HC Deb 09 July 1918 vol 108 cc267-74

(1) The Secretary of State may by scheme provide for the payment of compensation by the employers of workmen in any specified industry or process or group of industries or processes involving exposure to silica dust—

  1. (a) who are certified in such manner as may be prescribed by the scheme to have suffered death or total disablement from the disease known as fibroid phthisis or silicosis of the lungs (in this Act referred to as silicosis) or from that disease accompanied by tuberculosis; or
  2. (b) who, though not totally disabled, are found on medical examination to be suffering from silicosis, or from silicosis accompanied by tuberculosis, to such a degree as to make it dangerous to continue work in the industry or process, and are for that reason suspended from employment:

Amendment proposed (24th June), leave out the words "involving exposure to silica dust."—[Mr. Ellis Davies.]

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."


When the discussion was adjourned the question was raised as to the number of workmen affected by this Bill. I do not know whether the hon. Member is in a position now to tell us what the number is. Another question arose as to the increased number of workmen who would come within the scope of the Bill if my Amendment were accepted. I have already referred to the Report of the Committee which was appointed by the Home Office and sat ten years ago to consider the question of industrial disease. After ten years' consideration of that Report the Government should now be in a position to bring in a general Bill dealing with the recommendations of the Committee. The recommendation of that Committee was that fibroid phthisis was a disease in respect of which the workman contracting it should be able to obtain compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act. Instead, however, of dealing with the disease generally, what it is proposed to do is to give compensation only to those workmen who contract the disease in a particular manner. The only industries to which it has been applied are those which involve exposure to silica dust. This is too narrow, because there are plenty of other industries which involve danger of this disease and to which this right for compensation should apply, if this measure is to be of much use. We are not asking the Home Office to include more workmen, but merely to take powers to apply the Bill to other workmen later on if they see fit. Of course, I say quite frankly that my object in bringing this before the Committee is to enable the Home Office to include within the provisions of the Bill, and their advantages, the men in the slate quarries of North Wales. Ten years ago we submitted to the Home Office Committee medical evidence on this question and established the case of these men to be included. Therefore, I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, if he cannot now see his way to include these men, that he should obtain powers to do so later on if desired. I am quite at a loss to understand what possible objection there can be to the course that is suggested. If he refuses to do what is asked, and the question has to be dealt with later on, it can only be dealt with by a separate Bill, and, in face of the admission that the disease does exist, and has been known by the Home Office for the last ten years to exist, the recommendations of the Committee should be carried out, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept this Amendment.


I think that the demand made by my hon. Friend is in no way an extravagant one. He asks that power should be taken to include these quarrymen to whom he refers. The Committee which reported ten years ago recommended that the whole of this disease should be dealt with, and after the lapse of ten years the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the measure brings in a Bill dealing with only half of those who are affected by the disease. What my hon. Friend desires the right hon. Gentleman to do is not to bring in the other half of the men on this occasion, but simply to take power that the Home Office, if it suits them, on a future occasion shall be able to deal with the other half of the men affected by this disease. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman between the last discussion and this evening has seen his way to deal with the whole of the disease.


I may point out to my right hon. Friend that I have been making inquiries among the insurance societies, who are becoming very familiar now with the various diseases, as to their views upon this Bill. The medical view is that it would be exceedingly difficult ever to make use of it. They consider it almost impossible to prove that silicosis exists, and that being the case, as it is a thing that could be very rarely applied, there can be no harm in widening the words as proposed in the Amendment. I did not on the last occasion think that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carnarvon had quite such a strong case as I now find he has. The fact that it would be very difficult to establish medically this disease constitutes an additional reason why the governing words should be as wide as possible, and as the Amendment is one only giving wider powers to the Secretary of State, I hope that my right hon. Friend will consent to take these larger powers.


I much regret that I do not find myself in a position to agree to the proposal made by my hon. Friend, not because of any want of sympathy, but because if I accept the Amendment it would alter entirely the whole scheme of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon dwells wholly upon the Report of a Committee which inquired into this matter about ten years ago. He has forgotten entirely to investigate the Report of a Committee which reported as late as the year 1914. I think it is true that one of the witnesses, and only one of the witnesses, before the Industrial Diseases Committee in 1907 did declare that fibroid phthisis was to be found among the slate quarrymen of North Wales, but if my hon. Friend will look at the statistics in this Report signed by Dr. Haldane, the greatest expert in this matter, and signed also by the workmen's representative of the North Wales quarrymen, wherein they declare that no case is made out for dealing other than with the disease of silicosis, he will at once realise how difficult it is for me to accept a proposal to enlarge this measure. These are the actual facts. When my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow declares that a very strong case has been made out, I would have him appreciate the significance of the figures which I have taken from the Second Report of the Royal Commission on metalliferous mines and quarries which reported in 1914, and it is upon this Report that I am founding this Bill. Their findings are confirmed by the following figures. The yearly death-rate from phthisis for all males of every occupation is given as 2.1 per 1,000. I think that in the silica industries we get for workmen employed in granite quarries 5.7 and 15.2 for grinders. Then we have 16.7 for stonemasons working on sandstone, 17.6 in the tin mines at Cornwall, and 22.3 for ganister mining. I would urge the Committee to recognise the significance of these figures, which show an incidence tremendously in excess of the average figures, and it will be seen at once that to ask me to enlarge the Bill is to ask me to depart from the recommendations of the Commission, and to accept a widening of it which I am sure would considerably increase the difficulty in passing it. We are founding ourselves on this Report of 1914, and we take power to bring in schemes of compensation for the various industries the figures of which I have given. We have to set up schemes for every one of these industries, and when my hon. Friend asks me for the number of men in the scheme and the number left out I am unable to give the figures. The Home Office has not all these details, because we do not know the number of industries that may be able to establish the fact that those employed are suffering from this disease.

9.0 P.M.

We are taking powers to include in the scheme compensation in every industry where the workers suffer from silicosis, and I think my hon. Friend ought to co-operate with us in giving this measure a start. My hon. Friend says the Home Office have been waiting ten years with a Report of this kind before us, and that we have waited until now before taking any steps. The Home Office have waited from 1914, and it is upon the Report of that year that we are founding our Bill. When the experts told us that we ought to do something in the prevention of this disease, and compensation for men suffering from it, we at once began to take steps to that end. We have not been more than a year in framing a scheme of mutual insurance between the employers of the ganister-mining industry, and having got through that scheme we shall have to arrange schemes for other industries—tin-mining in Cornwall, the granite-cutting industry, and other industries. In view of the provisions of this Bill, I think my hon. Friend, instead of complaining of the Home Office, ought to compliment them on the real desire they have shown to deal with this very difficult problem. I am not unmindful of the fact, as pointed out by the hon. Member for Pontefract, that it may not be easy to say whether a man is suffering from silicosis or not, but we are going to set up a great medical department, and a great medical scheme, under which we shall be able, by more scientific methods, not only to pay compensation, but to ascertain whether men are suffering from silicosis, so that they may be dealt with at once by getting them into another industry for their protection and the protection of their wives and families. I hope the Committee will accept this Bill as a real scheme of social reform. I am unable to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend. We have founded the Bill on the recommendations of the Report to which I have referred, and the Home Office is persuaded that there is a good case made out for dealing with this terrible disease in a more scientific manner than it has been dealt with hitherto. I venture to hope that the Committee will not only give us the Committee stage, but the other stages of the Bill.


The right hon. Gentleman states that this Bill is founded on the Report of the Commission of 1914, but the Report to which I referred was issued ten years ago, and it was the Report of the Commission which sat in 1907 and 1908. They reported how this disease was affecting various industries, and on the question of compensation. The Home Office have waited for ten years since that Report before dealing with the matter. As a matter of fact, we have not been asking the right hon. Gentleman to-night to change in any shape or form the provisions contained in the Bill; all we have asked him to do is merely to leave the words with reference to silica out of the Bill. The effect of that would be, if the right hon. Gentleman came to the conclusion that there was some other industry in which this disease of silicosis occurred among the workpeople, then he could come to this House and draft a scheme and provide for compensation. The right hon. Gentleman seems to assume that we are opposing the Bill, but we are supporting it. He tells us that we are apparently going to change the whole order of the Bill by merely asking the Home Office to take extending powers. Unfortunately, the method of the Home Office in dealing with slate quarries in North Wales is quite in keeping with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman.


May I join in the appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to extend the provisions of this Bill? I have been connected with the slate quarrying industry for some time, and from what I hear from medical men I have not the slightest doubt that this form of disease with which the Bill deals is rife among the quarrymen. It appears to me that the Bill is capable of being extended in such a way that, without including them definitely, the right hon. Gentleman may say that he will in the Regulations include the quarrymen. That is all we are asking. We do not want to limit or to block the Bill, but if the quarrymen suffer from this disease why should they be left out?


They will not be left out.


That is the matter in dispute. If they are not to be left out, why not make the measure so clear that they will be included?


If the quarrymen suffer from fibroid phthisis, the disease known as silicosis, then they will come within the provisions of this Bill.


The whole of the difference appears to be on the question of silica being the cause or not, but there is no question about this, that phthisis is very prevalent in quarries, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should take power in this Bill to deal with that disease. Why the Home Office should object to taking extended powers puzzles me, because it appears to me that the greater the power they hold the better for everybody concerned. I earnestly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to extend the Bill in that way.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


I should be glad if my right hon. Friend could give me some assurance that this will come into operation and be effective. I was very much disquieted to hear medical views to the effect that it was very difficult to prove any cases when I inquired what effect the Bill would have on the insurance claims. Approved societies are more and more giving attention to the fact that sickness pay should not be substituted for the just burdens of a business in compensating those who are injured in the pursuit of that business. This seems to be such a case, and I welcomed the Bill because persons who up to now were drawing insurance money would under it be able to get something more substantial in the way of compensation. Incidentally, I would like to say that we all admire the spirit of the hon. Member who has spoken and who is a large quarry owner, because he will suffer in pocket, if anything, if the Bill passes. Can we understand from the Government that they have some definite hope that a fair number of cases will be proved? One does not want a Bill of this kind brought in to satisfy a little bit of agitation and to comply with a Report, and then to be a dead letter, and it is because I have received very disquieting information and was told that practically the cases would be so few that they would not affect the Insurance Act at all, that I hope my right hon. Friend will give us some more encouraging news.


If I thought for one moment that there was substance in what my hon. Friend has said, I would not have wasted my own time nor that of the House in bringing in this measure. We have already arranged for schemes for the ganister mines in Yorkshire and for a number of workmen in other sections of the silica industry in other parts of the United Kingdom. We have arranged with the employers that they shall mutually insure, and that is the only way that we could deal in a compensatory sense with a disease of this kind. We are setting up committees for the administration of those schemes, and side by side with that we are setting up great medical schemes with scientific medical men, appointed by the Home Office but paid by the mutual insurance schemes, to conduct periodical investigations, and from what I know I am confident that this will be found in practice to be a great scheme of social reform. After we have got our scheme floated for this ganister mining we shall go on to another, and if we find by further investigation that it is desirable or necessary to extend the provisions to other industries like the slate quarrying industry, we shall come to this House and found ourselves on the success of those schemes in asking for greater powers.


Why not take the powers now?


We would rather take such powers as we see our way to accomplishing at the present time. We have the Royal Commission's Report, and I am assured that it can be taken in its dual sense of protection to health and life, and compensation, and I ask the House to believe, from the Home Office standpoint, that it is a very real measure of social reform.

Question put, and agreed to.