HC Deb 07 August 1924 vol 176 cc3209-22
Captain ELLIOT

I should not have risen just now, but I gave notice to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions that I intended to raise a few points this afternoon, and I am anxious, if possible, to give him an opportunity of replying. I promise that I shall be as brief as possible. I wish to raise the question of tubercular ex-service men who are at present under the care of the Ministry of Pensions. The tubercular man is in a peculiar position in that he comes to some extent under two Ministries, the Ministry of Health, or the Board of Health in Scotland, and the Ministry of Pensions. The ordinary pensioner is not fully convinced that when he comes under the care of the Ministry of Health he gets the same advantages that his fellows who are under the sole care of the Ministry of Pensions get. Consequently, it is necessary for the Ministry of Pensions to make sure by inspection and in other fashions that they keep in touch with the pensioners who are boarded-out in institutions which are under the management of the Ministry of Health.

There are also other points. We have not had the advantage of a pensions Debate this year, and I cannot go at any length into the subjects on which we receive very numerous communications, but, as I say, the pensioner in those institutions is not fully satisfied that he is receiving the same care and attention that he would receive if he were solely under the Ministry of Pensions. I do not believe it is possible to concentrate the tubercular cases who are under the care of the Ministry in institutions solely under their supervision, because I understand there are some 2,500 tubercular patients in sanatoria at any one time, and it is not possible to concentrate those men in one or two spots in the United Kingdom. The necessity to make it clear that their appeal lies to the Ministry of Pensions is a duty which, I think, not fully realised by the Ministry at the present time. At any rate, I find many tubercular ex-service men who are pensioners do not apply to the Ministry of Pensions as readily as the other pensioners who are directly under the charge of that Ministry.

I put a question some time ago to the Minister of Pensions with regard to the particular grievance that some of them have brought forward, namely, the question of the 100 per cent. pensions on their first dismissal from the sanatorium which is not awarded on the disability of the patient, but solely on the ground that he is a tubercular man who has been in a sanatorium. A pension of 100 per cent. is granted to him for six months after his first dismissal from the sanatorium, but it is not continued at that rate after subsequent admissions and dismissals from the sanatorium. He is then boarded solely on the extent of his disability. I admit that this is a case of a concession on the part of the Ministry of Pensions which leads up indeed to some grave difficulty. It seems odd to the pensioner that on his first dismissal from the sanatorium, when presumably he is more healthy than he would be after subsequent admissions and dismissals, he receives a higher pension, and he naturally suffers under a sense of injustice. I do not know whether it will be possible for the Minister to extend the concession which he has made.

I do not know what the average length of life of the tubercular pensioner is, but I should hope that it is longer than the average length of life of the tubercular civilian patient. I would draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to this fact. The tubercular civilian patient was stated by the medical officer for health for Glasgow to have a duration of life of three years after his first dismissal from the sanatorium. Consequently, these pensioners are few in number, and I would ask whether it would not be possible to deal with them as a special case. After all, it is not merely a case of the tubercular man himself, but he is also a danger to the community. You get the risk of infection to the community. When I brought this matter to the attention of the Ministry of Pensions, they said, quite rightly, that it was impossible to mix up the duties of the Ministry of Pensions, who look after the man insofar as he has been injured by the War, and the duties of the Ministry of Health, who look after him insofar as he is a peril to the community. That makes it all the more necessary that close co-ordination should be kept up between the Ministry of Pensions and the Ministry of Health in this matter, and that the Ministry of Health should not escape a certain amount of its obligation by having it taken over by the Ministry of Pensions.

There are cases of which I should have liked to give the details, but it is not now possible owing to the time. There is one case of a man with a 40 per cent. disability, and another of a man with 80 per cent. disability, whose two children have both contracted tuberculosis. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to consider what chance there is of such a man finding employment of any kind whatever. A man with a disability of over 50 per cent. from tuberculosis is in the same position as a man with 100 per cent. He suffers not merely the disability of his illness, but also the social disability that other people do not wish to work in the same shop or at the same bench, or in any close proximity to him.

I think there is need for a closer coordination between the Ministry of Pensions and the Ministry of Health in this matter. The problem of the tuberculous man is a grave problem in the community. The necessity for getting him to undergo sanatorium treatment is one of the ways in which we shall be able to continue the reduction in the tuberculosis figures which is such a feature of our present health statistics. In that regard the Ministry of Pensions, which is accorded relatively speaking generous treatment by the Treasury, has a special responsibility in making sure that these men are so treated in every possible way as to give the impression amongst the civil population that the tuberculous man should enter hospital for his own good, and that he has a chance of receiving good treatment in hospital, and possibly of being cured, or at any rate that he has the best possible chance of having the disease arrested and making sure that it is not communicated to other members of his family.

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give his close attention to the problem of the tuberculous ex-service man, and see that in every way his Department gets into closer relationship than is the case at present, with the Ministry of Health in England and the Board of Health in Scotland, so as to make sure that there is a complete dovetailing of the problem, and that the experience which has now been gained for the community by the treatment of tuberculous ex-service men shall be avail- able subsequently for the treatment of the civilian patient who contracts the disease, and will have to be dealt with long after the last tuberculous ex-service man has either been cured or has passed out of the ken of the Ministry altogether.


The hon. and gallant Member has raised a question which, as I think will be admitted in all parts of the House, is one of the most serious and important that we have to consider. It is one of the questions upon which medical science itself is not definitely decided as to methods of treatment or as to the best means to be adopted in dealing with the men concerned, not only from the point of view of treatment., but from the point of view of occupation. The hon. and gallant Member has said that a man with a high disability from tuberculosis is debarred from entering into occupation because of the undesirability of his associating with other workers. That is admitted at once. The difficulty is to know what to do with him. It is necessary, if any assistance is to be given by way of curative treatment, that the man's mind should be free from financial embarrassment, but it is also necessary that he should feel that he is a useful member of the community, and a difficulty arises there.

It is very important to know whether it is best to give a man full maintenance, which will make him independent of any attempt to earn a livelihood—of any attempt to become a useful member of the community—or whether it would be better to give him the ordinary assessable pension on the same terms as for other disabilities, and to try to provide him with useful occupation. The difficulties have been considered by the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Pensions in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, and schemes were proposed for setting up communities entirely for tuberculous ex-service men. The difficulty about that is that most of the men are themselves not desirous of entering such a community. They do not wish to be isolated and regarded as being quite apart from the ordinary community, and everyone can understand that that is perfectly natural.

On the other hand, a community such as that would probably have to be a subsidised community for a considerable time, and would at the same time have to enter into production of various kinds and enter into competition with purely economic units. The difficulty presented there, again, is that of finding men willing to enter, and, having got them, of enabling them to feel that they are really useful, because, if their productive work cannot be carried on in a competitive sense, then they naturally feel that their production is not on the same level as ordinary production. There are great difficulties about the matter, and it has not been proceeded with to any great extent. One or two attempts have been made, and schemes are still running, but they are not too successful. One, I understand, is working now on economic lines and is paying its own way, but that is the only one so far.

I agree with all that has been said about giving the best attention and about securing close co-operation between the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Pensions and the Ministry of Labour. While it is necessary to keep that always in view, I do not think it can be said that we are neglecting it. A Conference was arranged by the Minister himself a month or two ago with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour to go into the question of the treatment of tuberculous ex-service men, and it is agreed that, no matter how much we may try as a Ministry to do for the ex-service men, their case is bound up with the general question of tuberculosis. The Ministry of Pensions, however, is responsible for the material well-being of these men in the sense that it pays pensions and allowances and has its inspectors to see that they are attended to properly in the institutions under the Ministry of Health and, in Scotland, the Scottish Board of Health.

In the matter of treatment allowances and in the matter of pensions I think we are dealing very generously with this problem. At the beginning of the Pensions Scheme, all tuberculous men were assessed and treated exactly as were those who were suffering from other disabilities, but later it became necessary to consider them as a class quite apart. We have to remember that there are among ex-service men 37,000 cases of tuberculosis due to, or aggravated by, war service, and that five and three-quarter years after the end of hostilities there are being admitted to pension 190 cases per month. I think that that shows that there is no disposition on the part of the Ministry of Pensions in any way to put difficulties in the way of these men who have suffered. We are perfectly well aware of all the difficulties, and we quite realise what a terrible scourge it is, but the fact that we are admitting, after five and three-quarter years, 190 cases per month, is, I think, a guarantee and a sign that we are not at all niggardly in the treatment of this type of case.

The annual expenditure of the Ministry of Pensions on tuberculosis cases is between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000, and of that only £300,000 goes for administration and medical services. Most of that £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 goes, as hard cash, to the pensioners themselves. We endeavour to make their position as easy as possible. In the ease of men who get 100 per cent. disability after a course of treatment in a sanatorium, it is true that they get an assessment of 100 per cent., and receive that pension for six months after they come out of the sanatorium. Contrasted with their ordinary assessment it seems to them very strange that, when they come out of a sanatorium in better health that when they went in, they should get the 100 per cent. and then at come time or other revert to their ordinary pension, but it is done for the purpose of keeping their minds free for that six months from any financial embarrassment. Following on the six months, their assessment comes down no lower than 50 per cent. for a period of two years, which gives them a clear two and a half years in which they have no serious financial embarrassment so far as we can prevent it. That is again quite a good thing, and it gets over some of the difficulty. On the question of coordination I can say that we are keeping that in mind. The Conference which was held recently raised certain points which are under consideration at present. Any other points which can be raised and brought to our notice where it is thought benefits can be conferred on this type of case, for which we feel very considerably, we will take up at once.


I wish to call attention to a question of considerable importance to the people who live in Blantyre, in Lanarkshire, which is in my Division. I very much regret the delay that one has had in getting into the Debate to raise the question, and the very short time at my disposal, because the matter is of very vital importance to the people in Blantyre. Very serious allegations have been made against the police authorities of that town at intervals extending over a period of six years. I have here evidence collected by the solicitors whom the miners have employed, consisting of 90 pages of foolscap, and the names of 70 witnesses who are prepared to come forward and testify with regard to the charges brought against the police. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Duncan Graham) and I went there in March last to address a very large public meeting of indignation called against the conduct of the police, which was attended by 1,200 to 1,500 people. They subsequently employed a solicitor of standing in Hamilton, and they have collected this evidence. When we returned here my hon. Friend and I interviewed the Secretary for Scotland, demanding an immediate inquiry into the allegations, and two months ago my right hon. Friend promised this inquiry, but it has not yet taken place, so far as my information goes, and there is profound discontent and indignation, not merely in Blantyre but throughout the mining area of Hamilton, because working men are being treated with brutality and because of the shocking condition of affairs such as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvin Grove (Captain Elliot) would not suffer for a single day so far as his people are concerned. I am bound to express my regret that this court of inquiry has not yet been granted. It is a shocking thing that because a man happens to be a miner and to wear a tweed suit and a cloth cap he should be set upon by the police when talking to his friends, beaten with a baton, taken into a prison cell where he is beaten again in the darkness of the night until he has to seek medical aid to recover from his injuries. I am not saying all these statements are proved. I am only speaking as a representative of the division, and if we cannot get it in this way we will get it in some other way, because we are not going to stand it very much longer. Here is an instance of what I mean— Harney was standing in a corner of the lane when I went forward and spoke to him. Just at this time two policemen came along. Gordon was in civvies and Innes was in uniform. Without any provocation what ever Gordon struck me. He had not a baton but he Struck me with his fist. Innes, who had a baton, used his baton on me. I was very much injured and have suffered very severely since then. The police went away and left me lying bleeding on the road. I desire to quote one other instance. I am very sorry this statement cannot be quoted much more extensively than time permits— Two policemen came into the cell during the night. They were Anderson and Macdonald. I was lying sleeping at the time. They came in and gave me a shake. One of them had a flashlight which he shone on me. Anderson said, Oh, it is him. Get on your feet.' I had a notion that if I got on my feet I should be put down on my bark again, and I said, Have not I had enough last night?' He said, 'Get up on your feet.' Whenever I got up be knocked me on my back again. Anderson drew his baton and hit me on the back of the head with it. Then they went out into another man's cell. I could quote another dozen instances of that kind of treatment administered to these men. What we are demanding is that without any further delay a public impartial inquiry, apart from the Lanarkshire police officials, should take place, and on the strength of that inquiry if the charge of blood guiltiness is proved against these men they should meet the punishment they deserve. I warn my right hon. Friend that if this inquiry is not granted without any further delay we will carry this thing over the West of Scotland, and the East of Scotland too. We have always stood for order. We have always stood for the regulation of matters in a civil and peaceful way. I have myself been appealed to time after time. "If Parliament fails, what are you going to do! Will you resort to physical force?" I have said, "Give Parliament a chance," and we are giving Parliament a chance now, and if they do not act, you may depend upon it that civil disorder will spread throughout Lanarkshire and into the other parts of Scotland, and the responsibility for that will rest upon the men who have not taken the opportunity of redressing grievances in a lawful manner. I hope I am not appealing to my right hon. Friend in vain. I hope the very reasonable demand I am making will be granted, that there shall be an impartial inquiry into these allegations. The police themselves are entitled to it. If I were a policeman I would not submit to charges like this being made against me if I were innocent. In the interests of the police it ought to be made without any further delay.


It is difficult to bring this matter before the responsible Minister in a limited number of minutes at the end of a long and tiresome day. I want to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a similar grievance to that mentioned by my hon. Friend. About a year ago a very serious malady broke out in one of our mining districts, causing considerable consternation in and around the district because of its gravity and seriousness as it developed. They found themselves at a loss to understand the origin, the cause of the dire disease which had seized quite a large number of mine workers in that district. They were taken to the Royal Infirmary, where their cases were considered and an analysis was made of the disease. The doctor who examined them unhesitatingly came to the conclusion that it was caused from poison exuded by rats in the mines where these men were engaged. A large number of men were infected and one of them died. Later on I took up the matter with the Minister of Health and he immediately instructed, so he informed me, an inquiry to be made in order to arrive at some satisfactory conclusion as to what the cause of the disease was and possibly to prescribe a remedy.

My principal complaint is that from the beginning of January I have been putting forward questions to one Minister or Another and have got no satisfactory information. I was informed that medical officers were carefully considering the, whole matter and would make a report. Month after month I put the same question and asked, was there no finality to be arrived at so that I could take a message of hope to the district in which the disease had occurred, because many were leaving the district rather than work under such conditions and in the last analysis there were four men who had died of this disease and 15 or 16 had been affected? I want the House to understand that they had been infected with this disease, which is a sort of exaggerated form of jaundice, and it always leaves more or less permanent effects. I had been told that the Minister of Health is dealing with it, that the Home Office and the Board of Agriculture were considering it and latterly that the Mines Department is considering it, and they seem to have considered it so much that I am in the position that unless I get some definite announcement now I shall be in the unfortunate position of having to go to the people and say nothing has been arrived at yet and that I cannot obtain any definite decision in the matter. I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give me some hope and encouragement to take with me to that district, and that he will be able to tell me that at last we have got a grip of the disease.

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)

The case brought before me by my hon. Friend the Member for the Rutherglen division of Lanarkshire (Mr. Wright) I have discussed recently. Some time ago he and another of my hon. Friends told me that allegations were being made as to the attitude of the police to the public and in particular that on several occasions prisoners had been assaulted by the police in the police cells. Immediately on getting that information from the two hon. Gentlemen, I got in touch with the Chief Constable for Lanarkshire I asked that the complaint should he inquired into and a report submitted to the Scottish Office. That report stated in effect that every constable stationed in the Blantyre district who could have access to cells where the prisoners were detained, emphatically denied that the alleged assaults had been committed and that no prisoner made a complaint either to the police officer or to the court in which he had been brought up as to the assault which had taken place. In view of the serious allegations that were made, and after consultation with the Law Officers of the Crown I asked the county clerk to have the matter considered by the standing joint committee with a view to an inquiry being held into these allegations. The county clerk replied stating that the standing joint committee had come to the conclusion that in view of the relations existing between them and the county constabulary it would be in appropriate for that committee to initiate an inquiry of the kind which had been suggested. Again, after consultation with the Law Officers of the Crown, we have communicated with the standing joint committee and pointed out that in our opinion they were the appropriate body to institute an inquiry. They were the authority who had statutory powers to compel the necessary witnesses to be produced, and we asked that they would proceed with the matter. A reminder has again been sent to them asking that an inquiry take place at the earliest possible moment, and I can assure my friend there is no thought, so far as I am concerned and so far as the Scottish Office is concerned, of making any distinction between a miner and any other section of the community.


May I ask for an answer to two questions? The right hon. Gentleman says that a letter has been sent to the county council. If the Joint Standing Committee again refuse to make an inquiry, will he take steps to hold an inquiry, and will the inquiry be a public one?


I was pointing out that, so far from any distinction being drawn between a miner and any other section of the community, it would be the most natural thing for myself rather to have a leaning towards the miner than against him. Nothing of that kind comes into it at all, and let me point out to the hon. Members for Hamilton and Rutherglen that a public inquiry will be held in the matter. Now with regard to the serious disease that my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) has brought to my attention, I can assure him and the House that none of the Government Departments has been idle in regard to this matter can understand, if a considerable amount of time elapses before anything of a definite character is given in reply to questions such as my hon. Friend has been putting to me from time to time, that some amount of uncertainty is bound to be felt in the minds of the people concerned. The difficulty with regard to the disease that my hon. Friends have been calling my attention to is that it is of a serious character and the medical men, up to the present, have not been able to make up their minds as to the nature of the disease. At the moment the Medical Research Council are going into the matter. We expect in a very short time we will be able to get a report from that body which will enable us to understand more about the disease than is the case at present. With regard to the other point that was put, as to whether it should not he placed in the scheduled diseases, I think he will admit, that until we know what the nature of the disease is it is too much to ask my right hon. Friend and colleague the Home Secretary to say that he will be prepared to put it into the list of scheduled diseases. What I can promise to my Friend is that whatever it is possible to do to accelerate the inquiry and to find out exactly what the nature of the disease is, and as to whether it is one that ought to be included in the scheduled diseases or otherwise, will be done. Whatever I can do to assist in order to elucidate the nature of the disease will be gladly done.


On a point of Order. The Attorney-General promised to bring in a reply before five o'clock. Has the Deputy-Leader of the House anything to say on that question?


I cannot answer that question.


Will the right hon. Gentleman just give this assurance, as he himself has suggested, on a previous occasion, that he would come into the district and that he will visit the collieries, because there are two large collieries that are affected, along with me, in order to allay the fears and anxieties that exist.


I am quite prepared to fall in with the suggestion that has been made.


Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, may I ask him to give me a reply to two questions. Will the Government take immediate steps to improve the housing in the crofting communities in the highlands, and will the Government take immediate steps, without delay, to reopen Loch Boisdale Pier?


I have been endeavouring, as the hon. Member knows, to come to an agreement with the proprietors of the pier at Loch Boisdale and have given certain guarantees on behalf of the Government that ought to satisfy any reasonably-minded person. I regret to say that the guarantees, up to the present time, have not been accepted, as far as Loch Boisdale Pier is concerned. In regard to the other point with regard to the houses, I have already told the hon. Member that is a matter we are going closely into.

It being Five of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Resolution, of the House of 6th August.

Adjourned accordingly, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day, until Tuesday, 28th October, provided always that if it appears to the satisfaction of Mr. SPEAKER, after consultation with His Majesty's Government, that the public interest requires that the House should meet at any earlier time during the Adjournment, Mr. SPEAKER may give notice that he is so satisfied, and thereupon the House shall meet at the time stated in, such notice, and shall transact its business as if it had been duly adjourned to that time, and any Orders of the Day and Notices of Motions that may stand on the Order Book for the 28th day of October or any subsequent day shall be appointed for the day on which the House shall so meet.