Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Ministry of Pensions.

Part of Orders of the Day — Civil Services Supplementary Estimates, 1919–20. – in the House of Commons on 9th December 1919.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr James Hogge Mr James Hogge , Edinburgh East

This is a Supplementary Estimate of £32,000,000 to make up what is lacking for this year. Obviously we ought to take the figures for this year alone. However, we will take it that the original staff in December last year was something like 9,000, and that in December this year it is 18,000, and the reasons given for that increase are first, the quickening of demobilisation, and secondly, the transfer to the Ministry of the duties of the National Service Medical Boards. I would like a little more information on both these points. I quite agree my right hon. Friend is entitled, and he would have been unwise if he had not done so, to increase his staff as a means of expediting demobilisation. He gave us the figure indeed of 208,000 more cases than had been anticipated as a result of that quickening of demobilisation, and I think we would all agree that he should put on extra staffs rather than that these men should be kept waiting for their pensions. But we remember, and this House remembers, the National Service Medical Boards. I remember them more in sorrow than in anger. That was the Department which existed for a long time at St. Ermin's Hotel, and which was presided over by the present President of the Board of Trade. It had a great many salaried officials, many of them in receipt of very high salaries, and part of their duty was to examine men for admission to the Army. These medical boards of the National Service Department, as a matter of fact, provided the right hon. Gentleman with more pension cases than he probably cares to think of. I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees that the medical boards of the National Service Department sent into the Army men who were unfit to serve, and who therefore became eligible for my right hon. Friend's attention very much sooner than—well, I do not think they would have come before him at all if the National Service Medical Boards had done their duty by the country. I feel, personally, that these medical boards in most cases were a gross scandal, and it is true to say that the National Service Department has contributed more to the necessity for this large sum of money we are voting than any other single organisation in the country.

My right hon. Friend says he has taken these people over. I think it would have been far better for him to have pensioned them, seeing that he is the Minister of Pensions. If their abilities to assess a man who is disabled are about as good as their Abilities to consider a man's fitness to go into the Army, then I have nothing more or less than the hugest contempt for their particular role. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will tell us how much of this additional staff of 9,000 people is due to the expediting of demobilisation, and how much represents what has been taken over from the National Service Department. I am free to admit that my right hon. Friend must obviously take a certain proportion of these 9,000 for the immediate purpose of facilitating the award of pensions to demobilised and disabled men. I would like to ask him one or two specific questions with regard to National Service men. Can he tell the Committee how many medical boards he has taken over from the National Service Department? Secondly, can he say how many medical men are on these boards, and, thirdly, have they been taken over at permanent salaries, have they become members of the permanent Civil Service or are they part-time men, full-time men, or what other arrangements have been made with them? Can he tell us how soon he hopes to be able to reduce the temporary staff he has taken over for the purposes of demobilisation? Can he give us any idea as to the actual permanent staffing of the Ministry of Pensions? Of course, the House and the country demand an efficient administration of pensions, but at the same time hon. Members must be rather alarmed to read that the Pensions staff has increased from 9,000 to 18.000.

I am willing to admit, and always have been, that my right hon. Friend has probably contributed more to the efficiency of the Ministry of Pensions than any Minister who has yet held that post. I am quite clear about that in my own experience, and it is up to my right hon. Friend, as soon as he can, to reduce the staff of the Ministry to such a total as will enable the work to be done efficiently and yet make the contribution to national economy which we all desire. He said, in giving the total numbers, including both headquarters and the regional staffs there were 6,122 men, of whom 86 per cent. were ex-Service men. That is a very creditable proportion, but there are still 10,024 women. I think a great deal of the criticism about women in the Departments has been very unfair. We took advantage of their service during the War, and they did their work extraordinarily efficiently, and they are entitled to their place in the labour and professional market like everyone else. I do not make this point in order to get rid of women, but the mere fact that you still have over 10,000 women in the Departments leads one to ask the kind of questions I have asked of the right hon. Gentleman

With regard to the rest of the items from C down to U. no criticism can really be made. The House of Commons has agreed to these increases in pensions, most of which were necessary and which are reflected in this Supplementary Estimate. I was rather interested in one figure that the right hon. Baronet gave, and that was the number of women who have re-married since they were in receipt of pensions. Even in connection with the Boer War the large proportion of widows who remarried was rather an extraordinary feature of the situation. The right hon. Baronet tells us that no fewer than 38,000 women have re-married. That is one in six. As a matter of fact, the marriage dowry was reduced in the Barnes Warrant. The original dowry which was suggested in the Hodge Warrant was two years' pension. That was reduced to one year in the next Warrant. The reason given was that the widow's pension was increased from 10s. to 13s. 9d., and a year at 13s. 9d. was nearly equal to two years at 10s. I suggested that it was a mistake to reduce the amount of the dowry, because every woman who gets re-married off the pension list saves a great deal of money to the State. I am not in the least sure that the right hon. Baronet should not look that point up again and see whether it is not worth while restoring the dowry to two years.