HC Deb 20 March 1911 vol 23 cc173-5

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a sum, not exceeding £395,500, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Expense of Civil Superannuation, Compensation Allowances, and Gratuities, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1912."


This raises the important question of the application of the Workmen's Compensation Act to those in His Majesty's service. Nobody can doubt the great importance of that Act, but in regard to the schemes under it I am not entirely satisfied that they are working altogether satisfactorily. I think it highly objectionable that the workman should have to satisfy the Treasury that he has sustained an accident. I frankly admit the kindness I have received at the hands of the Financial Treasury in advancing these cases has been great. I have no actual complaint to make against the Treasury at present, but I do protest that it would be infinitely more satisfactory if the men could put their cases before an independent tribunal. It is not satisfactory that they should be dealt with by doctors, however eminent, appointed by the Admiralty and the various authorities under the Government. We require independence in this matter, and the cases require to be properly investigated. A man should be able to present his case and call his evidence, and have an opportunity of testing the evidence called on behalf of the Crown. It has been recently decided that they are bound hand and foot by the scheme which, of course, they have signed. They have no right of appeal, and cannot enforce their case in a court of law. The Government, no doubt properly, take every precaution with regard to these men. They are examined before they enter, and they leave the Government employ at sixty. Consequently, if they sustain an injury, it is exceedingly important their case should be investigated without their being called upon to prove it to the satisfaction of the Treasury. I do ask the Admiralty to consider whether this scheme should not be properly amended in that respect, so as to give us an independent tribunal before whom we can present our case.

There is one other point—that dealing with apprentices. Under the scheme of Workmen's Compensation, if an apprentice is injured in the year immediately following the expiration of his apprenticeship, he only gets compensation on the basis of the wages which he has received in the preceding twelve months. But when he ends his career as an apprentice he passes into an entirely new grade, and his wages are quadrupled. He ought, therefore, to get compensation on the basis of the higher wages. The courts have already decided that private employers should be liable on that basis, and I would suggest that in this case the scheme should be amended so as to secure that a young fellow injured after the expiry of his apprenticeship should be entitled to compensation on the basis of the wages he was in receipt of at the time of the accident, and not on the basis of a past period of his history, which has no application to his present position.


I think that the point raised by the hon. Member is even more serious than he suggested. The right hon. Gentleman will no doubt remember the Home case, which, in ray opinion, was more or less disgracefully mismanaged by the Government. If money had not been found to back up that poor woman, she would never have recovered a single shilling.


I do not think that is so.


The hon. Gentleman may not think so, but I know it to be so. Mr. Home died of lead poisoning. He was sent to a hospital, and the doctors there declared that he died of heart disease. The case was taken up and fought, and it was proved that the man died from lead poisoning. But the Admiralty fought the case until the County Court judge compelled them to give the poor widow £269. Then the Admiralty took the case to appeal. Labour Members should pay attention to these facts because labourers working under documents like these are deprived of a right of appeal. The matter is placed entirely in the hands of the Treasury, who can pay an injured man—or the widow of a deceased man—whatever they like—£10 or £20 only if they choose. Yet because this case of Home was fought the Admiralty had to give this poor woman £269. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to amending these schemes with regard to compensation, so that the decision may no longer remain solely in the hands of the Treasury, but that there may be some sort of appeal open to the representatives of working men who die in the service of the State.


I desire to support the appeal just made to the Admiralty. I have had quite a number of cases passing through my hands, and while I admit that the representatives of the Government have met our claims fairly there is a feeling among the workers that they would prefer to have some neutral authority such as has been suggested. It would certainly allay a feeling of irritation which exists. When we have cases pending for consideration by the Treasury the difficulty is that the poor widow may be kept waiting for months for a settlement, and we can get no reply to the representations we make to the Admiralty. I do think the machinery might be altered and some neutral authority might be provided. It could do no harm, and it might go far to satisfy the claims of injured workmen.


I can only assure the hon. Member that I shall be very happy to take into account everything that he and other hon. Gentlemen have said on the subject, and I shall be very glad to confer with my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who is not here now, to bring before him the questions concerned in this expenditure.