HC Deb 13 May 1919 vol 115 cc1538-41

Considered in Committee.

[Sir EDWIN CORNWALL in the Chair.]


I beg to move, That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of any sums payable in respect of any arrangements made under any Act of the present Session to enable arrangements to be made as to employers' liability to pay compensation in respect of men disabled by service in His Majesty's Forces during the present War with a view to facilitating their employment. This Motion is to enable the Home Office to facilitate the employment of disabled soldiers, sailors, and airmen, and with the permission of the Committee I will go over one or two of the essential points, because I feel that there will be no opposition in principle, and I hope the memorandum of explanation now circulated gives adequate information of these items, although we have never in our history had a similar case of indemnifying the employer against any expenses he may be put to under the Workmen's Compensation Act. Nearly all the men who have been injured are insured in certain insurance companies, and these companies have very patriotically said that they would make no claim, whatever the loss might be, from employing disabled men until the year 1928.

One reason for postponing any possible claim until that time is that it may turn out that the country will not be put to any expense whatever in compensating employers or insurance companies who employed disabled men. I am instructed that in any event the annual charge could not be more than £50,000, and that would be a temporary and declining charge because every year the number of disabled men eligible for employment in industrial concerns would be of a declining nature. Many employers have apprehensions as to how great the loss would be under their insurance arrangements if they employed disabled men, and I think that the Committee will agree that the quicker you pass this measure the better effect it will have among those employers who have such apprehensions, and the greater will be the inducement to employ these gallant men, and at the same time it will call the attention of the disabled men to the fact that they are not risking the lives of their fellow employés, or increasing the cost to them, and they will not suffer any detriment by taking employment. I hope the House will pass this Motion so that I can proceed with the passage of the measure into law.


I am certain the House will grant the Motion made by my hon. and gallant Friend without any hesitation. I only wish to say one or two things about it. The first is, obviously, that employers have been reluctant about employing disabled men because of the risk attached to compensation. It is a fact that out of the millions of unemployed people to-day nearly one-third of that number are discharged men, and that is a serious situation, so far as the country is concerned, after the promises and pledges given in this House.

My only other point is that I think the Government have a right to expect more generosity from the large insurance companies, because they have undoubtedly made exceptional profits in many instances as a result of the War. Many policies have lapsed, and the profit has fallen into the insurance companies. Therefore, I should have thought that the companies would have borne what the Government now suggest should be borne by the State, and I think there might have been that amount of generosity shown. In any event if these figures are approximately true, it is a very small contribution for making it possible for these men to be employed. Those of us who have read the Accountant-General's Reports on the waste of money by the Government and all of us during the War will certainly not grudge a small sum of this kind.

Captain A. SMITH

It is a great pity that the insurance companies who take risks of this character should come to Parliament to cover any loss. It is well known in the slightest degree but has rather gained by the War. In some cases the trade itself provides its own insurance at much lower premiums than those of the insurance companies, and surely, if the insurance companies think that they may not lose till 1928, the risk is not so great that they and the employers could not cover any slight deficiency without coming to Parliament. I quite agree that the Under-Secretary and the Government are prompted by beneficent motives in removing any obstacle in the way of disabled men getting employment, but the obstacle is not so great that the insurance companies and the employers could not have obviated it and given the men a fair chance without appealing to Parliament to cover any loss. After the services that these men have rendered to the country, I feel that it is a little bit mean of these companies and the employers to come to Parliament and ask us to pass this Resolution. Of course, this ought to be done for these disabled men, and, if it cannot be provided for them in any other way, then Parliament must do it. If the money is obtained from the Government, the employers will have to keep two sets of accounts, one set for men who have never served and another set for men who have served in the War, and many things may arise out of that fact. I repeat that I think it is mean of the insurance companies and the employers not to face this matter without coming to Parliament to provide money in order to enable disabled men to work on the same level with men who have escaped disablement altogether.


Let me clear up a misconception that has arisen in the Debate. The insurance companies and the employers have not asked Parliament to do this. A Committee was appointed by the House to inquire into the whole question, and two Members of the House were upon that Committee.

Captain SMITH

At whose instigation?


I am not sure who moved it, but a Committee was appointed, and it drew up a unanimous Report, putting forward the scheme that I have very briefly given to the House. I do not want anyone to go away with the idea that the insurance companies and the employers are asking the House for anything. This is a necessary preliminary to the Bill which the Government have based on the recommendations of the Committee set up by the House of Commons.

Captain SMITH

Who instigated this Departmental Committee. How was the Committee formed? What prompted the Home Office to appoint it? The insurance companies?


No; it was a Committee appointed in accordance with a common desire felt in the last House, and in this that inquiry should be made into the position of these disabled men who are not only now seeking employment, but who have sought employment from the time that the first casualty was convalescent after his return from France. All employers do not insure in insurance companies. You have mutual indemnity societies, especially in the collieries, and a large number of firms carry on their own insurance. It is not therefore practicable to have one common system applicable to the whole country. We believe, and our belief is based upon the Report of the Committee, that if loss arises from the employment of these disabled men it is the duty of the State, whom these men served, to bear that loss. In my opinion, the loss will be very small, but the encouragement to employers and employés alike will be very great. The amount involved is small, but the principle is all important, and I hope that the Committee will give me the Resolution without further delay.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.