§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the transfer to the Minister of Pensions of powers and duties with respect to pensions and grants vested in certain Naval, Military, and Air Force authorities, to amend Section nine of the War Pensions (Administrative Provisions) Act, 1918, to make provision for awards in respect of war injuries to, and the detention of, mariners and other seafaring persons and war damage to their effects, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.It will not be necessary to speak at length on this proposed Bill, because it follows the lines of the Bill which has just received a Second Reading. It gives certain powers to the Minister of Pensions, which I am sure the House will agree that it is desirable that he should have. It is substantially an administrative 267 Measure. It provides for the transfer to the Ministry of Pensions from the Service Department of the administration of pensions in respect of disablement or death due to service in the armed Forces of the Crown in the coming war. It applies to all Service casualties the plan of unification adopted in the Great War under the Ministry of Pensions Act, 1916. In the last War a long time elapsed before we arrived at the decision that these matters should not be left to the Service Departments, but should be unified under one Minister, responsible to this House, who could be questioned and criticised on pension matters. It is wise that the House should agree at the beginning and not two years afterwards that the Minister of Pensions should take over the responsibility of dealing with these cases from the beginning of the trouble.
On the former occasion the House of Commons had abundant testimony of the difficulty experienced under the previous system, and we have now abundant testimony as to the advisability of having all these pension matters under one Ministry. We know that the British Legion, from what they have said from time to time, prefer a system whereby they can deal with one Minister rather than three different Departments. War compensation and the treatment of war disabilities is, I submit, a specialised business, and it is better under one single Department than under three. The Bill goes a step further than the Act of 1916. It provides, also, that the Minister of Pensions may make a scheme applying, with the necessary modifications, the rates and conditions of naval compensation to the crews of merchant ships in the pilotage and lightship service and to the crews of ships in all waters which temporarily form part of the Navy.
During the last War, for some reason which I am not able to explain, but I am told it was because the recommendation came forward after the War Pensions Act had been passed, men of the Mercantile Marine, the pilotage service and other services who were assisting the Navy were not included in the scheme, but came under a scheme administered by the Board of Trade. I am not going to say that the Board of Trade have not done their job satisfactorily. I have not had many complaints, although I represent a 268 seaport where many men and widows are drawing what they call a Board of Trade pension. I think, however, that those who know anything of the administration of war pensions will agree that it is far better that these pensions should not be under different Departments, but under the Minister of Pensions, and that they should be treated alike and considered by the same set of people. I shall be glad to answer any questions, and if there are any questions on the naval side my hon. and gallant Friend the Civil Lord of the Admiralty will be prepared to answer. The Bill is self-explanatory. It transfers powers from the Navy, the Army and the Air Force to the Ministry of Pensions with regard to pension matters.
One final point. The Bill authorises a scheme of compensation for seamen and others employed in the sea service who are subject to enforced detention in foreign ports and who suffer war damage to their effects. I am sure that proposal will meet with the full approval of the House. If a man is serving in a merchant ship under the naval authorities and is doing a job of work that is essential for the interests of the country, perhaps in bringing foodstuffs or raw materials here, and he is unfortunate enough to be on a ship which is detained and taken to a foreign port and kept there, it is right that he should be compensated in the same way as a prisoner of war who is captured on the battlefield, and that provision should be made for him. The House of Commons appointed a Select Committee to go into the whole question of pensions and in their report issued on 9th August, 1920. paragraph 40, they say:All officers and other ranks in the Mercantile Marine who serve abroad during the war on British Merchant vessels should be regarded as having been engaged on war service, if such service was performed under circumstances where the normal risks of strain were increased by war conditions.That recommendation has been born in mind in framing this Bill. It is a very necessary Bill, and I hope the House will pass it as speedily as possible.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I shall not occupy the attention of the House for long, first, because most of what I desire to say has been said already on the previous Bill when we were dealing with the question of war pensions administration, and, secondly, because I agree with the 269 principle embodied in the Measure. At the same time, I desire to put some questions to the Minister for the purpose of elucidation. I entirely agree that unification is desirable. It is essential that all persons who are involved in injury sustained as the result of the war should be treated alike. There ought not to be, as there was during the last war, differentiation in treatment, which gave rise to many anomalies resulting in much discontent. There is a difference between this Measure and the last which the House considered. In the case of the last Bill the Minister said that there was power to bring a scheme before Parliament. That is quite a proper provision, but in this Measure no such provision obtains.
Clause 3 provides for pensions payable in certain circumstances to seafaring men. A scheme can be promoted by the Minister, but there is no provision that such a scheme can be brought before Parliament. Why have the Government left out such a very necessary provision, and one which has been embodied in almost every kind of legislation dealing with these matters? Unless there is such a provision contained in the Bill I am bound to ask the Minister — he may not be able to give me a full answer to-day — the nature of the scheme, and, in particular, the rates which are to be paid in the event of injury being sustained. Obviously, we shall only be able to discuss such a scheme by way of question and answer in the House, and I think we should have further information on the matter.
I agree with the Minister that a Government scheme under the Ministry of Pensions is preferable to the kind of scheme which was promoted during the last War, which left the matter in the hands of the Board of Trade. I make no charge against the Board of Trade as far as the administration is concerned. I have had some experience of seafaring men, and I know that there has been considerable criticism of the rates paid, and that in a number of cases men have been unable to receive any pension at all. As the organiser of a seafaring union I have had occasion to approach the Board of Trade on many occasions to obtain redress for the men, but at the same time much prefer that the matter should be left in the hands of the Ministry of Pensions who are dealing with these matters 270 on a basis of unification and treating everybody alike. I want to know, in the event of a seafaring man being injured in the process of the war being denied a pension or remuneration, what redress he has? Is he still entitled to utilise the process of Common Law and claim under the Workmen's Compensation Act? Otherwise, it will be most unfair that a man should be compelled to come within the scope of a Government scheme and then, having been turned down, should be denied the opportunity of going further with his case.
There has been considerable criticism of the War Pensions Act. I know that there have been many bad cases. I have had several cases myself which have been turned down. I know that there are cases of hardship, but, on the whole, and speaking for myself, I say that the War Pensions Act and the administration of it has worked out very well. There have been large numbers of cases where the treatment has been beyond reproach, although there have been many cases of hardship. I know of the representations made by the British Legion and by hon. Members, but I say that there has been considerable satisfaction; and I say that for this reason. In spite of what hon. and learned Friends have said — I am speaking for seamen in this matter — I say that I would infinitely prefer to put seamen in the hands of a Government Department and place them within the scope of a Government pension scheme than leave them to the hazards of the law. That is my view, and it is the view of seafaring men. I do not distrust lawyers, nor do I make any criticism of the courts, but from my experience we have had far more trouble under the administration of the Workmen's Compensation Act than we have had under Government schemes which relate to pensions and remuneration. Therefore, as far as seamen are concerned, I prefer to put them in the hands of a Government scheme and bring them under the administration of a Government Department.
All I ask is that proper safeguards should be provided, and one safeguard is that there should be something in the nature of an appeal tribunal. The discretion ought not to be entirely vested in the Minister. Secondly, if a claim made by a seafaring man is rejected by the Department the man should have the right, even if there is an appeal tribunal and 271 his case has gone before it, to invoke the aid of the Workmen's Compensation Acts under Common Law in order to establish his case. Provided that these safeguards are furnished, I should prefer, speaking for seafaring men, to leave these men in the hands of a Government Department.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. K. Griffith
I cannot help feeling that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) a little misunderstood the legal points that were made by certain legal Members in the course of the Debate on the previous Bill. I think everybody will agree with the hon. Member for Seaham that the last thing we want is that every claim under this Bill, when it becomes an Act, should go through the machinery of the courts, for that would be an impossible procedure. The only thing we suggest is that in certain cases where a Common Law remedy appears to exist and where that remedy might yield far larger compensation to the individual than was possible under the scheme that alternative should be kept alive. That is the suggestion that was made by legal Members who spoke in the Debate on the previous Bill.
With regard to this Bill, I think every hon. Member realises that it is a question of administrative procedure, and that it is necessary that, as happened eventually during the last War, all the pensions administration should come under one Department. In saying that, I wish to present my humble tribute of gratitude for the way in which the Departments concerned dealt with their own pensions cases as long as they were within their purview. In particular, I have always found that the War Office has dealt with pensions cases in a most satisfactory way. It is obvious that during hostilities, which are so imminent, the Fighting Departments will have so much to do that to leave them with this additional burden would be to place a greater strain upon their personnel than would be reasonable. For those reasons, I think this Bill is a necessary one, and I support it.
Question, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the transfer to the Minister of Pensions of powers and duties with respect to pensions and grants vested in certain Naval, Military, and Air Force 272 authorities, to amend section nine of the War Pensions (Administrative Provisions) Act, 1918, to make provision for awards in respect of war injuries to and the detention of, mariners and other seafaring persons and war damage to their effects, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid," put, and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Hore-Belisha, Sir Kingsley Wood, Mr. Stanley, Mr. Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Womersley.
to make provision for the transfer to the Minister of Pensions of powers and duties with respect to pensions and grants vested in certain Naval, Military, and Air Force authorities, to amend section nine of the War Pensions (Administrative Provisions) Act, 1918, to make provision for awards in respect of war injuries to, and the detention of, mariners and other seafaring persons and war damage to their effects, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid,
presented accordingly, read the First time; and ordered to be printed. [Bill 245.]
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for To-morrow —[Sir W.Womersley.']