As from the commencement of this Act the additional weekly sum payable under the Workmen's Compensation (War Addition) Act, 1917 (in this Act referred to as "the War Addition Act"), shall, in the case of a workman who at the time when any payment falls due under that Act is of the age of twenty-one-
years or upwards, instead of being a sum equal to one-quarter of the amount of the weekly payment, be a sum equal to three-quarters of the amount of the weekly payment.
Amendment proposed [9th December]:Leave out the words
in the case of a workman who at the time when any payment falls due under that Act is of the age of twenty-one years or upwards.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."—[Mr. Adamson.]
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Major Baird)
The Debate on this Amendment was adjourned when it became apparent that there was a misunderstanding in regard to the extent of the arrangement which the Home Office believed to be reasonable between the Miners' Federation on the one hand and the Mining Association on the other, and in accordance with the arrangement we made that evening the parties have been to the Home Office, and it became apparent that there was a misunderstanding. To make a long story short, the Government have decided to advise the House to accept this Amendment. We have done so because it would be unwise to prolong the period of uncertainty which prevails until such a measure as this is passed. Therefore it becomes most important to get this measure on the Statute Book. I have seen a certain number of the people concerned, though not all. But I have seen the representatives of the Accident Offices Association, and it is largely because of the patriotic attitude which they have adopted that it becomes possible without further reopening the question with those whom we negotiated before to accept this Amendment. The Accident Offices Association have informed us that they can accept the increased liability caused by the removal of the twenty-one years' limit without any additional premium. As I informed the House on a previous occasion, they have also undertaken to meet the increased charges that will at once become payable when this Act passes, so far as the men at present receiving compensation are concerned, and they are doing so without any increased charge. I think that that is an important consideration, and having regard to the necessity of getting this measure through, I trust that the Committee will support the Government in accepting the Amendment.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I am very pleased that the hon. Gentleman has seen his way to 1724 accept this Amendment. It brought us face to face with a rather serious difficulty in connection with this addition to the Workmen's Compensation Act. However, the statement which the hon. Gentleman has just made relieves the situation to a very large extent, and we are very much indebted indeed to him for it.
Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I beg to move, to leave out the words "three-quarters" and insert instead thereof the word "twice."
The object of this Amendment is to make an effort to deal with the necessities of those who are in receipt of this workmen's compensation in view of the increased cost of living. The Bill provides for increasing by 75 per cent. over the pre-war rate the compensation payable. As is well known, the cost of living has increased by over 100 per cent. At the moment it is standing at 122 per cent. over the pre-war rate.. It will be very difficult for those in receipt of workmen's compensation, which has only been increased to the extent of 75 per cent., with the increased cost of living standing at at least 115 per cent. I move this Amendment in the hope that we may get similar consideration as in the last case from the Under-Secretary of State and the Secretary of State himself.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Shortt)
I hope that my right hon. Friend will not press this Amendment. The whole question, as he knows, has been one of considerable discussion and discussion of various interests concerned. Of course, one of the chief interests concerned is that of those responsible for paying this money. As my hon. Friend has said, the insurance companies, who are the persons who will actually make the payments, have behaved in a very broad-minded way. They have accepted certain premiums in order to meet changed provisions. Now we have accepted the position that the twenty-one years' limit shall not be imposed, and that, of course, increases the liability which the insurance companies are bound to undertake for the same premiums. We are now asked to put in words which would increase very largely the liability of the insurance companies. It would increase very largely the number of cases in which the man would get just as much if ill as he would if working. 1725 There would be no incentive to get well and no incentive to return to work again. I am quite sure hon. Members opposite will appreciate what I say when I state that, having discussed these matters with the insurance companies who are liable, we could not possibly accept an Amendment which would add very substantially to their liabilities. If this were carried it would be very difficult to know what our position would be, having regard to the fact that we have made these terms with the insurance companies.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I am very sorry that the Home Secretary cannot accept this Amendment. It is a very modest request and one which undoubtedly is overdue. Before the War began the maximum sums payable for compensation were totally inadequate, and that inadequacy has been very much emphasised during the War owing to the increased cost of living. The condition of many working men whose recovery from an accident has been protracted has been very pitiful; in many cases they have had to pawn furniture and other things in order to keep the home going. The Amendment would have extended compensation only to £2, instead of 35s. It would have been a slight advance for the sufferer. I think the Home Secretary made one slip when he said that if this was accepted the effect would be that some men would actually get as much by staying at home as they would get when at work. The Home Secretary is a lawyer, and I give way to him on points of law. But if I understand the Act aright, the only thing a man would be entitled to would be £2 if that sum represented half his wages. That being the case, the criticism of the Home Secretary is not well founded. There is another serious aspect of the question. Owing to the fact that the compensation paid to these workmen has been so very limited there has been a demand made upon the Poor Law of this country to assist them in their destitution. It is very undesirable that the Poor Law should have to come to the relief of the employer in keeping a man when he has met with a very serious accident, and at a time when he certainly needs more rather than less assistance. The most deplorable aspect of that side of the question is that the man immediately becomes a pauper and loses his rights as a citizen.
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
I regret very much that the Home Secretary will not accept the Amendment. He is certainly under a misaprehension in stating that the workman, by receiving £2 a week compensation, will be receiving as much or nearly as much as he would receive if he were working. I am speaking about my own industry, the steel industry. The men in that industry work under sliding scales, and in some districts the pay is from 100 to 120 per cent. above the pre-war rate. If we take as illustration a man earning £3 per week in pre-war time, to-day, as the result of the sliding scale, he is picking up £6 per week. It is ridiculous to suggest that a, man so employed would remain home after an accident merely to pick up.£2 per week for being idle when he could pick up £6 a week for working. The statement of the Home Secretary on that point will not bear investigation. There is another point that the Home Secretary has not taken into consideration. We on the Labour benches have some experience of the men who suffer as the result of an accident. I have been at home for three months, and even for six months, at a stretch as a result of an accident, and I guarantee that it was far more, costly to keep me at home when I was ill than it was to keep me when I was working. This extra expense is inevitable when men are kept at home through no fault of their own. I know some insurance companies think that a man purposely seeks an accident in the works simply to pick up the compensation. In view of the appeal made from these benches, I hope the Home Secretary will reconsider the matter and increase the compensation as the Amendment suggests.
§ Major BAIRD
I do not think that hon. Gentlemen who support this Amendment quite appreciate how far it will carry them. It is, indeed, the fact that a man under the proposal advanced by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adamson) would get considerably more than his wages. I am not sure whether the Amendment clearly gives expression to the intention of the right hon. Gentleman. If the hon. Members will note the latter part of the Clause with their Amendment included, it would read as follows:instead of being a sum equal to one-quarter of the amount of the weekly payment, be a sum equal to twice the amount of the weekly payment.The "weekly payment" is the technical expression used to represent the weekly 1727 payment made under the 1906 Act, which is 50 per cent. of the weekly wage up to a maximum of £1. If you make it twice the weekly payment, a man whose wage is £2 would be getting a weekly payment of £1, and twice the weekly payment would be £2. The man whose weekly wage is £2 would be drawing £3 as compensation. So I am informed. Hon. Gentlemen shake their heads, and that makes it clear to me that that is not their intention. None the less, I am advised that that would be the effect of what has been proposed in the Amendment.
§ Mr. SPENCER
It may be bad drafting, but our intention is that where a man is now entitled to £1 maximum compensation, and his earnings are £2, he shall be entitled to £2 instead of the £1. If his earnings were £4 he would be entitled to £2.
§ Major BAIRD
That would alter the whole basis of the compensation, I think. It would mean removing the present minimum of and giving a man 50 per cent. of his wages. I can only remind hon. Gentlemen of what was said by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We cannot at this time of day re-open this question to that extent. May I also remind hon. Members of the extreme urgency of this question, and that there is now sitting a Departmental Committee which is going most thoroughly into the whole matter. That Committee will report early next year, and the Government will then be in a position to bring in legislation to take the place of this measure, or if they so decide put forward this measure as part. It is recognised that the present position with regard to compensation is not satisfactory. At any rate, I beg hon. Members not to press the point now, but to accept the assurance that this is a temporary measure.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I beg to move, at the end, to insert the wordsand such sum shall also be payable to any person or persons who are entitled to compensation in respect of the death of a person upon whom he or they were dependent, whether or not such compensation has been or is paid in a lump sum.The worst-hit section of our people in connection with workmen's compensation payment are undoubtedly the widows and the dependants of the men who had had the misfortune to lose their lives. 1728 Neither in the amending Bill of 1917, nor in this Bill, is there any provision made for any increase on the maximum amount of compensation payable to the dependants of a workman who meets with death in an accident. They, like every other section, have to meet the increased cost of living, while they receive the same compensation as in 1914. That places them in great difficulty, as it means that the compensation is really worth less than half what it was worth in 1914. I think that is an aspect of this question which deserves serious and favourable consideration. I do not see any justification for this section of our people being left out, and I think it is a scandal that no attempt has been made, either in this Bill or the Act of 1917, to improve the conditions of the very worst paid section of our people. I hope the Home Secretary will see his way seriously to consider this Amendment.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
May I also express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman accept this Amendment in the interests of the widows and dependants of the men who, unfortunately, meet with death in their industry? I can quite understand there may be difficulties at the end of a Session in making so big a change. It is very much to be regretted if those difficulties do exist, and in that case I hope-the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give an assurance that this most important matter will be dealt with very early in the new Session, because it cannot be denied that there is very grave hardship suffered by these poor people.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I hope this Amendment will not be pressed for very much the same reasons as I mentioned on the last Amendment. Whether it is within the scope of the Bill or not I am not quite sure. The amending Bill only dealt with incapacity, and not with death. But however that may be, may I remind hon. Members that there is, at this moment, sitting a Committee which is going into a number of these questions. This is purely a temporary measure, and, as soon as we have the Report of that Committee, steps will at once be taken to put the questions concerned on a more satisfactory measure. This is simply an Amendment of the Act of 1917, and provides for an additional payment to the weekly payment. It does not provide for the payment of the lump sum. Therefore this is introducing rather more than the Bill attempted to do. It 1729 would involve very extended liability, and it would be a liability which it would not be fair of me to accept, having regard to the arrangements I made. The whole question will be dealt with as soon as the Committee reports.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Will the deliberations of that Committee be suspended by the Prorogation? Is it a Committee of this Mouse?
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I beg to move, at the end, to insert the wordsand such sum shall also be payable to any workman who is at any time during the period for which the War Addition Act continues in force entitled during partial incapacity to a weekly payment by way of compensation.This deals with a section of persons who, in consequence of injury, are entitled to compensation, but who have so far recovered as to be able to do light work, and are only entitled to receive partial compensation. There is no provision hero to increase that; and in consequence those people are very badly hit owing to the increased cost of living. That is an unfair position, and I think it is incumbent on the Government to remedy it at the earliest possible moment. I hope we may be met in a more generous spirit with respect to this Amendment than we have been with regard to the two previous Amendments.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I am afraid this is an entire departure from the Act of 1917, which dealt only with total incapacity, while this Bill is simply for the purpose of altering the figure which was put in by the Act of 1917. On that basis we have conducted all our negotiations and arrived at all our calculations, and on which the insurance companies arrived at their calculations. It would make the matter extremely difficult if you were to bring in the whole of the partially-insured people as well as those suffering total incapacity, and the additions would be simply enormous. Therefore, I hope the Amendment will not be pressed. I am sure we all want to get this Bill, which does bring relief to some people. The time is very short, and if I 1730 had to reopen negotiations it would simply mean losing the Bill this Session.
Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 2 (Extension of Right to Additional Sum to Persons Entitled to Compensation tinder the Workmen's Compensation Acts 1897 and 1900) and 3 (Commencement and Short Title) ordered to stand part of the Bill.
As amended, considered.