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Ministry of Pensions.

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

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Photo of Mr Worthington Evans Mr Worthington Evans , Colchester

I am grateful to hon. Members for calling my attention to various points, and I think I am pretty lucky in the amount of criticism which this Estimate has aroused. The hon. Member for the Gillingham Division (Mr. Hohler) has raised an individual case. We endeavour to deal with every individual case that is brought to our notice in the quickest possible time. I am not going to say that there are not some cases of delay, because there are. I do not recollect and cannot pretend to know the details of Mr. Charles Hughes' case, but if the hon. and learned Member will let me have the particulars I will undertake to see that the case is looked into at once. The hon. and gallant Member for Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) raised a question which, if it is well founded, will require to be carefully looked into. Pensions and pay are two quite separate things, and all through we have intended to keep the pension as a pension of right and not to mix it up with pay. I do not think it is a disability pension of this War which has been dealt with in this way. It may be some service pension or it may be some pension of a former war. I will look into the matter and see whether it is a case within my jurisdiction. If it is a service pension it does not belong to my Department.

The main criticism was raised by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). He quite truly said that the reason for raising some of the questions was in order to ascertain whether the administration was efficient and cheap. What he wanted to get was efficient and cheap administration. So far as cheap administration can be efficient, I go with him, but I would rather spend a little more money, and I am sure my hon. Friend means that, in order to get administrative efficiency. I do not wish to be considered as assenting to his criticism of the National Service medical boards during war-time. I never had any experience of them, and I am not going to agree with him in calling them a scandal. He forgets that at that time it was necessary to get every loan into the Army who could be of service to the Army. The Army was not confined to Al men, and it is not just because men who were not A1 men went into the Army to blame the boards. It was not their fault. It was a question of policy which has been debated in this House over and over again, and I do not propose further to refer to it. My hon. Friend asked me how many of the 19,759 of our staff are in the regions at the present moment. On the 1st December there were 3,395 in the regions, but I must warn him that those figures vary almost from day to day, because there are only four regions out of ten which I can safely say are fully established. Scotland is fully established and doing the whole work. Wales is fully established and doing the whole work. There they have got their full staff. I cannot say that a full staff is rquired for the moment. If the work increases they will have to have more staff. In a little time I can tell definitely what staff a region ought to have, and we can lay down definite lines in regard to staffing. Every day there will be more and more sending up from London to the regions of work for the regions, and consequently the regional staff will rapidly extend and the London staff will rapidly decrease.

When the decentralisation is complete we shall only have in London the headquarter directing secretarial staff, and practically the whole of our administrative staff will be in the regions. Of course, one region will be centred in London, and in that region there will be an administrative staff. The headquarter staff for the Ministry of Pensions will be relatively few, under 2,000, by the time we have got the decentralisation in the regions complete. So far as London is concerned, I do not want my hon. Friend to make a mistake. The London region will have a staff independent of the headquarter staff, and the London regional staff will be bigger than the Scottish regional staff or the Welsh regional staff, because it will cover a larger area and many more cases. As to the head-quarter's staff pure and simple, I can say with a certainty that the total staff of the Ministry will be greatly reduced by the decentralisation in the regions. We shall have a very considerable contraction in staff. I do not want to prophesy as to numbers, but I am sure that they will be considerably reduced. To-day the number is swollen because we are decentralising. You cannot take ex-Service men and ask them to do the technical awarding work which has been done by women, without teaching the men, and during the time they have to be taught, which occupies from four, five to six weeks, they are not pulling their full weight. Therefore, our numbers to-day are bloated by reason of the fact that we are taking on the ex-Service men in the regions.

5.0 P.M.

The hon. Member asked me what staff had been taken over from the National Service Department. About 1,200. He asked me whether the boards had been taken over. He does not quite realise what a board is. They are not permanent Civil servants. I do not think that more than one medical man bas come from the, National Service Department who is a permanent Civil servant. Nearly all the boards are paid by sessional fees, and. they are employed session by session. Last week about 24,000 officers and men were boarded, and the extent of the work is about 24,000 a week. It has come up from 20,000 a month or so ago, to 24,000, and before February we have to be ready to deal with 26,000 or 27,000 officers and. men for boarding each week. The work is colossal, and it is paid by the session. The boards are not permanent. The doctors who are chosen to go on the boards are not in any sense permanent. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Major Molson) asked me to take great care in regard to the personnel of the boards. Now that we have at our command the services of so many medical men who were fighting overseas, we are taking full advantage of them throughout the medical service, both on the boards and as medical referees. We are giving a preference to the medical men who served overseas, and subject to that a preference to those who served in hospitals at home. In that way we are getting men who are experienced in the actual work with the men in the fighting zone, and know the sort of injury and risks incurred by the men. I believe we are getting a sympathetic board competent to do the work entrusted to it.

My hon. Friend expressed the hope that the treatment of both officers and men was being improved. I really can say that it has been improved by reason of the fact that we are now gradually assuming control of the hospitals that are required for in-patient treatment, and we are now using them as centres with, attached to them, places where the men can attend for outpatient treatment, and where necessary they can be ordered into hospital for inpatient treatment by doctors who are specialists in the disease from which they are suffering. In addition we are commencing—we have not gone nearly as fast as I would like—the provision of convalescent treatment and training centres for both officers and men. For officers we have got quite recently, ready to take over, Thornleigh, near Bolton, for the convalescent treatment of officers, in addition to the Sir John Leigh Home. For men we have a fine training centre at Blackpool Epsom, after being held up by labour disputes for three or four months, is now being converted and will shortly be a most excellent centre for treatment and training; and at Birmingham and Balbriggan we have others in course of preparation. I have no doubt that on these lines, which -my medical advisers are pursuing, we shall have a really satisfactory method of treatment both in hospitals and clinics and training centres which will be well worth to the State the additional Estimate for which we have to ask because we have got to remember that the treatment given to the men, though primarily designed to assist the men, does equally assist to relieve the liability of the State. It is far better to mend the man than to keep him on pension. That is the reason why I have had to ask for this large additional sum.

Question put, and agreed to.