HC Deb 04 December 1928 vol 223 cc1027-9

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend Sub-section (4) of Section 9 of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925. The Bill which I am asking leave to introduce is a very short but nevertheless a very important one, and to enable the House to follow the remarks which I desire to make, it is necessary to read the Sub-section referred to. It reads as follows: If a workman who has so far recovered from the injury as to be fit for employment of a certain kind proves to the satisfaction of the Judge of the County Court that he has taken all reasonable steps to obtain, and has failed to obtain, such employment, and that his failure to obtain such employment is a consequence, wholly or mainly, of the injury, the Judge shall order that his incapacity shall, for the purposes of this Act, continue to be treated as total incapacity for such period. and so on. A deal of litigation has taken place upon this Sub-section, and the law as it stands at present is very unsatisfactory. This was brought out very clearly in the judgment of a case which was heard by the highest court of the land, the case, namely, of Bevan v. Nixon's Navigation Colliery Co., the judgment in which was given in July of this year. The facts of the case referred to are as follows: Bevan, a collier living in Mountain Ash, South Wales, had worked at the coal face for a number of years up to 1919, at which time his average wage was £2 13s. 3d. per week. In April of that year he was certified to be suffering from miners' nystagmus, and this prevented him from continuing his work as a collier, and until May of 1920 he was paid full compensation as for total disablement. In 1920 he was certified to be fit for surface work, and was employed at this kind of work until 1922, when the colliery ceased working. From 1922 until the present time he has been unemployed and in receipt of partial compensation. From December of 1926 until May of 1927 the amount of compensation received was 15s. 1d. per week. Early in 1927 Bevan claimed that he was entitled to £1 a week, or full compensation, and at the same time the colliery company claimed that he was only entitled to partial compensation, at. 5s. 3d. per week. The colliery company based this upon an assertion that Bevan was able to earn, in spite of his disability, an average wage of £2 2s. 8d. per week, and that his inability to find work had no connection whatsoever with his disability of miner's nystagmus.

That is a brief outline of the case, which was first of all tried before a county court judge, who has had considerable experience in compensation eases. After a very lengthy hearing of the case and a long review, the county court judge showed clearly that he was personally in favour of awarding full compensation, and he said that it was only the state of the law, and the decision in another case, known as the Cardiff case, that compelled him really to give the smaller award. The case went to the usual courts, until it found its way into the highest court of the land, and there, by a bare majority of three to two, partial compensation was awarded. It will be interesting if I read the comments of one of the learned Lords who dissented from the view of the majority in that case. Lord Shaw of Dunfermline made this statement: My Lords,—I have considered and considered this case. If the judgment of the Court of Appeal stands, then I do not entertain any doubt that it pro tanta defeats the main object of the Workmen's Compensation Acts, and it unduly and improperly reduces the scale of compensation awarded therein. This matter is of very great importance to all men who are employed in the mining industry and to all men employed in the skilled industries of the country, and there must be some thousands suffering as a result of the decision which has been given in this case of Bevan and in the Cardiff case. In view of the fact that there is such a strong body of opinion in favour of amending the existing Act, I trust the House will give me leave to introduce the Bill and that the Government will give the necessary time to pass it into law. That, I think, is the only way in which we can remedy what undoubtedly is a legitimate grievance from the point of view of almost all injured workmen.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. George Hall, Mr. David Grenfell, Mr. T. Shaw, Mr. Compton, Mr. John, Mr. Smillie, Mr. Charles Edwards, Mr. William Jenkins, and Mr. Morgan Jones.