HC Deb 24 February 1927 vol 202 cc2044-52

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]


I claim the indulgence of the House for a short time only, to raise a question on the subject of pensions and in relation to certain disability pensions that have been paid to men who have suffered through the Great War. The point I want to bring before the Treasury arises out of what is cumbrously known in the Service as the Service-cum-Disability Pension. As it is a very important point, I had better state exactly what the position is at the present time. In Section 5 of the Superannuation Act, 1887, it is laid down that a person shall not be entitled to reckon the same period of time both for the purpose of a superannuation allowance and also for the purpose of navel and military and non-effective pay. At the time of the War, a man had to serve 18 years with the Army before he became entitled to a pension, and then, of course, if, afterwards, as many did, he entered the Post Office service as a postman, cleaner or liftman, as the case might be, he was then able, at the end of the service, to draw his pension as a civil servant, and the pension he was already in receipt of for military service. At the outbreak of war, however, it was decided that that period should be reduced to 14 years. It might be stated in this way. A man who served 10 years with the Colours and four years then in the First Reserve, while following the employment of a postman, or in some other capacity in the Civil Service, and then, if called upon during the Great War, and subsequently suffering disability which brought him under the Pensions Ministry, he was allowed to count that period of service that lie had done contemporaneously in the Civil Service and in the Reserve, counting both periods for pension.

That gave riseto a very, curious anomaly, which I tried to get the Treasury and other Government Departments to recognise. There, then, arises the position of men who come under the Service-cum-Disability Pension. I apologise to the House for the wretched title, but that is the title by which it is known in the Service and at the Treasury itself. A man, for instance, might serve a period of 12 years in all, that is to say, eight years with the Colours and four years in the Post Office service, during the War. He was called out of the Service in the War as a reserve man. Those four years were running contemporaneously, both in the Post Office as a postman and as a man serving in the Army, but he had not done the 14 years which entitled him to a full military and Civil pension should disability follow. Then there came later an agreement with the Treasury that, should a question arise for disability and he was awarded a 20 per cont. disability pension, he should be allowed to count for service such disability as he is entitled to, plus his Civil Service pension. Then arose some difficulty. It was contended that he fell within the purview of the Superannuation Act, 1887, and he was told he could not draw two pensions for the same period of service; and that he would have to forfeit that part which had been served simultaneously in the Civil Service and with the Army.

The point I want to raise is that that does seem to be an unfair reading or the Regulation that was made, because, in the first instance, this man would not have been considered for pension had there not been disability. It was the mere fact that he was suffering from disability that brought him within the ambit of these double pensions. Therefore, it seems unfair to bring in the reading of the Superannuation Act, 1887, because the circumstances could never have been under consideration when that Act was first framed, as it had no regard to any possible war, at least of the magnitude of the Great War. All it had regard to was that, those men having done so many years of service, then entering the Post Office service or any other Government Department, and serving a period in the first Army Reserve, with the liability to be called up, could not then count those two periods. But that is all set aside by the fact that a man, not having done full time in the Army to qualify for Army pension, is allowed to count it because of the disability he is suffering as a result of the Great War. My contention is that under that it is quite irregular to bring him under the Act of 1887, as that never entered into the consideration at all. He would not have received a pension had there been no disability. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to give some further consideration to the point.

Let me show what happens. I have a case of a postman in Glasgow who has been, and still is, in hospital in Eden Hall. This man was awarded two pensions under the scheme I have tried to describe, but after a time it was found, according to the Department, that six years out of the period had been served simultaneously in both the Army and the Post Office; and this man, who was receiving a pension of 50 odd a year, was called upon to refund a payment of £104 which he had had in excess. There are two comments one can make. One is that under such conditions a man in such poor circumstances ought not to be called upon to pay for mistakes made in the Department itself. However, they said he could take one of two courses. He could either refund this £104 or take the lower pension and content himself with that. He could take the Post Office pension of 18s. 4d. and pay back the £104 out of that, or he could take the other course of receiving only £13 13s. 9d. a year as his disability pension.

I want to submit that there ought to be uniformity in this matter. Under Article 1163 of the Royal Warrant the Treasury did concede that in the case of a man who had done the full 14 years' service it would be so difficult to determine what part was due to service and what part was due to disability that they would not interfere with his taking his pension for the two periods, though they might have overlapped. I am asking that that may be made to apply uniformly to people in this position. A man who happens to have done two years less in the Army, and, through being called up and being wounded, or otherwise suffering disability, has shortened his pension life in the Post Office service—finding himself in this peculiar position through no fault of his own—ought to be placed on an equality with the other man, this Article 1163 being made to operate in his case. As one reads Article 1163, I should imagine it ought to apply and probably it is just a mistake, or there has been some confusion in the Department about it.

10.0 p.m.

I gave the right hon. Gentleman good notice of this, and I have communicated with the Department, and I should be very glad if, in the interests of these men, who are in more or less humble positions in the service, and who retire on very small pensions owing to the fact that they were badly hurt during the War and thus injured their chances of proceeding to higher pensions in the Civil Service, it could be laid down that a similar rule should apply to them. A man should not be called upon to refund money which it is impossible for him to repay and he should be placed in such a position that he can feel he has a right to enjoy this pension for The intervening period that may have elapsed when he was serving in the forces while technically attached to the Post Office service.


I thank the hon. Gentleman for having courteously given me good notice of his intention to raise this point. I am very glad he did give me such notice, because a very complicated and difficult set of circumstances is involved. I agree with a good deal of what he has said. It is very hard that a man should lose a considerable part, or even the whole, of a pension which he has enjoyed, even though he may have wrongly enjoyed it; but, as the hon. Gentleman and the House knows, what the Treasury has to do is to administer the law, and the law on the subject is really quite plain. Section 5 of the Superannuation Act says: A person shall not be entitled to reckon the same period of time both for the purpose of a superannuation allowance under the Superannuation Acts and also for the purpose of naval or military non-effective pay. That is a Section of a Statute, and the Treasury have to administer that, and any difficult and complicated facts which may arise have to be fitted into the four corners of that Statute. As I understand the hon. Gentleman, he does not contest the application of that Section so far as ordinary service pensions are concerned. On the other hand, I may say that the Treasury do not claim that a disability pension pure and simple comes within the scope of that Section 5. That I admit. The difficulty arises when an award is made to a disabled man both for disability and for service. In some cases, as under Article 1163 of the Royal Warrant, a single award is made covering both disability and service. The hon. Gentleman, as far as I could understand him, said that in these cases there would have been no pension but for the disability, and from that fact he implied, I think, that these awards were not in any respect on account of service.


Probably I did not make myself clear. Under Article 1163 men who have done the full 14 years would get the pension to which they are entitled for full service. The person I am referring to is one who comes under the service-cum-disability description, who has done, perhaps, only 12 years. He would not have got a pension unless there had been disability, and my point is that as he has only got it because of disability there ought to be no question of saying what line you are to draw between disability and service, and it ought to be allowed for disability alone.


I venture to submit to the hon. Member that that is an impossible position, because these awards are not made entirely on the ground of disability. It may very well be that an award would not have been made but for the disability, but what the award really covered is this—first of all the disability, and, secondly, an award to compensate the man for having been cut out from the possibility of earning a full-time service pension; so that a proportion of the award is in respect of service, and it is not a full disability pension. In this case the Treasury has agreed that the military pension shall not be regarded as coming within the scope of Section 5, though there is no doubt at all that some part of that award is intended to cover military service. What I think is the difference between the hon. Gentleman and myself is this. The difference is as to the type of award under Army Order 330 of 1918. Awards made under that Order to disabled men, with service of over 14 years and less than 21 years, are pensions for service in addition to pension for disablement. It is in these cases that the difficulty arises. In such a case, the disablement pension is not touched, but the additional pension for service cannot be treated differently from an ordinary service pension. In either case, a definitely ascertainable period of service has been reckoned for both civil and military pension. That is definitely forbidden by the Section of the Statute of 1887 which I have read out. What the Treasury can do in these cases, and this itself is a concession, is to refrain from claiming a refund of past overpayments. They cannot possibly make the overpayments for the future.


Do I gather that there will be no claims made for repayment?


No. On the contrary, I say that there was no power on the part of the Treasury to remit them, and that repayment of these sums must be made. The hon. Gentleman seems to think there is some inequality in the cases in which these refunds have been claimed. No refund is claimed in cases where there was an error on the part of the Department. Where a man elects to take his civil pension and to forgo the military pension, he is called upon to make repayment of the military pension which he has received, for this reason, that in that case there was no mistake whatever on the part of the Department. During the War, if a man received a disability, he did not thereby become entitled to any civil superannuation; that is a future claim. He goes on receiving that military pension, as he is entitled to do, and no Department could step in and call upon him to make any option. It is only when, at a later period, he becomes entitled to a civil superannuation, that then the option is put to him. It is said to him, "It is quite right; if you choose to take your civil pension, well and good; but if you make that option, you have been for some time receiving payments to which you are not entitled in view of the option you now make. Therefore, if you make that option, you must refund what has been paid to you." But take the opposite case, where a man takes the option to claim his military pension. He has been receiving civil superannuation; but, in that case, if he has been receiving civil superannuation, it has been through an error on the part of the Department, and where that is the case it is written off and no claim is made. Therefore, it is really perfectly fair to the man that, being given the option to take one or other of the two pensions, whichever suits him best, that, according as he makes his option, he should have that remission made if there has been a fault on the part of the Department, but, on the other hand, where there has been no fault, it is perfectly fair that he should be called upon to make repayment of what has been paid to him perfectly correctly under the circumstances when they were made.

Let me point out what would be the result if these repayments were not required. It would be possible for a man with a permanent disablement pension to go on drawing that pension for 20 years, and perhaps more, and at the end of that period, when he was retiring from the Civil Service, to say, "I now make my option in favour of the Civil Service pension; I am to retire next month." If he was not called upon to make repayment of what he had been drawing for 20 years on his military pension, he would be, obviously, in a position to enjoy both, which would be not only grossly unfair to the taxpayer, but would be in direct violation of the Statute. Therefore, while I fully understand the difficulty and hardship that in some cases has resulted from this state of things, it is not possible for me to remedy it in the way in which the hon. Gentleman desires, and I do not think, in point of fact, that any very serious hardship has taken place. I think I know the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and in that case, as in some others, this man had the option of taking either the military or the civil pension, and, if I am right as to the identity of the man, he has, in fact, received a sum of £55 which he was not in any way entitled to. I think there is no real hardship, after he has made his option in his own interest, that he should repay the sum which ought not to have been paid to him, and which was not paid to him through any mistake whatever on the part of the Department.


I am sure the House is much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the very careful way in which he has explained the position with regard to this case, but, if he will permit me to say so, I think that his explanation is a very difficult one to convey to the men who feel that they are suffering under a real sense of grievance. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Treasury have to administer the law, but I respectfully submit that the Treasury are endeavouring to administer a law which is not applicable to the circumstances of the Great War. The Statute of 1887 was passed when there could be no foreknowledge of disability pensions in the circumstances of which we have now a great deal too much information. At that time no man in this Chamber could foresee what was to happen, and in those circumstances it seems to me that in this connection the Treasury has done the harsh thing, because they have endeavoured to fit past legislation into circumstances to which that legislation could not reasonably be held to apply. I would draw attention to the actual wording of the Section, which says: That the same period of time shall not be counted for both civil and military pension. I submit that in the case in which I am concerned, which I think is the one submitted by my hon. Friend, the case of McTaggart, he would not have received a pension for disability had it not been for the disability which came to him during the Great War, and which caused his retirement from the Civil Service. We have an extraordinary state of affairs with regard to this man's ease. I understand he performed 10 years' service with the Colours, and in addition he performed certain civil service, and he is suffering from a serious disability which has caused his retirement both from the Army and the Civil Service. This is the point I want to emphasise. Mr. MeTaggart, with 10 years' military service, a serious disability, and in addition has some civil service, is offered the choice between a pension of £26 18s. 4d. on condition that he refunds 104 or a pension of £13 13s. 9d. with no refundment whatever. Quite apart from the merits of the case, and the legal position, I submit to the right hon. Gentleman and the Treasury that a pension of £13 13s. 9d. per year in respect of 10 years' military service, five years' civil service, and a serious disability which prevents that man earning his living is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, and I sincerely hope that the Treasury will look this matter in the light of the statements made to-night because it is possible for a serious hardship to take place.

I submit that there is a serious hardship in this case if a pension of £13 13s. 9d. is to be given to a man in respect of the service. I have mentioned. I know the difficulty from which the Treasury suffers. I know that they feel if they make a concession with regard to a case of this character they will open the floodgates, and receive thousands of similar applications. But be the difficulties what they may, I say £13 13s. 9d. as an annual pension is no sum to offer a man for such a period of military and civil service, and a serious disability which prevents him earning his living. Therefore I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to see whether there are not precedents which would enable his Department to waive the claim for refund-meat. I have known such claims waived after a great deal of pressure has been put upon the Treasury, and I believe the Treasury has sufficient discretion to waive this demand for refundment.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty Minutes after Ten o'Clock.