HC Deb 24 April 1931 vol 251 cc1301-12

I beg to move, in page 2, line 10, to leave out Subsection (2).

As hon. Members may imagine, I do not move this Amendment with any intention of pressing it, but merely in order to get some definite information from the Solicitor-General. It is not my intention, in any way, to press the Amendment, but it is desired to have some explanation of a point which at present appears to be a little doubtful. In view of representations which have been made to me and which show that a little anxiety exists among certain industrialists in the country on this point, I wish to ask the Solicitor-General to state his views on this Sub-section which makes the Bill retrospective in character and to say, whether, in his opinion, this Sub-section only brings within the purview of the Bill, those cases which were ruled out by the decision in the case of Bevan v. Nixon's Navigation Company. I wish to know if the Sub-section does that and nothing more. If so—and I believe that that is all it does—then the position is satisfactory and the Bill ought to be retrospective in character to that extent. It is obvious that the Bill only makes plain the intention of the original Act, and, as the insurance companies must have adjusted their premiums to cover the risk involved in the original Act, they will not lose by this Bill being made retrospective. In order to give satisfaction on this point to certain people who are at present a little doubtful, I ask the Solicitor-General to state his view on the scope and effect of this Sub-section.

The SOLICITOR - GENERAL (Sir Stafford Cripps)

The right hon. Gentleman has raised a question which, I think, was raised during the Committee stage of the Bill, but which at that stage was not apparently answered quite as definitely as he and his friends desired. The object of the Bill, of course, is to put right the effect of the decision in the case of Bevan v. Nixon's Navigation Company, and, as far as I can judge, the Sub-section which is now being substituted for Sub-section (4) of Section 9 of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925, has that purpose and that purpose only. The Sub-section which the right hon. Gentleman has moved to omit merely says that as from the passing of this Act the provisions of the substituted Subsection (4) of Section 9 of the original Act, shall apply in any case where the accident happened on or after 1st January, 1924. The effect of that provision, in my opinion, will merely be that, as from that date, the true intention of Parliament in its original enactment of the Act of 1923 will be carried out. That is to say, the Bevan v. Nixon's Navigation Company judgment will not any longer be applicable, but, instead, what I think was generally understood to be the true intention of Parliament in passing the former Act will be carried into effect. That is the only effect, in my view, which that Sub-section will have.


To those of us who have been watching this proposed amendment of the law very carefully to see how far it would go, there seems to be no doubt that it was the intention of everybody who took part in the discussions on the original Act of 1923—which was consolidated in the Act of 1925—that a man should be compensated within the priciples of that Act, where lack of employment could be said to be the result of his injury. It might result from the injury in many ways, but the effect of the decision in Bevan v. Nixon's Navigation Company was to cut down materially what had been everybody's idea of the scope of the Act. As far as I can see this Bill merely restores the position to what everybody thought it was on the passing of this Section of the 1923 Act and I venture to join with the hon. and learned Gentleman in the view that the only effect of this Clause is to say that in all these cases, where everybody previously thought the Act applied, it shall apply, notwithstanding the fact that the Bevan v. Nixon's Navigation Company's decision has intervened.


It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking) and the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) are putting forward a point of view which I can hardly accept. They have put before the House the view that this Clause is giving us what the original Act of 1923 was supposed to give. I differ somewhat from that view. The Bevan case was the case of a man who was certified to be suffering from miner's nystagmus in 1919, and the action was taken in 1927 under the Act of 1925. It seems to me that this Clause, despite what has been said on the other side, is much more limited than the original Section, in so far as it makes out that no case of accident or industrial disease arising before 1st January 1924, can be taken under it. Under the original Section, in my view, cases could be taken, say, under the 1906 Act. I wish to put forward that point of view. I do not want the House to understand that we are getting here all that we expected to get or all that the original Act was intended to give. I would like to ask the Solicitor General whether he does not agree that this Clause is much more limited in its effect than the original provision.


We seem to have got into some confusion and before this Amendment is withdrawn or decided upon, we ought to know clearly whether cases which occurred before 1924 are dealt with in this Measure or not. As I understand the Solicitor-General, the Clause only applies to cases which occurred after 1st January, 1924. I think that is the position which the Government hold on this matter and it is a very definite position but the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Rowson) seemed to infer that cases occurring prior to that date, might be brought within the scope of the Bill. I understand that that would not be so but I think it is just as well that we should have these matters made plain here, rather than in the courts. It saves considerable expense and time. I am not disputing in any way the suggestion that the original Act of Parliament intended that these people should come in but I think we might be told if the Government have any estimate of the number of people who will be entitled to compensation now, and who were not entitled to it previously, owing to the decision to which reference has already been made. I conclude from what the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) said that the majority of cases went as the law was thought to be but some cases did not, and I think the House would be interested to know how many people will now be likely to get compensation who accidently have been deprived of it before. Many of us look on these matters from a human point of view, and we would like to know how many people we are actually helping on this occasion. If I could get any figures of that kind, I should be very much gratified, and I should be relieved to know that there is no possibility of anyone being left out who ought to be brought in.


I am glad that the right hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking) brought up this point, because it has troubled many of us on this side. I had thought of putting down an Amendment, but that might have defeated the whole purpose of the Bill, which we do not want to do. The Bevan versus Nixon's Navigation case altered what we thought the Act of Parliament meant. Up to that time we had thought that the employer was bound to find work or provide compensation. The decision taken in the High Court displeased everybody, I think, both on that side of the House and on this, and it was generally felt that something ought to be done to put the matter right. From that time there have been attempts to get the Act altered. Within a week the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) brought in an amending Bill, under the Ten Minutes Rule, to put the law back exactly as we thought the Act of Parliament meant. That was in 1928, and three years have gone by now in trying to alter that state of affairs.

We have now got very near to the point of putting it right, but this Bill does not carry out wholly what we want. I had thought it was the intention to get right back to the position that we occupied before, and that would mean that all cases cut out by the Bevan decision should have a change of being reviewed. As I understood the Act of 1923, which was incorporated in the Act of 1925, it included all cases prior to the 1923 Act that could be judged under Section 16 of that Act. That is not disputed, I believe, and if that is so, I think the House of Commons should really put the Act back where we thought it was. Since the Bevan case, many men who were injured prior to 1923, with the loss of an arm or a leg, or who were physically incapacitated through industrial disease, have been treated under the heading of the Bevan case and have been discharged with only a little compensation. That is because of the Bevan case. If they have acted upon that assumption, surely it is for the House of Commons to put that matter right now. Why should the Bill be limited to 1924? Why should it not go the whole way?

Some people have said to me, "You have done very well to get any retrospective Clause in the Bill at all." I admit that we have done very well in getting that in, but once having gone on the way, why not do the thing properly and give all these men what they are entitled to? For three years these men have been deprived of something that has gone to the benefit of the insurance companies and the employers. Nothing can be got for those three years, but when cases are reviewed, as they must be reviewed if this Bill passes, why not bring in those poor men who have been excluded in respect of disabilities prior to 1923? I appeal to the House of Commons. It is not often that we can get the House to do the big thing, but here is a chance under this Amendment. I know it is not the intention of the right hon. Member for Chorley to exclude anyone under his Amendment, and the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) has constantly assured me in private that he wants to put the law back to where it was thought to be in 1925.

If that is so—and I think he will not dispute what I am arguing now, that the cases prior to 1923 would have come under the Act but for the Bevan case—then in all fairness the House ought to say to-day, "Very well, we will put in a Clause to cover all the cases from July, 1907, instead of from January, 1924, only". It would not cover very many, but there would he no case of injustice left. I appeal to hon. Members on all sides of the House to let us act in harmony in this matter and to say "It is obvious that we have overlooked a certain point, and we agree to put in an Amendment to cover all cases that were struck out because of the Bevan decision in the House of Lords."


I want to say that I think it is a very big thing to have got a retrospective Clause in this Bill at all. It is very difficult to get this House to consent to retrospective legislation of any kind, but perhaps it would assist hon. Members opposite if the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department could tell us why this particular date of the 1st January, 1924, has been put in by the draftsman who drew up the Bill, because I am sure it has not been done without reason; and if the House really understood why that date has been chosen, I do not think there would be any further trouble on this Amendment.


I am quite satisfied with the explanation, and I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment. May I point out that if the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) required me to press this Amendment to a division, and supported me in the Division Lobby, he would lose the retrospective character of the Bill altogether. I, therefore, ask him to agree that I should withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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


I want to express our thanks in relation to this Bill. I believe that in one of the first speeches made in this Parliament the desire was expressed by the Prime Minister that the House should on certain matters resolve itself into a Council of State. The fact that we have been able to get a great measure that in the opinion of members of the legal profession, would help us to get over the Bevan v. Nixon's Navigation case, at least means that so far as this Bill is concerned we have been a sort of Council of State. We believe that, while the Bill does not give us all the Amendments of the Compensation Acts that we on this side desire, the objective which we set out to attain, namely, to put back on the Statute book what was the intention of those who were responsible for the 1923 Act, which came into operation on the 1st January, 1924, has been accomplished in so far as it is possible to put into written words what is desired. Further, the difficulty that we have been faced with, and that has been caused by this decision, and has taken up the time of the House on four previous occasions in an endeavour to put the matter right, has been that unfortunately in this country, in contradistinction to other countries, it is the habit of those whose duty it is to interpret the law that they do not take cognisance of what might have been the intention of the Legislature but rather of what is actually on the Statute Book. We believe that this form of words that is now incorporated in the Bill does express what was in the minds of those responsible in 1923.

I should be lacking in common courtesy if I did not express, as the promoter of this Bill, thanks for the valuable help that we have received in trying to pass this Measure from the hon. Member for West Swansea (Mr. H. W. Samuel), the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord), and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith). I also want to express acknowledgments to the Solicitor-General and to the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking) in helping us to get this Bill on to the Statute Book.


I should like to say how glad I am that a difficult and controversial question has been settled by agreement. I would like to reply to a point raised in the discussion on the Amendment. It is true that the 1923 Act, which in certain cases intended to provide for compensation where the inability to get work was due, not directly to a physical disability resulting from the accident, but to a man having a more limited field of employment, was retrospective; but of course in so far as it was retrospective, it was unfair to the employers and the insurance companies. If we put the present date further back than 1924, we should be perpetuating something which was not quite fair, but as since the 1st January, 1924, the insurance companies have arranged their premiums on the basis of what was intended by that Act, there is, by going back to 1924, no injustice inflicted upon anybody. If we should go back further, there would be ground for complaint. It would be an illustration of unfair retrospective legislation. At any rate, the Bill goes back for more than seven years. It is an extremely satisfactory way of settling the problem, and I want to pay my tribute to those responsible.


I want to congratulate the hon. Member who brought this Bill forward on the success which he has attained. I think the House might also express its great thanks to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General for the care he has taken in connection with it. The difficulty has always been to try and get what really cannot be done in the House itself, and that is just a small committee which can deal with the thing and thrash every point out, and then bring forward something which can be dealt with without any detailed discussion on the Floor of the House. We owe a great deal in this matter again to my hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Mr. H. W. Samuel), who has helped tremendously to come to a decision on this matter. The Bill illustrates what this House can do if Members will only leave on one side some of the suspicions which have got into their minds, and remember that, when we are dealing with a Measure of this sort, in which no political principle is involved, but which is carrying out principles which have been accepted by the whole nation, there never ought to be any difficulty of coming to agreement. This Bill is an illustration of that; it also may be a good omen, for we may on future occasions be able to come to similar agreements without indulging in the acrimony which has unfortunately characterised same Measures in the past.


I have never in the whole of this matter been suspicious of anything except of the soundness of my own original draft of this Bill. When I introduced it, I had been in the House only three months; it was introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule, and I have never pretended that the words of my Bill, which have been followed on subsequent occasions, were really the correct ones. It is only right to say that on that occasion the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Sir Vivian Henderson, was quite sympathetic with the objects of the Bill, but he could not go on with it in the form in which I introduced it. At last, we got what we always wanted, the assistance of expert draftsmen to express what we all intended, and it is a great satisfaction to me to think that, whatever else may happen, my maiden effort in attempting legislation has now some chance of reaching the Statute Book.


I do not think that to-day is the time for too many eulogies and for the handing out of bouquets. I will give my eulogies to all concerned when I have seen this Bill tested in the county court. I am not quite as satisfied as some hon. Members that the Bill will do all that they say it will, and I shall only be satisfied when I see it tested in the county court.

I am pleased to see the hon. and learned Member for West Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) in a new räle. We have sometimes reason on this side to criticise him harshly, but this morning we are not going to do that. He has done his best to try and get what he could in this Bill to provide for the injured workman who cannot get work because of his injury, but I am somewhat doubtful whether a certain type of case will get through under this Bill. These cases have been turned down in Lancashire, and they are well known to the hon. and learned Member for West Norwood. Because of that, I suggest that we are in danger this morning of too much eulogising and of handing out too many bouquets from one to the other. I am not so sure, when the day comes for the Bill to be tested in the county court but that we shall feel that these eulogies ought not to have been paid.

I regret that the Opposition have not gone one stage further. Take the case of a man injured before 1st January, 1924, who is on light work along with another man injured just after 1st January, 1924. Both men find themselves in exactly the same position, but one gets compensation granted by the court and the other is cut out of compensation. That can happen under this Bill. Not many cases are involved before 1924, but there are far more involved later than 1924, and the Opposition might have been more generous in going back to an earlier date.


I do not want to interfere in this bouquet-throwing competition. It is a pleasant thing to watch, and I sincerely congratulate everyone concerned. I would like, however, to join with the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald). Anything which can be done to enable a man, who has received some slight injury which does not make him wholly incapable, to carry on in his old work, although on a lighter task, should be done. If it is not, a grave injury will be done to him. My sympathy will always be with the endeavour to help the employer and the man to come together on this matter, because it is only by good will on both sides that that can be done.

There are two principles concerned with this Bill which we ought to consider very carefully. First of all, there is in this Bill retrospective legislation. It ought to be clearly and definitely stated in the House of Commons that retrospective legislation should take place only one one occasion—this is the occasion—when, clearly, some Act has worked out in a different way from what Parliament intended. When that happens, you can have retrospective legislation, and, from that point of view, one is enabled to vote for this Bill. Otherwise, I should not do so, because I disapprove of retrospective legislation except for that one reason.

The only other point I would make is, that unless you have the fullest and most careful consideration of these complicated and technical Bills, accidents such as these arise, and the House of Commons has its time taken up in bringing in amending Measures. That is why I have always been strongly in favour of giving proper and adequate consideration to every part of a Bill, particularly where it involves complicated questions of law, and where it is necessary that you should have the best legal opinion. I put a simple question to the Government just now, although they may find it difficult to answer, but before passing the Third Reading, I would like to know if any estimate can be given of the number of people that this Bill affects. If the exact information cannot be given, I would, at any rate, like a promise that the Government will endeavour to give me an approximate estimate. On the clear understanding with regard to retrospective legislation, I can support the Third Reading of a Measure, which, I hope, will remove certain very genuine and very real grievances.


I desire to endorse the point of view expressed by my hon. Friend as to the advisability of seeing how these cases are affected. All of us who sit for mining constituencies are continually met with cases of hardship which, to some extent, this Measure meets, and I make this suggestion to the Government that if, as is very probable, we are approached by individual cases which do not come within the scope of these compensation Clauses, we shall have the strong feeling—I hope the incipient promise—that the Home Office will deal with the whole question of compensation on a far bigger and broader basis at a very early opportunity. I, personally, am distressed, as I think many other Members are, when they receive applications for assistance, and find the fixing of an arbitrary date; indeed, in this Measure some people are on the right side of the line and others on the wrong side of the line. We have, for example, in connection with our Widows' Pensions Bill, a great many cases of that kind, and it is difficult to explain to those who think that they have an equal claim that the date of an Act of Parliament makes all the difference whether they get satisfaction or not. Therefore, I content myself, with my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), with the hope that if experience of the working of this Bill shows there is any considerable number of cases of hardship, that they will be put right in a comprehensive compensation Bill, where this problem, and a great many other problems, can be amended in the interests of what, we believe, are the interests of the working classes.


As one concerned in the negotiations with the other two parties when this agreed Bill was accepted, I want to say to those on this side who are offering a little criticism, that it is necessary to realise that we who are behind the Bill are fully conscious of its shortcomings. It does not need anybody to tell us that this is not like the original Bill, but it is as much as we could get with the House of Commons as at present constituted. I would remind those who have spoken on this side above the Gangway, that they seem to criticise, on the one hand, the lack of benefits that will be conferred on the injured workmen, and, on the other hand, complain because it does not apply to cases before 1923 in order that the benefits can be conferred on those cases. It seems to me somewhat illogical. As far as I am concerned, I have some doubts as to what will be the outcome when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, but I think all must agree that it is a definite advance on the Section as it appears in the 1925 Act. It is not always the cases that you take into court which determine the situation, but if we can get only one case under this Clause, it means that the employers take a different standpoint altogether, and we shall find that the employers will not throw these partially incapacitated men on the scrap-heap, but will make a greater attempt to find them work than they do at the present time.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.