Appeal Tribunals.

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Armed Forces (Pensions and Grants). – in the House of Commons on 23rd July 1942.

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Photo of Mr Walter Womersley Mr Walter Womersley , Grimsby

This Question has again been fully and carefully considered by His Majesty's Government, who remain definitely satisfied that at the present time it is not possible to set up tribunals in sufficient numbers to deal with all the appeals which would inevitably be made. On more than one occasion I have referred to the lack of suitable personnel both for the number of tribunals required and for the additional work which would fall upon my Department. The position in this respect is daily becoming more difficult, and the necessary staff could be obtained only by diverting to this work persons at present engaged upon, or available for, work of immediate national importance.

Careful consideration has also been given by His Majesty's Government to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) that pensions appeals should be heard in the county courts, but, apart from the difficulty which the judges would have in undertaking this serious addition to their already heavy labours, the suggestion does not find favour with any of the bodies which have been consulted as representing the interests of the persons concerned. I have myself discussed this matter not only with my Central Advisory Committee, but also with the British Legion in England and Scotland and with the Trades Union Congress on behalf of civilian claimants to whom a right of appeal would no doubt be extended. Each of these bodies has expressed a strong preference for my proposal to wait until it is possible to set up tribunals on the old lines. I think these views will carry very great weight with the House.

There is one other suggestion which has recently been made to me, namely, that a beginning might be made with one or two tribunals, in order that some appeals might be dealt with. His Majesty's Government have thoroughly examined this proposal from all points of view, but feel equally unable to accept it, as they are convinced, both on general grounds and in the light of past experience, that nothing can give rise to greater dissatisfaction than the appearance of giving a right of appeal which cannot be effectively exercised by all would-be appellants on an entirely equal footing. His Majesty's Government have, therefore, come to the conclusion that they cannot, go beyond the undertaking already given in their name that a full scheme of tribunals shall be set up at the earliest moment when circumstances make this possible. I would again remind the House that statutory tribunals in respect of the last war were not established until late in 1919. Everyone will agree, however, that members of the Armed Forces should not be prejudiced as regards the effective date of a successful appeal because of delay in the establishment of tribunals and I am glad to be able to announce that, subject to satisfactory evidence as to the degree of disablement, a successful appeal by a member, who within six months of discharge made representations to the Ministry as to its failure to grant a pension, will be made effective from the date of discharge.

In cases where no representations were made within six months of discharge, the effective date of any award will be the date on which such representations were first made. Where entitlement arises from a modification of the provisions or the interpretation of the pension instruments, the date of such modification will be the earliest effective date. To defer the setting up of tribunals will, therefore, not prejudice the claimant and will leave staff available for other spheres where they can make a greater immediate contribution to victory.

In conclusion, I would add two points: Firstly, I am taking full advantage of the arrangement under which cases where there is serious doubt or difficulty on a medical question can be referred to an independent expert nominated by the president of one of the Royal Colleges. In no case have I rejected the opinion ex- pressed to me by one of these experts. Secondly, I have asked my War Pensions committees to hear representations from applicants where claims have been rejected. I give careful consideration to the submission of these committees and I think that this arrangement is proving helpful to all concerned.