HC Deb 21 March 1923 vol 161 cc2573-7

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the War Pensions Acts, 1915 to 1921. The Bill is to provide that, for the purposes of the War Pensions Acts, 1915 to 1921, where an officer or man who has left, the Naval, Military or Air Force Service is, or at any time after the date of his leaving such service has been, found to be suffering from tuberculosis, neurasthenia or any other disease or incapacity which could reasonably be attributed to war service, he shall be deemed to be suffering from a disease attributable to Naval, Military or Air Force service, as the case may be, unless or until it is shown that the tuberculosis or neurasthenia or other disease or incapacity was not attributable to such service, and for the purposes of this provision acceptance for such service shall be conclusive that at the time of joining such service the officer or man was not suffering from any such disease or incapacity. I am certain that the House and the country wish to see full justice done to the ex-service men and their dependants. Each respective Minister of Pensions who has undertaken the task of responsibility in that direction has oftentimes so expressed himself in this Chamber. The present Pensions Minister has voiced his regret that a course has had to be taken under certain regulations which have made it impossible for him to do as he would like in connection with many cases. The purpose of this Bill is to help him, if at all possible, and to remove the inability which he expresses to aid these particular cases. I think we are right in saying that experience gathered during the operation of the existing Acts, Warrants, and Regulations fully demonstrates the need, not only for the acceptance of new principles, but for a complete revision of the existing machinery. If these be the facts—and I believe I am correctly putting the position—steps ought to be taken to enable the obvious wishes of the Ministry, the Members of this House and the people of the country to be put into effect.

I wish, as concisely as possible, to give one or two reasons in support of the proposal which we put forward. Every Member of this House would, I am sure, desire to try not to forget that when the men were asked to volunteer or were conscripted certain pledges were entered into. Under those sacred pledges, it appears to be quite fair to ask that where a man is suffering from a disease or incapacity which can easily be attributed to his war service, the onus of proof that such disability is not so attributable shall rest entirely and completely on the Pensions Ministry. Under the present system of working, that responsibility attaches to applicants, who have personally to prove their pension right or entitlement, but round this regulation of proof of entitlement, which at present rests on the individual, all sorts of conditions have been set up, which make it extremely difficult for any man to prove such claim, and I believe this fact largely accounts for the number of difficult cases with which the Minister is called upon to deal from time to time. I know quite well that a great deal of good has been done through the Pensions Ministry, and that much satisfaction has followed in many directions from the efforts which have been made under the present and the past Regulations, but despite everything which has been done, everyone in this House and outside knows that there are difficult cases by the score and by the hundred, and that very many such cases are submitted to Members of this House every day of the week. In addition to that, questions are being continually addressed to the Minister, or cases are being presented to him in private, by Members of this House, and the Minister has told, not only myself, but I suppose every other Member who has presented a case to him, that he finds himself powerless to act in the direction which he himself would like to do. What is the type of case which comes within this proposed Bill? I know it will be un- desirable and unnecessary to ask Members to pay particular attention to specific instances, but in order to show that there is a real necessity for this proposal, I will mention one or two striking instances.

I have before me the case of a man now afflicted with blindness. He was perfectly fit before being called upon for service, and he contracted some disease while on service. That unfortunate fellow can now secure no redress from the Ministry of Pensions. He is told by that Department that there is no Regulation which permits his case to be brought under review. He is also refused assistance by the hospital at St. Dunstan's, because the Ministry cannot recognise his claim. There is in that particular case every justification for our plea, that, where a man was admitted in full vigour of health as fit for service, he should, when he comes out broken in health and ruined in constitution, be entitled to a pension. I can give another case where the dependants of a man who has died are denied assistance by reason of the fact that a man's pension can date only from the first date of his discharge. I can give many cases, which I know are within the knowledge of every Member of the House, to prove the contention with which we are endeavouring to persuade the House to accept this little proposal.

We want to give the Minister such authority as will prevent this difficult type of case arising from time to time. Many Members may think that there are only a few such cases, but the last time I put this question to the Minister of Pensions he told me that there were 250,000 cases which had been turned down on appeal, and that there were many others still waiting consideration. My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but that answer was given by his predecessor. In addition, many appeals have been dismissed, although it is admitted on every side that shocking circumstances do undoubtedly exist. There is every reason why this Measure should be brought into operation. I am merely stating an accepted fact when I claim that this House has no desire that pension cases should be sent to the Poor Law authorities. But the present policy, under the existing Regulations and under the operation of the Pensions Act of 1921, is sending many hundreds of these cases to obtain assistance from the Poor Law authorities and is shifting the burden of responsibility from the National Exchequer to the local ratepayers. The proposal which we are making this afternoon would largely destroy that unpleasant and sordid association. I desire, in a few concluding sentences, to appeal for the unanimous support of the House, and I want to say that my case is supported by generals up and down the country and by the British Legion, and I think, if this Measure could be accepted, we should find means whereby the present misery and privation might be ended and a better system created for the assistance of these unfortunate men.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Frederick Roberts, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. Lawson, Mr. John Guest, Mr. Lansbury, Mr. Thomas Griffiths, Mr. George Hall, and Mr. Robert Jones.

Back to