HC Deb 28 November 1958 vol 596 cc709-44

Order for Second Reading read.

11.4 a.m.

Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill directly implements two of the recommendations of the Franks Committee and, in spirit at any rate, implements a third. My hon. Friends, at least, will recall that the origin of the Franks Committee was the Conservative Party's election manifesto in 1955, entitled "United for Peace and Progress", and probably all hon. Members will recall the phrase: We are determined that, in exercising the normal powers of Government in a modern State, a just balance should be struck, and seen to be struck, between the interests of the individual and those of the community…We shall therefore appoint a strong advisory Committee to give practical attention to these problems of administrative law and recommend action. As a result, having received the Committee's Report, Parliament in the last Session passed the Tribunals and Inquiries Act. That Act has a relevance to this Bill. Further recommendations of the Franks Committee have been implemented by Regulations, including a number implemented by my right hon. Friend the Minister, whom I am pleased to see here today. Amongst these, I should mention one that enables National Insurance tribunals to have their hearings in public. It will be within the recollection of the House that a Prayer was moved against this Regulation in the last Session, but although we had a very interesting debate, a Division was not taken.

The Gracious Speech at the beginning of this Session stated that the Government would …continue their efforts to secure a just balance between the expanding demands of the modern State and the freedom and status of the individual. Legislation is at present before this House, which did not divide on Second Reading, to implement this intention. I would, therefore, suggest that this Bill is within the spirit of the legislation of this Session—in line with one of the major themes of the Session.

The two recommendations of the Franks Committee—on which sat my hon. Friend and near neighbour in Wessex, the Member for Salisbury (Mr. J. Morrison), the hon. and learned Member for Paisley (Mr. D. Johnston) and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen)—which are directly implemented by this Bill, are Nos. 46 and 49.

Recommendation No. 46 reads: In both national insurance and industrial injuries cases all parties should have an automatic right of appeal to the appropriate Commissioner. Recommendation No. 49 reads: The functions of Family Allowance Referees should be transferred to National Insurance Local Tribunals, with appeal to the National Insurance Commissioner. These are dealt with in Clauses 3 and 1, respectively.

Clause 2, in general, at any rate, fulfils the aim of Recommendation No. 27 which begins: An appeal on a point of law should lie to the courts from a tribunal decision, except from a decision of the National Insurance Commissioner.… and others.

Having given the background to the Bill, I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to deal with the Clauses in the order in which they appear in the Bill. Clause 1 aims at giving legal effect to Recommendation No. 49. That recommendation is expanded in paragraph 184 of the Franks Committee Report which, at the risk of boring the House, I should like to read. It puts the case very strongly. The paragraph reads: The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance have stated in evidence that if the family allowances scheme were now to be introduced for the first time they would be inclined to adopt the National Insurance Local Tribunal and Commissioner structure, which was not in existence when family allowances were introduced. We believe that family allowance cases could be satisfactorily decided in this way, and we accordingly recommend that the functions of Family Allowance Referees be transferred to National Insurance Local Tribunals, with appeal to the National Insurance Commissioner. The disappearance of the provision for referring to the courts questions of law involved in family allowance cases would, we consider, be more than counterbalanced by the right of appeal to the Commissioner, which would not only cover law but also merits. I shall return to the question of appeal to the Commissioners when I come to Clause 3, and therefore Clauses 1 and 3 have a close relationship.

The Franks Committee, in paragraph 171, paid tribute to the working of the system of adjudication of National Insurance and Industrial Injuries claims. I believe that the substitution of this system of appeals for that in the 1945 Family Allowances Act will be to the advantage of all. This Act was passed in 1945 by the Conservative Caretaker Government under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W Churchill). That was before the National Insurance Scheme was brought in. I am pleased to see on the Front Bench opposite the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) who piloted that very long Bill through this House.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

Very good Welsh pronunciation for an Englishman. I hope Lord Raglan will note it.

Mr. Freeth

I would not wish to be drawn into a question of international dispute, and certainly not into a question of the Welsh language.

Because the family allowances system of 1945 was prior to the establishment of the National Insurance system an existing system of appeals was generally used as a model. That was the system then existing in previous contributory pension Acts. I think that anybody who has observed the working of the two systems will admit straight away that the working of the appeal system under the National Insurance Scheme has been much speedier, cheaper and more efficient for various reasons than the earlier system.

The earlier system which still exists today, in dealing with adjudication problems under the family allowances system, states that notices of appeals have to be sent to an officer of my right hon. Friend's Department who is appointed by him as registrar of appeals. This officer apportions the work between the various referees and acts as a channel of communication between the referees and the various appellants. This in itself inevitably means quite a substantial delay owing to everything having to be sent by post, I believe to Newcastle.

There are at present seven referees appointed for England, two for Scotland and one for Wales. I would not have the House think for one moment that the proposal to substitute a different system for the referees system in any way reflects upon the services which these referees have given to the adjudication system under the Family Allowances Act. I think tribute should be paid to them for their great work over the past thirteen years, particularly under the chairmanship of the senior referee, Mr. A. C. Longland, Q.C., who, I understand, has agreed to serve a longer period than he originally intended.

These referees have had to hear cases and study an immense number of documents. They have also had to do quite a substantial amount of travelling when oral hearings have been necessary. This has been in about 7 per cent. of the cases. The change is certainly no criticism of them, and the country should pay them a tribute for their great work.

Of course, it is difficult to maintain the system, and, I should imagine, difficult to persuade people to undertake this work when, so to speak, the change has been forecast in the Franks Committee's Report and my right hon. Friend and his Department in their evidence have suggested that they would like to see the system changed. I believe that the proposed system under Clause 1 of the Bill will be cheaper, quicker and will enable justice more easily to be seen to be done. Instead of the seven referees for England there will be 161 National Insurance local tribunals. This means that almost every appellant will have within easy reach of his or her home a National Insurance local tribunal. Instead of the two referees for Scotland there will be 30 local tribunals, and instead of the one referee for Wales there will be 22 local tribunals. Instead of only 7 per cent. of the cases being heard orally, as is, I understand, roughly the figure at the present time, all the cases will be heard orally before the local tribunals unless, of course, the chairman considers that the hearing should be in private because the case might involve disclosure of intimate personal or financial details. As I reminded the House earlier, Regulations were introduced last May in general to make hearings in public.

In the Economist last week I found that I had been criticised because, since my Bill left out the Franks Committee's proposal to permit legal representation before such tribunals, which the unions object to because it might upset the cosy lay atmosphere of the hearings, the Bill will probably get through without much difficulty. I very much hope that the Bill will get through without much difficulty, but I thought it was a little hard to be censured, however mildly, for leaving out of this Bill something which my right hon. Friend has already done by Regulation. I took it a little hard; though, on the other hand, as the same article called me both young and energetic. I feel that I should not take it with too much contumely.

Under the adjudication system of the Family Allowances Act, 1945, decisions of the referee were final, subject to the right of claimant or Minister to appeal on a point of law to the High Court in England and Wales, or the Court of Session in Scotland. I understand that only four such appeals from the referees on a point of law have been made in the past thirteen years. Under Clause 3 of the Bill a right of appeal to a person other than the Minister on a point of law is safeguarded, and an additional step will be brought into the appeals system because there will now be appeals from the Department to the local tribunals and then again to the National Insurance Commissioner or his deputies. I believe that this extra step is something which has been wanted by many people for some time.

I have in this Bill suggested that there should be reserved to my right hon. Friend the ability to act as judge in two cases which involve personal and difficult circumstances. Those two cases are, first: as to which of two or more persons who both contribute equally to the maintenance of the child, but neither of them being the parent of the child, is to be treated as having the child in his family; and secondly, in a case where parents of a child have themselves separate families, being divorced or separated, and the child could be included in either family because, for example each parent might have the right to have the child with him or her for six months in the year, which family is to be chosen for the payment of family allowances? I draw attention to the parallel proviso in Section 43 (3) of the National Insurance Act, which gives a comparable exercise of discretion to the Minister in a case where two persons are equally qualified to receive the benefit for a dependant, and the Minister, in such cases, does make a personal decision himself.

There is one case in which a departure from the National Insurance Scheme has been necessary. Hon. Members will see that it is one in which to follow too closely the letter of the National Insurance Act would be inappropriate. The new system will require regulations by the Minister on how the tribunals are to treat cases, and so forth. In the National Insurance Scheme, Regulations issued by the Minister are in the ordinary way issued in draft form and are submitted, first of all, in draft form to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, and then the Minister takes into account the criticisms or suggestions which are made before he finally decides upon the form of the regulations. That is laid down in Section 77 of the Act.

Hon. Members will appreciate that it would be inappropriate to have the National Insurance Advisory Committee being called upon to consider draft regulations in family allowance cases. Therefore, subsection (4) removes from the Minister the onus of submitting regulations first to the N.I.A.C. Subsection (5) of the Clause deals purely with the regulations which will have to be made during the period of transition from the referee system on appeal to the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries system on appeal.

Clause 2 fulfils in spirit, although not in the letter, Recommendation 27 of the Franks Committee, which states that an appeal on a point of law should lie to the courts from a tribunal's decision. There is a further phrase in the paragraph dealing with this point, which says that the machinery for such appeals should be simple. cheap and expeditious. It is important that the procedure should be simple, cheap and expeditious. Because I believe that to be desirable, I have not put into the Bill a provision that there should be an appeal from a medical appeal tribunal on a point of law to the High Court or the Court of Session in Scotland. I believe that the commissioner proceedings have the advantages of cheapness and speed, and also of uniformity, which may be important on these occasions. Also, the Commissioner does have very great experience in these matters, and, of course, that experience will be increased as a result of appeals on points of law coming from the medical appeal tribunals to him.

Thirdly, I believe that there is an advantage in consolidating the Commissioner's position at the apex of the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries adjudication systems, which were, as hon. Members will recall, approved in general by the Franks Committee.

Finally, there is a practical point which might arise, though I believe that it has not yet arisen. There is the possibility of a conflict between the medical authorities and the commissioner at points where their jurisdiction might overlap. It might be on the question whether, in law, an accident was the direct cause of a loss of faculty. It is, therefore, important to eliminate this possible source of conflict.

Medical appeal tribunals, with which this Clause deals, consider appeals from medical boards under the Industrial Injuries Scheme. They have to decide so-called disablement questions, that is to say, whether the relevant accident or the prescribed disease did, in fact, result in a loss of faculty. They have to decide the degree and extent of the disablement incurred, and the duration must be assessed. In byssinosis cases only, they have to decide whether the loss of faculty is likely to be permanent.

Each medical appeal tribunal consists of a chairman, who is always a lawyer of standing and experience, and two medical practitioners appointed by the Minister. I understand that there are 13 such tribunals and, in 1957, they heard over 21,600 cases. Points of law, admittedly, do not often arise in the course of their work, but from time to time they do. I understand that it is the opinion both of those who administer the Industrial Injuries Scheme and of the trades unions that it would be to the advantage of all concerned that there should be a comparatively expeditious and cheap method of obtaining authoritative rulings which would secure uniformity between one tribunal and another and one area of the country and another.

At the present moment, the commissioner has four full-time and one part-time deputy commissioners, including one stationed in Edinburgh. I understand, however, that it may take a little time to get this Clause working. It might be necessary for an extra commissioner to be appointed. We have it that the Minister must decide, and I think that he is the person who should finally decide, the manner in which questions of law and the relevant facts are to be submitted to the commissioner and the manner in which the commissioner's decision is to be made known to the medical tribunal.

In so far as these rules will constitute procedural rules for medical appeal tribunals and the commissioner, they cannot now be made except after consultation with the Council on Tribunals set up under Section 8 of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, which received the Royal Assent during the last session. As we do not yet know the procedure which the Council will adopt in considering proposals for procedural rules, we cannot say with certainty how long will necessarily elapse between this Bill receiving the Royal Assent, if it does, and our being able to implement this Clause. That is why it does not come into effect immediately. Subsection (7) allows the Minister to fix, by order, the date on which the Clause shall come into effect.

Clause 3 is somewhat unique in that it is written in ordinary English and not in the lawyer's jargon which is, apparently, necessary today for any legislation. It implements directly Recommendation 46 of the Franks Report that, in both National Insurance and Industrial Injuries cases, all the parties should have an automatic right of appeal to the appropriate commissioner. My right hon. Friend acted very expeditiously and, I trust, cheaply, in implementing this particular recommendation by Regulation last May in regard to National Insurance appeals, but I discovered that Industrial Injuries appeals, for the recommendation to be implemented, needed a legislative change. This Clause, therefore, removes the requirement in Section 47 of the Industrial Injuries Act that an appeal from a local appeal tribunal should require the leave of either the tribunal or the Commissioner.

Clause 4 provides for the allocation as between the Family Allowances Act and the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries Acts, of expenditure arising from the operation of Clause 1. I am afraid that I myself am totally unable to calculate what such expenditure might be, but perhaps my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, if he intervenes, may be able to give the House some idea. Such expenditure will include the remuneration and superannuation of the Commissioner and the deputy commissioners so far as they relate to family allowance appeals heard under the new system. Presumably, however, there should be a saving from the abolition of the old system.

The expenses estimated by the Minister to be attributable to the operation of Clause 1 will be treated as incurred in the administration of the Family Allowances Act and paid out of moneys provided by Parliament. This appears in subsection 1 (1). Subsection 1 (2) relates to the determination of questions under Clause 1 for purposes of claims under the Industrial Injuries Act to be treated as expenses of administration. This subsection deals with the raising of the necessary money, and it has, therefore, had to be printed in italics. Should the House give the Bill a Second Reading, before it can proceed further it will be necessary for a Money Resolution to be moved, and that, of course, only the Government can propose. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary intervenes later he will not only give the Government's blessing to the Bill but will also undertake that our mutually right hon. Friend the Minister will in fact provide the necessary Money Resolution so that the Bill can go further.

The Bill is neither revolutionary nor, I hope, contentious. It has, however, certain merits of its own, namely, the merit of making appeals easier for the general public, for those with little means to pay for legal help, and I believe it will in general speed up matters arising from the Family Allowances Act. It is a useful piece of legislation which will help many and harm none, and I commend it to the House.

11.32 a.m.

Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)

I beg to second the Motion.

I should like to start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth), the able and energetic Member to whom the Economist referred, for introducing this useful piece of legislation. Hon. Members who are lucky enough in the Ballot become for a short period of days the centre of enormous pressure from the panacea mongers and the reformers of this world. They have the choice of glory or even notoriety in bringing forward major measures which never have a hope of being passed, or of being useful Members of the House in trying to put on the Statute Book thoroughly practical and constructive, though perhaps minor, pieces of legislation.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on resisting the blandishments of the panacea mongers and getting down to constructive and practical work, as he has done, in this worthy and useful Bill. I should like to associate myself also with the tribute that he has paid to the work of the referees, whose service to the community is by means being discredited by the fact that both the Franks Committee and this House are now considering transferring their labours to the commissioners.

The Franks Committee praises very highly the appellate system under the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries Acts. It therefore scarcely needs explanation that the Bill replaces the family allowances appeal system which runs from Minister's officer to referee and finally, only on a point of law, to the High Court, by the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries appellate system of insurance officer to local appeal tribunal and finally to the commissioners, not only on a point of law but also on merit and fact.

It is true that the family allowances appeal system permits a final appeal to the High Court on a point of law. In paragraph 108 the Franks Committee deals with the possible accusation that any transfer to the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries system might lose for the appellant that final appeal on a point of law to the High Court. Paragraph 108 reads: Finally, there has been little demand for a right of appeal to the courts in these cases"— that is, National Insurance and Industrial Injuries cases. Indeed witnesses on behalf of the Trades Union Congress, which speaks for the great majority of applicants, expressed themselves as completely satisfied with the present position. These considerations lead us to think that it would be right to make an exception and to leave any review by the courts in these cases to be exercised by certiorari. It seems, therefore, as my hon. Friend says, that there are no possible disadvantages in transferring the appellate system from the present family allowances arrangements to that of the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries system. In fact, there are a number of advantages.

I should like briefly to review the advantages. First, the claimant will have access not merely to a relatively small number of referees who cannot always travel to the home area of the appellant, but to 213 local tribunals, which thus permits a far more quick and local hearing of cases. Secondly, instead of normally private though informal hearings, the new system will substitute normally public though informal hearings, thus permitting, as my hon. Friend says, not only justice to be done but to be much more frequently and easily seen to be done.

A third advantage which I do not think my hon. Friend mentioned is this. The Industrial Injuries and National Insurance system has at its apex the habit of publication of selected cases, thus permitting the public to know more easily the reasons behind the commissioners' decisions, whereas the family allowance referees do not publish their decisions, I think I am right in saying, although any appeals on a point of law to the High Court are naturally published. Of these, however, there have been only four since the Act was passed.

The next advantage is that under the proposed change the applicant will have a second stage of appeal, not only on a point of law, as now, but on merit and fact as well. Therefore, this greatly widens the appellant's chances of reconsideration of the whole range of his case and surely must be of great benefit to the public.

All these are advantages. Are there any losses to set against the advantages? I cannot think of any. The rights of legal representation which the Economist suggested were being lost or were not being given as recommended by the Franks Committee have already been given by the Minister in his Regulations last May and are being preserved, therefore, by the change from the family allowance system to the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries system.

The rules under which the Commissioner will work will be subject to the Council on Tribunals when it is set up, and I can find no possible disadvantage that emerges from this change.

May I draw particular attention to two or three points which my hon. Friend did not mention? The first is an additional advantage that will come from the transfer. At the moment, if an overpayment is made to a beneficiary under the family allowance legislation, that overpayment must be repaid by the beneficiary if the Minister decides that he has not acted in good faith in receiving the overpayment. Against this decision by the Minister there is at the moment no appeal. If the House permits the transfer of appellate jurisdiction to occur, such a beneficiary will, under the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries system, have a right of appeal against the Minister's decision that he has not acted in good faith. This is a case of clear gain for the appellant, giving him a right of appeal which he has not at the moment.

Secondly, I should like to point out the apparent contradiction between Clause 2 (2) and Clause 3. In accordance with the Franks Committee's recommendations, Clause 3 removes any need for leave to be given for an appeal under the Industrial Injuries appellate system. My right hon. Friend has already removed by regulation the need for leave to be given in appeals under the National Insurance appellate system.

This might seem to be a contradiction of Clause 2 (2), where, if an appeal from the medical appeals tribunals is made, leave has to be given. The reason for this contradiction is that in the former case appeal is allowed on matters of merit, fact and law. Therefore, as the Franks Committee so sensibly observed, nobody should be subject to anybody else's jurisdiction as to whether they can appeal on a matter of fact, but in the case of an appeal from the medical appeal tribunal there is only a right of appeal on questions of law. The ordinary layman and member of the public cannot possibly know whether he has any scope for an appeal on a point of law, and this is a proper case for leave to be necessary before an appeal from the tribunal is given. That is the only contradiction that I can find in the Bill.

I conclude by saying that, after careful examination, I cannot find, nor have I heard, arty possible inconvenience to the public from passing the Measure, and I hope very much that the Bill will go quickly on its way to the Statute Book.

11.41 a.m.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Basing-stoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) on his good fortune in the Ballot. Many hon. Members have waited long for their first success. The hon. Member has been very fortunate after the brief space of about eight years.

We have listened very attentively to the hon. Member's voice and lucid manner. He had the good fortune to be trained at Cambridge University. Good luck to him. I was trained in the pits, and so my voice is not quite so pleasant as his. He did very well in presenting the Bill. It contains certain difficulties aid complexities, but it indicates that someone with the training which the hon. Member has had has been paying some regard to the problems which confront unfortunate workers.

The Bill gives back benchers an opportunity to ventilate some of the difficulties and complexities which have been experienced under the present system. The presentation of a Bill of this character is evidence that some defect has been revealed to the hon. Member for Basingstoke. He has set about the task of presenting the Bill to alter some-thing which he thinks is wrong.

I wish to refer briefly to Clause 2, which is concerned with: Appeals and references from medical appeal tribunals to Industrial Injuries Commissioner. From the commencement of the scheme we had been watching the administration of the medical appeal tribunals and the results emerging from them, and we have been gravely disturbed by some of the defects which have been revealed. I submit in all seriousness that I do not think there would be a need for so many cases to go to the Commissioner if the administration at the lower level had the correct approach. Instead of a case having to go through so many varied stages and phases, it would be very advantageous to the aggrieved workman if the case were dealt with correctly at the lower level of administration. In other words, greater regard ought to be paid to the appointment of suitable medical appeal tribunals.

I say this with all respect to the medical profession, but I come from an industrial area and I find that often when cases are referred to the tribunals the men concerned have to appear before persons who have no experience of the industrial side. I submit this point because I have had considerable experience as a miners' agent and a branch secretary dealing with industrial cases. I should like to know from the Parliamentary Secretary whether the tribunals are selected by the Ministry's regional offices or by the Minister himself. Regard should be had to the qualifications and experience of those appointed, for they have the responsibility of determining the destiny of aggrieved persons who appear before them.

I say that because I have here the wording of a certificate given to one of my men. It will indicate at once the inability—I use that word with respect; perhaps I should say "incompetency"—of the person concerned to adjudicate in the case. The wording is: This man is fit for suitable work which does not involve standing, sitting, bending or lying down. How on earth will a commissioner or any other adjudicator in a case of that character determine what job the man should do? There is no light work around a colliery which does not involve standing, sitting, bending or lying down. Yet the man concerned had to appear before a medical man with the type of mind which led him to pen those words.

I will quote another case. I know a man who is suffering from an industrial disease and has been off work for five years. I know he will not recover because I know the disease from which he is suffering, and there is no cure for it. For five years the medical men have declared that the man was unfit for work or suitable only for light work, and they assessed his disability as 70 per cent. For five years he had to be satisfied with a 70 per cent. assessment. Then he was sent to another medical man, a highly qualified man, and within two minutes of his entering the examination room, the doctor said: "You have 100 per cent. disability. How anyone declared a 70 per cent. assessment for you beats me. You are suffering 100 per cent. disability as a result of the disease, and you are entitled to 100 per cent. compensation. Go home and do not come near this examination room again."

I could mention many other cases. In such circumstances, the workman feels aggrieved—and rightly so. I do not know whether this sort of thing is within the knowledge of hon. Members opposite, but it is within the knowledge of hon. Members on this side of the House. I cannot describe to the House the anxiety and trouble there is in these cases.

I appeal to the Minister to inject a little more humanity into the administration of these provisions in order to prevent unhappy experiences. The hon. Member for Basingstoke, in his lucid explanation of the Bill, said that he wanted to make administration easier and cheaper. I hope that the Bill will do that.

Speaking from long experience of dealing with these cases, I would say that the system has never been perfect since 1893 when we first started to protect injured workmen or those unfortunately overtaken by disease. However, we can get the system much nearer to perfection. The figures show that there is something radically wrong with the present administration. I am not saying that that is intentional, but it cannot be disputed that the figures are alarming.

I have the latest figures for cases which went to medical appeal tribunals in 1957. The total number which went to such a tribunal on the applicants' own choice was 15,943 and the number sent at the direction of the Minister was 5,683, a total of 21,626. Such a tremendous number indicates that someone at a low level of the administration is not playing his part. My experience is that medical men, whose certificates are of such importance in these matters, do not spend sufficient time in the minute examination of each patient which is required.

Of the appeals by claimants, about 40 per cent. were decided in favour of the claimants and about 60 per cent. were decided against them. Those figures indicate the dissatisfaction felt by injured workmen in these cases and by those trying to protect them. Of the cases referred to the tribunal at the Minister's direction, 27 per cent. of the decisions were in favour of the claimant, 19 per cent. were unchanged and 53.1 per cent. were unfavourable to the claimant. Those figures show dissatisfaction not only with medical certificates, but with assessments.

I am greatly perturbed about low assessments. This matter has been ventilated from time to time and I hope that in Standing Committee certain Amendments will be made to improve the Bill in this respect. There is a strong feeling, supported by evidence, that there is something radically wrong with the present administration. I hope that the Bill will make the necessary changes.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke said that the Bill would make administration cheaper and easier. There is plenty of scope for more cheapness of administration, because the administrative costs of the Commissioners are extremely high, although there may be some justification for that. The estimate in 1956–57 was£982,000, in 1957–58 it was£1,080,000, of which, according to my information,£1,023,500 has already been spent.

I hope that the Government will accept the Bill and also that they will accept Amendments during the Committee stage. For years and years we have been trying to see that justice is done to injured workmen and to those who have the misfortune to be overtaken by disease. However, in spite of all that we have done since 1893, we have failed to reach our ultimate objective. I do not blame the Government, nor do I blame my right hon. Friends. We still have a long way to go before we can say that we have provided that protection to which injured workmen are entitled. I hope that the Bill will help to give that protection.

11.58 a.m.

Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)

I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth) on his fortune ire the Ballot and on introducing the Bill. It is a very modest Measure and, as the hon. Member said, there is nothing revolutionary about it. It will not bring about any radical change, but it will improve administration.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke clearly explained the provisions of the Bill, and we were all impressed with the way he has mastered this intricate subject of National Insurance and Industrial Injuries legislation.

Clause 1 refers to appeals under the Family Allowances Act in cases where there is a dispute whether certain children should be covered by that Act. It has already been pointed out that this matter came before the Franks Committee, and the Ministry has stated that this Act was drafted prior to the National Insurance Act, and that if, at that time, it had been known what provisions for appeals were to be made under the later Act—namely, to a tribunal and a commissioner—similar provisions would probably have been adopted for the Family Allowances Act.

The Franks Committee came to the conclusion, therefore, that in order to improve the situation generally there should be a uniformity of appeal procedure, and it recommended that under the Family Allowances Act, instead of there being a referee, there should be a tribunal and a commissioner. I agree with that recommendation, because it would tighten up the administration. As a layman, it seems to me that Clause 1 fully covers the legal position. The merits of each case can be adequately dealt with by means of an appeal to the tribunal and the commissioner, and this will give the appellants who come under the provisions of the Clause a greater feeling that justice is being done.

Clause 2 is more sweeping. It proposes to allow appeals in law against decisions of medical appeal tribunals under the Industrial Injuries Act. It will be known that on medical issues the tribunals' decisions are final. But experience has shown that these tribunals can make mistakes in law, and in recent years very important cases have been brought to light. There is the well-known case of Gilmore, in the mining industry. Mr. Gilmore already had a defective eye and he sustained an accident to the other eye and was blinded. When his case came before the tribunal it dealt only with the accident to the second eye, and arrived at an assessment of 20 per cent.

Measures were taken to have this case referred to a higher court, and upon going into the matter the higher court referred the case back to the tribunal and rightly said that if a man is already blind in one eye and suffers an accident which deprives him of the sight of the other, making him totally blind, benefits should be paid on that basis. Since then there have been many cases relating to what we call paired organs. For instance, a man who already has a bad leg and suffers an injury to the other is given benefit in respect of both.

The present position is therefore not entirely unsatisfactory. On legal questions further measures can be taken and cases may be taken to a higher court under the Industrial Injuries Act. But, as the hon. Member for Basingstoke said, this involves the issue of a writ, which is costly and means a considerable delay. It would be better if cases of this kind, where issues of law arise, were referred to a commissioner, who is a person of high legal standing, who can adjudicate in these matters. That would give the average citizen affected by the Bill the expectation of a fair and reasonable chance of obtaining a proper adjudication.

But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) has already pointed out, having done this the House should not imagine that it will be satisfying the general situation which exists in regard to medical appeal tribunals. There is great dissatisfaction with many of their decisions. I can only hope that the Bill will receive the approval of the House and that in Committee it can be improved still further by instituting a better procedure in cases where decisions are made by medical appeal tribunals on medical issues.

I would remind the House of the procedure under the Industrial Injuries Act. First, when a man sustains an accident which arises out of and in the course of his employment, if the case is in order he receives his benefit during the injury benefit period, and when that period has expired he is examined by a medical board for a pension and disablement benefit. This medical board is generally composed of ordinary medical practitioners. I do not wish to criticise them in respect of the work they do; they do an excellent job. They deal with an enormous number of cases. The figures for 1957 show that 308,722 persons were examined by these boards.

But experience has shown that in many cases the medical issues involved are very complex and difficult. They are not all easy cases. In some cases specialists with high qualifications are required. When an assessment is made it may be for life, and the man's whole future may depend upon it. I readily agree that the boards have done a good job, but they are composed of ordinary medical practitioners who cannot be expected to deal with some of the complex medical issues which arise.

There is a right of appeal to medical appeal tribunals, and my hon. Friend has given some figures in this connection. I find from the 1957 Report of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance that 15,943 appeals went to these tribunals, of which 39.6 per cent. were successful and in the remaining 60.4 per cent. there was either no change or there was a decision unfavourable to the applicant. That is a very high percentage, and it calls for some inquiry. We may be able to improve the position by means of the Bill.

I would point out that, just as mistakes can be made in law by a medical appeal tribunal, so they can be made on medical issues. I could cite case after case where such mistakes have arisen. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince has pointed out that assessments are low, sometimes as low as 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. I have referred previously in the House to cases of men suffering from dermatitis who may temporarily recover from this exasperating disease but who begin to suffer from it again immediately they go back to work. Such people get very low assessments. I know that in this connection the question of loss of faculty arises, but there is nevertheless a serious disability. The appeal tribunals are giving extremely low assessments in cases where men will never be able to go back to their former occupations.

I am advised that in South Wales last year, of all the cases that went before the medical appeal tribunals, over 53 per cent. were turned down. I fully appreciate that in some of the cases the balance of medical evidence was such, either for or against the worker, that there could be no assessment, and when the medical evidence is given against a man nothing can be done.

There have been cases, however, where eminent specialists have differed in their opinion from the medical men who sit on the medical appeal tribunals. In some cases, they are consultants at the same hospitals as the medical men on the tribunals. It seems to me that where there is substantial medical evidence—I want to make that quite clear; not ordinary certificates from the medical practitioner—of specialists well known for their experience in a particular complaint who disagree with the medical appeal tribunal, there should be some avenue through which an appeal can be made.

These cases give rise to most tragic results. I know of the case of a man in South Wales who has to lie on his back and who will never work again. Indeed, I doubt whether he will ever get up again. He knows that two specialists have said that his condition is due to the injury which he sustained, but the medical appeal tribunal gave the decision against him. When my right hon. Friend introduced the Industrial Injuries Bill I think he said, where there was serious doubt, benefit should be given to the applicant.

I can quote another case, of which the Parliamentary Secretary is well aware. The hon. Lady was very helpful in trying to deal with the case, but the medical appeal tribunal's decision was final. It is the case of a man who had a serious accident underground and received a specific injury. The case came before the medical appeal tribunal and was rejected on certain grounds. The case was later reviewed, but the medical appeal tribunal would not alter its decision. In the meantime, joint arrangements were made by both sides for the man to see a specialist. The specialist was in grave doubt whether the man's condition was due to the accident sustained or to natural causes. He felt that it was a very difficult case for him to decide, and he said so in his report. He was worried about it. Ultimately, the specialist said that, on balance, he was afraid that he would have to decide against the man. He came to this decision very reluctantly after making several examinations. It was the case of Moore of Cefn Forest in my constituency.

I submit that the medical appeal tribunals, in cases where there is serious doubt, should give the benefit of that doubt to the applicant. A Clause should be inserted in the Bill which would enable cases of that kind to be adjudicated upon. I hope that in Committee a Clause will be inserted whereby, if it appears to the medical appeal tribunal on the production of substantial medical evidence that the case should be reopened, power should be given accordingly.

It is certainly true that though the medical appeal tribunal may reject a case there is a right of review on certain grounds. The first ground is where it can be shown that a decision was given in consequence of non-disclosure or misrepresentation by the claimant or on any other material fact. The question of fraud also comes into it. The other ground for appeal is where the tribunal is satisfied that since the making of the assessment there has been an unforeseen aggravation of the result of the injury.

Here is the point that gives rise to the trouble. Unforeseen aggravation is made the issue, but in order to get the review the case has to come before the medical appeal tribunal or its chairman, and in case after case a review of the case is refused. Although specialists may disagree with the medical tribunal after treatment which the man has undergone since the original decision was given, the fact is that in many cases that is not regarded as unforeseen aggravation.

I will give a case in point. A man sustained an injury to his neck. When the case came before the medical board it was decided that the man was suffering from a prolapsed disc. The board awarded the very low assessment of about 10 per cent. An appeal was made to the medical appeal tribunal regarding the assessment. When the case came before the tribunal it was decided that the man was not, in fact, suffering from a prolapsed disc, but from strained muscles of the neck. As a result, the tribunal dismissed the question of a prolapsed disc. Subsequently, the man came under special treatment in hospital. Two specialists said that he was suffering from a prolapsed disc, that he was disabled and would be disabled for some time. Application was made for a review on the grounds of unforeseen aggravation. No review was agreed to. It was said that this was not a case of unforeseen aggravation. Here was a case of two specialists, associated with the same hospital with which one of the assessors was connected, disagreeing with the diagnosis.

As I have said, some of these cases can have tragic results. A man's future can depend upon the decision made. There is a vast difference between this sort of award and disablement benefit with its constant attendance allowances, and the men affected are very seriously aggrieved by issues of this kind. Having seen this man who will never work again and whose appeal has been rejected by the tribunal, I say that every human effort should be made to give greater satisfaction in cases of this kind than are made at present.

It would go a very long way towards meeting the situation if a Clause could be inserted in the Bill giving the right of appeal to some other body. It has to be remembered that the decision of the tribunal cannot be questioned. In that respect it is a law unto itself. It cannot be questioned or cross-examined. I do not want to go back to the old Workmen's Compensation system, but it must be remembered that under that system employers who gave evidence were subjected to cross-examination in the same way as to the appellant's doctors ware subject to cross-examination. It may be difficult in the case of a medical appeal tribunal to have cross-examination, but that makes it all the more necessary that where there is substantial medical evidence there should be a method of appeal to another body.

I wish to cite the cases of men with osteoarthritis who have worked all their lives without any trouble at all. If they sustain an accident it is said that they are suffering from osteoarthritis which has become active as a result of the accident. Such men receive benefit for twelve months and then the tribunal says that the effects of the accident have worn off and they are now left only with osteoarthritis. Orthopaedic surgeons may differ about the decision and there is no means of deciding it. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member for Basingstoke, who is as anxious as I am that this legislation should work smoothly, will assist us by making some provision in this Bill to deal with these cases.

I agree with the provisions contained in Clause 3, which are quite clear. They provide claimants for Industrial Injuries benefits with an automatic right of appeal to the commissioner. This again follows a recommendation of the Franks Committee. Such a right has been granted in respect of National Insurance legislation and it is only fair that it should be applied also to the Industrial Injuries side. I should have thought that the Government might have introduced legislation of this sort and not left it to a back-bencher to do so. I hope that the Bill will receive the approval of the House and that we shall have an opportunity to consider it in Committee and suggest improvements.

12.21 p.m.

Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)

Like other hon. Members, I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) first, on his luck in the Ballot; secondly, on his choice of subject, and thirdly on the speech with which he introduced this Bill. He revealed a grasp of the details and the problems which lay behind this topic. My reason for intervening in the debate is that until I became a Member of this House, my work involved contact with the operations of these tribunals. On the basis of my experience, I welcome and support the Bill and desire to comment on some parts of it.

I was glad that the hon. Member for Basingstoke referred to paragraph 171 of the Franks Committee Report and the praise contained in that paragraph for the system of adjudication running from the insurance officer to the local appeal tribunal and to the commissioner. In my opinion this has been one of the great successes of National Insurance, particularly with regard to industrial injuries. It was a tremendous advance in comparison with the old system operating under the Workmen's Compensation Acts under which cases had to be taken through the courts, involving a great deal of delay and cost, and the creation of an atmosphere so formal and complicated that many people did not know in what way their case was being dealt with.

This Bill will add two more subjects to the list of those to be considered by the commissioner, first, the question of family allowances, and secondly, the medical questions connected with industrial injuries, or the legal aspects of them. I should like to see a third subject added and provision made for appeal to the commissioner in certain cases against the decisions of the National Assistance tribunals at local level. I would say, in passing, that I do not regard the present system in that respect as satisfactory, but I do not think that today I should be in order in enlarging on the subject. I hope, however, that at some time consideration will be given to it.

The provisions of Clause 1 follow a direct recommendation of the Franks Committee which is trying to reduce the number of tribunals and make the system more simple and more readily understandable by amalgamating different systems where that could properly be done without imposing too great a burden. This, obviously, is one way in which that may properly be done. There are not many family allowance appeals. When we consider that 3½million families in the country receive family allowances and a total of nearly 9 million children is involved, it is remarkable that during 1957, according to the Minister's Report, there were fewer than 2,000 appeals and none of them went on to the High Court. They were all dealt with by the referees. This, therefore, will not greatly increase the work of the local appeal tribunals, which heard more than 42,000 appeals under the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries Acts during the year.

As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), the claimant will have the advantage of being entitled to an oral hearing of his appeal. I see from the Report of the Minister that during 1957 there were oral hearings of appeals under the Family Allowance Act in only 130 cases out of the total of nearly 2,000. Now there will always be an oral hearing, unless the claimant deliberately decides not to attend. That represents a great advance.

There is one danger to which I wish to refer. Under the Regulations approved by the House in June, all hearings of local appeal tribunals will now be in public, unless the chairman directs otherwise. I understand that under the Family Allowances Act, hearings by the referees have always been in private. This is a sphere in which family and personal details may be involved and it may prove embarrassing to the claimant if they are referred to in public. When the Minister eventually produces the regulations to implement this Clause, perhaps he will consider making a different provision in this case and giving the claimant rather than the chairman of the tribunal the right to decide whether a hearing should be in public or private. I think that should be done, because in so many of these cases details of personal differences and rifts in the family may be argued before the tribunal.

I welcome the provisions contained in Clause 2 for appeals to go to the Industrial Injuries Commissioner against decisions of the medical appeal tribunals on points of law. This recommendation was not specifically set out in the Franks Committee Report. I like to think that in a modest way I made a contribution to opinion on this, because in the debate on the Franks Report I urged that something on these lines should be done, and one should be prepared to stand by one's opinion. But I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friends the Members for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) and Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) about the way in which medical appeal tribunals operate and the kind of assessments which are made. As drafted, the Bill does nothing about that.

I admit that there is difficulty in finding a formula on which to draft an Amendment to provide for a further appeal against such assessments. It might be argued that, because these are medical questions and because it is difficult to lay down any formula by way of precedent, an appeal by a medical board to a medical appeal tribunal is all that is necessary. But there does exist a great volume of dissatisfaction to which my hon. Friends have referred. I have come to two conclusions. One is that the level of assessments vary considerably from one part of the country to another in the thirteen regions covered by the tribunals.

The other general conclusion which I have arrived at, and which I believe to be correct, is that on the whole the casualties of industry are treated less generously than are war casualties. The rules for assessment are the same for both Industrial Injuries and war casualties, but one gets the impression that lower assessments are made in respect of industrial injuries.

Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would care to comment on whether it would be more satisfactory if, in some way or other, the medical appeal tribunals could be remodelled on the basis of the appeal tribunals for war pensioners which deal with assessment cases. Those pension appeal tribunals are national. Their headquarters are in London, but they sit in different courts and go on tour round the country. Because their members are interchangeable their decisions are more consistent than those of the thirteen different medical tribunals sitting in different parts of the country.

An objection to my own suggestion comes to my mind, which is that it would involve members of the medical appeal tribunals becoming full-time whereas the services of consultants are now used on a part-time basis. It might or might not be practicable to work out a scheme of that sort. I should be grateful if consideration could be given to that idea, or to any other idea which would introduce into this system of appeals a better sense that they were being carried out justly and properly.

The number of legal cases before the appeal tribunals is a minority, but an important minority. When the commissioner operates in this field I hope that he will be able to give guidance on a number of difficult points. One is the operation of the paired organs regulations. I had evidence, when I was doing my job in this kind of work, that different medical appeal tribunals looked at the matter in a different way. There is also need to define what constitutes fresh evidence to justify a review. Guidance from the commissioner to medical tribunals on these points would be very important.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke said that, as far as he knew, there had not been cases of conflict between the commissioner and the medical appeal tribunals on the extent to which a particular disability had been caused by an accident. I have certainly sat on cases where the Commissioner was troubled by this sort of thing, and said, "I am bound by the decision of the medical appeal tribunal on this question", but indicated that he had doubts about it. The commissioner may be able to give guidance on whether this part of the Act is being interpreted properly by medical appeal tribunals.

There are two other matters to which I would refer briefly. One is rather an administrative point. It seems that medical appeal tribunals are getting far too many cases to deal with in one day and particularly the medical appeal tribunal sitting in London, in Dean's Yard. It is able to give too little time to each case. This is a very important point to men who come before these tribunals, because the decisions made affect their pensions for life in regard to serious disabilities. A man does not like to have to go out and say, "They have cut my pension by half, although I have only been in there five minutes." This is not purely a medical question. There is a legal chairman, and there is the right of the man to state his case at leisure. That aspect of the matter should be looked at.

My final point on this Clause is that we are extending in one sense the right of appeal, but we should remember that some claims do not reach a medical appeal tribunal from the medical board unless a final assessment has been made. There can be an appeal against a provisional assessment if more than two years have elapsed since the date of the accident, but there is no right of appeal to the medical appeal tribunal from the provisional assessment within the two-year period. I hope that the Ministry will soon be in a position so to extend the number of tribunals that they will be able to give a full right of appeal in all cases.

I welcome the provisions of Clause 3. As the hon. Member for Basingstoke said in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, there is already an automatic right of appeal under the National Insurance Act, and it is an anomaly that there should be any difference between the two principal Acts in this field. There is another anomaly which has been going on very much longer. For a trade union—or an "association of employed persons," to use the phrase in the Act—there had always been from the beginning an automatic right of appeal under the National Insurance Act, but not under the Industrial Injuries Act. The experience of trade unions makes it clear that there should also be an automatic right of appeal there. All this is being swept away, and that is a very good thing.

In my experience, whenever we asked the commissioner for leave to appeal we invariably got it. We did not make frivolous appeals, but always made them on some substantial ground. The fact that we had to obtain leave to appeal wasted time, involved the filling of forms, and much red tape and delay, before the final decision was reached. The delay meant that the injured man or widow was worried about the outcome of the case. The new provisions will save time in deciding cases, and is therefore to be welcomed.

The Bill has been described as modest, but there are many human beings involved in the subject with which it deals. Anything we can do to improve the appeals machinery and make it more fair is very important. The Bill deserves more public attention than it has had and a bigger House than is here at the moment. This type of subject ought to be kept under review. For that reason, I welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Basingstoke on bringing it before us.

12.36 p.m.

Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)

I join in the congratulations which have been extended from both sides of the House and to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) on his luck in the Ballot and his wisdom in bringing forward what I am sure will be a very useful Bill. It is far better to have done this and to be able to say in later years "This I did and influenced the legislation of my time", than to say, "I spoke in a large House and made a very wonderful speech, but nothing came of it." I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading. We may be able to improve it in Committee. This Parliament seems to have a very short life before it, but I hope that the Bill will eventually reach the Statute Book.

The hon. Member reminded us that the proposals he made originated in the Franks Report. We had a debate a short time ago on the regulations which the Minister of Pensions himself introduced to implement many of the findings of the Franks Report and to apply them to the National Insurance system. It is surprising, is it not, that these tidying-up operations seem to follow one another so frequently. There is evident need here for careful watching of the rather elaborate system which Parliament in its wisdom decided to apply, for the determination of claims for family allowances and the benefit provided under National Insurance. Regulations come before Parliament very frequently on this matter. We often say that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. We must be eternally vigilant to ensure that the will of Parliament is effectively done through the machinery which we create, and that is what we are mainly engaged in discussing this morning.

The Bill is essentially one for changing the machinery in some particulars, and we welcome it, but the question is whether this machinery will be more likely than the old to give claimants under the various schemes what Parliament really wants them to have, and that is not merely justice but a humane, patient, careful, and understanding consideration of their claims and their situation. The awarded benefit must adequately meet the suffering and the disability which the claimants have incurred as the result of misfortune. I feel confident that the Minister who is to reply to the debate, and who will state the opinions of the Government, will recognise the great value of the representations which have been made to him by my hon. Friends the Members for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) and East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice). Each of them spoke with authoritative wisdom because of their great experience in the trade union field in administering and watching the administration of this sort of machinery. Essentially, they made a plea for humane administration of the machinery.

We often say that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. That is repeated so often as almost to become a tiresome cliché, yet it is perfectly true. It is equally important that this administration should be seen to be humane and understanding. We know there are cases in which we cannot be satisfied that that is so. At the moment the Minister has under consideration a case to which I had to draw Ins attention. It may prove to be unfounded, but it is a case in which it seemed that the administration of an appeal had not been conducted in that humane and understanding manner which applicants under these schemes ought to receive and which I am sure Parliament wants them to receive.

There is no doubt at all that this is the will of Parliament. We improve the machinery from time to time and it seems to us perfect, but we are bound to ask the question, is it giving the full result we want? That question has been applied particularly this morning to the aspect of assessments under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Acts. When the Acts were placed on the Statute Book, it was the intention of Parliament to try to ensure that, under this new scheme, those who suffered injury or industrial accident and, in consequence, their ability to do their work was impaired or destroyed, would reecive treatment similar to that accorded to war pensioners.

Very largely it was to be a copy of the type of compensation which had been worked out over many years for war pensioners. It was a copy of the war pensions scheme. So far as my information goes, and particularly through listening to what my hon. Friends the Members for Bedwellty and Ince had to say this morning and on previous occasions, I am bound to say that the war pensions scheme seems to yield better results in the humanity of its administration and in the ultimate decisions which are made.

I appreciate that for various reasons it would be difficult, if not impossible, under the Industrial Injuries scheme to do what we do under the war pensions scheme and give the final responsibility to the Minister. True the Minister has to act on medical advice; he cannot make arbitrary decisions of his own. That is quite proper lest any untoward political or other interests might bring pressure to bear on him. He has to act on medical advice, but in the process during which decisions are reached there is endless examination and re-examination of claims. Resort to the pensions appeal tribunal is very much the last resort, and there is frequent review of such claims to a much greater and more searching extent in my experience than can be achieved under the more formal machinery of the Industrial Injuries Acts.

I am not going so far as to suggest that we should adopt the war pensions scheme, but I suggest that the time has come for a study to be made of the results of the two systems and for a comparison between them. I believe the sort of decisions about pensions and assessments under the war pensions administration are what Parliament likes and wants to have. We have only to look at Questions on the Order Paper and compare them with ten years ago. I know that some of the cases have settled down and there are not nearly so many now relating to war injuries, and hon. Members will see that the anxiety of Parliament about individual cases under the war pensions administration has practically disappeared. It is now very rare for such cases to appear among Questions, but they used to be very frequent in Questions and in Adjournment debates. That suggests that Parliament is satisfied with what is being done under the war pensions administration.

As my hon. Friends have suggested today and before, a comparison with the pensions scheme suggests that the same degree of disability occurring under the Industrial Injuries scheme has inferior and not so satisfactory treatment. I suggest that under the Industrial Injuries scheme we are not getting exactly what we want. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North suggested, assessments might vary within the scheme from region to region for a similar disability. That would be unsatisfactory. That opinion deserved very serious consideration and examination as it comes from one so well-informed on this subject.

I am still more concerned about whether it could not be possible to make a review which would have to be done by a specially appointed group of persons with experience of these matters. For example, we might take a retired permanent secretary of the Ministry of Pensions or a retired director-general of medical services and associate him with highly qualified medical men to look through the whole subject to see whether we are getting out of the industrial insurance system not only the same humane administration—that has to be looked at as well—but also the same level of assessment.

This Second Reading debate gives an opportunity to ventilate some of our misgivings about this system and our desire to see it improved. The Bill provides very valuable additions, about which I make no complaint at all, and all of which I welcome, for the improvement of the machinery of the system. I hope that in improving the machinery we shall not neglect the opportunity to review the methods of working to ensure that we have behind it the real humanity we should like to see in all our administration, and to insure that we are giving injured men and women the sort of compensation for injury we want to give, which, after all, the Industrial Injuries Fund can well, afford to give.

12.49 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)

I thought it might be of help to the House if I intervened at this time not exactly to reply to the debate but to give some indication of the view of the Government on the subject matter of the Bill and the principles which lie behind it.

I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) on his success in the Ballot and on having chosen, if not a most spectacular subject, at least a subject which is truly worthwhile and one which has a great deal of human interest in it. I congratulate him also on his speech in moving the Second Reading of his Bill. There is no need for me to try to repeat in detail what my hon. Friend has said about the Clauses. If he has not made them clear, I would not like to claim that I could make them any clearer.

My hon. Friend and other hon. Members have spoken about the different systems of adjudication that we find in different branches of our social services. They could be said to have come about, I suppose, by the order in which the several post-war social service Acts reached the Statute Book. If the main National Insurance Act had preceded the Family Allowances Act, who can say whether the adjudication under the latter might not have been different? In fact, the order was the other way round. The Family Allowances Act came first and, as has been said, it broadly copied the centralised system of adjudication which was familiar under the contributory pensions schemes.

I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend say that, in suggesting the change, he was in no way voicing criticism of the old system of referees—rather, in fact, the reverse. I should like to ask all hon. Members to join in paying a tribute to the Senior Referee, who has been mentioned by name already, Mr. A. C. Longland, Q.C., and his colleagues for the ten years' work that they have done.

It just happens, however, that in the light of experience, the more decentralised appeal facilities which are now familiar in the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries Schemes have proved in practice to have advantages. A larger proportion of appeals can be heard orally, many appellants have less distance to travel and, in many instances, greater speed is possible in disposing of cases. The Franks Committee recommended that this change should be made. If and when it is done, we will virtually have one system of adjudication for National Insurance, Industrial Injuries and family allowances.

The Franks Committee made other recommendations concerning my right t on. Friend's Department and his responsibilities. I claim boldly that the Committee said nothing which could be held as uncomplimentary about this Department. As far as he has been able, my right hon. Friend has already implemented recommendations by regulation: that is to say, those concerned with National Insurance and National Assistance. There was a debate in the House on those Regulations during the summer.

It is almost common knowledge that my right hon. Friend intended, as it were, to write the second chapter and implement the Franks recommendations concerning family allowances and Industrial Injuries when time for legislation was available. Now, however, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke has beaten him in the race for Parliamentary time. The House may, perhaps, consider itself lucky that my hon. Friend has got in first, because I can hardly believe that a Government Bill would have been quite as short and as easy to understand.

The second part of the Bill concerns Industrial Injuries and, again, largely follows the Franks recommendations. Clauses 2 and 3 both appear to aim to improve a claimant's opportunities to appeal. One essential difference, however, has already been remarked upon. Clause 3 removes the existing condition of leave in an appeal from the local appeal tribunal to the Commissioner, while Clause 2 gives an appeal on a point of law from the medical appeal tribunal to the same Commissioner but with leave. There is some reason for this, even though it cannot be claimed as unadulterated Franks.

Here, I would like to say a word about the medical appeal tribunals, which have been criticised during this debate. Nothing designed by man is perfect, certainly in a matter of this kind. I cannot, however, accept the remark of, I think, the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), who said that something was radically wrong. In fact, less than 10 per cent. of cases decided by medical boards ever go to appeal. If, however, the hon. Member will let me have particulars of the first case he mentioned, with the rather extraordinary paragraph that he read out, I will certainly look into it.

Even the most eminent medical men sometimes find it difficult to agree about what the hon. Member referred to as very complex cases. It is doubtful whether we would narrow down the sphere of difference very greatly if we had yet another appeal, because the medical appeal tribunal is in itself a body hearing appeals from medical boards.

Another hon. Member asked how the medical appeal tribunals were appointed. The chairmen, who are eminent lawyers, will be appointed by the Lord Chancellor from a date early in the New Year under the Tribunals and Enquiries Act. The medical members are consultants of high standing. The need for specialists was remarked upon by the hon. Member for Ince and this need is met. Consultants of high standing are appointed, not simply by pricking a list with a pin, but after consultation with universities and, here in London, the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Surgeons. It is difficult, therefore, to see how we could find a more eminent body to hear appeals on medical grounds from the existing medical appeal tribunals.

On the question of law, however, the situation is somewhat different. The legal implications concern only a narrow field, but, nevertheless, a highly complex one. If we are to have uniformity in a system of this kind, it is necessary that the various stages of appeal should have what my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke referred to as an apex; and probably the Commissioner is the best person to fill that rôle. The sort of questions which I envisage coming to him from a medical appeal tribunal are, for example, legal rulings on what is new evidence in justifying a review. This, too, is a difficulty which hon. Members opposite have mentioned. I hope, however, that it will be appreciated that it is far from an advantage to appellants to clog this machine by encouraging hopeless appeals, which often it is against the interests of disabled persons to pursue. That must be borne in mind on the other side.

In Clause 3, the situation is different in more ways than one. The removal of the restrictive condition is a direct recommendation of the Franks Committee. This is, of course, an appeal on fact and law from a decision of the local appeal tribunal, which itself may be an appeal from an insurance officer's decision. It is much more something in the administrative sphere; there is fact and law and the general merit of the question. It is something quite different from the appeals that we have been considering which might go from decisions of a medical appeal tribunal.

One other Franks recommendation to which I want to refer is No. 45, which is not included in the Bill. That is the recommendation concerned with public hearings. It has won less general approval since the publication of the Report. The principle was implemented in the earlier Regulations concerning National Insurance and met criticism in this House during the debate on those Regulations, when my right hon. Friend said that he would keep their working under review. That can also be said to meet the point made by the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) dealing with the public hearing of appeals concerning family allowances.

The House should, however, note that Industrial Injuries appeals are normally open to the public, even though very few of the public ever choose to attend. The 1946 Act gave very wide discretion to the chairmen of those tribunals, and the Franks recommendation would, in fact, narrow that discretion as to when bearings should be in private. Therefore, I think that it can be fairly said that in the Industrial Injuries sphere, the change that might be brought about by attempting to implement that recommendation exactly would be a very small one either way. In conclusion, I should like to say that the Government accept the principles of this Bill, and consider it to be one of value. On the other hand, we cannot have something for nothing here any more than elsewhere. I cannot be precise as to the costs that would result if the Bill were accepted by the House. My hon. Friend did mention this point. I think that it is unlikely that the administrative costs would be less than£100,000 per annum, and might easily be a little more.

I hope that nobody will oppose the Bill on the ground that it will be inflationary, because I think that this additional cost is something well worth while in comparison with the benefits derived by the great many people that, we hope, will result. Therefore, if the House decides to give the Bill its Second Reading I have the authority of my right hon. Friend to say that the Government will introduce the necessary Money Resolution.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).