Armed Forces and Civilians (Pensions and Grants)

Oral Answers to Questions — Public Health – in the House of Commons on 15th October 1942.

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Photo of Dr Leslie Haden-Guest Dr Leslie Haden-Guest , Islington North

asked the Minister of Pensions whether he is now in a position to appoint pensions appeal tribunals, in view of the fact that medical men of suitable training and experience are now available?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

A few doctors well qualified for pension work have recently become available and have been engaged by my Department to meet its increasing requirements and to replace younger men released for service with the Forces, but the evidence shows that the general position is becoming more rather than less difficult. Therefore, I can only repeat my undertaking to set up Pensions Appeal Tribunals as soon as practicable.

Dr. Guest:

Does not the right hon. Gentleman know that considerable numbers of medical men who have been serving in the Armed Forces become available at regular intervals when seniority or the fact that they had held certain rank for a period of four years necessitates their retirement; that they are men of long service, administrative experience and high medical standing and that at the present time these gentlemen are very often not able to find suitable work and could be placed as members of pensions appeal tribunals with very great advantage to themselves and to the country?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

My Director of Medical Services is in constant touch with the Director of the Medical Services of the Armed Forces. Doctors who have been discharged from these Forces have been sent along to my Department, they have been interviewed, and, as I said in my answer to the Question, they have been employed. W can do with more of them. I can assure my hon. Friend that we keep in the closest touch with all the Service medical departments, and we take into our employment all who are available and are suitable.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

Is the Minister aware that quite a number of the Members of this House are wholly dissatisfied with the position, and is he prepared to submit the evidence to which he referred to a committee of Members or to his Advisory Committee?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

Certainly, I am just as dissatisfied as the hon. and gallant Member, but you cannot make bricks without straw, and until I get the right men I cannot do anything.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

That is precisely what the right hon. Gentleman can do.

Dr. Guest:

I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment in view of the very unsatisfactory reply of the Minister.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Walkden Mr Evelyn Walkden , Doncaster

asked the Minister of Pensions by what amounts the weekly sums paid as War Service Grants to Service men's wives who are also in receipt of children's allowances are to be adjusted and reduced when the new rates of pay and allowances become operative; and can he state the reasons for this decision?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

The purpose of a War Service Grant is either to provide a certain minimum standard of living for the families of serving men or to assist men who, by reason of their service, are unable to meet commitments in excess of that minimum. The new rates of pay of men serving in the Armed Forces will not affect the amount of any War Service Grant of which their wives are in receipt. The increased children's allowances will, however, form part of the family's income and will either reduce the amount by which that income is below the minimum standard of 16s. per unit, after reasonable commitments have been met, or narrow the gap between the family's position prior to and during service. Thus in either case the increase alters the basis for the calculation of a War Service Grant and this alteration cannot be ignored. As existing grants are reviewed this factor must be taken into account along with other factors which affect the family income. As various factors come into the calculation of a War Service Grant it is: not possible to say by what amount any particular grant will be affected. Some will be reduced, some may remain unchanged, whilst there will be cases where the increase due to other factors may be greater than the reduction due to the increased allowances.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Walkden Mr Evelyn Walkden , Doncaster

While I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reply, is he aware that when the statement was made by the Lord Privy Seal in this House some weeks ago that children's allowances were to be increased, Service men's wives believed that that would be the fact, and that they now feel that they have been cheated, and his departmental arithmetic will not explain away why these grants are not to be added to the wives' income?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

There is no question of anybody being cheated at all. The statement was made quite clearly in this House at the time of the announcement of the increase, that in calculating the family income all the income must be taken into account, and I am going to deal with these cases when they come up for review. I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall take a very broad and generous view in this matter, but you cannot possibly separate the (increased allowance for a child from the family income.

Photo of Mr John Wilmot Mr John Wilmot , Lambeth Kennington

Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate how unsatisfactory it is that an increase in Service men's pay and allowances should not result in any increase in the family income?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

That shows that my hon. Friend has not listened to my answer. Increasing the pay of the men has no effect whatever. The only thing we have to take into account is the family income, and these grants were instituted to make up deficiencies. We shall continue to make up the deficiencies, but it would be unfair to others if we did not take into account the total family income.

Photo of Mr Wilfrid Burke Mr Wilfrid Burke , Burnley

Would it be possible for the Minister to put the matter right by raising the minimum allowance from 16s. to 17s., so that these cases, which are the poorest cases, would be better off and everybody would feel satisfied?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

My hon. Friend has made a suggestion which is worth considering, and I will certainly go into that, because it does not affect the general situation and rule in this matter.

Photo of Sir Charles Taylor Sir Charles Taylor , Eastbourne

How much of the £43,000,000 is going to be saved by this arithmetical gymnastics?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

It is not a question of how much of the £43,000,000 is going to be saved but a question of making up deficiencies.

Photo of Mr Evelyn Walkden Mr Evelyn Walkden , Doncaster

I feel that I must raise the whole question on the Adjournment, in view of the unsatisfactory answer.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

asked the Minister of Pensions whether he is aware that a widow, Mrs. Alice Sheridan, 40, Dunmore Street, Glasgow, has been refused a War Service Grant on the ground that her son, James Sheridan, joined the Royal Air Force before the outbreak of war; that this woman's total income is £1 per week; and whether he will reconsider this case?

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

A War Service Grant could be issued only if it were shown that the serving man could not meet his pre-war obligations as a result of his war service, but this man has been serving on a regular engagement since 1938, and his war service has not lessened his ability to help his mother as compared with his position in 1939.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Can the hon. Gentleman say why a man who joined the Air Force before the war should be treated differently from a man who has joined since the war: and does he think it is a defensible position that this man's mother should be dependent upon drawing Poor Law relief, whereas if he had joined the, Air Force since the war she would have been eligible for grant?

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

No, not necessarily. The qualification is whether his ability to help his mother has been lessened by virtue of the fact of his war service, and in this case it has not, and that is the main condition that decides.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Government at the time that this man joined the Air Force were appealing for recruits and that he left his apprenticeship and joined, but that if he had continued his apprenticeship and joined later, the mother would have got a grant and have been freed from the taint of Poor Law relief? Is it not an indefensible twist that the Minister has made? Can he defend the position of placing a mother and sole dependant of a man who has joined before his time in a worse position than if he had joined since?

Photo of Mr Wilfred Paling Mr Wilfred Paling , Wentworth

I can assure the hon. Member that I. am not twisting. I have dealt with this case fully and sympathetically. I can only deal with it according to the powers we possess, and according to these powers it is impossible to make a grant.

Photo of Mr Herbert Williams Mr Herbert Williams , Croydon South

Is it because conscripts are treated better than volunteers throughout the Services?

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Because of the unsatisfactory reply I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment, not only concerning this case but generally the question of men who joined the Air Force voluntarily before the war being treated worse than if they had joined since the war.