§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I am certain that every hon. Member in this House will join with me in expressing satisfaction that we are dealing with this Measure, which will give the right of appeal to all those who have been refused pensions since the outbreak of war. I do feel that I shall have the general approval of the House as regards this Bill, and I want, if I may, to put my position to the House, that is, the position which I have held during the last three-and-a-half years, of being the person solely responsible for giving a final decision in cases in which pensions have been applied for and have been refused. I can assure hon. Members that I have, indeed, been well aware of the responsibility of that position and of what it really meant. There might be cases of error, there might be cases in which a decision had to be arrived at dealing with what are known as border-line cases, and in all those cases I have had to put myself in the position of the appellants, to try to realise what their position might be in the matter, and to do all that I possibly could to meet the claims—within, of course, the confines of the Royal Warrant and other instruments which this House has approved. I am glad to know that, at long last, some of that responsibility will be removed from my shoulders, because I do realise quite definitely that in this country, at any rate, it is not held to be desirable nor indeed is it desirable that one man should be the sole arbiter in these matters. I realise that fully, and may I say that I have done my level best to adjudicate on these cases with fairness and with consideration to all those who have applied?
For instance, let me say that on medical matters I have not been satisfied merely to take the advice of my own medical staff. I have sought the advice of experts on particular diseases. I would remind the House that the difficulties which I have had to face have not been in connection 1334 with wound cases. These receive pensions almost automatically. My real difficulties have arisen in dealing with diseases that have been diagnosed as constitutional and have not been aggravated by war service. That is a very important matter, and I have taken every opportunity of seeking the advice of those who were, I thought best qualified to give it. I have never once hesitated, where there has been any doubt on medical grounds, to put that case before an independent medical expert who had specialised knowledge of the particular disease concerned—not a nominee of my own, but one nominated by either the President of the Royal College of Surgeons or the President of the Royal College of Physicians, according to the type of case involved. In every case I have accepted that expert advice. I have granted pensions in every case where they have decided that the constitutional disease had been aggravated by service in His Majesty's Forces. Nevertheless, in spite of receiving all that help and advice, the responsibility has always rested on my shoulders, and I have accepted that responsibility. I come to this House quite prepared to continue to accept responsibility, and I assure hon. Members that I do not seek and never have sought to place the responsibility on the shoulders of anybody else.
This Bill gives a definite right of appeal to all those who have been refused. I want to emphasise that, because there may be an impression in the minds of some of those who would like to appeal that, as their cases were disposed of, at any rate as far as I was concerned, some considerable time ago, they have no right of appeal.
§ Sir W. Womersley
No, Sir. There have been pensions appeal tribunals already for all those who suffered disability arising out of the last war, and we cannot carry over from the old tribunals to the new. We are dealing here with the new war applicants and not with the right which the old war applicants had, of appealing to tribunals. All those cases have been disposed of long ago, and we are dealing now with the new war cases only.
I want to say that because some of this responsibility to which I have referred is being removed from my shoulders. I 1335 shall not take advantage of that fact. I shall still give meticulous attention to all cases brought to my notice, either by hon. Members of this House or from outside organisations or from the applicants themselves where they make a direct appeal to me. I have already instructed the war pension committees which, as hon. Members know, are voluntary organizations—working on behalf of my Ministry in a measure, but more on behalf of those who are appealing to the Ministry—to carry on the practice they have pursued during the last 12 months or more, of giving the closest attention to any case which comes to their notice and reporting directly to me. I want to keep as many cases away from the tribunals as I can, and I can only do that by continuing the practice which I have carried on ever since I took this office, of giving my personal attention to all cases brought specially to my notice. I can assure hon. Members that my staff will give the same careful consideration to these cases as they have done in the past, realising that although it is easy to say, "Oh, let it go to the tribunal," that is not the most satisfactory way of dealing with it.
Incidentally may I say that the vast majority of my male staff are men who have served themselves, a great number are men who were disabled in the last war and some have been disabled in this war? I think hon. Members will agree that they are not likely to be biased in favour of the Ministry but are rather, if anything, likely to be biased in favour of comrades who have suffered and who are now appealing. Further, the bulk of the female staff are the wives or sisters of men now serving, and I feel it is only due to them to say that I have found them in every case most sympathetic to those who have applied. I want that sympathy to be continued, and I want that careful attention to the cases to continue both as regards the members of my staff, and all those serving on the war pensions committee. I think that in that way we can reduce to a large extent—I hope we shall be able to do so—the work of these tribunals. At any rate, I want to feel that those who are applying realise that they are having a fair and square deal in connection with their cases.
May I explain as briefly as I can the principles of the Measure? Fortunately, 1336 in dealing with this matter we have a precedent in the appeal tribunals which were set up by this House after the last war. The principles on which they were established have been well tested, and I think I can claim that they have given almost universal satisfaction to those interested in these cases. First, there was laid down in that Act the principle that a man should have an appeal, on what those acquainted with the work of my Ministry describe as "Entitlement." This simply means the question of whether the event which caused disablement or death occurred in circumstances in which I am authorised to provide compensation. Thus, everyone knows that for a pension to be granted under the Royal Warrant, the wound, injury or disease on which the claim is based must be shown to have been directly attributable to military service during the present war or to have been aggravated to a material extent by such service and still to be aggravated thereby. Similarly, in death cases there is a requirement that the service of the man shall have played a part in bringing about his death and that also is a condition of "entitlement." I want to make this clear, and it is just as well at this stage to explain what may appear to be rather technical details, as I think it will prove of some assistance to the House in the further course of the Debate.
Then we have the question of comparable conditions which applied after the Great War. Under the Act passed then there was an appeal on that particular point, and that will be included in this Bill. Secondly, after the Great War pension was not payable if the wound, injury, disease or death was due to serious negligence or misconduct on the part of the disabled or deceased man, and there was an appeal against a Ministry decision rejecting the claim on this ground. Under the old Warrant of 1919 there was no pension if it could be shown that there had been serious negligence or misconduct. I have always felt that that was rather a harsh condition, and I have modified that to a considerable extent. Instead of withholding altogether a pension, I thought there should be power to give a modified pension according to the circumstances of the case. That has been introduced, and I can assure the House that it has worked quite well. I was able to give a full award if I thought there 1337 were extenuating circumstances, or a reduced award in other circumstances. I think the House will agree, seeing that I have introduced that new element into pensions law, that there should be a right of appeal on the part of the person concerned as to whether a reduced award was justified or not, and the tribunal should have the right to decide whether I was harsh in my judgment or right in my judgment. So there is included a right of appeal against a reduced pension if a man considers he has a grievance.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
May I take it that those who have not got anything because negligence was alleged have a right of appeal also?
§ Sir W. Womersley
Yes. There is a right of appeal where there is no pension to be paid. There is a dual right—the right of the man who had not a pension at all and the right of a man with a reduced pension. Thirdly, there was an appeal after the Great War not given at first but brought into operation in 1921, on the final assessment of the degree of a man's disability. As hon. Members know, when disablement is assessed it may be 100 per cent. in the case of total disablement or 8o per cent., 6o per cent., even down as low as 20 per cent. There is always a good deal of difficulty in regard to that. The man assessed at 20 per cent. may think he should be assessed at 40 per cent., and there was a right of appeal given in 1921 on that point also. The difficulty I am up against in regard to this matter is quite obvious, I think. I am providing for that appeal in the Bill, but it will not be possible to bring it into operation at once, because it would not be in the best interests of the man himself. That is my view, and I submit it to the House for consideration.
It might not be in the interests of the man himself to have a final settlement at this moment. For instance, a man's disability may be assessed at 40 per cent., but he may claim 80 per cent. When he is examined by expert medical men the tribunal may come to the conclusion that 4o, per cent. is a correct assessment. It is quite reasonable to expect, however, that in the course of time—it may be over a period of years even up to 10 years—a man begins to show decided deterioration as a result of wounds or disease. Then if we had made an assessment and it had 1338 been made final on appeal, the man would be in a very difficult position. What I suggest is that there should be provision in this Bill for an appeal, so that we do not need to come back for a separate Bill, and then when it is considered that the time has come to make final assessments a man will have the right to appeal against the final assessment if he so desires. I think that is in the best interests of the disabled man.
§ Mr. Tinker
Do I understand that this means that the Minister himself will decide when a man shall apply for a final award or shall appeal for a final settlement?
§ Sir W. Womersley
No, not the Minister. Until it has been before the appeal tribunal there is no finality, and the matter can be reopened at any time. What happens in practice is this: A man will write to my Department, or to me direct or to the Parliamentary Secretary, and say his condition has deteriorated and that he thinks the assesement is not a correct one. Immediately I order that a medical board shall examine that man and make arrangements for that man to go before a medical board to be examined so as to find out what his condition is now as compared with what it was when the assessment was made. If his condition has deteriorated and there should be a higher pension, I give him a pension based on that. That is the practice now.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I must leave it to the medical board to assess the disablement. If I tried to do it as a layman—
§ Mr. Bellenger
Do I understand that if the medical board decides there is no further deterioration in the case of a man, he has no right of appeal against the degree of assessment because the Minister makes it final?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I will deal with that later. I am now going through the main points of the Bill. Fourthly, there was the principle that the tribunals were to be independent, and accordingly they were not set up by the Minister of Pensions but by a quite separate authority, who was in fact the Lord Chancellor in England. This principle is again given effect to, as the House will see in this Bill. I think it is 1339 a sound principle, and I hope hon. Members will agree with it. Personally, I should very much object to being put in the position of having to appoint people with the possibility of its being charged against me that I appointed biased people. The appointment of the tribunals and the work of the tribunals must be out of the hands of myself or of any other Minister of Pensions. Fifthly, the tribunals were to consist of three persons, who in appeals relating to entitlement were to be a lawyer, a doctor and a layman, and in appeals on assessment two doctors and a layman. This is also being repeated in the present Bill. Sixthly, the lay member who was to sit on these tribunals was to be an ex-member of the Services. That was laid down specifically in the Act in order to secure that the tribunals should have the benefit of the outlook of the ex-Service man. Subject to the difficulties arising from the fact that they are concerned in the present war with a great diversity of parties, this principle has also been reflected in the composition of the tribunals to be set up under the Bill. I think on that question we shall not have any disagreement. I feel certain hon. Members will agree that it is right and proper that someone who has served either in the ranks or as an officer should be in a position to deal with cases to whichever class they belong.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
May I assume that in the appointment of medical officers preference will be given to those with experience in the Services?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I have not the right to appoint doctors, but I can tell my hon. Friend that I have been informed by the Secretary of the British Medical Association that there cannot be a very wide choice. If that was insisted on, we might not get doctors at all in some cases. I hope it will be possible, and I agree that it is a sound principle to work on, that these doctors should have actual experience of Service conditions, but that is a matter for the Lord Chancellor.
§ Sir Francis Fremantle (St. Albans)
May I ask what about the case of men who have served in the Mercantile Marine or in the Civil Defence services? The appointment of an ex-Service man surely does not apply to those cases.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I am coming to that point. I thought even if it took a 1340 little time hon. Members would like to know how the machinery is going to operate, and I shall try to give particulars. I want hon. Members to realise what my position is at this moment compared with my predecessor who had to deal with these matters after the last war. He had to deal with the chief Services, the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. It was a much easier job than mine. I have to deal with many other classes, and all of them will have a right to appeal, because we cannot give a right of appeal to people in the Fighting Services and not to those in other services. In addition to the Fighting Services I am responsible for compensating such classes as the Home Guard—I am certain we shall have some very difficult problems there—the Mercantile Marine, fishermen, pilots and members of the light vessel service, salvage workers, Civil Defence workers, and the whole of the civilian population of the United Kingdom. The House will appreciate that in considering the question of tribunals it was an immediate question whether these new classes should also have a right of appeal to the tribunal, and I think everyone will agree that I was right when, without hesitation, I said the right of appeal must extend to all to whom I have to award pensions or refuse pensions.
§ Mr. Naylor (Southwark, South East)
On that question of the right of appeal, will members of the Services who meet with injury while on leave have a right to appeal?
§ Sir W. Womersley
They have the right to appeal on any point if they think they have not received justice from me, and the tribunals will decide. It does not matter what happens to a man. If he feels he has a right to a pension, he has a right to appeal.
I think it will be for the convenience of Members if I give some detailed account of the Bill, and in doing that I must refer to notes, because very often what is said by a Minister is quoted afterwards, as to what the intention of the Bill should be. I think it is just as well that we should get down in the OFFICIAL REPORT exactly what the Clauses are intended to mean. Clause I gives a right of appeal on entitlement issues in respect of the disablement or death of members of the Forces and the Auxiliary Services. This will include the Home Guard, because they are now counted in as part and parcel of the War 1341 Office responsibility, and their pensions conditions are somewhat on the same basis as that of the Army itself. Sub-section (1) deals with the case where I have rejected a claim in respect of disablement on the ground that the wound, injury or disease on which it is based does not qualify under either of the conditions of the Warrant which I have already mentioned. Sub-section (2) deals with the case where I am prepared to accept the injury as coming under the heading of aggravation but as not being directly attributable, a position which, while it may admit a disabled man to pension for a time, will mean that his pension will cease when the aggravation ceases. That explains why so many men who have been awarded pensions on an aggravation basis have written to their Members of Parliament asking them to appeal to me that the pension should be given on the attributable basis. Although the change of basis does not make the slightest difference to the man or to the amount of pension, it means that the moment the aggravation ceases the pension can be withdrawn. Sub-section (3) deals with the issues of entitlement which arise in death cases. In all those, there is a right of appeal.
I would like to say a special word about Sub-section (4). This gives an appeal on a point which is really outside entitlement and goes beyond the right of appeal which was given by Great War legislation. It relates to the case where an issue arises as to the eligibility of some particular person to be treated, as the wife or husband, the widow or widower, or a child of the disabled or deceased person, for the purposes of any award which I can make in respect of that disablement or death. This may turn in some cases on the question whether, as a result of a certain period of service, there was a material aggravation of the injury or disease on which the claim is based, and, since this question is so similar in character to what may arise under Sub-sections (1) and (2), I propose that it should also be the subject of appeal. I have introduced the Clause giving that right of appeal, which is something entirely different for' what we have in the old Act, and I think hon. Members will readily agree that it is a decided improvement. What I have said deals with the Armed Forces, and if there is no question that hon. Members would 1342 like to raise, I will go on to Clause 2, which deals with the Merchant Navy.
Clause 2 gives a right of appeal on the issues of entitlement for the various classes of seafaring persons for whose compensation I am responsible under the Pensions (Navy, Army, Air Force and Mercantile Marine) Act, 1939, as amended by the Pensions (Mercantile Marine) Act, 1942. I am sure there will be general agreement in the view that on issues comparable with those which are appealable in the case of members of the Forces, these classes should have the right of appeal, and that we should give exactly the same right to members of the Merchant Navy and ancillary services who receive pensions from me, as to members of the Armed Forces. Accordingly, as the condition of entitlement which is relevant to these classes is whether disablement or death is directly attributable to a war injury or an injury falling within Section z of the Act of 1942—an injury which is termed for convenience a "war risk injury"—or to detention, an appeal is given on the issue whether this condition has been fulfilled. We introduced in that amended Act for the Merchant Navy various concessions which enabled me to grant a pension because of war service conditions and not because of actual injury by the enemy or in repelling the enemy, but war conditions, such as overcrowding which had brought on tuberculosis or the carrying of particular cargoes which were likely to bring about illness, and so on. There were quite a number of things outside what one imagines would be called a war injury, but we brought them in as war risk injuries because we felt that these gallant men should have due consideration for the extraordinary conditions under which they were serving. I can assure hon. Members that the system has worked remarkably well. Many thousands of cases have been dealt with, and many men have received compensation which under the old Act would have been refused, but there will still be some who feel they ought to receive due consideration, and in that case we give them by this Measure a right of appeal against any decision my Department may have arrived at. (An HON. MEMBER: "And their widows?") Yes, and their widows.
This, however, alone would not constitute a fair equivalent to the appeal on 1343 entitlement which is given in the case of members of the Forces. The Acts affecting these seafaring persons require that disablement or death should not only be directly attributable to the appropriate type of injury or to detention but that the injury or detention shall have been sustained or suffered in certain specified circumstances. Therefore, I say there is only one way to deal with this matter, which is to give this right of appeal against a decision on any matter that comes within the purview of that Act against the decision of my Department, and I have given the right of appeal on all these points.
We come to Clause 3, which deals with Civil Defence workers, a new problem which did not arise at all in the last war, and civilians. Here again we feel that there should be the principle of the right of appeal which substantially corresponds to the grounds on which there is to be an appeal in the case of members of the Forces. This has meant giving an appeal to Civil Defence workers on the question of whether or no their incapacity for work, disablement or death has been caused by a war service injury, and, in the case of other civilians, whether the incapacity for work, disablement or death has been caused by a war injury. Perhaps it may be wise if I explain the difference between a war service injury and a war injury. War injury applies to the general civilian population and applies also to Civil Defence volunteers, and is an injury received because of enemy action, like the dropping of bombs or the firing of shells and so on, or through our own Forces when they are repelling the enemy—.shrapnel and so on. That is a war injury. I do not think there will be many appeals on that ground.
But I have to deal with the Civil Defence forces in connection with what is termed a war service injury. It is something akin to workmen's compensation, that is, if they are injured in the course of their duty, say, in an exercise or in the carrying-out of their duties, Just as a workman in an establishment is covered under workman's compensation, so we have to cover them for that injury. That is a class of injury that might bring many appeals to tribunals, just as workmen's compensation cases often bring appeals to the courts. Therefore I have made provision under Clause 3 for these war ser- 1344 vice injuries to be dealt with by tribunals in the same way as they deal with war injuries. I think that is the fairest way to deal with it, and I hope it will work out to the satisfaction of those in the Civil Defence services.
I did explain the case as regards serious negligence in dealing with the main points of the Bill. Clause 4 gives a right of appeal if I have given a modified pension instead of a full pension, or given no pension at all. That is on the question of negligence. There is a rather different problem which arises when we come to assessment, with which Clause 5 deals. I have already explained that I am including it in the Bill, so that when the time comes when we can make a final award the pensioner may appeal against his assessment. That is what we propose to do, and if the House accepts the Bill, that will become law in due course. The longest disablement which is on my books at the moment in connection with the present war is not older than three and three quarter years, and I really feel, and I hope the House will agree with me in this, that I am not in a position even to begin to make final assessments. That being so, the Clause provides that this particular Section shall come into operation only when an Order in Council is made for that purpose and, in order to prevent an exceptional number of appeals arising at once, that the Section may be brought into operation by steps. Nobody will suffer from the fact that we bring it into operation by steps, because they will continue to draw their pensions during that period and will then, when their time comes, be able to make their case good for an increase if the tribunal agree with the statements they make. I need hardly say that all decisions given before the Section is brought into operation will be appealable when it is brought into operation. There may be cases where there is a final settlement of what appears to be a permanent pension, but although we do not bring the Section into operation until an Order in Council is made, the House has a right to say whether the time is ripe or not. Those who have been drawing a permanent pension will have a right of appeal.
§ Mr. Tinker
That is rather indefinite as to the time. Has the Minister anything in his mind as to how this part of the Bill will come into operation? If he could 1345 give us some assurance, it might ease feelings.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
Would the Minister say what he means by his statement about bringing in this right of appeal with regard to assessment by steps?
§ Sir W. Womersley
The idea is that if we had an Order in Council, say, to-day that this right of appeal could now be exercised by Monday or Tuesday, we should probably have a flood of applications. The idea was to try and make something of a time-table so that we could take them step by step. That is all there is in it, to ease the position in the early days.
I do not know how the right hon. Gentleman can make a time-table for appeals, alphabetically or otherwise.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I agree it is not an easy point, but I or the Parliamentary Secretary will endeavour to give the hon. Member a clear explanation later in the day. I want these people to have satisfaction as early as possible. If I did not, I would not put this in. I would be obliged to the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) if he would repeat his question.
§ Mr. Tinker
The Minister's statement seems to be indefinite. Can he give any time to the House when he will say to the men, "Here is the time for you to appeal for final settlement"?
§ Sir W. Womersley
That is a matter for this House. It will be done by Order in Council, but Members can interrogate me upon the matter if they think undue time is being taken. I think it is in the best interests of the appellant that we should not fix a final date until we really feel, taking due notice of medical advice, that the time has arrived. In the case of the last war there was tremendous argument that the time-limit was not sufficient in these cases. I do not want to be put in that awkward position again. I would rather leave it an open question, and I hope the medical Members of the House will agree. It is better not to decide on 1346 any finality until we know what the position is likely to be. There may be surprise methods in warfare which make things far different from what they are at present.
Clause 7, I think, does make clear in the plainest way the application of the Act to past cases, that is, the cases where I have given a decision before the Bill becomes law, and requires that proper steps be taken to bring this right of appeal to the notice of those affected. We shall have a large number of people who have had a decision from my Department a long time ago who will still have the right of appeal, and I want to make it quite clear that they have that right of appeal. That is the point of Clause 7.
Coming to Clause 8, here we are dealing with a time-limit which is imposed by this Clause, and here again what was laid down by the Great War legislation has been followed, but with a difference. Section 6 of the 1921 Act imposed a time-limit of 12 months, but that was imposed after the Great War was over, that is, a right of appeal on the question of attributability or aggravation, not on assessment, and that was thought fair and just at that time. I have felt it wrong to suggest a time-limit expiring during the continuance of hostilities, when many people are probably too busy to address their minds fully to an appeal. In many cases a man does go back to his work because of the present trouble and may not bother about a pension. We want to give him the right of appeal. I have therefore determined to defer the date as from which the limit will run until I think a reasonable date can be fixed for the purpose. In the case of decisions given after that date, the time-limit I suggest should be 12 months after the notification of my decision; that is, if we have decided that we have come to the point when we can put a time-limit in, even then 12 months must elapse before the right of appeal is ruled out.
In the case of decisions given on assessment issues, an appeal will require to be brought within 12 months of the date of the notification of the decision—that is, the decision of the final award—except in cases where the decision was given before Clause 5 comes into operation, in which case it will have to be brought within 12 months from a date I may appoint for that purpose. This will enable me to fix a 1347 reasonable time for past cases in the light of the situation existing when the Section is brought into operation.
In Clause 10 provision is made for two contingencies. The first is the possibility that some modification may be made in the grounds on which pensions can be awarded, and Sub-section (I) makes it unnecessary to come to Parliament to bring the modified provisions within the scope of appeal. I think Members will understand that there is a question of some alteration of the Royal Warrant— I do not mean those which might be made before the tribunals start their operations, which I hope there will be, but after that —I have said I have an open mind on pensions questions. We want to provide for that now, and not bring another Bill in to say that this shall apply. Subsection (2) will enable an appeal to be provided for them without legislation. As the House will see, any Order in Council making adjustments in the present Bill to provide a right of appeal in the circumstances I have indicated is required to be laid before Parliament, and Members will have an opportunity of dealing with it then.
I think it is just as well to provide as far as we possibly can for all contingencies. That is what I have tried to do in this Measure. There is a very important matter in Clause II, to my mind, and I believe to the minds of ex-Service men's representatives, the statutory right to a pension. This is exactly the same provision as was enacted in relation to the compensation provided for the Great War in Section 7 of the War Pensions (Administrative Provisions) Act, 1919, and Section 8 of the War Pensions Act, 1920. This statutory right affirms the principle that an award of pension to the disabled man or to the dependant of the deceased man is something to which the disabled man or the dependant is entitled as a right under the award and not as a mere matter of grace or charity. I want to make it absolutely clear that this is a definite right which is subject, as it was before, to the conditions under which the award is given and to the terms of the pensioning instruments which make provision for certain eventualities on the occurrence of which the pension may have to be terminated, suspended or reduced. Members may like to know what is meant 1348 by this—misconduct or things of that kind, which we all know something about. We have to deal with these matters. Apart from that, there is a definite right established by this, and I think Members will agree that it is a very necessary provision to include.
I have dealt with the Clauses. Any questions that hon. Members may want to raise, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be only too pleased to try to answer at the end of the Debate. On the membership and administration of the tribunals, which is provided for in the Schedule to the Bill, I am sure hon. Members would like some information from me. However admirable the structure of a Bill like this may be, the question is how it is to be administered and who is going to administer it. I am in rather an awkward position about this, but I am going to chance my arm a little bit. As I explained before, the responsibility for setting up the tribunals and for the operation of the tribunals will not be mine, but bearing that in mind, I think I can venture a few suggestions which I think the Lord Chancellor and the others responsible will carry out.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
The right hon. Gentleman says that the appointments are to be made by the Lord Chancellor. Who will be responsible to this House if the House is dissatisfied with the administration?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I expect it will be me. The Minister of Pensions is the whipping boy all the time, and I am sure I shall not escape on this occasion. In any case, if I am still Minister of Pensions, I shall not try to avoid responsibility, and I shall make very violent protests to the Lord Chancellor in England and to the Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland and the Lord Chief Justice in Northern Ireland if there is anything wrong.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
The appointment of members is not the responsibility of the Minister but of the Lord Chancellor. If any question is raised about the conduct of any member, the chairman, for instance, would the Minister answer it?
§ Sir W. Womersley
We shall find somebody to do that. I will repeat—because I want to be sure of getting this in the OFFICIAL REPORT—that in England the 1349 authority will be the Lord Chancellor, in Scotland, the Lord President of the Court of Session, and in Northern Ireland the Lord Chief Justice. Thus the judicial element will be introduced, as it should be, and the procedure of the tribunals will be regulated by persons fully conversant with the way in which judicial bodies should function. That is my little tribute to the lawyers. Nevertheless, it is a natural consequence of this independence that at the present moment I can speak as regards what the tribunals will do only with such authority as I have from these various independent constituting authorities. I ask the House, therefore, to remember this when they ask me whether this or that will be done. It is not for me to determine such things. Of course, I can pass on any representations which are made to me, but the decision must-rest with the authority whose duty it is to constitute the tribunals. I must make that clear. But I will pass on to these gentlemen any representations made during this Debate or afterwards.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to make it clear, and I do not know whether the trouble is that I have tried to read more into the statement than is there. But we are now able to appeal to the Ministry of Labou against a decision of the man-power board or a hardships committee under the National Service Acts. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that where an appeal tribunal gives a decision against an appellant, we shall still be able to raise the individual case across the Floor of the House?
§ Sir W. Womersley
It would be extremely difficult to have such a proceeding, because, to start with, these tribunals are nothing like a hardships tribunal. A hardships tribunal has the case to deal with at first. These tribunals have to operate after the matter has been referred to me and I have refused the pension. If these decisions are not binding on both parties, I do not know what sort of machine you will have. That is a matter that can be debated. The Bill provides that their decision shall be final, and if hon. Members do not like that, it is up to them to say so in the Debate.
§ Major Procter (Accrington)
Is it a fact that the Minister will escape all responsibility and criticism if any hardship is 1350 considered to have been caused to any appellant by these tribunals? Will he be passing responsibility from himself to the tribunals?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I hope so. I do not expect that Members will stop writing to me about cases, even after the tribunals are set up. I have had many letters from Members about cases dealt with by the old tribunals. But I must make it clear that the decisions of the tribunal override the decision of the Minister if a pension is awarded, or confirm the decision of the Minister if the pension is refused. I have always been in favour of tribunals for that very reason. I did not want to shirk my responsibility, but I felt that the other system was not satisfactory to the appellants, and that it was very unsatisfactory to me, because it left me such a burden of responsibility. Hon. Members should put themselves in my position. I have to decide something which is perhaps vital to the person concerned. Now, even when I have decided, after the most careful consideration, there is a properly constituted body to which an appeal can be made, consisting not of one person but of three.
I come to the membership of the tribunals. This is rather important. The precedent of the Great War tribunals has been closely followed. In the light of experience, we found that that system worked well. We have one hon. Member in this House who sat on those tribunals, and possibly in the course of the Debate he will either confirm what I am saying or otherwise. I think he will confirm it, because, generally speaking, those tribunals gave satisfaction. They consisted of three people: a lawyer, to take the chair, a doctor, and a third member, who, for the sake of convenience, I will refer to as the layman, to contrast him with the professional members. That is the sort of tribunal we shall have for appeals on entitlement. For appeals on assessment, the tribunal will consist of two medical men and a third member. This was the composition adopted under the Great War legislation, and it was found to work fairly well. I do not think we shall have any great dispute about the two professional members. It is generally admitted that it is wise to have a lawyer in the chair to deal with legal points, and a medical member to dealt with medical points. It is all-important to get the right 1351 layman to sit on the tribunal, to act, I hope, as the appellant's friend. Under the Great War legislation this layman had to be a retired, discharged, or demobilised officer or man of one of the three Services.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)
Did the right hon. Gentleman say that the layman would be deemed to be the appellant's friend?
§ Sir W. Womersley
I hope all three will. I hope they will all give the most sympathetic consideration to the cases which are brought before them. Probably I did not use the happiest term. The object is to have people who have had experience of the conditions under which the appellant has served or worked. Looking at it in that way, I thought it not wrong to say that we looked upon the third member as the appellant's friend, but perhaps I ought not to have used the term.
§ Mr. T. J. Brooks (Rothwell)
Is it necessary to have a barrister or solicitor to take the chair? You do not need a legal mind to be chairman of a war pensions committee, or to be a mayor or chairman of a local council. Is it absolutely necessary to have a barrister or solicitor, when we might find some broad-minded person outside the legal profession who would be sympathetic?
§ Sir W. Womersley
In the course of this Debate I hope that at any rate one hon. Member who has wide experience of these tribunals will give his views on this matter. I know the very valuable help which has been given to my Department by the chairmen of war pensions committees; the hon. Member for Roth-well (Mr. Brooks) has rendered invaluable service to me in his part of the country. But this is much more than a question of dealing with a complaint. I have taken advice from those who had experience of tribunals in the last war, and the unanimous opinion was that the right and proper way was to have a lawyer in the chair, a doctor, and then a third member on the tribunal.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Perhaps it would be best to let me finish my statement, and these points could then be raised in the Debate. I am not closing the Debate; I am only opening it. I want to get on to the point where hon. Members can give me their views. I want to get this clear. On this question of a lay member, under the Great War legislation, he had to be a retired, discharged, or demobilised officer or man of one of the three Services, who had suffered impairment. In the case of an appeal by a member of the rank and file, a man who has suffered impairment as one of the rank and file was the third member. In a case where it was an officer who appealed, the third member had to be an officer who had suffered impairment. That was found to be satisfactory. But I have come to the conclusion that we cannot stick strictly to that rule. The sort of man that we want will not be better able to settle the issue because he has been wounded. There are many men of wide experience who have served in the Forces who may have had an injury but are not drawing the war pension. There are men who may serve right through the war—I know men who served in the last war and fought all the way through it and were fortunate enough to come out without being disabled—and therefore not be able to claim pension but who will have had very wide experience of the conditions with which we are dealing in this case and the conditions under which men serve, and no one can give evidence better than men who have served. We all know that from experience.
If you get the man with the right sort of experience, it is really immaterial whether he has suffered himself from a wound or disability, and this is even more true in the case of some of the issues which affect the other classes who now have the right to appeal. I am referring to Civil Defence volunteers and the general public. There is one thing, however, about which I have had to be very careful, and I hope that the House will approve of what I have suggested, and that is, that now in this war we are having to deal with men and women in the Forces as well as out of the Forces. There are a vast number of women in the Forces to-day. Where an appeal is made to a tribunal in the 1353 case of a woman, the third member of that tribunal shall be a woman.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is it not possible that there may be many women of whose service men may have a better knowledge than many women?
§ Sir W. Womersley
My hon. Friend is suggesting something that I am not competent to answer. The point is, Will a woman feel that she has had a square deal if there are three men sitting on the tribunal or will she feel that she is getting a better hearing of her case if there is a woman on the tribunal in addition to the two men? We felt that the wisest thing to do was to provide that, where a woman's case was being dealt with, at least one member of the tribunal, that being the lay member, should be a woman. In considering who the lay member should be in the new classes, the principle applied to the Forces has been adopted in substance, though the House will realise that due regard has had to be paid to what is practicable. Thus, in appeals relating to the Mercantile Marine and the other seafaring classes, the lay member must be a person who is or has been a master or member of the crew of a British ship. I think that that will generally be agreed to be a sound principle. This will provide ample means for the selection of the right sort of person to assist when the appeal relates to one of the many seafaring classes affected.
In the case of appeals relating to members of the Civil Defence services, the lay member must be a person who is or has been a member of a Civil Defence organisation. In this respect, the requirement is co-extensive with the description of the class eligible for compensation since it is only a member of a Civil Defence organisation who can sustain a war service injury and so be eligible for compensation in respect of such an injury. Hon. Members will hear in mind what I said about war service injuries as against war injuries. It will generally be agreed that, in dealing with war service injuries, you should have a man who has been serving under the same conditions as the man who has sustained the war service injury and who knows the conditions under which he has been working, and I hope that that will be approved. The Lord Chancellor will thus again have a wide range from which to select the right person, but, inas- 1354 much as Civil Defence organisations include—I want hon. Members to note this, as they will hear a great deal about it in their constituencies after the Measure becomes widely known—whole and part-time Fire Guards, I imagine—here again I am speaking without authority, but I am chancing it—he will probably think it right to select, in preference to a person who has merely done some fire-watching, a person whose connection with Civil Defence rests on membership of one of the big Civil Defence organisations, such as the Fire Service, the Wardens' Service and so on. I am merely throwing that out as a suggestion in order to hear what lion. Members think about it. It is better to go to the big organisations to get your names rather than try and select them from a very wide body of people outside. Anyhow, that is a matter for the Lord Chancellor, and probably the House will say whether it is right or not.
§ Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)
Will there be a Home Guard representative in cases dealing with Home Guards?
§ Sir W. Womersley
No doubt the Lord Chancellor will read the Debate and will take notice of that point, but I should imagine, in the case of the Home Guards, we should treat them in the same way as the Army, and I do not think there would be any complaints. Anyhow, we can pass that on.
Finally, the claim of the ordinary civilian in respect of a war injury will be heard by a tribunal whose lay member is required to have the qualification that he is not at the time of the appeal—and it is rather a peculiar way of doing it, but I will explain why—a member of the Forces. That has had to be done in this way, because I am sure that hon. Members will appreciate that to define a lay member is going to be a very difficult thing, though we do it in this way. In other words, we have to define what is a civilian. We say that a lay member, in the case of civilian classes, should be a person who is not a member of the Armed Forces of the Crown, and I think we shall get away with that all right. We want those who have to appeal to 1355 feel that the third member of the tribunal is someone representing themselves and should not merely be there just as a convenience, and I think that that is the best way to deal with it. So much for membership of the tribunals.
I now pass on to a very important point indeed, and it is almost my last point, and that is, the question of procedure. It is very important to repeat, what I said before about this matter, that, after all, the Lord Chancellor has to decide on this. But I would venture to make a few remarks on what I hope and believe the Lord Chancellor is likely to do. I say this with very great reservation, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is sitting by my side. In the first place, just as the Bill has been framed on the principles of the Great War legislation, so, in deciding matters of procedure affecting these tribunals, the Lord Chancellor will surely bear in mind and follow the procedure of the Great War tribunals. We must gain experience from what has happened in the past. It will seem to the House right and proper that a procedure which has worked satisfactorily over more than 20 years should be broadly followed again, though, with such modifications as are necessary through the inclusion of fresh categories of appellants.
The tribunals will operate regionally in most cases and will go to such centres as, for example, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham, and Cardiff, and will hear appeals from those resident in the neighbourhood. It should not be necessary to bring people right from the North of England down to London to hear an appeal. We ought to take the appeal tribunals as far as possible to the homes of the people who are appealing. Further, when we get an extension of tribunals—as we shall as time goes on and the personnel is available—we shall have them so widely spread that no one will have to make a first painful journey to the tribunal to be heard. Everyone who wishes to appeal must give notice of appeal, but this is all he will have to do until he gets a notification telling him what his next step is. As I have already said, there will be no time limit for the time being, but I suggest to all persons who have decided to appeal—and I hope hon. Members will make this known in their constituencies—that they should give 1356 notice to the Ministry of their wish as soon as they can. A person who does this may get his case heard a little earlier than one who does not. We shall have to take the cases in the order in which they are sent in. I want the fact to be made widely known that we should welcome these appeals as early as possible. I want to clear up as many cases as possible before we come to the period of demobilisation, when my work will increase enormously and the work of the appeals tribunals also, so the sooner we get to know the better.
The appellant will, as before, be allowed to appear by counsel, solicitor or friend. The atmosphere of the tribunals is intended to be informal, but if anyone wishes to bring expert help he is perfectly at liberty to do so. The Ministry will, of course, be represented, but—and here I am speaking with full authority in this matter—I can assure the House that Ministry representatives will be instructed most precisely that their duty is to see that the tribunals are assisted by proper presentation of the case rather than to try to secure that the Ministry decision is upheld. I have issued that myself as a definite instruction to those who to-day are being prepared for this particular work; they have not to go before these tribunals in the same way as a counsel appearing for the employer in a workmen's compensation case.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Certainly, and I hope that hon. Members who send cases to me which they feel deserve further consideration will go to the tribunal and appear for the appellant before the tribunal. Nothing will give me greater satisfaction. They will see then that it is necessary, when a case goes before the tribunal, to place the whole of the evidence before the tribunal, evidence that I am not allowed to place even before the House of Commons and which puts an entirely different complexion upon 90 per cent. of the cases boosted in the newspapers as cases of great hardship. The people who send them in will be utterly ashamed of themselves when they get to that point.
§ Mr. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Will the appellant be allowed free legal aid as well as having a Member of Parliament appearing for him?
§ Sir W. Womersley
There is no provision for free legal aid. There is no charge whatever on any appellant as regards the tribunals. They are allowed travelling expenses, but there are no fees payable to a person who appears with the appellant as his friend or advocate. No fees are allowed in that case, and it does not matter whether he is a Member of Parliament or a lawyer, he will not get paid for the job.
§ Mr. Turton
Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that since the old Appeal Tribunal Act came into force there has been free legal aid granted to every appellant in the courts, and will he not bring this into line?
§ Sir W. Womersley
That is a very important legal point, and I will pass it on to the Lord Chancellor.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
Surely, when people get the facts of a case from the person concerned there can be no shame in bringing the case to light.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Please do not misunderstand me. I mean ashamed of the attacks made upon the Ministry. Appellants will be paid free travel or subsistence expenses, and I say "Yes" to that definitely. I think that I have covered pretty well all the points that hon. Members want to know. There is only one other, and that is the starting date. I hope that we shall get the tribunals into operation in the latter part of August, but for the purpose of greater accuracy may I ask hon. Members to regard, say, the first week in September as the real date? We hope to get started sooner, but at any rate not later than the first week in September. The Lord Chancellor's Department are doing everything they possibly can to bring these appeal tribunals into being at the earliest possible moment, and that is the best that I can say with regard to the date. Bearing that in mind and the very favourable reception given at any rate to my introduction of the Second Reading of the Bill, I can conclude with great confidence in moving, "That the Bill be now read a Second time." I hope that it will receive the full approval of the House, and any points that arise during the Debate which are Committee points can be dealt with on the Committee stage.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
On a point of Order. May I ask, Sir, whether you will, for the guidance of the House, give a Ruling in regard to the character and nature of the Debate that may take place following the introduction of this Bill? In several parts of the Bill there are mentioned the Royal Warrant and the Army and Navy Pensions Act, 1939, as amended by the Act of 1942. Will those Members who are fortunate enough to catch your eye be able to go into the terms of the Royal Warrant, of those Acts or the amount of pension?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
In reply to the hon. Member it would not be in order to go into the terms of the Royal Warrant. As I understand the matter, the appeal tribunals will decide upon the Royal Warrant as it stands when the case comes before them. It would not be possible to discuss the terms of that Warrant in this Debate.
§ Mr. Baxter
Further to that point of Order. The Minister indicated that he had been unfairly criticised in the Press— I cannot imagine by whom. Does not that open up an interesting point as to whether we can show how that criticism was justified? Would that be in Order?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
We can deal with that matter when it comes before the House. At the moment that is not a point of Order.
§ Mr. Dobbie (Rotherham)
Speaking for the Labour Party, I desire to give this Bill an enthusiastic welcome and to say how satisfied we are with its very wide application. We are obliged to the Minister for his very lucid explanation of the Measure. As one who has had some experience of pensions matters and who is fairly able to judge the efficiency of the work of the Department, I would like to associate myself with the expression of thanks which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman to his staff for the enthusiastic and excellent work they have done, not only for their own Department, but for those who have been affected. The welcome to this Bill will not be confined to Members of this House alone; it will be welcomed by the people in this country generally and by members of the Forces, especially, and those who have been discharged through disability. It will be looked upon by them as a sort of acknowledgment by the Government of 1359 the principle that those who are eligible and are called to the service of their country when required shall, in the days of their disability, be recognised for pension. That, undoubtedly, is how this matter will appear to those who have been discharged from the Forces through disability. But in case the Minister may feel too flattered about this welcome, I would like to add a few words of mild criticism. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my criticism of him has always been very mild.
First of all, the appeal board will be restricted in its operations until the pensions Warrant has been reviewed in an upward direction. We hope that that review will not be very long delayed This Bill is years overdue, for with the experience gained from the last war, according to the Minister's own statement, and all the data and knowledge which must be at the disposal of the Government, it should have been brought in not months ago but years ago. On many occasions the Minister has told us that he was enthusiastically in favour of tribunals, and there appears to have been something wrong between the Government and the right hon. Gentleman which has led to this long delay. I will say for the Minister that the Government have had in him the best stonewaller that any Government could have put up to deal with the criticism that has been levelled against the Department with regard to the long delay in introducing this Bill. I feel confident that this Measure has only now been brought before the House because of the constant pressure from Members on all sides and the growing volume of opinion in the country which has demanded that something of this character should be brought about. Nevertheless, the Bill is before us at last, and, as I have said, we are glad to welcome it. If one might paraphrase a famous statement made by the Prime Minister, "Never has there been so apparent a disinclination by the many to meet their obligations to the few." We hope that the tribunals and the review of the pensions Warrant together will modify the feeling that exists among many hundreds of dissatisfied ex-Service men and other people in the country.
Having made those few mild criticisms, I would like now to turn to the Bill itself 1360 and offer a few observations in the hope that whoever replies to the Debate will be in a position to give us an answer to the points which will be raised or will give us an answer later if further consideration is needed, because the replies to the questions will decide the attitude we shall take up when the time comes for discussing Amendments. In Clause 1, Sub-section (1), paragraph (b), it states:does not fulfil the following conditions, namely, that it arose during or existed before such service and was aggravated by such service to a material extent and remains aggravated thereby;That deals with appeals against rejection of claims for war pension, and we would like the Minister to look at it again and see whether he can remove those words to a material extent. After all, illness or injury is either aggravated or it is not, and the words "to a material extent" have given rise to a considerable amount of controversy and have led to difficulty in giving a decision. Whether there is injury or illness, it is quite easy for the medical profession to say whether it is aggravated or not, and we would ask the Minister between now and the next stage of the Bill to give further consideration to this matter. In the same Clause in Sub-section (3) (a) it states:that the death of that person was due to or materially hastened by an injury directly attributable to naval, military or air force service during the war;That has given rise to a good deal of dissatisfaction in regard to the position of members of the Forces who have been on short leave or who might have had an hour or two to themselves and have left their camp. Members of the Services are on the job for 24 hours a day, seven days a week; they are always on duty or are liable to be called on duty, no matter where they are. I would ask the Minister to give an assurance that people injured, whether while on leave, whether it is short or long leave or whether they are out of camp for only a few hours or not, will have the right to have their case placed before the tribunal and examined. Then there is the question of illness. A member of the Forces may be ill at home while serving and be told that that illness is not attributable to his service. Overseas, it is different. In that case the man 1361 is discharged from the Forces. If he is disabled or if he dies, have his dependants the right to make an appeal to the tribunal? I would like the Minister to clear up that point. Further, in no part of the Bill is any reference made to lump-sum payments. Can we be told whether there are to be any lump-sum payments in this war, whether pensions are to be commuted or not?
In regard to appeals against rejection of war pension claims made in respect of Civil Defence volunteers and other civilians, we are especially glad that this Bill includes those people. Some of us have had experience of difficulties in connection with Civil Defence workers being killed just before signing on for duty. In cases where a Civil Defence worker is killed between leaving his home and signing on for duty, is he eligible for reference to the tribunal? If so, will all such cases which have occurred since the formation of the Civil Defence Service be able to be referred to the tribunal? Clause 5 deals with the question of assessment and the right of appeal. While the Minister made a very exhaustive statement on that and gave reasons why the Ministry thought that the best time for appeals should be the period when the final assessment was to be made, in the event of the appellant's case being approved by the tribunal and assessment being raised from, say, 30 per cent. to 50 per cent., will retrospective payments be made for any considerable period? We believe that an opportunity ought to be given at any time during the period that the person is in receipt of a pension to make an appeal against the assessment. I should like the Minister to look at that and give us his opinion after reconsidering it. Clause 6 (2) says:The decision of the tribunal on any issue on which an appeal is brought under this Act should be final and conclusive.The Minister will be aware from his own experience that that is a very hard condition to lay down. There was a seven years' period before, and it was eventually put aside because there are people who suffer from the effects of gas or wounds whose condition deteriorates after the passage of years. I am given to understand that that was one of the circumstances arising in the assessments made after the last war under which a person could appeal provided he could prove that 1362 he was suffering from deterioration at that particular moment as compared with the time when the assessment was made. I should like the Minister to see whether anything can be done in that direction.
Clause 8 says:—No appeal shall be brought under this Act unless notice of that appeal is given in such manner as may be prescribed under the rules made under the Schedule of this Act not later than 12 months after"—The Minister's explanation has considerably cleared that up. I take it that nothing will be done until the war is over with regard to the time-limit. Then there will be a discussion, and the House itself will, at some stage, decide when the time-limit shall expire.
§ Mr. Dobbie
One hesitates to say one will not take the Minister's word, but still it leaves it very undecided.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that the House of Commons, in a very outstanding Debate in 1921, agreed to a time-limit of seven years, but they made a mistake as was shown in the subsequent years?
§ Mr. Dobbie
The right hon. Gentleman's statement now is not so definite as it appeared to be when he made it. I understood then that we could take it that the House itself would have an opportunity.
Everyone must view with satisfaction the statutory right given in Clause Ir. The Schedule deals with members of the tribunal and provides that, where the case of an officer is being examined, there shall be an officer sitting on the tribunal and, in the case of a ranker, one member shall be a ranker. Could we have an assurance that the representative, whether an officer or a ranker, will be one who has seen service in the present war? We believe there is a close contact and sympathy between those who have seen service in this war which could not be expected of those who have not.
§ Sir W. Womersley
Am I to take that to mean that the hon. Member would bar a man whose service was in the last war? I want it quite clear.
§ Mr. Dobbie
I am speaking for my party, and we should like it to be a person who has been in service during this war, because we believe they have closer contact and knowledge, and perhaps greater affinity with the people whose cases are being judged. The schedule also provides that the Lord Chancellor may make rules. No matter how happy any Minister would be to escape criticism and the trouble of answering questions, the Minister of Pensions, whoever he may be, will still have to answer for his Department in this House, and therefore we should like to add that the Lord Chancellor, "in consultation with the Minister of Pensions," may make rules with respect to so-and-so. We think he ought to have some say or take some part in making the rules. We should also like to see something inserted by which the legitimate expenses of the appellant shall be met, including such as may be necessarily incurred in obtaining medical evidence and legal aid where it is needed. After all, if the tribunal is going to have the effect that many of us hope, the appellant ought to have every opportunity of preparing his case in the best way he can. He may not want a legal representative. He may think he can do it as well, or better, himself, but he will certainly in most instances, especially if it is the case of a claim that has been turned down, have to be fortified with medical evidence to build up his case. The Schedule also says:Any such rules may provide for the taking of medical and other expert advice by the tribunals but shall require that such advice shall be disclosed to the appellant except where the tribunal considers it undesirable in the interests of the appellantWe think there is something peculiar in that. How should the tribunal be the judge of whether or not it is undesirable in the interests of the appellant? They will arrive at a decision based on knowledge which they have and which the appellant himself does not have, while he will be compelled in his own interest to put on the table all the knowledge and all the argument that he possibly can in support of his case. We think that those who are in the position of judges ought not to be arriving at their judgment on information for evidence of which the appellant knows nothing. We therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman if he cannot agree to delete the words: 1364except where the tribunal considers it undesirable in the interests of the appellant.We have decided to support the Second Reading, hoping that we shall get answers to the questions we have put which will be acceptable to us and save us the trouble of putting down Amendments in Committee.
§ Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)
I should like to ask the hon. Member to define his attitude on the question of lump sum payments. Does he not think that either for an ex-soldier or for a factory worker, the principle of lump-sum payments is the cheapest and the meanest and therefore the worst way of the State discharging its obligation?
§ Mr. Dobbie
I have had some experience of lump-sum payments, and my personal opinion is that I would not under any consideration give a lump-sum payment to anybody. I believe that it is the cheapest way out for the Government but the dearest way for the recipient. I hope the omission means that the Government do not intend to make lump-sum payments.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
The Committee stage of this Bill is in the next series of Sittings, and I submit for the consideration of the House that that will perhaps be an effective occasion when we can debate certain principles which partly arise out of the Bill and partly have to do with pensions matters generally, bearing in mind that it is not possible to discuss the questions on Royal Warrants; they have to be taken or left as a whole. I would not regard this Bill as sufficiently satisfactory to give it a Second Reading unless I felt that the Government had an open mind on one important matter, and that is the instruction that shall be given to the tribunals as to where the presumption shall lie in connection with the matter that is under appeal. If the Government can say that it is their intention to alter the dominant instruments such as the Royal Warrants, I[...]` might not be necessary to move new Clauses or Amendments to the Bill, but in the absence of such knowledge I hope the House will agree with me that certain points which have Second Reading importance as principles will have to be dealt with on the Committee stage. If, therefore, the Bill receives an unopposed Second Reading, I hope the Government will understand that it is in the hope that 1365 between now and the Committee stage we may be informed what is the Government's view about that matter. I do not propose to argue that the benefit of doubt should be given to the claimants or to discuss ways in which it might be given. A glance at the Order Paper will show that many Members think it should be given and that various others have different ways in which they think it can be given. I am sure that it is right and proper, however, that we should warn the Government that they must go some way along that road if they are to give satisfaction in connection with this Bill.
I wish to make one other general observation. The country and the House are pleased that this Bill has been brought forward, as are the British Legion, who have demanded it for a very long time. But let no one be under the impression that this Bill as it stands or even as it can be amended will remove the grievances which have been so much in our minds during recent months. I hope that a may be allowed to say, without appearing to contradict any hon. Friends of mine who are on my side in this matter, that tribunals cannot be sympathetic or antipathetic. They are courts of law with the status that they are set up by the Lord Chancellor and all must feel that justice is done. I do not suggest that there can be no mercy in justice. There are many dicta that it is right for juries and judges to throw some few grains of mercy into their judgments, but we cannot expect these tribunals, however altered in Committee, to remedy the grievances which are in people's minds. We can only expect them to remedy the one grievance, namely, that the Minister himself was the final judge. Let us ask the Government, therefore, whether they cannot help us between now and the Committee stage by making some general statement, because if they cannot do that, my friends and I will have to press one or other of the new Clauses which will bring about necessary reforms.
Subject to these observations, I approve of the Bill. I would like to end by expressing a view which I am sure many of us feel. Nearly all Members of the House regard the right hon. Gentleman as a friend, and nearly all Members are also his critics. In both capacities we are glad that he has been promoted to the Cabinet, and we express the hope that the result 1366 of his approach to greater equality with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other members of the Government may be found to be to the advantage of ex-Service men.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I am glad that the Government have decided at last, as a result of long pressure exercised in the House of Commons, and rightly, constitutionally exercised, to give way and bring forward this Measure. I hope that it will be an encouragement to them to respond its the not too distant future to other demands which have been made by the House on the subject of pensions which are outside the scope of this Bill. The Government were wise to respond to the House of Commons as representing the opinion of the country. Justice to the ex-Service men in this war is a matter of supreme importance. It affects every Member and people in every part of the country. We are hoping to see a better world built as a result of this war, but for the people we are considering to-day there can be no such better world because they have suffered to enable their more fortunate fellow citizens to enjoy that world. For this reason it is vitally important that we should do everything we can to ensure them the best future that is practicable. In anything we do we should take as the basis the Beveridge subsistence level. Anything less than that would not be fair.
The question may be asked whether the persons who put their cases to the appeal tribunals will be in the end better off than they would have been otherwise. The future alone can make that clear. The important point is that justice should be felt to be done and that all the appellants should realise that they are getting a square deal. They think they will be better off as the result of the tribunals. I do not know. I have always found my right hon. Friend thoroughly sympathetic and understanding about pension cases. It is only fair to say that I believe he tries to go as far as he can having regard to the limitations of his office and the policy of the Government. I hope he will be encouraged to go on and to throw his weight about in the Government and get from the Chancellor of the Exchequer the maximum pensions concessions. He said the other day that he was one of the most unpopular men in the country. 1367 The Minister of Pensions will always be unpopular. It is a job in which a man can do a tremendous lot of good but it is not a job which is ever going to be very popular.
The satisfactory part of this Bill, which will go through with the unanimous support of the House, is that it is retrospective and comprehensive, and that the tribunals are to be set up by the Lord Chancellor without any influence from the Minister of Pensions. Will the appeals take place in public and the Press be allowed to be present in order to give publicity to what takes place? The composition of the tribunals —the lawyer, the medical man and the layman—is a satisfactory one. It is a good thing that the layman should be a person who understands the conditions of service and enjoys the confidence of the appellant. I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made the concession to women which he would certainly have had to make if he had not put it in the Bill. It is a small concession for there will be one woman in a tribunal of three, whereas men's cases are judged by three men, but it is a beginning which may be regarded as reasonable. It would be a happy thing if the ex-Service man who is appointed could be at the same time a trade unionist because that would bring together two important elements. I hope that an approach will be made to the Trades Union Congress so that these two qualifications are embodied in the persons appointed. I believe that would lead to a smaller representation than would otherwise be necessary if there were a certain amount of duplication. I should be glad if the Minister will say in which category the Air Transport Auxiliary will be put.
On the question of expenses, I hope that arrangements will be made for an ample measure of expenses to be allowed and that they will cover not just travelling and subsistence but other necessary expenses in connection with an appeal. My hon. Friend just now raised the question of legal aid, and I hope that a concession will be made here. Persons who are unable to bear legal expenses ought to be given the same facilities as they can get in a court of law. It would be an injustice if that were not the case, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will give serious 1368 consideration, in conjunction with the Lord Chancellor, to that excellent proposal. I would suggest that a special committee of selection should be set up to go through the large number of applications from candidates that will no doubt be made in order to submit a short list to the Lord Chancellor. It is important that there should be the most serious and searching consideration in this matter. I would further suggest that advantage should be taken of the experience of those who have been sitting on war pensions appeal tribunals since the end of the last war. There have been several, or at any rate one, sitting all through those years, it is sitting up to the present time, and I hope that the great body of experience which has been accumulated there will be placed at the disposal of these new tribunals. They should meet and discuss their experiences, and contact between them should be maintained.
I want to raise one point regarding the interpretation of the Royal Warrant. I am not going to discuss the Royal Warrant, because that would be out of Order, but in Clause 1 (1, b) reference is made to injuriesaggravated by such service to a material extent.Much will depend on the way in which those words are interpreted. They have been interpreted differently at different times, but on 3rd July, 1941, the Minister stated:I have come to the conclusion that, where effective service is found to have caused a degree of aggravation in a previously existing condition, the fact of discharge resulting from that condition would justify me in regarding the aggravation as material and thus bringing the case within the scope of the Royal Warrant. This can only be applied to cases in which men were definitely passed as fit on recruitment or mobilisation for war service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd July, 1941; col. 1492, Vol. 372.]I hope the tribunals will adopt that interpretation of the Royal Warrant, but they might conceivably not do so, and it is essential that steps should be taken to see that they do so either by placing it in the Bill or amending the Royal Warrant. I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to make some statement on that important point before the close of this Debate.
Reference was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) to various possible ways in which 1369 we might improve the Bill. I hope one step which will be taken will be, as he suggested, to place upon the Ministry the onus of proving that the Ministry is not liable to provide a pension. We ought to shift the bias which exists at the present time, and give the benefit of the doubt to the appellant. The State, after a medical examination, accepted the man at the time when he joined the Services, passed him as A.1, and it is up to the State to prove that they have not got a liability should he later be found to be suffering in some way. It is no use arguing that all the court has to do is just to listen to the arguments without a bias one way or the other. There is a very definite bias in favour of the State at the present time. The alternatives can be clearly stated in this way: At present the man is not entitled to a pension until the tribunal is satisfied that he is so entitled. What I want is that he shall be entitled until it has been established by the Ministry that he is not so entitled. That would make a great deal of difference in many cases, and it is a change which would receive a very large volume of support in this House.
Let me say, however, that I would exclude cases of fraud, where a man refused to disclose some disease from which he knew he was suffering at the time, and also cases of deliberate negligence, or cases where a man had inflicted some injury upon himself. There ought to be safeguards, but subject to that the onus should be moved so that it is in favour of the man. It is a very difficult thing for one individual to struggle to prove his case against the vast machinery of the State, and we ought to make it as easy as we can for him to establish it. Finally, I would say that this Bill is really a test of the post-war treatment that is to be meted out to those who have served and suffered. I believe the House is absolutely determined, so far as is humanly possible, to create conditions fit for heroes to live under and to assure those splendid people who have fought for us at any rate freedom from want.
§ Major Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
I rise to address the House for the first time with certainly no less than the normal degree of nervousness. As a junior Member of this House not so well acquainted with its customs and procedure as I hope to be, I am nervous of transgressing, and 1370 I hope that if I do transgress the indulgence of the House will be extended to we. No one would agree for one moment to an employer being the sole and final judge of his own liability on a claim for compensation, and yet that has been the position, where the State has been the employer, in relation to claims for pensions, which are really more in the nature of claims for compensation, arising out of the war. I for one welcome this Bill, which will place the responsibility for the final decision upon most of these matters on a tribunal which is entirely independent and is solely concerned with doing justice within the terms of the Royal Warrant. I should like to support the contentions which have been put forward that there should be one further extension of the right of appeal, and that a man who thinks his disability is 60 per cent. when it is assessed at only 4o per cent. should have the right of appealing from that assessment, because it may be years before the date comes when the Minister says his disability should be finally assessed. I hope the Minister will consider providing for that point.
There is one other matter to which I should like to draw attention. We have heard that this appeal is a final appeal and should be final and conclusive. So, it appears to me, it will be from the point of view of the appellants, but not from the point of view of the Ministry, because if hon. Members look at the end of Clause 1 (1) they will see that the appeal is to the tribunalon the issue whether the claim was rightly rejected on that ground.We find the same words at the end of Sub-section (3), at the end of Clause 2 and at the end of Clause 3 (1), and the position as I see it is that the Minister can reject a claim on the ground that the injury was not "aggravated by such service to a material extent." That may be appealed against, the appeal may be allowed, but the Minister can still refuse the pension on the ground that the injury was not directly attributable to naval, military or air service. That appears to be perfectly clear when we look at Clause 6 (2), where it states:—The decision of the tribunal on any issue on which an appeal is brought under this Act shall be final and conclusive.I ask the Minister to consider whether, if the appeal is to be final and conclusive 1371 from the point of view of the appellant, it should not also be final and conclusive from the point of view of the Ministry, and I would ask him to consider whether suitable amendments to secure that should ,not be made.
There is one other point on which I should like to say a little, and that is with regard to the onus of proof. Masses of people throughout the country will have their hopes raised by this Bill. Their appeals will be heard and the tribunals will find themselves in the same position as the Minister, bound by the terms of the Royal Warrant. I do not believe that the Minister and those under him have made many mistakes in the interpretation and application of the Royal Warrant, and I therefore think that out of these masses of appeals it is not likely that many will be successful. The hopes of a great many people will be dashed to the ground unless the onus of proof is shifted. It is not, in my belief, right to say that there is no onus of proof. There must be an onus of proof on every hearing of any appeal before any tribunal, and when one looks at this Bill one sees tucked away at the end of Sub-section (3) of Clause 6 three lines declaring where the onus of proof shall lie on appeals before these tribunals. It says:—In determining an appeal under this Act in respect of any claim or award the tribunal shall … not allow the appeal unless they are satisfied that it is well founded having regard to those terms.That must mean that the onus rests on the appellant in every case, and no matter how much the tribunal may wish to extend sympathy towards him they are bound by those provisions. They have to conform to the law just as the Minister has to, and if those words remain, the burden of proof will remain upon the appellant. I should like the position to be that once a man has been passed into the Services his disability or death shall be presumed to be due to service conditions until the contrary is proved. If there is fraud by the nondisclosure of a previous ailment it is open to the State, with all its resources, to satisfy the tribunal about that. The State has access to doctors everywhere. But how is the widow of a man who died while serving in the Middle East to call evidence as to what was the cause of the death of her husband in that 1372 country? How is she to produce evidence to show that his death was attributable to his service? The onus is the wrong way round, and I hope the Minister will consider making an alteration.
I should also like to say a few words with regard to the constitution of these tribunals, which is a most important matter. They have to exercise their functions judicially. To my mind it is not a question of having on them experts of one sort or another. We want the best possible tribunal, and I feel some doubt whether it is wise to have a representative of the medical profession as a member of the tribunal. One knows that doctors quitely honestly disagree as to causes and effects. You may find on one a doctor who holds one view, and there is no doubt that his opinion will influence the lay member of the tribunal. You may find on a neighbouring tribunal some doctor holding an entirely contrary view. Personally, I think that the assistance of a medical assessor is all that is required and that it is unnecessary to provide that a doctor should have a vote. I do not wish to attack doctors, but it is often found that experts on any subject come to it with somewhat preconceived ideas, and tend to pick out the facts which support their theories rather than those which show that their theories are false. I want to see these tribunals approach each case with an entirely open mind, and that can best be arrived at by having a tribunal consisting of one lawyer and two laymen. I feel that everyone wants ex-Service men who have suffered to get a fair deal, and I am sure that we must not stop with this Bill. We must, if I may paraphrase a famous phrase, not let any one think that never has so much been owed to so many and so little been paid to so few.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
May I first express my congratulations to the hon. and gallant Member on the very able speech we have just heard? I am sure we shall look forward to hearing him again very frequently. I associate myself on this question with my hon. Friend who spoke from the Front Bench in welcoming the Bill. I am sorry, like him, that it was not introduced earlier, but now we can go forward in trying to make the Bill work as well as possible. I am rather in a dilemma, because I have no wish to enter into controversy with the Member who has just made a maiden 13731 speech, but from the particular point of the constitution of the tribunals I would like to point out to my hon. and gallant Friend who spoke last that he seems to be confusing the procedure of these tribunals —they are, I think, technically courts of the House of Lords—with courts in which doctors may give expert evidence. Doctors give expert evidence on one side or another in, for instance, workmen's compensation cases. In such cases lawyers frequently differ very much in their views, but they put the best case they can for their client. The doctor, who is in the position of an expert witness acting under instructions, his evidence having being drawn up beforehand, puts the aspect of the case which best suits the argument. But a medical man who is a member of a tribunal is acting in a judicial capacity. I think, if my hon. and gallant Friend reflects, he will come to the conclusion that while doctors, like other men, are subject to prejudices, the doctor is bound always to be very objective in his judgment with regard to a patient.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
I think the hon. Member has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. My hon. and gallant Friend opposite did riot attack the doctor's impartiality. Why should a doctor be a member of these tribunals to decide cases of the same character as those which courts constantly have to decide on medical evidence? Having heard the medical evidence, the courts give a decision and you do not say that in every case there should be a doctor on the bench.
I will tell my noble Friend why a doctor should be a member of the court in this instance. It is because the whole subject of the appeal is the question of the medical condition of the appellant. That is the chief part of the business from beginning to end. I was a member for some time of one of these appeal tribunals, and I know the working of other tribunals pretty well. I feel sure the Minister will agree with me that in this matter tribunals in the past worked extremely well. There was no complaint about the presentation of evidence, as far as I know, and I think that in the best interests of all concerned a doctor should be a member of the tribunal. There should be a lawyer as chairman, with a doctor and layman as set out in the Bill.
1374 I did not intend to enter into this, and therefore I shall have to cut short some remarks I intended to make on matters which I think are of sufficient importance to bring before the House. I want to point out that the task of the tribunals now being set up will be very much more difficult than the task of the tribunals set up after the last war. Because of that, I think the provisions of the Bill in connection with obtaining evidence will require strengthening. In order to explain what I mean, I shall have to make a statement about certains classes of cases and certain conditions which arise in regard to these cases. May I say that it has been the practice of the Ministry of Pensions to prepare an elaborate précis of the medical history of the man so far as it can be obtained? I think that that needs adding to, but still the practice is being continued. There is necessity for more evidence being forthcoming than in the past, and that is due to several facts. At the beginning of this war, and in fact in the early part of 1939, large numbers of men were called up in a hurry. I know of one case where a whole battalion was called up before the outbreak of war. It was a Territorial battallion, and an order was given to a civilian doctor, who knew nothing about military practice and had no previous experience of examining large numbers of men, that he was to examine the whole of this battalion, approximately 900 men, within a period of two days in order that they might be sent to a point where for operational reasons they were required. It was clear that the doctor was given a definite order to do something which in point of fact it was impossible to achieve in a full and complete manner. The examination of those men therefore cannot be relied upon as a full statement of their condition.
§ Mr. Stephen
Surely in such a case it would have been possible for the doctor to have told the military authorities how insane they were in ordering such an examination?
It would not have been proper in the circumstances, having regard to the position on the outbreak of war. There is another circumstance to which I would call attention. At the time when women were first admitted to the A.T.S. there was considerable diffidence about the examination of these women, and instructions were given that 1375 they were not to be completely examined. Therefore the records of these women are not really complete. Another difficulty which arises to a much greater extent than in the last war is in loss, in France at the time of Dunkirk, of records of men's illnesses and of the wounds, injuries or accidents which happened to them. Not only were field ambulance and casualty clearing station records lost, but base hospital records were also lost. The same thing happened in Greece, Hong Kong, Malaya and Singapore, and to some extent in Libya and elsewhere. There has been a tremendous loss of records, and it is going to be very difficult in many cases to ascertain the condition of a man at any particular time. Another factor which did not operate in the last war is the condition of men who are prisoners in areas dispersed from China, Japan and Malaya to the European theatre, in Italy and in Germany. Further, there is the difficulty caused by the great increase in the number of persons eligible for pensions, people serving in the Mercantile Marine and in Civil Defence as well as the general civilian population. This in itself creates a great problem.
Finally, there are many cases of great difficulty in interpreting the Royal Warrant, Orders in Council, Acts of Parliament and other instruments which lay down the conditions under which pensions may be given. Those questions will have to be considered, and very often they are questions of legal interpretation. It is essential to have a legal chairman of the tribunal. Let me shortly give the House one or two examples of these difficulties. I give them from my own recent experience with the Eastern Command during this war. An officer attached to the Eastern Command was killed in bed by a shell. He did not happen to be living in a billet but was living in his own house, because his own house happened to be near where the Eastern Command headquarters were. Was he killed on active service or not? It is a very difficult problem.
§ Sir W. Womersley
I can answer it straight away. It did not matter whether he was on active service or not. If he was a member of the Armed Forces and was killed by enemy action or in repelling 1376 the enemy, he would be entitled to a pension.
I am very glad that the Minister has come to that conclusion, but at the time when the case arose it was considered very carefully by the staff, including the legal staff, who were not sure that his case was eligible for a pension. There will be similar cases which have been refused in the past and which will now come up before the tribunals. Take another case in which a man has disobeyed an order that he was not to go into a certain place. He crosses over a mined area, say, and he is blown up. Is he eligible for pension or not, or for a reduced pension? Take the case of a man in this country who goes out in the evening to a cinema on a pass, and is killed by an accident in the street; is that military service or not? You have a large number of other cases of that kind. Let me give the House another example. An officer in this country, is riding on a motor cycle in the county of Kent on military duty, and may have an accident. If he breaks his leg, it is not considered as due to service in the field. Does that affect his pension or not? The officer at any rate has to pay hospital charges. If he suffered from the result of enemy action such as a wound by a bomb, he has not to do so. There are a large number of these very complicated legal questions. The evidence before the tribunal will, of course, be very largely medical evidence. The Minister of Pensions gives his précis and his statement of the history of the case, but I believe that in order that all the evidence may be produced it will be necessary to put the appellant as it were on an equality with the Minister himself, as regards the presentation of evidence.
It says in the Schedule which governs the appointment of the pensions appeal tribunals:Any such rules may provide for the taking of medical and other expert advice by the Tribunals.Does that apply only to expert evidence on behalf of the Ministry, or is it to be also independent expert evidence on behalf of the appellant? That seems a very important point. If the expert evidence can be produced when it is necessary—of course it will not always be necessary—on behalf of the appellant, it puts the appellant for the first time in a 1377 position of equality as regards the Minister. I speak with the memory of the procedure of pensions appeal tribunals on which I have myself served as a medical member. It was frequently the case that the appellant came before us accompanied sometimes by a personal friend and once or twice but very rarely by a solicitor. More frequently he was accompanied by a representative of the British Legion. I cannot recall a case at the moment where any medical witness was actually brought to the tribunal on behalf of the appellant. There is also the question of fees and travelling expenses, fees to witnesses and so on. In my view the appellant's right of appeal was to some extent prejudiced by the fact that he often had not the means to bring forward the expert witnesses who might materially have improved his case by the evidence which they could have given.
§ Major Lyons (Leicester, East)
Had the tribunals power in those days to order somebody else to pay the costs?
I do not remember that we did so. The question which I want the Minister to clear up is whether the provisions laid down in the Schedule enable the tribunal to pay those expenses. That is the very important point to which I was leading up. Other evidence is also necessary. It is not only a question of medical evidence. I was talking to an hon. and gallant Friend of mine, a Member of this House, who I am sorry to say is not here to-day and who deals with claims and legal matters in connection with an important Command. He was very concerned as to the effect that decisions of courts of inquiry might have upon the decisions of the Minister of Pensions. You have, for instance, the case of a man who is on a lorry. When driving that lorry he is injured. If the court of inquiry knows that this man's injury was due to negligent driving, the man may be enalised. The man may have been acting contrary to orders. If the court of inquiry finds that the man is guilty of negligence, is he to be penalised by the Minister as I presume he would be? If the man then brings an appeal, as he is entitled to do under the provisions of the Bill, is he to be entitled to bring evidence which will rebut the evidence of the court of inquiry? It is a very complicated business. I should like the Minister to give us an assurance that all the points I have raised can be 1378 met under the procedure laid down in the Bill.
The Minister has very wide administrative discretion. He may withhold or reduce an award, under Clause 4, on the ground of serious negligence or misconduct. He may make a final assessment or a nil assessment. I confess I do not envy the Minister his very serious and grave task, but I think he will be helped to a very large extent by the existence of the appeal tribunals.
Weighing all these complications, it seems to me that the Minister might very well sigh for the simplicity of the slogan, "Fit for service, fit for pension," but you just cannot do it. There are questions of fraud. For instance, a great many people are extremely anxious to get into the Army when the war begins, officers and men. I have known a man when he had one glass eye, humbug a medical officer.
You cannot give such a man a pension just because he has been passed in as fit, even though he had a glass eye which he had before the war.
I said that the man had been humbugging the doctor. I am giving these cases only to show the difficulties which may come before the appeal tribunals, and I do not object to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) introducing a little light relief if he wishes; but I am more seriously concerned about these things to-day. What I have said leads to the conclusion which has been expressed by a number of other hon. Members, and it is that what is required 1379 is reconsideration of the pensions Warrants. The whole matter is so exceedingly complicated, that it might very well be reviewed, and I hope it will be on an occasion in the near future. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the House is to have an opportunity of discussing all these matters.
I go so far as to say that the ideal condition of things would be that the State should accept for all persons in the Services a simple insurance liability for all injuries, illnesses or deaths which may happen to men in the Services. Whatever happens might be accepted upon what I might call a Beveridge principle applying to the Services. I hope that we shall have an opportunity of discussing this suggestion at a later date. Meanwhile I hope we shall be assured by the Minister that he has power to allow an appellant to present all relevant evidence at the tribunal, which means paying for it; secondly, that he will pay fees when necessary for expert advice and will of course pay travelling expenses; and that if it is necessary the Minister will bring in any Amendment of the wording of the Bill which may be necessary in time for the Committee stage. I am glad that appeal tribunals are to be brought into operation at the end of August or at the beginning of September at the latest.
There is one further matter, which is partly legal and which I might perhaps address to the Law Officer of the Crown who is present. It is the question of a man whose pension is diminished or refused because he has been guilty of misconduct of some kind. That is a disciplinary matter. It is perhaps quite right that the man should be subjected to that kind of discipline if he has misconducted himself, but is there any reason why that principle of diminishing the award should be extended to the widow of the man? It is not the widow's fault that the man misconducted himself. If the man dies as the result of an injury which he got when, for instance, he was disobeying an order, being blown up by a mine when proceeding over a spot where he was told not to go, is his widow to be penalised? Could his widow not be put in the same position as the widow of a man who had been shot in action and get a pension at the normal rate? It seems to me very unfortunate that the widows of men who have committed offences should be penalised on 1380 account of something with which they had nothing to do. I hope that the matter may be given proper attention by the Minister, in addition to the other matters which I have mentioned.
§ Captain Cobb (Preston)
I should like to join with the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) in offering my most cordial congratulations to the hon. and gallant Member for North Daventry (Major Manningham-Buller) on his extremely able and well-informed speech, and I know that I echo the thoughts of all hon. Members in saying that we hope we shall hear him very frequently in the future. We are all at one in thanking the Minister for having at last produced the Bill, for which we have had to wait for some considerable time. There has been a great deal of agitation about it. It is undoubtedly a fact that the Minister has produced the Bill because the Government have now realised what we all realised, that there is a considerable amount of dissatisfaction among men who have unsuccessfully claimed a pension and who feel that what they regarded as their just claims have not had sufficient consideration. We must admit that there is some reason for that feeling.
I suppose that, at one time or another, we have all had the experience of asking the Minister to reconsider cases which have been given an adverse decision, and the Minister has reversed that decision in favour of the applicant. It does not frequently happen, but it happens on occasion. One is bound to feel that for every one of these cases in which we have been successful, there must have been a far larger number of others in which bad decisions have been allowed to stand because the person concerned has not thought fit to consult his Member or use some other means to have his claim reconsidered by the Ministry. This arouses a considerable amount of grievance among these people, and it is as well that the Government should set up these tribunals which will enable a man or a woman to feel that they have an opportunity of stating their case in person before an impartial tribunal which is completely independent of the Ministry. It is essential—if I may presume to offer advice to my right hon. Friend—that the complete independence of these tribunals should be emphasised as much as possible. If the Bill is to do any good, that fact should be 1381 well and widely known. The impression should not get abroad that this is merely another sub-committee of the Ministry and a device to defraud claimants of their just rights. I hope there will be a definite practice set up in the Ministry of informing an applicant against whom an un-favourable decision has been given, that he has this right of appeal and that the Ministry will give every assistance to unsuccessful applicants to lodge their appeals before the tribunals in the right way and in the right place.
The matter of onus of proof has been raised by pretty well every hon. Member who has taken part in the Debate. It is an outstanding question, which will decide whether the new practice of the tribunals is to be satisfactory or not. It is absolutely essential that what I regard as nothing more than elementary justice to the people concerned should be recognised by the Minister. With some other hon. Members I put my name to a Motion asking the House to approve of this principle. We have also put down a Clause to the Bill which would give effect to the principle. There has been a great deal of support for the Motion and the Clause by Members of all parties, and I can assure my right hon. Friend that there is a very real determination on the part of many of us to do everything possible to insist upon this principle being recognised by the Government. In the event of tribunals giving an adverse decision against a claimant, it is essential, in my judgment, that they should let the applicant know the grounds which have led them to reach that adverse decision. To do so will have the effect of removing a great deal of heartburning. A man who has enjoyed perfect health all his life and who becomes invalided after two or three years in the Services, has a real sense of grievance when he is merely told in answer to his claim, "Your disability has nothing to do with your military service." He has the right to know why his claim has been unsuccessful. I hope this practice will be followed both by my right hon. Friend and these tribunals. There is no hon. Member of this House or any member of the public who wants this matter to be taken up in a mood of false sentiment. But what we do want to ensure is that these men are given a square deal always, and what is equally important is that the public must feel that real justice is being done in every 1382 case. I believe that these tribunals will go a very long way towards satisfying us and the people and the persons concerned in this respect.
I welcome this Bill but I do not make any secret of the fact that I regard it as a first step and nothing more than a first step. It does improve the existing machinery but there are many more improvements which we need, many more which we shall insist upon having before we can consider this question as having been dealt with satisfactorily. I understand from various hints given by my right hon. Friend and others that we are to have an opportunity of discussing he whole of this pensions question in a comparatively short time. I should like, if the usual channels are listening with their usual keenness, to remind them that probably a very large number of Members will want to take part in that Debate and it is extremely likely that one day only will not be enough. What we all want to do, I think, is to have this matter of pensions settled now, while the mood of the House and the country is right. We want to ensure that this settlement is really satisfactory to the men concerned.
Having said that, I do feel it is only fair to add that all this agitation about pensions, which has been going on for a considerable time, is apt to give a false impression, not only to our own people but to people of other countries; and I should be very sorry if the impression were created that the whole of this matter of pensions is what the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) would describe as "most unsatisfactory." After all, we do know that for every case which appears to be a bad decision by the Ministry, there are, literally, thousands of good ones, and we know that by no means all the cases turned down by the Minister are first-class claims. If we are honest with ourselves we know that we put up a certain number of cases to the Minister on the off-chance and that they are really rather flimsy cases. But, generally speaking, it is fair to say that the great mass of war pensioners both of the last war and of this are satisfied that they have had decent and sympathetic treatment from the Ministry. But, as always in cases of that kind, we do not hear anything about them. I do feel it would be most unfortunate if the impression were given that this pensions business is being administered in a bad. 1383 unsympathetic and harsh manner. It is fashionable in these days to blackguard the Minister, but I was extremely interested the other day to read the tribute paid to my right hon. Friend by the President of the British Legion. I have myself been a customer of the Ministry of Pensions for very nearly 25 years, and I can say from my own experience that what the President of the British Legion had to say about the Minister was a great deal nearer the truth, than the criticism of my right hon. Friend which appeared in the "Evening Standard" a fortnight or so ago.
I think that anybody who knows anything about the work of the Ministry of Pensions, recognises that my right hon. Friend has a difficult task and an extremely responsible one. We are inclined to suspect that some of the difficulties which get in his way come from somewhere higher up, but after all it is for this House, if the Minister's hands are tied, to unloose those bonds. Parliament is supreme, and it is for us, if we feel that this matter must be rectified, to take whatever action may be necessary. In the meantime, I feel that these tribunals will go a very long way towards removing a great measure of the dissatisfaction and the grievances which exist among our unsuccessful pensions claimants to-day. I believe it will go some way, particularly if some Amendments we propose to move are accepted by the Minister, towards removing those grievances and inspiring a sense of confidence, among those men and the dependants of men who will make claims before these tribunals. For these reasons, I welcome this Bill. I hope the Minister will be as reasonable as he possibly can be on the Committee stage, and that an improved Bill will come into operation at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)
Apparently the Minister of Pensions entered this House rather apprehensive of the reception he would receive. He has apparently laboured somewhat under the delusion that he was to have a stormy passage to-day, whereas he finds that there is hardly a ripple on the surface. But I would, if I might, warn the Minister of Pensions that it is possibly only the calm before the storm. I am not going to produce the storm at the 1384 moment. The storm will come later when we discuss the really important question of the Royal Warrant itself. We are discussing to-day the machinery. It is exceedingly important to see to it that the machinery we create is effective to carry out the purposes for which it is designed. But it will be of no value to create machinery, even of an elaborate kind, if it has to administer the rules and regulations that are now in the Royal Warrant itself. Our purpose to-day and in the Committee stage will be so to improve the Bill that the machinery will be adequate to meet any demands that may be made upon it. The Minister himself said to-day he was very glad that the responsibility of decision in these cases was being removed from his shoulders. Some of us in the House cannot quite understand why the Minister should have carried this responsibility for such a long time. He has been urged from all sides of the House to appoint these appeal tribunals. It is only after long and persistent demands, not only in the House itself but also in the country, that the Minister has yielded to that demand. If the burden has been so very onerous to the Minister, he has to accept responsibility for that because he refused to get rid of that burden.
There are several points I desire to touch upon in connection with the Bill itself, but before passing on to that I would like to refer to a remark of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions this week. He referred to the Prime Minister, whom he rightly described as the most popular Minister in the country, and said that he himself was the most unpopular Minister in the country. I hope I do not misquote him. I do not think he need put himself down quite so low as that. Also, whatever the degree of unpopularity from which he suffers, it is due largely to himself and no one else. He is unpopular in this sense, that his Ministry has not done justice to the men who have been discharged from the Forces. There is a widespread opinion throughout the country that grave injustice has been and is being done to hundreds and thousands of men who have served in the Forces. Therefore, quite naturally they blame the Minister of Pensions. I am prepared to admit, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept this as sincere, that I believe the Minister 1385 has a very generous heart. I believe that he has, within the Regulations, done all he could. I have every reason to appreciate the courtesy and kindly consideration he has given to cases I have submitted to him and how he has, as far as possible, stretched the Regulations. I say we have in the person of the right hon. Gentleman a humane Minister of Pensions who does what he can within the Regulations. But my criticism is that the Minister, having found he was hamstrung, having found he could not do certain things, has not come to this House and asked for the powers to do them. We have been waiting for the Minister of Pensions to come with proposals to make the Royal Warrant more humane, just and acceptable to the people of the country.
§ Mr. Beaumont
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and am sorry to have digressed. We are discussing the machinery as laid down in this Bill. There are three or four points on this which I would like to put to the Minister of Pensions.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
On a point of Order. May I very respectfully, Mr. Speaker, draw your attention to Clause 10 of this Bill which makes reference to and deals specifically with the Royal Warrant as affected by this Bill? In view of that, may I ask whether Members would be in Order in discussing the Royal Warrant as affected by this particular Clause?
§ Mr. Speaker
Certainly, but if the hon. Member was here when the Minister spoke he will remember that the provision in the Clause is only made in case the Royal Warrant is amended at some future date.
§ Mr. Davidson
In view of the fact that the Minister referred to the fact that the Royal Warrant may be amended at some future date, is it not in Order for Members to suggest how it could be amended?
§ Mr. Beaumont
I wish to refer to the question of members of the tribunals. It is of fundamental importance that these 1386 members should secure the confidence of the public, and I, for one, am not prepared to accept the proposition that the choice of the members should be left to one person only. According to the Bill the choice of the members of the tribunal, whether it be the legal representative, the medical representative or the layman, will be the choice of the Lord Chancellor. That seems to indicate that the House will lose its opportunity of offering some form of criticism if it desires to criticise, or of asking questions, regarding the composition of these tribunals. I am of opinion that the Minister of Pensions himself should be associated with the Lord Chancellor and that he should be open to questioning in the House on the appointment and the character of these tribunals. It is of fundamental importance that the composition of the tribunals shall be not only the best that it is possible to obtain in the legal and medical world, but also the best it is possible to obtain from the layman's point of view. In the Committee stage, no doubt, there will be opportunities to try to amend that particular Clause.
The Minister—I admit quite frankly he did not intend to convey this meaning—spoke of the lay representative on the tribunal as the appellant's friend. I think that impression has to be removed. The lay member of the tribunal will be in exactly the same position as the legal representative and the medical representative, and not one of the three will be in any sense the appellant's friend. What we hope is that the appellant himself will be afforded the opportunity and privilege and right of having with him, if need be, a legal representative, if need be, a medical representative, and that the cost of such representative shall be borne by the tribunal and not by the appellant. But if it is said, or inferred, that the lay representative is the appellant's friend, it will be doing a great disservice to the appellant and to the tribunal as well. There is another very fundamental point to which I want to refer. There is no appeal against any degree of assessment, but only against the final assessment. A man may have been given a 20 per cent. degree of assessment, and he may be of opinion that that is not adequate and right; yet he has no appeal until the Ministers says that 20 per cent. is the final assessment. It is necessary to provide a right of appeal against the degree of assessment.
1387 One could cite innumerable cases of hardship, as various hon. Members have done. Such cases may be more appropriately quoted when we come to deal at some future time with the Royal Warrant itself. Therefore, I am not going into any of these cases. Every Member has been told, through his postbag and through consultation with his constituents, of a large number of people who have been deprived of their rights. It seems strange to the people of the country that a man could be accepted for the Army as physically fit, and, after service, rejected because he is not physically fit, and then to be told by those in authority that his illness is not attributable to nor aggravated by his military service. It is one of those incomprehensible things which the public does not understand, and, frankly, will not understand. The Minister of Pensions has been in office for a number of years, and is aware of this measure of public indignation. I am not unhappy that he should administer pensions; what I am unhappy about are the regulations governing the system he has to administer. The Minister of Pensions is a good workman with bad tools. He should say to the members of the War Cabinet, "Give me the tools, and then I will finish the job successfully, as far as pensions are concerned."
By these tribunals we have to justify this House to the public. We are setting up tribunals, British in character, to give justice to all who come before them. It is necessary for us to see that the machinery will provide representation which will be acceptable to the public. I hope that when we discuss this matter in Committee, many of the Amendments which have been put down will be accepted by the Minister. If so, we may improve a Bill which we are very glad to see introduced. The public insists that justice shall be done to our people, whether they are members of the Navy, the Army, the Air Force, or of the Women's Services, or whether they are members of the Home Guard; whether they are members of the Civil Defence organisation; or whether they belong to the civilian population. I question whether any domestic matter has aroused such a storm of indignation as this question. It does not matter which paper you read, whether it be "The Times" or the "Daily Worker," you will find a general condemnation of the system under 1388 which men and women are discharged from the Forces and then treated unjustly. It is up to the House to see that justice is done. I hope that in these tribunals we shall create machinery which, with better material to work upon, will be able to do justice to those who have suffered for us and to those who will suffer for us in the days that are to come.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)
I do not think that there can be any disagreement over this Bill. My right hon. Friend the Minister has come under the shade of the powerful umbrella of the Prime Minister, and I see that now he is coming, through this Bill, under another umbrella, not quite so powerful but also powerful. I know the immense difficulty of finding the right personnel for these tribunals: I know that in my own profession the Minister will have very great difficulty; but I take it from the fact that the Bill has been introduced that he will find competent personnel. Unfortunately, the Bill does not tell us much about the tribunals; we have to rely on the Schedule to tell us what they are and what they are going to do. So far as I can see, that will depend entirely on the Lord Chancellor of the day. However, we cannot have it both ways. We have pressed hard for these tribunals; and now that we have them, their decision must be the final one. In those circumstances, I think the Lord Chancellor is the right authority for setting up the tribunals, which must carry the confidence of the country and of everybody who comes before them. I see that it is intended that there shall be two medical men, instead of one, on the tribunals to deal with the assessment of disability. It is desirable that that should be so for that important matter.
I notice that the barrister member must be a barrister of not less than seven years' standing, but that there is no such provision in the case of a medical member. There is nothing to prevent a glorified medical student, if you like, with plenty of academic qualifications, bristling with all sorts of degrees, but lamentably lacking in experience, from sitting on a tribunal. I hope that the Minister will accept an Amendment which I am putting down, to provide that the same qualifications as are required for a barrister shall be required for a medical member. Seven years' standing as a medical man is not much to ask for. It is the ordinary 1389 straightforward cases, of people who, perhaps, have never had an ailment before but who find themselves incapacitated after service in the Forces, which is worrying the people of this country, the Members of this House, and, I have no doubt, the Minister himself. A good illustration is a case which has come before me. It is the case of a man who is almost entirely crippled with rheumatism for the rest of his life. He had no rheumatism at all before he joined the Army. He was subjected to serious climatic conditions in a camp, in constant wet, in the early stages of the war; and in my own mind there is no doubt that that is the cause of his disability. It seems that while in hospital, in answer to a question by the medical officer of the hospital, the man said that he had rheumatism before the war. On the basis of that, the Ministry decided that the disability had not been contrasted through war service. This man comes from a rural area, and, as we all know, in a rural area the doctor knows everybody, their personal history, their domestic affairs, and their ailments. The local doctor in this case states categorically that never once had this man consulted her for this ailment. I say that in this case a tribunal would, I imagine, have no hesitation in coming to a conclusion, and yet the Ministry has had this case before it for years. It is cases such as that which dishearten ex-Service men, and which are completely incomprehensible to the mass of the people.
We wish this Bill well. We have now got that for which we have been asking for a very long time. The Minister is happy, and I think that the House will be happy now that we have arrived at this stage. I trust that we shall have complete confidence and faith in the tribunals and that they will be as unassailable and impartial as any tribunal in this country. In addition to that, we have the assurance that they will be sympathetic. An hon. Member mentioned the fact that the Minister remarked that the lay member of the tribunal should be the applicant's friend. I hope they will all be the applicant's friends in the broadest sense of the term. If they are not, they will lose the confidence of the people of the country. I therefore welcome the Bill and hope that those of us who are fortunate enough to catch the eye of the Chair on a later occasion will be 1390 able to deal more fully with the whole question of pensions in this country.
§ Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)
I should like to say how much I enjoyed listening to the maiden speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Daventry (Major Manningham-Buller). I do not think, however, that this Bill, good as it is—and I am very pleased to see it introduced—goes far enough. I agree with what my hon. and gallant Friend said with regard to the onus of proof, and that it should definitely be shifted. It should obviously be put upon the State and not upon the soldier who comes before the tribunal. This is the first time that a Bill of this sort has been introduced into this House, at least since the beginning of the war. There has been a lot of talk about the post-war period and post-war planning, but the way to begin post-war planning is by the introduction of Bills, and better Bills, such as the one we have before the House at the present time. The soldiers in the field would be infinitely more impressed if they heard more of what we are debating to-day in the House of Commons than hearing of some of the other things that have been discussed and the petty squabbles that have taken place here in recent months. I would remind the House that still—at least, when I left there—in the minds of a lot of the men in the Middle East the letters "M.E.F." stand for "Men England Forgot," and I think they are justified in having that belief when they see what has been going on among people not so very much concerned with the welfare of the soldier.
No one in Britain, I am sure, would disagree with the view that soldiers who had been wounded and their dependants should definitely be the first charge on the nation. When we had dealt justly by them would be time enough to see what the nation could afford in other directions. There will be a great many more casualties, but soldiers will take their chance even more willingly if they know that their dependants will receive fair and, one would like to be able to say, even generous treatment. That is really all I have to say. As an earnest of what we mean to do for the serving man and his dependants, the best thing we could possibly do would be to raise immediately the pay of serving men and junior officers.
§ Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I do not think that for a very long time the generosity of this House has been so exhibited and given to a particular Minister as it has been during this particular Debate. This Bill is before us because serving Members and others on all sides of the House have been agitating and have been indignant at the shabby treatment of the men who were wounded or maimed and of the dependants of those killed while serving their country. That is a plain statement of fact. The Government have listened for many weeks to Member after Member placing cases before them, both openly and privately, with regard to the inadequate and bad treatment of these people. As a result of the appeals of Members of this House the Government have decided to set up pensions appeal tribunals. I want to ask the Government—and I am glad the Leader of the House is here—a definite question. Do the Government intend to add to the provisions of the Pensions Appeal Tribunals Bill a definite and more generous statement with regard to the powers of the tribunals, or are these tribunals to be held down as tightly as the Minister has been by the regulations which have governed his actions and which have caused the indignation and outcry with regard to the treatment of these people?
I am not so concerned with the position of the Minister. He can defend himself. I am much more concerned with my unfortunate comrades inside the Ministry of Pensions itself. I have had courteous letters from the Minister and very nice letters from his Parliamentary Secretary. The personal private secretaries have always been very courteous and have assisted me in cases I have put forward, and, as an hon. Member stated, I have no reason to grumble at the courtesy of the Minister of Pensions or of his officials or representatives. It is said that before we hang a man in this country we always give him a good breakfast, and it is no good saying to a man who has served his country for two or three years and has been discharged from a military hospital, after perhaps having gone the round of four or five hospitals, that his disability was not due to or aggravated by military service. It is no good any hon. Member writing to such a man and saying that the Minister of Pensions is a very decent fellow and would help him if he possibly could, but the Government of the day had not 1392 seen fit to give him the power to assist him and therefore he could do nothing. That is exactly the position that concerns us at the present moment.
I want to add my appeal to the very eloquent appeal by the hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) that before these tribunals start operating the Government should make a definite statement with regard to the many questions that have been worrying Members of this House. For instance, what is the Government's policy? How are they going to instruct or guide these tribunals with regard to the man who has served in the Army and been discharged because he is found unfit for service after having been accepted as A.1? Are the tribunals going to say that if such a man was taken from his home and the military medical adviser said he was A.1, as they accepted him as fit for service, they must decide that he is fit for pension? What are the Government going to say to these tribunals? What guidance is going to be given to them by the Minister on questions in regard to soldiers who would not have been in the Forces had they not been called up and found physically fit by the military authorities? Members of this House will be very glad that these tribunals are to be set up, but we believe that these pensions tribunals will be no good unless the Government introduce a more generous policy and adopt a less rigid outlook towards the regulations of the Royal Warrant as they apply to-day.
I wish to deal with one particular question to which I want the Minister to pay particular attention. We have had the Minister of Pensions, the Parliamentary Secretary and officials of the Ministry, whom I do not consider unsympathetic in general towards the ex-soldier, all doing their best to try to stave off discontent and to deal with particular cases, the Minister himself, I believe, giving his attention to cases where anomalies have arisen. But no Minister can deal with the exceptions. He has to deal with the effects of the general provisions that he administers, and therefore it is apparent that these general provisions and regulations must be radically changed. I speak as one who served in the Army with many men who suffered a disability. I know the very great difficulty of facing the Army medical officer and being able to obtain leave of absence or even light duty. The tendency 1393 of these medical men, particularly during the last war, was to look upon every man as a potential suspect until he proved that he had something radically wrong with him. I know the difficulty the medical man experiences unless he makes a very thorough examination in finding out whether there is something definitely and radically wrong with the soldier. It used to be the talk of the Army that if you went before him with a swollen ankle, toothache, a chest complaint or bad eyesight you got the same treatment—a No. 9. If a young man, say, in my constituency is accepted by the medical board and serves one month, or nine months or two years in the Army, I challenge any medical man, unless he has known every single thing that young man has done during his whole service, to say that his trouble was not aggravated by military service.
Unless a medical officer knows what conditions the man has been living in, whether he has a comfortable billet or has been living under canvas in wet weather or has been subjected to the certain trials which one can be subjected to in the Army, I challenge that medical officer to say, "Whatever trouble this young man has, it has not been aggravated by his military service." Military service affects thousands of men in different ways, as those who have served know, and, therefore, I ask the Minister in these cases to make some generous interpretation of the regulations so that those who can produce complete medical testimony to say that before they entered the Army they were absolutely fit will be able to put a complete case in making a claim for pensions.
We are to have two tribunals in Scotland, one in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow. Far be it from me to differentiate between the relative fighting virtues of the various Scottish regiments, but I would point out to the Minister that Glasgow and Edinburgh are much more approachable from the Lowlands of Scotland, where there are many fine regiments such as the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Highland Light Infantry. They are much more approachable than Edinburgh to those men who come from the Highlands, men of the Seaforths, from Cromarty, the Camerons, from Invergordon, and the Gordons from Aberdeen, all of whom have played a 1394 conspicuous part in the 51st Division's fighting in this war. It is a difficult and strenuous long journey from the homes and depots of these men to Edinburgh, and I ask the Government to extend the greatest generosity to these men in outlying districts, because in the Highlands the transport problem is much more difficult than in the Lowlands, often because of the weather.
I would like to make one last point. I am not particularly concerned whether a medical officer or a lawyer is on the tribunal. All I ask is that the Minister should see that those who are appointed will have the capacity to understand the problems of the ex-Service men. I ask him to make that a condition of appointment. It has been suggested that on the tribunal should be a person who has served during this war, but I ask the Minister not to be too rigidly bound by any such condition. There are many men who served in the last war, who went through the mill, and who have understood for long years of depression the conditions that apply to ex-Service men. Anyone who is appointed must have knowledge and understanding of ex-Service men's problems, not only of this war but during the long years that have gone before. I believe that the tribunals will be of real benefit to the Minister and will enable him to make suggestions to the Cabinet with a view to obtaining the definite and fair treatment, and no more, that we want for the men who have been prepared to sacrifice everything in the interests of their country. Such treatment would give them a higher morale and a greater interest in fighting for their country than they have had up to now.
§ Mr. Haslam (Horncastle)
Like all those who have spoken before me to-day, I give a warm welcome to this Bill. I believe it is necessary that there should be tribunals to review the cases, which have constantly cropped up, of men who are dissatisfied, often rightly, with the decisions which have been arrived at. I intend to make only a few remarks and confine myself to only one particular point, but before doing so I would like to say how much I agree with the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) in expressing the hope that the Lord Chancellor will appoint to the tribunals men 1395 who are understanding of, and who have sympathy with, the ex-Service men. That, I think, is a very vital matter. The main reason why I have risen to speak to-day is to express doubt on a point which many speakers have put before the House, namely, the onus of proof. Many Members, including my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) have said that the onus of proof should be on the Minister, who has to prove that the man is not fit for pension. Members have been almost unanimous on that point, but looking at it from the point of view of the applicant, I am a little doubtful as to whether that system will benefit him. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) said that the whole force of the Government machinery is against the man, but is that quite correct? Independent tribunals are to be set up to arrive at just judgments. The onus of proof must be on the tribunal. [An HON. MEMBER: "No, on the Ministry."] Yes, the Ministry have to prove that the man is unfit. I cannot see that the applicant will get any benefit from the opposition of the Minister in this way.
Clause 6, Subsection (3) of the Bill says:The Tribunal … shall not allow the appeal unless they are satisfied that it is well-founded….Surely that is a simple, straightforward form of words which any tribunal calling itself impartial ought to follow. I cannot see that any man will be prejudiced. It is far better to follow the advice of the hon. Member for Maryhill and get the right men on the tribunal than to raise the point about the onus of proof. I would like to suggest to hon. Members that this may be one of those cases in which, when the House has made up its mind and has legislation brought before it and passes it, it finds that it does not work out in the way it was thought it would work out. In the years I have been here I can remember many cases which have worked out in exactly the opposite way to that desired by the House, and I would like to suggest to those who feel keenly about the onus of proof that it may be well if they reconsider their views. That is all I wish to say except to add, once again, that I strongly welcome the Bill.
§ Major Nield (Chester)
It may be convenient if I endeavour at once to dispose of the difficulty in which my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Mr. Haslam) finds himself. As I understand it, under paragraph 5 (1, b) of the Schedule to. the Bill the Lord Chancellor is empowered to make rules in regard to the mode of proof at the hearings before the tribunals, and the suggestion which has been put forward, and which I wholeheartedly support, is that where a man upon entering the Service has been graded A1 and is subsequently incapacitated it shall be held that such incapacity is due to his service, either indirectly or directly, until the contrary is proved. I desire to direct my attention to that from one aspect—a legal aspect—which has not hitherto been mentioned. There is, as the House knows, or should know, in law a doctrine called the doctrine of estoppel which is defined in this way:An estoppel is a rule whereby a party is precluded from denying the existence of some state of facts which he has formerly asserted,and in a speech of the Lord Chancellor of the day in another place there appears this, I think, useful passage in regard to this important point:When A has, by his words or conduct, justified B in believing that a certain state of facts exists and B has acted upon such belief to his prejudice, A is not permitted to affirm against B that a different state of facts existed at the same time.May I endeavour to apply those words to this point? Where the State has, by its agent—its medical officer—justified a man who is called up to the Service in believing that he is A1, by so grading him, and the man thereupon undertakes the arduous duties of a private soldier, which if he has been otherwise certified he would not have been called upon to undertake, thereafter the State is not entitled to turn round and affirm that in fact at the time of the medical examination the soldier was suffering from hernia, or a weak heart, or cancer or some other disability. Therefore I hope that when the Lord Chancellor decides what rules shall be made in regard to the proof to be heard at these tribunals, which he will do no doubt after consultation with my right hon. Friend, he will bear in mind this matter and the feeling, which I am sure is a widespread and sincere feeling, that in the circumstances that are adumbrated it should be for the State by its 1397 evidence to satisfy the appeal tribunal that the man's condition is not due to war service before a man is deprived of his pension.
There are two other points which I intended to refer to. I think that one, alas, must go by reason of your ruling, Sir, with regard to the Royal Warrant, but the other remains, and I would refer the House to Paragraph 3 (I, b) of the Schedule, which provides for the constitution of the appeal tribunal to include a duly qualified medical practitioner. It has been suggested that it is not necessary, or perhaps not right, that a medical member should sit on this tribunal but that it would be more appropriate to call in aid a medical assessor without a vote. I have not given careful consideration to that and I reserve my opinion upon it, but if it should be that a medical member is to sit upon these tribunals I am somewhat disturbed by my right hon. Friend's remark that he foresees some difficulty in finding a wide enough field of selection.
One of my hon. Friends has expressed the view that these doctors should have at least that experience which the legal member must have, but I have heard it suggested that there might be an age limit, which might preclude many of the best men from the general field of selection. It has indeed been said that a doctor must be over 60 before he is available to serve. I should be the first to pay tribute to the value of ripe judgment and experience, but I cannot help feeling that, if that were so, these tribunals might be deprived of some of the best medical men and many experts in diagnosis. The answer I suppose, is that it is not easy to find doctors, so many of whom are in the Services, but 1 have no hesitation in advocating that so vital is the part to be played by the doctor, if a doctor sits on these tribunals, so vital for the welfare and happiness of so many, that this member would be doing as great a service to his country sitting on the tribunal as he would be serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps and, though we do not know how many tribunals there are to be, it would be proper to withdraw doctors from the Services if necessary and, in any event, to have the widest field from which to select doctors for these tribunals. The third point that I desired to make touches upon the Royal Warrant which I think requires drastic amendment. I hoped to say a word about it in view of Clause 10 1398 but, as you, Sir, have ruled that that is not in Order, I must refrain from any observations upon it in this Debate.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, in his legal exposition, has convinced the Minister of the justification of the arguments put forward on somewhat different grounds by many to-day and on previous occasions as to the necessity of the onus of proof being placed upon the Ministry. I would not base my case on any legal argument. I would say we should give the benefit of the doubt as much as we possibly can to these men, who did not argue at all when they accepted service. We should give the greatest possible consideration to these appellants and, because the Royal Warrant limits their claims, they should have the fullest possible benefit of any doubt, in establishing those claims. I think there would be one advantage to the appellant if we placed the onus of proof upon the Ministry. We should get the position, that as a man was discharged from the Service, he would automatically become entitled to a pension unless the Minister proved otherwise. At present it is necessary for a man to make a claim for a pension before he can get it, and in some cases he does not make a claim until several months, possibly more, have passed. I have had cases where a man has made a claim perhaps two years after lie is discharged and the Minister, even if he has accepted it, has dated the issue of the award from the time the claim was made. If the onus were placed upon the Ministry of proving that the man was not entitled to a pension, he would get a fairer deal, even if the claim were rejected, because he would know that his pension rights had been considered from the start, that is, from the date when he was discharged from the Service.
The Minister has been more conciliatory in his attitude to-day than on previous occasions. The House was, no doubt, interested in his peroration, in which he threw himself on the mercy of the House, anticipating favours to come, in the same way as business men end letters, by saying, "Thanking you, in anticipation of a favourable reply." The House as a whole has given a favourable reply on one limited issue, that is, the tribunals to be set up by the Bill. But let the Minister be under no misapprehension. We do not all go so far to-day as my hon. Friend the 1399 Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) and accord the Bill a most enthusiastic welcome, and let him not take this Debate as evidence that all our apprehensions have been quietened by the introduction of the Bill. When the Minister objects as he has done on many occasions to criticisms which he thinks unjust or unfounded, he should remember that he has only himself to blame for criticism. He talks of the Royal Warrant having been approved by this House. On what occasion has the House had an opportunity of approving the terms of the Royal Warrant? When the last Royal Warrant was introduced, some opposition was expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) and no opportunity was given to debate the terms of the Royal Warrant. Otherwise, I am afraid the Minister would have found the House in an entirely different mood from what it is in to-day. However, I suppose we must not look a gift horse in the mouth and I do not think there is any disagreement on the principle of the Bill. Therefore, I should like to limit my remarks to some of the points which appear, and some which do not appear, in the Bill and I hope that in Committee the Minister will endeavour to meet the substantial arguments that we shall put before him.
He has said that he hopes, as the result of the Bill, to set up, in the immediate future, nine tribunals. I suggest that that will not be enough even as a start. The power to set up tribunals is entirely in the hands of the Lord Chancellor, and when the Bill passes we part with any effective power of insisting that more tribunals shall be set up. We can criticise the Minister for the lack of a sufficient number but power is given to the Lord Chancellor to set up as many or as few as he thinks fit. When the House comes to consider the claims not only of ex-Servicemen but of the Merchant Navy, the Civil Defence personnel, the whole of the civilian population and the Home Guard, I think it will be agreed that even at this stage of the war nine tribunals will be all too few as a start.
On the question of appeals against the degree of assessment, I will not go over the ground other Hon. Members have covered but will point out only that when the Minister on his initiative decides to make a final award the appellant can appeal to a pensions tribunal consisting 1400 of two doctors and one layman. I disagree with the composition of that tribunal. It is true that the matters to be decided will depend on medical evidence. My right hon. Friend or the Lord Chancellor will weight the medical evidence against the appellant. It is no use my right hon. Friend saying that these lay members or medical members of the tribunals will be friends of the appellants. If they carry out their duties properly they will look at the evidence, and it is for the appellant to suggest the best possible case and not to rely on members of the tribunal giving him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps in some cases they may be inclined to do so, but the doctors who are to be appointed to the tribunals by the Lord Chancellor will have been hand-picked before the tribunals are set up. It is well known that all these applications have been looked at by the Minister of Pensions, and it is a farce to say that it will be the Lord Chancellor who will appoint these members. The British Medical Council, in the first place, submitted names. These came before the Minister of Pensions and I presume that he has weeded out those he does not think will be suitable members of the tribunal. Therefore, I think I am justified in saying that the members of the tribunals will not be primarily the friends of the appellant as alleged by my hon. Friend.
§ Major Lyons
I am sure that my hon. Friend would not say these things lightly. Has he any evidence in support of what he has said?
§ Mr. Bellenger
Yes, the Minister cannot deny it. These applications were seen by him or by his Department before they went to the Lord Chancellor.
§ Sir W. Womersley
The Government laid upon me the onus of finding medical personnel to submit to the Lord Chancellor. The list was sent in by the British Medical Association, and the head of my medical Department, along with Lord Horder who offered his services, went through the list. I never went through the list and know nothing of the list. It was sent to the Lord Chancellor and it is entirely misleading to say I have had anything to do with it.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Every hon. Member knows that the Minister is responsible for the acts of the servants of his Depart- 1401 ment, and it is reducing this issue to a travesty if my right hon. Friend takes objection to my statement that he has seen the applications Perhaps literally he has not seen them himself, but he admits that his own officers have seen them. Will he tell the House what action was taken by his own officers in his Department before this list of names, carefully handpicked and sifted, was sent on to the Lord Chancellor? I say again that I am not satisfied with the constitution of these special tribunals which will have to hear claims against final awards on the degree of assessment. Putting two doctors on those tribunals will weight the case against the appellant. It is for the House to judge whether that is the best form of tribunal in these cases. I would far rather have the ordinary tribunal consisting of a legal man, a layman and a doctor to try these cases, as they will consider the majority of cases.
I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider how other matters are dealt with in courts of law. The courts that adjudicate on workmen's compensation and other matters are not weighted like these tribunals will be. The learned judges have the final and deciding voice in saying whether the appellant or the claimant has made out his case. Where doctors and others sit with judges, they act as assessors only, and not as members of the tribunal, although I have no doubt that the judge pays considerable attention to the points of view submitted by the assessors. I am making no allegations against the integrity of doctors as doctors, but I suggest that the Minister is misleading the House when he suggests that certain members of these tribunals will act as the appellant's friends. Many of these appellants are not so well educated as those who compose the tribunals; they are men with only a primary education. Those who have experience of the Services know that even in Army matters they are not able to present their cases always in the best light when they have to appear before their commanding officers on charges. I suggest that if the House is to get the best possible instrument for giving justice and equity it must make provision for the appellant to be provided with legal and medical assistance in order to present his case properly. Every hon. and gallant Member knows that the Service Departments, particularly the Army, 1402 have set up legal advice bureaux to assist serving members in all matters, domestic and otherwise, and they do not charge one penny for it. Why cannot we carry that on when the men leave the Services?
Why is it not possible for them to be able to have as an absolute right, at the cost of the State, legal and medical expert assistance to enable them to prepare their cases? Does the House know what a man has to do before he can even appear before a tribunal? Have hon. Members seen the form he has to fill up? It is true that he can go to the British Legion or assistance, but whether he has that assistance or not, he should have a right under the Bill to medical and legal assistance in presenting his case. Every hon. Member who has had to present a case on behalf of his constituents to the Minister of Pensions knows that, in nine cases out of ten, it is medical evidence which decides the verdict, and not only recent medical evidence but evidence dating back years before the man went into the Forces. Quite frequently, hon. Members are able to get that evidence merely because panel doctors and others have provided it free of cost. We should not put that job on to panel doctors and others and give them no remuneration. We are to pay the tribunals their expenses; why should we not pay the appellants some of theirs?
I think the Minister is right in saying that there shall be no time limit operating against a man making his claim for a pension as long as the war lasts. Probably the reason is that at the end of the war the pensions provisions in the Royal Warrants and Acts of Parliament will have to come under revision. The House will recollect that after the last war the time limit was seven years, but even that period had to be extended under pressure from this House. We had better beware of trying to limit the right of men and women who have served the country, to present claims if they feel that they have grounds for them. I can think of no more effective method of creating discontent and dissatisfaction at the end of the war than to limit the rights of men who get older and deteriorate in health, by imposing time limits on the making of appeals. There are other points I would like to put, but I shall probably have an opportunity on the Committee stage of putting points for elucidation or pressing Amendments on the Minister.
1403 I would urge the House to be vigilant in this matter and not to accept these proposals just because the Minister has a generous heart, as somebody has said. We have long known the Minister's generous heart and we know from practical experience how it has operated. The Minister is an ex-Service man with a long history in the British Legion and he wants to do the best he possibly can for the ex-Service man. But why does he not do it? He will not do it by this Bill. He will do it by something we are not permitted to discuss to-day. He will do it and can only do it by altering the Royal Warrant. It is not possible for the House to do that. The Minister has the initiative in that matter and he has not taken it. Therefore, he has only himself to blame, if he submits to the harsh treatment he may receive from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or to the blandishments of the Chancellor, or to the hope of reward later if he tries to run pensions on the cheap. He cannot do that. We are not winning the war on the cheap and we cannot do it with human material which has given something more valuable than raw material, namely, life and health.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
I trust that the generally friendly reception of this Bill has done something to lift the mood of partial depression which appeared to affect the Minister when be was making certain speeches in the country last week-end. It would be a great pity if the cares of office had any adverse affect upon that exuberant oratory from which many of us have benefited at by-elections in happier times. Let my right hon. Friend not feel that there is anything in the nature of a personal vendetta. We know his record as a British Legionnaire, and we have no doubt where his sympathies lie. I thought the hon. Member for Bassetlaw. (Mr. Bellenger) marred an otherwise excellent speech by an insinuation that my right hon. Friend might be actuated by hopes of political advancement.
§ Mr. Bellenger
If I conveyed the impression that my right hon. Friend had not given a fair deal to Service men because he wanted personal advancement in politics, I absolutely withdraw any such statement.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
I am glad to hear the hon. Member say that, because that was the impression left in certain quarters, certainly on me. There is a growing feeling that the existing machinery was framed against a mental background which does not give a proper appreciation to the present-day problems of the fighting man. Consequently the stock of the Ministry of Pensions, and therefore its Minister, has declined very sharply among both officers and men in the Forces. I feel, however, that from certain indications in the phraseology of the Bill itself and from certain sentences that the Minister let fall, we may look for some improvement in the direction which has been referred to.
Appeal tribunals are long overdue. They have been resisted by my right hon. Friend for some two years, to my knowledge, on the ground that they could not be adequately staffed. That decision has now been reversed as the result of constant pressure from the back benches. It is evident to me, at any rate, that once again the Treasury has been conducting one of its famous delaying rearguard actions, and has only been overcome by the activities of the Private Members of this House. I feel that discharge on health grounds from the Services does raise a serious difficulty of machinery, and I should like to add my voice to that of almost every hon. Member who has taken part in this Debate, with one exception opposite, by saying that the onus of proof must lie upon the Ministry. It is a great hardship to many to have to seek advice in framing their letters of appeal for fear of being turned down on some technicality. I believe this House and the country are now agreed that the applicant should have the benefit of the doubt, and it would be of great value if the Parliamentary Secretary, when replying, could indicate whether the Government are prepared to accept the new Clause which stands in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser). Should they not do so, many of us will feel it to be our duty to support the hon. and gallant Member in pressing the Clause to a Division. Much as I dislike causing any heart-burning among my hon. Friends in the Whips' Office, if this new Clause is resisted by the Government I shall have to get special leave to come here in the next series of Sittings to vote against the Government.
1405 The Bill does contain certain very useful machinery for dealing with a body which has played, perhaps, the most vital part in this war, the Merchant Navy. I was very glad to hear the Minister say that the cases of men who have served in the Merchant Navy will be considered by a tribunal which will contain a master mariner, someone with the necessary qualifications for considering the special cases which must arise. A typical case in my constituency was brought to my notice the other day. It concerned a master in the Merchant Navy, who held the rank of captain in the Royal Naval Reserve, who was directed to take command, as a Merchant Navy master, of an ammunition ship. It was just about the time when the magnetic mine was first invented and before the antidote had been found. That particular man suffered from stomach ulcers, which it is well known are aggravated by anxiety. On two occasions he took his ship through the Mediterranean to Malta with ammunition, and shortly afterwards became ill and died. I have been unable, after many representations, to obtain a pension for his widow. I feel that if his case had been considered by somebody who could realise his responsibilities in the situation in which he found himself, navigating his ship, with lights out, and with a cargo of ammunition, in those days of magnetic mines, a very different decision would have been arrived at, and I hope that his will be one of the first cases which can come before an appeal tribunal.
When considering the general difficulties over pensions for those discharged on medical grounds from the Fighting Forces, I consider that when large bodies of men are being medically examined before being called up they are too readily graded as A.1. The hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) said that at times there was great pressure upon medical officers, that they were asked to pass large bodies of men in a very short time, and that in consequence defects might be overlooked. I feel that with the attitude which has been taken up in regard to the awarding of pensions the grading of men as A.1 ought to be done much more carefully. I have failed to get any answer when asking why certain constituents with long-standing and obvious physical defects have been so graded. The Bill improves the machinery for appeals considerably, but things would have been much better 1406 if unfit men were more carefully weeded out, so that they would not become crippled by exertions which their health would not stand. The men affected and the Ministry of Pensions would alike benefit if that were done, and much unnecessary trouble and heart-burning would be saved.
Further, the Forces and the whole country would be very much happier if the initiative in these various reforms came spontaneously from the Government, if Ministers would only do some of these desirable things under their own steam instead of having to be towed through by Private Members. Public opinion has been uneasy for some two years over this appeal question, and a very much better impression would have been gained had this reform come on the Government's initiative. The public will not be grudging in the matter of further financial concessions. On this matter, as on the question of Service pay, which is still far from satisfactory, let us have a broader and worthier outlook. It is only a few days ago that the Prime Minister, in one of his notable orations in this House, concluded by saying that the House of Commons had shown itself a mighty instrument for the waging of total war. I thought at the time that was a compliment which was not altogether undeserved, but I should be very much happier if we could earn the reputation, and earn it soon, of being a still mightier instrument of justice for the men who are fighting and winning this grim and crucial struggle.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
It is over 20 years since I came into the House of Commons, and during that period I have had to deal with a good many Ministers of Pensions. During the Debate the present Minister has been described as a generous Minister. I have always found him courteous and very anxious to deal with any cases I have brought to his notice, but I have also had that experience with all his predecessors in office. They were all generous men, they were all courteous and kindly, but it is the fact that during all those years there has been a good deal of discontent and dissatisfaction in the country over the treatment of people who suffered owing to their service in the late war. One of the difficulties we had to face when I came into Parliament in 1407 1922 concerned the rejects, those who had been before the pension tribunals and whose claims had been rejected although, to the ordinary citizen, they seemed to be thoroughly good claims. I recognise that the Minister of Pensions could do no other than bend to the pressure of the British Legion and the overwhelming opinion in the House and decide to set up these appeal tribunals. They had to come, because since this war there has grown up in the country a feeling of intense dissatisfaction with what has been happening to so many of those who were taken into the Services and came out of them broken in health and unfit for work. This machinery is being set up because there is a feeling in the Legion and in the country that all is not well and that many hundreds of thousands of people who have been in the Services have not been properly treated.
But I am a little doubtful whether we shall solve the problem by the setting up of these appeal tribunals. A big safeguard would be the acceptance of the principle that the onus of proof should rest upon the Ministry. If the onus of proof were upon the Ministry these tribunals might work better than the tribunals have worked in the past. Even with the acceptance of that principle, I am still doubtful whether we shall really solve the problem that is implicit in the overwhelming demand for these tribunals. The hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) instanced the case of a doctor who passed a man with a glass eye as A.I. He spoke of it as evidence of the fact that there have been some people who have tried to humbug the Ministry, because presumably the man had tried to get a pension on account of his glass eye. It did not seem to strike the hon. Member that the fundamental cause of the humbug in this case was his medical friend.
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
The doctor may legitimately have thought that a man with one eye could make a very good soldier. After all, Nelson won the Battle of Trafalgar with one eye.
§ Mr. Stephen
Yes, that may be so, but that does not deal with the point of view that was put forward by the hon. Member for North Islington. The Minister will agree that I have taken a great deal of interest in these matters, and I have 1408 been driven by my experiences to have a good deal of sympathy with the Minister of Pensions and his predecessors. So much of the trouble, I find, has been due to members of the medical faculty. Then you have the trouble of a doctor telling a man, "I will give you a chance of serving" and passing into the Service people who are unfit, with the result that a lot of the Army doctors are faced with these people and have the job of trying to get them out of the Army.
§ Mr. Stephen
The hon. Member mentioned two doctors of his own acquaintance, one of whom had passed 900 men in two days. A doctor who would pass 900 men in two days is precisely that kind of doctor.
The hon. Member is trying very enthusiastically to condemn doctors, but the point in that case was that a civilian doctor with no military experience was ordered to examine 900 men who were required for operational purposes. The hon. Member would not approve of that. It does not accord with his views. But this doctor was required to examine the men to see that they were fit to march. He could not examine them in great detail. It was impossible to do so. He could not, for instance, find out whether they had bad hearts or not, so that was left over for a future occasion. But that doctor and the military authorities did the right thing, because they were serving the country.
§ Mr. Stephen
He passed these 900 men because they were required for this operational duty. Suppose they fell dead at their posts, and the whole of the operations were jeopardised because of the stupidity of the military authorities and the lack of manhood of the doctor who accepted such an order from the military authorities. The hon. Member has suggested that possibly my medical friends differ from his friends. I would say that they would. They respect their profession, and they would not pass men into the Army at the instance of any military authority in that way. Certainly from my own experience of the hon. Member and the views that he has put forward I think he himself might be deemed one of the examples of the type of medical man that has created this problem.
I am afraid our views are too divergent. I will not dispute with the hon. Member on military matters any longer.
§ Mr. Stephen
I have as much desire to see things in good condition in this country as the hon. Member, and I would put my patriotism against his any day of the week. I have not shown inconsistency in my political talk as he has done. But to go back to the real question, I believe a great deal of trouble has been due to the way in which the medical service at the Ministry of Pensions for some reason or other seem to have taken the view that they must if they can find a reason for refusing claimants to pensions. The hon. and gallant Member who preceded me gave two cases, and I think they are typical of many others. When nothing is found in the past history of a man to justify refusal, then the doctors have invented the doctrine that a man at his time of life becomes, for example, subject to high blood pressure. He did not get high blood pressure because of his Army service but because of the high percentage of cases of high blood pressure at that time of life. I believe that is one of the difficulties.
We have got somehow or other to deal with this problem, and the Minister of Pensions might do a great deal, I think, to solve it if he accepted the principle that the onus of responsibility should be upon the Ministry to prove their case. I believe that the real solution is to be found in the acceptance of the principle expressed in the phrase "Fit for service, fit for pension," which has been so contemptuously rejected by the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest). If a man is taken into the Service and then there is a breakdown in health, I think he should be given a pension. It ought to be noted, I think, that by refusing a pension you do not get rid of the financial responsibility of providing for the individual. I think it is better that he should be given a pension than that he should have to pass through all those indignities that he has to pass through in getting on the Poor Law. The House wants generous treatment of these people, the country wants it, and I believe we can find a better solution of the problem in a change in the general line of dealing with pensions, leaving it to the tribunals 1410 to deal with the very few cases which might then come to them.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
The House has shown that it accepts this Bill with qualifications and some misgivings. If I emphasise the qualifications and a few misgivings, I do not want that to affect the welcome which I give to the Bill in general. I do feel, however, that on Second Reading it is appropriate to consider what one looks for in a Bill of this kind. In the first place, I submit that what we look for is the widest possible right of appeal. Any person who is aggrieved by the decision of the Minister ought to have the right to go from the Minister to the appeal tribunal. That seems to me a fundamental constitutional problem. The King's Minister is not the Minister to decide the subject's right. That has to be decided by the King's court—in this case, the appeal tribunal. The first thing we want to know is whether we are getting that right of appeal, and the second thing we have to consider is whether the formalities and technicalities which are always inseparable from legal proceedings are made as few as possible, and whether when there are technicalities and legal formalities it is quite certain that there are also means of rectifying any faults. As the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) pointed out, many appellants are quite untutored people. Even people with legal experience fail from time to time to observe necessary technicalities. There must be, therefore, not only a sufficient absence of technicalities but the means of removing any injustice caused by failure to conform to them.
In the third place, we have to consider whether the tribunals and the procedure of those tribunals will command the confidence of those who appear before them and of the general public. How far are those conditions fulfilled in this Bill? First, there is the right of appeal. I submit with some confidence that it would have been possible to present a general right of appeal in a Clause of about three lines, saying that any person aggrieved by any decision of the Minister in respect of a pension would have the right of appeal to the tribunal set up in the Schedule to the Bill. But what have we got? We have five closely printed pages defining the right of appeal. The only effect of that must be to limit it; other- 1411 wise, it is mere bad drafting. But it is not mere bad drafting. It is a definite limitation of the right of appeal.
Two examples of the way in which the right of appeal is limited and hedged about have been given in the course of this Debate. One was given in the able maiden speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Major Manningham-Buller), an unexpected result of the last words in the Subsection, and another by the Minister, who made it perfectly plain that so far as any percentage of partial disablement is concerned there is to be no appeal whatever until some future unspecified day. Even when that day comes there is to be no appeal whatever until the Minister himself thinks the proper time has come for final settlement. In my submission, that is a position which cannot be accepted. It would be quite simple, in my view, to give a perfectly general right of appeal in all cases. The two examples which have been cited during this Debate are, of course, only examples. It is inevitable that other cases will occur which cannot be foreseen but which could all be avoided by a simple general right of appeal.
I have not heard one word from the Minister to suggest why these limitations are being made. The only thing the Minister did say was that he thought the question of percentage disablement ought not to be the subject of appeal in the interests of the man himself. He said the decision of the tribunal might be given at a stage which was premature. But this particular difficulty is being got over every day in the week in workmen's compensation cases in the county court. The decision of the county court is final as to matters which come before it, but given a change in the man's condition the case can come to trial on a different issue. Finality is not effected, because there is a different issue. I cannot see why that argument should be brought forward as a reason for limiting the right of appeal in these cases, and limiting it for an indefinite time. I hope that either in the reply to this Debate or at some later stage some hope may be given to us that this right of appeal may be widened. In the event of no explanation being given, it is the intention of one or two hon. Members to put down Amendments designed to get rid of these limitations.
1412 Next I would turn to, the time of appeal. Everybody knows that when a time is set within which legal steps must be taken there are people who for one reason or another fail to keep within that time. Sometimes it is because it is impossible to do so and sometimes it is because of mere negligence. In any event we have no right to bar these people for ever from justice. There is no precedent in the ordinary procedure of the courts, or in any ordinary legal procedure before the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords. It is always inherent in the power of the court to extend the time, subject, of course, to such conditions and terms as may seem just. I cannot see why the appellate tribunal should not be given this power under the Bill.
I come to the effect of appeal. It is right that an appeal of this kind should be final and conclusive as to matters which are determined on that particular appeal, but there must be mistakes sometimes. There must be cases in which a new trial should be granted. In the courts of the land, with their long centuries of experience of jury trials, the finality of the verdict is something which has been very jealously guarded. But surely none the less there is the right to move the Court of Appeal for a retrial. Can the right hon. Gentleman say that at no time during the next 25 years will a man express an opinion before he has heard the case? Jurymen do it from time to time. Can he honestly say—although we earnestly hope that it will not be the case—that in the course of the next 25 years a man will not take a bribe? When the verdicts of juries may be upset and a new trial may be ordered, can my right hon. Friend say there should be no such remedy whatever for the appellants in these cases?
Now as to the question of the onus of proof. If the decision of the appellate tribunal is to be as final as is proposed in the Bill, the effect will be to make the position of the appellant worse than it is at the moment. If he goes now to the Minister, he can reopen the case in the event of a refusal. He may get fresh evidence and he can try again. But once he comes before the appellate tribunal, however much fresh evidence he may get at some subsequent stage and however conclusive that evidence may be, he will be barred for ever under the Bill from putting his case forward again. The 1413 very least we can do is to see that, if there is to he a decision on an uncertainty, that uncertainty should be in favour of the appellant and not against him.
Finally, we come to the question of the tribunals. I find that there are no terms in the Bill to suggest the length of tenure of office of members of the tribunal. The Bill should, at some stage, contain provisions for removing unsuitable people, or superannuating them when they get too old or for taking action in respect to them where they have been convicted of any crime. Before the Bill comes out of Committee, I look to find those matters rectified. Subject to that, I think I can join in the chorus of approval which has greeted the Bill. [Laughter.] At any rate, I can assure hon Members who laugh and the Minister also, that I put forward those criticisms without any intention of lowering the Minister's prestige. I trust that I and other hon. Members may have won a convert in the course of this Debate. The Minister said in a recent speech that he regarded himself as unpopular. I can assure him that there is no more endearing quality in a Minister than that of acknowledging a debt to the back benchers of this House, and to public opinion, and making some concession to the demands that such people put before him.
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
I rise with considerable trepidation, after the last two speeches, both very human and one very searching. As the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) has dealt with the legal side, I hope I may be permitted to deal with the medical side. The medical men who have been chosen in the way that has been announced have no knowledge whatever of judicial procedure or of workmen's compensation. Indeed, they have no knowledge of social medicine, because that has not been taught in the medical teaching schools of Great Britain. We have only one Professorship of Social Medicines, in Oxford, and it exists thanks to the philanthropy of a celebrated and noble industrialist. There is no lectureship of industrial medicine. The list of medical men who have been chosen in this way by the British Medical Association and submitted to the Minister, has been "vetted" by the chief medical officer of the Ministry and by Lord Horder, two persons who are entirely unqualified to decide on the char- 1414 actor of the people who are to adjudicate in medical matters in relation to the tribunals.
It is a wonder that the Minister, whose courtship and friendliness to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons is known, did not send his list to them first. The House, not knowing what these bodies are, would probably like to be told something about them. I say that simply in order that the House should know something about the position. The Royal Colleges are purely examining bodies, who, through the power of their examinations and the granting of diplomas, have worked themselves into a position of influence and of selecting men associated with their examining bodies. They have nothing in their favour. They have not democratic constitutions, and they are really unrepresentative. These are the bodies to whom the Minister goes when he is in difficulties and when he tells us he wants to get a perfectly independent opinion. Independent in what way? The medical profession are conservative because of their medical education. I have said that before. The hon. Member for Oxford rather belittled me and laughed when I said that, but it is true. I do not blame the doctors for it, they cannot help it. That is the way they are taught. They are a conservative profession because of the way in which they are taught their medicine. Sometimes they are not taught anything at all about the subjects which have been mentioned here to-day. I had the temerity myself, because the Minister asked me in rather peculiar circumstances for a special memorandum, to submit a document to him containing the correct names of some of these medical institutions. The Minister has mentioned such titles as "The British Medical Council," or "The General Association Body." If he had known the position, he would not have used such terms. I did it for him, and I think he has ordered it to be kept in front of him at his desk so that he will not come here and make references to bodies that do not exist in medicine.
A great point was made by the hon. Member for Oxford that there should be subsequently a right of appeal to another body. I would suggest that in some way or by some means special tribunals should try these cases after a certain period in certain circumstances. I would go further. I would suggest that there should be a 1415 central bureau for helping pensioners to handle their cases. That body should contain representatives of the House of Commons, the British Legion and various trade unions to help the men to present their case, both legally and medically, without charge. It would be a great thing if that were done. After the last war I was in the employment of the Ministry of Pensions, where I had experience of medical boards. I do not know whether the conditions, procedure and methods which existed then still exist. Let me give the House an example of what happened to my knowledge. Time and time again on the medical board there was a difference of opinion either as to a disability or aggravation or the assessment, and the three medical men on the board, with the chairman and two ordinary members, of which I was one, fought out this thing in private and by a majority, frequently against the chairman, decided either upon the attributability, on the assessment or on the aggravation. There was a case which I remember perfectly in which we fought bitterly. The board, by a majority of two to one, decided upon an assessment of 60 per cent. Quite unusually for me, because I am not very punctual, I got to the board early the next day, and on the chairman's desk I saw a document from the assessor, who had never seen the case. He was employed by the Ministry of Pensions, and the document changed the assessment from 60 per cent. to 30 per cent. He was putting it before the chairman for his signature. I reminded the chairman that we had decided the matter by a majority of two to one and asked him what he was going to do. He said he could not help himself in the matter. I said, "Make it 40 per cent.," and in my presence he then made the assessment 40 per cent. and initialled it. I fought that case bitterly when I was in the Ministry of Pensions, but within a few weeks I was sent to another Department to do précis notes for the Ministry of Pensions, because they did not want me on the board. If those methods exist now, you will still have your assessors behind changing the assessments agreed to by a majority on the boards. It is time that that procedure was stopped. Decisions come to should not be interfered with by Ministerial inside procedure and overruled.
1416 I am one of those who look upon the future with great misgiving. I did urge some time ago that the Minister should not be rushed into appointing these tribunals because of the fear of the finality and the irrevocability of the decisions that are going to be made, and also because I know that the medical personnel available at the present time are not such as I would choose. The list has been vetted, but it wants vetting 20 times. I know the present list, and I would vet it many times before some of the men on it should be chosen. As to doctors being humbugged by patients, I say that the doctor in question should not have done so much work. If he made a decision and Service conditions were such that he was compelled to do his work within a limited time, the Services should accept full responsibility for having placed a particular soldier there. Service Departments should be responsible for the acts of their medical agents. It is not the men who appoint the doctors, but the Services, and if a doctor has graded a man A.1 the responsibility should hold. The Government should be responsible for regarding that man as A.1. If the man's condition deteriorates during service, his claim should be dealt with from that point of view.
I want to ask some questions about diseases. With many diseases, the nature and aetiology are unknown. Medical men make mistakes like the men of any other profession. A medical man who says he has never made a mistake, and has not got the courage to admit that he has made a mistake has no right to be in medicine. Sometimes a week, even a half-day, makes a difference between a mistake and a correct diagnosis. The man who says he has made a diagnosis and that the matter is settled for ever and ever, does not know the direction in which he is tending in having an effect, perhaps, on life and death.
I am going to deal with three types of disease. A man is examined and graded A.1 in the medical examination and goes into one of the Services. His condition deteriorates, and he is diagnosed as suffering, let us say, from gastric ulcer. Many citizens in their lives are right up to their limit of resistance, under bad city conditions, either from the point of view of their dietary or economic position or resistance to infection. Every human being has a limit and these people are up to 1417 their limit. They are taken into the Services and put under conditions rather different from those to which they have been accustomed. They have to adjust themselves to that, and they have a difficulty in adjusting themselves, from the point of view of their camp conditions or their bedding. The House knows the condition of some of the bedding in this country. If they knew the filth some people have to lie on, if they knew the disgraceful upholstery or stuffing put in under the leather even in what comes from the best manufacturing places of this country, they would begin to know what exists in certain hospitals and camps in the military centres in this country. When a man is taken into the Services, and his civilian environment is suddenly changed because he is compulsorily called upon to defend his country, if the condition of the man deteriorates how can it be said that it has deteriorated not because of Service conditions but because he had this weakness or complaint before. If there is the slightest suspicion that he might have had rheumatism or a gastric condition it is regarded as not due to service, but either as "constitutional" or as a recurrence of a previous disorder, which allegedly originated before service.
Take pernicious anemia or disseminated sclerosis. One is supposed to be caused by an infective or virus agent and the other is a deterioration of the source of the blood that makes a person get anæmia. How do the Ministry of Pensions decide in a case of pernicious anæmia when the man has been passed A.1 and later diagnosed as having pernicious anæmia? How do they decide that case is not due to service or aggravated by service? What medical evidence can they produce to any impartial medical tribunal, to any medical tribunal, to suggest that that case is not the result of, or has not been aggravated by, service? It is true that certain civilians get anæmia but, because these things happen in civil life, it is not true to say that when they happen when a man is serving, they are not caused or aggravated by service, because we do not know what causes it.
Take cancer, which is known to result after an injury called trauma. That is medical theory and has been accepted for workmen's compensation cases. One of the most brilliant miners leaders received a blow when working as a miner 1418 and did not regard it as serious though he had a leg deformity. But he died from cancer resulting from that blow. Many cases are recorded of cancer and malignant diseases of various types which have arisen as a result of trauma. I have known cases of men who were injured through bombing when coming from Dunkirk, and because they contracted cancer of certain parts of the body afterwards the Ministry of Pensions said, "This does not arise from service. It is constitutional." I do not know why the Ministry say that, seeing that the men were passed A.I. Claimants say "I have read in a doctor's book, a popular book, that cancer may start in one place and may gradually have a secondary deposit in another"—I see the Minister is looking at the clock and I must stop. If that happens in one case why can it not happen in another? How do the Minister's medical officers know? What are the real grounds for this "constitutional" defence of pension refusal?
Take the case of skin disease, say in a man passed A.1 with no trace of it and no history. He goes into the Army and contracts skin disease, and the Ministry decide that this is a civilian disease and cannot be a military responsibility. The same thing happens sometimes with tuberculosis which develops after a few months and the Minister says, "You must have had it before you joined the Service." But pulmonary tuberculosis sometimes has a very rapid run. Ask your Ministers. One Minister lost his wife through a very rapid development of tuberculosis. Medicine cannot be measured by the yardstick. People differ.
I wish to make a point about neurosis, concerning one of the most disgraceful Ministerial attitudes ever adopted. The House really does not know about medicine. It is time they had a Select Committee to learn something about how the dice are loaded against the working class of this country and even the ordinary citizen, whether it is a question of compensation or pension. "Neurosis" is the rubbish heap diagnosis now made: We have a habit in medicine when we do not know something, of selecting a word and throwing up that word and using it as though it were a rubbish-heap. It used to be "neurasthenia" or "shell shock." Now it is neurosis. Now they say that the man had it in civil life. A man experiences very bad conditions: 1419 a bomb may have dropped near him or he may have some difficulty, he cannot adjust himself neurologically to the conditions of war or service. The Minister says "It is constitutional; it is in your constitution. You were born that way. The brain cells of your parents were adjusted that way and you cannot help it. You are not entitled to a pension." I think there should be a permanent impartial medical committee set up at the Ministry, advising on these conditions, to see that fair play is given to the claimants from a neurological point of view.
The same thing takes place with regard to psycho-neurosis. A man goes into the Services and subsequently finds he cannot get a pension, though he may have had the most extraordinary experiences through bombing or some other cause. I am sorry I have kept the House so long. I always do, and I always apologise, but medicine is such an intricate subject and many of the public have no knowledge of how many medical men are in an embryonic shell, so far as medical conditions are concerned. They have practically not cracked the shell to come out and to appreciate social deteriorating conditions outside. Because of that and the peculiar ideas lay people have about the knowledge of the profession, they allow medical men to have a clear sweep. I say that justice can be done to these Service men only if proper medical arrangements are made, with facilities for proper review, and for reconsideration after a certain length of time, in the interests of a good procedure, which will see that justice is done to those who claim and who deserve a pension.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)
As there are only a few moments, I shall speak a very few words. I would like to associate myself with the tone of the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite). Those two speeches raised the temperature of the Debate. It had tended to become something of a lullaby—a deceptive lullaby. The Minister arrived at the beginning of the Debate looking as if he would never smile again, but after the Debate had gone on for some time he looked quite his old self. I hope that he will not smile too much, because there is 1420 rough music ahead. We have been discussing the machinery, and not the philosophy, of pensions. If we cannot improve the philosophy, we can at least look after the machinery. These tribunals are a good thing; they are a proved thing; there is nothing experimental about them. I wonder why the Minister is only just introducing them when the war is nearly four years old. That is a lot of time for people who have had no redress from decisions of the Ministry which may have been wrong. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) has decried the outcry against the Minister which appeared in the "Evening Standard." It is possible that he meant what I wrote.
§ Mr. Baxter
I wrote something a fortnight ago. The Minister also spoke against the outcry in the Press. My withers are quite unwrung. You will not accomplish much in this world by murmuring to the moon. There were many things wrong, and we had to attack the Minister: he was the right target, even if the Prime Minister puts his hand on him and says, "He is a good boy." The fact that something is moving at last is due to the fact that the case was put with violence and passion. We have a right to feel deeply, because great injustices have been done. No one is going to deny the kindly qualities of the Minister—that tribute has been paid to him. He has done the best that he could perhaps within his brief, but he never should have accepted that brief. He should have come to the House and demanded that it should be altered. I shall be delighted if soon he can concede the things we are demanding.
We are discussing now the personnel of the tribunals. No matter how fair those members may be, there will always be the spirit of the Royal Warrant to paralyse them. What can the tribunals say to a girl who has sacrificed her life really by marrying a disabled man after his disablement? The tribunal can only say, "No." If these two have children, thus making a home for the tragically-wounded husband, and the wife goes to the tribunal and asks, "Will there be allowances for my children?" the tribunal can only say, "No." All the tribunal can do is to look 1421 into the cases which already have been looked into. It is the philosophy, the spirit, of the pensions administration which must be altered. As the time is short, I will not try to make the other points which I would have liked to have made. I will only say, Is it wrong for us to feel strongly on this? I do not feel that even the Treasury or the glory of this country depends on ruined lives and broken homes. The country is roused, and I hope, with great friendship towards the Minister, and with great friendship and respect towards the Chief Whip, that they will not go back and say to their colleagues in the Government, "That was a very mild row to-day, and we do not need to go so far as we meant to go." Please meet us, because when the next Debate comes, and the Speaker does not limit us so much, there will be plenty of criticism.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions (Mr. Paling)
Members have unanimously approved the introduction of this Bill. Several criticisms have been levelled, but I think I am justified in saying that most of the criticisms go rather wider than the Bill, and refer to the Royal Warrant rather than to the pensions appeal tribunals themselves. I listened very carefully, and I found that everybody who had any criticism to make was careful to say that he approved of the Bill. Even the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter), who approved of the criticisms of two previous speakers and objected to the fact that the Debate had become a lullaby, approved of the Bill. I am among those who approve of the Bill. I have been at the Ministry of Pensions for a considerable time, and by far the biggest part of my time has been spent in looking into cases sent to me by hon. Members. I have looked carefully, sometimes almost with a microscope, into those cases, to see whether any further help could be rendered. I have not always succeeded. In many cases I have had to send letters to my hon. Friends regretting that nothing could be done. I have been told that we send very kind letters, and that even when we say "No" we say it very courteously. But it is not always easy for us to have to say it, and my right hon. Friend and I welcome the fact that these tribunals are within measurable distance of being set up, so that people will have an oppor- 1422 tunity of appealing to an independent body in the near future.
I want to deal in the short time at my disposal with one or two of the questions asked about the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) asked several questions. He referred to the words "material extent" in Clause 1, Sub-section (1), and asked what they meant. I think that, like most Members probably, he had in mind the fact that some time ago we gave what is called the Grade 1 concession. This provided that when a man had been passed into any of the Services as A.1 and was later discharged, if any degree of aggravation could be proved, that would be accepted as material aggravation. When that concession was made, hundreds of cases were sent in, and I am glad to say that a very large percentage of those cases—which had previously been turned down—were successful. We intend that the same interpretations as far as "material extent" is concerned as are given in the Grade 1 concession shall apply when these cases come before the tribunals. He also raised the question of accident cases and cases of illness at home and overseas. In those cases, where they have been turned down, the right of appeal will be given, and these people can come before the tribunals.
He also raised the matter of lump-sum payments or commutation. I do not know whether my hon. Friend saw it or not, but no doubt a good many Members would see in the Press this last week that my right hon. Friend made a statement on this matter and said that it was not our intention that commutation should take place. I thoroughly agree with that view. I was engaged in the mining industry for many years before I came here, and I think that all my hon. Friends who represent mining constituencies will agree that we found, as a result of experience, that lump-sum payments were not always to be regarded as of great benefit, and in fact we made up our minds otherwise. When I came to this House in 1922, the claim for pensions was at its height and there was tremendous agitation in the country, and I put case after case up to the then Minister of Pensions asking for commutation. I succeeded in some of the cases, but my experience taught me later that perhaps it would have been better if I 1423 had not succeeded. That being so, my right hon. Friend has stated in plain terms that it is not intended that commutation should take place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham also asked with regard to Civil Defence as to on and off duty and whether there was a right of appeal. Yes, there is. If claimants have been turned down, they will have the same right of appeal before this tribunal as anybody else. He raised the case of the assessment and asked whether when a man went before the assessment tribunal the payment would be retrospective. I am informed that that is so and that assessment appeals on the occasion of the last war were ante-dated to the date of the appeal.
§ Mr. Dobbie
Inasmuch as the individual has not had the opportunity of appeal and if his assessment was made two or three years ago, would the decision date back to the date of the assessment?
§ Mr. Paling
I do not think that that would be the case. At the present time, if a man wants to make an appeal before final assessment has been made, he comes back to us, and the Department gives a decision. I cannot say that it will go back further than the time when he lodges the appeal as it did on the occasion of the last war. The hon. and gallant Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) raised the question of the benefit of the doubt and the onus of proof, which is a question I do not think hon. Members will expect me to go into to-day. I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member himself expected it. He raised the question among other things and said he hoped that we would give full consideration to the matter before the Committee stage. It is one of the matters being discussed in the review in which my right hon. Friend is engaged, and a decision will be arrived at in due course.
§ Mr. Dobbie
Does my hon. Friend intend to deal with the question I put relative to the Schedule in regard to expenses?
§ Mr. Paling
Yes, I shall have something to say about that when I come to it. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) raised two or three questions and asked among other things what would happen to members 1424 of the Air Transport Auxiliary Corps. The answer is that pilots of Air Transport Auxiliary Corps whose claims under the Personal Injuries Scheme are rejected on the ground mentioned in Clause 3 will have an appeal as civilians. The question was also raised as to what my right hon. Friend meant when he said that appeals to the final assessment tribunal would be taken by steps, and he promised that an answer would be given. What is meant, I understand, is this: When these tribunals are set up there may be a perfect flood of applications within the course of a very few days, and we shall probably have to sort them out and take some decision as to how best to deal with them, but how we shall deal with them and what the particular steps will be, I do not know. We might possibly, to give an example, decide to work them by areas, and that would be taking them by steps, or we might possibly take them as to whether the applicants had served overseas or at home. That illustrates what we have in mind. We have not made up our minds what the steps will be, but that is what we had in mind when we talked about taking them by steps. The hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Major Manningham-Buller)— and let me here add my congratulations to him upon a first-class maiden speech—asked several questions. He brought up a question which rather surprised me and which indicated that after a tribunal had made a decision the Minister could reject it.
§ Mr. Paling
We are a little uncertain as to whether that is so. We think not. If it is so, we shall be very surprised In any event, the hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised the point, and we shall have to consider whether that is so. He also raised the matter of the constitution of tribunals and doubted the wisdom of including a member of the medical profession. We have had this sort of thing to meet on a good many occasions, and my right hon. Friend has gone out of his way to get as great a consensus of opinion on the constitution of these tribunals as possible. He has gone to most bodies and organisations who are likely to be concerned with and know something 1425 about the matter and the great majority of opinions concur in the fact that there should be one medical member of these boards. He raised the question that in some cases it would be difficult to get evidence from a soldier who was in the Far East. That may be so, but in all cases we take every step within our power to get the fullest possible evidence relating to any case, and when we have got it a full précis of the whole case is given to the widow or to the appellant, whoever she or he may be. When he asked tine question, I had in my mind some of my own troubles in this respect. One was brought before me to-day when I was asked why a certain hon. Member had not had a reply about a case he had sent to me. The answer was that we are pursuing this policy of trying to get the fullest possible evidence relating to the man's service so that nothing should be excluded when we come to a decision, and that is responsible for the length of time. I can assure him that we do everything possible in order to get evidence from the Far East or any other theatre of war.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Haden Guest) put what I would call, for want of a better term, a number of problem cases, answers to which I am sure he will not expect me to give to-day. These problems do exist, as I have learned since I have been in the Ministry. He raised the question of expenses and how far the cost of evidence which an appellant might think fit to get could be met. I am informed that if the tribunal itself decides that witnesses are desirable—say a specialist who can give evidence on a case—that specialist's fee is met, but expenses are not met to the extent of any appellant being allowed to bring in any witnesses, experts or specialists that he may think fit.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
Will expenses be met in suitable cases where the appellant might be allowed to choose his own specialist?
§ Mr. Paling
That is a matter for the tribunal, but I daresay they would have regard to what the man himself wanted.
§ Mr. Davidson
Surely if a man desires to call his own doctor who has, for instance, served his family for a number of years, he would be entitled to do so?
§ Mr. Paling
He could, of course, bring him in, but the question is whether he would be paid or not. If the tribunal agreed, such a man might get expenses.
§ Mr. Davidson
Does my hon. Friend realise that that makes it impossible for the average working man to bring his family medical practitioner to the tribunal?
§ Dr. Morgan
Suppose a trade union, under medical advice, got a certain specialist's evidence. Would not the tribunal be entitled to pay for that?
§ Mr. Paling
I am giving the facts. I quite agree that in some cases a working man would find it impossible to meet the expenses of specialist evidence, but in the case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) I daresay that problem would be solved by the tribunal agreeing that it would be right that the man should be called in.
Will the whole matter be considered so that a statement can be made on the Committee stage?
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
This is important. Will it be made quite clear to appellants that they must have the consent of the tribunal before witnesses arc brought in?
§ Mr. Paling
They can bring in anybody so far as there is no question of payment, but if the tribunal decides that specialist evidence should be brought in, the specialist can be paid. The hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) was good enough to say, among other things, that everybody had to admit that not all cases sent in by Members were first-class claims and that whatever one might think about some of them, they were not good claims and had to be rejected. I was glad to hear him say that, because I have sometimes felt that some Members thought that every case sent in by them ought to be accepted. The main point, however, is this: Every case sent in is given very full consideration by the Ministry. Now there will be the added advantage of people being able to go before a tribunal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basset-law (Mr. Bellenger) raised several points, among which was the question of who 1427 could be criticised about the persons who are to be on the tribunals—the Lord Chancellor or the Ministry of Pensions. I think my right hon. Friend the Minister partly dealt with that question. I do not quite know who will be responsible. It may be the Attorney-General or my right hon. Friend. I am sure, however, that my hon. Friend or any other Member who wants to raise a question in this House will find ways and means of doing it. I do not tiaink they will be denied. As regards the number of tribunals, the nine to be set up will not be the limit. As the work grows and the personnel for tribunals becomes available, the number will be increased. Nine is the beginning and not the end.
§ Mr. Davidson
I take it that my point regarding the Highlands of Scotland will be carefully examined?
§ Mr. Paling
Certainly. My hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill said that we wanted men of sympathy and understanding on the tribunals, men of capacity and efficiency. We quite agree. We have done our best. Some criticism has been levelled against us because we have been a long time about setting up tribunals, but part of the trouble has been that we have been endeavouring to get the best possible people, particularly from the medical point of view. I hope we shall succeed in getting the best possible people to serve on the tribunals. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw also asked about personnel. We have nothing to do with the choice of the personnel for tribunals. I am given to understand that the Lord Chancellor, so far as the medical personnel and laymen on the tribunals are concerned, intends to set up a kind of informal committee to advise him. It is within his province. My hon. Friend seemed to indicate that we had something to do with the choice of these people, in particular, the doctors. I can assure him that we have not. So far as we are concerned, the tribunals will be completely independent. It has been our endeavour to secure that from the beginning, and I am sure hon. Members will agree when the tribunals are set up that we have succeeded. I am very glad that this question of tribunals has been brought before the House to-day through this Bill, which has 1428 received almost unanimous welcome. I hope that within a short time the tribunals will be working.
§ Mr. Davidson
With regard to the composition of the tribunals, my hon. Friend stressed the point about selection on medical grounds and said there would also be a person with knowledge of the law. While the Ministry have no power to insist, will they make it known that in their opinion the laymen ought to have, at the least, knowledge of a soldier's life in the Army and the rigours he has had to go through?
§ Mr. Paling
I have no doubt that anything which hon. Members say here to-day will be brought to the notice of the people responsible.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for the next Sitting Day.— [Major Sir James Edmondson.]