HC Deb 05 December 1946 vol 431 cc638-48

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]

10.12 p.m.

Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)

On Tuesday the Minister of Pensions announced quite important but, viewed as a whole, minor concessions in our pensions code, and I would like to start by offering him the thanks of ex-Servicemen for those concessions. During the last few years both the Coalition Government and the present Government have been reluctant to meet the points which have been put before them by the British Legion, St. Dunstan's, and by ex-Servicemen's organisations generally, but under pressure from this House, and in particular owing to the persuasion of the House of Commons branch of the British Legion, Ministers of Pensions and Chancellors of the Exchequer have made concessions. I want to claim credit for these two Parliaments, the Coalition Parliament in which the Conservative Party predominated, and this Parliament in which the Labour Party predominates, because I want it to be known amongst ex-Servicemen throughout the country generally that we have found it possible in this House to deal with these matters relating to disabled ex-Servicemen to a very large extent on a non-party basis.

The Coalition Government added to the flat rate pensions an unemployability supplement of £1 a week, which for those who cannot undertake a job of work effectively raised their flat rate pension from £2 a week to £3 a week. The present Government have added 5s., making the flat rate which the private soldier receives £2 5s. if he is able to work and £3 5s. if he is unable to work. There are wives' and children's allowances in addition, and where a man is disabled in a most severe degree, as, for example, when he has lost his eyes and a hand, or, in some tragic cases, two hands, he may receive a very substantial attendance allowance in addition. I think it will be generally agreed by hon. Members on all sides of the House, and by the responsible leaders in the ex-Servicemen's movements, that the pensions and allowances now payable in the case of the most gravely wounded are not unsatisfactory.

There remains the flat-rate disability pension paid in the case of 100 per cent. disability—that is the man who has lost both legs, or both eyes, or both arms, who, if he is able to take a job of work that brings him more than £1 a week, is still on the rate of £2 5s. It may be said by hon. Members that if he has a job of work, why does he need more? I hope to show the answers to that question. First of all, the rate has been at £2 since 1918, and the rise of 5s. is not an adequate reflection of the rises in the cost of living. Many of these men are able, with great courage and perseverance, to undertake a job of work, but in many cases the jobs they are doing, for men of the first World War for 30 years, is a job lower in standard than they might have been doing if they were not so severely disabled. In London, 100 blind soldiers of the first World War are working as telephone operators, and splendid operators they are. They worked throughout the blitz, and stuck to their jobs. They are getting the wages of telephone operators, and men of that calibre, courage and determination might well have been doing very much better than the difference between what they get and the £2 5s. When one thinks of the cost of living, outside rations and the cost of living index, one cannot help thinking that it is time for an adjustment in pensions. I have one further comment, namely, that when the 5s. rise was given, it was given as a flat rate for private soldiers and N.C.O.s up to the rank of warrant officer. There was no proportionate rise for warrant officers on account of their increased flat rate, and there was no rise at all for commissioned officers. I think that these anomalies should now be corrected.

I wish now to refer to four or five minor points, although they are not so minor Since Mr. Justice Denning gave judgment in the High Court in a case which went from the appeal tribunal, and since he gave that judgment against the Minister of Pensions, there has been a marked rise in the number of cases in which the appeal tribunals are throwing down the Minister. The percentage has gone up from 30 per cent. to 42 per cent That shows that the Minister is not giving proper attention to the implications of the judgment, because if he was, it would not be necessary for the appeal tribunals to throw him over more frequently than before. I ask him to make a statement on that.

On Tuesday, he stated that he was going to grant attendance allowances in a larger number of cases than hitherto. I want to congratulate him on having accepted the theory we have put before him, and which my organisation, St. Dunstans, have put before him in particular, that an allowance should be paid for attendance rather than as hitherto for a constant attendant. There are a great many ex-Servicemen who do not need a constant attendant, but who need some assistance in their homes. I should like to ask how far the Minister's statement goes, and if he is going to raise the attendance allowance to be paid to severely disabled men above the level at which it has stood for many years. For example, the attendance allowance paid to a totally blinded soldier was 10s. a week when the maximum possible was £1 a week. I am hoping the Minister will raise that to £1 a week now that the maximum has been raised to £2 a week.

I pass now to the question of the seven years' limit. When seven years have passed after the time a man was disabled, he has no legal right to make a claim in respect of a disability which then shows itself. That is wrong in principle. If a disability is incurred in His Majesty's service, the claim for it should exist for ever. Surely, the claim is based upon the disability and not upon the time when a person happens to put in his claim. This longstanding grievance is now beginning to be relevant to this war, because we are reaching the time when there are men who were wounded seven years ago. In spite of the action of previous Governments of all parties, the Minister ought, even now, to get rid of this very wrong principle.

I want now to say a word about paraplegics. Those are men whose spine has been broken and who are chair-ridden or bedridden. In spite of their terribly grave disability, it has been found that some of these men can undertake useful work. Many of them can work some hours a day, and the British Legion has set up a small fund and a small committee to encourage and help them. The Ministry of Pensions so far have shown sympathy and given some encouragement, but they have not taken active steps to get these men to work and to help them to work, and that, above all, is what they need to give them back their self-respeect and whatever measure of independence their very serious wounds will allow.

I have now a new and unusual suggestion to make. If a person loses one eye, he receives 40 per cent. of the fiat rate. If he loses two eyes, he receives 100 per cent., plus allowances, so that the one-eyed rate is not really as 40 is to 100, but is much less. I make no complaint of it. But if a person loses one eye in His Majesty's service, and subsequently loses the other eye from a natural cause, he still has to live the rest of his life in blindness on a 40 per cent. pension. Nature provided us with two eyes, as with two of many other organs in our bodies, partly to see with and partly as a safeguard against total blindness, and total blindness is an infinitely graver disability than the loss of one eye Nelson had one eye, an editor I know, who worked for 30 years in the City of London, had one eye, Wiley Post, who flew round the world, had one eye. It is not a very great handicap, but the anxiety lest he should lose the other eye is, and my view is that a man who loses one eye should not only be given the pension for that eye, but an insurance policy that will make certain that, should he lose the other eye, he will get the full rate. Those are the only points I want to submit to the Minister, and I hope he will give them a sympathetic reply.

10.24 p.m.

Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)

I wish to devote a few moments to the subject of homes for permanently disabled ex-Servicemen. In general, I agree that these homes are, on the whole, very well run indeed, and I would like particularly to commend that in my own constituency, Giffard House. There are, however, certain regulations that govern the running of these homes which are laid down by the Ministry of Pensions, and I very strongly suggest that the time has come to overhaul the whole of those regulations, because they require looking into. The Ministry probably is aware of a particular one which I had altered, through his good offices, the other day, but there are others, and I ask that my suggestion should be carried out. I also ask the Minister to realise that the accommodation in these homes throughout the country is now totally inadequate to meet the needs of the recent war. I ask him to urge the Minister of Health to grant all licences for which applications are made for extensions to these homes, and furthermore, to go on buying houses which can be made into suitable homes of this nature, such as the one which has just been opened, I understand, in Eastbourne.

Finally, I would bring to the notice of the Minister the case of a man about whom I have been in communication with him. This man has been suffering agonies of mind for a long time in the home in which he now is. He was transferred for a short period to Worthing, where he was extremely happy. He was not allowed outside the home in which he was for five and a half years, and when he went to Worthing he was allowed out every day, and there is no reason why he should not be. He is now back in the home where he was, and, as I have said, is suffering agonies of mind. I would ask the Minister to use his powers of nomination to say that this unhappy man may be allowed into the new home, Chaseley, at Eastbourne.

10.25 p.m.

The Minister of Pensions (Mr. Wilfred Paling)

I would like to thank the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) for the kind things which he said about my Department, and what we have done during the last few years. I want to deal with the particular points which he raised. With regard to the flat rate of 45s., I think that most people—I am not accusing the hon. Gentleman of this- in particular—misunderstand the purpose of this pension. I frequently meet with this misunderstanding when I am speaking in the country, and I am often told that 45s. is not sufficient for a man to live on. The general impression is that the 45s. flat rate is all that the man has to live on. That is not the case. In an overwhelming number of cases of disabled men and women, these people have work, even those who are severely disabled, and the 45s. or a lesser amount if the disability is less than 100 per cent., is in addition to the ordinary earnings or wages of the person concerned. The same applies if a person is unemployed. By virtue of the fact that he has been working, he draws unemployment pay, like an ordinary workman, plus the pension of 45s., or a lesser amount. The same applies in the case of a sick person. That person draws sickness benefit, like an ordinary workman, plus the pension, so that in a case of a man who is working, his pension of 45s. is in addition to his ordinary wages and is not in many of these cases all that he has to live on.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the case of a man who, because of a disability, has to accept some employment which is less well paid than the employment he had previously. We have tried to meet that to some extent this year. We have put into operation a hardship allowance. It is true that this does not apply to the man with 100 per cent. disability. If a man gets less than 45s., and by reason of disability he has to go into a job with less pay than before his disability, he can get a' hardship allowance up to us. 3d. a week. There was up to 1943, when the biggest alteration in the Warrant was made, a class of case, arising from the last war in particular, in which a totally disabled person, or one disabled 80 or 90 per cent., had never been able to work or earn. In that case the man had to live on his pension. If he was married his wife and children received, in addition, the appropriate allowance.

Sir I. Fraser

Not until later.

Mr. Paling

If the man was married before his disability, in that case, of course, there was hardship. If he had to live on his pension it was, I agree, almost impossible; but we altered that. We brought into operation the unemployment allowance whereby the man could get another 10s. in addition to his 45s.

It was later increased in certain circumstances. If he was not getting any other money, or an old age pension or sickness pay or money from some social service, that was increased to £1. His wife also was given an allowance, even if he was married after the disability. She was given a full allowance of 10s. Even in cases where the man was only 70 or 80 per cent. disabled and where the allowance would have been seven or eight shillings, she was given 10s. The children were also given a full allowance, and later the 10s. was raised to 16s. except in very extraordinary circumstances. So, a man gets now instead of the 45s., 65s., and the wife gets 16s. In addition, if he is so badly disabled he has a certain constant attendance allowance. He can get up to a maximum of £2. This man has been placed in a much better position than ever before. He deserves it. He was the man who was really badly off and suffered hardship. We have tried to help, and what we have done in the way of these attendance allowances help him in that direction.

I would refer to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman about officers. It is true we did not give commissioned officers anything. We had a certain amount of money at our disposal and we tried to allocate this money in the best manner possible. We decided the best thing to do was to allocate this money by giving most to those whose need was greatest and those who had received least. Those people were the privates and the non-commissioned officers. Because of that they got an increase. It is true, as the hon. Member says, that it was only from 40s. to 45s. Perhaps it was not in accordance with the cost of living, but the hon. Member knows that the 40s. was paid at a time when the cost of living stood at 215, and it was understood that if the cost of living came down the pensions would come down also. But they never did come down and no Government ever brought them down, and the 40s. has been raised to 45s. The increase does not reflect the rise in the cost of living, because if a man is working he has a cost-of-living allowance by the rise in wages. There is not much left on that side of the argument.

The hon. Member raised a point about the number of cases which are allowed by the tribunals. If the facts were just as they had been baldly stated by the hon. Member it would look rather a serious proposition. I am not disputing his figures, but I should like to explain how it arose. In order to keep the tribunals going— there are, I think, 23 or 24 tribunals—hon. Members will easily realise that we had to have a big pool of cases ready for them to take. We had to make preparations and 10,000 of these cases which had been passed by us were ready for the tribunals. Then came the Denning judgment, and that made a big difference. But we could not take all these cases back. They were ready for the tribunals, and we could not have gone through them again, or the tribunals would have been stopped. They would have been in chaos. That was mainly the reason why the numbers have gone up. If we could have drawn them back and re-examined them on the basis of the Denning judgment a good many would not have gone to the tribunals at all. Where they have gone before the tribunals, the tribunals have given a bigger percentage than they would otherwise have done.

Sir I. Fraser

I am sorry to interrupt, but the Minister gives the impression that the purpose he had in view was to provide work for the tribunals.

Mr. Paling

No, I did not have that in view; I did not intend to give that impression. It would have created chaos. I would like to say that I have been attacked—but perhaps that is not the right word—I have been pressed in this House to get these cases before the tribunals as quickly as possible. If we had interfered with all this business it would have meant some delay. But now, we are probably reaching the time when we are getting to the point where cases put to the tribunals are examined in the light of the Denning judgment, and when this sort of case comes before the tribunals the high percentage which has been referred to will go down.

As I said on Tuesday, we raised the allowance for attendance about a year ago from £1 in the case of other ranks up to £2 as a maximum, and we found that a good many of these people were getting as low as 5s. constant attendance allowance, and we have raised that to 10s. A large number of these people will get 10s. The hon. Member also raised matters about the blind. I understand that we have had a memorandum presented at the Ministry putting forward this case and this principle in great detail. At the present time we are considering that memorandum and we hope to foe able to give an answer in a short time.

Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)

This refers to the blind. On the constant attendance allowance what has happened? — [Interruption.]—What I was going to say was that sometimes the eye lost may be the master eye. Sometimes the eye damaged is the master eye, and if that is so it is more serious than if the master eye is uninjured.

Mr. Paling

I do not know if the memorandum to which I have referred raises this particular point, but we shall look into that. The hon. Member spoke also of the seven years' limit. So far as the Great War cases—the 1914–18 cases— are concerned, the position is that a mart can make a claim at any time. The real point is that if more than seven years-elapses there is no right of appeal. But, in all these cases which come before us relating to the Great War, we do not refuse to consider any particular cases Indeed, at the present time, we are granting them. Last year we dealt with or provided treatment in the case of 70 new claims from the disabilities of the 1914 war. In another 50 cases we agreed to provide treatment should necessity arise, despite the fact that nearly 30 years had elapsed. Appeal to a tribunal is, I agree, not allowed, and I understand that if it were to be allowed it would need legislation from this House. So, although the seven years' limit is supposed to be in operation, we are still dealing with these cases. With regard to the seven years' limit of this war just finished, raised by the hon. Gentleman, that point is under consideration, and I hope to make an announcement in a short time. I am not quite sure whether my hon. Friend raised the question of paraplegics or not.

Sir J. Fraser

Yes, I did.

Mr. Paling

I am very glad he did. These cases are, I think, one of the outstanding things we are doing at present in my Ministry. I have a statement here, but it is too long for me to read in the time at my disposal. I think I am right in saying that some years ago, if a man was so severely injured as are paraplegics—special cases, mostly with broken spines—he was looked upon as being helpless and hopeless, and one for whom nothing could be done. The same applied to men who were similarly injured in industry. I was connected with the mining industry for a good many years before I came here. Broken spines were very common among miners, and a man who received such severe injury was considered to have come to the end of all things, and it was not long before he was dead. If he managed to live, he had to be wheeled about and looked after in every way until the end of his life.

But we are doing remarkable things for these cases today. We have a place at Stoke Mandeville where we are treating them specially. We are getting these people about. We are getting them to work, and we are getting them into positions where they can earn really good wages. I think, and I have no cause to suspect that I am wrong, that there is no reason why a good number of these cases should not live for a good many years; and instead of being helpless and hopeless, their outlook is very different today.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Order made upon 13th November.

Adjourned at Nineteen Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.