HC Deb 05 April 1921 vol 140 cc236-40

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. McCurdy.]


I wish to raise a point with regard to a ruling of the Minister of Pensions on Article 22 of the Royal Warrant. That Article deals with pensions for persons other than wives, or dependants other than parents. They were in receipt of separation allowances during the War. It is pro- vided in that Article, if they are incapable of earning a living, and if they are in pecuniary need, they shall receive a pension varying up to 16s. 6d. per week, and it is further provided that if the incapacity disappears or ceases, they shall lose the pension and that a final gratuity equal to 26 weeks' value of the pension, or a maximum sum of about £21, may be given. What is to happen if the incapacity has only ceased temporarily and returns? This is the point on which the ruling has been given by the Minister. It has been ruled that if the incapacity returns and the dependant is incapable of earning his living and is in financial need, the fact that he or she has been given a final gratuity of not more than £21 deprives that person of any right to a pension for life. These are people whose dependency has been recognised and with regard to whom the obligation of the State to pay a pension has also been recognised. I want to make clear who are the persons to whom that ruling applies. They are not parents. They are not the grandmother or an aunt or any other person who has acted in loco parentis to the soldier. These are provided for. They are not younger brothers or sisters maintained by the soldier. They are treated as if they had been his children. They are provided for until they reach the age of 16. The persons concerned in this ruling are entirely invalids—an invalid brother or sister or some other relative not of the age of children— adults who were dependent on the soldier and who are now, if they temporarily recovered from their incapacity for a few months, by this ruling deprived of all right to a pension in the future. The reason for this ruling is entirely technical. It is not a ruling on merits. It is entirely a literal interpretation, and the reason given is that because the Warrant says a final gratuity may be given that gratuity must be treated as finally ending the whole matter. I submit that that is not a correct interpretation of that Warrant. In the first place, if the incapacity has been intermittent, if it ceases for a few months, it has not ceased permanently, and the Department have made a mistake in regarding it as being permanently ceased and in giving a final gratuity. They have no right to put the onus of that upon a pensionable person. In the second place, although the gratuity has been paid, if the person becomes eligible for pension, it can be recovered by the simple process of suspending the payment of pension for 26 weeks. In the third place, the Warrant only says that a final gratuity may be paid; it does not say that it must be paid. Therefore, even on the strictest literal interpretation of the Warrant, the duty of the Department in these cases is to give the persons concerned the option of receiving a final gratuity; and it should be made perfectly clear to them that the acceptance of the gratuity means the loss of right to pension for the rest of their lives. Seeing that it means depriving an acknowledged dependant of the right to pension for life, the person concerned should be given the option. It may be suggested that this is only a small grievance, and that only a small number of persons are concerned. I asked a question about a month ago as to the number of persons concerned, and was told that, even during four months, 151 persons had been deprived of pension in this manner by the award of a final gratuity. My hon. and gallant Friend shakes his head, but I have the answer here. It says that 151 final gratuities were awarded under Article 22. The capital sum paid in final gratuities was about £1,400, and by means of that Capital payment the Department get rid of the contingent liability to pay in pensions about £2,800 a year. The persons who received that £1,400 down were thus deprived of the contingent right to receive £2,800 per year. That covers a period of only four months. The figures for a year based upon that would be something like 450 persons deprived of pensions by means of a capital payment of some £4,000, and by that means the Ministry of Pensions would get rid of the contingent liability to pay over £8,500 a year. That is a niggling interpretation. It is ungenerous to those dependants of soldiers in a matter in which there ought to be no lack of generosity, and no niggling. It is unworthy of the Department, and it is contrary to the spirit and intention of the Warrant; and strictly considered, it is contrary to the letter of the Warrant to make that final gratuity compulsory.


The point on which I disagree with my hon. Friend is not as to the num- ber 151. I was quite aware that that was the figure for the last four months. The point upon which I disagree from my hon. Friend is his statement that 151 persons were deprived of pensions. That is not the case. In four months 151 persons were not deprived of pensions, but were granted gratuities. The number who come under this arrangement is not 151, but only that small proportion of 151 who may possibly become eligible at some future date.


I said that 151 persons were deprived of the contingent right to pension if their incapacity returns.


My hon. Friend and I are now in agreement, but the words he used were "deprived of pensions." We are now in agreement, and therefore I will pass on. He speaks about the question of the literal interpretation of the warrant, and I will deal with that. The people in question are not, as he has rightly said, the widows or the orphans of men killed in action. They are more distant relations who for various reasons have claims which we recognise. In the case of parents we recognise their right to come up again for pensions should they afterwards get into financial difficulties or become ill, and the word "final" does not occur in that part of the warrant, but it is put into the other part of the warrant dealing with the more distant relatives because it was intended that this should be a final gratuity. The policy may be right or wrong, but I think there can be no doubt as to the clear intention of the warrant. He makes a point which is small, about the use of the word "may," but the word applies to all pensions. It seems to me that the only possible way of carrying out his suggestion is not to give an alternative gratuity, but to put them all on the same basis as parents. I will consider that, but I cannot say I am prepared to accept it. We are being urged to simplify our machinery by granting gratuities instead of the smaller pensions, and we are attacked continually for having too elaborate machinery. Yet in a case like this of distant relatives we are asked not to make this provision. I am obliged to my hon. Friend for the points he has raised and the suggestions he has made, but I am afraid I cannot hold out any hope of their being adopted.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen Minutes after Eleven o'clock.