rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 4 June be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, has indicated that he intends to move an amendment to the Motion. I will address what I believe to be his concerns and, as he will not be surprised to hear, ask him to withdraw his amendment at the end of the debate.
The Act received Royal Assent in July 2007. Part 1, to which the three orders relate, creates a new two-tier tribunal structure—the first-tier tribunal and upper tribunal. As my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Bridget Prentice, noted in moving this order in the other place, the Bill had an excellent passage through both this House and the other place after being announced in November 2006 as part of the Queen’s Speech. This is testament to what the Act will achieve as well as to the stewardship of my noble friend Lady Ashton of Upholland who guided it through its proceedings here, and my honourable and learned friend, now the Solicitor-General, who steered it through the other place when she was at the Department for Constitutional Affairs.
The Act is the culmination of many years of hard work to reform this country’s tribunals system set in motion by Sir Andrew Leggatt in his review Tribunals for Users. Sir Andrew told us that we needed to create a single tribunals system. He told us these tribunals had to be completely separate from the government departments that made the decisions being appealed against, and that they should all be overseen by a separate distinct judiciary and administration.
The Government established a unified administration for tribunals with the creation of the Tribunals Service in April 2006. The Act took tribunal reform much further and addressed the disorganisation of tribunals by creating a cohesive statutory framework with a unified tribunal judicial system. It is a system, however, within which the specialisms of individual tribunal jurisdictions will be supported and, indeed, enhanced.
The first-tier tribunal and upper tribunal will bring together existing Ministry of Justice tribunals and tribunals in other government departments. They will be led by the Senior President, Lord Justice Carnwath, who was appointed under the Act in October last year. The first-tier tribunal will be the first instance tribunal for most jurisdictions; appeals from the original decision-making body will usually commence in this tier. The upper tribunal will deal with appeals from the first-tier tribunal and from some tribunals outside the unified system. It will also have the power to deal with judicial review work delegated from the High Court, and a few specialist cases will commence in the upper tribunal.
Onward appeal from the first-tier will lie to the upper tribunal only with permission and on a point of law. The onward appeal from the upper tribunal to the Court of Appeal or the Court of Session will also be only with permission and on a point of law.
The main base of the upper tribunal will be located in central London; however, it will have the ability to hear cases throughout the UK.
Both the first-tier and upper tribunals will be split into chambers grouping together similar jurisdictions, as set out in the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal (Chambers) Order, a statutory instrument subject to negative resolution procedures and laid on 15 October 2008. The chambers order divides the first-tier tribunal into three chambers—the social entitlement chamber, the health, education and social care chamber and the War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber. The upper tribunal will initially have only one chamber—the administrative appeals chamber. These chambers will be able to maintain and expand expertise and incorporate new jurisdictions where they fit best.
Judges and members can be invited to sit in another jurisdiction, but only if the individual satisfies the eligibility criteria, has undertaken any necessary training and there is a business need. It is essential for providing a good service that specialist expertise is protected and improved.
Each chamber under the Act is required to have a chamber president, whose role is the maintenance and improvement of the chamber’s expertise. They will usually be selected by the Judicial Appointments Commission. Their aim will be to ensure that the proper degree of judicial expertise is brought to bear on cases. They will also be judges of the upper tribunal. In addition to this, each jurisdiction will have a principal judge. These will be the current leads in the jurisdiction and will provide continuity in judicial leadership in the new system.
The Act also creates a Tribunal Procedure Committee that will bring greater consistency and simplicity to tribunal procedure rules. Committee members have been appointed by the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord President and the Senior President of Tribunals. The membership of the committee includes a representative of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, whom I am delighted to see in his place. The AJTC was created under the Act to replace the Council on Tribunals and has, through its seat on the committee, a central role in the rule-making process for tribunals. The Tribunal Procedure Committee has made rules for each of the chambers of the first-tier and the upper tribunal. The rules were laid on 15 October 2008.
The new system will have greater flexibility in absorbing new work or responding to fluctuations. It allows the introduction of a more coherent appellate system from tribunals, and clarification of the relationship of tribunals to the principles set out in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. It will also create more adaptable boundaries between courts and tribunals by allowing the courts to transfer certain types of case to tribunals and reducing the need for judicial review hearings in the High Court.
We conducted a 12-week public consultation on the proposals, which ran from November 2007 to February 2008. The response was published in May, and copies were laid in the Library of the House. While the proposals were, on the whole, very well supported, serious concerns were expressed by members of the Armed Forces community about the possible impact on the service which the Pensions Appeal Tribunals provides for them as a result of implementing the Act. In particular, they were concerned about the proposed transfer of the PAT England and Wales jurisdiction into the social entitlement chamber.
In recognition of these concerns, I would like to advise the House that following further consultation on the chambers’ structure, in recognition of concerns expressed by members of the Armed Forces community and the special relationship between service personnel and the Government, the decision has been made to create a separate War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber. I pay tribute to, among others, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester and the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, whose very effective submissions got us to change our mind.
The Government’s decision has been made with the full involvement of the Confederation of British Service and Ex-service Organisations—COBSEO—and other key organisations. This will ensure that service personnel can benefit from the advantages of being within the new tribunal structure while ensuring that the unique nature of the jurisdiction is not compromised or diluted. The chamber will have its own rules and procedures, and the present role of service members on hearing panels will be maintained without diminution or alteration. The negative statutory instruments laid on 15 October reflect and buttress the unique nature of the Armed Forces jurisdiction within the unified tribunal structure.
In addition, the Lord Chancellor and the Senior President of Tribunals have made a joint statement explaining the basis on which the work of PAT England and Wales will transfer into the new tribunal system. The joint statement was included in Written Ministerial Statements made by the Lord Chancellor and myself on 16 October 2008. If noble Lords have not had the opportunity of reading that Written Ministerial Statement, I invite them to do so. It is a very comprehensive Statement, which includes passages that were helpfully suggested to the authors by the noble Lords to whom I have referred.
Ex-service and service organisations and the noble Lords to whom I referred have worked tirelessly with the Government to reach the best possible outcome for the ex-service and service men and women who are the users of the PAT and should always remain the focus of any proposals that will impact on the jurisdiction. The Government are committed to ongoing transformation of our tribunals, placing the user at the very heart of the service. The orders that I ask the House to approve today are very significant steps towards achieving this. The Government have decided on a phased introduction of the new tribunals system, starting in November. This is to avoid disruption to service delivery. None the less, we aim to implement the new system as soon as is practicable.
The Transfer of Tribunal Functions Order effects the transfer of various existing tribunals listed in Schedule 1 of the order to the first-tier tribunal and the upper tribunal established under Section 3 of the Act. The order has various primary functions, and in addition contains various minor, consequential and transitional provisions in respect of the transfers.
On the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal (Composition of Tribunal) Order 2008, Schedule 4 to the 2007 Act requires the Lord Chancellor to make provision, by virtue of this order, for the number of members on a tribunal panel and whether these members should be judges or non-legal members. It further enables these duties of the Lord Chancellor to be carried out by the Senior President of Tribunals, which this order will do.
For the first-tier tribunal, the order requires the senior president to determine the number of members of a tribunal. In doing so, he is required to have regard to the practice that existed in the tribunal before it was transferred into the first-tier tribunal. The order sets out the qualifications or experience that a person must have to be eligible for appointment as a member of the first-tier tribunal or upper tribunal who is not a judge of the tribunal. It generally reflects the intentions set out in the Government’s consultation paper by retaining existing qualifications required for non-legal members of transferring tribunals with some additional flexibility introduced to reflect widening areas of expertise suitable in some jurisdictions.
I have spoken of the concerns that were expressed by members of the service and ex-service community in respect of the transfer of PAT into the new tribunal, and the steps we have taken to address these concerns. One concern was that the role of the service member should be preserved for the Armed Forces jurisdiction. While the composition order does not explicitly do this, other measures have been taken to ensure that appeal panels must include those who understand the particular nature of service in the Armed Forces. The Senior President of Tribunals has produced a draft practice statement on composition of tribunals which requires the continued use of service members on hearing panels within the War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber. The president and deputy-president of the PAT have been consulted on the draft and are in agreement with it. The qualifications order requires that service members have substantial experience of service in Her Majesty’s naval, military or air forces. These measures will ensure that the present role of service members in the Armed Forces jurisdiction is maintained without diminution or alteration.
The Government believe that any further application for permission or leave should satisfy at least one of the requirements without exception. This restriction is necessary as appellants will already have had two appeals and two opportunities for their case to be heard. I am dealing with some of the more detailed elements of the order relating to appeals from the upper tribunal to the Court of Appeal. I do not think that I need to go into details on those orders, but of course I am in a position to do so if I receive comments and questions about them.
I know that this has been a vexed matter over a number of months and the Government are grateful to those who have taken such an active interest in ensuring that we have got it right; I think that we have now. I commend the draft order to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 4 June be approved. 21st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Bach.)
rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out from “that” to the end and insert “this House declines to approve the draft order laid before the House on 4 June because it abolishes the Pensions Appeal Tribunal in England and Wales”.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the wording of my Motion, which I tabled before the Summer Recess, makes clear that my worry at that time was about the future of the vital work of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal in England and Wales. I have no issues to raise on other tribunals affected by the orders that we are debating.
At the end of last year, I was alerted to concerns about the Government’s intentions for the future of PAT in England and Wales. I tabled a Written Question then, but the Government seemed determined to transfer the work of PAT in England and Wales into a social entitlement chamber of the new first-year tribunal, even though that was strongly rejected by all PAT members, judicial, military and medical—the experts—and by a number of the service charities that support individuals’ appeals against their war pension or injury compensation awards. The House will appreciate that all too often appellants are young service personnel who, while fighting for their country, have received most grievous physical and mental injuries, which they will have to bear and cope with all their adult lives.
We, the nation, owe such individuals, their families and dependants an absolute duty of fair treatment. This PAT has provided since 1919 as a highly regarded and trusted statutory independent body. Fair treatment for the Armed Forces, their families and veterans has recently been underwritten by the Command Paper entitled The Nation’s Commitment: Cross-Government Support to our Armed Forces, their Families and Veterans. I quote just one sentence form the foreword by the Prime Minister, who said:
“I am determined to ensure that they are fairly treated”.
Perhaps the House will share the concerns and indeed outrage of many much more closely involved with this topic than me that merging Armed Forces’ appellants with asylum support, social security and child support appeals tribunals’ work would be to treat injuries sustained in battle as if they were the same as any other “social entitlement”.
Even following meetings last June with Bridget Prentice, the Ministry of Justice Minister in charge of this issue and the Senior President of Tribunals, Lord Justice Carnwath, the Government remained obdurate. An article for inclusion in service charities’ news letters about the transfer of PAT functions to the social entitlement chamber was widely distributed from the office of the Senior President of Tribunals, although at that time the orders had not been approved by either House. With the help of the noble Baroness who is now Leader of the House, the Ministry of Justice was persuaded to hold further discussions with the service charities, which continued through August. In early September, Bridget Prentice agreed with the concurrence of senior president to set up a separate War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber, to which the Minister has referred, in the first-tier tribunal, although she insisted on placing on record that it would be better for the functions of the PAT England and Wales to go to the social entitlement chamber.
Given that ambivalent attitude, and the fact that the PATs in Scotland and Northern Ireland are to continue unchanged, noble Lords may agree that it was and still is important to seek assurances from the Government about future arrangements for PAT England and Wales. The Lord Chancellor and the Senior President of Tribunals last week made a Written Ministerial Statement, published in the Official Report on 16 October—the Statement to which the Minister referred—which deals not only with the various details of the Armed Forces chamber, including rules and membership, but clearly explains to the many who were dubious about the intention to abolish a major part of PAT why the Armed Forces chamber would be as good, perhaps better, for the users—that is, the appellants and their supporters.
I hope to hear from other noble Lords whether they agree that the Government have now done what is necessary to reassure appellants, their supporters and the public at large that the Government are honouring their commitment to treat fairly those in the Armed Forces who have been harmed physically or mentally in discharging their duties.
I have one query for the Minister, of which I have given him notice. Bearing in mind the ambivalence to which I have referred, will he assure the House that the Lord Chancellor and the Senior President of Tribunals have no intention at some future date to abolish the new War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber and transfer its work to another existing chamber in the first-tier tribunal, and that if this were ever contemplated, parliamentary approval, ideally by means of affirmative order, would be required? The statutory independence of PAT (England and Wales) goes once it is abolished. It should be on the record that the new Armed Forces chamber still enjoys statutory protection and that parliamentary authority would have to be obtained before it could be abolished. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.
Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out from “that” to the end and insert “this House declines to approve the draft order laid before the House on 4 June because it abolishes the Pensions Appeal Tribunal in England and Wales”.—(Lord Craig of Radley.)
My Lords, for reasons that many noble Lords will readily understand, I am delighted to be following my good friend the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. The constancy of his commitment to war pensioners is for me reminiscent of a speech by the Duke of Marlborough after Blenheim. Addressing this House on his return from that great victory, he said that much the best way to celebrate it was not to heap praise on him, but to act justly to the men who had fought so bravely with him. It is from that proud tradition that the noble and gallant Lord’s motivation derives. With integrity, intellect and stamina to spare, he has been centrally involved in the issue that we are now met to debate all the way from the grid to this final lap.
I have interests to declare—none of them pecuniary—as the honorary parliamentary adviser nationally to the Royal British Legion since 1988, as a governor of St Dunstan’s, as national vice-president of the War Widows’ Association, as the architect and promoter in 1970 of legislation to strengthen the Pensions Appeal Tribunal; and as the Minister for War Pensions from 1974 to 1979.
This is a rare parliamentary moment, one of proof positive that parliamentary scrutiny is still alive and well in the Palace of Westminster. The noble Lords who worked to bring it about, not least during the Summer Recess, were from all parts of the House but of one mind and a shared determination to avert a wholly unnecessary confrontation with men and women who, alone in this country, contract with the state to make the ultimate sacrifice in its service, and the bereaved families of those who do so.
We were not a cabal, simply a coming-together of concerned parliamentarians as realisation spread that what was contemplated in implementing the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 was nothing less than the destruction not just of the PAT but of any prospect of a stand-alone, specialised and independent successor to its work. That was made plain in the PAT’s admirably clear response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation document, Transforming Tribunals. The PAT’s response set out with clarity and in detail how the document’s bland assertion that the purpose of the reforms was to give a better service to its users contrasted with the reality that Armed Forces appellants would be subjected to a marked worsening of the service currently available. The PAT’s response drew attention also to the reality that appellants would in future be dealt with by a tribunal structure in England and Wales very different from those in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
That response, despite the standing and unrivalled experience of its authors, was summarily set aside as the pace of the drive to give legislative effect to the department’s proposals quickened, even to the point of corner-cutting in consulting the ex-service community. Indeed, Sir Roger Carnwath, writing as senior president of tribunals, sent me on 20 June what noble Lords later referred to as his,
“all done and dusted letter”,
which stated that agreement had been reached following a meeting of veterans’ organisations that he had hosted earlier that day and that he would send me copies of a “straightforward explanation” of what had been agreed—already being prepared by his office—for inclusion in their newsletters and websites.
Moreover, Sir Roger’s letter said that it was in,
“an e-mail from The Royal British Legion”,
following the meeting, that the veterans’ organisations had confirmed later that day that they were,
“now content with the new tribunal arrangements”.
The sequel to that letter was sharp and strong. It came in a letter sent to Sir Roger by Christopher Simpkins, the legion’s director-general, within days of his having seen the letter from the senior president of tribunals to me of 20 June. The director-general’s response made it clear that he was disturbed to see the views,
“attributed to The Royal British Legion since they do not reflect our position”.
The legion had made it “consistently clear” that it wished to retain the PAT, and the director-general concluded:
“Our fundamental position, for the avoidance of any doubt, is that we do not support the demise of the PAT which has served our beneficiaries so well”.
Chris Simpkins, like Air Vice-Marshal Tony Stables of COBSEO, became a major contributor to the outcome of all the extra-parliamentary effort involved in helping to achieve a just outcome in this House. Their input was exemplary throughout. High tribute is due also to Dr Harcourt Concannon and his admirable team—some would say fellowship—at the PAT. They deserve well of this House.
That we have come so far since the threatened breakdown in June is much to the credit also of my noble friend Lady Royall, who has won the respect and admiration of the ex-service community. She knows how important, too, has been the help of, among others, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, and the noble Lords, Lord Cope, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Henley; and they in turn know how helpful have been the noble Baronesses, Lady D’ Souza and Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord McNally.
For parliamentarians, there is surely no more compelling duty than to vouchsafe the well-being of the war disabled and bereaved, and it is much to the honour of your Lordships’ House that parliamentary scrutiny has so demonstrably triumphed here in discharging that duty to them. They are very special people.
My Lords, I have one short question for the Minister. Many years ago I served from time to time as a medical member of medical appeal tribunals on appeals against decisions of the Ministry of National Insurance relating to injury in the course of employment. Also from time to time I served as a medical member of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal, which dealt not only with compensation for injuries suffered in service, but also specifically with disease or illness either beginning in or attributed to service. The title of the new Armed Forces compensation chamber suggests that it is likely to be dealing with compensation. Will the Minister clarify whether pension appeals regarding disease or illness beginning during service or attributed to service will be in the authority of the new Armed Forces compensation chamber?
My Lords, in intervening in this short debate I declare the interest already implied by the Minister; namely, that I am chair of the Administrative Justice and Tribunals Council, which, in its former guise as the Council on Tribunals, was involved with the oversight of tribunals for some 50 years.
The Minister has also referred—and I thank him for that—to the fact that in my capacity as chair of that council I am a member of the Tribunal Procedure Committee. In that context, I wish to pay tribute to the huge amount of work put into the procedure committee by one of our members, Bronwyn McKenna.
The Minister has explained the orders, and I have neither the wish nor the intention to ask him a lot of technical questions, difficult or otherwise. My purpose is simply to express the hope that the House will support these orders that enable a further significant step to be taken in the modernisation and reform of the tribunal system, which is due to be taken on 3 November. It will not escape the attention of the House that 3 November is barely 10 days from today, so it might be thought that Ministers have been operating a bit close to the wire. Indeed, they have. The reasons for that have become clear in the speeches already made in the debate.
I do not want to enter into further argument on the matters that have been raised by the noble and gallant Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, and which are in the minds of others, I simply wish to say that it is a matter of considerable relief to me and to many others that in recent times there has been a spirit of seeking agreement, which appears now to have been achieved. That provides a way forward, and, as a result, we have avoided actually hitting the wire and not being able to proceed on 3 November.
My contribution is concerned with the broader merits of the programme of change that this is part of. If anyone doubts the worthwhile nature of that overall, I commend paragraph 7, headed “Policy background”, of the explanatory notes circulated with the orders. I shall not quote, repeat or elaborate on it, but it brings out the extent to which tribunals—not only in disputes between the citizen and the state but also in some other important field such as employment rights—are a major part of our justice system which have long been under recognised and given insufficient attention. Over many years they grew piecemeal and they often remained administered by the departments whose decisions were being appealed against. That is something that troubled me well over 25 years ago now when I was a social security Minister. That is now being addressed as a result of Sir Andrew Leggatt’s report, together with the fact that too many tribunals were answerable to the departments that took the decision in the first place and the absence of a proper structure and career path, whether for judiciary or staff. So the provision is very welcome and worth while.
The Minister started with Sir Andrew Leggatt and his report. In a sense, this goes one step back to a previous Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who recognised the problem and the need and asked Andrew Leggatt to prepare his report. It is to the credit of three successive Lords Chancellor—the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine and Lord Falconer, and now Jack Straw—and a number of junior Ministers, not least the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, that this work has been carried steadily forward over six years to bring us to where we are now, with a further step being taken in a significant improvement to our justice system. Many people have worked very hard to get us to this stage, not least Lord Justice Carnwath, the Senior President of Tribunals. I simply say that it is pleasing to see those efforts rewarded by what I hope will be the further step agreed by the House today.
My Lords, I agree with and support all that my noble friend Lord Newton has just said about the overall changes being made today. I want to take a brief opportunity to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and all the others involved both inside and outside your Lordships’ House on the important success in persuading the Government to change their mind in the past few weeks on the particular aspect of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. It would have been a grave error simply to abolish the tribunal and put all such appeals into the general social tribunal. The Armed Forces deserve special treatment in this matter. They are under great pressure at present. I declare an interest of a sort in that my son-in-law, a TA soldier, is currently in Afghanistan where he and his colleagues are required to boost the numbers of the Regular Army for their operations.
The Minister’s reference to “flexibility” of the new system might worry some people reading these proceedings. The new war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber of the first-tier tribunal will be watched with care to ensure that it is set up and continues to run as the Minister has helpfully explained today. I suspect that he may say to the noble and gallant Lord, in answer to his question, that any change under current legislation will be subject to negative rather than affirmative procedure. That matter is not in the Minister’s gift, but he will no doubt explain that.
I would not want anyone, whether Minister, civil servant or lawyer, to think that after an interval this might somehow slip quietly into some sort of amalgamation with the other chapters or blur the edges. It would be an error to suppose that.
Sense has prevailed. I add my thanks to those already made to the Ministers who saw the light early, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who achieved the right result. The main credit and thanks should go to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and, overall, it is a victory for the House of Lords.
My Lords, on the whole, these Benches were fairly supportive of the Bill during its passage, expressing, where we felt necessary, our strong feelings and, indeed, objections, with regard to some of the detail, and, more particularly, how that detail would translate into daily usage and its effect on the applicants in question or, as the Government like to refer to them, the stakeholders. It is in that context that I return without apology to the Government’s decision to abolish the PAT, which we felt was taking streamlining much too far, and the results of which would be seriously deleterious to the military stakeholders at a time when their support within our society is most needed and should be demonstrably visible.
Like others, I thank the Minister, his predecessors and his whole team both here and in the other place—and, of course, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the noble Lords, Lord Morris and Lord Cope, and others—for their hard work in giving effect to legislation which was needed to some extent, while protecting the very people it was meant to serve. Directing all of the former Pensions Appeal Tribunal’s work into a specific chamber of the first-tier tribunal, which we seek to put into effect today, will provide a compromise—perhaps one that we would have preferred not to have to even contemplate, but one that all involved parties wish to seek work as constructively as possible.
I wholeheartedly support the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, in the questions that he asks when he expresses his concern as to the future of the newly proposed stand-alone chamber. How can its survival be assured against a backdrop of further reorganisations, future financial constraints, numbers of applications and so on? The list is as long as any scenario one might anticipate, especially in the case of any future change of Administration. It is clear that Parliament should have the final say, especially where abolition or restriction of such a chamber's activities might be concerned. Equally, the current statutory protection enjoyed by the PATs must be expressed somewhere in clear-cut terms with respect to the WPAFC chamber; the initialisms get even longer.
I shall refer briefly, however, to the Minister's statement on the proposed steering committee tasked with ensuring cohesion of jurisdiction between the different PATs and the new chamber. I would welcome the Minister’s assurance that the steering group will continue to coexist with the new chamber; and that the independent chair should have some military and legal knowledge. Who will the steering group actually report to? Will it be in writing? Will Parliament be informed of its work and adhesion to its recommendations? Finally, on the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal (Composition of Tribunal) Order 2008, which we are considering today, the president must be fully aware and must be guided by the content of the Minister’s statement when addressing issues pertinent to the new War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber.
My Lords, I hope that I can be brief; most of what needs to be said has been said. I thank the Minister for coming to this House, making the concession that we all sought and explaining it in some detail—he took some 14 minutes, on the longer side of speeches for such orders. However, we were all grateful for that because, first, they deserve a good explanation and, secondly, we were grateful for the degree of contrition that the Minister showed on the Government’s behalf for having got things right and, then, having listened to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and all the others mentioned, coming to some sort of compromise.
We are debating the Motion of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. I shall concentrate on that and the PATs because the rest of the order is not so controversial. In that spirit, like the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, I declare that I, too, served as a war pensions Minister from 1989 to 1993, under the then Secretary of State for Social Security, my noble friend Lord Newton. I therefore know a little about the PATs and how they worked.
My first point is about the lack of consultation, and what I suspect is a lack of consultation within government. We all know that there was consultation, but the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has described how that consultation was possibly ignored. It took the later rows of this summer to sort things out. Back in my day as the war pensions Minister, when it was situated in the Department of Social Security—I imagine the same was true when the noble Lord, Lord Morris, was there—a body known as the Central Advisory Committee on War Pensions met under the chairmanship of the Minister at least twice a year and gave him advice in fairly robust terms on its concerns about the current issues within war pensions. The Minister would listen to all of those and, feeling rather bruised, would probably take them off to the Secretary of State to see how these matters could be sorted out. He knew that he would be back in front of that committee six months later and would have to report on how these matters were going.
I ask the Minister what has happened to the central advisory committee. Has it been moved to the Ministry of Defence with the new Veterans’ Affairs Minister? If it has just been wound up, that is rather a retrograde step; I hope that that is not the case. However, if it has been moved, was it consulted on these matters? What did it have to say about that? I take it that the Veterans’ Affairs Minister was consulted, because his response is referred to. What was it asked and what did it say? I hope that the Minister will let us know about that in due course.
Secondly, I underline and repeat the principal question of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. What assurances can the Government give us that there will be no further changes to the new chamber that will cover war pensions, without the approval—preferably affirmative—of both Houses of Parliament? In answering that, will the Minister turn also to how pensions appeal tribunals have worked in the past, and tell us a little about burden of proof and standard of proof? The Minister will remember, possibly far better than I, that in the criminal court guilt must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. Within the civil courts, guilt is found on a balance of probabilities. The Minister will remember that war pensions operate on a completely different and lower burden of proof. They just have to show that there is a reasonable doubt that a particular problem was caused by service; as I understand it, that has been the case since 1919. Can the Government assure us further that that will be preserved, and that we will not see a change to the whole question of burden and standard of proof as applied to war pensions as a result of them moving in to this new set-up, even with the assurances we have been given?
Thirdly, there is different treatment between Scotland, and then England and Wales. As the Minister will know, we see the different bodies being transferred to the first-tier appeal tribunal in Schedule 1. Some I have experience of, such as the Special Educational Needs Tribunal, originally set up by the Disability Discrimination Act and the Education Act 1996. On education, Scotland and England can go their separate ways to some extent, because education is a devolved matter. War pensions certainly are not. There is a possibility that in Scottish courts decisions on appeals from the old PATs will vary from appeal decisions in the English courts from the various tribunals here. It does not matter for education because it is a devolved matter, and 100 flowers can blossom—whatever the expression.
My Lords, the noble Lord corrects me. However, that cannot apply to war pensions, where we obviously need a unified structure covering the whole country.
I hope that the noble Lord can deal with those questions. I thank him for his efforts—he was not involved initially and therefore was not responsible for achieving consensus on the matter—as this is a difficult matter and he and his department were put under great pressure. I hope that the new Ministry of Justice will learn that it is better to consult deeply and to listen to what consultees have to say, particularly when many of them have so much experience in these matters.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their support for where we are today. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, for describing in slightly broader terms what these reforms are about in a wider context. I pay tribute to him for the enormous amount of work he still does, with his expertise gained from many years’ experience in this important field. I have already congratulated those noble Lords, many of whom are present and some of whom spoke, who put pressure on the Government to reach a more satisfactory conclusion.
I wish to speak briefly. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, gave me notice that he would ask whether the Government intended at some future date to abolish the new War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber. I hope he will not be surprised to hear me say that there is no intention to do that. Moreover, it could not be transferred to any other existing or future chamber without a statutory instrument being laid. However, as other noble Lords pointed out, under the 2007 Act, the negative procedure would apply to such a statutory instrument.
The noble Lord, Lord Walton, asked a relevant question about what would be covered by the new chamber. I am delighted to tell him that the entire jurisdiction of the existing PAT will transfer to the new chamber of the first-tier tribunal, including the matters which he raised. As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lee, I have information on the advisory steering group, but I think it would be helpful to him and to the House if I wrote him a letter to deal in a little more detail with the questions he asked. I shall send a copy of it to all those who spoke in the debate and place a copy in the Library. I shall do the same as regards the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. As I understand it, the central advisory committee is placed at the Ministry of Justice. However, I am sure that the noble Lord will want a little more information than that.
My noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester referred in his excellent speech to COBSEO. On 14 October that organisation wrote to my honourable friend Bridget Prentice and advised her that it was pleased to endorse the proposal to transfer the PAT (England and Wales) into the War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber of the first-tier tribunal. I am convinced that it would not have been so persuaded had it not been for the compromise proposed by the Government and the pressure put on the Government by noble Lords.
We were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Newton of Braintree, that not many days are left before the new system is due to come into place. Like him, I hope that the House will pass these draft orders and wish them good speed. The War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation Chamber will have the job of doing justice to members of our Armed Forces who have sacrificed so much for the rest of us. I refer noble Lords to the Written Ministerial Statement that has been mentioned. It states:
“To reflect the special nature of a jurisdiction serving those who alone in this country contract with the state to lay down their lives in its service and in recognition of the special relationship between service personnel and the Government as characterised by Command Paper … it has been decided to establish a war pensions and Armed Forces compensation chamber”.—[Official Report, 16/10/08; col. WS 49.]
That in itself pays tribute to our Armed Forces. I was privileged to be a Defence Minister for almost four years, so I am absolutely delighted to stand at this Dispatch Box satisfied that the new arrangements are acceptable to the House, as I hope they will be.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his considered response. I also thank all noble Lords who supported this very important new arrangement for pensions appeals. I am, of course, grateful for the many kind remarks that noble Lords made about me and my efforts. I am grateful to all those who have worked tirelessly on this issue, not only Members of this House and service charities but those in the Ministry of Justice. A good deal of midnight oil has no doubt been burnt, but a satisfactory arrangement has been reached, which will be kept under review by the steering group to be set up in the next few months. There are too many to thank to mention everybody, but the leadership and guidance of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, and the understanding of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, both as Government Chief Whip and more recently as the Leader of your Lordships’ House, were without parallel. The considerable efforts of COBSEO and its family of service charities have made a major contribution. If there is one lesson to pass on to the Ministry of Justice and the Government it is that when service charities enjoy the support of noble Lords for their efforts, it is a gross error of judgment to think that they can be dealt with serially. We work together to achieve the best result possible for the people we are supporting. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
On Question, Motion agreed to.