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Column 445What is at issue is the right of the people of the German Democratic Republic to choose their future, democratically and in freedom. East Germans are calling for reform and not reunification. What they will ultimately choose we cannot foretell, but surely the first objective must be the pursuit of real self-determination, followed by the building up of democracy.
Chancellor Kohl has stressed the need to remain level-headed and to maintain a sense of perspective. It has long been the aim of successive British Governments and of the Governments of other Western countries to achieve a reunified Germany based on a liberal democracy, linked to the Western community. That has been our objective and it remains our objective.
There has been much discussion about the future relationship between the European Community and eastern European countries. The way in which we respond to individual eastern European countries will depend on their circumstances, and, crucially, on the extent to which they have carried out economic and political reforms. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has emphasised that we must give every possible encouragement to that reform and to the emergence of democracy.
We must look imaginatively at ways in which to develop new forms of association with eastern European countries. Hon. Members have already mentioned a number of existing models of association such as the association agreements with Cyprus and Turkey that confer particular benefits of trade access and financial support. We also have the model of EFTA, which provides free trade access for manufactured goods. None of those existing models is tailor-made to meet the challenges posed by the eastern European countries, but we must work to extract the relevant elements of the existing forms of association and we must build on them to fashion an adequate response.
The Community must support those in eastern Europe who have striven for democracy and reform. I am absolutely confident that the Community will respond to that challenge. Certainly that is the message that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will take to the meeting of Heads of Government in Paris next Saturday.
Mr. Cash : I endorse what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said about a united states of Europe, which is in line with everything she has said about the issue in the past few years. My hon. Friend referred to what Chancellor Kohl said about a united states of Europe. Does he agree it is possible to equate the united states of Europe with the idea of self- determination for the people of Eastern and Western Germany?
Mr. Eggar : My hon. Friend tempts me down a number of avenues and I am not entirely sure which one he would like me to follow. I have listened to the debate tonight and it is clear that there are a number of different possibilities. We are living in a time of tremendous change and opportunity. We should not spend too much time speculating, but we should look imaginatively and constructively at those opportunities when they emerge. I am sure that we shall see many important moves in the coming months.
Mr. Robertson rose --
It is not for the Community to shape events in eastern Europe, but the strength of the Community will help us to support and to encourage eastern European countries through critical times. Before we get too mesmerised by the debate about the future structure and development of Europe we would do well to remember for a moment the external economic challenges that face western Europe. If we are to assist in the development of eastern Europe, we must first ensure that we are equipped to compete worldwide.
We must remember that the current Community unemployment rate still stands at more than 9 per cent. compared to the United States unemployment rate of 5.3 per cent. We must consider relative economic growth records. Since 1985 the Pacific basin economy has grown by 20 per cent. whereas that of the Community has grown by 12 per cent. only.
The challenge will not get any easier. Between now and 2010 the population of the Third world will grow 45 per cent., that of the United States will grow by 17 per cent., that of Japan will grow by 8 per cent., but the European Community population will grow by a mere 2 per cent. The prospects for the 1990s are that the Community will be faced with a static labour market and will be competing against the low-cost, labour-intensive economies of the far east and elsewhere. That is the scale of the challenge facing us in the 1990s and such is the record that we have achieved in the past four years. When we talk about assistance for eastern Europe let us recognise the scale of the challenge that we have already faced in the Community. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office has said, we want a prosperous and thriving Community, which, through deregulation and increased competitiveness, creates jobs and reduces unemployment. That is the Community we have already begun to build, a Community in which Britain is so often helping to set the agenda.
All members of the Community are committed to the single market. But as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) said, Britain is forcing the pace. We have opened up our markets in banking, insurance, and telecommunications. The depth of our commitment to Europe and to the people of Europe is clear from the way in which we have played a leading role on adoption of single market measures. We have no intention of dragging our feet on those vital issues. Efficient and expanding firms create jobs and prosperity.
Successful enterprise provides improvements in living standards, working conditions and social protection in every country. That is the message at the heart of the social dimension of the single market, and the message that the people of eastern Europe have heard and responded to dramatically. The single market means giving the wealth creators of Europe the chance to create wealth for the people of Europe. Yet some people present the single market as a charter for business, not for people. That is not our view or that of any Community country. All 12 member states share the objective of improving people's living and working conditions through the completion of the single market. They all want to see the market work, because that is the best way to ensure that the people of Europe benefit from improved standards of living and wider choice.
Column 447Britain strongly supports Community action to recognise each other's product standards, to remove outdated regulations which restrict the ability of firms to establish themselves in new markets and, importantly, to enable individuals to take advantage of the new opportunities that the single market will offer.
The Community has agreed on how we see Europe developing and that the way forward is not through imposed harmonisation, but through cross- fertilisation of ideas, approaches and experiences. In other words, we share a vision of diversity within a framework of common goals. We should remember that vision when we consider the proposed social charter.
I stress to Opposition Members that we have never said that we could not accept a charter. We have said categorically that we cannot accept the charter in the form proposed by the Commission. The present draft charter ignores the unanimous agreement of the Madrid summit that any action in the social area should take account of differences in member states' national practices and traditions. In trying to impose uniform arrangements, it ignores member states social systems, developed over the years to suit their own circumstances. We do not want to impose our systems on other member states and we do not see why other member states' systems should be imposed on us, particularly in the light of the Madrid conclusions. We believe that by increasing regulations, the charter will raise costs and lead directly to job losses.
To answer the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), we welcome parts of the draft social charter and support them as a statement of agreed objectives and a commitment to further progress. Those include measures to promote freedom of movement, commitment to the principle of equal opportunities and treatment for all, further progress on health and safety at work and measures to assist the integration into working life of people with disabilities. We have always made it clear that we have no difficulty with those aspects of the social charter. But taken as a whole, and even with the changes that have been made during discussions, the charter remains a deeply flawed document. It seeks to impose harmonisation where diversity is critical to the success of Europe.
What does the charter mean for British people? Ms. Papandreou said in London that she
"cannot believe that people would choose part-time work." In other words she does not think that there is any value in part-time work. She is wrong- -6 million people in this country choose to work part-time because they want to, not because they have to. The hon. Member for Stretford shakes his head, but that is the view of his party, although he may not recognise it. The Labour party's policy review claims :
"rigid work patterns deny people choice and opportunity". Amen to that.
Does the Labour party believe it helpful to deny older children opportunities of Saturday jobs or work experience at school? Does it believe that a 17-year-old who wants to put in a few hours' overtime should be banned from doing so, or that an adult worker who wants to work and save for a family holiday should be limited to a few hours' overtime each week, whatever the wishes of his employer? Is that what the Labour party supports? It is what the social charter means--
Mr. Eggar : The hon. Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Stretford both said that they were not happy with the social charter because it did not go far enough. How many more restrictions do they want to put on the people of this country? How many more jobs do they want to be lost?
The social charter seeks to impose a legally binding minimum wage, which I am sure Opposition Members will welcome. They have said publicly that they want such a wage set at 50 per cent. of male median earnings. Like the Commission, the Opposition have not estimated what the effect of a minimum wage at that level would be. We have done a little work ; we have analysed the economic impact of the minimum wage proposed by the Opposition. It would lead to the loss of about 750,000 jobs. The Commission and the Opposition support that proposal, but they should reconsider their support for it. The draft social charter seeks to ban the closed shop. We would welcome the intention behind that, but we do not think that the Commission should have a role in deciding Britain's industrial relations legislation. The article of the social charter would be wholly incompatible with the closed shop legislation of the last Labour Government. I remind the House that that legislation resulted in hundreds of people being sacked from their jobs without a penny of compensation merely because they refused to be dragooned into joining a trade union.
I trust that the hon. Member for Stretford will make it clear where his party stands on the closed shop. He says that he supports the social charter, so he supports an end to the closed shop. In that case, why has he not supported my colleagues taking the Employment Bill through the House? Can the Opposition give a categorical assurance that if we brought legislation forward to deal with a pre-entry closed shop they would support it? What do the Opposition believe? Do they believe in the social charter, or in the policy on the closed shop that they have pursued ever since the disgraceful days of the mid-1970s?
Other articles in the charter would mean the virtual end of legitimate limitations on strikes and would go further to protect the rights of strikers than the Labour party has ever gone when in Government. For example, secret ballots before strikes, which the Labour party now claims to support, curbs on secondary action and limits on picketing would all have to be abandoned under the social charter. If we agreed to the draft of the social charter, almost all the trade union reforms that we have implemented since 1979, and which have been widely supported by the people, would be overturned. There is a case for a discussion about the form of employment law that we want. The right place to have that discussion is across the Floor of the House. It should not be imposed by some entity in Brussels.
Let us take another subject--employee involvement. The charter presents us with a choice between the German, the French or the Dutch models. We have a different approach. For us, successful employee involvement is best developed on the basis of voluntary agreement.
Column 449they are to the Government. The hon. Gentleman's previous boss, the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), made that quite clear when he wrote in Tribune :
"a top priority must be that worker representatives can choose whichever option for power-sharing they believe will assist them to control their working environment".
There is no scope within the social charter for "choosing whichever option". The only choice is between the German, French or Dutch models. That part of the social charter is no more acceptable to the Labour party than it is to the Conservative party.
I notice that Labour Members are keeping very quiet. I put a serious question to them. What will the Labour party choose? Will it choose to create jobs or will it choose the social charter, which will destroy jobs? Will it choose to support its own stated approach to industrial relations or will it choose the social charter? Will it choose to support flexible forms of employee involvement or the social charter? Will it choose to support the Labour party's policy review, or the social charter?
The Government are quite clear about our objectives. We have made our view on the social charter clear from the beginning, but the Opposition spokesmen have said that they are not in favour of the social charter only because it does not go far enough. They have not bothered to look at what the social charter includes and how that relates to their policy.
Mr. Eggar : The hon. Gentleman has not denied that my interpretation of the social charter is correct. I have been prepared to give way to him so that he can deny that there is a distinct difference between what he says that he will support in the social charter and the policies that his party espouses in practice.
Column 450The Community has agreed on our priority--it is the creation of jobs for the people of Europe. The social charter will not create jobs. It will destroy them.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the White Paper, Developments in the European Community January-June 1989 (Cm. 801).
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments &c.) That the draft Youth Service (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 25th July, be approved.-- [Mr. Sackville.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments &c.) That the draft Apple and Pear Development Council (Dissolution) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 17th October, be approved.-- [Mr. Sackville.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments &c.) That the draft Apple and Pear Research Council Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 17th October, be approved.-- [Mr. Sackville.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments &c.) That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Hotel and Catering) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 18th October, be approved.-- [Mr. Sackville.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Sackville.]
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : In some ways it is apposite that I should have the last Adjournment debate in the current Session, although the case of the late Mrs. Moore goes back much further than that.
Mr. Leslie Moore and his son came to see me in my surgery four years ago, in January 1986. His wife had been assessed by the medical appeals tribunal as being 35 per cent. disabled. Her claims for allowances were thus disallowed, except on that basis. Mrs. Moore appealed against that assessment. Her appeal was lodged on 24 September 1986. She was not examined until 8 July 1986 and she died on 6 December 1986. Mrs. Moore died before her appeal against the tribunal's decision could be heard. Perhaps everybody thought that the case would die with Mrs. Moore, but they reckoned without Mr. Moore who was not prepared to allow that to happen. He felt, in honour of his wife and son, that an injustice had been done and he wanted the case to be pursued. He came to see me to ensure that it was pursued.
We appealed in January 1987. Somehow, that appeal was mislaid in the works. In April 1987 Mr. Moore attended a hearing in Newcastle. After he had attended that hearing, lo and behold, his wife's medical condition was determined to be 80 per cent. disabled, but not all the way back to July when she was examined--only from 1 September. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State will recall that at that time I wrote and asked who picked on 1 September--why not 2 September or 30 August? How could they know, on a hypothetical date after someone had died, that the disability had changed from 35 per cent. to 80 per cent.? That was the wisdom of the medical practitioners who conducted the hearing and reached these decisions.
Mr. Moore was still not satisfied. Nor was I. Therefore we pursued the matter still further. We have now reached the stage where Mr. Moore has been granted 80 per cent. for the period when Mrs. Moore was alive, but only after 1 September 1986.
I reckoned that the tribunal's decision was complacent and arrogant. I wrote accordingly to my right hon. Friend. He replied saying that we could appeal further. He said that it was not a DSS matter but a matter for the medical appeal tribunal. Imagine how Mr. Moore felt as a recently widowed gentleman with a young son in a depressed area in the north-east of England. He could not understand why he was being shoved from pillar to post, and as the person who was supposed to be helping and guiding him, I must confess that I was just as dizzy. But we were told that the MAT was administered by the office of the president of the social security and medical appeals tribunal. So I wrote to my right hon. Friend on 1 June 1987, asking him to look into the case on our behalf.
One year later on 8 June 1988, I again wrote to my right hon. Friend reminding him that 12 months earlier he had written to Mr. Justice Byrt QC, the president of the tribunal, placing the case before him. But the Minister's reply on 30 June said that there was no trace of Mr.
Column 452Moore's claim for attendance allowances. He promised to follow up the president's office to determine what investigations had been made.
On 18 July we sent to the Department details of Mrs. Moore's claim for the attendance allowance which had come to the surface. On 5 September 1988, all that long time later, Mr. Justice Byrt replied that on the balance of probabilities Mrs. Moore might have been severely disabled, and on the evidence that was available she would have a right of appeal to a social security commissioner. We thought that we were getting somewhere. But there was only one small snag. The social security commissioner, in his infinite wisdom, decided not to grant my constituent right of appeal.
In September 1988, having received that decision, we had to ask to have it set aside. In January 1989 we received a letter from the secretary of the office of the president. The papers had been sent to his office on 28 September 1988 but extensive inquiries in Leeds and Newcastle revealed no trace of Mr. Moore's set-aside application, the implication being that it had been lost in the post. It was bad enough to lose the appeal without the information being lost in the post, but we resurrected it, got it back to the surface and pursued it further. We sent photocopies of all the information to those who had lost it.
In February 1989, I received a letter from Mr. Moore saying that he still had not heard, so on 2 March I wrote again to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asking him to bring pressure to bear on that bureaucratic quango which appears to be responsible to nobody and able to do or not to do whatever it wishes. My right hon. Friend replied immediately saying that tribunals were independent and it would be wrong for him as a Minister to seek to bring pressure to bear on them because he could be criticised for so doing. On 29 March 1989 we knew that we had been refused and the only course of action was to apply to the social security commissioner for leave to appeal, and that had to be done within 42 days. We checked it at our office at the House of Commons because we were no longer satisfied with the competence of the people who were charged with that responsibility. We were told that it had been dealt with expeditiously. That was on 12 April.
On 16 August Mr. Moore again telephoned me to say that he had heard nothing and I again contacted my right hon. Friend's office to ask whether anything could be done to bring some compensation, or at least some consolation to my constituent in respect of his late wife who had been dead for some considerable time, yet as far as he was concerned, the case was still alive.
On 8 August, Mr. Moore was told that the case would be heard in four weeks and that Judge Bromley would decide it, but on 6 November--a little more than four weeks later--Mr. Moore again rang my office to say that nothing had been heard.
At that stage, I took advantage of an hon. Member's right to initiate an Adjournment debate on the subject. Lo and behold, the day after your Office, Mr. Speaker, informed me that I had succeeded in obtaining an Adjournment debate, my constituent received a reply saying that he had been given leave to appeal. Was that not miraculous? We still have not an affirmative judgment in our favour, although the amount of money involved is very small. However, it involves a big point of principle.
I am raising this matter tonight because my constituent cannot be the only person who has been treated in this
Column 453abominable way by those charged with the responsibility of ensuring that tribunals and justice are dealt with expeditiously and that no one is kept hanging around.
I received a further letter today, which I shall read so that it is on the record. It comes from a high source. It says :
"I write to apologise to you directly"--
the letter is to my constituent, but this is my copy--
"for the very regrettable delay at the Office of the Social Security Commissioners in dealing with your application for leave to appeal to a Social Security Commissioner. Let me explain how the delay came about.
OSSC received your application for leave initially in February 1989, but I understand they were obliged to ask you for a copy of the decision of the lower tribunal"--
That is the letter that was lost by somebody else--
"after which they returned the application for leave to lower tribunal on 15 March 1989 because it could be dealt with by the lower tribunal's Chairman within the 3-month time limit allowed for applications for leave to appeal. The Chairman of the lower tribunal refused your application for leave on 21 March, after which the papers returned to OSSC. In April, OSSC requested all the necessary background papers from DSS and the local tribunal's office in Redcar. All the papers were received at OSSC on 10 May, but at this point things went wrong".
This is on 10 May 1989, but I have been pursuing the matter since 1986.
"What should have happened is that OSSC staff should have made up a complete file and put it, with your application, to a Commissioner for a decision. Unfortunately, instead OSSC clerical staff misfiled the papers, putting them away in a registry where files are held pending the receipt of further papers which are expected from the DSS or the lower tribunal.
The error was only discovered on 10 November, when my Department and OSSC first became aware of your case as a result of the intervention of your Member of Parliament, Mr. Holt, who will raise the matter at an Adjournment Debate on 15 November. As soon as OSSC realised their error, they constructed a case file and put it before a Commissioner, who considered your application for leave to appeal and granted it. I am advised that notification of that decision was sent to you on 10 November by first class post. Thus, the way is now open to you to proceed with the appeal in the usual way.
I very much regret the anxiety and distress that this long and unnecessary delay must have caused you--all the more so, because it concerns an appeal on behalf of your late wife. Unfortunately, mistakes of this sort do sometimes occur and I know that the staff at OSSC are very sorry for what went wrong. The work very hard and appreciate the importance of their work to appellants and their families. On their behalf, I apologise to you again most sincerely and I trust the appeal will now proceed smoothly.
I should add that I am most grateful to your Member of Parliament for bringing the matter to our attention so that it could be sorted out quickly. Therefore, I am sending him a copy of this letter." That was signed by Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
We cannot have a more fulsome apology from a more senior person in Government. Is it not disgraceful that I have had to raise this matter on the Adjournment after all this time and that the medical evidence which is the subject of this appeal to some extent cannot be verified in any way? Doctors have to say whether another doctor has made a mistake. Doctors do not do that--doctors never make mistakes. The report of 8 August 1986 stated that the chest condition would deteriorate at some future date. The doctor was right. Six or seven weeks later, after the fourth course of chemotherapy, my constituent--who was still assessed as only 35 per cent. disabled--died.
Column 454I hope that there will be three happy postscripts to this saga. I shall be able to remove this file from my live files. Mr. Moore will be given that small sum of money covering that period during his wife's severe illness, and he will be able to put his file away. With your leave, Mr. Speaker, we will wish Mr. Moore well, because he remarried last weekend. We want to put this matter behind us and wish him well for the future. I realise that my right hon. Friend the Minister cannot answer all my points because the matter is sub judice. This use of bureaucracy to befuddle people must not happen again. Most people would have dropped the case by now. Mr. Moore deserves justice. I hope that he will receive it.
The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : My hon. the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) has recounted what all those listening will recognise as a sad and, in many ways, very unsatisfactory story. That it started four years ago and is still unresolved is distressing for Mr. Moore, who is the person most directly concerned.
Looking at the matter from my point of view, independent of the social security commissioners' office, I like to think that, although this may not be the only case that has gone so badly wrong, it would be exceptional for any case to go quite as wrong at this one has. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise that the letter that he has received from the Lord Chancellor will be regarded, in the administration of these matters, as something that Lord Chancellors rarely have to produce even for such distinguished Back Benchers as my hon. Friend. Lessons will be learned throughout the organisation about the importance of delivering a more effective service than was delivered in this case.
I reiterate the gratitude that the Lord Chancellor expressed in his letter, when he said that he was grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the matter to his attention so that it could be sorted out quickly. It is in my interests and the Government's interests that those who are entitled to benefits get them and that if matters are to be settled independently of Ministers--as they must be when medical conditions are involved--they are at least managed expeditiously. I acknowledge that in this case that has not happened.
My hon. Friend acknowledged in his closing remarks that tribunals have to manage these matters. One cannot establish essentially medical criteria to entitle someone to receive a benefit--whether mobility allowance, attendance allowance or, as in this case, severe disability allowance--and establish a medical body to make the decision and then have Ministers who are not qualified trample all over it. It would be nonsense to do that, as I know that my hon. Friend recognises.
My hon. Friend has recounted much of the story, but perhaps I may tell it from the point of view of those on this side of the fence although, as I have said, it does not bring much credit to the workings of the system. The benefit that Mrs. Moore was claiming was severe disablement allowance and there are various criteria that have to be satisfied if a person is to be successful in such a claim. A person must have been incapable of work for a continuous period of 28 weeks. Additionally, a person who claims after reaching the age of 20 needs to be assessed as being at least 80 per cent. disabled for the whole of this qualifying period. I gather from the records that the late
Column 455Mrs. Moore last worked on 31 October 1985 and claimed severe disablement allowance on 4 April 1986, which is when my hon. Friend began his story. Her local social security office, which deals with claims for the allowance, properly arranged for the claim to be referred to an independent adjudicating medical practitioner to assess her degree of disablement.
Arrangements were made for her to be medically examined for this purpose on 16 June but, unfortunately, she was unable to attend. New arrangements had to be made and the examination took place on 8 July. The adjudicating medical practitioner assessed her degree of disablement at 35 per cent. and a notification that her claim had been disallowed was issued on 22 July. That may not have been a satisfactory outcome, but at least at that point everything was proceeding with some promptness.
We recognise that these decisions cannot be simply referred to Ministers and the way in which decisions can be challenged is through the independent appeal system. Mrs. Moore's appeal to a medical appeal tribunal was received on 1 September and the relevant papers, with the Department's observations on them, were sent to the tribunal on 24 September. It was thought that the tribunal might need additional medical information to help it with is assessment. Case notes were then requested from hospitals where Mrs. Moore had been treated. Extracts from those notes were made by a medical officer on 16 October and these were approved by the tribunal on 5 November. That was still reasonable progress.
The tribunal was held on 14 April 1987 and it decided to assess Mrs. Moore as being 80 per cent. disabled from 1 September 1986. Unfortunately, no benefit was payable as a result of that decision due to the fact that the assessment had not run for the continuous 28-week qualifying period by the time of Mrs. Moore's sad death on 6 December 1986. I can well appreciate that Mr. Moore found this decision very disappointing. I should put it higher than that and say that he found it extremely distressing.
In June 1988 my hon. Friend raised the matter with the then Under-Secretary of State and, following inquiries within his organisation, judge Byrt, the president of the social security appeal tribunals and medical appeal tribunals, wrote on 5 September 1988 to explain that Mr. Moore had been advised of his right either to apply to have the tribunal decision set aside or to appeal to the social security commissioner, but that no such application had been received. Mr. Moore applied to have the decision set aside on 28 September 1988 and, on that same day, his application was forwarded to the regional chairman's office in Leeds. As my hon. Friend will know, it was not until he again made representations that it was realised that the application had been lost between London and Leeds. The president's office wrote to my hon. Friend on 13 January apologising for the delay and arranged for a tribunal to consider the application on 20 February 1989. In the event, the tribunal refused the application. Mr. Moore was notified of that and was advised of his right to seek leave to appeal to the commissioner.
I turn now to the involvement of the office of the social security commissioners in this case. The commissioners are
Column 456the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor, as my hon. Friend made clear he realised when he read out the letter from my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor.
Mr. Moore applied on 24 February 1989 for leave to appeal to the commissioner against the medical appeal tribunal decision, but he omitted to send a copy of the tribunal decision. He was asked to produce it and, it was realised that the decision was within the three-month time limit enabling leave to be granted by the tribunal chairman. The tribunal chairman refused leave on 21 March 1989, after which the papers were returned to the commissioner's office. Efforts were then made to retrieve them. Some of them had been destroyed by the tribunal office and eventually our Department of Social Security office in Redcar produced a complete set of the original papers, which were received at the commissioner's office on 10 May 1989. At this point, something went very seriously wrong. A file should have been made up and put before a commissioner promptly for him to make a decision. Unfortunately, the clerk misfiled the case papers into a holding registry where case files sit pending receipt of further papers. This error was not discovered until 10 November 1989--a date of special significance to my hon. Friend--when the Lord Chancellor's Department was first made aware of this evening's debate.
My hon.Friend may take some comfort from the fact that the case was put before a commissioner on the afternoon of 10 November and that leave has been granted. In an attempt to speed things along, observations have been requested within 21 days instead of 30 days as is normal. I am advised that notification of this decision was sent to Mr. Moore on that day, and the way is now open for the appeal to be considered by the commissioner in the normal way.
The Lord Chancellor, on behalf of the office of the social security commissioner, has asked me publicly to reiterate the apology that was conveyed to my hon. Friend in writing for this most unfortunate delay in dealing with Mr. Moore's application for leave. Although there have been some delays at the commissioner's office in dealing with such matters-- caused by the significant increase in the work load and the number of appeals over the past 18 months--the delay in this case was caused by a clerical error which, when discovered, was dealt with with great promptness.
The Lord Chancellor has also asked me to thank my hon. Friend for raising the matter and to say that he has written personally to Mr. Moore to apologise. It was generous of my hon. Friend to acknowledge the heartfelt and generous nature of the apology that he received from my noble Friend. I can but add my apologies to those of my noble Friend for the problems that Mr. Moore has experienced in this distressing case. I cannot, of course, predict the outcome of an appeal--my hon. Friend would not expect me to do so--but our apologies are heartfelt.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Ten o'clock.
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