HC Deb 11 July 1949 vol 467 cc157-76

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

9.31 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I desire to raise a case affecting an individual constituent of mine, which also, it seems to me, raises a question of principle affecting the public faith and reputation of a great Department of State. I say that with the greater regret because the Department concerned is the Ministry of Pensions, which I must admit, in general has shown humanity in the handling of its individual cases greatly superior to that of most other Departments; but I shall submit to the House that in this case that Department has blundered, and that the blunder has not only caused personal hardship to one individual in the Department's care but that in so doing the Department has fallen away from its normal high standard of acceptance and abiding by its own pledged word.

The case affects a constituent of mine, a Mr. G. H. Upton, who lives in a prefabricated bungalow on the Middleton Estate at Hook in Surrey. This gentleman had the misfortune, while on active service during the war, to lose both his legs and to suffer amputations of both of them below the knee. He has, as have the rest of us, to get to work, and when, therefore, an announcement was made, I suspect a little prematurely, by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the Finance Bill Debates last year that it was proposed to provide a certain number of severely disabled ex-Service men with low-powered cars, Mr. Upton was naturally very interested, and at his request I made inquiries of the Department.

Subsequently Mr. Upton received from the Regional Office of the Ministry of Pensions, located at 20, Great Smith Street, a circular letter dated 16th August, and I anticipate, from a supplementary answer which the Parliamentary Secretary gave me a few weeks ago, that some question may arise as to the precise meaning of this letter. I think it would be as well if I read the necessary and appropriate parts of the letter to the House. I may say in parenthesis that I have given notice to the right hon. Gentleman, whose Parliamentary Secretary is present here today, that I intend to raise this precise issue, and I therefore have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary is fully equipped with a copy of the circular letter in question. Therefore, when I read it, if the Parliamentary Secretary feels that I have excluded any passage which from his point of view is material, I hope he will give me the opportunity of reading any additional passage.

The letter, dated 16th August, 1948, addressed to my constituent, is as follows: Dear Sir, It has been decided that at your option you may be supplied with a low-powered motor car (e.g. 8 horse power) in lieu of the motor-propelled tricycle which has been supplied to you. It has to be pointed out, however, that cars will become available in limited number only, and it may be some time before everyone who is eligible and so desires can be supplied. If you elect to receive a car this will be supplied under the following conditions: There are then set out eight detailed conditions with which I shall not trouble the House unless the Parliamentary Secretary so desires. The concluding paragraph says: It may help you in making your decision to know that arrangements are in hand for the production of a new type of motor-propelled tricycle offering all-weather protection and with facilities for carrying a special type of folding, self-propelled chair to be provided in appropriate cases. Supplies of the new machines will not be available for some months, but will then be issued when machines of the present type are due for renewal. Please complete and sign the accompanying form of option and undertaking and return it, with one of the letters signed. It seems to me that any reasonable person who received such a document would understand, as Mr. Upton in fact understood, that at his option the Ministry were undertaking to supply him with one of these cars, and no question arose to cast any doubt upon that interpretation of that letter until, in the course of a supplementary reply a few weeks ago, the Parliamentary Secretary did so. I think I am entitled to remind him and the House that during the prolonged correspondence which has taken place between his Minister and myself, no suggestion was made by the Minister that a definite undertaking was not included and, on considering the terms of that letter, I think it is clear that any reasonable man was entitled to understand that he could have a car if he wished it.

In any event, Mr. Upton so understood it. He promptly replied, on 28th August, to say that he accepted the offer of a car and he proceeded, with what I think the House will regard as admirable speed, to undertake, at his own expense, driving lessons which cost him a matter of £16, and to obtain a certificate of proficiency to drive, notwithstanding his disabilities. These documents were forwarded to the Ministry on 8th October. Nothing having elapsed for some time, he approached me again and, on 25th February this year, I wrote to the Minister. I regret to say that there was a considerable delay in obtaining a reply, despite a reminder, and it was by one of those happy coincidences with which the House is now familiar that his reply finally arrived three days after I had placed a Question on the Order Paper of this House inquiring when a reply could be expected. In any event, the reply came on 17th May, and I should like, again, to read the material parts to the House. After certain preliminary matters with which I will not trouble the House, unless the Parliamentary Secretary so desires, the right hon. Gentleman proceeds as follows: As I stated in the House last July, a limited number of small cars are being made available to certain classes of very seriously disabled war pensioners, such as double-leg amputees who have at least one amputation above the knee, paraplegics, and pensioners suffering from other disabilities resulting in the total or almost total loss of use of both legs. Mr. Upton is not included in these priority classes and I very much fear that it is improbable that there will be a car available for him when the needs of the more severely disabled have been met. You will see that a bad mistake was made. It arose because Mr. Upton has a double amputation, but below the knee. I greatly regret that such an error should have occurred. I could not now supply him with a car without depriving some pensioner who is even more seriously disabled; but I will, if he would like to have one, supply a motor-propelled tricycle. Perhaps Mr. Upton will let me know direct whether he wishes to accept this offer. The House will see from that letter that, on 17th May, the Minister was not disputing that an undertaking had been given to provide a car but was simply saying that this had happened as a result of a bad mistake. That made rather more surprising, I think, the Parliamentary Secretary's supplementary answer to which I have already referred and which was given on 31st May. After several of what the Press would describe as Parliamentary exchanges, I asked the Parliamentary Secretary this supplementary question: The answer of the Parliamentary Secretary did not deal with the gravamen of the complaint—that a definite promise was made. Will the Parliamentary Secretary state whether it is right that a Government Department should repudiate a promise made to a seriously disabled man? Then the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I am glad to see in his place, replied: We deny that a definite promise was made. A circular was sent out saying that he would be supplied with a car;"— I ask the House to note the word "would"— that there were certain categories and that the more seriously disabled people would have priority. We are not saying now that he will not receive a car. All we are saying is that he cannot receive a car at the moment until we see how many applications we get from the people in the higher categories."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st May, 1949; Vol. 465, c. 1886.] I think the facts speak sufficiently for themselves, and that it will be unnecessary for me to take up any time of the House in commenting upon them. I will, therefore, confine myself to saying this. This severely disabled man receives a letter from a Government Department, the terms of which I have already read to the House; he believes that he is being given the offer of a car; he accepts that offer; he not only bases his plans and arrangements for the future on the understanding that he is going to receive that car, he not only puts himself to a great deal of trouble in connection with it—because, as the House will appreciate, learning to drive a car when one has two artificial legs is not one of the easier feats to which humanity can attain—but he puts himself also, incidentally, to the expenditure of some £16 in obtaining the necessary lessons. He is then told—or I am told on his behalf—that the offer was made as a result of a bad mistake.

I say, with respect to the Parliamentary Secretary, that, accepting that as true, what is the right line for a great Department of State, that has made a mistake which has caused an individual to suffer, to adopt? Surely the only possible line for that Department of State to take, particularly when it is, as I have said, a Department of State with a very high reputation for humanity in its administration is to say that it will honour the promise that was made, however mistakenly. I ask the Parliamentary Secre- tary not to try to quibble as to the precise terms in which the undertaking was given, but to accept the broad proposition that where a Department of State has made an error it is the Department of State that should accept the consequences of that error and not the individual whom its administration affects.

Frankly, I am not at all impressed by the argument in the concluding paragraph of the Minister's letter, to the effect that if a car is given to Mr. Upton somebody will have to be deprived of one. I do not rate as low as that either the administrative resources of the Ministry of Pensions or the productive resources of the British motor car industry. I do not believe for one moment that if the right hon. Gentleman or his Parliamentary Secretary really believed that wrong had been done as a result of a mistake, and decided to right that wrong, there would be the slightest difficulty in taking the necessary administrative steps, with the co-operation of the motor industry, to provide not only one, but, if necessary, several more of these machines, so as to secure that no one should suffer as the indirect consequence of their having done right in another direction.

I have pressed this matter, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows, and will certainly know from consideration of the relevant Departmental file, to a point at which I fear that the Department must regard me as having made myself insufferably tedious, but I ask the Parliamentary Secretary tonight to look at this matter not through Departmental eyes, but from the point of view—which he of all men is personally fitted to do—of the disabled man who, having received that letter, suddenly finds this bitter disappointment inflicted upon him. I know that if the Parliamentary Secretary looks at it from that point of view, he will regard this, not merely as an unfortunate Departmental administrative error which can easily be rectified by the withdrawal of the promise, but as a challenge to do his best to meet the undertaking and to honour the pledge of a great Department.

9.45 p.m.

Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)

I do not, of course, usually agree with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), but this evening I am particularly grateful to him for having gone through the no small trouble involved in securing an Adjournment Debate, and for having raised this particular subject, because it so happens that I also have given notice to the Parliamentary Secretary of an almost identical case, which is in course of argument with the Ministry, to that which has been raised this evening.

This case comes to me from a constituent of mine, a Mr. A. B. Chambers, who also lives in a prefabricated bungalow in Gravesend. He too received this circular letter, the relevant parts of which have already been read. The only point of difference is that Mr. Chambers received his letter some 10 days sooner than the constituent of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. He too took this letter as a promise with the obvious qualification in the second paragraph that it might be some time before everyone who is eligible and so desires could be supplied. That is quite understandable, and if the Parliamentary Secretary in reply were to say something to the effect that within a reasonable time—perhaps one year, 18 months, even two years—the promise would be honoured, I, for my part, should not be wholly dissatisfied.

Subject to that, it must be agreed that the letter does look like an undertaking to supply a car on which a man would be justified in acting. And Mr. Chambers did act. He did not take driving lessons; I am not informed whether he could do so; maybe he could already drive a car; I am not informed on that. He noticed that his own prefabricated bungalow was so situated that no car could drive into the plot of land associated with it, and he drew the attention of this to the Housing Department of the Gravesend municipality. They were so impressed with this letter to the effect that a car was coming in due course, that they moved Mr. Chambers into another prefabricated bungalow. True it was in the same road, but that is not a thing lightly to be done. That was not done at the cost of the constituent but at the cost of the Gravesend municipality, who also made a concrete ramp so that when this car came it would be able to go in. Therefore, there was—I do not want to put it too high—perhaps not a great deal but certainly considerable action taken on the strength of this letter.

There is another and special point in the case of my constituent. I hope it will not appear that I am in any way putting my constituent into competition with the constituent of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, but as I am sure will be appreciated I am bound to mention all the points that can be urged in favour of Mr. Chambers. I am bound to draw attention to a slightly peculiar feature of his case. Although it is true, physically speaking, that both his legs were amputated below the knee, yet one of those amputations—I must be forgiven if I am not very well acquainted with the technical surgical and medical details—produced an effect of such a tender nature that no direct weight can be put upon it, and he cannot be fitted with the ordinary artificial leg normally fitted in the case of amputation below the knee. He has to be fitted with an artificial leg working from his seat. He is fitted with the same sort of artificial leg as would be the case if his leg had been amputated above the knee. Although from the physical point of view he falls outside the first three categories to be supplied with a car, from the practical point of view of how well he can walk about, he is in the same class as many of those who have had one of their legs amputated above the knee. It is in all essentials exactly comparable to the case the hon. Member has raised.

I add my support to the appeal which has been made. I add, too, my praises of the humanity of the Ministry of Pensions and to the way they have tried to treat the citizens with whom they are concerned, not merely as numbers on a card index and cogs in a machine, but as living human beings. It would be appropriate if such a Ministry admitted that a mistake had been made and would go at least to the length of offering some sort of assurance that, in relation to these men who have been led so strongly to expect and to hope that a car would be supplied to them, they are not postponed for ever, and that although there may be a little bit more delay than was anticipated when this circular letter was sent out, yet it is the intention of the Ministry to press on and, after having supplied more urgent cases, then next to supply these others who have been, through the Ministry's mistake, led to hope for so great a change in their whole attitude to life. If the Parliamentary Secretary can give us some sort of hope that these men are not shut off for ever from having a car, it would be in line with the high traditions which both the Department and the Ministers have set for the last several years.

9.54 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions (Mr. Simmons)

I thank both hon. Members for the manner in which they have raised this matter tonight, and I welcome the wider opportunity than that provided by way of question and answer to restate the conditions under which very badly disabled war pensioners can be supplied with small cars. My right hon. Friend dealt with the matter very fully in the House on 27th July. A limited number of cars, not exceeding 1,500, were to be made available during the next two years. These cars were to be supplied free of charge, with a £45 annual maintenance allowance, to certain classes of seriously disabled pensioners who might elect to receive a car in place of a motor-propelled tricycle to which they are entitled.

The classes of disabled were announced by my right hon. Friend when he made his statement, and are as follows: disabled with leg amputations, at least one being above the knee, paraplegics, and disabled sufferers from other disabilities resulting in the total, or almost total, loss of both legs. Later it was decided to allocate 50 of these cars to blind pensioners. My right hon. Friend also said that when the need of these cars had been satisfied, any balance within the number stated would be distributed on as fair a basis as possible to other disabled pensioners, at present supplied with motor-propelled tricycles, to enable them to retain or obtain employment.

Mr. Upton, whose case has been raised by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), has a double below-the-knee amputation. Therefore it does not come within the category named by my right hon. Friend in his statement in the House on 27th July. He heard about the cars and naturally wrote to the Ministry in July, 1948, for information. He was told at that time that there was no information available. He continued to press the Ministry between June and August, and in August he was sent an optional letter. I would point out that in most cases approach comes from the Ministry to the pensioner. Our Regional Offices have had instructions that all pensioners who come within the first three categories should be made aware of their rights under this particular scheme, and letters should be sent out to them.

In this case the approach was made from the pensioner to the Ministry, and considerable pressure was brought to bear. As a result of that pressure the optional letter was sent out in order that Mr. Upton might have all the information he required. I feel that I must quote, as the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames quoted, the first two paragraphs of that optional letter, because when a letter is quoted a good deal depends upon the emphasis and where that emphasis is put. I noticed on one or two occasions that the emphasis placed by the hon. Member was not borne out by any underlined words in the letter itself: It has been decided," says the first paragraph "that at your option you may be supplied with a low-powered motor car in lieu of the motor propelled tricycle which has been supplied to you. The second paragraph says: It has to be pointed out, however, that cars will become available in limited numbers only, and it may be some time before everyone who is eligible and so desires can be supplied. As Mr. Upton was not in one of the priority categories, it may reasonably be asked by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) why the optional letter was sent. I agree it would have been wiser not to have sent it until we were sure there was a surplus after the first three categories were supplied. Mr. Upton unfortunately wanted the information and the optional letter was perhaps unwisely sent. My right hon. Friend has expressed his regret and apologised for that mistake. It is unfortunate that Mr. Upton should have been misled by a too cursory reading of the optional letter. The first paragraph makes the proposition: You may be supplied with a low-powered motor car in lieu of the motor propelled tricycle which has been supplied to you. A condition that he will get a car was that he had a motor-propelled tricycle, but Mr. Upton has not a motor-propelled tricycle.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Gentleman reads the first paragraph as meaning that the possession of a motor-propelled tricycle is a condition of receiving a car. But there is no indication that it is a condition. What it said is that he will be supplied with a low-powered motor car in the lieu of the motor propelled tricycle which has been supplied to you. Does the Parliamentary Secretary say that, because his Department have failed to supply one machine, that is a reason why it should not supply any?

Mr. Simmons

The hon. Gentleman is trying to twist things, because the gentleman in question has been offered a motor-propelled tricycle—

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Since this letter?

Mr. Simmons

He was offered a motor-propelled tricycle previous to this letter to enable him to obtain or maintain himself in employment. If the case is that he needs a car to maintain himself in employment, it is remarkable that he turned down the offer of a motor-propelled vehicle which would have had the same purpose.

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

That is not a fair point. The Parliamentary Secretary knows, because I have conveyed to his department and to him personally, the specific grounds on which Mr. Upton does not feel able to accept a motor-propelled tricycle. He does not feel safe on such a vehicle. It is a little unfair that the Parliamentary Secretary should seek to make a point of it.

Mr. Simmons

I am glad that the hon. Member has raised that point and I am prepared to deal with it. Mr. Upton said that the vehicle would be dangerous in the event of an accident and more vulnerable than a car. That argument does not hold good with the all-weather motor tricycle. It is an autocar which is stoutly built and roadworthy. That argument falls down there. Mr. Upton spoke of the "horrible sympathy from passers-by" because the general shape of the vehicle denoted that he was a disabled ex-Service man. Evidently Mr. Upton is sensitive. The sympathy is surely balanced by the courtesy he would receive from motorists. With a double amputation he would get sympathy when walking and being taken by his wife to the bus stop. By using this tricycle, Mr. Upton feared, he would lose contact with his wife, relatives and friends and would spend too much time on his own. The grounds on which he had applied for a car were not those of social contact but that he wanted a car to get to and from work. We have offered him that facility in the all-weather motor tricycle. The points that I have raised with regard to the offer of the motor-tricycle hold good.

Writing to Mr. Upton on the 15th February, my right hon. Friend pointed out that the number of cars was strictly limited and that it was necessary to meet the need of pensioners who are suffering from disabilities more serious than your own. Mr. Upton was told that further consideration of his application would have to be delayed until the needs of the more seriously disabled were fully known.

Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)

I quite understand what the Minister says about the needs of the others have to be met, but how many of these letters went out inadvertently? Were there 100 or 1,000 men who got them and found that they were not entitled to them? Or was it only half a dozen? If it is only a matter of half a dozen, how can the Minister stand there and say that they cannot be met, and so break these men's hearts?

Mr. Simmons

I cannot say how many of these letters went out but the number of complaints we have had is very small. Those who realised a mistake had been made acted very sportingly in the matter.

Mr. Baxter

This is a non-party matter. If it is really true that the number is really small, on what principle does the Minister now act, in respect of three, four or five cars, to the disappointment of these men?

Mr. Simmons

We do not know how many letters may have gone out.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

I appreciate that it is not easy to answer these questions at short notice, but facilities are available within a few yards of the Minister for finding an answer to questions of that kind. If he would continue his argument and pass a message to the proper quarter he would probably get the answer before he sat down.

Mr. Simmons

I have already told the House that we have not got the information. We cannot tell how many may have gone out inadvertently. All we can say is that there are a few complaints and that in the majority of cases those who have complained have been sporting enough to accept the fact that the Ministry made a genuine mistake and accepted in lieu of the car the offer of the motor-propelled tricycle.

Mr. Upton was told that further consideration would have to be delayed until the needs of the very seriously disabled were more fully known. I have to inform the hon. Gentleman that applications received from men in the first three categories are now close on 1,500. There are a number of men still in hospital who will become eligible for a car if they so desire. My right hon. Friend can offer Mr. Upton an all-weather motor-propelled tricycle. This model is in fact an auto-car and gives the same effect as a touring car. Production is expected at the end of the year. Mr. Upton can have an existing model until then in order to carry on if he so desires. Should he not elect to take the auto-car, my right hon. Friend will undertake to reimburse him for the cost of his driving lessons.

I must make it clear that this scheme was conceived as a compassionate gesture to the very seriously disabled. It is a reflection of the new welfare spirit in the Ministry. We hoped that the provision of a car for the seriously disabled man would bring him not only physical but spiritual comfort by widening his horizon and enabling him to get about, in contrast to the isolation which some of these disabilities impose on men. We found that only 1,500 cars could be made available, a number smaller than the number of disabled persons for whom we would desire to provide cars if we possibly could. Though these meant rules and priorities, we hoped that in the operation of them the real meaning and gesture would not be lost sight of. No pensioner is entitled to a car as a right. It is no part of the Royal Warrant. When there are rules, there are sometimes misunderstandings and mistakes.

My right hon. Friend and I hope that hon. Members will not in consequence of anything that has been said tonight take away with them a picture of this fine scheme in colours of rules and reproaches. The assessment of relative needs in the field of disablement, I can assure hon. Members, is not without its difficulties. We come across them and against them every day. The essence of the scheme is good will, and we could have hoped that it would not be brought to debate in the House in the terms of complaint. In distribution we are guided by a desire to see each car so placed that it will reach its maximum value in terms of human benefit. That is the real priority, and I am sure that on reflection neither the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames nor the gentleman whose case he has so persistently pursued would disagree with the policy of my right hon. Friend in meeting first the claims of those having the greatest need. Mr. Upton could only be provided with a car by depriving someone else whose need was greater, and to ask us to do that is to ask us to reverse the whole policy of my right hon. Friend.

Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)

Can the hon. Gentleman answer this question? How was the number of cars, 1,500, arrived at? Was it not arrived at a year or more ago, and has not the production position now gone up from what it was a year or more ago? Why cannot more cars be produced in order to satisfy not only priority needs but cases such as the one which has been instanced tonight? Can the hon. Gentleman answer that question?

Mr. Simmons

I do not think I can because it is not within my province. It may be that the production of cars is better, but surely the hon. Member would not say that the economic position of the country is better.

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)

I ask the hon. Gentleman to contemplate for a few moments the speech which he has just delivered, and to recall the letter that he wrote to this disabled man. After all, this man was disabled, and when the hon. Gentleman produced the original scheme whereby disabled men were entitled to a car of this kind, I think the House would agree that it gave immense pleasure and gave an opportunity to these men which they had not contemplated as being possible or within their means. I can imagine, as I think the whole House can imagine, the intense satisfaction that a disabled man must have had when he received the letter which the hon. Gentleman's Department sent out—[An HON. MEMBER: "He is not listening."]—I think the hon. Gentleman is now taking valuable advice on matters of this kind, and I would not interrupt him. I hope that he will be able to tell the House that there are only half-a-dozen cases involved, in which event I hope we can get the whole thing settled amicably and that the man can have his motor car. If that were so, I would not complain about any conversation that goes on.

I wish to call attention to the letter which was written to this disabled man: It has been decided that at your option you may be supplied with a low-powered motor car … in lieu of the motor-propelled tricycle which has been supplied to you. That was the first paragraph of that letter. A point has been made that, in fact, the man had no low-powered tricycle. That is a miserable technicality. It would be a despicable point to take, even in a third-rate police court, but to take the point in the House of Commons that this man had not a tricycle and therefore in no circumstances could he ever be supplied with a better vehicle, would not convince anybody in the House—

Mr. Simmons

That is not the point. The point is that the motor tricycle was provided for the purpose of a man securing or maintaining his employment, and if that man liked to have a motor car in place of his tricycle, we could supply one. The very fact that the tricycle, and the fact of the possession of the tricycle, was mentioned, should have shown Mr. Upton at once that a genuine mistake had been made.

Mr. Thorneycroft

I am glad to note that, in effect, the hon. Gentleman abandons the point altogether. Here is a man who has seen that the Government were to supply him with a motor car; that a great Government Department had written: It has been decided that at your option you may be supplied with a low-powered motor car."— [Interruption.] I think the hon. Gentle- man would be well advised to allow his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with this and not interfere, or he might get his hon. Friend into even deeper waters. Here is a letter from a Government Department which says that it has been decided at the man's option that he could have this motor car. To take the point of some reference to a tricycle is, as I say, a miserable point. It is stated in this second paragraph—and this is the paragraph on which he relies— … Cars will become available in limited numbers only and it may be some time before everyone who is eligible, or so desires, can be supplied. There is no suggestion whatever that only 1,500 had been supplied, an that there would have to be a surplus. That point is never taken at all in the letter.

Mr. Simmons

The question of the 1,500 cars was in the statement of my right hon. Friend in the House, as was also the question of the priority position.

Mr. Thorneycroft

I do wish that the hon. Member—I am sure he can—would forget for a moment his position or mine, and where we are now standing, and try to remember that people who are disabled are not necessarily habitual readers of HANSARD. They do not go through all the Questions and answers on any particular subject. They trust, and they are entitled to trust, a letter from a Government Department signed by a responsible authority. What they say is this: "We understand, broadly speaking. …"—and that is what I understood, and I suppose I am supposed to read HANSARD, although I am afraid that I do not always do so. I understood that the Government were making a supply of these cars available. If I had been a disabled man and had received a letter saying that I was entitled, at my option, to have a motor car, and that it might be some time before I got it, I would understand exactly what was written—that I had a right to the motor car and that I might have to wait a while before it was delivered. I guarantee that that is precisely what in fact this man understood. There is no party point in this—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Mr. Lindgren)


Mr. Thorneycroft

The hon. Member often does his party a great deal of disservice. I think that, by his expression, the Parliamentary. Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions shows that he wishes that the hon. Gentleman would go elsewhere and not intervene in this Debate. He is not helping at all. I forget what Ministry he represents. I think he is Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. At one time he had something to do with the Ministry of National Insurance, but I understand that he abandoned that job. What civil aviation has to do with this dispute, I do not know. At any rate, his interventions are not at all helpful.

If I might return to the remarks of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions, I would say that he usually speaks with great sympathy upon these matters. I would point out that here is a plain pledge to a disabled man. It is in plain and specific terms. There is no shred of hedging in the letter. The only point that is made is that it might be a little time before the car is delivered. That, I think, the whole House will understand. We appreciate the difficulty of the supply position. I understand now that the Minister is holding out no hope whatever to this man. It is said now that there is some question of a surplus having to arise. That should have been said at the time to the man concerned.

Another point taken by the hon. Gentleman was that normally it was the Ministry who approached the pensioner and not the pensioner who approached the Ministry. Surely, the pensioner has a right to approach the Ministry. The Ministry send out circulars which say, "Are you sure that you have got your rights?" This is a circular about which all of us are approached. It must have caused a good deal of correspondence. Here is a pensioner who wanted to know his rights. He got an answer which was later abandoned by the Minister. I must say that I think that this is a shocking mess. I am not concerned whether another 50 cars must be produced in order to honour the pledge which the Ministry have given. I say that this is a deserving section of the community, and I think I carry all sections of the House with me in that. This matter has been urged from both sides of the House. There is no party point in it. I do not think anybody on either side of the House would wish to make a party point of it. Here is a plain pledge given to a disabled man. It would be a disgrace if a great Administration failed to honour it.

Sir R. Acland

Might I have a word about Mr. Chambers? If it was my fault for not giving the Minister notice, I must accept what he has said, but I understood that his case would be raised. Is the hon. Gentleman's answer the same in his case, as it is in the one that he has now given?

Mr. Simmons

I received late notice that a second case might be raised tonight. It is almost on all fours with this. I think that the arguments which apply to this matter, apply also to Mr. Chambers.

10.19 p.m.

Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)

I wish to put two points to the Minister. First, it is monstrous and unfair to suggest that this is a political matter. We have joined with the hon. Baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir R. Acland) in this business, and we all recognise that the Ministry of Pensions has conducted its affairs in a sympathetic and humane way. We do not wish to show up the Ministry of Pensions. We are trying to give the Ministry a chance to put this matter right. I want to put the position to the Minister as something of a humanitarian and something of a psychologist. Here is a man, a constituent of my hon Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who lost both his legs in the war. Not only is that a dreadful physical thing to happen to a man, but it also affects a man's outlook, as is shown when this man says that he does not want pity from the side of the road. A man who is born malformed nearly always has a malformed mind, and this man, who is brutally malformed, is made the more sensitive by that fact, and the Minister must remember that.

Now, he receives a letter, the opening sentence of which is an honourable contract, a binding contract, subject to delay in delivery, and then, what does the Ministry tell him? They say, "We have made a mistake; the mutilation of your body was a few inches short of what we require for delivery of a motor car." That to a limbless man; it is inhuman. He is suddenly told that he will not have his right to a motor car as promised by the Minister, and that he will have to exhibit his wounds and his helplessness to outside people. This could be obviated, as I gather from the Debate, by the mere ordering of three, four or five cars. But the Minister is in the grip of the same thing that affects all our Departments—that same rule which makes it impossible for natural humanity to work. When we think of the national expenditure and then think of these three ordinary men who have been promised delivery of a motor car after some delay, it is a disgrace that we should now be told that that promise of the Minister is not to be carried out.

10.22 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

When I heard of this Debate, I felt a little out of sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), because I have never been one of those who shared the universal encomiums showered upon the Ministry of Pensions in this Administration. I have heard others praise not only the present but the previous Minister of Pensions, but I feel very sore because I have a constituent who served in the South African War in 1899 and in the war in 1914–18 and who lost both his legs in the last war, and who wrote to me that he had not got the promised motor car which he thought he was entitled to have. He wrote to me and asked if I could do something about it. I discovered that his legs had been amputated below the knee and I had to advise him that he was not within the narrow terms of the Ministry's regulations which would entitle him to a car. He wrote me again saying that the Government had cheated him, and I did not consider it necessary to point out that he had not in fact been cheated but had been encouraged to believe by the Minister that a motor car would be available for such as he.

I think the Ministry made a mistake in making this concession without being too precise about the terms on which it would be granted. I should like to know how many people have legitimately applied within the narrow terms of this new interpretation of the availability of these cars, and what the Minister intends to do if the numbers exceed 1,500. Does he not intend to have a Supplementary Estimate? I have a particular recollection of the Minister of Health asking for a Supplementary Estimate for £50 million for teeth, hospital services, wigs, spectacles and the rest. Has not the Minister of Pensions the courage to come to this House to ask for a Supplementary Estimate for 1,000 cars for ex-Service men? I should be very glad indeed to be able to tell my constituent that he was wrong to suggest that the Government had cheated him and that I was wrong in suggesting that the Government had made a promise which I thought they were trying to get out of, since I had now learned that they intended to keep it.

10.25 p.m.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I do not wish to reiterate the points made by my hon. Friends on this matter. I wish to try to convince, if only the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, that I am not trying to make any party capital out of it. Only the other day I had occasion to write to the Minister and thank him for what he had done. I am fully prepared to do that when I feel he deserves it. On this occasion, when the Minister himself admits in the letter which I am now holding in my hand that a bad mistake has been made, I feel that there is only one way in which the right hon. Gentleman can rectify that mistake. I take exception to what the Parliamentary Secretary said when he criticised my hon. Friend for bringing this matter to the House of Commons.

Mr. Simmons indicated dissent.

Major Legge-Bourke

I got that impression, but I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman shakes his head. It is only right that when all other methods have failed, these matters should be brought to this House in order to be aired, however distasteful that may be. This is an extremely distressing case, but the Minister should by now have been able to obtain the figures of the number of letters sent out. The question of how many letters were sent out matters a great deal, because, if it is merely a question of one or two, then there can be no doubt that the Minister must give this particular man and any others in a similar position the benefit of the doubt. If, on the other hand, the figures run into hundreds or thousands, then it is a question for the Government to decide how they are going to increase the production of these cars as soon as possible, because this is a case of false hopes being raised, and these are the very last people in whom false hopes should be raised. It is for that reason that I beg the hon. Gentleman to find out how many men are involved. As I say, if there are only a few, then the Minister must give them the benefit of the doubt; if their number is large, then it is up to the Treasury to make arrangements for the necessary money to be provided and for the industry to produce the cars required.

10.27 p.m.

Colonel Dower (Penrith and Cockermouth)

I hope that in the last three minutes of this Debate the Parliamentary Secretary will really tell the House that he will give this matter his consideration. The raising of cases on the Adjournment, which many of us find the only possible way of righting a wrong, makes us feel that there is some reality in the procedure of this Chamber apart from its being merely a sounding box. In the hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say that he will give this matter consideration, I sit down with two minutes in hand.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-eight Minutes past Ten o'Clock.