§ 153. "That a sum, not exceeding £100, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, for the Expense of the Ordnance Factories, the Cost of the Productions of which will be charged to the Army, Navy, Air Force, etc."
§ First Resolution read a Second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Major Tryon)
I am glad to have another opportunity of presenting the Estimates for my Department, because it enables me to give the House what is most important in regard to War pensions, a comprehensive view of the system under which we work. The Vote of the Ministry is still nearly the largest single Vote of all the Civil Estimates. The Ministry's work affects the weekly budget of nearly 1,000,000 families, and the actual beneficiaries of the Ministry number 1,500,000—a larger 2221 number than has ever been reached under any pensions system in this country. Yet Members of this House nowadays come across no more than occasional cases here and there—cases of complaint it may be. Although these few cases are less than one in 1,000 of the pensioners in their constituency, and although they hear nothing of the other 999, Members are apt, especially if, as is natural, they sympathise with the one-sided statement of the case they get, to question the whole system because they do not know it as a whole.
After a brief survey, therefore, of the financial arrangements of the current year, I propose to review the chief features of the pensions system and to trace the way in which they have been worked out in recent years. The Vote of the Ministry for the current year amounts to £53,723,500. At the end of the current year we shall have spent, since the beginning of the War—that is to say in the past 15 years—no less than £913,000,000 on War pensions. I have taken pains to ascertain how our expenditure compares with that of other countries, who, along with us, were the most heavily engaged in the Great War, and I find that by comparison with our £913,000,000, France will have spent not more than about £500,000,000, and Germany but little more than about £400,000,000. Our expenditure on War pensions has therefore been roughly equal to the expenditure of both France and Germany together. This fact is one that, I think, the country may be proud of, and the reason for it is not less creditable. The reason is that our scales of pension are considerably better than those of France and Germany. Take, for example, a disabled man with a 50 per cent. pension—a figure that is round about the average pension rate. Under the British pension system he draws £52 a year for himself—and a 50 per cent. pension will be never less than £52. In France the same man would draw, not £52, but £23 a year, including a variable bonus. In Germany he would draw £18 a year, including a bonus.
The fact is that when, after the War, the cost of living rose with us and with other European countries, we were prompt to adjust our scales of pension to meet the enhanced prices so that, at any rate, whoever suffered, the pensioner 2222 should not. Other countries did not take this course, and the pensioner suffered; and it is only since those countries have given up the policy of inflation of prices and have attained a stable currency that they have begun to adjust the scales of pension to the altered cost of living In strict financial theory we should have been bringing our pension rates down as those other countries were just beginning to increase theirs, because our cost of living has gone down steadily since 1919, but the Government decided that pensioners should not suffer a reduction of the scale of pension to which they had become accustomed for years and, as I was able to announce to the House ten months ago, they decided to stabilise the existing scales of pension.
The estimated expenditure of £53,000,000 represents a decrease of nearly £3,500,000 on the Estimate of the preceding year. This is at the present stage—I wish to emphasise that it is only at the present stage—a normal decrease. It will not last because the principal factors of that decrease are gradually ceasing to operate. The expenditure will, in fact, very shortly show no more than a fall of little more than 2 per cent. a year, and I estimate that over the next ten years the mean of our expenditure will be about £45,000,000 a year. But, taking the course of expenditure for the last five years, including the year in which the party opposite were in office, there has been an annual decrease in the expenditure amounting on an average to round about £3,000,000. Indeed, the actual (not the estimated) expenditure of last year showed exactly the same decrease namely about £2,750,000 as occurred in my predecessor's year of office.
The factors which are bringing about this decrease at the present time are much the same as were bringing it about five years ago and have been operating since. The decreased expenditure is the result of a decline in practically every item of the bill—administration, medical services, pensions and allowances. The administrative machinery of pensions will cost this year £1,231,000. There is still a decline, I am glad to say, in this item of our expenditure. Though naturally enough it is tending to stabilize, there will still be the substantial decrease of 6½ per cent. on the 2223 previous year's figure. We are still spending on administration no more than 5½d. to every £ of expenditure on benefits to pensioners, as compared with 1s. 3d. in 1920, the first year of my association with the Ministry. I think on a declining expenditure that is a point which the House of Commons will probably regard as being satisfactory.
The staff shows a decline in numbers corresponding with the diminution in the volume of work. At the 31st March last, the staff numbered 6,608, a decrease of 800 on the previous year. Roughly, one-third of the staff consists of female staff, of whom a large number are employed as nurses in Ministry hospitals, in addition to those engaged on clerical duties or as typists. 4,100 of the staff are men, of whom 96 per cent. are ex-service men. The decline of the work means inevitably that a certain number of the staff become from time to time redundant, but we make every endeavour to secure alternative employment for those who have to leave us. Apart from vacancies created by death, resignation or retirement on pension or other form of compensation, the majority of the men who left the Ministry were transferred to other Government Departments.
In pensions and allowances, which account for 94 per cent. of the Ministry's expenditure, we shall spend this year £50,798,000 for a pension list of roughly 950,000 adult pensioners and their dependants. Of this total of £50,798,000, rather more than one-half, or, to be precise, £27,300,000, goes in pensions and cash benefits of all kinds to disabled officers and men; and £23,400,000 to the widows and dependants of those officers and men who have lost their lives in consequence of their War service.
The aggregate expenditure on pensions shows a decline, as it must needs do at this date, 10½ years after the end of the War. Death is taking its toll of the dependants and parents of the men who have died in consequence of their War service, as it is also, though to a much less extent, of the disabled officers and men.
Remarriage of widows is another factor contributing to the decline of expenditure, though it is, naturally enough, diminishing rapidly in importance. But 2224 the single factor which has contributed most to the decline of expenditure is the reduction in the number of children for whom the allowances given by the Ministry are still drawn by their parents. Some 70,000 children will be reaching the age of 16 this year and will be passing off the list, with a consequent reduction of nearly £1,500,000 of expenditure. There are, of course, still factors on the other side of the account, operating in the direction of increased expenditure. We are admitting to pension, even now, anything between 50 and 60 new claims a week, chiefly from widows and dependants of pensioners. But, on the whole, the net result is a declining expenditure, and it has been declining steadily and regularly for the last five or six years.
I now turn to the item of Medical Services. There are two sides of the Medical Service attached to the Ministry. There is, first, the medical examination for pension purposes, and, next, there is the work of medical and surgical treatment. The medical examination, or boarding, of pensioners for the assessment of their pensions, is rapidly diminishing. The bulk of the work is now directed to the making of final settlements or final awards in all suitable cases. I am continually pressed to settle pensions finally, both by the men themselves, at meetings to which I go in the country, and by Members of this House. The security which these final awards bring is being appreciated, as we knew it would be. There are only about 100,000 cases still drawing pensions that are temporary and subject to further review. I am glad to say that our present lines of working are calculated to complete, in a few months' time, practically, the medical boarding of all these cases, so far as they are likely to be found suitable, for final award. For many of the men it will probably be found impossible, and unfair in their own interests, to give final awards, at any rate yet, if at all, because they are cases that are actively deteriorating, and in such cases we naturally do not wish to give final awards. But for the bulk of cases I hope that finality may be reached before the present year runs out.
The other side of the Ministry's medical work consists of the medical and surgical treatment of cases. The demand for treatment of all kinds continues to show 2225 the same decline year by year as has occurred for the last seven or eight years, and the hospital accommodation of the Ministry has, of course, been reduced proportionately. The Ministry is still maintaining 17 hospitals of its own with approximately 3,000 beds, and has a call on 25 other hospitals under the control of voluntary bodies which reserve their entire accommodation, or the bulk of it, for the Ministry. These provide accommodation for a further 2,000 cases. In addition, the Ministry makes use of civil hospitals to a substantial extent. The number of patients in the Ministry and civil hospitals on the 31st March was 5,106.
I cannot conclude my review of the current year's work of the Ministry without reference to that large and most important section of it which is comprised in the voluntary work of the Special Grants Committee and the War Pensions Committees. The expenditure of these bodies is relatively very small, but their importance in maintaining a human relationship between the Ministry and its clients cannot be over-estimated. With regard, first, to the 160 War Pension Committees, each of these Committees has the duty of acting as a local court of appeal to which any pensioner or claimant can state his or her case, if he or she has any complaint to make against the handling of the case or claim by the Ministry. The Committee investigates each case and puts it to the Ministry, and gets a reasoned answer explaining the case, or the case is put right if it has substance. A War Pensions Committee has many other duties, but the most important is to supervise the orphan children of former pensioners and those who were killed on service. They have some 13,000 children under their supervision in this way, and they are also the channel through which claims are put to the Special Grants Committee for assistance towards the education of other children whose parents are pensioners.
In all this work the committees are assisted by the voluntary workers in all districts, who, even now, number some 17,000 throughout the country. They are in constant touch with individual cases, and represent them to the committees or to the Ministry. They, and organisations associated with them, often organise entertainments for the children, or for the men still in hospital. The House will, 2226 I am sure, agree with me that pensioners and the country at large owe a profound debt of gratitude for the very effective and kindly work, official and unofficial, that is performed by the voluntary workers of the Ministry.
With regard to the Special Grants Committee, this committee was set up by Statute 12 years ago, primarily with the object of mitigating, especially in the earlier years after the conclusion of the War, the consequences of disablement or death where the State pension was, in the special circumstances of an individual case, not altogether adequate compensation. In this sphere its work has inevitably, with the passing of the 10 years since the War, diminished, and one portion of it, namely, the provision of supplementary assistance to meet the educational expenses of young children, now overshadows the rest. Many thousands of children have, in the course of these years, been assisted by grants from the committee, and, although the number of cases is diminishing as children grow older and pass beyond the range of secondary education, there are at the present moment over 7,000 children receiving assistance towards their education through the instrumentality of the committee.
The educational side of the Special Grants Committee's work has been, since the committee was reorganised three years ago, in the hands, I am glad to say, of ladies and gentlemen of outstanding educational experience and qualifications, and it has been my policy to obtain their advice and assistance on all the points at which the Ministry's work touches the education and welfare of children. My predecessor, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. O. Roberts) set aside a portion of certain voluntary funds at the disposal of the Minister of Pensions, with the object of providing further supplementary assistance towards the training and apprenticeship of children, and I have been able, I am glad to say, to extend the provision made by him with satisfactory results. I am sure the House will be glad to know that this work is going on well. During the past year over 1,000 children have been given special assistance for all kinds of objects which may all be summarised under the general heading of assistance towards self-sup 2227 port and a start in life. I have only recently sent out a Circular to War Pensions Committees which I hope will enable the Minister to go still further in the same direction.
It will not be inappropriate in this connection if I refer to the work of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. Of the assistance he has given me in that capacity I can only speak with the utmost gratitude, and I am confident that all Members of this House who have experienced his unfailing readiness to listen and inquire into the cases they brought to him will feel as I do. But, in addition to this, my right hon. and gallant Friend has acted for the last three years as Chairman of the Special Grants Committee, and none of its members has been more active than he has in the detailed current work of the Committee. Not content with the work of the Committee at headquarters, he made it his business to get into touch with War Pensions Committees throughout the country; he convened meetings of the Chairmen of the Children's Sub-Committees of the local War Pensions Committees, and spent many hours in discussing with them their difficulties and putting them right to the utmost extent possible. His work in this connection has been of incalculable advantage to the Ministry and to the ex-service men.
While I am speaking of individuals, perhaps the House will allow me also to express the gratitude I owe to the assistance of the Parliamentary Private Secretaries, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir K. Murchison), and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banbury (Major Edmondson). They have given ready help to Members of all parties in this House who have brought cases to them. They have helped me, and I am well assured that they have helped ex-service men. I am glad also to have this opportunity of expressing my indebtedness to the staff of the Ministry. I have been associated with them for a long time. I have reason to be grateful to them for their constant help and support, and I have reason to appreciate the ability with which they carry out their difficult work for the ex-service men and for the nation.
2228 After this short review of the current year's administration, I ask leave of the House to survey briefly the main problems of Pensions administration which has been pursued in past years, and particularly to the three important developments of the last few years: the seven years limit, final awards and stabilisation. Both the law and the policy of War Pensions have been built up by Ministers of each political party in turn. The fundamental principles of working have been maintained by each party, with only such adjustments of procedure as circumstances have shown from time to time to be necessary. It has been my fortune to be connected with that administration in a responsible position for the greater part of the last nine years which have seen the Ministry's work both at its height and in its gradual but inevitable decline. During those years the Ministry has proceeded in accordance with rules approved by the successive Governments in power. You cannot work any pensions system without definite rules. But there are two ways of drawing them. You may draw them so widely that in the end you find yourself admitting a host of cases which have little or no claim, or you can draw your rules so tightly that you leave out many genuine eases because of their failure to comply with technical requirements. Successive Governments and Ministers of Pensions in this country have adopted the wiser line of having definite rules, so framed as to give just compensation, but at the same time of retaining a measure of elasticity for exceptional cases.
As my predecessor, the right hon. Member for West Bromwich, wisely said the great majority of cases were covered by existing Regulations and Acts of Parliament or Warrants in existence, but outside those cases was a smaller percentage of very difficult cases, and it was almost impossible to frame a Regulation that was going to cover these exceptional cases. I agree with him, and I have taken every possible step to ascertain that the pension system is working justly and adequately. I have discussed our principles of working, as well as individual cases of difficulty, with the Chairmen of War Pension Committees in every part of the country, including Scotland, of course. I meet representatives of the British Legion centrally at the Ministry 2229 and often locally also; I am in daily communication with Members of this House on pension cases. I am glad to say that I have abundant testimony to the fact that the system, as a whole, is working soundly. There are, as there must be, occasional cases of difficulty, cases in regard to which I and my advisers are unable to see eye to eye with those who have heard no more than one side of a case—but these cases are few in number, and very few indeed by comparison with the enormous body of pensioners which have been satisfied.
I will deal now with three important problems about which there has been development in the last three years. I refer to final awards, the time limit, and the stabilisation of pension scales. The seven years time limit is a remarkable example of the unanimity of the three political parties when in office on the subject of War pensions. It was imposed on medical advice in 1921 under a Liberal Prime Minister and a Liberal Minister of Pensions. It received the unanimous approval of this House in the 1921 Act. It was upheld by the Government of Mr. Bonar Law. The Labour party had promised to remove it, but when in office, very rightly, they not only proposed no change to this House, but maintained it in individual cases which were already arising in 1924. The principle was again carefully considered by the present Government, who decided that it should be maintained. In imposing a time limit we have done in fact what every other country has done which enrolled its men in the late War by universal service on British lines. Every country has imposed restrictions of one land or another on the meeting of claims for disablement by War service as a right for an indefinite period. At the same time we have done what every other country has done in applying this limit. We have qualified the rigid time limit by a procedure for the admission of exceptional cases which can prove that they are genuine cases of War disablement. This qualification has been the work of the present Government. We introduced a system under which exceptional cases can and do go through beyond the seven years limit. There are occasionally cases where for some good reason an ex-service man has not applied for pension within the seven years. At the present time any 2230 ex-service officer or man in such a case, who can produce evidence to show that he is seriously incapacitated by a disablement genuinely traceable to his War service, can and does get compensation under the administrative arrangements which I have been enabled to make. The Government made these arrangements more than three years ago, and I cannot make it too clear that these arrangements are working, and, I think, satisfactorily.
Naturally enough, at the present time, considering how widely we advertised the time limit and how complete has been our local organisation, with its Local Offices and War Pensions Committees, which virtually invited men to claim, and considering the huge number of claims we have dealt with, about 2,000,000 claims altogether—considering all these facts, the number of exceptional cases of genuine War disablement arising after the time limit is naturally enough small. They are mostly cases of wounds, and for these I have made special arrangements by which they receive examination and, if necessary, hospital treatment at once by application to the Area Office. Between 300 and 400 cases that have arisen beyond the seven years' time limit have, in fact, been pensioned.
It has been suggested that this time limit should be thrown down. What would be the result? It could only be, in my judgment, and in the judgment of my predecessors, to throw discredit upon the whole pensionis system. As time goes by, and already 10 years have elapsed since the great bulk of men were demobilised, it must, except in the case of wounds, become gradually impossible for either the man or the Ministry to produce any evidence for or against a claim in respect of an ailment which occurs now only for the first time. In the end, if you did away with the time limit the State would, for a certainty be pressed to admit claims without any evidence at all. This radical change was, in fact, proposed by the Labour party in a Bill introduced by the right hon. Member for West Bromwich in 1923. Under that Bill any man's claim had to be admitted to the extent of giving him a pension at once without the production of any evidence on his part, and that pension would have to continue unless and until the Ministry were able to prove that his ailment was not due to War service. This would be an im 2231 possible position in which to place the Department. The grant of a pension for disablement by War service is a grant of honour from Crown and people. As such it should be based on fact, not on fiction or guesswork, and I have no hesitation in saying that pensioners who have proved their title to that honour would be opposed to a measure that would discredit the whole pension system of the country.
My next point is the system of Final Awards—the principle of a final settlement of the compensation due for every officer's or man's disablement, wherever this can fairly be arrived at. The most general desire and the most frequent case I have put to me when I go about is the case of people who want to get a final award. This system, as it has been worked during the eight years by Ministers of Pensions of all political parties will by the end of this year have brought complete security of their pensions to nearly 500,000 officers and men. The system was challenged in this House three years ago, but the Government upheld it and this House supported it, with the result that another 100,000 officers and men have been given pensions for life, secure against any risk of reduction by Medical Boards, should their condition happily improve, as in many cases it has done. That has been of benefit to the health of the men, and the security is greatly appreciated by the pensioners.
The system has been attacked, as every principle of our working has, from time to time, been attacked, on the strength of complaints from individual cases here and there, which, however exceptional, are supposed to justify the upsetting of the system. The Ministry could have relied upon the letter of the Regulation and have refused to take account of these exceptional cases and have left the hardship unalleviated, but both I and my predecessor—and I wish, in this connection, to do full credit to the arrangements which he made in extension of those I myself had instituted—determined that no cause for genuine complaint should exist. We adopted what is known as the system of correction of error, by which any officer or man who has received a final award, but who subsequently is 2232 found to need hospital treatment and who, at the end of his course of treatment is found to be in a condition of disablement which is seriously at variance with the degree of disablement which had been assumed for the purposes of final settlement, can be, and is given further pension. In taking this basis—the basis of treatment—as both the channel for the discovery of error and the test of its existence, I am satisfied that both my predecessor and I acted wisely, because medical observation and treatment give, as they alone can give, a basis of ascertained fact to the existence of error. As a matter of fact, some 6,000 cases have been given further concessions over and above their final awards. If it is suggested that 6,000 cases mean a very large percentage of error, I am not in agreement, because a total of 6,000 cases is only about 1 per cent. of all the final awards made.
It has been suggested that, notwithstanding that he had a right of appeal to an independent appeal tribunal within a full twelve-month of his award, every man who has had a final award should, nevertheless, be given a further right to appeal at any time and an in definite number of times. But such a proposal must make an end of final awards altogether. There could be no finality of settlement under any such system, and if it were adopted final awards would have to cease to be made, and the Act which has given security of pension to hundreds of thousands of officers and men would have to be repealed. As it is, in place of this unlimited appeal on any and every occasion when an officer or man might be disposed to make a claim for an increase of his pension, we have the solid basis of ascertained fact on which alone we can rely in giving that increase where it is really due.
I come to my last point, the stabilisation of the scales of pension which has been brought about by the present Government. Perhaps I may be allowed to say, in explanation, that I have met with a good deal of confusion in the minds of people who have discussed this matter with me. The final award settles the extent of the man's disablement. He is assessed at 100 per cent., or, as in the case of a man who has lost an eye, 50 per cent. That is the measurement of 2233 his disablement. That is settled for hundreds and thousands of men for life, owing to the final award. But beyond that there was an element of uncertainty.
The cash value of these pensions is stabilised for private soldiers. The 100 per cent. man gets £2 a week, with certain family allowances; the 50 per cent. man gets £1 a week. But that £2 and that £1 were not a fixed and permanent arrangement. The cash value was liable to go up or down under the Warrant of 1919. Since 1919 there has been a great drop, and the Government have made arrangements which protect these men for ever against any reduction in the cash value of their settlement, whatever the fall in the cost of living may be; we have stabilised the cash value of a given assessment against any decline, should there be a fall in the cost of living.
The security given by a final award is security against any reduction of the rate of disablement on which the man's pension is based. But until 10 months ago the actual cash which the man received at his particular rate of disablement might at some time have had to be reduced under the terms of the Royal Warrants if the cost of living fell to a prescribed point. The scales of pension, as the House will remember, were raised to their present figure in 1919, to meet the great increase in prices which was due to the War. The scales of pension had never been reduced since that year, although the cost of living had fallen substantially since the War period. The Government of its own initiative, and without any pressure from outside, took the matter up with a view to bringing about a final settlement, because they realised that there would be real hard-ship if pensioners were still left in insecurity as to their pension income.
We felt that, with the achievement of stability in the principles and working of War Pensions, we could fairly ask the taxpayer to waive the saving that might have been made under the terms of the Warrants—a saving of over £6,000,000 a year—and to obliterate for all time the provision that the scales of pension should be reduced if the cost of living fell. At the same time the Government did more than this—and more, in fact, than it had been suggested they should do—the Government not only preserved the existing scale of pension from 2234 any cash reduction, but they preserved to the pensioner a right to a higher scale of pension if the cost of living should ever come to exceed that of 1919. In other words it was the Government's own plan, and it is much better for the pensioner than anything suggested from outside.
Now I come to a new point which, I am sure, will interest the House. It is the latest development in the matter of War pensions. I have dealt with the security of the pensioner's pension, and I would like now to refer to a scheme which I am considering and which I hope may be brought to fruition before very long—a scheme designed to give greater security to the pensioner from the point of view of his personal and family needs. Some two years ago I made arrangements by which a portion of the pension payable for orphan children could be saved, during the time they were at work and drawing wages, that is between the ages of 14 and 16, so that when they ceased to be eligible for pension they might find a lump sum of £15 to £30 standing to their credit to start them in life, by the time they needed money to start in life. 2,500 children are being benefited in this way, and already about £20,000 belonging to them is invested. This scheme has turned out to be a great boon to the children and I find it welcomed wherever I go.
It has seemed to me that disabled officers and men might be offered similar facilities for saving, not for their start in life, but for the other end of it—their old age or death. At the same time the same idea had occurred to the British Legion, who came to me and suggested very many men would like to make use of the Ministry's machinery to save such portion of their pension as they did not need for current use. I found on inquiry that pensioners were freely investing their pensions in the Savings Bank or in National Savings Certificates. This is not to be wondered at. The great majority of pensioners are in work and drawing full wages, and they can and do in very many cases desire to save the pension. But the ordinary schemes of saving do not altogether meet the future needs of very many of them. They may want to make provision for their widows in addition to any contributory or other 2235 pension which they may get, or to supplement their pensions when they are older, or to set up their children in life or for the purchase of a house at a later date, a plan which fits in well with some of the British Legion's own plans for ex-service men.
I have discussed the possibilities of such a scheme with representatives of the British Legion—and they have welcomed it. The scheme would provide on the basis of free agreement with any pensioner eligible under its terms who chose to take it up, for a saving of so much of his weekly or quarterly pension as he might desire. The saving would carry interest and after a certain number of years, say for example at the age of 60 or later, the pensioner would find standing to his credit a lump sum which he might use either to supplement his pension at once or at a later date or to make some provision for his widow. I have, of course, outlined the scheme in very general terms. I hope through the British Legion to ascertain if some scheme of this kind would be welcomed by pensioners. Should it receive sufficient support to make it worth while to undertake, the Ministry would proceed to work out the necessary detailed arrangements, which would in due course be submitted to Parliament.
I fear that I have taken up a good deal of the time of the House, but at any rate the complaints against the Front Bench occupying too much time are hardly applicable in my case, for I have not previously spoken this Session, and I spoke only a short time at the end of last Session. I have explained the work that is going on, and that has gone on continuously under successive Governments. I hope the House will consider that the work which has been done by the Ministry for ex-service men is not unworthy of the nation and of the men whom we are trying to compensate.
§ Mr. F. O. ROBERTS
I am sure everyone must have appreciated the very interesting survey which the Minister has given on the work of the Department of which he is the head. Further, everyone will have understood the full meaning of his words and will be ready to accept them as relating to the responsibility which the nation has been prepared to accept for the care of ex-service men and 2236 their dependants. There is not a Member of the House who will question for a moment the efficiency of this great service as it has come within the scope of the survey which the Minister has given to us to-day. But there is another side of the picture, and personally I wish that, in addition to the excellence of his survey of the performances of the Ministry, the right hon. Gentleman had dealt at much further length with the difficulties which are associated with the exceptional cases that he referred to incidentally from time to time. In passing let me bring to mind one observation which the Minister made, as to the 1921 Act having been accepted by the unanimous vote of the House. Strictly speaking, I suppose that is true, but on the Third Beading of the Measure I used words similar to these: That the Act might make it difficult for many men to get their just pension rights While it is true to say that the 1921 Act received a passage through the House of a unanimous kind, there was just that criticism as to how it might work out when it came to be applied.
I would like, in passing, to join with the Minister in the tribute which he has paid to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, and to say that we on this side appreciate the words which he has used and certainly understand the full value of the services which his colleague has so well rendered. I would also join with him in the tribute which he has paid to that large number of voluntary workers who are assisting in this work in all parts of the country. No one knows better than the head of the Ministry what importance attaches to the great services which these men and women are constantly giving. But I would express a note of criticism even here, and ask the Minister whether he has found a way of taking sufficient note of the expressions of view which come from many war pensions committees from time to time, and whether he will accept the views given by the committees with regard to individual cases brought to their attention. The Minister referred to the fact that I stated that in association with these very difficult and exceptional cases it was well nigh impossible to frame a regulation which would meet them. That is true; I did say that. If that sentence is allied with 2237 other words which I have expressed, I believe that the correctness of the terra would be this, that I feel that by stretching the existing regulations with that degree of human consideration which might be applied it would not, perhaps, be necessary to frame a definite regulation. With the exercise of common sense many of these exceptional and difficult cases could be very properly dealt with as they arose.
May I say a word with regard to the point made by the Minister on the question of the seven years' limit. If I understood him rightly, he implied that successive Governments had accepted this principle in its entirety. If that was the idea in his mind and the sense of the words which he used, I think I am entitled to challenge him. When various deputations met me with regard to this matter, I invariably used words to the effect that the question of the settlement of time limits was one for to-morrow and not for to-day. I used these words because the vast majority of cases which would arise outside the operation of the seven years' limit had still three or four years to run from 1924. The great majority of the men were demobilised in 1919 and came within the seven years' limit in 1926. The others who were demobilised at a later period got a consequent lengthening of the time in which an appeal could be registered. During the intervening period from the end of 1924 to the present moment, I venture to suggest to the House and to the Minister that there has arisen in association with the time limits a set of exceedingly difficult and complicated cases which can only be dealt with by the setting aside of the limits as they now stand. If anything were required to prove the justification of the observation which I have just made, surely it is the Minister's own words in a later section of his speech, when he quite rightly pointed out to the House that there was now operating machinery which brought within pensionable rights the types of cases which can justify a claim. If this be true, what is the objection to wiping away the limits and allowing the claimants either to stand or fall by the strength of the cases which they bring. That is as I see it to-day, and I shall still stand by the observation which I made in this House in the last two or 2238 three pensions Debates. I believe that the words which I used were that if the man's disability arose within seven, 17 or 70 years of his discharge from the Service, and that disability could be traced back to the association with the War, he should be entitled to pensions rights.
I was very much interested in the new scheme which the Minister outlined in the concluding portion of his observations. It is difficult for one to express an opinion as to the merits of the proposal off-hand without having some further opportunity of investigation, but as one sees it in its presentation there appear to be exceedingly good features about it. I think that that is as far as one ought to go at this moment without having had an opportunity of giving it fuller consideration.
The Minister gave us a survey of the present amount which was being chargeable for pension services and the reductions which had come about in various administrative sides of the work.
Amongst the various reductions I particularly call attention to a reduction of £290,000 in the provision for medical treatment. Seeing the number of complaints which we receive from time to time as to the failure of men to get what they feel is adequate treatment for the disabilities from which they are suffering, one is tempted to ask whether there would have been a saving of £290,000 under that particular heading if the men affected had received the just treatment to which they felt they were entitled. The question can also be raised here as to whether too large a section of the responsibility for dealing with the ex-service men is not now being left either to private or to organised charity. If that is so, we are entitled to ask again is there is any justification for the saving under this heading.
I come back to one of the main points of criticism which I wish to level against the work of the Ministry to-day. I want to ask whether more consideration is being given to the exceptional types of cases, which, after all, are those which really matter because the straightforward case is being well met. The country is accepting, as the Minister has well proved, its responsibility and liability in that direction, and therefore the main 2239 point which should concern this House to-day in considering the Minister's statement and position is how far the difficult, the exceptional case, is being met by those who are responsible. I sometimes wonder whether there is not an absence of the human touch, which, after all, makes all the difference in the settlement of the claims which are made. I would like to ask whether the Ministry has devised any means of paying sufficient heed or giving weight to the opinion of a claimant's own medical man when it is set against the opinion expressed by the representatives of the Ministry. If there is no other way, may I ask the Minister whether it is not possible for him to consider, or whether he has considered the possibility of the appointment of an independent medical tribunal to settle questions of purely medical fact? We find that there is an almost constant dispute between the representatives of the Ministry on the medical side as against the opinions which have been expressed by the medical advisers of the particular claimant.
In order to illustrate that point, I wish to produce a case which has received considerable prominence in the Press. In doing this I should like to express my own recognition of the words of warning which the Minister uttered in the earlier portion of his speech this afternoon as to the danger of judging a case on the presentation of one side of the evidence alone. I know that that is not possible, but when we find that when the other side of the picture is presented it has behind it the authoritative medical evidence such as is associated with the case to which I will now draw his attention, the Ministry should also judge the case on the strength of both sides of the picture. The case is that of Frank Smith, and it is a little disturbing to find that this case, which has been supported wholly by the British Legion, and which has had the full support of proper medical evidence, has been turned down time and time again until we find glaring headlines in the papers that the British Legion have presented the case to one of the highest in the country.
I will give the facts as they are presented. The man says that he was demobilised in 1919, and that four months 2240 later he consulted a doctor about trouble with his chest. The doctor assured him that he would be all right and the man did not trouble to put in a claim for pension. He was able to work at intervals and did not want to sponge on the Government or the nation. One can appreciate the spirit of a man who stands in that position. Subsequently the man began to suffer from chest complaints, and in 1925 his doctor told him that he had only about two more years to live. The man then decided, if only for the sake of his wife and children, that he must send in a claim for pension. The claim was not accepted. I find that he was certified by the sanitorium doctor as suffering from tuberculosis. The doctor said:I am firmly convinced that this man's pulmonary tuberculosis was contracted during the War.There is no hesitating opinion about that. The doctor says he is "firmly convinced." This man subsequently received the support of two other doctors, Dr. Robson and Dr. Orr, men of high standing in their particular branches of the profession, and they supplied certificates exactly to the same effect as the certificate to which I have referred. I do not want to give publicity to this case, and I do not want to secure any effect because of the sensationalism that has been associated with it. I only make an allusion to it this afternoon because it seems to be the typical type of case, the difficulties of which I have been trying to point out.
I would like to draw attention to the question of sick benefit to widows and orphans. This is a matter with which we had an opportunity of dealing in 1924. I see from the figures that there have been 494 applications for this sickness grant and that only 74 grants have been authorised. Can the Minister give us any explanation of the somewhat grudging consideration which has been given to these applicants for the sickness grant? At any rate, it is one of those matters of administration which, if they were considered with a little more generosity, would wipe away some of the difficulties associated with those who are called upon to live under very trying circumstances.
The next point is in regard to the transference of pension to surviving parents, a comparatively small matter in 2241 itself. I understand that the Ministry take the line that there is no call upon them to notify the surviving parents that they are entitled to the pension on the death of the other parent. We are told that in some cases, owing to the fact that the surviving parent did not understand that there was a right of transference of the weekly sum, the survivor has lost a considerable sum spread over two and even for three years. I wish the Minister of Pensions would give an assurance that that kind of thing shall not happen in future, and that on the death of one parent pensioner, if there is a survivor who is entitled to the pension, that survivor shall have notification and be entitled to draw the pension on the first day on which it is due.
Another question relates to village centres for the treatment of tuberculous patients. We know that a great deal of good work has been done by those who have been charged with the responsibility of dealing with tubercular men, but I should like to know whether the Ministry has given any consideration to the widening of the scope of operations of centres like these which can meet the typical cases of ex-service men which arise from time to time. The British Legion has a very definite policy on the matter and, from the results which have followed the treatment of cases which have come within their hands and the investigations which they have made, there seems now some justification for the conclusion that the proper way of dealing with tubercular ex-service men is to find a means of giving them some useful work under the most congenial and comfortable circumstances. The Minister has seen the Legion's document in which they state their views; therefore there is no need for me to read the extract to him.
The neurasthenics are probably the most difficult of all the cases with which the Ministry is called upon to deal, but it is a difficulty which ought to encourage those responsible for administration to even greater efforts in the future with the object of their being overcome would urge the need for the setting up of greater and wider occupational opportunities for dealing with this particular type of suffering ex-service men. Certain avenues have been traversed in this 2242 direction, and the best opinion has now come to the conclusion that it is only by finding congenial occupations for these patients that we can hope to do anything to bring them either to a complete recovery or to that partial state which will enable them to lead something like a happier life.
The right hon. Gentleman devoted considerable attention to the important question of final awards. I cannot agree altogether with the conclusions that he expressed because, again, the words which he used as to the number of cases, although a small percentage, which have come within the correction of errors, did seem to warrant the observation that of the cases which have come within the operation of the final awards scheme many were of such a nature that it was impossible justly to make a final award. Let me give one type of case which has been brought to my notice this week. A man had a gunshot wound in the wrist, which has paralysed and drawn his hands. He received the usual award for so many weeks. Although it is a long time since he received his final payment, the hand instead of improving has still further withered, but he is told that he has no claim for further pension rights. Those are the facts that have been presented to me, and I understand that documents can be presented to prove the correctness of the statement. I have not the full facts of the case before me at the moment, but if the right hon. Gentleman says that I am wrong in my statement I will see that the papers are presented to him in order that he may look into the matter.
I made reference to the seven years' limit when I was dealing with the Minister's statement on that matter. When he says that all the authorities seem to agree that the abolition of the time limit would not be desirable, may I draw his attention to the view which has been expressed in a statement issued by the British Legion? Whatever may be our views in regard to other organisations which have expressed views in regard to what is wanted in the interests of ex-service men, I think it can be properly claimed that the British Legion is entitled to speak for the many thousands of members who come within its scope. The Legion say: 2243We are of the opinion that, whilst the onus of proof is on the claimant, disabled officers and men should have the right to submit claims to pension irrespective of any time limit and, if rejected by the Ministry, the right to place their claim before an independent tribunal.That seems to me justly to meet the claim that can properly be made in regard to the time limit, and I leave the matter with the support which I have quoted from the British Legion. May I present a further point in regard to treatment? This may be a comparatively small point, but it is of importance to those directly concerned. We understand that it takes from three to six days before a man who has applied for treatment receives a visit from the Ministry's medical officer of health. Could not some arrangement be made to avoid the delay and difficulty which must constantly arise and that men might be attended by local doctors on the production of the award showing that the disability has been accepted by the Ministry of Pensions? The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head as to the period of time. I am glad to find that on that score the information supplied to me is not quite accurate. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will look into the matter and see if there is any justification for what I have said.
A further point relates to allowances for children after 21 years of age. Under the warrants the pension of invalid children unable to earn a livelihood may be continued until the age of 21. A few cases have been brought to my notice where the incapacitated child on reaching the age of 21 has lost the grant which has been made. Is it not possible for the Minister to frame a Regulation which would meet the particular circumstances of this class of child? There does not seem to be any question that if the father had lived these incapacitated children would have been properly cared for, and as the State accepted the responsibility in the case of the child who is incapacitated and unable to earn a living, it seems only a just conclusion that the State should accept that responsibility so long as the child lives. One further point in regard to patients who are receiving hospital treatment. The Ministry point out that a certain man in a mental hospital 2244is provided with treatment and in the event of his recovery and discharge (and in that event only) he will be entitled to receive the difference between an allowance at the maximum pension rate of 40s. weekly and the total cost of his treatment, including any pocket money paid to him by the medical superintendent, and the payments made to you…. In the event of your son's death occurring while he is in the mental hospital, no balance will too payable to his estate.There, again, there seems to be a little hardship on a surviving parent. Would it not be possible so to arrange the finances of the Ministry that this obligation might be justly met, and avoid any penalising effect by the withholding of any balance which has accrued?
May I summarise the points which I have made? In the first place, we appeal for a continuance of the application of the human touch. Without that, none of these exceptional cases are likely to be adequately met. We want the benefit of the doubt to be real. We are given to understand that the Ministry have always held the view that the applicants must always receive the benefit of the doubt. One wonders sometimes if that does always obtain, in view of the fact that we get a number of exceptional cases arising from time to time. I would like to see the operation of that instruction or Regulation of the Ministry applied to such an extent that the benefit of the doubt shall be given in every conceivable case. We ask for more generous consideration of sick benefit claims for widows and orphans; that notification that a parent's pension is transferable shall be given to the surviving parent; that the needs of the tubercular men shall receive the fullest consideration, in conjunction with those who may be responsible for the development of village settlements; that more occupational opportunities shall be found for the neurasthenics; that remedies shall be found as speedily as possible for the unsatisfactory position created by final awards; that treatment application shall be more quickly dealt with; that children's allowances after 21 years of age may be continued, and that the seven years' time limit shall be abolished.
The State realises its duty and is ready to meet its obligation to compensate justly those who suffered as a result of war injuries. This House has many times declared that the benefit of the doubt is 2245 to be given to all applicants. The nation has undoubtedly supported that view, and means to see that the ex-service men shall have a fair and square deal; but the many hardship complaints show that that ideal has not been altogether realised. I would make an appeal to the Minister that something shall be done to meet a greater number of the exceptional hardship cases.
I admit that the work of this great Department must be firmly controlled, but its functioning can and must be sweetened by human sympathy, understanding and common sense. The application of hard-and-fast Regulations is bound to mean failure and consequent hardship or injustice, which result in the disappointment and discontent which we find in certain directions to-day. No Department of State commands more public sympathy and support than the Pensions Ministry, and whatever may be done to see that the nation's pledge to those who fought is not broken will be received with approval on all sides.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
It is with real pleasure that I rise after the speech of the Minister of Pensions which, in its main aspects, gave great satisfaction in all quarters of the House. He told us the history of pensions administration during the last four or five years. There was no part of the story which the House received with greater satisfaction than that in which he stated that out of every pound of the Ministry of Pensions Vote all but 5½d. goes into the pockets of the pensioners, compared with administrative expenses of 1s. 3d. in the pound in 1920. There has been a very notable reduction in that respect during the past four years.
The decision of the Government with regard to the stabilisation of pension rates is of immense importance to the pensioners and will give great satisfaction to the country as a whole. We cannot ask for more than that whatever the cost of living may be there shall be no reduction in the amount of pension, and that if the cost of living rises above the level contemplated when the rate of pension was fixed the pension can be increased. That is as it should be; and it will be a great satisfaction to pensioners to realise that there can be no drop at any time in the amount of the weekly allowances they get. The Minister 2246 says this costs £6,000,000 a year. It is an expenditure which the country will not grudge. A statement which gave me great satisfaction was that at the present time there are 50 or 60 new cases being admitted weekly as good claims for pensions. A considerable number of final awards have ceased to be final because they have been reviewed, and of the cases barred by the seven years limit, some 300 or 400 have been allowed. It is with regard to these that I want to trouble the House for a few moments.
The Minister of Pensions has said that we are apt to consider these cases after having heard only one side I do not think that that is so. When I have brought a case before the Ministry, being a persistent person, it has generally involved a considerable correspondence before I admit myself beaten, if I ever do, and every aspect of the case of the Ministry against the claim of the pensioner is put most fully, and I must say most ably, before me. We are given ample opportunity to hear the other side; and we are bound to give great consideration to it. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Ministry can only be conducted under definite rules, which he admitted must be administered with a certain elasticity; that there must be exceptional cases. There has been a large diminution in the number of officials, but there are still very many. Naturally, all the many cases brought forward by hon. Members and the British Legion are sifted and considered by officials. I do not make any complaint about the officials at the Ministry of Pensions but it is a well-known fact that the official mind, which has to administer certain definite rules, comes to regard those rules as so perfect, almost inspired, that they are quite satisfied, provided the case is considered and decided in strict accordance with the rules. It is difficult to get that elasticity which is required in the pensions administration into the official mind and I am glad that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have been there to consider many of these cases themselves.
With regard to the seven years' limit, I am glad to hear that some 300 or 400 cases have already been admitted. There must he very many. I have one which came to my notice only to-day, and it is a typical case, of a man who 2247 was not quite sure whether it was necessary for him to put in a claim for a pension. He did not want to put in a claim, as he took a cheerful view of matters; he thought he would be all right and was going to work. Gradually he found that blood poisoning, which was caused by coming into contact with barbed wire entanglements during the War, was affecting him now. The man's name is G. T. Brayley of Bideford, in my own constituency. I shall put that case before the Minister with greater confidence now that oases beyond the seven years' limit are being admitted. I am perfectly certain that the number will grow. They ought not to be looked upon as being bogus claims; these cases must occur and should be regarded with the utmost sympathy.
I want to draw the attention of the Minister of Pensions to two specific cases arising in my own constituency. One is the case of a widow's pension to a Mrs. Stafford, the widow of a sapper in the Royal Engineers. He commenced his service at the beginning of the War and all went well until 1916, when he became ill. In the Ministry of Pensions' own words he was suffering from "pyrexia and debility," which involved transferring him from Malta to Salonika, and ultimately to the United Kingdom, where he was in hospital for seven months. I have consulted a medical Member of the House and he tells me that pyrexia does not necessarily mean tuberculosis. It might arise from various conditions. Not being able to give any opinion of my own, I call the attention of the House to this fact, that after this period at Malta, Salonika and at home in hospital, the man was adjudged to be perfectly well, so well that he was sent abroad again and served continuously after that until the end of the War in 1918. He was demobilised in 1919. In 1917 he married, and the Ministry of Pensions says that the widow has no right to a pension at all under Article 17B, because their medical advisers consider that the tuberculosis from which he ultimately died really commenced before 1916, and they quote against the man a statement which he himself made, namely, that the tuberculosis from which he was then suffering, that is in January, 1919, started probably 2248 in May, 1916, being due to exposure while on active service. The Ministry decided that the widow had no claim to a wife's allowance as he did not marry until after his removal from duty on account of the disability for which he received his pension.
Surely, if the man was considered fit enough to be sent abroad again on active service and, in fact, served for another two years, it is fair to assume that it was his War service after his marriage which was responsible for his death, and that the widow is entitled to a pension under Article 17B. Another point arises. The pension actually awarded to the widow under 17A was 10s. a week, half the pension of 20s. a week which was the man's pensionable rate, but for several years before he died he had received 40s. per week treatment allowance, and 10s. per week for his wife. Although it was found that his pension of 20s. per week was quite inadequate and that he required hospital treatment owing to the state of his disease, and although he and his wife had received 50s. per week for some years, yet, when the man dies, we are told that his pensionable rate of 20s. per week had been subsumed—whatever that might mean—and that when it came to a question of pension for the widow she is only to get half of 20s. per week. When that pension Regulation was fixed there were no widows' pensions, and what the Ministry is doing in cases like these—has actually done in Mrs. Stafford's case—is to say that a widow may have the 10s. per week which she would have got under the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act. The Ministry are giving her nothing at all, although they say they have given enormous consideration to the case and have made her a special allowance of 10s. per week. I hold that this is one of those cases where you want a little elasticity and the human touch. It is not a bogus claim at all, and should be considered from the point of view, can we justify giving this widow a pension which we believe she requires? The Ministry should not try to find some reason for disallowing it.
The other case is that of a dependant's pension. It is the case of Mrs. Physick, of Elm Cottage, Georgeham. I asked a question about it last year. The woman is 72 years of age, nearly blind, and 2249 recently lost her husband. She had three sons in the War, and two of them were killed. All she is getting is a dependant's pension of 9s. 2d. per week. I want to know why we are saving the 10d. per week? Why is the widow not getting 5s. per week in respect of each of the two sons? The answer I got when I put this case was somewhat long. It was to the effect that under Article 21 (1) (c) of the Royal Warrant, dependants' pensions were payable only when the son was under 26 years of age at the outbreak of the War. Only one of Mrs. Physick's sons fulfilled these conditions and she was granted a flat rate pension of 5s. per week in respect of him. The other son was over 26 years of age, and she was granted 4s. 2d. because, although she was not entitled to anything, as the son was over 26 years of age, it was found that before the War, that is 15 years ago, when she was 15 years younger and able to earn something herself, he was allowing her 2s. per week. In consideration of that the Ministry of Pensions gave her 4s. 2d. per week. Is it seriously contended that the people of this country, when the Pensions Vote is going down by £2,750,000 per year, desire to save 10d. per week in respect of the dependant's allowance of an aged widow, 72 years of age, who is almost blind and unable to do anything for herself? Why do not the Ministry recognise that the assistance which old people get from their children increases as the old people get older? When they are comparatively young, as this woman was before the War, it is not expected that the children will do so much, and the Ministry ought to realise that it is now, 14 and 15 years after the War, when her children would be doing much more for her than they were before. In the ordinary course of events a man's position improves after 14 or 15 years and he is able to make a larger provision for his widowed mother. If this widow had received 5s. a week in respect of each son she would not have been treated with undue generosity, and I ask the Minister to reconsider her ease and to see whether he can justify this paltry economy of 10d. a week.
The Minister referred to a new scheme for putting aside and banking savings from pensions as well as from orphan allowances, and said he was going to in 2250 clued an arrangement in the scheme for a rate of interest. Can he tell us what the rate of interest is likely to be? I urge that it should be a generous one, approximating to the rate which the Treasury have to pay when they borrow money. I do not want to see these savings given some meagre rate of interest like 2½ per cent. They ought to have the best rate of interest which the country can afford. I was expecting to hear in respect of orphans savings that the Ministry were going to include in their scheme some arrangement by which they would add something to the nest egg in those cases. At any rate I am sure the scheme is a sound one, if administered in a liberal spirit and I hope we shall learn from the Minister that the rate of interest is to be much better than the rate in the Post Office Savings Bank.
§ Mr. BARKER
I should be the last to find fault with the way in which the Minister has performed his duties. I know from experience that, he has the greatest sympathy with the ex-service men and their dependants. I wish to draw the attention of the House, however, to the operation of the seven years' limit. This rule was introduced in 1921 just three years after the War, and I submit that it was made without sufficient experience. There have been hundreds of thousands of cases in which men who were wounded, were not actually incapacitated at the time, but were totally incapacitated later on by the after effects of those wounds. To apply an arbitrary rule of this character, after a short experience, was a great mistake. The British Legion which has been brought into being to look after the interests of ex-service men and their dependants, and which has as far as my experience goes, done that work admirably, is entirely against the seven years' limit. To my mind the limit is utterly indefensible. How can anyone say that after seven years, eight years or 10 years, injuries received on active service will not manifest themselves? Some years ago, I brought before the House the case of a friend of mine who served in the War and was wounded in the abdomen as a result of shell fire. He recovered apparently, but years afterwards, some of the pieces of shell were dislocated from where they had lodged, resulting in septic poisoning, from which the man died. Fortunately 2251 for his widow he died just three weeks before the seven years' limit would have operated. That case in itself is a strong condemnation of this arbitrary rule.
I know that the Minister has undertaken the responsibility of investigating these cases personally but we on this side are at a big disadvantage. I asked the Minister a short time ago how many cases had been turned down owing to the operation of the limit, but he did not give me the information. I think he has stated today the number of cases which have been brought outside the limit, and in which pensions have been given. I would like information as to the number of cases in which pensions have been refused under this rule. A short time ago I brought before the Minister a case which is endorsed and supported by the British Legion in Abertillery. It is the case of a Mrs. Alice Birchall, whose husband died after the expiration of the seven years' period. He was maintaining his family out of a pension, and when he died the family were left without any support. The widow applied for pension and this is what the tribunal said:The tribunal find that the appellant is ineligible for pension under Article 11 of the Royal Warrant as the deceased did not die within seven years of the receipt of his wounds or injury, or removal from duty, or termination of active service. The tribunal further find, having regard to the terms of Article 17B of the Royal Warrant that the death of the late R. Birchall cannot be certified as wholly due to conditions resulting directly from War service.Here is a glaring example—a case in which there is a grave doubt expressed by the tribunal itself, but the Minister and his Department appropriate to themselves the benefit of the doubt. The Minister says there are many cases, where there is little evidence either for or against the appellant but in every case the Ministry gets the benefit of the doubt. Although the hon. and gallant Gentleman shakes his head, I am afraid that, in the operation of this rule, great injustice is being done to many ex-service men and their dependants. The Minister referred to the fact that £913,000,000 had been spent by the Department since the War. While that is a vast sum of money, it has been distributed among a great many, and has alleviated incalculable misery. There is no more important Department of the Government than that 2252 over which the hon. and gallant Gentleman presides, and, when considering the cost of pensions, we ought not to forget that already £3,000,000,000 has been paid in interest on debt arising out of the War. As against the £913,000,000 given to the pensioners, we should remember that the wealthy people of this country have had that vast amount of money from the State. In regard to striking off children at 15 years of age I would appeal to the Minister to set an example to the Education Department and make it 16 years instead of 15. He has saved £3,000,000 this year and has saved an enormous amount since he has been in office. With a congested labour market it would be doing a very useful thing, as well as a very worthy thing for the State, if the Minister could have the law altered in this respect.
§ Mr. BARKER
I understood that the Minister said this afternoon that £1,000,000 would be saved in respect of these children on their attaining the age of 15 years.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I ought to point out to the hon. Member that if an alteration of the law is necessary it cannot be discussed, but if the change can be made by Warrant, that is another matter.
§ Major TRYON
I think the hon. Member is under a misapprehension. He is advocating that allowances should continue until the age of 16. They do continue to the age of 16 at present.
§ Mr. BARKER
I am very glad to hear it and I am obliged to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for his correction. In conclusion I have only to repeat that the Department has been administered with great humanity, but the seven years limit is protested against by ex-service men throughout the length and breadth of the country and I hope that the Minister will consider these cases on their own merits and not with reference to any arbitrary time limit.
§ Captain FRASER
May I ask hon. Members to allow the other side of this seven years limit question to be put to them, in order that it may be considered in the fair and peaceful atmosphere which we have in the House this afternoon, and 2253 which, I am sure, all sides welcome. It is most satisfactory that a pensions Debate can take place at this time in a calm and friendly atmosphere. I dislike the seven years limit. It cannot be defended on logical grounds. Yet there are two sides to the question. There are certain men—fortunately a relatively small number—who have been definitely wounded in the War, who have been given pensions for life or conditional pensions, and with regard to whom there is no shadow of doubt that their disabilities arise out of War service. They are the genuine cases. There are 5,000,000 persons who have served in the War, all of whom for the rest of their natural lives will be subject to one trouble or another. Their troubles may arise out of civilian employment, out of disease contracted in civil life, out of mere old age; but it is perfectly clear that nobody can tell whether any trouble which arises in the subsequent lives of these men is or is not, in some way, directly or indirectly, attributable to War service. It is probably true that War service had an effect and left its mark upon every individual who suffered at all seriously, but not all of the 5,000,000 men who were recruited did substantial War service. Some were in this island for the greater part of their service, and it is by no means the case that every ex-service man was subjected to hardship.
Are we to go to the extreme of saying that every man who served shall, at the expense of the State, have a right of appeal for the rest of his life lest an injustice should be done? That would be the result of changing the Act of Parliament which imposed the seven years limit. If we do so, we are going to waste money on administration, instead of spending it principally on the pensioners. We should require to increase the staff of the Ministry to deal with scores of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of appeals. Obviously every man will say to himself, "I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by having a shot at it." That is only human nature, and I would not blame the ex-service man for "having a shot at it." But I ask hon. Members to consider this side of the matter. As the Minister has said, to have been placed definitely in the category of men disabled by War service, is not merely an honour but a privilege. That 2254 privilege can only be weakened if hundreds of thousands—indeed millions—are to be allowed to participate in it.
I hope I shall not be considered selfish. I am the last to wish that a genuine case should be overlooked. I represent some 2,000 of the most severely disabled men whose feelings I understand and whose circumstances I know, and I am certain they support the general policy of the Ministry, which is to see that the men who were severely disabled should have generous allowances and have them guaranteed for life, instead of spreading the money over a wider field and giving small allowances all round for any trivial disability. By concentrating the available State funds on those who have been severely disabled we can do real good, but by spreading it, we may not be able to do the right thing by the serious cases. I dislike the seven years' limit. It is theoretically objectionable, and much propaganda has made it appear to be objectionable in practice, but, in my judgment, the statement of the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Barker) that many cases of hardship have arisen out of it, is incorrect. I do not charge the hon. Member with deliberately making wrong statements. I am sure he thinks there are many cases of hardship, but in my judgment there are so few that it cannot honestly be said that this is a matter of great public interest. If the Minister gives a guarantee that special precautions will be taken to consider any special cases that arise we may be nearly satisfied. I do not say quite satisfied, because there are theoretical objections to the limit.
If we could devise a means of getting rid of the limit without premitting all these 5,000,000 men for the rest of their days to appeal and appeal and appeal; if some way could be found to remove the theoretical objection and yet retain the measure of security which the real pensioner wants, it would be a very happy thing. I hope that it may not be beyond the wit of the Department, the ability of whose Minister and officials I greatly admire, to find a way out of that difficulty. May I, in conclusion, say something which I think expresses the view of Members in all parts of this House and the general view of ex-service men as a whole. We recognise in the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the present 2255 Minister one who, from the Parliamentary point of view, and from the Departmental point of view, has devoted more time, ability and understanding to the task of pensions administration in Britain than any other individual. He has been connected with the Department now for nine years, and at the end of this long term of office may I be permitted to say that the whole House would wish to thank him for the generous, the able, and humane way in which he has conducted the Ministry.
§ Mr. MARCH
I do not propose to go into the question of the seven years' limit, although I could give a number of cases that have come to my notice, but I hope the Minister will pay particular attention to those cases that have been brought before him. I want to bring to his notice a letter that I have received from the brother-in-law of an ex-service man who is in a very bad predicament. I only came by this letter yesterday, and I have not had an opportunity of putting it before the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary. I know that if I had, I should have got reasonable consideration from them. It is the case of a man who served for two years in France, joining the Army in 1916 and being discharged as physically unfit in 1919. He received a pension for a time, but he has been under six operations, the last of which was the extraction of a piece of metal from his stomach. They had to take a piece of flesh from his leg to put over the wound in the stomach, and now gangrene has developed in the leg, and he is informed by his doctor that he will probably lose his leg. His pension has been stopped for some considerable time, but it seems to me that if they can take a piece of metal out of a man, it must be something to do with his War service. He has to depend upon the Poplar Board of Guardians for assistance, and he has a wife and four children.
A gentleman writes to me and says the guardians are allowing this man £l 10s. a week and 18s. 6d. in kind, out of which he has to pay 12s. rent. They are trying to exist on that. The worry, anxiety, and trouble have caused his wife to be very queer, and she has had to be taken into St. Andrew's Hospital under the Poplar Guardians. We hear in this 2256 House a great deal of strong comment upon the action of the Poplar Board of Guardians and their generosity, that they throw money away, but we have got in Poplar a number of cases in which pensions have been stopped, and they have had to go to the Board of Guardians. Here is a case where the board of guardians is actually paying £2 8s. 6d. a week to an ex-service man who has got no pension, and we believe we could prove many instances in Poplar of people being relieved by the local authority who ought to be relieved by the nation.
I had a case recently, which was considered by the Minister, of a man who had been in France three years, who came home totally unfit, received a full 100 per cent. pension, got bronchitis, which turned to asthma, was in and out of hospital five different times, and from the pain and suffering he went through, when he met some of his friends he indulged in their generosity by accepting some refreshment. It is presumed that that refreshment was too strong for him. He went home and, in the absence of his wife, hanged himself, and yet the medical officer states that he hanged himself while in drink, and because of that his widow and children were disentitled to a pension from the Ministry. After the experience of such cases as that, we think the Ministry might be more generous in many of these cases. I do not doubt that a good number of cases have had the generous consideration of the Minister, but we could bring forward a number of cases which have not had that generous consideration that we think they ought to have had. I hope that if I send the facts of this particular case along to the Minister, he will have it looked into and see if something can be done for this man and his wife and family.
§ Sir FRANK MEYER
No one could complain of the tone of the Debate today, and it is very welcome that these matters should be raised above party controversy as far as possible, but I think it is a legitimate ground of comment that the programme which the Labour party are supporting on the eve of the Election goes considerably further than any action which they saw fit to take during their brief tenure of office. I do not want to emphasise that too strongly, as I realise 2257 the brevity of their term of office and the fact that they were partly dependent on the support of the party below the Gangway opposite, who are absent today, but that is a contrast which I think one might legitimately make if they should, as they have not done to-day, use the points put forward in the Debate as an electioneering asset during the forthcoming campaign.
Like my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser), I also am disturbed about the present position of the seven years' time limit. It seems to me to be a question of the choice between two evils. On the one side, undoubtedly, if you sweep away the time limit, you will get an enormous volume of claims, many of which will probably be frivolous. On the other side, I will not say there is the possibility of grave injustice being done under the present system, but there is certainly the possibility of men whose cases, genuine in their own belief, are turned down by the Minister feeling a great sense of injustice. There is always the possibility of a man feeling a sense of injustice, even when his case has been most carefully tried, but on the whole the experience is that when a man has been before an independent appeal tribunal very rarely is there much sense of injustice left. I have had some experience of that sort of thing. Whenever any of my own constituents come before that tribunal, and they ask me to be there, I make a point of attending to hear their case and to give them a little confidence. I do not say that my presence there has the least effect on the result of the appeal. I am not claiming that, like a successful lawyer, I am helping their case, but in the case of nervous men, and particularly of widows, it gives them considerable confidence.
I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute, not only to the fairness of that independent tribunal—I think everybody agrees with that—but to its great humanity. They try to introduce the human touch, because men, and especially women, coming from a long distance in the country to appear before the tribunal often enter the room paralysed with fright, just as they might enter the witness box to be cross-examined by some leading counsel. But the tribunal puts them at their ease as 2258 soon as possible, and, therefore, I think that those who appear before that tribunal very seldom go away with any real sense of injustice. They may think the decision has been wrong, but they know they have had a fair trial. On the other hand, if a man, outside the seven years' limit, who thinks he has a good case has this case turned down by the Minister, without appeal to an independent tribunal—I have had experience of a few such cases—he feels a certain sense of injustice; and I wish it were possible to devise some means by which those who have a genuine case and are outside the seven years' limit could have it tried eventually before an independent tribunal.
If this House were to decide to do away with the time limit, I think it would have to add some machinery for sifting those cases. It would be impracticable to have the millions of cases that would arise for years to come, 10 or 20 years ahead, before the Ministry. I think some local machinery would have to be set up, some local, voluntary board, consisting perhaps of a doctor, an ex-service man, a magistrate, and one or two others, people of common sense and experience, who would sift these cases at regular intervals—and they would get fewer and fewer—and would only permit them to go up to the Ministry if an applicant had shown that there was a very real connection between his ailment and his war service and that there was a genuine reason why he had not brought his appeal within the seven years' limit.
There are two different classes of people who come to me after they have been turned down on account of the time limit, and who want to have their cases reheard. The first is the class of man who, on his own admission, has not within the seven years suffered any ailment or evil result from a wound he may have had. He comes for the first time after the seven years. These are cases which seem to me to rest purely on medical evidence, and if we could convince a local tribunal that there was a definite medical change, I think everyone of those cases should be considered as of right, not merely as an act of grace. There are other cases—and I think they are the harder cases—of men, slightly incapacitated during the War, who were able to take up a job after 2259 demobilisation, and who, being in a good job, were most anxious not to prejudice their chances in the labour market by appearing not to be wholly healthy or sound, and rather than appeal for a pension, which would inevitably be only a small pension if they were able to do work, did not appeal. I know cases of this kind, where, perhaps seven, eight or nine years after the War, having all the time suffered slightly from the effect of some wound from War service, at the end of that time have found themselves worse and unable to carry on with their job. I could give two or three cases of that kind. It is very hard that a man who has played the game like that, and who has preferred to earn his living as best he could, regardless of some slight pain or discomfort or ailment, should be penalised as a result of his pluck and courage, and I think some system should be devised by which such cases should have the right eventually of going to an independent tribunal.
I have had correspondence at different times with my right hon. and gallant Friend on cases of this nature—not a great many, I admit—but I have never quite been able to arrive at the principle on which he works in administering this new system, under which in special cases he is prepared to review appeals outside the seven years' limit. I suppose that if he once laid down a general principle, he would be inviting a large number of applications from people who thought they came within its terms. I admit quite frankly that on this matter I find myself rather sitting on the fence. I am against the seven years' limit. I would like to see everybody given a chance where the case was really genuine, and if there could be some method of eliminating frivolous people; but, like the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras, I do not quite like the idea of this vast number of appeals possibly going on for years and years. Something must be done to limit that. If we are going to do away with the seven years' limit, and if someone could bring forward a practical scheme on these lines, I should support it. I am glad to see that the British Legion, in the pamphlet which they have issued in view of the General Election, say, at the end of the paragraph dealing with the seven years' limit: 2260The Legion does not desire to encourage frivolous claims and is quite prepared to discuss with the Minister any formula for ensuring that only those cases of men who have a real claim prima facie should be considered.If something could be put up on those lines, regardless of party, I should certainly support it. This pamphlet really has been the brief on which the arguments put forward by the party opposite to-day have mainly been founded. There are only certain points with regard to ex-service men which are still open to public criticism, and on the whole this is a most admirably framed statement, moderate, reasonable, and one to which no objection can be taken. I should say that with a large percentage of it everybody would agree, and one is glad to think the Legion has still succeeded in keeping itself entirely free from party politics.
May I add my own tribute to the sympathy and consideration which I have always received from my right hon. and gallant Friend and his colleague throughout the last four years? Whenever there has been a really difficult case which required personal attention and consideration, it has never been stinted in any way, and I am confident of this, that no Minister in the past can ever have taken more real, human interest in the whole question of the ex-service men than has my right hon. and gallant Friend. He has done perhaps even more than his predecessors—he has had a longer opportunity, of course—in getting into close, personal touch with the representatives of the ex-service men all over the country. It is the close, personal, human touch that really tells, and I know that the Committee and the ex-service men are really grateful to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman for all that he has done.
§ Sir MARTIN CONWAY
I wish to say two or three words about these exceptional cases in relation to the seven years' limit. I think the seven years' limit is a very wise provision. I think it ought to be maintained, but I think it ought to be interpreted with great humanity and sympathy, especially in one class of cases. I refer to the cases of consumption. I have come across certain cases of that kind, two of which especially made a deep impression upon me. Both were cases of men who were badly gassed in the War. They apparently 2261 recovered after considerable periods of illness, and returned more or less to a normal, though somewhat weakened, condition of life. Then, later on, they began to show signs of consumption. In one case the man was afraid to go to a doctor lest he should tell him he had consumption. He feared to receive sentence of death and, therefore, held off for a year or two. He was a gardener, living in the open air under the most healthy conditions, and he hoped for the best, as he had ups and downs and sometimes felt perfectly well. But, finally, he had to submit Himself to a medical examination, and then it was clearly discovered that he was the victim of consumption and that he had it in rather a pronounced degree. But then the seven years' limit had passed, and it was too late for him to come under the ordinary rules in relation to disabilities and pensions. The British Legion stretched a point and took him into their hospital, where he has recently died, leaving a widow who was entirely dependent upon him. There is a case in which there is no doubt at all. The man was strong and healthy before the War, and his doctors inform me that it was the result of his being gassed that he fell into this condition in which consumption developed, causing his death last week.
The other case is very similar. The same thing happened, and the same kind of delay occurred. The man was in a better position in life than the other man whom I have mentioned, being dependent on his father, who had certain moderate resources, and he put himself under treatment and went to Switzerland, I think, for a year, being apparently cured. He returned to his work as a public school master, but after a year or more the consumption returned, and the case became hopeless. He has a wife and two children depending upon him. Both those cases were in fact eases of war disability. They resulted quite definitely, I believe, from the misfortunes of these individuals in the War, but they are ruled out because of the seven years' limit. I think that possibly cases such as those, especially consumption cases, which may have required treatment over a long period of years, might be considered with a little more waiving of definite forms and rulings. 2262 There cannot be many of them, and they are very hard cases indeed. I ask the Minister to see whether it is not possible to treat these unfortunate men with generosity and to provide them with some comfort in their disease; and to give some compensation to their widows in the case of their death.
Dr. VERNON DAVIES
The House is to be congratulated upon being able to deal with the subject of pensions purely from the non-party point of view, for we look back with gratitude to these men who fought for us and suffered, who did not go out because they believed in any particular party, but simply because they were Britons. We in this House regard them in that way and I am sure that from every side there is a wholehearted desire that they should get full and accurate justice meted out to them. Yet from the speeches which we have heard, from the records which have been given, from the questions which we very often see put down in the House, we feel that there are certain cases which are causing difficulties, and that there is a certain amount of dissatisfaction among Members and among the people of the country; and that a doubt has been expressed both here and elsewhere as to whether justice is being meted out to the ex-service men. It is a subject in which the medical profession is intimately concerned, because, when all is said and done, it depends upon the skill and accuracy of diagnosis and assessment of the profession as to whether any ex-service man can make a case or not. We have to remember that we have to hold the scales of justice with an equal poise, remembering on the one hand the taxpayer, and on the other the ex-service man.
I do not quite agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser), who seemed to give the impression that there was only a certain definite sum of money, and that it was better to concentrate that upon the genuinely wounded than to fritter it out over the whole of the ex-service men. I do not regard the question in that way. I say that there is an unlimited sum of money, and that all the Minister has to do is to say what amount he requires for his service, and that this House will grant it to him. Although we have to hold the scales of justice, we have also to remember that 2263 the House upon more than one occasion has, by Statute and Royal Warrant, agreed to a certain course of action and to certain powers of the Minister. The Minister is bound by the Warrants and Statutes until the House in its wisdom sees fit to alter them. The one point upon which we are all agreed is that, in any case of doubt, the pensioner should receive the benefit of it. We may take it, speaking generally, that the great majority of these men who claim for pensions honestly believe that they have a genuine case. Yet it is so easy to make a mistake. May I show the House roughly what I mean.
There is a certain class of case which everybody, layman as well as medical man, would recognise as simply due to war injury, such as the loss of an eye, the loss of a limb, gunshot wound or shrapnel wound. Everybody would recognise that these were war injuries, and that the men suffering from them were entitled to pensions. We form our opinion from the knowledge that we have and from our common sense. There is a second class of case which we are quite convinced is not due to war injuries. We have to remember that because a man has been to the War, it does not necessarily follow that every illness and injury that he gets is the result of his having been to the War. For instance, if an ex-service man were to develop smallpox or scarlet fever, and then put in a claim for a pension, saying that it was due to war service, hon. Members would at once say that it was an illegitimate claim, because they would know from their own knowledge that it was impossible for such a thing to have been the result of war service.
Such cases as these, therefore, cases which are genuine from our knowledge and cases which are not genuine from our knowledge, should not arise. Medical men with a certain amount of experience are equally as certain in other classes of case whether they are due to war injury or not. Members have letters from constituents of ex-service men, apparently very sad cases, and perhaps cases of paralysis. A man will say that he was perfectly all right when he went to the War, and after five or six years he develops a certain form of paralysis, and thinks that it must be a case of injury 2264 or shock or nervous stress due to the War, but medical men know that that paralysis is definitely the result of venereal disease. Nothing can cause that paralysis but venereal disease, and therefore we say that it is not due to the War. The medical man by his knowledge is able to give an accurate diagnosis, but the layman or laywoman does not recognise this, and thinks that a certain act of injustice has been done.
There is the third class of the doubtful case, which is even doubtful to the medical man. Medicine is not an exact science. We are not yet masters of all disease; we do not always know the cause of disease and we do not always know the prognosis of disease. We have therefore a neutral ground where there is room for difference of opinion. What is the proper and right thing to do in this debatable ground? It is to see that we have the highest, the best and the most competent medical advice before confirming an opinion, because we must and we can only depend upon medical advice when we have to decide on the question of entitlement and assessment. People have wondered whether sometimes the Ministry have acted quite as leniently as they might, and whether they have been as humane as they might be. I should like to put in a tribute to the extreme courtesy, kindness and humanity of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister. Whenever I have gone to him he has received me with the greatest sympathy, and has done all that he possibly could. Last week I had the opportunity of meeting the Minister, and I expressed a certain amount of difficulty in which I was concerning the administration of his Medical Department. He kindly offered me the opportunity of interviewing any of his medical staff, and arranged for me to meet the Director-General of Medical Services in the Pensions Ministry and his Deputy.
Perhaps the House will allow me to state briefly the procedure, because it was new to me to a certain extent, and I am certain that there are Members in the House who do not know what happens. The Medical Department of the Ministry have three main duties. First, they deal with the boards and the assessment and entitlement of a man's award from the medical point of view. Second, 2265 certification and the necessity of treatment or for treatment allowances. Third, a non-medical branch which deals with the supply of hospital apparatus, artificial limbs, etc. The boards are held at board centres in the principal areas of the Ministry, which in turn are in the principal cities. The board consists of a chairman-assessor, who may be a whole-time or sessional man, who has been a whole-time medical officer of the Ministry. Then there is an appropriate specialist, who in the main is employed on a part-time basis. Thus you have on the area boards a chairman-assessor, a man of experience and knowledge, and of particular knowledge in the peculiar work belonging to the Ministry of Pensions; then there is a sort of rota from which a specialist assessor can be selected to deal with particular cases. If they are dealing with consumption, they have a man skilled in that class of case; or if dealing with neurasthenia a man skilled in neuasthenia. There is therefore on the area board two men who are expert medical men, fit and competent to give a decision.
When they give a decision, it passes through the Deputy-Commissioner of Medical Services, and goes to the Awards Branch in London. At this branch the recommendations of the area board are considered. Further information may be asked for, and there are in the Ministry a number of trained medical assessors who can deal with particular types of cases again. They may be specialists on certain diseases, such as tuberculosis and neurasthenia, so that when these particular cases come up to the awards branch, if they are not quite satisfied, and if there be anything which they want explaining, they can refer it to another group of specialists. Further questions may be asked of the area board, and the long and short of it is that after it has passed through the area board and when it has been considered by the awards branch in London, we may safely say that every skill and medical attention has been given to the case under review by expert medical men. I was interested to find that the medical branch of the Ministry of Pensions is concerned solely with the matter of entitlement and assessment, and that the financial aspect never comes within their purview. After making the entitlement and assessment, they refer the case to another branch of the Ministry, 2266 the lay branch, which makes the financial interpretation of the medical men's decision. I think, therefore, we can say that the medical men attached to the Ministry are absolutely fair and unbiased and anxious to do the best they possibly can for the ex-service men. We have heard to-day that 96 per cent. of the people employed at the Ministry are ex-service men and women and it naturally follows that they would have a very sympathetic interest with these men.
As I have said, I had the privilege of meeting these two gentlemen, who received me very courteously, and, in answer to my inquiries, gave me all the information for which I asked. I went so far as to ask them what had been the decision in certain classes of cases, and they told me, and then I put hypothetical cases of my own. I said, "Suppose such and such a thing happened, what would be the attitude of the Department?" They said, "In such cases we have decided so and so." I came away from a very long interview perfectly convinced that the medical department of the Ministry were more than fair to the ex-service man. In fact, speaking as a medical man, I would not have passed some of the cases which they passed. I will give an example. There was a case of a man who had syphilis before the War and after the War developed symptoms of general paralysis of the insane, which came on, perhaps, a little sooner than might have been expected. The Ministry accepted that as a case in which there had been aggravation due to War service. I would not have accepted that case. On the other hand, you have to have a certain definite proof. You may have the case of a man who went through the War at somewhere round about 50 years of age, and since then, with the advance of years, has developed, say, arteriosclerosis. That man has a stroke and gets paralysis. Some people would say that that should be accepted as due to War service, and the man be pensioned accordingly. I was glad to find, in that particular case, that the Ministry did not regard it as one where the disease had been aggravated; they say the disease must absolutely be due to War injury or the result of War service and not due to the normal passage of time.
2267 I would like Members of the House to remember in their criticisms that they are critcising with insufficient knowledge. They are laymen, who, as a rule, hear only one side of a case. They can take my assurance that all these cases are now examined most sympathetically by expert medical men, men who know their job, men with plenty of experience, men who have no say, in any shape or form, on the financial aspect of the case, and who are only anxious to do all they can to help the ex-service men. If we could get the idea to prevail throughout the country that the medical profession as a whole is a profession of honourable men who are anxious to do all they can for the ex-service men, I think it would create a better spirit and a better atmosphere and reduce suspicion among people. It is not uncommon at the present time to hear it said "But it is quite easy to get a doctor on one side to say one thing and another doctor on the other side to say exactly the opposite."
Hon. Members must bear in mind that in surgery and medicine, where we have not yet reached the confines of knowledge, one man may with perfect honesty interpret a symptom in a certain way and the next man may with equal honesty interpret that same system in a different way, and very often we do not know which man is right until there is an operation or a post-mortem examination. Yet both men have been perfectly honest in their opinons. When it is said here that cases have been referred to the Ministry accompanied by certificates from doctors, that does not necessarily mean that those medical men gave a false certificate. They gave a certificate according to the best of their ability on the symptoms they had observed, but when we also have the opinions of experts—experts on tuberculosis, or neurasthenia, or insanity, or wounds—it is only fair to regard the experience of such an expert, with all his experience, as of more value than that of the ordinary practitioner. I was always prepared to take the view of an expert, whether I agree with him or not, because I felt he had more knowledge.
The case submitted to-day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. O. Roberts) could, I 2268 think, very easily be answered from a medical point of view, speaking quite cursorily, and some of the other cases mentioned to-day—apparently so sincere, apparently so pitiful from the point of view of the men—when looked at strictly from the medical point of view are not as genuine as they seem. The Minister is carrying on his responsible position with all the sympathy and human understanding which are so necessary, and I would like to asure him and the House that having made a personal inquiry into the medical department of the Ministry and the type of cases they examine, I am absolutely convinced that they are doing all in their power for the men, that, if anything, they err on the side of the men. They are more than careful, and I imagine that no single genuine case would ever be turned down by them on medical grounds. I hope the House will recognise that in the medical profession we have a body of honourable men, and, equally, that the officials of the Ministry are honourable men.
§ Mr. KELLY
While I am prepared to accept the statement of the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. V. Davies) that the main body of doctors are honourable men, I do suggest that mistakes may be made by them, and that mistakes are made even by the experts and specialists. I am not at all sure that we can rely, or must rely, in pension matters upon the certificates handed out by medical men. I know it is held that the layman ought not to put himself up against medical opiinion, but under the Workmen's Compensation Act one has had experience of cases where medical opinion has been accepted by the Court as sufficient to determine whether a man was capable of undertaking his work. A doctor may be able to say whether a man is ill or suffering from a particular disease, but I do not think it is the function of medical men to say whether a man is capable of doing his work, and, judging by many cases, their opinions certainly are not worth a great deal. I say that with every respect to the medical profession. Men who went out under all the promises which were made to them that they would be looked after as regards pensions and so forth have suffered from certain diseases after their return. Most of those men had been passed as healthy before they went out, and it is very difficult for 2269 the layman to appreciate that those men, who underwent hardships and lived under conditions which were certain inhuman, such as having to sleep out in the open without covering, would have been in their present position had it not been for the hardships they had to undergo, and I think they might be given the benefit of the doubt in many more cases than at present.
One of the matters on which I wish to touch concerns the seven years' limit. I hope that limit will go, in view of the cases of which one hears, not only in one's own constituency, but all over the country, of men who for a time do not appear to have suffered from the effects of gas or any other experience during their War service, but do show the effects of it later on. I know about the exceptional cases qualification, but really it is hard for many of these men to pass through its mesh, and I urge upon the Minister that it would be far better that that seven years' limit should go and that each case should be judged upon its merits. I say the same with regard to the final award, having in mind one or two cases which are being now dealt with. Speaking as a layman, I feel that a mistake was made by whoever was responsible for making the final awards in those cases, and I say that those cases ought to be re-opened so that the men may return to pensions.
I am not going to deal with the cases quoted by the last speaker, but I do ask for special consideration for mental cases. Many of the men who were mentally fit when they were accepted for war service have tended to become unbalanced by reason of the changed conditions under which they had to live and the changed conditions they found when they came back into industrial life—the rush and the scramble there is, the anxiety to retain their jobs with so many people anxious to push them out; that all tends to unbalance them, and I urge upon the Minister that these men deserve the pensions which in many instances are denied to them.
The other point to which I wish to refer is education. I hope that the Minister of Pensions has departed from the notion which has been held by the Ministry for a long time with regard to the education of the children of the men who have lost their lives in the War— 2270 that the position occupied by the serving man before the War should be the criterion taken for the type of education which his children should receive. There is not one Member of the Cabinet who can say whether a man who went to the War, having occupied a certain position in civil life prior to going, would be in the same position at the present time, or that his children would have to be satisfied with the type of education given in our elementary schools. If there has not been a departure from that notion, I hope there will be, in order that the children may be given the best possible education. I urge once again that the men who went out to the War have a right to the benefit of the doubt, and if they are unable to find work, we ought to pay them a pension, even though we may make mistakes on the generous side in granting those pensions.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
I wish to ask one or two questions in regard to the seven years' limit. I should be the last person to criticise the administration of the Pensions Department so far as it has been acting within the limits laid down, but it seems to me that in the cases which I have had to look into, in practically every case where there has been a disallowance under the medical rules, there was only one possible result and that was disallowance. I cannot help thinking that in regard to the seven years' limit there is a certain amount of criticism which can be raised in the case of the man who dies outside the seven years' limit. We can understand the case of a man making a claim for the first time after seven years, because you are going far beyond the limit under which a man can make a claim in regard to ordinary civil liabilities, and seven years is a long time to go. It seems to me that when you have given seven years you have covered practically every case that can possibly arise.
There are, however, cases that might arise. There is, for instance, the case of the man who, although he may have had some difficulty in getting along, has not lost his earning capacity and goes on thinking things will get better. In the case I am thinking of, at the end of 10 years the man found that the trouble which had been brewing the whole time had become more effective, and at that time even the cost of proper treatment was a burden on 2271 his slender resources. And yet owing to this limit, that man appears to be shut out, although the disability in fact has been there the whole time. This man preferred to get along upon his own resources, and consequently he made no claim during that time. I think there is a great deal to be said for exercising a certain amount of discretion in a case of that kind, although one realises that you are making a greater extension than would be allowed in civil life.
The other case I wish to mention is one which gives rise to some considerable difficulty, but it is a case where the man suffers very much by reason of the seven years limit. The case is one where the man has been in receipt of a pension for disability up to the time of his death, and his death has occurred more than seven years from the incurring of the disability. Then it is found that the death is not wholly due to the trouble in respect of which he was receiving his pension. Under those circumstances it does seem to me to be very hard that the test should be whether death is wholly due to the disability, because that is a test which would not be applied in ordinary civil life. It is not even the test which is applied in such matters as workmen's compensation. I know there is discretion in certain cases where the pension is at least 40 per cent., but even that discretion is not exercised as generously as in an ordinary civil claim.
As I understand it, discretion is exercised in favour of a man's dependants only if it can be shown that the death has been materially hastened, but even then it is a matter of discretion. I hone I am not stating the case wrongly. The position, as I understand it, would not be whether death was wholly due to the disability or whether death was materially hastened by it. If one may take an analagous case of a man in receipt of workmen's compensation who had been in receipt of that compensation for some time and then died—if a claim were made by the widow for a lump sum in respect of that death, the County Court Judge would have to decide, not whether death had been materially hastened or wholly due to his disability, but whether death had been accelerated by his disability, and in that case the right of the widow to compensation would accrue. That is the 2272 type of case with which the industrial classes of the community are familiar. They understand it and know their position. I can understand their thinking it hard in cases where there can be no doubt that there has been acceleration of death, and where the only question is whether it was a very large acceleration or whether death was accelerated in a small degree.
I cannot understand why such cases should be shut out, and why that should be the deciding factor when in ordinary civil life the only question would be, has death been accelerated? What has been adopted may be a proper way of limiting the discretion, but it seems to me that it would be far better if the earlier rule were adopted, and the real question from start to finish should be whether death has been accelerated, and not whether it is only due to the disability. What is the good of applying this rule in the case of a man who, when he was accepted for service, had some disability. The disability may have been of a minor character or it may have been of a greater character, but such as it was the man was taken for service, and those who take a man for service under those circumstances ought to take all the risks applicable to the man they have taken. Where the chain of circumstances is not clear, where from the moment that the War conditions make a man's original condition such that it disables him, and where from that moment onward until the moment of his death the chain of disability is complete, and death is in part due to the disability, it seems very hard that the question of a pension for the widow should depend upon a rule like that. If a man's death is in part due to his war service, operating, if you like, upon the man in the condition in which he was taken for service, he should be entitled to a pension, and his pension should not depend so much on the narrow question which certainly gives rise to unfairness when it does arise.
§ Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN
I listened with close attention to the speech made by the Minister of Pensions, and I think he is justified in saying that he has carried out the general wishes of this House in his administration of pensions. I also listened with interest to the ex-Minister of Pensions, who possesses a great knowledge on the pensions ques, 2273 tion and I think he was perfectly fair in his criticisms of the present administration. Most of those who have spoken in this Debate agree that it is the more exceptional cases which need looking into, and not so much the system itself. All through the Debate the point has been stressed that the difficulty is to deal with exceptional cases for which you cannot make hard-and-fast rules. We have also heard complaints in regard to the decisions of the medical men associated with the administration of pensions, and I cannot help thinking that in some cases the Minister of Pensions is blamed for what is really the fault of the doctors. When doctors differ what are we to do, because we are really in the hands of the doctors?
I rose to draw the attention of the Minister to two cases which are very much connected with the medical side, and whether it is the fault of the doctors or not, I will leave the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to judge. There is a Pensions Appeal Tribunal from which one of my constituents recently came back very much aggrieved because the Tribunal had turned his case down. This man asked if he could be furnished with the names of the two doctors who acted on the Tribunal, and I applied to the Minister for their names. I was told that that was not the business of the Minister of Pensions, and he referred me to the Lord Chancellor. I communicated with the Lord Chancellor, who looked up the panel of doctors, and then he informed me that the matter was in the hands of the President of the Panel. Although as a rule it may be right not to give the names of the doctors, I think this aggrieved man was justified in asking for the names, because he wants to set their opinion against the opinion of his own local doctor. I think the ex-Minister of Pensions has suggested that there might be some appeal against decisions in cases like those which I have suggested.
That is one point in regard to which I have been wondering whether the treatment of the ex-service man could not be made a little more human, even by the Appeal Tribunal.
The other point that I wanted to mention is with regard to treatment allowances. Another constituent of mine—the officer who shot down the first Zeppelin 2274 at Potter's Bar—whose disability is 100 per cent., and who has been quite fairly treated by the pension authorities, occasionally, like many other ex-service men, suffers from neurasthenia, and needs certain medical treatment at once. He has been for the last six or seven years in the hands of his local doctor, who, however, is not allowed to order at once the particular drug necessary in the case of such an attack, but has to get permission from the Pensions Committee. They usually in the end, after a month or two, accede to his request, but then very probably the bad nervous attack has passed off. I do not regard that as quite a human way of treating these unfortunate people, particularly when it would be quite easy to give the local doctor, who has had charge of the case, not for one month or two months, but for seven or eight years, authority to act in an emergency, and so save waste of time and unnecessary suffering on the part of the patient. It is not that the law is wrong, but I think that, on such points as this, the regulations might be more humanly administered. As has already been pointed out, it is not a question of any increase of expenditure, but a great deal of suffering might be avoided. I hope that, not only in this way, but in every other way possible, neurasthenic patients, especially, will be treated differently from ordinary people, that those looking after them will have more power to act at once in order to deal with their infirmity, and that we shall try in every kind of way to make the treatment more human and sympathetic, hard though the business of administration must be.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
There is a reference in the "Labour Speaker's Handbook" which I should be rather glad to see cleared up. It is stated that the seven years' limit for claiming pension in respect of a man who has died as a result of war disability was abolished by the late Government. As a matter of historical accuracy, I should like to know if that actually was the case. My own recollection is that the seven years' limit was abolished or modified by a Warrant, at the beginning of 1924 certainly, but before the Labour Government had taken office, and, simply as a matter of historical record, I should like to be quite clear on that point.
2275 I do not think there is any difference of opinion in any quarter of the House in regard to the general principle on which the pension administration is carried out. With regard to the medical side, I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that, while a very extensive amount of work in connection with surgical and medical cases has been done in the Ministry's institutions, there is a very definite decline in the provision made, and in the necessity for it, and I should like to have some kind of idea as to the direction in which this is leading. The number of general surgical cases dealt with by the Ministry has gone down from 2,500 at the beginning of 1925 to something like half that number. In a period of just over four years, the total number of surgical cases treated has been 64,000, and of medical cases 60,000, while there have been 26,000 neurological cases. Outside the Ministry of Pensions, very few people realise the tremendous experience of neurological treatment that has been thus gained. It has been a source of information of immense value to medical science generally, and for treatment in civil life hereafter. Now, however, naturally enough, there are fewer cases, demanding fewer institutions and smaller staffs. The number of institutions has been reduced from 250, in 1921, to 28, the number of hospitals has been reduced from 75 to 20, the medical staff from 560 to 150, and the nursing staff from 1,300 to 360.
I should like to know what steps are going to be taken to see that all this wonderful equipment and experience is going to be made proper use of. The difficulty of a service of this kind is that, as it dwindles more and more, so the resources become more limited, and it becomes difficult to give the same proper and suitable treatment to those patients who remain, and to give the same kind of outlook in the service for those who are employed in it, while at the same time valuable equipment, institutions, and services are being lost which might otherwise be used for the general good of the community. I do not know how far the Minister can deal with this question, because it seems to me to verge on matters that are outside the limits of this Estimate, but certainly it 2276 it a question which must appeal to us, and it is one which it is rather difficult for us to discuss at any other time of the year. The more we praise, as we do praise, the Minister and his predecessors for the wonderful organisation that has been built up in this country, the humane treatment that has been given, and the great results that have accrued, the more anxious we must necessarily be to see that those good results are not thrown away.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Royton (Dr. V. Davies) that undoubtedly the medical men who are doing the very difficult work of assessment are sans pear et sans reproche; but I have not the same absolute and unremitting faith which my hon. Friend apparently has in the results of the judgment of our profession. We are all of us liable to make mistakes, even when there may be two or three of us together, and my own experience is that, when cases are brought before the Minister in which there appears to have been any error of judgment, even in the higher Courts, we find ourselves satisfied with the action that is taken. Obviously, there must be protection for the public; there must be a limit. I believe that as much latitude as is possible is given in individual cases, and I suppose we must recognise that, while there are cases among our constituents with which we naturally, as Members of Parliament, feel intense sympathy, nevertheless it is a fact that the line must be drawn somewhere.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) seemed to suggest that, in the case of anyone in whom disease of any kind was aggravated to any extent by the War, that aggravation should be allowed to count, but it seems to me that that, surely, is not the case. Everyone runs the risk of life and death every day, even if it be only in crossing Parliament Square outside this House. We all have to run certain risks, as we have seen only too sadly in the case of colleagues in this House whom we have lost even within the last few weeks. We all run certain risks of infection and aggravation, and the fact that a man's disease was aggravated in some way by his War service, and that he is worse off on that account, does not necessarily mean a 2277 corresponding liability on the State. Another kind of case which I have in mind, and which involves a great deal of sifting and reconsideration, is the case, say, of a farrier-sergeant who served in the War and who dies after seven years. His widow applies for a pension, and the question is whether his death from a tumour in his head was due to injuries received in the course of his duties during the War. It is shown that he was kicked on the head, but, obviously, a farrier expects to be kicked on the head, and on every other part of his body, from time to time. That is obviously an extreme case where a line must be drawn. We, as representing constituencies and constituents, obviously fight to the best of our ability for our individual constituents and make the most of their cases, and I am bound to say my own experience has been that the Minister has been fair to an extreme in meeting these cases, and that the system, although there may be exceptional cases of hardship, is fairer and more humane than any other of which I have yet heard.
§ Captain FAIRFAX
I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his interesting and lucid statement, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and hon. Members generally, on the non-party attitude they have adopted. It is always pleasant to find, on questions dealing with ex-service men, what a large proportion of Members there are who treat them in a non-party spirit. The course of the Debate has not been limited to the right hon. Gentleman's administration in the sense that all the speeches have tended to deal with exceptional cases not covering the whole of the administration. That shows that the general character of my right hon. Friend's administration has met with approval in all quarters of the House. It is only where we come to exceptional cases that variances of opinion are to be found. As might be expected in a Debate of a non-party character, those variances of opinion do not run on party lines. Speaking as a layman, I find myself at variance with the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies), who is a member of the medical profession. I rather join issue with the line he took in inviting the House to consider that the value of the medical opinion of the ex 2278 perts of the Ministry was necessarily and invariably greater than that of general practitioners.
There are eases where a man's own general practitioner has known the state of his health for a long term of years and is in a position to diagnose the case better than the expert who only sees him later on. The feeling of the layman is rather against the extreme tendency to rely on that opinion. Many people have the feeling that, if they were to go up and down Harley Street and Wimpole Street asking for the diagnosis of any complaint, they would get a different diagnosis at almost every door they went to, whereas if they were to rely on the common sense of the general practitioners in provincial towns they might, in many respects, get a sound diagnosis and a more uniform form of treatment. For that reason, the specialist and the expert have, perhaps, become too predominant in the consideration of the Ministry. The hon. Member for Royton also said something about the even-handed administration of justice. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend to temper justice not only with equity but with human sympathy and generosity, erring even on the side of excess. If he comes back in the next Parliament, I hope he will find that the economies he has been able to make by a strict administration of the law will enable him to go further in the generous treatment of these border line cases.
§ Mr. W. BENNETT
The record of our country in connection with the War and the treatment of ex-service men is certainly a great deal better than on any previous occasion in our history. It is so admirable a record that it is a pity there should be any stain upon it whatever, but it is impossible to be a Member of this House even for so short a period as three months without knowing that there is considerable suspicion and doubt amongst a large number of ex-service men as to their treatment. There are certain diseases which lie dormant for a very long time and break out very much later on. I have cases in my mind of men who have never put in any claims, but I am certain before very many years have passed, after the seven years' limit, the time will come when things they have contracted during the War will emerge. It seems to me it would be far better 2279 that we should make three mistakes, or even more, than that one ex-service man should be in a state of doubt and suspicion about his treatment.
We on this side of the House believe that misfortune alone should be a sufficient claim for generous treatment by the country for any man, whether an ex-service man or not, but even if that were the case and it were possible for people to get it, men who have served in the War ought to come on this and no other fund and, at all events, if possible, there should never be any taint of pauperism or public relief in any assistance that is necessary. I cannot for the life of me see why an enlargement of this fund, even through error, should be a misfortune, because there should be a saving on some other fund, in any case, Perhaps they are more generously treated under this fund than under the Poor Law, but the mere fact that a man is an ex-service man should foe a sufficient claim for assistance out of this fund. The seven years' limit should be abolished, and the administration should be so elastic that we in this House ought not in the future to be badgered weekly with complaints of ex-service men who believe they have not had proper treatment.
§ Major TRYON
I should like to extend my thanks to the House, and to the Members of all parties, for the way in which this national question has been treated, even on the eve of a General Election, because it would be a very bad thing for the country and for ex-service men if it were to become merely a matter of party politics. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. O. Roberts), amongst others, raised the case of Frank Smith. He said there was medical evidence on the side of the man, and he suggested that against that there was our medical opinion. This is not one of those cases where you can decide lightly and give the benefit of the doubt in the absence of any definite information. The difficulty is that there is exceedingly definite evidence with reference to the man's injuries at the time they occurred, and that evidence cannot be set aside by medical evidence obtained eight or ten years later by men who have not seen and do not know the medical evidence in possession of the Ministry.
It is a case, naturally, to which everyone would give sympathy, because the 2280 man was undoubtedly wounded, but there is a fact that the right hon. Gentleman did not give to the House. All through it has been the desire of the ex-service men that in the final resort a tribunal should give the final decision. Those who have been speaking about the seven years' limit are themselves really advocating tribunals. This House has decided that the final decision in those cases should rest in the hands of an independent tribunal, whose decision is final and binding on the Ministry. It is not fair to blame the Minister for decisions which have been taken out of his hands by the House and given to another body. The right hon. Gentleman did not, I am sure through inadvertence, mention the fact that this question had been decided by the tribunal and, therefore, it is not in my power to make any financial payment to the man.
Going on from that, the right hon. Gentleman alluded to British Legion settlements. That is an object with which I am very much in sympathy. I had very much pleasure in interesting myself in them. I wish them all success and we are working with them. He alluded to the absence of the human touch.
§ Mr. F. O. ROBERTS
I did not intend to make any suggestion that there was an absence of it. I only urged its continuance.
§ Major TRYON
I took down the word "absence." I am glad if it was not used: of course, these phrases are extremely misleading. Throughout the last five or six years the decline has been absolutely steady and unvarying under successive Governments, and, therefore, I claim no superiority over the right hon. Gentleman. All I say is that the advent of the Labour Government, which came into office with the intention of altering almost everything in connection with war pensions, was followed by the courageous decision of that Government to maintain the principles of the Ministry to the end of its period of office. I believe that was an entirely right decision. The right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to avoid the question of the seven years' limit by saying that, after all, in his day there were not very many cases. I have definite evidence of a number of cases that were rejected on account of the seven years' limit without any suggestion of further 2281 inquiry by the Labour Government. There is the case of Mr. Rutherford who received no award for disability. "As seven years have elapsed since his discharge no claim can now be entertained." That was on 24th June, 1924. Therefore I am right in my contention that the Labour Government came into office having definitely determined to remove the seven years' limit, and, with fuller knowledge of the facts, they not only rightly maintained it but enforced it in individual cases.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) raised the ease of Mrs. Stafford. The difficulty he had in that case is that we are guided by our medical advisers, who are definitely of opinion that the illness of 1916 was the origin of his tuberculosis; and Mr. Stafford's own opinion as to the date of the onset was the same. But, although the full claim has not gone through, the widow is getting a pension at a lower rate, which is the full rate to which she is entitled under the Royal Warrant. With reference to the other case, that of Mrs. Physick, the position is this. We did not take 10d. off the 10 shillings as he suggests. The widow is getting the five shillings flat rate pension, and the need pension has to be calculated, on the scheme which was endorsed and improved by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, according to her income. The old age pension has to be taken into account, and the amount she is getting now, something over nine shillings is, as a matter of fact, in substitution for the two or three shillings the son was actually getting before the War. Moreover, when it is suggested that the son would get even more if he had lived, I am bound in fairness to the Ministry to point out that there is another son who is alive but is contributing nothing. That is our chief difficulty.
The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Barker), whom I thank for the non-party way in which he approached the subject, was under some misapprehension as to a point that was also raised by the hon. Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord). The position is this: On 14th January, 1924, a new warrant was drawn up. We discussed it very fully. It was an enormous concession to ex-service men. It gave a right to the widow of any pensioner to apply, without time limit, for 2282 full pension with right of appeal; and it also gave an option to the Ministry of paying at a somewhat lower rate. Surely from the other side of the House this principle can hardly be attacked, because they adopted it and extended it. It was a great concession welcomed by the British Legion and by ex-service men. I should like to thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Fraser). I am really grateful to him for the kind things he said, and I appreciate his courage in putting the other side of the case with reference to the seven years' limit. Members of this House have sometimes spoken to-day as if there were a seven years' limit absolutely barring all claims. That was the position, but we have altered it. Under the present Government, arrangements have been brought in so that, where there is evidence, cases can go through. One Member spoke of hundreds of thousands of cases being barred by the seven years' limit and many references, naturally friendly, have been made to the British Legion and its activities on this matter. I believe there are 2,000 branches of the Legion, and, for all I know, there may be 2,000 resolutions on the seven years' limit, but when we come to actual facts all I know is that the British Legion have submitted to the headquarters of the Ministry in the six months ending 16th March, 1929, only 37 cases. I do not know how many resolutions. Someone naturally asks how many we have granted. We have not necessarily granted all the cases from the British Legion but we have granted, to applicants as a whole in the same period, 116 cases, so that at the Ministry of Pensions we are granting far more cases than the British Legion, are submitting. We are, therefore, entitled to speak with some knowledge of the seven years' limit. It is not an absolute bar.
My impression of the whole of this Debate from first to last, apart from the very kind references which have been made to the Ministry, has been that it is concerned with the individual case. Members have raised some hard case that has not been dealt with, but in the whole Debate there has been no proposal whatever for any change in the essential foundations of our pensions 2283 system. I greatly appreciate the references to the medical service of the Ministry made by the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies. I know how much I admire and respect their work myself, and I resent it when attacks are made—not in this House—against the doctors of the Ministry of Pensions. I saw a statement the other day making the very unkind suggestion that these men know very little of what the men went through at the front. Our difficulty is generally not with the men who went to the front. There are a million men who enlisted, but were unfit to go to the front. An enormous proportion of our medical men have been in the Army and have served overseas. Of our whole staff, 96 per cent. are ex-service men. Very often, of all the men dealing with a case, of the men concerned with the examination, consideration and decision of a case, the only man who has not been at the front is the man applying for the money of the State on the ground that he has been disabled by the War. Very often the man who is applying has not been overseas and the man who is examining him has. It is utterly wrong, therefore, to criticise our doctors for want of knowledge of what went on at the front. I thank the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle) for the very interesting points which he developed. There are a certain number of subjects on which the House is handicapped because they concern a number of Departments. That applies to the very interesting points which he raised, and also to the fighting services. There have been some other references to individual cases. I can assure hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate that, if they will write to me about the cases giving me more information, I shall look into them.
§ Major TRYON
If the hon. Member means, do I personally go into all the cases of 1,500,000 people, the answer is that I do not. But I have gone most closely into la large number of individual cases, partly because it is a useful test of the system, and also because I want to do the best I can for the men themselves. A Minister who did nothing else but consider individual cases would not be doing his work properly.
§ Mr. LONGBOTTOM
I put that question because of the suggestion which has been made that the Minister went into every individual case.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Second to Sixty-third Resolutions agreed to.
§ It being Half past Seven of the Clock and there being Private Business set down by direction of the CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, Under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.