§ LORD TREOWEN, on behalf of LORD KENYON, rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether, in connection with the Pension Appeal Tribunals, they are aware of the fact that in some cases after the appeal has been disallowed additional evidence has been forthcoming which would probably have altered the decision of the Tribunal if it had been available at the time of the hearing; and whether in view of this they will undertake to arrange for the introduction of the necessary legislation which would make it possible for appeals of this description to be re-heard.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Kenyon has been unable to stay, and has asked me, in the interests of ex-Service men, who are very much concerned, to put the Question standing in his name. The case of one man was given to me, and the evidence was clearly conclusive of the fact of his having contracted the disease when on service. Such cases must occasionally—I hope not frequently—arise, and I hope that the Government may be able to give an assurance that some steps will be taken to enable a further appeal to be made.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a very important Question, and I would gladly have avoided adding to the many responsibilities which I discharge the special responsibility in connection with these Pension Appeal Tribunals, which in the event I was not able to resist. The demand for an independent Tribunal whose decision should be final was the demand of the ex-Service men, as represented to the Select Committee on Pensions, and the terms of Section 8 of the War Pensions Act, 1919, which provide for finality of decision, were passed with the full approval of both Houses of Parliament in 1919. It was inevitable that appellants who considered their claims good, should, in some cases, be dissatisfied with the finding of the 667 Tribunal, but, apart from isolated instances in which a request for re-hearing has been pressed upon the Ministry, no serious demand with this object has been made.
This question (among others) was, however, discussed at a conference which the Minister of Pensions held with the Presidents of the Tribunals for the three parts of the Kingdom, in April of this year, in order to ascertain their views as to the merits of the suggestion that a re-hearing should be allowed where fresh evidence was forthcoming. It was unanimously the opinion of the conference that in no single instance had it been shown that fresh evidence of material importance had been produced after the healing of a case, and that, in the interests of appellants, and possible appellants, it would be unwise to amend the provisions of Section 8 of the 1919 Act so as to allow re-hearing.
The practical difficulties in the way of allowing a re-hearing of a case once settled, are obvious. Re-hearing could only be allowed if fresh evidence were produced; but the question whether the alleged fresh evidence is fresh, or is material to the case, would have to be determined either by the Ministry of Pensions or by the Tribunal. The question could clearly not be determined by the Ministry of Pensions, because this would make the Ministry practically judge of the case in which it was a party; while to leave it to the Tribunal would mean, in effect, that any dissatisfied.appellant would press to have his or her case re-heard, and this would necessarily double, or even treble, the work of the Courts. It would, of course, be possible to allow of an appeal to another Court altogether, but this would increase the cost quite as much as allowing the Tribunal to determine whether there were fresh material evidence.
It ought to be added, in conclusion, that if a further hearing or further appeal is to be allowed to dissatisfied appellants, the Ministry of Pensions would equally have to have the same right of further hearing. Cases have arisen in which the Ministry find it difficult, within the terms of the Warrant, to award a pension, because it appears that the Tribunal failed to appreciate the material facts of the case which would otherwise have barred out the claimant's case, or in which the Tribunal has, in the opinion of the Ministry, strained the meaning of terms in the Warrant altogether outside either the intention of those 668 terms, or the common acceptance of them. If the demand for re-hearing is pressed, the Ministry would he obliged to reconsider its own position in regard to cases of this character.
We are, therefore, face to face with the position that the opinion of the Minister, that the procedure and determination of the case by the independent Tribunal is accepted by the great body of pensioners and ex-Service men, is well founded. I agree in this respect with the Minister of Pensions that the present procedure is equitable and that it is accepted by the great body of pensioners. My noble friend, Lord Kenyon, placed his Question on the Paper and I have replied to it now, because no hour of the evening can be considered too late in which to deal with anything relative to the claims of the ex-Service men. Moreover, the answer to the Question will show that the matter has been examined and re-examined by the Minister of Pensions, who is responsible for the system, and by myself on whom rests the responsibility for the methods under which the Tribunals have been set up.
§ LORD TREOWEN
I am much indebted to the noble and learned Viscount for the reply which he has just made and for the sympathy shown by him. I do hope that it may not be found to he beyond the wit of man to devise sonic means of dealing with this matter.