Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £39,504,900, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1927, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Pensions, and for sundry Contributions in respect of the Administration of The Ministry of Pensions Act, 1916, the War Pensions Acts, 1915 to 1921, and sundry Services."—[Note: £24,000,000 has been voted on Account.]
§ The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Major Tryon)
The estimated expenditure for my Department for the current year, 1926–27, is £63,504,900. This brings the total expenditure of the United Kingdom on war pensions up to the end of the present year to no less than £725,176,986. The total expenditure on war pensions in this country is larger than that of any other country engaged in the great war, and to give the Committee some idea of the scale of this national effort, I may say that the sum I have mentioned exceeds our total pre-war debt by over £60,000,000, and that, if it were divided equally between the whole population, it already amounts to a contribution of £15 11s. per head from every man, woman and child in the country. The effort, as I shall show, is being maintained with only slight reductions, due to normal causes. Compared with the estimated expenditure of last year—167,518,000—there is a fall of £4,013,100, but more than £1,000,000 of this decrease is due to an accident of the calendar. In the estimated expenditure for the year that is just passed, we had to provide funds for the weekly payment of pensions or allowances on certain extra days which by the acci- 814 dent of the calendar fell into the year that has just passed. This made the expenditure of last year larger than would have been incurred in a normal year. This year, 1926–27, is a normal year with a normal number of weekly pension pay days. The decline in expenditure on pensions, taking the two years together, is at the rate of slightly more than £2, 500,000 a year. This, as 1 shall show, is due to quite normal causes.
Taken in the order in which they appear on the printed Estimates, the principal items of expenditure, I would like first to draw attention to the cost of administration. The total cost of administration which falls in this current year, will amount to £1,962,900. I have included in this figure not only the amount shown in the printed Estimates under sub-heading A to B.3, but also the cost of medical administration under subheading 0.1 to 0.4 and the administrative expenditure of War Pensions Committees. This figure of nearly £2,000,000 represents a decrease on last year, in the cost of administration, of no less than £464,700, or a decrease in cost of administration of 19 per cent. I am glad to say that the cost of administration has been the item in the Ministry's expenditure which has, shown the largest proportional decrease. In 1920 the expenditure on administration was 1s. 3d. in the £for every £1 of benefit expenditure. For the current year it will be only 7½d. in the £1, a reduction of no less than one half. The decline in the expenditure on administration has much more than kept pace with the normal fall in the total expenditure. It is now only three per cent. of the total Vote compared with nearly 6 per cent. in 1920, so that 97 per cent. of the money voted to this department by the House goes in direct benefit to the pensioner, and the proportion is rising.
This reduction has resulted from the progressive policy of stabilisation and simplification of administration which successive Governments have carried out. Let me illustrate this by a few figures drawn from different branches of the Ministry's work. First, there is the Ministry's correspondence. In 1923, the total number of letters, forms and other documents despatched from the London offices alone was 13,500,000. This figure did not include the heavy correspondence of the regions. But in the year ending 815 March, 1926, the number of letters and other documents despatched from the London Offices was 5,500,000, and it must be remembered that in this year the greater number of the regional offices which existed in 1923 had been or were being absorbed in the London offices. In other words, there has been an enormous falling off in the correspondence. The number of men medically examined has fallen off greatly. In the six months ended 31st December, 1922, there were 279,700 men medically examined by Medical Boards. In the corresponding six months of 1925, the number had fallen to 63,000, a great reduction. As I have said, the staff employed in transacting the daily work has declined in numbers much more rapidly than the expenditure. In 1920 the Ministry were employing 32,000 persons. On 31st March last, the number was 11,358—a reduction of over 20,000. The figure of 11,358 includes 3,000 staff employed in Ministry hospitals. Of the total male staff of the Ministry, 97 per cent. are ex-service men, and nearly 60 per cent. of them are men who have in some degree been disabled by War service.
The Committee will be interested to hear what has been done in the matter which has often been raised in this House, namely the security of employment for the ex-service staff of the Ministry. As a result of arrangements made by the Government last year, both by way of special examination, which enabled those candidates who qualified to get established pensionable posts, and by the institution of another class of permanent but not established men in the Department, 1,393 men have obtained established posts in the Civil Service and 200 have obtained permanent unestablished posts as salaried officers. More permanent unestablished posts will in course of time be created. The attendance at their work and the convenience of the staff have been seriously interfered with in many cases by the present stoppage of means of communication and in the case of many of them who have been disabled by war service the stoppage has meant real physical distress. But they have responded splendidly, and I could give many instances of their loyalty and courage. We are making all the arrangements that we can in the circumstances for the transport of our 816 staff. The effect of the stoppage on pensions administration generally is also a matter about which the Committee would like to know, though I shall not go into it in detail. The Committee will be anxious to hear how the pensioners will be affected. There must, of course, be some cases of hardship owing to the failure of the ordinary means of transport. For instance, the facilities for reaching hospitals or clinics, and attending for medical examination, are affected. I have made arrangements for providing transport where it is essential, and I am glad to say that so far the food supply of the hospitals has worked satisfactorily,
On the important question of local administration I will refer to the changes which have been going on in the last few years and which are now being brought to completion. The administration of war pensions is based upon both a central and a local organisation. The local units of administration are the area offices, and their dependencies, the sub-offices. On 31st March, these offices numbered 368, distributed throughout the country in the chief centres and sub-centres of population. Through the area offices come the claims for pension or allowances of every kind, and complaints about individual cases come through them also. They are, in short, the sensory nerves by which the pensions administration is kept in touch with the pensioner or claimant. Allied to them are the War Pensions Committees whose function, as laid down by Parliament, is to hear all complaints from individuals who have reason to be dissatisfied with official decisions of the Ministry, and after investigation, if they think fit, to represent them to headquarters.
I now turn to the question of the closing of the regional offices throughout the country. Intermediate between the local offices and the headquarters of the Ministry there has been in existence since 1919 a series of branch offices of the Ministry known as regional offices. These were set up during 1919 and 1920, which was the period of demobilisation of the Army forces enlisted for the late War, and they were started in order to deal with the enormous number of claims and with the award of pensions involved immediately after the conclusion of hostilities. Altogether eleven regional offices were constituted, and to these was 817 transferred the work of sifting and adjudicating upon the claims to pension, authorising awards of pensions in the majority of cases, and, in addition, the duty of supervising the local offices of the Ministry working under the control of the local War Pensions Committees. Gradually, as the large volume of work declined the regional branch offices of the Ministry have had to disappear, and the remainder of their work has been transferred to London. This process began at the end of 1923; it was continued during the administration of my predecessor the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. Roberts), whose absence to-day we all so much regret, and it will have been brought to a conclusion by the disappearance of the last regional office next month.
Some of those associated with the Ministry's work who have been accustomed to the system of the last six years have naturally regretted the disappearance of the regional offices; but it was inevitable. With the rapid decline in the work of the Department which has occurred during the past four years, the continued maintenance of large provincial offices, doing only the work of certain limited areas, became wholly unjustifiable. In each case there has been a substantial saving in the cost of administration without detriment to efficiency by the closing of the regional office. At its height the regional system was costing £2,000,000 a year. In the case of the Wales region, for example, the closure of the regional office brought about a saving of £16,000. In the case of the North Western region a saving of not less than £20,000 was effected and in the case of the Scottish region, the last to disappear, I anticipate a saving of £19,000. Along with the disappearance of the regional system the Advisory Councils which were associated with it must also disappear and this is a new announcement which I take the opportunity of making to the Committee. While the system of delegated administration represented by the regional branch offices was in operation, Advisory Councils composed of representatives of the, War Pensions Committees in the region were not without their uses. The regional director was chairman and other chief officers of the region were members, and it was helpful to the administration that these officers should meet represen- 818 tatives of the War Pensions Committees and talk over with them from time to time any local administrative difficulties that might arise. But the official regional administration was the basis and the raison, d'etre of the Advisory Council.
At the present stage in pensions administration eight general deliberative assemblies are not necessary. The essential work before the Ministry now, is not the alteration of the fundamental principles of war compensation which have been laid down by Parliament in the various Warrants and War Pensions Acts, but the adjustment here and there of administration to current needs as they arise. For this purpose the organisation contemplated by Parliament in the Act of 1921 is sufficient. Under that Act—unanimously passed by the House of Commons —side by side with the official machinery of the Ministry, there were set up two bodies to represent the persons in direct touch with the administration as it affects individuals, namely, the War Pensions Committees, numbering 170 in their various areas all over the Kingdom, and the Central Advisory Committee at the headquarters of the Ministry. It is my intention to make both these factors as effective as possible in co-operation with the official administration.
As regards War Pensions Committees, I have, as I have already stated, carried out the policy which I promised the House in May of last year to adopt. With the assistance of my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, the area offices in more than one-third of the whole country have been visited; we have met the Chairmen of the War Pensions Committee, the responsible medical officers and the chief area officers and their assistants. We have discussed with them the practical working of the many branches of work that fall to be dealt with in the locality and I find, generally, that the administration is working smoothly and satisfactorily and its principles are accepted as just. At the same time, I have learned much in the matter of the detail of administration, as to practical difficulties which arise in the localities, and these difficulties I have taken and am taking steps to meet, It is my intention to pursue the policy of visiting the areas and to extend it. In addition I propose to make a new departure. I propose to hold group meetings of the 819 chairmen of War Pensions Committees at suitable centres from time to time and with the help of my hon. and gallant Friend ale Parliamentary Secretary and the principal officials of the Ministry, to discuss with the chairmen at these meetings any points of difficulty and any suggestions that from their practical experience they have to make.
I believe that by this method I shall make the War Pensions Committees and the local offices of the Ministry effective units of the administration of War Pensions. In this connection I should like to say how much the administration of pensions owes to the voluntary workers, members of committees and others who, in their several districts, quietly and unostentatiously, are working with the object of helping ex-service men and their dependants and in doing so, are working for the successful administration of the great work of war compensation. There are, I believe, some 17,000 voluntary workers attached to the War Pensions Committees, men in business, people in public positions serving on local authorities, men and women in private life and members of the British Legion all over the country. I am glad to recognise with gratitude the help that they give me, and to feel that what was a national levy in the Great War has evoked a national response of voluntary help in assisting the sufferers from the war.
The counterpart of the War Pensions Committee in the local area is the Central Advisory Committee at Ministry headquarters. As I informed the House in December last, I was not satified with the composition of this body. My experience during 1925 made it clear to me that the delegate system under which a large number of Members were nominated by the Advisory Councils, was not calculated to give the best results for the purpose of advising the Minister. I have reconstituted the Committee therefore, and in doing so I have endeavoured to secure the services of persons having direct and intimate acquaintance with the principal phases of the work of the Ministry. I have increased the representatives of the War Pensions Committees on the Central Committee; I have increased the number of women members, and I have obtained the services of persons with practical knowledge of 820 education and the welfare of children. I have already held a meeting of the new committee, at which a most useful and practical discussion took place, and I hope to hold another before the end of the present Session.
I now turn to another important part of our work which does not appear in the title of the Ministry, namely, the medical side. It is classified under the title of "Medical Services" and will he found under Sub-heads 1 to 8. The expenditure foe the current year in this respect is estimated at £3,141,600 representing a decline of £347,000 by comparison with the previous year. The decline is due to several factors. In the first place, fewer men are asking for or are being required to undergo medical examination for pension purposes, as I have already shown. This means that the fees and expenses of the medical staff and the cost of travelling are reduced and this alone accounts for £132,000 of the decrease. In the second place, the medical and surgical treatment required by disabled officers and men is steadily and quite naturally becoming less. There will, of course, always be a certain number of fresh cases arising from time to time where the old wound or ailment breaks down and recourse must be had to a course of surgical or medical treatment, but we are being to an increasing extent left with a residue of old cases which have not yielded to treatment or are in a condition constantly needing medical and surgical attention. These cases account for the upkeep of inpatient treatment and of the number of in-patients.
The number of in-patients maintained at the charge of the Ministry is 15,000, as will be seen from Page 43 of the Estimates. This number includes 6,000 cases of certified insanity and 2,000 cases of tuberculosis in sanatoria, and the balance of about 7,000 cases of all kinds are in hospitals belonging to or controlled by the Ministry, with the exception of something under 1,000 who are in civil hospitals. As regards the Ministry's hospitals, we have continued the policy of previous years and aimed at concentrating the institutions as the numbers claiming treatment fell off. During the past year 16 institutions, either entirely belonging to the Ministry or at the disposal of the Ministry, were closed, leaving 821 53 hospitals in working order at the present date. In these 53 hospitals there are 7,700 beds, of which between 6,500 and 7,000 are normally occupied. My medical staff are fully alive to the importance of applying and developing the latest methods and appliances in medical treatment. During the past year the treatment of diabetes by insulin has been rendered considerably more effective, and attention has been given to the treatment by light, particularly artificial sunlight, in the cure of a variety of complaints. There is a decrease of £33,000 estimated in the cost of artificial limbs and appliances. This is largely the result of the change in the arrangements for the supply of artificial metal limbs, which I was able to make on the advice of the Departmental Committee presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins), which considered the whole matter towards the end of last year.
I now turn to the largest item in the whole of our expenditure, which is, of course, the cost of pensions and cash benefits of all kinds to all classes of pensioner. This item accounts for 58,772,900 for this year. This figure represents a decrease of £3,177,000 on the previous year's expenditure, which, as will be seen from the printed estimates, amounted to £62,035,400. The expenditure I am referring to may be roughly divided, for the convenience of the Committee, into three groups, namely, the expenditure on disabled officers' and men's pensions and their children's allowances, £31,562,450; officers' and men's widows' pensions and children's allowances, £19,397,500; and adult dependants' pensions and gratuities, £7,812,950. In each of these items of expenditure there is some decrease on the expenditure of last year. One cause of that decrease, as I have already pointed out to the Committee, is a mere accident of dates, because there were more pay days for pension last year than normally fall in any given year. Eliminating this cause, which accounts for over £1,000,000 of the difference between the Estimates for the two years, the remaining decrease is the result of causes which must at this stage and with the lapse of time steadily operate to reduce expenditure.
The chief causes of this normal and steady decline are, first, the death rate 822 among pensioners. Among disabled officers and men there are about 9,000 deaths a year, and among dependants the death rate is about the same number. Secondly, you have the disappearance of children from the pension list at the rate, at present, of about 50,000 a year, as they grow beyond the age of dependence and cease to be eligible for allowances. Thirdly, there are what I may call exceptional factors making for decrease, such as the remarriage of widows and dependants, or the payment of gratuities on various occasions, all of which are necessarily a declining quantity as time goes by. These factors of decrease are, to some extent, offset by new claims which are still coming in, though in diminishing quantities, largely from widows and dependants.
The Committee will, I am sure, wish me, to say at all events a little on the pensions policy underlying these figures. The record of the last year is a record of the steady pursuit of the same policy as regards pensions that my predecessors carried out, namely, the policy of giving the maximum possible stability and security to the pensioner. My predecessors and I have gone very far—farther perhaps than many Members of this House or the public realise—in securing stability of pensions. At the present time—and this is a new figure—out of the whole, body of a million adult beneficiaries of the Ministry, there are no less than 750,000 disabled officers and men, widows, and adult dependants who are in receipt of final awards or other forms of life pension and for whom practical stability of tenure as pensioners has been secured. There are two elements in this matter of the security of pensions. The first is the security of title to any pension at all, that is to say, security with regard to the question whether the disability is due to war service or not. The second element is security in regard to the amount of pension when it has been properly determined That a pension is payable.
On the problem of security of title, it has, of course, always been the duty of the Ministry to be sure that a pensioner was properly entitled to the pension in issue to him, and for some years awards of pension, many of which had been hastily adjudicated during the war and in the demobilisation period, were under regular review in order to determine 823 that entitlement had been correctly accepted by the Ministry. This process of regular review has now been brought to an end as regards all cases of current pension or award more than a year old, and, subject to the discovery of an actual error of fact, misrepresentation, or fraud, in an individual case, old awards of disability pension will not be questioned on the score of entitlement, that is to say, as to whether the ailment or injury was in fact due to or aggravated by war service. This applies to all classes of disability awards.
With regard to the stability of the amount of pension, the present Government has given a far-reaching measure of security to existing pensioners. As Members of the Committee are aware, the Royal Warrants, when last settled in 1919, at a time when the cost of living was greatly inflated, gave a considerably enhanced rate of pension to all classes of pension, with the proviso that the rates were to be liable to a decrease of 20 per cent. if and when the cost of living fell to that extent. The cost of living, judged by the index figure of the Ministry of Labour, has fallen by considerably more than 20 per cent. The Government has, however, already announced the details of a settlement which gives stability for at least three years and so far as can be seen for a considerable time longer. This settlement has involved tile taxpayer in the considerable charge of £6,500,000 a year. Every class of case has benefited by the policy of stability.
For widows, there has always been stability of award in so far as the rates of pensions are flat rates. For dependants equally, now, there is in the great majority of cases a similar stability of award The review of the two classes of parents' pensions, namely, those based on pre-war dependence and on a flat rate, which became necessary in the years 1923 and 1924, has been completed, and the amount of these pensions will not be liable to any further regular review, subject, of course, to the discovery in any individual case of an actual error of fact, misrepresentation, or fraud, of which account has to be taken. There is a third class of pension for dependant parents, namely, that based on a permanent condition of 824 need. For this class also I have during the past year succeeded in securing a substantial measure of stability. These pensions were formerly liable to periodic and fairly frequent review, involving slight changes, in many eases by way of reduction. A large number of them have now been freed from this constant review, and the majority of the pensioners will continue to draw their existing pension without further periodic revision, subject only to automatic adjustment as and when other statutory benefits, such as those under the Old Age Pension Acts, take the place of the war pension.
In regard to final awards, for disabled officers and men the system of final awards laid down by the War Pensions Act of 1921 is achieving as far as possible similar stability in the case of awards in respect of disablement.
At the present time very nearly 300,000 officers and men are drawing awards of life pension at various rates for which they have an absolute security of tenure. Rather less than 200,000 officers and men still remain in receipt of conditional pensions, but final awards are being made every week by the Medical Boards and by the tribunals on appeal in many hundreds of these cases. There are, of course, a proportion of both officers and men whose condition is serious and even deteriorating, and in whose cases it would be unfair to make a final award; but, apart from these cases, the relief from anxiety and security which is given by a life pension, and which ex-service men are asking me for now, will be given in every case in which it can equitably he given. I have endeavoured, very briefly, to state the position of the Ministry to the Committee so as to give the fullest opportunity to other Members to take part in the debate. I would only end by saying, as I have endeavoured to make clear throughout my speech, that our policy is stabilisation and security for the pensioner.
§ Sir ROBERT HUTCHISON
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman make some statement on the position of the Special Grants Committee?
§ Major TRYON
The position of the Special Grants Committee is that a considerable number of the Committee resigned, although I had asked them to carry on for a time to solve certain diffi- 825 cult problems. We have secured the services of a number of other excellent members, who are carrying on the work.
§ Mr. T. KENNEDY
I rise to make a few observations of a general character, in the first place, on the interesting document which the Minister of Pensions has read to the Committee. I regret exceedingly, as I am sure the Committee does, that the right hon. Member for West Bromwich(Mr. F. Roberts) is not present to speak on behalf of the Opposition in the matter of pensions' administration. I think it will be a very remarkable thing if the Committee is able to-day to detach itself from events which are happening outside, and to give that detailed criticism and consideration to this Vote which the Vote deserves. I think there is no department upon which we might more usefully concentrate our attention than the Pensions Ministry, and no issue has more sympathetic consideration from Members on all sides of the Committee than the interests of ex-service men and the dependants of service men who fell. The Minister has expressed himself, naturally, as being completely satisfied with the conduct of his administration. I think the Committee would not have expected him to speak otherwise; but in this matter I would like to suggest, without offence I hope, that the administration of pensions is a much more vital matter to those whose statutory rights are involved, that is ex-service men, disabled ex-service men and their dependants, than it is to the administrators of those statutory regulations which we are considering to-day.
I am not going to raise on this occasion the general isues which were debated in the House only a very few weeks ago. I do not wish, for instance, to discuss the matter of continuity of pensions' administration policy referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. I am not quite so sure that the right hon. Member for West Bromwich, had he been here to-day, would have quite agreed with what the Minister said with regard to this matter of continuity of policy. Pensions' administration is a changing quantity, and I am sure no ex-Minister of Pensions is prepared to say that principles laid down two, three or four years ago as general principles of administra- 826 tion, must necessarily hold good for all time. The whole [...]eld, of administration in the matter of pensions has changed, and I am certain that were my right hon. Friend here to-day he would agree with me when I say, that there is abundant reason for searching inquiry into, the whole matter of pensions' administration, in order that not only the Hon but a very large volume of informer opinion outside may be satisfied that the best is being done to day that can be done for ex-service men and their dependants. I am, personally, with some knowledge of pensions' administration, uneasy about the matter, and it is a fact, which no Member of this House would care to dispute, that the British Legion, which is representative of a vast body of ex-service opinion, is not quite so satisfied with the present situation as the right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I do not wish to raise controversial issues at, this stage, because I do not rise to move a reduction of the Vote, understanding that this Vote will not be pressed to a division to-night. Under happier circumstances, perhaps, we may be able to give the Vote the consideration it deserves. But I do wish at this stage to safeguard, at any rate, our position with regard to the general conduct of pensions' administration by saying this. When a few weeks ago we were told that the Pensions Ministry was following out a settled policy, which, in regard to its fundamentals, was going to remain unchanged, I say that is a proposition to which we cannot agree. The policy of centralisation which the Minister of Pensions has been urging on the House for the last year or two is, in our judgment, a policy which is not effective, useful, or beneficial from the point of view of the pensioner and his dependants, and while we have been told to-day that there is complete satisfaction in the country with regard to the dissolution of the regional councils, the advisory councils, and the setting up of central bodies in London for the conduct of pensions administration, I am perfectly certain that a large body of voluntary workers, upon whom the administration has depended in years gone by, would not agree that the situation has been improved by that centralisation, but rather that it has been worsened.
I want to-day—and this is all I am going to try to do—to direct attention 827 to what, I think, is it any rate an important feature of [...] policy of centralisation reflected in the Estimates before us. I think the police of centralisation is bad from the point of view of the interests of the ex-service man, but I think it is equally bad from the point of view of [...]nancial considerations. I have never quite been able to understand how far the pension Minster agreed in his heart with this policy of development towards a centralised bureaucracy in London, as against the setting up of efficient local administration. I have always had a suspicion that in this matter the right hon. Gentleman was the instrument of people who do not sit in this house. When I say that I make no reflection upon any section of civil servants. I wish to bring out and which I think can be mote effectively brought out when we come to close quarters with the Estimates which are now before the House.
These Estimates present a general feature to which I am going to call attention. First of all, it may be noticed that for the current year there is an expenditure estimated, of something like £4.013,100 less than last year. Last year's Estimate was £67,518,000. This year the Minister asks for £63,504,900. This reduction, I assume, is very largely due to natural causes: that is, a reduction and diminution in the number of cases dealt with by the Pensions Ministry. But I have a suspicion, borne out by my own experience which I think is the experience of every member of this House, that a very great part of that reduction is due to a reduction in the rates of pensions, and the cessation of pensions under the system of final awards now being administered, and that if we had not got really accurate details of these reductions we should find that they could not be justified upon any reasonable ground. I think we are entitled to say, as a general principle, that eight years after the cessation of the War the vast majority of pensions cases have reached a point of stability.
The volume of business being done by the Pensions Ministry to-day is very much less than it was 12 months ago. On this matter of centralisation, as it is reflected in the Estimates, I want to bring to the notice of the Committee this very signify- 828 cant fact: that while thee volume of business is decreasing the headquarters staff of the Ministry has actually been increased since last year from 4,412 to 4,432. This, doubtless, is due to the change from local administration to central administration. The total expenditure for headquarters has increased, as shown in the Estimates, from £899,286 to £952,057, an increase of over £52,000. When we come to regional administration, of course it is true we find an explanation of this increase in the headquarters expenditure. The total expenditure for the regions has fallen from £363,000 odd to something like £40,000 in the current year, whilst the staff has been reduced from 1,776 to 212. Obviously, that is due to, and is a direct consequence of, the centralised administration, and the headquarters costs have necessarily increased. When we look inside this centralised machine that has been set up in London, which has absorbed and taken over all these useful functions performed in the past by the local committees and the local machinery, what do we find? We find that every branch of the headquarters administration seems to be top-heavy, so for as its expenditure is concerned.
The branches seem, in my judgment, to be excessively overstaffed, especially in the matter of senior officers. For instance if hon. Members look at page 27 of the Estimates, they will find that in the general staff administration 14 officers are engaged in the supervision of 28 clerks—14 officers of high rank. There seems here a suggestion of waste. That brings me to state what I hinted at a few moments ago, that the zeal for centralization which the Minister has been pushing on the House at recent times is not quite disinterested. When I look at the Estimates, for instance, I find that the reductions in the staff are reflected far more amongst the temporary civil servants and the lower grades, than in the higher grade officials. There may be a sound administrative reason for that, but looking at the Estimates before us, I think we put up a perfectly reasonable request when we ask the Minister for some detailed information of the disproportion in the number of higher-paid and higher salaried officials to the lower paid. There may be, I say, a sound administrative reason which has not yet been revealed to the House of Commons. 829 When, however, I look at the general staff of the Department what do I find? We have a principal assistant secretary who receives £1,700, two principals who receive £2,121, an assistant principal who receives 1492, a staff officer who receives £789, three section heads who receive £1,797, four higher grade clerks who receive £1,971, two temporary officers who receive £892, and fourteen higher grade officers who receive 19,762 in salaries, and for what? For the supervision of twenty-eight subordinate clerks? These twenty eight subordinate clerks receive £5,722. The headquarters general staff is diminished by two since last year, and —this is a paint worthy of note—while the general headquarters staff has decreased numerically by two since last year, the cost has gone up from £15,521 to 115,544.
I do not suggest that the staff are not fully engaged, but when I find a large department, a large branch of the administration, with these chief officers, controllers, superintendents and so on, I feel bound to ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is not as I have suggested, that the headquarters administrative staff is just a little bit top-heavy? I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can explain why, in view of the fact that the detailed routine work of the pension's administration is a constantly diminishing quantity, he has found it necessary to increase his headquarters typing staff by 75 additional temporary typists? I pass on to the Accounts Division, and this is what I find. The Committee will find it on Page 29 of the Estimates. Since last year's arrangements terminated the following appointments have terminated. The Director of Accounts, two Deputy Directors of Accounts, two Inspectors of Audits, and one Senior Auditor have been dispensed with, but, to compensate for those dismissals or rearrangements, we have the new appointments of an Accountant General and a Deputy Accountant General, and, in this connection, the interesting fact emerges that while we have this diminished work in this Accounts Department the salaries of the branch have increased from £142,649 to 1144,177. I should like the Minister, if he can find time, to explain the increase. In the Pensions Issue Office we have a Controller, two Deputy Controllers, two Deputy con- 830 trollers, five principal clerks, nine higher executive officers, seven executive officers, six staff officers and thirty-seven senior grade clerks, and here the same fact emerges as I have already indicated. We have 67 higher officials in this branch of headquarters administration looking after 400 subordinates. The 67 higher officials receive something like£113,820 in annual salaries and the 400 clerks get£79,860. Coming to the Statistical Division, another branch of headquarters, we have a Director of Statistics with £1070 a year, and he is supported by a higher executive officer, a staff officer, and a higher grade clerk. May I ask exactly what the duties of this statistician is and what is his business mainly? This is all the information that I have been able to get up-to-date. His business is to receive reports of the results of the automatic checking machines at headquarters. This is a very expensive institution, and in view of the higher grade supervision for every other branch of the pensions administration, the services of this division might very well be dispensed with.
I also find another interesting feature in the Estimates, and I should like to ask the Minister a specific question. The Committee is asked to vote £23,000 for the Ministry's representatives in Canada. That sum is for the salary of the chief officer and his subordinates, and for their expenses and allowances in Canada. This is a new feature and I. should like to ask how many actual pension cases in Canada are covered by this part of the administration. I now come to an even more interesting feature of headquarters administration. There is in the temporary ranks in the officers branch a reduction of 74, but in the higher grades, including the director, the Deputy Director, principal clerks, and 11 higher executive officers, we find no reduction in personnel notwithstanding, as I have already said, the vastly diminished work of the branch. I should like the Minister to explain how that can be justified on any sound business ground. Another branch of headquarters administration is the Officers' Friend Branch. Who is this official who is described along with his staff as the "Officers' Friend?" What are the functions of this branch? Is it simply engaged in soliciting voluntary aid for disabled officers? May I also 831 ask if there is any equivalent to this branch so far as the interests of the noncommisioned officers and men are concerned?
I have not raised these matters merely in order to raise debating points or points of mere factious criticism, but I have raised them in order to show a general feature which I think is bad in the present pensions' administration, namely, that this centralised administrative machine in London is over-weighted so far as these highly-paid officials are cone[...]irned, and the destruction of the local machine was prompted and mainly effected in order that the Minister or those who favour this policy might have a more obedient machine than they had when the local administration was more effective than it is now. The Minister has already told us something about the Special Grants Committee, but I do not think he has quite satisfied the Committee with regard to the reasons for the resignation of the members of that Committee, and I hope, if he returns to the subject again to-day, that he will tell us how the Committee is actually constituted, who are its members, how many there are, and whether there are at this moment any officials doing service on the Committee, and, if so, on what part of the Vote their salaries are borne?
On pages 35 and 36 of the Estimates the pensions, gratuities, and treatment allowances to disabled officers are shown. I find that they are practically stationary. They do not show the natural reduction that you find when you look at the pensions allowances and gratuities of the lower ranks. I find also that in supplemental and special allowances to officers' widows and dependants the Special Grants Committee spent something like £112,000, but the amount spent for all other ranks by this Committee was only £39,000. I should like the Minister to explain the disparity between the figures, because they clearly indicate a class bias. The number of officers and their dependants is relatively small when you compare it with the large number of noncommissioned officers and men and their dependants. If one finds the amount given to officers through any agency, whether this Committee or any other, vastly in excess of the amount given to 832 the relatives of the rank and file, I think a question in order to elicit an explanation is perfectly legitimate. In the same way, I find that the educational allowances to the children of disabled officers amounted to something like £14,000, to the children of officers' widows to £61,000, and, through the Special Grants Committee, to £r3,000, a total of £88,000, whereas the amount paid out to the children and dependants of non-commissioned officers and men works out at £83,000. The Minister shakes his head. If he disputes my figures, I hope he will give us the exact figures. I had intended raising in more detail other matters, but I think I have said enough to show that all is not well so far as the internal administration of pension matters are concerned, and I hope I have said one or two things which will induce the Minister of Pensions, in order to satisfy the uneasiness that prevails, to grant the House, the country, and the ex-service men that inquiry into the Able pensions adminiatration which alone can satisfy us.
There are two matters on which I should like to ask the Committee to allow me, before sitting down, to say a few words. The first is in regard to final awards. I know that the Minister stands by the principle of final awards. I want, again, to suggest to him that in this matter grave injustice is -being done to very large numbers of ex-service men. Medical science never has been and never will be an exact science. It is impossible for any medical man to say that 12 months or two years hence a man will be in a certain condition, and that his pension can be dealt with on the ground of what he may predict his condition will be. That is a sheer impossibility. A man who, for instance, has been receiving a pension on a 14 to 19 per cent. basis, having been given a final award which will terminate two years after the award has been made, may find, 14 or 15 months afterwards, that his disability, directly due to war service, has worsened. Under the existing Regulations, however, he is told that, as he has failed to appeal against the final award within 12 months of that award, he cannot have his case heard before the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. Those limitations and restrictions which are now present in pensions administration may be perfectly legal, and you may justify them by 833 appealing to Royal Warrants and existing Regulations, but they are merely legal obstacles which are permitted to exist as barriers in the way of men getting what, 1 believe, the House and the country wants every ex-service man to get, and I appeal to the Minister to get away from the idea that his discretionary power enables him to deal with all cases of hardship, and to place the ex-service man in a position where he can claim his pension upon medical diagnosis as a statutory right and not as a matter of grace. I apply that to the seven years' limit and to all those quibbling limitations which ought never to have existed at all.
The other matter I want to say a word about is the position of widows. I do not think the case of the ex-service man's widow, her position and her dangers, has ever been properly realised by this House. We cannot make full amends to a widow for the loss of the breadwinner by giving her a few shillings a week for herself and her children; but the most vicious aspect of ' pensions administration so far as widows are concerned is that a large number of widows have had their pensions stopped on the ground of what the Minister of Pensions pleases to call a "moral lapse." I think it quite improper, as I have said before, that the Ministry of Pensions should set itself up as a sort of moral censor of the conduct of war widows. That not done, so far as I know, in any other department of public life. The Minister of Pensions would not wish to see the system followed so far as his own administrative staff are concerned. Think of the temptation, if you will, and of the danger in which a young war widow is placed who has to maintain herself on a few shillings which the Ministry of Pensions will give her if she has not been discovered in any moral lapse: The mere consideration of her position ought to remove any possibility of our lending ourselves to this wicked inquisition into the private conduct and moral behaviour of those who, in my judgment, are getting from the State nothing more than they are entitled to. But even if we think the Minister of Pensions justified in his moral censorship, and even if the war widow is guilty and I do not admit that she was in very many cases in which she has been penalised—ought we not to con- 834 sider the effect which the stoppage of her pension has on the well-being of the children for whose maintenance she is responsible? We are not merely hurting the widow—teaching her a lesson—but penalising the children and compelling her to have recourse to the Poor Law. I think these are legitimate points of criticism, but I will not detain the Committee longer, for I hope that on some other day we may be able to return to this Vote and give it more detailed consideration than we can to-day.
§ Major COHEN
I have been awaiting this Vote, as there are several things I wish to bring to the notice of the House. While I am ready to admit, while, indeed, I gladly assert, that the majority of ex-Service men in this country are treated better than those in the rest of Europe, there is still a minority about whom a certain number of us disagree with the Government. I do not think, however, this is a moment to put forward t heir claims. I was surprised that this Vote was taken to-day, for it seems to me that while the controversy is going on anyone who is not for the Government is against the Government, and I, for one, do not intend to embarrass the Government in any way by any single item of criticism. The British Legion has been mentioned in this debate, and while the attitude of the British Legion on certain items regarding pensions is well known, I think it will interest the House to know that only a few days ago a resolution was passed by the British Legion urging all ex-Service men, who saved their country during the war, once again to support the authorities and the Government of the country. I think the majority of ex-Service men will agree that T ought not to put forward their particular ease to-day, when the case of so many others is of considerably greater importance and more urgent. That is all I want to say.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I would like to offer one or two observations following the remarks of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. T. Kennedy) with reference to those widows who for some reason or other have been deprived of their pensions, in some cases for considerable periods. The Minister of Pensions will recall that quite recently I brought an individual case to his notice, and the 835 right hon. Gentleman's influence was largely responsible, presumably, for getting the pension re-issued. What I wish to draw attention to, however, is the faulty mechanism under which a widow who may have several children dependent upon her gets her pension withdrawn, and it is two, three or four years before there is any possibility of her securing it again, notwithstanding the fact that she is living a fully moral life. The case I have referred to is only one of many that hon. Members could bring forward, in which a poor woman who lost her husband during the war may have developed relationships with some individual while anticipating, perhaps, that a real union might follow. Unfortunately, however, those hopes are not always realised, with very sad, and even disastrous, consequences to the widow and her children.
In the case I am referring to a woman, because of one lapse, was deprived of her pension for between four and five years. It is not so much the widow who is called upon to suffer as the children, who are in no way responsible for anything that may have occurred. I am sure the Minister agrees that no widow ought to forfeit her pension unless she has committed some immoral crime for which there is no sort of forgiveness. But the forfeiture of the pension in this particular case was the result of reports made by voluntary workers, which were subsequently found to be inaccurate and could not be relied upon at all. For four years that widow, while suffering all the anguish of having lost her husband, was called upon to endure a further agony as the result of some faulty information supplied by a "nosey-Parker voluntary worker" who ought never to have been permitted to deal with any individual case. The right hon. Gentleman ought to see to it that before any widow has to forfeit her pension very reliable evidence is forthcoming, and it ought to be forthcoming month after month—the woman ought not to be penalised for years as the result of one report which turns out to be a faulty one. When these eases arc brought to his notice the Minister sometimes shows righteous indignation, because he cannot believe that women have been deprived of pensions unless they have committed some crime. The Special Grants Committee are charged with responsibility in these cases, and while it is difficult to 836 ascertain the working of their minds, I think it is true to say they rely almost wholly upon voluntary workers, not all of whom have the best characters themselves. People charged with this responsibility should be of high moral character themselves, should be made absolutely responsible for all their statements, and should act in a strictly impartial spirit, and then the chances are that these cases would not be so frequent in future.
I have also one or two observations to make on Appeal Tribunals and Medical Boards, which are closely allied to one another. I have in mind the cases of certain men who, beyond any shadow of doubt, are suffering from physical disabilities arising from their war service, are unable to follow their normal occupation and are unable to find an occupation fitted to their present condition. After having been before the Medical Boards time and time again they go finally, to an Appeal Tribunal, in the hope of being awarded a pension consistent with the physical disabilities under which they are labouring. They win their appeal before the tribunal, and become entitled to a pension, but the next thing that happens is that the Ministry calls upon them to attend another medical board, and that medical board can determine that. they have no pensionable disabilities, although the appeal tribunal, which consists very often of two medical men end one other member, have decided in their favour. The consequence is that the men do not get a- single penny piece, and must wait a further twelve months often dependent on the poor law before there is any chance of securing any financial benefit at all. Whether or not a select committee should he set up, as has been suggested, I think there is room for further investigation into many of the rules and regulations dealing with tribunals, medical boards and the various departments dealing with ex-service men.
Another question I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether there has been any change in the methods of dealing with men, who are suffering as a result of war service and should be on treatment allowance? Many cases have been brought to his notice where an individual has been in some institution and his dependants have been receiving treatment allowances: but when the man returns home there is no allowance for him 837 although he is informed that he must still go for treatment to his panel doctor, though the panel doctor may tell him that he is incapable of work and must not attempt to go to work.
The right hon. Gentleman will better understand the peculiar type of case if I remind him of certain ex-service men who work in some of the deep coal mines of this country. Unless they are physically fit they are quite incapable. of doing their normal work. Probably they are suffering from some physical disability, and the doctor in the district realises better than most other people whether they are fit for work down the mine or not. Sometimes these men come into contact with the medical experts representing the Ministry of Pensions. A local doctor will give a man weekly notes for education purposes or National Health Insurance, thereby showing that the man is incapable of following his work and yet because the medical man representing the Ministry of Pensions slates that the man ought to be following his normal occupation, no treatment allowance is forthcoming. There are thousands of these cases in which they are receiving Poor Law relief because the medical man representing the Ministry of Pensions is taken as being right every time, while the panel doctor who knows more about these cases than the experts, is ignored almost in every individual case.
The only other observation I wish to make is in regard to educational grants to children. I am sure if the right hon. Gentleman had an individual case brought to his notice he would not hesitate to provide for the child of any man who lost his life in the War with an opportunity of acquiring a really good education. As a matter of fact when we come to examine such cases as a whole, we know many instances in which after they have been brought to the notice of the Special Grants Committee, they have inquired into the question as to whether if the father had lived he would have been in a position to provide his child with secondary or continued education. They analyse the potential wages which the father would have been receiving if he had been alive, and invariably the balance of opinion goes in favour of the Ministry of Pensions and against the child, with the result that these children are often 838 deprived of a real opportunity of acquiring a reasonable education.
The Minister of Pensions has stated this afternoon that the amount of money required for pension purposes is a diminishing quantity for four or five different reasons which the right hon. Gentleman clearly explained, but because the amount is diminishing it does seem to me that as the children who really need and apply for a continued education are a very small number the total expense would be extremely small, and I think we can afford to be generous rather than harsh when appeals of this kind are made for a continued education in the case of orphan children. What is now happening seems to be a tightening up of the rules when these applications are made, and I think the purse strings of the Special Grants Committee ought to be loosened somewhat, and the same applies to all those committees who deal with such eases. Wherever possible I think as many children who apply, and who can benefit by a continued education should be given that privilege in much larger numbers than has been the case up to the present.
§ Sir HENRY CRAIK
I realise that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy(Mr. Kennedy) and the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) have carefully avoided anything of an acrimonious character in this discussion. At the same time there are certain points which I would like to raise. I am not going to enter upon that very difficult question relating to the morality of the women, but I would ask the hon. Member who has just sat down whether his suggestion in regard to educational grants is really a reasonable one. The hon. Member asked why the education grants were stopped in the case of the children of war widows. I gravely doubt myself whether anyone could point to a single child of a widow whose husband was killed in the War and where the widow desired secondary education for her children, where she has not been able to get it.
With regard to what the hon. Member said about the special doctors engaged by the Ministry of Pensions, 1 would like to ask is it right that the Ministry's medical officers, who have specialised in looking into these cases, and have brought all their scientific knowledge to-hear upon them, should be disregarded 839 and the panel doctor made the chief and final court of appeal. The hon. Member said he was sorry to hear the Minister advocate continuity of administration and he thought there ought to be no s[...]ch continuity. 1 would like to ask him whether he thinks that the ex-Minister of Pensions in the Labour Government would say that that is a safe doctrine to preach to the House of Commons, more especially when it is borne in mind that different parties may occupy the Treasury Bench in turn. Is it to be said that you may advance pensions to any extent, and that there should be no limit? What was the history of the pension system in the United States? Was there not there something of that very dangerousߞߞ
§ The CHAIRMAN
I imagine that would require legislation, and it is not in the discretion of the Minister. Therefore, it cannot be discussed in Committee of Supply.
Sir H. CRA I K
I only made that remark because the hon. Member opposite referred to it as an ideal system. I wish to say a few words in regard to what has been said about having a centralised system, because I happen to know something about the Origin of that system. When the first Pensions Ministry was established in 1915 or 1916, the proposal then was that there should be a Pensions Commission, and I opposed that proposal with all the vigour I could, because I thought that a Pensions Commission would lead to extra confusion and dissipation of power and machinery all over the country and make it amorphous and unworkable. Unfortunately I was persuaded to become a member of that Commission, and I was asked to take a position upon it. I never ceased to regret doing so, because it proved to be such a culpable waste of time, and a more impractical commission it never was my lot to see.
We had a few rather inferior officials, and we were called together every morning at 10 o'clock. This went on for some time until it came to the length that there was laid before us one morning an elaborate scheme for the distributing of the rooms in a single house that was' to he handed over to the Ministry. That certainly was a question which ought to be settled by the Permanent Secretary of 840 the Department. What was the consequence? We had committees, advisory bodies, and deputy chairmen all piling upon us suggestions, and giving some particular answer to the question as it presented itself to them in their own little districts.
What was the result? About £1,000,000 was placed at the disposal of the Pensions Commission but fifteen months afterwards they had not spent even the interest on that. £1,000,000. I have watched the work of the Ministry of Pensions very closely, and I was in very close touch with the admirable Minister of Pensions under the Labour Government, and I am sure he learned how much that administration had gained by centralisation and how much it had thrown off of nonsense and waste of time. We owe a great deal to the centralised authority and the regularity at the Ministry of Pensions. We have regional councils, and my own countrymen have tried to raise the red flag over the abolition of the regional council for Scotland. I do not the least identify myself, as a Scottish Member, with the opposition to the action of the Ministry in that respect; I would only ask hon. and right hon. Members opposite—who, I recognise, have brought into the discussion nothing of anger or acrimony—to put themselves in the place of the Minister, and ask themselves whether it is not possible that, among all the intricate details upon which they have expressed themselves with so much fervour, there is some other aspect that may be quietly argued? I do not think that, if the Minister of Pensions in the Labour Government had been here today, he would have quite joined in with all that his colleagues have said.
§ Mr. R. MORRISON
I rise with the object of directing the attention of the Committee generally, and of the Minister in particular, to one point, and that is with regard to the very large number of ex-service men who have developed or are developing tuberculosis of the lungs. The right hon. Gentleman, in his statement, if I understood it correctly, mentioned that there were at the present time 2,000 men in sanatoria. I presume that by that he meant 2,000 men whose cases were attributable to or aggravated by war service. I think, however, that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that, 841 in addition to those 2,000 men for whom the Ministry is responsible, there must be thousands of ex-service men in sanatoria whom the Ministry disown. A very large number of men during the last two or three years have been turned down on the ground that the tuberculosis they had developed was neither attributable to nor aggravated by war service. I would like to ask whether the medical officers who reach these decisions are taking all the facts into consideration? Are they satisfied that all of these young men, who, a few years ago, were perfectly sound in body and limb, would, even had they not been in war service, have been suffering to-day from tuberculosis of the lungs? If the decision be that, even if all these young men had not joined the Army and gone through the privations of active service, they would still have developed in a few years tuberculosis of the lungs, I, as a mere layman, with no professional knowledge of the matter, must beg to differ.
Take the case of the men, of whom there were thousands, who had malaria, or repeated severe attacks of trench fever. I suggest to the Committee that, as a result of that, the constitution of these men was seriously undermined, they were never able to get into a state of what one would call robust health, and, as a. result, tuberculosis of the lungs got them when otherwise it would not have done so. I am prepared to admit that they have not contracted it directly as a result of their war service, but the point I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Committee is that, if they did not contract it as a result of their war service, they, at any rate, contracted the physical condition which prevented their complete recovery and made them easy victims when they came back into civil life.
We hear a great deal in these Debates about the benefit of the doubt. I should like to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the benefit of the doubt ought to be extended to all ex-Service men suffering from tuberculosis of the lungs. What happens if one asks the average medical officer, "Are you prepared to say that the thousands of young men who are suffering to-day from tuberculosis of the lungs would have been suffering from it if they had not served in the War?" The average doctor will reply cautiously that 842 he cannot state definitely, but that it is quite likely that the war service has been a contributory factor. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that that ought to be enough, and I suggest, further, that in all these thousands of cases—I am sure there is not a Member of the House who has not had very many of them brought to his notice—insufficient notice is taken of the opinion of the man's own doctor. In cases that arise now, where men have tuberculosis of the lungs, the Ministry demands an almost continuous medical record, but it is probably not realised by the Ministry how reluctant most people are, and particularly men who are liable to lose their employment, to go and see a doctor. The result is that they keep on as long as they can, until they are finally driven to see a doctor, and then find that they are suffering from tuberculosis of the lungs.
I understand that tuberculosis officers and medical officers of sanatoria are forbidden to express an opinion on the question whether a man's tuberculosis has been caused or aggravated by war service. I will take a typical case. I have thousands of them, and I daresay other members have as many as I have. A man develops tuberculosis of the lungs, and is taken away to a sanatorium, or goes to see the county council tuberculosis officer. The Medical Officer says to him, "I think this has been caused by your war service you had better go and see your Member of Parliament, and see whether you can claim a pension." The man then, or someone on his behalf, goes to see his Member of Parliament, and tells him that the medical officer of the sanatorium or the county council tuberculosis officer has expressed the opinion that he is suffering from tuberculosis, and that it has been contracted owing to his war service. When the Member of Parliament does, as every member probably would do in a case like this—as I do, at any rate—namely, tells the man to go back and see the doctor again, and ask him if he will give a statement in writing to the effect that in his opinion the tuberculosis has been caused by war service, in 99 cases out of 100, the medical officer will not give any statement to that effect. I want to ask the Minister whether it is not the fact that tuberculosis officers and medical officers of sanatoria are forbidden to express 843 an opinion as to whether a man's tuberculosis of the lungs has been caused or aggravated by war service.
The question was raised, I think, in the last Debate, as to whether Members of Parliament were justified in taking any notice of individual pension cases that were brought to their notice. As far as I, and, I think, Members in all parts of the House, are concerned, we do not want these individual cases. There is a tremendous amount of trouble in dealing with them. I would, however, like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, if Members of Parliament refuse to have anything at all to do with individual cases, they can always rest assured that those cases will get the same attention? The right hon. Gentleman nods his head in the affirmative. Let me, however, give an example. It. does not come directly under his department, but it was an experience that I had, and I shall never forget it as long as I have anything to do with war pensions. A man died in my constituency from tuberculosis of the lungs, leaving a widow and five or six children. The widow applied for a widow's pension, and received notice from the Ministry that she was not eligible for a war widow's pension. She then appealed to the Tribunal, on the ground that the Ministry had turned her case down. She was in very poor circumstances, and I did something that I very rarely do—I said that, as she had no one to help her, I would, if I could spare the time go down to the Tribunal with her and act as her representative and put die circumstances before the Tribunal.
On the day before we had to go before the Tribunal, I spent nearly two hours going into all the details, getting documentary evidence from the man's previous employers, and generally trying to get up as good a case as I could to put before the Tribunal on behalf of this widow, whose pension had been turned down by the right hon. Gentleman's department. We got down to Cecil Chambers, in the Strand, where the Pensions Appeal Tribunal meets, and, after being kept outside for about half an hour—I am not complaining about that at all—we were called into the room. The widow and myself went in, and then, to my surprise, the Chairman of the Tribunal said, "I suppose you are busy?" I said, "Well, I 844 am; we are all busy nowadays; but I am not too busy to find time to go into this ease." He said, "I do not think we will trouble you; we have decided to grant this appeal." Neither the widow nor I had uttered a single syllable.
I am just putting the facts as they actually happened. I have no desire to score any point of any kind, but I would now like to take the attention of the Committee hack to the point I made before I told this incident. I was asking whether members of Parliament, who, I am perfectly certain, do not like to have the worry of all these cases, can be assured that, if these people are left to themselves to see their own cases through, they will get just as much consideration as when a Member of Parliament happens to take an interest in their cases and back them up. I should be glad to have an assurance from the Minister that that is so. There may be some perfectly reasonable explanation of the incident I have given, but I think every member of the House will agree with me that it was certainly an extraordinary coincidence, and I should like to feel satisfied in my mind that, if that widow had gone before the Tribunal by herself, without anybody to speak for her, the same announcement would have been made to her that the Tribunal had decided to grant the appeal without hearing any argument. The right hon. Gentleman nods his head in the affirmative, and I completely and entirely accept his assurance, which I am very glad to have. I think that every member of the House will admit that the circumstances of the case I have narrated were extraordinary, and they certainly surprised me. I do not think I have introduced any acrimony into the discussion, and I have no desire to do so, either now or at any other time, but I do want to appeal to the Minister, who, I know is sympathetic towards all classes of these men, on behalf of those who are suffering from tuberculosis of the lungs.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir GERALD HOHLER
I wish to put a point arising upon the case of a widow who subsequently married. Under the warrant she thereby receives small gratuity and loses her pension. In this case the woman was entirely deceived by the man, who committed bigamy, she believing him 845 to be a single man. It was found out, and the Ministry was applied to to restore the pension subject to the deduction of the gratuity she had received, but they entirely refused to do so. I submit that that was entirely wrong, and, what is more, it is a whole change of policy. I myself have personal knowledge of a case where a contrary decision was given. The, woman had been deceived, and the man had committed bigamy. The Ministry restored the pension, subject, of course, to the deduction of the gratuity. I think the gratuity was really written off against the arrears of pension. On what ground does my right hon. Friend now refuse to restore the widow to the position in which she was? I can find no justification for it under the warrant, and I think the Minister will agree, now that his attention is brought to the case, that it is a very great hardship. There is no justice in it. There has been no immorality on the part of the woman. She thought she was lawfully married, and then found she had been deceived. I hope my right hon. Friend will tell me this is a mistake, that the administration is what it used to be, and that this widow is entitled to the restoration of her pension.
§ Mr. PALING
I should like to refer to the question of education. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir H. Craik) said he did not think anyone could point to a single case where a child had been proved capable of benefiting by secondary education where a grant had been refused. But I do not think that is the principle on which grants are made, as to whether the child is fit for secondary education. If my memory serves me aright, the test is whether the economic status of the father was such that, had he lived, the child would probably have been given secondary education. It is a question of the economic circumstances entirely, and that is why we think a good many applicants are being dealt with very hardly. I am very glad to note that this year the recommendations for special grants have been increased from £80,000 to £83,000. I believe a few weeks ago the Minister himself indicated that there was an idea of dealing more generously with this question, and that seems to be carrying it out to a very small degree.
846 The whole point of view from which secondary education is looked at to-day by the working classes has altered. It may have been that in 1914 there were relatively very few parents who gave their children secondary education. They could not afford it. But from 1914, particularly from 1918 upwards, the number of working class people who are anxious that their children should have secondary education has grown enormously. During the five years that I was a member of an education authority, the number of children sitting for scholarships grew by thousands every year, and the number who are gaining them grew too. In addition the number of children who either did not sit for scholarships, or whose parents, if they failed, were anxious for them to have secondary education and were willing to make sacrifices for it, grew enormously year by year. So fast were they growing that we found it impossible to build secondary schools fast enough to accommodate them. In view of this, although the Minister may be legally and technically correct in his interpretation of the Act as it stands, in view of this later development, I think a much more generous interpretation might have been given to this question. When I look through the figures relating to educational grants, I find under C.1, Pensions and Gratuities to Disabled Officers of the Navy, Marine, Army and Air Force, the amount to be given this year is £15,000. On the next page, under E, to the children of deceased officers of the Navy, Marine, Army and Air Force a sum of £61,000, and on the following page, under G, Special Grants to the Children of Officers and their Families from the Special Grants Committee, Children's Educational Allowances, £13,000. So that there is a total of £89,000 provided for the coming year for the children of officers.
I am not complaining about it. They have a right to a good education, and apparently they are going to get it, but I am complaining that to spend £89,000 in the case of children of officers, who were relatively very few in proportion to the number of men in the ranks and noncommissioned officers, and only to spend £83,000 in the case of the men, is hardly fair treatment. I suggest to the Minister that he might extend his powers, which I think are very large in relation to this 847 question, to the very utmost limit, in order that the children of these people shall not suffer because their fathers happened to be killed in the War or disabled and pensioned off. The children of thousands of these people are sitting for scholarships, and surely the fact that a child has gained a scholarship, or is thought fit to sit for the examination, is sufficient evidence that it is capable of benefiting by secondary education, and surely it is not asking too much that when application is made these children shall be given special grants. I had occasion some months ago to bring a case from my own district to the notice of the Minister. It was dealt with very generously. I want to give credit where credit is due. I asked a question some few months ago, how many of these applications had been sent in, and I was rather dismayed at the number that had been turned down. I am asking now that the right hon. Gentleman will deal more generously with these cases in the future than he has done in the past.
There is another question I should like to raise. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the advisory councils were to be abolished. I should like to know whether those are the councils which were set up during the tenure of office of the Labour Ministry, and if so, why? Also can he give us some idea as to the percentage of recommendations which have come in from all those bodies which have been accepted by the Ministry, and how many have been turned down. In particular, is it a fact that nearly every one of these Committees has from time to time complained of she working of the seven year's limit and of the final awards. Have they all made frequent suggestions to him that it is time this whole business was gone into, either by a Select Committee or by some other method? In reply to my hon. Friend who spoke from the front bench, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities, when speaking against continuation of policy, said that in his opinion, had the Labour Ministry of Pensions been here, he would not have agreed with it, but I think he would, because although the Labour Ministry thought he could alter a good many of the hardships that then existed by a more generous interpretation of administration, 848 when speaking in this House a year ago my right hon. Friend said:I want to submit that the time has now come for setting up a strong Select Committee, representative of all parties in this House, to delve into all the intricacies of this pensions administration once more."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 26th May, 1925, col. 1256, Vol. 184.]Most of these advisory councils have dealt with these matters and made these suggestions, and in view of the fact that last year 300 Members of the House signed a petition asking for the same thing, and that now, years after the War, Members are pestered with letters from people with grievances, does not the right hon. Gentleman think there should be a change in this direction and a Select Committee set up? An hon. Member below the Gangway asked if the right hon. Gentleman would make some reference to the question of the resignation of the Special Grants Committee. The Minister simply stated it was a fact that they had resigned, but he had succeeded in getting someone still to sit.
§ Major TRYONindicated dissent.
§ Mr. PALING
In any event, I should like him to give us some explanation why they resigned, and will he tell us at the same time whether this Committee had power to deal with things apart from the Minister, or whether in any question that they dealt with, he had power to alter their decision, and whether he has interfered time after time with their decisions and whether it is because of that that the Special Grants Committee have resigned. If they have not resigned for any of the reasons I have suggested, will he tell us what the reasons are.
I have one question to put to the Minister, and by a curious coincidence it is nearly the same question that was asked by the hon. and learned Member for Gillingham (Sir G. Hohler). I, too, know a case of a lady who was in receipt of a widow's pension in the ordinary way under the 1919 Warrant. She re-married a man who was impotent. She obtained a decree of nullity dissolving the marriage. The pension was stopped although she obtained the decree of nullity and the marriage was therefore void ab initio as though it had never taken place. She applied for a restoration of her pension. It seems to me that this is a case in 849 which equity demands that the pension should have been restored. The view taken by the Minister, I believe with some hesitation, was different, because I understand that after consulting with his legal advisers he came to the conclusion that she, was not entitled in these circumstances to the pension. That is a slightly different case from that mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Gillingham. My hon. and learned Friend tells me that his case was not of a marriage at all.
The reason that I was going to offer to the Minister for the extraordinary action which he has taken in the case I have mentioned, was that he is confusing a lot of old decisions which seem to establish a difference between a marriage which was void because it never in fact took place according to law, and a marriage declared void ab initio, although during its currency it was a good marriage. In later cases under the law of nullity. I say this having some special knowledge, and having had occasion to look into many eases in which I have practised in the Courts, that distinction has disappeared almostly completely. In fact, where a marriage is declared null and void by the Court of competent jurisdiction in this country, for every purpose it is just as if that marriage had never taken place. The decree of the Court in such a case is declaratory, and it is declaratory of the fact that there has been no marriage.
In these circumstances I submit for the Minister's consideration that he has no legal ground upon which he can stand in saying that the widow in these circumstances ought not to suffer the deprivation of her pension. Apart from the legal grounds altogether, on equitable grounds the discretion which the warrant vests in the Minister could hardly be exercised more disastrously than in a case like that to which I have referred. There can be no conceivable justification for the exercise by the Minister of his discretion against a case such as that. The woman on every moral ground is obviously entitled to regard herself as in the same position as if the unfortunate episode, which was not, a marriage, had never taken place. If these cases are to be precedents, I submit that they should be very closely examined and that the Min- 850 ister should review the exercise of his discretion in the light of my observations.
Mr. PILCH ER
I have no intention of making either a legal or a long speech, but there are one or two points to which I would like to draw the attention of the Minister. I have no complaint personally, for when I have brought cases to his notice they have received the most courteous attention. I should like to refer to the intention of closing or of reducing to a part-time office the pensions office at Truro. The county of Cornwall is a very long straggling one, with only horizontal connections or, at any rate, very few vertical connections, and with indentations in the coast. I understand that with respect to the office at Truro it is proposed to take it away to Plymouth. I realise that it is proposed to carry out this change in the interests of economy. I have the greatest sympathy with the motive of economy, but I do think that the ease of Cornwall is a very special one, and merits the consideration of the Minister. The proposal came before the County Pensions Committee a little while ago, and 13 votes were cast against it and only one in its favour.
I have received statistics of the amount of work done in the Truro office during the six menthe immediately preceding the consideration of the ease by the Pensions Committee, and I find that 2,711 letters were sent to the office and 3,086 were dispatched from the office during the six months. From my own experience as a member for one of the Cornwall constituencies, I can testify that there is a very large amount of business going through that office. From all parts of the constituency I am receiving persistent inquiries regarding cases, some of which, judged on the mere grounds of ethics and logic, seem to a plain man to be very hard cases. There is one case in which a woman was debarred from her pension because her husband died more than seven years after he received his injuries. She has no pension and she and her children are dependent on the guardians. There is another case at the other end of my constituency in St. Austell, which relates to the question of final awards. It is the case of a man who had a very good war record. He was employed by a firm of china clay merchants. He did good ser- 851 vice in the war, and he was awarded a 40 per cent. disability in 1922 on the ground of arthritie.
The award was adequate to the man's condition at that time, but when last in my constituency, I received a letter from the firm which employed him saying that it is now impossible for him to do any sort of manual labour, or any sort of hard work. The man saw me, and insisted on unclothing himself so that I might see his condition. He is a perfectly hopeless cripple, and the award is now totally inadequate to the merits of the case. I have sent the employer's letter to the Minister, and I am sure that he will deal with the case on its merits. I am receiving that sort of letter from all over my constituency. There are these hard cases. We do feel that it is a mistake to take the office away from Truro when that office is dealing with four or five thousand letters every half year Moreover, there are something like 200 voluntary workers who feel that it is an imposition upon them to take this work to Plymouth.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
I should like to mention the ease of a man who fought in the War, and sustained three wounds in the thigh. The medical reports show that there is still shrapnel in one of the wounds. Nevertheless, the man's pension has been stopped. His applications for pension have been turned down. When I was home last week he appealed to me to approach the Minister. I cannot understand the reason for turning down this case. Last week I went to see the man, and I found that one of the wounds was still running. He is a miner, a very steady man, and a very good type of man. With a running wound, he cannot risk the danger of contact with water at his work, because that would kill him right off. We have had no redress in that case so far. I do not claim to be a medical man, but it does not require a medical man to know that when a thigh has been punctured and one of the wounds is open it is impossible for a man to follow his usual occupation. Cases of this kind tend to bring discredit upon the administration of pensions. I served on a local pensions committee, and I can understand many of the difficulties, but I do suggest that there is too much red 852 tape and less sympathy and human touch in dealing with these cases then was shown at the beginning.
I know from personal experience that hon. Members opposite are just as keen as we are that justice should be done to the men who served their country and suffered thereby; but, unfortunately, for some time past we have been getting one answer when we send cases to the Ministry. When I was a Member of the House in the last Parliament I appealed to the present Minister as an ex-soldier. I thought that with a soldier as Minister of Pensions he would know what the men did and what they suffered and the feelings they would have if they thought they were badly treated, and that we might get more sympathetic consideration. But I am inclined to think that he, too, is beginning to forget. If the nation forgets and if the Minister forgets it will leave a very bad feeling in the minds of these men. I hope that when this case is sent back to the Minister we shall get better treatment than we have received so far. I can assure the Minister that, despite anything that may be in the medical report, the man is suffering as a result of his service in the War. Indeed, the medical report says that there is still shrapnel in one of the wounds, and I know that one of the wounds is open. That makes the man incapable of attending to his work.
§ Major TRYON
I desire to thank hon. Members who have taken part in the debate for their contributions, in telling me of the difficulties which they find, and putting forward their criticism so moderately. I will take in order the various points that have been raised, beginning with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. T. Kennedy). I am sorry he is not in his place, but I know that he has been present during the greater part of the debate. He spoke of the reduction in the cost of pensions and the reduction of the vote, and suggested that it was clue to final awards. That is an extraordinary mistake. It is the final award which secures the pension of the man from reduction. The hon. Member cannot have appreciated the advantage which it is to a man to get a final award of pension for life.
The hon. Member also spoke of the centralisation of our work, and criti- 853 cised it very severely; but he forgot to mention that it was the policy, and the right policy, of the late Government to carry out centralisation. It was in accordance with speeches made by members of the late Government before they assumed office. Perhaps I may quote again the statement made by the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Roberts) when he said that it was the definite policy of the Ministry with which he entirely agreed, that all the regional headquarters should in due course be absorbed in the central office in London. Therefore hon. Members speaking from the front bench opposite must be careful in attacking a policy which was carried out, and quite rightly, by their own Government when they were in office. The hon. Member also referred to the disproportion of the higher staff to the rest of the staff, and to our failure to reduce the staff. I would point out that in regard to the staff of Pension Issue Office the Whitley Council has made representations that the higher staff is inadequate and should he increased. Centralisation does not lead to additional expense but to considerable reductions. The present Vote of £1,962,900 for Administration covers the whole of the administration. In a previous Vote the regional system alone was responsible for £2,000,000, but the abolition of the regional system and the centralisation of that part of the work has led undoubtedly to great reductions in the administrative cost. The hon. Member male the mistake of confusing regional offices with area offices, which do maintain a personal touch with pensioners.
I was greatly tempted to interrupt the hon. Member when he referred to the Statistical Department, but I refrained. One of the uses of the Statistical Department is to reply to the numerous questions put by hon. Members, but it has a much more important part to play in the administration. Whatever the Vote of the Ministry may be the pensions paid out depend not upon the Estimates provided for the year, but upon the decisions of the medical boards and the number of men who have a right to a pension. What I mean is this. In the case of other Departments it may be possible to limit expenditure to the exact amount of the Vote, but the Ministry of 854 Pensions cannot. It is important that we should keep to the closest possible approximation in our estimates to our expenditure. There have been cases when enormous over-estimates were made. The work, of course, was incredibly difficult, but a large over-estimate only means the raising of a large amount of additional taxation without any corresponding benefit going to pensioners. It is important, therefore, that we should have a just estimate of what we are likely to spend, and in that matter the Statistical Department of the Ministry plays an important part.
It has been suggested in the course of the debate that the amount of money we are spending in Canada, £23,000, is a good deal more than we ought to spend considering the small number of pensioners in Canada. We were spending at the rate of £38,000 a year, but under the new arrangements we have made a saving of £15,000, and we are now only spending £23,000 on administration work in Canada. The Committee, I think, will agree with this expenditure. We are, in fact, spending about £1,000,000 a year in Canada, and it is our duty to do all we can to keep in touch with the pensioners who have gone overseas, and who are living in the scattered districts in this great Dominion. I do not think the House will grudge the expenditure we are making in an endeavour to see that our administration in Canada is being properly carried on, and I take this opportunity of thanking the Canadian Government for the way they have assisted us in this task.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Will the Minister of Pensions reply to the question put to him by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. T. Kennedy), as to how many ex-service men we had in Canada for whom this money is expended.
§ Major TRYON
The number of pensioners in Canada is 15,000, and when hon. Members consider that they are scattered all over that great Dominion, I do not think they will consider the expenditure too much. I must say that I was somewhat astonished that any hon. Member should attack the work of "Officers' Friend." Extraordinary complicated and difficult questions have to be considered and dealt with, and officers have not those local committees and 855 voluntary workers which are at the disposal and service of other ranks. The least we can do is to provide officers with a corresponding aid and assistance in order to help them with the very technical and difficult questions regarding their warrants and pensions, and to help them in putting their case to the Ministry. The question of widows and the forfeiture of pensions is an extremely difficult subject, and I cannot do better than put the position plainly and bluntly to the House. When a war widow marries she unquestionably loses her pension. That is the law; but the point at issue is this. Can she evade that law by living with a man, possibly have several children by him, and maintain her pension merely by not going through a legal form of marriage. That is our difficulty, and those who criticise us in this matter do not quite realise that there is the other side of the question. The feeling is very strong that a woman should not be entitled to draw her pension when she is living with another man.
Mr. WI LLIAMS
Will the Minister bear in mind that the general complaint is that the forfeiture of the pension ranges over a number of years when no adverse reports can be levelled against the widow—that a woman has been misled by some unscrupulous man into an unfortunate position for which she is now suffering.
§ Major TRYON
I quite realise the hon. Member's point, but I do not think hon. Members quite appreciate the large number of these pensions that are restored. A very large number of them are restored, and this is one of the most difficult tasks which the special grants Committee have to undertake. With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Tottenham North, (Mr. R. Morrison) I should like to tell him that the only reason I left my place when he was addressing the Committee was to get the highest medical opinion I could on the point he raised. Medical officers fully realise the difficulties of the question of the connection between tuberculosis and war service. They are conscious of the difficulties of the problem, and in many ways these cases have received special consideration. A question was raised about the Tribunals. These tribunals are set up over me. I am not responsible for 856 them. They are independent bodies. When they go into each case, they have all the information of the case set before them.
We have to choose between two explanations of the incident described by the Hon. Member for Tottenham. One is that before the applicant himself appeared before them the Tribunal had decided to grant the case, so impressed was the tribunal by the facts as put before it in the precis prepared by the Ministry of Pensions itself. The other suggestion is that the formidable appearance before the tribunal of the Hon. Member for Tottenham so terrified that body that it immediately granted the applicant his pension. I rather expect that it was on the principle of justice that they proceeded to grant the case.
§ Mr. R. MORRISON
Will the Minister give the Committee the assurance, I am sure he can, that the poorest and most illiterate in the land, when they go before the tribunal, get as good a hearing as anybody?
§ Major TRYON
I can assure the hon. Member that that is so. The clearest possible instructions are sent to the chairman of the tribunal, to the effect that if an applicant be enable to put his ease properly through illness or from lack of education, he do all he can to make all the points possible in favour of the applicant. That is a very proper instruction. With regard to the question of Members of Parliament and individual cases, I am in some considerable difficulty, because if Members put an individual case to me and it goes through, I am open to the attack that it would not have been considered but for the action of the Member of Parliament, and if it is not successful, then again I am open to the attack that we are hard hearted. At a recent meeting of the new Central Advisory Committee, I was struck by the strong feeling that exists in that committee that as far as possible cases should be kept away from Members of Parliament. It was felt that Members of Parliament should not be involved in the trouble and anxiety of these cases, and they were anxious that the local resources of the Ministry and the ex-Service men's organisations should be utilised by applicants rather than that applicants should write to Members of Parliament. That is the opinion of these voluntary workers.
857 I will look into the case referred to by the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Sullivan). Some of these applications are justified and some are not, but this House has asserted the principle that the decision of the tribunal is binding. The Committee will not expect me to express an opinion at the moment on the cases referred to by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Sir G. Hohler) and the hon. Member for Luton (Captain O'Connor). They are matters at Law and not matters in which I have as Minister, a discretion. I shall be happy to examine these two eases but I cannot express an opinion on them without examining them. The hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Pitcher) referred to the question of the office at Truro. He made a very strong appeal for the retention of that office, but I must remind him that the office will remain in Truro. It is not going to be abolished. The enormous saving in cost which has been effected by a reduction in the duties or status of some of these offices would not have been possible if we had given way to the opposition which has nearly always come when we proposed to do away with or reduce any local office. There is hardly a single case in which we have attempted to centralise and do away with any office which has not met with local resistance, but the fears, the sincere fears, which have been expressed have not been justified by subsequent events after the change was made.
The Special Grants Committee do extraordinary difficult work. They are voluntary workers most of them, and they deal with such matters as the forfeiture of widow's pensions. I have already replied to a question with regard to the resignation of the Special Grants Committee and this is what I said:Certain members of the Committee, 1 regret to say, recently resigned on the ground that they differed from me as to the procedure to be adopted in reviewing, and, so far as necessary, reorganising certain branches of their work particularly on its educational side, and because they wished to give me a free hand in this reorganisation. I have made the necessary new appointments.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April, 1926, col. 2179; Vol. 194.]I hope the Committee will not expect me to say more on this difficult question. I am now awaiting hopefully the success of their deliberations.
§ Mr. R. MORRISON
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman give the Committee any information as to the appointment of the new members of this Special Grants Committee?
§ Major TRYON
The one thing we have had in mind above all others in making these new appointments is that it should bring a larger knowledge of educational matters into the committee. But the position of this committee has been somewhat misunderstood. Suggestions have been made that they pay considerable allowances to the wives and families of officers when they are in hospital and that they do not make corresponding payments to other ranks, and that they have some class bias in the [...]tter. If there be any bias or any inequalit, it is not in favour of but against the officer. The other ranks draw their allowances for their families when in hospital as a matter of course, whereas in the case of the officers it is only those whose need is established who get the allowance. Officers' allowances are made as special grants, but those of the men are in the main block of this Vote.
§ Major TRYON
There were two, but one has since resigned. The representative of other ranks from the British Legion is still a member.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to,— [Captain Bowyer.]
Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.