§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Beechman.]
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Major Studholme (Tavistock)
I wish to draw attention to the question of street begging. This is a practice which is most undesirable. It is not only undesirable, but unnecessary, and I think it is important that the public and those members of our Allies who are at present in this country should realise that there is no necessity for any person to beg in the street. I do not suppose, indeed, there is any other country in the world that does so much for its unfortunates. In the first year of the war a letter appeared one day in "The Times" from a gentleman who described his perplexity when confronted in the street by old, maimed, or blind persons, playing instruments, selling matches or singing. Was their need genuine, he asked, and if so, why was not something done about it? Was one justified in giving them money? He hoped somebody would enlighten him.
1443 I waited a month hoping that someone would reply to him. As nobody did, I ventured to write a letter to "The Times," as I had served for a good many years on local public assistance committees of the L.C.C., and on appeal tribunals of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I knew also a good deal about the valuable constructive work done for people who were down and out by the voluntary societies. I pointed out that in London the L.C.C., through its Public Assistance Committee, provided food, warmth, clothing and shelter, and where necessary medical treatment, for the destitute, that it is also ready to give them, where necessary, a helping hand back to independence. There is no stigma attaching to any genuine application for assistance, whether in cash or kind, and the officers at any relief station would give an applicant any information be required. I also pointed out the fact, not sufficiently known, that there was no necessity whatever for anybody to sleep out in the streets of London at night, that for every person who choose to do so there were at least 25 free, vacant beds available in hostels, homes and casual wards. These facts are well known to social workers and members of the L.C.C., but unfortunately the general public was, and is, largely ignorant of them.
The blind beggars, the people who ask you for the price of a meal or a bed, and all the rest of them, know perfectly well about all these services that are available to them. But they know also that by cultivating a woebegone appearance they can make an easy living out of a generous hearted public. If only these generous hearted people would stop giving indiscriminate charity to people in the street, and would send something instead to one of the recognised voluntary societies, they would have the satisfaction of knowing they were helping really genuine cases and not encouraging undeserving beggars.
A case I saw the other day in the street decided me to raise this question again, and I should like to tell the House about it. One evening as I was walking home I noticed a young man with crutches, dressed in civilian clothes, leaning against the railings outside an American Service club. He was wearing the Eighth Army Ribbon of the Africa Star. He looked very dejected, and as I passed 1444 I thought "Poor fellow, he is tired and having a rest". On the following day, at about the same time, I noticed him again at the same spot. It was drizzling, he wore no overcoat, his shirt was torn and he looked, if possible, even more miserable than before. A kindly-faced American soldier slipped something into his hand. I stopped and asked him to tell me about himself. He told me he had been badly wounded in North Africa, and after many long weary months in hospital had been discharged from the Army at the beginning of this year; he was a single man, and receiving a pension of £2 a week. Certainly one of his legs was horribly crippled, and obviously no good. So, knowing the wonderful and extraordinarily successful work which has been done under the Government's scheme at such places as Leatherhead and St. Loyes, Exeter, to train and refit disabled men, many of them far worse maimed than he, I suggested that he should apply for training, and offered to help him to do so. His answer was that this would be no use to him, because he had a trade in his hands, that of an engineer, and at any rate he could not work until he had had his leg off, and he ought really to be in hospital. So I offered to help him to get there, but he made some excuse.
I was not at all impressed by the attitude of this young man. I told him it was a disgraceful thing that a man like him should beg in the street when the Government and many voluntary agencies were perfectly ready to help him. His answer was that all his grateful country did for him was to give him a pension of £2 a week, on which he could not possibly live, so what else was he to do? This was obviously the sort of thing he had been telling the Americans, and knowing their generous hearts I have no doubt he was making a very good thing out of it, posing as a victim of shabby treatment from an ungrateful country. After that I left him, saying that I would look into his case, for which he thanked me rather sarcastically. As I had already taken down particulars I sent them at once to the Minister of Pensions. He took up the case immediately. I need hardly say that this young man has not been seen again outside that American club, and I leave it to the Minister to tell the House the facts of the case. I 1445 will only add that investigations have shown that this man had never seen service abroad, and was therefore not entitled to wear the Africa Star.
I have raised this matter because I want the public and members of the Forces of our Allies in this country to know that all street begging is unnecessary, and I want them to realise what is being done to help to refit our disabled men and women. The public conscience very rightly demands that the country should take on this responsibility towards its disabled, and the happy results achieved by the training are one of the really bright spots in this rather sombre world. I am sure the House will agree with me when I say that no one has been more sympathetic towards those who have suffered, than my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions.
I hope that his reply to-day will receive wide publicity. All forms of street begging ought to be made illegal. In this I include the ex-Servicemen's bands, who jingle their boxes in front of your face, with a wheedling smile, and the woman with a baby, very often hired for the occasion, who tries to sell you a bit of white heather, and all the rest. They are all impostors. The really needy and deserving are, more often than not, those who are determined to maintain their independence and too proud to ask for help. It is usually possible to reach them only through social workers and voluntary societies. If only charitably-minded people would send something to these societies, such as the Charity Organisation Society and the Greater London Fund for the Blind—and there are many others—and turn a deaf ear to street beggars, they would be doing good instead of harm.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Sir Alfred Beit (St. Pancras, South-East)
I have on more than one occasion asked supplementary questions on those Questions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss), who also takes an interest in this problem, and whom I am glad to see in his place. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Tavistock (Major Studholme) said that it was quite unnecessary that there should be any beggars on the streets. I go further, and say that it is a disgrace to our towns and 1446 to our country that there are any. As long ago as 1935 I wrote to the present Lord Chancellor, who was then Home Secretary, saying that I hoped that, in view of the forthcoming King George V Jubilee celebrations and of the influx of visitors that this would probably bring into London, he would, through the Metropolitan Police, keep an eye on the growth of these abuses, and protect Londoners and visitors alike from these people. I received a conciliatory reply, in which he said that the police knew all about it and would do what they could. I am a little surprised to see no representative of the Home Office on the Front Bench. I am sure that we shall have an interesting answer from the Minister of Pensions, and, of course, certain aspects of this problem come into his sphere, but it is very largely a police question, and we should hear something of the Home Office point of view. I hope that my right hon. Friend will have something to say on that.
The problem is clearly divisible into two sections. There is the one which has been more emphasised by my hon. and gallant Friend, relating to ex-Servicemen, whether genuine or spurious, and the other which is more a police matter, the problem of the old professional beggar. From the point of view of the public it does not make very much difference which class it is, but from the point of view of both classes of begger it is true, as my hon. and gallant Friend has said, that there is no need for them to beg. There are other sources: not only charitable sources—which are excellent bodies—but the resources of the State, which make it quite unnecessary for these people to pursue this profession. It is obvious that, in fact, the great majority of beggars find it more profitable to ply the trade they are now plying than to make application to the Assistance Board. It is heart-breaking in the case of younger people, such as we have heard described, that if only they would take advantage of the training which is available they could, in probably not too long a period, earn decent wages, probably much greater than they can get as beggars, however successful they may be in that trade. What I might call the old lag is probably a hopeless case—and I hope he is dying out—but it is very sad when you see, as I frequently see, quite young men taking up begging as a trade. In the last few 1447 weeks I have been alarmed to notice an increase of this trade on the streets of London. I do not know whether it arises from discharges from the Army: it may arise from the closing of certain industries, and dislocation of that sort; but these people are there, and they prey very largely on the generosity of our Allies. I hope that we may have a statement from the Minister of Pensions that, from his angle, he will do what he can, by training and other methods, to prevent begging from becoming a profession, to be taken up by new young people, and that we may also have an assurance that the police will do what they can to prevent begging on the streets.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Strauss (Lambeth, North)
I was not aware that this question was going to be raised, but I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Tavistock (Captain Studholme) has done so. It is shameful that in our capital city there should be men, who are either ex-Servicemen or who pose as ex-Servicemen, standing at the street corners playing musical instruments, usually making horrible noises, begging the public to support them, and alleging that they have no money, and that the State has let them down. The effect is bad in many ways. It is bad for the beggars themselves, although they may be obtaining considerable sums of money. I understand that if a man knows the game well, he can make substantial weekly earnings by begging in the street. We do not want to encourage anybody to go into that trade.
§ Mr. Strauss
One can be quite sure, as the hon. and gallant Member says, that the beggar does not make any Income Tax return. Secondly, this type of begging has a bad effect on visitors to this country. When any of us have travelled abroad in pre-war days, and have seen, in some foreign cities where there is great poverty, people begging at street corners, we have thought it a deplorable thing, which reflected on the public spirit of the country or the city where the people were carrying on that trade. Americans, who do not know our ways, our administrative machinery, and our social ser- 1448 vices, think, seeing these people at street corners, that this must be a dreadful country to let its ex-Servicemen live in such poverty that they are forced to resort to this method of keeping their homes together and their wives and children alive. But it has a further bad effect on the British public, and particularly on the wives of men who are in the Army. I have heard it said by women many times, when these street mendicants have pushed their bags, sometimes aggressively, in front of passers-by, "Is this what is going to happen to our men when they come back? Is this what they are fighting for? Is it to be the same as after the last war?" It has a most harmful effect on morale.
Personally I am not satisfied that the pensions given to men who are wholly or partially disabled are satisfactory: I think they are far too low. But, however low they are, there is no excuse for this type of action on the part of alleged ex-Servicemen. There are many other things they could do. They could agitate for better pensions, through their Members of Parliament or other public representatives. At the moment, in London there is work for almost anybody who is not totally incapacitated—it may be part-time, not full-time, work. If they really wanted it, these people could find some employment which would bring them in a reasonable living. Of course, there are patches of unemployment, even in London at the moment, but a full-time job as a street mendicant is unnecessary for anybody. I believe that the vast majority of these street mendicants are bogus. I believe that, mostly, their claims on the generosity of the public are ill-founded, and I think that making such false claims on the public is a serious offence. I would like an investigation to be made, by the police, it may be, into the circumstances of all those going round with musical instruments, or with other methods of attracting public attention, to find out why they are doing it and what is their real history, and, if it is found that they are making false claims, some action should be taken against them.
The social services of this country have been improved during the war, but they are far from perfect yet. I would like to see pensions higher, but, however disappointed we may be with their standard, there can be no reason at all, nor excuse, why this begging should be allowed in 1449 the streets of London, and I also would like to hear what the Minister of Pensions has to say on this matter; and whether the Home Office is proposing to take any steps to investigate the real claims of these individuals.
I do not know whether it is the practice to-day, but, after I raised this matter in the House some few months ago, I was shown an advertisement which appeared in a paper some time before the war in which an organisation was advertising for people to come along and play musical instruments in the street, on a commission basis. It was a regular business. I do not know what the detailed arrangements were, but somebody, sitting somewhere in an office, was, presumably, making or hoping to make quite a bit of money out of these people trudging in the streets and preying on the charity of the public. It is a disgrace to the City of London and no doubt it happens in other industrial cities, too. Between our pension schemes our social services and the police, we ought to find a way to stop it.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
We are indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Tavistock (Major Studholme) for raising this matter, but there is one point which has not been mentioned, and that is that those who make this profession lucrative are, in the main, people who can least afford to distribute their money in that way. I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend, faced with a person wearing war medals, did not offer him 6d. or 1s., but something far more substantial. He offered an investigation of his case by the appropriate Department, and that is one advantage which persons in his position possess. The kindly and charitable woman could ill afford the 6d. or 1s. which could be far better spent on her own home or for her children. That does not alter the case of a genuine person, but this other class push themselves into a position where they can attract the most attention. They exaggerate their infirmity in every possible way, and, at a time like this, when our American Allies have come from places like North Africa, where begging is an absolute trade, it is terrible that they should see similar practices in our capital city, with all our social services, and be led to think that genuine need is not properly met by our people. I think it is 1450 regrettable that the Home Office is not represented in the House to-night, but I am quite satisfied that my right hon. Friend will convey to the House the views of the Government, and I equally hope that it will not be shown to be a one-way traffic. I hope also that the Minister will let the Home Secretary know how the House and the country feel on this matter.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
Speaking from personal experience, I can say that there are a number of men being discharged from the Army now with physical disabilities who come under the classification of epileptics. I have had three or four cases in my own constituency in the last week or two. They have no claim to pension, having been epileptics before entering the Army. They were accepted for Service, and, when it was found how they were handicapped, they were discharged. This type of person, so far as I know, has no real claim upon the Minister of Pensions, because he is in no way responsible for their epileptic fits.
§ Mr. Morrison
My correspondence with the Ministry has, generally, shown that it will not take responsibility if a man has been in the Army and has a pre-Army history of epileptic fits.
§ Mr. Morrison
The point I am making is that these people are in an extremely difficult position, and I do not know any class in the community for whom it is so difficult to do anything. Hon. Members have said that there is no excuse for anybody begging, but that does not cover the epileptic. The employment exchange officer, who has to deal with problems of disabilities, tells them that he cannot put them into any place where there is any machinery. Even on farms there is so much mechanisation to-day that these officers will not send the men there. They are not allowed to have anything to do with the building trade, because it is not safe for them to go up and down. I do not know of anything, in fact, which an epileptic can be sent to do. There they are, young, strong, and, to all outward 1451 appearances, healthy and able-bodied people, walking about, and it just does not seem that there is anything we can do about it. It seems very difficult that a man still under 30 years of age who is the unfortunate victim of this disease should be condemned to be isolated for the rest of his life. I am not blaming the Minister of Pensions, but this is a problem, and I have no doubt that the Minister himself has been up against it. I am not in any way detracting from anything said by the previous speakers about the undesirability of these people begging on the streets, but I do ask the Minister to consider whether he really has gone as far as he can in regard to these unfortunate people, turned out of Army because they are victims of epileptic fits.
My hon. Friend suggested that the police should have powers to investigate the circumstances of people begging to find out the real position. That, perhaps, would possibly bring some of these cases to light; but I have known people of the type I have been speaking about who, after a few weeks or months, go steadily downhill because nobody will employ them. No employer can employ a man liable to these fits, and they are left drifting about until it occurs to them that, if they stood with their caps in their hands at street corners, they would get the sympathy of the public. So they write on a piece of cardboard "Ex-Serviceman; no pension," and stand there, and the public do not know what the circumstances are. I hope the Minister will look into the special case of these epileptic men.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)
I would like to add a word to what the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) has said. I hope what he has said will help the House to realise that the subject is a very complicated and a very important one. We are all indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Tavistock (Major Studholme) for presenting the question in the way he has done. We are all agreed that we do not want the sympathy of the public to be exploited selfishly and unworthily by people who make a profession out of their begging, but clearly there are cases, like the one just mentioned, that call for very careful investiga- 1452 hon. What is needed before further action is taken is something in the nature of a small inter-departmental inquiry or committee, in which the Home Office, the Ministry of Pensions, possibly the Ministry of Health and, it may be, some other Ministry, co-operated in investigating the problem. We do not want to see, above all, anything like what we saw after the last war. We all remember the hundreds of men—many of them honest, and some fraudulent, and no one could tell without investigation whether a case was genuine or not—going round selling soap, scent or stationery, and in some cases only making a pretence of selling it in order to get gifts largely from charitable women. It is discreditable to the country that that should be done and we are surely determined that it shall not happen again.
I am sure that the Minister and the Government will do their utmost to see that that is so, yet it is discreditable that our Allies and visitors from other countries should imagine, as they may well do from cases like the one we have had mentioned, that no provision is made for these men. Even under the best of systems there will be temporary periods in which the help which is necessary is not forthcoming to the man who is needy, but that does not excuse anyone from making a livelihood out of trading upon the sympathy of others. It is degrading to the man himself and, in the end, degrading to the giver, because it is not the best way to help, and it is also degrading to the country as a whole. I hope, therefore, that the Minister's Department, which, I am sure, is going to do its utmost to prevent anything like what occurred after the last war, will co-operate with other Departments to investigate the whole question in its wider aspects.
There is not only the ex-Serviceman but the blind man, and all kinds of unfortunate people who may be tempted to prey in this way upon our sympathy. I remember years ago seeing in one of these so-called bands two men, ostensibly sailors—they were in nautical uniform—who appeared to have one leg each, but you could see the other leg tucked up inside their trousers. I can remember a blind man reading a passage of Scripture at a seaside resort and as I stood by quietly I found that he was reading, apparently from Braille, the same passage over and over 1453 again at suitable intervals when people had passed by. I do not know whether he even read it, or was just repeating it by heart, but it was clearly an unworthy attempt to trade on the sympathy of ordinary people. That sort of thing ought not to happen. It has very largely gone to-day because of the payment of blind persons' pensions. That man was doing this sort of thing when there was no national pension for the blind. I hope that the adequate and honourable treatment of our ex-Servicemen by the country will do away altogether with the necessity of men having to live in an unworthy way upon the sympathy and good will of others.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
I did not want to intervene, as the Minister of Pensions knows that I disagree to a great extent with the medical aspects of his pensions policy. I do not want to raise issues too acutely here this afternoon, but I think that some of the remarks which were made about the poor beggar, whether he followed a profession or whether he was fraudulent or not, are unfair. This sort of man is a disabled man, disabled perhaps through epilepsy or some form of organic nervous disease, paralysis, or some other disease, or perhaps a physically disabled man. He has to live. Everything is against him. Society is against him. He has to provide for himself somehow or other. His attempt to get a little charitable contribution from the public now and again may appear unpleasant to the well-placed individual in society or to any Member who is lucky enough to be in this House, but to this man it is a matter of life and death. I have never yet met a professional beggar or a man who is supposed to be doing something against society, whether in the West End or outside, who, if he was taken aside and gently spoken to, would not say that he was very anxious that some scheme or organisation should be devised by which he could be assisted.
§ Dr. Morgan
I have a tendency myself, as a doctor seeing patients and people every day, to try to place credence upon statements patients make to me until, as a result of my medical or psychological knowledge, I prove them wrong. I do not start off by regarding a man as a 1454 fraud trying to do me down. I treat him as an honest being and, if he does me down, I ask him not to try to do it again, as I can see through him. I deal with psychological and Ministry of Pensions cases every day, so that the hon. Member need not try to make a facetious remark concerning my experience when I am saying something that comes within my professional knowledge.
§ Sir A. Beit
There is a slight difference between people who come to see the hon. Member and those individuals whom he sees "off his own bat."
§ Dr. Morgan
Not a bit. They are both men who are abnormal or disabled. An epileptic man is not a normal man. He has the epileptic side and the intermediate side between the attacks of epilepsy, which is abnormal. He has a disability and cannot get a pension, and such a man must necessarily be given something even if it is public assistance.
§ Major Studholme
If people cannot get pensions they can apply for other assistance, and there are innumerable bodies ready to help them to get on to their feet again.
§ Dr. Morgan
That is not new to me. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is rather treating me as if I am an infant prodigy and do not know about these things. I know that there are voluntary organisations, and there is public assistance, and, I also know of the absolute hatred of people who have to submit to the cross-examination which is done formally by officials. I have seen this cross-examination and inquisition carried out by public officials, and I have seen it done by people who have a sympathetic attitude towards the patient or the individual, and there is an entirely different response.
I want to express my surprise at what was said by the hon. Member who has just spoken. I think he was a little hard on these poor unfortunate people. The Ministry of Pensions' medical policy with regard to such cases as epilepsy is, if a man has suffered from epilepsy before his service and has been accepted for service, to say that the disability is not aggravated by service or certainly not caused by service, but it may be considerably, aggravated by service. I know many epileptic men who have been accepted for service after casual medical examina- 1455 tion who, while serving with me in the last war in the trenches, had serious attacks of epilepsy, and in many cases they did not get a pension because the condition was not considered to have been aggravated by war service. Also I saw the subterranean methods employed in the Department then. Undoubtedly they are better now, but I want to urge the Minister of Pensions to give special consideration to many of these cases with a pre-war history of disability caused by epilepsy or other nervous disease. Their condition is emotionally aggravated and disturbed and undermined by the nature of the service they undergo. I have seen men not far away from artillery fire trembling and having an epileptic attack.
When they come back they are told that they are old epileptics and they say, "But I have never had it as badly as this; I now have attacks every three weeks while before it was six weeks." It is true that they are given a certain amount of treatment, and with treatment the period between attacks can be lengthened, but the fact remains that the man's condition has been aggravated by his years of service. I know the good intentions of the Minister of Pensions, and I know that he cannot go against his professional medical advisers, but I know something of these advisers. I do not want to say anything at all against my own profession, and I am not saying that the Minister of Pensions has not a good heart and good intentions, but I know the difficulty in which he would be placed if he said to his professional advisers, "I cannot take your advice." It is a difficult position, but, at the same time there are certain diseases, whether pre-service or after-service, which are supposed to be caused generally but which can be aggravated by service, and I wish the Minister would look at it in this way.
Let us take epilepsy. One form is known as ideopathic epilepsy, because we do not know how it arises; there are paralytic symptoms in hysteria epilepsy—a mixture of hysteria with true epilepsy. I submit that the Minister might now and again consider these separate disabilities which his professional advisers ask him to treat as being something inherent in the person's make-up, to see whether he cannot put these men in a separate category and give them special consideration in order to do justice to them by admitting 1456 that their disability has been considerably aggravated by service.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
There is another angle to this. We all deplore seeing a beggar, whether professional, sham or real, on the streets, and we think that in this country there should be no need for that, but I am wondering if we shall consider that we have done a good job of work here to-day if we clear the streets of beggars knowing that there are places where they can go for assistance. The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) mentioned the epileptic. I am not blaming the Minister, because it is the responsibility of this House if there are no adequate pensions, but we should recognise that there are three diseases for which there are no pensions unless we can find a contributory cause. There are no pensions for tuberculosis or for cancer unless there is a contributory cause, though I do think that we have done much better as far as tuberculosis is concerned. In regard to the epileptic I have in mind a case of a man who has done two and a half years in the Army. He was A.1 when he went in but has now been discharged. I have no doubt the Debate to-day will be reported to the Home Office and if, as a result of it, we take these men from the streets, the man I have in mind will have to beg for public assistance. I think it is a great reflection on this House that a man who is passed A.1 into the Army does two and a half years' service, and is then discharged because, as an epileptic, he is of no further use, should have to beg for public assistance. It is humiliating to us as a nation. The Minister may have a favourable reply to make to this; I hope he has. Let us try to get them from the streets by all means, but let us not drive them to beg for public assistance after serving in the Army and doing their duty.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
May I express my thanks to the hon. and gallant Member for Tavistock (Major Studholme) for having raised this question, because, at any rate so far as the ex-Serviceman beggar is concerned, it is one that has exercised my mind and caused me very grave thought for some time. However, this Debate has travelled over a very wide field, and has assumed quite a different aspect from 1457 what I expected when I received notice from my hon. and gallant Friend that he was raising this point. Had I thought it would have travelled over such a wide field, I should have requested a representative from the Home Office to be present, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would have seen that it was done. At the time, however, it appeared to me to be purely an ex-Serviceman's question. At any rate I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the sentiments that have been expressed here this afternoon, and also the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison) to have some kind of inquiry into this matter, because I think it is highly desirable that an inquiry should be made.
Let me deal with one or two points that have been raised quite outside what I thought would be the range of the Debate, and then we can get on to the other matters. The real answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) and the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) is this: What happened during and after the last war was entirely different from what is happening to-day, and what happened in the early days of this war was entirely different from what is happening to-day, because this House, in its wisdom and after some very keen debate, approved the White Paper proposals put forward by the Government, which altered the whole position. It was really a revolution in pensions' administration and law. It was decided that aggravation should not have to be "material" aggravation and where it was attributable, it should not be "directly" attributable. Those two words, which were regarded as obnoxious, were taken away, and that has had an enormous effect, because if a man can show that there has been any aggravation by service then a pension can be given. As far as tuberculosis cases are concerned, there are very few now which are not receiving pensions for aggravation, and a pension for aggravation is assessed in exactly the same way as if it were attributable, so it is a pension according to the man's state of disability. I do not say that it is a general rule to grant a pension for cancer, because it is so difficult to show that there has been any cause and effect by service, but even in cancer cases, where it has 1458 been shown that because the man was, say, serving abroad he was not in a position to get the right medical attention, and so on, a pension has been given.
In regard to epilepsy, we consider the case in a favourable light if a man's condition has been aggravated by a recent accident while serving in the Forces. Even in the case of diseases which have been scheduled as non-attributable to service, we go into their whole history. We have the pre-Service history on our records, but we judge the case by what has happened to the man during his time of service, and in the light of the climatic conditions in which he has been serving, and so on. I can assure the House that the Parliamentary Secretary and I take a deep personal interest in the question of aggravation, and are trying to carry out, not only the letter of the law but its spirit.
I want to thank the hon. Member for North Lambeth (Mr. G. Strauss). He put some questions to me a few months ago about street musicians claiming to be ex-Servicemen. It may interest him to know what happened, because I promised to look into the matter. I had the assistance of the police and the men were interviewed. All but one said they were ex-Servicemen, and thus entitled to exhibit the sign, "ex-Servicemen's Band," but it was surprising how many had lost their papers and could produce nothing to show that they had been in the Services. One man had actually served, and we had a good deal of sympathy for him until we discovered that he was in full-time employment, and was only playing in the band during his lunch hour and after working hours. When interviewed he said, "What is there to stop me? I am an ex-Serviceman," which he was. He said, "I can make far more money at this, than I can at my war work."
I had a word with the police as to what could be done, and the answer was that under the law as it now stands nothing could be done. If that man had claimed to be an ex-Serviceman, and had not been an ex-Serviceman, something might have been done on the grounds of misrepresentation, but nothing could be done about his playing. So long as a man does not create a nuisance, or an obstruction, nothing can be done under 1459 the law as it now stands. As regards hawking, if a man takes out a pedlar's licence, signed by a citizen, to say that he is a man of good character, he can go from door to door and sell what he likes. We remember how, after the last war, men with 1½d. worth of notepaper in an envelope on which was printed, "Patronise an ex-Service Man"—they were careful not to say they were disabled—charged 6d. and in some cases received 1s. for their notepaper, all because they claimed to be ex-Servicemen.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) asked me to look into the case of a man who was hawking from door to door. The man was interviewed and offered training but he said, "I am going back to my old job after the war. I was an house-to-house canvasser for Hoovers before the war but there are no new Hoovers to be obtained now." Believe me, that man received 750 per cent. profit for what he was selling to householders, who were paying his price because he said he was an ex-Serviceman. In this case he was, because he had served two days in the Army. That is the sort of thing we have to put up with.
I would like to give the House some idea of what we are trying to do to help these men. It is no part of the Government's policy to allow a situation in which disabled ex-Serviceman can play upon the feelings of the public in the streets. Whatever might be said about the bad old days, the present arrangements for pensions and resettlement are such that men with a war disability can either be restored to a state in which they can earn normal wages or otherwise be cared for by my Department, and not by the Public Assistance authority. The Government scheme for rehabilitation is designed to cover the whole period from injury until the disabled man is restored to useful life. While in hospital he receives special attention and the best treatment by the most up-to-date methods, not forgetting the psychological side of the whole business. When he is ready to come out of the hands of the doctors he is interviewed by a representative of the Ministry of Labour, who takes the case in hand with a view to resettlement.
Here, let me pay a tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour for what he has done in this matter. He 1460 has gone to an enormous amount of trouble. He has specially trained men to deal with these cases, and conduct interviews. I can assure the House that men who are about to be discharged are dealt with in a most sympathetic way. If either my right hon. Friend or I receives a complaint about an interview, we investigate it at once because we know that the man who has been suffering and in hospital for a long time wants careful and sympathetic handling. It is wise to have, as interviewers, men with sympathy and whose heart is in their job, and I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend has found excellent men for this task. If a man is declared fit enough to go back to his old job we are pleased. If not, arrangements are made for him to be trained for some other suitable occupation. I want to emphasise that point because consultations take place with the doctor, the man himself and the Minister of Labour's officials to see what kind of job will suit the man.
I have a case in mind. A miner lost a leg and said he would like to be a clerk. They thought it was rather a big jump for a miner to become a clerk but it appeared that he had spent his time in improving himself and had gone to night classes, and it was suggested that he should be tested out. He is to-day employed in my own Department and is doing a jolly good job of work and he has made a first-class clerk. That is the result of a sympathetic talk at the interview. Again the House has passed the Disabled Persons Employment Act. I was delighted when it came on to the Statute Book because it will help me tremendously in dealing with my problem both now and after the war. The measure of the success of these arrangements is reflected in the fact that less than 2 per cent. of all the men who are interviewed have presented very great difficulty. We deal with them in a different way. I should have said that during training these men receive training money in addition to pension and, if married, family and children allowance.
The great thing is this. Where you find a man who does not respond in the first place, but is willing to undergo some special treatment, which may take some time, he is looked after and gets treatment allowance. If we cannot make him employable, we put him on what is called the unemployable list and he is given a 1461 supplementation, a measure agreed to by the House, and we help him in many other ways and, if he can do odd jobs in the house, we do not take any notice of £1 a week if he earns it and we say, "Good luck to him," and he gets our extra money on top of that. So there is a chance for everyone. A count was taken last April. Something like 180,000 men had been discharged that we have had to deal with, and fewer than 3,000 were showing any difficulty at all. The scheme is working successfully, but we want it to be more successful and, if there are any points that hon. Members can suggest whereby we can improve it, I shall be only too willing to accept their advice and help, but there is one thing that we have to make clear. We must have co-operation from the men themselves, otherwise we are in a hopeless position. We are still a democracy and there is no compulsion about it. I have never requested the House to grant me power to compel, because it is not in accordance with our ideas of democracy, but we get a small number of cases where the individual will not co-operate, and, therefore, we are placed in a very difficult situation. Members who come across such cases will be doing a good service both to the men and to the country if they advise them to go along and see the officer at the employment exchange and co-operate with him in the matter of resettlement, If a man wants to be a street musician or a hawker I cannot compel him to undertake anything else.
I have the report of the case mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend and it is important that it should be placed on record. This man was imposing on our gallant Allies, the Americans. We know their wonderful generosity. Many of us have been abroad in peace time and I remember one city in Southern Europe where it seemed to me that 90 per cent. of the population were beggars. I want our American Allies to know that we are doing our best to look after these men if they will only co-operate. This man was wearing the North Africa Eighth Army Ribbon, and there is no question that he got considerable sums of money from American soldiers. I have made full inquiries and have found that he performed no foreign service and is, therefore, not entitled to wear the ribbon. His injuries were sustained in a motor cycle accident in this country, and he is pensioned at 100 1462 per cent. rate. Far from his service being creditable, it was very bad. In his first period in the Army in 1937 he was absent without leave twice and deserted once. The Army got rid of him. He re-joined during the war period, no doubt without mentioning his past record. He deserted and was absent for 12 months from his unit and was then only brought back by the police. His disability was admittedly severe—he is certainly not malingering about that—but since his discharge in March, 1943, his treatment has been repeatedly interrupted by his own behaviour. Three times he has had to be dismissed from Ministry hospitals because he would not comply with the rules and would not do what the doctors and surgeons thought he ought to do. He was reported to be insolent, difficult and non-co-operative. Even so, further treatment would not have been denied him, in fact it is still available, but he has not kept in touch with the local officers of the Ministry. Here is one of my difficulties which often arises, and hon. Members wonder why these things come about. He has changed his address frequently without giving notice to the Department and we have lost sight of him, though we try to follow cases up to see if they will change their minds when they have refused to undergo training. It made things very difficult until he wanted a new pension book, and then he let us know. If he is prepared to come forward and undergo the proper rehabilitation treatment and the training we will see that he is put into a position to get a job.
The Government visualised, in putting this scheme into operation, that we should first have this expert treatment, hoping medical improvement possible, and we offer it. Then there is a course of training according to the nature of the disablement, and finally a job, and we see to that. But this man said he did not want to learn any other trade. He was an engineer, and we could do with him and use him if he was sufficiently skilled but, if he will not co-operate, what can I do more than I have done? Do not let it go abroad that this is a general thing among ex-Servicemen. It is nothing of the kind. There is only a small percentage, but that small percentage is creating a very bad impression here and abroad, and we want, if possible, to deal with it.
1463 We should bear in mind the comprehensive provisions which we have for dealing with the ex-Service and disabled man. There is not merely the pension. I have said on many occasions that money compensation is not enough for these men. They want something more; they want sympathetic help, and they want to be helped to help themselves. Nothing is better for a man than that he should feel, not an inferiority complex, but that he is equal to his fellow citizens. In addition to his pension, every man who suffers from disability gets his rights under National Health Insurance, and if he does not come under health insurance we make it up. If a man is unemployed he gets the benefits of unemployment in- 1464 surance, plus his pension. Bearing these things in mind, what we as Members of the House ought to do is to see that these men get the best medical attention and training and are given the best opportunities for doing useful work. As far as we can, we should see to it that no ex-Serviceman need be on the streets begging. If he does go on the streets he will have to be dealt with in a different way from any way by which I can deal with him, and that is by an alteration of the law so that none of these people can be on the streets begging.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Eleven Minutes after Five o'Clock.