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Non-Effective Services

Volume 497: debated on Monday 10 March 1952

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That a sum, not exceeding £16,720,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of non-effective services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1953.

2.7 a.m.

I should just like to ask for some information about the non-effective services. I am concerned about the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, for when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions this gave me more headaches than anything else. The attitude of mind, and the manner of approach of those for whom I was responsible, was so alien to the spirit existing at the Ministry of Pensions that I was distressed when I had to refer cases to Chelsea under the law relating to the Ministry of Pensions.

I see that the Governorship of the Hospital is bestowed for distinguished services on a field-marshal, or retired general officer, and that on top of his salary, he gets from the Hospital another £500 a year; then there are little letters against the appointment, which I think mean that he gets emoluments as well.

There is a Chaplain, and altogether there are actually 789 officials of one kind or another administering this Hospital. Also, I see there is the Captain of Invalids, £925 a year salary, and they seem to have docked him about £75 a year. But, surely, that really underlines the suspicion I have that this Hospital is carried on by martinets with military minds who do not like these poor old chaps to forget they were once in the Army and have got to remain in it for the rest of their lives.

I should like to hear something about the administration of this Hospital, and even if the Secretary of State cannot tell me to-night, will he make inquiries as to there being some humanising influence brought to bear in this Royal Hospital at Chelsea?

It was the one Charles II founded in response to his debt to Nell Gwyn. My experience of nearly three years at the Ministry of Pensions has taught me what can be done for our disabled Service people if one has the right spirit and the right idea and how these people respond to the right kind of spirit and treatment. I say this with confidence. I believe that the spirit of the administration of the Ministry of Pensions is being maintained since we came out of office. What can be enjoyed by the pensioner who comes under the Royal Warrant, ought to be enjoyed by the pensioner who is outside that Royal Warrant.

Before the Secretary of State replies, may I make a comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), and, in particular, to his reference to the martinet who is in charge of the Chelsea Hospital? It ought to be put on record that the officer, who is at present in charge of the Hospital, has a record second-to-none throughout the British Army for the deep concern which he has shown in practical form for the true welfare of the soldier, when he is serving and when he has retired.

2.12 a.m.

I have a personal interest in the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, because my mother was left an orphan at the age of 11 years as the result of my grandfather dying a year after completing his 22 years' service and of my grandmother dying, too. When I left the Service, I became an out-patient of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. When I draw my pension now, the amount of which is not worth drawing because of snags through the Army, it stinks of charity. I would remind the Committee that the provisions of commutation are guided still by the spirit of the 19th century. A Regular soldier, who wants to commute his pension, cannot commute all of it, but has to leave 2s. 0d. a day in case he becomes chargeable to a parish. Of course, an officer can commute his pension without any such reservation.

The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), however, is wrong when he talks about the number on the establishment of the Royal Hospital as being concerned with the administration, because 470 of the number he mentioned are in-patients. The procedure is a survival from the past whereby a Regular soldier, in receipt of a pension, could go to the Royal Hospital to live in his declining years, in which case he surrendered his claim to his pension and merely drew pocket money. Those of us who were fortunate to survive that experience draw our pensions in full.

One thing the late Administration did to their very great credit. They realised the atmosphere which governed the administration of pensions by the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, and they took away the administration of post-war disability pensions from the Hospital and placed it under the much more kindly, efficient, and human administration of the Ministry of Pensions. What we are still dealing with is the survival of the past.

I cannot do better than tell a personal story which concerns an hon. Member on the other side of the Committee. I cannot be charged with making a party point on this occasion. The hon. Member had a constituent, who made a claim on the Royal Hospital for a pension and it was turned down. This was 20 years or so ago and, although the poor fellow's health had almost completely gone, he still persisted in trying to establish his claim to a pension.

As it happened, he talked to me about it and I remembered the man and the circumstances in which his disability arose—it was many years ago in an overseas station—and as a result by that evidence established his claim to a pension. Even then it was nearly 30 years late. That is the spirit in which the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, works. It is a survival from the past, and while one cannot blame the Secretary of State for War for this, it is something that needs to be watched closely and if ever the opportunity comes, this institution should be wound up and its premises should be put to a more useful purpose than at present.

The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) asked me a number of questions about the staff and particularly the running of the Chelsea Hospital. During the short time I have been at the War Office I have not visited the Hospital, but the officer who is now in charge of this institution has a very high reputation. I feel from the hon. Member's remarks that he has never been to Chelsea Hospital. I suggest that the best thing will be for me to arrange for him to go and have a look at it. I think it is unwise to make these rash observations and although they are unlikely to go outside this Committee, they may do so. It is unfair to make these categorical assertions.

My remarks were not directed against any individuals. I said there was one post, the Captain of the Invalids, which gave me the impression of regimenting invalids to which I objected.

The hon. Member really cannot judge a hospital by turning up page 162 of the Estimates and looking at names. He might just as well say there is a man whose name is "Kilimanjaro," and that, therefore, he must be a beast. This has no relation to the way in which the Hospital is run. I think there is a lot to be said for retaining old traditional names, provided the administration is up to date.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved,

That a sum, not exceeding £16,720,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of non-effective services, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1953.