Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House do now adjourn."— [Colonel Leslie Wilson.]
§ Captain BOWYER
I asked the Minister of Pensions this afternoon a question, No. 61, in the following terms:Whether he is aware that in the précis prepared for appellants before pension appeal tribunals extracts from original documents are often very inaccurately and carelessly copied, and that often important details are omitted, which not only prejudice the appellants but confuse the Court; and will he inquire into the matter?Only on Wednesday in last week I happened to be present when the Pensions Appeal Tribunal was functioning, and a document upon which a good deal turned was a death certificate, which I now have in my hand. The cause of death was stated to be as follows:(1) Tubercle of lungs, with cavity formation, five years.I turn to the précis, which is supposed to be a certified copy of the death certificate, and I read: 1186Cause of death: (1) Tubercle of lungs, with cavity formation.There is no mention at all of five years. The certificate goes on:(2) Tubercular disease of left tarsus, no p.m., nine months.I turn to the précis, and the second cause of death is given asTuhercular disease of left tarsus,no mention being made of nine months or of there being no post-mortem. The third cause of death is given in the certificate asTubercular disease of larynx, two months,and in the précis asTubercular disease of larynx.In this case, if it could be established that the tubercular disease was of five years' standing, it was of vital importance to the widow who was appearing in the case. It was not until the case was comparatively near its conclusion that it was pointed out to me that there was this discrepancy between the death certificate and the précis, and, on my pointing it out to the President of the tribunal, he said to me, "I wish that you would bring this matter before Parliament, because again and again who have the same mistake cropping up," and ho there and then gave me two or three specific cases. If I turn for a moment to the answer which was given to me this afternoon by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary 1187 Secretary to the Ministry, I think the House will see its very unsatisfactory nature. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said, in reply to my question:My right hon. Friend has gone into the matter very carefully, and deprecates most strongly the suggestion of general failure in the preparation of accurate précis, for which he is convinced no foundation exists.I hope I have given him not only a specific case, but, what is far stronger, a definite request by one of the presidents of the courts that this matter should be investigated and brought to the notice of Parliament. He goes on—On the contrary, my right hon. Friend is satisfied that this practice is carried on with care and accuracy.It is a serious thing when a document like a précis is prepared—I imagine what is put upon the précis is certified by someone as being a true copy of the doctor's certificate or the death certificate, and in fact the President of the Court drew my attention to the fact that "certified true copy" was in fact put upon the document, and how the Minister either can deprecate that I brought it to this notice or can say the work is carried on with care and accuracy I fail to understand.
The second question to which I want to call attention is not so easy. I called attention in question 62 to the case of Sapper Tilley, who before the War was a fitter employed by the London & North Western Railway Company, and after a very fine War service, like so many other men. found himself unemployed. That went on for a year and nine months and then he is offered a very excellent job at 49s. a week by his old employers at Llandudno. He goes before the medical officer, who prevents him taking up the job by refusing to sign the necessary certificates. He is drawing a disability pension of 12s. a week. My question was put in order to get him a pension on which he could live, in view of the fact that it is because of his disability that he cannot take up this work. I have discussed the case with the Parliamentary Secretary, and he points out that, rightly or wrongly, this country administers these pensions, not assessing the pension because of the man's incapacity to work, but assessing it from the amount of the disability. It is true that I may have asked 1188 the Minister to take action on a wrong foundation. In the last paragraph of his reply, the Minister said:My right hon. Friend is unable to supplement this man's pension on the ground suggested in the last part of the question.What I complain of is this: I bring a case which, after all, is full of pathos, to the Minister's attention, and I give him the best part of;?. week's notice, and I want to ask him when he receives notice of a specific case like that, is he going merely to give me an answer like that, without making inquiries, or has he made inquiries and is he satisfied that the disability he is now suffering from has nothing to do with the War service, in which case his answer is excellent and one which I will abide by. But if he has not taken the trouble to make an inquiry, I submit that when details of a case like this have been brought to his notice, they at least constitute a prima facie case for the Minister to make inquiries, as this man cannot work, whether his disability is due to War service and whether or not such inquiry cannot lead to the pension being increased, because he cannot live only on 12s. a week. He will say that the man has the right of appeal. This has been going on for some time, and it may be that the man has the right of appeal; but I still submit that that does not answer my case, because if I bring a case to the Pensions Minister it prima facie calls for his inquiry. His answer was unsatisfactory, because I do not know even yet whether he has inquired into the ease. I should be glad if he would let me know what action he took, and why as to the first case I raised he resents the words in the question, and merely says that the work was being carried out with care and precision.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of PENSIONS (Major Tryon)
The hon. and gallant Member has raised two points. The first is the case of Tilley. With regard to that, he appears to complain because we answered the definite question which he put. The question he asked was whether we would cause this pension to be increased on account of the man being out of work. Our answer is, and will always be, that the man's pension must necessarily depend upon the extent of disablement. If on inquiry, which we always make, the 1189 wrong amount of pension is being paid to the man for disablement, as the result of a medical board, the pension will be increased.
§ Captain BOWYER
Will the hon. Member inquire whether the amount of the disablement of this man is in harmony with the pension that he is receiving?
§ Major TRYON
Certainly, we will inquire. It is a pity that my hon. Friend did not put that point in his original question, instead of putting a question urging us to take action directly contrary to the decision of Parliament; a decision with which I should have thought he would have been perfectly well aware. He suggests that the pension should be increased on account of unemployment. The proper way, if it is to be inquired into, would be to suggest that it should be increased because of the man's disablement. That is the decision of Parliament, which we are bound to carry out. I am sorry that the hon. Member has delayed the case a little by putting forward a claim on entirely wrong grounds. We will inquire into this case, and if the man ought to have a higher pension on the ground of disablement only, he will get it.
Now we come to a more serious matter, which affects this House and affects the questions put down by the hon. Member, and I would say that just as we have responsibility for the answers which we give, so hon. Members have a great responsibility for the questions which they put down, especially when those questions involve serious charges calculated, as I think, without foundation, to cause widespread dissatisfaction and anxiety amongst ex-service men.
§ Major TRYON
The hon. Member asks me why I say, "without foundation." My reply is, because he put down a question to this effect, that we often make these mistakes, and that we often prejudice the eases of these men before the Tribunal. He used the word "often" twice. The House will, I hope, notice that this hon. and gallant Member thinks that the word "often" can be applied on the one single, uncorroborated example which he has brought to the House now for the 1190 first time. The hon. Member's method is very different from that of the Pensions Ministry We wish to get the best possible decision from the Appeal Tribunal with regard to any cases, so we send to them many days in advance a précis giving all the particulars. The hon. Member has not even now given me particulars to enable me to trace this case, and he has not told the House the name of the man.
§ Major TRYON
That is so. The hon. Member told me this afternoon, at five o'clock, when the offices were shut, as he knew quite well. He then named the case. Ho has not given the regimental number. I have inquired from the whole of our index this afternoon in the Ministry, and no letter has come from him on the subject, and we are absolutely unable to trace the case. Yet the hon. Member takes up the time of the House of Commons by bringing forward a case and he does not provide the facts on which the House can come to a judgment. I would remind the House that the last time the hon. and gallant Member took up the time of the House on the Adjournment was in connection with the case of Nokes, and it was by a mere accident that I suggested the right name, and that it was found that the pensioner on whose case he was taking up the time of the House had deserted his wife and had disappeared. Therefore, before he brings a charge which creates doubt throughout the country in the efficiency of the tribunals, he ought not to use the word "often" when he has nothing more than one example to bring before the House.
§ Captain BOWYER
I am making this complaint at the request of the chairman of one of those tribunals.
§ Major TRYON
The hon. and gallant Member, not intentionally, has made it impossible for us to give the facts, but I do not believe that any Court can have come to a decision without first ascer- 1191 taining all the facts, and I cannot believe that the president of the tribunal has asked that the case should be brought before the House without our having details of the case. Why does not the hon. and gallant Member pursue this course, which has been followed with so much benefit by every part of the House, of writing to the Minister giving the facts, so that he can be answered, and not bringing the case up in the House at the last minute? I must draw a- contrast between the conduct of the hon. and gallant Member and the conduct of the Ministry, which sends out a précis beforehand to the man. I ask the Committee not to assume that a mistake occurs often because of one uncorroborated and unexplored example. That would not be fair to the tribunal or to us. I have had the great privilege of co-operating on a Committee which sat for several months, with the assistance of Members in every part of this House, of ex-service men, and of distinguished officials of the Ministry, exploring the whole range of pension work. One of the points which we came upon in our inquiry was this very point. We recommended that the pricis should be sent to the man in duplicate giving every detail of the case which we were putting before the Court.
§ Major TRYON
My hon. and gallant Friend will not persuade the House of Commons to condemn anybody in a case where it is impossible to give the facts, especially in view of my hon. Friend's experience in the Nokes' case. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions at once put this into force, and the précis is sent out to the man or the widow or the representative in order that they may know what is to be put before the Court. That is done so that, if something is omitted, it will be cleared up in advance, and that any gaps in our statement may be filled in, in order that the case may be judged on its merits. This afternoon I took an example of a précis. It was that of a case sent to me by my hon. and gallant Friend. I went through that précis. 1192 Hon. Members opposite will know how often they urge that if a man is passed into the Army perfectly sound it should count in his favour. I looked at that précis. The first thing it contained after the Summary of Records were all the points which we could bring out in favour of the man, and the very first thing in the whole range of points in favour of the man was the fact, brought out by the Ministry of Pensions, that the man was fit and sound when he joined the Army. That is but. an example of the way in which the Ministry try to do the duty which we all owe to ex-service men, and it is better than bringing general charges based on an isolated and unexplored example.
§ Captain LOSEBY
I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend ought to be allowed to ride off too easily, in spite of the vigour of his answer. He is accustomed to denounce vigorously anyone outside the Ministry of Pensions who thinks that he has a duty towards the ex-service man. I remember that in my own case he denounced me with even more vigour when I ventured to complain in regard to certain unfortunate soldiers in lunatic asylums. To-night he has chided my hon. and gallant Friend as if my hon. and gallant Friend were a schoolboy. My hon. and gallant Friend deserves the thanks of ex-service men for the question he put down. It was not an offensive question. My hon. and gallant Friend asked whether the Minister of Pensions was aware of certain clerical errors, which often occurred. I repeat that identically the same complaint has been made to me.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Does the hon. And gallant Gentleman say that he has ever complained of any ease of this kind? I want to know now it has had notice of cases that have been sent on to me.
§ Captain LOSEBY
I am referring to this particular complaint made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman as to certain clerical errors. The Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry has replied with very great vigour. An ejaculation came, 1193 "Why not write to the Minister?" To that, I reply that this House is the proper place to bring out complaints of this kind and that it is of little value, as I recently have found in regard to certain complaints, to write personally to the Ministry. This House is the proper place to raise such grievances, and I, for one, think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, in calling attention to these clerical errors, which have most serious consequences, is doing a public service. The Minister of Pensions and the Parliamentary Secretary sometimes take much too quickly official reports which are given to them. There are many complaints that can be made upon the Floor of the House with great advantage. I rise only to support my hon. and gallant Friend, and to state that I have had identical complaints. If the Parliamentary Secretary would only reply that he would look into such cases and endeavour to find whether there was any ground of complaint, we would have no grievance. I still hope that the Minister will look more closely into this matter.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WHELER
I have been in the House a good many years, and I have found that when I wrote to Ministers instead of asking a question in the House, no matter what was the Department concerned, the result was always far better than advertising the matter in this way.
I understand that the précis, and the detailed documents are handed to the members of the tribunal for them to look at. It is the fault of the members of the tribunal if they do not ascertain how long a man has suffered, as certified, from tuberculosis. That is the fault of the tribunal. The 1194 précis, I have no doubt, is a very important matter, but it is only for a first glance, and they look further into the other documents. The ordinary medical board get a précis, but they do not content themselves with that, which only contains the principal points. They look at the more lengthy and detailed documents which supplement the précis. I hold no brief for the Ministry of Pensions, but a member of a tribunal or board who would be content merely with a précis would not be doing his duty. It would have a very far-reaching effect, if pensions were to be assessed according to the influence of the man's injuries on his value in the labour market. I know men who have been allowed 50 per cent. disability, but who are able to work every day in the week, all the year round. A man who has suffered the loss of an eye gets 50 per cent., but he may be a clerk, and able to do his work all right. According to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckingham (Captain Bowyer), if the man is able to do his work, he should get nothing. As far as I can see, according to the facts presented to us, and until we get further facts about it, my hon. and gallant Friend has had a bad fall.
§ Sir FREDERICK YOUNG
The chairman of the board in this instance should have reported the matter which apparently was troubling him, to the Pensions Ministry, and the hon. and gallant Member who has taken up the time of the House to-night would have been well advised to make that retort to the chairman instead of reporting the chairman's statement to the House.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Seventeen Minutes before Eleven o' Clock.