1. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £18,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1922, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Lord Advocate's Department, and other Law Charges, and the Salaries and Expenses of the Courts of Law and Justice and of Pensions Appeals. Tribunals in Scotland, and Bonus on certain Statutory Salaries."
3. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £5,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1922, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Supreme Court of Judicature and Court of Criminal Appeal as are not charged on the Consolidated Fund, including Bonus on certain Statutory Salaries, and the Salaries and Expenses of Pensions Appeals Tribunals."
Sir J. D. REES:
I have succeeded, more or less, in correlating some of the papers at least, although I am not sure that I have done it correctly, and it would appear that the additional amount required is entered as £11,000. Then you have Appropriations-in-Aid £10,990, leaving £10 now required. Why could not an extra £10 have been Appropriated-in-Aid to save all this accounting? I say this, not for the sake of making a trivial point, but because these accounts are exceedingly difficult to understand, and, unless you have gone through them with great care beforehand, it is not easy to grasp what they are, and exceedingly easy to make mistakes. What is the reason why the hon. Gentleman could not appropriate an extra £10, and save the House and myself the trouble of dealing with it?
It is not in order to save £10 out of the pocket of the Financial Secretary that I now rise, but in order that we may have an opportunity of discussing the Vote. I have always regarded my hon. Friend as being one of the most serious Members of this House, and one who does not initiate a Debate unless he is very fully informed on the subject. It is absolutely necessary in this case that there should be a Token Vote of £10 or otherwise the Appropriations-in-Aid which have not been voted might be taken by the Government and spent in any kind of way they choose to spend it. Therefore we should have a token vote.
In reply to the hon. baronet the Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) I might adopt and confirm the explanation given by the right hon. baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). In regard to the question asked by the right hon. baronet the Member for the Ctiy of London, there is no other explanation of this increase of the Appropriations-in-Aid than the fees, which are due solely to increasing litigation. Fees are provided proportionately to the amount of litigation. I entirely agree that it is by no means a favourable or good sign in regard to the general state of the country that litigation should show an increase. Nevertheless, it does bring grist to the mill, and let us therefore look upon it as a silver lining to the cloud.
I beg to move, to leave out "£5,000," and to insert instead thereof £4,900."
The administration of the Appeal Tribunals is becoming a very serious thing indeed. I do not want to be misunderstood in this matter. These tribunals have not an easy task. I know too much about the difficulty and delicacy of dealing with the pensioners. Those who have to deal with cases on the final appeal have not an easy task in deciding on particular test cases. I do not want it to be understood that I am at all violating the spirit in which this House has dealt with these matters by imparting a party spirit into the question of pensions. The method this House has had of dealing with pensions in the past, whereby by common consent they have been kept out of the arena discussion and free from the party atmosphere, on the whole is a spirit that has done a good deal of good. But, on the other hand, I feel we have arrived at a position, in discussing the results of the work of the Appeal Tribunals, where there is just a danger of everybody's business being nobody's business. When the Appeal Tribunals are rapidly reaching a stage when they are free from criticism from this House, I say advisedly that, under the inspiration of the present spirit of economy, they may be administered in such a way that they run a danger of doing injustice to ex-service men in this country. In dealing with this matter, I think the Attorney-General spoke about the possibility of giving a rehearing to some of those cases. I do not know what he has done in that direction, or whether anything has been decided or not, but I feel that unless something in that direction is done—though I know we cannot discuss the even more urgent matter of bringing Anneal Tribunals under the jurisdiction of this House—unless the Government can do the next best thing, that is, to give a definite guarantee of rehearing, then I feel we are approaching a state when the voluble feeling in the country at the moment will have a very dangerous aspect.
I made a statement when this matter was going through Committee concerning the results of the Newcastle Anneal Tribunal for the past six months. The statement I made then was that the Newcastle Appeal Tribunal had turned down 1,100 cases out of the 1,300 cases dealt with in six months. Out of the 260 widows who went before them, only 25 received pensions. I repeat that I know intimately cases in which gross injustice has been done to the people concerned. Since that time a statement has been made in answer to a question in this House. The hon. Member for Keighley (Sir R. Clough) asked the Minister of Pensions the number of appeals officially rejected by the Appeal Tribunals during the last four periods of three months, and what percentage they formed of the appeals actually heard. The reply was that the number of appeals finally rejected by the Appeal Tribunals for England and Wales and the percentage they represent in the last four periods of three months are, in the first place, from February, 1921, 3,982, making 71.5 per cent, turned down. In the second period we come from very nearly 4,000 to 7,000, a percentage of 72. In the third period we come from 7,000 to 8,000 turned down, a percentage of 72.2; and in the fourth period we come to over 8,000 cases, a percentage of 72.4 turned down. Note the tremendous increase of the cases turned down.
I hold in my hand a letter which represents the kind of case that some of these figures mean in actual experience. Here is a man who served in a certain regiment for a considerable period, and was discharged in 1919 suffering from valvular disease of the heart. He received a small pension up to 1921, and had entered the police force. Finally, after some time he was turned down as being troubled with the heart affection. He was asked to resign from the police. While the Medical Appeal Tribunal finally said that he had ceased to suffer from his heart trouble the police medical officer asked the man to send in his resignation as he was suffering from the very trouble that the Appeal Tribunal said he was not suffering from at all. The man has no pension and is unemployed. I submit that is a kind of thing that is happening up and down the country. I think there is a reason for it, and I wish I was in a position to discuss that reason. I said six months ago here, and I believe it more to-day than I did then, that the fatal flaw in the pension administration was to remove the administration of the pensions from the region of the local sub-committees, from those who themselves had experience and knowledge of the people concerned. What does this decision mean?
There are areas in the country to-day where the people have come to the conclusion that if the Medical Board finally decides against a man and they are asked to go before one or other of these Appeal Tribunals that they will not go as the case is lost before they do go. I do not make that charge lightly. I was in a certain village a month or so ago. There was a man bent almost double. He had been shot in the body in the War. He had a pension for some time. Then it stopped. I said to him: "Why not go before the Appeal Tribunal?" He had been a strong man and had served his country well. He is receiving no pension to-day. A crowd of men standing about told me that he had been one of the strongest men that descended the mine before the War. I sent the Minister of Pensions the case. I think I am rendering a service to this House, and that this House will certainly render a very great service to the ex-service men by taking very definite steps of reducing this Vote in order to get some definite re-arrangement concerning the Appeal Tribunal.
We ought, I feel, to go further so far as the re-hearing is concerned. I feel that while local influence and local knowledge is gone that this House ought insistently to take a stand and get these Appeal Tribunals under the complete control of the Minister of Pensions, and hence, of this House. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, of whom, to a certain extent, I came to this House an admirer, seems to go about in fear and trembling lest he should be found guilty of showing some signs of sentiment. I think he does himself an injustice. I remember during a Debate on this matter he said he had known of a case where a man had received a pension, and that another man knowing this went and got the pension just the same—
That is not quite the case. What I said was that a man in a certain town had received a pension. Whether he received it justly or not I do not know, but he received it as he had been wounded. A friend of his who had no real claim, and who had been working with full wages, having heard that his friend had got a pension, said that he would apply and see if he could not get one as well.
The right hon. Baronet said that in the first case the man was a man who was justified in getting a pension, and that in the second case his friend also went and got a pension.
That men have received pensions who are not justified in having them is possibly the case, but I think that this House has a sufficient sense of gratitude to the men of this country to even run the danger of giving pensions to men not entitled to them in order to make sure that one man—that individual cases, who are justified in receiving pensions, at any rate are not overlooked, or dealt with by the Appeal Tribunals as they have been dealt with. It has been said that the Appeal Tribunals have now got through their arrears of work, and of cases. My opinion is that if they continue to get rid of their arrears in the way they are doing, that they had better not act at all. In moving the reduction of the Vote, I invite the Attorney-General to state exactly what is the position, and how soon this House is likely to get control.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think if the Government desire to consider its reputation this particular Department should receive its very instant and careful attention. I do not know of anything in my experience of public life which has created such dissatisfaction throughout the country as the decisions of this Appeal Tribunal. Those of us who are acquainted with the cases which have been turned down were bound to admit that there is in many instances a real and bona fide grievance. I could produce here and now at least 12 cases which have reached me from my own division complaining bitterly about the treatment they have received at the hands of the Appeal Tribunal.
I will give the House a couple of cases. There was one discharged man who was originally passed into the Army in the Al category. He was ultimately discharged suffering from some incapacity, and after due investigation a pension of 8s. a week was granted, with 4s. 8d. per week for his wife and two children. Since that pension was allocated there has been an addition to the family, and now there are three children. The incapacity admitted by the pension authorities was something in the nature of heart trouble. Subsequently the man developed tuberculosis and found his way into a sanatorium. His condition was so bad that he was unable to write a letter, and he had to secure somebody connected with the institution to write for him.
This communication urged me to do what I could to secure some recognition of this, case, and the writer makes this pronouncement:
It is one of those cases which are causing so much dissatisfaction all over the country —verdicts given without reasonable consideration.
That was the opinion of the writer of the letter. This discharged soldier has appealed for extra consideration, having regard to the fact that he is now suffering from tuberculosis, and the decision of the Appeal Tribunal is that they have granted him a pension for original incapacity and that his present incapacity is neither attributable to nor aggravated by his military service, and they have turned down his claim on that ground. The man is now in a sanatorium and the sole income of his family is under 13s. a week.
There was another discharged man who was taken into the Army as an A1 ease. He had a pension for incapacity similar to the one I have just alluded to. A subsequent, examination suggested to the pension authorities that that incapacity had disappeared. This discharged man is suffering from tuberculosis, and the decision is very similar to the one I have just mentioned. In the second case, the man's pension has actually been stopped and the Appeal Tribunal declined to admit that his tuberculosis is in any way attributable to his military service, despite the fact that he was accepted as an Al case and had a clean bill of health up to the time he entered the Army.
I mentioned another case in a question to the Minister of Pensions to-day. In this case the ex-soldier is dead. He left a wife, and she made an appeal to the Pensions Tribunal, but it has been turned down, and the only income she has now is £1 per week from the guardians to maintain herself and her family. These are not selected cases, and many others can be found infinitely more oppressive than these. On this side of the House we could produce shoals of these cases. I suggest that when we are dealing with people in this fashion, it is a very sad reflection upon the pronouncement that was made during the War, "A grateful country will never forget you." All over the country we have thousands of these people similarly affected. I think it can reasonably be argued that if a man had a clean bill of health before entering the Army, and was passed A1 by the medical inspectors employed by the Government, and later on he is discharged suffering from any incapacity whatever, whether a primary or secondary incapacity presents itself, it ought to be admitted that his incapacity had been caused by his military service.
Because if he had a clean bill of health before he was taken into the Army, and is discharged for some incapacity, if a secondary incapacity arises it ought to be attributed to the primary one for which he was discharged, because invariably the second incapacity could be, traced to the first one. I am under the impression that the Pensions Act has failed in these cases, and we are having too much examination and too little pension. When these men were taken into the Army a mere cursory examinations was the order of the day. It was a mere perfunctory operation that was carried out, and it nearly got to the length of asking what size of a hat the man took and then he was passed into the Army. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I agree that that is somewhat of an exaggeration, but I do declare that the medical examinations were just cursory and merely perfunctory. Now we are employing those same medical men to exercise the strictest scrutiny upon the men whom they formerly passed into the Army so loosely in order to find out whether they are entitled to a small pension or none at all.
It is remarkable that at the present time there are nearly 1,000,000 men in receipt of military pensions and only 31,000 of them are receiving 100 per cent, of the pension. Some of them are receiving 30 per cent., some 40 per cent, and some 50 per cent., and so on. We grant a soldier 50 per cent, of his pension on the ground that 50 per cent, of his earning capacity is left intact, but I would like to ask where can a discharged soldier find employment for 50 per cent, of his capacity when thousands of able-bodied men cannot get employment at all. We have thousands of these men with a 25 per cent, or 50 per cent, pension and they cannot find employment and cannot live on their pension. Some have to seek Poor Law relief. Over 1,000,000 examinations took place in the last year of the Pensions Department Report. I have the figures here. Actually there were more examinations of discharged soldiers in one year than there were men in receipt of pensions. These examinations were directed to secure a verdict in the way of cutting down or discontinuing the soldier's pension. The Appeal Tribunal was set up by this House. I would like to pay a tribute to the Ministry of Pensions here. I suppose the Parliamentary Secretary is quite sick of hearing me knock at his office door. I have always been met with the greatest sympathy and in many instances I have had ample satisfaction for the case I have taken in hand. But from the decision of this Appeal Tribunal there is no other appeal, and, however generous the Minister of Pensions would be, however much he would like to bend in some of these cases, he is compelled to hold his hand by virtue of the decision of the tribunal. His position has become very serious.
Yes, the tribunal has statutory authority. My complaint is that its decisions are final, and that there is no appeal to this House. This House set up the machinery taking these men into the Army, and it should keep control of the machinery and see that justice is done to them. Under present conditions justice is not done to many individuals who are entitled to it. There ought to be a review of the decisions of the Appeal Tribunal, and the House should have an opportunity of passing its judgment on the decisions arrived at.
I believe the hon. Member who brought this matter forward is himself an ex-service man, and therefore his remarks are entitled to sympathetic consideration. But there is a considerable amount of misapprehension on this question. I speak not because I have particular knowledge of the subject, but because I have found in my own constituency an extraordinary amount of misunderstanding. Let me remind the House of the circumstances under which these tribunals were set up. It is most important to bear those circumstances in mind. The tribunals were set up because there was a considerable amount of dissatisfaction with the fact that the Pensions Ministry had the former tribunals under their jurisdiction, and it was said that the Ministry were influencing the members of the tribunals against the award of pensions. It was therefore agreed without any division in this House—it was a general agreement between all parties—that the new independent tribunals should be given the status of Courts of Law under the Lord Chancellor and under the Lord President of the Court of Session. It was also agreed that they should consist of a legal man, a medical man, and an ex-service man. The hon. Member who moved this Amendment is making a suggestion that the gentlemen who constitute the personnel of the tribunals are not carrying out their work fairly.
I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman has no desire to do me an injustice. What I said was that one of the chief flaws in the constitution of the tribunal is the lack of local intimate knowledge which was an invariable factor in the old tribunal. I made the suggestion that the tribunal is rather under the influence of the economy feeling in the country at the present time.
I will deal with that point at once. These tribunals have had absolutely nothing to do with the question of economy. They are there to carry out their work in the same way as judges sit on the bench to carry out their work, and I am not aware it has ever been suggested in this House that the Courts of Justice have been influenced by economy axes or anything else. These tribunals are not to be judged in the way that an ordinary Court of Law has to be judged, so far as their decisions are concerned. When a man goes to a Court of Law ordinarily he is judged on his merits. So are these cases, but with this difference, that the Pensions Ministry never allow an appeal to go forward unless, in their opinion, it is absolutely certain it cannot be allowed. Every one of these cases going forward is an extreme case which has been examined not once or twice, but three times. When a man makes an ordinary claim for a pension and it is turned down and he subsequently makes an appeal, the whole case is gone into over again. It is specially considered by people who are responsible at the very top and who have the greatest experience on the subject. They never allow any case to go forward to the Appeal Tribunal unless they are perfectly sure the man has not a just claim. Obviously they would not do so. If you had a large percentage of claims going forward to the Appeal Tribunal which were allowed in favour of the plaintiff, the natural inference would be that the Pensions Ministry were not doing their work properly. Therefore it is to their own interest to see that if there is a possibility of a man getting a pension he should receive it. It is equally obvious that it is more likely that claims going forward to the Appeal Tribunal will be turned down rather than allowed.
There is another factor which has to be considered. A large number of these cases fail through want of evidence. The time which has elapsed since the man was wounded or invalided is gradually growing longer and longer and it is extremely difficult to prove the genesis of the medical disability. Again, it was quite a common thing at the front when a man became ill, and when there was a shortage of men in the front line, to send him back for two or three days to the medical officer's dug-out instead of sending him to hospital. Very often the man was quite ill and under ordinary circumstances would have gone to hospital, but owing to conditions over which the authorities had no control it was not possible to do that. When a man comes home and finds, a year or two later, he is suffering from the same ailment he puts in a claim for a pension and he is asked by the Pensions Ministry if he has ever had the same complaint before. He replies that he had it at such and such a date and was under a certain medical officer. The man does not realise that no record of such cases has ever been kept. He does not distinguish between the advanced hospital and a medical officer's dug-out and cannot understand why, when they cannot find a record, they turn down his case. It is happening over and over again all over the country. It is almost unavoidable. You cannot find the record of these cases. In the case of some hospitals in France and the theatres further East, some of the records have been destroyed. It is only within the past six or nine months that many records have been put into proper order. There are two other points in regard to these Appeal Tribunals to which I should like to draw attention, which must show that every effort has been made to try to see that the man gets fair treatment. It was recommended by the Departmental Committee on Pensions Administration that the précis that the tribunal gets should be the same as that which the man gets, and not as previously, when the man got a shorter statement. Now the man and the widow get the same précis and not only that, but the claimants are allowed the assistance of a member of the Ex-service Association or some other friend to help them in their cases. There is not the slightest doubt that these points were a subject of great anxiety and the need for revision was badly felt for a long time. Those recommendations have been carried out. They are to the advantage of the claimants themselves.
I do not see, myself, how you can do what the hon. Member who moved a reduction suggested, and that is to bring all the tribunals within the jurisdiction of the Pensions Ministry again without again restarting the whole series of complaints which yon formerly had. You are again going to have the Pensions Ministry attacked on every side, because the House and the public will say that they are influencing these Courts against the claimants. It is wrong that the final court of appeal should have any relation at all to the Ministry of Pensions. It is contrary to any system of justice in this country or any other. If you are not going to do that, the only other possibility is that there may be certain circumstances under which some of these cases should be reviewed. There are certain circumstances, and I should like to suggest to my right hon. Friend that I believe it is now-possible for a case to be reviewed where salient facts have not been brought out in evidence and have subsequently come to light—but very few cases, I think, have actually been reviewed.
At the same time, there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that there may be some hard cases where facts were not brought out or where the case was not properly explained, owing to the fact that the claimant had not proper assistance. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be possible that some of these cases—for instance, any cases of obvious tropical diseases which must have been contracted on service— should be reviewed where, as has been the case here and there, facts have subsequently been brought out, or in the widows' cases, for instance, where it was obvious that they were not able to plead the cases by themselves.
I do not think, however, that the power should be exercised except very sparingly. There must, of course, be some finality, and I do not see what you are going to gain by having a general review of these cases except that, in 99 cases out of every 100, you are going to raise false hopes in the breasts of all those men. But, of course, some should be reviewed, and beyond that I do not go. When these men or women go before the Appeal Tribunal all the evidence they have they may bring, and they now have the assistance of an ex-service man from the British Legion or an ordinary man who has nothing to do with any ex-service organisation, but who is able to plead their case for them and to explain the facts before the Court. They have an exact copy of the précis similar to the one the Court itself has, and the existence or non-existence of a sub-committee cannot make any difference to the hearing of a case.
There is one point. It would mean that some members of the local committees must be going regularly to the Appeal Committee, and that is a matter of expense, while, on the other hand, the person dealt with by the local sub-committee has all the facts taken into consideration.
That has nothing to do with the Appeal Tribunal. If the medical board turns down the man who comes before a tribunal, the board's recommendation is considered, but it has nothing to do with the sub-committee or the main Committee. As a matter of fact, under the Regulations, if a man wins his case, the expenses are allowed by the Court, and, therefore, the question of expense has nothing to do with it. It need not necessarily be a person from a local committee at all. It may be someone outside. I have never once heard any complaint on the part of an ex-service man that the abolition of a subcommittee has in any way affected his claim for a pension before the Appeal Tribunal. As a matter of fact, members of an Appeal Tribunal cannot be in- fluenced by the existence or non-existence of a sub-committee. The only point, I agree, is that there may be certain hard eases which should be reviewed but they should be dealt with very sparingly, and the right hon. Gentleman should be very careful before he allows any general system of reviews, or he may find that he has destroyed all confidence in these tribunals altogether.
I quite agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down that a fair hearing is given to those who appear before the Appeal Tribunals. It is not the hearing of which we on this side complain, but the decisions of the tribunals. We therefore also agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that, if it were possible for the Minister of Pensions to review some of these very hard cases which are turned down by these tribunals, it would help matters considerably. Since this matter was discussed when the Estimates were before the House, I have received such shoals of letters, not merely from my own constituency, but from all parts of the country, asking me to take up these cases, that I have had to intimate through the Press that I could not even deal with the mass of correspondence, much less take up the cases with the Minister of Pensions. Several cases have been cited here to-night, and I have here particulars of the case of a man who was wounded in the neck at the battle of Loos. He was sent back to this country, and was treated in hospital, and, as a result of the wound, he contracted a spinal disability. He was paid a pension, he died, and his wife also received a pension, but it was discontinued. She appealed before the tribunal, but they turned the appeal down, saying that the disability had not arisen as a result of war service. Here is a photograph of that man, and any tribunal, I do not care how it might be composed, would be compelled on that to decide in favour of his widow.
Why was her case turned down? The evidence submitted to the tribunal was overwhelmingly in her favour, but the Chairman of the tribunal said to her, "The evidence of your own husband is against you, because he signed Form Z.22, saying that he was fit when he was demobilised." That is the excuse used by every Chairman in the different tribunals that are sitting all over the country. It does not matter how strong the case may be, if the ex-service man signed this Form Z.22 saying that he was fit, that is brought as evidence against him or his widow when the appeal is being turned down. If we can get this Form withdrawn, and put on the tribunal the onus of proving that these cases have not arisen as a result of war service, it would help considerably. Probably a large number of hon. Members are in exactly the same position in which we are. A case is sent forward; you go to the Minister of Pensions; he says he cannot deal with it because the Appeal Tribunal has turned it down; and they say that the case has been turned down as the result of the ex-service men having signed this Form. In all the cases I have dealt with this form is nothing but a trick to get out of the liability which is due to the ex-service man. These people must get food. They have to go to the local authorities. Some receive £1, 25s. or 30s. a week, according to the number of children, with the result that the local authorities, who are to-day in a state of bankruptcy, have to carry out a national responsibility. We say it is the duty of the Government, seeing that these men have fought and some have sacrificed their lives, to come forward and do justice to those ex-service men and their widows and children. Therefore I support the Amendment, and we will take it to a Division, trusting that the promise made to us on the last occasion will be carried out, that something will be done in order to review some of these very hard cases which have been turned down in the tribunals.
I am always inclined to think my hon. Friends opposite have made a mistake in taking up this matter from their own point of view. I know that these Appeal Tribunals were set up in reference to a very widespread demand among ex-service men themselves, and that since they have been set up the general opinion of ex-service men throughout the country is that they have got all they wanted when they made that demand. They know perfectly well that a man whose case comes before the Pensions Tribunal gets a fair trial, and no one concerned in that trial, none of those who sit on the Bench, have any interest whatever in treating the man anything but rightly and generously. It is for that purpose, in order that no one could say the Pensions Ministry or the Government, with any desire to economise, were going to act ungenerously towards these unfortunate men, that the Pensions Ministry itself agreed and helped to set up this tribunal, and hon. Members opposite are not speaking with real thought when they attack those tribunals on the pretence that by attacking them they are serving the interests of the ex-service man and the pensioner.
It is only after the Pensions Ministry, through its officials, has made three examinations of a case that this Appeal Tribunal comes into effect at all. I fancy there is something distinctly deeper in the action of hon. Members opposite in moving this Amendment than appears on the surface. It has been hinted at both by the mover and seconder. What is moving them, I believe, is that they do not like the idea of patronage in pensions being taken out of the hands of members of local authorities and Members of this House. That, of course, is the great danger of any pensions system of any sort, that once it comes within the power of elected persons to exercise patronage in the matter of pensions the whole thing becomes one sink of corruption. I should like the hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Amendment to inquire from friends, if they have any, in the United States what is the state of affairs in regard to the Civil War Pensions there. Under a system of local patronage, such as hon. Members opposite desire, they are able to get pensions for friends, relatives and electors. It is fatal in any democratic country that its people should buy votes at the public expense, and hon. Members opposite have absolutely and openly hinted to-night that that is their intention—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—that they do not wish to see these matters decided by a perfectly unbiassed tribunal, such as the tribunals which have been set up, of which they are complaining, and to which this Vote refers, but they wish to see the question of whether a man shall receive a pension or not settled by elected members of local authorities. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] They have made a gross tactical mistake, and the ex-service man knows that just as well as I do. To put the matter in a familiar phrase, on this occasion they have put up a cock which will not fight.
I shall be very sorry if this Debate has to be carried on entirely from the Labour Benches. Nothing more unfortunate could be conceived than to leave this question of doing justice to the ex-soldier to become a party question. I am not going to be provoked by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson). If that was the spirit of this House I would not speak in it. What I have to say is based on knowledge that has come to me. I can testify that there is the greatest dissatisfaction existing amongst ex-service men with regard to the decisions of the pension tribunals. Abundance of evidence can be brought to prove that statement. The significant fact about most of these cases is that these men are suffering from some physical ailment that cannot be seen, some obscure ailment, such as myalgia, and what is termed d.a.h., disease affecting the heart. A large number of these cases which have come before my notice are cases of men who have been through the War, who have been in the trenches and have contracted rheumatism and some disease of the heart. Those diseases are not manifest; they are inscrutable, and can only be discovered by the strictest medical examination. It is men suffering from these kinds of complaints who have been deprived of their pensions.
Four men came to my house recently. For about two hours the house was almost like a surgery. One man came on crutches. He was an absolute cripple. He took his shoe and stocking off to show mo his foot, which was swollen to twice its natural size. He was getting a 20 per cent, pension amounting to 8s. per week, although he was totally disabled and unable to do any work. He had gone through the Appeal Tribunal, and it was certified that he was only suffering from a 20 per cent, disability.
Another case is that of an ex-sergeant who was right through the War, He had been refused what is called treatment. He had been under treatment for a long time and then it was discontinued. He was totally disabled and he was also put on a 20 per cent, disability pension. Another case was a man who, on enlistment, was taken as physically in good condition. He was sent to France twice. Afterwards he was put through seven or eight hospitals. Ultimately he was discharged with disordered action of the heart. It was stated on his papers, which he sent to me, that this had been aggravated by service. Then after he had gone before a number of doctors and boards it was ultimately decided that the disease was no longer aggravated, and the man, though he has a wife and three children, has now no pension at all-I do not know whether other hon. Members have got cases like these—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] It would be an extraordinary thing if these cases came only to the Labour party. This question has never been made a party question in this House. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) has been reproaching the American Government and nation for their liberality to soldiers who fought in the Civil War. That is a scandalous attitude to take up. The other day, when President Harding was speaking, he said that there were £800,000,000 due from this country, and that when paid it would be given as bonus and pension to the relatives of the soldiers who died in France. That was a noble thing for the President to say.
I am not going to contest the matter with the hon. Member. If his feelings of humanity do not prompt him to befriend ex-service men he is hopeless. There is tremendous dissatisfaction with reference to these tribunals. They are looked upon as mere screens to save the Ministry from criticism. There is a certain degree of anonymity about these tribunals. There is no individual responsibility. It is the tribunal that did it. The tribunal has no name, no identity, and therefore no real responsibility with which it may be taxed. The tribunal is escaping the public criticism that ought to be levelled against these bodies. This Vote shows that after all there is some obligation on this House. We have to find the money. As long as we find the money there should be some measure of justice at any rate meted out to these ex-servicemen. I shall be very sorry if this debate ends without general support from the House. I absolutely disavow any desire to gain party advantage in bringing thin matter forward. I hope that the Government will exercise greater sympathy towards these men, and, if there is any doubt in the case, give it not against the man but for the man. There must be doubt in the case of thousands, because the highest medical skill cannot discern the effect of some of the service that has boon done in France by these men. I shall leave the matter to the House, but shall vote against the Government.
The hon. Member who has last spoken, on the one hand wishes that this should not be made a party question; on the other hand, he first taunts many of us on this side of the House with not wanting to join in the Debate, although many of us were rising in our places to speak before he came in at all, and secondly, he seems to claim on behalf of the Labour party that they are the only party concerned about the ex-service men. A more extravagant claim and one more opposed to justice, surely was never heard.
I am glad I was mistaken. I was only judging from the impression which the words used made upon me. I know hon. Members opposite are as keen on behalf of the ex-service men as we are, but I think they are doing ex-service men a great disservice when they oppose this Vote. What are they doing? This Vote is for the purpose of establishing more Pensions Appeals Tribunals. There were arrears of cases which have only been successfully coped with by the present additional tribunals, but if we stop the extra tribunals, arrears will continue. I cannot therefore understand the action of the Labour party in Committee and at the present stage. I agree with members of the Labour party and with other Members who have spoken that there is a very strong case for the re-hearing of some of the appeals. Cases have already been quoted, and although there is not much time, I will quote half a case. I know a case in which not only did the medical and hospital history of the man not come before the tribunal at all, but the man himself, who, unfortunately, was not very well able to conduct his own case, actually went before the tribunal without a précis of his case, and that through no fault of his own. The tribunal turned down his case and he has no remedy.
The true test surely is this: if new circumstances have arisen since the hearing or if evidence is forthcoming which was not in possession of the tribunal originally, then there is a primâ facie case for re-hearing and somebody should be able to determine whether it is actually a proper case for re-hearing. When you have hard cases arising, it is easy to listen to the stories which are spread about, that economy is being reflected in the treatment of the appeals, or to say with the hon. Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Myers), when your sympathy is aroused, that secondary infirmity ought to rank as pensionable. I submit that hon. Members opposite have put themselves in the position of saying, in effect, that their judgment on the cases brought to their notice is preferable to the judgment of the tribunals. That casts a reflection on the tribunals which I cannot find words strong enough to condemn. If there over was an impartial Court it is a Pensions Appeal Tribunal. I submit you can only make a case for re-hearing where there is fresh evidence. That is the ground on which we can hope for reform, and I trust the Attorney-General will give us some hope that something may be done in this direction.
I am very grateful to the House for the kind reception they have given me, and I will attempt to deal with what is a difficult problem, and one which probably has a warm place in the heart of every Member of this House. There can be no special privilege belonging to any Member or any section, of the House which entitles them to speak more strongly on behalf of the ex-service men than any other section or any other Member. I hope we shall agree upon that in the deliberations that we have got now to consider. May I say at once that I quite accept the spirit in which the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), the hon. Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Myers), and the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. T. Griffiths) pro posed, seconded, and supported this reduction. Perhaps they will allow me to treat their speeches in the sprit in which they were made rather than in the words which they actually used? The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, with a warm heart, forgot the usual good sense, which I am sure is one of his characteristic features, when he spoke of the tribunals as having behaved "outrageously." He will forgive me if I forget that word altogether and make no reply whatever to it. The wisdom of our ancestors over 200 years ago determined that the Judiciary of this country and the decisions of the Courts should be beyond the reach and criticism of Parliament. That is one of the fundamental strengths of our Constitution, one of the great anchors of our liberty, and I cannot help believing, after listening to this Debate to-night, that our ancestors were right. I rather deprecate that spirit which, in one or two speeches, said that we ought to bring these tribunals under the jurisdiction of this House; with what result I know not, except that I suppose we should then criticise the tribunals according to our knowledge of what ought to have been done without any knowledge of the facts, and we should be passing a judgment upon those who had decided what ought to be done with full and complete knowledge of the facts.
May I remind the House, too, of how it was that these tribunals were set up? They were set up because we quite accepted that it was impossible, merely at sight and at call, to give a pension to every man who merely asked for it. We quite accepted the fact that it was necessary to lay down, by Statute and by Warrant, certain limitations and certain conditions, which should be complied with before a man secured a pension, and the admission of the hon. Member for Pontypool, I think it was, who said that probably some had received a pension who had not deserved it—
Then it was the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, but, in any case, I think probably some of us, if not all of us, have had some traces of the fact that an attempt—I will not say more—has been made by some persons to try and receive a pension who had not deserved it. There is in all quarters of the House general agreement upon this, that you must have certain conditions laid down before a pension is granted. The difficulty with which the Ministry is faced is this: they were advised first of all by one medical board, by a second medical board, and then they had a third and final medical board, and the criticism was made against them that all these three tribunals were, to some extent, under their control, or perhaps the happier phrase to-day is to say, under their hypnotism, and that, therefore, the ex-service men did not get a real chance. The House, therefore, in the Statute that they passed, provided that there should be a wholly independent tribunal, and when I say independent, I mean independent of this House as well as of the Ministry, and that tribunal is composed of a medical man, of a legal chairman, and of an ex-service man or an ex-service officer. All the criticisms that are directed against these tribunals are a criticism directed to these three members of the tribunals, one of whom, in all cases when men's pensions are coming up, is always an ex-service man. Let us hesitate before we rush to offer criticisms upon tribunals that are so founded. That was the system which had been set up.
Let me dispose—I hope finally—of one suggestion which has been made in Debate. It is that this spirit of economy, the economy axe, or Sir Eric Geddes Committee, have in some way contributed towards cutting down the pensions, or, shall I say, inspiring the tribunals with a determination to refuse the appeals. Nothing could be more remote from the facts, and the proof of it is the figures which were given by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street. He gave the House four three months' periods. He said that in the first, 71 per cent, of the appeals failed; in the second, 72 per cent.; in the third, 72.2; and in the fourth, 72.4. Those are four three-monthly periods, which take us back, at the very least, to the 1st January, 1921, and, if my recollection serves me, the Geddes Committee was not set up until August last. So that the criticism of the hon. Member would have been just as well founded if he had made his speech on those figures in July last upon the two three-monthly periods then completed. I can say at once that no such improper effort has been made to interfere with the judgment of the tribunals as to try and make their results more economical. What has, and must have happened is that as the cases come to be decided, and with the lapse of time since hostilities ceased, you have got more and more to a number of cases which may be less easily decided either by the Ministry or the Board in favour of the pensioner. You have left behind a residuum of cases which are, perhaps, more complex, more difficult cases, in which you have to see what development time brings with it, and you get a number of persons who wish to try their luck on another appeal. I do not think any unfair criticism, or, perhaps, too unfair criticism, should be made against them. They have been turned down, but they try their luck once more.
Will the House allow me to give a little personal experience as a lawyer? If a man loses his case in the County Court; if he loses it when it goes to the King's Bench Division; and if he loses it in the Court of Appeal, I should hestitate for some time before I advised him that the strength of his case was so great that he was sure of winning it in the House of Lords. On the fourth time, he would have probably very little prospect of winning. What is suggested here is that, on the fourth time of asking, this tribunal ought to decide in favour of those who have already had their eases dealt with by the three previous tribunals. Here let me remark that no hon. Member has been found who would suggest that the Ministry of Pensions have not by their personnel at all times met the hon. Members of this House most sympathetically. So far as we have any means of judging of what the attitude of the Ministry of Pensions is, we may agree that their attitude has been sympathetic. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street has moved a reduction of this Vote. I have ascertained from Mr. Speaker that we are to treat this reduction as a Vote for the abolition of the Pensions Appeal Tribunals. It was decided in Committee that the only way in which discussions such as we have had to-night would be in order, would be a motion for doing away with the whole Pensions Appeal Tribunals. I asked Mr. Speaker's ruling and ascertained that the reduction proposed is a Parliamentary method of voting against the Vote as a whole. The Vote tonight therefore is against continuing the system of Pensions Appeal Tribunals. Shall we have done any service to those whose cases sometimes tear our hearts, because we are very anxious indeed that no injustice should be done to those who fought for us and those who are suffering —shall we have done them a good or a bad., turn by sweeping away those tribunals? The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street says, Look at the last four periods of three months when there were 71 per cent, of the cases turned down, and 72 per cent, and 74 per cent.
I do not want to make the question more difficult, and perhaps the hon. Member will accept the figures of the four periods. What ought to be the figure? Supposing it was 67 per cent.? ought they to succeed in 50 per cent.? ought the Pensions Appeal Tribunal to decide always in favour of ex-service men in no less than 99 per cent, of the cases? What is the standard to be? I want to know what is to be the measure for the justification of criticism. That is the real point. Until we get into our minds something like a clear opinion of what we moan as to when the tribunals are unsatisfactory, let us not rely on figures of this sort, which are easy to put before the House, but are not easy to understand till one knows exactly what they mean. Let us try to find some sort of measure of what should be the figures if what is called justice is to be done. I put that question to the hon. Member? There is no one more fair-minded in the House when you put a question to him. I think he will agree that there ought to be some sound measure or standard before you can say that the Pensions Tribunal have done their duty if they conform to it, and by which you can endeavour to say they have not done their duty if they do not conform to it. On the question of re-hearing I desire to repeat what I said in Committee. Several hon. Members have
pointed out the difficulty in deciding the right cases to be re-heard, or whether all should be re-heard. I said:
The last matter is the question of the re-hearing. That is a matter that we cannot deal with to-day, as I think it would be necessary to consider the matter very carefully, because it would probably be necessary to alter the Statute, but after the expressions of opinion that have been given to-day, no doubt that can be taken into account in the proper quarter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1921; col. 339, Vol. 151.]
My opinion is that the difficulty of the matter has been increased by the fact that you want to hear a certain number of cases and not others. Do not let us suggest that, because the tribunals make use of, or rely upon, Form Z.22, injustice is necessarily done. Form Z.22 is a form that was signed by the ex-soldier himself for the purpose of and in order to get an immediate advantage to himself. No tribunal ought to be open to the criticism that, because it accepts a form signed by an Englishman, that it is not a true statement of the facts of the case. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the circumstances?"] I do not say it is final and conclusive, but that no tribunal ought to be criticised if they take that signed statement Z.22, into account as one of the factors upon which their judgment is based. I hope that no section of the House will do such a disservice to the men as to divide against this Vote, and say that they are going to sweep away these Pensions Tribunals.
|Division No. 44.]||AYES.||[10. 59 p.m.|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Brotherton, Colonel Sir Edward A.||Doyle, N. Grattan|
|Amery, Leopold C. M. S.||Brown, Major D. C.||Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)|
|Armstrong, Henry Bruce||Bruton, Sir James||Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)|
|Atkey, A. R.||Buckley, Lieut. -Colonel A.||Entwistle, Major C. F.|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Evans, Ernest|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Campion, Lieut. -Colonel W. R.||Falcon, Captain Michael|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Carew, Charles Robert S.||Fell, Sir Arthur|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Casey, T. W.||Fildes, Henry|
|Barlow, Sir Montague||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Ox. Univ.)||Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.|
|Barnett, Major Richard W.||Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||FitzRoy, Captain Hon. Edward A.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Clay, Lieut. -Colonel H. H. Spender||Ford, Patrick Johnston|
|Bell, Lieut. -Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Coats, Sir Stuart||Forestier-Walker, L.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Forrest, Walter|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Coote, Colin Reith (Isle of Ely)||Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot|
|Benn, Capt. Sir I. H., Bart. (Gr'nw'h)||Cope, Major William||Fraser, Major Sir Keith|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||Fremantie, Lieut. -Colonel Francis E.|
|Birchall, J. Dearman||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Ganzoni, Sir John|
|Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.||Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln)||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Gilmour, Lieut. -Colonel Sir John|
|Brassey, H. L. C.||Davies, Sir William H. (Bristol, S.)||Goff, Sir R. Park|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Dawson, Sir Philip||Green, Albert (Derby)|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Dewhurst, Lieut-Commander Harry||Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)|
|Greenwood, William (Stockport)||M'Curdy, Rt. Hon. Charles A.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Gregory, Holman||Macquisten, F. A.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Greig, Colonel Sir James William||Manville, Edward||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur|
|Gretton, Colonel John||Mitchell, Sir William Lane||Seely, Major-General Rt. Hon. John|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. Frederick E.||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Gwynne, Rupert S.||Moore, Major-General Sir Newton J.||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on. T.)|
|Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Hall, Lieut. -Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Morris, Richard||Stephenson, Lieut. -Colonel H. K.|
|Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)||Murray, Hon. Gideon (St. Rollox)||Stewart, Gershom|
|Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Murray, John (Leeds, West)||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Haslam, Lewis||Murray, William (Dumtries)||Sugden, W. H.|
|Henderson, Lt. -Col- V. L. (Tradeston)||Neal, Arthur||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Thomas, Sir Robert J. (Wrexham)|
|Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Newson, Sir Percy Wilson||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Hilder, Lieut. -Colonel Frank||Nicholson, Brig. -Gen. J. (Westminster)||Thomson, Sir W Mitchell- (Maryhill)|
|Hinds, John||Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Townshend, Sir Charles Vere Ferrers|
|Hood, Sir Joseph||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Waring, Major Walter|
|Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Parker, James||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Hotchkin, Captain Stafford Vere||Parry, Lieut. -Colonel Thomas Henry||Wheler, Col. Granville C. H.|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||White, Col. G. D. (Southport)|
|James, Lieut. -Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Perkins, Walter Frank||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Jodrell, Neville Paul||Philipps, Sir Owen C. (Chester, City)||Williams, C. (Tavistock)|
|Johnson, Sir Stanley||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Williams, Lt. -Col. Sir R. (Banbury)|
|Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray||Windsor, Viscount|
|Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George||Prescott, Major Sir W. H.||Wise, Frederick|
|King, Captain Henry Douglas||Purchase, H. G.||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale)||Ramsden, G. T.||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Lloyd, George Butler||Raper, A. Baldwin||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Lloyd-Greame, Sir P.||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n)||Remer, J. R.||Young, Sir Frederick W. (Swindon)|
|Lort-Williams, J.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Lyle, C. E. Leonard||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Lyle-Samuel, Alexander||Royds, Lieut. -Colonel Edmund||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr. Dudley Ward.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Graham, R. (Nelson and Colne)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Roberts, Frederick O. (W. Bromwich)|
|Barnes, Major H (Newcastle, E.)||Grundy, T. W.||Rose, Frank H.|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Hall, F. (York, W. R. Normanton)||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hancock, John George||Shaw, Thomas (Preston)|
|Bromfield, William||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Widnes)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Brown, James (Ayr and Bute)||Hirst, G. H.||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)|
|Cairns, John||Jephcott, A. R.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Cape, Thomas||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Sutton, John Edward|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Swan, J. E.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Kenworthy, Lieut. -Commander J. M||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Davies, A. (Lancaster, Clitheroe)||Kenyon, Barnet||Watts-Morgan, Lieut. -Col. D.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lunn, William||Wignall, James|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Wilson, James (Dudley)|
|Finney, Samuel||Myers, Thomas||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Naylor, Thomas Ellis|
|Gillis, William||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Glanville, Harold James||Poison, Sir Thomas A.||Mr. Lawson and Mr. John Guest.|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Rattan, Peter Wilson|
Second and Third Resolutions agreed to.