HC Deb 31 May 1938 vol 336 cc1854-7W
Major Milner

asked the Minister of Pensions what proportion of the widows whose pensions were terminated during the years 1935, 1936, and 1937, appeared before the Special Grants Committee or local war pensions committee, respectively; whether any précis or other written details of evidence are furnished to widows as is the case in other pension appeals; and in how many cases where widows appeared were their accusers present and available for cross-examination?

Mr. Ramsbotham:

In reply to the first part of the hon. and gallant Member's question, all widows are informed that they have a right to appear before the local war pensions committee. In about two-thirds of the cases in the past three years widows exercised that right. The Special Grants Committee have the power to give the widow an opportunity of apeparing before them but no widow has so appeared. I have suggested to the committee that in future a widow should be definitely invited to appear where she disputes the main points alleged against her. That suggestion has been adopted.

In reply to the second part of the question, cases brought to the notice of the Special Grants Committee are, in the first instance, referred by them to the local war pensions committee which sends one of its members or a voluntary worker to see the widow and to give to her, in full, the circumstances which she is called upon to explain. She is at the same time asked to submit a written statement and/or if she wishes, to appear in person before the War Pensions Committee who, after hearing the widow, make a report to the Special Grants Committee giving their own observations on the case.

In reply to the third part of the question, Parliament deliberately constituted the Special Grants Committee as a body independent of the Minister of Pensions, who has no power, either to lay down rules of procedure or to reverse its decisions, and Parliament deliberately refrained from giving to the committee the powers and procedure of a legal court and it has no power to summon witnesses or to take evidence on oath.

I may add that the position and procedure of the committee in cases of forfeiture was investigated by a Departmental Committee which included eight Members of this House, representing all political parties and was approved on the lines now in force.

No criminal offence is involved and there is no analogy between the procedure of the committee and that of a criminal court; consequently there is no accuser, but the widow is informed that there is a case for investigation arising from certain ascertained facts and is asked to answer it.

Major Milner

asked the Minister of Pensions whether the special grants committee sits and considers allegations against widows as a full committee; if not, who does consider such cases, giving the names of the individuals concerned; under what statutory authority is the duty of the special grants committee so delegated; and are decisions given on written statements alone?

Mr. Ramsbotham:

Allegations against widows are considered by a section of the members of the Special Grants Committee who are nominated by the full Committee for the purpose. Any members of the full Committee are entitled to, and do on occasion, attend the meetings of the Section.

The Special Grants Committee derives its powers originally from the War Pensions Act of 1915. Decisions are given on the basis of all the evidence in the case, together with the observations and findings of the Local War Pensions Committee.

The regular members of the Section which considers allegations against widows are:

  • R. F. Cholmeley, Esq., C.B.E.
  • Miss M. Cozens-Hardy, M.B.E., J.P.
  • Stamford Hutton, Esq., O.B.E., J.P.
  • R. C. Morrison, Esq., M.P.
  • A. Hume-Nicholl, Esq., C.B.E.
  • Mrs. B. Ross-Smyth, O.B.E., J.P.
  • A. G. Webb, Esq., M.B.E.

Major Milner

asked the Minister of Pensions how many applications for restoration of widows' pensions have been received and granted, respectively, during the year 1937; whether such applications come before the special grants committee; and whether he will give particulars as to the grounds on which restoration was made during the year in question?

Mr. Ramsbotham:

The records of the Special Grants Committee do not enable me to give the number of widows who applied during 1937 for restoration of a forfeited pension, but during that year eight pensions were restored. All such applications are considered by the Special Grants Committee through the section which deals particularly with this branch of its work.

The cases of restoration were those in which the Committee found that misconduct of various kinds had been followed by a reasonable period of good behaviour and in which the original misconduct did not amount to habitual cohabitation. In cases of prolonged cohabitation, which are unfortunately much the most frequent, it is clearly not possible to treat the widow better than if she had re-married.

Viscountess Astor

asked the Minister of Pensions how many pensions were awarded to widows of disability pensioners on account of the man's death being officially admitted as due to or aggravated by his War disablement, during the 12 months ended 31st March, 1938, or the latest period of 12 months available; and how many widows of disability pensioners were awarded a pension under the Old Age, Widows', and Orphans' Pensions Scheme during the same period of 12 months?

Mr. Ramsbotham:

The number of pensions awarded to widows of disability pensioners during the 12 months ended 31st March, 1938, was 621. I am informed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health that the records of his Department do not show the number of widows of disability pensioners awarded pensions under the Contributory Pensions Acts.