Pensions Administration.

Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. – in the House of Commons on 2nd August 1922.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Charles White Mr Charles White , Derbyshire Western

At. 8.15 p.m. I was saying that on the whole, if one could get to the Minister of Pensions, one could always obtain personal sympathetic consideration from him. I greatly fear that the Minister is not acquainted with all that goes on and—I say it with all respect—that he is not master in his own house. He gives full power to heads of Departments and regional directors to place their own construction upon Regulations. They appear to be responsible to no one. If that is so, they have a great deal to answer for, because many things happen which will not stand the light of day. They also place such a construction on the Regulations that they are seldom exercised in favour of the pension. I will give an instance of what is happening in a pension office with which I am somewhat acquainted. It is provided' in the Royal Warrant of 1919 that a surviving parent can claim a transfer of a pension which they enjoyed before the man or woman died. The Regulation passed by this House, to which we have been referred, provided that a dependency or family pension could not be awarded unless application was made before 1st April, 1922. The other day I took the liberty of reading here a pension instruction which had been sent to one of the pension officers in a constituency in the North Midlands. The Minister of Pensions said he would like to see it, as he was not quite conversant with what had been done. I am going to read what has been said by the regional director, and I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman on what amended Warrant this Warrant of 1919 has been altered. This is what was said: I am informed that it is now been decided that upon the death of a parent in receipt of a pension under Article 21 of the Royal Warrant, payment of such pension cannot now be transferred to a surviving parent. Further, it is understood that an amendment to the handbook will shortly he issued. I suppose that I ought not to have secured possession of that document, but I got it, and I got it in a confidential way. I received an answer the other day from the Ministry that the surviving parents would have a pension granted to them if they could show that they were in need. It has been held by a regional director that the claim by a surviving parent shall be treated as though it were a new application, and it is, therefore, barred under the Amendment, which says that claims for needs and dependency pensions must be made before the let April. Consequently, the claim has not been heard, and it has been ruled out by, the regional director. Why is it not within the province of the Minister of Pensions to see that this thing is not possible to be done?

We have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary to-night that 99 per cent. of those temporarily employed under the pensions administration are ex-service men. That is put forward as a reason why justice is always done. Ninety-nine per cent. of the subordinates in the Pensions Ministry would say that the pensioners are suffering great injustice. If they were asked officially they would not dare to say that the pensioners are suffering injustice, and it is only because some of us, knowing many thousands of ex-service men and pensioners, both men and women, are able to get into touch with some of these people, without undermining their authority or interfering in their business, that we get to know their real opinions. Some time ago I took up the question of medical boards, and the assessors sending back to them asking them to alter decisions at which they had already arrived. Strangely enough, since that question was asked by me in this House this practice has been discontinued in the district where it was always done before. On the Floor of this House one would think that no injustice occurred.

I have heard what has been said about "removal from duty," and the explanation given. I can give an instance which came to my knowledge, and which is now before the Ministry of Pensions, and has been for weeks, although I have had no answer. A man was discharged from hospital, cured, passed A 1 by the medical board, and sent back to general service. The man thought he was well, and he married the day idler coming out of hospital, the medical board having said, "You are quite fit for general service." A few months after marriage he became ill, whether from the same disability or not does not appear to me to enter into the question. If it does enter into the question, then it is clear that the man was not cured of his disability, although he was passed A 1 when he came out of hospital, and therefore was justified in getting married. The man was discharged from military service later, and he was granted a pension arid his wife had a pension. Two years afterwards the pension of the wife was stopped. They had a child, and the pension for the child was stopped, and the man is left with his individual pension.

A good deal has been said in the last few days about the needs pension being increased from 18s. to 20s. How many parents and others are there who are getting the full needs pension of 20s.? You will find a very small percentage. I will give a case of a lady in a village of my constituency who, up to last month, was receiving a pension of 18s. a week in consequence of her son having been killed in France. Had the son been living he would have been getting £300 a year, and the mother being a widow, he would have been the sole support of the home. She has an invalid son grown up. Her income is only 10s. a week except her pension of 18s. Only a fortnight ago this woman's pension was reduced from 18s. to 10s. a week, with a 2s. bonus to which she is entitled. One would think, when one hears what is said by the Minister of Pensions and the Parliamentary Secretary, that it is impossible for these things to happen. This is not a solitary case. All the Members of this side of the House know of such cases. We on this side of the House may be much better acquainted with these cases than hon. Members on the other side, because we live amongst the people, the majority of whom live in cottage homes. What will happen in this case? This respectable old lady, who had been expecting that her son would come home and maintain her, will have to apply to the guardians for relief. She is the widow of the schoolmaster of the village in which she lives. I am not asking that she should bare preferential treatment because of that, but when I hear that, nobody is suffering, I say that they are suffering greatly in many respects.

Now about the assessment of disability. No regard whatever appears to be had as to what the man was engaged in before he joined the Army. A man might be a watchmaker. I know one man who lives close to me, a shoemaker, whose pension is now being stopped on the ground that his disability has passed away. He has a stiff shoulder, and he has to turn the hoot round to stitch it with one hand because he cannot use the other. Surely some regard should be paid to what a man did before he entered the Army, and as to the percentage of disability which does not allow him to follow the trade which he followed previous to joining the Army. Very much has been said about the consideration given to tuberculous cases. I brought forward a case a few days ago, and I was fairly treated by the Ministry, because they are going to allow a further examination. Here was a man who for 4½, years has been treated for tuberculosis, and has a full pension granted to him. The specialists of the Pensions Ministry found that during that time he was suffering from tuberculosis, but a new man comes along with a new broom, and he says, "You are not suffering from tuberculosis, and you never have been." I was able to produce certificates from the Ministry's own specialist, to whom they had sent him, to show that during 4½ years he had been suffering from that complaint. These are cases that one does not hear a great deal about in this House except when they are brought forward by some of us who live amongst these people.

With regard to attributability, aggravated in many eases by military service, it is found that the aggravation has passed away. Who is best able to judge? The doctor who examines the man when he leaves military service, and who attributes the disability to military service, or the doctor who examines him 4½ years afterwards? I can quote many cases. A long time ago I quoted a case of a man who was sent into a military hospital suffering from gas poisoning directly attributable to military service. That was stated on the certificate. Then the medical board said that he was suffering from nephritis, 100 per cent.—surely that is the sequel to gas poisoning if I know anything about it, and I have inquired from doctors—and that it was not attributable to nor aggravated by military service. The man died in agony of mind as well as body, fearing that his wife and children would get no pension when he was dead. The pension was refused by the Ministry, and justice was only done because she had a friend in the House of Commons who fought her case here.

Any applicant who can get through the instructions given to the investigation officers, in addition to the forms which he himself has to fill up, is a very lucky individual. I have never seen such an inquisitorial examination. I have had cases in which local pensions committees and investigators have proposed the reduction and, in some cases, the abolition of a pension, and the Minister himself, in cases which I can mention if I am challenged, has reversed the decision of these local committees such as exist at present—because there are very few of them—and of the investigation officers, because somebody in the House of Commons has been able to bring the full circumstances of the case before him. Otherwise, the decision would not have been interfered with. Consciously or unconsciously, there is no doubt that some of those responsible for the administration of pensions are not on the side of the pensioner.

As to the Pensions Appeal Tribunals, I agree that there must be finality somewhere. Many cases are lost through the inability of the pensioners or ex-service men to employ counsel to put their case before the tribunal. It is all very well to say that the tribunal always sees that justice is done. I know that in eases in the Law Courts I have suffered because I have had expensive counsel against me, and before the tribunals a case is often prejudiced because it is not put fully and fairly, as it would be if counsel were employed. I submit that the pensioner should have such expense allowed him or her as would enable him or her to be represented by counsel at the appeal. This is logical, inasmuch as so much solicitude is expressed for the pensioner when he goes before the tribunal. Surely it is not asking so much, in view of that phase, that expenses should be allowed so that the applicant may be represented by counsel.

I would further suggest that power should not be given to officials to interpret and to act on their own initiative, as they do at present and as they have done in that particular case which I have mentioned here which came to my notice not long ago; that assessors should not use their influence with medical boards as they were doing not long ago but which has since ceased; that medical boards, having once arrived at a decision as to percentage of disability, that decision should be accepted without any attempt to curtail it; and that the seven years' limit should be abolished altogether. That is one of the most unjust provisions. I understand that it is going to be altered. There should be no time limit whatever, and the fact that the man's death was attributable to or aggravated by military service should be sufficient. I know that these suggestions are received with derision by an idealist opposite, who knows nothing about the practical part of the matter, but the men who fought our battles and the women who are left behind should have justice done to them. The pensioners may be safeguarded in theory, but to my knowledge—and I live largely among them—this is not corking out in practice, and injustice is being perpetrated in the administration of our pensions.

Photo of Sir Ernest Pollock Sir Ernest Pollock , Warwick and Leamington

I rise for a limited purpose—to answer some questions that have been put by the right hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson). It does not lie within my province to answer any of the questions put by the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. C. White), but I will say this in answer to him, not speaking at all as a Member of the Government but merely as a Member of this House, that I cannot accept his claim to have in any way either greater sympathy with, or a greater right to represent these men, than any other Member of this House.

Photo of Sir Ernest Pollock Sir Ernest Pollock , Warwick and Leamington

In my view there can be no claim on the part of any Member to be before or after any other in his sympathy for the ex-service man, and in his desire to see justice done, nor do I believe that any Member is entitled to say that he has got any greater experience or greater knowledge. We have all investigated personally a great number of these cases. We receive just as many communications as any Member of this House, and I think that for one Member to arrogate to himself the claim to speak with peculiar knowledge, peculiar experience and deeper sympathy than other Members is a claim which cannot be allowed and which ought to be protested against by every Member. Now I turn to the interesting speech of the right hon. Member for West Fife, which was addressed to me in forceful language, some might almost mistake it for menacing language, but I know him too well and he knows me too cell to think that. I could possibly misunderstand either the tone or the purpose with which his request was put to me, and he knows that the subject on which he touched is one which has had my sympathetic consideration for a very considerable period, and I have spent a great deal of time not only with him, but also with the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. T. Griffiths) to see whether or not we could come to a solution of what every Member must regard as a very difficult problem.

There was one observation by the hon. Member for West Derbyshire with which I am in close agreement. He said that there must be finality somewhere. Taking the system of pensions award, first of all there is an arrangement under the Ministry of Pensions itself for an appeal to another Board associated with the Ministry of Pensions. After that there is a third appeal before the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. The result in every case is that before finality is reached, whether the ex-service man is successful or not, he has the opportunity of laying his case before three several and successive tribunals. Lastly I would remind the House that these Pension Appeal Tribunals were set up to meet the desire of the ex-service man. I will also remind the House that those tribunals consist of three persons, one of whom is a lawyer, one a medical man and the third is an ex-service man if it is the claim of an ex-service man which is brought before them. The ex-service man is directly represented upon the tribunal. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]

Mr. J. JONES:

Who selects him?

Photo of Sir Ernest Pollock Sir Ernest Pollock , Warwick and Leamington

It is laid down by this House that where the claim is by an officer, one member shall be an officer, and where the claim to be heard is that of a man, one member shall be a man who is drawn from the ex-service class.

HON. MEMBERS:

Who nominates him?

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

Do the ex-service men's clubs nominate him, or is he selected by the Government?

Photo of Sir Ernest Pollock Sir Ernest Pollock , Warwick and Leamington

Are we to draw distinctions between ex-service men? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] Let us understand. Is it contended that some ex-service men are totally incompetent to hear the claims of ex-service men? Are we to differentiate in that way? Who is to make that differentiation? I think that hon. Members should pause a very long time before they make so gross an insinuation.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

That is a legal quibble.

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

I must ask hon. Members not to interrupt.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not in a Law Court now; he is in the House of Commons.

Photo of Sir Ernest Pollock Sir Ernest Pollock , Warwick and Leamington

I am appreciating that fact; I am not at all unconscious of it. That is the tribunal which has been set up. The right hon. Member for West Fife says, "Cannot we give a still further appeal to another tribunal?" That is to postpone finality until another tribunal has heard the cases. His suggestion is that there should be a National Appeal Board, to which all the cases which have been turned down should go, and he makes the very fair point that in that way we could follow the ordinary practice of appeals from a County Court to a Divisional Court, and then to the Court of Appeal and to the House of Lords. But he overlooked the fact that, under our system, there is no right to proceed by that sequence of Courts. There is no appeal from a County Court on a question of fact; there is an appeal only on a question of law. You cannot appeal from a Divisional Court except by leave of the Court itself. The result is that it is not every case which proceeds by this chain of Courts.

Suppose that the Pension Appeal Tribunal were entrusted with the duty of giving leave to appeal to the Court which is described as a National Appeal Board. I do not think that that would be quite adequate to fulfil the purpose which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. At any rate, it indicates that if a case should go further there would have to be some sort of sorting-out of cases which are to go to this final Appeal Board. Let us see what the problem is. About 90,000 cases have been decided by the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. It is quite clear that it would be impossible to go over the whole of those cases again. Nor do I think it would be desirable. Next, let us see what we mean by justice. The claim has been so constantly made for what is called justice. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that in every case where a claim is made there ought to be and must be eventually an award made in favour of the ex-service man? If that is what he means by justice, it is an inappropriate term to use. We, therefore, come back to that on which, I suppose, we are all agreed. First of all, in order to establish a claim, it is right that the claim should be based on the fact that some injury has been suffered in the course of or arising out of the War. I use a loose expression to order to convey my meaning. The actual words are, "attributable to or aggravated by." I do not suppose that any hon. Member would suggest that, unless it was established as a matter of fact that the disability was attributable to or aggravated by the War, a pension was due. It must be in consequence of the injury suffered in or arising from the War that we award a pension.

10.0 P.M.

We start from that basis. That must be a question of fact. It must be decided, after the evidence has been brought to bear, after the opinions of doctors, and after the story told by the man himself. We have, first of all, to get some tribunal which will investigate the facts quite fairly and decide whether or not the injuries suffered are attributable to or aggravated by the War. No doubt difficult questions arise. We all know that in matters which depend upon examination by medical men you can get divergent opinions from them. It would be quite possible to walk up and down Harley Street and to collect an almost equal number of opinions on either side.

Photo of Mr Alfred Waterson Mr Alfred Waterson , Kettering

And in the legal profession.

Photo of Sir Ernest Pollock Sir Ernest Pollock , Warwick and Leamington

I am very glad to associate my profession with the medical profession, because the problems that have to be solved, whether in law or medicine, are both complex and difficult. That decision has to be taken. It is said that after two further appeals—the original Board, the second Board, and the Pensions Appeal Tribunal—you must have a still further Board in order to get finality. Do not let any hon. Member suppose that you can form any criticism upon the work of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal by merely taking the numerical results of the decisions. As time goes on, and as the appeals get higher, it is quite likely that the number of unsuccessful cases will be larger. If any person will take the trouble to scrutinise the results of decisions in the Court of Appeal and in the House of Lords, he will find that the number of appeals dismissed increases as you go higher. Therefore, if you mean by justice that you are to go on until you get to a Court at which the result must be favourable to the ex-service man, you, are probably failing to observe that in the limited number of cases which would go up and up, the probability is that if the original Court, the second Court, and the third Court have already agreed, you will find the greatest difficulty in persuading another Court to upset their decision.

The real point is this. I am going to assume that there are some cases—I think a very limited number—in which, either by the absence of some evidence or possibly by a mistake, an unfortunate decision has been reached. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is a growing number. He and his friends and I have discussed the matter, and we agreed that the number of these cases is not at all large. Let us appreciate what the problem is. You cannot go over the whole number of cases again. You must entrust some body either the Pensions Appeal Tribunal or another tribunal with the duty of giving a decision as to whether there should be any anther appeal or re-hearing. The only ground on which you could allow a rehearing would be on the fact that some evidence had turned up which was not available before or by showing in view of some after-result, or the like, that the original decision in the light of further events had proved unsatisfactory. I confess, looking at the matter and scrutinising it, I am quite satisfied that the number of cases which would satisfy that test would be very small. Even supposing some system of that kind were set up, would it really satisfy the demand of the right hon. Gentleman! My own view, after a careful consideration, is that it would not. His demand is a very much wider demand. I think he has in mind the hope that ultimately everybody will be successful and he would be disappointed if at the end, when he had got a National Appeal Tribunal, any man failed to get an award. That is really what he has at heart, and I cannot hold out any hope that with any appeal tribunal, however high you get, that would be the result.

Therefore we are back to this proposition. Would it he possible to set up a tribunal and give a right of appeal in a very limited number of cases, and to have some almost despotic authority to decide that there should or should not be a further hearing of any particular case? Would that meet what the right hon. Gentleman calls "the growing sense of injustice"? I do not think it would. I do not think you can draw any line between that and the rehearing of all cases in which the applicant would like to make a demand for a rehearing. I have given most careful consideration to this matter, as the right hon. Gentleman knows quite well. I have had consultations with various hon. Members, in order to see if we could arrive at some possible solution of this problem. I have laid down what I believe would be the necessary limits you would have to impose, and I do not believe that any Court subject to those necessary limitations would satisfy what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. If it would, then the matter would have to be dealt with in a further Act of Parliament. There are no powers at the present time under which such a system could be set up. It would have to be by fresh legislation, and if fresh legislation could be adopted and agreed upon generally in the House, subject to those conditions and safeguards which would have to be inserted and it may be to some others, which I have not taken time at the moment to lay down, I would certainly be glad to consider the matter in that light. But I venture to point out how difficult and complex the problem is, and how very serious it would he to raise hopes doomed to disappointment, by suggesting that everybody who failed to get an award in the first instance, would ultimately he given an award.

Although you might set right some of the cases, the existence of which I am going to assume without any further scrutiny, cases which would satisfy the test I have mentioned; I very much doubt, having regard to the fact that we must have finality somewhere, that it would be possible to reach finality and get rid of the sense of injustice by any scheme such as the right hon. Gentleman has indicated. Finally, may I point out that if a scheme be possible, which within those limits could do good I am quite ready to consider it, as I have endeavoured to consider all these proposals. I am merely telling the right hon. Gentleman across the Floor of the House what I have told him in our conversations previously. I very glad to have the opportunity to discuss with him publicly what we have discussed so often in private. I cannot go further than that. These are limits which I think must be imposed, and all I would say is that the right hon. Gentleman will not., I know, claim that his sympathies are any greater than mine, or that I am not prepared to offer every possible consideration to these cases. Knowing quite well how fairly he will receive the observations I have made, and how fairly he has been prepared to work with me to find a solution of this question, I am grateful to him for raising the point and I am glad to have had the opportunity of expressing to him here what I have previously expressed to him in private.