HC Deb 15 July 1930 vol 241 cc1234-41

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."


I should like to draw the attention of the House to a particular Clause in this Bill dealing with compensation. Under the Bill as it stands, it will be necessary, before a man can claim compensation that the presence of silica should be demonstrated in the lung; that, in addition to the presence of silica, there shall be definite fibrosis of the lung; and, in addition to that, that there should be temporary partial or total disablement. I am very much afraid that this Bill is not going to be the boon that many members of the community hoped that it would be. It is quite possible that when the Bill becomes an Act, and the Home Office has produced its scheme, many men in the industry may show evidence of silicosis, that is to say, the presence of silica in the lung, and perhaps a slight degree of Mitosis, and upon examination—either the initial examination of the periodical examination—a man in this condition, with slight fibrosis and silica, and yet not partially disabled, may be temporarily, and later permanently, suspended, on the suggestion that the industry is definitely harmful to his health and that it would be to his advantage to leave that particular industry.

It may happen that there are men who have been in the industry for 15 or 20 years, and who, in this examination, will show early stages of the disease, and I am afraid that employers may use that as a means for getting rid of these people, of dismissing them from their work, in order to avoid future compensation. As long as they are in the industry, this disease is a progressive disease, and an employer would be quite justified in saying, "I have an employé who shows evidence of early silicosis and fibrosis. If I keep him in my employ for a few years longer, I shall be liable to pay him partial compensation, or perhaps total compensation"; and the employer may feel that it is his duty to dismiss the man from his work, partly to save the man's life, and partly to save the employer's pocket. I do not want that to happen, and I would ask the Under-Secretary if he will be so kind as to give me answers on two distinct and specific points.

In the first place, if a workman is compulsorily suspended before he has become disabled, will he be entitled to compensation? The second point is that men who have been for a long period of years in the industry should not be liable to be suspended except with their own consent. The first point, that a man should not be suspended without compensation if he has put in a certain number of years in the industry, is simply to protect the man from the employer wishing to dismiss him in order to avoid future compensation. I do not suggest what the compensation should be, except that I think that any man who has worked in an industry for 15 or 20 years should not be dismissed from that industry without some compensation, because at his age, which would be from 40 to 50, it is not easy for him to get other employment.

The second point is that a man who has been a long time in the industry, and has a certain amount of silicosis with a little fibrosis, has very little chance of getting another job, and he should not be compulsorily suspended except with his consent. They will simply say to this man, "You have a certain amount of silicosis. You have been in the industry 30 years. The longer you stay, the worse you will be, and in the course of time you will become partially or totally disabled, and, if you stay long enough, you will probably die of silicosis." The man might say, "I understand that, but I am now at an age where I cannot get other employment, except, perhaps, at a very much reduced rate. I am prepared to take the risk. I am prepared to stay in the industry and go on until I am eligible for partial or complete compensation." As long as a man understands the risk, he should have the option and should not be thrown on the labour market with inadequate compensation, or none at all. I quite recognise that under the sandstone and refractories scheme special schemes are brought into play dealing with those industries. I hope the Under-Secretary may be able to assure the House that steps will be taken to ensure that these men are not unduly penalised or handicapped, and that everything will be done that is possible to safeguard them under the administration of the scheme.


I rise to draw attention to the fees that are now to be paid by the workers when they are found to be suffering from silicosis. I have had an opportunity this week-end of consulting with the grinders in Sheffield. They wish to bring to the notice of the Home Office a real case of hardship and they hope that, when the new scheme is taken into operation, their case will be borne in mind. If a worker goes to the certifying surgeon, he has to pay a fee of 5s. That is not complained of, but, if he is not satisfied with the decision and he has to go to the referee, he is charged a fee of three guineas. Suppose he has obtained compensation, goes on half pay for some time, and then dies, his widow has to pay another three guineas before she can obtain any compensation at all. I think that is iniquitous. Whether there is a post mortem examination or not, the poor widow has to find three guineas. The man has been off employment, maybe for three months, only on half pay, say 30s. a week or sometimes less, and obviously the widow is not in the position to pay this large sum. That is not all. I understand that she may sometimes have to wait for some months before she can get compensation. I hope the Minister will take that into consideration when making the new regulations.

There is one other point. Under the scheme of 1927, paragraph 2 states that if a workman, after having been certified to be totally disabled under the scheme, re-engages in a process, he shall forfeit any right to further compensation. Instances have been brought to my notice where a workman may be sent off from his work or put into a sanatorium obviously suffering from tuberculosis as well as from silicosis. He is released as partly cured and goes back to work. The poor chap has got to do something, and he has no other occupation at his fingers' end. He goes back to work, and he is turned away again suffering from silicosis, and he is not entitled to compensation at all. I sincerely hope the Minister will take that into consideration when redrafting the regulations. The Bill as a whole is a very excellent piece of work, and we welcome it for the step forward which it represents. It certainly brings a larger measure of hope to those engaged in these occupations who are subject to this horrible disease. I do not want to vote against the Bill, but I hope sincerely the Minister will take these points into consideration.


I wish to ask two questions. First, seeing that this subject of silicosis is of such concern to the miners of South Wales will the hon. Gentleman consider the suggestion that one of the two panels which he proposes to set up should be set up in Swansea? I need only remind him of the excellent work done in that area, particularly within a radius of 20 miles, where he will find dozens of cases which might be the subject of examination. The second point is, do I understand that as a complement to this Bill he will amend Order 975 which is the one applying to miners? In his speech in Committee he said: On the Second Reading I called attention to the hardship of there being no compensation for partial incapacity, and I indicated that when the Bill was passed the Home Secretary would exercise his powers under Section 47 of the Act of 1925 to proceed by an amending Order to remove the anomaly. That is what we shall be compelled to do, and that is what we shall do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT (Standing Committee A), 10th July, 1930; col. 72.] Do I understand that the two conditions which must now be complied with before any man can get any compensation at all will be amended? Under Clause 2 of the Order 975, a man must be in work from the 1st January, 1929, and under Clause 2 (a) it says that he must prove there was in the rock in which he works 50 per cent. of free silica. There is now such a body of evidence available at the Home Office that it is perfectly clear that men do die now from silicosis without there being a penny compensation, and after death their dependants get not a penny-piece either. I desire to know, does the Bill stand alone, excellent as it is, or is it to be supplemented by an amending order to Order 975?


In Committee I was responsible for moving two Amendments. The second Amendment was to limit the amount of fees chargeable to a workman to a sum not exceeding 5s. Some assurances were given by the Under-Secretary that when the schemes were propounded for the various industries, some consideration would be given to the limitation of the charge made to the employés of the various industries. I can conceive a case where the employés may be charged considerably more than is provided by the present law in regard to silicosis. The present law is, that the workman who comes for an examination must pay a fee of 5s. to the certifying surgeon. When I moved my Amendment in Committee, I asked the Under-Secretary to give an assurance that there should be a limitation of the charge made upon the employé, but there is no safeguard in the Bill against an amount very much in excess of 5s. being chargeable to employés. It is conceivable that a workman may ask for an examination before a medical board, and, taking into consideration the cost of the medical board, and the fact that two or three medical men may have to give up time to consider the case, it may be said that the cost of this board is something like 30s. or 40s., and it is only right that the workman should pay a considerable portion of the cost of the examination. We feel that there should be a limit on the amount chargeable to the employé, and that it should not exceed 5s.

I withdrew my Amendment in Committee on the understanding that unless there were some words inserted in the Bill to cover that point, I and my hon. Friends would be compelled again to bring forward an Amendment to cover the position. I regret that such a proposal has not been brought forward by the Under-Secretary of State, and although we have not put down an Amendment, we feel that we ought to be given an assurance by the Under-Secretary that the workpeople will be safeguarded and that the charge for medical examination shall not exceed 5s. I should like to have the assurance of the Under-Secretary that in any scheme fixed for an industry under this Bill the amount expected from the employé should not exceed 5s.


With regard to the question put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin) in respect of the setting up of a panel at Swansea, I should like to say that, while I cannot give him any definite pledge as to a panel being set up at Swansea, we are not unmindful of the serious consequences and effects of silicosis in the South Wales area, and I can certainly give him an assurance that when we come to consider the setting up of those panels, Swansea will receive fair and reasonable consideration. He also made reference to the question of an amending Order, under Section 47 of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925, to remove certain anomalies to which I referred on the Second Reading of the Bill. I can assure him that such an amended Order will be introduced, that it will be framed after consultation with the various people, and that the facts which he mentioned in his speech will seriously be considered. In connection with the 50 per cent. silica, inquiries are now proceeding, and we expect to receive a report from the Medical Research Committee shortly.

11.0 p.m.

We had a very full and comprehensive discussion on the question of the payment of fees during the Committee stage, when I pointed out that in the opinion of the Government it was desirable that the question should be left to be dealt with in the rules and regulations which will have to be formulated by the Secretary of State. We have undertaken to appoint an advisory committee consisting of an equal number of employers and employés, with other suitable persons such as medical men and departmental representatives who have a full knowledge of the subject, and I gave an assurance in the Committee, which hon. Members will find in the OFFICIAL RWORT of our sitting on the 10th July, in which I said that my right hon. Friend and I would use all the arguments we could to ensure that the fees paid, if paid at all, would not be in any way oppressive. In our opinion, it is much better to leave the question of fees for consultation.


Can the Under-Secretary give me an answer to the point I raised of the man who, on going back to his occupation, is deprived of compensation?


It is somewhat difficult to answer that question at the moment, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the point will receive consideration. As to the points raised by the hon. Member for Royton (Dr. Davies), let me say that as far as I am aware there has been no complaint in connection with the various schemes in operation respecting dismissals for the causes he indicated. At the same time, it is possible under the powers of Section 47 of the Workmen's Compensation Act to cover the two points he had in mind. In fact, under existing schemes we have dealt with the two points he mentioned, and in connection with the schemes which will have to be set up under this Bill, in consequence of the amending Order to be issued under Section 47, we shall, of course, endeavour to meet the points he has put before the House.

As regards the first point, Section 47 provides that in any case where a workman, though not totally disabled, is found to be suffering from the disease to such a degree as to make it dangerous for him to continue work in the industry, he may be suspended, and that in such cases compensation shall be such as may be prescribed by the scheme. In pursuance of this power, provision has been made, both in the refractories and sandstone schemes that where a workman is suspended because it is dangerous for him to continue in the industry, although he has not yet reached the stage of disablement, he shall be entitled to compensation up to 50 per cent. of his average weekly earnings while he is seeking for employment, for a maximum period of three months. In this way we have sought to deal with the first point raised by the hon. Member.

As regards the second point, the refractories scheme contains a provision exempting from compulsory suspension, except on his written request, any workman who at the date of the commencement of the scheme had been employed in the industries for more than 20 years. The sandstone industry scheme also contains a somewhat similar provision, exempting a workman who has been employed in the same occupation, whether in that industry or not, for more than 20 years and has reached the age of 40 years. Therefore, it will be seen that, under Section 47, we have power to deal with the two points which my hon. Friend put to me. In these circumstances, I hope the House will now let me have the Bill.


I wish to congratulate the Under-Secretary on having made very many promises of consideration during the Committee stage, and to express my total astonishment that he has not done anything to improve the Bill, in spite of his promises.