HC Deb 11 April 1922 vol 153 cc335-81

I beg to move, That, in the opinion of this House, the reductions now being made in the pensions of ex-service men and dependants are unwarranted and are creating serious hardships, and that a Select Committee be appointed forthwith to inquire into the procedure and the grounds upon which these reductions are made and into the administration of pensions generally. I make no apology for putting this Motion on the Paper. This is no party matter, and I have no political motive in bringing it to the attention of the House. I do not wish to make the ex-service man a stalking horse in view of a General Election. I was refused admission to the Army on the outbreak of War, because of anno domini and because of avoirdupois. The greater part of my life since the War has been devoted to looking after the ex-service man and his dependants in the district in which I live. I want to make it clear at once that I make no personal charge against the Minister of Pensions. I have troubled him a good deal in the past year or two, and I have always had the greatest kindness and consideration from him. My Motion is directed to the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into injustices and hardships and also into the methods of procedure adopted. No doubt I shall be told that a Select Committee, of which I was a member, sat in 1919 and 1920, and that a Departmental Committee has sat since and that therefore a further Select Committee is not necessary. I know no better method of proving anything in this House than by giving concrete instances typical of many hundreds or thousands of others, and I intend to prove by concrete in- stances that there is something wrong with the pensions administration at the present time. Never in the history of this country has there been such dissatisfaction as there is at the moment. Never has there been greater cause for complaint. I notice with a great deal of anxiety that the pensions Estimates are to be reduced, and I am not alone in the fear that it is going to be at the expense of the pensioner and the dependant. I understand the Estimates are to be reduced by something like £20,000,000. If that is so, somebody is going to suffer very drastic reductions. I want to ask at once is it merely a coincidence that concerted action is being taken by medical boards and inquiry officers to reduce pensions all over the country? The fact is so notorious that I am entitled to ask the question, and I do not ask it in any offensive manner: Has some hint been given that economy must be extended in these directions? That is my first question.

The amounts of pensions are being reduced after the most casual and cursory examination by Medical Boards. Dependants' pensions are being reduced or ended altogether, without adequate inquiry, as I shall prove before I sit down. I shall be told there are safeguards and that ample opportunity for appeal is given. In theory and on paper that is quite true, but in practice it does not work out at all. It is true the man can appeal from the decision of the Medical Board to the Medical Appeal Board. There is great reluctance, however, on the part of the Medical Appeal Board to upset the decisions of the original Medical Board. It is even more difficult to get the Medical Appeal Board to upset the decision of the original Medical Board than it is to get the Court of Appeal to upset a decision of the King's Bench, and I know something about that, because I have been in the Court of Appeal myself. The Medical Boards are supposed to consist of three doctors, but cases are often decided—if my information be correct—not by three doctors, but sometimes by one doctor, and often by two. As to the Appeal Boards, a man is often overawed when he comes into the presence of a body like that, and he should be allowed to take a friend or a solicitor or his own doctor or somebody who could put his case better than he himself. I know a man can do this at the Central Appeals Tribunal, but how often can he afford it? The men get their train fare and, I believe, 1s. 8d. for expenses, if they are away from home eight hours. They will not do very much damage with that. If they have to stop all night I think they get 5s. It may be said a good percentage of appeals succeed. Chiefly they succeed where the appellant has been able to afford a solicitor or has secured the services of some friend well acquainted with the administration of pensions, to put his case before that tribunal.

I hope to get the support of all parties in this Motion. I know others in this House are just as solicitous for the welfare of the ex-service man and his dependants as I am, and that applies to the Pensions Minister too. Whatever happens to this Motion, however, I hope in any further appeals before the Central Appeals Tribunal means will be found whereby the appellant shall have provided, not at his own expense, somebody who can put his case fairly and fully before the tribunal. I will be told that would encourage frivolous appeals, but at any rate it would ensure justice being done. Let me refer to the procedure adopted by the Medical Boards. They often reduce the standard of disability on the most unwarrantable grounds and a doctor is not always the best judge of the health of a man or his fitness for particular work. A favourite device now is to reduce the disability to, say, 20 per cent. for a limited period and then recommend that a lump sum, usually about £10, be paid in final settlement. That is a tempting little bait to men who have not had money for years, and they are apt in many cases not to disagree with that decision. Lately, I know this has been done in cases where no real improvement whatever can be shown in the man's condition. In most cases no consideration whatever is given to the nature of the man's employment. His disability may be only 20 per cent, in so far as buttoning his trousers is concerned, but it is very much more if one takes into consideration his employment—if, for instance, he is a watchmaker or a carpenter or something like that. In many cases a man may not have above 20 per cent, disability so far as walking about is concerned, but he suffers very much more than that when you take into consideration the trade he has to follow. I know dozens of such cases and if challenged I can prove them.

There is another very subtle method—that of deciding that aggravation has passed. A man is discharged with a disability certified on his papers as being due to war service, and it is gradually reduced to a disability aggravated by war service. In course of time it is certified that the aggravation has entirely passed away, but the man's health is broken and many of us know cases, where the man, in such circumstances, is in just as bad a condition and just as unfit for employment as when he left the Army with a certificate of disability due to war service. He is a human derelict. There are thousands of them in the country to-day and this is within the knowledge of many hon. Members of this House. Sir Frederick Milner—than whom I know no one who has done more for the ex-service men—has given lately some very startling cases to which I am going to refer later, and he ends up by saying as regards the administration of pensions: I am thoroughly ashamed of my country. Just a word as to the dependants and the methods adopted of inquiring into their cases. Thousands of these have had their pensions reduced without adequate inquiry and sometimes without any inquiry at all. The form for claiming dependants' pensions—"M.P.D.P. 1"—was an alarming document. I know it is no use any longer, because it expired on the 31st March. There were about 60 questions on it, and it would require an accountant or a lawyer to fill up all the answers to these questions and not an ordinary individual. As a consequence, many who intended to apply for dependants' pensions gave it up in despair after seeing one of these forms. I know it will be said that they can get assistance at the Pensions Office, but many of them live miles away from the Pensions Office and have to send by post to the Pensions Office for one of these forms. If this is a queer document, however, the inquiry officer's form is worse still. It is the most inquisitorial document I have ever seen in my life. There are eight pages of foolscap full of questions, every one of which has to be answered. I have had the opportunity during the past few days of looking at the confidential book issued to inquiry officers. I know I ought not to have seen it, but I am rather inquisitive, and so I got to see it. I have nothing much to say about it, except this—anybody who can fulfil the conditions laid down in that book and get a pension is a very lucky individual.

I submit that one of the greatest calamities to the pensioner is—or, rather, has been, because the pension committees have largely ceased to function—the destruction of the pension committees in the districts. I daresay I shall be told that the time for their demise is not until 15th April, but they are under sentence of death, and when people are under sentence of death they are thinking about the next world and not so much about this one; at any rate, they are not functioning. I know in my own county there are two instead of quite a dozen, and as a consequence many of these pensioners' dependants are living 10, 12, and more miles from the two pension offices that are left. Sometimes you get some inquiry by one of the officials, sometimes pensions are altered without any inquiry at all, but by the abolition of these committees the human and personal touch is altogether destroyed, and let me say again that pension committees are far better judges than are doctors in many cases as to the fitness of a man for his employment and as to dependants' circumstances. We were promised by the Pensions Minister in 1919—I was a Member of that Committee and heard it said, and I have the Minister's evidence here—that pensions committees were doing good work and that they should be strengthened and not abolished. We know the pension committees were largely abolished by the Act of last year. I want to say this—and I am saying it after giving full weight to the responsibility that I have in this matter—that the hardships being suffered, the injustices now being perpetrated, both to ex-service men and to their dependants, are greater than ever before in the history of this country.

This is not a Departmental matter; it is a national matter. We must remember what we said to these men when they joined up. I spoke on more than 300 platforms and promised them a good deal, and many things were said in this House, although I was not here then, and outside to the effect that these men should never suffer, and surely it is not too much to ask for this Select Committee, and that it should be left also to the free vote of the House. A few days ago the Leader of the House said the men's organisations were perfectly satisfied. I do not know where he gets his information from, for if the organisations are satisfied, as represented by their officials, the men themselves are certainly not satisfied, and since I put this Motion down, a fortnight ago, I have had hundreds of letters from all over the country, all expressing one feeling, and fact, I believe, namely, that never in the history of the country have pensioners suffered as they are suffering to-day.

Let me give one or two concrete instances, and I will take Sir Frederick Milner first of all. According to him, there is a man who was in a good position in the Post Office. He left and volunteered to fight for his country, but the severity of service and exposure proved too much for him, and he was discharged with severe rheumatism. The Post Office people found him an indoor berth. In June, 1917, this unfortunate man, who had already been discharged for rheumatism, was actually conscripted and, in spite of his protests, forced again to join, with the natural consequence that in March, 1918, he had to be discharged again, infinitely worse than he was before, and unable this time to take any work. Yet the Ministry asserted, and the tribunal confirmed, that his condition was only aggravated by service, and that the aggravation had passed away, though at the time he was a helpless cripple, unable even to get in or out of bed without assistance, or move without crutches. Sir Frederick Milner justly asks, "What justification can there be for such a decision?" Let me give another case, of a man who, to begin with, was poisoned by vaccination, and then had severe gastritis. He went to France, got a gunshot wound near an ear, and was afterwards badly gassed. This naturally greatly aggravated the other troubles, and he was discharged permanently unfit. The verdict of the first board was disability due to service, gastritis, and effects of being gassed, and they allowed full disability pension. The next board recognised the disability and gastritis, but omitted mention of gas, and that is the subtle method by which they proceed. The pension was reduced to 50 per cent., though the man's condition had in no way improved. The next board reduced the pension to 30 per cent. and took no notice of the medical sheet or of the diagnosis of the sufferer's ration and gas poisoning, and assumed his condition was probably due to defective teeth. Then he got down to 20 per cent. Subsequently aggravation was said to have passed away, and the pension was stopped, though the man is now suffering from tuberculosis, the effect of gas poisoning, and there again the tribunal supports the Pensions Ministry—a crying scandal. Those are two cases mentioned by him.

I will mention some cases with which I am personally acquainted, and I have supplied the Minister with a list of some of the cases that I intend to mention. I hope the names will not be put in the papers. My first is that of a man from Stony Middlcton, B—, who was receiving full treatment allowance up to November, 1921. I know the man well. Prior to his joining the Army he was one of the strongest men in the whole district, working at some engineering works in Sheffield. He was advised by the doctor at regional headquarters, whilst getting full treatment allowance—that is, full pension and allowances—to apply for pension under Article 9 of the Royal Warrant. His disability was then assessed at 50 per cent., although there was not the slightest improvement in his health, and there is none to-day. Treatment and allowances were immediately stopped, the man gets half what he got before, but he is quite unable to work. He has a wife and family depending entirely on him. What is going to happen next, if the precedent is followed that is followed in other cases? He will be told that the aggravation has passed away, and the pension will be stopped, as it is being stopped in many other cases, and, as I said before, he was one of the strongest men in the district before he joined the Army.

Let me refer now to a case in which the pension officer himself has, by his action, proved that the medical boards were wrong, and that is the case of R—,who served four and a half years overseas. He was one of my next-door neighbours. His discharging disability was "Effects of gas." He was discharged on the 24th June, 1919, his out-treatment was almost continuous to the 27th May, 1921, and he was then admitted to the Cannock Chase Military Hospital, with his discharging disability the effects of gas. While in hospital—and this is where these subtle means are adopted—he was advised to apply for pension under Article 9 for nephritis. I am not a medical man, but I understand that nephritis is a sort of sequelæ of gas poisoning. The man was practically dying when he was examined by the medical board which advised him to apply for a pension for nephritis, and I have seen his papers, so that I know what I am saying. His disability for nephritis, for which he had been advised to apply for a pension, was assessed at 100 per cent., but what happened? It was found that the disability was not attributable to nor aggravated by military service. The man died in a very short time after he had been told that, and I know that the agony of body, as well as of mind, of that man was terrible, because he thought when he was dying even that he was leaving a wife and two children to the mercy of the world, and when the man died the pension was refused to the widow. I took the matter up myself with the Pensions Minister, and he himself decided this. I have his letter here. It had been decided in the hospital that the nephritis was not due to or aggravated by military service, and therefore she could not get a pension. She appealed to the Pensions Tribunal, where I promised to go with her to fight her case, but it never went there, because it was brought by me to the notice of the Pensions Minister, who said: It has now been decided that the disease of which this soldier died was aggravated by military service, and that there is a continuous medical history of it from the termination of R.'s service with the colours. And yet in that Cannock Chase Hospital—and I have seen the papers—it is said that the complaint from which he died was neither attributable to nor aggravated by military service.

The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Mr. Macpherson)

She has been given a pension.


I am coming to that. I want to ask, What would have happened if she had not had a friend in this House, and I want to know, why did the right hon. Gentleman overrule the verdict given by the medical board at that hospital, unless he knew that they were wrong? I agree he gave the pension, but if it had not been fought in the manner it was, the probability is that to-day this woman would be having no pension for herself or her children. Let me give another case that happened before the Pensions Minister took up office. This is the case of F. He joined the Army, and was sent to work in a ganister mine, ganister being used in munitions. He was killed. Although the wife had been receiving separation allowance while he was working in the mine, and although she received it for 26 weeks after he left the mine, the Pensions Ministry say that his death was not due to military service, but was brought about by his own negligence. I took the matter up. An inquest was held, and I have the coroner's certificate on the seat beside me. Eventually, after 2½ years, during which the widow had to depend on the charity of friends and societies, she was enabled to get her pension. This was taken up by two other hon. Members besides myself, although I believe I was the most pertinacious. The woman got a pension at last for herself and her seven children, but it was only because of the pertinacity with which the case was fought in this House. It was one of the first cases I took up when I got here, and I make bold to say she would never have got a penny but for the way in which it was fought. I can produce all the correspondence in which she was absolutely refused a pension on these grounds.

Let me come nearer home to another case. Again, this is a man with whom I am acquainted, and I got into some trouble with the Pensions Minister for writing a very nasty letter to the medical officer who treated him like this. It is the case of T—. He was being treated at home for bronchitis and rheumatism up to the 5th November, 1921. He had to go to Derby once in three weeks to attend the infirmary. One day he could not go, as pneumonia supervened on top of bronchitis and rheumatism, and so his wife, who wanted to be thoroughly straight, sent a letter to the Pensions Office at Derby, which is 16 miles away, saying he could not come, as he was ill in bed with pneumonia. Immediately, the full treatment allowance was stopped, because' bronchitis and rheumatism, for which he was receiving allowance, did not appear on the certificate which was sent. I know there has been an explanation given since, and I hope I shall have an opportunity of replying, or getting somebody else to reply, if the same sort of answer is given to-night as was sent to me. What happened to that man? Two days after the first certificate was sent, another certificate was sent to the Pension Office at Matlock by the same doctor, stating that not only was the man suffering from pneumonia, but also from bronchitis and rheumatism, for which he was getting his treatment and treatment allowance. Although that was only two days after, the man during the whole month he was ill did not receive a penny for treatment allowance, and has never received a penny up to this day on that account. At this moment the man is dangerously ill. That is the position of a man who was not allowed to receive his treatment allowance because of a technical mistake in making out a certificate.


Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that this man is now drawing 60 per cent.?


I am aware that he was examined after that, and has had a pension allotted to him of 60 per cent. I am also aware that he is receiving treatment at the present time in a hospital or sanatorium, and that he is suffering from tuberculosis. Let me refer to another case. This is a matter for which I do not think the Pension Office can be blamed, but it is surely a matter that ought to receive consideration. Here is a woman who has a son. We called him a hero. He was 16 years of age when he enlisted as 18. He was wounded in the War, suffers from shell-shock, and is now in an asylum. His mother is a widow. He would have been her sole support. The poor woman has had to sell her home I know that 40s. a week pension is being awarded to her, but how is it divided? The cost of the son's maintenance in the asylum is said to be 37s. 9d. per week, and the remaining 2s. 3d. is paid to the widowed mother. Her son is gone, her home is gone, and 2s. 3d. is all that the poor widow has got on which to depend.


She is a mother, not a widow.


I have said so. I know her perfectly well, and she has had to go out to service.


As I cannot deal with individual cases afterwards, I must deal with this now. The fact was, my hon. Friend wrote in February on behalf of this case. At that time the accumulated balance of the allowances amounted to £3, which amount was paid to the mother.


I agree that, after I had taken the case up, it was paid to her. But what I was complaining about was that this woman had to take 2s. 3d. a week out of £2 for her only son, who would have been her sole support, had he not gone into the Army and been wounded. Let me refer to another case, that of Mrs. D—, which I have brought to the right hon. Gentleman's notice more than once. She had two sons in the Army, both of whom wore killed. Up to last February she was receiving a pension of 6s. for the two boys. This has now been reduced to 5s. 5d. on the ground that she is not in need. I know the ease perfectly well, and why it has been found she is not in need I do not know, because no inquiry has been made of her personally for the past twelve months. I have been to see her, although it necessitated going 25 miles. Her own only income is a few shillings which she gets from her son who has to work away from home, and her half-brother, who lodges with her, and has been out of work the whole winter. Whatever the information of the right hon. Gentleman may be I know that the woman is practically starving, and yet she has had her pension reduced even during the past few weeks, and no personal inquiry has been made as to her position at the present time.


I will not interrupt again, but my information is that she has now 30s. a week.


Your information, with all respect, is entirely wrong, because the man who lives there, her half-brother, does not get 30s. when he is in work, and he has been out of work for nearly three months. The son who is away gets very little and he is living at Mansfield. She has never had a single inquiry as to her circumstances for the past twelve months. I am prepared to bear that out in evidence, and to show the right hon. Gentleman the letters. Here is another case—I am only proving my point by concrete and not by isolated cases, because I want to bring home to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman the injustices that are being perpetrated—here is a schoolmaster, an old man who had to give up work years before he died. Mrs. M—, the widow, had a crippled son, Sergeant M—. She was receiving 18s. per week in respect of him and her only other income was 10s. per week. She has a crippled son, an adult, unable to do anything whatever, and the pension is suddenly reduced to 9s. per week without any inquiry whatever. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman, when I brought this to his notice, restored the pension altogether, but there is something wrong about the matter when we have to come to the Pensions Minister to undo what has been done by somebody else. If Mrs. M—had not had a Member in Parliament—although she is opposed to me in politics, and will vote against me at the next election—if she had not had a Member in Parliament to look after her interests I am perfectly certain she would not have had her money restored. Why it was reduced Heaven only knows!

I have only one more case, on which I spend a good deal of Sunday—a poor woman of 60 with an affection of the throat. Her son was killed in the War. Her husband, a policeman, died during the War. She is receiving 10s. a week pension in respect of him. While her son was in the Army she received 15s. a week. She has an occasional lodger, true, and she lives in the house where she and her husband lived, and for which she pays £21 a year. Her pension up to a few weeks ago was 12s. 6d., and after no really adequate inquiry, except by a young man in the Pensions Office, who has never seen a moment's military service, the pension was reduced. This young man inquired of her: "Are you going to be married again?" Married again! A woman of her age, with an affection of the throat! The young man also said in making these inquiries: "I am here to protect the Government, and to look after them." Her pension has been reduced from 12s. 6d. to 6s. a week. She has had to go to the infirmary once, and sometimes twice a week, she is so bad in health. The doctors are afraid of operating on her in view of her throat. I want to ask, having given the concrete instances—and I could give many others if required—I have the case of one man here who has been in eight hospitals and has had his pension reduced 20 per cent., with the payment of £10 gratuity at the end, a man who fought right through the War, lost his employment during the War, and is a cripple. To-day, I understand, he is appealing to the Medical Appeal Board.

These cases are only typical cases of those known to the majority of Members of this House. I could tell the case of a man ordered to go into the hospital for an operation, and whilst he was there the treatment allowance, and pension, and everything else was stopped, and for a few months after he had simply to live the best way he could; everything having been stopped. In view of all this—and I have given instances which I could prove and which I shall be glad some time to give further facts, for I know the rules of the House prevent me replying tonight—I shall be glad to hear the Pensions Minister's explanation. I want to ask if it is too much to press that a further Committee should be appointed to examine into all these matters. Former Committees have done splendidly. It is not a matter for the Pensions Minister alone or for his Department. It is a matter in which we all now share responsibility. Nobody knows—if a Member of Parliament does his duty—nobody knows the condition of these men as does a Member of Parliament. Let me say again, I believe the Members of all parties are just as solicitous for the welfare of the ex-soldier and his dependants as I am myself. If this goes to a Division, and I hope it will, I trust it will be left to the free Vote of the House. If it is so left, I am perfectly certain the Vote will be in favour of giving further consideration as to whether these injustices should not be discontinued and these anomalies brought to an end.

9.0. P.M.


I beg to second the Motion. I want to say at the outset that I very much regret that the necessity should arise to-day for such a Resolution to be moved. If possible, I want to approach this question with a desire to contribute some helpful criticism. In view of the many cases which are being continually brought to our notice, and particularly what the hon. Member has already said, it is difficult to restrain one's feelings. I fully appreciate the fact that a great deal has already been done through the great pensions machine to help those who were broken during the progress of the War. I am quite ready, willing, and anxious to pay my tribute to the Pensions Minister and his associates for the ready and sympathetic way in which they are always meeting Members who have difficult cases to bring before them, and I must say quite frankly I am very grateful indeed to the right hon. Gentleman and those, acting with him for the cordial assistance which they have always been ready to place at our disposal.

While ready to say that, however, the constant appeals made to Members and the terrible, pathetic nature of all sorts of cases show that in some measure, and I believe, in a large measure, there has been some breakdown in the administrative machine. That all is not well, so far as the Department of the right hon. Gentleman goes, is not only demonstrated by the post-bag of Members of this House, but from facts gathered in support of the contention put forward by the organisation known as the British Legion. I am constantly brought into contact with the local officials of the British Legion. I have addressed meetings which have been arranged under its auspices or the auspices of the organisation which preceded it, for the purpose of protesting against the inadequacy of the treatment meted out. Only as recently as last week one branch, situated in the Midlands, said that weekly they dealt with 230 interviews, a good many, at all events a big proportion, being associated with difficult cases where they have failed to secure satisfaction from the Minister. If everything were right so far as the administration of pensions goes, it does not seem to me possible that the British Legion should be called upon to deal with an average from one branch alone of 230 cases. I from inquiry that many cases which are reporting themselves constantly to the officers of this organisation rightly come within the category of what may be called frivolous cases, but I do know from personal inquiries that many of the cases are associated with hardship, privation and misery, and there has been every justifica- tion for the British Legion acting in the way they have done.

I want to give some further support to the contention that there is need for a further independent inquiry to be set on foot by the Select Committee which has been suggested. I have gathered some further evidence from a little journal published by one of His Majesty's chief Ministers who states in this publication that since 13th January he has dealt with 80 fresh cases coming from his own constituency. He also says that he has secured an ex-official of the Ministry of Pensions to help him to deal with these cases. There, again, is an instance proving that the pensions administration must be breaking down in some particulars so far as that particular district is concerned. I would like to ask the Minister of Pensions why is it necessary for one of His Majesty's Ministers to secure an ex-official of the Pensions Ministry to help him to get justice done in these cases, and who is able to probe them deeply and secure satisfaction? Why has the right hon. Gentleman allowed this official to depart from the Ministry of Pensions when he might have rendered more useful service in the Ministry? [An HON. MEMBER: "Who is the Minister?"] The Minister concerned is one of the Government's Chief Whips, the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. McCurdy).

The right hon. Gentleman says in the same article that ho has been dealing with one case for 2½ years, and he gives the dates on which he brought the case before the Minister, the number of letters which have passed between them, and at the end of 2½ years he says he was able to get satisfaction for this man, and secure a lump sum in settlement of his claim. Instead of permitting the administration of the Ministry of Pensions to get into such chaos and disorder that we are compelled to take up these cases; instead of a Minister being obliged to employ an ex-official to boast of what he has performed, why is it that these cases cannot be dealt with by the Ministry of Pensions, and why cannot assistance be given straight away and all this superabundance of work saved on the part of hon. Members of this House?

When I have been travelling up and down the country I have been shocked to see a poster which has been placed on all sorts of moving vehicles and hoardings with the words: "The scandal of Army pensions." [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that 'John Bull'?"] Yes, it is, but the article which warrants that headline is the one to which the hon. Member for Derbyshire has referred, and I claim that there is some answer essential for the sake of the good name of the constituencies of this country, and in view of the sacred promises we made during the War, the obligations which we undertook when these men were fighting that the rest of us might live. Some answer is required from the right hon. Gentleman to this allegation which is being scattered broadcast up and down the country, and which is certainly being paid some heed to by the people we meet from time to time.

This is a question upon which I feel very keenly, and I hope I shall be pardoned if I venture to take up a little more of the time of the House. When we were having a Debate here not many days ago, an hon. and gallant Member opposite criticised the machinery of the Appeals Tribunal. I know I am not permitted on this Motion to discuss the constitution or work of that body, but certain statements were made then which have a close alliance to the work of the Pensions Ministry. It has been stated from time to time that there are a number of cases which fail to succeed through lack of material medical evidence being available. It seems to me that that was a very definite statement made during the progress of the last Debate which took place in this Chamber, and I want to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that no case ought to be permitted to break down because there is a lack of material medical evidence.

I remember the same hon. and gallant Gentleman stated that it was very difficult, and increasingly difficult, to prove the genesis of medical disability. I do not think that statement can be substantiated in the light of the cases which have already been quoted and which are within the knowledge of every hon. Member of this House as to the cases which have been brought to his own personal attention. I do not think for a moment that a soldier deserving of a pension should be denied his right because there is a missing link in the chain of material medical evidence. I shall be surprised if the Minister of Pensions supports that contention by saying that he is compelled to act in accordance with that suggestion. I want to put it broadly that to me it is all sufficient that a man went in good physical condition to fight for his country, he has ruined his constitution and undermined his health and is unable to take his position in civil life. To me that is the dominating factor, and the missing link of medical evidence ought not to have any effect in giving full consideration to such a case. I could give case after case of this kind brought to my own notice, but in view of the fact that other Members want to speak it would be unwise on my part to go further into details.

I will now come to the particular instances I wish to put to the Minister of Pensions and make some suggestions. I would like to ask whether it is correct to state that because no record was kept of a man's disability while on service, or because no trace of such record can be found, then the board or the tribunal is bound to turn down that man's case. That is a definite question to which I should like some specific answer from the right hon. Gentleman. If such is the ease, surely it was never the intention of the right hon. Gentleman himself, or of his predecessors, or of those responsible for the framing of the pensions' regulations. It would be manifestly unfair to have a regulation which compelled the Minister to refuse a pension and which should also operate with the Appeals Tribunal in further dealing with the case. That such system operates is demonstrated by the number of cases continually brought to our notice, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to disabuse our minds of the misapprehensions we are under, and enable us to more clearly understand what is the machinery operating in these particular cases. I am strongly of the opinion it would be extremely unwise to do anything which would interfere with the work of the Appeals Tribunal, and I think it would be a disastrous step to attempt to interfere with the machinery which is establishing a creditable form of final appeal. While I have no wish to do that, I want to do everything possible to prevent such a large number of cases leaving the Department of the right hon. Gentleman in the unsatisfactory form in which they do to-day, and then go to the Appeals Tribunal, inducing in the appellant false hopes and anticipations, and putting everyone concerned in a position of extreme difficulty.

I want to make one or two suggestions as to the grounds for setting up a Select Committee. My first point is that the full disability pension of 40s. a week includes a 20 per cent. allowance to meet certain conditions so far as the increased cost of living is concerned. 1923 is, I believe, the date at which this particular Clause or Regulation will cease to be operative, and the case will then be open for review in the light of the circumstances that then obtain. We know that the trend of the times is in the direction everywhere of bringing down the standard of life, because there has been a certain reduction in the cost of living figures as indicated by the Board of Trade. We are fearful that, unless provision is made and steps taken, in the year 1923 the position which these men enjoy to-day in the security of a pension given them for disability will be prejudicially affected, and that they will suffer a considerable reduction of pension on the ground that the cost of living has fallen a certain number of points. I think every reasonably-minded man will agree that 40s. a week given as compensation for complete disability is not too much, and we ought to ask that it be secured for all time to these men who sacrificed so much during the War and who are now suffering so much in their present life. That ground alone should be sufficient to influence the Minister in setting up this Select Committee.

The next item that should come under review is the widow's pension. The claim of the man has been established and recognised, and we would like to see the same recognition and stability given to the claim of the widow as is conceded in the case of the man. Then there is the all-important question of the orphan—one of the most important branches of the work of the Ministry. Adequate provision does not appear to have been made, so far as the orphan children of service men go, and I should like to see some reasonable latitude exercised in regard to treatment of these orphan children. There is every reason why further administrative machinery should be created for the necessary protection of the children who are compelled to live in institutions or schools. It does not seem to me there has been sufficient notice taken of that side of the question, and that the safeguards have not been set up which are essential to an important phase of the national life of the country, bearing in mind what a valuable asset these children will be when they have grown up fully trained citizens of the State. Then there is the question of the dependents of ex-service men. The existing scale of pensions payable to the parents of deceased sailors and soldiers is surely inadequate. I think a strong plea may be put up for the right hon. Gentleman to appoint the Select Committee, and to enable it to inquire into this particular stage of the subject, especially in view of the fact that many of the recipients of these inadequate allowances are compelled from one cause or another to have recourse to the Poor Law. They were willing to give their sons for the protection of the country, and surely the least we can do is to save them the disgrace and ignomony of having to appeal to the Poor Law for assistance.

Then there is the question of delay. There is too much irritating delay at present, and a Select Committee of impartial men would probably be able to probe into some of the causes of the delay which follows on an application for a pension I particularly want to press that point home to the right hon. Gentleman. Lastly, I would suggest the need for doing away with the irritating and exasperating repeated medical boards. There is too much time and money wasted on the continuance of these medical boards. They are costly to the State. It is very expensive to have these repeated examinations, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman, if he can do nothing else, will at least save the men the agony which they must suffer from the knowledge that at some not far distant period they are likely to be called up again for examination. They should be relieved of this mental strain. If there must be a re-examination, let it be at long dated intervals, and not of frequent recurrence as it is to-day.

I want, in conclusion, to make three suggestions for the removal of some of the anomalies which at present surround pensions administration. None of us desire to see those anomalies continued, and the Pensions Minister and his colleagues least of all desire that. I believe it is possible to abolish them. First we must get back to one of the first principles we have fought for but failed so far to secure. It is that when a man was passed fit for service, and we accepted his services and then he returned to civil life unable to earn his livelihood that man should be regarded as entitled to a pension. If that principle is not established, then we are bound to have these recurring anomalies. The only alternative to that proposal is continued appeals for Poor Law assistance in addition to pension rights. It was said in relation to the Balaclava heroes that in future a man who fought for his country should not be compelled to walk over the hill to the Poor House. I hope that that state of affairs is no longer to continue, and that that stain will be removed from the nation. I suggest that a man's title to a pension should be accepted as proved if a medical man certifies that he had not, before enlistment, been attended for any serious or permanent disability. It seems to me that if a strong physical man is called up for service and comes back broken, the independent testimony of his own medical man should entitle him to a pension. That would do away with much of the hardships imposed on ex-service men to-day.

My third point is that the onus of proof—and I hope the Minister will take particular notice of this—of entitlement to pension ought not to be placed on the man. To me it is an abuse of justice to ask an ex-service man to attempt to prove his own case in the way in which it is being done to-day. The State ought conclusively to prove that there is no obligation on its part to pay the pension to the man. To me there is the whole difference in the State proving that it is not under an obligation to pay the pension and the opposite course which is now being pursued of compelling the man to prove his own case. The former procedure does far more justice to the individual. The present method puts him in an invidious position. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give these suggestions the consideration I feel they deserve and which we feel we are justified in asking Members, particularly those who served with the Forces, to join with us in asking with every confidence the right hon. Gentleman to consider and adopt. I am sure I am re-echoing the wish of every section in this House when I say that no one, however keen may be his desire for economy, is going to attempt to persuade himself that we desire to see economy effected at the expense of the ex-service man. I therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give these suggestions sympathetic consideration, and I hope he will make the concessions asked for.

Captain BOWYER

There is no Member in the House who can have failed to be impressed by the speech to which we have just listened. One thing is quite obvious; that the hon. Member has given deep deliberation to this subject, while we all appreciated the conviction with which he spoke. The more any Member of the House considers this difficult question, the more I am certain he is bound to see all the difficulties that any solution of it must entail. That there must be hard cases is obvious from the fact that there are, I think, well over 3,000,000 people in this country who are receiving pensions. Further, I suppose no administration, however perfect, could hope to cope with that number of cases and appeals, and in no case to make a mistake. What, I think, we are all addressing our minds to to-night is, surely, whether or not the situation is so grave as to call for the setting up of another Select Committee. There has been one Select Committee, also a Departmental Committee, and now we are to have another Select Committee.

I would first try to show the House what I think is wrong. There is no doubt that there is a lack of generosity in dealing with these pension cases. More especially would I draw the attention of the Minister of Pensions to those cases where it is held that the man's injury or illness is neither attributable to nor aggravated by military service. Very often the situation is that the man himself made no complaint and saw no doctor for a considerable period after he was demobilised, and for that reason there is at once a gap in his medical history sheet. I have had many cases myself where that very gap which arises in his medical history has been the one thing which so far as I can gather has persuaded the medical board to hold that his disability is neither attributable to nor aggravated by his service. As to the condition of a man when he joined up, I personally do not go all the way with the hon. Member who spoke last. I do not think you can say that if a man when he joined up was A 1 and to-day has some disability and has served in the meanwhile that necessarily what he is suffering from to-day must be attributable to or aggravated by military service. That is what I gather to be the case presented by my hon. Friend. That, surely, is not to be maintained, because many times for some months after a man's demobilisation there has occurred a period during which he may have become afflicted by the disease or illness from which he is now suffering. Again, during the War his occupation may in many cases have been so normal as not to have given rise to the possibility of any disability arising out of that War service. I am sure that my hon. Friend, as well as other Members, can think of such situations. The man's work may have been in an office in a town in this country where he had the same climate and conditions of life which he would have had had he never served at all.

The only point I want to make to-night is as to whether the House of Commons is being as generous to these men, a large proportion of whom went out and risked their lives, as the circumstances warranted. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] There are many opinions, but I personally am not satisfied, although I do not want to set up a Select Committee until I have heard what reply the Minister of Pensions is going to make. I also think it would be in the nature of a, slight both to the Select Committee and to the Departmental Committee which so recently have considered this case. I think I am right in saying that the Departmental Committee suggested 160 odd reforms and that out of those 116 have already been put into effect by the Minister. If, now, a further Select Committee were to be appointed it would be in the nature of a slight on that Committee. After all, the only important thing is whether the ex-service men and dependants are to-day receiving the treatment they ought to receive.

The one thing that is all right at the present time is the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. That tribunal, where a medical man, a lawyer, and an ex-soldier sit together and hear the cases, independent as they are of the Ministry of Pensions, is to my mind the best sort of tribunal that could possibly adjudicate in these cases. I do not know how many Members of Parliament have themselves been before these tribunals and seen the case going on. I am sure of this, that if any Member has taken the trouble to go, the first thing he will come away with is the impression that there is that Court standing between the man and an injustice. Of course, that does not alter the fact that there have been cases that have come before the Pensions Appeal Tribunal where sufficient medical evidence has not been forthcoming, or there have been cases where the man's précis has not been in his possession. These are cases where, I do submit, the Minister or the House of Commons ought to devise rules for setting up a re-hearing even after a case has been before the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. I know the Attorney-General, in the answer he gave the other night, did say that sympathetic consideration was going to be given. I have tried to show that there is a lack of generosity in the way in which the pensions of these ex-service men and dependants are being cut down. I do not want to give any specific cases, but I have in mind one case which I am afraid represents a type of cases that is occurring, that is to say, the case in which a man goes before a Medical Board, and they ask him such questions as, "What are you earning?" Although the Minister has given pledges that this shall not be done, I am quite convinced, from the most careful inquiries, that I have made, that sometimes, when the Board hear that the man is making a living—having, perhaps, had some training—they cut down his pension so that what he is earning by his work may supplement what he has a right to get in view of his wounds. I think that that is an improper action on the part of the Medical Board, and I know that the Minister agrees with me.


Can you give me a case?

Captain BOWYER

I have given the Minister a case, and the only reply I got from him was that he did agree with me, but that on that occasion nothing could be done, and that is why I am mentioning the matter to-day. The case to which I have been alluding is that of Mr. F. R. Adams, of Weston Underwood, whom I have known all my life and who lives I next door to me, and the Minister can refer to it. I was not going to mention the case, because I had not given the Minister notice that I was going to ask about it to-night. We do not necessarily want another Select Committee, but we do want to remember that the men with whom we are dealing are not the men who stayed behind and got any sort of material good out of the War. They are the men who went and served their country. It seems almost ludicrous that I should be standing here reminding hon. Members that that is the case, but if one goes about and has these cases brought to one's notice, it is perfectly clear that there is grave dissatisfaction amongst ex-service men on this matter. It is also perfectly true that no one wants to make this a party question. If the Minister does not want to have a Select Committee, I do beg that he will address his mind to the question how these complaints which are brought before him can be obviated. I do not forget that there are over 3,000,000 pension cases, and I am not expecting any administration which deals with such a large number of cases to be perfect, but I do expect that at least the speeches that have been made here to-night will be given serious consideration and that we shall get an acknowledgment from the Minister that he will yet again and again look into the administration of pensions, in order to satisfy himself constantly that all is well.

Captain LOSEBY

I have given notice of an Amendment to leave out the words the reductions now being made in the pensions of ex-service men and dependants are unwarranted and are creating serious hardships— and to insert thereof the words the anxiety of the Ministry of Pensions to effect economies has led to results which were not anticipated, notably an increase in bureaucratic methods, which have operated harshly and inequitably in many individual cases, have been the cause of much unnecessary irritation, and in certain cases seriously reacted against economy. I put down this Amendment because I cannot quite go the full distance of the hon. Member who moved this Motion, which says that the reductions now taking place in the pensions of ex-service men and dependants are unwarranted. In the nature of things, the amount of pension must be in proportion to the degree of disability, and, as the degree of disability grows less and less, it follows that the sum total of pensions will, as we very much hope, grow less. If my hon. Friend had inserted in his Motion the words "in very many cases," then I should find myself in complete agreement with him. I would venture to remind the House that these discussions on the administration of the Ministry of Pensions are of vital importance, not only to ex-service men themselves, but to the whole country. The Minister of Pensions has a huge sum of money to administer—not less, I think, than one-tenth of our whole expenditure, and if, with that sum of money, we cannot purchase some measure of contentment and satisfaction, it does appear to me that there must be something wrong somewhere. My right hon. Friend has been highly successful in one respect. A pensions officer remarked to me on Friday last that any person who is now successful in getting what he is not entitled to from the Ministry of Pensions is a very clever person. He was making the boast—a very proper boast, and one that can be justified—that now, at any rate, there is very little leakage in the Ministry of Pensions. I believe that to be true, and we are grateful to the Minister for it. On the other hand, however, I do not think that the staunchest supporter of my right hon. Friend would argue the second point, that every disabled soldier gets all that he is entitled to from the Ministry of Pensions. That is not the position that either the country or this House or the Government would take up. I believe that, quite deliberately, they would take up another position, and would say, "If we must choose between the two, we would rather that a proportion of individuals got what they were not entitled to, we would rather that there should, indeed, be a certain amount of leakage, than that any of these disabled, broken men who are rendered destitute should be deprived of that to which they are entitled."

I am going to endeavour to make two points against my right hon. Friend. I suggest that his Ministry has failed in regard to two great difficulties which have always confronted the Ministry of Pensions. One of them is the question of attributability, which has been mentioned before, and the other is the question of aggravation. Both are problems of intense difficulty. First, how are you going to decide whether a man's disability is due to his service or not? Secondly, what are you going to do in a ease where it is alleged that a man's disability was aggravated, but not caused by, the war? Both of these problems were settled, and I think finally settled, in 1918 by the Select Committee on Pensions, whose Report has been described as the soldiers' charter, and was accepted by the Government, by this House, and by every soldiers' organisation without exception. I suggest that the Ministry of Pensions have gone back on fundamental principles laid down in that Report, and, in so doing, have landed themselves into difficulties from which they will find it extremely difficult to extricate themselves. I ask the House to take their minds back to the principles which were laid down by that Select Committee, and which were then accepted. The first was that the man should appear before a Court which should resemble as much as possible an open court; that that court—the Medical Board—should decide upon his degree of disability, should tell the man what his disability was, and should translate that disability into terms of money; and that the decision given by that Board should be unalterable. I do ask the House to note this point, which at one time they acclaimed, that that decision, given in open court, should be unalterable by any official at the headquarters of the Ministry. The Select Committee felt strongly that if the Minister adhered to those principles it would rob any attack on him of a great deal of its value, and that, where it was decided that the disability was not attributable to war service at all, it should have an appeal to an independent tribunal.

How has my right hon. Friend, or some officials acting under him, carried out those principles in recent days? I have got a list here of 23 cases, which have occurred within the last two months, of the results of decisions by the Appeal Board, and the method of treatment that was adopted. These cases were given to me by an old Tory chairman of a pensions committee, who is one of the last people in the world not to sympathise with my Friend in his desire to effect economy. I have got the original findings, the findings of the Appeal Board, and what happened after. The first case was one of acute mania. The original tribunal said that it was a case of aggravation, and aggravation had passed away. The Appeal Board did not refer to aggravation at all, but said that this acute mania was attributable to War service. The man was granted a full gratuity of £10 by the headquarters of the Ministry. My assertion in this as in the remainder of the 23 cases is that that is an utterly wrong finding, and at any rate that it is against the first principles upon which these Boards have operated since the findings of the Select Committee. The Appeal Board gave a decision, and the award in this case and the awards in the remaining cases are bringing into contempt these final and independent tribunals.

I submit that this official at headquarters, whoever he was, was bound to ask one question, and one question only. That question was, "What is the degree of disability?" and then his duty was automatic. When the degree of disability was decided he was bound to award a definite sum per week under this scheme. In every single one of these 23 cases a final award is made in response to the finding of the Appeal Board, and I invite my right hon. Friend to say, what I believe to be the fact, that this is an entire misconception on the part of the regional York headquarters, and I ask my right hon. Friend to put the matter right and to tell these officials, and the officials all over the country, that in making awards of this description, which are being made everywhere, they are exceeding their authority, and I ask that he shall give instruction which shall be completely foolproof in regard to this matter. Were it otherwise I should be bound to suggest that my right hon. Friend was taking up, in regard to the pensioners who are concerned, a position of "Heads I win, tails you lose." It is now said that he has no prerogative in the matter, that if an Appeal Board goes obviously wrong the Minister cannot correct it, but if, on the other hand, his officials are allowed to treat the findings of these Boards with what I suggest is something like contempt, the position would indeed become impossible.

Let us consider the problem of aggravation, and how it is being dealt with at the present time. Prior to the setting up of the Select Committee the attitude of all the soldiers' organisations throughout the country was that when a man entered the Army A1 and was discharged B2 or B3, in that case, in order to avoid intolerable hardship in, at any rate, isolated cases, it must be presumed that his disability is due to his war service. My right hon. Friend's predecessor, the present Minister for War, gave evidence before the Select Committee which greatly reassured the Committee. What he said was that where a man can show that his disability has been aggravated by 5 per cent, or even 2 per cent., then he shall receive by way of pension the full degree of that disability. I think that all of us took it for granted that the whole point of that was this: "We will accept that liability finally when once it has been proved that there has been aggravation by war service," because it is impossible otherwise to rely on equity being done. The position adopted by certain Ministry officials now in regard to aggravation is intolerable. The position was accepted that where there was aggravation the man should receive his final pension. Then, if aggravation has passed away, a man, who perhaps has been in receipt of a full 60 per cent, before, is put in a position that the whole of his pension is taken away on the ground that it was originally aggravated, which, of course, cannot be proved, as it cannot be disproved, and my right hon. Friend wrongly has laid his Ministry open to the charge of evasiveness and shiftiness, which none of us who know anything about it, of course, believe for a moment. But throughout the country, I assure him, there is a strong feeling growing up, most unfortunately, owing to this position being taken up on the doctrine of aggravation, that the Ministry of Pensions is trying to evade its liabilities on the matter.

I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware that all over the country, at the present time, his officials are digging up super-payment as far as three years back. In some cases they are claiming them from widows. These are payments made in times of prosperity, and certain Bumbles are going around claiming back these payments alleged to have been wrongly made three years ago. I beg my right hon. Friend to give effect to a statement of his predecessor, when he appeared before the Select Committee on Pensions, that these demands of repayments should not be made. I ask him to look up his evidence on this point. It is obvious to any thinking person that the amount recovered is out of all proportion to the intense irritation that is being caused. I understand that from the time of the appearance of a man before the medical board and final board, 30 forms have to be filled up. I saw a case the other day in regard to diet allowances in a case of the dietary of 50 men in Bradford. Originally that required two signatures. Now it requires 250 signatures. I give that on the authority of the Chairman of the Bradford Committee, and my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong. Whereas before, those 50 names would appear on one list, which would be ticked off and signed by the medical officer and secretary, each one now requires a separate form to be signed by five people, and that means 250 signatures in the place of two. The suggestion, of course—and the right hon. Gentleman will reassure us on this point—is that the cost of administration in his Department is going up in proportion to the amount of money that is being spent. It is suggested to him that an intolerable amount of work of a bureaucratic kind is retaining clerks with money which might otherwise go to the pensioner. I am sorry if I have detained the House unduly. Everyone knows the sympathy of my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary, and no one who has had any dealings with either of them doubts their sympathy. But I believe that these intensely difficult problems are fitting subjects for a Select Committee, and I am quite convinced that my right hon. Friend would receive very valuable assistance from that Select Committee, as his predecessor did by the one before, in spite of the fact that up to a certain period ho stoutly resisted it. I feel that the hon. Member who introduced the Motion has done a real service to ex-service men in allowing certain points to be ventilated.

10.0 P.M.


I have no reason to complain of the tone or temper of the speeches just delivered. The Mover of this Motion has, in my judgment, been quite fair, and so has the Seconder. But I wish, instead of referring to outside cases such as advertisements of scandals at the Ministry of Pensions, that hon. Members would have addressed themselves to cases which have come under their own individual notice. My hon. Friend the Mover of the Motion put his case in a very sane speech. He very kindly submitted to me yesterday the cases which he was to refer to. I and my officials have inquired into a large number of his cases and his pertinacious attitude has had results which redounded entirely to the credit of the Ministry of Pensions and my officials. My hon. Friend admits that. There is a suspicion—and I am going to deal frankly and freely with the general proposition—that because the Ministry of Pensions has been the one Department of the State where the Estimates for the succeeding year have been reduced by £3,000,000 beyond that suggested by the Geddes Committee Reports, that there is something wrong, that there is some trickery with regard to pensions, or, as my hon. Friend says, a hint has been sent to the various officials throughout, the country to effect economy at the expense of the pensioner. I stated in public, and I state now in the House, that so long as I am Minister of Pensions, whatever economies are effected in other Departments or in my own, they shall not be effected so far as the legitimate rights of the ex-service man are concerned. It is perfectly easy to bring forward individual cases, but I have to deal with 3,500,000 people, an amount equal to the population of the whole of Scotland, or very nearly equal. It would be very strange indeed, very nearly a miracle, if some hon. Members could not come to the House of Commons with some individual case. What are the facts indicated by my hon. Friend. He indicated that hundreds of cases could be produced. If that is so, why has he not produced hundreds of cases? He mentioned in his speech that there never was greater dissatisfaction in the country than at the present time, yet to-day on the Question Paper there is one question to the Minister of Pensions. This House is reflective of the spirit and the mind of the people of this country. Since I have been here there is no Minister who has been subjected to fewer questions and fewer Debates than I have been; in fact, I was going to apologise to the House to-night for daring to address them after so long an idleness in speaking. But I welcome this Motion, because I am grateful for the opportunity of explaining the course the administration of pensions must take in this country if pensions are to be in the future, as I hope they are now, conscientiously, fairly, and justly administered. The first fact I would impress on the House is this. The expenditure on pensions must inevitably and necessarily be a declining quantity in the future. Members have remarked on the decrease in the Estimates. When I became Minister of Pensions, they amounted, I think, to £123,000,000 a year. They came down last year to £111,000,000, and this year they will be £90,000,000.


How many men are dead?


I will meet every point that has been made. One might think from that that the Ministry of Pensions was cutting down expenditure, just as the Army and the Navy are weeding out their active list. The facts are entirely the contrary. The true criterion of expenditure is not the estimated expenditure, but the actual expenditure. To estimate the expenditure of a Department you have to have certain facts ascertained or ascertainable. In other Departments, because of their experience, it was perfectly easy to estimate fairly accurately, but the Ministry of Pensions was a new Department, created hurriedly in the midst of the War, and no body of officials, however competent, could at any given moment estimate as accurately as the older Department. I think it would have been a bad thing for the feeling of the country and for the pensioners if a Minister of Pensions had to come down to ask for Supplementary Estimates. My predecessors and myself estimated on the substantial scale, because it would not have been a sign of gratitude to ex-service men if the Government were found coming time and again to the House of Commons for Supplementary Estimates in order to fulfil their obligations to ex-service men. Two years after the Armistice, that is, one and a half years ago, we had as many as 5,000 now claims to pensions per week, and during the last six months we had on the average 1,000 claims per week. In the second place, the diminution in the expenditure has been due to three important causes. First, there is the remarriage of widows and dependants; secondly, children grow beyond the pensionable age of 16 and go into employment; and, thirdly—and this is that point which the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Cairns) has referred to—there is the unfortunate calamity of death; the gallant fellow who has served the State abroad has come home to die. In the last year, from these three causes alone, there has been a diminution of £2,500,000 in the Estimates.

Let me take the third reason. We have during the last three years spent no less than £45,000,000 on treatment and treatment allowances, whereas in 1917 we spent only £1,000,000. Is not that one proof, and I am going to give many more, that, so far from stinting the men, the country is prepared to pay for the welfare of ex-service men? The right thing to do is to attempt by all means in our power to restore these men to the social and industrial life of the community. Medical treatment has been given without stint. Every year at least 500,000 men get treatment, ranging from three or four weeks to eight or nine months, and in many cases over a year or more, and no single Member can stand up in this House and say that the treatment given by the Ministry of Pensions is otherwise than sympathetic, adequate and efficient. On any one day you will find no fewer than 125,000 men receiving treatment and allowances—and they are generous. In the past my Department absorbed no less than one-fifth of the medical profession of the country in order to give the best possible medical treatment to these men, who served us and sacrificed for us in the time of crisis. If we spent—willingly and generously and rightly—that enormous sum of £45,000,000 in three years, are we not expected to get any return from it? Are we not expected to find men better? Are we not expected to find pensions obviously and naturally decreasing? Considering the natural recuperative powers of the men, it would be a severe condemnation of the Government and of the Ministry if, after having expended that money, we could not come forward and show some beneficial results in return for it.

Lastly, may I quote another reason for that diminution? Foremost amongst it all there has been a diminution in the expenditure on administration. With the concurrence last year of the Departmental Committee, with whom I shall deal in a moment, we reduced the membership of Medical Boards from three to two, and we are now reducing the committees in the country from 1,200 to less than 200; we have reduced the staff employed by those people, and we have reduced the staff of the Ministry itself by 12.2 per cent. There is not a single other Ministry that can show the same record. We have also by efficiency of administration saved hundreds of thousands of pounds by the quicker and more effective method of dealing with claims.

All these items have accounted for reduction of expenditure. This process cannot go on indefinitely. It is obvious that the further away we get from the War the less will be the amount of diminution in expenditure. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. Roberts)—I congratulate him on his able and very moderate speech—said that the time had come when we ought to get rid of irksome re-examinations by Medical Boards. That is exactly what we have done. Under the War Pensions Act I am establishing a final Medical Board, and I hope that by the end of next year every pensioner in the country will be examined to see whether his disability is final or not. I see it from the point of view of the man himself. If a man is neurasthenic there is nothing more dangerous for him than to be perpetually called up for examination. One of the first reforms I effected at the Ministry was to make the interval of time for calling up one year instead of every three or six months. From the point of view of employment, if a man is at work with a disability, the fact that you drag him up for re-examination affects both him and his employer. By the end of the year I hope we shall have the final Boards established, with the right to decide as to the finality of the disability of any pensioner.


Does the right hon. Gentleman mean the end of the year or the end of the pensions year?


The end of the year 1922. I have also guarded the pension when there is any doubt as to finality. I give the man in every case the benefit of the doubt. I have left the disability a conditional disability, so that if a man gets worse in the future he will be able again to go to a Medical Board and get a proportionate amount for his disability. Let me discuss a question which has arisen quite recently. I notice that my Noble and gallant Friend, Field-Marshal Earl Haig, has repeatedly said throughout the country in the last few days that an attempt was to be made in 1923 to reduce pensions generally on the ground of the fall in the cost of living. It is well to be clear on the matter, and I am glad to have this opportunity of drawing attention to the statement. As the House knows, the gallant Field-Marshal is the distinguished head of the British Legion, which prides itself, and not without justice, on its watchfulness over the interests of ex-service men. But it is highly significant that Lord Haig's statement is not that pensions are being arbitrarily reduced now, nor that even an attempt is to be made to reduce them during this year, but that an attempt is to be made to reduce them a year hence.


He does not know them all.


He speaks as the greatest soldier of them all.


He does not mix among them. He knows very little about it.

Captain GEE

You ought to be ashamed of yourself. Withdraw.


I shall not withdraw.

Captain GEE

Wore you a soldier? It it easy to shout now.


I think the House realises when a point goes home. Here is this distinguished head of a great association of ex-soldiers saying that the problem which the British Legion has to face is not the reduction of pensions now, but a reduction in 1923, when a bargain ratified by this House must come under review in accordance with Article 24 of the Royal Warrant. I admire and commend the Field Marshal's vigilance, but a discussion of that bargain now would be outside the terms of the Motion before the House. Suffice it for me to say that if it is reviewed, I hope it will be reviewed with sympathy and fairness. If the gallant Field Marshal, however, thought for a moment, with all the information at his disposal, and all the information at the disposal of the British Legion, there was any attempt at arbitrary reduction being made now, the House will readily understand that he would not willingly stand by without uttering his forceful protest.

Mr. WHITE rose——


The hon. Member will allow me to proceed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order, order!"]


I must remind the hon. Member the Mover of the Motion that he spent an unconscionable time in moving it, and he must leave time for other hon. Members to address the House.


During that time I was interrupted on three or four occasions by the Minister of Pensions.


My hon. Friend will recognise that I am now pressing a point which I regard as the crux of the whole matter. What are the true facts of the situation? The suggestion is made that I am responsible for cutting down pensions. It is known to the British Legion, of which Earl Haig is the head, that the Geddes Committee recommended reductions in rates, and that this attempt was resisted. But resisted by whom? By me. I was able to formulate alternative proposals for saving the contemplated amount and much more, through economies in administration, and both my resistance and these alternative proposals have received the whole-hearted support and sanction of the Cabinet.

Let us now examine what is actually taking place for I can assure the House I have nothing to hide. It is inevitable that when a man has a disability his condition either improves or gets worse. We know that there are many cases of improving health and the allegation is made that we are making a chance improvement in health an opportunity for issuing instructions—for that was the suggestion of the hon. Member for Western Derbyshire (Mr. White): he called it a hint, and the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. Roberts) called it a subtle method—but whatever you call it, the suggestion is there that we are taking this opportunity as a strong and powerful Government to influence Medical Boards throughout the country to cut down pensions. Why should we do so? What have I to gain by doing that? The controlling power in the Ministry of Pensions is in the hands of ex-service men. I think I am right in saying that practically every doctor I employ is an ex-service man and 96.8 of the men who control the destinies of ex-service men are ex-service men themselves. What interest have they in cutting down their comrades pensions and allowances? In my judgment the accusation is absurd and base. I know these men are as heartily in sympathy with the interests of their colleagues and comrades as any of us, and I strongly resent that it should be said of me or my Ministry or the officials of the Ministry, that we in any way gave a hint to anybody to reduce the legitimate rights of the ex-service men of this country. I do not rely upon that statement alone. I will point to the figures. I will not bore the House with figures, but I will indicate one or two of the percentages because the accusation made against us is a very serious one.

If there had been, as is suggested, a general and artificial reduction of pensions, it would inevitably be reflected in the figures of assessment, but the figures show exactly the contrary. As the House will be aware, men who are awarded what is termed a "conditional" pension are now normally given that pension for a year and are medically re-examined at the end of the year. As far back as the figures available in my Department go, which is two years, I find that actually pensions are now decreasing less than they were two years ago. In 1920, taking all the results of the medical re-examination of 500,000 men for six months, the average reduction in the rate of assessment owing to the improvement of the man's health was as much as 6½ points in the pensions scale; in other words, something like 19.5 per cent. During the last six months the average rate has been 4.3 points, or something like 13 per cent, only in the scale, so that, far from there being any stimulus on the part of the Pensions Department to cut down pensions, the reduction is actually less now than it was two years ago. We know very well that the majority of wounds are comparatively slight, I am thankful to say. I will not tire the House by reading the figures out, but the gist of them amounts to this, that as between now and a year ago the proportion of cases in each grade and for each degree of pension—ranging from the seriously disabled man who is getting 80, 90, or 100 per cent. disablement, to the minor injury which is compensated for by a weekly allowance for one, two, or three years—remains exactly the same. That is to say, 7 per cent. now are and 7 per cent. a year ago were getting pensions of 70 per cent. or over. What is happening is what anyone who takes a broad view of the situation would know must happen. The men who have comparatively minor degrees of disorder or injury have steadily improved in health by the medical treatment we have provided, as well as by their natural powers of recuperation, while, on the other hand, those who were very severely disabled and whom treatment could not benefit have been left to draw their pensions.

I understand quite well that through out certain parts of the country there is some misgiving as to the results of the reexaminations, but what have I done? I have established Medical Appeal Boards, with specialists on every one of them, and on appeal not a single reduction is confirmed without a personal examination by the Appeal Board with a specialist on it. The House forgets that Members who bring forward cases against the Ministry at the present time never refer to the cases which have been admitted. These Medical Appeal Boards have in a great proportion of cases granted an increase and not a decrease of the amount of pension, but never a word is said about that, and I claim that as a striking example of the fairness with which the Ministry of Pensions conducts its work at the present time, and if, as my hon Friend wishes—and I quite agree with him—we are going to have finality in the amount of disability, what have I provided? I have provided that there should be a jury appointed by the Lord Chancellor, of two doctors and one ex-service man, to consider any appeal which comes from the award of my Ministry as to finality. I ask the House in common fairness: Could any fairer system be placed before the country than that which I have just adumbrated to the House?

Now let me come to a much more difficult point—and I know a great case has been made of this throughout the country—on the important question of change of entitlement. The charge is made that the Ministry of Pensions not only changes entitlement, but cancels the pension altogether where at some given period in a pensioner's life a pension has been awarded. Let me say at once that no one regrets more whole-heartedly or more profoundly than I do that there should be this review, or that it should be necessary; but I could not in the discharge of my responsibility as a Minister of the Crown act on the principle that once a mistake has been made, it must never be rectified.

The facts are very simple. During the last year of the War, and during the first year after the Armistice, when thousands of men were being demobilised and discharged every day, the work of dealing with claims to pension was a business of so large a volume that it was perfectly impossible for the staff of the Ministry of Pensions to deal with them at times. We had as many as 350,000 men in the military hospitals at that time. We had discharges of 60,000 men a day. Those men were coming from every corner of the globe. They had no medical certificates. They were so anxious to get out of the Army that they never went to the doctors to be re-examined. They rushed out with no evidence that they had any sign of disability; they were so glad to get out of the Army. In the course of time they came back, and with the merest prima facie evidence they were granted pensions. I came across so many cases of that kind that I found it necessary to review entitlement in those cases. It was a matter of great regret to me, but I found that all over the country men were drawing pensions to which they were not entitled. I will give a case I had yesterday. A man drew £500 in pension. I stopped the pension. When I use the first person the House will realise that I mean my Ministry. I had the most furious letters. If the hon. Member had only known of it, he would have stood up in the House to-day, and with impassioned eloquence denounced mc as the most cruel Minister of modern times. When I investigated this case, I found that this man, who had drawn £500, did not serve 24 hours in the Army. Another man was drawing a pension because he lost a finger, but when we examined the facts, what did we find? That he lost his finger, not in the War, but before the War. Another man is indignant because we stopped his pension, his claim against the State being that he acquired obesity during the War.

I am only enumerating a few of the oases, but am I, a Minister of the Crown, to be expected not to examine them when I find there are cases of that kind still surviving? The first men who would convict me of treason to them would be the ex-service men who gallantly fought. Another fact is that not only was the demobilisation rapid, but the regiments came from all corners of the globe. Their medical certificates were with the units in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and East Africa, and it is only recently that I have been able to collect, with a skilled staff, all these medical cards. No less than 31,000,000 of these cards, covering half an acre in cabinets, exist at the present time, so that the House will realise the amount of work this Ministry has had to do. But I am glad to say that the process of review is now nearly complete, but I would like to point out that we have only revised 2 per cent. of those cases. What has been the result? Where the medical boards have reviewed these cases they have, in the vast majority of cases, given the benefit of the doubt to the man. That is the principle I have favoured during the whole of the time I have been Minister. I believe it is the wish of the country that where there is a doubt, the man should, in every case, get the benefit of it.

I am not going to deal with the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. I was glad to see that my hon. Friend for West Bromwich paid a compliment to the Medical Appeal Board, and I admire him for his courage. It is provided that if I have any cases which I cannot admit to pension I must submit them to that tribunal if the claimant so wishes. That tribunal, by law, is composed of a doctor, a lawyer and an ex-service man. If ever an ex-service man hopes to get justice, surely it must be from a court so composed. In my judgment these courts are now working extremely well. There are many cases I have to submit to them by law. I am hoping that a conference will take place between my officials and the Lord Chancellor's officials, because I believe there are cases that it would be wisdom to re-open, where fresh and undoubted evidence has been obtained by the man substantially supporting the case he has submitted.

My hon. Friend has asked that a Select Committee should be appointed. I strongly resist that suggestion. I think I may fairly claim that no single Department has ever been subjected to such rigorous scrutiny as that of the Ministry of Pensions. In 1919 a Select Committee of this House was appointed. I think my hon. Friend was a distinguished member of that Committee. He will agree that every possible body of evidence was consulted and examined, and I believe that my right hon. and gallant Friend Lord Haig himself gave evidence before that Committee. The Government practically accepted the whole of its recommendations, and they were embodied, if I remember rightly, in the Royal Pensions Warrant and War Pensions Act, 1919. I was not satisfied with that. The public opinion of the time drew attention to various things. Long before the Geddes Committee I took myself the step of appointing a Committee composed of 19 members to do exactly the same thing for my Department that the Geddes Committee did for other Departments of the Government. I selected distinguished Members of this House, who represented practically every quarter. The hon. Member for the Western Isles sneers——


No. I beg your pardon, I was not. I was complimenting you.


That Committee was representative. I asked ex-service men to be on it. I asked representatives of the local war pensions committees. I asked everyone who preferred a claim to be representative of the interests of ex-service men. After eight months that Committee reported to me. I had allowed them during their sittings to examine any official and any document they wanted. They gave me 168 recommendations, and of those I think 116 are now in active operation. Not only that, but since then under the War Pensions Act of last year I have appointed an Advisory Committee, and I have met representatives from this House, of the country, and of various shades of public opinion along with the ex-service men. I have consulted them and I intend to consult them more. I do not know any body of men so full of knowledge on this question or with more sympathy for these men than the workers in this Department. I have also had the privilege and advantage of having had a consultation with the Standing Joint Committee composed of ex-service officers and ex-service men, and they have considered the hard cases. I have discussed these cases with them and I have discussed their policy, and the result is that we have been enabled, through sympathy and earnest endeavour, to meet the difficulties of the problem as they arise day by day.

It is all very well to come forward here and recite cases of hardship. I have come across cases of great hardship in my own constituency, but in regard to these cases, what do I find? If there does happen to be a case of hardship, as a rule it is magnified in the Press, and wherever I can I endeavour to meet hon. Members who have had these eases brought to their notice in order to discuss them. I would remind the House that for the hundreds of thousands of cases which we do efficiently and well it is taken for granted that we get no thanks, although a great deal is made of even one bad case. The whole problem is still one which requires our sympathy, but it also requires our courage. We have got to see to it that not only the State but the public and the people of the country are protected. We all know well that very often gratitude is short-lived. At any rate, we should all make sure that the men who sacrificed so much and stood by us have every legitimate right of theirs safeguarded. At the same time we must have courage as Members of Parliament and leaders of public opinion to recognise that when a claim is unjustly made it must fail. We should continue to uphold the rights of the ex-service men and at the same time resist the blandishments and devices of party while carrying out the outstanding national duty of our day.

Major M. WOOD

The right hon. Gentleman has given us a very good defence of the general administration of his office. But I am inclined to think that he has rather missed the case that was being made against him. I am quite prepared to pay a tribute to the Ministry of Pensions for the work they have done, and I think they are entitled to claim great credit for that work. It was very difficult work, and there was a great chance of their being imposed upon. That being so, I realise that they have to be on the alert. At the same time, there is no doubt that Members of Parliament are getting a large number of complaints about individual instances in which it is claimed that the Ministry have not dealt with them as well as they ought to have done. The right hon. Gentleman asked for some individual instances, and a great number have been given to him, but none of them have been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman, and that is what we wanted him to deal with to-night. My hon. Friend who started this Debate gave innumerable instances, and he seems to have been more fortunate than I have been in getting redress in many of those cases. The few cases which I would like to deal with to-night I have not got redressed, and that is why I should like to bring them to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. I am bound to say I have not many complaints, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think I am putting the case against him too high. I do not want to engage in any crusade against the Ministry. I realise that they had a difficult task and that they have performed it, on the whole, very well.

I should like to draw attention to one specific instance, and I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider it, either now or at some future time. He knows it well. I have put it before him on previous occasions, and I ask the House to assist me in getting what I consider would be justice to a widow in the North of Scotland. The husband of the woman was taken into the Army during the War. He went abroad, and after two years in the Near East he unfortunately died in hospital. The hospital authorities held a post-mortem examination, and the doctor who conducted it said that, in his opinion, death was due, probably, to dilatation of the heart and alcoholism. That is all the evidence before the Ministry of Pensions except two entries in the man's service record of convictions for being drunk. Yet on that evidence the Ministry found that the death was mainly due to alcoholism and refused a pension to the widow and her three children. The man was a man of good character. There was no suggestion that he was given to drink before he went into the Army, and as, at the end of the War, he re-signed on for further service when he might have come home, it was clear the authorities did not consider him as given to alcoholism at that particular time. How is the widow to meet a case of that kind? What right had the hospital authorities to hold a post-morten examination? Even if they had the right, is not the evidence put forward on the strength of it entirely ex parte? There was no one at the post-mortem to watch the interests of the widow, and surely she ought now to be allowed to make any representation she desires before the case is finally settled. Of course, the evidence is now all gone, but I suggest this is a case where the Ministry did not give the benefit of the doubt to the soldier, and I would like to know on what ground the authorities could attribute the death mainly to one cause when two reasons for it were shown. I cannot for the life of me understand how the Ministry are able to justify this particular conclusion. I have submitted the evidence which I have received from the Ministry to medical experts—and that is all the evidence that was before the Final Tribunal, before which it went—and they have given me their opinion that injustice has been done in this case. I gather that the right hon. Gentleman is now prepared to seek power from Parliament to enable him to reopen cases after they have gone before the Final Appeal Tribunal, but I gather that was only to be in the case where additional evidence could be brought forward by the party aggrieved. In the case I am putting before the House, there cannot, of course, be additional evidence, by the very nature of the case, although I am certain it is a case which ought to be looked into and re-investigated by a competent tribunal.

There is another case I should have liked to bring before the House, not of the same kind, but which presents another grievance against the administration of the Ministry of Pensions. I understand, however, that it is difficult to get the attention of the House at this time of the evening on matters of this kind. It is cases of this nature—few, it may be, in number—which have come before all Members of the House and which are creating some misgiving in the minds, not only of Members of this House, but of ex-service men outside that the Ministry of Pensions is trying to economise at the expense of the pensioners. I am quite certain there might be a temptation in certain Departments that do desire to cut down expenses at the present time to do that and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will carry oat the promise he has given to-night steadfastly to set himself against anything of the kind, and in particular to give special attention to all those specific instances that have been put before him this evening.

Captain GEE

It is very encouraging to ex-service men to discover that at last we have found many champions of all parties from all quarters of this House. I am sorry it is so late in the day. I am only going to deal with two particular points that have been touched on, I am afraid, somewhat lightly and, without any desire to give offence, by Members who, I am afraid, have very little knowledge of what they have been talking about, particularly in regard to the Appeal Tribunal. I do not think that in my experience I have ever heard any sentence so bandied about and played with as the Appeal Tribunal when hon. Members are discussing pensions. The more I hear so many talk about it the more convinced I am that there are very few who know the real working of these tribunals. It is only because I have been there so often myself that I venture to inflict my voice on the House to-night. I have taken part in no less than 29 appeals before the Appeal Tribunal, and 27 of those have been decided in favour of the applicant. I have such a firm belief and such a faith in the efficiency of the Appeal Tribunal that I have refused to enter into any correspondence with any applicant who has had his case tried by the Appeal Tribunal.

I now want to deal with a particular type of cases that are often talked about in a light and glib and airy manner in public among our own friends—among ex-service men—and, very often, by hon. Members of this House, but which, when they are investigated, bring discredit upon ex-service men in general, and upon the Ministry of Pensions in particular. I am going to weary the House with four cases that I have had hurled at me during the last two months at political meetings. The facts are unpleasant, but it is only a coward who shirks facts. A case was brought before me at a meeting in the Midlands, a scandalous case, of an ex-service man who had lost a leg in the War, and who was in receipt of no pen- sion. Of course, much had been made of it, and I undertook there and then to inquire into it. It is an unpleasant thing, but let us face it. I found that this man had lost his leg in the War, but that he lost it through a self-inflicted wound in order to dodge the trenches.

Another case was brought before me not very long ago, and I am sorry to say that it was the case of a sergeant in my own company, who fought under me in Gallipoli. It was brought to my notice, I am sorry to say, by a political party, and I am ashamed to think that one of my own sergeants should be in that position. I found that he had got a pension of five shillings a week; and I am going, if I may, to pay the Minister of Pensions a compliment, in saying that he softened his heart, because, if the Minister had been just, and had not allowed his feelings to get the better of his common-sense—of the hard-headed Scottish business side of himself—he would not have given fivepence, for the man's disability was not due to the War at all, but was entirely due to a particular disease which we had better not discuss.

Not long ago there was a case which was bandied all over England. Great publicity was given to it in the British Legion Press, in the public Press, and at meetings up and down the country. It was the case of an ex-service man who had committed suicide. Some hon. Members may remember it. He left a widow and children, and he had been wounded five times. I was disgusted when I heard of the case, and I do not know what I was not going to do to the Minister of Pensions. I said I would not deal with it until I came back. I came home for the week-end and received all information about it, and I went down on the Monday night; there was a full meeting to hear me deal with the case. I told them point blank that it was a case that I would not discuss in public. Then the booing began—the usual thanks that you expect and never get—but I threw out the offer that if two of the man's friends would come with me for 10 minutes and go through the papers I had brought down——

Mr. WHITE rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Captain GEE

—if they would come with me and look at the papers and go through the case, then, if they cared to go on a public platform and talk about the case I was quite willing to let them do so, but I would not do it myself. We went into a room behind the platform and discussed the matter. Both of these men were my political opponents, and were both ex-service men——

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.

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