§ Lords Amendment:
In page I, line 3, leave out from "persons" to the end, and insert:
to explain the meaning of physical injury in that Act and in the Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1939; and to make a consequential amendment of section three of the last-mentioned Act.
§ The Minister of Pensions (Sir Walter Womersley)
I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
§ Petty Officer Alan Herbert (Oxford University)
This is a somewhat solemn moment in the history of this House. The Pensions (Mercantile Marine) Bill was considered in this House on Second Reading, in Committee, on the Report stage, and on Third Reading; and at all proper stages I ventured to suggest that not merely this Bill, but the principal Act, and all similar Bills and Acts produced by the Parliamentary draftsmen, were ill-drafted and not clear, either to this House or to the subjects affected or to His Majesty's Judges. I will not say that I was snubbed, but I was courteously rejected by all concerned. Apart from my general objection to the lack of clarity in this Bill, and also in similar Bills, I made specific accusations affecting the subject of tuberculosis among members of the Mercantile Marine. On that I accepted the decision of the House of Commons. The Bill went to the House of Lords. I say "to the House of Lords" because I do not, subject to you, Sir, accept the ridiculous and disrespectful formula of "another place." When I mean the House of Lords, I say "the House of Lords." I wish this House, for once, to pay tribute to the House of Lords for the work it has done for a long time in the correction and drafting of legislation leaving this House. This Bill went to the House of Lords, and was considered by Noble Lords—
§ Petty Officer Herbert
Yes, Sir, on the phrase in the Amendment "to explain the meaning of 'physical injury'." In 128 Committee I raised the question of clarity, and in particular of the meaning of the term "physical injury." I asked the Minister whether "physical injury" included tuberculosis, and he said, optimistically, as he always does, "Yes." I and many other Members questioned that. We said that it was all very well for the Minister, with his humane reputation, to say, My Ministry means the term 'physical injury' to include tuberculosis"; but he may be dismissed, another era of economy may come in. We must put in firm words, to make it quite clear that in the term "physical injury" tuberculosis is included. Now, Sir, an Amendment containing eventually the same point went to another place—if this House persists on that ridiculous, and, I think, disrespectful expression—and there the Noble Lords, led by more senior members than I am in the Service, insisted upon the point. They asked, Is tuberculosis included in the Bill or not? and the Leader of the House, the Lord Chancellor, used the same, kind of language, which, I regret to say, was used by the Leader of this House, another lawyer, for whom I have great respect, but I have no respect whatever for the conduct displayed oh this occasion. They did not do justice to the occasion or to the great profession of the law, of which I also have the honour to be a member. They dismissed all these suggestions and said, "All is well; tuberculosis is included in this Bill." But the House of Lords, led by the Navy, said, "Let us have this in clear, plain language," and as a result this and another Amendment are being put before this House to-day.
I am not going to be at all intimidated, because, as I said on the Second Reading of the Bill, this damned, stupid—[Interruption]—I say "damned," this damned, stupid, foolish, unintelligible system of drafting is going on. I said this in this House, and I have now been proved right by the fact that the Government have come cap-in-hand and have asked the House to accept the Lords Amendments. It is all very well for the Minister to laugh. He laughed on the Second Reading of the Bill, and he laughed on the Committee stage of the Bill, but here am I in possession of this House, and I can stand here talking until the time appointed for the Adjournment of the House, and if I do he will not get the Amendments to the Bill. I do not want to do that, because I want the seamen to have their pensions. But I 129 go back in my mind to 1938 when the right hon Gentleman the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain sat on that bench and laughed at me and a year later did exactly what I had asked him to do the year before, about the Civil List Pensions. Therefore, I advise the Minister not to sit there laughing. I am putting a very serious proposal before this House. I warned the Leader of this House, who, I see, is also smiling, that I can talk on this and all other Amendments until the time appointed for the Adjournment of the House.
§ Petty-Officer Herbert
In that case, all is well. A few smiles having passed on the Treasury Bench, let us get back to the point. The main point is, and was, that Government Bills are imperfectly and improperly and stupidly drafted, that they are not clear, first, to Members in this House, secondly, to members of the public, and thirdly, to His Majesty's judges. That is the point I tried to make on the Second Reading and on the Committee stage. The same point was made by the House of Lords—and I repeat that phrase, which I hope to have now made a precedent—and this Amendment has come back. We are now asked to pass an Amendment not merely to the Bill, but to the Preamble of the Bill, to leave out from "persons" to the end and insert,to explain the meaning of 'physical injury' in that Act and in the Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1939.That means to say that for three years the term "physical injury" has been operating in two Acts and no one has known exactly what it meant.
Now we are to agree, without a word, to the proposal of the Govermnent that we shall accept the Lords Amendment in this respect. I do not want to deride the Government too much. If we deride them for giving way, they will never give way again, but we in this House must always insist—and insist at the proper stage—on having Bills properly and clearly drafted. It is all very well for the Minister to say, "I do not understand a word of this Bill; I told the draftsmen what I wanted, and they produced this extraordinary muck, which I do not understand." That is not good enough. If ever it was my fate to become one of His Majesty's Ministers—which God forbid—I would 130 swear this, that if ever I had to introduce a Bill into this House and the draftsmen produced to me a Bill which I did not understand, or even this House or the public did not understand, I would ask them to take it back and return it in proper form. Such is a Minister's duty.
Having said that, may I again present to the House this point? We are, in this Amendment, asked that we should give a new meaning to the term "physical injury," which has been on the Statute Book for three years in two different Acts of Parliament. Let us not say then that these are mere words, mere academic words of a University Member. Let us get together and try to avoid this kind of thing happening again. I am a House of Commons man, but I admire the House of Lords, especially for the job they have done on this matter, in which they have defeated the great Lord Simon, who is Lord Chancellor, and the great Leader of their House. But I do not want people to say, as they have said, that important affairs of this kind are missed by the House of Commons, and saved by the House of Lords. Now, however, we, I hope, delightedly accept their Amendment to this Bill.
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment ", put, and agreed to.