I move that the Bill be read a Second Time. The Bill is entitled an Act to amend and extend the Army Pensions Acts, 1923-1932. It amends the previous Acts (1) by increasing the allowances payable to certain persons; (2) by altering the method of investigation in certain cases; (3) by changing the date of application for pensions, allowances or gratuities, and of the commencement of such pensions and allowances; (4) by clarifying certain sections. In addition to amending previous Acts, it also extends their scope—(1) by extending the date by which disability due to disease must reach the required statutory minimum of 80 per cent.; (2) by providing for certain types of cases not covered by previous Acts, such as (a) cases where the disability due to disease is less than 80 per cent. but not less than 50 per cent.; (b) cases of disability due to aggravation; (c) cases of death or injury on service but not due to service; (d) by providing special allowances for dependents of persons who were members of organisations and were killed during or died as a result of service; (e) cases of accidental injury by members of organisations.
The allowances of certain persons are increased by Sections 3 and 16 (b) of the Bill, and they relate to the dependents of those who either signed the 1916 Proclamation or were killed or executed during the Rising. Under the Act of 1923 all persons killed during the Rising were treated as officers, and under that of 1927 the Signatories of the Proclamation were specifically dealt with, their dependents being given double the ordinary allowances. This Bill goes a stage further, and on the analogy of the Griffith Settlement Act, 1923, increases—(1) widows' allowances from £180 to £500 a year; (2) children's allowances from £80 to £200 a year until they reach the age of 25; (3) sisters' allowances from £52 to £100 a year during life.
As regards the widows of those who were killed or executed in 1916, the allowance of £67 10s. per annum which may be awarded under the 1932 Act is increased to £90 a year; i.e., the amount payable to the widow of an officer under the Act of 1923. The total cost of these amendments is estimated to be about £1,591 a year.
The second class of amendments deals with administrative procedure. Under Section 7 (3) of the 1927 Act, for instance, members of the forces applying for pensions in respect of wounds received after October 1st, 1924, cannot have their cases dealt with by the Army Pensions Board. Experience has, however, shown that this is inadvisable and, accordingly, Section 4 of the Bill provides that all such cases will be referred to the board. Again, Section 13 of the Bill alters the nature of the certificate to be furnished by the Military Service Registration Board, because the section as at present framed throws too much onus as regards medical certification of disease on the board, composed as it is of men who are not medical experts. The section also gives the Minister power to have a certificate reviewed because, as the 1932 Act stands at present, the certificate, being final and conclusive, is incapable of review even in cases where clearly a mistake has been made. In Section 46, the findings in certain respects of the Army Pensions Board are placed on the same level of finality as the findings of the Board of Assessors under the Military Service Pensions Act of 1924; and of the Referee under the Act of 1934. The object of the section is to prevent vexatious appeals, and to give finality to the investigations and decisions of the board. Power, however, is being taken to refer any genuine case back to the board for investigation.
The third type of amendments deals with the dates for applying for pensions, and the dates from which pensions, if granted, will commence. Under the 1932 Act, for instance, a member of the forces had to apply for a pension in respect of a wound within 12 months after the date of being wounded or after the passing of the Act of 1932. Many soldiers who have been injured on service have failed to apply within those dates and have, in consequence, been deprived of pensions. To rectify that, Section 7 of the Bill permits such men to apply either within 12 months from their discharge or within 12 months from the date of the passing of this amending Act whichever is the later. It is estimated that this amendment will cost about £400 a year. In like manner, Section 17 of the Bill extends the date of application for pensions, allowances and gratuities under the Act of 1932, and it is estimated that the total cost will be about £8,300 a year.
The fourth type of amendment simply clarifies sections or expressions used in the previous Acts. Under the previous Acts, for instance, certain grants of pension were regarded as final, but under the 1932 Act, a pensioner could, within ten years of the date on which a pension was granted to him, apply to have his case reopened on the grounds that his disability had meanwhile worsened. If his claim succeeded, a revised pension would have been awarded, but such pension though temporary in effect, had legally to be regarded as final, and we were, therefore, prevented from affording medical treatment. Sections 11 and 22 of the Bill remove this anomaly and make such pensions formally as well as materially temporary in their effects. The estimated cost, £414 a year, of this amendment will, we consider, be more than offset by decreases in pensions following on hospital treatment.
The purpose of the amendments extending the scope of previous Acts is simply to provide for cases of hardship not covered by existing legislation, and may be best illustrated by means of some typical examples. A member of the Defence Forces or of the organisations mentioned in Part II of the Act of 1932 may have contracted a disease during his service and that disease may be directly attributable to such service, but if on examination by the Army Pensions Board, his disability is found to be less than the required minimum of 80 per cent., no award of pension can be made. Now, in many cases of this nature, time does not lessen but increases the disability, and we are, therefore, extending the time limit by Sections 5, 6, 7 and 15 (2) of the Bill so as to enable such persons to be re-examined by the board and their disability reassessed. The total cost of those amendments is estimated at £3,000 a year.
The amendment just referred to will afford those grievously disabled by disease, due to service, an opportunity of qualifying for pensions already provided by the Acts of 1927 and 1932, but it will not deal with two other distinct types—those who have had or will have such pensions but whose disability has fallen or will fall below 80 per cent., and those whose disability has not reached or will not reach within the prescribed time the required statutory minimum of 80 per cent. In the case of disease due to service we have decided to reduce the minimum required for disability pensions from 80 to 50 per cent., but we are also reducing considerably the rates of pension in such cases. If a person has never reached 80 per cent. disablement, he will get, simply, a final pension at a flat rate of 15/- a week, provided that his disability is due to service and its degree is less than 80 per cent. and not less than 50 per cent. If, however, a person has ever had a pension for a disability of 80 per cent. or over, and the disability becomes less than 80 per cent. but not less than 50 per cent. he will be given the option of taking a final pension of £1 a week or of doing without any pension on the chance that his disability on a subsequent re-examination may again reach 80 per cent. This extension of the Acts is estimated to cost about £15,000 a year.
Another type is that of aggravation. A person may have a predisposition to a certain kind of disease, or he may have had some disease previous to service, which may have been excited, accelerated or aggravated by his military service. The person as a result may be 100 per cent. disabled, and yet, as the previous Acts stand, he is not entitled to pension. The purpose of Part VI of the Bill is to cover such cases by giving persons who qualify thereunder pensions at two-thirds of the rates applicable to persons whose disability is directly attributable to service. The total cost of this amendment is estimated at about £10,000 a year.
Another type not covered by previous Acts is that of a person who lost a leg, arm or eye during internment or imprisonment but whose loss cannot be attributed directly to his service; and there is the somewhat analogous type where a person dies while perhaps engaged with a column but whose death is not due to a disease attributable to service. Provision is made under Section 15 and 17 of the Bill to cover all such cases, and the estimated cost is a recurring annual sum of £90 a year and a non-recurring amount of £100.
Part VII of the Bill deals with special allowances for the dependents of deceased members of the organisations and special gratuities by way of compensation to persons who were not members of the organisations covered by the Act of 1932. As regards the first category, the Act of 1932 provides an allowance for certain relatives who were totally dependent on deceased persons at the time of death, or a gratuity for those who were partially dependent at the time of death. The Act leaves untouched the problem of the same relatives who may have been in comfortable circumstances at the time of death, but who have since been reduced to very straitened circumstances. It is with such as these that the Bill deals, because it is felt that in view of their deceased relatives' contribution to the national cause, it is the duty of the State to give these dependents some special recognition. Hence it is proposed to give such dependents according to their means available from all sources an allowance not in any case to exceed 15/- a week. The annual cost of this provision is estimated at £2,800 a year.
Finally, the Bill provides special gratuities by way of compensation for persons who were wounded or injured as the result of keeping arms belonging to, or being accidentally shot by a member of one of the organisations. Such a type of case was not covered in any way by the previous Acts, and the total cost is estimated at a non-recurring amount of £1,000.
The total estimated cost of the amendments to previous Acts proposed by this Bill is an annual sum of £41,181 and a non-recurring amount of £8,400.