§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Grimston (Westbury)
I beg to move, in page 4, line 24, to leave out "have power exercisable."
Perhaps it would be convenient to consider at the same time the Amendment in line 26, to leave out "to." These two Amendments raise a question about pensions. This Clause provides for the guaranteeing of pensions to employees of Cables and Wireless Limited who will be taken over by the Post Office. As the Clause is drafted, the power to preserve their pension rights is merely permissive. The purpose of the two Amendments is to make that provision mandatory on the Postmaster-General. I need not labour the point, because I think the Committee will agree that where people are compulsorily transferred from a corporation, or whatever it is, to the employment of the State, their pension rights acquired in their previous employment should be guaranteed by the State. It is the business of Parliament to make that mandatory and not merely permissive. The acceptance of these Amendments would make Clause 6 (1) read:
The Postmaster-General shall by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament, make, with the consent of the Treasury, such regulations with respect to the payment of pensions to or in respect of ….That makes it completely mandatory on the Postmaster-General to secure the pension rights as they exist to persons who are transferred. I think it is agreeable to all sides of the Committee that Parliament ought to insist upon that.
§ The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Hobson)
My right hon. Friend is prepared to accept these Amendments. There is not the slightest doubt that regulations with regard to pensions will have to be made. Therefore, there is 522 not the slightest objection to making the Clause mandatory.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)
The only question I should like to raise is why, if this is the view of the Government, the words originally did not convey the meaning which, as amended, they will convey. Why should the Post Office give the impression that they wish to have some loophole in order to avoid obligations to people who are transferred to their service? There is a good deal of uncertainty about Government service. This kind of wording in Bills raises doubts in the minds of men who will be transferred to the Government service, and does nothing to allay their fears. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary, if they have occasion in future to do this again, will see that they place the obligation fairly and squarely on their own shoulders, and do not leave it to the Opposition to ensure that the rights of the men are properly safeguarded.
§ Mr. Hobson
I do not want to prolong the discussion, in view of the fact that we have accepted the Amendment, but I would like to say that the Clause as drafted followed the lines of previous socialisation Bills, and that was the reason why it was drafted in its original form. As soon as we were aware of that matter, on examination of the pensions schemes of the various companies which had been integrated, we had not the slightest hesitation in making it mandatory on the Postmaster-General to make regulations.
§ Mr. Grimston
I quite see the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd). For the appearance of the thing, it would have been better if it had been made mandatory at the start, but I do not wish to look a gift horse in the mouth and I am very glad that the Postmaster-General has so readily agreed to accept the point of view which we put forward.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendment made: In page 4, line 26, leave out "to."—[Mr. Grimston.]
§ Mr. Grimston
I beg to move, in page 4, line 33, to, leave out "to him."
The grounds upon which this Amendment is moved are, that it should not be in the power of the Postmaster-General 523 merely to say what in his opinion is requisite or what is not, in order to meet the pension liability. We think that his power should be to frame the regulations to secure that persons having pension rights should not be placed in a worse position by way of any amendment, repeal or revocation of existing pension schemes, which is referred to in line 35 on page 6. The regulations are to secure that persons having pension rights under the scheme are not placed in a worse position by reason of any repeal, amendment, revocation, extinguishment or winding-up. I hope I make myself clear.
If these words are left in, the matter rests entirely on the opinion of the Postmaster-General whether the conditions are worsened, and if a person takes his case to appeal, it appears to us that it would be a sufficient defence for the Postmaster-General to say that it appears to him that the conditions are all right and that therefore they are all right. That is our construction of the wording of the Clause if these words are left in.
In our opinion, if a person is aggrieved and considers that the conditions have not been fulfilled in his case and that his position has worsened, he should be able to go to the tribunal, which should be able to adjudicate on his case and say whether the conditions have been fulfilled or not. It should not be possible for the Postmaster-General to say that the Statute lays it down that it is his opinion that matters. I hope he will agree that, in justice to the persons concerned, the matter should not rest upon the opinion of the Postmaster-General, as would appear to be the case if these words are left in. It may be that these words do not convey the meaning which I have attributed to them, but it is up to the Postmaster-General to satisfy us that that is so.
I hope to carry the whole Committee with me in support of this Amendment to ensure that where a person who has rights under this scheme, takes the case to an appeal tribunal if he considers that the conditions have not been fulfilled, it should not be a sufficient defence for the Postmaster-General to say that it is merely his opinion that matters. He should not be able to say that in his opinion the condition were all right and for that to end the matter. I hope I have 524 made the point clear and that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to meet it.
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. Wilfred Paling)
I cannot accept this Amendment. I do not think the fears expressed by the hon. Gentleman in his argument are really justified. The main argument in this matter is that the regulations will have to be defended in this House by the Postmaster-General, who will be entirely responsible for them, so that the words "to him" read all right and it is very necessary that they should be included. If the regulations when made are objected to, there will, of course, be the power of annulment if hon. Members opposite, or hon. Members in the House generally, object to them, and that will be their opportunity of dealing with any of the regulations to which they may object. We think these words are absolutely necessary, in view of the fact that the Postmaster-General is the person responsible for defending these regulations when made.
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Grimston
The Postmaster-General has not really met the point. It is quite true that the regulations are subject to annulment when they are produced, but I have been talking of the case of an individual who is aggrieved by an award to him and who, under the regulations, can go to an appeal tribunal. May I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the words on page 6, from which it appears that it is possible for the regulations themselves to contain rights of variation of pensions. It is laid down that, if they are varied, a person having pension rights shall not be placed in a worse position. A person may consider that he has been placed in a worse position and may go to the appeal tribunal. The Postmaster-General, however, goes along and says, "In my opinion, he is not in a worse position," and, if these words are left in the Clause, the tribunal will have to accept that, because Parliament will have left the matter to be decided entirely on the opinion of the Postmaster-General.
We do not think that is right, and the explanation which the Postmaster-General has given—that the regulations can be annulled—does not meet the point. We may get down to individual cases in matters of this sort, and we are here seeking to protect the rights of the individual. I cannot see that the Postmaster- 525 General will be any worse off if these words are removed. He can make the same regulations, and the only difference will be that, if a person is aggrieved and goes to appeal, the Postmaster-General will have to satisfy the appeal tribunal that that person is not worse off, and will not be able to decide the matter merely by being satisfied himself. That seems to me to be an essential protection for the individual. I would like a little further explanation of the point, because the argument of the Postmaster-General that the regulations are subject to annulment does not meet the point which I have raised. I hope the Committee will see the force of the case I am making—that it should not be tenable in law that the opinion of the Postmaster-General goes, whatever happens. That appears to be the position at the moment.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Grimston
I beg to move, in page 7, line 11, at the end, to insert:In all cases where it is decided that the said result has not been secured by any regulations made under this section, the referee or board of referees making such decision shall fit. Any such payment made by the Post-General shall make such payment towards the costs incurred by the parties to the dispute as the referee or board of referees shall think fit. Any such peyment made by the Postmaster-General shall be treated as a payment which may be deducted from the gross revenue of the Post Office before that revenue is paid into the Exchequer.The intention of this Amendment is fairly obvious from its wording. Persons may wish to go to the board of referees, which will entail expense, and it may happen in many cases that they will be successful in their appeals. The object of the Amendment is to see that where people go successfully to the board of referees—in other words, when the Postmaster-General has been wrong—that the board should have power to enable them to recover what it has cost them to get justice done. Here, again, I hope I shall carry the Committee with me. It is really only common justice that if a person is put to expense in order to put right an error of the Postmaster-General, it should be possible for that expense to be refunded to him. It will be seen that it will rest with the board of referees whether or not they award these costs, so that the Postmaster-General will not be put to expense through frivolous complaints. But it 526 seems only right and fair that where a genuine complaint is made, and the complainant is successful, he should be able to recover the costs incurred. Therefore, I hope that the Postmaster-General will accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. Wilfred Paling
I am sorry that I cannot accept this Amendment. The acceptance of such an Amendment would be contrary to all the precedents in previous nationalisation Bills. It is intended that the courts which deal with these questions shall be courts that are not, for want of a better expression, legal courts, and that they shall deal with simple issues on their merits and not from a legal point of view. They will keep down the issue as far as possible to the question of deciding the facts. This kind of court has worked very well for many years.
I do not know whether it is an exact parallel but I have some knowledge of the working of the Ministry of Labour courts under the unemployment scheme. It is quite true that in those courts the man making the claim is represented by a trade union official, and I imagine that in this case much the same procedure will be adopted. We used to put the facts of the case as plainly and simply as we could, and, generally speaking, no legal argument was entered into. We tried to keep the matter on that basis, and, indeed, it was essential that it should be kept on that basis. Because of that, there was no power to pay expenses other than those of the appellant himself or, may be, in some cases, the witnesses. There was power, I think, to pay expenses for loss of time. There has been a long experience in this matter, and these courts have worked extremely well. That being so, I cannot see any necessity at the moment to alter the procedure in the way proposed. Indeed, I think it would only worsen the position.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford)
The right hon. Gentleman has constantly used the word "court"; we are dealing with the board of referees, which is not a court.
§ Mr. Paling
I was wrong in using the word "court." It was not a court in the sense I mentioned; it was a kind of board of referees to which the men could appeal. For the reasons I have given, I am sorry that I cannot accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not seen fit to accept the Amendment so reasonably moved by my hon. Friend. It is true, as the Postmaster-General has said, that in similar circumstances elsewhere it may have been the case that these costs were not allowed, but I think the Committee will realise that in these days more and more people are being pushed about at the behest of the State. That is particularly true of the men affected by this Bill at the present time. If men are to be pushed about by the State, and their lives more and more interfered with, thus creating great uncertainty, it is surely the duty of Parliament to see that they are given all the safeguards and the greatest possible sense of security in such difficult circumstances.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Post Office representative will appear before this board of referees. I have no doubt that he will be a man of legal training, that the Post Office will instruct a lawyer of some standing or one of its own tame solicitors or barristers to represent it at the board of referees before whom the applicant has either to state his own case or incur expense. Where a man is uprooted from his work by the State, it is only fit and proper that the State should provide him with the means of being represented at least on a parallel with the representation of the-mighty organisation of the Post Office. There is no doubt that when men go before such a board of referees and are opposing a gigantic organisation like the Post Office, they feel at a considerable disadvantage, and if they cannot afford the kind of counsel sent there by the Post Office they will obviously feel aggrieved.
In those circumstances, where the procedure of pushing him around like a shuttlecock is so disastrous to a man's sense of security and wellbeing, I should have thought it would be the preoccupation of the Postmaster-General to see that everything possible was done to assure him that he was not going to be victimised or unjustly treated in any way, and that the simple method of allowing costs would be one of the obvious things to which the right hon. Gentleman would have agreed.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
The Postmaster-General in his reply made 528 reference to the smooth working of the courts of referees under the Unemployment Insurance Act. Will he say what is the difference in operation between the board of referees and the courts of referees under that Act?
§ Mr. Wilfred Paling
I do not know what the particular difference is; I merely mentioned the court of referees as a parallel to show that we are trying to set up a simple kind of board similar to the tribunals which have operated hitherto in other cases, and still operate.
With regard to what was said by the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd), I do not agree that we have tried to push people about. I should have thought that these people—I am speaking about ordinary working men—who may have to go before the board of referees, would rather do so than go before a court with legal powers. I do not agree that a man would think he was being pushed about. As I have said, this kind of court has been operating for a long time, and, in the main, has done very good work. That being so, I do not think that we should change the procedure at this time.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am not objecting to the board of referees; in fact, I think that the right hon. Gentleman's idea of having as simple a tribunal as possible is the right one. All I am saying is that these men ought to have, and ought to feel they have, an equal chance against the Post Office.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)
This is a matter which affects the wellbeing of men who may be put out of employment, and it is vital that they should have every protection, whatever the form of tribunal dealing with the problem. We need to be assured—and I am sure the Minister would desire this—that when a man appears before the tribunal on a question of superannuation or pension rights, he will have the best protection and advice available to him. We should hope that, in the majority of cases, he would be a member of a trade union or a corporate body whose skilled advocacy would be available to him, as is the case at present in most of the industries of this country.
It certainly is a point of some substance that where a man's rights are not 529 properly elucidated, and he feels that an injustice has been done and has to brief some kind of counsel, he should have every possible assistance. Quite rightly he does not wish to feel that he has lost his case because he has been in opposition to a great State machine—a soulless body, as some people imagine it to be. One might put this to the Opposition, however. Supposing a man takes to the tribunal what might be considered to be a frivolous or weak case, and some costs are involved in making clear the sound sense of the Post Office, should the man who has brought that weak or frivolous case be mulcted in costs?
§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Mr. Grimston
I made a reference to the frivolous case when I was moving the Amendment. The Amendment states that:the referee or board of referees making such decision shall have power to direct that the Postmaster General shall make such payment towards the costs incurred by the parties to the dispute as the referee or board of referees shall think fit ….The power is in the hands of the board of referees, and it is purposely put there. Obviously in a case in which the complaint was merely frivolous the board of referees would not make such an award. That is the protection in the sort of case which the hon. Member has rightly raised. We do not wish to encourage frivolous cases.
§ Mr. Edward Davies
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point; certainly the board has power to instruct or direct the Postmaster-General to make such payment under the terms of the Amendment. My point was whether the Post Office should be put to a great deal of trouble over weak or frivolous cases and whether in fact rather than that the Post Office should have to pay out, they should be in a position to recoup themselves in such cases. No provision for that is made in this Amendment.
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
If I understand the hon. Member, he is making the point that if a weak or frivolous case is brought the Post Office should have power to recover costs from the man.
§ Mr. Foster
I do not understand the hon. Member. He has made the point that the Amendment does not provide for that, and if he is making the point but has not quite got the courage to come down on the side—
§ Mr. Edward Davies
If it is a matter of courage, I would say that in such circumstances we should not encourage the tribunal being asked to rule on frivolous or obviously clear cases. I am only pointing out that at the moment there is that danger; certainly it is a two-way traffic.
§ Mr. Foster
Does not the hon. Member appreciate that under the Bill as at present drafted there is no discouragement of frivolous cases which can put the Post Office to expense? If the hon. Member's point is a good one, it is in effect an Amendment to the Amendment under discussion, namely that in addition to what the Amendment proposes a man who brings a case which the board certifies as frivolous should be made to pay costs. There may be something in that point, but only if the Government favourably consider our Amendment; they might then improve upon it. I think that the hon. Member has made a point which is worthy of consideration by the Committee, but it does not arise as the Bill stands at present.
The hon. Member should really make up his mind whether it is right that the man who feels that he is aggrieved and brings a dispute before the board and succeeds in convincing the board that he is rightly aggrieved—that the regulations have not provided for equal pension rights—and wins his case, should then be made to pay his own costs. I think it is unfair. The Postmaster-General should consider whether he ought to make some provision for the man who. in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd), has been pushed about—he was not suggesting that the Postmaster-General was pushing everyone about—and who has convinced the board that he had been pushed about. That is the point. It seems to me that a man in such circumstances should be entitled to recover his reasonable costs.
It may be argued that the whole system of having lawyers is wrong, and 531 perhaps there is something to be said for that, in which case we have to go back to justice under a palm tree, with a cadi sitting there. When we have complicated regulations and the whole intricate machinery of modern life, however, it is unfortunately necessary to have lawyers. They are supposed to be cynical. I remember one lawyer saying, "When I was young, owing to inexperience, I lost a lot of cases which I should have won. When I was older I won a lot of cases which I should have lost, so on the whole justice has been done." That may not be quite the right attitude.
There do arise circumstances in which a man must have legal advice when a case is complicated. In many of the cases which will come before the board it will not be needed, but if a man has produced his legal adviser and won his case I think it is unjust for the Postmaster-General to say, "I made a bad regulation, the board has said so, and I have to pay a pension, but the legal costs are the man's responsibility." That is unfair to the man. It is very curious that the Government, in so many cases, do not have the interests of the men at heart. Having got into Parliament and into office, they seem to have forgotten what is in the interests of the men. We make many appeals from this side of the House, pointing out where the interests of the men are at stake, but hon. Members are quite unmoved. It is a remarkable thing.
§ Mr. T. Brown
In all quarters of the Committee we are anxious to see that adequate protection is afforded to the man who unfortunately has to submit his case to the board of referees. There is a vast difference between a board of referees and court of referees. When the workman, under the 1920 Act, had a dispute, and had to appear before the court of referees, he could be represented by his trade union leader or by any friend, but not by a legal representative. I am not quite so sure that the unfortunate person who has to submit his case for pension rights to the board of referees will be adequately protected. I wish to ask the Postmaster-General whether that unfortunate person will be covered by Clause 8 (1, b) in relation to expenses. That paragraph says that 532 there may be paid by the Minister of Labour and National Service:to persons giving evidence before any such referee or board, such allowances as he may, with the consent of the Treasury, determine.Will that payment be to persons who give evidence? Will the unfortunate person who has to submit his case to the board of referees receive payment for expenses incurred. Will he be adequately protected under that paragraph?
§ Mr. Grimston
I am not satisfied with what the Postmaster-General has said, particularly his remark that this has never been done before; that is most reactionary. It does not appear to us to be any reason why in a matter which is fundamentally just—and I am sure that the principle underlying this Amendment is right—provision should not be made accordingly. The fact that it has not been done before should certainly be no argument against it.
My hon. Friends, and indeed one or two hon. Members opposite, have made various points. The Postmaster-General has not answered the last point made by his hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). Perhaps he could give us the answer to that before we leave the Amendment. In any event, my hon. Friends and I are not convinced. Although it is probable that in most cases provided the point about expenses is covered—about which we should like to hear—no expenses will be involved, because there will be representation by a trade union, there may be a case in which someone wishes to call a legal representative. If a man gets a favourable decision from the board of referees, that is an indication that he should not have been put to the expense. I believe hon. Members opposite know that the principle behind this Amendment is a right one and I hope they will support us. At any rate, let us have the answer to the question about expenses, asked by the hon. Member for Ince.
§ Mr. Wilfred Paling
I think the answer is definitely given in Clause 8 (b). The Clause, which is headed:Provisions as to referees appointed by the Minister of Labour and National Servicesays: 533The Minister of Labour and National Service may, with the approval of the Treasury, pay out of moneys ….(b) to persons giving evidence before any such referee or board, such allowances as he may, with the consent of the Treasury, determine.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Is it not then a fact that everybody gets paid except the man who has won his case and proved the justice of his application? The Chairman of the board of referees gets paid, the members get paid, the people who go and give evidence, not only for the applicant but also for the Post Office, get paid; but the man who has proved that he was right in bringing the application and has had a decision given in his favour does not even receive his own expenses.
§ Mr. T. Brown
Will the Postmaster-General tell me, in order to clear this up, whether the man who has to submit his case to the board of referees—whether he wins or loses—will receive his expenses? I am not concerned about the legal side of it, but about the loss which the man may sustain in submitting his case to the board of referees. Will he be paid?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Major Milner, is it not really most unreasonable for the right hon. Gentleman not to answer that question? We are trying to expedite the further stages of this Bill in an harmonious atmosphere. I should have thought it would be possible for him to answer his colleague behind him.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Which means that every applicant must now be encouraged to give evidence as a witness in his own case. Obviously he would.
§ Mr. Foster
If a man has a cast-iron case and can prove it by the evidence of one witness, then if he does not go into the box and say "boo" he does not get any expenses. I think that is a ludicrous system.
§ Mr. Foster
He should get the allowance for turning up at the place, not for giving evidence. The Minister says he has to give evidence, which is quite ludicrous. 534 Lawyers make enough nonsense of the law. When the Postmaster-General takes a hand, Heaven help us.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
There is obviously some confusion over this. It is not absolutely clear and it would perhaps be better if we did not press the matter further at this point. If the right hon. Gentleman will give a firm assurance that he will look at this matter again in the light of the Debate, then we might proceed. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) has been supported in all parts of the Committee. It is something which is eminently right and certainly the conclusion that a man has personally to give evidence in his own case, as the only way in which he can receive any contribution towards his expenses, is quite ludicrous. I think, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman or his colleague, the Assistant Postmaster-General, should tell us that they will look at this again before the Report stage. It is not really necessary to have these messages being passed backwards and forwards and contradictory answers being given when questions are asked. Will the right hon. Gentleman give that assurance?
§ The Chairman (Major Milner)
May I point out that it would be possible to ask the same questions when we reach Clause 8, although I hope it will not be necessary to have another Debate.
§ Mr. Grimston
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gains-borough (Captain Crookshank) asked the Postmaster-General whether, in the light of this Debate—which has revealed a certain nonsense in the situation—he will look at this again between now and the Report stage. If he will, I think we can be satisfied.
§ Captain Crookshank
Either the right hon. Gentleman can give an assurance now or he cannot. What does he mean when he says, "I shall try to give an assurance"?
§ Mr. Paling
I give an assurance that I shall deal with it, but I shall try to give a definite answer before then.
§ Mr. Grimston
In view of the Debate which has taken place and the assurance given by the Postmaster-General, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Grimston
I beg to move, in page 7, line 29, at the end, to insert:so however that so much of any regulations as provides that any provision thereof is to have effect from a date prior to the making thereof shall not place any person in a worse position than he would have been in if the regulations had been made to have effect only as from the date of the making thereof.I can explain this Amendment very briefly indeed. It appears that the regulations might have a retrospective effect which would be detrimental to the person concerned and, in order to prevent that happening, we have moved this Amendment. Incidentally, I may say that the words of our Amendment follow a corresponding provision which will be found in Section 54 (8) of the Electricity Act and Section 58 (8) of the Gas Act. In this case the Postmaster-General will find that it has been done before, and that may be some argument to persuade him to accept this Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.