HC Deb 01 March 1935 vol 298 cc1523-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £181,000, 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, 1935, 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.

2.40 p.m.

The MINISTER of PENSIONS (Major Tryon)

The Committee will be glad to know that all the sum for which we are asking will go in benefits and that no part of it is due to any additional cost of administration. The original Estimates were £43,100,000 and we are asking now for a further sum of £181,000. That May seem a large sum but it should be borne in mind that it relates to a total of over £43,000,000 and therefore the actual error in estimating is only about half of one per cent. If I may put it in another form, to show the real extent of the error, the expenditure of the Ministry per day at the present time is about £120,000 so that the amount for which I am asking is only what we should normally spend in a day and a half. At the same time if we could make these Estimates even more accurate, we should like to do so, but it is not easy to be perfectly accurate in a forecast of this kind.

I gave two examples relating directly to this Estimate. The first I am sure will give pleasure to the Committee. It is this—that one of the reasons why we are asking for more is that the death rate among pensioners has been much lower last year than in previous years. That, I think, is attributable to the skill of the doctors and surgeons who have had care of these disabled men and is a thoroughly satisfactory thing. The other is of less sentimental interest and of a very different character. Last Easter the Government decided to allow widows to draw their pensions a few days earlier than usual, to enable them to have the money for the Easter holidays, which I think was a useful concession. But no man can tell what is going to be the result of individual decisions among a large number of widows and as a matter of fact a great many of these widows decided not to draw this money until after Easter. It will be seen therefore that through the inaction of these widows in this respect We became involved in an arrangement by which our expenditure for that week's pensions fell into a different financial year from that which into which it was expected to fall. I am sure that the Committee will be willing to grant this extra money. In preparing our Estimates we always, rightly I think, bear this point in mind—that if we put the Estimates too high it does not benefit the pensioners because the additional money would not be spent and it only involves unnecessary taxation, whereas if we happened to put them a little too low, as we have done in this case, we can always rely on the generosity of this Committee to grant the additional sum which is required for the sick, the disabled and the widows.

2.44 p.m.


I do not intend to oppose this Vote and this is one service for which I think everybody in the Committee would cheerfully vote the money required in almost any circumstances. I agree with the Minister that it is indeed a tribute to those who have charge of the disabled men that we are called upon to-day to vote this extra money. I am sorry, however, that there is no estimate here for providing some mark of appreciation to these men, women and children on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee. I ought not to raise that question now, I know, but I wanted to say that because I think it would have been a really gracious thing to do.

2.45 p.m.


I sometimes think the pensions system of this country is so good on the whole that it is a pity it is not slightly better and could deal with a number of cases that really need consideration. I put a case to the right hon. Gentleman the other day, about a man who had been sent from the Front in 1917 or 1918, who was mentally afflicted by his service. He had been in an asylum ever since that time; until his death a few months ago. His widow is now told that he did not die as a result of trouble arising from his war service. I am a layman, but I would challenge any doctor to deny that in the case of a man who has been suffering from nerves in such a way that he has been affected mentally, that trouble does have a definite physical effect upon him. I think that in such cases the right hon. Gentleman might exercise his discretion, under the correction of errors to a greater extent than he does, even though the doctor's decision is in a certain direction, and if he has to make a mistake, at any rate to make a mistake on the right side in the case of a man or his widow such as I have mentioned.

2.46 p.m.


It should be known to the Committee that it is the custom of the London coroners when any ex-service man dies to insist upon a post mortem examination by an expert disinterested pathologist and the cause of death is then certified as far as medical knowledge can go, and should the widow or friends be in any way dissatisfied, there is an open inquiry in the coroner's court, where all the relevant facts are brought to light. In these circumstances to ask the Minister to act in a sense against the advice of independent doctors and special pathologists is to ask him to jump into a hornets' nest, especially when such independent advice is only sought and given on the under standing that it will be accepted. With regard to the general statement that a person put in an asylum would therefore and consequently have his life terminated unduly early, I suggest that the longevity of people cared for in our asylums by the doctors and mental nurses is astonishing to those who visit such places for the first time and who may have a general impression that those who are mentally disordered are therefore necessarily shortened in their expectation of life; such is not in accordance with the experience of life as we doctors see it when we visit asylums.

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