HC Deb 13 April 1934 vol 288 cc640-52

12.36 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, to leave out "in any week," and insert "at any time."

Before I deal with any Amendments, I should like, Sir Dennis, to ask your permission to say one or two words of explanation. I must apologise to hon. Members for bringing this Bill down to the Floor of the House for its Committee stage, but, as they know, it is inevitable if it is desired that the Bill should be passed into law. The Amendments fall into three groups. First of all there are a number of drafting and consequential Amendments, which will not need many words of explanation. Then there are two Amendments of principle, which are accounted for by the fact that in the original Bill I drafted the Long Title in terms that were too restricted, and, for the purpose of keeping the Bill in order and in accord with the Long Title, I had to move these Amendments in Committee. I will deal with them when we reach them. May I also say that I hope that the House will grant me this stage of the Bill to-day, and that I shall be willing to consider any alterations on Report or at a later stage in another place?

The present Amendment is purely drafting. It does not alter materially the sense of the Bill, but makes it clear that the insurance required by Clause I will cover the employer in respect of the employment of the workman at the time in question.

12.38 p.m.


I rise only to say that we on these benches desire to thank the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) for having brought the Bill on to the Floor of the House, because we see that there would have been a danger of losing it had it been left to be dealt with in any other way. We thank him for moving this Amendment, which is one that we are very anxious to have. From our point of view it is not merely a drafting Amendment, but will make the Bill more satisfactory.

Amendment agreed to.

12.39 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 8, to leave out "for the purposes of that mine."

In our experience of the Workmen's Compensation Act we sometimes find difficulty in getting compensation which we believe ought to be granted to certain workmen, and we desire that the Undersecretary, if necessary, should clear up the point, or it may be that the Mover of the Bill can do so. We are very anxious that certain classes of workpeople, whom we think these words might exclude, should not be excluded. Take the case of collieries which have gone into liquidation. Those collieries may have had on compensation people of various grades, some of them surface workers and some of them underground workers; and we want to be sure that, if these words are included in the Bill, they will not exclude any of those classes of workpeople from the operation of the Measure. We think that if the words were left out the Bill would still be quite clear. A person employed by a coalowner is employed for colliery purposes, but we are not quite sure how far the words "for the purposes of that mine" would extend. We should like it made quite clear that any person who is now receiving compensation, or who ought to receive compensation, at a colliery which has gone into liquidation, will have the advantages of the operation of the Measure.

12.41 p.m.


I do not think that there is any need for a long explanation on this point, but my hon. Friend will see that I am proposing to move an Amendment to Clause 4 which will define both "mine" and "owner" as having the meanings respectively assigned to them in the Coal Mines Act, 1911, and those meanings are very comprehensive. The reason for including these words in the Bill is obviously that a coalowner may also have another profession. The Bill is meant to be confined to people employed in connection with coalmines, but, if these words were taken out, the coalowner would be liable in respect of all the men he employed in any other business. We must try to confine the Bill to people employed for the purposes of a mine. If there is any way in which I can accommodate my hon. Friend's wishes on Report, I shall be glad to do so, but I do not think he will find it to be necessary.

12.42 p.m.


I am not quite sure whether the hon. Member is well versed in law, but, personally, I am not quite satisfied with his explanation. If this Amendment were carried, the Clause would read: Subject to the provisions of this section, the owner of a coal mine shall not, at any time, employ any workmen unless there is in force between the owner and an authorised insurer a contract of insurance "— and so on. It seems to me that the words "for the purposes of that mine" would open the way to unnecessary litigation. Scores of instances can be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT where Ministers have given definite assurances that Workmen's Compensation Bills which were before the House meant so-and-so, and so they did until they got into Court, but, when the judicial mind was brought to bear upon them in Court, many far-reaching decisions were given which turned the Act almost completely topsy-turvy. Take the words "arising out of or in the course of his employment." Parliament knew clearly what those words were intended to mean, but the Courts gave a very different decision. It is true that later on the hon. Member proposes to define the words "mine" and "owner" in accordance with Section 22 of the Coal Mines Act, 1911, and I admit that, if that very wide definition is worked fairly as it is understood in the mining industry, there need scarcely be any trouble at all on this point, but in my opinion these words are unnecessary, and I hope that the hon. Member, whom I congratulate on his good luck in having been able to bring in his Bill, will, between now and Report, make it absolutely clear that these words are not going to have a detrimental effect when the Bill becomes law.

12.44 p.m.


It seems to me that, if this Amendment is allowed to pass in Committee, it will have a very dangerous effect. As has been stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson), it would bring all the workmen employed by a colliery company or owner, whatever their duties might be, within the operation of the Measure. I know of collieries where coal delivery is part of the work of the colliery. At the present moment, until we have such a wide-spreading Measure as would reform the whole operation of workmen's compensation—which is obviously desirable—the only justification for this Bill is that the work of the coal miner is particularly hazardous. Nobody can allege that the work of a man who is driving a lorry delivering coal is any more hazardous because that man is employed by a colliery than if he were employed by a grocer, a butcher, or any other person who employed lorry drivers. If, however, the words "for the purposes of that mine" were deleted, I think I am right in suggesting that a lorry driver would come under the operation of the Bill. I suggest that hon. Members opposite should leave the matter to be further considered by the promoter and gone into fully and, if there is any danger, it should be dealt with at a later stage.

12.45 p.m.


I feel that it is not desirable to accept this Amendment, which goes beyond what its movers desire. If carried, the effect would be to make the owner of a coal mine insure against liability in respect of workmen employed by him, including in practice domestic servants, in any other business in which he might be interested. The intention of the Bill is, obviously, to apply to compulsory insurance in the coal mining industry alone. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. Smith) said he was satisfied with the definition of a mine if it was interpreted as it should be in the Law Courts. The definition of a mine which is included in an Amendment to be moved later by the promoter is very sweeping, taken as it is from the Act of 1911. The expression 'mine' includes every shaft in the course of being sunk, every level and inclined plane in the course of being driven and all the shafts and levels, planes, works, tramways, and sidings both below ground and above ground in and adjacent to and belonging to the mine. That would include all that is desired by hon. Members opposite. I hope that my hon. Friend will resist the Amendment.

12.48 p.m.


It is not our intention to include the coal owners' domestic servants or anyone else, much as we should like to see a Bill which would provide for all the industries in the country. We desire that the real purpose of the Bill shall be achieved, that is, to safeguard the employés of any coal owner in the event of his going into liquidation or bankruptcy. We are afraid that there may be certain interpretations placed upon the Bill which will remove the possibility of employés connected with the mining industry recovering compensation. For instance, employers or their agents or managers occasionally send some of the surplus workmen to work in their houses temporarily. Probably, if this wording were included, in the event of an accident occurring while these men were so temporarily employed, it could not be defined as being for the purposes of a mine, although the man was ordinarily engaged in the mining industry.

Take the case mentioned by an hon. Member opposite about a workman engaged by a colliery company delivering coal. It could not be argued that his work is more dangerous than if he was employed by a grocer. But, still, he is employed by a colliery owner and, in the event of an accident, the owner would be responsible for compensation. Therefore, the analogy does not exist. The Bill says that, if a coalowner goes into bankruptcy, a man who drives a lorry delivering coal is not entitled to claim compensation. If it can be argued that a man who is employed by the coal owner in delivering coal is not employed for the purposes of the mine, these people will be denied the right of compensation in the event of an injury being sustained. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If it is clearly understood that the right of compensation will be in accordance with the definition in the 1911 Act, I do not think we need press the Amendment.


I will give the matter my most careful consideration before Report, and will consult with the hon. Member.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: In page 1, line 13, leave out: at any time during some period comprising that week and insert: in the course of some period current at that time."—[Mr. G. Nicholson.]

12.51 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, to leave out from "week," to the end of the Sub-section.

This proviso states that for a period of 26 weeks the employer himself shall meet the compensation. I am troubled as to what will happen if an injured workman gets paid for two months by the employer and then something goes wrong and the next four months are not paid for. One wants to be clear that that is covered. I cannot understand why it cannot be made clear that a man shall be insured right from the commencement. It is a question about the premiums to be paid. That may influence the question whether the man is insured for the first 26 weeks. If a company insures through a mutual indemnity association, whatever premiums are paid, are paid to an association of employers, and whatever surplus there may be after meeting liabilities will go back to the members of that association which is a combination of the whole of the members. I really cannot understand why we cannot have it made clear that a workman shall be protected definitely right from the commencement of his injury. It seems to me that the Bill leaves a loophole. Unless certain events arise, a company is not bound to be insured. It means that in the period of 26 weeks all kinds of trouble may arise. There may be deferred payments, and then there is also the question of the legal definition of the words in the Bill and the question whether if the employer is solvent or insolvent it is the employer or the insurance company who should be sued. The whole thing seems to me to be likely to lead to trouble.

I believe that the whole intention of the House is to protect the workman from the commencement. Once he has established his claim under the law, there should be no question at all about his getting payment at all times. This period of 26 weeks seems to me to be a weakness in the Bill. I have no intention of raising objections to the Bill. I am in hearty sympathy with its objects. All I desire is that it shall be made clear that there is no loophole to enable an employer to get out of his liability. There has been too much of that in the past, and employers have escaped paying what they ought to pay. That makes me very doubtful when I see these words in the Bill. My object in moving the deletion of these words is to get the whole matter cleared up, and if I am satisfied that there can be no evasion of responsibility, I shall withdraw the amendment.

12.58 p.m.


I am convinced that my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) is mistaken in his fear that the Bill as drafted—and as, I hope, it will subsequently be amended—leaves any loophole. I suppose my conviction will not persuade him, but I may add that it is also the conviction of my legal friends who have helped me to draft the Bill and of the Government Offices whose advice I have sought. The reason for inserting the 26 weeks period in the Bill is that those 26 weeks are not covered by mutual indemnity associations, and frequently are not covered by insurance companies. That is because most injuries are healed within 26 weeks and mutual indemnity associations—that is, groups of collieries—want to be sure that each individual member has an inducement to get his injured workmen back to work. That is quite natural. I do not want to enlarge upon the point, but I may say that my object in drafting the Bill was to disturb existing arrangements, where they are satisfactory, as little as possible. It is the opinion of all those who have been engaged upon the preparation of this Bill that this period of 26 weeks may well be left in the Bill. I do not know if my hon. Friend has noticed the next Amendment which I have on the Paper. That, I think, makes the matter a little clearer, and I hope that he will be good enough to withdraw his Amendment.

1 p.m.


I am not an expert in this matter, and I do not understand the technicalities put forward either by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) or by my hon. Friend the promoter of the Bill, and I think if there is any doubt in the matter we ought to be told by the Government exactly how matters stand. May I, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman who speaks for the Home Office to say whether this Clause is really watertight, as we wish it to be. This is a very highly technical matter, and in view of what has been said by the hon. Member for Leigh, I think we have the right to ask for an assurance from the Government. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) has been at vast pains to work this out, and I think it is a highly satisfactory piece of work that he has done, if I may say so with great respect, but when there is a doubt I think that we should have some definite expression of opinion from the Home Office as to whether this Amendment may be withdrawn.

1.1 p.m.


I agree with the view taken on this matter by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson). I cannot see that there is any such loophole as is feared by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). The Bill contains proposals designed to prevent a workman losing his compensation if an employer goes bankrupt. That is the great safeguard. He gets compensation notwithstanding that the first six months is not covered by insurance. Under the Bill, claims which are outstanding, or which become payable after an employer becomes bankrupt, have to be met by insurance. Where an employer becomes bankrupt during the period of 26 weeks, there is no doubt at all in my mind, or in the minds of those whose advice I have sought, that the man would get compensation.


After the statement made on behalf of the Home Secretary, although I am somewhat doubtful even yet, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

1.2 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 1, line 18, to leave out from "of," to "after," in line 23, and to insert: any injury by accident or disease resulting in incapacity for work, extend to payments by way of compensation in respect of the incapacity which become payable before the expiration of a period of twenty-six weeks from the date on which the incapacity begins, other than payments which are outstanding at the time of, or become payable. This is a further drafting Amendment designed to make it clear that the only risk—I emphasise the word "only"—which an employer may take upon himself is compensation for not more than 26 weeks from the time compensation first becomes payable by reason of accident or disease. The Bill already provides that if a coalowner becomes insolvent, the insurance company must pay all insurance claims after that insolvency, and this Amendment is intended to make things even clearer.

Amendment agreed to.

1.3 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 22, at the end, to insert: Provided that where any person is charged with an offence under this section in respect of the employment of workmen at any time for the purposes of a coal mine by the owner thereof, it shall be a defence to prove that at that time—

  1. (a) there was in force an instrument (hereinafter in this Act referred to as a compensation trust'), conforming with the requirements of the Schedule to this Act, for securing by means of a special trust fund the discharge of all the owner's liability under the principal Act to workmen in respect of their employment by him for the purposes of that mine in the course of some period current at that time; and
  2. (b) all the owner's obligations for the time being under the compensation trust had been discharged.
In this sub-section the expression 'week' means a period of seven consecutive days beginning on Sunday. (3) Every such compensation trust as aforesaid shall have full effect, notwithstanding any enactment or rule of law to the contrary. I fear that the Committee must be getting tired of my rising so often, but I feel that on this Amendment I must make a short explanation. This is one of the major changes in the Bill which we proposed to make in the Committee stage, and perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words in general explanation. There are three ways, as I explained on the Second Reading of the Bill, in which a coal owner is to be allowed to insure against, or to arrange for the discharge of, compensation claims. He may do it through an ordinary insurance company, through a mutual indemnity association, or through a compensation trust. As I have said before, I could not insert "compensation trust" in the original Bill. There are 16 colliery undertakings which at present have trusts, but, as the Under-Secretary has said, there are 257 who will probably come within mutual indemnity associations or trusts. These are rather important matters. The main features of the type of trust to be authorised are the existence of inde-pendant trustees, supervision by a qualified actuary and a qualified auditor, and intimation to the workmen that the provisions of the trust have been complied with. When it comes to the Schedule, it will be seen that the essential feature is that there shall be in the possession of the trustees a capital sum sufficient to cover all liability for compensation payments that is accruing between the time of formation of the trust and the end of the current accounting year.

Sub-section (3) of the Amendment is designed to ensure that trusts which conform with the requirements of the Bill shall be valid in law, and shall not be avoided by reason of any breach of the rule against perpetuities. This means, in effect, that the trust shall continue in being as long as any outstanding payments of compensation are due. The Committee know that in the ordinary course of events the duration of a trust is limited generally with reference to somebody's life—the last remaining issue of some royal personage, or something like that. I think that these trusts will be quite water-tight if properly administered. The main point is that there must always be this capital sum in the hands of the trustees. I do not think that there is much difficulty in envisaging the whole idea. When we come to the Schedule, it will be shown that I have taken the idea of the details of the Schedule from the model trust circulated by the Mining Association to their Members, and I hope that the House will allow these provisions to pass without further discussion.

Amendment agreed to.

1.8 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 2, line 31, to leave out from "association," to the end of the paragraph, and to insert: so, however, that a mutual indemnity association formed after the end of the year nineteen hundred and thirty-three, shall be deemed, for the purposes of this section, not to be an authorised insurer unless the association has deposited the sum of twenty thousand pounds with the accountant-general of the Supreme Court in pursuance of the following provisions of this Act. This Amendment introduces the other main feature which I wish to move into the Bill. As the Committee know, the major part of the insurance done in the mining industry against compensation claims is done through mutual indemnity associations. Further in the Bill provisions are laid down whereby these mutual indemnity associations will have to make their Articles of Association conform to the Bill in various matters. This Amendment must be taken together with the proposed new Clause which is on the Paper to provide machinery whereby mutual indemnity associations formed after a certain date—I have recently altered the date to the end of last year—will have to make a deposit of £20,000 with the Accountant-General of the Supreme Court. As far as, the actual wording of the proposed new Clause and the Amendment are concerned, they have been drawn up in consultation with the Lord Chancellor's Department, and I think that it may be taken that they are sound as far as the principle is concerned. I cannot guarantee that any mutual indemnity association will be sound or solvent, but I maintain that by forcing new mutual indemnity associations to deposit £20,000, we are providing a certain safeguard against the formation of what I may call bogus mutual indemnity associations which might go far to evade the intentions behind the Bill. It could easily be imagined that two or three two-penny-halfpenny collieries, each employing ten men, might form a mutual indemnity association which would be quite incapable of carrying the charges which might fall upon it. I should like to add that I make no criticism of the financial stability of any existing mutual indemnity associations. The sum of £20,000 has been chosen because that is the sum laid down in the Assurance Companies Act, 1909, which every insurance company or underwriter has to deposit.

1.12 p.m.


I take it that, in addition to the £20,000 which has to be put down by the new associations, the sanction of the Board of Trade will also be required to be given? It is not intended to say that the mere fact of putting down £20,000 is a guarantee that the association is all right?


The Board of Trade's recognition is in no way a guarantee that the mutual indemnity association is sound. It has to be obtained before it can even claim to be a mutual indemnity association.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.