HC Deb 23 October 1941 vol 374 cc1894-8
35. Mr. F. Anderson

asked the Minister of Pensions whether he will consider removing the means test now applied to the widowed mothers of serving men, by which they are deprived of pensions and allowances if they respond to the call to enter employment, whilst such means test does not apply to wives?

The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)

The Select Committee of 1921 took the view that to justify the grant of a parent's pension the test of need, broadly interpreted, should be satisfied. This principle was incorporated in the 1940 Warrant, the provisions of which were fully considered by my Statutory Advisory Committee. I regret that I am not prepared to waive this requirement.

Mr. Anderson

Is the Minister aware that this means test prevents a good number of women from undertaking war work because if they do they are liable to be deprived of widows' pensions, whereas in the case of the ordinary married woman allowances can be retained? Would he consider reviewing the position?

Sir W. Womersley

I am not aware of the circumstances outlined by the hon. Member. I do not think that a woman who wishes to take her part in the national effort will let that consideration weigh with her. I am quite prepared to consider any point of view the hon. Member may put forward.

36. Mr. Mathers

asked the Minister of Pensions whether pensions allowances to dependants of men who have lost their lives in the present war will be reviewed in the light of the new arrangements for family allowances: and whether applica- tions may be repeated by dependent parents and others who have had previous applications declined?

Sir W. Womersley

The new scheme of allowances during a man's temporary absence on service has no bearing on the permanent provision to be made in the event of his death. Applications by dependants which have been rejected on account of their present circumstances may always he renewed if those circumstances change for the worse.

Mr. Mathers

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that provision for the widow and the family of a soldier who loses his life is under the new, improved regulations made comparatively very much worse? Is he not prepared to consider revising these inadequate allowances for the dependants of those who have lost their lives in this war?

Sir W. Womersley

I think the hon. Member has got a little mixed up in this matter. The best thing I can do is to have a talk with him.

Mr. Mathers

I asked the right hon. Gentleman to face the position. He is refusing to do so.

Sir W. Womersley

I never refuse to face anything.

37. Mr. Wakefield

asked the Minister of Pensions whether, in view of his recent undertaking to consult the Minister of Health as to the supply of doctors for pensions appeals tribunals, he can now state what is the present position?

Sir W. Womersley

I have stated that I shall keep the matter of pensions appeal tribunals constantly in mind, in the light of the findings from time to time of the Committee now sitting, under the chairmanship of the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions, to consider the distribution of medical personnel. I am asking that Committee to give me their views on the question of the availability of suitable doctors for appeal work.

Mr. Bellenger

In view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman himself has stated that only a comparatively small number of doctors will be required to start these appeal tribunals, will he consult the Secretary of State for War, who has a vast reserve of doctors at present not earning their daily bread?

Sir W. Womersley

The Committee I have referred to is making inquiries, and will report to me. I cannot take the matter out of its hands.

38. Mr. Graham White

asked the Minister of Pensions whether he will publish a statement, either as a White Paper or in the OFFICIAL REPORT, showing precisely in what form, and to whom applications should be made for payments to dependants of men in the Forces, under each head of the recently published White Paper; and what evidence, if any, will have to be submitted with each of the different forms of application?

Sir W. Womersley

The White Paper (6318) announced only one new kind of grant, namely the Emergency grants referred to in paragraph 7. Applications are to be made to the Chief Regional Officer of the Ministry of Pensions whose address can be ascertained by inquiry at any Post Office. The evidence required will be evidence that the conditions of grant as set out in paragraph 7 are fulfilled. The other changes announced in the White Paper are merely changes in the basis of assessment. Full information as to the method of application and as to the evidence required is given in White Papers 6043, 6138, and 6186.

39. Mr. R. C. Morrison

asked the Minister of Pensions whether he is aware that, early in July, J. R. Edwards, of Great Cambridge Road, N.17, applied personally to the Assistance Board, Manor House, N.4, for extra allowance, as he was due to join the Army on 17th July; that he has since written twice to Manor House Office, once to Lytham St. Anne's and twice applied through his pay office; that his wife has visited the Assistance Board on three occasions, filling up the same forms as her husband, and each time being informed that she would hear within a few days; and, as 14 weeks have now elapsed without any result, what further steps Mrs. Edwards can take to obtain the allowance to which she is entitled and in urgent need?

Sir W. Womersley

In the time available it has not been possible to obtain the case papers from our office in the North. I am inquiring into the case and will write to the hon. Member as soon as possible.

Mr. Morrison

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the fact that I have only taken the unusual course of putting down a personal case like this on the Order Paper because it is typical of the existing state of affairs,- and many Members of Parliament are inundated with this kind of case?

Sir W. Womersley

I do not think that it is typical of the state of affairs. It has been an absolute surprise to me, and if I find when I get the papers that any member of my staff has been remiss in replying, I shall certainly take the matter up very strongly.

Mr. Messer

Is the Minister aware that I gave a case that dates from January?

Sir W. Womersley

That is possible; the question is what inquiries have to be made.

40. Mr. Viant

asked the Minister of Pensions whether, in view of the strong exception taken to the inquisitorial methods involved in the administration of the new arrangements for making provision for families of members of His Majesty's Forces during the present war, he will consider the adoption of a flat-rate increase, which will guarantee a reasonable subsistence without a needs test?

Sir W. Womersley

The reasons which led His Majesty's Government to make improved provision for the families of members of the Forces by means of a revised scheme of War Service Grants in preference to a flat-rate increase were fully explained in last week's Debate. This does not involve the use of inquisitorial methods, but it is not possible to judge whether a supplementary grant is necessary to secure the benefits of the scheme, including the minimum standard of maintenance, unless the resources already available are known. I would add that as regards cases where a grant is already in payment a simple form is sent to the recipient and no personal visit is normally necessary. In the case of new applications personal inquiry enables a less complicated form to be used and frequently assists the claimant in establishing a right to a grant.

Mr. Viant

Has my right hon. Friend overlooked the fact that all the Members who took part in the Debate in all parts of the House object to the inquisitorial methods that this scheme will necessitate; and in the light of that expressed opinion, will he give due weight and consideration to the expressions of the Members of this House?

Sir W. Womersley

I certainly listened to all the speeches in the Debate, and I am certain that all those hon. Members were under a misapprehension. The suggestion of the hon. Member of a flat-rate increase would not meet two per cent. of the cases of hardship.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the Minister aware, or would he be interested to learn, that the Labour party fully support the view that the present scheme is unsatisfactory, and will the Government take some notice of what the Labour party say?

Sir W. Womersley

I should not be at all surprised if the Labour party took exception to any scheme. They can object to any scheme if they so desire. Certainly, I would take active notice of any of their views.

Mr. Buchanan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the last Debate the House almost without exception expressed dissatisfaction with the scheme and that since then dissatisfaction has increased, and will he take note of these facts and reconsider the whole matter?

Sir W. Womersley

I take note of all the facts brought to my notice.

Mr. Shinwell

And do nothing.

Sir W. Womersley

I am prepared to meet this House and discuss this question at any time.