§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 11.27 a.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
I wish to raise the question of the position of ex-Service men. On two days of this week, we were dealing with preparations against the emergency of war, namely, air raid precautions and the Essential Commodities Reserves Bill. When the House was dealing with those matters I thought of the position of the men who did such noble work 20 odd years ago. Have we forgotten what they did for us? In preparing for the future, we ought to remember, and try to do justice to, those men who did so well for their country. I would remind the House that 6,000,000 men in the United Kingdom served in His Majesty's Forces during the Great War. They were among the best of the nation's manhood; and 876,000 of them were killed or died on active service, while those wounded numbered almost 2,000,000. Over 1,250,000 pensions have been awarded since that time, and the total amount of money that has been paid from the country's funds amounts to £1,221,500,000. We are now paying £41,000,000 a year to cover pensions and the expenses involved. As the years have gone by, the sum has been reduced, and it now amounts to about 17s. 6d. per head of the population. For a number of years after the War, things went fairly smoothly in dealing with ex-Service men, but during the last two or three years there has been great agitation throughout the country, because it is felt that the ex-Service men are not receiving the justice to which they are entitled.
In February, 1937, a deputation headed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) was received by the Minister of Pensions, and the deputation asked that a Committee should be set up to examine the whole position. The Minister was courteous to us, as he always is. Indeed, one of the tributes that one can pay to His Majesty's Government is that they are always 2436 courteous in dealing with requests made to them; but unfortunately, they go no further and too often they try to put us off with nice words. The question was raised again last October in the King's Speech, which provided an opportunity for many of us to state the position. The reply given then was that the Government was awaiting further developments, and that attention would be given to the matter. The question was then raised fairly exhaustively on the Motion for the Adjournment on 23rd December, 1937; it was raised again on the Motion for the Adjournment on 14th April, 1938; and now, again, we are raising it in order to see whether we can get some assurance from the Government. This is the fifth occasion on which we raise the question, but I assure the Minister that it is not the last time, and that probably next time we shall be more determined and shall raise the matter when it can be dealt with more effectively by way of a Division.
I wish now to refer to one or two questions of a general character. Every time the subject of ex-Service men's pensions is raised in the House, hon. Members in all parties express indignation about the way in which the ex-Service men are treated. Hon. Members will remember that on Monday last, Questions were asked by several hon. Members regarding the position of war widows whose pensions had been taken away. The Reply given by the Minister was that in 1935, 292 were struck off; in 1936, 237; and in 1937, 170. The feeling which prevails in the House is that these widows, who were accused of wrongdoing, were not given sufficient opportunity of meeting the charges levelled against them. I hope that to-day the Minister will tell the House exactly how these cases are dealt with, and explain what opportunities are given to the widows to reply to the charges, which can be very insidious, and to which it is difficult for them to reply unless they face their accusers and know exactly what are the charges.
On the same day, a Question was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) regarding the serious position which arises when an ex-Service man dies, and his death is held not to be due wholly to War service, with the result that his widow does not get any pension. My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street gave a distressing case where a man returned from 2437 the war a physical wreck, the object of sympathy from the whole village, but whose widow, when he died, received no pension because it was discovered that the man's death was not due to War services. It is very difficult to explain this matter away. I trust that our representations will cause the Minister to be a little more lenient in these cases, and to give the widows the, benefit of the doubt and not be as hard on them as in the past.
I asked another question on Monday concerning a case where a man was in receipt of a 30 per cent. pension and had to give up work altogether. There was shrapnel in the man's body, but the doctor who examined him said that he could not say that the shrapnel caused more than 30 per cent. of the disablement. I maintained that the wound was having an effect on the man's mind, and I am satisfied that the deterioration in his health was due entirely to his feeling of what had happened in the War. I asked in my question whether in such cases the Department called in a psychologist to assist in determining the case. The Minister's Reply was rather interesting. He said that in every case in which an applicant produces evidence to show that his mind has been affected by his War service, an expert in mental diseases is consulted. A psychologist was not called in in this case because I could not say that the man's mind was deranged, for it was not. His War experience was acting on his mind so that he could not attend to his work.
What I am asking is that a psychologist should be called in to examine a man, not merely when the man shows signs of insanity, but if the War experiences have any effect on his mind. Even Members of Parliament are depressed or uplifted according to the things that are being discussed. I hope that the Minister will give wider consideration to this question and that a psychologist will be called in when there is definite medical evidence that he could help. Even if the psychologist did not agree with the doctor, it would give great satisfaction to everybody concerned to know that such cases were dealt with in this way.
In the Debate which took place on 23rd December, the Minister defending his Department, assured us that many requests 2438 made by Members of Parliament did not get the true facts of the case and he mentioned my name. He said:I will give an instance of the way in which hon. Members may be misled. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) produced about a year ago, at my invitation, a number of cases "—I did—with which he was dissatisfied. In 14 of those cases I advised him in each individual case to request the complainant to present himself at the area office, and, as they were all fresh cases, to state his case and, if necessary, be medically examined. To this day 12 out of those 14 complainants have not yet appeared, and the House will realise the difficulty which that sort of thing causes to the Ministry of Pensions. You receive a complaint, but you do not get the opportunity of saying whether or not the complaint is justified.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd December, 1937; col. 2241, Vol. 330.]I could see there was some mistake in that matter, so I got the names from the Minister and took it upon myself to interview the men. I asked them why they had not been, and there were various reasons. Some felt that it was hardly worth while because of the way they had been treated before, and they thought they were wasting time. I urged them that when one was trying to help them they should do their share. Only one case has been successful, and that case is to come forward for further examination.
I do not know whether many Members' experiences are like my own, but I feel that if I have got one per cent. of cases through I have done extremely well. It seems as though the Minister just glances at the heading when you send him a letter and he at once writes back and says: "I regret," etc. That is the general tale of Members of Parliament. The applicants have usually exhausted every other means before they go to their Members of Parliament, and that is why such a large percentage of them is rejected. I was amazed when the Minister, replying to a Question, said that some 30 per cent. of cases which were re-examined had some hope; Members of Parliament had not been so lucky in that respect. Some other people must have got the benefit of it.
I want now to turn to the main theme of this morning's discussion, which is dealt with in Command Paper 5738, of 1938. In the last Debate in this House on 14th April, the Minister of Pensions 2439 referred to this Command Paper and to some of the documents printed in it. Many hon. Members have not had the privilege of seeing this paper because when the Debate took place it had not been issued from the Vote Office. I received my copy in the middle of May; it is dated for May. I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that a committee was set up by the ex-service men's association for the purpose of investigating the question of prematurely-aged ex-service men. At the conference of the association a resolution was carried in favour of this matter being properly dealt with, and as a result the committee was set up. In its report, that committee said:The Committee has made exhaustive and comprehensive inquiries into the whole question, in the course of which a large number of Legion branches have submitted evidence and particulars of individual cases. In addition, the committee has had the advantage of considering the views of prominent members of the medical profession.As the result of the findings of the committee, the Government were urged to set up a Royal Commission for the purpose of examining the whole matter and seeing whether there were not some justification for the claim that ex-service men who went through the rigours of the War were showing signs of physical deterioration earlier than would have been the case if they had not done that war service. A letter was sent to the Prime Minister, in the following terms:Dear Prime Minister,As I believe you are aware, the British Legion has for some time been concerned with the large number of ex-service men who apply to the Legion for assistance, suffering from some form of chronic sickness, with consequent loss of earning capacity and industrial value.A discussion on this subject took place at the annual conference of the Legion in 1936, following which a special committee was established in June of that year for the purpose of investigating the problem of prematurely-aged ex-service men. The committee has now completed its investigations, and its findings have been embodied in a report, six copies of which I now have pleasure in forwarding to you herewith.That letter was sent from the British section of the Legion; the Scottish section dealt with the matter also, and sent a Memorandum to the Prime Minister on similar lines. They said:It is for this reason that it desires an independent Royal Commission to investigate these matters.2440 Then they gave a list of the matters which they desired investigated. The Prime Minister considered the matter, and he stated in his reply that in his opinion a case had not been made out. He went on to say:I cannot, I fear, agree that you have shown a case for a Government inquiry, nor am I satisfied that such an inquiry would be feasible or likely to lead to any reliable conclusions.That was the Prime Minister's reply after the matter had been exhaustively investigated by the men who belong to the ex-service men's organisation.
In one of the reports in this White Paper an extract is printed from a report presented by the Ex-Soldiers Rehabilitation Commission, New Zealand, 1930.
This report states:More than one of the medical witnesses that gave evidence before us spoke of the mentality of the returned soldier as something recognisable by them as distinctive: as the mentality of a class of men who, in some cases for years, were subjected to a degree of mental and nervous strain, and life under insanitary and uncomfortable conditions, to a degree never known before. This has caused them to be restored to civil life with the marks of these experiences upon them; they suffer and display lessened nervous control, and many of the symptoms of premature old age.Here is the point:It should be remembered that according to a principle of selection the returned soldiers should (omitting the results of War service) display better health and more stamina than those of their age who did not go to the Front. The tests for military service tended to send out best men (physically) to the front, and retained without War service those who were not so fit. If, therefore, at the present time (considering only persons who were by age eligible for service during the period of war), ex-service men show at least as much tendency to ill-health as those who did not serve, there is a prima facie case for the submission that their tendency to ill-health is due to War service.The Minister of Pensions has a great regard for the British Legion. On 23rd December, 1937, when defending his position and when he was using some part of the ex-service men's report which pleased him, he said:The British Legion has very highly experienced officials and is in constant touch with ex-service men, and is not likely to give an opinion based upon ignorance or lack of acquaintence with what we are taking about.2441 The report which I have read is an ex-service men's report calling upon the Government to set up a commission of inquiry and presenting the evidence upon which they base that request. These are the very men who, the Minister says, were likely to justify their case on the facts. The report was signed by men of high standing: the Chairman, Major Sir Francis Fetherston-Godley; the National Vice-Chairman, Col. S. W. L. Ashwanden; the Chairman of the Central Relief Committee, Mr. S. E. Perry; Mr. A. Deacon of the Sheffield Branch; Mr. W. F. Francis of the Swansea Branch; Mr. S. Kelly of the City of Westminster Branch, and the Secretary, Mr. A. G. Webb. These men have defended the position of the Minister of Pensions from time to time, and they have also issued a report asking the Government to do something in what they believe to be a genuine case worthy of examination. Why should we not accept the position as it was found to be by their investigation?
This demand is not confined to one part of the House. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) has urged this matter on two occasions, and every speaker who takes part in these Debates, on whatever side of the House he may sit, urges that an examination of this question is necessary. There are some matters that are not what may be termed purely political matters in which all parts of the House can join for the common good. I will name three of them, as I see it. First, there is the defence of the country; we all join in thinking that an adequate defence should be provided for the country. Then I think we shall all join in wanting to give adequate old age pensions to our aged people; that is another form of agreement common among us all. The third is the one that I am advocating now, that we ought to try and give justice, or at least to remove the suspicion that justice is not being given, to that great body of men who went out in the War period without any thought of what might happen for the future. They realised that the country was in danger and went out to give of their best in the country's service, and I think we are all united in wanting to give satisfaction to those men. If, as the Government say, there is nothing in these allegations, let them examine the case and satisfy us that their position is cor- 2442 rect. That would remove from our minds what is agitating them. If, on the other hand, there are grounds for these complaints, the Government cannot ignore an examination of them.
May I point out that the present soldiers, sailors, and airmen are entitled to very different conditions from those obtaining 20 years ago? I have in my possession a copy of the "News-Letter" issued this morning, in which the Secretary of State for War has an article telling the country what they are doing for the soldier of to-day and that the conditions are so good that nobody ought to refuse to enlist. The House of Commons has agreed that soldiers ought to have better conditions than they ever had before. If that is now recognised, and we have the knowledge that some of those who fought for us are not being treated fairly, that ought to prevail on the good will of the House of Commons, and an examination ought to be made into the whole question to see whether there is any justification at all for these complaints. I ask the Minister of Pensions not to come out with a prepared speech wiping this off. I hope he will put aside the speech that he has prepared, listen to the claims made from all sides of the House, and say to himself, "I want to be unbiased in this matter, to try and give justice to these people, and if it is the prevailing wish of the House that something should be done, I want to be magnanimous and to say that I will take this matter back to the Cabinet and ask them to examine this question." If he will do that, he will deserve and get the thanks of this whole Assembly.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
The last time that I spoke on this question, I referred to my own experiences, along with other people with whom I was associated, and I want to follow that up by saying that my interest in this matter was intensified by the letters that I received, when I came to this House, from constituents of mine and from people in other parts of the country. As a result of reading those letters, I visited a number of the people who live in the vicinity of the district which it is my duty to represent, and as a result of visits to their homes I was bound to take the interest in this issue which I have done, if I was truly to represent them. Therefore, I started 2443 putting down questions, and I was pleased at the interest which Lord Baldwin took in those questions when we first raised them. Owing, however, to the difficulties that he was in at that time, he said he could not give his personal attention to the matter, and he referred us to the Minister of Pensions. A number of us went along to the Minister of Pensions as a deputation, representing all parties in the House, and our main plea on that occasion was that an investigation into the question should be conducted by the Government. The Minister, in reply, asked us to await the result of the inquiry that was being conducted by the British Legion. We reluctantly agreed to do so, and for months and months very few questions were put in the House and very little activity took place, because we were prepared to await the result of that inquiry.
At the same time, we thought it was a Government responsibility. We realised that only Government Departments had access to the men's records and the statistical information which is brought out as a result of administering the various social services. However, despite our opinion at that time, we awaited this report, which has been referred to this morning by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). Let us say, quite candidly, that the whole House is very disappointed with the White Paper which has been issued. We have seen that the inquiry has been conducted by the British Legion, and we have read the correspondence which has passed between the Prime Minister, representing the Government, and the British Legion, and this report is a disappointment, as I say, to the whole House. I have in my hand an official publication issued in 1917 by the Government of day, dealing with soldiers' pensions. They state in this publication:Soldiers disabled by wounds, injuries or disease on military duty during this war will get pensions according to the degree of their disablement.Has that promise been carried out? The document also states:He gets this pension if for instance he has lost two limbs. If he can still earn while drawing this 27s. 6d. a week so much the better for him. That will not alter his pension.Does that prevail to-day? Every hon. Member of this House knows the pro- 2444 mises that were made, and one could go on giving others. For example, this document continues:Injuries not included in the printed list, and diseases, will be estimated by a Board.A Board will also decide whether disease was caused by, or was made worse by, military service.…A soldier may apply to have his pension fixed according to his earnings before the war.…A man's permanent pension is not fixed until the doctors consider that his injuries are as much cured as they are ever likely to be.…If a man has been killed in action during the war or has died from wounds or from injuries while on duty, and through no fault of his own, or from disease contracted on active service—and I want to emphasise this in particular—or aggravated by service, his widow may get a pension equal to half the soldier's pension for the highest degree of disablement, according to his rank.If these promises had been carried out, you would hear very little in this House of the grievances which we are constantly raising. It is because the promises contained in that official publication have not been carried out, because hundreds of men in this country whose constitutions have been undermined, or who have contracted disease due to the effects of the war upon their constitutions, have so much difficulty in proving their cases, that we plead for them to-day. We claim that these men are entitled to be given the benefit of the doubt to a greater extent than they have been given it by the Minister of Pensions. When I went to get my correspondence from the Post Office last evening, I found this letter:Dear Sir, My husband is an ex-service man having served his country from 1915–18. For the past 13 years he has been in a mental hospital. I receive no pension for him. I have a little girl to rear. I myself go out to work and I only earn 23s. per week to keep us on. As I am getting older I am feeling worn out with my work, with doing the work at home, and with the worry of my husband. As I have spoken to a number of my friends they have asked me to write to you.It is such letters which make us realise the sad cases which have arisen out of war service. If that woman has any proof at all that her husband is in that position because of his War service, or if there is any doubt about it, she ought to be given the benefit of the doubt and ought not to be expected to live under conditions of that kind. It is for such cases that we 2445 are pleading this morning. I understand that the administration of the Ministry of Pensions is based upon these principles: to decide whether an injury can be proved to be the result of war service or whether a disease has been contracted because of war service. We say that in many instances, while it is difficult to prove that a man's injury or disease directly arises out of war service, it has been in many instances aggravated by it, and that if there is any doubt the men should be given the benefit of it. I know it is alleged that certain people are always prepared to play up to this kind of thing. No one realises that more than I do, but while I admit that, I have no hesitation in saying that the big percentage of the applicants are genuine cases and deserve better treatment than they have received.
While it becomes increasingly difficult to prove our cases to the satisfaction of the Ministry of Pensions, we say that the records of service of these men and the medical evidence that they produce ought to be sufficient to earn them more consideration than they receive. There are thousands of men who can produce certicates from medical men in their own localities and from local hospitals; and some of the officers with whom I have dealt through the officers' section of the benevolent fund of the British Legion have produced medical evidence from some of the most reputable medical practitioners in the country, but it has been of no avail when placed before the Ministry of Pensions. If the Ministry of Pensions is not now prepared to go to the Cabinet and say that the time has arrived when, owing to the pressure that has been brought upon Members by public opinion, more generous treatment should be extended towards applicants, I for one am not prepared to carry on. The Minister knows that we are not exaggerating the position. He has travelled round the country, met local pensions committees and public-spirited people who have served on the committees of organisations of all descriptions, and I am confident that he has received a large amount of evidence of the character that we are placing before him. Major Fetherstone Godley, speaking at Leicester in December, 1935, said:There are at least 100,000 prematurely aged and disabled ex-Service men in this country to-day who are physically unfit for employment.2446 When we have raised this question in the past the Minister of Pensions has said that he wanted individual cases. When we have produced individual cases we have found that, while the replies were couched in the most courteous terms, it was always regretted that nothing could be done for the individual. I want to get on record some figures which cannot be doubted in order that hon. Members can have an opportunity of considering them. I will quote from to-day's "Manchester Guardian," which reports a deputation that waited on the Minister the other day. There is growing support in the House for our campaign and we welcome it, but I am sorry to notice that many of those who support us are not present this morning, nor are they always present when this issue is raised on other occasions. The following figures appear in the "Manchester Guardian." At 31st March, 1937, there were 419,200 pensions; 18,918 are unclassified; 252,274 are assessed at 20 to 40 per cent. disabled; 83,744 at 50 to 60 per cent.; 37,937 at 60 to 70 per cent.; and only 26,327 at 100 per cent. It then goes on to analyse the reply which the Minister gave to the deputation.
I want to give some extracts from answers that have been given in the House. The former Minister gave the following figures. From 1931 to 1936 the number of claims to pensions for ex-service men's widows and orphans was 13,362, and the number disallowed was 5,598. The present Minister of Pensions has given the following figures in reply to the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies)—showing the death rate per 1,000 of adult male disability pensioners calculated for each of the age groups specified, for the year ended 31st March, 1936. For the purposes of comparison the death rates in the corresponding groups of the civil population, male, have been added. I hope the Minister and the House will pay attention to these statistics, because they are an endorsement of our claim and are proof that we are not overstating our case, but, if anything, understating it. The Minister of Pensions gave these age group statistics. At ages between 35 and 39 the death-rate for ex-service men was 7.1 and for civilians .8. Between 40 and 44 years the death-rate for ex-service men was .7 and for civilians .4. Between 45 and 49 years the death-rate for ex-service men was 1.4 and for civilians .3. Those 2447 figures prove our case beyond all possibility of doubt, and we again plead with the Minister of Pensions to give consideration to our request for an investigation and to consider with the Prime Minister the White Paper which has been published.
There is one matter which I hesitate to mention, but which I feel bound to raise in view of the position in the country. If Members of this House give their attention to their duties here it is a full-time job, and they have their hands full, and what applies to Members applies even more so to Ministers of State, particularly in these times, but we find that the Minister of Pensions is being used as the chief propagandist for the Government throughout the country. When a Cabinet Minister cannot keep an appointment in the country the Minister of Pensions goes to fill his place, and I have no hesitation in saying that if the Minister of Pensions were giving his attention to the administration of his Ministry he would not have so much time to fulfil these other appontments.
Further, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) for reminding me of it, if any Cabinet Minister is a bit off colour, or if the Minister of Agriculture cannot attend at Question time, it is always the Minister of Pensions who answers the questions. I am convinced that the Minister of Pensions could not be as familiar as he is with agricultural questions, as we can see by his replies to supplementary questions, if he were not giving a good deal of attention to agricultural affairs. I say that the time has arrived when the Minister of Pensions ought to be asked to devote more time to this subject which we are raising this morning. In addition, I find according to this morning's "Manchester Guardian" that the Minister of Pensions stated at a meeting:If the Socialist party were in office to-day there would be war to-morrow.I have no hesitation in saying that that is a most irresponsible statement, and on behalf of our people I repudiate it. If the Minister were giving his time to his own duties he would not have the time to make irresponsible statements of that kind.
I want to conclude with the following: A person afflicted with a physical defect or disease is handicapped in working for 2448 his living. Only those who have been engaged in manual labour, particularly in the mines, with present-day mechanisation, on the railways, or in industry generally, can fully realise how essential it is for a man to be in perfect physical condition if he is to hold his own in industry. A man whose constitution has been undermined feels humiliated when he cannot hold his own with the rest of the men. Further, men who have been forced to lose time through ill-health are the first to be discharged when slackness of trade arrives. Not only is the man affected, directly or indirectly, but there are bigger tragedies arising from the effects upon the man's wife and children, because his wife cannot maintain her own economic position, in accordance with her own likes, in the district where she is living, if his constitution has been undermined and he cannot keep his job. She cannot do justice to her children.
Therefore, we say that ex-service men are not only affected directly in the way which has been proved by the statistical information given by the Minister of Pensions, but are affected indirectly in a way that only men who have been engaged in manual labour can realise. For that reason we shall have no hesitation in raising this issue time after time. As the hon. Member for Leigh has said, if we cannot get justice on this occasion it will be our duty, no matter what Government is in power, to go on raising this issue until the Government will agree to an investigation, because we are confident that if there is an investigation our case will be proved and justice will be done.
§ 12.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher
When I had the honour of taking part in a debate on this subject on 23rd December, I gave one instance of the difficulty of establishing a man's claim to pension. My example in that case was an ex-naval rating who had gone into the Navy on a pre-war engagement. I need not stress the point that very careful examination was given to the eyesight of recruits for the Royal Navy in pre-war days. This man, formerly employed in agriculture, was accepted for the Royal Navy before the War. His eyesight has now failed, and he makes a claim to the Ministry of Pensions and suggests that it is due to his war service. He served, I believe, at Zeebrugge. He was asked, quite rightly, to bring forward evidence in 2449 support of his claim. He points out, first, that his eyesight was examined by the authorities of the Royal Navy when he was a young man, and that as an agricultural worker he had not been engaged in an occupation which was likely to prejudice his eyesight. He then submits a letter from his employer before the War stating that his eyesight was good, and another letter from his employer immediately after the War, in which it is said that he was often taken home from work with severe pains in the head. He also sent a doctor's certificate. I ask the Minister of Pensions whether he can suggest any other way in which an ordinary agricultural worker living in a small Lincolnshire village can establish a claim that his eyesight has been affected by the War. His case has been turned down.
I feel that we have now reached a stage at which, with genuine cases reaching us as Members of Parliament, we are entitled to go to the Ministry and to say, The onus of establishing a claim to pension is now bearing far too hardly on the man." Instead of the balance being on the side of the man having to prove his case the Ministry of Pensions ought to take the other view and say, "If the man has a good record we are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt"—that is, of course, if he has a good record, because we must all admit that there are some people who will try to secure something to which they are riot entitled. I have no desire to make the difficulties of my hon. Friend the Minister greater than they are, in view of his many other occupations in addition to the Ministry of Pensions, to which reference has been made, but I do feel that there is a widespread and growing dissatisfaction with the work of the Ministry of Pensions at the present time. Let me refer to the Report of the Minister for the year ended 31st March, 1937, in which, on page 3, there is a reference to the increased use of independent medical specialists. It says that the advice of a number of eminent specialists, surgical and medical, nominated by the Presidents of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, is used in determining the more difficult of these cases. Their advice is now sought by the Ministry. It is interesting to see how the advice is sought.
2450 During the year ended 31st March, 1937, 143 cases were so submitted. In every case the entire evidence and the transcript of all relevant reports and other documents affecting the claim are put before the specialist, who is invited to form his independent opinion on them, while he can also at his own option examine the claimant personally. In a question intimately concerning a man's health it is quite impossible to come to any decision at all on merely written evidence in cases of this nature. It is the experience of those of us who are engaged in industry that if a claim is made on behalf of a workman we refer it automatically to the insurance company, and the first step that the insurance company takes is to have the man examined by the insurance company's doctor. The case goes a little further, and it is examined then perhaps with a view to going into the courts. The insurance company is not satisfied with the mere expression of opinion of a specialist, based on the early report of the doctor. The man is sent to London at the insurance company's expense to be examined by the specialist there.
I feel that where these very difficult cases come up, as they must come up, there will be very much more satisfaction if the applicants are seen and personally examined by a specialist. For my own part I would not accept any report on my own health if I knew that a complete list of my physical characteristics and my disabilities had been submitted by 20 doctors to a specialist and he was prescribing on that. His medicine would automatically be suspect. In all these difficult cases the man himself should be personally examined by the specialist. It is not that there is a large number of cases. There were only 143 in the whole year, something under three a week. I do ask the Minister to examine this question of pensions, not with the view that it is the duty of the Ministry to insist that in no case shall a pension be altered unless every evidence has been brought—it is very difficult to bring it—but rather to reverse their attitude and to say, "We are prepared in the case of men who can bring evidence that before their service they were of good physique and character and now find themselves suffering from some illness which in the opinion of their local doctor or other qualified doctor may be due to their war service— 2451 we are prepared, as a wealthy and grateful country, to give these men the benefit of the doubt".
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Kingsley Griffith
I am afraid that I have shared the experience of other hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, in finding that I get a smaller percentage of success in applying to this particular Ministry than in applying to any other Ministry. I am not in any way putting that personally on the Minister himself, because we must in fairness recognise that as time goes on it becomes more difficult to estimate the precise facts and to bring logical proof of what we are protesting on behalf of an applicant; but at the same time, from whatever cause it be, I always open a pension claim with a certain feeling of sinking at the heart that I am not likely to be successful. since I took part in the debate on 23rd December I have had, from all parts of the country, a perfect spate of cases dealing with pensions. I suppose it is one of the penalties for taking part in a debate of this kind. But they have come from all parts of the country and, as the proper practice is, I have advised the applicants to proceed through their own Members of Parliament.
What impressed me was that a great many of the claims were quite old claims that had been turned down years ago, and they left the impression on my mind that there is an enduring discontent in many homes all over the country, where a claim has been turned down, and yet years after there is a feeling of rankling injustice and the claimants are ready to try to fight the whole thing over again with a new Minister, of course with even greater difficulties owing to the lapse of time. That is the impression that has been brought home to me by the correspondence I have had during the past few weeks. I feel it particularly with regard to the claims of widows who are claiming that their husbands died owing to war service. I cannot be satisfied, after the cases I have seen, that the benefit of the doubt really is being given.
I have had cases like this. A man has been suffering from a disability which is admittedly due to war service because he has been given a disability pension. Then he goes to hospital. He dies, and on the death certificate the pensionable 2452 disability is actually mentioned. But there is something else as well, because something else has intervened; and the claim has not been granted. In cases like that I think that, provided a persionable disability is mentioned on the death certificate, the claim is proved. The actual terms of the letters I have received from successive Ministers of Pensions make me feel that the burden of proof is being put entirely on the side of the applicant. They say, "It has not been established that the injury was due to war service." That really is demanding mathematical and absolute proof. There must be doubt in cases where, possibly, a man might have died even if he had never been to the war at all. But if there is a disability which can be connected with his death I should have thought that the Ministry should pursue the policy of granting the claim. I am not satisfied that they or their medical advisors take that view. Therefore I am very glad that the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has raised this matter to-day and that we are once again doing a kind of sit-down strike, refusing to go away from this House for the Recess without obtaining from the Minister some statement which we hope may give comfort and reassurance to those who come and ask for our help.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I shall not detain the House for long after the speech of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). This matter has been debated on numerous occasions, and it must be very difficult for hon. Members to find new points to put to the Minister. Certainly one new point has been advanced to-day by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith), and that is that the Minister himself has so little to do that he is being used to assist other Departments and to make speeches in the country—speeches which, I am bound to say, do not often meet with the success that they may perhaps deserve. That point has a moral. The Ministry of Pensions is merely an administrative Department. It has hardly anything to do with policy, and although we are precluded from saying anything to-day which might even suggest a change of policy necessitating legislation, nevertheless our speeches on this occasion may have that effect at a future date. This morning we are bound to refer only to the administrative side of the Ministry of 2453 Pensions. The Minister indicated that he had not come here with a prepared speech. We hope that he will endeavour to reply to the points which have been very cogently put by Members on all sides of the House, because this is a subject which enlists the sympathy and advocacy of all hon. Members. But if the Minister had not come here this morning with a set speech, I fear that he has come here with set ideas in his mind. I noticed a paragraph in the "Times" this morning, as follows:The subjects proposed for discussion on the adjournment for the Whitsuntide recess are various.Then there is a reference to ex-Servicemen's pensions, and other matters and the "Times" reporter goes on to say:The debate, whatever the intrinsic merits of the speeches may be, is unlikely to penetrate deep into the consciousness of the general public, for the reasons that the subjects have all been raised before in not dissimilar circumstances, and that no statement of significance is expected from the Government.I do not know how far in the confidence of the Government or of the hon. Gentleman the "Times" Parliamentary correspondent is, but I fear very much that that is a shrewd prognostication on his part. I propose to emphasise what has already been said by other hon. Members by giving a few quotations from the report of a special committee of the British Legion on this subject. Hon. Members know that the British Legion is no revolutionary body. It is not even a political body. Most hon. Members, I believe, will agree with me when I say that it does not contain by any means a predominant number of supporters of the Labour Party. Indeed I should say that, particularly as regards the officials who administer its affairs both at headquarters and in the branches, their politics accord more with those of the Government than with those of the Opposition. Therefore, in considering the quotations which I propose to give from this report hon. Members may take it for granted that this body is not biased against the Government. On page 5 of the report we find this statement:—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.2454 That is largely our case. The manner in which these individual cases are dealt with does not lead to satisfaction in the minds of hon. Members or of the applicants themselves. In fact, most hon. Members who have had to bring cases to the attention of the Minister have been convinced that the system which is now operating is not adequate according to present-day requirements. On page 6 of the report the British Legion Committee further said:—The Committee computed that throughout the country there were at least 17,972 Great War ex-Service men between the ages of 40 and 60 suffering from chronic sickness, unable to work and forced to apply to the local authority for assistance.They go on to say:Branches of the Legion were asked for certain information concerning their own districts and from the replies received from some 750 branches it will be seen that of the cases brought to the notice of the branches, 54 per cent. although in need were struggling along without recourse to the Public Assistance Committee.What does that indicate? That this body of ex-Service men, many of them, admittedly, broken-down in health, are even now not broken-down in spirit and that, if at all possible, they refuse to go to the public assistance committee to seek help. Should we not be prepared to treat these men in a more generous fashion? On page 7 of the report we find the following:It has been represented to the Committee that ex-Service men are strongly averse to applying for public assistance, many regarding it as degrading and conveying a stigma of pauperism and consequent loss of standing and self-respect.I know that these men, like other citizens in distressed circumstances, have the right to go to the Public Assistance Committee, but the fact remains that they do not want to do that, and they ought not to be forced to do it if it is avoidable. May I quote an example of the working of the pensions warrant, as the Minister will probably say in his reply that he is bound to administer his Department in accordance with the pensions warrant. In the same report on page II, I find:For example, many men receiving pensions assessed at from 6o per cent. to 100 per cent. are still able to carry on their normal occupation and receive full wages for it.I am not denying the right of those who suffered in the last War to get whatever pension they can get, but a case was 2455 brought to my attention the other day by an ex-service man, who had not received a pension himself, of one of his colleagues who was enjoying a zoo per cent. pension and at the same time receiving full wages, and very adequate wages, for the work which he was doing. I do not want to alter that man's circumstances. If he suffered in the War he ought to be compensated for it. But such a case is bound to leave a certain impression on the minds of those who are not able to get adequately-paid work, and who find themselves turned down, with only a small pension or no pension at all. I know that the problem is a very difficult one for the Minister, but I would point out that we are not appealing on behalf of a small number of ex-service men. Hon. Members may have few or many cases to bring to the Minister's notice, and I, personally, have only had a few, but I wish to quote again from the Legion's report some figures to show the extent of this problem. The report states:The Committee's enquiries reveal that there are to-day in the country at least 95,539 ex-service men unable to work through incapacity and in need.Hon. Members can draw their own conclusions from that, as to the size of the problem. I should like also to quote some figures as to the number receiving public assistance. The figures given in the appendix to the report show conclusively that the number of Great War ex-Service men between the ages of 40 and 49 receiving assistance is in excess of the number of non-combatants between those ages in receipt of assistance. The figures may not be quite conclusive, because the totals show that in the first category, that is to say, those ex-service men who served in the Great War, there are 2,444 receiving public assistance, while among non-combatants there are 2,346; but this last figure is swelled by the remarkable figures from the county of Glamorgan. That in itself, I think, indicates a problem with which the Ministry of Pensions is not concerned.
Every hon. Member of the House, including the Minister of Pensions himself, knows that his Department is the Cinderella of all the Government Departments. It is reckoned to be a self-liquidating Department, a Department that in course of time, by death, will liquidate itself, and 2456 the country will then not be called upon to find the heavy sums of money which it has been called upon to find in the past. We ask the Minister of Pensions to adopt an entirely different policy—not to look upon himself as being, as it were, a Minister without portfolio, the handmaiden of all other Departments of State, the hon. Gentlemen who is there to go to the country and to make speeches on suitable and unsuitable occasions in order to bolster up the Government's record. We ask him to be an active Minister; we ask him to extend more geneerosity to these ex-service men; and we demand of him that he should go to his colleagues in the Government and say to them that this is a matter on which probably the whole House is agreed, and ask from his colleagues in the Government some better treatment.
We used to say in the Army—those ex-service men who served during the War will recognise this, I am sure—that "Old soldiers never die; they only fade away." It seems that that is literally true to-day. Many of these men, as hon. Members know, are fading away. They have served their country in times past; they served their country when the country was almost overwhelmed by the storm more than 20 years ago. If the indications of international affairs are any conclusive evidence, the storm is likely to break over us again, and then it may be a question of "All hands on deck." I ask the Minister of Pensions, in these circumstances, why does he alienate the sympathy, the good will, and the considerable assistance which this large and loyal body of ex-service men are able to give to the nation even once again if that storm should break over us? To-day one can insure, for a comparatively small premium in money, against all forms of accident, illness and death. These men for whom we are pleading have paid the premium in days gone by; they are still paying the premum; but they are not getting any benefits from the policy. We ask the Minister of Pensions to see that the premium which they have paid in days gone by, and which they are still continuing to pay, shall bear a better return than it gets to-day under the present Pension Warrants.
§ 12.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) both 2457 described the Minister of Pensions as the chief propagandist of the Government, and they seemed somewhat concerned, that he should occupy that role. I also am interested in that fact, but from a somewhat different point of view. I. welcome the fact that the Minister of Pensions occupies that position, if indeed, he does, but I should like to be certain that he is able to do his job as well as he is fitted to do it and, I am sure, would like to do it. I think that, if he could meet the demand which has been made on previous occasions, and again to-day, from all quarters of the House, that a square deal should be given to ex-service men, he would be able to carry out more easily, not only his duties as Minister of Pensions, but his other duties as well.
I would like to ask once again that the request which has been made by the British Legion for an inquiry into the condition of the prematurely aged men should be acceded to by the Government. I believe that the Government of the day ought to agree to any request for an inquiry that comes from any responsible body. I would ask the Minister of Pensions whether he does not agree that the British Legion is a responsible body, that it has looked after the interests of ex-service men, and that no other organisation in this country is more qualified to speak in the name of ex-service men? I would also ask him whether he does not agree that it has been moderate in its demands upon the country, and that ex-service men have been moderate? One can contrast what the ex-service men of this country might have asked for, if they had used the power they possessed at the end of the War, with what their demands actually have been. One can compare the position of the British Legion in this country with the attitude taken up by the ex-service men in the United States of America. That is a tribute to the moderation which ex-service men in this country have shown since the War. When they come to the Government with a perfectly modest demand for an inquiry, that inquiry should be granted. They are not asking for a penny of public money; they are only asking that an inquiry should be held as to whether the promises that were made to them have been fulfilled. It reminds me of what Clive is reported to have said when he was accused of having amassed a great deal of wealth in India. His 2458 reply was: "When I consider what I might have brought back, I am amazed at my own moderation." I think that that might justly be said of the ex-service men.
Reference has been made by previous speakers, quite rightly, to the fact that hitherto the question of ex-service men's treatment has not been a party question in this country. I think it would be very unfortunate if the impression were to get abroad that there is only one party in the country which is prepared to support this request for an inquiry, and that it would be necessary to replace the present Government and put another Government in power before this reasonable request could be granted. Therefore, I would appeal to the Government for a change of mind in this matter. We know that the Prime Minister is strong enough to agree when a mistake has been made. I am not asking that the Minister of Pensions should definitely say this morning that the request for an inquiry will be granted. What I ask is that he will agree to ask the Prime Minister whether he will reconsider his decision. I think that if he does that, it will give great satisfaction, not only to ex-service men, but to everybody in this country who is anxious to see ex-service men receive a square deal.
I say without any hesitation that the refusal of an inquiry has caused resentment. I have yet to meet a single individual who is prepared to support that refusal. I am satisfied that if a free vote of the House were allowed at any time on this question there would be an overwhelming majority in favour of an inquiry. I have taken part in every Debate on this subject since I became a Member of the House, and I think that, with the exception of the Minister, there has not been a single Member in any part of the House who has been willing to uphold the present state of things. All have insisted that more ought to be done if a square deal is to be given to ex-service men. I myself have no quarrel with or complaint against the Minister so far as the administration of his office is concerned, but I feel that the request of the British Legion for an inquiry is a perfectly reasonable request, and that this Government ought to grant it. The British Legion themselves, it is true, held 2459 an inquiry, but they were not in a position to make that inquiry as complete and as conclusive as it might have been, But the evidence they have been able to put forward is such as to justify the contention that further inquiry by the Government is desirable. I, therefore, appeal most strongly to the Minister of Pensions to ask the Prime Minister at least to reconsider his decision in the matter.
§ 12.45 P.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
I think it is time that a word was said from this Bench on the subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). The House will agree, I think, that he has rendered a very great service by raising this question. But I wish that the speeches we have heard from both sides of the House this morning could have been delivered on a Supply Day, so that we could have had a vote on the matter. The Government, however satisfied they may be with the general structure and work of the Ministry of Pensions, cannot deny that these speeches represent a very great body of dissatisfaction outside the House, or that these complaints are not limited to people in any one party. There have been complaints at the Conservative conferences. The hon. Gentleman gave a general answer to his own people. The Ministry of Pensions, with all the range of experience and statistics it has at its disposal, as a rule can answer anything, but the Minister did not allay the dissatisfaction that exists on this matter even among his own people.
Then we have the British Legion. The Government cannot say that they are merely disgruntled, dissident forces. The British Legion have made an inquiry. I want to say quite frankly that when my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) and other people asked the Government for an inquiry, I was not satisfied, although I have relations with the British Legion, that the Government should delegate its own functions to the British Legion and push off on to that body their duty of making an inquiry. Week after week, we were told that the Government could not give an answer at the moment to our questions, because the British Legion were inquiring. The answer we got for months was, "We will give you a reply by and by: meanwhile, just 2460 wait for the report of the British Legion." I got the impression that the Government were leaving this matter for the British Legion to settle in their own inquiry. The British Legion have had their inquiry. I think it was at once too wide and too limited. I think they generalised a little too much and did not pay sufficient attention to the large number of cases strictly within their purview. They also left out a good many questions that need consideration. I am not satisfied, for instance, with the position of the Royal Warrant in relation to widows who married after the men's service. They may have been all right just after the War, but, for many reasons it is a different proposition now, 20 years after.
But here is the British Legion's report, and the Prime Minister replies to that report. It is not worth while, in the time at our disposal to-day, discussing the report at length, but I must say I have seldom seen a cleverer piece of juggling—and I wish the Prime Minister were here as I say this—than the Prime Minister's reply to the British Legion. He says: "You just take a certain number of specific cases, and you say it is impossible to tell how a certain ex-service man is affected as the years go on, as compared with the non-service man; but you say that 100,000 are affected. Here is the actuary's report." Imagine answering the ex-service men's claim on this matter with an actuary's report. Hon. Members have read many actuaries' reports, and it is no criticism of the particular actuaries concerned to say that it is very questionable whether any member of this House ever knew an actuary's report which was even approximately true in its effect. Actuaries' reports are the most intangible things imaginable. It is a most absurd reply that the Prime Minister has made. The Legion's report says that the committee are 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 that it is as a result of such service. Does anybody deny that? The Prime Minister says: "You do not know everything in these cases; your sympathy is misplaced." But is he going to question that that statement gives expression to a deep-seated feeling of wrong in the country with regard to masses of men? 2461 However much the Government may question it, it surely gives ground for inquiry.
Every hon. Member knows of individual cases. Here is a case I know of myself. A woman came to me some six months ago. Her husband was in hospital. It was a case of doing certain things, and the Minister was up and doing. He was very sympathetic and generous. He gave immediate attention to the needs of the man. The man, who was receiving a pension, died in that hospital. I was shocked to find that the woman, who has a daughter of 18, could not receive a pension, for the simple reason that she had married him two years after he received his injury. They were friends, in the ordinary term of sweethearting before the man went into the Army, but because they were not married before he went into the Army, the woman received no pension. I know that there were reasons for the inclusion of this particular article in the warrant in the earlier stages, and I will not go into them now, but is there no ground for reexamining a question like that after 18 years of the operation of that warrant? Is there anyone who would say that a woman like that has not been wronged by the refusal of a pension? There is very grave need for inquiry into such a state of things. There is also the case to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh has alluded and which I raised on Monday, when the hon. Gentleman said that the case could go to appeal. I know that the appeal tribunal is an unbiased body, but one recognises the weight of experience and general status of the Ministry in an appeal of this description compared with the appearance of a poor widow, with, perhaps, some local man from the British Legion representing her. It is very much like a poor person having to attend an appeal in the House of Lords without the benefit of counsel. Here is this man. The right hon. Gentleman has his own case, and I will tell my case as I see it—
§ Mr. Lawson
This man came out of the Army. I did not see him originally, but I was told that it was distressing to see him, and when I did see him, his condition was really painful to look upon. 2462 He got somewhat better as the years went by, but it was always uncomfortable to talk to him. He died and his widow has been refused a pension. She can go to appeal, and she is going to appeal, but I do not think that there should be any doubt in the case of a widow of that description. If there is any doubt or any special information in the possession of the Ministry, why should not the Minister accept the opportunity of an inquiry? There is grave need of serious reconsideration being given to these matters. I say this as one who has from time to time taken a very active part in these questions, and who has paid his tribute to the general organisation and conduct of the Ministry as a whole. I should say that the job has been too well done by the Ministry to submit to the sense of wrong that prevails in respect of a limited number of cases, but in these limited number of cases there is very great hardship indeed. The Government would be wise to submit to an inquiry. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh has said that we have to raise this matter on the Adjournment, and that it will not be the last time. I only wish that we could get an opportunity on some Supply day, so that we could have sufficient time in which to consider this matter.
§ 1 p.m.
§ Mr. Kelly
On a point of Order, I ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. In this Debate a request has been made for an inquiry which will be restricted, judging by the references that have been made, to the kind of cases mentioned this morning. Will there be an opportunity given to bring in a very large section of pensioners to whom reference has not been made? I refer to the widows particularly.
§ Mr. Kelly
The point is that a request has been made for an inquiry regarding certain pensioners, but no reference whatever has been made to those widows who have had pensions taken away from them. Will an opportunity be given to include these persons in the scope of any inquiry, so that their cases may be dealt with? We have had no chance to refer to the matter this morning.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) pointed out in his speech, we have debated this subject now on three successive Adjournments since last December. When I am asked whether I have a prepared speech on this occasion, I tell the House that it is quite unnecessary, because I have made so many speeches on this subject before. Before Christmas I spoke for an hour; last April I spoke for half-an-hour; and I shall, no doubt, occupy the time of the House for something like that time to-day. I gather from the speeches I have heard that the complaint is rather against the policy of the Ministry of Pensions than against the actual individual at the Ministry. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) was kind enough to say on the last debate that he had no particular quarrel against myself, and that he did not think that I was lacking in sympathy with the ex-Service men. I do not think that it is necessary to impress that upon the House, but what I have to do, and what I am charged with, is to administer the law as it stands and to carry out the policy laid down by Parliament in regard to the treatment of the war-disabled man.
I would emphasise once more, as I have had to emphasise in previous debates, that my responsibility as Minister of Pensions is the war-disabled man. That inevitably means the man in respect of whom there is reasonable evidence that the disablement had a war origin. Otherwise, as I have pointed out to the House before, the whole pension system would collapse. If I am to be asked to secure pensions for men who served in the War on grounds other than the production of reasonable evidence that the injury is due to the War, then we shall have something quite unlike our present system, and shall have a system which not many people in this country would desire us to have.
When I last spoke, I tried to give the House a picture of the difficulties with which any Minister of Pensions must be faced some 20 years after the War in determining whether or not he can honestly and conscientiously award public money in compensation for war disable- 2464 ment. As long ago as 1929, when my predecessor the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. F. O. Roberts) was in office administering the Ministry of Pensions in the Government of the Party opposite, he explained to the House what the position was and was likely to be. He said:At the present date, more than so 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 pension. New claims in respect of some ailment or disease are the 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 statement was made in this House by the Minister of Pensions in a Socialist Government. It was a very correct statement of the position, and I am not aware that any hon. Members opposite, who have criticised me, have ever found fault with that statement. A reference has been made by the hon. Member for Leigh to the White Paper, Command Paper 5738, which contains the report of the inquiry set up by the British Legion, and the Prime Minister's reply to that report. There are one or two points in the report of the British Legion to which I should like to draw attention. On page 19, they say:The Committee is satisfied that the general principles which form the basis of the Pension Warrants are sound.That statement must mean that the Legion does not want any drastic alteration in the terms of the Warrant under which it is my duty to administer the pensions system.
§ Mr. Tinker
That is the English expression of opinion. If the Minister will look at the Scottish report he will see that they do not altogether agree with that.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
The British section of the Legion contains a much larger percentage of men who fought in the War. On page 22, the report says: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.2465 What conclusion is to be drawn from that statement? Here is a statement of a committee appointed by a highly responsible body—and I agree with every word that has been said about the British Legion—which carried on its investigations for i8 months to two years and dealt with a very large number of cases from a very large number of branches. It was their considered opinion not merely that they do not wish to disturb the Warrant under which I administer the pensions system, but that they are satisfied, where reasonable evidence is produced that the disablement is due to war service, that a pension is awarded.
§ Mr. Lipson
Does not that fact make the request that they have put forward all the more reasonable?
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I do not agree with the hon. Member. I am here to administer the pension system laid down by Parliament, and I have quoted two expressions of opinion from a committee of the British Legion stating, in the first place, that the pension system is sound and that they do not wish it to be disturbed and, in the second place, that they are satisfied that where reasonable evidence is produced to me that the man's present condition is due to war service, a pension is paid. I would ask hon. Members whether, in view of these facts, it is not a little hard to endeavour to create an impression that countless cases are brought to me and a pension is refused.
The British Legion, obviously, has a great deal more experience than any of us can possibly have of individual cases. As Members of Parliament some of us may get perhaps 100 individual cases in a year, whereas the British Legion deals with thousands. Therefore, we cannot fail to give due weight to statements of the kind that I have quoted. If, therefore, the body which has produced this report, after carrying out its investigations, is satisfied that the Pension Warrant system as it stands is sound, and is satisfied that the Minister awards pensions wherever reasonable evidence is produced, then I do not think that this document produced by the British Legion contains a complaint against the Ministry of Pensions. There are many matters mentioned in the report, and recommendations dealing with various points into which I cannot 2466 go because they would all involve legislation; but as far as the Ministry is concerned I think this report is a considerable vindication by a very important body representing a large number of ex-service men.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The Minister has raised what appears to me to be an important point. He says that there are other recommendations in the report of the British Legion which would involve legislation, but that under the Rules of Order he cannot deal with them. Is it not possible for him to give to the House a general view as to the consideration which the Government have given to those recommendations, and some indication of the Government's intention?
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I take it that the hon. Member has not read the Prime Minister's reply, contained in the White Paper, which goes at length into a detailed examination of the recommendations of the British Legion, and gives the Government's views on those recommendations. There is nothing that I can add at this stage to what the Prime Minister has said. If the hon. Member will read the statement I think he will be entirely satisfied that every point has been dealt with.
§ Mr. Tinker
I hope the Minister will not get away like that. He has referred to the British Legion, representing the ex-service men, as being a body of outstanding merit and well worthy of notice. Then he goes on to say that he cannot deal with the recommendations that are made because they would require legislation. He quotes from the report statements in his own favour, but he does not deal with the other points, or say that the Government are prepared to examine them and to set up the inquiry which is asked for. He is prepared to accept the Legion's point of view in one respect but not in the other.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I do not think the hon. Member quite understands the position. I said that there were certain recommendations, which I could not discuss because they would involve legislation. As far as the request for the holding of an inquiry is concerned, that is dealt with in the reply which the Prime Minister gave. The hon. Member may not have read the report.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
The hon. Member does not correctly represent what was said. I will read the passage from the Prime Minister's statement:In these circumstances, there does not appear to be a case calling for a formal Committee of Inquiry. Such an inquiry could only resolve itself into a detailed investigation into the circumstances of several thousand individuals all over the country, in order to determine the various causes which have led ex-service men to apply for treatment or assistance from one or other of the many social services—a procedure which would certainly be resented by many of the men themselves, and, in the inevitable absence of any valid comparison with a corresponding group of non-service men, could yield no conclusive result towards determining your Committee's claim that they should be treated differently from the rest of the population. I should not feel justified in setting up a Committee for an inquiry which for these reasons could only be both rambling and inconclusive, especially as the form of the inquiry must raise widespread expectations and result in feelings of disappointment not easily allayed.
§ Mr. Mathers
The Minister has concentrated his remarks on the English side of the British Legion report. Has he no similar comments to make on the Scottish side?
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
Whatever reasons apply as to the undesirability of an inquiry into the British side, apply equally to the Scottish: there is no distinction.
§ Mr. Mathers
The Scottish side was dealt with only recently. It is somewhat different from the English, and I think justifies different treatment.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
The only comments I have to make on the Scottish report is that 13 out of the 15 points to which they draw attention have been before successive Ministers of Pensions for a considerable number of years and have been dealt with to the best of the Ministers power. The hon. Member for Leigh and also the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) mentioned the question of widows who through their own fault are deprived of their pensions by the Special Grants Committee. I gave a long answer in the House last week setting out the whole position. I have seen a deputation of hon. Members and explained it to them, 2468 and may I again remind the House that I have no power—Parliament has given the Minister no power—to alter the procedure of the Special Grants Committee or to reverse its decisions? I cannot discuss matters relating to that Committee because they would involve legislation.
The hon. Member for Leigh also referred to the 14 cases which he put to me in February 1937. I wrote on each individual case and suggested that the man should go to the chief area officer to be examined. The only point I made last December was that as far as I could gather 12 out of 14 had not gone, but as a result of the hon. Members stimulating them to do so, six of them, according to my information, subsequently appeared. With five we have not found it possible to do anything, one will be boarded on the 7th June, but up to the present no application has been received from the remaining six. I do not know whether hon. Members themselves personally investigate all these cases, and I sometimes wonder whether they see the local war pensions committee. Reference has been made to the visits I paid to the war pensions committee. I have seen no chairmen out of 160 and I can assure the hon. Member for Stoke that I got no confirmation whatever from the chairmen of the war pensions committees of the allegations he made.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I do not say that, but I do say that nothing like the picture which the hon. Member has drawn was confirmed to me by the war pensions committees, and if he will consult the chairman of the Stoke Pensions Committee he will find that what I have said will be confirmed. The hon. Member also asked whether the promises made by the Government had been carried out. I say quite definitely that the promises made by successive Governments since the War to the disabled men have been carried out. If they had not been carried out the Minister in charge would have been neglecting his duties, and would have been censured by the House. From 1917 up to the present date the Government have rigorously carried out the promises they have made, and every Minister has done his best to do so.
The hon. Member for Stoke referred to various cases which he has put to me. 2469 He must remember that I have records which Members of Parliament and local medical men have not got. A case which the hon. Member for Stoke put to me appeared on the face of it to be one calling for lenient and generous treatment, but it turned out on further examination that the document put in to prove the man's service was a forged one. The medical officer did not know it, and the hon. Member for Stoke did not know it.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
No. But if it is to be laid down as a. principle that the medical officer's opinion or the opinion of a Member of Parliament is to be the deciding factor, then, of course, the whole pensions system disappears.
§ Mr. E. Smith
Annoyed as the Minister was, I was even more annoyed when it was found that it was a forged document, because I felt that I had been let down, but I suggest that it is most unfair to give a special case, because the special case does not deny that the general is true. The cases we quoted were cases in general; and the special does not deny the general.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
If it is unfair for me, as hon. Members allege, to give special cases of that kind, is it not equally unfair for hon. Members without notice to give special cases in the course of the Debate? I have not the facts. I have not been given notice, but when I have the facts the hon. Member turns round and says it is unfair on my part. I must leave it at that. The hon. Member for Boston with Holland (Mr. Butcher) mentioned a case which I have not had any previous notice.
§ Mr. Butcher
I did not intend any discourtesy to the Minister of Pensions, but I only received the letter this morning and I thought that I had better bring up this matter at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I do not charge the hon. Member with any discourtesy, but it is difficult to keep individual cases in mind. I have to deal in the course of the year with 3,000 cases from hon. Members, and that is .07 of the total number of cases I could get, that is the percentage of the total number of ex-Service men. The point is that these 3,000 cases represent .07 of the total number of cases I could receive, and when I hear expressions as 2470 to the general discontent prevailing I suggest that .07 is not a very extensive basis on which to found such an opinion. And, of course, many of these cases have been considered and turned down by my predecessors.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
That gives me some consolation. I would like to correct my hon. Friend the Member for Holland-withBoston on one point with regard to the independent medical expert. Let me say, in the first place, that I cannot compel an independent medical expert to see the man. Generally, the independent medical expert is a Harley Street physician or surgeon, who does this work for us at a very small fee, almost voluntarily, and thus performs a very great service to the Ministry and the country.
§ Mr. Butcher
Would it not be much more satisfactory if he were paid a satisfactory fee and there were a thorough examination?
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I am not quite sure what my hon. Friend means. I cannot compel the independent medical expert to see the man. In most cases, he does not not want to see the man, because it is not a question of diagnosis, but a question of the perusal of all the documents in the case and the war service records. The independent medical expert, with his great experience, has to decide whether there is reasonable evidence to connect the present condition of the man with the war service shown on his records. That is often a difficult thing to do. I believe I am right in saying that in workman's compensation cases the claim has to be made at once or not later than six months afterwards, but here we are dealing with claims which have a history of 20 years or more.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
In a previous Debate, I said that there has to be reasonable evidence and that we do not ask for anything in the nature of irrefutable 2471 evidence. If we did, two-thirds of the cases which receive a favourable decision would not receive it. There must be a reasonable connection established between the War service, the disability incurred in the War, and the present state of the man. If we do not require some evidence of that sort, then it is no longer a pensions system, but a system of bonuses. In this country we still maintain a pensions system, we still reward, and reward generously, any soldier who gives reasonable evidence showing that his present condition results from his War service. As hon. Members know, I am prepared to examine each case most carefully, to help a man to establish his claim, to tell him where to find the evidence—to write to the approved societies and to his medical advisers—and to build up a chain of evidence on which my medical advisers can honestly and conscientiously say to me that there is the probability that the man's present condition is due to his War service. If I did not do that, I should not be worthy to occupy the position which I now occupy. I am convinced that the House has no intention of endeavouring to persuade me to exact from my medical advisers a certificate in which they do not believe.
§ Mr. Ramsbotham
I am bound by Statute not to grant a pension to a man unless I have a certificate from my medical advisers to the effect that the pension should be granted because the war disability is the cause of the present condition of the man. Therefore, it must be, and is, primarily a medical decision. If, as a result of persuasion, I proceeded to induce the medical advisers of the Ministry to relax their ordinary standards of evidence, to relax their medical examination and to give certificates which do not represent the honest and conscientious opinion of the medical advisers in question, it would strike a blow at the pensions system of the country from which it would never recover.