§ Mr. HOGGE,
I beg to move, at the end of the Address, to add the words,But humbly regrets that in view of the increasing dissatisfaction with the provisions for, and the administration of pensions to sailors and soldiers disabled on war service, and to the widows of men deceased, also with the provision for the treatment, training, and employment of disabled men, no mention is made in the Gracious Speech of any action to be taken to effect improvement in the scales of pensions now current, to ensure more generous and speedy decisions, and to provide more adequate schemes for training, treatment, and employment.This subject has been discussed at great length in other Sessions, not of this, but of the last Parliament, and certain promises have been made from time to time which so far have not been fulfilled. One is disappointed, therefore, that in the King's Speech no definite reference is made to the carrying out of the concessions that have been, promised. Consequently, I think, before we pass from the Address that we ought, if possible, to secure the mind of the Pensions Ministry and of the Government on this question. My Amendment does two things. First of all, it expresses dissatisfaction with the provisions for and the administration of pensions, and, as a remedy, names three things, namely, an improvement in the current scale of pensions, an improvement towards a more generous and speedy administration of the Regulations as they exist, and the provision of more adequate schemes of training, treatment, and employment. I propose to deal with those quite briefly, because I am conscious of the fact that there are a large number of Members in the House who had not the opportunity of engaging in the discussions before who desire to speak, and I am perfectly certain that every Member of the House returned at the General Election was made aware during his election campaign of the considerable dissatisfaction and the growing dissatisfaction which exists among discharged disabled men and their dependants with the existing provisions for pensions, and more especially, perhaps, with the administration of the pensions that are provided.
As an example of this, let me mention one case. At the present moment men are being demobilised from the Army, and for a period of four weeks are in receipt 447 of full pay and allowances. When a discharged disabled man leaves the Army he gets very much less than the man who is physically fit when he is demobilised to resume his place in the industry of the country, and that fact rather strikes the discharged disabled man who has been wounded in the course of the War as being somewhat unfair. Then take the promise of a war bonus of 5s., which was given, as a matter of fact, during the election by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes). That 5s. bonus in many cases has not yet been paid upon these pensions. There are many men in receipt of disability pensions who received that promise in the early days of the General Election, and they have not yet got the money. The same applies with equal force to the 20 per cent. all round increase on disability pensions payable to widows and dependants of men who are deceased. In very many cases no money has yet reached these people, and when one compares that with the provisions for drawing unemployed pay made on behalf of women turned away from munition works, it is obvious that the dependants of deceased soldiers have some reason for feeling sore. Then again, take the award of 6s. 6d. a week to the childless wife. That promise reached me from the Front Bench opposite just before Parliament prorogued, and it was made in order to meet the difficulties suffered by the childless wife who only drew 12s. 6d. as a separation allowance. No conditions were attached when the soldier received an increase of pay that that increase was to affect the grant to which the soldier's wife was entitled. The promise was made from the Front Bench opposite, but the practice of every local war pensions committee has been to reduce the supplementary pay of the childless wife on account of this new increase of 5s. 6d., which was awarded for entirely different purposes, in order to meet to some extent the increased cost of living. Secondly, there is dissatisfaction with administration. I was rather astounded yesterday to hear my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, in reply to a question, make the statement that the alternative pensions were being completed in an average of a fortnight. I should personally like to meet any applicant for an alternative pension whose demand had been so promptly dealt with as that. My experience, which is shared by 448 other Members of this House, is that it takes nearly three months on the average to complete the transaction.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of PENSIONS (Colonel Sir James Craig)
I think my hon. Friend has rather exaggerated the effect of my remarks. I was careful not to say that the fortnight was an average time, but the transaction could be completed in that period if all the papers were in proper order. I pointed out, however, that in many cases they required to be referred back.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. What he says on his authority as Parliamentary Secretary of the Pensions Ministry bears out what I say, that the Ministry can do the work in a fortnight if the machinery is in good working order, and it is because the machinery does not work properly that so much time is taken. What I have said remains true. As a matter of fact the machine works so slowly that the widow of a man who is killed has in very many cases to wait three months for her alternative pension. The same condition obtains with regard to the working of the local war pensions committees. They are not prompt enough in their decisions. Many lamentable cases arise as the result of dilatoriness in the carrying out of their work. I have a letter here dealing with a case in the North of England in which a woman with two children applied for an illness grant on the 8th November. Nobody called to see her, nothing was done, no money was advanced, and on the 12th November she wrote to the effect that it was no use doing anything now, because the child had died from pneumonia. Instead of making an application for an illness grant to prevent the child dying she asked for a funeral grant. I know my right hon. Friend deplores these cases, but I am afraid we cannot get away from the fact that they occur, because there is an extraordinary amount of dilatoriness on the part of the local war pensions committee in dealing with these matters.
I now come to three items in my Amendment dealing with treatment, training, and employment. There is another Amendment on the Paper raising the same question, but applying more particularly to tubercular cases. I shall leave to other hon. Members the development of this point. I will only say that as a matter of 449 fact to-day there are no fewer than 50,000 men who have been discharged from the Army suffering from tuberculosis, and that a very small proportion of them are receiving the treatment to which they are entitled, while those who are receiving that treatment are being deprived by an arrangement made between the National Health Commissioners and the Pensions Ministry of their right to free sanatorium treatment. That is a point which ought to be dealt with. Seven shillings per week is charged against a man's pension for maintenance in a sanatorium. The man has contributed to that sum in his national health insurance payments, which were continued by the Army and the Navy, and I say it is iniquitous that the Pensions Ministry, the National Health Insurance Commissioners, and the Treasury should combine to deprive the man of the 7s. to which he is entitled by his disability rate of pension. We ought to have some statement with regard to that and some assurance that the man shall receive what he is entitled to. With regard to training, I think my right hon. Friend will admit that the schemes for training are still very inadequate. We are told that only ninety officers are now in receipt of training. The last time I spoke in this House on the subject, just before the Dissolution of the last Parliament, the number was less than ten. The increase in the figures has consequently been slight. My right hon. Friend yesterday told us that 7,000 or 8,000 men were receiving training, but in view of the fact that a quarter of a million have been discharged one realises how very little has been done in order to enable disabled men to resume their proper place in the industrial life of the country.
My Amendment goes on to deal with remedies, and I wish to put a few direct questions to my right hon. Friend. We want to know whether the 20 per cent. bonus which was announced in the early days of the General Election, but which we were then told was only to extend to the month of June of this year, is to be made a permanent increase in the current scale of pension rates, and I hope the House is not going to allow the Address in reply to the King's. Speech to be concluded without doing something for the men who while absent on service were not able through their organisations to get what they otherwise would have got had they remained in civilian work during the 450 War. The least we can do for these men is to see that the debt of gratitude that we owe to them is met before we pass the Address. Then I think the House will agree that there are fat too many anomalies in the Pension Warrants at the moment, and that we want a very drastic revision. To mention only one out of a great many cases, take the provision for the pension of a son who has been killed in the War. The original Pension Warrant provided a pension, the minimum of which was 3s. 6d. and the maximum 15s., and later on that was extended to allow of a husband and wife each getting a pension, in the case of two sons being killed in one family. But the House knows, and my right hon. Friend will know, that there are many cases of widows who have lost two sons in the War but who cannot draw two pensions. They are confined to the limit of 15s., and I want to ask why a widowed mother who has lost more than one son in the War cannot be met by being put in a position to entitle her to draw a pension for the pre-war dependence that she had on both of her sons. That is the kind of thing I mean when I say that there are a great number of anomalies in the Warrants that want revision.
The second suggestion I make is to speed up decisions and to make them more generous. I dare say I have complained more than most hon. Members to the Ministry, which has always been very good to me, and my right hon. Friend, since he has been in office, has continued that tradition. I have no complaints personally to make against the Ministers who represent the Ministry in this House, because I have always found them willing to deal with any reasonable complaints put up, but I want my right hon. Friend to infuse some more generosity into the officialdom which controls the Regulations. I will give one case only. In the retreat from Cambrai a major of a battery was riding in the dark at the head of his battery and was thrown from his horse which had shied at something that was passing. Before he could recover his feet the battery passed over his head and crushed him to death. The widow of the major under the Regulations of the Ministry was entitled to a death gratuity of £300 in addition to her pension. But the widow of this major was refused her death gratuity on the ground that her husband did not die a violent death in action. I am perfectly certain that the House of Commons would never stop where the Ministry stops under 451 the Regulations. Nobody could say that that man's death was not due to enemy action, and it is ridiculous that officialdom should be left to interpret the Regulations in that way. As a matter of fact, I have been fighting that case with the Ministry for very many months. My right hon. Friend is looking into it again since he has taken office, and I think we are going to get a satisfactory settlement, and, if we are, I hope it means that the new Ministers who are now devoting their time and attention to the work are going to interpret these Regulations in the same generous spirit in which this House wants them to be interpreted.
My third suggestion is that we should have more adequate schemes for training, treatment and employment, but I only mention that matter in passing and will leave it for others to develop. I think the House should give a lead to the Government and to the Ministry on the question of the statutory right of a disabled man to a pension. No disabled man or widow has any statutory right at the moment. I have been looking about for Government pledges in the matter and I have only found one, but I hope it may be confirmed this afternoon. Lord Beaverbrook—I do not know whether he was in the Ministry at the time, but I think he had gone—speaking at the election of the President of the Board of Trade at Rusham, used these words: "The Government intended to give soldiers and sailors the statutory right to their pensions." I do not know whether some announcement can be made upon that, but I am perfectly clear on this point, that the House of Commons is desirous that the sailor and the soldier, his widow, and dependants shall have a statutory right to claim the pension to which we all think they are justly entitled. I also think we ought to go a little further in the provision of methods of appeal against decisions. At present a man who is dissatisfied with his assessment has only an appeal to the medical referee of the Local War Pensions Committees. I would like to see the appeal on the question of assessment extended in something of the same way as we did when we set up the appeal tribunals against gratuities. I think a man ought to have a right to go beyond the Ministry if he is not satisfied and have his case properly heard in a proper court of appeal, and I hope something can 452 be done in that direction. Thirdly, I would like my right hon. Friend to tell us something of the progress of the King's Fund, and whether the Ministry of Pensions have made up their minds to rely upon voluntary contributions to meet what many of us think ought to be provided by the State. I am very keen on the point myself, because I think we owe it to the men who have fought for us. A great many of them, particularly those who joined up voluntarily before the Conscription Acts came into being, gave up businesses and opportunities in civilian life which they can never recover and from which they will suffer very severe loss, and in these cases I think the State is entitled out of State funds to rehabilitate such men as far as possible in civilian life. I do not like that being left to the King's Fund and to charity, and I shall be glad to know from my right hon. Friend if he can tell us as a result of Gratitude Week how much money is now in that fund and what progress is being made in the matter, because the grants which are now being made do not touch a tithe of the men for whom it is proposed to make provision.
My last point is also in the way of a query. I would like to ask whether the Ministry have gone any further in the question of decentralising their administration? There is no doubt at all that the centralisation of administration here in London is responsible for the large number of delays, and I do not think we ought to have any delays in dealing with these men. We made no delays when we recruited them, for getting them into the Army was the quickest process that we ever knew, and the process of giving them pensions ought to be as quick. It is certain that if it is centralised here in London delays will continue. The Ministry, after all, was given certain obligations by this House. It was asked to undertake training and treatment. It has already handed over some of those obligations to other Ministers. Treatment, for instance, has gone to the Local Government Board and training and employment has gone to the Labour Ministry, and I hear a rumour that even the care of orphan children is to be handed over to some voluntary body created as a result of discussion in a Special Committee and that the Ministry will be in a position of only making a contribution to it and not really responsible for the upbringing of those children. It is quite certain that the House wants 453 to keep the care of all the disabled and everything that has arisen out of the War in its own hands. We want to feel, after what we have said, that we have kept our share of the bargain, and it is in that spirit that I put this Amendment down to-day. It is not in any hostile spirit, because I have devoted some time to this question, always in a helpful spirit to the Government. I am only sincerely anxious that they and I together, all of us in the House, will be able frankly to look the men whom we recruited, their dependants and those associated with them, in the face, knowing that we have done our duty by them.
§ Major ENTWISTLE
I beg to second the Amendment.
I rise for the first time in this House with a due sense of responsibility. I had not intended to make my first plunge on the Address, but when I was asked to second this Amendment I felt I could not resist the opportunity of speaking on a subject which I think all agree is one of first and vital importance at present. We have heard in the Debates, particularly yesterday, that there has been a certain amount of accentuation of the class differences which exist at present. I think I can say, as one who has been out there for a considerable time, with the honour of holding a commission in His Majesty's Forces, that these differences of class, so far as I know, have not existed in the Army. That is really an extraordinary phenomenon when we view the nature of the Army system, with its necessarily acute line of demarcation between officers and men. But I think the genius of the British nation has overcome even the Army system, which no one loves. I think it is quite admitted that a great deal of that was due to the fact that so vast a majority of the officers in the British Army during this War have been civilians. I therefore make no apology when I say that in dealing with this question—we are dealing primarily with these pensions of the rank and file—that I speak about their pensions in the position of holding a commission. Officers and men have equal sympathies and equal rights to speak on this subject. This subject of pensions was, if not the prime issue, certainly one of the main issues at the late General Election. There is no Member in this House who is not deeply pledged on the subject, and the Government is also deeply pledged. This War has been quite different from any in the past in that it has affected every home in this country. In 454 previous wars armies were recruited largely perhaps from men of independent means, but here we have men who have all the cares and responsibilities of family life, who have formed the major part of the Army. We have therefore recognised that their claim in this matter is a first charge on the resources of the country, and when we recognised that we recognised that it would be not a small matter but a matter of an enormous liability. That was known; there was no question about it. The size of our Army and the nature of the constituents of that Army must mean that if we were going to deal with this matter in the nature of the pledges which were given, there would be an enormous liability on the country, and yet what is the present position? Did anyone at the General Election express satisfaction with the present scale of pensions? I did not, and I regret that in His Majesty's Speech there is no mention of any promise of an improvement in those scales.
That is not a matter, perhaps, of supreme importance, and will be dealt with; but the point that I consider is of rather sinister aspect is that the Prime Minister took it upon himself to issue a warning on this subject that there should be no undue competition in running up charges on the country on this subject. On all the subjects of expenditure on which he might have issued a warning it seems to me that the last is this subject, on which the nation feels so very strongly and on which even extravagance would be condoned and cheerfully borne by the country at large. We are told that the country is faced with great burdens. Who but the Government is responsible for the enormous salaries paid to munition workers? That has created a big burden on the country. These burdens are now put before us as a warning against dealing with this subject with undue competition—the burdens of our soldiers and their dependants. It seems to me that it was very uncalled for that we should have a warning on this subject. I can mention the specific case of a woman who has been employed in a munition factory. She is in receipt of a pension of 25s. a week, and yet the widow of a soldier is entitled to a pension of 13s. 9d. a week. I consider that is very disproportionate, and needs an immediate and radical change. why was not this warning issued at the General Election? At the General Election, 455 instead of that warning, a bonus of 20 per cent. was granted. I do not want to lay too much stress on that warning, and I am not appealing in any spirit of hostility, but I say that it is necessary now for the House to express its view as to the spirit in which these pensions are going to be tackled. We do not want mere promises. We want them translated into action in this House. Are we satisfied with the present scale? The maximum scale is 27s. 6d. a week, plus the 20 per cent. bonus which has been given. That would come to, say, 33s. a week. We know what the cost of living is at the present time and that it has increased more than 100 per. cent. since pre-war days. If we look to that we find that the scale is about 16s. 6d. a week pre-war. Whatever ideas we may have about national minimum I think we are all satisfied that such a wage pre-war is not such as will give the decency and comfort of which we have all been speaking so much during the election. We want something more than that: an alternative pension. We have not yet had any pronouncement that the increased cost of living will be taken into consideration in dealing with these pensions. At present they are based purely on the pre-war earnings of the soldier. That is grossly inadequate. We must take into consideration the increased cost of living which has taken place since the War. There is ample room for great improvements in the scale of pensions at the present time. We gave various promises at the election as to generosity, but the war cry of the election was, "No charity in these matters." I am sure that that is the feeling of this House. But in dealing with this question in a practical form it is so easy not to get that spirit translated into action. Let each Member of the House insist upon it. The Government naturally has to look on the economical side but this is not a matter, however grave may be the burdens of this country, in regard to which we must lay stress on the economical side. If this matter is not dealt with, I say that every man in this House is pledged not to support the Government if they are not satisfied, but to see that the Government do deal with the matter in that generous spirit about which so many promises have been made.
My hon. Friend (Mr. Hogge) dealt with the various details of treatment and administration, and I do not propose to 456 go into that, but I would like to mention one point which I think should be remedied, and that is the question of tuberculous cases at home. Soldiers who are suffering from this terrible disease number something like 50,000. A great many of these men ought never to have been admitted into the Army in the first instance, but having got into the Army we find that the present facilities for dealing with these cases are grossly inadequate, and that only a small fraction of the cases can be treated. When they are admitted for treatment a deduction is made of 7s. for maintenance in the sanatorium, although they are entitled to free treatment under the National Insurance Act. I submit that that is a case deserving of amendment and consideration on the part of the Government. I have only one further appeal to make, and that is that we ought to deal with this matter in a liberal spirit. We are proud of the achievements of our Army in this War. The British nation never stood higher in the counsels of the nations of the world. There are various proposals for memorials of our achievements in this War. What more fitting monument, not only of the might and glory of this country, but of the justice of democracy to-day, than that we should have a body of pensioners living not only honoured by us, but in comfort and respectability.
§ Major COHEN
May I have permission, Mr. Speaker, to address the House sitting? [Hear, hear.] Major Cohen resumed his seat, and said: It is with very great diffidence that I venture to address the House to-day, so early in the Session, seing that I am a very new Member. I would not have ventured to do so had not the subject arisen relating to the employment of disabled men. I am a disabled man myself, and I feel that perhaps I have some knowledge on that subject. The courtesy and sympathy which you, Sir, and which every Member of this House have shown me since I came here, and which I take as being not only meant for me, but being meant for every other disabled man in the country shows me that it is the wish of this House to do everything in their power to help such men. What is going to be done? It is not a question so much of teaching a man a trade, though that is a very important question. What I think is still more important is to find that man a job when he has learned his trade. It is no use teaching thousands of men to 457 cobble, thousands of men tailoring, and thousands of men diamond cutting, if, when they have learnt these trades, there is no place for them to go to earn their living. That is, I think, one of the chief objections to the training centres which it is proposed should be run by the Government. Another objection to these centres is that it will be impossible for any Government to teach more than a certain number of trades.
What I would like to see would be a scheme for apprenticing disabled men to private firms, where they would be taught their trade as apprentices. I do not suggest that they should be paid by their employers while they are learning their trade. They could be paid by the State in the same way as it is proposed they should be paid while at these training centres. It would be an advantage that when they had been apprenticed to a certain firm for so many months, and had learned the trade, they would already be partially placed in a job. I feel sure that the vast majority of employers would only be too pleased to keep men on to, whom they had taught their trade from the beginning.
I am told that there is a scheme which is receiving attention from the Ministry of Pensions called the Roth band scheme, which is similar to what I suggest in so far as it affects the employer. But it is different in one respect. After careful study of that scheme, it seems to me that it does only one thing. It finds a disabled man a job, but does not care in the very least what sort of a job that is. They wish to make employers take a certain number of disabled men into their service. The number of men will, of course, vary with the size of the firm; but, after all, if a patriotic firm take, say, a dozen men into its employment, it is all over. That is not quite what the disabled man wants. The firm may be quite willing to take a certain number of men on their books and pay them a salary, but they will not find a suitable job for him. They may give a man a lift to run, or something like that, whereas if a man had served an apprenticeship to a trade which he would choose himself, he could be employed at that trade. If he wanted to be a tailor, and served an apprenticeship in a tailoring shop, then the employer at the end of that time would know that the man was a good tailor, and would be quite willing to take him on at the ordinary wage.
Of course, what I say refers only to partially disabled men, but there is still 458 the question of what is to be done with the totally disabled men. Take my own case. I am what the Pensions Committee call a "100 per cent. disability." Still, there are lots of things which I can do. A man in my position could do tailoring, cobbling, typewriting, typesetting—just to mention a few things—but his great disability would be how to get to his place of employment, and I would like to see some scheme arranged by which employment of that sort could be brought to the man's house. I know that he will have his pension, and I am hoping soon that his pension will be quite sufficient for him to live on comfortably. But that is not all. He wants employment. I do not pretend to be anything at all out of the way in any respect, but I am one of thousands—indeed, one of millions—who have been wounded in the service of their country while doing their duty, and I know that the disabled man does not want to sit at home, and have nothing to do and nothing to look forward to. I know what that is. I often wondered what I should do. Fortunately my constituents came along, and solved the difficulty for me. It is impossible for all disabled men to become Members of Parliament. Still, many of them could do a lot. The question is one which should be looked into. Several schemes have been suggested as to what should be done with partially disabled men, but totally disabled men deserve something more than to be called incurable.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I desire to express my satisfaction at the speech which has just been delivered by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I cannot help congratulating myself upon the fact that I am one of those who gave him some help in getting into this House. His words carry conviction owing to the sacrifices which he has made as do the words of few other men. I do not for a moment suggest that the Speech from the Throne did not imply the fullest sympathy with our disabled men. It is true that owing to the forms of this House we have to refer to the omission of specific details. But I find in the second paragraph of the Speech these words:'Among the Resolutions to be submitted to you will be one asking you to give solemn expression to the gratitude of My People for the achievements and sacrifices of those who have suffered for their Country's cause by land, and sea and air.'459 It would be a mockery if we in this House passed such a Resolution as is there suggested, and if, at the same time, we failed to give practical effect to the task of making proper provision for those who have made sacrifices for this country by land or sea or air. Previous speakers have with great moderation, and with the obvious approval of the House, urged the inadequacy of pensions. I quite agree, but I do not propose to give examples, because it is difficult to begin giving examples of the inadequacy of pensions without going into a great mass of detail, and I know that time is wanted to-day for other purposes. Apart from that I do think that all these details and technical matters which some of us have studied for years are better dealt with by private discussion with the Minister of Pensions, and the Parliamentary Secretary, or by means of question and answer in this House rather than in debate on this occasion. Therefore I will omit a great deal which I would have liked to say if more time were available.
At the present moment, fortunately, we can congratulate ourselves on the fact that in the Minister of Pensions and the Parliamentary Secretary we have two new brooms who will no doubt sweep very thoroughly. But I would like respectfully to remind the Pensions Minister and his assistant that the value of brooms, new or old, depends largely upon the number and stiffness of the bristles, and I hope that the Pensions Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will prove, when they go to the Treasury and other Departments of the Government, that they are ready to get up their bristles and that they are stiff bristles, and will not be put down until what is wanted is obtained. The Seconder of the Amendment referred to the pity it would be if there were any class feeling as between private soldiers and officers. But I would suggest with all respect to the Minister of Pensions that the officers have hardly been fairly treated. I am not for a moment suggesting that the men have been, but I do not think that there ought to be any distinction. I think that the fact that the man is an officer ought not to go against him, and that we ought to bear in mind how very much circumstances have changed. In the old Army before the War officers as a class might be regarded as 460 well-to-do, but we know perfectly well that large numbers of the officers of our Army to-day are poor men, sons of workmen and possibly workmen themselves, men who have no private means.
A short time ago, after tipping a railway porter for carrying my bag, he began to talk to me very nicely about the War. He said, "I take a great interest in it because I have two sons out there." I asked him what they were in, and he told me that one was a lieutenant and the other was a captain. I was speaking to a working man the other day, a fitter, and he told me he had three sons in the Army, and he was proud to say that they had all been offered commissions. Therefore, I think it is necessary that we should insist that officers and men should have at least equal treatment, but unfortunately that is not the fact. It may come as a surprise to many Members to learn that an officer in hospital who is in receipt of £3 7s. 3d. per week pay, less £1 11s. 6d. deduction for maintenance, actually receives for himself and his wife 1s. 3d. less than is received by a private soldier in hospital and his wife. Surely that cannot be right. If we carry the matter further, the deficiency in the case of the commissioned officer in hospital as compared with the sergeant-major in hospital is no less than £1 5s. 4d. per week. I do ask the Pensions Minister to consider why commissioned officers should be penalised to that extent as compared with the sums received by privates or sergeant-majors. As regards tuberculosis, I do not propose to say much, particularly as I have sitting by my side a colleague who is one of the best authorities in the country on the subject from the medical point of view. He has served for four years in France, and has, of course, had many opportunities of studying the effects of tuberculosis upon our soldiers. I desire to draw the attention of the Ministry to two points in this connection, one is the extraordinary delay which has taken place in dealing with tuberculosis cases. I elicited, by means of a question to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, the information that Treasury sanction to expenditure for dealing with tuberculosis cases in the Army was given in May last, but that it was only in December that an explanatory circular was sent out to the local government authorities. If it takes seven months from the date when a sum of money is granted by the Treasury 461 to the date when a circular is issued to the local government authorities, how long is it going to take before this scheme comes into active operation?
The other point which may come as a surprise and a shock to many Members of the House, is in connection with the seven-year limit, which applies to diseases as well as to wounds. Under that seven-year limit the wife and children of an ex-soldier are entitled to a pension if he dies within seven years—and I want to draw special attention to this point—of the date upon which he has contracted the disability. I had a Letter from a constituent of mine the other day which put this extraordinary point before me. He said, "I am in a dilemma. It is now three years since I contracted this disease, and unless I die within four years from now my wife and children will be deprived of their pension. I know that by taking the greatest possible care of my life I may live for a few years longer, but what a horrible feeling it is to me to think that if I prolong my life by care beyond that limited time by so doing I leave my wife and children destitute." I would respectfully ask the Pensions Minister to consider that point. My hon. Friend the Member for the Fairfield Division of Liverpool referred to the Rothband scheme. I have just received a telegram from an ex-Member of this House, Mr. Tom Wing, who formerly represented Houghton-le-Spring, in which he asks me to draw the attention of the Government to the fact that as far back as the 5th November last a deputation of twenty Members of this House, of which I was one, waited upon the Pensions Minister and the Minister of Labour. They were both there to receive us and they both gave a promise to the effect that the Rothband Scheme, possibly with modifications and improvements, would be urged by the Government, with the backing of the Prime Minister, on the employers of the country. Since that time a meeting, or rather a demonstration I think, of disabled men waited upon the Minister of Labour and received again an assurance from him that this Rothband Scheme would be urged on the employers of the country. That was last November and we are now getting on towards the end of February and no announcement on this matter has yet been made by the Government. There are many other matters which I really ought to bring before the House on behalf of the Parliamentary War Pensions Bureau, 462 which has so many cases brought to its attention, but I know that there are many new Members who wish to address the House on this subject, and I therefore curtail my remarks.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I rise with very great hesitation as a new Member of the House to address it, but I am encouraged to do so first of all by the consideration which is always extended to new Members, and more particularly by the fact that the subject on which we are engaged is one which commends itself to the earnest sympathy of every Member of this Chamber. Before offering any remarks, which I trust will be of a constructive character, I desire to associate the Labour Members most cordially with the tribute which has been paid to the moving appeal delivered under peculiar circumstances by the hon. Member for the Fairfield Division of Liverpool (Major Cohen). In this matter of pensions and disablement it is easy to offer criticism which is only destructive in character. One could pile up case after case of almost intolerable wrong and injustice not only to the dependants of serving men, but also to the widows and children of men who have given their lives, and also to the large numbers of the discharged and disabled. I have no desire to embark upon that course this afternoon, but rather in the light of our experience in the Scottish capital, admittedly one of the largest centres in war pensions administration and disablement schemes, to offer one or two remarks which I trust will be considered by the Ministry of Pensions to outline reforms which could be brought into operation now. I endorse very sincerely the plea which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) that what we urgently require is immediate decentralisation in war pensions administration. I venture to commend to the consideration of this House two cases. The first is the fixing of disability pensions in the case of discharged men, and, secondly, the fixing of alternative pensions not only in the case of the discharged and disabled, but also in the ease of widows and children of men who have given their lives in the War. A man is medically examined prior to his discharge from the forces, and he is also subject to medical examination on the conditional pension basis from time to time by the local war pensions committee of his area. 463 His disability is placed at a certain percentage which varies with the condition of his health, and the allowance in the terms of that percentage is perfectly clear and understandable. It seems utterly unreasonable, therefore, that in such circumstances, where you have determined quite clearly the amount to which a man and his dependants are entitled, it should be necessary to send that case elsewhere to have it settled after great delay and entailing a great deal of suffering.
I think that without any difficulty or hesitation the Ministry of Pensions might now consider the possibility of allowing either a Scottish Pensions Ministry, or at all events the local war pensions committees, immediately to proceed to the issue of pensions in such clear cases, instead of referring them to a central authority. In the second place, we have the assessment of alternative pensions. In the case of widows they are now equal to two-thirds of the pre-war earnings of the husband. Obviously that lends itself to local investigation by a local inquiry officer. All the details and all the information must be marshalled in the locality in which the man resided. There you get all the circumstances from every point of view, which enables you to say that here is a case which can be determined and settled right away by a local committee in the area in which the man resided, many of the members of which probably knew him in civil life. You have there a clear case which could be settled by the local war pensions committee without reference to central machinery in London. Those are two reforms which I venture to suggest could be carried out now by the Ministry of Pensions without loss of efficiency in control.
Speaking very briefly as a Scottish Member representing one of the Edinburgh Divisions which have suffered severely from the tragic losses of the past four years, we in Scotland feel very strongly that the time has come when decentralisation of pensions administration must be carried out to the extent of giving us something resembling a Scottish Pensions Ministry. I freely admit that the Ministry of Pensions has so far conceded our case in Scotland by establishing an institutional committee, and by establishing four joint disablement committees. I think we might usefully at this stage link up all that is best in the four joint disablement 464 Committees in Scotland and also in the institutional committee, making that a nucleus or beginning of an effective Pensions Ministry north of the Tweed. Side by side with those powers entrusted to such a body I suggest that you can hand over what might be called a pensions and disablement administration in that country to such an authority. The first proposal is that there should be a new Scottish Pensions Ministry, and, in the second place, there should be decentralisation. As far as local war pensions committees are concerned, I have had the honour of being closely associated with those working in Scotland and can say, without fear of contradiction, you will go a long way to minimising the dissatisfaction which exists over this great problem in our midst if these suggestions are adopted. I venture to suggest that these are eminently reasonable and constructive proposals.
Before I sit down I want to mention very briefly four or five matters which seem to me particularly urgent at the moment, and which also might be taken into consideration by the Ministry at this stage. Throughout the whole country large numbers of people have never been able to understand why the widows and dependents of men who have given their lives should be treated differently in the matter of allowances from the wives and children of men who are still serving. The rates of pensions are undeniably lower than separation allowances. I know the theory and the argument that this is a permanent pension for all time, that the State is discharging its duty or obligation to those who have suffered in the country's interest, and that on the other hand the separation allowance is only temporary to enable a family to tide over. I do strongly claim that the widows and orphans of men who have gone down are entitled to even more and not less consideration than the widows and children of men still serving. I advocate most strongly therefore that the time has come when we should bring the rates of pensions of widows and dependants up to the rates of separation allowances. In the second place, I venture to hope that the Ministry of Pensions will take into consideration the advisability of extending to widows and orphans the right to other allowances which are now available under the local war pensions committees for the wives and children of men still serving. For many years after this War is over, looking to the fact that there will be no 465 immediate reduction in house rents, if reduction at any time, widows and dependants with fixed, incomes must suffer very severely owing to the high cost of living, and other difficulties of our time. It is not possible in many cases for them readily to find, cheaper houses or accommodation at low rents, and I for one do not suggest for a single moment that they should be expected or called upon to do so. I hope that the Ministry of Pensions will go beyond, at the earliest possible moment, the sickness allowances which they have already granted to widows and dependants, a concession which we have achieved, and extend that concession to the matter of rent and other liabilities, so that these families may tide over the difficulties of the next few years.
In the second place, on the matter of disablement, I venture to plead, particularly in the light of our experience in Edinburgh, on behalf of what is termed "high-grade disability"—that is, men who have suffered so very severely in action that it is almost impossible to train them for any new occupation or calling in life. Time and again we have had illustrations north of the Tweed, as well as in other centres, that any sort of training in such cases is almost impossible, and that while it might have been possible for the man to undertake some form of work, the nature of his disability is such as to unfit him for regular toil in the community. He therefore requires, at the hands of employers on the one side and at the hands of the trade unions and organised labour on the other, special consideration. I hope it may be possible in the near future for the Pensions Ministry and the Ministry of Labour to combine with employers and the trade unions to secure throughout the whole range of industry, wherever there is work to be found, preferential treatment for such men, either in the matter of training or in the matter of occupation which such men, in the light of their disability, can properly undertake. Such consideration is urgently necessary if we are to avoid a repetition of the experience which followed previous wars, and are not to see these men begging outside the gates of football marches, or at other places of amusement or recreation, whereas we on our side should have made it possible for them to find a reasonable and healthy place in public service and activity.
Lastly, I want to urge very strongly that not only for high-grade disablement but also for a very large number of injuries 466 arising from this War, we should provide extended orthopædic treatment not only in Scotland but also in other parts of the country. I have mentioned minor injuries. Perhaps one of the most encouraging features of disablement scheme work is the fact that a very large amount of the injury which we encounter and the disablement which so far we have had to make good is capable of ready and immediate treatment on orthopædic lines. I pay all tribute this afternoon to what has already been done by the military and other authorities in this direction. I know also that the Pensions Ministry have established in the larger centres orthopædic institutions which may go a long way to restoring the earning capacity of men who have suffered to a minor or partial extent in this War. There are, however, one or two points of importance at this stage. I am very much afraid that in some of the larger centres of our country the Pensions Ministry has embarked on a course of providing separate orthopædic centres, very often at great public expense. It seems to me that those centres would have been much more happily combined with the existing curative institutions, more particularly in the large cities and also in the leading provincial towns. We should then have had their services not merely for the purposes of war, but at the same time we should have made a contribution to the curative agencies of these localities and also aided existing institutions. I am not suggesting for a moment that the orthopædic centres will not be employed to the full, but I do say they would have been employed to much greater advantage had they been combined with the large infirmaries or the large hospitals now in existence. In the second place—this applies at least to rural Scotland—the Ministry of Pensions would require to consider the extension of such institutions to the minor provincial towns. At the present moment large numbers of discharged men are in occupation in the provincial and rural districts of Scotland who would benefit undeniably and enormously by orthopædic treatment. There exists, however, no such provision in their locality. They cannot sacrifice the income which they are now receiving from employment in order to travel to some large city or to some greater centre. They are going without this treatment, and at the same time their earning capacity in the community is being steadily impaired. As orthopædic 467 treatment is essentially a thing of immediate application, I am very much afraid that many of these men will drift into the unemployable or the semi-unemployable classes in the near future. All that might be avoided even now by a vigorous application of the reforms which I have ventured to outline.
Again, the Ministry of Pensions will require to consider the very grave complaints which even now are arising on the part of discharged disabled men that their pensions are being exploited for the purpose of offering them either sweated rates or very low rates of remuneration. I admit quite freely that the overwhelming numbers of employers are in no way desirous of taking any such mean and contemptible advantage at the expense of discharged men, but, unhappily, the instances accumulate in which, contrary to the whole instructions of the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Pensions in this most important matter, pensions are being regularly taken into account by employers in remuneration offered to the men and as justifying them in offering lower rates to these men when they make application for jobs. We require, therefore, a fresh emphasis of the Ministry of Pensions' Regulations. We require some extension of, or some more popular form of, the advisory wages boards to control such matters. I venture to hope that if these minor and, I trust, constructive reforms are adopted we shall have a practical improvement in pensions administration, and a much greater sense of justice and due tribute to those who have suffered so largely on our behalf in recent years.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel RAW
This is the first time I have addressed this House, and I shall be very brief indeed. I want to make a very special appeal on behalf of those brave soldiers and sailors who have fought for us in the War who are already affected with that dread disease, tuberculosis. It is estimated that at the present time there are between 40,000 and 50,000 of our soldiers and sailors affected with tuberculosis. A very large number of these men contracted this disease owing to the rigours of active service. The position and the prospects of these men are pathetic. I feel quite sure they will command the sympathies of the whole House. I speak from a very large experience during the last four years. I have had the great privilege 468 of assisting many thousands of our men in France, and I know exactly the position as regards this dread disease. Now this disease is the greatest scourge in this country, and carries off about 60,000 people every year, most of them in the very prime of life. Tuberculosis is preventable, and I am glad to say, if taken in the early stages and given adequate treatment, is curable. The Government is, and has been, most sympathetic with regard to assisting our ex-Service men who are affected with this disease. But I should like to point out that a few months in a sanatorium and the payment of a pension are not sufficient to cure tuberculosis, and a very much more comprehensive scheme is required if we are to deal adequately and properly, and with any prospect of success, with the treatment of this disease as it affects our ex-Service men.
It requires a very long, and, I may say, a costly treatment to cure any man or woman affected with tuberculosis, and I most strongly appeal to the Government to-day to appoint a special committee which will deal with tuberculosis alone as it affects the men invalided from the Service, and to establish some general and adequate form of treatment which will be immediate, because whilst we are delaying in official ways as to the best methods of treating our men, they are dying The matter is very urgent, and ought to be dealt with at the very earliest possible moment. I suggest also that the Government should undertake the treatment of tuberculosis as it affects Service men as a special disease, and that they should provide the necessary colonies, open-air methods of treatment attached to that Department which will carry out the work of the health of this country, and that the whole of that Department, with the treatment of tuberculosis, should be under the direct control of the Government itself, and that the ex-Service men should be treated exactly as they would be as soldiers. At the present time, it is the custom to pass over those men to the local authorities. I hope that the Government will recognise the great responsibility that they have to men who have developed tuberculosis in the service of their country, and that a great nation will not deny any expense or any amount of trouble which is taken by the Government to give those men the very best possible chance of recovering and returning to industrial life.
§ Captain LOSEBY
It is with the greatest diffidence that I rise to address this House for the first time, and I should most certainly not have ventured to do so if I had not been chosen by the group, of which I have the honour to be a member, to represent their views upon this particular question. At the same time, I acknowledge—if I may be allowed to say so without undue egotism—that I have worked assiduously, and have waited anxiously for this opportunity of presenting a certain case from a soldier's point of view before this tribunal, because I know there is not a Member of this House who is not prepared and anxious to deal with a just generosity by those who have suffered in the course of their task of defending and upholding the honour of their country. On Tuesday last the Prime Minister, in a noble and a generous speech—an inspiring speech—made use of certain words in regard to this subject, which, I fear, will cause a certain amount of uneasiness throughout the country—words that, for my own part, I am afraid have been misunderstood. The Prime Minister said.I hope there will be no undue competition in regard to running up charges against the Government.We all hope that. We all hope that the soldier will not be exploited by political adventurers. We believe that there have been those who have built up reputations at the risk of the moral character of these gallant people. At the same time, I would venture to point out to the Prime Minister that those words make him liable to a very obvious retort. True, do not run up charges against the Government. But do not forget that you made certain pledges, and do not economise at the expense of broken men. That this is a momentous problem, and not a myth, the over-Weighted letter-boxes of Members of this House will, I think, bear daily testimony, and there are those who are prepared to argue that a happy solution of this question will bring with it the easing of other problems which are at the present moment exercising the minds of our statesmen.
Whence do these grievances come? I venture to assert that, in the first place, these genuine grievances of soldiers arise out of a misunderstanding. They arise out of the fact that many benefits to which soldiers are entitled are unknown to the soldiers themselves. Any soldier will bear me out on this point. Hon. Members are aware, for example, that under the 470 alternative pensions scheme, to which reference has been made, there is a generous provision by which disabled officers, non-commissioned officers and men are entitled, within reasonable limits, to have their income put up to their pre-war income, but they are possibly not aware that this provision is unknown to 80 per cent. of officers, non-commissioned officers and men. I wish to make some reference to alternative pensions, but, for the time being, I want to make this point. The Government accepted a principle which would have gone a long way towards satisfying grievances, but they failed to make that principle known to those who would have benefited by it, and the good effect was thereby largely nullified. My point, then, is this, that benefits to which soldiers are entitled should be much more widely and much more intelligently advertised, and should, so far as possible, be automatically pay able. Now for the law itself. I do suggest that any fair-minded critic examining the law, as embodied in the Pension Warrants, the Pay Warrants and the amendments thereto, must acknowledge that not a mean, but a generous spirit, runs through them.
I have already made reference to alternative pensions, and I suggest that there is a principle embodied in these which is well worthy the consideration of this House. What is that principle? I suggest that it is that no man, within reasonable limits, shall be in a worse position than before owing to the fact that he has served his country. If the State can make this assertion, then, I say, we stand in no contemptible position. Can we do so? Examine the position. It is perfectly true that officers, non-commissioned officers and men can claim to have their income put up to the level of their pre-war income, the limits approximately being £450 and £3 5s. Surely no more generous provision was ever embodied in a Pensions Warrant. Yet the beneficiaries are not satisfied. Why? The reason is obvious. In the first place, as I have already stated, the benefits are unknown to the majority of the soldiers, and, in the second place, there is the fundamental injustice embodied in it which strikes at the very heart of the scheme. The fact is that the pre-war income of a man is based, not on the commodity purchasing value of that income, but merely on its cash value. What is the result? You knock the bottom out of the 471 whole of your principle—a principle which would have put you into an unassailable position. The State most certainly cannot now claim that it has redeemed its pledges that no man should be a loser by joining the Army, while the soldier is merely irritated at what appears to him to be a subterfuge and an evasion. I would humbly suggest, in the first place, that the alternative pension scheme should be regarded as the key to the whole solution, and, secondly, that the scheme should be based on the commodity-purchasing value of the pre-war income, and not on its cash value; also that it should be made payable to dependants. So you would knock the bottom out of objectors to your pension scheme. I do not suggest that the very reasonable, the very generous limits of £450 and £3 5s. should be altered. I do, however, most earnestly commend the consideration of their own principle to the Government.
I commend it because it is a just principle, because it will commend itself as being an elementary and a just principle which will appeal to the minds of soldiers and to all those to whose minds you wish to appeal. For my last point I will only take a few minutes, because it refers to a. common and well-known grievance—theadministration of the law itself. I have only to say that I am in complete agreement with almost every speaker this afternoon. I do most earnestly commend to the Government this fact: your machinery of administration is in a rusty condition. It must be overhauled, unless you are going to risk a breakdown. Within my own personal observations maddening and inexcusable delays have occurred in which men, distraught by wounds and sickened by pain, have been left in an almost destitute condition. I shall content myself by asserting that it ought not to pass the wit of man to devise a scheme by which these in-excusable delays can be obviated. An example has been given by an hon. Member opposite. I cannot for the life of me understand why, for example, the president of the medical board, called upon to discharge a man from hospital, should not at the conclusion of the deliberations tell the man as to the degree of disability at which he has been assessed, and make an entry in the man's pay-book which shall then and there entitle him to draw provisional 472 pay. Nor can I see why the difficulties in regard to matters of appeal cannot be obviated.
I have made no attempt to deal with miscellaneous grievances which have been so admirably dealt with by hon. Members this afternoon. Personally, I have made no reference to these because I am convinced, as has been stated, that the scheme has got to be overhauled, and will best be overhauled by a Committee—such a Committee as, I understand, the Government has undertaken to set up. I hope when that Committee comes to us for confirmation—and I look forward to this with the utmost optimism—it will go forward with an unequivocal instruction from this House to embody in its Report some general principle such as I have ventured to enunciate, and with the instruction also to see to it that unnecessary and bureaucratic delays are ended. I conclude, as I began, by asserting that the soldiers know, firstly, that temporary grievances, such as those which have been mentioned, must happen, and we do not unreasonably complain of that; also, I believe, that they know that no one is more anxious to see their grievances removed than the Minister of Pensions, the Government, the country, and hon. Members of this House, without exception of party.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
I just want to say one word on the question of tubercular discharged soldiers, because I happen, for some years now, to have been chairman of an insurance committee, and a member in London who has had to administer the scheme on behalf of the Pension authorities. As far as results are concerned, the benefits which have been given to discharged men have been most profoundly disappointing. My hon. Friend before me has stated that there are some 50,000 cases up and down the country who require treatment. So far as London is concerned, I suppose that at the present time there are only 2,500 discharged soldiers who are receiving no treatment at all. I suppose everyone will agree that if any man, whether a discharged soldier or not, is to have any chance at all he must have some sort of treatment at any rate extending over a period of some twelve months. Yet we find that so far as London is concerned during the last twelve months, with the exception of the month of December, there have been several hundred men weekly waiting to go into sanatoria. It is true there was an improvement in December, 473 but during the other eleven months of that year these men who have come back, and who deserve so well of their country, have had actually to wait for accommodation.
I also desire to complain very strongly of the accommodation that is provided for the men in the sanatoria themselves. It is evidenced by what has taken place in London daring the last two months. No fewer than 339 men have discharged themselves from sanatoria in Landon after one month's treatment, 467 came out of sanatoria after two month's treatment, 258 in three mouths and 105 in four months; in fact, there were only twenty discharged soldiers in London last year who stayed in the sanatoria of their own free will for over six months. I have endeavoured to ascertain the reasons for these discharges, and I have come to the conclusion that in the first place there is a great need for more humane and sympathetic treatment in the sanatoria themselves. Undoubtedly a large number of the men have discharged themselves for economic reasons, such as the necessity for looking after their family, but there is one particular sanatorium in London—the Downs Sanatorium in which 46 per cent. of the men discharged themselves during the first month, and in that large institution, which is more like a work-house infirmary than anything else, there have been no proper facilities at all. The men have not even been in a position to dry their own clothes, and there have been no provision made for recreation. At the same time there has been a large amount of unreasonable discipline imposed upon the inmates. For instance, I believe they have not been allowed even to leave the sanatorium, except for two or three hours a week. For the rest of the week they have been detained inside the building, and when one remembers that the only recreation is the tramping round an asphalte court one is not surprised that the men should have discharged themselves in the way they have done. I am very glad to know that the President of the Local Government Board has ordered an inquiry into the administration of this particular sanatorium, which has had to bear the burden of a very large number of cases in London. I trust we shall see far better accommodation and treatment provided, particularly for discharged soldiers in London.
I only want to say, in, conclusion, that; I believe a very good experiment could be 474 made in endeavouring to establish work centres in different localities up and down the country. It is useless offering a man working facilities if he has to go a long way from his wife and children. I want to urge on the Pensions Minister the necessity of simplifying the administration in this connection. The right hon. Gentleman is actually administering sanatorium treatment to discharged soldiers through no fewer than three lots of local authorities. He goes to the insurance committees, and asks them to look after sanatoria for discharged soldiers. He goes to the local war pensions committees and asks them to look after demiciliary treatment and to administer the benefit, and his latest effort to deal with the problem has been to ask the President of the Local Government Board, through the local borough councils, to facilitate the appointment of health visitors, who in their turn are to endeavour to do something for these men. With all these authorities and all these officials one is not surprised that there should be a very large amount of discontent in London, and up and down the country, as regards the treatment which the Pensions Ministry is supplying. I join very heartily in the suggestion which my hon. Friend has made that, at the earliest opportunity, the Pensions Minister, who I believe is heart and soul in the desire to make better provision for these men, should set up a committee of experts and medical men, as well as social workers, to try and provide better treatment for these men, who deserve so much at our hands.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ Sir J. CRAIG
I feel I must, in the first instance, say how much I appreciate the tone of the speeches which have been delivered to-day, and especially that of my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), who moved the Amendment. I am in the position of being able, I hope, to answer a great many of the questions that have been put to me, but I must ask the induldulgence of the House not to press me where policy is concerned for any statement, as I am sure the feeling on all sides will be that matters concerning policy in the administration of the Ministry should await the return of the Minister himself, which, I hope, will not be very long delayed. My hon. Friend opened this discussion by referring to the promise which was made two days before the General Election with regard to the 20 per cent. pension increase. Of course 475 my right hon. Friend and I had nothing to do with that particular promise. We can only deal with the situation from the day on which we took office. I should like to state, further, that where I cannot specifically reply to the cases which have been put forward not only by my hon. Friend, but by other hon. Gentlemen, I will make it my special charge to-morrow morning to look through the Official Report, and discover where advice has been given or information asked for, and take the best advantage of the one and an early opportunity of supplying the other. My hon. Friend asked whether it was possible to extend the time beyond June for the payment of alternative pensions. I can only say that that is a matter which has engaged, and is continuing to engage, the attention of my right hon. Friend, and it is impossible at this early date to indicate what decision may be arrived at.
With regard to the suggestion that more generosity should be infused into the official mind, may I say my experience has been entrely contrary to that of my hon. Friend. All through the Department, from the highest to the lowest, I have discovered no instance in which the generosity or feeling towards the soldier is not as warm as that of the hon. Member himself. It is very easy, of course, when dealing with such a great system as pensions, to pick out isolated bad cases, and bring them to the notice of the public and of the House; but I can assure him that where thousands and thousands of cases are concerned the very utmost care is taken, and the staff, which is improving all the time, is most sympathetic in the way in which it considers them, and interprets the Warrants and the various authorities under which it acts.
My hon. Friend suggested that the sooner the pensioner was placed in a position in which he could claim the pension as a statutory right the better, but on that I think there must be a very grave difference of opinion. On the one hand, it would greatly facilitate the work of the Pensions Ministry if the soldiers had the right of appeal, and if their pensions were placed upon a statutory basis. But, speaking for myself alone, I feel that the individual officer or man is really better served under the present system than he would be if the pension were a statutory right, and if the cases could be heard in the Courts. Many hon. Members may not have the same opportunity of being able 476 to come to a decision upon that point, but if they will look back upon history, study the delays in our Courts, and consider the vast number of people who have to be dealt with, and the risk of encouraging a certain class of soldiers' help throughout the country agitating and working on their behalf, I think they will find that the present system, taking it all round, is the best. We do try to take all the trouble and expense off the man's shoulders, and to sift out his case and come to a decision. It would, therefore, militate very much against him if it were made a statutory obligation.
§ Sir J. CRAIG
I do not know that it would be possible to create a more proper or independent Court of Appeal than the five Courts that have already been set up. It is proposed to set up five more, making ten, and to spread them all over the country, so as to work off the arrears as rapidly as possible and to bring the work up to date. I am referring to the appeal on the ground of actual disability or on the question of aggravation by war service, and I say that the Minister of Pensions is endeavouring to enlarge the number of these Appeal Courts in order to overtake the arrears and wipe out an unfortunate block owing to the pressure which has not yet been worked off. The hon. Member also brought up the question of decentralisation, as did the hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division of Glasgow (Mr. G. Murray) the other night. Decentralisation is a matter of policy, and I would not like to say anything on that subject except this. The Minister is moving toward the setting up of a strong Committee to deal with every branch of the subject, in order to discover whether it would be safe to devolve some of the functions upon area or regional committees, but he has not yet come to a complete decision as to how far he can go. He will, however, make an announcement on the matter as soon as he is able to do so.
I now come to the remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Major Entwistle). I feel myself in rather an embarrassing position, as a new Minister, in haying to tender as I feel the whole House would like me to do, 477 my hearty congratulations to the hon. and gallant Member, and to those other new Members who have to-day made their maiden speeches. During some fourteen years that I have been in the House I have seldom heard better maiden speeches, and I think one and all will add very considerably to the dignity of the Debates in this House. I was particularly struck by the lucid and knowledgable remarks of the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham), and certainly if we are to conduct our Debates in the spirit in which he has initiated his career in this House, we shall get on very well as far as the Pensions Ministry is concerned.
May I make this general remark. Hon. Members on all sides of the House can help the Ministry very much indeed, because if they will give the Ministry the benefit of their advice and experience we shall be able to absorb their ideas, and graft on to our system any suggestion which may have escaped our notice. Therefore I hope no one will hesitate to come to the Pensions Ministry, which is close to the House, and give us the advantage of their experience and advice. I can a sure them that the Minister and myself will welcome any suggestion to make the machinery work more smoothly, to facilitate matters, and to keep us in close touch with the feeling in the country regarding our gallant heroes for whom we are now trying to make the best possible provision.
Amongst other matters touched upon was the question of training. Training at the present moment is being transferred, as the House is aware, to the Labour Ministry, but only to a limited extent, and only, if I may use the exact words of the medical officials, after men are certified to be fit to undertake that work. Really, therefore, the change is not as great a one as would appear in the first instance. We are minimising the gap which must necessarily arise between a man leaving the Pensions Ministry and being taken over by the Ministry of Labour His care, his treatment, and his early training will remain in our hands, and everything sympathetic will be done to carry on as we are doing now, only under better conditions. The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Pennefather) raised several cases of disparity between the Warrants of the officers and the men. As I informed the hon. Member either yesterday or to-day in answer to a question, we are at the moment engaged in revising 478 both Warrants, and we are taking pains to find out exactly where there is a discrepancy either in favour of an officer or a man or vice versa. Later on it will be the pleasure of the Minister himself to make an announcement in regard to the new Warrant, and may I add that we are attempting to codify the old Warrants and the old Regulations, as it is recognised that this should be made as simple as possible.
With regard to the questions asked about tuberculosis I felt so strongly that this question would be raised that before coming down to the House I had a special conversation with the highest medical authority we have on the subject, and with regard to what has fallen from my hon. and gallant Friend, who is an expert on this particular subject, I can only say that our Director-General of Medical Service (Colonel Webb) would welcome at any time a visit from him or any other hon. Member specially interested in this extraordinarily difficult and delicate question. I am sure Colonel Webb would look forward with pleasure to the day when the hon. and gallant Member could pay him a visit, and give him the benefit of his knowledge and experience. The same remark applies also to what fell from other hon. Members who dealt with this subject. I was told by our senior medical officer that up to the present the Minister himself was most emphatic upon having this question dealt with. He has been able to give the disabled man priority over any other case of tuberculosis requiring treatment, and has arranged to increase the accommodation in the institutions, to improve the aftercare and home treatment, to give extended treatment in early cases, and to find graduated employment in agriculture or other suitable industries. That deals as far as I am able to inform the House to-day, with the step the Minister has already taken.
§ Sir J. CRAIG
That is a matter which has been raised with regard to the officers as well. The disparity between the charge for officers and men in hospitals will require a change upon which the Minister is now actually engaged. I regret I am not able to make a definite answer, but I hope the hon. Member will put a question down next Thursday, when the Minister will be in his place I would just like to say that perhaps the 479 House hardly realises one important point with respect to the Ministry of Pensions. Whereas the signing of the Armistice meant relaxation of work and a curtailment of staff and a general slacking off in nearly all the other Government Departments, it found our Ministry nearly on the crest of the wave. Some people are apt to overlook the fact that it was necessary for the Ministry of Pensions not only to grapple with a profoundly difficult question, but also to make preparation for demobilisation and to expand on all sides in order not to have a breakdown in the machinery. To do that, of course, my right hon. Friend had to go into the question as to whether the present system of pensions was the best, and he will be satisfied with no less. He had also to decide whether if not the best it would be possible to make any great constructive change at this particular moment. Of course, that again is a matter of policy, but in the meantime the existing machinery is being vastly improved and extended. Those who begin as juniors in the office are being enabled to give larger scope to their abilities, and others are being trained. Schools are being established to give instruction and training to the junior members of the staff, and we hope that the complaints of delay which are genuine—and that is not denied—will from this time onwards gradually become less and less.
With regard to some of the other matters which my right hon. Friend has instituted since he took office, I would like to mention one or two to which we have given considerable care and consideration. My right hon. Friend has instituted an "Officers' Friend," and has issued a handbook for disabled officers, to be followed very shortly by one dealing with widows. It was felt that an "Officers' Friend" in the Pensions Ministry itself would serve a want which has been expressed on many occasions as being very necessary to fill the place that local war pensions committees feel as regards the men. The taking away of dealing with the officer's case from headquarters might possibly lead to complication at the moment, and put a strain on the local war pensions committees that perhaps would not be justified, but we hope by these new innovations to meet many of the objections raised hitherto as to a want of knowledge on the part of the officers as to what is their due under the officers' Warrants. We have taken steps to bridge the gulf 480 between an officer being released and the day on which he will first begin to get the benefit of his disablement and retired pay, if awarded. We have instituted a system whereby there will be no gap between the War Office and ourselves.
Then my right hon. Friend has secured the services of a very distinguished soldier and medical man in Colonel Webb, who is to act as our Director-General of Medical Services, the idea being that with his great knowledge of the hospital work in connection with the Army as it is at present he will be able to carry on, into the life of the discharged disabled soldier where treatment is required, all the care and hospital treatment that is found necessary, without a break in the administration or personnel of the staff. My right hon. Friend has arranged a weekly conference with all the chairmen, or their deputies or nominees, of all the local war pensions committees, spreading it by knots of twenty over the whole year. This is quite in addition to any advisory boards that may be set up necessitating the temporary attendance of members of local committees. This is in order that the local committees may have a direct touch with the Minister himself, and we have appointed every Tuesday morning at 11 o'clock for these chairmen of local war pensions committees to come to the Ministry and interview the Minister and myself as to any suggestions on policy or any bad cases that may have occurred in their area.
§ Sir J. BUTCHER
Will warrants be given to these chairmen of committees who live at a great distance, to enable them to come cheaply to London?
§ Sir J. CRAIG
Certainly. We feel it would be quite unfair, as this is on national service and at our invitation, and as they come to advise and consult with us, that we should allow these very hard-working and patriotic men to come to London at their own expense, and therefore we have made arrangements whereby their first-class fare and their subsistence allowance shall be granted to those who come from the country districts. The next point that I wish to make is that we have made—and it required some care and attention, I can assure all sections of the House—the most elaborate arrangements for demobilisation. When I tell the House that something like 1,300,000 soldiers and sailors have been demobilised already, and they calculate that a very large number of these men will immediately come under 481 the pensions scheme, they will realise what a sudden strain fell upon the Minister and all those under him. He has also arranged to take over the National Service Medical Boards, and he has set up a strong Committee to consider and report upon the position of the supply, fitting, and repair of artificial limbs and surgical appliances. I refer to that especially again to-day, although in answer to a question by an hon. Friend yesterday, I was able to give that information; but it is in order to assure all those who at the present time have any anxiety regarding the question of limbs that the matter is receiving the utmost possible attention which can be given to it by the Minister and his advisers.
He has increased the number of pension appeal tribunals from a very small number—I think it was only two—to ten, five of which are at the present moment in full working order. In accordance with the Cabinet decision of 8th January as regards training it was agreed with the Minister of Labour that certain cases should be dealt with by that Ministry instead of by us. The Pensions Minister has also prepared model rules and regulations for local committees under the War Pensions Act of 1918, and that was also done with the assistance of an advisory board. A large proportion of whom consisted of representatives from local war pensions committees. So that when the issue of these regulations and model rules is made the country will understand that they are not, as it were, a mandatory order from hon. Gentlemen, but that they have been drawn up after the most careful consultation with those best able to represent the country districts through their local war pensions committees, and, therefore, we hope will give general satisfaction throughout the country. The pensions Minister has also considered very carefully and made preparations for consolidating the Warrants. May I first give the House some small idea of the work which at present rests upon the shoulders of the Ministry by saying that the total number of pensions and allowances granted up to the end of last year was 1,780,000 odd—over that number—and that it is being added to at the rate of from 15,000 to 20,000 fresh awards per week.
§ Sir J. CRAIG
They are increasing at the moment, but sometimes there is a 482 little decrease, according very often to demobilisation. These figures relate only to first awards. Over and above them, we have something between 25,000 and 30,000 renewals of temporary pensions per month. The current financial year, which is approaching an end, will mean a pensions bill of something approaching £50,000,000, and one cannot really say how many new cases will fall upon our shoulders from the demobilised men, who, although asked to sign their papers on leaving, whether fit or unfit, may fall upon the Ministry to deal with under Article IX.
§ Sir J. CRAIG
I think there is no question about that. So far as I can say at the moment, a Class W and Class Z man, although signifying on his Army Form Z22 that he is fit and well on the day of discharge, is not precluded from the right of claiming in the ordinary way later on that, owing to military service, he is suffering from some complaint which might be attributable to or aggravated by his military service. Therefore he comes de novo on to our books, and we class him as Z in the meantime, merely to be able to deal more rapidly with the cases, but it differentiates in no degree between them and the other cases, what we call the Clause IX men. With regard to medical treatment, the number of men under medical treatment by the Ministry at the end of last year was over 42,000, and during the month of December of 9,000 odd admitted for treatment, 4,500 were discharged. The total number of men under training at the end of the year was 7,766. During the month of December 1,310 were admitted to training, and 923 were discharged. I may say that when the Ministry was started it was a very small work. To-day it is enormous, and we have a staff of something approaching 9,000 to deal with the work—all working long hours, arduous work—doing their very utmost to help in every possible way in this delicate operation. I feel that the House would not like me to say more to-day on details. Details can be dealt with by question and answer, or better still by sending a personal letter, either to the Minister or to myself, these being always welcome.
483 People seem to think it is a trouble or a nuisance to deal directly with a Minister, but I think it is entirely different. The reason why I suggest that course chiefly is that questions appearing on the Paper may require to be postponed, and they very often cause a false impression. If they only pick out the very bad cases, and send them along in the first instance to be dealt with instantly, although perhaps the Member suffers a slight want of publicity, I can assure him that if he has at heart the benefit of the soldiers he will send along, by telegram, if necessary, the first intimation he has that something is wrong, and not carry it about in his pocket until he is able to put a question on the Paper. I say that, not because I desire in any way to find fault with the questions which have been put down or which we anticipate may be put down. I only say it in the interests of the men themselves, that the system now is that all matters of urgent importance should be sent by telegram from the local centres all over the country when instant attention will be paid to them. That is the way we are able to find out if there be anything wrong in the vast chain between us and the local war pensions committees; and if hon. Members really desire the best welfare of the men themselves, they should let us instantly know in some way what complaint they have. They can rely upon two things beforehand. The Minister's sympathy is as deep as that of any hon. Member in this House, and his talent for organisation is well known to the old Members of the House. This vast subject requires not only great sympathy, but organisation and very hard work. The highest standard that you can apply to any person you can apply to the Minister of Pensions, and I think you will find in time that he fulfils them all.
§ Colonel YATE
In order to clear up a doubtful matter, will my hon. and gallant Friend say if the facilities which are given to the soldier for the repair of limbs and the provision of spare limbs apply equally to officers?
§ Sir J. CRAIG
I am sorry to say they do not for the moment. In answer to questions yesterday, I was able to say the matter was engaging very careful attention. A strong, sympathetic Committee has been set up, in order to see if something can be done in that direction.
§ Colonel YATE
Will my hon. and gallant Friend place officers on the same footing as soldiers in this respect?
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.