§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
The Prime Minister, in his eloquent broadcast speech, has lifted the veil a little and shown us the uplands which we are hoping to explore when we pass through the Valley of the Shadow. It seems to me right that while we are still in the Valley of the Shadow we should see how some of our citizens are faring. I hope to convince the House that there are some among us, to whom many may think we owe a special debt, whose circumstances are not in line with the tradition which this House has from time to time approved. I know that it would be out of Order in this Debate to urge how appeal tribunals should foe set up, but I think it would be in Order to comment upon the present administration, in order to emphasise what I believe is the view of the whole of this House, that every effort must be made by the Minister to implement the tentative concession—if I may call it that—which he has announced to-day. Unless you can define by some fair means, independent of the administration itself, who is entitled to a pension, you cannot ensure that there is justice, nor can you ensure that people think there is justice.
1491 Under the present administration these cases are tried in camera by the Minister, and the evidence upon which judgments are made, which vitally affect the whole life of disabled men, is heard without their having any knowledge of that evidence. That does not happen in any other sort of trial in any court of law in our country, even in regard to cases which do not affect anything like so poignantly the whole livelihood of any of our citizens. I will not elaborate the case, because I cannot help thinking that this last-minute notice for a Private Notice Question shows that the coming of this Debate has had some effect on His Majesty's Government. I hope that that is so. I look forward to the Minister's further statement, in which he will tell us of the progress he has made. A few months ago he was telling us that we must wait for the end of the war. Pressure from this House brought him to the point of saying that he agreed with appeal tribunals. A little more pressure and the Government agreed. A little more pressure and somebody was asked to find the doctors who could not be found in war. A little more pressure and the Minister comes down to the House and says that he has found some. Let us rejoice that he is making such progress, but let our watchword be "Watch Walter." Next time he comes, let us see that he brings something in the bag. It is not enough for him to come down and say, "You have all my sympathy, but…."
Let us turn from that to some of the vital matters affecting ex-Service men, both those who have been disabled in this war and our comrades of the last war. If I [...]ain the House with some figures, and also with one or two references to the principles upon which our pensions are based, I hope the House will forgive me. I cannot help thinking that we should have the whole of this subject in our minds in order that we may, as I hope, put unanimous pressure on the Minister with a full knowledge of the facts. The pensions which are given to our men, whether of this war or of the last, vary according to the disability and vary according to rank. But for simplicity's sake I will take the case of the man who is, in pensions parlance, said to be "100 per cent. disabled" or in the more modern phrase "disabled in the highest degree," and I will take the case of the private soldier. A 1492 private soldier disabled in the highest degree in the last war receives a pension of £2 a week. He has received that pension since the year 1919. A private soldier similarly disabled in this war receives a pension of 37s. 6d. A private soldier in the last war received up to £1 attendant allowance if he was most severely disabled, for example, if he was bed-ridden or paralysed; but if he had suffered only the loss of two limbs or of two eyes, he did not receive that full attendant allowance. He probably received only half of it, namely, 10s., and in many cases less. The men of this war receive slightly lower rates in the same proportion as that of the £2 and the 37s. 6d. which I have mentioned.
There are children's and wives' allowances which are paid if the men were married before the invaliding disability occurred. These amount to 10s. for the wife in the case of the man disabled in the last war and 9s. 2d. in the case of the man disabled in this war; 7s. 6d. for the first child in the last war and 7s. 1d. in this war; 6s. for the second child in the last war and 5s. 5d. in this war. Why the child of a veteran of the Great War, born to-day, should be deemed to require 7s. 6d. a week and the child of the soldier of this war, born to-day, should be deemed to require 7s. 1d., it is beyond my comprehension to understand. Why the man who lost two limbs in the last war requires £2, and the man who has lost two limbs in this war requires 37s. 6d., is also beyond my comprehension. What does this differentiation of half-a-crown mean? I submit to the House that there can be no valid reason for this small differentiation and that there are the gravest possible disadvantages in it, because it causes the young men who are now coming into our country wounded, to feel that, for some reason which they cannot understand, they are being treated differently from the old soldiers—and it is not that the old soldiers' rate is as great as all that.
I know that the Minister will put up a reply based upon elaborate cost-of-living figures, and I will deal with that later in my argument. The first thing I want the House to support me in is the request, perhaps even the demand, that this half-crown differentiation between the men of this war and the men of the last war should, forthwith, be eradicated. The Minister of Pensions must protect the Treasury to some extent. We cannot 1493 have claims of all kinds running away out of control, but the exercise of such a small and, it seems to me, unjust and inexplicable differentiation is just the kind of thing which makes the disabled man feel that the Ministry—which ought to be his friend—is not treating him properly and has no regard for his feelings.
Now I wish to take the House with me, if I may, into the principles upon which we have tried to base our pensions policy, because it is very important that we should try to see what these are. I have made an exhaustive search of the records, and out of many references I have picked out four from official statements which I think will guide us as to what is the principle which we have all had in mind in setting out to make Royal Warrants and in determining, in our own minds, what we pay these pensions for. The Ministry of Pensions was set up in 1917, and in the first Annual Report which the then Minister made to Parliament occurred these words referring to the basis upon which pensions were granted:It is simple compensation for the injury received and for the estimated loss of general working capacity.The point I wish to bring to the notice of the House is that there are two elements—simple compensation for injury and something based upon an estimate of the man's loss of working capacity. May I leave that there for the present, because it will appear later why I am stressing this? The point about the two elements is what I want to bring to the mind of the House. Subsequently a Departmental Committee was set up, and they went into this matter—and, by the way, the Minister and his assistant were both on that Departmental Committee—and this is how they put it:A man's physical capacity as compared with that of the ordinary healthy man of the same age.That is, a man's physical capacity as compared with the normal. There is no reference to wages there. Indeed reference to earning capacity is specifically left out, and the comparison is, as I have said, between the disabled and the normal. Recently, as a result of the Debate initiated by the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate), a Committee was set up on the question of equal compensation, and the Ministry of Pensions itself, giving evidence, said this:A comparison with a normal healthy person of the same age and sex.1494 That is, a comparison between the present position of the person concerned and that of the normal person.
Finally, I call the mind of the House back to a very important Government pronouncement which was made in 1932 by the Minister of Labour at that time—Sir Henry Betterton, as he than was—on a Bill called the Transitional Payments Bill. I had advocated in the Debates on that Bill that statutory recognition should be given to the fact that a wound or disability pension was composed of two elements. The House will remember that in those days we were discussing unemployment and the transitional payments which were made after the ordinary unemployment payment had run out. When the six months, or whatever the period was, had passed, it fell to the lot of the public authorities to make these transitional payments, and the question arose how to administer the means test, to decide how much transitional payment to make where disabled men were concerned. I put forward the plea, in which I was supported in all parts of the House, that the disability pension was not given solely for maintenance but that it included some further element, and this is what the then Minister of Labour said during the discussion on the Money Resolution in connection with that Bill:A portion of the pension should be deemed to be in respect of something other than maintenance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1932; col. 355, Vol. 270.]What does this really mean? I think, putting it into ordinary language which the man in the street can understand, and which we can understand, it means this—that in assessing the compensation to be paid to a man who is disabled in the severest degree in the country's service, we do not seek to find a figure which is down on the bed-rock of maintenance, we do not seek to find a figure which is for mere subsistence, but we seek a figure which gives him something other than maintenance and more than maintenance. May I call the attention of the House to the fact that this statement of the then Minister of Labour was not merely a statement having no action to support it? The Bill which he then brought in became an Act of Parliament, and the Section which I moved, and to which I am now making reference, actually took out of the means test 50 per cent. of the disability pension with 1495 a maximum of £1 so that action followed that kindly thought, and statutory recognition was given to the fact that a proportion of the disability pension was deemed to be for something other than maintenance. In fact, as far as the disabled soldier—disabled in the highest degree—was concerned who got his £2 a week pension when he went to the transitional payments authority for his money they, in order to put him on a proper basis, left out of account £1 out of the £2. For the purpose of my argument it does not matter whether the proper ratio between that part of the pension which is for maintenance and that part which is for something more is 50 per cent. or any other per cent. I believe I have proved to the House that Ministers of Pensions of all parties for 25 years and Governments, and the Civil Service behind them, have constantly recognised that the disability pension contains an element or should contain an element other than maintenance.
If that be true, may I take the mind of the House to a new factor that has intervened in this matter? I suppose that nobody would disagree with maintenance in the sense in which I have used it and in which Sir Henry Betterton used it. It means the same thing as minimum subsistence, freedom from want, keeping the wolf from the door, and keeping body and soul together and all that; that is what it means. We have had the Beveridge Report recently before us. We have approved in principle in this House, and, in my view, the Government have approved in principle—I cannot believe they will deny it—that the main lines of that Report are to be a guide to us in determining our future social policy. I put that so modestly that I do not think it can be disputed. What does Beveridge say in the very eloquent concluding passages of his Report? He says:Nothing below thisthat means the figures in this Report—can be justified on scientific grounds as adequate for human needs.That is what Beveridge says in defending his minimum subsistence figures. He was not setting out to provide people with comfortable amenity or compensation for losses; he was setting out merely to provide what many scientists, including Rowntree, doctors and others who have 1496 made surveys regard as necessary for minimum subsistence. What is this basis of Sir William Beveridge? I make a comparison, and I hope that the Minister of Pensions will agree that it is a fair comparison. A person disabled in the highest degre in industry will receive 24s. a week. The Minister of Pensions will give to a man disabled in the highest degree in war 37s. 6d. a week. Whether 37s. 6d. is adequate in all the circumstances I am not prepared to say, but at least we will concede that in this case the single soldier is having more than Beveridge's minimum subsistence. If he be married, Beveridge will give him £2 a week. The Minister of Pensions will give him 37s. 6d. a week, plus 9s., or 46s. 6d. a week.
May I ask the House to bear with me while I draw their attention to this point about Beveridge's Report? All his figures are based upon the assumption that the cost of living after the war, when his scheme comes to fruition, will be 25 per cent. above the pre-war level, and so he says that £2 a week is the minimum which can be justified on scientific grounds for human subsistence. But at the present time the cost of living is 30 per cent. above pre-war, so that at the moment the comparable Beveridge figure would be 41s. 7d., and if the disabled soldier lives in the London area, where the rents are 6s. higher, it will be found that he will be living below the Beveridge level. I think I can prove to the House that some of our disabled soldiers are receiving more than minimum subsistence, that a substantial number of them will be receiving a figure around the margin of minimum subsistence and some of them below it.
But that is only half the story. I have the personal investigations of 1,500 cases of men disabled in the highest degree, and it may interest the House to hear the result of that survey. Of those 1,500 men, 556 were married before they were disabled—about one-third; 212 are now widowers or were not married; 731 did not marry until after they were wounded. So that about half of the sample I have given, which is a very representative sample, did not marry until after they were wounded. Will the House see the significance of this? Similarly half the new cases, with their wives and two, three, four or five children—never mind how many children—will be living on 37s. 6d. a week. Even Beveridge would give them 1497 £2, plus the levy of is. 7d. to which I have made reference, plus the rent levy, if and when Beveridge's recommendations in that respect are looked into, plus an average of 8s. for each child. I come back to those eloquent words of Beveridge's:Nothing less than this can be justified on scientific grounds as adequate for human subsistence.That, I think, shows that half our disabled men are now, as far as the Government are concerned, living upon less than subsistence level, not even relieved of the want which the Beveridge Committee sets out, by its minimum figures, to relieve and, as far as the young boys who are coming in are concerned, it is to that which they have to look forward.
May I call the attention of the House to two cases which came under my notice only this last week? I will not mention the names of these men. I will give their names to the Minister and to my hon. Friends in the House or to the newspaper Press if they want to check them, but the psychology of the young man who is severely and terribly wounded is a tender plant, and it is not good for him that he should become the centre of self-pity, and that he should have added to his physical disabilities a feeling, supported as I hope it will be, by the overwhelming mass of tin's House, that he is not being properly treated by a great Government of a great country. So I ask that these men be not interviewed because their stories are dramatic. That is not my purpose. My purpose is to convince this House so that something may be done and that we have something to tell these men to their advantage at the time when we go to interview them. Do not let us exploit them. But let me give the cases. A young man returned from the Middle East to my hospital last week. I had a cable from him in South Africa, and I consulted with his father here in this country. The purport of this cable was, "Can you arrange for me to be married by special licence before I am discharged from the Army, because thereby I shall, so to speak, be married on the strength, and my wife will receive an extra 9s. 2d. a week and the children, if there are any, will receive 7s. 1d. and 5s. 5d.?" I had to tell that young man that the test was not whether he was married before discharge, but whether he was married before his invaliding disability, and that occurred at Alamein.
1498 In this other case, a young man came in to my hospital five weeks ago and is there now under my care. He has lost both eyes and both hands. That is an exceptional case. He was engaged to be married before he went out to the Middle East. He is to be married on the 24th of this month. The girl intends to stand by him; it is her wish, and I am sure they will be happy. But if she wishes to be provided for at all, it can only be if she is fed out of her husband's attendant allowance, because there is no provision for her, and there will be no provision for any children there might be of the marriage. The man will receive 37s. 6d. a week and 18s. attendant allowance. I cannot help thinking that something must be done in these special cases.
There are cases among my own men, and among all these disabled men who have lost limbs, where they are in good jobs and are earning good money. The training and encouragement we have given them have enabled them to take good jobs at good money. They have a basic pension as a safeguard against evil times, and so the reduction from the normal to the sub-normal is made up to them. But disability does not only affect you in your working time. It affects you in the morning, when you are trying to shave, when you are looking for your clothes, when you are struggling to put on your trousers on one leg. It affects you all the time, and it is partly for that that this compensation should be paid. Even if some overcome these difficulties and get jobs, there are others in this country now, and there will be others from this steady stream coming back to us from the war zone, who cannot earn and will not be provided for above the Beveridge level of subsistence.
May I say what I think this House should ask the Government to do? First, we should ask that the 2s. 6d. be put right, because it is hardly worth arguing about. I hope every Member of the House who speaks to-day will say the same thing to the Minister. It appears that things said 100 times have more validity than when they are said once, whatever their merits. So let us say it 100 times and ask the newspapers to say it 1,000 times until this matter of the 2s. 6d. is put right. It is too small for a great people to be bothered about. Far more important and costly is the question 1499 of children's and wives' allowances—a business which must be rectified. I will put one argument to the House which I hope will command general respect and assent. There may be differences among us as to how swiftly or fully the Beveridge proposals regarding family allowances can be brought into effect. I think the House has given approval in general to the family allowances provisions. I think the Government have done so, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself came forward and mentioned a figure. He said he agreed with the principle of family allowances but put forward the figure of 5s. instead of 8s. Well, I will not argue as to whether it should be 5s. or 8s.; I will only call to mind the fact that the Government have approved.
Here is a proposal. To those who want family allowances now, I say "Will you help me to get a start in getting them for disabled soldiers?" To those who think a little more time should be taken I say, "Will you help me by agreeing that this first step should be taken and taken now?" I ask that the matter of the 2s. 6d. should be put right and that children's and wives' allowances should be paid henceforth, or as soon as the Minister can bring the necessary Warrant here.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is putting up a very strong case. I would like to ask him whether he would advise us to vote against the Consolidated Fund Bill if the Government refuse to accept the moderate proposals he is putting forward?
§ Sir I. Fraser
It is hardly for me to advise Members to vote against the Consolidated Fund Bill. For my part, I put down a Motion which was supported by Members in all parts of the House. I would have wished for a full Debate on that Motion, which I would have been willing to have pressed to a Division. I worded the Motion reasonably and called for an inquiry into these matters. I would have wished that the Government would have accepted it. If they had not, I would have been prepared to take this matter to a Division. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is now in America, was good enough to show sympathy when I asked him for a 1500 day to debate the Motion. I expected a day when we might debate this matter with the gloves off. But we have been given to-day instead. It was not for me to say that I would not take it, although I would speak two or three times or more on this matter if necessary. With my little knowledge of Parliamentary procedure and the significance of the Consolidated Fund Bill, I am not sure that it would be quite in proportion to challenge a vote on this issue here and now. But let us show the Government that we are asking the Minister to come down here with something in his bag. Let us, in a month or two, if this matter is not satisfactorily settled, get another day and, if necessary, challenge the matter.
I have urged these family allowances, and it is only right that I should deal with two controversial points about them. The first suggestion is that the State will be endowing the marriage of the unfit and, perhaps, the production of impaired children. Let me say something that every doctor and every layman will know. A puppy born of a father who has had his tail cut off is not born with a shortened tail. That is the fortunate law of nature. Nor are children of men suffering from trauma, men whose limbs and bodies have been hurt, born in any way impaired. Thousands of my friends' children are now valiantly serving in our Armed Forces, having been encouraged by their impaired fathers to come forward and do their best. There is no physiological reason why men disabled in the highest degree should not produce fit children; in fact, they have done so. Indeed, it may be argued that the sufferings of their fathers have made these children grow up in an atmosphere which makes good citizens.
It is alleged by the ignorant that there are probably abuses in this payment of pension to wives, whenever they are married to disabled men. It is alleged that in another country there have been scandals about pensions being paid to successors of men who served in wars 100 years ago. Well, scandals in other countries should not deter us from doing justice here, because our pensions system has always been upright and honest. The so-called death-bed marriage is brought up by the ignorant to try to convince the House that it is going along a dangerous road. What is the death-bed marriage? It is when a young girl marries an old 1501 pensioner of 70, hoping that he will die soon so that she will get a pension. It may have occurred elsewhere—I do not allege it—but it cannot occur here. Let me tell the House why. A pension is not payable at all to the deceased soldier's widow unless he dies of the wound or cause which led to his first invalidity. If, in fact, an old boy marries and perhaps enjoys marriage and dies a year or two later, is it not most likely that he will have died of old age? Almost certainly he will not have died of an invaliding disability of 50 years ago. But if there is a possibility of an occasional scandal or occasional case 50 years hence, I do not think it will be beyond the wit of the House to devise a safeguard. In fact, each one of the Dominions has devised a safeguard, for we are the only country in the Commonwealth where this principle is not adopted.
There is another matter to which I want to refer. Sir William Beveridge in his Report says of those men who are disabled in industry—I am paraphrasing his statements—that those who work in industry, and particularly in the hazardous industries, have taken on a special risk for the community, and they ought not to be asked, when permanent disability ensues from an accident, to live on the minimum rate, but ought to have a higher rate, so that men may continue to be induced to enter those hazardous industries. He has in mind mining, for example. Is not war service a hazardous occupation worthy of similar consideration? Sir William Beveridge gives a maximum of £3 a week to those cases. This is a further argument, it seems to me, for seeing this matter in a different way from that in which we have seen it so far.
I ask the House to bear with me for a minute or two while I try to dispose of the cost-of-living argument which the Minister has repeated so frequently in the House. Here are the facts. In 1919 the cost-of-living figure stood at 215 points. At that time the flat-rate pension was fixed at £2. To show the House what happened, in the middle of the slump, at the very worst period the cost of living fell to 136. With the opening of the war it had risen to 155, and it now stands at 199. Because the cost-of-living figure has not risen the odd 16 points to 215 again, the Minister will say that no cause is shown why the new men should 1502 have the extra half-a-crown and much less that the old men should have a rise. That will be the Minister's argument, unless he has found a new one. I would like to make one or two points about that. When the rate of £2 was fixed, it was fixed in the environment of the time. Men are conditioned by their environment. What is satisfactory in one environment may not be satisfactory in another. At that time we were, in fact, giving disabled men considerably more than was being paid for subsistence by the Poor Law or public assistance or by the unemployment authorities. The ex-Service man, instead of saying, "This is pretty bad," said, "They give us a bit more than they give the other chaps; they recognise our special position. It is not bad." Therefore, something like a settlement was reached, but the essential part of the settlement was the environment in which it was made. That has changed. In the 25 years we have been down into the great slump and gradually we have crept back to the present conditions.
Let hon. Members picture the disabled soldier. He sits in his home or lies in bed, if he is bed-ridden. He cannot take an active part in the war, but he urges his children to take theirs. He has all the spirit without the easement which comes from action. He is much to be admired. If we had said to him, "Wages are to be stabilised for the duration of the war, full employment will give overtime and double time, but the rates will be stabilised, and so will your rate," he would have said, "What could be fairer than that?" But that is not what we have done. In the years from 1931 to 1939 wages bills rose by 10 per cent., and in the years from the war to the present they have risen a further 33½ per cent. To-day I read of the award which the engineers have gained and the claim which the railwaymen are making. The soldiers themselves have had their original pay of pre-war days raised by a very considerable amount, as well as continuing to share in the bountiful extras which go to every soldier. In the case of men who have passed through a long period of unemployment in our industries, now that their term has come I do not grudge them their claims for better wages and better conditions. They had a lot of leeway to make up. I do not grudge the soldiers their extra pay. But I say that a new environment has been created around 1503 which and in which our disabled men are denied the particular portion of the consumption goods of this country due to them. In the new atmosphere and environment there is a new standard of living. If we are to have our men feel and ourselves to know that they are having better than mere subsistence, we must take a present-day interpretation of what mere subsistence is. Therefore, I say, Away with the Minister's argument about the cost-of-living and its points. Incidentally, they are wholly irrelevant to the old soldier's life. I do not plead that Parliament should give money in order that soldiers may buy beer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because I do not want to get into that controversy with any hon. Member, but I will tell the right hon. Gentleman—and I am glad he can tell us that he was himself a member of the British Legion—that a glass of beer and 10 cigarettes a day do not come amiss if you have lost your limbs and are bed-ridden. If that is taken into account in the cost of living, the right hon. Gentleman will find that the soldier is very much below the level at which he can have a decent freedom from want, let alone any comfort or amenity above it.
I think I have exhausted the points in my mind, save for two or three small ones to which I will turn before coming to my concluding remarks. What I said about the men on the flat rate applies to the N.C.O.'s and officers, but there is a special point about officers. We would all agree that officers should be reduced, if the men are to be reduced, by a similar proportion. I claim that neither should have been reduced, but if there is to be a cut, it must be an all-round one. The Ministry have made a double reduction in the case of officers, and in the case of officers' children born before the officers were wounded, the allowances are subject to a means test. In the case of the N.C.O.'s and the men they are not. I think that is an anomaly which might well be looked into. What I have said applies to nurses, There are nurses who were wounded in the last war and in the present war. They must have consideration pari passu. There is the question of the women's forces in regard to which I thought I heard an unsatisfactory answer given at Question Time to-day. They come into this argument, for they, too, must have equal compensation and a 1504 share in any rises which the Minister brings a little later on.
Lastly, there is a curious class in regard to whom I want to make a plea and give an illustration. The case of a soldier who served his country for 25 years before the war and who joined up again for this war, is worse, or at any rate not any better, than it would be if he had never served in the Armed Forces before. There is a petty officer friend of mine, and this is his extraordinary story. He served for 25 years in the Navy. For that he earned a long-service pension of 24s. 6d. a week, but he commuted 5s. 3d. of it, leaving him 19s. 3d. He was carrying on before the war with 19s. 3d. a week. He then rejoined the Navy and was blinded on a destroyer at the battle of Narvik. He now receives less than the pension which a petty officer of this war would receive. Why? He gets no credit for his long Service pension, but there is a deduction of 5s. 3d. in respect of the part he commuted. Instead of getting a proper disability pension plus the 19s., which every reasonable man would think was arithmetic and justice, he actually gets less. Perhaps other hon. Members may have similar cases. It is a monstrous injustice for the sake of a few shillings.
I come now to my last remarks. This plea is not only a plea for a few men. It is a plea for a growing number, for the country lies on the edge of great events, events which will take their terrible toll in fives and limbs. The young men are beginning to come back now, a small trickle which will become a flood. Now, surely, is the time when we should review what we are doing and see whether it is in line with what we thought we were doing and with what our hearts tell us we should do. I ask for a Select Committee now to investigate all these matters, to investigate how the problem of the ex-Service men will fit into the Beveridge Report, to investigate these grievances, and so to have ready for the time when we have in our country thousands of these cases a justification of the present system, if it can be justified, or alternatively, amendment if it cannot. There is not only that point of the men coming back. There is the whole morale of our armies. It is necessary they should know that in case of need their country will took after them. A few days ago there died Laurence Binyon, who wrote: 1505At the going down of the sun, and in the morning.We will remember them.Not always have we remembered our old soldiers. It is necessary now that we should have our young soldiers feel that we have them and their future in mind. The trade union men are well represented in the War Cabinet. They have their machinery, not ineffective, as anyone who reads the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" will see, as anybody who listens to the wireless night after night will know. The people who own property have their representatives, not ineffective; it has been possible to measure the damage to property and to assess a means of compensation for it. Is it not now possible to measure to some extent the damage to human beings arising out of the war, to measure it and set down a decent standard of compensation? The only organisation that the old soldier has is the British Legion, and it has had 25 years of peace in which to settle down a little into its own habitual and charming ways. It needs waking up, it needs to bring into its ranks the young men coming out of the Armies now. It needs spokesmen in the House and the country to call upon Members of Parliament, to tell them of the existence in their constituencies of scores of cases already who claim they ought to have a fair trial and who claim they are not being given consideration. It rests with tins House to be the guardian of the interests of the serving men and the ex-Service men and to see that proper arrangements are made for them. I ask hon. Members in this Debate—and I hope hon. Members of all parties will speak—to make it clear to the Government that we want these concessions now, and if they cannot be made, we want a Select Committee to tell us why not or make proper recommendations.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
The hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir Ian Fraser) has argued his case cogently, and at times even dramatically, but all Members know, especially those who have had experience of the Fighting Forces, drama among fighting men is never absent, and the individual cases to which he has referred have pointed out to the Minister and to the House, I hope in no uncertain manner, the many inequalities and anomalies that exist in the present pensions Warrant. I believe, in pursuance of the hon. 1506 and gallant Gentleman's wish, that many Members will give expression to their views, so that the Minister and the Government are left in no uncertain mind as to the determination of the House to improve the present position. Do we look at this whole subject of war pensions with the right perspective? If I may illustrate my point I should like to instance the case of a wireless set and of a field gun. I have never heard, in any demand that we make for an ever-increasing supply of wireless sets and guns, that there is any squabble raised as to the price, in spite of the costing machinery that the Government have set up. We must have the guns, and we must have the wireless sets, and we have to pay the full price for them—in the case of a wireless set in a tank £145 and for a 25-pounder gun well over £2,000. The only perspective that we can use in viewing this question of the loss or damage to human material in the war is the same angle from which we view the cost of guns and the wireless sets and other material that we use and lose so frequently in the war.
The question of disability pensions is bound to increase in gravity the more we call up for service the older age groups. I should imagine that every hon. Member has had cases brought to his attention of men between 35 and 40 who were able to carry on in civil life, even though they were not 100 per cent. fit, but when they are called up for the Army or the other Services and have to undergo the rigours and the strenuous training they break down, and too frequently the Ministry of Pensions dismisses their claims to a pension because, so the Ministry alleges, their disability is not due to or has not been aggravated by their war service. It is small wonder, therefore, that there is deep disquiet growing up in the country and in the House—the Minister must be aware of it, or, if he attempts to prove that it does not exist, he will have a very hard case—as to the methods that we are adopting for many of these ex-Service men. I had a letter the other day—the Minister had one too—from a body calling itself Ex-Metropolitan Mayors. They say they represent 17 out of the 28 Metropolitan Boroughs. These mayors, who come into contact with citizens as I suppose no other individuals except those engaged in welfare work do, expressed their alarm at what they are hearing from men 1507 returning from the war, many of them ex-Service men of the old war, and members of the British Legion. This is not a party matter. It is a subject which should be, and I believe is, free from any party bias or prejudice, and those who speak to-day from all sides of the House, I believe, will echo the demand made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, which I wish to endorse. Never let us forget that, if a house is damaged, full compensation is paid to the owner under the system laid down under the War Damage Insurance Act. Shipowners receive their ships back. We cannot give back to the ex-Service men their health, but the least we can do is to see that they do not materially suffer, in so far as the nation can avoid it, because they have sacrificed their health in the interest of their country.
A private notice Question was put to the Minister to-day on the subject of pensions appeal tribunals, and I should like to put one or two questions which the Minister studiously avoided. I do not think he carried the situation much further forward by his answer. How often has his sub-committee of the Central Advisory Committee met since it was set up? I should be very much surprised if it has met more than twice. The Minister is using the Central Advisory Committee, and this sub-committee, as an alibi—as camouflage. If certain improvements are made in the pensions Warrant, which happens from time to time in a smaller or larger way, some of them are sometimes suggested by the Central Advisory Committee, but it is not called together except on the initiative of the Minister, and he need not accept its advice if he does not want to. He is using the Committee as a cloak to give the impression to the House, and probably to others outside, that he has a body advising him on the subject of pensions. I do not believe that such is the case, and I wish that those hon. Members who are members of it should express their views on the subject to-day. I have heard them in private. What is the ostensible reason for not setting up pensions appeal tribunals? The Minister has told us he cannot find the staff. Has he approached the British Medical Association for the doctors whom he must have, and, if he has, as I have reason to believe he has done, what was the answer to his approaches? I should not 1508 be at all surprised if the B.M.A. told him they could find the doctors. You need lawyers to act as chairmen if you are going to adopt the same system as we used after the last war. I think the lawyers could be found probably more easily than the doctors. You need ex-Service officers or men. They can be found in plenty. Therefore I see no valid reason why pensions appeal tribunals should not be set up forthwith.
There is another reason, that ex-members of the Forces have so far no statutory right to a pension, and therefore it would be necessary to introduce legislation to ensure their complete and absolute right, which does not now exist except by virtue of the Warrant. Hon. Members are familiar with some of the features of the last war pensions appeal tribunals. One claim in four—something like 50,000 or more—was allowed. Today the Minister himself is the appeal tribunal. Perhaps he will tell us if he grants as many as 25 per cent. of the claims made by ex-Service men whose original claims have been refused by the Ministry. Whether he does or not, it is not justice that we should leave it entirely in the hands of the Minister, who makes the laws and interprets them in his own fashion. We want these pensions appeal tribunals, and very quickly.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider a case which has been brought to my notice. He has told us that Members have a right to come to him and plead the cases of ex-Service men who have been refused pensions, and the British Legion do the same. I have had a case brought to my attention where he attempted to discourage a trade union from acting on behalf of an ex-Service man. If a man prefers to put his claim, whether his original claim or a subsequent appeal, in the hands of a solicitor, or the British Legion, or a Member of this House, or his own trade union, which very often stands very close to him in such matters, I think he should be permitted to have his trade union representing him right through the negotiations until the end, when we have the Minister's acceptance or rejection of the claim.
The differences between the last war and the present war rates of pension have been referred to, I think unanswerably, by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lonsdale. I only 1509 wish to add to what he said that, when the 40s. a week pension was granted after the last war, it was on a cost-of-living basis, to which it has been subject ever since. But not once has any Government attempted to reduce the pension, although the cost of living has fluctuated. Therefore the Minister's argument that the cost of living to-day is not so great as when the pensions were first fixed at 40s. goes by the board. Why, therefore, should we have to argue for the difference between 37s. 6d. and 40s. for those completely disabled? The points put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale are well known to all those who study this subject and who are closely associated with it, as he is in the British Legion and as many of us are in our capacity as Members of Parliament. They are what one might almost now call hardy annuals so often have we argued this case out in the House of Commons and so often has the Minister waved our points aside with the bluff, hearty geniality which he affects on so many occasions and which has seen him through so many difficult situations. I suggest to the Minister that the time is coming when we shall not argue these points as we have argued them in the past, but when it may be necessary, if the Minister does not meet us, to test the opinion of the House of Commons in a manner which the House well understands. I do not want it to reach that point, but if it does come to it I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he will find that all the arguments he has advanced in the past will not be of much avail. I therefore urge him to consider while there is time.
I want to put a particular point in the case of widows. If a wife receives one of those tragic telegrams which are so often received when husbands are fighting overseas, and will possibly be more frequent the more we go into action, she draws her Service pay and allowances for 13 weeks. While her husband is alive she may get not only her Service pay and allowances but a War Service Grant from the Ministry of Pensions. She continues to draw that grant with her pay and allowances for 13 weeks after the notification of her husband's death. At the end of that time she comes on to a Ministry of Pensions pension, in which there is no allowance for any War Service Grant. We have the rather strange anomaly that 1510 while the husband is alive the wife, if she has three children, draws £2 10s. 6d. a week, and possibly £5 10s. 6d. if she is on the maximum War Service Grant. After 13 weeks she drops to the Ministry of Pensions allowance of £2 7s. That is too sudden a cut, and some arrangement ought to be made—either by the Ministry of Pensions or one of the Service Departments, but I would prefer the Ministry to continue in some way the War Service Grant in whole or part so as to bring the widow gradually to the time when she has got over her tragedy and is more able to bear her material loss than she is immediately after her husband's death. In the last war we had a special grants committee, and provision was made in some degree for hard cases. I urge my right hon. Friend to consider sympathetically such a committee for those who are widowed in this war. The allowance for the second child while the father is alive is 8s. 6d. a week, but when he dies it is 7s. His third child gets 7s. 6d. while he is alive, and 5s. 6d. when he is dead. Can the Minister really justify that difference? Whatever we may say about widows, children under 16 want just as much when their father is dead as they do when he is alive. If one may quote Beveridge, we have this admission, for the subsistence of children after the first child is put at, I think, 8s. 6d. a week.
Another anomaly was referred to by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner), who is now Deputy-Speaker. He referred to that small number of cases, but nevertheless hard cases, as the Minister admits, of widows who get neither a Ministry of Pensions pension nor a widows' and orphans' pension under the Ministry of Health. What has the Minister of Pensions done about this? He spoke in strong language about the question when it was raised in the Debate on 20th October last. He said: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 from the Ministry of Health. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that this is a matter which we ought to square up….They ought to be admitted into National Health Insurance full benefit right away.Just before this my right hon. Friend had said:For the life of me I cannot understand this, and I want to put it right",1511 He added:I have taken up the matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. He is very sympathetic."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th Oct., 1942; cols. 1930–1, Vol. 383.]I want to ask the Minister of Pensions whether he has found the Minister of Health's sympathy a little bit more than its face value? Has anything been done for this small class of widows?
I do not want to expatiate on the tragic position of single men who are disabled 100 per cent. in this war. Nothing could be more tragic than to deny a man the happiness of marriage, the bliss of being father to little children and the domestic comfort which only married men know that they can get at the family hearth. It is true that the Minister of Pensions does not say that single men should not marry, but he says: "If you marry, you do so at your peril; your wife will get nothing from me nor will your children." I hope that the House will agree with my hon, and gallant Friend that that situation must be altered. Otherwise, we are penalising these young men who have given everything, many of them voluntarily, in the service of their country. How can we maintain that position any longer?
I would like to make reference to the question of dependants. This is a much debated subject about widowed mothers who have done their best to bring up their boys, often sacrificing much of their early married lives in order to give their sons the best education to fit them for their positions in the world later on. In many cases the sons do their duty by their mothers later in life by giving them something from their pay, sometimes quite a lot. When the son is killed there is no automatic pension for the mother. She is subject to a needs test. I would like the Minister to tell us something more about this needs test. How is it based? How is the mother's eligibility assessed? I hope that my right hon. Friend will go into it in a little more detail than he has hitherto done so that we can know why so many of these mothers are refused the pensions to which we think they are entitled.
I wish to make a final point on rehabilitation. We have recently had an interesting Report from a Committee presided over by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Tomlinson) known as the 1512 Tomlinson Report. It is full of important suggestions for dealing not only with war disabled men, but with civilian cases. I have reason to believe that many of these men who have been discharged from the Forces are simply thrown on to the employment exchanges. Many of them are not able to go back to their old occupations, and they need careful handling. I am not sure that we do not need some special facilities to place them in work under some Government Department or Departments, because we cannot expect private industry to take them on, many of them being only suitable for light work, especially when competitive times come after the war. I had a case brought to my notice of a man who was refused a pension by the Ministry of Pensions. I took the case up with the Ministry, and I do not want to deal with that side now. I do not know whether it is within my right hon. Friend's province to deal with the rehabilitation and the placing of these men in suitable employment; I think it is. The man to whom I have referred was thrown on to the employment exchange and had a sad experience. I receive many letters like the one I received from this man. This letter seems so reasonable and does not make the ordinary grouse which so many of them do that I would like to read an extract:During the first year of the war my family and I were quite happy. I was in a reserved occupation and earning an average of £6, but feeling I was not quite doing by bit, on 17th January, 1941, I volunteered for service in the R.A.F.He goes on to say how he served in one of the biggest Bomber Commands. He was eventually discharged with dermatitis, and the Ministry of Pensions, on grounds which I will not argue now, said that he was not eligible for a pension. He went to the employment exchange, and said, "Here I am, all ready to go back to work. I am not fit to follow my own trade, but give me some light work. I have not got a pension as the Ministry of Pensions say that my condition was not caused by, or materially aggravated by my war service." He was for three weeks without employment, and eventually his wife had to apply for public assistance. We are not sending these men, as my right hon. Friend truly said, to sell matches in the street. We art, however, throwing them on to public assistance. Is that the right way to deal 1513 with them? If my right hon. Friend is not able to grant these men pensions it is his duty to see somehow or other that they are not denied employment, as this man was, apparently because he was nobody's child. He ought to be the child of the Ministry of Pensions.
These are a few of the problems which were touched on by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale. I think the House will agree that he and I and other speakers who will follow have made out such a substantial case that it will be necessary to set up a Select Committee to investigate these questions unless the Minister will meet us in all the points we put before him. We have now conscripted our young manhood and womanhood. In the last war many volunteered, and they went in with their eyes open. In this war, the nation has conscripted human bodies, and my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister brought in a Bill some time ago conscripting manpower and property. So far I have seen the conscription only of man-power, with all the ill-effects which follow; I have not seen the complete conscription of property, and I say to the House that unless the Minister alters the present unbalanced position between human beings and property, not only he but the Government and the whole House will meet heavy trouble, because I am certain that the more we have young men coming out of the Forces disabled materially and less able to earn their own living than before they went in, the less will they be inclined to put up with present conditions, as so many of their fathers did in the last war. I hope that my right hon. Friend will admit that we have argued the case so far quite reasonably, and I urge him to give an answer to that case which has been put so eloquently by the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale and which will be put just as forcibly by other hon. Members.
§ Lady Apsley (Bristol, Central)
Two considerations only have moved me to the point of craving the indulgence of the House for the first time, which I will know it will give me with its well-known good will and tolerance. The first reason is this, and it is the least important: the old proverb that the longer you look at a fence which you know you have got to jump sooner or later the larger that fence becomes. The second reason is that prac- 1514 tical experience has led me to know something of the subject under discussion, and I should, with all due deference, like to bring some considerations to the notice of the Minister. After the speeches we have heard from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), I will confine my remarks to the broad picture of disablement rather than to the extreme types of disablement to which they referred.
There are, in my opinion, three main essentials to be taken into account in all cases in connection with disablement, and I will mention them in the order which I think they should occupy. The first is, opportunity for the sufferer to reorientate his mind—his whole mental attitude. Except for those who have suffered a sudden disability themselves, or have been close to those who have, I think that few can realise the extreme mental shock, which takes both time and attention to overcome. That problem is individual; it must be fought out alone, often against great odds and with varying fortune. Two attitudes are possible on the part of the sufferer. The first is to say, "I think I have been through a bad time; I think I am going to be an invalid, crippled for life, and must have a support and occupy a sheltered life for ever." The other attitude is to say, "Give me a chance, and I will come back." I think that second attitude is the right one, and it is most finely expressed by Shakespeare:Yield not thy neck to Fortune's YokeBut let thy dauntless mindStill ride in triumph over all mischance.In other words, I think that we must help the sufferer to get back into ordinary life as quickly and completely as possible and to get rid of the invalid complex as decisively as possible. We can help the sufferer to remember that Nature has her own compensations. For instance, if one leg is lost, the other generally becomes much stronger, and no disabled person has a bad memory, for I can assure you that it is far too much trouble to have to go to fetch the things one has forgotten.
Then there is another very strong point for those who feel that a life is really wasted that cannot do something for its fellows, and it is this, that some of the greatest public servants of this age or any other, from Nelson and Pitt down to President Roosevelt, have not been 100 1515 per cent. physically fit. Therefore, I think that the first essential is that we must help these disabled people to get back into ordinary and everyday life, and to make them feel that despite "Fortune's Yoke" their lives can still be made worth living. For this reason I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister upon the truly magnificent work which has been done, to my knowledge, in the Ministry of Pension's hospitals and in conjunction with the Ministry of Labour rehabilitation and training schemes.
In the second place, I should like to say that there is much that we ourselves can do in assisting that work by our attitude towards the disabled. It is such a tremendous encouragement to feel that others do care and are helping us in the struggle upwards. In this connection I should like to refer to the invaluable work being done by the British Legion, which has been mentioned already. I think their work is so valuable because it brings expert, practical and personal assistance and encouragement direct into the disabled person's home. It is rather a regrettable feature of most pensions cases that the generous beats of my right hon. Friend's kindly heart, to which we in this House are accustomed, sound in the mind of a disabled sufferer in the dim distance, in the cities and in the countryside, rather like the tick-tock of the death-watch beetle. I would go so far as to say that few disabled persons should present their own cases, because, as all who have dealt with pension cases know, they become bogged in a multitude of confused and involved representations. It is also my conviction that when rules and regulations have to be drawn up we find that we cannot put human beings into exact watertight compartments. Inevitably there must be odd sizes left over, often in large numbers, and for them the British Legion and kindred war charities are invaluable. I think it is our duty in this House to encourage those war charities and the various Service benevolent funds to the best of our ability.
This brings me to the third essential in dealing with the disabled, which is money. Money alone is insufficient. No money can compensate an active man or woman for the loss of health or limbs, but money can be and should be used to oil the wheels of life for them and in this way 1516 make the sufferer feel that he or she can compete fairly in this workaday world without being a drag on the family means. Those are my three essentials: opportunity to reorientate the mind; encouragement from the public; and money to relieve personal anxieties. If we provide these three essentials, I am convinced that all but a very small proportion of the disabled can be reabsorbed into life and enabled to feel that they can help their families, and this attitude is the right one for the nation as a whole; but the lead must come from this House.
In the Auxiliary Territorial Service, in which I have had the honour to serve, it was the custom that if one ventured to dogmatise or to criticise higher authority, one had to put up recommendations. The recommendations I desire to put up to my right hon. Friend are these: (1) The establishment as soon as possible of those independent appeals tribunals of which we have just heard; (2) The raising of the basic disability pension rate, which is, I am sure we all agree, too low at the present time; (3) Better publicity in order to show the public and the Services the opportunities open to the disabled and what can be done and what is being done for them. I visualise films showing how a child learns to pick up a needle from the floor with its little artificial arm, shorts showing the Papworth Settlement, Preston Hall, St. Dunstan's and some of the training colleges for the disabled. I believe that a film showing how Wing-Commander Bader mastered his limbs would prove an epic equal to the "First of the Few" and give great encouragement to the rest of us to bear our lesser Calvaries.
In conclusion, may I make an appeal on behalf of the women and children? After all, they are the greatest sufferers from the loss, disablement or illness of husband, son or parent. I have the honour to be National Chairman of the Women's Section of the British Legion, which consists of over 1,200 branches throughout the country, made up of the dependants of the men and women in His Majesty's Forces serving by sea, land and air. I am speaking for them, as well as for the people of one of the most heavily war-scarred constituencies in the country, which has sent me to this House from a by-election in which pensions were a very live issue, when I say that we shall 1517 bear our personal and irreparable tragedies with courage and with pride if this House gives a lead to the future and the building of a better world, and in so doing keeps faith with the fallen and gives hope to the war sufferers. I thank the House for its great kindness and patience in listening to me and trust that I have not been over-long on a subject on which I feel so deeply.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
I count myself fortunate in being able to speak on behalf of every Member of this House in congratulating the noble Lady upon the very excellent speech she has just delivered on first addressing this House. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to be in the House to hear the noble Lady will long remember her speech for its sincerity and for the constructive ability she has shown. We shall look forward, I am sure, on many future occasions to hearing the noble Lady make further useful contributions to our Debates. It is remarkable that two of the speakers so far have been suffering from very considerable incapacity and have overcome it to the extent that they were able to become Members of Parliament purely by their own ability. I think they will be the keynote to this Debate.
I was in this House just after the last war, and, with other hon. Members, I remember the difficult time that followed that war. We look forward almost with dread lest we should go through the same experience as we had in the few years that followed the last war, when Members of Parliament were inundated with correspondence and interviews from the most difficult kinds of case. There was a strong feeling of injustice pervading the ex-Service men and particularly the disabled ex-Service men then, and we do not want to see those conditions repeated. At the present time the general feeling is that disability pensions are too low. I find there is a feeling of injustice among the people on the ground that a man who is taken to serve his country in his early years of manhood, when the whole world and his future are in front of him, should not be condemned, not only to the suffering caused by his wounds, but to spend the rest of his life upon a bare level of subsistence. It is bad enough to be disabled for life, but it is worse to be condemned to a life of abject poverty as a result of that disablement.
1518 A disabled man, but for his disablement, might have done very well for himself. The badly disabled man who has any self-respect cannot marry and have children because he is not prepared to live for the rest of his life upon public assistance. The single man receives his disability on the basis of a single man's allowance and is obviously unable to marry unless he is prepared to live with his wife and children on public assistance all his life. The young married man cannot look forward to having a family, because of the fact that no allowance is made for a family. It therefore occurs to me, since this House and the Government have practically committed themselves to the payment of family allowances, that possibly it will not be necessary to wait for the preparation of a scheme applicable to the whole community. Why should not the Minister of Pensions start straight away to pay family allowances in respect of the two classes I have mentioned? Afterwards, his plan could be fitted into the bigger plan for family allowances for the whole community.
There should be much more elasticity on the part of the Ministry of Pensions in defining the words "due to or aggravated by war service." Up to now, the definition has been a narrow and medical one. Let me give the House an example. Near where I live are two women who have both been made widows during the last few weeks. Both their husbands were killed in the Middle East. One was killed in warfare, and the woman receives a widow's pension. The other husband was killed by a motor car while he was in Cairo on leave. I understand that the Ministry of Pensions argue in the second case that the man's death was not due to or aggravated by his war service. The argument is that the man might have been killed if he had not been in the Army. It is fairly certain that the man would not have been in Cairo if he had not been in the Army. One can argue and discuss these questions, but I am sure that nobody will succeed in convincing the widow of the second man or the people in the neighbourhood that she has had fair play. I plead for some wider and less strict and narrow interpretation of those words.
On my next point I do not blame the Ministry of Pensions, when a difficult case comes up. Take the instance of a man who has developed arthritis. Some corre- 1519 spondence takes place with Members of Parliament, or the British Legion, and finally the Ministry is appealed to to make some kind of concession. The Minister writes and says something to this effect, "There seems to be a doubt about this ease, and therefore we will refer it to a panel of independent doctors." In this House the Minister has frequently pointed out that he does not appoint those doctors. The British Medical Association appoints the doctors, who are entirely independent. The Minister does not control their actions. That is perfectly correct, but the information comes that that committee of independent doctors have examined the man's case and have turned it down without seeing the man at all. I am not qualified to argue that it is impossible for doctors to decide upon a case without seeing the patient, but I am certain that you can never convince the man, or any of his neighbours, or any ordinary person, that the man has been fairly treated when his case has been turned down by doctors who have never even seen him. The Minister may say in reply that he cannot compel the doctors to see the man. I do not know how far the Minister is able to make representations on a point like this, but I would remind him that there is a very strong psychological aspect of the matter. It might be difficult to convince even a minority of Members of this House that the man has had a fair deal, let alone the general public.
§ Mr. Morrison
I could not convince even a minority that the man has had a fair deal, let alone a majority. In many cases that one takes up as a Member of Parliament one finds that, after doing one's best and making all representations possible, the man is turned down. The man will say: "All right, I am satisfied that I have had a fair deal. The matter has been gone into, and I have lost." That attitude is not possible when the man's case has been turned down by doctors who have not taken the trouble to see him. I suggest that the Ministry of Pensions should make some arrangement with the medical profession to alter this condition of affairs. I do not think that the medical profession will be so unreasonable as not to see that the psychological effects of that kind of decision are bad upon the people as a whole.
1520 I hope there will be no delay in regard to getting the tribunals working. I doubt very much whether the Ministry of Pensions has any idea of the feeling of the people in the country on this matter. There is a strong desire among the great mass of the people to see that our lads, who are putting up such a great fight and are saving us, are getting a fair deal. I suggest that the Ministry of Pensions should make representations to the war savings people. We have had some tremendous war savings efforts. If the Government should respond to the appeal that has been made by all parties in this Debate for more generous methods of treatment of disabled men, would they follow up that response by organising a "Remembrance Week," in which the public would be invited to subscribe to War Loans free of interest in order to show their gratitude for what the men have done? [Interruption.] Not charity. I am not suggesting that, but that there might be some further appeal made, not to people to lend their money at 2½or 3 per cent., but to invest money at no interest at all as a gesture. We have efforts for the Army, for the Air Force and for the Navy. Now let us have one for the men who are coming out and will be coming out in greater numbers. I think that if the Government were to do that through its War Savings Movement, the response of the public would be remarkable and would help to convince the Government—I am afraid they need some convincing up to now—of the tremendous feeling there is in the country.
I referred on the last occasion I spoke in this House, and I am sure other hon. Members notice it, to the fact that there is an entire change among the people whom we represent. Whether it is as the result of the blitz they have gone through or not I do not know, but there is a spirit of determination among the people of this country. They know better what they want, and they are determined that these men are not coming back to be treated as they were last time. I hope this Debate will bring to the notice of the Government that we expect a much better move forward in the way of better pensions and conditions for the men who are coming out of the Services.
§ Major Lyons (Leicester, East)
I hope the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken 1521 will allow me to say that without endeavouring to take up every point he has made, I am sure that there is general agreement with what he said, and that he has voiced the views of most Members of this House on this very important topic. There is no doubt that the Ministry of Pensions to-day meets, and in my judgment meets rightly, with a good deal of criticism, both inside this House and outside. In its narrow, parsimonious decisions it is meeting with a good deal of contempt from all who have to consider the Department's work. It is not a bit of good for the Minister to try to get away from the position by saying, "I am bound by the terms of the Royal Warrant," because if that Royal Warrant does not do essential justice to the persons who matter most, the Minister should come to this House and say, "I will tear up the Warrant; give me a new one." I believe that the people of this country are determined that those who have suffered most in the great conflict in which we are now engaged should receive treatment which at any rate complies with a sense of justice and fairness, and that if there is any doubt in any case it should be resolved in favour of the applicant and not of the Crown, and that the men and their dependants should not be left to be maintained by public charity.
The Minister knows the specific case from my constituency in Leicester which I have taken up with him for a good many months and to which I am coming in a few moments. It is very much on the point which the hon. Gentleman has just made about the non-examination of the injured man when the Minister ends up, when driven to it, by saying, "I will put this case before an independent medical expert." I am not for a moment casting aspersions on those eminent gentlemen who act in this capacity to the Ministry of Pensions, but I am going to say that very largely the whole of that is window dressing and a farce. There is very often no examination at all. In regard to this case, on 6th August last year by way of supplementary to a Question I put to the Minister, I asked:…whether it is not about time the Minister initiated some alteration whereby the onus of proof is removed from the unfortunate soldier to the State which should prove that his condition was not the result of Service? The State has the facilities and the man has not.The Minister replied: 1522I am prepared to accept that suggestion now. It is up to my Department to make the proof and I am prepared to show my hon. and gallant Friend the papers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th August, 1942; col. 1173, Vol. 382.]The hon. Gentleman made a point just now that there is a narrow medical definition put on the words "…attributable to or in the course of…" It is sometimes not even a narrow medical definition. It is a definition which to any Member of Parliament is really untenable and puts the Minister in a position which I venture to assert is indefensible.
The case I wish to mention arising out of that matter, which is one of the reasons I am occupying the time of the House at this moment, is of a constituent of mine, a man aged nearly 40, who joined the Army shortly after the outbreak of war. He was graded, after medical examination, in category A1. He served for over two years and was then discharged as medically unfit for any kind of further service. He was denied a pension. I want to say to the Minister that in my view in this war the State, after having had the benefit of the service of a man whom they have classified as being in medical category A1 by their own examination should, after a certain time, be stopped forever from saying, "He is not A1 now; it is not our fault." They should be bound to recognise responsibility for him and not be allowed to say that his medical deficiencies are not due to military service. That, I would lay down, is really fundamental. As I say, this man was denied a pension. He is too ill to work. His wife and children are dependent upon local charity, a position which I think is scandalous. It is not disputed that he is now unfit. The matter was brought to my notice, and I brought it to the notice of the Minister, the right hon. Gentleman whom we all like so well.
The Minister was good enough to show me the papers on which the pension is refused. Again, on the point which the hon. Gentleman who preceded me has made, one does not have to be a qualified surgeon to be a judge of facts on paper. Any Member of this House can judge the facts on paper as well as the most famous doctor in the world. In this case if the whole faculty of medicine told me that these papers show anything really to support the Minister I would not accept it. They really show nothing. The only evidence this medical board had was that this 1523 man said he had received "a knock-out blow." They left it at that. They did not ask him what kind of a blow or where he received it. They failed to pursue what was a substantial matter to inquire about. They said he was unfit for any form of Army service and discharged him. The Minister improperly—Ministerially improperly, not in any personal sense—said, "That is sufficient. The man shows no ground on which he is entitled to a pension." Let me remind the House that that is in complete conflict with what the Minister said on 6th August, 1942. I say to the Minister that these papers show nothing. I consider the Board was rather at fault in not saying, "What was the blow?" If it bad been said, "It was a boxing blow," it could then have been ascertained whether that could only have been done on duty or how otherwise, and other considerations would then have arisen. Let us have the facts on paper. But the man says that it was not a boxing blow, that he had not boxed for years. He informed me and I put it to my right hon. Friend that he was stationed with anti-aircraft defences in a part of the country which was bombed, and the knock-out blow was due to a bomb, and that is what he intended to indicate to the Board. When the Minister, not necessarily the present Minister, but any Minister, is driven into a corner he says, "I will submit it to an independent medical expert."
The Minister submitted this case to an independent medical expert and I asked him whether I could attend the examination. I was told not. I asked whether this man's doctor could attend the examination, and the Minister said, "It is admitted the man is not fit for work. The man's doctor cannot attend the medical examination." In due course the Minister writes to me that the independent medical examination has been made and that as a result his decision must stand and cannot be reversed. When I make further inquiry I am told that there never was an examination. The Minister says, "You cannot ask a doctor to examine a man because that would be fettering his judgment." In a matter of this nature that is sheer nonsense, because I defy anybody, on the facts I have given, to say that there is any real examination in looking at papers which show nothing. The hon. Gentleman who preceded me asked, 1524 "Is the man satisfied?" Of course he is not. I go further than that and say that when these facts are faced by any thinking person a sense of public decency is outraged. This man may or may not be entitled to a pension, but on these papers there is nothing a justify the statement made. There has been no further examination by an independent medical expert. I submit to the House this is window-dressing, and in no sense an acceptable practice.
I am sure that those who deal with this matter will not be offended if they are asked to examine those people so that it can be said that the man has been fairly and reasonably dealt with because otherwise the position becomes really intolerable. Not only has this man, or any other similarly placed, no facilities at his disposal, but the State has them all. We can afford, and the people of the country desire it, to be fair and reasonably generous in these cases, and not adopt a procedure which is really ludicrous. In all such cases there should be an examination; otherwise you are merely playing with words and rendering the whole thing farcical. In this case it has been sheer window dressing.
I hope the Government realise that these men of whom we are speaking today want something more than mere window dressing. They are entitled to as big an element of justice as ordinary conditions and elasticity permit. They are entitled to, and should get, that. If the Minister says, "I am bound by the terms of the Royal Warrant," I say, "Tear up the warrant, and the House will give you a new one which will give reasonable treatment to those who, above all other people, deserve it." What is happening? I have quoted one case. I do not think for a moment it can be the only case in my constituency. There are many others, and every Member of Parliament has them coming to him. What can he do? I hope he will not attempt to defend the Ministry. It is not the Minister we are complaining about. Any Minister whose hands are going to be tied in this way would become the dispenser of this type of injustice. We must insist upon proper treatment.
There has been a good deal urged for a long time about the establishment of independent tribunals. The Government have always played with that. The posi- 1525 tion has been hedged time and time again. At last we have got some kind of statement that they will be established. They ought to have been established long ago. I only hope that now the decision has been taken there will be no time lost in putting them into effect, because I believe that if there is an independent medical tribunal, where a man can have reasonable representation, the burden of proof not unfairly carried, we shall go a long way to putting an end to these grievances of which we are now complaining. It is perfectly idle to say the position is satisfactory when the man is not represented, his doctor is not there, and the final issue is determined with no final medical examination. There is every reason that all ex-Service men should be treated fairly; that where there is doubt they should be pensioned, and that the system adopted is such that manifestly justice is done, and that where there is ambiguity it should be examined, and public confidence satisfied. This is our substantive plea.
I have informed the House as fully as I can of one case which has aroused discontent where it is known. I can well understand this. I challenge anyone to do justice fairly reasonably and equitably on such scant information as was considered here. Let this scandal come to an end. I believe the House is united in the determination that it shall come to an end, and I believe that if we try long enough we can make any Minister end it. If the people knew the facts they would feel more strongly about this matter than about the so-called planning on which we give day after day for debate. Here is a real, urgent, pressing, public scandal. We are not wanting something nebulous next week: it is a reasonable scheme of justice that we demand. I urge the Minister to see that his Department really recognise the force and truth of the case we are making, and that they put an end to the sham which is confronting so many people and which is allowing injustices which we all know about, and which we must seek to remedy.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
I think there is general agreement that the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) made an impressive speech. I listened to him with the greatest interest and with complete agreement. I ventured to interrupt him to ask whether he 1526 would consider carrying the matter to a Division if the answer of the Minister was unsatisfactory. He replied that it was unusual to take a Division on the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill. I remember when a Division was threatened, in the days of a Labour Government, in connection with the proposed Treaty with Soviet Russia, and I would have liked hon. Members, in view of the importance of this subject, to be prepared on this occasion to go to a Division. It does not appear that I shall be successful in persuading them to go to that extreme, but I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of Members, are dissatisfied with the Ministry of Pensions and its administration. I would make bold to say that the overwhelming majority of Members of all parties are in practical agreement with the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale. In their undemocratic denial of all the principles we are said to be fighting for, the Government are going in the face of the House and of the country.
I remember when I came into this House being greatly shocked by a case in which a pension had been refused. I did not know so much about the subject as I do now. The pension was refused because the man had married after his disability. I asked in the House, what did the Ministry of Pensions expect? Did they think that a man who had been disabled in the service of the country should be denied the opportunity of matrimony, and compelled, because he had been wounded, to cut love out of his life? Evidently that has been the view of the Ministry of Pensions all these years. The scales in this respect also are very heavily weighted against working-class people. The person with a private income is able after being disabled to contemplate marriage, but the working-class person knows that if he marries, with his disability, he and his wife and family are compelled for the rest of their lives to absolute poverty and misery. That is a class distinction, and I hope that we shall have an end of such an absolutely unfair practice. The hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale pointed out that none of the Dominions followed the practice of this country. I hope that we shall put an end to it. Perhaps I go too far in saying that, because, after my past experience, I have not much hope. But I assert that this House and the Govern- 1527 ment are acting unjustly to those men, who have given their services to the country and who are denied the opportunity of marriage.
There is another point about which I feel very strongly. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions is sitting on that bench. He, like many others, was very enthusiastic at one time about a slogan which we had in connection with this matter: "Fit for service, fit for pension." He used to thump the Box in support of it in days gone by. The idea was that if a man were taken into the Army and afterwards invalided out with a disability, he was entitled to a pension. So far we have failed to secure the adoption of that principle. The Minister of Pensions smiles at what I am saying. I am not complaining about his smiling, but I think that is the only fair way of dealing with this matter. It is in accordance with one of the principles of the Atlantic Charter—freedom from want—that if a man goes into the Army and is afterwards invalided out with a permanent disability, he should be given an allowance, in order that he may be free from want and able to live in a certain measure of comfort. The hon. and gallant Member for East Leicester (Major Lyons) suggested that there ought to be an interval, and that if after a certain time of service a man was disabled the Ministry should be estopped from refusing a pension. I do not see why there should be any period allowed.
The Government employ medical boards, which are thoroughly qualified to judge a man's physical condition. The Government should be compelled to stand by the opinions of those medical boards. If a board says that a man is A1, and a month later that man comes out of the Army a physical wreck, the man is entitled to a pension. I once said in one of these Debates that I felt I had been somewhat unjust to Ministers of Pensions, and that the people I should have condemned were the medical advisers of the Ministry. I am not so sure of that now. We put upon the medical advisers of the Ministry what is practically an impossible task. We ask them to say whether the disability is due to or aggravated by service. Medicine is not an exact science; it is only an art. The doctor can say that there are many presumptions which would suggest that the disability is due to a certain 1528 cause, but he cannot be absolutely, sure. The man is going out with a disability, which impairs his earning capacity and makes life for him afterwards fairly miserable. The right way is not to ask the medical advisers of the Ministry to perform an impossible task, but to adopt the principle that if a man is passed into the Service by a medical board and comes out with a disability, which impairs his earning capacity, he shall receive a pension, to enable him to live in as fair a measure of comfort as other members of society enjoy. That is the principle which the overwhelming majority of Members of this House and of the people in the country favour. But in spite of the fact that Members of all parties and the British Legion have pressed it upon the Government year after year ever since the last war, we have been unable to get the Government to adopt the principle.
One of the problems, it is said, is that of increased expenditure. It is suggested that it would lead to abuses. I have heard it said that we have only to look at what has happened in the United States of America in the past. I would rather have a certain amount of abuse and the knowledge that the overwhelming majority of our people were getting justice than that so many people should be the victims of their war service and be denied justice by their country. I speak as one who adopts the pacifist viewpoint; but, as a pacifist, I say that if the country calls upon millions of men and women to undertake the service of the country, the maintenance of those people afterwards should be the first charge upon the country. I say that very deliberately, and again I join in the appeals that are being made to the Minister. I have noticed that Ministers have gone into this job with the idea of introducing reforms and of creating a more generous administration, but somehow or other in the Department they seem to be deflected and to get a disability after they become Minister of Pensions. They are so afraid that this poor country of ours should lose a pound or two here or there in the case of some cunning person who is able to cheat them that they are prepared to sacrifice many thousands of people who are not able to obtain justice. I know this when I have taken cases to the Minister. I get him to look at them and consult his medical advisers, and I have mainly had losers. In spite of all my eloquence and argu- 1529 ments, I do not meet with very much success, but it is worth his while to give consideration again to the question of the adoption of the principle, "Fit for service, fit for pension." He is being pressed to set up the tribunals and has made a statement on that matter to-day. I remember how often with the institution of the machinery of the tribunals there were still many thousands of cases that caused discontent in every county when the decision of the tribunal had gone against them. I maintain that the one way to get contentment in the country and to satisfy the people is the acceptance of the principle that, if a man or woman is passed into the Army or any of the other Services as being a fit person and later comes out with a disability, he or she should be granted a pension according to the measure of the disability. Only in that way can we be sure of doing justice to the people of our country who have given their all in the service of the land.
§ Mr. Sutcliffe (Royton)
We are much indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) for initiating this Debate, and speaker after speaker from all sides of the House has revealed the serious concern in all parts of the country. The Debate has so far taken place in a quiet element of great sincerity. Appeal after appeal has been made to the Minister, and one hopes that they will bear some fruit. We make no complaint of the Minister himself. In fact, during his term as Minister of Pensions he has built up a great reputation for fair dealing and for the care which he devotes to all the cases that are brought before him, but the time has come when something must be done to improve the position of men who have served their country in the Forces.
I want especially to deal with those borderline cases, already referred to by one or two speakers, which are being brought, and have been brought for many months, before every Member of this House, in which a man having been passed A1—and when a man to-day is passed A1 it proves that he is really fit, so stringent is the medical examination for the Services, far more so than it was during the last war—has been invalided out, in far too many cases without a pension. These cases are very hard. In fact, they can only be described in a 1530 number of instances as being really cruel, and the Royal Warrant should, in my view, be amended. The only way really to deal with this question is by some alteration of Section 5 of the Royal Warrant, which deals with the question of a disability being attributable to war service. The Royal Warrant is loaded every time against the applicant, and I suggest that some words should be included in the Section which will give the Minister a discretion in these borderline cases, or somebody appointed by him—possibly a statutory Advisory Committee would be a suitable body—to admit all just claims, by enabling him, where the incidence of a man's illness is not definitely attributable to war service, but is probably due to war service, to grant a pension if, in view of all the facts of the case, including the medical history, he feels justified in doing so. I think that such an alteration would meet the case. I am anxious to find a way of dealing with these difficult cases, and I do not think anything less than that will meet them.
I have in mind one particular case which came to my notice, quite one of the worst that most Members must have met, of an exceptionally fit young man who joined the Navy before the war, and, during the war, was with his ship during the evacuation from Dunkirk and was in action both at Narvik and at Dakar. Later when the ship was in port at Gibraltar and he was engaged in painting the funnel he fell to the deck and sustained a severe injury to his head. An operation was performed on him by a naval surgeon, but that did little beyond easing the pressure on the brain, and did not lead to any definite improvement, and he was ultimately sent home by the naval authorities. They thought he was incurable and that there was no hope. Fortunately, however, one or two prominent local men took up his case and sent him to a Manchester specialist, and another operation was performed—a dangerous operation—and as a result of that he is very much better. But he is still not fit to work again, and it is doubtful whether he ever will be. That case seems to be essentially one that should come under this borderline consideration and some pension should be awarded. The Ministry have turned down his application, on the grounds that there must have 1531 been something inherent in the system to cause the illness, but no family tendency has in fact been found in that connection. The brain is probably permanently injured, and both the man's speech and his walking are still impaired. That is the sort of case that is making for grave dissatisfaction. Every man and woman, seeing that man, says, "Here, if ever there was one, is a case where a pension should be granted."
It really would go far to make a man think that he had had a fair deal if an Advisory Committee on the lines I have suggested could be set up. War pensions committees feel most strongly that the present position is intolerable and the question will probably be raised at forthcoming Area Conferences. It is no exaggeration to say that looking-after these men and the awarding of a pension in such cases is one of our first duties in the post-war world and must take priority over everything else. We surely do not want to see—we want to avoid it at all costs this time—men with barrel-organs and other musical instruments wandering about the streets for years after the termination of the war. There were all too many in London with cards round their necks or the words chalked on barrel-organs, saying, "No pension, and wife and children to keep; My only means of support." We know it all too well. They were a disgrace to our country and caused a great deal of unfavourable comment among foreigners who visited the country.
There is one other point I would make as regards war pensions committees. I have been asked whether a record could not be sent to these committees of all cases of men discharged in the area covered by each committee. At the present time they have no means of tracing men who are discharged from the Services as being no longer fit, and the men are very often, probably in most cases, unaware that they have the right to state their case to these war pensions committees. It would no doubt make considerable extra work for them, but, on the other hand, in many cases it would prevent a sense of grievance. If appeal tribunals are set up, which we all hope will be the case, before long, as the Minister mentioned to-day, they will largely solve that particular problem, and I do urge that they should be set up at the earliest possible moment.
1532 Finally, there is the question of pensions for mothers, which the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) has also mentioned. There is a feeling that parents generally, but especially mothers, some of whom are widows, are receiving even less on the whole than they were during the last war. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us how many of these parents are receiving a particular rate of pension. How many, for instance, under Section 2 of paragraph 49 of the Royal Warrant are receiving 5s. a week, 7s. 6d. a week and 10s. a week, and how many, or what percentage of the whole, are receiving the full extra 6s. 6d. which is allowed under that section in exceptional cases? We have not heard any figures in this connection and it would be helpful in enabling the House to assess what is being done for parents if these figures could be given. Do the pensions which are now granted take any account not only of the increased cost of living as represented by the Ministry of Labour figures, but of the increased cost of almost everything we have to buy to-day, including the addition of the Purchase Tax, which is on so many articles of every day use. The extra shilling or two does not make the difference that it used to make. One has to take into account this question of the Purchase Tax as well. I urge in the strongest possible terms, as indeed every Member has to-day, that the Minister should review the whole question of pensions, and especially consider amending Section 5 of the Royal Warrant. Only in this way shall we do justice to those men who have given the most valuable thing in their lives—their health—in the service of their country.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
I am sure everyone in the House will agree with the hon. Member for Royton (Mr. Sutcliffe) when he said he hoped that as a result of this Debate something would be done by the Minister of Pensions: Some of us have sat here not only through this Debate but through previous Debates on this subject in the House, and as I have sat here to-day I began to wonder how many more Debates we shall have to have before we can move the Minister to do something in directions which call loudly for attention. I noticed in "The Times" yesterday morning a fairly long leader on the Debate taking place to-day. That leader began with these words: 1533The obligation of the community to provide for men and women disabled in war service is everywhere acknowledged.If it be true that we all acknowledge the duty of the State to provide for people who are disabled, or the dependants of those who are killed, in war why is it that we cannot get the responsible Ministry to do the job properly? A lot, of course, depends upon the meaning we place upon the words "to provide," and it is obvious that unless the Minister is to give us another instalment out of the bag referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) we shall get from him no different interpretation to-day of what is meant by "to provide," than that one he has put upon these words in the past. It seems to me that the Ministry of Pensions should without further delay deal with four definite sources of grievance. There is the question of appointing independent appeals tribunals. In spite of the disappointing nature of the Minister's reply to a Question earlier to-day, I think we can assume that that battle is won and that it is only a question of time and the provision of the requisite number of doctors before these independent tribunals are actually in being. On that point I would like to say how much I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for East Leicester (Major Lyons), both of whom dealt with this point.
As to the setting-up of these tribunals, it is undoubtedly the case that the ordinary sailor, soldier or airman feels that he has not had a square deal unless he actually sees the tribunal which deals with his case. I am not a doctor, and it may well be that a doctor, looking through the case papers, may be able to judge whether a man should receive a pension and probably even the percentage of pension he should receive. But be that as it may, it is a fact that the man wants to be seen and should be seen. If the reply of the Minister is that he must leave matters of this kind to the doctors or to the tribunals, I think it is time that the House took a hand and insisted that in the Regulations laid down that a man should be seen whether the members of the tribunal thought it necessary or not.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I think there has been some 1534 misunderstanding. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Leicester (Major Lyons) referred to independent medical experts, not tribunals.
§ Mr. Hall
I am thankful for that interruption, because I have probably not said quite what I intended. I meant to say that in all cases the man should be seen whether he was before an independent medical tribunal, or the medical expert, to which the Minister has now referred. It should be made obligatory that when a man's case is being dealt with the man should not only have the right to be seen but it should be part of the Regulations laid down. The hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale dealt at some length and with great ability with the rates for disability that are being allowed and made a very strong and sincere plea that what he called the extra 2s. 6d. should be added. I agree with him. It passes comprehension why the rates have been reduced since the Royal Warrant of 1919. The reason given is that the cost of living is not so high as it was in 1919. I do not know where the Minister gets that view. The cost-of-living index figure, upon which the Government rely, is one which was elaborated many years ago when conditions were very different from what they are now and when both the standard of life and the things which go to make up that standard were very different from what they are to-day. Although the index figure may be a useful guide, we have to remember that we must not rely on it too far.
I was surprised at the moderation shown by the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale. Even if the Minister were willing to add the other 2s. 6d. to the 100 per cent. disability pension, making it £2, it would not do anything like justice to those who have suffered. With the cost of living what it is to-day it is almost impossible for the ordinary man to attain on £2 a week the standard of comfort he should have today. If we remember, as we must, that that £2 is supposed to be not merely enough to keep body and soul together but to contain also a measure of compensation for all a man has suffered, it noes not need any further argument to show that if he gets the extra 2s. 6d. it would be far below what ought to be given.
§ Mr. Hall
I was dealing with only one point made by the hon. and gallant Member. It will be within the recollection of the House that he did put forward further arguments to show that £2 by itself was not enough, that if a man had a family he would need more and that a beginning should be made with the introduction for war pensioners alone of children's allowances, to which the Government are now pledged. May I make a passing reference to the pension which is given to the parents of those who have been killed? In the last war the pension for parents was divided into three categories, the lowest of which was 5s. in 1919.
§ Mr. Buchanan
If my hon. Friend will allow me I will explain. It was 4s. 2d., and in 1919 the Labour Government raised it to 5s.
§ Mr. Hall
At any rate it was at all material times 5s. and is now, so far as last war pensioners are concerned. Every parent had the 5s. without a test as to means. For reasons which I can understand in the present Royal Warrant no pension, even a pension of 5s., is given to parents unless they can show that they are in need. In other words, a means test applies. I can understand the Government taking the view that a paltry 5s. to parents, irrespective of whether they wanted it or not, was hardly the way to deal with this matter, that 5s. was of little help in thousands of homes where it was not needed and that under no circumstances could it be said to be compensation for the loss of a son. If I understand the Minister's argument aright, the flat rate of 5s. for everybody was dropped in order that more money should be available and that with the money thus saved better pensions could be given to the parents who were in actual need. That is the argument, but in fact it makes no difference to parents that this extra money is now available for use in this way. They have still to show that they are in need. The normal pension, I believe, is still about 10s., though if the Minister himself feels that a little more would be useful, it entirely rests with him whether that shall be given. At most, I believe, only 1536 12s. 6d. can be given, plus another 6s. 6d. Compared with the last war this is an enormous drop. Two parents under this Warrant can get only 19s. between them. Under the 1919 Warrant they could get 36s. So far as I know, no reasonable explanation has been given by the Minister as to why there should be all that difference. His argument about the cost of living surely cannot be the reason, and I would like him to tell the House what the real reason is.
Some time ago, in answer to a Question asked by an hon. Member of this side of the House, the Minister said he would consider if something could be done to fill the gap that now occurs between the amount coming into the home because of allowances made by the War Service Grants Committee and the amount coming into the home under the Royal Warrant in the case of a widow and her children when the husband is killed. In many cases the gap is an enormous one. I have one case of a widow with five children who got 75s. a week, including an allowance from the War Service Grants Committee; her husband was killed, and within a very short time the amount dropped to 52s. 3d., a loss, as a result of the death of the husband, of 22s. 9d. per week. By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that that home needed less because the husband, who was in the Middle East, had been killed. There was still the same number of children and they were just as hungry as before, the outgoings from the home were just the same as they were prior to the husband's death; in every way the needs week by week had not been lessened. That is a grievous source of complaint. I would like to feel that the Minister, particularly after the Question that was put to him some time ago and the promise he then made, will be able to tell us to-day that something is to be done. It appears to me that a reasonable way of facing the difficulty would be for the war service grants to go on just so long as the need which led to the giving of the war service grants in the first instance continued; in other words, that the death of the husband on service should be disregarded and the needs of the home looked at without reference to anything else.
A good deal has been said in this Debate about the rule which, if a man marries after the disability has been incurred, prevents him from getting any 1537 allowances in respect of his wife or children, or his widow from getting a pension, later on if he dies as a result of the wound he has received. Here again, it passes my comprehension that the Ministry should lay down this rule and stick to it. It is I think established that we are the only great Power which acts in this way. It is a blot on the Royal Warrant which should be got rid of at the earliest possible moment. Earlier in my remarks, I referred to a leading article which appeared yesterday in "The Times." Some excellent reasons were given therein why the Ministry of Pensions should think again and alter the Royal Warrant in order to make it possible, with proper safeguards, for a man who marries after having received a wound or disability to have that fact registered and, if necessary, later taken into account.
I realise the enormous difficulties which the Minister is under in assessing what can be said truly to be attributable to war injury or service. Although the suggestion that "fit for service, fit for pension" would make an excellent rule for embodiment in the Royal Warrant, I realise that the matter is not as simple as that. The Minister should make more use of the X-ray. From what I am told by medical men it is impossible to say, from examining a man, whether or not he has incipient tuberculosis. A man's lungs may appear by sounding and external examination to be in perfect order, and it is only when an X-ray is taken that incipient tuberculosis may be discovered. In such a case it is more than likely that the Ministry would deny all liability on the grounds that it was not due to the man's war service. Unless it is established beyond doubt before a man goes in and is passed A.1 that a man is not suffering from constitutional weakness which war service of an ordinary and normal kind, in barrack and camp, will make worse, it is reasonable to ask that the Government should accept responsibility for what happens to the man.
There is one further point arising out of what was said by the hon. Member for North Tottenham to which I want to refer. He mentioned a man who was refused a pension because he had been knocked down in Cairo while on leave. Looked at in one way, it is true to say that his death was not due to his war service. I have come across a case in England more or less similar where, also, the widow was denied 1538 a pension. At a camp in the Eastern Counties a man was crossing the road from some hutments on one side to the officers' mess on the other. If in crossing the road he had been carrying a letter from his own company orderly room to the battalion orderly room, he would have been on duty. As it happened, he was knocked down by a car which did not stop, and he was killed. The assumption was that as he was just crossing the road in the course of the evening his death was not attributable to war service and that it was the sort of thing that might happen to anybody. But if he had been carrying a letter, I take it the Minister would have accepted responsibility. These are very fine shades of interpretation, and it is very difficult to get over to ordinary working people living in the back streets of large towns the difference between the construction which the Minister would put on that and the construction which the ordinary person in the street puts on it. The widow feels that her husband would not have been in that place at that time if he had not been in the Army, and the mere fact that he did not happen to be on duty at that particular time seems to her to be a mere quibble. She and her family have lost the breadwinner; and he has lost his life as a result of service. It seems to me that something should be done to widen the scope of that provision so that many of these so-called borderline cases can be brought within the ambit of the Royal Warrant.
I hope that before the Debate closes the Minister will realise the growing feeling that there is in the constituencies about these matters and will see to it that grievances are remedied without delay. I rather deprecate the suggestion that a Select Committee should be set up. A Select Committee, when set up, could keep us waiting for months and months, and even after it had reported it would not follow that anything would be done. Many of these points are urgent. The need for action has been established and we shall be very disappointed if we do not at long last get something definite out of the Minister to-day.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
I am sure the House will welcome the opportunity we have of debating this subject. It is one that appeals to the masses of the people of the country more than anything else, and I doubt whether any Minister at 1539 any meeting is asked more questions on any other subject than the conditions under which pensions are given. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) carried the House with him in his argument that the scale of pensions should be on the same level as those granted for the last war, and I do not think there can be any doubt in the mind of any average individual that he established his case that the difference between the 37s. 6d. and £2 for total disability is unwarranted and unjustifiable on every ground. I think it can even be challenged on the ground of the cost of living. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make the concession without further consideration. I think he might also accede to the request for reconsideration of the question of an allowance for marriage after the disability is contracted. In his historic broadcast on Sunday, which will be a landmark in our home affairs, the Prime Minister made reference to the dwindling population and the very serious effect in 30 or 40 years' time. From the point of view of that argument alone, apart from the equity of the thing in itself, there is very justification for a review of the question.
The Minister made a statement to-day on the question of appeal tribunals. I agree that they are necessary, but I have not myself pressed him to set them up because I know the very great difficulty he has been up against. It will be no use setting up these tribunals unless he has on them men possessing the capacity, the qualifications and the character. They must be exceptional men. They must not only be men of high academic qualifications but men of character and sympathy, who are able to sift evidence and who have a certain amount of legal bent at all events, if not legal training, because, although I appreciate the desirability of ex-Service men appearing personally before them, there will be such a large number of applications that if will be impossible in many cases, and therefore these medical men will have to decide on the evidence before them. [Interruption.] I know that in the last war they did so, but there were cases where they did not see the men at all, and in this war the number of applications will be so great that it will be physically impossible for the tribunals to see them all individually, and there will inevitably be cases where they will 1540 have to decide on the evidence before them. I understand the right hon. Gentleman has been furnished with a list of names. Naturally I have not seen it. I should like very much to have a look at it as a matter of interest. They will have a very responsible job, and I hope they are fitted for it. I would rather even not see tribunals set up at this juncture unless they can do their work adequately and with fairness and justice to applicants.
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman also established his case for a change in the whole method of approach to the Royal Warrant and even, if necessary, for a change in the Royal Warrant itself. In the last war I was a medical officer of a battalion in the line, and I have heard the experiences of those in this war. I am told by those who have served in both that while in the last war the amount of suffering in the line was probably even greater than to-day, in view of the intensive nature of the bombardment, the general conditions of service to-day take far more out of the individual than in the last war. One cannot help feeling a great amount of sympathy with some of our men serving abroad who are deprived of something which will affect their health very considerably as compared with the last war. In the last war, whatever the great hardships we had to meet in France, we had the estimable privilege of coming home and seeing our people every few months. Three or four months did not pass when we did not have leave. Now there are thousands of our men in the East and North Africa who have not been home for from two to six years.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
The hon. Gentleman's experience of the last war and mine are quite different. I was away two years before I got any leave.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
There were a large number of men in Salonica and the East who never saw any leave, but the overwhelming proportion of soldiers served in France, and they were continually receiving leave, every three or four months. Now the overwhelming proportion are serving in circumstances in which they are not able to have leave. That has a detrimental effect upon their health, and it will have an effect on their future health and produce those nebulous cases which the Ministry of Pensions are turning down as not attributable to service. With regard to the whole question of attributability, 1541 I would point out that medicine is a very vague and inexact science.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
It attempts to be a science, although it is very inexact. My right hon. Friend is entirely in the hands of his doctors. We get cases by the hundred of men who are turned down, and our postbags are increasing week by week because of letters about them. Hardly a day passes when I do not get a case from my constituency of an applicant who is turned down on the ground that his condition is not attributable to service. What medical officer in the Ministry of Pensions could get up and say that the disability from which a man was suffering would have been contracted if the man had remained in civil life? There is not one. Yet over and over again cases are turned down on the ground that if the man had not joined the Services he would have contracted the ailment for which he was discharged. I submit that in the circumstances my right hon. Friend ought to view these cases with the greatest sympathy and stretch a point every time in their favour. Ex-Service men are having their cases tried on the basis that they make certain statements in regard to their pre-war health. A man may go before a medical board, and, very anxious to serve the country, he says that he has never had an illness in his life before. It is patriotic of him to do so.
I have a case of a man who was invalided from the Army for rheumatism, and he is penalised because he stated in hospital that he had rheumatism before he joined the Army. He said on oath, and is prepared to repeat on oath, that he never had had rheumatism in his life. His local doctor in a rural area, who has complete knowledge of all the families there, says that the man never has had rheumatism. Yet because he has rheumatism now and made a statement that he had had it in the past, he is not allowed anything from the Ministry of Pensions. The statement was made when the man was in a state of delirium and high fever in the presence of a medical officer. I would ask my right hon. Friend to warn medical officers that statements of this kind should not be used to affect the right to a pension. We feel that the right hon. Gentleman has done his work well, that he is a man of 1542 sympathy and that he takes great interest in pensions. Circumstances have now changed, however, and there should be a complete review of the position and a change of mind at the Ministry.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I do not want hon. Members to think that I am winding up the Debate, but I thought it was due to the House that I should intervene at this moment to answer some of the main questions which have been put. Hon. Members who join in the Debate afterwards will be answered by the Parliamentary Secretary, who will be able to do it effectively. There was a journalist, who has often written scathing articles about the Ministry of Pensions and other Government Departments, who said that he would not have my job for all the money in the world. When I asked him why, he said, "Ministers of Pensions are the whipping boys of all Governments. They are there to be kicked and cuffed, and they never give any satisfaction, whatever they do." There is possibly something in what that journalist said, but I do not regard my position in that light. Indeed, this Debate has proved that there are many people offering me sound advice, and I do not think there has been any attempt to kick and cuff me. Hon. Members have been very reasonably and friendly disposed towards me. I hope that they will continue to be and that in future Debates on pensions we shall have the same helpful atmosphere as we have had to-day.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), who opened the Debate, delivered one of the most eloquent speeches I have heard on the subject of pensions, and I have heard many. It was a moving plea, and I felt like the man in the Bible who said, "Almost thou persuadest me." I have, however, to look at these matters and put them to the House in quite a different light. I hope that I shall be able to put them as fairly from the side of the Ministry as my hon. and gallant Friend put them from the other side. I take exception to one thing he said. That was that the British Legion wanted new life put into it. If he sat at my desk and read the letters and resolutions that I received from the British Legion, he would not think they wanted any enlivening or kick- 1543 ing into action. The Legion is the Service man's trade union, and it does its job nobly and well.
§ Sir I. Fraser
I said they wanted to attract young men into the British Legion, but if they are gingering up the right hon. Gentleman, I am glad.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. and gallant Member need not worry about gingering up. They have been doing the gingering all the time, and I am with him in hoping that the British Legion will be able to bring into their ranks the men discharged during this war, just as they succeeded in amalgamating all ex-Service men's unions and associations after the last war. It is a good thing from the national standpoint to have a representative body, non-political in character, prepared to consider these questions entirely from the view of the ex-Service men themselves, and to bring them, without fear or favour, before the Minister in charge of the Department.
Before I get down to answering specific questions put to me, may I also pay a tribute to the speech of the noble Lady who represents Central Bristol (Lady Apsley)? I am sure we have never heard a more moving maiden speech, or one so full of practical, sound common sense. I have known her in her position as chairman of the Women's Section of the British Legion, and I know in what affection the women of the Legion hold her, and I know also how she has devoted her time to the welfare of ex-Service men and of the women and children who have been left as their dependants. I can also say that since her husband joined the Forces in the early days of the war she has brought to my notice from time to time cases that have arisen in the constituency that her husband represented in the City of Bristol, and she is just carrying on with the same work that she did on his behalf. I give her, as I can give to all hon. Members, an assurance that all cases brought to my notice will, as in the past, have my most sympathetic consideration and that I will allow Members to know the definite reasons why pensions cannot be granted, so that they may have some knowledge of the facts of the case.
We are allowed, I believe, to speak in a general way about the question of appeal tribunals. Let me make my position 1544 quite clear. I have said time and time again that I desire these tribunals to be set up, and quite apart from the feeling we have that justice cannot be done when a decision is left to, say, one man, but that justice will be done if there is a body of men or of men and women—realising that that is inherent in our British character, I have always been in favour of tribunals. I have another reason for favouring them, and that is that if tribunals were set up and if Parliament decided that they should be placed in the same statutory position as tribunals were after the last war, that is, that their decisions should be final and binding upon Ministers as well as upon appellants, it would remove a good deal of difficulty from my task. It would certainly reduce considerably the postbags of Members of Parliament, because instead of Members have to deal with them, the cases would go to the tribunals. On the other hand, I would point out that I should not expect Members not to bring up constituents' cases before they went to the tribunals if they so desired, because I still want to give cases the closest consideration to see whether anything can be done in the way of helping appellants. If we cannot, then their cases must go to the tribunals. I would, however, put in this little warning. It was my experience of the old tribunals that hon. Members were not always satisfied with their decisions. If one searched the records of my Department, one would find many hundreds, and maybe thousands, of letters from Members of Parliament complaining about the decisions of tribunals. So I do not think we shall ever get to the point when everybody will be satisfied, and I am inclined to think that Members would look upon me with grave suspicion if I could get the good word of everybody not only in this House but of the country.
One newspaper has said of me that I am a jolly good stonewaller, the best stonewaller the Government have ever had; that I have staved off the question of tribunals by all sorts of excuses, and they wondered what new excuse I should bring forward to-day. It was also suggested that there would be some body-line bowling. I have always understood that body-line bowling was a bit unfair, but I have not experienced any body-line bowling to-day, because everybody has been fair to me and my Department. The 1545 hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) wanted to know why there has been some delay since the Sub-committee was set up. What I have to be sure of is that there is a sufficient number of doctors of the right type available before I proceed with the setting-up of tribunals. That must be made clear. Hon. Members may say, "Why, would not any doctors do?" I have a cutting here from the "Daily Herald" which speaks of "Hundreds of cases for Womersley" and suggests that there would be no difficulty in finding the necessary medical staff and that to talk about a shortage of doctors is absurd. It adds:Doctors can be drawn from the older age groups to staff them. Surely there are many specialists in London who would be glad to give two hours a week to the tribunals.I ask hon. Members, Is it reasonable to talk of two hours a week? I shall want at least 24 tribunals to cover the whole of the United Kingdom, and those who undertake work on them will have to make it a full-time job. If they are to give a fair judgment, it will take them all their time to do eight cases a day. My hon. Friend opposite knows about the work of these tribunals, because he has been a member of one, and I hope he will confirm what I say, that we want a thoroughly careful hearing of the case, because it must be borne in mind that if Parliament says the decision shall be binding and final, it will not then be the case that, as now, cases can be brought to me for review. Once a case has been dealt with by the tribunal it will be done with. That is why I say we must have competent men to sit on the tribunal and feel sure of them—not for the sake of the Ministry or the Government, but in order to see that the appellants have a fair and square hearing.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Is not the Minister presuming that it is absolutely necessary for a medical officer to sit on the tribunal and not to prepare evidence for the tribunal?
§ Sir W. Womersley
If the hon. Member holds an opposite view, he will find himself in conflict with every ex-Service men's organisation. It is necessary to have a medical member of the tribunal there at all times to deal with medical questions. This has been thought out in the light of experience. There has been considerable experience of these tribunals. The ideal 1546 tribunal would undoubtedly consist of a lawyer in the chair, a fully-trained man, with a fully-trained medical man and a representative of the ex-Service men. There could not be a fairer tribunal than that.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am afraid we are discussing details of tribunals, and that is out of Order, because the setting-up of tribunals requires legislation.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I must obey your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I wish to make it clear that it is necessary to exercise care in the selection of the right people, and I think that will be confirmed by most medical men in the House. We advertised, and received certain answers. An analysis of those answers showed that some of the men who had applied were not such as would give satisfaction to ex-Service men or to those who were appealing. Therefore, in consultation with my Subcommittee—I am glad to say that a member of my Sub-committee has confirmed this to-day—I thought it would be wise to call in a member of the British Medical Council to give us some help in the matter. This representative very kindly came along and told us frankly that he would want at least six weeks before he could present us with a list which he would be satisfied to put up as containing suitable men. We had to agree with that. We could not do otherwise. I have received that list only this week, and it contains a considerable number of names. I do not know the exact number of names. As I wanted the list to be thoroughly overhauled and examined, I thought I could not do better than to call in Lord Horder, who is an adviser to my Department.
§ Dr. Morgan
I do not object to Lord Horder, but I object to his being called in as though he had encyclopaedic knowledge of medicine, which he has not.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I am satisfied that he can give me good advice. This list 1547 will be back again to me in a very short time. I have asked my people to get on with it as quickly as possible. When I have it, I shall call my Sub-committee together. I cannot go right over their heads, since they were set up for this purpose. I hope to get the tribunals established in a reasonable time. I am anxious for them, and so are hon. Members, and we shall manage to get on with them pretty quickly.
Then there is the question of the rates, an old story that has been told in this House time and time again. Actually, the hon. and gallant Member who raised it gave the answer which I was going to give, and I can confirm what he said. There is a good deal of misconception about the rates during the last war and the rates during this war. The statement has been made time and time again that soldiers from the last war got bigger pensions than the soldiers of this war. I have to make the position clear not only in this House but to the outside world. It was after the last war, when the House and the country knew our liabilities and what we could afford in the way of pensions, that this Royal Warrant of 1919 was laid down. Even then, and after the advice of a Select Committee of this House which went more thoroughly into the pensions question than any Committee has ever done, it was made quite clear that pensions were not to be static but were to go up or come down with the cost of living. They were arranged at that time upon a cost-of-living figure of 215. The cost of living did not go up; it certainly went down. It is quite true that the Government did not take advantage of the provision that a lowering of the rates would mean a lowering of the pension, and I say that that is right and I applaud it; but it is a fact that from that time onwards all the pensions had to be dealt with in the same way. Hon. Members will bear in mind that even during the time of peace we had one or two little wars, and we had pensioners to deal with. They were not dealt with by my Department, because they were not Great War pensioners, and the rates in all new classes, of pensioners were fixed on that cost-of-living figure of 215, less or plus. That is how the rates came into operation for the present war.
The Government have carried out their pledge that there should be an adjustment 1548 for every five per cent. increase in the cost-of-living figure basis, and the figure has gone up on two occasions. We are just about 7 per cent. below now, and the next jump would have to be on the level of the 1919 pension rate. I can only give this pledge, that the Government will review this position from time to time, in the light of the cost-of-living figure, and will increase pensions accordingly. I want hon. Members to bear in mind that this does not apply just to war pensions for the Army, Navy and Air Force. It applies to every kind of pension that is granted as a result of war disability—civilian pensions, civil defence volunteer pensions and many others. We have to deal with a very great range this time. If we put up the rate for one class, we must put it up all round.
The argument was also used that this was not quite enough. I agree that money compensation is not enough and never would be enough, however high we made it, because we cannot measure the sacrifice of these men in terms of money. The Government have to do something more than that. This is a point on which I wish to speak a little later. I am satisfied that we have a good case to put to the House for this "something else" over and above the merely money compensation. I would ask hon. Members to view the matter not merely in the light of what is given in the way of money, but what we try to do in other ways to make life tolerable for these men and women, to give them, as the Noble Lady said, a feeling that they can take their places alongside their fellows and to bring them as nearly back to normal as we can. If I have time, I want to give a few details about our scheme, which we are working just now successfully. I know that hon. Members are keen to have further information about one or two points.
First there is the question of the allowance to the wife and children, where a marriage contract was entered into after the war disability has taken place. This is a very vexed question. It is nothing new, but is as old as pensions themselves and has been debated time and time again in this House. Anyone who looks up the records of my Department and of pensions Debates will find that it is a hardy annual which has been put up by hon. Members to all the Governments in office since the Great War, whatever their political complexion. It has been consistently main- 1549 tained that we should not give way on this point about the post-disability marriage. There are various points of view to be put forward and I shall submit to the House what have been the reasons why from time, to time successive Governments have refused to give this pension.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested that there is a way of helping, and that is by giving something in the nature of a constant-attendance allowance. I will come to that point in a moment and will now deal only with the main question. The hon. and gallant Gentleman made a calculation which does not seem to be borne out by my own figures. He took a block of 1,500 cases to find out how many of them had married after the disability. We have the definite percentage. The percentage of new war-disabled men who are drawing wife's allowance is 57.7 per cent. Actually, of the men who have been discharged from the Army as disabled in this war, 57 per cent. were married men before disability took place. I just mentioned that in passing to show that it is a little different figure from that quoted. I wanted the House to have the benefit of the proper figure.
§ Sir I. Fraser
It is not a contentious point. The figures I gave refer to 1,500 men of the last war. My figures for a very small sample of men in this war are 48 unmarried to 36 married, which seems to suggest something like the same proportion. Justice should be done whatever the proportion.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I simply quoted my figures as I wanted the House to have the proper figures. The point is that although my hon. Friend made light of the difficulties which might arise from abuses, believe me they are very real. Where this matter has been tried out in other countries it has proved a most difficult thing. He suggested on a former occasion when it was debated that we should have certain safeguards, and I was hoping he would elaborate that point to-day. I am anxious to find what safeguards we could have if we gave this concession. The only thing I can say further about it is that in my considered judgment—I say it frankly—I do not think you could get a scheme which would be workable and acceptable if you had to put in the safeguards, and if you did not have the safeguards you would have a scheme which would be open to much abuse. I am quite prepared to 1550 listen to suggestions put forward on this or any other aspect of pensions, because I do not say that I know it all, nor have I closed my mind to improvements in the Royal Warrant or the schemes which I administer. I am anxious to learn more, and I will never say I know all there is to know about it. It is a matter which would be useful to inquire into, but I want to point out what would be the obvious difficulties.
We now come to the question of the Beveridge Report.
§ Mr. Bellenger
If the right hon. Gentleman wants suggestions, would he read one of the Reports of his own Ministry, that of 1937, where it states that in Australia they did find some method of preventing a certain number of abuses?
§ Sir W. Womersley
Of preventing a certain amount of abuse. I know that Report, and I know a good deal about the system in Australia. I am not here to criticise the systems of other Governments. If the Beveridge scheme is accepted—and the Government have said they are going to accept children's allowances—then a good deal of difficulty is removed, because it does not matter from what source it comes so long as the woman or the household has the income. If I may make this suggestion, in dealing with many pension questions I think it is worth while taking into consideration what the effect of the Beveridge suggestions are, if adopted by the Government, on the whole of our pensions system. Personally, I was very disappointed that he did not rope my Department in with the whole question of social security. I think it would have been a good idea. But he did not, and he gives his reason—that this is a pension given for a special reason. That was said by my hon. and gallant Friend. I agree with that absolutely. That is why we make no stipulation how much a man or woman shall earn. They get their pension whether earning a lot or a little, because we say that this pension is being given because of the difference between that man or woman and a normal person of that age or sex.
I think it would be worth our while to consider many of these suggestions in the light of the Beveridge suggestions and link them up. I know it may be said that in the meantime somebody is suffering. I 1551 doubt that very much. It is an extraordinary thing that, speaking either at meetings or to an assembly of people, it is always presumed that the 100 per cent. disabled man is unable to do anything whatever. We have had an experience during this war which has been really astounding. This is what has happened to disabled ex-Service men when there is plenty of work available and employers are willing to employ them. I say this from my long experience, that the worst time this Ministry always has is when there is a large amount of unemployment in the country. There is no question of that, and for two reasons, because there is a diminution of the income into the household, which makes a fellow very uncomfortable; and, secondly, that when a man is doing nothing he is thinking about his disability, and it can easily become worse for that. The great idea and object are to find employment for ex-Service men.
Here I want to pay another tribute to the British Legion. They set an example to the people of this country by setting up their workshops in various places and establishing industries at Preston Hall and so on, their employment bureaux, all kinds of things done for ex-Service men, so that unemployment among ex-Service men was lower than among the general population even during the worst periods. Our old pensioners of the last war have done wonderful work in the war, and from the latest count we took 19 out of 20, at a very low estimate, of disabled ex-Service men are employed full time, earning good wages and doing good work for the nation. [Interruption]. I said disabled ex-Service men.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the nature of their employment?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I can say that it is employment that is all in the national interest at the moment, and that their jobs have been selected for them according to their disability and ability.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Surely the hon. Member has common sense enough to know. The answer is what I have said, disabled men drawing pensions. [Interruption.] It is men wholly and partially disabled. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did not the right hon. Gentleman say so straight away?"] Anyone with comprehension would realise that one meant all classes of pensioners.
§ Mr. John Wilmot (Kennington)
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the figures mean something quite different if 19 out of 20 were employed, and the 20th were all the totally disabled men.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Yes, I will deal with that if the hon. Member will be quiet. The men of the last war are now, 25 years after the war finished, doing a job of national importance of some kind—19 out of 20. Now we come to the 20th, who undoubtedly will be the totally disabled man, or otherwise he would be employed at the moment. There is this point, that a man passing from one job to another often gets put on the register, but we will ignore that, and we will take it that the man is a totally disabled man. The point at issue is this. If he is a married man with two children, as was quoted by the hon. and gallant Member, he will get more than what the Beveridge plan suggests is a subsistence level, a good deal more. I want that to be made quite clear, because there is some misapprehension about this. [Interruption.] A man with a wife and two children. You must compare like with like. In the last war it was 40s., plus 10s., plus 7s. 6d., plus 6s., and in this war it is 37s. 6d., plus 9s. 2d. for the wife, 7s. 1d. for the first child, and 5s. 5d. for the second child—which comes to a larger sum than was suggested in the Beveridge plan. We come to the question of the totally disabled man and his wife. Twenty-five years after the last war all the children of that war are off our books at any rate, because they have grown past the age at which pension is payable. If the man is so badly disabled that he cannot follow his employment, if he is bedridden, we can make a grant of 18s. a 1553 week. It is called a constant attendance allowance. It really means a payment to his wife or somebody else for looking after him. At any rate, it is an addition to the household income. To my mind, that is the right way of dealing with this matter. Out of 400,000 men drawing disability pensions from the last war something like 4,000 were unemployed at the last count. I do not think anyone would put forward a plea for increased pensions to that large number of men who are working, and receiving, I hope, standard rate of wages. People would want assistance to be given to the 4,000 who are unemployed at the moment.
The right and proper way to deal with this matter is this constant attendance allowance for those who are absolutely totally disabled. If the argument was put forward that that allowance was not enough, I should be inclined to ask the Government to reconsider it, because these are men who cannot supplement their income. I agree that that is a very difficult problem—in fact, it is one of the most difficult with which I have to deal. But people generalise from one or two cases that come to their notice, about the whole pension position. I want hon. Members to look with me into the wider field. A man is not necessarily totally disabled because he gets a pension, and if he gets work he can have the benefit. I agree that there is something to be said for dealing with the man who is totally disabled, and I think that the method I have suggested is the best method, but I will give the closest consideration to the matter and see whether a better one can be found.
What I, and I think every Member of the House, would like to see for the men who are disabled in this war is something better than was provided in the last war in the way of rehabilitation, training and employment. I am proud of the part that I and my Department have played in the matter of rehabilitation. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than for hon. Members to come down to the hospital, quite close to London, where we deal with rehabilitation, fitting limbs and so on, and see how science has advanced in the last few years, and also how general knowledge and sympathy have advanced since the last war. An attempt was made after the last war to do this sort of thing, But I am sorry to say it did not succeed. But you learn wisdom from the mistakes that have been made. This time we have 1554 started our planning in good time. I have had the heartiest co-operation from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service. He has gone so far as to set up a Committee, known as the Tomlinson Committee which has gone very carefully into this question and has issued a remarkable and very encouraging Report. I want to pay tribute to those who have served on the Committee for the way they have reviewed the position and for the suggestions they have made, which we shall carry out, so that never again will these men have to do the hawking of matches and playing in bands in the streets which they have done in the past. But very often, of course, these men make a lot more money out of selling matches and playing instruments in the streets than by doing their jobs.
We have been able to deal with these new cases with great success because we have dealt with them early. We have had remarkable success. It is surprising how many people have been able to go back to their old occupations after rehabilitation.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Yes; I want to pay tribute to my staff. They do their jobs conscientiously and well. No one is doing more than the doctors to try to make the system perfect. We have other difficulties to face. The case of the neurotics is very difficult. A large number of our cases are cases of neurosis. Neurosis is a question which the medical services of the country will have to face before long, because it is increasing. Actually, there is less of it among the Forces than in civilian life; but we have to deal with these cases and see if we cannot heal the mind, just as we heal the body. We are working in close association with the Ex-Services Welfare Society. I want to pay tribute to that Society for its work for neurotics in the past. It has a wonderful factory down at Leatherhead. It is astounding what a difference it makes if a man or woman afflicted in that way finds congenial occupation and a medical man who understands the patient. I want to pay tribute to the doctors, who have given their service in this great work. I want to build up on that scheme. We have medical centres where these people can go. It is surprising how quickly some people have reacted to the treatment. Many have 1555 been able to go back to normal life after six weeks' treatment. Without that treatment, many, as in the last war, would have become confirmed chronic neurotics. It would not have been in the best interests of the country, quite apart from the payment of pensions, to have such people unfit to carry on their normal occupations. I want to pay tribute to the doctors, who have done that wonderful work.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
Would the right hon. Gentleman make clear what happens to the households of those men while they are away, getting that treatment? The allowance for the maintenance of the home while the man is away is in many cases too small to permit a man to take advantage of the treatment that is offered.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I am surprised to hear that, because the difficulty is that very often it is stated that a man is better off when under treatment than when drawing pension outside. It can easily be explained in this way. Our treatment allowances are based on loss of wages. When a man has been in employment and has had to go to our hospital we say we have the right to compensate him, and we do compensate him. The difficulty may have arisen in the case which my hon. Friend has in mind, and it happened even in the old days. When a man was out of employment at the time he went to hospital all he was losing was unemployment pay, and there was a smaller grant on that account, but that does not apply so much to-day, because those who go into hospitals are men who have been in full-time employment, and therefore we give them an allowance and their cases are considered.
§ Mr. Mathers
I am thinking of the case where the man has been refused a pension because his psycho-neurosis condition is claimed not to be due to anything connected with his service which is not true.
§ Sir W. Womersley
He comes under national insurance. It has nothing to do with my Department.
1556 I was asked to deal with the question of parents' pensions. We had a long discussion on that when my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) brought the matter before the House, and hon. Members will desire to have some further information about it and some idea of how we have arrived at our conclusions on that question. I shall have to ask the indulgence of the House because I want to read a short extract from the Royal Warrant of 1919 so that hon. Friends may understand exactly the various pensions that were granted under the old Warrant. It reads thus:(a) If the parents were dependent on the soldier for a reasonable period prior to the war or enlistment if later. (Where enlistment was after outbreak of war any increase of dependence due to war circumstances was excluded from consideration.)(b) If at any time either or both parents was or were wholly or partly incapable of self-support from age or infirmity and in pecuniary need.(c) Where the soldier was under the age of 26 at the outbreak of war or date of enlistment if later, was unmarried and no pension or allowance was in payment to a child or dependant in respect of him, a flat rate of pension of 5s. could be awarded irrespective of pre-war dependence, age, infirmity or pecuniary need.That was under the old Warrant. We had a Select Committee on Pensions which sat in 1920 and recommended as follows, and I must ask hon. Members to excuse me reading this, as it is a question of accuracy:That the whole system should he reconsidered as early as possible with a view to revision and assimilation of all three classes of case on a basis, broadly interpreted, of what is a reasonable expectation of what a son would have contributed had he lived.And then they added:We believe that it is only by some such plan that the present inequalities can be remedied.The point that was made by hon. Friends repeatedly in this House was that the working of this system created all kinds of anomalous jealousies, because one was given more than the other and so forth. The recommendation by the Select Committee was adopted by the then Government of the day and came into operation on 1st April, 1922. Since then parents' pensions have been conditional upon the claimant being able to say that he or she was wholly or partly incapable of self-support and in pecuniary need. In the present war we started with the 1939 War- 1557 rant, which, exactly as I have just now suggested, was the agreed formula that the Committee had set. In 1940 I brought to the House suggestions for material improvement, and they were agreed to and placed in the Warrant. The condition of incapacity was removed, and full effect was given to the recommendations of the Select Committee of 1920, which said that you must regard parents' pensions on the basis of what, broadly interpreted, is a reasonable expectation of what the son would have contributed had he lived.
That was included in that Warrant, and the present rates are, to one parent 5s., a maximum of 10s.; to two parents a maximum of 12s. 6d., but with the proviso that those rates can be increased by 6s. 6d. a week, that is, to one parent 16s. 6d. and to two parents 19s. if the circumstances warrant it. Further, the parents of a married soldier wholly dependent upon him to a substantial extent for a reasonable period before his death have now been made eligible for these pensions. The general point is about the widowed mother. I know a very few cases where a widowed mother has not succeeded in getting a pension. There are a few cases where the widowed mother has a private income or maybe is in a position to earn money and is earning money, but I cannot imagine the case of a widow who can show that she is in need, and who would be in need of support from her son, being refused pension. I give most sympathetic consideration to parents' pensions.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Would the Minister answer the question which I put to him as to why there is a difference between the amount given in the present Warrant and the last Warrant? It was 36s. in the last, and is only 19s. in this.
§ Sir W. Womersley
36s. was the maximum pension at that time, and we very rarely ever reached that sum.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I agree, but you have to assess the amount of dependence and the amount of dependence never came anywhere near the 36s., and therefore it dropped out. If we find 19s. is not sufficient, it is possible to come back.
§ Sir W. Womersley
In the case of old age pensioners, there have been several useful concessions since then, and again, it 1558 would only mean that they would get it on one hand and have it taken away on the other. It is a supplementation, and we want to work the two Departments together so that we can get something like equity all round.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The real reason is that when this sum of 36s. was fixed pensions were not subject to a means test.
§ Sir W. Womersley
No, but I have read out the terms of the conditions on which pensions were given. They had to show that they were 36s. out of pocket before they received pension. That maximum was only applied in a very few cases, and it was out of date. It was much better to give the concessions we have given, and I could give a long list of the things we disregard, if time permitted. It is a most generous list. If the other disregards were given, I do not see that there would be any cause really for any alteration in the parents' pension. I think that we would find a good deal of resentment if we ever went back to the flat 5s. for everybody. I would never be an advocate of that myself, as I think it is entirely wrong. It is not a question of saying that it is needed; it is merely saying that you are getting some compensation because someone has been killed. I could not regard that as a safe policy, but there is something to be said for broadening the basis in accordance with the recommendation of the Committee, and I have done so in my last Warrant. We broadly considered it.
There is one other point I would like to make, and that is on the question of accidents. We have dealt with that in a far better and in a more sympathetic way, and I think we have succeeded in relieving the position. It does not include every accident that may happen; I cannot go as far as that. What I have to deal with is what is reasonable under the circumstances. Consider the improvements I introduced recently, which were included in the last Royal Warrant. If a man was serving abroad in a district which was unfamiliar to him and in which people drove on the right hand side of the road as against the left in this country, it was an excuse to say that the man did not quite realise that, with the result that he got into trouble. We say, "Is there anything here which makes the man different from a member of the civilian population?" If there is, we try to see that he gets a pension. I have gone into 1559 this matter most carefully and have tried in every way to ease the situation, and I think I have succeeded to a large extent. Most of the difficulties concern men who are out on evening pass, away from camp, in a village or town, doing what they care to do, and making their way back to camp. They are taking the same risks as a member of the ordinary civilian population in the black-out, and in such cases we have not been able to introduce anything for their particular benefit. But in a case of a man going on proper leave, with a proper pass, having an accident on the railway or anything of that kind, we have brought it within the ambit of the Royal Warrant, and a pension has been given. I can assure hon. Members that we have extended our benefits for accident cases as far as is reasonable, but we have not yet a closed mind on this question.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Not as regards payment; payments will start from the time they received the approval of the House.
§ Sir W. Womersley
We have granted pensions to widows of men in Cairo who have been there only a few days and have not been used to their surroundings. Does the hon. Member suggest that a man in Cairo is taking more risk than in walking about in London?
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
How can the right hon. Gentleman refuse a pension? The man would not have been in Cairo if he had not been on war service.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member would not have been in the House of Commons if he had not been elected. There are many civilians who, because they have taken on war jobs, are a long way from familiar surroundings. We are all in this war together; many of us are moved from place to place.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett (Bridgwater)
Does the Minister suggest that if a man is knocked down in the middle of Salisbury Plain while leaping on to a lorry to go to the nearest town he is running the same risk as a man sitting in his own 1560 home? Is it not time the Government faced up to the responsibility that when a man has once been accepted by a medical board for service to his country they should accept full responsibility for accidents that may happen to him?
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
What about the case I brought before the Minister of a man who was knocked down by a bus and who was killed, leaving a widow with five children under 14? A pension was refused. Can the Minister say why the risks are not greater for a man in Palestine than in his own town?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I am prepared to deal with individual cases if they are brought to me by the hon. Member.
§ Sir W. Womersley
If the hon. Member will show me the papers, I will deal with it. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett) raised the hypothetical case of a man jumping on a lorry. What is the good of putting hypothetical cases to me? I am a practical-minded man and I deal with cases in a practical way—[Interruption.]
§ Sir W. Womersley
Not a bit of it. The hon. Member must not judge me by his own standards. I do not come here to humbug the House of Commons, or the people outside, either. However, there is only one more point I want to stress before I close, and that is about the procedure in connection with the independent medical experts. This question is being confused with tribunals. It is a certainty that a man will be examined by the doctor connected with the tribunal if it is necessary and a certainty that the man will go before the tribunal personally and have someone with him as an advocate. But when we come to the question of dealing with independent medical experts, whom I have been using until we have the tribunals, I can assure hon. Members that they have been very effective.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I know that the hon. Member does not agree with certain aspects of this matter, but these men were not appointed by me; they were appointed by the Presidents of the two medical Colleges on the understanding that they would be entirely uninfluenced by my Department.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member wrote a letter to a newspaper, for which I was grateful. He was about the only Member of Parliament who supported me in saying that we ought not to have tribunals until we get the right medical personnel. I want to thank him for that, but for some reason or other he does not agree with the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons.
§ Sir W. Womersley
We regard them as the trade unions of the medical profession. I hope we are not mistaken. I asked them to provide these medical experts. Because a medical man finds against a man and no pension is granted, it does not mean that the man is finished. If he is turned down, he can still go to a tribunal as soon as they are set up. In the meantime, however, the present practice has enabled me to get a definite decision. But when you have differences of opinion between two medical men, the only thing to do is go to a recognised expert and get his opinion, although whether we shall ever find a doctor with whom other doctors agree entirely, I do not know.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison
The point I raised was not of objection to these eminent doctors. It was that the ordinary man in the street does not believe that a doctor can give a decision on his case unless the doctor has seen him.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I agree that popular opinion is that unless a doctor examines one thoroughly he does not know anything about the case, but the point at issue is that the doctor has to decide, not what is the matter with the man, but whether his disability has been caused or aggravated by war service. That is an entirely different matter, and I was coming to that point. It is very difficult for me, when 1562 independent people are appointed and I have nothing whatever to do with their appointment, to tell them what they have to do. As a matter of fact, they would not do it. I should be glad if they would, just to pacify the minds of the people. Many men have the idea that unless they are examined by a doctor their case has not had fair treatment. The answer to them is that they still have a right of appeal beyond that. This is a thing that ought to be made known. Even though their case has been before one of the independent medical experts, they will still have the right to go to the tribunals as and when they are set up. I am afraid I have exceeded the time——
§ Mr. Mathers
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer a point which I think is due for answer in this Debate? Some weeks ago he promised an inquiry into the position of a widow who is left in a serious position because of the loss of her husband resulting in her coming on to a low pension rate as compared with what she enjoyed previously by way of allowances and war service grant. Can the right hon. Gentleman give the result of the consideration which he promised?
§ Sir W. Womersley
No, Sir, because of one very important thing. I challenged the hon. Member, and also the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward), who spoke on this matter on the Adjournment, to send me cases. I have not got those cases yet. I am waiting for them.
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
Will the right hon. Gentleman produce the letter that I wrote to him on the subject and read it to the House? When he produces that letter I will take up his challenge.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) wanted me to give him a reply. On this matter I am anxious to make inquiries, and I ask for 1563 particulars of any cases of hardship. As I have said, we can deal with these cases, as the case which the hon. Member had in mind was dealt with. I said that I would give further consideration to the matter if it was shown that there was real trouble and grievance. I am prepared to deal with the subject. I had expected that, having made that public appeal which was reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I would receive quite a number of cases from hon. Members, not only from the hon. Members who mentioned the matter, but from others. I have not received them. I gave a general invitation to hon. Members to send cases of hardship to me, because we have to deal with these cases of hardship. May I say, in conclusion——
§ Mr. W. Brown
Will the right hon. Gentleman give a clear reply to the request of the hon. and gallant Member who initiated the Debate that a Select Committee of the House should be set up?
§ Sir W. Womersley
It is not for me to give any direct reply to that request. I am here to listen to the Debate, to take notice of the views and opinions expressed, and to report in due course to the Cabinet. That is what I shall do. My advice to the House is this. The time when we had the best and closest inquiry was in 1920, after the last war, when, Members of the House could sit down calmly and spend a reasonable amount of time on a thorough investigation on the whole pensions system. They came to conclusions, and we have had those conclusions as a guide during the last 25 years, and it is upon those conclusions that the basis of the present pensions system is built. My own suggestion is that hon. Members will be far wiser to wait until we have finished this war. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am not speaking as Minister of Pensions at the moment, because it does not matter to me as Minister of Pensions. I do not mind what committee or what inquiry there is; I am not afraid of committees or inquiries. The point I want to put to hon. Members is this. What is in the best interests of the men themselves? I represent those men just as much as other hon. Members do, and I claim that I am here representing them now in my capacity as a Member of Parliament. My advice is that you should have a committee of inquiry or a 1564 Select Committee when the war is over, when you know what your liabilities are—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is very important. What is the good of promising anything to people if you cannot meet your promise? It is no use hon. Members saying "Oh!"; that is not argument; that is simply ballyhoo. I claim, and I shall continue to claim, that I have as much sympathy with ex-Service men and their dependants as any hon. Member. I have a task entrusted to me by the Government, the House, and the country. It is to see that justice is meted out to these men and to see to it at the same time that justice is meted out to the taxpayers who have to provide the money. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is all right hon. Members to say "Oh!", but they have the taxpayers as their constituents. I travel round the country. I am finding that the workmen are beginning to get interested in that side of the matter. Believe me, if what we used to call in the old days a scrimshanker succeeds in getting a pension out of my Department, I get complaints not from Members of Parliament but from the other pensioners in the district.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give chapter and verse for the statement that other ex-Service men have written to him objecting to an increase for ex-Service men totally disabled in this war?
§ Sir W. Womersley
The Noble Lord has not been in the Chamber and has not listened to the Debate. I said that when a man who ought not to have a pension succeeds in getting a pension—I did not say anything about a totally disabled man—the complaints come from other people who served with him, or live near him, and not from Members of Parliament. I was only pointing that out in passing. I have a difficult job. It is not so easy as some people think. I have my duty to do, and as long as I am Minister of Pensions I shall continue to do it. In conclusion, I hope hon. Members will give me credit for trying to do this job fairly and squarely. I repeat that I am quite prepared to receive at any time Members who have cases to put to me, to let them see the papers and let them know and understand why we have not been able to give pensions. What could be fairer than that? Hon. Members now have this 1565 assurance that not only are there war pensions committees to which complaints can go, not only are there independent medical experts, but that very shortly, I hope, there will be tribunals. Surely, then, hon. Members will be satisfied.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
The right hon. Gentleman has just replied to one of the most critical and trenchant Debates we have ever heard. He showed his usual skill. In fact, for a change, he has been somewhat modest. But in spite of his skill and his modesty, the tone of the House is a far more effective answer to his case than any speech could be, and I hope the Government will take note of the fact that for once he has completely failed to meet the will of the House, or indeed to understand its spirit. I wonder if he even now understands what is abroad in the country on this question of pensions. I, like the rest of the House, have always admired his industry, but I do not admire his cynical estimate of a good many people. He uses that scrimshanker term too often. Everyone knows that there are doubtful odd persons in a million, but, when he is met effectively by an argument, he usually turns back and makes some aspersion upon some unguessed number of fraudulent claims.
He was asked about this matter of a Select Committee and his reply was the best speech in support of the demand. He said he agreed with this, that and the other. What does that mean? Does it mean that he is going to do these things? It is a matter of using terms, that is all. I think a mistake has been made, not only by him but by the House itself. We started wrongly on this pension business this time. That is why the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) had to fall back upon the Beveridge Report in comparing the single man's pension now and after the last war. The hon. and gallant Gentleman quite rightly anticipated what the right hon. Gentleman would say and said he would argue the question on the ground of the cost of living. I am wondering why a single man who is totally disabled has not more pension, and not less, than last time. Let us review what has happened. The pension that he has now could not be argued on the question of the cost of living. The real argument is, What is the 1566 change in social values that has taken place since that time? When a totally disabled soldier was given £2 a week the old age pension was 5s. over 70 years of age, and there was no unemployment pay. To go back to that period is like going back into the Middle Ages. Young people now will hardly believe what the conditions were at that time. We should not be arguing for £2 a week merely because that was the amount granted in the last war. We should be asking for something more in line with the social outlook and the developments that have taken place since that time, and that is an unanswerable reason for a Select Committee to investigate the matter. Sooner or later either the right hon. Gentleman or some successor will have to give attention to the question of parents' pensions. They cannot go on in this way.
§ Mr. Lawson
No, I never send any. What is the good of sending cases? The right hon. Gentleman repudiates the right to a pension of a person who has lost a son. The son may have been a fine young fellow who was allotting 7s. or 10s. a week. The parent says, "Not only have I lost my son but I have lost what he gave me." How can anyone answer that? The right hon. Gentleman cannot answer it, and neither can Members of the House, and it puts Members in an unfair position to have to face parents in those conditions. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was the best possible answer to the claim for a Select Committee. It is time this question of pensions was overhauled by some of those who know something about it I hope the Government will take note of this, because, if they do not, this question, and the Motion on the Paper, are going to be dealt with, and those of us who do not want to oppose the Government will be compelled to think seriously of our ways unless that Committee is set up.
§ Mr. Wakefield (Swindon)
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), in his brilliant speech, brought forward many points, and they have been supported by others. The Minister did not deal with them at all. It struck me that he was batting on a very sticky wicket and was slithering all over the place. While we appreciate the sympathy with which he deals with cases, 1567 and also the way in which he proposes to rehabilitate disabled men—I am sure the House appreciated all that was said in that respect—the fact remains that many points were raised to which no answer has been given. I hope my right hon. Friend will study the OFFICIAL REPORT and will see how important it is that a Select Committee should be set up at once, without waiting until the war is over. I am going to put to him a kind of case which illustrates the principle which the Select Committee, if set up, ought at once to investigate. It is the case of the man who has completed his service and retired with his Service pension, voluntarily joining up again and being disabled. What is the position when that man is disabled? He has half of either his pension or his disablement docked. Surely that is wrong.
If a man has earned his pension it ought to be inviolate. If he undertakes a new contract and is disabled when carrying it out he ought to be entitled to the full disablement under that contract. The position of a man who has earned his Service pension is like that of a man in civil life who has done work and earned superannuation. Suppose such a man has an accident and becomes entitled to compensation, surely his late employers would not be able to dock his superannuation because he received compensation for the accident. That is what is happening in the case of disabled ex-service men. I will illustrate my point by an example which is typical of a number of cases in my constituency. It is the case of a man who served in the Worcestershire Regiment for 31½ years. He had the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Mons Star and the General Service and Victory Medals. He retired on pension at the age of 50 in 1935. He had earned his pension if ever a man did. At the outbreak of war that man, with great spirit, volunteers, is medically examined and is found fit. After giving service he is found by a medical board to be unfit and is granted 100 per cent. disablement pension. He is not, however, entitled to get it. He must lose either half of it, or half of his service pension entitlement. He is not allowed to draw both in full although he has earned them. This man was capable before disablement of a good day's hard work and was able to augment his pension by earning £2 10s. a week. This 1568 enabled him to keep his family on the standard which they had when he was serving in the Army. He is not able to do that now, for he is not able to follow, any employment. Yet he is not granted the disability pension to which he is entitled.
That injustice ought to be put right. The right hon. Gentleman might say that there was only a small number of such men. If there is only a small number, financial considerations cannot be taken into account. On the other hand, does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that if there were many cases the injustice would be put right? If there is an injustice, no matter how many cases are involved, it ought to be put right at once. There is a good guide for all of us in the words, "Do unto others as you would be done by." The money, after all, has to come from the pockets of the taxpayers, and I am certain that there is no taxpayer who, faced with a case like this, would not say that the man ought to receive the disablement to which he is entitled, as well as the Service pension which he has earned.
There-is the case, too, of men who are now completing their term of service. When they finish their contract they are entitled to have their Service pensions inviolate. If they are disabled during this campaign they ought to receive disablement as a separate contract. It ought not to be lumped into one and then part of it docked. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider this question among the many others which have been brought to him to-day. The case I have mentioned, together with the many others that have been raised, show that the time for a Select Committee is overdue and that such a Committee ought to be set up at the earliest possible moment.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
I agree with the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) that the time for a Select Committee is now. If we had heard no other speech but that of the Minister of Pensions, we should have come to the same conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had not been kicked and cuffed. That was in the earlier part of his speech. Afterwards he was considerably interrupted, and it was entirely his own fault because of the way he handled the Debate, and because of his inconclusiveness and his fumbling of the issues. 1569 He did not deal with the House in the commonsense straightforward way desired by hon. Members. He cannot complain of any of the speeches which were made before he spoke. The admirable speech, one of the best speeches ever heard in the House, of the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) set a high tone in this Debate, on this very important subject. If the right hon. Gentleman has not been kicked and cuffed, at any rate he will agree that he has been rather prodded. I made a list of some of the matters which require discussion and the further consideration of which ought to be brought before a Select Committee. There are rates of pension, parents' pensions, post-disability marriage and accidents. The question of accidents is not by any means disposed of by what the right hon. Gentleman said. There are, too, the questions which the hon. Member for Swindon brought up and a number of others.
There is the much wider question which I had intended to bring up of the definition of attributability and non-attributability. The right hon. Gentleman correctly said that I had served on a pensions appeal tribunal after the last war. I held the senior post in that service because I was the medical officer of the Officers' Appeal Tribunal. I say so because I want to underline the fact that it is not necessary to have medical officers of extremely outstanding ability. We want just ordinary people like myself with reasonable experience—with a good experience of men, and it would be an added advantage if they had military experience also. It is not necessary to have outstanding people such as those to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred. From my experience, which was considerable, I think that attributability requires definition. This applies also to the question which the right hon. Gentleman brought up of referring cases to independent medical experts. Cases are referred to experts, but the experts are bound hard and fast by the rules of attributability which have been laid down. Some of the experts to whom the right hon. Gentleman refers these cases are in the Services, and they are bound by the regulations. At the present time those regulations are narrowly construed, and in justice to men and their dependants they ought to be very considerably widened. I go so far as to say 1570 that in certain cases where men have been in the Services for a considerable period of years, cases ought to be allowed for pension—or in the case of death for widows' pension—which are not now regarded as "attributable" at all.
The right hon. Gentleman may remember a case which I brought to his notice some time ago. It concerned a pilot who had been in the Royal Air Force before the outbreak of the present war. He had served in France, was at Dunkirk and in the Middle East, and then was brought back to this country and was acting as an instructor. He was actually acting as an instructor on the day of his death. He came back from a flight, stepped out of his aeroplane, and was taking off his things and chatting with a man at his side when he dropped dead. The diagnosis showed coronary thrombosis—in a man of 31. That man's wife, who was about to have a child, has been denied any pension at all because it was described—quite accurately according to the pension definition—as non-attributable to service. I consider that is the kind of case which ought to be put on the list for consideration, because there, from the human point of view, is a very serious injustice. There are numbers of cases of that kind. It is extremely difficult to draw the line between "attributable" and "non-attributable" and "aggravated" and "not aggravated." It is one of the things which might be brought before the Select Committee and a new definition introduced.
I must be careful in what I say about tribunals now that Mr. Deputy-Speaker is in the Chair, because Mr. Deputy-Speaker once appeared before me when I was a member of a tribunal and I turned down his case. Therefore I must be very careful lest I should be ruled out of Order. But there is one point on which we may congratulate the Minister, at least with a certain amount of reserve. He announced that he had obtained a list from a body which he described as the British Medical Council. I do not know what that body is. I suppose he meant the Central Medical War Committee, the body which supplies lists of medical men required for various services. He said it had taken him at least six weeks to get the list, and that it would be some time before it could be sorted out. Of course there was every reason for being very 1571 careful and getting men of good general experience, generalists rather than specialists. If a specialist is required for a particular case he can always be called in, but a good generalist is the man to have as adviser of the Board, as he is the doctor who will look at the whole man, not look at just one aspect or part of his anatomy and give on opinion on what is his speciality.
I hope that we shall get tribunals appointed at an early date. The slowness of action of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to pensions appeal tribunals has been something phenomenal even in his Department, and I would remind the House that if, in six weeks, he has got a list of medical men suitable for appointment to pensions appeal tribunals he might as well have got it six months or a year ago. Every delay of a day, or a week, or a month makes the award of pensions to men who have not been given them very much more difficult. I would bring to the attention of the House a technical point, but a very important one. The basis on which pensions are awarded in the case of discharge from the Service is a man's medical record. The medical records of a large prooprtion of all the men who served in France at the time of Dunkirk—I am referring to base hospital records—a considerable number of the records of the men who served in Greece and Crete, some of those who served in Libya and a large proportion of those who served in Hong-Kong and Singapore have been lost, and it is, therefore, almost certain that a considerable proportion of those cases will have to come up for review.
Then there are cases in which inaccurate or inadequate information was put down when the men were first enlisted or incorporated in some unit. The right hon. Gentleman will, perhaps, tell us that that was the fault of the doctors. It is not always the fault of the doctors. I know of a case, which occurred when I was acting as D.D.M.S. of a doctor who, in the course of 24 hours, had to examine something like 1,000 men. You cannot do it. An order came that those men had to be embarked and "medical movements" had to be gone through in order that it could be said that something had been done. Obviously a considerable number of mistakes would be made. Then we 1572 have doctors examining soldiers at medical boards who are civilians with no military experience at all. That creates another difficulty: of course it gets less as time goes on and the experience of civilian medical practitioners grows, but considerable difficulties arise from it. Then there is the case, not referred to in this Debate or in the last Debate, of the large numbers of women now in the Services. In the beginning, when they were taken into the Services they were not completely examined at all, from false motives of delicacy. That is perfectly ridiculous, but it is the fact. That will produce a considerable number of cases which will require to be dealt with by pensions appeal tribunals if, as is certain, claims arise.
I, therefore, very much hope that the right hon. Gentleman will come down to the House very shortly and tells us that he has received a list of medical men from the Central War Committee and not that he is considering appointments but has actually made appointments and that the tribunals have been set up. It will need legislation of a special kind, no doubt modelled on the legislation passed in the last war. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will soon be in a position to bring that legislation forward, and I hope that he will, at the same time, take the opportunity of announcing that there are so many questions of doubt and difficulty in connection with his Department and that his heart is so overflowing with human compassion and desire to aid ex-Servicemen, that he has decided to refer them all to a Select Committee in order to be quite certain that justice shall be done.
§ Sir Smedley Crooke (Birmingham, Deritend)
I welcome this opportunity of taking part in the Debate, because it gives a chance of putting the British Legion's point of view. I believe that the British Legion is generally acknowledged to be the outstanding organisation which has, since its establishment by the late Field-Marshal Earl Haig, looked after the needs of ex-Service men and their dependants. During the whole of that time it has done whatever has been possible in a legitimate way to see that the sacrifices of serving men were recognised by the State, and that those men got a square deal. I believe that the country is at the back of the British Legion in its advocacy of the rights of ex-Service men and their dependants. One has only to look at the enormous amount of money subscribed on 1573 British Legion Poppy Day to realise that the country has every confidence in the British Legion's administration of the funds which are given. I have been a Member of the National Executive Council for 20 years, and during all that time I have served on the Headquarters Pensions Committee, so I hope I may claim to speak for the Legion.
A few weeks ago hon. Members received a circular letter from the British Legion. It was signed by the National President, the National Chairman and the National Vice-Chairman, the latter of whom is the chairman of the Headquarters Pensions Committee. In that letter, four points were set out which were called the Legion's short-term pensions policy. Hon. Members were told in the letter that it was necessary to urge the Government to agree to those four points, and those points are practically covered by the fording of the Motion which appears on the Order Paper. The first point is the need for establishing independent appeal tribunals. The second point referred to the rates of pensions and allowances. The third point concerned the need for a widow's pension in the case where the disability pension was issued before the marriage. The fourth point was that concerning alternative pensions. I am sure that the Minister of Pensions has the reasons for urging those points constantly in his mind and that they will be within the recollection of hon Members. I therefore need not labour them as a whole.
Let me say a few words about the need for setting up independent appeal tribunals. Hon. Members will recollect that when the first Royal Warrant was brought into this House it had a bad reception, so much so that the Minister of Pensions agreed to set up a central Advisory Committee to go through the terms of the Warrant and help him to re-examine the matter. That Committee was set up and was composed of representatives of all parties in this House, representatives of the British Legion and representatives of war pension committees throughout the country. The committee held many meetings over a very long period, and during that time very useful concessions were made by the Ministry on the suggestion of the Committee and also as put up by the officials of the British Legion. At the last meeting of the committee the need was stressed for setting up appeal tribunals. It was asked why a start should not be 1574 made with a few of them. It was then that the Minister of Pensions made what I regarded as a very helpful and sporting offer. I say, "helpful," and "sporting" advisedly. He sometimes has to take a few bumps, so he should not be denied a bouquet occasionally when he deserves one. The suggestion he made at that meeting was that the Committee might set up a small Sub-committee, and he would arrange for the Sub-committee to come into the Pensions Department and see precisely what the right hon. Gentleman had done towards trying to get a sufficient number of qualified doctors for appeal tribunals. The Sub-committee would have access to all the files and correspondence, and they would thus know exactly what the Minister knew, about the possibility of manning the tribunals. I call that a very courageous offer. That is how the matter stands, and we are waiting now for the report which they are to make.
At this time of the year all over the country the various areas of the Legion have their annual conferences. In all those conferences resolutions have been passed urging the National Executive Council of the Legion to press the Government to take up the four points of pension policy. I am sure that legioners all over the country are waiting anxiously of this Debate. They know that the Minister of Pensions is the first ordinary member of a British Legion, Branch to be placed in the position of His Majesty's Minister of Pensions. They know he has a warm regard for the British Legion, and they rely on his impartiality. They are very hopeful of the results of this Debate.
§ Mr. Collindridge (Barnsley)
While I deplore very much the necessity for discussions of the kind that we have had, I derive satisfaction from the idea that Members in all parts of the House desire some change in the treatment of our ex-Service men and their dependants. We have had a speech from the Minister concerned, and while I think there was a great deal of sentimental sympathy in it, I am afraid that it will not convey to the nation as a whole that any beneficial or radical changes are being made in pensions administration. As priority No. 1, I would put the desire of the general community that ex-Service men and their dependants should have better treatment than they have had. In the brief time 1575 which is at my disposal I would like to crystallise the many grievances which the general community have against the Ministry of Pensions.
First, there is concern that so many people should fail to receive the pension. People are also troubled about the delay in receiving pensions when that pension has ultimately been awarded, and people are certainly troubled about the inadequacy of pensions. I deal in my Division, as no doubt many hon. Members do, with many pension cases, and it occurs to me that unless the individual ex-Service man has some visible sign of disability he is in some difficulty in being able to sustain his right to a pension. In this war, perhaps even more than in the last, the number of cases which are now described as psychoneurosis or anxiety-neurosis are very often in sore difficulty. If the Parliamentary Secretary is to reply, I would ask him now how many cases covered by the term "psychoneurosis" are accepted for payment of pensions. I know that a great many will be receiving treatment and allowances while that treatment is going on, but I want to know how many get pensions. I do not know whether my Division is typical, but I have nearly a score of cases of anxiety-neurosis where no pension at all has been received by those affected. All kinds of investigations take place, not only into the history of the individuals, but into their parents' past, and whether there has been any tendency to this complaint. As a consequence, I would claim that in these cases there is need for a more generous outlook. I have in my Division a couple of cases of very young men who were enlisted at 19 years of age, who went through Dunkirk, and had the experience of going to Norway and coming back, and in a period of nearly three years in war service contracted diabetes. In neither case will the Ministry agree that there was any tendency, even if they had this trouble before, to its being aggravated by the war service. I would like the Minister's consideration of that.
I want to put in a plea, very briefly, in support of those who have sponsored the idea that we should have more generous treatment to the mothers of our men who lose their lives in the country's service. It may be argued by the Minister that even when these men have got to 1576 the adult age and enter the Forces and lose their lives there is not a loss of a particular amount in that home in the sense of finance. I am troubled very much about that. I have recently had to deal with a case with the Department. Here was a working man, working manually very hard, and devoting at very great sacrifice a good portion of his meagre wages towards the education of his boy. This boy succeeded in getting to college and then went straight away before earning a penny of advantage to his home, into the Forces and got killed. The contention on the part of the Minister is that there was no contribution being made by that boy and that therefore that house is not suffering. I do not know what the Minister finds in his constituency, but in mine there is a wholesale feeling that the sacrifice was big enough for this boy's parents in all conscience, and that the nation which would ultimately have had his services had he lived should surely therefore pay a contribution from the Pensions Ministry to his parents.
I go a step further. In working-class homes where young men go straight from elementary schools into industry, and when military service comes along they go into the Forces. Surely we all of us, from whatever class we come, are aware of the fact that the standards of households would naturally improve with the advent of wage-earning on the part of these sons. Whether it was suggested that it was rather a bad relic of a bad past to make this grant, which was made in the last war, or not I do not know, but I contend that there is a need for consideration in cases of that description. We are still quite a considerable distance from the slogan which has been mentioned once or twice to-day, "Fit for service, fit for pension." Surely we should approve that, but if, after a very keen medical examination, we accept our people into the Forces, and they fall by the wayside from any cause whatever, then the State should give some consideration for pension. It may be said that they had the genesis of their trouble before service, but if we accept a man who was a fit man and if service then breaks him down, we ought, shorn of the aggravation part of it, to see, as that the State as good employers of men put into this hazardous job of fighting the country's battles, that such people should have every consideration given to them. I will not traverse the ground further, because 1577 of lack of time, for the need for appeal tribunals, but I should be glad if they could be instituted, because in so many cases the pension destiny of our Service men and their dependants rests upon the idea of one man's examination.
I want to finish on the note of pension inadequacy. I would like to ask why this best part of our population, these single men soldiers who often volunteer, or who are called into the Services, should be consigned by the State, if health fails or through wounds, they receive pension while they are single but left to a life of celibacy practically, which is virtually what the State has ordained for single working-class men who go into the Army and receive wounds as a consequence of service. In the serving men in all branches of the Forces we have the best of what the nation must hope to depend on in the reconstruction period, and if we are consigning these men, merely because they were single men when they joined the Services, to these inadequate pensions, we are leaving the State as well as the individual sadly disadvantaged.
May I address this particular point to the Minister? Take the case of a married man in the Services who receives wounds and thereby gets a percentage of pension and an allowance for his children up to a certain age because of the state of life he had when he received his wounds. When a child dies or reaches the age of 16, then the pension ceases. Surely, if yon take that step, as you do—you prepare in short for a changed state of life for the man who received the pension—then we should say to the single man who receives his wounds that we anticipate he will live the customary way of life by being married and bringing a family into the world, and we should have him advantaged by some pension in whatever may be his state of life later on. I strongly support the plea made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) that we should have regard in the 20 years or so between the two wars, that we have new standards for all of us and so it should be with serving men. It is wrong to say that £2 operated in 1919, and that the figure should now, in 1943, be 37s. 6d., and that the Ministry should walk away with the idea, or at least try to get us to walk away to explain to our folks that the difference in the standard of living is the cause of that. Surely in all conscience this nation has 1578 progressed in the standards of life of everybody, even the right hon. Gentleman, and because of that we ask that this section of our community, the Forces, should receive this advantage too. The rate for widows is sadly too low.
I want to deal with the question of delay. My criticism to the Department is not of individuals there but of the system under which they labour. I quote a matter I have been dealing with in the last week or two. Here was a case of a widow who lost her only son who was living with her at the time of his enlistment. He went into the Forces, and she lost him in North Africa. Why, I have never discovered yet, but the right hon. Gentleman's Department turned down this case for pension, and here was the widow on one bright morning interviewing me in my division. She was short of sustenance except for her 10s. widow's State pension, and it looked like public assistance for her. I intervened and said that until we had approached the right hon. Gentleman's Department she should go to the Assistance Board and not for public assistance. Some wonderful individual there said that her distress was not as a consequence of the war, but later it was decided temporarily to give her support. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman's Department has now considered this lady for pension. Her right ought never to have been in doubt. I would contend because of that unhappy experience, which I am satisfied so many have been subjected to, that there should be as little delay as possible in settling cases. I finish on the plea with which I began. While people may differ as to whether a second front should be here or there, there is no difference at all among the public on the question that our serving men who have fallen by the wayside and their dependants should be better treated than they have been. This more generous treatment would be of advantage to the serving men, it would strengthen the morale of people in industry, and it would help us thereby to shorten the war.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
In the very few moments which I intend to detain the House, I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions will listen to me, with the belief that what I am saying is entirely friendly and that I am desirous of being helpful. It is a good thing that this Debate has taken place on 1579 the Consolidated Fund Bill. The Debate opened with a speech that has been praised very highly. It was a memorable speech. I cannot remember any Member for some years holding the House as my hon. and gallant Friend, by his sincerity, did to-day. But the reply of the right hon. Gentleman, not only to the opening speech but to the speeches that followed, was utterly inadequate. Speaking as a Conservative back bencher, I want to impress upon the Government, that unless in a short time the right hon. Gentleman comes down to the House in a different frame of mind, there will be an all-party revolt of a very serious character against the Government. There might well have been one to-day.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) told a story. Once such facts are revealed on the Floor of this House we cannot permit the existing state of affairs to continue. Some hon. Members may not have been here when the story was told. My hon. and gallant Friend, as head of St. Dunstan's, described how a young man came back from the Middle East, having lost his sight and two hands, and how the young girl who had become engaged to him, with all the natural dreams of a happy life together, was true to him, and was about to marry this maimed young man. But there will be no allowance for her. If she has children there will be no allowance for them. The Minister of Pensions says "No." Had the man married some slut of a woman, who was untrue to him while he was away, and who had wrecked his home, she would have a claim, but this young girl, giving her life to this maimed boy, has none. I believe that the House will not allow that sort of thing to go on. For the sake of the State we should hope that such a mother and such a father would have many children. To what are we condemning them? If they have a baby, it means, with the few pennies we allow, misery and penury. It will be impossible to prevent the darkness which has already come to him, with his lack of sight, extending to her outlook as a wife and mother. The House will not allow that. By no Royal Warrant, by no Minister, shall a maimed man be told, "You shall not marry." If there happens to be some abuses, let us weigh the abuses against the decency and happiness on the other side. The other attitude is like that 1580 of the man who says, "I never give anything to a beggar in the street, because you do not know." Better risk it, because it will find its way to people who need it. I do not want to be over-romantic, but it seems to me that that story which the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale told, brings this whole issue to the point, that we cannot go on as we are doing now. There must be a change or this House will rise up in revolt.
I do not want to detain the House any further except on one other point. The basic scale paid to a totally disabled man in the last war was £2. In this war it is 37s. 6d. The argument of the Minister is that that rate was determined after the last war, when the Government could see their capacity to pay, in the light of their full obligations, and that we had better not do anything now, until we are able to see our obligations. He also says that there are other pensions. The pension due to a man who has been totally disabled after having been called up for service, must have precedence over any other pension. To say that before fixing the rates of pension we must wait to see whether the books will balance——
§ Sir W. Womersley
I was not referring to the rates of pension. I made it clear that they are according to the cost of living.
§ Mr. Baxter
There was a question of a Select Committee. At any rate, I say that the small difference should be made up and that the totally disabled man in this war should draw the same as the totally disabled man of the last war. I am grateful for the courtesy my right hon. Friend has always shown us, but I ask him to treat this matter seriously. We cannot have another Debate like that of to-day. The House really means business. It will not gloat over him if he comes back to put things right, but it will rejoice in him, because the House means to have these things now.
§ Mr. Holdsworth (Bradford, South)
I want to address my remarks, if I may, to the Lord President of the Council. I find that the Minister of Pensions always gives the most earnest attention to cases which have been brought before him, and the utmost sympathy, within the powers at his disposal. What we want is a change from the Cabinet. It has been interesting to me, having been laid aside for some- 1581 time, to read the Debates in this House. Sometimes I think emphasis has been put in the wrong place. I believe that, of all social matters, the first charge on the revenue of this country should be adequate, generous compensation for those who have been prepared to lay down their lives in the country's defence.
There is one point I want to mention, because I have not heard it mentioned yet—I have not been here during the whole of the Debate. I think it abominable that we should talk about giving a smaller amount for a 100 per cent. disablement pension now than we did after the last war. The scale arising from that basic pension, if the man is married, is totally inadequate for him and his family. The point which worries me more than that, is that we sometimes forget the psychological effect upon a man of being turned down on the ground that his disability has not arisen out of war service. The community has to keep that man. If he is disabled and unable to work, are we to say to him, "You shall depend upon charity or the good will of your family"? The community is put to an expense in any event, but it makes all the difference, psychologically, to the man and his family if he is given a pension as a right. That is why people feel the grievance. I have dealt with several of these cases of men who loathe the idea of having to go to the Assistance Board, but who feel that they could stand up and face the world if they were given a pension as a right. I say to the Lord President of the Council, because I am told he is responsible in the Cabinet for these matters, that I really wish the Cabinet would adopt, not merely a new orientation, but a new outlook upon this particular subject. They should give over arguing, on miserable differences, about whether a man is entitled because of certain reservations or not. Let the men feel that he has the right.
I hope that the Minister will not agree to the setting-up of a Select Committee. I was on a Select Committee appointed by this House more than 11 years ago, and not a single recommendation of that Committee has been implemented so far. That is the best way in the world to shelve a question. The Minister and the Cabinet know the feeling on the question of pensions not only in this House but throughout the country. They have the 1582 information; no Select Committee could obtain more. Of all the social requirements needed at the present time, surely, this House will give priority to the men who, for our sakes and the sake of the country, are prepared to lay down their lives.
I have had some tragic cases brought to me in which a mother has been turned down for pension because she could not prove that she had been dependent upon her boy. The Minister had the privilege of being born in Bradford, and he knows that in that city, as in all cities in this country, there are thousands of widows who go out and do a bit of cleaning or take in washing, in order that a lad can serve an apprenticeship. Up to the age of 21 the boy's wages are small, but it is true to say that, although he had not been contributing to the home, his mother was looking forward to the day when, as they say, he would "get out of his time," would draw the proper wage for his job, and would be able to give her some little recompense for all the sacrifices she had made. It may be that, in theory, such a lad is not contributing to the home, but in practice, when he is taken, the mother, after having made all the sacrifices and having had no opportunity to put anything by, is in a tragic position if anything happens to the lad.
Away with this red tape, this purely legal way of looking at things. I am certain that the Minister as well as the House wants to do so, but there is somebody somewhere keeping him back, and that is why I appealed at the outset to the Lord President of the Council. The Cabinet could not spend time better than in giving a few hours immediately to trying to rectify this position. The Empire could never have lasted if these lads had not gone. Our world could not have existed, and freedom and everything else we prize would have been lost if it had not been for the sacrifices of these lads. What can we do for them? Cannot we cut out the niggardliness and cut away the red tape? I suggest to the Lord President of the Council that, even to-morrow morning, they might begin to face the facts.
§ Mr. Mathers
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Before the Parliamentary Secretary replies, I would like to say that when the Minister was speaking I ventured to put a point to him. In reply he challenged me, in order to have 1583 his Advisory Committee look into the point I was raising—that of the bad position of widows—to produce the cases he had asked for, as a justification for putting the matter before the Advisory Committee.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
It is not a point of Order, but a question of personal explanation.
§ Mr. Mathers
I have the text of the Minister's speech before me. It does not make the qualification that cases must be furnished. Does that provide me with the opportunity of asking that the promise be implemented?
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is an hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench entitled to get up and make a personal explanation, and would it be in order for me or any other hon. Member to intervene in the same way?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions (Mr. Paling)
Perhaps it would be convenient if I replied to one or two points that have been raised since my right hon. Friend sat down. The first speaker after the speech of my right hon. Friend was my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who spoke with passion about one topic upon which I know he feels very deeply, namely, parents' pensions. I was rather sorry to hear him say, "What is the use of sending cases to the Ministry?" I hope that he will not take that attitude. It is true that if he sends them, he may not be successful in getting a pension in all cases, but all cases are looked into most carefully and sympathetically. If anything can be done, it will be done. In any event, if a pension cannot be granted, it is possible in a good many cases to say that, if the parents should fall upon less fortunate days, they have established their right to a pension and can make their application again.
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) brought up a particular case and asked for information about it. He said he hoped the Minister would look at the OFFICIAL REPORT and read it very 1584 carefully. Well, I can promise him that my right hon. Friend always does; we in the Department very carefully note what has been said in any of these Debates.
§ Mr. Paling
The hon. Member also brought up the case of a man already on a Service pension who joined up, and was totally disabled, and he asked why such a man could not draw both pensions. I cannot go into the merits of the case to-day, but the rule is that he can have the whole of one pension, plus one half of the other, whichever is the more beneficial.
§ Mr. Paling
My hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) raised the question of tribunals and said he hoped they would soon be in operation. I hope so too. The Subcommittee which has been inquiring into this question lost no time; they met and asked that certain steps should be taken, in order to see if we could get the doctors. A list has been prepared and is being examined at the present time, and I hope that soon we shall be successful in finding the doctors and putting the tribunals into operation. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) asked how many cases of neurosis have been accepted for pension. The answer is 2,500. He also asked what percentage of the whole is represented by this figure. I am sorry I cannot give him that information, but perhaps he may know that we are most anxious that they shall be treated in the best possible manner. We are doing everything we can to give treatment to these unfortunate people as early and as fully as possible. I am glad to say that in a great number of cases treatment has been successful and that men have been able to go back to their normal life, perfectly cured.
§ Mr. Paling
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley also brought up that question of parents' pensions and pensions for those who were married after being 1585 wounded. I do not think I can add any more to what the Minister has said already to-day, about these matters.
§ Mr. Paling
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) raised the question of a widow who has been receiving a War Service Grant, The husband is killed, she continues to receive allowances for 13 weeks, then the allowance is stopped and she goes on to pension rates, with the result that the War Service Grant is also stopped. This question was also raised by others, and when it was last raised my right hon. Friend promised that he would put this matter to the Central Advisory Committee for their consideration. I am sorry to say that the Advisory Committee have not met up to the present time, but it is intended that the first time they do meet this shall be one of the questions on the agenda.
§ Mr. Bellenger
I am glad to hear that the Minister of Pensions has decided to submit this matter to his Central Advisory Committee, but I am very sorry to hear that he has not called the Committee together, because they cannot meet until he does so.
§ Mr. Paling
My right hon. Friend promised to put it to the Advisory Committee, which is called when occasion demands and when there is an agenda. I can promise my hon. Friend that when the Committee meet this question will have their full consideration. As my hon. Friend knows, War Service Grants are given for the purpose of relieving the hardship of wives and dependants of serving soldiers. On the question of whether this principle shall be extended after the serving soldier's death and the woman gets on to pension, this establishes a new set of circumstances. I have tried to answer as many as I can of the points which have been put in the Debate, and I promise hon. Members that all the points which have been raised will be duly noted from the OFFICIAL REPORT.