HC Deb 14 April 1938 vol 334 cc1351-85

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

12.18 p.m.

Mr. Simpson

I wish to draw attention to several questions relating to the provision and administration of pensions, with particular reference to the allowances or non-allowances to disabled ex-service men and their dependants. There has been criticism from time to time that a disproportionate amount of Parliamentary time recently has been devoted to foreign affairs, and there is a complaint that domestic issues have been relegated to the background and have failed to receive the attention they deserve. The circumstances of the hour have, unfortunately, been such that it is inevitable that international affairs have dominated our proceedings to a very considerable extent. We can understand that criticism and we can supply the answer. But it is all the more ironical, when these other discussions presage another war, that the critics feel that we have not liquidated our social liabilities as far as is possible for the last. I say "as far as is possible" advisedly, because we recognise that it is impossible to compensate for the pain and suffering and many of the other forms of social disaster that followed the last great War. But it is all the more imperative that so far as we can compensate for this human damage and domestic hardship we should do so.

There can, of course, be no equality of sacrifice in this connection, and we are not asking for the impossible, but those who survived injury, those who escaped the worst consequences of the War should be generous in dealing with the special victims of the War and their dependants. For the very reason that parity in cost and suffering is impossible, we should be above mere technical and other niceties that save money to the State but rob the sufferers of such monetary and other solatiums as we can reasonably give. It is, of course, true that standards must be established, that regulations must be set up and that major decisions and the policy determined by this House must be upheld. It is no easy task to deal with the very large number of complicated human problems that arise, but there must be an endeavour to maintain such fairness and consistency in administration as is possible. Within the existing provisions there are wide margins for discretion and the exercise of a generous interpretation. It is in this field that I first plead for less rigidity, for a broader outlook, a wider understanding of the duties of the Ministry.

Personally I have had every courtesy in the matter of correspondence with the Ministry. There has been complete willingness to consider and to write to me about cases. But it is in regard to the meagre results and the mostly unfavourable verdicts that we complain. I feel that the explanation rests in a narrow conception of the claims of the applicants and the reluctance to give them the benefit of the doubt, particularly in border-line cases. If I might put it in colloquial terms, the Ministry need more rope and less red tape. The Department have obviously not moved to the outer margin of discretion in favour of the applicants or they would not rigidly have adhered to economy as the first principle. All kinds of experts and specialists are readily employed and quoted, but unfortunately all these experts and specialists seem particularly interested in strict rules of economy and fine adherence to schedules rather than in any broad approach to the involved human needs of the applicants.

I suppose that among the very large number of people who submit claims it is inevitable that unjustifiable claims may be made from time to time and that unsupported criticism may occur. We quite recognise that reasonable oversight and inquiry are essential, but we feel that the very many deserving claims for revision and recognition ought not to be prejudiced by any experience of that kind. We appreciate, again, that exact principles of justice cannot be conditioned by costs or resources, but when the cost has been nearly halved and is further rapidly diminishing, when the dimensions of the problem are well in hand, it seems to me that both the time and the financial situation in regard to pensions are such as to make it particularly opportune to review the residual claims and the position generally.

What is the position to-day? At the end of 1937 there were 442,317 disable-merit pensioners. Of those only 6.4 per cent. received Rio per cent. pensions; 24.2 per cent. received 30 to 40 per cent. pensions; and 48 per cent. received pensions of 20 to 30 per cent. The average cost of war pensions in Great Britain in the years 1920 to 1929 was nearly £77,000,000. The estimated cost for 1938 is £39,500,000 and that is nearly £1,000,000 down on the previous year. I recognise that credit has been taken in the past for the fact that Great Britain, in comparison with the Dominions and other countries, has been more generous and considerate to the war victims than those other countries, but this extraordinary fact emerges that although there has been that very rapid and substantial decline in our own payments, in the Dominions and other countries the figures stand as high as or higher than those of 1920. In the report of the Minister in 1936 he says: In marked contrast to the comparable countries, is the stable course followed by the curve of British expenditure. It is a rapidly descending curve of economy and whatever disparity there may have been in regard to these allowances in the first place, it is an extraordinary fact that there is no corresponding downward curve in the cases of the Dominions and other countries. It is obvious that they must have made amending provisions of a more generous character and that they are dealing with their people in a more generous fashion to-day. There are explanations ready to hand. For instance, in the case of New Zealand they have amended their regulations which now entitle the wife, widow or young child of a war disabled pensioner to claim for pension or dependant's allowance, provided the marriage took place before July, 1936. Consideration is only given in this country to cases where the marriage was contracted before the war disablement occurred, and it is somewhat remarkable to find that only one pensioner in three was married before the occasion of the disablement. We may very well ask why that very large number of people who took part in the Great War and who made great sacrifices, should be condemned to live limited and abnormal lives except at the risk or their dependants being forced to apply for public assistance. It is further the case that in France and Canada special employment facilities are provided for those men who are unfit for competitive work and I think we shall all agree that where people have been so disabled that they cannot follow competitive employment, they should be given a chance in some other way to maintain a dignified and independent existence.

These and other points have been pressed at the British ex-Service Men's Conference recently and the British Legion, following a broadly-based and careful investigation, have asked for a Government inquiry into the condition of about 3,500,000 ex-service men whom they represent. In particular, the British Legion have gone into the problem of the prematurely aged ex-service man and while it is true that at this late date there is difficulty in securing exact data and the means of making comparisons, and while that renders precise judgments somewhat difficult, the British Legion Report goes on to say: The Committee is, however, convinced from a survey of individual cases that there are a number of ex-service men whose health has broken down as a result of the rigours of war service, although it is not possible to substantiate, by medical sequence, a direct connection with such service. In other words there is no question about the solid and actual human problem and the consequences but there is difficulty in providing the technical proof. My submission is that we should have more concern for these solid human facts and for proof that is obvious to our eyes, than have so much concern about these technical questions of proof. If I might quote two specific cases, again, where the merits are incontrovertible but, again, where they fail against the barrier of technical difficulties, I would draw attention to the following facts. The first case concerns a widow's claim. A man named Andrews worked for some years after his return from the Forces. He then secured a maximum pension for pulmonary tuberculosis. He lived 12 years and died of his pension disability. Then, we were told that the degree of disability was such that, although it qualified the man for a full pension, it was not a contributory factor in causing his death. The service damage and the aggravation was of such a character that it qualified him for complete pension, but the official reply given was that it had not appreciably contributed to the fatal issue.

The facts were that the careful nursing and self sacrificing efforts of the man's wife and family were so effective that he was kept alive for 12 years. The effectiveness of the treatment was such that it destroyed the qualification for the widow's pension. That was her reward. If the wife and family had been careless and indifferent and if the man had died quickly, a claim could not have been resisted. The man's normal family and domestic life was absolutely ruined; his child was prejudiced in regard to its education; there was no chance of making any kind of provision for old age and the widow is now left to a bitter struggle for existence on the meagre civil pension which she enjoys.

The other case concerns a man who in 1920 had a life pension of 50 per cent. for the loss of the right eye and who, 17 years later, lost the sight of the other eye. Again the medical experts tell us that there is no connection between the loss of the right eye and the loss of the left eye. But at least it is an amazing coincidence that the man should have lost one eye in the War and subsequently, by some other process, lost the other eye. Again the layman is firmly and naturally convinced that there is a definite relationship between the loss of the one eye in the War and the subsequent loss of the other. The man has been left completely derelict except for the 50 per cent. pension. If he had only lost the one eye in the War, he would have been able to follow some employment subject to that disability, but having lost one eye in the War, for which he received only 50 per cent. pension, he has now lost the other eye and is left completely dependent on the 50 per cent. pension and such means of charity as he can secure. I would like to quote in fairness to the Ministry a paragraph from the British Legion's report on this and similar cases: The committee is satisfied that the general principles which form the basis of the pension warrants are sound. The committee is also satisfied that the method of assessment of disablement referred to has operated to the distinct advantage of certain pensioners. Cases have, however, been presented to the committee of men who are placed at a disadvantage, namely, men with low medical assessments who are far more seriously disabled from an economic point of view. Others are receiving pensions on an aggravation basis, that is to say, the disablement in question was not entirely due to War service but only aggravated thereby. In determining the amount of pension in those cases the Ministry excludes the extent of disablement due to the natural progress of the disease and as a result there are a number of men seriously disabled from an economic point of view receiving only small pensions. Of course, in regard to all these cases of hardship and difficulty we can be told that if the assistance given is inadequate, they can fall back upon the public assistance committees. I would like to quote this further paragraph from the same report: It is appreciated that public assistance is available to ex-service men broken down in health and in need of assistance and that, in common with the rest of the community, they are safeguarded against starvation, provided the existing social services are used. It has, however, been represented to the committee that ex-service men are strongly averse to applying for public assistance. Many regard it as degrading, giving the stigma of pauperism and consequent loss of standing and self-respect. That is very restrained and moderate language, but another ex-service men's society says more bluntly: The nation should do its duty to these men in an honest and businesslike manner without appeals to charity or applications for public assistance. There is another important side to this matter of reference of these people to local authorities. There is the question as to whether we are to shift the burden on to local rates, or whether we are to share it nationally. The "Manchester Guardian," on 22nd March, for instance, indicated the extent of this grievance, both in its personal aspect and in relation to its financial and economic side. This report refers to a private conference, held in Manchester, on 21st March, of representatives of the Finance Committee of the City Council and local Members of Parliament, dealing with the question of the increasing rate burden which is being borne by the City Council as the result of legislation imposing further demands upon them locally. The conclusion of the report reads as follows: It is understood that among other questions dealt with was that of the 400 disabled ex-service men in Manchester who are now receiving public assistance because their pensions are insufficient for their maintenance. Based on the relative population of Manchester and the British Isles, it is estimated that 20,000 war disabled men are partially supported by local rates. During the War the Government agreed that humane provisions should be provided for all who were disabled and no reference was then made to the Poor Law or the means test. The hope is expressed by the leader of the Manchester City Council that it will result in the shouldering by the State of its full obligations to these men to the relief of the local rates. The complete investigations of the British Legion reveal the fact that there are at least 95,000 ex-service men who are unable to work through incapacity, and who are in various stages of need of assistance. I do not intend to weary the House with any elaboration by way of detail, but it is surely unnecessary to exaggerate such facts, which speak all too eloquently for themselves. I only desire to emphasise one special recommendation in the report to which I have referred in regard to the restoration of the Special Campaign pension for the serving soldier, and the granting of this pension to all men who have served in the Forces of the Crown, whether on normal enlistment or on special engagements, such as those in regard to the Great War. A similar provision is obviously desirable in the case of men who have served in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. The Prime Minister in his reply to a request for a Government inquiry said: I cannot agree that you have shown a case, nor am I satisfied that such an inquiry would he feasible or likely to lead to any reliable conclusions. I submit that a case has been established. The arguments submitted this morning, although necessarily restricted, seem to provide an overwhelming case for reconsideration. All the arguments which I have used and the facts which I have in my possession, can be supplemented by the personal experience of Members of all sides of the House, and by the evidence in the possession of the responsible ex-service men's organisations. That evidence and these facts are ample cause for the inquiry that has been asked for. It is obvious that at this date no clear and simple actuarial data is available, but there is, equally obviously, a very clear and definite national duty. The actuaries and the Department could quickly devise means of remedy and relief if they were given the lead and any degree of authority. I urge the Government to set up a Select Committee to sift the evidence, to consider proposals and to listen to the insistent voice of criticism and to the claims in the country. I refrain from associating this appeal and these arguments with any kind of bargaining or bribery in regard to recruiting. In any worthy cause and high enterprise—and the ex-service men were certainly recruited on that basis and in that spirit—risks are undertaken and lives are given without any niggling calculation of pounds, shillings and pence. That is the credit and moral reward of those who made the sacrifice, but the onus of recompense and the protection of these people against want and indignity is particularly a duty that devolves upon ourselves. Those who are spent and broken in the industrial field have their own right to pension, and that is urgent enough, as will be shown later in this discussion, but we are specially committed to those who, in the name of patriotism and national need, were killed, incapacitated or maimed in the country's cause. What is our claim to patriotic title and our answer to this pressing need, if we fail in generous recognition of their existing difficulties, to say nothing of our immediate duty, which the country can quite well afford? For these reasons, I hope that the Minister will further consider this matter in conjunction with the Prime Minister, and will concede the appointment of a Select Committee which is so urgently necessary to consider these present grievances and some way of national relief.

12.42 p.m.

Mrs. Hardie

I want to bring before the House the plight of another section of men who have given their services to the community and have been thrown upon the scrap-heap inadequately provided for. I refer to the position of the old age pensioners. Many of these men, when they receive a pension, have to leave their employment because it is considered that, when they reach the age of 65 and receive a pension, they should give up employment. That argument would be quite good if the pension were sufficient to provide these people with a decent standard of life. On the other hand, there are the men who have been receiving unemployment benefit because they cannot get work. They, also, are pushed off the unemployment benefit fund, where, if they had a wife and were without other dependants, they would be receiving at the present time 27s. a week. They are then expected to live on 10s. If their wives happen to be a little younger than they are, they do not get anything until they also reach the age of 65. This means, in the majority of cases that they have to exist for a certain time on 10s. I know that the idea of giving the pension was that people might have saved a bit, and that the pension would augment their savings. I would point out to hon. Members, in case they do not remember it, that these men have worked for ever 50 years, and that during at least 30 years of that time there was no Unemployment Insurance, no Health Insurance and no provision made to carry them over unemployed periods or broken time, or anything like that. Out of the wages they then received, which were very low in a number of industries, they had to provide for periods of unemployment and slack seasons. Therefore, no worker under these conditions could possibly save sufficient to provide for old age.

Many of these men have been miners, engineers, railway workers, shipbuilders, joiners—I have many of them in my constituency—and agricultural workers. These men must have produced an enormous amount of wealth other than that which they have consumed. We know that it is part of the present system that no man is employed unless someone sees a way of making a profit out of his labour. Those who belong to the working class, when they go to look for a job, know that they will not be employed unless the employer sees his way to make a profit out of their labour. Therefore, these men who have been working for wages for perhaps 50 years must have produced by their strenuous toil an enormous amount of surplus wealth, from which they might well be allowed a share to provide for their old age.

I should like to refer to the position of women. Women who are engaged in industry do not receive a pension until they are 65, and many of them are out of employment to-day. There is another section of women to whom I would refer, and that is the wives and mothers, who do not receive any money by way of pension until they reach the age of 65, although their husbands may have been pushed off unemployment benefit, made to resign their jobs and to receive only 10s. a week. A mother is of some value to the State. We have heard a good deal about war and the fall in the population. Here we have a body of women who are performing, and have performed, a very useful service to the State. Women of the working class, as a general rule, have brought up families and when they have reared those families they have rendered a useful service to the State which should entitle them to better treatment than they receive at the present time, under which they cannot get 10s. a week until they reach the age of 65.

People seem to assume that working-class children ought to look after their parents. I have noticed that in the well-to-do classes it is never assumed that the children should support their parents. It must be remembered that in the working class the children very often are married and have families of their own to support, and on the wages they are receiving they are not able, although they may be willing, adequately to support their parents. Moreover, it is a very humiliating position for a man of 65 to have to beg his children to provide for him. A man of 65 who has brought up a family has some standing in his own home, but he has not a very good standing when he has to ask to be supported. I have felt that particularly in regard to the means test. I am not a very profound feminist in this matter, because I emphasise the humiliation to the man. A man who has been the head of the house ought not to be put in the position that he has to ask his children to support him, because he is denied unemployment benefit or his pension is inadequate.

In many cases these people are driven to ask for public assistance. The whole idea, as I understood it, of the old age pension scheme was to prevent decent working people from being driven to ask for public assistance. Under the old Poor Law in Scotland people would rather starve or even die before they would submit to the humiliation of going to the Poor Law as it then was. That independent spirit has been very largely broken down in Scotland because of necessity and long continued unemployment. I do not suggest that these people are not entitled to go to the public assistance committee because, as I have already pointed out, these men, in addition to working for their own wages, have provided large profits for their employers, and have paid taxes and rates for a long number of years.

When these people ask for public assistance, what happens? More humiliation. There is investigation into all their means and the position of their children. They have to submit to that humiliation after over 50 years of hard and useful work. This system is also unfair to the local authorities. It simply means that the local authorities have to make up for the defects of the State. When a local election comes along, the accusation is always made that the Labour party put up the rates. The peculiar thing is that that accusation is made even when there is no Labour majority on the council. We are still supposed, by some means or other, to put up the rates. I suggest that the reason why the rates are increased is because the National Government are not facing up to their responsibilities. In Scotland in 1931, when we were supposed to be in the middle of a slump, the cost of public assistance was £3,864,848; in 1937, in a boom year, after several years of the National Government, which was supposed to have brought prosperity to the nation, the cost was £7,380,249, or almost double. We claim that that is due to the National Government throwing responsibility upon the local authorities, and part of it is due to supplementing inadequate pensions.

There was a question on the Order Paper to-day which was not put, and therefore we did not get the figures, asking for information as to the amounts paid in Glasgow in the supplementation of inadequate pensions. I understand that it costs the Glasgow City Council more to supplement inadequate pensions than it costs the National Government to pay those pensions. We want the Government to face up to these matters and to see what can be done to remedy them. Great Britain, I understand, is the wealthiest nation in the world, but we do not treat our industrial population too well in these matters. We find that in New Zealand, where they are not so wealthy, a man at 65 receives a pension of £1 2s. 6d. and a woman at 6o receives the same amount of pension. Therefore, a married couple receive £2 5s. I understand that the New Zealand Government are putting forward an improved scheme of pensions at the present time.

I expect that some hon. Member on the other side of the House will tell us how much better off the workers are in this country compared with certain other countries, and probably the dictatorship countries will be quoted. The dictators are not our friends and we ought not to be asked to accept the conditions which apply in those countries. We expect better conditions here, otherwise why should we fight for democracy? We are convinced that the National Government, if they had the will, could improve the conditions very substantially.

I should like to deal with the position of the over-70 old age pensioner. Many of them are black-coated workers. I was a member of a public assistance subcommittee under the London County Council for some time, and a big proportion of the cases which came before us were people over 70 receiving old age pensions, respectable, decent people, who had to ask for a little extra assistance, a bag of coal, or a little help in the payment of rent. These people had paid rates and taxes for a long period. We think that the Minister responsible should see that something more is done for them. No one can tell us that we cannot afford it or that the workers are getting a great deal. I was looking at some figures the other day and discovered the amount of indirect taxation paid by the workers of this country and the amount of direct taxation which is paid. The wealthy classes are doing very well in shifting the responsibilities on to the poorer sections of the community.

In 1914 indirect taxation was 20.50 per cent. of the total revenue and direct taxation 79.50 per cent. In 1929 indirect taxation was 36.3 per cent. of the revenue and direct taxation 63.97 per cent. In 1936 indirect taxation was 40.29 per cent. of the total revenue and direct taxation had fallen to 59.71 per cent. You have also to consider that of the interest paid on the National Debt about 25 per cent. goes back to the same class of persons who lend their money. The amount paid on Army, Navy and Air Force services is about 22 per cent., while the social services get only 46 per cent. of the total amount that is spent. My point is that the workers through indirect taxation pay more than they get hack in social services and, therefore, we are not making an unreasonable request when we ask that something shall be done to improve the conditions of old age pensioners.

Mr. Speaker

I would remind hon. Members that in a Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House it is not in order for hon. Members to refer to matters which would require legislation. The Debate so far has gone very near the border line.

12.59 p.m.

Mr. Bellenger

It is not because I am unmindful of the claims of old age pensioners that I wish to direct my few remarks to the subject which was introduced by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Simpson). I think the House will agree with me that he put the case of ex-Service pensioners very adequately and very eloquently. In attacking the Minister of Pensions, as we are bound to do on this issue, we do realise that he is not entirely the villain of the piece. I have a suspicion that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who is sitting on the Front Bench has a great deal to say in this matter, and perhaps the efforts of the Minister of Pensions in response to our appeals are limited by the nefarious designs of the Treasury. On an occasion like this I could have wished that more hon. Members who served in the last War were present and taking part in the Debate. This is not a matter which should be a party issue. There are issues which divide hon. Members from top to bottom, but this is not one of them. It should not divide the House at all. Hon. Members who have Service experience sit on both sides of the House, and the claims of ex-Service men should not be made on any party basis whatever. The British Legion has members of all political parties, and it is an issue upon which the whole House should be agreed.

What is the issue? It is that ex-Service men and their dependants are not being adequately and generously treated by this country, as they were led to believe would be the case when they enlisted in the last War. The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne said that he did not want to make this a bargaining matter for the purpose of getting recruits which are being asked for to defend the country in case of attack. That is true, but I am quite sure that recruiting for the Defence Forces of this country is being impeded by the fact that ex-Service men and their dependants have been so badly, so ungenerously, treated by the nation for their patriotic efforts in the last War. Certain figures have been given to the House this morning. I do not question them, but I think there are other countries which have treated their ex-Service men far better than this country has treated ours. The United States of America have done more for their war veterans than we have; at any rate, I recollect that, owing to political pressure brought to bear on the United States Government, the veterans of the last War have been able to get a considerable cash bonus.

We are asking for an inquiry into the facts which we have put before the House. When I say "we" I refer to certain hon. Members who have consistently kept this matter before the Minister of Pensions, and particularly to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith) and the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who have lost no opportunity of bringing this matter before the Government and on occasion have been received by the head of the Government. A deputation of hon. Members, including, I think, my two hon. Friends, were received by Lord Baldwin very sympathetically. We are not questioning the Minister of Pension's attitude on the matters we bring before him. They always receive sympathetic consideration, but we want something more. Our constituents want something more than a few polite words from the head of the Government and the Minister of Pensions.

Let me just quote a personal experience. During the last War I had the unfortunate experience of being wounded twice, once with gas. I went through the usual medical boards, and when I was demobilised I was called up before a board and informed that I should receive a cash gratuity of £30. I received that gratuity, and was very thankful for it. But I have been fortunate in that I have been able to look after myself since then. Many of my comrades, not only in the rank and file but in the commissioned ranks as well, who served with me have not had the same satisfactory experience after the War, and to-day they are in dire necessity. It is on their behalf that we appeal to the Minister of Pensions. We do not wish to make his life a burden and a misery, but in this matter he is the representative of the Government, and he has to bear the burden of our contention, which is that the country is not treating the ex-service men and their dependants as it ought to do.

What is it that we ask? Obviously, we are this morning precluded from suggesting anything which would necessitate legislation and an increased burden on the Exchequer, although, of course, that would be the ultimate effect if our representations were favourably received. We ask that there should be an inquiry to sift the facts which can be brought before the Minister of Pensions or whoever it is who undertakes the inquiry. The facts are there, and if they are not as we say they are, it will be easy for the Government to say that we have misrepresented them. We do not believe that we have done that. I think I am right in saying that there is not an hon. Member in any part of the House who has not at some time or other received representations from ex-service men among his constituents asking him to do something to get the Minister of Pensions to give a little dole of some sort. Personally, I have not had many cases to put before the Minister, but on one occasion when I put a case before him—I do not know whether I was particularly fortunate—I was able to get a 20 per cent. pension for one of my constituents.

Mr. Ellis Smith

The hon. Member was lucky.

Mr. Bellenger

That was only one case among the large number of cases which the Minister has had to reject. I have intentionally limited my remarks this morning, because I know that there are other matters which hon. Members wish to raise; but I hope that the Minister will not take my brevity as meaning that we have not a very wide case to put before the House. We have; and I hope that hon. Members opposite will rise and back up that case. I believe that if only hon. Members who support the Government would give us their support on this issue, we could force the Government to take some notice of our remarks. I invite hon. Members on the benches opposite, which are scantily occupied, to back up the remarks that we have made. I hope that they will bear some fruit in the future, even though our representations have not given us all that for which we have asked in the past.

1.8 p.m.

Mr. Lipson

I am glad to be able to respond to the appeal which has been made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and to support his request for an inquiry to be set up. I agree with the hon. Member that the treatment of ex-service men is not at present a party question, and, in the interests of ex-service men and the country as a whole, I think hon. Members on both sides of the House ought to see that it is never made a party question. One of the merits of the policy of the British Legion. which has done so much for the ex-service men of this country, has been that it has kept outside party politics. Therefore, I regret that the request which the British Legion made to the Prime Minister for a select committee to inquire into the condition of ex-service men was refused. I hope that was not the last word on the question, and that the Prime Minister will give further consideration to it.

It has been said that it would be unwise to grant this inquiry because it would raise false hopes and expectations. I believe that the worst condition in which people can be is to be without any hope. If it be true that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, I believe it is equally true that it is better to have hoped and been disappointed than to be entirely without hope. Those who are up against the blank wall of no hope are in a very much worse condition than those who have some hope that their grievances may at least be considered. That is my answer to the plea that the granting of this inquiry would raise false hopes. I believe that the Government put themselves in a wrong position when they meet the demand for an inquiry from a responsible body such as the British Legion by saying that they can grant no inquiry. When the Government refuse an inquiry, there is the suggestion that they are afraid of it or that they are not satisfied that they have a case which can bear inquiry. If the Government are satisfied with their treatment of ex-service men—and in view of the promises that were made to ex-service men when they were called upon to enlist, I submit that there should be no question on which the Government should be more scrupulous to be faithful to their obligations than in their treatment of ex-service men—then they have nothing to fear from an inquiry; but to refuse an inquiry is to put into the minds of impartial people a doubt, at least, as to whether the Government are prepared to face the issue. All of us are anxious that ex-service men should not be compelled to have recourse to public assistance. They do not want to do so, and we must admire the spirit which makes them unwiling to have recourse to that kind of help. We must not drive them to seek public assistance.

Mr. E. Smith

We have done.

Mr. Lipson

I agree that in many cases they have been compelled to do so, but there are still a great many who would rather continue to suffer privation and hardship than have recourse to public assistance. That is a spirit which we ought to do our best to keep alive. For these reasons, I ask the Government to give further consideration to the request for an inquiry to be held into the treatment of ex-service men. I believe that if such an inquiry were held and the facts showed that it was necessary for the country to do more to fulfil its obligation, the country would be prepared to do more. But let the facts be put before the nation and an impartial inquiry be held so that the country may know whether it has been faithful to the obligations into which it has entered.

1.13 p.m.

Mr. Vyvyan Adams

We have just heard an admirable speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson). I wish to support what he has said, although I do not wholly agree with his outlook when he says it is better to have one's hopes dashed than never to have hoped, for personally I prefer a philosophic pessimism. Often when one expects the worst, the best comes dancing gaily and unexpectedly into sight.

Mr. Ellis Smith

A man cannot live on hope.

Mr. Adams

That is the whole point. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) for so strenuously emphasising that point by his interruption. When we come back after the Easter Recess, Mr. Speaker, I understand that your Chair is to be crowned by a second clock, but, as that clock is not yet there, if I exceed my customary maximum of 10 minutes, do not blame me, but attribute the blame to the Office of Works for their delay in setting up the promised physical warning to the [...]identally verbose. I am grateful to the hon. Members who have raised the matter of pensions to-day, because it affects intimately every constituency, and I am going to consume a few minutes in mentioning other aspects of the question. Before doing so, may I be allowed to say that I wish that the whole system of pensions could be codified in one Statute, but manifestly I must not enlarge on that aspect of the matter to-day. All that I want to be allowed to do is to point out existing anomalies and to argue for inquiry, without, of course, suggesting legislation.

It is only to-day that there has been constituted the committee to inquire into spinsters' pensions, and delay is part of the theme of my remarks to-day. It is eight weeks ago yesterday since we had the decisive Debate in the House of Commons, and I cannot understand why it is that, when this particular claim of the spinsters is raised, there is always this delay and unwillingness to deal with their perfectly legitimate claims. The only possible excuse seems to be the lethargy this flesh is heir to. I often wonder why there has been such an irrational opposition to their claims, and I am sometimes guilty of the unworthy speculation whether it may not be that their electoral power is not great. But perhaps I may remind His Majesty's Government that the spinsters have support and sympathy, which extends among both sexes, far beyond the numbers of the women who, by choice or chance, happen to remain single. It seems to me that to grant spinsters pensions at the age of 55 would merely be a piece of legislative tidying-up. It would be hardly more than dotting the i's and crossing the t's of the existing pension system. I hope those considerations will be actively before the committee when they start their inquiries.

All of us in this House are glad that we have a fairly comprehensive system of widows' pensions. I would point out to the Government and the House the anomaly contained in this experience of neighbours, of which I have direct and practical knowledge. Two spinsters of 60. sisters, have to turn out to work at 6 o'clock in the morning, in all weathers. Their next-door neighbour is a young childless widow. She is able-bodied and earns 30s. a week, and in addition she receives 10s. a week widow's pension. That, I suggest, contains a really startling and staring anomaly. To-day the Spinters—175,000 of them—above the age of 55 get nothing at all for their contributions, unless and until they reach the age of 65. I say "unless and until" expressly, because many of them never reach that age.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)

The hon. Member must realise that the question of spinsters' pensions at any rate is one which could not possibly be dealt with except by legislation.

Mr. Adams

With great respect, we lave on similar occasions had this matter raised when it has been suggested that these considerations which I have been submitting might be submitted to a committee of inquiry on this subject, but I will not pursue the matter of spinsters' pensions any further. I wish next to mention the case of the old age pensioner. I recognise that the proposal which is sometimes made in party literature of a 100 per cent. increase is something which we would all like to promise and to give. But it is something which I would never promise, because I know that it belongs to the realm of the grandiose, the spectacular, and the utopian, but what should not be impossible, I submit to the Government, is a slight increase. Surely couples of 70 years of age can hardly be expected to live in decency on £1 a week. With a difficulty which many of us can hardly conceive they may have accumulated savings amounting to £200 or £300, but when they reach the age of 7o and have to subsist, or try to subsist, on £1 a week, their savings will soon dwindle away. They may be left, after a life of useful work, to try to subsist on 20s. a week. Every hon. Member must agree, surely, that this cannot be done decently. I could give the Financial Secretary to the Treasury scores of cases of really pathetic struggles along the last few miles of the road. Could not their lot be eased by some addition, apparently slight, but making all the difference between distress and a tolerable subsistence?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Does the hon. Member suggest that that could possibly he done without legislation?

Mr. Adams

With great respect, these are considerations which I think might well be submitted to a committee of inquiry on the whole question of pensions, and with equally great respect I submit that it is not out of order on an Adjournment Motion. May I have your Ruling, Sir?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The only Ruling that I can give is to say that I think the hon. Member was definitely advocating legislation, and that he cannot do.

Mr. Adams

All these matters which I have ventured to raise are points which I hope will come before a committee. The hon. Lady who represents the Springburn division (Mrs. Hardie) did, at some length, point out the hardship to which old age pensioners are subjected, and I hope the results of any such inquiry as I have in mind would be to soften an admitted hardship. I echo what she said when I submit that this softening of such hardships as are suffered by old age pensioners is something which should be earnestly shouldered by a healthy, vigorous, and powerful society like Great Britain.

1.23 p.m.

Mr. Sexton

May I add my voice to those of the hon. Members who have already spoken on behalf of the ex-service men of this country? When I attend ex-service men's functions, as I sometimes do, I am very much impressed with some words which they use during part of their conventions—"They shall not grow old. … We will remember them." I take it that when they are so speaking they are referring to the illustrious dead, who are remembered best by remembering their living comrades who are suffering now. In those trenches, under fire and in the face of death, pledges were given one to another, and the spirit of Armistice Day is only half observed if true respect for the dead is not remembered by giving due reward to the living. "They shall not grow old" refers, I said, to those who have passed, but what of those who are living? Is it true that "they shall not grow old"? Is it not true that they have grown old years before their time? Is it not true that men who should now be in their very prime of life, men of 45 to 50 years of age, are now decrepit, old, worn out, and exhausted, largely owing to their experiences in the trenches, which have undermined their constitution and made them physically less able to resist diseases which came afterwards.

In 1915, when the Naval and Military War Pensions Bill was being considered on its Second Reading, a Member of this House, Sir Clement Kinloch-Cooke, prophesied that in the future men would come back from the Great War, which was then proceeding, with diseases caused by the fighting and that they would have to fight for their pensions. I will quote what he said: In the past we have always had to fight against the Admiralty, the War Office and the Treasury who put forward the plea that the man died of a disease not attributable to the Service. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to make it very clear to the House that this point has not been overlooked by them, and that in connection with a war of this kind we shall not have men years afterwards, or widows whose husbands died from diseases contracted in the War, having to depend on the Admiralty or the War Office alone to say whether that disease was attributable to the War itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1915; col. 1876–7, Vol. 72.] We have arrived at such a stage now, when men are developing diseases which showed no signs when they were discharged. They are difficult to prove, but the greatest proof to me is to see these men walking about and to hear them tell their stories how, when they were demobilised, they were so glad to get out of the Army that they did not reveal anything which might have kept them in the Army a few days or weeks longer. So glad were they to get back home that they hid certain things that they should have told the authorities. To our shame many of these men have now to resort to public assistance. I have a letter from an ex-service man who is 68 years of age, in which he says: I am not drawing any disability pension, although I have a crippled left hand. I joined up at West Hartlepool in 1914 and was discharged from France, 27th March, 1919. … I also had three of my sons up with me, two in the Yorkshire Regiment and one a stoker on His Majesty's Ship "Renown," so you see I gave my all for my King and country. This is the poignant part of the letter— What have they done for me? Put me into the workhouse, forgotten, and I have never received a penny out of any of the funds since I finished. I am ashamed of my country for allowing these ex-service men to spend the latter part of their lives in the workhouse. What has become of the pledges of 1914, the promises that were given to these men if they went into the Army and fought for their country to defend their homes? I remember that during the War the white feather was the symbol of cowardice and was given to those who refused to accept their obligations. If something is not done for these ex-service men, we shall deserve to be dubbed a white feather nation. The British Legion's report, which has been extensively quoted, shows that we have thousands of men incapacitated, not fit to work, under the Poor Law and in municipal hospitals. It is a lasting disgrace to this country that we should have our veterans who served us well now on Poor Law relief. Is it not possible to have the inquiry which the British Legion and the ex-service men want? Is it not possible to save these men the humiliation of going to the public assistance committees?

Money was made out of the War and money is being made now out of rearmament. Is it beyond the wit of man. to have an inquiry to devise ways and means so that these men shall not have to hammer out a meagre and miserable existence? I believe that such an inquiry would be welcomed in all parts of the House. If the inquiry shows that there is nothing substantial in the report of the British Legion, the report can easily be refuted. The Government should conduct an impartial inquiry into all these questions. The ex-service men will be alarmed at the cold reception of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, who, has extinguished any hope there might have been lurking in their breasts. To-day is Maundy Thursday, the day of assistance to the needy, and if any thing that we on these benches can do can ensure an inquiry that will lead to assistance for these men, we shall consider this Debate well worth while.

1.31 p.m.

Mr. Kelly

I wish that the Government in their administration of pensions took a more humane view of the position of those who have to receive them. Although I wish to speak mostly about war pensions, particularly with regard to the widows of ex-service men, I must say that in the administration of widows' and old age pensions there could be a much better and more generous method of treatment. I hope that it will have the attention of the Government. May I, at the risk of repeating what has been said many times this morning, remind the Minister that when the men went out in 1914 and in the years following, they were plainly told that they and their families would be looked after? They did not examine the promise; they did not look at it line by line to see where the commas were, or whether there were any fullstops; they did not expect that they would be denied pensions by reason of the Royal Warrant, which is restrictive in its operations. The Government should realise that these men understood that if they were disabled and were prevented from securing a livelihood, and if their families were put to hardship, the Government would look after them because of the service which they had rendered to the country.

There are now many men and families suffering because of war service, and because some disablement has occurred to the men in later years, and they are denied pensions because medical men state that they cannot find anything which would warrant them stating that the condition was due to war service. I have had experience of medical men and medical certificates in connection with workmen's compensation, and I have not great respect for many of them, particularly when they make out certificates stating whether or not a man is capable of working. I would ask the Minister of Pensions to pay regard to the fact that although these men were not wounded or disabled during the War, the conditions of life and the rush and scramble of industry and commerce are rendered worse for them because of the condition in which the service which they rendered in the War has left them. I hope that regard will be had to that aspect of the matter, and that more just and humane administration will enable them to receive pensions.

I should also like the Minister to pay attention to the number of ex-service men who are patients in mental hospitals. Those engaged in administrative work in some parts of the country view them as a tragedy. These men, though physically strong, are mentally unbalanced and mentally ill by reason of their service. I am sure the country would not deny to the Minister any money which was required for treatment or research such as might afford some hope that these men could be restored to mental fitness and take their place once again among their fellows outside the walls of mental hospitals. I know that officers of his Department visit those hospitals at stated times, but I hope that more than that will be done towards restoring these men to health. If any demand is made for money for inanimate material such as armaments the country finds it, and I suggest that the human material which served us so well has a right to better treatment even if that costs more than is being spent upon armaments.

The other class to whom I wish to refer are the widows. I ask that the Special Grants Committee should be abolished, because its conduct during the last few years has been deplorable. Numbers of widows have been deprived of pensions because of gossip about them but without any proof of the charges. I have heard of one or two cases. I shall not mention the names. It would be an outrage to mention in public the name of a woman about whom people had gossiped, because the people who make those charges but will not afterwards face up to them know that some of the mud they fling will stick. Why does not the Minister confront the widow with the people who make the charge against her? Why do his investigation officers go spying round to ascertain whether the woman happens to be in the company of some man—even walking with him through the streets, or in some house or public place—and why do the Special Grants Committee then deprive the widow of her pension, declaring that because it has been reported that she has been talking to a man she must be a person guilty of immoral conduct?

I will relate one case and then I have finished. It was the case of a widow drawing a pension under health insurance. That pension had been taken away from her by reason of her children having reached 16 years of age, and she was anxious to get it restored. I explained that the Contributory Pensions Act deprived her of that pension under particular circumstances because of her children having reached the age of 16. Then she mentioned that she had been to see certain people in the hope that they might help her, and among them was a certain lady who has been investigating these cases and even giving judgment for local pensions committees. She said to that lady, "I would like you to help me to approach the Minister to see whether my pension can be restored." The lady replied, "Oh, you have had your pension taken away. Evidently you have been living with some man." That was a statement made by a woman whose opinion had been taken by the Minister—not by the present Minister, I hope, but by a previous Minister—with regard to women against whom there had been gossip and whose pensions it was sought to take away.

There is much more which I should like to say, but I hope the Minister will consider getting rid of this Special Grants Committee. Let us do things in real British form, so that if anybody makes a charge against a person that person will be faced with those making the charge and the matter be fully investigated. I am convinced that many women to-day are suffering the loss of pensions unjustly and unfairly, and I ask the Minister to restore those pensions.

1.41 p.m.

Mr. Oliver

I should like to ask the Minister what procedure is adopted by his Department with respect to widows in receipt of war pensions when a pension is withdrawn. Is any opportunity given to the widow to refute any of the statements which are made—not necessarily by neighbours—upon which his officers act? From recent investigations into a specific case, I have reason to believe that either the officer has been misinformed or that he has not set out the whole of the facts. I should like to know whether, before it is decided to withdraw a pension, there is any opportunity for the widow herself to be heard or for someone to be heard on her behalf, so that the decision is not taken on an ex parte statement.

1.43 p.m.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones

In view of the fact that the Minister is about to reply, I shall cut short what I had intended to say. One realises the difficulty of my hon. Friend, as time goes on, in the position of Minister of Pensions. It is much more difficult to be Minister of Pensions now than it was 10 or 15 years ago, on account of the vagueness, as it were, of many of the complaints submitted and the difficulty of making a diagnosis and coming to a decision. While saying that, I may be allowed to point out that those of us who are supposed to know something about medical science, having spent our lives in it, are most discouraged when we bring cases to the Ministry, cases which we know ourselves are really cases of hardship, on account of the great difficulty which we have in getting a medical review of them. I have recently come to the conclusion that it is almost hopeless to try to get a review of a case, even though one knows in one's own mind that it is most deserving of reconsideration.

Even though the Government would not agree to a general inquiry into the whole of our pensions system—I know that would be a big undertaking—I would ask whether the hon. Gentleman could not set up an inquiry into the medical aspects of these cases. Medical science has changed tremendously in the last 20 years, and there is a different point of view in regard to matters of the heart and chest, for example. Could he not set up a medical committee to start with, to secure a review of the various aspects of the medical complaints? I say nothing about the surgical complaints, because when you see a wound before you, you can make a diagnosis and take a more definite line in regard to the position of the patient than you can in a lot of the medical cases. The medical fraternity have changed their minds in the last few years, and I suggest that my hon. Friend could, with his resources, quite easily set up a fresh review of the whole of this question.

1.47 p.m.

The Minister of Pensions (Mr. Ramsbotham)

I am sorry to have in any way caused the cutting short of any speeches by hon. Members, but a number of other topics are to be raised, and that is the only reason why I am intervening now. We had a long discussion on the subject of war pensions on the Adjournment before Christmas, and most of the points raised to-day were mentioned then and dealt with by myself. I am sure that the House will excuse me if I do not repeat at any considerable length the points which I made a few months ago. As in the last Debate, so to-day, and I suppose inevitably, a great many general allegations have been made, but comparatively few facts—to-day, no fresh facts, so far as I can ascertain—have been put before me to answer. The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate agreed that there were certain standard regulations in the administration of the pensions system which had to be upheld, but his point, I gathered, was that there were technicalities and rules which stood in the way of our exercising that discretion which he thinks should be exercised on some occasions.

It is obvious that, in coming to a determination in a pensions matter, medical considerations must play by far the largest part. I am prohibited, and rightly prohibited, from granting entitlement to a pension unless I have a medical certificate. When I am pressed to exercise my discretion or to indulge in more laxity it comes to my being pressed to ask my medical advisers for medical certificates which might not represent their honest view of the cases. I am sure that the House would never expect me to do such a thing. I put that point to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. O. Roberts) before Christmas, and I asked him whether he wanted an alteration or an addition to the warrant or wished me to disregard the medical evidence. His reply was, "No." I pointed out to him and to the House that when they asked me to be more lax I had to indicate somehow to the medical profession, whose duty it was to furnish me with a certificate, that they should not, as they at present undoubtedly do, give me the certificate which, in their honest and conscientious opinion, they think I ought to have on the disability in question. I am sure that hon. Members, in pressing for more discretion, will not for one moment wish that I or the Ministry should fall into error of that kind.

Hon. Members have drawn attention to the meagreness of successful results in cases which they have brought to my notice. I agree that the successful percentage of cases put by hon. Members is very small. The normal statutory body for receiving complaints is the local War Pensions Committee, appointed by Statute to do that work. I have been visiting a large number of them in the last few weeks. There are 160, and I have visited 110, and I propose to visit them all. It has been pointed out to me in almost all cases that, from the point of view of the chairman of the War Pensions Committee, there is far less contact between them and the local Members of Parliament than they would like. I pointed out to them how small a percentage of successful cases Members of Parliament obtained, and I have agreed with them that it is largely due to the fact that the committees, being the statutory bodies to whom cases should come, get the best cases, and that the cases which are turned down by them as a result of their local knowledge are not likely to be successful at a later stage.

The same is true, in a less degree, of the British Legion, which does an immense amount of work and is in contact through its officials with the Ministry. The British Legion and the War Pensions Committees are a sort of filter through which comes a constant stream of cases to the Ministry. Many of the cases are successful. In the last Debate I showed the comparatively high percentage of successes achieved in this way against those achieved by my hon. Friends and colleagues in this House. We ought to bear in mind the machinery that is in existence. I have had experience in my own constituency of cases being brought to me which had been through the hands of the War Pensions Committee or the British Legion for years and had met with an unsatisfactory response from them. Hon. Members must not be unduly disappointed at the little success which I admit they receive at my hands.

The hon. Member who opened the Debate said that the pensioner should have the benefit of the doubt; I agree. In the last Debate I gave a definition of what that meant. I will not weary the House by repeating it now, but, broadly speaking, we cannot award a pension on a mere possibility. We can, and do, award pensions on a reasonable probability. In very short terms that is the definition of the benefit of the doubt which I quoted in my last speech on this matter. Reference was made also to the British scales and it was pointed out that the curve of British expenditure was downwards. Over the lapse of years the number of pensioners is decreasing, but when hon. Members say that there is no corresponding downward curve in other countries they should realise that we are the only country in the world among the combatants that did not reduce our pensions scales during the financial crisis. Every other country did so, and since then, those countries have restored the reductions. That affects the curve, of course, or the expenditure graph of those countries, and it is very unfair to point to the British curve descending without at the same time remembering that there was no correspending descent in the British curve at that time because His Majesty's Government did not make any reduction, and that there were no reductions to restore. Another point to bear in mind is that the social services in this country do not exist in comparable fashion in other Continental countries with which comparison is made.

Reference was made to the question of employment. As I pointed out last time, the provision of employment in private firms for disabled service men is our constant pre-occupation, and I am glad to say that the percentage of employment among ex-service men is higher than among non-ex-service men, thanks to the King's Roll, the special arrangements made with the Employment Exchanges, and the attention which everyone concerned with the problem gives to it, and, I hope, will continue to give to it. Reference was made to the report of a committee of the British Legion dealing with what is called the prematurely aged ex-service man. I referred to that problem before Christmas, but I could not refer to the report, because it was not then published. It has since been published, and, as hon. Members know, the Prime Minister has received a deputation which came to him to deal with the recommendations of the committee.

I cannot go into questions affecting the recommendations of the report, for the good reason that it would raise an entirely new class of claimants not demonstrably disabled by war service. As matters at present stand, there must be reasonable evidence that a man for whom I am to be responsible is not only an ex-service man, but a man who has been disabled in the War. Unless there is such evidence, the man is not within the province of my Department, and legislation would be required in order to bring him in. Therefore, I can only deal with the man who is demonstrably disabled, and in that connection I would point out to the House that, so far as the Ministry of Pensions is concerned, the report of the British Legion Committee makes several observations of a kind which are reassuring, not only to myself as Minister, but to all hon. Members who are interested in the administration. The report states that this committee, which investigated the matter for 18 months: is satisfied that the general principles which form the basis of the Pension Warrants are sound. In other words, there is nothing in this report which suggests that the general basis of the Pension Warrants on which I now act should be altered or changed. The report goes on to say: The committee is satisfied that where reasonable evidence is produced to show the disablement is due to War service, pension is paid under the War Compensation Schemes. I do not think that the House or the country can ask for more or expect less. The House does not want war pensions awarded to men who suffered no injury in the War. The House desires that pensions should be compensation for war injuries, and, in establishing the right to compensation, there must be reasonable evidence to support that right. Otherwise, the whole system of war pensions goes into the melting pot, and becomes no system at all, but a series of veterans' bonuses and general ex-service doles. That is clearly recognised by the following statement of the British Legion Committee: It has no desire unduly to load the list of pensioners for whom the Minister of Pensions is responsible, as this would only react adversely on war-disabled men. My concern is for the war-disabled men, and I should never think of suggesting to the House that I should take any action which would react adversely upon them. Therefore, so far as the requirement relates to a body of ex-service men not demonstrably disabled as a result of the war, it is certainly no concern of mine as Minister of Pensions. Whatever other arrangements may have to be made for those cases, I myself cannot and should not have such a responsibility.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) made the statement that ex-service men were not generously treated. By that I assume he means disabled men. If we take the existing rate of pensions on the scale laid down by this House in 1919, when the cost of living was 215, taking pre-war as 100, we find that today, with the cost of living at 154 the same pension is held, it having been stabilised in 1928; and, on the basis of the difference between these two index figures, we find that a pension on the scale of 40s. awarded in 1919 and stabilised in 1928 has to-day a purchasing power of 55s. It is easy to say that the scale laid down in 1919 is an ungenerous scale, but its purchasing power has been increased to the extent I have indicated, and the same applies all the way down the scale. If we make comparisons with other countries, like Germany, France and Italy, we find that, while our expenditure works out at £53 per annum per disabled man, the Germany expenditure is £42, and the French is£36 I think the hon. Member said that the expenditure in the United States was more generous, but in the 1936 report of the Ministry of Pensions it was shown, taking the cost of living then, that that is not so. It is, however, very unsafe to compare our expenditure with that of the United States, because we are comparing our war pensions system, which is administered, as I have said, under certain rules and regulations connected with war disablement and war service, with, in the United States, what is known as a veterans' bonus, which is really not comparable with anything of the kind in this country.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Do the French and the German figures also allow for the difference in the cost of living?

Mr. Ramsbotham

I think they are comparable when converted into sterling on the same basis, but I will look that point up and let the hon. Member know.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) raised some points in connection with the war pensions system. I know that he has always felt considerable difficulty over the Special Grants Committee, which, as the House knows, deals with the comparatively few cases in which widows' pensions are forfeited. It would be unfair to take away a woman's pension on remarriage and yet allow it to be paid during an irregular union, and I am sure that that is a principle which the House would not for a moment wish to controvert. That is a difficulty which we all feel in connection with the question of administration. The Special Grants Committee was set up by Statute, and, therefore, it would have to be abolished by Statute. It is a body which to all intents and purposes is independent of the Ministry, having been set up by Parliament in order, no doubt, to provide a cushion between the Minister and cases of that sort. I, of course, keep a careful watch upon it.

When the question was raised before Christmas, some pretty hard things were said about the Special Grants Committee and about the war pensions committees; and, for the benefit of Members who said those hard things, I think I ought to remind them that considerable protest was raised up and down the country among the war pensions committees, who have the preliminary duty of dealing with these cases, on account of the fact that charges of that kind were made against them during the Debate in question. I have here a letter from the chairman of the Leeds, Harrogate and District War Pensions Committee. I will read a portion of it, because it will explain the kind of procedure that is customary among the war pensions committees. It says: It is the practice of our war pensions committee to give a widow every opportunity of attending before the committee and stating her case, and I may say it requires more than a moral lapse for a widow to forfeit her pension. Moreover, the forfeiture of a pension by a widow is very rare, but even then the pension can be reinstated when the cause of forfeiture is removed. The war pensions committee consists of 26 members, representing many interests, and are all people who would not be a party to any of the meannesses suggested. … Further, the letter says: Any ex-service man or dependant who is dissatisfied with a decision of the Ministry of Pensions has a right to go before the War Pensions Committee and state their case, which is always heard sympathetically. In fairness to the members of my committee, who give a great deal of time visiting and helping, I should like to remove any bad impression which may have been created.

Mr. Kelly

I notice that he does not say they face them with their accusers.

Mr. Ramsbotham

That point was dealt with last time, and, I think, quite fairly. On the point raised by the hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones), I can only say that I have had no such complaints in the past 12 months.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

Is not that an indication of the hopeless despair?

Mr. Ramsbotham

I do not think that is quite fair. I am here to smooth out any difficulties and to convince hon. Members that there is no ground for dissatisfaction. I shall be only too delighted to see the hon. Member for Denbigh. He should be aware that there is a system of independent medical experts. They are gentlemen of the highest repute in the medical profession, selected from a panel of the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons. I am making constant use of them. If the hon. Member will bear that in mind, it may go a long way in disposing of the objections he feels.

In conclusion, I want to make a general point. I think that the hon. Member said that the administration of pensions was becoming more difficult. To a certain extent that is true. The administration is becoming concerned more and more with the handling of individual cases, and less and less with general principles and policy. The reason is that the average age of ex-service men to-day is about 50, and men of 50 are subject to the various ailments that result from the wear and tear of ordinary civilian life. It is for that reason that we get now so many complaints of ailments such as heart trouble, rheumatism, and chest trouble—the very things that are, in exactly the same proportions, among people in civilian occupations, being dealt with by the approved societies. This state of affairs is inherent in the whole system from the very start. The right hon. Gentleman who was Minister of Pensions in the last Socialist Government stated to the House very clearly what was a forecast of the position to-day. I would remind the House of his words: At the present date"— this was in 1929— more than 10 years since the men were demobilised, cases in which disablement by War service can now be justifiably claimed for the first time are, as is admitted on all hands, few in number, and will necessarily become fewer. Old War wounds, thought to have been healed but giving trouble for the first time since the War, are readily identifiable, and are already dealt with both by medical treatment and pensions. New claims in respect of some ailment or disease are more numerous, but comparatively very few cases are found on investigation to be genuinely traceable to War service. The situation is one that requires to be met by provision for a small and diminishing number of genuine cases only."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1929; col. 24, Vol. 232.] That was the expression of opinion given to the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich 9 years ago. Every word of it has come, or is coming, true. That does not mean that the work of the Ministry is in any way lightened, because, as I say, the number of men getting older and suffering in many cases from civilian ailments is not likely to decline. It is the duty of the Ministry of Pensions to give, as we endeavour to do to-day, every opportunity for every man suffering from disabilities which he thinks are due to War service to establish his case. We make our researches for him with the approved societies, with the chemists' shops, with the employers, and in every direction where there may be evidence, to show that his complaint has a continous history. It does happen that in many cases those links cannot be discovered, and that there is a long lapse between the War service and present ailments. Where those long intervals occur, it must be the case that a medical adviser cannot often conscientiously say that the present disability is the result of impairment suffered in the Great War. Unless that system is followed, the sooner we abandon a system of war pensions and call it something else, the better, but as long as this remains a system of war pensions, I am sure that I shall have the support of every Member in insisting on establishing the connection between present ailments and War service.

Mr. Oliver

I put a specific question to the Minister, whether the widow is permitted to make a statement to anyone outside his own officials, and whether his own officials' evidence is accepted without inquiry?

Mr. Ramsbotham

I thought I had indicated that the express purpose of reading the letter was to give an indication of what happened.

Mr. Oliver

But I thought that letter related solely to the War Pensions Committee in Yorkshire.

Mr. Ramsbotham

No, I have other letters dealing with similar procedure in other parts of the country.

2.16 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Lieut.-Colonel Colville)

Although it is unusual to have two Front Bench speeches one after another, it would be discourteous not to say something to the hon. Lady the Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie) who raised another aspect of pensions. In her very moving speech she dealt with certain cases of hardship which exist at the present time. I find it difficult to reply, because though it was possible for the hon. Lady to give us instances, it would be impossible for me to deal with possible remedies which would need legislation without being out of order. I am unable, therefore, to deal fully with the cases she mentioned. I can, however, say that they are known to us and that her speech to-day, which was in terms the House appreciated, will not be lost sight of. The hon. Lady spoke of the total cost of pensions at the present time and used the expression that a great country such as this should be able to afford these services, and I think I would be right in pointing out the total cost of our scheme at the present time and its relation to the whole social service programme.

The position is that while, less than 30 years ago, there were no old age or widows' pensions at all, to-day, over a quarter of our expenditure on social services goes in old age and widows' pensions, and there are 3,500,000 beneficiaries under the scheme. The cost this year is £95,000,000, of which the Exchequer contributes £65,000,000. These figures have greatly increased in recent years and will go on increasing, apart from future legislation or alteration. The gross cost was £27,500,000, 13 years ago, and in 1930 it was £72,000,000. In 40 years' time—and it is necessary that we should look ahead to the time when the young men now in insurance will be approaching the age when they will receive pensions—in 40 years' time, the gross cost of our existing scheme, quite apart from any improvement or alteration, will be £147,000,000, of which £113,000,000 will fall upon the Exchequer.

I have not enlarged on the points made by the hon. Lady, but I would like to say a word to the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams). I do not know whether he was present at Question Time, but if he was, he must have heard my announcement that a committee t,, examine the problem of spinsters' pensions has been set up. This committee will, I think, command public respect and confidence and will be able to deal thoroughly with the problems raised.