§ Mr. Kendall
I wish to say to the Government in the very strongest possible terms that, while well disposed towards them in the matter of general increases, I must point out that their duty to-day is to remove these two very specific and grievous wrongs, because no word of the Government's in explanation of why these anomalies exist, will ease the minds of those concerned. Only the removal of these anomalies will do that. If the Government cannot make up their minds today on this matter, I hope they will, at least, agree to form another Committee, similar in constitution to the last one, to examine the matter and to see if we cannot put right very speedily what so many of us consider to be serious and grave injustices which are hurting so much the women and children of this country whose husbands and fathers have made the supreme sacrifice. There is a great opportunity to-day for the Government to show that they are generously disposed and to put right the very grave 1649 wrongs that exist. I do not know at this moment what other methods there are in Parliamentary procedure that can be adopted to have these wrongs put right, but I shall look for them if the Government do not act to-day. I therefore ask the Government to take the first steps in this direction, because these anomalies will have to be put right some day, and, after all, there is no better time than to-day to right these grievous wrongs.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
As we are going into Recess for a short period, I do not think we could have any better subject for discussion than the one raised by my hon. Friend. It is one which appeals to the country more than any other—the case of the serving men and their families—and the attention of Parliament should be directed to what we believe is a mistake, namely, the reduction in pension rates. May I, at the outset, draw the attention of the Minister of Pensions to the Question which I put down to-day? I understood his reply to be that there were 7,000 children——
§ Mr. Tinker
That is where we made the mistake. We understood it was 7,000, and we had been working out the figures on that basis. The figure of 70,000 puts the matter right. This matter was discussed on the Estimates on 7th July and the Minister said he hoped the explanation given would clear away misapprehension from the minds of those people who were asking for this increased allowance. I listened very carefully to the subsequent Debate, taking particular note of the reactions of the various speakers. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) followed the Minister, and, among other things, he deplored what the Minister had done in regard to the widows' and children's allowances. He said we could not be satisfied with the position, and that there was no justification in the reply given by the Minister on that point. He was followed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb). He also felt very strongly on this matter. He said that the Minister had not satisfied him, and that there could be no satisfaction given until these rates had been equalised. Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lonsdale (Sir Ian Fraser) spoke. We 1650 all know the keen attention he gives to these questions. He is one of the fairest critics of the Ministry on these matters, but even he had to criticise the reply given by the Minister on the specific point, and he asked the Minister to give the matter further consideration. He was followed by the hon. and gallant Memfor West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison), who said he was not satisfied and hoped something more would be done. Then the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson), who is here now and will probably re-emphasise the point he then raised, made a very strong speech. The hon. Member is one of the fairest critics in this House. Some of us are not as fair as others. Some of us rush into things. I am afraid I am one of those, but there are other Members who take a more reasonable point of view, and they are the Members to whom I want the Minister to pay attention. There were five speakers on that occasion who could not agree with what the Minister said.
The reply given by the Parliamentary Secretary on this matter was very brief. He tried to cover up what the Minister had done, but one felt that he was not wholehearted in his defence of the Minister in that regard. So we come forward now, on the last day before we go into Recess, to reconsider the position. I appeal to the Minister to see what can be done in this matter. Perhaps a little plain speaking will do good at a time like this. The Minister is generous in most matters but unless he first sees a point himself he is very difficult to convince afterwards. He gets the idea, "I have examined all these matters; surely you can trust me to do the proper thing." When hon. Members bring up a matter afterwards, it is difficult to get the Minister into a reasonable frame of mind. But now I ask him to view this matter in a different light. What is the position? All along, there has been too low a rate paid for children. Parliament decided that the matter could not remain where it was and decided to lift the rate. At one time, all children were on one basis. The child of a disabled soldier and the child of a deceased soldier were on one footing. Then Parliament decided that the child of the disabled soldier should have 12s. 6d. a week. One would have thought that when that was done, there should have been the same treatment in the other case. We made a big advance 1651 from 7s. 6d. and 8s. 6d. to 11s. 6d. I agree that Parliament has been generous. But the anomaly is that the child of the disabled soldier gets 12s. 6d. and the child of the deceased soldier is to have us. One would have thought that the fatherless child should have had the higher rate because, after all, nothing can replace its father. The mother is left to plod along with no husband to help her with the conduct of her child, and yet she receives less money than she would have done for the child had her husband been alive. Parliament cannot defend a position like this.
After the great speech made yesterday by the Prime Minister—whose words of praise for our fighting men were all that could be desired—we are making an appeal to the Minister to-day, to deal fairly with the dependants of those who have lost their fathers in this struggle for civilisation. I am not so keen about the widow's point of view, but I do feel very keenly about the case of the children. We must realise the impression that is created in people's minds by injustices. An impression of unfairness will not be removed unless all children are put on the same footing. I want the Minister to realise the strong feeling there is on this matter. When he came to the House some time ago to ask for vast sums of money, the Minister said he knew that whenever he made an appeal to Parliament on a just cause, his demands were never refused. The right hon. Gentleman was right. I am sure the Treasury will not stand in the way. If he thinks that he ought to appeal to the Treasury to give him the money, as we suggest he should, let him do it. The Cabinet wants a lead. I am sure no member of the Cabinet will stand in his way, but if there is any doubt let him come back to the House and he will find that we and the country are behind him. I say to him: Be generous, be just, to these children of the men who have given their lives for our country.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I want to support my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in the desire they have for the removal of the anomalies existing in relation to pensions paid to widows and children of our serving men. I think the Minister is 1652 possessed of a great deal of sympathy, but that he is not in a position to put that sympathy into practice. We have a saying in Lancashire:Sympathy without reliefIs like mustard without beef.It is very sharp. I hope the Minister will not try to play the part of the Good Samaritan without the oil, and the tuppence. The anomaly we find is where there is a reduction in the payment made to a widow on behalf of her child. The widow suffers three very heavy penalties. First, she loses her husband, then she suffers a reduction from 35s. to 32s. 6d., and if she happens to have a child the allowance is reduced, for the child, from 12s. 6d. to 11s. Surely by no stretch of imagination can any logical or justifiable argument be put forward for that reduction. I challenge the Minister to justify the reduction of payment made to a child for the loss of its father. I believe I am right in saying that there is no society or social service in the country that makes a reduction when the father dies. Even in the great Beveridge Report, there is no mention of a reduction, and I beg the Minister to realise the anomaly which is now being experienced by the widows and children of our Service men.
Yesterday, this House listened with rapt attention to the speech of the Prime Minister, a speech worth reading and rereading. The Prime Minister opened his speech with these words:I have, upon the whole, a good report to make to the House. On every battle front all over the world the arms of Germany and japan are recoiling. They are recoiling before the armed forces of the many nations which in various groupings form the Grand Alliance. In the air, on the sea and under the sea our well-established supremacy increases with steady strides … when I last saw General Montgomery in the field he used these words which he authorised me to repeat if I chose. He said, 'I doubt if the British War Office has ever sent an Army overseas so well equipped as the one fighting now in Normandy'; that is what he said, and I must say I think it is a well justified statement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd August, 1944; Vol. 402, c. 1459–1472.]The Prime Minister went on to talk about our mechanised power and the bravery of our men. It is for the womenfolk whose men are being, and have been, so courageous that we are making this plea in the House to-day. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham said that a nation was judged by how it treated its 1653 old people and its children. In the main, our plea is on behalf of the children. I know that the Minister is not personally responsible; I know the Treasury may be the obstacle in the way, but whatever difficulties there may be, there is none so great that it cannot be overcome by Members of this House. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will remove the anomalies and injustices which this House cannot justify.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I am very glad to be able to support the plea which has been put forward by my three hon. Friends opposite on behalf of the dependants of men killed in the war. It is not very creditable to the Government that it should be necessary to make this plea to-day, and it will be still less creditable to the country if public opinion is not brought to bear to see that this wrong is put right. Yesterday, as we have been reminded, we heard from the Prime Minister a thrilling story of victory not too long to be delayed. But as I listened I could not forget that a price has to be paid for that victory. Our hearts were gladdened by the prospects of victory, but there are many hearts in the country whose gladness will be mixed because they will have lost their loved ones in order to achieve this victory. Only a day after the Prime Minister's speech, we are having to appeal to the Minister of Pensions—and I hold him responsible for a decision in this matter—that the orphans of this war should be given the 12s. 6d. a week which is given to the children of those whose fathers are alive. I ask the Minister: Why do the Government again and again spoil everything that they do for our serving men and others by incredible meannesses of this kind? What is the Minister afraid of? Is he afraid that if the allowance of 12s. 6d. is given mothers will be too well off, that there will be too much going into the home? The amount of money involved is less than £250,000. Do we really want to save that small sum at the expense of these children? We are all living in hopes of a brave new world. Shades of a brave new world, when we have to plead for fair and just treatment for the dependants of those who have made possible this brave new world!
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
I would like to say something in relation to the statement which the Minister of Pensions 1654 made on 7th July in the House. He said:In the view of the Government the principle of equality cannot be accepted, since the widow's obligations and commitments are not the same as those of the wife of a serving man who looks forward to the return of her husband."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1944; Vol. 401, c. 1450.]I am very sorry to learn that the Government's view is against equality for the soldier's widow. The excuse given by the Minister will not bear investigation. This is the first time I have heard the argument used that a widow's commitments and obligations are not the same as those of the wife of a serving man. I have always understood that a home has certain standing charges, no matter whether it is the home of a soldier and his wife or of a soldier's widow. Rent, rates, coal, light, insurance, food and clothing all remain the same. The widow still lives in a real world. She still buys in the same markets. I have never yet seen a notice in a business establishment which says "All prices reduced for soldiers' widows." I realise that there are some things that a soldier's wife does which a widow is no longer required to do. It has been my privilege and pleasure to visit many homes and I have several times seen soldiers' wives take pen, ink and paper and write the daily letter to their loved ones. I should not think that was a great obligation. It is a great pleasure to write those letters, and a greater to receive letters in return from the husband. But, once those letters stop, her mind becomes troubled and she fears the worst. When the dreadful news is made known that she has no longer a husband to write to and that there are no strong arms left to protect her, her life is entirely changed. The sky becomes dark, the road becomes rough and the cross becomes heavier.
A further blow awaits her. The Minister quoted the case of a widow with three children. I will take the same example. Instead of 35s. she receives 32s. 6d., and instead of 12s. 6d. for each child she receives us That is a reduction of 7s. a week, though she still has to meet the same expenses as before. That is £18 4s. in a year. In 10 years she has lost not only her husband but £182. That is one of the greatest tragedies that we have to face. It is not by any means the reward from a grateful 1655 country that we heard about yesterday from the Prime Minister. The Minister of Pensions reminded us in July of rent supplementation. It is right and proper that we should be reminded of it but I do not see how it could be otherwise. If I understand that correctly, it is done so that a widow with a heavy rent may be left with the same spending power as a widow with a reduced rent. In my division there are more people with a margin of 8s. or 10s. a week, who will receive no supplementation, than with 20s. Very few people will receive any supplementation at all. I do not think anyone wishes a woman with 20s. a week rent to receive the same as a woman paying 8s. This rent supplementation is not given to increase spending power. A woman will not be able to purchase an extra pair of stockings or boots or a dress or a suit or food or coal or light. She has become simply a channel to the landlord. She passes on the supplementation to him. Therefore the two women have practically the same spending power.
I challenge the Minister to come to my division and ask every soldier's wife whether her obligations and commitments are greater with her husband serving and 35s. for herself and 12s. 6d. for each child than if she lost her husband and had 32s. 6d. and 11s. The Minister and all of us know the answer. She would rather have her husband with the 35s. and the 12s. 6d. The Minister mentioned education, but that is the State's responsibility and not the mother's. If the child has the ability to take advantage of it, it is a great investment for the State to educate the child. If I were the Minister I would not use that argument. It is the child's right. When a lad is called up for the Army he has to forgo business and everything else. He has no say at all. Seeing that education is a national matter, I would not use the argument that it helps the widow. If the child is intelligent, the State gets its own return. I would ask the Minister to think again. I plead with him to give these women a fair chance. They have given their all for the country when they have given their husbands. If he will endeavour to convert the Government from their point of view and use his influence to bring the 32s. 6d. up to 35s. and the child's 11s. up to 12s. 6d., he will earn 1656 their grateful praise for the rest of their widowhood.
§ Mr. Douglas (Battersea, North)
The question to which I want to direct attention relates to the practice the Minister has adopted of refusing to grant pensions in the case of men who have suffered from certain so-called constitutional diseases or diseases of which the cause is unknown. It is not a question of alleged mistaken decisions in certain isolated cases but a question of a deliberate policy of excluding completely certain categories of cases and refusing to give them the benefits which the Royal Warrant provides. It is more. It is an act on the part of the Minister which in effect has thrown back upon the claimant the onus of proof, which the Royal Warrant was intended to remove.
This question of onus of proof has agitated the House very much from time to time and it was very largely on that account that a White Paper was laid before Parliament in July, 1943, which contained proposals for amending the Royal Warrant. The Amendment was in fact made on 4th October, 1943. It turned on the question of entitlement, and it provided that a pension should be granted if it was certified that a case of disablement was due to a wound, injury or disease attributable to or aggravated by war service and, in the case of death, that the death was due to or hastened by a wound, injury or disease attributable to or aggravated by war service, or aggravation by war service of a wound, injury or disease which existed previously. It provided that there should be no onus on any claimant to prove the fulfilment of those conditions and that, where the injury or disease that led to the man's discharge or death during war service was not noted in the medical reports made on the commencement of war service, a certificate should be given as a matter of right unless the evidence showed that the conditions were not complied with. It further provided that the benefit of any doubt should go to the claimant.
That seems to me to mean that to qualify for a pension there must be a certificate that disablement or death is due to war service. That certificate must be given if the injury or disease was not noted on the man's papers at the time when he enlisted, and the only ground 1657 upon which the certificate can in that case be refused is if there is evidence showing that the condition was not fulfilled, in other words, evidence showing that the disablement or death was not caused by war service. There is a positive obligation of proof placed upon the Minister to show that the cause of the disablement or death was something else than war service. That by itself, quite apart from the paragraph dealing with onus of proof, shifted in these particular cases the burden of onus of proof on to the Minister. That was done automatically by the terms in which it was worded, quite apart from the general provisions that no onus of proof should rest upon the claimant, and quite apart from the further provision that in cases of doubt the benefit of the doubt should be given to the claimant.
In these cases the Minister has entirely ignored all these provisions. Instead of considering each case upon its merits if he wanted to dispute that a certificate should be given where the death was due to some disease which was not noted on the man's paper on enlistment, he has established categories of cases and says, "None of these cases are to be deemed to be attributable to war service, and I automatically rule them out of the scope of the Royal Warrant completely." In so doing the Minister has thrown the onus of proof off himself on to the claimant as a systematic measure. In doing that he is entirely disregarding the terms of the Royal Warrant. I had a long correspondence over one case with the Parliamentary Secretary, in which it has been made perfectly clear to me that that is the course which is being followed. The Minister himself said, in reply to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson):I am glad that this matter has been raised because the question of these diseases—though it is only a short list of them—that cannot be attributed to service is one that exercises the attention of many hon. Members."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th July, 1944; Vol. 402, C. 738.]That is a clear statement that the Minister has a list of diseases in respect of which he refuses to accept the principle laid down by the Royal Warrant that, if the disease was not noted on the man's papers, it is to be presumed that his disablement or death was caused by it. Indeed, the Minister said much the same thing in the Debate on the White Paper on 20th July, 1943. At that time one 1658 might have thought that he was merely describing existing practice and not making a statement about what his practice would be in the future, because he said on that occasion:At the present moment certain diseases are listed as not attributable to service because medical opinion has stated that these diseases cannot be attributed to service, occupation or anything else."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1943; Vol. 391, c. 796.]On the other hand, the White Paper was introduced to the House, not by the Minister, but by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was then Lord President of the Council. He said:The first presumption—I am putting this in non-technical language—is that a man's condition as recorded on his admission to the Service was in fact his condition at that time. The second is that any subsequent deterioration in his condition was due to his service. We provide, further, in terms, that there shall be no onus of proof on the claimant, and that the benefit of any reasonable doubt, any point where doubt arises, should be given to the claimant."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1943; Vol. 391, c. 718.]Not only that, but at a later stage in his speech the right hon. Gentleman said, in reference, not to the proposed amendment to the Royal Warrant, but to some phrases in the White Paper dealing with consensus of medical opinion:I gather that hon. Members are concerned about the implications of the reference 'to the consensus of medical opinion.' We have to face that. We have provided that there shall be no onus put on the applicant, that there shall be a presumption in his favour, but if you find a condition which doctors are universally agreed is not attributable to war service, then, rebutting evidence would be admissible, and the presumption with which you start may be overborne.I draw attention to that. It is not a setting up of a category of cases which are not permissible, but it lays down that in any particular case rebutting evidence may be given—quite a different matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) was not entirely satisfied, and asked the right hon. Gentleman this question:The phraseology of the paragraph is quite clear in stating that there is a presumption in favour of the man. Then the second sentence goes on to say that, in certain circumstances doubt may be thrown on the presumption.This is the reply by the right hon. Gentleman:I do not think that hon. Members should be suspicious. There is no trap here. But it 1659 is the fact that the presumption which is set up by the changed wording is not what the lawyers call an absolute presumption. It can be rebutted by other evidence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th July, 1943; Vol. 391, c. 721.]That is perfectly clear, and it shows that the Minister has not been pursuing the course of conduct which the Government anticipated would be pursued when they laid the White Paper and made the amendment to the Royal Warrant, because the Minister is not considering each case on its merits. He is not rebutting the presumption in favour of the claimant by bringing evidence. He is doing something totally different by saying that there is a consensus of medical opinion that no case of this kind can possibly be caused by war service. That is entirely contrary to what the Royal Warrant says. It says exactly the opposite, that the presumption is that these cases have been caused by war service. If the Minister wants to dispute any one of these cases he must bring forward evidence relating to that case—not statistics relating to hundreds of other cases which are not in issue and not a consensus of medical opinion, but definite evidence relating to the particular case to show that in that case the presumption in favour of the claimant has been displaced by positive evidence that the disease was caused by something outside war service.
That is the obligation which has been thrown upon the Minister, to show that there was a cause outside war service which was responsible for the disease. The Minister cannot perform that duty of giving evidence because it is admitted that these diseases are of unknown origin, and, if they are of unknown origin, it lies outside his power to show that there was a cause outside war service which produced them, because that would be an allegation that there was a definite origin. On all these points I say that the Minister has done something which he has no right whatever to do. If I may, I will give a homely illustration of what this results in. Suppose it were to happen that some crime had been committed, and that by a great misfortune the right hon. Gentleman and somebody else were found upon the scene of the crime by the police, and it appeared that either he or the other person was the culprit. I am sure that he would object very strongly, and so would his legal advisers, if the police attempted to give evidence that it was the 1660 consensus of police opinion that benevolent-looking elderly gentlemen like him were prone to commit crimes of that particular nature, and that there were police statistics which showed that in a large proportion of cases it was people like that who were guilty. Our law has never admitted that kind of system and has rejected anything of that nature. If in any other connection any person attempted to apply such a course of conduct in administering the duties which fell upon him, it would, I am certain, be open for an application to be made to the court for a prerogative writ in order to restrain him from committing a systematic breach of the duty which the law has imposed on him.
In the cases about which I am speaking it may well be that the only court of appeal is this House. However that may be, I in all seriousness beg the Minister to look at this matter again, and to recognise that consensus of medical opinion is not evidence, and that it does not matter what was said in the White Paper. The terms of the Royal Warrant are to be interpreted by what is contained in it and not by something that is contained in the White Paper. It is no more permissible to interpret the law contained in the Royal Warrant by reference to statements by somebody, no matter how eminent, than it is to interpret a Statute from the speech of the Minister in introducing it. That is exactly parallel to what is being done in this case. I have it in correspondence with the Minister that this interpretation of the Royal Warrant is justified upon the basis that something was said in the White Paper about the consensus of medical opinion. The Minister has no right whatever to bring in the White Paper in order to try and interpret the Royal Warrant. He has to interpret the Royal Warrant by what is contained in it, and not by any statement, whether it has been drafted by him or the Cabinet or by anybody else, which is contained in the White Paper. I ask that this matter should be taken with the utmost seriousness.
I inquired of the Minister how many cases of this nature there were. He said that he was unable to give any information and that it would take a great deal of labour to disentangle the statistics. I asked him to make an estimate of how many cases were involved, and he declined to do so. I will venture the opinion 1661 that there are not tens and hundreds, but thousands of these cases. It is a matter of the utmost seriousness to have so many people systematically deprived of their rights in this fashion. I have been told in correspondence which I have had with the Ministry that the people who are aggrieved can appeal to the tribunal. I say that appeal to the tribunal is not the proper remedy. It is a proper remedy where there has been a difference of opinion with regard to the isolated facts of an isolated case. This, however, is a course of conduct which is being embarked upon by the Minister. It is not a thing that can be righted by the tribunal. It is a matter which ought to be righted by the Minister himself. He ought to set up another course of conduct in accordance with the terms of the Royal Warrant.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I think we have had the time allotted for this Debate, and I know that other hon. Members are anxious to deal with other subjects. I will therefore reply as fully, but as briefly, as I can to the points which have been raised. I realise the interest which my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall) has taken in this subject of pay and allowances but I am surprised—because when the White Paper was produced by the Government, in which various increases were proposed in pay and allowances and increases in widows' and children's pensions, he expressed his great satisfaction at what had been done—that he has left it to this late hour to bring forward these points.
§ Mr. Kendall rose——
§ Mr. Kendall
The Minister it is who seems to be getting worried and not I. I want to point out that on two occasions I have asked the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House for an opportunity to discuss the anomalies existing in the White Paper, and I have taken the present opportunity to raise cases which concern me and my constituency very deeply indeed.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I am not complaining of the hon. Member raising the matter; I am thanking him for raising it. Although we have had this matter raised on two occasions it is just as well to finish 1662 it off now and have done with it. I hope the hon. Member does not mind my giving expression to my satisfaction.
§ Mr. Lipson
It depends a very great deal upon the Minister's answer whether the House will be satisfied.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I shall give the House my answer, if hon. Members will let me. All these matters were taken into consideration by the Government before the White Paper was issued. It was definitely decided that the principle of equality between wives and children of serving officers and men, and widows and children should be accepted. That was a definite decision of the Government after they had given the most careful consideration to the matter. The demand put forward to-day goes beyond any pensions demand that has ever been put before this House, and I must repeat what I said on a former occasion, that hon. Members must realise that the amount of the increase given to the widows and children was substantial. Taken quite apart from the allowances it would have been regarded as extremely generous. A far greater sum was allotted to the widows and the children than had ever been asked for by any organisation of ex-Service men or their dependants.
Hon. Members should try to put themselves in my place. I will be frank with the House, and say that when I ascertained that these allowances for serving men, wives and children were to be increased, I realised that it was my duty to tell the Government that they would leave a very wide gap between the allowances and the pensions. I am glad to say that my point of view was accepted that something had to be done for the widows and children. If a substantial increase of allowances was to be given, the question of pensions had to be considered at the same time. It was decided that the pensions should be increased. That was also included in the White Paper. Possibly it would have been better to have issued from my Ministry a separate paper. There was a definite connection between the two.
Hon. Members have asked—and I expected that this would be said—that if it costs 12s. 6d. to keep a child when the father is alive, why has the sum to come down to 11s. afterwards. We have to 1663 find the answer. Let us get down to this matter. Does any hon. Member say that the increase which was given on that occasion was not substantial?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I quite agree, but if it had been given by itself and without any application to the question of allowances, it would have been regarded by this House as generous, and it is generous.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member must take into account all our social services. If he wants to raise children's allowances all round, that is another matter. I am here concerned with the children of the ex-Service man and I have to see to it that I get the best treatment I can for them. I think I have succeeded in doing so. The question of the widow has not been stressed very much. I think it was the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) who said he was not as much concerned with the widow. The hon. Member for Grantham said: "Do not trot out that argument about the rent allowance." I am going to trot it out. It is a very important thing indeed. I could not expect to have both. The rent allowance concession had only been made a short time before and I did then feel, on inquiry, that I had made a full investigation of all these cases of the widow who was left with a heavy rent to pay. This covers rent and rates and not just the amount of the rent. Such a widow, living in London, or one of the larger towns, or even on the outskirts of one of the smaller towns, in the new houses, was at a tremendous disadvantage. I wanted to help that woman and I realised that rent supplementation would be the right and proper method. It entailed no means test or inquiries. All that we wanted was to see the rent book or the receipt for the rent and rates. That was the simple procedure and I can assure hon. Members that it was received with great acclamation by all those who represent the ex-Service men's interests.
If I had had to withdraw it there would have been a definite outcry. I would again ask them to put them- 1664 selves in my place. I am asking for something as near to equality as it is possible to get. Take the case of a widow with 32s. 6d. as against 35s., plus rent allowance. I can understand, and also realise, the position in the constituency of the hon. Member. I am a Lincolnshire man, and I know that there will not be many houses over 10s. a week with rent and rates included. The women in the cheaper houses are not getting the benefit but they are assisting their sisters in the district who are in a different position as regards rent and rates. I do not find in my part of Lincolnshire that anybody is taking any exception to this position. If they had the extra rent to pay they would want the extra allowance, but no one has ever said a word to me in my part of the constituency on this matter.
§ Mr. Kendall
Is it not a fact that a serving man at the present time can apply for a war service grant to help him to cover the additional rent which he is paying? Why confuse the issue?
§ Sir W. Womersley
If the hon. Member had been present at more of our Debates he might understand a little better.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The hon. Member does not understand the procedure in calculating what should be given for a war service grant. Rent, rates and cost of education are taken into account, but on both sides of the ledger, in service income and pre-service income, for the purpose of forming a calculation where there is a deficit between what the man was receiving as against his expenditure. We apply the principle of ascertaining how much the family are out of pocket by the man being in the Service. I say that rent supplementation fully balances any differences in the widow's pension.
The question may be asked, "What about the children?" You cannot take them as separate units. They are living in the same household. Take the case of widows with three children, the illustration that I gave on a previous occasion. Hon. Members will find that there is an increase from 26s. 8d. to 32s. 6d. per week in their pension, and then there are the allowances for the children, which has gone up, as the hon. Member has stated, from 9s. 6d., 8s. 6d. and 7s. 6d. for the first, second and third children to an all-round sum 1665 of 11s. Taking the average for the rent allowance, it brings up the figure pretty nearly to a square balance. In addition to that, I want to mention some of the things said about education. We must take this into account because it is there, as a definite and specific benefit. Educational allowances have been increased from a maximum of £50 to £80—at any rate, I have got consent for that to be done. The age-limit, instead of being eight years, is going down to five. If it is a wise thing that the children should receive that education—I know it is said that it is the nation's obligation to provide education as we shall do, under the new Education Act—there are differences in conditions. I am prepared to look at this matter again when the Act comes into operation, because it may affect many of these cases. It is true that at the present time it is there as a decided benefit. We are dealing with the matter now, and we must take it into account. I say that there is no justification for a demand made simply for the sake of equality. The point at issue is whether the increase which the Government have approved and put into operation is such as to give satisfaction to those who have to receive it. I can say definitely that it is.
Let hon. Members take note that the increases had to apply to all the widows, including the war widows of the last war. I hope that hon. Members will realise that I was not not dealing just with the new war pensioners but that the old pensioners are in also. Remember also that we have a tremendous additional burden. We have not only the three Fighting Services but the Merchant Navy which is, at any rate, equal in service to any of the Fighting Services. I have also to see that they get exact and equal treatment with the men of the Royal Navy because they are on equality. In addition to that, we have to deal With all the Civil Defence Services, and that is a very big matter. I have also the fishermen, and the general civilian population, who are insured against damage by enemy action. That is just beginning to grow into a very formidable task. Hon. Members must bear in mind those points, which I pointed out in my speech on the Estimates. It has jumped up to £80,000,000 now. The highest it ever was after the last war was £106,000,000 paid out for pensions in 1922. Over 3,000,000 persons received pensions in that year. I warned the 1666 House that they would have to provide larger and larger sums, and I said then, and I repeat it now, that I do not expect that I should get any opposition from the House. But they must bear in mind that we must not over-burden the position. We must be fair, and fair all round. We are dealing with these things now, and I am a practical man as well as a little bit sentimental, I have a little bit of both in my make up, and I say I am here to defend the rights and privileges of the ex-Service men, the widows and the dependants, and I am going to do it. But I am also here to advise as to what I think is the best course to pursue to get what we require, to stabilise the position not merely for a passing phase.
In dealing with allowances it is well known that they are only of a temporary nature. If, as the Prime Minister forecast yesterday, we are getting near the end of this war we shall get to the end of the allowances both for the wives and children when the men are demobilised. That will remove the anomaly straight away. We have to deal with these things and as and when we have finished with one we can get on to the other. Let us have it clear. I am not putting up any controversial argument. In dealing with these matters it is not just a question of these particular allowances, believe me. We have got to face the position, and the sooner we do so the better. I have said, time and time again, that when this war is over and we have some idea of what our commitments and obligations are, then there should be a thorough review of the whole position of war pensions in the light of circumstances that then exist. If we overload the boat now we shall lose in the long run. I have put this point to representatives of ex-Service men with, I think, great effect. It is necessary to be fair all round, and merely to compare one with the other is not doing what I think ought to be done in these matter. I must say that the Government have considered this time and time again, and the Government have said definitely that is the figure they are agreed upon and no alteration, That is the only message I can give to hon. Members.
§ Mr. Kendall
If it is true that it costs £50,000,000 to give the increased pay and allowances, can the Minister say how 1667 much additional money is required to pay the 35s. a week to the widows and 12s. 6d. a week to the children?
§ Sir W. Womersley
No, I can give the figure for the children at the present time, those on our books; it is £240,000 per annum. But I have to budget for something far different from that. I am hopeful that we shall finish up in a favourable position compared with the last war, because to-day, as compared with the last war, our casualties have been light. They have been distressing enough to those who have suffered but light as compared with the last war. I hope the position will be the same at the end of the war. Then this House can deal with the matter. They can say "We know what our commitments are. We can deal with them," and, I hope, deal with them generously. But I also have to bear in mind that we might—and we have been warned about it by the Prime Minister himself—have very heavy casualties. I hope we shall not, but if we have, we shall have to deal with the position in the light of what it is. At any rate, the positive answer is that the Government have given this serious consideration, and they authorise me to say that that is the final word as stated in the White Paper, and that is the only thing I can say to the House to-day.
§ Mr. Tinker
Will the Minister convey to the Prime Minister the feelings expressed to-day by hon. Members on this matter, to see if it can be reviewed again?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I take it that this Debate will be fully reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I can assure hon. Members that I will see that my right hon. Friend's attention is drawn to it and also who the hon. Members are who introduced the matter. He may want to hear more about it. At all events, I will pass it on to him.
I come to the question raised by the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Douglas). I must cross swords with him at once. I assure him of this: I do not take my advice from any outside lawyer on these matters. If he challenges my action in these matters on legal grounds, I can assure him I am Well fortified by the best legal opinion we can get. I am not going to argue with him on these legal points. It has never been my 1668 forte, and I have never done so, and thank goodness I do not want to. But he is entirely mistaken in suggesting that I am acting contrary, not only to the White Paper but to the Royal Warrant. I am too careful to do that. The hon. Member's view is that the consensus of medical opinion is not evidence as required by the Royal Warrant. I think that was his point.
§ Sir W. Womersley
This is a matter I have to take into account very seriously, because the hon. Member has charged me with unconstitutional conduct in not carrying out the White Paper.
§ Sir W. Womersley
There is the question of these cases going to the tribunal. If he goes to the tribunal and is refused, as these cases have been refused by the tribunal time and time again, and if there is this point of law, then he can apply for the case to go to a higher court on the point of law, and the matter can be argued and decided. If it is decided that we have been in the wrong, I am prepared to stand up to it, and I shall have a few words to say to those legal gentlemen who are Members of the Government who have advised us. But I think the hon. Member is entirely wrong in the presumption that I acting wrongly. I am prepared to stand my chance in a court of law. Let us get down to this point: what do we do as regards these diseases certified as constitutional. I would like the hon. Member to realise that in supplying the list to him, that was not meant as an indication that we had turned down every case suffering from a disease which the consensus of medical opinion had declared was not due to war service. There is such a thing as an aggravation by reason of certain circumstances—wrong diagnosis, wrong treatment in hospital; all these things we taken into account and I can assure the hon. Member we do treat every case as a case, not as one of a series. But we are guided by the medical opinion on the diseases that cannot be attributable to war service.
How do we arrive at that consensus of medical opinion? I think we have taken what every Member would agree to be the right course. Immediately after the 1669 last war—the then Minister of Pensions obtained the views of authorities through the Disabilities Committee—to get a real opinion on this question—and these authorities comprised experts nominated by the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons and the Medical Research Council, and the entitlement practice of the Department was based on their advice. Could we have gone to any better body for advice? We have gone to the highest medical authorities in the land. A similar practice was maintained throughout the years between the wars, and in particular by reference of questions of difficulty to the Medical Research Council and to independent medical experts appointed by the Presidents of the Royal Colleges. This procedure has been used to the fullest extent since the beginning of the war, and extended by the holding of special conferences with eminent specialists on new problems as they arise. I am very anxious to get the proper advice on this question because it is a matter which does, as I have said before, excite a good deal of interest. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) raised this matter and it was debated. He instanced two cases of cancer, and I think the case the hon. Member for North Battersea has in mind, about which he has been in correspondence with my Parliamentary Secretary, was a cancer case.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Whatever it is, it is one of these diseases scheduled by the consensus of medical opinion as not due to war service.
§ Sir W. Womersley
In that case we deal with the matter in this way. If there has been a wrong diagnosis or any medical neglect, and it has aggravated the complaint, even in a slight degree, or if it has resulted in a shortening of life, I grant a pension. But where it is, definitely, a case in which death is certified to be from one of these diseases which the consensus of medical opinion says is constitutional, and not related in any way to service, I have ample and clear evidence upon which I can work.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
It is good that the Minister should get such valuable medical advice in a matter of this kind, 1670 but does he not consider it advisable to get the advice of psychologists and humanitarians?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I do get advice from psychologists and humanitarians in nerve cases.
Finally, let me point this out to the hon. Member for North Battersea. I repeat that I have to view this question as the representative in this House, as I claim to be, of the ex-Service man and the dependants of ex-Service men. I had a long experience before I was ever in the House of Commons or thought of becoming Minister of Pensions. I know a good deal about the difficulties, but there is one principle we must maintain. Ex-Service men, I think, are pretty unanimous on this. For service, or disability by reason of service, we gave these men, by Act of Parliament, special privileges. Is anyone going to refuse that? We have got it by action of this House. It was put in a Measure that after the war ex-Service men should have an advantage. If we are to maintain that principle, we cannot have it both ways. It must be clearly laid down that a disability is due to, or aggravated by, war service. Otherwise we are going to give away the one thing for which we have been fighting. These men, when it is certified that a disability is not due to war service, or aggravated thereby, have to come under our ordinary social service conditions. They get no better and no worse treatment than the ordinary civilian. They get no advantage, because it is not a war service injury. If, as I said on a previous occasion, there happens to be at the moment a very wide difference between our benefits and the social services now, I am going to maintain as far as ever I can the advantage for the ex-Service man and his dependants. If there is any criticism about the other aspect, the remedy is to see that it is put right when the matter comes before this House, as it will before long.
I have said that repeatedly about widows' pensions. There is no such person now as a widow without a pension, as hon. Members know. If they do not get war pensions, they can qualify for contributory pensions. The great difference is that one pension amounts to 10s., and the other to 32s. 6d. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Well, there will be an opportunity for the House to deal with 1671 those matters—I am just passing it on as a hint. If all the people in the country were treated as generously as the people for whom I am responsible, there would perhaps not be so much complaint.