HC Deb 20 April 1934 vol 288 cc1275-97

11.18 a.m.


I beg to move, in page 10, line 1, to leave out the Schedule.

The Schedule takes a different form from what we expected. It deals with the position of compensation trusts, and we on this side of the House are doubtful whether it has the same purpose as that for which the Bill was intended. The Bill was originally brought in for the protection of workmen by having them insured in societies that were understood would be proof against any question of men receiving compensation. Since the Bill was originally printed the authors have found it necessary to put in another form of Schedule. We are anxious to know if these compensation trusts provide the same security for the workmen as the other forms of insurance mentioned in the Bill, namely, the indemnity societies and insurance societies. Paragraph 7 of the Schedule makes curious reading. It says that the trust shall also provide for requiring the trustees to effect, maintain, and enforce such contracts of insurance as may be necessary to cover the risk of the trustees having to make payments out of the fund by way of compensation in respect of the deaths of five or more workmen resulting from any one accident, and for securing that any sums paid to the trustees in settlement of a claim under any such contract of insurance shall form part of the fund. I am at a loss to know why the deaths of five or more workmen should be necessary. Why should there be mention of any particular number? Our purpose in moving this Amendment is not to retard the progress of the Bill, but there is a great deal of legal wording in it and, knowing the difficulties we have had over the Workmen's Compensation Acts, we desire the hon. Member in charge of the Bill to explain what it means. We would also like the Home Office to assure us that these compensation trusts are equal to any other form of insurance

11.21 a.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

The wording of the provisions which the trust is to make is somewhat ambiguous. Paragraph 5 of the Schedule lays down that a qualified actuary shall certify the capital sum necessary in his opinion to secure the payment of all sums which might fall due to be paid in the first accounting year; and thereafter he shall continue to certify the capital sum necessary in his opinion to meet any compensation liability of the owner outstanding at the end of the year, and what might become attributable in the next accounting year. Following upon that, there is the restriction referred to by my hon. Friend, that the trust shall provide a fund sufficient to cover compensation in respect of the deaths of five or more workmen resulting from any one accident. It must be one accident; it cannot be a question in these words of a series of accidents resulting in the deaths of five men.

The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) will recollect that when he introduced the Bill, I referred to an unfortunate accident in my own district where three deaths occurred, but the insurance policy at the colliery required that there should be more than three deaths in one accident. Therefore, no claim resulted on that occasion. We are anxious to see that no loophole is left in the Schedule whereby any responsible body of owners can avoid full responsibility for compensation for the injured workmen, whether they are temporarily incapacitated or fatally injured. We are really very much concerned about it. I want to pay a compliment to the hon. Member for Morpeth for the great care and interest he has taken in this matter, and I am sure he will sympathise with our anxiety to see that no loophole exists to prevent injured workmen getting compensation.

11.24 a.m.


As there is considerable uneasiness in the minds of my hon. Friends in regard to those parts of the Bill which deal with compensation trusts, I will cover the whole question as that will be the simplest way of replying to their points. I do not blame the hon. Members for feeling uneasy on this matter, because this Schedule is part of a very complicated Bill which deals with insurance law, compensation law, compulsory insurance, and the law of trusts. I believe that even lawyers consider that all those branches of law are complex and difficult and, speaking as a layman, I think they are perfectly right. I feel, however, if I may put it like that, that my hon. Friends are barking up the wrong tree in being suspicious of those parts of the Bill which deal with compensation trusts. I have already said that I do not claim that the Bill is watertight, and of the Bill as a whole that is true, but the one part that I do claim to be water-tight is the part dealing with compensation trusts. Except for mere verbal alterations which may be necessary in another place, I am convinced that in cases where a colliery company or an owner has adopted the system of compensation trusts the men are fully and absolutely protected in respect of their compensation payments. These trusts first appear in Clause 1. At line 34, on page 2, it says: 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. The whole point of that is that the onus of proof lies on the owner. The men have not to prove that the owner is not covered; the owner has to prove that he is covered. The Clause goes on to say that he must prove, first, that a trust conforming to the Schedule is in existence, and second, that all his obligations for the time being under the compensation trust have been discharged. The House has already inserted an Amendment this morning in substitution for Sub-section (3) to make it quite clear that the men are definitely beneficiaries under the trust, and to make it quite clear that the trust is a trust in the legal sense of the word. I would rather not be cross-examined as to what I mean by that, but I believe it is very important that the trust should be, legally speaking, a trust.

The next reference to the trust in the Bill deals with the notices which must be posted by the owner at the colliery office. Already this morning we have inserted a provision that the names and addresses of the trustees and of their agent shall be posted at every colliery office, and another Amendment was inserted this morning to the effect that not only must the owner post notices at the colliery office but that the auditor of the trust, who must be an accountant with qualifications as laid down, I think I am right in saying, in the Municipal Corporations Audit Act, 1933, that is to say one qualified to be appointed to audit the accounts of a borough council must sign one of them. Those are high qualifications. There is, therefore, a second safeguard. The first safeguard is that the men or their representatives have access to the trust accounts and trust deeds, and the second is that an outside person, with valuable qualifications, has to certify every year that the owner's obligations under the trust have been carried out.

I would like to run briefly through the Schedule, in order to show my hon. Friends that their fears are unfounded. Again I enter the reservation that it may be necessary to make a few purely verbal alterations in another place, which at the moment are under the consideration of some legal friends of mine. Paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Schedule provide that the trustees must consist of two or more persons of whom at least one is an independent person, that is to say, a person who is neither a servant nor an agent of the owner and has no financial interest in the business. By the Amendments to the Bill this morning we lay it down that the men know who the trustees are and can easily find out if the so-called independent trustee is really independent.

Coming to paragraph 4 of the Schedule, I hope the House will not think me presumptuous if I assume, for the purposes of argument, that the further Amendments to the Schedule on the Paper will be accepted and incorporated in the Bill. Paragraph 4 is one of the most important in the schedule. It covers the objects of the trust. It is to be noted that the trust is purely a collateral security for the discharge of the owner's compensation liability. It does not relieve the owner of his responsibility or liability for compensation payments. It is a collateral security, and the person to whom the workman will formally have recourse for his compensation continues to be the coal-owner, who will have to deal with the claims himself. The existence of these trusts will not interfere in any way with the domestic arrangements of coalowners and their workmen with regard to the payment of compensation money.

Then there is the "relevant period". The relevant period is so defined that the coalowner cannot rely on the trust for the purposes of the Bill prior to the payment of the first contribution to the fund, which is, in effect, to be the capital sum necessary in the opinion of the actuary to meet such liabilities as will in all probability fall to be paid out of the fund in the first financial year. The relevant period is not the period during which the trust exists, but the period during which the existence of the trust is assumed to be an adequate defence to a charge of contravening Clause I of the Bill. It is perfectly possible for the trust to go on after the expiry of the relevant period. I deal with that in a later Amendment.

The trust does not begin to operate until the owner has paid the first contribution, which is the sum estimated by the actuary to cover such accidents as will happen during the first year. These actuarial estimates have been found in practice to be exceedingly accurate. The average rate of accidents is maintained to a remarkable degree. If the owner ceases to operate the mine, whether by reason of his own death or, in the case of a company, by reason of a winding-up or bankruptcy, the outstanding liability of the coalowner to pay compensation will be capitalised and paid out of the trust fund accordingly, and the trust will thereupon be wound up. Later, I propose to ask the House to insert an Amendment which lays it down that the death of the owner will not immediately terminate the relevant period. When I say "owner" here, I am obviously referring to an individual owner and not to a company, and I ask the House to insert that because obviously it would be inequitable, should the owner die at say 10 o'clock this morning, that from that moment the executors should be committing a technical offence against the law for not having immediately secured cover from the insurance company, as clearly that would be impossible.

I am also asking the House to insert an Amendment which allows the owner or the company to terminate the relevant period after giving not less than one year's notice of such intention, that is if he wants to switch over to a mutual indemnity association or to ordinary insurance. As I said before, the trust would not then come to an end; it would continue in existence until all the liabilities which have been incurred during the relevant period were discharged. Further on, I am asking the House to insert another Amendment to make it clear that during this later period of the trust's existence the actuary will have to give his annual estimate of the liabilities of the trust, and the owner will have to meet them. That is to be inserted because certain injuries develop or become more grave, or perhaps they crop up for the first time, three or four years after the accident. If I have not made my meaning clear, I should very much like hon. Members to ask me questions upon any specific point.

11.36 a.m.


I would like the hon. Gentleman to clear up this point: If, as I understand, it is correct that the trust is expected first of all, in the certified initial period, to take the first year of its own operation and estimate the liability in that year, and to take no note whatever of liabilities previous to that year, they take pot luck about any old liability of the company. Therefore, the trust starts off with any injury which takes place during the first year of its existence. In the second year, it has to take into consideration liabilities continued from the first year, and it goes cumulatively forward and leave any pretrust accident uncovered. Thirdly, in regard to deaths, the trust fund, according to this Schedule, provides for compensation so long as there are at least five in one accident. If fewer than five deaths take place in one accident, or if two dozen or three dozen deaths take place in the course of one year from a series of accidents, they are not covered at all.

11.37 a.m.


The hoc. Member is absolutely right in saying that the trust is not retrospective, nor is the Bill retrospective. It is absolutely impossible to make a Bill like this retrospective. If a big colliery company employing 6,000 or 7,000 men had to capitalise all its compensation liability immediately upon the coming into operation of this Bill, anything up to £500,000 might be involved; certainly £250,000. That is clearly an impossibility. With regard to the point as to the death of five or more workmen, I hope the hon. Member will allow me to get to that in order. These are such important provisions that some explanation should be on record, so I will turn to paragraphs 5 and 6 of the Schedule, which are the important provisions of the trust.

Paragraph 5 is designed to ensure that there will be an actual calculation by a qualified actuary of the capital sum required to discharge all the accrued liabilities of the owner, and also all further liabilities which, in the opinion of the actuary, are likely to arise during the year following. Paragraph 6 requires the owner to put into the fund the amount which the actuary certifies as being required. I come now to Paragraph 7, which is the one that is causing most anxiety to hon. Members of the Opposition. It is for insurance against what is called a "catastrophe risk." It is clear and reasonable that for one, two, three or four deaths the fund, which is in funds to the extent of the actuary's estimate, can quite well be expected to bear the liability of those accidents. This provision is designed simply and solely in view of the possibility of some terrible catastrophe in which 200 men or more may be killed at once. The capitalised liability for an accident like that might well force a colliery company into bankruptcy. This paragraph lays it down that the trustees must make certain that that does not come about. It certainly does not imply that the trust has no liability for fewer than five deaths, but it merely deals with what is already collateral security. The trust itself is a second string, the owner being the first string; this is adding a third string. It is a common provision in insurances and trusts of this sort, and it merely exists in order to make things far more certain. Hon. Members will understand that if they read the provision carefully. This Bill needs reading very carefully several times a day for months, and even then one tends to forget things. Paragraph 8 consists of definitions.


Is it not the fact that, so far as the ordinary accidents are concerned, the trust fund is the fund out of which the compensation will be payable, but in order that there should not be too great a demand upon that fund at one time, there shall be further covered by the trustees insurance against that risk, so that the trust fund will be available and also the fund by reason of the insurance agreements on account of those particular risks. Is not that the effect of paragraph 7 (1)?


That is what I was endeavouring to explain to the House, but, not having the legal ability of my hon. and learned friend, I did not make it quite clear. An insurance company would pay what they had to pay to the fund, and the money would come out of the fund again. So much for the Schedule. There already exist 16 trusts of this nature—or there were a month ago—and they have worked perfectly satisfactorily. We have endeavoured to combine those 16 existing trusts with our ideas on certain points, in order to strengthen the trusts. I have no doubt that the trusts are by far the best system under the Bill. I should like the House to note that, as these trusts involve the payment of the capital value of every accident before the accident happens, only large, financially sound and reputable firms are likely to come into the trusts. If by any chance small owners went into this trust system under a misapprehension, thinking that it would be an easy and cheap way of getting out of liability, we have laid it down that they cannot suddenly back out of it. We have laid down certain provisions which will deter them from entering into these trusts too readily and without due thought. I hope that hon. Members will be satisfied with this explanation, and will not press the point further.

11.44 a.m.


We are all very much obliged to the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) for the explanation which he has given of the Schedule. As he said, it is a very difficult and complex Bill, especially in the various stages of it beyond the initial stages. Practically every week Amendments have been put down. I do not blame the hon. Member for that, because every Amendment has been intended to make the Bill more workable, but it is very difficult to follow those Amendments especially, as he has said, owing to the legal phraseology and to the legal aspect of these trust funds and mutual indemnity societies, The two points about which we were very much concerned have been clearly explained. The first is as to whether the actuaries are to base the income of the Fund on the accidents of the previous year. If that be so, it would obviously mean that, in case of any great catastrophe, the fund would be unable to meet the eventuality. It has now been explained, with the assistance of the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord), that it not only covers ordinary accidents that may occur from time to time in the collieries, but that, in the event of an accident involving injury to five or more workers, or any other great catastrophe, the trust will have protected the victims of such accident by insuring itself. That will be a kind of double security, and, in view of the explanation which has been given, I do not think we need proceed with our Amendment. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary has anything to say, and whether he agrees with the point of view put by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson). We want to be certain that, so far as the miners are concerned, they are to be guaranteed their compensation in the event of any colliery company going into bankruptcy. If the Under-Secretary is satisfied that this particular Schedule will, as is claimed, insure and protect the workers in such circumstances, I think we shall be prepared to withdraw with our Amendment.

11.47 a.m.


On this portion of the Bill, I think we may take it that the position as far as accidents resulting in the death of five men are concerned is clear, but in regard to major accidents I am not quite so certain. I understand that security is to be provided for such cases under the trust scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) said that it might be very hard to insure against very large major accidents. I am presuming that the company concerned would be one which was no longer solvent, and that the mine would be generally in a bad way, just hanging on, when a bad accident occurred. I should like it to be made more clear what would be the position in such circumstances, and whether there really would be any funds in connection with the mine which would enable it to insure to meet the position in the event of a very big accident. The complications are extraordinarily great. I think I see the way in which the Bill will work in this respect, but I am not satisfied that it will be actually possible in practice to get a sum sufficient to insure against a major accident of this kind. It may well be possible, but I am not absolutely happy on the point. I have no doubt that the Amendment has been gone into very carefully, and perhaps some assurance could be given on the point, because really the key to a considerable part of the Bill is in these words.

I am not one who is very skilled in looking for loopholes, but I should like to make a point on paragraph 2 of the Schedule. It lays down, I think quite rightly, what an independent person is. It says that he must be a person who is neither a servant nor an agent of the owner and who has no financial interest in the business of the owner. I can see that that probably covers everything, but I should like to have legal advice, say from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord), as to whether that really means that no one who was, say, a creditor would be allowed to come in, because a, creditor would in a sense have a financial interest in the company. I do not know whether that point is covered in a legal way, but certainly a creditor, say for machinery, ought not to come in as an independent person. My hon. Friend says that he could not do so, and I am very glad to hear it; I think it clears up the point. It is a matter which, looking at the Bill without experience or legal advice, I wanted to be made quite certain, because I do not want the House to leave any possible loophole.

11.49 a.m.


Catastrophe risk is a very common form of insurance; it is done in almost every colliery in the country, and the premiums for it are extrarodinarily low. I do not like to mention a figure, because I am speaking purely from memory, but my impression is that it is 1s. or less per £100 of wages paid in the year. That is extraordinarily low. There may be some difficulty in this connection, because obviously some pits have a lower catastrophe risk than others. For instance, a gassy pit would have a higher catastrophe risk than a non-gassy pit. But I have every confidence that the insurance companies, the underwriters and the owners will work it out among themselves, so that safe pits are not unduly penalised. There is nothing new in this provisions it merely incorporates existing practice. As regards the independent person, I am sure my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) will agree that these words cover the situation.

11.51 a.m.


The hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) asked me to reassure him and the House in regard to the compensation trust scheme. Before doing that, I should like, if I may, to put the matter clearly to my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), because I am not sure that he quite understands the position as regards insurance in respect of catastrophe risk when there is a compensation trust scheme in existence. The compensation trust scheme merely looks after the ordinary risk, and it is compulsory to insure against the larger risk—the catastrophe risk. It is not necessary to wait for any particular colliery or undertaking to be in financial difficulties; under the Bill, each colliery has to cover in one form or another the risks which may occur in a colliery. When a colliery determines to come, not under a form of insurance, but under this compensation trust scheme, it is compelled, under the Bill, to insure against the large risk—the catastrophe risk—where more than five people are involved in the accident. That is the point, and I do not think that my hon. Friend need be nervous about any colliery not being very sound financially, because that will not enter into the situation at all.


The position does apply to all collieries?


To all collieries which may adopt the compensation trust scheme. If they do not care to adopt it, they must be covered in another way—either with an outside insurance company or with what is known as a mutual indemnity association. Under the Bill they have to be covered in one of three ways. We are dealing now, however, only with the one scheme, namely, the compensation trust scheme.

I am glad that a general discussion on this question has been allowed, because it is a matter of very great importance, and undoubtedly hon. Members opposite have been a little suspicious, or, shall I say, doubtful as to whether or not there was some idea in the minds of colliery proprietors or of the promoters of the Bill that this was a method of avoiding responsibility. I can assure the House that there is nothing of that kind in connection with the scheme; it is certainly not a method of avoiding responsibility. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) asked me whether the trust provides the same security as insurance. The answer, to my mind, is undoubtedly "Yes"—




That, I think, is a matter of opinion, but it certainly is as good; I do not care to put it any higher. It is certainly a very sound alternative, and, in my submission, just as good as either insurance or a mutual indemnity scheme. The hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) said the workmen would have to take pot luck in connection with any accident which occurred previous to the trust scheme coming into operation. It is true that there is nothing retrospective in the Bill. You could not compel people to insure against accidents which had actually taken place. That would be impossible. But, when the hon. Member talks of workpeople taking pot luck in regard to accidents which have happened in the past, the same applies to the two forms of insurance in the Bill. They only date from the moment that the Bill comes into operation. But that does not mean to indicate in any way that compensation will not be paid in cases of accident which have taken place before the Bill comes into operation, for the liability still remains, as it always has, since the Workmen's Compensation Acts were passed, with the employer, and the employers' liability and responsibility is not in any way diminished under the terms of the Bill.


We are dealing here specifically with cases arising out of the liquidation of the employer. If, therefore, liquidation takes place, even where trust companies are formed, it may still result in all past accidents being wholly or partially deprived of compensation.


I admit frankly that accidents in the past are not insured under the Bill, but we have to make a start somewhere, and it would be quite unfair to place that past burden on an insurance company, mutual indemnity association or compensation scheme. What I want to impress on the House is that the employer's liability and responsibility is not affected at all by any of the three alternative methods of cover contained in the Bill. The responsibility is still his, and he is only compelled to insure himself in some way or other to make it more certain that he will be able to pay this compensation which he is compelled to pay under various Acts of Parliament.

The main safeguards which would be greatly strengthened by the Amendments that have been moved to-day are really three-fold. In the first place, one at least of the trustees must be a person entirely independent of the owner. That is obviously a desirable thing. Secondly, there has to be supervision by a qualified actuary and auditor which is again desirable. The actuary has to certify, both at the commencement of the trust and after the end of each accounting year the sum necessary to cover all the outstanding liability plus the liability likely to arise in the ensuing accounting year. The owner must pay into the trust any sum by which the assets of the fund as ascertained by the auditor, fall short of the amount estimated by the actuary to be necessary, and, moreover, the auditor must certify that the owner has in fact made this payment into the trust. I do not think anything could be more watertight than that. The third safeguard is that the owner is called upon to exhibit at the colliery offices a notice that the trust conforms with the requirements of, and provides for the discharge of all liability under, the Act. In addition, he has to put up a notice at the colliery office giving the names and addresses of the trustees and any agent authorised by them to receive notices in connection with the trust. The final notice to be put up is one signed by the auditor that he has examined the accounts and satisfied himself that the owner has paid into the trust any contribution certified by the actuary to be necessary.

Not only have all these things to be done, but the workpeople have to be in the position of knowing that they have been done, which is a very valuable thing for those people who might be in doubt as to whether or not the Act is actually being complied with. Under the general law of trusts, the workmen, who are the beneficiaries of the trust will be entitled to have access to the compensation trust on the application of the trustees. I assure hon. Members that the trust scheme is a sound alternative to insurance, and, as such, I have not the slightest hesitation, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, in commending the scheme to the House.


Having achieved the purpose of the Amendment, which was to get a satisfactory explanation that the purpose of the Bill will be carried out, we are willing to withdraw the Amendment. We felt that we must put some Amendment down. On Friday last in Committee I gave notice that it would be necessary to examine the Bill to see if it would be necessary to put down Amendments. It was because of some doubt—not suspicion, but doubt—whether everything was covered that we put this down.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: In page 10, line 27, leave out "of the coal mine to which the trust relates."

In line 28, leave out "executors or assigns," and insert "trustee in bankruptcy."

In line 32, leave out "that coal mine," and insert "the coal mine to which the trust relates."

In line 33, leave out "executors or assigns," and insert "trustee in bankruptcy."—[Mr. G. Nicholson.]


I beg to move, in page 10, line 35, at the beginning, to insert: In the foregoing provisions of this paragraph reference to 'the owner' shall be construed as including references to his legal personal representative, if any, and. This is simply to provide that, in the event of the owner dying, the relevant period shall not terminate for one month after his death.

Amendment agreed to.

12.5 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 11, line 2, to leave out from "terminated," to the end of line 19, and to insert: (1) on the expiration of the accounting year next after that in which a written notice in that behalf, signed by the owner, has been posted at the place at which, and in the manner in which, notices relating to the trust are required by this Act to be exhibited; or (2) on the expiration of one month from the death of the owner; or (3) on the owner becoming bankrupt or making a composition or arrangement with his creditors; or (4) where the owner is a company—

  1. (a) on the passing by the company of a resolution for voluntary winding up within the meaning of section two hundred and twenty-five of the Companies Act, 1939; or
  2. (b) on the making of a winding-up order in respect of the company under the Companies Act, 1929; or
  3. (c) on the due appointment of a receiver by or on behalf of the holders of any debentures of the company secured by a floating charge, or the due taking possession, by or on behalf of those debenture holders, of any property comprised in, or subject to, the charge;
whichever first occurs. I think that we have covered all the points of this Amendment during the previous discussions.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 12, line 15, leave out from "to," to the end of line 19, and insert: submit the certificate as soon as may be to the auditor for examination and, as soon as may be thereafter, to transmit it to the owner. Provided that, after the end of the relevant period, the actuary's certificate shall be given only in relation to any outstanding compensation liability of the owner which is attributable to the relevant period."—[Mr. G. Nicholson.]


I take it that the next Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald)—in page 12, line 34, to leave out from "compensation," to "and" in line 36—will not be moved.

12.6 p.m.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third Time".

In the short time I have been in the House I have learnt that the worst thing that a private Member can do when moving the Third Reading of his own Bill is to make a speech, and so I shall content myself by saying that I commend the Bill in all sincerity to the House, as being a practical and workable instrument designed to remedy an existing situation in the mining community which I described on the Second Reading as being inequitable and often cruel. I think that every point has been covered by the discussion.

The Bill has been remarkable as a Mining Bill; it has got through this House in perfect harmony and agreement. Hon. Members on all sides have shown a most friendly spirit of co-operation and welcome. I should like to express the hope that this may be a precedent, and that all future Mining Bills and mining matters may be conducted in that spirit of peace and friendliness which has been so typical of this Bill. Lastly, I should be indeed ungrateful if I did not say how sincerely and deeply I have been touched by the great kindness with which I have been treated by everybody with whom I have had to do in the preparation and passage through the House of this Bill. It would be invidious to pick out any individual Member, but I have in connection with this Bill, I think, approached almost every single Member of the House and most of the Civil Service, and no where have I found anything but the greatest of kindness. I should like to say how deeply I have been touched by the way that I have been treated.

12.8 p.m.


I only want to say on behalf of hon. Members on this side of the House that we compliment the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) upon having brought in this Bill, and upon the masterly way in which he has conducted it throughout the proceedings, and also to say that we are very pleased to see the Bill so rapidly approaching the Statute Book.

12.9 p.m.


I want to say personally how much I welcome this Bill. To anyone who has seen the terrible difficulties and the terrible distress brought about by the condition of affairs which the Bill remedies, the fact that this Bill is going through must be an occasion for very great rejoicing indeed. One need not in any way say very much about the difficulties, beyond the fact that some of the conditions were absolutely a scandal to any community. One rejoices that the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Q. Nicholson) has been able to take steps which have put that state of affairs to an end. One other thing ought to be said. There is no doubt that from very large sections indeed of the mining industry, I am sure my hon. Friend will acknowledge, there has been very considerable help in connection with this Bill.


Hear, hear.


I do not think that it would be right to let it be thought for one moment that the mining industry as a whole contemplated the dreadful scandals which arose with anything like equanimity. They were as much distressed by them as anyone else, and I am certain that they are glad that a step has been taken which has brought those difficulties to an end. There is one matter in the Bill upon which I venture to express the hope that there will be further consideration. Under the Bill as it exists, it is possible for the employer to take the risk himself for some six months. I cannot help feeling that it would be definitely in the interests of the men themselves that the employer should have the right to take the risk for 12 months. I think that everybody would agree—I do not think that there is any difference of opinion on this matter—that it is an essential thing to try and get an injured workman back to work as early as it is possible to do so.

I am not making the smallest charge against the men themselves. Every one knows perfectly well the difficulty of the injured man, but there is nothing worse than the period of disablement being unnecessarily protracted. If the period of disablement goes on too long there grows up a feeling of inertia which is bad for the man himself, and certainly very bad indeed for industry as a whole. With all respect no insurance company, no indemnity association and no trust takes quite the same personal interest as the man's own employers. I think that everyone will agree with that. Therefore you will get, as long as the employer is taking the risk, the best efforts made to get the man back to work, provided there is a real case for saying that he is fit.

The case comes to the notice of the employer, compensation is paid and goes on for a month or two, and the matter is not generally revived probably until the end of three or four months. Most cases are left for review until the end of three or four months. At the end of that time the employer has no serious financial interest in getting the man back if the period for which he is responsible is only six months. He says to himself, "What is the good of worrying about the case? In another couple of months I shall be rid of the whole responsibility. It is the responsibility of the insurance company and the trust, and there is no further advantage as far as I am concerned in getting him back".

If, on the other hand, he had to bear the risk himself for the remainder of 12 months, that is to say probably for six or 8 months longer, he would have a direct incentive in the direction of trying to get the man back to work. There are definite safeguards in getting a man back at work as soon as he is fit, and it is obviously in the interests of the man himself that he should be got back. It would be in the interests of everybody that the employer should be allowed to take the risk of the first 12 months, and should have that direct incentive, with which I am certain the miners' representatives themselves would agree to get the man back to work if he is fit for work. Everyone knows the difficulty of too protracted a period of disablement. I venture to hope that in another place there may be an opportunity after consideration, of seeing whether it is not possible to extend the period of which the employer himself takes the risk.

12.15 p.m.


I do not think that this Bill should be allowed to go through its concluding stage without at least some remark from a Scottish Member, seeing how much we welcome its provisions. After all, we have given so much to England that we can be generous towards England, and admit that we are now getting something valuable from them. I think it would be very ungenerous not to make that admission in the present case. It does seem to me that the advantages of this Bill are so obvious that everyone must be asking themselves the question how it has come about that we did not have it passed into law years and years ago. The answer, I think, is perhaps an obvious one—that all these matters depend ultimately on the individual initiative of one or two people who have both knowledge and energy, and it is an unfortunate thing that sometimes the man with the knowledge does not have the energy, and sometimes the man with the energy does not have the knowledge, and we have had to wait in this connection for what, I am sure, will be adequately recognised—the efforts of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson). There are many others in this House who have an equal, and, perhaps, he will admit, even a greater knowledge of the mining industry, but there has, unfortunately, in the past proved to be no one who has been equal to the task of piloting such a Bill through the House.

Although I claim no knowledge to speak of the mining industry, I have enough knowledge to realise the amount of work and initiation that has gone to the piloting of this Bill through Committee, and I think there is a great deal in what was said by the hon. Member that this Bill does indicate a spirit, which, I hope, is now a permanent spirit of conciliation between all the interests involved in the mining industry. We all knew the miner as being—it would be invidious to say the best, but certainly one of the very best people in the country, and we all know that mine-owners are second to none as employers. Unfortunately, in the past it has not always been possible for these two people, whose interests are ultimately the same, to see eye to eye, and it is a great advance, which, I, for my part, sincerely hope represents a permanent advance, in a practical matter concerning everyone of us. I cannot help feeling that if other problems in the mining industry which are equally practical problems are treated from the practical point of view, as this one has been, it will not be long before we see equal agreement and equal benefit in connection with other problems which are so gravely menacing that industry to-day. I take it as a good omen that in this matter everyone has come together in the best possible spirit, and I feel certain that that spirit will continue to animate both sides in future discussions on even more urgent questions.

12.19 p.m.


I would like to see the-Third Reading carried wtihout any opposition at all, but the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord), who had an Amendment down which he did not move, has now suggested that the other place should insert an Amendment for 52 as against 26 weeks. I hope that the other place will not take any notice of the suggestion. I know very well that the promoters of the Bill do not desire it, because when recently we challenged the 26 weeks, it was only on the assurance that it was the understood thing in the insurance world, that we gave way in order that the Bill might pass without any opposition. I hope, therefore, that the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member will not have any bearing on people who deal with the Bill in the other place. The Bill deals with a matter which should have been dealt with long before. One can visualise a number of cases. I have in mind the case of a man who was blinded four years ago when working in the pit. The colliery company failed, and, because of its failure, that man has not had a penny compensation since 1930. That is why these men have tried to get something done by the House of Commons. The Measure has received the assent of alt parties, and I trust that, apart from, a word or two which may have to be amended, there will be no attempt to do anything which will introduce a jarring note. I would not have got up to speak but for the remark of the hon. and learned Member for Norwood, and I trust that that remark will be taken no notice of in another place.

12.21 p.m.


Like my hon. Friend who has just spoken, I hope that nothing of a controversial nature will be introduced. I would remind the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. J. Reid), of one fact, namely, that Torquay, at any rate, has given the best Minister of Mines this country has had for a good many years. My object in rising is to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson), on what I, as one who has been in this House a considerable time, regard as one of the best Parliamentary performances I have ever known. My hon. Friend is a new Member, and he has proved to a great many other new Members than anyone who works hard, obtains knowledge and is tactful, can get through this House by means of private Bills really useful pieces of legislation. If I may say so, I think that he has done a great service in every respect, not only in proving his own worth to the House, but also in showing the House of Commons at its very best in every way.

May I be allowed to say two more things? First, may I, with very great respect, say how much I appreciate the point of view and also the help which has been given by the Labour party in this matter? There are a great many instances in this country to-day where the common good will of the House of Commons and the people outside can be used to ameliorate the lot of some of our citizens. This is a case where there has been a terrible hardship on men who have the sympathy of the whole country, and when Members of all parties can be got to join in a matter of this kind, they in their turn to-day have done one of the finest bits of work in Helping through this Bill that we have seen for some time.

I have intervened in this Debate because it is sometimes thought that those of us who represent the South of England have no sympathy with the troubles in the North. I may say that it has agitated many of our minds, and I think that every one of us, particularly those of us who have always lived near the sea, and know the troubles, difficulties and cruelties of nature, when we have heard of those appalling mining accidents, nothing has hurt us more than the feeling that a man in the pit, who runs these risks and has had some injury, is not properly compensated. No compensation could really restore the loss, for instance, of a limb, but I do say that we have had that sympathy. Having come of a mining family, although tin mining and not coal, I very much regret that our tin miners are not in the Bill. I should not, however, be in order in pursuing that. We have real sympathy for the coalminers, although we may be divorced by distance from them. We may not have the exact knowledge of the industry that we ought to have, but we listen to hon. Members who speak with knowledge, and we have tried to study the question with what means are at our disposal. I should like to raise my voice to-day, humbly and very respectfully, to say how glad I am that this Bill will remove what I believe has been a very great injustice. I have very seldom seen the House of Commons employing its time to better purpose than in putting through a Bill like this, which does definitely do something for the people who work in one of the most difficult industries, who are respected by every section of the community, and helps to make their lives a little easier.

12.26 p.m.


I do not desire to be left out of the general chorus of congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson), who has so splendidly conducted this Measure through the House of Commons. He has undoubtedly shown great ability and great knowledge of the subject, and we all congratulate him most sincerely on the successful outcome of his efforts so far as this House is concerned. We hope that he will have an equal measure of good fortune when the Bill goes to another place.

There are two things that I should like to say in regard to the Debate on the Third Reading of the Bill, with respect to points raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord). He said—I am not quoting his exact words—that there must be no doubt left in the minds of hon. Members that insurance has been looked upon with favour by all interested in the mining industry. I paid my tribute to the Mining Association on the Second Reading of the Bill. I hope that I made it clear that the Mining Association had endeavoured to the best of their ability to get every owner throughout the length and breadth of the country to insure against the risks of workmen's compensation, and that it was no fault of the Mining Association that this Bill was found to be necessary.

The only other thing that I desire to say relates to the fixing of the period of 26 weeks instead of 52 weeks. I will not attempt to take sides in a discussion of that phase of the problem, but I have statistics which may be interesting to the House. The statistics for 1932 show that out of every 100 cases of disablement through accident in all industries making returns, not in the coal industry alone, only 2.26 last for more than 26 weeks. In regard to cases of disease, which are also covered by the Bill, the percentage is 16.4, but the cases of disease are only a fraction of the cases of disablement. I mention these statistics so that the House can draw their own conclusions. On the whole, I think that we ought to be satisfied with the 26 weeks contained in the Bill, and I think it would be undesirable that an Amendment should be inserted in another place which would increase the period to 52 weeks. In conclusion, I again congratulate my hon. Friend on having passed the Bill through the House, and I hope that it will soon be placed on the Statute Book.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill (changed to "Workmen's Compensation (Coal Mines) Bill") read the Third time, and passed.