§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. GODFREY NICHOLSON
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time".
This is a great, if somewhat alarming, occasion for me. Not only do I experience a certain paternal pride in introducing my own Bill, but as a mining Member I am proud and thankful to have the opportunity of moving a piece of legislation which, I am firmly convinced, will amend an inequitable and often cruel state of affairs which adversely affects the life of the whole mining community. I ask with confidence for a sympathetic hearing from the House, and, if I may venture further, I express the hope that the Bill may be considered on its merits alone, without any regard to my own inadequacy, or to the bitter and tragic quarrels which have so often convulsed this unhappy industry in previous times. I hope, therefore, not only that this Bill may get unopposed a Second Reading, but that the tone of the Debate will be completely free from all bitterness and recrimination, and that hon. Members will look towards the future in a spirit of co-operation.
Having said that I feel that there are one or two explanations I should make. First, I should apologise to the House for the fact that the Bill has only been in hon. Members' hands for a week. Without going into wearisome details I can assure hon. Members that that was absolutely inevitable. Secondly, I must explain the peculiar way in which the Bill is presented to hon. Members. I refer to the fact that in the explanatory memorandum I have stated that I intend to move certain Amendments in Committee. Many hon. Members have said to me, "Why do you not produce the Bill as you intend that it should go to Committee, without going to the trouble of putting down and ultimately moving certain Amendments in Committee?" The reason for that is that through my own stupidity I drew up a long title which failed to cover everything I intended to 1430 put in the Bill, and I was told on good authority that there was a slight risk that, if I included everything in the Bill which I had originally intended it to cover, it was possible that some Member might object to you, Mr. Speaker, and that you would be forced to rule the whole Bill out of Order. So there will be many Amendments moved in Committee, but I think they are adequately summarised in the explanatory memorandum. Of course, there will be an alteration in the title as well. I propose to-day to deal with the Bill as I intended it to have been introduced. I hope hon. Members will not think I am trying to make them buy "a pig in a poke." Later in my speech I shall try to explain briefly the nature of the Amendments which I propose to move in Committee if the Bill get a Second Reading.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), whenever he has seen me about to speak in the House, has leaned across and said, "Only statesmen are allowed to speak for more than ten minutes, and you are not a statesman." I know I am not a statesman, but to-day I am fulfilling one rôle of a statesman in introducing a Bill, so I ask the forgiveness of the House if I exceed my normal back-bench ration; but I shall not speak long. This Bill embodies a very simple principle, but it bristles with legal points, the sort of points that can best be dealt with in Committee, and therefore I shall limit my speech to as brief an outline as possible of the situation which I propose to remedy, together with a short exposition of the Bill. Of course, many points will arise in debate, but if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye again this afternoon, Mr. Speaker, and if the House will permit me—because it will only be by the courtesy of the House that I can do so—I propose at the end of the Debate to answer seriatim such points as have arisen.
The purpose of this Bill is to put an end to a definite scandal in the mining industry. In plain English, this scandal is the bankruptcy of collieries, which sometimes leaves the workmen who are in receipt of compensation payments high and dry, and with merely Poor Law relief upon which to fall back. I want to go straight away to the root of the matter. One criticism that may be made of this Bill is that it applies only to the mining industry. I am constantly asked 1431 why this Bill refers only to one industry, and does not cover all industries. From the practical point of view, does any hon. Member imagine that, even if I thought it necessary to do so, I could possibly hope to get a Bill affecting every industry in Great Britain through this House on a Friday afternoon? Clearly I could not. Secondly, as I hope to explain to the House, the same difficulties have not arisen in other industries. There have been sporadic cases of hardship in other industries, but they have not reached the level of a definite scandal which cries out for remedy.
In explaining how this state of affairs has come about in the mining industry I must inflict a few statistics on the House, and I ask hon. Members to bear them in mind when considering the objection that this Bill applies to only one industry. The source of my information is the Home Office annual statistics of compensation and proceedings about workmen's compensation, which cover 75 per cent. of the money paid as workmen's compensation and 74 per cent. of the cases. They cover a little over 6,500,000 workmen, classified under seven headings—shipping, factories, docks, mines, quarries, constructional work and railways. As to the incidence of dangers in these industries, in the six industries other than mines the proportion that the number of compensation cases bears to the total number of persons employed is 3.38 per cent., whereas in mining it is 21.2 per cent., which is staggering. Then take the money paid out per person employed by way of compensation. I do not mean the money paid out to each compensation case, but the total expenditure of the industry on compensation divided by the number of people employed. In the six other industries it is 9s. 10d.; in mining it is 68s. 11d. Perhaps I should point out that in the mining industry most compensation is paid by way of weekly payments. Colliery companies, mutual indemnity companies and insurance companies seem to prefer that to commuting, although, of course, commutation is always possible on a basis of 75 per cent. of the capital sum necessary to purchase a Post Office Annuity equivalent to the compensation paid. I am sorry that these particulars are so complicated.
1432 I should also point out that under the Workmen's Compensation Acts compensation payments have priority over all other debts in the event of liquidation, but in spite of that this scandal occurs in many parts of the country. Obviously one reason for that is that in the mining industry compensation payments are larger in proportion to the other outgoings, as shown by the figures I have just given. I should also point out that when a factory goes into liquidation there are almost always some assets—maybe a lease, maybe some buildings; but when a colliery goes into liquidation there is almost literally nothing left but a hole in the ground. It is easily understandable why this state of affairs exists almost solely in the mining industry. That is the condition of affairs that I want to stop by this Bill.
As to the extent of the scandal which I wish to stop, it is very difficult to get accurate statistics. The Home Office give a certain figure in this report, but I do not quite accept it, and I have had different figures from the Home Office, in the last two days, of actual losses in compensation payments sustained by miners owing to the winding-up of their employer's businesses without leaving any, or sufficient, assets. In the last two years, South Wales miners have lost £140,000 and Lancashire miners have lost £36,000. Those are realised losses. In the event of the winding-up of a business you sometimes have to wait before you give up all hope of getting in any more of your assets, so that the losses which I have mentioned probably only take us up to a couple of years ago. I am on the safe side in saying that the total for the whole country would be under £200,000, affecting about 2,000 cases or more. That is probably an under-statement, but I do not wish to exaggerate.
Almost equally bad are those cases which result from delay. I should like to read to the House a typical case which I have selected because it occurred in my own constituency, many years before I was elected for it. I know the colliery very well. It is now under different and very good management, so that I do not cast any reflection upon its present owners. This colliery went into liquidation on 28th April, 1925, involving some 32 compensation cases. Compensation payments were continued by the company until 10th November, 1926—that is 1433 a year and a half—when payments ceased altogether. It was not until 19th November, 1929—that is a further three years—that the representatives of the workmen received a cheque for £6,965, which amount was allocated among 32 cases. It represented approximately 75 per cent. of the amount to which the injured men would have been entitled. That is a typical case. There are an enormous number of cases where the total sum eventually realised does not amount to £2,000 or £3,000. This entails considerable suffering and anxiety to the workmen and the ultimate loss of a certain proportion of their justly and legally allocated compensation payments.
There is a case which is at present sub judice and to which I do not wish to refer in great detail. It is in Cumberland, and the colliery is in course of liquidation. About £31,000 compensation is involved. The mutual indemnity association have denied liability; the men have secured judgment against the colliery—which of course is very valuable, seeing that there are no assets whatever. There is an appeal against that judgment. I ask the House to imagine the position of anxiety of those men at present. I do not wish to over-emphasise my case and still less do I wish to be accused of indulging in what is vulgarly called "sob stuff," but I ask the House to consider, first, the grave hardship involved—I am conscious of the extraordinary moderation of my speech—when compensation is totally lost. The injured men are thrown upon public assistance and are reduced to the level of paupers.
I do not know whether hon. Members are aware of the injuries that are common in this connection. They include miner's nystagmus, that terrible optical disease. It is a particularly tragic disease because, when a man is partially disabled by miner's nystagmus, by some peculiar mixture of physical and psychological causes, if he is out of work for a certain number of years, he almost invariably has a nervous breakdown and becomes a complete wreck. The case of men who are on partial compensation is every bit as hard as of those who are completely disabled, because they are held to be fit for light work. There is no light work to speak of in the mining industry. A man aged 45 who is partially disabled, in receipt of compensation of 10s., and said to be fit for light work, cannot be ex- 1434 pected to come down to London in order to get the sort of light work that suits him. He has to stay in his native place in a condition of the utmost poverty, and practically in a condition of pauperism.
The following injuries are mentioned in the list of a colliery which has recently gone into liquidation: "Miner's nystagmus, fractured leg, crushed knee, crushed wrist, strained back, injured foot, injured hand, injured back, hernia, injured thigh, amputations," and so on. Then come what are called beat knee and beat hand, and then silicosis and other injuries. There is a man in my constituency whose back was broken before the War. He has not been out of his bed for over 20 years. Those are the risks of the industry in which the men are engaged. I maintain that, engaged as they are in a highly perilous industry, the least that society can do is to make as sure as is humanly possible that if they are injured they shall receive the compensation to which they are legally entitled, without regard to the solvency or insolvency of their employers.
The second point which I wish the House to consider is the hardship and anxiety caused by delay in the payment of compensation pending the realisation of assets. That speaks for itself. The third point is the feeling of uncertainty that must prevail throughout the whole industry where there is any question of the financial stability of a colliery undertaking. Not only must the men who are injured wonder if they are to continue to receive their compensation, but the men who are employed and their wives and families must wonder what would happen if the wage-earner were injured and the colliery went into liquidation.
I do not wish to stress or underline my case too much, because I think it stands by itself upon its own merits; nor do I believe that hon. Members need much persuasion from me or much oratory to induce them to agree that this state of affairs should be put an end to as speedily as possible. I am sure that they will agree that it is definitely wrong that men should be employed in this dangerous industry under such conditions without a reasonable—I stress that word "reasonable"—certainty that they will get their compensation pay- 1435 ments. If I wanted to make an absolute certainty of it I should say that the State would have to undertake the whole business of insurance, but I do not say that, because, whether desirable or not, it is a Utopian idea. It has to be made humanly certain. I cannot make the Bill absolutely watertight. I claim that, as it is drawn, it is for all practical purposes watertight. Up to now it has been agreed that it is morally wrong that anybody should employ a man who is likely to be injured without making provision for some compensation payment; I propose to make it legally wrong.
I am not introducing this Bill in a spirit of blame of anybody. It is not a crime to be a colliery owner; it is a good work, which gives employment for men and increases the prosperity of the country. I am not accusing the Mining Association of anything wrong; in fact, in drawing up this Bill I have had a great deal of sympathetic assistance from them. Nor am I altogether blaming those colliery companies which are to-day employing men when their compensation payments are not assured or are in danger. I can quite see the position of a company whose financial stability becomes less and less. Times are difficult; trade is difficult; and I can quite imagine a colliery owner saying, "If I shut down now, it will throw so many thousand men out of work. I think things will get better, and I am going on, even though there is this risk." I do not wish to blame him. I think there is far too great a tendency in this industry for one side to blame another. Blame never helps anybody in life in any way at all. This legislation is not retrospective; it looks towards the future.
The situation I have outlined has, naturally, not escaped the attention of His Majesty's Government. In recent years the Home Office has been continuously in touch with the Mining Association, and between them they have agreed upon a choice of three courses, which the Mining Association have for the last year or two been urging upon their members. I will go into the three courses later. The degree of success achieved is difficult to estimate. I will just quote one county. I have the statistics of two, but I quote this one because it is Northumberland, my own 1436 county. In that county, companies employing 30,196 men belong to mutual indemnity associations; companies employing 483 men have contracts with public insurance companies; and companies employing 9,220 men are not yet insured. That is to say, 9,220 men are not yet insured, and 30,600 are insured or covered in some way.
§ Mr. NICHOLSON
They are not insured in any way for this purpose. I know which companies one or two of these are, and they are companies of the utmost financial soundness, but I do not think that that invalidates my argument. They may not necessarily always remain sound.
There are, therefore, three categories in which one may place collieries with regard to the way in which they make their compensation arrangements. In the first place, there are those who belong to mutual indemnity associations. Mutual indemnity associations are of varying degrees of satisfactoriness. Some give complete cover; others give cover up to a certain amount; while others, as has until recently been common, only give cover so long as the colliery is a subscribing member of the association. In other words, in this last case, if the colliery goes bankrupt or ceases to subscribe, the mutual indemnity undertaking disavows all liability for accidents which have happened when the company was a member of the mutual indemnity undertaking. Then there are the companies which have contracts with insurance companies. Those are very few indeed, because this practice is not at all favoured by colliery undertakings. The figures show that roughly 56 or 57 per cent. of the premiums paid goes towards compensation payments, the rest going in commission, profits, directors' fees and so on; and, very naturally, collieries do not feel disposed to subsidise insurance companies more than they need. Then we have the remaining collieries, some of which cover themselves by private arrangements of their own, such as I call in the Bill compensation schemes.
I have no accurate estimate of the proportions in which the collieries of the country fall into these three classes. I am hoping that the Government speaker will correct my estimate later, but as far 1437 as money paid out is concerned the proportion of compensation money paid in 1932 by collieries which were members of mutual indemnity associations—as I have said, some satisfactory and some not—was 71.3 per cent. Insurance companies paid 4.7 per cent., and the remaining 24 per cent. is divided between two classes—those collieries which have compensation schemes of their own, and those which are not covered at all. It is pure guess-work, but I should say that 16 or 17 per cent. are not covered at all—possibly more. That means that anything between 130,000 and 160,000 workmen, and possibly a good many more, are not covered at all.
In my opinion, this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. I say that the remainder must be compelled to insure or provide for the discharge of their liability. I say this not only because I consider it necessary to bring under the law those undertakings which do not fulfil their legal liability at present, but because some form of legal control is necessary in order that we may be certain that the companies remain covered. A company may belong to a mutual inemnity or insurance company to-day, but trade conditions may get worse to-morrow, and it may cease to be insured, so that, even if the Mining Association could report that 100 per cent. of its members were adequately covered to-day, I should say that that was not completely satisfactory, because there is no guarantee that they would remain covered.
How do I propose to deal with this situation? The answer is, in the very way agreed upon between the Mining Association and the Home Office. That, I think, ought to be a sufficient answer to any criticism. I should like to read to the House the following unsolicited testimonial which appeared in the "Daily Express" the other day about this Bill:A prominent Lancashire coalowner said: 'The text of this Bill puts into concrete form all that the colliery companies have been striving to do by voluntary means during the last few months. We have, however, met with a great deal of apathy.'Now for the Bill itself. I have taken long enough over my introductory remarks. The Bill, even in its present state, is not an easy one for the layman to understand, and when amended in 1438 Committee it will be even less in the category of light literature, although I hope it will be unambiguous and clear as crystal to legal minds. I have tried to achieve my end with the minimum disturbance of existing conditions, and that has meant the legalisation of systems which have grown up naturally. It is not as though I am starting from the bottom and building up an ideal system; I have to legalise what has been the growth of scores of years. Before I explain the Bill, I should like to say that I have a completely open mind about details, and, provided that the broad principles are not affected, I will accept any Amendment whatever in Committee.
The explanatory memorandum, I think, admirably describes the Bill. I say that though I wrote it myself. Clause I does not need much explanation. The proviso to Sub-section (1) refers to the fact that in many mutual indemnity contracts the owner carries the first 26 weeks' compensation himself. The object of that is that the coalowner should have some inducement to try to get the workman back to work. I am saying that some condition in the contract like that shall not invalidate the contract, but, apart from that, it is provided that in the event of liquidation, the insurer shall assume liability even for the first 26 weeks. The gist of the paragraph is that a coalowner may not employ men unless he is adequately covered.
Sub-section (2) gives the penalties. There I have an open mind again. I have put down three months or £100 or both for each week during which the offence is committed. Where the offence is committed by a corporation, the officers of the corporation will be personally liable if it is done with their knowledge. In Committee I propose adding a Sub-section to the effect that the existence of an adequate compensation scheme such as is referred to in the explanatory memorandum shall be taken to be an adequate defence against a charge of having contravened the Clause. I define an insurance company—that is common form—and also a mutual indemnity association. In Committee I propose to move an Amendment to the effect that associations formed after 30th June next shall have to deposit £20,000 with the Accountant-General of the Supreme Court. This is an attempt to ensure that purely bogus 1439 mutual indemnity associations which can give no cover at all shall not be allowed to arise because I picture two or three pits each employing about fifteen men making a little mutual indemnity association by themselves, which of course would evade the intentions behind the Bill.
Clause 2 is to enable the workmen to know that their employer has insured or otherwise covered his liabilities. There will be consequential Amendments covering compensation schemes. Sub-section (2) gives the penalties. Clause 3 is a joy to the legal mind. I regard it as a sort of cross-word puzzle, but it comes out in the end. The gist of it is that bankruptcy, or failure to pay premiums to a mutual indemnity association or an insurance company, shall not affect the liability for claims which originally arose while the colliery was insured. Contracting out is forbidden—that means collusion between the owner and the insurer to the detriment of the worker.
Sub-section (4) is to the effect that, if any of the conditions mentioned in Clause 1, in other words liquidation or winding-up or foreclosure by debenture holders, come about, the insurer shall not be able to claim cancellation of the contract of insurance or to disavow liability on the ground of misrepresentation or non-disclosure of facts. That will need further Amendment in Committee. This is a very important Clause, but I think insurance companies will not object to it very strongly because it will only apply in exceptional cases. I am not aware that either an insurance company or a mutual indemnity association has ever claimed that a contract of insurance shall be annulled owing to misrepresentation or non-disclosure. They have always behaved very generously. Sub-section (5) gives priority over payments made by an insurance company under the previous sub-section. Clauses 4 and 5 are formal.
I do not wish to claim too much for the Bill. It has been called in the papers "the Pitman's Charter". I do not claim that. That is rather an extravagant claim. But I believe it is a sound piece of legislation. When it leaves Committee I think it will be considered to be a sound piece of drafting, thanks to the very able help done by my Counsel. I do not claim credit for it myself. I honestly believe that there is a state of affairs existing 1440 which should be remedied, and I believe this is the logical way to remedy it. I believe that if the owners and the Home Office come to an agreement about the way in which it can be removed, that is the suitable way, and that is the way that I have adopted. I do not wish to claim too much for it, but I sincerely beg the House to give it a Second Reading on its merits.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
I beg to second the Motion.
I should like to offer a word of congratulation to my hon. Friend for the way in which he has moved it and also for the moderation and accuracy with which he presented an undoubtedly strong case. This is a very important subject which affects every one of us in the House. In my view, a Measure of this kind to remove an injustice which we know exists, and to safeguard a vast body of men in a dangerous undertaking, is something to which we should all direct our energies. Whether we are for the moment representing coal-mining constituencies or not makes no difference. It was said that the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1906, was the culmination of a great deal of industrial legislation to safeguard the worker in his employment. It was there provided by a broad and general definition that any workman who meets with an accident which causes injury to him while in the course of his employment and arising therefrom should be entitled to compensation. That was a wise Measure, and it gave a great deal of security to workers. In many instances employers of labour carry their own risk and, when that is done in the case of concerns about whose stability there is no question, it works very well. Otherwise, they insure for their own safety with insurance companies against the risks of the Act. Some people are still allowed by law to carry their own risk, in other words, themselves to carry the liability for the people they employ while they are not in a financial position to meet the obligation if it ever arises.
There may be a strong case for making insurance against the Workmen's Compensation Act compulsory upon all employers, but when you are dealing with the mining industry, the case that my hon. Friend presented is unanswerable. 1441 It is found far too often that a man employed in this industry, which is somewhat more dangerous than others, meets with an accident, takes proceedings under the Act and gets his award. It is found, in cases which are all too frequent that, when the time comes for the award to be honoured, the coalowner against whom he has obtained the judgment is not in a financial position to meet it. That man, with his remedy taken away from him by circumstances which he cannot control, and with his legal position very clearly defined by the judgment he has received, has to go, for all time perhaps, on to the industrial scrap-heap. People for whom perhaps work can never be found, who have been in theory protected against that position by the working of the 1926 Act, find themselves robbed by the insolvency of the firm from the benefit which this House in 1906 thought fit to give them. I think the whole House will agree that that is a state of affairs which should not be allowed to continue.
My hon. Friend has given us a number of figures and an idea of the capital value which has been irrecoverable. If the figure were not so large, I would still commend the present Bill to the House, because it can do no harm to anybody, and it safeguards in the very best way they should be safeguarded the rights of the man who at all times may have upon him a risk which, either within his knowledge or not, can never be met if circumstances unhappily arise, and that man all the time is engaged in employment which has a greater incidence of danger than any other.
The Bill is a short one, and it does not put any extra charge upon industry. I join with my hon. Friend in hoping that we may upon this question obtain the unanimous support of the House. In dealing with a Measure of this kind, I readily echo his plea, that, whatever one's individual view may be about the undoubted tragic conflict which has been going on for years in that particular industry, it will be considered without any acrimony at all and without any attempt to try and apportion blame to anybody, but just as a Measure seeking to remove an injustice which should no longer be allowed to exist upon so many people who may be affected in circumstances which they cannot control, and who, when they are affected, are, unfortunately, cast on 1442 one side by the industrial wave perhaps for a long time. My hon. Friend has said that the Bill, if it leaves the House to-day after a Second Reading, will be subjected to certain points of amendment in Committee. I am sure that the essential provision of Clause 1, which compels the insurance against the risks under the Workmen's Compensation Act of any miner, will appeal to each one of us broadly in its present form. The provision of Clause 2 may be subject to a little alteration making it easier than ever for the man to know precisely that he is covered by the terms of the Act. I am not clear whether the exhibition of a certificate in the office will be sufficient, but it is a small point which can be dealt with upstairs later on.
I think that Clause 3, and particularly the Sub-section preventing contracting out, is absolutely inherent in the principle which the Bill has at heart. The retention of any man's right in a contract made by the mining company with an insurance company, of course, will remain in the Bill, because it would be tragic if, by means of some representation to which the insured workman is not a party, an insurance company over whom he has a right shall be able to say: "We shall avoid this contract, because of the representation made by the coalmining company when the insurance was effected."
Those are the vital principles, and Amendments will not be difficult to find to make perhaps a little easier one or two points to which I have referred. It is not an entirely new principle, because recently in this House a similar compulsory insurance in regard to road vehicles was effected. It is just as essential that there should be compulsory insurance here when you are dealing with men who are daily risking life and limb in the performance of their duties, and to see that no remedy which they have is not taken away from them by the circumstances which I have indicated. I neither want to go into any elaboration of terms nor of any particular phrase about a Bill which commends itself to us all. The Bill is nothing less than a plea for the protection of the miner who might get injured on any day at his work, and who might be robbed of the benefit which the law has said shall be given through circumstances which he cannot control. It is a great corollary of the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1906, and I believe 1443 that it will show once again the great and practical interest which has been taken by my hon. Friend at all times in the matter forming the subject of his Bill. There are many hon. Members who have interested themselves in the Bill, and I know that my right hon. Friend at the Home Office has been sympathetic at all times of approach. At last my hon. Friend has come forward and devoted to exceptionally good use the chance which he has to-day of bringing forward this Measure. I commend the Bill to hon. Members in all parts of the House, and join in the hope of my hon. Friend, that it will receive the speedy passage into legislation which it deserves.
§ 11.52 a.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) who moved the Bill made a remark in private conversation to me and my hon. Friends that only statesmen were allowed to speak for a certain length of time. I believe that the effort which he has made has taken him forward and placed him in the ranks of statesmen. He certainly put a good case before the House, and dealt with the subject in a way which deserves to be recorded in the annals of Parliament. A statesman is noted for the good he does to the community and for some outstanding landmark which he makes in the course of his duties which is found to be of benefit in time to come. I am confident that the Bill is a step in the direction of doing good to a vast number of people. The Workmen's Compensation Act has been in operation since 1896. It was intended to be a Measure for the benefit of workmen, and it is, but it was never realised that there would be a possibility of those benefits being frittered away by some unscrupulous employer. We find that that sort of thing has happened, and I am surprised that the Government of the day have not taken steps to deal with it before. It is not because they have not had knowledge of it. A very good memorandum was issued in 1924 outlining the Workmen's Compensation Act, and it contains the following:The Act does not require the employer to insure against these liabilities but in his own interests as well as that of his workmen it is advisable that any employer who would find it difficult to meet the heavy charge which might be entailed upon him by a serious acccident should protect him- 1444 self by insurance with a sound insurance company or employers' mutual indemnity association. In view of the great increase in these liabilities imposed by the Act of 1933 in cases of fatal accidents this is now more necessary than ever.That was in 1924 and the possibilities, which it was thought might occur if employers did not prepare for the unhappy day which might come upon them, were realised. The Bill deals with the mining industry alone. The heavy casualties which have come upon the workmen in the industry have caused Members to take an active interest in the matter and to try and draw the attention of the House to it. Command Paper 4484 gives statistics showing the losses of compensation in the coal mining industry through liquidations since 1927. Those losses amount to £170,000 in regard to 1,500 or 1,700 compensation claims. I put a question to the Home Office on 15th February and the answer referred me to the explanatory statement that I have mentioned, and proceeds to say:Since the publication of those statistics there have been three further liquidations, bringing the total number of liquidations to date since 1st January, 1927, to 283. In 28 of these liquidations the workmen suffered a permanent loss, totalling about £190,000, and in seven cases not yet settled there is a possibility of such loss."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th February, 1934; col. 801, Vol. 285.]Therefore, the losses are not ended and they will go on until something on the lines of this Bill puts a stop to them. In Lancashire we have suffered, along with South Wales, probably the heaviest losses of any county. There are three special cases with which we have had to deal as a Miners' Union. The Worsley Main case shows what happens when a company goes into liquidation. When they went into liquidation the assets were valued at over £10,000. The company got into the hands of the Receivers and before the Receivers had completed their examination a sum of £3,600 went to pay their costs. The solicitor's charges in representing the interests of the company amounted to over £2,000. Therefore, out of assets which would have paid all the claims of the workmen nearly 60 per cent. went in meeting law charges to wind up the estate, with the result that the men finally received only 8s. 3d. in the £. That is a scandal. One would have thought that if there were assets the men would receive 20s. in the £, but the bulk of the money is taken away.
1445 Another case was that of Ashtons Green Colliery, which closed down in 1931. Here there were preferential claims of £45,000 and the claims of the workmen amounted to £39,000. The assets amounted to £16,000. We have reached a point when there is a sum of £8,000 for the 150 injured workmen. They will be lucky if they get 5s. in the pound. That is the sort of thing that happens. The proceedings are dragged on. The Worsley Main case was hanging over about five years and the Ashtons Green case has been going since 1931 and is not completed. The Miners Federation have been attempting to get something done to remedy this state of affairs. Naturally, the members of our organisation expect protection from us and we have done what we could. The Miners' Union in one case, that of Worsley Main, spent over £400 before they could get the money for the men. I do not know what the cost will have been in the Ashtons Green case, but I do not think that it will be anything less than £1,000. The men are very badly hit in such cases. They do not obtain their rights. It is very unfair that the contributions of the men to their union should be frittered away in trying to get the money that is due to the men. There is another side to the question. When the men become destitute they have to become a State charge because they have to obtain sustenance from the State. That burden ought not to be on the State but on the employers, who ought to see that the workmen are protected. Many employers have not done that in the past and this Bill is for the purpose of trying to stop this inroad on the rights of the workmen.
I should like to ask a few questions about the Bill. The explanatory Memorandum is excellent. It says:The general object of this Bill is to secure that workmen in the coalmining industry who are entitled to payments under the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925 (whether in respect of accident or disease) shall be assured of such payments without regard to the solvency or insolvency of their employers.If the Bill means that, then no one, surely, can complain about it. There is one point which I hope the hon. Member in charge of the Bill will explain later, if Mr. Speaker gives him the privilege of replying. In Clause 1 (1) the following words appear 1446extend to payments by way of compensation which falls due within a period not exceeding twenty-six weeks.I do not know exactly what that provision means. Does it mean that the employers will pay on the first 26 weeks and that afterwards the payment will be taken over by a mutual indemnity company or an insurance company, or does it mean that if something happens by way of insolvency before the first 26 weeks have expired the workmen will not be entitled to payment for the first 26 weeks? Probably the answer will be that the case will be covered, but I should like the point explained.
The next point arises in Sub-section (2) which deals with an offence committed by a corporation. The Sub-section says:and where an offence under this section committed by a corporation is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to have been facilitated by any neglect on the part of, any director, manager secretary or other officer of the corporation, he, as well as the corporation, shall be deemed to be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.What is meant by a "corporation"? Will it be a particular person or a body of persons?
§ Mr. TINKER
Reference is made in Sub-section (3, b) to the Board of Trade. Paragraph (b) saysa mutual indemnity association, that is to say, an association of employers which has satisfied the Board of Trade, etc.I am glad that the Board of Trade have to give sanction before the thing can be put into operation. Clause 3 (4) deals with contracts of insurance. It says:he shall be deemed not to be liable to make any payment to the insured on account of that claim except in so far as it is a claim to indemnity in respect of a payment by way of compensation falling due to be made after the happening of an event by reason of which the workman or any dependant of the workman has acquired rights against the insurer under subsection (1) of section seven of the principal Act.Sub-section (1) of Section 7 of the principal Act says:Provision as to cases of bankruptcy of employers.It may be all right, but that there is a lot of legal jargon about it, and I should like the point explained.
1447 I approve of the Bill and accept it as a step in the right direction. I am only sorry that it does not include all industry. The miners are only a small proportion of those who come under the Workmen's Compensation Act. We get a return from time to time from the Government entitled "Workmen's Compensation, Statistics of Compensation and Proceedings" covering seven groups of industries, shipping, factories, docks, quarries, constructional works, railways, and mines, the total number employed in those industries is 5,775,000 people, compared with 807,000 miners. Therefore, we are only a fraction of the workpeople employed in those seven great industries. The document proceeds to say:These groups embrace a large proportion of the chief industries, but they do not by any means cover the whole field. Besides the various commercial, clerical and domestic employments to which the Act applies, there are several important industries not covered by the returns, for example, building, road transport and agriculture.We have discovered a flaw in the Workmen's Compensation Act because the trade unions have been able to bring the matter to the light of day, but there must be hundreds and thousands of smaller cases in which men and women are deprived of their rights. I welcome the Bill as an attempt to stop the gap which has existed since 1896, but I hope that some Government will bring in a comprehensive measure which will put everyone who comes under the Workmen's Compensation Acts in the same position. If it is right for the mining industry it is right for every other industry. If it is just for one it is just for all. This is a step in the right direction and I hope that the Bill will get a Second Reading without any opposition.
§ 12.7 p.m.
§ Mr. MARTIN
I congratulate the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) on having introduced the Bill and on the admirable and lucid way he has put it before the House. I envy him. There will be very few occasions of an hon. Member introducing a private Bill and finding absolutely no opposition to it on the Second Reading. There are some points which will have to be dealt with in Committee, they are not perhaps contentious, but they deserve some discussion before the Bill is finally passed. My hon. 1448 Friend said that he proposed to put down some Amendments himself. I hope he will do so without delay so that hon. Members may have an opportunity of considering them before the Committee stage.
§ Mr. MARTIN
In that case I take it that they will be on the Order Paper next week if the Bill gets a Second Reading this morning. Some of the Amendments which he intimated he was going to propose indicate some rather important points which arise in Committee. He used one particular phrase which attracted my attention when he talked of an inducement to get workmen back to work. That seems to me to bring up rather an important point. We are proposing that compensation should be made compulsory, and it is obvious that those who are responsible for paying compensation will be most anxious that the best possible treatment shall be given to the injured workman in order that they may not be liable for compensation longer than is absolutely necessary.
As a result of this Bill I should like to see throughout the whole coal-fields of the country some such measures as exist in the hon. Member's own constituency of Morpeth, where a very progressive colliery company has a hospital of its own and is able to treat immediately any case of accident which may occur or any disease which a miner may happen to contract. I think that the Home Office might urge owners in all colliery districts to follow this example, as it would be of great benefit not only to the colliery owners but to the miners as well. Many cases exist of miners suffering as a result of not having the right and immediate treatment. There are many occasions where, if there had been an operating theatre near at hand, a good deal of later suffering would have been prevented, as well as compensation payments. I hope the hon. Member will give us the benefit of his knowledge in this respect when we come to the Committee stage.
He also referred to the question of miners nystagmus. I was surprised when he said that miners who suffer from nystagmus for any length of time are subject to fits of depression—[HON. 1449 MEMBERS: "It is very common!"]. The hon. Member suggested that as a result of being out of work and having nystagmus the miner got worse—not that the nystagmus grew worse—through not being able to get some light job at the coal face or pit head. As far as my knowledge goes cases of nystagmus more frequently get better, and are able to go back to light work or to their own work in the pit; but we shall have to watch this question very carefully. A case arising from nystagmus has recently been decided in the court. A man is awarded compensation; he is treated for it, and he gets better. When he applies for work at the same colliery or in another colliery the owners are naturally 10th to give him work because of the fact that nystagmus is apt to recur and, therefore, that man, with no further compensation payments, finds that it is not easy to get work in any colliery.
I do not blame the colliery owners for saying that if a man has had nystagmus he must declare it in order that they should know whether they are or his former employer are responsible for compensation if he gets it again. There will have to be some provision made to meet this point, because an insurance company who have been responsible for a nystagmus case which has been cured will naturally consider that there is no legal responsibility upon them for the payment of compensation, if the man goes into a new pit and again contracts nystagmus. The question arises as to whether the insurance company who paid compensation in the first instance will be responsible, or whether it is the company which insures the man in the second instance. It is an important point; and the question of nystagmus will have to be dealt with in Committee in order that grave difficulties may not arise in the administration of this Bill. As I have to catch a train in order to get to a northern coal-field, my hon. Friend will know that no discourtesy is intended if I do not wait to hear his reply. I am very grateful to him for having introduced the Bill, and I think that Members in all parts of the House will consider that he has done a wise thing in bringing it forward.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ Mr. NUNN
I wish to add my voice to the commendations which have been extended to the hon. Member for Morpeth 1450 (Mr. G. Nicholson) for his zeal in bringing forward this Bill and for the very capable way in which he has introduced it. The subject of the Measure is one of the greatest importance. It is not necessary in the House as constituted this morning to enlarge upon the difficulties of the coalmining industry. We are few in numbers this morning but we are more or less deeply interested not only in the coalmining industry but in the welfare of the miners themselves. There are also many other hon. Members who are prevented from being present this morning who will perhaps take the trouble of reading this Debate in the OFFICIAL REPORT. For that reason, I think it is wise that no essential point should be omitted from this Debate, although it does tend to occupy a little more time.
What are the risks which are run in the mining industry? There is, first of all, the very great physical risk. There are few industries in which physical injury can be suffered so frequetly and under such unexpected conditions as in the coalmining industry. But that is not the end of the risk. Reference has been made, for instance, this morning to the matter of nystagmus. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Martin) referred to this most important matter. The risk of nystagmus is very grave, but the risk of the after effects is graver still. It does undoubtedly happen that a man who has once suffered from nystagmus has practically passed out of the industry. For one reason or another—some of the reasons are justifiable—it is impossible for that man to get adequate employment in his own industry. Perhaps his name gets low down on the list of applicants for work, quite naturally, because although he has been certified as being cured, there is always the danger that the cure is not permanent. The position of a man with nystagmus is made more grave by the fact that he is often certified by the medical officer as having been cured. His argument then is, "If I am cured, I am eligible for work." He is not invariably refused work directly. He may be given light work, but it usually happens that there is not a vacancy, and he goes on, neither a sick man nor a whole man, and that is his condition permanently in the mining industry.
I have many such cases in my constituency. I have other men walking about, or dragging themselves about, 1451 crippled. I have one young fellow who has lost an eye, and he is receiving the princely compensation of 1s. a week. His other eye is rapidly losing its sight, also. That is another risk of the men engaged in the mining industry in not receiving adequate compensation.
§ Mr. MARTIN
Is that 1s. a week for the loss of an eye accepted by the injured man, or has the case been fought in the courts?
§ Mr. NUNN
The case was dealt with, but I think that it would be rather outside the limits of the Debate if I enlarged upon it, though I would very much like to do so. The case was dealt with by the Joint Compensation Committee, and, in spite of all efforts on the part of the man, myself and other people interested, and, indeed, to a certain extent, my right hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench, nothing further can be done in his case, and he has been compelled to accept the position. It is not an isolated case at all. There are 20 to 30 such cases. A meeting of 25 men suffering very gravely under the same conditions was held during the recess, but it would be outside the limits of this Debate, I believe, to attempt to enlarge upon that. There is, however, a very grave menace in the working of the Joint Compensation Committee. If I say as much as that, I think that is about as far as I can go within the Rules of Order. That risk faces the men. Then there is the trouble which always arises in connection with the correct assessment of compensation, and, over and above that, the great risk with which this Measure is intended to deal, namely, the risk of the indemnity association not being solvent and able to carry out its obligations.
I have nothing but praise for this Bill as far as it goes. I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) has anticipated that certain Amendments will be necessary in Committee, and I do hope that one of those Amendments will go very much further than the Bill now goes. The Bill visualises the continuance of the satisfaction of claims by the coalmining industry. That would be a perfectly safe thing to do, probably, if coalmining were assured of as rosy a future as it has had sometimes in the past; but while we are not so certain of coalmining being on such 1452 a satisfactory financial basis in the future, though we hope it will be, it does seem to me to be rather dangerous that we should pin the security for these men to that one industry, which we do by admitting the indemnity association as the source from which they will get their compensation. I should like to see, either compulsion upon the indemnity association to re-insure, or compulsion upon the industry to insure outside the industry.
I do not think that my first suggestion, that is, compulsory re-insurance by the indemnity association, is a practical possibility. I have made some inquiries among insurance underwriting people in the City, and I am assured that such re-insurance would be an intolerable tax upon the industry, because the underwriting insurance people would not be carrying the whole of the risk, and would be asked to take only the worst possible risk, and it would be too expensive for the coalmining industry to carry. But my inquiries led me to suppose that if it were compulsory upon the coalmining industry to take their insurance outside their own industry, that is, out of the association, and insure with independent companies, that would be the type of risk which they could carry, if they had the whole thing in their hands, without any undue burden being placed upon the coalmining industry. Although I cannot express any definite opinion upon that, I do hope that my right hon. Friend will make a note of it, as I think he is already going to do, and that it will be one of the lines of inquiry which the Home Office will take up.
It does seem to me that this matter of workmen's compensation in the mining industry deserves a very full inquiry now. It is overdue on the part of the Home Office. I should like to see an inquiry at once into the points I have put. I would like to see the Home Office go further, and inquire into the whole question of workmen's compensation, making a very careful investigation to see whether they could not take some measure of control over the Joint Compensation Committee. I think that is overdue. The whole question with regard to compensation for injuries is so serious that, while I am giving hearty support to this Measure, and hope that it will go through as a first Measure, I should not like the Government, by accepting the 1453 Bill, to think that they have finished their duty towards the coalmining industry in reference to compensation. For that reason, I wish to support the Measure, and, at the same time, take this opportunity of urging upon my right hon. Friend that he should consult with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and see whether some full inquiry into the whole working of this question of compensation cannot be engaged in immediately.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
The subject-matter of the Bill, which has been so ably placed before the House, is intended to remove one of the greatest evils which has been pressing very seriously on the mining industry for the last six or eight years. I am certain that the miners' representatives, at least in this House, welcome very heartily indeed the principle embodied in the Bill. While expressing our approval of the principle, it is only right to say that we shall very carefully examine further the proposals contained in the Bill, and will seek opportunities to move whatever Amendments commend themselves to us. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading referred to the very serious losses that have been incurred by miners in consequence of having lost their compensation. He spoke of his difficulty in obtaining reliable figures on the point, and he said that his figures were only approximate. He will, therefore, pardon me if I express some doubt as to whether his figures adequately expressed the measure of loss, because I have personally, in my own limited area of the Welsh coal-fields, during the last five years had occasion to deal with four very large individual cases of liquidation. One involved the Cambrian Combine, in which we had to deal with a thousand individual compensation cases. This example is amongst the fortunate ones, because all the assessed claims were met in full. In the Lewis Merthyr case there were about 750 cases, and eventually they were commuted to the extent of 16s. in the £. I assume that the miners on that occasion lost £20,000.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
The Lockett's liquidation involved at least 350 cases, and it was unique in examples of liquida- 1454 tion. There were four fatal cases, four widows, and not a single cent of compensation could be obtained. Members will probably recollect the occasion when in the pit at Mardy the cage was lowered from the pit-head with three men in it. It was lowered into the water of the sump and the men were drowned. Three widows were left. At another pit of the same company a man had been killed before. Those four widows can never receive anything by way of compensation for themselves or their children; there is not a single cent available. Then there was the Albion Colliery Company with three hundred cases. This is not yet finally disposed of.
I must join in the complaint of the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading. It really is astounding how year after year the negotiations and the manipulation of these liquidation proceedings can go on while the men are in utter despair waiting for some final pronouncement. In this Albion case they have been paid 7s. in the £, but it is extremely unlikely that they will be paid another fraction of a penny. I am speaking of a limited area in South Wales, where the total losses must be upwards of £50,000. The position in South Wales generally, with regard to insurance against injuries to workmen, was until quite recently on the lines that individual colliery companies carried their own normal compensation liabilities for injuries. They mutually insured only for certain classes of compensation which involved a given number of deaths. In short, the colliery companies in South Wales insure against explosions. In the case of the Lockett's Merthyr Co., where the three men were lowered to their death in the sump, the insurance policy of the company read, "Where more than three deaths occur from the one accident." Since there but three, the victims were disqualified.
There is a somewhat similar system of general insurance amongst colliery owners in South Wales. When liquidation does come the whole of the insured workmen find themselves involved. Members of the House will realise that the mining industry is a peculiar one, and suffers to an unusual degree from industrial depression that affects the whole country. While in the case of the manufacturing industries one may more or less assume a degree of normality and uniformity in 1455 the general position of manufacture throughout the industries, in mining you cannot assume that at all. The mining industry is dependent upon natural conditions, and at one hundred different collieries there may be a hundred different sets of natural conditions to comply with. Some companies may find that they are able to work profitably, and others work even at a loss. Upon them all uniformly come the effect of the general industrial depression. Each undertaking will do everything within its power to remain in existence, and quite naturally. Every colliery will endeavour to remain an undertaking and carry on against losses. It will work at a loss rather than close down. It enters into tremendous liabilities, overdrafts at the bank, credits wherever they can obtain them, and gradually month by month they become more and more involved.
I have known personally, from the direct statements of responsible men, of companies working at a loss of five shillings per ton, in the hope that some day the turn of the tide will come. A company may be producing a thousand tons a day. A loss of a penny per ton would be 1,000 pence a day, and in a fort-night that is a thousand shillings, and so on. Gradually the companies become very deeply involved to bankers and whoever else has advanced moneys to them. The banks in the case of the Lockett's Merthyr Company decided that they had gone as far as they dared. That was so in the case of the Albion and Lewis Merthyr Companies also. In each of those cases it was the bank that closed the pits. I am not blaming the banks. They had gone as far as they dared go. When the companies became more and more involved the bank manager had to think of the recovery of the money advanced.
How do they do it? The banks lend money—upon what security? Upon the good name of the company. The good name was all right in the case of the Cambrian combine and there were resources as well and when liquidation was completed the resources were sufficient to cover all the compensation claims. But what happens in other cases? The bank has to look first to itself and the bank says to the company "Whatever resources 1456 you have you must make them over to us." In other words the bank sees that it gets the first bite out of whatever is coming in the event of a forced sale. In point of fact the undertaking becomes mortgaged to the bank and eventually, when the bank decides that not a single penny more shall be paid to the company, a forced sale follows, and the bank recovers its money. If there is a surplus left the workmen may get it but it does not follow that they will.
It is true that the law at present defines the order in which creditors shall make their claims in cases of liquidation. The law to a certain degree attempts to be fair but how easy it is to circumvent the intention of the law—and it is being done. I have personal experience and I know what is means. I have seen liquidators enter into possession. Take the Lockett's Merthyr case. When the liquidator is appointed in such a case the first thing that he has to decide, as a matter of practical business, is whether he is going to continue to work the colliery or not. His business is to dispose of the property to the best advantage. He has to decide whether he can do so by keeping the colliery working or by closing it down. Obviously the reply to that question is "Keep it going if you can" but in order to do so he has to incur expense. The miners are already entitled to one week's wages, and the liquidator must borrow money to pay them. Again the wages for the week which they work will become due and he is bound to borrow money to pay for that also.
Having determined to carry on the colliery he obtains borrowing power from the court, and then looks round for possible purchasers. He may get in touch with people who are willing to buy but when he proceeds to make arrangements for the transfer of the existing mining leases of the property, along comes the landowner and says "I am not going to permit you to transfer leases from Locketts Merthyr to a potential new owner, until you have paid me my due in the form of royalties." In other words, a process of blackmail comes in to circumvent the intention of the existing law. Finally, it transpires that a very large percentage and in some cases the whole of the resources available are disposed of in effecting agreement among other interests in these proceedings to the disadvantage of the miner. I admit 1457 at once that those who continue to work have their wages but the injured workmen who are normally preferential creditors are left without a single cent, while the landowner or any other shark is often in a position to make it a condition of the sale of the property that his claim shall be met. He flies triumphantly away with the swag and the injured workman is left without his compensation. We have had experiences of that kind over and over again and I mention that as an example of the great evils which exist in this respect.
There is another point. I appreciate the extremely temperate and measured terms in which the Mover of the Motion placed his view before the House. He said he had no desire to level any charges against the coalowners. Neither have I. But hon. Members must be aware that, however desirous we may be to live as a community of honest men, we have to recognise the fact that in the country there are sharks. We all recognise it, and the law of the land is there to protect us against them. In this process of liquidation due to depressed industrial conditions, there is an inducement for the astute business man to profit from the misery of others. There is in Committee upstairs at present a Bill called the Mining Industry (Welfare Fund) Bill. The only argument advanced in favour of that Bill in this House was that for some reason a reduction of the levy for Welfare Fund from 1d. to ½d. per ton is going to save some collieries from going out of existence. Imagine the position, then, with regard to compensation. Welfare levy costs represent one penny per ton. Compensation costs, in these collieries which I have mentioned represent from 4d. to 6d. per ton of coal raised. If some of these undertakings get into a bad way, and become involved with the bank or with somebody else, is there not an inducement to sell up one company and then create it anew under the same personnel but freed from that charge of 4d. to 6d. per ton in respect of compensation? They can start afresh relieved from that liability and an economy to that extent would be a tremendous relief in the deplorable conditions of the industry to-day.
Reference has also been made to the possibility in cases of liquidation of the workmen being able to maintain the 1458 enormous costs involved. I fear that hon. Members generally, unless they have specific information from the trade unions concerned, can have but a vague notion of the tremendous cost which this means. In South Wales generally we have our own trade union solicitors. They would be bound to engage London agents who would have to watch the Chancery Court as if they were watching some evil spirit. It has to be watched daily. You never know when any one of the numerous interests involved may put in an appearance at that court. I have had to do it on behalf of these thousands of men for the last six or eight years and it is astounding what care has to be exercised in these matters. When it comes to the assessment of the claims of these men, the liquidator will come along with his professional assessors and his medical specialists and examine the men. For the sake of the men themselves we are bound to duplicate that machinery. We must have our lawyers, our professional assessors, our medical specialists to examine each of these men and these people are not to be had as cheaply as blackberries. There are enormous expenses involved. In the case of one of these undertakings from my own office in the Rhondda we sent no less than 10,000 letters in the course of the proceedings. That is one item alone and is an indication of the tremendous expense which the trade unions have to undertake in endeavouring to get these matters adjusted.
The hon. Member for the Blaydon Division of Durham (Mr. Martin) referred to miners' nystagmus. Here is one aspect of that disease arising out of the Lockett's Merthyr case. The property is bought up by another colliery, and the men who were previously employed, before they are re-employed, are submitted to a medical examination. It is discovered that some of them have traces of nystagmus. The medical referee, however, says: "You have nystagmus, but you are able to carry on your work." The nystagmus, therefore, is not an accident, and the miner does not draw compensation. It can never be an accident until he has drawn compensation, so that man is deprived of his livelihood. The only possibility is by having compensation, and that is a new aspect of the question which was never foreseen by the framers of the existing law.
1459 If the hon. Member for Blaydon were still in his place, I could enlighten him a good deal on this problem of nystagmus. It is a disease which has a tremendous effect on the nervous system of the man who contracts it, and when that nervous condition has superimposed upon it a terrible state of economic pressure, it becomes well nigh impossible for that man ever to recover from the effects of the disease. There is no doubt that if these men who have nystagmus could be provided with work suitable to their condition, their chances of recovery would be infinitely greater. I welcome the Bill, because I realise how great the evil of the existing state of affairs may be, and I hope the Bill will receive its Second Reading and that in Committee we may be able to improve it still further.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Mr. ESSENHIGH
The opportunity has been given to my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) to introduce a particularly good piece of workmanlike and statesmanlike legislation, and I congratulate him on the very able and lucid manner in which he has presented it to the House. While hon. Members have raised several points dealing particularly with the Workmen's Compensation Act, we must remember that the Bill is not the Workmen's Compensation Act itself, but is an addition to or extension of that Act. I am far from saying that the Workmen's Compensation Act does not require amending and overhauling. As one who has had some 12 years' experience of the various Workmen's Compensation Acts in the Lancashire coalfield, as one who has seen it from the point of view of the miner, of the coalowner, of the sailor, and of the shipper employing that sailor, I can safely say that, from all points of view, the employers' as well as the workmen's, there is much to be desired yet to put the Act right.
I hope that, whatever may be the outcome of this Bill, the Home Office will take note of the fact that there is much in the Workmen's Compensation Act that requires overhauling, and the least they can do is to get a few men together to discuss the whole position, men who have had some practical experience of the working of the Act, whether they be trade union officials or employers' representatives. And let me say, from my know- 1460 ledge of trade union officials, that nobody knows the Act and nobody knows how many loopholes there may be in it better than they, and great notice should be taken of what they have to say. Not only the trade union officials, however, but those who represent the employers' federations should get together, and, in the light of the many decisions that surround the Act, it ought to be easy to produce a comprehensive Measure which will embody a good many of the decisions come to by the courts during the past few years.
We find if we look at Section 7 of the Workmen's Compensation Act, that it provides, in the event of an individual employer or a firm going bankrupt or a company going into liquidation, for the transference of any rights that the employers may have under any contracts of insurance, provided they have such contracts and that their contracts fully cover the workmen whom they set out to cover. It affects me to this extent, that I am a Member for a mining division adjacent to the division represented by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helen's (Captain Spencer), where the colliery which has been mentioned this morning by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), the Ashton's Green Colliery, is situated. The colliery a few years ago may be said to have been financially sound, and he would have been a bold man who would have said then that that colliery would ever have gone into liquidation or become insolvent. That colliery was a member of an indemnity association, but the association only provided for extraordinary accidents.
I think I should explain to the House how the various colliery companies, at any rate in Lancashire, are insured. Although I doubt whether there would be any in Lancashire, there may be in the country a few colliery companies which are insured by ordinary insurance companies which cover all risks, but in Lancashire particularly there are two mutual indemnity associations. One of them provides for its members in the case of extraordinary accidents, as defined by its own rules, however, and not by any rules that the workmen can see, and the Ashton's Green Colliery was a member of such an association. In this case the association may undertake to indemnify the employer against all proceedings and claims in respect of any application for 1461 compensation. In such a case there is a contract of insurance for that and that only, but then the workman does not know what an extraordinary accident is and he does not know how far he is covered. As a matter of fact, what happened was that certain fatal accidents were fully insured but the cases of men who were injured at work might be fought by the indemnity association and taken to arbitration, and once an award has been made or if an agreement had been made between the employer and the workmen, the colliery company itself pays the workman until such time as it becomes insolvent. When it becomes insolvent proceedings are taken to liquidate the concern. An effort may be made to sell the concern to begin with. If they are not able to sell, proceedings are taken to liquidate it, the liquidator is put in, and he gets the best price he can for the concern.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in citing this case, said that the capital value of the men's compensation came to somewhere in the region of £40,000. That has to be provided for in the winding-up, or so much as can be got. When the figure for the whole of the assets has been obtained, it may be found that the liabilities are possibly £100,000 and the available assets probably £20,000. Legal charges and the receiver's charges come first. Then there are certain preferential charges and debts which rank together. There are taxes, rates, certain National Health Insurance charges, and various other claims, but the net result is that, so far as that particular colliery is concerned, instead of men getting that capital value or their share of the the capital value of £40,000, they will get less than one-quarter. Some of the men or their relatives have been to see me. Let me say, in passing, that it is little enough that a man who has lost a limb or his eyes gets by way of any capital value for his loss. You cannot possibly compensate by money alone any man or woman for the loss of a limb or for any disability which he or she may suffer. I should support this Measure if it was only to avoid such a possibility in future.
The second class of mutual indemnity association provides for what is known as ordinary accidents. The association may establish an ordinary accidents fund in that case. It has a separate account 1462 for each member from which the association pays sums by way of compensation or indemnity in respect of ordinary accidents. There again they may have rules, and the workman does not know what they are, and he is not a party to that contract of insurance. In the rules it is provided that if an employer becomes bankrupt or goes into liquidation that insurance shall stop at once, and the workman has to take his remedy in the ordinary winding-up as a preferential creditor. As has been pointed out by hon. Members, there may be something for him and there may not. A case was taken to the courts in 1925 in which a colliery company in Lancashire had been a member of an indemnity association which covered all ordinary accidents. There was a rule in the articles of that association to the effect that if a member fell behind in certain arrears and if calls were made and he was unable to pay, he ceased to be a member. The colliery went into liquidation. I presume the unfortunate workman who brought his case must have been one of many for it was a test case to test the validity of that insurance contract as affecting the workmen in the winding-up. The courts held that in law the workman had no remedy against the insurance company. All he had was his bare remedy against the company in the winding-up. I know nothing of what was realised in the winding-up, but I can well visualise that there was very little indeed, and perhaps nothing for that workman and the others who might have been employed in that colliery.
This Bill seeks to put right that sort of thing. As I understand the Measure, it is put forward with a view not merely to adding to the workman's compensation, but to put an end to these wrongs by preventing, I will not say bogus insurance policies, but such rules operating whereby the insurance association can get out of its liability at the time when it is required. I have not examined the Bill with the detail with which perhaps one ought to go into it. My hon. Friend has said that it contains one of those Clauses which will be a joy to the lawyers. I hope that in Committee it is made so clear that it will not be necessary to employ any lawyer to find out what this House really means. Having in mind what has happened in this particular colliery, which is adjacent to my consti- 1463 tuency, I got into touch with the Secretary of the South-West Lancashire Coalowners' Association. I said, "What are you going to do about this?" He happens to be a constituent of mine. A question was raised a few months ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh, and I got up in the House and said that I thought the coalowners of Lancashire were going to do something to put matters right. At any rate, one section has certainly put forward a practical proposition. It is a section which has many of its collieries in my constituency and in that of the hon. Member for St. Helens (Captain Spencer). The Secretary, writing to me on the 18th January, said:Most of the members of the South-West Lancashire Coal Owners' Association are in it. We registered a new undertaking on the 1st November, and it became operative on that date. It is the intention under the memorandum and articles of association that the new indemnity company shall take over from the collieries who are members all liability for workmen's compensation after the lapse of 52 weeks from the date of the accident.Personally, I think 52 weeks is a little too long, and no doubt, if this Bill goes through with 26 weeks in it, that will have to be put right. He goes on to say:There has been some question raised, but not seriously, by the Home Office in regard to the 52 weeks, as most similar undertakings accept liability after 26 weeks, but we fixed on 52 weeks because we considered that a less period was too short a time in which to determine whether a case is permanent or not, and it is, of course, only permanently injured cases which need protection in the event of bankruptcy.Again I say that he does not go so far as I would. There may be some people partially disabled at the time a company becomes insolvent and they do require to be protected. Further he says:The articles provide that all members must pay their premiums in full, but if at any time a member can show to the committee of management that he is unable to do so, but does pay not less than 25 per cent. his membership is not determined. In these times this is regarded as an added safeguard for the workman, as there may be cases where a colliery is not able to bear the whole added burden of this insurance, and that fact must be faced; and it has to be borne in mind that the whole purpose of our new indemnity company is to protect the workmen in the event of bankrupcty.They are providing funds by a levy of ½d. a ton on all coal raised. Such a levy 1464 on all coal raised, over a period of 12 months, basing my figures, roughly and in round numbers, on the quarter ended September last year, would provide a fund of something like £350,000.
Yes, on all the coal raised. Those are figures that I have taken from the Home Office Report. The Home Office Report states that 170,000 men have been affected during a period of 7 years by insolvent companies. Over and above the compensation which has been and is being paid at the present time all that would have been needed to pay these men in full would have been a sum of something like £25,000 a year. It is estimated that the collieries pay something like £3,000,000 a year in compensation. In 1932 there were 912 fatal cases and 170,371 cases of disablement—I have lumped together accidents and injuries caused by industrial disease. They are the casualties on which compensation was paid in 1932, and the actual amount paid was £2,785,209. According to the Home Office Report that is equivalent to something like 3.2d. per ton on all coal raised. Having regard to what the colliery companies are paying at the present time in compensation it does not need a mathematician to show that the added cost to them of providing for these cases would be almost negligible. On the other hand, the men would have an assurance that they are right for all time, it would give these soldiers of industry a feeling that, whatever happens to them, the workmen's compensation legislation would really operate; and give them that security of tenure which they so earnestly desire whether they be fit or ill. I join with the whole House in congratulating my hon. Friend the mover of this Bill, and I trust that in Committee it will be made such a Measure that one can say as a lawyer that lawyers will find no work under it.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Mr. GEOFFREY PETO
I would like to join in the chorus of congratulations to my hon. Friend not only for the excellent manner in which he introduced his Bill but also for having introduced it, because all of us who have considered this subject—and many of us have done so at one 1465 time or another—are very much alive to the difficulties which the case presents, and I think it showed considerable pluck on his part to tackle it and to do it so successfully. Nothing is more distressing than to have cases put up to us in our constituencies which are really very hard cases but are just outside the law, so that nothing can be done to help; but what is still more distressing is to have cases submitted to us which come within the law and to hear the man say "I am entitled to so much compensation a week but cannot get it." My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) said, and I quite agree with him, that he very much regretted that this Bill could not be applied to all industries. One great difficulty in applying it to all industries lies in the insurance companies. It is possible in one industry, like the coal industry, to arrange for mutual insurance, but if we were to try to apply it to all industries we should be up against the figures produced in the Government reports on workmen's compensation. The last report, issued in December, showed that the insurance companies had collected £4,853,000 in premiums, and had paid out in compensation £2,794,000, or 57.57 per cent. Of the balance 25 per cent. goes in expenses and management, nine per cent. in commission and 8⅓ per cent. in profits. While that state of affairs continues, how can you compel trade throughout to insure with these insurance companies? I grant that at the end of the year, upon next year's premium there will be a rebate, because they have promised that 62½ per cent. of the premiums shall be paid in benefit.
I would urge the Government to make another effort to get better terms out of the insurance companies. There is no reason why industry should bear this intolerable burden. I am against State insurance, but we may be forced to it if we cannot get the insurance companies to take a more reasonable point of view. These matters were pointed out in the Holman Gregory Report as far back as 1922, and we must use what influence we can with the insurance companies to get them to be more reasonable. You get a reduction in premium if you insure again the following year; otherwise, they do not carry out their pledge, which is that 62½ per cent. shall be paid in benefits, but the rebate should not be forfeited if the insurance company is charged. The 1466 hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Martin) said that he hoped that some provision could be made for hospitals to give immediate treatment to accident cases. I hope that all possible provision will be made in that direction, but I would point out that we have a considerable number of hospitals.
There is one aspect of workmen's compensation for which we make no provision whatever, and that is for restoring a man's earning power. I hope that some means may be found, in this Bill, to give some sort of opening for a man to recover his earning power, or as much of it as can be recovered. I have pointed out again and again in this House, and shall continue to do so, that a man who is injured in an accident, say, a motor car accident, or under the Workmen's Compensation Act, has to go abroad in order to restore his earning power. It is a disgrace that it should be so, but there is no means of training in this country. Vast sums are paid out in compensation, and something ought to be done. It is a reflection upon the Government who have been returned with an enormous majority, and it is a reflection upon employers, trade unions and insurance companies. The hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) introduced a Bill last year which was not acceptable to the House as a whole, but one Clause did provide for some scheme of training and rehabilitation for those who are injured by accidents.
I would once more urge the Government to make provision in this Bill if the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) will accept Amendments from that point of view, to provide that money which is paid in compensation benefits the workman. It is a scandal to-day that so large a proportion of the vast sums paid over are of no use to the man and his family. They are often positively harmful, because they lead the man into temptation in drinking and gambling to which he might not have been prone before. When a man is suddenly handed £300 or £400 in compensation, and he has never had the handling of such a sum of money, he has no idea how to invest it, and a shark gets hold of him or somebody sells him a shop which is perfectly useless, and in a few months the money is gone, and the man has to be dependent upon the rates, his neighbours or his family for the rest of his life. It 1467 is all very well to say that you cannot get unanimous support for a short, easy Bill or for an Amendment to this Bill to remedy that state of affairs. Here is a chance for the Government, with their overwhelming majority, to overcome difficulties. They were returned in order to protect and assist the workman. They have no business to lie down before an obstacle like this and to say "We cannot get the employers, the trade unions and the insurance companies to agree. They must do more, and I very much hope that they will do more. We are met by the argument sometimes that it will add to the cost of insurance to see that the money is devoted to some useful purpose.
I would like to see the lump sum of compensation paid into court. It is at present paid into court for minors, and there is no reason why it should not be paid into court for adults also. The judge will, at any rate, be able to see that a man who has been awarded a lump sum compensation has proper advice, and that his money is not thrown away. The cost of that would be 3d. in the pound, with a maximum of £2 10s. per case. That is the present cost. Nobody can say that is is excessive upon a £300 or £400 compensation to pay a maximum of £22 10s. in order to see that the money is properly spent. This suggestion has the support of county court judges and of registrars, because they know a very great deal about these cases which come before them, and they know that the money is very often lost if it is handed over to the man. They know the results of the award, and from that point of view their advice and support is particularly valuable. A little time back I had some correspondence in the "Times" newspaper. Judge Burgis supported me, and a letter was published from Mr. H. G. Barclay, Registrar of Macclesfield, saying:I believe that the amendment which Judge Burgis advocates would be welcome to the trade unions and their officers, who are always most helpful in handling workmen's compensation cases and desirous that an injured workman should obtain the full benefit of the compensation awarded or agreed.I am perfectly certain that any responsible body either of employers or of trade unions, or any body who is responsible for workmen in this country, must wish to see that when workmen 1468 meet with an accident they have a fair chance of recovery afterwards and that the compensation is not only adequate but is properly laid out to the workmen's best advantage.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Mr. JANNER
I rise to support the Bill and to say how pleasing it is to find that the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) has chosen such a very important Measure for this occasion. I should like to pay my tribute to him also for the clear, concise and interesting way in which he introduced it. On the Liberal Benches we are particularly interested in workmen's compensation, and since the Act of 1906 we have been carefully watching events that have taken place to justify either a variation or a modification of the Act. At that time, about 6,000,000 people were brought within the protection of workmen's compensation, but in itself that is obviously not all that can be desired from the point of view of the person affected. You must not only have the opportunity of securing an award, but you must, in every instance, examine the possibility of that award becoming something of practical use.
It is not only in workmen's compensation that we come across this, but in all branches of claims in litigation. Nearly everyone who has had the fortune or misfortune to have a claim, knows that he has not only to consider the legal position as to his rights and wrongs in the matter, but what is very much more important, that is, having established his rights, whether he will be in a position to obtain that which is awarded to him. In practically every transaction where contentions arise as between one party and another, people consider whether it is worth their while to proceed with an action, because they realise the possibility that, even if they are successful, they may not be able to obtain a refund even of the expenses to which they have been put in order to bring their claim to a satisfactory result. That is a serious matter enough in normal circumstances, but where a man has been disabled by an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment, and is either unable to follow his full occupation or is totally incapacitated, it is a matter of exceeding serious importance to him that he 1469 should be assured that, when he has been successful in his claim, he will be able to obtain the amount due to him.
There ought to be no surprise at all that there is unanimity about this matter in the House to-day. The position is perfectly clear. Even if there had only been half-a-dozen cases—indeed, I would almost say that if there were only one case in which a person had suffered seriously from the flaw which exists at present—we should be happy to support a Measure of this description; but the position is in fact very serious as regards both the numbers concerned and the amounts involved. I do not agree with some hon. Members who have said that this Bill might have covered a larger area. It is true that it is a private Member's Bill. But the position is to clear, and its strength is so incontrovertible, that the Bill might well have been extended to the whole of workmen's compensation, and, indeed, to many other cases in which accidents occur which are not covered by the Workmen's Compensation Act—cases in which the Employers' Liability Act comes into force, or in which the common law is invoked, where people's lives and limbs have been affected and their capacity for work has been endangered. But that does not justify us in saying that, because the hon. Member has seen fit to introduce a Measure of smaller scope, we should do otherwise than give him our full support.
I would like to draw the attention of hon. Members to some very interesting statistics, in order to indicate a possible reason why the hon. Member thought that this would afford an opportunity of driving, not only the thin end of the wedge, but a fairly substantial part of the wedge into the difficulties which exist, and removing them. In the Statistics of Workmen's Compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act and the Employers' Liability Act, 1880, for the year 1932, there are some very interesting figures which we might examine for a moment. Table II, which relates to payments for compensation in cases of accident during the year 1932, shows that mines were responsible for payments amounting to £272,232 in cases of fatal accidents, out of a total of £566,990, while, as far as disablement cases were concerned, the payments in respect of mines were no less than £2,007,389, out of a total of £4,479,305. Again, Table III 1470 —payments for compensation in cases of industrial disease during the year 1932—shows that the total for mines was £1,049 out of a grand total of £8,313, as far as fatal cases were concerned, while in disablement cases the amount was no less than £504,549 out of a total of £574,107.
There is another very interesting set of statistics to which I would like to refer, and that is in Table IV, which shows the duration of compensation, exclusive of cases terminated by the payment of a lump sum. Under the heading of mines, the cases of industrial disease not terminated by the payment of a lump sum, and lasting for more than two years and less than five years, were 2,727 out of a total of 2,811. Of cases which lasted for more than five years and less than 10 years, there were 1,501 out of a total of 1,547, and of cases which had lasted 10 years and over there were no fewer than 730 out of 748. These figures mean that, although the cases which have already come within the sphere of the troubles which this Bill is intended to remove are numerous enough, the fact remains that, should some accident of very serious dimensions occur in a colliery the owners of which are not covered, the men, women and children who would be relying upon receiving, and would be entitled to receive, compensation by virtue of the existing Acts, would be deprived of that benefit, and, as has been said before, and quite rightly, would be thrown upon the resources either of the localities, or of their neighbours, or of the State. Those of us who have lived and worked in mining areas know very well the neighbourly feeling that exists. The neighbours, small though their resources may be, very frequently meet a considerable amount of the needs of their friends. As regards the State, I would ask, why should the State funds be called upon the meet these claims, which after all, are reasonable claims which can be and should be satisfied by the owners themselves?
Of course, the Bill as it stands might be amended considerably. I do not mean that in any sense disparaging to the promoter. It is quite possible that many of us who have knowledge of the difficulties which exist at present under the Workmen's Compensation Acts would like to introduce Amendments into a Bill of this nature. I have participated in and seen 1471 many of these cases and I am convinced that there are a large number of difficulties which should be overcome. I am not at all sure whether it would be possible in a Bill of this description to introduce all the remedies. I appreciate the difficulty which the hon. Member opposite has raised but one thing is certain. In ordinary circumstances when you are in trouble with regard to obtaining full compensation you compromise. You may have sustained injury, but the person responsible cannot pay the £1,000 that you are claiming and you may accept £500 in order to get payment forthwith. In my own experience I have advised a person to take £250 in a claim where we were satisfied we could get a judgment for about £1,000, and counsel advised the same thing, but the claimant said "No." We got judgment for about £1,000, and that is all that we got. Under the Workmen's Compensation Acts you cannot compromise in that way and, if the employer is not insured, and is likely to become insolvent, you are placed entirely upon the mercy of his position. It is unfair that such a position should arise. The difficulties of liquidation have been very clearly put by hon. Members. Whatever the difficulties may be, many cases have arisen in which people have not received the amount payable to them. It is stated in the Government Report for 1932 that inquiries which have been continued over a period from 1st January, 1927, to 30th November, 1933, have covered 280 cases. The statistics show that, besides the temporary depreciation of compensation suffered by a number of workmen pending realisation of assets, there have been 28 cases in which there has been a permanent loss of compensation and in 11 there remains the possibility of such loss, but in the other 241 cases no permanent loss has occurred. There were 1,700 claims affected, and the aggregate amount lost to workmen, was upwards of £170,000. It is a serious position and, as the Act stands at present, it could not have been modified by any arrangement between the parties. That is in itself serious enough, but a greater catastrophe might very easily oocur and might land the country into a very serious loss, and certainly might place people who are applying for compensation, or who have been successful in their applications, in very serious diffi- 1472 culties. In compensation cases long arguments take place on technical points and there is conflicting evidence of medical men, involving tremendous expense. The individual himself is generally not well; otherwise, he would not be in the court at all, being put through the tremendous strain of examination and cross-examination and fearing as to whether he was going to be successful in his claim. That in itself is enough without the additional fear at the back of his mind of the possibility of losing that for which he has successfully fought. I am sure the House will give unanimous support to the Second Reading. It is quite in accordance with the views which my colleagues and I have held from the commencement of the Workmen's Compensation Acts that a person should be protected, not only in the legal sense that he is entitled to an award, but in the de facto sense that he can get it as and when it has been made.
§ 1.41 p.m.
§ Captain SPENCER
I should like to join in the encomiums which have been showered on my hon. Friend for the fine temper, the sympathy, and the knowledge that he showed in moving the Second Reading. I welcome the opportunity of intervening, because the fact that one of the colliery undertakings in my constituency is going into liquidation caused a great deal of shock in the county and has concentrated attention in that part of the country upon the question that is before us to-day., Much as I appreciate the kindly interest which preceding speakers have shown in my constituency, I am not ungrateful for the opportunity that I am given of saying something about the case myself. Two years ago this coal undertaking, after struggling against adversity for at least five years, went into liquidation. There were 130 compensation cases affected. The total capitalised value of their compensation, as stated at the meeting of creditors which took place shortly afterwards, was something like £45,000, and it was stated at the same meeting that, if the assets were realised, they would be likely to produce a total of £17,000. For two years that liquidation has been dragging on, and the assets, inadequate as they were two years ago, have been gradually oozing away. The latest information given me is that on an optimistic estimate 1473 it is very unlikely, if a distribution were made to-day, that the creditors would receive any more than 4s. to 4s. 6d. in the £. Some of these men, over 90 per cent. of whom live in my constituency, are crippled for life and no man can contemplate with equanimity leaving them to be treated, as they have to be treated now by the public assistance committee, as paupers. It was never contemplated by the pioneers of workmen's compensation that such a situation could arise, and it is for us now, given the opportunity my hon. Friend has afforded us, to use it without delay to remove the injustices which have been caused.
There is one point in connection with the period that he proposes to allow colliery undertakings to pay compensation from their own funds. I hope that he will not be too rigid—I am sure he will not—for the 26 weeks. The hon. Member who spoke before me, and who has the honour to be one of my constituents, displayed a little anxiety that if the 26 weeks were left in a man might get nothing at all. I have another anxiety. I think that the Bill of my hon. Friend covers the case where a liquidation might occur within the period of 26 weeks, but I should like to see that period extended for another period.
The collieries in my constituency and in the district surrounding for the most part do their best—and I think that we ought to recognise the fact—for these disability cases. Where a man has been injured and where there is a likelihood that he will return to work, they try very hard indeed to find him light employment. There is a personal touch and a personal link binding the manager individually with the workmen who come under his supervision and control.
I am rather afraid, if we say that at the end of 26 weeks the worker shall pass automatically from any colliery supervision to some impersonal body like an insurance company or a mutual indemnity association, that personal link will be broken, and the colliery will not feel, as it feels now, that it has a moral obligation towards those men who have been injured and who served it well and faithfully when they were in good health. However, that is a minor point and does not militate against the general sanction of the Measure which my hon. Friend has introduced. I congratulate him heartily 1474 upon the Bill. There is nothing eccentric and cramping about it. It is a sound Measure which will remedy, and will avoid, the injuries which are being done to a very deserving and brave class of men. I am expressing everybody's hope, I am sure, when I say that I hope he will be able cheerfully to pilot the Measure to the Statute Book with the utmost expedition and smoothness.
§ 1.48 p.m
§ Sir GEOFFREY ELLIS
I welcome the Bill, as, I am sure, does every one of my friends, as much as any Member in this House. It puts a prior charge to compel adequate insurance on every colliery in the country. I do not think that any reasonable coalowner would object to that for a moment, but does the Bill, as drafted, really carry out what its promoters require? There are one or two points which might usefully be looked into in order to see whether its intentions really are, or will be carried out if some of the words in it are retained. Directly you compel insurance for the purpose of producing a fund for people who are suffering, you are bound to follow logically the company which is to make the insurance, or the individual or the corporation, which the Bill to some extent does, but you must also take account of the nature of the insurance contract as well as the individual company; otherwise, a good deal of your intentions may be defeated. At present we have a good many mutual indemnity insurance companies in existence in coal districts which completely carry out every form of insurance without a shadow of a doubt. I think that they are in the majority. We have some who only indulge in modified insurance, which is not a good form of insurance. I should like to see the insurance made complete. We have a number of concerns which, in our many discussions in this House, we have been accustomed to call marginal pits, people who have had difficulties and about whose continuance there is a considerable amount of doubt, and who are running on from day to day, and none of those, outside practice from the point of view of insurance, ought to be allowed to effect an insurance scheme.
What we have really to keep before us in the Bill is the existence of an insurance scheme which shall be regularly and properly conducted and which always can be got at by the people who are 1475 insured. Does the Bill do this altogether? I have some doubts on reading it. Clause 3 deals with contracts of insurance and goes on to say that people who have made insurances shall be held to be liable and so on, but I am not sure that in law the intention can be followed out. The intention is, whatever happens to any individual colliery, whether it goes into liquidation, disappears altogether, or is kept alive for a short time—putting all these things on one side—that the insurance contract which is made shall be liable for the man who has suffered injury. We in the coal industry know that there are many men who are running on for a time, not to speak of widows and dependants, and who are, so to speak, on probation to see whether they shall return to industry or not and whether something cannot be done to fit them for work again. All those men have to be considered. If you are to make the Bill effective, you must consider some scheme of this sort and see whether you cannot, when your contract of insurance is made, join you insurance company with your colliery company, so that if the colliery company goes out of being, the insurance company will be left and can always be got at for the purpose. That, I think, is not impossible in law, and I suggest that further consideration to my hon. Friend. It affects very seriously large numbers of widows and children, and they are the people who ought seriously to be considered in all questions of this kind.
My hon. Friend opposite who spoke earlier in the Debate referred to a problem which I know to be exercising the minds of a great many trade union leaders as well as people engaged in social service, and that is the distribution of the money after the insurance money has been paid. I believe that it would be in order in this Bill to make proper provision for the distribution of the insurance money so paid. It is not sufficient to pay out a large sum of money. It is a great temptation to many men to have a lump sum. You ought to consider whether, with the existing machinery of the registrar and the judge in the county court, something should not be done. It could be done quite easily. Registrars to some extent do it to-day. There is no obligation on them, but they 1476 do that sort of thing very well, and their suggestions are accepted generally. I am sure that in any colliery district trade union officials and the representatives of the men, and any social worker would be only too glad to act as a very small and informal committee to assist the registrar or the county court judge in the distribution, and even in the investment, of money of this kind in order to see that it was properly expended. There is another point which I wish to raise which will interest my right hon. Friend opposite. In Clause 1, Sub-section (2) it says that a corporation shall be liable to three months' imprisonment. I do not know how this is to be done.
§ Sir G. ELLIS
It says that a corporation shall be liable to three months' imprisonment if the judge so likes to sentence them. The whole of Sub-section (2) needs very careful consideration on the part of the promoters of the Bill. I am sure that none of my hon. Friends would like to put a colliery company into prison because possibly some of their own men might be shareholders in the company. At any rate, I hope that he will look into that point and look out the Acts of Parliament which deal with this kind of penalty and fix the responsibility on the individuals concerned, which is easy to do. Having said so much, I hope that the Bill will have its passage to the Committee upstairs and that it will become really effective.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Douglas Hacking)
My hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill must be getting very tired of receiving the congratulations of the House, but it would ill become me if I did not add my humble congratulations to those offered to him already, not only on his good fortune in the ballot but also on the excellence of his speech in introducing the Bill. He said that he hoped the Debate would be free from bitterness and recriminations. His speech certainly was free from any form of bitterness whatsoever. He set us an example of moderation which, unfortunately, is not always present in speeches 1477 delivered in this House. I am sure that the miners in his constituency, some of whom I had the pleasure of meeting two years ago—
§ Mr. HACKING
Has the hon. Member any objection to my speaking in his constituency? I hope not. The meeting did me good. I think his constituents will be pleased to have this additional proof, if any additional proof be necessary, that one of the first considerations of their Member is for the welfare of a very large number of his constituents who are engaged in work in the coalmining industry. My hon. Friend's great enthusiasm—I do not think I should be far wrong in describing it as pertinacity—has at times been embarrassing to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and myself. He has succeeded in producing what appears to be a workable Measure to deal with an existing situation which he deemed to be unsatisfactory and which he was obviously determined to put right.
My hon. Friend is not alone in feeling dissatisfaction with the position which has existed for a considerable period in the coalmining industry. For a long time my right hon. Friend has been very anxious about the position in this industry in respect to the settlement of the claims of the workers on account of accident or disease under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. Many Questions have been asked in the House and the answers that have been given by Government spokesmen have always said, in quite definite terms, that the existing position left very much to be desired. The figures of insurance, or the equivalent of insurance, by colliery undertakings were given by my right hon. Friend on the 8th February. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) quoted those figures in his speech to-day. My right hon. Friend stated then that, from information which we have obtained from the Mining Association, out of about 960 colliery undertakings, employing roughly 790,000 men, 707 undertakings, employing 589,000 men, have effected one or other form of insurance of their men against accident or disablement. Those figures may show a high percentage of cover, but this fact must be faced, namely, that there was a balance on the 8th February 1478 of 253 undertakings uninsured, with 201,000 men unprovided for if accident befell them and if the collieries at which they were employed closed down or went into bankruptcy. I am given to understand that there has not been much appreciable change since those figures were given to the House in February.
It is only fair to make it abundantly clear that the unsatisfactory position which is disclosed by the publication of those figures should not in any way be attributed to the Mining Association. The Mining Association, frankly, accepted the principle a long time ago that if an employer is to carry on a mine he should be prepared to make provision for his compensation liabilities in exactly the same way as he has to make provision for the wages of his men. The Association took the matter up vigorously with the district associations, urging strongly that in cases where mutual indemnity associations only covered part of the risk, that is, the fatal cases, they should give cover also for the disablement cases. That pressure was brought to bear by the Mining Association on all their units in the country. They went further than that; they pressed that every effort should be made to induce coalowners to do one of three things, either to join a mutual indemnity association, or to insure with an insurance company, or to set aside reserves in the hands of trustees, on the lines indicated in a model trust deed. As a result of the constant pressure by the Mining Association very considerable progress has been made, especially in recent months. Generally speaking, the mutual indemnity associations are now giving cover in disablement as well as in fatal cases. The other associations which so far have not given that cover have at last decided to do so and are taking steps to revise their Articles of Association accordingly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) said that he was not blaming the Mining Association for the necessity for the introduction of the Bill. I was very glad to hear him say that. I think it will be seen from what I have said that we ought to be appreciative of the efforts made by the Mining Association. Their pressure has undoubtedly resulted in a much improved position compared with what it was even two years ago. It is no fault of the Association that the existing condition 1479 of things is not better than we now find it. The promoter of the Bill although acknowledging that improvement, feels, naturally, that he is not prepared to wait for a hundred per cent. result. He goes further than that; he believes that without compulsion we shall never get complete cover in this industry against workmen's compensation risks. Moreover, he has to-day indicated that even if in a short time the existing undertakings are voluntarily covered against workmen's compensation risks there is no guarantee as to the future; there is no guarantee that some of the companies now covered may not later on give up their particular form of insurance. It is not for me to dispute my hon. Friend's beliefs. It is sufficient for me to say that I know them to be sincere, and to add that no one on either side of the House can close his eyes to these possibilities.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Morpeth for statistics as to the numbers of undertakings and the numbers of men covered under the three heads of the guarantee. I can give that information; and I am sure it will be of interest to hon. Members. Out of a total number of 970 undertakings, 364 were covered by mutual indemnity associations, a percentage of 37.5 of the total number of undertakings. Those covered by insurance companies were 333, a percentage of 34.5 of the whole. Those covered under trust deed were 16 undertakings, a percentage of 1.5 of the whole, and those where nothing definite has been done but which if they do anything, as they will be compelled to do under the Bill, will probably choose mutual indemnity associations or trust deed, number 257, or 26.5 per cent. of the whole. When we come to the men out of 792,500 engaged in the mining industry those who are covered under mutual indemnity associations are 511,600 or 65 per cent. of the whole; those who are covered under companies are 67,400, or 8.5 per cent., those who are under trust deeds are, roughly, 48,000 or 6 per cent., and those where nothing has been done are 165,600, or 20.5 per cent. of the whole.
My hon. Friend the Member for White-haven (Mr. Nunn) mentioned two matters with which I know he is greatly concerned. He was anxious about the solvency of mutual indemnity associations 1480 and said that he was doubtful about the wisdom of all the insurance being covered by any particular industry. I am authorised by the President of the Board of Trade to say that the Government are and have been for some time contemplating the introduction of a Bill dealing with insurance business generally, and the question of bringing mutual indemnity associations within the scope of the Bill will be carefully considered. I hope that this will also satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. G. Peto). My hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven also spoke of the unsatisfactory work performed by joint committees under the Workmen's Compensation Act and said that I was aware of the present circumstances. I am aware of the circumstances and moreover he knows that I am. I have told him on previous occasions that my right hon. Friend has no control over these committees. Their functioning is not dependent on the Home Office, we cannot revise their decisions. He presses for an inquiry. An inquiry would probably entail investigation into the whole question of the procedure of the Workmen's Compensation Act. The same point was pressed by my hon. Friend the Member for the Newton Division (Mr. Essenhigh). My hon. Friends cannot expect me without notice and without instructions from my right hon. Friend to deal with a subject of such magnitude, especially on this Bill, or to give any undertaking as to any form of inquiry which may or may not be found necessary in the near future.
Let me deal for a moment with the questions put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston. He introduced matters upon which he and I have had many talks—namely, the question of the restoration of a man's earning power—the training and rehabilitation of injured men, and also the question of the distribution of compensation, including the payment into court of lump sum compensation. I am afraid that I have only rather cold comfort for him because I know his great enthusiasm on these matters but I will tell him that my right hon. Friend has been for some time in consultation with the Lord Chancellor. This matter is not quite so simple as my hon. Friend imagines. Many difficulties have been met with already, and various objections 1481 have been raised to my hon. Friend's proposal. But the whole question is still under consideration and I can promise on behalf of my right hon. Friend that the matter will not rest as it is—full consideration will be given to the question which he has so much at heart.
Let me now return to the Measure itself. The Bill as at present drafted makes it obligatory on a coalowner to enter into one of two forms of insurance so that workmen may be assured of their dues under the Workmen's Compensation Act whatever happens to the colliery in which they work. In addition to these two forms of insurance the hon. Member for Morpeth indicated a third, a form of guarantee which would ensure to the workers proper payment under the Workmen's Compensation Act. He referred to a trust fund scheme under which owners would set aside reserves in the hands of trustees to meet liabilities under the Act. All these three alternative methods have been advocated for some time by the Mining Association. I was glad that the hon. Member drew attention to that; the Bill, broadly speaking, seems to do nothing more than make compulsory the adoption of one or other of the three alternative arrangements which the Mining Association themselves have been urging the coal owners to adopt voluntarily. It would, therefore, appear as if no exception could be taken to the general principle of the Bill, coupled with the suggestions made in the explanatory Memorandum; they would seem to be acceptable to employers and to work-people alike. I am referring only to the general broad principles of the Bill when I speak of agreement. It is obvious that the details of the Bill will have to be considered with great care. It is by no means so simple as it appears to be on the surface. In fact, my hon. Friend said that it bristles with legal points and my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Essenhigh), who is a legal Member of the House, said that he was anxious that the Bill should not bristle with legal difficulties, but should be so clear that he himself would not have an opportunity of getting any legal work under it.
Let me refer to one important matter of detail. It will be noticed that in the last sentence of the explanatory Memorandum covering the Bill that there is a statement of my hon. Friend's intentions to move at 1482 a later stage Amendments—to use his own words—For the purpose of discouraging the formation of unsound mutual indemnity associations which might to some extent evade the intentions of the Bill.I understand from my hon. Friend's speech that this discouragement will take the form of a requirement that a sum, I think he said of £20,000, shall be deposited, I suppose with the Accountant-General of the Supreme Court, by all mutual indemnity associations which are formed after a specific date. It is a difficult matter to provide for a satisfactory and sufficient safeguard in respect of mutual insurance. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Sir G. Ellis) pointed that out in his speech, but this or some other form of safeguard is clearly desirable, and I hope that my hon. Friend will pay particular attention to that matter; otherwise, undoubtedly, his best intentions may fail in their application.
This is, of course, a private Member's Bill, but the Government, no doubt, will be expected to state their views upon it, and I am sure to be asked, sooner or later, whether the Government are prepared to support, for example, the selecting or picking out of one particular industry for compulsory insurance, and leaving other industries alone in this respect. My hon. Friend the Mover of the Bill has given his reasons for picking out the coalmining industry. May I give mine, although they are more or less the same. My answer is, that the introduction of compulsory insurance against accident risks for the coalmining industry is undoubtedly a far-reaching change, but I believe that it can be justified for two main reasons alone, and I mention only two. First, coalmining gives rise to the heaviest risk of all industries. It pays much more in compensation than any other industry. I believe that the total compensation paid in this industry amounts, on an average, roughly to £3,000,000 a year. Secondly, in no industry have the workers been exposed to such extensive and wholesale loss as in the coalmining industry.
Since the beginning of 1927 there have been 283 liquidations and other forms of winding-up in the industry. In 248 cases, the employers were fully insured, or by some other method there was a sufficiency of assets to cover all compensation cases, 1483 and there was no permanent loss of compensation in those 248 cases. In five cases, a settlement is not yet completed, but is still in process, and it is not possible to say that there will be no loss of compensation in those five cases. But in 30 cases, we know there was a total or partial loss of compensation, and the sum involved—there have been many sums mentioned this morning, but I think I can give a correct sum—was about £226,000. My hon. Friend gave some detailed figures, and said that he was not overstating the loss at £200,000, but, in fact, I think he was under-stating the loss. This permanent loss of compensation was shared in by 1,899 workers. These figures take no account whatever of the temporary deprivation of compensation pending the realisation of assets in any case. That alone obviously constitutes a great hardship—a hardship which was described in graphic detail by my hon. Friend the Mover of this Bill.
I repeat that, on account of these two facts alone, namely, that coalmining gives rise to the heaviest risk of all industries, and that in no industry have workers been exposed to such extensive loss, there may be justification for treating this industry in a special manner in respect of insurance against loss of compensation. In addition to these two justifications, I think it is reasonable to stress that the principle contained in this Bill does not appear to impose upon the owners of collieries any expense or any hardship which the best of them are not willing to undertake at the present time, and which 75 per cent. of them have already undertaken in the interests of their work-people. Again, I am talking about the general principles only. Compulsion may entail, and generally does entail on anybody who is concerned, and in this instance may entail on the coalowners, slightly additional expenses, and possibly small inconveniences, but those things, I am sure, will be borne willingly if it is felt that the principle is right, and provided always that any additional costs and extra work are made as reasonable and as light as possible. These matters can, of course, be dealt with fully in the later stages of the Bill.
My hon. Friend, I know, will be anxiously awaiting to hear the Government's decision with regard to his Bill. From what I have already said, he can- 1484 not be feeling very worried or very distressed. I repeat that this is a Private Member's Bill, but the Government hold the view that they would incur a grave responsibility if they resisted it in face of the pressure of the majority of Members of this House. While, then, paying sincere tribute to the efforts of the Mining Association to establish a comprehensive scheme on a voluntary basis, the Government accept this Bill in principle, and promise to co-operate with the promoters of the Bill in Committee in improving it in detail, so far as is practicable. I hope that this assurance will satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth and his colleagues. He certainly need not fear any opposition to his general proposals at the hands of the Government. On the contrary, we desire to be helpful about the Bill if, as I say, it is the wish of the House to give it a Second Reading this afternoon.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHN
I also should like to add my meed of praise to the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) for introducing this Bill. He has done so in a very clear and sympathetic manner. Having had the fortune of the Ballot, he has introduced a Bill of a practical nature. I think it was 12 months ago that I had the privilege of introducing a Bill on the compensation question. I was rather more ambitious than the hon. Member. I introduced a Measure to cover the whole ground of the compensation law. The Minister has given us a very clear indication of the course that he is going to take to bring this Bill to the Statute Book. Indeed I should be very much surprised if the Government did not support the Bill, because ever since the late Lord Brentford held the position of Secretary of State for the Home Department every Home Secretary has told us in this House that it was essential to introduce some Measure in order to protect the miners against the evil with which this Bill deals. It would have been very strange if the Home Office had said "We are not willing to give the Bill our support." The Bill is very complicated and bristles with difficulties, but a large number of the difficulties can undoubtedly be abolished in Committee.
One can understand the contents of the Bill being rather complicated. It is a question of drafting a Bill and dealing 1485 with certain obligations that are in existence at the present time as a result of other Acts. If the hon. Member had had clear ground to cover probably the legal difficulties could have been avoided. But a large number of these difficulties can be discussed in Committee. We do not want this Bill to be a source of fruitful litigation as some past Acts have been. The Bill says in effect: "We believe that the miners ought to be covered so far as insurance is concerned; they ought to be guaranteed that in the event of a colliery company going into liquidation, in the event of their suffering from accident or industrial disease, compensation will be paid."
I was pleased to hear the Minister say that it was the intention of the Government, probably in the near future, to introduce a Measure with regard to general insurance. I do not know whether it is the intention to introduce a kind of State insurance. In my own Bill I did introduce a provision that the Government should be responsible for a kind of State insurance. There cannot be any question about cost. In other countries where State insurance is in operation it is worked much more cheaply that other insurance. In America the administrative expenses of the insurance companies are 38 per cent., those of the mutual societies are 20 per cent., but the State insurance figure is only 4 per cent. Probably if the hon. Member for Morpeth has introduced a Bill on those lines, involving the principle of State insurance, many Members would have opposed it.
The Minister gave reasons why the Bill should be confined to the mining industry. Among the reasons were the danger of the occupation, the large number of accidents, and the tremendous premiums that have to be paid in comparison with those paid by other industries. I hope that when the Bill becomes law the Government will realise that on the grounds of equity and principle they cannot very well leave other industries outside. I have here records of scores of workers in the farming industry, workers at the docks, boiler scalers and workers on the roads, who are suffering from accidents, some blind, others with broken backs or amputated limbs. The only question is one of numbers. It is true, of course, that a larger number of men meet with accidents in the mining industry, but that does not mean that the individual worker 1486 in another industry does not suffer just as much. The injured worker at the docks has to suffer precisely the same as the injured miner in the event of his employer going into liquidation.
One hon. Member has spoken on the subject of inquiry into the whole question. In 1920 we had an inquiry, which produced the Holman Gregory Report. The recommendation of that Departmental Committee was compulsory insurance for the whole of the industries of the country. It is quite true that there was a minority report, and one Member of the Committee stated that he was against compulsory insurance because there was no evidence that the number of firms going into insolvency was sufficient to demonstrate the need for compulsory insurance. But surely, apart from the mining industry the number of concerns, private and otherwise, that have gone into liquidation, shows the necessity for including other industries within the principle of compulsory insurance.
It was the experience of the common law and the Employers' Liability Act that showed the need for introducing a new principle into the 1897 Act. It was the experience of that Act that showed the necessity of introducing the principle of the 1906 Act. We believed that every workman was covered so far as insurance was concerned. Now we begin to realise that there is no use at all in imposing the liability on an employer to pay compensation unless we also see that the compensation is forthcoming. While this Bill will make it clear that ways and means are to be provided for the forthcoming of compensation, so far as the miners are concerned, those in other industries will still be in the position that though there is an imposition upon employers for the payment of compensation, there is no guarantee in certain cases that compensation will be forthcoming.
I am very pleased that the compulsory principle is introduced into the Bill. I could not imagine the Government opposing the principle of compulsory insurance, having regard to the provisions of the Road Traffic Act. Then there was the action of the Government so far as. "534" is concerned. If it was necessary for the Government to come to the assistance of insurance companies and underwriters and the Cunard Company in order to insure the "534," which is to be a 1487 medium of profit for the Cunard Company, it is also essential for the Government to support a Measure to guarantee compensation to workers who are to be a medium of profit for the coalowners. We could not very well have left the position as it was. A number of coalowners, as we have been told, are already insured, some with mutual indemnity societies, and others in voluntary associations. We realise that the coalowners are forming voluntary organisations because they do not want to see their own workmen suffer as a result of circumstances over which they have no control but we must also realise that we have no guarantee that the voluntary organisation is going to continue or that every firm is going to continue to be a member of it. The colliery companies who have gone into liquidation have not done so through any fault of their own. Undoubtedly they sympathise as much with the injured workman who is deprived of compensation as anybody else, but it could well happen that although they were members of a voluntary organisation they would be forced by circumstances over which they had no control to come out of the voluntary organisation and the workers in that case would be left exactly as they were before any voluntary organisation came into existence.
I hope that the passing of this Bill will indicate the Government's realisation of the necessity for compulsory insurance in all industries. Sufficient has been said in this debate to show the Government very clearly the need for the introduction of a new and comprehensive Compensation Bill. There have been expressions of sympathy with regard to the miners and it has been said that this Bill is being introduced because of the special difficulties of the mining industry. There is another injustice in fact a scandal from which miners suffer, and that is in regard to silicosis, a matter to which attention ought to be given. Do the Government not think it time to introduce some measure to safeguard miners who are suffering from silicosis? There is an imposition upon coalowners and upon all employers to pay compensation to workers suffering from silicosis but the Home Office Order on this matter is being criticised at the present time. We have in South Wales cases of about 100 work- 1488 men who were certified either by the medical board or by their own doctors to be suffering from silicosis. Some have since died; others are totally incapacitated but in those cases there is no right to claim compensation. The Act says that the employers are liable to pay compensation to workers who are suffering from silicosis, but the Order at present in force precludes the majority of those claiming from establishing their right. The county court judge at Aberdare made an interesting comment when rejecting a claim for compensation brought by Edgar Cook of Treherbert against the Fernhill Company. The applicant declared that he had contracted silicosis while employed by the company. The judge said what he had to consider was whether Cook had been at work in the process within a period of three years immediately before March of 1933. It was clear that Cook had not been drilling and blasting silica rock during that period, although he had done that work before 1928. The judge added:I should like to call attention to provisions under the schemes of 1928 and 1931 which deprive a man of compensation if he has not been working in the process within a period of three years. It was only recently at Swansea that evidence was given before me by a distinguished pathologist who stated that workmen may inhale silica dust which will incapacitate them within five to seven years. If that is true it would require an intense concentration of inhalation to incapacitate a man in two years.I impress on the Government the need for introducing a broad and comprehensive Bill which will cover not only these silicosis cases but increase the compensation in relation to fatal accidents and also for total or partial incapacity. While urging them to introduce a comprehensive Bill on those lines I express the hope that everyone in the House will facilitate the passage of the Bill which is at present before us.
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Mr. CAPORN
I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has given the blessing of the Government to this Bill. One defect of the Bill as I see it, however, is the fact that it seeks to amend the general law on workmen's compensation in respect of one particular industry. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary stated as his ground for not objecting to that proposal, that if such an experiment is to be made in respect of one industry, the mining in- 1489 dustry is the best industry to select for an experiment in compulsory compensasation. I would accept that as a ground for the proposal but I would also call attention to the fact that it is becoming a common practice in these days to seek to amend the general law by applying amendments to particular places in the land and now we are extending that practice by applying amendments to particular industries. There may be solid ground for doing so but grave risks are involved in the continuance of that practice.
My object in rising is to express the hope that as this Bill goes through Committee and as it is considered—in conjunction as it ought to be with another private Member's Bill which went through this House recently, a Bill to amend the law with regard to common employment—the Government will also consider whether the time has not arrived to deal with injury compensation on broader lines altogether than those adopted in the past. I hope they will consider bringing this branch into line with two other branches of industrial insurance, namely, health and unemployment insurance. Nobody in this country at the present time is in a position to estimate what may be the effect upon workmen's compensation of an amendment of the common law with regard to common employment. I doubt if anybody is in a position to say to what extent the withdrawal of the doctrine of common employment would impose additional liabilities upon industry. Now is the time to consider whether a new agreement, if I may put it in that way, might not be reached between employers and workmen, compromising the benefits and effects of the common law and the Compensation Acts and evening them out so as to give the workman some fair and adequate compensation. In such an agreement there would be an adequate quid pro quo for both sides, and if it could be combined into a comprehensive Measure, it would spread evenly over industry as a whole the cost of providing for industrial accidents and would provide guarantees for all industries that when the injury has been received the injured workmen shall be compensated. That would be a great step forward in the social legislation of this country, and 1490 I would congratulate my hon. Friends on bringing in this Bill, which will have my whole-hearted support.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.