HL Deb 20 December 1972 vol 337 cc1165-92

6.40 p.m.

LORD MAYBRAY-KING rose to call attention to the problems of disabled ex-Servicemen; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I first thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte, not only for initiating a wonderful debate—and I speak as one who loves children—but for the marvellous speech with which she introduced her Motion. May I say, too, in my introductory remarks, that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for being here to-night, after a very busy week, to reply to a debate in which I believe he has really at heart the cause of which I wish to speak.

My Lords, I count it as a privilege, as a former Speaker of the freest House of Commons in the world and now as a Member of your Lordships' House, to pay tribute to our disabled ex-Servicemen. But for them, and those who did not come back, we should not be here tonight. I was distressed to learn that the Cambridge University students have decided to exclude the Royal British Legion for the charities which they help by their Annual Rag. But for the men who are helped by the Legion there would be no free Cambridge University—indeed, there would be no free university in Europe to-day. Freedom does not happen: it has to be won. It had to be preserved by bitter sacrifices in two world wars.

I would begin this debate by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, for all he has done during his long life for the cause of the disabled ex-Servicemen. But I would also pay tribute to the great ex-Servicemen's associations themselves—the Royal British Legion; BLESMA—the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association: FEPOWA—the Far Eastern Prisoners of War Association; AJEx—the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen. I wish to pay tribute to them—chief among the organisations—for their great work. Through their splendid welfare organisations, and helped by the free gifts of British citizens, not only on Poppy Day but throughout the year, in every corner of the land these associations have assisted thousands and thousands of un-fortunate ex-Servicemen. They have preserved the comradeship of the war years; they have carried it out in practice at St. Dunstan's, for instance; at the BLESMA homes for the disabled and by the patient, detailed work of many hundreds of voluntary welfare officers up and down this country who have helped many a wounded man to secure the fullest benefits to which he is entitled. I think, of the limbless ex-Servicemen, for example, who co-operated with Roehampton in the great work of limb fitting and in research into the bitter problem of the phantom limb—the limb which hurts although it is no longer there. May I say, incidentally, that BLESMA—the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen'sAssociation—welcomes the proposal of the Government to integrate Roehampton into the National Health Service general scheme.

But, above all, these associations have been able throughout the years to press the claims of Servicemen, Service pensioners, on successive Governments. In this they have been sympathetically received by Minister of Pensions after Minister of Pensions. We have been fortunate in the calibre and the kindness of Ministers of Pensions since the end of the war. We are specially fortunate in the present Secretary of State, Sir Keith Joseph; in his colleague in the House of Commons, Mr. Paul Dean and, in our own House, in the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and we are grateful for the way in which from time to time they have received deputations of disabled ex-Servicemen. But part of the struggle to achieve what we have achieved has come from these ex-Servicemen's associations. I would say on their behalf to-night that they are grateful for all that has been done, year by year, to step up the various allowances made to disabled ex-Servicemen; for all that the present Government have done to improve the lot of the disabled ex-Servicemen. I would say, as an old man, that all this is in sharp contrast to the way in which we treated our ex-Servicemen in the years after the First World War and before the Second World War. But, my Lords, there is more to be done.

First, I want to say a word about the FEPOW's—the Far Eastern Prisoners of War. Just after the Second World War there was a campaign, led by my friend, Brigadier Sir Jackie Smyth, V.C., to win from the Japanese compensation for our FEPOWs for the shocking treatment they endured during the war. We won. This was an historic achievement. Those of us who know the FEPOWS know just how much that compensation meant to them, first in immediate grants and now in a Trust Fund administered by some Members of Parliament, looking after the FEPOW when he comes on hard times. It is impossible adequately to describe all that the FEPOWS went through, those who survived and those who did not, in the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Only the Far Eastern prisoner-of-war knows the hell he went through. I am glad that in to-night's debate the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, who was himself a Far Eastern prisoner of war, is to speak. The House will be interested to know that his father, then Sir Arnold Gridley, was chairman of the first All-Party Committee in the other place, fighting the battle for the disabled ex-Servicemen after the Second World War.

When the war was over, it was natural that our FEPOWs should get home as quickly as possible. Other Commonwealth countries provided longer hospitalisation for their Far Eastern prisoners-of-war. Britain was late in realising that malnutrition, starvation, tropical diseases, the high degree of mental and physical stress could all have effects which might last a long time; which might even be late in emerging. Those of us who know the FEPOWS know how remarkable has been their resilience; how so many of them have now apparently completely recovered. But not all: some even died before we had established expert examination into the special problems of the FEPOWS. Some of them have left widows. For others, the ill-effects of their captivity are only now appearing, very late. There were no medical records in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. When the ex-Serviceman becomes seriously ill after his war service we in this country have what is called the seven-year rule. We say that it is reasonable to assume that if the ex-Serviceman has a disability, in the normal course of events that disability will emerge within seven years after his war service. So under the seven-year rule we say that if any ex-Serviceman claims that his disability is due to his war service, if it manifests itself after seven years the onus of proving that the disability was due to what happened to him during the war rests on him. On the other hand, if the disability appeared before the seven years, it is for the Government to prove that it did not happen because of his war service. The FEPOW Association has pressed for some years for the abolition of the seven-year rule for FEPOWs and their widows, and in this they now have the full support of the Royal British Legion, who go further and say that we should abolish the seven-year rule for all ex-prisoners of war.

The Government have shown great sympathy to the claims of FEPOWS. They have now provided at Blackpool a special unit to handle the special claims of FEPOW claimants for some disability benefits. Moreover, any FEPOW with a claim is entitled to appear at one of the three centres which the Government have set up at Liverpool, Edinburgh and London so that his claim may be examined by an expert in tropical medicine. I wish to say on behalf of FEPOWS that they appreciate what the Government have done so far. Indeed, the number of new claims already admitted by the new machinery which the Government have set up justifies the claim that the FEPOWs have made year after year that theirs is indeed a special problem. But for FEPOWs and the Royal British Legion the goal must be the abolition of the seven-year rule. They believe that many widows who are now debarred from benefit would be able to claim if the rule were waived. Incidentally, anyone who has attended the annual conference of the great ex-Servicemen's associations, as I have done—I am thinking, for example, of the FEPOWS, the British Legion, AJEX and BLESMA—will know that the first concern of all and especially of the ex-Serviceman is for the widow of his late comrade or his unfortunate comrade who died after the war.

I turn to some other problems of other disabled, and first the totally disabled, Steadily since the war Governments have improved the pensions and allowances of the 100 per cent. disabled and even more of the 100 per cent. disabled who are unemployable. For these latter people there are now comforts allowances of 85p a week, unemployability allowances of £7.35 a week and a basic pension of £11.20 a week. But all this adds up to just £1.25 above the normal National Insurance benefits. The Legion and BLESMA argue, justifiably I think, that such a totally disabled man should at least have as much as the average income of the average worker in this country. Such a man has given everything except his life, and that gift has included his ability to earn a wage or salary.

The second problem of the disabled ex-Serviceman is what we call"disregards"—that is, the problem of a disabled ex-Serviceman's income which is not taken into account when considering any supplementary benefit to which he is entitled. Up to this year some local authorities, when assessing the income of a disabled ex-Serviceman to work out what his rent rebate should be, completely disregarded his war pension. Under the Government's Act of this year, the Housing Finance Act, the Government have sent out a model scheme in which they recommend local authorities to disregard £2 of a disabled ex-Serviceman's pension. It is true that the local authority may still if it chooses disregard the total amount of a disabled ex-Serviceman's pension and some authorities are doing that, my own City of Southampton being one of them. But some authorities are regarding this £2 as a maximum and not a minimum of the disregard of the disabled ex-Serviceman's pension. Way back in 1932 a Commission on Unemployment recommended that in calculating unemployment benefit half of the disabled man's pension should be reckoned as being disregarded when working out his unemployment benefit. The Royal British Legion considers to-day that still at least half of the disabled man's pension should be disregarded when calculating his entitlement to rent rebate.

Again, the Government, I am glad to say, have improved the position of the civilian disabled man who wants a car. They provide him with an annual allowance towards his car. Ex-Servicemen are glad about what is done for the disabled civilian. Indeed, one of their boasts is that what the ex-Servicemen have done in focusing attention on the needs of ex-Servicemen's disabilities has done much to create a social conscience and to improve the lot of the civilian disabled man. However, on car allowances the ex-Serviceman feels to-day that the improvement in the lot of civilians has been at least partly at the expense of the ex-Serviceman. For example, the grant for annual maintenance which the limbless ex-Serviceman receives has now been reduced by £25 if he has a Government-provided car. If he runs his own car he used to get £95 a year plus freedom from road tax. He now receives £100 plus freedom from road tax, £5 more, but the Government have taken away what he used to get, which was an additional grant of up to £90 for fitting hand controls and so on which the disabled ex-Serviceman needs. This conversion grant has been destroyed.

War pensioners who are slightly less severely disabled than those entitled to a car, whether or not they could work, could receive a car from the Department and could go on using it after they retired from work. Under the new regulations the ex-Serviceman slightly less disabled than the totally disabled man, has to give up his car the moment he gives up work. War pensioners with a three-wheeled vehicle used to get £5 a year petrol allowance. That £5 a year has been taken away. And so, my Lords, the disabled ex-Serviceman feels that his benefits are being eroded: that his special claim for recognition is being lost; and this at a time when benefits should be increasing rather than diminishing.

Ever since the Second World War, and indeed very faintly in the inter-war years, the nation has agreed that there is something special about the disabilities of the ex-Serviceman; disabilities which he acquired in the defence of his country. As I speak tonight and as your Lordships listen to me, each of us has in his mind some totally disabled ex-Serviceman—a legless man, an armless man, a man whose mind was shattered by his war experiences. Nobody can give them back what they lost, what they gave. Nobody can ever adequately recompense them. But we honour them. In this debate tonight we seek not only to express our pride in them and our gratitude for all that they did, but also the need to improve the lot, wherever it is possible, for those who endure special hardships, some of which I have tried to mention.

My Lords, freedom was bought at a great price but freedom is not enough. We have to be worthy of it and at least one of the ways in which we can be worthy of it is by recognising adequately the claims of the men who gave so much to preserve the freedom which we now enjoy. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, there is a great temptation this evening for everyone to get off home and take part in Christmas preparations, but I am sure that those who have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, are especially indebted to him for the fact that he has insisted, although we are later possibly than we anticipated, on raising this issue to-night. My noble friend has a long, close and sustained interest in the well- being of those ex-Servicemen who were not so lucky as others and who suffered disability in the service of others, and the speech to which we have listened reflects that interest. I fear, however, together with him, that the interest of others is not quite so sustained. I am afraid that my noble friend Lord Maybray-King is not entirely typical of many others in our community. The fact is that as the great wars recede into history the special claims of disabled ex-Servicemen which society hitherto has readily recognised have become and are becoming less special.

The example which the noble Lord gave us of Cambridge University indicates what I am saying. What they have done is a sad fact, but I am afraid it is part of a trend. Of course, one can understand those who say that a disability is a disability, whether sustained in Service uniform or in civilian clothes, but society would be wrong to take that argument too far. If some among us are prepared to accept special risks, then surely society, for its part, should accept special responsibility. If we allow special considerations to be eroded then we cannot complain if young men say that they would prefer the rewards and the lack of risk of a Georgie Best to the role of a peacekeeper in the streets of Ulster. If too many of us take up that attitude I cannot believe that society would be the better.

My noble friend has given examples of economies which have been made, now that interest is less keen. He mentioned the matter of disregards, and I do not propose to go over all that ground again because my noble friend made the case so well, but we might well reflect again on this steady trend which has taken place without any of us at any point being conscious of what was happening. In 1932, 50 per cent. of the 100 per cent. disability pension was disregarded in the assessment of supplementary benefits. By 1959 that percentage was down to 35 per cent. In 1966 it came down to 30 per cent. and the £2 which the noble Lord mentioned now represents 18 per cent. As the value of money deteriorates and the total pension is increased to keep pace with it, if that £2 figure is maintained then the percentage is still further whittled away. Do we really want this to happen? I wonder whether this is part of a planned policy of successive Governments? Of course, there is no Party matter in this, because I am sure that what has been done has been done by successive Governments.

My noble friend mentioned regulations about vehicles. Some of the economies here surely are mean. Why was the grant to convert to hand controls stopped? Was it an economy? Was it because it was thought not to be necessary? What was the process of reasoning which led to that decision to cancel that grant for the conversion to hand controls? Then there was the case of the cessation of the grant to those who no longer work. In most cases when a man retires he has the opportunity of greater mobility in leisure, but here we have the position that when a man retires his mobility is restricted. I cannot think that retirement for a disabled ex-Serviceman who knows that once he retires he loses the opportunity of getting around in a car is going to be a very attractive proposition. He is going to see himself being increasingly house-bound. I should have thought that there was a special case there for ensuring that disabled ex-Servicemen should be allowed to get this extra enjoyment in retirement which the use of a car would provide.

There is then this £5 given to those who use a three-wheeler, towards the cost of duty. A £5 grant as an offset to the amount of money which they pay in duty! That is to be stopped if anyone takes up a car after April 1 of this year. Again, I cannot remember this matter being raised. I cannot think that it is part of a deliberate policy. It seems to be one of a number of little economies that have taken place without some of us really understanding what is involved. I have no doubt that those who are to follow me will be able to give more examples or to confirm those which I have given.

I want to say only one further word and that is about Remploy. I know that the excellent work which this organisation has done and is doing is for the disabled generally and that the number of ex-Servicemen employed there is comparatively small; nevertheless this organisation does help the ex-Serviceman to make a constructive contribution towards his own keep. It enables him to do something useful. Psychologically as well as materially, the value of the work done by Remploy cannot be over-emphasised. As we all know, it cannot compete commercially; it is dependent upon some Treasury subvention, and the fact is that in so far as it expands its excellent work it increases its reliance upon the Treasury. I should like to think—and I am not sure that the noble Lord is able to give this assurance to-night—that if, as would seem to be likely, Remploy will be able to go ahead and expand, an increasing commitment would be recognised by the Treasury and the work of that excellent organisation would not be restricted by the Treasury. I repeat again what I said at the beginning: that we are deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, for raising this matter. I am sure that those in the Chamber to-night will join with me in thanking him sincerely.

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, first may I say, on behalf of the Royal British Legion, how deeply grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, for raising this debate to-night. The national executive have asked me to express their sincere thanks for the work the noble Lord has done in the past for the disabled ex-Servicemen, as well as for what he has said to-night—which I have heard but they have not yet heard. The noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, has really given us all in the Legion very great heart in what we do. Invariably we find ourselves doing our work and nobody recognising us, and we try so earnestly to help the ex-Serviceman. We feel very lost at times. We find our publicity is wrong, and we find it very difficult sometimes to get through to Governments, if I may put it in the plural. I know how grateful we all are to the noble Lord for raising this subject to-night.

As your Lordships now know, I am a strong member of the Royal British Legion. I like to consider myself a working member in the county of Wiltshire, as a vice-president and indeed, up to 18 months ago, the vice-chairman in the county. So I have experienced in my own sphere what is going on in the minds of those in the Royal British Legion: what is in one way or another required, whether in regard to vehicles, transportation, the tragedy of a family in difficulty when the husband dies, and pensions. We have always had immense problems and battles. We have tried to express ourselves to the Government of the day, and on the whole we should like to thank the present Government for what they have done and for giving us such a good hearing for the disabled pensioners.

I turn to the more technical side. It is rather staggering to think that at the end of last year, according to a report of the Department of Health and Social Security published in July, there was a total of 502,000 war pensions in payment for disablement due to war service; even to-day, 54 years after the ending of the First World War, we have something like 117,000 of these pensions related to service between 1914 and 1918. The remainder relate to the 1939–1945 war. It follows that our responsibility towards the war disabled and the war widow must continue. When I say"our", I think it is the responsibility of everyone, not only in this House but outside, even those who do not belong to the Association. We are thankful for what they have done. When I say that I am not the eldest son, it explains the feeling that I owe something to someone, as I am sure many of us do. The whole country does. But, of course, this is a modern generation, and it is difficult to express these things to-day. It follows that our responsibility to the war disabled and the war widow must continue well into the next century, when the Ministry estimates that there will be still 97,000 war pensioners. That is a long way off.

We must think not only in terms of those who were maimed or bereaved in the two world wars. We have the problem on our doorstep to-day in the shape of Northern Ireland. I must plead ignorance here. I do not know—and I wonder how many do know—how many are coming out of Ireland now who are severely wounded and maimed. There are quite a few. Then we have had the campaigns in Cyprus, Malaya and Borneo, apart from the two World Wars with all these other men and women disabled—because in the Second World War many women were parachuted into France and elsewhere; they were in the Services in one way and another. We have a vast number of disabled, and that situation will continue right into the next century. It is good to make these facts known to-night so that the younger generation can begin to understand what the Associations are doing and why they are talking about Poppy Day.

As the two world wars recede into history, so the memories of those two wars diminish, and so it is very difficult to put across to the younger generation to-day the facts about war and the disabled. They have no reason to know. If may give an example, I knew nothing about the First World War, so who am I to say that the younger generation are wrong? But what I say to your Lordships is that we must, through the Government, let the students, the younger generation, know that for the things they are enjoying to-day they must be grateful in some way or another to those young men who were killed, and those who were badly injured and who are in wheelchairs. They must appreciate a small part of that world that they are lucky to live in to-day. I would say that perhaps we in the Royal British Legion and other Associations are wrong in that we do not get into the universities and explain our position. That is how I feel about the new generation. I see Lord Beswick's point; it is not a vicious one, but it is one that we must try to be patient with—we must be. We ask the Government always to give us the best hearing, through the Legion or whatever Association comes to them to talk about disabled ex-Servicemen. If we can get that support, then we feel strong enough in ourselves to go forward into our branches to tell them exactly what is happening.

My problem to-night is that the noble Lords, Lord Maybray-King and Lord Beswick, have run right across my notes on the disregards of a pension. In the Isle of Man this year a resolution was put forward that Her Majesty's Government increase the disregard of war disability pensions to not less than one half the current basic rate—which the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, mentioned, £11.20—as the first step towards a complete disregard of the full war pension when assessing income for the purposes of supplementary benefit. That went forward as a resolution, and the emphasis on the disregard was for the purposes of supplementary benefits, because Government policy outlined in the debate this summer on the Housing Finance Act—which again has been mentioned—provides, for rent rebate purposes, a mandatory disregard of the first £2 of war disablement pension, the first £2 of any excess of war widow's pension over National Insurance widow's pension, and any attendance or constant attendance allowance. I think that that is what the noble Lord was driving at.

Recently some Members of Parliament in the other place sought to introduce an Amendment to the Act providing for a total disregard of the war disability pension. The Amendment was defeated, but Mr. Paul Channon, the Government spokesman, stated that the £2 disregard for rent rebate schemes was chosen simply because it was the amount disregarded when assessing income for supplementary benefit. He gave an absolute guarantee at that moment, as I am given to understand through the National Executive of the British Legion, that if the supplementary benefit disregard was improved the Government would immediately increase other disregards. In reply to a similar resolution in 1971, the Under-Secretary of State commented that the Government recognise that disregards as a whole play an important part in the supplementary benefits scheme and have indicated that they intend to increase them at the appropriate time. However, we are beginning to see a slight, as I detect it, wavering here.

We feel, at the Royal British Legion, that to ask that at least one half the 100 per cent. rate should be disregarded when assessing means would be in accordance with the principle accepted between the two World Wars. So we have now gone back to what the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, mentioned. Thus we get this disregard of 20 shillings, being half of the then rate of 40 shillings. I think that is what the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, was also mentioning. I do not think that I can go much further on the matter of disregards, because all three of us have mentioned this part of the pension. If we can ask the Government to make quite certain that this will be guaranteed, that everything will be safe, then this debate to-night, so far as I can see and talking technically only on pensions, has served a very useful and genuine purpose.

I feel that enough has been said on pensions. I end by saying that we are discussing this matter to-night in your Lordships' House, where many Generals and officers, both junior and senior, are Members. In Wiltshire we are experiencing at the moment an extraordinary situation. We have an enormous number of military officers, and yet when we, on our own Executive, attend dinners and branch functions, we find officers who are members of the Royal British Legion but who do not know anything about what is going on. We are finding it very difficult to penetrate the minds of these officers. If they were serving officers they would have the responsibility for ordering men into battle or into campaigns. Surely when they come into retirement in civilian life they are just as responsible for and should help those disabled ex-Servicemen. We are finding it very difficult to convince them when they are in civilian clothes that their responsibility is just the same as when they were in uniform. If there is any message that goes out to-night, I should like it to be, on behalf of my own Executive and members of the Royal British Legion in Wiltshire, to invite them to come into the fold. After all, the Royal British Legion is a very fine union, if you like, or association; it works hard at its task. We are asking that those who served in the Services, senior and junior officers, who have retired, should come back into the fold and learn about the great work that all the volunteers are already doing. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and I thank him on behalf of the Royal British Legion. There must be many here to-night who do the same.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, I have been much moved this evening by the speeches that I have heard dealing with the conditions of disabled ex-Servicemen. The noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, out of his great kindness and consideration, made mention of my late father. My late father never mentioned anything to me about the work he was doing in connection with prisoners-of-war; but, of course, he did not hear from me for four years, as the Japanese, among whom I was incarcerated in Malaya, did not recognise the International Red Cross. He was probably so pleased to see me, not having known whether I was coming home or not, that he forgot to mention something in which he had been associated with the noble Lord. I have been touched by the remarks about the activities mentioned in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King. The great work that he has done for Far East Prisoners of War is known to all of us who were involved in armed activity in that region.

It is particularly appropriate at this season of Christmas that we should be considering some of the problems which exist to-day. We have had various suggestions made, particularly in the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for dealing with some of the anomalies, discrepancies, and hardships which affect men who gave very valuable service possibly 25, 27, or even 30 years ago, which takes one back to 1941 to 1945. I would ask my noble friend to consider what is happening in Ireland to-day. I hope he will be able to give us some assurance that the Government are aware of the problems, and will be able to give us some hope that these men, who serve us so well, will receive very special consideration. I do not wish to dwell further on that subject; it has been mentioned by many previous speakers in your Lordships' House. May I confine myself to one area which I know particularly well?

I think that it would be appropriate this evening to mention some of the terrible sufferings which I know were endured in the Malayan campaign, because I was in the midst of it all. I was there in the attack on the North of Malaya. I saw the complete demoralisation of men who had very little with which to fight. They had no arms worth calling the name. You who were here in England were involved in defending these shores; you wanted all the equipment, the personnel and everything to defend Britain. We out there were short of everything. I saw young men come out who were pushed into battle within about forty-eight hours of landing on the Malayan Peninsula. They had to contend with climatic conditions to which they were not accustomed. They were completely demoralised over the sinking off the east coast of Malaya of the two great battleships which were sent out by Churchill. I was in the North of Malaya. We were being continuously harassed by the Japanese who had landed behind us, because our Eastern flank was exposed and there was nothing to stop them coming ashore. This went on for about five weeks in the conditions which I have described.

It was extremely difficult in those days—it was all right for me and those like me who had some experience of it—for those young men to distinguish between friend and foe; because the colour of the Japanese and of the Malays was very similar and there was a certain amount of treachery existing at the time. Before the war broke out in Malaysia we had built an extensive line of aerodromes out in the country; but there was a shortage of planes—there were only about five at each aerodrome. In the first Japanese attack, these planes were wiped out. Subsequently the Japanese flew on to the aerodromes and used them; so we had no aircraft cover. I mention those conditions because we are thinking to-night of some of these men who were wounded when fighting under the most appalling conditions and with little to defend themselves. I think it appropriate to remember something about that campaign.

But, my Lords, there was worse to follow. I would say that probably the prisoners-of-war in the Far Eastern campaign suffered more than those in any other campaign of World War II. We were incarcerated; many men were put into prisoner-of-war camps. I can tell your Lordships that 3,000 men were fed on one pig boiled in a cauldron, with the result that all that one got was the fat of the pig and some rice. Malnutrition diseases started, and some of those men, I believe, are suffering from them to-day. As I have mentioned, the Japanese did not recognise the International Red Cross, so that there were no Red Cross parcels—the only ones that arrived were those that came some three years after the war had been in operation when our enemy then realised that they must try to do something.

Remembering all these facts, we recognise to-day that we owe a great debt of gratitude to these men who served us so well. I speak with a great deal of affection and personal knowledge. I will say no more on this theme, but now is an appropriate moment to mention these things. I never thought, 30 years ago in a prison cell, that I, of all people, should be able to speak these words in this House. But perhaps the opportunity I have had shows the value of your Lordships' House and the fact that we are composed of various elements and can speak from first-hand experience. In conclusion, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, for introducing this Motion. I have been greatly moved by all the speeches we have heard, and I hope sincerely that we shall not forget these men. I speak with personal knowledge and gratitude for all the great work that has been done for the Far East prisoners-of-war by the noble Lord who introduced this debate.

7.35 p.m.


My Lords, I have the honour to be the President of the Devon branch of the Royal British Legion. I feel that it would be churlish of me, being in this House, not to make use of this opportunity to add my congratulations and thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, for bringing this matter to our attention—because this is something which, as the noble Viscount, Lord Long, pointed out, we are having to deal with month in and month out. In the few minutes during which I shall inflict myself on your Lordships, I will not go into all the points that have been made about those who have suffered and are still suffering as a result of the last two wars. I should like simply to add one other reminder that there are people to-day (and they are increasing in number) who have suffered and whose widows are suffering as a result of the"little wars" that have taken place since the last Great War.

I have a young cousin, married to a major in the Welch Fusiliers who lost an eye in the last war. Afterwards in the Malaysian campaign, because he had not got an eye on that side, he was ambushed and killed, leaving that young girl with three children to bring up. This she has now done; and they are grown up. I ask your Lordships to remember these other occasions. Again, in the village that I come from there is a retired doctor who has a son in the Royal Marines. Perhaps your Lordships will remember an ambush which took place at Muscat a year ago.

This son was wounded in that ambush, but not badly; and he told me of one of his comrades who will be very severely disabled for the rest of his life.

My Lords, I come to my last point. As some of your Lordships will know, I have a son who is a soldier. Returning from his second tour of duty in Northern Ireland, the troops arrived at Chelsea Barracks early in the morning The day was spent in setting up the men and sending them on leave. He, as Assistant Adjutant, was sent off in the afternoon to visit the hospitals to which are sent those severely wounded in Northern Ireland. Two Red Cross helicopters fly in each week with the severely wounded. I had arranged to meet him here in this building that evening, and we were going to drive home during the night. He came in. He was not looking at all fit. I got him a drink and I thought that this, obviously, was not the time to talk about these things. But he made a remark which I think might well be brought to your Lordships' attention. He said,"What you chaps ought to do is to find out how many there are of these people who have been listed as wounded in Northern Ireland who will be cabbages for the rest of their lives." I believe that the figure is about 1,500. I took the liberty of asking the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, whether it was possible to find out the exact percentage because I think it important that people should realise that there is a large percentage. The noble Lord has promised to write to me about it. I mention this in case the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has heard anything in the meantime.

What many people must realise about the type of bullets used in Northern Ireland now—the bullets which are producing what we are talking about this evening, the severely disabled ex-Serviceman—is that after entering the body they expand inside and cause tremendous internal damage. I notice that a doctor dealing with these cases was reported in The Times the other day as saying that this is a more modern function of this type of bullet. He said that you do not see much damage where the bullet goes in; but it does a great deal of damage inside and is responsible for a large number of the severely disabled young men—young, that is to say, by our standards in the last war.

The only contribution that I wanted to make this evening was to remind your Lordships of this daily occurrence; to try to find out how many are suffering in this way, and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, for continually bringing up this subject to remind successive Governments of what we all feel is their duty.

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, at this late stage I shall be very brief. By chance, though very appropriately, this debate is taking place on the same day as the Not Forgotten Association's Christmas Party at Buckingham Palace. Something like 400 or more ex-Servicemen were being entertained there this afternoon, and from the days when I was privileged to be Parliamentary Secretary in the Department I can remember and vouch for what great joy these parties brought into the lives of hundreds of men. The Not Forgotten Association is a society which cares particularly for the old, the home-bound and those threatened with loneliness. After what we have heard about Wiltshire, I am wondering whether we could not all resolve—even though we cannot arrange parties on the scale of that at Buckingham Palace—to try in our own counties to arrange something similar and bring a little joy into the lives of many of these people, ex-Servicemen and widows, who in their old age often find life very difficult.

My Lords, I want to keep to the welfare side of the Department's work. The welfare work is very extensive and, rightly I think, those engaged in it, officials and voluntary workers, have never sought publicity. They have worked quietly away where it was felt there was a job to be done. I wish to mention only two points. A noble Lord opposite spoke about Remploy. We must not forget that there are a number of men and women who are 100 per cent. disabled, home-bound and not fit enough to work even in Remploy factories. But they are not forgotten. Any man or woman in that position who wishes, can be taught a craft or trade in his or her own home by the Department. If any noble Lord here has never attended the annual exhibition and prize-giving of the work of these people done in their own homes—it is held in May in an office in the Department—he should write to the Minister and ask for an invitation next year. The standard of much of this work will astonish any visitor. Of course the best workmen are lost sight of because they can earn their own living and no longer need help from the Department to sell the work they have done. This is a small thing and affects few, but it is something which is very important.

I do not wish to talk about the erosion of disregards, but I should like to refer to the erosion of what in the Department used to be called the ex-Serviceman's preference: a number of small things, but many of them were important. They were particularly important before the days of so complete a National Health Service and the elaborate system of treatment under the Industrial Injuries Scheme which in some ways, though by no means all, compares with the ex-Service side of the Department work. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that he is a stout defender of the ex-Serviceman's preferences. They include such things as not having to wait so long for treatment, or for early admission to hospital if there should be a long queue. In the days when I served with him, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter (as he now is), was insistent that these preferences should not be lost sight of.

Lastly, may I mention again the word loneliness? Organised by the Department, not only centrally but also in every district of the country, there are voluntary workers who make it their job to visit both ex-Service men, and the widows and families of ex-Servicemen, in their homes. There is no reason for anyone to be lonely or short of visitors. If people do not want visitors they can say so; but if they do want company they can ray what they would like; what sort of people they would like to meet, and at what time of day—small things, but they can make lives a little happier. If any noble Lords should ever find in their district anyone who is a good, kind, sympathetic, reasonable person and who, by chance, has not enough to do—there are not many of them—they should suggest that he goes at once to the Ministry of Pensions (to use the old honourable title) and volunteer to do some visiting on some of his fellow men and women who are too old or too disabled to get out from their homes and enjoy the things that mean so much to the rest of us.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, I join very willingly with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, for giving us this opportunity to talk about this very important subject at an opportune moment when, as my noble friend Lord Inglewood has reminded us, the Not Forgotten Association party is being held at Buckingham Palace; and at a time so soon before Christmas which is an appropriate time for us to give some consideration to those who may be worse off than we are. The noble Lord, Lord MaybrayKing, is well known in this House for his wisdom and for his wide and humane interests. I think that all ex-Servicemen and FEPOWs owe him a great debt of gratitude. He is a very worthy champion of their cause and has been for a great many years.

I am also grateful for the very reasonable and constructive tone of this debate which, on the whole, seems to me to reflect the responsible attitude of those voluntary bodies that represent the interests of the ex-Servicemen. We have had some most interesting speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and my noble friend Lord Long, reminded us that we are talking about the disabled ex-Servicemen not only of two major wars but also of many other minor wars and, most tragically of all, of the present conflict in Northern Ireland. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, drew attention to some of those who have suffered severely. I am glad to say that, thanks to the skill of doctors and the devotion of nurses, many of them recover, some sufficiently to continue their Service careers. Your Lordships may like to know that there are now 84 war widows' pensions in payment in respect of casualities in Ulster. Of these, 69 include allowances for children. There are 15 war widows' pensions in payment in respect of the widows of men in the Ulster Defence Regiment. We in your Lordships' House often pay handsome tributes to the Army for the way in which it is carrying its burdens in Northern Ireland. This is the sort of price that the families of those men are paying.

I should like, therefore, at the start, and particularly in response to what has been said by my noble friend Lord Inglewood, to put on record that the Government are committed to maintaining the existing preferences shown to war pensioners within our system of social security. This we have done in all our recent up-ratings. We are also determined to continue to improve the lot of the disabled generally; and indeed, war pensioners have benefited from improvements that we have made in that respect. May I turn to some of the special points raised in the debate. First, the Far Eastern prisoners of war, regarding which my noble friend Lord Gridley gave such a graphic account of his experiences. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, the National Federation of the Far Eastern Prisoner of War Clubs and Associations made representations to the Government for more favourable treatment of claims for pensions made by men who had been prisoners of war in the Far East. My colleague, Mr. Paul Dean, met a deputation from the Federation in May and one of the matters discussed was the seven-year rule to which the noble Lord referred. We believe that the existing rule is a fair one. Now that we are 27 years on from the end of the war the exceptional provisions of Article 4 would not be appropriate, either for FEPOWS or any other group of Second World War ex-Servicemen now claiming war pensions. Over a quarter of a century after the end of the war it seems only reasonable that a claimant should be asked to show that the disablement for which now, for the first time, he claims a war pension is related to service. But I should like to emphasise—I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, mentioned this—that he does not have to prove beyond doubt a connection between his disablement and war service. All he has to do is to raise a reasonable doubt as to whether his disablement is related to service and he is given the benefit of that doubt.

But, as a result of those meetings, we wanted to do what we could to help: and the noble Lord has acknowledged, first of all, the FEPOW unit at Blackpool, which handles the claims of FEPOWS and any borderline case which is specially referred for consideration to senior officials in London. The unit was set-up in May, and by the end of November 753 claims for pension, increase in pension, or for the various supplementary allowances which go with the pension, had been dealt with. Of these 753 claims, 491 have been awarded and 262 rejected. So far as official claims for pension are concerned, over 60 per cent. have been awarded to FEPOWs as compared with 48 per cent. to all other claims over the same period. I think that this goes to show that Article 5 is not a barrier to a well-founded claim.

The noble Lord mentioned the tropical disease specialist members of medical boards and the option of a man to attend one of these specialist medical boards. I will not go further into that, but I should like to thank the noble Lord for the generous remarks he made about the satisfactory outcome of these consultations. He also mentioned the level of the war pension itself. There has in fact been a substantial improvement in its real value over the years. The 100 per cent. rate of pension has gone up from £225 in February 1946, to £11.20 to-day, an increase of just under 400 per cent., compared with a rise in prices of just under 200 per cent. The increase in October of some 12 per cent. in the basic pension, which followed on the previous 20 per cent. increase in September, 1971, is a clear indication of the assurance I gave at the beginning that the Government do recognise the importance of keeping these pensions level with the rise in prices and with the preference which they have always enjoyed.

The introduction of an annual review of war pensions, together with social security benefits, with increases in November each year, does provide pensioners with the assurance that the extent to which their pensions are eroded by price increases is strictly limited. To make a specific comparison is quite interesting. If one leaves aside the allowances for the more severely disabled, and any part-time earnings that a pensioner or his wife may have, the unemployable war pensioner who is a family man can now receive an income which, because it is entirely tax-free, approaches, and in some cases exceeds, the net take-home pay of the average wage earner. To give an example, the married pensioner with a 100 per cent. pension, unemployability supplement, comforts allowance and £1.15 invalidity allowance now receives £24.70 a week. If he has two children, that amount goes up to £31.30 per week. And that very approximately corresponds to the take-home pay of the married man earning £35 a week who, after paying tax and National Insurance contributions, would as a married man without children get £26, or, if he had two children, £28.95. There have been considerable increases even since September, 1971. The figures have gone up, for a married man, from £17.57½ to £24.70 from September, 1971, to date. So there have been substantial improvements in the basic war pension.

I now come to the question raised by several of your Lordships about the disregard. The disregard dates back to 1948 when the Poor Law was abolished and a unified system of National Assistance was set up. The war pension disregard was kept at £1, when then the basic 100 per cent. disablement pension rate was £2 5s. Since 1948, the disregard has been raised on two occasions: in 1959 to £1 10s., and in 1966, when the Supplementary Benefits Scheme replaced the National Assistance Scheme, to £2. Each time the increase was approximately sufficient to restore the real value of the disregard to what it had been in 1948, but not to increase it proportionately in relation to the 100 per cent. rate of war disablement pension, which in 1966 had reached £6 15s. and is now £11.20, or the scale rates of supplementary benefit, which have also increased substantially in real value over the years. There has never really been any suggestion that a disregard of half the basic 100 per cent. pension rate is right in principle, nor has it ever been accepted that disregards should necessarily increase at the same rate as benefit increases. And, of course, I should make the point that the £2 disregard for the war pensioner is double that of other pensioners. Nevertheless, we have made it clear that we intend to review all the disregards in the Supplementary Benefits Scheme at an appropriate time, though I cannot say when that might be. So far we have been successful in raising the pension itself, and we have retained the disregard at the present level.

So far as the disregard for the rent rebates scheme is concerned, I think the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, made the position absolutely clear: that under the Housing Finance Act and the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act all local authorities have to operate a rent rebate scheme for council tenants from October 1 of this year, and a rent allowances scheme for private tenants in unfurnished accommodation from January 1 next. They contain model schemes providing, among other things, for a £2 a week war disablement pension disregard, and also £2 of standard war widow's pension. I think the noble Lord also made it clear, but I should like to emphasise it, that local authorities have a discretion, at the expense of the rates, to disregard more, or even the whole of these pensions if they wish, provided that this and any other departures from the model scheme do not increase the cost by more than 10 per cent. overall. This discretion to disregard the whole of the war pension has been emphasised both in the White Papers and in the circulars which were subsequently issued to local authorities. I am sure that those who represent the interests of war pensioners will not be slow to bring pressure on their various local authorities to see that they consider their powers under these Acts.

Lastly, I come to the question of the provision of vehicles, to which the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, among others, referred. At the beginning, I would say that of course the whole scope and nature of these services is at present under review by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I know that she would have wished to be here to-day, but I am sure she will read with great interest what has been said. The present arrangements are the outcome of an original scheme launched over a quarter of a century ago. Various modifications and additions have been made since then. These changes were reasonable and appropriate at the time they were made, but whether the service effectively meets the needs of the present day is rather questionable. I am sure that in due course the noble Baroness will present us with proposals to ensure that the service is improved. We expect to receive her report next year—though perhaps not until late summer—and I do not think it would be sensible for me to try to anticipate her recommendations now. We feel that it would be quite wrong to make piecemeal changes whilst awaiting the report.

Certainly we still continue to take note of the preferential treatment hitherto accorded to the disabled in this field, too. I listened with interest to what the noble Lord said about the package deal on the vehicle front, introduced by my right honourable friend in February. This has caused some apprehension, I know, among the disabled. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity of discussing the whole matter with representatives of BLESMA the other day, and I listened most sympathetically to what they had to say. We are still talking matters over with them; but I think it is right just to recall that there were many benefits from the changes which were made last February, although, as the noble Lord said, it is perfectly true that a few war pensioners did get less in the way of grants as a result of the total provisions of the package deal.

If one leaves aside for a moment the National Health patients (because we are not really discussing them this evening) there are very large numbers of war pensioners—now over 300—who under the scheme are now getting cars for which before last February they would not have been eligible. Those of your Lordships who know the details of the invalid vehicle scheme will know that before these changes were made those who suffered a severe mobility handicap from a disability unconnected with the loco-motor system—for example, a weakness in the heart or lung—were eligible for help only if they needed a vehicle to get to work. Such people are now judged on the degree of their disability and not on its basic nature. This change has resulted in over 300 war pensioners being helped. However, I am sure it is right for us to await receipt of the report of the noble Baroness before going further.

The other point worth noting is that, in relation to services for the war disabled, more than 300 additional war cases have been helped—largely out of savings on the National Heath Service side, because there is an economy whenever a National Health Service patient accepts a car maintenance allowance instead of one of the Department's three-wheelers. So to that extent the preference has gone to the war pensioner. As to the question of the withdrawal of a car, this is a very sensitive area and one on which my colleague, Mr. Michael Alison, has been having further conversations with BLESMA, and also recently with Mr. Dunham. I can say that he has undertaken personally to consider any case where the withdrawal of a car rightly arises and to correspond with the relevant voluntary body before reaching a decision. In fact there have been only three cases so far. I can assure your Lordships that this is something we are very anxious to see administered fairly.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for mentioning the work of Remploy to which I should like to pay tribute. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Inglewood for his kind remarks about the Department's welfare efforts in this field. Finally, I am grateful, again, to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King.


My Lords, with regard to Remploy, I asked whether the noble Lord could give an assurance that if there are opportunities for expanding their work they will not he restricted by a ceiling on the Treasury grant.


My Lords, I remembered that question, but I am afraid I cannot give the noble Lord an answer now. Perhaps I may write to him later.


My Lords, I should first like to thank the noble Lord for the patient and detailed way in which he has replied to the points made in the debate. I expect from him sympathy and courtesy, and he has shown these in the way in which he answered this debate. I hope that the debate has been useful. I hope that it will show the ex-Serviceman outside that Parliament still remembers and Parliament still cares. I know that the organisations of ex-Servicemen will study every word that the Minister has said; will extract what comfort they can from the points he has made and will be at him again and again—as they have been at Minister after Minister ever since 1945.

The participation of Lord Inglewood, himself a former Minister of Pensions, in this debate serves to illustrate the warm-heartedness that all the time has pervaded the Department that the noble Lord the Minister himself represents today. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, also took part in this debate to remind us that the problems I have been talking about over the last two wars still obtain for the Serviceman in Northern Ireland—the Serviceman who is serving with the same courage and devotion as did the men who served in two world wars. My Lords, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.