Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £38,242,832, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1928, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Pensions, and for sundry contributions in respect of the administration of the Ministry of Pensions Act, 1916, the War Pensions Acts, 1915 to 1921, and sundry services."—[Note: £23,200,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. R. MORRISON
On a point of Order. I think that last June, when we had this Vote, some confusion arose in the minds of some hon. Members who were anxious to ask questions, and that it would be for the convenience of the Committee if the Minister would indicate at what period of the proceedings he proposes to make a contribution to the Debate?
§ The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Major Tryon)
What we suggest should be the course of the Debate is that my right hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary should begin the Debate, and that I should speak at the close. That will give hon. Members the utmost possible time in which to put any points that they may desire to raise.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of PENSIONS (Lieut.-Colonel Stanley)
The Estimate which I have to submit to the Committee will carry us into the eleventh year of the existence of the Ministry of Pensions, and the tenth year since the Armistice. The sum for which we are asking, in order to carry on the administration of the Ministry this year is £61,442,000, and this is still the largest Vote submitted by any one Minister. This sum represents a reduction of rather less than 2156 £2,500,000 on the estimated expenditure for the previous year, and it is the smallest reduction that has been proposed on any of the Ministry's Estimates of expenditure up to the present time. In each of the last three years I have had to present Supplementary Estimates to this Committee for the purpose of carrying on the work of the Ministry of Pensions, and the Ministry has been taken to task for not framing its Estimates more exactly, and being, therefore, obliged to come to the Committee for more money.
I pointed out last February, and I take this opportunity of doing so again, that, in such a complex matter as the administration of the pension system of this country, there is bound to be a slight margin of error. Nearly every item of the Ministry's programme is subject to factors over which we have no control whatever. For instance, we cannot possibly tell how many pensioners or dependants are likely to die during the year; and, again, a bad winter may cause more sickness among the pensioners, and, therefore, compel them to go into hospital, where they receive treatment allowances. I also would like to point out to the Committee that we are not in a position, having received the money granted by this Committee, to go to the pensioners and say, "We are very sorry, but there is not sufficient money left to carry on." It is perfectly obvious that we are bound, and rightly bound, to pay to these men whatever benefit is due to them. Whatever benefit is due to them they receive, and we then come to the Committee and ask for further money. I quite realise, however, that it is the duty of the Ministry to estimate as nearly as possible what will be the demands during the year, and I can assure the Committee that it has not been through want of care and attention to these matters that we have been obliged to come for Supplementary Estimates, which are due entirely to factors over which we have had no control whatever.
When we examine the comparatively small reduction of the Estimate we find that the largest proportionate item is the reduction in administrative expenditure. We have reduced administrative expenditure this year by no less than 14 per cent. of the expenditure last year, 2157 whereas the expenditure on benefits will be only reduced by 3½ per cent. Turning to the Estimates themselves, the administrative expenditure will amount to £1,643,700. I want to explain that figure because it states in the summary that administration includes only subheads A as far down as B3, and amounts to £1,345,600, but it is fair to include in addition to that the administrative cost of the medical services, which are sub-heads O1, O2, O3 and O4, and that brings the total up from £1,345,000 to £1,643,700. In addition to that there is sub-head P, which is travelling and incidental expenses of local committees—a small amount. That expenditure is less by £271,800. I am glad to be able to say that the expenditure on administrative services has fallen from a rate of 1s. 3d. in the £ in which it was in 1920, to only 6½d. in the in the present year, which is very satisfactory. In fact, now the administrative expenses of the Ministry only amount to 2½ per cent. of the total Vote. Of course we cannot anticipate that that proportionate reduction will continue. We are now within sight of the bedrock of the amount of money we must spend on administration, compatible with the efficient working of the Ministry. But I think the Committee will agree with me that we are doing our best and have done very well in achieving the object everyone would wish, and that is that out of all the money that is expended on benefits the largest possible amount should go to the beneficiaries and the smallest possible amount should be used for the administration of the Ministry.
There are many causes which have enabled us to reduce this expenditure. The larger part of it is due to the reduction of the volume of work. At the same time a very substantial portion of it is due to administrative action. It has been the endeavour of my right hon. Friend and his predecessors to simplify processes, especially on those parts of the work which necessarily tend to become of a routine character. Processes which have been instituted to meet emergencies and special conditions have a tendency to perpetuate themselves after their necessity has disappeared, and the Committee that was set up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross 2158 and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), presided over by the present Minister, set itself to simplify and improve the system of pensions and to simplify also the system of awards and the local handling of claims. That work of the Committee has been carried on continuously by my right hon. Friend by constant supervision of purely office processes so as to reduce the detailed procedure to the lowest possible limits. In short, the procedure of the Department, discharging as it does work which must of necessity become more of a routine nature and which is at the present time decreasing in volume, must, in justice to both the pensioner and the taxpayer, involve something like a constant process of internal reconstruction and re-adaptation to changing circumstance and requirements.
The effect of this simplification and decrease of work has been a steady decline in the number of the staff. In March, 1920, which was the peak year, the staff numbered 32,000. In March, 1926, it numbered 11,358. In March, 1927, it numbered 9,130. That is a reduction of rather more than 21,000 since 1920, and of 2,000 odd, or 20 per cent. of those employed last year. Everyone must feel that it is a matter of regret that under these circumstances one has to dispense with the services of these officials who have served the Ministry so well during the last few years. At the same time I think the Committee will agree with me it would be entirely indefensible to keep them there when there was not work for them to perform. We do the best we can for them. They are all reported to the Joint Substitution Board in order that they may be employed, if possible, in other Departments, and I am glad to say that among the Ministry's temporary employés no fewer than 1,400 were successful in the Southborough examinations, and have therefore got permanent posts with the Civil Service, and their future is assured. The total staff of The Ministry all over the country, numbering 9,130, includes 2,741 officers belonging to the Medical Services of the Department, doctors, hospital nurses, orderlies and clerical officers engaged wholly on medical work, and it includes 2,486 in the local area offices of the Ministry all over the 2159 country, some of whom also are engaged on medical services. Only 3,900 consist of clerical and administrative officials employed at headquarters and in awarding and issuing pensions to over 1,500,000 beneficiaries.
I turn to medical services, excluding Sub-heads O.1 to O.4 and starting at O.5 to O.7. That is the benefit side of the medical services, and the amount we are asking for in this Estimate is £2,507,500, a decrease of 8 per cent. on last year's expenditure. Nearly one-half of the cost of medical treatment is due to mental cases, which remain fairly constant. The decrease over last year is due to the diminishing need for hospital treatment. The vast majority of surgical cases especially have had all the treatment they have needed or can need now, but of course there still remain a certain number of cases where the ailments are liable to recur. For these cases it is obvious that we must still retain hospital accommodation, but the number is diminishing, though the necessity for retaining the accommodation will remain for some years to come. On the whole the hospital population of the Ministry is declining, as it is bound to do. We calculate this year that there will be an average number of in-patients of 14,000 of all classes of cases, medical and surgical, as compared with 15,000 last year.
§ 4.0 p.m.
I said all cases—medical as well as surgical. Passing to the expenditure on pensions, and cash compensation of all kinds to pensioners the cost of all classes of pension, allowance and gratuity is £57,283,632. That works out at about £1,100,000 per week, and represents a decrease of £2,000,000, or about 3½ per cent. on the expenditure of last year. The Committee will observe that the decrease is spread over practically all the items from Sub-heads C (1) to N, and is due entirely to natural causes. The principal cause is the death rate among pensioners and their families. I am glad to be able to say that the death rate among disabled officers and men is slowly, though very slightly, becoming lower than it was. On the other hand, the deaths among dependants have 2160 increased. That is bound to be so, because the dependants, who are mostly an older class of beneficiary, as they get older naturally die off quicker. Another big factor in the decrease of the Estimate is the number of children who come off the pension list. Allowances ordinarily cease at 16 years of age, and the Committee will readily realise that there is an increasing number every year attaining that age, and ceasing to receive benefit. In fact, this year 60,000 children will cease to be eligible. Then there is a third factor—an extremely uncertain factor—the re-marriage of widows. Under the long-standing terms of the Warrants, both of the Pensions Ministry and the Service Departments, a widow as soon as she marries loses her pension. During last year some 4,500 widows remarried. Of course, it is impossible to say how long that state of affairs will last, but it cannot, in the nature of things, continue very long. There is an off-set, however, against the reduction of beneficiaries. Every week there is a certain number of new claims. I want to make it perfectly clear that those are new claims to pension of all kinds, from disabled officers and men, from widows and from dependants, and they total about 100 of all classes each week. But up to the present, the reduction in numbers more than balances the new admittances, and there is a steady reduction in the numbers on the register. At the present time, the aggregate number of beneficiaries is 1,650,000. In round figures, we may take it that there are 1,000,000 pensioners and 650,000 dependants.
It may be of some interest to the Committee at this stage to give some details of the position of Great War pensions in this country as compared, on the one hand, with the position in the British Empire, and, on the other hand, in some of the other great nations which were involved in the late War. The figures are very significant, and I ask the attention of the Committee to them. It is not always easy to get comparable figures for an identical period when dealing with other countries, and for the purpose of comparison we are obliged to take the year 1925–26. On this basis the expenditure of the Ministry on pensions of the Great War was, in 1925–26, in round figures, £66,500,000, which is equivalent 2161 to a charge for the year of, approximately, 9s. 6d. on every man, woman and child of the population. The year's expenditure on Great War pensions, as nearly as I can get it for the same period, in the Dominions of Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and in the Union of South Africa and in Newfoundland was, again in round figures, £19,500,000. The year's expenditure, therefore, of the United Kingdom and of the Dominions on Great War pensions was no less than £86,000,000, which is equivalent to an annual charge of £1 7s. on every man, woman and child of the British population of 64,000,000.
I turn to foreign countries. We have claimed in the past that the expenditure of this country constitutes a charge on the population substantially in excess of that imposed upon any other great Power engaged in the late War, and the Committee may be interested to know the figures on which this claim is based. In France we find that the expenditure for the year 1925–26 was approximately £37,750,000. This, on a population of 41,000,000, means a contribution of about 18s. 6d. per head of their population. For the German Empire, the expenditure in 1925 was about £60,000,000, that is, on the basis of the gold mark. This, for population of 62,500,000, means a contribution of about 19s. 2d. per head. For the United States, the expenditure for 1925, the nearest year I have been able to obtain, was £46,000,000. This expenditure, for a population of 112,000,000, means a contribution of about 8s, 3d. per head of the population. These are very striking figures as compared with the figure of £1 9s. 6d. for Great Britain or £1 7s. for the Empire.
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman give the numbers engaged in the War and the numbers receiving benefit in those countries?
I have not got them at the moment, but I will endeavour to get them. They do not affect the point I am making, which is the charge per head of the population. 2162 It has nothing to do with the numbers of men who were engaged in the War.
That does not come within the purview of the question with which I am dealing. I am only trying to give the charge per head of the population of this country as compared with other countries which were engaged in the War.
The number being paid depends entirely on the number killed and wounded, but if you got the figures of the amounts paid in Germany to-day and the other privileges, it would be found that the German beneficiaries are much better off than the English.
I have seen the hon. and gallant Gentleman's point, but he has avoided seeing mine, which has reference to the charge per head of the population. But even if he had the figures for which he asks in regard to Germany, he would not find them very satisfactory, because I think Germany had many more casualties than this country.
§ Mr. TINKER
We are led to believe that the pensioners in the United States are better treated than those in this country. According to the figures given by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman they are not.
The hon. Member is quite mistaken about the point I am trying to make. I am not dealing with the amount paid to each individual, but with the charge per head of the population. If the hon. Gentleman refers to America, he will find that the cost of living there is at least 50 per cent. higher than it is here, and, therefore, they naturally have to pay higher pensions. I am dealing with the charge per head of the population.
We follow that, but we want to carry the comparison further, and find out what the benefits of other countries are compared with our own, and I will repeat the statement, based on personal investigation, that Germany to-day is better to its ex- 2163 service men than this country is—and America too.
I will en-endeavour to obtain the figures, but I think the hon. and gallant Member is incorrect, because, first of all, they only paid £60,000,000 in pensions, and we pay out £61,000,000, and I think they had many more engaged in the War and many more casualties than we had. But I will find out the figures. I want to revert to the point I was making that our charge per head of the population is at least 50 per cent. higher than that of any other country engaged in the War. Of course, nobody in this House or in the country grudges that for one moment. Do not let me be misunderstood as to that, but it is an interesting fact, and it shows that, whatever else may be said about our pension administration, neither the United Kingdom nor the British Empire has been niggardly in its treatment of those who have suffered from the Great War.
Turning to the million pensioners of the Ministry, my right hon. and gallant Friend is continuing the policy of progressive stabilisation, which both he and his predecessors at the Ministry have set before themselves. Necessarily, there are a certain number of cases which must be reviewed from time to time, because what the beneficiaries are drawing is contingent either on some physical condition or on other personal circumstances of various kinds, and it is his duty and responsibility to this Committee to see that the funds with which he is entrusted are properly administered, and that what is being paid is due. But it has always been his endeavour, as it had been that of his predecessors, to discharge this duty with fairness, and, above all, with consideration of the circumstances of cases. He has tried, as far as is consistent with his duty to this Committee, to reduce the review—at least the automatic review at frequent intervals—of as many cases as possible. I think the Committee will agree that it is the essence of a pension from public funds that it should be, as soon as is reasonably possible, adjusted to the stable factors in each case. It should not be liable to be altered with every slight and temporary change in those factors. It is only on such a policy, I believe, that the proper measure of 2164 security, for which pensioners have a right to look within a reasonable time after their title to any pension has been settled, and after the first grant of it, can be reached. At the present time, I am glad to say, that out of 1,000,000 pensioners, no less than 800,000 enjoy practical security of title to their pensions without being subject to any automatic or regular review and adjustment of them.
I will now deal with a point not previously dealt with in this Committee, and that is the question of pensioner children. The great bulk of the members of the families for whom allowances are being paid are the children of disabled men, or of men who have died in consequence of their service. For noncommissioned ranks alone, there are still, in round figures, 500,000 children for whom allowances are being paid every week. The children are of all ages, from four upwards; 90 per cent. of them are over nine years of age and half of them are over 12 years. Perhaps I may summarise briefly what the Ministry have done and are doing for these children. The maintenance of these children is a, special charge on the Ministry over and above the pensions paid to their parents. Since 1917 the country has spent £98,500,000 on the maintenance of children and the annual charge to-day as hon. Members may calculate from the estimate is somewhere in the neighbourhood of £8,000,000. The Ministry's liability does not stop with maintenance during the age of actual dependence only. The State's allowance for the child continues up to the age of 16 years—an age at which large numbers of children are at work and earning. The ordinary allowance for a child's maintenance was extended under the Ministry's Warrants from the age of 14 years to 16 years, largely to assist the parents, if they so desired, to continue the attendance of their children at school, where the local education authority feel themselves justified in providing higher education.
At the present time we are paying weekly allowances for 120,000 children who are over 14 years of age. Not only do we continue the allowance up to the age of 16 in all cases, under the Warrants, but through the Special Grants Committee the Ministry are able to make grants towards other expenses attendant 2165 on a child's education, where, with due regard to the child's abilities, there is evidence that those expenses cannot otherwise be met, and that the father would and could have met the liability had he not been killed or disabled. Up to the end of last year 22,500 children had been assisted by grants from the Special Grants Committee to meet educational expenses over and above their maintenance at an aggregate cost of £750,000, and a present annual charge of £83,000. In addition, the Ministry have power under the Warrants to continue the maintenance allowance for the child beyond the age of 16 in cases where a higher education is being carried on beyond that age, and where the circumstances of the case are found to justify it. In this manner the Ministry have assisted in the education of children to the number of 7,500 and more children are benefiting in this way every year.
I turn to the question of children under 16 who are at work and earning wages. It is still the case that the majority of parents and guardians of children prefer that their children should work and earn at the age of 14 or 15, although there is a Warrant allowance payable up to the age of 16. As far as parents are concerned, it is obvious that that matter must be of their free and unfettered choice; but in the case of motherless children my right hon. Friend is in a different position. He is in a position under the terms of the Warrants to secure that the allowance payable for the child up to the age of 16 is used to his or her best advantage. For that purpose he has, lately introduced a scheme in the interests of motherless children for the disposal of a portion of the allowance which is payable in respect of them while they are at work and earning wages. He has taken steps to arrange, with the help of the local war pensions committee, and strictly on their recommendation and advice, that a portion of the child's warrant allowance should be retained during the time that the child is at work and earning wages. This reserved sum, which is to be not less than 2s. 6d. a week and not greater than 5s. a week, is to be kept at interest, subject to withdrawal of certain sums for any special purpose in the meanwhile. It is allowed to accumulate so that when the child reaches the age of 16 there will 2166 be a lump sum available for it which may be somewhere in the neighbourhood of £26. When the time arrives that the child reaches the age of 16, and the question has to be settled what is to be done with this money, it will be disposed of as recommended by the local war pensions committee in consultation with the child and the guardians, and will be used for the child's interests and the child's interests only. It is possible that it may be found best to let the child have the custody of the savings bank book, with the accumulated balance, and allow it to spend the money as it pleases, or, on the other hand, it may be considered best to expend some portion of the money in the purchase of some necessity or convenience with a view to the child's apprenticeship or work.
That is the scheme in broad outline. It has only been in operation a short time and therefore not long enough for me to be able to tell the Committee the effect of the scheme, which was only instituted after very careful consideration by the Ministry and after prolonged consultation with the Central Advisory Committee and the Special Grants Committee, who entirely approved of the scheme. Both those bodies, I am glad to say, contain members who are not only entirely conversant with and experienced in the practical work of education and juvenile employment, but are also well acquainted with the class of pensioner child with whom the Department is particularly concerned. We have every reason to hope and believe that with the help of the war pensions committees this scheme will prove a real advantage to the children when they reach the age of 16.
§ Mr. FREDERICK ROBERTS
Has the legal aspect of this question been considered, and can the right hon. Gentleman give us any assurance on that point?
Yes. That was considered in consultation with the bodies I have mentioned. The money is not being withheld entirely from the child. It is there available for the child, and may be withdrawn. A question was asked whether the pension not having been drawn would therefore be irrecoverable; but that is not the case. The pension is being drawn and is being put into the bank at interest for the child, so 2167 that it will be of service when the child reaches the age of 16. I will now deal very briefly with one aspect of the work of the Special Grants Committee. In the work of looking after pensioner children the Ministry has, ever since its inception in 1917, been most ably and devotedly assisted by the Special Grants Committee. The Special Grants Committee has a somewhat peculiar function. It was established to give assistance in exceptional cases where it might be held that there was some residue of claim upon the State over and above that provided under the normal rules laid down for the discharge of the State's liability in the Royal Pension Warrants. As such, while their working had to be governed in the main by rules, as the expenditure of State funds has to be governed, they were nevertheless given an element of discretion, and where they have given assistance they have done so within a maximum limit of expenditure and not as if they had been administering the Warrant, and had been able oniy to deal with sums according to a flat rate applicable to all cases. Therefore, the Special Grants Committee have had to steer a middle course on the one hand between that kind of administration which is proper to the set terms of a Royal Warrant and, on the other hand, that large discretion which is exercisable by a purely voluntary fund of which, as hon. Members are aware, there are many at the present time available for ex-service men and their dependants.
There are other functions which the Special Grants Committee have exercised, but I do not propose to go into them, because it would take up far too much time; but I will deal with what is really their principal work, which is the care of pensioner children. Their education and welfare, so far as the Ministry can and should be responsible for assistance, is substantially in the hands of this Committee, and even in those matters in which allowances and grants of various amounts for the benefit of children are provided for by the Pension Warrants, my right hon. Friend now seeks the advice and assistance of the Special Grants Committee, which was strengthened for this purpose on its educational side a year ago. I have already given some in- 2168 dication of the size and nature of the Ministry's work as regards the education of the children. That work is entirely in the hands of the Special Grants Committee. The highly qualified and experienced educationalists who are on the Committee spend a great deal of their time during the year in dealing with applications for assistance for education of any kind and every kind. When grants are made, they continue to watch the progress of the child, receiving reports from the schoolmaster and from their own inspectors as to the progress which is being made.
In addition to the provision of education for some 8,000 children living with their parents, the Committee have the task of exercising supervision over orphan children to the number of 15,000, and, further, of providing for the entire care of children who have been found suffering from neglect or want of proper care, who are usually committed to the care of the Minister by orders of the Court. There are nearly 3,000 neglected children in all parts of the country who are being cared for in this way, and are thus given in every respect a chance of making good as citizens in the future. I have had exceptional opportunities of seeing the work of the Special Grants Committee during the past year, and I am quite confident that I shall only be expressing the opinion of Members in all quarters of the House in saying that the Ministry and the community owe a great debt of gratitude to the members, past and present, of the Special Grants Committee, for their unceasing care and attention which has been voluntarily given by them to the children of ex-service men, as well as to other cases which they are empowered to assist.
Can the right hon. Gentleman give any figures in regard to the number of widows' pensions which have been withdrawn and the number that have been restored?
I cannot give that information now. There are a certain number of pensions that have been withdrawn and, on the other hand, there are a certain number which are restored, but I am afraid that I cannot give any figures without considerable research.
§ Mr. F. ROBERTS
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
Before proceeding to make any general observations, I am sure that it will be the wish of the Committee that I should congratulate the right hon. and gallant Member on the way in which he has presented the facts of the Ministry's administration, and for the exposition which he has given of the great work for which his Department is responsible. I can also express to him my sympathy in the difficulty which he and his chief find, apparently, in accurately framing an Estimate for the year. Having had a short experience of that difficult task, my sympathies go out to them. I should also like to express the hope that, whatever the difficulties may be in framing an Estimate, they will not allow any considerations of accuracy to interfere with the discharge of their responsibility as far as the ex-service men are concerned. However accurate their forecast may be, if there is a real and a just demand for money to meet the special cases which arise, I hope that concern for accuracy will not cause my right hon. Friends to cast the claims of the men on one side.
We have had given in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's survey figures associated with the work of the Department, which, probably, will astonish a good many Members of the Committee who have not hitherto made themselves acquainted with all the work that has been done. The figures, at any rate, will indicate this, as far as the successful applications are concerned, that through the administration of the Ministry there has been created a source of happiness and of comfort for a considerable number of ex-service men and their widows and dependants. I would like to remind the Committee that there are also figures on the other side of the picture. While we are ever ready to give credit for what has been done and to admit that in a great proportion of the cases justice has been meted out, as far as it can be, to the ex-service men and their dependants, there is still a good proportion of cases very near the border-line which have not received the measure of succour which many applicants consider to have been their right. When we look at that 2170 side of the picture, much as we recognise the atmosphere of comfort from the successful survey which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has given this afternoon, there is a pathetic story which comes from the history of those who have been so near the margin, and whom the authorities have felt it their duty to exclude. I would like the Minister, when he comes to reply, to give us, apart from the figures which have been quoted by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in the statement he has been good enough to make, some indication of the intentions of the Government with regard to the type of case which comes within the scope of the observations I have just made. I think I can assure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that any changes he proposes to make or any step it is found essential to take in order that protection shall be given to that particular type of applicant will receive whole-hearted and sympathetic support from every part of the Committee.
I want to approach this question—as I believe every Member of the Committee is anxious to do—in an entirely non-party spirit, because I believe it will be in the best interests of the ex-service men if we do so. The desire which animates every section of this Committee is, I believe, to try, if possible, to make the lot of the disabled ex-service men as comfortable as possible and to lighten the burden which necessarily falls on their shoulders. I am hoping also that in regard to the claims of the widows, the dependants and the children there will be the same happy spirit operating when we have to give consideration to these questions. I am quite certain that the nation does not desire that irritating little economies should be practised at the expense of the ex-service men of this country. Too rigid an observance of regulation may inflict a considerable measure of hardship. I want to appeal to the Minister that he and his colleagues who are responsible for so much which appertains to the well-being of those who fought that the rest of us might live should exercise a reasonable amount of elasticity, which can be permitted with perfect safety, and certainly with greater justice.
2171 I want to consider one or two of the matters which arise under the headings which have been alluded to in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's statement. The first point to which I want to make reference is that with regard to the reduction of the number of offices up and down the country. As far as I can gather from the figures I have looked through, the area offices have, during the past year, been reduced from 80 to 55. I also understand that part-time offices have been reduced. When, in the month of February of this year, we had under consideration the Supplementary Estimate, I expressed a little fear that the reduction in the offices and personnel responsible for the administration of pensions was being carried out perhaps at too great a rate, and that it was becoming increasingly difficult for the disabled men to receive the service which had been promised to them. I was glad to hear the observation of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman that as far as he knows there was no real inconvenience caused to ex-service men by the reduction. I should like the Minister, when he replies, to develop that point a little further, because I am not yet quite clear in my own mind that all these safeguards which the ex-service men and their dependants have a right to expect are still being preserved. A good number of applicants are being driven to write to their respective Members of Parliament. They still have to make a considerable number of applications to the British Legion, and I believe a considerable number of ex-service men are also writing to one or other of the newspapers and consulting the pensions experts who write for those journals. That seems to me to indicate that perhaps too rapid a reduction has been made either in one direction or the other, and I hope that in the future exercise of his judgment as to what is essential in this direction the Minister will take the greatest possible care in order to see that what has been promised to the ex-service man will be faithfully and fully carried out.
I am glad the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has emphasised the importance of the educational side of the work which has been undertaken by the Special Grants Committee. Everyone 2172 will join with him in the hope which he expressed that nothing will be allowed to interfere with the success of the work which they have discharged within the scope of the Regulation. It is in the wording of the Regulation which governs the working of the Special Grants Committee that we find the greatest hindrance to education, and a very big obstacle standing in the way of real educational advancement and reform. I believe the particular Regulation reads something like this: "That all grants should be made on the basis of provision of a kind of education which it is assumed the father would have been in a position to give had he remained alive." That is a very difficult question for anyone to decide. Those of us who have been drawn from working-class homes and know something of the tremendous sacrifices which fathers and mothers are prepared to make in order that advanced educational facilities shall be afforded to their children know that it is not possible for anyone to judge what a deceased father might have done, had he lived, in order to secure such an advantage for his child. When I was privileged to be at the Ministry of Pensions I had this particular matter under consideration and I was hoping to be able to find a better formula. I regarded this as one of the most unsatisfactory provisions governing the work of the Special Grants Committee. I would like to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman whether he has given any further consideration to the point, and whether any amendment can be made to a regulation of this kind. I believe it is very harmful indeed. It is not in the best interests of the children of the ex-service men. The nation can afford to be more than generous in cases like this. The only qualification, in my opinion, should be whether the child left is likely to benefit from the extended education which can be given when there is a demand for such education made by those who are responsible for the well being and upbringing of the child. I hope the Minister may find it possible to accept that wider and broader principle as far as the education of the children goes.
I now wish to make a reference to the question of widows' pensions and to call the Minister's attention to the cases which are being brought to our notice regarding the refusal of widows' pensions 2173 where husbands die some seven years after discharge and where the cause of death is given as something other than a war disability, though there may be every reason to believe that war injury was a contributing factor in a greater or a lesser degree. I know that this is one of the particularly difficult aspects of the pensions administration, but I would suggest to the Minister that there is need for a reconsideration of the matter to see whether there cannot be a redrafting of the Warrant so that some fresh principle can be made to apply. I do not think I am alone in the conclusion to which I have arrived, because I find there is a reference to the matter in the report of the British Legion for last year. I will venture to read the quotation to the Committee. They, too, are very much disturbed as to the effect which this particular Section of the Widows' Pensions Warrant is having to-day. The British Legion says:Your council"—that is the Council of the British Legion—still feels profoundly dissatisfied with the working of Article 17A. It is understood that the guiding principle of these discretionary grants is that there must be some definite connection between the man's death and his war service, and that he must have been in receipt of a pension of at least 40 per cent. at the date of his death. The application of this modified grant is entirely vested in the Minister, and is in consequence exempted from the right of appeal to an independent tribunal.Experience has shown that the Government provision for widows whose claims are dealt with under the new Warrant is inadequate, and it is not difficult to cite cases where a man's death has undoubtedly been hastened by his war service, and yet his widow has been denied pension of any kind by the Minister of Pensions.It is a remarkable fact that the pensions law in this respect falls short of the law covering compensation for the death of a workman in industry. A decision by the House of Lords Appeal Court in a particular case establishes the principle that maximum compensation must be paid under the Workmen's Compensation Act to the widow of a man whose death was accelerated, however slightly, by an accident at work. Your council feels that at least the same consideration should extend to the widows of men whose death has been accelerated by their service in the Armed Forces of the Crown during the War.I hope the right hon. Gentleman will find it competent to accept a declaration of that kind and to extend to the widows affected that greater measure of justice 2174 which seems to be their due. Pensions, it seems to me, should be granted in all cases where the death certificate shows among the causes of death a war disability in one form or another. I am certain if the Minister can see his way to accept a wider and a broader principle in respect of the administration of the widows' pensions he will receive the generous support of all members of the Committee.
With regard to the question of treatment, I feel a little disquieted at the number of complaints which have reached me and other members of the Committee. I feel disturbed at the provision made for treatment. This was a point I raised when the Supplementary Estimate was discussed in February last. Now we find, from the Ministry's Estimates, that 9,400 more patients will probably be treated by their panel doctors or private practitioners. This seems to me to be a particularly large estimate and one that can work very unfairly indeed, because a man, although totally incapacitated from work, may find himself deprived of any sort of allowance at all. That is a position which no one desires the Ministry to take up or would support in the slightest degree. The Ministry has set up a staff of permanent medical officers and advisers, but if this policy, which now seems to operate as far as treatment is concerned, is carried to its logical conclusion, it means that ultimately every ex-Service man who claims treatment allowance will be sent along to his panel doctor or his private practitioner and there will be nothing left for the Ministry's doctors to do for them. That seems to me to be the effect; and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to disabuse my mind when he replies later.
A provision is made, under another head, for sickness grants, and I notice that a sum of £2,000 is allocated for this purpose. There are some 377,000 widows and children of widows, as far as I can gather from the figures which have been published, and the percentage of sickness which must obtain amongst that number must be fairly high. I am wondering whether the sum of £2,000 is a sufficient allowance to make in order to meet the legitimate requirements of those who may be affected in some par- 2175 ticular way, and I should like to be assured by the right hon. Gentleman that proper provision is being made, so far as sickness allowance is concerned, and that there is not going to be any sort of parsimonious treatment for those who care to make application under the Regulation to which I have referred.
When the Supplementary Estimate was under consideration last year I made some reference to the position of the limbless officers and men and I expressed some fears as to whether the Minister was justified in the reduction of £47,000 which he then notified and which, added to the £33,000 reduction in the original Estimate, made a reduction of something like £80,000 in the course of one year. My attention has again been drawn to this deduction by the National Union of Limbless Ex-Service Men, which I believe is an accredited representative organisation and takes under review the circumstances of this particular type of disabled men. It says:Recently cases have arisen in which drastic reductions have taken place and great hardship has resulted.That communication reached me only a short while ago and I can only give it to the Minister on the authority of the organisation concerned, but I want to repeat a question which I addressed to the Minister when the Supplementary Estimates were under consideration. I want to ask him whether he can give us any further indication as to what is the present and intended policy of the Ministry with regard to the limbless ex-Service men and if there is any foundation at all for this statement. I hope he will be able to assure the House that he will make every effort to counteract the mischief which may be caused. This class of pensioner is surely the one which might expect to have its position stabilised and not rendered liable to the interference which is suggested in the quotation I have given.
§ Major TRYON
Will the hon. Member indicate the nature of the interference to which he is referring?
§ Mr. ROBERTS
The quotation I gave was this:Cases have arisen in which drastic reductions have taken place and great hardship has resulted.2176 I take it, if that statement is true, that there has been some interference with a man's pensionable position, and it is in that sense that I use the word "interference." Now I come to the provision of artificial limbs. We were told in February that the reduction of £47,000 had been possible because of securing better contract prices; that was said to be the main reason for the reduction which had ensued, and I believe I then took the opportunity of asking whether it was the whole of the explanation. I am now told, on the same authority that I have just quoted, that numbers of men who have been supplied with wooden legs in preference to metal limbs have expressed a large measure of dissatisfaction, and I am wondering whether any sort of petty economy is being practised at the expense of the limbless men in the provision of the types of limbs now undertaken. If a man feels that a light metal limb is more suitable for his purposes than a wooden limb, why not give him a free choice?
§ Mr. ROBERTS
Although a wooden limb may be lighter it does not mean that it will suit all the purposes for which the man wants the limb, and it seems to me that under the exercise of ordinary discretion the man should be given a reasonable measure of choice so far as the particular type of limb is concerned. Another point I want to refer to in connection with the limbless men is this; as to the need for a definite provision of allowances for replacing the worn clothing for which the man is responsible. I believe under certain circumstances that some allowance can be made in cases of this kind, but I feel that it would be better for the limbless men if they knew that a definite sum can be allocated to them to make good the wear and tear which must necessarily ensue, through the wearing of wood or metal limbs, to the clothing for which they are responsible. Looking at the figures, if a sum of £5 per year were granted, then the cost would be something less than £200,000. It may perhaps be urged that the pension which is paid to the man is supposed to include the cost of the wear and tear of clothing for which the man is responsible, but when we look at the 2177 figures and understand that the average rate of pensions range from £1 to 24s and 28s. per week for this type of case it does not seem to leave a large margin for depreciation of clothing, and I hope the Minister will find it possible to use at any rate, a proportion of the saving in order to make good the deficiency which this type of pensioner has to suffer to-day.
The next point I come to is that of the time limit. We know perfectly well that a good number of cases are being submitted to-day which, from one cause or another, are beyond the time limit that is, seven years. We have made the proposal more than once that the time has come for the elimination of the time limit altogether; and with sufficient safe guards there will be no danger to the State and certainly greater protection to the pensioners if such a policy could be adopted to-day. I believe the Minister finds himself compelled, because of the circumstances which are associated with many of these cases which are presented to him from time to time, to exercise the powers he possesses and admit a good number of cases which go beyond the seven years' limit. With the number of new cases which have arisen, let alone old cases coming up for review, it seems to me it would put all classes of pensioners on a footing of equality if the time limit could be eliminated altogether and let each man take his chance on the merits of his case. Two years ago, when I had the opportunity of taking part in the Debate, I said that it did not seem to me to matter much whether the disability due to War service showed itself at the end of seven weeks, seven years, or 17 years. If that disability was directly due to war service then, whatever the period of time, the State should undertake the obligation of meeting its responsibility. If we leave it as it is now we are not getting away from the danger of one man being able by the exercise of a little pressure through his Member of Parliament to get his case considered and the man who is not able to use that source of advantage being placed at a considerable disadvantage as compared with his more favoured brother.
Having dealt with one or two points under this heading, it seems to me that there still remains this conclusion, and 2178 possibly as long as time will last we shall still have to admit it, that grievances remain to be remedied. Everyone admits with a considerable measure of gratification and appreciation what has been so well done. Everyone concurs with the statement given to us this afternoon by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, that in a large proportion of cases justice has been meted out to ex-service men, widows and dependants. But before I close I want to come back to that small margin of cases which still remains and appeal to the Minister to apply the best judgment he can exercise to wipe out the suffering which is associated with many of these cases. I want to ask him whether ho has considered the creation of any special sort of machinery which could bring this type of case within its scope and under which the benefits, to which these men and their dependants feel they are justly entitled, can be administered and carried through. Could not a portion of the sum which comes year by year from the automatic reduction of pensions be devoted in some special way to meet these marginal and borderline cases, which are so disturbing and so pathetic, and which we come across from time to time.
I want to show, if I can, that there is a real and genuine need for this consideration. Apart from the hundreds and hundreds of letters which come to individual Members of Parliament, apart from the hundreds and thousands of cases which pass through the Ministry of the type I have indicated—and in the course of a year or two that number is not an exaggeration when we take into account the repetition of cases—I am told that at the offices of the Opposition alone at least four thousand letters containing an appeal in regard to hardship cases pass through the hands of the officials. While I plead for a more just measure of pension, so far as treatment is concerned, I believe there is some little difficulty yet in dealing with the re-issue or increase of pensions where the disability has more recently developed. We know the difficulties which are associated with the administration of this type of case, but I believe it is a type that does want most careful and serious attention from the officers of the Department. Many complaints, similar to that which was men- 2179 tioned by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour), reach us with regard to what is felt to be harsh treatment for first failures on the part of the women. I believe it is the custom of the Ministry that a first offence is not punished with the forfeiture of pension, but I understand that complaints have reached us that for first offences there has been a withdrawal of pension for some time, which causes hardship. I know that all sorts of matters have to be taken into consideration in these cases, which it is not possible to bring to the notice of the Committee of this House or indeed to anyone outside the Department. I am only mentioning these cases in order to ask the Minister to see that the erring woman is treated, as I feel sure he has treated her, with the utmost consideration and sympathy.
I am sorry to interrupt, but perhaps it is as well to make the position clear. What happens is that for one offence the pension will be administered in trust for a time. For a second offence the pension will be withdrawn, but there will be a probability of it being restored. Where the woman loses the pension permanently is where she cohabits with a man for some time and puts herself in a better position than she would have been in if she remained as she was previously. That is the system which has been carried on for the past year.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I am glad to have that statement from the Minister. I am sure the utmost consideration will be exercised in this class of case, and I am sure the Minister does not want to drive a woman to undesirable courses. With regard to parents' pensions, I have had a number of complaints with regard to the stoppage of pensions. They find that short notice is given them when the pension is to be stopped, and I am wondering whether it would not be possible for some longer notice to be given. If a revision takes place, and if it means the ultimate withdrawal of the pension, some other steps might be taken than the somewhat hurried step of merely sending a notice that the pension has ceased. It may be that the circumstances of a household have changed, and that a man who has been out of employment may obtain employment, and wages where 2180 he was formerly in receipt of unemployment relief. But, behind that, there may have been a long time when they had to exist on the small amount given them under the parents' pension or the needs scheme, and they may find themselves behind in their obligations. We feel that a little closer consideration of the facts in these cases should lead to a little concession being made and a longer notice granted.
My last point is to ask the Minister whether he has given any further consideration to the demand which is being made for the stabilisation of the present rates of pension. Last year, or the year before, he was able to announce that the present pension rates were to be stabilised, subject to certain conditions, up to 1929. I think one condition was that it should be consequent upon the rise or fall in the cost of living figures. I believe I am correct in saying that the post-War pension rate has been fixed at the sum of 32s. 6d., without allowances, for totally disabled men. If I am correct in that figure, I am wondering if that is an indication of the ultimate standard which is likely to be set so far as the late War pensioners are concerned. If it is, I want to express a hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that such is not the intention, either of the Government or of his department, and that he will assure us that there is to be no reduction below the rates which obtain at the present moment. I think it would be difficult to contend that 40s. a week is too much to be paid as a pension to a totally disabled ex-service man. It seems to me that, the sooner this point is made clear, the greater will be the satisfaction that will come to the ex-service men, and the greater will be the security of the position in which they are placed. I think I can repeat what I said in another connection, that, if the Minister will make this announcement, there is not a Member of this House who will object to that sum as a maximum benefit to go to the ex-service man as a protection and a succour to which he has a right.
§ Major COHEN
I am glad to be able to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, in congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry on the lucid and interesting statement which he has made. It 2181 will be read to-morrow as being a statement of fact, showing exactly what this country is doing for its ex-service men. It is very nearly two years ago since we had a proper Debate on pensions. Last year this Vote was taken during the General Strike, and I think it lasted only for 2½ or 3 hours. I remember very well the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) coming to me and asking me how long I was to speak. I was rather flattered at the interest he took in me, as I did not realise then that when the Debate on pensions had finished, it was to be followed by one of the most important and epoch-making speeches from him that had ever been delivered in this House. It may be said that the fact that no Debate has taken place and that no Motion has been raised since then in regard to pensions would seem to reflect great credit upon the Ministry. It would seem to show that there is a measure of agreement in the country with the Government's policy on this question. I attended recently an international conference which was held at Luxemburg. It was attended by men from all the Allied nations, and Germany and Austria were also represented. America was also there, and, as America is not a member of the League of Nations, it was perhaps the most representative gathering of the nations which had fought in the War that has ever taken place.
Naturally many questions in regard to pensions were discussed. The Treaty of Versailles and the occupation of the Rhineland were also under discussion, and the fact that these questions were discussed by such an assembly without any friction would seem to show that there is more likelihood of the ex-soldiers solving the problems of peace than of the diplomatists of Europe doing so. I was interested to find that none of the resolutions which were passed regarding the treatment of ex-service men would have the slightest effect upon us in this country; in other words, while they were all striving to reach the position that we have reached they could not recommend anything better than our system. One recommendation was that the pensions of war widows should in all circumstances be equal to half the pensions of the totally disabled men. I do not think there is a case in this country where a 2182 widow gets less than half a disabled man's pension. It is apparently true that compared with the standards of the rest of Europe our scale of pensions is very high and our administration is good and sympathetic.
When I was in France some time ago I met a French soldier who was suffering from a double amputation. It is apparently the rule in France to give a man a medal for each time he was wounded, and as this man had suffered several wounds he was covered with medals. When I congratulated him on his fine display of medals he said, "I would not mind giving them all for your pension." It is not of much good covering a man with glory when you do not give him the wherewithal to keep up that glory. We do not keep up the glory in this country, but we do give a man the wherewithal to provide himself with bread and butter. There are some matters to which I would like to draw attention and in regard to which I am not satisfied. I refer to the seven years limit, the final award and war orphans. I am glad to associate myself with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Roberts) in what he has said about the time limit and the final award. It reconciles me to the thought that when in the distant future the party opposite is returned to power the right hon. Gentleman who was Minister of Pensions in 1924 will perhaps be able to attend to these things in future.
Take the seven years limit. The Legion has been pressing the Government for some time about this, and the Minister now is able to revise cases which are brought to his notice by using his discretion. I think he does exercise his discretion on many occasions, but although it is good that the Minister should have this power of discretion, there is a tremendous difference between discretion exercised by a Minister, however sympathetic, and a statutory right. The fact that the Minister is considering these cases seems to me to establish a strong claim to this right being given. Great Britain, so far as the time limit is concerned, is behind other countries and the Dominions. I think South Africa has no limit. Canada has a seven years limit, but any record disablement through service is considered as equivalent to 2183 an application for a pension. If a man in the Canadian Army during service suffered from bronchitis and went to hospital and if at any time during his lifetime he suffered from bronchitis or anything arising out of it he is entitled to put forward a claim for a pension. The British Legion has never said that these men should be entitled to a pension, but they have said that their claims should be heard. Australia has no time limit. France has a five years limit, but they extended it to the 31st of December, 1928, and they may extend it further. In Germany I could not find out whether they had a fixed time limit or not, but I was given to understand that a man can lodge a claim within any period, and if it is turned down he has a right to go to a higher tribunal.
America has extended her time limit so far as tuberculosis cases are concerned and claims are now being considered under that head. It is particularly so far as tubercular cases and troubles arising from gas poisoning are concerned that the British Legion presses forward this revision. The Legion has its own home for men suffering from tuberculosis at Preston Hall, near Maidstone, in Kent, and we are there experimenting to see what is the effect of poison gas on the lungs. Such cases as these may arise well outside the seven years limit. France has been able to extend her period for the same reason. It does seem to me that it is particularly in cases such as tuberculosis and illnesses arising out of gas poisoning that the seven years limit is quite likely to fail. When the Government inaugurated the seven years, they really had no particular data showing why that particular time should have been fixed upon. It might have been 10 years or four years. Seven years ago the limit looked a long time. I ask the Government whether they can possibly reconsider altering the limit, at any rate so far as the tuberculous men and gassed men are concerned. The British Legion at their annual conference last Whitsuntide, passed a resolution to that effect, and so did the women's section. Seeing that they have nearly 2,000 relief committees and 3,000 branches, it cannot be said that they are not in touch with the ex-service men.
As far as women are concerned, the 1924 Warrant allows cases to be con- 2184 sidered if a man was in receipt of a pension at the time of his death, although more than seven years have elapsed since his discharge from the Army. This is under 17B of the Warrant and is a tremendous step in the right direction, and it has enabled the Minister to grant pensions to many women who otherwise would have been debarred. Article 17A gives him discretionary power. That also has proved of very great benefit. But even so, there are still many cases of hardship. Under 17A, cases are sometimes rejected even where there is a connection between the effect of service and the cause of death. The fact that life is shortened by even a short period should surely entitle a woman to some kind of compensation? Under the Workmen's Compensation Act, if a man's life is shortened only by an hour, that enables his widow to make a claim. What applies to a civiliain, should certainly apply in the case of men who were wounded in the cause of their country. There was the case of the widow of a man in the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. He had been pensioned for gas poisoning attributable to war service, and this was subsequently altered to bronchitis. He was eventually given a final award for 104 weeks in 1923. He died on 1st November, 1925, and the certifiable cause of death was bronchitis, following gas poisoning. It would seem from that fact that the widow deserved a pension. The man had received a pension for a definite illness due to war service. But he was not in receipt of a pension at the time he died, and his widow was refused a pension under 17A and 17B for this reason, though he had obviously died from something arising out of the War.
There is another point about women. There are very serious anomalies connected with widows outside the seven years limit, who are granted pensions under 17B. These widows are in a different category from those whose husbands died within the seven years. They have very considerable difficulty in making out their case. They have to get influence to bear on the local committee, they have to approach Members of Parliament, and eventually they are so persistent that the Minister accorded them a pension. But all the same they are pariahs. I cannot understand why. 2185 They are not entitled to a funeral grant or to an alternative pension, even although the husband was in receipt of one. They are not entitled to remarriage gratuity. I do not know why a woman whose husband died more than seven years after his discharge should not want to marry again as much as a widow whose husband died five years after discharge. Such widows are not eligible for consideration under the Special Grants Committee Regulations. In addition to that, in the case of those widows who get pensions under 17A and re-marry, all allowances for their children automatically cease. I would be very glad if the Minister, in his reply, would refer to that subject.
I want to say something on the question of final awards. The British Legion still feels that the right to appeal in the case of further sickness should be granted. I believe that some 4,000 cases have been put right under the Minister's discretion. We wish to acknowledge the benefits of the Correction of Errors Scheme. Though 4,000 cases may seem a great number, because it is a great number it seems to me that there must be a good many others who have not perhaps been able to get their cases considered, and to whom a statutory right of appeal, if it were allowed, would be of great benefit. In regard to the correction of errors, I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on what is a tremendous improvement. It encourages me to think that perhaps he will eventually grant us this right of appeal.
There is another matter to which I wish to draw attention. If men have become ill after they have received their final award, they have to go before the Ministry of Pensions doctor in order to get a "recommend" for a board, which will put their case forward for reconsideration. But the Ministry are increasingly sending men to panel doctors for treatment, and the panel doctor's recommendation to the board is not taken into consideration. It is sometimes very difficult for a man to leave his panel doctor. He goes to the Ministry doctor and says that the panel doctor is doing him no good. The Ministry doctor says, "Nonsense!" and the man is pushed from pillar to post. He is frequently 2186 left under the panel doctor, whose recommendation is not taken. Something might be done in this matter.
A final word about war orphans. I was very glad to hear that, in connection with the Special Grants Committee, there is to be no tightening up so far as war orphans and children of disabled men are concerned. The country has a responsibility to these men, not only to the parents who are dead, but also to itself, to see that the children are brought up as proper citizens of the Empire. The British Legion appreciates very much all that the State is doing and is endeavouring to supplement the work by apprenticing the children in suitable apprenticeships, and securing employment through after-care advisory committees that have been established by the Legion throughout the country. It would help the Legion considerably if the Minister would allow his agents in the various districts to give the Legion's after-care committees the names and addresses of the war orphans in these districts as they reach the age of 14 or 16. It would enable them to make efforts to get the children suitable employment.
One word about the extension of children's pensions. It is possible for a pension allowance to be extended until the child reaches 18, or in some cases 21, where the child is apprenticed and receives a nominal wage. But it is not always done. The nominal wage is fixed by the Minister, I believe, at 10s. a week, and we sometimes get this curious situation arising. As long as the child is earning under 10s. a week, it receives a pension of 10s. If it is apprenticed for three years, and the first year it gets 5s. from the employer, it gets 10s. from the Ministry, making 15s. in all. If in the second year 7s. 6d. is received from the employer, the 10s. pension is still paid, making 17s. 6d. for the week. If in the third year the employer pays 10s. a week, the pension of 10s. is immediately dropped. Therefore from 17s. 6d. a week in the second year there is a drop to 10s. in the third year, and this drop occurs at an age when the boy is probably fully grown and wants more money for food and clothing. I do not know whether it is possible to alter that system, but 2187 certainly the matter is worthy of consideration.
Those are my three points. They have often been raised before, and each time their raising has been of some benefit to the men on whose behalf they are raised. The British public is behind the ex-service man. The Minister and the Government are sympathetic. Much has been done, comparatively little remains to be done, but because it is little do not let us hesitate to do it.
§ Dr. DRUMMOND SHIELS
I am sure we have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken. We appreciate the practical knowledge with which he speaks on this subject. There is a reduction in the Pensions Estimates this year, of practically £1,000,000 for warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men, and of a little over £500,000 for women and children. I am sure we would all be glad if we could believe that this reduction had been made without having caused any injustice or hardship and without depriving any entitled to them of pensions or allowances from the Ministry. For myself, however, with a knowledge of a considerable number of cases which in my opinion have not received justice, I am not satisfied that this satisfactory result has been achieved. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who opened the Debate, referred to what other countries have done, and the Minister of Pensions has, on many occasions, expressed great pride at the leading place we, as a nation, have taken in this connection. I doubt if it is true in regard to our Dominions or in regard to America, though it may be true of the conscript countries of Europe. Whether it is true or not, it does not justify us in having excluded from the benefits of the Pensions Ministry even one case which is deserving of treatment or of financial aid. We must look back to get the proper attitude, not to other countries beside us now. And the broad fact is that when men went to the War, they were assured that if they survived, they would not suffer in their material interests from having engaged in the War, and that if they were killed or died later their widows and children would not suffer.
During and at the end of the War there was comparatively generous treatment 2188 both of disabled men and of the widows and children of those who had died, though it was never excessive. Since that time it seems to me that there has been a gradual diminution in the generosity with which our ex-service men and their widows have been treated. One of the first restrictions was in regard to children. Children born while a man was in the service or during a certain limited time thereafter receive a pension. Children born afterwards, although the father ultimately dies from war disease or injuries do not receive a pension. Why should that be so? When the State took the man, it took not only the man himself but also all his potentialities, including his power as a father to maintain his children. Surely that is an anomaly which is unjustifiable and which marks the first stages of this gradual decrease of the scope of benefits, as at first allowed. The original Warrants were much more generous in their terms than the subsequent Warrants. They have been gradually whittled down. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken referred to the question of final awards. That subject has been brought up time and again, and the Minister has always claimed that he is entitled, or the Ministry is entitled to credit for having made permanent those pensions which otherwise might have been interfered with. I would like to point out that in the Warrants of 1918 and 1919 permanent pensions were laid down on a basis, which while providing for permanence also allowed of their being reconsidered without the very difficult procedure which we have to-day. These Warrants stated—5.—(1) "When a permanent pension has been granted it shall not be altered on account of any change in the man's earning capacity whether resulting from training or other cause; neither shall it be subject to review except (a) When a man whose pension is assessed under Article 1 of this our Warrant claims that there has been a substantial increase in the extent of the disablement due to the original cause.There were other reasons for review, but the claim there was sufficient to ensure the case being gone into, whereas now the procedure is extremely difficult. In the case of final awards for those under 20 per cent. where there was no permanent pension, there is the point which has been made over and over again that it is impossible for any medical man or 2189 any body of medical men to say that in 52 weeks or 104 weeks a man's condition will be such that it can be met by a certain money payment, and that, thereafter, the obligations of the State are ended. That is quite impossible, and we claim that Circular 30, under which we have to work at the present time, is a very difficult procedure. It is not only difficult, but it is not known to the ex-service man. He is not told about it. He goes for treatment and it may be he grows worse; but he is not informed that he has that power of revision under Circular 30. Sometimes doctors in hospitals tell the man but normally there is no way by which the man can get to know unless through someone who is specially informed on the point. It seems to me that the procedure of Circular 30 is not at all an equivalent for the fairness and the opportunity which was present in the earlier Warrants.
Another difficulty exists now in connection with these cases. A man goes for treatment and in many cases—certainly around Edinburgh this has been a noticeable feature—he is told that his condition is such that treatment by a panel doctor is quite sufficient. The panel doctor may certify that the man is unfit for work altogether, and it seems as if in many of these cases there is a rather mean attempt to save the allowances to which the man is entitled by his condition. I certainly think the Minister ought to see that if a man's condition is such as to require treatment and if he is unable to follow his employment, he should get the allowances to which he has a right. We ought also to give a right to every man to a revision of his case on the certificate of a medical man. The Ministry does not show that respect to the certificates of either panel or ordinary medical practitioners which they ought to show. The Ministry will not accept or sometimes even consider any outside medical opinion. I do not think they have any justification for that attitude. I should like to refer to the question of widows' pensions and the seven years' limit. That matter has already been touched upon but I do not think it can be emphasised too much. We have here an excellent example of how the original regulations have gradually been encroached upon to the disadvantage of the widow. This seven 2190 Years' limit for widows is not part of the seven years' limit for new claims laid down by the Act of 1921. The Royal Warrant of 21st May, 1915, opens thus:—Whereas we deem it expedient to make further provision for the pensions of widows and children of British warrant officers, noncommissioned officers and men whose deaths result from the present War.In that Warrant there was no time limit, and the remarriage gratuity was equal to two years' pension. In the Royal Warrant of 29th March, 1917, Article 11, we get the introduction of the seven year principle. It read as follows:The widow of a soldier who in consequence of the present war either (a) is killed while in the performance of military duty, or (b) dies as a result of wounds Or injury received in the performance of such duty, within seven years of his receiving such wounds or injuries or (c) dies of disease certified as contracted or commencing while on active service, or as having been aggravated by active service, within seven years of his removal from duty on account of such disease, may, provided the soldier's death has not been caused by his serious negligence or misconduct, be granted a pension.Since then aggravation which originally gave full entitlement has been whittled down. In respect of Article 17 (a) aggravation now is not considered sufficient for a widow's pension. The Warrant of 17th April, 1918, continued the seven years' limit as did the Warrant of 6th December, 1919. The Warrant of 21st June, 1922, included the seven years' limit but added this important new interpretation:'Removal from duty' means the first authorised absence from duty during the war, and 'removed from duty' shall bear a corresponding meaning.That, I think, is one of the most unsatisfactory additions that has been introduced. I had a case with which the Minister is familiar concerning a man who served at Gallipoli and had some very slight illness there. He came home and got married, and ultimately had children. After his marriage, he served in France and was wounded, and he served later in Italy. After his discharge he developed an illness from which he died. The Ministry refused a pension to the widow on the ground that the illness from which the man died—which, as a matter of fact, has a very obscure œtiology, from a medical point of view—had had its origin in Gallipoli. Therefore, the widow because she married him 2191 after that date was not entitled to a pension, although he had been engaged on two fighting fronts subsequently. I think that is a refinement of discrimination which is entirely unworthy of our pensions administration, and I am sure the British public would not support such an attitude. That is the sort of case in which we should not take up so much time and have so much hairsplitting as to when and how an illness started. Obviously, the man was a soldier, he married while he was in the Army, he had children, he saw considerable active service after marriage, and he died as the result of a war disability. Why should there be any more fuss about it? I am sure the British public is prepared to shoulder such a clear responsibility without wasting so much time and money in investigation and considering how to get out of paying the pension. Why should there be in such excellent cases the necessity for exertions and pressure of all kinds in order that bare justice may be done? The warrant of 26th March, 1923, amended Article 17 of the Warrant of 1919. This Article provided that:In all cases where a man at the time of death was in receipt of a pension of not less than 10s. a week, the widow should have a pension even if his death was not connected with the war disability of half the rate of pension drawn by the husband.The new Warrant provided that pension should only be granted at the discretion of the Minister, and if in his opinion the circumstances of the death justified the issue of pension, and the man at the time of death was in receipt of a pension at the assessment of not less than 50 per cent. There was considerable dissatisfaction at this, and in January, 1924, a further Warrant was issued making the assessment 40 percent. Under Article 17 (b) there was to be the full pension if death was due to war disability, even though seven years had elapsed since the man's discharge or removal from duty. The decisions under Article 17a that the death must be mainly due to the war disability are a cause of considerable hardship. The case of workmen's compensation, which has been mentioned already in this Debate, is a very correct analogy. It is quite obvious that where men since the War have 2192 suffered from malaria, bronchitis and various other diseases and are in a low state of health they are more susceptible to any other illness. In their case, ordinary ailments tend to take a more serious form, and they run much greater danger of death.
Why should this rather mean discrimination be made when death is not wholly due to War disability? I have always felt that here again the Ministry do not realise the wishes of the British public. These discriminations in broad and obvious cases are undesirable and unnecessary. They give a great deal of trouble and the British public will not thank the Ministry for the small and petty economies effected by these means which must be offset by greater administrative costs. The question of tuberculosis has been mentioned. Here we have cases where men after some years have developed tuberculosis. I feel that in all these pension regulations the decent. fellow is penalised. The man who ran to the dressing-station or into hospital on the slightest provocation has the best medical history sheet, and he always has the advantage. For instance two men claim a pension on the ground that they have tuberculosis. They are found to have tuberculosis, and the history sheet is examined. In the case of one man, they find no entries at all although that man may have had frequent heavy colds and bronchitis and so forth, but he was of the type who carried on, and refused to go to hospital. He will be told that there is no record in his history sheet of having been in hospital and it is suggested that, if he is not an imposter, at least he did not contract his disability in the War. The other fellow may be a man with a much inferior spirit, and he has a medical history sheet full of entries—bronchitis, catarrh, and all sort of trifling things. They say, "Yes, this is obviously a genuine, decent man who suffered a great deal in the Army, and the development of his condition is quite a normal and natural result of what we see on his history sheet."
It is very unfortunate that the finest men in our Army, who very often went through great hardships and carried on in spite of physical disabilities, should be penalised by this very narrow and book-keeping outlook. I feel that a broader and more generous view should 2193 be taken, and an alteration, which it is in the power of the Ministry to make, of any of these warrants or circulars or regulations which are found to have a cramping effect, should be made. I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman or his Parliamentary Secretary entirely for this state of affairs. It is a process which has been going on ever since the War. The British public was satisfied that the warrants as they were made then were just and reasonable, or at least not ungenerous, and, that job being finished, they turned their attention to other things. Since that time there has been this gradual diminution of the exercise of generosity, doubtless under Treasury pressure, and the right hon. Gentleman in these matters has simply carried on the evil tradition. I hope he will try to see that the human element is introduced a little more. We all have a great respect for our Civil Service, but while we, on these benches, are sometimes accused of being fond of bureaucracy and desirous of increasing its powers, we do not want to see the administration of pensions entirely carried out from a bureaucratic point of view and purely as a matter of procedure and regulations and circulars. We want to see the human element brought into our administration, and where there is any doubt or any difficulty, we want to give the ex-service man or his widow or his children the benefit of the doubt.
We have had a great deal of national difficulty, and the country has been suffering many disadvantages and a considerable loss of wealth in many directions. We are surely not so poor, however, the country is not so hard up, we have not got to the stage yet when we need to split hairs in a matter of this kind. We can afford to treat the ex-cervice man, his women, and children justly, if not generously. I have been ashamed to go to widows who have been left with their children, women who would not have been widows if their husbands had not gone to the War and fought for their country, and to tell them that the Ministry of Pensions, representing the British people, had turned down their claims. I am sure that many hon. Members in all parts of the House have been in the same position. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will realise that he can exercise to the full his 2194 generous instincts in this connection, and that during the next year we shall see that these cases, which we have had so frequently—I, at least, have had a very great many of them—will have ceased to be a reflection on the good name and honour of the British people.
§ Mr. GRACE
The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. Roberts), who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench, said he desired to approach the question of pensions from a non-party point of view. I certainly think he did so, and I am quite sure that it is the desire of every Member of this House to avoid making party capital out of the sufferings of ex-service men, but I do not feel quite so confident about certain portions of the Press, and I have a case here to which I should like to call the attention of the Minister, in order to ascertain if he has any information in regard to it. It is a case which appeared in the "Daily Herald" of 30th May last, of a man with one leg. It gives his photograph, and it is obvious that he is suffering under some very great grievance. Underneath it are the words:Disappointed. A Northern ex-service man about to burn 80,000 cigarette packets collected in the hope, based on a misunderstanding, of getting a new leg.It is apparent from this picture that the man must have applied to the Ministry, that he has had a new artificial leg refused to him, and that he has then devised this extraordinary means, heard of through some rumour, no doubt, that if he can produce 80,000 cigarette packets, he will receive a new artificial limb; and even when he has carried out that curious idea, the limb is apparently refused to him. It seems to me extraordinary that such a thing should be put before readers of the "Daily Herald," who are very ready to believe anything against the present Administration.
§ Mr. GRACE
I am quite sure that anybody reading that would assume that this man was suffering from some real grievance. I believe that last year no fewer than 10,000 artificial limbs were supplied to ex-service men, and that the great bulk of these were renewals of limbs previously supplied. I would like to ask the Minister if he has any record of this case, whether he knows the name 2195 of the man referred to in the "Daily Herald," whether in fact the man did apply to the Ministry, and whether he did receive a limb or had it refused to him.
There is one point which has not been touched upon up till now, and that is the question of what is happening to ex-service men who have gone oversea. I would like to ask the Minister whether any steps are being taken to watch the interests of these men. It seems to me that, when we have nearly 1,000,000 unemployed in this country, the difficulty of the wounded ex-service men in obtaining work must be far greater than in the case of men enjoying ordinary health. Therefore, I think that the wounded ex-service man who has the pluck to go abroad, either to take a job or to search for one, should be able to feel that he has the interest of a friendly Government at home watching him and seeing, if he requires assistance, that he gets it without any difficulty at all. Can the Minister tell the Committee whether anything is being done to follow these men, to see that they are regularly receiving their pensions, and to make sure that their interests are being properly looked after?
There is another point. We hear a great deal at the present time about economy, and I think that, whatever may be the state of the country's finances, it is certain that we cannot economise over pensions to wounded men or to their widows, but—and I hope the Minister will forgive me for saying this—I feel that it may be possible to bring about some further economies in the administration and distribution of pensions. After all, we grant a very large sum from this House. I understand that last year it amounted to over £61,000,000, and it seems to me that, in the interests of ex-service men, we should do our utmost to see that the great bulk of that money finds it way to the ex-service men, and that only a very small portion of it is allowed to go towards its administration and distribution. I believe that if we could reduce the number of medical boards—and I understand that that is now the policy of the Ministry—if we could ask ex-service men to fill up far fewer forms than they have been asked to do in the past, if we could see that that very unpleasant certificate, which 2196 from time to time in the past has been sent to ex-service men to find out whether or not they were still alive, could be reduced in numbers to a minimum—if those things could be carried out, I believe a very considerable saving could be effected, and we should have the knowledge that the bulk of the money which we allocate to ex-service men finds its way to the men themselves.
Lastly, I would like to ask the Minister if anything is being done by the Department with regard to those permanently disabled men who are in our hospitals and who have little or no hope of ever being able to regain their health and to leave those establishments. I feel that in the case of these permanently disabled men something should be done to get them, so far as we can, away from the hospitals and into the pleasantest and most beautiful parts of the country that we can find. I would like to ask the Minister whether the entertainments and the distractions which years ago, shortly after the war, were showered upon these permanently disabled men are still being given to them, and I should like to know to what extent anything is being done to get these men, and particularly those suffering from neurasthenia and that type of trouble, away from the element of hospitals into surroundings where there will be a far greater chance, in my opinion, for them to recover and enjoy such health as they may still have left. We cannot possibly, in the case of these men, restore them to the health which they have lost, but I feel that we should, at any rate, have the knowledge in our own minds that we have done the very best we can for them.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. R. MORRISON
The hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Grace) commenced his speech by congratulating the Committee on the fact that these Debates on pensions took place under non-party auspices, but he was the first to attempt to make any party capital out of the question by going out of his way to introduce something which had very little connection with the Debate in order to try and hit at a Labour newspaper. I do not think the hon. Member made his case any stronger by doing that sort of thing, and I hope that nobody on this side will be tempted to follow him. It has been generally recognised that in these Debates, for once in the year, we endeavour to stop 2197 trying to score off each other as political parties. May I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Fairfield (Major Cohen) on the exceedingly interesting speech he made this afternoon, and also on the fact that, perhaps because of his own personal disablement, he finds so much pleasure in life in looking after others? The point that impressed me was his plea to the Minister to see whether anything could be done to alter the time limit. If the time limit could not be abolished altogether, I wonder whether it could be abolished as far as it affects sufferers from chest, bronchial and stomach troubles, in order to cover the cases of the large number of comparatively young men who are beginning to develop tuberculosis of the lungs.
Apart from that, I want to raise only one point, becaus I hope that by confining myself to one point it may receive more attention than if I wander over a wider field. I think Members of all parties, who come into contact at all frequently with ex-service men, must have been alarmed at the very large number receiving small disability pensions who have been out of work for a prolonged period. They seem to get a far greater share of unemployment than ordinary men, the reason being the handicap of their disability. Take the case of a man who has had a machine-gun bullet through his arm. It is difficult to compare the relative disability of that man with another man, because so much depends upon his occupation. If he is a clerk his disability is but slight, but if he is a manual worker, using tools, it means, practically, that the trade which he has at his fingers' ends is of no further use to him, because of the weakness in his arm. A man with a bullet wound through the arm is unable to use a hammer. A man with slight shellshock or with some nervous trouble may formerly have been employed in the building trade, but now he cannot be trusted to climb a ladder.
The point I wish to make is that while the man's pension may be commensurate with his disability, the way in which he has to earn his living ought to be taken into account, because a man may find himself in the position of being unable to find work. There are numerous cases in which a man of that type finds himself 2198 with a disability pension which is insufficient for him to live on. I hope the Minister will understand that I am not making any suggestion that the man ought to get 100 per cent. pension, or anything like that. The type of man of whom I am thinking has got a pension of anything from 8s. up to £1 a week. It would be all right if only he could get employment, and he is able to do certain kinds of work, but his disability is a handicap, and he is very much restricted as regards the work for which he is fitted. I have come across many cases, and I am sure other hon. Members have, too, in which men of this type are rapidly losing hope. They have been out of work for years, they are existing—I will not say living—upon a small disability pension, and they have got into the frame of mind in which they do not care whether they ever work again or not, because they have lost all hope of ever getting another job.
Some of these men, who have experienced long periods of employment and have only a small disability pension, are unable to get proper food, they develop malnutrition and some finish up in a sanatorium suffering from tuberculosis of the lungs. When that happens—and I have known quite a number of these cases—they are refused a pension in respect of tuberculosis although they may be getting a disability pension in respect of a wound. The officials of the Ministry contend that the tuberculosis has been neither caused by nor aggravated by their war service. I raised a similar point, although a much narrower point, last year. If a man who has been out of work for years because of his disability, who has been slowly starved, who has been putting up with a cup of tea and a piece of bread instead of a dinner each day, gets so run down that he develops tuberculosis of the lungs, surely the Regulations of the Ministry ought to be wide enough to say that that man's disability has arisen—well, indirectly—from his war service. That is a layman's point of view, at any rate.
I am sure the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have no desire to mark time in their Department, and a good deal of work has been taken away from them. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might occupy his time by cooperating with the Ministry of Labour in 2199 getting a census of unemployed disabled ex-service men, that is, disabled ex-service men who are capable of working but are out of work. I do not mean those who have been out of work for a week or a month, but those who have been out of work for a long period. I do not want to go further and make any suggestion that is impracticable, but I am sure that once we learn how many disabled ex-service men have been out of work for a long period and do not appear likely to obtain employment, the right hon. Gentleman will feel the impulse to formulate a policy for those men. The right hon. Gentleman has got more than his own Department to think about, and he knows that it is not economy to pay a man 8s. or 10s. a week if the only result is that the man is left to draw 25s. a week from the guardians for the rest of his life.
Major-General Sir JOHN DAVIDSON
The King's Roll National Council have got all the statistics for which the hon. Gentleman was asking just now, giving the total number of disabled men out of work, month by month, for the last five or six years. I should be very glad to give the hon. Gentleman this information if I could meet him afterwards. I have it with me now.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I am much obliged to the hon. and gallant Member. I was not aware that anyone had collected those statistics. Obviously, that will enable the Ministry of Pensions to tackle the job much earlier than I had anticipated. No charity organisation is doing this work efficiently to-day, or making itself responsible for the ex-service man who has a small disability pension but is so heavily handicapped by reason of his disability that he is not able to get permanent employment. In vew of the fact that work of the Ministry is getting less—fortunately—I would ask the Minister to consider whether some new scheme could not be devised to meet the case of these men.
§ Major HILLS
I want to raise a case which, I believe, is one of the few in which, as I submit, a mistake has been made. I am quite sure I can get the sympathy of the Committee, and I hope I shall succeed in persuading my right hon. Friend of the justice of my conten- 2200 tion. The case in question is that of an officer in the Durham Light Infantry who served on the Somme and lost his left foot, and then lost the left leg below the knee. In 1917 he was given a wound pension of £100 a year, and no question arises about that. In 1918 he was discharged as unfit for further service, and given retired pay of 7s a day, in addition to his wound pension. The total amount of the retired pay and wound pension he then received, plus the 20 per cent. addition given, was £273 4s. a year. This amount he received until last year, when he got a notice to say the retired pay would be reduced, and instead of getting £273 4s. a year he was at once cut down to £105 a year, being £100 a year for wound pension and £5 for retired pay, in place of £127 retired pay. I claim on his behalf that, quite apart from all other questions, his retired pay was made permanent on the 15th January, 1920. Upon that day this notice was sent to him:Sir, I am directed to acquaint you that you have been granted in respect of your disability retired pay at the rate of 7s. a day from the 5th January, 1920, in addition to your wound pension.The notice goes on to tell him that the Paymaster-General will pay his retired pay. In this notice, which is partly in print and partly in manuscript, the word "temporary" is struck out. The notice runs "retired pay" and not "temporary retired pay." Where it says that the pay runs from the 5th January, the words "to the" are struck out, and so no date for the termination of this retired pay is given. The officer read that, as I think anybody or any Court of Law would interpret it, as being a permanent award of 7s. a day from a certain date with no date given for the termination or for the review of the award. The notice does not state that the amount was subject to review. The notice is signed by the appropriate officer, "William Withington, Director-General of Awards," it is initialled in the corner, and it has all the marks of a formal document. I think my right hon. Friend will agree that if that is a final award it can only be reviewed under Article 4 of the Royal Warrant of 1920, and that according to Article 4 the only facts that give occasion for review can be summed up as fraud or error. In this case I am certain no fraud will be suggested, and I do not think error can be suggested. If I am 2201 right in that, this officer is entitled to 7s. a day retired pay for life. I said just now that he was told his retired pay would be reduced. He received a document in 1926 saying that his retired pay would be cut down from 7s. per day to £ a year and that document states:It has, however, been decided that it will not be possible to regard your pensionable disability, gunshot wound, left foot (amputation) as seriously affecting your capacity for earning your living in civil life beyond the 29th March, 1927. You will, as from the following day, be eligible only for an award of retired pay at the rate of £5 per year in addition to your wound pension of £100 a year.Assuming that I am wrong and that that award was subject to review, it is reviewed on the ground that this officer is earning his living in civil life, and has not been seriously affected. This officer was wounded in the first attack on the Somme in 1916; his foot was amputated in France, he afterwards came over to England, and, in 1921, after a series of operations of a smaller character he lost half of his lower leg, and below the knee there is now only half the leg left. This man has never been in regular employment since that time. He walks with a stick and is only capable of walking about two miles. He has been refused employment over and over again by employers who said they would gladly have employed him if he had not been incapacitated. He is debarred by his injury from following the occupations for which he is fitted. In former years he was employed in the Dominions, and he has worked as a traveller. It is clear that he cannot get employment, and surely it cannot be argued that a man who has lost one-half of his lower leg is not seriously incapacitated. I cannot believe that the Minister of Pensions or any doctor would say that this man was not seriously incapacitated, and I am certain no business man would say so. This man is seriously incapacitated. I have refrained from arguing about the law on this question, but I base my case on two points. In the first place, the award of 1920 was a final award and not subject to review upon the ground of this man's earning capacity. My second point is that, even if this case were, subject to review, it is not in accordance with common sense to say that a man who has lost his lower leg is not incapacitated.
2202 May I now give a few more facts. This man got an original pension, plus retired pay, of £273 a year. On the strength of that he married, and he has three children. On the strength of that pension he furnished a house on the instalment system. I contend that the State has no right to give a man a pension of that kind and then cut it down. His pension is now £125 a year, and on that he has to keep his home. Even if this man was paid too much at first, and I do not admit that he was, you have no right to give him that pension for something like nine years, and then cut it down to a fraction of what it was. I hope the Minister of Pensions will recognise that this is a case in which justice and equity demand that he should restore this pension.
I have a further small point only to make upon light metal limbs. I listened with great interest to what has been said on this question. I have here quotations from letters in 232 cases, all from soldiers who have received the light metal legs. They are mostly cases of amputation below the knee, and they all express the very great benefit which the light metal leg has given to them. One of these soldiers says in his letter:I wear the leg all day without pain. It is 2 lbs. lighter, and I do not get the heavy drag of the old wooden leg.Another of these soldiers writes:All trouble ceased with the wearing of a metal leg, and I have a better pull on life. My walking efficiency has increased by 100 per cent.One case has been brought before me in which a light metal leg has been refused and the man has been given a wooden leg. I think the same generosity should be exercised in this case. I am convinced from the information which has been given to me that light metal limbs are of very great benefit to the soldiers. I hope in future the soldiers will be given a choice in all these cases, and will be allowed to have light metal limbs if they wish to have them.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
I fully appreciate what the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) has said about light metal limbs. I understand that there is a lighter willow limb, and I want to ask if the Minister of Pensions has any definite opinion about these limbs as to which is the more suitable for dis- 2203 abled soldiers. I will not add to what the hon. and gallant Member has said on this point, but I can assure the Minister that this is a matter which is exercising the minds of a great many men who complain about the limbs with which they have been supplied. I have been informed that some of these men feel that they have been rather badly treated when going up for their final awards, because they do not get enough expenses. Another point of complaint is in regard to late claims. We hear of hard cases, and it is a very sore thing for us to tell a person that he seems to have what appears to be a good claim, but it cannot be admitted because it is more than seven years over the time. In answer to a question, we have been told that in one district there were 70 cases of late claims admitted. I want to know on what grounds they were admitted, and if there are any special grounds. I heard with interest this week, in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Blackpool (Sir W. de Frece), that in 100 cases outside the seven-year limit special grants had been made. I want to know the basis on which those grants were made.
I would like to emphasise the point which has been raised by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison) about the unemployed disabled man with a small pension. I have several cases, and the percentages are very small out of the total number of disabled men. The last report issued by the Minister of Pensions shows that in regard to permanent disablement pensions the degree of disablement was 100 per cent., and the number of pensions, 16,635. On the lowest scale of 20 per cent. the number of pensions was 97,929. The same proportion is found among the conditional pensions. In cases where the degree of disablement was 100 per cent. the number of pensions was 15,682. This goes right through the scale down to 20 per cent. degree of disablement, and the total number of pensions in this instance is 38,883. According to this Report there are 45,558 fresh applications. I think on this point it would be a great convenience to hon. Members if when a similar appendix is compiled in next year's Report we could have separated from the total the number of pensions 2204 made permanent in regard to fresh applications. I am sure this would be a great help to us in our work.
I want to raise a point about the Warrants. In last year's Report we found some new Warrants, and I would like to know if there have been any more this year. In 1925 there was a new Warrant dealing with the reassessment of former war disability pensions, and there was another Warrant dealing with the reassessment of pre-War disabilities. On the 25th May, 1925, another Warrant was issued dealing with ex-ranker officers' pay, and another dealing with warrant officers and Air Force officers. There were nine altogether, and the ninth Warrant dealt with the patents of officers and nurses. Has the Minister of Pensions received any information in regard to the working of these new Warrants in the course of the present year? If there have been no complaints, I am sure the Members of the Committee would like to have this information. Have there been any new Warrants issued since the Report was published, and what class of pensions is affected? With regard to stabilisation, I should be glad if the Minister could say a little more about that question. I was glad to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary said on that point, and I should like to be assured that matters are working out quite satisfactorily under the 1925 arrangement.
Of course, it is very difficult for hon. Members to avoid raising personal cases, and I am sure the Minister will not think we are grumblers because we raise hard and difficult cases. I would like to refer to a case which I brought before the Minister. It is the case of Isabella Boyce, of Glasgow, who was deprived of her pension because she had been taken into Court. I admit that this woman was of a somewhat quarrelsome disposition, but responsible people have assured me that she was not really of the criminal type, but was excitable and quarrelsome. This woman was entitled to the pension, but it was taken away from her because she had been the subject of police court proceedings. I should be glad if the Minister would again give this case his attention. I regretfully admit that this woman is of a quarrelsome disposition, but that is the only reason why she was taken into 2205 Court, and I think it is rather hard that she should be deprived of a pension to which she is entitled under the Warrant.
I notice this year that the total number of cases being handled by the Ministry has dropped to 1,650,000. I should be glad if the Minister in his reply would add to that figure the division of the pensions into classes. In the Report of 1925 we are told that there were 25,600 officers, 1,114 nurses, 509,500 men, 154,000 War widows, and 563,000 dependant children, bringing the total up to 1,794,400. I shall be very glad to have the division into classes, if it is possible for the Minister to give it, because I am afraid there is a tendency, after 10 years of pensions administration, to take the departmental rather than the human view. I am quite sure the Minister will agree with me that we ought not merely to concentrate on a few hard cases in which pensions have been taken away because of bad actions on the part of pensioners, but should pay a tribute to the very wonderful character of the great mass of the people who receive pensions, and the patience and fortitude with which they bear the sufferings which are the result of the War.
Sir J. DAVIDSON
I desire to occupy a little of the time of the Committee in reference to neurasthenic cases. These cases are often extremely hard, many of the sufferers being unable to do any work at all, and, not only that, but they probably have to have someone to look after them. Some of them have had final awards of a very low rate of pension, against which they have appealed, and their appeal has been turned down, so that, as a consequence, they are without any pension at all, and they cannot get work. We know that there are a good many disabled men who are unemployable, not because they do not want work, but because they cannot work. I had a case the other day, and it is only one of several. A man was brought to me, and, obviously, he was pretty bad, for he was incapable of coming to my house without being led there. He had been blown up twice at sea, and on one occasion was in the water for three hours. He had a final award, his appeal failed, and he is now not in receipt of any pension. I maintain that, in cases of that type, the Minister ought to use his powers 2206 to reopen the case again, even though it may have been turned down on appeal.
My real object in mentioning this case, which, as I have said, is only one of several similar cases that have come to my notice, is to ask the Minister to use his powers a little more freely and liberally in opening up certain cases. In one case that I have in mind, the man was constantly referred to a Warrant which is out of print. I think the Minister has that case before him now. These little things are pin-pricks. I have the greatest admiration for the way in which our pensions administration is carried out, hut we are all of us getting up against really hard and difficult cases, cases where a rule has to be broken, and, if the Minister has power to break the rule, I would say let the rule be broken Where it is necessary. I have had cases in the hands of the Ministry similar to that mentioned by my hon. Friend. I really think that they need looking into, and that a little liberality and generosity should be shown towards these men. I get, of course, as does everyone, a number of cases of people who are "scrimshankers," people who, perhaps, have never left this country at all, but Who make out a very plausible case for themselves, and I give the Ministry every support in turning down such cases; but there are certain cases which I think should be looked into, and I shall be very glad if the Minister can give some comfort to the Committee this afternoon by saying that he will exercise his powers in regard to opening up those cases, even after appeal, and looking into the merits of them.
A considerable number of disabled men are now out of work, and I wish Members of Parliament would take a greater interest in this problem in their constituencies. The King's Roll National Council are constantly making appeals to Members of Parliament to get on to the local committees themselves, or see that other people do who take an interest in the matter and press forward the work that we are trying to do. We have had some encouragement, because we have seen these numbers gradually going down for the last four or five years, but I believe that a great deal more could be done if every Member of Parliament, whatever his party, would, when he is in his constituency, make inquiries and 2207 see what he can do to assist the King's Roll committees in their difficult job. I feel very strongly that we ought not to have any disabled men unemployed at all, and, the more Members of Parliament can help in reducing the number, the better.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I recently asked a question with regard to widows whose pensions had been withdrawn, but unfortunately, the Minister was not able to state the number of cases in which the pension had been withdrawn and the number in which it had been restored. The right hon. Gentleman on that occasion made a specific statement as to the course that was adopted by the Ministry, and indicated that some latitude was taken in dealing with these cases, but in my experience I have found that it is very difficult to get restoration of the pension in a case of that kind. I have particularly in mind a case which was submitted to the Ministry quite recently, and which was taken up by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a society which is particularly careful about seeing that any case that they take in hand is satisfactory; and, when they had obtained the particulars in this instance, they made definite representations to the effect that they were, and had been for some considerable time back, quite satisfied that all was going well.
I had another case some time ago, in which there had been a failure from the moral standpoint, and in which we have not succeeded in getting the pension restored. I should be the last to say that we should not try to have a proper moral standard in life. Upon that, from the theoretical standpoint, we can all agree. But I am bound to say that we are dealing with war pensioners, and we ought not to forgot that, during the war for holiness, as it was described, there was no standard in regard to morals. Morals had no significance when we were engaged in this war for holiness. I remember an evangelist in Dundee going round recruiting, and calling upon young men without any regard to their moral standard, but simply on the question of their girth and height and fighting capacity. If that were the position during the War, it does seem to me to be a position of undue rigidity for the 2208 Ministry to exact now such strong conditions as to make is so difficult to get a restoration of pension in a case of this kind, where it is proved and substantiated that there has been a reversion to a proper line of conduct.
I was glad to hear an hon. Member on the opposite side of the Committee speak with so much earnestness of what is being done in other countries. I have here particulars of cases of tuberculosis, commonly known as "T.B." cases. One is that of a petty officer in the Navy, a man who has put in 24 or 25 years' service, including several years in submarine work. While carrying out his duties in a submarine, he had a fall, and he attributes his present development of tuberculosis in some degree to that accident. Strangely enough, however, the Admiralty, from 1915 to 1923, have no record of this man's being in the sick bay, as he says he was, on several occasions, and he is not able to get the requisite evidence to show that his present condition of being entirely down and out physically is due to the development of tuberculosis. His case has, therefore, been turned down by the Ministry. They maintain that it has been too long in showing evidence of development. My hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Dr. Shiels) has, however, given his opinion, as a medical man, that in such instances you can have the prevalence of the disease without outward manifestation, and I do contend that, when you have a young man who comes in with a first-class physical record and goes out in that shattered condition, a gross injustice is being done to this man who has served the Government and his country in these circumstances.
Another case from Dundee is that of a man who would have been quite justified in claiming that he was engaged in national service, for he represented in an important capacity a commercial firm dealing in seeds and agricultural requirements. He felt that it was his patriotic duty to join up, and, accordingly, he presented himself, and, according to his own statement—and he is a very reliable type of man—the doctor turned to the colonel and said, "Here is a fine specimen of humanity," and the colonel said, "I wish we could get them all like that." The Ministry, however, refuse to recognise this man as 2209 having tuberculous trouble, because, as they endeavour to make out, there was not a sufficiently early manifestation of the trouble. In one of his letters he says:I was being tested in London No. 2 Hospital, and was having the sputum test and other tests bearing upon this particular trouble.That has been ignored. He is now in a sanatorium in the Dundee district, and his wife and family are in despair at the situation which faces them. His son, who was going to serve an apprenticeship, has had to give that up, and so distressed was his wife when I sent to her the announcement of the Ministry's decision that she communicated with no other than His Majesty, in order to see if something could be done from that quarter. Of course, the communication was simply relegated to the Ministry of Pensions. She came to London and went to the Ministry of Pensions, but did not see the Minister. She was relegated to another section that is interested in such work, and we have still the position in which nothing has yet been done as far as we know.
I was in Durham last week-end and got into conversation with some mining people who mentioned a similar instance of a man who with his wife and family were being left in destitute circumstances after long years of service. The case was turned down, but an ex-major of the Army who had got interested in it took it up, and the man has been provided with £2 a week, which has caused satisfaction to those who know the family circumstances. That man, again, was an outstanding figure, a splendid stalwart type of man, but he would have been entirely down and out had it not been for this particular intervention. I am quite willing to believe the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are anxious to do what is in their power, but there is a limitation to that, as we can understand. There is no reason for making a party question of this. I have not found any variation between the Ministry under the Labour Government and under the Tory Government. I find there is rather a settled position. I have never varied in the belief, and I expressed it at the beginning, that when the War was over there would be a 2210 steady movement towards a decline in doing thorough-going justice to the men who went into that great struggle. Where you have men of such first-class physical record after a few years of getting clear manifesting trouble of this kind—I have often heard it said by the Ministry that they like to give the benefit of the doubt, but in such cases the doubt goes away on the other side. It looks to me, if there is a possibility of getting out, that is the way the Ministry goes. It is not the way it ought to go. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Major Hills) gave some striking figures with regard to the supply of metal limbs. Whether he is in sympathy with the Minister or otherwise, I do not know.
§ Major HILLS
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I was not listening. Does he challenge my figures? I have 232 quotations from letters of soldiers who have all lost a leg below the knee.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
That was the beauty of it. I noted particularly the number is very large, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman has them all exactly down. It struck me as singular that he should come in with such emphatic evidence apparently to support the Minister before he had spoken, so that he should not have to give the figures.
§ Major HILLS
I must explain that I am not supporting the Minister. I am suggesting that he should issue more of these light metal limbs and fewer of the wooden limbs. These cases have been furnished me by an association that looks after the interests of limbless ex-service men.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I am satisfied the hon. and gallant Gentleman has done a noble work and the Minister feels relieved that he has substantiated the case. It shows that sometimes on the other side of the House there is evidence that is available to support the Minister if he is likely to be in a difficulty. I am submitting that there is a serious difficulty here for men who have gone into this business with a strong position from a physical point of view and developed such serious trouble. I remember the case of a man in Dundee who was doing linotype work at a fixed salary. Could we get anything out of 2211 the Ministry to deal with that man? No, we could not. He was crushed in spirit as well as in body. To the credit of the firm who employed him, they have made up to a very considerable extent for the deficiencies of the Ministry. That sufferer has now gone forward to "the last rally." There is need for broadening out the view of the Minister. Although we will admit that his view is wide, it gets narrow the more he gets to the actual men he has to deal with. Everyone connected with the Ministry who has to do with scrutinising and adjudicating upon cases should rise more to what I hope is the standard of the Minister in trying to do a greater modicum of justice to the men than they have yet done.
§ Sir JOHN PENNEFATHER
From the speeches which have been made it is evident that the Parliamentary Secretary's statement was regarded as satisfactory in all quarters, broadly speaking. But we have heard a good many speeches in which points of detail have been raised, and in particular the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Fairfield (Major Cohen) made a very illuminating speech in which he referred at some length, and with great knowledge, to the question of the seven years' time limit. I certainly agree with everything he said on that point. I think it is possible that even if the Ministry do not see their way to change the seven years' time limit they might administer the rule in such a sympathetic way that, at all events, the majority of the really hard cases will be met. I do not think anyone who knows my record in connection with ex-service men and their dependants and pensioners will accuse me of having been too favourable to the Ministry, because I am afraid I have been a thorn in their flesh. I imagine there are few Members of the House who have had a longer and larger and more vigorous correspondence with the Ministry than I have had. Sometimes I have been successful, sometimes I have not. I realise, as I think most Members will realise, that our correspondence in regard to pensions has very much diminished of late, but I do not think it would be wise to try to draw an inference from that, because my own belief is the reason I do not hear from a great 2212 many of my constituents whose cases have been turned down is not that they are satisfied, but simply because, being very patient and very good fellows on the whole, they say, "Our Member has had a try for us. We know he has done his best for us, but the rules and regulations do not permit our case to be dealt with in what we consider a fair manner, and that is that, and we will say no more about it." But these grievances exist.
I am thankful to say I have had examples where the Minister has taken a very broad and very generous view. I am going to cite one case, not only because I feel I ought in fairness to mention it, but because I hope the example may be followed in other cases. It is the case of a constituent of mine who, now that the matter has been settled, I will admit had not a leg to stand upon. According to all the rules, the first reply of the Minister that the case could not be considered was perfectly correct. I felt, when I wrote, that my constituent was absolutely ruled out according to the law and the regulations, but there was a point in connection with it that appealed to me, and I put it up to the Parliamentary Secretary. He wrote back that in view of the statement as I had presented it he would have further inquiry made. After a lapse of time, I had a letter to say the Ministry had decided to go as far as to refer the matter to a medical board. I was not very hopeful even then. I cannot give an explanation as to why I thought he had not a leg to stand upon without entering into the man's personal and private affairs, but, at all events, after a furthter period, I received a welcome intimation that the Minister had taken such steps as to enable special consideration to be given to this matter, and that out of fairness and sympathy he had decided try allow this man a pension. I hope that example may not be a solitary one, and that the Minister will always act in that way and will—as I know has been done in this case and others—wherever there is any question of doubt, give the benefit of the doubt to the man concerned. On behalf of my constituent and myself, may I say I am grateful to the Minister and to the Parliamentary Secretary for the trouble they took in this matter, and for the generous way in which they treated my constituent, 2213 although they would have been justified on the strict letter of the law in refusing to do anything for him.
§ Mr. PALIN
I am sure that we shall all feel grateful to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who presented the Estimate for bringing to our minds the heavy burden and the very heavy responsibility which the War has left us with regard to pensions. I join with previous speakers in paying a, tribute to the Minister, for, on the whole, I believe that, as far as Regulations allow him, he has dealt with the cases, which it has been my duty to put before him, fairly, and even, in some cases, broad-mindedly and generously. I am sure we were also delighted to hear the very excellent record of the beneficient work of the Ministry in looking after the orphan children, and so on. But, after all is said and done, the Regulations are a very different thing from the generosity of the Minister, and the Regulations are the very devil. I should say they give Members of this House more trouble with their constituents than anything else which has troubled them since the War.
With regard to education grants, I am sure there is no Member on this side nor any fair-minded person in the whole country, who does not desire to see the orphan children of any soldier who gave his life for his country—whether he was in the ranks or an officer—have the best education that is possible for the nation to give them to equip them for the battle of life. Deprived of the care of the father, and in many cases of the mother, surely a child is greatly handicapped by the loss of the guidance which the father, particularly, would have given and that qualifying restriction, that the child should have an educational grant to give it such education as its father would have been able to give it, should be at once wiped away, for it is a disgrace to the nation that it should be allowed to stand. It is decidedly snobbish and should be swept away, and I trust the Minister will consider what it is possible to do to wipe away that blot on our pension Regulations at the earliest possible moment. After all, we know that the War itself proved, if it proved nothing else, that brains are not confined to any particular class of society. We had brave men, and brainy men and good men, who had occupied very humble positions in 2214 life, but whom the War brought to the front, and enabled them to do service to the nation. I trust, as far as educational grants are concerned, that particular qualifying Clause may be reconsidered. It is not going to cost us a great deal, and it would give a great deal of satisfaction that such a discrimination should be abolished.
Another thing which causes us great trouble is widows' pensions. In the case of widows' pensions, where it cannot be proved after a lapse of seven years that the man died as a direct result of his war service, we get more trouble than anything else, and it is not always, as I know from my own personal experience, the lead-swinger type of person who is the sufferer. I have a personal friend who lost a leg during the War and, by the time he lost it, his back had been filled with shell splinters. He came back into the service of the corporation with which I have been connected for some years, and was given a job, which was made for him, as telephone attendant. He was so afraid that he might lose that job, and so pleased and anxious to give the best service he could, that when the shell splinters started to work out of his back, he never reported sick, but went to his mother who was a more or less skilled nurse and got attention. Finally, when he had to go into hospital, and his case was diagnosed as pneumonia, he was still cheery, and when I went to see him in hospital he said, "I shall soon be better. Shall I get my job back? "In two days, he was dead. In that case I am certain if the medical men employed by the Ministry could have had that evidence placed before them, the widow's case would have been considered. If the man had been a man who ran to the doctor every time he had an ache or pain, his widow would have had a pension, but because he was one of the stoical kind of persons who did not want to hang on to the nation, and who wanted to be as self-supporting and have the same feeling of independence that he had before he lost his leg, his widow is deprived of a pension.
I could give many cases in my own constituency, and these cases have been before the Ministry. There was the case of a man in a humble position in life who rendered very distinguished service and was decorated for it. There is one 2215 thing I cannot understand about these cases. In this man's case there was a history before the War and after the War. Before the War the man had had no more illness than was usual in a man following his occupation, but after the War there was a continual history which the panel doctors from time to time— for there were two or three panel doctors—said in their opinion was directly due to his war service. It is a funny thing that the panel doctors' opinion seems to be absolutely wiped out. I do not know why. The general practitioner attending a man in the ordinary course is apparently to be considered as less honest than a man who has been specially employed by the Ministry. I do think that not only should the Regulation be relaxed in these very hard cases, but that some regard also should be paid to the medical evidence submitted from the general practitioner who has been going in and out of the man's house and attending to him during the period that has elapsed since the time he became pensionable.
I should also like to add my tribute to the work that has been done by the King's Roll Committee. Unfortunately, the last few years have not been the most favourable time to press upon employers the desirability of making a situation for a disabled man. The difficulty has been to find employment, as we all know, for able-bodied men and there is little enough employment, in such districts, at any rate, as that in which my constituency is situated, to be found for those who are able-bodied. Still, we do find here and there throughout the country firms who are prosperous and who can find employment. As I stated on an earlier occasion when we were discussing this matter, employment is found for a skilled footballer in order that he may be able to play some football, and a situation is found for a skilled musician or someone else for whom they desire to find work. I am not complaining about it. It is a very proper thing. I know a colliery firm in the district I represent where the employment of one or two skilled musicians has been a very desirable thing to keep the men together and to give the workmen some encouragement to study music and to give themselves and their fellows some pleasure. 2216 But what I am trying to drive home is that if these people do it in these cases, it is possible to do it in regard to disabled men.
I am not pleading for these men for the extra money it will bring them. We often talk lightly about, work, and make fun about trying to dodge it, but there is no person more unhappy than the one who is not allowed to work. I am speaking of a normal person—not a mentally deficient person, of course. As a matter of fact, I was extremely struck on one occasion when visiting a sanitorium, when one of the members of the deputation I was with, asked the medical officer how he punished the people who broke the regulations. The reply was that the greatest punishment he could inflict was to stop them from working. I believe that was true, and I believe that, quite apart from the disability, it is a great punishment for the majority of these disabled men who, previous to their disablement, had lived active lives, to be made to feel they are derelict and useless in the world. I believe there are a great many situations which could be created in any large works which could absorb larger numbers, and, as trade improves, I do trust employers will consider the matter.
§ Mr. SMEDLEY CROOKE
If the hon. Member will allow me, does he know that a Bill was brought into the House by myself in April to make it compulsory for employers of labour and authorities to employ a certain quota of disabled ex-service men?
§ Mr. PALIN
I fear my memory does not serve me sufficiently to know all the Measures which have been introduced in this House during the time I have been here. I know there have been many, but very few have been chosen. I do not really know, after all is said and done, whether compulsion is the best way to go about it. I know, of course, that you could not compel local authorities in the main to do much more than they have done. I know the local authority with which I am connected has not only adopted the King's Roll scheme, but has also, as far as possible, discriminated in regard to firms with whom they do business who are on the King's Roll. I feel it ought not to be necessary to compel anyone to take up this question. It should be a patriotic duty. Most of us 2217 here are old enough and, but for the mercy of God Almighty, might be in the same position as those poor fellows, and we have only to bring it home to ourselves as to the terrible mental effect it would have on us if we were compelled to hang about feeling we were useless hulks, while, at the same time, we are in full possession of all our faculties, and feel we can still render effective service to the community.
One word with regard to the reduction of staff. I do not think the nation grudges one single penny of the £61,000,000 that the Minister is asking for, provided they can be satisfied that it is being properly applied. From the statement that has been put before us this afternoon, I believe that the money has been properly applied; but I do feel that in the reduction of staff we may be carrying economy a little too far. That very small figure to which the administrative cost of pensions has been reduced at the present time is most striking, but I would impress upon the Minister that not only have the ladies and gentlemen employed in the local pensions offices been doing the work of the Ministry in regard to making out applications and forwarding the applications, but they have done a great deal of beneficent work in advising pensioners not only as to how they can put forward their case, but where they might get a job. From my own experience on a local pensions committee I know that the pensions officer has been the guide, philosopher and friend and has been looked upon as such, and he has looked upon the people under his care as personal friends whom it was a delight to see were doing well and making the best of their circumstances.
I am afraid that the reduction of staff may be carried too far. There is necessity in every town of any size and importance for a small office, even though there may be only one man or woman there to keep in touch with the people and carry on that side of the work. If we concentrate this work too much in the county towns where men will have to go long distances to get information in order to put forward their cases I am afraid that we shall be driving them to consult a very undesirable class of person with whom, unfortunately, some of us have come in contact. I refer to that type of person who has probably been some sort 2218 of subordinate clerk in the service of the Ministry and who has set himself up as a pensions expert for the sending of cases to Members of Parliament to be reopened, cases which have not the slightest chance of succeeding. The poor widow or the poor pensioner is led to consult this class of person, and the discredit is left on the Member of Parliament or on the Ministry when the cases are turned down. It would be far better, even though we might spend a few hundred pounds more than would be necessary otherwise, to provide some place where the pensioner could go to get advice and assistance which has been given to him hitherto. While we have to look upon these things from the point of view of percentages, I hope we shall also look upon them from the point of view of not carrying economy so far as to make the Minister of Pensions into merely a soulless machine.
Up to now, I am pleased to testify that, whatever Government has been in power, there has been some milk of human kindness imported into the administration of pensions and I trust that will be continued, that the criticisms which it has been our duty to offer this afternoon may be taken by the Ministry in the right spirit, that we shall consider not that their work is absolutely perfect but that it is capable of improvement in the directions indicated, and that we shall be able to remove those difficulties which cause so much trouble to our constituents and be able to do justice and be generous to those who stood in the breach at a very critical time in the nation's history.
§ Lieut.-Colonel WINDSOR-CLIVE
The hon. Member who has just spoken need not be afraid that in expenditure on administration the Ministry will be unduly reduced. As a rule, a Government Department does not voluntarily reduce its staffs to any great extent. Reference has been made to the fact that the country does not in any way grudge the money voted for the Ministry of Pensions. That is perfectly true, so long as the country is satisfied that the money is going for the benefit of those it was intended to benefit, and that the expenses of administration are being kept down to the lowest figure. Pensioners are chiefly anxious about two things—first, security, so that when their pension has been Granted it is not going to be 2219 taken away and, secondly, that the rate will not be reduced. I share the hope expressed by the right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Roberts) that the pension rates will not be reduced. One realises the excellent work that has been done all over the country by local pension committees, and the help they have given to claimants in presenting their cases so that they may come before the tribunal in the best possible way, and I should like to ask what steps are being taken by the Ministry to keep in touch with the local committees all over the country.
Reference has been made to the fact that, unfortunately, it seems sometimes that the best men are doing rather badly in the way of getting pensions. A man comes back and tries to stick it without calling upon the State for assistance, and after a time he finds that he is compelled to apply for assistance and then time has gone, perhaps he is too late, perhaps evidence which might have enabled him to establish his claim is no longer forthcoming, and his claim fails. I do not know quite how that state of affairs is to be remedied; but it does seem very unfortunate that some men and perhaps the most deserving of a pension find themselves unable to get it. Sometimes a man makes a claim when he is suffering from a disability caused or aggravated by his having been gassed during the War. His claim is supported by his local doctor but there is no confirmation of his statement in his medical history. It may sometimes have happened that in heavy fighting when the medical units were working under very great stress and pressure that complete records were not kept, and probably they cannot be got. I am not criticising the medical units in any way. However, that may result in a perfectly good claim being refused and an injustice being done to a deserving man. It is obvious that a claimant must be expected to substantiate his case, but when cases of this sort do occur, I hope the Minister will give very great weight to the opinions of the man's doctor especially if he was the man's doctor and knew him and his physical condition both before and after the War.
I would like to endorse the remarks of one of my hon. Friends in regard to the re- 2220 of staff being disproportionate to the amount of work still being carried on by the Ministry. I do not share the view of the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Windsor-Clive) because I have a very rough experience of what has taken place in our own district, that we can safely leave the matter of staff to the Ministry. It may astonish the House to know that in the Rhondda Valley, out of 42,000 or 43,000 adult population, there went to the King's service and the service of the country, 18,000 men, who joined Kitchener's Army at the outbreak of war, and to-day we are left in that district without a single pensions office, although we have 2,000 file cases in the Rhondda Valley. We have not a single Pensions Area Office of any kind in my district, not even a temporary one, to serve these people. The Rhondda Valleys are elongated, and the two of them comprise an area of seven miles in extent. We formerly had an office for some time at the junction of the two valleys, but the main work has been removed to Cardiff which is 14 or 15 miles away from the position where the Rhondda office formerly existed.
The office at Pontypridd serves a whole chain of valleys including Merthyr, Aberdare, Mountain Ash and the two Rhondda Valleys. The distance from the top of the two valleys to Pontypridd is something like 12 miles, and the nearest point, where I live, is four miles distant from Pontypridd where the sub-area office is situated. That is how the Ministry deal with the requirements that may arise with regard to the officers and men who have come back into those valleys. That is the gratitude they display for the service that those men rendered and for the sacrifice which they made. The hon. Member for Kirk-dale (Sir J. Pennefather) extolled the Ministry in regard to one case which he got through. I wish I could share his good fortune. I have 1,200 men who are suffering just under 20 per cent. disability, who are in receipt of Poor Law relief. Some of them are in the workhouse at Pontypridd. These men are unable to get employment and the Employment Exchange say that, because of their inability to get employment and their not having stamps on their books, they cannot grant them benefit. The result is that the Guardians have to offer them the workhouse. In many cases they 2221 are single men who are in the Pontypridd workhouse and they are suffering disability varying between 14 to 19 per cent.
I wish to bring before the Committee the case of Holman of Penyraig. This is a Rhondda case. The man received a pension for a certain period. The pension was discontinued because he got better and went back into the colliery. We have no quarrel with the employers in the Rhondda Valley. They found work for the men when they came back. Many of these men worked for two or three years and then failed, and in many cases they have not been able to obtain their pension because, as suggested by the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow, they happened to have been fighting in regions where their condition was not entered on their history sheet. In several cases they received no medical aid until some time after they came back from the front line, and the result was that it was not entered upon their sheet and they have suffered in consequence. This man was ultimately taken to the Ministry of Pensions Hospital at Aberavon, and while there, was operated upon. It was said at the time that the operation had nothing to do with his disability. That might be true or it might not be true. I am not a competent authority to make a declaration on that point. At any rate, the operation was performed at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital at Aberavon. The man remained there for some time. Eventually, he was discharged and returned to his home.
For the last three years I have been fighting his case in order to try and get the Ministry of Pensions to recognise it. He has been to the King Edward Infirmary at Cardiff twice, and the doctors there refuse to have anything to do with him. They say he is a Ministry of Pensions case, because an operation was performed on him some years ago at the Pensions Hospital. The poor man is now between the devil and the deep sea. We cannot get assistance for him in any way. The doctors at Cardiff will not have anything to do with him, and we cannot get the Ministry of Pensions Hospital to take the man in again. He is now receiving parish relief, and, unless something 2222 is done, he will continue to suffer and probably go to an untimely grave. The Ministry of Pensions say that, although they performed an operation upon the man at the Pensions Hospital in 1923, they did not do so because they thought the man's illness was due to disability arising from war service. The poor fellow is in the unfortunate position that he cannot get relief or assistance anywhere. I can give details of many other cases, but this is the most recent and glaring one. I want to know why it is not possible for something to be done in order to relieve the sufferings of this man.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I only wish to detain the Committee for a very few moments in order to refer to those numerous cases which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. Roberts) first of all referred to, namely, the cases on the borderline. I suppose it is only natural that these are the particular sort of cases which are brought before us as Members of Parliament so that we may approach the Minister. It has always been a recognised axiom of English law to give the prisoner the benefit of the doubt. Still more, therefore, ought the various medical boards of the Ministry to give the 'benefit of the doubt to disabled' men. I am sure the subject naturally lends itself to the frequent existence of a big element of doubt. May I give one simple example? Take the man whose disability is bronchitis. He is discharged from the Army and is receiving a pension in respect of his disability. His work and his life lie in a town such as the one I represent, where the atmosphere is not too salubrious. Possibly the employment he is able to undertake places him under conditions and in a position that a man suffering from bronchitis should not be subjected to. The complaint turns into tuberculosis. The better that type of man, the more anxious he is to continue to work and to earn his living. Consequently, his position is worse when he is forced to come before the Ministry again, or in the event of his death his widow's position is worse. Any medical man would tell you that in all probability the tuberculosis is the result of his bronchitis. But no, the decision is generally given that his tuberculosis does not arise from his disability.
2223 I have been in communication with the Ministry during the last fortnight concerning a case which, I think, exemplifies this. It is really a very glaring case, and, with the permission of the Committee, I will give the details of it. There is a man who joined up in October, 1914. He was discharged in 1917 with pulmonary tuberculosis. That was his pensionable disability. His rate of pension varied from 50 to 100 per cent. at varying periods. He died in 1926, nine years after his discharge. Accordingly, his widow's right to a pension is dependent entirely upon the discretion of the Ministry of Pensions. Her claim to a pension was turned down. I took the case up and the Ministry turned it down when I first approached them. I again drew the attention of the Ministry to the man's medical record, which showed that, when he was examined in October, 1914, at the time of enlistment, the medical officers reported, "His heart and lungs are healthy." I pointed out to the Minister that here was a man who was not suffering from this trouble when he joined the Army and that clearly his death, although nine years after his discharge was the result of his war service. The answer I received was as follows:The view of the Ministry is that the late soldier's pulmonary tuberculosis was of many years' standing, although there were periods when it was temporarily quiescent. The Board which examined the man in 1917 found that the disability was due to natural causes aggravated by exposure, and the medical officers of the Ministry are satisfied the disease was present when the man enlistled, although not sufficiently active for the enlisting officer to detect physical signs.I would ask the Committee whether that is a case of even giving the taxpayers the benefit of the doubt. I hold that there is no doubt. To strain our Regulations to such an extent that it shall be held that where a man is reported by a medical officer to have healthy lungs at the time of enlistment his lungs were not healthy but that the medical officer failed to detect that fact, is a gross injustice to this poor widow. I am quite sure my view is shared by every Member of the Committee in whatever part of the House he may be. Are we to deny to these men and their dependants the very justice we give to our criminals? The benefit of the doubt is always given to 2224 a prisoner. Here is a case where I hold there is no reasonable doubt. The country wants economy. Every Member of the House of Commons wants economy but the very last direction in which either Members of the House of Commons or the taxpayers of the country want economy is in regard to the men who have been broken in our wars. The cost of taking a compassionate view of these cases and of giving the men and their dependants in every case the benefit of the doubt would be trifling from the point of view of the taxpayers. A million or two sterling per annum would make all the difference in the world between doing generous justice to them and giving them, shall I say, niggardly justice. The cost of granting this compassionate treatment would be trifling, but the cost of withholding it to the men and their dependants is simply tragic in the case of numberless little homes.
§ Mr. NAYLOR
The only comment I want to make on the general administration of the Ministry is that the steadily diminishing expenditure of the Department gives them an excellent opportunity of exercising an increasing measure of generosity. The cases we have heard stated to-day are sufficient to justify the Minister recommending the Cabinet to allow the Regulations to be thoroughly sifted with a view to better conditions and more generous treatment being extended to our pensioners and their dependants. My chief object in rising is to ask whether the Minister is not in a position to take a more active part in such a case as that cited by the hon. Member for South Salford (Mr. Radford). Several cases have passed through my hands of widows who had been unable to claim a pension on the death of their husband merely because the death certificate showed that the pensioner died from a disease other than that in respect of which he received a pension.
I do not want to enter into a disquisition upon the weaknesses of the medical profession, but some of us have reason to believe that doctors are not always meticulously careful when they enter their names on death certificates. I had two cases brought to my notice in which the circumstances appeared to me to be extremely doubtful. In each case, because the death certificate showed that the man 2225 had died from a disease other than that in respect of which he had been pensioned, the widow failed in her claim. In one case the disease for which the man was pensioned was pulmonary tuberculosis, and he was certified as having died from bronchitis. This man had previously been under a panel doctor, and his panel doctor was quite convinced that the cause of the man's death could have been certified as having been due to the disease for which he was pensioned. But the man had to go to a hospital, and consequently he was under another doctor. That doctor certified him as suffering from another disease. I have had several cases of this kind and other Members apparently have had a similar experience. It is no use advising a widow in that position that it is of any use either applying, in the first place, or, if having applied and having met with refusal, making an appeal when we know that the decision of the tribunal will be in accordance with the certification of the doctor who signs the death certificate. The case is judged on that ground before it is submitted.
One can understand that if a pensioner met with an accident that caused his death there would be good reason on the part of the Ministry to say that the widow in those circumstances could not justly claim to have a pension granted to her. But in those other cases where the cause of death may be related to some other more serious disease, it does seem to me that the Minister might exercise a little closer supervision in the matter of these certificates being issued by hospital doctors in this way. I would suggest to the Minister that he might consider the advisability of issuing a circular asking the doctors in hospitals, when they have to certify the death of pensioners who have been under the care of panel doctors, at least to consult with these doctors before signing the certificates, and to be extremely careful as to how they sign away the rights of a widow to claim a pension. The number of these cases is very large throughout the country, and, therefore, the matter is important, especially when with a little more care, probably, less injustice would be done.
There is one other question of administration to which I would refer, and that is the case of the men whose physical 2226 condition deteriorates to an extent that it incapacitates them from work. A man may be in receipt of a pension of 20 or 40 or 50 per cent., and be comparatively fit, certainly fit enough to continue his employment, but the day comes when there is a reaction—a relapse. He is a sticker, and he does not want to make any attempt to improve his position as a pensioner; but he desires special treatment. Naturally he cannot afford to throw himself out of work, because he is unable to live on the small pension he is receiving. Over and over again men have come to me and said that they have been refused assistance when they asked to be sent to a military hospital. It seems to me that the doctors of the Ministry of Pensions who examine these men very rarely give them the benefit of the doubt, and many a man has suffered by reason of his not getting the best possible treatment, because he has not been in a position to get any treatment at all without involving rest from his employment. And so they struggle on because they cannot afford to be sick. The Minister might consider the advisability of allowing these men to go into a military hospital and secure the treatment allowance, and go through a course of treatment which will enable them to resume their employment. All these are matters of administration. The Minister, of course, is bound by the Regulations which govern the award of the pension, but that is only an additional reason why the Regulations should be carefully analysed and revised for the purpose of granting more generous treatment to the men who won the War.
§ Sir MALCOLM MACNAGHTEN
There is one matter, and one matter only, on which I shall venture to trouble the Committee for a few minutes, and it is with regard to those cases—one of which was mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) —of officers to whom the grant of retired pay has been made because of wounds or disability incurred during the War, who have received this pay for a number of years, who have been under the impression that they were going to receive it for the rest of their lives and have acted accordingly, in incurring obligations whether in the matter of matrimony or of house accommodation, and 2227 who have recently found that the Minister of Pensions has started a new policy of revising these grants of retired pay. Quite recently the Minister of Pensions has claimed the right to revise this retired pay and cut it down. This is felt as a hardship by those persons who have been expecting to continue to receive this retired pay. I want to put to the Committee, and to the Ministry of Pensions, the point that these ex-officers are entitled to retired pay at the rate originally allowed, and that the Minister is cutting down the retired pay granted to them, although in law he has no right to do so at all. It would appear quite clear, from Article 4 of the Warrant of 1920, that where permanent retired pay has been granted it cannot be altered on account of any change in the man's earning capacity. That is what Article 4 of the Warrant says expressly.
I understand that the Minister gets out of this Article by saying that, although it appeared to be a grant of permanent retired pay, it was not really permanent retired pay. It is pointed out that although the word "temporary" was struck out of the Warrant the word "permanent" was not inserted. That may be right, although the ordinary person would think that when the word "temporary" was struck out, it was struck out for the purpose of showing that the pay was permanent. Assume that the Ministry of Pensions are right in saying that they are not bound by Article 4 because the retired pay was not expressed to be permanent, are they right in their claim that they have under the terms of the Warrant of 1914 power to reduce this retired pay. Are they right in saying that the Minister of Pensions has a discretion in the matter at all? The relevant Article of the Warrant of 1914 says that the Army Council may grant to officers holding temporary commissions retired pay if their unfitness is caused by military service, and they may grant it for such a period as may be determined. Then the Article goes on to provide:If it is certified by the Regulated Medical Authority"—And the Regulated Medical Authority is defined as a Medical Board:that the disability does not seriously affect 2228 the officer's capacity for earning his living in civil life, the grant of retired pay shall be at the discretion of the Army Council.I agree that the Ministry of Pensions has succeeded to the position of the Army Council in this matter, and, therefore, if the Regulated Medical Authority gives a certificate that the officer's capacity for earning his living in civil life is not seriously affected, that then, but only in that case, the Minister has a discretion. I hope I am making my point clear to the Minister, because I do not think he has appreciated the point. The Army Council had a discretion if there was a certificate by a medical board, but in no other case had it any discretion at all. And in all the cases brought to my notice there has been no medical board on the officers at all. The Minister claims to exercise unfettered discretion in the matter and has cut down the grant of retired pay. When it is suggested that this is beyond the powers of the Minister he replies that he is advised by his legal advisers that he has this power. I do not, of course, suggest that the legal advisers of the Minister are not persons of the greatest competency and, of course, they have a most intimate knowledge of the Regulations relating to pensions and grants. But at the same time one can hardly expect pensioners who are affected by this decision of the Minister to have the same confidence in these legal advisers. It is quite possible that the Ministry of Pensions took this view originally, and having once taken this view are rather reluctant to change it. The Minister may say to me, "If my action is illegal in cutting down this retired pay, why do not the pensioners bring a Petition of Right and seek to recover the arrears?" I do not think that is a good answer. It is not a good answer to say that these persons, who claim that their retired pay has been cut down contrary to law, should be expected, in view of their financial position and the financial position of the Ministry, to embark upon litigation with the Ministry.
May I make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman which I hope he will seriously consider? It is this, that he should submit a case for the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. If he will submit a case to them and take their opinion, and if they advise 2229 that the action which he has taken in this matter is in accordance with the law, then I can say that a large number of persons who at present feel dissatisfied will be satisfied. We shall be quite satisfied if the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General say that the action of the Minister is in accordance with the law. If he will not take that course, but insists upon relying on the advice of the legal advisers to the Ministry, he must not expect the pensioners to be satisfied that they have received justice in this matter. It is of the greatest importance that these pensioners should feel that they are getting justice, and it is not right that they should be under the impression that the Minister is depriving them of a right to which they are entitled under the Warrant of 1914.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHN
I should like for a moment to call the attention of the Committee to one or two cases on the border line, similar to those cases which have been referred to already in the Debate. The Ministry of Pensions have been complimented on the reduction in the administrating costs, and I should like to know whether it is not possible for the Minister to consider better treatment in certain cases. Let me give one or two illustrations. I have in mind the case of a man who received a severe injury to his hand. He was an apprentice under the Ministry of Labour's scheme, and at the end of the course his hand got much worse. He was unable to follow the trade that was given to him under the Ministry of Labour scheme. Eventually he was able to do some light work, but last year he had to go into the military hospital. He was in the hospital from June to December last, with the result that, when he came out after undergoing two operations, his hand was practically useless, but, inasmuch as a final award had been given in the previous year, notwithstanding the deterioration in the condition of the hand, no further consideration has been given to that case at all. He is to-day only in receipt of 20 per cent., practically 8s. a week, and has a useless hand. He is unable to do any work at all.
Then there is another case. The man is practically blind, and the other day a question was being raised in respect to the final award, and to this man's condi- 2230 tion, and the deterioration of his eyesight, which has got considerably worse since the final award was given. Fourteen months ago he had to go into a military hospital. The surgeon there told him it was 50 chances to one, if he underwent an operation for the recovery of his eyesight, that it would be successful, and, in fact, he personally advised him not to undergo the operation. The man is today going about practically blind upon the streets, but because of the fact that a final award had been given about 18 months ago, the result is that the Ministry has refused to deal with his case and his pension has not been increased. Those are two cases that I wanted to bring forward as illustrations of the difficulties and hardships under which these men are suffering.
The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that there was a new scheme adopted by the Minister to provide for motherless children between the age of 14 and 16 and that there was a close co-operation between himself and the local committees with respect to the methods and ways and means of providing for these children, especially in the direction of allowing a certain portion of the money of the pension to be set aside until the child attains the age of 16. Undoubtedly a scheme of that kind is beneficial in some instances, but I cannot understand why a hard and fast rule should be laid down that, no matter whatever the circumstances of the family are or who is responsible for the care of the children, that that money is to be taken utterly regardless of the consent of the guardian. I know of a case in point, where an aunt has taken two children and cared for them equally as well as if the mother was alive. She has taken a great interest in the children. One child has been under her care since the age of eight, and there was a special pension paid for the guardian to provide what was necessary for the child, but after the child had reached the age of 14 and commenced to work, instead of the guardian having the full control of the child in precisely the same way as if the child was younger, somebody else who had no control and no connection with the child at all, who had no interest at all in the child, and almost no responsibility for the child, steps in and tells the woman: "You have been good enough to look after the child for the last seven or 2231 eight years. Now we are going to take that responsibility." We think that, in the discretion given to these local Committees, the circumstances of the family should be taken into consideration, and that wherever there are families who are looking after a child and giving it all the care and attention necessary, at least the responsibility that has hitherto been given and thrown upon these women should be continued. Discretionary powers should be given and instead of laying down hard and fast and cast-iron rules the Ministry of Pensions, or somebody else on behalf of the Ministry, should step in and take the responsibility.
I should like to call the attention of the Minister to a very serious and very grave injustice that exists in Wales with regard to the Special Grants Committee, and the persistent refusal of the Special Grants Committee to recognise the claims of the dependants from Wales. There is not a single representative of Wales upon the Special Grants Committee, and it is probably because of the absence of the representative from Wales upon this important Committee that has the final approval or disapproval of grants, that grievances exist to the extent they do at the present time. The Special Grants Committee are in existence in order to consider applications that are being made from time to time on behalf of the dependants of the soldiers who lost their lives in the War. In the main the applications are made for educational grants, but somehow or the other, whenever the applications are being made from Wales for grants for educational purposes, for secondary education for the children at the appropriate age, in the main 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. of these grants are turned down and turned down for very peculiar reasons. They are turned down because the Special Grants Committee believe that, so far as the labouring classes of Wales are concerned—the artisan, the agricultural labourers, the miners—they never had any intention of giving secondary education to their children.
§ Major TRYON indicated dissent.
§ Mr. JOHN
The Minister shakes his head, but in March of last year his attention was called to a case from Abertillery where the Special Grants Committee made specific reference, in the 2232 refusal that they gave, that they could never understand, neither did they believe, that a miner earning £3 a week was getting higher education for his children. That was the reason why the Special Grants Committee refused the case. So far as the labouring classes in Wales are concerned, they have got equally as much regard with respect to providing education for their children as the labouring classes of any other nationality, and the men who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for their country would, if they were now alive, be equally prepared to make sacrifices for their children. I can give the Minister a number of claims that have been refused from the North-West area in Wales. These are the statistics kept by a Member of the North-West Wales Committee. Between March, 1925, and November, 1926, 96 recommendations were sent up to the Special Grants Committee from this area and out of that number, 32 were allowed, 57 were refused, and seven were at that date outstanding. Of the 57 cases refused, 37 were recommendations for educational grants. I believe that this is due to the lack of understanding of the Special Grants Committee or of the members of the Special Grants Committee of the psychology of the Welsh people. No. 6 of the Ministry's Regulation says:If, for example, it is found that prior to the war older children have attended the elementary school only, it may be presumed, in the absence of any special reasons to the contrary, that a younger child would have received similar education.On what ground is that presumption made? Is it made from the experience of the Ministry of Pensions with regard to the labouring classes of Wales? If you take Glamorganshire County at present, out of 9,000 children in the secondary schools over 75 per cent. are children of the working classes. Two thousand children were refused admittance to the secondary schools last year or this year simply because the room was not available. You could go to every school in all the counties of Wales, and you would find that, in every secondary school and every county school, 80 per cent. to 85 per cent. are the children of the working classes of Wales. It is wrong for the Minister or for anyone else to presume that if the older child of one of the working-class families of Wales attends the elementary school that every child in that 2233 particular family has to attend the elementary school in rotation. It is the usual practice—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; Committee counted; and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. JOHN
I was remarking, when the interruption took place, that no one has a right to presume that the labouring classes of Wales are not interested in regard to the provision of the best education possible for their children. Neither is it justifiable to contend or to presume, as is done under this Regulation, that, because the older child of a working man attends an elementary school, it naturally follows that every child of that particular family attends the elementary school only in rotation. The usual practice is that when the older son begins to work or the eldest daughter comes to assist her mother, that the condition of the family is slightly better than it was at the commencement, when the family were commencing, and then every parent attempts to give, and does give, the best education possible to their children. The second, and if not the second, then invariably the third or fourth child, attends the secondary and county school.
Let me just give one or two cases of the decisions of the Special Grants Committee, and the reason why they have refused applications. Here is an application from the North-West Committee of Wales, and the local committee makes full investigation. They know the family, and they know the conditions of the father before he went to work. They know the possibilities of the family; they make full inquiries, and they know the possible attainments of the child. They recommended to the Special Grants Committee that this child should have a grant. The father was a joiner and carpenter before he went into the Army, and his wages were £1 7s. 6d. per week. Had he been living at the time that the application for a grant was made he would have been in receipt of £3 a week, and that in a Welsh village would have been sufficient to have enabled him to provide his child with secondary education. But the Special Grants Committee decided that on the information furnished they were not satisfied that the father would have provided the education asked for, had he survived.
2234 Take another case—the case of a dispensing chemist whose wages were approximately £2 8s. a week. The Special Grants Committee decided that this was not a case in which an education grant could be given under the regulations:On the information furnished the Committee are not satisfied that the father would have provided the education asked for, had he survived.There are numerous cases of the sort that we could give. Here is a case from Ebbw Vale, in which the Special Grants Committee said they had reconsidered the case but had no knowledge that miners at £3 a week provided secondary education for their children at the age of 14 in preparation for a career as school teachers. From whence do they get their school teachers in Wales Ninety-five per cent. of them are miners' children. Yet this Committee had the effrontery to say that they had no knowledge of the miner at £3 a week providing an education that would ensure a scholastic career for a child. Why? Simply because they do not know Wales and do not know the people of Wales or the aspirations of the Welsh people.
If it comes to a question of education, Wales has been the premier country in Great Britain, so far as the advancement of education is concerned. Scottish Members will make the claim for Scotland but we make it for Wales. The Committee may have honest intentions. It may be honest in its decisions but unfortunately the members arrive at their decisions with an utter lack of knowledge of the cases they consider and the actual conditions. There are Members from England who know the English conditions and Members from Scotland who know the Scottish conditions. If it is a question of expense, of the travelling expenses either from the West or North of Wales to London, there are sufficient Welsh men and women in London who would be quite pleased to do this work by becoming members of the Special Grants Committee.
You were very much concerned with regard to Wales when the War occurred. You sent your organisers to every town and hamlet and you printed your Welsh literature in order to get the fathers of these children to enter the Army. If it 2235 was necessary then to pay a certain regard to Wales in order to initiate these men into the evils of war, surely there is as much obligation and duty devolving upon the Minister of Pensions now to see that the children of these men from Wales, who sacrificed their lives for their country, receive the same fairplay as the children of men who sacrificed their lives as Englishmen or Scotsmen? That is the point I want to put. We are not asking much. We ask simply that a nation like Wales shall have a representative on the Special Grants Committee in order that the children of Wales shall have an equal opportunity with others of getting grants from the Special Grants Committee to provide them with the best education possible. We are not asking the Minister of Pensions for money. We ask him simply to consider the question of getting a representative from Wales so that these cases will be better considered. Who are the applicants? All the applicants on behalf of the children are widows who lost their husbands in the War. The amount of pension paid to them is not sufficient to provide the necessary education. In view of the loss that the widow has sustained, so long as there are grants available the children of Wales should have the same advantage as the children of every other part of Great Britain.
§ Mr. CROOKE
I wish to associate myself with those members of the Committee who, in moderation, are pleading for further consideration for the ex-Service man. As the time of the Great War recedes the deeds of valour are forgotten and the natural tendency is for the interests of those who served their country to be forgotten. What is worse and more important is that those who returned from the War maimed and wounded are also likely to be forgotten. But now and again we are reminded of our obligations on such occasions as Poppy Day and the annual meeting of the British Legion, when members of that body are gathered round the Cenotaph and it falls to the lot of some of us to remind the Government and the country of the feelings of gratitude which were displayed when the Great War was just ended. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions has, from time to time, given figures showing what successive Governments have done for the ex- 2236 Service man. He has told us frequently that this country has done more for the ex-Service man than any other nation engaged in the War. While that may be true, it does not follow that we have done all that we can for those who returned broken in health and who for various reasons are not in receipt of pensions. We are told that there are material decreases in the applications for pensions and that the number of those receiving disability pensions is on the decline. That may be true, but if you look to the cause you will find that the men are tired of being turned down time after time and are brokenhearted.
A little while ago I asked the Minister if he would consider the advisability of revising the Regulations so as to make it compulsory for the Ministry to prove that the disabilities from which a man suffered were not caused by or aggravated by war service, rather than that the man should have to prove that the disabilities were caused or aggravated by war service. Of course, the Minister turned down the proposal, and he gave as his reason that it would mean an alteration in the Royal Warrant. Why not? Surely that is not impossible! One answer is that such a thing would disturb final awards, which are binding on both sides. I maintain that if, in any case, a final award is wrong, whichever way it is, it should be righted.
Another answer is that there is a spirit of economy in the air and that any alteration in the Royal Warrant would mean a great expense to the country. I have never met the taxpayer or the ratepayer who wishes to economise if it means breaking our obligations to the men who saved the country in its hour of need. I represent one of the poorest Divisions in Birmingham, and probably one of the poorest Divisions in the country, and I make a point of meeting my constituents every week-end. I engage two rooms in the centre of my Division so that I can interview anybody who wishes to come to me. I am appalled at the number of disabled ex-service men who are down and out and unemployed, who came out of the service anxious to get back to their homes, without a thought of applying for pensions, thinking that they would be all right in health in civil life but who are now suffering from some dis- 2237 ability which has only recently shown itself and are too late to apply for pensions. Is it too much to expect the Minister to give way on the question of final awards and other grievances? The Minister would have public opinion behind him if he attempted to right the wrong, because the country still responds in no uncertain way to the appeal of Remembrance Day when our thoughts turn towards those who made the great sacrifice.
May I deal briefly with one or two of the anomalies which still exist. There is the question of time limit. Under the provisions of the Warrant claims for pensions may be made, provided they are lodged within seven years of the date of discharge. I admit there must be some line of demarcation, but I fail to understand why no extension can be made when we realise that the onus of proof has at all times been upon the man. I see no logical reason why any man who feels that his disability is due to War service should not have an opportunity of lodging a claim even now, and, if his case is proved, of having a pension granted. Many men are to-day suffering from diseases that are medically identifiable with the diseases which they contracted during their service. Why should these men be barred from making a fresh claim? With regard to final awards, many men fail to exercise their right of appeal to a tribunal owing to their ignorance of the Regulations. Others who have been granted a final award did not appeal owing to the fact that their disability was not troubling them during the specified period, but at some later date it has manifested itself. Why cannot these men make an appeal? My right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions will, no doubt, reply that provision has been made for the reconsideration of these cases but, as he knows, the decision is entirely in the hands of the Ministry and the men have no appeal whatever against their decision. Surely this is hardly the right spirit in which to deal with a matter of this kind.
Then there is the question of treatment. How many men suffering from disabilities, having applied to the Ministry for treatment, are instructed to obtain treatment from their panel doctor? Although that doctor certifies that the man is unable to follow his occupation, the Ministry refuse to pay the allowances 2238 as laid down under the Warrant. There is just one other matter on which I wish to touch and that is the unnecessary procedure which has to be gone through by the widows of ex-service men who were in receipt of disability pensions. I maintain that the widows should automatically receive the pension to which they are entitled during their widowhood without having to go through the long drawn out procedure of making a claim and going before the Ministry and going before the tribunal. This would save time and trouble. I only mean, of course, cases where the widow is entitled to pension, provided that the doctor's certificate states that the death was caused by the disability for which the pension was granted. As it is now, the widow has to wait four or five months during which time she may starve.
In speaking of the widows' cases may I draw attention to a case which has been put into my hands by the Birmingham War Pensions Committee? When I tell the Committee that Birmingham has about 120,000 ex-service men it will be realised that that War Pensions Committee is an important one. This is the case of a man who enlisted on 22nd October, 1916, and was discharged on 12th September, 1918. He received a pension in respect of valvular disease of the heart, which was accepted by the Ministry as aggravated by war service. He was first awarded a 30 per cent. pension. In 1919 that was increased to 50 per cent.; in 1921, to 60 per cent.; from 1922 to 1923 to 100 per cent., and the final award was made of 100 per cent. for life. The man died on 25th May, 1926, and the cause of death was certified to be valvular disease of the heart. As death occurred more than seven years after the termination of his active service in the War, the widow's claim to pension was considered under Article 17a and 17b of the Royal Warrant and disallowed by the Ministry as the circumstances of the case did not justify an award. The application was also disallowed by the Pensions Appeal Tribunal on 29th September, 1926. The War Pensions Committee unanimously passed the following Resolution:That this Committee considers that the widow of a man who was at the time of his death in receipt of a pension in respect of disablement assessed at the rate of 40 per cent. or over, if ineligible for a pen- 2239 sion under Article 17b, should be entitled to the same right of appeal to the Pensions Appeal Tribunal in respect of her specific claim under Article 17a, as is afforded a widow claiming a pension under Article 17b. This Committee considers the procedure is farcical under which the widow who may consider herself entitled to a pension under Article 17a, if she wishes to appeal, must do so under Article 17b, as the result of the appeal must necessarily be against the widow, the Pensions Appeal Tribunal having no jurisdiction under Article 17a.In this case the widow kept a little shop, and she procured extra comforts for the man and prolonged his life by selling the stock and the furniture and the fittings. Had she been a careless woman, unmindful of doing what she could for her husband, the man would probably have died before the expiration of the seven years, but because she did her best to keep her husband alive she loses the pension. I hope that the Minister will do his best to meet the cases which have been brought before him and will endeavour to make the ex-service men feel that the country is still anxious to carry out its obligations to them.
§ Mr. SEXTON
One pleasing feature of this Debate has been the non-partisan spirit in which it has been conducted. I shall not attempt to break away from that most commendable method of discussion. If I had any inclination in that direction—and I have not—I would have no reason for doing so, because although I have not troubled the Minister much on the Floor of the House of Commons, I have given him considerable trouble in the matter of correspondence. I am bound to say that I have received the utmost consideration and courtesy from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. Therefore, I am not blaming the man, but I am blaming the machine which he has to manipulate. There are two points that I wish to raise. One of them has been dealt with by the hon. Member for Deritend (Mr. S. Crooke), who has eased my task considerably; it is the very grievous case of the man who neglects to put in his appeal within the statutory period. I could give more than one case where men unwittingly, not knowing the Regulations, although perhaps they were Placed in their hands, have failed to put in their appeal within the specified time. To the ordinary man, who is not illiterate—perhaps semi-literate would be the right word—a form of that character is 2240 as much of a puzzle as are the ordinary tax-collecting sheets that are sent around to the unfortunate citizens of the Empire, and that is difficult enough to understand. I have case after case where men, not willingly, but unwittingly, out of ignorance, neglected to send in their case within the statutory period, and I have doctors' certificates proving that the disabilities of these men were actually due to war service. Still, the machine of the right hon. Gentleman lays down a strict Regulation of this character, and the appeal is not allowed.
A second and worse point that I have to raise is the most unfortunate position in which a man is placed, as a conscript, not as a volunteer, who was first passed as B1 or B2, and then, when the urgent necessity came for men during the very critical period of the War, was reexamined and classed as fit for service. I speak from experience in some respects on this point, because I happened to be chairman of a military tribunal—God forgive me!—which passed some of these men. They were classified as fit for service, although they may have been B1 or B2 at the beginning of the War, but when the actual necessity for men came, and the nation was in danger, they were re-classified and passed by the medical men. They came before me in my capacity as chairman, and the military representative always said, "Of course, they have to go," and they went. Whether they were passed for labour service or for other kinds of service, some of these men generally found their way into the trenches. They were taken, in my opinion, knowing that the germ of some kind of disease was in their constitution, with the result that, being taken from their ordinary occupation, in which they might have lived a long life, the nature of their war service aggravated the case to such an extent that it was made perfectly plain that these men were no longer fit for trench service. They were sent to the base until they became normal or semi-normal, when they were retained in the Army doing some kind of light work. Then they went back, after demobilisation, to their civil employment, and it all depended on the nature of the occupation to which they returned whether or not they were capable of carrying on.
2241 I want to give a case, not a typical case perhaps, but an exception, though an exception proves the rule. It is the case of a man who was employed by a firm, who went away, who was guaranteed half wages while he was away from his wife and children, and who was guaranteed reinstatement when he came back. He had to be re-examined, and he went away, and while he was away the disease, which would have carried him perhaps to a good old age in his old occupation, became aggravated. I think, though I am not quite sure, it was valvular disease of the heart or something of that character. While he was in the Service his firm changed hands, and when he came back he found that his place was taken by a girl, and the new firm had no obligation to take him on again. The result was that this man had to go and look for work elsewhere, and he went down to the docks. Previous to that he was in clerical employment, not being fit for hard labour at all. The hard work at the docks again aggravated the disease, which had already been aggravated in the trenches, and before very long he was injured. He got compensation for a limited period, but then he was offered that mockery, delusion, and snare known as light work, and the odium of getting light work was placed upon himself.
Naturally, if a man is physically unfit to do heavy work, and if there is no such thing in dock labour as light work, the man's chances of getting employment vanish. I want the right hon. Gentleman to give his attention to this particular case, in regard to which, if I mistake not, he has had the correspondence. The man received sufficient salary, while in his previous occupation, to exempt him from payment either for National Health Insurance or for Unemployment Insurance, and he was not working long enough at the heavy work to have sufficient stamps on his card to qualify him for either benefit. The result was that, when his small amount of money for compensation had gone, he was thrown on the rocks. That is a case which, although it may not be typical, certainly demonstrates the necessity for a revision, a complete overhauling, of the present Regulations. Here is a man who was called to the Colours, who served his country faithfully, but who, owing to some unspeakable technicality, in view of the service 2242 which he rendered—the right hon. Gentleman's intentions may be and, I have no doubt, are of the very best—found himself under this juggernaut of red tape, which crushed the very life out of his application to the Ministry. We have in this House a magnificent picture of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The memory of the Unknown Soldier will live for generations to come. Here is the case of an unnamed soldier, a man who helped to save this country from invasion. As a consequence of the restrictions and regulations, the last fate of him, as a reward for the services he has rendered, will be to be handed over to the Poor Law authorities to be taken to his last home, fulfilling the prophecy of the poet:
- "Rattle his bones
- Over the stones,
- He's only a pauper
- Whom nobody owns."
Will you allow me, Sir, to offer a personal explanation? If I do not make this explanation, I am afraid some remarks which fell from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helen's (Mr. Sexton) may be misconstrued. I am sure all those who heard my few brief remarks are not under the same impression as he is, that I ever made any reflection upon the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. SEXTON indicated dissent.
Hon. Members who are around me will recollect what I did say. What I want to say is that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have been courtesy personified to me in connection with all my cases, and have taken a great deal of time and trouble over them, and I want to say exactly what my hon. Friend says, that our complaint is with regard to the Regulations and the medical system.
§ Sir WALTER GREAVES-LORD
I should like to say a word or two in general about the administration of pensions so far as my experience has brought me into touch with it. In the course of time one has had a number of cases which one has pressed and in 2243 which one has had occasion to examine very carefully the decisions of the appeal tribunals. In looking carefully into the cases which have come before me in connection with appeal tribunals and which I have been asked to press one way or the other I have not found one case turned down by the appeal tribunals which I, frankly, should not have turned down myself if I had had to judge the matter by exactly the same standards, an having regard to the Regulations and the type of evidence required.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
On the other hand, I have found one or two cases which have been allowed which I certainly should not have allowed if I had had to judge them by the same standards.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
At the same time, there are some matters which, I think, need careful attention indeed. One was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills), and was the basis of an argument by the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Sir M. Macnaghten). We are face to face with a somewhat curious position, having regard to the practice which has grown up in dealing with grants of retired pay under the Royal Warrant. Personally, I have been shocked at the form of letter which is sent to a man whose retired pay is reduced. A man who has lost either a part of a limb below the knee or, as in one case I know of, has lost a limb right up to the upper part of the thigh, receives a letter stating that it has been decided that as from a certain date his injury shall no longer be regarded as something which seriously incapacitates him in civil life! If any member of my profession dared to state that proposition before a jury of his fellow countrymen, he would be laughed at as something approaching to a lunatic, and I cannot help thinking that such phraseology is hopelessly inapplicable to a case of that description, where a man may 2244 have to go out on to the open market and, in competition with other people, earn his daily bread.
It is perfectly hopeless to suggest that a man who has lost a limb is not seriously incapacitated, no matter what his ability may be, no matter what his brain power may be, when he goes out on to the open market to earn his living. I hope the Minister will consider very seriously the suggestion made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Londonderry and see whether something cannot be done to alter the practice which has grown up in that type of case. One thing above everything else the administration of the Ministry of Pensions should avoid, and that is the use of language which is wholly inapplicable to the circumstances of the case. It is a terrible thing that a man who has suffered for his country, who has suffered a disability which everybody realises must affect him wherever he comes into competition with his fellow men, should go about with a letter which says that the Government of the country have solemnly decided that that injury will not seriously incapacitate him in civil life. That has only to be stated for it to be realised that the matter requires the most serious consideration.
There is one other topic with which I want to associate myself, and that is the one which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson). He asked the Minister to consider the question of exercising discretion in reopening cases in connection with neurasthenia. The difficulty of rigid Regulations in regard to matters of this kind is largely this, that medicine is not merely not an exact science, but medical men are constantly revising their standards. They are constantly finding out that their practice has been mistaken, and that the origins of disease are very much further back than they thought they were. I do not think there is anything in which that is more marked than in connection with neurasthenia. It may come on soon after circumstances which give rise to disability; it may come on as part of a very long history sometimes apparently disconnected, but after a long period, and when it does come on in that way it is infinitely worse from the point of view of disabling the sufferer. I am not quarrelling with the decision, but I 2245 did bring before the Minister of Pensions recently a case where a member of the medical profession of great renown expressed the very definite view that neurasthenia quite incapacitates a person for work. In the case of a servant of the London County Council, the opinion of Sir John Collie is that he is suffering from neurasthenia as the result of war service and disabilities received in war service. Yet that case is apparently one which cannot be reopened. I think, where medical men themselves cannot set up any exact standard, it is going very far indeed for a Government Department to try and set up an exact standard for them. I hope it may be possible, particularly in cases of neurasthenia, to exercise a wider discretion in reopening cases of that kind. I do not suggest any broad reopening, because one realises that too great a reopening sometimes has a very bad effect upon the neurasthenic. At the same time, within limits, there is great scope for reopening a great number of these cases, and having regard to the state of medical opinion I hope that some wiser course will be taken than has been taken in the past in connection with these cases.
There was one other matter raised by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison) to which I would like to allude. A reply was given to the hon. Member by the hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) in regard to the unemployed but disabled men. I do not think there is any more pitiable spectacle than a man who is partially disabled and unemployed, and who is trying to eke out an existence on an amount of money which is quite unequal to the demands made upon him. There is no doubt that many of these men might be saved as men who would be able to occupy themselves in a way which would be beneficial to their health and to the community if only something could be done to relieve them from the terrible state in which they get when disabled men, disabled only in a slight degree, are for a long time compelled to exist on a very small pension.
I hope it may be possible to take steps to give these men a better chance. Sometimes we come across Regulations in regard to which things are said and done which suggest that it is no use doing anything for a man who has a pension 2246 below a certain amount. All these things are against a disabled ex-service man. I am perfectly certain that there is a desire to do everything possible to relieve the lot of these men, and I certainly associate myself with the expression of opinion which has fallen from the hon. Member for North Tottenham that at any rate the very strongest possible measures should be taken to avoid that debilitation, which leaves these men open to all kinds of diseases, and which at the same time prevents them having a chance of that healthy development which might render them free from their disability, and permit them to take part in the affairs of this world.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I wish to raise one or two points in connection with the Ministry of Pensions. It has been said by many speakers that this is a non-party question, but I do not agree with that statement. Ever since I entered Parliament, in 1922, this has been a party question, and it has been raised as such. I do not want to be the first hon. Member in this Debate to strike a jarring note. I have had many dealings with the Ministry of Pensions, because I am constantly writing to that Department. I have a great regard for the officials of the Ministry of Pensions. I say this with regard more particularly to one official, Mr. Moger, who has recently left, because I have always received from him and all his colleagues not only courtesy, but the greatest possible help, and I think it is only fair that I should state that.
I do not want to make any charge against the Minister of Pensions, because I know he will reply to me in his favourite way, and he may say that the Labour Government might have done what I have asked him to do. Let me here say that the charge I make is not against the present Government only, but it is against successive Governments. I admit that the present Minister of Pensions is not himself to blame for every grievance we have raised. My charge is not against the Ministry so much as against the Regulations under which the Ministry is working. The consequence is that if anything of a very tangible character is to be done for ex-service men it will have to be done by an Act of Parliament or an alteration 2247 of the Royal Warrant, or by alterations of the various Regulations which govern the Ministry of Pensions. I hope the result of this Debate will be that the Minister of Pensions will review the whole outlook on the subject of pensions. Take the case of dependants' pensions. I have seen the report of the Ministry of Pensions, and it states that the only pensions now granted are need pensions. The flat-rate pension has been abolished. I am not going to argue the merits of need pensions or flat-rate pensions. All I know is that my predecessor in the representation of Gorbals (Mr. Barnes) presided over a committee that recommended the abolition of the flat-rate pensions. In 1922 or 1923 they issued, not one letter, but scores of letters, hundreds of letters, particularly in Scotland, somewhat in the following terms:Dear Madam,—We have made inquiry into the case of your late son John, and we find that you were granted a pension of 15s. a week, based on the fact that your late son John earned £2 per week. We have now made inquiry into that, and we find that a mistake has occurred, and we now propose to reduce your pension of 15s. to 9s. a week.That letter was issued, not only by the present Minister, but by his predecessor, and the one before him also. The cruel part of the business is this: Here was a lad killed in 1917 or 1918, and along comes the Ministry of Pensions in 1923 saying they have made inquiries and find that the wage was not as the lad stated—in other words, that the lad was telling an untruth when he joined. What proof is there that the wages were not the wages that the boy gave? I defy anyone in this House, after the lapse of seven years, to prove what another person's wages were. I have, I suppose, looked after my wages and conditions as well as any man, but I could not for the life of me say what kind of wage I earned seven years ago. There is, however, something even worse. I heard an hon. Member say that we should at least give a widow as good a trial as a criminal. I agree, but the widow does not get as good a trial as the criminal. We have heard a great deal about the Appeal Tribunal, and there is this to be said for it, that the applicant can appear and argue his case; but here the mother gets a letter, 2248 and the only appeal is within 14 days to the Minister. There is no neutral body, no personal application, no arguing of the case. All that there is is the statement that her son joined the Army, and gave his wage, seven, eight or nine years ago, as a certain figure, that it is found that there has been a mistake, and that the pension must be reduced. There is really no appeal at all. I think that that is a cruel thing. Moreover, it must be remembered that the Minister has access to the firm's books to find out the wage, but the person who receives the pension has no similar right.
I will give the Minister the case of an employé in the Post Office. The Minister had the right to examine the books, but, when the father asked for the same right, it was refused him by the Post Office. What equality is there if one person has access to books to prove his case while the other person is denied it? I think that the Minister or the Department, having allowed that pension to go on, is in duty bound to continue it. We in Scotland have a law of use and wont, under which established custom prevails, and, where this constantly recurring mistake has been accepted for five, six or seven years, the Minister ought at least to accept the obligation of continuing it until the person has died. There is another case which has been raised to-night by my hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen)—the case of a man who was injured in the War, and who was refused a pension because the doctors said he had a silver plate in his head. My hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie put this case to the Minister, and the Minister had a first-class examination made of this man. At that examination it was found that there was no silver plate in the man's head. It was found that the previous doctors of the Ministry had been accepting the man's word that there was a silver plate in his head, without making any examination at all. It seems to me to be a considerable condemnation of the doctors connected with the Ministry of Pensions that for a year or two they accepted the statement of what we call in Scotland a daft man that there was a plate in his head, and that it was only after a Member of Parliament had raised the question with the Ministry that a 2249 first-class examination was made and no silver plate was found. Now the man is in this position, that they are arguing that his condition is not due to any particular cause at all. I think that that is a case which might be gone into.
Then there is the case of bronchitis patients. The Ministry say in such cases that they cannot agree that the bronchitis which was contracted during war service was wholly caused by the war service but that they will agree that it was aggravated by the war service. Then, after some time has elapsed, they come along and say that the aggravation has passed away. This is happening in Glasgow, not in one case but in many cases; and yet the parish council doctors—the doctors connected with the local authority—are treating the man still for bronchitis in the parish council hospital. On the one hand, we have the doctors of the Ministry of Pensions refusing any pension on the ground that it has passed away, and on the other hand we have the doctors in the local authority's hospital treating the man for bronchitis. The worst thing of all is that, if anything happens to the man, nothing is granted to the widow. There is one other case to which I desire to refer, and that is the case of a boy in my Division. The boy's father was dead, and, his mother being unable to look after him, he was placed in charge of another person, and the arrangement made was that the Ministry should make up the widow's pension to the difference between what the boy earned and £1 a week. According to the information that I have received, the Ministry did not give any notification that they intended to stop the pension, but at very short notice they did stop it, and refused to pay this woman the difference between the boy's wage and £1, according to the obligation which they undertook. I hope that the Minister of Pensions will at least give consideration to these cases that I have mentioned.
§ Captain GUNSTON
I think the efficiency of the Minister and his Department may be judged by the attendance in this Committee. The Minister is rather in the opposite position to that of a musical comedy actress who feels very pleased on her opening night if the house is crowded. Seeing that the House is now 2250 rather empty, the Minister may congratulate himself that we have not all come down there to pick a quarrel with him. I should like, if I may, to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his policy of trying to get security for pensions. I think it is time we abolished the idea of a man having to go time after time before a medical board, because, once a man feels that he has security, he can look forward with confidence to taking his place in civil life. I had a case the other day in which a life pension was granted by the Admiralty. and I had a letter from the man, who said the granting of this permanent pension meant more to his recovery than all the doctors in the world.
I hope we may, in the near future, perhaps get security of rates.. I should like to back up what the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. Roberts) said on that point, because I do not think it would be a risk for the Government to announce security of the rates of pension. I do not think the time will ever come when any Government will ever be able to face the electorate if they desire to reduce the pension rates. I think the Government might without any fear announce once for all that the present rates should continue. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is satisfied that the public as a whole are aware of the number of men still in hospital and the number still wanting attention to help them through some of their illnesses. There are various societies—I will not mention their names because I do not know them all and I do not want to advertise one more than another—who are doing very great work in helping men who are still in hospital. I was very much struck with the gratitude of these men, but perhaps enough is not done to brighten their lives. I should like to ask the Minister if these societies are being sufficiently supported by the public. It is only necessary to let the public know that there is this work is to be done. The hospitals would be glad for visitors to come and help to entertain the men and he would get as much response as he wanted. I would be in favour of the repeal of the seven years limit if I thought the Minister did not enter sympathetically into all the cases. I have recently had cases into which the Minister has gone, and I think, 2251 on the whole, his policy is probably the right one.
I understand the Royal Warrant prevents the transfer of a pension from one generation to another. Perhaps I might give the Minister a case. I do it without apologising as it does not affect my own Division, but the South of Ireland. The claimant is not represented in this House, but I think we can claim justice in regard to all, and perhaps in regard to Irishmen a little more, because they bad to face a lot of moral opposition. Many of these men had to go away in the middle of the night to join up, and we are under a greater obligation to them than to the English soldier. This is the case of a man who was the sole support of his mother and invalid sister. When he joined up he was asked if he had any dependants. Not being a very educated man, he only mentioned his mother. I can understand that in the excitement of the moment. Probably he was asked by the recruiting officer, but did not really know very much about all the details. He was killed in the War and last year his mother died, so that there was nothing at all for the invalid sister. I am sure if he had known he would have put his sister down as a dependant as well as his mother.
Can the right hon. Gentleman not come to the House for some power to enable him to deal with cases like that, so that he could transfer the pension from the mother to the sister? It seems a very unfair case, and there are other unfair cases like it, but the right hon. Gentleman cannot act because he is limited by the Royal Warrant. I would ask him to give us some idea how we can get round hard cases like that. When things are going badly we get a lot of letters, but when things are going well we get very few. It is the experience of all of us that we are getting fewer and fewer letters in regard to the administration of pensions. That is evidence that the country as a whole has great faith in the administration of pensions, no matter what party is in power. I believe the British Legion, which has done and is doing such good work in keeping the Ministry up to their job, also feels that the whole country has full confidence in the present administration.
§ Mr. T. KENNEDY
I regret to say that the first point on which I wish to speak is a complaint. The Debate to-day, like all pension Debates, has been, I think, of a rather discursive and rambling character, mainly due to the fact that we have not at our disposal the Tenth Annual Report of the Ministry, which I think might have been available. We are now four months from the date at which the last administrative year ended, and within those four months the representative of the Ministry might have provided a more suitable basis for our Debate on the administrative side than has been at our disposal. I hope before we discuss next year's Estimates the Report relating to the present year will be at our disposal. The next point on which I want to say a word relates to the general note struck by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Estimates when he referred to the enormous amount of money that has been spent in past years by this country in general war pension services. We should try to maintain a certain sense of proportion, and it is not quite fair to ourselves, to ex-service men and to the beneficiaries under the pensions administration that we should go out of our way to advertise the fact that since the War ended we have had to spend something like £670,000,000.
§ Mr. KENNEDY
No, I mentioned that figure, and I did it in order to remind the Committee that you compared the amount spent by this country on pensions with the amount spent by other countries, and your intention, obviously, was to persuade the Committee and the country that we were doing better for our ex-service men trod their dependants in the matter of pensions than any other country in the world, or at any rate that we were doing all that was necessary. If that is not what he intended to do, of course I will say nothing more, except that when we talk of the money spent on pension services we should retain some sense of proportion, and keep in mind at the same time that that enormous figure I have quoted, and which, I think, is approximately correct, is only one quarter of the amount which up to now has been spent on the whole interest of the War debt.
2253 We have been asked to treat this matter of pensions administration largely as a non-party issue. In a sense, I think we can do so, but we must not forget that the Minister of Pensions is a Conservative Minister presenting his Estimates for the current period. I am certain he will not resent criticism of his administration from any quarter. I think I know the form his reply to that criticism will take and I am certain in his own mind he is prepared to repel every attack which has been made on his administration up to now and to maintain, as he has done in former years, that his administration is as nearly perfect as possible. Therefore, I am going to address my few words of criticism of the work of the Ministry in the past year in as definite form as I can, feeling that that criticism is called for on an occasion such as this. The Committee to-night is considering the expenditure of a large sum of public money, and our main interest, I think, should be to discover whether that very large sum of public money is being spent to the best advantage as far as the beneficiaries are concerned, whether the ex-service men and their dependants are getting all they should get, and whether those ex-service men or their dependants who should be getting benefits at the hands of that Ministry are to-day being deprived of those benefits. That, I think, should be our main concern.
The Estimates this year show, roughly, a decrease of £2,500,000 from the amount spent last year. I do not complain of that, because the decrease, I think, is to be accounted for on the perfectly natural ground of the death of those who have been receiving pensions and benefits in the past, and on the ground also of the attainment by the children of ex-service men of the maximum pensionable age, the re-marriage of widows and so on. That £2,500,000 decrease in the Estimates, I regard as being due to those perfectly natural causes, and I accept the figure as indicating that in the current year there is no departure from the normal methods of administration as far as the Ministry is concerned. But there are one or two aspects of the administration side of the Ministry's work about which I want to say a few words, and which relate to the matter of administrative cost. Last year I drew attention to 2254 the same matter, and I regret to find that up to now there has been no change in the administrative methods in this respect. Year by year the tendency is for the personnel of the Pensions Ministry staff to take the form of higher grade officers and to tend in the direction of eliminating the general body of the staff who up to a few years ago might be credited with having created the administrative machinery which has made the Pensions Ministry the machine it is to-day.
In this connection, I will not argue the matter but simply indicate the bald fact that at the moment, including cleaners, typists, clerks and so on, there appears to be one higher grade officer in the employment of the Ministry for every nine persons on the staff. That, I think, is rather disproportionate, and when we look more closely into the matter, we discover that whereas in 1926 7,132 persons employed by the Ministry received in salaries £1,448,000, in 1927 5,970 persons got in salaries £1,254,600. There is an enormous reduction in the number of persons employed, and the interesting fact emerges that the amount paid in salaries per head is considerably increased. If we look at the reduction of the staff more closely we find this average per person employed does not represent all the facts, or, indeed, the most interesting facts in this connection. It shows that the permanent civil servants are taking the places of those who up to now have built up the Departmental machine, and we find that the reductions are mainly in the temporary staff. In the higher grades of the permanent civil servants the reduction in the number employed on the Ministry is almost negligible. This means, and I am sure no one will dispute it, that there are increased costs as far as administration is concerned, but not necessarily increased efficiency. No one would care to deny that men who have been for years employed in the Ministry, and who have an intimate knowledge of the details of the work of the Ministry, are more efficient public servants than, say, civil servants who are translated from some other Department into the Pensions Ministry merely because there is no employment for them elsewhere. I am not going to argue that they should not be employed in the service, but I think some steps should he taken in 2255 order to ensure that the recruitment of the Civil Service should not involve the difficulties and hardships I have stated, which take the form of efficient public servants being discharged merely in order to find places in the Pensions Ministry for permanent civil servants.
The next general issue I should like to raise is concerned with the stabilisation of pension rates. The revision of pension rates fell to take place in 1925, but at present, as I understand, the situation is that no change is to be made in the present rates as long as the average cost-of-living lies between a certain maximum—the maximum being that of the 1919 cost-of-living figure—and a minimum figure which is to be 60 per cent. above the pre-War cost of living. The rates were due for revision in 1925, but, as I understand, no revision is to take place until after the 31st March, 1929, and that then the average cost-of- living will not be an annual average, but an average over three years from March, 1926. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong in this connection. The point is, and I would like him to deal with it in his reply, that we are approaching the time when the whole matter of pensions should be regarded as having opened up the possibility of stabilisation in the matter of rates and general administration. Will the right hon. Gentleman not agree to-night that the time has now been reached when pension rates might he stabilised on their present basis.
I view with some misgiving the fact that the Government, for which the right hon. Gentleman will speak to-night, has been responsible for a reduction to 32s. 6d. per week, and that means a pension without allowances, for service postwar pensions. No one will care to deny that that sum it totally inadequate, if it is to be regarded as a sum upon which a man is to maintain himself and his dependants. The present 40s. a week maximum is not too high. I should very much like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us that he will consider favourably the production at an early date of an amending Warrant to secure, at least, the maintenance of the present rates, and I can assure him that if he does that he will get hearty support from those who sit on this side of the House. The soldier, the sailor and the airman ought, in 2256 the matter of pension administration, to be regarded as State servants and their right to pension and compensation for injury should be estabilshed and should, at least, be on as secure a basis as that of the industrial workers. We should set our faces resolutely against any return to the old, bad system under which pensions were doled out to soldiers and sailors at so many pence a day.
The next matter with which I wish to deal has been referred to this evening, but it ought to be still further emphasised. I refer to the forfeiture of widows' pensions an the ground of allegations against the moral character and behaviour of the widows of service men. The number of widows affected is not large, but even if it were very much smaller than it is I should still resent this interference with the widows in a matter which I regard as the receipt of statutory pension, paid to them, not on the ground of their moral character, but on the ground of the material loss which they have sustained through the loss of their breadwinner. I do not know of any other connection in which this sort of moral inquisition takes place. I question very much if the same sort of inquisition is indulged in in regard to officers' widows as takes place in regard to soldiers' widows.
§ Mr. KENNEDY
If so, I resent it in that connection as much as I do in the other. This sort of inquisition and the penalties imposed upon widows at the bidding and at the instigation mostly, as far as my observations go, of spiteful busy-bodies and tale bearers, should cease now. The complete loss of pension for what is at the very worst a breach of conventional moral standards is a very serious matter for a young widow who is often, I should almost say invariably, the victim of circumstances for which she ought not to be held solely responsible. I do not think the administration have tried to visualise the extremely difficult and dangerous position in which a young widow is left, in which many young widows were left during the war. If they had tried to do that, and to consider the position of the widow, I think the general attitude of the Ministry towards the service man's widow would have been more generous than it has 2257 been up to now. At any rate, this fact should be remembered that when the pension of the war widow is stopped it is not merely the war widow who suffers but the children suffer, in my opinion, more than the widow, and I plead with the Minister to-night to make up his mind that if he is to impose penalties on the ground that penalties have been imposed in the past that, at least, he could see that the pension is restored after a short suitable period of probation, that every extenuating circumstance possible should be considered, and that opportunity of defence on the part of the widow concerned should be afforded. I am afraid that that is not done.
§ Mr. KENNEDY
In my experience, it is not. I view this matter perhaps from a different point of view from that of the Minister. I regard the pension as a Statutory right and that that right of pension should not, under any circumstances, be forfeited on the ground of the moral inquisition that takes place into the, character of the war widow. I will give a typical instance in this connection, and I ask the Minister to defend the attitude of the Ministry, if he can. It is a case in regard to which the offence of the widow is six years old. In those six years the widow had been drawing a pension. The agent for the owner of the house which she occupied wished to remove her from her house. He lodged a complaint with the Minister against the widow on moral grounds, as I think, purely in order to secure her eviction from the house she occupied. She was in arrears with her rent and he hoped, I imagine, to exercise a certain pressure upon this ground and to secure the end he had in view. He failed in his object, and certain steps were taken which resulted in the charges he made against this widow being withdrawn. But the widow's pension has been forfeited; it has been stopped. That typical case is all I need quote in order to secure general consent to the principle that this sort of inquisition and the penalising of war widows should cease at the earliest possible moment.
The only other general matter upon which I wish to comment is the in-patient and clinic treatment to be provided by the Ministry in the coming year. It is 2258 estimated that during the year about 14,000 persons will receive in-patient and clinic treatment. In order to deal with these 14,000 persons, I gather from the Estimates that the Minister's staff will number about 2,400. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong. Nobody will dispute the fact that that number is adequate to meet the needs of the situation, and yet, in spite of this adequate staff, the Minister estimates that a further 9,400 men will be treated this year by their panel doctors or by private practitioners. That is part, apparently, of the general policy of the Minister to-day. I say, without further argument, that this method of dealing with ex-service men is not merely grossly unfair to the men, who while they are unfit for work and while they are referred to their panel doctors will receive no allowances, but is grossly unfair to the insurance fund, which ought not to have to bear what really is a war charge which ought to be borne directly by the Ministry of Pensions.
The general recommendations which I offer to the Minister in the matter of pensions administration may be summed up in these words, that the rigid Regulations that now govern the Ministry—Regulations, for instance, relating to a time limit for the lodging of claims, and final awards which are incapable of revision merely on the ground that the strict letter of the Royal Warrant has not been observed—should cease. After all, the beneficiaries under the Pension Minister's services are human beings. Each case has distinctive features. Cast iron rules cannot be equitably operated to suit every case, and there should be—and this is what we are pleading for—the greatest possible elasticity and generosity in the treatment of each individual case. The pensioner's physical condition and its relation to war service should, in our judgment, be the basis of every decision taken by the medical officers of the Ministry.
There is one other word I would like to say before I sit down. Sooner or later, the general question of the future of the Pensions Ministry will have to be faced and dealt with. I do not know whether the Ministry is now the subject of examination by the Government, but, very naturally, as the work becomes more of a routine character, as the number of 2259 people who receive pensions on the present basis diminishes, as the children who are now getting benefits reach the age at which pensions cease to be payable to them, the work of the Ministry will gradually diminish. As our Great War commitments and obligations tend to diminish and disappear, the question will arise of establishing, if for no other reason than that of economy, a unified national pensions administration. There is, I think, both waste and inefficiency in the present method of dealing with Service pensions. I think it was very deplorable that the administration of Service pensions should have been restored to the three Fighting Services to be carried on as separate administrations. It would have been very much better in the national interests if we had faced the situation nationally. I, personally, am looking forward to the time when we shall have an enlarged pensions administration—a national pensions administration which will cover the whole field of national pensions work, including not merely the Great War pensions but Local Government and Civil Service pensions, Army, Navy and Air Force pensions, superannuation and retired allowances of every sort, and which may also, suitably include the whole field of widows', orphans' and old age pensions administration. That matter, of course, we cannot discuss to-night, but if the Minister is able to offer any observations in answer to the few points I have raised I shall be greatly obliged.
§ Mr. GOODMAN ROBERTS
I feel sure there are many Members in this Committee to-night who have regretted very much the insinuation which was contained in the middle of the speech lo which we have just listened. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) described this Debate as a non-party Debate, yet the last speaker did not scruple to suggest to the Ministry of Pensions, quite groundlessly, and, apparently, on no evidence whatever, that officers' wives in certain matters were treated quite differently from the wives of private soldiers. We who are anxious to get to grips with matters of real difficulty on the question of pensions may be excused a little warmth of feeling that into a Debate of this a character, with 2260 the urgency and importance of the question with which we are confronted, such an insinuation upon, I was going to say such slender evidence, but upon no evidence at all, should have been so recklessly launched. I regret it very much.
I want very much during the course of this Debate to receive some assurance from the Minister of Pensions with regard to a topic which, I think, has not been touched upon before. I refer to the fact that in many of our large towns and in London particularly there may be seen in the streets at different times of the day large numbers of disabled men playing musical instruments or selling some small article like matches or bootlaces, often wearing ex-service medals or decorations, or bearing some card or notice to say that they had a wife and three children to support, and that they were wounded in such and such an engagement, and that they had no pension. It seems to me that cases of that kind may be sharply divided into two classes. Some of those persons—I hope the majority—are entitled to these war decorations and are in a parlous state because of the harsh treatment to which, somehow or other, they have been subjected in this great rich country of ours. Those cases, in my submission, ought to be investigated. I want to know, if it be in order for me to ask the question—it may be I ought to raise it on the Home Office Vote—what the pensions authorities or police authorities are doing to see whether the cases of those persons who turn out day after day in the same pitch with the same story are genuine or whether they are false. If those cases are genuine, they ought to be taken up and investigated. If they are not genuine, then they fall into the other class which I have already indicated. In that class, it may be, there are persons who are not entitled to the decorations which they are wearing, who are misrepresenting their character and the treatment which they have received. In those cases, it seems to me they are perpetrating a great fraud upon the public People are asked to give alms, or to buy things and give probably rather more than the actual purchase price they give in a shop out of sympathy for somebody who is maimed or disabled and the public have a right to know what is the truth about these things.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
On a point of Order. Is the hon. Gentleman entitled to make assertions like that about a class of people without producing some evidence?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN: (Captain FitzRoy)
I gather that the hon. Member ber was not making any insinuations; he is suggesting that there might be an investigation into these cases.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
If the hon. Member had done me the honour of listening more closely he would have realised that I divided these people into two hypothetical classes. He may be a genuine man and the person he represents himself to be, in which case I hope the Minister of Pensions will give us an assurance that his claims will be carefully investigated.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
Will not your words put it into the minds of all people that all these cases are frauds?
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I am sure the hon. Member will agree that an ordinary person walking down a road and seeing a disabled man, claiming to have certain credentials, does not know what the position may be. He does not know whether the man is a person who has been badly treated by the authorities, or whether he is a humbug. It is hard luck on, the member of the public, it is hard luck on the man in the gutter, who is trying to sell his matches or play in the band, and it is hard luck on the authorities if they are trying to carry out the Regulations which exist. I want to know, and I am entitled to ask, what is being done to deal with this very grave problem of the persons we see day after day in the streets who are driven, apparently, to this means of getting a livelihood. I want to know what pro-portion of these men can be identified, how many of these cases can be identified. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Brown) seems to think that the proper solution is to leave the position as it is.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
All the people who are in this state must be divided into one of two classes. If they are people who are honest and genuine, their cases should be seriously investigated. If they are persons who are not honest, then they are not deserving of the sympathy which they claim. If a man is in the gutter playing a musical instrument, or selling matches, and in the terrible state in which some of them appear, as the result of the War or some accident, then I say that their case should be investigated, and, when I am told from the Liberal benches that the proper policy is to do nothing about it. I say that the vast majority of hon. Members of this House will disagree with that proposal from the bottom of their hearts.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
The hon. Member knows very well that I have never said that all these people were humbugs and frauds. I rose to ask that these cases should be investigated, and I ask that these cases should be investigated for this reason, because there seems, of necessity, to be two classes of persons in this state. Some are persons whose claim to a pension—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order, and I hope this is a real point of Order. I understand that there is a rule against repetition, and I have heard the hon. Member refer to these two classes at least four times already.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that if I applied that rule, a great many speeches would be out of order.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I submit that if there are any persons who are securing money on false pretences—
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
My submission to you is, that if any action is required to prevent fraud, it is action not by the Ministry of Pensions but by the Home Office.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) apparently did not hear my modest compliment to him at the beginning of my speech, and with regard to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones), I am quite sure he has not heard all the observations I have made, but with the gallantry of the Service to which he was attached, he has come to the aid of the hon. Member for Leith. May I be allowed to try and continue this argument. Hon. Members who have listened to the point I have been trying to make will realise that I rose because there are poor persons in this situation whose claims, in my submission, ought to be most carefully investigated. The vast majority of them I believe are genuine, but there is always a feeling in the minds of the public when they give their assistance as to how far they are really benefiting deserving cases, and because of that many of the cases which are really deserving do not always get assistance, and, on the other hand, some cases which are not deserving—and there are people who are impostors—get the benefit of this public assistance.
There is only one other observation I want to make, and it is with regard to the question of the commutation of pensions. I am told that the commutation 2264 of conditional pensions cannot be entertained in any circumstances. They are in some cases in receipt of conditional pensions, but nevertheless have some grounds for claiming that favourable consideration should be given by the Ministry of Pensions to the commutation of that pension, small and fleeting though it may be. I have in mind a case in my own constituency where a man who has been suffering from arthritis has been in receipt of a conditional pension. He is anxious to go abroad to another climate, and he believes he can pay his passage out and get settled if he is allowed to commute the small pension he is now getting. The reply is that it cannot be done. I think that is not only unkind but unfair, and it is really a bad economic policy. Here is a man who is suffering a disability from which he might be rid, if he could get out into better surroundings and conditions, and re-establish himself in that way. But he is told that there no provision is made for him. So long as he is in the position in which he is getting no better he will get his weekly allowance, but the instant he tries to put himself into a position in which he will be a little better off, he is told that the weekly allowance cannot be commuted. I very much regret that the observations which I made, and which were non-party in character, following the example of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), should have been misunderstood by the hon. Member, who thought I was accusing everyone I met in the streets. But, if nothing else has transpired in this Debate, it has at least shown us that the Liberal polies, in regard to those people who are in the street playing musical instruments is that we should wait and see and do nothing.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I would like to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken and to emphasise what he has said. The difficulty arises not because men have no pensions, but because the Warrant, and the arrangements by which men with disabilities get only small allowances, does not provide them with enough to live upon. I have in my own Division numberless cases like this. I have given up years ago blaming the Ministry for this. It is caused by the Warrant, and the conditions under which pensions are allowed. In the past, I have 2265 said bitter things about the treatment of ex-service men, and about these men in particular I feel very bitter; but I had lost all hope that the House will do anything in the matter until I listened to what I think was a very genuine speech on a very genuine subject. Has the time not come to lift the whole of these men out of the gutter and accept responsibility for them? Yesterday we were talking about our responsibility for men squeezed out of industry. Here you have men squeezed out of the labour market, and even the most generous Minister who wanted to stretch the Warrant to the fullest extent, could not do all that ought to be done for them.
All of us, I think, are ashamed when we see such men blowing musical instruments or selling matches or anything of that kind. I only wish to emphasise what the hon. Member said, with this further explanation, that we should not merely inquire about it but accept the fact that the pensions and allowances for these men are not adequate, and that the country is rich enough to lift these men out of the gutter. I have an enormous collection of medals at home brought to me by men who have given them to me. They are diseased men who are turned off because their trouble was not attributable to war service. They are invalids, and they are down and out, and I think the nation ought to take the burden on its shoulders of full and adequate maintenance of those men who served in any way in the War and are unable to make their living.
§ Captain PETER MACDONALD
I would not have intervened in this Debate if I did not feel disquieted owing to a case which has occurred in my constituency. It is the case of a widow who received a pension of £1 a week owing to the loss of two sons in the War, and who, about a year ago, received notice from the Ministry of Pensions that, as she would be qualified for an old age pension in November, her pension would be reduced to 15s. Unfortunately, instead of going to the local War Pensions Committee, she placed her case in the hands of a member of the Socialist party in my constituency, who endeavoured to make party capital out of it and did not report the matter to the Ministry of Pensions or endeavour to establish her claim for an old age pension. The result was that, in 2266 November, her pension was reduced without her claim for an old age pension having been established. Immediately this case was brought to my notice, I brought it to the notice of the Minister of Pensions who took steps at once to reinstate her pension in full until her claim for an old age pension had been established. There may be many other cases of the same kind throughout the country, which may fall into the hands of people who, instead of assisting, would only endeavour to exploit them in the came way, and I would like an assurance from the Minister that there will be a better liaison between his Department and the Department of Inland Revenue so that, before a widow's pension is cut down on account of her eligibility for old age pension, measures will be taken to have the old ago pension established.
§ Major TRYON
I did not intervene earlier in this Debate, because I wished to give as much opportunity as possible for hon. Members to take part in it, and I wish to thank all who have spoken for their contributions to a very difficult subject. I propose to deal with some of the points which have been raised, while others I hope to refer to when I deal with the main principles of pensions administration. May I say how delighted we are to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. Roberts) restored to health, which is shown not only by his appearance but by the speech which he delivered to-day. I have only one or two small complaints to make about his speech, and I hope he will take them in good part. With reference to his attack upon the system by which, under the 1924 Warrant, we deal after seven years with the cases of widows, I think he forgot that, when he came into office and had to deal with the cases of the dependants of men who died after seven years, he adopted the very principle which we have adopted. Therefore, I think I may claim that both he and I by our actions have approved of that particular method of dealing with the problem. The right hon. Gentleman adopted exactly the same principle. I think that perhaps the only unkind word which the right hon. Gentleman used really applied more to what he did than to what I did, because he spoke of the 2267 £2,000 as parsimonious, and that is the sum which he fixed.
§ Mr. F. ROBERTS
Perhaps I am entitled to claim this virtue, that my predecessor, who was the right hon. Gentleman himself, had disbanded that kind of benefit altogether, and I restored it.
§ Major TRYON
That was not the point which the right hon. Member raised. His point was that the particular sum was a parsimonious sum. My point was that he fixed the amount.
§ Major TRYON
That is the joint responsibility of the Labour party and all who support it. On that point I will not dwell further. Let me turn to the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Fairfield (Major Cohen) whose speech I am sure everyone enjoyed. He referred to allowances to orphans. I shall be happy to examine the individual case which he mentioned. I propose to deal with the seven years' limit and the problem of final awards later in my speech. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Dr. Shiels.), who courteously said that he could not be here now because he had to travel to his constituency, spoke of the constant encroachments which were being made on the advantages enjoyed by pensioners in a series of successive Warrants. He read Warrants to prove that warrant after warrant had invariably been to the disadvantage of the pensioner, that time after time the changes made were greatly to the disadvantage of pensioners. He was absolutely wrong. It is true in the case of widows that the original Warrant of Mr. Barnes and Mr. Hodge did put in the seven years' limit for widows' claims, but that had always been the principle, and it was as a matter of fact the Warrant of January, 1924, which broke down the seven years' limit. That Warrant appears in a pamphlet which professes to record many benefits conferred by the Labour Government of the time. As a matter of fact it was signed and got through by myself. Perhaps that was part of the policy of keeping the matter free from party polities. Let me turn now to the speech of the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Grace). He alluded 2268 to a picture in the "Daily Herald" and I noticed with surprise that hon. Members opposite showed some indignation when he raised the matter. Surely, if a newspaper contains a statement and publishes a picture gravely discrediting the administration of pensions in this country, for which all parties are responsible—if the picture discredits this country in the eyes of everyone who reads that paper, surely there is no harm in a Member getting up and asking if the story is true. As a matter of fact the story is absolutely untrue.
§ Mr. T. KENNEDY
The interpretation put upon that pictorial representation of the ex-service man by the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Grace) was wholly unwarranted. No such interpretation could reasonably be put upon it. The picture simply denoted an ex-service man destroying 80,000 cigarette packets, which he had collected under a misapprehension, the misapprehersion being due, as I now understand it, to the suggestion, probably by those who sell the cigarettes in question, that if he collected a certain number, he would be entitled to an artificial limb. But can say now, on behalf of the "Daily Herald," that there was not the slightest suggestion in the picture, and it was not their intention to suggest, any sort of reflection on the pensions administration.
§ Major TRYON
The position is this. Here we have a country which has taken part in a great war. We have a picture widely circulated, suggesting, that a man had to collect cigaretse packets in order to get a limb. The statement made by the hon. Member opposite does not agree with the letter written by the editor, because he wrote appealing that this man should get a leg on account of his "evident need," whereas we had a statement from the man that he had two artificial legs in good working order this winter. The whole thing is an attempt to discredit the effort made by this country. I welcome the reasonable spirit of the speech made by the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison). I would only point out to him one thing. He suggests that the same disability will cause a different degree of incapacity in different occupations. That is perfectly true. The man who has lost a leg suffers very differently according to whether he is a watchmaker or a 2269 postman or whatever other occupation he follows. You may get the case of a man who has lost a finger and the loss of that one finger would render him unable to play the fiddle; but the plain fact remains that from the first all these problems were considered and it was found impossible to operate a system under which different degrees of compensation would be given for the same kind of disability according to different occupations. It cannot be done. It is impossible in many cases to decide what the occupation of a man is, and, while I fully appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Member put forward the suggestion, it is absolutely unworkable and would upset the whole system of pensions administration.
Then we had the question raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ripon (Major Hills), and I should like to reply on two points in connection with the general question which he raised about these officers. What is not realised, I think, in the case of these wound pensions is that these officers are a very small class among all the officers who have been injured. They were, and in many cases are, enjoying a special privilege which has remained over from an old Warrant dating back to the Boer War or before. This Warrant has been condemned by Select Committees and would probably have been abolished if a general inquiry had taken place into pensions last year. Moreover, they are drawing now full compensation, according to the extent of the injury, at double the rate enjoyed by the private soldier. As a matter of fact, the figures given by my hon. and gallant Friend himself prove that to be so, because the officer gets £2 week and the private soldier, similarly disabled, only gets £1 a week. Many of these men—I am not referring to the particular case mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member—were known to the Government to be earning £600 and £700 a year, and one of them £1,000 a year. One of the cases which was put up as being a case of special grievance, was that of a man who was getting £600 a year. That man, I agree, is entitled to full compensation on the ground of his disablement. He ought to get, and gets, that, but what is difficult to establish is that he should also be compensated for 2270 loss of earning power when, as a matter of fact, he is earning three or four times more than he was earning before the War. That is our difficulty.
In reference to the question of artificial limbs, raised by my hon. and gallant Friend and by other Members, I am well aware that there is great commercial rivalry between the firms which want to supply metal limbs and the firms which want to supply wooden limbs. An enormous amount of canvassing is done among ex-service men to try to push the sale of the metal limbs in opposition to the sale of the wooden limbs, and I warn my hon. and gallant Friend, who is absolutely innocent in this matter, to beware of advice in these matters which is possibly interested. He spoke, for instance, of the "light" metal limb. As a matter of fact the wooden limb is lighter still. So far from this kind of limb being condemned, we have had medical reports from various limb-making centres from which I have made a few extracts. The wooden limb is lighter than the metal limb; it requires less repair; there is an increased demand for it on the part of the men. The surgeon decides which is the best limb in each particular case. I am sorry to say that one newspaper, in making this attack, which favours the makers of metal limbs and handicaps the makers of wooden limbs, did not hesitate to charge the Ministry with providing "wooden stumps," when, as a matter of fact, these wooden limbs are most finely and delicately made, covered with leather, with joints rounded, and made so that they are beautiful works of art—and so are metal limbs—and if anyone would care to see these wooden limbs they would know how wicked it is to speak of them as "wooden stumps." The next point was made by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown). We have had no new Warrants from the Ministry this year, and I think possibly some of the Warrants about which he inquired may be Warrants of the Service Departments.
The hon. and gallant Member for Fare-ham (Sir J. Davidson) spoke very feelingly of the difficult problem of the neurasthenics. I do not think any part of the work of the Ministry has been more difficult, has received more attention, or has been more trying, desperately trying, for the medical staff engaged on 2271 it than the work of caring for mental cases and neurasthenics. I paid a visit a few weeks ago to a new, modern hospital at Cosham, in or near his constituency, with grounds sloping down towards the sea, with nice trees and good surroundings. In that hospital we have about 300 neurasthenics, I think, and if any hon. Member were to see that hospital, I am sure he would say we were caring for these men in good surroundings and doing our best for them. That point was also dealt with in the very interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, who spoke also of our men overseas, for whom we have a great responsibility, and I hope before I finish to allude to what we are doing for them.
In regard to his point about good surroundings, I have seen a good many hospitals lately, and I am sure that all hon. Members would be glad to see in what beautiful surroundings many of these hospitals are. I listened on the wireless some time ago to a speech made by the Prime Minister of Canada when he was in this country, and he said that one of the things which struck him most was the beauty of some of the old country houses, trees, and lawns. Many of these hospitals are in these surroundings. I was recently down at a beautiful old house in Kent, which is now a hospital, and I saw men playing bowls on the lawn with some of the largest trees in England behind them, and I know that those men enjoyed and appreciated their surroundings. Then there is Edenhall, a place near Edinburgh, with nice grounds, and there is a beautiful one at Erskine House, on the Clyde. Close to London there are two or three very charming houses and grounds in which these men are placed. I much appreciate the point raised by the hon. Member for Wirral, because I think it is a sympathetic one, and I am very glad to be able to make this answer, which I think the Committee will regard as satisfactory.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Windsor Clive), whom I was glad to see intervene in this Debate, raised the question of security of pensions, and I think he is a better spokesman of what the ex-service men really want than one or two hon. Members on this side who have suggested 2272 the possibility of considering a change. I believe the men do not want their pensions revised or medical boards. I think they want to feel the security of life pensions, but the hon. Member for the Deritend Division (Mr. Crooke) took a very different view. He was so hostile to final awards that he made it clear that he personally would not mind if some pensions were put down as well as up, and that, of course, is a fair and logical attitude to take. But my own belief is that these final awards, some of which have now been made for a long time, would, if they were re-opened, lead to more reductions than increases by far, and I think the pensioners would have reason bitterly to regret the adoption of the policy which the hon. Member suggested.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) paid a tribute to the staff which I much appreciated. I am sure anyone who has ever been the Minister or Parliamentary Secretary—and I am sure that in particular my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. Roberts) will agree with me—will agree that they merit that tribute for the devotion with which they apply themselves to what is an extraordinarily difficult task. It is all very well to say that rules create exceptions, but how can public money be administered with no rules? Without rules how cart justice be achieved between similar cases? I am very proud to pay a humble tribute to the work of the staff and I am proud to be associated with them. The hon. Member for the Thornbury Division (Captain Gunston) raised another very interesting point, that of entertainments. I am glad to be able to assure the Committee that it is still the practice of kind people to get up entertainments in these hospitals in London and other parts of the country. The entertainments are a credit both to the generosity of those who subscribe to the funds and to those very generous people who sing and play and give performances. They provide entertainment at hospitals such as some theatres would be glad to have. This goes on constantly. Some of them have entertainments every week, and I know that in that way the life of the men in hospital is brightened. I hope these entertainments will continue, and that people will still subscribe liberally to the funds out of 2273 which they are provided. It is a very good work.
The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. T. Kennedy) spoke very fairly of the work of the Ministry in the early part of his speech, and perhaps he will not mind my expressing my strong disagreement With some of the other parts of his speech. If e said we had too many higher-grade officials in the Ministry. The staff of the Ministry of Pensions has suffered more, I Should think, than any staff of any Ministry for years past as regards the number of reductions which have been made through simplification of work. It is very nice to be able to come down and state to the House that the staff is 20,000 less, but the task of making reductions has been a very difficult one, and one of the things the staff feel, and which they are continually putting up to us is the absence of an adequate number of higher-paid posts and the lack of encouragement to the staff. We as a Ministry are constantly discussing this question of the staff through the appropriate machinery. We naturally do not consider that we ought to have too many highly-paid posts, but the staff are constantly asking that there should be more of these highly-paid posts, and I am very much astonished to find the Front Bench opposite not only supporting the Ministry but proposing to go further than we do in reducing these opportunities for promotion through better-paid posts.
The hon. Member went on to speak of widows. I shall be very glad if he will send me particulars of the case to which he specially referred, but on the general problem—
§ Major TRYON
Then I should say that no doubt it has been dealt with justly. It is a question of forfeiture of pension; it is a question of what is technically known as widows being worthy or not. If the hon. Member realised the position I think he would agree that there is more in it than his speech implied. The war widow keeps her pension until she marries. When she marries her pension ceases, but if instead of marrying she is living with a man and has children then the hon. Member suggets she ought to keep her pension.
§ Major TRYON
I am talking of the general proposition. It was a general attack on the question of forfeiture of pension. The woman who lives with a man forfeits the privileges of her pension, just as the pension is denied to the widow who marries a man. That is the justification for the forfeiture. I think the Special Grants Committee have an extraordinarily difficult and thankless task in dealing with this matter. I know that often pensions are restored.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Is it not the fact that occasionally the cases are subject to review, that after 12 months or two years you reconsider the case of a woman?
§ Major TRYON
Yes, a large number of cases are reconsidered, and I am glad to say that in many cases pensions are restored. Now I come to the more general question of pensions. I hope the hon. Member for Gorbals will not mind if I criticise in a friendly way what happened in his case. He stated some time ago that two firms supplied these metal limbs and that one was a "Yankee firm" and the other was a Belgian firm.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
There may have been some very good reason for that. All I know is that the ex-service men live in my constituency in considerable numbers, and I simply take the information they give me and repeat it.
§ Major TRYON
What I say is that the hon. Member in his statement said one of these firms was a "Yankee firm" and the other was a Belgian firm. One of them is not an American firm selling in Great Britain, but a British firm selling to America, and 50 per cent. of their employés are ex-service men. The other firm referred to is registered in this country and has works here, and 70 per cent. of their employés are ex-service men. I know the hon. Member for Gorbals did take some steps to verify his information by putting down a ques- 2275 tion, to ascertain whether there was any truth in his statement. I have already dealt with the cases of amputations below the knee, and now I come to the far more serious and wider problem of the seven years' limit. As is well known, that was the unanimous decision of the House of Commons, and it has been maintained by successive Governments. It is true that in some cases other countries have extended their period but that is because they adopted a much shorter period in the first instance. Experience seems to suggest that our period was the right one. There are two ways of looking at this problem. One is to deal with the exceptional case which is undoubtedly due to the War, and we are making grants in such cases at the present time. The other is the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite to abolish the time limit.
But his policy must be considered as a whole. The Committee must bear in mind that my right hon. Friend who was Minister of Pensons in the Labour Government was responsible for bringing in a Bill under which every injury was to be taken as being due to the War unless the contrary was proved. That means to say that in the absence of all evidence those men are to have pensions at once, and, if we find out afterwards that there is no foundation for their claims, then the pensions will have to be stopped. This proposal, of course, does not help the men injured in the War and it puts those who have made out claims for their pensions under the present scheme at a great disadvantage. You have in this country 5,000,000 ex-service men, of whom perhaps 1,000,000 have not been overseas. A considerable number of them were in England, and only joined after the War which only ended legally in 1921. That means that all those men could get sickness benefit at war rates at any time for the rest of their lives in the absence of evidence of any kind except evidence to show that they were in the Army for a short time.
All these men could go before the tribunal over and over again. This would lead to chaos in the administration. It could not be taken as an amendment of the existing Warrant, and it would be simply what is known as a wrecking amend- 2276 ment. It would wreck the whole pension system of this country, and would not only treat most unfairly ex-service men who fought in the War and whose cases had been already settled after the War, but would also be grossly unfair to the rest of the civilian population. If, 20 or 30 years after the War, two men happened to fall sick of some prevailing epidemic, and one suddenly remembered that he had been in the Army for a few weeks, possibly after the War stopped, at once the Ministry would have to pay him a full pension in respect of sickness which was not due to the War. Some hon. Members would, perhaps, agree with that, but I say that it would be grossly unfair to the other man.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The onus of proving that the man was a fraud would be on the Department, and the Department is much more powerful and much better able to find out than the man.
§ Major TRYON
I think that, before public money is paid out, some sort of evidence should be shown that it is due, and, so far from the Department being in a position to examine these cases 20 or 30 years afterwards, we should have no touch with the men whatever after that time. Just after the War, we were in close touch with them. That proposal would be unfair to genuine ex-service men, and would also be grossly unfair to the rest of the civilian population, who, if they happened to fall sick, would receive, some of them the war rate of compensation, and others the much lower benefits which can l obtained in civil life. [Interruption.] Hon. Members had better read the Bill. It is significant that that Bill was quickly dropped when the party opposite assumed office.
On the question of final awards, those hon. Members who have spoken so strongly in this Debate in favour of fewer medical boards, of fewer examinations, and of simplification of the procedure, were, in my opinion, far more in touch with ex-service men than those who would seek to reopen many of these problems. All through, the demand has been for security for the ex-service men. They do not want to be examined; they do not want to go before medical boards; they want to be left alone. On the question of the number of medical boards, with regard to which a question was asked, during the last four weeks for which 2277 we have records there have been a little over 4,000 medical boards. Three years ago, under the Labour Government—I am not blaming them in any way—17,000 medical boards were held during a similar period, so that the number has been reduced to about one-fourth of what it was then. The main point is that, under the system of final awards, over 300,000 men have secured absolute protection against any reduction of their assessment by medical boards for the rest of their lives. That is a great benefit to ex-service men. I cannot help recalling that, only a year ago, we had a Debate in this House in which the whole pension system of the country was challenged, and it was proposed that there should be a Select Committee, which, according to the very words of the Resolution, would have reopened the whole range of pension problems, and particularly final awards. If the vote had gone in favour of that inquiry, then, the House of Commons having stated that final awards were a matter about which it hesitated, the final awards that had been granted had been challenged, we should naturally have suspended the granting of any more final awards, and the result of that would have been that over 30,000 men who have in fact been added to the list of those who obtained security would have been left in a state of uncertainty. The most direct result of the vote in the House last year is that over 30,000 pensioners secured final awards of pension for life.
I am told we ought to have economy. We are not working for economy at the expense of ex-servicemen. There is no better evidence of that than the fact that we are making so many final awards, which preclude all possibility of reduction of assessment. We are doing what one or two Members have asked for, and that is that as large as possible a part of every £ voted by Parliament should go direct to the ex-servicemen and not be used up in costs of administration. For instance, the staff has been reduced from 32,000 to 8,622. Over 23,000 of the staff have left. When the hon. Member fat Kirkaldy complains that we are keeping on the permanent at the expense of the temporary, it seems to me obvious that if a civil servant is permanent we naturally keep him. There is no one we can get rid of except the temporary. More- 2278 over the overwhelming proportion of the permanent are themselves ex-servicemen. It is not accurate to suggest that we have brought in people from outside. We have been doing all we can to transfer some of our staff to other Departments, but this change of the staff has been extraordinarily difficult to manage. The cost of administering the pensions in the highest year was £6,320,000. That has been reduced to £1,643,000, and therefore, without touching a penny of the pensioners' money, there is a direct saving to the taxpayer on the year, comparing one year with the other, of £4,637,000. In other words, putting it in the way some hon. Members have put it in their speeches, of every £ voted 15d. used to be used in administration and now it is 6½
§ Major TRYON
I am not comparing the work, I am comparing the expenditure. The hon. Gentleman has somewhat reinforced my point by his interruption, because it is much easier to administer cheaply a large expenditure than a small expenditure. I also wish to allude to the question of local committees. I should like to say how much we owe to numbers of voluntary workers who, without any advertisement, without writing to the papers, without any fuss, go quietly on in different parts of the country going round looking after the children, reporting how the motherless children are being looked after by their foster-parents and working in that way to help the Ministry. I know the right hon. Gentleman's desire was to get more closely in touch with the local committees. My right hon. Friend and I have endeavoured to carry on that good work, and I think we have got in closer touch than the headquarters of the Ministry have ever been before with the local committees liecause we have been round the whole country, going to centres like Edinburgh, Cambridge, Cardiff and so on, and meeting the chairmen of the local committees, and there we sit round a table and discuss cases from Scotland, Wales and various parts of England and hear from them how things are going on. I do not get from them all these hundreds of eases over the seven years limit. I do not get from them a demand for upsetting the whole pensions system. We 2279 get from them practical suggestions, sometimes on quite small points, on the working together of the two Departments, but we do not get these enormous and revolutionary proposals.
On the question of the reason and the authority for these great changes, there has been a suggestion that there has been a great mass of complaints. I can only say the complaints number half what they were only a short time ago. It is quite true that a number of individual cases have been brought up by Members of the House, and I shall be very happy to go into them, but I do suggest that, with the exception of a few Members who have kindly let me know beforehand of their particular cases, unless these cases are brought up in writing there is no possibility of a reply by the Minister, and only one side is stated. I notice that a number of critics have merely suggested that the Rules should be broken and not that we are administering the Rules wrongly.
We have the right hon. Gentleman opposite bringing up cases for West Bromwich. He apparently wishes to make huge changes and to tear up the time limit—at all events, when he is in opposition—and he suggests that there is a great volume of discontent. As I know, and as he knows, Ministers of Pensions draw rather more than their fair share of correspondence from their constituents on this matter. I have taken the trouble to give instructions for a list to be prepared showing how many complaints the right hon. Gentleman himself has sent up to the Ministry since January, 1925—a period of two years—from his own constituency. These are the complaints on which he bases his demand for the overthrow of half the principles of the Ministry, and, in particular, the removal of the seven years time, limit:—Three cases relating to final awards; no case at all relating to the time limit—that is to say from his own constituency he has sent not one single case in regard to that matter—one case regarding recovery of repayment, one case regarding an error in notification of cause of death, one case regarding need pensions, one case of appeal to tribunal on entitlement, and one case regarding the supply of elastic stockings—a request which should re- 2280 ceive every attention, but which hardly appears to offer adequate ground for attacking the pensions system of the country. One or two Members asked what we were doing for the men who were emigrating.
§ Major TRYON
I desire to answer the definite question as to what we are doing for the men who have migrated. I should like to take the opportunity of thanking the Governments of our Dominions and also the Government of the United States for the facilities and help which they have given to us in our responsibility for the men who have emigrated. We have done more than that. We have sent high officials of the Ministry round the British Empire to look after our pensioners and see how they are going on in Africa, New Zealand, and all over the world. The reports we get will interest the Committee. We have had extraordinarily curious reports showing how widely separated are the conditions under which the men who have emigrated are now living. We have the case of Tanganyika where there are a number of native pensioners, and, as they could not write, they had to be identified by thumb-prints, and, if there was doubt, they were identified by the head man of the village. In addition, there is the enormous difficulty of travelling in that country. In India, there was a difficult ease where a Sikh wished to nominate his wife as his heir, and, as he could not write and as the custom of his race forbade him to mention her name, it made it somewhat difficult.
That may be very interesting, but what about the men in South Wales who are in the workhouses? [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] We have men in Wales who are in the workhouses now—Interruption].
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Member for Rhondda must really allow the Minister to proceed.
We put questions about Wales, but he is not attempting to answer them. What has Tanganyika to do with us?
§ Major TRYON
Wherever our pensioners may be, they have to do with us. We have 13,000 pensioners in Nepaul. As no white man is allowed to reside in Nepaul, the only way in which the pensioners, mostly Gurkhas, could be paid was to bring them over the border to the nearest Treasury office. So once a year when the passes are open a little army of men, women and children tramp over the mountains, at least a 15 days' journey, and invades the local Treasury. Here they build huts and camp round until such a time as the harassed Treasury officials can pay them. The occasion is regarded more or less as an annual holiday and I am told that the whole encampment thoroughly enjoys itself.
I only wish to add one more point, and that is that I hope the opinions which have been expressed during the Debate will be carried into effect, and that this matter will be kept more and more out of party politics. The Ministry of Pensions has been built up by the work of all parties and by Ministers drawn from all parties. When I recall the history of pensions, my mind goes back to a very different day and to the first Minister of Pensions in this country, John Evelyn. He said that he went to the Commissioners of the Navy, who, having seen the project of the infirmary, encouraged the work, and were very earnest it should be set about immediately; but "I saw no money." In a letter to Dr. Beale, he said:You know what my charge and care has been during the late unhappy war with the Hollanders; and what it ha, cost me as to avocations and for the procuring money and attending the Lord Treasurer.In justice to the modern equivalent of the Lord Treasurer, I may say that we are very fortunate in these days, we Ministers of Pensions, because we get from the Treasury nothing but help. I believe that the expenditure of this money, which is the largest sum and the greatest effort ever voted by Parliament in peace-time in this country, is not unworthy of the nation which expends it. 2282 We have spent over £725,000,000 and we are spending £61,500,000 more. We are not only spending these large sums of money, but we are trying to do our best for the pensioners and their dependants. I believe the matter is getting more and more out of the region of controversy and into the region of accomplished fact. Our policy as Conservatives, and I hope all parties will join with us, is to go further and further in the direction of security, stability, and simplified process so that the men may feel not only that they are getting their pensions, but that they can be happy in the enjoyment of their pensions, because those pensions are safe and secure.
§ Mr. F. ROBERTS
I should like a word of explanation. In the earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's observations—I take no notice of the point which he has just scored against me, and which he had a right to do—he made a suggestion that we had been responsible for claiming credit for a Warrant for which he was responsible for signing as a previous Minister of Pensions. I personally dissociate myself from any such intention, if it was carried out at all. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman is quite correct in the statement he has made in that connection, but I should be glad, after this dissociation, that if he does blame anyone, he will not put discredit upon the previous holder of the office which he now occupies.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the CHAIR-left the Chair to make Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress: to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.