§ The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Mr. Barnes)
I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to make provision with respect to the administrative expenses of the Statutory Committee and of local and district committees under 465 the Naval and Military War Pensions, etc., Act, 1915; and for certain other purposes connected with pensions and allowances."
I rather think that the notice of this measure last week has excited some expectations which I am not in a position to fulfil. Many hon. Gentlemen have been expecting that I should on this occasion fulfil a pledge made by my predecessor in office in regard to the scale of pensions. I am sorry to say that I am not in a position to say anything further about that to-day than that I hope to introduce the Warrant Bill in the course of a very few days. The Bill which I now seek to introduce is one for the purpose of rectifying certain defects in the law in regard to the administration of pensions, and it may be divided into three parts. There is, first of all, the part relating to the expenditure of the committees; there is, secondly, the part relating to the setting up of more committees; and there is, thirdly, the part relating to the release of certain voluntary funds or the release of the trustees of those funds in regard to their disbursements. Let me say a very few words on each of these three heads. First of all, with regard to the expenditure of the local committees: It will be remembered that when the Naval and Military Pensions Act of 1915 was passed provision was made with regard to the constitution of those committees that they should embody labour representatives. The Statutory Committee in the exercise of its discretion insisted upon at least one-fifth of those committees consisting of Labour representatives. A difficulty has now arisen in regard to the payment of the expenses of those men, especially in the county areas, and, as a matter of fact, we cannot get men because they are poor and cannot travel to and from the committee meetings, much less forfeit their pay during that time. We seek power in this Bill to pay them what is called beneficial time. If a man loses wages, we refund those wages up to a limit of one shilling per hour for time lost, and pay him third-class railway fare. The question of the administrative expenses of the committees is a much larger matter, and it was the subject I might almost say of a bargain between the Association of County Councils' and the Treasury last year. Upon 20th July last year the Treasury and the Association of County Councils agreed upon the payment of half and half. This Bill embodies that principle. It seeks 466 to take power to impose upon the district committees an obligation to pay half of their administrative expenses, the other half to be provided by moneys voted by Parliament. It is safeguarded by the fact that an estimate must be approved by the Local Government Board before the half of the Government is paid.
I now come to the second item which has raised a controversy, and I am sorry to say rather a bitter and personal controversy, and that is in regard to the local committees. When the Act which I have mentioned was passed, it was provided that each county borough and each borough of over 50,000 inhabitants as well as each county should have its own local committee, and that smaller boroughs of between 50,000 and 20,000 inhabitants should have their committee if the Statutory Committee found that exceptional circumstances justified the setting up of such a committee. There are 169 of such small boroughs, and 160 have applied for local committees. The Statutory Committee have found special circumstances in fifty-eight cases out of 160. I believe the Statutory Committee have rather stretched their conscience in regard to some of those fifty-eight boroughs, and they are now in the position of conscientious objectors to setting up any more local committees for boroughs of between 20,000 and 50,000 inhabitants. Still there is an insistent demand on the part of the local bodies in question that they should have their own local committees to deal with their own cases of supplementation of pensions and generally look after the welfare of the soldiers' dependants, and in this Bill we have hit upon a scheme which I think ought to satisfy both sides. We are not going to wrench a town willy-nilly out of a district without consulting the county council. That would not be right, but we are making a provision that the Minister of Pensions may, upon application being made by a small borough of under 50,000 and above 20,000 inhabitants, and after consultation with the county council in question, set up a local committee for that borough.
§ Mr. BARNES
Yes, urban districts with a population of over 20,000. The local committee will not have full power; they will have power with regard to recommendations about the supplementation of allowances and everything except treat- 467 ment and training. We think the training is a matter which ought to be attended to over a larger area. The county council is the technical education authority, and we think that it ought, so far as possible, to be the authority for dealing with the training of disabled men. Therefore, if the Minister of Pensions sees fit to set up a local committee for one of these small towns, that committee will be armed with powers other than those of training. After it is set up, the county committee may, however, give it such further powers as in its wisdom may seem proper, and, as a matter of fact, that small area may form part of a general system of training inside that particular county.
§ Mr. BARNES
No. That is the scheme whereby we propose to relieve the second difficulty about these small boroughs who desire to look after their own people, and who, I suppose, are better able to look after their own people than the county authority, except in regard to the training of the men. Let me come to the third point, the release of certain funds or the trustees of funds which have been raised for certain specific purposes during the time of the War. It is characteristic of our people that they have contributed a great deal of voluntary money for the relief of distress. In the early days of the War vast sums of money were raised to meet certain specific cases of soldiers or sailors or the dependants of soldiers and sailors in distress. Since that time the State has made, or is about to make, provision for certain of these objects for which the money has been gathered together. There are certain funds throughout the country in the hands of trustees, and the trustees are in this difficulty, that they do not know what to do with the money and will be glad to be able to devote it, instead of to the specific objects for which it was raised, to some other specific objects still for the benefit of the soldiers or sailors or the dependants of soldiers or sailors. We therefore take power under this Bill, after consultation with the Charity Commissioners and after having regard to the interests and 468 wishes of the subscribers, which we are also compelled to take into account, to get relief for those trustees in such a way as to get the money which is now held up and lying idle applied for the benefit of our fighting men and their dependants. These are the three points of the Bill which I now seek to introduce. It would be unfair to press it with regard to time, because the local authorities will be asked to spend some money under the terms of the Bill, and it is right that they should have ample opportunity of understanding its details and making their wishes known. I therefore seek the First Reading only to-day, and propose to let the Bill remain in that stage for some two or three weeks, after which the Second Reading will be taken.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Barnes, Mr. Munro, Mr. Duke, Mr. Hayes Fisher, and Colonel Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen; presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 4.]