§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
The case I want to raise this evening is the hardest individual case that I have experienced in the ten years that I have been here. For the purpose of the record, I should like to outline the case, although the Minister is, naturally, well aware of all the circumstances of it. It concerns a Mr. G. A. Rogers, of Fife, who enlisted in the Royal Navy in May, 1941, at the age of 18. He was an extremely fit and healthy young man, very interested in sport, and, I think, was a boxer, which indicates some physical prowess. Within ten months of joining the Navy, he had an experience which he has never forgotten.
Rogers was on the run to Russia, to Murmansk, and in March, 1942, his ship, H.M.S. "Trinidad", was torpedoed. She got to Murmansk and was there for some while being repaired. On the return journey to this country, two months later, at reduced speed, she was again hit and sank. On both occasions, Rogers was within an ace of drowning. He was trapped below deck on each occasion and was taken out after seeing many of his comrades burned to death on the ship.
From that time onwards, this man appears to have completely gone to pieces, both physically and mentally. I have his medical records with me, and it appears that from the time when he returned to this country it is a record of hospital treatment, mental hospital treatment, inspections and investigations by psychiatrists, and so on. Eventually, it was agreed by the medical authorities that he was unfit for further service and was invalided out of the Service on 12th December, 1944, with a 20 per cent. pension for psycho-neurosis. The phraseology used by the Ministry at that time was that it was psycho-neurosis aggravated by service, but not caused by service, although I have indicated that Rogers was 100 per cent. when he went into the Service and that, as a result of these experiences, he was discharged in 1944. Since the sinking of his ship, though this period was one of misery for himself and his family, it was also a period of considerable hardship and anxiety.
2301 From 1945 onwards, the medical story reveals the decline of a man who before the war was a healthy, adventurous 18-year-old with the world before him. Today, at the "ripe old age" of 39, this man is of little use to anybody. According to this record, he has had well over thirty jobs in that period, but he could not settle down to any one of them, could not concentrate because his nerves were shattered, and he is unable to make a contribution either for his family or for the nation.
In August, 1946, his pension was increased to 30 per cent. Subsequently, he had medical boards in 1947, 1949 and 1951, with no pension change whatever, although, according to his medical report, he had had rapid changes of job and countless months lost through illness of one form or another and hospital treatment of one form or another. Eventually, he got into the hands of the mental hospital at Stratheden, Cupar, Fife, being admitted there as a voluntary patient in May, 1952. He had another medical board in 1953, with no pension change, although, meanwhile, in the period 1951–53, he had had several more jobs, including an attempt to go to sea again.
I may be thoroughly unjustified in this, but I have the impression that there is an accusation of malingering. I hope that that is not so.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)
I should like to say once and for all that that suggestion has never been made and could never be made.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am very glad to hear that, because I want to come to a phrase which was used by the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry which might have created that impression. Rogers attempted to go to sea again and, in fact, he went on a deep-sea tug to Malta, where he had a stomach haemorrhage and had to be brought home. Again, he went as a voluntary patient into the mental hospital at Stratheden, and, for the second time, left against medical advice within a week of being admitted.
Following an appeal by Rogers to the Ministry, the Ministry's Chief Medical Officer declared, in November, 1954—I quote from the man's medical history that 2302The cause of the condition lies in a constitutional defect in the make-up of his personality and his psycho-neurosis is therefore not attributable to service.As a layman, I assert that that is a complete travesty of the facts as I know them.
The pension was later increased to 70 per cent. dating from May, 1954, when he appealed on the ground that his disability was caused, not only aggravated, by war service. In May, 1957, he appealed for his pension to be backdated. In a letter to me dated 25th April, 1960, the Ministry explained that it could not do this except back to 21st January, 1954. That was a concession of four months' back-dating, after British Legion intervention. Why was that concession given? What was the reason? Subsequently, the Minister explained why, and I shall come to that.
In his letter to me, the Minister asserted:I am afraid I can only confirm that there are no grounds for awarding this increase from an earlier date.However, on 18th July, 1959, the man's pension had gone up to 100 per cent., and on 28th January, 1960, he received the unemployability supplement. Constant attendance allowance, which had previously been refused, was granted at the half-day rate, at 17s. 6d. a week, following representations which I made.
In his letter to me, the Minister informed me that the unemployability supplement would itself be back-dated to 18th July, 1959, which gave an extra six months.
The Minister and I had subsequent exchanges. I confess at once that there was a good deal of sympathy expressed, but there was no more cash, and cash is what the man wants. The Ministry was quite adamant, but so was Rogers, so was his wife, and so was I. We should not be Scots if we were not persistent.
On 19th August I had a further letter from the Ministry back-dating the pension to December, 1953—that is, by another month. Therefore, after representations from the British Legion and twice from myself, there was backdating of these various pensions and allowances after it had been declared that no such concessions could be made. I make these comments not in criticism of the Ministry, but to emphasise the 2303 fact that clearly there is discretion exercisable by the Department.
The final letter which I received from the Ministry was dated 19th September last. It was in answer to an appeal for the back-dating of the pension beyond 1st January, 1953. In that letter the Minister said:There would need to be clear evidence that he"—that is, Rogers—was prevented by reasons outside his own control from appealing against his pension assessment earlier than 1st December, 1953.The Minister said that between 1946 and 1953 Rogers had five separate opportunities to appeal, but did not do so. I think that that is the gist of the hon. Gentleman's case. The Minister went on, in his letter:It cannot be admitted that his handicap was so severe as to prevent him from appealing throughout this period.Having studied this medical history, again, I emphasise, as a layman, I emphatically and vehemently deny that this man was in any position to make a cogent appeal against his assessment. In that medical history there is abundant evidence that Rogers was not a normal person, either physically or mentally. There are countless references in it to "anxiety depression". There are references to hysteria, to his going in and out of mental hospitals as a voluntary patient, going out against medical advice after a week or two, and being examined by psychiatrists and neurologists twice in the mental home, all emphasising that this was not a normal person and therefore was not, like a normal person, likely to make the kind of appeal against a pension assessment which a normal person would make. I think that he was clearly a man who could not be aware of all the rights available to him.
I want to make this appeal to the Minister. He may pride himself in his generosity to date. Concessions have been given repeatedly, as I have admitted, but the impression is, perhaps, unfortunately created that these concessions have been forced out of a reluctant Ministry. In any event, I think that it is wrong to use the word "generous" in any case of this description. It is apparent that the Minister can exercise 2304 a good deal of discretion. I think that I am right in saying that many years ago there was a Minister who, when a case like this came up and his civil servants found reasons for not giving a man what he was asking for, said to his civil servants, "You had better get back to the Ministry and find reasons for giving it". I wish that the Minister would do that in cases like this. Where there is the slightest shadow of doubt, that doubt must in all cases be given to men like this. That is all I am asking for.
I should like to put my appeal in the form of three requests. First, I should like the Minister to consider a substantial back-dating of the pension. Secondly, I should like him to consider the giving of the constant attendance allowance at the full rate, because, clearly, this man is in need of constant attention. Thirdly—and here I come to a point which is not the direct concern of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, but I am grateful to him for calling the attention of the Scottish Office to it—I should like him to consider the granting of a motor car. This man cannot get out, nor can his wife, and a Morris Minicar would be a tremendous boon to him.
I have been in contact with the Scottish Office and I am glad to see that the Joint Under-Secretary is present at this debate. Again, however, we have sympathy, but no car. This man cannot ride around on the Minister's sympathy. He wants to ride around in a car. If we have "never had it so good", we ought to give this kind of concession to this kind of person.
Even if all these things were granted, it is little recompense for a life that is blighted before it is forty years old. Mr. and Mrs. Rogers are condemned to a life of hardship, sacrifice and misery. What cannot be a normal, happy married life is now to drag to its interminable end without hope unless the Minister is a little more generous than he has been. I hope that he does not think that I have been carping overmuch. One of the great attributes of this House is that we can raise this kind of case here and I hope that my appeal will not be in vain.
§ 10.16 p.m.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)
The 2305 hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) has raised this evening a tragic and difficult case, one of the most difficult of the many with which I have had to deal during the two and a half years that I have served in my Department. The hon. Member has done so, I am glad to say, without introducing any drama into the story which he has just told us. Similarly, when we have corresponded, as we have done, over these last months, vie have both been entirely objective and we have found a way of helping the hon. Member's constituent even though it was not to any big extent.
I should like here and now to refute the suggestion that changes and concessions in individual cases of war pensions can be wrung out of us by constant battering. That is not our attitude. We have a certain code to administer, as hon. Members who have served in the Department and have been associated with it know. As far as we are able, however, we try to give men and women the benefit of the doubt and also to help them with their claims. There are, however, certain things that we cannot do, and I hope that what I say to the hon. Member this evening will not leave him with the impression that we are obstinate about this or about other cases
The main principle which is raised by this case is the question of arrears and of the backdating of awards. This always raises difficulty. There are long-standing rules that govern backdating and they are not always fully understood. In consequence, I welcome the chance tonight to try to explain the general principles and to say how they affect this case, which, I admit, is a sad one. Even though many cases of psycho-neurosis have somewhat similar features, this one has a number of quite exceptional features.
First, as to the general principles, in our war pensions code, there is no time limit to a claim which any of us may make to a disability pension or to an appeal against the Department's decision on an entitlement question. The latter point is the one which lies at the back of the hon. Member's main request.
I repeat that we do our best to help every man and woman to receive what he or she may be entitled to. We are ready to act as advisers; we have an active welfare service and we automatically examine the title to pension of 2306 all men who are invalided from the Services. The final obligation to claim a pension or to lodge an appeal rests, however, with the man himself. That is well known in Service and in ex-Service circles.
When making our decisions, we always indicate the clear rights of appeal that a man may have, because the Royal Warrants lay down that a pension is payable from the date of the claim or the date of the successful appeal. The Minister's discretion, to which the hon. Gentleman did refer, is not so very wide nor was it ever intended to be used, I think, except in rare cases. There is a certain discretion, but it was never intended to be of very general application. The sort of circumstance where the Minister would consider payment of arrears are those where prolonged and serious illness has intervened which has prevented a claim or prevented a man from making an appeal. In this connection we must remember, I think, that illnesses of the mind, such as in the particular case of the hon. Gentleman's constituent, do present a particularly difficult question.
In all cases we must remember that the award of a pension depends on medical certification covering the period in question, and must be based on sound evidence in order to be fair as between man and man. We all appreciate, the sad circumstances of many cases of psycho-neurosis and not least this one. However, I do not want to enter into this sort of detail which the hon. Gentleman avoided, and which, I think we would all agree, it would not be helpful to discuss publicly.
On the other hand, I must add a word about the history of this case and give a brief factual history. What the hon. Gentleman is now asking is that the 70 per cent. pension already awarded with, exceptionally, a small amount of arrears shall be back dated still further. Mr. Rogers was invalided in December, 1944. His award of pension was at the rate of 20 per cent. and psycho-neurosis aggravated by service. He was re-hoarded in 1946 and his pension was raised to 30 per cent. He was re-boarded thereafter in 1947, 1949, 1951 and 1953, and the award of 30 per cent. was maintained. The boards in every case excluded nothing; that is to say, 2307 no disablement was offset. He was given a pension for what was believed to be the full extent of his disability. There would have been no difference in the amount of pension paid over that period had the title then been attributability instead of aggravation, a point I did try to make in correspondence with the hon. Member. The way in which the award for aggravation was made did cover the entire condition. The assessment, of course, is to cover the estimated average disablement for an ensuing period. One knows that with this sort of disability there will be marked up and down changes. It is part of the nature of the illness, and whereas one admits that Mr. Rogers was very depressed and very sick at times, at other times he was gallantly and creditably holding down different jobs. There is no doubt at all that there was evidence of deterioration in the winter of 1953–54 when he was admitted to hospital, and while still in hospital he made an appeal on the entitlement issue. That was heard in the spring of the following year, and it succeeded, and the basis of his pension was then altered to attributability.
In May, 1955, he was re-boarded and his condition was assessed at 70 per cent. The British Legion represented that this should be back dated to before the date of the successful appeal, and in fact it was back dated to January, 1954, which was the date of his admission to hospital. This appeared to be the clear point at which it could be said that his condition had deteriorated substantially since the assessment made at the previous board.
Later the hon. Gentleman asked me to look at the case again, which I did, and it seemed reasonable to me, and the doctors confirmed, that we should let the 70 per cent. run from December, 1953, when Mrs. Rogers had approached us about making a deterioration claim. We accepted that, just the same as an approach to a Member of Parliament. We accepted that as being the firm beginning of a claim. What we were trying to do was to recognise that Mr. Roger's condition had deteriorated since the previous board in April, 1953, although we had no evidence what in fact was the rate of deterioration or its progress. None the less, by pushing that assessment back we felt that we were doing 2308 something to recognise that there had been deterioration over that winter.
We cannot reduce medicine to mathematics, and not least when dealing with illnesses of the mind, a field where medical knowledge and experience is far from static, but we should remember that the board of April, 1953, did confirm the 30 per cent. disability which had been agreed by previous boards.
I then said in my letter that I thought that we had done all that we could do, but my right hon. Friend does not want to slam the door on this case. He knows the details of it. I have discussed it with him and he has asked me to say, whilst not making any promise and not raising hopes unduly, that he will look at the case and have it looked at again by our doctors, particularly in the light of the representations made in the House tonight. That is in reference to the first and main point.
As to the constant attendance allowance, the rate is dependent upon medical advice. In February, 1960, Mr. Rogers was medically examined and the view was then expressed that attendance was not necessary. In April, 1960, following, I gather, further black-outs this decision was reviewed and an award was made and it was then back-dated to July, 1959 when Mr. Rogers became 100 per cent. disabled. In passing, the House might like to know that a 30 per cent. consequential disability was accepted with the 70 per cent. disability for psychoneurosis. The date on which we accepted 100 per cent. disability is an important factor in connection with constant attendance.
The hon. Member is suggesting that circumstances today point to justification for a higher rate. I can only say that it would seem fair that Mr. Rogers should be re-examined medically again at an early date. If it emerges from examination that he needs more attendance because of his present condition, a higher rate could be paid, but these assessments are interim assessments based on the medical condition at the time and a fair estimate of the average condition over the ensuing period.
The question of motor transport, as the hon. Member has said, is technically a question for the Scottish Office, and I have been in touch with my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of 2309 State for Scotland. He has asked me to say that Mr. Rogers was examined in September, 1959, in connection with a claim far motor transport. This took place in Edinburgh. At the time the.doctors did not take the view that his disability involved total or almost total loss of the use of both legs, which is the criterion.
This was before the 100 per cent. disability had been accepted, and my hon. Friend has said that it would seem that there is now a case for a further examination. It does not. of course, follow that the increased assessment will necessarily affect the earlier decision, but it would seem fair that Mr. Rogers should be examined again. My hon. 2310 Friend therefore will arrange for a further medical examination at an early date, but on this issue I should not like to raise too great hopes.
I would say seriously to the hon. Member that I appreciate the tragic circumstances of this case and that I have tried to meet them, as the hon. Member has recognised in the kind words to me in some of the correspondence that has flowed between us. He has asked us to seek to lean over backwards. Provided that we can keep our balance, that is what we shall try to do.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.