Oral Answers to Questions — Armed Forces and Civilians (Pensions and Grants)

– in the House of Commons on 16th March 1944.

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Mr. J. J. Davidson:

asked the Minister of Pensions the total number of pension applications refused by his Department during the past 12 months on the grounds that the person killed was not previously contributing to the upkeep of the household.

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to applications by the parents or other relatives of deceased members of the Armed Forces. I regret that the information asked for is not available and could not be obtained without a disproportionate expenditure of time and labour. I would, however, point out that, while in the case of other relatives previous dependence on the member is a condition of an award, pension is awarded to parents if they are in need and there is a reasonable prospect that the member would, had he survived, have contributed to their support.

Mr. Davidson:

May I ask the Minister if he is aware that the term "contributing to the upkeep of the household" is a very elastic term, and, in view of the fact that casualties will increase as the war intensifies, will he review the whole question, as many of these young boys were apprentices, on very low wages, to whom the parents were, however, looking for some increased remuneration in the future?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I can assure the hon. Member that we will take into account what the boy would have been earning if he had survived.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

Is it not possible for the Minister to reconsider this whole problem? Is he aware that, in the last war, parents received a pension as a solace for the taking of their sons; and is he also aware that there are mothers to-day receiving these pensions in respect of sons lost in the last war?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I am well aware that the rule in the last war was this—that, if a Serviceman was under 26 years of age and had no other dependants of any kind, then a pension of 5s. per week could be awarded to the parents. I am well aware that some people are drawing it to-day and also are including it in their Income Tax returns.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Does the Minister not agree, after all the experience he has had, that this is one of the questions on which the practice of the last war was preferable and very much fairer than the practice of this one?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

No, Sir, I am not aware of that. Our present practice is by far the best, and it was adopted in accordance with a recommendation made by a Committee of this House, which went into this matter at great length, and I think it is far better to give most where most is needed than to hand out 5s. a week to a very limited class who do not need it.

Photo of Mr Frank Collindridge Mr Frank Collindridge , Barnsley

Does "pecuniary need" disallow an assumed improvement in the standard in the home, where a young boy or girl gets into the earning capacity range of an adult?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I take into account all these points.

Photo of Mr Thomas Brown Mr Thomas Brown , Ince

asked the Minister of Pensions the number of applications for pensions he has received from the parents of single men and women who have lost their lives in the war since 3rd September, 1939, to 31st December, 1943, stating each sex separately; the number of applications refused on the grounds that they failed to satisfy his Department that they were in pecuniary need; and the number and the amounts of pensions granted.

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

Approximately 47,000 parents' applications in respect of men, and 900 in respect of women, members were decided during the period in question. Pensions ranging from 5s. a week to £120 a year were awarded in over 19,000 cases of men and in some 350 cases of women members. In some 23,000 cases of men and 250 cases of women entitlement was accepted but the requirement of pecuniary need was hot satisfied. In these cases, the applicants have been informed that they may renew their applications in the event of a change in their financial circumstances, but in the great majority the father is at present in full employment and earning normal wages.

Photo of Mr Thomas Brown Mr Thomas Brown , Ince

Will the Minister be good enough to define what his Department means by "pecuniary need"?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

It is a very broad definition, as recommended by the Committee which I mentioned earlier. We take into account the question of whether the head of the household is in full employment and earning normal wages. We take all this into account and deal with it very generously.

Photo of Mr Thomas Brown Mr Thomas Brown , Ince

Is the Minister aware that some parents are already selling their furniture to maintain their existence?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

No, Sir, and if the hon. Member will bring cases of that kind to my notice I will inquire into them at once.

Photo of Mr John Dugdale Mr John Dugdale , West Bromwich

Is the Minister aware that I have received numerous complaints about the insulting nature of the reply he gave me on this subject last week—insulting, not to me, but to the parents of men killed in action—and will he withdraw that answer?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

No, Sir, I do not regard that as insulting at all; it was a statement of fact.

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

asked the Minister of Pensions if he will indicate the inquiries made and the examination applied by way of means test, to arrive at a decision whether a pension be awarded to the parent or parents of a deceased Service man; and on what basis of income or earnings it is made.

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I would refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the full reply I gave to a similar question by the hon. Member for Deritend (Sir Smedley Crooke) on 28th October last; of which I am sending him a copy.

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

In view of the great dissatisfaction that exists against this manifest bad working, would my right hon. Friend consider taking powers to deal with these cases and give the parents of all Service men a flat-rate pension automatically?

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

If my hon. and gallant Friend will read the very long reply which was given to the hon. Member for Deritend he will see that his point is fully met.

Photo of Sir Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

asked the Minister of Pensions what complaints he has received from the British Legion about the refusal of pensions to men who have had amputations during or as a result of the war; that some applications submitted in July last have not yet been decided; how many general re-applications for pensions have been made; how many granted and how many are still undecided; and will he taken steps to hasten his procedure.

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I have not received any general representations from the British Legion of the nature referred to. If the hon. Member has any individual cases in mind and will give me particulars I will look into them. With regard to the second part of the Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave to the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) on 24th February last. So far as the last part of the question is concerned, I can assure my hon. Friend that everything possible is done to obviate any avoidable delay in the settlement of these cases.

Mr. E. P. Smith:

asked the Minister of Pensions whether he will consider instituting a fund from which pensions can be paid in cases of proven necessity to the dependants of members of the Armed Forces killed while on active service through their own negligence or misconduct.

Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

I do not feel justified in adopting my hon. Friend's suggestion. As he is no doubt aware I have power, in those cases where payment at the full rate would not be justified, to make a modified award. It is only in exceptional cases that I am constrained totally to withhold the grant of a pension.

Mr. Smith:

In view of the limitations imposed by question and answer, I beg to give notice that I shall take the earliest opportunity to raise this matter on the Adjournment.