him with their advice have long experience in the matter. The Committee would be very ill-advised if they do not impose upon these Gentlemen the obligation to give advice. The position really is this, that the Bill gives to the Minister the right to go and get advice from these Gentlemen, that they cannot say to him, "We have no time; we are too busy; we cannot help you." He is in a position to say, "But you must." It is not, in other words, a limiting proviso, as far as the powers of the Minister are concerned. It only gives him the additional right to be able to compel advice when he wants it. Further, these three members of the Board are at the moment the repositories of the experience with regard to pensions of the Army, Navy, and Statutory Committee. I think that it would be the greatest possible pity if, during this transition period —I accept the position that this Bill is not going to be final. We are going to have pensions for the lifetime of the most of us. This is not the final word of Parliament on the subject, and I should be very much surprised if we are not here discussing pensions again in a few months—but during this transition period it would be the greatest possible mistake not to make use of the advice of these Gentlemen who are the repositories of this pension experience, and to give to the Minister the right to call upon these Gentlemen for advice 547 By doing so you are not limiting his power; you are merely giving him an additional privilege.
§ Mr. PERCY HARRIS (Paddington, S.)
I am anxious to see the new system of pensions working as soon as possible. That is the reason why I should regret if these words were struck out of the Bill. Members talk as if, when the Bill is passed, all the Minister has to do is to wave his magic wand and say, "Be unified," and everybody would be unified and everything would be for the best in the best of all possibe pensions systems. I can speak from daily experience of the work for five months, and I believe that the unification of the pensions system will be a long, difficult, and laborious business. The physical union, which will effect a great real, will not be possible for five or six months, and it is to be borne in mind that the existing machinery, scattered as it is, will have to go on working at full pressure all the time, and any attempts to alter it should be undertaken with the greatest care and circumspection or you are going to have a very serious breakdown. For that reason, though it is not at all logical to bring in these three Ministers, I shall be glad to rope them in. It seems to me that they are roped in for the benefit of the Minister of Pensions in order that he may be entitled to call upon their assistance with regard to Departments of which they know a great deal and of which at present necessarily he knows nothing.
There is another very important reason why it would be desirable to have these three advisers. You must bear in mind that it is not only a question of reorganising the present machinery of pensions. The right hon. Gentleman the Pensions Minister has told us definitely that he proposes to scrap the existing system of pensions and set up a new one in its place. He has condemned the existing system in the very strongest terms because he Has described the flat-rate system, which was combined with the supplementary system, as the most objectionable and unfair instrument you could apply to the system of awards in connection with pensions. He may be right or wrong. But the existing system of pensions was set up by the highest authority, by the Government, on the recommendation of a Select Committee, on which there were four important 548 Ministers, the Secretary of State for War, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary for the Colonies, and the Secretary for India, and it was approved by this House. If it is proposed to scrap that system and set up a new system in its place, the advice of Ministers who have had great experience in the matter of pensions would be of great value to the Pensions Minister. The Paymaster-General himself has said that the advice of those men would be of great assistance to him in setting up his new scales. As he wished to receive that advice, I do not see why it should not be available. It is quite possible to make too much of this matter, I quite agree. Still, for the reasons which I have given and as a matter almost, I might say, of courtesy and convenience, it would be well to retain these words in the Bill.
§ 5.0 P.M.
General IVOR PHLIPPS
There is; no question that these words are unnecessary. The two Gentlemen who have already done so much for pensions are now handing over their work to one single body, and the House has decided definitely that it wants a powerful Pensions: Minister. Here, in the wording of this Bill, you have the most extraordinary document ever put before the House of Commons. You have actually appointed a. Minister of Pensions and you are compelling him by law to take the advice of three subordinate officers of other Departments. That is the position, and anybody who knows anything of Government Departments knows that is so. These three Financial Secretaries are the subordinate officers of the Secretaries of State for their Departments. To compel the Pensions Minister to go to subordinate officers of other Departments for advice is surely absurd. Have you put anything in the Bill that he has to follow that advice? Not a word. He has to ask for the advice. Is there any Department of the Government to-day that cannot get the advice and does not get the advice of every other Department? I say that if there is such a Department, the head of that Department ought to leave the Bench at once. I am sure they are purely redundant words. Why should we lay it down that the Pensions Minister should always be the Paymaster-General? It is not at all necessary. Why should we tie ourselves like this? We did not do so in the case of the Minister of Munitions. We did not 549 say he ought always to be somebody else. Let the Government in future appoint the man look fitted carry out this kind of work, quite irrespective of wnanl athor duties may be. I am one of those who want to see a whole-timer. I welcome the decision that the House has come to. We decided that we would have one man running this show, and we do not want to tie his hands in any way. There is no question about being obliged to leave the present occupiers of these posts in the Bill because they had first been put in. It is no insult to the Gentlemen to leave him out. They know perfectly well they have as much to do as they can tackle at the present time—indeed, they have more than they can do. There is no harder working Member of this House than the Financial Secretary to the War Office. The one object we want is to relieve him of this work, because we know he has such an enormous amount of other work to do already.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
I desire also to support the Amendment that has been moved. The first part of the Clause that we have before us lays down a very clear, simple, and direct principle, namely, that there shall be a Minister of Pensions. The latter part of the Clause proceeds to qualify that in various ways. In the first place, the Minister himself is not to be a whole timer. He is to have associated with him another Department and he is to divide his energies between two Departments. Not only is that so, but as has been said he is to have associated with him Ministers from three other Departments. That very seriously qualifies the simple and straightforward principle that there ought to be a Ministry of Pensions. What is the object sought to be attained in this Bill by having associated with the Ministers these three representatives of other Departments? It must have been put in for some definite purpose and to achieve some valuable result. I cannot see what the object is. The only object which I can imagine is the object of consultation. Does not that follow as a matter of course? If there is any technical matter whatever on which consultation with another Department is necessary any Minister of any Department will always consult another Department. A Minister is not an independent potentate who evolves in the seclusion of his own office what policy is necessary on great national affairs and comes down as a great potentate to announce his policy 550 to the House. All great questions of policy with regard to any Department must always be settled by the Minister of that Department in consultation with the Cabrnee and If the Cabinet wishes for the views of some specine Department be definitely ascertained they secure that even if the particular Minister concerned has neglected to do so. The fighting Services, the Army and the Navy, and the other service, the Local Government Board, which has been dragged in, have no special concern with men after they have been discharged from the Army and the Navy. They are specially concerned with them as long as they are fighting members of the forces. But after they have been disabled and are unfit for services in any of the forces and have come back to civil employment, or lack of employment, the Army and Navy have no special concern with them any more than the Board of Agriculture or the Home Secretary.
These men are really a national charge, and every Department and every member of the Cabinet has the same interest in them. Is it suggested that the fighting Services are going to be injured in any way if the future of the discharged soldiers and sailors is determined solely with regard to civil interests outside? I can conceive of a situation in which it might be desirable to have statutory representation of the Army and Navy. That would be so if the Minister of Pensions were dealing with Service pensions, with pensions which were really a matter of discipline, or pensions that were a matter of deferred pay. If he were dealing with these matters, then undoubtedly it would be desirable to have these Services represented, but all these service pensions have been specifically reserved for the Army and Navy. The new Minister of Pensions cannot touch them at all, and that being the case, the Army and the Navy have no more specific claim to be represented and can render no more valuable service than any other Department. This is a matter which ought to be decided without any reference to the fighting Services. It ought to be determined solely on national and civil grounds, upon the duty of the nation as a whole to those men who have been broken in this War. Again, we know from the daily discussion of affairs in this House, that the two fighting Services are overworked. The Financial Secretary to the War 551 Office, who is sitting there, has, on a multiplicity of occasions, to undertake work which does not strictly belong to his Department in this House He is here doing practically the whole of the daily Parliamentary work of the Secretary of State quite outside his own Department, and he has repeatedly to tell us he has not had time to devote to the consideration of matters on which he is answering questions in this House. Here in this Bill there is an opportunity of securing devolution and cutting the fighting Services free from this entirely civil work, and allowing them to concentrate their attention on winning the War and conducting the fighting Services as they should be conducted. This Bill, in its present form, still contains the taint of compromise. Sometimes compromise is necessary. If you have conflicting interests in the country you must compromise between them, but there is no conflicting interest in this country here. The only conflicting interest is the interest of the various Departments, and this is a Departmental compromise which conflicts with the interest of the country as a whole. I suggest that the only clear, simple, and straightforward method of procedure is to adopt the Amendment which has been moved.
§ Sir TUDOR WALTERS
I should like to understand more clearly what this Clause means before deciding which way to vote. "The Minister of Pensions must be Paymaster-General, to be advised by certain gentlemen." What does that mean? One hears about the King being advised by his Ministers. We know what that means. Does this particular wording indicate that the Minister of Pensions is to be instructed in his policy by the particular advice that these three Departmental officials may have to give him? Does it mean, for instance, that when dealing with the Admiralty he must confer with the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, and must accept his advice? If all it means is this, that the Minister of Pensions really has a free hand, that he can come to decisions entirely according to his own judgment, I can see very great advantage in the retention of the Clause in its present form. I think it must be perfectly obvious that the arrangement devised in this Bill can only be a temporary measure; therefore we have to consider what will take place 552 during the War. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has referred to a military clean cut. When it Bill into law, certain men will not be in the fighting Services, and certain men will be in the fighting Services, and those can at once be sent to the separate Departments. I imagine there will be some little difficulty in the particular process and the particular moment of time when a man can be transferred from one department to another. I can quite conceive, as far as the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty is concerned, there may be certain periods of time in which, without consultation between the two Departments, there will be serious overlapping. I could imagine the Minister of Pensions saying to the Admiralty, "How and when are we to transfer the various cases that I have before me from your Admiralty Pensions list to that of the Department over which I am presiding?" If it is perfectly clear that the Minister of Pensions is supreme, if he stands in precisely the same position with regard to his Department as the Minister of Munitions does in regard to his, or the Secretary of State for War in regard to his Department, then I really cannot see why my hon. Friend should wax so eloquent about divided authority.
Unless I am perfectly satisfied that the Minister of Pensions is supreme, that he does act entirely upon his own authority, I shall support the Amendment, but if it means—and I fancy this is really what it does mean—that those who have drafted the Bill know perfectly well that for some months at least, and probably for some years to come, the co-ordination of these different Departments will be a great difficulty, and the transfer of men from one Department to another will present very great problems, then it seems to me it was a very wise provision, because it would impose upon these Gentlemen an obligation of really serving under the Minister of Pensions. If they were meant to be coequal officials, surely the heads of the various Departments concerned would have been appointed as the men who were to advise with the Minister of Pensions? That would have been quite a different matter. If, instead of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty being called upon for advice, it had been the First Lord of the Admiralty, and, instead of the Financial Secretary to the War Office, it had been the Secretary of State for War, then that would have made a tremendous difference. The Minister of 553 Pensions then would have had slender authority, and would have been in a minority for his own Department. But if these three Gentlemen, who are subordinate members of the Government, have no voting power, if they cannot impose their will and pleasure on the Minister of Munitions, then I am satisfied. What I really think is intended is to give the Minister of Pensions a hold upon these Gentlemen, in order to serve him in an advisory capacity which otherwise he would not have had over them. Supposing the Minister of Pensions wants advice from the Financial Secretary to the War Department, and calls upon him, the Secretary to the War Office might say, "This is not my business; I am too full of other duties as regards the foolish questions I have to answer from day to day—all the ingenious questions that really have no bearing on the War at all. I must satisfy the House of Commons, or they might turn me out of my position; therefore, I cannot assist the Pensions Department." As I understand, this Bill provides that the Minister of Pensions shall be able to consult the three Gentlemen naned in the Clause, and be in a position to call upon them to give him advice.
If the Minister of Pensions disregards that advice or thinks that it is not wise, and that his own policy is better, he is perfectly at liberty to pursue that policy; but he would not be in a position to do all that if these words were not in the Bill. Do not let us run away with words, or rather do not let words run away with us. That is the sort of thing that is constantly happening. We are quite right in asking for unity of administration, but do not let us make a species of shibboleth of that word. You will often arrive at unity in administration very much more effectively by concentration than you can by rushing away upon some preconceived opinion. You can better get through pressure by a little investigation than you can by laying down a hard and fast line, and a Minister, in seeking unity of administration, should not find himself overlapping or getting into difficulties with the Admiralty or the War Office. On the balance of considerations—of course there is something to be said on both sides—I at least am of opinion that this particular Clause does not deprive the Minister of Pensions of any prestige, or authority, or function as head of the Department, but it does, in fact, give him the right to ask the assist- 554 ance and advice of members of other Departments who could not otherwise be called upon if these powers were not in the Bill. We have to consider also what may happen during the next few months, and, in my view, we ought to retain the words in the Bill, and ought not to accept the Amendment.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. Forster)
I hope the House will allow me to say a few words in regard to what has been said. My hon. Friend who has just sat down said if he was satisfied that the authority of the Minister of Pensions was going to be supreme, he would assent to the words proposed in the Bill as they stand. I give him that assurance at once. There is no question whatever, there is no arriére pensée or reservation about the proposal we make, that the authority of the Minister of Pensions is supreme. What we propose here is that he shall have the right to call upon three other Ministers, who are named in the Bill, for their advice. There is no thought in our mind of exercising anything in the nature of undue influence, or anything of that kind, upon my right hon. Friend, and if we had that in mind we might be grievously disappointed if we tried to exercise it upon him. What are the reasons which have moved us in leaving in three Ministers, who may be summoned in the position of advisers. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment said that one Department communicating with another cannot make for dispatch, or something to that effect. It is because we want to make for dispatch that we have put this proposal in the Bill. I do not think that anybody who has not had departmental experience can possibly realise two Departments running side by side in matters of administration. [An HON. MEMBER: "Which two?"] The Ministry of Pensions and the other Departments concerned—the Admiralty and the Statutory Committee. You cannot make a clean cut. It sounds all right in theory to say "make a clean cut between the Pensions Ministry and the War Office," but at any rate for a very considerable time to come you cannot make a clean cut, because when you are considering small pensions for soldiers or sailors there are matters of which the Minister of Pensions must be in possession when coming to a determination with regard to them. What is the best way of putting my right hon. Friend in possession of the information he wants to have? 555 Do you want to have eternal intercommunication between Departments by means of correspondence, with which we are so familiar, and which we all so much regret? You do not want that. All that we wish to see done is that my right hon. Friend, if he wants advice from the War Office, shall be able to ask me to come and talk with him, and so settle it together. An hon. Member said in the course of his speech that it is not necessary to throw this burden upon the Financial Secretary to the War Office, and that some other official of the War Office might be got to do the work. You cannot do that, because nobody has authority to do it. What would happen if you deputed some officer of the Department to consult with my right hon. Friend? He would have to come back to get authority from me, or from the Secretary of State, to carry out any arrangement that had been suggested where the War Office was concerned. It is in the very interests of quick dispatch of business that this proposal is made.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
Can the hon. Gentleman give an example of where it might be necessary to consult?
§ Mr. SCANLAN
Would it not be simpler if the Pensions Minister decided the matter for himself, without consulting these hon. Gentlemen?
§ Mr. FORSTER
I submit that in the interests of smooth working—and we want to make the working of this Bill as smooth as we can—that if you are going to study the interests of the pensioners, rather than cling to a theory which the House apparently has fallen in love with, and if you want to obtain smooth and quick working of this measure, you will do well to keep these words in the Bill. It is said, of course, that one Minister can always consult another. That is perfectly true, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that as long as I am in my present office I shall always be willing, whether the words are in the Bill or not, to give my right hon. Friend such advice as he may desire to have or which I am able to give. It is one thing to say that the Minister of Pensions is free to consult any other Minister he likes, but it is quite another thing to have the obligation put upon my shoulders, and on the shoulders of my 556 right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, by the House of Commons to place ourselves at the disposal of the Minister of Pensions when our advice is sought. The House on Monday last aimed at two things. It aimed at unification of system and it aimed at the creation of a Minister of Pensions as opposed to a Board of Pensions. We have accepted, loyally accepted, the view of the House as expressed by the Amendment we have put down, and if the system which is now suggested, in what we may call the new Bill, be proved to be unworkable, it is open to the House to make such further Amendments in it as experience may show to be necessary. But I say frankly, and I say perfectly bluntly, that the House of Commons is going to make a great mistake if they divorce the two great fighting Services from the position which they occupy in the Bill. I say frankly and perfectly straightly to the House of Commons that I believe they will make a great mistake if they divorce us from the position of advisers in the way this Bill suggests. I hope, therefore, that the House will not accept the Amendment.
§ Sir FRANCIS LOWE
My hon. Friend who spoke on the other side said this was a temporary measure. It is nothing of the kind; there is no Clause whatever which says that it is only to operate for the period of the War and no longer, and until the House alters the Bill it will, as an Act, remain in operation for all time. I am perfectly certain that the object of every member of this Committee is to do all he can to avoid any unnecessary delay in supplying the pensions and seeing them paid over to the recipients as soon as it possibly can be done. In order to bring that about we should make the Bill as simple as we possibly can. First of all, why on earth should we, in the Bill, say that the Paymaster-General, no matter who he is, shall be for all time the Minister of Pensions? We may believe very much in the present Paymaster-General as a very suitable occupant of the position, but another Paymaster-General appointed some time hereafter might not be at all a suitable man. I submit that kind of thing is contrary to precedent and most unusual. The Bill says that there shall be appointed a Minister of Pensions, and that is as far as the Committee want to go. We say that the Minister of Pensions shall be appointed with full power, and there is nothing what 557 ever in the Bill to prevent his receiving the advice of anybody whose advice he wishes to take. I cannot imagine for a moment that the various Secretaries who are included in this Bill would refuse to give that advice whenever the new Minister of Pensions asked them for it, and I do not think that the Gentlemen appointed to these responsible offices in connection with the Admiralty and War Office would for a moment refuse to give advice if they were asked to assist the Minister of Pensions in the proper administration of his office. I see by the Clause further down that the Minister of Pensions can appoint as many officials, servants, and assistants as he likes and that he can distribute the work they have to do in the manner which he thinks best It seems to me that in this way ho will have the fullest power to obtain any assistance or advice that he likes. For these reasons I do not think we need go further. I think it would be monstrously absurd for this Committee to say that the Paymaster-General, whoever he may be, shall for all time be Minister of Pensions, and I, for one, will not be a party to anything of the kind.
§ Mr. S. ROBERTS (Ecclesall, Sheffield)
I think the Financial Secretary to the War Office was perfectly right in his interpretation of this Clause, and that there is no doubt about the fact that the sole power is in the hands of the Minister. Clause 2 says that there shall be transferred to the Minister—first, the powers of the Admiralty, then those of the Commissioners of Chelsea, and, finally, the powers of the Army Council.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I am dealing with Clause 2, and my point is that the sole power of decision is, under that Clause, in the hands of the Minister of Pensions. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no!"] I think it is and that it is perfectly clear. The point raised by the Amendment is, Shall these Departments be suddenly divorced from the pension question which they have had to administer and which they are administering now? [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] You cannot suddenly cut them off and allow the Minister of Pensions to go his own way. and I am sure he would not wish to go his own way, but would wish to be advised by those who know what they have been doing in the past and what they are doing now. I think it is perfectly 558 right that the three hon. Gentlemen mentioned should be consulted in cases where the Minister wishes their advice. The words are, "and shall be advised by." I take it that those mean "shall be advised where he thinks it necessary."
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I think it means that he is to adopt their advice if he likes. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] That is my construction of the matter, and I support the position taken up by the Government.
§ Mr. MILLAR
I desire to support the Amendment mainly on the ground that the words in question undoubtedly restrict and limit the powers of the Minister. I think hon. and learned Gentlemen present will agree with me that the words "shall be advised" are mandatory. If it had been the intention of those who drafted this Bill that the Minister's decision should be final and that he should have no restriction placed on his action, then I would suggest the words employed in Clause 3 with reference to the Statutory Committee, which provide that the Statutory Committee shall render to the Minister of Pensions advice and assistance in respect of any matter on which such advice and assistance is requested by the Minister. I would suggest that it is most desirable that nothing should be done which might in any way affect or influence the policy of the Minister in any important question he may have to deal with. The hon. Gentleman who represents the War Office stated that it was desirable that he should have special powers to invoke the aid of the War Office, and it has been suggested by hon. Members opposite that it is necessary that those powers should be given by Statute. I submit that is quite unnecessary. Surely those three Departments which are intimately associated with and interested in this question will be at all times ready to give every assistance in their power. We know that the hon. Members who represent them are anxious to do everything in their power to advance the interests of the pensions scheme. I think it would be most unfortunate if any words were allowed to remain in this Clause which would have the effect in law of restricting the power of the Minister. I accept my hon. Friend's assurance that it is not the intention to fetter the Minister; but why not make it perfectly clear. If the hon. Gentleman is prepared to put in words such as those 559 employed in Section 3 to which I have referred, the matter, I think, could be settled in that way.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Hayes Fisher)
I am unable to give any assurance on behalf of the Government that these words would be considered preferable to the words which are in the Bill. My right hon. Friend who is in charge of the Bill is absent for a few moments. As I am one of the three persons mentioned, I am quite ready to say for myself that, personally, I should be quite ready to accept these words in exchange for the other words, so far as I am concerned, because my intention is the intention of the House that there shall be one unified system of pensions, for which I have been asking for two years, and one Pensions Minister, for which I have been asking for over two years. It is fully the intention, so far as I am concerned, that the present Minister for Pensions should be the supreme authority just as is any other Minister in exercising authority in any other Department. But I do think it is useful, if I may say so as one of them, from the point of view of the soldier and the sailor, that we should be associated in the way of giving advice and assistance to my right hon. Friend, and that it should toe a duty not only that devolves on one because one is a member of the same Government, but that it should be a duty imposed upon us by Statute, and that my right hon. Friend should have the right to look for our advice or assistance.
My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary explained why he considers that he would be a useful adjunct to the system. I heard some voices at the time say, "What about the Local Government Board? What have you got to do with it?" Somebody said that the Local Government Board had nothing whatever to do with it. It has. I think it is admitted in this discussion this evening that the pivot upon which any good machinery is going to turn for the benefit of the soldier and the sailor will be the local committees. Those local committees are set up by schemes approved toy the Statutory Committee and which have been framed by the county councils and borough councils and the various local authorities. I have taken part in framing those schemes, and I have spent many weary hours and days and 560 weeks in doing so. You may at times have to alter your scheme, and those bodies look more to the Local Government Board than they look to any other branch of our administration for advice and assistance. They are constantly coming to the Local Government Board for advice and assistance, whether the matter is actually concerned with the Local Government Board or not, and our inspectors are constantly advising these local bodies. Quite apart from that, let me remind the House that the whole of the finance of these local committees is really under the sanction and control of the Local Government Board. By the Local Government Emergency Act no county council or borough cuncil can spend mney upon administrative expenses of its pensions committee unless those administrative expenses are sanctioned by the Local Government Board. Further than that, the Treasury has now, very naturally wishing to disburden itself of some of its duties, cast upon the Local Government Board the duty of saying whether or not in the case of every one of these committees which they propose to take out of the rates is a reasonable expenditure or whether it is not.
There is, I think, one good reason why in a state of transition, for that is really what we are legislating for, it would be a good thing that it should be cast upon me as Secretary to the Local Government Board officially the duty to endeavour by any advice and any assistance I can render to make the whole of this machinery go round more smoothly in the interests of soldiers and sailors. I think, possibly, that there is an added inducement in putting me on as one of the three advisers because of my very long connection with the pension system in this country, now over seventeen years, as an ex officio member of every single committee of the Statutory Committees. My hon. and gallant Friend opposite said time after time that none of us had an hour to spare for the work of pensions. I have looked at my diary and made a calculation and on the average I have never been engaged less than twenty hours in every week adjudicating on pensions and endeavouring to get our pensions system into better working order, that is our of four working days ever since the War began. I have looked into certainly not hundreds but thousands of cases and I have answered thousands of letters from all over the country, and I think I can humbly say that my advice and assistance 561 will be likely to be of considerable use to the Minister of Pensions. I assured him that any experience and any knowledge I have I shall be only too pleased to place at his disposal quite voluntarily. [An Hon. MEMBFR: "Why put it in the Bill?"] But I agree with my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary that it is very much better that it should be put into the Act and imposed upon us as a duty, and we shall be expected to do it. I admit you could argue the other way. I think I have made out at least some case for the Secretary to the Local Government Board being associated with my right hon. Friend. If there is any need for it, let me assure the House that there is no rivalry on the part of any of us—none whatever! Personally I recognise that it is much better that a Cabinet Minister should be Pensions Minister. A Cabinet Minister will have much more chance of influencing the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is the real person whom we shall have to get into our councils if we want to alter the Royal Warrants, and attend to many of those sad cases of which we read every day of our lives where pensions are being denied to those who have done admirable service for their country. I hope that I have made out a reasonable case, and that I shall neither be sent to the gallows or to another place as the result of any services I may be able to render.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
I have listened with great interest to my right hon. Friend, and I think I shall be voicing the universal opinion of the House when I say how much we all recognise the pensions system owes to his work. We recognise, too, the very great foresight he showed long ago as to the ultimate development of this question. But if I may so, with great respect to him, and his somewhat melancholy foreboding as to his future, that is not quite the Amendment before the House. It has been suggested that we who support the Amendment want to divorce the Minister of Pensions from the three intimate Friends who at the present moment surround him. That is not so. We want them to act in exactly the same amity and concord in the future as now. The real point, however, is: are the words in this Bill really necessary or advisable for that purpose? That is the real point of the Amendment. First of all, with regard to the Paymaster-General, it is beyond controversy that not one member of the Government has raised his voice in support of these words. There has not 562 been one word of justification for saying that these five words should remain in the Bill, for this obvious reason: The Paymaster-General has, as I understand it, a sinecure office. If the office is that, and it is no longer required, then let the office be abolished. Do not let us have a sinecure office in name and make it a paid office in the name of the Minister of Pensions.
Let us come to the second part. The right hon. Gentleman is referred to in the Bill as Paymaster-General. I understand in this office he does nothing, and receives nothing. He is, in fact, we know, Labour Adviser to the Government. What does it come to? I do not wish to say a word offensively about one for whom, as he knows, I have great respect. But the right hon. Gentleman is really under this Bill a half-timer. He is Pensions Minister half his time and Labour Adviser the other half of his time. But whereas as Minister of Pensions he spends his time in receiving advice from the three Gentlemen, the rest of his time is given to advising the twenty-two other Gentlemen in the Cabinet. I am very glad to know that this Bill does not provide for anybody's advice except the advice of these three Gentlemen. But it is not very respectful to them. All the Bill provides for is that he shall be advised by them, but as to accepting that advice, I am not so sure. I could have understood the Bill provided that the right hon. Gentleman should take the advice of his colleagues. In view of that at present it is simply an academic discussion in regard to these four Gentlemen. The Bill in effect says that the Minister of Pensions, when an important point comes up, has so little ultimate confidence of being able to make up his mind alone that he is under Statute, to call the three other Gentlemen into consultation with him to advise him. He need not, however, take their advice. Let me put a case.
Supposing the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions has one view upon an important policy, and calls in the other three Gentlemen, who give contrary advice to his own view. What will he do? I really do not know what he will do, but I suggest that one of the points which will occur to him will be this: "I take one view and these other three Gentlemen take another view; the Statute says I shall be advised by them, and the Statute really meant that if my opinion was contrary to the opinion of these three Gentlemen I 563 should follow their advice." At any rate, he would have some reluctance to act upon his own advice contrary to that of the three Gentlemen whom the Statute says should advise him. I submit that this is a point of substance. One does not want to go into any detail in discussing these matters, and, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, I feel perhaps it is not quite gracious on our part—that is, some of us who take this point now—to take this objection at this stage, when we admit that the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends have met us most generously in regard to the main points. But it is only because I really think that the Government are a great deal more anxious about the success of the undertaking than about any form of words that I am making this appeal to them. I had intended to refer to Clause 3, where the words are quite different. Clause 3 says:The Statutory Committee shall render to the Minister of Pensions advice and assistance in respect of any matter on which such advice and assistance is requested by the Minister.I do not think this is very flattering to the three Gentlemen. They can only give advice. On the other hand, the Statutory Committee, according to these words, can give both assistance and advice—which is a very different thing! The Minister may require advice, and he may require assistance, though he may not necessarily get the latter when he gets the former, and he may have better assistance in not having advice. One other point, which I think is one of substance. In Clause 8, as I understand it, the heads of the Departments in the Admiralty and the War Office, who really have experience of this matter, will go to the Minister of Pensions. Subsection (1) says:There shall be transferred and attached to the Ministry of Pensions such of the persons employed under the Admiralty, the Commissioners of the said hospital, the War Office, and the Statutory Committee in or about the execution of the powers and duties transferred to the Minister of Pensions by this Act.…Therefore the right hon. Gentleman will have skilled servants to help him in this matter. About this I am quite certain, we are not dealing with this matter in any cantankerous spirit at all. We are quite certain that the four right hon. Gentlemen 564 are most anxious to meet the wishes of this Committee. There is no difference of opinion as to the aim to be arrived at, and I am satisfied that the Committee will come to some agreement upon the matter.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I want to respond to the invitation of my right hon. Friend. I can assure the Committee that the whole desire, not only of myself, but of those with whom I am associated in this matter is to try to put into the Bill what we conceive to be the position of the Committee as it found expression on Monday. I thought we had managed to do that in the White Paper. I have listened very attentively to the Debate on the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince, and I want to see how far it is possible for us to come to agreement. The Amendment divides itself into two parts. I think I must, before I make the suggestion I am about to make, offer an observation or two in regard to the first part. It proposes to leave out of this Clause "Who shall be Paymaster-General" That leads me to notice the objection that has been raised during the stages of, the discussions on this Bill in regard to myself. I have tried to say before that whilst the office of Paymaster-General has been treated, I think, by some of the occupants of the office as a sinecure, there is an amount of work to be done by a Paymaster-General who is willing to do it of the kind that will come under the direction, control, and administration of the Minister of Pensions. I refer to the work in connection with Chelsea Hospital. It is because I have been brought so closely into touch with that work during the past few months that I have realised all the limitations and anomalies of our pensions system, and in fact many of its injustices. I do not mind saying, as I said in a previous discussion, that if there is a feeling in the House that the work under the new Department is going to be so onerous that it is quite impossible for me to discharge the work of the dual position of Labour Adviser and Pensions Minister then I am quite prepared to have that matter settled straight away. The longer the Debate on the Bill goes on, however, the more I am convinced that there is some confusion and misunderstanding as to the duties devolving upon me in my capacity as Labour Adviser.
More than one Member of the House has given me to understand he understood that when this appointment was made and the new Department was organised that we 565 took over important executive functions from some of the other Departments that were dealing with labour questions. I want to assure the Committee that that was not so. There is no executive functions whatsoever to be discharged by myself or by my Department. To-day I may be called upon to advise one or more Departments; to-morrow I may be called upon to advise none. When I got the Department organised with the valuable assistance, as I have pointed out, of my colleague the Parliamentary Secretary, the Member for Norwich (Mr. G. H. Roberts), it left me free to devote my time to the work of the chairmanship of Chelsea Hospital. Let it be understood that having given up my position as President of the Board of Education to attend to the fullest extent to the work of Labour Adviser, if I have to make a choice—as I told the House on the Second Reading of the Bill—that if representations were made to the Prime Minister that it was considered impossible for me adequately, effectively, and efficiently to discharge the duties of the two positions, and I was compelled to make a choice—then I shall make the choice of remaining at my work as Labour Adviser. I want to make that perfectly clear, because it will mean me giving up my work—especially if this part of the Amendment is carried—in connection with the chairmanship of the Chelsea Commissioners. I should like the Committee to recollect that the Chelsea Commissioners do not cease to exist when this Bill becomes law. They will still have important functions to discharge in connection with the large number of aged pensioners at the hospital, and they will still have administrative work to do at the War Office in connection with the Service pensions. Hon. Members will see there is still going to be work for the Paymaster-General—work that he ought to do, and work that no one else can do, except the Governor of the hospital takes his position in the absence of the chairman. All that work must devolve upon the Paymaster-General. But may I put this point to the Committee? In view of the talk there has been about a half-time office, suppose we accept the first part of the Amendment, it may be interpreted that that is an expression of the opinion of the Committee that the present Paymaster-General should not continue as the Pensions Minister. [HON.
566 MEMBERS: "No!"] Let us face the question about the half-timer. Let us be perfectly fair. I am going to be perfectly candid with the Committee. What can be the construction? In every Debate we have had on the Bill in many speeches the question as to my ability to give the time to discharge the duties of Pensions Minister has been raised, and only a few-moments ago we had an hon. Member saying they were not going to have a halt-timer. I have told the House that I feel I can organise this Department without detriment to the advisory work I have to do as Labour Adviser. If the House says it is not going to have a half-timer, or, in other words, that anybody who holds another position must not be appointed to the position of Pensions Minister—I want to try to understand the Amendment, and I want the Committee to understand its possible effect. The first part of the Amendment deletes the Paymaster-General for the time being from being Pensions Minister—[Hon MEMBERS: "No!"]—as Paymaster-General. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] That is how I interpret it. The words are perfectly clear. You must not take the words irrespective of the Debate that has been raised on every stage of the Bill. It will take out the words "who shall be the Paymaster-General." Have we to accept that as being the expression of the mind of the Committee, that because the present Paymaster-General is a half-timer, or, if you like, that the Paymaster-General, so long as he holds any other office—and there is an Amendment down to that effect—cannot be the Pensions Minister, and therefore he must make a choice?
§ Sir F. LOWE
Might I just explain, as I referred to the Paymaster-General? I personally objected to the Paymaster-General being designated as the Minister of Pensions for all time. I said it should be left a perfectly open question. These Ministers are generally appointed, not by an Act of Parliament, but by the King and on the advice of the Prime Minister, and there is no reason whatsoever why the Prime Minister should not recommend the present holder of the office of Paymaster-General to be the Minister of Pensions.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I understand now it is desired to divorce entirely the connection of these words in the first part of the Amendment from all association with the statements made regarding the half-timer.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
I have never opened my lips about half-timers, and I had not the slightest desire in any remarks I made to suggest that my right hon. Friend should not hold the office. As to one's opinions, we will not say anything, but certainly not a single reference was made in my speech to any such idea as my right hon. Friend has in his mind.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I do not for a moment suggest that the Mover of the Amendment made any such reference, but he has sat through the Debate and has heard a number of speakers refer to it. All I want to do is to make it perfectly clear to the Committee that if there is to be any influence brought on the mind of the Prime Minister that a half-timer, as has been suggested, cannot hold this office, and I have to make a choice, my choice is made. I shall remain Labour Adviser and ask the Prime Minister to appoint a Minister of Pensions. With regard to the suggestion that has been made from both sides of the Committee, I am exceedingly anxious to meet the Committee; in fact, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, I thought we had done so in the proposals contained in the White Paper. If we can come to an agreement, I make this suggestion: that we delete from the new Clause 1 the words "advised by," in order to insert the words "entitled to receive advice and assistance from." Then go on to the end of the Clause, and it would continue "in respect of any matter on which such advice and assistance is requested by the Minister." It appears to me that if we could compromise on those words, it is a very fair offer, and, if the Committee will agree, I will ask the permission of the Chair to move it
§ Mr. BOOTH
I have endeavoured to press upon the Committee what I think is more important than these three offices, and that is the position of the National Insurance Act. If you are going to take advice you must surely take advice from the National Insurance Commissioners, nearly all the people concerned being insured persons. Ninety per cent. at least of these people are insured per-Bons, and already there is the greatest overlapping. I submit there will be no unification and no proper settlement unless the Minister of Pensions is pre- 568 pared boldly to face the position of these men under the Insurance Act, where they have paid for these pensions.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I am on the Amendment before the Committee with regard to the deletion of these names, and I am arguing that the men who are named here to give advice are not the right people. I think it would be a great mistake to direct the Pensions Minister to consult the Navy, the Army, and the Local Government Board, if you are giving directions to him, and not ask him to consult the National Insurance authorities, because what is happening? The Army and Navy Boards at the present time are telling their men, "you are only partially disabled" and they are following that up with partial pension. That compels those men to go on to the Insurance Act, and when they do that the Insurance Act doctor says, "You are completely disabled." The man replies, "No, sir. I have been certified as partially disabled by the Army (or Navy), and I have only got a partial pension." "But," says the insurance doctor, "you are totally disabled, and you must have a disablement pension from the approved society for the rest of your life." I am not urging anything more than that the Pensions Minister must deal with that point, otherwise there will be a collapse in the Act. Those cases are multiplied every week by scores and hundreds. The very first experience of the new Pensions Minister, I venture to think, will be deputations from all the approved societies saying that their funds are strained to breaking point. I am not raising this on a personal ground because I want a particular individual put here. It may be that the Pensions Minister will give me the assurance that he will look into it. I am willing to accept that. But I see the danger of vested interests coming in and pushing the obligation on to insurance funds. I do not charge the present occupants because, when this point came up in a very urgent way, no one could have been more considerate than the two present occupants. We were successful in getting an alteration, though I cannot forget their Departments did not hinder the proposal whereby 5s. invalidity pension was to go in reduction of the Army and Navy pension, 569 which meant that, although men had paid for it by a compulsory deduction from their wages, the Army and Navy were going to deduct the 5s. The representatives of the two Departments could not have behaved better, and we owe it to them to put things right, but at first they put the departmental view, egged on by the Treasury.
That is an experience we must all guard against, and I do say it is a most serious point. If you are going to have three advisers, why should not the Chairman of the Joint Committee under the National Insurance Act also be there in case the Pensions Minister wants to see him? I think he is far more important than these three. The present Army of 5,000,000 consists of insured persons. You are deducting from them now. While they are in the Army you have got a scheme, and when they come out the point is that the Army and Navy should follow them. I am not objecting to these three representatives acting as advisers, but is there any case against the Pensions Minister familiarising himself with the position of the Insurance Act and taking all circumstances into account so that there will be no confusion? If my right hon. Friend could say, without any direction in the Act, that he would look into this matter, I do not want any more pledge than that.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I would like to assure my hon. Friend that I have been doing so already, and have been in conference with some of the Insurance Commissioners on the subject.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accept the Amendment. I have got an Amendment on the Paper which the right hon. Gentleman challenged in the speech just now. He says that if there is any question raised as to whether he is to be Labour Adviser to the Government, if this interferes with his occupancy of the position of Pensions Minister, he knows the course he will take. The whole object of the Amendment which will be considered later is to the effect that whoever is Pensions Minister should devote his whole attention to that office. I think the Committee will agree with me that the policy of the amount which should be given as allowances, the settlement of points which will arise from time to time, and the creation of a Department, will require the assiduous attention of the 570 Minister, and if the right hon. Gentleman thinks he can combine this with other work, I am convinced that the Committee will not agree with him. As a person in a position to advise the Government about labour, there is no one who occupies a more pre-eminent place than my right hon. Friend. But it does not necessarily follow that his successor will be in the same position, and even my right hon. Friend surely would not maintain that he is the only person who can advise the Government with regard to matters of labour. The Labour party in this country is a very big party, and there are many representatives of Labour quite as well able to advise the Government as the right hon. Gentleman in regard to labour troubles, and I think when he sets himself out to take up the position that be is not going to be Pensions Minister, if it will deprive the Government of his services as Labour Adviser, he is putting his personal claim rather too high. Here is a position being created, a most important one, of a Minister of Pensions. The whole time of any man, no matter how capable he may be, is necessary for this position, and the Committee should insist that in appointing a Minister of Pensions we should have a man whose whole time will be devoted to the settlement of pension claims and the policy of pensions. If the right hon. Gentleman is not in a position to take up this office, and feels his responsibility as Paymaster-General or Labour Advisor conflicts with the new duties, he should not accept the responsibility of the position. I am very glad it is not going to be necessary to have the advice of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, the Financial Secretary to the War Office, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board. I think the right hon. Gentleman was quite right in saying if he chooses to take advice he may take it, but he should not be compelled to take it. I think the Amendment should be carried, and then the Bill would be better, and the position of the right hon. Gentleman would be more secure in administering the Pensions Act if he is left without the necessity of consulting those other officers of the Government. I support the Amendment.
§ Mr. DICKINSON
I hope the Government will really seriously consider this matter before they refuse to accept this Amendment. I put down an Amendment 571 to the same affect the moment this Bill came out, and I did so without any reference to any of those personal questions which have been most unfortunately raised during this Debate, and which I do not think come within our cognisance at present. I put down my Amendment because I felt that this was not the place to put in any definite recommendation with regard to the people to fill these positions under the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will be appointed Minister of Pensions, I hope, by the Soverign on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, and the mere fact that we strike out the Paymaster-General, in my opinion, ought to have no effect whatever in this respect. We object to the insertion of the Paymaster-General, because in an Act which is going to last for years there is no reason to think that it will be advisable to put future Paymasters-General into the office of Minister of Pensions. It is an accident that the right hon. Gentleman happens to hold this post now, but we should not tie the hands of the Sovereign in regard to the choice of a Minister. The same observation applies to the other officers mentioned. If the Minister of Pensions is to have the right to have the advice and assistance of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, the Financial Secretary to the War Office, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board—and I would suggest the Chairman of the National Health Insurance Joint Committee—they would be most useful in rendering assistance to the Pensions Minister. I think it would be a great mistake to put into this Act these particular representatives who are the juniors of those three Departments, who are always to be turned to for advice and assistance.
There is going to be a very considerable change, and we are setting up a Ministry of Pensions that is to be a branch of our Civil administration. We cannot attach too much importance to this fact that the House wishes to put this question of pensions into a Civil administration branch and take it out of the two military Departments. That is the main object of the change, and that being so, it has been accepted by the House and by the right hon. Gentleman that the Minister of Pensions shall be the supreme authority. All we have to do now is to ask that the Minister shall have the right to obtain advice 572 and assistance from these—offcers. The Pensions Minister is going to take over-all the members of the staff of those Departments who know anything about the subject. I agree that for the first year or two the new Minister of Pensions will have to be in constant and close communication with those Departments, but those matters can be better adjusted by the Cabinet than by us trying to put it into an Act of Parliament. The moment the Pensions Minister is in the saddle he will go to the Prime Minister and make some working arrangement in concert with those three great Departments, and unless he does the whole thing will fail. It is far better to do it in that way than try to do it by an Act of Parliament. If the right hon. Gentleman accepts the position that we are not putting any obligation upon him to receive the advice and that we are only empowering him to take it, I think he had better drop out those words altogether, because, after all, this means nothing as regards his personal position.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I make another offer to the hon. Member who Moved this Amendment. In view of the explanation I have given, I am quite willing to accept the part of the Amendment as far as the Paymaster-General is concerned. I would ask that the other part of the Clause should remain on the lines I suggested a moment ago, and with this offer I hope we may now be able to proceed with the Bill.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has made that statement. I have listened to every speech which has been made this afternoon, and I think we might well come to a settlement of the point before us. With regard to the latter part of the Amendment, I think the Government have made a very good offer. The drafting of the Clause has given rise to a considerable amount of misconception. I had drafted the words, "as and when it may be considered necessary to have the co-operation and assistance." However, I think that the words of the Government are better for this purpose, and so far as I am concerned I am satisfied with what has been suggested with regard to the latter portion of the Clause. I think the Committee ought to recognise here and now exactly the position in reference to this office which is about to be created. The Government have made a great mistake in asking the House of Commons to decide who is to be the occu- 573 pant of this office. There is absolutely no precedent for it. It is not impossible that there may be a reconstruction of this Government, perhaps in the course of a month or two, and then the Prime Minister for the time being, under this proposal, would be bound by Act of Parliament to put the Gentleman who may happen to be Paymaster-General in charge of pensions. The whole thing is without precedent. With regard to the three offices of Paymaster-General, Pensions Minister, and Labour Adviser, I say frankly that I think my right hon. Friend is right in making his choice, when it has to be made. I do not think the House will allow any Member of the House—I speak apart from the personality of my right hon. Friend, who is popular on all sides of the House—to fill all those offices, but we who are claiming that this question of pensions is of the greatest importance want a unified administration and prompt decisions, but to say that we are going to have a Minister in charge of the Labour Department who may have to run all over the country settling disputes to avoid industrial trouble in charge of pensions, the whole thing is impossible. For my part I think my right hon. Friend is right in coming to the decision not to attempt to force the House to combine the two offices.
§ Mr. S. WALSH
The explanation and the offer of the right hon. Gentleman is exceedingly satisfactory, and I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made: Leave out the words "who shall be the Paymaster-General."
§ Amendment proposed: Leave out the words "advised by," and insert instead thereof the words "entitled to receive advice and assistance from."—[Mr. Henderson.]
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
Before those words are inserted, I wish to ask would it be competent for me to raise a question afterwards as to whether the Secretary to the Local Government Board should be included amongst those from whom the Pensions Minister receives advice and assistance?
§ Amendment agreed to.574
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
I beg to move to leave out the words "Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board."
The Local Government Board is only an English office and represents only English interests. We have a separate Local Government Board in Scotland, and, if it is conceived that the Local Government Board in virtue of that office has a special interest in this affair of pensions, then undoubtedly in Scotland we have a claim for our Local Government Board being consulted in the same way. Is there any specific reason why, in addition to the-Admiralty and the War Office, the Local Government Board should be permanently consulted? I can quite conceive that there are reasons why the present holder of the office should be consulted. He, undoubtedly, has given great study to the subject, and he knows much about it. His advice, undoubtedly, would be valuable. But why should it be enacted that for all time the Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board should be consulted? If such an enactment is made, then we are entitled to claim similarly that the Secretary for Scotland, or some official representing the Scottish Local Government Board, should be also consulted. This is rather a relic from the old Bill, in, which the Statutory Committee was not fully taken over, but now that the Statutory Committee has been wholly taken over there is no reason why the Local Government Board should be consulted with regard to it, I would suggest that the better way of proceeding would be to introduce an Amendment now, or on the Report stage, confining this to the present holder of the office, and not to have this statutory enactment that the Local Government Board should be at all times consulted.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I am quite sure that those who listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board will remember that he made out a very strong case in support of his retention in this Bill, but I would like to add that for some time he has been the representative of the Statutory Committee in this House, and he has an experience and a knowledge of the pensions problem, I should say, second to no other living politician. Therefore, I think he ought to be retained. In fact, if I have to begin and organise this Department. I shall personally feel that I have 575 been deprived of most valuable assistance if his name is removed from the Bill. There is a good deal to be said from the standpoint of confining the three members occupying these offices to the present occupants. After all, when the Coalition ceases to exist, we shall probably get back to something like ordinary party government, and most of us would feel that one member of a Government would be quite sufficient to fight on the pensions question, instead of having four of the same party to contend against. My right hon. Friend opposite has put down an Amendment on these lines, and I am quite prepared to consider the matter between this and the Report stage to see whether it is advisable to confine it, as suggested by my hon. Friend behind me, not only in the one case but in all three cases to the present occupants.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Further Amendment made: At the end of the Clause add the words "in respect of any matter on which such advice and assistance is required by the Minister."
§ Major H. TERRELL
I beg to move after the words last inserted, to add the words "and who shall occupy no other office or appointment than that of Minister of Pensions."
The object of this Amendment is to carry out that which has been spoken of by many Members—the absolute necessity of having a whole-time Minister of Pensions to attend to this very important work. The right hon. Gentleman in one Debate suggested that he would organise the matter, and that then it would not require the whole of his time to attend to the business of the office. I venture to suggest that is not right. Here we have a Department being set up which will have most important interests to consider and control. It will not be like an ordinary Department where matters are dealt with more or less by rule, but in regard to both pensions and allowances to dependants you will have to -consider and determine every case on its merits. This will involve, of course, an enormous amount of delegation of power, but it must also of necessity impose upon the Minister an enormous amount of personal investigation and labour, and, if you have a half-time Minister, I do not think you will have that supervision of the work which is absolutely necessary. A great deal will depend upon the discretion of 576 the authority who grants the pensions. You cannot have, and you are not going to have, any hard and fast scale of pensions. You are going to have pensions fixed by the Ministry of Pensions having regard to the requirements of each particular case. That, to a great extent, will be dependent upon the reports of local committees, and it will be imperative in a matter requiring so much discretion that the work of those local committees should be supervised by the Minister of Pensions himself. Unless you are going to establish an organisation in which the granting of these pensions and the exercise of this discretion are to be left entirely in the hands of officials of the Department, then you must have a Minister devoting his whole time—and it will be very hard work at that—to the work of his office.
The right hon. Gentleman has suggested that the amount involved might be some twenty million pounds a year. The War is not at an end, and it may last for a long time yet. I shall be very surprised if the amount to be dispensed by the Minister of Pensions does not double the amount of twenty million pounds a year which he has suggested. If you are going to set up a Minister to dispose of that enormous sum every year, you must have a man who will devote his whole time to it. It is not only the magnitude of the amount which impresses this necessity upon my mind, but it is also the interests of the individuals who will be affected. I do not want to see them left to the tender mercies of Departments, I want them to be able to reach the ear of the Pensions Minister himself, if ever they find a grievance inflicted upon them by the Department. The Departments which will have to be set up will be numerous. A department will have to be set up to deal with Admiralty pensions; you will have to have a department to deal with War Office pensions; you will have to have a department to deal with widows; you will have to have a department to deal with dependants; and you will have to have a department to deal with officers' pensions and with officers' widows, because their case differs materially from that of privates. In all these cases an enormous amount of work will be involved, and it must, if it is to be thoroughly done, be done under the personal supervision and control of the Minister of Pensions. It will be impossible for any man, however able he may be and however great an 577 organiser he may be, adequately and substantially to fulfil ail those labours unless he devotes his whole time to the office.
§ Sir F. LOWE
May I say I am very sorry my hon. Friend has brought forward this Amendment? I think we can perfectly well trust the Prime Minister to recommend to His Majesty a suitable person for the office, and, in view of the reasonable way in which the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill has met us, I think it would be somewhat ungracious to discuss this proposal.
§ Mr. S. ROBERTS
I am sure we have no desire to lose the services of the right hon. Gentleman, and I gladly associate myself with what has fallen from the hon. Member for Edgbaston. I hope the Amendment will be withdrawn.
I, too, desire to associate myself with the remarks of the previous speakers, and hope the Amendment will not be pressed.
§ Sir H. CRAIK
I am a member of the Statutory Committee, but, speaking for myself personally, I must say that if the Amendment is pressed I shall be obliged to vote against it.
§ Major H. TERRELL
As the sense of the House is against it, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, at the end of the Clause, to add the words "and shall supervise and control the Board of Commissioners hereafter constituted."
That, of course, leads up to a new Clause, which will, I hope, be considered, but which I must refer to at the moment, although I cannot move it now. The object of the Clause is to set up a Committee, consisting of not less than six and not more than ten Commissioners, of whom at least two shall have had experience in connection with the Army and two in connection with the Navy, and two shall be selected on account of their business experience and organising capacity. The Commissioners shall devote their whole time to the work of the Committee, and shall be paid such annual salary as the Treasury may determine. The Commissioners would be responsible to and under the control of the Pensions Minister. They would have administrative powers and duties only. The father of the whole principle of unification sits 578 before us on the opposite bench, and he now has the pleasure of seeing his child appearing in the world. I am referring to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Hayes Fisher), who was the first person to mention, in public at any rate, the policy of unification in his evidence given before a Select Committee the best part of two years ago—
The hon. Gentleman who interrupts me should have instructed himself before he came to take part in this Debate. I want to quote two or three words from that evidence. The right hon. Gentleman, in that evidence, said he believed that the whole question, after this War, was going to be big enough for a great Pensions Board. It would have a paid chairman and a paid vice-chairman, much in the same way as the Port of London Authority has. Now the idea of unification which was first outlined in that evidence has come forward more prominently. It is a very difficult question. We have had it suggested more than once whether the Pensions Minister—
§ General IVOR PHILIPPS
Is not this a question affecting the duties and powers of the Minister of Pensions, and would it not be more appropriately raised on Clause 2? To put this in now surely would be a piece of bad drafting.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It is a question whether the Amendment does not raise a point which has already been decided.
I ask to be heard on that point. I have not yet made my speech and therefore it is not possible for the Committee to know what I am suggesting the Commissioners should do, and until my suggestions are before the Committee I submit I ought not to be ruled out of order.
§ Sir F. LOWE
Is it not quite impossible for us to lay it down that the new Minister of Pensions shall supervise and control a Board of Commissioners when we do not know what the Board is going to be or what it will have to do? We want to know something about this Board.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is stated, of course, in the proposed new Clause. I may tell the hon. and learned Member that I think his proposal does conflict with the Clause which has already been adopted.
But it is impossible to say that it conflicts until my proposition is before the Committee. What I suggest is that it is desirable to draw a distinction—and it has been done in many Acts of Parliament, and has been developed by many authorities set up by this House—between policy and control and administration and management. Policy and control must remain in the hands of the Minister, but he cannot do all the work himself; he has to administer through agents, and my proposal, to put it quite shortly, is that it is desirable, in the interests of this House and in the interests of the Minister himself, as well as in the interests of the pensioners and dependants, who, after all, ought to have the first consideration, that we should know who exactly are going to administer this Act. I do not for a moment suggest interfering with the Minister's powers or prerogatives, but what I do want, in the interests of control by this House and in the interests of speedy administration, is that we should have a body set up, a body chosen because of their experience—I have indicated the kind of people I suggest in my new Clause, although I do not pin my faith to it closely—that we should have nine responsible people of that kind appointed by His Majesty, and then we shall secure, first of all, to use a phrase first used by the Member for Ince—a phrase I would like to reiterate—"somebody you can hang if things go wrong," because on the Vote for their salaries questions affecting their administration could then be raised.
That is a matter for later consideration. At any rate, the chairman and vice-chairman should be paid. The Port of London Authority has power to pay certain of its members, including the chairman. The chairman has not been paid up to date nor have any of the other members except one. I suggest a certain number of the members of the body I propose should be paid; then we could have an opportunity of discussing their acts on the floor of this House.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think the Amendment is contrary to the policy of the first Clause. It appears to me the hon. Member proposes that the Commissioners shall be responsible to this House. But under Clause 1 it has already been laid down that the Minister shall be responsible.
On the point whether my Amendment conflicts with a decision already come to, I submit that it does not. It in no way affects the Minister's authority; it only lays it down that the Commissioners should be paid in a certain way.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I should like to submit this Amendment of the hon. Member is not in order. When it was first put down I understood it was one of a series of Amendments drawn up at the instance of Members of the House representing a certain Committee, with a view to limiting the powers of the Board which it was proposed in the former Bill to set up. But now a Minister is to be substituted for the Board, and, therefore, I suggest you cannot have paid Commissioners to govern and administer pensions.
May I say it is not as the hon. Member suggests? This Amendment was put down last night and is entirely due to the Amendments on the White Paper. Of course I am prepared to accept the ruling of the Chair if it decides against me. But I do wish to have an opportunity of developing my case. I want to explain that this is to be a coordinating Board.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid I must rule against the hon. Member. It does seem to me, from what he has indicated, and from what he has said, that his new Clause would conflict with the decision already come to.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member was in the House when a similar Amendment was moved by one of his colleagues and was withdrawn. That is the reason why I did not call upon him.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
I was the Member referred to. I moved to omit the words "Parliamentary Secretary of the Local Government Board." But as the Minister responsible for the Bill stated that he would reconsider the point and deal with it again on Report, I withdrew it.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The reason why I did not call on the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Watt) was that a similar Amendment, although not exactly in the same form, had raised the question and had been disposed of in the way stated.
§ Sir P. MAGNUS
I think the right hon. Gentleman said he was prepared to consider the advisability of inserting the word "present" before "Parliamentary Secretary," and to bring up his decision on the Report stage.
§ Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part; of the Bill," put, and agreed to.