Mr. TYSON WILSON:
I beg to move,
That, in the opinion of this House, the pensions and gratuities now awarded to men who have served in His Majesty's Forces, or their dependants, and the allowances granted to the wives and dependants of men serving in the forces are inadequate in view of the services rendered by these men and the present cost of living, and ought to be increased; and the present Regulations governing the payment of pensions, gratuities, and allowances ought to be amended.
The subject matter of the Motion is one that has occupied the attention of the House and has taken up a considerable
amount of Members' time in bringing before Ministers complaints from the men who are entitled to pensions, or whose dependants are entitled to allowances, and whilst the subject is one that has been pretty well threshed out in this House, I am not going to apologise for introducing it to-night. We know that the Government propose to decentralise to some extent the granting of pensions, and that is all to the good, but I am afraid that it will not to any large extent improve the position of the man or woman with a family who are in receipt of a pension and whilst I do not quarrel very much with the maximum amount of pension allowed under the Royal Warrant, I suggest to the House that the amount of pension paid in one instance as compared with the amount paid in another instance is the cause of grave complaint among the people who are in receipt of pensions. We know that in some districts the reports of those who inquire into the rights of a person to a pension and the decisions given upon these cases differ very greatly. The amount of pension granted depends to a very large extent in the first instance on the report given by the person who inquires into any particular case, and the result is that you might have got a pensions officer with leanings in one direction, and if he takes a favourable view of a man's claim a decent pension may be allowed, but if there is a pensions officer who considers it his duty to recommend as low a pension as he Possibly can, then justice is not done, and I suggest that the only way of getting over that difficulty is by making the pensions statutory, so that a man should be entitled to a pension as a right and not as an act of grace. In connection with the granting of pensions we also want definite instructions given with regard to the position of a man who is entitled to a pension, and I suggest that even when a man has been examined by a medical board the recommendations of the medical board differ in different areas. I am also told by those who know that when a medical referee has certified that a man is suffering from an 80 per cent, disability, somehow or other before the pension is granted to him it is found by somebody or other that there is only a 60 per cent, disability. This is causing a large amount of dissatisfaction and discontent in the country.
Let me give a case in point, that of a man who is a blacksmith by trade. He was examined by a medical board some twelve months ago and assessed as having a 50 per cent, disability, but he was awarded a pension for a 30 per cent, disability. In this case, in my opinion, the person responsible for assessing the amount of pension did not take into consideration the fact that the man's trade or calling was one which called for strength and for a healthy man to follow it. A gardener and a blacksmith may suffer from exactly the same kind of wound, and their disablement may be certified as the same by a medical board, but when it comes to saying that the blacksmith has a 50 per cent, disablement, and that therefore the gardener has the same percentage of disablement, it is altogether wrong. Speaking from the physical standpoint it may be right, but from the standpoint of trade or calling—and that is what a man has to earn his living by—it is absolutely wrong. In my opinion, that is where great mistakes are made by the medical boards. I know the man, the blacksmith, whom I have mentioned, personally. He was certified as being able to do light work, and he got a situation as policeman in a munition factory, but he had to give it up within six weeks. Again he got a position in Liverpool as a sort of civilian policeman, but after three weeks' experience he had to give that up too. The only pension he receives is 11s. 9d. a week, and that man has five children under fourteen years of age. He cannot find any employment that he can follow, and, in spite of the applications he has made, the only sum he is receiving is 11s. 9d. a week. I might say he is entitled to a service pension as well, because he is an old soldier. I am told on very good authority that a soldier who has been granted a disablement pension in a previous war, if he enlisted in the present War and is granted a pension of 13s. 9d. or 27s. 6d. a week, plus the bonus, and if he has received a £50 gratuity, he has got to repay that. At any rate, if he is getting a pension of 7s. a week, a disablement pension, owing to wounds or disease contracted in a previous war, he is not allowed to receive 7s. a week pension for previous injuries plus the amount of pension he is awarded for any disablement that may have happened to him in the present War, and if that is so, it is not right. The man is entitled to his pension for injuries received in previous wars, or he is not, and any pension received previously ought not to be deducted from the amount of pension awarded for service rendered during the present War. If I am wrong, some of the experts on pension questions are wrong, but men themselves have told me that they have had this pension deducted from the pension allowed for service rendered during the present War.
I would like to draw the attention of the Minister to another question connected with pensions. Will he tell the House what a separated wife is? I know legally what a separated wife is. She is the wife of a man who has obtained an order against him in the Court, and in that case she is entitled to a pension. But what about the woman whose husband went on tramp looking for work in 1914, and only sent home 5s. or 10s. a week, or a sovereign every now and again? That woman, if her husband enlisted, and was killed, is not entitled to a scale pension, but may be entitled to 5s. a week. I have a case in my mind now of a woman, the widow of a soldier killed in the War. She married, previously to the War breaking out, a time-expired man. For four or five months he could not get employment to maintain his wife, and he 'rejoined the Army and was killed. When the widow applied for the pension, to which she thought she was entitled, she was told, "No, your husband was not maintaining you when he enlisted the second time, and, therefore, you are not entitled to a pension." I pressed this case upon the Pensions Minister, with the result that this woman was allowed a pension of 5s. a week. In a case of that kind, where, it is true, the man was not in a position after he left the Army, or even before he joined the Army in the first instance, to maintain his wife, then I say the Pensions Ministry ought to take into consideration that this man would, in all probability, if the War had not come along, have obtained employment, and been able to maintain his wife in decency and comfort; instead of which the Pensions Ministry, or those responsible for advising them, seem to be almost anxious to evade the payment of pension when they possibly can. We shall probably be told that we must practise economy. If we have to practise economy, do not let us practise it upon those people who cannot maintain themselves. Let us recognise that these men, whether able to maintain their wives or not, came forward at the country's call, and have given their lives in the country's service. We ought to recognise that these men in a month, or a year, or two years would have been compelled by the magis- trates to maintain their wives, and, therefore, the Pensions Ministry and the Government ought not to attempt to evade their responsibilities in that connection.
There is another complaint I have to make, and that is with regard to the payment of pensions to mothers—very often widows—who have lost an only son who was earning a wage, or perhaps did not commence to earn any wage, but whose parents had spent upon that son a considerable sum of money in educating him or having him trained for some profession. Simply because that son was not contributing anything to the upkeep of the household, simply because he was not maintaining himself, the parent is told, "You are not entitled to a pension, or, at any rate, you are simply entitled to the 5s. a week parents' pension, and we do not take into consideration his earning capacity in the future." We say that that is not justice. It is only equitable, in a case of that kind, that it should be recognised that those boys had a prospective value from the parents' standpoint, and, therefore, the Government ought to consider their position from quite a different standpoint from what they do. Until pensions are a statutory right, and mothers have a legal right to a pension, they will not get justice. The right hon. Gentleman believes he is doing justice to these people, and if he were dealing with all these cases himself I believe justice would be done. But he has got to rely on others. I am told that in many cases the amount of pension to which a disabled soldier is entitled has been decided by a girl of seventeen years of age. I am told the Pensions Ministry has a staff of some 12,000. It may be necessary to have all those people, but I say that until there is some tribunal to which those people who are dissatisfied with the amount of pension awarded them can appeal, we shall not allay the discontent that exists in the country. Whilst I recognise that the division of the country into areas may do something to allay that feeling of discontent, and the feeling that the woman in the next street, or even next door, sometimes has been more fairly, more generously treated than she herself—until the feeling of discontent is removed, we shall have Members of Parliament bombarded with letters complaining of the pensions. I noticed some days ago that
a question was asked regarding Class Z. The reply of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir J. Craig) was:
Local committees have been instructed, in a Circular of which I am sending my hon. Friend a copy, that they can obtain treatment for men in Class Z in anticipation of the award of pension, on the certificate of their medical referee that the disability is due to service. Demobilised men cannot be given treatment at the expense of the Ministry for disabilities not connected with their service. Training is given under the Warrant only to men who have been pensioned for disabilities, and it would not be practicable to put a demobilised man into training until it is definitely settled that he is entitled to it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd April, 1919, col. 1224.]
I am informed that a man who is taken ill whilst in training is not entitled to the scale of pension. He is taken ill, and dies from his illness. His window and dependants are not entitled to the scale pension. If that is correct something ought to be done to remedy it. I know this, that a man whose illness or disease has been very much aggravated by military service, has received an extremely small pension.
I am going to give my hon. Friend every credit I possibly can in this matter. In the cases that have been brought before him and before the Ministry he has made most careful inquiry and given them his best consideration. In many instances the pension has been increased. In this respect I want to he quite fair in the remarks I make. My complaint, however, is this: that in the case of a man who is in the sickening stage of consumption and who has gone into the Army that the disease has been aggravated in the Army. Some doctors have said, "No! You would have been in pretty much the same state if you had not gone into the Army." We ought, I suggest, in an instance of that kind, to put the most generous construction upon the Royal Warrant, and also upon the doctor's certificate or the recommendations of the Medical Board. We ought not to say, "We believe you would have been as ill as you are if you had not gone into the Army." Suppose a man has died, we ought not to have said to the widow and family, "he would not have lived above a year or two in any case and therefore we cannot recognise your claim to a pension," or say that a gratuity covers the case. We should recognise that many of these men, often physically unfit, joined the Army, or were compelled to join it, in the result that they died, and not on active service either.
When the hon. Gentleman replies I trust he will say that he is prepared to give the most generous and favourable consideration to cases of this kind. My claim is that these pensions should be statutory; that a competent tribunal should be set up that can judge what constitutes a man's real disabilities. This is what we want to set up. We do not want a man to be fobbed off with a pension of 6s. 9d. for himself and 5s. for four or five children if that is not a fair disposal of his case. We want a competent judgment upon these cases, not that merely of one man or two. Then, again, as to any incapacity on the part of a man to follow the employment he is best able to follow; tha£ is a point which requires recognition. There is the case of the man who has been a blacksmith, a bricklayer, or a similar trade, who cannot accommodate himself to the present circumstances. There is something worse, too—it is becoming more difficult every day for the man who is suffering from a disability to get employment of any kind. I, therefore, suggest that this matter should receive the most careful consideration of the Government.
There is something more. Will the hon. Gentleman tell me why, when a man is discharged from the Army medically unfit, and is allotted a pension of 21s. 6d. per week plus the bonus, he does not receive it before six or eight weeks? Ultimately he may be awarded a pension of 38s. 9d., or even less per week. Any difference, if on the wrong side, he has to refund. Is that right? Is there any justification that the difference between a pension of 12s. ultimately awarded, and the 33s. temporary pension should require to be refunded by him? It is inflicting a great hardship and injustice upon a man. I, therefore, hope that the Government will in cases where the maximum pension is allowed until the percentage of disability has been decided and the man's award settled, that whatever the man has received up to the time of his permanent pension being settled shall be kept by him and not repaid.
I do not want to say a great deal in regard to allowances. These have been rectifying themselves during the last four and a-half years, but people who receive these allowances are not, I think, satisfied even yet. The letters that I and other hon. Members receive every day make us think that. I have had some curious and anomalous cases to put before my hon. Friend opposite and before the Department. Let me give an illustration. There were two young miners living with their parents. They lived next door to each other. The wages of these young men were exactly the same. Their contributions to the family income were exactly the same. Their conditions and position in life were exactly similar. Their ages were the same. In one case the allowance made to the parent was 18s. and in the other l1s. It is extremely difficult to reconcile those cases. Why should there be this difference in the allowances made in these cases?
The contributions to the family income were exactly the same. Looked at from the standpoint of the ordinary individual, Mrs. Brown cannot understand why she should be only getting 11s. per week for the loss of her son whilst Mrs. Jones next door gets 18s. for hers. I suggest that a local tribunal going into these oases would have a better chance of preventing these anomalous cases or of clearing them up and get us to something like uniformity in the payment of allowances in similar cases. There is another point I should like to touch upon—I am afraid I am getting back to the pensions—and that is in the case of a mother whose son has been killed but whose husband for the time being is in receipt of a salary of £200 or £250 a year. There are quite a large number of these cases where the son had, perhaps, a wage of a couple of pounds a week, and the parents have been told that they were not entitled to a pension of more than 5s. a week. The sacrifice made by the boy was the same as the sacrifice made by the boy whose parents nave a much smaller income. It may, of course, be said that the parents, in view of the reduction of income, can make a further application to the authorities. They think they are entitled to a pension for what they have lost. Many parents have denied themselves not the necessaries but at any rate the comforts of life in order to give their sons a good education, and put them into a good profession and they have spent hundreds of pounds in this way. If their sons are unfortunately killed, I think the money they expended in this way ought to be taken into consideration when awarding the pension. It may be done in some instances but not in every case. I think more discrimination is required in dealing with these cases, and if it is possible in certain areas to set up a tribunal to which these people could submit their cases in the hope and belief that they would be dealt with equitably, I am sure it would prevent a great deal of the discontent that exists now.
I want to say a word about the position of the Reserve Z, men who I am told are really Reserve W men. I have been told that there are no Reserve W men. I had a letter on Friday from a man who was sent to work in a mine from Reserve W and ever since he has been released to work in the mine he has not been able to do more than two or three days a week. His health has been undermined in the Army, and when he goes back to his former occupation he cannot work more than three days a week in the mine. That man is entitled to nothing. He has no allowance from the Army. Whilst he is working three days a week in the mine he is not entitled to insurance or sick benefit. I have a letter from a man who was released from the Army under these conditions. He has a wife and six children, one earning 10s. and five of them not working. The most this man has put in is three shifts in the mine, and he says that men released from the Army to work at their ordinary occupation, if it is found they are medically or physically unfit to follow their occupation, ought to be entitled to allowances from the Army, the same as if they were on active service. I submit that that is a fair proposition. These men are physically unfit to follow their occupation after being released in Reserve W or Reserve Z, and they ought to have the same allowance for their family which they had when they were in the Army.
With regard to Reserve W, I am told that automatically these men are discharged from the Army, and, when they have gone to the local pensions committee, they have been told they cannot do anything for them. I submit that the local pensions committee ought to be kept supplied with information to enable them to give intelligent replies to these people who come before them. One of these committees has told a man in one case brought to my notice that he is still in Reserve W and is not entitled to medical board and this, that and the other, and they cannot give him any financial assistance. I submit that the local pensions committees and anybody who has anything to do with the administration of pensions or allowances ought to be fully supplied with what is the exact position of affairs, and the only possible way I can see of getting over this difficulty is by the Government setting up some tribunal which will command the confidence of the people whose cases are dealt with. I trust that the Government will see its way to set up some tribunal of this kind, and, above ail, that the Government will make the payment of pensions to men who have served their country in time of trial and peril with the fullest possible recognition from the State.
I desire to second this Motion for two reasons. One of them is the urgent need for increasing this payment to the soldiers and their dependants, and the dependants of those who have died. We have just been through an election, and this question was put to every Member who was returned to this House, and they were asked whether they would support an increase of pension to these people or not, and I believe every hon. Member promised to do so. [HON. MEMBEES: "No!"] At any rate, I am carrying out my promise tonight, and fulfilling my obligation to my Constituency, and after this the responsibility will be upon the Government. My other reason is out of consideration for the Government themselves, who are in such bad odour just at the moment. We have heard on more than one occasion that hon. Members boasted that they represented labour just as much as we did, and I have no quarrel with them, for my quarrel is with the labour men who voted for them. There has been so much change during the last three months that we hardly know whether the Government represent anybody at the present moment, and the Labour party is giving them this opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. If you add this sin of omission to the sins of commission already perpetrated by the Government, then they are past redemption, and even the Labour party cannot save them.
I will come now to the question of pensions. I am afraid when we speak of money we forget the different values of money, because we were brought up to feel that a shilling meant a shilling and was worth so much. During the last four or five years that has all been changed, and when we speak of 13s. 9d. to the world it means about 6s. 6d., and the 27s. paid to a single man who is totally incapacitated, and also to a married man with two children, equals about 13s. at the present time. I have never known a time when a man and his wife could keep a home together and live on 13s. per week. Well, that is what they are expected to do with the pension that is already given. I am not going to dwell upon the disparity between certain pensions. There are certain factors which cause uneasiness and dissatisfaction, and the only plea I make is that when either pensions or allowances are considered again, they shall not be considered separately, but at one and the same time, so that these different payments and disparities shall cease altogether. There is a difference, of course, between the payment to wives and to widows. I do not know why there should be, because the harder case of the two is that of the widow. The wife looks forward with a large amount of hope to the time when her husband will be back home again able by his work to provide for his family. The widow has no such hope, and yet we find the widow's payment is 13s. 9d. per week plus 20 per cent., while the wife gets 12s. 6d. plus 6s. if she is not working, making 18s. 6d. That is unfair, and if there is any dissatisfaction on account of it there is very little wonder.
There is the same disparity with regard to children. The wife is in a better position than the widow, which, again, is unfair. I am not going to dwell upon this, because I am after a large increase in the payment, and I believe it is honourably due to the men who have fought to preserve the country. I am afraid that the alternative pensions are of very little good, and that there is very little to be got out of them, simply because they are based upon pre-war earnings. There are also very many complaints on account of the time taken in settling these alternative pensions. I am told that it takes from six to twelve months. The men who have been discharged and placed in Class Z receive their ordinary pay and allowances for one month, and after that, if they fail to get work, they have to fall back on the unemployment benefit. If they can get work, the Government make them a loan of £5 to procure working clothes, tools, etc. Many of their tools have been lost or have become rusty and useless, and their old working clothes are now of no good to them. The Government ought to give these men a Grant of £5, so that they can start just where they left off. As a matter of fact, these loans were so discouraged by the pension committees that I am told they have entirely dropped out, and the men have to get in debt in order to start where they left off. That is also an unfair thing. There is another thing, and I think it is the hardest case of all. No Grant or allowance is made in respect of children that are born nine months after demobilisation. There are thousands of men who are totally incapacitated for work. Families will be born, and the nation ought to be responsible and ought to encourage that sort of thing. It is a real hardship, because many of these men are young. Some of them have married since the War commenced, and it is a distinct hardship that the children of these men are not to be provided for by the Government. It is a point that the Government ought seriously to consider.
There have been some comparisons made between the pensions and allowances paid in this country and in other countries. The Prime Minister himself some time ago drew a comparison between the pensions paid in this country and the pensions paid in other European countries. A Prime Minister even can do an unfair thing sometimes, and that comparison was unfair, because the standard of living in this country has always been higher than the standard of living in other European countries, and from that standpoint the pension ought to be higher in this country. Sometimes a comparison is made between what is done for these people to-day and what used to be done in the old wars. That was no credit to anybody, and it is something that we never ought to mention to-day. We have seen the men who have fought in previous wars on the streets singing or with barrel organs, and Saturday after Saturday they have been at the pay offices collecting odd pence on the pay ticket. That is how these people have had to live, and they have died in the workhouse. It is no credit to the nation to talk about it. Yet that comparison is made. We say that these people are at least entitled to the same standard of comfort as other people. There will be no objection to that from any part of the House. They are entitled to the same standard of living or comfort as other people. If it takes a man and his wife three or four pounds per week or whatever it may be to live in decency and comfort the man who has been totally incapacitated in this War and who is unable to work wants exactly the same amount and he ought to get it, because the standard of living should be the same. Indeed, if there is any difference it should be in favour of the man who went to fight for the preservation of these shores.
What is the standard of living? I represent a mining constituency in Monmouthshire, and the lower-paid man there, the labourer or the unskilled man in the colliery, receives 5s. per day, plus 25.83 per cent., plus 18s. war wage. The weekly wage of these men therefore is £3 4s. 9d. To-morrow at Southport the Sankey Report will probably be accepted, and it will add another 12s., so that the wages of these people will be £3 16s. 9d. That is the minimum wage. The higher-paid men, out of their generosity, and to enable these people to live somehow, have agreed to adopt a principle that has never been known in South Wales before—namely, to have a flat rate of advance. Our old system was one of percentages, so that the man who earned the most got more percentage. The standard paid men, however, not knowing how these people were to live, agreed to the flat-rate system, so that they should have some sort of standard of comfort. I would put that as the minimum standard of comfort in that constituency, and the same probably largely applies to the whole of the country. That standard for a man and his family would be at least £3 16s. 9d. There is a very big disparity between that and what is paid under the Government scheme. Yet that is the minimum standard of comfort that obtains there, and the man who has fought is certainly entitled to that.
We talk about equality of sacrifice. In my opinion, there has been equal sacrifice, and I am going to admit that the sons of the rich have gone as well as the sons of the poor, and have taken their place side by side with them. There has been no difference in the bravery of these men: no difference in the risks they have taken. In these matters, I believe, everything has been equal, and when a son of the rich has died there has been as much poignant grief on the part of the wife and relatives as is felt when a son of the poor has died. There, I repeat, there has been equality of sacrifice, and I am not disparaging the sons of the rich at all. I hope what I am going to say about inequality of sacrifice will not be in any way thought to be offensive. When we speak of sorrow and death we do not do so in an offensive sense, but we try to speak with all charitableness of spirit. But although there are certain things in which the sacrifice has been equal, there is one aspect in which it has been unequal. The widow of the worker not only has the sorrow of having lost her husband, the children have not only the sorrow of having lost their father, but there is put upon them also a great care and anxiety which they are experiencing every hour of the day. The widow has to consider, and the point is constantly in her mind, what she is going to do and how she is going to rear her children, and in this sense I suggest there is no equality of sacrifice at all. It is very unequal indeed, and what we are asking in this Resolution is that the Government should rise to the occasion and make this unequal sacrifice as equal as it is possible to make it, so that this weight of care may be removed, and so that the future may have no anxiety for them.
If that were done the lives of these people would be all the better and brighter. I remember one morning, not very long ago, reading in the newspapers a message which thrilled me through, and I venture to think everybody in the British Islands, if not in the civilised world, was thrilled in the same way. It was a message that had been left amongst the heights of snow in the wild North; a message from Captain Scott, that he did not believe that a grateful nation would allow their wives and children to starve because they had died there. We agreed, everyone of us, with that. I do not know that the men of whom this Resolution speaks have left any message on the battlefield. But they lived with the thought and died with the comfort, that the people left behind would surely look after those for whom they had been the bread-winners. They are a charge on us. These men served this nation well, and the nation ought to remember them. We are now giving the Government an opportunity to increase the pensions and allowances, and to do better for those who have been bereaved than has yet been done. I am hoping to see the time when this great load of care, gloom, and anxiety shall be lifted, the time when the villages, towns, cities, countryside, mountains, and valleys will ring with the laughter of the children of the men who are gone and with the joyous-ness of the women when they speak with pride of their husbands, sons and brothers, and, more than that, when they speak of a grateful nation that has stood by them in their hour of night, in the hour when those who were dear to them were taken away. This is an opportunity of which we should avail ourselves. It is for every one of us left here to do that. These men gave their lives to put down militarism in the world and to save this land from invasion. It is up to us to see to their dependants, and I therefore hope that the Government will do something considerably more for them than has been done up till now.
I wish to say a few words on this very important Motion. We are all aware that the Government are spending money in the most lavish manner in nearly every Department of the State. I happen to believe in economy, but if there is any one Department in which I would be glad to see a little less parsimony and economy I think it is in connection with these pensions. This question is one in which no niggard hand should be at work. The claims of our fighting men should be recognised in the frankest way. The words in the Motion which specially appeal to me are those which say that the allowances and pensions are inadequate in view of the services rendered by these men. I dare say there are very few of us who, at the election in December, did not come up against this subject in a very serious and concrete form. When a subject of this nature has to be debated in this House I should have expected that a larger number of Members would have been present. We have all more or less given very definite pledges on the subject. My first complaint is as to the inequality in the payments. There does not seem to be any standardised method at all of dealing with the various claims presented by the widows and dependants of those who have fallen. I do not wish to introduce into a business speech too much sentiment. I am quite aware that a great Department, such as that the right hon. Gentleman presides over, is very vulnerable and open to criticism. But in speaking on the question of pensions and allowances we should consider the subject, not from the point of view of the security of the country, but rather from the point of view of the time when the country was in very serious danger.
My mind goes back to the 21st March when the future of our Empire was trembling in the balance, and when those of us who knew what was going on in France knew how very near disaster we were. If at that time, in the presence of that crisis, we had had to consider the question of pensions I think the attitude of the average man would have been to promise our soldiers almost anything if they could stop the onrush of Germans who were crushing in overwhelming numbers through our battalions. I do not forget that awful Sunday, and the glorious way in which our men stood up to very superior forces. We should not forget to-day the men who are physically and mentally broken down as a result of the War. We should not forget the wives and dependants of those who can no longer support them, and we should treat this whole matter in the most generous and sympathetic way possible. I shall not go into individual oases, although I could furnish many which I have brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. I have a difficulty in understanding some of the ways and methods of the Ministry of Pensions. Let me take the case of a mother who loses a son, say, in December, 1917, and that the mother is unaware that she is entitled to a pension until August or September of the following year. "When she makes her claim she is only allowed a pension from the date of her application, not from the date of the death of her son. A decision of that kind is not only unsympathetic; it is grossly unfair and dishonest. The pension ought to be paid to the parent from the time that the son was actually lost, whether application was or was not made at that particular time. I commend that point to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
I am very glad to notice that we are to have some decentralisation in the administration of pensions. In Scotland they are very anxious indeed to have a central pensions organisation, either in Glasgow or Edinburgh, on the same lines as Chelsea in London. The demand for that is very strong, and I am very glad that the Pensions Department have seen their way to adopt a forward policy of that nature. There is a very strong case why pensions should be paid on some standardised method under a system of statutory enactment, and that they should be taken altogether out of the realm of grace or good nature. It is not a question of gratitude at all; it is simply a question of elementary justice and the discharge of the debt which we all owe to these men. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will press the more generous view upon his officials who, unfortunately, vary very much—I am quite sure they vary very much against his will—in the administration of the Department and the payment of these pensions to those who so much deserve them.
I rise for the purpose of reinforcing what has been said by the last speaker with regard to the case which arises when a pension in respect of a young soldier killed in the War is considered by the Pensions Minister when application is made by the dependants or persons in close relationship with the home. The present practice appears to be only to make the pension payable from the date when the application is made to the Pensions Minister. The true position should be, if it is recognised that the pension is to be granted as a right when asked for, that the point from which the pension should start should be the point at which the loss has been incurred. There is no principle involved, except that it might possibly give the Pensions Ministry some trouble if the pension were to commence earlier than the application. The Pensions Minister, in answer to a question I put to him in the House, stated by way of explanation why it would be difficult to pay the pension from the date of death rather than from the date of application, that it would involve many inquiries being made into the circumstances of the applicant. That is a matter which applicants would not resent or seek to avoid. With reference to the earlier part of the speech of the Seconder of the Motion, I wish to assure him and the House that sympathy with the men who have fallen in the War and their dependants, earnest, keen and with a desire to show the utmost generosity compatible with the interests of the taxpayers is not confined to the Labour benches or to these benches, but is general to the whole House. Every Member is desirous of seeing everything possible done on these lines.
In rising to address the House for the first time, I could not have chosen a subject which was of more interest to the voters at the last election. I do not care to what party in this House hon. Members may belong, they will agree that no question loomed so large during the election as the question of the treatment of our fighting men and their dependants. There cannot be two opinions in the House as to the inadequacy of the pensions. Nobody would be prepared to argue that the men or their dependants are treated generously when we remember the services they have rendered. We are asking that the payment shall be made adequate to those services. In asking for this and for more generous treatment we are asking for something to which these men are entitled. I do not forget that if it had not been for the services our men rendered, our country, with all that it has stood for, with all the honour on which we pride ourselves, and with all the wealth we talk about, might have gone, and we should not have been in a position to-day to talk about either the payment of our fighting men or maintaining the wealth of the country in any respect. These men have done so much, and some of them have received very little. I have in my hand the particulars of a case of a man who wrote to me. He was one of the "Old Contemptibles." He was in the retreat from Mons, he fought on the Somme and also in Italy, and he possesses the Military Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal for valuable services rendered, yet the total amount of money he has received during four and a half years' service is £153 7s. 11½d., with £27 10s. as war service gratuity and £5 service gratuity. He is a reservist in the Regular Army, and says that he is prepared to volunteer to go to Russia if the Government will treat the men a little more generously than they have done in the past. The next case is of a different character, that of a soldier who has been serving in India. He had been out there for three years and four months, and he came home to find his children barefooted. It was impossible for his wife to get boots for them out of her allowance. The only money he has received since the 22nd of January has been £2 at first, and then £3 14s. 4d., and now, when he writes on 9th April and asks that something may be done in order that he may get boots for his children, and I although he has made application for relief, he has been told that nothing more can be done until the accounts have come through from India. In the other case which I am about to mention, and which is perhaps the worst, I am hoping that the Minister will be able to use his influence with another Department. It is a case, sent to me from a war pensions committee, of an old woman who lost her boy in the War. She was in' receipt of an old age pension of 6s. 6d. per week. After some trouble she was granted a pension of 7s. per week, as some slight recompense for the loss of her son, that being the amount for which they said she was dependent upon him. When she got the war pension of 7s. per week her old age pension was stopped altogether. Although appeals have been made to Government Departments that something may be done to alter this, the only remedy that she has got has been that she has received back 2s. per week of her old age pension, which was originally 6s. 6d.
These cases, and there are any number of them, form one of the chief causes why the Government appeal in vain to our men to volunteer for the Army. We hear men talking about the ungenerous treatment that they and their wives and children have had, and some of them go so far as to say that, if that is the kind of treatment the country is going to mete out to the soldiers, then the country is not worth fighting for. And we cannot blame them, because, after all, a man feels it the most when he knows that his wife and children are suffering whilst he is fighting for his country. During the last week we have been discussing another measure, and have been talking about the principle of market values. We have been saying that if we are going to take land or to take property of any kind it must be paid for at its full market value. I wish we could adopt the same principle when we are talking about the market value of labour. When a woman has lost her husband, and the children have lost their father, the man, if he had been alive and working, would perhaps have been able to earn £5 or £7 a week. I do not think it is too much to ask that the wife and family should be left as well off as they would have been if the father and husband had been earning his £5 or £7 a week. This is a matter on which I do not think we ought to preach economy. What we want in our treatment of our fighting men and their dependants is not economy, but generosity, and even if we treat them generously we still shall not be paying them for the valuable services they have rendered. Many hon. Members on these benches and in different parts of the House, when the War commenced, went on the recruiting platform, and we then used as our text, "Your King and Country need you." When our men responded to that call they did not stop, to count the sacrifices they were making. They did not stop always to think that their wives and children were going to be worse off because they responded to that call. They thought of the, perhaps, greater evil that would come to them if they did not respond to the call. But I want it to be remembered that there is something else; that although they responded to that call there was another call at home, and that that call at home is still there. Their mothers needed them, their wives needed them, and their children needed them, and according to that need it is the duty of this country and of the Government, in view of the sacrifice that was made for the country's cause in responding to that call, to see to it that we do not ask either the men who have fought or the dependants of the men who have fallen to make any further sacrifice. We must see to it that the country looks after not only the men who have fought and are still with us, but especially the dependants of the men who have fallen.
As more than one-speaker has said, this subject was dealt with very much at the last election, and I am sure candidates, irrespective of the party to which they belonged, felt that more ought to be done in this matter. We felt that, considering the altered value of money, the scale of pensions, allowances, and gratuities was not high enough, and that a good deal must be done to improver them. We know now that there are many calls on the national purse, but it is felt in all quarters of the House that, whatever happens, it is a primary national obligation of honour to see that the men who came forward and fought our battles and preserved our country have the first claim upon us. We have all observed that men will suffer a great deal of hardship cheerfully, but that if they have a grievance, and feel that they are not fairly treated in comparison with others, their feelings change from those of general enthusiasm to feelings that are not so desirable. If the men who have fought come to feel that others who have not made the same sacrifice are in a better position than they are, and if, after their sacrifice, they see their relatives in a worse position than those of others who have made no sacrifice, that will be a bad thing. We all feel that this subject is not of a party character at all, but that it is a primary national obligation of honour to see that these men who have so well served us are adequately and fully pensioned. I agree with the fine tribute paid by the second speaker to the unanimity of all classes at the beginning of the War, when all came forward irrespective of station. I do not see why the widow should be in a worse position than the wife of a soldier now serving. She still is able to look forward to the prospect of the breadwinner's return, while a widow has no such prospect. I fail to see any reason of logic for it. It is entirely one of finance, and I think it is one that must be faced. With regard to the gratuity it seems a bit hard on the old soldier who has served in a previous war that he should get a lower gratuity than others who have not so served. It seems to me that those who have served in previous wars should get their pensions all the same. That is over and done with, and is all to the good, and when such men leave the Army at the close of this War, I think they should get their full gratuity.
With regard to decentralisation, I should like to emphasise what fell from the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Wallace). There is a strong feeling in the country that we want more decentralisation, which means more rapid dealing in this matter of pensions. Like all new Members, one feels that everyone at the Ministry of Pensions is anxious to help one in every possible way, but the volume of work is enormous and there cannot be the smallest doubt, from the point of view of the Scottish soldier, that decentralisation would mean a great deal in rapidity, and rapidity we know means justice and fair dealing. With regard to alternative pensions, there is a good deal to be said for making these as from the date of death, and not as from the date of application. Here and there there is an idea abroad that things are not well enough advertised, and if they do not come to a particular person's notice the total sum is not such a large one. I do not say that enters into the heads of those at the Ministry of Pensions, but it is an unfortunate impression. The alternative pension should be brought home to every widow who is entitled to it. I had a letter to-day from an officer's widow complaining of the present system rather bitterly. She had only heard the other day that she has any rights of this kind. We have to see that this change is brought about, and that every widow gets to know what her rights are as regards alternative pensions. The fact was brought home to me very much in my Constituency recently that there are many officers who would find it very convenient and desirable to have someone near where they live whom they could consult and who could make inquiries for them. At present everything has to be done by correspondence with the Ministry of Pensions, and that in many cases is difficult and undesirable. If the Minister of Pensions could adopt some machinery whereby officers could have advice and consultation as to their rights, a great advance would be made. I am sure the Minister, who has done so much to improve this matter, is fully alive to the importance of this question. All sections of opinion feel that everything is due to the efforts of our soldiers, and we all feel that, whatever be the national obligations, up to the limit of what is practicable and possible, justice must be done to those who have seen the War through.
I am glad to be permitted to be associated with the Motion, particularly because I desire also to emphasise what has already been said, that in this particular, at any rate, there is not the slightest party feeling animating any of us. We are all entirely agreed that every possible consideration should be shown to our soldiers. We have amassed an enormous pecuniary debt. The nation has to fulfil its obligations, but to me, as to all others who have spoken, the supreme national debt which takes precedence of all others is the human debt we owe to the men who fought for us and who saved our country. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman tonight is in a very favourable position as compared with that occupied by many of his colleagues. He has heard from speaker after speaker in every part of the House that there is absolute unanimity in supporting him in practically any step he may find it possible to take to do justice and to show generosity to the men who saved our country. The first thing we ask from him, and we believe he desires to do it, is to secure greater simplicity. I have been told, I do not know whether rightly or not, by those who have gone into the matter, that the Regulations affecting pensions amount practically to about 14,000. At all events, they are very numerous and are indeed pitfalls for the unwary. It seems to me that, above all, a soldier has a right to know what he is entitled to receive, and to know the way in which he can get it, and make sure he does get it, and consequently I most heartily support what has been urged from these benches, that there should be a statutory right for every person who is entitled to a pension to know exactly what is due and to know what steps have to be taken in order to obtain it. I am very glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman is most fully seized of that desire, and is trying to take steps in that direction. I hope, too, he will recognise that it is not expected of him to confine himself merely to the figures now declared, but that he will have the House behind him if he sees it possible to propose large extensions of pensions to those who have shown themselves to be entitled to them.
I understand the right hon. Gentleman is proposing a great system of decentralisation, and I invite him to take the opportunity which this Debate affords him of giving the House and the country full details of what that scheme is, and by what methods he proposes to carry it out. I will try to prove for a little the help which this scheme will render, and I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman in three or four instances how it will work. When a man is demobilised he gets his month's pay and allowance. The pension is assessed, but from all I can learn, in numerous cases from ten to fifteen weeks elapse before he hears anything at all about his pension, and consequently he and his family are placed in a very serious difficulty? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether in his plan of decentralisation that difficulty will be once and for all removed, and when the month expires the pension will go on and the man will understand exactly what he is entitled to receive? The next case I would put to him, to know whether his scheme will meet it, is that of the widow. She is entitled to her six months separation allowance. It constantly happens that when the six months expires she hears nothing about the pension. I desire to know whether immediately that six months has expired, if not before, this new arrangement will enable her to receive it and be sure that she will get it in due course. The third case I desire to put is in regard to parents who-have lost their sons upon whom, whether they actually depended upon them before the War commenced or not, there was a potential dependence which ought to be taken into far greater consideration than, it has been, I hope the scheme the-right hon. Gentleman is providing does not confine itself to decentralisation, but takes this into consideration and that he will even give greater regard to potential values or will increase the flat rate which has already been provided. The matter to which I attach most importance, and I would ask him whether his scheme will make provision for it, is in regard to those very hard cases where a man has died and objection is raised to granting a pension to his widow on the ground that his death was not caused by his service or aggravated by his service. That is a case which is constantly occurring. We all know it by our correspondence, and it is one of the hardest cases that possibly can come up for consideration. Therefore, I should like the Pensions Minister to answer this question: What is the military service which justifies the grant of a pension? In many cases where the man has died he has been, as we understand it, in service, but the explanation has been given when the pension has not been granted that at the time he was not in military service. I submit that once a man has been taken by the Army, after having been examined by the Army doctors, he is under the control of the Army, and that we are entitled to presume that death would not have occurred unless he had been under Army control, and unless a man has been guilty of some wilful act whereby he himself has wilfully caused the illness which has resulted in death, it is a case in which the nation ought to come to the widow's relief. I" submit to the Minister of Pensions that the decentralisation scheme which he is now putting before the country will not be regarded as in any way satisfactory unless it meets cases of this kind as well, and that those who are left without any means of support shall know exactly what they can depend upon in the directions I have indicated. I earnestly hope that his great scheme will meet, to a very large extent, the cases to which I have referred, and that also he will be able to give us some hope that the larger ideas put for- ward to-night may be duly met, and that we may really as a nation pay the debt we owe to our gallant men.
I desire to associate myself very cordially with the Motion which has been proposed, and I want to put one or two points in regard to it. I desire to support very strongly the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last, that the whole system of the granting of pensions should be recast. We have had instances given to-night from all quarters of the House showing all sorts of anomalies, some of which are absolutely indefensible, and are causing great hardship to our wounded men and the dependants of the men. I think the proposal put forward in favour of a statutory tribunal to settle these cases, under rules definitely laid down in plain language, is one that ought to be granted, and I hope that the Minister of Pensions will give a light of appeal from this statutory tribunal to a higher tribunal, because if we want uniformity—and it is essential in all these cases—you can only have it by laying down rules which will bind all the tribunals. I am quite sure that if that is done, and there is a right of appeal there will be an absence of these abominable anomalies and hardships which we see under the present system. I know it may be said that if you lay down a system of that sort it is unduly rigid, and that it will cause hard cases, but I suggest it cannot cause a fraction of the hard cases which we get under the present system. If it is the desire of the Government to avoid hard cases, and I am sure it is, then I would urge that the Minister of Pensions should reserve to himself the right to make an extra payment if need be.
Another point requires attention, and that is the prospective value of dependency in the case of young men. Oftentimes a young man has gone into the Army at the age of eighteen, when he has contributed practically nothing to the support of his home. His earning capacity is just starting. If he falls at nineteen or twenty it may be said that the parents lose nothing, but we all know that in regard to earning power they have lost a great deal, and under the Workmen's Compensation Act the judge where the child is deceased, always allows for the potential increase of that child's earnings for the benefit of the parents. I hope that something of that sort will be done in the new scale of pensions. Another point deals with men who have been invalided out of the Service. We all know men who have been invalided out. The doctor says that the decease is not due to service, but that there was a latent disease. The disease may be latent and may be latent for many years, but the germ of disease ceases to be latent when you expose the man to the hardship of active service. We ought to face this fact. We all know that a large number of these men have become invalids because they were passed for a higher category than they were really fit for. I can quote the case of one of my own relatives, a man who was passed C3, and who was over forty years of age. He was in indifferent health, and led a sedentary life. On one occasion when he went up they sent him home again. Then there came a big need for men, when one of the big pushes was on, and we know how patriotic the doctors became, and how they put men up three or four categories, and sent them to the front line whether they were fit or not. This man was put up to B 1, and in three weeks he was in France. He was in delicate health, and of sedentary habits, and he was put to digging roads in France—navvy's work. Within six weeks of joing up he was in the hospital, and within two months he was diagnosed as suffering from tuberculosis. That is one of the class of cases in which they say that the disease was latent, and was not due to service. It is monstrous that when a man through the blundering of the doctors has been put into too high a category and given work for which he was not fitted, he has not any claim for pension.
I have had two complaints brought to my notice. I do not know the facts myself, but they are complaints of men who have lost limbs, and each tell me the same story. One wanted an artificial leg and the other an artificial arm, and each wanted one particular make of limb, because it was so much more suitable than other makes. In each case they were refused the make of limb they wanted because it was too expensive. I have a letter from one of the men, who was frankly told by the major or some other commanding officer, "You cannot have that limb, although I frankly admit it would be the best limb for you. It is too expensive." I do not know whether this statement is true, but if true it is a scandal. It is our duty to see that disabled men have the very best mechanical appliance that money can buy in Order to make good to them what they have suffered during the War. I have a little plan of my own in regard to what the scale of pensions ought to be. It may be that it would cost too much money, and that it would be turned down on that account. What I would like is that posterity should say of us that we did what we could to see that no child was worse off as a result of his father having laid down his life for his country, and that no child is worse off than he would have been if his father had stayed at home in a cushy job. I want to have the reproach taken away from this country that we have not done our duty to those who have suffered in the War or to the dependants of those who have fallen in the War. I hope the Minister of Pensions, for whose good service we have the highest appreciation, will see to these matters. We suggest that the machinery is antiquated. I hope he will give us a fresh standard and a more generous standard suitable to the increased cost of living, and that he will give an increased statutory right to pension.
Like many other hon. Members, I had considerable diffidence in going on platforms, and asking men to do something which I knew I could not do myself, but I thought it was my duty and I took part in a large amount of recruiting in London which was most successful. In addition to that, my own personal influence amongst young workpeople brought in another 500 men to the Army. For that reason I feel it to be my bounden duty whenever I have the opportunity to urge that those whom I personally asked to join the Army should not be neglected, and that the dependent relatives of those who laid down their lives should not be neglected. To-night we have heard about the inadequate rates of pensions. May I give one case from my own personal knowledge? I happen to be chairman of a board of guardians for ten years. Many people think that boards of guardians have no bowels of compassion, yet actually a widow, whose husband died through no cause connected with the War, received from the board of guardians more relief than she would have received as a pensioner from the Army if her husband had died in the War. I have actually had a tease in which the relieving officer came to me and said, "If this woman would give up her pension and apply for out-relief she would actually be getting more."
On one particular day, when I was in the chair, a widow received—I suggested the amount—£2 5s. out-relief. I am well aware that the House would think that almost ridiculous, but I have endeavoured to make it the policy of my board to have the relief given adequate. The following week the widow of a man who died in the War was actually given a pension of 3s. less than had been given to a woman as out-relief in the previous week. It is monstrous that the standard of Army pension money should be less than that of boards of guardians. I know cases in which we have had to supplement with additional food or nourishment for the children the resource of the widow of a soldier. I ask that this at least should be put on a proper standard. Many widows of soldiers have to go out to work to supplement their pensions. There is no more false economy than to compel a woman whose duty it is to look after her children at home to go out and work so that when she comes home tired she is unfit to give proper attention to the children. There is no greater extravagance than to permit such a state of things. It is disastrous to leave women and children with insufficient nourishment, simply because the nation has not fully recognised its duties to the children of the man who died for the State.
Then we often have cases in which a medical board assess the pension of a man who appears before them at, say, 60 per cent. The man's case subsequently goes to some unknown persons—I believe the Pensions Department—and they, never having seen the man, may decide to give him 40 per cent. That seems to me a false attitude to take towards these men. If the medical board have decided 60 per cent, no other body should reduce that, without having the knowledge which the medical board alone possess. With regard to the tuberculous soldier, there is no more terrible disease than tubercular disease which is so often directly attributable to service under war conditions. I know that the Minister of Pensions is anxious to do everything he can. I know that the supply of places in sanatoria is inadequate, because there is always a long waiting list, but there are cases in which a man is absolutely unfit a sanatorium. He is beyond sanatorium treatment. Those familiar with the matter know that it is cruelty to send a man to a sanatorium unless it is likely to do him some permanent good. There is the case of the man who is simply dying. He may go to a home where he may spend the last few months of his life. There is a third section of tuberculous soldiers who will not probably gain much by sanatorium benefit. They are not bad enough to go to a place where there are only bad cases. They are able to go into the open air, and neither a hospital nor a sanatorium is a suitable place for them. Provision should be made for this particular class, not in the country, but, say, suppose it is in London, then on the outskirts of London, where visits from friends may be easily made at a small cost. Many a man refuses to go to any sort of home because he knows that if he goes the distance will be so great that his friends will be unable to see him, and I believe that there is great room for small homes that will accommodate, say, twenty or thirty men on the outskirts of a town, where relatives, by taking a twopenny tram ride, can go and see these men at a small cost. Many of these men are in the most infective stage. They are at home infecting their own children. They cannot be persuaded to go to a sanatorium. Very often they are not suitable cases. They are the between cases, and if provision were made in small homes dotted about the outskirts of a town near their relatives, it would be of an immense advantage not only to the men but to the next generation by saving immediate danger of infection.
I trust that the new methods will be more successful in speeding up whatever decisions are given. I have a letter from the secretary of one of the best-managed committees I know, complaining bitterly that it takes six months sometimes to get a decision on a case. That is not fair to the man! A good deal of that sense of grievance that exists among the men is accentuated by the waste of time. Too often the unfortunate pensions committee get all the blame, when the blame is due to the Pensions Department. I know that the Pensions Minister is doing everything he can to speed up, but a good deal of dissatisfaction is caused by the slowness with which cases are dealt with. I trust that the suggestions made to-night will not only meet with a sympathetic hearing by the Pensions Minister, but that he may see his way to put them into immediate operation.
I think that we may congratulate ourselves on the course of this Debate and the tone which it has taken. We are substantially agreed upon three main things. First, that no payment, however large, can be adequate compensation for the maiming and wounds which our soldiers and sailors endured in this War, and anything we can do can never in the nature of the case be adequate if you put it on the ground of compensation. We all feel that it is a debt which we owe and must discharge, to do the utmost we can to make the payments proper, adequate and fair. We are all agreed, also, that there is in this matter no political issue involved. We are agreed that pensions shall be kept free entirely from party politics. A third thing we are agreed about—here I think the Pensions Minister can take credit for himself—is the improvement which the present arrangements at the Pensions Ministry have inaugurated and carried out. That is not only so with regard to the decentralisation scheme, of which I hope much in the future, but with regard to other things. There was, for instance, the question of artificial limbs, with regard to which, I am afraid, we had to be rather insistent from time to time. There are even still in existence other matters. I do not want to go through them, as I do not think this is the occasion, and I will tell the House why before I conclude. But there are a good many things which are still calling for attention, and loudly. In many cases, I think, the 27s. 6d. full disability payment is not enough. The matter referred to by the last speaker is felt to be a real grievance—namely, where a man has been assessed by a medical board at 40 or 50 or 60 per cent., and the papers are sent on to Chelsea and quite a different assessment may be made out by people who did not see the man. It seems to the man a great hardship, after he has been assessed by a medical board that the assessment is not final.
There is the very general feeling, and I know it is difficult to combat and is a difficult question, that the arrangement which now exists may make it advisable for a man not to work, and that a man, if he be in receipt of a pension runs a risk if he accepts work of immediately having the pension cut down. I know there is a good deal to be said on the other side, and I realise the difficulty of the position. But it is a real grievance and it is a matter which exists in men's minds and is preventing many of them from taking treatment, for instance, in sanatoria, to which the last speaker referred. Then there is the difficulty as to what is to happen with regard to training. I know that the present Minister has, fortunately for himself, devolved portion of the duties in respect of employment on the Labour Minister. But the difficulty is one which this House has got to face, and which arises under the Pensions Acts and is one which we cannot get away from. There was a point raised about widows, and that they should be put in a better position as compared with the case of the married woman with a separation allowance. I did not notice in many of the speeches stressing the position of the widows that any reference was made to alternative pensions. It is apparently very little known that a widow is entitled on a two-thirds basis to an alternative pension. I entirely endorse what has been said by a good many hon. Members, that at present one of the great difficulties is the general ignorance as to what people can claim under the Warrant, and are really entitled to. In no respect is this greater than with regard to alternative pensions. I think one of the difficulties about that is that it is a little elaborate in calculation, and I know a good many of the local war pensions committees do not seem to be fond of alternative pensions. Whether they find a difficulty of calculation or of information I do not know, but at any rate a good many of the local war pensions committees of which I have experience do not favour the alternative pension. There is then the great difficulty as to tuberculosis with the 35,000 or 40,000 men, so far as the figures can be ascertained, discharged from the Army and for whom there is at present no proper arrangement of residential colonies, which is I believe the solution we will have to come to. With regard to this, I understand the Committee is considering the best means of dealing with it. These are only some of the difficulties which are still in existence and of which this House is cognisant, and with which the Minister has got to deal. There has recently been set up a Select Committee, and I venture to hope that some of these difficulties will be laid before that Committee and dealt with in the Report. That Select Committee would afford an opportunity for Members to give chapter and verse, in a rather more definite way than is possible in a discussion here, as to the difficulties which have arisen. The difficulties are there, and the House has got to find the solution. About that we are all agreed. I think the House may congratulate itself that we have had a Debate of this kind without acrimony, with information and a Debate from which I think nothing but good can result.
I hope the House will allow me to reply now, because the discus=ion has covered a fairly wide ground, and unless I do so at this stage I can hardly hope to deal with the various points which have been made. Let me first say, I am extremely grateful to the House for the way in which this Motion has been handled. It has been handled with a real view of endeavouring to find means to help the discharged and disabled soldier, and I am glad there has been no attempt to make party capital out of it, but that there has been a real effort to bring to light places which want strengthening in the administration of the pensions. The Motion, of course, in terms condemns the present scale as inadequate, and in one sense no scale could be devised which would be adequate to recompense the men who have given such great service to the State and who have suffered in so doing. But this scale of pensions is not framed with a view to bringing monetary compensation for those great patriotic services rendered by the men; but what it is framed for is to give some compensation for the physical disability which has resulted from the services rendered by these men, and I want to emphasise the distinction that it is not a reward for their patriotic services, but it is a mere compensation, in part at least, for the physical damage which they have suffered.
May I ask, as the right hon. Gentleman concedes that it is not an ample reward but a form of compensation, would he not agree that the compensation should equal any loss that may be sustained and incidental to the disability?
If the hon. Member will allow me to proceed I will develop my speech in my own way. The compensation, as I observed, was intended to meet the disability which has arisen by injury suffered during the War. When hon. Members say that nothing can be too good and nothing can be too great for the men who have served us, I entirely agree. But when they bring cases before the House they, not unnaturally, bring cases where there seems to have been no compensation or compensation which is so slight that it does not fit in with the general desire of the House. Some of the cases which have been brought forward have shown considerable misapprehension of the actual provision of the Warrant and the actual scale, because some of them are quite clearly, if decisions have ever been given on them, wrong in accordance with the Warrant and the scale. My hon. Friend the Member for West houghton (Mr. T. Wilson) at first complained that decisions differ, that a pensions officer might give one decision in one case and a totally different decision in another case, and that widows would have one form of pension granted in one case and another form of pension in another, but the widows' scale, of course, is a fixed scale. It does not depend upon the degree of disability of the man or of the widow.
The question of adequacy is another question altogether. In regard to the men, on the question of the amount of disablement, practically no two men are exactly alike, except where you get the loss of a limb, where you have a completely fixed scale, but as regards any other two men we have got to act upon the doctor's advice—that is what it comes to. We have got the medical boards, and there is a certain procedure for them, but the boards in the first instance say what degree of physical disability a would-be pensioner is suffering from, and of course the degree of disability differs in any two or three cases, and I quite understand that one case is given a 30 per cent. and another case a 50 per cent. pension. If I had to judge, or if the hon. Gentleman had to judge, without any evidence from the doctors at all, we should be wrong. We should very likely say, "They look both of them equally disabled, and we will give them both 30 per cent. or 50 per cent."; but I can assure him that much more care is taken than that. The medical board examines the man and makes its report, and then, as the hon. Gentleman himself pointed out, and as another hon. Gentleman the Member for Lambeth (Mr. Briant) pointed out, the decision of the medical board may be altered by someone who has never seen the pensioner. That is a very startling proposition. I remember that when I first discovered that, I looked into it carefully to see, first of all, what the results of these re-examinations were, and why they were necessary. Let me explain. It is said to be necessary in order that there should be uniformity in awarding pensions. With a great number of doctors all over the country, examining a great number of men, you may well find that one doctor would take different views of what another doctor would say was the same set of cases; and so, where there is an appearance of difference, highly skilled, highly trained medical officers at the centre in London do examine these awards, and in cases of necessity are entitled to alter them. Now what is the result of the alteration? The result in practice has been that in the majority of cases these awards have been increased by reason of the re-examination in London. But supposing in a case it is decreased, does the man necessarily suffer a hardship? He does not, because he can go to his local war pensions committee and say, "My pension is inadequate," and the local war pensions committee can refer him to a medical referee. If the medical referee says that the pension is inadequate, and instead of being 40 per cent. it ought to be 60 per cent., then the local war pensions committee is entitled immediately to make advances to that man on the 60 per cent. basis instead of on the 40 per cent. basis, and the referee's judgment is taken pending a further examination by another medical board.
We have got to rely very largely upon the medical evidence in these cases. Can you suggest a really fairer and more expeditious way of getting at the amount of the man's physical disability? He goes before a board, that board's decision is looked at carefully by experts, who are at it day by day, and all day long in London, and, if there is nothing apparently wrong, the first board stands; if, on the other hand, something does appear to be radically wrong, the amount may be increased, and, as I say, in the majority of cases it is increased, but that, of course, denotes in some cases that it is reduced. Then if the man, when he gets his pension, is not satisfied with it, he is entitled to go to his local war pension committee, and get a medical referee, whereupon an advance can be made and another board held. I must say I have considered whether there ought to be any alteration in the method of revising or reconsidering the medical board's opinion in London, but so long as there is a completely decentralised system, I see no other way of carrying it out than the way now adopted.
Let me take the separated wife case. The case which the hon. Gentleman put was that of a husband on tramp for work since 1914, and who sent home money, sometimes a small amount—5s.—and sometimes a larger amount—£1—and yet when he joined up, and was killed in the War, his widow was not entitled to a pension. Is that the case?
If the facts are as stated, the widow is entitled to a widow's pension. I am very glad the hon. Gentleman has raised the point, because it is just that sort of case which gets repeated from man to man and at the street-corner, and it does a lot of harm, because there is no one there who is able to say, "Give me that case. If those facts are right, then the widow is entitled to a pension. Come to the House of Commons with it, and we can deal with it." I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for bringing it here.
That is, of course, another matter. If a man has not recognised his wife, and has not been supporting his wife at all, that is a totally different matter. But that is not the case my hon. Friend put to me. If he has another case I will go into that, but I have to have the actual facts before I can say. Let me take the question of the mother's pension. A great many hon. Members referred to the inadequacy of the mother's pension. They said—and quite truly—that great hardship arises where a son has gone to the War, perhaps during his apprenticeship, at a time when he had little or no money which could assist his mother, but with the hope and belief that in the future his mother would get some benefit for her sacrifice, and so forth, on his behalf. What are the facts? There is a flat pension of 5s. payable to any mother who applies for it in respect of the loss of a son, but the question of apprentices is in a different position—and I do not want to deal with their case in detail to-night. The other pension in excess of 5s. depends upon the dependence—that is to say, the mother can get up to 15s. a week provided she shows that she was dependent upon her son. The same rule applies in the case of apprentices. But in respect to that of sons, who are in work and living at home, if they have contributed to the mother to the extent of 15s. per week, she can get a 15s. pension. Note what it means, and let the House consider whether it is reasonable or adequate! The amount the mother receives from her son must always depend upon whether or not he is in work, and as to whether or not he is having other calls upon him to prevent that contribution to his mother's household. When he marries and goes forth into the world, it may be that he continues to make some allowance to his mother; but in the majority of cases that man goes forth and having a wife and home to maintain, and may be children, there is very little—or has been in the past at any rate—very little left out of his wages to contribute to his mother's household.
What does it mean? Instead of receiving some precarious contribution of the son, that contribution is turned into a permanent State pension for the rest of the mother's life. If she had depended upon her son, earning money, and not married, to the extent of 15s., this was something she might have enjoyed for, it might be, two or three years. Now it is turned into a permanent life pension of 15s. I do not in the least want to be ungrateful to the women of this country whose sons have been sacrificed. But I must ask hon. Members really to consider the difference between the contribution the son made and the value of the life pension guaranteed by the State. Another case was given by my hon. Friend, that of a man suffering from tuberculosis. The man had gone into the Army, and the question was one that is known as a question of entitlement—whether the man's disability was due to his military service or aggravated by it. This question of entitlement to a pension is one of the most difficult questions with which we have to deal. Upon it depends not merely the amount of the pension, but whether the man is to have a pension at all. He may have a gratuity in various cases, but whether he is to have a pension at all is another point.
What has been done in that case is this—and I believe it is more satisfactory than the statutory right which my hon. Friend thinks is going to cure our difficulties. If a man is refused a pension on the ground that he is not entitled to it he can appeal to what is practically an independent tribunal. I say "practically" because nominally the presidents of these tribunals are appointed by me. I am no doubt responsible to the House for their decisions and for their actions. But what I have done is that I have appointed as president a gentleman who is a well known barrister, and who had had military service during the whole of the War. I accept his recommendations for the other chairmen of the rest of the tribunals. These tribunals are just as independent of being influenced by the Ministry of Pensions as if they were, in fact, set up by Act of Parliament. There are nine of those tribunals sitting now, and another will be sitting after Easter, and any man whose pension has been disallowed on the grounds I have stated is entitled to go before that tribunal, which perambulates the country and goes wherever it is required. It consists of one lawyer, a discharged sailor, a discharged soldier, and a medical assessor, and the decision of that tribunal is accepted by me as to whether a man is or is not entitled to a pension. That is not only a better security for the man than the so-called statutory right, but it is infinitely quicker, because the alternative would be that the man would have to find his remedy in the County Court, then the Divisional Court, and finally the Appeal Court, and thus you would have that paraphernalia of legal gentlemen instead of a tribunal such as I have described judging his claim. In my judg- ment, the discharged man has a much better tribunal in this somewhat informal way than he would have with a statutory right.
There are several other points. The question of widows' pensions was raised by quite a number of hon. Members. I would like to say that not enough stress has been laid upon the fact that a widow can claim an alternative pension if her husband was earning 27s. 6d. a week or more. I do not think that is understood by hon. Members, because an hon. Member desired that the widow of a man earning £5 or more before the War should have her position brought up to the pre-war state. He seemed to think that the widow could only get 16s. 6d., which is 13s. 9d. with the 20 per cent. bonus if she was without children, but that is not the case at all. The present position is, in the case of the widow of a man who was earning £5 before the War, she need not take her 16s. 6d., even though she has no children, but she can take 50s. a week, which is the amount for her alternative pension.
That is the old question, whether £l is worth £l, or whether it is worth only 10s. The hon. Member's argument left me under the impression that the widow he mentioned was not entitled to an alternative pension.
It is granted whenever application is made and it is due. I have no reason to believe that any difficulty is put in the way of getting this pension, but there are not enough of them granted. I believe the present number is about 15,000 for widows out of about 185,000 widows. I have had notice already sent to the widows who are entitled to know whether they should claim or should not claim, and since the question was asked about two days ago I have gone further into the matter, and given directions which I think now will prevent any widow from not having prominently brought before her the fact that in certain circumstances she is entitled to claim an alternative pension. It is my desire that it should be recognised that that is nothing but the fixed, flat rate in the low wage cases, and that in the higher wage cases there is the alternative pension.
Cases of hardship arise among large classes of people who have suffered through a depression of trade and whose earnings were, therefore, less than the normal rate. They are debarred from obtaining the alternative pension if their earnings were 6d. less than 27s. 6d.
I think that the principle of the alternative pension is a good one—we are agreed upon that—and if there is to be an alternative pension we have to take some period, pre-war, in order to ascertain what was the man's position in life. The year 1913 was not taken out of any desire to reduce it, and I do not think that the wages were lower in 1913 than in 1912 or 1911. I think that it is a fair sample year for the purpose of getting at the wage. Of course, when it is compared with war or present earnings then, having regard to the value of money, I agree that considerable discrepancies immediately appear. I am satisfied that the alternative pension is the right way to do it, but I am not satisfied that it is in its final form, and I hope that the Select Committee that has been appointed will go into this particular question of the scale of the widow's pension and the alternative pension. I know that there is a gap in it, but I think it could be made a perfectly fair instrument for the purpose. Let me remind the House that we are spending on the Estimates this year very nearly £73,000,000, and since the Estimates were in the pensions have been put up at least £3,000,000. I am hard at work on the Warrant—hon. Members may call it tinkering—trying to find places where it really wants what I call strengthening and supporting. Since January £2,100,000 has gone on the war bonus on the men's and widows' pensions, extending it from June to September next, a war bonus has been given on the pensions of officers and their dependants and on the alternative pensions, both of which were left out before, and funeral grants have been increased from £5 to £7 10s. There was a deduction made for maintenance in institutions of 7s., instead of the actual cost, and that has been extended so that a man who cannot get into an institution, and has to go into a hospital, is treated in exactly the same way, no greater deduction than 7s. being made. Out-patient treatment has been extended in various cases, so that men have not to wait before the pension is fixed. Treatment in Ireland has been extended, underclothing has been provided for men undergoing treatment in institutions, and overcoats for those out-patients who need them. In regard to artificial limbs, officers have been put on the same footing as men; they are entitled to a second limb, and to have their artificial limb maintained. Thus about twelve strengthenings of the Warrant have been put in practice during the last three months at a cost of between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000. When there are general proposals for an increase, I think the House would be wise to consider in what parts the Warrant wants patching most before they pledge themselves to any very large general increase.
Does the House realise, even now, what some of the disabled men are drawing in one form or another? It has been said over and over again to-night that 27s. 6d. is the total amount paid to disabled men. Let me give the House a case which is not a common or even an average case, but an extreme case. Just as, at one end of the scale, 27s. 6d. is an extreme case; so is this other case extreme at the other end. It is the case of a paralysed man in hospital. Assume he has three children. His wife, children, and himself will get £3 3s. a week. He is charged 7s. per week for his treatment in hospital, but that treatment costs the State up to £4 14s. 6d. per week, so that the actual cost to the State of that man for treatment, pension, and Allowances to wife and children may amount to £7 10s. That is an extreme case. But do not let it be said that we do not give more than 27s. 6d.; that is the amount given at the very lowest end of the scale, and very few get it. Next let me take the case of a blind case out of hospital—a man with three children. He gets £3 12s. a week, and, in addition, whatever he earns—in in some cases, very fortunately for themselves and for the State, men are able to earn considerable sums. Their earnings are, of course, not taken into account.
I think I had better now deal with the specific points raised by the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. G. Thorne) with regard to administration. Let me say at once that there are, of course, in a great office, such as the Pensions Ministry, delays of which justifiable complaint can from time to time be made. But in my contact with Members of the House, I have found they realise that there must be such delays in some cases, and I thank them for their kindly consideration in those cases. We are trying to reciprocate and see that justice is done. But there are some such cases. The cause has been the constant inrush of work and the constantly increasing rush of work, culminating in the demobilisation cases. That is bringing us in, in Z cases alone, 30,000 new claims for pensions per week. I am glad to say that we are now level. With our present machinery we can deal with 32,000 Z claims a week as they come along. There has been some delay. One hon. Member said that there had been as much as twelve weeks' delay. If that was so, it was either a very exceptional case or I am not going to take the whole of the burden. We all know that the congestion of demobilisation has necessarily affected record offices as well as the Pensions Ministry. I will say this, however, that the War Office have done their best with regard to record offices, and have improved the pace of the record offices immensely during the last three or four weeks. Although there may be some inevitable delay in Z cases, there has been no scandal in regard to those cases. If the men do not get the pension on the exact day they ought to get it, they can go to the local war pensions committee, and an advance can be made pending the grant of a pension. Hon. Members might like to know that we have had 220,000 claims from Z discharged men. That works out roughly at 11 per cent. of claims in respect of men who have been demobilised since the Armistice. I am not talking of the cases that came from hospital, but of cases that came through dispersal centres—that is, men who were demobilised after the Armistice.
The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton asked me whether there would be greater simplicity by decentralisation. He said what I often said from the other side of the House about the Insurance Regulations. The hon. Gentleman said that we had some 14,000 Regulations. I do not think we are really so guilty as that. I am sure we have a good many Regulations. I am quite certain that it is necessary to have a great many, but I am having them overhauled now, with a view to seeing whether we cannot consolidate and index them, so that they can be more readily referred to by that noble army of volunteers the War Pensions Committees, who have to try to understand them. I believe we shall get the greatest simplicity, because we shall bring the machine nearer to the ultimate object of the Ministry—namely, the man. He will have the local war pensions committee in his neighbourhood, and the local war pensions committee will have an administrative centre which can give final decisions on administrative matters within telephoning distance or within an hour or an hour and a half by railway. In that way we shall get greater simplicity and greater celerity. The hon. Gentleman said that in one case there had been ten weeks' delay. If there was that delay it was either an exceptional case or it was not altogether the fault of the Ministry of Pensions. We are in these cases well ahead of our work. Even in that case the man should not have been ten weeks without assistance. All he had to do was to go to the local war pensions committee, who would have referred him immediately to a medical referee, and if the medical referee said he was suffering from anything which was due to his service he would immediately have got an advance to the amount the medical referee had certified. There was no need for that man to have waited, even if he did not get his pension.
No, he certainly will not. My hon. Friend said there was great delay in the case of widows. I am very surprised at that and shall be glad if he will give me any cases. Widows are entitled to draw separation allowance for six months, and so far as I know the flat-rate pension is easily obtainable within the six months. If she has applied for the alternative pension it maybe delayed longer, because that depends when it started. It might be that evidence had to come from India or evidence of pre-war income had to come from South America, and you will always get cases of that sort which are prolonged. There has been some delay with widows' pensions, but that is well in hand. On entitlement cases my hon. Friend said widows should be allowed a right of appeal. They are. Wherever a question arises of whether a man was entitled to a pension for incapacity due to or aggravated by service, wherever that question is the foundation of a dispute between a man or a widow and the Ministry the question of fact can go before the Appeal Tribunal. The Appeal Tribunals are doing excellent work, and I have had no complaints of the conduct of their work. I have had lots of complaints of delay in getting to the tribunal, and that I do not defend, but it will not occur again. After the next two or three months we shall be right on top of the work, but till then there will be delays from the appeals. We have about 3,000 awaiting hearing, and it will take time to get them over, but as soon as we have got them over there will be very little delay in a man being able to bring his case right through to the Appeal Tribunal. I believe that will cause greater content to the disabled man when he knows, and I hope it will be made known, that he has got that right, and that those who are judging him are of his own people, discharged soldiers and sailors and a lawyer, and that it is upon their decision alone that the final conclusions are come to, whether that man is or is not entitled to a pension. Then the hon. Gentleman asked what is military service. I think that is the question in another form, and whether a man is entitled to a pension after it is dismissed on the ground that his disability was not due to service. That, again, is a question that can be appealed.
With regard to decentralisation, I do not want to say too much about it until it has got further under way, but the Cabinet has approved of the setting up of thirteen Regulations, which will be self contained on administrative matters. Of course, policy must remain at the centre. The House of Commons must keep its hand on its Minister who is dealing with policy, but all administrative matters will be dealt with locally, and I believe not only shall we strengthen the war pensions committee but we shall obtain much quicker action and much more uniform action than we have been able to do in the past. I believe it is by obtaining the advice and assistance of the local people who have hitherto worked upon war pensions committees, so that they shall form an advisory body for the regional director that we shall keep the locality in touch with the machine, and so save a great many of the complaints which are not unnaturally heard when pensions are discussed in the House of Commons.
I think the House will have listened with interest to the comprehensive speech of the Minister of Pensions. He said he was glad this Debate had taken place, and I think that satisfaction was expressed by many hon. Members. As one of the members of the newly formed Select Committee, I think this Debate will be very helpful to us, because it indicates some of the points to which our attention must necessarily be called. I need hardly say—and I think I speak for my colleagues as well as myself—that there will be every desire on our part to meet the objections raised as soon as possible. The Minister also said that he welcomed the real effort made in this Debate on the part of Members to bring up real and legitimate grievances, apart from any party feeling or any desire to attack the weak parts of the system. I think we may say of the Minister that we welcome in him a real effort to remove these grievances. Those who have watched him since he entered upon this exceedingly difficult office has realised that his efforts have been directed towards strengthening the weak points in the pension scheme and towards remedying the delay which is the cause of great distress to persons entitled to pensions, and great distress to the Members whose attention has been called to these matters. Very sad and unfortunate cases have been brought to their notice. I am glad that these cases will be brought to an end, and are being brought to an end. There is another point in the Minister's speech which will be received with great satisfaction, and that is the announcement that he is going to simplify the regulations. There are few Members who know the regulations or understand them. I hope we shall have a chance of getting to understand them, of getting them into a form in which not only we, but the persons who are directly interested—the persons entitled to pensions—can understand them. I gathered that more effective attempts are to be made to bring to the notice of those entitled what their real rights are. He said he was bringing to the notice of the widows their rights to alternative pensions. These alternative pensions, I am glad to know, are being revised, and the right hon. Gentleman has told us that we have not reached the final stage yet.