§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY OF PENSIONS (Colonel Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen)
I desire to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which is a small measure, but a very necessary one, to enable the Pensions Ministry and the local committees properly to carry out their work. I should like to say in moving it that it deals almost entirely with local committees, and we attach the very greatest importance to these local war pensions committees. They are doing very excellent work now, and they will have really more important work to do when the new Warrant comes into force. They will have to deal with the whole question of alternative pensions, ascertaining what a man's pre-war earnings were, and they will have to deal with the whole question of the administration of gratuities over £25, and the very important matter of administering special allowances given to men undergoing treatment and training, and all these things will be managed by the local committees. Therefore it is most important to see that they are adequately equipped to carry out their work. They are doing good work now, and we must recognise that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Statutory Committee for having set them up and got them into working order in such a very short space of time.
It is a curious thing that when these local pensions committees were set up no provision was made originally for their administrative expenses. The reason of that was that these committees took over work that had been done by various voluntary associations, and I may say in passing very well done, such as the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, the Soldiers' and Sailors' Help Association, and others, and it was thought that they would administer chiefly voluntary funds, and therefore their administrative ex- 1988 penses would be paid for out of voluntary contributions. But a change came over public opinion, and it was recognised that the work of looking after these disabled men and their widows and dependants was a matter of national importance, and therefore it is necessary now to make some kind of provision out of public funds for their administrative expenses, which include the necessary travelling and out of pocket expenses of the members of these committees. That, I think, is most important. Parliament has enacted that there should be a certain proportion of labour representatives on these committees, and we hope they will be able to attend, and they are attending as best they can do now, but it is not only labour representatives, but to others as well to whom these expenses are really a serious consideration. It is most important therefore that we should make provisions for their travelling expenses and for their loss of time. Therefore, we include these necessary out of pocket expenses of members of local pensions committees and sub-committees. The question is how these administrative expenses should be paid? I have said that in the original Act no provision was made. It was thought that the money would come out of voluntary funds. In the second Act that was passed, the War Pensions (Expenses) Act, 1916, provision was made that local authorities might contribute towards the expenses, but it was purely optional. Some local authorities have done it, but a great many have not done it. Now we are up against the fact that some definite provision must be made. We have adopted this plan: We say that half should fall on the local authorities and that the other half should fall on the Treasury. That is a plan which was suggested originally at a conference between the late Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Association of County Councils and there agreed upon. I am quite ready to admit that it was not agreed upon by the boroughs. The boroughs did not give their assent to that proposition.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
I quite agree. I do not think that Scotland or Ireland agreed. At the same time the English county councils did agree to it, and we think that the proposal is a fair one. I know it is argued, it being the duty of the State to look after the disabled men, that the whole of the expenses ought to 1989 fall upon the State. There is a good deal to be said for that, but if we allow the whole of this cost to fall upon the State and we allow local administration—it is absolutely necessary because we must decentralise this work of looking after the disabled men; we cannot do it all from an office in London—it is necessary in the interests of economy that there should be some local check upon expenditure. We think that there would be great extravagance if all the money were found by the Imperial Exchequer and no burden at all was placed upon the local ratepayers. We have for that reason adopted the half and half plan. Already under the optional powers given in the Act of 1916 a good many local authorities have made contributions. In England no less than fifty-five local authorities have made contributions, and in Scotland eight local authorities have made contributions. I am sorry to say that up to date no Irish authorities have done so, but we hope that they will. I hold very strongly, and in the various deputations which we have had from borough associations, and so on, it has been generally recognised, though they may disagree with the half and half plan, that they feel some local contribution is necessary, and the real question at issue is not so much the principle of a joint contribution as the proportions which the central Government and the local authorities ought to contribute.
The proposal of the first Clause is simply that an estimate should be made, in the first instance by the local pensions committee. It will then be submitted to the county council or the borough council, whichever it may be, and by them it will be submitted to the Local Government Board. Half of the estimated expenditure, if expended, will be paid by the Treasury, and half will fall upon the local rates. I should like to say in this connection that we are prepared to put down one or two Amendments to make this plan clearer. It rather looks, as the Bill stands, as if all the excess over the estimate—that is to say, if more is spent than the estimate—will fall upon the local authorities. We do not mean that. We mean simply that half should be paid in each case, and we propose so to alter the wording of that particular part of the Clause as to make it clear in every case that half of the excess will be paid by the Treasury, just as half of the original estimate is paid by the Treasury. It may be 1990 necessary for a supplementary estimate to be submitted by the local pensions committee and the local authority. If so, that will be done, and the contribution from the Treasury will be half just as in the case of the original estimate.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
The supplementary estimate will be submitted to the county council or to the borough council, and it will then be submitted by them to the Local Government Board. Once it has been agreed to by the Local Government Board, the matter will be settled. There is a second Amendment which we propose to put down. It will be noticed that we propose, where there are what are called district committees, that the cost of the administration of the district as to one-half should fall, not upon the county rate, but upon the district for which the committee is set up. There are two distinct ways in which these local committees are carried out. A county council may either set up a local committee for the county with sub-committees, which are a mere delegation of the county council and do not correspond with any particular district, or they may set up what are called district committees.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
District committees can only be set up if and when there has been one local committee for the county already set up.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
Certainly. When there has been one local committee for the county set up, they can either divide the county into districts or sub-committees. If they divide it into sub-committees, the sub-committees being a mere delegation of the county council, the expenses will be borne on the county rate. If they take the form of district committees—it has not been very largely done, I think only in eleven cases—then we propose that the expenses of the district committees should fall on the district instead of on the county. It has been pointed out to us that is rather unfair, because, except in cases where district committees are formed in respect of places of less than 20,000 population, there is no representation of the district on the district committee. As a matter of fact, generally there is not. These district committees are formed at the will of the 1991 county council, and they are really responsible to the county council. Thirdly, the administration of collecting this money from all these different districts would be very difficult, because the district committees do not always follow the boundaries of ordinary boroughs or urban districts. I find that excluding Norfolk we should have to collect from 148 different authorities in respect of sixty-seven district committees. I would point out, from the administrative point of view, that that would be very inconvenient, and we therefore propose by an Amendment to treat the district committee as a sub-committee and to place the cost of the district committee on the county rate, just the same as the cost of a sub-committee.
We propose to make one other Amendment in Clause 1. I stated just now that a certain number of local authorities have already voluntarily made contributions towards the local expenses, fifty-five altogether in England and eight in Scotland. In some cases they have paid more than half of the expenditure up to date. We propose in those cases to make the Treasury Grant retrospective, so that any excess over one-half will be repaid. Clause 2 of the Bill is a very small matter. It simply provides that the expenses of subcommittees of the Statutory Committee may be paid for out of funds belonging to the Statutory Committee, just the same as the expenses of the Statutory Committee are already paid. It appears to have been an omission from the original Bill that they did not take sub-committees of the Statutory Committee into account, and we propose to remedy that omission by Clause 2. Clause 3 deals with a rather contentious point. The House may remember that, according to the terms of the original Act every county and every county borough, and every borough over 50,000 inhabitants was entitled to have its own local committee. There immediately arose a good deal of discussion, and there was considerable demand on the part of many smaller boroughs and urban districts to have their own separate local committees. That sort of question frequently arises. I remember that the Education Bill of 1896 was largely wrecked on that very point as to what authorities were to have local educational power. The same thing has arisen here. The original Act said that the Statutory Committee might 1992 give these smaller places local committees where they found special circumstances. As a matter of fact, 160 of these smaller boroughs and urban districts have applied, and in fifty-eight cases they have been granted local committees, but in other cases the Statutory Committee has not been able to discover special circumstances. We propose that the Minister of Pensions in his discretion may grant separate local committees to any of these places with a population of between 20,000 and 50,000, subject to the approval of the county council.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
My hon. and learned Friend is right, subject to consultation with the county council. I withdraw the word "approval." The Minister of Pensions has full power, but at the same time we think that he ought to ask their advice, because the counties have started their pension schemes, and they have included the smaller towns in their areas. Those smaller towns are the actual meeting places of the county. They are places where there are various institutions, it may be hospitals or it may be the facilities for training, which are very necessary, and we do not think that we ought to upset the existing county scheme without in the first instance consulting the county council. I know this has been a matter of some contention, and if we were starting de novo it might not be necessary to consult the county councils; but as we are interfering, so to speak, with existing schemes, it is only right that the county councils should be consulted before weaker what has been already done. We; propose, therefore, in the case of towns of between 20,000 and 50,000 inhabitants, who have not already got their own committees because the Statutory Committee have not found special circumstances, that the Minister of Pensions may give them separate local committees with certain limited powers. We propose to exclude from the powers granted to these new local committees the power of dealing with the after-Care of the soldier, for a very good reason. This is a matter in regard to which you must operate over a large area. You cannot expect in all these towns to have the facilities for properly training the disabled soldier, which we regard as the most important work which the Ministry of Pensions has to do. In fact, we regard the county in many cases as too small an area, and, as the House 1993 knows, we are endeavouring to group counties. It would be going back if we gave full power in regard to the aftercare of soldiers to these smaller committees, and for that reason we leave out altogether the question of after-care.
There is only one other Clause to which I need refer. It is a Clause which has caused a certain amount of misunderstanding. Clause 4 deals with the voluntary funds which have been collected from a generous public for various purposes connected with war pensions and for assisting disabled men. We propose that in cases where the trustees of the fund apply, and where the Minister of Pensions is satisfied that the great bulk of the contributors agree, those funds may be diverted from the particular objects for which they were subscribed to some other object dealing with the assistance of soldiers or sailors. We propose that for this reason: At the beginning of the War the State was not thoroughly alive to its obligations as regards disabled men, and a great deal was done by voluntary effort which we now recognise must be done out of public funds. Large subscriptions were collected in various places—I have a list of them here, but I will not trouble to read them—which, in many cases, are not really capable of being used for the actual purposes for which they were collected. As the State now does what those funds were intended to do, we simply take the power to divert them to other purposes akin to those for which they were collected, in order that they may become available for the many purposes which are necessary.
Does that mean that the Minister of Pensions will only move on the application of the trustees or the managing body? The Clause is not quite clear on the point.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
I quite agree; I do not think the Clause is well drafted. We are quite prepared either to put down or to accept Amendments—we have said so privately already—which will make it perfectly clear, first of all, that the Ministry cannot move until the trustees have applied.
§ Sir A. GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
We have an Amendment ready to invert the 1994 two sentences in the Clause in order to make it clear that the Ministry cannot move until, in the first instance, the trustees have applied, and, secondly, after he has consulted the subscribers. I can assure the House that there is no arrière pensée about this. We have been accused of doing all sorts of things and of casting longing, envious eyes upon funds to which we have no right. I have here an extract from a newspaper, the "Broad Arrow," containing that very point. It says:A contributor to one of I the various voluntary funds raised to help the dependants of men who have fallen ill the War is particularly exercised over Clause 4.…The contributor is filled with gloomy forebodings as to the object of this Clause, and scents in it an attempt instigated by the Statutory Committee to get hold of the voluntary funds, upon which he fears they look with covetous eyes. Not improbably he is quite correct,Let me assure the House there is no such evil intention as that. We only wish to divert these funds where the contributors themselves and the trustees think that ought to be done, in order to make them more readily available for the help of the poor disabled soldiers. I think these are the only points I need mention in moving the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Sir N. HELME
I am sure that the House will recognise the willingness of the Government to accept its expressed opinion in dealing with this important question of pensions for those who suffer in the War, and it is with satisfaction that we welcome the Bill now before the House, which makes further provision for developing the organisation and for the support of the beneficent work that is being done by the various committees who have already undertaken it. In regard to the appointment of the committees, which is the chief point upon which I wish to speak, I recognise that the Government, in Clause 3, have gone a long way to meet the expressed wishes of the smaller boroughs and urban district councils. The Metropolitan boroughs have expressed the desire that they should have the powers of local committees conferred upon them. I recognise that in that matter London is a distinct area. The work that has already been begun by county councils could not be transferred immediately, but I hope it may be possible in Committee, by striking out the words which limit the operation of this Bill to places within between 20,000 and 50,000 inhabitants, to make arrangements by which the work may be transferred presently to the official representatives of 1995 the ratepayers within the Metropolitan boroughs. In the meantime the work has been begun and, of course, it cannot be upset in a summary fashion. With regard to administration under the responsible authorities of the boroughs and urban districts, it is recognised that in making this pension scheme a success accurate and local knowledge is necessary. Hence we welcome the proposal made in Clause 2 that if the Minister so determines a local committee shall be established and have full powers given to it, with the exception of the point mentioned by the Under-Secretary, in which we cordially agree, namely, that such powers in regard to after-care and training are altogether unsuitable for small districts. In that particular we have no criticism whatever to offer, but rather commendation of the scheme. Clause 3 says:If the Minister of Pensions so determine, after consultation with the council.Of course we recognise that the Minister in the exercise of his responsible duty must take into account the county councils, but this Clause uses the word "may" instead of "shall." We can well trust the Department to take due care that the widest and best arrangements are made to deal with every locality by taking into account all the circumstances. Why a Minister of the Crown should be put tinder a statutory obligation which falls to him without the insertion of such words, I cannot understand. The urban district councils, the non-county boroughs and the municipal authorities generally feel that they had had a long experience in dealing with matters of local government, and that in the circumstances it is quite unnecessary to insert these words. Therefore I have been requested to put down an Amendment in Committee to omit the wordsafter consultation with the county council,because the Minister has that power without its being put into an Act of Parliament. We suggest that the words introduce a precedent and raise a question of obligation which need not be dealt with at all. With regard to expenses, this Bill proposes to repeal the provisions of the Naval and Military War Pensions, etc (Expenses) Act, 1916, and of the Local Government (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1916. If it is insisted that estimates are to be submitted, a large amount of unneces- 1996 sary money will have to be expended. It would be very much better if, instead of estimates having to be submitted, the Government were to arrange to deal with the actual expenditure. We welcome the suggestions that have been made by the Under-Secretary in this matter. It has been suggested that perhaps another plan might be adopted, and I submit this to the consideration of the Department namely, whether a scale might not be adopted in the nature of a per capita Grant. I have no wish whatever to criticise the Bill. We recognise the generous spirit in which it has been conceived. A point has been raised with regard to working the Bill in the counties, namely, that the areas should be made coterminous in the case of smaller authorities. That is a detail which may be considered. I support with great satisfaction the introduction of this Bill, and I hope that in Committee the Minister will be able to consider these questions sympathetically. We have no wish whatever to challenge the action of the county councils in the matter, and it ought to be possible for a perfectly satisfactory arrangement to be arrived at.
I wish to protest very strongly against the principle embodied in Clause 1 of this Bill. I do so mainly on behalf of the Association of County Councils in Scotland, who have asked me to ventilate their views, and also on behalf of other bodies. It has been recognised from the beginning of the War, if not before, that the obligation of doing everything for our soldiers lies upon the nation as a whole and not upon any local authority's area. The first Clause of the Bill seems to me in a somewhat vicious manner to interfere with that principle. The only defence or justification that has been suggested for putting half the burden of these administrative expenses on the local rates is that it would check extravagant expenditure. It seems to me that that will in no way be achieved by putting half the expenses on the local rates, because the bodies who are incurring this expenditure are the local statutory committees, over whom the county council have no financial control whatsoever. They have no means of checking the expenditure which the local statutory committees incur. I know that I may be told that under the Naval and Military Pensions Act, under which these committees are set up, the county councils were the parties who nominated or formed the com- 1997 mittees, and it was, of course, within their power, if they so chose, to appoint representatives of outside bodies and labour, but they could appoint a majority on the local statutory committee from the members of their own county council. As a matter of fact, that is not what has happened in many counties in Scotland at any rate, and I doubt whether it has in England. If it does happen, if a majority of the members of the local statutory committees are members of the county council, it does not follow that the county council as a whole have control through that means of the expenditure of the Statutory Committee. It depends entirely upon what particular members of the county council happen to be appointed to the Statutory Committee. They were already appointed before this measure was proposed, and I do not know how far they were necessarily appointed because of their strong views of economical distribution and otherwise. I should have thought that in considering the number of members of a county council who were qualified that did not take the chief place, but rather whether they were persons who would be sympathetic to the soldiers and their dependants. This principle suggested in the Bill will act most unfairly. Let me give an illustration from Scotland. The county of Inverness-shire, for instance, has sent certainly a great number of soldiers to the Army. It has very few munition works or other works of that kind, which means that not many of the male population are kept behind. Proportionately the number of soldiers drawn from Inverness-shire, for instance, will be larger than in many other counties. Also the distances which are required for covering the work of the local statutory pensions committee in Inverness-shire will involve greater expense in that county than in more compact counties, and the result will be if you compare it with such a county as Lanarkshire, where proportionately, although a large number have gone to the Army, there being many-public works and munition works and shipbuilding, and so on, not so many soldiers have gone, and therefore the actual expenditure is proportionately less, less, you will be throwing on Inverness-shire what is really an unfair burden and one which conflicts with the principle that this is properly a charge against the nation, because it is the nation that the soldiers are fighting for and not for any particular area or district.
1998 Apart from that, I welcome this suggested Amendment about the estimate. I think that must have been a slip in drafting the Bill, because it is not right, if you are going to make this charge, that the county council, which has no control, any more than the Treasury, should have to pay more than the estimate if the estimate is going to be the limit. Therefore, it seems to me that the only ground which has been suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman is one which will not stand examination, and that, therefore, the House should stand on what is obviously the right principle, that the nation should pay for everything connected with the Army and the raising of the soldiers and the looking after them, whatever district they may happen to come from. It means that the district which has done better than other districts in sending soldiers to the Army is going to pay more heavily than a district which has done less. That is inconsistent with every principle one has heard enunciated in the House since the beginning of the War. I welcome very heartily the explanation about Clause 4. It certainly will remove a great deal of misunderstanding, which I have come across myself, in connection with this Clause, and as I understand it now it really means that if the trustees or managers of a fund which has been subscribed for a specific purpose find that they cannot usefully spend a portion or the whole of the fund on this specified purpose, they may then by means of this Clause approach the Minister of Pensions and through him extend the purpose to other useful works, so that the money shall not be wasted. I gather that is the sole purpose, the initiation of such a rule being entirely with those who control the fund for the time being. I am glad to see it is not suggested that consultation with the subscribers will be practicable in every sense, because I know from past experience, and from cases in the Courts in Scotland, that it is almost impossible to consult the wishes of many of the subscribers who have so generously given to these funds.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
I wish to make some comments on this Bill, both from the point of view of a member of the Statutory Committee and also as representing English County Councils. I welcome the Bill, and I hope, with a few Amendments, it will pass into law promptly. So far as regards the Statutory Committee it gives 1999 to the Pensions Minister power to modify certain conclusions they have come to with regard to smaller boroughs in respect of many but not all the duties which local Committees can discharge, I am sure there is no member of the Statutory Committee who grudges in the least degree the giving of this power to the Pensions Minister. The Statutory Committee has not had power in the previous Acts of Parliament to set up district local committees without the whole of the power the local committees have possessed. The Pensions Minister will have that power, and speaking, I believe, for my colleagues on the Statutory Committee, we welcome this Bill, and will do our best to carry it out when it becomes law. It is quite inaccurate to imagine for a moment that the Statutory Committee has in any way whatever hindered its production or is in the least degree antagonistic to it. On the contrary we cordially accept it and will do our best to make it work well. The hon. Member (Mr. Watson) took the well-known point as to the question of any local fund being raised from the rates in this respect. I have sat in this House for eleven years and have made a great many speeches on behalf of local authorities and I have never yet spoken in favour of any fresh burden being put on local authorities in respect of any national purpose, but I am supporting this Bill for these reasons. If you do not have any grant from the rates whatever, it seems to me that the important provision that local committees shall carry out the Act will be left on a very unsafe foundation. When the whole of the administrative expenses are found by the Treasury there is always a danger of the work being discharged by officials responsible to the Treasury or to a central Government Department. I am confident that the success of pension administration in this country depends very largely on its being carried out locally by well-known local persons possessing the confidence of the locality, with the personal knowledge which is not open to any official however well-intentioned or however well-equipped for the work. We have to face the alternative that if we are to get this administration day by day and week by week in the hands of local people we must be prepared to consider whether there should not be some local charge or else we may be face to face with what I think is the greater danger of the whole thing being worked by officials from headquarters.
2000 It is not quite correct to say that this proposal of half and half was the suggestion of the County Councils Association in the sense that it was that which they desired. The English County Councils Association was placed in the position which I have just described. They also knew that it was the notion of the Statutory Committee at the beginning that local expenses should be borne entirely by the locality, but looking at it in all its aspects I think at any rate a number of members of the English County Councils Association thought that in order to settle the matter this principle of half and half might be acceded to, although it is not a principle which any of us would lay down as carrying out our convinced views of the proper balance of expenditure as between rates and taxes. In this exceptional case and for the reason I have given a number of us thought this was a fair working principle. Now after months of experience of the discussion of this matter—almost interminable discussion—between local authorities and the Statutory Committee and the Local Government Board and the Treasury I am more and more convinced that it is only on this principle of half and half that we can get this great measure into working order and keep it in working order. The hon. Member (Mr. Watson) was not quite accurate in saying that county councils and borough councils will have no control over the expenditure, because from the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir A. Griffith-Bos-cawen), although the wording of the Bill does not show it, it is perfectly clear what must be the final form of this Bill, that an estimate shall be prepared by the local committee and submitted to the county council, and in so far as the county council approves it, sent to the Local Government Board for final sanction. That will give the county council and the borough council the right and duty of approving the estimate—both the original estimate and any supplementary estimate—that the needs of carrying out this work in the locality make necessary. That gives definite financial control, and if it did not I would join my hon. Friend on the other side in opposing this at every stage and line by line, because, of course, you cannot have local expenditure of rates on this or any other public matter without it being controlled by the body selected by the ratepayers to deal with the expenditure of the rates. I quite understand that that is the desire of the Government. Amendments have been 2001 drafted by county council authorities to that end and no doubt in one form or other they will be accepted.
Can the hon. Gentleman give us, as a member of the Statutory Committee, any rough estimate regarding these expenses?
§ Sir R. ADKINS
No, I am afraid I cannot do that. I know one English county where the, estimate which has been sent in, which is not quite complete, is for £500, and where it is generally believed in the county that the full expenditure for the year will be £600, but that is a purely informal statement.
I know one county, Midlothian, where it is between £600 and £700. That rather confirms the hon. Gentleman's figure.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
Dealing with Clause 1 the hon. and gallant Gentleman said he had two or three Amendments to that, which he described. The only point on which I desire to comment is the question of who shall pay the expenses of district committees. In Committee some consideration may arise, because the facts are that in some parts of England, at any rate, the whole work has to be done by district committees, which in fact are committees of the local authorities. In more parts of England the work is done really by the local committee acting through sub-committees or through district committees. I merely made that remark now in order that I may not be taken as wholly accepting that at this stage, while I fully appreciate the weight of the argument which my hon. Friend used. The other two Amendments, of course, I cordially agree with. Then the object of the Bill, among other things—that must, I think, be carried out by a further Amendment—is that the administrative expenses of the local or district committees must also cover those of sub-committees, because if you have a county which works through sub-committees, it is the attendance on those sub-committees which is the real hard work, and which 2002 would be a great tax on persons without considerable financial resources. These sub-committees are doing in many counties what district committees are doing in others, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will see that the word "sub-committee" ought to be inserted there. Those expenses apply, I presume, to every member of such committee who choose to apply for them. We know that in these matters of local government in widely scattered districts there are not a few persons whose services are of great value who do not technically belong to any labour organisation and could not be called labour members, but whose resources are as slender as the resources of others. An argument was addressed to the House by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Sir N. Helme), who said that although he quite agreed that the county council should be consulted before my right hon. Friend modified pension administration in any county, he objected to that being put into the Bill. May I respectfully say that that is really unworthy of representatives of the local authorities. If the thing ought to be done, why not say so in the Bill? I do not ask, and no representative of the county council would ask, that the, county council should have a veto on this provision; but they have carried out their scheme in accordance with the directions of the Statutory Committee, and if those schemes are to be altered they ought to be heard on the subject and ought to have a statutory guarantee that they would be heard on the subject. I am not going to elaborate that now, but if an Amendment is raised in Committee I have no fear of what would be the result of an appeal to the courtesy and common sense of the House. The result would be to allow people whose duties are being altered to express their opinion on whether they should be altered and the extent to which they should be altered. I do not think that in practice this Clause will give rise to much, if any, friction in the country. So long as the important matters connected with disabled soldiers and sailors are left to areas sufficiently large, there should be comparatively little contention on this point.
I think it ought to be said in fairness to the Statutory Committee that where they have put upon them the duty of deciding in what local areas they should set up local committees, they have not had, and do not have, any powers to set up limited 2003 local committees, such as are possible under this Clause, but only local committees with full powers, including those concerning disabled officers and men. I am breaking no pledge, and giving away no secret, when I say that the Statutory Committee in carrying out this very invidious and thankless duty had to have permanently in their minds the question of disabled officers and men, because that is the most permanent duty which will attach to this work. Therefore, when they were making arrangements, not for a year or for the period of the War, but in perpetuity, that permanent and most difficult work had to be kept in front of their minds when they were making these Regulations. I believe the provisions of this Clause ease the situation in many ways, and I hope my hon. Friend who speaks for boroughs and urban districts will abandon any ungenerous attempt to get that phrase out. At any rate, whether they do or not, I have confidence in the Government and the House. I cordially support the Bill, and I hope it will become law as quickly as possible, because just as in other spheres we want to get on with the War, so we want to get on with pension administration and work out the benefits which this Bill and the new Warrant will undoubtedly effect.
§ Mr. SHEEHY
The sponsors for this measure seem to be very shy of giving us any information as to why this Bill is necessary. Why is it that the county council or the ratepayers are asked to discharge a duty which ought to be the duty of the State? A burden is to be imposed upon the rates of a county or borough for the purpose of duties which belong to the State in regard to looking after the wounded soldiers and sailors when this unfortunate War is over. We have no explanation why it is that the State is abrogating its duty. One of the hon. Members for Scotland has raised the same point, but no one seems inclined to give an explanation why the State is shirking its duty towards wounded soldiers and sailors. In the part of Ireland which I have the honour to represent we have no industries in which it would be possible to train a wounded soldier or sailor to enable him to live. What, then, have the county to do? The burden will be thrown upon the county, because the Government have the usual support and this Bill will pass. The county council 2004 will be called upon, either through a committee of the county council or a subcommittee, to carry out this scheme, and the expenses of that committee will be put upon the rates. But that committee can do nothing for wounded soldiers and sailors in the county. The county of Meath has sent in proportion to its area more soldiers to the front than any other county in Ireland, and evidently the wounded soldiers are to be thrown as a burden upon the rates. The county council cannot find them the means of earning a decent livelihood, and, as the county council cannot do it, these poor wretches, I suppose, will have to go to the workhouse. Is this fair? Is the State going to abandon these men in this way by passing on the duty which it owes to these soldiers and sailors who have entered the Service since the War commenced of maintaining them or giving them a special maintenance allowance? I cannot understand why it is that this burden should be put upon counties. I can very well realise that in counties in England, where there are so many factories and industries of various kinds, they can form committees to enable any of the wounded soldiers and sailors to acquire a trade that will enable them to live in comfort and independence, but where we have no such industries in which these men can be trained, I cannot conceive why this measure should be applied to our country. These men willingly volunteered; there is not one of them conscripted from Ireland, and yet, when this War is over, those who return wounded are to be abandoned to the rates or to the assistance of their neighbours, and the State is to consider itself perfectly free. I think that is most unjust to these men. There is no analogy between the conditions that obtain in England and those that obtain in Ireland in regard to this measure. I hope that before the Bill is read a second time that the responsible Ministers will explain why the State is to be immune, and a burden is to be taken from the State which honestly and squarely ought to be borne by the State.
Mr. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS
I wish to associate myself with what has fallen from the hon. Member for Lancaster in the appeal he has made to the Pension Minister to exclude the words "after consultation with the county council" in the third Clause. It may appear a small matter, but there is a great deal of feeling about it in boroughs with populations of less than 50,000. The Pensions Minister, 2005 who was for a long time associated with the Statutory Committee, will know why. I remember well, in a Debate on 8th August, before he was Minister for Pensions, and when he was doing excellent service as a member of the Statutory Committee, I brought before the House a case in my own Constituency. I think the right hon. Gentleman will remember that case. Here you have a town with a population of something like 35,000, which has sent over 5,000 soldiers to the War before conscription came. It was a very good recruiting area, and sent a greater number of soldiers in proportion to population than any other town of similar size in the country. It has special industries of its own. It is a centre of the tinplate industry, and has a number of other industries as well. It can claim very special circumstances. The rest of the county is mainly agricultural. This is the only industrial part of the county, and yet, try as we would, we utterly failed to get the Statutory Committee to set up a local committee apart from the county council. We went before the Statutory Committee, but we failed. I remember the Pensions Minister saying on 8th August that out of 204 applications from smaller boroughs of between 20,000 and 50,000 population the Statutory Committee had granted the applications of fifty.
§ The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Mr. Barnes)
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong in the figure 204. I said it was 158.
Taking the right hon. Gentleman's figures, only one-third of the applications were granted. Every borough in Lancashire with a population between 20,000 and 50,000 was granted a local committee without exception. I remember the Pensions Minister making a great point of the fact that, with the exception, I think, of Harrogate, every small borough in Yorkshire was granted a committee.
§ Mr. BARNES indicated dissent.
At any rate a great number. He said they were very generously treated. Here you have places like Scarborough, Folkestone, and similar places with special centres of their own. Unfortunately, the Statutory Committee have determined to be guided in this matter by the county councils. I do not think I am saying what is untrue, at any 2006 rate I believe that in every instance, unless the county council were willing, the Statutory Committee would not consent.
§ Sir R. ADKINS
The county council have nothing to say to it. They would express no opinion unless actually consulted by the Statutory Committee, and to say that in no case is this granted, unless the county council consents, is not correct.
I am not in a position to contradict my hon. and learned Friend. I had a private conversation with him, and I was certainly under the impression that if the county council objected to a local committee, the local committee was not agreed to. There may be one or two exceptions which just serve to prove the rule. At any rate, in the case of this town, which furnished a larger proportion of recruits than any other town in the United Kingdom, this was refused. The fact is that county councils are a little suspect, and it is perfectly obvious what will happen if you put in the words "after consultation with the county council." The county council, as all these bodies always do, will magnify their rights. My right hon. Friend the Pensions Minister when he comes to address himself to this matter will find the county council a thorn in the flesh. It would be much better for him to have a free hand. Let him consult anyone he wishes, but let him have discretion in his hands as to what body to consult. In a matter of this sort, where-local prejudices are involved, you cannot always trust the county council, and though he may not object to consult the county council, this should not be put into the Act, because the county council will badger my right hon. Friend and will point out that according to the Act he is to consult them, and they will ask, "What is the good of consulting us if you have made up your mind beforehand to reject our advice?"
Therefore all I plead for is that my right hon. Friend shall have a perfectly free hand in this matter. Do not let him hamper his own freedom of action by putting in unnecessary words. He can consult anybody without putting this into the Act. The very fact of selecting the county council as the body to be consulted seems to invest the county council with a great deal more of authority and decision than ought to be vested in them. I hope when we come to the Committee stage that my right hon. Friend will be 2007 willing to accept an Amendment on this point. We who represent these unfortunate small boroughs, who have been trampled underfoot by the county councils for so long, would press this view on my right hon. Friend. If my hon. and learned Friend (Sir R. Adkins) had lived in my county he would have known that what I say is true. These boroughs pay a great deal of the rates of the county. The town to which I refer is the largest in the county. It is three times as large as any other town. It pays a great proportion of the rates, and yet we are not given the home rule which we desire. That is why I make this earnest appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, so that when we reach the Committee stage he would be able to say that after full consultation and consideration he will accept this Amendment. With regard to the rest of the Bill I think that the House is in general agreement.
§ Mr. MORTON
I only desire to occupy the attention of the House for a few minutes. I have been asked to do so by the county which I have the honour to represent. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will understand that in criticising details we are not opposing the Bill, and that we are thankful to him for the good work which he has done in bringing it forward. We have always been in favour of local people working these local committees if you can possibly get them, but we do not want too much in the way of charity organisation societies. They have been somewhat active in the matter, but I do not quite understand their position. I believe that they consider poverty to be a crime and treat it accordingly. It will not do to treat our soldiers, after they come back, and those who are dependent upon them, in that spirit at all. The main point with regard to which I have been asked to make a suggestion is the payment of administrative expenses. My Constituents object to the county council being called upon for any share of the expenses. They think that it will in the main lead people perhaps to believe that they are being dealt with under a charity which is being collected along with the poor rate. It would be very unfortunate if any feeling gets abroad that anything is going to be done for them is a charity. Whatever they may be entitled to under this Bill when it becomes an Act belongs to them, and properly belongs to them, and they should be treated accordingly.
2008 As far as I understand the question, whether the counties should pay part of this sum or not is a matter more particularly for the Committee stage, and we shall of course then have a further opportunity of considering the matter, and making it as clear as we can to my right hon. Friend in charge of the Bill, with a view to getting him to allow us some alteration. I have been told that the English and the Welsh county councils are in favour of the Bill as it stands. That is not so in Scotland. Practically all the county councils, as far as I know, think that this should be a Treasury matter, a national matter, and dealt with accordingly. While I am thankful personally for what is to be done for returned soldier's, I do not think that we ought to treat them in any way that might induce anybody to have the idea that the pensions, or anything connected with them, were a matter of charity. Our soldiers and those dependent upon them, in my opinion, are entitled to our best consideration and our best regard, and I hope that they will be treated accordingly.
§ Mr. HUGH LAW
I hope that the Pensions Minister before we come to the Committee stage will reconsider the provisions as to the payment of administrative expenses in Clause 1. I recognise quite frankly what I think is the idea of the Pensions Minister, that where you have local administration—there is not much local control—it is not in itself unreasonable that you should ask a certain part of the expenses to be defrayed out of the rates. I quite admit, as a general principle, that it is not an unreasonable thing. I recognise further that the Bill as it stands does represent some concession to the views of local authorities, because, as I understand, so far there has been no provision for the administrative expenses of the local authorities and you are now proposing to pay them to the extent of one-half. To that extent we have, therefore, here a concession. But I want to ask the Pensions Minister whether, on the whole, he would not be well advised, in view of opinions expressed by various local bodies, especially I think in Scotland and Ireland, to go somewhat further? I put it to him for this reason: I personally am very anxious to see the local committees set up everywhere. Certain duties have been placed upon them by Acts which this House has already passed, and a great deal of difficulty and delay occur where local committees are not, in fact, set up, 2009 and a great deal of hardship is involved on poor and sometimes needy people who have a very real claim upon the State, but who in the existing state of things find it exceedingly difficult to get their claim admitted.
Why are county councils in some cases reluctant to set up local committees? I do not know how it is in this country, but I know that in Ireland, in many of the more remote counties, where railway communication is very bad—and practically the same thing applies probably to parts of the North and West of Scotland—the county councils already are very much overburdened with work, having regard to the extreme difficulty under which members labour in attending meetings; and, therefore, it is not unnatural that they should take the view, which many of them have taken up to the present, that this matter of supervision and inquiry into these cases is one which might well be left to the voluntary societies, such as the Soldiers' and Sailors' Help Societies, and so forth, which in the initial stage, at any rate, took charge of all matters of this kind. Parliament has, however, otherwise decided. Parliament has decided, and I think quite properly, to associate popular administrative societies with this work. But if you are going to ask a county council, which already is very much overburdened with work, to undertake duties of this kind, and if you are going to ask them, as I think you do, to undertake this work without giving them a very direct control—I do not see much control in this—then you certainly discourage them very severely if you insist on their paying half of the administrative expenses out of the rates. It is, therefore, as a sincere friend of the general policy of the Ministry of Pensions, as one who most earnestly desires that every impediment in the way of local co-operation in this matter should be removed, that I beg the Pensions Minister before he comes to the Committee stage to take the matter further into consideration and see whether, on the whole—it is very small in relation to the whole matter—after all it would not be a wise thing in the administration of pensions itself that you should go further and place the entire charge upon the Imperial Exchequer.
Mr. TYSON WILSON
As a member of the Labour party, I may say that Clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill will be very much appreciated by the working men 2010 and working women who are members of these committees throughout the country. I notice that in Clause I the expenses are to be paid in respect of loss of remunerative time, but so far as the working men and working women with whom I am associated are concerned, I may state that they have no desire to be paid for work of this kind which they do outside their working hours, and they are quite prepared to give their services and what abilities they possess to deal with a very serious and important matter. They therefore welcome the Bill on that account. I may state, in passing, that so far as I am concerned this Bill will reduce my correspondence very considerably, because during the last six or eight months I have received a considerable number of letters from correspondents complaining that they have not been able to attend these committees on account of the expenses involved. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the expenses that he should consult his colleague the President of the Local Government Board, where there are complaints that committees are not constituted as they ought to be. I find that a great many working men and working women complain that they do not get their quota of representation on those committees. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will do what he can in that direction to remove complaints of that character.
I am rather inclined to support what was said by the hon. Member for Lancashire with regard to the necessity of consulting the county councils. County councils have never, so far as I know, given that consideration to questions of this kind that they ought to have given. They seemed to place obstacles in the-way of the appointment of committees to do work which they thought they themselves ought to do. Unfortunately, in connection with county councils the work is very often done by the permanent officials, and I submit that, in the interests of good administration, the right hon. Gentleman should agree to accept the Amendment suggested to delete those words. In connection with Clause 4, the right hon. Gentleman will have to be very careful to make quite clear to the various associations what is intended with regard to the money which they have voluntarily raised. The Clause to me does not seem to make it clear. There 2011 are certain cases in which people interested at times get applications made for money to be transferred to loans. I know from my own knowledge certain associations which made weekly contributions which reached a large amount in bulk to the Prince of Wales' Fund, but they stopped those contributions because they were not satisfied with the way in which the fund was administered, and they took the contributions and them selves administered them. It must be made quite clear in the Bill, or by Regulation, or in some other way, that no attempt will be made to press them to transfer their money in the way suggested. I believe that the whole of the money required to pay the expenses of the committees ought to be paid by the Treasury. I do not think that the ratepayers ought to be called upon to contribute anything at all. The rate would fall unevenly upon the ratepayers in different parts of the country, and therefore I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should go to the Treasury with the object of getting, if not the whole of the money paid by the Treasury, at least a far larger part than is proposed to be contributed at present. This would not, I think. interfere in any way with the efficiency of the working of the committee, and I submit that, considering the immense amount of money that has been raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for various purposes, an additional amount in respect of expenses should be contributed by the Treasury, and that they should agree to it at once.
§ Mr. LAURENCE HARDY
In supporting the Bill, I should like to say a word with reference to the payment of expenses. I have some difficulty in doing so, because I am a member of the County Councils Association, but I know, as the Minister of Pensions said on the First Reading, that there seemed to be a sort of bargain with reference to the payment of half the expenses. I would point out to him, however, that the matter has entirely changed since the time when we were carrying on these negotiations. At that time the expenses were really to be provided by the county councils, who were to have the direction of the whole thing, and the question of expenses was considered very much in that light. But the whole matter is now taken very much out of the hands of the local committees and placed more and more in central administration. I 2012 would urge, therefore, that for such an entirely national purpose the Government should see their way to reconsider this matter. If we look at the last two occasions when matters came before us in reference to these payments, if we look at the health payment laid down in connection with the great movement in favour of health, and if we look at the last precedent, which was in connection with venereal disease, we find that the State willingly offered to bear three-quarters of the expenses, leaving one-quarter to be provided by the local authorities. If the Treasury cannot go so far as the whole, I would suggest that they should follow those two most recent precedents and at any rate give three-quarters of the expenses instead of half as provided in the Bill. It is a matter which affects large counties very seriously. The large cities and boroughs do not take any interest in this matter of expenses; it is a question which was being fought out last year, and it is a comparatively cheap thing to them to carry on this work, for each of these county councils has a large staff, large offices, and they work in a very central position with great economy and very little expense. But it is a very different matter when you look at a large county like that which I represent or for which I speak. If they can keep in touch with the central authority they can get on without much expense, but there are many local committeees who have to hire rooms, have to pay for the lighting, coal, and rent, so that the local expenses are very considerable in such a county as that to which I refer. There the expenses of administration are enormously larger than in a central place like the municipality of London or other big centres. It is the smaller organisations which have to bear the larger expenses.
I would urge the Government to consider this matter again, in order to see, if possible, how far they can in the Bill limit this question of what is called administration expenses. It seems to me that it covers a good deal which ought to be covered by the Government, who provide the whole of the money for certain portions of this organisation, and I should think that at the present moment the matter is left in a very uncertain position. My hon. Friend opposite, representing the County Councils Association, suggested that an estimate should be prepared, and that the larger county councils should have some power of dealing with the expenses of the 2013 committee which is going to come upon them through the rates. I do not wish to dwell upon that, however, but I should like to raise again the question as to consultation with the county councils. The House will remember that the matter is now entirely different in the Bill from what it was under the original Act. If the county councils objected in the first instance to any exceptions being made, it was because, if one exception was made, they would have had to divide the whole county into districts. There was no possibility of considering each case by itself, and in the county councils there were many objections to taking all the towns here and there, and leaving the district committees throughout each county alone. The whole policy of the old committees of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Society and Health Societies, was that they were founded in towns, which was a convenient way to get in touch with each district, the towns in each case forming a sort of centre of the system. If every one of these towns is now to be taken out, it leaves the administration of the county districts in a very much more difficult position. From my experience of my own county I do not think there is any desire at all to oppress the poorer boroughs. I do not think it is the county councils who badger them, but I think it is they who badger the county councils. It was simply because they would be obliged to go the whole hog if they did anything, that they were very careful to wait and see, in the first instance, how the administration went on, and how the work formed itself, in starting district committees throughout the counties. I do not object to Clause 3 now, but I earnestly ask the Government to adhere to their original position in reference to consultation with the county councils, now that they have had the work going for some time. Now that the local committees have got into touch with them and are getting to understand what is wanted, I think it would only be fair and just that you should have that consultation with the comity councils which is given under the Bill. Therefore, I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will not omit these words, which I think it is desirable should appear on the face of the Bill, and it would only be just to those organisations which are endeavouring to carry on this work. Therefore, I join with my hon. Friend in asking the Government to stick to the form of the Clause so far as that matter is concerned.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I do not want to say much on this Bill, except that probably the points which are raised could be better discussed and more fully discussed in Committee, for, after all, they are matters for arrangement. I am one of those who think that in the special circumstances the expenses should be borne by the State. We perhaps can make that right in Committee better than on the Second Reading, which none of us want to oppose. There are two points to which I wish to draw my right hon. Friend's attention. One is that in whatever administration may be arrived at, he will take care of the sparsely populated counties from which so many of our soldiers have been brought. In the central and northern portions of Scotland, as has already been pointed out by my hon. Friend, the people have great difficulty in getting access to the machinery which would give them their rights. I think my right hon. Friend has also got to remember, though one does not like to say it quite so bluntly, that so many of these people are poor and are ignorant and are not accustomed to the filling up of forms or asking for them, and just because of the sparsity of population combined with that ignorance a great many very fine people may be deprived of what they ought to be entitled to. I think, therefore, in whatever arrangements are made there ought to be great care taken in those sparsely populated districts, that those people can be put directly in touch with the means of obtaining their rights.
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman takes power under Clause 4 as to funds which have exhausted their powers and as to money which has been raised for purposes which no longer exist. I would almost encourage the right hon. Gentleman to take greater powers. As the House knows, there is a vast amount of money in the country raised for many purposes in connection with the War which will not be so necessary now in view of the scale of pensions that has been adopted by this House. What I feel is this, that we do not want to waste those large sums of money that have been accumulated and that my right hon. Friend might very well do this. He has now a certain authority as Minister with those bodies in the country. I am not sure that it would not be quite worth his while, and ultimately lead to the good of the soldier, if he would call a conference of those people who are interested in those 2015 voluntary funds and see whether there are not some large national schemes by which the soldier and sailor could be helped to which that money could be devoted. I think it would be an excellent corollary to the schemes which already obtain if the vast sums of money were not frittered away in small and local purposes, and that for Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England my right hon. Friend might, in collaboration with the people interested in those funds, devise schemes which would be an excellent complement to the already fine scale we have got. I do not know whether he or I would have the courage to put that in a Clause of the Bill, but on Second Reading one can make that kind of suggestion, which I hope he will accept in the spirit in which it is made; otherwise we can leave the details to consideration in Committee.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
On the question of Clause 3, in which there are the words providing that local committees shall be set up after consultation with the county council. I agree with the hon. Member for East Edinburgh that that matter can be discussed much better in Committee. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to know that there is considerable opposition felt in the country to those words. I associate myself entirely with the hon. Member for the Lancaster Division of Lancashire (Sir N. Helme), and I shall certainly put down an Amendment in Committee to leave out those words, and if the hon. Gentleman's Amendment is brought to a Division I shall support him. This is a matter which affects a very large number of boroughs, and I think a very strong case can be made out for the elimination of those words. It would not be right at present to bring forward some of the cases and figures available, but I should not like the Second Reading to go by without giving notice that a very considerable body of opinion is very much against those words, and I for one shall certainly do all I can to support an Amendment to remove those words.
§ Mr. O'SHEE
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to carefully reconsider the provision as to administration expenses in the light of this Debate, and to have the matter dealt with in a somewhat more effective way than it is left now by the Clause. I would suggest that a scale should be taken on a basis of population. In Clause 3 the basis of population is 2016 taken as to the setting up of local committees. There would also require to be some regard to the question of area and sparseness of population, but I think it ought to be quite possible to have a fixed scale. You might have a minimum of, say, £150, even in the smallest area, and between a population of 20,000 and 50,000 you might fix a certain sum, and that there should be reasons why the committee should be permitted to exceed that scale. I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that in Committee there will be very considerable opposition to the Bill as it stands.
§ Mr. BARNES
The hon. Member for South Meath (Mr. Sheehy) asked why we proposed this Bill, and who had asked for it. It is to meet certain needs of the soldiers. It had been arranged some time ago for labour representation upon the local committees. We find, as a matter of fact, that we cannot get that labour representation upon the local committees, especially in the county areas, because men cannot afford to lose the time to attend meetings, specially when they are frequent. The second reason for the Bill is that we want more local committees—that is to say, with the limited powers as defined in the Bill. We are going to introduce our new Warrant in a week or two, and when it becomes operative it will greatly increase the work of local committees. Those local committees will have to assess a man's prewar earnings and, therefore, practically the amount of his alternative pension. Moreover they will have to do a great deal of work in connection with the granting of gratuities to certain men and the conversion of those into temporary allowances. All that means more work, and, therefore, we want more committees. Roughly speaking, those are the two main reasons why we want this Bill, and in introducing it we have taken the necessary powers to deal with other matters that are more or less pressing. One of those powers has relation to the gathering up of those moneys that have been voluntarily subscribed in certain areas and the need for which no longer exists so far as-the particular purposes for which they were subscribed are concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) has just made a proposal. a rather extraordinary one coming from him, and that is that instead of the Minister being given power to do some- 2017 thing the initiative being taken by the people who are the custodians of the money, that the Minister should gather together all those people who had those moneys and suggest to them they should give them up. I can only say that so far as I am concerned I am going to do nothing of the kind. I am not looking for trouble, and if I were to attempt to do anything of the kind I should have plenty of it on my poor head. I am not going to do anything of the sort. There is another reason why I am not going to do it, and that is because I have got quite enough to do. I have conferences pretty well every day and sometimes two or three times a day, therefore to add the number of conferences is not at all what we are in a position to do even if it were the right thing that were proposed. We want a provision for the expenses of men attending committees and we want more committees.
The objection, so far as I have been able 10 gather to-night, hinges upon the payment of the expenses, and as I have gathered, there is going to be considerable opposition to the local authorities being called upon to pay half of those expenses. I hope that that opposition will not materialise. I think it is a perfectly fair thing that we should ask local committees to pay part of this cost of administration, and for several reasons. One reason has already been given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that if you had no expenses drawn from the local rates there is no incentive to economy, and that therefore the Treasury would be called upon to do something which would be against the interests of the national Exchequer because the national Exchequer would be dealing out money to the local committees, which would not have any incentive to see to proper efficiency, and the probability is that they would dispense with a great deal of voluntary work and pay officials to do work which would not be therefore so well done. There would not be that human touch about it which we desire to have as a feature of all pensions administration. Therefore, for that reason we think that it is only fair that the localities should be called upon to pay some of the expenses. There is another reason. It has been suggested that the money is drawn from the areas, and that therefore, although it may be true, as has been said, that the national Exchequer is sending large sums of money into the districts, and therefore benefit- 2018 ing the districts, it has first of all got that money from the districts, money which has been unevenly drawn and which is unevenly sent back. That is perfectly true. I think this Bill puts into practice a good communistic principle as enunciated about seventy years ago by Louis Blanc, and the sense of which is that we should give to those who need and take away from those who have according to their ability to pay. This scheme of pensions and allowances puts that into operation. It is true that the districts each and every one of them subscribe to the general pool from which the money is taken, but the money is drawn according to the wealth or lack of wealth of the district. If the district is wealthy, it subscribes largely to the general pool of national taxation. If it is a poor district it subscribes less to the general pool of the national exchequer. But when the money goes back it goes back in the inverse ratio. Take, for instance, West Ham, so worthily represented by my hon. Friend (Mr. William Thorne). It is a poor district; it is full of poor property, of poor working men's houses, and, as has been pointed out, it is one of those industrial constituencies where you always find a larger proportion of men of military age than you find elsewhere. Therefore, probably that district has subscribed but little in the way of taxation to the general exchequer. Compare it with Hanover Square, which probably contains a large number of female domestic servants and elderly respectable gentlemen who have retired, and which therefore does not send so many people to the front. They are a class who will not need the attention of the local committee so much as will the residents drawn from West Ham and similar places. Therefore I say the money will go to them in inverse ratio. A lot of money will go back to West Ham, but little will go to Hanover Square, and, having regard to that, it seems to me ungracious that even the poorest community should not be called upon to pay one-half of the expenses of merely administering this vast flow of money which is going into every poor district throughout the length and breadth of this country, and blessing and fertilising hundreds of homes in every one of those districts.
Something has been said as to the amount. I have no estimate, but I have made inquiries in a number of cases. The other day the chairman of the Belfast 2019 Committee was over here to see me, and I asked him how much it cost there. He told me it was costing at the rate of £1,250 a year, and, speaking from memory, I think he said that that represented from one farthing to one halfpenny in the £ in the rates of Belfast. That is a very small amount. I made the same inquiry at Dublin and I found there the rate amounted to a little more, but then that is a poorer district than Belfast. I would appeal to hon. Members, having regard to the infinitesimal amount for administration expenses compared with the immense sum of money which will be flowing into the poorer districts from the national exchequer, and apart from the local incentive to economy, from that larger point of view I do urge hon. Members to support this small burden, having regard to the great benefits being poured out on the other side.
§ Mr. H. LAW
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in certain boroughs in Ireland a penny rate would not realise £50?
§ Mr. BARNES
I was in a district with a population of about 30,000, which has subscribed a million of money to the War Loan. The whole administration expenses in that town were at the rate mentioned, and it does not seem to me that it would be a very heavy burden for a town of 30,000 if it could carry on the work of the pension committee for £50 a year. It is probably an area in which the work could be done for very much less. I now come to a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Houghton (Mr. Tyson Wilson) as to the complaint that local committees had not the agreed number of labour representatives on them. If it is the case that any district committee does not include one-fifth of its members as labour representatives, complaint ought to be made at once to the Statutory Committee or to the Pensions Minister, and it would at once be attended to. Next I come to the speech of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Sir Norval Helme). He raised a very difficult and knotty point with regard to Metropolitan boroughs, which at present have no district committees. I would remind my hon. Friend that this is not a matter for me. Every county council throughout the country, under the Act of 1915, is entitled to have a county organisation—under Sub-section (4) of the second Clause of the Act of 1915 2020 or under Sub-section (7) of the same Clause. Sub-section (4) provides for a district committee and Sub-section (7) for a sub-committee, and the county council can adopt either.
The London County Council, in its wisdom, thought Sub-section (7) preferable, and therefore appointed sub-committees instead of district committees, and they were perfectly within their right in so doing. I sympathise with the desire of the Metropolitan boroughs that they should have a committee in each borough as part of the county organisation—a committee to which they should have a right of nomination, and, generally speaking, the majority of which would be at their disposal. But that is not a matter for me, and unless there is some alteration made in the law I cannot interfere. I would, however, express a hope that the London County Council and the Metropolitan boroughs may come to some understanding on the matter, and I should like to contribute to that if possible. At the same time it ought to be understood that neither I nor anybody in any way seised with a sense of responsibility can for any consideration about theoretical perfection interfere suddenly with what is going on now. But you have a scheme in London now. It may not be the best, but under it the work is being done. Hundreds and even thousands of disinterested ladies and gentlemen are giving their time voluntarily just now without pay or reward and are doing the work, and if the work is turned over from a voluntary body to the Metropolitan councils the result will be that the voluntary workers will retire from the field, there will be dislocation of the whole machinery, and the poor sailors and soldiers and their dependants will suffer. I am not going to be a party to any such abrupt termination of the existing arrangement, and therefore no change is made in this Bill. If any should be made subsequently it must be gradual, and it must be subject to a time limit within which the new bodies are going to take over the work, and they will have to serve a sort of apprenticeship for a time, and work in harmony with those who are now doing the work.
With regard to the vexed question of the retention or otherwise of the words "after consultation with the county council," I can quite appreciate the point advanced by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lancaster. Although he does not desire to interfere with the discre- 2021 tion of the Minister as to consulting anybody he thinks fit, he does not want it to be put in an Act of Parliament that the Minister shall be compelled to consult the county council. Against that there is the argument that the county councils have now their scheme in actual operation, and, therefore, ought to be consulted. The county councils are going to be asked to assist in setting up these local committees in place of district committees. In many cases the district committees are in one area for administrative purposes, and sometimes they are in two or three, and are on the fringe of the county, and, therefore, if you are going to set up a new committee, you may take out of the county in that particular area a district committee which is on the fringe of it. You are going, in fact, to do something which will obviously upset the whole county organisation. It is unfair anybody should think of doing that without consulting the county council in the matter. I do not think I can hold out any hope that anything of the sort can be done. as suggested by the hon. Member's Amendment, although, of course, the proposal shall have careful consideration. I think this Bill is wanted badly. I know there are some districts throughout the country where the workmen representatives have had to leave the committee because they could not afford the time to attend the meetings. We want more committees because the work of the local committees is going to be greatly increased during the next few months. I trust, therefore, the House will give this 2022 Bill a Second Beading, and pass it through the Committee stage as quickly as possible.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Sir A. Griffith-Boscawen.]