I am very sorry to detain the Committee at this late hour, but it is very unusual to have any opportunity of discussing the Civil List pensions. I want to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few questions about them, because the way Civil List pensions are granted appears to be something of a mystery.
As I understand it, the decision to grant a Civil List pension is entirely in the discretion of the Prime Minister and subject to no rules or regulations whatever, and that that applies also to the Royal Bounty grants. As I understand it, the purpose of the Civil List pensions is to grant pensions to people who have achieved national distinction in art, science or literature and who may be needy at some later stage of their lives. I have looked through the list of these people who are in receipt of Civil List pensions and I am bound to say—I will name no names, for that would be invidious—that they do not strike one as persons who have achieved national distinction in art, science or literature. The great majority are people of whom one has never heard.
I do not hold that particularly against them. Nor would I wish to see their pensions taken away. But it does raise the question of how these pensions come to be given in the first instance, particularly as I understand that those in receipt of Royal Bounty grants are not so distinguished as those receiving Civil List pensions. If they are not so distinguished one wonders what their title to Royal Bounty grants is at all. So what I would like to know is who says these persons are distinguished, who advises the Prime Minister that they are persons of national distinction who are worthy of receiving these Civil List pensions. I understand that as far as literature is concerned the Royal Literary Fund is sometimes consulted on this matter and they will be asked for their opinion. Again, they are not asked for their opinion whether a person is distinguished in literature but whether the person actually needs the sum of money proposed.
Again, when the Society of Authors was in communication with the Prime Minister's office on this matter they were told their best means of putting forward applications, if they thought there were people in literature who had fallen on hard days, was to do it through the Royal Literary Fund. That does not seem very sensible as the Royal Literary Fund does not inquire about the literary ability of the persons concerned. Again, I understand that another way in which a pension may be acquired is by the person concerned being sponsored by two other people. They do not have to be particularly distinguished. They send the name into the Prime Minister's office and a quite arbitrary decision is taken in the Prime Minister's office as to whether or not a pension should be granted.
As we can only discuss this matter on a very rare opportunity, we ought to be told a little more about the workings of Civil List pensions. I would not in any way suggest that persons who have been granted them ought not to have been granted them, but since one sees that their names are not particularly distinguished in the main, it does raise the question as to whether persons are not admitted to the Civil List pensions who are worthy of them. It may well be that people who are recognised as of great distinction may not receive pensions when they should have done.
Of course, with the present Prime Minister, who, as we all know, has a great interest in literature, there may be no danger; but even he cannot devote much of his time to matters of this sort, and it should be more widely known how such applications can be made when a person, or a dependant of that person, is in need. Very little is known about the Civil List pensions; to whom one has to apply, and when application may be made. Then, so far as I am concerned, it is a complete mystery as to what state one's income has to be reduced to before one is eligible for a Civil List pension. In order that the methods may be more widely known, and in order that we may have some information on the other matters which I have raised, I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could say something on those matters either tonight or on the Report stage of the Bill.
In conclusion, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having increased the amount which can be paid out afresh each year on the pensions.
I believe that this is the moment when we should have the opportunity of expressing a point of view which is generally shared in the Committee; and that is that many of these small sums are very niggardly, and in strange contrast to the much more munificent amounts given in the Civil List.
I know a distinguished man of letters in this country who received a small pension from the Civil List. He was on the dole, and the next week, the authorities reduced his dole by the amount of the award under the Civil List. I must, in all fairness, say that the Prime Minister, after I had spoken to him about this, agreed that the matter should be considered at the end of the year. But, before then, he went out of office, and the present Prime Minister raised the sum at the earliest possible moment.
The time has come when the Chancellor should look into this question, because we are far too parsimonious with some of these pensions. A little more humane treatment should be given to people who have rendered distinguished service to our nation.
Under the original Resolution of 1834, these pensions are given to those who, by their contributions to science, or literature, or the arts, have earned the gratitude of their nation, and the grateful thanks of their Sovereign. The total of new pensions in any one year was raised by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, and has now been raised again to £5,000. Hon. Members should be aware that the pensions come in the Civil List Bill, and are administered by the Prime Minister.
The hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) asks for more publicity about them, but I am assured by those who administer them, under the Prime Minister, that no more publicity is necessary; that we need not worry on that score. If attention is paid to this debate, so much the better. As the Leader of the House said on 9th July, as long as we can see that general standards are maintained and that the criterion is that those who really need these pensions most receive them, I think that the hon. Member has done a service in mentioning this matter this evening.
The only other question raised was how this matter is administered under the Prime Minister. I think that the hon. Member must leave it to the Prime Minister to conduct this matter in the manner in which it has been conducted by previous Prime Ministers. We cannot describe the detailed administration tonight, but the hon. Member can take it that it follows the method adopted by the previous Prime Minister and the one before him. People who are well aware of the circumstances and who are accustomed to the administration of this matter advise the Prime Minister; but I will certainly see that further attention is given to this question in view of the fact that it has been raised.
Approximately £32,000 was spent in the year 1951–52 and, with the extra £5,000, it is probable that this total will go up in proportion as the new annual total is added to the total for the previous year. The average sum paid to each person is £175 to £177; but it is possible that by means of this extra annual sum the existing pensions may be practically as much or, at any rate, in balance with, the new pensions. I hope that that will satisfy the hon. Gentleman and that he will be satisfied that he has been wise in raising this matter.
I do not think it is generally known in what state one's income has to be before one can make an application for a Civil List pension with some reasonable prospect of success. That is one point. The other point is this: I wonder if the Chancellor can see that inquiries are made into the possibility of raising the amounts of these Civil List pensions rather more than the highest level. I think that it is about £250 a year, which is not very much if there is no other source of income.
Mr. I. O. Thomas:
The Chancellor has already stated that it is only an historical accident that these arrangements happen to come into this Civil List Bill. If that is so, would it not be more business-like and also afford an opportunity for more frequent review if these arrangements were embodied in an entirely separate piece of legislation, thus giving the House the opportunity of adding to the total amount available and generally examining the circumstances and arrangements under which these pensions are from time to time awarded? Would it not be possible to make an arrangement of that kind?
I could not give the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) any information as to a sort of publicised means test which it would be necessary to pass before one should apply for a pension of this kind. The main point in relation to applications is that a person would not apply unless he was in need, because he would know that if he did he would be taking away the chance of somebody who was in need of this sum of money. Further, if people apply they are given full particulars and every consideration is given to them.
In answer to the point raised by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. I. O. Thomas), it has not escaped our notice that it is a coincidence that this matter arises only on Civil List Bills; but we have decided to leave the matter where it is and to raise the sum. Moving though some of these cases are, I do not think it would be wise to disturb the arrangement under which this question comes up for discussion under Civil List Bills.