Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £ 22,008,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1942, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Pensions, payments in respect of war pensions, gratuities and allowances, sundry contributions in respect thereof and other services."—[NOTE. — £15,000,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I am glad to have another opportunity of presenting the Estimates of my Department to the Committee, because during the last 12 months many things have happened with regard to the responsibilities of my Ministry, and in many directions improvements have been made in the terms and conditions under which pensions and allowances are made. I must first say a word about the pensioners from the great war of 1914–18. Since the outbreak of that war my Department have spent £1,390,000,000 on pensions and allowances to those to whom that war brought injury and to the bereaved who lost their men folk. We expect to spend about £37,000,000 this year, and we can say, as in previous years, that this is more 1572 in proportion to the population than is spent by any other country that was engaged in the last war. During the past financial year new awards of pensions were made to the number of 597. In spite of the fact that it is nearly 23 years since the last war finished, we are still looking into cases where it can be shown that disability has arisen because of war service. Although it has taken these many years to make itself manifest, we do take these cases into full consideration. At 31st March, 1941, the approximate number of pensioners and dependants from the great war was 818,000, a reduction of 3.3 per cent. on the preceding year. It is not possible to give a final figure for the year ending March, 1941, but it is estimated that the Department spent £38,064,100. Of this amount £35,554,100 was spent on pensions and allowances to officers, nurses, other ranks and their dependants, while the provision of medical service cost slightly more than £1,280,000.
The net amount of the present Estimates is £37,008,000, a decrease of £612,000 on the Estimates of the preceding year. This means that the normal level of annual decline has been maintained. For many years there has been a decline in the amount I have had to ask the Committee to supply for this purpose. The decrease is due to the deaths of pensioners and the fact that so many of the children who were pensioners have grown beyond pensionable age and are now earning their own living. The gross decrease this year is £1,137,100, against which must be set off an increase of £525,100 for administration. That is due to the extra responsibilities undertaken by my Department owing to the fact that we have to deal with the cases arising from this war. Pensions and allowances totalling £34,757,500 absorb about 94 per cent. of the total Estimate for pensions. Cash benefits to disabled officers and men account for £20,227,500 of this sum, while £14,480,000 is allocated to widows and dependants of deceased officers and men. An interesting feature of the Estimate is the overseas expenditure, which is about £1,200,000, of which £575,000 is in respect of pensioners resident in Canada and the United States. May I again remind the Committee that our pensioners from the great war are scattered throughout the four quarters of the earth, from the Arctic to the Antipodes? 1573 For those who are, unfortunately, detained in countries now occupied by the enemy, I am glad to say that we have in many cases—in the majority of cases— been able to make arrangements with the United States of America for payment of some part of their pensions.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Yes, through the United States of America. That, as I say, is in the majority of cases, and I am following it up. I want to see that these men are not at any rate left without some means of subsistence beyond what they will receive as detained persons in the countries concerned. Before passing on to the work of my Department in relation to the present war, I want to assure the Committee that I have not forgotten my duty to the veterans of the last war and to the dependants of those who were unfortunately killed in that war, or who have died since, as a result of war disabilities.
I will quote an example to show what I am trying to do. There is a class of widows known among ex-Service men and among those interested in pension cases as "17A widows." That is the description of a widow who had a modified pension because her husband's death was not wholly due to his disability. That is a very good provision and one which was gladly accepted by those who had claims. But there has been a recent development in connection with the Contributory Pensions Scheme brought in by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. A widow over 60 who has the ordinary contributory pension can have it supplemented if she can show that she is in need and incapable of work, and so on. That supplementation scheme is, I think, very accept able. The position is that many of these 17A widows had pensions of, say, 12s. or 15s. a week. Therefore it was better for them to accept our pension rather than apply for and receive a pension from the Ministry of Health. But now with the supplementation, it is possible for a widow who is turned 60 years of age, to get considerably more than the modified pension that we give. I felt sometimes that it was an injustice to the 17A widows that they should not have the supplementation. We have got over the difficulty, for the time being, as regards some of them, by 1574 suggesting that they should transfer from the Ministry of Pensions to the Ministry of Health and thus get the benefit of the supplementation. I do not think, how ever, that that is an altogether satisfactory system because, even then, there is left a residue of widows whose husbands were not insured persons and who of course could not make any claim. I hope that I shall have no difficulty in persuading hon. Members to agree to a scheme in accordance with the legislation passed by this House dealing with the contributory pensions, whereby I can augment the modified pension to which I have referred, in exactly the same way as the Ministry of Health pension is being supplemented. I hope I shall not have any opposition from any hon. Members when I bring forward that proposition.
There is one thing which I should like to mention specially to the Committee, because I think it is wonderful. The Committee will be interested to know how many of the veterans of the last war have relinquished their pensions for the benefit of the national effort and have thus set an example which, to my mind, is worthy of being copied by many people who could well afford to relinquish their pensions—not disability pensions—for the benefit of the National Exchequer at this time of stress and trouble. I am glad to say that 446 pensioners have relinquished their pensions and that the annual value is £15,500. When we are discussing Budgets which run into thousands of millions, this sum does not seem much, but it is the principle behind it, it is the patriotic spirit behind it, of which we must take account. I want to make clear here in the House of Commons, the one place which can be regarded as a real sounding-board for the nation, what those men have done, in the hope, as I say, that someone else will follow their ex ample. Another 150 of our pensioners have lent their pensions free of interest during the war period and this will, no doubt, relieve at any rate a little part of the anxieties of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
There is another feature as regards these old veterans. A great effort has been made recently to raise money by means of war sayings. We actually started a savings scheme for our pensioners in 1936, and it has worked very well. When the war started and a great 1575 call was made upon people to invest their savings with the Government in order to help on the great national effort, we had a wonderful response from our people and their gross savings in Trustee Savings Banks and in the Post Office Savings Bank—and we all know that that means actual help in the national effort— amounts to £534,000. We have had a war weapons year among our veterans, and that is the result. I think it is well worthy of mention.
Now I come to the work of the Department in the present war. I am sure hon. Members would like a little information on our experience of to-day. The responsibility of the Department has, of course, increased tremendously, because now we have to deal, not only with the three fighting Services, but with the Merchant Navy, the fishing fleet, the Home Guard, all the civil Defence organisations and the civilian population. We are also responsible for war service grants popularly known as hardship grants. I do not pro pose to deal with this subject in my opening remarks. I am glad to inform the Committee that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary undertook to make this branch of the work his special care and his special work when he came into my department. I gladly accepted that offer. It is a tremendous job and an additional burden, for my Department, on top of all the pensions schemes which have to be administered. I consider that my hon. Friend did a great service when he offered to take over that branch of the work. It is true that he consults me when quessions of major policy arise, just as I consult him on questions of major policy in regard to pension matters. But he has devoted a great deal of time to this work and has spared no effort in getting a thorough grasp of it and accordingly I hope that he will have an opportunity later to make a statement dealing exclusively with war service grants. Therefore that will not be my task at present.
I want to say that the additional work of dealing with all the various pensions schemes and the work of the war service grants has been tackled with resolution by those servants of the Crown who are serving in my Department. I would emphasise the fact that we have laid it down as a dictum, that, as far as is humanly possible, justice must be given 1576 to all concerned. I do not mean by this, that I claim that our pensions sys tem is perfect. I should be a very foolish man if I did so. But, as I have said repeatedly, from the day I took office my mind was an open book. I was prepared to receive, not merely criticisms but constructive suggestions from any quarter of the House of Commons or from people outside the House of Commons who took an interest in these matters. I have, from time to time, when I have found it possible, acted on the advice given to me by my Advisory Committee and on propositions brought forward by hon. Members and I claim that I have been able to make improvements which have been of some value. I shall have a few words to say later on this subject.
Let us take, first of all, the Fighting Services—the Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force. Their cases are dealt with under the Royal Warrant, and corresponding instruments for the Navy and for the Air Force. As I explained last year, the Royal Warrant which was brought into being at the beginning of the war was undoubtedly one that did require amendment. It was introduced in a hurry, because if we had not got it on the Statute Book, there would have been no pensions for anyone, and that would have been worse than having to make improvements afterwards, but I do submit that the amended Warrant, which was laid upon the Table of this House a few days after our Debate last year, is a big improvement on the first one and goes a long way to remove many of the points to which objection was taken. But even with the new Warrant there were criticisms, and I have from time to time introduced improvements. I should like to occupy a few minutes in explaining these briefly, because it is as well that hon. Members should know exactly what we have done in the way of improvements. They have been introduced from time to time, sometimes by way of an answer to a Question, and it will be as well to have them collated in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Then they will not only be available to hon. Members but men who think they have a claim will know exactly what they have to do.
In dealing with this matter I have had very valuable assistance from my 1577 Advisory Committee, which consists of representatives of all parties in the House, and representatives of the British Legion and war pensions committees. I want to pay a tribute to the members of that Committee, who have sat day in and day out. There were 17 sittings, and we went through that old Warrant with a small-tooth comb, and many of the improvements which I have been able to make were brought about by suggestions made at those Committee meetings. I want to say "Thank you" to the members who have served on that Committee for the valuable work they have done. At meetings of the Committee careful consideration was given to the position of men who, having been passed by a recruiting board on enlistment and placed in Grade I medical category as fit for general service, were, after effective service, discharged on account of a disability shown to have existed before enlistment. Doctors usually refer to it as a constitutional disease. I announced in the House on 3rd July that I had come to the conclusion that where in such cases effective service is found to have caused a degree of aggravation in a previously existing condition the fact of discharge resulting from that condition would justify me— unless the man has given the Board untrue information as to medical facts which must have been known to him—in regarding the aggravation as material and thus bringing the case within the scope of the Royal Warrant. Obviously this can only be applied to cases in which men were passed for war service either on recruitment or mobilisation.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the improvement of which he speaks?
§ Sir W. Womersley
The improvement is of such a nature that many hundreds of cases which were refused have, in this very short time, been granted pensions, so there must be some improvement. Under the Regulations in force before, if it could be shown that a man was suffering from a constitutional disease, though the doctor had failed to detect it at the examination on enlistment, but it could not be shown that there had been any incident in his military service that was likely to have caused that disease or even to have aggravated it, no pension was granted. Under the new rule you can 1578 take it in this way: if the doctors who examined on behalf of the Ministry of Labour or on behalf of the Navy, Army or Air Force have said that a man is fit but the doctors have made a mistake, then the State must pay.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I repeat that we are, and if the hon. Member sends me any cases where this ruling applies, I can assure him they will receive the fullest consideration. The hon. Member discussed it with me last week. The thing is not yet complete, as he knows, but we have the matter under consideration. I attempted to see him on Tuesday, but could not find him. Hon. Members must bear in mind that it is only a short time since this concession was made, and many of the cases which they may think have not received consideration are being reconsidered now or will be reconsidered if an application is made. But, as I explained to the House when I made this announcement, it is absolutely impossible for me to find these cases. I must depend upon people getting information about this new ruling through the Press, through Members of Parliament, and through the branches of the British Legion, and they must make a further application. I can assure this Committee that these applications are flowing in by hundreds a day, but we shall clear the lot up before very long, I hope. When I have finished with them I am certain that hon. Members will be perfectly satisfied. Of course no one can satisfy everybody. The man who could do it ought to have a halo and a department to himself.
There is another type of case which has given a good deal of difficulty, the on or off duty case, the old problem which we have had in connection with workmen's compensation and the like. In cases particularly where death has taken place and there is a widow, this problem is one that really calls for the fullest consideration. In the case, too, of disablement, where it is of such a nature that it means that a man will be at a great disadvantage for the rest of his life, the most careful consideration is called for. I announced on 10th July that I had been authorised to grant pensions at full Service rates where a member of the Armed Forces had been injured or 1579 killed as a result of enemy bombing or enemy action of any kind or, as we put it in the official statement, by the discharge of any weapon by the enemy or by our own Forces in repelling the enemy. That means that if a man home on leave goes to a cinema and there is a blitz as a result of which he is killed, his widow can apply for and receive a service pension. Under the old ruling, all she could apply for was a civilian pension. That was exactly the same for every private soldier in the Army, but this concession means a considerable difference to men above that rank. From what I have heard since, this new ruling has met with approval from members of the Fighting Forces, who felt there was a grievance where a man was killed or injured by enemy action when on leave. There are also the cases of accidents arising from other than enemy action. That is a matter which I am considering very carefully to try to find some means of easing the position. I am not in a position to make a definite statement to-day.
There is another question which I ought to mention. I think it is wise to bear in mind that we cannot grant a pension in cases where it can be shown that there has been serious negligence or misconduct on the part of the man himself. It is an essential requirement of the Royal Warrant that the death or disablement of a member of the Forces must be certified to have been attributable to or materially aggravated by ser vice, and hitherto, in cases where there was an element of serious negligence or misconduct, I have been compelled to withhold the pension entirely. I think every Member of this Committee will agree that we must take into account whether there has been serious negligence or misconduct, but to "go the whole hog" and penalise the man altogether appears to me to be a little harsh. As a result of a careful survey of cases I found that in a number of instances this provision operated too severely, and I am glad to be able to say that I have secured approval to an amendment of the Royal Warrant which will give me discretion to make a reduced award, or even the full award where this appears to be appropriate. It is a matter of judging these cases on their merits to try to find out whether the alleged negligence or miscon- 1580 duct has any real substance in fact or whether it is just a military point of view rather than a civilian point of view. I shall be able to deal with cases where there is misconduct or serious negligence, and that is a good step forward in dealing with rather difficult cases.
I come to the question of parents' need allowances. I have arranged for a full examination of the procedure relating to the award of need pensions to parents, with a view to applying, as far as is practicable and appropriate, principles similar to those embodied in the recent Determination of Needs Act for unemployment assistance. Those principles, applied in unemployment assistance, removed a great grievance which had existed for many years regarding the needs of parents, and we should apply it when dealing with pensions. I am trying to get a formula that will bring me some where near the lines laid down by Parliament in relation to unemployment assistance.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Undoubtedly. The Committee would think it very wrong of me if I did not consider those who may already have been considered under the old scale. I shall not be able to make the matter retrospective, but must start the new payments from the date from which I obtain Treasury sanction.
Another matter on which I have consulted my Advisory Committee is the payment of home treatment allowances. This is a very big thing for persons who are suffering by having to be treated while their families have to live upon the allowance. I hope to secure approval of a proposal that these allowances may be made up to the full rate for the first two weeks if home treatment continues beyond that period. Allowances are given for those who have gone into hospital. When they come out of hospital, probably they go back home in the convalescent stage. We have not been able to make them the full-rate 1581 allowance in their homes, but I am seeking permission to do so, so that I can make dead sure that no man or any member of his family has to go to the P.A.C. for any form of relief. I am determined that, so far as is humanly possible, those who suffer as the result of the war shall not have to go to public assistance. There will be some cases, because we cannot always make dead sure of 100 per cent., but if we aim at 100 per cent. and hit 98 per cent., the result is not too bad. I am determined to prevent people having to go to the P.A.C, if it is at all possible for me to do so.
We have had consultations upon the Committee on the question of assessment for specific injury. This is a matter which has caused a great deal of distress in some parts of the country. Certain organisations make a special line of it concerning the loss of an arm, or a leg, and so on. I have gone very carefully into the Schedule of the 1919 Warrant, which is supposed to be a very good one. I have had very few criticisms of it, but in going through that scale of assessment I found that improvements could be made. The scale I have now put into operation corresponds very closely with the 1919 Warrant, and in some instances there are definite improvements. Another little point relates to the Home Guard. When the Home Guard was set up, its members were promised the same pensions for themselves, or their widows and depend ants, in respect of injury or death on duty, as those applying in the same circum stances to private soldiers. I have gone very carefully into this Home Guard question, and have consulted those who could be helpful to me. I have reached the point at which I can make a decision and issue a Royal Warrant giving formal effect to the provision that a man in the Home Guard, when on duty, comes under the same Rules and Regulations as a member of the Armed Forces of the Crown.
§ Sir W. Womersley
That is a matter which comes under the on-and-off-duty question which I have already mentioned. I have that matter under consideration for all classes of cases and not merely for the Home Guard. The Committee will no 1582 doubt be interested to know that although the Royal Warrant has not actually been placed upon the Table of the House, I have taken a chance in this matter, and have made 200 awards already to members of the Home Guard who have been injured. If I get into a row I shall look to hon. Members to help me out of a difficulty.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Can my right hon. Friend say anything about the representations made by the Scottish British Legion for the immediate creation of appeal tribunals? He is no doubt aware that the men are very anxious on this matter.
§ Sir W. Womersley
That question was raised about a fortnight or three weeks ago. When the statement is made about war service grants, no doubt these questions will be put forward by hon. Members.
On the civilian side, the position has been revised on two occasions during the last 12 months. Knowing, that we were starting on something new, in which we were without precedent to guide us, we frequently looked into the matter. I never claimed that the first scheme we put forward would be perfect. I said in the House that I welcomed any suggestions for improvement and that I would endeavour from time to time to put the suggestions into effect. We have done so, and I claim that we have considerably improved the scheme, which now covers the whole civilian population, whether gainfully employed or not. The non-gainfully employed receive lower rates of benefit. The standard rates of injury allowance have been increased since 1939 by amounts varying from 5s. to 17s. a week. In cases where the injured man is in hospital, there is now no deduction for maintenance if he is married or is maintaining a wholly dependent relative in his home. That is an improvement which I think is welcomed on al sides. The rates of children's allowances have been increased, and instead of terminating in all cases on the fifteenth birthday, they are now payable, in cases of continuing education, up to 31st July next following the sixteenth birthday, which gives those children who are attending secondary schools a real chance of finishing their education with out financial handicap.
1583 Again, I have been able to introduce special temporary allowances, of 50s. a week for 10 weeks, for widows, so that they may at any rate have money to carry on during the transitional period between the date of their husband's death and the issue of a war pension. If it happens that the pension, when it is awarded, comes to more than 50s. a week, I will see that the balance of the money is handed to the widow, and that she does not lose anything by that. If it is less than that sum, she does not have to hand anything back to me, but receives the 50s. flat rate for that period. In these cases, I may say, we do not wait for the widows to apply. The instructions I have given to my officers are that immediately they hear that casualties have been caused—and they get reports every morning—in any particular area they have to be on the spot at once, and start with the first payments. It would be most distressing if the widows and de pendants of men who have been killed by enemy action were left even for a week without money to carry on. That is the reason why I have issued that order to my staffs. If we have no office in the particular town, we open a temporary one immediately. Usually we try to come to some arrangement with the local authority to have a room at the town hall, if it has not been blitzed, or at the Assistance Board offices, so that we can deal with our cases at the same time as they are dealing with applications for war damage and so forth. I find that that arrangement is working very well indeed, and we keep these offices open as long as possible.
There is another improvement which I have made, although I am afraid it has caused a little difficulty sometimes and has caused trouble for the Ministry. That is in connection with burial allowances. The arrangement made by the Government at the beginning was that local authorities were empowered to provide free burial for anyone killed by enemy action, and if that procedure were carried through, no one would have to pay at all. There are, however, many people who do not like what they call a public funeral. They think it savours somewhat of a pauper's funeral, but I can assure hon. Members that that is not so, because it has bee a specially laid down that such 1584 funerals arranged by the local authorities should be on exactly the same lines as the funerals arranged for members of the Fighting Forces by the Army, Navy or Air Force, and, in the case of ex-Service men who receive a military funeral, it should be made a matter of honour that coffins should be draped with the Union Jack and in general made as solemn and reverent as possible, so that in no sense whatever does it appear to be a pauper's funeral.
There are still many people, however, who say they would prefer to bury their own dead, so this is what we are doing. Where the victim is a Civil Defence volunteer or a gainfully-occupied person— that is, an employed person—and is the head of the household, we make an allowance direct to the widow of £7 10s., the same allowance that is made to local authorities by the Treasury for their funeral arrangements, and we also make the same allowance where the man is the sole supporter of the household and where it is a really dependent relative who makes application. I have had letters sent to me from people asking for this allowance and saying they have had to pay £22 or even up to £30 for a funeral. I deprecate anything in the shape of profiteering in a matter like making arrangements for funerals, and I am afraid that in some of these cases people select too expensive things in the way of coffin ornaments and so on, although perhaps some have been overcharged, but if we did not do our best to persuade people to allow the local authority to arrange the burials, it would in many cases become almost a ramp. I feel that the arrangements made by the Government are on sound lines, that they will prevent profiteering and see to it that there is no hardship. In view, however, of the sentimental feeling that exists among many people, we have made these arrangements, but I cannot promise to ex tend them beyond providing for the breadwinner.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
Is the right hon. Gentleman quite sure that the amount he has fixed in connection with this very useful arrangement will not have an appearance of stinginess or thread-bareness, which is the very thing he is doing his best to avoid?
§ Sir W. Womersley
No, I have made inquiries myself, and I will tell the Committee what caused most of the trouble. 1585 It was thought wise to provide a lot of coffins for the first blitz, because we all expected it to be very severe, and I am afraid some of the coffins provided could be described as of a shoddy character. When I heard of that I called attention to it, and they have been cleared away. I am told that local authorities can make arrangements with local undertakers to have a perfectly good funeral for £7 10s. per person, and if anything extra is charged, it is because the relatives want perhaps an oak coffin instead of just a plain coffin, or want brass handles and things like that, which cost a lot of money. It may be due to that, or it may be that local authorities are able to make better arrangements than private individuals can. If it was found that it did mean that, I should have no hesitation in bringing the matter before the Government to see whether anything could be done. The grant from the Treasury to the local authorities is £7 10s. per person, and they, of course, will naturally spend nothing out of the rates on top of that. At least, they should not do so, or else it begins to look at once like a pauper's funeral.
I have considerably extended the Schedule of Civil Defence organisations, in the light of circumstances and of advice I have received, and it now includes the fire-prevention services, fire watching, and roof spotting services set up at business premises and by local authorities, and I think it pretty well covers everybody who is doing anything in connection with Civil Defence work. If I find that anyone has been left out, I will try to get him in if I can, but I think the list is now fairly complete. I am sure the Committee will be interested to know how many cases we have had to deal with in this civilians scheme, and I am now in a position to give some figures, which, of course, I could not do in regard to the Services, for obvious reasons. Since the inception of the scheme injury allowances have been granted in 72,000 cases up to date. Here I would like to express my gratitude to the Assistance Board, who placed their wide organisation at my service and whose local officers have acted as my agents in the administration of these allowances.
I want it to be borne in mind that the civilians scheme is divided into two sections: injury allowances, which may last for six months, unless it is shown 1586 before the expiry of six months that the person is permanently injured, in which case a pension is granted; and pensions, which are dealt with from my Department after six months. For the first six months I depend upon the local officers of the Assistance Board to act as my agents, and to see that the money is paid promptly to the people concerned. They have rendered very good service to me, and I would like to acknowledge that. In the great majority of cases I am glad to say that the incapacity has passed away, but disablement pensions have been awarded in over 1,000 cases where there is permanent injury, and will become pay able in a number of other cases in the next few months. The number of pensions granted in respect of death is some where around the 10,000 mark. Of these, 8,000 are widows' pensions, the remainder being parents' and orphans' pensions. That gives some idea of the work of my Department in that connection during the last 12 months.
With regard to the Mercantile Marine side, both in the case of those injured by enemy action, and the dependants of those killed by enemy action, there is a revised compensation scheme which follows the main lines of the Order-in-Council for the Navy, with some modifications in its application called for by difference in the conditions of service. If a wounded member of the Royal Navy is detained in hospital, his Service pay and allowances continue, but if a member of the Mercantile Marine is landed from his ship, under the old system, his pay ceased. The question of pension does not arise in the case of a Service man until his final discharge from the Service, whereas it may arise very quickly in regard to merchant seamen. Therefore I tried to find a method of being helpful to these men. In the case of a merchant seaman who sustains a war injury, as I said before, it has to be considered by my Ministry with out delay, and generally when he is still receiving treatment. I decided therefore to deal with these cases in a special way, and during the initial period of six months following a war injury a mariner should be paid compensation at the highest rate for his rank so long as he was rendered incapable of returning to sea by the in jury, and was in need of treatment for it. Provision for this has been incorporated in the revised scheme. I am glad 1587 to say I have been able to make more generous provision for the widow of a mariner: for the first 10 weeks of her widowhood when he dies from enemy action, or if he dies within six months of a war injury, by extending to her the special allowance of 50s. per week, which we now give to civilians.
I have also made arrangements, in collaboration with other Departments, for a grant-in-aid of £7 10s. towards the funeral expenses to be made in the case of a man of the Mercantile Marine who lost his life through enemy action and is not buried by the State. The payment of allowances to wives or other dependants of mariners who are captured or detained by the enemy is a point about which I have found a great deal of difficulty. There have been a large number of merchant seamen captured by commerce raiders and kept prisoners, in some cases in quite large numbers. Their wives or dependent relatives are now eligible for the allowances I have mentioned for as long as their men folk remain in captivity. In the revised scheme I have been able to improve the rates of these allowances. Moreover, the allowances for children of detained mariners are now increased to the higher rates payable for those of a totally disabled member of the Armed Forces.
Shipping companies continue to assist me in carrying out my duty of awarding compensation to war-injured mariners and to the dependants of those killed by enemy action by furnishing prompt information as to crews whose vessels have been lost or damaged in conflict with the enemy. I referred last year to the generous treatment given by the shipowners—
§ Mr. Beechman (St. Ives)
Are we to understand that the provisions to which the right hon. Gentleman has just referred apply throughout the fishing industry?
§ Sir W. Womersley
Certainly. As representing Grimsby, at one time regarded as the largest fishing port in the world, I know that we cannot leave the fishermen out. They are playing their part every time they go out to fish, in danger of mines, attacks from the air, or attacks from submarines. I think we all agree that they deserve the same treatment as the Mercantile Marine, and they are going to get it. The shipowners have 1588 really come up to the scratch when I have asked them to help me in dealing with members of crews landed at a port from a ship wrecked or lost by enemy action. Negotiations in connection with this particular class of man have been successful. Arrangements have been made to assist them, and I have also made arrangements with the majority of the owners of the fishing boats to fall in with the same-arrangements. Both the shipping companies and the majority of owners of the fishing vessels have also generously agreed, in the case of men injured by enemy attack, and still disabled at the end of the month—payment is for a month only—to supplement any award made by my Department in respect of a second month.
I wish to deal with my medical service. I do want Members to realise what we are doing with regard to hospitals and hospital services. At the outbreak of the war we had nine of these hospitals, with a bed strength of 1,833 beds. It is now 7,647, as against 2,366 a year ago. The increase is due to the completion of ex tensions of existing premises, the acquisition of additional premises, and the use of an E.M.S. ad hoc hospital. An additional ad hoc hospital of 600 beds is nearing completion. Some of my hospitals have suffered very severely from damage by bombs. In every case the staff showed bravery, fortitude, energy and zeal in dealing with fires and securing the safety of the patients. One of these hospitals received very severe damage on more than one occasion, and every patient had to be evacuated. There was not a single fatality among the patients, although two of the staff who were fire-watching lost their lives. I think that is a great tribute to the staff of that hospital. We have had damage in other hospitals. I am glad to say that my staff in every case have done their best to alleviate any discomfort or distress among the patients. Certainly they have succeeded in averting casualties which might easily have occurred. The staff consists of 285 medical men, 185 of whom are employed whole-time, and 100 on a part-time basis; 753 nurses, 183 of whom are on the permanent nursing staff, and 570 are members of the nursing reserve and the auxiliary nursing service. They are all rendering splendid help. During the past year in-patient treatment was 1589 given in 5,300 cases, while 2,275 cases received out-patient treatment. There have been 1,745 home-treatment cases, and in addition 5,267 officers, nurses and men have received treatment in mental hospitals. In the same period approximately 21,500 medical examinations, excluding limbs and appliances, were made by Ministry medical officers. Of these, the number of Boards was 12,500, and treatment 9,000. The equivalent total for the previous year was 11,500; we have under treatment at the present 4,322 cases, the figure for March last year being 3,680. These figures relate to ex-service cases. In addition, 6,605 Service and civilian casualties, chiefly serving soldiers, receiving in-patient treatment have been dealt with in my hospitals.
In regard to the training of disabled men for some useful work when discharged from our hospitals, I am not in a position to make any definite pronouncement, but one of the biggest mistakes we made after the last war in dealing with ex-Service men was in not putting into operation a thoroughly sound scheme, thought out beforehand and tested, to give these men a chance to do something more than merely draw a pension. I know these men well, and I know that the majority are not so much worrying about the pension—they want a pension, of course; and they have a right to it—but they want to be trained for something which will occupy them usefully, so that they may regard themselves as citizens of some consequence. I have been to every one of my hospitals; and as I talk to these men I hear one thing that affects me. A lot of them have lost limbs. One who lost both legs in the evacuation of Dunkirk said tome, "What I. am wondering about is whether I am to be thrown on the scrap heap when I come out. If so, I would rather die." I was able to assure that man, and many others, that the Government were considering very carefully putting into operation a scheme not merely for the rehabilitation of these men, but for training them for a useful occupation.
1 wish I could say that we had all our plans complete. We have not; but I can assure hon. Members that a state-men will be made in the near future which I am certain will give satisfaction all round. As my right hon. Friend the 1590 Minister of Labour indicated in this House on 19th June, such a scheme has been framed. It has to be a joint scheme between my Department, the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of Health. I am concerned with the compensation side, it is true; but my duty does not end until I have seen that these men get something more than mere money compensation. The Ministry of Labour come in because they have already established training centres, which, I think, could be appropriately used for the purpose; and the Ministry of Health, because they have their hospital service. I am advised by eminent medical men that training with out proper rehabilitation can often be very harmful. The two must go together. We are getting on very well, and I hope that before long either my right hon. Friend or I will be able to make a statement in the House about the lines on which we are working. It will hold out for these men and their wives and families the assurance that we are not going to leave them uncared for. Although we have not the real scheme in operation, instructions have been issued to all my doctors to ask each man, where necessary, before he leaves whether he is prepared to undergo some form of training, or whether he has a job to go to. The old employers of many of these men have, most generously and patriotically, put them into jobs which they can do. In other cases, I am making arrangements with various organisations to train these men. I want a Government scheme on a wide liberal basis for dealing with these men, so that they can indeed feel that they are part and parcel of the useful population of this country.
Now I come to a point about war orphans. They are a problem with which I have to deal. Not only have I to deal with Service orphans, the kind of war orphans that we had after the last war, but I have to deal with the children of civilians who have lost their parents through enemy action. In many cases—and this will show the benefit of evacuation—children have been evacuated to the country and the parents who have stayed in the cities have been killed. The task of looking after war orphans has been assigned to me, and I have gladly accepted the responsibility as acting as their guardian. At present we have something like 600 of them. It is my duty to ensure 1591 that they are properly cared for, and to see that whatever pension is eventually granted is spent for their benefit. I felt that it was better to leave those who have been evacuated in their evacuation centres, where they are under the supervision of their teachers, with someone constantly on the watch over them. In many cases near relatives have been allowed to keep these children. I think it is a good thing that that should happen if the homes are suitable. I have a large number of letters from very kindly people all over the country offering to take these children. In many cases it would be a great advantage to the children to go to such homes, which are sometimes even better than the homes that they lived in before their parents were killed. I want to thank those people, and to tell them that we are not putting their offers on one side, although we are not sending them children immediately. We shall come to a time when these children will have to be provided with homes, and those offers will then receive the fullest consideration.
What am I doing to deal with the problem? I am glad to say that the hon. Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson), who came into my Department as an assistant Parliamentary private secretary to myself, has undertaken the supervision of this work. I do not know anybody better qualified. She is a family woman, who has brought up her own family; and who, I think, has done it very well. I am certain that she will do this job excellently for me, and that she will relieve me of a great deal of anxiety. In addition, I have appointed selected women officers in every region, whose job it will be to visit the homes where the children are living, to see that they are getting proper care and attention, and as good a chance of the best things of life as is possible. We have also to see whether we can help in respect of education and so on. I am in touch with voluntary organisations which have offered to help as required. Everything possible will be done to see that these children do not suffer too severely from the fact that they have lost their parents. The Lord Mayor of London has promised to give most careful consideration to any case I recommend that he can help out of funds at his disposal. I am certain that other people will help me in this matter. Anyhow, I 1592 regard it as part and parcel of my duty to see that these children are properly looked after and do not lose too much by the fact that they have lost their parents.
Now I would like to mention my staff. At the beginning of the war my staff numbered 3,118, of whom 824 were employed in hospitals. Since then 5,958 additional staff have been engaged since 1st July this year, and of these 1,547 are employed in the War Service Grants Branch. In view of the great responsibility we now have to face, it may be that I shall have to increase my staff. If there is one thing me must bear in mind, it is that if we are to relieve any distress, we must relieve it at once. To do that may mean additional staff, and I am certain that the Committee will not begrudge my engaging any additional staff if I find it is necessary. I would like to pay a tribute to the men on my staff who are sometimes forgotten. They are in Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff and many other such places, right away from headquarters. They have to tackle problems immediately they arise and use their initiative and common sense in dealing with them, and I am glad to say that as a result of my visits to the regional offices I am convinced that I have first-class men operating in these regional areas. We have 14 officers at 14 regional offices scattered throughout the country, four major sub-offices and 14 part-time sub-offices. It must be remembered that these regional officers can only deal with cases arising from the rank and file. Officers' cases are dealt with at headquarters where I have the Officers' Friend Branch who are always willing and able to advise applicants. One served in the Navy and retired with very high rank, and the other served in the Army, and I want to pay a tribute to the wonderfully good work these men have done and are doing.
To all my staff I want to say, "Thank you. I have had loyal support from you throughout the time I have been Minister of Pensions, and I know you feel that your job is work of national importance. I want you to continue to think so." I also want to thank the members of the 159 war pensions committees and the large number of workers associated with them through out the country who have given ungrudgingly of their time to deal with local 1593 questions. There is also the British Legion, which has rendered me good ser vice. Although at times they have criticised me, I hope they will go on doing so, because there is nothing like constructive criticism for getting the best out of us. In connection with the civilians scheme, I want to pay a special tribute to the T.U.C. representatives, and those who represented the Employers' Confederation which met me on various occasions when we were trying to formulate a scheme which would be acceptable to the people of this country. They rendered me most valuable service.
I am near the end of my story, and I will reply to any major questions raised during the Debate if I have time. I would, however, like to add this: I under took this office with no light heart. As one who has had considerable experience as a member of a war pensions committee since 1922 and as a member of the British Legion since its formation, I knew that whoever undertook the office of Minister of Pensions, particularly in war-time, would have one of the most difficult jobs of any Minister of the Crown. After two years' experience I know that this is so, but I felt it was work of national importance. After all, we rehabilitate property that has been destroyed, but the job of the Minister of Pensions is to rehabilitate human beings and give them some hope in life for the future. It may be that the instruments I have brought before the Committee have not been altogether perfect, but I have an open mind, and I am always prepared to try and meet other points of view. I have asked my Department to bear in mind that in dealing with these cases they must not say, "How can we prevent this man from getting a pension?" but must look at them from the point of view of "How can we, under the Regulations as laid down by Parliament, give this man or woman a pension?" That is the spirit, and although Members may have had cases brought to their notice in which they think there has been hard ship and we may not have given 100 per cent. satisfaction, I would say to them that if they have any difficult cases, they should not be afraid to bring them to me or to my Parliamentary Secretary. We are prepared to spend any time that is necessary to deal with them as a personal matter. We want Members to feel that they can come to us and get a square deal, 1594 and I hope they will avail themselves of this offer.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions has made a most interesting and informative speech and has done so with that happy combination of frankness, good humour, businesslike ability and sense of human sympathy which we have learned to expect from him. If I may say so, he has done it with the modesty which we know is a characteristic of Yorkshiremen. He has made a somewhat lengthy, but necessarily lengthy, review having regard to the amount of ground be had to cover. His Ministry has had few opportunities of telling the House and the Committee of its work, and we have all appreciated that the activities of the Ministry cover a vastly increased range of duties and functions nowadays, com pared with what they had to cover in the past. I think I can speak for most of the Committee when I say that the right hon. Gentleman has justified his appointment as Minister of Pensions.
Indeed, as I have been sitting here and listening to his review, it has occurred to me whether the time has not come when the status of the Ministry of Pensions ought to be raised. I am sure the Minister will not misunderstand me when I say that the Minister of Pensions has not always been considered in the past as the Minister of a most important Department, and if my recollection serves me aright, the salaries, certainly of the Minister and, I think, of his staff, are not on the same level as those of other Departments. I myself feel that consideration might be given by the appropriate authorities to an improvement in the status and salaries of the Department, which would be a de served tribute to the work the Minister has done, and probably will have to do, and for the very largely increased importance which the Department holds during a war. The fact that it has increased in importance is also shown by the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, and I was glad to hear the tribute which the Minister paid to him and also to the hon. Lady the Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson) in the work she is undertaking.
The Minister indicated a number of changes based on advice received from the Statutory Advisory Committee, on 1595 which I have the privilege of serving, and I would like to comment on one or two of those changes. The right hon. Gentle man told us of the concession in regard to men who are passed as Grade I but are subsequently discharged, and to whom the Minister is now in a position to give a pension. I gather that some of my hon. Friends seem to be under the impression that this concession makes no change, but I would point out that there is really quite a substantial change. I understand —and I hope the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that previously it had to be proved to the hilt that the aggravation was material, and that no responsibility was taken by the State for the fact that it had carried out a medical examination which might not have disclosed the existence of some constitutional disease. Now, if a man is passed Grade I and is after wards discharged because of a worsening or an aggrevation of his condition, even if that condition is thought to have been, or is even proved to have been, pre-existent to the recruitment of the man, but was perhaps not discovered by the medical examination, the very fact that the soldier is discharged because of that condition justifies the Minister in awarding a pension. That is a distinct improvement, and although it is not quite what some of us have fought for under the slogan "Fit for Service, fit for pension," I want to congratulate the Minister on making the change.
The right hon. Gentleman told us something about the pensions and allowances made to men who are injured, and to the widows of men who are killed, when off duty. That concession is applicable only to full-time members of the Armed Forces who are injured or killed by enemy action, and therefore, it does not appear to extend to the Home Guard, who are not full-time members of the Armed Forces; but I should have thought that a member of the Home Guard, if injured by enemy action when off duty, ought to be entitled to a pension, and, if killed, that his widow ought to have a pension. I do not think the fact that he is not a full-time member of the Armed Forces ought to affect the situation.
There is also the large number of deaths due to accidents, in which cases the Ministry have not so far found it possible to make grants. It seems to me 1596 —and I want to press this strongly upon the Minister—that when a man is in the Armed Forces, and certainly when he is in uniform, he is always on duty. At no time is he his own master, at any time he can be called upon; he is not a free agent; and, therefore, it is my sub mission that if he is injured he ought to receive the appropriate allowance or pension, and if he is killed his wife or dependent relatives ought to receive it, whether the accident occurs when he is 'on duty or off duty. I feel sure that if some concession of that nature is not made, these cases will be a source of considerable trouble, because ordinary men and women cannot understand why, when their relatives in the Armed Forces are killed, possibly because they are in the Armed Forces and have to be at a particular place at a particular time, although not on duty, a pension or allowance is not paid. A further concession ought to be made in this direction. If it is not possible for the Ministry to go all the way, it might be possible to grant a pension or allowance when the injury or death arises out of war conditions.
For instance, there have been occasions when men going home from the cinema, and so on, have been killed in the black out, a condition brought about by the war. It appears to me that a concession might be made in such cases, even if it is not possible for the Ministry to go further. Certainly, the concession ought to be made in the case of men going to or returning from leave, or out on a pass for an hour, the afternoon, or the evening, on the authority of their superior officers. When men are injured or killed in such cases, I think the Government ought to accept responsibility. I believe that was done in the last war; certainly, when men were on leave from France they received an allowance or pension if they were injured—and their wives or dependants received one if they werekilled—while going to or returning from leave, even though the injury or death occurred in their own town.
In particular, I feel that no widow of a man in His Majesty's Forces, killed on or off duty, ought to be without a pension of some kind. If it is not possible for the Minister to alter the Warrant, as I think it ought to be altered, to justify the award of a pension, it ought to be possible in some way, perhaps through the Ministry of Health, to make some pro- 1597 vision for such a man or for his de pendants, so that no widow of a serving man is in any circumstances, other than the circumstance of her own misconduct, without a pension in respect of the death of her own husband.
The Minister mentioned the scale for specific injuries. As a member of the Statutory Advisory Committee, I have had an opportunity of inspecting that scale, and I am of the opinion that now, although not originally, it very much approximates to, and is as good as, the 1919 scale. I think those who have been agitating for so long in regard to this scale may now be well satisfied. On the question of rates, I still feel, as I am sure many hon Members do, that the differentiation which still exists between those pensioned in the Great War and those pensioned in the present war cannot be justified. The rates are based on the cost of living, and although on paper the cost of living has not yet reached the 1919 level on which the pensions in respect of services in the Great War were calculated, I think that, having regard to the increased cost of living and the higher standards nowadays, "to say nothing of increased rents and rates, there can be no doubt that if a proper inquiry were conducted, it would show that the present rates are too low and ought to be raised. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will institute an inquiry into the matter and bring the real position before the Statutory Advisory Committee. He has con ducted inquiries into a number of matters that have been put before him, and if he would make an inquiry on the lines I have indicated, we should all feel a good deal happier. Let us have the facts so that we may form an opinion on these matters.
Incidentally, there was a very consider able lapse of time before the right hon. Gentleman called together the Statutory Advisory Committee. I know that there was a good excuse for that delay; he had to get the agreement of other Departments, in particular the Treasury, the Warrant had to be printed, and so on; and, therefore, I do not in the least blame him; but I suggest that it would be an advantage if the Committee could meet regularly. If I may say so without offence, it is not quite good enough for the Committee simply to meet when it can be useful to the right hon. Gentleman or his Department. The Committee would 1598 like to keep in close touch with the administration of the Department and would like to be in a position to make suggestions and give advice to the Minister, and, therefore, I hope he may think it right to call the Committee together in any event quarterly, whether or not he has any matters to bring before it himself. I hope also that greater use will be made of the local war pension committees. They fulfil a very useful function in their neigh bourhood, and I think they might be made more use of to-day.
I do not wish to take up too much time, because I know many hon. Members wish to speak, but before I sit down I should like to refer to three or four other points. The first matter to which I should like to draw the attention of the Minister relates to the establishment of appeal tribunals. I must press this point most strongly, because in my view it is essential that these pension appeal tribunals should be set up at once. I understand my right hon. Friend is in favour of such tribunals and that he agrees they should be set up in due course when conditions permit. He argues that conditions are not easy at present, that there are travelling difficulties, difficulties in connection with air raids, and difficulties in obtaining medical men and so on. Frankly, I cannot myself accept those reasons as good enough, particularly as we have had a lull in air raids during the last few months. We have had committees set up for conscientious objectors, appeal tribunals for aliens, food committees, and all sorts of other committees, all of which are of no greater importance than, if they are as important as, pension appeal tribunals, and I press my right hon. Friend to establish such tribunals at once. It seems to me that half-a-dozen tribunals spread about the country would be sufficient. They would have the greatest possible psychological value, and they would obviate a good deal of the delay which has been taking place. They would remove discontent among isolated cases, and do a great deal to remove any dissatisfaction which might exist.
The Committee and the Minister will remember that my right hon. Friend has power to strike off widows from the list of those in receipt of pensions if they are guilty of what the Minister terms "un worthy conduct." Most of us in our time have had to bring cases of this sort to the 1599 notice of the Minister. I suggest that in some way or other it should be made clear to widows who are granted pensions in future under what conditions it is possible for the Minister to withdraw a pension. That would get rid of a great deal of misunderstanding; it would be to the advantage of the Minister and would save a certain amount of suffering to widows. I think it could be done without offending the susceptibilities of widows against whom in most cases no charge could possibly be made.
It is not my duty to cover the whole ground, and I will, therefore, content myself by asking for information on one or two other matters which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to deal with in his reply. The Minister did not give us figures for the cases dealt with and the amounts paid out on the advice of the War Service Grants Committee, but I understood him to say that that aspect would be left to the Parliamentary Secretary. As I understand it, the administration of that Committee is largely in the province of the Parliamentary Secretary, and I am sure we on this side of the House, and, I think, the whole Committee, will feel that the hon. Member for Wentworth, who occupies that position, and has been in the House for a good number of years, can be relied upon to do all that can be done to relieve hardship and want, which are inseparable in many of these cases.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt with orphans, but he did not give us the number. It does not seem to me that it would be of value to the enemy to tell us whether there are 50 or 2,000. Orphans deserve our help and sympathy, and they are a considerable responsibility for my right hon. Friend—at any rate, I am glad he has delegated that responsibility in large measure to the capable hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Dart-ford. Then my right hon. Friend spoke of Civil Defence. I do not know what the Committee feel about this question, but I consider we have not yet had enough experience of the working of these provisions to enable us to form a proper judgment. I cannot help feeling, however, that perhaps the payments are not as much as they ought to be; but let us admit that we have had no substantial measure of complaint. Probably it would be wiser 1600 to wait a little until the position has become clearer. I was glad my right hon. Friend mentioned training, which is a most important question. In my view the majority of men will put up with a smaller pension than they expect or deserve, but they will not put up with being, as my right hon. Friend termed it, put on the scrap heap without hope of work now or after the war. That applies all round, to civilians and military alike, and I should like the Minister on some occasion to tell us what are the proposals of the Ministry in regard to this question.
We shall hold the Government responsible to see that the condition of affairs which existed after the last war, and was, in many instances, continued until quite lately, does not happen again, and that provision is made for all those injured in the Armed Forces, Civil Defence or in any capacity in this war, in which the whole of the population is engaged. The question of providing work for all those injured must be in the forefront of the programme of reconstruction for any Government, and I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to play his part in that work. But in the meantime, we shall be glad to have particulars at the earliest possible moment. I conclude by saying that I am sure my right hon. Friend and all those associated with him are to be congratulated on the results of their activities. They have given greater satisfaction than any other Minis try which preceded them.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
I will not dwell on the points which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) raised, because I know he has had great experience on these matters as a member of the Central Advisory Committee. We have had a very interesting speech from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions, and we have again to congratulate him to-day. I think a Minister of Pensions has to possess some qualities which are rather special. At all events he must possess both head and heart. If he was all heart and very little head, he would be very unpopular with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he was all head and very little heart, I am afraid pensioners would soon want to replace him. I think my right hon. Friend combines, with great knowledge of the subject and great interest in it, a good deal of shrewdness 1601 and ability, and he has in addition the milk of human kindness, which softens many susceptibilities. The House is more pleased with the system of pensions and their administration now than it used to be. If it was more critical, we should have had a much fuller House than we had to listen to the interesting review that we have had to-day. We have had a better start in the matter of pensions than we had in the last war. The scales on the whole, while not completely satisfactory, are fairly reasonable and the amendments made in the Royal Warrant last June have made them more so. We shall very soon be approaching the stage mentioned in the Royal Warrant of 1919. A pledge was given by the late Prime Minister, Mr. Chamberlain, and, of course, by the Minister of Pensions, that they are bound by the terms of the War rant to review the scale when the cost of living reaches five points over the figure of 215. In the last war we had five reviews of the scale; we have had one review in this war. There is no question that there is definite inflation in this country. It is gradually increasing, and I am afraid my right hon. Friend will before many months again have to review the scale, as I am sure he will be pre pared to do.
I think we can afford to be generous in the matter of pensions. The area covered by pensions is now very big. The three Services, the A.R.P. personnel, seamen, the pilotage service and, as a matter of fact, the whole civilian population are covered. Fortunately casualties in this war are almost insignificant as compared with the last war, and we must hope that that will remain so. The casualties on the civilian side are rather heavy, but the casualties in the Services so far have remained low. We must remember that the pensions net is very tightly drawn. The legislature has taken care that not many fish get through it who have not earned it. For instance, the Royal Warrant of 1939 specifies that evidence of disability must be good and sufficient evidence which leaves no doubt in the minds of the certifying medical authority that it is attributable to war service.
My right hon. Friend has made some very important concessions. One of the biggest he has made is in respect of disability contracted before service of which there was an aggravation during service. 1602 It is qualified, of course, by the word "effective." A man must have given effective service. I can quite see that that is necessary. You might have a man who had given a week's service claiming a pension on account of a disability which he had before. I do not know what is meant by effective service, whether it is defined in point of time or the intensity or character of the service, whether he was engaged in a great strain or involved in actual fighting. I take it that the character of the service will be taken into consideration. The concession that has been made on the question of negligence and misconduct will give great satisfaction. I have not seen the revised schedule of specific injuries, but the hon. And gallant Member who spoke before me, and who is acquainted with it, seems to be very satisfied.
The Minister of Pensions, more than any other Minister of the Crown, is absolutely in the hands of the doctors. He has no power to grant a pension unless he has a certificate of a medical officer that the disability is due to, or aggravated by, war service. On the whole the medical ser vice of the Ministry is very good. The medical officers are very able men, and all the staff are highly qualified, highly skilled professional men in their particular work. We have to remember that medicine is a very vague science. Lord Baldwin spoke in the House some years ago about the many-sidedness of truth. There are many branches of medicine, especially in regard to illnesses. A complaint like neurasthenia has all sorts of characteristics and we know the divergence of view which is expressed in medical evidence in compensation cases in the courts. Medicine being a vague science, we must expect sometimes a little human frailty in the medical officers of the Ministry, but I think that on the whole they attempt to render good, conscientious and sincere service.
My right hon. Friend has hospitals under his jurisdiction, and we are sorry to find in every Estimate of the Ministry that there are between 5,000 and 6,000 mental patients as a result of the last war. These men have the sympathy of the Committee and the country, and I hope that my right hon. Friend is taking advantage of every advancement of science in the curing of mental diseases and that the medical officers are kept up-to-date in this branch of medicine, which is one of the most difficult and unsatisfactory. I would 1603 like to see the Minister taking over more hospitals. The Army is very keen about taking over hospitals, and I am not sure that very good use is made of them. I have a hospital in my constituency where people used to undergo treatment for rheumatism and all kinds of ailments. It was taken Over by the Army and a large number of, invalids cleared out in one night. I had occasion to see the Army authorities about it, and I pointed out to a high officer that this place had the best facilities, short of Harrogate, for remedial work. The officer replied, "We did not know it had these facilities. The requisitioning is done by another branch, the 'Q' Branch. It is not our branch." I very much doubt whether that hospital is being used for the purpose for which it has facilities. What a wonderful place it would be for the Ministry of Pensions.
I would like to see my right hon. Friend take charge of all these hospitals. From that point of view I would like to see the status of his Ministry raised. The State has recognised that my right hon. Friend is doing his work well by making him a Privy Councillor, but the Ministry ought to get higher recognition as well so that the Minister could go to the War Cabinet and demand things which are necessary, because his Department is becoming wider in its repercussions and in its contacts with the population.
I want to make one or two references from the medical point of view to the medical boards. My right hon. Friend is not responsible for the boards which examine recruits, for they come under the Ministry of Labour or the Army. The boards, I think, might be a little more careful with regard to the questions they ask about the past illnesses of the recruits. Lots of men are very nervous and often do not do full justice to themselves in this respect, and over and over again men have gone into the Army who had serious disabilities. They were questioned about them, but the questioning was not clearly and freely done and the men were allowed to have their papers passed in such a way that they are made to say they had no disabilities of any kind before joining. Afterwards they fall ill and become affected with disabilities which they really had before they joined. A little more tact in that matter might be helpful. A number of the men on the medical boards are too old.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Gordon Macdonald)
The composition of medical boards is not the responsibility of the Minister of Pensions.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
I agree, but it has its repercussions on the Minister. I want to submit that if the medical board in the first instance is faulty the effect on the Ministry of Pensions and the men later on is very marked. I only want to touch on the question from that point of view.
§ The Temporary Chairman
It may be very marked later on, but the Ministry of Pensions has no responsibility, and it can not be discussed on this Vote.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
I will leave it at that. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend was not able to make a statement to-day on the question of rehabilitation. I put a Question on the Order Paper to the Minister of Labour, but it was not reached, and I hope that my right hon. Friend may soon be able to make an announcement, because this is an important matter. In hospitals it is very well done, generally in three stages, and then the patients are interviewed by the Ministry of Labour representative. We hope that the House may soon have the scheme of the Minister of Labour.
I will conclude, with a word on appeal tribunals, about which we have had discussions over and over again. My right hon. Friend states that he is in favour of them. The only two objections I ever heard are the difficulty of travelling and the question of medical personnel. If the medical power of this country were correctly distributed the Minister would have no difficulty in securing personnel for the appeal tribunals. There is an immense wastage going on in the medical personnel of this country. In the Army there are 8,000 or 9,000 doctors, and while I appreciate that there may be stages in which they have nothing to do, I still say there is a big waste of medical personnel in the Army services. Then we know that in the big cities doctors have little to do to-day, while in the reception areas a large number of doctors are grossly overworked. If my right hon. Friend can get these appeal tribunals, which I know this Committee would like him to have and which he him self would very much like to have, before the conclusion of hostilities, I hope 1605 that he will take up with the Minister of Health and with the Army authorities the whole question of the redistribution of medical personnel, in order that he may have available a certain number of medical men who have been trained in dealing with diseases and injuries arising from war and from civilian casualties.
In conclusion I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend upon a most interesting review, which I am sure the Committee have very must appreciated. As I said before, there is much less criticism of the Ministry of Pensions now than ever before in my experience. We must continue along the same path. We must be generous to these men. The rich have been mulcted to such an extent that a little more demanded from them is neither here nor there, and after the termination of hostilities we must not grudge all those who have suffered a full measure of compensation for what they have endured.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
One of the most interesting parts of the interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) was his reference to the medical profession. A doctor upon doctors could have been a topic of absorbing interest, and I was hoping that my hon. Friend would, with his very great candour, let himself go; but he only lifted the curtain a little. He did, however, say enough to give us reason to believe that he is not altogether satisfied with some of the decisions which are given by the medical advisers to the Ministry of Pensions. Speaking as a layman, I can understand the decisions of doctors when they agree, but I am in a quandary when they disagree; and when I find, as in some of the cases which I have had to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend, that the local doctor who knows the man's medical history- well has expressed his opinion as to the liability of the State for the man's injuries and the medical advisers of the Ministry, who do not know him anything like so well, express a different opinion, I am somewhat concerned.
If some of us have had on occasions to tilt at the Ministry of Pensions, I think that all hon. Members will recognise the very humane way in which the present Minister is carrying out his very responsible duties. I do not think that he has made a claim that he could 1606 not justify and with which we would not agree in saying that he is open to all appeals that are made to him, that he does stretch the Regulations as far as they will go, and that he is always pre pared to be convinced that it is necessary for further action to be taken by the States and to seek powers to that end. I say without hesitation that the pensioners of this country have a very sincere and practical friend in the present Minister of Pensions. We are glad that in the frequent changes in the Government he has been able to retain his present office, and from all parts of the House comes the wish that he may long continue in it.
The Minister told us one thing which I regarded as very moving, and that is that some of the pensioners of the last war have voluntarily surrendered their pensions and that others have lent the money to the State for the duration of the war, without interest. All honour to them for having done so. A great many pensioners are not in a financial position which would allow them to do that, but their patriotism and desire to serve are none the less great because they cannot put it into practice in that particular form. The action of those pensioners is all the more creditable because, of all people in this country, they must feel the sadness of the present world tragedy. They were the victims of the last war. They made great sacrifices to give us victory, but unfortunately they have seen that victory thrown away, no proper peace established and the world at war again; and yet in spite of that they are prepared to make further sacrifices.
I would ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that a large number of these pensioners are to-day carrying a well-nigh impossible burden, because they, alone almost of all people in comparable conditions, have not had any increase in their pensions as a result of the increased cost of living. According to the theory which is trotted out from time to time about the index figure a case can be made out why they should not have an increase, but I do not think anyone who regards the matter from a practical point of view would agree. Everybody knows that, in point of fact, the pound to-day is not worth more than 15s., and the effect of that falls heavily on those victims of the last war who are in receipt of pensions.
1607 I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the question of granting some bonus addition to these pensioners to meet the increased cost of living. It is no good saying that the cost of living has not gone up to the 1919 figure. We know that it has gone up 29 points since the outbreak of the war, and that that argument has been accepted for a very great increase in wages to other members of the community, and it is very hard that the victims of the last war should be almost the only class of persons who have not had assistance in this way. If my right hon. Friend could now see his way to remedy this position I am sure that he would carry public opinion with him.
We were all very pleased that on 3rd July my right hon. Friend was able to announce what we regarded as a very great improvement on the existing procedure under the Royal Warrant, so that when a man has been passed into the army as A.1 and afterwards has to be discharged on account of some disability the State will then—as I assumed—accept responsibility to pay him a pension. I have had my attention drawn this week to a very clear case where, apparently, the intentions of the Minister, as I under stood them—I think I was not alone in understanding them in that way—have not been carried out. I have sent the case to the Minister, but perhaps it has not yet reached him. I feel it is right that attention should be drawn publicly to this matter at the earliest possible moment, because one sometimes gets the impression that, although a Minister has announced in this House that a certain policy will be pursued, the practice actually followed takes a long time to catch up with the announcement. In the meantime, hardship is caused, and the public are very much concerned.
The case to which I refer is that of a man who joined the Territorials a year before the outbreak of war. He was then passed A.1. He was called up on 1st September, 1939, and passed A.1 again. After that, he had two further medical examinations, one of them a strict examination, when he applied for a temporary commission. Again, he was passed A.1. On all four occasions he was passed A.1 by the medical board. In May, 1941, after having served for nearly two years, he was discharged from 1608 the Army as suffering from heart trouble. He applied for a pension, and was informed, on 18th July, 15 days after the announcement made by the Minister of the important change which has been mentioned to-day—and that fact is the reason why I am raising the point—that his disability, the usual phrase, was neither caused nor aggravated by military service and that he is to receive no pension. If that decision is to stand, those of us who ask what effective change was made by the statement on 3rd July are very much to the point. I hope, now that the Minister's attention has been called to this case, that he will agree that it comes definitely within the undertaking which he has given. I have given the Committee only one instance, but I have others, in which some blunder has been made in the Ministry, which has not carried out the Minister's intentions. I hope that the man concerned will be given a pension.
One more matter to which I should like to refer is the allowance of £7 10s. made as funeral expenses to the relatives of any body killed as a result of enemy action. I am glad that the Minister was able to say that local authorities can meet the expenses of a funeral, decently and properly carried out, for the sum of £7 10s., and I hope that those who can ill afford such payments, and who may spend much more than £7 10s. upon a funeral, will now realise that this is a reasonable amount to pay for a funeral. Under takers who have been in the habit of charging very much more should see that their charges are brought somewhere near that figure. It has been suggested that the figure of £7 10s. was arrived at be cause local authorities were able to make more favourable terms than could be made by a private individual. I would like the Minister to consider whether he can suggest to local authorities that their contracts with undertakers should provide that the charge for a funeral should be £7 10s. whether the order is given by the local authority or by the relatives of who ever is to be buried. It may be that the relatives would prefer, for one reason or another, to make their own arrangements. It is important to make widely known the information that the cost of a decent funeral should not be more than £7 10s., and that there is, apparently, no justification for a higher charge.
1609 I join with others in thanking the Minister for his very informative and sympathetic speech, which showed great understanding of the responsibilities of his office. These have grown, and will continue to grow, but the Minister has shown his determination to carry out the intentions of everybody in this country in honouring the debt we owe to these people.
§ Mr. Dobbie (Rotherham)
I am sure everyone will agree with the Minister in regard to the debt of the nation to the pensioners. I hope that the Ministry, the House of Commons and the country will remember, however, that sympathy is not enough. It is not enough to be generous; we have to be just. Probably I shall be the first hon. Member to strike a rather discordant note in this Debate, because there is not a feeling in the country that everything is going well in regard to the pensioners. The Minister has told us that we have close upon 818,000 pensioners from the last war, and of the patriotic action of more than 400, who have given up their pensions. I feel as well disposed towards those 400 as anybody does in the country, but I want to know how well we are meeting our obligations to the remainder who are not in a position to give up their pensions and who are living in poor circumstances. If they are unable to work, they have had no training to fit them to do something in industry. We must congratulate the Ministry on its promise to institute a training scheme to equip pensioners to earn a livelihood. Nothing is more soul-destroying for men than to feel that they are making no contribution to the work and life of the nation. One wonders how far we are carrying out our obligations to these hundreds of thousands of men, and it would be good if the Minister could tell us what steps he proposes to take to demonstrate that we realise we have a debt of gratitude to them.
As has been said by a previous speaker, these men are probably the only set of people in the country receiving no war advance, although they still have to fulfil their obligations in the same way as other people. I hope that the Minister will say something definite in his reply about his intentions to increase the amount received by these pensioners. Let us not allow them to go away feeling that they are the forgotten men of the nation. Let us 1610 demonstrate that we still remember them. The more we demonstrate that we neglect them, the more dissatisfied they will be come. This dissatisfaction exists in the ranks of the Army and in the homes of the people at the way in which pensions are being dealt with at the moment. It is just as well to tell this to the Minister. It is no use making speeches eulogising the Minister when we know that there is deep feeling, and in many cases resentment, in the country.
Most speakers have said something about men who were passed A.1 on joining up. The position of such men is a crying scandal. I know the Minister would agree that it is not enough to produce hypothetical cases and to speak in general terms, and so I have one or two instances here. There is the case of a man who was passed A.1 and who passed all the medical examinations that were necessary. He went to France and played his part there, but the experiences he had in France were such that they rather unsettled his mind. Eventually he committed suicide in this country. That means that his widow is refused a pension. His death was undoubtedly due to his experiences in the Army. The inquest was held this morning, and the witnesses were united in paying a tribute to the sterling character of the man and ex pressed their regret at his loss. The Minister of Pensions says that the Ministry is advised:That in the circumstances in which your husband met his death, his death cannot be regarded as rendering you eligible for a pension under the Royal Warrant, and the Minister regrets he is therefore unable to make any award".Hon. Members will understand how that woman feels, and how the people who live round about feel, about this case, which has had some publicity. They will understand why it is that these people think there is something wrong with the Ministry of Pensions or with the Government, when they take a man from his home in the full bloom of his life, make use of him in the work of the war, his mind is destroyed, death comes to him, and no pension is given to the widow.
I will quote another case. This is the case of a young man who joined the Navy and who, again, met all the obligations from the physical standpoint. I hope the previous case I have mentioned 1611 is one which the Minister will look at again, and I hope that this one will also be looked into once more. I do not know whether these cases will be re viewed automatically; perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us when he replies whether that will be so or whether fresh application will have to be made. This young man was in the Navy for four or five years and was discharged. He say she was invalided out on account of "psychopathic personality," what ever that means; I know it is some kind of mental trouble. Medical men say he will never be able to work again, but the Government say he is not a fit subject for a pension because this disability was not developed in the ordinary course of his work as a seaman. The family medical history is a good one, and his family doctor gives his medical history as a good one, but still the Government say he is not entitled to a pension, and he is thrown on to the resources of his parents. These claims are causing great dissatisfaction in the areas around where the people live, and I hope cases like these will be reviewed, and reviewed in the generous manner which the Minister has talked about to-day. I will believe something about this generosity when I see it put into operation; I have never seen it yet.
Then we come to the position of the means test. We have been told that the means test is now abolished, and many people believe that, but slowly and surely they are becoming disillusioned. The people who believe that the means test was abolished, or was going to be abolished, some months ago are now much fewer than they were. I have here the case of two lads in the Army, both of whom, along with their widowed mother, were desirous of playing their part in the struggle for the nation's life. One of the boys was killed, and the widow received a pension of 7s. 6d. a week. The other boy, desirous of becoming an efficient soldier, did his best and was promoted, which increased his pay by 3s. 6d. a week. That money was automatically put to his allotment to his mother, on which the Ministry of Pensions reviewed the case and applied the means test, stopping the whole of her 7s. 6d. pension. The reward of that widow for the loss of her son, and the reward of the other boy for his assiduous attention to his job as a soldier, is that 1612 the family were fined 4s. a week. The Minister says:Consideration has been given to your claim and a pension at the rate of 7a. 6d. per week has been awarded in your favour. In view of the dependant's allowance granted in respect of your son Thomas, the governing conditions can no longer be regarded as fulfilled and it is regretted, therefore, that further payment cannot be offered.These are some of the things which can be said in regard to the unsatisfactory side of the application of pensions to soldiers' dependants. We have to remember that to-day the soldier is an artisan, the worst paid artisan in the country, because the soldier of to-day, if he is an infantryman, has to be well up in field training and to understand the mechanism of his rifle or tommy-gun, or whatever kind of new rifle or gun comes into existence, and if he is an artilleryman, he has to understand the mechanism of the big guns. No matter what branch of the Armed Forces he is in, he is not an unskilled labourer but an artisan, and has to make himself efficient. So we have to admit that, to begin with, they are under paid. That is a claim that can be put forward for every private in the Armed Forces, and the overwhelming majority are in the rank and file and are not officers or non-commissioned officers. Underpaid as they are, it is bad enough for them to have to make that sacrifice, but it is doubly hard when in addition they feel that their widows or dependants will also have to make sacrifices, and will not get the attention from the pensions stand point to which they are entitled.
I will turn now to the war grants, and I would have preferred that the Parliamentary Secretary had spoken before I made any reference to it, because I hope he will boldly tell us that they are going to abolish the application of the means test to soldiers' dependants who may make application for a war service grant. I hope he will be able to tell us that in the review which the Minister is to make he will act in the generous way he has talked about. The last time I spoke here about pensions the Minister challenged the accuracy of my figures, although they were figures given out by his own officers. I will now take the precaution of repeating them. These are the figures for last week from his own Department, and I will read them out so that he can deny them again if he likes. Out of 427,000 appli- 1613 cations for war service grants, 134,000 have been rejected by the application of the means test, or about one-third. I hope the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that if they are still going to apply the means test, they will apply it in a more generous manner than in the past. We find that when a young soldier makes an allotment to his mother, who in turn makes application for and receives a grant, if that youth makes himself an efficient soldier and receives proficiency pay, the money is allocated to his mother and the War Grants Committee apply the means test in order to knock off, if not the whole of the grant, at least the 3s. 6d.
One might have seen something, per haps, of the generous nature of the treatment here. I cannot get away from this talking about generous treatment. I have to dissociate myself from anyone who has spoken before me and has talked about generous treatment to soldiers' dependants in this country. If only the Minister had said, "We will at least allow you to take half of this money" to that young soldier, who gets none of the proficiency pay, because it is allocated to his dependants, and the War Grants Committee take it back. These are the things about which I hope the Parliamentary Secretary, when he speaks, will be able to say some thing clearly and definitely.
Then again, when the position is being reviewed, will these 134,000 cases be reviewed automatically or will they have to make fresh application? Would the Parliamentary Secretary inform us whether, in cases where an application is rejected, the Ministry of Pensions would be good enough to inform the applicant that they have a right of appeal? When an application is made it is dealt with, in the first instance, by the staff. I say no word of recrimination about them and no word against the efficiency with which they do their job. But when there are thousands of cases which are rejected by the staff, and the applicants do not know they have the right of appeal, I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary would say, when he speaks, whether, in future, when a case has been rejected, the applicant will be informed, at least, that he has a right of appeal to the Committee, or to the Minister. I think it is a fair and a reasonable thing to ask. We have endeavoured to get this operated, but for 1614 some reason or other the Minister has not yet been able to see his way to agree to that very elementary suggestion.
There is just one other thing I want to mention, and that is the question of the civilians scheme. The Minister has promised a good deal, and I will not challenge any of these promises. I only hope that they will come into some being. We have been promised that there is to be some consideration given to the method of dealing with pensions under the civilians scheme. I hope that promise will be implemented. There is a good deal of dissatisfaction, although the Minister described it as sheer nonsense when I raised the question of a man and wife who had been voluntary A.R.P. workers. The man eventually became a full-time A.R.P. worker. His wife, in spite of the wretched treatment she has received, is still a voluntary A.R.P. worker in the constituency which I represent. From that man's house to his post took him a quarter of an hour. I have measured the route myself. He left his house at 9.45 p.m. and was within 50 yards of his post, where he was going to sign on duty, and he was killed by an A.R.P. vehicle. His widow has been refused a pension. When I talked here about indignation in the constituency the Minister said it was sheer nonsense and that there was no indignation. I can assure him that the A.R.P. workers in the constituency which I represent feel very sore and indignant.
It is of no use to say to us that this scheme was drawn up in conjunction with the Trades Union Congress and that the Workmen's Compensation Act has been taken as a basis. It is no excuse to say to us that they all adopt all the mean and wretched things, and all the errors, of the Workmen's Compensation Act. They ought to have been able to see the errors and the difficulties of that Act, and it is no excuse to the people of the country, and is certainly an insult to the widow to be told that her husband had not signed on for duty. He was killed on the road on his way to duty, within 50 yards of his post, killed by an A.R.P vehicle, and his widow is refused compensation because he had not signed on the dotted line. I hope that, in the review of the situation, the Minister will pay close attention to cases like that, and that the review, when it is made, will be of such a character that it will cover men going 1615 to, and returning from, their work. I have not much more to say, but I hope that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will review these matters if we are to live up to the reputation we give ourselves. I felt ashamed when I heard talk in this Debate of a generous gesture. How can we talk about a generous gesture to widows who have given every thing in, their lives—husband, sons, everything dearest and best to them in life? I hope that the Minister and the Ministry will rise to greater heights than ever they have done in the past.
§ Major Leighton (Oswestry)
I am very glad to have heard the Minister of Pensions say that he was, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour, to undertake the re-training of disabled men. I feel that that is a most important question, and a very difficult one. First of all, I feel that, apart from any actual training, the first thing is to train the men's minds to the future. Some organisation should be set up in order that, while a man is still in hospital, his mind and his thoughts should be turned to the future. How can this be done? It might be done by setting up a system by which visitors, with a full knowledge of all the different schemes, could go round and discuss the question with the disabled men while they are still in hospital. Then, again, the people who have most influence over these men are the nursing staff. You could get any pamphlets or any thought-out schemes circulated to the hospitals, not only to the Ministry of Pensions hospitals, but to all the hospitals that are looking after disabled soldiers and sailors. I feel that that is the first thing to be done. As regards training, there are in existence several voluntary factories and workshops which have already been set up after the last war, and which employ entirely disabled men, for instance, the Lord Roberts' Workshops. Incidentally, I happen to be chairman of one board which looks after a small factory that employs entirely disabled men. A list of such organisations could be very easily got out and circulated, with details of what they are doing, and to what extent the men could be employed in them.
It must be realised that occasionally men have had to give up after being 1616 trained, because they were unable to go on with the work. It is most important that they should not be trained until they have been certified as being medically fit. If the Government set up these schemes, not all the men who go to the training centres will be successful. A careful watch should be kept, to see whether they are likely to be successful after their training. If they are not likely to succeed at a particular kind of work, some other sort of training should be given. After the last war, a great many men were trained for a trade and did not find employment in that trade afterwards. I would like to know what arrangements will be made for employers to visit these centres to pick out men. It is no good training a man for a job unless he is to get employment after wards. I want the Ministry, first, to get the men for training, if it is possible; secondly, to see that the training is successful; and, thirdly, to get employers interested in the men after they have been trained. There is one other point. I do not know whether it comes under the Ministry of Pensions. Would the Government be prepared to assist any of these existing organisations for employing disabled men in extending their premises, in order to employ more men after the war?
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I thank the Minister for the admirable statement he has made. As one who has only recently joined the Central Advisory Committee, I may say that, as far as I am in a position to judge, he carries out in the administration of his office what he has been telling us to-day. He is not concerned with a narrow Treasury view, saving every penny that can be saved, but with giving the benefit of the doubt to the pensioner, I have a great deal of sympathy with the suggestion that the status of the Ministry should be raised in view of the enormous extension of its duties as a result of the nature of this war and the suffering of civilians in this country. The Ministry has contact with persons in every part of the country. Citizens ought to find that such contact is the very best and the most enlightened that we can produce. I know that the present staff are admirably carrying out their duties, but if that increased status can be given to the Minister and to all associated with him in their task it will be to the benefit of the State.
I want to call attention to one or two questions to which reference has been 1617 already made. In this war, as distinct from the last, Great Britain is included in the battlefield, and anything which was granted to soldiers in France in the last war ought to be granted to those soldiers serving in this country at present. Of course, I except any case where a man's own serious neglect is responsible. There are such cases, however, as when a man is travelling to and from his meals outside his military camp; when a man is on leave and is attending a concert, a cinema or something of that sort; when he is going to quarters or billets on short leave; and when he is walking, cycling, or travelling in a car in his spare time. It is said that he is then in the same position as a civilian. That is not so. A soldier in uniform when on leave is always subject to discipline. He is not his own master. In an emergency he is likely to be called upon to come to the service of the State, and he may be punished for anything he docs contrary to military standards. It seems to me that if a man is on leave, in uniform, and anything happens to him he ought to be treated as if he were on active service with his military unit.
The Minister recently made a very acceptable concession about persons who have suffered aggravation of their illness. That is very satisfactory as far as it goes, but it relates only to men in the Regular Army, who are medically examined and found to be A.1. There are frequent cases of Territorials and Reservists—and of Home Guards, too, although I quite understand that in the Home Guard there has been no medical examination and that, therefore, the same conditions do not quite apply. In the case of Reservists and Territorials, if the State in calling them up did not give them a medical examination that is the fault of the State. It ought to be assumed that it is the duty of the State when taking a man for ser vice to carry out a proper medical examination. If his condition has deteriorated in any way as a result of service, a man ought to receive a pension. A great many of the troubles of soldiers arise in the shape of duodenal ulcers. A man may be perfectly fit and well when living his own life and having the food that suits him best, but under military conditions he has to eat not what he wants but much bulkier and more solid food, which he finds that his system is not able to stand. Such cases do not receive the sympathy they deserve.
1618 Then there are cases of arthritis, caused by sleeping in damp beds. Every consideration ought to be given to a soldier who suffers from such a cause. Reference was made by the Minister to the question of rehabilitation, and I was glad to hear him say that it was of enormous importance. It is not enough to treat a man's body; his mind is just as important, and any steps the Minister can take to see that a man is not only made physically fit but is made mentally fit for the future will add to the happiness and contentment of the pensioners to a very marked degree. I hope the Minister will do all he can to hurry for ward the arrangements he is making.
I would like to conclude with a reference to appeal tribunals. I know that the principle of these appeal tribunals has been accepted, but I think some thing might be done in the matter at once, without waiting for the end of the war. It is not sufficient to take a man into the Army and let him serve and be wounded, and then say, "You have played your part in the war, but we can not carry out our part because we have not sufficient staff to see that every possible facility for appeal is afforded to you." We ought to carry out our part of the bargain and give these men all possible facilities to obtain justice. We ought to provide the necessary personnel for the appeal tribunals now, before the war comes to an end. I would also like to give support to the suggestion that the meetings of the Advisory Committee, of which I, admittedly, have not been a member for very long, might be held at regular intervals. It is true the Minister may say he has not much material to bring before the Committee, but it is possible that the members of the Committee themselves might have proposals they would like to bring before him. Perhaps on a reciprocal basis of that kind the Minister might find it convenient to meet the Committee oftener—a Commit tee which appreciates to the full the humane and sympthetic way in which he is carrying out his duties and which is determined to give him the best help it can in his widespread task.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions (Mr. Paling)
I think it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I spoke now, with particular reference to the War Service 1619 Grants Committee. I know other Members want to speak, and I will be as brief as possible. Since December, 1939, my right hon. Friend has been responsible for granting special allowances in cases of serious hardship caused by the calling-up of men for war service. During the last financial year over £3,644,000 has been spent in this way, bringing the total up to 31st March, 1941, to well over £4,000,000. The estimated cost for the year ending 31st March next is £5,750,000. It is clear that many men summoned for service must have commitments, not only by way of supporting their families, but also by way of business and the ordinary obligations of civil life. With certain limits these obligations are taken into account, so that a man's return to civil conditions is facilitated.
There is a representative committee of 23 members, which includes eight Members of this House drawn from all parties, and which advises my right hon. Friend regarding claims, of which about 430,000 have already been received. Further claims are coming in at the rate of between 500 and 600 a day. I have every reason to believe, from the letters I receive, that the help we are able to give reassures a man that his service has not materially injured the conditions of his family at home. Since the discussions of last year the scheme has been ex tended. It was introduced for the benefit of members of the Armed Forces of the Crown and until June, 1941, was restricted to them. But as from 1st June this year eligibility under the scheme has been conceded to Civil Defence personnel en rolled in the civil services under the National Service Act, 1941. Broadly speaking, they include the Auxiliary Fire Service, the Police War Reserve and First-Aid Parties, but only in so far as they have been definitely conscripted under the 1941 Act. They also include men transferred on or at 1st June to the employment of a county war agricultural executive committee. Civil Defence personnel can obtain a form of application from the local office of the Assistance Board, and men transferred to agriculture can get the appropriate form from the county war agricultural executive committee.
Now I come to the awards which have been made and issued. My hon. Friend 1620 the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) made some remarks about the numbers of awards made and rejections, and I will give the Committee the figures. The total claims received up to date number 428,688, plus 3,490' in hand. Of these, 292,787 have received awards, and 135,249 claims have been rejected. That means that 68 per cent. of the claims have been granted awards. The number 135,249 seems large, but, roughly speaking, it is rather less than one-third. Many of these claims have been sent in without the least hope of succeeding. Men are handed these forms and say, "Here is a possibility of getting something." They do not know whether they will or whether they will not, but they think they might, and they send in their claims. We make no complaint about that; they have a perfect right to do so, but in a good many cases no real claim exists, and because of that there is rejection. The awards now in being number 216,953.
Now I come to another point, which was raised last year, with regard to the average amount granted. In last year's Debate my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. E. Dunn), after listening to my right hon. Friend and making a calculation in the light of the information he gathered, made the statement that the average weekly award was about 3s. Well, I con fess that I was rather alarmed at that, but later in the Debate my right hon. Friend, in reply, stated that the average weekly award was 7s. 8d. An analysis has been made for the last ten weeks in order to see what was the average award, and it works out at 10s. 6d. a week. Therefore, it is going up. The hon. Member for Rotherham said that perhaps we are not always as generous as my right hon. Friend indicated in his speech, but I submit that an average award of 10s. 6d. is no mean contribution towards the welfare of the families of these soldiers, sailors and airmen, and that it represents a fairly big increase in the family income. It may interest hon. members to have a short statement about the analysis of the awards. Nearly 80 per cent. of the awards were for sums between 5s. and 20s. a week. Out of a total of 108,500 cases, in the last six months, 42,000 were for 5s. and over; 28,000 were for 10s. and over, and 11,000 for 15s. and over.
1621 There have been some complaints about the difficulty of obtaining forms. The position is that men called up for medical examination with a view to enlistment can obtain the form at the examination centre, men already serving can obtain the form, through their commanding officers, from the regimental pay master, and wives and dependants of men serving overseas who made no claim before departure can initiate an application and can obtain the form of application on sending a postcard to the local offices of the Assistance Board. There have been requests from time to time for this form to be stocked at Post Offices and the offices of various non-official bodies, such as the British Legion and the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Families Association. This request has been resisted, because the Post Offices could stock the forms only at head offices in the towns, and those are the localities where the forms are readily available. Moreover, it is necessary to exercise an effective control on the supply of forms so as to prevent duplicate and triplicate applications which give rise to difficulty and unnecessary work. There have been cases in which as many as five separate applications have been made. The machinery for the investigation of and decision on claims covers three Departments, and prompt decisions are dependent upon the completed forms of application entering the machine in the right way.
One of the things which I did when I took over this office was to send for one of the forms and look at it carefully. I know that ordinary men and women do not like official forms, of which they are inclined to be a little bit afraid, and I frankly admit that some of the forms sent out in connection with various things rather frighten me on occasion. Some times they are highly technical and complicated, and difficult to fill in. But this form is a fairly simple one. There are five main questions on it, divided into sub-heads, and I think it would be difficult to issue a form which was much simpler but at the same time gave us the information we want. I think it is possible for any ordinary man or woman who gets the form and wishes to make an application to fill it in correctly, and, by so doing, to get it through the machine as quickly as possible and, if an award 1622 is made, to be notified within a very few days.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
What is the official number of the form which the hon. Gentleman has in his hand? It looks smaller and simpler than some I have seen.
§ Mr. Paling
It has printed on it "M.S.A.C. 21. W.S.G." With regard to delays in deciding cases, much has been heard about this matter in the past, but the complaints have now largely sub sided. For many weeks past the number of undecided cases in the hands of the Ministry has been smaller than the intake of new cases. Therefore, it is manifest that no complaint of widespread and protracted delay can be sustained. The rules for the assessment of grants have been considerably simplified, and at the present time simple arithmetical calculations are all that is needed for the settlement of 95 per cent. of the claims. The remaining 5 per cent. consist of difficult and often tangled cases in which the essential facts are obtainable only after protracted inquiry, and cases of this type may, through no fault of the Ministry, remain undecided for several weeks. Let me give the Committee a typical example of what we call the tangled cases. Before joining the Armed Forces, the man ran a one-man business. He kept no books, all that he took being pocketed and all liabilities in connection with the business being paid direct from his pocket. When he joined the Armed Forces, his wife carried on the business in the same way and managed it on the same lines as her husband. The family budget was mixed up with the business. It does not need much imagination to see that it is often very difficult to find out what is the real income of the family in such cases.
§ Mr. Paling
A good many of these people, and indeed the bulk of them, I think, do not pay Income Tax. War ser vice grants are issued for the purpose of alleviating serious hardship in cases where financial sacrifice is necessarily made when a man joins the Armed Forces. This means that the war service grants are based on the difference between the pre-service and the in-service emoluments.
1623 Every increase in the in-service emoluments diminishes the difference and consequently reduces the serious hardship; and it follows that a grant based on the serious hardship has to be adjusted accordingly. The hon. Member for Rotherham mentioned the case of proficiency payments. They have to be taken into consideration. Almost every serving soldier gets proficiency pay almost automatically after six months, and it is taken into account. If a grant has been made in such a case, the 3s. 6d. increase in the man's income is taken into account and is deducted. In the case of the ordinary soldier who has not got a war service grant, the 3s. 6d. goes to his wife, and the Committee thinks that in those circumstances it is entitled to take into account the whole of the 3s. 6d. If a man is promoted to higher rank, the whole of the amount does not necessarily have to be taken into account and is not necessarily deducted; in those cases, generally only a part of it is taken into account. The Department maintains a close liaison with the welfare authorities and full information about policy and procedure is supplied to these officers, who are often approached by serving members of the Forces about difficulties of all kinds affecting their homes. The welfare officers do everything in their power to help serving members of the Forces, and the War Service Grants Administration endeavours to further their interests in all matters with which it is concerned.
I come now to the Determination of Needs Act. The hon. Member for Rother ham said that most people are of the opinion that the means test has been abolished. Most of us know that it has not disappeared altogether, and that it does exist to some extent even now. It exists to some extent so far as my Department is concerned. The principle embodied in the Determination of Needs Act is followed in the assessment of war service grants, and the practice of the Ministry in this connection is thus brought into line with that followed in the Service Departments in fixing family and dependants' allowances. Let me give a typical case. It is a case of a dependent mother whose son is serving in the Forces. Her daughter is living at home and is earning 40s. a week. Her daughter's contribution to the household was previously taken as 32s. a week, resulting in a refusal of grant under the War Service Grants 1624 Scheme, but the daughter's contribution is now taken as 5s. a week, making it possible to authorise a grant.
War service grants have been assessed on the civilian earnings a man had to give up in order to join the Forces. A considerable rise in wages has taken place since September, 1939, and, as a consequence, men who joined up at a later stage have been assessed on a more favourable basis than those who joined up earlier. A review of past awards is therefore being undertaken with the object of re-assessing them on a wage basis approximate to the level appertaining in the men's various avocations at the pre sent date. In other words, those people who were assessed at the time they entered the Services on the lower wage, which, if they had remained in their civil employment would have subsequently been increased, will have their cases re viewed on the basis of the higher rate, and that should be to their benefit,
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Is that applied in the case of a man who joined the Forces when his apprenticeship was nearing completion, and who would have soon reached adult status? Will he be put on an adult status for the purposes of this review?
§ Mr. Paling
Yes, I take it that that is so. The question of what a man would be earning when his apprenticeship is finished is also taken into account. While under present conditions a number of cases have been dealt on too low a basis, on the other hand a large number of women to whom grants have been awarded have been absorbed in industry, and the wages they are now receiving puts them outside the scope of the scheme of war service grants. On the recommendation of the Advisory Committee—and there are about 148,000 of these cases—a review is being undertaken. It is not necessary for grantees to make representation in these cases. The hon. Member for Rotherham asked whether rejected cases would be dealt with by us, or whether they would have to apply afresh. I understand they will be expected to make a fresh application. All the cases now in issue will be dealt with automatically, except those cases of rejection where people will be expected to make fresh applications. 1625 Now I come to commitments of members of the Forces. Where there is serious hardship it is the practice in a good many cases to compare the financial resources of the family pre-service and in-service after the commitments or standard charges, such as rent, hire purchase, etc., have been met. Any grant which is made is, therefore, based on the disparity between the pre-service and in-service amounts. If the grant is made, the family is notified of the position, and failure to meet the commitments might lead to the cancellation of the grant. There have been frequent representations that rent and mortgage interest have been allowed to fall into arrears. The com plaints about rent have emanated very largely from local authorities with large housing estates. They urge that there should be a specific rent allowance so that in each case they could demand the amount. If such a demand was conceded, it would be difficult to refuse specific allowances in respect of other standing charges. There would be no reason why furniture instead of rent should not receive preferential treatment. Alternatively the demand has been made that the grants on account of rent should be paid direct. Actually no part of the grant is made in respect of rent. The grant is made in respect of serious hardship remaining after the rent and other charges have been met. The Ministry is prepared in certain cases to bring pressure to bear and to remind households of the conditions under which their grants have been issued. This action should not be taken in the interest of the creditors, but in the interests of the men serving in the Forces who might find when they returned to civil life that they were faced with a heavy accumulation of debt.
Now I come to another feature—that of officer cases. Out of 428,000 applications for war service grants, only 1,450 have been in respect of officers and nurses. This appears to us to be a very small figure indeed. We do not know why this is so, and we are of the opinion that if this scheme were fully understood and its benefit realised, a larger number of officers might apply.
§ Sir J. Nall
If a pension is granted in the case of a man serving in the ranks, is his grant reviewed when he gets a commission?
§ Mr. Paling
In any case where the income of a man increases that extra in come is always taken into consideration, from whatever source the increase may have come. There is some suspicion that the benefits of the scheme are either not known to the officers generally or are not appreciated by them. But there is no reason why they should not apply. Doubtless the scheme of war service grants is widely known, but we are considering further publicity steps. Publicity includes circulars issued by the Ministry of Labour to men when called up for medical examination and notices posted up in post offices. Then there are the Minister's broadcasts and the notices which have appeared in the Press. All the various war pension committees, voluntary organisations and associations have been kept fully informed.
Nevertheless, it may be that the scheme is still not generally known, and, because it should be known by all, we are considering further ways and means of giving it publicity. It is not, as I heard some one indicate some time ago, that we are particularly anxious to give State money away to people who do not require it, but that we are afraid there may be a considerable number of men still in the Ser vices who have no knowledge of the scheme, and who could be helped and should be helped by reason of their commitments. As everyone knows, it was intended when these men went into the Services that they should not be worried by the fact that their wives, children and dependants had insufficient to live on or were suffering serious hardship. It was recognised that it did not make for an efficient soldier if he was worried by that kind of thing. If there are any to-day who are suffering, it is up to us to see that enough publicity is given to this scheme so that they may know they can receive some help if their circumstances require it. A good many cases of complaint come to the Ministry, and I can say, like my right hon. Friend, that every case receives full consideration. We go through it almost with a microscope. The hon. Member for Rotherham said he did not ask for sympathy, but for justice. We try to be just and sympathetic. We know that the scheme is a great help to the wives, children and dependants of members of the Fighting Forces.
§ Captain Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
I think the statement in the concluding part of the hon. Gentleman's speech is really a testimonial to the Ministry of Pensions which we should note. He pointed out that there are certain soldiers, officers and others, who may not have taken advantage of this scheme, which he has outlined so interestingly, and he said, "We want them to know." I only wish to call attention to it as an example of the spirit which the country, through the Government and the Minister of Pensions, is showing towards the serving soldier, and: towards disabled people. They want them to know what they can have. That is a right attitude and one which I feel we should commend.
I want to make one or two criticisms which I hope will be found constructive. I have privately represented to the Minister, and he has been good enough to put the matter to his Advisory Committee, that the biggest question of principle to which he ought to direct his thoughts is that of making provision for the wives and children of young soldiers and others who, having been disabled in the service of the country, have not yet been thought of in any pension scheme. The State has taken up the attitude that it can only be responsible for wives and children who were dependent upon the soldier at the time that he was disabled. Since most of our serving people are youngsters, they are not married. Their married life and the coming of children comes perhaps five years later. The system has Been that of providing the same flat-rate pension for these men whether they are married or single. It may be argued that the rates of pension are adequate or inadequate, but if they are adequate for a single man, they clearly cannot be adequate for a man with a wife and family. That is a most important matter of principle to which my right hon. Friend ought to devote his attention. His Advisory Committee have taken the view that some increase in the existing rate is even more important, and the Minister takes that view himself. I cannot feel really that he has given this the thought which a statesman ought to give to it. My feeling is that he has been rather a politician seeking to find out what will please the majority than a statesman seeking to find out what is best for the people in the long run. If you ask the ordinary single soldier whether he wants 1628 a rise in his pension, of course, he will say "Yes." If you say, "Would you not rather have something for your wife and children when you are married?" he will say, "I want that as well." But he will not say that that is what he prefers, because he cannot think for himself, especially when his pension is not adequate. It is up to older men who have youngsters, and who have the experience of caring for disabled men, to think for them. I hope the Committee will press the Minister to consider the question of wives' and children's allowances. It is not only right for the men, it is right for the country.
As both he and the Advisory Committee have taken the view that a rise in the pension must precede consideration of this matter, let me adduce one or two arguments why that rise should be made now. The pension paid to the totally disabled soldier from the last war is 40s. a week. I will stick to the totally disabled man and the single flat rate without any complications because, the simpler we make it, the easier it will be for me to present the argument and for others to follow it. The totally disabled man in the last war got 40s. His equivalent in this war gets 34s. 2d.; the difference is very considerable. The last war pension was established in 1919 and was based upon a cost-of-living figure of 215, so that 215 points in the cost of living represents 40s. in money. The cost-of-living figure to day is 198½ In recent weeks it has been up to 200, but it has averaged 198½ over the past six months. A simple arithmetical sum will show that as 215 is to 40s., so is 198 to 36s. 11d. But the present pension is not 36s. 11d. but 34s. 2d. On the face of it there is a discrepancy. But I want to appeal not merely to arithmetic but to pledges which have been made. The late Mr. Chamberlain in September, 1939, justifying this rate of 32s. 6d., said that if the cost of living rose to a material extent, the pension could be raised. When the cost of living rose some points the Minister raised the pension from 32s. 6d. to 34s. 2d. A further rise is now due, both having regard to what was said and having regard to arithmetic.
But there is another reason of administration and expediency which must cause the Minister to consider raising the pension very soon. When the new pensioner reaches 40s. his pension will be 1629 assimilated to that of the old. When the cost-of-living figure rises to 215 he will have to consider immediately a rise to all pensioners, new and old alike, because he promised to do that when the cost of living rises by 5 per cent., or 11 points over 215. The cost of living has only 16½points to run before it reaches the point at which he has to assimilate the new man's pension to the old. Is he going to jump over night from 34s. 2d. to 40s., or will he not consider whether it would be more equitable to take one stage now and another when the further 15 points are reached? He has to assimilate it at 215 points, otherwise it will be felt that he has broken his pledge, and I am sure that will not be his desire or intention. I submit, therefore, that it is expedient and wise to meet the position which he will shortly have to meet in two stages rather than one, and that the first stage is now due.
It has also been proposed that the pensions of the men of the great war will be raised to meet the increases in the cost of living when the cost of living rises by 11 points above 215. It is when we come to the consideration of that that I want to press again upon the Minister the importance of considering in good time the question of wives and children. A wife is a necessity to a totally disabled man. It is true that there are some who do not marry, but it is much better for the man that he should. A wife is the best person to look after him, to bring him solace and comfort and to make his life seem a normal one. Children are the natural outcome. They ought to be the natural outcome, not only for the happiness of the family, but for the well-being of the country. Any biologist who studies the mortal statistics of the country must realise that we shall soon reach the stage in which the population increase begins to abate, and soon after that we shall reach the stage at which the population begins to decline. We feel that we have a mission in this world, not a mission to conquer, but a mission to continue to be one of the great peoples, and it is not right in any sphere of our national policy that we should ignore the children. I am not pleading for any new principle. The soldier gets his allowances for a wife and children, whether he marries and has children before the war or during the war. The Government gives these allowances because there are so many mouths to feed, 1630 and the reason why the Parliamentary Secretary told us of the added help given by the schemes he was outlining is the same. There ought not to be any distinction when a disabled man finishes his service. We ought to have regard to his liabilities, and one of his essential liabilities is his wife and children. I would ask my right hon. Friend not to spend time inventing reasons why he cannot do this and that, but to think of the human and sociological principles that are involved here.
When the Minister raised the pensions for men he did not raise them for officers, and when he fixed the pensions for officers he fixed the lower of two prevailing rates and reduced the pensions by a larger percentage than in the case of the men. Would he look into that again to see whether he acted fairly? A special pension was fixed by Parliament for blinded officers in respect of the last war. The cut which my right hon. Friend has made in these pensions reduces them by over 40 per cent. All other persons' pensions were reduced by 15 per cent. Will my right hon. Friend look into that? This is a democratic age, and were the officer drawn from a selected class there would be something to be said for taking away his privileges, but to-day the officer is drawn from all classes of the community and everyone has a chance of becoming an officer. Finally, will the Minister think over the difficulty into which he will get about tribunals? If he waits until Parliament presses him inevitably to set them up, he will have such arrears to overtake that he will have much greater difficulty than if he set them up now. Will he, therefore, move on with the matter as soon as possible?
§ Captain John Dugdale (West Bromwich)
I want to refer only to the question of pensions for parents. The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have assured us that they will give more generous treatment in all matters connected with pensions, but, like the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie), I am somewhat sceptical about this generosity. I hope, but I am not by any means certain yet. The Parliamentary Secretary flourished in his hand a small and rather pretty pink paper and said that that was the form which was to be used by people desiring pensions. I will flourish in my hand a very large ugly white paper. This is the 1631 form which parents are asked to fill in if they apply for pensions. There are between 20 and 30 questions to be answered, and it is difficult for parents to answer them unless they have had a long and arduous education. I would, therefore, ask for simplicity in the questionnaire which is sent out to parents, and that the forms should be available in post offices as well as the pensions offices. I would also like to ask that in the matter of pensions for parents we should dispense, in one respect at any rate, with the prevailing means test. I am not going to dispute the necessity of having a means test generally, but in the last war there were pensions given after investigation of means and also pensions given as of right. That pension was 5s. per week. Apart from any pension given for need, there should also be a pension given as of right. That is the least we can do for parents who have given their sons in the war. I asked a question on this point a few weeks ago and as a result I had letters from all over the country. One mother wrote:I certainly have no intention of giving them my personal history. I do not intend to fill in a form. Since then I have had no further correspondence. I am getting on in years, but I have still too much English pride and self-respect to allow me to answer personal questions after having given my son's life.We can respect a woman disliking having to answer these personal questions after she has given her own son's life in the war. There are many widows and other dependants drawing pensions for men who were killed in the last war. To-day dependants of men killed in this war have to live side by side with dependants of men killed in the last war. They see that the latter are getting pensions, and they feel very hard about it. I have letters expressing extreme dissatisfaction at knowing there were people who had been receiving pensions for 20 years since the last war, while they themselves were receiving no pension although they had lost their sons in this war. That is an anomaly which should be inquired into by the Minister. In conclusion, I would read one more letter. It is a letter of a very different character, a very short, simple and moving letter:The Queen and I offer you our heartfelt sympathy in your great sorrow. We pray that your country's gratitude for a life so nobly1632given in its service may bring you some measure of consolation.I would ask that those words, so nobly expressed by our Sovereign, should be translated into action by this House of Commons.
§ The Chairman
It was quite out of Order for the hon. and gallant Member to read that letter. It is against the practice of this House for the name of the Sovereign to be brought into our Debates.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
Before the Minister replies may I ask your guidance on one point, Sir Dennis? The time allotted for this Debate was four hours and the Government spokes men have occupied, or will have occupied before the end, one and three quarter hours, or nearly half the time. Only seven other hon. Members have had opportunities to speak and I do pro test against this monopoly by the Government.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I think it will be for the convenience of the Committee if I reply now to several of the points which have been brought forward by hon. Members. First, let me say how pleased I am that we have been able to have a pretty full discussion on pension questions, and to know that, in the main, hon. Members are fairly well satisfied with the way in which the Department is doing its work. I take that as a compliment to my staff—not merely to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, but to the staff, particularly those who have to deal from time to time with higher policy. I want to emphasise the point that, what ever the case may have been before, I do know that in these days those who are occupying positions in which they can influence policy are always anxious to help cases that need help.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Captain J. Dugdale) raised the question of parents' pensions, a subject which has been discussed time and time again. It was a moving letter which he read at the conclusion of his remarks. I know that 1633 those letters are appreciated. Possibly the hon. and gallant Member has not gone as deeply into this aspect of the subject as I have. I realised that it was a difficult problem in view of the fact that parents' pensions were given in the last war. It was a flat rate pension of 5s. for a parent who lost a son. That matter was considered very carefully by the Select Committee which considered pensions' administration and pensions' rights generally after the last war. On the evidence produced, it was then realised that that was quite a wrong system to adopt. Really what it amounts to is this: If you are a parent with a son fighting in the war—.we are all in the same position, I have my son fighting—are you going to say that 5s. a week would be any consolation to you for the loss of that son? The better consolation is to think that he has died in the service of his country.
Those pensions of 5s. a week granted in the last war are being paid to people who to-day have to include them in their Income Tax returns and to pay Income Tax on them. They will walk down to the Post Office and draw the 5s. a week although their means are such that they have to pay Income Tax. I realised as soon as I took up this matter that the best thing to do was to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee and assess a parent's pension on the expectation of what the parent would have been likely to receive from that member of the household by way of assistance, and more particularly to deal with the case as one of need, broadly interpreted. That is what we do, and because we are not giving these 5s. pensions to people who do not need them I am in a position to use the money to provide far better pensions for those who do need them.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
Could the right hon. Gentleman say what proportion of the parents receiving the 5s. are not actually in need of it?
§ Sir W. Womersley
Every one of them, because if they are in need, they have the opportunity of putting in a second claim under which the pension of 5s. can be supplemented, and I take it that anyone who is in need would do so. I know that in my own constituency all who were in need promptly applied for the higher pension, and so one can take it that those 1634 who did not were not in need of the money. In dealing with these cases we must bear in mind that you can only say "The State's responsibility is the responsibility of the boy that has been killed".
What would my hon. and gallant Friend do in a case like this? There was a family consisting of the two parents and their eight boys and one girl. The parents were getting on in years. One boy was killed. Not one of the other seven boys allowed his parents a single penny piece, although one of them was in a very good position as a professional man, earning something like £650 to £700 a year. The one that had been killed had allowed his mother something. Our Department took into account what that boy had allowed his mother during the time he was surviving, and granted the parents a pension which amounted to a little more than the boy had given them. Even so, that was really not enough for their needs, and I say that the other boys should have contributed something towards the support of their parents. It may be said that we are applying the means test. I say "No," but we are applying the needs test. We are ascertaining what is the need of the parents and then the State is assuming the responsibility of the boy that is dead; and we would ask those others who are alive and can afford it to assume some responsibility too. I am satisfied that all who object to filling up the form to which my hon. and gallant Friend referred do so because they jolly well know that if they do fill it up, they will be out of court. I cannot imagine anyone objecting to answering questions who has a straight forward answer to give. The form may seem a little complicated, but it is not expected that the woman should fill it up by herself. She is requested to go to the local office of the Ministry of Pensions and they will fill it up for her, and in many cases an officer of the Ministry goes round to the house to do it there.
Many other questions have been brought forward. I must thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) for his kind and considerate references to me and my Department. He has given me very valuable service, along with other hon. Members and my Central Advisory Committee. He has taken a very deep interest in questions affecting ex-Service men ever 1635 since he has been a Member of Parliament. He asked me one or two questions and made one or two suggestions. One of his suggestions concerns the question of men on leave and men going on or off duty, who meet with accidents in which they are either injured or killed. I mentioned in my opening remarks that I was dealing with that matter at the moment, and I gave an outline of what I had in mind, but I had to tell the Committee that I was not able to give a final decision because I had not received the final decision from those in a position to give it. I assure hon. Members that I will get on with this matter as quickly as possible.
The matter of the appeal tribunals was emphasised. Perhaps I can give about two minutes to that subject before I go on to other questions. We had a full Debate on the matter about three weeks ago, when I stated what I now repeat, that I am in favour of tribunals because they would relieve me of a tremendous responsibility. I realise also that they would give a feeling of satisfaction to those whose cases had been rejected, if they thought that something could still be done. It does not necessarily follow that they could get as good terms from a tribunal as they get from me now, but that is a matter on which they would have to take a chance. I hope that, when tribunals are set up, hon. Members will agree to abide by the decisions of the tribunals, whether those decisions are in favour of the claimants or not. I receive a number of letters now from hon. Members dealing with cases arising out of the last war. There was a tribunal after that war, and these cases were before the tribunal and were rejected. In spite of the fact that so many years have passed, hon. Members want to re-open the cases, because the men concerned have got worse. They will say they are aware that, according to the law, the decision of the tribunal was binding on all concerned, but they wish to come back to the Minister. Tribunals will relieve me, nevertheless, of a certain amount of responsibility.
I have said before that there is a shortage of medical men with the right kind of experience to serve upon the tribunals. The hon. Member for Denbigh (Sir H. Morris-Jones) has given me a good hint, of which I am very glad. He 1636 reminded me that a committee is sitting, under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for the Dominions, to consider the distribution of medical personnel throughout the various medical services, and he stated that, in his opinion, far too many doctors were serving in the Army. I have made inquiries, and I find that the committee to which he refers is going very carefully into the question whether the Government should not transfer doctors from one Service to another and whether more doctors might not be made available for our hospital services and for service upon appeal tribunals. Without competent doctors—and I do not want them too old, either—you cannot have an effective tribunal. You need doctors who are experienced in this class of case, and who are able to devote a good deal of time to the work. You need the right kind of man. I will watch carefully for the report of the committee, and, possibly there will be indications in it of where to find a supply of competent medical men for this work. We shall reconsider the matter when that report comes along.
Several hon. Members mentioned the question of training, on which I am very keen, because I think it will solve many of our problems and enable men to earn a little, or even a good deal where they become very skilled, to add to their pensions. That will be far better than giving them a shilling or two extra. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) gave the Committee specific cases, but actually, in a Debate like this, we would rather deal with principles than with cases. I must have the opportunity of investigating cases which are brought forward. He has brought forward cases before, but I think he has admitted, after investigaton, that the facts have not been presented to him as clearly as we know them.
§ It being the hour at which The CHAIRMAN is directed by paragraph 6 of Standing Order No. 14 to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Vote under consideration, The CHAIRMAN proceeded to put forthwith the Question.
§ question agreed to1637
That a sum, not exceeding £22,008,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1942, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Pensions, payments in respect of war pensions, gratuities and allowances, sundry contributions in respect thereof and other services.
The CHAIRMAN then proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14, to put severally the Questions:
That the total amounts of the Votes out standing in the Civil Classes and the Unclassified Services of the Civil Estimates, including Supplementary Estimates, and the total amounts of the Votes outstanding in the Estimates for the Navy. Army, Air and Revenue Departments, be granted for the Services de fined in those Classes and Estimates.