LORD ST. LEVAN
My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government why no decision has been given in the case of Mrs. Pinch, Hillhead, Penryn, Cornwall (widow of the late Sergeant Albert Ellerick Pinch, R.E.), for whom an application for a pension was submitted on the 27th October, 1921.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, this case is one of those in which serious difficulties arise in determining whether connection between the fatal illness and the man's service can be established. Where a man dies after discharge or demobilisation of a disease for which he was not discharged from service and of which there is no medical record during his service, and in respect of which he made no claim to pension during his lifetime, the presumption must ordinarily be against his death being due to his service. The onus of showing the contrary rests upon the claimant, but the Ministry take a wide and sympathetic view of these cases, and assist her in presenting her claim to the best advantage.
Those who complain of delay should understand that if the Ministry took the case presented by the widow and judged the claim on the evidence which she produced, there would be very few admissions to pension. The evidence connecting death with service is almost invariably incomplete and unconvincing, and from the point of view of administration, there would be nothing simpler than for the Ministry to 342 insist strictly on the claimant bearing the onus of proof and to judge the case accordingly. Justice would not be done, however, by adopting this course, and there is no alternative but to continue the present careful and sympathetic consideration of these claims, even though this so frequently involves special reports from hospitals or private medical practitioners, references to the Medical War Records Section, to Approved Societies, former employers, and other persons in a position to give evidence as to the man's health before enlistment and after discharge and, finally, a most careful examination of the whole of the facts by expert medical advisers.
The late soldier who is the subject of this Question was demobilised in March, 1919. He had an opportunity then of applying for a disablement pension if he considered that service had impaired his health, but I am informed that he did not make any such claim at that time, nor, I understand, was any application made for disablement pension during his lifetime. He died on September 9, 1921, from peritonitis. After the widow claimed a pension on her own behalf towards the end of last year, the Ministry of Pensions went to considerable trouble to find out what circumstances gave rise to the late soldier's fatal illness. The widow herself has been able to furnish very little information, and it has proved exceedingly difficult for the Ministry to obtain proper medical data. The medical information so far obtained only carries the case back to June, 1921, more than two years after demobilisation, and does not in any way establish that connection between the death and active service which is necessary to entitle the widow to the benefits of the Royal Warrant. Further inquiries are, however, being made in the hope that additional medical particulars may yet come to light, and the matter has, I understand, reached a stage when a final decision may be expected at a very early date.
Your Lordships may think that there has been undue delay in dealing with this matter, having regard to the fact that the man died some ten months ago, and if a certain interval of time has elapsed since the widow's application for pension was made, I think I can assure your Lordships that the case has not been under consideration longer than the circumstances have warranted. I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind that my right hon friend 343 the Minister of Pensions has in these very difficult cases to choose between an immediate decision against the applicant, because of insufficient evidence, and a protracted investigation in the hope of securing definite evidence on the point at issue. The time thus occupied may appear unreasonable to the applicant, but if eventually, as often happens, grounds for an award of pension are found by this means alone, it cannot be said that the procedure is other than in the applicant's best interests. I cannot, of course, say what the eventual decision in the present case will be, but I know that the Ministry of Pensions are doing all that is possible to arrive at a just decision, and the widow will hear of the result at the earliest date possible.
LORD ST. LEVAN
I am very much obliged to my noble friend for his long answer. I think the reason for asking this Question is made quite clear by the terms of the Question itself. Nine months seems a long time for one of these applicants for a pension to be kept without any answer at all. It constitutes a matter of hardship, because they are kept in great anxiety on the subject, and if they could have an answer, one way or the other, within a short time, it would be greatly to their advantage. From the answer which we have heard to-day from my noble friend it seems that the Ministry of Pensions has been occupied during the whole of these nine months in trying to put on the application of this woman a complexion favourable to her request, and I ant not going to say that, if that is the result of such a long investigation, it would be an unsatisfactory result. Nevertheless, the fact remains that nine months have elapsed, and that seems, even in the circumstances mentioned by my noble friend, a long time for the Ministry, with its large staff, to take in a case of this kind.
There have been other cases of delay in connection with applications for pensions, but this is one particular case which came before the county committee of which I am a member, and on which a considerable amount of feeling was displayed. I hope that now, after all this time, the Ministry will come to a decision very shortly. Everybody who has had to do with these Pension Committees in the country will feel that it is desirable that every effort should be made to expedite decisions. It is not only that this applica- 344 tion was made nine months ago, but I am informed that repeated applications have been made in this case, and that it has been impossible to get an answer. At all events, I accept the statement we have heard that the Ministry are doing all they can in the case, and I hope that there will be no further or unnecessary delay.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
The noble Lord is an old soldier, and I am at present serving as one. I am grateful to him for having raised this Question, as the Government is only too anxious to get these matters carried out with expedition, and where there is delay, whether necessary or unnecessary, a Question in this House not only elucidates the explanation or expedites matters, but also very often serves to prevent misunderstanding and consequent injustice.