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Pensions

Volume 154: debated on Tuesday 30 May 1922

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I propose to speak concerning the condition of a number of our men who are suffering as a result of the War. If in this matter I have not followed the usual procedure by giving the Minister of Pensions notice, it was because of my lack of knowledge as to the procedure of the House rather than any intentional discourtesy. I am sure the Minister will do the best he can with regard to the cases to which I desire to call attention. The first is that of George Midmore, late private in the Northampton Regiment, and it is only because I believe that very grave injustice is being done to this man that I bring his case forward. This man was wounded by a gunshot in the chest and I am told that it was an expanding bullet. He was admitted to the hospital in March, 1919, and was awarded a pension of 80s. He was shifted from hospital to hospital and finallyencephalitis lethargica, or what is better known as sleeping sickness, supervened, and the man is suffering from that complaint at the present moment. Hon. Members will appreciate the sadness of this case when I say that the man is dead except that the. medical men say that his brain is still active and alive. He is paralysed in all his limbs, he has completely lost the power of speech, but he is, nevertheless, conscious of all that is happening around him. In spite of all this, his pension has been knocked off.

He was discharged from St. David's Home on the 14th of January, and he was afterwards transferred to Rotherhithe Hospital, where he is now. The local pension authorities have done everything they possibly can, both to get the Pensions Ministry and other authorities to give reconsideration to this case, with a view to getting his pension reinstated. The position now is, that there is a temporary weekly allowance of 10s. 6d. for himself, his wife, and three children. One can imagine the feelings of this man, who is suffering from actual wounds inflicted during the War, at the thought that while he is lying there the Minister of Pensions has taken from his dependants that allowance for maintenance which he had a right to expect, thus adding to his already great physical suffering a considerable amount of additional mental suffering.

The local pensions authority complain that they believed that this case has been wholly misjudged right through, and that the alteration in the pension took place without them being informed that any such alteration was contemplated. It was only by accident, after it had been in operation some time, that they discovered the position to be as it is. I know it will be said that this is an independent tribunal and that the Pensions Ministry have no authority over it, or that there is no reason to suspect that they have given other than an impartial verdict. It was resented this afternoon when I suggested that the Ministry was hiding behind these tribunals and trying to escape their liabilities towards these people. I am bound to say I must repeat that assertion in the light of the evidence I have had presented to me. Surely, whatever the element of doubt may be, if anyone is entitled to the benefit of the doubt it is the man himself who has suffered so terribly under these circumstances. There might be some medical doubt, but we can only take the position as it is at the moment. Here is this man admittedly suffering from a terrible wound in the chest. From the moment he was admitted to hospital so suffering he has been shifted from hospital to hospital and has been dying by inches. He lies in this condition a mere breathing log, so far as control over his limbs is concerned, but conscious of what is going on. Yet now he has added to his sufferings the knowledge that. his wife and children are being deprived of the meagre pension given to him. I very respectfully submit to the Minister of Pensions it is not good enough to say that this is the decision of an independent tribunal who have given their verdict in this case. There ought to be other means, when such cases as this crop up, whereby the man can get the benefit of the doubt and secure some recognition for those dependent on him because they have lost their breadwinner. I do not want to enlarge on the horrors of this case. I think the plain statement of facts I have given should be sufficient to arouse the sympathies of hon. Members and induce them to insist that something should be done to bring relief to this man.

The other case to which I wish to refer is of a somewhat similar nature. It is the case of a man named Alsopp, attached to the Royal Engineers, and resident at Market Harboro. He was sent to Mesopotamia and invalided home suffering from some disease due to the climate. From the moment of getting home he has steadily grown worse and the medical certificate, a copy of which I forwarded to the Ministry, certifies him as suffering from disseminated sclerosis. His condition is somewhat similar to that of the man to whose case I have already drawn attention. Since his case has been brought to the attention of the Ministry the man has died as a result of sufferings which were occasioned by the War. His wife and children—there are two or three—are left without any pension whatever or any grant, and nothing 7s being done to help them in the distressing circumstances that have arisen. When I brought. the case to the notice of the Ministry of Pensions all the reply I got was an expression of regret that no further action could be taken with regard to the claim for pension, and that the decision of the Pension Appeal Tribunal, which is a separate statutory body, was final and binding upon both parties. That may be all very well as far as the law goes, but I suggest to the Minister of Pensions that this House has no right to appeal to the letter of the law in a case like this. These men offered all they had to offer to their country, whatever difference of opinion there may be as to the War, there can be no question that these men could do no more than they did. We ought therefore to have some regard to the pledges that were given that they would rot be allowed to suffer because of their sacrifices in the War. This man went forward a fit and sound man, and came back and died by inches, as the other man is dying. He left a widow and children who were utterly dependent upon him, and are now without any resources. I do submit that a case like this cannot be dismissed by simply pointing us, as is done again and again, to the fact that this particular tribunal is a statutory body from which there is no appeal. Surely the number of cases which are brought to the attention of the House, by Members of all parties and shades of opinion, should be enough to arouse a suspicion that everything cannot be quite right. There might be many cases in which the diagnosis is correct that the illness is not wholly due to war service, but every case challenged cannot be wrong, and even if a case is not wholly attributable, and there is some element of doubt, I repeat that we have no right to take advantage of the doubt, but that the benefit of it ought to be given to the man's case every time, particularly where wholly-dependent widows and children are left.

There are two other cases of a more minor character which I have notified the hon. and gallant Gentleman that I would bring before him. They are the case of two widows, for whom I ask for his sympathy. Their husbands were killed. One was the mother of a, legitimate child, but latterly she appears to have got into trouble in her relations with some other person. The Bermondsey local pensions authority made inquiries into the case, and were satisfied that in a large measure she was more sinned against than sinning. The case has been watched closely, and all the reports are that she has lived a decent and moral life, and has been struggling very hard to keep straight and bring up her boy in a proper and decent way. The person who got her into trouble was of considerably better social status than herself, and that may be an indication of what might have happened. Her pension has been taken away, though there is a small allowance for the boy. The people who have had charge of the case feel that it is indeed one for reconsideration, and that the Ministry of Pensions ought to encourage this woman to lead a straight life and to help her bring up her children in a proper manner, rather than help to drive her on the downward path. No one here is attempting to defend her moral lapse, but I venture to say, with a good deal of knowledge of pension cases and of work in connection with pensions, that there are many cases which have not. been brought to the attention of the Ministry, and where no notice is taken, and the woman is receiving her pension as some recompense for the loss of her husband. After all, it is not our duty altogether to set ourselves up as moral censors where these people are trying to lead a straight life, for many of us, perhaps, would not come out unscathed if any such inquiry were made into the whole of our past, although not for this particular form of wrongdoing.

The other ease concerns a woman who Is in rather a different category. She got into similar trouble, but her home influence has been bad during all her days. She has lived in a bad environment, and she has been blackmailed to a considerable extent by her relatives, making it even harder for her. The local pensions committee say, however, that, having kept her under close observation, they have never seen a more marvellous change than in her struggle to live a decent, sober and respectable life; and yet the Ministry have turned her case down. I submit that both these women have the responsibility of their legitimate children, who are the children of men who lost their lives in the Great War, and that it is the duty of the Ministry of Pensions, other things being equal, and there being some endeavour to keep right, to make it easy—not too easy, but, at any rate, possible—for them to lead a decent life and bring up their children in the manner in which they should be brought up, so that, at any rate, they should not be driven down bad paths because of the necessity forced upon them by the circumstances of their mothers.

I ask the Minister of Pensions to give some consideration to the cases of these men, who are suffering from their wounds and have never been well from the moment they were brought off the battlefield. Surely there is a case for them, and I also feel there is a case for sympathetic treatment of those women who have made, and are making, a struggle to amend for their wrongdoing in the past, and for the responsibility of the children of the soldiers whose lives have been laid down.

I gave the right hon. Gentleman notice at Question Time that I would raise this question on the Adjournment because of the unsatisfactory nature of his reply. I have had this case before the Ministry for some considerable time. The replies to the letters I have sent and the questions I have addressed are of a stereotyped character. The case relates to a man who was married while on the strength. That is the dispute between the Ministry and the woman who, I contend, ought to receive the pension. This man was married and went back to duty and was discharged six months after he had been married. The Ministry make the statement that he was not married while he was on duty, and consequently they cannot recognise the woman as his widow. The curious fact. arises that after he was married his wife received the wife's separation allowance, and when ultimately he was demobilised, owing to certain disabilities he contracted while on service, he received a 50 per cent. pension, his wife received the wife's allowance, and there was a child's allowance for the child. The man died, and now the Ministry say, "You are not entitled to a widow's pension, although you were entitled to a wife's separation allowance, because we contend that when this man married you he was not serving in the Army." In Scotland we have a saying that "Facts are chic's that winna ding." The Minister of Pensions will realise the appropriateness of this quotation to the case I am reciting. This is the marriage certificate:

"William Ross Munro, coachman, to Margaret Garvie."
They were married on.2nd July, 1915. After his marriage he went hack to duty and served at Dunbarton. This is his discharge. certificate. He was discharged after serving one year and 167 days with the Colours. He had enlisted on 7th August, 1914, and was discharged on 6th January, 1916. The marriage certificate is dated the 2nd July, 1915. Will the Minister of Pensions maintain before this House that this man was married after he had been discharged, when the two official documents are before the House? Here is a statement sent out by the Ministry. It is a letter sent to Mrs. Munro on 19th September, 1921:
"DEAR MADAM,
I am in receipt of answer from the Ministry of Pensions re your appeal. I am directed to inform you that owing to your husband having been removed from duty prior to the date of marriage, you have not the right of appeal to the Pensions Appeal Tribunal, and no further action can be taken."
That was sent out by the City of Glasgow Local Committee under the War Pensions Act, and was issued from the Govan Town Hall. According to this statement, she is refused her pension owing to her husband having been removed from duty prior to the date of marriage. Here is the marriage certificate, and the man s discharge certificate from the Army falsifying this statement from the Ministry of Pensions. In taking up this case I have put before the Ministry the whole facts again and again. I received in April a letter which is indicative of the replies I have received:
"With reference to your letter of the 6th inst. referring to the case of Mrs. Munro, of Govan, widow of Private William Rose Munro, I am sorry that no award of pension can be made to her under the terms of the Royal Warrant, as the late soldier was removed from duty prior to the date of his marriage"—
Here is the same statement, although the Minister shook his head when I said that was the reason given by the Ministry for refusing the pension—
"on account of the disease which subsequently caused his death. Mrs. Munro cannot be considered a widow according to the definition contained in Article 242 of the Royal Warrant, and the fact that the mail served after marriage, and that Mrs. Munro received separation and pensions allowances as his wife does not affect the decision that she is ineligible for pension."
That is from your own Ministry. Did anyone ever hear such a rigmarole and nonsense? First of all, you say that he was removed from duty prior to the date of the marriage; then you say the fact that she had received wife's allowance, separation allowance, and pension allowance does not alter the fact that she is ineligible for pension. If it does not alter the fact, there has been gross carelessness on the part of the Ministry. If she was not entitled to pension allowance she ought not to have received it. She ought not to have received separation allowance. She received both, and no attempt is made by the Minister, no statement is issued on behalf of the Minister, to say that it is intended to endeavour to recover anything that was given to her to which she was not entitled. The Ministry admit that she received separation allowance, and pension allowance for herself and child, and now you say that she is not entitled to it now that she is a widow. How is the Ministry going to solve the problem that a woman can receive a pension allowance as a wife, and a pension allowance for her child, but as soon as her pensioned husband dies the Ministry say: "You are not a widow. You are not entitled to any pension as a widow." That is the absurd position in which the Ministry has placed itself. The right hon. Gentleman may have some reply, but it will take a great deal of Scotch logic on the part of the Minister of Pensions to solve this problem. It is because I have been endeavouring to get justice for this woman, because on the facts as I have them she is suffering injustice, that I have taken up this case. Every Member will agree that we always receive courtesy and consideration, not only from the Minister of Pensions and the Parliamentary Secretary, hut from everyone of his officials, but it is because I have not been satisfied with the replies to my letters or the answer to my question in the House, and because I believe in the documents which I have seen, the woman's marriage certificate and the discharge certificate, that she is suffering injustice that I have raised this question on the Adjournment.

The House will agree that we have nothing to complain of about the manner in which the question has been raised. The hon Member for Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) was so,courteous as to begin by saying that he has given no notice whatever that he intended to raise this question, and, naturally, I have not got the whole of the official files, and I thank him for pointing that out.. With regard to the first case to which he referred, Midmore had board as recently as last.February, and so far from it being the case, as the hon. Member suggested that the pension was knocked off, he is in receipt of a pension as a result of the last medical board, but as we are all anxious to get justice done, he can—and I hope he will—if he is worse as a result of anything due to the War, appeal to the local committee, and if he is really disabled to a greater extent than is appropriate to the payment now made to him he would get the appropriate payment. What. we are debarred from doing is to pay or compensate for disability not. due to the War. Nobody would urge that we should undertake as a nation to compensate for all time for all injuries occurring after the War which are not due to the War.

What I did put was the difficulty of being quite sure, and that when there is a doubt the man ought to have the benefit of that doubt.

It is the wish of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions, if there is any doubt that it should be resolved in favour of the man, but there must come a point beyond which one cannot go, and in that case the intention of this House and the law of the land are that the man should appeal to an independent tribunal which should decide whether the man is right or wrong. In this particular case the independent tribunal, instituted not by us, but by this House, to try this particular case brought up by the hon. Mem- ber, has not decided that the Ministry were wrong. If it had been wrong, he would have had a case against us, but the tribunal has decided that it was right, and it is somewhat remarkable that under those circumstances we should be attacked on this question on the Motion for the adjournment. I repeat, however, that this man has only got to go to the local committee or get someone to put forward a claim for him, and, if he is worse owing to his wounds, he will get a higher rate of pension appropriate to his disablement clue to the War. When my hon. Friend spoke of his terrible wounds—and no one wants to minimise the effect of any wound whether great or small--I would say that the actual finding of the medical board was that the disablement was less than 20 per cent., so that my hon. Friend is simply prejudicing the case. Whatever his wound is, however great or small, he ought to get the right amount; and if he is worse, we will gladly see that he gets the amount that he ought to have.

The case of Alsopp, which has been brought. forward, is one on which I have replied in the House. It is not correct, as was suggested by my hon. Friend, quite innocently, that the widow's case has been decided by us against her. The widow's case has not been decided at. all. The grounds of entitlement are somewhat wider than in the case of a man and it is a rather technical point, but it has not been decided against. her. Her claim is going forward. If she is entitled to a certain allowance or claim against the Government. it, will go forward and she will get it.

Certainly. The hon. Member is bringing it forward under somewhat of a misapprehension. It has not been decided against her it. is still open, and so far as I am concerned I shall be glad if it goes in her favour. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) put forward the case of the man Munro. He has brought up many cases—

And some of them have been satisfactorily decided. All we are doing in the case of Munro is administering the law. This case was decided, in principle, before the Ministry existed at all. The principle of the 1914 Warrant was simply this. It decided the point of what constituted a widow for pension purposes. It laid down that in order to have the rights of a. widow a woman must have been legally married to a non-commissioned officer or man before the disease or wound or injury was contracted. That principle has been confirmed in the new Warrant we are working under. That is why, in this particular case, she. does not get the widow's allowance. It is true that there has been one case, where the Ministry has made some mistake, brought forward this evening, but it is a mistake where we paid, not too little, but too much. We paid the allowance as if the person in question had rights as a pensioner, which, as a matter of fact., was an error.

I suite follow that point, but there is this to be said, and it should be borne in mind. This soldier, even if he received his disability before. he was married, had sufficiently recovered from it to go back to duty before his final discharge. He worked in the Army for six months before his final discharge. May we not take it, therefore, that his further service of six months in the Army might have so aggravated his disability as to make it necessary that he should be discharged, and that certainly his widow is entitled to some compensation on those grounds?

I quite understand the hon. Member's point. As a fact, that is not the point of this particular case. In this case Mr. Munro was removed from duty for bronchitis and asthma on 22nd November, 1914, and was also removed on other occasions prior to his marriage in July, 1915. He was discharged from service on 28th January, 1916, suffering from chronic bronchitis and spasmodic asthma. The hon. Member very naturally found it difficult to appreciate how this widow could not have been regarded as a widow for pension purposes and yet could have received allowances as a wife. A soldier at any time, when he is married, would naturally be counted as married for separation allowance pur- poses, and his wife would receive the allowance, but for a widow to be regarded as a widow for pension purposes it is necessary that she should have been married to the man before the receipt of the wound or injury, or before the disease was contracted by her husband. That is the law laid down by the House. We are not working in any way against these pensioners. We are anxious to give every benefit that is due in every case. We are carrying out the law of the land, and the only error that has been exposed in this Debate is that we granted in the case of Munro allowances to the wife and children which, technically, it was not within our power or within the law that we should pay.

The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs closured the Debate on the very important Turkish question, when he must have seen that a number of other Members wished to speak. I shall not now make the speech I should have made. I shall confine myself to putting to the Government certain questions. Had there been time., I would have liked to have followed the hon. Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor) in his peregrination from a hardened Nationalist in Ireland to a violent. Pro-Ulsterman in Smyrna. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs would do far better if he accepted the advice of hon. Members like the hon. and gallant Member for the Wrekin Division (Sir C. Townshend) in dealing with these foreign nations, which they are more fitted by experience to know about than are hon. Members of the Government. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that had he adopted my advice in regard to Russia three years ago—that policy has now become the policy of the Prime Minister—thousands of lives and millions of pounds would have been saved.

The two questions I wish to ask I do not expect the Government will or dare answer. The country is anxious to know why the Government has adopted a violent Græcophile policy. A second question is: Who supplied the money to the Coalition Government to buy the "Daily Chronicle" newspaper? What has been the influence on the Government and what consultations have taken place between Members of the Government and Sir Basil Zaharoff?

It being Eleven. of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.