May I say that we are all very grateful for the increases in the basic rates of war pension? On the question of the age allowance, as the principle has been accepted that the disabilities bring burdens with increasing age, is there not a very strong case for making the payment of this allowance to all those disabled in the First World War, who have, after all, suffered from their disabilities for more than 40 years?
I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman knows that the average age of those disabled in the First World War is now about 68, and a very substantial proportion of them are therefore entitled to this allowance, if their assessment is high enough. In any event, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's proposal to pay the age allowance simply to men of the First World War regardless of age, thus cutting out men of the Second World War of the same age, really would be fair.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at a meeting of hon. Members of both sides of the House the B.L.E.S.M.A. executive recently expressed its tremendous appreciation of what the Minister has done for the disabled ex-Service men in his new proposals? However, the next Question on the Order Paper and at least two others concern grievances which hon. Members on both sides wish to press on the Minister. Will he use his influence with the Leader of the House to ensure that we have an opportunity to debate the problem of disabled ex-Service men?
I considered this proposal, which had been put to me by outside bodies, before coming to a conclusion on the proposals which I announced to the House on 2nd November. I am bound to say that, for the reasons I have frequently given at this Box and outside, I should not have thought that this particular claim had such strength as to entitle it to priority over the many other directions in which money can very usefully be expended on war pensions.
I understand that the hon. Member has in mind cases of assessments of 40 per cent. or above arising from the 1914–18 war. On this assumption, the answer is £750,000.
Is there not a considerable amount of evidence that, because of ignorance and the complexity of the Regulations, and so on, a great many pensioners are not getting the pension to which they are rightly entitled? While the Ministry does a good deal to bring the rules and regulations to the attention of pensioners, is there not a case for saying that the only satisfactory way of making sure that pensioners get that to which they are entitled is to arrange a regular medical examination, say, once every two or three years?
I fully share the hon. Gentleman's objective of securing that every war pensioner gets that to which he is entitled, but I do not think that this proposal is a very good one, partly because I am quite certain that to order medical examinations in respect of men, many of whom have had a final award pension for about 40 years, would cause both resentment and unhappiness, and partly because I am sure that in other cases it might well raise false hopes. The proposal was made to me some time ago, but, for the reasons which I have tried to summarise, I do not think that it is a good idea.
Will the right hon. Gentleman look at the problem behind this Question? Is he aware that voluntary organisations, like B.L.E.S.M.A., have discovered numbers of cases in which ex-Service men are not getting the dues to which they are entitled and that only voluntary efforts have brought them to the notice of the Minister?
I am grateful for the co-operation of the voluntary bodies which, together with my own welfare officers, seek to bring forward any case in which they think the award can be improved. In dealing with those cases, we seek to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, I am extremely doubtful, for the reasons which I gave in my earlier answer, whether this proposal for universal boarding would be a wise one.