HC Deb 05 August 1924 vol 176 cc2842-8

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

8.0 P. M.

This Bill is a very simple one. The House will remember, and particularly those who follow compensation law, that the Workmen's Compensation (Silicosis) Act of 1918 enabled the Secretary of State to make schemes to cover those engaged in a particular trade or groups of trades who are subject to exposure from silica dust. Up to the passing of that Act very little was known as to how the disease arose amongst those engaged in the several occupations; and it was decided after that Act was passed to establish a scheme I have already indicated, and such a scheme was instituted in 1919 to cover the cases of those engaged in the manufacture of ganister or silica bricks. The scheme has been in operation since that date, the Home Office has taken a very keen interest in this subject, and has endeavoured to find out the result of the operations of that scheme. I ought to point out to the House that when the scheme was established there was also founded a special compensation fund out of which workmen's compensation was paid under the scheme. The compensation fund was made up of contributions exclusively from the trade itself, limited in a way that workmen's compensation will not be limited under this Bill. Trouble arose because of the fact that in cases of silicosis accompanied by tuberculosis no adequate workmen's compensation was payable. That is to say, when it was found that a workman was suffering from consumption as well as silicosis, then the compensation payable to that workman was on a greatly reduced scale. Under this Bill it is proposed to extend full workmen's compensation to these mixed cases. Where a workman is found, after the passing of this Measure, to be suffering both from silicosis and tuberculosis, it will be possible to pay full workmen's compensation in cases of that kind. I ought to say that this is an agreed Measure as between all the parties concerned. Some hon. Members may have doubts in their minds as to whether it is wise to make this extension, but I will point out that proper safeguards are made so that the employer will not be placed at a disadvantage whilst the workers will be in a better position if this Measure becomes law. I have one word to say in regard to the disease itself. Hon. Members who are interested in the details of workmen's compensation will be aware that there are some diseases affecting workmen in some industries that take a long time to develop. We have found out in the administration of workmen's compensation, and more particularly in relation to silicosis, that a workman might be employed by one firm, say, for three or four years, and it is not clear until some time after that he is suffering from this disease, when perhaps he is engaged by another employer. Therefore a workman under this Measure will be entitled to draw benefit in respect to silicosis, although he may suffer at the same time from tuberculosis and may have changed his employer. I might perhaps be allowed to explain that the medical men who have made a study of this problem have not been able to draw a definite line as to where silicosis ends and tuberculosis begins. I ought to add, too, that silicosis does not arise from very many occupations. It is confined to a very few, and at the moment the one scheme in operation, as stated, refers to the manufacture of ganister or silica bricks. We are, however, endeavouring to extend the operations of the Silicosis Act by a scheme to cover also those employed in the grinding industry—workpeople in Sheffield and some, I think, in the West Bromwich district. There are, of course, several methods suggested to prevent silica dust being inhaled by persons engaged in these occupations. When the Factories Bill is proceeded with in this House we shall explain further what we propose to do to prevent workers contracting industrial diseases. It is a very old saying, and as true to-day as ever it was, "Prevention is better than cure." The best way to deal with these things is to prevent ale disease altogether. I am pleased to know from the figures I have seen in the returns of the Ministry of Health, that there is a constant decrease in industrial diseases, but, strange to say, when human nature conquers one disease, it has a very bad habit of contracting another.


Will the hon. Gentleman explain why it was that this disease was not dealt with when the House was considering Workmen's Compensation only a few months ago in the Act of 1923? Has the arrangement between the employers and the workmen, to which he refers, been come to since the passing of that Act?


I cannot say. I ought, however, to make it quite clear that this is a special case. In fact, so special is the case of the workman suffering from silicosis that he cannot, I believe, be insured under ordinary schemes. Insurance companies, so far as I remember, are very chary of ins wing people suffering from silicosis for ordinary workmen's compensation purposes, and it is deemed inequitable for firms engaged in other trades and the manufacture of other goods to contribute towards the payment of workmen's compensation when there is a very heavy liability indeed, as in the case of this disease. Consequently, there is a special compensation fund contributed for the purpose by the manufacturers, under whose control people are employed who suffer from silicosis.


Following upon that, was the subject of silicosis discussed at all when the House dealt with the whole question of workmen's compensation?


I am not sure of that. I was not a member of the Committee, but I should be astonished if the point was not mentioned in the discussion. At any rate, as I have suggested, the arrangement between the workpeople and employers and insurance companies in this connection is probably unique in so far as workmen's compensation is concerned, and I would point out, too, that there are some industrial diseases which cannot yet be regarded as sufficiently definite to be included in the ordinary scheme of workmen's compensation. To take an illustration—the development of cataract of the eyes in men employed in steel and iron manufacture. That is a problem that the Home Office has under its eye at the moment.


I hope the eye of the Home Office is not suffering from cataract.


It never was, especially since the Labour party came into office. The scheme of extension that I am now expounding in connection with this Measure will provide a safeguard. It will be easily understood, of course, that when an employer finds that a workman is suffering from any disease, he may not engage him at all. The safeguard that we propose is that when he is found to be suffering from tuberculosis, that workman, by arrangement between his organisation, so I understand, and the employers' organisation will not be allowed to continue in that specific employment, because, suffering as he is from tuberculosis, he is more liable to contract silicosis as well. That is the safeguard we have in the Bill, and I do not know that I need say very much more on the subject, except to add one final word. I said that the Bill was an agreed Bill. Considerable time has elapsed since the introduction of this Bill into the House for any criticism to be levelled against it that might come from employers' or workpeoples' organisations. As I have said, I happen to be at the moment the Chairman of a Home Office Committee dealing with all these diseases that are found to afflict people engaged in unhealthy trades and occupations. The Under-Secretary to the Home Office, prior to the advent of this Government, was the Chairman of the same Committee, and if he were here tonight, I feel sure he would support this measure to the full. I have very much pleasure in moving that this Bill be read a Second time.

Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE

I do not wish to spend long in speaking on the subject of this Bill, because it has been so well explained by the Under-Secretary, and, I think, all will agree that it is a useful Measure to advance. There is no question about the fact that measures that apply to silicosis with tuberculosis must also apply to silicosis without any tubercle in it. It only shows how difficult it is to legislate in matters affecting technicalities of the medical profession, that you naturally have to take the technical details of the medical profession, and then with knowledge those names become inappropriate. When the Act of 1918 was drawn up, these cases were treated as one disease. Now it is found necessary to provide for cases of silicosis, which may or may not be the early stage of tuberculosis.

There is one objection to which, I think, this kind of legislation gives rise. This is a very important matter affecting health, which is in the hands of the Home Office, and, as we shall see later in discussing the Factories Bill, the legislation is of so very wide a nature, and deals with the health of the people at such vital points, and over such an enormous field, that we have to recognise quite clearly and definitely that the Ministry of Health affects only, perhaps, the responsibility of about one-third of the health of the nation, the Board of Education another third, and the Home Office another third. In fact, there are three Ministries of Health. Arising from that, I shall certainly emphasise, on the Factories Bill, the question as to the organisation by which this Bill will be administered as part of the scheme of o this Home Office Ministry of Health, being the organisation appropriate for getting this scheme properly carried out. This scheme has to be drawn up to include cases that will be defined in various ways as regards this wider definition of disease. It is a most difficult, vital and purely technical professional matter, but one on which depends considerable sums of money and considerable financial results. That will be drawn up by the Home Secretary, acting with his advisers. Who are his advisers? That is the point we shall have to come to on a larger scale, but I hope I may be allowed to emphasise it here.

The Home Secretary, although he is essentially, as regards all these Bills, a Minister of Health, is not advised in the same direct manner as is the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health has a large medical department. The chief medical officer has direct approach to the Minister of Health, is in direct contact with him, and directly and primarily responsible for his advice to him. On the other hand, the case of the Home Office is quite different. The chief inspector himself is not a medical man, and the medical inspectorate are sub-servient to the lay inspectorate. They are all subservient to the Permanent Under-Secretary of State, and the result is that the Home Secretary does not get his advice direct. The medical department have not the right of going direct to him. The result is that this scheme, by which this Bill will be worked, will not be so well worked as if there were direct access to the Minister. I only mention this now, but it will come up when the Factories Bill is discussed later on. Meanwhile, I value this extension, on medical grounds, to the very serious trouble of silicosis.


I quite recognise the necessity of securing the Second Reading this evening, and I will only ask the Government if they will consider the protest that was made when the Workmen's Compensation Bill was under discussion last year—a protest which was just as vigorous on their benches as on the Liberal Benches—that there ought to be a consolidating Measure relating to workmen's compensation. In whatever other respects consolidation is necessary, it is most of all necessary in matters relating to workmen's compensation. It ought to be possible to get such a Measure that the workman himself can understand it. At present the Act of 1923 is dove-tailed on to the Act of 1906. Now there is another extending Measure, and it is quite impossible for the workman without the assistance of his trade union secretary or his solicitor to under- stand a Measure which affects very vitally his daily life. If that could be done, I am sure it would be welcomed by all concerned.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. F. Hall.]