§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I suppose the Committee may think it somewhat "small beer" if one gets away from the large aspect of this Vote of Credit and deals with one or two details which I should like to present to the Committee 1872 to-day. The particular aspect with which I wish to deal is the issue of Service pensions for which we shall be providing some of the money in this Vote of Credit. I would like to deal with the administration of the Pensions Warrant in one respect which has recently come to the fore very much as the result of some newspaper comment on these particular cases. We are conversant with the anomalies which arise in the Services, but it seems that not only is the Service man to have these anomalies during his lifetime, but his dependants have to put up with them after he has gone to his grave. The particular issue is the way in which pensions should be granted and the eligibility of widows and other dependants for these pensions.
A national newspaper—I have no doubt the Minister has had his attention drawn to it—recently gave prominence to a case which is by no means rare. I have reason to believe from correspondence that I am receiving that this particular type of case is constantly occurring. If the Committee will bear with me for a few moments, I will give an outline of this case. It concerns a man who was killed while serving overseas. His widow was informed by the War Office that it was their painful duty to say that a report had been received notifying the death of her husband, which occurred in the Middle East on 12th June, 1942. I would like the Committee to keep that date in mind, because only in October, 1942, probably as a result of this case being brought prominently, before the Minister—
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I do not think that it would be wise to go into this case, which has been completely answered, and the editor of the paper concerned has had to admit that the case has been cleared up. I do not think the hon. Member should continue with this case unless he hands that paper over to me. I have a complete answer.
I do not wish to do so except to state it as an example of numerous similar cases which have occurred. I am prepared to give the Minister the full benefit of the action he took when this case was brought to his attention.
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my case, he will see what I mean. This man was killed on 12th June, 1942, and later on, in October, 1942, the widow received a pension. Hon. Members can work out for themselves how long it took for the Minister, however the case was brought to his attention, to grant the pension. But this is the fact that I want to stress. The report was that the man died as a result of injuries received in an accidental explosion. When these cases occur—and this is only one of a number of cases that I want to cite—an inquiry takes place, and the Minister has to be convinced within the limits of the Pensions Warrant, 1940, that the man's death was directly attributable to military service. That is the point I want to bring out from the case I have just quoted. My right hon. Friend takes some exception to my mentioning this case in the Committee. I shall quote some other cases which perhaps have not come to his attention but which are all on somewhat similar lines. I hope that I shall not take too long in developing my main point.
§ Mr. Stephen
On a point of Order. On a matter dealing with a Vote of Credit of £1,000,000,000 such as this, should not either the Financial Secretary to the Treasury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer be on the Front Bench to deal with it?
That is not a point of Order. It is not for me to say what Minister should or should not sit on the Front Bench. The Minister of Pensions is here, and at the moment I understood that the hon. Member was discussing pensions, which seems appropriate. Perhaps when other aspects are discussed the Financial Secretary or the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be here to answer.
I am satisfied that my case is being adequately attended to in so far as the presence of the Minister of Pensions on the Front Bench can have that effect. I understood that, after the general Debate had more or less ceased, we were to be given an opportunity of raising these detailed points.
That was my supposition, and evidently it is right. Another case I want to bring to the attention of the Committee is the case of a leading steward, who was 50 years of age, and for 23 years was in the Navy and came out with a pension in 1930. In December, 1939, he was recalled to the Navy and was passed medically fit, and that is what I want to emphasize. So many of these doubtful cases which the Minister has had to refuse have been accepted by the Forces as A.1. The man was in the evacuation of Dunkirk and his ship was hit by a bomb. He was transferred to a ship at Harwich, and on the night of 7th November, 1941, he died suddenly on board, and the authorities notified his wife that his death was due to heart failure. I suppose that the Minister is literally right in refusing a pension under the Pensions Warrant, because he was not convinced that the man's death was directly attributable to his service, but I should have thought—and I suppose most people would have thought—that this man's death was attributable to his service even to some degree. His wife was refused a military pension, and the only alternative she has is to seek a pension under the National Health Insurance Acts. There is another somewhat similar case of a man who was killed in action on the Western Front. Let the Committee bear in mind that these men whose cases I have spoken of were on active service. If they had committed any misdemeanour, they would have been tried for committing the misdemeanour on active service. But the wife of this man was refused her pension.
The last case I want to cite is one connected with the R.A.F. He was assisting in unloading cases from a lorry when one case slipped and caught him in the stomach. A pension was refused on the ground, I understand, that his later disability was not caused by his service. Let me refer to the Pensions Warrant, because it is within the ambit of that Warrant that the right hon. Gentleman operates. In Article 39 we are told that pensions to widows may be granted if it can be satisfied that the husband's death was due to, or materially hastened by, wound, injury or disease which was directly attributable to military service during the war. That is the burden of my complaint—that those words are too rigid and exclude many deserving cases 1875 of men who have given practically their all, even their lives, and whose widows are treated in this scurvy fashion. We are told that under Article 51 pensions and gratuities in respect of deceased soldiers cannot be claimed as a right but may be given as a reward for their services. I suggest to the Committee and to the Minister that that is not good enough. If a man enlists voluntarily, or is called up, he is asked to give everything. That is his contribution to the State. If, unfortunately, in the stress of war he loses his life, how can we adequately compensate him or those whom he leaves behind? We cannot do it in the way in which the Pensions Warrant lays it down.
Who decides this question? That is what I want to know. Has the Minister complete authority to say whether a widow is entitled to a pension under this Pensions Warrant, or is he dependent on rules by another Government Department? It is the Minister's right to make Regulations on which, presumably, he bases his refusal, in numerous cases, to grant a pension. What should be the relationship between Service men and the State? There are two points of relationship I would like to mention to the Committee. First, is the moral basis. When a man joins up he says, "I am fighting for my country, and I am prepared to give everything, even if my country is not prepared to look after my dependants properly." That is the moral basis, and most men do their duty without thought whether their dependants will be affected afterwards.
The other aspect is the legal one. I submit to the Committee that there is a legal contract between serving men and the State, that it is binding on the State and that it should be binding to a far more rigid extent on the State than happens under the present Pensions Warrant. What is the contract a recruit enters into when he is attested or joins the Service? He has to swear an oath of allegiance and loyalty to the Crown. He swears that he will defend the Crown with his body. Although he does not say so, that is implied. In other words, the soldier pays the premium for his pension or any disability allowance with his blood and not with money. I submit that that is just as much an adequate consideration as any money premium paid to an insur- 1876 ance company which will entitle a man or his dependants, after he is dead, to the benefit of that policy, either in a lump sum or in a continuing annuity. That is the basis which should exist between a serving man and the State. The State owes to the dependants of men who are killed in action, or in serving their country, just as much as any commercial insurance company owes to the dependants of individuals who pay a premium. Let us consider the other aspect. Suppose a man is not called up but is a worker in industry, where, to-day, earnings, on the whole, are fairly substantial. That man is able to insure his dependants against his death by paying a premium to an insurance company, and generally speaking no question is raised when the man dies, unless, of course, it is by his own hand. The money is paid out to his legal representatives. I suggest that the consideration which an industrial worker pays in money should apply to the Service man who cannot afford to pay money and so often pays with his life.
Now I come to my constructive suggestion about the Pensions Warrant. I hope Members will agree with me that the Pensions Warrant must be revised, because its words are too narrow and prevent many dependants from receiving the pensions to which most of us would say they are entitled by the deaths of their husbands in action or on active service. Then there is the question of parents. At the present moment they are not granted a pension in the same way as a widow. They are only given a pension if they can show need. Article 49 states that a soldier who has died in circumstances which I have dealt with previously may be granted a pension subject to such conditions as the Minister may determine if any pecuniary need arises, such as old age, etc., or other adverse conditions, not being merely of a temporary character. Those who drew up that Article obviously did not understand the financial economy of working-class households. They do not know that in many cases these young people were contributing to the household and that parents quite reasonably expect the same contributions to continue until the date when the young man or woman is married. In some cases even after marriage they still contribute to the upkeep of their parents' home. What do we offer to these 1877 parents? Possibly a pension ranging from 5s. to 12s. 6d. a week with the little extra the Minister may be able to give if he thinks fit.
This is causing a great deal of sadness in many working-class homes throughout the country. The Minister should give this matter his consideration. Too often he gives us the impression that he is looking after the interests of all these dependants, that he is their trustee. Too often, with that geniality which seems to exude from him on all occasions, he lets us think that everything is all right in his Department and that there is no need for us to question him. I suggest that the examples I have given show that in many respects the Minister is not administering his Department, even within the terms of the Royal Warrant, as he ought to do; if he had been doing that, he would never have allowed cases such as those I have quoted to get the publicity they have received and only then to take some action in granting a pension.
I suggest that all doubtful cases ought to go to the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary before the officials write cold and almost callous letters to dependants telling them to go to the Public Assistance authorities or to register their claim for a widow's pension. This is not good enough. If the Minister wants to retain our goodwill and our belief in his efforts, he must convince us that he is putting to the Treasury—for obviously the proposals I have made will need the sanction of the Treasury and possibly, later on, even some legislation—the points of view that are constantly being put to him, some of which I have mentioned and many of which are mentioned by my hon. Friends from time to time in the House. Unless the Minister gives a satisfactory answer to these points, it may be necessary on some future occasion to take more stringent action than we propose to take to-day. These cases are by no means rare. I have at least twenty cases that I could give to the Minister, and they are coming in every day. It will not be sufficient for the Minister to ride off, as he so often does, in a spirit of genial bonhomie, because we want him to deal with the facts, some of which I have stated in my remarks.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
I am afraid that the speech I make will 1878 be more than usually inadequate, because, having just come back to work after being unwell, I have not been able to work out any speech in detail, as I would have liked to do. I want very warmly to support everything that has been said by the hon. Member for Basset-law (Mr. Bellenger). There are two categories, in particular, concerning which I would ask the Minister to give us further and more encouraging details. One hears of very many cases of men who are killed while they are out on evening passes or while they are away on leave. It seems to me that once a man has become a servant of the State in the particular way in which he does when he joins the Armed Forces, the State then has an obligation towards him, and the fact that he may be killed in a lorry accident when coming back from an evening's leave in the town is no reason why the State should say it has no financial responsibilities towards him. That seems to me to be a completely scandalous position. We are told it is good for a soldier's morale that when he can get away from camp on short evening leave he should do so. Yet, if there happens to be some accident while he is out on a pass, as I understand the position and as cases that have come to me show, his widow is told that she is not entitled to a pension.
There is, then, the category of the man who is passed into the Army A.1, and who within a few months is passed out as permanently unfit, and dies a very short time afterwards. Unless he has done a substantial period of service and unless it can be proved that during that period of service the state of his health was very seriously aggravated, his widow is not entitled to a pension. Surely, once a man is passed A.1 into one of the Fighting Services, ipso facto the State has a responsibility for him. A case was brought to my attention not long ago. In this case, in the end, the Minister did find himself able to grant a pension. It was the case of a man who had been passed A.1 into the Army, although it was quite clear to anybody who knew him he was not fit. He was out of the Army within less than 3 months and within a year he died, and for a long time the Minister said he was not entitled to a pension. Surely, the shorter the man's period of service the more obvious it is that the state of his health has been aggravated by military life, and there- 1879 fore, I should have thought that the obligation of the State was all the more obvious. I think that in those two categories to which I have referred the Minister should be able to give us some satisfactory assurance. In dealing with these matters, we are in great difficulty because we do not know now about the latitude which is given to the Minister under the Royal Warrant. From the Warrant as I read it, it is left to the good-will and judgment of the Minister to decide whether or not a pension can be granted.
The Minister gives us the impression—if he will allow me to say so—that he is a Minister who is working very loyally in the interests of the State, or rather of one particular section of the State—that is to say, he is very anxious, and rightly anxious, that there should not be a waste of public money, and so on. As I see things, he is a man who works very closely with the Treasury, whose job it is to see that a lot of money is not unnecessarily expended. We often hear about watertight and rival compartments in the State. I sometimes wonder whether the Minister of Pensions is not the worst enemy that the Minister of Information has in this country at the present time. There is not a town and hardly a village in the country where there is not some pensions case, where a pension has been granted very late after an enormous amount of unhappy wrangling or where it has been refused altogether. Ministry of Information speakers go round the country saying what a grand world we are going to build after the war—although they are not allowed to talk too much about the future—and trying to keep up the morale of the people; but in every place there is that case, that dirty, mean little instance—I do not accuse the Minister personally, for I believe that probably he does interpret the Warrant as generously as he can—where, somebody has made the ultimate sacrifice and his dependants are left in absolute destitution or misery, or are subjected to a means test of one sort or another. That is not good enough. It is true that it is serving the interests of the Treasury, but it is directly against the interests of the maintenance of morale. I beg the Minister to give us a little more assurance and proof that in all these cases he does 1880 show the utmost generosity that he can; in other words, that he does work as closely as he can with the Ministry of Information, and does not simply think, "I am working with the Treasury and I will see that no money goes out of the public purse if I can possibly avoid it, even though I spread alarm and despondency in the country."
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
On behalf of the people to whom I belong, it was arranged that we should raise the question of the scale of allowances to wives and dependants and the administration of the Ministry of Pensions and adduce evidence which would prove the need for investigation and for amending the Royal Warrant. Twenty-four years ago I served as a private in the South Lancashires, the Machine Gun Corps and the Tank Corps. I never thought at that time that I should have the privilege of speaking here on behalf of the men that I served with. I am pleased to be able to speak on behalf of the sons of my generation, many of whom were cut off in the flower of their youth. Others, as good as any of us, were wounded and came home and suffered and never got elementary justice. I hope the House is going to be determined that no matter what Government is in power the experience of 20 years ago is not to be repeated, and I believe it will unless we insist that a fundamental alteration is made in the Royal Warrant. I will not cast any reflection on the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary. I say that because of my experience of them. I contrast my experience with the present Minister with dealings I have had with other Ministers who had held office in the past few years. Strong feeling was expressed on this matter at the last Trades Union Congress, and I want to reflect that feeling. The 1941 report of the British Legion states:The rates of pension and the right of appeal are two important questions which still call for settlement. The Legion is convinced as to the justice of its policy on this matter and will not rest until equal fates and the right of appeal have been conceded.Those who move much about the country cannot but be struck by what takes place on railway platforms. When I come up here weekly and pass through such stations as Rugby, Stafford, Stoke and Crewe I cannot help observing groups of people waiting for their relatives returning on leave. When they meet, what a 1881 welcome is given, and how the child looks up to its father and mother and is eager to help by carrying some of the luggage. When I am travelling the other way I see the groups again, the men smiling at one another and saying that it will not be long before they meet again. As the train moves away the joy on their faces gives place to tears. The last few words are, "We look forward to the end of the war." This also finds expression in broadcasts from abroad, which are welcomed throughout the country. At the end of nearly every message from the Near or Middle East they say they are looking forward to a reunion. In modern war, especially of a mechanised description, the percentage of cripples will be greater than it has been in any previous war.
Thinking about this trouble against that background of the joy of reunion and people looking forward to living the life they want to live, it brings us to this, that those who suffer in the nation's defence should be defended by the nation. We are all in this war, and we must see that those who suffer get at least elementary justice and not merely charity or grants from benevolent funds. The whole nation ought to accept the responsibility for the maintenance of these men that we see on the station platforms, with their relatives looking forward to their return. If they return crippled or suffering as the result of their service, it ought to be the duty of the whole country to maintain them as well as we possibly can. In the past 20 years we have seen men wearing ribbons and disability badges begging, playing instruments, displaying pictures, and displaying their poverty at the same time, outside cinemas and football grounds. There are very few thinking people who have not felt a cold shudder when passing people like that. They were incapacitated in the service of the nation, and I am pleading that we should prevent a repetition of that and see that they are decently maintained in the future. They should not have to depend on passers-by or en charitable organisations. To have to beg is undignified. It is humiliating. It saps their manhood. To-day we ask for justice. When it is granted men ought to be prevented from displaying their disability on the streets to the extent that they have done in the past. Here are a few sound principles to be found in the 1882 1940 publication of the International Labour Office. In the preface it states:Making certain changes, sometimes of a far-reaching kind in order to take account of the lessons of experience.That is what we are asking for to-day. Later it says:When the service required by the community of an individual involves an injury greater than the sacrifice required of all other members of the community the obligation arises for the community to distribute over all its members the burden of the injury in question.I should think that is a principle with which most people would agree, and, if so, it ought to find expression in the Royal Warrant and in the administration of the Ministry of Pensions. It is a democratic principle, and it should be applied as soon as possible. When a man is accepted for military service he is deemed to be in good health. If he is passed A1, that ought to be the basis for an application for a grant from the Ministry of Pensions. As soon as a man is under the supervision of his commanding officer, he has no possibility of evading his obligations and all the risks imposed on him. These are principles which are accepted by the people of the country. That being so, we ought to see that the administration is conducted in accordance with them. When a man is certified Al on his attestation paper, it should be a legal obligation on the part of the State to accept responsibility for him and his dependants should his health be affected while in the service of the State.
Here is a contradiction. Under the Royal Warrant a man's pre-enlistment responsibilities are the basis for pension scale purposes, but the pre-enlistment medical record is not the basis for medical purposes. This has serious consequences. Suppose a man joins the Forces between 20 and 30 when he is single. He is put on disablement pay, but later he marries and rightly has children. His disablement pay remains the same irrespective of his domestic responsibilties, in spite of the fact that he has been injured in defending the whole country and the whole of the people. It is a reasonable principle that the whole country should maintain him in later life. At the present time men who have served the country are deprived of the joys of life because they happen to have been born either in my generation or the generation of the young men 1883 who are serving now. If that is accepted, surely when he marries and has children the children should not suffer because of the disability of the father who happened to have been living in a period when his generation were called upon to serve the country. The contrary principle is supplied in regard to medical records. A man's pre-enlistment medical record should be the basis for consideration. If a man is declared A.1 and later has to apply for a pension, he should be given the benefit of the doubt. In the experience of my hon. Friends and of Members in general, very seldom is the man given that benefit. I know some men who were serving in the anti-aircraft units during the past few winters. These men, as a result of having to be out at all times of the night during the heavy blitzes, were subject to cold more than they would otherwise have been, and many of them got wet through. These conditions tend to undermine the constitution of the strongest man. You cannot measure the effect of service in these conditions until a man reaches later life. Then he is subject to illnesses, to premature age, to rheumatism and to physical disabilities of that character. They cannot be measured when the man is undergoing service.
Can we be informed to-day on what basis attributability is determined in matters of this kind? Can an allowance be made for the period from when a man is discharged from hospital until he finds employment? Why is there delay in some cases in the payment of National Health Insurance benefits? I know nothing worse than for a man, having served the country, to have to receive hospital treatment and all that it means, to be subject to the inconvenience of having to go from one place to another, and to have to fill up one form after another. One Would have thought that the best treatment and the most sympathetic consideration would be given to our men when they come home after serving the country. Their treatment is causing a good deal of unnecessary friction and it is undermining the morale of the people, especially in the industrial centres. It appears to me that there is some lack of co-ordination between the various Ministries. Do the Ministry of Health co-operate in a satisfactory manner with the Ministry of 1884 Pensions in these matters? Is the Minister satisfied with the medical advice he receives, and are the regulations or the interpretations that form the basis of the medical aspects of applications for pensions satisfactory?
There is great concern at the unsatisfactory attitude of the medical advisers of the Ministry. We are not competent to enter into that because we are not medical specialists. We have to be guided by the advice of the medical men in our own localities, and we often find that their advice differs from the advice of the Ministry's medical advisers. Therefore, we feel that the medical advice which the Minister receives should be subject to some neutral opinion. It is common in many cases for a man to attend the same doctor throughout his life. The doctor has his record and knows what he is subject to. When a man has to apply for a pension we often find that the medical advice received by the Ministry is a complete denial of the record of the man's own doctor. Can more consideration be shown when ailments are consequential on service? Many men have difficulty in proving that their state of health is due to war service. I want to make a strong point about what I am about to say. It should be presumed in a man's favour that his physical condition is due to war service unless the opposite can be proved; at least, he should be given the benefit of the doubt. Take the case of a man who was in the Dieppe raid or at Dunkirk. Many of them were waist deep in water for hours. They may be all right for months, but the result of getting wet does not often show itself until later life when they begin to suffer physically. I maintain that it should be presumed in their favour that their ill-health is due to their war service unless the opposite can be proved.
A fundamental change is required in the Royal Warrant. This is a legacy of the dark days, the days of the Poor Law. We have moved along the road quickly from the acceptance of the Poor Law and are now moving towards social security. Therefore, there should be a fundamental change in the Royal Warrant so that it will be consistent with the changes that are occurring in other social services. We should remember that we are a democracy, that we are fighting for democracy, and, therefore, simultaneously with the successful prosecution of the war, there 1885 should be a development of democracy and an improvement in the treatment of our people. As a result of our experiences during the last 20 years we say that the Royal Warrant has not been found satisfactory and ought to be examined in order that there may be fundamental improvements.
Here are some examples of anomalies and of the very low rates of pensions. I consider that it is a disgrace that anyone should be prepared to acquiesce in or to support these pension rates. A man who is 100 per cent disabled, and his wife, receive £2 6s. 8d. a week. Will any hon. Member justify such a payment to the men we are all cheering, to the men to whom we are all expressing our good will, to men who are leaving some of the best homes in the land—the cream of our men—to men who are looking forward, as is shown in their messages over the wireless from the Far East, to rejoining their wives—and they all think well of their wives? All we offer these men when they are 100 per cent. disabled is £2 6s. 8d. a week. Take the case of a flight-sergeant. Flight-sergeants are trained men. As we look into their faces, look into their eyes, we cannot help admiring them. They are the men who are going over Germany night after night, doing the work of everyone of us and defending us. If this war is not won many of us will be finished altogether, and as we all know what is at stake we cannot help admiring these men. We feel that we cannot do too much for them. When they board a train we all move up in order to give them a seat. In the streets the women all look at them and admire them. Yet all we do for them if they are 100 per cent. disabled is to give them £2 6s. 8d. per week. For the widow of such a man, if over 40, all we offer is 25s. a week. For each child we pay, according to the new rates, 7s. 1d. a week, although for children transferred from their homes under the evacuation scheme we allow 10s. 6d. a week.
These figures are evidence proving the need for an investigation into the Royal Warrant, and I hope that, as in the case of soldiers' pay, Members of all parties in the House will insist that there is a fundamental change and that the Royal Warrant is brought up to date. Speaking for myself only, because on this I have no authority to speak for anyone else, I think no one can support the present differences 1886 in the treatment of officers and ordinary men in the Services. In these days many flight-sergeants and many other men serving in the Army are as competent as and come from as good walks of life as any officers, but under the Royal Warrant there is a considerable difference in the way they are treated. For the loss of a thumb, for example, an officer receives £120, while one of the other ranks—and that means me—would receive £60. The loss of a thumb may seriously affect the earning capacity of a man who uses his hands in manual labour. In the trade to which I belong a man who loses a thumb or finger can no longer do his work properly, and therefore his earning capacity is affected, whereas a lawyer or a banker or anyone in one of the many other professions could carry on just the same in spite of the lost thumb. There is something wrong with that position, and it too needs to be examined.
Then take the position under total disablement awards. A colonel receives £300 a year, his wife £25 and for the first child £25. A lieutenant receives £175 and a private receives £88. That is wrong in these clays of democracy. There ought to be more equality of treatment. I would like this point to be noted, like to have these figures impressed indelibly upon the mind of every hon. Member. The widow of a general receives £450 a year, the widow of a colonel £200, the widow of a lieutenant £90, while the widow of a private receives only £40 or, if over 40 years of age, £58. Nobody can justify such inequalities in treatment. It is as a result of an analysis of the Royal Warrant that I said earlier that this is a legacy of the dark days of this country. It goes back to the year 1884. In addition to a pension, a gratuity may be granted to a widow. A general's widow can receive a gratuity of £1,500. a colonel's widow £600, a lieutenant's widow £150, a private's widow—that means the widows of men like us here—nothing.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Tell the whole story. The hon. Member says that the widow of a soldier receives nothing at all, yet she has something that the officer's widow does not get.
§ Sir W. Womersley
It is a gratuity if she remarries. In the case of the officer's 1887 wife there is no gratuity if she remarries. She has had her gratuity.
§ Mr. Smith
If we get involved in that question, it will take a long time to go into it. But surely there is not much in that. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that at the beginning of my speech I paid tribute to the present administration of the Ministry so far as the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are concerned, and I do not want to get involved in a controversy of this kind, because I doubt if we should really do justice to the position. After this war—I am sorry to say it, but I am forced to say it—there will be a large number of widows, and we know what the position will probably be. Therefore, rather than arouse any misunderstandings as a result of what we have got involved in, I would ask the Minister not to press that aspect of the affair.
§ Sir W. Womersley
All I wanted was that the Committee should know the exact position. I am not going to enter into any controversy about class distinction, and I am sorry it has been introduced; but as the hon. Member is stating what is in the Royal Warrant surely he ought to give the complete story and not half the story.
§ Mr. Smith
I agree, but we are getting involved, and then it will take a long while to deal with it. I also do not want to raise class distinctions. I was only giving concrete facts from the Royal Warrant. All that I have said is in the Royal Warrant, and if there are any class distinctions then they are the result of this legacy of the dark past which still finds expression in the Royal Warrant. All that I am asking for is that as we have brought our administration up to date in other respects so this Royal Warrant should be brought up to date. I want to make a special appeal for mothers who have lost their sons in this war. I was addressing a meeting on Sunday and I was surprised at the depth of feeling there is on this point—well, I should not say that I was surprised, because it is understandable, but I would assure the Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the other members of the Government that there is a good deal of feeling about it. If they do not accept my view they should themselves go 1888 among the ordinary people who have lost sons or have sons missing and they will then see for themselves what depth of feeling there is.
This is what takes place and it ought to be put on record. In many cases the people that we belong to make a great struggle in early life to give their children a better chance than they themselves have had. They want them to have a good education; they look forward to their having a good trade or becoming teachers. They look forward to seeing them assisting the rest of the family, in order that the younger children can have a better chance. Then war comes and the country calls for the services of those sons and daughters. They go to defend us all. If they are lost, their loss should be shared by all. You hear mothers say: "Our sons cannot be returned to us, but the least the nation can do is to compensate us for the loss of them."
I ask that parents should receive some compensation in the form of a pension. The strongest point I am making is that this should be done as rapidly as possible because of the concern which is being caused in the country. I have here a letter from a man who lost a son on one of the biggest ships that went down. The whole of the letter is ringing with indignation at the way in which people have been treated. I ask the Minister to give special consideration to this matter and to see that it is raised with the Government in order that early attention may be given to it. I recently met a number of women, among them many mothers whose sons were lost or missing, and widows who had lost their husbands. The greatest consideration should be extended to these people. There is a need for a great change in the administration of the country in this respect; the best attention and courtesy should be given to women and others who are suffering as a result of serving their country. They need, and they deserve to have, the greatest possible sympathy. The Minister should consider setting up in every area visiting welfare councils, composed of officials from the Ministry, the Assistance Board and local organisations. They should carry out a policy, based upon public spirit, of making visits to people who have lost, say, sons or husbands, in order to advise them on pensions and welfare and to take up their complaints. In addition, the Government should ensure that public officials are as considerate, 1889 sympathetic and courteous as possible to all such people.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I listened to speeches recorded in the Albert Hall by a number of prominent people. When the recording was over, my wife and I looked at each other and we both said, "We have heard this story all before." I happen to have lived in the area in which one of the speakers spent many years. After the last war, when we came home, and before we were disillusioned, we thought that what was said was really meant. There is no need to recall at this moment the experiences we had during those 20 years, but it is true to say that people are now asking whether we really mean what is being said. It behoves us, when such issues as these are raised, to see that concrete expression is given to the aspirations voiced by these politicians in the Albert Hall. Unless some fundamental change is made in the Royal Warrant, people will be more sceptical than they have been when they hear speeches of that character.
Let me give one or two examples. On 8th July, 1916, the "Observer" newspaper, reflecting speeches made at that time by statesmen and politicians of this country when they were needing the support of our men, said that a grandeur of being beyond all that our country had known before was being purchased for those who lived by those who had died. In January, 1922, the same paper recorded that the same armies were now besieging the employment exchanges. I agree with the Prime Minister of Canada in saying that if a new world is not on its way before the war is over, we may look for it in vain. Therefore we are asking that not too much should be said about after the war and that, if we really mean what we say, we should give concrete expression to it now, by improving the treatment of dependants of men who have served their country in the war. If we cannot get justice for ex-Servicemen now, we shall not be able to get it after the war. With the prosecution of the war, there should be a simultaneous social advancement towards the development of Democracy. We are promised a better world; to-day we are asking for an instalment of that better world and for justice for those who have suffered for their country.
1890 This is my final point. On 24th June I asked the Minister of Pensions a Question. I had received a letter, and I was referred by the Ministry of Pensions to the Ministry of Labour, becauseas it was stated that the subject matter of your question is one for the consideration of the Ministry of Labour, arrangements have been made for a reply to be given by that Department.Many young men of my generation were allowed to suffer after the last war. What sorry stories we could relate if we had the time. I remember some men who were just becoming professional footballers. To become a professional footballer you have to be of the very best physique. They were cut off, and many of those who came home never got the treatment they deserved.
Not long ago I visited the Royal Air Force centre at Leeds. This place is a credit to all concerned. It is run by young, competent, virile and enthusiastic young men, and there is no trace of the old idea that treatment means lying in bed or limping to hospital, such as our men did for 20 years in this country. In the Royal Air Force centre science has been applied, and men receive the very best possible treatment, as a result of which the use of limbs and muscles is actually restored. The whole body is tuned up, and confidence is restored. The men receive electrical treatment to stimulate the muscles, and the reactions of the different stimuli are measured. Records are kept daily. What a difference this is from what we knew before. For 20 years our men sold matches or went into small businesses of all kinds and authorities did not bother about them—except for a few public-spirited people. I saw the difference in these Royal Air Force men. Some were being returned for flying duties in the Royal Air Force.
I want the same attitude and policy to be pursued for all people who have suffered in the service of their country. I saw, at the Royal Air Force centre, the importance of environment and of pleasant and beautiful surroundings—light, flowers, music and sport. I saw young men between the ages of 19 and 25 who had had their necks broken, or spines, legs, or arms broken. Others had been badly burned. As I sat and looked at them I could not help thinking what we owed to them, and tears of emotion came into my eyes. I thought then, 1891 "These men have suffered for every one of us. They have fought for their country and we should see that they get justice." It is the duty of us all to fight for them until they do get justice. Never did so many owe so much to so few. The relatively few who have served in the Armed Forces are composed of thousands of the best of our sons. Therefore, we are raising this issue to-day, we are appealing to the whole of the Committee, to see that we shall all bear the burdens of the men and women who suffer and those who have suffered as a result of this war in service for us all.
§ Mr. Craik Henderson (Leeds, North-East)
First of all, I should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken on the obvious sincerity with which he spoke. On a great many matters he will have sympathy on the points he has put forward. I would also like to congratulate the Minister. I think we all feel he is in charge of a very efficient Department, and he certainly always does his best to meet any case of hardship if it is at all possible. I wish to deal with one or two cases of hardship. I think one should bring such matters up, because it is inevitable, with so many Regulations and Orders, that there will be cases of hardship, and if we can bring up specific cases and get the sympathetic consideration of Ministers, we shall be doing something concrete.
I want to deal with two cases of hardship to dependants of serving men. Both these cases come from constituents, and I know there are similar cases. The first is a fairly simple one. As the Committee knows, before an allowance can be made to a dependant the soldier must have made a payment during the qualifying period pre-war. In the ordinary course that may be quite a wise proviso, but there are cases where it is hard and, I suggest, rather unfair. The case I particularly had in mind was of a man who, in the qualifying period pre-war, made a payment to his parents of 14s. a week. At that time the father was alive and earning a certain amount of money. The father died subsequent to the outbreak of war, and, of course, the position of the mother financially was very much worse. But that point could not be taken into consideration—the fact that she required more money and that the son contributed 1892 more during that period. The qualifying period was pre-war, and so she was excluded from benefit. I suggest that there ought to be some method by which, where there is some change of circumstances between the qualifying period and a man being called into the Service, there should be power to give an allowance when it is shown that there is real hardship created by the withholding of such payment.
The second case is, I think, more startling. Personally, I have never been able to understand it. The scheme of dependants' allowances for the three Services is based on a system of allowances at flat rates, which was adopted in the interest of simplicity of administration. That is what one is told. Under this scheme a dependant's allowance is not admissible where the lowest rate of allowance added to the net income of the dependant exceeds the overriding income limit allowed. Let me explain exactly what this means. In the case to which I am referring the overriding income was 25s. I should explain that the lowest rate of allowance was 13s. Under this rule if the lowest rate plus the net income exceeds 25s., no allowance is payable at all. That means that where the net income is over 12s. there is no allowance payable at all.
Now see the startling results that happen. To take one example which I know myself. There are two women in exactly the some position; one of them does nothing, she relies upon her allowance and gets 25s. The other woman goes out and does charing. Her own income from that work comes to net 14s. a week. That plus the lowest rate of 13s. makes 27s., and therefore she is getting no allowance at all. Thus, the woman who goes out and does work and makes a net income of 14s. receives no allowance, while the woman who does not go out to work gets up to 25s. I suggest that that is very unfair and unreasonable. The rates may have been changed by a shilling or two in the interval, but the principle that results in no allowance at all in such cases as I have described is very unfair and creates great hardship. Some of my friends in the House have had instances of this same question. I hope these points will receive consideration in a sympathetic manner. It seems to me that there is no reason at all why the limit should be put at 13s. I am sure the De- 1893 partments are quite efficient enough to be able to work out proportionate allowances and that flat rates are not necessary. I ask for sympathetic consideration.
§ Major Milner (Leeds, South-East)
We have had quite an interesting and, I hope, a useful Debate and one which will impress the' Minister, which is the essential thing. I should like to express my general agreement with what my hon. Friend in front of me has said. It is perfectly clear to the Committee that the Government are doing, in regard to pensions, precisely what they have done with regard to pay and allowances. That is to say, they are running the Ministry on the cheap as long as the House and the country will stand it. I am not blaming the Minister of Pensions for that. He has, I know, made very valuable representations, and I imagine that in general he is entirely in agreement with what has been said from these benches, but it is necessary for him to make further representations. I do not believe the country is prepared to stand after this war the state of affairs which existed after the last war. The present rates are quite inadequate. I recognise that there are many claims, many equally important claims, on the public purse, but this is one of the most urgent and necessary of them. I impress on the Minister and the Government the necessity for giving very early consideration indeed to an increase of the rates of pensions.
I wish to raise one or two other points, one of which has been touched upon by more than one of my hon. Friends. I want to deal first with the question of widows of men in the Services who at present receive no pension at all. The Ministry of Pensions pay only when the husband's death results from war service, and the Ministry of Health pay only when the husband had a sufficient number of stamps on his card. A substantial number of widows do not come within either category, and many suffer great hardship as a result. We are all in the war together, and it is surely necessary to provide that no widow of a man who died while serving in the Forces should be left without a pension. If it is not possible to grant a pension under the Royal Warrant, I submit, the Ministry of Health should grant one. I know that my right hon. Friend has been in consultation from time to time with the Ministry of 1894 Health on the subject; and I would ask him what has been the result, and whether the Ministry of Health are willing to help. If it is not possible to prevail upon the Ministry of Health to pay a pension, I suggest that the Minister of Pensions ought to obtain authority, if he has not got it already, to pay a pension at least equal to the pension which would have been payable under the Contributory Pensions Acts. Failing that, he should be able to do what was done in the last war, and pay a temporary pension, during the war and for some time after.
I new want to deal with the question of the eligibility of parents. There are other classes of dependants, but this is the more usual case. It is the case where a son who had contributed perhaps before the war to the maintenance of his parents, and certainly during his war service, is killed. Article 49 of the Royal Warrant sets out the conditions under which a parent can receive a pension. The parents may receive a pension if in pecuniary need arising from old age or from infirmity or from other adverse conditions, not being merely of a temporary character. Then follows this condition, which, in my opinion, has not been adequately and properly interpreted by the Ministry—provided that, in determining the need, regard shall be had to the extent of the support which the deceased son gave before and during his war service, and which he might reasonably have been expected to continue had he survived. I submit that that question, of the extent of the support or contribution is a material factor, which the Ministry have very largely disregarded. The Minister has sought to impose his own means test. Perhaps he will tell the House the figures which he uses by way of a scale. In my submission, the Minister is not the appropriate judge of means in these cases: the appropriate judge is the son, who makes the contribution since the Article lays it down that regard shall be had to the extent of the support which the son gave. This suggestion was originally made by the Select Committee of 1919, which laid it down that need was not what the Minister now construes it to be, in the sense of an ordinary means test, but that it should be interpreted as being what the son would reasonably have been expected to contribute had he lived. Whenever a son co-aid be said to have been making a 1895 contribution, and could reasonably have been expected to continue that contribution, a pension should be given to the mother.
What are the factors which would enable a conclusion to be reached in that matter of expectation of continuation? One question might be, what were the civilian occupations of the soldier and his parents? For example, if a soldier before the war was in a much better paid job than his parents had and was making a contribution to them, it would probably be said that that contribution was likely to continue. Another factor might well be whether the son was engaged to be married: that might be a reason for saying that the contribution might not have continued for long. My submission is that the primary test of need should be the contribution which the son had been making, and not a means test, imposed according to the Minister's own will. It is clear that the income of the family is reduced if a son dies after he has been making a contribution to the household. The State should then step in in place of the son. No parent who loses a son who was contributing to the household should be asked to be content with a mere telegram from one of the Service Departments and a message, however gracious, from His Majesty. There should be some tangible recognition of the fact that the parents had brought a son into the world and had supported him until his manhood, and that his life had been given to his country.
Now I would like the Minister to give us particulars of the number of pensions applied for during the present war, the number granted, and the number refused. That is information which the House ought to have before it. I know that I am not allowed in this Debate to discuss the setting up of pensions appeals tribunals, because that is a matter which will require legislation. But I think I am in order in asking the Minister what steps are taken to inform applicants who are refused a pension, of the grounds of refusal, and what steps have been taken to indicate the necessity of obtaining evidence in order that if and when pensions appeal tribunals are set up evidence may be brought before such tribunals. We all know that one result of the delay in setting up such tribunals is that evidence is lost, that indeed those who have pensions 1896 refused may die before they have an opportunity of coming before a tribunal with resulting great hardship to many widows. Therefore, it is essential that advice should be given to them as to what steps they may take to collect and prepare evidence to be brought forward if and when tribunals are set up. For example, will a sworn statement of a comrade in arms be accepted? Would it be helpful for the Minister to advise that some steps of that sort should be taken by applicants for pension whom the right hon. Gentleman has refused, and generally, what is the Minister doing to avoid possibly fatal prejudice to applicants owing to the delay of the Government in setting up Appeal Tribunals? I would ask the Minister to look at the report of the Select Committee on Pensions which sat after the last war. The right hon. Gentleman would there see that the delay in setting up such tribunals was stated by the Committee to be absolutely inexcusable and I want to relieve the right hon. Gentleman of anything of that sort being said about him in the future if it is possible.
Finally, it can fairly be said that those who know most of the troubles involved in these pension questions, and especially in the matter of entitlement, are convinced that the various objections which the Minister has raised from time to time to the setting up of some independent body or bodies are wholly indefensible and the appeal is made on every ground of humanity and justice, that preparatory steps should be taken by the right hon. Gentleman without delay with a view to setting up pensions appeal tribunals at the earliest possible date.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
I do not intend to detain the Committee, because, having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) and the most eloquent manner in which he presented his case and handled his brief, I do not think that one need advance many more arguments along those lines. Therefore, it behoves Members now rather to present to the Minister some definite cases or concrete illustrations for his consideration where we have good reason to disagree with him and the decision he makes, despite his geniality. I do hot wish to appear severe and unkind to him, but I have always regarded him as a sort of bluff King Hal. Whenever Members meet 1897 him in the Lobby he is undoubtedly kind and considerate and genial, and when they approach him with individual cases they could never believe that as Minister of Pensions he had cheated them. I ventured to use the term the other day that Servicemen's wives felt that they had been cheated by reason of the form of departmental arithmetic, but there are other people too who feel that they have been cheated. I maintain that there is not a parent in the country who, having received notice of the death of a son on active service, when he has come to present his case for pension has not found that he is not only to be subject to a means test but that he is likely to get no pension at all. Every one of such parents feels that he has been cheated.
In my little front room at home—I live in a little corner of Surrey—I have had at least half-a-dozen mothers come to see me. It is a most difficult task to explain to these people why they cannot have anything unless they suffer hardship or are subject to a means test and that if they fall by the wayside later on they may get something. I use my own terms in speaking to these mothers. I have introduced a term and suggested to them that the notice they receive from the Minister of Pensions is a sort of insurance policy and that if they fall by the wayside or suffer hardship, the Minister will at least consider them later on. But they do not feel at all satisfied and convinced. They feel most unhappy. The Minister tells them what they are going to get on a given date if they are in need or that later on they will get something. That is actually the interpretation the Minister will give to the case. A woman said to me only a fortnight ago, "Mr. Walkden, you can take it from me, and you can put out all the Ministry of Information speeches you like, that we mothers are justified in telling you that we feel like the lions in Stanley Holloway's song—we are not going to spend all our lives rearing children to feed the lions." I leave the rest out. They feel like that, and they are entitled to feel like that. They feel most uncomfortable, because the Minister said in reply to a Question one day, "Would you really value your son at only 5s.?" That was the Minister's reply.
§ Mr. Walkden
I say in reply to the right hon. Gentleman that if he was measuring the value of my son, I would not get 5d., but he would give me nothing for my son because I preferred to give him a decent education. Would he say to me that I was not in need? He has never earned a penny piece for me, and there are thousands like me in working-class homesteads who would not get a penny because they cannot prove that they are in need. We cannot tolerate this kind of thing. In a newspaper yesterday I noticed a picture entitled "Seven sons out of one family in the Services." If that mother and father are not in need and they lose all their seven sons, they will not even get 5d., let alone 5s. That is a statement of fact. They have to prove hardship to the right hon. Gentleman. But there are worse circumstances.
May I draw the attention of the Minister to something that is not covered in the Royal Warrant, but it is something which, unfortunately, causes his name to have rather an unsavoury odour in my division? It is the recent case of an airman, a flight-lieutenant, a bomber-pilot, who married secretly. He had a romance. As in so many love stories, he did not wish his family, for certain reasons best known to himself, to know that he was married. Just before he went on his last trip, from which he did not return, he tried to make arrangements for his wife to have an allotment. For practically two years that officer did not allot any money at all to his wife, but, whatever one might say, he did maintain her. The R.A.F. did not recognise her as a wife. Similarly the Ministry of Pensions cannot recognise her as a wife. Unfortunately, in view of the circumstances, a baby was born, so that the wife and the baby are not recognised either by the R.A.F. or the Air Ministry. A pension has been applied for. The man recognised the child in his will. There is no doubt about that, because I have seen the papers. But because they never made any kind of allotment there is no recognition' in the records, either in the Air Ministry or anywhere else, that they were married. The Minister will not recognise that this child exists or that the wife is the wife of the airman who did not return from a raid on Germany.
§ Mr. Walkden
Yes, the woman has a marriage certificate, and it may be that the Air Ministry are playing ducks and drakes and that probably I am blaming him more than the Air Ministry. But the papers have been to and fro, and if the Minister wishes to re-examine the case, I will bring them to him. The circumstances are as I have related, and whatever may have been said, this woman is left penniless and is receiving no pension because of the twist under the Royal Warrant. The man is a flight-lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, and the name of the town is Doncaster.
I want to carry a stage further this kind of twist under the Regulations. My trade union raised with me a few days ago a case of a man who was in the Merchant Navy and who, I believe, had been torpedoed twice. He was away from work through ill-health, suffering from a mysterious disease the name of which I will not attempt to pronounce, although I know that the Minister has had the facts before him. A general practitioner gave the opinion that the fact that this man had been immersed in the sea on at least two occasions would have contributed to this mysterious disease. But not so the Minister's advisers. So my trade union sent the case on to an impartial expert in London. Again substantial opinion was offered that this man undoubtedly suffered through immersion and that this disease—although not directly due to immersion but at least combined with it—would contribute to his death. The Minister begins arguing with the correspondent, and finally his decision is that this peculiarly mysterious disease cannot be in any way related to immersion in the sea. Consequently there can be no pension. Does the Minister feel that he can convince the country on these cases, let alone those who are suffering? When we have two cases of this kind in a mining village everybody knows about them. They say, "Have you had a chat with your Member of Parliament?" and the answer is "Yes, we have tried him, and he has failed." These stories pass from mouth to mouth down the mine and through the workshops and so on. I am sure Members on this side could quote to the Minister case after case where disappointment is being expressed and the way in which widows and parents feel they have been let down because of these Regulations.
1900 I do not know how the Royal Warrant was drafted or how it originated. I have tried to understand it—and it is mostly in good plain English—but the fact remains that our people do not understand the detail which is referred to when we mention the term "Royal Warrant." But they do understand that there is no pension for them and no pension for parents for the loss of a son unless real hardship can be proved. Merchant seamen's widows know that they are not getting a pension because by some twist it is stated that death was not directly attributable to war circumstances. In the case of the airman I have mentioned, I will qualify the allegation against the Minister. I will put the blame at the door of the Air Ministry. Maybe they are to blame and not the Minister. Nevertheless, I submit that it ought not to be left to a Member of Parliament to determine whether or not a case is worth putting forward. It should be a right of a husband in such circumstances that if anything happens to him, his widow gets a pension, and if he has a child, the child should receive a pension up to the age of 16. We do not argue with the Minister as to whether he is kindly, generous or considerate. We do not know anything to the contrary; indeed, I do not know anybody who would make an accusation against him. I, for one, am most grateful for some of the decisions which he has given, but something is wrong with the terms of the Royal Warrant, and so far as we are concerned we are determined to effect great changes.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
To-day the Committee are taking advantage of this Vote of Credit to deal with a very great human issue, and I am glad to have an opportunity of making a short contribution to the Debate. There are certain small points which I wish to emphasise before I come to the main issue. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) stressed the demand that once a man who had been passed A1 into the Armed Forces was discharged as physically unfit, the responsibility should be accepted that his service in the Forces entitles him to some compensation. I have had cases brought to my notice recently of men who have been discharged and who are now completely blind. In one case the man is completely deaf yet no acceptance of 1901 liability has been agreed to by the Ministry of Pensions.
There is one point in this respect that I would put to the Minister. When these men come forward and make their claims for pensions they are questioned very closely about their life history prior to joining the Forces. They are asked whether anything has happened to them that might conduce to the condition in which they find themselves. If they make a very small admission of anything of that kind it is taken as sufficient to disqualify them completely for any pension allowance. I think that is wrong. If the medical men who make these decisions could come into contact with the men themselves, the human cases, instead of dealing only with the documentary evidence that is put forward on the men's behalf, they might possibly take a different view. That is why so many of us, although we cannot stress it to-day, are keen on the setting up of tribunals to enable these cases to be more carefully considered than is possible in present conditions.
I come now to the main point I want to raise. On several occasions I have tried at Question Time, over a period of 12 months or more, to impress upon the Minister the desirability of taking account of the position in which a widow of a man who falls in this war finds herself after her Army allowances and War Service Grants cease. I do not want to give many figures but to state the principle for which I am contending by making reference to a concrete case. A widow residing in my constituency found herself, after her allowances and War Service Grant had ended, in receipt of £2 12s. 3d. a week for herself and five children. She had been accustomed to a wage, when her husband was working before going into the Army, of roughly £4 a week. If the Regulations that were put in force in respect of allowances about the time she became entitled to the £2 12s. 3d. had applied, she would have had the minimum allowance of an average of 16s. for each unit, which means that she would have had 16s. for herself, plus £2 for five children as half units at 8s., making £2 16s. in all. She would have got rent, insurance and instalment payments in addition to the £2 16s. She was below that minimum figure to cover every commitment that she had to meet, and she had, as it happened, some very 1902 heavy commitments. I got a note from her giving her budget for a week, and it amounted to £3 17s. 9d. Taking the items on top of the £2 16s. she would have been entitled to as allowances under the minimum basis, the rent and other allowances, she would have had that £2 16s. made up to £3 15s. That means that she had 19s. other commitments that would have been disregarded in giving her this minimum allowance, so that instead of having £2 12s. 3d., as she was given at the time her pension was granted, she would have had in allowances £3 15s.
I suggest to the Committee that that is much too serious a drop for us to contemplate with any feeling of equanimity. The Minister, in answering questions about this point, has sought to push me off by saying that I am mixing up two different things. There is no question of mixing up in my mind. I was trying to bring before the Minister the plight of this widow and her children. I am glad that it is quite in order for me in this Debate to make reference to these two means of subsistence side by side and to bring the matter before the Minister in this way. The commitments which the widow had in respect of instalments were very heavy. I am glad to say that the Minister did not completely disregard those commitments, and when she reached the end of her allowances and therefore, the end of her War Service Grants, he made a grant of £5 to help in meeting the position in which she was with regard to heavy instalment commitments. But that did not anything like clear off those instalment payments. She was also given an allowance because of children being ill and requiring special nourishment; that allowance was 7s. 6d. a week for three months, a total of £4 17s. 6d. Therefore, from the King's Fund the Minister met the position of that widow to the extent of £9 17s. 6d. But after that was done, she had still a very serious burden upon her to meet out of her all-too-meagre pension of £2 12s. 3d., and the Minister could not go any further in meeting it. The problem was put to me to endeavour to find from charitable funds some means of meeting the position. I saw the firm with whom her husband had contracted an instalment debt for furniture and arranged with them that they would reduce the outstanding amount from something like £18 to about £13, and from charitable funds I was able finally, and only last week, to get the £13 and clear that particular debt.
1903 The point I am trying to make is that it should not be left to Members of Parliament, it should not be left to charity, to meet cases of this kind, and that at the very minimum, if the Minister cannot increase these pension rates—and I am claiming that they ought to be increased—he ought to see that there is a War Service Grant made in order to meet heavy payments of any kind that are apart from the ordinary everyday upkeep of the home. The Minister should at the very least see that the War Service Grants are continued until that particular commitment is completely extinguished. I suggest that no less than that ought to be done, and that we are entitled to press considerations of that kind upon the Minister. I have used a single case in order to prove the undoubted hardship in which widows of men who lose their lives in the war are placed when they come to the end of their ordinary allowances, plus War Service Grants. I hope, as I trust with regard to other speeches that have been made in the Debate, the Minister will be impressed and will use any opportunity that he has of pressing on the Government as a whole the desirability of removing these undoubted and unjustifiable hardships that are placed upon the widows of men who have given their lives in the service of the country.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid (St. Marylebone)
On a point of Order. Are not the rights of independent Members to be considered? We have had three Members of one party in succession.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
This Debate, to me, is slightly disappointing. I am still a believer in some of the old ways of Parliament and I do not like to hear every speaker saying what a fine man the Minister is. I think it would be better if we expressed ourselves a little more forcibly about each other than we are doing to-day. This almost fulsome flattery of the Minister is being overdone. I neither condemn nor praise him. All I know is that he is getting a salary in his post. No one who is running a business, 1904 a trade union or a Government Department or any other flatters his assistants. He pays them a salary and expects the work to be done. That is what I want from the Minister. I will not go into his qualities. I do not want to be the odd boy out, but I do not feel like joining in the chorus of "Do not blame the Minister."
If men are not getting pensions, who is to blame? It is not the War Office or the Service Departments. We all walk on to the public platform and say, "These men should have pensions" and we come here and say no one is to blame. The feeling is not deep at the moment because the war has not been fought on anything like the scale of the last war, and the question of pensions has not yet arisen nearly so acutely as it did then. The great bulk of the men concerned say they were carefully examined when they joined and were passed as fit and capable men. After 12 months, or even longer, they were discharged as medically unfit. They had been given a clean bill of health by their approved societies and their own doctors and they had always been fit before their Army service. Everyone says the Minister is not to blame, so we must blame someone unseen, because in these days we must not differ from one another. The Army says a man is suffering from something that could not be connected with military service. If doctors pass men as A.1, the Government must take the responsibility. These men who were passed as A.1 and were afterwards thrown out ought to have a greater claim to a pension than has been recognised so far. With regard to widows' claims, the Minister in reply to a Question said something to the effect that he could not make a recompense of 5s. a week for a son killed. Medals do not recompense. A medal is a token. If a man gives voluntary service and at the end of the day someone gives him a medal that does not recompense him. It is merely a token that something has been done.
The practice of the last war should be resumed. There was a pension of 4s. 2d. for each son killed. It was a token payment. Subsequently the Labour Government increased it to 5s. and the payment was made without regard to a means test and without regard to the past or the present. Every woman who has lost a son ought to have a token payment free from the iniquity of a means test investi- 1905 gation, as a recognition by the State that she reared the boy and gave him to the State. In some cases 6s. a week is paid—1s. more than I am asking. In the great mass of cases people would rather have 5s. without a means test than the 6s. with all the inquisition that is involved.
Let me turn to another point and say a word on the running of the hardship committees. There is still the 16s. unit. In spite of all the flattery indulged in here to-day, I cannot praise the Minister on this. I do not know that I can blame the Minister so much, however, because the Under-Secretary runs this side of the Ministry's work and what I have to say I will say to him, because he and I have been colleagues for a long time and have been in many battles together. A case happened in my constituency where the total income for a wife and two children was 38s. 6d. This is made up of the 16s. unit for the wife and two 8s. for the children, making the total 32s., plus rent which is 6s. Let us stop walking round in circles. In politics we can walk round in circles and nobody is the better for it. I have done it myself on occasion. Let us stop that and talk of the facts as they stand. All the woman has is 32s. to keep her two children, provide food, clothes and coal. I defy any man to think of his wife living on 16s. That is the unit which has been fixed. The Minister can sneer and laugh as much as he likes, but I take it seriously. If he feels like taking it that way, it is his business.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Gentleman has no right to say that. I have sat here since the beginning of the Debate, and surely I have a right to ask the Whip a question. I emphatically deny what the hon. Member says and I object to it.
§ Mr. Buchanan
If I have taken the right hon. Gentleman wrong, I am sorry, and I hope that he will accept my apology. I say to any hon. Member that a 16s. unit for a woman to live on is an impossibility with prices as they are. Take the case of a typical Glasgow family. The Parliamentary Secretary writes me to say that nothing more can be paid in addition to the 38s. 6d. which is their income. That includes 6s. for rent. In a normal winter in Glasgow a family has to have two bags of coal a week, with coals at 2s. 10d. a cwt. It is an impossible standard on which to live, 1906 and I say to the Minister and to those who are running the hardship committees that they must re-examine the unit. It is impossible to expect a human being to live on it and it imposes on people an impossible burden.
I have found that men who joined the Services before the outbreak of hostilities cannot get a hardship grant. When I heard of this I was astounded, and hon. Members may find it difficult to believe what I am saying. When I get a bad case I often think the folk are not telling me the facts, because I cannot conceive of officials being so very bad. When I got the case to which I am referring I really felt the people had made a mistake. The facts, however, are not in dispute. A woman, a widow, was in receipt of a widow's pension of 10s. Her son joined the Air Force 12 months before hostilities broke cut. He contributes 11s. 6d. a week for his mother, which is not a bad proportion of his pay. She thus has a total income of 21s. 6d. I went to the office of the hardship committee, and they told me they could not pay the ordinary allowance because the son was in the Air Force before the war broke out. I followed it up by going to the Parliamentary Secretary, thinking that with our past associations he would be more sympathetic. He gave me the same reply, however, that because the boy had joined the Air Force before the war that was his career, and nothing could be done about a hardship grant. Is there any defence for treating a boy like that? In 1938 the hoardings were covered by appeals from the Government to men to join the Forces voluntarily. Is there any defence for treating men who joined voluntarily differently from those who joined later? In order to eke out her income, this boy's mother has to go to the Poor Law. It is not creditable to have on Poor Law relief a woman whose only crime is that her son joined the Forces too early.
Issues such as those that arise with regard to pensions frequently move Governments much more than issues that we think are of great depth and significance. I remember in the old days of unemployment insurance what small things such issues seemed in comparison with great world movements concerning trade barriers, commercial agreements, and so on. They were little things but at the end of the day they were frequently the 1907 things that made and unmade Governments. I say to the Minister of Pensions that these folk have a claim on him that should be much better met than it has hitherto been. In my early days I was not unfriendly with the present Minister. At one time when he was being attacked I was one of his supporters, because he was a colleague of mine in the early days of Unemployment Insurance. But I say to him to-day that I am not here to judge him on some of his past performances or to make flattering references to him. He receives a salary for the post that he occupies. We have no right in Parliament to look for some scapegoat who is not present and then, when he is present to say, "It is somebody else." The Department responsible here is the Ministry of Pensions, and if these people are not getting the justice to which we think they are entitled the man responsible is the Minister of Pensions, and it is his duty to put things right.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I do not know whether there is any answer to the last point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) regarding men who volunteered for the Services before the war, but to me the position seems absolutely indefensible, and I do not think the Minister ought to allow it to continue now that attention has been drawn to it. I want also to support the plea which has been made regarding the men who were accepted as A.1 when they joined the Forces but afterwards have been refused a pension. I do so because of a particularly bad case to which I have drawn the attention of the Minister within the last few days. It was that of a man of 42 who died last September. He served for two years in the last war, joined up again in November, 1939, and served for three years, and then died in hospital last September. He had two sons, one 20 and another 21. The boy of 20 is in the Navy and the boy of 21 is in the Air Force. His widow has been refused a pension on the ground that his death was not due to his military service and that his military service had not contributed to it. I do not see how the Minister can justify a decision of that kind. Here was a man who joined up and served for three years. He had been accepted as A.1 and his record of health between the two wars was first-class. He was a miner and his widow tells me that apart from an occa- 1908 sional cold or influenza he never had a day's illness in his life, and yet after she has given her husband to the country and when her only two boys are serving in the Forces, she receives the answer which I have indicated.
I say, frankly, to the minister that no fifth columnist could do more harm to the war effort than a decision of this kind does. What is the effect of that decision not only on the widow but on the two boys who are now in the Services? What is the effect when the boy in the Navy tells his comrades how his mother has been treated—and remember how much the safety and security of this Empire depend upon the Navy—and when the boy in the Air Force tells his comrades who are risking their lives every day for our sakes that this is how the Minister of Pensions replies to his mother's application for a pension? There is something wrong with an administration which makes a decision of this kind possible. We shall never convince anybody with any feelings of humanity, anybody with any common sense, anybody with any sense of the duty this country owes to the men who have volunteered to fight for her, that a decision of this kind can be justified. I ask the Minister of Pensions whether he will not now accept straight away the responsibility for paying pensions in respect of men who have once been classed as A.1 and have since died during their service or have had to be discharged as medically unfit. There is very strong feeling in the country over instances of this kind, they do infinite harm to the war effort, and I am sure that it is not the wish of Parliament or of the country that our pensions' scheme should be so administered as to produce decisions of the kind to which I have drawn attention.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
The speeches made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) have raised a most important point in regard to men and women being accepted for service as A.1 and the State then going back on its obligations to them and their dependants should their health fail during their service. There is an increasing feeling among the public that these men are not being treated fairly. This has been a very useful Debate. It has spread over a wide field of administration, and 1909 anomalies and disparities in the Royal Warrant have been made evident. I ask the Minister of Pensions whether he is not already persuaded of the need to make representations to the Government that the Royal Warrant should be recast. One meets few Members who are satisfied that the Royal Warrant gives anything like justice to those who seek assistance under it. While I might be prepared to admit that the Minister does his best to administer the law impartially and in a spirit of humanity, yet the experience of the last three years has convinced most hon. Members who have had occasion to make representations to his Department that we are not getting anything like justice for the men and women in the Services.
There is one point I particularly want to make in regard to the appeals made by parents for pensions. At the present moment, hardship or need has to be proved, and that depends very largely upon the allowance that has been made by the lad or young woman who was in the home prior to going into the Services. I want to put the case of apprentices continuing their education for a professional career. Instead of being able to contribute to the home, they have to be maintained by their parents. In some cases the parents have embarked upon raising a loan for the purpose of putting the young persons into apprenticeship or enabling them to continue their education. Under the present conditions of the Royal Warrant, it is apparently not possible for the Minister of Pensions to give a pension to parents of such young people who are killed on service. This is a cause of great hardship, because no means test will permit the Minister to grant a pension. Most of us are becoming convinced that there is no way out of the difficulty except that of laying down a minimum pension for parents such as was laid down during the last war. In the light of the anomalies, which are apparently increasing, and of the shortcomings of this Royal Warrant, I ask whether the Minister of Pensions will consider the need to make representations to the Government for the recasting of the Royal Warrant.
§ Sir Henry Fildes (Dumfries)
I do not propose to intervene at any length. I welcome the protests that have come from all parts of the Committee with regard to this Royal Warrant, but whoever else 1910 may be to blame for its shortcomings, the Minister of Pensions is not to be blamed on this occasion. In the very early days of the war the Royal Warrant was carefully investigated by a committee over which the Minister of Pensions presided and I can testify, from my own knowledge, that in every case he has strained his powers to the utmost to remedy the existing state of affairs. I hope that, as a result of this Debate, the Minister may be given greater powers to carry out what he recognises as acts of justice to those who have taken part in the war effort and have suffered very dire consequences I know of the case of a young lawyer who joined the Forces. He was a Rugby player, a good golfer and a man of fine physique. He was in the Army for 12 months, but he developed a very serious complaint, something like cancer of the ear. He was dismissed from the Army. His father has since spent over £300 on operations to try to save the young man's life. With the utmost good will on the part of the Minister of Pensions, the right hon. Gentleman has no power to make any contribution to those expenses. I, therefore, join with previous speakers in expressing what I believe to be the unanimous opinion of the Committee, that the Minister of Pensions should have greater powers to deal with hard cases which are a reflection upon the justice and generosity of Parliament. I repeat, that the Minister of Pensions has done his utmost, under the present powers, to help such cases. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind and will strengthen his hand to enable him to do more than the present Royal Warrant enables him to do.
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
I must apologise to my right hon. Friend and to the Committee for coming in rather late and for not having heard the earlier part of the Debate. I came straight from the train here. I want to deal only with two points, but, as a general background, I would say that we have had to fight for every concession we have so far obtained on behalf of the Serviceman. That is a reflection not so much upon the Minister as upon the Government. We have had a Debate about nearly every concession which has been obtained and even, as far as allowances are concerned, we have had to exert pressure. I am driven to the conclusion—whether it is right or wrong 1911 I do not know—that the real enemy of the Serviceman is the Treasury. I hope that Ministers who have listened to the speeches made in this Debate and in the past, and to Parliamentary Questions which have been addressed to various Ministries on this subject, will impress those views upon the Government. If the Service Ministers and my right hon. Friend think that there is some truth in what we have said, I suggest that a resignation on this Question might do the Government and the Treasury a great deal of good and teach them lessons that they need teaching. Believe me, the country is incensed at the treatment which has been meted out by responsible Ministers to those who are serving in the Forces.
My first point is with regard to pensions to dependant parents. I cannot understand why when the terms governing the payment of these pensions were laid down my right hon. Friend did not negotiate with other Government Departments concerned with pay and allowances, to ensure that, when a pension was granted to a dependant parent, no deduction would be made in any other allowance. I cannot now go into the whole question of the grant of pensions subject to a needs test, but I assure my right hon. Friend that those deductions produced a disastrous effect upon the families concerned, not only from the monetary point of view but from the point of view of ordinary morale. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make urgent representations to the Service Departments so that when a pension is granted in future by his Department, all other allowances will remain intact.
May I remind my right hon. Friend that the Government did not even take the trouble to see that allowances from the Assistance Board were not reduced when a pension was granted? It is true, however, that when the question was raised the matter was remedied straight away. I use that as an illustration of the psychology of the Government in handling this whole question, and I can assure my right hon. Friend that if the Government want any peace at all in relation to these matters, they had better give in gracefully now because the volume of criticism is growing and growing. I hope that the Treasury Bench realises that once the House of Commons takes the bit between its teeth, as we are the greatest 1912 democracy in the world, we can enforce our opinion on the Government. It is just as well for them to accept the inevitable, before the country has got the iron driven into its soul. Believe me, it is not very good in the mining villages or the shipyards or the agricultural areas, when men and women have gone forth in the service of their country for them to see the House of Commons having to make representations to the Government to secure for people what we, their representatives, believe to be their just right and due.
There is just one other point, and it is in relation to the War Service Grants Committee. As a member of the War Service Grants Committee, I wish again to put the case in this way. It seems to me that psychologically, a dire mistake has been made by the Government, not on the part of my right hon. Friend because I have a sort of hunch that he does quite a lot of battling behind the scenes, though unfortunately he does not appear to get the understanding from some Members of the War Cabinet that he ought to get. If the War Cabinet handled some of these human problems a little more frequently they would understand better what the country is thinking. Therefore, I put this point on a broader aspect, not as a criticism of my right hon. Friend. I cannot understand how, after the pressure of the House of Commons had produced an increase in the allowances—which, after all, are still unacceptable to the House of Commons and the country and I think we shall be getting something more in the not far distant future—my right hon. Friend did not ensure that the people drawing war service grants would get the benefit of the increases. This is not the place and I have not the time, as I realise other hon. Members wish to speak, to go into the whole method of assessing incomes for the payment of grants. I quite understand the argument put up by my right hon. Friend in the House last week. Technically speaking, I am absolutely certain that answer was correct. That is not the point. The point is that however technically right he may be, the effect on the people who will have their grants reduced will again be disastrous. The whole purpose of the Government's decision, after pressure, to increase allowances to the Services was that the wives and families, the dependants of the Services, should 1913 benefit. For anyone to have a reduction in a War Service Grant allowance, however right my right hon. Friend might be, undermines the general feeling of confidence of the Services in the Government. Psychologically it is a mistaken position to pursue.
My right hon. Friend, in answer to a Supplementary Question in the House last week, indicated that it might be possible to increase from 16s. to 17s. the minimum basic figure which the War Service Grants Committee allow. I shall not go into a discussion on that, but I want to say that if that is my right hon. Friend's way of squaring up the account—and whether I agree with him or not does not really matter at the moment—the fact remains that that decision should have been taken before the increase in allowances was announced. The Government are always behind. They should have examined the whole question very carefully. They should have called their War Service Grants Committee together. They should have asked the members of the committee what they thought of the matter.
I think it is perfectly fair and legitimate for me to say this, and I hope it will help the Minister; the War Service Grants Committee is not composed entirely of independent members, because some of the members of that committee are departmental members. My right hon. Friend knows sufficient about the machinery of Government to know how difficult it is for those members representing Departments, whatever their opinions may be, to put up an independent fight. It is a very cleverly constituted committee. Perhaps it might be a good idea if my right hon. Friend were to add some of the members of the Serving Members Committee of this House to it. I notice that in the recommendations they put forward for consideration by the Service Departments they have made some suggestions with regard to the policy which they recommend should be followed by the War Service Grants Committee.
I want to emphasise that whatever the Minister may be able to do, whatever we may be able to do in the future, will not alter in the eyes of the country the fact that every concession to the Service men up to date has had to be fought for penny by penny, sixpence by sixpence, shilling by shilling. I tell the Government here and now that they are on the wrong tack. 1914 They are making the most disastrous psychological mistake any Government has ever made, and I am sure I know the reason for it. It is because the Service men cannot fight for themselves and that in the background sit the Treasury directing this parsimonious policy. Trade unions can make their representations, industry can fight for itself, we women can fight for ourselves so long as we are not in the Services. But the people in the Services are tied hand and foot, and if the Government are running away with the thought that the Services are pleased with their treatment, believe me they are living in a fool's paradise. So I do beg them in the interests of the country, not in the interests of the Government or in the interests of the House of Commons, to have a more realistic, a more understanding and a more human approach to Service matters. That would help a great deal in enabling the country to do what it desires to do by those men and women who are serving in His Majesty's Forces.
§ Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)
I only intervene at this stage of the Debate for the purpose of inviting the attention of my right hon. Friend to one particular aspect of this matter which has, I think, received insufficient attention in this discussion. Whatever may be said of the adequacy or otherwise of the existing scales of pensions, as they operate over the country as a whole, there seems to be very little doubt that in those parts or the country where the cost of living is exceptionally high the present flat-rate scales fail to provide an adequate family maintenance. In the case of a man during his service, that matter is to some extent adjusted by the operation of the War Service grants system, and in the London postal area by the additional family allowance. But when the family pass to the pensions scales, then, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) pointed out, there is a very substantial difference in the family income.
In those parts of the country where the cost of living is high, and particularly in Greater London, there is no doubt that the existing scales of pensions are at present insufficient to provide adequate maintenance. In the Greater London area this is likely to become a problem of considerable magnitude. It is not possible to get satisfactory figures, but, 1915 so far as I have been able to find out, there are in Greater London something like 100,000 families in receipt of War Service Grants. As casualties occur we shall find in that area a growing number of families who will be in the position to which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow referred, passing from an income based on family allowances and War Service Grants to a pensions scale in which nothing in the nature of the War Service Grant operates. I can appreciate that my right hon. Friend may be reluctant at this stage to make any substantial alteration in the existing flat-rate scale; therefore, I would invite him to consider whether, in the case of widows who received War Service Grants before their husbands became casualties, he could not either continue the War Service Grant or substitute something of a similar nature in order to offset the great difference between the income received while the husband is alive and that received after he becomes a casualty.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I have waited very patiently and have heard all the speeches that have been delivered, and I think it is about time that I made a reply. Hon. Members who have put questions are waiting to hear my reply, and I sympathise with them. As far as the Debate is concerned, I personally, and the Parliamentary Secretary, cannot possibly have any complaint. It is true what the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has said, that there have been a few compliments paid at any rate to the way in which we administer the Department, even if Members are not satisfied with the instruments we have to use, On the other hand, I want to make it clear that I do not wish to hide behind any other Department or any other Minister. As Minister of Pensions, I am responsible to this House for the Royal Warrant and anything that is contained in it, and, personally, I have not the slightest objection to any reasonable criticism against either the Warrant or the work of my Department. I have a perfect right to take exception to hon. Members, in a Debate such as this, quoting individual cases without giving me notice so that I could have the necessary papers here with which to deal with them. It is well known to hon. Members that I and the 1916 Parliamentary Secretary are prepared to discuss any particular case with any Member. In the administration of a big Department such as this, there are bound to be some cases which have been dealt with in the Department and probably not dealt with quite as sympathetically as I myself or the Parliamentary Secretary would have dealt with them. We have laid it down in the Department, and it is recognised by those in the Department and, in the main, faithfully carried out, that our duty is not to examine cases in the light of how we can refuse a person a pension, but to consider how under the Royal Warrant and other schemes for pensions we can give a person a pension. I say that emphatically and without fear of contradiction.
§ Sir W. Womersley
If hon. Members will bring cases of hardship to my notice or to that of the Parliamentary Secretary, we can deal with them. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) is not now in his place, because his was an instance of bringing forward individual cases when we are here to discuss principles. He should have furnished details. He brought forward a case in a newspaper called the "Sunday Pictorial," in which he wanted to know why the woman did not receive a pension until 13 weeks after receiving notification of her husband being killed. The answer is simple. She was receiving during all those 13 weeks the full allotment from the Army according to arrangements' made and approved by this House, Where a man is killed Service allowance and War Service Grants continue for 13 weeks. That is in order to make sure that our pension is issued to follow on so that there is not a gap between the two, and that is what happened in this case.
§ Mr. Lipson
Can my right hon. Friend say whether that is paid in the event of a man dying after sickness?
§ Sir W. Womersley
If he is a war casualty, it is continued for 13 weeks until we have issued our pension.
§ Mr. Lipson
I am afraid that my hon. Friend has misunderstood the point. Would it apply to a man who fell sick and died in the Army?
§ Sir W. Womersley
As far as I know it does. There are always exceptional cases, and if my hon. Friend will bring any case where it has not been applied, I will see into it.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I am dealing with the principle, and if the hon. Member will give me time, I will deal with the principles involved in this matter. I would clearly once again emphasise the fact that I welcome these Debates. I am sorry that we have not had more of them. They help me in the work of my Department. I am anxious to hear all the weaknesses or deficiencies in the scheme which I operate. While it is suggested that if I travelled up and down the country, I should hear more about these things, I would say that I do travel up and down the country a good deal and go into every quarter. I have representatives in the whole of the United Kingdom, and I get reports from them. We do not get the discontent and dissatisfaction about which we hear so much in this House, but I will deal with that when I come to the question of the committees. I could reply to the majority of these cases now. A case was quoted by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden), and I have inquired into it in the short space of time which has elapsed since he has referred to it. It is a case where the man is missing, not presumed killed—an entirely different matter. It concerns the Air Ministry and not my Department. But if the man did not make an allotment, how can you expect the Air Ministry to make one?
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member must agree with me that it is an exceptional case. It does not involve a principle at all. If he had brought it to my notice, I would have had it seen to at once.
§ Mr. Walkden
I am grateful for the explanation, but does the Minister deny the principle that I raised?
§ Sir W. Womersley
There is no principle involved at all. If a man is married and makes an allotment in the ordinary way, the Service Department adds to the allotment, and there is no difficulty. If 1918 a man is missing and not declared killed, his widow's case does not come to me until such a declaration is made. In the meantime she draws full allowances. But in this case the marriage was kept secret; the man would not even let the authorities know he was married. How can you blame the authorities in a case like that? We must be fair and reasonable in these matters. However, I will get the matter squared up.
§ Sir W. Womersley
When having these Debates I hope we shall deal with general principles. I will deal with cases. In 99 per cent. of these cases there is a far different story when the papers are obtained and the real position is made known. I can assure hon. Members that cases do not escape our notice if there is any merit in them. I am only too anxious to see that they are put right before they are brought to the notice of the House of Commons and the country at large. That is the only sensible way of administering my Department.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith), who took part in the Debate, is a very good special pleader, but I suggest to him that it might be just as well to make a few inquiries about what we were doing in the Department. If he had done that, it would have helped him to-day. He told us about a man who, after the last war, had to beg, sell matches, and so on. Well, I admit that there were men who had to do that after the last war, and I agree that we must look at what happened, note the mistakes that were made and see that they are not repeated after this war. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that they will not be repeated, at any rate so long as I am in charge of this Department. What is the position? We must all agree that whatever we do for those men who have served their country and suffered as a result, it cannot be enough. Our new slogan in the Ministry is, "Money payment is not enough and never will be enough, however much is given." We have to help a man to keep his self-respect so that he does not get an inferiority complex because he is disabled, and make him feel that he is a citizen taking part in the civic life of his country, and able to stand alongside his 1919 fellow men. That is our duty, and that is what we are doing.
The hon. Member described a visit he had paid to a Royal Air Force rehabilitation centre. I would remind him that we were in this business before any Service Department took it up. I am glad to know what they are doing, but I would like the hon. Member, and other hon. Members, to come down to Roehampton and see what we have been doing for some considerable time in regard to this matter. We have arranged rehabilitation, training, employment—a far different thing from just rehabilitation. In conjunction with my right hon. Friends the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health, we have made tremendous progress in this matter. Last Wednesday we had an exhibition at the Mansion House. I am glad to say that some hon. Members were present, and also a large number of employers of labour and trade union representatives. They saw demonstrated what we have been able to do for limbless men and women in the way of training them for occupations and rehabilitating them so that they could play their proper part in public life and enjoy the amenities of life just as those who have not the misfortune to be crippled.
We have gone further—and I think this is most important. I am glad to say that, as a result of the help of the trade unions, we are able to place these men in employment, and up to the present time—the scheme has been working only a short time, not as long as I would have liked, but there was a great deal of organisation to be done—25,000 discharged men who otherwise would have been on the scrap heap have been put into useful occupations. That is not a bad record, and we shall build on it. It may be said that it is not difficult to find jobs for them now because in war-time there is a scarcity of labour and plenty of jobs available. There is something in that, but we are trying to put the men, not into blind alley jobs or purely war jobs, but into jobs that will continue after the war is over. We are getting offers from employers of labour to take these men and train them and give them a guarantee of employment after the war. The trade unions have been good enough to relax their rules and regulations, and allow these men to work alongside those who 1920 have served an apprenticeship, for the period of the war. I shall have to make an appeal to them—and I am certain it will not fall on deaf ears—that when the war is over they should continue that concession, so that the men we have to train in future can also be found places. I know this is a very vexed question, but it is the crux of the whole matter, because it is of no use training the men unless we can find them employment. They want employment.
I want also to make it clear, as I did in my speech at the Mansion House, that this is not a subtle scheme by the Government or the Ministry to try to whittle down pensions. The pension is paid irrespective of what the man earns. I want to make that point very clear. I shall never be a party to any alternative pensions scheme which means more for one man than for another because of something that happened before they joined up. I am all for equality of sacrifice and compensation. If we departed from the standard rate, we should be on a very stony path and there would be considerable trouble in dealing with these matters. I think it is clear to the House that we are trying to do many things in addition to simply paying out pensions.' We have made enormous improvements on the methods that were adopted after the last war and during it. We have been learning from experience. I think we have done very valuable work in that regard; I am very hopeful that we shall be able to continue this good work, and I am certain that we shall get full support and help from hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Stoke dealt with the question of the A1 man who is discharged from the Army suffering from some constitutional disease and therefore not eligible for a pension. I am certain the hon. Member remembers the concession that I announced in July, 1941, whereby in the case of any man taken into the Service A1, if any aggravation of any kind could be shown, we would regard it as a material aggravation and grant a pension. We reviewed all the cases in which men were dissatisfied with previous decisions and applied for their cases to be re-heard under the new concession. Over 70 per cent. of them were accepted. That is a very high figure when you bear in mind that there are certain constitutional diseases which no doctor on earth will agree are due to any service, 1921 either in civil life or in Army, Air Force or Navy life. If you get to the point that, if once a man has donned uniform, the Government are responsible for anything that happens to him, we are of different minds, but I am dealing with facts and things as they are. We get cases which would astonish Members. There was one case in which we granted a 70 per cent. pension under this concession. The man wanted 100 per cent. Everyone outside has the idea that that means the man cannot do anything—that he cannot even walk. But it does not always follow. We had this man medically examined to see if there was any difference between the granting of the pension and the application for 100 per cent. The medical board found that he had been treated very generously with 70 per cent. I got a letter from the man complaining bitterly that he had only been allowed 9s. 6d. for his expenses, whereas he had lost s day's work, amounting to 17s. 6d. He was working regularly, and his claim was to be 100 per cent. disabled I do not think I could justify going to the taxpayer and saying we should pay 100 per cent. to a man in that condition.
The hon. Member brought forward a very good point in regard to medical cases. He said there had been cases where a man's own medical adviser, or the adviser to his trade union or friendly society, had told him that whatever he was suffering from might be constitutional but that it had been aggravated by service. There are cases which I can deal with effectively, because where there is a conflict of medical opinion of any kind I have the power conferred upon me by the House to refer those cases to an independent medical specialist, who is regarded as superior to both, and quite independent of the Ministry, nominated either by the President of the Royal College of Surgeons or by the President of the Royal College of Physicians, and he decides as between them. I have taken advantage of that method and have had quite a large number of cases, where there has been a genuine dispute as between two medical men, submitted to him.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
Is that the same as the right hon. Gentleman's principal medical officers?
§ Sir W. Womersley
No. I cannot issue a pension without the certification of my own principal medical officers unless it has been to an independent medical expert, whose decision is overriding.
§ Mr. Lindsay
At what point does it go to this tribunal? I have a terrible case here, and I can get no help over it.
§ Sir W. Womersley
He can if he desires it. I have to leave it to the medical expert to say whether it is necessary to see the man or whether it can be settled according to the papers. As to the question of the hon. Member opposite, if it is a case where he can bring medical evidence rebutting the medical opinion of my man, it goes to an independent expert at once.
§ Mr. Lindsay
The medical evidence has been supplied by the doctors privately and also by your own medical officer.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
Does the independent expert see the man without having first seen the papers and the previous history of the case?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I have announced time and time again that these men are independent of my Ministry, and I am sure hon. Members will agree that if I started laying down rules and regulations under which they should work, they would cease to be independent. I must leave to them and their judgment what methods they should adopt. We can leave it to the medical profession to adopt the right practice.
§ Sir W. Womersley
There is no answer at all. I say that it is left to the experts to decide what methods they should adopt. [Interruption.] Are hon. Members dissatisfied with this system? I find that if a case goes in favour of the appellant, the medical expert is a first-class man, but if it goes against the appellant, hon. Members say he is no good. We had tribunals in the last war, but I get numerous letters from hon. Members 1923 about cases that were settled by the old tribunals asking me to reopen them, although the House laid it down that the decisions of those tribunals must be final and binding. It will be the same with this system. You can have any tribunal you like or any expert you like, but it will not satisfy the people who get a refusal.
§ Major Milner
Is the specialist given a sight of the Ministry's file, or does he act without seeing it?
§ Sir W. Womersley
The file is quite fair to the man. It contains his hospital record, the medical certificates of his own doctor, all the evidence that the man can produce in his own favour, and the report of our own medical boards. The whole of the evidence is therefore available, and we invariably invite the man to submit further evidence if he can obtain it. The medical experts decide whether he shall examine the man or not. There are many cases, however, where it will not help the experts to examine the man. The question is whether his condition is due to service, and in certain types of disease it is a question of knowing what the disease is, and that is sufficient.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
If a man dies abroad on service and the medical authorities there say it was a disease that had nothing to do with active service, what is the good of an independent doctor, and how can we bring such a case forward, because I have one now?
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member should bring that case to my notice, and. I shall be pleased to look into it and see what can be done. In the case of a man dying abroad there is a full report of the investigation that is made, a full report from the hospital and a full report of the post mortem examination. It is not difficult to discover whether the man's death was due to service or not. I used to think it was difficult, but after my long experience I do not think it is.
§ Mr. Mathers
The hon. Member asked if the medical expert who is finally called in saw the man, and the Minister replied that the expert decided whether or not he would see the man; but surely the controversy about whether he sees the man before seeing the papers is beside the point. He sees the man only after he has studied the evidence that can be produced 1924 to him on paper; that decides him as to whether he needs to have the guidance of his own observation of the man's condition.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I do not think the hon. Member can take any exception to that. I am not going to get into a controversy as to what a man in the medical profession should or should not do. All I can say is that an independent medical expert is appointed, and we must leave it to his judgment; otherwise, he would cease to be independent. I would not say whether what the doctor does is right or wrong. All I can say is that so far I am satisfied that the decisions arrived at have been very sound, because the reasons for coming to those decisions are given to us.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke and many other hon. Members have referred to the question of parents' pensions, and I think we had better get down to that right away, because that seems to be the most important point of principle which we have been discussing. The other matters have been by the way. The Committee will remember that this point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) on 16th June last. I am sure that we all realise the importance of the mission he is now engaged upon, and we wish him good luck and God-speed, and I have no doubt that when he gets the news through that we have had a Debate on his favourite subject he will be quite pleased, because he threatened me with a Debate before he went away. He then advocated, as some of my hon. Friends have, the re-establishment of a flat-rate pension for all parents who lose sons as a result of war service. It is clear that that is what he did advocate, because I had a discussion with him afterwards, as I could not think he was advocating such a thing. Many hon. Members have said, "Why do you not do as you did in the last war?" and I think it is as well to remind hon. Members of what happened. The flat-rate pension was paid automatically to all parents who had lost sons in the war, but there were provisos. These pensions were paid where the soldier was under the age of 26 at the outbreak of war or at the date of enlistment, if later, was unmarried, and if no pension or allowances were in payment to a child or dependants in respect of him. The pension was hedged round with all sorts of restrictions.
1925 The general and popular idea is that all parents got a pension of 5s. a week. They did not—only those parents whose sons were under 26 at the time they enlisted, or at the outbreak of war, and who had no other obligations. It meant that a flat-rate pension of 5s. was awarded in those cases where the son was under 26, irrespective of pre-war dependants, age, infirmity or pecuniary need. There is also a mistaken idea, although it has been corrected by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), that that was the only kind of parents' pension in existence in the last war. There were three kinds of pensions for parents, two besides the one I have explained, the flat-rate pension. The first of the two others rested solely on pre-war dependence. A parent could not claim anything unless he could prove pre-war dependence. That provision did not seem to give a great deal of satisfaction, either during or after the war. The third was based upon the parents' needs and incapacity for self-support. Those were the three types of pensions that were given in the last war.
There were people who thought that those provisions were not working well, and the Select Committee which was set up in 1919 to deal with the matter, and reported in 1920, paid very special attention to it, because of the complaints of inequality between one parent and another arising out of this triple system. I will read to the Committee a recommendation-. It is no good paraphrasing it. We want to have it word for word, because it is really important. This Select Committee is generally acknowledged to be one of the most representative that ever studied pensions' law and pensions' cases. It took a good deal of time and trouble and heard witnesses. It finally came to certain decisions, which, in most cases, the Government accepted. On the question of parents' pensions, the Committee recommended:The whole system should be reconsidered as early as possible with a view to revision and the assimilation of all three classes of case on the basis of need, broadly interpreted, i.e., a reasonable expectation of what the son would have contributed had he lived.The Committee added:We believe that it is only by some such plan that the present inequalities can be remedied.1926 This recommendation was accepted by the Government and adopted on 1st April, 1922. From then onwards all new awards of pension to parents were conditional upon the claimant being able to show that he or she was wholly or partially incapable of self-support and in pecuniary need. This has gone on from 1922 down to the present war period, and, so far as I know, without a single complaint from anyone. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, I watched it very carefully until the war broke out, and then we began to have quite a number of cases coming forward.
In the present war we adopted the practice laid down by the Select Committee and put into operation in 1922. It was included in the Royal Warrant of 1939. Then, in the light of experience, I reconsidered the whole matter in consultation with my central Advisory Committee. Hon. Gentlemen who were members of that Committee will remember that we threshed the thing out pretty well. We went into the matter minutely. We doubted very much whether the Warrant gave full effect to the Select Committee's recommendations. Surely we ought to see that their true intentions were carried out. In 1940 a revised Warrant was introduced which contained the following improvements in respect of parents' pensions. I want to read them, with the permission of the Committee, so that there will be no misconception:We abolished altogether the test of incapacity for self-support. We embodied the definite provision that, in determining need, regard should be had to the extent of support that the deceased son gave before and during his war service and might reasonably be expected to continue, or where he did not so give, might have been expected to give.In other words, if he had not been contributing to his parents, we might grant them a pension, as in most cases the son might make some contribution if he survived the war. I think we covered every type of case for which any plea could be put forward, except the flate-rate pension for everybody, irrespective of means.
We now come to the question whether there should be some form of means test. I call it a needs test, but hon. Members can call it what they like. It is a question of 5s. a week to a man who may be on the Income-Tax-paying rate. There are men who are having it, and they get 2s. 6d. I say again that money compensation of these cases is not the proper recognition. Unfortunately, where parents 1927 are in need and where you would expect that a boy would come to their help, whether they are married or unmarried, we have made it so that the widowed mother of a married man can participate in the benefit. That assurance is given to all of them, that, if they are in need, they shall receive the pension. I should have thought that if a person was working at his own trade and earning his standard rate, he was not in need. Then we come to this point. If because of adverse circumstances, old age or anything else, he is not able to continue his employment and is in need, his pension is there for him, guaranteed to him. Surely that is better than giving 5s. a week pension just because on the old scale it would have been given to anyone irrespective of income,
The Minister said that he was coming to another point. Will he kindly tell us what the need has to be? Has she to be destitute before she can be assessed for pension of 5s. or more?
§ Sir W. Womersley
If the hon. Member had only waited, I was coming to that. I am not afraid to meet the situation at all, but I think I ought to be allowed to approach it in my own way. I have got so far on the road as to explain why we adopted this system, and how we carried out the recommendation of the Select Committee, and have got so far as to mention that where a married soldier's parents were really dependent on him to a substantial extent for a reasonable period before his death, they are also eligible for some consideration for pension, though he had not been able to make an allotment to his parent or parents because of marriage. That meets the point of one hon. Member. We come to the question of the general principles governing the granting of these parents' pensions. It has been represented to me that there is a good deal of discontent about this. I have been all round my war pension committee areas. I have had chairman of war pension committees from all parts of the country at those conferences. This is one of the questions that there is not a lot of discontent about. There are other questions where there is 1928 some, but I have specially inquired into this matter, and I do not find that it happens that the country is seething with discontent. I do say there are people who feel they ought to have something, and if something happens to somebody, they ought to get something of a monetary nature. I do not think we should encourage that. Really it is better to give most where it is most needed.
As to the pensions themselves the present rates provide that the minimum pension is 5s. and the maximum for one parent is 10s., and for two parents 12s. 6d., but where there are exceptional circumstances I am empowered to increase that by 6s. 6d. a week, making 16s. 6d. in the case of one parent and 19s. in the case of two. In arriving at what the pension should be, there are disregards, and those disregards are really considerable. I want Members to know them, so that they know what we are really giving. No regard is taken of any public assistance which is being received by the parents. If a public assistance committee is making any allowance, we do not take that into account at all. No regard is taken of any relief under the P.R.D. scheme; no account is taken of unemployment assistance relief; no account is taken of supplementary pensions paid under the 1940 Act, and where a parent is drawing a disability pension we ignore the first £1 a week. The first 5s. of friendly society sick pay is ignored and the first 10s. 6d. of National Health Insurance. We ignore half of workmen's compensation in assessing the income going into the household, and we ignore sickness payments under the Old Age Pensions and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, to the extent of the first 7s. 6d. War Savings up to £375 are ignored. So I think we have tried to meet the position fairly.
Another question which was raised was that of off-duty accidents, resulting in disability or death. We have made a big alteration in this matter since the Royal Warrant of 1939 was brought before the House, and I have not the slightest doubt that it will receive the approval of hon. Members. But it is not by any means an easy question whether compensation should be given for an accident which occurs while a man is not on duty, while he is able to do what he likes and is taking the risks which an ordinary citizen takes. I have gone into the matter very care- 1929 fully and have consulted my Advisory Committee, who have given me various opinions on the matter. I have tried to relax the rules as much as possible. Let me describe the wide range of circumstances in which the State takes responsibility. There is no question of dispute in respect of accidents which result from enemy action, or in cases where the accident may be attributed to the special circumstances of His Majesty's Forces—and this is very broadly interpreted—or where the accident occurs in barracks or stations, or on the direct journey, there or back, when the man is given compassionate leave to go to his own home, or where he is exposed to exceptional dangers in his place of duty. Cases which we reject are those which arise from the ordinary risks of everyday life, which are equally shared by civilians. If the risks of injury are in no way increased by a man's wearing uniform there is no reason, I suggest, why we should take responsibility. We pay pension to Servicemen for the extra dangers of their duties; but when it is a question of dealing with every accident which may happen, irrespective of the cause, it is a different matter.
There again, you have to take into account the conduct of the man. I could mention many instances in which the man concerned was very foolish. Possibly he was not just as straight up as he ought to have been at the time—he might have been visiting. Men have done the most foolish things, such as climbing on to railways, and trying to stop engines. I doubt whether Members, if they went into all the cases, would have any complaints to make. I know that when a Member gets a case from his own constituency he regards it, quite rightly, as being more important than all the others. I have done the same in the days when I was doing my best from the other side of the House to get pensions for my constituents. I do not say that I favour my constituents now but I see that they get fair play. But there are cases where, with all the sympathy in the world, one could not justify granting a pension.
There is one aspect of this matter on which we are better off than we were during and after the last war. We have a widows', orphans', and old age pensions scheme, which was passed by this House in 1925 and brought into operation early in 1926. That provides for the 1930 widows of insured persons a pension of 10s. a week, with allowances for children. That is not nearly so good as the pension we give Servicemen, and those who have lost their men while serving in the Forces much prefer to have our pension scales. However, the other pension is there. The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds has touched a vital spot, and I thank him for bringing the matter forward, because I want it cleared up. Where we cannot give the pension we always do the best we can to see that the case is put up in the proper way to the Ministry of Health, and I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend's Department deal with these cases very sympathetically and quickly, and in most cases a pension is awarded. But for the life of me I cannot understand this, and I want it put right. A man who joins the Army, Navy or Air Force immediately has so much stopped from his pay for National Health Insurance, so that he is obviously a contributor, and there is no question about it.
Is the right hon. Gentleman right there? Surely, the man pays 6d. for old age and widows' pension and not National Health Insurance?
§ Sir W. Womersley
He is insured for National Health Insurance and pension. Officers have it deducted. National Health Insurance contribution is deducted from officers' pay, and I have seen the accounts and checked them for myself. I looked for myself to see if it was true. If a man was a contributor before he joined the Army, his widow would get a pension under the National Health Insurance contributory scheme. If a man was not insured before he joined the Army and had not been in long enough to qualify, his widow would receive no pension either from my Department or the Ministry of Health. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that this is a matter which we ought to square up. I do not say that there are a large number of these women, but there are some, and we get cases frequently. They ought to be admitted into National Health Insurance full benefit right away, or there should be a relaxation of the five years period. There are cases where they have been in for two years, and sometimes nearly three years, and pension has been denied them. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that there ought to be some new provision in the Royal Warrant 1931 so that I could deal with them on the same basis. I look at it from the widow's point of view. It does not matter how her husband lost his life, she has lost the breadwinner, and seeing that there is provision as regards civilian cases, then cases on all fours with civilian cases ought to receive the same pension. I have taken up the matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. He is very sympathetic. It is a subject that requires legislation before it could be put into effect. It would mean an amendment by this House of the National Health Insurance Acts or of the Royal Warrant. My view is that the simplest and easiest way to deal with it would be to see that these men were declared into full benefit when they joined the Services. That is an addition that we could make, and I hope that we shall make it.
The hon. lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) mentioned the question of War Service Grants. I assure her that I am carrying out what I said I would do in the House last week. That was the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke) about the question of increasing the minimum unit figure. I have thought of that matter before. Still, I was grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning it, because it brought it to the attention of the House. I promised to give the matter consideration, and later last Thursday the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) put a question to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Privy Seal, Leader of the House, who gave an assurance that these matters were being considered. I cannot discuss them to-day, and I hope the hon. Lady will not object because they say it is sub judice at the moment. But I shall take notice of what she said, just as I take notice of those billets doux she sends me now and then.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Lady knows that the War Service Grants Committee advises on many things and considers cases of difficulty arid doubt. They have done valuable work, and I want to pay tribute to the members of the Committee for what they have been doing week after week. But there are occasions when matters of Government policy arise, 1932 and if I went to committee after committee and a decision was not arrived at, I would soon be in trouble in this House. I would be told to give up going to committees. However, as I have said, I want to pay a great tribute to the work which this Committee have been doing.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
We cannot have two Members on their feet at the same time.
§ Sir W. Womersley
We will have this little controversy somewhere else, Colonel Clifton Brown. It is a sort of family quarrel. The hon. Lady belongs to my Committee, and I do not want her to leave. In conclusion, I would like to say—
§ Mr. Buchanan
Does not the Minister intend to say a word on the question which I have previously raised, namely, that of a man who has joined the Forces before hostilities commenced?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I mentioned that earlier in my speech. I shall be repeating myself if I mention it again, but if hon. Members do not mind, I will do it. I explained that in the light of our experience I obtained permission from this House regarding the question of men taken into the Forces as A.1 and afterwards discharged because of some constitutional disease—
§ Mr. Buchanan
The Minister does not seem to have my point clearly in his mind. It is this: A man joins the Services before the outbreak of hostilities and loses his life. His widowed mother appeals for a grant, and it is refused on the ground that her son was in the Services before the outbreak of war.
§ Sir W. Womersley
It is quite right for the hon. Member to bring that case forward on behalf of his constituent—
§ Sir W. Womersley
I hope hon. Members will not run away with the idea that there are many cases like this, because there are not.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Gentleman must have a little patience. He is a first-class debater, but he does not believe that anybody else should state his views. I cannot alter the terms of the conditions under which War Service Grants are made. I have suggested improvements and alterations from time to time, and they have been carried out, and I am prepared to consider any suggestion where it is felt there is some real dissatisfaction. The whole principle of the War Service Grants scheme is that it lays down the difference between a man's position and liabilities before he joins the Forces and the position of those whom he leaves behind after joining the Forces. Although I cannot depart from that principle, I shall be pleased to consider the matter and give the fullest consideration to it. At the moment I am not able to make a grant in the case that has been brought forward by the hon. Member, although, as I have said, I will consider the matter fully in consultation with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.
In conclusion, I want to reaffirm what I said in the earlier part of my speech. I welcome criticisms and suggestions from hon. Members, whether they are made in the course of Debate or sent into me without waiting for a Debate. I am only too anxious to do the best that is possible for those who have suffered from and those who have been bereaved by war services. I think hon. Members will agree, if they look through their postbags, that the cases they have put to me and to the Parliamentary Secretary have received personal and careful consideration. I see that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw is now present. I am sorry I had to refer in his absence to the case he mentioned, but it fitted into that part of my speech. I want to repeat in his presence that we get our pensions into issue immediately the grant from the Navy, Army or Air Force ceases. In the case which the hon. Member quoted from a newspaper, the woman concerned was drawing full allowances from the Air Force all the time, and when they ceased our pension was in issue the very next week, so that there was no gap whatever. What happened was that she was afraid she was not going to get a pension and got hold of some very smart Aleck 1934 of a reporter, and he said, "Here is something on which I can beat even the hon. Member for Bassetlaw in his newspaper." Let me repeat that I am prepared at any time to receive cases from hon. Members. I want to look into these things and have them put right. I shall benefit considerably from the Debate that has taken place—I shall make a careful study of the OFFICIAL REPORT—and I hope that as a result of the Debate something of real value will accrue to those who have served their country and suffered thereby—those who have given their best to the country.
§ Mr. Mathers
Arising from what the Minister has just said, may I expect that the reply he has not given me will be given alter he has considered what I put to him in the course of the Debate, and that I shall have a letter from him on the point?
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid (St. Marylebone)
The sum of £1,000,000,000 is a lot of money, but a lot of purposes are included in this Vote. I notice that this Supplementary Estimate is for the securing of public safety, the defence of the Realm, the maintenance of public order, and the efficient prosecution of the war. It is also for maintaining services essential to the life of the community, and so forth. I want to show how expenditure is not justified for the following purposes. Various political prisoners are having money expended upon them that is unjustified. Prince Paul of Yugoslavia is justifiably—
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am afraid that Prince Paul of Yugoslavia is outside this Vote of Credit. Prince Paul is interned in Kenya, and the expenses are incurred by that Government and not by the Government of this country. Therefore, that matter is not in Order.
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid
There are others matters with reference to Prince Paul of Yugoslavia that would be appropriate on this Vote of Credit. I want to ask for your guidance on this matter, Colonel Clifton Brown. Prince Paul's wife, Princess Olga, came over to this country only recently, and I have no doubt that the expenditure for that journey was defrayed by this nation.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
It is no good the hon. and gallant Gentleman saying he has no doubt that the expenditure comes under the Vote of Credit. It is up to him to prove that it comes under it.
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid
The terms of this Vote are somewhat vague and all-embracing. Surely this expenditure is also for money which is about to be spent. In that event I should like to know who is to pay for her going back.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
That would come under the Estimates of the Department which are not included in the Vote of Credit.
§ Mr. William Brown (Rugby)
I want to take advantage of the opportunity which this Vote gives us to secure from the Government some assurance in respect of the manner in which these moneys will be administered. We are voting £1,000,000,000, and to a large extent the administration of that very large sum will be in the hands of the Civil Service. It is my view that that money is not likely to be spent to the best advantage unless certain reforms are carried through.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I am afraid that here again the hon. Member is somewhat unfortunate, because Civil Service matters come under the separate Estimates. Civil Service Class VIII (4) is the Estimate under which those matters could be discussed, but not this Vote of Credit.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The discussion of the last five hours has been on the Ministry of Pensions, which is one of the token Votes that come under the Vote of Credit. That is the difference. Pensions for the Civil Service come under one of the Estimates that I have quoted.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I will not be tempted to question the conduct of the Chair, but I will make the remark that the Minister was sufficiently courteous to Members of the House to look around and see that there was no other Member on his feet but myself before he took the Box. It is obvious that anyone who cared to wander in had an opportunity to get in before I did. But I should like to mention that the Minister, whatever he was lacking, was not lacking in mendacity. In the course of the very interesting and important speech of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) he intervened and suggested that the hon. Member was introducing a class argument, forgetting, perhaps desiring to forget, that the full Royal Warrant is class from beginning to end, and the whole attitude of the Minister and the Government is class from beginning to end. If they want to avoid class arguments, let them refrain from class actions. Let them cease to distinguish between one soldier and another and one widow and another. The Minister was full of evasions. One of the most striking was when he was talking of the means test.
The means test has been introduced against the working class and the poorer section of the community. It does not apply to other sections of the community. The fact that the Government are so insistent on maintaining it is an indication that all the talk about a new world after the war is so much wind. It means nothing at all. The Minister says that, if a man is earning a standard wage, surely there is no reason why he should get anything from the Government. The only thing that we can take from that is that the standard wage is the determining factor and even though a man has sons in the Army, he should not get anything. There are working-class mothers who have two sons and two daughters in the Forces, maybe have four sons and two or three daughters in the Forces, but they do not get anything. It is not because there is a standard wage. Forms are handed to them. I do not know whether hon. Members have studied these forms, or whether they have ever seen these people getting their neighbours to come in to help them fill in the forms. It is not the standard Wage which is the determining factor. One has to be very far down 1937 in the poverty scale before there is any allowance, no matter how many children one has in the Army.
Then there was the argument of the Minister that the flat-rate pension during the last war was not as good as many hon. Members thought it ought to be. Of course it was not good. But there should be a flat-rate pension for every mother or father who has a son or daughter in the Forces, and it ought to be sufficient to ensure that they will not be in want, because it is only when they are in want that they have to make an appeal. If they do make an appeal they are subject to all kinds of undesirable questions and to supercilious and arrogant conduct on the part of these people. I recall the experience of an hon. member on the other side of the House, one of the most douce, quiet and respectable Tories there is in Parliament, a very quiet man and very loth to express himself in an angry or vehement manner. Only once have I seen him angry and excited, and that was when I heard him talking about one of his constituents who was interviewed by some of these people. I have never seen a man so enraged.
He said that a constituent went to him in a state of hysteria, crying and breaking her heart because of the language and arrogant attitude of some official who had been interviewing her. No man is less prone than this Member to violent language, but I never heard such violent language as he used about this case. I would have liked the interviewer to have heard what he said. Why should the poorer people have to suffer that? I remember that when we were discussing the means test on another occasion a Member opposite was arguing that a means test was essential where public money was being spent. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) interjected, "What about your own pension? Did you have a means test?" The Member replied, "That is an entirely different matter." Of course it is, because they are entirely different types of people who are concerned. There is no means test for his class. They may have hundreds of thousands of pounds invested in different undertakings, they may have bank books that would choke a horse, and sons earning salaries of all kinds, but no questions are asked when pensions are paid to them. If they were asked ques- 1938 tions about their means they would rend the heavens at such an insult. There should be a flat rate that would eliminate the means test. If any member of the Government is earnest and genuine in talking about the new world, he should get up and say, "We will get rid of the means test as a start."
There are two questions about which I would have taken only two minutes if I could have spoken before the Minister rose. I have written to the Minister scores of letters and have received some very sympathetic replies. He is a sympathetic Minister. In one of the stories of Dickens I seem to remember that he tells of a lot of poor people who lived in Bleeding Heart Yard. There was a nice benevolent old gentleman, and when they went to him and told him their tales of hardship and woe, his heart wept, but he always said, "There is a fellow next door who is a monster of iniquity, and he will not allow me to help you in any way." The Minister is full of sympathy in the same way. He says, "The Royal Warrant and the Regulations are there; the man next door will not let me do anything." Why does he not come forward and get rid of the Royal Warrant and the Regulations? Why does he not open the door and let us see what is behind it? In Dickens' story, when the door was opened nobody was there.
I had a letter from the Minister last week and I could scarcely believe my eyes when I read it. It was about a man who was discharged from the Army. The medical report was that his trouble had not been caused or aggravated by his service and therefore he was to get nothing. The Minister wrote to me to say that he had gone into the matter again and had decided to set aside the medical decision and to give this man a pension. I had to read the letter three or four times. I showed it to several other Members and I asked them: "Will you read this letter for me? Is it true?" It was the first time I had ever known such a thing. I say to the Minister and to the Government that there is no doctor in this country capable of saying whether a man's trouble has or has not been aggravated by his service. If a man has been in the Army, there may have been a period, when he should not have gone through the heavy physical training and exercises, because of his condition. He might have required a certain diet. Months later, 1939 when he has collapsed, no doctor can decide. I often think that the only decent doctor is a horse doctor, because a veterinary surgeon has to discover what is wrong with the animal whereas, when a doctor comes to us, we have to tell him what is the matter with us. I have asked several doctors and they say that no one is capable of giving a judgment on this question.
What should be our attitude towards a man who has been discharged from the Army in those circumstances? The man is classed physically fit, and A.1 when he joins, but six months or 12 months afterwards he is discharged as of no use. The only test which a doctor might be able to make is whether the man concerned is now less able to earn his livelihood than he was when he joined the Army. That is the only test capable of discussion and proof. If the man is less capable, he should be given a measure of compensation in the form of a pension. There will never be any satisfactory solution on the existing lines, and there will always be a feeling of injustice. Two things particularly should be done. The hon. member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith) referred to the differentiation among various classes of soldiers and of widows. That should not be tolerated in the circumstances under which we are carrying on at the present time. But apart from all these other matters there is the necessity for ensuring that medical officers are only asked to do a job they are capable of doing, that is, to say whether a man is as fit as he was when he went into the Army. If the man is not, he should be compensated for that. As for the dependants of soldiers, the mother or the father who has one lad or two lads, or lads and lasses, in the Forces, should get, without any hesitation, a substantial flat rate—when we discussed Servicemen's pay I put it at 25s. a week—and the means test should be completely abolished so far as the Servicemen are concerned.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £1,000,000,000, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the expenses which may be incurred during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1943, for general Navy, Army and Air services and supplies in so far as specific provision is not made therefor by Parliament; for securing the public safety, the defence of the realm, the maintenance of public order and the efficient prosecution of the war; for maintaining supplies and services essential to the life of the community; and generally for all expenses, beyond those provided for in the ordinary Grants of Parliament, arising out of the existence of a state of war.