Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £420,600, be granted to His Majesty, 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.
§ 4.0 p.m.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of PENSIONS (Lieut. Colonel Stanley)
It may be of convenience to the Committee if I explain some of the reasons for asking for this Supplementary Estimate to meet expenditure in excess of the money which we voted at the commencement of the financial year. As I have explained before, there is a possible, though small, margin of error to be allowed for in estimating the expenditure for the year in such a complicated matter as that which the Ministry of Pensions has to administer. At the same time, I have claimed in the past that that possible margin of error was being reduced and we were steadily approaching a period when a more exact estimate would be possible. I am glad to say that events have borne out my anticipation. Two years ago we presented Supplementary Estimates which involved an error of 3 per cent. in the original Estimate; last year it was 2 per cent., and this year it is rather less than 1 per cent. This margin of error is inherent in the nature of the material with which the Ministry have to deal. There are at all times certain factors at work, some of which tend towards a reduction and some of which tend in the opposite direction.
1422 We know what these factors are, but it is impossible to say how they will operate during the course of the next 12 months, Take, for example, the factor of death. That, of course, is operating all the time in the direction of a reduction of the pension list, and it is operating unevenly. In the course of the 12 months we have that factor operating among the officers and men, among the widows, and among the dependent parents. You can only estimate roughly by what has happened in previous years, but any such estimate may be hopelessly thrown out by circumstances, such as climatic conditions, or epidemics, which cannot possibly be foreseen and which may tend either to increase or decrease the number of deaths in the course of the year, Similarly, the factors of the remarriage of widows and the numbers of children who come off the Pensions List, or those who are given extensions of allowances beyond the age of 16, are all subject to small variations one way or the other, and all tend to falsify the calculations. We also have other factors of different kinds at work. There are new claims for pensions or grants of all kinds, which may be made on the Ministry, and it is not very easy to say to what extent the volume of current work will diminish or remain constant. As each year goes by the possible margin of error tends steadily to diminish and the policy of stabilisation which my right hon. and gallant friend has set himself to pursue is working in the direction of greater precision of estimate, but I fear some margin of error is likely to continue, at any rate for a few years.
To turn to the actual Estimates, the Committee will observe that the present Supplementary Estimate is submitted for increased expenditure under one Subhead only, namely, K1, which is Pensions, Gratuities and Allowances to Disabled Seamen and Disabled Warrant Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and Men of all the Fighting Forces, and I think this is an item which the Committee will agree least of all requires any apology. The first cause of this large increase, I am glad to say, is that there have been fewer deaths during this year among pensioners than was deemed probable from the experience of previous years. Apart from particular causes and conditions of any given period 1423 affecting the death-rate, it seems probable that the death-rate among disabled men will decline very slowly in proportion as the more seriously disabled men have been removed, but, whatever the cause, there is a decline, I am glad to note, and it accounts for a very large part of the increase on the Estimate. Another figure which goes to swell the expenditure now under discussion consists of a larger payment of lump sums than was expected. At the termination of weekly allowances, there is also a terminal gratuity to be paid. These grants are made for two or three years, and there is a larger amount falling due than we expected. In these, cases the Ministry have allowed men very freely to compound these gratuities where the local war pensions committee have recommended that it should be done. That accounts for another large item in extra expenditure.
A further factor is that a larger number of allowances were in payment during the year than was anticipated. As hon. Members are no doubt aware, weekly payments are either conditional, that is, liable to periodic review, or final, and it is impossible to tell in advance what the number will be in each class. Our original Estimate has also been affected by a slightly greater increase than we allowed for in the pensions payable in those cases which, owing to more serious injuries or diseases, have been progressively deteriorating, and have therefore been left on the conditional list, the pensions being subject to renewal and adjustment if and when they deteriorate. The cumulative effect of all these factors is that we are asking for a further sum of £600,000 under that heading. That gross sum is reduced to £420,000 by certain reductions in other items. Perhaps I may be allowed to take two sub-heads together, Sub-head A, Salaries, Wages and Allowances, £42,400, and Sub-head O1, Salaries, Wages and Allowances, Medical Services, £5,000, making a total of £47,400.
When the original Estimates were presented we saw our way to a considerable reduction in administrative expenditure. We expected to have a reduction from last year of £406,700. By a reduction in the volume of work and the improvements we have been able to make we have 1424 not only realised that sum of 2406,700, but in addition a further sum of £47,400. Then under Sub-head E, there is a further saving of 235,000 on pensions and gratuities to widows and children of deceased officers. The reason for that is that the number of deaths and the number of remarriages was higher than was anticipated, and at the same time the number of new awards was less than was anticipated. That resulted in a saving of £35,000. Then there is a further saving under Sub-head M on Pensions and Gratuities to Dependants. I have had this item very carefully examined to see what was the cause of it, and I am sorry to say that the cause is an increased number of deaths among these dependants. The Committee will realise that 98 per cent. of dependants are the parents of men who have lost their lives in the service of the country during the Great War, and, of necessity therefore, they are the oldest of the beneficiaries of the Ministry. More than two-thirds of them are 60 years of age and upwards. It is therefore to be expected that, as every year goes by, the death-rate in this class will increase, because the number of new claims now being made is necessarily much lower than it was a few years ago. I am sorry to say that the death-rate during the past year in this class has steadily increased, and we anticipate that there will probably be a thousand more deaths than there were in the preceding year.
The last item on which there has been a saving is the £47,000 under Sub-head O8. This saving is due partly to the reduction in the cost of supply and repair of limbs and appliances which my right hon. and gallant Friend was able to secure on the recommendations of the Committee which sat last year under the presidency of the hon. and gallant Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins) and on which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fairfield (Major Cohen) was a representative. They made certain recommendations which have been adopted by the Ministry and which have resulted in a saving. There is a so a marked diminution in the number of applications which will also result in a large saving. The savings on the original Estimate therefore amount to £179,000, and these I am glad to say have helped to meet the 1425 additional expenditure which the Ministry have incurred in satisfying the claims of disabled men.
§ Mr. F. O. ROBERTS
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
I have no desire to oppose this Vote on the ground that an increased sum is required. I suppose most Members are still troubled with a considerable number of applications from their constituents or from other sources, and will readily understand some of the causes which have been adduced by my hon. and gallant Friend as to the reason why the Minister of Pensions is asking for this increased sum. While I can understand that, and feel a sense of gratification that an increased sum is being asked for in order to meet in some measure the requirements of suffering ex-Service men. I can only express my personal wish that even the aggregate sum which has been named as the increase necessary had been asked for, in which case a few more remedial steps could have been taken to meet the cases which come to the Ministry from time to time. I regard this increase as some little indication that the Ministry are inclined to meet the very definitely expressed wish of the public when they said that a full measure of justice was to be done to the ex-service men and their dependants. Probably, too, a little of the influence in this direction, the change which has brought about the necessity for the increase, has been induced by the activities of Members of local committees, and those examinations which have been made by certain of the advisory councils have brought forward expressions of view that have assisted the Minister in looking for the change which has ensued.
Judging from the number of cases which have been submitted from ex-service men to Members of this House, it seems to me that the increase, rather than being of the stipulated sum asked for, might reasonably have been expected to have been just a little bit more. The Parliamentary Secretary said that it was due in large measure to the fact that the death rate had not reached that magnitude which had been forecast. Every one will be ready to express a profound sense of gratitude that that is the realisation. Perhaps in some way it does indicate that the steps which have been taken to provide the best form of treat- 1426 ment have been at the disposal of ex-service men, and in some measure will account for the diminution in the death rate to which my hon. and gallant Friend has referred. But I did not quite follow him in the line he was taking as to the effect on this Vote which the lump sum payments have exercised. I should be glad if the Minister, when he replies, will give us some further explanation.
I wish to make one or two references to the anticipated savings which my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned in the latter part of his observations. I have yet to convince myself, at any rate, that all these savings can be fully justified. The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to one, in particular, under Sub-head A, which deals with salaries, wages and allowances. There has been a total saving of £42,000. I would ask to what extent this is due to the dismissal of the ex-service men who have been temporarily engaged as civil servants; also how far it is due to the closing of offices in various areas, and whether either of these two circumstances has been a contributor to the saving and a lessening of the facilities which ought to be provided for meeting the requirements of pensioners. It seems to me that a too rapid change of method in an area certainly will affect the demands that pensioners are likely to make to have their cases as readily and as promptly considered as they have a right to expect.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I have scanned this Estimate, with some care, because I was sure that difficulties would arise. I find that, on the ruling of the present Speaker and of Mr. Speaker Lowther, it is not possible to discuss policy, as reflected in savings, on a Supplementary Estimate. On a Supplementary Estimate discussion must be confined to the matter for which money is actually taken. A full explanation of the way in which the savings have been arrived at is in order, but not the discussion of policy upon it.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I thank you for that intervention, and it will keep me on the right lines. I thought, however, that as the Parliamentary Secretary had developed his argument as to how savings had been made, we had a right to question him in return as to whether there was behind the savings any reason 1427 upon which the House had a right to expect an explanation. I will do my best to keep within the ruling which you have been good enough to give. The next item relates to pensions and grants to widows and children of deceased officers. Here we find that there has been the comparatively large saving of £35,000. As I understand the position, there was no reduction in the Estimate for the current year as compared with 1925 and 1926. The figure for both of those years was £1,935,000. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether there has been any decrease in the number of children of officers who have passed off the pension list, or what has been the material event in bringing about this reduction?
Now we come to the more important point of parents' pensions. I was glad to hear the full explanation which the Parliamentary Secretary gave. He said that the figures here are very largely, and, unfortunately, due to the deaths of the aged parents of those who had lost their lives. But I find that the original Estimate showed a reduction of £120,000. We now find that there is a further saving of something like £50,000. It is difficult to follow that this has been contributed to so largely by the unfortunate circumstance to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred as to bring about the big decrease of £120,000 and then of £50,000. I will be very glad if the Minister would give us a few more details. If I might quote one illustration, I would mention a case brought to my notice. When an aged parent becomes entitled to a pension of another kind, some reduction is made in the pension to which she has been already entitled under this scheme. I am wondering if this parent, who suffered reduction, had the allowance made up to the full limit which is now included in the Regulations, and whether, if that were so, the decrease which is shown under this heading might not have been quite so large as we find it. That seems to me likely to have an effect on the scheme as it is now being worked. I believe that everyone will say that no sort of economy ought to be attempted at the secrifice of the comfort and well-being of aged parents of ex-service men who lost their lives. That is the last way in which any- 1428 thing of the kind should be practised, and I am hoping for a little more satisfactory explanation.
The next item deals with medical services. Under this heading we find that there is a saving of £3,000. The original Estimate shows a decrease of £54,000. I wish to know whether this means that treatment from the Ministry doctors has diminished and that more cases are now sent for treatment to the patients' panel doctors. We know quite well that we get complaints from a good number of men who are driven to their panel doctors for treatment when, as they allege, owing to war disability, they should really receive it from Ministry doctors. If this were so, and if these men suffering from this kind of disability were to receive that treatment to which they feel they are entitled under the Regulations, probably we should not find, under the medical services heading, a further reduction of £5,000, added to the £54,000 which was made at the beginning of the year.
The last item is that to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, namely, the supply of artificial appliances. We find that under this heading there has been a further saving of £47,000. The decrease on the Estimate originally was £33,000. I do not know whether I can quite accept the explanation of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. It is true that he has greater opportunities for surveying the actual needs which apply to these figures. Could he tell us to what extent the life of artificial limbs has been extended? Is that one other aspect which affects the reduction? Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us to what extent applications are coming forward for the newer types of limbs, which I understand the Ministry is always ready to supply when the application is made, and to what extent, if these applications are coming, that demand is being met? My hon. and gallant Friend said that the saving was mainly due to the fact that improved contracts had been accepted and were now running. I know that the Ministry is to be congratulated on the very excellent arrangement with regard to the supply of artificial limbs. Anyone who knows the circumstances will readily accord the tribute which is due to anyone who has been concerned in this movement, but when we have a saving approaching £80,000, I wonder whether 1429 these figures are justified and whether the reduction is mainly due to the acceptance of better contracts. I think we are right in declaring that there should not be a reduction if one man is likely to suffer in consequence of what is being done. Those are questions which I put to the Minister, and I shall be, glad if in his reply he will give us further elucidation on the points raised.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I listened with very great attention to the explanation that has been volunteered by my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, and he appeared to me to make out a very good case for this Estimate. When an additional Estimate is asked for in this House for the Ministry of Pensions, I think no Member desires to question the amount, because there is a feeling in the country that we would far rather see as much money as possible added to the Ministry for this purpose than see the sum cut down unnecessarily. I am satisfied that every taxpayer in the country is only too anxious that the pensioner should be looked after properly. My experience of my right hon. Friend at the Ministry reassures me in that respect, because I have been a good deal in touch with pension authorities, and I have been pleasurably and agreeably surprised to find that the work of the Ministry as a whole has been giving remarkable satisfaction to the country. The explanation of the savings is given under five sub-heads and I think the Ministry are to be congratulated on those savings. I was particularly interested in the last sub-head, namely, that which relates to savings in expenditure in connection with the provision of artificial appliances for disabled officers and men. When I was Minister of Pensions the Ministry dealt with this point with very great particularity. I myself, appointed a Committee, and I think my right hon. Friend who spoke last also appointed a Committee. I did not quite catch what my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said on this point, but I hope what he did say was to the effect that the savings under this head were the result of the recommendations of the last Committee appointed and were achieved, not by being stingy, but by means of the better contracts which the 1430 Ministry were able to obtain because of the Committee's recommendations.
I agree with what my right hon. Friend the last speaker said when he was dealing with the saving under another sub-head, namely, the saving in the pensions of dependents; I am certain no Member of this Committee would like to economise at the expense of the aged dependents of soldiers who fought in the Great War and I, too, would like to hear a fuller explanation from the Minister of Pensions when he replies to the Debate. To come to the Estimate itself, a net amount of £420,000 is required. I am certain that the reason which was given by my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for this Estimate was satisfactory to the Committee. I think I caught the gist of his argument acurately, and he explained that it was due to the fact that fewer pensioners or dependents had died than the anticipated number. We are all delighted to hear that, and I feel certain that if, when the Minister comes to reply, he gives the Committee any further information with regard to the point, the Committee will be glad to hear it. Meanwhile, all I have to say is that I think the Minister is to be congratulated on the Estimate and on the work which he is doing.
§ Mr. TOWNEND
Whilst expressing appreciation for the work of the Ministry, I cannot quite agree with the commendations of the last speaker, who seems to have been exceedingly fortunate in his experiences in connection with this Ministry. The right hon. Gentleman says that up and down the country, wherever he has gone, he has found practically nothing but satisfaction with the work of the Ministry. His experience must be unique. It certainly does not harmonise with mine, although I am prepared to say this in regard to the cases with which the Minister himself has dealt—that, bearing in mind all the difficulties which confront him, he might be worse. He might be more harsh in his dealings than he has been. I can quite understand the existence of dissatisfaction, because I suppose everyone cannot be satisfied, and the Ministry of Pensions ought not, perhaps, to be more generous than just. Nevertheless, I cannot give complete assent to the statement of the last speaker. I desire to ask the Minister two questions on the commutation 1431 reference of the Parliamentary Secretary.
I beg the hon. Member's pardon, but I did not say a word about commutation. What I did say was that where there were weekly allowances plus terminal gratuities, the recipients were allowed to have the amount in one lump sum instead of having it paid weekly when the local war pensions committee recommended that this should be done. That is a different matter from commutation.
§ Mr. TOWNEND
I presume then that point is ruled out and that I cannot ask a question on commutation: I am rather sorry because I have been waiting for the Ministry for a long time. The other question which I desire to ask relates to the estimated saving of £5,000 under sub-head O.1—Medical Services. I would like to identify myself with what has been said from the front Opposition bench and I ask the Minister if it is not possible for the Ministry's system to be more elastic than apparently it is in these cases where the period has expired. Cases have gone before the medical board for final examination and yet we know that illnesses spring from—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid the hon. Member is going into questions of policy on savings. On the other hand, it may be a satisfaction to the hon. Member to know that he may ask his question about commutation if he would like to do so.
§ Mr. TOWNEND
What I would like to know on the question of commutation is under two heads and I hope the Minister will endeavour to answer, because the matter is very important. I do not like the way the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is shaking his head—it is very ominous. I desire first to know what is the basis upon which commutations are established?
On a point of Order. No money is being asked for in this Supplementary Estimate for the commutation of pensions.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I take it that the hon. Member's second point deals with the same matter. It would be in order, on the Appropriation Bill, or upon the main Estimate, but I am afraid it is not so at present.
Mr. HILTON YOUNG
Let me utter a word of appreciation of the very clear and full account given by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary secretary of the reasons for this divergence from the original Estimate. Let me also bear my personal testimony to the opinion expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), to the effect that there is a diminution of complaints. Certainly one cannot help being conscious of that diminution in one's correspondence. I rise to ask a question of the Minister. As I say, the account given by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary of the reasons for this divergence from the original Estimate has been very full and clear, and we find that it is in substance due to a difference in the mortality figures, which are lower than had been expected. That is a very pleasant reason, but, coming to the question of the correctitude of Estimates, I want to ask the Minister whether he is really content with the exactness of his Estimates in this respect. We all know that exactness of Estimates is the foundation stone of regularity in the year's finance. When we come to this Pensions Estimate it occurs to me that it is matter for inquiry whether greater exactitude could not be obtained. Surely the mortality among a particular group of people is a subject for actuarial calculation. May we know whether the Minister has sufficient actuarial calculations made as to the probable mortality among pensioners in order to attain the maximum possible accuracy in his Estimate? I can only say that, at first sight, this suggests itself to one as a direction in which greater accuracy might be obtained. Merely for the purpose of illustration let me refer to the previous Estimate. There you had an entirely new 1433 feature of administration, namely, widows' pensions and supplementary old age pensions and there the error was, in fact, just half of what arises in this case. I do not mean to condemn without evidence, but I suggest that this is a matter for inquiry in which we look to be reassured by the Minister.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I do not wish to intervene in a Debate on a Pensions Estimate and I have not risen now to make any special complaint against the Ministry or the Parliamentary Secretary or the administration of the Department. There are, however, some points which I wish to raise. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. Hilton Young) said he found the number of complaints was decreasing. That is not my experience. If the right hon. Gentleman had offered himself for re-election in Norwich on his change of party, he would have been more in touch with the electorate and he would have found that there are many complaints. I do not say that they are the fault of the Minister. He cannot keep in personal touch with all the ramifications of his department, but hard eases keep cropping up and I wish to know if some of these classes of cases do not account for the savings. To show I am not making any petty complaint against the Minister's Department may I say, speaking as a Member of Parliament, and I think with the concurrence of everyone in the Committee, that when we bring forward cases we are treated very promptly and carefully by the right hon. Gentleman's Department. I believe that where justice can be done and a grievance made right, the Minister and his assistants see that it is done and that remark, of course, applies particularly to the Parliamentary Private Secretary.
Having said that I wish to ask some questions purely for information. First, what is the channel of complaint for ex-service men living in Ireland who are in receipt of pensions? I have between 20 and 30 letters a week from these people from Ireland and they say they have no one to whom they can apply to get justice and that they cannot get their letters answered. Speaking personally, I want to help these ex-service men, but it is a great nuisance to me and it puts extra work on me which I would rather give to 1434 my own constituents. If it increases it may become a serious matter. If all the ex-service men in Ireland who have grievances are going to write to one hon. Member about particular cases I do not know where it will end. What is the machinery whereby a man living in Ireland can bring his case under notice? Take the case of a man whose pension suddenly stops through a mistake of the Post Office. That is one case which I had. What remedy, has such a man? To whom can he go? Is it any use for him to write directly to the Minister? Whatever the machinery may be, I suggest that the Minister should make it known in Ireland, either through the Post Office authorities or through the good offices of the Irish Free State and let these unfortunate people know what remedy they have when such cases occur.
With regard to the savings which have been effected, I am afraid that one reason why the parents' pensions have not been paid out to the extent which was budgeted for, is to be found in connection with a concession granted by my right hon. Friend who was Minister of Pensions in the Labour Government. He granted a concession whereby a mother s pension in respect of a son killed, could be transferred to the father, on the death of the mother. It is extraordinary the number of cases in which the surviving parent is not aware of this. This concession has been in operation for two or three years, but quite a number of these old men do not know that if the wife dies the pension is transferable to them, that is if the son who would have supported his parents has died. I suggest that it is a duty of the Minister of Pensions to make this fact known. This might account for some of the savings in the Estimate, although I am not quite clear on that point. But there are many of these cases up and down the country and I think the Ministry of Pensions should take steps to publish this fact, as it is not right anyone should omit to apply for the transfer of a pension through ignorance.
There are two other matters to which I desire to refer. They are rather delicate subjects and I do not want to press them unduly. The first is the case of the soldier's child born more than nine months after the man's discharge from the Army. There is no allowance for that 1435 child even if the child is born one day over the nine months after the man's discharge from the Army. If this circumstance accounts for any of the savings in the Estimate, I think the Pensions Ministry might be a little more generous in these cases. I see the Minister of Pensions shakes his head. Perhaps I am misinformed on this point, but if there is anything in what I am putting forward I hope he will look into it. It is especially hard if the man dies and there are one or two young children in the family. In my opinion there should be a proper pension allowance for these young children. It is not the sort of economy that this House would wish to see brought about. That is one case. The other case to which I wish to draw attention is very difficult indeed. It is the case of the widow of a soldier—
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
There is Subhead E—Pensions and gratuities to widows and children of deceased officers of the Navy, Marines, Army and Air Force. It would probably not come under that, but I see Subhead M deals with pensions and gratuities to dependants other than widows and children of deceased seamen and of deceased warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the Marines, Army and Air Force. I think that would cover it.
§ Lieut. Commander KENWORTHY
No, Sir, I am not arguing for any change of policy. This is a purely administrative matter, and I am suggesting that if savings have been brought about by certain acts of the the Ministry of Pensions in this respect, it is rather regrettable. That is my argument.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Member may ask if any part of the savings results from what he suggests.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I will put my question in that way at once. It is the case of a widow of a 1436 soldier who has a child some years after the death of the husband. It is a difficult case. The Department, I find, is sympathetic. Where, obviously, the woman is not leading an immoral life, she gets the benefit of the doubt, but there are many cases where she loses her pension, although the legitimate children receive their pensions just the same. I have come across many cases in which the woman has lost her pension. The circumstances I know are very difficult, but I think the administration might be a little more sympathetic in this matter.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not think I can allow this. The hon. and gallant Member is arguing again a question which was before the House when the main Estimate was considered.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Apparently I am not in order. I was only suggesting that there are too many cases where the pension has been taken away, but if that does not account for the saving in the Estimate I do not propose to pursue it. I am sorry if I have strayed at all in putting these questions to the Minister.
§ Mr. HARRIS
May I add my congratulations to the Minister for the sympathetic administration of his Department, and I want specially to congratulate him on his Parliamentary Private Secretary and the efficient way in which he answers letters. It is extraordinary how quickly he replies to letters sent to him and how good his memory is. I only rise to ask a question about the saving under the last sub-head, that is Sub-head O8, where there is shown a saving of £47,000 in connection with the provision of artificial appliances for disabled officers, nurses and men. I want to know whether this saving is the result of there being less claims for assistance or to the new contract, as I have reason to believe it is, which the Ministry of Pensions has carried through and by which they have now given a monopoly to one firm. That is a very important matter. At the time a Committee reported on this subject and as a result of their report this new arrangement was made; and it has resulted in a saving of £47,000. The Ministry is no doubt satisfied, but there is another side to the page, and there is doubt that a great deal of dissatisfaction exists amongst, many disabled men 1437 because they are no longer allowed to go to the firms they have been accustomed to go for their appliances. I have had many complaints. For years these men have gone to one firm or another who understood their peculiarities, but under the new arrangement they have to go to a central depot. This also involves considerable travelling, especially in places like London where the distances are great. The men have to utilise omnibuses, which are very inconvenient—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I should like to ask the Minister of Pensions a question at this point. This new arrangement; has it been put in the Supplementary Estimate since the main Estimate was considered?
§ The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Major Tryon)
No, it was introduced before the m tin Estimate was considered. It has been discussed.
§ Mr. HARRIS
I was not criticising the policy of the Ministry of Pensions, I was only asking the Minister to enlighten me on this point. I want to know how much of this saving of £47,000 is due to this new arrangement or bow much is due to the smaller number of claims for assistance that have been received.
§ Mr. F. O. ROBERTS
May I ask whether the effect of this new arrangement has been felt only since the original Estimate was introduced and discussed and whether we are not entitled to discus., it now?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think it does involve a question of policy which should be discussed at the appropriate time.
§ Mr. GILLETT
I have no objection to the larger sum of money being granted to the Ministry of Pensions, but I cannot congratulate the Minister on the closeness of the Estimate. It is a little strange that year after year we do not get a much closer figure. Last year when I asked a question in the Public Accounts Committee as to why there had previously 1438 been a Supplementary Estimate, I was told that it was partly due to the overseas claims coming in and to the fact that a number of people who had never had pensions before, were granted pensions after the Estimate had been presented. Those were the reasons for a Supplementary Estimate last year, and at the same time we were told that there would not be these claims coming in again from the Colonies and elsewhere.
It is a little strange to find, after this difficulty has been removed, that we still have an Estimate which is some £600,000 out, and I really should have thought the Ministry would have got their figures a little closer. The number of men making application for pensions must be getting smaller, and I should have thought it is fairly easy for the Ministry to know how many new pensions would come along. Looking at some of the other figures, it seems strange that no diminution was allowed for in Subhead E, and much credit cannot be taken by the Department for a reduction of £35,000 when we consider that no allowance was made for any diminution in respect of pensions and gratuities to widows and children of deceased officers of the Navy, Marines, Army and Air Force. With regard to the larger diminution under the head of medical treatment, I should like to have a little more explanation on that. I ask for more information in regard to artificial limbs. When the new arrangement was made there was a good deal of concern as to how the new system would work; that is, giving a monopoly into the hands of one firm, or rather into the hands of two firms. In the old days, the firms had their representatives throughout the country looking after the men, and I should like to know how far these two firms are pursuing this policy; whether they have their representatives going round seeing that the men who require new artificial limbs are able to obtain them easily. This large diminution, unless the Minister tells me that some of the men who have been receiving these limbs have died, which would be an explanation, indicates that the administration is not so efficient as it was, or that something has been put in the way to make it less easy for these men to get the new limbs they require. When we estimate a reduction of £33,000 and follow it up by a reduction of £47,000, 1439 out of an original Estimate of £500,000, seems to me to require some explanation. I am exceedingly concerned whether, in this anxiety for economy, the Minister has not sacrificed the best interests of these men.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. OLIVER
I would like to ask the Minister whether this increase shown in this Estimate is due to any change of policy on the part of the Ministry in extending the pensions to the wives and dependants of soldiers who have married subsequently and died. If that were so, I should be the very first to congratulate the Ministry on this very admirable change of policy. The Minister is well aware that there have been very fine and difficult canes arising where men who have subsequently married and have had children and then died, where the wives have been deprived of the pensions, and where the children have been denied the dependants' allowance. If this expenditure had arisen in consequence of an alteration in policy, then I think it is a matter for congratulation, because, while the system obtained, the rankest possible injustice was done to men who were injured at the age of, say, 23 or 24, who subsequently married, and died and whose wives and families were deprived of pensions. There is one other point. I would like to know whether this increase, has been incurred in relation to men who have been injured for a number of years, who have developed subsequent neurasthenic complaints, and who, because their injuries dated hack more than seven years, have been denied a pension for subsequent ailments, such as nervous breakdown and general nervous debility. If this increase has been incurred through an alteration in the policy of the Ministry towards men of this description, ones again I join in hearty congratulations on the change, because rank injustices have been done in this kind of case in the past.
§ Mr. W. J. BAKER
I was rather surprised to hear the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) referring to what he described as the remarkable satisfaction in the country with the position concerning pensions. I am sorry to say that that does not coincide with my own limited experience. I very much regret to say that the position regarding pensions con- 1440 cerns me very much indeed. It is difficult, nay, impossible for me to compare my experience with that of other hon. Gentlemen in this House, but, judging by what I have known myself, while I have no reason to complain of the attitude and action of the Ministry in relation to those cases which I have had an opportunity of representing to them, I must say that the number of cases coming into my handy appears to me to indicate that there is still an enormous problem so far as disabled men are concerned. I should have thought that, after the lapse of time, the number of cases would have fallen almost to nothing, yet it is a very remarkable week in which a number of cases dc not come to hand. Before I deal with that side of the question, I want to emphasise the point which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Young) and my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. Gillett). Anyone who reads the Report of the Public Accounts Committee will be inclined to think that there is a case against the Department with regard to their method of estimating. It should be possible for them, as for other Departments who are perhaps in greater difficulties, to come somewhat closer to the figure. I am not altogether certain that it is a satisfactory reply for a Minister to say that, after all, the margin of error was merely one of 2 per cent. I think that it is possible for the Ministry of Pensions, together with one or two other Ministries who are particularly noticeable in this respect, to get nearer to the actual expenditure which is likely to be incurred, and I sincerely trust that they will find it possible to do better in subsequent years.
I should like to ask the Minister whether he will tell us exactly what relation the number of cases which pass through the hands of Members of Parliament bear to the total number of cases coming to the attention of his Department. I cannot help feeling that those disabled men who are fortunate enough to think of using the Parliamentary channel for their appeals are likely—to put no higher—to be more successful than those unfortunate folk who endeavour to fight their own appeals entirely off their own bat. I would be very glad, indeed, to have en assurance, if it can be given, that the number of cases com- 1441 ing to the Department direct is decreasing at a greater rate than the number of cases which come into the hands of Members of Parliament. I do not suppose for one moment that any hon. Member of this House has any ground for complaint with regard to the cases submitted through that channel to the Minister, but I have a feeling that there must be many a poor chap in the country who is suffering under very terrible conditions because he was not wise enough, or fortunate enough, to choose the Parliamentary channel for the representation of his case. I am particularly alarmed and concerned with regard to one particular type mi case. I have seen two or three instances of this type during the last few days, and I can only reason from that fact that, if two or three cases of one type have come under my notice in such a short period, there must be a considerable number of such cases throughout the country. The type of ease to which I refer is that of a man who, having entered the Army as an A.1 man, had become unfit for further service and been granted a pension; who enjoyed chat pension for one, two or three years, and has had the pension stopped; and who, because he felt reasonably hopeful of better health in the future has found that his pension has ceased and his contract with the. Ministry has ceased, but, at a subsequent date, his disability has led to mental instability. In the two or three cases of this kind, which have come under my notice during the last few days, the men concerned are at the present moment the inmates of mental institutions. I want, very respectfully, to submit to the Minister that where there is such a health record as would establish these facts—namely entry into the Army as an A.1 man, discharge from the Army as a man suffering from a serious disability, the subsequent receipt of pension, the pension then ceasing and then the man being transferred to a mental hospital or institution—he will do his utmost, that even if it is necessary he will stretch the regulations and the law on behalf of such cases, and that he will relate the present mental disability with the known history of the man's case in the Army.
§ Mr. BAKER
My hon. and gallant Friend says I am very sanguine. Though he may not be sanguine, I think the facts of such a ease as I have roughly tried to outline should make a very strong appeal, not only to the Ministry but to every Member of this House. Though my hon. and gallant Friend may not be hopeful, I will repeat that appeal. I say that where a man has been known to suffer a disability, where he has been in receipt of a pension, and where after the pension has ceased he breaks down to the extent of being compelled to go into a mental institution, his case deserves consideration.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If a man is in such circumstances that it is necessary for him to become an inmate of a mental institution, I do not think that such a case will come under this heading. I think it will come under some other heading.
§ Mr. BAKER
The point. I am trying to make, in perhaps a poor and amateurish way, is that the sufferings which the man endured were responsible for his later condition, and I very much fear that the Ministry have not taken the line which I am endeavouring to appeal to them to consider. I have made the point which I wanted to make, and I can only say that I will be very grateful indeed if the Minister, in replying, will endeavour to give us figures showing the relation between the number of cases submitted through Parliamentary channels as compared with those which come through other sources.
§ Mr. KELLY
I want to ask a question with regard to three separate cases with which I am wondering whether the savings spoken of by the Minister can be connected. There are cases where a medical officer of the Ministry had for a considerable period decided against the individual, and then at another and recent stage—when I say a recent stage I mean within recent times—has decided that the individual requires treatment, showing therefore, that he ought to be dealt with under the warrant. I have such a case in my mind at the moment, and I will quote it so that the Minister may have an opportunity of ascertaining the facts. The case is that of a man named Jerome, who at the present time is in the hospital, I think, at Orpington, close to South-east London. It was denied by the medical 1443 officer of the Ministry that the man was suffering at all by reason of his war service, and it looks to me as though the medical officer of the Ministry either took a very slight glance at the case or did not discover what was wrong with the man, and as a result the individual suffered. I wonder whether the saving that is quoted in this Supplementary Estimate—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid the lion. Member is discussing policy upon savings, and that, as I have pointed out to other hon. Members, would be out of order.
§ Mr. KELLY
It is not policy that I want to discuss, but I am wondering whether the saving mentioned is due to the method of administration by the Department. I leave it at that. The other case that I wish to mention, and that was hinted at by my hon. Friend the Member for East Bristol (Mr. W. J. Baker), is where you have men who, to many people, seem to be entitled to pensions, and yet are denied them, some of them haying received a pension for a period, and then been placed in a mental institution, and the Ministry denying that that is the result of war service. I know of many such cases in Lancashire, and I wonder whether the Ministry are claiming that the sum for which they are asking is at the figure named by reason of the denial of pension to those particular people. There is a third category that I wish to mention, and that is those people who have themselves been saving the Ministry from any payment in the past, people who declined to claim a pension and allowed the full period of seven years to elapse before presenting any claim, but who would have been entitled to a pension had they claimed within that period. I ask the Minister if he claims that the Ministry is saving by reason of these people who have not claimed a pension, although fully entitled to it, because they did not desire to burden the Ministry. While putting these questions, I wish to add my tribute to the Minister and to his secretaries 1444 and his staff for the way in which they have dealt with very many cases that I have submitted to them.
§ Major COHEN
On Sub-head O.8—(Expenditure in connection with the provision of Artificial Appliances for Disabled Officers, Nurses, and Men)—I should like to know why that reduction has taken place. Is is that we are supplying less limbs now, or is it due to the Ministry last year cutting down the numbers of limb-makers and in now going to only two of them, as they do, instead of to something like a dozen? I am not criticising their action, or, if so, it is criticising it in a favourable sense, because I think they are supplying a better limb, but I would like to have a little information on the, subject.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
I should like to put one question to the Minister, and to preface it with my appreciation of the very kindly and sympathetic way in which the right hon. Gentleman has always treated pension eases which I have had to submit to him from my constituents, but I think that sometimes—and this is what I would like the Minister kindly to consider—we do not get, right down to his local advisers, the same kind of sympathetic consideration of cases, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he could not in some way issue some instructions asking for greater care in preventing really good cases being turned down. I have in my mind just one case that I will give as an illustration out of two or three cases. It is of a man who served in the Army, and went through the South African War. He served again for four years and a half in the late War, and was discharged with the rank of sergeant, badly incapacitated, with a 50 per cent. pension. He received hospital treatment and was discharged from Mossley Hill Hospital, Liverpool, as finally incurable of his disability, but the whole of his pension has been removed, and the 50 per cent. which he was given has been quietly taken away on the supposition that it could not he directly and absolutely attributable to war service. I would suggest, with all respect, that it appears to be rather a far-fetched argument to suggest in the ease of a man, after 4½ years of evidently good service, as he obtained the rank of sergeant, with the necessity of hospital treatment so 1445 often, that it is not in any way directly or indirectly due to his military service. I feel sure that, when the Minister himself comes right up against such cases, they always do receive very sympathetic consideration, and I am only too delighted, to pay that tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, but I suggest that it is possible that he may help in a good cause and increase the needed money over his Estimates by advantageously dealing with cases of this sort through more sympathetic treatment on the part of Ins local representatives.
I congratulate the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary in coming to this Committee and asking for the additional money that is required. For myself, I am bound to say that I am astonished at the amount being so small, and I should have been better pleased, having regard to my experience of how men are complaining in the country, if it had been a larger sum. I am rather near the pensions offices, the area and the sub-offices, and I am now dealing with a good deal of the extra work that is being entailed upon those offices. My complaint is similar to that of the last speaker, namely, that we do not get quite near enough to the Ministry. The regulations have been built up in such a way with the medical service that we cannot get very many of these cases in, and instead of being here to-day asking for £600,000, I feel that, if we were to deal fairly with, and fulfil the pledges given to, the men in the country at the commencement of the War, this Estimate would have been nearer £1,000,000 than £600,000. I know I should be out of order if I went in the direction of quoting cases, but I should like the Minister, with regard to the savings under Sub-heads A and E, to give us, not in detail, but in sections, some of the bulks of the savings and how they have been effected. I find a good deal of complaint in the country with regard to new regulations being made that are sent to the people in the area and sub-area offices, having the result of cutting down pensions and gratuities that, in our opinion, ought to be paid.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I should like some information as to prospective arrangements under the medical department of the pensions office in Dundee. 1446 We have had some correspondence with the Department on the question of men recommended by the local medical officer for an increased pension, and at times those recommendations having been turned down at headquarters. That sort of thing has taken place, and undoubtedly we have had a feeling that there was reason for dissatisfaction at such events taking place, seeing that the man in any case of the kind was examined by the local medical officer, and it does strike one as rather disappointing that those who have not had the opportunity of studying the case in person should afterwards turn down the recommendations made by the local people. Like the last speaker, I feel it would be all the more gratifying if we had been able to get a larger claim by the Minister. Disappointment still rests with many of the men who have been, through their representatives in Parliament, seeking to obtain justice, as they have felt, and as those who are recommending them have felt, they were entitled to receive. The attitude that has been adopted in these cases is very unsatisfactory. The feeling is that there is too much stress laid upon technical points, and rather too strict an adherence to regulations on the question of the time at which an appeal may have been submitted, or an effort made to secure a reconsideration of the case.
There is one instance that we have, still, fortunately, with a prospect of success, of a man's claim in regard to bronchitis, which had been acknowledged by the medical fraternity and by the Department, but now a further development of the case has affected the heart, and still there is disinclination on the part of the Ministry to recognise the man's claim under the new circumstances, whereby he is being completely debarred from following his ordinary avocation. Fortunately, we are still very hopeful that the Ministry will acknowledge the strength of the case on the new phase that has been presented.
§ Major TRYON
I deem myself very fortunate that I follow in this Debate two right hon. Gentlemen who have previously held the office for which I am now responsible, and, in view of the many kind things that have been said about our efforts for the ex-service men, and what we try to do when Members of all parties bring forward eases, I 1447 think my right hon. Friends will agree that we ought to pay a tribute to the staff itself. They have difficult work, and I am sure no one has ever been at the Ministry of Pensions without coming away with great admiration for the staff, and pride in having been associated with them. A very natural point has been raised, namely, the relation of Members of Parliament to pensioners and their pensions. The view was put forward—and I agree with it profoundly—that it would be very unsatisfactory if pensioners got anything more by taking their case to a Member of Parliament than otherwise. Of course we are in this difficulty, that if a Member of Parliament brings a case to us, and it does not go through, we are sometimes criticised at it not getting through, and, if it goes through, it is open to the objection just mentioned.
May I point out that we have many local committees. My hon. and gallant Friend and I have been round the whole country meeting the chairmen of our committees, and I think there is quite a strong feeling among our voluntary workers, with which Members of Parliament will, probably, find themselves in agreement, that the process of the local offices and of the local committees ought to he exhausted before anybody approaches a Member of Parliament. I have myself known quite a number of cases in which a pensioner, anxious to obtain a pension from the State, has begun by writing to his Member of Parliament. That is wrong. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am very glad hon. Members agree with me. We have large numbers of committees of voluntary workers all over the country in practically unreduced numbers. If any pensioners and applicants have a grievance, they can and should complain to those local committees, and local inquiries can be held, and they will there receive the assistance of people, many of whom for eight and 10 years have been devoting all their spare time to helping ex-service men. Therefore, while, of course, we should be fairly criticised if we have done anything wrong, pensioners and ex-service men should go to those committees before coming to Members of Parliament with their cases and correspondence. On that point, the question 1448 arises how many cases are coming in, and whether things are better or worse? If the number of cases coming through Members of Parliament to us is a test, I can only say that the number of complaints, or rather the number of letters, we are getting in the course of three months is almost exactly one-third of what we were getting in 1924. So that if that be a measure, then things are better.
I will deal briefly, but I hope completely, with the points raised to-night. On the question of reduction of staff, that is necessary, because, as I say, there are far fewer applications coming in, as far more men are in a settled position through having had their pension assessments guaranteed by final awards. The work is much less, and it is only right, if the work is much legs, that there should be a smaller staff. On the question of officers' widows, it was pointed out, I think, by my right hon. Friend that there was a reduction of £35,000, which, he said, was comparatively large. It is not really a very large sum compared with nearly £2,000,000, which is the sum Voted. There are a large number of factors which go to decide this question, such as whether some of the widows die or marry, which it is obviously beyond the Ministry to prophesy. Beyond those points, it is not possible to forecast exactly the result of the large number of events whicch are outside our control. On the question of lump sums, I think it has been already pointed out by my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that we were alluding to lump sum payments of final weekly allowances, which is entirely different from commutation of pension. One hon. Member referred to commutation. If he would see me about it, or write about it, I would take up the point, which he was necessarily not able to take up on this occasion.
The question raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich Mr. Hilton Young), if I may say so with much respect, seems to be the most legitimate of all the criticism directed against the Ministry to-day, because it is naturally our duty to bring in Estimates as accurate as possible; otherwise you involve the taxpayer in paying taxes which are not expended, or you get 1449 Supplementary Estimates. But if we are still imperfect, we are improving. Three years ago it was 3 per cent. of error, last year 2 per cent., and now we have got it down to 1 per cent. May I say also to my right hon. Friend that we are not in a position of saying definitely that we will spend a definite amount on a particular subject. You can say you will lay down so many ships, or provide a definite sum for housing, but no man can say what is going to happen over the whole range of something like 1,750,000 people provided for by the Ministry of Pensions. Therefore, you cannot prophesy with accuracy, and say to a man, "Your leg is worse, but I have exhausted my Estimate." We have always felt with confidence that we could come to the House and ask for a Supplementary Vote, especially as on this occasion the whole benefit goes to the ex-service men. There are so many uncontrollable factors, any one of which may make a difference of £100,000 or £200,000, that it is not possible with certainty to get closer than on this occasion when the net error is only about £400,000.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), who raised the question of Ireland, asked what was the normal channel of communication, and implied with pardonable lamentation that he himself was the main channel of that communication. There is no need for the pensioners in Ireland to adopt that course, because in Ireland they have all those resources of local committees, area offices and other advantages, which I have already described in the earlier part of my speech, all being available for the ex-service men, the only difference being that in Ireland there is a larger proportion of staff, officials and committees in proportion to the men they serve than in any other part of the country. So that I do not think there is really any legitimate grievance over that.
Now we come to the question of limbs, about which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fairfield (Major Cohen) asked me a question. It is quite true that, thanks to that committee of which he was a distinguished member, there has been a considerable saving, because we get better contracts with the two firms, and the limbs, as he said, are very satisfactory. But we had allowed in the 1450 original Estimate for the bulk of the saving due to the activities of that committee. The bulk of the present additional saving is due to the fact that we are getting very many fewer applications from men for these artificial limbs, and the House will realise that when you have a very large number of men disabled, and you push on successfully with completing the equipment of those men with the limbs they require, it is natural that there should afterwards be a falling off in the number of applications.
§ Major TRYON
I should like to verify that. I am told that some have not applied, but everyone can have two. The hon. and gallant Member for East Rhondda (Lieut.-Colonel Watts-Morgan) referred to his own special difficulties, and if he has any point he would like to put to me afterwards., I shall be very happy to go into it.
The point I want to make is that our applications are increasing. We are now getting about 10 a week, whereas we used to get only four or five a week. They are all coming to the local committee and to the area office.
§ Major TRYON
I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for that information, but it is not generally the case that applications are going up throughout the country. They are getting fewer and fewer. I think I have dealt with every point except some of the individual cases mentioned. If any hon. Member who has mentioned individual cases would be so kind as to write to me about them, and particularly the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Bromley), I would be happy to go into them.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
Before leaving these detailed cases, will the right hon. Gentleman answer my question about the living soldier who has a child horn more than nine months after his discharge and gets no allowance for that child?
§ Major TRYON
I understand that a limit of more than nine months is given, but, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, we take the man with his 1451 liabilities when disabled for pension purposes. Children who are born many years afterwards do not come in for the pension, but they do come in for treatment allowances.
§ Mr. F. O. ROBERTS
There was a reduction under one head about which I asked for a reply. It was on the very difficult subject of dependants' pensions, under which there was a reduction on the original Estimate of £125,000 and on this Estimate of £50,000, and I put one or two questions asking for reasons.
§ Major TRYON
There has been no reduction whatever owing to any change of policy. There has been no change of policy whatever. As a matter of fact, the bulk of these men and women are of very considerable age, and there have been many more deaths than we anticipated.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
There was one specific question as to whether in the case of an aged dependant who becomes entitled to a pension from other sources, a reduction is made?
§ Major TRYON
It depends on the pension. There are several kinds of pensions. There is a pre-war dependency pension, there is a flat rate pension of 5s. weekly, and there is a pension based on need, in which other Regulations are taken into account; otherwise we should not be fair to applicants. On the point raised as to whether the parent knows about the possibilities of the transfer of the pension, we do all we can to let the survivor know, and notification to that effect actually appears on the "Ring Paper." Finally, while we have not attained absolute accuracy in the presentation of these Estimates, we are year after year trying to get more accurate in our figures. We are dealing with colossal sums and there are so many points out of our control, that I am afraid it will never be possible to arrive at complete accuracy in our Estimates.
§ Mr. OLIVER
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question whether there has been any change of policy on the part of the Ministry in extending a pension to the wife of a soldier who married subsequent to his injury?
§ Major TRYON
Oh, no. It has always been the policy of all Governments and of all parties to maintain that.
§ Mr. OLIVER
Is there any prospect of the Ministry taking into consideration the very hard cases which arise under that decision?
§ Major TRYON
On a Supplementary Estimate I can hardly undertake to propose a sweeping change in the whole principle of pensions.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I would like to repeat a question with regard to the medical services. There is a reduction of £5,000, following on £54,000, and I would like to know whether that is due to interference with the mode of treatment and forcing men to see their own panel doctors in preference to the Ministry's doctors?
§ Major TRYON
No, Sir, the reduction is due to a reduction in the number of deputy commissioners of medical services and a smaller medical staff consequent on the fall in the volume of work. There is no change whatever in the system.
§ Mr. LAWSON
It is very natural that we should run the risk of being accused of self-congratulation in dealing with this Vote, and I think we have rather fallen into that danger. While it is a matter for congratulation in this case that we are passing a Supplementary Estimate for £600,000, I regret that we are unable to discuss the very cases which everybody present wishes to discuss. There really is a skeleton in the cupboard, the skeleton being the man who ought to have had a pension, and who to-day, when in grave need, is not getting that pension. From that point of view I could have wished the Estimate had been even larger than it is. I agree with the Minister that it is difficult to satisfy the Public Accounts Committee in a matter of this kind by reason of the varying nature of the demands made upon the Ministry, but as a matter of fact I think the Ministry have gone a long way to making things more stable by the final award Regulations. Everyone knows that there are men who are in such a pitiable condition that, if their cases had not been dealt with under the final award Regulations, they would have been a charge on this Estimate to- 1453 day. I am sure the Minister has in hand now a case which it brought to him of a man who served for three or four years, who was Al when he went into the service, who is now hopelessly broken and on crutches, and is in receipt of poor relief. I am sure that is not what the Committee would desire, but the fact is this man was subject to the final award. The Minister may say he could have had the opportunity of treatment and allowances, but he went beyond the 12 months, and now he is in a pitiable condition.
I am wondering what is the real explanation of the reduction of £5,000 on the medical services. All in this Committee must know of cases where men ought to be receiving treatment, and sometimes treatment and allowances, and are getting neither. I have in mind the case of a man receiving a certain pension who has not been working since the middle of December. The first to draw my attention to it was the manager of the place where he had been employed. This is a case where there is perfect cooperation between the employer and the employé. The manager, who wrote to me, has tried to get the man treatment and allowances. The man has been unemployed—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Minister has definitely stated that this is not an account for any reduction or change of policy, and there is no item on the Paper in respect of treatment. The hon. Member's question must, therefore, stand over to another occasion.
§ The CHAIRMAN
No, there is a saving on medical services, but, as I pointed out, it has been ruled by several of my predecessors that we cannot discuss policy upon savings.
§ Mr. LAWSON
My point is that I am asking the Minister whether it is a fact that cases of this description arise as the result of this saving. Here is a man who, under ordinary circumstances, I think, would have been receiving treatment, indeed, receiving treatment and allowances, but is now receiving nothing at all, except bare pension.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand that question has been put to the Minister and he said the whole of this £5,000 had been saved on quite other grounds. I am afraid the hon. Member must wait for the other Vote.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I will not pursue that further now. I understand the Minister says it is possible in the case of need pensions for mothers still to get pensions up to 25s.—that the reductions in need pensions were not made on a drastic scale, and that pensioners were entitled to get other pensions, say old age pensions, and need pensions up to the extent of 25s. What I wish to know is when they are entitled to that maximum? I would like to know if it is not a fad that reductions on a rather drastic scale are made in the need pension when the pensioner becomes entitled to other pensions.
All these, however, are general matters, and what everybody here wanted to talk about was individual cases. We can all say nice things about the Minister, who is extremely courteous and painstaking, but, then, the chief officer always is very nice, and it is the poor old sergeant-major who usually "gets it," and, therefore, I should be inclined to extend congratulations to the staff, who have a very difficult task to perform and one requiring very great patience indeed. What I want to emphasise to the Committee is that, in spite of everything that is done, in spite of this £600,000 Supplementary Estimate, men have been ruled out of pensions who, as the years go by, show more and more the need for special consideration. Then there are the cases of men getting 20 per cent, or 30 per cent. disability pension. While the man is working he is satisfied with that pension, being extremely modest he does not ask for anything more, but when unemployment comes and he loses his job the pension is useless to support him. While, therefore, I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward the Supplementary Estimate of £600,000, I would much prefer that we should have been able to discuss what I have called the "skeleton in the cupboard "—one day the Pensions' Administration will have to face it—and that is the cases of men who have been ruled out and turned down though everyone in the district where they live feel they are entitled to pensions.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
I would like to ask the Minister whether any portion of the saving of £5,000 on medical services is due to the reduction in the number of hospitals? In the North we have a distinct grievance on this point. I have a case in mind of a young man who is in need of treatment and has been told that he must go down to an hospital in Kent. His doctor says that, under no circumstances can he be permitted to travel from Durham to Kent, and I am wondering whether the Minister could not arrange to have places in the North of England to which our people could go.
§ Mr. F. O. ROBERTS
In view of the general trend of the discussion and the replies which the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have made, I would like to ask leave to withdraw the Motion for the reduction of the Vote, but, at the same time, I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall return to some of these points when the main Estimates come up.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.