§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Mr. Marquand)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The Bill has two objects, to give to ex-Service men in peace time certain rights which they have not had before and to extend or round off, as it were, certain rights of appeal about pensions which Servicemen already have. I believe that the Bill is generally welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and particularly by the ex-Service organisations. For example, I have had a letter this morning from the hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) in which he regrets his inability to be here today and says:You have my good will and that of the Legionin regard to the introduction of the Bill.
I do not wish to detain the House very long but I feel that I must say something about each of the two purposes of the Bill. I announced to the House on 27th July that the Government had decided that disability pensions, or rather claims for disability pensions, arising in peace time would be dealt with in future by the Minister of Pensions. Hitherto, claims of that kind have been dealt with by the Service Departments. The Ministry of Pensions have dealt exclusively with compensation for death, or disability, attributable to or hastened or aggravated by war service. All claims arising between 1921, when the legal end of the first world war was proclaimed for this purpose, and 2nd September, 1939, have been dealt with and appropriate pensions paid by the Service Departments. If the Bill were not passed, then when the end 1546 of the second world war comes to be proclaimed, the determination of claims and the payment of pensions would revert to the Service Departments.
Hitherto, in peace time, with our Armed Forces composed entirely of volunteers, there has been no system of appeal about pensions to independent tribunals. Now, with compulsory military service, it is reasonable to continue in peace time the practice of war time, and so a right of appeal from the rejection of a claim to pensions will in future apply to all members of the Forces, naval, military and air, to men and women, and to volunteer and conscript. I must emphasise, in explaining that the right of appeal will in future apply in peace time, that the appeals are made from decisions of the Minister of Pensions to tribunals which are entirely independent of the Minister of Pensions. The tribunals are appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and the expenses of the tribunals are borne on the Vote for the Supreme Court of Judicature. There is also an appeal from those tribunals to the High Court in England or to the Court of Session in Scotland on points of law.
The change in and extension of the right of appeal to the tribunals and from the tribunals to the court in peace time is provided for in Clause 1 (1). That Subsection is so drawn as to cover not only the definition of service which is contained in the present Royal Warrant but also any definition which may be used in the new Royal Warrant which we shall introduce when it is convenient to proclaim for this purpose the end of the war.
Clause 1 (2) excludes from these provisions claims arising before 3rd September, 1939. Thus it excludes all the claims arising in peace time either before 1914 or between 1921 and 1939. As I have already said, those claims were dealt with by the Service Departments. Those claims arose in time of peace and in time of voluntary service in the Armed Forces. They were considered under a pensions code which was different from the wartime code, and they were decided by or under the authority of three separate Service Ministers. For those reasons the Government feel that it is best to leave the responsibility for them where it has lain for at least nine years, and in most cases, of course, very much longer. The Subsection also excludes claims arising 1547 from service in the first World War because for those claims there was a right of appeal under the tribunals set up in 1919. The right of appeal to those tribunals has long ago been exercised and the tribunals have long ago finished their work.
I come now to Clause 2. During and after the recent war there were a number of appeals from the tribunals to the High Court of England and to the Court of Session in Scotland, and, as a result, various judgments defining the law made it clear that many previous rejections of claims which had been confirmed by the tribunals could not be upheld. The Government, therefore, decided that men or women whose claims had been rejected before the law had been defined should have the same consideration as those whose claims came up after the new decisions had been made. So the Ministry proceeded to review these cases in order to bring them in line with the latest judgments of the courts. The Government decided that if, after review, the Minister confirmed a rejection of any one of those claims, there should be a right of appeal to a non-statutory special review tribunal. Any awards made under this procedure had to be non-statutory. They were made under the dispensing warrant, since the tribunal itself was non-statutory. It was a temporary administrative expedient designed to secure justice for a number of people who thought their cases might have been otherwise determined had the law been defined at the time their cases originally came up.
Under this special review procedure 15,000 cases of rejection of claims made before August, 1946, have been reviewed. In 3,000 of these cases the claim has been admitted without resort to the special review tribunal. Up to date, 4,200 have been considered by the tribunal. About 1,000 of those have been admitted, about 400 are in adjournment, and some others are awaiting consideration. In a number of these cases where on review the Minister has confirmed the previous rejection and where the special review tribunal has again confirmed the rejection, some of the applicants still feel that they wish to appeal to the courts, but because the tribunals are non-statutory and the awards made are therefore ex gratia, the Courts have ruled that they cannot hear the appeals. This Clause is introduced 1548 in order to give the right of appeal to the courts.
I hope I have clearly explained the policy behind the Bill, and I hope the House will approve of it. The Bill concerns legal matters and is drafted by reference to other Acts and warrants, and if there are any legal points which any hon. Member wishes to raise here and not in Committee, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate is present and will deal with them. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)
It is a pleasure to welcome from these benches this useful and necessary Measure. It is a personal pleasure in my case because during the last Parliament, in 1943, I happened to be one of the hon. Members who, working with my noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) pressed upon the Government of that time the necessity for setting up these pensions appeal tribunals. It was a rather long battle, but those of us who took part in it are very glad today to see that system about to be extended.
The Bill gives effect to two reforms for which the British Legion have asked for some time. The first of them was raised in Debate on 29th July of this year by my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), who has asked me to say how much he regrets that a constituency engagement prevents his attending today to give his blessing to the Bill. As the Minister has told us, the Bill gives rights of appeal to members of the Forces who become casualties through peace-time service similar to the war service which is catered for in the existing Act of 1943.
The Royal Air Force Association has asked me to raise one point with the Minister on a matter on which he touched in his speech. They feel that the right of appeal should cover cases of men invalided prior to 3rd September, 1939. We have been told that there was a tribunal for the 1914–1918 cases covering all those invalided before 31st August, 1921, which was the date on which, by Order in Council, that war officially terminated, but as the right hon. Gentleman has reminded us, from that date until 3rd September, 1939, there was no right 1549 of appeal to an independent tribunal against the decision of the Service Departments. Would the Minister, between now and Committee stage, have another look at this to see whether it is possible for the desirable improvement which he announces today to be made retrospective?
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves the references to those organisations, does he accept that for 40 years Service and ex-Service organisations have appealed for this reform? We do not want it to go on record that only the British Legion and the Royal Air Force Association are interested, because before 1914, the National Association of ex-Naval and ex-Military Men advocated this reform.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
I was hoping that the hon. and gallant Gentleman would be able to keep his spleen against the British Legion out of this all-party discussion.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
I hope that I am not out of Order or making a remark undesirable to my colleagues in any part of the House when I say that the British Legion have pressed for these two reforms and remind the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale advocated this when he spoke on 29th July. Perhaps when the hon. and gallant Member for East Hull (Commander Pursey) speaks later he will be able to enlarge on his point of view, although he will be too late on this occasion to encourage the public not to buy poppies in connection with Remembrance Day.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
As much as the hon. and gallant Member's interruption. If I may continue the remarks I was endeavouring to make in a calm spirit of co-operation until that jarring note was introduced——
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
—the position has subsequently become worse and the Minister has made a fresh award under his special sanction, giving for this purpose his dispensing warrant, as he reminded us. Up to the present there has been no appeal to an independent assessment tribunal, and this Bill now gives it.
While we are engaged in widening the functions of pensions tribunals, I should like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the manner in which they have worked. Those of us who advocated them in the last Parliament were often told that it was impossible to set up this machinery in such a way that it would work smoothly. I have had the opportunity on more than one occasion of appearing before these tribunals with appellants to assist them in putting their cases, and I should like to say how impressed I have been with the friendly atmosphere which prevailed on those occasions. The appellant really feels that he is in a sympathetic atmosphere, and, even when the advocatus diaboli of the Ministry was putting the case why a pension should not be granted, it was always done in a courteous manner. The fact that the onus of proof has now been shifted from the appellant to the Government has made all the difference in the world to the manner in which these cases are heard.
I said at the outset that this is a necessary and useful machinery Bill. I hope that all hon. Members on all Benches will speed its passage to the Statute Book, but I also hope that the Government will not weary of well-doing, but will go forward from this Measure to a general review of the whole basis of disability pensions, which is already overdue.
§ 11.21 a.m.
§ Commander Pursey (Hull, East)
We on this side of the House naturally welcome this Bill as a further reform for Service and ex-Service men, and I should not have interrupted the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) if he had not brought in his hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) in order to try out some British Legion propaganda. He mentioned two organisations, but to my knowledge, this subject is one which the ex-Service and Service men have been asking for during half a century.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me? I said that the Royal Air Force Association asked for certain cases falling between 1921 and 1939 to be brought within the scope of this Bill. How could that have been advocated for half a century?
§ Commander Pursey
I am talking about what has been advocated for half a century, not the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite. I said, and I repeat, that Service and ex-Service men, to my certain knowledge, have been advocating this reform for half a century. Previous to 1914, the main ex-Service organisation was the National Society of Ex-Naval and Military Men, which along with many other organisations, and by other means of advocacy through Members of Parliament in this House at that time, advocated this tribunal to deal with pensions cases. Admittedly, it was not until 1943, that, as stated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, the first tribunals were introduced, but it has been left to a Labour Government, irrespective of pressure from the British Legion, but as a result of listening to all ex-Service organisations and to Members of Parliament on this side of the House, to bring in this extension of the 1943 Measure. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman would do me the courtesy of listening to what I am saying, instead of starting a running commentary, I shall not be very long on my feet.
I have no intention of going into the details of the Bill, which were very ably explained by the Minister of Pensions, and for the further discussion of which there will be other opportunities on the succeeding stages of the Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman finished up with further British Legion advocacy for an inquiry into the whole basis of disability pensions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Thank you. Perhaps you will thank me for what I am going to say—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman say to whom he is addressing his remarks? He continues to use the word "you." Is he addressing Mr. Speaker?
§ Commander Pursey
I was addressing Mr. Speaker, in regard to the noble Lord and the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite. The noble Lord the Member 1552 for Horsham (Earl Winterton) is also concerned and mixed up in this running commentary. As he is going to reply for the Opposition, perhaps he will explain why he voted against a Select Committee to inquire into war pensions and allowances, with 307 of his supporters then on the Government side, when the Labour Party in this House had put down a Motion for such a Select Committee?
§ 11.26 a.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
I was going to observe, at the beginning of this Debate, that it was very pleasing to turn aside from the clang and clamour of party controversy during the week, for the second Friday in succession, to a very excellent Departmental Bill, and I should like to tell the Minister that we on this side of the House agree with everything that he said. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite appealed to me to answer a number of questions which he put. I hope he will not think I am being insincere about this, because I am quite sincere, but I think that the most kindly action we can take is to ignore his references to the British Legion. I think that what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said only served to emphasise his reputation for eccentricity on this subject, and I refuse to be drawn into the controversy about the British Legion, because I do not think that this is the place to discuss it. Indeed, I think it would be out of Order. I rise to make only one suggestion to the Minister which I hope he will consider sympathetically.
§ Commander Pursey
Will the noble Lord allow me? I have no intention of making a controversial speech. I came here with only one object, that of supporting the Minister, and the controversy about the British Legion has been introduced from the other side of the House. What I ask the noble Lord to answer is the specific question why he voted against the proposal for a Select Committee to go into the whole question of war pensions and allowances.
§ Earl Winterton
I do not propose to answer the hon. and gallant Gentleman's question. For one thing, it would be entirely out of Order to do so on this Bill. I know the point of view of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and how any mention of the British Legion has the same effect on him as waving a red flag a mile in front of a bull. He immedi- 1553 ately becomes excited and unable to exercise his normal intellectual ability, and at once plunges into the subject. In his reference to the British Legion, my hon. and gallant Friend on this side said nothing controversial. All he did was to make a single mention of the British Legion, and merely said that they had put forward certain points for consideration.
I know that it is extremely difficult, from the administrative point of view, to include within the scope of this Bill men who would have come under the Bill, if they had served between the 1914 and 1939 wars—that is to say, between 1922 and 1939. I know it is extremely difficult to put these men into the Bill, but I suggest that there may be some cases in which, on the face of it, there would appear to be hardship or in which it might be that some ex-Servicemen would seem to be in an unfair position.
I will give the reasons. It might be thought that between 1922 and 1939 there were no major engagements in which the British Army was concerned. Of course, that is not so. For example, there were the serious casualties imposed on the British Forces during the Irish Rebellion; there were, I know from my own previous official experience, instances where the British Army was engaged, in some cases, in very fierce fighting on the North-West Frontier of India; and there were, of course, the cases of the disturbances in Palestine. So far as the Government and the Opposition are concerned, this is a non-controversial Bill. At the same time, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give further consideration to the point. I understand that this point has been put forward by the British Legion and other ex-Service men's organisations. Apart from that, we on this side of the House welcome the Bill. It brings the law on the subject into proper conformity, and we hope it will result in full justice being done to ex-Service men.
§ 11.31 a.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Brown (Ince)
I am not very much concerned about the initiation of this Bill—whether it comes from the British Legion or the Royal Air Force Association. It is rather a pity that the placid waters of the Friday proceedings of this House should be disturbed by such a controversy. What I am concerned about is whether we are doing the right 1554 thing in the right way for the men and women who have felt the effects of war. I welcome this Bill and am only sorry that it is so long overdue, but that, of course, may be due to the fact that other business has occupied the time of the Ministry.
There are two questions which I wish to put to the Minister. First, what steps will his Department take to speed up the hearing of cases now on the long waiting list of the tribunals? Those lists are already overloaded, and in some of the cases which have been referred to the tribunals, the ex-Service men concerned have to wait long periods before they receive any information concerning them. I am not unmindful of the care that has to be exercised in discussing and deliberating upon cases referred to the tribunals, but I think it is within the realm of possibility to speed up their hearing in order that the ex-Service men and women can be informed at the earliest possible moment whether their application is going to be successful or not. Nothing creates more anxiety in the minds of these men and women than to have to wait long periods before hearing the result of their cases. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend what steps his Department is going to take to speed up the procedure. He has already told us that there is a tremendous number outstanding, and there will be considerably more when this Bill becomes law.
My next question is what steps will my hon. Friend's Department take to assist applicants under this Bill to secure the medical records essential for any deliberation on their cases? It is well within the knowledge of all hon. Members interested in this aspect of our national life that many such medical records have been destroyed. It will be difficult for an applicant to sustain or substantiate his claim unless some assistance is conceded to him by the Department in securing the medical record.
I welcome this Bill, not only because hon. Members opposite have welcomed it, or because it is welcomed by my hon. Friends on this side; I welcome it because it will assist those men and women who have the idea that they have been unfairly dealt with, not so much by this Government, as by preceding Governments, due to the fact that no provision 1555 has been made to enable them to fight for their pensions. Therefore, I hope that whoever replies to this Debate will give us an assurance that some steps will be taken concerning the two questions I have addressed to my hon. Friend.
§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I share the hope of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) that the Minister will be able to give us some assurance about expediting the work of the tribunals. I feel that much of the goodwill shown by his Department and the tribunals loses value simply from delay. There are a number of cases in my own constituency in which mere delay has resulted in considerable, though I hope only temporary, injustice. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that steps are being taken to expedite this work.
I rise to put another question to the Minister. As he has told us, relevant service in peacetime will be covered by the machinery of the Bill and brought within the ambit of the system of his Ministry. I should be very grateful if he would tell us whether, when relevant service comes to be defined in the Royal Warrant, it will cover all forms of service with the Territorial Army and with the corresponding organisations attached to the other Services. He will appreciate that nowadays, when we speak of the Territorial Army, we are concerned with three separate categories of men. We are concerned, first, with men of the Regular Forces seconded for duty with the Territorial Army; secondly, with the Volunteer Territorial; and thirdly, at any rate from 1950 onwards, we shall be concerned with the National Service man who, having done whatever period of service this House may decide with the Regular Forces, proceeds to do a period of, under the present law, 5½ years, or, under a Bill now before the House, four years, as a kind of conscript Territorial.
I cannot believe that it is intended to exclude the Territorial Army. If it is intended to include it, as I hope and believe it is, then I think that some considerable public purpose would be served if the Minister could give an assurance that it will be so covered. After all, there 1556 are risks, some of them quite serious, involved in Territorial service. The hon. Gentleman's colleagues are appealing at this very moment for volunteers for the Territorial Army, and I am sure it would be of some assistance in that appeal if men, particularly family men with responsibilities, could be assured that if a misfortune befalls them while doing their duty with the Territorial Army, they will be fully covered under the machinery of this Bill. I cannot believe that it is intended to exclude them, but it would be very valuable to have a statement on record from the Minister that it is intended to include them, and to have that statement made at the earliest possible moment, that is to say, this morning, so that nothing shall be allowed to appear which can handicap the appeal which the Service Departments, with the full cooperation of hon. Members in all parts of the House, are making for volunteers for the Territorial Army. I hope that an assurance on that point will be given by the Minister.
§ 11.39 a.m.
§ Mr. Swingler (Stafford)
Apart from those hon. Members who may have come here this morning to argue the particular merits or demerits of certain organisations, I think that a number have come to argue simply one point—the exclusion from this Bill of Service pensioners for the period 1921–39. I wholeheartedly welcome this Bill, which is another sign of the intelligent and humane consideration given to this matter by the Ministry of Pensions under this Government. At the same time, I feel that this reform could have gone a bit further, and does need to go a bit further in order to be complete.
As I understand it, this Bill is the result of the decision that future peacetime pensions should come under the Ministry of Pensions, and that the Ministry should be transformed from being a Ministry of War Pensions into a real Ministry of Service Pensions. That will give to those who are casualties of peacetime service the right of appeal. In the first place, from the point of view of principle, it seems to me entirely wrong not to make the matter of form complete by putting on an equal basis, those who are pensioners of the period from the time when the powers were retransferred to the Service Departments three or four years after the first World War. The 1557 Minister seemed to argue that this had something to do with compulsory service, and that the reason why this decision had been taken to continue peace-time service pensions under his Ministry and give a right of appeal, had something to do with the fact that we decided to continue the system of compulsory service in peacetime. That seems to me to be a wrong argument and one of no substance.
We are dealing with pensions for people who have been disabled as a result of military service. It is the fact of military service in the Defence Forces of the country that is the foundation of the claim for a pension. It does not seem to me to matter whether this is a compulsory service, whether they were in a conscript Force or in the Regular Army. It seems to me that the Service pensioner of the period 1921–39 ought to be on exactly the same basis as the Service pensioner from the war period or from the new national Army of the future. There are some 750 officers and about 11,000 other rank pensioners of this period 1921–39.
§ Mr. Swingler
I accept the noble Lord's correction. I believe those figures of 750 officers and 11,000 other ranks are correct. They are now the sole section of the Services pensioners who are left, many of them harbouring a very considerable grievance against their treatment, as I know well enough, and having had no opportunity of a right of appeal and not getting the right of appeal under this Bill. I plead very strongly with the Minister of Pensions to press on the Government the claim that his Department should take over all Service disability pensioners from the Service Departments and put all these pensioners, whether they are from the Regular Forces or conscript Forces, whether they are war-time or peace-time pensioners, on the same basis and with the same rights in the future.
§ 11.43 a.m.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I intervene to ask the Minister whether he has in mind the serious position of certain Indian Army pensioners, men who have spent the whole of their lives with the Indian Army. I fully realise that the Government have no control at all over what happens from the point of view of being able to take any executive 1558 action, but there are cases, one of which is now in the post to the Minister, of ex-Indian Army officers and other ranks who are suffering from certain anomalies and hardships and who, as a result, are suffering also from a sense of grievance. Therefore, I should like to know whether there is any way in which the Minister can bring pressure to bear on the Indian Government if cases of this nature are presented to him.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
I wish to put to my hon. Friend one or two points for clarification on this very significant Bill. When the attention of the country is being focussed more and more upon the possibility of extending the period of National Service and on the desirability of getting more and more recruits for the Regular Forces, it is important that they should have full confidence in the Government and in the Ministry of Pensions so that, if they should suffer from some disability as a result of that service, they will receive generous and humane treatment. It seems to me that this step which is being taken this morning is a step in the right direction.
There are however one or two points of doubt in my mind about this Bill. First, the Minister mentioned the very good work which had been done by the non-statutory special review tribunal. I do not know whether that body has come to an end or whether it is capable of hearing more cases at the moment. It is a fact that on appeal to the High Court various decisions of the Minister may be altered from time to time, and it seems to me that where those decisions are altered in the future, the people concerned should have a right similar to that given to those who were affected before 1946.
There is one group of cases which I have in mind. It concerns one of my constituents very much. He is a man suffering from diabetes, and at present he is in a sanatorium and receiving no pension whatever. A similar case is due to go before the High Court very soon, and should a decision be given in the High Court in favour of the man, the Minister must have some kind of discretionary power to enable him either to have an ex gratia payment or a right of appeal again to the tribunal. I should like some clarification of the position of the non-statutory special review tribunal.
1559 My second point—and here I want to emphasise the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown)—is that the delays that have been occurring up to the present in some cases have caused considerable alarm and distress to many pensioners. Although the matter has been put right in the end, nevertheless the anxiety of the period of waiting has had a serious effect on the recovery of many of these pensioners. Could my hon. Friend tell the House exactly how well these tribunals are functioning at the moment? How many are there in existence? I do not know whether one goes touring round the country on a circuit, or whether there are different tribunals in each region. If the Minister could expand them considerably to get rid of this backlog of cases before they have to deal with persons affected under this Bill, it would have a good effect in the country.
My final point is that my hon. Friend should consider the pre-1939 cases again. There are only a few of them, and it is an anomaly that some of them should be dealt with by Service Departments with no right of appeal, whereas we are making all these special provisions for the future pensioners. If my hon. Friend can include them in this Measure I am sure it will strengthen his hand in dealing with the question of Service pensions. I do hope my hon. Friend will be able to come to an agreement on that point.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ Mr. Berry (Woolwich, West)
While I am not one of those cold-blooded persons who spend their lives delving into musty documents, I must say that I regard this Bill as a stage in evolution. I do not feel that we have reached the final stage. As a humane sort of person, and not wishing to join in any controversy, but as one who is interested in all ex-Service men's associations, I feel that this touches a very human matter indeed. We all remember the words of Kipling:It's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?'But it's 'Thin red line of 'eroes' when the drum begins to roll.We have been grateful to those who have preserved our liberties when the wars have been on. In days gone by there has been all too often a tendency to forget the men once the guns have finished rolling. I can remember seeing in the 1560 streets of my own town very aged men, veterans of the Crimean and Afghan wars, begging in the streets.
Such a state of affairs was a disgrace to any nation, but we have slowly evolved—I almost said "all too slowly"—until we have reached the present position. I am sure the Minister would be the last person in the world to say that the present position represents perfection. There are cynics who say that we never shall attain perfection in this world. I believe that the best thing is to strive after it, and then we get nearer to perfection than we should have done if we had not striven.
I support those who have urged better treatment for the men of the 1922–39 period. Those men who have been beset by troubles which were described by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), and other troubles as well, fought for their country and suffered just as badly as, and sometimes worse than those in the two categories which we know as the World Wars. I reinforce the plea that they should be treated generously, or at least justly, and that they should be on the same footing as the others. I feel that, while we have to deal according to the law with the men and women who have been injured in our wars, or through military service or other operations, nevertheless they should be treated with human feeling as well. The time was when some Departments handling these matters seemed to be aspiring, in the days before M. Molotov, to the "No" championship of the world. That is the way I would describe it today, and that is of course, now, an impossible task for anybody.
One of the reasons why I spoke this morning was to welcome this evolution which I hope will continue until, so far as is humanly possible, we reach a satisfactory state of mind, in which we can feel that all ex-Service men and women who have suffered in the service of their country are receiving satisfactory treatment.
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
I want to add to the appeal which has been made to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this matter in so far as the injuries and difficulties of the 1922–39 ex-Service men are concerned. It is an 1561 ill wind that blows nobody any good. While I myself regret the necessity for compulsory service, regarding it as a misfortune, albeit possibly an unavoidable one at the present time, the Minister, this morning, has indicated that it is to a large extent on account of the introduction of compulsory service that he considers it desirable to introduce this very good Measure.
It is certainly not to be anticipated that all service in the Forces will be compulsory in the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has already drawn attention to the position of the Territorials. In addition, of course, there is the position of the Regular soldier. He will continue to be a voluntary soldier. If that is so, as we shall have not only compulsory soldiers but also these volunteers, and as the compulsory soldiers are certainly and rightly to be covered by the present Bill in the future, surely that removes the argument which the right hon. Gentleman advanced earlier as a reason why these pensions tribunals have not been applicable to the 1922–39 men. He indicated that the reason was that they were recruited as voluntary soldiers. Now that this Bill in the future will be applicable both to compulsory and voluntary men in the Forces, it seems to me that it should also apply to those who were volunteers in the 1922–39 period. I hope that on the grounds of that argument alone the Minister will be able to reconsider this decision.
§ 11.55 a.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
Since the scope of pensions is being enlarged by this Bill, could not the Government consider enlarging it a little further so as to include not merely members of the Forces who are injured, but people who have been injured by members of the Forces. In warlike operations and operations of preparation, danger is created to members of the community. If they are injured, then they are injured in the process of defending this country just as much as men who are wearing uniform. For instance, explosive material from the dumps which have been put all over the country, including most dangerous fuses, have, through no fault of anybody, got into circulation. Owing to an explosion at one school a child in 1562 my own constituency has recently lost an eye. There seems to be nothing at all one can do about it, yet that injury seems to have been incurred in the process of defending this country. I feel the Government should consider that sort of case and see what remedy they can offer.
I should like to pay a tribute to the Appeal Tribunal and, in particular, to the work of Mr. Justice Denning. The decisions which have come from that Tribunal have had this effect. Whenever you get departmental tribunals, gradually their discretion becomes more and more restricted by departmental precedent, departmental rulings, and departmental interpretations which whittle down what Parliament has intended. Time and time again Mr. Justice Denning's decisions have brought the ruling back to what Parliament really intended—that the onus of proof should be fairly on the Government. I think that precedent of a High Court judge over and above departmental tribunals is one the worth of which has been proved.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)
I want to reinforce the plea made from all sides of the House this morning that the same consideration should be given to the 1922–39 cases as to the other cases. I have from my own experience knowledge of one or two sad cases where good men, with public spirit, volunteered to work overseas, sometimes on very dangerous work. For example, one friend whom I have in mind was sent out to Palestine, in a very troublesome time. During his service he contracted a serious malady which has incapacitated him and. since he is the father of a considerable family and is in receipt of no pension, it seems particularly hard that we should not do everything we possibly can to give him the maximum consideration.
Surely the aim of our pensions policy is to give equity all round. If it is felt that a special section of men, not being the special responsibility of a Department, are in some way not getting the same generous considerations as that which my hon. Friend's Department would now seek to give. This leaves a rankling sense of grievance and, indeed, it is a case of injustice. I hope the time will come when we can have all these difficulties in relation to the Services and their disabilities, whether associated with 1563 peace-time or war-time service, concentrated in the hands of a responsible Minister and a responsible Department so that we shall achieve a universal, or at least a general, similarity of treatment.
I am afraid that the opinion is abroad that the War Office, who are responsible for this section of men who sustained disability during their service between 1922 and 1939, are not giving the same consideration to these men as that which my right hon. Friend's Department is now giving. That is a very difficult position to face when one is confronted with it in the circumstances I have mentioned. It may be, as the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) suggested, that there are technical and administrative difficulties which perhaps make it impracticable to include those men in this Measure, but, having had such generous support from all sections of the House, I hope the Minister and the Government will understand that this is not a party matter but a matter of doing justice all round for men who so willingly and so finely served their country.
§ 12 noon
§ Mr. Marquand
With the leave of the House, I should like to say something about the various points which have been put forward. Let me deal first with one or two—I will not say minor—matters that can be dealt with quickly. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) asked whether we were proposing to cover service with the Territorial Army in the provisions we are making in the new Royal Warrant. We are not yet ready to introduce a Royal Warrant. Much work has already been done, and certainly it is our intention to cover the kind of service he has in mind. Precisely how it will be done I am not yet, of course, able to say. The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) asked about cases arising in India. That is rather far from the——
§ Mr. Marquand
I am sorry—men now living in this country who served in the Indian Army. I can only say that I shall be glad to look at any examples the hon. and gallant Gentleman can bring to 1564 me. Without having seen those examples I should hesitate to make promises in advance, but if I am able to do anything I shall be glad to do it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) asked what steps could be taken to secure medical records. This is legislation for the future. What we are doing here is to extend to the future a right which has existed and does exist at the moment. Certainly, I think we ought to take care in the future, in the peacetime Army which will be recruited under the National Service Act, to ensure that those records are carefully kept, and I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friends responsible for the Services to what my hon. Friend said. As for finding records in the past, of course we do our best at the present time. It is perfectly true that we sometimes encounter difficulty in obtaining those records.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) asked whether there would be further references in future to the Special Review Tribunal if any new, far-reaching and very significant decisions handed down by the courts appeared to affect cases already decided. I can only say that we have proved up to now our desire to do justice to cases of that type. We have set up the Special Review Tribunal for that purpose, and we certainly would not change our attitude if some new and very significant further decision were made by the court.
Then my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees quoted an example of a case of which he knew which had been waiting for decision until another case could be decided by the High Court. That is, I submit, a typical example of the sort of instance in which delay in hearing by the appeal tribunals does take place. Many of the cases where applicants have complained of delay are cases which have been held in the expectation of a decision on a stated case which would affect the other cases now being held back. That is one example of an instance in which delay does take place.
We all, of course, regret any delay in the procedure. But I must make it clear that if it is required—and it is quite evident from the Debate today that the House does require—that the tribunals shall be constituted independently of the 1565 Minister of Pensions, and that they shall consider cases by all the methods that the courts normally adopt to collect and consider evidence—if a procedure is required of that kind, it cannot be a very stream-lined procedure. If we have the sort of system which exists for the cases of the men who did their service between 1921 and 1939, where the final appeal lies only to the Minister concerned, then, indeed, we can have a fairly rapid decision. If, however, we have this procedure of tribunals, and appeal, if possible, from the tribunals to the court, then there must be, I think, inevitably some slowness of action which applicants may find irritating.
Much of the delay arises from the necessary rules laid down by the tribunals for the collection of evidence, for the submission of evidence back to the applicant, so that he may have the opportunity to consider the evidence put forward by the Ministry and state his opinion of it, and all that kind of thing. Some of the delay is, I think, a necessary part of the rather elaborate procedure which we have devised to safeguard the rights of the applicants.
§ Mr. Davies
Would the Minister answer this question? Before a tribunal hears a case, has it in every instance the medical report before it? Instances have been brought to notice of tribunals hearing a case and then deferring a decision for the collection of medical evidence, and that seems a waste of time.
§ Mr. Marquand
The most careful effort is made to provide the tribunal with all the evidence in the possession of the Ministry. Before that evidence is presented to the tribunal it is sent to the applicant for his comments upon it. Then the case goes before the tribunal, and it does happen from time to time that, suddenly, entirely fresh evidence is produced; and the tribunal, naturally, being a legally constituted body, says, "This is entirely fresh evidence, of which we had no knowledge and on vhich the Ministry has had no opportunity to comment, and, therefore, we must adjourn the case." That sort of thing does happen.
I am not attempting to excuse any delay which is avoidable, but I am anxious to explain to applicants that a 1566 great deal of delay arises out of the very careful provisions which are made to ensure that no shred of evidence in favour of the applicants is ever neglected by any chance. The Ministry itself, when an applicant puts in an appeal, reviews the whole of his appeal and considers the whole case de novo in a different section of the Ministry from the one which originally rejected the case, in order that it may, if possible, itself give a decision in favour of the applicant before sending the case on to the tribunal.
It would be possible to speed up the work by giving very arbitrary and more rapid rejections so far as the Ministry is concerned, but that would be a most undesirable thing to do. Nobody would like that. I do want applicants to realise that much of the delay—which, I can well understand, seems irritating, and which in many cases may cause some financial difficulty and hardship—is unavoidable if the proceedings are to be fair, and to be conducted in an orderly and sensible way.
The average time taken from the lodging of an appeal to its dispatch to the tribunal office is between four and five months. Every effort is being made to reduce that period; that is, the part of the delay—to use the word without prejudice—for which the Ministry is responsible. Delay which may follow later is not my responsibility in any way, since the tribunals are constituted by the Lord Chancellor and are operated independently of the Ministry. We are trying to reduce the delay. Part of it is due, not only to the difficulty of collecting evidence, but to the large number of cases which arose at the conclusion of the war.
I am glad to say that the number of cases outstanding is now very much less. Consequently, for that reason alone, delays must in future diminish. In March, 1948, there were 3,250 adjourned cases awaiting consideration. Today, there are only 1,950. So the backlog of adjourned cases is being dispersed fairly rapidly, and, therefore, I think I can hold out hope that there will be a quicker decision in future on these cases than there has been in the past. I could make a very long speech on this subject, but, perhaps, the House will be satisfied with my assurance that every possible step to expedite procedure will be taken.
§ Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House how many tribunals are at present functioning?
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said, that the speeding-up procedure within the tribunals may militate against the applicant himself. In order to overcome that, would it not be possible to institute more tribunals?
§ Mr. Marquand
There are eight tribunals in England and one in Scotland. I doubt very much, now that the number of cases is considerably smaller than it was, whether it would be to much advantage to set up new tribunals. I will, however, look into that matter. The preparation of this Bill until its presentation to the House has given me an opportunity of reviewing the whole procedure. I have had a good many other things to do in the last four months, as hon. Members are aware, but the preparation of this Bill has given me an opportunity of looking at the whole matter, and so far as I can improve the position, I shall certainly do so.
I must go on, in order not to delay the House, to deal with the arguments that have been put forward by many hon. Members about the exclusion from the Bill of various types of case. Not only was it suggested that I ought to bring under my supervision, in some way or another, the cases and claims arising between 1921 and 1939, but that I should also take over some responsibility for civil claims against members of the Forces. That would need a much longer Bill and a very different Bill from this one. It would require Amendments of other statutes, a change in the Title of the Bill, and so on. I do not think that anything as wide as that could be done at the present time. After all, these men were serving between 1921 and 1939 and no one set up special appeal tribunals for them during that time. Without wishing to be controversial, I think that is a fair point to make. If, having had experience of the appeal tribunals for the men of the 1914–18 war, the Governments of those days thought it unnecessary to set up appeal tribunals, it is a little difficult to understand why it should be necessary to do so now, when such a long time 1568 has elapsed since the services then rendered.
§ Earl Winterton
The argument, which I put in the most mild way and without controversy, is that we did not in those days make the differentiation which is being made in this Bill. That is not a party argument. The Government are now differentiating between those men and the men who are serving in the Army today. That is the whole point which has been put from both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Marquand
There is the difference, which I pointed out, that considerable numbers of the men who are in future to serve in the Army in peacetime will be there under compulsion and not as volunteers. That is, I think, a significant change in the situation. The main reason for not now seeking to include these cases is that the claims arising were dealt with under an entirely different code of entitlement—a separate code altogether from those operated by the Ministry of Pensions. To bring those cases under the Ministry of Pensions would presumably mean a separate set of tribunals, or an attempt to apply to them a code which was not applied to them in the first place; and that would be administratively impossible. To go back and collect evidence on claims arising at the minimum nine years ago and, in many cases, far beyond that time is an administrative task which I should not wish to undertake.
It has been suggested by the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Mr. Berry) that better treatment ought to have been given to the men who served in peace time. I am not responsible for what has been done or is being done in regard to cases arising under the authority of the Secretary of State for War, the Secretary of State for Air and the First Lord of the Admiralty. If bad treatment is alleged—and, of course, I do not admit that for a moment—then representation should be made to those Ministers who have it within their power, without the necessity of tribunals or courts, to make decisions. It would not be possible under the Bill as now drawn to include those cases. On the whole, the administrative problems involved are so formidable, and the amount of work now falling on my Department for one reason and another is so great, that I am not at all anxious to take it on.
1569 I think that I have covered the main points which were raised during the discussion this morning. I am happy that the discussion in general indicated such warm approval of the Bill. I would only say, in conclusion, to the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness (Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite) who expressed the hope that in the Ministry of Pensions we would not weary of doing good, that there has been no sign whatsoever during the past three-and-a-half years of any weariness of doing good, and we shall continue along the road on which we set out.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Simmons.]