Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £21,561,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1945, for the salaries and expenses of the Ministry of Pensions, payments in respect of war pensions, gratuities and allowances, sundry contributions in respect thereof and other seryices."—[Note.—£14,000,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
It is my privilege to-day to introduce my Estimates to this Committee. I propose to make a brief reference to the amounts that we are asking the Committee to vote, and then to deal with what I might term the human aspect of my Ministry's work. The total net Estimate for 1944–45 is £35,561,000. That is an increase of £234,000 on last year's Estimate. That is rather unusual, because we have had a declining Estimate for this Department, owing to the fact that it is only the figure for expenditure on the old war pensioners that appears on the Estimate. The money required for the new war pensions and for War Service Grants is included in the Vote of Credit. The reason why we are asking for an increase this year is that there have been certain improvements made in pension arrangements. The figure that I have quoted does not represent the full total of 'the amount required for those improvements. Actually, the sum is £500,000. That is offset, of course, by certain reductions which have taken place, owing to deaths among the older of our pensioners. If I had to ask the Committee to vote pensions 1442 for the present war or War Service Grants, all of which are met from Vote of Credit, I should have to ask for a sum of between £70,000,000 and £80,000,000. I am giving that figure to hon. Members, for the first time, because I think they should know how this expenditure is growing.
The peak year for the last war pensions was the financial year 1920–21, and the total expenditure for that year was £106,645,516. The number of beneficiaries during that period was 3,360,354. I want the Committee to realise that, as time goes on, I shall have to ask for increasing funds. I am certain that neither the Treasury nor the House of Commons will say that, in any way, they want these sums reduced, whatever I am asking, because this will be" payment or compensation to those who have suffered by reason of war service and those who have lost their loved ones fighting for their country. But the sum which I mentioned will, to my mind, be exceeded before we are finished with this business. I know I have no need to make an appeal to hon. Members to support me when I have to come here and ask for largely increased sums.
So far as the general work of my Department is concerned, and the improvements made during the year in our war pensions system, I think I have no need to offer any apology. I am proud to represent a body of officials who are doing their level best to carry out my behest, and see to it that sympathy is given and promptness applied when dealing with claims for pensions. The most notable event in pensions history was the issue of the White Paper in July last year. This White Paper, I claim, made the most far-reaching improvements in the pensions code that had ever been brought before this House of Commons. To my mind, it stands as a landmark in war pensions history. The Committee, I am certain, will be interested to know how these new provisions have been applied and how many people have benefited thereby. I will try to give, as briefly as possible, an account of my stewardship in applying these generous proposals approved by this House.
To my mind, the most important change brought about by the White Paper was the shifting of the onus of proof, from the shoulders of those who applied, to the shoulders of the Ministry itself. 1443 That has had a tremendous effect. It is true that we tried, as far as we could, not to require too strict a proof from those applying for pensions, but the fact that the onus was not removed from their shoulders did make a considerable difference, and, when it was removed, it certainly made a tremendous difference in the way I have been able to deal with cases. The further removal of the word "directly" before the word "attributable" has also had a very good effect.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
Will the Minister say in what class of case the onus of proof makes a great difference? Is there any special class of case affected?
§ Sir W. Womersley
Yes, and in every direction. The removal, also, of the word "material" in front of "aggravation" has had a very big effect, and particularly in the cases just mentioned by my hon. Friend opposite—that is, in disease cues where the question is whether the disease was aggravated by service. Take tuberculosis as an instance. The removal of the word "material" has made all the difference in the world, and many pensions have been granted to men with tuberculosis, who would otherwise have been refused. In such cases tuberculosis was there, but there was a certain aggravation by service, and that we have admitted and have granted the men pensions. I cannot give the precise number of cases affected by this change alone, but at least 9,000 previously rejected cases have now been pensioned. This qualified basis of entitlement will have a continuing effect on the work of the Ministry, and, particularly, on the work of the pensions appeal tribunal. As a matter of fact, these new conditions came into operation simultaneously with the setting up of the tribunal, and there have been a great many reversals of the Minister's decisions, because of that very fact. It has been tremendously helpful, and I pay testimony to the way in which the change has been carried out by my staff and the tribunal.
1444 Another improvement, to which I would like to refer, is the rent supplementation to women. This met with almost universal approval. Some 21,000 payments have been authorised on this account, including Mercantile Marine and civilian cases. I am satisfied that this is the best way of helping a widow to adjust herself to her new circumstances. All widows with children are invited to claim this supplement when notified of the award of pensions, and I hope hon. Members will point out to constituents that they have a right to this supplementation, if the rent and rates exceed 8s. per week. We want every widow who is entitled to it to receive it, and I hope we shall have more and more applications as it becomes more widely known throughout the country. It must be borne in mind, and pointed out to widows, that there is no need qualification about this. It does not matter if the widow is working and earning money; she is entitled to this supplementation if she makes application. I must point out another matter which requires explaining. A widow may be living with her parents. If she decides, in the interest of the health of her children, to take a house and live away from her parents or relatives, the fact that she was not in a house at the time her husband was killed, does not make any difference. If she takes a house, she can apply for her rent supplementation and get it. I want that to be more generally known.
A further improvement which I find was received with great approval was the unemployable supplement for seriously disabled men. The Committee will remember that, when I was speaking on the White Paper, I pointed out the difference between a man who was absolutely unemployable by reason of disability, and a man who, while, perhaps, drawing 'co per cent. pension, could, at any rate, do some work. When the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) brought to the notice of the House the conditions of many of these men who are absolutely unemployable, I thought he made out a good case, and I thought they ought to receive pensions. The House approved, and we got to work. This is what has happened up to now. Some 5,500 awards have been made, largely to pensioners of the last war, but there are a few from this war, though not very many. The pensioner who re- 1445 ceives this unemployable supplement has also another great advantage, inasmuch as it makes him eligible for allowances for his wife and children, irrespective of the date of marriage. This has brought into the pensionable scale, the wives of men who, otherwise, would not have received a widow's pension from my Department, but who would have had to apply for a contributory pension to the Ministry of Health.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Does it apply to a man who becomes unemployable? A man might be capable of working but his injury might cause him to be unemployable later on. Would this apply in his case?
§ Sir W. Womersley
If a man becomes unemployable by reason of pensionable disability—and I want to get this quite clear, because it is a matter upon which we want to have a clear mind—it does not mean that we are substituting a system of unemployment insurance. A man who may be off work for a few weeks because of sickness is not necessarily unemployable. It is where he has been certified by our doctors in the first place as not able to follow his employment because of pensionable disability, and we accept that at once. If our doctors find it difficult to give a certificate, we pass a man on to the Ministry of Labour in order that he shall go to a training centre; if it is found that they cannot train him, and they report that the man is not capable of doing any work whatever, then we accept that, irrespective of what the doctors may think is justified. If, later on in life, a man becomes unemployable because of his pensionable disability, he comes on to the supplementary payment and his wife and children, who have to suffer because of his disability, also come in for allowances, and the widow will be entitled to a pension if her husband dies from the effects of his pensionable disability. This, I find, has worked exceedingly well.
There is also another class of men for whom I have been trying to do something, and it is something new and I hope that the Committee will approve of what I have done. If it is shown that a man is likely to be off work for a considerable time but is not going to be altogether unemployable for the rest of his life, I want to help him after he has undergone treatment in hospital, Therefore, if this 1446 man has not re-qualified for the normal benefits of the National Health Insurance Scheme—and I will come to that a little later on to show how a man can benefit under National Health Insurance—and he is in need of extra help, as he is bound to be, I have the consent of the Government, subject to the approval of this House, to make him an allowance of 59s. a week, which is 9s. more than the total disablement rate of 40s., with full wife's allowance of 10s. That gives the man a reasonable chance to carry on his home affairs after the time he is undergoing hospital treatment, and I hope that the Committee will agree with me that this has been worth putting into operation.
Another little feature of the White Paper was the granting of pensions through the Royal Patriotic Fund to widows unable to obtain pensions from the Department or the Ministry of Health. We had it stated time and time again, that widows had been left without any pension whatever. I challenged that from time to time, because at the present time circumstances are quite different from those of the last war, with the social services which have been in operation since 1926, whereby contributory widow's pension—true, at a much less rate than the war pension—could be granted if the man died as a result of something not due to service and could not therefor come within our allowances. I felt it right and proper to try to do something for these widows, bearing in mind that I had been informed that there was quite a number of them. This provision is included in the White Paper improvements, and the House agreed to it. It is that a pension shall be granted to those widows who fall between the two stools. I expected to receive a large number of applications but—and this shows that, after all, there are not many widows left without a pension of some kind—up to date we have only had to make three awards. I was told that there would be thousands of cases. At the moment there is a fourth application which has just come in and is being considered and, no doubt, will receive the pension. But it may be that this arrangement is not known widely enough. We have tried to make it known through the B.B.C. and through the newspapers, and, in speeches that I have made in all parts of the country, I have 1447 always stressed the point that I want the thing to work successfuly and to be of some real benefit. If hon. Members will spread the news in their constituencies that there is this pension for those widows who fail to get a war pension, and who, have not qualified for the contributory pension, I shall be pleased, because I should like to see that figure of four go considerably higher.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Whitechapel)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether this is subject to a means test?
§ Sir W. Womersley
It is subject to a kind of means test but a very generous one. It is felt that if a widow has a very considerable income, we cannot ask the taxpayers of this country to make a contribution when there is no real right to a pension. It is intended for the benefit of those who would have to go to the Poor Law and so forth. We want to prevent, if we can, any one whose husband has served in this war having to go to the Poor Law.
§ Mr. Buchanan
May I make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman? Complaint is made by the right hon. Gentleman of the smallness of the number of applications, and I never expected myself that it would be very large. I suggest that he gets more than the newspapers to help him, and that the Department of Health in Scotland and the Ministry of Health in England, the Departments which refuse the other pensions, should refer these cases to the Minister of Pensions where the husband is covered. The public assistance authorities who have to deal with some of these cases also ought to be circularised and their attention called to this particular fund.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
Can the right hon. Gentleman give some idea of the nature of the means test? I feel sure that a number of cases are affected, and I would like to know to what extent the means test deprives them of this benefit.
§ Sir W. Womersley
There is no fixed amount. The standard is the same as that of the contributory pension, but it can be supplemented wherever that is needed. 1448 I cannot say any definite amount because of that reason. As regards the means test, I repeat, it is on a most generous scale. I cannot give the exact details now but I can let my hon. Friend have them later. It is nothing which in any way presses hardly on those who are without means. I think, taking the White Paper as a whole—there are other points in the White Paper I do not intend to mention—there has been great improvement and that that is being helpful, and if hon. Members raise points in the Debate, the Parliamentary Secretary will be glad to reply.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I welcome any suggestions which would make this more widely known, and, when necessary, will pass them on to the Department concerned. Since the White Paper improvements came into operation my correspondence has gone down considerably. Letters from Members of Parliament have dropped almost down to zero. One particular Member may have sent a few more than he did before, but, generally speaking, my correspondence has been reduced, and I am very pleased for the sake of hon. Members and also for my own sake. At the same time, I do not want hon. Members to run away with the idea that I do not want them to bring cases to my notice. Despite the fact that we have pensions appeal tribunals, I want to keep as many people away from the tribunals as I can and settle their cases myself, if at all possible, without compelling them to go to that extreme.
A second White Paper has been issued, and this is a matter of which I must speak for a moment or two. It is the White Paper issued recently dealing with the question of widows' pensions and children's pensions. The object of that improvement—and it was a decided improvement—was to give help where it was most needed. A private's widow received an increase from 26s. 8d. to 32s. 6d. a week and allowances for children were raised from 9s. 6d., 8s. 6d., and 7s. 6d. for the first, second and third child, to an all-round rate of its. These increases have been accepted generally as entirely satisfactory. I want that to be widely known, because that is my experience. 1449 There is a Motion on the Order Paper which sets out that because 35s. has been given to the wife of the soldier as an allowance, and 12s. 6d. for children's allowances, the pension rate should be brought into line.
§ [That this House, being of the opinion that no widow or child of a member of the forces should be financially penalised on account of the death or disablement on service of a husband or father, considers that pensions payable to or in respect of them should be at least equal to the allowances they received before the death or disablement of the member of the forces, and accordingly it calls upon His Majesty's Government to reconsider the proposals for war pensions contained in Command Paper 6521 with a view to removing the inequalities which they create.]
§ I think it would meet with the approval of the Committee if I anticipated the remarks that will be made on that point and put the case for the Government to the Committee. I want it to be clearly understood also that this is not merely a decision of the Ministry of Pensions; this is a decision of the Government after reconsidering the matter at least twice and it is a unanimous decision. There were no dissentients.
§ Sir W. Womersley
That may not make it right but that is a matter for hon. Members to put right as we go along, and they had better listen to what I have to say first and make their remarks after. I am here to put the Government case to the Committee. There is one thing of which I am sure, that all who, like myself, have been interested in war pensions since the last war will agree that this goes far beyond any pension demand that has ever been put seriously to this House. There is no question about that, and to my mind the Government acted very generously in increasing these rates without any pressure from this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members must really agree with me that this was not the result of long-continued pressure by the House. It was given at the time when the allowances were increased. There was plenty of pressure about allowances, I agree, and in acceding to those 1450 requests for increased allowances, I put it to the Government myself that it would be wise to consider, at the same time, the widows and the children. The Government agreed to that, and brought forward the proposal. If it had come forward separately from the allowances it would have been regarded by all concerned as a very generous advance on what had been paid before.
Let me give a few points about this. The present position is that widows and wives alike receive a flat rate, the former 32s. 6d. and the latter 35s. Thus, whereas previously widows received amounts varying from is. 8d. more to 5s. 4d. less than wives, they now all receive 2s. 6d. less. There was a big variation so far as wives were concerned. Widows of privates, corporals and so forth, taking them by and large, now all receive this rate which is, I agree, 2s. 6d. less than the allowances. I would like to emphasise, however, that the relative position of the widow has not, in fact, been worsened as a result of the recent changes. It was true that when the rates of war pensions were reviewed in the autumn of 1943, the rates for children were brought up to the level of children's allowances of serving men for the first time. That level, however, had then been very much lower. Moreover, in making a comparison between the Ministry of Pension's rates for children, and the rates of allowances for children of serving men, I think it is not unreasonable to take into account, to some extent, the rent supplementation payable to widows, which is a contribution to the support of the family as a whole. There are also the additional allowances payable in the form of educational grants.
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. It must be remembered that the pension of a widow is, in fact, an annuity for the remainder of her life or until she remarries, whereas the allowance for a serving man's wife is only a payment in respect of a special emergency—it is only going on for the time that the man is in the Service. I think hon. Members want to realise that, that an annuity for life should be regarded as more valuable than a merely temporary allowance. Therefore, in fixing the 1451 amount I think it is only reasonable to say we must take that into account.
Generally speaking, the position of the family of a serving man who is, unfortunately, killed has been greatly improved by the recent changes in pension rates. When those rates were reviewed in the autumn of 1943, the increases, as I have already indicated, were generally regarded as satisfactory. As a result of the latest changes the rates have now been further increased by 5s. 10d. in the case of a widow, and Is. 6d., 2s. 6d. and 3s. 6d. in the case of the first, second, and third child respectively. A private's widow with three children, now receives 32s. 6d. widow's pension, 33s. children's allowances and probably on an average 5s. in respect of rent supplementation, making a total of 70s. 6d. a week. She might also receive further allowances, in the form of education allowances up to a maximum of £50 a year, this clearly representing a substantial benefit which cannot be ignored in any comparison. I hope hon. Members will bear that in mind when they are making a comparison.
In view of the fact that provision is made for continuing the payment of the wife's allowance for a period after a serving-man's death, sufficiently long to enable the widow to adjust herself to her new circumstances, the Government feel that the new rates are not unreasonable but are, indeed, liberal. That these new rates will give very real help where needed, is proved by the fact that on a basis of the estimated numbers in payment at the end of the financial year the increased payment to widows and 'children, as a result of changes since March, 1943, will amount to about £3,500,000 a year.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the educational allowance includes anything for the maintenance of the child, or is it entirely to cover school fees?
§ Sir W. Womersley
The child will get the pension to cover maintenance; the other is for school foes and, in addition to that, we can make grants for clothing and other things required because of attendance at school.
§ Mr. Pritt (Hammersmith, North)
Would the right hon. Gentleman clear up one other point? He said that the aver- 1452 age rent supplementation is 5s. Is that right, having regard to the fact that in large parts of the country rents are pretty low, on an average about 13s.? I am very glad for the people if they get as much as that, but it sounds rather inconsistent.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I said we could take that as a basis. It is round about that where we have granted a supplementation but there are, of course, many others who, because they have very low rents, do not need supplementation, and it is the person with the largest expenditure who has to be taken into account when dealing with rent supplementation, surely. If a woman is getting the new full pension and the new children's pensions and is living in a house in the country at a rent of only 4s. or 5s. a week, there is nothing like the same need for assistance as for a woman living in a suburb of London or some other large town who is paying 20s. a week rent. It is true that a large number of widows receive no benefit from the supplementation, but it is also true that a large number of widows who are really in need of that supplementation get it, and if we made a flat rate for everyone, it would not—
§ Mr. Pritt
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt. I am not belittling rent supplementation in the least; it is obviously valuable. But when it comes to comparing widows with wives, and the wife does not get supplementation and the widow does, then the only fair thing is to average the amount paid to widows and that would obviously be less than 5s., perhaps 1s.
§ Sir W. Womersley
No, it would be more than that. Five shillings is just about the average for those requiring supplementation.
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
Is it not a fact that the wife, in need, may draw rent supplementation from the war service grants, which really puts her in an equal position in regard to rent supplementation as the widow?
§ Sir W. Womersley
No, the hon. Lady ought to know more about war service grants than that; she has been a member of the War Service Grants Committee ever since the beginning. She should know that in calculating rent and rates earnings are taken as a factor in deciding whether there is deficiency in a household. This 1453 is entirely different—a grant irrespective of what a woman is doing. In the case of war service grants, if she is working, the amount earned is added in as income of the household, but in this instance it does not matter what a woman is earning, and she enjoys supplementation by right.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
If the widow is working in a munitions factory, for instance, along with a soldier's wife, her income is taxed to the full. Pension is taxed as well as earnings while the allowance of the soldier's wife is not taxed.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
Is my right hon. Friend making the case that, in view of rent supplementation, a widow is really as well off, as if an increase of pension were granted to her? Further, in view of the fact that allowances are not subject to tax, is it possible that rent supplementation could be free of tax, or is that a matter with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to deal?
§ Sir W. Womersley
It is a matter for the Chancellor. I want to get on with my speech, because I know many Members want to take part in the Debate and I have a lot more to say yet, in spite of the fact that in my younger Parliamentary days I belonged to the "Ten Minutes' Association." I seem to have lost that habit since I became a Minister.
I want to say something about pensions appeal tribunals. These have been in operation about eight months and I want to give the Committee some idea of what is happening. These tribunals are dealing not only with the three Fighting Services but with the Mercantile Marine, naval auxiliary personnel, Civil Defence organisations and the ordinary civilian population injured in air raids. All have a right of appeal to a tribunal if they are dissatisfied with the decision of my Ministry. We have set up 12 tribunals so far. I had promised no more than nine, but I said that we would do our best and increase that number if we could. We have been able to get 12 tribunals sitting in English and Welsh centres, one in Scotland, with a second one when necessary, and one in Ireland.
§ The Chairman (Major Milner)
I think I ought to make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that he is not responsible, nor are his Estimates, for setting up these tribunals. That is the function of the Lord Chancellor.
§ Sir W. Womersley
You are quite right in your Ruling, Major Milner, but I am going to slip this through very quickly. For passing information—it has nothing to do with the Estimates—5,251 cases have been heard, and of these 1,465 have been allowed. I want to emphasise how these tribunals are set up so far as my staff is concerned—and I think I am in Order here, because I have to provide staff in connection with them. I assure hon. Members that the staff have instructions not to act as advocates on behalf of the Ministry, but merely to place information before the tribunals. I would like Members to visit these tribunals; many have done so and they have noted, as I have, their informal nature, and how members of the tribunal and my staff have tried to help those who have appealed. The results show that those who have been before the tribunals have had a fair deal.
I think Members would like to know something about the 1944 Personal Injuries (Civilians) Scheme, which is a great advance on the earlier schemes and gives to civilian workers and Civil Defence personnel important benefits, similar to those provided for private soldiers and their dependants. At a time such as this, when we are undergoing various trials, I think it is just as well that the civilian population should realise that if anything happens to them, because of flying bombs, or anything else which the enemy may send against us, provision is made for them if they are injured and for those who are left behind. We have brought this scheme into line with all the best features of our pensions scheme. There are supplementation for rent, educational grants and treatment allowances, and many other things that are of great benefit. We are making allowances for constant attendance where a man is so badly injured that he requires attendance all the time and in the very rare cases—we have had one up to now—where an invalid husband has been definitely dependent upon his wife, and his wife has been killed, we have granted him a pension.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards
Could the Minister say whether, in the event of a civilian being killed, a funeral grant is allowed by the Minister?
§ Sir W. Womersley
If he is a gainfully employed person, yes, but if it is the wife or a child then it is the duty of the local authorities to see to that. The only grant that can be made is where a private burial takes place of a gainfully employed person.
§ Sir W. Womersley
There is another Motion on the Order Paper regarding parents' pensions—[This House would welcome the grant of Pensions for Parents who have had the misfortune to lose sons or daughters in this terrible war, in the form of a flat rate pension irrespective of their means.]—about which I would like to say something before we come to the general discussion. There is a demand in some quarters for a flat-rate pension. This demand has been vocal, very vocal, but from my own investigations and experience it is not so widespread as some hon. Members think. I am convinced that it does not represent the real feeling of the average British parent. A large majority attach much greater importance to the knowledge that reasonable provision will be made for them when they are in need, rather than merely having a small grant automatically granted in the case of the loss of a child. They do not measure their grief in pounds, shillings and pence. There is no question about it, the Government have said definitely and clearly, not once 'but three times, that they will not entertain the idea of a flat-rate pension, such as was in operation in a limited degree in the last war and was eventually abolished. But the Government are prepared to hear from Members any suggestions for improvement so long as that one principle is not insisted upon.
I want hon. Members to realise how we arrive at so-called need. I think we are administering this on a very generous scale. Many Members have had details as to how we are dealing with the matter, but I would like briefly to run through them. In deciding the amount of the means limit, a basic figure of 4os. a week is adopted, where there are two parents and 25s. where there is one parent. To either of these are added: (a) the amount 1456 of the deceased son's contribution to his parents' support before his war service, i.e., his full contribution, with a deduction of 10s. a week if board and lodging were provided by the parents. Where, prior to war service, the son was a student or apprentice, or by reason of youth, was earning low wages, or where he was not contributing either before or during service because the parents' circumstances did not then necessitate it, a contribution not exceeding 20s. a week is assumed, according to the circumstances of the individual case; (b) 5s. a week in respect of each brother or sister under 15 years of age maintained in the parents' household, less any grant such as an orphan's allowance under the Contributory Pensions Acts. There is a long list of disregards of which many Members are aware.
§ Sir W. Womersley
It has already been published in the OFFICIAL REPORT, in answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Deritend (Sir Smedley Crooke), but it can be republished by arrangement if someone will put down a Question. If hon. Members feel we are not acting generously I want to tell them, on behalf of the Government, that we are quite prepared to consider any proposals for easements in any direction. We want to see this thing work properly. The letters that I have received from parents assure me that they appreciate this system of giving where the need is greatest and that there is a realisation throughout the country that any parent who loses a son in the war, has a right to come at any time to the Government when their circumstances warrant it, and ask for a pension to be granted on the ground that the son, if he had lived, would have made a contribution.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is it not a fact that a medical certificate is required to show that the mother is not fit to carry on work? It may well be that a widow, 59 years of age, has lost two or three sons and is suffering from something which the medical people cannot diagnose, and yet she has to produce a medical certificate.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Perhaps there are other circumstances that the hon. Member has not mentioned. I say this is being administered as generously as possible. We are not allowing red tape to stand in the way. If hon. Members think we are not doing it in the right and proper way, let them attack me on that, but do not attack me on the question of the standard thing, because the Government have said definitely that they will not grant it. When I have spoken to decent, sensible women and explained the position they have said, "You are dead right. They should go to those who have lost a definite contribution." Where grants have been in operation, there are very few cases indeed where the pension is not granted, but where people are not in need, and would have to include it in their Income Tax returns, as many of them would, they have no right to be receiving money. In the words of the late George Lansbury, I do not believe in giving State money to those who do not need it. The Parliamentary Secretary will deal with any questions which arise on this later.
As far as medical services are concerned, my hospitals are doing efficient, and indeed very valuable, work. At present one is being used as a casualty clearing station for wounded coming back from Normany and I have had nothing but praise for the work done by my officials. Another is being used as a base hospital for battle casualties coming from a clearing station, and I am again satisfied that the work is being done well.
There is the question of benefit additional to pensions. Many people think that a man with a 50 per cent. pension has to live upon it. I have said that it is my great desire to see that men who have served their country do not have to go to the Poor Law. There are cases of men who have been discharged from the Services with no pensionable disability, where there are certain difficulties. May I point out exactly what the position is? The vast majority of my pensioners are able to earn full wages in employment. I say that without any reservation. Special steps are taken by my Department and by the Ministry of Labour and National Service to assist them in this direction, believing that rehabilitation, training and employment is the real prac- 1458 tical way to help these men. Up to 1st April of this year the Minister of Labour and National Service had interviewed 150,000 disabled persons in hospital, so that the question of employment should be considered before discharge. Particular care is also taken, during hospital treatment, to rehabilitate the disabled man and make him as fully able to work, in the medical sense, as is possible.
The result has been remarkable. Thirty-five thousand of those interviewed were able to take jobs which they knew to be available for them, in most cases their old jobs, and 88,000 were able to take up immediate employment without any training whatever, after they had received that medical treatment. Of the remainder, 11,000 were found to require training which would fit them for full employment, and the total number of cases in which the question of employment presented great difficulty was not more than 2,231. That speaks volumes for this well-organised system of rehabilitation from the first day they entered hospital to be treated in a progressive way, so that they can regain, as far as possible, the power to engage in some useful occupation, and it justifies all that has been said about the scheme. The House has passed legislation to enable disabled persons to have a fair share of employment, and I am satisfied that we can place all these men without any difficulty. A problem may arise when the war is over and men come back into the labour market but, with this legislation, with the care and attention that my Department and the Ministry of Labour are giving to the matter, there will not be any recurrence of the difficulties that arose after the last war, in regard to the employment of these men. I am proud to acknowledge the splendid assistance that has been rendered by the trade unions. They are playing their part truly and well, and I am very grateful to them.
Again, I want hon. Members to bear in mind that if a man who has been discharged takes up some employment and his health then breaks down, he is entitled to National Health Insurance benefit. If he has been employed for 26 weeks and has paid 26 contributions, full sickness benefit is payable for 26 weeks. If the insurable employment amounts to 104 weeks, and 104 contributions have been paid, disablement benefit is payable on the expiration of the period of eligibility for sickness benefit. 1459 Even if the pensioner has not since discharge been insurably employed during 26 weeks, his eligibility for full sickness benefit is affected by the receipt of pension only if the pension is in respect of disablement assessed at more than 70 per cent. Where pension for 100 per cent. disablement is in issue, half the sickness benefit rate is payable and, where the pension assessment is more than 70 per cent. but less than a 100 per cent., a modified rate of sickness benefit is paid so that the total payment of pension plus sickness benefit does not exceed the total of 100 per cent. pension plus half sickness benefit. I want that to be more widely known than it is. Many do not get the full benefits that they are entitled to from the health insurance scheme in addition to pensions, and I want that to be known. Again, as regards unemployment, if a man cannot find work he may receive, in addition to his pension, unemployment insurance benefit at the rate of 20s. for himself, 10s. for his wife, four shillings for each of the first two children and 3s. for each other child. In the normal case unemployment insurance benefit continues for 26 weeks. Those who come on what was known in the old days as uncovenanted benefit now receive help from the Assistance Board, but a certain part of the pension is taken into account. The first £1 of pension is disregarded in assessing the amount to be given. The man who is employed receives his wages in addition to his pension and also the social service benefits, so that he has a much better chance than a man had after the last war. The man who is totally unemployable and cannot qualify for the social service benefits is taken under the care of the Ministry, and he is given the supplementation.
I want to say a few words about the Mercantile Marine because certain hon. Members are very interested in the men. We have brought in an improved scheme for them, which is important, in view of the invasion of Normandy. If a Serviceman is injured and is brought back to hospital his pay goes on. In the case of the Mercantile Marine, however, owing to the way these things are worked by law, a man's pay ceases if he is taken to hospital. Under the Pensions (Mercantile Marine) Act, 1942, we are able to deal with the men straight away by giving them allowances so that they will not be 1460 left without money. My Ministry have the responsibility of dealing with these people from the moment they land. A large number of men of the Mercantile Marine have been employed on the landings in Normandy, and the number who have been killed and injured is very small indeed. That is a wonderful thing and something of which we ought to feel proud. We ought to register our great admiration for the work of these men because many of the ships they have to navigate are not protected vessels, in the sense that naval vessels are, and the men have to take a tremendous risk. I am told there is no lack of volunteers, and I am certain that the fact, which was known to the men, that my Department takes care of them if they are in need has helped considerably. I want to pay my tribute to the shipowners because they have co-operated with me, and to the men's unions which have been in close co-operation with me all the time. Nothing but an amicable spirit prevails between us all.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards
Can the right hon. Gentleman inform us what allowances are paid to the men of the Mercantile Marine when they have to go into hospital?
§ Sir W. Womersley
The allowances are commensurate with the allowances we give to Service personnel.
§ Sir W. Womersley
There are hospital charges, but there is not a great deal in that. I want to pay my tribute to a group of shipowners in Liverpool. I hope that other shipowners will follow their example. They have established, in Westmorland, a centre for their men for training and rehabilitation. Where the disablement is such as to prevent a man returning to sea, he is helped to a suitable and congenial occupation on shore. For this to be taken in hand by shipowners shows that they appreciate what the men have done, and I hope that shipowners in other parts of the country will follow this excellent example.
I am responsible for total orphans and children of widows in need of care and supervision. At 31st May last there were 2,392 orphans who had lost both father and mother. Of these, 724 were from the Services, 325 from the Mercantile Marine, 1461 and 1,343 from the civil population. What has happened in many of these cases is that the children have been evacuated, the mother has stayed behind with her husband, and they have been killed in a blitz. I have to take care of these children. I want to acknowledge the splendid assistance I have received from the Lord Mayor's Air Raid Distress Fund Committee and the American Red Cross in dealing with these children. They are all placed in good homes, in most cases with relatives. I want to pay a special tribute to the hon. Lady the Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson), who has undertaken this work on my behalf and has done a splendid job; and also to my women officers throughout the country who have taken this work not merely as a profession but as a labour of love. They are doing it exceptionally well.
I want to pay a tribute to my war pensions committees throughout the country. These committees consist of men and women who give their time freely and voluntarily and spend a good deal of time investigating cases and assisting those who are claiming pensions. I want to thank them sincerely for what they are doing. I want also to pay a sincere tribute to the members of my staff in all the branches of the Department. During this year they have had to face exceptional tasks. As a result of last year's White Paper, 33,000 cases have had to be reviewed in respect of entitlement, and increased rates of pensions had to be issued in nearly 200,000 cases. I asked that this work for the immediate benefit of the pensioners should be done quickly, and it was done, not only quickly but with greater speed than I had thought possible. In addition to all this, they had to tackle the new work connected with appeal tribunals. When this year's White Paper was issued, they were faced with a further increase of pensions to nearly 125,000 widows and over 25,000 disablement pensioners entitled to increased children's allowances. The whole of the widows' work was finished well before the end of June, and practically the entire job is now completed.
The total number of my staff, including medical, lay and those in the regions, is 10,200, of whom some 900 are only part-time workers. They have had to face these additional tasks as well as the normal increase in their work without 1462 addition to their numbers. That was only made possible by their readiness to work long hours and often to spend seven days a week in the office. I have visited outlying offices in Lancashire, where the largest number of our people are working, regional offices and hospitals, and from personal knowledge I can say that they all work in a spirit of helpfulness, and that their aim is to do all that they are permitted to do for the benefit of those who suffer from war service. Many are themselves war victims—disabled men, war widows, wives whose husbands are serving, and even mothers and fathers of men who are serving or who have lost their lives on service. There is one real veteran, 80 years of age, who is voluntarily doing a really good job of work. He says that his sons and grandsons are doing their bit and he wants to do his.
I am a little disturbed when I hear criticisms of my staff. I find it hard to understand why anyone should suppose that a staff of this kind should be wanting in sympathy for others who have suffered like themselves. The very fact that they belong to the very people who are serving, and the people who are applying for pensions, should be an answer to such criticism.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
Can the Minister tell us where this criticism has come from, because I have not heard it?
§ Sir W. Womersley
If the hon. Gentleman had given close attention he would have heard it two paces away from him. One hon. Member has referred to the "mean and parsimonious staff." That has been said in this House and is on record in HANSARD. That criticism wants wiping out of the way, once and for all.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Surely the right hon. Gentleman would not say that his staff have not made mistakes? He must not claim wholesale perfection for them.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I am not claiming that. What I am claiming is that the spirit in which they work is one of helpfulness. If they make mistakes, that is only human, and we try to correct them. If the mistakes are not corrected, hon. Members soon see to it that I pay my personal attention to them. I cannot look at every case, but I am prepared to discuss with any Member any question of a pension.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I have never criticised the staff, but occasionally a Member feels that somebody has been badly treated and he has a right to say so.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I am going to defend my staff on every occasion, because I believe they are doing a good job. In particular I would refer to the work that my London people have been doing, and those who have volunteered to come from the provinces during the last three weeks. It was decided that all persons disabled by reason of enemy action should he visited at once, either in hospital or in their homes or wherever they might be, and that if they were not able to work the injury allowances approved by Parliament should be handed out at once or, if the man had been killed, the 50s. special temporary allowance should go to the widow, until other arrangements could be made. It has been a trying task for my staff to travel about during the blitz to visit these people, but I am glad to say that we have been able, without any delay, to visit all the cases, and have a complete register of them, and I am certain that we are giving satisfaction, to judge, at any rate, by a letter which I received saying:May I take this opportunity of expressing by sincere thanks for the prompt assistance given by the Ministry of Pensions. It was indeed a great comfort and a load was lifted from my shoulders in a very short time. The kindness and help shown me by the Ministry's officers is very much appreciated.That is one of many letters which I have received in connection with that work.
Finally, may I pay a tribute to other organisations which have been of great assistance to me? I wish to pay a tribute to the British Legion, not for the criticisms they pass upon the Minister—which I expect them to do, as it is their job—but for their work on behalf of ex-Service men and women, particularly the constructive side of their work. They blazed the trail of rehabilitation training and employment when the Government of the day were not inclined to go into that matter so thoroughly as the present Government have done. They started that wonderful place, Preston Hall, which has been a Godsend to those suffering from tuberculosis; and the Cambrian Factory, in which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oswestry (Major Leighton) takes an interest, is another example of what can be done for men 1464 who have been disabled and have been rehabilitated, and I would pay my tribute to it. I would also pay tribute to the Ex-Services Welfare Society. They have taken on the most difficult job of all, that of dealing with nervous disorders. Where a man has suffered the loss of a limb it can be seen by everybody that he has suffered for his country, but the man who suffers in his mind as a result of his service is, to my way of thinking, the one who requires the deepest sympathy. They have done the work in a practical way at Milner House, as it is called after the founder, who was long a Member of this House. They teach these men useful occupations, and that does more than anything else to restore their health. They are doing a very fine job of work.
May I also express my thanks to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) for the work being done for the blind at St. Dunstan's in showing them how they can overcome their disabilities? The Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families Association and Help Societies have also done splendid work. I do not always agree with the suggestions they put forward, but, none the less, they are doing splendid work, and volunteers throughout the country are visiting the families of soldiers, sailors and airmen. Another loyal institution that is still carrying on is the Lord Roberts' Memorial Workshops. I am proud to think that I was one of the first customers those workshops ever had just after the last war, and I know the splendid work they have done. There are also the various local associations—I cannot mention them all—throughout the country which do splendid work on behalf of ex-Service men, and I want them to continue that good work, Whatever the Government may do there is always a little something that can be done by private people with good intent and the right purpose in mind, and I hope that truly British spirit of helpfulness will continue.
In conclusion, I would thank the Committee for being so patient in listening to me. I realise fully the difficulties of my task. I have never disguised from myself or from Parliament that I regard this as one of the most difficult tasks of any Minister of the Crown. The Minister of Pensions has to deal with human beings, and has to deal with them in a humane way. I say with all humility that I have 1465 tried my level best to do what I thought was right for those who have served their country and have suffered in consequence. I know a great deal about these people. As I have said before, I have served on a war pensions committee right from the start of those committees, and I have been a member of the British Legion from the beginning, and I know a good deal about the work; but I hope hon. Members will bear with me when I say that I also realise that I have a dual duty to perform. I have tried to help faithfully and well those I represent—and by that I mean the men and women who have served and suffered—but I also have a duty to the taxpayers of this country to see that the money provided is spent in the best possible way, and also to see that those who are not deserving—and we are bound to agree that there are such cases—do not receive any public money.
§ Major Nield (Chester)
The Committee have listened with great interest to the account of the working of the Ministry of Pensions given by my right hon. Friend in presenting his Estimates. If I may I would congratulate him most warmly upon the account he has given us. He put his case in so attractive and disarming a way that those who have complaints almost hesitate to ventilate them, though I know he would not wish that to be the position. The Committee will feel particularly interested, I think, to hear of the reduction in the correspondence received by my right hon. Friend from hon. Members. He said it had fallen to zero. I do not know whether I am particularly troublesome, but I cannot think that that is an accurate estimate of his postbag.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I did not say that in reference to letters from hon. Members, but to general complaints, though in the case of Members the number of letters has fallen considerably.
§ Major Nield
I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend for correcting me, and I can assure him that if his Department does deal sympathetically and generously with these cases the correspondence will be still further reduced. There are two specific matters to which I would ask leave to call attention. The first relates to parents' pensions. My right hon. Friend invited hon. Members to make suggestions in this regard. That 1466 is an attitude which is appreciated, and I propose to offer a suggestion. In the first place I feel it only right to say that I cannot accept the view that these pensions should be given without any regard to the means of the parents. Others hold the opposite view, but one must be honest in what one says about these matters, and I would suggest to the advocates of a flat-rate pension for parents that it would be absurd and, indeed, wrong for public funds to be expended in the payment of a pension to a rich man whose son had been killed and who may, tragically enough, by reason of that fact have been relieved of a considerable financial responsibility.
What I do say is that there is room for improvement in this direction and I suggest that where an allotment has been made by the soldier, sailor or airman that of itself should be regarded as a test of need. Logically, and from the point of view of legal technicality, it might be argued that the mere payment of an allotment is not evidence of need. I should have to accept that view, but this is surely not a matter of technicality. This is a human problem, as my right hon. Friend so clearly recognised, and my argument is that where an allotment has been made the housewife has come, in the vast majority of cases, to expect that allotment at the end of the week and to budget her accounts accordingly. When the allotment is withdrawn it is missed, and I suggest that that is good enough evidence that it has been needed. It has been lost in the service of the State and should be made good by the State. I know that my right hon. Friend will consider this suggestion, and I hope that he will find it possible to accede to it and to say that in such cases parents' pensions shall be granted. Here, again, I feel it proper to say that such a pension must be for a limited period. One cannot disguise from one's self the fact that the son, had he not been killed, might by marriage or other circumstances have ceased to lend support to his parents. Therefore, a proper and reasonable limitation of time might be appropriate.
The second matter to which I desire to refer relates to pension appeals. If by any chance I transgress the rules I hope that I, like the Minister, may be allowed to "slip it through quickly," but I do want shortly to say a word about the 1467 tribunals. I have visited them myself and I agree most warmly that they are working extremely well. When speaking about this in the House when these tribunals were set up my right hon. Friend referred to the Service member of the tribunal as the appellant's friend. Very respectfully I did not agree with that, because I believe that appellants do not want a friend on this count. What they want is three fair-minded people to come to a just decision. That, I think, they have got. My right hon. Friend has said very rightly that there are people who assert that he is unsympathetic and that his Department seeks to refuse pensions rather than to grant them. Let me say at once that I think that any such suggestion is entirely without foundation, and that I do not believe it for one moment. I think that can be proved, if proof is necessary, in this way.
After the Debate on the White Paper, after the shifting of the onus of proof and the general facilitating of the grant of these pensions, many thousands of these cases went, no doubt, to my right hon. Friend's Department for review. It shows the Minister's sympathy that a very large percentage of pensions should be granted without recourse to the appeal tribunals. Questions have been asked in the House—I asked one myself a few month ago—as to the figures. I must be forgiven if this figure has already been given, but I would ask the Minister to be good enough now to give the number of cases which, up to date, have been sent, under the new scheme, for review, and in which pensions have been allowed without recourse to the tribunals. I believe it to be a very considerable percentage, indicating how sympathetically they are treated. My view of the matter is that these cases are dealt with as generously as possible by my right hon. Friend, within the law. Whether or not there should be some alteration in the law so as to extend these pensions is quite another question.
Finally, if the whole situation is reviewed in the future, I would ask those in authority to take the view that in this country, when people fall into need, poverty, or sickness, public funds will be forthcoming to provide for them. In the case of Service men and women, let us not look too closely or technically into 1468 their cases, but let their award come in the shape of a Service pension. They will then feel, not that they are in receipt of charitable moneys, but in receipt of a just reward for the service which they have rendered to their King.
§ Mr. Dobbie (Rotherham)
The Minister has stated a case which, on the face of it, sounds remarkably good. The criticisms which I have to make will not be of the Minister and his administration. I realise that he and his staff are operating under regulations which provide totally inadequate payments to the pensioners. I would like to say to the Minister that whatever criticisms he may have received from individuals I believe I express the opinion of the Committee when I say that the staff of the Ministry of Pensions have done a remarkably good job. As the Minister knows, I have had some experience and knowledge of the work, and, to my knowledge, the staff have shown, as alterations have been made, a definite desire to expedite the application of those alterations. I hope that the Minister will convey some message of that kind to the staff when opportunity presents itself.
He has told us of the large amount of money being paid in pensions and has asked the House to prepare for bigger grants in future. I do not know any Minister who would more readily get unanimous support than the Minister of Pensions, when he comes to ask us for increased grants, either for disabled members of the Forces or for their dependants. He need have no hesitation in asking for those increased grants. I was rather surprised when he said that the new regulations represented a landmark in the history of the country and a generous gesture. I believe he is right when he says they are a new landmark, but we cannot talk about generosity to these people unless we give them the justice which it is our duty and obligation to give. In spite of what the Minister said, when he declared that these advances had been made without pressure from outside sources, I want him to think again about that remark. There has been continued pressure inside and outside this House for reviews and for increases, as well as for more just treatment of the men and women who have suffered disabilities or wounds, and of the dependants of those who have laid down their lives so that we might live.
1469 I believe the Minister has rather overdrawn the picture to-day. Sometimes one would have thought from his speech that these recipients were under some kind of obligation to us, instead of the nation being under an obligation to them which we can never repay, no matter how great the financial payments we make to them. We have an obligation to these men and women, as well as to the widows and dependants, from which we can never escape, and I say that their pensions are not good enough. Many of us have said that before and we desire to reiterate it. After all that the Minister has said about rehabilitation—and no one would under-estimate the value of that work and every hon. Member must have made himself thoroughly acquainted with what the Minister has done, in association with the Minister of Labour, in connection with rehabilitation—it is not enough to rehabilitate the individual person physically, unless you give him a guarantee of an opportunity to pursue life in the industry in which he has been trained, according to the physical rehabilitation that you have given him. Those considerations have to be kept in mind.
After the Minister's statement about rehabilitation, constant attendance allowances, rent allowance, and awards, we would say again that the pensions are not good enough and we would like the Minister to bear that in mind and to take the needful steps to have the pensions reviewed again and raised to a more equitable basis. We have said before that it seems peculiar, after all our talk of the consideration that we are giving to our pensioners, after the figures that the Minister has put before us and the warning that he will ask us for more money and present greater Estimates, that we pay the same amount in the 100 per cent. pension to the disabled person as we pay to the 100 per cent. pensioner of the Boer War. I know that the Minister will shake his head, as he is doing now, and say that that is not true, but let us examine the facts. Before the last advance was made, the 100 per cent. disabled person was receiving 37s. 6d. while the Boer War 100 per cent, pensioner was receiving 40s.
§ Mr. Dobbie
The Minister will say that that was only since 1922, but that is a 1470 long time. The Boer War pensioner was in receipt of that amount when this war broke out. The Minister will say that when the cost of living dropped he did not desire to reduce the pension; would the Government have dared to reduce the pension which had been given to the man because of his disability? We are paying to the 100 per cent. disabled member of the Forces the same money as we pay to the pensioner who was disabled in the Boer War. There has been some difference in the cost of living. There has been a general rise in the standard of living since the Boer War. If those people are entitled to get some share in the raised standard of life, what is the position of the 100 per cent. disabled person in this war?
I do not apologise for reminding the Minister about that matter. We will keep on reminding him about it, until such time as these pensions are paid upon a more equitable basis than they are at the moment. The Minister has said a good deal about widows' pensions and there are one or two anomalies in that direction. The Minister has also said that he has not had much complaint. I wish the Parliamentary Secretary were here, because I want to say a word to him. For the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary to say that they have not had much complaint, suggests that they must be getting rather far away from the voice of the people. That has not been my experience and I think my experience is the same as the experience of all those representing industrial constituencies from which there has been a large influx of men into the Forces. I believe the pension of a widow has been raised—no doubt the Minister will correct me if I am in error—from 26s. 8d. to 32s. 6d. That advance has not been given to the woman under 40 who has no children——
§ Mr. Dobbie
The Minister quite rightly draws my attention to that fact. No advance has been given to the childless widow under the age of 40 who is capable of self-support. That means that the pension to the woman under 40 is less than the pension to the woman over 40. Probably the desire is to exert a little definite pressure upon that individual to compel her to go into industry. That may be right. I think that all those who are physically fit ought to be making a 1471 contribution, according to the best of their ability, to the war effort. But if that is the reason I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, who I believe is to reply, will tell us, why that same differentiation is not made in respect of the widow of the officer class. It is far from my thought or intention to embark on a class war Debate to-day, and I am talking all the time in my criticism about the position of the widow of the private soldier, because I believe if you get the base put right then the pensions in regard to other ranks will automatically right themselves—
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
The hon. Member used a phrase which on reflection he would perhaps like to correct. He used the phrase "the officer class." Surely he does not mean to assert that in these days of a national Army the commissioned ranks are drawn exclusively from one social class.
§ Mr. Dobbie
I said quite clearly that I did not want to embark on any form of class warfare. I believe there is a noncommissioned class and an officer class, but I do not want to use the phrase in any spiteful kind of manner. Let me say the difference between the application of the pension to the widow of a private soldier and the application of the pension to the widow of an officer; that is fair. I thank the hon. Member for the correction. If it is a good thing to apply this policy to the widow of the private soldier the same spirit ought to be applied in its application to the widow of an officer. I do not think it is a good thing, but if the Government think it is a good thing they should apply it fairly and squarely to everyone who is drawing the pension. That is the comment I have to make about that.
First of all I think the situation is wrong. I think the widow ought to have the pension of 32s. 6d. whether she is 39 years of age or 40 years of age. There should be no differentiation made because she is childless, or because of her age. The Minister also made play with the fact that it was only a reduction of 2s. 6d. per week between the widow's pension of 32s. 6d. and the income she had had when her soldier husband was alive. I have never yet understood, and I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us why the woman needs less money to live on 1472 because her husband is dead. In my opinion the need is greater, because she has lost the breadwinner. I do not think the statement of the Minister that the pension is an annuity and the wage is only the wage for an emergency period will bear investigation. We are very glad the war is only an emergency, we would not like to think of it as something which was a continuity, but the loss of her husband is permanent. It is the loss of her life's mate, the loss of her breadwinner, the loss of the man who has stood in the past between her and poverty and destitution in many instances. The light of the home has gone, and the Minister of Pensions is bringing in a miserable little candle. I hope that on reflection the Minister will agree that his reference was not a very good one.
I agree that the Minister was right when he said that a certain period was allowed to elapse between the death of the soldier and the grant of the pension, during which period the regular money went on. But after all, when the pension comes into operation there is an anomaly which no ordinary civilian can really understand, because the allowance for the child comes down from 12s. 6d. to 11s. a week, so that the woman with two children, in addition to the loss of her husband and the circumstances I have related, finds herself 5s. a week worse off [An HON. MEMBER: "5s. 6d."] Yes, the difference between 32s. 6d. and 35s. is 2s. 6d. and the 1s. 6d. reduction for each child makes the reduction 5s. 6d. She finds herself 5s. 6d. a week worse off. Again, how does the Minister make these things coincide? What justification is there for reducing the amount of money a child is allowed to live on by 1s. 6d. per week? I do not know any argument that can meet that case at all.
It is no use the Minister talking about the rent allowance which is made to the widow in certain circumstances. In the provinces, and the Parliamentary Secretary will know this as well as I do, and probably better, the majority of the houses occupied by ordinary men who are private soldiers in the Army, and who may be killed, are houses of which the rent is very little over 9s. a week. So that the rent allowance, in spite of the fact that we are told it has been paid to so many thousands of people, will not matter to many thousands of these widows, because they will not be able to 1473 draw it. The fact remains that these reductions are made at a time when the woman has lost her husband, and in all probability it will be a reduction of more than 5s. 6d. a week, because most men in the Forces make an allowance to their wives in addition to the compulsory allowance of 10s. 6d. which is stopped from their money. When the fatal day comes along when the man is killed in action, or dies as a result of wounds, the woman in many instances loses a great deal more than the 5s. 6d. I would like to say to the Minister that there is a tremendous and growing volume of anger in the House and among those widows because of what they think, and I think, is very unfair treatment. I believe the Minister said he had a number of letters denoting satisfaction with these pensions. I have had a good number of deputations denoting dissatisfaction, and only last week——
§ Mr. Dobbie
The deputations consisted of women who know the struggle to live on money of this description. They were composed of widows of civilian workers from whom the Army has been drawn, from mothers of soldiers, from wives of soldiers, and their widows drawing this pension. There was a consensus of opinion among women who knew how difficult, how impossible, it is to live on a pension of this description; there was a consensus of opinion in these deputations, not on one occasion but on a number of occasions. The Parliamentary Secretary is not so far away from my constituency, and if the Minister doubts this statement I will be very glad for the Parliamentary Secretary to meet one or two of these deputations when they come to see me, so that he can ascertain how much truth or substance there is in the statement I have made.
There is another question regarding widows. I was rather surprised to hear the eulogy of the Minister in regard to the method by which those widows were being dealt with, the women without pensions, the women whose husbands had died under circumstances in which, according to the medical evidence, the Minister was not able to grant a pension. I am not endeavouring to put any blame on the Minister for these widows not having a pension; that is the fault or re- 1474 sponsibility of the medical people who are responsible for arriving at decisions; and I have no desire to criticise the administration of the Royal Patriotic Fund, as I do not know enough about it to set myself up as a critic about it. But when the Minister says there are only a few applications for these pensions, that is, a pension for widows of men who have died from wounds which could not be attributed to service——
§ Mr. Dobbie
—who have died from illness which could not be attributed to wounds or to Service conditions, and who are not covered by health insurance stamps to the extent of allowing them to have a pension, I know the reason why there are not more applications. It is because of the application of the means test.
§ Mr. Dobbie
Again the Minister says, "No." It is his word against mine. Let him take away the means test, because that is the only test as to whether he or I am right, and see how many applications there will be. Or let the Government do the other thing. The Government have no right to talk about generosity to widows of men who have died in the Services, because it is a responsibility, and in my opinion, and in the opinion of many other hon. Members, if medical men make errors in passing men into the Services as being physically fit for the job, then the Government ought to take the responsibility for the mistakes or errors of their medical men. If the men are taken into the Services as physically fit, and if they die in the service of the country, their widows ought to be given a pension on the same basis as the widows of the men who have died from wounds or have died in action. If the Government are not prepared to do that, surely there are some funds from which special pensions can be paid, and given as a right and not as a charity, because, no matter what the Minister says about this, once a means test is applied the whole thing comes into the realm of charitable contributions. These women do not want, and have no right to be subjected to, the indignity of a means test, when their man has been taken from them by the decision of the Government to give service to the nation.
1475 I would ask the Minister, much as I was pleased with many of the things he has said—I know he himself is sympathetic in his administration of the regulations—what he is going to do about this. Just as I have asked him if he is going to take any action in regard to widows' pensions and in regard to the reduction of the children's allowances so I would ask him if he is going to take any action in regard to this matter. He may say that this is the responsibility of the Cabinet. I would ask him if he is ready to make representations to the Cabinet on the lines I have suggested. I want him to say whether he agrees with us or not. If he agrees with us, and if the difficulty is the Cabinet, does he think that a little pressure on the Cabinet would be of use? Although he assures us that pressure is no use on this Cabinet, we remember cases where pressure on this Cabinet has been useful. If a Resolution by this House would help him, he can have it. There is no get-out for the Minister on this. He is either in favour of the means test for these widows, or he is against it. It may be something for the Minister to laugh at, but it is nothing for the widows to laugh at.
§ Mr. Dobbie
I withdraw the statement, but certainly it seemed to me that the Minister, and other Members, thought that it was something which was not to be taken seriously.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg
What the hon. Member does not appreciate is that some of us thought it rather ridiculous to ask a Member of the Government whether pressure against the Government would be of assistance to him. Some of us smiled, but that was because it was a ridiculous constitutional doctrine.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The Minister himself has said that he does not mind pressure on certain points. He is not an orthodox Minister, and he must expect unorthodox suggestions.
§ Mr. Dobbie
While thanking the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) for his advice, might I say that while it might not be an ordinary thing to suggest such pressure, I understood, from the tone of the Minister's speech, that he was very sympathetic to those people, and, on one matter in regard to pensions, he said that the Cabinet were unanimous, that the Cabinet had made up their mind, and that the Cabinet would not move. The Minister agrees that he said that. I am asking him, with all due respect to the deeper knowledge of Parliamentary procedure possessed by the hon. Member for Oxford, whether he wants some help in order to move the Government.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The point on which I said that the Government would not give way was that of a standard pension irrespective of the means of the parents. I am not prepared to try to alter the mind of the Government on that.
§ Mr. Dobbie
The hon. Member for Oxford may think himself subdued by the Minister now. I say again that if it is pressure that is needed, the Cabinet will get all the pressure that is necessary to make them reconsider the situation. It was in regard to parents' pensions that the Minister made his statement. He informed us that this demand was perhaps rather in the realm of sentiment. I do not think that it is. There is a growing demand, although the Minister said that he did not think there was much behind it, for some recognition, in the form of a pension, of the parents of the youths who have died in the service of the nation. I know, as the Minister knows, that that was the principle in the last war. It may be that it is not on the question of principle, but on the question of cost that the Minister objects. While he has informed us that people have said to him that he was dead right in the line he has taken, there is a tremendous volume of opinion in the country that he is dead wrong. That is what I think he will find in the very near future. This is the case upon which he told us that the Cabinet were unanimous, and that they would not give way. Cabinets in the past have been united, and have made up their minds that they would not give way; and this Cabinet may have to give way, because of the growing opinion in the country, because of the growing pressure of organisations which are rendering social service 1477 in the country, because of the requests and pressure of a movement of which the Minister gave a rather good report, the Trades Union Congress, and the trade unions generally. I cannot speak for the British Legion, but I can speak for many sections of the organised working class of this country, who stand for the payment of parents' pensions.
I should like to draw attention to a question related to the war service grants. I ask the Minister to give this matter serious consideration and to review the situation again. There is a payment of 11s. a week for a child. It is no good repeating arguments, but nobody can pretend to keep a child on 11s. a week. I would not like to try it, and I do not think the Minister would. There is another matter to which I would like him to give his attention in regard to war service grants. The war service grant terminates pretty soon after the death of a soldier. The widow is in a very difficult position. Her allowance drops, her children's allowances drop, and war service grant ceases at the end of 13 weeks. I should like the Minister to see if it is possible to have the principle of the war service grant, in such a case, kept in operation, until at least the end of the war. I think that that is reasonable. There is one other point that I should like the Minister to look at. That is the question of the appeal tribunals. I do not know the reason, but there seems to be a good deal of disappointment among people who have asked to have their cases heard by the appeal tribunals, because of the length of time between the application and the hearing of the appeal. I hope that the Minister is not going to tell us that he cannot get the personnel to man the tribunals. At one time we were faced with the argument that the Ministry could not get the necessary doctors. That was one of the reasons why the tribunals were not set up. I understand that the machinery is all in operation. Can the Minister tell us the reason for the long interval between the applications and the hearing of the appeals and can he do anything to expedite the appeals?
Is it possible for a man who has appealed and who has been granted a pension, and to whom a pension is paid, and in respect of whom the medical officers of the Ministry come to the con- 1478 clusion, three or six months later, that the period for payment of pension has ended, to appeal again? I will, very briefly, give an instance. The Minister probably will remember this case. It concerns a purser in the Merchant Navy, who left the Merchant Navy and, after passing his medical examination, went into the Royal Navy. After two and a half years in the Royal Navy, he was discharged, owing to disability. He was refused a pension. He then endeavoured to go back to his former post, as a purser in the Merchant Navy. He goes back to the Merchant Navy, but the terms of his discharge from the Royal Navy preclude him from taking his post as a purser in the Merchant Navy. He has been a member of the Pensions Fund there, and they paid him his contributions back, and he has finished all his associations with the Merchant Navy and is left stranded high and dry. He made an appeal to the tribunal, and, after about six months, I believe, a medical officer of the Ministry of Pensions said that he had recovered and so they stopped his pension. This man has lost his pension from the Merchant Navy, has been refused his employment again, cannot get back into the Royal Navy and is left stranded. I want to ask the Minister, Is there an opportunity for a man in circumstances like that to make a second appeal to the tribunal?
Those are the points that I desire to raise with the Minister. I hope he will give them consideration, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he is replying, will give specific answers to some of the questions which I have very definitely put to him, and which have been matters of serious consideration by very many people, at least in that part of the country from which I come and the constituency I represent.
§ Lady Apsley (Bristol, Central)
I welcome the opportunity of associating myself with all that the hon. and gallant Member for Chester (Major Nield) has said in congratulating the Minister. This time last year I was engaged, very timidly, in making my maiden speech, and I am afraid that, on that occasion, I was very rude to the Minister by comparing him with a death watch beetle. I would say that, though, this year, I cannot quite say that he is entirely a "Blue Bird of Happiness," he has completed, in his Department, a decided metamorphosis 1479 which has given satisfaction and happiness to many thousands throughout the country. I would particularly congratulate him and the Department on the way the appeals tribunals are working, and on the people who are on these tribunals. The Minister told us that some 33,000 cases have been reviewed, and I am sure we are all very pleased to hear that the figures are so high. I would also like to congratulate the Minister on the way in which the employment, rehabilitation and training work is being done on his Department's side of it. It is, I know, greatly assisted by the Ministry of Labour, but I know that a great deal of the work was initiated by my right hon. Friend, and, from what I have seen, combined operations are working extraordinarily well in this war, giving opportunity and hope to thousands of the kind laid on the scrap heap after the last war. These conditions give a great deal more confidence in the Department but there are a considerable number of anomalies which ought to be brought to notice.
To take two small instances: I feel that, regarding the war service grants, when the time comes for a new issue, the old books should not be called in until the new books are issued. Secondly, there is a quite important anomaly as regards Service wives who, at the present time, are in receipt of these better conditions, that the children's vitamins and free milk now often have to be paid for, because the parent has received more money than before. There is often an average of 1s. 6d. extra to be paid, and I am quite sure that it is against what this House intends that we should give with the right hand and take away with the left. It makes these Service mothers, previously eligible for free milk, pay for what was formerly free to them.
But the main point that I would like to take up concerns parents' pensions, and here I should like to support some of the things said by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) as to the feeling throughout the country that there should be more liberality concerning parents' pensions. I would, if the Committee will bear with me for one moment, give one or two factual examples of the type of case which I have in mind, because it is only against the background of real life that one can see this picture in 1480 its proper perspective. One parent writes to me:My boy served his time in Vickers-Armstrong before the war at Barrow-in-Furness for five years, and then volunteered into the Navy. If he had stayed at home and had been killed working for Vickers-Armstrong, I would have received compensation for that boy's life. Now he has been killed in convoy in the Mediterranean on active service and was buried at sea. My husband is not in good health, I miss the boy's voluntary allotment and I am refused a pension. It is hard.The second case is that of an only son, the main support of his widowed mother, who joined the Territorials before the war, went through Dunkirk and made a voluntary allotment to his mother. He was drafted to the East, and, whilst on active service, died of diphtheria. The mother had some small private means, her husband's savings, and, because of this, she received no pension, though her son was her main financial support. The third case is this:My son lost his life in a bombing raid over Nuremberg on the night of the 8th March, 1943. He could have been exempted, but he always said there was a job to be done and he did not want to shirk. He was a mid-upper gunner in a Lancaster and loved every minute of it. He was 26 years old and he allowed me 10s. 6d. allotment. I always thought, in case of anything happening to him that I should be granted a pension, but up to now I am put off with excuses that it was only granted to mothers in pecuniary need. That means that we must be destitute to get a pension, for I am aged 63 and badly infirm, and my husband is 60, with not too big a wage, and was himself wounded and gassed in the last war. Between us, we have heavy bills to meet each quarter. It is one of the biggest scandals of our time to think that we give our sons to save the country and not a penny does the State pay to us in their memory and as their due. Is this the new world? At times I feel heartbroken…I only want justice.That is the case—justice. Though I know that hard cases do not make good law, I feel that the country does expect more generosity and more liberality in such cases. The plain fact is that a parent, to receive a pension to-day, must be destitute, or practically destitute.
§ Sir W. Womersley
It is nothing of the kind, and I have already stated what the terms and conditions are. There is no question of destitution at all, and I repudiate that right now.
§ Lady Apsley
With great respect to the Minister, I do know that, if a parent owns 1481 a house and has furniture, that parent cannot get a pension.
§ Lady Apsley
I know people in my own constituency who have been refused pensions because of the fact of owning their own house at the present time.
§ Sir W. Womersley
This must be cleared up. This special pleading will not do at all. It is not a question of owning their own houses. It is a question of the total income going into the house, and I have told the Committee what the terms are—14s. plus—and I have also stated that any suggestion that can be made as an improvement I am prepared to listen to. To make statements that people have to be destitute is entirely beside the mark. It is nothing of the kind.
§ Lady Apsley
Not entirely destitute, I agree, but it is very hard on a particular class of people, whom, with great respect, I would call the decent poor, who, by pinching and scraping, have put money into such things as annuities and houses, and whose income is very little above what I would call destitution. The facts are that there are some 24,000 applications for parents' pensions which have been refused up to the present time because they have no pecuniary need. This was given in an answer to a Question by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), which stated that there are 23,000 cases of pensions refused in respect of men and 250 cases in respect of women.
I appreciate the difficulty and all that the Minister has said. To quote the late Mr. Lansbury:Public money cannot be given away without a test of need,and, as the Minister did ask for suggestions, with great respect I would like to put forward the suggestion that a flat-rate pension should be given in cases where parents have been in receipt of a dependant's allowance. I have tabled a Motion suggesting a flat rate of £12 a year in such cases.
§ [That this House is in favour of the award of a pension, without means test, of £12 per annum to parents or foster-parents where a contributory allotment towards a dependant's allowance has been paid by a relative in the R.N. and R.M., 1482 the Army and the R.A.F., the W.R.N.S., A.T.S. and W.A.A.F., who has died in the discharge of duty; that this minimum flat rate shall be paid by the Ministry of Pensions on application, and shall not be taken into consideration in assessment of potential supplementary assistance and parents' pensions under exsting arrangements.]
The chief reason why I do so is because I find, throughout the country, a definite feeling against having a means test following the death in action of a son or daughter. What actually happens when a parent makes application for a pension is that an official of the Assistance Board comes down to make inquiries and with all those unfair implications attached to the Assistance Board, I suggest, with great respect, that this is not fair to the memory of the son or daughter who may have been killed in the service of the country. I am fully aware that some sort of means test must be made, but I would suggest that the time for the test is when the parent is receiving the dependant's allowance. I do not think it is generally known throughout the country, or to all hon. Members of this Committee, that a very searching means test takes place when the son or daughter makes a voluntary allotment towards that dependant's allowance. I will not bore the Committee by reading the particulars as to how a boy or girl can make that voluntary allotment towards a dependant's allowance—it takes two and a half pages of the British Legion "Guide to Pensions"—but I will give this one quotation:
Where a dependant's allowance of 14s. per week should be payable, members of the Forces having made an effective contribution to their parents support prior to enlistment, of 10s. per week, it is made up in this way: Father's wages, £4; mother, on home duties, nothing; daughter, self-supporting, with wages of 35s., contribution 5s.—
and so on. It is a very searching means test into income, in my submission, before, eventually, the £3 a week, or 15s. per unit of the family is granted. My submission is that it is not easy to obtain a dependant's allowance. Why do I stress the flat rate of £12? Because, in my opinion, that is about the average which the working-class parent expects, and has a right to expect, that his or her son or daughter may give towards the family. It may be in subsistence, or it may be as presents, but they do feel that
a living son or daughter is a definite insurance. I see the hon. Member for Leigh is supporting me in that attitude. The rate of £12 a year is the ordinary working-class parent's idea of what a son or daughter may give to them in the course of the year. I am fully aware that though the present pensions are granted to parents who are in dire need when pensions are received they are reasonably adequate. The sum of £120 a year for two parents is reasonably good, but I feel very strongly that these cases where dependants' allowances were being paid should be taken into consideration separately. The son or daughter who has been killed has been contributing, and that should be remembered. The State should, at least to a certain degree, take on what that son or daughter had been doing, and could ordinarily be expected to do for the rest of their parents' life. I do not believe that the cost would be very great. I assume that it would come to some £130,000 a year extra. Here and there, no doubt, a few people might creep in who had rather more means, perhaps temporarily or perhaps for some years', more than had been expected, or than they would have gained under the present arrangements, but I do know of cases—we all, I am sure, have them in our constituencies—where, for instance, three sons have been killed over Germany, and I do not think any of us would think that £12 a year on behalf of each of those three sons, was too much. Should the parents have rather more means than I think they have, then, half of that amount would go back in taxation.
§ The last example that I would like to give is that of a boy who won a scholarship before the war and who, owing to family means, was unable to take up that scholarship. He got a good job in which, if anything had happened, his parents would have received compensation for his death. He has been killed—he was a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain—and a pension has been refused in that case. I submit that we should give rather more generously and more liberally to pay the debt which so many owe to so few.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Each year this Estimate assumes a greater importance than it had the year before, and as the war goes on it will become perhaps one of the Government's most im- 1484 portant Estimates. The Minister is one of the most difficult Ministers to criticise in this House because, on the whole, he attempts to disarm us by unorthodox suggestions. But I think he is over-touchy about his staff. I have never criticised any of his staff yet, so that I am immune, but other hon. Members have thought fit to say something about his staff. Not all of his staff are angels, and it may be that an hon. Member may have found certain members of the staff unhelpful, and if that be the case I hope that neither the right hon. Gentleman, nor anyone else, is going to stop hon. Members saying so in this Committee. Personally, I have not come across it and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be over-sensitive about it. The staff, on the whole, have been decent, helpful and approachable on all issues that I have had to lay before them.
One of the chief battlegrounds to-day, the Minister will agree, is that of parents' pensions. It might be as well if the Minister occasionally took a lecture on diplomacy. He has made this his battleground and has said that the Cabinet will not alter or change it, and he has also assumed a position as though there were no House of Commons at all. That is not a fair way. He may have an exceedingly good case, but that is not a good way of approaching the matter. I am still a democrat and believe in argument and good reasoning, but I think the attitude adopted by the Minister is not the right way of approaching the matter.
I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if the test that was constantly before us after the last war is still applied on educational grounds; I refer to the case of the man who has died and whose widow and children have been awarded pensions without dispute. The widow desires to keep a child at school, and then officials come along and apply what I think is worse than an ordinary means test. They say, "Would the late soldier, if he had lived, have kept the child at school? Would his means have allowed him to keep the child at school?" That is a most unfair test. Whatever is said about the means test proper, it deals with reality, but in this case, it deals with a phantom. It could not be said that because a man earned a certain income such would be his income always. I am a pattern-maker by trade, and I had no idea at a certain time in my life that I would ever be a Member of Parliament, and yet, in my case, such a pension 1485 would have been determined on the basis of a pattern-maker's wage. You cannot always determine whether a child should be kept on at school on the basis of income. I come from a home where it was the habit to go to the university, and we never had an income sufficient to determine whether anyone should go to the university or not. I will tell the Committee what determined it—it was Highland dourness. To introduce any step that prevents the child of the soldier who has been killed being able to remain at school with the object of bettering himself is a very reactionary step. I hope that whatever test is made, the only test in regard to education will be whether the widow wants her child to continue at school; and so give it a better chance in life.
I want to refer to the administration of the war service grants. I am not going to deal with the wider question, as the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) has dealt effectively with that. We are asked to try to be helpful and on this occasion I hope that I am not going to be at all obstructive. I want to make a plea for the man who has joined as a Regular. A man joins the Regular Army, the Navy or the Air Force but his parents cannot get a war service grant. Why should not the parents of such a man be able to get a war service grant? The reason given by the Minister, when I have had correspondence with him on the subject, is that these men voluntarily came into the Service. That may well be but is that any reason why, now that these men are fighting in France, where men are all the same, their parents should not be treated all the same at home? Certain hon. Members always used to tell me that there should be no differentiation with regard to these men in any way. It would not be a costly thing to include these men in the scheme, and it would be reasonable and decent to do it.
On the whole I was never an enthusiastic appeal tribunal man. I look upon the appeal tribunals as good, but the really important thing is not so much the tribunals themselves, but the conditions under which they work. That is the test to apply. The Lord President in Scotland and the Lord Chancellor in England have chosen decent personnel for the working of the tribunals. I would ask a question with regard to one small point relating to Scotland. A tribunal has been 1486 set up in Scotland, but, as the Minister knows, the question of distance is an important one. The districts are very much scattered. Has he made arrangements for the tribunals to meet in different parts of the country? These tribunals should be easy of access without difficulties of travel, although I know the Ministry meets the cost. Although, as I have pointed out, the tribunals have been on the whole fairly decently manned, something more ought to be done to enable an applicant to have his case stated. There is the British Legion, which on the whole performs this work very well, but there are many men who do not know the whereabouts of the British Legion centre and the officers of the Ministry might be more helpful in this connection.
I do not think that the question with regard to the Minister's appeal tribunal can ever be permanently settled as long as men feel that they have been passed A1 into the Service. I do not lessen the value of the White Paper and of the contributions, which are much better than they were before, but there will he deep feeling, especially as the war goes on, when a man passed A1 by responsible doctors is ruled out of consideration for pension. I would like the Minister to look at these matters which may be small but which, in my view, matter a great deal cumulatively. My point is this, that the man has joined the Army and is not covered by National Health Insurance. But he goes into the scheme and the War Office pay a small contribution to his approved society to keep him in, and he is subject to the same test as any other health insurance contributor is on entering National Health Insurance. He dies, and it cannot be proved that he has died as a result of war service. The Royal Patriotic Fund does not cover his widow and he has not been long enough in the Army to accumulate enough stamps to qualify for National Health Insurance because he has to have 104 contributions to his credit before his widow can get a widow's pension. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman to take up this point with the Service Departments. One of the gratuities given to every man who joins the Services should be free entry into National Health Insurance, because I believe that is much more important than £50 or £100 which is usually spent in a month or two. It would sweep away much ill-feeling.
1487 I would like to pay a tribute to the speeches of the hon. Member for Rotherham, the hon. and gallant Member for Chester (Major Nield) and the Noble Lady the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley) to which I listened with interest. There may be justification for the medical test but let me put this case. Take the widowed mother whose soldier son is killed. What must she do before she gets a pension? She must have a medical certificate to show that she is unfit for work. Or take the case of a school-teacher, a man about 30 years of age living with his widowed mother aged about 50. When he was at home he kept her and she did not work. He goes into the Forces and is killed. To ask that woman of 50 years of age, who has never worked since the day she was married, to undergo a medical test that she is unfit for work, is one of the cruellest things I know. I sent a case to the Minister and he met me reasonably—that is one of his disarming ways. It was the case of a woman of 59 who had divorced her husband and was therefore in the same position as a widow. She had a family of six, four boys and two girls. One of the girls was married, the other in the Land Army. Two of the boys were married and two were single. Of these four sons, two were prisoners of war in Japan—and that is something for a woman to carry after hearing what the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has had to tell us—the other two were killed. She was asked for a medical certificate to show that she was fit to get a pension. The doctor who examined her said, "I cannot certify that you are unfit. I will tell you what you are suffering from—a broken heart." That is what most women would suffer from with four sons in such circumstances. That kind of thing is shocking, and I say that to ask women of 50 to undergo such a test is not a creditable thing and the Minister ought to look at it again.
Let me say a general word about parents' pensions. The Minister says there is feeling but not over-strong feeling. I admit that at the moment the feeling is not as strong as it was at one time after the last war, but I make one prophecy. This is one of the things on which feeling will grow when the casualties are out—make no mistake. Members will know about it and feel it. The Minister became rather annoyed at the hon. 1488 Member for Rotherham, who accused him of laughing. I must say I did not feel the Minister had done anything wrong because I sometimes laugh myself, and I hope we shall always keep our sense of humour in this House, but the right hon. Gentleman was a little unfair about the widows. He said, "None of them want to make money out of it." I did not think that was altogether a fair statement.
What is the position now? When a son is at home, and before he goes into the Army, the family income is part of the budget. If the lad is a good tradesman, earning a decent wage, the family run a house not only on the husband's wage but on the son's wage, which is part of their livelihood. When he goes to the Army he makes an allowance, and one of the reasons why more hardship has not been felt—this may be used against me but it is the reason—is that often the father has been able to make up the difference to some extent by overtime earnings. But at the end of the war, when overtime payments cease, a new situation will arise. As I say, when a boy goes to the Army he makes an allowance to his parents and it amazes me, coming from a poor district, the sums that sons allow their mothers. It is amazing to me how they stint themselves. I used to hear the old story about our British Army being fond of beer but in my view our soldiers are about the most self-sacrificing fellows for their parents I have ever met. Some of them send as much as 14s. a week, and that is part and parcel of the family budget. But when the boy is killed you decide there shall be no pension for the father if he is working on full earning capacity. Even if he becomes sick, unless it can be proved a permanent sickness, not a penny piece is paid.
I know a case of a man who was off for six months with a form of sciatica, and no pension was payable to him because, as he intended to return to work, the sickness was held to be only temporary. During that time, he and his wife had to seek poor law relief I do not think it is creditable, even in temporary sickness, that the parents of dead soldiers should seek poor law relief. The Minister asked for constructive suggestions. I would ask him that where there is temporary unemployment, through 1489 temporary sickness, the parents of dead soldiers should qualify for a pension.
On the general issue, I say quite frankly that this nation ought to make a token payment. After all, it does all manner of things in token. Medals are tokens, and I think that one of the tokens should be that the nation ought to assume some payment which represents the State's responsibility for a person who is killed. In my view this agitation will grow. As I say, this is an important Vote. When feeling was all against the Minister in 1940, I was one of the few who made an attempt to defend him, but when he becomes more popular I feel that the need to attack him becomes greater on my part. I am one of those who believe that overpraise of Ministers is not good for Parliament. If we want praise, let us go upstairs and spend a pleasant Sunday afternoon singing hymns. But that is not our function. Our function is to criticise and to challenge. The Noble Lady has done it, the hon. Member for Rotherham and the hon. and gallant Member for Chester have both done it. That is our function to-day. The Minister must not take it personally, but as a charge that his Department is not an absolutely perfect Department, and the regular work of the House of Commons is to help to make it so. In the days to come, when the House may be less well attended than it is to-day and when an Election conies, the issues that will decide the fate of this Parliament will not be large issues of international policy, but small human issues such as we are discussing to-day.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
I venture to intervene in this Debate to-day for a few moments to raise a matter a little different from what has been referred to as the main battle-ground. However, before I come to that I would like to say one or two words about the topic dealt with by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). He asked for a token payment to be made to parents in respect of the loss of relatives from whom they were deriving income. It seems to me that one ought to approach that difficult and thorny question free from all sentiment, and try to form an impartial judgment upon it. After all, the problem is really not a very new one. Before the war we had industrial accidents and road accidents where a young man contributing to the support of his family had 1490 his life cut short through no fault of his own. No, the problem is not a new one by any manner of means, and one of the hard things that the courts have had to determine in the years of peace was the monetary value to be placed upon the contribution a son was making, it may be to his mother, having regard to the possibilities of his marrying, of his going overseas, of his changing his outlook—all those various factors had to be assessed. It is a most difficult problem, but we can approach it quite fairly and impartially. The case is now met under the existing machinery where there has been payment by the son, where there is need, where you can assume, because there is need, that the son would continue his payments. Then, as I understand it, the widow or the father who has lost his son will get a pension. I may be wrong——
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
If it has to be permanent need, then I think there is a case for making it temporary. The point I wanted to make on this—and I did not intend to deal with it in detail—is that it is quite a different thing to approach that problem from the basis of trying to assess what the son's contribution would have been if he had lived, from saying that we must make just a token payment to everyone who happens to lose a near relative in the service of his country, whatever the need may be, and whether or not payment is likely to represent something which would have gone on if they had lived. That seems to me to be entirely wrong. I do not believe that parents want their losses and the sacrifices their sons have made to be recognised in that manner at all. Where need exists, need which indicates that the son, if he had lived, would have made a contribution, then I think there is a case for a parents' pension. I agree with all the hon. Member for Gorbals has said about the pensions appeal tribunals. I welcome the fact that the Minister has not found it necessary to have a representative on any of these tribunals. They have worked extremely well and have served a valuable purpose.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
May I remind the hon. Member that the Minister has no officials on the tribunals, and that it was ruled earlier that these tribunals are outside the scope of this Debate?
§ Sir W. Womersley
My Department has to prepare statements of the cases which go before the tribunals, Mr. Williams, and on that rather slender ground perhaps they can be discussed.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
On the grounds that the Minister has put forward, yes, but we must not go into the matter too deeply.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I was not intending to go into this question in any detail. The Minister has his representatives at the sittings of the tribunals, but they do not decide cases. I feel that the changes this House caused to be made in the Pensions Warrant last year dealt with all the big questions of principle, although I agree that until the medical examination for the Services is tightened up there are bound to be people who feel that they have suffered an injustice. We cannot remedy the examinations of the past years, but we ought to see that medical examination is now really strict before a man is admitted into the Forces. There are still a few anomalies, and I want to draw attention to one of them because I think it ought to be put right. If the wife of a serving soldier is deserted by him and he stops, as he can, payment of her allowances—we know there is machinery under Army Council Instructions for endeavouring to effect a reconciliation, which may prevent the wife from instituting legal proceedings—and he is subsequently killed, the question has to be looked at from a different angle. Is the wife entitled to a pension? The Regulations say that she will not get a widow's pension unless she has been entitled to periodical payments from her husband, under a maintenance or separation order, throughout a period of six months expiring on his death, or that she is receiving payments, or taking reasonable steps to enforce the order, or she is receiving contributions from her husband. That means that a wife whose husband leaves her, and who makes no attempt to drag him through the courts because it may stop him coming back, may find herself deprived of the right to pension if he is subsequently killed.
1492 I have a case in point. An officer left his wife. He was seen by his father-in-law and he promised that he would contribute to his wife's support. But, in fact, he did not do so and a few months later he was killed. His wife had hoped that he would come back. That officer, I feel sure, intended to carry out his obligation and the undertaking he had given to his father-in-law because he claimed and drew from the War Office marriage allowance in respect of his wife. What happened? The wife applied for the pension and was told, "You did not take your husband through the police court; you have no maintenance or separation order and, therefore, there can be no pension. That is the Regulation." I am raising this point because I hope the Minister will be induced to alter the Regulation. It is quite wrong that this procedure under an Army Council Instruction may lose a widow the right to a pension. If the marriage allowance in this case had been paid direct to the wife, instead of to the officer, I understand that she would be entitled to a pension. I think the rule should be that where a husband is legally liable to contribute to his wife's support, unless a period of, say, twelve months has elapsed without the wife taking any steps to enforce that legal liability, then a widow's pension should be payable regardless of the fact that the wife has not thought fit to take her husband to court and make all their matrimonial troubles public and probably prevent any chance of reconciliation.
§ Mr. Magnay (Gateshead)
I count it a pleasure and a privilege to speak to-day in commendation of what the Minister has said to the Committee. It was no surprise to me. From my county I have had to send on to the Minister hundreds of cases—one day there were 52—and I can say, with all honesty and frankness, that I cannot complain about the way in which even one of them has been dealt with. They have been dealt with with that Yorkshire sound sense and humanity for which the Minister is well known, and I would be failing in my duty if I did not say "Thank you," not only for the consideration which has been shown to me personally, but also to the many people in my constituency who have been affected. At the same time, I am sure that what is in my mind is also in the mind of many other people in the coun- 1493 try. There must be no taint or semblance of charity at all about these pensions. In the last war that charge could be made. It was my job, on behalf of the Ministry of Pensions from 1918–20, to deal with hundreds of cases connected with widows' pensions. In not one was there ever a complaint or an alteration. My technique was quite simple. When there was doubt in a case I gave the benefit of that doubt to the widow. Not only was the fair and reasonable thing done, but there was never any wrangling or feeling in the mind of the recipient of the pension that she had not received some liberality as well as justice. That is the temper which must be shown now and which, in the main, has been shown by the Ministry in dealing with pensions matters.
I want to support what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Chester (Major Nield), the hon. Lady the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley) and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), with regard to parents' pensions. The test is simple; it is not a question of what the parents think. If I may say so without offence to the Minister or anyone else, parents do not desire to gain financial benefit from a son or daughter who has gone away. What must be considered is what was in the mind of the son or daughter at the time the allotment was made. That is what matters. The hon. Member for Gorbals said he was amazed at the generosity of lads towards their mothers. Well, I am not, because I remember who the lads write to when they are away, whose safety they pray for and what was in their hearts when they made their allotments. That is the test. If they make an allotment, knowing all the possibilities of death, we, as a nation, ought to honour them. It is not for us to quibble and talk about pecuniary interests. Workmen's compensation does not come into the matter at all.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I was not referring to workmen's compensation; I was referring to fatal accidents.
§ Mr. Magnay
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Member. If a lad makes an allotment that should be sufficient for us. I admit that lads cannot be expected to contribute for a great number of years, but perhaps for to years part of a lad's income would have gone to his parents before he was married, and I say that 1494 we ought to give parents this pension. We are niggling at this problem, and we ought to be ashamed to do so. The Minister, who is a friend of mine and of my constituents, has said that the Government are unanimous in their view. Well, as a Government they have to be unanimous or they are not a Government. I am sure it is in the right hon. Gentleman's heart to do this. If he does not, I am ashamed of him for once. It is not a generous thing, it is a fair and reasonable and just thing, that we should see that this lad's mother should have what he intended her to have, and for ten years at any rate after he has gone it will be something to remind her of what he has done for her and for the nation.
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
I propose to deal with a matter to which the Minister only made a slight reference and to which no reference has been make by anyone else—medical cases which have been discharged from the Forces and put into mental hospitals and become chargeable either to relatives or to local authorities. These cases are not great in number and, therefore, the outcry is not as voluble as that for parents' pensions, but the Minister knows as well as I do that there is dissatisfaction about the treatment meted out to these cases and that a lot of criticism has been levelled against the Ministry. I do not say that the Minister is altogether to blame. Perhaps the blame lies in another direction. I understand that in the last war when such cases were put into mental hospitals the Government accepted responsibility for their maintenance, and I do not know why the policy is different in this war. These are the most difficult cases the Ministry has to deal with and I should think they ought to receive more sympathetic treatment than any other kind of case. The Minister has had representations from local authorities, from the mental hospital boards and also from the British Legion. They say that the cost of maintaining them should be made a Government responsibility.
In reply to Questions from me the Minister has said that he had the matter under consideration and would say what he would be prepared to do later on. On firth May I submitted another Question, but the Parliamentary Secretary said he had nothing further to add to the answer given on the previous occasion. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will 1495 now tell us what he is prepared to do. Mental cases are the most difficult that the right hon. Gentleman has to decide upon, because of the difficulty of diagnosing the trouble. Pensions are granted in some cases, but there are a number of cases where a pension is not granted. The Minister will say that it is because the medical evidence does not support the claim that the trouble is caused by war service. Perhaps he will also say that there is an appeal to the tribunal, but let us consider the position of the applicant before the appeal tribunal. He cannot give evidence in support of his own case, because of his mental condition. He must of necessity, rely on outside help. The Minister said that the Ministry prepared their case for presentation to the tribunal, and it is certain that he will have legal support in drafting it.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I want to make this clear about stating the case. It is not a case on behalf of the Ministry at all but a statement of the facts according to the hospital and Service records, for the man and not against him.
§ Mr. Foster
I accept that correction. I was not intending to cast any reflection on the legal department. What I was trying to convey is that the Minister, in the preparation of the facts of the case, must have the assistance of experts, to put them in chronological order or the order in which they are taken before the tribunal. I have a case in my constituency which is now going before an appeal tribunal concerning the wife of a soldier who has been in hospital for 14 months and has had no pay during that period. The Minister turned the case down and she is appealing. She is being dragged from pillar to post to try to get someone to prepare her case and put it before the tribunal. It has been to the tribunal on two occasions and has been sent back because, they say, they must see the man in hospital, with what object she does not know. Again, I am not trying to cast any reflection on anyone. It may be that they want to see him in order to help the wife. At the same time, it presents the picture that she cannot have her facts prepared in the same way that the Minister has his prepared by his experts.
In all these cases the evidence of the man himself is very important. Take a 1496 man who was accepted for the Army, Navy or Air Force as Grade I and is certified 100 per cent. medically fit. He undergoes all the vigorous training that a soldier, sailor or airman is subjected to. He is in the Service for three or four years and has seen battle service abroad under varying climatic conditions. No one but the man knows the conditions to which he has been subjected during that period. No visits to him can in any way verify any of the facts submitted by the wife. I accept what the Minister has said, that he has all the sympathy in the world with this class of case, and I am appealing to him to give some practical illustration of that sympathy. That is not being disrespectful. I realise that he has given way in many cases. I had one which it was really a surprise to me that I was able to get through with him. I am pleading that, because of the inability of the applicant to fight his own case, it should be treated with 100 per cent. sympathy, and that without any more ado, by the mere fact of the man being mental, he should be given a pension. I hope we shall be told why the Ministry will not go as far as they went in the last war. Perhaps I know the answer, but I will await what the Parliamentary Secretary has to say about it.
I should like to say a word on the subject of parents' pensions. I thought the Minister dismissed this question very lightly when he said the parents of boys and girls who have lost their lives are not so much concerned about pensions as some people seem to think. If that is his impression, I am afraid he is being misled. An organisation has sprung into existence, and organisations do not spring into existence without reason. Generally where there is smoke there is fire. This organisation is growing in numbers every day and it has branches all over the country. They are trying to create a public opinion in support of their contention that parents' pensions should be paid irrespective of need. I agree with the sentiment that has been expressed that it is more than anything else a recognition of services that have been rendered and sacrifices made not only by the deceased themselves but by their fathers and mothers. In many cases the father fought and made sacrifices in the last war. He has brought up in some cases a large family, with three or four sons in the Services, and has lost them. He has made 1497 sacrifices in bringing them up. The Minister knows what it is to bring up children in a working class home, especially prior to the war, during the slump years. They have made sacrifices in that direction, and also in educating them. The case for parents' pensions has been very well put by the hon. and gallant Member for Chester (Major Nield), the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley) and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). The hon. Member for Central Bristol put an excellent case. I thought that after her speech there was nothing more to be said, and I hope that the Minister will agree to do something.
§ Captain Cobb (Preston)
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) quite rightly reminded us that a Supply day is a day on which Members criticise the Department concerned and air their grievances, and that it is not necessary to indulge in fulsome praise of the Minister. I do not propose to do so beyond saying, in reply to a certain amount of criticism that has been expressed about my right hon. Friend, that in my judgment he is the most effective and sympathetic Minister of Pensions we have had since the Ministry was set up. The subject of parents' pensions has been referred to in nearly every speech to-day, and I should like to express the view that I completely agree with the Government's policy in this matter. It is utterly wrong to attach a cash value to a child and to assume that the loss of a son can possibly be compensated for by a monetary payment. It would be a great misfortune for that idea to be allowed to gain currency, and I feel that this agitation about parents' pensions might very well have the effect of making the soldier son believe that in the event of his death his parents are likely to be unprovided for. That is a completely false impression, because I am satisfied that the Government's policy is right; that is to award parents' pensions on two factors—the need of the parent and the contribution, or potential contribution, of the son who has lost his life in the service of his country. One has to remember that although parents may not be eligible for a pension at the time of the son's death, when their financial circumstances change it is always open to them to make application and to have the whole question raised again so that they can be awarded a pension if 1498 their circumstances justify it. It seems to me that the administration of parents' pensions is done in a reasonable and generous way. There are very generous disregards of existing income, and it is pretty safe to say that, generally speaking, the Government are fully aware of their responsibilities towards the parents of dead soldiers and that they are shouldering those responsibilities. I should like to be assured, however, that decisions on parents' pensions are made quickly and that there is no unnecessary gap between the reported death of the son and the decision on the pension. I would express the view most strongly that, until a final decision has been made, the parents should be allowed to continue to draw the allowance which they were drawing during the life-time of their son.
I come now to the critical part of what I have to say. I found that my right hon. Friend was not very convincing when he was justifying the reduction of 2s. 6d. in the wife's allowance and 1s. 6d. in the case of children after the husband's death. He based his case almost entirely on the fact that the widow is given a rent allowance if she is paying a large rent. Surely the same thing applies to a wife. If a wife is paying a large rent and her circumstances justify it, she is entitled to draw a war service grant. It is quite anomalous that as soon as a man dies the income derived from Government sources for his widow and children should automatically be reduced. It is probable that the wife has been getting additional sums from her husband, and it seems iniquitous to add to her troubles by obliging her to suffer a considerable reduction in her income.
§ Mr. Hogg
Does my hon. and gallant Friend follow the implication of what he is saying? He says that about the case of a wife; why does he not say it about the case of a parent who is receiving an allotment? There are many cases in which a parent who is receiving an allotment from a child is deprived of a pension and the allotment by reason of the child's death.
§ Captain Cobb
The Government recognise their responsibility where the parent is concerned during the son's life by paying the parent a dependant's allowance. In those cases, I have no doubt that where that allowance is being paid, a pension is awarded pretty automatically.
§ Sir W. Womersley
May I make that quite clear? In cases where a Government allowance is being paid in addition to the allotment of the son, with one or two small exceptions, a parents' pension is granted.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
May we have the point cleared up? Is it not the case that if the son is making an allotment to his parents, who do not get any Government grant on top, the parents do not get a pension in respect of the allotment?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I repeat that, where an allotment is being made by the son and that is supplemented by a Government allowance, in those cases, with one or two small exceptions, a pension is granted. Where a son makes an allotment and there is no allowance from the Government, we have to review the case on its merits, and if the test of the formula that I have read out is successful, the parent is entitled to receive a pension, but the pension is not given automatically.
§ Captain Cobb
If I might be allowed to intervene in this Debate, I should like to refer to another case of genuine hardship. That is the case of the man who loses his life during his service as the result of an accident which is alleged to be due to his own negligence. In such cases the widow is not entitled to a pension and does not receive one. I had a case of a constituent whose husband was serving in the Army when the war started. He served during the first nine months of the war in France, came home from Dunkirk, and went with his unit to a station on the South coast. While serving there he was playing football one evening with his friends in the unit. The football went on a minefield, he went to recover it and was blown up. His widow receives no pension and it seems to me that that is iniquitous. It cannot possibly he said that a regulation of that kind will teach a man to be more careful. I did my soldiering in the bow and arrow days where there were no such modern improvements as minefields, but I cannot imagine that a man has at the back of his mind that he must be careful about going on to a minefield because his widow 1500 would not get a pension if anything happened to him. That man's death was directly due to service in the Forces of the Crown, and his widow is entitled to a pension. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make such an alteration in the Royal Warrant as will put that matter right.
There is no question that the really important pension cases are those which concern dependants. I have said before, and I repeat it now, that, generally speaking, from a financial point of view, the disability pensioner is rather better off with his pension and his post-service earnings than he was before he was disabled. That which was undoubtedly the case before the war should certainly be even more true now that we have the disabled persons' training arrangements which will make a man a more effective wage-earner in spite of his disability. It is his dependants who should exercise our minds, generally speaking, more than the disabled person.
I want to say a word on alternative pensions, which I have raised before. There is no getting away from the fact that there is a great deal more disturbance in the life of some families whose bread-winner has gone than there is in others. I am referring more particularly to those men who, before the war, were in the higher income ranges. It may offend the equalitarian ideas of some of my hon. Friends opposite, and it may be that they would not be prepared to defend a system which allows some people to enjoy larger incomes than others. That, however, is the system now, and it seems to me to be most unjust that the widow and children of a man who was earning a substantial income before the war and whose income was entirely earned, should have her life and the life of her family upset to a far greater degree than, say, the life of the widow and family of a weekly wage earner. A man in that position has made certain decisions about the bringing up and education of his children. All those ideas must go if the man loses his life, and I cannot see why the Government so resolutely set their face against the suggestion that the pension should bear some relation to the pre-service income of the man who was killed. They say that it is not a possible thing to do. I would ask them why it is impossible in view of the fact that South Africa is able to do it. We did it in the 1501 last war, and we are told that there were a great many difficulties about it. I would like to suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should get in touch with the Minister of Pensions in South Africa and ask him how this system works.
I have a case now which is probably not uncommon, of a man, a neighbour of mine, who was wounded and taken prisoner at Dunkirk. He was repatriated last October and was finally discharged as medically unfit last April. He was told by the doctor who passed him as unfit, that he would certainly get a pension. He waited for several weeks, but had no communication from the Ministry of Pensions. Finally, he wrote to the Ministry. He received from them a long form to fill in, containing a great number of questions which he could not possibly answer but which would have been answered if the Ministry had cared to look at his medical history sheet. If a man is discharged unfit for further military service, as he was, and with a withered arm which made it impossible for him to continue his old trade as gardener's labourer and forced him to learn another trade in a tailor's shop, during which time he has been drawing very little money, there is no excuse for such discharge until the final decision has been made whether he is to get a pension or not. That man should still be drawing his Army pay.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) has brought into the open a case which the Minister really must look into, that of the widow whose husband had not been playing the game before his death. It is the case of a man who was drawing a marriage allowance from the War Office, which means that the Government recognised that he had marital responsibilities. To think that his widow is left with nothing at all, because that husband treated her badly and that the Government are prepared to take advantage of it, is something that we cannot allow.
There are, of course, deficiencies in the administration of the Ministry of Pensions just as there are in every Government Department. It is a state of things which is inseparable from anything directed or controlled by the State. Perhaps my hon. Friends opposite might remember that, when they are criticising my right hon. Friend or any other Minister. You do not get the same sort of intelligent and 1502 sensible administration from a Government Department that you get from a private firm. Private enterprise has this very good slogan: "The customer is always right."
§ Captain Cobb
I think it is most unfortunate that virtually every concession on war pensions which has been made during the war appears to have been wrung out of a reluctant Government. The Minister has told us about the great improvements which have been effected in war pensions as a result of the White Paper. He referred to it quite rightly as a landmark in our pensions history. I agree with him, but, to put it vulgarly, it is a bit thick to give the credit to the Government. Why did that White Paper come out? Because of the insistent pressure, month after month, from back benchers on both sides of the House.
§ Captain Cobb
Certainly he is. I said that the pressure was on the Government. One knows that the Minister had the right ideas but that there were other right hon. Gentlemen who had not. That was the explanation. I should like to say to my right hon. Friend that when he is being used, as he was during those months before the White Paper, as a whipping boy for the Government, let him tell us about it and we will tell the Government where they get off.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) made some observations about cases of mental disease or disturbance. I have two passing comments to make on that matter. One is that the chairman of the Lancashire County Council Mental Health Committee has written to me, as I think he has written to all Lancashire Members, presenting the case that there are in many mental hospitals a number of ex-Servicemen with mental illness which is not recognised by the Government as being attributable to, or aggravated by war service, and that, consequently, they are being treated as ordinary civilian cases. I can understand the logic of it all and the difficulty of making exceptions, but it is a fact that similar cases 1503 which occurred in the last war were treated as Service patients. I urge upon the Minister—I know it is in his mind—to take the earliest opportunity for assimilating the arrangements which are made for these cases with those which met with public favour after the last war. It is disagreeable to public opinion to think of men who have been soldiers or Servicemen and who have perhaps given distinguished overseas service being treated in ordinary asylums as ordinary civil cases. Some special recognition should be given to them.
My other observation upon what the hon. Member for Wigan said is to take up the point he made, that a wife in his constituency, whose husband is in a mental hospital, and who is now appealing to an appeal tribunal, could not get the necessary help in making out her case. I do not doubt that in our courts of law, and in semi-official courts like an appeal tribunal, special care is given by the whole court to a case where the appellant is mentally affected and is unable properly to make out his own case. But there is no excuse for this woman not having proper help, so if the hon. Member will let me know, or let the British Legion know directly, I can assure him that expert guidance and help will be given to her at once.
There is a partnership in the care of disabled men between the State, represented by the Ministry of Pensions, and to some small extent by other Ministries, and the many voluntary agencies such as the British Legion, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, or in its own sphere, St. Dunstan's, and, thirdly, with the many thousands of individual people, such as the employer who takes special trouble to find a job for a disabled man, the trade union official who waives a rule to enable him to take up his job, the parents or wife of the disabled man who welcome him back home and do everything that lies in their power to make his disability seem as light as possible. They all join together in contributing to the well-being and rehabilitation of the man who has been seriously wounded.
The psychological condition of the man who has lost limbs, eyes or health is a tender thing that wants special study. Men grieve at first for their loss, as one may mourn for loved ones gone. They 1504 go through a stage of depression, which is followed by the beginnings of recovery which may manifest themselves in a kind of bitterness. The psychologist understands, and the Ministry and all of us who have to do with disabled men should understand, that that bitterness is not a deep, iron bitterness. It is terribly important to prevent it from becoming so. It is really the beginning of ambition, and of determination to make the best of things. There goes with it also almost a joking, light-hearted attitude towards the disability. Many a young man will try to fool people into thinking that he is not disabled. He will be pleased to think that someone has not noticed that he has a wooden leg. Many of my boys have been proud and pleased when, sometimes, walking out in the dusk by themselves, they have met someone and directed them on their way. They have been tickled to think that they did the directing, and, above all, that the other person did not know they were blind.
This tendency, this tremendous desire, for normality and recovery, is a tender plant. The man wants very badly to show and feel that he is not so badly disabled after all, and if at that moment the State or any person who comes in touch with him, through their officers, give him the impression that they are going to take advantage of that, and are going to do less for him because he is able to do so much for himself, his confidence is lost, and the Ministry becomes his enemy instead of his friend. I believe that that is well in the mind of the Minister and his officers. I recommend my Tight hon. Friend to take the advice of psychologists as to the state of mind of young men recently wounded in a severe degree, and to err on the side of generosity in his early dealings with them, so that they may feel that the nation really means, through his agency, to do everything possible for them, and does not mean to cut them down to the particular rule or regulation that applies to them.
I have said that there is a partnership. If I may, I want to refer to the part played by those voluntary organisations to which the Minister paid so graceful a tribute. The British Legion for example, under the very able and devoted guidance of Brigadier-General Fitzpatrick, its national chairman, has been referred to by many hon. Members, one of whom, 1505 the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), said that the fact that it would give so much help was not widely enough known. I do not know whether he was referring to the Legion in Scotland or England, but whichever it was, he is quite right, and I thank him for making its usefulness more widely known by referring to it. The Legion has three functions, all of which are closely allied to the work of the Ministry of Pensions. One is that of benevolence. It takes up the odd cases, fills in the gaps, meets the anomalies, which no Governmental system can wholly fulfil, and brings a personal interest which no Government Department can so effectively give as a voluntary agency.
Another function is that of co-operation with the Ministry in. the day-to-day adjustment of cases. In this I want to say that the Minister himself, and the officials in the Ministry, medical and lay, are extremely forthcoming and cooperative to the fullest possible extent, in the day-to-day handling of the difficulties of interpretation and dealing with these cases. The third function of the Legion is the one which was referred to by the Minister half jokingly. He is on an easy road to-day but he need not imagine he always will be. The Legion is a powerful fighting force, not intending to bring undue political pressure on any one, but certainly intending to voice powerfully, in all the constituencies throughout the land, and here in Parliament, the view that this people intend to do rightly and justly and generously by the serving men and women when they come back.
The Legion has reviewed all the various points that have been in dispute, or about which complaints have been made, and I shall make reference to the four or five points they would particularly like to see dealt with now. The minimum pension payable to a disabled soldier who is unemployable, is now £2 10s., an improvement of 10s. over the original flat rate of£2. We do not feel that is enough. We feel that the minimum rate should go to £3 10s. That is our first request. Taking up the point made so well by the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb), we ask for an economic supplement to the flat-rate pension which will be made without regard to the rank of the soldier, sailor or airman, whether 1506 he is an officer, N.C.O. or private, this economic supplement to be related to his pre-war earnings so that there may not be so big a gap between the standard of living he had before the war and the standard to which he has to settle down after the war.
§ Sir I. Fraser
No. I should add this is no new principle. It should not be so difficult for the Minister to swallow it. There was an alternative pension in the last war. This proposal is different, because the alternative pension had two rates, one for officers and one for other ranks. The proposal we are making has no differentiation of rank but is based only on the economic circumstances of the person before the war. I will not go into the details of that, nor do I imagine the Minister, without the most elaborate examination of our proposals, can possibly give a positive answer to it, but I would hope that the House would show itself sympathetic to the fullest possible consideration of such a scheme.
An old point, but a very important one to wives and children, is that they only receive allowances or pensions if the man was married at the time of his disability, and the children were born within an appropriate time thereafter. It remains an anomaly that the only men left out, so far as wives and children are concerned, are those who married afterwards or whose children were born afterwards, and who are in jobs earning money. The reason they are left out is because they are earning money. That brings us to the point which I made earlier, that it is very important not to put a premium on idleness, not to encourage men to go out of employability, and thereby get wives' and children's allowances. For that reason and many others which we have expressed before, and which I do not want to repeat, I urge the Minister to take a full and proper view of this matter, and give wives' and children's allowances to all on the simple test, "Is that your wife?" "Are those your children?", not "When did you marry?" or "When were they born?"
I think it fair to take up the Minister on one other point to which he referred to-day. He showed what an advantage it was to a man who was unemployable 1507 to take a supplementary pension, because thereby his wife qualified for a soldier's widow's pension when he died, whereas if he did not come into supplementary pension she would only have got a civilian widow's pension. Here you have a most absurd anomaly. If a man is unemployable, his wife gets an allowance and thereby qualifies for a soldier's widow's pension, but if the man, perhaps because he has tried a bit harder, perhaps because he has overcome his difficulty with great grit and determination, has not qualified for a supplementary pension, what happens? His wife does not get the allowance. Worse than that, when he dies she does not qualify for a soldier's widow's pension. She may have given him all the help in the world, to enable him to stay at work so long. That is an anomaly which, I think, must be looked into.
The case for the assimilation of allowances paid to the widows and the children of deceased soldiers, and the wives and children of serving soldiers, has been very fully argued by other speakers, and I will not go over it again, except to say that I, too, hope that the Government will make a concession, more particularly with regard to children. Whatever may be said about the widow's position and the rent allowance, a child costs the same to feed whether the father is living or dead. When the father is killed seems the time to increase, rather than to reduce, the help—at any rate, it is not the time to reduce it. Consider these anomalies. The allowance for the child of a serving soldier is 12s. 6d.; for the child of a deceased soldier it is 11s.; and for the child of a soldier disabled in the highest degree it is 7s. 6d. The time will come when these anomalies will have to be put right. I ask the Government to look at them.
With regard to parents' pensions, I do not take the view of the hon. Member for Gorbals and others, that there should be a token payment for all, but there is a very strong case for the State paying a pension to the parent when the man was in fact making an allotment to the parent. It seems to me that there must be a test of need if you are going to give pensions to all parents, even when there is a wife as well. I do not believe that hon. Members in any part of the House can really 1508 say that the Government should take the responsibility, for all time, of paying pensions to all parents, whatever their situation. Ought we not to relate our Governmental action to the view which would be taken by ordinary people in such an eventuality?
§ Mr. Tinker
We are not asking for a pension for all time. We are asking that it should be given up to 26 weeks, or something like that.
§ Sir I. Fraser
When my hon. Friend does speak, it will be interesting to hear his proposal. In the meantime, perhaps I can go on with mine. My proposal is that there should be something like the Government's present scheme, under which any parent can claim a pension if need be shown, at any time, right into the distant future. I do not say that I agree with all the details of that scheme, but I will not waste time in discussing now those details with which I do not agree. The Minister has, rightly, said, "Come and see me about the matter." I should like to see some of the regulations eased, and the means test made more generous. But, where there is at present an allotment, there ought to be a pension, limited for some years, because you cannot assume that it would have gone on for ever. If, in a few odd cases, there are parents who are well-off, or who have become well-off, it will remain a fact that the soldier would have wanted to help those parents. The soldier suddenly goes, and something like that help should go on for a time.
I have recently made a survey, in a small way, of some of the provisions made by the Ministry of Pensions for artificial aids for disabled men. I am not satisfied with the way artificial eyes are made and provided. The artificial eye has a certain medical importance, but its main importance is cosmetic. It ought, therefore, to be perfect, a work of art. In fact, the method of providing artificial eyes is to send a trayful to a hospital, where the surgeon will pick one which he likes the look of, and it will be ordered, by a code number, from a central store. The pieces will be sent down, and they will be more or less right. But 1509 "more or less right" is not enough. Artificial eyes ought not to come off the peg: they ought to be made just right. In some countries technicians, of a high degree of art and skill, go around the hospitals, see the individual men, and make the eyes. In some cases they make them while you wait—I can give particulars. I can tell you that anybody who can afford it, in this country, does not get a Ministry of Pensions eye: he orders one of his own, and gets it individually made. I know that there are not the men or the materials for that now, but the Minister should look into the matter.
What I hear about artificial legs is that they are very good. They are easy things to substitute, because they have a simple function to perform, and they work very well. But with artificial hands, that is not the case. The hand is a wonderful instrument, with its flexibility and its capacity, hardly capable of being imitated in wood, iron, or any other material. Although some men use artificial hands for their jobs, and some wonderful successes are attained, there is a large number of cases in which an elaborate and expensive piece of apparatus is provided, to be hung on the back of a door unless there is a party on. That is the truth, and it is better that we should not bluff ourselves about it. The Minister should hear the facts. In other countries there are new materials and designs, not hitherto incorporated in the hands that are made here. Nor can a hand suitable for a one-handed man be doubled for a man who has lost both hands—different considerations arise. Nor is it true that a hand suitable for men who can see is suitable for men who cannot see. I have 10 men who have lost both their hands and their eyes—and in the last war, when there were five times the casualties we have had so far in this war, we had only one such case.
The Ministry have tried to help: they have hurried up Roehampton, and have done their best; but a new view is wanted. What is done at Roehampton I must praise. There are kindliness and good fitting by the surgeons, and quick and good work by the manufacturers. But there are two things that we want. We want a more ready ear on the part of the Ministry of Labour, to help the Ministry of Pensions limb-fitting agencies, and to provide skilled technicians to enable 1510 St. Dunstan's to do its work. The Ministry of Pensions should itself set up a research department, to find out what are the new materials and the new methods. At present the initiative is left with the manufacturers, whose whole time and thought are given to catching up the arrears of manufacture. We want someone who is free from the manufacturing or the administrative embarrassment, to give inventive research thought to this problem. Where men have lost legs, arms, or eyes—and sometimes more than one of these—no skill and thought is too much to give.
I would sum up by saying that between last year and this the Ministry of Pensions have, in my opinion, done better. Let us thank them and the Government, and do not let us forget the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had a good deal to do with the more generous arrangements made last year. But let us tell them that we shall not be satisfied until they do much better still.
§ Mr. Charleton (Leeds, South)
It is so long since I addressed the House of Commons that I feel almost as if I was making my maiden speech, but I was pressed to speak to-day, on behalf of limbless ex-Servicemen and Roehampton Hospital, because of the propaganda that is going on about the inadequate sources of supply of artificial limbs. If this were true, it would be very serious, and it would be a reflection on our work at Roehampton Hospital, of which I happen to be a governor. I am grateful for what the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) said regarding it. At Roehampton, we have a long history and a good record of development; in fact, a record of continual development until we have become, I suppose, one of the greatest centres for the production of artificial limbs in the world.
Dealing with the point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale, I cannot say anything in reference to foreign artificial arms, but I do know that there has always been a very great difficulty in creating really efficient artificial arms. We have done a great deal and they are much better than they were, but they are still, in the main, not quite so useful as artificial legs. We have also at Roehampton built up a body of very skilled limb surgeons and a very wonderful science of limb surgery which is now 1511 being spread over the country. Surgeons throughout the country have been asked to study their cases so that, when the men are ready for artificial limbs, those limbs will be right, the stump having been prepared, not as a pretty neat job, but as a good serviceable limb. The limbs themselves are prescribed with as much care as a doctor takes in prescribing a bottle of medicine.
§ Mr. Charleton
One step further. There is at Roehampton a movement which we might describe as the healing of nations. One of my oldest co-governors, one of the founders of Roehampton, conceived the idea of bringing the blessings of Roehampton to all our Allies, and, to-day, representatives of many of our Allies have come to Roehampton to learn our methods with the object of passing them on to their own countries after the war. This is a wonderful service, and in some countries will result in a great improvement on the conditions which existed after the last war, when those who lost limbs had to go into the forests and cut crutches for themselves. I think we may say that we shall not let the limbless ex-Service men down this time.
We have no more land that we can use for building factories at Roehampton. We can do a little building, but not much, and so I must press the Minister at once to see to it that we get adequate premises for the further extension of our factories. We cannot know how many limbs we shall want, but I believe the Minister realises that we shall need quite twice as many as we now have. As Roehampton is nearly producing to its utmost capacity, we must go elsewhere. Then there is the case of the personnel. At the moment, the Ministry of Labour, quite rightly, when patients are being rehabilitated for industry, puts them into what we may call,' in general terms, munitions. What I would suggest is that we should train a number of men, such as fitters, in the wireless sense, pattern-makers, turners, wood-working machinists, joiners and so on—men who were in those trades before they went into the Army. They should be trained so that, by placing them in factories, it would soon be possible to turn 1512 out limbs in quantities and rehabilitation of cases would be such, that we could have a greater influx of labour into munitions than we would otherwise have. Besides, in the case of men in industry, it gives them good, remunerative, permanent work.
Machinery is also needed, and that is a very difficult question to-day, but it seems to me that the Committee must insist upon the Minister taking up at once, with the other Departments, this matter of the supply of machinery. I know there is competition for machinery all over the country. I do not propose to say any more, except to press this point that, as we go on and as the need for artificial limbs grows, we must not have the spectacle, at the end of this war, of a large number of limbless men waiting for limbs, while the men who have all their limbs can get back into jobs, and the others are eating their hearts out wondering what is going to happen to them. I thought of that when the Minister of Labour spoke the other day of seeing those lads embarking for the front, and of what they said to him. We must not have that, and, further, we must let these lads know that, when they are equipped with limbs, they will go back into industry perfectly efficient to do a job, and not as cripples, but as ordinary citizens able to do their work. If we do that, it will be worth while.
§ Lieut.-Commander Hutchison (Edinburgh, West)
When I entered this House three years ago, the major part of my correspondence consisted of complaints concerning claims and grievances against the Ministry of Pensions, but, to-day, the position has changed entirely, as the Minister himself said in his opening statement. I congratulate him and his officials on the many improvements made since 1941, because I do feel that, in those former days, early in the war, there were a great many hard and unsatisfactory decisions in pension cases. Incidentally, I would like to give the Ministry of Pensions full marks for the promptitude with which they deal with correspondence. I put them first in the list of Government Departments, so far as celerity in answering letters is concerned. But, as various hon. Members have pointed out in the course of the Debate, no system of administration is perfect, or ever can be perfect, and there are various points 1513 and anomalies which it is appropriate to raise and deal with on the occasion of the presentation of the Estimates.
The first point I wish to touch upon has already been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. It is the question of children's allowances and the difference between the allowance payable in respect of the child of a man who is serving in the Forces, and the child of a man who has, unfortunately, lost his life. Quite frankly, I was not convinced by what my right hon. Friend had to say in defence of this difference. I do not think his words will carry conviction to the country. I feel there is a just grievance here and I ask that the matter be reconsidered. I believe that, next week, there is to be a statement on the subject of anomalies, and I hope that it may be dealt with then. I cannot see why this anomaly should continue to exist, because, after all, the widow does have to pay Income Tax on pension, whereas the wife getting a better allowance, is not subject to Income Tax on it, as was pointed out by an hon. Member opposite earlier in the Debate; also a wife can fall back upon the war service grant in cases of need, whereas the widows, as my right hon. Friend himself pointed out, are not necessarily eligible for the rent allowance.
I would refer to another point which has caused me a good deal of concern and is causing a good deal of concern to my right hon. Friend himself, and that is the number of cases arising out of service in the Home Guard. On 8th June, I put a Question to my right hon. Friend on this subject and the Parliamentary Secretary replied, stating that up till 1st April of this year, some 1,100 disability and dependants' pensions had been paid in respect of members of the Home Guard. I am convinced that the figure will rise very steeply later on. From what I can hear from men who have been in the Home Guard since its early days in 1940, it is apparent that recruits of any sort of medical standard, are now being directed into it by the Ministry of Labour, and there is no proper and regular system of medical examination. That is going to be a serious matter not only for the men themselves and their families, but ultimately for the taxpayer, for, very rightly, the onus of proof has now been removed from the claimant to the Min- 1514 istry of Pensions. It is going to be extremely hard for the Ministry of Pensions to argue in future that certain conditions have not arisen as a result of, or been aggravated by, service in the Home Guard when there was no medical examination before the man was directed into the Home Guard. I urge my right hon. Friend to take the matter up most vigorously with his colleagues in other Departments to try to have a statutory medical examination enforced. I cannot believe that in this stage of the war, it is necessary to direct people into the Home Guard without such a safeguard, and I am quite unconvinced by the argument that there are insufficient doctors.
Next, I would refer to one or two points in the Royal Warrant which require clarification or interpretation. The first concerns unemployable allowances and is in Article 15. My right hon. Friend made some reference to this earlier. I have been advised by the General Secretary of the British Legion in Scotland that recently, when he put the case for the payment of this allowance to a man who was temporarily unemployable, it was refused on the grounds that his unemployability was not permanent. Article 15 says nothing about either temporary or permanent. All it says is:Where a member of the military forces is in receipt of retired pay or a pension under Article so in respect of disablement so serious as to make him unemployable, he may be awarded—There is in my view a case for payment of this allowance when a man is temporarily unemployable, because, immediately upon his discharge from the Forces, after being invalided out there may well be an interim period during which he is unfit for work. This is a relatively small matter, but I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions to give careful consideration to the point. The next case with which I have to deal concerns Article 16 in the Royal Warrant. It is the interpretation of the words "eligible dependant." Article 16, paragraph 3 (c) says:eligible dependant' means a person who is an eligible member of the family.But if we turn to Article 1, paragraph 5, we find:eligible member of the family in relation to a member of the military Forces means the wife, husband, unmarried dependant living as a wife, or any child of the member.1515 That is comprehensive to a certain extent, but it leaves out several important categories of persons, such as parents, brothers and sisters. The fact is that, whereas, while the man is serving in the Forces a dependant's allowance may be given to the sister or the parents the moment the man leaves the Forces, with an allowance or pension in respect of disability, no allowance is payable to sisters or parents. There is a case for ironing out this anomaly and stating that where an allowance is payable in respect of dependants while the man is in the Forces, the allowance ought also to be payable when the man has been discharged from the Forces. I ask my right hon. Friend to look into that point and, if possible, to comment upon it in his reply.
On the question of treatment allowances, I have been told that quite a number of men who ought to avail themselves of these treatment allowances for in-patient treatment at hospitals, are not doing so because they feel that financial hardship will be incurred by their families. That is particularly the case, I am advised, with regard to neurosis cases or cases of men who have some nerve trouble. It is very unfortunate that this should be so. The treatment allowance system is a very good one, and I ask my right hon. Friend to look into the matter, to find out the facts and, if possible, to increase these allowances to members of families in cases where the man is undergoing in-patient treatment.
My final point is one of general principle, and it was touched upon in part by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb), and also, indirectly, by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). For some time past the British Legion in Scotland has been advocating that the basis upon which compensation for death or injury of men in the Forces of the Crown or the Merchant Navy is assessed should be investigated by an ad hoc committee appointed for the purpose by the Government. Just over a year ago, in April, 1943, the British Legion in Scotland made public their proposals and sent a statement of their case to the Prime Minister, to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and to Members of this House. What the Legion in Scotland are aiming at is to divide into two distinct parts the 1516 assessment of pension in respect of disability for injury, on the one hand, and assessment in respect of compensation for loss of earnings, on the other hand. In the letter which the British Legion (Scotland) forwarded to the Prime Minister and to my right hon. Friend this proposal is made clear by the following paragraph:The complete reconstruction of the existing Pension Authorities to provide for the separation of the assessment of compensation for loss of physical or mental capacity from the assessment of compensation for the loss of earning capacity, and for subsistence.It is a very wide subject and undoubtedly it may have controversial aspects, but I feel, as the British Legion in Scotland feel, that their proposals, which were of a constructive nature, have not received sufficient study or sympathetic attention from His Majesty's Government. They feel very strongly that it is a subject which ought to be investigated by a special committee appointed for the purpose and, therefore, I am going to ask my right hon. Friend if he will appoint such a committee or at least recommend to the Government the appointment of such a committee, because it is a matter of very great and far-reaching importance and one about which we, in Scotland, feel very strongly.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I feel that the Minister was fully justified to-day in claiming credit for the work of his Department during the past year, and I agree with the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) that he is the most sympathetic and humane Minister of Pensions, as far as my knowledge goes, that we have ever had. Not that he is perfect—none of us is—but we hope that we shall assist him in arriving at a still greater state of perfection than he is at now. The tribunals have been a great success, as has been pointed out. The need for them, I think, has been manifested by the fact that something like 30 per cent. Of the appeals have succeeded—
§ Mr. Mander
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for correcting me. The Minister pointed out that there has been a fundamental change in the outlook of the Ministry of Pensions, and therefore the appeal tribunals, through the alteration 1517 in the onus of proof and there is no doubt that that is so because it is a most important contribution to helping ex-Servicemen. I am bound to say, in this connection, that while I have just praised my hon. Friend, I did not notice him among the first fighters in the fray for the change in the onus of proof. All the same I am sure we were right and that a wise decision was taken. I have heard it suggested that there has been a certain difficulty in making the necesssary mental adjustments caused through the change. I do not believe that this is true, but when, for a number of years, you have been looking at the matter from the point of view of onus of proof being on the man, suddenly to have to switch over entirely, is a difficult mental job to achieve. I believe his staff are achieving it, but at the same time it is right to point out that there is criticism on the ground that there has been a certain slowness in bringing about this adjustment. At any rate, the tribunals are there, and they are in a position to check any inadequacy there might be in that connection. I think, in regard to the onus of proof, we ought to make it quite clear that the success of that policy was due to the House of Commons. It was nothing else. The Minister wholeheartedly agrees that, as the result of pressure and debate in the House, a great change was accomplished. No doubt, in future cases, when necessary, we can do the same again. It is interesting to note that in the cases before the tribunals the assistance of the British Legion representatives has been extremely useful. In something like 83 per cent. of the cases, I believe, their services have been made use of, and they have been found most valuable.
Thinking that I might, perhaps, have an opportunity to-day of catching your eye, Mr. Williams, I went to a source of information in my constituency to see the kind of complaint chiefly brought forward in connection with pensions. I paid a visit to the Wolverhampton Citizens' Advice Bureau, which has been doing such admirable work for the last few years, and some of the points to which I shall quite briefly refer arise as a result of those inquiries. I would like to make a point with regard to the question of parents' pensions, but first there is a rather minor point. The family allowance on death at the present time goes 1518 on for 13 weeks but a dependant's allowance stops at once. I would suggest that the Minister should consider continuing dependants' allowances also for 13 weeks because it is a very great hardship, where death occurs and when at the same moment in many cases the employer's voluntary allowance also is brought to an end, that this sudden cessation of income should take place.
I certainly think the period ought to be 13 weeks in both cases. There is, of course, the much larger question of a pension regardless of means test for a prolonged period. There is no doubt that the means test is greatly resented. It is not liked at all, and people, quite wrongly, have the idea that there is something connected with charity about it when, years afterwards, they may find it necessary to apply for a pension. They should regard it as their statutory right, which they can claim from the State at any time. There is no doubt about the present unpopularity of that scheme and I think that a case has been made out for a continuance for a certain term of years—various periods have been mentioned—of an allowance, regardless of means test, to the dependent person who is left behind. There has been a great deal said in support of that in the Debate to-day, and I venture to think that in some form it will have to be met in due course.
I would ask my right hon. Friend when he replies to make some comment on this point. The Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association, to which the Minister paid such a high and well-deserved tribute, have suggested that the basic grant for living—that is for an adult after rent and insurance have been paid—should be raised from 18s. to 22s. Would he say why it is not proposed up to the present time to agree to that suggestion?
§ Mr. Mander
I am very glad to know that. I would like to make reference to the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) about the date of marriage. That is also a point which I think will have to be met in due course. It is really a most unsatisfactory, illogical, indefensible position. On the one hand, you get a man who marries in a hurry, no doubt quite rightly, who has a very short married life, and who gets disabled. His wife and 1519 family benefit by the pensions allowances. On the other hand, another man thinks that he will be more cautious; that he would rather come back and settle down when he can see things clearly, although he wants a wife and family just the same. He also suffers from the war but gets none of these benefits. It has been a very long war, people have had to wait a very long time, and I think it is not right that there should be this difference between the two. Some reform should be brought about to bring them into line, and to make the man who has now been abroad perhaps three or four or nearly five years feel that when he comes back, perhaps crippled, and then gets married—as he might have done five years ago—his family will benefit by the protection of the State. Something has been done to meet this point on a very small scale and the principle has been accepted in connection with 100 per cent. unemployability grant, which is given regardless of the date of marriage. I am suggesting we ought to go very much further than that.
Those are the points I wish to make. I only add this final comment. The responsibility for looking after those who have fought and suffered in the service of the State goes back into antiquity. I noticed some words the other day which I think are worth quoting. This is what Solon says about Pisistratus in Plutarch's "Lives":He also made other laws himself, one of which provides that those who are maimed in war shall be maintained at the public charge.That was thousands of years ago. Therefore we should interpret that responsibility in the modern sense, and do our utmost to make those who have borne the burden of war, happy citizens of a grateful country.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Whitechapel)
In the short time I propose to take, I want to draw attention to three or four matters which have confronted me during the last 12 months, and which I think are general in the country, in connection with pensions. The first is that disability pensions, which have been improved during the past year, as I maintained in the Debate on the White Paper, are not yet adequate. When one takes into account the cost of living, the possibility of an increase in that cost of living and, par- 1520 ticularly, the cost of a small luxury now and again, I think it will be generally agreed that there is room for still further improvement in the amounts of money which are paid out, especially in 100 per cent. pensions. With regard to dependants' pensions, we all know that they are split up into two categories—the pension to the wife and the pension to the parent. In spite of the good work of the Ministry during the past year, there have been many complaints about that type of pension.
There is a lot of discussion about parents' pensions. I happen to be one of the Members of the House who have lost a son in this war, and I can put a parent's view as to what should be done. I must say that I differ from some of my hon. Friends and agree with the Minister on this issue. I feel that there is really no need for the State to make a gift of money to people who do not actually need it. If the State gave me or my wife 5s. a week until the time when my son would have reached the age of 26, that would not have reduced our grief or sorrow. It would have had no beneficial effect upon the circumstances of the case. I think the question should be looked at from the point of view of pecuniary need. In spite of the figures which the Minister has given to-day, and given hitherto in the OFFICIAL REPORT, the bases of pecuniary need are far too low.
I know of a man who has worked for many years in the dock industry and who made sacrifices for a long time so that his boy could get the best possible education. That boy, as a result, found a good job at fairly good wages until he was called into the Air Force. Eventually he became a pilot officer. His father carried on working as a labourer earning an amount of money which just kept his family above the bare level of existence. Unfortunately, the son lost his life and the family have had to evacuate from London. That son, if he had been at home now and had not gone into the Air Force, would have been giving his family something in return for the benefits which they gave to him. But because the family income is at its present level, they receive no assistance whatever. That sort of case, which is common, deserves more consideration than it has had hitherto. The question of fixing the figure for 'pecuniary need is far more important than bringing in a flat-rate pension for all 1521 parents. I would like the Minister to go into this question and see whether thousands of genuine cases cannot be brought in, instead of considering a flat-rate pension which would bring in a large number of people who do not require the money.
With regard to a wife's pension, I have a case of a constituent who was called up in November, 1942, who was passed A1, and who had never visited a doctor in his life until then. This man was about 4o years of age. After he had undergone Army training he suddenly fell ill, and died after a short time in hospital. His widow has been denied a pension, because it was stated by the medical authorities that the man died from a disease of the kidneys. The authorities stated that it was a condition which must have existed from childhood, and which would have become, progressively, more serious, irrespective of the nature of the man's employment, or the conditions of his military service. I know from my own experience and observation of this man that he would have had a fairly long period of life if he had not been called to the Forces. There are few doctors who could say definitely what effect Army service had had upon a man's health. What about the men who went through Dunkirk? Is there any doctor who could diagnose the effect which Dunkirk had on 300,000 men? The effect on 1,000 of them might be totally different from the effect on the remainder. Fortunately or unfortunately, we have to leave the medical profession to decide these cases. Until the slogan, "Fit for service, fit for pension" comes into operation we shall have these difficulties. But I say without fear of contradiction that if this man had not been called up he would have been alive to-day, and would have had, possibly, another five or six years more to live. Further, in addition to the Ministry of Pensions having turned down the widow's application for a pension, she has not yet received a widow's pension. Where a widow makes application for a pension, it necessarily means some consideration by the Ministry and until a decision is arrived at the woman is without any pension at all.
§ Sir W. Womersley
May I correct that? The Minister of Health will grant a contributory pension, if the person is entitled to it from insurable rights, 1522 irrespective of whether we are considering the case or not. When we grant our pension, being the larger of the two, it naturally takes the first place. In the meantime, he can go on drawing it.
§ Mr. Edwards
From my own personal knowledge of these cases the widow would be entitled to draw National Health Insurance benefit or the widows' pension from the Ministry of Health immediately the death takes place, because the man was in manual work before he was in the Army and had been in the Army long enough to have paid the 104 stamps. But even in that case until 3rd July, when I received the letter, I was told that the application was still receiving consideration from the Ministry of Health. So she has been without anything from the period when her husband died in hospital, until the present time. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that in these cases there can be some joint action between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Pensions to ensure that persons do not go without it for some time.
There is another point that I should like to raise, with regard to the Mercantile Marine. I was very pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman refer to it in the way he did, particularly in regard to the Normandy landing. He stated that men wounded in taking troops and stores over to the landing places, when they come back and are put into hospital, receive an amount of money. I want them to receive an amount of money but I want it to be a reasonable amount. It is admitted that the hospital authorities are likely to make charges against it. My experience in such cases is that when you get a small allowance from a Government Department, the best part of it is taken by the hospital authorities.
§ Sir W. Womersley
There is a definite arrangement. 9s. a week is charged for a married man and 19s. for a single man. As that allowance is equal to 100 per cent. of the pension, and there are allowances for the wife and children, it does not mean a big imposition on the man. They cannot charge him more than that.
§ Mr. Edwards
I merely say this, because I have seen some of the work of the Merchant Navy during the war and I maintain that, if a man is going to be engaged in these joint operations, even if 1523 in a civilian occupation, he should receive medical attention free when he comes back. If he has to pay 9s. or 19s. for it, it is not free.
§ Mr. Edwards
I maintain that he should get the best medical treatment, the same as a man in the Army, Navy or Air Force, and he should receive the whole of his allowances and his maintenance free. With my experience of the Ministry of Pensions, I have been very well satisfied indeed, and I want to add my word of praise to what has already been said. I trust that the Minister will be able to make some more concessions in the forthcoming year and, if he wants any assistance from the House, I am certain that it will not be lacking.
§ Captain Prescott (Darwen)
I should like to add my tribute to my right hon. Friend and to say that during the short time that I have been in contact with him since I was returned to the House, I have always met with the greatest courtesy and consideration both from him and from the Department. I wish to address one or two observations to the Committee about parents' pensions. I should like to disabuse the mind of the Minister of the impression that this is not causing some considerable concern in the country. It is. It is debated at great length and there is very great dissatisfaction amongst parents with regard to the rate of pension paid them in respect of the loss of their sons or daughters. Whatever payment you make, it can never recompense them for the loss they have sustained and the only thing we can do is to try to make them some fair financial return to replace the financial loss they have experienced, or might experience, as the result of the loss of their son or daughter.
I appreciate what a difficult and controversial topic this is and how people, with the best will in the world, may take very different views as to the right manner in which to compensate these poor parents. I listened with great interest to the hon. and gallant Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Edwards) because he has experienced the great loss of his child on active service. I am far from satisfied with the present position and I think I should review what that is. One 1524 has to consider first, the case of a single man killed while in the Service and the case of a married man, because they are not dealt with on the same basis. As I understand it, if a single man is killed, the parents can receive a pension if, broadly speaking, their net income does exceed £3 a week. I think that is a fair figure to take.
§ Captain Prescott
I quite appreciate that. I listened while my right hon. Friend gave the basis upon which need is assessed and he was careful not to give any definite figure. From information which he has supplied me with, I came to the conclusion that it would work out to this, that if the parents had £3 a week or more, broadly speaking, they were not entitled to a pension. If my arithmetic is wrong, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary when he replies will correct me. I admit that it is net income, with some deductions, but it is not a great deal of money in these days for a man and his wife who have lost a child on active service. If we are to retain a needs test, we shall put it much higher than that. Surely, parents with £5 or £6 a week are entitled to some pension for the loss of a son or daughter. £3 is much too low.
I suggest that a strong case has been made out for a flat-rate pension. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel, who has had personal experience, does not agree with my view, but I, having talked with many people who have had a similar experience, suggest that a case is made out for a flat-rate pension, especially where a boy or girl has been making an allotment to the parents. I do not suggest that the pension should go on for the next 30 years of a parent's life, but it should go on for some reasonable, limited period, which should be worked out according to whether the child is married or not, his age and so on. When the limited period comes to an end, then the need test should be applied, and if the need justifies it a supplementary pension should be paid. I hope that the figures will be well above £3 a week.
I have dealt so far with the case of single persons in the Services who are killed. May I say a word about the married man who is killed and whose 1525 parents are in need of a pension? I understand that a married man's position is not the same as that of a single man, and that a married man's parents can only obtain a pension if, prior to his death, he made a substantial contribution towards their upkeep.
§ Captain Prescott
I gleaned that information from a document which my right hon. Friend was kind enough to send me. Would he indicate what the position is?
§ Sir W. Womersley
My hon. and gallant Friend has misunderstood the whole position. We take into account whether a married soldier has been contributing to his parents, or whether in a certain set of circumstances he would be expected to do so. The result has been that pensions have been granted in many cases to both the parents and the widow.
§ Captain Prescott
I was, at least, partially right in saying that one criterion is whether the child has made a contribution to the parents. I understand that, even if he has not, it is estimated whether he would have been likely to do so. I would suggest that the case of married soldiers who are killed might be reconsidered on the basis that I have already suggested for the case of the single man. I appreciate that when a man is married and has a family, his liabilities may be such that it would not be financially possible to contribute to the upkeep of his parents. On the other hand, he may only have just got married and be very young, and in those circumstances it is possible that he might for a considerable period have contributed to the upkeep of his parents.
Although I have made these criticisms and suggestions, I fully acknowledge the difficult problem which faces my right hon. Friend in respect of parents' pensions. It is impossible adequately to solve it, because no compensation, however great, can be sufficient, and it is impossible to find a solution which will be adequate to the facts. If a son is killed no one can tell whether he might have become a millionaire in later years and provided his family with a house at Torquay, or whether he might have completely gone to ruin and been a liability on them for the rest of his life. We cannot assess these things. The only thing 1526 we can do is to take a fair and reasonable course mid-way between all the different rocks and reefs. Excessive demands are made in some quarters with regard to parents' pensions, but there are reasonable demands which could well be met, and I feel sure that my right hon. Friend will meet them if he possibly can.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
Instead of going over the points that have been made during this Debate, I want to make a few suggestions which arise out of something the Minister said in his speech. He stated that owing to the White Paper his correspondence has fallen considerably. Mine has fallen considerably as well. I would, however, ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that the war is by no means over, and that the peak period is likely to come after the war. Any Member who was in the House just after the last war would not like Members to go through the experience they had then. They were inundated by ex-Service men and their dependants with grievances of all kinds. We listened to them and submitted their cases to the Minister. The Minister put them through the Department, and we got acknowledgments that the cases were being considered. Then, after a long period, sometimes running into months, we got decisions. If we did not agree with the decisions we had some further arguments with the Minister. This heartbreaking business went on for months. At all costs the Ministry of Pensions will have to take steps to short-circuit this lengthy procedure. The right hon. Gentleman has shortened the time compared with what it was in the early days, but there is still great need for a further shortening. In my experience most of the heart-burning, discontent and irritation is caused by the long delay in reaching decisions. I have been surprised frequently, when a case has been turned down, to hear the aggrieved person say, "I have had a go, any way." It is not the decision that causes the irritation, but the long delay in reaching it.
I know that it is necessary to do these things in a proper way, but I am wondering whether the Minister could link up with the Minister of Labour. The Minister of Labour said in reply to a Question last week that it was his intention to appoint personal representatives in each centre to deal with the resettlement of ex-Service men. I took that to mean 1527 that at each employment exchange there will be a representative of the Ministry of Labour specialising in helping ex-Service men to get going and to settle down. I hope that the Ministry of Pensions will co-operate in that effort. If not, I would like to make an alternative suggestion to the Minister of Pensions that he should consider appointing a representative of his Ministry in all the large towns. Let us see how it works out in the case of the Ministry of Labour. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not think that I am trying to put one Department against another.
When a man comes to me about his case I bring it to the notice of the Ministry of Pensions, who go into it. If he comes to me about the Ministry of Labour and something has gone wrong, I have an understanding that in all these cases I send them over to a representative at the employment exchange with a note asking that it shall be looked into. In 99 per cent. of the cases matters are settled much more satisfactorily by personal contact. Could not the Minister have a system whereby, in all the large centres, one of his representatives would see men with grievances? It usually makes a great difference to see a man and speak to him. You know within five minutes whether he has a real case or not. I have often found after having a long correspondence with one of my constituents, that ultimately when I have had to see the person concerned I have been surprised, because I have found a different kind of person from the one suggested in the correspondence. The Minister used the expression "human interest"; he will get far better results in the months ahead, when pensions matters become acute and when nobody will, from any political standpoint, want a repetition of what happened after the last war, on a basis of personal contact than he is likely to get by having thousands of cases dealt with by correspondence.
One embellishment of the same point is this. When the Minister of Labour announced in the House that he would have representatives to advise men, he said that it was more than ever necessary that there should be, at those consultations, someone representing the Ministry of Pensions, particularly for disabled or partly disabled men, whose occupation was a very important matter. In par- 1528 ticular, there is the case of the man who has been discharged from the Army for neurosis. These are cases of highly strung people. If this system is adopted, and men are interviewed, resettled and put back into work, that does not finish it. A great many neurosis sufferers will throw up a job without any rhyme or reason. It is difficult and delicate to handle them properly. I am particularly anxious that the method proposed by the Minister of Labour should be tried, and that the Minister of Pensions should take a hand in it, particularly with disabled men and neurosis cases. As I have confined my remarks to one point, I hope that it may the more effectively, gain the attention of the Minister.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me the privilege of a footnote. The Minister said that the White Paper transferred the onus of proof from the man to the Ministry, in regard to disability. I wish the Minister would look into the cases in which a disability cannot be accepted as having nothing to do with war service. For example, I can cite the case with which I had to deal of a man who had been 23 years in the Army. He was a regular soldier and he died a month or two ago, of cancer in the chest. His case was turned down by the Ministry. He had no medical evidence of any kind, but his wife told me that, about 18 months ago, he was acting as a provost-sergeant and was endeavouring to arrest a soldier, who tripped him up and kicked him severely in the chest. He had complained ever since of a pain in his chest, which ultimately turned out to be cancer in the lungs. I asked his wife whether he had complained officially or had gone to a doctor, but she said not, because her husband thought it was rather a reflection on him allowing a soldier to trip him up, after his long service. He had succeeded in arresting the man. I do not know that the medical profession have progressed as far as to be able to say whether a blow like that would cause cancer, but it is difficult to explain how a man with 23 years' service should die of cancer which was not contracted during his Army service.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I am glad that the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) has referred to cases of cancer, because I have been interested recently in two cases of cancer, in 1529 one of which the man has died, and in which pensions have been refused. I find it difficult to reconcile those refusals of pension with the principle that the onus of proof, when a pension is refused, is on the Ministry. The medical profession tell us that they do not know the cause of cancer; how on earth the Ministry are able to say that the Army service is not in any way a contributory cause is beyond me. In one of these instances the cancer was not discovered until after the man was dead. Actually, when the man complained of being ill, the medical officer—a woman, I am sorry to say—accused him of malingering, and it was only as a result of the protests of the men in his unit, who knew that that was an unjust charge, that the man received medical treatment. After the treatment he died, and he was said to have died of something else. His wife was not satisfied and asked for a post mortem, which showed that death was due to cancer. She definitely says that his death was hastened—and I think there is evidence for it—by the fact that he was not properly treated while in the Army.
I think that account ought to be taken of the fact that when a man in the Army does not feel well and cannot satisfy the medical officer that there is anything wrong with him, he is under orders and is bound to carry on with his duties. La civil life, if a man does not feel quite fit, he can stay away from work and have a rest. The Ministry ought to be more generous in cases of this kind. I cannot really see the grounds upon which the Minister refuses a pension to these people. To suffer from cancer is sad enough, with no prospects of living very long; would it not be more generous of the Ministry to see that such cases received a pension for the rest of their lives? The alternative is that a man has to go to the Poor Law, which is what the Minister told us he was very anxious that the Serviceman should be able to avoid.
I have listened to practically the whole of the Debate to-day, and I think it would be a fair summing-up of the general opinion of the Committee to say that while the view is held that conditions in my right hon. Friend's Department are very much better than they were, there is still plenty of room for improvement. In fact, the story which my right hon. Friend told the Committee to-day might, I think, be compared to the curate's egg; it was 1530 good in parts, and so far as the part that was good is concerned I would say that it is very much better as a result of the pressure of hon. Members in this House, and of public opinion. I am not concerned whether the Minister or hon. Members should take the credit. I am anxious only that the improvements should have been made. But the Minister told us, "I know that I have not to appeal to this House to give more to help those who are the victims of this war." Therefore, if justice is not done the blame must rest on the Government. I am not very much impressed when we are told that on certain matters the Government are united against a course of action, because we know that the Government yields to pressure. The Minister's statement is simply an invitation to pressure.
So far as I am concerned I was not sent to this House because those who were good enough to Vote for me thought I would be a rubber stamp. I think they voted for me because they knew very well that I would not be a rubber stamp, and they preferred me to two other candidates who they thought were more likely to perform that function. I am not impressed, for instance, by the fact that every Member of the Government apparently agrees that when a man dies his widow shall receive 32s. 6d. instead of the 35s. she was receiving when he was alive, or that she shall only receive 11s. per child instead of 12s. 6d. What the Government do not realise is that by mean economies of this kind they undo a good deal of the good they do in other directions. People's attention is not concentrated on what the Government are giving; they are concerned with what they are not willing to do. Who is it that wants to save this 2s. 6d. a week so far as the widow of a man who has given his life for his country is concerned, or who wants to cut down by 1s. 6d. a week the allowance for his child?
§ Mr. Lipson
It is not enough to say, "We gave a big increase." What my right hon. Friend ought to say is, "Have I given them a sufficient increase?" The answer is that by the Government's own standard they have said that when the father is alive 12s. 6d. is required. I venture to prophesy that that is a change which will take place. The country will 1531 not stand for an economy—I would say a meanness—of that kind. If the Government to-day are united upon it they will have to be equally united against it. I believe that this will happen before next year's Estimates, and what will my right hon. Friend do? I hope he will still be the Minister of Pensions because I agree that he is sympathetic and kindly and well-intentioned. He will come down and express his satisfaction, and will tell us how many thousands of women and children have been able to benefit, and will ask us to give the Government the credit for it. He shall have the credit provided he does it. I prophesy that before this time next year he will come down and claim credit for it.
His argument is that when a man is alive and serving, it is only far a period that the extra payment is made, whereas the other is an annuity. Surely that is answered by the fact that when a man is in the Army—and conditions when he is serving are somewhat straitened at home in spite of the present generosity of pay and allowances—there is hope that when the war is over he will be able to resume his career, and perhaps provide some increased measure of comfort for his wife and children. But when the man has been killed all hope of that is gone, and, therefore, I would say that we do not want these things argued on narrow, legalistic lines. We do not want, so far as these people are concerned, the point of view to be, "How little can I give to satisfy the minimum needs?" but rather, "Can we not really he more generous than perhaps we can strictly make out a case for, because of the services they have rendered?" After all, these men have given their lives so that we might live and be free, and I think we ought to take that fact into consideration in adjusting our point of view with regard to them.
I would have liked to have drawn attention to two hard cases which I had in mind to illustrate my point of view, but in view of the fact that the Minister has been very generous in allowing Members an opportunity of speaking, I will postpone reference to these until there is another opportunity. I conclude by saying that I am sure that in this matter the view of the Committee and of the country is that what is right and just and 1532 fair should be done to the men who are serving, and to their dependants. We want that principle to be interpreted in a broad and generous spirit, and if the Minister does that he will get our congratulations, and he will have our continued support. But until these anomalies which now exist have been removed, he must not complain if we do not remind him of the good he is doing, but draw his attention to the fact that there is still much more to be done.
§ Mr. Douglas (Battersea, North)
The Minister said that the amendment to the Royal Warrant made last October, shifting the onus of proof from the claimant to the Minister, had effected a revolution with regard to pensions. I want to point out to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, as I have done already by correspondence, that there is a counterrevolution taking place in the Ministry; that the benefit of that provision is being denied to a very large number of persons, and that an attempt is being made to shift back the onus of proof on to the claimant. That arises where a man dies through a disease of unknown causation, of which there are a great many. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) referred to cancer. There are many other diseases of a similar character of which the doctors are not able to specify the causes. In those cases the Minister, apparently, if his medical advisers say they do not connect the disease with the war, rejects the claim. I want to say that the Minister is not entitled to take up that point of view.
§ Mr. Douglas
The Royal Warrant has laid down very clearly that where the man has gone into the Army and has been certified as fit, and subsequently meets with his death, or is incapacitated, a certificate has to be given that his disease or disability has been owing to his service unless evidence is given to the contrary, and the Royal Warrant also lays down that the benefit of any reasonable doubt has to be given to the claimant. If the disease is of unknown causation, it is clearly impossible for evidence to be given that the disease was caused by military service. The two things are incompatible.
I have in my hand a bundle of correspondence, which I had with the Parlia- 1533 mentary Secretary, extending over some months, in which it is admitted that the particular case is one in which the disease is of unknown causation, yet the Minister rejects the claim, on the ground that there is a consensus of medical opinion that the disease could not be caused by military service—a consensus of medical opinion, I presume, which exists inside the Ministry. I do not know where it is: I say emphatically that a consensus of medical opinion is not evidence. The words "consensus of medical opinion" are not part of the Royal Warrant. They appeared in the White Paper which preceded the Royal Warrant, but the White Paper is not part of the Royal Warrant; and the Minister is no more entitled to interpret the Royal Warrant by reference to the White Paper than any judge would be entitled to interpret a Statute by reference to the speech of the Minister who introduced it. It is not admissible to refer to what was said in the White Paper about medical opinion. The Royal Warrant says expressly that evidence is to be produced—not opinions.
I insist that the Minister is not interpreting the Royal Warrant fairly and equitably in these cases. He is not entitled to shift the onus of proof back on the claimant. If it is admitted, as it is in these cases, that the cause of the disease is unknown, or that it is constitutional—which is another, and a more polite, way of saying that the doctors do not know how it arises—the Minister is not entitled to inflict the refusal of a pension. It may well be that something which occurred in the course of military service was the spark which set this thing going. Until the doctors are able to show what has caused this disease, in a man who has been perfectly healthy for 20, 30 or more years, and that the cause arose entirely outside of military service, the Minister is not entitled to reject the application, to neglect the terms of the Royal Warrant, and to throw the onus on to the applicant.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions (Mr. Paling)
I have given as much time to Members as I could, but they will expect me to say a word or two on some of the questions which have been asked. Before doing so, I should like to say something about war service grants, for which I am particularly responsible. There are at the present time upwards of 500,000 war service grants 1534 in payment, and fresh and renewed applications at the rate of about 5,000 a week are being received. During the last year there have been two concessions in regard to the amount of emergency grants payable. In July, 1943, the initial payment expected of the applicant in sickness claims was reduced from £2 to £1, and in December the maximum funeral grant was increased from £7 10s. to £10. With regard to the first matter, in any case which was put before us it was expected that the persons themselves should pay the £2. We were told, on a good many occasions, that this was too high, and that we should fix a lower figure. We made a fairly extensive inquiry, and the result of our inquiry was that we decided that the £2 was too high. Accordingly, we have reduced the amount to £1. Approximately 105,000 claims have been made in the two and a half years during which the scheme has been in operation, and over 80,000 grants have been given. Eighty per cent. of the grants have been in respect of sickness expenses.
Partly as a result of the publicity given to this type of grant, and partly as a result of these concessions, the number of claims and of grants made has doubled in the last year. The total intake of applications is now over 6,000 a month, and over 5,000 are admitted, as against 3,000 and 2,500 at this time last year. Expenditure during the year ended 31st March, 1944, was £192,000. The reassessment of grants, following the White Paper, had to be undertaken without any additional staff. Indeed, the present staff is nearly 100 less than last year. Manpower shortage has largely been made up by mechanisation, by the elimination of unessential processes, and by staff training.
Let me come to a few of the questions that have been asked to-day. I think that probably the one point that has taken more attention, and on which more speeches have been made than any other, is the question of parents' pensions. I do not think I can say much more than my right hon. Friend the Minister said in his speech. But I have listened with very great care to all the statements that have been made and to all the arguments that have been used. It is evident that some Members feel very keenly about this question, and we shall consider what they have said. We have listened care- 1535 fully, and we shall study HANSARD. When Members feel keenly about anything, we deal with the matter as sympathetically as possible. We have found that, on the whole, the present system of giving pensions is working well. A means test is objectionable to hundreds of thousands of people in this country, among the working classes in particular; you have only to mention a means test in connection with anything, and resentment arises immediately. I quite agree about that, but whether giving a flat-rate pension, on the terms suggested by the hon. Lady the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley) and other Members, would get us out of the present difficulty, I am not sure.
A lot of suggestions have been made as to how this might be done. Again, we shall look into them. But, like the Minister, I cannot promise that anything of that kind will be done. I must repeat what he has already said, that this was fully before the Government last year, when the White Paper was discussed, and eventually produced, and was turned down. We find that in the majority of the cases that come before us, and particularly the cases that are brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend and myself by Members, we are able to state that although a pension may not be due at present, because of the income of the family, they have made out a case, and if, at some future time, their circumstances should worsen, their claims can be pursued, and would probably be successful. That has proved a source of comfort to thousands of these people who, although unable to get a pension at the moment, are assured that if, in their old age, perhaps circumstances may, as they very likely will, get worse, they make a claim, they will receive a certain amount of satisfaction. I do not know that I can say anything more than that at the present time. We are trying to work this out on a generous basis. The Minister has given, on a previous occasion and again to-day, the basis on which it is worked out. I think one hon. Member did make some rather interesting suggestions as to how it might be altered, and the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Walter Edwards) also suggested a basis which we should take, so that working out the need test might be lessened. We will give every consideration to these suggestions.
1536 The next question of importance which exercised the minds of hon. Members was the difference between the allowance of 35s. paid, under the White Paper, to the wife of a soldier and the 32s. 6d. paid to the widow, and also the difference of 12s. 6d. and 11s. for the children. This has been thrashed out fairly well, and the Minister has said himself what can be said about it. It is a fact, and I do not think we can get away from it, that, although there is a difference of 2s. 6d., the question of rent supplement does enter into it, and there are several thousand widows with children receiving this supplement. The amount of the supplement, averaged among the widows receiving it, is in the nature of 5s. per week, which, added to the 32s. 6d., brings them an excess of the allowance that the soldier's wife is receiving. Another hon. Member asked what it would represent if divided and averaged among all widows—those who are paying above 8s. a week and those under. It is quite true that, if averaged in that way, it would come to a lesser figure, but still a figure, I think, at least equal to the 35s.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) said there were a lot of persons in this country, particularly in the provinces, paying rent round about 8s. or 9s. who will not be getting much under these proposals. There are a number of them paying 8s. and less, but I would not say it was a majority, by any means. I think it would probably be found that the majority might be on the other side, and there will be a number of people who are not getting this rent supplement at present because they are living with parents, but who, later on, may want to go into a home of their own, when they will be able to claim, if the rent is above 8s. All these cases, of course, at the present time, bring about an average of 5s. for those receiving it, and perhaps half that amount for all widows, those receiving it and those not, and that, under the circumstances, has had to be calculated in the figure of 32s. 6d., and that is one of the reasons for that figure.
In regard to children, I can only say that it is easy for anybody to say, and I suppose it is fairly just, that every child getting 12s. 6d. at one period ought to get 12s. 6d. later on, say, when its father has been killed; but there are other things to be taken into consideration in this 1537 matter also. The Government must have regard to repercussions which it would have on other businesses that have to be taken into consideration at the present moment, and that was one of the reasons why the rate was put at 11s., instead of 12s. 6d. One has to have regard to the fact that, though 11s. is the lesser rate, it is a considerable increase on what these children were getting before. They were getting 9s, 6d., 8s. 6d. and 7s. 6d.; now, they are all brought up to 11s., all put on a similar scale, which I think is a very good thing.
In regard to tribunals, the question was raised about delay in getting cases settled quickly. We have to start with a large number of cases already congregated, and it was part of the argument used by hon. Members that this number was increasing daily, weekly and monthly, and that the sooner we got the tribunals into operation the better, from that angle. We promised, I think, that we could get about nine. We have done better than that. We have found that things were better than we expected, and we have 14 in operation. We shall not stop at that, and I may say that we are doing our best to put this into operation as quickly as possible and to deal with the waiting cases. We know that a great many have been waiting a long time, and some may have to wait still longer, but we are doing our best to get the most urgent cases dealt with as quickly as possible. In view of the fact that we have 14 tribunals in operation, and hope to have more in future, I hope to solve this delay in dealing with cases on a fairly satisfactory basis, and that, next year at this time, there will not be much cause for complaint about delay.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) raised the question of how we can help the appellant to state his case. The hon. Member said that a number of men were in difficulties about knowing how to state their case fully and effectively to the tribunal. When the Tribunals Bill went through the House, we made it possible for men to get help and assistance from any quarter whatever, legal or otherwise, and there are a good many institutions in this country, the British Legion, the trade unions, advice bureaux of all kinds, all willing to give help—much of it expert help at that. We have done all we could, I think, in that direction, but, if there is any way in 1538 which we can improve it, we will gladly look into it and improve it if possible. My hon. Friend also brought up the question of tribunals in Scotland and asked whether, in view of the large distances men had to travel, we could let them meet at different places. As a matter of fact, we do. We do not tie tribunals down to a particular place. They are moving about to places where there are a number of cases to be heard, and we are making the tribunals as accessible as possible. There is another tribunal acting occasionally in Scotland, and we hope, in the course of a few weeks or months, to have the two working permanently.
The hon. Member for Rotherham brought up the case of a man who had won his appeal at the tribunal, but, after six months, the doctors said he had recovered. The man had, I presume, lost his pension, and my hon. Friend asks if that man could go again to the tribunal. The answer is "Yes." What happens is that, after six months, he has got a nil assessment, but he can go later to an assessment tribunal. My hon. Friend will remember that, when discussing this in the House, it was admitted that we could not set up these assessment tribunals at once. It may be some time before we can set them up, but the man will be able to go to that tribunal when it is set up later.
The hon. Member for South Leeds (Mr. Charleton) asked a question on the supply of limbs, which was also mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). We are taking steps at the present moment to increase the factory facilities for making these limbs. We are discussing the matter at present with the governors of Roehampton Hospital, who, I might say, are always exceedingly helpful in this business and with whom we have very good relations. I think that in a short time we shall have extra facilities for improving the supply of limbs to people. We are alert and alive to this business and recognise that we cannot afford to have at any time in this country a number of people wanting these limbs and not being able to get them. There must be no delay in the supply of them and we must do all we can to speed it up. The hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale also brought up the question of artificial hands and suggested that with regard to sub- 1539 stances, and so forth, there might be other methods in existence, in this or in other countries, which were better than ours. Whether there is or not, I do not know, but I can give the assurance that nobody is keener to get the best and the most up-to-date artificial limbs than we are at the present time. If anybody can supply us with any information whatever, which will help us to improve on what we are already doing, we will gladly look into it and adopt it.
§ Mr. Paling
I cannot promise that we will set up a research department, but we will consider that among other things. The hon. and gallant Member can take it from me that this is a thing upon which we are very keen indeed and we are doing our best to ensure that these unfortunate men and women shall have the best limbs it is possible to obtain. I take some pleasure in saying that even now there are not many countries where better artificial limbs are provided than we provide for our people in this country at the present time. The hon. and gallant Member also mentioned the question of artificial eyes, and again we are doing our best. I do not know who makes them in this country except ourselves. We are making these eyes and we have gone to considerable trouble to train the most expert staff engaged in this particular business. I have been through the place two or three times myself and I was interested to note that they are not content with making just an artificial eye and leaving it at that, but they are interested in the very problems which the hon. and gallant Member himself brought up. If there is anything we can do in this particular direction, we shall be glad to do it, and to receive any suggestions which hon. Members may have to make.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) brought up the question of the discharged mental cases chargeable to local authorities. He referred to the fact 1540 that during the last war we took charge of these people and that they received pensions. I have made an inquiry into it and I am told that we paid for the cost of treatment for these cases for one year after the war, and then the Board of Control took them over, and they are still under their control. All I can say is that we are still pursuing the inquiries to which my hon. Friend referred, and when they are finished I hope that we shall be able to let him have a satisfactory answer.
The hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) brought up two or three points which we will look into. One was with reference to the Scottish British Legion proposals. We have looked into these, and I have read the proposals with great interest. I cannot say that we shall adopt them, but the hon. and gallant Member can be assured that they are being considered. He also brought up the question of neurosis cases. It is true that some of these neurosis cases have been advised and encouraged to go into hospital, but in some cases the men concerned are in pretty good jobs and if they went into hospital they would have a lower income. I do not know how to get over that difficulty. We make the treatment allowances fairly good at the present time, but I am afraid that if they go into hospital they will have to put up with that disadvantage. But it does seem rather unfortunate that they should have to suffer the disadvantage of a lower economic status in order to gain improved health and strength by going into hospital. I am afraid my time has gone. I wanted to say a word or two about the cancer proposals raised by the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Douglas). We have had a long correspondence about it, not, I am afraid, to his satisfaction and I am sorry that in the circumstances I have not the time to deal with it.
Ordered:That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.—"[Mr. Beechman.]Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Tuesday next.