Pensions Administration.

Part of Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill. – in the House of Commons on 2nd August 1922.

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Photo of Sir Ernest Pollock Sir Ernest Pollock , Warwick and Leamington

I am very glad to associate my profession with the medical profession, because the problems that have to be solved, whether in law or medicine, are both complex and difficult. That decision has to be taken. It is said that after two further appeals—the original Board, the second Board, and the Pensions Appeal Tribunal—you must have a still further Board in order to get finality. Do not let any hon. Member suppose that you can form any criticism upon the work of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal by merely taking the numerical results of the decisions. As time goes on, and as the appeals get higher, it is quite likely that the number of unsuccessful cases will be larger. If any person will take the trouble to scrutinise the results of decisions in the Court of Appeal and in the House of Lords, he will find that the number of appeals dismissed increases as you go higher. Therefore, if you mean by justice that you are to go on until you get to a Court at which the result must be favourable to the ex-service man, you, are probably failing to observe that in the limited number of cases which would go up and up, the probability is that if the original Court, the second Court, and the third Court have already agreed, you will find the greatest difficulty in persuading another Court to upset their decision.

The real point is this. I am going to assume that there are some cases—I think a very limited number—in which, either by the absence of some evidence or possibly by a mistake, an unfortunate decision has been reached. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is a growing number. He and his friends and I have discussed the matter, and we agreed that the number of these cases is not at all large. Let us appreciate what the problem is. You cannot go over the whole number of cases again. You must entrust some body either the Pensions Appeal Tribunal or another tribunal with the duty of giving a decision as to whether there should be any anther appeal or re-hearing. The only ground on which you could allow a rehearing would be on the fact that some evidence had turned up which was not available before or by showing in view of some after-result, or the like, that the original decision in the light of further events had proved unsatisfactory. I confess, looking at the matter and scrutinising it, I am quite satisfied that the number of cases which would satisfy that test would be very small. Even supposing some system of that kind were set up, would it really satisfy the demand of the right hon. Gentleman! My own view, after a careful consideration, is that it would not. His demand is a very much wider demand. I think he has in mind the hope that ultimately everybody will be successful and he would be disappointed if at the end, when he had got a National Appeal Tribunal, any man failed to get an award. That is really what he has at heart, and I cannot hold out any hope that with any appeal tribunal, however high you get, that would be the result.

Therefore we are back to this proposition. Would it he possible to set up a tribunal and give a right of appeal in a very limited number of cases, and to have some almost despotic authority to decide that there should or should not be a further hearing of any particular case? Would that meet what the right hon. Gentleman calls "the growing sense of injustice"? I do not think it would. I do not think you can draw any line between that and the rehearing of all cases in which the applicant would like to make a demand for a rehearing. I have given most careful consideration to this matter, as the right hon. Gentleman knows quite well. I have had consultations with various hon. Members, in order to see if we could arrive at some possible solution of this problem. I have laid down what I believe would be the necessary limits you would have to impose, and I do not believe that any Court subject to those necessary limitations would satisfy what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. If it would, then the matter would have to be dealt with in a further Act of Parliament. There are no powers at the present time under which such a system could be set up. It would have to be by fresh legislation, and if fresh legislation could be adopted and agreed upon generally in the House, subject to those conditions and safeguards which would have to be inserted and it may be to some others, which I have not taken time at the moment to lay down, I would certainly be glad to consider the matter in that light. But I venture to point out how difficult and complex the problem is, and how very serious it would he to raise hopes doomed to disappointment, by suggesting that everybody who failed to get an award in the first instance, would ultimately he given an award.

Although you might set right some of the cases, the existence of which I am going to assume without any further scrutiny, cases which would satisfy the test I have mentioned; I very much doubt, having regard to the fact that we must have finality somewhere, that it would be possible to reach finality and get rid of the sense of injustice by any scheme such as the right hon. Gentleman has indicated. Finally, may I point out that if a scheme be possible, which within those limits could do good I am quite ready to consider it, as I have endeavoured to consider all these proposals. I am merely telling the right hon. Gentleman across the Floor of the House what I have told him in our conversations previously. I very glad to have the opportunity to discuss with him publicly what we have discussed so often in private. I cannot go further than that. These are limits which I think must be imposed, and all I would say is that the right hon. Gentleman will not., I know, claim that his sympathies are any greater than mine, or that I am not prepared to offer every possible consideration to these cases. Knowing quite well how fairly he will receive the observations I have made, and how fairly he has been prepared to work with me to find a solution of this question, I am grateful to him for raising the point and I am glad to have had the opportunity of expressing to him here what I have previously expressed to him in private.