HC Deb 11 December 1946 vol 431 cc1290-5

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Mr. John Dugdale.]

9.40 p.m.

Mr. J. P. L. Thomas (Hereford)

We wish from these benches to welcome the general object of this Bill. It is very desirable that these awards should be made available to a wider circle of people than has been the case in the past. It is wise also to remove the present restrictions on the amounts of the awards. On these two main points of the Bill the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty can count on the support of hon. Members on these benches. Now, let me come to a complaint which we have about the Bill. We do not complain of what is in it but we complain of what is left out. In previous Greenwich Hospital Bills the upper limits of the scales of pension and benefit have been specified but these are removed from this Bill, and rightly removed, if it is intended to increase them. However, no new limits have been substituted or prescribed in their place in the present Bill. Instead, I understand these limits will be fixed by the Admiralty and determined by Orders in Council.

On this side of the House we feel that this is yet another example of a Bill introduced by the present Government which removes the power from the people and places it in the hands of the Executive. I agree that Orders in Council issued under this Bill will be subject to discussion by this House but such scrutiny, I think, lacks the flexibility which is provided by the normal passage of a Bill through Parliament. Orders in Council, as hon. Members know, can be discussed but they cannot be amended by this House. They must be accepted or rejected as they stand. It would have been preferable if the scales of pension and benefit had been specified in the Bill as they have been in the Greenwich Hospital Bills of the past. I do not want to keep the House long and I would ask the Minister whether he can tell us what those new scales are to be? If he cannot tell us tonight, I wonder if he can promise to look into the matter and see if it is possible to inform us during the later stages of the Bill. From these Benches we promise general support to the main theme of the Bill.

9.43 p.m.

Major Bruce (Portsmouth, North)

I would like to endorse the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas). I have no doubt myself that any intention which the Parliamentary Secretary has in regard to this Bill is a perfectly good one. The Bill itself gives no indication as to what are the intentions of the Admiralty. All it does is to remove a series of restrictions. It removes the restrictions laid down by Section 5 of the Greenwich Hospital Act of 1869, as subsequently amended, which I believe imposed a limit of £45 12s. 6d. for any pension. It goes on to amend certain Sections of the Act of 1872. I have been at some effort to endeavour to find out how these provisions have been amended in the years since 1872. As I see it, the present position, as left by this Bill, is that Section 4 (1) of the Act of 1872 is deleted. That prescribed that the total number of girls who are the daughters of warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the Royal Navy and Marines, being educated and maintained at any one time, shall not exceed 200. Section 5 (2) removes the restriction on the amount.

I have been unable to trace exactly what is the effect of this Bill on Section 4 (2) of the Act of 1872, which says that the amount expended under any Section for any particular girl will not exceed £20, and also, as regards Section 5 (1), where it is prescribed that the total number of boys and girls being educated and maintained under Section 5 will not exceed 50. I am a little mystified by this, because, under the Second Schedule to the Bill, it is indicated that the whole of the remaining part of the Section is repealed, whereas, if one turns to Clause 1 (b) and (c) of the Bill, it appears only to repeal the Subsection, and I should be very pleased if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty can inform us whether there may have been other Acts in between which repealed the remaining Subsections, or whether it is, in fact, the intention to repeal the whole of the remaining Subsections

I now pass to Clause 1 (2) which indicates, I think, rather an important point in regard to how the Greenwich Hospital pensions shall be assessed in future, in regard to the Pensions (Increase) Acts of 1920 and 1944. Under those Acts, it is made clear that increases in pensions granted under both those Acts shall not be taken into account when determining Greenwich Hospital pensions; or alternatively that Greenwich Hospital pensions, in being determined, shall not take account of any pensions granted under those Acts. I observe that, in this Bill, this provision in. those Acts is, in fact, repealed, and, therefore, in future, grants of Greenwich Hospital pensions shall, in fact, take into account any pensions granted under any other Act. I am bound to say straight away that this appears to conflict with the general intention of the grant of these pensions originally, and they go back to 1865. In fact, in the Fourth Report of the Committee on Public Accounts (Command Paper 172–1), in which the Greenwich Hospital pensions were reviewed, it was made quite clear, when the Chairman, questioning Sir Sydney Barnes, asked: ''These are pensions which are something extra and special, after other service pensions?", and the answer was—" Yes." Originally, they were granted by Greenwich Hospital to the Navy alone, but, in 1920 it was agreed that all the Services should undertake their own pensions, the difference being that Greenwich Hospital is a private charity, whereas the Army, Navy and Air Force pensions are paid for from the Services Votes."

Having regard to the record of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty on Service pay and pensions, and to his intentions under this Bill, I have no doubt that we shall get a satisfactory reply when he comes to speak, but, under the Bill itself, it is by no means clear. I myself would like a declaration from the Parliamentary Secretary whether or not the basic principle behind the original grant of a Greenwich hospital pension, which is made to the aged and infirm people of our country who have served in the Navy and the Royal Marines, and originally, also in the Merchant Navy, is, in fact, going to be departed from, and. if so, in what respect. It may be said that the intention behind the Bill is generally to upgrade the pensions which have been previously granted under the Greenwich Hospital Acts. If so, I feel sure that everybody will be only too pleased to support it, but one is bound to point out that, when the estimates for the Greenwich Hospital were debated some two or three months ago, the estimate for the current year was some £30,000 down.

I should be glad to know how the Parliamentary Secretary proposes to reconcile the estimated reduction in expenditure for the current year—which we discussed in this House a little time ago— with any anticipated increase under the Bill. I am confident that all these things will be capable of explanation when the Parliamentary Secretary comes to reply, but they are not obvious on the face of the Bill.

There is one other point on which I should like a little information. In the past, it has been laid down by regulation, or by Order in Council, that if a Greenwich Hospital pensioner is, for any reason, in receipt of public assistance relief, or is in a public assistance institution, he is not permitted to have a Greenwich Hospital pension. I have raised this question in the House before, and I hope it may be possible to effect some kind of redress in regard to these pensions.

9.51 p.m.

Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)

I only wish to ask one question, which is: To what extent does the stoppage of the Greenwich Hospital pension increases contribute to, or permit of, the extension of pensions to be made under this Bill? I ask that question because I have tried and failed to get the information before. To what extent will these stoppages assist this Bill? I was informed last June, in reply to a Question, that the amount saved as a result of stopping the pension increases—an action which, incidentally, has caused a considerable amount of discontent among our chief petty officers and men who have recently left the Service— would be used for the purposes mentioned in this Bill. To what extent financially do these stoppages contribute towards the objects of the Bill?

9.52 p.m.

The Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. John Dugdale)

I am sorry that there is not very much time left in which both to reply to questions and to explain the objects of this Bill. I had prepared a rather longer speech, going back to William III and Mary, but I have scrapped most of that. I want to make quite clear, as briefly as I can, exactly what this Bill does. It is aimed at removing restrictions both on the amounts which may be given to people and on the categories of people who may receive those amounts. That is the main object of the Bill. It repeals the maximum of 17s. 6d. a week which was fixed in 1898. That maximum included any income which a man might derive by way of a naval pension, with the result that anybody in receipt of a naval pension today is, in fact, excluded from it. The Bill removes certain minor limitations, which I will not mention for the moment, and it also, which I think is perhaps the most important thing of all, widens the class of people who may receive this benefit. In the past, only the widows and dependants of people killed or drowned in the service of the Crown might receive it. Today, the relatives of people who are killed or drowned in the service of the Crown receive pensions from the Ministry of Pensions and, as a result, Greenwich Hospital Funds have not been able to help them. We are, therefore, proposing to give pensions to people who are killed or who die, not by being killed or drowned in the service of the Crown, but from any cause whatever, the object being to fill in the gaps in all those cases where people do not get pensions under any of the other numerous Acts passed by this and other Governments. We want to be certain that nobody is left out.

The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas, said that the upper limits had been removed and he wanted to know what the new figure would be. Our aim is that the new figure should be somewhere round about 35s. a week, but it may be more. That is roughly the figure we are working on at the moment, but, on the Committee stage, perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman something more definite. Orders in Council are naturally subject to discussion, and if the Opposition wish to raise any particular point on the Orders in Council in connection with this Bill they can, of course, do so.

Mr. J. P. L. Thomas

They cannot amend them.

Mr. Dugdale

They cannot amend them, I agree, but they can raise points on them, they can divide upon them and they can defeat them if they wish.

The only other point I wish to mention is the one raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce), to which he had drawn my attention before. That is the position of people in public institutions. In the past, if they have been in public institutions they have been unable to benefit from this pension. I undertake that I will produce amending regulations by which, if a local authority will guarantee that the money goes to the man himself who is in hospital and is not taken by them by way of relief of rates, the pension will be given to the man in the hospital. I could say a great deal more, but I do not propose to say it because I do not want to talk my own Bill out, and I notice that the Whips are looking a little restive This is a small Bill, but it will help a very deserving class of citizens. Without it, many people may go unaided. With it, I hope we shall be able to make a little happier—perhaps I might even say, much happier—the lives of a number of deserving men.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Tomorrow—[Mr. R.J. Taylor.]