HC Deb 15 March 1955 vol 538 cc1240-3

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That a sum, not exceeding £19,440,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of non-effective services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1956.

Mr. Wigg

The right hon. Gentleman has announced a change in policy in connection with the administration of the non-effective services. I congratulate him on the fact that he is going to centralise the administration of the payment of soldiers' pensions, but what is not clear is whether, when he has done that, the link between the grant of a pension to an other rank and the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, is to be broken.

I understand that, at the moment, legally, those of us who are in receipt of other ranks' pensions draw them as if we were out-patients of the Royal Hospital. On page 179 of the Estimates, the right hon. Gentleman will find reference to in-patients of the Royal Hospital, and they are other ranks who surrender their Service pension because they become patients of the Royal Hospital.

The matter may require legislation. If so, is legislation to be introduced, or is it merely that the right hon. Gentleman is assembling under one roof the payment of all other ranks' pensions? For a long time the spirit of the administration of other ranks' pensions has left a lot to be desired. I welcome the payment of disability pensions by the Ministry of Pensions. I should have thought that it would have been a saving of public money if the payment of all other ranks' pensions had been handed over to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. However, as the pensions are borne on the right hon. Gentleman's Vote, presumably he wants to keep some control over them. He has, however, centralised their payment, and perhaps he would tell us whether in future he intends to introduce legislation so that there may be a complete cutting away from the spirit of "Good Nell Gwyn."

Mr. Swingler

We welcome any improvement in the administration of these matters, but what is really required is an improvement in pensions. I should like 'to know what the Under-Secretary of State and the Army Council are doing about making representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer concerning the improvement of the retired pay of officers and of pensions. The hon. Gentleman had a good rattling the other night from some of his hon. Friends, and I hope he appreciates that there are hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who do not intend to let the matter drop.

Under this Vote, more than 100 pensioners are drawing pensions at rates fixed in 1878, and others at rates fixed in 1881 and 1887. Successive Governments are to blame, for they have done nothing about this. The very meagre concessions made last year go only a small way towards providing some measure of justice for retired officers and other ranks on pension, many of whom have to exist on pensions at rates which are completely obsolete and have no relation to the present cost of living.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will appreciate that he will hear more and more about this matter. If he and the Secretary of State would go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and make clear that there is a strong body of opinion in the Committee that demands that these pensions should be reviewed, and that there should be an improvement in the pensions as well as in the administration, they will go some way towards satisfying the case.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Beswick

On a point of order. There are one or two of my hon. Friends who appear to be under the misapprehension that this is exempted business and that the debate can continue indefinitely. There are some hon. Gentlemen on this side of the Committee who believe that to be the case. Would you, Sir Charles, make quite clear what the procedure is? Is it the case that business comes to a close at 10 o'clock, and that the Air Estimates, to which it was originally thought at least two hours' discussion would be devoted, will now have certainly less than three-quarters of an hour available for their discussion? Is it also the case that this House, which purports to be able to arrange a massive reorganisation of the Services in a nuclear age, is quite incapable of organising its business to discuss the Air Estimates as it planned?

The Chairman

It is quite true that I report Progress at ten o'clock.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

I should like to support what my hon. Friends have said about officers' pensions. The Under-Secretary spoke in an Adjournment debate the other night, and he knows that his explanation was not accepted by hon. Members on either side of the House. He and his right hon. Friend will be hearing more of this matter in the not-too-distant future. If he will refer to Subhead M—"Gratuities to Unestablished Civilians," he will find that the Estimate under that heading has increased from £220,000 in the past year to £510,000 this year, that is to say, it has been more than doubled.

I want to ask the Government if this increase has anything to do with the dismissal of civilian staff arising from the winding up of Anti-Aircraft Command. The Under-Secretary will be aware that in Anti-Aircraft Command a number of highly competent civilian technicians were employed. They had good qualifications in connection with radar equipment, electronic computors, radio links and all that sort of thing.

With the winding up or disbanding of Anti-Aircraft Command, these men are being allowed to drift into industry, or to make their own arrangements. That represents a very severe loss to our defence arrangements. If these men were not wanted by the War Office, they should have been taken over by the Air Ministry. I hope that this large increase in this Estimate does not mean that these excellent men, who have done valuable work of high technical skill for some years past in Anti-Aircraft Command, are being allowed to drift back to industry, thus to be lost for ever to Government service.

Mr. F. Maclean

The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) raised the question of the pensions of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. The position about the in-pensioners in the Royal Hospital is that they remain as they are and will continue to be administered by the hospital. On the other hand, out-pensioners will now have their pensions administered by a separate organisation outside the hospital, and under the control of the War Office. I think that the hon. Member will agree that that is a satisfactory arrangement.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) raised the question of retirement pensions. As I pointed out the other night, this is essentially an inter-Service matter, and one which is regarded sympathetically by all concerned. Naturally, we have sympathy for the retired officers in question, but it is an inter-Service matter concerning the Ministry of Defence, and I can add nothing to what I said previously.

The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) raised the question of gratuities to unestablished civilians under Subhead M of Vote 10, and commented on the increase from £220,000 to £510,000. So far as I am aware, that increase has no connection with the disbanding of anti-Aircraft Command. It is due to the provision made for the payment of gratuities to locally entered civilian staff whose employment will end with the evacuation of the Canal Zone.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £19,440,000. be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of non-effective services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1956.