§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this be the Schedule of the Bill."
§ Sir PETER GRIGGS
I should like to refer to the difficulty we have in some districts of the Greater London area in carrying on the medical and surgical treatment of demobilised soldiers. We had to give notice to discontinue the work some time ago as arrangements had not been made with the doctors for payment 778 for proceeding with their work in the future as they could not continue their voluntary work. I speak with some knowledge of this subject, as I have occupied the positions of vice-chairman of the Essex and Middlesex Disablement Committee and also chairman of another war pensions committee. Therefore I can say that this work should be continued and which is well worth doing in the interests of the men concerned. The doctors say that they should be paid for their services now, and the Governors of the Hospital and Pensions Committee are only too willing to do their part. I was told at a conference there were large institutions being formed in some part of the country for the treatment, training and education of these men, but we have had nothing in our part of the country, and we want to know whether the work which has been so well carried on by many committees with the resources at their disposal is to be continued or given up. Many of the men are now only receiving massage, and something more than this should be done for those men who are wandering about the streets without proper treatment, and who for one reason or another were required to leave hospitals too soon. The committees have had the matter under consideration and are anxious to know if they can continue, for it will be a fine work if only a good proportion of the men can be made fit.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of PENSIONS (Colonel Sir James Craig)
We are only on the Schedule. Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to have a chat with him, and I shall be glad to explain matters.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill reported; as amended, considered.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Mr. HOGGE
I desire to raise one or two points, and to get some clear expression of opinion about them from the Parliamentary Secretary. Clause 2 of this Bill deals with a new power which the Ministry seeks from employers of labour with regard to the earning capacity of those who are presumably asking for alternative pensions. There has always been a considerable amount of difficulty on that particular subject. A man who receives an ordinary pension may, if he can prove the facts of his pre-war earnings along with the assessment of his pre- 779 sent earning capacity, receive an alternative pension. This Clause gives the Ministry of Pensions powers not only to ascertain, the pre-war earnings of the disabled person from the employer, but seeks a new power of ascertaining the earning capacity of any such person. On that point there is a certain range in which you can get definite information, but beyond that there are very many cases in which it is extremely difficult to get what one might call precise and accurate information. Perhaps the hardest case of all, which ought to be considered sympathetically by the Ministry, is the case of the discharged sailor or soldier who prior to enlisting was engaged in a small business of his own. Many of these men are the type of men who from year to year in the industry and commerce of this country go on carrying through a small business without any very great business habits. The business is so small, comparatively speaking, that they did not keep the accurate books which any larger firm would Keep, and these men, along with many others enlisted for the period of the War and have shared the common experience of so many men, and been disabled in the War.
They have been awarded their flat-rate disability pension and they have made application for the better pension, the alternative pension, but in most of the cases, certainly in most of the cases which have come to my own personal knowledge, these men have been unable to provide the Ministry of Pensions with the kind of information which the Ministry insists should be provided before an alternative pension is assessed. I remember bringing to the attention of the Ministry a case from my own Constituency in Edinburgh. I think I have brought it to the attention of practically every Minister of Pensions there has been. It is the case of a man who happened to carry on from his own dwelling-house a small business of electrical fittings. He had no shop or premises, but he had a large range of customers, and he bought his electrical impedimenta from time to time just as he required them, and the only proof that this man could furnish of the income that he was earning prior to the War was by getting the people from whom he. had purchased these things to provide him with invoices of the amount of his purchases. The only inference you 780 could make was the usual business inference that could be made from such figures, that if the man had so large a stock he was bound to be earning so much income. In a case of that kind the Ministry of Pensions will not accept that evidence. The Ministry of Pensions insists in the case of an alternative pension on precise evidence being furnished. That might be all very well if those men had entered upon an obligation in which they knew that part of the obligation was to furnish the evidence, but, of course, the War did not wait for men to put their business in order before they joined the Colours, and it does seem extraordinarily hard lines when those men, being wounded, apply for their alternative pension, they are debarred from the right of having the better class pension because they are unable, through the habits which they exercised prior to joining the Army, to provide the documentary evidence which would enable them to come within the range of that pension.
I know my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, who is responsible for the Bill this afternoon, is sympathetic in his administration of the Pension Warrant, and he is the last man in the House, as indeed the. Minister of Pensions is the last Minister in the House, that would seek to deprive a man of his just right, I have had many dealings with the Ministry, and they often stretch the Warrant to the most elastic point of breaking in order to meet a reasonable case that has been put to them. But I do venture to suggest that Clause 2, which provides them with further power of ascertaining earning capacity, does enable us to raise what is, after all, a very vital question to these men who ought, on much less precise evidence, to be able to establish their claim to the better class of pension. Clause 3 deals with the extension of power to pay pensions in advance. The essential words in this Clause are the words which give the Minister of Pensions power to issue a pension "in advance for such period not exceeding six months." I presume that power is taken to cover the cases of emigration. A great many men, and a great many of their dependants, are going abroad to seek their fortunes in other countries. Fortunately, the Ministry of Pensions has made ample provision by which the pensions to which these men are entitled can be paid, and are being paid, in the countries to which 781 they have gone. But there arises this point — and it will appeal to the House at once— that if a man is going to seek his fortune, say, in Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa, the one thing that will enable him to make a fresh start there, which is useful to him and to the country to which he is going, is a little capital in his pocket when he arrives there. At the present moment, until this power has been taken, it has been impossible to commute a pension for the purpose of emigration, arid, in my experience, what the Ministry of Pensions so far has done has been to give an advance of three months to a demobilised soldier or to the widow of a soldier who has fallen in the War to cover the cost of emigration.
That raises the whole question of the commutation of pension. It used to be possible, prior to the outbreak of war, to commute a pension, and if a man could show sufficient reason why his pension should be commuted, in my experience the Ministry— at that time the Chelsea Commissioners— took a very reasonable view of the commutation of pensions, and, during the War, and even up to the present moment, so far as I know, beyond this Clause in this Bill, it has not, been possible to commute any pension. I should be very glad to know from my hon. and gallant Friend if pensions have been commuted to any extent. I should be very much surprised to learn that they have been. I should think the cases in which they have been commuted have been very exceptional; but, at any rate, power is taken in this Clause to commute a pension for a period not exceeding six months. I want to suggest that the time may have arrived when the power to commute a pension entirely should be restored to the man in receipt of that pension. Of course, I know the objections. Every six months a man is re-boarded, and his pension, in my experience, certainly gets on to the declining scale. The Treasury exercises vigilant control over the Ministry of Pensions, and the more revision you have the less is going to be the liability of the State with regard to these pensions. But, after all, if you take the period which is put in this Clause of six months, assuming that the man has a total disability pension at the present rate—roughly speaking, it is 30s. a week. For twenty-six weeks the amount is inside 40. So that the commutation which is given under this Clause dons not exceed, £40, and in most cases— because my hon. and gallant Friend knows 782 the total disability pension is the one which is least often paid—it will be a sum of very much less than £ 40. If you go on the assumption that the man is going to one of our Dominions or Colonies to make good in a new country, that amount of capital is altogether inadequate for his needs. And I venture to suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that, while it was a good thing to have taken the power to commute a pension in advance for a period of six months, the Ministry of Pensions might very reasonably consider all special cases which are put to them by which a man in receipt of a pension should be enabled, for the purpose of his new life in the new country to which he is going, to have the power to draw on that reserve of capital.
Then in Clause 5 the Ministry take power to deal with the question of the transference of their own powers. I am one of those who have always held that the Ministry of Pensions made an initial mistake when they devolved any of their powers on any other Department, and I hold that most strongly, now that the Ministry of Pensions is much better garrisoned by Ministers than ever it was in the period of its existence. I can understand the previous Ministers of Pensions, being unable to look after the charge to which they were appointed, wishing to devolve some of the powers with which they were entrusted. I always regret, for instance, the fact that the Ministry of Pensions parted with the power of training men, because, as a matter of fact, the more widely you separate the functions which ought to operate under the Ministry of Pensions, the more need there will be in the future for an attempt to co-ordinate all these dispersed functions, so that the House and country shall have a general conspectus of what is being done for the discharged man. So far, if I remember rightly, the Ministry of Pensions has devolved its power of training, and certain of its powers with regard to treatment, to other Departments. Training has gone to the Ministry of Labour, and I think the House Will agree£ or, at any rate, such Members of the House as are present this afternoon, because it is one of the unfortunate things that on a big vital question of this sort the House is always so wretchedly empty. It seems to me this is one of the most important questions this House can discuss. It is one of the questions which more directly concern the men who have served the community 783 than any other, but, by the luck of circumstances, we always seem to have an empty House and an exhibition of very little interest in a very vital concern— I say this function has been dispersed to the Ministry of Labour, and the House will agree that there is no Ministry to-day which is more concerned with acute problems, and which in the future—particularly the immediate future—is more likely to be concerned with acute industrial problems than the Ministry of Labour. Every morning we get up there is a fresh strike, before lunch-time there is a second, and before we dine there is a third. That is the general experience of the average member of the community to-day. You rise in the morning to breakfast with a strike, and you go to bed with five or six other strikes. The Minister of Labour ought to have all his attention concentrated upon the industrial situation and ought not to be hampered with such a question as the training of discharged and demobilised officers and men. It takes away from the powers of this House to review the treatment of these men, because the only way in which you can, for instance, discuss a question of that kind is on the Estimates; and the Minister of Labour and everybody in the House at this moment knows that, if the Ministry of Labour Vote were put down to-morrow, the last thing that would have a chance of being discussed would be the training of demobilised officers and men. There are so many other important questions that Mr. Speaker or Mr. Deputy-Speaker, presiding over the deliberations of the House, would very properly put those questions in such an order that the efflux of time would make it impossible to discuss any question concerning the discharged and demobilised men.
And why should not the Ministry of Pensions retain the power and control of the training of these men? After all, the Ministry is equipped not only with a Minister of Pensions but with an Undersecretary of Pensions, both of them devoted to the work in which they are employed, and giving not only of their time but of their ability to the administration of the Pension Warrants. I am quite sure that, if I had the good fortune to preside over the destinies of the Ministry of Pensions, I should like to feel that I had in my power and in my control the whole life of the man from the moment he was awarded his disability pension to the moment he was turned out of the 784 training-centre as a retrained and useful man. I think they ought to keep within their own purview the history of the discharged and disabled man from the beginning to the end. Clause 5 gives the Ministry power by Order in Council—a method to which this House strongly objects in these days. It was a method to which we did not object during the progress of the War, because it was an easy and a convenient method of getting things done, but it is a method to which we very strongly object now that the War is out of the way and Peace has been signed. This Clause gives the Ministry power, by Order in Council, to transfer functions, and I should be glad if my hon. and gallant Friend, as precisely as he can, will give me the information as to what functions, so far, have been transferred to other Departments, and whether my hon. and gallant Friend contemplates on the part of the Ministry transferring any further functions.
I should like, before we part with the Third Reading of this Bill, to have clearly in my mind the possibility of the transfer of any other functions. I have said quite plainly and bluntly that I object to the transfer of any function. For instance, I objected to the transfer to the Ministry of Labour of training. Before I am prepared to give my right hon. Friend carte blanche in a matter of this kind, I should like to know what the Ministry have in their heads in regard to these arrangements? In regard to the machinery after you have done it I do not very much mind. By all means create what machinery you like. But it is important to know whether other functions are to be transferred. In Clauses (7) and (S) we have given effect to the promise—I am grateful in passing for the carrying out of that promise—of the creation of what is popularly called the statutory right to a pension. I want hon. Members of this House to be quite clear as to how far this statutory right to a pension is going to affect the men who have served from 4th August, 1914. down to the period that is covered by the phrase "duration of the War." At present the man who is assessed for a disability pension has no right of appeal. I know my hon. and gallant Friend would put up a case against that in public, but I think what I am saying is really true. What, of course, he does have is that he can go to the medical referee or the local war pensions committee and give them his circumstances to 785 review. After all, that is going to absolutely the same body as granted his first pension. It is not really a Court of Appeal. It is as if a man who is condemned should go buck to the same judge who has condemned him and ask him to reconsider the case. If you are going to have a real Court of Appeal, obviously, it, must be an entirely fresh set of people who will reconsider the whole case de novo so that the man may have a chance. At present the man has only one chance inside of six months to put his case before the medical referee or the local war pensions committee.
When we discussed this the other day on the Ministry of Pensions Estimates two appeals were asked for by the Select Committee which reported on this matter. The House is entitled to congratulate itself upon the fact that the members of this Select Committee have devoted so much time to the Report they have published. In my opinion it is a very valuable report. It is a report to which I subscribe very cordially as one of the most persistent critics of the Ministry of Pensions ever since it was instituted. I am very grateful to the members of that Committee for the work they have done and the Report they have published. They ask for two things. They ask for a statutory right to a pension, and the right of appeal, not only as to the title to a pension, but on the amount of the pension awarded. I shall not deal with the amount at present. I want to raise that question separately on the Schedule to this Bill. I will only deal with the question of the appeal as to the title. In accordance with the recommendation of the Select Committee this Bill sets up an appeal upon the question of title. I am quite free to admit that, strictly, the Ministry of Pensions have met the House, and the Select Committee, in the terms which are in the Bill. But there is one thing about which I want to be quite clear—and I trust that those interested will support me in trying to get a clear definition on this subject. This is now the month of August, 1919—that is to say, it is over five years since men began to get wounded in the War. Many of the men who were wounded in 1914– 15 have not even an appeal against the assessment of the medical board. There was no medical referee in those days attached to the local war pensions committee to which any of these men could appeal. All of us have in our mind, or, 786 if not, we remember receiving many letters about it from constituents, of men who felt they had been turned down unjustly on the question of the assessment of their pension. I want to ask this: Does this appeal which is set up in Clause (8) entitle any man who is eligible for a pension from the first date on which men were being wounded to go to this tribunal? This is an extraordinarily important point.
The Select Committee have carried through their labours within the last three or four months. Before that Select Committee was set up, many of us in this House, when occasion offered, did our best to state the claims of these men, and I am perfectly certain—and I see a couple of members of the Select Committee present here—that what was in the minds of the Select Committee was that every man should be entitled to this appeal—that it is not, or was not, desired to give men that right from this time forward, but. that in this matter this Bill should be retrospective. I should be surprised to know from any members of that Select Committee who are here now that that was not what was at the back of their mind when they made this recommendation. It is not at all clear. I should have liked to make it more clear, but for the fact that we have been attempting to meet my right hon. and gallant Friend opposite in letting him get this Bill into operation, feeling it was better to have some sort of Bill in operation before we went into Recess without being meticulous about the phraseology.
It is not, I say, at all clear in Clause 8 that the man will have the statutory right—as it were, the inalienable right— of the man who still feels—and many men do—that he has very much better evidence now, because he has had his own medical attendant, evidence from the date when he was turned down, and the evidence of himself of getting worse in health. It should be clear that these men have the right for the last time to go before this new Appeal Tribunal which has been created. and to satisfy themselves that, after the sacrifices they have made, they are getting fair play from the State. It is an extraordinarily essential thing that this House of Commons, elected on whatever basis you like, but elected before the War was over, should not rise from its work— certainly should not go back to the country for another General Election—without the feeling that they have carried 787 through the promises and pledges they made. I am rather keen on that. There has been so much said and done outside the House of Commons with regard to this subject of pensions that I want to establish the position that the House of Commons has not neglected its duty with regard to these men. Those who have followed the proceedings of the House of Commons during the last four years know for a certainty that, time after time, many of us have never lost an opportunity of putting up the case of the discharged men, and Ministers, who have been responsible for administration, have done everything they could, within the limited powers given to them, to carry our suggestions into effect. I think, however, it is essential—I myself am very keen upon it —to establish the claim that this House, as a House of Commons—not as a Coalition Government. not as an Opposition, not as a Labour party, or anything of that sort, but simply as a House of Commons representing the entire country—has not neglected the claims of these men, and that we, as Members, have worked hard in Committee, on the floor of this House, and on every occasion that has been possible, to make good the promises and pledges we gave to them.
I come to the last point with regard to the Schedule which deals with the constitution, jurisdiction, and the procedure of the Pension Appeal Tribunals. I thought of making a few Amendments with regard to the constitution of the tribunals, but no two of us might agree as to who the tribunal ought to consist of, and it is per haps not worth while putting up an alter native point of view so much as making another point. The Select Committee, whose work I have already described, also asked for an appeal on the question of the amount, and that is one of the things that has not been granted by the Government. I pointed that out and criticised it on the Pensions Estimates, and I showed that it was just the precise point in a man's disabled career that he felt most keenly about the question of assessment, and if he can get on that point the proper kind of appeal, it would create a greater feeling of confidence that the Ministry of Pensions and the Government were doing what they ought to do for the discharged men. The Minister of Pensions rather dropped the hint that he would not be averse to 788 giving an appeal on the question of amount if it was a permanent one, but, after all, that would be a beginning.
The present assessment is for a period of three years, and no doubt hon. Members could produce evidence from discharged men in which they say they are tired of being under so many doctors. I know of one man who had seen twenty-seven doctors within the last three years in connection with his pension, and that man does not want to see another doctor until the morning of the Resurrection. [An HON. MEMBER: "Too late."] No it would not be too late, because he would be the inhabitant of a better world. There is nothing that prevents a man getting well so much as the fact that he does not know what he is going to get when he is well. If he knew his pension was going to be x shillings a week, that it was not going to be touched, and that it was to be his permanent pension, he would settle down to that frame of mind which might enable him to recuperate. This is a very import ant question which means a great deal to Governments in the future.
My hon. Friend told us that there are 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 people in receipt of pensions. That is at least one out of every twenty-five people in this country, and probably the proportion is one out of every twenty in receipt of a pension on account of the War. That is a big pro portion of public opinion. We do not want those kind of things to interfere with ordinary political events in this country, or with parties or the progress of parties. We want to settle those things, and put them on one side as being definitely done away with. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will assure the House that when a pension has been assessed as a permanent pension, say half a dozen times within three years, and at the end the pension is put down as x shillings a week, if that man desires it, I think he should have an appeal to the tribunal on the amount that is going to be paid for the remainder of his life. The pension is not obtained for six months only. The percentage of permanent pension is so email at the present moment that you could easily afford the opportunity for an appeal in those particular cases. I think it is very important that when we have the opportunity we should impress this point upon my hon. and gallant Friend.
I can almost anticipate what the reply will be, and there is a great deal to be said for it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman. 789 will probably say, if you open up the question of appeals on amount, you are going to make it so impossible to deal with the problem that you will probably hinder the proper administration of pensions. That is probably true, generally speaking, but it is not true of permanent pensions. What I suggest could be done with regard to permanent pensions. I did not want this Bill to pass without hon. Members having an opportunity of expressing their views on these points, and keeping a kind of hold on the Bill, in spite of the fact that we are willing to allow the Third Reading in order that this Bill may reach the Statute Book at the earliest possible opportunity.
§ Sir JAMES CRAIG
I must thank my hon. Friend opposite and the House for the way they have facilitated the efforts of my right hon. Friend in getting this Bill through. This Bill is framed to carry out the pledges which my right hon. Friend gave in his statement to the House, and it accepts, except in. details, the findings of the Committee which has just, reported. My hon. Friend has raised points with regard to three of the Clauses of the Bill outside the questions affected by Clauses 7 and 8. He began with Clause 2, making inquiries as to how it was possible to arrive at the pre-war earnings of those men who were in small businesses and trades before the War in order now to be able to establish their claims to an alternative pension. I can assure the House that the question of ascertaining the pre-war earnings of the men who went out to serve is occupying the earnest attention of those who have to administer the Royal Warrant. Necessarily very many difficult problems arise. In many instances books were not kept, and the particular statistics that were necessary for our purpose had to be obtained by making careful inquiry in the neighbourhood from those tradesmen with whom the man dealt, and also from the houses from whom he obtained his goods to carry on his retail occupation. I may say that, in my opinion, there is no Department that is better organised at the moment, and no Department that has men of more outstanding ability, than the Alternative Pensions Department. My right hon. Friend felt that he was called upon to occupy an extraordinarily difficult position, and that made him seek and obtain men of great ability to cope with the many difficulties which he foresaw would arise. My hon. Friend can, therefore, take it from me that we are doing everything possible to ascertain precisely the amount 790 of the pre-war earnings in order to establish a man's right to an alternative pension. This Clause to which he has referred only corrects an error which was made in the former Act. It enables us to use the machinery that we have for ascertaining the pre-war earnings of a man who returns to this country with a claim for an alternative pension, in the case of those men who have not returned, but where it is necessary to ascertain the pre war earnings for the commutation of the widows' pension.
The general question of advances and the question of commutation do not really arise under Clause 3, because all that we are seeking by that Clause is to enable us to give a slightly longer or larger advance to those men who are returning to the Colonies in order to enable them to cover the journey and the period which they re quire to get settled in their new sphere of life. My right hon. Friend has already informed the House that he hopes in a short time to be able to announce amicable arrangements with Canada and our other Colonies whereby pensioners who reside in those Colonies shall be put upon the Colonial rate in its entirety, and the bill which will result footed by this country at the termination of each financial year. He went into the case very fully in order to show that he had in mind the possibility of a Canadian who has re turned from the War with a pension bigger than we are able to give under our Royal Warrant living side by side with some one who came from Canada and joined our Imperial Forces here, and who, therefore, comes under the Royal Warrant, although he has now gone back to Canada. The particular question which my hon. Friend raises to-day, therefore, has given consider able thought to my right hon. Friend, and he proposes to meet to a very large degree the possibility of hardship to which my hon. Friend has referred. My hon. Friend went a little further, and suggested the possibility of enlarging the com mutation of pensions. That raises a very wide question of policy, and I have not had an opportunity of consulting my right hon. Friend on the point, but I think this House would be wise not to press for the commutation of pensions, except in very exceptional cases, because it is obvious, if we were to allow pensioners to commute their pensions and receive considerable sums down in full discharge of their rights and privileges under the Royal Warrant, it might be that, through 791 foolishness on their part, or through the evil designs of others, the sum would disappear in a short time, and, as it would never do under any circumstances for this country to have these men going about in a state of destitution, we might have once more to put them on the pension books. We had better not in the meantime go further in the question of commuted pensions.
My hon. Friend raised the old controversial question as to whether the late Minister of Pensions was right in allowing the transfer of training to the Ministry of Labour. In my opinion, our predecessor in office was perfectly right. Anyone who has had to deal with the great labour problems that affect all those men who are returning to civil life will recognise that the proper authority to deal with them is the Ministry of Labour. On the other hand, the Pensions Ministry does exactly what my hon. Friend has suggested. He said that we ought to have charge of a man for the whole of his invalided life. We do. No pensioner leaves the auspices of the Pensions Ministry until he is certified by our own medical staff to be absolutely fit to undertake the training which the Ministry of Labour proposes to give him. We are establishing throughout the country six very large and suitable industrial centres, so that the men shall have the very best treatment, coupled with the elementary training in whatever particular direction they desire to travel. My hon. Friend may rest assured that, far from the Ministry rashly parting with a man before he enters the industrial world, it is the desire and duty of my right hon. Friend to see that the responsibility of passing men on to the Ministry of Labour rests with competent medical advisers. Consequently, the desire of my hon. Friend is adequately met. The question of the statutory right to pensions comes under Clauses 7 and 8. My right hon. Friend, with a rapidity which the House has appreciated, has embodied in this Bill the pledge which he gave a short time ago to those Members who were present when he made his extraordinarily able statement. He gives a full statutory right to a pension. My hon. Friend now comes down and says that he would like very much to know, whether it; would be possible to give an appeal not only on the question of entitlement, but also as to the amount of the pension which may be awarded by the Board.
§ Sir J. CRAIG
I am glad my hon. Friend has modified the view which he expressed before, that it would be possible to have an appeal on these grounds. If he asks me whether, when a permanent pension has been awarded, it will be possible for my right hon. Friend to allow a man who is dissatisfied with the amount to have an appeal, I can only say that, although we have not specifically discussed this question together, I have heard him suggest that there is a possibility of meeting my hon. Friend in the matter. In consequence of the very great distance my right hon. Friend has been able to go in this Bill, I hope the House will be satisfied when I say that I myself see no administrative difficulties whatever in the way of giving those who are being awarded a permanent pension a right of appeal, but I hope the House will thoroughly understand that the question of an appeal on the amount is really an appeal on assessment. It is on the assessment that the amount is translated, and consequently it really means an appeal to a rather superior class of medical board that my hon. Friend is asking for. I may say that the door is by no means closed on the possibility, but I cannot pledge my right hon. Friend without having first consulted him. In conclusion, may I say just a word or two upon the point raised by my hon. Friend referring to allowing the new Appeal Tribunals to re-hear all the cases which have already been tried by our present appeal tribunals? That, as a matter of course, I must submit to my right hon. Friend, but I do not think it possible. After all, I guarantee to say that no tribunal set up by the Lord Chancellor could be more independent, more painstaking, or more sympathetic towards discharged and disabled men than are the tribunals that at present exist. I guarantee to say it is impossible to find men who are more devoted to their work and more anxious to do it in the fairest way than the tribunals which have already sat, and I am confident that if any hon. Members had attended any of the Courts, and seen the painstaking manner in which they conduct their business and their fairness with the men before them—an assessor, a sailor or soldier, hearing all the evidence for and against—they would agree we could not have a fairer or more judicial tribunal. Outside the question of expense, I hope 793 my hon. Friend will remember that we are trying to catch up arrears, and that although we have nearly fifteen of these tribunals our arrears are not nearly over come. It may be said, "They never should have arisen," but that is another matter; and I may point this out to the House, that it has been found necessary in order to cope with the gigantic number of cases on first awards to make those first awards rapidly and swiftly in order to allay any suggestion in the country that a man is not going to get a pension at all. It is obvious that with this hurry in making assessments, especially in cases where demobilisation was pressed upon the country and men were thrust out with out medical examination, and came on to us with very meagre details regarding their past medical history, it becomes all the more necessary for the tribunals in reviewing cases to take all the time they require, in order that the haste in the first instance may be corrected by the exercise of the utmost possible pains when it comes to a question of appeal.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I would like to ask a question if I may. My hon. Friend has been very good in meeting us, but I do not want to part with this Bill without knowing exactly where we are. I took him to say that this new Appeal Tribunal will not operate until this Act becomes law, and that, therefore, nobody who has had a pension prior to the date on which this becomes law will have the right to appeal to this tribunal, and I would like to ask him this—not really to close his mind upon that subject. And, if I may, may I ask him if he is aware—may I put it as a question, Mr. Deputy-Speaker?— ask him if he is aware that when Judge Parry's tribunal was set up on the question of appeal against the gratuities and in favour of pensions it was found there was at least 50 per cent. of error—one out of every two cases—in the decisions which had been come to, and that my hon. and gallant Friend may be doing himself and the Ministry an injustice if he finally closes his mind? I do not ask him for a decision, but I ask him not to say definitely in this Third Reading Debate anything which would prevent any man who has had a decision from coming to this tribunal. That is not much to ask, and I hope he will agree.
§ Sir J. CRAIG
I am very anxious not to leave the impression upon the House that I am in favour of it or that I think it is 794 possible. With those reservations I will certainly keep the door open, and promise to consult my right hon. Friend at the earliest possible moment. In a matter of such importance as that I cannot, of course, make any definite pledge to the House, but with my knowledge of the congestion of work at this great Ministry and the excellent way in which the tribunals have done their work in the past, I cannot conceive that it would be an administrative possibility to reopen all these cases and to give them another appeal to what would be practically a similar tribunal, only set up under different auspices. I think these are all the points that my hon. Friend touched on, and once more I wish to thank the House most heartily for the way in which they have facilitated my right hon. Friend and myself in getting the Bill through.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
May I ask the hon. and gallant Gentleman one point— and that is with reference to the consumptive sailors who were invalided out of the Navy before the War? Under the same conditions of service, practically consumptive sailors have been invalided out of the Service during the War with a pension, but there are many very hard cases of sailors who were doing exactly the same work before the War, only perhaps not quite so hard, invalided out with no pension at all, and who are now in great straits. May I ask if there are any hopes for those men? Up to now they have not seen any signs of it.
§ Sir PETER GRIGGS
As chairman of a local war pensions committee I also have experienced great difficulty in arranging alternative pensions in the cases of those who gave up businesses to join in the War. I have just arranged one after a long time, where there was great difficulty in getting the requisite information as there was no Income Tax paid in pre-war times. It was important to obtain the 2s. or 3s. extra for the woman and her three small children in that case. If we can have it laid down on broader and more definite lines that we may grant these alternative pensions on proper conditions it will prove very useful to many who need that assistance. At present non-payment of Income Tax was a bar.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.