§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Mr. Macpherson)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
As the House will remember, before the Great War the pensions of each Service Department were granted and administered by that Service Department. That was appropriate, because the Ser vice Departments knew the conditions of service, and the circumstances for which the pension was granted. With the Great War the conditions changed. The Service Department, though sufficient for the administration of their appropriate pensions before the Great 2154 War, became, through no fault of their own, insufficient for the gigantic task with which they were confronted. The nation became the Army, and the Army became the nation. Recruitment took place under abnormal conditions. Men who never thought, when they began their civil life, that they would ever don khaki, or ever become soldiers, first of all voluntarily left, through patriotic motives, their civil employment, with their cares and their children, to take up military service. At a later stage men were taken ruthlessly from their civil employment, in the same way as men had gone in the earlier stages of war voluntarily, leaving their cares behind them. The country felt then that something had to be done adequate to the Great War. Pensions more than any thing else touched the life of the community, and it was necessary that some institution should be found in order to deal expeditiously, and in a spirit of sympathy, with the innumerable number of pensioners and dependants which 2155 resulted from the Great War. A great many Acts were passed, beginning in 1915, up to last year dealing with pensions, and it is most significant that all these Acts from the first to the last made clear that they dealt with a certain definite period, and that they dealt with certain definite men, the period being the period of the Great War and the men—I use the word "men" in the generic sense—being those who suffered and who were incapacitated in the Great War. These Acts handed over the duties and powers, except in two cases, of the War Office and the Admiralty to the Ministry of Pensions. These two exceptions were the Service Pensions and the Wounds Pensions of Officers.
Rightly or wrongly, the people of the country thought at that time that the handing over of these powers would have two great advantages. First of all, they thought that an isolated Department, having no particular connection with any of the great Service Departments, would bring a new spirit of sympathy to deal with the various problems which so affected the life of the people, and that they would also bring a spirit of sympathy and a breadth of understanding in dealing with the interpretations of warrants; and would carry into effect that spirit and understanding expeditiously and efficiently. The Department was greatly assisted by the various Local War Pensions Committees, County and District, and the Sub-Committees. This process of decentralisation has gone on to such an extent, and has really brought such a proportionately greater efficiency, that we have now established all over the country a system of administration which involves at least thirteen different regions, and thirteen regional Directors, all of whom have got, decentralised and devolving upon them, a great amount of the administrative work which would otherwise have been centralised in London, and very likely have resulted not only in confusion but in inefficiency. This has cost a great amount of money. I believe the administration of the Pensions Department costs as much as £5,000,000 a year.
The great War, fortunately for us, is over. The situation has, therefore, to be reviewed. The call for economy is in the air. Every Government Department has had to turn and discover where, without 2156 lessening in a single iota its efficiency, it could economise. So far as the Ministry of Pensions is concerned, several important factors had to be considered. First of all, the administration of post-War pensions under local War pensions committees would require new legislation; and, secondly, new post-War warrants would have to be issued. If this legislation were introduced and passed, the existing costly machinery of administration, to which I have just referred, would at all events, in its nucleus, become permanent, though under normal peace conditions, disability casualties, instead of being millions, such as we now have arising from the great War, would only be a small trickle, 4,000 or 5,000 a year. If, on the other hand, post-War disability pensions and claims were transferred to the Service Departments, as I am proposing in this Bill, nothing will be added to the cost of administration by these Departments, as they have in any case to reckon, at the present moment, as regards discharged soldiers and sailors of the professional forces, the pension or gratuity to be paid in respect of length-of service, of rank, and good conduct. It is quite clear that at the present time the trouble necessary to assess the gratuity could be utilised to assess the amount of the disability compensation. If, however, the transfer does not take place, each man's case will have to be considered by two different Departments, that is by the Ministry of Pensions as regards disability and by the Service Department as regards Service recognition, an unnecessary duplication of staff which would be avoided under this Bill, and an excellent opportunity afforded, and sometimes this is taken advantage of, of playing off one Department against another.
In the interests of economy and efficiency, we have come to the conclusion that post-War pensions should revert again to the appropriate Service Departments. There is one other consideration which I think it appropriate that I should mention. The House will remember that the Ministry of Pensions became a gigantic organisation with very great powers. Since then a process of pruning has taken place. First of all, the training of disabled men was taken away from the Ministry of Pensions and handed over to the Ministry of Labour. Secondly, and not so very long ago, not by the wish of the Government, 2157 nor by the wish of the Ministry, nor, I believe, by the wish of the Ministry of Health, the medical and surgical treatment of discharged and disabled soldiers will be, in two years' time, given to the Ministry of Health. The significance of this will appear more clearly when I say to the House that this proposal to prune the medical and surgical treatment away from the Ministry of Pensions came not from the Government, but from the House. I believe my right hon. Friend opposite moved to that effect.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
And the proposal was carried out. When I have said what I have, it is important still to remember that nothing in this Bill at the present moment interferes with the powers of the Ministry of Pensions or the Pensions Committee, or with the scope of the operations of the War Pensions Department, except that it confines their operations to the circumstances and happenings of the period from 4th August, 1914, to 31st July of this year. We define in the Bill the end of the great War as 31st July of this year. We are keeping alive Section 3 of the War Pensions Act, 1919, providing for advances to pensioners to be issued for periods not exceeding six months. While the various powers of the Ministry and the Minister remain, the Minister is given under the Bill new powers and duties. Many regarded it as being very peculiar, and, indeed, a great number of people never quite understood it, that the wounds pensions of officers should be administered by the Service Department. It is now proposed to transfer to the Minister of Pensions this the last Section of the awards for disability in the great War. An officer retired from the Service, as the House knows, for disability, which entitles him to a wounds pension is also entitled to retired pay, or half-pay, since he has rights under the Pensions Warrant as much as under the old Pay Warrant. This meant in the past that he had to deal with two Departments, the War Office and the Ministry of Pensions; that his wounds pension had to be assessed by the War Office or the Admiralty before the Ministry of Pensions could give him that to which he was entitled. The wounds pension had to be fixed before the retired pay could be awarded. The House will remember that in this connection my Noble Friend the late Com- 2158 mander-in-Chief in France, Lord Haig, in giving evidence before the Select Committee on Pensions, made a very remarkable statement. He pointed out that the fact that there were the two assessments to be made, one dependant upon the other, in almost every case caused great hardship and delay. I hope then by the transfer of the wounds pensions to the Ministry, which, in my judgment, is to the good, we shall get rid of these hardships and distribute these pensions expeditiously.
I come to another side of the matter. Nothing could have been finer than the patriotic manner in which the County Committees and all Local Committees have discharged their voluntary functions. They performed a great war work with ability and zeal, and with no thought but for the welfare of the State, the discharged men and those dependent on them. The work has now largely become standardised and stereotyped—that work in which they showed so large a spirit of understanding and sympathy, and to which they gave their time so freely—and some County Committees have themselves thought that the time had come for a change in the administration. The men and women concerned in this great work take a deep and abiding interest in County matters. A great many of them, I have no doubt, will be glad to be relieved of what was War Work. I am taking power in this Bill to allow me to reorganise the various divisions in the County and to re-group them, and to secure, if I can, the very best possible administration in the country, while at the same time reducing as far as I can the amount of expenditure which is necessarily entailed at the present moment. I propose to substitute local committees acting independently over wide areas within the County for the present County Committees.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
Is this proposal in place of the local committees and district committees, and will the new committees be co-equal and independent?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
They will be quite independent, but I do not know what the hon. Gentleman means by coequal.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am proposing to take powers to reorganise and have 2159 autonomous smaller committees within the county. I am taking further powers under Clause 3, coupled with the powers already given by Section 2 of the War Pensions Act, for the amalgamation of local committees and sub-committee areas, and this will enable me to secure a more businesslike and economic administration in a large number of areas. It is clear that as the War becomes more and more remote, the number of pensioners and claimants for pensions will become proportionately fewer, and when this happens it will be necessary on the ground of economy to effect a combination or amalgamation of the committees in those areas.
Let me now say a word or two about Clause 5. It will probably be a surprise to the House to hear that at the present moment these local committees have got control over the expenditure of £24,000,000. This large amount was made subject, as the House will remember, to audit by the Minister under the Pensions Act of 1918, but however careful a committee may be, and however anxious they may be to secure efficient, cheap and economical administration, maladministration of funds is bound to take place. We have had one case, and the only thing that we can do administratively is to hold a local inquiry. It is quite obvious that a local inquiry under these circumstances is very unsatisfactory, and some other powers must be taken. I propose under this Clause to take powers to appoint a finance officer who, if need be, will take charge of the finances at any time when I think it is necessary that he should do so.
Clause 6 is one which I feel sure the House will be glad to see inserted in this Bill. It is perhaps a small point that is dealt with, but it gives the inspectors and officers of the Ministry power to hold a local inquiry, to summon and examine witnesses, and to secure the infliction of suitable penalties in a Court of Summary Jurisdiction. So far, that is a power which has not been given to the Ministry of Pensions.
I remember when I was at the War Office, I used to be grieved by the fact that when a soldier or a sailor was convicted of any offence, and a punishment of over twenty-eight days' imprisonment was inflicted, he im- 2160 mediately forfeited his pension, with the result that very often his wife and children were in distress. If a soldier to-day is convicted of treason or felony, his pension is forfeited absolutely under those circumstances. I propose by Clause 7 to enable myself to restore pensions forfeited under the Forfeiture Act, 1870, after a man has been discharged from prison, and to enable him to be entitled to his full pension. I am also taking power to advance to his wife and dependants such amounts as I think may be reasonable to enable them to tide over the difficult time they are bound to have while the man is in prison.
The next Clause is a very short one, but it is rather important. It deals with the case of the widow or motherless child of a deceased officer or man, and it gives the same statutory right under the warrant as was given to disabled officers and men under Section 7 of the Pensions Act, 1918.
Clause 9 gives the Minister of Pensions power to control the children of officers or men who had died in service, or are still on active service, during the present War. This power of control was handed over to the Minister himself in the previous Act, but I propose in this Clause to ask the House to give me power to appoint a duly accredited representative of the Ministry instead of the Minister himself, to whom the children under control may be handed over. I am also extending the range of cases in which this power can be exercised. I am proposing also to include all those cases mentioned in Section 58 of the Children Act, such as children found begging or wandering, or without visible means of subsistence, and cases where parents are unfit to have the care of a child. I think that is an excellent Clause. The work we have been able to do in looking after those children has been very successful so far, and I am convinced that it is one of the best things in the Bill that we should have this additional power of including all those cases where children are enduring real hardships, and where, in their own interests and in the interests of the parent, we should have them properly and sufficiently under control.
The last Clause removes certain existing anomalies. For some curious reason, the real reason being that cases 2161 were administered by different Departments, some amounts over £2 which were paid require to have a stamp, while other amounts paid by another Department over £2 did not require a stamp. This distinction was purely arbitrary, and I propose under this Clause to get rid of it.
I think I have now dealt with the main points of this Bill. I shall, of course, be very glad to answer any points of difficulty which may occur to hon. Members, but before I sit down I should like to remind the House of the main points of the Bill. They are these: the Ministry will remain with all its powers to deal effectively, and I trust efficiently, with the great work which it was called upon to do by all those various Acts dealing with pensions which have arisen out of the great War. Post-War pensions will revert to the control of the appropriate services in which those men served. If it is an Army man, the case will go to the War Office; if the man is in the Navy, it will go to the Admiralty; and if he has been serving in the Air Force, it will go to the Air Ministry. In the interests of economy and efficiency I hope the House will give me willingly the power to re-organise and re-group the various districts and counties, so that we shall be able to effect expeditiously and efficiently the work which remains for us to do.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I beg to move to leave out the word "now", and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
I am sure the House will desire to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment as Pensions Minister. Those of us who were in the last Parliament will remember that for many months at the beginning of the War my right hon. Friend was occupied at the War Office, and there he gained experience of the largest force that comes under the administration of the Pensions Office, and I hope he will succeed in his work at the Ministry of Pensions. At the same time, I shall require, and I think the House will require, very much more convincing arguments as to why we should pass this Bill than those which have been submitted by my right hon. Friend. I venture to suggest that if my right hon. Friend had been himself long at the Ministry of Pensions, he would not have 2162 been willing to be sponsor for the Bill which he is to-day asking us to pass. My right hon. Friend will remember that the history of the Pensions legislation is almost the exact reverse of what he indicated in his speech, and it was only the combined efforts of many men in this House, belonging to different parties combining on that one object, that compelled the Government to bring for the first time under one roof the whole question of the awarding and administration of pensions. Here we have now in the hands of the fifth Pension Minister since that Ministry was set up, an attempt, before enough experience has accumulated, to begin to disperse some of those duties, and to set up that which we hoped we had destroyed, that is, separate Pensions Departments for the separate treatment of different parts of the Force.
With some parts of the Bill I find myself in total agreement, and if my right hon. Friend is willing to withdraw Clauses 1, 2, 3, and 4 he can have the rest of the Bill without any opposition. That will leave him some very valuable administrative powers that he seeks; it will not interfere with the functions of the Ministry of Pensions, and will not lead to the break-up of a Department which we would all deplore. Clause 1 of this Act transfers to four separate Departments powers which now rest in the Ministry of Pensions. It transfers to the Admiralty, to the Army Council, to the Commissioners of Chelsea Hospital, and to the Air Council, the newest body to be formed, responsibility for the award and administration of disability pensions to men disabled in former and in future wars, and it leaves only to the Ministry of Pensions disability cases arising out of the Great War. My hon. Friend has indicated incidentally that the date of the termination of the War is not the date that he puts in the Bill, but an extension of three months. I would remind him, as a Member of the Government, that this is the first time that any date has been put to the termination of the War by any Department, and that there has been no date put to the existence of D.O.R.A. as well as a great many other powers that are still exercised in this country arising out of the War. But as far as these men are concerned it is determined that 31st July shall be the date of the termination of the War. 2163 What is going to happen to the pre-War pensioner—the man who was pensioned for service in previous wars? His case has been fought almost whole-heartedly by every section of the House, and, after a great deal of effort, after many long Debates, some advance has been made, and the pre-War pensioner has been raised to the same disability or specific injury pension as a man disabled in this War. But that is all. His wife and children do not share any of the benefits enjoyed by the pensioner of the present War. My right hon. Friend knows perfectly well that the programme, if one may talk of it in that way, of the discharged officer and man, in whatever position he is represented, is that all men who have served shall be equal in this regard. If my right hon. Friend transfers the treatment of pre-War pensioners to the War Office, to the Admiralty, to the Chelsea Commissioners, or to the new Air Force, these men will not be entitled to any rights unless each of those Departments secures a separate Pensions Warrant. My right hon. Friend is in this position. He is entitled, by his existing Pension Warrant, which is given to him specifically as the Minister of Pensions by the King, to administer certain rights which I will refer to presently, but the Minister for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for the Air Force will not be entitled and cannot award those advantages unless a similar Warrant is granted by the King in the same way as it is granted to the Minister of Pensions. Therefore, you are going to put pre-War pensioners in an inferior position to the man who has served in what is known as the Great War, and you are going to deprive him of the advantages which have so far been secured for him by an agitation which has been quite unanimously supported by Members of this House.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I should have stated that there is to be an inter-Departmental Committee formed of the three fighting services to co-ordinate all disability pension proposals.
§ Mr. HOGGE
That is a new piece of information. Now we are told there is to be a Committee representing the Army the Navy and the Air Force to co-ordinate all the forces for disability pension purposes. Surely then my right hon. Friend should not come down to the House and 2164 ask for powers to re-transfer to other Departments men who now have superior advantages unless—
§ Mr. HOGGE
But that is just what the right hon. Gentleman is asking for. He is asking that pre-war pensioners should be retransferred to these three Departments. He tells me my fears may be groundless, because a Committee is to be created to co-ordinate the disability pensions of the three Departments. But obviously my right hon. Friend cannot know what will be the conclusion of that Committee, or whether the Committee propose to extend to the retransferred men all the advantages of the existing Warrant and of the Act of 1915. He cannot know that. I respectfully submit to him there is no immediate hurry for this Bill. I hope he will believe me when I say I am not moving its rejection in any carping spirit. He will agree that we have tried always to offer constructive criticism on the question of pensions, as our desire is to see the best possible arrangements made. I repeat there is no immediate hurry for retransferring these men before my right hon. Friend and the House is in possession of the facts which will determine whether it is wise or not, altogether apart from other considerations, on the ground of economy. Take a case of this kind, which will illustrate what I have in my mind. My right hon. Friend determines the date of the Great War at the 31st July. But there will be men serving in the Air Force, or in the Army or Navy, on the 31st July, who have taken part in the Great War, and if they are disabled and discharged on account of disability after the 31st July, they will not be eligible under this Bill for the advantages given to disabled men who fought in the Great War, because my right. hon. Friend draws a line of demarcation and says that, after that date, on the one side of the line is to be the Great War pensioner and on the other side of the line there is to be the future war pensioner. Look at the difficulties which will arise as to which Department a man, under these circumstances, should go.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
If the man was serving in the Great War and was discharged after the 31st July because of 2165 disability due to the Great War, of course he will still remain under the Ministry of Pensions.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am afraid not. I can quite imagine that my right hon. Friend will wish to arrange that he shall, but this is one of the points I am making, that this Bill if it became an Act of Parliament would have the result, by determining the date at which the Great War terminated, of re-transferring these particular men. I understand my right hon. Friend does not admit that. Let us take his speech further. Suppose a man had served during the Great War and was discharged after the 31st July from malaria, which was not, according to the medical evidence, directly due to service in the Great War and which may have been the result of service in India. Where is that man to go? Suppose he has been in two units; suppose he has been in the Army and has been transferred thence to the Air Force. To which will he belong? Does he belong to the new pensions department, re-transferred to the War Office, or to the new pensions department, re-transferred to the Air Force, if his malaria was acquired after the 31st July? Those interested in the welfare of the men serving in the Army realise what tremendous difficulties may thus arise, and that is why I suggest that there is no immediate hurry for, at any rate, this re-transferring portion of this Bill. My right hon. Friend, of course, may want these other questions dealt with, the questions of forfeiture of statutory right of the widow and motherless child, of the treatment of children, and of the right to interfere with local committees which are not doing their work properly, but he can get these powers at any time he cares, because they constitute a question of more efficient administration. But we do not want to jeopardise the rights which men possess at the present moment. I repeat that these men would not be entitled and could not be entitled to the same benefits as the men who fought in the Great War without the granting to each of these departments of new warrants. Let me ask another question. Suppose that a man was discharged after 31st July. 2166 Where would he get his medical treatment? Would it be in the Ministry of Pension's hospital or in a military hospital?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I wish to make it quite clear that if it is proved that any man got his disability in the Great War then his case will remain with the Ministry of Pensions, and he will receive the treatment which the Ministry of Pensions now gives to any man who has got his disability in the War.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman. If you limit by a hard and fast date the period when the Great War stopped, nearly every man who is discharged from the Army or Navy after that date falls outside that date, and goes into one of the re-transferred Departments. That is my point. It is bound to be so, and if it is not obvious it is not to be so, then make it clear in the Bill. Make it plain. Remember you are dealing with soldiers and sailors who at the present moment have enormous difficulties under existing machinery to know where they stand, and if you put them in the position in which I suggest this Bill will put them, they will be worse off than ever.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I can assure my hon. Friend that I will put any Clause in the Bill that will make that clear.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend, because I think that a limitation of that date would cut off a great number of men. Then there is the point as to whether or not the Bill does continue Section 3 of the Naval and Military War Pensions Act, 1915. That raises another question of policy. My right hon. Friend knows the functions of the Statutory Committee. Eleven of them are set out in Section 3. Some of these functions deal with separation allowances, and some with pensions. My right hon. Friend also knows that at the present moment no policy has been determined with regard to the new Army so far as separation allowances are concerned, and that no policy can be deter- 2167 mined in those re-transferred Departments with regard to the supplementation of pensions. Suppose that a soldier is serving, say, in Mesopotamia, after the 31st July, and that for some reason or other, not connected with the Great War, he dies. Are his widow and children to have the same treatment as the widow and children of a man who was killed or who died as the result of the Great War? My right hon. Friend will see at once that, if they do not, a great difference will be created between service during the Great War and service in the future. I thought we had made up our minds, as a House of Commons and as a nation, that our service men from the time of the Great War were to receive new treatment, and adequate treatment. If my right hon Friend takes them out of the Warrants that apply to the Great War, he ought to be prepared, before he asks for this power, to state explicitly what those men and their dependants are going to get, should the men become the victims of any future war. If a man were killed, say, in an Indian frontier war, or in a scrap on the Rhine— even an accidental scrap, in which a British soldier was killed—after the 31st July, would that man, or would his wife and children, not be entitled to the same allowances which obtain now under the existing Warrant?
My right hon. Friend will see at once that he is too soon on the margin of the great War to ask for this power, and tht he would be well advised to take the administrative portions of this Bill, and drop the question of the wider policy. Even taking the ground which my right hon. Friend put forward, namely, that of economy, does the House of Commons believe for one moment that, if you re-transfer men who are at the present moment governed by the Ministry of Pensions, to the War Office, the Admiralty or the Air Force, you are not going to create a new set of officials? My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but we know that, even in the Ministry of Pensions itself to-day, he finds it enormously difficult to keep down the number of the staff. As a matter of fact a special official—a Mr. Cope, if I remember rightly—was appointed some months ago to help in the reorganisation of the Ministry of Pensions and to get rid of staff that was unnecessary. In spite of his appointment, and in spite of the dis- 2168 content that he has created in the Ministry by his appointment, the staff has gone up enormously.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I do not doubt his efficiency for a moment, but if my right hon. Friend has not heard of the discontent, he has evaded successfully, so far, one of the tragedies of his Office. He will hear a great deal about it before he is many weeks older. If he has not heard of it a great many others of us have, and he has only to consult some of the ladies who have been looking for him unsuccessfully for a long time. If he will meet some of them, they will tell him something about the discontent that exists in his Department. The staff of the Ministry has gone up in spite of all the attempts to keep it down, and if new Departments are established in the Admiralty, the War Office and the Air Force, as surely as we are discussing this Bill to-day those responsible for those Departments will begin to create the kind of thing to which we have been accustomed. It will duplicate matters and it will create dissatisfaction. My right hon. Friend, before he asks for that power, is entitled to tell the House what saving would be effected. I think the number he referred to was something like 4,000, or at the most 5,000 a year. With 5,000 men divided between three Departments, when you have a Ministry dealing with millions of cases, to come to the House of Commons and ask for power to do that at this time of day is really ludicrous.
I do not want to press my right hon. Friend too hard, because I think he will agree that not only myself, but a great many others who may speak in this Debate are only inspired by a desire for effective and efficient administration. I would make this reasonable suggestion to him, namely, that it is too soon, too premature, to ask for these retransfer powers, and that he should content himself in this Bill with taking only those administrative changes which will increase the efficiency of the present Ministry of Pensions. He can then come back to the House six months or twelve months hence, when he has had another year's experience of the Ministry. After all, he is perfectly untried at the moment in the 2169 Ministry of Pensions; he cannot know his subject yet, and he cannot have had any opportunity of making up his own mind as to whether there is a policy which is wise or unwise. He has inherited the policy from his predecessor, and he is doing his best for the baby that he has found on the doorstep of the Ministry of Pensions. I would counsel him to "go easy" in this matter, and content himself with the administrative portions, leaving this attack on the centralised Ministry of Pensions alone until he has at least convinced himself that it is the right policy.
I do not agree with my hon. Friend who has just spoken in the necessity for rejecting this Bill to-night, which I understand is practically the effect of his proposal. I do, however, agree with him that, before many of us actually vote in support of the Bill, we shall require more assurance and more information upon it. I think there might be a middle course. Instead of the Bill being rejected, which would have great disadvantages, the Government might consider the advisability of postponing it and bringing it forward later, after some, let me say, agreed—upon Amendments have been arrived at. I should also be disposed to agree with my hon. Friend that, at first blush, it does seem to many of us to be a reactionary step. About four years ago a number of us, including my hon. Friend, put up a most strenuous fight to prevent the Admiralty dealing with sailors in one compartment and the War Office dealing with soldiers in another compartment. As a result of our opposition this very Ministry of Pensions was born. To us it does seem to require stronger arguments than we have yet heard, and a fuller explanation than has yet been offered, as to why this apparently retrograde step should be taken. Having said that, may I now say that it is refreshing, from another point of view, to find that there is one Department of the Government which is seeking to couple economy with efficiency? If it can be proved, and we hope it will be possible for them to prove, that this means greater efficiency and. greater economy, we should, I believe, all welcome it, with one proviso, and that is that the economy must not be at the expense of our disabled ex-service men, whether they are pre-War soldiers or 2170 Great War soldiers. I do not think this House or the country would tolerate that sort of economy.
I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, will really give us some arguments and statements in detail. If he can give us some examples in hard facts and figures to show us where the efficiency would be improved, and where the economy would come in, that would go a long way. So far, we have had nothing beyond mere assertions; we have had really no proof and no calculations. There are certain points upon which I must confess that I can at present find no information in this Bill, and they are points which I think ought to be most clearly explained to the House. One is as to how these proposals will affect the right of appeal of the man who is discharged from the Army. At present, if a man who is discharged from the Army is not satisfied with the decision which has been given, he has rights of appeal. It might be said, in the first instance, that his disease or his disability is not attributable to war service. He has a right of appeal, and on appeal it is sometimes found that his disability is attributable to his war service. How does that stand under the Bill? Again, there is the question of the degree of disablement. Suppose that a man, under these new provisions, is discharged and comes under the Admiralty or the War Office, what right of appeal has he if his disability has been assessed at, say, 20 per cent., and if he claims that it should be assessed at a higher percentage? I find nothing whatever in the Bill throwing light on that. There is also the question of whether a disablement is temporary or is permanent, and, if temporary, for how long it should continue. On all these points and many others under the present arrangement a man has the right of appeal. I want to be assured that these rights of appeal are in no way affected by the passing of the Bill.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
That, I presume, means that the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Major Tryon) will give an undertaking that those points are provided for. If so, that will certainly go to disarm some of my objections and to allay my fears. The obvious intention of Clause 2 is to reduce the number of the 2171 local committees. That may be some gain in economy, but it means a loss of local knowledge of facts by existing committees. It may mean a loss of local sympathy with the pensioner, and it may also mean a decrease of the amenities which the pensioner at present enjoys. Those are all matters which must be carefully considered before we can give wholehearted assent to the Bill. At first sight I do not see how economy is really going to be effected. I can quite understand that if you take away a certain number of cases from the Ministry of Pensions and pass them on to the Admiralty, the War Office and the Air Force, you will be able to reduce the staff at the Ministry of Pensions and to cut down salaries and expenses. But if you transfer that number of men to the Admiralty, will you not be increasing the staff there to deal with it, or would it not at least mean keeping at the Admiralty a staff which would otherwise be dispensed with? I do not think there can be any argument on the point. If there is a whole mass of work to be done and you take it away from one central administration and split it up among three other administrative bodies, you may thereby be able to reduce the staff of the central body, but it involves either an increase of the staff of the other two bodies, or at all events prevents a reduction of staff in them which might otherwise take place. I admit that there may be a reduction of staff under the Bill in connection with local pension committees, but, if so, again there may be an increase in some other direction. On balance I am very uncertain as to what extent I and a good many others can support the Bill. We realise that there are in it Clauses which we should like to see carried into effect. Therefore it is difficult to say we would vote against the Bill. But I think it is also very difficult to say I could vote for it in order to secure Clauses 7, 8, 9 and 10 unless I was fully satisfied about Clauses 1, 2 and 3. That is the dilemma in which we are placed, and that is the reason why I would press upon the right hon. Gentleman that he could best meet the situation by postponing the Bill in order that we may at a future and an early date be able to support an amended Bill, or one containing the assurance we want, con amore, and so be certain that the Bill as amended is one which is in 2172 the interests of the country at large and does not in any way prejudice the position of the service man whether he has served in this War or in other wars or whether he serves in some future war which we trust may never happen.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
It does not affect any existing rights of any ex-service man either in the Great War or pre-War. All his rights are preserved.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I am delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that, but I cannot at the moment see that that is provided for in the Bill. I am quite sure his word is as good as his bond. I am sure anything he intends will be carried out. But the Bill as it stands does not provide for that, and before we give it a Second Reading we ought to receive some kind of assurance as to the nature of the Amendments which will be proposed by the Government in Committee or which will be regarded by them as agreed Amendments.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I associate myself with what was said by the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman as a Scottish Member on his appearance at that box. I regret that it is our duty somewhat vigorously to oppose the first Bill he has presented. But we do so entirely from the point of view of offering constructive Amendments and suggestions which have been born of our experience in this work, not only in Scotland, but in other parts of the country as well. What was the principle for which we fought very strenuously, not only during but after the War, in war pensions administration? We always emphasised most strongly the fact that the dependants of serving men and discharged and demobilised men would gain by having one Department to deal with in this important matter. We knew that when the War broke out a variety of Departments were dealing with pensions and kindred problems. We knew the chaos and very often the hopelessness of getting any allowance at all in the first months, and indeed year or two, of war experience, and we knew that a state of affairs like that could be neither healthy nor efficient for any country passing through a great crisis such as we have experienced since 1914. By and by, thanks to the efforts of the hon. Member (Mr. Hogge) and many others associated with him, we got a Pensions Ministry and we got a very large 2173 measure of centralisation in the administration of pensions, and there is not a single person engaged in the administration of pensions who is not profoundly grateful for that change and who did not appreciate the immediate practical benefits which it brought.
I greatly regret that the very first Clause almost of the Bill proposes to revert to a state of affairs, as regards post-war pensions, which we almost universally deplore. It means that as regards these people we are to renew our conflicts and our wars with individual Departments. I appreciate entirely what the right hon. Gentleman has said regarding the appointment of a Joint Committee, whose duty it will be to coordinate matters of this kind, and, I take it, to arrive at some uniform policy. But that is not really our objection. Our objection is, broadly, that we shall be compelled to deal with these different Departments. Co-ordination may lead us to a certain uniformity, but inevitable dislocation will result, and what it could do under one roof for many years to come will be spread over these other Departments. Those who have large committees at work will not be impressed by the argument of economy. The Pensions Ministry has at least a generation of work in front of it. Our experience in disablement work teaches us that for at least that time we shall be directly and indirectly treating and providing for people who have been in one way or another victims of the European War. If that is so, and if we have got that centralised Department now working, perhaps with far greater efficiency than it ever worked before, and with a great deal of elimination of waste of time, why should we not continue in its hands for the time being these duties which are really on all fours with the work which is now overtaking us and which will give us the undoubted advantage of dealing with one centralised institution and not with a variety of offices scattered up and down London, and, it may be, the country as well? That is the dominating consideration in this Bill, and I sincerely hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to abrogate that part of it and give us those parts of the Bill which are really valuable upon which we could unitedly agree.
In the second place, the Bill contains a proposal for the division of the County Committees, and it proposes to give the 2174 Minister of Pensions power to re-group the administrative units for war pensions purposes in the various localities. I am at a great loss to understand exactly how that is going to fit in with the very important work some of us are trying to undertake in decentralising war pensions administration in Great Britain. I will give an illustration from our own country, which is usually very progressive, and not least progressive in this matter of pensions administration. We have set up in Scotland one of the eleven or twelve Regional Councils which have been established in this country, and it is responsible for the treatment and care of the discharged and the disabled as regards medical provision, and also for the granting of pensions and allowances through the Local Committees to the various classes of dependants. Under that one body for the whole of Scotland, our Scottish Regional Headquarters, with an Advisory Commission including four Members of this House and other representative men to serve on it, we have established four Disablement Committees similar to what are found south of the Tweed, but which cater more particularly for the four districts of Scotland—North, Central, South-East, and West. That structure has been built up as the result of a good deal of practical experience and as the result of a careful investigation by a Decentralisation Committee which was appointed at the Ministry of Pensions very soon after the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor took office there. We are all agreed that, while the structure has been completed from the bottom, while we have made more and more perfect all the machinery for dealing with the discharged, the disabled, and various classes of dependants, in actual practice in the localities many Committees have tended to break down. This has been largely due to the fact that during the crisis of war, when we were all conscious of immediate sorrow and loss, and when we were all sincerely desirous of making an immediate contribution to the solution of the country's difficulties, large numbers of voluntary workers were readily forthcoming. With the conclusion of the War and the resumption of normal occupations the voluntary workers passed away, and we had to depend more and more on paid efforts, upon skilled assistance—where we could obtain skilled assistance—and upon 2175 a clerical staff which we were called upon to remunerate for the first time. While all that has been accomplished, I say, as one who has every reason to pay a high tribute to voluntary workers, that their departure has meant in many a country district a partial break-down of the local touch and the local connection between the Ministry and its work at headquarters and the immediate needs of, it may be, a rural locality. That is a state of affairs which demands a remedy. I am a little nervous with regard to the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman for decentralisation and the breaking up of these Committees, or it may be for creating administration in certain districts. I should like to be sure that under this Bill—I mention it for the purpose of illustration—in any steps which we take under the Bill, we are going to use the structure which so far has been evolved, and we are going to cater much more efficiently in particular for the rural districts and their acute needs, and try to bridge the gulf which very often separates the dependants and the discharged men where they are distant many miles from the larger centres of enterprise and population.
The provision in regard to forfeiture of pension is at once humane and certainly just. I hope the Minister will be able to provide for the class of people who had no right to be penalised, as they have been penalised during recent years. We wish also to get an inquiry such as the right hon. Gentleman suggests into maladministration, but on that point may I respectfully say that I have known committees which have made every effort in the world to do their work efficiently, and have tried to abide by the Regulations, but the Regulations have been so voluminous and, in my practical experience sometimes so contradictory that no committee could put them into actual practice without inflicting serious injustice upon the disabled or certain classes of dependants. In one case, which I need not mention, there was a definite defiance of the Ministry, and there may have been that in other cases; but such maladministration as has occurred in War Pensions work throughout the country has been in the main due to certain quite honest failure to work Regulations which are sometimes beyond the power of members of the committees to understand, and which 2176 it was beyond their power to apply in the strict letter or even in the spirit. Much more might be done to codify the Regulations of the Ministry and to tend in the direction of simplicity. This would make for efficiency in the local committees, who would probably retain in their services a much larger proportion of men and women of public experience than they now enjoy. These are points which we shall all cordially welcome. Finally, I think every hon. Member will join in welcoming the provision with regard to the care of children. That has been one of the greatest grievances, not only of the discharged and demobilised men, but also of large sections of people who have taken an interest in the work of these local committees. If we meet that grievance we shall meet a real source of distrust, and we shall be able all the better to say that the Ministry both in its structure and the application of its rules and in the discharge of its duty to this country has brought to bear a humane, a considerate and a compassionate disposition and point of view.
§ Captain LOSEBY
I have great sympathy with the Minister of Pensions in having, as the first step in his new office, to bring in a Bill which will prove to be the first step in the dissolution of his own Ministry. In spite of the right hon. Gentleman, I am unable to understand the reason for Clause 1. I could have understood bringing every pension, most certainly every form of disability pension, under the Ministry of Pensions, but, to complicate the task still further, when we have the Ministry of Pensions taking away certain of its disability pensions and handing them back again to the Admiralty, the Air Force, and the War Office, it is perfectly incomprehensible. Why have we a Ministry of Pensions at all if it is not the object of the Ministry of Pensions to administer pensions? The principle is quite wrong. In regard to these pensions, as in other matters, we want some responsible person who will take charge of these unfortunate disabled men so that that person can be decapitated, if occasion arises. We want someone whom we can hold responsible. It has been too much a practice of this particular Ministry to wait until the grievances of disabled soldiers were forced upon them by this House. My conception of the office of the right hon. 2177 Gentleman is that he should seek always and incessantly for the grievances and anomalies which undoubtedly exist at the present time and bring them before the attention of this House instead of waiting the other way. Unless the Ministry of Pensions will accept that position it is quite impossible to get the grievances of the pensioners before this House.
I will give an illustration. The Second Report of the Select Committee on Pensions was published a short time ago. Some of us thought that it was a rather unsatisfactory report in certain respects. We did not agree with it in its entirety. We did not think it was as good a report as the first report. The Government accepted portions of that report, but did not accept other portions, and we have been quite unable to bring before the attention of the House certain very glaring grievances, and we cannot bring those grievances before the House under the present system of doing business. We have to rely on the Minister of Pensions and his machinery to seek them out and to introduce his own legislation. With this responsibility divided amongst Department after Department, I cannot imagine how this problem is going to be satisfactorily solved. In handing back to the War Office the administration of disability pensions of men wounded prior to 1914, the right hon. Gentleman is escaping from having to face a ridiculous anomaly. I know the right hon. Gentleman is sympathetic. I am only fighting for greater power for his elbow. If we could go to the right hon. Gentleman and say, "Here is a ludicrous anomaly, which is contrary to the pledge given by your Ministry," we could have won a concession for the men wounded before 1914; but the right hon. Gentleman will escape and will be able to say, "You must put the question to the Secretary of State for War." He will be able to say that he is not responsible for the idiosyncracies of the Secretary for War. We are fighting for the ordinary, commonsense principle that, unless there is some strong reason to the contrary, these pensions should be concentrated upon the Ministry of Pensions, and we ask the right hon. Gentleman to make himself responsible for them. Very reluctantly I shall be compelled to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill unless the right hon. Gentleman can make some concession in 2178 regard to this Clause. I shall very much regret to do so, because I realise that in other parts of the Bill there are some excellent provisions.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
My hon. Friend who has just sat down and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Pennefather) have expressed many points of difficulty in regard to this Bill. Clauses 6, 7 and 8 embody principles which Members would like to see passed into law, and on that account I should be very loth to vote against the Bill. On the other hand I am not satisfied that the principle contained in Clause 1 is a sound principle. It would be a great pity in a matter of this kind that there should be a Division taken or that the Bill should be passed by a majority or rejected or subject to any Division at all. During the whole of last year the Select Committee on Pensions was sitting. I was a Member of that Committee and we made two Reports, the first of which was accepted practically in toto; but the second Report was dealt with in the way described by my hon. Friend (Captain Loseby). I am told that this Select Committee is to be re-appointed. While we were in existence we never heard one word about Clause 1, or of the proposals contained in it. I think it a pity if the Minister had these proposals in his mind that he did not at least ask the Select Committee on Pensions what they thought of it. In many of these matters there is the question whether it is cheaper or not or more economical or not. Economy in this matter is not the most important, because we are all determined that the pre-War and post-War pensioner shall not be deprived of any right which he now possesses. I would suggest to the Minister that if this Select Committee is re-appointed, I do not say this Bill as a Bill, but the suggestions contained in it, should be referred to the Select Committee, and they should be asked to report on them, in order that they may give some guidance to the House as to whether these principles are good or bad. We are told that this is good or that this is bad, That is a matter on which if we heard evidence we might form our own opinion, and it might be a matter of great assistance to the House in forming an opinion as to whether the Bill was a good one or not if this suggestion were adopted.
§ Sir P. HARRIS
I find a difficulty in accepting Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. Before the House accepts them they ought to be justified, both as regards the rights of the post-war pensioner and also as a sound administrative measure. If this Bill is read a Second time, I would desire to reserve my rights to vote against Clauses 1 and 2 when the matter is considered in Committee. At the same time I do want to point out that there is urgency for all the other Clauses of the Bill. As an example, I may refer to Clause 3. Some such provision certainly is required so far as London is concerned. The London war pensions committee were agreed with the late Minister that it is desirable that the London county committee should be dissolved and that local committees should be set up in each of the metropolitan boroughs. The reason is the setting up by the Ministry of a regional organisation, which was recommended by the Committee of which my hon. Friend opposite and I were members. The functions which the London war pensions committee perform at the present time are confined mainly to co-ordinating the work of the local sub-committees and assisting in various ways. The new regional organisation is set up to do very much the same thing. Therefore, unless you are to have overlapping and waste of time and money, it is necessary either that the London county committee should cease to exist or that the regional organisation should not perform a good many of the functions for which it is being set up.
The Minister expressed the view that the regional organisation ought to per form those functions of co-ordinating the work in London. Therefore the London committee acquiesced in their dissolution, it being understood that an advisory committee should be set up to assist the regional organisation. That decision having been arrived at and the agreement with the Ministry, it is extremely desirable in the interests of London that they should be carried out as quickly as possible. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be given the necessary powers. I do think that some decentralisation of powers is wanted in other counties. I have reason to believe that in one county quite an efficient county committee asks that it should be dissolved, because it says you have a regional organisation on one side of the street of 2180 the county town, and they are on the other, and nobody knows to which to go to. It is quite clear that there is a great deal of waste of energy and money at present which could be met by some such provision as that contained in Clause 3. Therefore, I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading; at the same time I sympathise with the criticisms that have been offered on Clauses 1 and 2.
I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he has considered this Bill from the point of view of the psychology of the man himself? I have the honour to be president of a branch of a federation, which numbers some 200,000, and I know that among the members of that branch, after something like three years of suspicion and distrust of the Ministry, there is at last growing up a good feeling towards it. The soldier is beginning to believe in the Ministry, but you cannot say the same about the War Office. The soldier, as everybody knows, loathes the War Office. I cannot speak about the Admiralty or the Air Ministry, but about the War Office I know, and if you say to any particular class of soldiers, " You have got to go to the War Office, or the Admiralty or Air Ministry for your pension," he will not like it. It will break into the great principle of equality of treatment, which is the principle upon which the whole body of ex-service men insist more than upon any other principle. They are not concerned so much with the amount of the pension, or, indeed, with the administrative details in this matter. They are concerned with this, that when the award does come through, it shall be equal and shall be fair. The right hon. Gentleman paid a tribute to the work of the local committee, and in particular to the work of the county committee. This Bill is not very flattering to them. May I point out what happened on the occasion when the Ministry of Pensions was, as he says, pruned, and the subject of training was transferred to the Ministry of Labour? Has he any idea of the complexity and confusion which that caused in the work of the local committees and the dissatisfaction which the transfer occasioned to ex-service men?
I know that the right hon. Gentleman did not do it, but he should make inquiries, before becoming sponsor 2181 to a Bill of this sort, as to the effects of pruning on similar lines. The result of that pruning has not been increased efficiency in the provision of training for disabled men. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the difficulties under which the local committees will labour if this Bill is passed in its present form. It is bad enough when they have to deal with one Department God help them if they have to deal with three. If it goes to a Division, I shall vote against the Bill in spite of agreeing with my hon. Friend that the majority of the provisions are essential. I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should accept the suggestion to refer the proposals contained in Clause 1 to the Select Committee if and when it is reconstituted, and that he should bring in at once another Bill embodying the principles contained in the latter Clauses of the present Bill. This would meet the universal opposition which this Bill, taken as a whole, has encountered to-day, and would certainly be appreciated and welcomed outside this House.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I wish to call attention to the great change involved in Clause 8. Constitutionally, I suppose it is the greatest change in the Bill, as it gives a statutory right to certain people to their pensions, but I would like to know why it is limited to the widow and the motherless child. Clearly it does not cover all those who are entitled to pensions. I do not see why the others are excluded from the statutory right. The phrase in Clause 7 is "whatever children or other dependants." I do not know why the same or a similar phrase should not be used in Clause 8. There is a great feeling of hardship and wrong on the part of many people who claim a pension when they are simply told that the Ministry decides the facts against them, or rules out their claim. This Clause will now give a statutory right in some of those cases, but if it is going to give a statutory right to the dependant who happens to be a motherless child, why is it not going to give the same statutory right, say, to the mother or father of the soldier who is in a destitute or helpless condition, or to any other dependant of the late soldier? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say why the statutory right is limited to such a very narrow class of people, a class which is very important, 2182 but does not comprise anything like the whole of the dependants, or the whole of the most necessitous and suffering of the dependants. How is this statutory right going to work? How is it to be enforced? I take it that a claimant will have the right to go to some tribunal or some court of law and plead in all these cases as against the Ministry of Pensions, and that it will be decided as a matter of law on the interpretation of the Warrant and the Regulations, and on proof of the facts. How is that to be done? What will the tribunal be and what provision will be made for bringing it quite close to the homes of the people and making it of a very cheap character so that their right shall be real and not illusory?
I only read this Bill since I sat on this Bench listening to the speeches. I agree with a great deal of what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) and succeeding speakers as to the latter Clauses. I take it that the time has come when the War Pensions Committees are probably too large and too numerous for the work which was thrust upon them in 1915, 1916, and afterwards, and therefore I endorse thoroughly the provisions of Clause 3 as to re-organising and even dissolving some of these Committees. But I would like also to associate myself very fully with what has been said by the Pensions Minister as to the work done by those committees. I know of no better or more disinterested service by any of the committees or War bodies than that which was done by the Pensions Committees, work which was done, not in the glare of public life or on public platforms, but in quiet, little, and sometimes dirty, halls in the back streets of manufacturing towns, and in those halls and in the streets round about inquiries were made by them day after day, without any hope of fee or reward, while they performed the very finest service to the community. But the time has come when it is no longer necessary that committees should exist in such large numbers.
I should like to be assured as to whether or not the constitution of these committees will be the same as hitherto. I remember that we had a stiff fight to get the representation of Labour upon them. I take it that that will be continued? The subsequent Clauses of the Bill are, I think, all 2183 right. I specially welcome the provision made in Clause 7 as to the humane treatment of a person after he has completed a term in prison, and also the statutory right given to the widow and the children. The suggestion has been made that the question as to the application of Clauses 1 and 2 should be referred to a Select Committee. I cannot endorse that suggestion. The question as to whether or not there is to be one Pensions Department dealing with all pensions in future, or whether we should revert to the old system of each Department dealing with its own and a Pensions Department still existing, is a matter of general principle not to be decided by a Select Committee, but on the Floor of this House. I have not yet been convinced of the need of reverting to the old system. Whether that be done or not, I heartily agree with the statement of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) that we have not as yet arrived at the time when it should be done, nor are we sufficiently seized of the need for safeguarding all the rights of the men who would be transferred. The Bill provides that the Minister is to be the sole judge in any question arising in future if a man's pension is assessable in the Pensions Department or the War Office. That is to say, the whole power rests with the Pensions Minister. I take it that any Pensions Minister would be rather inclined to shunt awkward questions back to the War Office or to the Admiralty. But if that were not so, is it quite clear that this Bill gives to a man a right to have his rights transferred? The Pensions Minister says his rights are so transferred, but that is not in this Bill. After all, a man's position will be determined, not by what the right hon. Gentleman says in Debate, but by what may happen to be in an Act of Parliament.
I think the Special Grants Committee is a very important body. Some authority should exist to decide in cases that could not be decided by the rigid Rules and Regulations of any Department, and this body has been found increasingly useful during the last two or three years. I can see nothing in this Bill which will give the man the rights he now has, nothing which transfers those rights. There is the further question of principle. I am inclined to think that we are making a wrong departure. In introducing this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman pointed 2184 out that there would be a certain amount of overlapping if the conditions remained as they are, that the Departments gathered up the information and transferred it to the Pensions Department, and that there was additional expense engendered thereby. It is a matter for consideration which is the larger additional expense—transferring information from the various Departments and letting the Pensions Department deal with it, or continuing four separate Departments dealing with the matter. It seems to me that the simpler way would be to have all the information transferred to the Pensions Department and to let that Department deal with every case. I feel sure that the man outside would regard that as much the better plan. From the time the War began it has always been a difficulty with a man or his wife or his widow to know to whom to write. At the War Office, perhaps, they were told they should write to the Pensions Office, and then they were told they should write to the Admiralty. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will follow the advice given him to take all the powers conferred on him by the Clauses following Clause 2, and to leave Clauses 1 and 2 to be decided not by a Select Committee but on the floor of the House after more complete information has been obtained, and further time for consideration has been given in this House.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY OF PENSIONS (Major Tryon)
In view of the many helpful speeches that have been made, I think i ought at once to make it clear that there has been some misunderstanding on one point. The Pensions Ministry retains the administration of everything concerned with the great War. All those who served in the War retain the whole of their present rights both to pension and to appeal, now and in the future. No man who served in the great War will lose any rights he has now. When we speak of economy we speak of economies which we hope to obtain in administration; we do not speak of any economy in the rights of the pensioners themselves. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) spoke of our having three Warrants in future. As a matter of fact there are three Warrants now. With reference to the personal attack which he made on Mr. Cope, may I say that I understood it has always been the custom of this 2185 House to attack the Ministers responsible and not the Civil Servants who are ably discharging their duty? Another hon. Member raised a very important point as to the sympathetic treatment of pensions locally by people who know individual cases. All that is retained under the Bill. What we propose to do is to eliminate the county committees. That is not because they have not done their work well; they have done most valuable work for the country, and I should like to pay my tribute to them and to the local committees. What has happened is that they have instituted in their counties smaller committees which deal personally with the pensioner, and regions have been set up. It would make too many divisions if you had a central administration in London, eleven regions also being administered, county districts being administered by county committees, and then the small committees. It would call for four sets of administration, and it is obviously better for the pensioner to substitute a smaller number. We have retained all touch with the localities, but we remove some of the machinery which has done excellent work, but which has become unnecessary.
The main point is that all the pensioners of the Great War retain now, and in the future, all the rights conferred on them and the warrants stand. One hon. Member said it was a bad thing for men to have to go to three different Departments. That is a bad thing, and that is the difficulty which in two important cases is being removed by the Bill. Under Clause 1 (2) the war pensions for officers wounds are transferred to the Pensions Ministry. Those officers have to go at present to the War Office for wound pensions, and if they draw an additional pension for disability they have to go to the Pensions Ministry. Under the Bill those officers instead of going to two Departments will go to one, and that will complete the arrangement under which everything connected with the Great War is wholly, fully and permanently under the Ministry of Pensions. On the other hand, there are men of the three services, who, unless a war occurs, will be earning pensions, I trust not for wounds or disability but for length of service. It seems to be the more natural thing in that case that the men should draw their pensions from the employing Department which asked them to join the service and which 2186 knows and has the whole record of their service. I trust they will not be disability or wound pensions, because we hope there will be no war. But if they have a disability, it would be a disadvantage to send those men to another Department. As to disability pensions, only yesterday I was able to announce to the House a scheme which places regular soldiers disabled in the present war, I am very glad to say, in a better position. Under that scheme they draw disability pensions to the full amount, and also, if they are thrown out of their service by disability, they get a pension or gratuity as well in proportion to their length of service. We believe that it is essential in both cases to have one Department paying those men instead of having to go to two. I hope now that I have dealt with most of the points that the House will help us by granting the Second Reading in order that any further points may be raised in Committee.