HC Deb 15 March 1956 vol 550 cc614-7

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £21,860,000, 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, 1957.

Mr. Simmons

I want to raise one or two questions on Vote 10. I notice that on page 165 of the Estimates we are told that, In certain cases the provisions of the Pay Warrant, 1940, continue in operation. I presume that covers the pensions and allowances to which the Vote refers. The cost of living has gone up considerably since 1940, and I should like to know why, in certain circumstances, and in what circumstances, we are still having these cases computed on the Pay Warrant of 1940.

Does the question of retired pay and half-pay, referred to on page 167 of the Estimates, mean that only field marshals get half-pay? That is how it reads to me. Field marshals get half-pay and they never retire. They are either on active service or on half-active service. How many of these half-pay field marshals are there to share the £10,000 provided for under that head in the Estimates?

Under Subhead A there is a reference to wound pensions. Are these a survival? I notice that they apply only to officers; nothing is said about other ranks. I remember that in the 1914–18 war I had three wound stripes which I wore on my sleeve like vertical sergeant's stripes instead of across the sleeve, but there was no "lolly" attached to them. Should not these compensation payments for wounds come under the Ministry of Pensions and National Service, or are these additional to the disability pensions to which these officers would be otherwise entitled?

I want to say a word about the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, under Subhead E. Why do we need 187 staff for 460 patients. This is about one to every two-and-a-half patients. That seems a little extravagant. Why are there only 460 patients when we are told that the establishment of the hospital is 558? I could find for Chelsea Hospital quite a number of eligible disabled men who would be very happy to go there if they had the opportunity. I should like to ask whether there is any liaison between Chelsea Hospital and the Ministry of Pensions and National Service, because the Ministry must know of thousands of deserving single men who are in need of care and attention.

When I was at the Ministry of Pensions some time ago I went to Ireland, where there is one hospital which is kept open entirely for old pensioners in need of care and attention—not just medical attention. There must be many 1914–18 and even Boer War veterans who could be accommodated in Chelsea Hospital. I ask the Minister to tell us why it is below establishment, with only 460 patients when there is room for 558; and whether he will taken steps to direct the Ministry of Pensions, War Pensions Division, to see if something can be done to fill the vacancies.

I should like to know why, when men go into Chelsea Hospital, their pension is taken away. That may be one of the deterrents to getting men into Chelsea. I should also like to know why the office staff at Chelsea get accommodation, pay or retired pay and pension. They receive accommodation, their pay and still get their pension, but the patients who go there lose their pension. I cannot under stand why that is so, and I should be obliged if the Minister would let me know why this applies to Chelsea, and whether it would not be a good idea for Chelsea Pensioners to be merged into the general pensions scheme of the country, when we might be able to ge rid of some of the archaic regulations which govern the place at the present time.

Mr. F. Maclean

The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) raised a number of points of detail. He referred to the 1940 Pay Warrant, and asked for an explanation of the sentence to which he referred, which appears on page 165. The answer is that pensions, or whatever it may be, are drawn under the Pay Warrant in force when one retires. The hon. Member asked about pensions before 1921, and that again is something which has been replaced, except for the individual pensioners concerned, by the general scheme under the Ministry of Pensions. I seem to remember the hon. Member asking his question about field marshals on a previous occasion.

Mr. Simmons

Not on the same point. My question before related to salaries.

Mr. Maclean

Field marshals are on what is called half-pay. At one time I think there were large numbers of officers on half-pay, possibly that was before the 1914 war. This is simply a survival of that. As the hon. Member himself said, field marshals never retire, and this is a way of rewarding them for the great services which they have rendered to the country in order to reach that exalted rank.

To answer the hon. Member's questions about the pensioners at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, the pension is taken away because the board and lodging and other amenities provided are considered to take its place. The office staff are paid their pensions because they are working for their living, and they have certain perquisites. In every case they are old soldiers with extremely good records, and I think it right that in those circumstances they should be allowed to keep their pensions.

The hon. Member raised one or two other matters but he did not give me notice of his intention to do so. However, I will look into them and give him a detailed reply.

Mr. Simmons

I intended no discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman. I thought it competent to raise matters of detail on the Estimates. Had I thought there was any difficulty about replying to the points I raised, I should have let the hon. Gentleman know that I proposed to raise them.

Mr. Maclean

I meant that if the hon. Gentleman had informed me of the points that he proposed to raise he would have received a much better answer.

Mr. Wigg

Surely the Under-Secretary is not correct when he says that the patients at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, have their pensions taken away in order to pay for their board and lodging? That may be the effect of it, but the point is that the pension is taken away irrespective of what it amounts to, and if a man cares to leave the hospital at any time, his pension is restored. Obviously, therefore, it means that a man may give up quite a large pens-ion—or perhaps when it comes to my turn to go to the hospital I shall give up only a few shillings; and therefore that has nothing to do with the cost of board and lodging.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I did not say the pension was taken away in order to pay for the board and lodging, but that the man got his board and lodging instead of the pension.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That a sum, not exceeding £21.860,000, 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, 1957.