§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I desire to raise another question which differs very much from Malta, and which is much nearer home. The Minister of Pensions is rather fortunate to-day in finding me in a much better frame of mind towards him and his Government than is usually the case. Perhaps the fact that some of us are going to Scotland and will be away from England for 14 weeks has induced that better frame of mind; but he must not take it as being a precedent for the future if I speak mildly to-day. I want to raise the case of one or two pensioners in my own constituency. The first is that of a mother whose son was killed during the War, but let me first of all, in a few brief sentences, condemn the underlying principle in this matter. Hon. Members will remember that under a previous Conservative Government circulars were issued to mothers of soldiers killed during the War—something to this effect, the Department had made inquiries into the earnings of their son who was killed during the War and on which she had been in receipt of a pension of 13s. or 14s. The Department now say that the earnings on which the pension was granted was wrong, that 1873 an error has been made, and they say now that the pension must be reduced from 13s. or 14s. to 5s. or 6s. This is five years after the death of the lad. The mother, after all this time, is notified that the amount given as the earnings of her son of five years ago was an error, and she is now asked to submit to a reduction of her pension.
It may be argued that this practice was continued by the last Labour Government; but that is no argument to me. The thing is whether it is right or wrong, and I say that it is wrong. I have the case here of a Mrs. Williamson, whose son was killed in the War. Five years after his death the Ministry of Pensions send out a circular stating that an error was made five years ago in the earnings of her son. I want to put it to any hon. Member whether he could prove five years after his son had died what his earnings were years ago? There is no Member here who could do that. And here the Government come to a poor old widow and say that an error has been made in her son's wages, and they ask her to disprove the statement. They are issuing circulars all over the country reducing the pensions which were granted five years ago. In this case the circular says:The error consisted in the fact that the assessment in question was based upon wages actually being earned by your late son at the time of his enlistment. It has, however, been ascertained that these wages were, owing to war conditions, higher than that for pension purposes.Then it goes on to state certain other facts. In the first place, the woman denies ever having got this circular. All that she says occurred was that a woman came and made some inquiries at the house. I afterwards pointed out that they were wrong in stating where the lad last worked, but here it is said that there was a mistake, when, after the lapse of all that time, no one can prove anything very definite, even from the employer's books.
I had another case, where the reduction was from 13s. 10d. to 5s.—8s. 10d. taken from a poor woman on the ground that they had made a mistake as to the wages of her son who had been killed in the War, and that was after five years, when she really did not know who his employers were. I met her up here—a clean, tidy, decent body. She did not know anything 1874 about where her son worked, and I myself had to go and seek out a clergyman who knew the lad, to find out whether he could tell me, as he ultimately did, where the lad last worked. There was another case that I brought to the notice of the Minister, the case of two brothers named Gallacher, who both joined the Army on the same day. One was killed and the other came back. A circular was sent stating that the pension would have to be reduced because an error had been made. In this case I went to the firm and found that they had returned the wrong sums, but when I took that to the Ministry they said, "That is quite true, but there has been a mistake, and we must still reduce the pension on account of the allocation of the money by some other method."
That is the kind of method at which the Ministry of Pensions has now arrived. It is one of the shocking things in the case of the last Government that they could not put that right. I hope the Minister will not tell me about what someone else has done, but will bear his own cross. Another case was that of a lad named Cassidy, who worked for a firm in my district which collapsed or went out of business in 1920. A year or so after, a circular was issued stating that inquiry had been made of the firm, and it had been found that the wages were not right—a year after the firm had closed down. In addition this lad, like many others, earned money by other means—at picture houses or public houses for instance—on Saturday nights or on week nights after his day's work was finished, and his father actually submitted to me the names of people with whom this lad had been employed in his spare time, but because the firm were out of business, and no definite proof could be furnished, his mother's pension was reduced by 5s. or 6s. a week.
It seems to me that these cases are shocking. There is only one other that I wish to raise, relating to a man in my district who has been refused a pension, although he is absolutely unfit to continue his work. I myself, a few weeks ago, got him examined by local medical practitioners, who confirmed his unfitness. The difficulty arises as to whether it is attributable to the War or not. I do not think that in this case the Minister denies that the man is stone deaf, but what is 1875 denied is that it is attributable to the War. I admit that the Appeal Tribunal turned it down, but in this instance—I do not want to give the facts in detail at this late hour—I would appeal to the Minister to reconsider the case of this man, who unfortunately is unable to get any work at all. All the local evidence I can get goes to prove that that is on account of his war service. I admit that the medical officers of the Ministry of Pensions do not agree with that, but I am sure the Minister, if he would go into this case again, could find a connection between the man's unfitness and his war service. It is a terrible thing to see a grown man, who served his country well during the War, who has young children dependent upon him, unfit owing to deafness to follow his occupation. He is in the building trade, and no building employer will employ a deaf man, who has to go up on to a scaffold and is not able to hear what is going on around him. All I ask in that case is that the Minister should reconsider it, and, if possible, see if some justice can be meted out.
In regard to the first cases I have mentioned, I hope the Minister will not pursue the policy of saying, four or five years after a lad has been killed, that there is an error. No woman can adduce proof of such facts after even a year. I know that my mother, who is, possibly, more methodical than some others, could not do that with her sons, and it is terrible, in the case of these very poor people, who can only exist and no more, to come five years afterwards and awaken the old griefs in their homes, and then reduce their pensions. I think it is a mean practice, and I am sure it would redound to the credit of the Minister of Pensions if he would see that these amounts, which are already too small, are put back to their normal figure, and so allow the mothers of these dead lads, to live in at least semi-decency.
§ The MINISTER OF PENSIONS (Major Tryon)
I am sorry that the hon. Member, through no fault of his own, has not given me much time in which to reply, but I can assure him that the representations he has made on behalf of these men and women will be considered irrespectively of whether I have time to deal with 1876 them fully now. The hon. Member has spoken as though this country were treating the dependants of ex-service men badly. It is only right that the House should know the general position, therefore I will give a few figures.
We are paying 192,000 pre-war dependants' pensions. We are paying them 9s. 9d. a week on the average, on the assumption that their sons, had they lived, would have been contributing 9s. 9d. weekly to their parents to-day, I do not think—and I am speaking for successive Governments, that this general principle is ungenerous, seeing that it is quite obvious that the average son, had he lived, would not have been contributing always about 10s. a week. Moreover, we have to bear in mind the fact that we had assumed that the sons would not have died from some other cause and would have kept on their payment. We also assumed that the son would not have married and have had a family. Had he married and had a family, he would not have been able to contribute. Speaking generally, I do not think we have been ungenerous. The estimated annual cost is £4,735,000. Moreover, there are 37,500 need pensions at 12s. 6d.,of which the estimated annual cost is £1,086,000, and over 101,000 flat-rate pensions of five shillings, amounting to £1,279,000. Therefore, the House will appreciate that there are an enormous number of these dependents receiving pensions. With respect to the cases that have been raised, I have had notice of them. I have gone into them, and I will go into them again. In the case of Mrs. Williamson, the pension was 11s. 6d. a week.
§ Major TRYON
Yes, 11s. 6d., plus bonus. The son was an apprentice, normally earning 6s. 9d. a week. That was the basis on which the revision took place. Nobody dislikes more than I do the necessity of reviewing these pensions, but there were many cases in which people were getting more than others. I do not mean cases where the sons had been contributing more to their parents before the war, but cases where some parents were getting more pension than others through their having made a perhaps genuinely mistaken statement about 1877 the amount that they had been getting from their deceased son. I will look into this particular case, but I do not think there is much chance of any change being made.
In the second case, that of Mr. Peter Meechan, an answer was sent by Mr. Muir, who was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions in the late Government. In this letter, which was addressed to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), Mr. Muir said:It is found that, when Mr. Meechan was examined at the time of his demobilisation, it was the opinion of the medical board that the deafness from which he suffered was not caused by war services, but had been aggravated thereby.That meant that the deafness was there previously, and that he had become more deaf as the result of war service. That was the answer sent on behalf of the late Government. In view of the representations of the hon. Member for Gorbals, I have had a further examination made, and the medical reports states:I am of opinion that this man's condition has not deteriorated, and that it is impossible to affirm that any condition connected therewith to-day requiring treatment would not have been present save for the prior worsening by war service. In these circumstances, I am of opinion that the man is not eligible for treatment for his deafness in accordance with the instruction.In other words, with every good will towards the case, I have had a further medical examination made, and the result of that medical examination is to confirm the justice of the reply sent in respect of the same case by the late Government.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
When the man joined the Army he was passed A.1. There was no sign of deafness about him when he joined. That was only trotted out when he was discharged from the Army.
§ Major TRYON
That statement is not offered simply by my Department at the present time, because a letter was sent on behalf of the Pensions Ministry in the late Government, by Mr. Muir, in which he stated that the deafness had been aggravated by war service, which means 1878 that the deafness was there before, and that it had been made worse by war service.
§ Major TRYON
I cannot say without looking at his papers; but I will inquire and let my hon. Friend know. I will, of course, examine the case further. Our position is that I have had a further medical examination made on the strength of the communications and representations made by the hon. Member for Gorbals, and I have stated the result. In the case of Mrs. Cassidy, a reply was sent to the hon. Member for Gorbals in November.
§ Major TRYON
The hon. Member's persistence and the extent to which the case has been explored would show that if there was much more in the case, it would have been successful. I do not think the fact that it has been frequently examined is evidence that it is wrong. I should think the fact that successive Governments have examined the case and confirmed the decision would rather suggest that the decision was right. The hon. Member for Gorbals was informed by Mr. Muir thatWhen Mrs. Cassidy completed her claim to separation allowance in respect of the deceased soldier, she stated that her son contributed 20s. weekly to household expenses; that she made no reference to the additional wages now alleged to have been earned by him, and that it had not been possible to verify the amount as the employer cannot be traced.The hon. Member for Gorbals was informed thatIt has been agreed to accept the statement in so far as it would admit of the soldier being in a position to provide himself with pocket-money and part of his clothing. From the contribution of 30s. Mrs. Cassidy had to provide her son with his board and the remainder of his clothing.It is obvious that if a son contributes something to his parents in return for his own board or in return for food, the whole of that sum cannot, rightly, be considered to be a contribution from the son to the maintenance of the parents. Therefore, we have to investigate these cases in order to do what is just. I will 1879 further examine the cases which the hon. Member has brought up, but I am not hopeful that in any of them we shall be able to make any revision.
§ It being half-past Seven of the Clock, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Order of the House of this day, until Monday, 16th November, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.