HC Deb 02 September 1939 vol 351 cc241-66

4.5 p.m.

The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision as respects certain personal injuries sustained during the period of the present emergency. The object of the Bill, in brief, is to provide for grants to be made in respect of personal injuries or death caused by air raids or other operations of war to the civil population. The House will remember that in January last my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear in a statement to the House that personal injury from war ought not to be treated as merely the concern of those who suffered directly but must be regarded as an affair of the community as a whole. Let me quote from his speech on that occasion. My right hon. Friend said:

As regards individuals, the Government have had under consideration arrangements for giving compensation from public funds in respect of death or of injury involving serious disablement caused by air raids or other warlike action. A scheme is being worked out to cover casualties to civilians, its purport being that, in addition to persons enrolled as volunteers in air raid or other such services who might be injured or killed while on duty, the scheme would apply to casualties among civilians wholly or mainly dependent for their livelihood upon their employment or occupation. Provision will also have to be made in the scheme for other cases where need arises. "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1939; col. 28, Vol. 343.] The Bill is an enabling Bill. It will give me power to lay before the House a scheme worked out on the lines of that promise. It will, of course, have to lie on the Table of the House for a given number of days. I hope the Bill will not prove to be controversial. If hon. Members will turn to the Bill they will find that in Clause 2 the procedure as to schemes is laid out. The working out of the scheme to comply with these condi- tions has been entrusted to my Department. The Bill is designed to give the Minister of Pensions Parliamentary authority to formulate a scheme in agreement with the Treasury and to make the various grants under it. The scheme has already been prepared and in accordance with Clause 2 (3) it will be laid with the least possible delay on the Table of the House. Members will then have an opportunity of scrutinising the scheme and will know what it is proposed to do.

If Members will allow me I shall refer briefly to the Clauses. Clause 1 is to implement the promise made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let me deal first of all with Civil Defence volunteers. These are defined in the Bill as certified members of an organisation established for Civil Defence purposes. The functions and purposes of Civil Defence are indicated broadly in the Civil Defence Acts recently passed. Persons thus engaged in Civil Defence will be protected from the consequences not only of war operations, that is physical injury resulting directly from enemy acts while on duty, but also from other injuries, for example, accidental injuries sustained in the course of their duties and termed by the Bill war service injuries. That is as regards Civil Defence volunteers.

Provision is also made for persons engaged in employment or business, and this of course opens up a much wider sphere. I believe it is in the national interest that many people should remain at their work. We all agree as to that. The Government feel that some provision should be made in the case of those who are carrying on national service, even if they are following their own occupations, and certainly in the case of those who are engaged in services which are essential to the life of the community. The Government feel that those people must be protected from the consequences of war risk. Accordingly, they are included in the Bill, and this class comprises all persons who are ordinarily dependent for their living on their work, though they may be temporarily unemployed. I submit that that is a reasonable and, indeed, a necessary provision.

If hon. Members examine the Bill they will see that there are to be allowances known as injury allowances. For these, two kinds of grants are available. In the first place, where an injured person is certified to be incapacitated for work by a war injury, or, in the case of a Civil Defence volunteer, by a war service injury, he will be enabled to draw a temporary allowance termed in the Bill an injury allowance. If he has to go into hospital his wife will be able to claim. The injury allowances will be definitely on a flat rate basis dependent only on such plain facts as the number of the person's immediate family dependants in the household, and whether or not he is in hospital. It will not be in way determined by means or need. There will be no means test in this case. Everyone is to be treated alike. The injury allowances are designed to be immediate emergency payments. There will be no delay, and we hope that if our scheme is accepted by the House, there will be no occasion for hon. Members to come forward with complaints of injuries having occurred and of the injured people not being able to get their compensation at once.

Mr. McGovern

Then it will be different from the last War.

Sir W. Womersley

I never like to be associated with anything that is not different from what has gone before. I think we should always learn from experience and improve these arrangements in the light of what has happened before, and if I am able to satisfy the hon. Member then, indeed, I shall feel that I have accomplished something worth while. As I say, the injury allowances are designed to be immediate emergency payments to tide a man over the first results of an injury. Treatment will also be given immediately, under Ministry of Health arrangements, at local hospitals or by private practitioners if the case is not sufficiently serious to go to hospital. After sufficient time has elapsed to judge the conditions, if it is found that the case involves serious and prolonged disablement, then the Bill provides that a pension may be granted for a period or permanently, as may be required by the circumstances. Pensions will be awarded on Service lines, that is to say, in accordance with the medically certified degree of physical disablement. Again, wages or earnings will not ordinarily enter into consideration except in the case of part-time workers where it may be necessary to determine to what extent the injured person was dependent on his earnings.

I would specially invite the attention of hon. Members to Clauses 3 and 4, which are important. I would like to give as clear an explanation of them as possible, and if I occupy some time in trying to do so, it may save time: later on. Clause 3 follows the plan already adopted by the House in the Civil Defence Act. It suspends the exercise of rights under the Workmen's Compensation Acts or rights at Common Law or under contract in the case of incapacity for work caused by war injuries or war service injuries. The grant of injury allowances and pensions which I have outlined will take the place of any compensation which a man might otherwise be able to obtain by an action at law. When this provision comes into operation, if the House approves of it, I think it will be found to be far less drastic than it appears to be at first sight. The cases in which war injury would entitle an employ é to workmen's compensation, would, the Government are advised, probably be very few. In such a case, it would have to be shown that the injury resulting from enemy attack arose out of or in the course of the man's employment, and if the injured person were left to pursue his claim at law, the only result, I submit, would be a volume of litigation, which, during war-time, would be a hindrance to the work of national defence.

I think the most conclusive argument, however, in favour of the course which has been adopted in the Bill, is the simple fact that incapacity as a result of war injury was never contemplated when the Workmen's Compensation Acts were framed and passed. Nor have employers or insurance companies calculated their liabilities on the assumption that the war risks of their employ é s were contemplated by those Acts. Those Acts were designed to cover industrial risks only. The Government have given very careful consideration to this matter. They took advice in various quarters, and it was decided that in the circumstances it was best for the Government to assume a national responsibility for all war injuries, instead of leaving it to employ é s and others to take their chances at law. I feel that the House will agree with the proposition that this should be a national responsibility. There should not be any difficulties about litigation, and people should not be left in doubt as to whether they are to get compensation or not.

Hon. Members will see that Clause 4 is framed on much the same principle as Clause 3. This Clause has in view more particularly those employers who have been granted certificates of exemption under the National Health Insurance Acts on the ground that the terms of their employment guarantee their workpeople benefits not less favourable than those provided by the National Health Insurance scheme. Obviously in this case, and, indeed, in the health insurance scheme generally, war risks were never contemplated, and employers have an equitable claim to be relieved of these unforeseen liabilities, to the extent, at any rate, of the injury allowances which the Government propose under this scheme to pay out of public funds. I submit, therefore, that that is a provision which should be included in the scheme, and I am satisfied that the House will accept it as a fair arrangement.

I think I have now dealt with the main features of the Bill. I have indicated the primary classes concerned, namely, Civil Defence volunteers and persons engaged in occupations, employments or businesses of the kind I have mentioned. The scheme will provide for certain other classes in cases of war injury causing serious disablement as a result of which they themselves, or those who are dependent on them, may suffer material economic losses. The details will be in the scheme when it is submitted to the House. In those cases, where it is shown that a pension or other grant should be made, it will be made under the scheme. Indeed, the Government have designed the whole scheme with the object of ensuring that those who suffer from war disabilities, whether they are following an essential occupation in an area which is likely to be bombed or giving valuable services in the Defence Forces of the country, shall be treated as generously as it is possible for the National Exchequer to treat them, and not left to private charity, or to their own resources.

I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the members of my staff who, ever since my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in January last made that promise to the House which I quoted earlier, have devoted many long hours to working out this scheme. Many consultations have had to take place with various other Government Departments, and great consideration has had to be given to representations made from all quarters. It was felt, and I think rightly so, that we must present to this House, if the occasion arose, as it has arisen, a Measure that would meet with the approval of Members of all parties in the House, one which was felt by Members generally to be generous without in any way being an imposition upon the taxpayers of the country. Because I believe that they have achieved, by framing this scheme, these objects, I beg to move.

4.21 p.m.

Mr. Lees-Smith

The Minister of Pensions said, quite correctly, that this was not in any way a controversial Bill, and I do not think the discussion on it need occupy any very great length of time. I think he is justified in claiming that it is a very carefully drawn-up Bill, and the discussion now need not be very long, because, as would appear from his own statement, it is at present rather a skeleton Bill, and the real kernel of the Bill will be the scheme when it is produced, whereas this is merely a Bill which empowers the Minister to bring that scheme before the House. It is about that particular procedure that I wish to make some suggestions. The unfortunate thing is that the scheme, when it comes before the House, will do so under the same kind of procedure as an ordinary Order-in-Council, and I gather that the House would not be in a position to amend it and would have either to accept or reject it in its entirety. I think that that method of dealing with a scheme of this kind, which will be full of details, is not suitable. I should therefore like the Minister to give us an assurance that when the scheme is brought up, he will listen to the Debate and, if points are raised which show that it could be amended with improvement, use his power, which he has by an Order made with the consent of the Treasury, to amend the scheme.

I would also say that I listened to the Minister's explanation of the part which was played in the scheme by the general ideas of the Workmen's Compensation Act and the part played by the general ideas of the War Pensions Act. I did not follow it very closely, but I think it was clear to the whole House that this is much more similar and suitable to the War Pensions Act than to the other one, and that on the whole the War Pensions Act gives far more generous treatment than do the Workmen's Compensation Acts, which are indeed a cause of considerable grumbling, complaint, and controversy throughout the country. I hope, therefore, that it may be the War Pensions Act which will be the model upon which the Minister will act, but I would ask him to tell the House that when the scheme comes before us, at a time when, after all, we shall have plenty of leisure to discuss it, he will give opportunity for a full discussion. Let us begin the day with it, and not take it after 11 at night, and let us have an opportunity for a full discussion. Let it last as long as we like, and then let him, if he considers that the suggestions made in the Debate are good, exercise his power to amend the scheme accordingly.

4.24 p.m.

Mr. Dingle Foots

The right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) has pointed out that this is not a controversial Measure and that it is very necessary at the present time, but I hope that when we reach the Committee stage to-morrow the Minister will be able to give us a little more information as to his intentions under Clause 1. He has not indicated to the House what kind of scale of allowances he contemplates under that Clause. I do not know whether the Ministry have yet arrived at a decision on that matter, but if they have, I think it would be of assistance to the House — or to the Committee to-morrow — to be informed as to the sort of level of payment which is contemplated under the schemes to be made, because, as the right hon. Member for Keighley has pointed out, we are in a considerable difficulty in that we are unable to amend any of the schemes which will come before the House.

There is one further observation that I should like to make on Clause 1. The machinery is that the Minister makes a scheme, and the right of the claimant will, of course, be determined by the provisions of the scheme. Not only does the Minister make the scheme, but the Minister himself is the sole judge in the last resort as to whether anybody is entitled to benefit under the scheme. I would put forward this suggestion to the Minister, and I hope he will consider it before to-morrow. I do not ask him to reply now. I suggest that at the end of Subsection (4) in Clause 1 a proviso should be added in terms somewhat like these: Provided that the Minister may, and shall if so directed by the High Court, state in the form of a special case the opinion of the High Court on any question of law arising Out of any such decision. That would not lead to the endless litigation which the Minister has envisaged, but it would enable test cases to be taken up from time to time. After all, we are dealing with something which may affect intimately the lives of very large numbers of people, and even at times like this it is the business of the House to see that every possible safeguard of individual rights is inserted in our legislation.

The Minister was at some pains to justify the provisions of Clause 3, because he drew a picture, as is customary on these occasions, of the perils of litigation. Of course, you have to supplement the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act and the Employers' Liability Act, and the provisions of the Common Law, by a scheme of this kind, because there are a great many people who would be injured who would not be able to get redress in those other ways, but that is no reason why you should in every case deprive a man of his Common Law rights, because — I am speaking now, not of the Workmen's Compensation Act, but about the Common Law — broadly speaking, a man will not have a claim at Common Law unless somebody has been negligent or guilty of a breach of duty. Why should we go out of our way to deprive those who fail to carry out some Common Law duty of the consequences of their neglect? It is not a question of having to choose between the two. There is no reason why there should not be a provision here, as in the Workmen's Compensation Act, by which a man could elect to go to Common Law or come under this scheme, and there could be a provision such as there is in the Workmen's Compensation Act, whereby, if a man failed to get damages claimed at Common Law, the court could assess what was due to him under this scheme.

There is one other matter which arises out of that, and I do not think the Minister had very much to say about it in his opening remarks. I would ask hon. Members to look at the definition at the bottom of page 6: ' war service injury ' in relation to a civil defence volunteer, means any physical injury which the Minister certifies to have been shown to his satisfaction to have arisen out of and in the course of the performance by the volunteer of his duties as a member of the civil defence organisation to which he belonged at the time when the injury was sustained, and (except in the case of a war injury) not to have arisen out of and in the course of his employment in any other capacity. Hon. Members will observe that the words used, "out of and in the course of," are precisely the same words as occur in the Workmen's Compensation Act. We all know that those words have given rise to more litigation, to more differences as to interpretation than any other phrase in our Statute Law. It is almost bound to happen that when we try to draw a line of that kind we get a large number of borderline cases, and it is very difficult to say, as we know from experience, whether certain cases fall on one side of the line or on the other. There is the sort of case where a man may be on his way to work. In this case he may be on his way to perform his voluntary duties. It is necessary that he should go there, but at what point of time does he begin to discharge his voluntary duties? It is always a difficult question to decide, and it has given rise to thousands of cases in the courts. It is to be determined under this Bill, not by the court, but by the Minister of Pensions.

That gives rise to certain difficulties. We have no reason to suppose that the Minister will be more competent to discharge this duty than the courts, and how are we to know that he will use even the same criteria and judge this phrase in the same way as the courts would do? Suppose they do not and they apply some departmental canon of interpretation different from that which prevails in the ordinary courts of law. An obvious hiatus then appears in this Bill. A man may be injured on his way to perform his duties or when he is working in a factory, and the Minister determines that his injury did not arise "out of and in the course of" the performance of his voluntary duties. The man may fancy, having been refused by the Minister, that he has a claim under the Workmen's Compensation Act or at Common Law. Suppose it is under the Workmen's Compensation Act, he has then to go to the court, which may judge the matter by different standards. It seems to me that, not in a great number of cases but in a certain number, the man may fall between two stools in that way. This is a matter which ought to be considered by the House and the Minister. We shall have until to-morrow to consider it, and I hope the Minister will consider whether it will be possible to have some possibility of proceeding by way of case statement, or something of that kind, so that the ordinary canons of interpretation can be applied. Otherwise we shall get different interpretations by the courts on the one hand, and by Government Departments on the other.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. Pritt

Much of what I wanted to say has been said by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). The judicial body which is to decide under this scheme whether a payment is to be made or not is to be the Minister, which means, of course, Civil servants. I have an unfailing admiration for Civil servants, but they are not judges and they have not had judicial training. I have said a good many hard things about the courts in my time, but I will say in favour of them that when they do work as courts they are better than anyone else, and certainly better than any amateur arrangement. I imagine that the anxiety of the Government is that if this is left to the county courts, which in this sort of thing are very often very good indeed by reason of their experience, the courts may be flooded and there may be delay and expense. I sympathise with those feelings. I would suggest that the Minister might consider a half-way house which works fairly well in the immense body of industrial litigation, and have some form of tribunal of three people rather like those who deal with unemployment payment claims.

The second matter on which I want to say a word is that under Clause 3 people are being deprived of their rights to claim damages at Common Law. I am not so concerned about the Workmen's Compensation Act, because, after all, if what people are to get under this Bill is worse than they get under the Compensation Act, there will be a revolution and we need not worry, so that in all probability the exclusion of rights under the Workmen's Compensation Act will not matter. The exclusion of rights at Common Law, however, may be very important indeed. The Minister says that there will not be a great many cases. The fact that it will not very often happen is no excuse. I can think of many sets of circumstances in which it will happen. Then, says the Minister, you do, at any rate, get people away from the hazards of litigation by telling them, "Do not go trying to get a couple of thousand pounds; be content with the £ 250 which the Minister will give you."

That is the way in which it may work out. The hazards of litigation are hazards which people undertake because their lawyers, honestly we hope, tell them that, although the hazards are there, it is better to run the risk, because the probable result of running such a risk is that they will get a good deal more money than if they accepted the inadequate statutory benefit. People are advised all day long to take the hazards of litigation at Common Law in proper circumstances rather than rest content with an inadequate payment under the Workmen's Compensation Act. I should think there are thousands of people living above the starvation line because they took these hazards, and who would be living below the starvation line if they had not taken them. There is no reason and no right, just because there is a war, to deprive thousands of people who have suffered serious injury as a result of warlike operations of the rights which the ordinary Common Law has given them for centuries.

While I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee that the words "out of and in the course of" have caused a lot of trouble in their time and have caused a good deal of the hazards of litigation, it does sometimes happen that an appallingly bad phrase, by reason of being ground at by generations of lawyers, becomes more definite than a new phrase which lawyers will have to grind at again.

4.40 p.m.

Dr. Haden Guest

I should like to ask whether the class of case in which primary injury may be very trivial but the final injury may be very serious will be adequately looked after. Let me instance what is likely to happen, particularly under war conditions. There are many cases where an injury to the head appears at first to be nothing much more serious than a scalp wound, followed in a little time by headache, after which the man may be told he is "all right now," but finally there may be found an actual effusion of blood below the skull, causing pressure on the brain and giving rise to very serious nervous conditions afterwards, or there are even cases recorded of sudden death. Unless a preliminary injury is very carefully diagnosed and recorded those cases may be very difficult to deal with, because there will not be adequate evidence of how the injury occurred. There is another class of injuries which are likely to occur to an extent under war conditions psychic injuries, apart from the purely physical nervous apparatus, in which people will suffer an upheaval of some kind and, as a result, after a considerable period, perhaps a number of months, suffer from a nervous condition directly attributable to that injury, although the injury may have been at the beginning a very small thing. I put these points because it occurs to me that omission to pay adequate compensation to the individual may be safeguarded against if provision is made that all war injuries, especially those likely to lead to nervous or psychic disturbances, are very carefully recorded at the time they take place, so that there will be no doubt and no argument about the matter in the future. The right hon. Gentleman knows what a very large number of cases there are of that kind arising out of ordinary war service, and in this war there are likely to be more.

4.43 p.m.

Mr. Stephen

I am in agreement with others in welcoming the Bill, but I regret the necessity of having to put it through so quickly without a proper opportunity for examination.

Sir W. Womersley

The Committee stage is to be taken to-morrow.

Mr. Stephen

I know that but, with all the other Bills that we have, that gives very little time for those put down to-day to be considered to-morrow. Manuscript Amendments might be accepted but, even then, it does not give an opportunity for examination of a Bill like this, which may become of great importance afterwards. Since I came into Parliament in 1922 my experience of the working of the War Pensions Act has been so deplorable that I view with a very great deal of misgiving the possibilities that may result from this Measure. The hon. Member who spoke last spoke from the medical point of view about what might appear to be a simple scalp injury but which might turn out to be something greater than had been anticipated. I have had many cases like that in my experience. I have had experience of a great many Ministers of Pensions and I have always found them very sympathetic, but they seemed to have behind them medical advisers who took the line that, unless a case could be proved 100 per cent., no pension should be given. The Minister was always an easy man to deal with. I should not like to say which was the best, but I have never dealt with a bad Minister of Pensions. The medical advisers, however, seemed to work on a wrong principle altogether, that if they could find anything at all that might cast doubt as to whether this really resulted from a wound incurred during the war, nothing should be done.

I am in correspondence with the Minister at present on cases which seem to me absolutely disgraceful from the point of the decisions that have been come to by the medical advisers. I can get the Minister to see sense, but the medical men somehow or other seem to think it is their function to out-Treasury the Treasury, to be stiffer even than the Treasury, in the hope of saving money for the nation, and they save it at the expense of most unfortunate people who have suffered severely as the result of their war experience. I do not want that to happen after the passing of this Bill. The Ministry is going to prepare a scheme which will be laid on the Table. It will not be amended, but it might be withdrawn if there was a sufficient blast of indignation with regard to it, but naturally so many Members must always take the point of view that the Government representatives have really done the best that is possible, and it is difficult to get Government supporters to take a different point of view. There is the case in connection with the means test, when the over-whelming majority in the last Parliament supported the Minister, and then the whole scheme had to go by the board when Members found out what it really was.

I am asking the Minister whether he does not think it worth while to make his scheme such that, when he puts it forward, the House will have an opportunity of moving Amendments on particular points. I know that the Minister and his advisers might take the view that that would lead to endless argument and discussion, and that time is of the essence of the contract in a period like this, but the Government got 16 Bills yesterday through all their stages without any of those difficulties. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider giving the House a fuller opportunity than is provided for at present, when by means of a Prayer we might have a discussion after eleven o'clock, which would not be a very suitable way of dealing with legislation affecting tens of thousands of people who will be in comparatively poor circumstances and who will be prejudiced thereby.

I am also in full agreement with my hon. and learned Friend who pointed to the difficulties arising out of Clause 3. As I see it, there is a possibility of individuals falling between two stools. The Minister will decide that they are not to get anything, and then they will try to take another remedy in the courts, which will decide that they are not to get anything and that they should have got it from the Ministry. Under past legislation we have had the Unemployment Assistance Board and public assistance committees charged with the care of various people, and I have had the experience of knowing of the Unemployment Assistance Board saying to a man "Go to the public assistance committee" and when he went to the public assistance committee being told, "You are a case for the Unemployment Assistance Board." The man was left between the two. There have been cases where people have been unable to get allowances from either body, and have suffered extremely. Under Clause 3 as it stands the same thing may happen again. I think the Minister ought to go further in clearing up the position.

I suggest that if the Minister has decided, then a Clause should be introduced providing that the person will be eligible to seek all other remedies that he may have under Common Law or even under workmen's compensation legislation. The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) said that if the Minister's scheme was as poor as workmen's compensation there would be a revolution and — well, we need not bother. I have been a revolutionary for a good many years, but nowadays I am not so optimistic as the hon. and learned Member. We have had experience of workmen's compensation for a long time, and we have not got the revolution. At the moment I am being bombarded with resolutions from every section of the trade union movement insisting upon the necessity for the amendment of the Workmen's Compensation Act because it is so bad, but I am not so sanguine as the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith that in a time of patriotic fervour and calls for national unity we shall be able to get adequate justice for these people if this scheme is not satisfactory. Therefore, it is all the more important that the Minister should seek to give us better opportunities than there are under the Bill for bringing cases to the House and also for advancing general criticism if it is thought that the scheme is unsatisfactory.

4.53 p.m.

Mr. Kingsley Griffith

Everyone realises the necessity of passing this legislation with a speed that at other times would not be thought proper, but we have to remember that in this Bill we are parting with the rights of a good many people for good, and I do not want it to be said afterwards by the present or any Minister, "Well, the House was content to give me these powers of interpretation and I exercised them, and Members cannot complain." Powers have been taken, particularly under Clause 1, which might very well mean that the Ministry has been put into the same position as the Legislature, which lays down the rules, and of the courts of law, which interpret them. That is a very dangerous position in which to put any authority, however much one may normally have confidence in it. To some extent it makes the scheme of comparatively little value if those who draw it up are also to interpret it. The Minister might take to himself the power to say in any individual case, "You, John Jones, come within the scheme and you, Tom Smith, do not; I have said so and that is all that matters." I am not suggesting that decisions will be reduced to such bare bones as that, but that is the logical outcome of giving to the same authority both the preparation of the scheme and its entire interpretation.

Whatever the House may think of any individual Minister of Pensions there may be a change, and with a new Minister a different line of interpretation may be taken. I know of a recent case in which one Minister of Pensions took one view of it, and when he was called to another and perhaps higher sphere of office, his successor took an entirely different view. If one trusts to those who are under the Minister and in the permanent service, in that very case, as the Minister must be aware, three quite different reasons for denying the man what he asked were successively adopted by the Minister of Pensions, not contemporaneously but one after the other, covering a long period of years. The experience of that case does not incline me to wish to put the decisions both as to the interpretation of this scheme and the framing of it in the hands of the same authority. Although I know that it is the proud motto of the Ministry of Pensions that it should always give the man the benefit of the doubt, I am not convinced that it always does, and therefore I should prefer that there was some other procedure.

I come now to a point which was taken up by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) with regard to Clause 3 (b), the abolition of common law rights. The Minister appeared to be a little nervous about this, because beforehand he dealt with it in his speech and said, '' What we are doing is that we are saving these poor fellows from the hazards of litigation." I have heard that argument again and again, but invariably it has been an excuse for taking away from people rights they would otherwise have had. They say to the man "Poor fellow, we are your benefactors, we are saving you from the greedy clutches of the law." Hon. Members will recall how that argument was used when we tried to get rid of the doctrine of common employment. The argument was not applicable, because we were not seeking to substitute one remedy for another, but to allow both remedies to exist contemporaneously.

I should be very sorry if it were afterwards found that on account of the enormous stresses which this House is undergoing at the moment, we had inadvertently deprived men of rights in a way which, although it may look perfectly all right when we are considering the matter at large and in general, will bear another aspect when one has to consider the individual hardships of a man one knows. It will make us say, "Why on earth did we pass this Act in this form? What a hurry we must have been in." I hope that these words will be given due consideration and that when we deal with the Bill in Committee to-morrow we may find that Amendments are accepted, or at any rate assurances are given, which will relieve the anxieties which I think must be very deeply felt by anyone who gives to this Bill the attention which it deserves.

4.58 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I wish to associate myself with every word said regarding allowances and pensions in respect of war service. I have not been satisfied with the administration of the present Pensions Acts by any Minister of Pensions. I want to emphasise that, because I went through the records when a certain Minister was holding office and the result was far from satisfactory. Every Member who takes an interest in his constituents, particularly Members representing industrial areas, must agree that there has been something wrong with the administration of the Pensions Acts. A Minister of Pensions, no matter who he is, has to accept responsibility for the decisions taken by the permanent officials. Therefore, the final responsibility is here and is not upon the permanent officials. I would plead with every Member to be good enough between now and the Committee stage to read this Debate in order that during the Committee stage we shall see to it that there will not be a repetition of what happened under the administration of the present Acts.

I notice that on the Order Paper to-day one of the most Conservative Members of this House is so concerned about a case that he has put a question to the Minister of Pensions. The hon. and gallant Member for Midlothian and Peebles (Captain Ramsay) is asking the Minister of Pensions whether he is aware of such-and-such a case. Cases of that kind can be multiplied by scores throughout the country. The number of people whom I have had to interview in my own and in other constituencies has brought case after case to the attention of myself and of my hon. Friends. The House of Commons would be lacking in its duty, having re- gard to these experiences since 1919, if it did not insist that between now and the Committee stage a different atmosphere should prevail after this Bill becomes an Act and is being administered.

As to the benefit of the doubt, my experience is that the benefit of the doubt is seldom given to an applicant for a pension. I have one case in mind and it brought tears to my eyes to see that man stripped in his house and with his neighbours looking at him. X-ray photographs were produced while the man stripped himself in order to show his wounds, and yet he has not been able to get justice because of the various interpretations put upon his case by the medical advisers to the Ministry of Pensions. My final plea is that every hon. Member knows that we are not over-stating but rather understating the case, and that between now and to-morrow afternoon there should be a different kind of approach. I see on the other side of the House some hon. Members who have been associated with the pleas that have been made from time to time. Now we face a new situation, and we are appealing again to the cream of our manhood to rise to the nation's call. We should insist upon guarantees being given by the spokesmen of the Government that in no circumstances shall our people have experiences like those of the men who served in the last War.

5.1 p.m.

Mr. Buchanan

I would like to say a word or two on this question because I understand that the Minister proposes to reply. Roughly speaking, the Bill is intended to bring within its ambit all persons who are serving, in much the same way as was done under the Pensions Act during the last War. In the last War the whole matter was discussed in this House. I would like to know what is now in the Minister's mind on this subject. You would think that those who govern us had taken reasonable precautions to safeguard the soldiers, but what happened in actual practice last time was different from what the legislators thought would happen. As far as I can gather, one of the objects of the Bill is that the regular soldier is treated differently from the men who will be called up under the compulsory powers.

Sir W. Womersley

That is under the next Bill.

Mr. Buchanan

Surely the two Bills cover practically the same ground. In this House we may argue about phrases, but under the old procedure of having a committee of an ex-service man, a medical man and usually what was called a neutral chairman, there were only two things wrong. One was that the decision of the tribunal was final and only the Minister could, if new evidence came along, set the decision aside and ask for the case to be re-examined. No decision of a pensions committee ought to be final. One of the things which hon. Members should face is that after a tribunal has come to a decision, and hon. Members have evidence put before them, the case ought to be reheard, as of right, before the tribunal. The Minister should put into this legislation something to safeguard us from the terrible injustices of the past.

When the War was over the men were glad to get back home and back to their work, and they did not bother about pensions. A man's one desire was to get back, if he were married, or at any rate back to his job. He was given a form to sign in which it stated that he was all right and he always signed it because it was quicker to sign it and get out. That evidence was not used against him in the meantime, but nevertheless it was often held at some of the tribunals that the document was against the man and that the Minister could not take any steps in the matter. No document like that ought to be put to a man to sign. We have never taken the view that Ministers of Pensions were bad in the main, but that they were hedged with regulations.

Now the Minister is making Regulations with all that experience behind him. We are rushing this Bill through, hoping it will pass to-morrow. The Regulations will be far reaching in their effect because they are going a terrible distance, and I would like to do something like consulting with or drawing upon the experience of Members of this House before we make any Regulations. I think that is the best method in this House of using the whole force of our experience. Before the Minister makes any Regulations, 20 or 30 Members of this House, not drawn from any particular party, would be able to give him evidence of great force to keep him right, on the Regulations. I trust that in this Bill, which will have such terribly far-reaching consequences, we shall profit from the experience of the past. I have no quarrel with the medical profession, but do not let us make them the kings of all men, and allow them to do whatever they think fit with our poor people. The Minister has the chance to make a reputation, not perhaps as the man who wins a war but as something even greater, as the man who sees that his fellow-citizens are treated with a decency which has not always been shown in the past.

5.11 p.m.

Mr. Tomlinson

My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has mentioned most of the matters to which I wanted to draw attention, but there is one point that I wish to raise. Some of my legal friends have suggested that the rights of the individual at common law were being taken away, and that that was of most importance. The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) suggested that the fact that we were depriving people of their rights in regard to workmen's compensation was not the most important matter. I realise the necessity for emergency legislation, and for haste, but, in view of the long period during which this legislation will operate, it should receive careful examination from this House, especially in view of our past experience. Most of us have had experience of the working of the War Pensions Act. A man who is a British Legion secretary, and who walks with crutches, said to me the other day, "If a man had ever had measles before he was 18 years of age, my advice to him would be never to join the Army, because that would prevent him from getting a pension after leaving the Army. If a man has ever been under a doctor, the medical advisers of the Ministry can connect that with any disability from which he suffers after leaving the Army."

I am not presenting any bouquets to the Minister. I have not had many bouquets myself. I have a frame in which I placed the only letter that I have ever treasured, and that was from a man who had received an extra 5s. a week. I am thinking of buying another frame if ever I get another letter of that sort. This legislation will affect the moral of the people of this country in days to come, and I hope that the rights of the worker in regard to workmen's compensation are not going to be taken away as a result of it. At present, under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, if a man is dissatisfied with the action of the insurance company which is paying him his compensation on behalf of his employer, he can at least get medical advice, but in this instance, if that right is taken away, the decision of the Minister will be final. The Minister will be judge and jury in his own court, and will be able to deprive a man of his workmen's compensation, as well as common law, rights.

5 15 p.m.

Sir W. Womersley

Quite frankly, I did not expect to have to deal with the general question of administration of war pensions in the Debate on this Bill. I would have very much liked to have had all of our medical specialists here in the Box under the Gallery. As it is, I shall certainly present each of them with a copy of the Official Report of to-day's Debate, and ask them for their observations thereon. Hon. Members, I think, will have a good deal of sympathy with me when I come to deal, on a Bill such as this, with the general question of the administration of war pensions. I have been in my Department for, I think, eight weeks, but I claim that I know a great deal about war pensions, because I have been a member of the British Legion from its formation and I served for 16 years as a member of a local war pensions committee. I handled as many pensions, I think, as any Member of this House before going to the Ministry, and I have been called the "pensions king." I have been more fortunate in that respect than the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson).

I admit that there are many things in connection with the administration of war pensions which might be improved — there is no scheme dealing with human beings and human difficulties which might not be improved — but my experience is that the members of my staff, most of them ex-service men themselves, do give sympathetic consideration to every case that is put up. Sometimes hon. Members have not themselves made sufficient inquiries before bringing a case forward. I do not mind how many questions hon. Members put on the Order Paper, but if they bring cases to me personally my door is always open, and I shall be more than delighted to deal with every case. I give them the assurance that every case will receive my personal attention and, I will add, in reply to a criticism that has been expressed, will not be left to the decision of a civil servant.

I realise that my position is one of great responsibility, and I am not going to shirk the responsibility. But on this Bill we are dealing with something of a temporary character, I hope. This is an emergency Measure. The reason why we are not providing for an appeal to the law courts is because we do not expect these conditions to exist for all time. Undoubtedly we shall be paying pensions long after the war, and I hope that this House will, when hostilities cease, go carefully into this question and, in the light of our experience, frame an Act of Parliament or a Royal Warrant, whichever it may be, which will give the right of appeal and justice and fair play to all who have to claim a pension. But here we are in the midst of a grave difficulty. If hostilities should break out to-morrow, I want to be in a position to relieve those who receive injuries the next day, and not to have them left for weeks and weeks, as happened in 1914. I cannot think of any better method than the one we are suggesting. The taking away of the right of appeal to the courts under the Common Law is done, I must again submit, in the interests of those who will have claims for allowances and pensions.

I am sure that the hon. Member opposite will realise that legal action during war-time is a very difficult matter. You have to obtain the attendance of medical and other witnesses. Where should we be with regard to the medical men? This matter has given me the greatest anxiety, as in the last few days I have had to go carefully into the question of the medical men who will be required in our own military pensions hospitals. If we had to take these men away from the work which they will have to do, we should never get any settlement of any case under a month or two months. I hope that the House will agree with me that, as far as emergency provisions are concerned, the Minister should have the right to decide. If I have to administer this Bill when it becomes an Act, I hope that I shall administer it with justice and consideration. Any Member of the House will have the right to ask questions in this House if injustice is done. Questions can be put on the Order Paper or the matter can be raised on the Adjournment. That procedure will be a far better protection for these people in an emergency when things have to be done rapidly, than having to resort to the law courts.

I will deal with specific questions that have been asked. I offer my sincere thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) for the remarks that he made, as I know that he takes into consideration all the difficulties that Ministers have to undergo, having had the experience of being a Minister himself. He wanted to know about the procedure. It is provided under the Bill that every scheme shall be laid on the Table, which means that there is to be no affirmative Resolution but a negative one. I should have to consult with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister before I could make any alterations with regard to that matter. That is a Cabinet decision upon which I cannot give any promise this afternoon, but we will certainly consider and discuss the matter between now and to-morrow and discuss it with the people concerned. The right hon. Gentleman expressed the hope that the scales of payments would be far better than those under workmen's compensation. I will tell him exactly what we propose in the scheme. When it becomes a question of permanent injury, the pension will be generally framed on the present war pension lines, which, I think, is satisfactory to all Members of this House and to those who are in receipt of pensions. What they complain of very often is that the medical officer says that applicants are not entitled to pensions, but the scales of pensions are on the whole regarded as satisfactory. That is what is suggested with regard to permanent and temporary pensions.

A different position arises when dealing with war injuries which may only last a week or a fortnight. It might be something very slight or something rather severe, and if it is severe the applicant is entitled to be dealt with under the pensions scheme. We have framed the scheme with regard to war injuries partly on war pensions rates, partly on workmen's compensation rates, and partly on the Ministry of Health insurance scheme rates. That may seem to be rather a muddle, but we have tried to frame the rates of pay along the line of those in respect of injuries sustained in other connections. We feel that the Treasury should be as generous to those who are injured as they are in the provisions made under any other Act of Parliament, and I believe hon. Members will be satisfied with the rates that will appear in the scheme when it is laid before the House. I do not expect any difficulty about that.

There may be some difference of opinion on the question of administration. However carefully you frame any Act of Parliament or draft regulations the question of interpretation is either left to a judge in a court of law or to some Minister of the Crown. It all depends upon whether a Minister administers the Act with sympathy for those who are applicants or with the idea of excluding as many claims as possible. As far as I am concerned — and I am sure that this applied to my predecessors at the Ministry of Pensions — I do not consider these cases from the point of view of finding excuses for not giving a pension. The question rather is, "How can we bring this man's claim within the regulations laid down in the King's Warrant, and in other regulations approved by the House." I could quote many cases where it has been said that the Minister has been very hard, but, 21 years after the Great War, we are awarding new pensions and additions to war pensions every week of the year. It may be that hon. Members may have had certain cases of their own which have not gone through for pension, but I am not afraid to show them the papers connected with any case, and the reason why the claim has not been allowed.

Mr. E. Smith

It is because of the lawyers and the doctors.

Sir W. Womersley

I am neither a lawyer nor a doctor. I am just an ordinary fellow who looks at these cases. That will be my policy, if I have to carry out the provisions of this Bill when it becomes an Act. The question of appeal tribunals. was mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt). We have an appeal tribunal in connection with war pensions, and I anticipate that when, as I hope hostilities may cease pretty shortly, we get back to normal, the House will insist upon a tribunal to deal with cases under this Act. But I submit that in dealing with the diffi- culties of the moment it would be absolutely impossible to have an appeal tribunal in order to deal with these cases. There would be great difficulty in getting men to serve on the tribunal and time would be wasted, and, therefore, I think that we can leave the matter with the knowledge that there will be a proper and sympathetic administration of the Act.

Mr. Foot

As the Minister knows, there is a pensions appeal tribunal in existence at the present time under the Act of 1919. Is it proposed that that tribunal shall remain in existence in the time that is coming, and, if so, are we to be left in the position that, if a man suffers from injury which he sustained in the last War he is allowed to appeal, but, if a man sustains injury in this war, he will have no right of appeal?

Sir W. Womersley

We are dealing with civilians. Under this Act the position is definite. It will not give right of appeal beyond the Minister to any claimant. I cannot imagine a permanent Measure without the insertion of a provision for a tribunal to be set up before who man appeal could be presented.

Mr. Foot

Will the present tribunal continue in existence?

Sir W. Womersley

I cannot say, but I will ascertain and inform the hon. Member. A point connected with a medical question was raised by the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest). It was concerned with nervous troubles that have arisen out of the last War. To this matter I have given much consideration and I am glad to say that I have secured a committee of eminent medical specialists on these diseases and they are going to make a full report. I shall then be able to act upon their report as upon other matters that may be brought forward from time to time by expert medical advisers. When I say expert medical advisers, I do not mean expert medical advisers in the Ministry but from outside. The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) raised the question whether certain injuries had resulted from war wounds. I realise the difficulty that he mentioned, and I have taken it into account in dealing with war pensions, as I believe my predecessor did. Probably the hon. Member is aware that in many cases a man has signed that he was under no disability when he left the Service, but — there is always a "but," and it is a good "but" in this case — notwithstanding that fact I am prepared to reconsider such cases where necessary, and that has been done frequently. The matter can be dealt with when the regulations come before the House for the making of a permanent scheme; in fact, all the points brought forward this afternoon can be dealt with in the Committee stage. I hope hon. Members will now allow me to introduce the Bill.

Bill ordered to be brought in by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir John Anderson, Mr. Colville, and Sir Walter Womersley.


to make provision as respects certain personal injuries sustained during the period of the present emergency, presented accordingly; read the First time, and ordered to be printed. [Bill 244.]

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow. — [Captain Waterhouse.]