Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £246,500, 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, 1931, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Pensions, and for sundry Contributions in respect of the Administration of the Ministry of Pensions Act, 1916, the War Pensions Acts, 1915 to 1921, and sundry Services.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
On a point of Order. May I ask you, Sir Robert, for the guidance of the Committee, whether it will be possible on these Votes, which are more or less interconnected and interdependent, to have a general discussion on the question, rather than taking each Vote individually? I fear that, if that were done, there might be a good deal of overlapping, while, on the other hand, as they are interconnected and interdependent, it might be for the convenience of the Committee as a whole to discuss them generally.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is under a misapprehension. There is only one Vote. That Vote covers Sub-heads A, C, E, K, M, and O.2. All of these items can come into the general discussion on that one Vote.
§ The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Mr. F. O. Roberts)
In submitting this Supplementary Estimate, it is my duty to explain to the Committee why a sum in excess of the original Estimate is being asked for. First of all, may I say that the fact that it is necessary is in itself evidence that, in administering the Pensions Statutes and Warrants, every effort has been made to allow the normal machinery of pensions and medical treatment to work without unduly or unfairly restricting it by technical limitations which in the circumstances would have been unjustifiable. This additional 2324 sum of £246,500 which I am asking the Committee to grant is less than one-half of 1 per cent. of the total estimated expenditure of my Department. In a matter like War pensions, which are liable to be affected by so many different and often incalculable factors, an error of less than ½ per cent. is not always avoidable. At the same time, there are definite reasons why even this small degree of error has occurred.
In the first place, the estimates of my Department's expenditure for the current year had to be prepared at the end of 1929, when we were still without accurate knowledge of what the expenditure of even that financial year would amount to. Our anticipations in regard to the expenditure for the year 1929–30 proved to be wrong, and we found in fact, as has been shown by the Appropriation Account now published, that our Estimates were, I am sorry to say, some £342,000 too low. Our under-estimate for 1929–30 inevitably threw out our Estimates for the current financial year, 1930–31. We started the present year year with current expenditure already at a higher level than we had bargained for. This, coupled with the further fact that the same causes which were operating to upset our calculations for the previous year have operated also during 1930–31, explains the greater part of this unforeseen expenditure.
In the second place, some part of the increased expenditure is due to the fact that I have been enabled to make improvements in pensions administration—some of considerable importance to pensioners—all of which have had a cumulative effect in adding to the bill for War pensions as we first envisaged it.
I propose very briefly to comment on each of the items appearing in the Supplementary Estimate. As regards administrative expenditure the Committee will see that administration is expected to cost some £50,000 more than was estimated would be the case when the original estimates of the Ministry were framed. This additional cost is due to the fact that we under-estimated the staff that would be required to do the work to which we had set ourselves. The previous year's Estimate—that for 1929–30—had already been shown to be insufficient from a similar cause, and our Estimate for the current year was in 2325 consequence similarly affected, because the same causes continued to operate. It might well seem to hon. Members that, at this late date in the Ministry's history, we should be in a position to estimate pretty accurately for the Ministry's staff in any given period, and I agree that ordinarily this would be so. But towards the end of 1929 and during the current and previous financial years the Ministry have had to undertake work in two important directions, the extent and effect of which could not have been accurately gauged.
In the first place, we have had to carry out heavy work in connection with the investigation of claims for disablement made by ex-officers and men more than seven years after their discharge from service in the Great War. The publicity given to the new arrangements which the Government resolved to make, and which I announced in the House in November, 1929, naturally led in the first few months to a substantial increase in the number of claims. The weight of this extra work has fallen mainly on the current year, since the new arrangements were net in full working order until March. This work involved not only the retention and even increase of local medical staff, but also the retention of clerical and administrative staff at Headquarters which would otherwise have been dispensed with.
In the second place, we had to complete the review of cases on the conditional and temporary pension list, in order to carry out what has been frequently urged both upon myself and upon my predecessor in this House, namely, the achievement of a permanent settlement of as many cases as possible. This work also has involved a heavy call on the medical and clerical staff of the Ministry, both centrally and locally, and has inevitably tended to keep up their numbers. I wish, however, to make quite clear to the Committee that, in spite of the additional £50,000 which I am now asking the Committee to authorise for administration expenses, the expenditure during the current year under Subhead A will be considerably below that of the previous year. In 1929–30, the actual expenditure under Sub-head A was just over £1,223,000. My present revised estimate of expenditure during the current year is £1,164,000—an estimated 2326 difference of £59,000 in the direction of economy.
I now turn to the four items of increased pensions expenditure, which, I am glad to say, far outweigh the increased expenditure on administration. Of these the two of primary importance are the items of pensions expenditure on disabled officers and disabled men—Sub-heads C and K. I group these two items together for the reason that the explanation of the supplementary expenditure which I have to ask the Committee to authorise is the same for both. I have referred already to the additional work devolving on the Ministry in consequence of the new arrangements for the investigation and acceptance of claims from disabled officers and men which have been made more than seven years after retirement or discharge from the Service. During the current financial year we shall probably have admitted to pension about 1,000 cases, or provided for them in some other form by way of gratuity or allowance. Some portion of this compensation is included in this Estimate. Some increase was allowed for in our Estimate for the current year, but the allowance was inadequate. A more potent cause of our increased expenditure has been our normal review of cases on the conditional list, including cases in which deterioration of his condition and an increase of pension is claimed by the officer or man, and cases in which on other grounds an increase of pension is found to be proper. This factor of increased pension assessment was also allowed for in our original Estimate, as it always is, but, on this occasion also, inadequately.
The increased expenditure for which I am asking the Committee to make provision under Sub-heads E. and M. is small, and I do not think I need delay the proceedings by any elaborate explanation of it. Briefly, the fact is that both of these items are affected by the uncertain factor of death among disabled officers and men. A high death rate in one year, such as occurred in 1929, does not produce its full effect as regards charges for pensions for widows until the full year's charge has to be met. This fact, together with an increase, which I am glad to say has taken place, in the number of cases in which grants for higher education for 2327 children have been made, has accounted or the small extra liability. With regard to the increased expenditure which is anticipated in connection with dependants' pensions, there is no doubt that the prolonged unemployment tends to affect the means of those who, or whose parents, have a claim on the Ministry in respect of a son who has died in consequence of his war service. This has led to a slightly larger number of claims than could have been anticipated, the full effect of which is now beginning to emerge in the expenditure of the current year.
The last item of increased expenditure to which I have to call the attention of the Committee is that of £55,000, representing excess expenditure on artificial limbs and surgical appliances. To an appreciable extent this excess is due to a change of accounting, which has arisen from the fact that certain accounts which, but for revised conditions in the case of two contracts, would have been rendered to the Ministry so as to be included in the expenditure of the preceding year, had to appear in the current year's accounts. But in the main the increase is due to the fact that artificial limbs and appliances issued some years ago are now coming in in increasing numbers for either renewal or repair. We have, as hon. Members will be aware, supplied to disabled men who have suffered amputation, or who have had to wear artificial appliances of various kinds, not only the best of surgical limbs and appliances, but in many cases very elaborate instruments of delicate construction and adjustment. A very large proportion of these instruments are of post-War development, and their life could at best only be a matter of approximate estimate. Only time can show whether our estimates were unduly optimistic, and this is a point which I and my Department will keep under constant review. I hope that this statement as to why the increased sum is essential may be acceptable, and that the Committee will be prepared to agree to the Estimate as now submitted.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I should like, first of all, to express our delight at seeing the right hon. Gentleman again in his place. I am sure, whatever views we may have about his administration— 2328 and, of course, in a House composed as we are there are bound to be different views—one view we all hold is that we are united in our affection for him. His statement had two merits. It was short and it was clear. I was first of all rather disturbed when I found that one White Paper followed another and that we had first of all a supplementary Estimate and yesterday there was another paper which told us that there were excesses that had to be accounted for. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the excesses, though he dealt quite adequately with this supplementary Estimate. It divides itself into two heads, for one of which he was more or less apologetic, namely, the expenditure on administration, and the second, the additional expenditure upon increased benefits to pensioners or their dependants. No one likes an Estimate for administrative purposes to be exceeded, but he made out a good case for the increase. After all, it is only about a half per cent. of the total expenditure of the Ministry. I do not know what the total expenditure this year is but I recollect that when I first began work in the Ministry it reached the enormous Estimate of £123,000,000. I believe now it is down to half that. That was bound to be the case because, obviously, the more remote the War is, the less the expenditure upon pensions must become.
The explanation that the right hon. Gentleman gave of the additional £50,000 on administration was that quite unexpectedly, and I think quite naturally, the Department thought they might be able to do with less salaries and allowances than they find themselves able to do with. The reason for that was quite obvious. In 1929 a scheme was instituted by means of which administratively there might be reviews of certain cases. The right hon. Gentleman did not deal as adequately as I should have liked with what he called the abolition of the seven years limit. The seven years limit, rightly or wrongly, is my own child. I instituted it in Section 5 of the Act of 1921 on the advice of the most skilled experts and after the most careful consideration by a committee admirably presided over by my predecessor the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Brighton (Major Tryon), who is at present engaged in a Commit- 2329 tee and who otherwise, no doubt, would have been here. Whatever you may say, that Section has not been abolished. Whatever justification you may give for the review of the new cases, it cannot be said that there has been any legal abolition of Section 5. [Interruption.] I am reminded that the right hon. Gentleman claims that there has been. [Interruption.] I am glad to find that, even on their own side, there is some dissension even about that allegation. It has not been abolished and, in my judgment, very wisely. We do not want the Americanisation of pensions, that is to say we do not want them to go on indefinitely. There must be some limit. Everyone, to whatever party he belongs, will always admit the right of any man who is entitled to a pension to get it in full. We have heard of cases in America where pensions went on from grandfather to grandson for generations, and possibly pensions still exist which were originated in the war of Civil Independence.
I acted upon the advice given me in those days. I was told the proper period to fix was four years but I thought on the whole the right and fair and generous period would be seven years and that has worked extraordinarily well. The right hon. Gentleman said that since his administrative alteration of the present conditions in November, 1929, there had been examined something like 14,000 or 15,000 cases, and out of that number only about 600 or 800 had had their claims accepted. It shows that on the whole the principle has worked very fairly, and I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has introduced this administrative provision, because if there is any dubiety about any case it ought to be carefully reconsidered, but you have to remember that the reconsideration of these cases means a lot of expense, not that the State, which has always been generous to its pensioners, will object to that provided the claims are good. I do not understand that, when you examine or review a case which is not under the seven years' limit, if the claim has been granted it has the same rights as a claim that has been granted within the seven years' limit.
First of all, these claims are not examined in the normal way in which claims are examined under the seven years' limit. Under the seven years' 2330 limit, they are examined, first of all, on entitlement and so on, and they have a right of appeal to an independent tribunal. That independent tribunal was originated, I think in 1917, because the House of Commons felt that the service Departments were not proper bodies to consider fully the claims of pensioners and they thought that, to ensure fairness to the individual pensioner, there should be, if he felt aggrieved, or if the Department felt that the decision below was wrong, a right of appeal to an independent tribunal. That tribunal has been appointed in the past in Scotland by the Lord President of the Court of Session and in England by the Lord Chancellor. It is statutory and independent and its decision is final. Where an ordinary soldier is concerned, it is composed of a lawyer, a doctor and an ex-service man, and where an officer is concerned, a lawyer, a doctor and an ex-officer. The right hon. Gentleman has suggested on more than one occasion that he has repealed the seven years' limit.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am glad to have it direct that there has been no repeal. I am merely contrasting as best I can the effect of the seven years' limit with the rights under it, and the effect of the administrative proposals which have been put into force since November, 1929. Under the seven years' limit the pensioner has all these rights, the ultimate right being the right to appeal to an independent legal tribunal which is outwith the jurisdiction of the Minister. He has no more rights before that tribunal than the man-in-the-street who has a claim for a pension. Under the administrative proposals introduced in November, 1929, the pensioner who pursues his claim to a pension has no right to go to an independent legal tribunal—I am not saying that it is good or bad—the possible reason being that it might be to the detriment of the pensioner himself if he went before it without specific records as to his claim. I can quite imagine a hard-headed legal tribunal saying, "You have not the documents to substantiate your claim and we cannot listen to you." That is probably true, and that may be one of the justifications which the right hon. Gentleman had for 2331 not giving to these claimants the right to an independent legal tribunal. If that is true, there is some justification for it.
On the other hand, he has given two or three aids to the claimant. As I understand it, the pensioner is not precluded, even if he has not claimed hitherto under the seven years' limit, from making a claim. That claim, first of all, I have no doubt, would be examined by the Ministry itself and, if it was not satisfied, it might get the support of the war pensions committee, which would further investigate it and make representations to the Ministry. Then, and not till then, he would be entitled, no doubt within the discretion of the Minister, to have a tribunal not composed of laymen, but of doctors. I should be very interested to know what has been the result of those appeals. Have the specialists been working satisfactorily and have they given satisfaction alike to the claimant and to the Ministry? I can quite see that, the further away the claim is from the day when it ought in ordinary circumstances to have been made, the more difficult it is to value it, because a good many things, such as unemployment, now militate against the health of the men who served. You cannot possibly keep those things out, or the claims which are now being made. I should very much like to know from the Minister that he is satisfied that his new administrative scheme is working satisfactorily and with justice to the men who have put forward claims.
He very rightly said that he made no great apology for the additional expenditure in the second part of the Estimate dealing with increased pensions and allowances to dependants. One of the reasons for the error in the Estimate was a miscalculation. A calculation is always made at the end of the financial year at the Treasury as to how many war widows are likely to remarry and how many pensioners are likely to die. They are not pleasant calculations to make. On this occasion, the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers have been wrong. You cannot blame them for being wrong when they have to make an estimate on matters of that kind. The other part of the Estimate deals with increases of pensions after the granting of the claims. 2332 I do not object to that. When any claim has been substantiated, I am delighted to hear that it is going to be paid, and I for one willingly support this Estimate, and the excess which was also mentioned in the White Paper.
The right hon. Gentleman did not tell us as much as we should like to know as to how the limbless soldiers are being treated. One could not help feeling, in days nearer the War and during the War, that they were a class that deserved the special consideration of the Ministry. The Minister mentioned that part of this additional expenditure was due to the fact that new limbs had to be supplied. I want to know whether the Government are now in a position to say that they are satisfied that these men are made as comfortable as possible, with the most up-to-date limbs on the market. I am perfectly certain that no Member of the Committee will object to additional expenditure under that heading. These are facts which the country desires to know. Whatever may be happening in other directions, the country is very mindful of the very great services of these men during the War, and the electors would hesitate a long time before instructing any of their representatives to vote against an Estimate which was for the benefit of these men.
The Minister said nothing about final awards. These are very important. I think I am responsible for the final award. There was nothing more tragic than to see men being dragged up time and time again, when they could ill spare the time and the special expense, in addition to the expense which was provided, to appear before medical boards. Ex-service men are sick of medical boards. They had plenty of them during the War, and they were sick of them afterwards. One of the things ex-service men did appreciate was, I think, the institution of final awards. A good deal was said against that principle for a very long time, but the fact that the Minister has not mentioned it goes to show that there is no great attack being made upon it at the present time, if there is any attack at all. I would like to know how many claims are outstanding in the sense that they have not yet been finally decided upon. I would like information on one other point, which is strictly appropriate to the Esti- 2333 mate, because it bears upon the allowances given to ex-service men, not by the State, but by private benefaction, although it is administered as part of the pension.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman must not go into that, because this Estimate only relates to money provided by the Treasury.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I was going to say that, if it had not been for those benefactions, the Estimate would have been bigger.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Gentleman has already said that, and I think he had better now say no more.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
if the Minister can tell the Committee quite accidentally in the course of his reply what has been done by these private funds, the information will be very useful to the ex-service men and to the Committee. I am sure you would not object to a sentence, nor would the Committee object to being told. I think I have covered the speech which the Minister made. In a Supplementary Estimate of this kind we cannot range over all the questions involved. I go about the country a good deal, and I speak quite frankly and freely when I say that, in my judgment, the Ministry of Pensions is doing its level best to meet fairly and adequately the claims made upon it. It is perfectly true that, when there is a bad case, it is heralded all over the country, but you never hear of the thousands of cases that have been admirably dealt with. I think it is due to any Department, whether I am speaking for it or against it, to say what is the result of my own experience. I hope the Minister will remember that the Committee will never hesitate to grant a reasonable and a fair claim, justly proved, by any man who has served in the War, and that he need not be frightened to ask the Committee for a grant. We all know that a great many bogus claims are made, but once a claim has been fairly and adequately proved the Minister need not fear to ask for the money even when the cry for economy is raised. We all feel that we have a deep and abiding obligation toward these ex-service men, and anything that we can do to make their lot in life easier, I am sure we shall all be very glad to do.
§ Major COHEN
I would like to associate myself with the first remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and to say how glad we are to see the Minister back with us again. I sincerely hope that he is fully restored to health. He has always been most sympathetic to ex-service men. I always thought that the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken was equally sympathetic, but after his speech I am not quite so sure. He takes a great deal of pride in being the father of the seven years limit. It is a very harsh father indeed who would damn his own son, but I do not know that a wise father need go out of his way to show its shortcomings. The seven years limit is an extremely unfortunate measure for the majority of ex-service men. The right hon. Gentleman took a set of figures, which I also have, and he makes them prove to his satisfaction something quite different from what they prove to me. The Minister said that, although he has not abolished the seven years limit, no case would be turned down solely through being outside that limit. The right hon. Gentleman said that 14,500 cases have been outside that limit, and 800 of them have been admitted to pensions, and this proved to him how extremely well the seven years limit must therefore be working. Only 800 have been given the pension out of 14,500. To my mind, that fact proves something quite different. On this, I really want to be critical, because I am wondering whether his scheme is as successful as he, and as we, hoped it would be.
The Ministry has put up, as an added safeguard, a committee of expert medical men to whom doubtful cases will be submitted. During the period of 11 months from November, 1929, I understand that 156 cases have been before that committee, 136 have been considered, and only 21 allowed. It would be interesting to know a little more about that committee, how it works, what sort of cases are brought before it, and how these experts sit. Do they sit by themselves, or have they an arrangement with the Ministerial medical board? Do they see the men Are they empowered to see the men if they want to do so? Is there anybody there to put the men's case before the committee, or is it only the Ministerial case that is put forward? One wonders whether the Ministry looks upon this expert board merely as an extra 2335 tribunal to which it can submit cases, and to which the men's side has no power to put a case at all. I believe the procedure at the present time, for a man outside the seven years limit who wishes to make a claim is that he goes to the area officer and fills in a form which is sent to the Minister. In due course, he is told whether he is awarded a pension or not. In the vast majority of cases, of course, he is not. He can then go—although I do not think he is notified of this—to the local war pensions committee, who are empowered to go into the case and to re-submit it to the Minister if they think that it is a good case. Neither the man nor the war pensions committee know why the case was turned down.
I would suggest that a précis be supplied to the war pensions committee in any case which the committee think is a good case. I am certain that the majority of war pensions committees would not send up an obviously bad case. Would it not be possible, when the war pensions committee is at loggerheads with the Ministry, for that committee to have power to submit a case to the other committee of three medical experts to which I have referred? I realise that the Minister is not bound to accept the medical experts' advice, but there is no other channel by which to get to the medical experts, except through the Ministry. If my suggestion could be adopted, ex-service men would be considerably more satisfied than they now are. There are a good many other things I should have liked to have said about the seven years limit, but I realise they would probably be out of order.
I should like to raise some points relating to war orphans who are totally incapacitated. The Minister has been generous in this matter, and that accounts for some of the increased expenditure. Previously, war orphans, however incapacitated, lost their allowances when they passed the age of 21. The Minister has now made it possible for all War orphans to get their allowances as long as they live, in cases where the orphans are motherless. Might this concession not have been extended to orphans who have mothers? I have a case before me of a girl who is paralysed, weighs 15 stone and spends all her time in a special invalid chair. Her mother is in hospital 2336 suffering from cancer of the breast, and it is thought that she will not live very long. The girl is over 21 and her mother is alive, and therefore her pension has been stopped. I do not think there is any, way of getting her a pension if in a few months her mother should die. I hope I am wrong, but I think she is ruled out of any possibility of getting that pension again. The Solicitor-General in his election address, said:War pensions are being administered on the most humane basis, and the seven years limit has been abolished.I have no doubt the Minister of Pensions will tell the Solicitor-General what he has told the Committee this afternoon, but I think that, in the main, that is perfectly true. I think, in the main, the Minister of Pensions and the very numerous officials do their utmost for the pensioners and the ex-service men. It is because in the majority of cases they do so much for them that one is sometimes astounded at the smallness of the points which they take up. In a case which I submitted, a man was receiving a pension as a private. Very many years later it was discovered that it ought to have been paid to him as a lance-corporal. The Ministry considered the question, realised that they were wrong, and gave him a pension as a lance-corporal from the particular date at which he had applied, and he is drawing it now. But when the man tries to get arrears, he is turned down, although it is not disputed that he was a lance-corporal at the time that he was wounded. That does not seem sympathetic.
There is another case of a man who was wounded twice, once in the back three months before he was married, and then in the neck four months after he was married. He is getting a pension of 20 per cent., but the two wounds have been lumped together for the purpose of assessment, and it is difficult to say how much is being allowed for one and how much for the other. But a widow is refused a pension, because in the official words "No allowance is made for the widow of a man whose post-marriage service did not occasion any permanent worsening of his pre-marriage disability." If the man understood that, he is a very clever fellow. It does not seem plain English to me, and it would not be so to an ordinary "Tommy." The poor 2337 fellow is done out of one of his pensions. There cannot be a large number of those cases, and it is because they are so few that I would ask the Minister—not himself, personally, because I know he is sympathetic—to urge on the people under him that these cases should be sent forward as sympathetically as possible, and that those officials should realise that they are dealing with live men and women and children, and not merely with sheets of paper and precis of medical reports. They should try to visualise each case. That may be a little difficult; but I would appeal to them to try to do so.
There is one other point I should like to raise. I see there is a big Vote for artificial limbs, and I think there should be some way of meeting the wear and tear of clothing that is suffered by those who use those limbs. I know that one's clothes wear out more quickly when one has artificial limbs than is the case with the ordinary man, and socks wear into holes within a day or two. We have been told by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister that the pension is generous, and that that is taken into consideration. Possibly that is correct; but the argument against that is that the pension of 100 per cent. to a man who has lost a limb is exactly the same as it is to the man who is suffering from disease. Lastly, may I ask the Minister if he is ever likely to call the Central Advisory Committee together again? It has not met, I think, for seine years, certainly not since he became Minister, and I think the Committee have many things that they would like to tell him. If he can see his way to call them together, we shall be very grateful to him.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
There is just one class of case to which I should like to call attention. I would ask the Minister to consider whether justice is being done to the widows of men who have had pensions until their death but whose widows receive no allowance. I have had more to do with that class of case than with any other. Take the case of a man who, from the middle of the War up to last year, has suffered, and it is said that his death was not hastened by his war disabilities. The man's own doctor, who happens to be the medical officer of health in the area where he was living at that time, said that undoubtedly death was partially due to war 2338 service, and a certificate was given in that respect. But somehow the Ministry have taken no notice of that, and the widow has been turned down. An appeal was made to the Ministry to have this case re-opened, and the certificates were supplied again to the Ministry, but they said the case had already been dealt with and there was no necessity for a rehearing. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister that an opportunity ought to be given to the man's doctor to appear and argue out the case, instead of merely sending his certificate. The doctor has had the man under his care and observation, and knows the case thoroughly.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member. I should like to ask the Minister if there is anything in this Estimate for the widows of men in such circumstances.
§ The CHAIRMAN
In the original Estimate it is given under sub-head L, but there is no money in this Estimate, so far as I can see, for widows and orphans of deceased men.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am quite sympathetic with the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Richardson), but, so far as I can see, there is no provision in this Estimate for the case he is mentioning, and, consequently, it is outside the scope of the discussion.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
On a point of Order. Under sub-head A, dealing with salaries, wages and allowances to medical authorities of the Ministry, is it not possible to raise the question that these medical authorities are very often responsible for widows not getting their pensions? I take it that that is what the hon. Member is dealing with.
§ The CHAIRMAN
If he is making a claim for increased pensions for widows, I think the question he is raising cannot arise here, but if he is putting forward that certain injustices are being done in the administration of pensions, I think it would be in order.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
That is what I am putting forward. I am asking that medical doctors who have had charge of ex-Service pensioners for all those years should be in a position to attend the tribunal and give evidence in support of the claims, instead of being allowed merely to send in certificates. That would make all the difference in the hearing of the case, as the doctor would have an opportunity of pleading the circumstances before the tribunal and pointing out that the man's death was partially caused by war service. I know I am pushing an open door so far as sympathy is concerned, but I ask the Minister to give special attention to the point which I have raised.
§ Major EDMONDSON
I want to say a few words under Subhead A of this Supplementary Estimate, because with the other items I am absolutely in agreement, and I am glad to see that additional pensions, gratuities and allowances are being paid to men who served their country. Under Subhead A there is a very considerable increase in administrative costs. When we remember that the Ministry of Pensions in the past has always prided itself upon its economy of administration, and rightly so, we ought to look into this matter rather carefully and see why the increase has taken place. We have got to remember that the Ministry has usually conducted its administration at the very low cost of 5½. per £1 of pension paid. That is an extraordinarly low figure, and it is a great credit to the staff of the Ministry. But if the right hon. Gentleman the Minister intends in this Supplementary Estimate to show an increase in the cost of administration, I am afraid we shall be taking steps in the wrong direction, and we shall find ourselves getting back to where we were in 1920, when the cost was 1s. 3d., a very high figure indeed. What has brought about this demand for £50,000 for salaries, wages and allowances? The Minister did touch upon the point, but I think we shall be wise to emphasise it. For the real cause, we have to go back to the last election and look a little more closely at the sheet called "The Labour Programme." It contains the Labour appeal to the nation, and, on the third page, under the heading, "Extension 2340 and Improvement of Pensions," we find these words:The limit of seven years which has meant so much injustice to ex-service men will be removed, so that cases may still be considered.Has the limit been removed? Will any hon. Member on the other side say that the seven years' limit has been removed? Not one. The Minister of Pensions, in reply to a question which was put to him in this House, in which he was asked what steps he proposed to take with regard to the abolition of the seven years' limit, said in a lengthy answer that the Government intended taking such action in regard to the time limit as would secure that all claims should still be considered.
§ The CHAIRMAN
We are getting on to a matter of policy now. I understood from the Minister of Pensions, when he was dealing with the seven years' limit, that he was dealing with finance, and not with policy.
§ Major EDMONDSON
Yes, Sir; I think you will agree with me that the item of £50,000 is the direct result of the statement of policy by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ The CHAIRMAN
This £50,000 has, apparently, arisen from the fact that there has been an extension of the seven years' limit to certain people. That may be true, but the question as to whether the Government should have repealed the seven years' limit entirely or not, does not arise.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Is it not the case that the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) reviewed the operation of the seven years' limit, how he had been its father and how it had worked and all the rest of it, and, surely, other hon. Members are to have an opportunity of saying how it worked in their experience?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understood the right hon. and learned Member to claim that he was the father of the seven years' limit—he is properly entitled to do that—and I also understood him to say that it had not been removed, but he did not argue that it should or should not be removed.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
On a point of Order. Is it not within the limits of 2341 this Debate to compare the seven years' limit and its working with the present proposal of the Ministry which affects the administration. All that my hon. and gallant Friend was attempting to show was that these additional expenses were due to the lack of fulfilment of pledges made by the right hon. Gentleman and his party.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is not a point of Order. I did not follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman there at all. As I have already said, part of this amount may be due to the extension of the seven years' limit, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman was reading from a circular and entering into a matter of policy. Policy does not arise in any Supplementary Estimate.
§ Major EDMONDSON
What I was endeavouring to do was to show that the additional charge of £50,000 is the direct result of the action which the right hon. Gentleman took with regard to the repeal, or so-called repeal, of the seven years' limit, and I think that I can show in a very few moments what I mean. I have no desire whatever to transgress your Ruling, and I think that when I have finished you will agree that I have not made any attempt to do so. My point was, that the right hon. Gentleman, in making the statement which I have read, raised hopes in tile minds of thousands—
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is just the point which is not in order. It is not a question of raising hopes or of not raising hopes, but a question of the amount which is before us. It would be perfectly in order to argue that this £50,000 was largely due to certain action which was taken but it would not be in order to say that if we had taken other action the amount would have been larger still. We are not concerned with a matter of that kind, but with the £50,000.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
In the opening remarks of the Minister I understood him to say that this extra amount was required because of an alteration in the system. I understood him to say that.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I agree. That is quite a different thing from reading an excerpt from a paper, and then commencing to argue on the strength of it.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I certainly understood my hon. and gallant Friend to be referring to the alteration in the system which I understood the Minister, in his opening remarks, to say had cost this extra money and that alteration of system was in effect an alteration of the seven years' limit.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am not calling that into question at all. I am calling into question any argument that the seven years' limit should not be further extended.
§ Major EDMONDSON
I am not reading from the Labour programme but from the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not know whether that will alter your view? I was pointing out that, in view of what the Minister said, the result was definitely a large increase in the number of claims put up by ex-service men. That is in order, I think. That was the only point I wanted to put forward. We had that large recrudescence of claims owing to the fact that men's hopes were raised, and they thought that the seven years' limit had been repealed and that their claims would receive further consideration. That is the point I want to make. I consider that this £50,000—and the Minister has admitted it—is very largely due to this palaver about the repeal of the seven years' limit. I maintain that, under the administrative arrangements made by the last Government, these cases could have equally well been dealt with.
The present Minister states that for the future the arrangements for dealing with belated claims for disablement will be such as to ensure the following essential points: first, that no application is rejected solely on the ground that it is barred by the time limit. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that, under the last administration applications were not barred solely by the seven years limit. The second point which he makes is that every application is given explicit opportunity to produce evidence in support of his claim. He was given every opportunity under the last administration. We may differ on questions of opinion, but I should be very glad to see any case where the Ministry refused to consider evidence put forward by applicants. If any hon. 2343 Members opposite would let me see such a case, I should be very glad indeed.
§ Major EDMONDSON
The third point the right hon. Gentleman made was, that all evidence in support of a claim is fully considered. These are three points which the Minister claims to be something new, but which I claim were all in operation under the last Government. I consider that this item of £50,000 is money more or less wasted. What has been the result of all the claims which have come in? We have been told that between 14,000 and 15,000 claims have come in from ex-service men as a result of this alteration in the administrative arrangements. The result was that 11,000 men were disappointed in the first 7½ months following that statement. 11,000 ex-service men who put up claims thinking they were going to be reconsidered under this new arrangement were rejected by the Minister, Why raise their hopes? Why stir them up at all?
§ Major EDMONDSON
Yes, after consideration, but it does not matter. They were rejected after consideration. They could have had the consideration, and many of them did have it under the last Government, but they all thought that some new era had started in which they were going to receive more sympathetic consideration and they went away disillusioned. I say that if cases were put up in large numbers now, and if those 11,000 had received pensions instead of being rejected you could not have imagined a greater blame to be attached to the Ministry for allowing 11,000 men to go all those years and years without satisfactory treatment. I am not going to say any more, but I hope that the Minister and Members on the opposite benches will realise the importance of lifting War pensions out of party politics. I do not think that this is a thing which should be degraded by being dragged through the political arena at all. I hope after this last effort in the Labour Manifesto we shall not hear anything more when the next election comes along.
§ Mr. SIMMONS
I want to raise one or two items on the Estimate with regard to administration and to call attention, under "Treatment allowances to Disabled Men," to the position of the disabled man who is compelled to give up his job and precluded from earning a living and has to wait a fortnight, three weeks or even a month before he can go into a convalescent home or hospital, without receiving any treatment allowance. I suggest that when a man is precluded from going on with his job and is awaiting treatment, he should be entitled to treatment allowance the moment he is incapable of work. I also want to raise a question with regard to people who have to come all the way to London to an appeal tribunal. I know that the Ministry pay the expenses, but there is all the inconvenience and time. I suggest that it might be possible for these cases to be heard in centres in the provinces so as to save all that amount of travelling.
During the discussion the question of limbless soldiers has been raised. It is a question in which I am naturally interested, being one of these unfortunates myself. I was very much interested in the point raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Fairfield Division of Liverpool (Major Cohen) on the question of the wear and tear of clothes caused by artificial limbs. One has only to wear an artificial limb to realise the amount of wear and tear there is upon clothing. You require about four pairs of trousers to one coat and vest, and as regards socks, well, I will not ask my wife to darn them after I have taken them off the foot which is not mine. I think that allowances should be made to ex-service men who are wearing artificial limbs for the wear and tear caused by those limbs.
With regard to the position of limbless soldiers, it was asked whether they are made as comfortable as possible and supplied with the best limbs on the market. Personally, I cannot say that I have had very much about which to complain. The Ministry and the Ministry's doctors have always been most attentive and have gone out of their way to make slight adjustments and alterations in order to secure added comfort as far as my artificial limb is concerned. I hope 2345 that it is the experience of every other ex-service man who wears an artificial limb, that the treatment he gets from the Ministry is the kind of treatment which gives him the best possible value out of the artificial limb which has been provided. I have one complaint to make about artificial limbs, and it is that at the present time they are all made by one firm. I remember that towards the end of the War, when artificial limbs were first being supplied, there were perhaps half-a-dozen or 10 firms in this country doing the job. Some of these firms would produce a limb which would suit one man and some would produce a limb which would suit another man, but now we find that the whole of the limbs supplied by the Ministry are procured from one firm. Men who at the beginning of disablement became used to a certain kind of limb very often find that, because of this policy, some of those firms have gone out of business altogether, and it is impossible to get limbs suited to them. I should like to ask whether it would not be possible for ex-service men who have been used to a certain kind of limb—even though another firm has the contract—to have a limb made by the original firm if they could prove to the Ministry that it suited them better than the one supplied by the mass production method.
On the question of administration, an additional sum of £50,000 is required, but I hope that we shall not take seriously the complaint made by the hon. and gallant Member opposite about that money being wasted. If we have a number of ex-service men, who feel that they are not being treated properly, making appeals for a revision of their pensions and treatment allowances, there is bound to be additional work placed upon the Ministry of Pensions, and we have to pay for it.
§ Mr. SIMMONS
On the one hand, we hear the plea that the seven years' limit should be abolished, and that anybody and everybody should come along and make their claim, while, on the other hand, we hear the plea that the 11,000 should never have been allowed to come in. The British Legion stands for the abolition of the seven years' limit. One would have hoped that the Minister of 2346 Pensions in the late Government would have considered the interests of ex-service men more important than the fate of the Trade Disputes Bill. It would be very interesting to know the opinion of the Minister of Pensions in the late Government on this question of the seven years' limit.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
On a point of explanation. I think I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman who was Minister of Pensions in the last Government is ill at the moment.
§ Mr. SIMMONS
That is what I presumed. Had I been wrong, I would gladly have apologised and withdrawn my statement. The point is that, as a result of the agitation for the removal of the seven years' limit, we have a demand made by ex-service men for reconsideration of their claims, and it is useless for hon. Members opposite to say that this is being made a party matter. It has been raised by what is supposed to be a non-party organisation. As a disinterested ex-service man and one who will always stand up for the interests of the ex-service men before any party interest, I have been trying to find out whether the increase of £50,000 in salaries, wages and allowances upholds the position taken up by the Minister of Pensions or the position taken up by the British Legion for the total abolition of the seven years' limit, and from the inquiries which I have made I have yet to find that those who have the largest experience in the Ministry, including ex-Ministers of Pensions, are prepared to agree that the total abolition of the seven years' limit is the best method. We have to remember that a very long period has elapsed since the end of the War.
It is all very well to talk, as one hon. Member did, about cases coming up that were bad cases, and which the Minister had turned down. Those cases have been turned down time and time again by previous Ministers. Thirteen years after 2347 the War we are dealing with cases which have been handled by the great national newspapers, by great national orators and by various Ministers of Pensions, and after 13 years the present Minister of Pensions is blamed. We ought to give the most generous interpretation to every case that comes forward. We ought not to consider merely the fact of a war wound, but the fact that war service in waterlogged trenches and in indescribable conditions has so lowered a man's vitality and a man's power to resist disease that often, even if his disease cannot be attributed directly to war service, the fact that he has been through that war service has made possible the sufferings through which he is going. Those circumstances ought to be taken into consideration when the man is being assessed for his pension. I do not think that the mere fixing of seven, 10 or 17 years' limit is going to help us in this matter, but what will help us will be a determination, not merely on the part of the Minister but on the part of the higher officials of the Department, to treat every case from beginning to end as a human document, and to go into every case with the greatest amount of sympathy for the applicant.
I am glad to see that the figures are up. We have been told by some hon. Members that the fact that the figures are up is proof that the administration is not as it used to be; that it used to be 5½d. per £1 of pension paid, and that if the present conditions go on the proportion of administration expenses will be raised. I do not care whether the administration is costing 1s., 2s., or 2s. 6d. in the £ so long as the ex-Service man is getting justice. We do not grumble about paying 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. interest on the money lent during the War, and we ought not to bother about the administrative cost of pensions to men who invested their lives, their limbs, their health and their prospects in the War. We ought to be prepared to give the most generous interpretation to every application.
In regard to the signing of the life certificate, which has to be signed quarterly or six-monthly for pension purposes, I should like to make a suggestion to the Minister. At the present time the certificates have to be signed 2348 by magistrates, who are largely of one political colour, and in some areas they are very unapproachable. I appeal to the Minister to add to the list of people who are eligible to sign these documents, the district councillors. The councillors are most closely in touch with the community, and there is a fair representation of all parties among them. People come to my house every week-end wanting me to sign these certificates, but neither as a borough councillor nor as a Member of Parliament am I allowed to do so. I think that a wider selection should be given in order that so much trouble need not be taken by the ex-Service men in getting the documents signed. If the Minister cannot see his way clear totally to abolish the seven years' limit, will he consider very seriously the question in relation to every man outwith the seven years' limit giving to these men the same statutory rights that they would have enjoyed had they come within the seven years' limit? Could he meet representatives of the ex-Service men's organisations and tell them that if it is impossible totally to abolish the seven years' limit, there may be some modification and strengthening of the present system which will lead to benefit for the ex-Service man and the Department?
I am not worried about the Supplementary Estimate. I wish it were double or treble the present figure. That would show that the ex-Service men were getting not only justice but generosity. They are entitled to generosity as well as justice. A great deal was said about heroes on recruiting platforms from 1914 to 1918, and we ought not to allow anything to stand in the way of doing justice to the ex-Service man to-day. We ought to err on the side of generosity, and not to adopt too strictly legal an interpretation. The more we pay for the pensions and allowances of ex-Service men, the more the sufferers of the War cost the nation, the more clearly ought it to be a lesson to the people of this country never to go to war again.
§ Mr. W. S. MORRISON
The hon Member, I think, spoiled a very enjoyable speech by what he said about magistrates. I am sure that it was not his intention to impute to the magistrates 2349 of this country any such a cruel practice as refusing to sign a life certificate for a man because of difference of political opinion.
§ Mr. SIMMONS
I am sorry if I created such a misunderstanding. What I said was that they were not accessible. When they are found, they willingly sign.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I am glad the hon. Member has cleared up that matter. My reference to it was in order to give him an opportunity of doing so. In so far as the inaccessibility of the magistrates has proved difficult for the pensioners in many cases, I join my voice to his in urging upon the Minister the necessity of considering whether it might not be possible in the interests of the pensioner to secure the services of some wider and more accessible body than the magistracy to perform this service for the pensioners. Every hon. Member, no matter in what part of the House he sits, wishes to see the question of War pensions divorced entirely from party politics. When a party promises to make a change in the administration of pensions and promises greater humanity than its predecessor, it is perhaps unfortunate that those promises are not fulfilled. It is desirable that every Member of this House should try to build up in the Ministry of Pensions a stable organisation which will survive the vicissitudes of party gains and defeats, and prove an ever-present help in time of trouble to ex-service men of all parties and denominations. I think that anyone who reviews the conduct of the Ministry of Pensions since the War finished, will be forced to admit, in fairness, that it has discharged its difficult task with signal success and humanity.
The only matters to which I would direct the Minister's attention are, first, the machinery which he has created for securing the reconsideration of claims which come outside the seven years' limit. I have always been of opinion that there is no magic in the number "seven." There is nothing which differentiates a claim arising seven years after a man's discharge from a claim arising two years, three years or four years after his discharge. In justice, there ought to be some adequate machinery for enabling the man who claims even after seven 2350 years to be suffering from the results of his service, to receive treatment and a pension. In the Estimate there is a sum of £15,000 for additional clerical expenses involved by the procedure set up by the Minister. I was a little disappointed to find that for the expenditure of £15,000 in administration expenses only 600 or 800 pensions had been granted. It seems to me an "intolerable deal of sack" for a poor pennyworth of bread. I should have imagined that in regard to the re - examination of claims arising after seven years have elapsed, if that examination were conducted on the lines which this House would desire to see it conducted the number of pensions granted would be greater.
There is one important point, particularly in regard to the examination of these claims, which I should like to impress upon the Minister. It seems, from my experience, that an intolerably high standard of proof is demanded from the wretched pensioner. One example will explain this better than any number of general statements. I know the case of a man who is now a smallholder. Before the War he was a noted athlete, and competed with success in all the sports in his part of the country. He joined the Army at the outbreak of the War, and, in the course of his service, was struck in the small of the back by a bomb which exploded and filled that part of his anatomy with a lot of small splinters. Some of the splinters were extracted, but others were not. He went back to France and acquitted himself so well that he was given a commission and discharged from the Army. He made no claim for pension. He went back to his smallholding and supported himself, but more than seven years after his discharge he found that he was afflicted with what turns out to be arthritis at the base of the spine. He applied for compensation, and the reply is: "You have not proved that this disability is connected in any way with your War service," and, as if to rub it in, they say: "If you can produce any other evidence, the Ministry will be pleased to reconsider the matter." What can the man say? All he can say is that before he was struck he was a healthy man, that he had never suffered from any disease in his life, and had never suffered any 2351 injury except when he was struck by a German bomb in the place where he now suffers the disability.
Any legal tribunal would accept that the burden of proof had been discharged, that the man, by the facts, had proved his claim for consideration for a pension. What is the contrary assumption? It means that medical science is in such a developed condition to-day that a medical man is able to say definitely that there is no connection between this disability and the injury; that no medical man, with a proper sense of humility and the limitations of human knowledge, and with a proper appreciation of how much is yet dark in physiology, would presume to say as a matter of certainty on oath that there was any connection between the two things. I say that the standard of proof demanded from the pensioner, particularly in cases arising after seven years, is intolerably high, and amounts in a great number of cases to a denial of justice. I am making these comments in no sense that the Minister is being purposely harsh or inhumane in the treatment of these men. The Ministry of Pensions is there to guard against the expenditure of public money involved, but I do ask the Minister to consider whether some real meaning cannot be given to the phrase "the benefit of the doubt," and that the benefit if there is a doubt shall be given to the ex-service man, that he should not be completely stumped by some obscure confabulations behind the scenes at the Ministry of which he has no knowledge and at which he is not represented.
The other matter is also one which, I think, is worth consideration. The Minister is no doubt aware of the article of the Royal Warrant which limits the grant of pensions in these cases to widows if they were married after the disability had been incurred. In considering these cases, I ask the Minister to consider a little more carefully the medical history of the man as it was stated at the time when he was serving. I know the case of a man serving as a soldier before the War, and discharged before the War, because the Army authorities suspected him of being tubercular.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is why I interrupted an hon. Member a short time ago. There is nothing in this Supplementary Estimate with regard to widows of deceased men, but the hon. Member may be dealing with a question of administration which comes under paragraph A.
§ Mr. MORRISON
That is what I was endeavouring to do, and I submit that I am in order in asking the Minister to reconsider his administrative action in the expenditure of this money in the re-examination of these claims. The only point is that you have a man who was discharged before the War because of suspected tuberculosis. He is accepted into the Army again as an A.1 man. He is put into hospital, discharged as A.1, and sent out to France. When he is told that he is A.1 he marries the woman who is now his widow. They say to the widow that she has married this man after he became tubercular because "we have found a note on his sheet of pre-War days." Is it not common justice to plead that if the authorities, when the need of the nation was great, certified the man as A.1 and not suffering from tuberculosis, and if his widow then married him with an A.1 certificate from the State, she should not now be penalised and turned off because he suffered from tuberculosis? After all, what is the principle and justice behind the Royal Warrant? It is that if a woman chooses to take the risk of marrying a man who has this disability she is prepared to take the consequences, but the woman married the man when he was A.1 and she is now to be denied her pension. The Minister, if he considers this type of case, will agree that there is room for improvement.
The only other point is the question of final awards. The right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), when he mentioned the question of final awards, took credit to himself and the system in that in many cases it, settled the claimants troubles as regard recurring medical boards and recurring irritation of having his claim reconsidered and placed in jeopardy. However just that claim may be for the final award it, nevertheless, cuts two ways. There is no body of medical science which can in that space of years say, "This man can be 2353 dismissed for ever with a final award." I know of cases, and I expect hon. Members do also where a man has had a final award which seemed adequate at the time to him and to his own medical advisers, as well as to the Ministry, but by some deterioration, due to some obscure causes which very often cannot be put down in black and white by any doctor, the region of disability for which he had received a final award is now a region of disability for which a final award is entirely inappropriate. I urge that the "correction of error" principle which is applied in many cases humanely by the Minister, should be applied with full sympathy for the men who placed their lives in jeopardy in the days of our trouble, and who are deserving of all the sympathy and support which this House can give them in their day of need.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison) on his speech. He has raised very important points. Since I came into the House in 1922 I have had a good deal of experience in dealing with pension cases and I should like to say that whatever Minister has been in control, I have found very little difference so far as the administration is concerned. The Minister is largely in the hands of the Department, and very largely in the hands of the medical authorities who advise him. Anyone who has travelled throughout the various parts of the country will no doubt have found serious victims of the system of administration at the Ministry of Pensions. I do not believe there is any town of average size where you will not come across hard cases of victims of the War who should be in receipt of pensions, but who are not receiving them. There is a tendency, whenever this subject is raised, for a chorus of congratulation about the generous treatment of this country of the ex-service men, yet the very fact that there are these numbers of victims of the War who are being penalised unduly seems to me to be a reason for a change in the administration.
The present Minister of Pensions, I know, came to this question with a great desire to make many generous changes. I was associated with him in the advisory committee of my own party, and I know his desire to remedy many of these injustices, but the fact remains that the 2354 position is not materially different from what is was under the regime of his predecessor. The seven years' limit is still legally in operation. It is true that opportunity is given for cases to be reviewed, but I would like to say this, that when I took cases outside the seven years' limit to his predecessor I found that he was willing to have them reviewed when I could produce medical evidence in support of the case. It is, perhaps, true to say that the present Minister of Pensions has developed the procedure introduced by his predecessor, but I do not think it is quite satisfactory, and I should like to have seen the Minister of Pensions take far more thorough-going steps to deal with the matter. We are told that in some 800 out of 14,000 cases correction has been made when review has taken place, but I find in connection with those cases that the person who has been outside the seven year limit is in a worse position, in a statutory sense, than if there had been no mistake in his case. I think the Minister will admit that that is so. There is a difficulty with regard to such a man getting a final award, and I think in those cases where, under this very stiff procedure, a mistake is admitted, the individual should be put in the same position as any other pensioner with regard to his statutory rights. I hope that we shall see an attempt made in this Parliament to deal with this matter.
An hon. Member opposite has already raised the question of orphans over 21 years of age, and has suggested that the procedure for dealing with those cases should be extended to other cases where the mother is still alive. I press that view on the Minister. I have a case in my own Division of a young woman over 21 years of age who is in an invalid chair and quite unable to work. Yet there is nothing for her from the Ministry of Pensions. It should be possible in all those cases to have the pension continued when the individual concerned is in such a state of bad health. In reference to the question of dependents, which arises under Sub-head A, I am not at all satisfied with the administration of need pensions. A limit is placed on the amount which a dependent can receive in need pensions, and the earnings of other members of a family are taken into account in fixing the amount.
2355 Following the example of the last speaker I give a particular case. One of my constituents lost three sons in the War, but his income is only a few shillings a week and the Minister cannot see his way to bring the amount paid to this man up to the maximum which is possible on a need pension basis. I cannot understand such methods of administration. It may be that there are other members of the family, but they are working people, and are not in a position, especially in times like these, to provide for the father. When I first raised this man's case I was told that he was getting all that he could get in respect of his two sons killed in the War. When I pointed out that the man had lost three sons, I was informed that a mistake had been made and that the Ministry should have said three sons instead of two. The fact that his three sons had been lost instead of two made no difference, however, in estimating the amount payable to him. On the other hand, it evidently did make a difference that there were other members of the family who might be able to help the applicant. I urge on the Minister that he should consider the administration of these need pensions.
Further in reference to Sub-head A, I am not at all satisfied in regard to the medical advisers of the Ministry. The hon. Member who spoke last gave an instance in which the medical authorities were evidently of opinion that the case of a man who had suffered a wound from a bomb in the War was not proved. If that were an exceptional case, we might not feel so worried about this matter, but my experience is that these cases are not exceptional, but are the rule. I find in consultation with friends of mine who take an interest in these matters, that such cases occur in their experience also. I suggested to the Minister in a letter which I wrote to him that his medical advisers appeared to be of opinion that the only place where a person could not contract disease during the War was in the front line trenches, whereas when these men came back to civilian life all kinds of traps were waiting for them. On their return home they might contract bronchitis or some other trouble, but disability was never due to their War ex- 2356 perience. It might be due to the fact that they were working in comparatively comfortable workshops, but in the trenches, unless they were nearly killed, they could never contract any trouble of this kind at all. That seems to be the view of the right hon. Gentleman's medical advisers. I suggest that he should consider bringing in, if necessary, other medical authorities in connection with the administration of these cases.
I have had experience of different Ministers of Pensions since I have been a Member of the House of Commons, and when I have put the facts of a case before them they have all shown great willingness to consider it—both the present Minister and his predecessors. They have agreed with me, generally, about these cases, but there always seemed to be some doctor in the background, like the nigger in the woodpile, who discovered that the man's disability could not have arisen out of his War service. A case occurs to my mind of a man whose record in connection with National Health Insurance showed that he had never been in the hands of a doctor prior to the War. He was in the War, and since his return he has been a physical wreck. But, having gone to hospital, he happened to have said that he always had a cough, and, on that one statement, the medical advisers of the Minister held it to be clearly proved that the man had suffered from his disability before he joined the Army. Yet he was taken into the Army as A1. On that one statement made by him, when he was obviously anxious to get back home again, it was decided that his disability was not attributable to his War service. If I were a Minister, and if a doctor came to me with a statement of that kind, I would ask him what he was thinking about.
There has been a great deal of talk about the benefit of the doubt being given to the applicant. Then the Minister comes along and tells us about doubtful cases being referred to a special medical committee. If they are doubtful cases, the men concerned should be given their pensions. They should not be referred to medical committees. This party has always proclaimed the principle that the benefit of the doubt should be given to the individual. Hon. Members often say that we should not make this a party 2357 question, but I believe that it is essentially a party question. It has always been used as a party question by the party on this side of the Committee, and it has been used as a party question by Members on the other side as well.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
With all due respect, I suggest that it is very difficult to reply to statements made from the other side of the Committee, if we are to be told that we cannot go into these matters now. But I will not pursue that subject further except to say this. Members on this side of the Committee have always claimed that the benefit of the doubt should be given to the individuals in these cases, and, if there is any doubt at all about a case, I say it is far better that there should be a little additional expense to the State, and that we should be sure that the rights of the individual whose suffering is due to War service are being recognised in every case. I hope we are going to see a great change in the treatment of these cases. There are 14,000 people who feel a great sense of grievance. They gave their services to the country during the War, and they were assured that after the War they would not be treated as the victims of past wars were treated.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I do not wish to quarrel with the hon. Member opposite who says that there were no promises made to these men and who evidently believes that this is the proper kind of treatment for his constituents. I do not object if his constituents think that they are doing well in sending somebody like him to represent them here. He appears to think that because there was no formal contract in that sense with the men who gave their services in the War, we can treat them now as if they were of no account.
§ Sir B. FALLE
No, the hon. Member misrepresents me. I am very much in- 2358 terested in what he was saying and I interrupted him when he made an incorrect and erroneous statement to the effect that these things were promised to the men when they joined. That is not so.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
By implication the hon. Member's statement bears out what I said. There may not have been a formal contract. It may not have been in the articles of the Royal Warrant or anything of that sort, but it was understood, and I hope that the ex-service men in the hon. Member's constituency will take notice of his attitude in reference to the treatment which they have received. It is a terrible matter that people should be in this position, and that as case after case comes up and we go to the Minister and recognise his willingness and his natural disposition to try to get their grievances put right, we find that we are up against this machinery, and that unless we can prove a case as definitely as a mathematical proposition, the man cannot receive a pension. I hope that this Debate will result in a great change of treatment, and will encourage the Minister to go along the lines where his reason would urge him to go; and that he will take advantage of the fact that the expenditure of the Ministry is naturally contracting owing to pensioners dying and children going out of pensionable age, so that he can make really effective the principle, which every Member would like to see adopted, that the benefit of the doubt should be given to the persons whose cases come up.
If the benefit of the doubt were given, we would not have 800 out of 14,000 cases. I find that the percentage represented by 800 out of 14,000 represents the percentage of winners that I get out of the cases which I submit to the Minister. Instead of that percentage, there should be 90 per cent. of winners. I am convinced that nine-tenths of the cases into which I have gone personally, and which I have submitted to medical friends, should have been granted. I hope that as a result of this Debate, the medical advisers of the Ministry will understand that their old line of approach to this question has been wrong, and that it is not the function of a medical adviser to become a Sherlock Holmes and to try to trace some flaw in the cases, but that it is his business to be kindly and to go into the facts of the eases, to see if there be anything that will 2359 suggest that they have suffered from service and should be given pensions. If they use the microscope, it should be used to see the good points in cases, and should not be confined to the weak places. I hope that we shall have a much more satisfactory administration of pensions than we have at present, that the Minister will go along the line that he has always desired and impress upon the medical officers that a definite change is to be made and a more generous treatment given to the pensioners.
§ Mr. HASLAM
I should like to associate myself with those Members who have asserted that the British people desire the ex-service man to be treated not only with sympathy and justice but with generosity. Under Sub-head A, salaries, wages and allowances, an additional sum of no less than £50,000 is required; I understand from the Minister that the object of that is to produce greater efficiency, greater justice and greater sympathy in the treatment meted out. The right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) thought that this Vote was justified, and the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. Simmons) expressed the sentiment that it did not matter how much we spent on salaries, wages and allowances, provided we got results. In spite of this extra expenditure I do not see the results; I do not see that additional sympathy or that justice, let alone that generosity. It is, therefore, doubtful whether this increase can be justified. The Minister rightly took credit for the fact that the total increase of the revised Estimate is less than half of one per cent. of the total expenditure. That shows that the Estimates were framed in a businesslike way and were very fairly exact. But this Supplementary Estimate for salaries, wages and allowances is an increase of something like 4½ per cent. It is nearly ten times proportionally the amount spent on the ex-service men's benefits. It shows that it is not necessarily an increase of officials and salaries that produces increased efficiency.
I would like to make a suggestion to the Minister to employ local medical men whenever possible. I have a case of a man in East Lincolnshire who is in receipt of a pension, because he has had his leg amputated, of £1 a week, on 2360 which he endeavours to keep his wife and family. No one can say that that is sympathetic treatment. The stump of his leg has been for some time in a bad way, inflamed and ulcerated. His health is suffering, and the Ministry have suggested that he should travel to Nottingham, a considerable distance, to see the medical officials of the Ministry there. It happens that within a mile of the man's home there is a very eminent medical practitioner who is sought after by the countryside for miles around. Yet this man has to travel all the way to Nottingham for purposes of examination, no doubt with an attendant, because a man in his condition cannot travel alone. It would be much simpler if the Ministry consulted the local medical man. If it turned out that the particular doctor I have mentioned were the private attendant of the man, there are equally able doctors in the neighbouring towns on whom the Ministry could call in order to get an unbiased opinion. Hon. Members may be rather unjust in the complaints that they have made about the medical advisers to the Ministry and in endeavouring to fix on them blame for a lack of justice. The medical men concerned are the servants of the Ministry, and the responsibility must be on the Minister who defends them in this House. That is the proper constitutional method. The Minister is responsible, and to go behind the Minister and blame the medical men, is not altogether just.
Final awards have been the subject of great heart-burnings, and I have found that cases of what I car only call injustice are perpetrated under this system. It is difficult, on the face of it, to make a final award in every case of injury or disease. Take the case which I have mentioned of the man who has had his leg amputated. If his stump is going wrong, if things are occurring which were never anticipated, it alters the whole position. This man is entirely incapacitated, and to say that the final award given under much more favourable conditions can never be open to review cannot be defended on any grounds of justice. I have known other cases of amputation; if the amputation be successful, the final award is justified, but where something arises afterwards and 2361 the operation does not seem to be successful, there should be an opportunity for revision. The same thing applies to many diseases such as diseases of the lungs. Take the case of the innumerable men who have been gassed. It often happens that men have drawn pensions after having been gassed, and have got better; they have been passed as sound, and their pensions withdrawn. Their lungs go again, however, and they get bronchitis and other troubles but the Ministry often say that the subsequent trouble is not due to the War. If a man has been gassed in the War, his lungs can never be the same as if he had not been gassed. There are many cases of that sort. I have had cases of tuberculosis in which the disease may disappear and come on again; all these cases, if it is desired to treat them sympathetically, should be gone into so that justice can be done. I join with the other hon. Members in hoping that, after this Debate, the Minister will endeavour to meet these cases in a much more sympathetic spirit, and endeavour to assist in the very hard position in which so many of these men find themselves to-day.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I wish to congratulate the Minister on having to come to Parliament with this Supplementary Estimate. It would have been a pitiable thing if he had kept the expenditure of his Department down to the strict level of what was estimated originally. I take it that the reason he comes for this additional money is not that his expenditure has increased over last year's, but that it has not decreased to the extent that was anticipated. He ought to take warning from the fact that he has to ask for this additional money to make a firm stand against a rapacious Treasury. This is the only State Department which, in the nature of its being, tends to be a diminishing charge, and he ought to see to it that the Treasury does not attempt to take from him more than the legitimate reduction that the natural decline in the number of cases brings about, and that he is not asked, by mean administration, to relieve the general financial condition of the country.
I rise to add my words to what has been said about the demand for a special examination into and a very kindly consideration of the lot of those disabled men who are receiving no relief whatever from the Ministry, some of them 2362 with ailments of very long standing, some of them completely helpless and bedridden. In spite of what the hon. Member opposite said about medical men being merely the servants of the Ministry, I am afraid we must place the responsibility on the shoulders of the medical men. The political head of the Department, and the administrative heads, must be guided by the opinion of their medical advisers, but it seems to me that in certain groups of cases the medical men are taking a very harsh, and what I regard as an indefensible, view.
An hon. Member opposite referred to a case of arthritis. I have had to bring cases of rheumatoid arthritis before several Pensions Ministers. I know of two men—officers; one of them a medical officer—who are completely helpless. They are men about 45 or 46 years of age. They went into the Army as hale and hearty men, and rendered distinguished and necessary service. Now, both of them are completely helpless; they cannot lift hand or foot to do a single thing for themselves. They have to be waited upon, and given special attention and treatment, and the cost of it has to come out of the resources of their friends. The medical officers of the Department say that rheumatoid arthritis is not attributable to or aggravated by war service. When I go around I ask medical friends what are the causes of rheumatoid arthritis. I am told that the causes of it are completely obscure, that the medical profession do not know them. They say that to be found in a completely helpless condition at the age of 45 because of the advanced state of this disease is most unusual in the case of men who have lived an ordinary decent life.
They do not know what is the cause of rheumatoid arthritis; but when I go to the doctors of the Ministry of Pensions to appear for these men I am told, "It is true, as you say, that the medical profession does not know what causes rheumatoid arthritis; but we are perfectly certain that the war service had nothing to do with it." I cannot understand that, and I hope that in the absence of exact scientific knowledge on this subject the Minister will turn to his medical men and say, "While I always defer to your opinion where there is 2363 real medical knowledge, yet where there is admittedly only complete medical ignorance I shall have to rely on my own judgment, and decide that the very serious condition of these men has been at least aggravated by the experiences they went through in the War." I note that there is an additional charge for treatment allowances, etc., and I want to know if the abolition of the Bellhouston Pensions Hospital in Glasgow is now complete, and if the men are being sent to be treated in the ordinary wards of the Royal Infirmary and to the Erskine House Hospital; if that arrangement is working satisfactorily and without too great inconvenience to the men; and if it has resulted in any economy, or whether any part of this additional charge arises out of the necessity of transporting the men to more inconvenient places.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
I have listened to the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) with very great sympathy, because I have had cases of rheumatism brought to me. Rheumatism is much the same as rheumatoid arthritis. It does not necessarily reveal itself immediately after prolonged immersion in water, such as was suffered by men in the trenches during many weeks and months. It may not appear for some years afterwards, but it does appear in the system sooner or later; yet many a time the Ministry of Pensions have turned cases down because they said the rheumatism had come on since the War and could not be attributable to service during the War, seeing that the men were perfectly fit when they were discharged from the Army. Each Minister of Pensions carries on to a great extent the tradition of his predecessor. In the matter of the seven years' limit the present Minister is only carrying on what the former Minister did, but in a somewhat more extended fashion.
In answer to a question in December last, the Minister said that 20,300 fresh war pension claims had been submitted outside the seven years' limit, and that of those rather more than 18,000 had been considered, but only in 982 cases had the claims been recognised by way of medical or surgical treatment or by some form of pecuniary compensation. Probably there were a certain number of poor cases 2364 amongst those, but I am sure that the vast majority were very real cases. They had been investigated beforehand by the area committees, and I say the number of claims admitted is a very small proportion indeed of those which ought to have been admitted. Since that date I have asked the Minister whether he has any further figures to give of cases brought under the seven years' limit.
After their 10 or 12 years' experience the Ministry seem to be working in a stereotyped fashion. It is all rules and regulations and red tape, and that is why we so often find ourselves tied hand and foot. We are told that a case cannot be admitted because something is not in a particular regulation. I suggest that the Minister ought sometimes to be given a little latitude to use that human touch which goes just beyond a regulation. There are many extremely hard cases with which he cannot deal because of the red tape by which he is bound. I have the greatest sympathy with him in the very difficult task before him. Listening to his speech, which was commendable both in its brevity and its lucidity, I noted he was apologising in the earlier part of it for an increase in the administrative expenses. The work of his Department is a diminishing work; his is one Ministry, above all others, in which one might expect to see a reduction of administrative charges, but we find instead an increase. Some 9,000 more civil servants are being employed, and every Supplementary Estimate that comes up includes an increase for administrative expenditure. Surely that ought not to be the case to-day. The staff of the Ministry are well trained and the number of claims which come before them must be diminishing. Permanent settlements are made in many cases each year, and thereafter do not need to come up periodically for review, and as the work must be decreasing I deplore that part of the Estimate which deals with an increase in the establishment charges.
With regard to the minor additions, I should have thought the Minister could have budgeted more accurately for the allowances to dependants and children. He knows the ages of all the children and when they will pass outside the age limit. Of course he cannot budget accurately for the marriage of widows, but possibly he might establish a 2365 marriage bureau among his many officials and encourage the remarriage of the widows, thereby saving his Department a certain amount of extra expenditure. I just put that to him as a suggestion.
§ Colonel HOWARD-BURY
A new economic proposal. It would save £15,000. Unlike other Ministers, he has rather a ghoul-like outlook. He is interested in the number of people who are likely to die during the year, and has to budget accordingly. It is the same with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, only the latter hopes to gain a lot of money by their deaths. Most of this expenditure, and especially the £170,000 for pensions, gratuities and treatment allowances, is money well spent indeed; but I wish there was more of the human touch in dealing with these hard cases. I wish the State would see to it that those who went out and suffered and who came back maimed and crippled are properly cared for during the remaining years of their life.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. LAMBERT WARD
I find myself in agreement with what has been said by the hon. Member opposite, that there is not so much difference in the treatment of pensioners now compared with what took place under the previous Government. I do not find any fault with the administration of the Minister of Pensions, because I have held for a great many years that, speaking generally, the administration of pensions has been most humane. I find fault with the present Minister in regard to the promises which he made at the last General Election.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is not in order in referring to promises made by any party at the last General Election, and he must confine his remarks to the Estimate under consideration.
§ Sir A. LAMBERT WARD
I want to say a few words on the question of the final awards to which I think some of the increased cost of pensions is due. When this question first came up some nine years ago some of my own constituents asked me to press their claims for final awards, and I refused to do so. 2366 I told them quite candidly that, although it was possible that the men of that time might be getting better and recovering from their wounds, the time would come when they would actually get worse. It is all very well for a person of 24 or 25 years of age because he can probably recover under suitable treatment, but even in these cases 10 or 15 years later they may find the wounds recurring.
I know a case where a man had his knee smashed in 1917, and by very skilful treatment, followed by careful massage, to all intents and purposes, he appeared to recover the whole use of that knee, and for some years he was able to go about his business and do a considerable amount of walking. As this man got older rheumatism settled in that joint, and now he is quite unable to carry on his normal occupation. I pointed out to a deputation which came to see me on the subject of final awards what I thought might happen. A vast number of final awards had been claimed, and, in spite of the fact that some of these men were 10 years ago striking a good bargain with the Ministry by taking the final award, they find now that they are getting the worst of the bargain. I think the Minister should give these cases sympathetic consideration and deal generously with them.
I want to say a few words about the question of the seven years limit. Speaking generally, I think it will be found that a man who suffered from wounds during the War has recovered so far as not to feel any bad effects from it. I know the case of a young man who recovered from his wounds so much that he did not think it necessary to bother about a pension. Frequently, these men suffer later on. I know a case where a man during the War was shot through the chest and the bullet lodged in his back. For seven years he made no claim, and, when his claim was put forward, the Ministry raised difficulties. It is perfectly true that I took up that case, and they treated the man very fairly and considerately, but I do not think it should be necessary for a local Member of Parliament to have to appeal to the Ministry before proper consideration is given to such a case.
I am aware that the cases of men suffering from chest trouble and rheumatism are more difficult to deal with, but 2367 there, again, in spite of the final award, and in spite of the fact that it is more than seven years and no claim has been made, I ask that the Ministry should behave generously. I am not putting forward a plea for the men who never went abroad at all and claimed to be suffering from shell shock. That is not the type of man I am pleading for at all. I am pleading for men who were really wounded—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. and gallant Member is getting rather wide of this Estimate, and his criticisms seem to me far more suitable to the main Estimate.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I am sure that no Member of the Committee will begrudge the money which is provided for in this Estimate as long as it is wisely spent. We may be justified in asking a question of that kind, but we ought to see that the one person who does not suffer is the poor pensioner himself. It has been pointed out by the Minister that this increase in the Estimate is largely due to changes in the system of administration of pensions. I was very glad indeed to hear the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) pay a tribute to the predecessor in office of the present Minister, because I hold, and I think many other hon. Members hold, that there is no difference in the kindness and consideration shown to pensioners under the present Administration and that shown to them under the last. I do not think that there has been any difference in the treatment which the pensioner receives to-day and the treatment which he received from the late Minister. I was glad to hear a tribute paid to my right hon. Friend who was Minister of Pensions under the last Conservative Government by the hon. Member for Camlachie. I have had brought before me cases of ex-service men who have received from the late Minister of Pensions and the present Minister the very greatest kindness, attention, and care.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
What I said was that the medical staff advisers seemed to take an entirely different view.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I am glad to see in the Estimate that there has been an increase in regard to surgical requirements, because in many cases those appliances are gradually wearing out. I think we shall have to look for an increase in the expenditure year by year in this particular direction. Undoubtedly, there should be more help given to ex-service men to meet the wear and tear of artificial limbs and other appliances, and I hope the Minister will give this point his sympathetic consideration. As far as final awards are concerned, I think it is very unfair to penalise a man who may have struggled on and has not applied for a pension because he preferred to fend for himself, only to find that in after years the disability caused by his wounds contracted during the War recurs, and that he is suffering in health. I ask for a more sympathetic and humane view to be taken of those cases than has been done in the past. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. Simmons) spoiled a very sympathetic speech by stating that in these cases the magistrates were difficult of approach.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
The magistrates are gentlemen of all political persuasions, and I have never heard any complaint whatever regarding the accessibility of magistrates.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Erdington has raised this question in that way. So far as the magistrates are concerned, it does not matter whether they live in a big house or a small one, they are quite accessible. I think the Minister will agree with me when I say that this applies not only to magistrates, but to bank managers, ministers of religion, barristers and solicitors. For that reason, I do not think there was much point in the hon. Member's argument.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Commander SOUTHBY
I will bow to your Ruling, Mr. Dunnico, and leave that 2369 point. All I wish to say is that I have received nothing but kindness from the Minister of Pensions and his Department, although I think that very often there is undue delay in dealing with cases. I allude, in particular, to a case of a man who enlisted in 1915 which I brought to the notice of the Ministry. It was a case of lung trouble, the man having been gassed on the Somme in 1916. He was sent back to the base hospital, and, after three months, was returned to the trenches. That was a time when every man who could be sent back was returned to the trenches. Then he was sent to England. After that, he went back to France, his lungs gave further trouble, and eventually he was sent out to India. When he was demobilised, he was granted a pension of 11s. a week until 1922. Then he went into civilian employment and is now suffering from tuberculosis. Nobody can suggest that it is not aggravated by his having been gassed on the Somme. I brought this case up on 15th July, 1930, and no decision was given until 17th December, 1930. Even though it might have been right for his case to be turned down, and I do not think it was right, surely all that time need not have been taken in coming to a decision that the man could not have a pension. I contend that these cases should not arise.
Undoubtedly, there are other cases in which the Ministry is most helpful. Other Members have mentioned the final award. I took up with the Ministry the case of a man who had taken a final award, and they have kindly re-opened it, and the man is now under treatment. When a man's case is taken up it should be dealt with at the earliest possible moment, so that he may not have the added mental anxiety of waiting for a decision. I think, if a plea could be made to the Minister to take a more humane consideration of all these cases, and not rely so much on actual medical facts given before a medical officer, the administration of pensions would give a great deal more satisfaction.
§ Mr. ALBERY
The Minister pointed out that the extra cost under Sub-head A was due to the fact that the clerical staff had had to be retained, and also that increased medical assistance had been required. Can the Minister give us some idea what proportion of that cost is due 2370 to the increase in medical assistance, and what proportion to the retention of staff? Regarding Sub-head O2, which is concerned more particularly with surgical instruments, can the Minister tell us if there has been any reduction during the last two or three years in the cost of purchasing surgical instruments? Can he also give us some information whether any progress is being made in improving these instruments as the result of past experience? I take it that the contracts for these instruments are probably all given in this country, although that is not a point on which the Committee would wish to insist if better instruments in certain cases can be obtained from abroad.
There have been a great many references to the final award, but there is one point of view which I would like to put. It is an unfortunate fact that a great number of men who accepted final awards were tempted to do so at the time because of the possibility of receiving a certain sum down in cash. There is another aspect of the case which is perhaps even worse—that of a man who having been offered a final award appealed against it but lost his appeal. There are cases of men who have not wanted to take a final award and have had it forced on them, and who during the last year or two have become worse in health and have been unable to follow their occupation. I hope the Minister will be able to assure us that in cases of that kind very special consideration is given.
§ Colonel CLIFTON BROWN
The Minister, in his opening speech, referring to Sub-head A and the increase of staff, reminded us that this is not the first occasion on which the Ministry have failed to estimate accurately the expenditure for the year. This is not the first Supplementary Estimate which the Minister has presented. It is the second, and it is also the second occasion on which Sub-head A has been exceeded. There is one point about that which the Minister did not tell us. He explained the increase, and he gave reasons that we can all understand. Can he tell us how many more people are being employed, if there are any more? We would like to know the number of the staff at the Ministry as the result of this Supplementary Estimate. I think we must 2371 protest against the excessive amount of this Estimate for staff. It is about one-quarter or one-fifth of the whole sum that we are voting, and, whereas before the usual amount on staff administration was 5½d. in every £ spent, in this Vote the actual proportion is something between 4s. and 5s. That is excessive. The reason we can all understand. It is the result of an increased demand, as we are told throughout the Estimates. More claims are being made no doubt as the result of the last election. When you have an election all parties are a little free.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I think the hon. and gallant Member was present when I ruled that that aspect of the question cannot be discussed on the Supplementary Estimate.
I am only giving a reason. It is also interesting to find that the staff has had to be increased because a great many inquiries have come through. All that, to a certain extent, is waste money. You do not get your return in pensions paid out; they show a comparatively small increase. You find, therefore, an increase of staff and of work with little to show for it, and a great many more people who have made claims will be disappointed. The Minister seems to have very few friends in this House in connection with the seven years' limit. The right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), who is the proud parent of the seven years' limit, told us that he passed it through the House after the most careful consideration. I remember perfectly well, as I was assisting him at the time, what careful inquiries were made in all quarters as to the fairness of the seven years' limit or the objections that could be made against it. Successive Ministers have alleviated it to a certain extent. The last Minister made a little change, and the right hon. Gentleman has now still further extended that change. The difficulty, if once you start moving away, is to know where to stop. I regret, after it was once thought necessary to institute this limit, that any change was made. I think we have seen from this Debate some of the results which will follow whenever you start to give ground on a very big and intricate 2372 subject like this. Objection has been taken because 14,500 claims have been made and only 800 granted, and it has been said that this procedure must be wrong and unfair. The same cry would be raised if the seven years' limit was abolished and the ordinary procedure that is used in other cases applied. These cases are very difficult, and are so tied up with many years' history going back into the War period, that it is almost impossible to disentangle them.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Member is covering too wide a scope in his speech. The only thing we are discussing now is the administrative action of the present Minister during the present year. We must not go outside that.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
These illustrations only lead other Members to wish to contradict them or argue them. I must rule them out.
I will obey your Ruling. We have heard a great many complaints against the medical profession. I think that is also the result of allowing too few claims to be admitted. Here, again, if under the new procedure you do not get the results anticipated, the blame is put on the Department. While I sympathise with the changes that the Minister has made, I think it would have been much better if he had not made these changes. I would reinforce the request made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Colonel Howard Bury), who has asked how many more cases have been dealt with under this new procedure, in order that one may visualise how many would have had to be dealt with had the tribunals been enforced instead of these committees. I do not know whether the Minister has yet found that this new procedure will be very costly, because every man who has once had a pension and every man whose claim for pension has been turned down will be entitled to put his case, and there will be no end to the matter.
There is one item of this Vote to which no one has referred. That is Subhead 2373 O.2—Surgical Appliances—and the savings under Subhead O.1. I thought that the whole intention of maintaining our Ministry of Pensions hospitals was that men could get treatment allowances and go there, and, in the end, be cured, so that they would no longer be on the pension fund; but I find that among the savings there is an amount of £75,000, while last year there was a saving of £25,000 due to a reduced Estimate. That makes a total of £100,000. I do not grumble at the saving, but I am wondering whether these curative treatments are being reduced. The Vote is not a very large one; it is only £300,000; and a saving of £100,000 on that total almost looks as though there were a serious curtailment of these hospital services. I should be glad if I could be reassured upon that point.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
If I may say one personal word before replying to the Debate, I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) and other speakers for the very kindly personal references that they were good enough to make to myself. I am afraid that I shall not be able to touch on every point that has been raised in the discussion. If I were to reply as I should like to do, I am afraid, Sir Robert, that I should come under your strict Ruling, as other Members have. I want, if I can, to answer one or two of the points which have been raised in fairly consecutive order, but it may be that in my statement I shall go over some of the ground that has already been traversed by more than one speaker who has taken part in the Debate. May I say again that I have no complaint to make at all of the tone in which this Debate has been conducted. There has been at times strong criticism of the Ministry, and there has been some condemnation of various phases of its work; and in the course of my reply I shall make some particular references to one or two of those points.
In the first place, with regard to the question of the over-seven-years' procedure, on which questions have been asked as to the amount of work involved in incurring the expenditure to which I made reference in my opening statement, 2374 I may say that the number of over-seven-years' cases in 1930 was 16,500, while the number admitted in the same period was 991, or 6 per cent. of the total. I am altogether averse from joining in a controversy which seeks to make comparisons between the treatment meted out to pensioners by those in charge of a former Administration and by those who are in charge to-day, but I think I am entitled, in order to show what are the exact facts of the case, to give the figures which have been gathered together. Under the operation of the arrangements to deal with post-seven-year cases, there were admitted, prior to 1930, 295 cases in 1927 and 318 in 1928. Up to May, 1929, 189 were admitted, and from June to December, 1929, 311 were admitted, making a total of 500 for the year 1929. While, as I have said, I deprecate comparisons which place Minister against Minister or Administration against Administration, I think that the citation of these figures is justified by the ground which has been taken by some of those who have preceded me in this Debate.
§ Sir JOSEPH LAMB
Those numbers are very interesting. I take it that they all relate to the same procedure?
§ Mr. ROBERTS
Yes. I think that, if the hon. Member will take his mind back to the time when a question on this matter was answered in the House in November, 1929, he will find that I definitely stated that I was extending the arrangement which had been worked by my predecessor; but in the extension of that arrangement I claim that there has been, probably, a better method of getting at the really difficult types of cakes which the House desires should be considered and settled favourably if at all possible. It is also a pertinent point that, if no alteration in the administrative arrangements was necessary, the 16,000 cases which were considered in 1930 should surely have been considered and disposed of long before that time.
A further question was put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty, and the same point has been alluded to by almost every other speaker. Again I would like to give figures, in order to give hon. Members an accurate idea of the situation. 2375 Under the correction of errors procedure, the numbers of cases were as follow:—
|1929 (January to May)||417|
|1929 (June to December)||811|
§ Mr. ROBERTS
That is not for me to explain. The only thing that I can say is that the cases which have come in have been dealt with, and the figures justify what I am now saying.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
Yes, that is perfectly true. Hon. Members have rightly laid emphasis on the fact that cases in which final awards had not been adequately dealt with or correctly assessed, or in which there was a worsening of the injury from which the applicant was suffering, should be dealt with on as generous lines as possible. I venture to say that the figures I have just given show that, whatever Ministry has been working from 1924 onwards, when the cases have been brought to notice and attention there has been no lack of consideration. Otherwise, we should not have the numbers of cases that I have just given.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty also asked a question or two with regard to the specialists, and as to whether they were working satisfactorily and with justice. I can assure him with emphasis that such is the case in both those particulars. The number of cases with which they have dealt, and the manner in which they have settled them, have been all to the good, and I am satisfied that it was wise to adopt the procedure of dealing with cases in this way. Here again, perhaps, I may be permitted to give one or two figures with regard to the cases that have been dealt with by the individual specialists.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I wonder if my right hon. Friend could tell the Committee who appoints these specialists? I forgot to ask him before.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I am responsible for that. The cases referred as the result of reports by war pensions committees were 341 up to the end of January, 1931, and the cases referred as a result of other action were 43, making a total of 384. Of these 384 cases, 338 have been dealt with as follows:
|Accepted on the advice of an independent specialist||48|
|Rejected on the same advice||290|
§ The next question that was raised by the right hon. Gentleman was with regard to limbless men and artificial limbs. I feel that, if there is one subject on which the Department is entitled to some measure of congratulation, it is the satisfactory conduct of this branch of the Ministry's work. We do attempt, and I trust we shall always do so, to supply the best type of artificial limbs that it is possible to obtain. That has always been the policy, and it has been my pleasure to uphold that policy as far as I possibly can. If there are new devices which can be properly used for the benefit of ex-service men, the Committee can rest assured that the Department will not hesitate to take advantage of any advances which may be made in that matter. From what I have seen of the work which has been done in regard to the supply of artificial limbs of the different types which are devised from time to time, I think that a great measure of satisfaction can be taken from a knowledge and understanding of what has been done.
§ I should like, in the same connection, to reply to the very sympathetic and helpful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Erdington (Mr. Simmons). He suggested that there was a restriction now with regard to the choice of the type of limb that a man could secure. He said that they were all made by one firm, and suggested that there was a sort of mass production. In the reorganisation of work of this kind, mass production may be a correct or an incorrect term to use; I do not know; but I should think that, if there was any kind of work that did not lend itself to mass production, it would certainly be the production of arti- 2377 ficial limbs. At the present moment there are three firms who are under contract with the Ministry for the supply of artificial limbs, two of whom make the metal type and one the wooden. With regard to the question of men being allowed to go back to firms who supplied limbs which were satisfactory to them, I am afraid that that would not be possible in many cases, for I believe that some of the firms have gone out of existence, and the existing firms are doing the work which others used to do. The right hon. Gentleman also asked a question with regard to voluntary funds, but I am afraid I cannot enter into that subject beyond saying that voluntary funds are not used for any purposes which ought to be incorporated in the Warrants.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Will the right hon. Gentleman, however, use his influence to get those funds used where possible for urgent cases?
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, if I have money to spend, I shall never be afraid to spend it. The hon. and gallant Member for Fairfield (Major Cohen) dealt with the position under the seven years' proposal, but there again I feel that, if I were adequately to answer not only the hon. and gallant Member himself, but also those who followed him in the Debate, I should be entering into the realms of policy and political controversy, which do not seem to me to be properly within the scope of the present discussion. Certain types of cases were mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member, but I do not think that anyone will expect me to be able to give any information or make any statement with regard to the individual cases which have been constantly before the House. All I can say is that we shall study very carefully the observations which have been made, and, if it is possible again to take up these cases, each hon. Member in turn shall be communicated with, and they shall be given the closest possible consideration that we can give to them.
With regard to the position of War orphans, I believe, when I answered a question at the time the concession was made, I intimated that I was afraid the Government had gone as far as they could. I should be going a little too far if I held out much hope that I shall be 2378 able to meet the request that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made. The same hon. and gallant Gentleman made reference to the wear and tear to clothes caused by artificial limbs. This is not a new matter. It has been frequently brought to my attention, and we had one or two consultations with the British Legion on the point, but up to the present I can find no way of meeting the claims which have been made beyond what has already been provided for in the pension allowances. It seems to me probable in certain types of cases that there is a certain amount of extra wear and tear on the clothing, but I had to reject that claim when it was made some time ago.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Fairfield asked if I would call a meeting of the Central Advisory Committee. I can only repeat the answer I gave on the last occasion when the question was put, that I should convene a meeting of the committee as soon as it was necessary. That is the answer I shall have to give to-day. Whether the necessity for calling the committee will be brought any nearer by the hon. and gallant Gentleman's observations remains to be seen. I can only assure him that I will give the point every consideration.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Banbury (Major Edmondson) criticises the amount that we have allocated for additional administrative expenses, but, if he analyses it, he will find that it is not quite so large an increase on the whole of the ordinary Estimate, and that there will be a reduction of the original Estimate when it comes to be brought forward. The same answer covers points which have been made by other speakers. In 1929–30, the actual expenditure was just over £1,223,000. My present revised Estimate during the current year is £1,164,000. I think that covers the point.
§ Mr. ALBERY
Can the right hon. Gentleman give any information about the extra £50,000 under that heading?
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I do not think I can usefully add anything to the statement that I have made. It is not possible to subdivide the amount that has been incurred either over a given number of doctors or certain sections of the staff. All I can say is that the staff, whether in one direction or another, has had to 2379 be maintained for the purpose of carrying out the essential work of the Department.
On the point raised by the hon. Member for Erdington with regard to life certificates, there is a much wider arrangement made for them and it incorporates many other fields besides the magistrates. It could not wisely be extended in the direction indicated. The hon. Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison) made reference to the method of conducting the examinations, and, while he himself did not indulge in any unfair criticism of the medical staff, there has been a little said to-day which compels me to express some of the appreciation which I feel for the work that the medical side of the Ministry is doing. I know they are in an extremely difficult position, and the more I meet doctors the more I find it possible to feel some measure of gratification that politicians differ so little amongst themselves. There is brought to bear in connection with these cases by the members of the medical staff of the Ministry, despite what has been said to-day, a consideration which I think is most appreciated by those who know it best. My doctors desire to render the best service they can. They consider the cases on their merits. If anyone can prove to me that there is a doctor working for the Ministry who is not acting in accordance with the standards which we have a right to expect from members of that profession, we shall be the first to take steps to dispense with his services, but I have a right to defend the medical officers so far as complaints have been made to-day. If the position as outlined by the hon. Member obtained, we should have much too rough and ready a method of deciding claims. There must be a systematic basis of consideration, and, if we accepted the proposals that he has put forward, we should find pensions administration drifting into a state of chaos from which we should find it almost impossible to extricate ourselves. I appreciate very much the expressions which he has used, and I shall take another opportunity, in common with the rest of the statements that have been made, of giving them the closest possible examination and seeing how far it is possible to meet the criticisms which he has made.
2380 The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) complains of our administration. I believe inside the Department there is a great desire to give pensions where they can be properly claimed. There is no desire to keep anyone off the pension list for frivolous reasons. If a case is made good, if there is proof that there is association of the disability with the War period, we shall be prepared to accept responsibility for the payment that is to be made. The hon. Member also made reference to the position of the orphan of 21, which is covered by the answer I have just given.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Why should there not be an extension of this? The right hon. Gentleman said we could not expect them to go further. I should like to know why.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I could not develop that to-day. The hon. Member also made reference to the question of need pensions and the fact that some of them were not being granted in cases to which he made allusion. The need pension must be based entirely and completely on the income that is going into the household of the family concerned, and, while it might be possible to justify on grounds of sympathy, if no other, the kind of case he has mentioned, the Department has to judge these cases and the kind of case which is coming within the regulations of a general character. While we should all say that, if a father has lost three sons, it is a matter for more sympathetic and generous consideration than the case of a parent who has only lost one, that is not the line on which you can maintain the administration.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
The case I mentioned was that of a man who had an income of a little over 6s. a week. I was saying that that is obviously a case where pension plus health allowance should be brought up to a maximum of 25s.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
If that is the fact of the case, it is one for review and I will certainly look into it. My hon. Friend also referred to the medical question and alluded to Sherlock Holmes inquiries. That is an expression which may be either wise or jocular. I should like to accept it in a jocular sense. There are no Sherlock Holmes inquiries made, but only careful investigations, first of all to see whether it is possible, not to discredit the claim for pension which the 2381 man is making, but possibly to find out whether there are any grounds at all on which a pension can be given.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
May I ask whether, in fact, a man is entitled to bring his own medical evidence? I have asked that question several times, and have never been able to get a definite answer whether he is told that he may bring his own medical adviser to give personal evidence to the other doctors.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
It is not a question of bringing his own personal advisers, but on occasion my own officers enter into consultation with the man's medical adviser in order to try to get at the facts of the case.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
One doctor getting verbal evidence from another is a very different thing from getting something written. The complaint continually made is that the claimant has no means of bringing his own medical evidence.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
That is a different point entirely. As Minister, I hope I shall always be prepared to accept the responsibility that should rightly fall upon me for carrying out the duties of the office. I have no desire to shelter behind any particular section of my staff. I am responsible for the conduct of the Department, and, as such, I shall accept the responsibilities and liabilities placed upon me.
The hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Haslam) referred to particular types of tuberculosis and their connection with gassing as in some measure the cause of it. That naturally falls upon the medical side, and I want to make a passing reference to this complaint. Some time ago, a number of questions were addressed to me with regard to large numbers of what were called cases of injustice created by reason of the fact that we were not paying particular attention to the effects of gassing in relation to tuberculosis cases. I took note of the questions and the facts then stated. I asked a number of Members who were responsible for those questions to come to the Ministry and meet the specialists and experts who are concerned with this side of our work. I believe we were able to prove to them satisfactorily that the vast majority of 2382 tuberculosis and gassing cases combined were dealt with many years ago, in fact within a short period after the cessation of hostilities or demobilisation.
There are some cases which have been proved to be associated with gassing and we accept them with the same readiness as other types of cases. There is no more difficult type of case to elucidate among the patients of the Ministry than to try to find out in 1931 to what extent a man suffering from tuberculosis may have been affected during the War, and to what extent those two circumstances are now related. We investigate and then discuss these cases with the utmost sympathy. If hon. Members can bring to the notice of the Ministry any cases of the type which has been alluded to, we shall be glad to ask our experts to go into them and try to link up the chain of events. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), Bellahouston Hospital has now been closed and the patients successfully transferred to Erskine House. I am assured on all sides that the men are more than satisfied with what has been done for them and with the better surroundings in which they are now living. The difficulties of transit have not been found too great, and when I feel able to travel as far as Scotland and can find the time to do it, I am hoping to investigate personally the circumstances of the arrangement which is now operating in that district in order to satisfy myself as to how things are going.
I hope I have covered in a general sort of way most of the points which have been raised. One or two of the points may have been missed, and, if that be so, I trust the Committee will forgive me. I have rapidly surveyed and answered the points which have been raised, in the hope that I can assure the Committee that the Department, and I personally, are anxious to do everything possible to meet the requirements of ex-service men and to carry out to the best of our power what was the intention of the House, namely, that no genuine claim to pension shall be passed on one side.
§ Dr. MORRIS-JONES
The point I want to raise with the Minister concerns the men who are receiving a percentage 2383 disability pension. When their pension is reviewed from time to time, they are asked the question as to whether they are in work, and their answer is apparently taken into consideration to decide whether or not the pension should be reduced. A private gets £2 a week, and, if he considers that the amount is not sufficient to keep him and his family—and it is not—he may ask for it to be reviewed. I can see no reason at all why the officials or the medical men representing the Ministry of Pensions should ask that man whether he is in work. At one time a standard was set for tuberculosis, sufferers from which are paid the full amount of disability pension. If the sputum was tubercular positive, and there were definite signs in the lungs, that was considered sufficient to give the man a full disability pension. It is not so now. That standard was a very fair one.
I want to press upon the Ministry the point regarding the right of a man to go to work. I know cases of men and officers suffering from serious disability who are bound to do some work in order to get enough on which to live. I know at the present time an officer suffering from a heart affection. He has a very considerable dilatation of the heart, and he would be perfectly entitled, if he could afford it, to live a quiet life on his pension. He really ought to do so, but he has found that he is completely unable to do that. I do not think that the Ministry should take the fact of a man going to work as a reason to alter his assessment.
§ Sir B. FALLE
The Minister paid a very graceful compliment to hon. Members who have spoken this evening, and offered his thanks for the personal references to himself. I think all those references were well-deserved. I have found him always courteous, fair, and willing to help. At the same time, I must say, and in no party spirit, that I found his predecessor at least as fair and willing and courteous. No one who served in the Great War would fail to demand the most generous possible treatment for those who suffered. There were a great many who suffered during the War who did not go to the Ministry of Pensions. No case is improved by overstatement. The hon. Member for Cam- 2384 lachie (Mr. Stephen) seemed to think that soldiers were promised something when they joined.
§ Sir B. FALLE
Well, that is not my experience. I joined up as soon as I possibly could, within a month of the outbreak of war. I saw a great many cases, in the great dockyard city of which I am one of the representatives. Men came to me, and I am sure that not one of them would say that anything was promised him before he joined. What was promised by irresponsible politicians after the men joined up is entirely a different matter. You can go to any Government Department, and, if your case is based on inaccurate or erroneous statements, you are only asking to be courteously turned down in the least possible time. The Minister cannot go outside the Act, or at least, if he goes as far as he possibly can, even then he must keep to the fringe of the Act. One thing is certain and that is that the House of Commons will never refuse the most generous treatment that any Minister of Pensions cares to ask for the men who suffered in the War. That is the whole point. The House must be asked to increase the Minister's power. That will come under, not this Supplementary Estimate, but others which we shall soon have before us.
I do not think that anybody is quite satisfied, but that we are all disappointed, with the working of the seven years' limit. The men who are affected by that have legitimate grievances. There, again, we have not been able to alter the Act. Until the Act is altered, very much depends upon the Minister himself as to whether those men get fairer treatment than is now being given. We cannot blame either this Minister or his predecessor. We cannot ask him to go outside the Art, but we do ask him to see that as much is done under it as is possible until the Act is extended.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
I did not intend to speak if I had made my question to the Minister perfectly clear, but I think it is evident that he misunderstood the purport of my question, and that he thought I was casting some aspersion on his management of his Department.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
That had nothing to do with the point I was raising at all. It was a very simple point. It will be better if I put it in this form. It arises out of a reply which was given by the Minister of Pensions on the 8th December, 1930, in which the Government were definitely asked—and I say the Government, because the answer was given by the Attorney-General, although the question was put to the Minister of Pensions—as to whether claimants had or had not the right to bring their own medical officers to put their case before the Appeal Tribunal. There was no definite reply given.
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN
This matter is not under the control of the Minister, and therefore it does not, arise.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
Then I will not pursue it in that form. The Minister does give instructions under which cases are heard before the appeal tribunal, and the point I want to make is that if it is in the Minister's power, as I believe it is, to emphasise the fact that medical evidence can be produced, it would be of the greatest benefit to claimants to know it. The Attorney-General and the Lord Advocate said that they would represent to the Minister of Pensions, as a reasonable suggestion, that claimants should be told that they have that right. I suggest that the Minister should let claimants know that they have that right.