HC Deb 09 December 1919 vol 122 cc1161-79

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £32,044,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of pay meat during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Pensions, and for sundry Contribution in respect of the Administration of the Ministry of Pensions Act, 1916.

The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Sir Laming Worthington-Evans)

I think, as this is a very large sum, the Committee would like me to give a brief explanation of how the increase arises. I will first give a short summary of the principal increases. There is an increase of £10,000,000 due to the recommendation of the Select Committee on Pensions for the increase of pensions and allowances. That is exclusive of another £2,000,000 which is included in some figures I will give as to the cost of treatment. There are other small improvements in pensions, including 20 per cent. bonus on officers' pensions and various other minor improvements which have been announced to the House from time to time, and which cost £2,000,000 this year There is an increase in the cost of treatment and allowances to men undergoing treatment of £10,000,000. That is due not merely to the increased cost of treatment, but chiefly to the larger number of men undergoing treatment, and to the increased allowances payable to them while they are undergoing treatment. The amount is £10,000,000, but £2,000,000 are due to the Select Committee Report. I gave the amount as £10,000,000 because the £2,000,000 is included in the other figure. There is increased cost of £5,700,000 in pensions and allowances due to a larger number of men coming into pensions in this current year and partly due to the fact that men have come into pensions earlier than would otherwise have taken place because of the speeding up in the Ministry of Pensions. The sum of £2,100,000 is due to an extra pay day falling in the financial year. Only one day of that week is within this year, but it happens to be the pay day, so that the whole is debited to this year, although six days ought to come into the year 1920–21. Administration, travelling and incidental expenses are increased by £2,200,000. That is a brief summary in very round figures showing the amount of £32,000,000.

I will in a moment give the Committee further information, if they desire it, as to the actual increases and a brief explanation of the reasons, but before I do that perhaps the Committee would like to know what the number of officers, men, women and children is that are now receiving pensions. There is a total of pensioned beneficiaries on one account or another of 2,621,313 persons. The officers and nurses receiving pensions amount to 33,876, and the men of other ranks to 1,025,460; widows of officers, 9,775; widows of other ranks, 179,7112; parents of other dependants of officers, 5,680 of other ranks, 327,820; children of officers and of officers' widows, 9,112; children of other ranks, 1,029,878—and that brings up the total to 2,621,313. The numbers of beneficiaries have largely increased in the last few months, and a good many of the increases in the sub-heads are due directly and solely to this cause. If the Committee will allow me, I will briefly run through the sub-heads giving the increases, and, shortly, the causes for them, and then if any hon. Member has any questions he would like me to deal with in greater detail I can give the information when I reply. Take Subheads A and B, dealing with salaries, wages and allowances and travelling and incidental expenses. There has been a very large increase in these two sub-heads, and I think hon. Members are entitled to know why the administration expenses appear to have gone up so largely. The number of the staff at headquarters and at regional headquarters is 19,759. This is the total staff, male and female, employed at headquarters and at regional headquarters. There are 6,122 men, and of that total 86 per cent. of them are ex-Service men. Of the women there are employed 10,021 on administrative and clerical work. There are employed in connection with the institutions and hospitals, including matrons, nurses and domestic servants at those institutions, 1,591, and there are in the various offices juveniles—that is, women under eighteen and part-time cleaners—numbering about 1,300.


Can you not divide them into headquarters and regional headquarters?

4.0 P.M.


I do not think it is material whether they are at regional headquarters or at the London headquarters. I ask the Committee to realise that although the staff has gone up a great deal in numbers they are, not all additions, because we have taken over from the National Service Department the whole of the medical boards and the ex-Service men and a considerable amount of staff connected with those duties. So that this part of the staff is not a real addition to the expenses incurred by the Government, but the expense is simply carried on this Vote instead of on the National Service Vote. In the same way with regard to hospitals and institutions, we are taking over hospitals from the War Office. The expenses of those hospitals which we take over and the, staff employed there, which were formerly borne on the War Office Vote, are now transferred, of course, and are borne on the Ministry of Pensions Vote, so that it is not in any sense a net increase. Let me now deal with the financial increase. The increase under, Sub-heads A and B shows a total of £1,820,000. Of that, just under £1,000,000, or £934,000, is an increase in the administrative staffs salaries and travelling expenses. On the other hand, the whole of the balance of £886,000, although shown under staff, is really an expense of the medical staff which is employed on the hoards which are boarding the men, and also in the travelling expenses allowed to the men for attending the boards That is not, in my judgment, very well grouped. It is all grouped under the head of staff, and we have to carry the odium of a huge increase in the cost of staff when, in fact, the sum of £886,000 does not belong in the ordinary sense to that at all, but does belong to the administrative work of medically examining the men. I will give another figure to the Committee which' may be interesting. In 1917–18 the number of the staff and the expenses of the staff were very much less, and so were the duties that, had to be carried out by the staff. Measuring the expenses of the staff against the duties as represented in the sum of money which is distributed to pensioners, the percentage of expenses then was 2.21 or 2 1/5 per cent. In 1918–19, when the number of pensioners had considerably increased and the work was beginning to get into its stride, the rate of the expenses on administration account, including travelling expenses, compared with the benefits, was 3.10, or 3 1/10 per cent. To-day it is 3.27, or rather less than 3 1/3rd per cent. So that, although this increase looks very large, it is not an increase which is out of proportion to the amount of work which has to be done. The actual increase that does exist, of something like one-fifth of 1 per cent., is very easily accounted for, inasmuch as the voluntary workers attached to the local war pensions committees have been gradually, to some extent at any rate, dropping off and are being replaced by paid workers, and the additional cost of that is almost enough to account for the difference in the percentage. Moreover, of course, the staff, like other staffs, has had to have some increase in wages and some increase in bonus. Under all those headings it is very easy to account for the apparent increase of a relatively very small sum of one-fifth of 1 per cent. which is shown by the comparison I have made.

Under the Sub-heads C, D, and E, which relate to pensions, gratuities, etc., to officers, there is an increase in the number of cases awarded of 13,000 on the Estimate. That has called for an increased expenditure in the year of £334,000. Under Subheads G, H, and I, relating to widows and children of deceased officers, the number of awards is not beyond what was anticipated, but there is an increase owing to the fact that changes in the scale, including the bonus, have been put into operation during the year. The result is an expenditure in excess of the Estimate of £366,000. Sub-head K deals with officers' relatives. There is an underestimate there of 974 cases. We have had 974 cases more than we anticipated, and that, with the bonus, which applies to these cases also, accounts for the difference of £149,000. The large difference is under Sub-heads L, M, and N, which relate to disabled men. We have had 228,000 cases more than we anticipated. That is due to the very rapid demobilisation of the Army. At the time the previous Estimates were framed it was never supposed that some 3,000,000 men would be demobilised in the course of six or seven months. The result of that very rapid demobilisation has been to throw upon us 228,000 more claims than we anticipated for the period. It has also had the effect of rendering each claim more expensive, because it matured at an earlier date than was anticipated. The increase altogether under these three sub-heads amounts to £11,719,000. That increase is due as to £6,850,000 to the alterations in the rates of pensions as advised by the Select Committee, and as to £3,425,000 to the increased number of grants—that is to say, to the 228,000 additional awards of pensions or gratuities. The next Subheads are P, Q and R, which relate to the widows and motherless children of deceased men. There we have a very large increase of £6,019,000, £3,300,000 of which is due to the new rates of pensions, £400,000 to the alternative pensions, £560,000 to the extra pay day, £1,750,000 to a larger number of widows claiming pensions than was anticipated, and to another fact which is rather a curious one —some 38,664 war widows have remarried.


Out of how many?


I will deal with that later. That has had this result. As hon. Members know, there is a marriage dowry given of a year's pension on remarriage, and 38,000 year's pensions instead of so many month's pensions have fallen upon us. That has increased quite considerably the amount, of the Estimate which had been put down for widows. I cannot give the total figures with regard to widows, but it is about 216,000. There are now, say, 180,000 widows on pension, and there are some widows, of course, who have died. I have not got these numbers, so that I cannot be quite accurate in the resulting figure. Sub-heads S, T and U relate to dependants of deceased men. They do not call for comment. The rise of £320,000 is due to the extra pay day. The next Sub-head V.1, dealing with treatment, does require some explanation. V.1 shows that the Estimate for treatment has gone up from £7,000,000 in the year to £17,000,000, or an anticipated increase of £10,000,000. That increase is due to two main causes—first, that at least £2,000,000 is due to the increased rates of allowances which are payable to the men while undergoing treatment. Formerly, when a man was undergoing treatment, and therefore unable to work, he was put on full pension rates. At the time when the Estimates were prepared those full pension rates were 27s. 6d. a week; they are now 40s. for the single men and 50s. for the married men, besides the allowances for children. That in itself, even if the numbers had been what was originally anticipated, would have accounted for a considerable increase beyond the £7,000,000 which was first estimated. In addition to that a great many more men have come on for treatment than was ever expected, partly, no doubt, because many more men have come out and become pensionable. I have already informed the Committee that 228,000 more cases had been pensioned. No doubt that alone would account for a considerable increase, but it does not really satisfactorily account for the complete number who are now under treatment. The number under treatment I can only give approximately. It is between 140,000 and 150,000 men.

A great number of these men are under what is known as home treatment. Home treatment is not really a satisfactory form of treatment in a great many cases. In some cases it is all that can be done, but in a great many cases it is not a satisfactory form of treatment. I am conscious of that fact, and my medical advisers are going into it very carefully in order to see whether some better method of administration of the treatment is not open to us. I confess I am not quite satisfied with the present position, and I can assure the Committee that everything is being done that can be done to ensure that the men get the form of treatment which is best for them and also that the treatment allowances are not abused. There have been cases which have been brought to my knowledge where the home treatment allowances have been abused. It is just as important to stop abuses of that sort as it is to see that men get the treatment which is best suited to their needs. I can assure the Committee that the point is not being overlooked and is receiving the greatest possible care. There is a small increase in Sub-head V.3, for artificial limbs, which I do not think I need deal with. There is an increase in the administrative expenses of local committees of a very considerable amount, due partly to the falling off of voluntary workers and partly to the increase in salaries of the principal officials and even of the clerks employed by the local committees. There is a credit, to which I propose to call attention. There is an anticipated saving of £855,000, owing to the fact that industrial training has been transferred from the Ministry of Pensions to the Ministry of Labour. That is not a saving to the nation. It is a saving to this Vote, however, because instead of appearing on my Vote it goes to the Ministry of Labour Vote. I do not claim it as a saving to the nation at all, but it is a reduction of the expenditure upon this Vote. I have given the Committee as briefly as I could the main features of the increase, and if any hon. Member has any question to ask with a view to getting more information, I shall be very glad to give it.


Will the right hon. Gentleman ascertain how many married women there are on the clerical staff?


The Minister of Pensions, as he usually does, has given the House a very clear explanation of the Vote which he is asking the Committee to pass, and I am certain that, so far as the House is concerned, no one grudges any money which reaches the men or the women or the children. Therefore any criticism one may offer or any question one may ask is not directed toward that, but is aimed at the administrative side. The salient feature of this Estimate for the Ministry of Pensions is that the total cost has now reached the sum of £104,899,000, which is exactly a little more than one-half of what the nation required to raise in 1914 to run the business of the entire country. In that year we had the first £200,000,000 Budget, which appalled those of us who were in the House at the time. To-day we have the Minister for Pensions coming here for another sum of £32,000,000, thereby raising his Estimate alone to mare than one-half of that National Budget. The figures which my right hon. Friend gave are extraordinarily interesting. He stated that there were 2,621,313 persons in receipt of pensions of one kind or another. That is a figure which might unnecessarily alarm a great many people, and the public might be under the impression that that is going to be more or less a permanent figure so far as pensions administration is concerned. But I think I am right in saying, and my right hon. Friend will disagree with me if I am wrong, that the real figure to look to is the number of officers and of men and of the widows of officers and men, which together make up a total of 1,248,823. Obviously, the officers who are disabled will remain on the pension list until they die.


Or recover.


The widows will remain until they remarry, so that the real figure to be considered is not very much over 1,000,000. The other figures which deal with parents and other dependants, and with the children of officers and men, will disappear—in the case of dependants who are parents by death or in the case of children by age, the age being, of course, sixteen; so that within a reasonable amount of time it is fair to say that 1,372,490 of these will have disappeared from the pension list. The point is that we must not be alarmed at the fact that at this stage there are 2,621,313 persons on the pension list. Having drawn attention to that, I propose to adopt the same plan as my right hon. Friend, and go through the items as he did. As the House knows a radical change has been made in the administrative offices. We have had set up in the country a large number of regional staffs in addition to the head-quarter's staff. According to the figures which my right hon. Friend gave, the headquarter and regional staffs number 19,759 persons. I should like to know, roughly, what is the proportion of the staff at headquarters to that in the regions? The reason I ask that is a perfectly obvious one. We would like to know how far the division of the country into eleven regions has resulted in a diminution or saving of staff at headquarters. If my right hon. Friend will look at the Supplementary Estimate he will find some figures which appear rather extraordinary to me. Since the original Estimate was formed, the staff has been increased from 9,000 to 18,000. It has, in other words, been doubled since March or April of the present year—since the original Estimate was made. That Estimate could not have been presented before April.


I would rather put it since the end of last year or the beginning of this year.


If that is the case, then the words "the original Estimate" is not a proper description. We are now considering the Supplementary Estimate for this year.


Since the original Estimate was framed.


This is a Supplementary Estimate of £32,000,000 to make up what is lacking for this year. Obviously we ought to take the figures for this year alone. However, we will take it that the original staff in December last year was something like 9,000, and that in December this year it is 18,000, and the reasons given for that increase are first, the quickening of demobilisation, and secondly, the transfer to the Ministry of the duties of the National Service Medical Boards. I would like a little more information on both these points. I quite agree my right hon. Friend is entitled, and he would have been unwise if he had not done so, to increase his staff as a means of expediting demobilisation. He gave us the figure indeed of 208,000 more cases than had been anticipated as a result of that quickening of demobilisation, and I think we would all agree that he should put on extra staffs rather than that these men should be kept waiting for their pensions. But we remember, and this House remembers, the National Service Medical Boards. I remember them more in sorrow than in anger. That was the Department which existed for a long time at St. Ermin's Hotel, and which was presided over by the present President of the Board of Trade. It had a great many salaried officials, many of them in receipt of very high salaries, and part of their duty was to examine men for admission to the Army. These medical boards of the National Service Department, as a matter of fact, provided the right hon. Gentleman with more pension cases than he probably cares to think of. I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees that the medical boards of the National Service Department sent into the Army men who were unfit to serve, and who therefore became eligible for my right hon. Friend's attention very much sooner than—well, I do not think they would have come before him at all if the National Service Medical Boards had done their duty by the country. I feel, personally, that these medical boards in most cases were a gross scandal, and it is true to say that the National Service Department has contributed more to the necessity for this large sum of money we are voting than any other single organisation in the country.

My right hon. Friend says he has taken these people over. I think it would have been far better for him to have pensioned them, seeing that he is the Minister of Pensions. If their abilities to assess a man who is disabled are about as good as their Abilities to consider a man's fitness to go into the Army, then I have nothing more or less than the hugest contempt for their particular role. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us how much of this additional staff of 9,000 people is due to the expediting of demobilisation, and how much represents what has been taken over from the National Service Department. I am free to admit that my right hon. Friend must obviously take a certain proportion of these 9,000 for the immediate purpose of facilitating the award of pensions to demobilised and disabled men. I would like to ask him one or two specific questions with regard to National Service men. Can he tell the Committee how many medical boards he has taken over from the National Service Department? Secondly, can he say how many medical men are on these boards, and, thirdly, have they been taken over at permanent salaries, have they become members of the permanent Civil Service or are they part-time men, full-time men, or what other arrangements have been made with them? Can he tell us how soon he hopes to be able to reduce the temporary staff he has taken over for the purposes of demobilisation? Can he give us any idea as to the actual permanent staffing of the Ministry of Pensions? Of course, the House and the country demand an efficient administration of pensions, but at the same time hon. Members must be rather alarmed to read that the Pensions staff has increased from 9,000 to 18.000.

I am willing to admit, and always have been, that my right hon. Friend has probably contributed more to the efficiency of the Ministry of Pensions than any Minister who has yet held that post. I am quite clear about that in my own experience, and it is up to my right hon. Friend, as soon as he can, to reduce the staff of the Ministry to such a total as will enable the work to be done efficiently and yet make the contribution to national economy which we all desire. He said, in giving the total numbers, including both headquarters and the regional staffs there were 6,122 men, of whom 86 per cent. were ex-Service men. That is a very creditable proportion, but there are still 10,024 women. I think a great deal of the criticism about women in the Departments has been very unfair. We took advantage of their service during the War, and they did their work extraordinarily efficiently, and they are entitled to their place in the labour and professional market like everyone else. I do not make this point in order to get rid of women, but the mere fact that you still have over 10,000 women in the Departments leads one to ask the kind of questions I have asked of the right hon. Gentleman

With regard to the rest of the items from C down to U. no criticism can really be made. The House of Commons has agreed to these increases in pensions, most of which were necessary and which are reflected in this Supplementary Estimate. I was rather interested in one figure that the right hon. Baronet gave, and that was the number of women who have re-married since they were in receipt of pensions. Even in connection with the Boer War the large proportion of widows who remarried was rather an extraordinary feature of the situation. The right hon. Baronet tells us that no fewer than 38,000 women have re-married. That is one in six. As a matter of fact, the marriage dowry was reduced in the Barnes Warrant. The original dowry which was suggested in the Hodge Warrant was two years' pension. That was reduced to one year in the next Warrant. The reason given was that the widow's pension was increased from 10s. to 13s. 9d., and a year at 13s. 9d. was nearly equal to two years at 10s. I suggested that it was a mistake to reduce the amount of the dowry, because every woman who gets re-married off the pension list saves a great deal of money to the State. I am not in the least sure that the right hon. Baronet should not look that point up again and see whether it is not worth while restoring the dowry to two years.


They would want arrears then.


You never get arrears out of a Government Department, or you are extraordinarily lucky if you do. In any case, this is a pure question of economy. It is better for the race and for the country. I am not in the least sure that it would not pay the Minister of Pensions as a practical proposition to go back to the old scheme of the two years' dowry.

One item which wants a little more explanation than the right hon. Baronet gave is B1. The revised expenditure there is £17,000,000 as against £7,000,000. I asked him what was the number of men who were being treated and he tells us there are between 140,000 and 150,000 officers and men. That means that each of these men is costing about £110 to £120. There is still a considerable amount of criticism about the efficiency of the treatment of disabled officers. One comes across it over and over again. You find this kind of case, which is a real hardship, that an officer who has been very severely wounded has not obtained a wounds pension from the War Office. I should very much like to understand what the War Office calls a severe wound. It baffles me entirely. I have a personal friend, an officer, who was wounded in action and never got any-wounds gratuity, but spent the best part of £200 in professional fees to doctors and surgeons while suffering from the effects of his wound. My experience in dealing with a large number of cases is that it is impossible to ascertain what the War Office calls a severe wound. Many of them besides being wounded are neurasthenic cases. I am not yet sure whether we have arrived at any adequate method of dealing with this kind of case. The right hon. Gentleman would do himself more justice-if he would say a little more in regard to the progress that is being made in the treatment of officers and men. He asks us to give him £10,000,000 more for the purpose. I do not feel inclined, though I am willing to trust him with the money, to assent to an estimated expenditure of £10,000,000 for the treatment of officers and men unless he can assure us that this matter is really being taken in hand, and that substantial progress is being made.

I regret to see in item an extra expenditure of nearly £500,000 because voluntary workers are falling off in their enthusiasm in working for discharged men. That is a curious commentary on all the speeches which have been made in this House, on public platforms, in the pulpit, and in the Press. It is what a great many of us predicted. The further you get away from the cessation of War, the gratitude of the general public subsides, and it is rather an ironical commentary that the right hon. Baronet has to ask for another £500,000 because people who were very anxious to get men into the Army have not taken the trouble to devote their services to helping them through the local war pensions committees. The right hon. Baronet made a huge mistake in ever parting with the training of disabled officers and men to the Ministry of Labour. I do not think it is well done by the Ministry of Labour. The right hon. Baronet could have done it very much better, and could have observed the whole career of the discharged soldier from his own desk at the Ministry of Pensions. He could have had a chit of the man's life, his training, treat- ment, and employment, which would have been, in my view, far and away the best way to deal with this. However, the Government has taken this from him. It was the previous Minister of Pensions who allowed it to go away to the Ministry of Labour. That is another indication of how foolish it was ever to make him Minister of Pensions. I am sorry the right hon. Baronet cannot get these men back under his rule. I do not think on page 16 C to E and G are adequately explained. The sum dealt with is £19,379,000. Of this a-mount approximately £12,000,000 is due to the increased rate of pension in respect of disabled men, etc., and of the remainder approximately £3,000,000 is in respect of other changes in the Regulations. That leaves £4,379,000 unexplained, except by the phrase "the balance is due to the increase in volume of the Ministry's commitments."


The larger number.


On account of increased demobilisation?




That is not stated. It struck me as rather badly explained. If that means, roughly speaking, the 288,000 men who have come on to the pension list as the result of speedy demobilisation, that explains it, but it would have been better to have put that in there. Is the right hon. Baronet issuing a new Warrant shortly embodying the increases arising out of the Select Committee's Report?


I think it has been signed and is in course of printing, and will be laid at once—probably to-day.


One likes to see these things in actual print. Apart from the increases which are bound to come from the increase of the dependent parents' pension, the one thing left, so far as the Committee is concerned, is that the pensions shall be administered as cheaply and as efficiently as possible.


It is generally realised how well my right hon. Friend hag administered his office. For the longer part of the period, the rapidity with which he got cases dealt with was splendid. It is some disappointment to me that now, in my experience, cases of delay are occurring, and the hanging up of these matters is of very great importance. I refer specially to a young fellow named Charles Hughes, in whom I am particularly interested. He ought never to-have been sent to the War, but that is another question. He came back a complete wreck. For a period of a year he was a hopeless cripple in Lady Neville's hospital at Brighton, and he has been making slow progress. The pension awarded to him was only 3s. 6d. He is now wholly unable to resume his normal duties; he cannot work. Yet I have been corresponding with the Ministry of Pensions in the case for over six months, without result. The young fellow is still attending hospital. I can get no decision in the case, and he is still on the miserable 3s. 6d. pension. Something ought to be done in this matter. The young fellow is constantly going before boards. I have written numerous letters, but I cannot get the case settled. It is one of the worst cases I know of. I hope my right hon. Friend will maintain the high opinion that is held of his Ministry, about which I hear much praise from men, of all shades of politics and of all classes, and that he will deal promptly with this and other cases and give them the same ready dispatch that cases have hitherto received at his hands.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I. have received a communication to-day which affects the right -hon. Gentleman's Department, and which may affect various parts of the country. It is a complaint from pensioners who are employed in the Post Office service. They complain that pensions are paid out weekly with their Post Office pay. I think that is a very legitimate grievance. We have adopted as our policy the principle that pensions earned in the War should be quite apart from any payment a man receives in common employment. Pension is a matter of right, and has nothing to do with pay, and these men naturally feel that it is going against our policy, and they ask that their pensions should be paid quite separately from what they earn in their employment in the Post Office. I gather that they are drawing their pensions in the same envelopes which include their Post Office pay. Apparently they are the only Army pensioners employed in the Civil Service who are paid in this manner.


Are they service pensions or disability pensions?

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

I understand they are disability pensions. I hope it is not so


I should like to endorse what has been said with regard to boards. I am personally acquainted with the work of the boards, as I was a medical officer during the War and was on a medical board. I would like very strongly to urge the Minister of Pensions that a great deal more attention should be paid to the staffs appointed to medical boards, and more especially to the presidents of the medical boards. I know from personal experience of very bad cases of men sent into the Army who ought not to have been sent at all. Of course, that is too long ago now to correct, but that is probably part of the cause of our heavy pension list. At the present time a great deal more attention should be paid to the personnel of the medical boards. I have only recently had cases brought to my attention in which the medical boards overlooked serious trouble. If a medical board has very much work to do it passes over the cases rather quickly and simply takes a man's statement. An officer or man who really wishes to make light of his trouble does not say very much about it. I have known several cases in which the cases of an officer or a man have not been suitably examined. Only recently I advised an officer to send Ids case forward to the Appeal Board. In Canada, where they have a great many pensions at the present time, they have started the particularly good method of having a specialist travelling over the country and investigating all the cases which are receiving pensions under his Department. That is perfectly right, because in some cases the pensions have to be increased, while in ether cases the Government save a great deal of money by having the pensions knocked off. If the right hon. Gentleman desires any information on that subject I can give him information which may be of value. I confirm the remarks of my hon. Friend opposite that now when the War is over the personnel of the boards should be very carefully revised. It was only just to our brave men during the War, and it is only just to the taxpayers now, because they may be paying too much in many cases.


I am grateful to hon. Members for calling my attention to various points, and I think I am pretty lucky in the amount of criticism which this Estimate has aroused. The hon. Member for the Gillingham Division (Mr. Hohler) has raised an individual case. We endeavour to deal with every individual case that is brought to our notice in the quickest possible time. I am not going to say that there are not some cases of delay, because there are. I do not recollect and cannot pretend to know the details of Mr. Charles Hughes' case, but if the hon. and learned Member will let me have the particulars I will undertake to see that the case is looked into at once. The hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) raised a question which, if it is well founded, will require to be carefully looked into. Pensions and pay are two quite separate things, and all through we have intended to keep the pension as a pension of right and not to mix it up with pay. I do not think it is a disability pension of this War which has been dealt with in this way. It may be some service pension or it may be some pension of a former war. I will look into the matter and see whether it is a case within my jurisdiction. If it is a service pension it does not belong to my Department.

The main criticism was raised by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). He quite truly said that the reason for raising some of the questions was in order to ascertain whether the administration was efficient and cheap. What he wanted to get was efficient and cheap administration. So far as cheap administration can be efficient, I go with him, but I would rather spend a little more money, and I am sure my hon. Friend means that, in order to get administrative efficiency. I do not wish to be considered as assenting to his criticism of the National Service medical boards during war-time. I never had any experience of them, and I am not going to agree with him in calling them a scandal. He forgets that at that time it was necessary to get every loan into the Army who could be of service to the Army. The Army was not confined to Al men, and it is not just because men who were not A1 men went into the Army to blame the boards. It was not their fault. It was a question of policy which has been debated in this House over and over again, and I do not propose further to refer to it. My hon. Friend asked me how many of the 19,759 of our staff are in the regions at the present moment. On the 1st December there were 3,395 in the regions, but I must warn him that those figures vary almost from day to day, because there are only four regions out of ten which I can safely say are fully established. Scotland is fully established and doing the whole work. Wales is fully established and doing the whole work. There they have got their full staff. I cannot say that a full staff is rquired for the moment. If the work increases they will have to have more staff. In a little time I can tell definitely what staff a region ought to have, and we can lay down definite lines in regard to staffing. Every day there will be more and more sending up from London to the regions of work for the regions, and consequently the regional staff will rapidly extend and the London staff will rapidly decrease.

When the decentralisation is complete we shall only have in London the headquarter directing secretarial staff, and practically the whole of our administrative staff will be in the regions. Of course, one region will be centred in London, and in that region there will be an administrative staff. The headquarter staff for the Ministry of Pensions will be relatively few, under 2,000, by the time we have got the decentralisation in the regions complete. So far as London is concerned, I do not want my hon. Friend to make a mistake. The London region will have a staff independent of the headquarter staff, and the London regional staff will be bigger than the Scottish regional staff or the Welsh regional staff, because it will cover a larger area and many more cases. As to the head-quarter's staff pure and simple, I can say with a certainty that the total staff of the Ministry will be greatly reduced by the decentralisation in the regions. We shall have a very considerable contraction in staff. I do not want to prophesy as to numbers, but I am sure that they will be considerably reduced. To-day the number is swollen because we are decentralising. You cannot take ex-Service men and ask them to do the technical awarding work which has been done by women, without teaching the men, and during the time they have to be taught, which occupies from four, five to six weeks, they are not pulling their full weight. Therefore, our numbers to-day are bloated by reason of the fact that we are taking on the ex-Service men in the regions.

5.0 P.M.

The hon. Member asked me what staff had been taken over from the National Service Department. About 1,200. He asked me whether the boards had been taken over. He does not quite realise what a board is. They are not permanent Civil servants. I do not think that more than one medical man bas come from the, National Service Department who is a permanent Civil servant. Nearly all the boards are paid by sessional fees, and. they are employed session by session. Last week about 24,000 officers and men were boarded, and the extent of the work is about 24,000 a week. It has come up from 20,000 a month or so ago, to 24,000, and before February we have to be ready to deal with 26,000 or 27,000 officers and. men for boarding each week. The work is colossal, and it is paid by the session. The boards are not permanent. The doctors who are chosen to go on the boards are not in any sense permanent. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Major Molson) asked me to take great care in regard to the personnel of the boards. Now that we have at our command the services of so many medical men who were fighting overseas, we are taking full advantage of them throughout the medical service, both on the boards and as medical referees. We are giving a preference to the medical men who served overseas, and subject to that a preference to those who served in hospitals at home. In that way we are getting men who are experienced in the actual work with the men in the fighting zone, and know the sort of injury and risks incurred by the men. I believe we are getting a sympathetic board competent to do the work entrusted to it.

My hon. Friend expressed the hope that the treatment of both officers and men was being improved. I really can say that it has been improved by reason of the fact that we are now gradually assuming control of the hospitals that are required for in-patient treatment, and we are now using them as centres with, attached to them, places where the men can attend for outpatient treatment, and where necessary they can be ordered into hospital for inpatient treatment by doctors who are specialists in the disease from which they are suffering. In addition we are commencing—we have not gone nearly as fast as I would like—the provision of convalescent treatment and training centres for both officers and men. For officers we have got quite recently, ready to take over, Thornleigh, near Bolton, for the convalescent treatment of officers, in addition to the Sir John Leigh Home. For men we have a fine training centre at Blackpool Epsom, after being held up by labour disputes for three or four months, is now being converted and will shortly be a most excellent centre for treatment and training; and at Birmingham and Balbriggan we have others in course of preparation. I have no doubt that on these lines, which -my medical advisers are pursuing, we shall have a really satisfactory method of treatment both in hospitals and clinics and training centres which will be well worth to the State the additional Estimate for which we have to ask because we have got to remember that the treatment given to the men, though primarily designed to assist the men, does equally assist to relieve the liability of the State. It is far better to mend the man than to keep him on pension. That is the reason why I have had to ask for this large additional sum.

Question put, and agreed to.