HC Deb 23 January 1947 vol 432 cc435-40

Notwithstanding any of the provisions of the Naval and Marine Pay and Pensions Act, 1865, or of the Poor Law Act, 1930, or of any Orders or Regulations made thereunder, a special Greenwich Hospital pension shall be paid to the person entitled thereto for his personal use and shall not be used for the purpose of the repayment of any relief given to the said person by way of loan under the Poor Law Act, 1930.—[Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The object of this proposed new Clause is one of incurable optimism, in the hope that one day we will be able to get right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite to put something into a Bill, instead of promising to introduce legislation and merely implementing the streamlined legislation they are passing. We feel rather strongly on this matter, because the Greenwich Hospital pensions are designed primarily to help people who, through bad luck, and through no fault of their own—perhaps through accident or disease—do not qualify for the maximum naval pensions in the normal way. Right from the time of William and Mary this fund was intended to provide something else, to help these people if they fell by the wayside during their naval careers. We are moving this proposed new Clause so as to ensure that no one shall be debarred from receiving a Greenwich Hospital pension because he happens to be in a public institution.

At the moment, no one who is in a public institution can receive a Greenwich Hospital pension. The Financial Secretary has promised that in his regulations he will introduce a statement to the effect that, where local authorities promise not to "pinch" the Greenwich Hospital pension to offset their own charges, it will be payable by the Admiralty. We do not think that should be left to local authorities. We have the greatest respect for the Home Secretary, and his assistants, but, of course, he cannot look after every local authority. Therefore, we feel that these pensions should not be subject to such a condition, of a progressive or well-minded local authority as against one whose chief ambition is to seize every pension it can. If this proposed new Clause is accepted it will put beyond question the fact that any Greenwich Hospital pension will be payable to all classes of naval personnel, irrespective of where they may happen to be at the time of their application. If through bad luck, ill-health, or any other reason, they have unfortunately had to go into a public institution this pension will be available automatically.

Mr. Dugdale

At the risk of being "barracked" by the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) I intend to keep very closely indeed to my notes here, because this is a point which does not primarily concern the Admiralty, but the Ministry of Health. This Amendment means, in effect, that the public assistance authority would have to disregard a Greenwich Hospital special pension in considering a person's resources for the purpose of the Poor Law Act. Relief under that Act is not, however, the only social service where the resources of the applicant have to be taken into account. There are, for example, the services which are administered by the Assistance Board, and the introduction of a new statutory disregard could not be considered solely in relation to the Poor Law. Quite apart from this consideration, however, the position which the Amendment seeks to remedy will be entirely changed in a matter of 15 months' time, if Parliament approves the National Assistance proposals which the Government will bring before the Committee as soon as Parliamentary time permits. From early next year Greenwich Hospital pensioners who require assistance will fall to be dealt with in common with the rest of the community, under a system of national rather than local assistance. Where they require treatment in hospital they will receive it under the National Health Service, and there will be no question of their being required to pay over any part of their pension or other income. The treatment will be provided free of charge. That is one of the benefits which are being introduced as a result of the Government's determination to improve our social services. As I say, this particular Amendment is one which concerns my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who has come here specially to be present at this discussion. It concerns him and his Department more than it does mine, and I am advised by his Department that this Amendment cannot be accepted.

Mr. J. P. L. Thomas

I understand the difficulties of the Parliamentary Secretary. I realise that it may involve other Departments. However, he has not only given us nothing now, but has asked us to wait for possible legislation in 15 months' time. I do not think he has any right to ask the House to accept his assurance for a period so far ahead. I recall the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary during the Second Reading Debate, in which he gave a very definite undertaking. He said: 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 away by them by way of relief of rates the pension will be given to the man in the hospital."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, nth December, 1946; Vol. 431 c. 1295.] I urge that when the time comes the Admiralty will impress upon local authorities that, as has been said in regard to previous Amendments, these are very special funds indeed. They were given for naval pensioners only It is very clear, through all the Acts ever since the pensions were first introduced, that the object was that these pensions were not to be reduced because of aid received from other sources. I shall not urge my hon. Friends to press this Amendment to a Division, but I hope very much that when the time comes the Parliamentary Secretary will make the feelings of both sides of the Committee absolutely clear to his colleagues in regard to the very special conditions of these pensions.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. C. Williams

I do not want to "barrack" anyone, but I must say that the speech of the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary was unsatisfactory. We have been told that these people, who have served the country so well, must wait for 15 months. Surely, that was the point that he made? [Interruption,]If it is not, he must contradict me on the point. He said that we should have to wait that time until some further form of social legislation goes through. I hope that some hon. Gentlemen can interrupt me and contradict me now. No? Then I am right in saying that that was what was said just now. I shall be surprised if any contradiction was made. If the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Gentleman wishes to contradict me, I am willing to sit down and let him do so, because I am not above learning something new.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Bowles)

Did the hon. Gentleman finish his speech or not?

Mr. Williams

This is the Committee stage, Mr. Bowles. I said that I would give way, and so I sat down; but there is no intention, apparently, on the part of any hon. Members opposite to rise to contradict me, and, therefore, I hope I am correct in what I have said. The position is that these unfortunate people are to have delayed over 15 months some benefit which they may wish to take, and to which they are entitled under this Bill. When that time comes it will (be given to them, but, in the meantime, they have to wait. Heaven only knows, as the hon. Gentleman said, when Parliamentary time can be found. I know as well as anyone else that Parliamentary time is in a muddle. I should very much rather, if I were one of these pensioners, have this thing in the Bill now, than have to wait, especially with the dangers there axe of a financial crisis. Let us give it to them and make a job of it now. I hope that my hon. Friends will stick to this new Clause, and that we shall have a Division, to make it clear that we wish this benefit to be given.

Colonel Crosthwaite-Eyre

Before we come to a decision I must thank the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary for sticking so closely to his brief. I ask him to tell us why it is impossible for this to happen. I agree that many services have been provided, and were provided in 1869; but that does not seem to me to have anything to do with the case. We, on this side, say that this is a particularly deserving class of people, and there are private funds deliberately devoted to this purpose; and the people in this class we wish to help are those who have fallen upon ill luck and have had to go to public institutions. Surely, as my hon. Friends have said, it is not an answer for the Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to say that, because we have given this, that and the other, and other Governments have done this, that and the other, we have to wait for an unknown period. I do not believe that he can think that in 15 months this will happen. He may by that time have followed the course of many Ministers opposite, and have gone to another place, or gone as Governor to a Colony. It is unreasonable for him to ask us to accept that assurance. Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell us, from his Department's point of view, why this cannot be accepted?

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Committee proceeded to a Division, and, there being no Tellers for the Ayes, The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN declared that the Noes had it.

Schedules agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.