Pensions.

– in the House of Commons on 24th June 1921.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Cape Mr Thomas Cape , Workington

I am sorry the Minister of Pensions is not present, and, on account of what has happened, I have been unable to give him notification of the question I wish to raise. It is with regard to what I may call the maladministration of the Ministry of Pensions with regard to the pensions of discharged men. Generally speaking, we find within recent weeks there has been a deliberate attempt made and carried out to reduce as many pensions as possible. We find that the first thing that takes place is that the local pension committees, by some method or other, are authorised to stop the payment of pensions. After certain inquiries and investigations the pensioners are referred to what is called the House of Lords Appeal Tribunal, and generally speaking, we find that in the majority of cases which go to the tribunal decisions are given against the applicant. In answer to a question I put to the Minister of Pensions some time ago, he stated that there had been over 14,000 cases heard before that tribunal during twelve months, and of those cases over 10,000 decisions had been given against the applicant. It seems to me the Ministry of Pensions, regardless of their obligations to these men who served the country so faithfully, were scared when the anti-waste campaign took place, and one of the first steps they took with regard to economy was against the men who had done so much for this country.

I have one instance on record of a soldier who fought during the South African War, and was partially incapacitated. When the great European War broke out this man, having the natural instincts of a soldier, offered himself for enlistment. He was passed by the medical officers in the locality, and, being an old soldier, was immediately sent out to take his place in the fighting line. This man served for over three years, and in the result had a breakdown, and was subsequently discharged from the Army as medically unfit. He was paid a pension until about the middle of last year, when he was suddenly told that he was not entitled to any further pension. He appealed through the usual channels, and finally found himself at Newcastle-upon-Tyne before this House of Lords Appeal Tribunal. Six cases were heard on that day and five were turned down, including his case. He was not able to follow any employment. He had served during two wars and done all that a man could do for his country, and then he was told that, after all, what he was suffering from was not attributable to the War.

There is another case, that of a widow whose husband was called up as a Territorial in 1914. He went early to France. He was married in May, 1915. Before he died he was the father of three children. During the time of his marriage, and after being discharged from the Army in 1916, he received a pension and also allowances for the children born during the War. When that man died, his death being due as was definitely stated by the Medical Officer to disease caused by the War, the allowances ceased. I have made repeated applications to the Minister of Pensions. I have been told that the disease which the man contracted was contracted prior to his marriage, but I want to submit that the man was married on the strength of the regiment and his wife received a wife's allowance during the time he continued to serve. He was brought back from France medically unfit for foreign service, and was for about fifteen months stationed at different parts of England on duty. At any rate, when death took place the widow and the three children were entirely cut off and were told they were not entitled to any pension.

There are several other cases I could mention, one of quite a tragic character. I do want to say that in my opinion the question of pensions generally ought to be fully considered by those in authority, and sympathetic consideration given to those who have fought or their dependants. Perhaps the House would like to hear this case. It concerns a man who lost a leg in France. He was paid a pension up till 22nd February last. Then he was similarly told that he had not lost his leg owing to the war. It is well known that he had both legs when he went to France, and he came back with only one. The medical officer of his battalion had amputated the limb after an accident. A pension was paid him. No question was raised till February. He was then suddenly told by letter that he could not have lost his leg owing to the war, and that consequently there was no further pension. After considerable difficulty we were able to get the pension renewed. The point I want to make is that that man had about fourteen weeks to go without any pension, because someone had made up their mind that this man did not lose his leg owing to the war. All these cases bring bitterness into the minds of the men who have served. I do not know what other hon. Members may feel, but I am inundated with letters from different people and from the Discharged ex-Service Men's Organisations appealing to me in connection with cases of a similar character. I ask the Minister of Pensions to make some inquiries into the general way in which pensions are being disbursed, and to try, if possible, to give better satisfaction to those entitled to pensions to what has hitherto been the case.

Photo of Mr Frank Rose Mr Frank Rose , Aberdeen North

I should like to reinforce what my hon. Friend has said, perhaps from another standpoint. What he said is only on all fours with the experience of every sympathetic Member of this House. We are all still inundated with applications from people whose pensions have been cut off for some reason which seems to me to be neither convincing nor satisfactory. It is, however, a somewhat broader issue that arises out of the consideration of these cases. Throughout the war if anybody raised one's voice in public or private by way of criticism about the appalling waste that was going on, we were told that nothing mattered but winning the war. Now nothing matters to these hard-faced profiteers and economy stuntists but making some other fellow pay for it. If they can make the poorest and the most deserving pay for it, well and good. If it does not interfere with their own profits and their own interests they are all for economy. I do not know that there is any more demoralising or degrading spectacle to a mere human being than to contemplate this economy stunt that is now going on. These people will vote away tens of millions if it is for their own pockets, but as soon as it comes to some contemptible trifle that does not matter, or ought not to matter, they accuse the Government of "squander-mania"—I think that is the term. There are plenty of incidents and instances which bear out the view I am taking. The question of pensions is one that this Government will have to take up and consider seriously. It is not satisfactory. It gives the lie to those greasy professions of gratitude to our noble defenders in the late War. They were excellent people. They were the salt of the earth when they were fighting and sacrificing, but when they want a mere subsistence as a reward for the sacrifices they have made hon. Members on the other side are apt to sneer. It is such a funny thing for a man to lose his leg. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, No."]

Photo of Mr Frank Rose Mr Frank Rose , Aberdeen North

It is so humorous a thing that a man who lost a limb in the War should not get any pension, or indeed any subsistence allowance or a widow some allowance. We ought to look at this thing from a very much broader and generous standpoint. If money can be spent now, it had better be spent doing our duty, in redeeming our pledges to those who have made us possible, than to sneer, and regard the individual as quixotic and stupid who raises the question as my hon. Friend has just raised this matter.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Lanark

I beg to protest against the unwarrantable and unjust assumption of the last speaker. The idea that anybody on these benches was sneering at a man who had lost his leg is quite unwarranted. The matter was treated in a somewhat jocular manner by the speaker who brought forward the case, when he said that the man had gone to the War with two legs, and come back with only one.

Photo of Mr Thomas Cape Mr Thomas Cape , Workington

I intended to say it in a serious manner.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Lanark

On this matter I am within the recollection of the House. With every desire to put some light and shade in his speech, the hon. Member did refer to this matter in a light tone no doubt with the best intentions, but to say that because hon. Members happened to laugh at the hon. Member's joke, and to accuse them of sneering at a man who lost his leg is quite unwarranted, and I beg to protest against this attempt to make party capital out of pensions. If the next thing to be brought into the party arena is pensions, and if hon. Members are going to say what they would do for pensioners, and what we are not doing, then I enter a most emphatic protest.

The House of Lords Appeal Tribunal was set up by this House to take pension appeals out of the hands of Parliament, in order to avoid the accusation that one party would cut down pensions, while another would raise them. This House refused to allow old age pensions to be made a party matter, and resented the attempt of certain hon. Members to reintroduce it in the party arena, and surely what we did for the old age pensioners we can do for the war pensioners. These appeals may not be satisfactory, but the tribunals are nominated by the Lord Chancellor whose decisions we cannot review. If any change is required let it be done in a proper manner instead of this question being made a sort of football by one party saying "You are trying to drag down the pensions" and the other saying "Codlin is the friend, not Short."

Photo of Mr John Wallace Mr John Wallace , Dunfermline District of Burghs

I absolutely agree with what the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken has said. In every section of this House I know there is the most genuine sympathy in these cases, and it is most unfair that any slur should be cast upon any section of the House in this particular matter. This is a very cheap form of a very unworthy propaganda, but I wish to mention a matter which concerns my own constituency. I wish to raise the case of a woman who has been in receipt of a pension on account of the regrettable loss of her son in the War. She has also been granted a certain amount of parish relief by the town council. Since the Minister of Pensions heard that parish relief was being granted, the Department has reduced the amount of the pension which she received on account of the loss of her son. The matter was brought before the Provincial Director in Edinburgh, and he was asked for an explanation, but he was not able to give any satisfactory answer. On being asked to give his authority he declined to do so.

I think this is a matter of sufficient importance to be brought up here, and I hope that the representative of the Government who is now on the Front Bench will bring the matter before the responsible Minister. The case has excited considerable comment and great dissatisfaction exists in regard to it, and some explanation is expected of this extraordinary policy. When the town council decided to grant parish relief they took into account the amount of the pension this woman was receiving, and it seems to me not only illogical but unfair and altogether unworthy of a great Department to take a step of this kind without giving some adequate explanation, and I hope the representative of the Government will bring the case before the Minister of Pensions.

Photo of Captain William Benn Captain William Benn , Leith

I wish to draw attention to the practice of the Government in attempting to defeat the power of this House to control taxation. I introduced the other day a small Bill to make it perfectly clear that the House of Commons itself should decide where taxes should fall, and upon whom. Of course, such a Bill has very little chance of being discussed now. It was necessary to have a discussion of this question, because under the Guillotine Resolution relating to the Safeguarding of Industries Bill, this question comes in at a point when the Closure will have been moved and the question of whether the House of Commons shall control taxation or not will not be debated, but will be put from the Chair under the Guillotine Resolution. I introduced a small one Clause Bill dealing with the matter. This afternoon the Government business being concluded, there was an opportunity for a short Debate on that Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] At any rate there would have been had the Government not moved the motion for the Adjournment.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Lanark

Before that motion came on, there were two rather contentious matters, one of which I am certain would have taken up the rest of the time.

Photo of Captain William Benn Captain William Benn , Leith

I know on this matter the hon and gallant Gentleman opposite is really with me. At any rate there was a possible opportunity of debating this question, but this is another instance of the Government policy of trying to suffocate the power of the House of Commons; in regard to money matters.