HC Deb 03 April 1917 vol 92 cc1249-54

Order for Second Reading read.

Sir EDWIN CORNWALL (Comptroller of the Household)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

I do not know whether the House will be so good as to allow this Bill to pass the Second Reading and perhaps the other stages to-night. It is not a controversial measure, and it arises from the fact that the Pensions Minister has by his recent Royal. Warrant altered the nomenclature of pensioners. Under previous Royal Warrants it was a total disablement pension, and under the present Warrant the description of total disablement pension has gone and in place of it there is the pension of the highest degree, coming down to the various other degrees. That means that the Act passed in 1915, which provided that the total disablement pensioner receives 25s. instead of 20s., with a reduction of 5s. in his insurance benefit, becomes inoperative simply because a new Royal Warrant has a different nomenclature. It would be for the convenience of everybody if we could bring the provisions of the 1915 Act into agreement with the new Royal Pensions Warrant. The first Clause in this Bill provides for the substitution of words in the direction I have indicated, and also provides that for those taking the higher degree of pensions there should be a waiting period enabling them to come back into insurance. Clause 2 deals with those who get a gratuity, and it provides that those who have the gratuity should receive from the Pensions Minister for sure twenty-six weeks at 5s. a week, instead of taking insurance benefit, because it is thought that these men who get a small gratuity are men who would speedily go back to work. A further proviso is to enable soldiers who were not insured before going into the Army, and did not belong to any approved society, to be dealt with by the Insurance Commissioners under the Army and Navy Fund, so that they would not be stranded by being uninsured persons. Those are the general provisions of the Bill I am not asking for the Second Reading of this Bill on any other ground than that of public convenience. It would be helpful to all approved societies if this Bill was passed, because if it is not passed they will be obliged under the present law, by the breakdown of the 1915 Act, to repay the full benefits which would afterwards have to be recovered because there would be the 10s. a week benefit added to the 27s. 6d. That would cause complication. Time does not allow me to go more fully into the Clause, and the House will perhaps take my assurance that there is nothing behind it except to straighten things up, help everybody, and facilitate the working of the National Insurance Act. If the House will give us the Second Reading as well as the other stages to-night I should be very much obliged.


In so far as I understand the explanation that has been given, it seems very reasonable, but I really do suggest that it is rather a tall order to come to us at a quarter to eleven at night with a Bill of this kind and ask that it be put through all its stages. Unless there is the most grave and urgent public reason why it should be done, I think we should do well to allow the hon. Gentleman to get the Second Reading to-night and then let us go over it and see if it might not be amended here and there. He tells us that his intentions are excellent, and I am sure they are, but we ought to examine the excellence of these intentions and see if they can be improved. I think it would be a very reasonable compromise if we allowed the hon. Gentleman to get the Second Reading to-night and the subsequent stages of the Bill were taken later We ought to go over it carefully to see if it needs amendment here and there, but I should be sorry if any hardship resulted to anyone. After all, the hardship has been here for some time, and the Bill could be taken immediately after Easter, a fortnight from now.


It is not the fault of my Department that the Bill has been brought in a hurry. It is entirely due to the fact that the new Royal Warrant has altered the position. But in the circumstances I do not think it is possible for me to press for more than the Second Reading. I do not know, however, if it will be possible to take the other stages to-morrow.


This is a very interesting Debate, but there is one thing about it which strikes me as curious. This is not a Bill for the convenience of the hon. Gentleman representing the Insurance Commissioners, but for the Ministry of Pensions.


The new Royal Warrant has altered the position.


The Ministry of Pensions is really responsible for this Bill, and there ought to be here one of the two representatives of that Ministry. They are not greatly needed in the House, but when they are needed they are not here. That is a very good reason, in my opinion, why we should not proceed with this Bill at all to-night, but I am going to be more generous than that, and I am going to be a party to the Second Reading. If there is a Division, I shall be willing, once in a way, to vote with the Government, but the hon. Gentleman must not expect more than the Second Reading. He can have that, but nothing further.


I rise to protest against this method of introducing legislation. I consider that for a Government to come down here at a quarter to eleven at night and ask us to pass a Bill through all its stages—look at the experience we had the other night, when three Bills were popped through with about two Members in the House—is absolutely disgraceful. I have been sitting here for the last four or five hours, and I have never counted forty Members in the House during the whole of that time. The Chairman succeeded in doing it on one occasion, but before he resumed his seat the House was empty again. How do we know what is in this Bill? [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it!"] I must admit that I have not had time to read it.


It has been circulated.


I do not mind reading it to the House if the House wants me to read it. It is just as well that the House should know what it contains. There is an hon. Member of this House, the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) who for twelve months has been working night and day in the interests of pensions. I do not see him in his seat. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is in the Lobby!"] It would be a very fine thing if he were here—(An HON. MEMBER: "Send for him!"], I can imagine the hon. Member for East Edinburgh having the shock of his life if he were to read in the "Times" to-morrow morning that at five, minutes to eleven to-night a Bill in connection with pensions had been passed through, and he had not had the opportunity of contributing to the Debate upon it, or of urging any objections he might have to it. I am sure that he would have a considerable amount to say upon this Bill when he has had the opportunity of reading it. The question is whether he has had an opportunity of reading it. Personally, I have every faith in his decision on pension matters. Now that I see the hon. Member has come into the House I propose to leave the matter in his hands, because I do not think they could be in better.


I am sorry I was not present when the Comptroller of the Household introduced this Bill. I have had several conversations with my hon. Friend to-day with regard to the Bill, and there are one or two points in it which deserve some consideration. I do not propose to prevent my hon. Friend having this Bill to-night, but Clause 2 is one upon which something should be said at the moment. Clause 2 deals with the ques- tion of the payment of a sickness benefit in the case of a man who gets either a gratuity or a temporary allowance. I understand that the Minister of Pensions has definitely promised my hon. Friend that in the case of these particular men he will make a payment of £6 10s. That is quite satisfactory, except that it is a promise. I understand that my hon. Friend trusts the Pensions Minister in this matter, and that the money will be paid. The other complication is that the Prime Minister has himself promised that there may be a Court of Appeal, and I hope there will be, to which men who may be turned down for a gratuity may appeal for a pension. If they were successful in getting that pension it might alter the question of the payment of the sickness benefit for those twenty-six weeks.

My hon. Friend was very good in the matter. He certainly came to me and suggested that I should read the Bill, with a view to seeing whether I had any objection to it from the pensions point of view. The only objection I saw was to Clause 2. I am perfectly willing that he should have the Bill on the distinct understanding that he himself is absolutely sure in his own mind that there will be no difficulty with regard to the payment of that twenty-six weeks' sickness benefit. I hope that the hon. Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing), with that explanation, will withdraw any opposition he was inclined to make. I am very grateful to him for stopping the Bill until I was able to make this statement, which I think ought to be made in the interests of these men. These men are going to be badly dealt with in many ways, and it is our part to see that the money that is due to them for the national health insurance ought to be paid, and the only point is that it is not in the Bill. If my hon. Friend is prepared to tell the House that he is convinced that the promise holds good, I think he may have the Second Reading.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the I2th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

Adjourned accordingly at Five minutes before Eleven o'clock.