§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I rise to ask the House to be good enough to give a Second Reading to this Bill, to which the names of some of my hon. colleagues and, myself are attached, to deal with the question of workmen's compensation. The right of a workman to obtain compensation for any injury sustained within the relations of employer and employed has long been recognised in this country, although his rights in that respect have varied from time to time and have at all times been exceedingly limited and circumscribed, and it is on account of those limitations that this Bill is brought forward. No one in this country or in any part of the House can be satisfied with the conditions which now surround this problem of compensation. The experience of every trade union in seeking to obtain under the existing law such rights as even are there defined has been a very bitter one, because those rights are hemmed in by almost insurmountable difficulties, and the present Bill seeks to remove some of them. I do not suppose that any of us here will claim that we shall succeed in removing all the difficulties even by this Bill, but we do aim at removing some of the disabilities and limitations within the existing law and at providing a remedy for at least some of the injustices which are now imposed upon workpeople. Generally, the aims of the Bill may be summarised under four heads, corresponding to the different sections of the Bill itself. First, there is the aim at broadening the definition of dependants as at present defined in law. The present definition is limited and excludes those who, in the mind of every man and woman in the country, would justifiably be regarded as dependants, but are not so regarded under the present law. Secondly, the amount of compensation obtainable at present is grievously inadequate, and we aim at 1220 providing adequate compensation. Thirdly, we aim at removing the administration of compensation outside the procedure of the courts, in which it has up till now been involved; and in order to do that the fourth aim is to create an independent compensation or accident fund. To justify those four general purposes one must be in a position to state that there is widespread discontent with the existing law and the judicial system; in other words, one must be in a position to make a general indictment of the present system in order to justify this Measure. Is that possible?
What is the indictment we level against the present system? First and foremost, those who seek to obtain compensation for injury find themselves dependent not upon the Acts passed by this House but upon court-made laws. That is the first and outstanding feature of the administration of compensation law. As representatives directly of trade unions and the working classes in this House, we are not alone in expressing that view with regard to the absurdity of the present judicial system. I wish to quote from an editorial in the "Law Journal" of 7th November under the heading, "Workmen's Compensation":An impartial critic reading the report of the House of Lords' decision last week in Ellison v. Calvert and Another might be tempted to make some caustic remarks about our judicial system. A county court judge, with medical and other evidence before him, concludes that a man has died from an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment. A strong Court of Appeal reverses, this judgment by a unanimous decision, declaring that there was nothing before the learned judge on which be could have reached that conclusion. The workman's widow appeals, and a still stronger House of Lords, consisting of five of the first lawyers in England and Scotland, unanimously reverses the unanimous decision of the Court of Appeal.In how many thousands of instances has there been that experience previously, showing the absurdity of the present method of dealing with compensation claims? It is not the intentions of Parliament which are considered when the compensation claim is argued in court, but there is recourse to the libraries for the citation of innumerable cases on every aspect of the law, and this mass of citated decisions becomes the basis upon which it is determined whether some injured workman is entitled to compensation or not.
1221 Then there is the degree to which the courts are dependent upon medical opinion—I will not call it medical evidence. I frankly confess that in certain types of case medical opinion is unavoidable, and is of necessity brought in, but in the experience of myself and many of my colleagues here, and in the experience of many learned Members of this House on both sides, there is the inescapable fact—some might think I am putting it too high in calling it an inescapable fact—the inescapable suspicion, at any rate, that medical science is being prostituted in our courts. Why do I say that? Because we have to realise that medical men, in compensation cases in courts, are taking precisely the same attitude that legal men do.
We are all proud of the fact that under English law a man is held to be innocent until proved guilty. A man who commits any crime in the calendar is entitled to obtain the assistance of any legal representative to argue his case. No suspicion rests upon the member of the learned profession who acts for him, and no reflection is cast upon that representative who does his best to prove his client innocent by putting up the best defence he can. When medical men take up the same attitude in regard to compensation, it constitutes a reflection upon the medical profession. Just as an innocent or guilty party can obtain a legal representative to argue his case in court, so can an employer or a workman—I do not want to say that one side has a higher claim than the other—get any medical expert to say anything they want in their favour. That is an assertion from which none of us can get away. Medical science is being prostituted in our courts. When men are briefed by respective sides in that manner merely to go into court and express their medical opinion, I say that justice is liable to be left outside that court rather than to be found inside.
Thirdly, there is the enormous incidence of costs in connection with cases of this kind. I doubt whether anyone can make a reliable estimate of what the annual costs in this country amount to in dealing with compensation. We find it exceedingly difficult within individual trade unions to estimate the annual cost. I have endeavoured to get at the figure for the South Wales Miners' Federation, and the litigation costs in connection with compensation and administrative expenses 1222 amount to £15,000 a year for that one trade union, which represents 190,000 members. That money is spent in the endeavour to get justice for the members. We do not succeed in all cases. It is our proud boast that we succeed in the vast majority of cases, but there is a proportion in which we fail. It makes this clear beyond doubt, as has been expressed even by learned judges in our courts, that it is practically impossible for the individual workman to secure compensation justice. It is practically impossible for a weak trade union to obtain it. Only the most powerful trade unions with resources behind them can possibly pursue the law to its utmost extent and obtain justice for their members.
Let me revert for a moment to the medical profession. It appears from our experience that there is an astounding freedom in our courts at the present time to experiment in so-called medical theory. This develops in connection with industrial disease more than in connection with industrial accident. I have heard medical men in our courts, and so have many of my colleagues here, argue with regard to nystagmus and silicosis. How bravely and courageously these medical men come and tender their theory; for example, with regard to nystagmus, that no man can possibly suffer from nystagmus for more than four years, and that if he is incapacitated beyond the four years he will then be suffering from something other than nystagmus. That is a theory which has influenced our courts. I had nystagmus in 1912. I knew, but in 1912 the medical profession did not know it. They did not know enough about the disease. I still suffer from A. Very few men recover from nystagmus; the terrible ramifications of this disease evidently pass beyond the range of comprehension of doctors, who to-day may be engaged by an employer, to-morrow by the workman, and on the third day may be engaged under the Act as the referee. It is utterly impossible for science to be administered in those conditions.
There is a fifth point, in respect of the method of dealing with the compensation system. Employers, directly and indirectly, create organisations for the purpose of dealing with compensation. It is the natural thing for them to do. Employers were organised to defend their interests much in the same way as workmen were organised to defend their in- 1223 terests. The fact that we are up against is that employers form associations, separate and independent organisations, to pursue their interests. They may, as is very largely the case, contribute to insurance societies who do this job for them. The purpose is either to deprive workmen of compensation altogether or to reduce the burden to the lowest possible extent. This activity becomes the business of associations of this kind, once they are set up, to carry out that purpose. It is no use suggesting that we are imputing to the individual employer. That is not the point. The employers in any given industry may be the best people in the world, but once they create associations for the purpose of administering, in their interests, this matter of compensation on behalf of those humanitarian employers, they have an instrument which must fight compensation in any shape or form.
Compensation, from the employers' standpoint, is quite naturally a question of cost; it must be an item of cost to be reduced. Indeed, all too frequently, they find it cheaper to put up with accidents rather than to deal with the causes of those accidents. I do not know of any industry in which that exists to such an extent as in the mining industry. Therefore, seeing all these ills involved in the present system of court procedure, we desire to remove this administration from the court, and to create a body whose sole interest will be, not to find pin-points in law and in medical evidence, but to ascertain whether a workman has, in fact, been injured in the service of his employer, and, if he has, to tender unto him the compensation defined by law. That, we submit, cannot be done within the present judicial system. As the result of the creation of an outside body, it follows naturally that the position of the employer will have to be altered, and the payment of compensation will have to be dealt with on different lines from those followed at the present time.
We propose, therefore, to create an independent compensation or accident fund. This is necessary for the reason that merely to substitute one body of administrators for another, to substitute a body of administrators outside the court for the present court procedure would not, of itself, avail us much. It 1224 is necessary that the Board, once set up, shall have charge also of a fund that cannot be touched by employers and provides adequate resources for the compensation determined by the Board itself. For that purpose, therefore, a fund is proposed to which all employers shall contribute. The basis of contributions is to be separately assessed for each industry. In some cases it would perhaps be necessary to subdivide an industry, to separate processes and sub-sections; but, whatever the division may be, whether the industry be taken as a whole or in parts, each industry would be separately assessed as to the incidence of injuries in the industry, and, in proportion to that, employers would have to contribute to this fund.
Naturally, the contributions would vary from industry to industry, and, indeed, it may very well be that they would vary from year to year in the same industry. In this connection I should have liked to see the Secretary for Mines here this morning, because no industry is more affected by this question of compensation than the tragic mining industry. Since, however, the Home Department is represented, it may be brought to his notice. I know that for the last four or five years, possibly longer, efforts have been made by the Mines Department to show that there is a falling incidence of accidents in the mining industry, a diminution in the number of accidents taking place. They use, and misuse, figures for this purpose, in the endeavour to show that the mines are becoming safer, that fewer men are being injured, and so on. Let me put a few figures, which illustrate also the point to which I have referred, that the contribution assessed as necessary may vary from industry to industry, and also from time to time in the same industry.
In the mining industry in South Wales—I am dealing with South Wales alone on this point—in 1925, the incidence of compensation returned by the employers was 4.02d. per ton. In 1930 it was 3.77d., showing an apparent fall. In 1935 it was 6.32d., and in the first six months of this year it was 7.33d. per ton. That is an astonishing figure, is it not? I do not want the House to draw false conclusions. Of course it may be assumed, on that figure alone, that twice the number of men have been injured, 1225 but I want to warn the House against making that assumption. I will deal with another factor. The tonnage of coal raised in 1925, ignoring odd figures, was 43,000,000 tons, whereas the rate of production this year is 30,000,000 tons. There has been a reduction of over 25 per cent. in the output of coal; but, as I have said, the compensation rate has increased, from 4d. per ton. to 7.33d. The number of men employed in 1925 was 176,000, and in 1935 it was 109,000. I have not the figure for the first six months of this year, but these figures show that, while nearly 70,000 fewer men are employed, the cost of compensation has increased from 4d. to 7.33d. per ton—another astonishing figure, if you take it as a figure.
There are many ways in which this might be accounted for. The average number of accidents might not have increased, but the same effect would be produced if the average period of idleness due to accident in 1925 were four weeks and in 1935 eight weeks; so that I want to warn the House against arriving at false conclusions. It does indicate how false are the conclusions arrived at by the Mines Department. The whole matter requires far more inquiry than the inspectors find so satisfactory to themselves when dealing with the mining industry. The Accident Fund, as it is defined in the Bill, in providing for the separate assessment of each industry, ensures that each industry shall carry the social burden of accidents, which is not the case at the present time. The law at present gives 30s. as the maximum compensation. How many get it? I assert that fully 80 per cent. in the mining industry fail to get it, and that the average compensation paid in the mining industry to-day cannot be above 25s. for adult workmen—from 20s. to 25s. per week.
Therefore, where you have large masses of miners injured and receiving a weekly sum in compensation which may be anything from 20s. to 25s., even on the basis of the charity of the Minister of Labour this is an inadequate sum. It must, therefore, be supplemented by public assistance, and that is done in a very large number of cases; and often the compensation has to be supplemented from charitable sources. But even that does not exhaust the social burden; the 1226 social burden of accidents is to be found in hospitals and in voluntary associations of various kinds. All these other social sources of help for the injured workmen are made necessary by the present limitation of the amount of compensation paid. Under the provision made in the Bill that the workman shall be given at least a minimum of £3 per week by way of compensation, the industry in which the workman receives his injury is levied to the full extent required for purposes of compensation, and this ensures the principle that the industry in which a man is injured must carry the social burden of that injury. If we were to say, as employers are saying, that one industry should carry the burdens of others, we should find hon. Members on the other side of the House quarrelling themselves. We have laid down quite definitely in the Bill that the social burden of accidents shall be borne by the industry in which they occur.
The effect of these proposals, therefore—the creation of the Accident Fund, the raising of the amount of compensation paid to the individual workman, and the removing of the administration from the realm of court procedure—will be to place the wounded man or woman in industry in precisely the same position as the wounded man or woman in national service in the armed forces during a period of national emergency or a state of war. They are entitled, on the basis of temporary or permanent partial or total disability, to a pension, and in effect that is what this Bill does for the wounded industrial man or woman—it places them in a position to claim that pension for themselves which is their due as the result of the service they have given and the injuries they have sustained. Objection may be raised to that on the ground of the great cost involved by the scale of compensation proposed in this Bill. What I have said about the social cost of insurance is sufficient to counter that suggestion. Under the present system the mining industry gets away with it by paying 20s. a week, but some one has to carry the burden. It is not evaded or avoided; it is carried in a possibly costlier form altogether than we propose.
I should like to refer to another form of compensation. When a local authority is being merged into a larger unit 1227 the question of compensation arises, not to injured men and women but to the rather better placed officers of a local authority which is going to pass out of existence. It is deemed right and proper that the clerk, or the engineer, or the surveyor must be compensated, and the House agrees that he shall be compensated. The man or woman who loses one of these salaried positions must be given one-sixtieth of the annual loss multiplied by the number of years service. There-unto must be added one-sixth where the service is 20 years or more. It is true that the scale declines with years of service below that. For example, a man who filled a post for which he had £600 a year salary, and in consequence of being merged in some other authority loses his post, assuming he has had 20 years service, will now receive an annual pension of £233, and he will continue to draw it for life even if he gets another job which gives him £365 a year in addition. He receives this not as compensation for injuries, not for loss of capacity. He has it simply because he loses the opportunity to work for that authority. There are tens of thousands of workmen dismissed every week, and no one thinks of compensating them for the loss of the opportunity of work. The House is unduly generous in dealing with privileged sections of the community. They give handsome compensation where there is no loss except the economic one to which I have referred.
That brings me to my final point. The Bill provides that the compensation shall continue to be paid until the workman is provided with work suitable to his capacity, whatever it is, after he has recovered from his injury. If this is a good principle in local Government cases of compensating a man until he gets a new post, or compensating him to the full extent of his loss between the old post and the new, surely it is an equally good principle in dealing with workmen who have not only lost the opportunity to work. They are mangled. You cannot go into a mining area without seeing the terrible effect of industrialism in the bodies of men who are crippled and maimed. I only wish I could give the House a picture of the effect of disease upon our men. How much more, then, 1228 are we justified in asking that they shall be compensated until they are provided with jobs suitable to the capacity that remains to them. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 11.40 a.m.
Mr. J. J. DAVIDSON
I beg to second the Motion.
I have more hope of this Bill passing than I have had of previous Bills on the same subject because of the recent declarations of the Government as to the improved industrial conditions of the country and the new era of prosperity. If those declarations mean anything I trust that Government supporters will allow injured workmen to share in that prosperity. In view of the armaments programme and the new industrial activities, our heavy industries will be operating on a speedier and heavier basis, and we may expect that the number of accidents will increase. This new speeding-up of industry will require to be examined from the point of view not only of the employers but of the workers. In my first speech in this House I stated that I recognised that I was not sent here merely for the purpose of offering constructive criticism but that my job, and that of every Member of the House, was to see to it that our legislation secured the best life that it was possible to obtain for the greatest number of the community. In view of Government declarations that conditions to-day are such as we have not had for the past seven years, we can at least expect serious consideration of what we ask on behalf of injured industrial workmen.
I should like to deal with one or two points in order to clear away some of the misapprehensions that have existed in the past. I admit freely that the Bill asks for a wider scope of compensation than at present operates. I suggest to right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House that when the worker is injured and is deprived of the opportunity of earning his usual weekly wages is not the time for economies to be made in his conditions of life. When a soldier is wounded on the battlefield, or an ordinary worker in civilian life is removed to hospital, the military or hospital authorities, as the case may be, do not say, "This man, who is a fighting man, is not now performing the duties for which he enlisted," or 1229 "This worker now in hospital is not working in industry performing the work we expect of him." We do not say that because of these facts we shall see to it that the hospital authorities give him the minimum of assistance, necessaries and attention. But to-day, as the Compensation Acts operate, that is exactly the case as far as the injured industrial worker is concerned. I do not want to spend much time quoting the intricacies of the Workmen's Compensation Acts as they operate to-day, but there are various definitions and precedents that when a workman is injured his average weekly wage shall be the basis of his compensation. They do not say that his weekly wage regularly was £2 10s. or £3 a week. The lawyers come upon the scene and take into comparison his holidays and illnesses on previous occasions, and his average weekly wage. A man earning £2 10s. per week, generally speaking, in 99 cases out of 100 when appealing for compensation receives, if he is successful, the handsome sum of £1 2s. 6d. per week.
I ask hon. Members of all parties in this House whether, when the industrial worker is taken away from his employment through no fault of his own or meets with an accident while engaged in industry, we cannot agree, in view of the fact that since I came to the House of Commons last November the Government of the day have spent large sums in subsidies, and in compensation to employers for loss of trade and for obvious incapacity, that a worker who is doing his utmost for the industry of this country should receive a reward at least sufficient to keep him and his dependants in the ordinary necessaries of life. I recognise that not only on this side of the House, but in all parts of the House, hon. Members must repeatedly in their constituencies have come across cases of men and women who, as far as the Workmen's Compensation Acts and the intricacies of those Acts are concerned, are completely ignorant of the procedure to be adopted in order to obtain workmen's compensation. I suggest that it is not only unfair but dishonest legislation which depends upon the ignorance of the workers in industry in order to take from them any compensation to which they are entitled.
1230 I could spend some time in dealing with various cases where workers, faced with the lawyers representing great corporations, and with a lawsuit that would involve them in the expenditure of £60, £70, £80 or £100—in hundreds of cases, aye, in thousands of cases—have been compelled to compromise, and have taken much less than that to which they were legally or morally entitled if they had had sufficient funds to operate the Workmen's Compensation Acts, and obtain legal advice for themselves and fight the case to the High Courts of this country. Hon. Members must recognise, even by the attendance on these benches, that this is a vital question to the workers engaged in industry in this country, and I suggest that the time has now come to take action. I appeal to hon. Members opposite not to place clever legal arguments against this Bill, but to accept the Second Reading knowing that, as far as my hon. Friends and I are concerned, we are asking for fair play for the injured industrial worker.
There are one or two questions in the Bill upon which I wish to express my opinion. I have dealt with the question of increased compensation, and, finally, on that point, I ask hon. Members to recognise that increased compensation can only be taken into consideration in relation to every other Clause of the Bill. It is my honest and sincere opinion that the Bill will create a condition, as far as workmen's compensation is concerned, that will not only enable us to pay increased compensation, but will enable us to do so without any unjust or unnecessary or increased burden being placed upon industry itself. We have heard in the past considerable criticism of the Accident Fund. It must be recognised that, with the great conglomeration of methods to-day and the general mix-up of employers paying high premiums to insurance companies, pooling resources and adopting various methods, and being forced to employ legal representatives at very high fees indeed, the Accident Fund Clause will enable employers to be part of one organisation.
We can rest assured, if hon. Mem-will examine closely the composition of the Board suggested in the Bill, that the Accident Fund, or the demands of the Board as far as the fund is concerned, will not place a burden upon industry at 1231 all, but will show the employer himself that he can at least expect that the Board, representing all sections of the community, will, when making their levy for compensation, take into consideration not only one or two aspects of the case, but the position of employers as well. The Board is about the most representative board that could be appointed in this country. I think hon Members opposite will agree that we on this side of the House do not ask for any unfair advantages as far as the composition of the Board is concerned. We ask for representation on the basis of the working class movement itself—two representatives from the Trade Union Congress and two representatives from the employers' section of the employers' association, and that a chairman shall be appointed who shall have a knowledge of law and of the intricacies of the enactments as to workmen's compensation. We ask that one with a knowledge of finance and one with a knowledge of medicine shall be a member of the board—seven members who will represent truly the interests of the whole community so far as concerns this question.
I feel rather strongly on this question. In my constituency I have met many working class men who assisted in building up the great shipbuilding industry, men with hands twisted with rheumatism, with bodies distorted and marred by industry, and these men for two, three, four and sometimes five or six months, because of their continual employment under hard conditions, have been completely lost in regard to claims for compensation, and have always had to depend on the representatives of the trades unions fighting their cases and succeeding in obtaining for them some sort of benefit during their illness. Surely we can agree as a House of Commons that in this country that sort of condition is not a condition of which to be proud.
In Glasgow the municipal authorities are establishing homes for aged workers. They are not inscribing on those homes that they are poor homes or homes for people under Poor Law relief. They have removed that stigma, and the inscription they have placed on the homes is: "Here are homes set up for aged workers who by their efforts in industry assisted in the welfare of this country." That is what we ask here—fair play for 1232 the workmen and the removal of those intricate conditions which cannot be understood by a workman engaged in industry in day-to-day life. We ask that this board shall be appointed, that this compensation shall be paid and that this clearly-defined Bill, setting up once and for all for the workman a definite scheme of compensation when he is set aside from industry through no fault of his own, shall be passed into law. We ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, knowing that Members on this side will assist them in every possible way in making the Act successful for the benefit of all sections of the community, and for the benefit of industry generally.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
The House has listened with a great deal of sympathy and interest to the arguments put forward by the proposer and seconder of the Bill. There is a great deal of feeling on this side of the House as well as on the opposite side that there is much that ought to be done to put the workmen's compensation law of this country on a proper footing. It was very well put by the hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring), who said that no one to-day could be satisfied with conditions as they are. If the hon. Member had limited the Bill to the two first heads which he propounded, the House I am sure would give it a Second Reading so that the many problems under those two heads could be properly threshed out in Committee, but it is because the Bill goes a great deal further than dealing with the anomalies and hardships of the present situation that we feel it raises questions of principle which it would not be right for us to concede even by allowing a Second Reading. For reasons which I shall advert to later, I think that the Bill would impose in all probability an intolerable burden upon industry, and it is because I sincerely feel that that is so, and because it raises questions not of legal technicality but of fair play, that I think the House ought not to give a Second Reading to the Bill as at present framed.
1233 I want to say a few words about the history of the Bill. In 1927 this Measure, with the exception of one unimportant Clause, was passed in Ontario, but I would point out that the industries covered in Ontario give employment to 450,000 workers as opposed to 16,000,000 workers in this country. The Bill was put forward in a memorandum of the Trades Union Congress Research Department in 1928 as one to be propounded and brought forward for application in this country. Between the years 1929 and 1931 when hon. Members opposite were in office there was nothing heard about the Bill. I am certain that they had excellent reasons for not bringing it forward, but it is a fair point to make that in the two years when hon. Members opposite were in office the Bill was not propounded by any of their party. The Bill was brought here in its present form in 1933, and again, only six months ago, the same Bill as was propounded in 1933 was brought forward. Now with very few exceptions the House is to consider the terms of the same Bill.
There is an alteration in one Clause and there are two Schedules. I should like to say a word about the First Schedule, because I think that is a matter of importance. Perhaps I ought to explain that the Schedule sets out to increase the ambit of Section 43 of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925, and to increase the number of notional diseases—I am using the legal phrase—which entitle the workman to obtain compensation without a great deal of proof. That is the sort of thing with which the House will have a great deal of sympathy. It is one of those anomalies which we all would seek to remedy on this side. I do not propose to go into the details of the Schedule, but I am in sympathy with an increase of those cases which are covered under Section 43 of the present Act. That is the history of the Bill.
I will explain what it is that we find most wrong with the Bill. We think that the form of assessments would or might operate to prove an intolerable burden on industry. We think that the assessments which are uncertain and unascertainable, which are imposed by the Board, who cannot properly consider the conditions in each separate industry, which allows no appearance—at any rate, 1234 there is no right for the party who is going to be assessed to appear and give evidence—and which allows no right of appeal, is against the spirit of fair play and is a novel procedure which has no justification.
Let me refer briefly to the various Clauses of the Bill. Clause 49 deals with provisional assessment, and hon. Members will find:The sums to be so assessed may be either a percentage of the pay rolls of the employers or a specific sum as the Board may determine.It is an absolutely indefinite sum which may be anything. In Clause 50 it is provided:The Board shall … assess and levy upon the employers in each of the classes such percentage of pay-roll or such other rate or such specific sum as … shall he deemed sufficient to pay the compensation during the current year.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
The hon. and learned Member is forgetting the fact that the employers are represented on the Board.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
I am coming to that point. When we come to consider the constitution of the Board, it will be found that in many cases the employers may not be represented on the Board at all. Clause 50 (3) says:The assessment upon the employers in a class or sub-class shall be uniform, but they may be fixed or graded in relation to the hazard of each or any of the industries or undertakings included in the class or subclass orThese are the important words—to a scale of merit rating drawn up by the Board.Not only is the sum to be put upon any particular industry unascertainable, but each separate employer may be assessed at the will of the Board. If he has no right of appeal, this may impose a very unfair burden upon an individual employer and upon industry in general. Further assessments may be made by the Board on an employer from time to time, and as often as may be deemed necessary. That is a provision which will be found in Clause 55. Once the Board has come to a decision about anything, all that happens is that the Board files a certificate with the county court in England, or with the sheriff court in Scotland, and it becomes an order of the court. That is set forth in Clause 58. But the Clause 1235 which is most detrimental to our ideas of justice is Clause 29, which deals with the jurisdiction of the Board. The Board having come to its determination there is no sort of appeal even from a patent injustice.The Board shall have exclusive jurisdiction to examine into, hear and determine all matters and questions arising under this Act and as to any matter or thing in respect to which any power, authority or discretion is conferred upon the Board and the action or decision of the Board thereon shall be final and conclusive and shall not be open to question or review in any court and no proceedings by or before the Board shall be restrained by injunction, prohibition or other process or proceeding in any court or be removable by certiorari or otherwise into any court.It is clear that this arbitrary assessment may be made not in accordance with any proper scheme of equity, but entirely at the will of the Board. It cannot be said to be analogous to any form of assessment known at the present time. I shall be interested to hear from any hon. Members opposite any true analogy to what is sought to be done in this Clause.
Having dealt with the question of assessment, I want to refer to the Board and its functions, which are provided for in Clauses 19 to 35. The scheme of the Bill is that there shall be an independent legal chairman, two members representing the workers, two members representing the employers, an independent medical expert and an independent financial expert. If any such Board is to be set up, I do not think it could be done more fairly, but there seems to be a real difficulty about the functioning of the Board. It represents industry not only in England but in Scotland. Is it going to sit in London? Is it going to have as its legal member one who is versed in the English legal system or in the Scottish legal system? I should like hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies to tell me whether they would like to have a Board of this kind, having obviously such powers in regard to the assessment of industry in Scotland, set up in London, or whether they would prefer it to be in Edinburgh.
It was said by the hon. Member who seconded the Motion that the employers had their representatives, and that the workmen had their representatives, but I do not think it is right that a judicial 1236 body should be set up with people on both sides pledged to one side or the other. It is not a good thing. But there is one difficulty in the actual framing of the Bill which hon. Members will appreciate at once, and it is this. Suppose the two representatives of the workers on the Board are ill, what is to happen then? Is the Board to cease functioning? If it does, then there will be an accumulation of work which will make it even more difficult for the Board to function. That is a flaw in the Bill. Hon. Members opposite will also appreciate that no board has been asked to do so much as this Board is to be asked to do, and also that there is already a great volume of work in the appeal courts in England and also in Scotland. Already a great deal of the time is taken up with this work. This Board on the judicial side has to act in the appeals from both countries, and it will be found that when previous decisions are not binding on a court that must add enormously to the amount of work. Hon. -Members opposite will agree with me that frequently we have to advise that a case cannot go on because of the fact that it is covered by authority. We do that sometimes with a measure of reluctance, but we have to limit the amount of litigation because previous decisions are binding. Clause 29 (3) sets forth the fact that:The decisions of the Board shall be upon the real merits and justice of the case, and it shall not be bound to follow strict legal precedent.I can fancy that with the legal work, with the claims from the districts to be considered, this body would be totally inadequate to deal with the volume of the claims, even if there were no such provision as this. I think the House will agree that on that side of their work alone it will be almost impossible for any Board of seven—I cannot see any Clause dealing with a quorum as regards the judicial side—to make this provision workable from that point of view.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
The hon. and learned Gentleman has raised a very knotty problem as far as my country of Scotland is concerned. I do not think that he need labour that point, because in Scotland we have a distinct tradition and distinct laws, and certainly we would require to have a Board in Scotland as 1237 well as the one in London. We have a Lord Advocate here and we have a Solicitor-General here. [HON. MEMBERS: "And what about Wales?"] Wales has none of these things. When the time comes we will get that Board for Edinburgh, if necessary.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend opposite for conceding the point that the Bill is quite unworkable as it stands. I am highly delighted that my hon. Friend took up my argument for me in this way. My next point relates to the provision that the Board has power to act upon the report of one of its officers. Let hon. Members look at Clause 31 (1). It says:The Board may act upon the report of any of its officers and any inquiry which it shall be deemed necessary to make—Inquiry is not always necessary—may be made by one of the members of the Board or by an officer …".My submission is that it is altogether wrong that such a question as assessment should be decided by the report of an officer of the Board without any necessity for the appearance of the parties interested and without the right of appeal to any court. Because of these weaknesses which I have pointed out I think the Bill would not only be unworkable but would inflict intolerable hardship. If one visualises times of real distress, such as we went through in 1931, it might well be that an industry would find it an intolerable burden for assessments to be made upon it by this all-powerful Board. If it should be found that any industry was being particularly badly struck what is the remedy provided in the Bill? The remedy is a further assessment, which would make a bankrupt industry still more bankrupt.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
In times of trouble, as in 1931, there were a great many industries verging on bankruptcy. My hon. Friend knows the case of Beardmore's, with which he was actively associated. An industry of that sort, when verging on the line between solvency and insolvency, might well be adversely affected by such a Bill as this. The only remedy provided here is a still 1238 further charge and it is the duty of the Board to impose that charge. The Act which was brought into force in Ontario not only had to deal with far fewer workers, but also had to deal with one unit. It had not to deal with countries that had different legal systems. Opinion on that Act in Ontario is divided. Some people think that it has been successful, and others that it has not. Assuming that it has worked there, that is not to say that it will work where conditions differ so much and where there are two distinct countries with different ideas, different legal systems and different conditions of industry.
I do not want to make an appeal to this House as a lawyer. I am not supporting this Amendment for any interests that I have, but I do think that if we allow the principles upon which our ideas are founded to be altered in any way to their detriment, we are doing something which as a House we ought not to do; and although I would welcome some further inquiry into the conditions of those who claim workmen's compensation, I do not think that it ought to be done in this way. There is the Stewart Committee which has been set up by the Department and which is represented on the Front Bench by the Under-Secretary of the Home Office. That Departmental Committee has been set up and has not yet reported. I would welcome a statement from him as to how far matters have progressed and whether the Committee is likely to submit its report shortly. I would also welcome a statement from him—a statement which, I think, he will give the House—that, should the Committee report upon some of the grievances mentioned by my hon. Friends opposite, which obviously call for a remedy, steps will be taken by the Government to see that those anomalies are put right.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Mr. ALLAN CHAPMAN
I beg to second the Amendment which has been so eloquently and ably moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh North (Mr. Erskine Hill). I would like immediately to assure the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) that I will not bother him with legal quibbles, for the simple reason that, although I happen to have fallen among lawyers, I am not a lawyer 1239 myself. There is a great deal in this Bill with which I am in sympathy, and I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Maryhill, as well as the hon. Member for Rhondda East (Mr. Mainwaring) that the allowances for compensation are too small. I see broken miners in my own constituency, and I know to some extent what they get. I have no hesitation in saying that those rates should be raised and that I would support any reasonable measure. There is a great deal more in the Bill which appeals to me, such as the schedule—not unreservedly but in general—and the preventive ideas against accidents. I think something could be done in that way. The toll in the mining industry is tragic, and every possible step should be taken to ease things. I have complete sympathy with the ideal which prompts this Bill, and for that reason I regret all the more that hon. Gentlemen opposite did not bring it forward in a form which one could support.
The objections to the Bill which I have to put forward are not in support of employers, as employers, but as citizens who seem to be in great danger of being placed under an injustice. The real solution probably lies between the extremes of the present Compensation Acts and the Bill which hon. Gentlemen opposite have brought forward. I realise that there are fundamental differences of principle in the latter. I do not know sufficient about the legal aspect of the matter to be able to deal, for instance, with the terms by which a workmen is defined, which obviously affect the doctrine of indemnity, etc.; but my main objections may be summed up as follow.
In the first place, as my hon. and learned Friend pointed out, the Bill would place an unknown and, as far as I can gather, an unlimited charge upon industry. Industry ought to be able to carry reasonable burdens, but under this Bill those burdens would be unspecified and unlimited. Secondly, it appears that it would infringe the right of the subject in the matter of appeal and other things. Thirdly, it seems to me that it would weaken Parliamentary control almost to vanishing point. Fourthly—and this is an interesting point—during the whole of the previous Debates on this matter and in the very able speeches 1240 to which we have listened from the proposers of this Bill, no suggestion has been made or estimate given as to the probable cost. When one is bringing forward a Bill of such a revolutionary character, surely there has been behind it that degree of research which would enable hon. Gentlemen opposite to say what they think would be the cost to industry. It is because they are not able to give any indication as to the charge that is likely to be made on the industry that I find this Bill very much lacking.
I stated that it was my considered opinion, after viewing all the circumstances of the Board's powers, that by the Board's operation the employers would have less of a burden through the operation of this Bill than they have at the present moment with their surplus premiums to insurance companies and their high fees to legal authorities engaged in protecting them.
§ Mr. CHAPMAN
I am obliged to the hon. Member for his intervention, but I would like to know whether his opinion is based on figures and facts which have been arrived at as a result of research into the matter, or whether it is a general impression.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
I think we can speak definitely for half of the trade unions in the country, and say that on the basis of their experience they are all convinced that by this method the total cost imposed on industry would actually be reduced.
§ Mr. CHAPMAN
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that explanation, and I wish that light had been thrown on the matter earlier in the Debate. I do not accept without reservation the assumptions of the two hon. Members who have interposed, for the simple reason that it is obviously a matter which both sides would have to investigate. I would, however, point out that in all the Debates on this and similar Bills there have been very few references, if any, to the cost from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Finally, I am not sure that in some respects—in its principal respect, yes, but in minor respects, no—the Bill would achieve the ends desired. I will deal with that matter in a minute or two. With regard to the short title, from our point of view it requires lengthening, because not only 1241 is it a Workmen's Compensation Bill, but it might also be described as an Employers' unlimited liability Bill.
§ Mr. CHAPMAN
I do not intend to argue with legal Gentlemen on the other side of the House. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman realises, with most other hon. Members present, that I was using that phrase to define an unknown quantity which would suddenly be lumped at the employer. If the technical expression is not correctly legal or not within the meaning of the Act—to use one of the hon. and learned Gentleman's own phrases—I think he will at least understand the general drift of what I am aiming at.
I will not go into details on the very important question of the assessment, because my hon. and learned Friend dealt with it adequately; but it seems to me that under the Bill one employer could have anything up to seven separate assessments made upon him for the purposes of the compensation fund. That, of course, would include the annual assessment, the assessment for hazard, and five others. There seems to be no reason why the whole of those assessments should not fall on one employer in given circumstances. Naturally, the chances of that would be limited, but it is probable that two, three or four might fall on a number of employers. That is not the whole story. There is the method of assessment. To take a percentage on the pay-roll as a basis where it is possible to present the pay-roll is understandable, and definite assessments could be made; but what about the unhappy employer who has to be assessed specifically—in other words, who is at the mercy of the board—who cannot produce any definite data, or very little data, upon which an assessment can be made? It seems to me that he would be completely and utterly at the guesswork of the board. Let hon. Members opposite consider this. Suppose that members of a trade union who paid a levy were suddenly informed that they might become liable to six other different assessments in varying circumstances. Suppose that the trade union said to them, "We cannot tell you what the amount of these assessments will be or 1242 when they will be imposed. That will depend on circumstances but you will be liable to these six unknown and unspecified assessments." I think the members of that union would be a little unhappy about the unknown quantity of these commitments.
I sympathise with the motive of the Bill. I think the workman wants greater protection but I think the Bill goes too far in protecting the workman and not offering any counterbalancing safeguard to the employer. I do not propose to go into the question of cost. I think the cost of compensation averages just under £6,000,000 a year. If you increase the assessments unreasonably, that enormous sum will go up rapidly and from previous debates on this subject I have come to the conclusion that under these proposals the cost of compensation to industry might be anything from twice to seven times the present cost. I do not offer those figures as being accurate or as anything on which we can build with certainty, but if hon. Members read previous Debates they will find there cases cited in which assessments would go up to twice the present amount, and in one case at least to seven times the present amount. There is clearly a large unknown area in the Bill in which there can be an increase in the amount chargeable to industry.
I pass to the point—regarding the employer as an individual citizen—namely, that the Bill infringes the right of the subject. One of our most treasured possessions is the right of appeal to the highest court in the land, and a fundamental weakness of the Bill is that the employer is debarred, as far as one can gather, from making an actual appeal. If I have overlooked any provision in the Bill which proves me to be wrong in that conclusion, I should be glad to have it pointed out to me, but I have read the Bill through two or three times and I cannot find any reference to the employer having a right of appeal. I find that the workman has an automatic right to go to the local committee, and, if the committee approves, he may go to the central Board. I find also that the workman may be represented by his trade union but I cannot find any reference to employers' organisations being allowed to represent employers. There is a great difference between an inherent right and 1243 a discretionary power. The workman appears to have an inherent right to be present, whereas the employer can only be there if he is summoned.
The Board itself would seem to be a regular Pooh-Bah of a board and I am rather thankful that I have not the necessary qualifications to serve upon it. It is to be judge, jury, assessor, court of appeal, guardian of orphans, factory and mines inspection department, and one or two other- things which I need not trouble to specify, and that sounds remarkably like a full day's work. I feel sure that from the point of view of organisation it would transpire that the area committees, and in particular the central Committee, had far more to do than could humanly be managed. That is a serious weakness of the proposed organisation.
Then there is the point about giving the Compensation Board the powers of a high court judge to summon witnesses and take evidence on oath. I am not a lawyer, but I hope that the ordinary rules of evidence would operate in that case, and I would ask, then, what about the inspector under the Board? Clause 31 provides that the officer who is carrying out an inquiry on behalf of the Board is to be vested with the same powers as the Board, but whereas the chairman of the Board is to be a lawyer, who presumably would know the rules of evidence, I can find no definite statement to the effect that this deputy is to be a lawyer. Are we to have a layman operating powers normally reserved to a high court judge? I should like to hear something from the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) on that point.
This power of arbitrary assessment by the Board is unique. I have tried to find the parallel case of a body with powers delegated from Parliament which also has powers of individual assessment such as those proposed in the Bill, but I cannot find one. The London Passenger Transport Board for instance, are limited in the amount which they may assess on passengers, both by economic price of tickets and, I imagine, by the schedule of the Traffic Commissioners. The Import Duties Advisory Committee does not make any specific individual assessments and in any case the right to impose duties was the out- 1244 come of a definite mandate. If a mandate were sought for this Bill, I think the points which I have mentioned as to the right of appeal and the infringement of the right of the subject would prejudice it very much. Again, in the case of the Import Duties Advisory Committee the Orders are laid on the Table and we have to approve of them.
§ Mr. CHAPMAN
Yes, but the fact remains we have to approve it. In the case of the Compensation Board, I cannot find that we can do anything except refer to the London Gazette or the Edinburgh Gazette and how many hon. Members are likely to be readers of either the London Gazette or the Edinburgh Gazette? Some of us may look at those publications in the normal course of business but I do not think that we make them our Sunday reading, as a rule—at least I am certain that I do not. We have the fullest discussion in the House on Import Duties Orders and only last night a great many hon. Members were on the tiles as it were—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—not in the sense that hon. Members opposite mean—surrounded by rubber hot-water bottles and brandishing skinning knives at my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade over Import Duties Orders. There was a full and frank discussion which kept many of us here longer than we desired. If we could have that sort of thing in the case of the Compensation Board there would be more to be said for it. In the debate in 1933 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who is a legal luminary, dealing with this very point said:Hon. Members say: 'There is no control by Parliament.' We are perfectly willing to insert in this Bill a complete control by the Home Office over the matter if they wish it, so that the Home Secretary can be questioned on every action of the Board. It would not alter the principle which is that of taking the matter out of competition between insurance companies and out of the area of private profit".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1933; col. 591, Vol. 274.]If so distinguished a legal light on the other side was prepared to make that concession, I do not understand why on this occasion no effort was made to bring the Compensation Board more closely under the control of Parliament when 1245 to have done so, would have washed out many of the objections raised on this side to the Bill.
§ Mr. JAMES GRIFFITHS
We shall be prepared to introduce a provision of that kind, if hon. Members opposite undertake on their part that they will then accept the Bill.
§ Mr. CHAPMAN
The hon. Member asks me to give him a firm undertaking. If the Bill were modified in a great many other ways as well, I might be prepared to consider its acceptance, but this is only one of my objections to it.
The Board is a law unto itself. Indeed a good title for its chairman would be that of Commissar of Compensation because this Board has such extraordinary arbitrary powers. It seems to me that while it is admitted that there may be some injustice upon workmen at the present time, in view of the working of our present Compensation Acts, that does not make it right to bring in a Bill which will perpetrate injustices upon employers, and it is on those grounds, not on the ideals behind the Bill, that I must support the Amendment for its rejection.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ Mr. FOOT
The most considerable objection that has yet been raised to this Bill came not from either of the speeches which we have heard against it but from the interruption from the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood). It is obvious that it would be an entirely unworkable scheme to have an English Board sitting in London with jurisdiction over all compensation cases in Scotland, and it indicates that if the two front Benches changed places at some time in the near future, and we again had a Labour Government, the claims of Scotland would receive no more consideration from them than they did from their predecessors. There is no doubt that in bringing forward this Bill at this time hon. Members above the gangway are putting into practice the principles of the Bill, because it is provided in one Clause that the Board may at any time rescind or alter a previous decision, and now they are asking both the House of Commons and the Government to rescind or alter decisions which they came to only a few months ago. Why? What 1246 change of circumstances has there been? The Government have not lost a by-election during the last few months, and, so far as I know, the electors of Fulham have not ventured any particular opinion on this question, so I cannot see any good reason why either the Government or the House should be expected to reverse the decisions that they came to a month or two ago.
It seems to me that the observations of the last speaker were not directed at the aims of the Bill at all but were directed at its machinery, and in my view it is rather unfortunate that hon. Members bringing forward the Bill again after such a short time should have made no attempt at all to meet the criticisms which were levelled against it on the last occasion. With the proposition that the law of workmen's compensation is in need of drastic amendment I entirely agree, and not only the law of workmen's compensation, but many aspects of the law of employers' liability as well. In this respect I see that hon. Members above the gangway are again bringing forward, later in this Session, a Bill to abolish the doctrine of common employment, and on that occasion I shall be very glad to give them my support.
I do not take the attitude which I do on this Bill with any desire to resist reform of the law of workmen's compensation. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill said he wanted, firstly, a higher rate of compensation and, secondly, a wider scope for the compensation law. Again I entirely agree, and if it be true that by nationalising workmen's compensation—because that is what it amounts to—by making it a social service instead of a form of voluntary insurance, as it is now, if by those methods we can pay substantially higher rates of compensation without putting any heavier burden on the industries of the country, I am bound to say that I think the case for nationalisation is made out. If hon. Members had confined themselves to bringing forward Part I of this Bill, I would certainly have gone into the Lobby to give it a Second Reading. I hope that we shall have some information from the Under-Secretary of State when he speaks to-day as to when we may expect the report of the committee of inquiry into these 1247 matters to which he referred the last time we discussed this Bill.
The same feature which struck me on the last occasion has been very noticeable about this, and that is that although we have had most eloquent and well-informed speeches from above the Gangway about the deficiencies of the law of workmen's compensation, there has been scarcely a single reference in the speech of the mover or of the seconder to the machinery which is included in Part II. There are some cases in which we must take the line that the cure proposed is worse perhaps than the disease, and I think that this is one of those cases. In the first place, there was the question that was raised by the hon. Member who spoke last when he pointed out that here was to be a new social service, because that is what is proposed in effect, and yet under this Bill there will be no Minister to answer for this service in this House. I was glad to hear—I had not known of it before—that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) is at any rate prepared to make a concession on that point, and I rather wonder why a concession of that nature has not been included in the Bill.
When we were discussing the Unemployment Act, 1934, the main criticism which many of us made was that here was a new social service affecting many hundreds of thousands of people, and yet it was to be put into the hands of an irresponsible Board, with no Minister to answer for it here in this House. The two cases are precisely parallel. In each case you have a service intimately affecting a large number of people, and there is no reason why the same principle which hon. Members apply in the one case should not also be applied in the other.
The Board that is to be set up is to have two capacities, administrative and judicial. In the first place, it is to levy contributions on all the employers of the country and to administer the fund to which those contributions are made, and, secondly, it is to act as a court of appeal from the local committees. That in itself seems to me to be rather an odd position. You are setting up a Board which is to be the custodian of the fund and at the same time it will have to hear appeals from people who want to draw from that fund. It means that in 1248 effect you will make the Board the judge in its own cause. There will be no impartial authority as between the people who have to pay the money and the claimants who want to receive it.
The main objection to the Bill is found in Clause 29, which provides that the Board shall have exclusive jurisdiction, that its actions or decisions shall be final and conclusive, and not open to question, that no proceedings shall lie to remove its proceedings into any court or to restrain it in any way. All that can be summed up in one short sentence. This Board is to be above the law, and it is amazing to me that hon. Members above the Gangway should come forward with a proposition of this kind. After all, it is not a new question in our history, for as long ago as the 17th century we had a civil war in this country, and later in that century we had a revolution, because the Stuart Kings claimed to be above the law. We were not prepared to concede the principle on that occasion, but hon. Members above the Gangway are quite prepared to concede it now to this bureaucratic Board.
Let them conceive for a moment some of the consequences that may arise from this Board. Nothing that the Board does can be called in question in any way in any court. To take an extreme example, suppose the members of the Board were to decide to misappropriate the funds and passed a resolution to that effect. Suppose they were to put the funds into their own pockets. I am not saying that it would be likely to happen, but if it did you could not stop them under this Bill. There is no court to which you could go as long as they purported to act in pursuance of this Measure. Let hon. Members look at Clause 26 and compare it with this Clause. It says:The members of the Board shall sit at such times and conduct their proceedings in such manner ass they may deem most convenient for the proper discharge and speedy dispatch of business, subject always to the provisions of this Act and of Regulations made under this Act.Why are the last few words put in? Such words in a Measure like this are sheer surplusage and do not mean anything at all, because there is no machinery, once this Measure is passed into law, by which anyone can compel the Board to observe the provisions of the Bill or any regulations made under it.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
Does the hon. Member suggest that in the circumstances mentioned by him of misappropriation of funds, no individual employer who is called upon to make contributions would have the right of claim to relief?
§ Mr. CASSELLS
But at common law Mould not the employer who is called upon to make contributions have the right to claim relief in a court of law, apart from this Bill altogether?
§ Mr. FOOT
I do not think that the employer or anyone else would shave any right at all against this Board. It is absolute once it is established, and it is impossible to call its proceedings in question in any way. I do not want to weary hon. Members by repeating arguments which I used on the last occasion, but may I remind them of a recent case in the courts to show what I mean. There was recently a case in which the Milk Marketing Board imposed a fine on a milk retailer. He challenged the proceedings of the Board in the Divisional Court on the ground, among others, that he had not been properly heard in his own defence. The Divisional Court inquired into the mater and found that it was true that he had not had a proper opportunity of making his case heard before the Milk Marketing Board. They proceeded to quash the proceedings of the Board because they said that proceedings of this kind, where a man was not heard in his own defence, were contrary to every principle and canon of justice. I think that hon. Members above the Gangway will agree with that, but it could not have been done if there had been any provision of this kind in the Agricultural Marketing Act. Suppose a man is not properly heard in support of his own defence before this Board, no proceedings of that kind would lie; and none of the prerogative writs would apply to this body because none of its proceedings could be called in question in any way.
1250 would remind the House that when this question of what is called the supervisory jurisdiction of the High Court over the various tribunals that are set up by Statute from time to time was considered by the Committee on Ministers' Powers, on which the party above the gangway was strongly represented, it unanimously recommended that that jurisdiction of the High Court should be vigilantly maintained. The Bill goes on to give the Board power to levy contributions on employers. As has been pointed out, there is no right of appeal against any decision they may make as to contributions. I should have thought that one of the oldest constitutional principles in this country, dating, at any rate, from the Petition of Right in 1627, is that taxation should not be imposed without Parliamentary consent.
Under the machinery for claims suggested here the claim is to be settled by a compensation officer, and from him the appeal lies to the local committee under Clause 61. If the local committee turns down the claim, it is provided that the appeal lies from the committee to the Board. The exact words are important—In any case in which a claimant is dissatisfied with the decision of the local committee, any association of employed persons of which the claimant is a member or, with the consent of the local committee, the claimant himself may appeal to the Board.There is no right of appeal there. You either get leave from the committee or it goes through the association of employed persons. If a man is not a member of an association of employed persons he has no right at all to appeal from the local committee. I think that that is one of the most unjust provisions I have ever seen in any Bill introduced by a private Member. I know that it will be said that this provision occurs in the Unemployment Insurance Act. I do not agree with it there, but, after all, a claim to unemployment benefit is not such an important matter as a claim for workmen's compensation. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), during our Debates a few months ago on the Unemployment Regulations, raised the question of workmen's compensation with reference to those Regulations. He eloquently described the position of a man who might be almost entirely incapacitated by some industrial accident. Take some such case of a man who has 1251 received an injury which may last for the whole of his life. His whole future, at any rate, so far as his financial position is concerned, will depend upon the outcome of his proceedings under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. What will happen under this Bill? Suppose he is not a member of an Association of employed persons. There are many thousands of workmen subject to the Acts who are not members of trade unions. It may be foolish, but the fact exists.
Suppose a man receives some considerable injury, such as that which was described a few months ago by the hon. Member for Llanelly, and his claim is turned down by the compensation officer and by the local committee, which refuses leave to appeal, After that the man cannot proceed any further. He gets no compensation, and he has no right of appeal simply because he is not a member of an association of employed persons. Yet his whole future, his financial position and the comfort of his family may depend on the outcome of these proceedings. It is provided that the appeal shall lie from the committee to the board, and the board will sit with one of its employer representatives and a representative of the trade unions as a court of appeal, but there is no provision, that I can see, that the applicant, or anyone on his behalf, need be heard before that court of appeal. It is provided in an earlier Clause, Clause 31, I think, that the board may act upon the report of any of its officers, and any inquiry which may be deemed necessary may be made by one of the members of the board, or an officer of the board, or some other person appointed to make the inquiry, and the person appointed to make the inquiry will have all the powers of the board for that purpose.
I may be misapprehending what the authors of this Measure have in mind, but there is nothing to prevent the Board from proceeding by that form of delegation in the matter of appeals, nothing which says that the appellant mint be heard by the appeal committee, or that anyone who represents him, whether a member of the legal profession or not, must be heard, nothing which says that he may make written representations to the Board. The Board 1252 might, in the case of appeals, as in other cases, proceed upon some report received from an officer who might be unknown to the appellant. Possibly the appellant would not see his report or know what was in it, would not have a chance of answering it or cross-examining the man who made the report, and yet, on that sort of evidence, his claim for compensation might be dismissed.
I think I have made as clear as I can the grounds upon which I think that this is not a good Bill. I suggest to hon. Members above the Gangway that if they come into office in the near future and are really going to establish the sort of principles contained in Part II of the Bill, a great deal of our statute law will first have to be amended. They will have to start by amending Magna Carta, which in future will read:We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man, either justice or right, provided always that he is a member of an association of employed persons.They will have to move on to the Petition of Right, presented by this House in 1627, and the Petition of Right will in future read:Your subjects have inherited this freedom, that they should not be compelled to contribute to any tax, tillage, aid or any other like charge not set by common consent in Parliament, unless it be imposed by the Workmen's Compensation Board,or any other bureaucratic body set up in future by Labour Governments. The hon. Member who seconded this Bill appealed to hon. Members in all parts of the House not to raise what he called clever legal arguments. I would ask him and other hon. Members to believe that the points I have been trying to put are not mere technicalities. They raise some of the biggest issues in our public life. All of us in our speeches up and down the country refer nowadays, I suppose, to the degree of political freedom we have obtained in this country, and draw the contrast with other countries, and particularly with the totalitarian States. After all, our political freedom, such as it is, is not entirely due to our sterling moral qualities, which are referred to so frequently at Mansion House banquets, but is due in a very great degree to the fact that we have managed to establish and preserve certain safeguards and very valuable safeguards for the rights 1253 of the ordinary individual citizen. One of them is that there shall be no taxation without the consent of Parliament; secondly, that no man or no organisation shall be above the law; thirdly, that there shall be equality before the law; and, fourthly, that no man shall be allowed to be a judge in his own cause. Those are just a few.
I know that hon. Members above the Gangway, and those particularly who sponsor this Bill, are genuinely anxious to improve not only workmen's compensation but a great many other services, and are quite genuinely anxious, as many of us are in other parts of the House, to give to the mass of the people a greater degree of economic security than they now possess. But I would ask them, Is it really necessary in order to obtain those economic benefits to start out by destroying, or at any rate very largely destroying, the safeguards for political rights and political freedom which we have built up with so much difficulty and after so many centuries? I do not believe it is necessary to make those sacrifices, and for that reason I cannot support the Bill.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. ROWSON
I think it is appropriate after what we have listened to this morning that someone representing an English constituency should say a word. Until now it has been the views of Wales and Scotland that we have heard. There is a great deal to reply to in what has been said by speakers opposite and by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). I am always interested when anyone bearing his family name speaks here, because we are certain to be regaled with something about the 16th and 17th centuries.
§ Mr. ROWSON
But somehow we always get back to the period I have mentioned. I will leave the hon. Member's points to be dealt with by the legal representatives on this side, but in my view the human aspect of the case, as put in this House this morning has not been touched by anyone who has spoken against the Bill. All their arguments have been directed against the machinery of the Bill, without a single word being 1254 said about the poor individual who has to suffer under the present law. The hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) made the usual point that when the Labour Government were in office between 1929 and 1931 they did not introduce a Measure of this kind. I am beginning to feel that political history in this country began between 1929 and 1931. There does not seem to have been anybody in the House prior to or since that date. I was in the House at that time and, with others, I attempted to amend the Workmen's Compensation Act, and we got some support from the Liberal Benches, but the difficulty then was exactly the same as is experienced to-day. You do not find employers on that side against trade union representatives on this side of the House, when workmen's compensation is raised; it is a lawyer's holiday. You have trade union and Labour representatives battling with K.Cs. and barristers-at-law, and so forth.
I would also remind those hon. Members who twit us with what happened in the period 1929–31, that we tried to amend Section 9 of the present workmen's compensation law. On this side of the House there was, at that time, among the opposition to the Labour Government, two learned Gentleman who are at present county-court judges. Talk about getting a Bill of this kind through the House: we had to mutilate and emasculate the Bill which we introduced to amend even that small Section. One hon. Member who is sitting as a county-court judge told me quite straight: "You can argue, you can plead and you can talk, but you will never get that Bill through in its present form," and we had to amend it accordingly. An hon. Member for one of the Middlesbrough constituencies pleaded with us to allow it to go through in that form. It has never given satisfaction, and it has provided the lawyers with ample fees for arguing in the courts of law what that Section means at the present time.
It is said by many people that the lawyers have a vested interest in this thing and want to retain the existing law. I do not want to say that, but if hon. Members are as sincere as they pretend to be about amending workmen's compensation law they should have made an attempt to introduce an amending 1255 Bill of some kind. If the Amendment that is standing in the names of hon. Members this morning had contained words to leave out certain Clauses, particularly the one referring to the compensation board, I should not have doubted their sincerity and their desire to amend the law for the benefit of the injured workman, but their amendment is always to reject it. All through the history of this agitation to improve workmen's compensation, that has been the attitude of the party opposite.
§ Mr. ROWSON
A good deal has been said this morning about the right of appeal under the Bill, and about litigants not being able to go any further. I would ask the hon. Member for Dundee and the lawyers upon the other side whether there are no circumstances under the present law when the workmen and the employers have no right of appeal? Are there no such circumstances, when there is an agreed reference to a medical referee? Even when there is application to the court, and the county-court judge has directed that the case shall be submitted to a medical referee for decision as to whether the workman is suffering from the effects of an accident, and the medical referee gives a decision one way or the other, is not that decision final and conclusive? Every legal representative in this House knows that that is true. It does not matter what their rights are at common-law, the parties have no right of appeal. We have tried to upset the decision of the medical referee and we know the cost and the result. You cannot upset the decision of a medical referee. There is machinery in the Bill for improving that position. We are not satisfied that the medical referee is always the most competent person to decide, in a case like that; nevertheless the medical representative has the right to decide a matter which is of great importance to the future of the workman. He may be competent or incompetent, prejudiced or fair, but he has the destiny of the parties in his 1256 hands, and there is, under the existing law, no right of appeal against his decision.
Another point which has been raised by the objectors to the Bill concerns the levy of premiums. I do not know whether those who oppose the Bill on that ground have had experience with colliery companies and other business concerns, but I wonder what the levy is upon such firms by the insurance companies. That is a feature of workmen's compensation machinery which I do not like. Where groups of firms form indemnity associations they can keep in touch with the industry and with the industrial representatives, managers and so forth, but it is often a question whether the human factor comes into the matter at all. The employer is told that for a certain premium on the wages Bill he can be insured against the risks of workmen's compensation. When a case is reported to you, as trade union representative, and you want to put in a claim for compensation, you send it to the colliery company, or whatever may be the nature of the business. What is done? Straightway the claim is sent to an insurance company, and the employer drops out of it altogether. You are dealing then with somebody who is not concerned about the workman, his welfare or his future, and who only wants to pay as little as possible to him.
I have been dealing, while I have been a Member of this House, with a colliery company more than 15 miles from Liverpool. I have never had to go to the colliery, but to Liverpool, to deal with the case in an insurance company's office. Hon. Members talk about appealing, and the right of appeal; very often when I get to that office I am told, under the cumbersome machinery of the present time: "We shall have to wait until we have sent this to the head office in London. Then we will let you know our decision." Nothing is said by hon. Members who criticise the Bill about the existing machinery of compensation law, which is cumbersome, stodgy, sticky, muddle-headed and unfair in the way it applies to the workmen. The hon. Member for Dundee was speaking of the rights of the individual workman who is not a member of a trade union. We have seen some of those poor, foolish 1257 men and women. I would like to tell hon. Members that very often, particularly in the mining industry, we get the case of a non-unionist, who comes to us when in trouble, and that we generally take up the case, on the understanding that no financial responsibility is involved. By the force of the organisation we can usually get the rights to which they are entitled. We have done it in scores of cases. The applicants have been very foolish for not being in the organisation, because as individuals they cannot stand up to the costs which the hon. Member's profession would demand of them.
§ Mr. ROWSON
I will leave that point to be cleared up by one of my legal colleagues. Let me put another point to hon. Members opposite about the existing machinery which they talk about as being so smooth and nice in its working. I could give them cases galore—quite straightforward cases—of claims for compensation, sent first of all to the colliery company and then to the insurance company, in which all you get back is this:We beg to acknowledge receipt of the claim on behalf of So-and-so, which will be attended to, and we will write you again in due course.Then you go on, waiting, writing again, asking again, and all the time they are saying, if they write at all, that the workman must prove his case. Very often in the meantime he has to get Poor Law relief. The present machinery, according to hon. Members opposite, may not be the best that could be devised by the mind of man. If it is not, why cannot they assist us in getting a Bill like this through its Second Reading? Then, if there is substance in the points that have been made—and I admit that there is some substance in some of the points that have been made about the Board this morning—hon. Members, if they were genuine in their desire to amend the Workmen's Compensation law, could assist us in amending the Bill when it reaches its Committee stage.
1258 I could say a lot about the Clauses of the Bill and the improvement which they show as against the present law. For instance, I am particularly pleased with Clause 7. The hon. Member for Dundee and others have spoken with regard to Clauses 7 and 8, the latter of which determines the amount of compensation and so forth. That is the matter which really concerns us—the amount of money that is going to be put into the hands of the victims of accidents. Clause 7 deals with the case of a person who is killed by an accident. There is need for drastic amendment of the existing law in regard to fatal cases. The weekly allowance proposed in the Bill I would commend to anyone. It is all right to lay down a limit, which some say should be £200, some £300, or, in the case of a widow with small children below the age of 15, £600, and so on, but there comes a time when the workmen's compensation is exhausted, and still the widow is there; and I think that, so long as she remains a widow, it is much better that she should have a guaranteed income so long as she remains a widow. I think, also, that the allowances for children ought to be increased, though I am bound to admit, when it comes to argument in this House, that, while the compensation is there and the widow's pension is granted, there is not the hardship that there used to be before that Act was passed.
There is a point here that I think should be considered by the House—the point of dependency determining the amount of compensation, and the way in which the extent of dependency is arrived at. I know that the circumstances just at the time when the husband or father is killed are taken into consideration, but I know also that many widows may have had some temporary work just at that time. For instance, I know of one particular case where a man had been unemployed for some considerable time, and during his unemployment his wife got work in a cotton mill. Then he got work in the pit again, but his wife wanted to remain for a month or two in the cotton mill, in order to pay debts and get them back on to their feet again. Unfortunately, the husband was killed while she was employed. The amount of compensation is limited and cut down by the insurance companies to the last possible penny, and, in a case like that, I submit that the law ought to include 1259 machinery whereby, if the widow ceased to work, her payment, whatever it might be under the Act, should be given to her in consequence of the loss of her husband's life.
There is so much to be said on this Bill that one could go on talking for an hour or more, but I will pass over some of the Clauses and come to Clause 72, which deals with industrial diseases. The present law specially needs amendment in regard to industrial diseases. I wish that the hon. Member for Dundee, in dealing with the various points that he put in regard to machinery and so forth, had levelled some criticism at the existing law. Let me put one particular case, which comes under Section 43 of the present Act. There is one particular paragraph that I would like to see abolished altogether, namely, paragraph (b) of Section 43 (1) (iii). This is particularly hard on miners who are suffer from nystagmus. It reads as follows:If it is proved that the workman has at the time of entering the employment wilfully and falsely represented himself in writing as not having previously suffered from the disease, compensation shall not be payable.I know that representatives of employers may say that there is nothing unfair in that, but you get men suffering from miner's nystagmus, who receive for varying periods full compensation on the basis of total icapacity, then, perhaps, unemployment pay for a period and partial compensation, and finally are sent to the medical referee and certified to have recovered from the effects of that industrial disease. When the medical referee certifies them to have totally recovered—and I would like to point out to the hon. Member for Dundee that this is where the question of freedom comes in—the man is deprived of his right to get employment in the industry again. One would believe that, if employers were fair-minded Englishmen, and if the doctor representing the employer and the medical referee under the Workmen's Compensation Act certified a man to have completely recovered from the effects of that industrial disease, then, if he had worked in the industry for a quarter of a century, as some of these men have, they would be genuine enough to reemploy him. But do they? Very few cases are taken back into that industry 1260 and these men are driven into a position where they find themselves unable to get employment in the industry in which they have been trained and brought up, and many of them are resorting to subterfuge in order to get into it again.
Under this Clause, if they wilfully and falsely represent in writing that they have not suffered from the disease and they get it later on, there is no compensation for them. In order to put the workman in an unsatisfactory position, employers have drawn up a declaration in legal phraseology and an applicant is asked to sign it. If he reads it carefully and will not sign it, there is no job for him. I have had a case where nystagmus had returned in nine months and this Clause was invoked. We went to the county court and claimed, not that the disease was contracted under the last employer, but was a recurrence of the disease contracted under the first company, and we lost on both counts. We lost on the question of fact and, if a judge rules on a question of fact, it is very little right of appeal that the workman has. I cannot believe that the opposition to these attempts to amending the Workmen's Compensation Act is based on the grounds put forward. I believe there is a definite objection, especially in the Conservative ranks, to any amendment of the Act along the lines that we desire. No objection has been raised to-day except to the machinery of the Bill. For the sake of the men and women who are suffering and cannot get adequate compensation, I think hon. Members ought to waive their objection to the machinery and let us have the Second Reading and amend the Bill in Committee on the lines that they suggest. They have the power, and they can do it when they choose.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. BULL
We should all welcome a Bill to settle some of the grievances that are felt at present, but we should not overlook the importance of not allowing an ill-considered measure to find its way on to the Statute Book. Any alteration of the law, particularly with regard to a Bill of this nature, must be very carefully and fully thought out and I am not quite convinced that that is the case here. The hon. Member who spoke last drew a picture of poor trade union officials battling with members of the bar as though they were lambs going to be shorn, but judging from their speeches 1261 and from what I know of trade union officials, I do not think they have any reason to feel timid. The mover of the Bill said he was sorry not to see the Minister of Mines present. I have been looking for an hour or more for him and the Seconder. I should have expected that such matters as lunch would not count when such an important measure was being discussed, and that the benches opposite would be packed, but for an hour past there have been no more than a bare baker's dozen. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about your own side?"] It is not our Bill. It is for hon. Members opposite to see that it goes through, and they are taking a strange way to get it.
We cannot always tell what the country thinks of this House, though we know that the opinions of our constituents as regards us, may vary from time to time, but I think we have a right to he proud of our judicial system, and a Measure that proposes to take claims away from the ordinary courts should be very carefully considered indeed. With regard to assessments, it seems to me that they may be entirely unlimited in amount and that at any time, without reference to anyone else, the Board may levy a further assessment. The assessment is made by a Board that meets in London and the employer need not be heard by it. Further, there is no right of appeal whatever. We all believe in fair play, and it does not seem to me that the Bill would necessarily be fair either to the workers or to the employers, in addition to which it might well be a further charge upon industry. The assessment might well involve an employer in more than he could afford to pay and so we should get an increase in unemployment. Reading the Debate on the Bill in 1933, I find that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Uxbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Llewellin) likened the Board to a Star Chamber Court. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) differed and there was a certain amount of discussion on the point but I do not think it was entirely cleared up. That, however, is the way it impresses me. We should be very careful not to create a fresh army of officials. Under this Bill, we would have the compensation officers, the local committee and this central Board. It seems to me that we would be going still further along 1262 the road towards totalitarian government. If we do this, we shall soon have the position that they have in Russia, with an aristocracy of officials living in comfortable circumstances and the workers toiling to support them. I would warn hon. Gentlemen opposite that although in a new regime of that sort some of them might be officials, yet they all, and their constituents as well, could not be. While, therefore, recognising the thought and the work which the Proposer and Seconder have put into this Bill, I find myself entirely unable to support it.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
As a member of the legal profession, I find my position rather difficult this morning in view of the many comments which have been passed, but I yet believe that it is quite possible at the present time to have embodied in the same body a lawyer and an honest man. It is from that point of view that I intend to canvass this particular subject. Reference has been made by various speakers to-day with regard to the remit by the Home Office to his Honour Judge Stewart dealing with the question of workmen's compensation. Personally, I would wish to express my thanks at being given the opportunity by the Home Office to appear before this particular committee to express my opinion with regard to whether or not certain changes are necessary, but I am always suspicious about these remits to committees, because, after all, for what purpose does the House of Commons exist? I will assume that we exist for the specific purpose of placing into operation the will of our particular constituents, and I take serious exception to any attempt on the part of the Government to shirk responsibility by remitting such serious matters as we have facing us to-day to a person who is not a member of this House. No doubt if this judgment comes out in favour of the Government, one may quite possibly find that the same situation will arise as has arisen in the past, namely, that there will be a state of stalemate, and nothing will be done.
I believe that I am justified in placing the consideration before the House that in my own country I have had a very considerable experience in so far as workmen's compensation is concerned, particularly in the inferior courts of Scotland, 1263 and I have not the slightest hesitation in stating that that experience clearly demonstrates that, with the law standing as it does at the present moment, justice is not meted out to the demands of the workers. I do not suggest, for example, that I am justified or in any way entitled to make that comment without placing relative facts and circumstances before this House to prove that conclusion, and that I intend so to do. Is there any need for change? I am perfectly satisfied from all that has been said on both sides of the House to-day that we are all of one opinion that there is a clamant need for change. Although the Members of the Government who have spoken up to the present time in connection with this matter, each and every one of them almost, admitted the clamant need for change, there has not been a cogent suggestion from any one of them to indicate what steps, if any, should be followed in order to meet the complaints which have been made.
In anything that I have to say I do not wish it to be construed as meaning that I am criticising our judges, because, after all, they are entitled to deal only with the Acts of Parliament as they present themselves from time to time. We are told that one of the salient points in the Workmen's Compensation Acts is that the procedure should be summary, meaning, I assume, that it should be expeditious, should not be hidebound by any tradition, and that the presiding judge should be entitled to say precisely what course should be followed. Are the Members of the Government aware that the procedure under the present Acts of Parliament is far from summary or being expeditious? If we take Scotland as an illustration—and I am pleased to see the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) is now ill his place—we have, to begin with, the case commencing in the Sheriff Court, with the right of appeal from there to the Court of Session, and with the right of appeal from the Court of Session to the House of Lords. These appeals occur quite frequently, and many of them are on questions of principle where the actual money involved is very small. Indeed, we have often found that these cases have dragged on for periods of anything up to two years. But what is happening to the poor 1264 workman during this time? He is not getting any award of compensation, and, as hon. Members on this side of the House have already stated, he is thrown upon the burden of public assistance. At the present time it is well known in law that, owing to the dragging out of these cases, a condition in medical science has arisen known as litigious neurosis, a neurasthenic condition due to the dragging out of these litigations.
I say with conviction and confidence that, if the Government accepted the principle embodied in this Bill, namely, the formulating of this particular Board to which reference has been made, all that holding back under the Workmen's Compensation Acts would never arise. I was intrigued during the last time that this matter was being discussed by an hon. and learned Member on the Government benches whom I see here to-day, who stated that, in his opinion, there was no need for this Board, in view of the fact that the law under the Workmen's Compensation Acts was almost a static quantity. That is far from the fact. It is well known that there is no more intricate, complex and difficult Act of Parliament to consider from the legal point of view than the Workmen's Compensation Acts. The scope and effect of the Workmen's Compensation Acts as far as case law is concerned are like the babbling brook—they will never terminate. One would be justified in supporting the inauguration of such a Board in order to obviate this unnecessary delay.
Let me consider the case from the point of view of expense. Are Government speakers aware of the expense which is entailed in fighting litigation under the Workmen's Compensation Acts? If they are, I am surprised at the attitude which they are adopting. I could place before this House case after case for its consideration dealing with the position from the financial point of view. It may be that hon. and learned Friends on the Government benches may say, "Why should you of all persons, a member of the legal profession, advocate a system almost to cut your own throat?" I and Members on this side of the House are prepared at all times to throw aside selfishness and selfish interests, and to look at these problems from the broad point of view and arrive at a decision as to what is best in the 1265 interests of the community as a whole. Take one case where the sum of compensation in dispute was between £10 and £11. That was a case fought by myself, lasting two days, and the workman succeeded, but the bill of taxed costs amounted to £84 odd. The sum in dispute was no more than £11 and yet the amount of expenses involved so far as the worker's agents were concerned was nearly £85, and that leaves out the expenses incurred by the employers.
A great deal has been said by the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh from the point of view of prejudice. I intend to canvass the position from that point of view. Let me put this question to him quite bluntly. Can it be said that under this new system the employers will be prejudiced? It is all very well for hon. and learned and hon. Members to state that from a hypothetical point of view they believe that the employers will be prejudiced, but before any hon. Member is entitled to say that he must place facts and circumstances before the House for consideration.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
How can one place facts and circumstances before the House when the thing has not been tried out? I said that I thought there would he prejudice to the employer, particularly on the ground of assessment. In a case of fact, when there is a probability, that is surely justification for bringing it before the House.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
It would appear that the hon. and learned Member is looking at this matter purely from the point of view of finance, and so far as the individual employer is concerned. He, apparently, has very little regard for the life of the individual workman. The points he made were these, that the imposition of an intolerable burden on industry would arise, and that the form of assessment would prove an intolerable burden on industry. I want to know what justification he has for saying that. Is he in the strong position of being able to say that the constitution of the board is biased? The amount of the assessment is to be determined at all times by the Board, and we find that the constitution of the board is that:One member of the board shall be a member of the legal profession, two members shall be appointed from nominees of the General Council of the Trades Union 1266 Congress, two members shall be appointed from nominees of employers' organisations and the remaining two members shall be appointed for their special knowledge of medicine and finance respectively.We find further, in Clause 20:The legal member of the board shall be appointed by His Majesty to be the chairman of the board and he shall hold that office while he remains a member of the board.I say with confidence that there is not the slightest justification in fact for the statement made by the hon. and learned Member. This is obviously a board in which there is a fair and proper representation of workmen's interests and employers' interests, and I trust that one may be entitled to say that we have sufficient faith in human nature to believe in the constitution of the board and that it would do justice not only to the workmen's interests, but to the employers' interests.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
What would the hon. Member's views be in regard to the board being in London instead of in Scotland? I should like him to face up to that.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
I am beginning to wonder whether the hon. and learned Member is a member of the Scottish National party, but I am concerned at the moment with the question he raises, because I have no doubt that that is a point which can be dealt with if and when this Bill becomes Statute law. Passing from that particular point, let me draw attention to the terms of the remit to his Honour Judge Stewart. There is no reference in the remit to the fundamental principle which we desire to establish in this Bill, namely, to take away workmen's compensation from the legal profession. The only references made to the committee are to deal with the questions of nystagmus, medical referees and lump sum payments. Does the Bill deal with the question of medical referees?
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. CASSELLS
The point to which I was referring when I was interrupted was with regard to medical referees. We find from the Bill that that question is dealt with in Clause 28, which says:No action shall lie for the recovery of compensation but all claims for compensa- 1267 tion shall be heard and determined by the board.That means that the board is accepting as its own particular responsibility the responsibility which meantime devolves upon medical referees. Are the Government satisfied, is the hon. and learned Member satisfied for a single moment with the system of medical referees as it exists at present? I assume that the medical referee is expected to be an individual who is completely unbiased and has no axe to grind in so far as the individual claimant is concerned, but we find that the system of medical referees is most harsh as far as the claims of workmen are concerned. I am not going to saddle the complete responsibility upon the medical referee. I believe the medical referee is on many occasions asked to sit in judgment on questions which in ordinary circumstances should devolve upon the judge.
Let me place one or two illustrations before the House for its consideration on this point. Is the House aware that in Scotland we have many cases of medical referees not only sitting as medical referees, but acting as medical advisers to insurance companies on behalf of employers? That is not only unfair to the medical referees, but it is also unfair to the workman and the employer. I can quote case after case. I can quote a case from the City of Edinburgh where a medical referee sits as medical referee for that particular area, and is repeatedly called upon by employers to examine workmen on behalf of employers. Such a system is absolutely unjust. Not many weeks ago I raised a question with the Home Secretary with regard to the medical referee in my own town of Falkirk. I asked whether he could give me information with regard to the number of examinations which this particular referee had carried out and the result of those examinations.
I was astonished to find that while the Home Secretary was prepared to supply me with information regarding the number of examinations, when it came to a question of the results of the examinations, my demand was stifled. I was asked why I wanted that information. There was, of course, only one reason, namely, to be able to test the bona fides or otherwise of that particular referee.
1268 So far as that particular referee is concerned I have known of cases within his jurisdiction—he is the only referee in the Falkirk district—in which he has been called upon to give testimony in the witness box on behalf of the employers. The presiding judge has had no medical referee to whom he can refer the matter, and when the case has been referred to an outside medical referee on at least two occasions he has jettisoned the opinion of the Falkirk referee. Assuming that there was no question of a referee going into the witness stand, assuming that an ex parte statement has been made to him by employers and employed, and he says that the workman has fully recovered, there is no appeal in law against that finding. On that point alone the present system is bad.
Take the position of certifying surgeons. There is no great difference between the responsibilities of certifying surgeons and medical referees. I have already pointed out one particular case in Dunfermline where a certifying surgeon under the Factory Acts was also employed by the employers. When I leave this Chamber I may be stopped in the Lobby by an hon. Member who may say that he knows this doctor, and that he is a decent chap. I am not concerned with that. What I am concerned with is that if a man is appointed to sit in judgment on workmen or employers he should be in a completely unbiased position.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
Does the hon. Member suggest that medical referees should put themselves out of business and not act either for the employers or the employed? If so they would have to be paid on a much higher scale.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
It should be made perfectly clear that to serve on the Workmen's Compensation Board is a whole-time job and that the members should have no axe to grind. I say that it should be a condition precedent to the appointment of a medical referee that he should neither act for the workmen nor for the employers in any circumstances. At the present time the medical referees themselves think that the situation is intolerable. I have a letter from a medical referee dated 9th November, 1936, in which he says:Personally I would like to see some sort of court of appeal to snake the referee's 1269 finding not necessarily the final word. Sometimes the responsibility of decision seems almost intolerable, and then a facile psychological refuge is found in one's own doubt.My own experience over 11 years has taught me that when it comes to a question of doubt, the doubt is not cast in the workman's favour. I have no hesitation in saying that.
I want to refer to miner's nystagmus and industrial diseases. This is a very vexed question. Section 43 of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1935, deals with it. A man contracting the disease of miner's nystagmus comes before the medical referee and is certified ultimately as fit for ordinary work. What happens? The employers apply to the court to end the compensation, and the judge, basing his decision on the medical referee's finding, has absolutely no discretion; he is compelled to end the compensation. What is the result? Without going back to the mine—it happens time without number—there is a return of the disease and a recurrence of incapacity arises. There is the judgment of Lord Thankerton in the case of McDougal v. Summerlee Iron Co., Ltd., in which the judge said quite specifically that once a man has suffered from miner's nystagmus, while he may be fit for ordinary work, there is in the future always the possibility of another attack without the man going back into the industry, and with the law as it is now if this man has another attack, his compensation having been ended, he has no right to further compensation. I am sure the hon. and learned Member opposite will agree that such a situation is intolerable. In conclusion, let me say that I do not think it can be said that this Bill is another attempt at class legislation. It is a bona fide and an honest effort to deal with a most vexed problem. It places the individual employer in no better position than the individual workman. It is expeditious, it will be cheap, and it is fair. This House as representing the people of this country will give, I hope, the Measure that proper consideration which, in my opinion, it merits.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ Mr. RAIKES
Many hon. Members on this side of the House appreciate the courteous and fair way in which the case for the Bill has been put forward and 1270 supported by hon. Members opposite. A great deal has been said as to the possible burden on industry which such a scheme as that suggested in Part II of the Bill may involve. One is justified in saying that if you raise the basis of compensation you are going to create a considerable increase in the burden, at any rate, there is a certainty that employers as a whole will expect an increase. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion in a very charming speech suggested that the present time is opportune for bringing forward this Measure because industry is improving. He rather suggested that if some additional burden were placed on industry, the best time to put such additional burden on was when the industry was actually improving. Anyhow, whether he said it or not there is a distinct feeling amongst many of us that up to the present the case for the Bill has not been proved and that it cannot lead to cheapness.
The great problem in industry to-day is the question of the distressed areas. I cannot go into that question in a Debate of this sort, except to say that the only way in which those black spots are going to be brought back to prosperity is by persuading industry to go back to such areas. There is a great responsibility on the Government to take steps in encouraging industry to go back; but it seems to me that if we pass a Measure of a character which may involve an increased burden on industry, at the very start we are slowing down and checking the likelihood of industries that are comparatively poor of taking the risk of going to the distressed areas. I say to hon. Members opposite that if I were considering a risk of that kind I should be rather inclined to hold my hand until those industries had been brought back to the distressed areas.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the depressed areas from the standpoint that the heavy burden of public assistance in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire and similar areas is largely on account of the high rates?
§ Mr. RAIKES
I could deal with that point if I were permitted, but I should be out of order. I appreciate the truth of it. I have come back from a visit to the depressed areas horrified by the things I have seen, and I appreciate the 1271 point that if you are to get industries back to the distressed areas the question of rates in those areas has to be tackled and tackled by Government assistance. Whatever you do, that is the first step. But industry might be prejudiced by the fact that it would have this burden placed on it by the Bill. Hon. Members opposite may disagree, but it is a view which many of us have and which Members of the Government probably have in their mind, that is to say, the possible increase of the burden on industry and particularly on heavy industry at this time.
There are one or two other matters on which I would like to make a passing criticism as one who is a sort of half-lawyer. I have become much more of a politician and less of a lawyer since I came into this House, and I find it difficult to combine the two professions with the skill and satisfaction that my hon. and learned Friend opposite has found possible. The first point which I think is a little unfair is in Clause 1 of the Bill, Sub-section (1) of which provides:If in any employment personal injury by accident occurring in connection with his employment is caused to a workman, his employer shall, subject as herein after mentioned, be liable to pay compensation in accordance with the provisions hereinafter contained:The change here is a. change of the old wording, which has always been used in compensation law:If in any employment personal injury by accident arising out of and in the course of his employment. …in those cases compensation can be paid. Now you substitute the words:occurring in connection with his employment.You are making it so wide that an employer is liable to pay compensation for the most extraneous causes. Suppose that a worker in his own time is doing something which could be remotely termed something to do with his employment, the employer has to pay damages. I will try to translate that for the benefit of the hon. and learned Member for South Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt).
§ Mr. RAIKES
I must apologise but "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Suppose that all of us in this House were injured under the lines of this compensation, that is to say suppose that we got injured in the course of our duties in this House and we were to be paid compensation by the State; then take the words of the Clause:injury by accident occurring in connection with his employment.Suppose that to-morrow I was in my own home reading the OFFICIAL REPORT, reading the report of a speech by the hon. and learned Member and that in the course of reading it I strolled absentmindedly down the stairs of my own house, took a slip, fell and injured myself. I am rather inclined to think that under this phraseology I should be justified in claiming compensation because indirectly, although in my own home, I should be pursuing what was strictly in the course of my duties in Parliament, that is, reading what the hon. and learned Gentleman had said in a volume prepared by Parliament itself. If you are going to drive compensation as far as that you are going to reach a position of absurdity.
I do not want to go Clause by Clause through the Bill, but there is a further point under Sub-section (3) of Clause 1 in which you have this very wide wording:An accident to a workman shall be deemed to arise in connection with his employment if it occurs while the workman is travelling to or from his place of work in, or is waiting for, any means of transport directly or indirectly provided by his employer, whether the workman pays for travelling therein or not.You are there bringing the scales down pretty heavily on one side. If a man is waiting for a bus which may be "transport directly or indirectly provided by his employer," in some circumstances he may get injured while so waiting and you are going to make the employer liable again. I honestly believe that if we are going to get workmen's compensation to work well we must not put the whole of the burden on one side and load the scales against the employer.
I close with a word with regard to the Board. There is no doubt at all that if you are to have a Board on the lines suggested, first of all you will get a con- 1273 siderable increase in litigation. There is a most delightful scheme here whereby all previous laws can be ignored. Therefore the Board can consider any complaint of any sort. I agree that to-day a certain amount of litigation is stopped and perhaps wrongly stopped, but at the same time I agree there is an immense number of completely frivolous cases which, in the ordinary way, are never brought up because the people who think of making the applications are advised by their legal advisers that it is completely impossible to do so. Under the new system proposed in the Bill, it would not be impossible. There would be no form of claim on which a man would be advised that he would have no chance of success, because the Board would have such wide powers that it could do a great deal more than Parliament itself in any ordinary sense. The result would be a great increase in litigation.
I do not suggest that the Board would try to do anything less than justice, but it would have extremely wide powers, and if it attempted to do justice there would be, I imagine, an increase of something like 90 per cent. a year in claims, possibly a quarter of which would be admitted, and the whole of the increase in litigation would have to be charged on the fund. Moreover, it would mean wiping out the County Courts and so on, and the appointment of a number of expert officers and committees in every area for the purpose of investigating appeals. It would amount to starting a new state within the State. Some hon. Members laughed when the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull) made some reference to the danger of a totalitarian state arising in this country. I would not perhaps go quite as far as my hon. Friend, but at the same time it is a tall order to set up over the Board a gentleman who would be to all intents and purposes outside Parliamentary control and who would have something like 16,000,000 people whose lives would be under his control so far as compensation is concerned. We would have a very considerable and probably rather expensive organisation behind him, and it would amount to having a state within the State. I think that until it is definitely proved that this scheme would not be a costly one to industry as a whole we should be ill-advised to set up such a state within the State, unless we had some idea that 1274 the Board would be really efficient and that the system would be a great deal better than the one which we have at the present time.
§ 2.27 p.m.
§ Mr. PRITT
As the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) said, all the speeches in this Debate have been made with great moderation to an attendance which, at any rate on the Government side, has also been one of great moderation. At one time its numbers were so swollen that it could almost have made up a cricket team. It was interesting to note that hon. Members opposite found themselves in a large measure of agreement with a great many of the things that are in the Bill, but the tragedy is that, when it is a question of legislation which affects the working classes, it takes about 60 or 70 years to get sympathy translated into legislation. The hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill), and other hon. Members, pointed out that if this Bill were passed it would be an intolerable burden. I have never yet heard of anything proposed in the interests of the working class that was not an intolerable burden. When it was proposed that we should abolish the practice of hanging people for stealing, it was explained that it would be an intolerable burden. When the Workmen's Compensation Act, which is now being defended by hon. Members opposite, was proposed, we were told that it would ruin British industry. When times are bad we are told that we must not ask for anything; and when it is alleged on the other side that times are a little better, the hon. Member for South-East Essex, with perfect sincerity and with a consistency the thoroughness of which perhaps even he does not understand, tells us that when there is a little prosperity lying about the working classes should not touch it for fear that it fades away and their condition becomes worse after than it was before.
A great deal has been said about the possible cost of this reform. The total cost of workmen's compensation to-day, as far as one can estimate, is about six days' dole to industry, and if it were doubled, it would only be about 12 days' dole to industry, which is paid, as we know, without a means test. Although it is a pity that neither side can give really reliable estimates, I suggest to the House that as compared with the enormous 1275 volume of unnecessary costs in connection with workmen's compensation to-day, there would be an enormous saving by introducing this measure. I suppose that now lawyers must draw the best part of £250,000 a year. County court judges, whose total cost to the country must be quite large—although we certainly get value for our money there—have to devote a quarter of their time to workmen's compensation. I suppose that a tenth of the time of the Court of Appeal in England and a quarter of the time of the House of Lords is devoted to it. Very large sums of money paid in public assistance would cease to be paid if the Bill became law.
It is probably true that if the Bill became law and the families of injured workmen were better nourished, the hospitals would have vacant beds occasionally. Large sums of money are paid to doctors yearly by insurance companies, employers and trade unions which would not have to be paid if the Bill became law. I think I am right in saying that of all the money that flows into the coffers of the insurance companies in connection with workmen's compensation, less than half goes out in expenses and payments. All that money, which mostly goes to classes which already have enough, could be far better devoted to the people who have to spend every penny with care with the result that every penny is spent in a more beneficial manner. It is true, of course, that more money would be paid out in compensation in this sense, that if the Bill became law no workman would be told, as hundreds are told to-day, that his claim is perfectly good but his employer is bankrupt. Twenty shillings in the pound would be paid on whatever ought to be paid.
Various hon. Members have referred to the inalienable right of the citizen to resort to the courts. That right is so inalienable that it is alienated with the utmost regularity by Acts of Parliament introduced by all Governments on every conceivable subject. It is, however, worth remembering, with regard to the Workmen's Compensation Act, that the original intention of the Act was always to keep the courts out. What we are seeking to do in this Bill is to achieve what every Workmen's Compensation Bill and Act has sought to achieve, but has 1276 failed to achieve. The courts of arbitration to-day remind us that it was always intended that there should be abitration.
I see in the Act of 1925 a provision which, I think, has been in every Workmen's Compensation Act for a number of years, that any question that may arise, if not settled by agreement—that being the first thing to be attempted—shall be settled by the arbitration of s representative committee, which is very like the proposal in this Bill, or by an arbitrator or by a county court judge. What happened, historically, was that employers—and you cannot blame them because they must be employers—realising that if they went to a representative committee or to an arbitrator appointed by agreement between the parties, they would meet with equal treatment, because neither side would be able to spend much money, soon discovered that there was a trick worth two or three of that. They proceeded then, as they were entitled to do, to refuse any form of decision except that of the county court. In the county court of course justice is open to all—exactly like the Ritz Hotel—but the employer could spend £2,000, while the workman could only look forward to the prospect that some day he might be 'able to spend £2,000. But with every desire of the courts to do justice between the parties, and with every desire of counsel for the workman, where counsel could be hired, to do his best for his client, with every ostensible equality between the parties, there is not anybody who has ever conducted a workman's compensation case who does not know that the balance is inevitably weighted in favour of the long purse. Parliament never intended that and no one with a fair mind ever desired it, but it is a commonplace of litigation every day, and what we are seeking to do by this Bill is to ensure that the original intention of all the Workmen's Compensation Acts shall be achieved, although, I agree, by very different machinery from that which has hitherto operated.
§ Sir JOHN WITHERS
Has the hon. and learned Gentleman entirely forgotten the provision which is made for helping poor persons in the courts?
§ Mr. PRITT
I am obliged for that interruption, because it reminds me that the hon. Member wrote a very insulting 1277 letter, when I sought to get his assistance for that sort of thing. Assistance for poor persons in the courts applies to 2¼ per cent. of the litigation of poor persons. It is, if I may say so, one of the greatest unconscious hyprocrisies of the age. It applies exclusively to the High Court, but this litigation to which I refer is compulsorily excluded from the High Court, and when I say the High Court, I mean, of course, the supreme Court. No workman in any county court can get any form of public assistance in the conduct of his case—none at all. If he issues a writ in the High Court, or if his case is carried on appeal to the High Court, he can apply for assistance, and he may get it or he may not. I am anxious that the hon. Member opposite should get out of his mind that which is in it.
§ Sir J. WITHERS
I have not got it out of my mind at all, and I entirely controvert what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said. I agree with him as to the general idea of High Court procedure, but he knows perfectly well that there are any number of organisations which help workmen to get their claims heard.
§ Mr. PRITT
Those bodies which do give assistance, apart from the trade unions, struggle along with inadequate funds, and, I regret to say, receive insulting letters from Members of Parliament when they try to get their practical assistance. But I need not labour a point which has been proven. Litigation at present under these Acts is carried on with one side having all the weapons and the other side having very few weapons. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) warned us that we might be worse off under the Board, and that workmen might suffer intolerable injustice from the decisions of the Board. So they may. We may at any time suffer intolerable injustice, but we are less likely to suffer it when we fight on equal terms before a Board of this kind, where the long purse has no advantage, than we are under the present system.
1278 The hon. and learned member for North Edinburgh was very worried about the fact that the employer assessed to pay his contribution towards workmen's compensation would have no right of appeal. He challenged lawyers on this side of the House to suggest any analogy for such a provision, while various other hon. Members talked about Magna Carta and about "no taxation without Parliamentary authority." I do not understand what is worrying the hon. and learned Member. As regards "no taxation without Parliamentary authority," if you choose to call this taxation, it would presumably have been authorised by Parliament if this Measure were passed. What seemed principally to worry the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh then was the indefinite character of the demand. But at present the demand is entirely indefinite. The demand on the employer at present is that he should pay in respect of whatever injury his workman suffers, and it may be £10 or £10,000. He can guard against that by insurance, and it may well be that he can guard against the other difficulty by insurance.
Since the hon. and learned Member asks for an analogy, I reply that there may well be analogies in some of the controlled industries, but I can find him two apart from those. If he wants the analogy of the imposition by a statutory body of demands for payment, I should think that the local rates give him a perfect analogy. If he insists upon an analogy under which extra money may be demanded—which also seems to be worrying him very much, and as he represents Scotsmen in this House perhaps he is entitled to be worried about that—I should have thought that the ordinary operations of the Shipowners' Protection Association, for instance, would give him a perfect analogy. But I submit that there is nothing particular in that point.
I should say in passing that a number of hon. Members seemed concerned about the fact that the Board would sit in London and would not have a Scottish chairman. I think that the Scotsmen, for once, are suffering from an inferiority complex. Who said that the Board would sit in London? There is no word of it in the Bill. Who said that the chairman would be an Englishman? I 1279 really do not know any reason why Scotsmen should not monopolise this Board almost as much as they have very efficiently monopolised this Debate—not that I am a Scotsman, of course. If they want a precedent, the War Compensation Court worked very well.
With regard to the complaint that this legislation would take this matter right out of the purview of Parliament, I cannot help thinking that if the Government had introduced this Measure, they would have pointed out that they were taking accidents out of politics just as they said, when they introduced legislation about unemployment, that they were taking that question out of politics—and I suppose allowing it to walk up and down the high roads instead. The complaint is made that this legislation is unprecedented. I am not sure that it is, but the argument about precedent can be carried too far. If precedent had been faithfully adhered to, Christianity would never have been introduced. On a smaller scale, if precedent had always been followed, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour would not have received that deputation of hunger-marchers yesterday. The more this Government depart from precedent, the better it will be in a great many ways.
Then the argument is advanced that it is very unjust that the men should have the opportunity to appeal and the employer should not. That argument can only be advanced by people who have not considered the framework of the Bill. The employer is not really a party to the litigation at all. The employer is a person who has enormous advantages. If, for example, he is not given a subsidy in order that he may graciously condescend to carry on his business, he is almost certainly given a tariff. If he receives neither, his must be a peculiarly prosperous and powerful industry not to need such assistance, because if he needed it, he would get it.
§ Mr. ERSKINE HILL
I used that argument in connection with the assessment, and I think that the employer, in that case, is a very interested party.
§ Mr. PRITT
I was not answering that point. I am aware that the hon. and learned Member did put that point, and 1280 I have already made a short answer to it, but I am dealing now with the point which was made by some other hon. Members. The employer provides and assesses as fairly as can be among the various individuals concerned the money necessary, and then the service is administered by the workman going to the assessment arbiter or the local committee, and there is no need for the employer to be represented. The hon. Member for Dundee complained that there might be a delegation of the board's duties and even of its judicial functions to an inspector. A very short perusal of Clause 61 shows that that could not possibly be the case. The hon. Member was also afraid that these appeals might be decided without one of the parties being heard, but I think he has overlooked Clause 61, Sub-section (5), which gives the Secretary of State power to issue regulations for the conduct of these proceedings, so that that would be completely within the control of the Government.
One or two hon. Members complained that the system of inspectors might lead to laymen exercising in fact judicial functions. Hon. Members opposite do not seem to realise that practically the whole of the judicial functions of this country are invariably operated by laymen. You cannot be charged with an offence in nine-tenths of the courts of this country without coming before a layman, and people are being sent to prison all day long in this country by lay justices. It is not much good coming along, therefore, and complaining that an inspector might at some odd moment be found performing quasi-judicial functions.
The hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh quite rightly attempted to dispose of the case of Ontario and said it was entirely different because they had only something like 1/30th of the volume of work there that there is here. Surely that makes it infinitely more difficult for Ontario, where a very small body of employers may have to carry the burden of two or three disastrous industrial accidents over a very short time and be completely ruined by it. When you have a large volume of insurance to carry, making what in another connection would be a large book, it ought to be very much easier. The hon. and learned Member said that Ontario had not got the difficulties which we had of 1281 a double judicature, one in Scotland and one in England. I think Ontario's difficulties on that point are much greater than ours. Ontario has two complete sets of laws, those of the Dominion of Canada and those of the Province of Ontario, and a large number of her workers live in a Province with a totally different language and a totally different system of law, while a large number of her residents work in a Province with different systems of language and of law. I never like to press an analogy from another area very far, and I should not like to say more about the Ontario analogy than simply to suggest that the answers given to it are not very strong.
The hon. Member for Dundee was very annoyed about Clause 61, and he was particularly worried about the fact that you could appeal from the local committee to the Board (1) if your trade union brought an appeal, and (2) if your local committee allowed you to appeal. At first sight it looks a little harsh, but it must be remembered that it is not unreasonable to impose, in the interests of the fund and of the employers, some limitation on the right of appeal. If a trade union is prepared to put itself to the labour and expense of carrying the case to appeal, surely that is some modest guarantee that it is not an unreasonable case, and if you have not got a trade union to help you, either because you are not a member of one or because your trade union does not think it is a case that should be carried to appeal, you can ask the Committee to allow you to appeal. It always seems hard to ask any judicial body to let you appeal to itself, but it is an almost universal provision in the case of all kinds of judicatures in this country, and on the whole I do not know that it works very badly.
§ Mr. FOOT
Surely the answer to what the hon. and learned Member has just said is twofold, first, that it is not. a limitation o the right of appeal, but on a certain class of appellant as against another class, and, secondly, that it is generally possible to get leave to appeal in this country, not only from the court of first instance, but by applying to the higher court.
§ Mr. PRITT
With regard to the hon. Member's first answer, I have just said that there was that facility, and in regard to the second point, that it is usual 1282 that leave to appeal should be obtainable from the court to which you are going to appeal as well as from the court from which you desire to appeal, the answer is that both systems are well known in England, and sometimes you can do both and sometimes only one of the two things. I can think of nothing more delightful than to feel that within a few weeks' time I may be warmly supported by an Amendment of the hon. Member to that effect. The hon. Member for South-East Essex said that he was half a lawyer. It struck me on the whole, though he did not say so, that he is much too human to be even half a lawyer. It is rather interesting to examine the sort of complaint he made and to consider it in the light of the history of workmen's compensation legislation. He complained that the words "in connection with" were too wide a description in the circumstances in which a claim for compensation might be made. He does not know, because he is only half a lawyer what he would know if he were wholly a, lawyer or a workman, that the words "arising out of or in the course of" have produced an amazing crop of contrary decisions which have afforded, on the one hand, intellectual amusement to lawyers and others and, on the other hand, a, sense of frustration and savage and cruel injustice to thousands of working men. One man is walking along a quay and drops into the sea before reaching the gangway of the boat, and his wife and children may starve on the Poor Law. The next man, coming along five minutes later, gets his foot on the gangway before falling into the sea, and one county court will let his wife have compensation and another will send her to the Poor Law. The next man reaches the side of the ship, and all county courts agree, after the expenditure of some £4,000 or £5,000, that compensation should be awarded.
All the matters that the hon. and half learned Member complained of in Sub-section (2), trying to clear up various points, are all because of masses and masses of case law which have broken the hearts of the rich lawyers whom he desires to get rid of. He asked a rather pertinent question about what would happen if he had an accident reading the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow with my speech in it. The argument is simple, because under Clause 3, sub-section (2d), he would be excused from the benefits of 1283 the Act as an out-worker. He made a point about litigation under the Board and said it would be increased by 90 per cent., by which I think he meant to say 900 per cent., but supposing there is increased litigation, what does it matter? The average cost of a piece of workmen's compensation litigation is between £30 and £40 in the court of first instance alone. I imagine that the average cost of similar litigation before the War would be between 10s. and 25s. It does not matter if there is a small increase of litigation.
I asked the House to give the Bill a Second Reading for several reasons. In the first place, most of the critics of it have expressed warm admiration for a good deal of it. In the second place, the Bill seeks, and would succeed in doing it if it were allowed to proceed, to remove the intolerable expense of litigation. I am not sure that hon. Members quite realise what that is. When I was a young man at the Bar, in the summer of 1910 I wrote a book on workmen's compensation. I made a digest of every decision that had been made. I put in the book nothing but the shortest possible digest of every decision up to that time. If I remember rightly, the book contained 380 large pages and the words "arising out of and in the course of" succeeded in achieving 70 pages. Apart from a few small matters under the Act of 1897, the effective operation of the Act was then 2½ years old. That form of litigation and case law, with very little diminution, is now 40 years old, and to-day every time a workman is faced with a piece of litigation, I. should think that he is faced with 8,000 appellant decisions in England and Scotland, apart from any quotations any one may be able to get from Ontario. I have before me the smallest book on workmen's compensation. It is a very useful little book and it is 1,014 pages long. I do not know it all, but there are people who know a great deal of it. If we can do anything to free workmen and employers from the intolerable expense and inconvenience on litigation, we shall be rendering industry very great service.
§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Mr. H. STRAUSS
We have heard to-day extremely eloquent and sincere speeches, particularly from the hon. 1284 Members who moved and seconded the Motion for the Second Reading. The reception given by the House to the suggestion that this debate had better be kept out of the hands of lawyers made me feel that I had better not speak, but the fact that the last two speakers for the Opposition are lawyers, and that the Opposition's attitude to lawyers does not prevent the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt) from occupying a place on the Front Opposition Bench—on which I congratulate him—makes me feel that the whole House will he ready to assume that one can be a lawyer and still be, a. perfectly reasonable opponent of the Bill. I should like to express my regret that this debate has not been enriched by yet another lawyer who spoke on the last occasion. I refer to the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson), to whose early return to the House we all look forward. I appreciate the great embarrassment suffered by the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith. There is not a Member, to whatever party he belongs, who does not know the magnificent case that he could have made against the Bill on the ground of its grotesque infringements of liberty, had he been at liberty to do so.
I have studied a Bill that will come before the House next week, and I have observed in the Press what I imagine will be the reaction of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I will show that the present Bill contains matters that would excite his ire infinitely more than the matters contained in that Bill. For obvious reasons, he scarcely mentioned those Clauses in the speech he has just made. I have mentioned the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingswinford on the last occasion because I am going to quote and accept one of his statements. A great deal has been said to-day about the enormous amount of litigation. A great many of the observations as to the amount of litigation that the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1906, excited in its early years are correct, but what is the position to-day? According to the hon. Member for Kingswinford litigation takes place in less than 2 per cent: of all the eases. That must be borne in mind. Why is there that limitation? For the very good reason that lawyers and trade union officials can in 1285 almost 98 cases out of a 100 inform the applicant what is likely to be the fate of his application. The reason for that is that the law is now for the most part certainly established and the courts are bound by legal precedents and decisions. We are now asked to take the step which is found in Clause 29 (3):The decisions of the board shall be upon the real merits and justice of the case, and it shall not be bound to follow strict legal precedent.In other words, the court will be bound by nothing whatever. There is no reason why in any individual case it should not come to a conclusion quite different from any legal precedent. Can any hon. Member suggest why in that case every disappointed applicant should not take his case before the board? It is obvious that, instead of litigation taking place in 2 per cent. of cases, it will take place in 98 per cent. What, then, becomes of the suggestion that you are getting rid of litigation? Then it is suggested that lawyers will not be employed. There is not the slightest ground for that.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
I was referring only to those cases in which the applicants do not get compensation. If they get compensation there will be no litigation. Some of us on these Benches have been struck with the fact that speaker after speaker, after making eloquent and sincere speeches, in which they obviously believed, scarcely referred to the principal provisions of the Bill. Indeed, when the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) quoted some of the things which I think that every lawyer in the House believes would be the consequences of the Bill, they received the news with blank astonishment. That blank astonishment wears less well than on previous occasions, because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have known from the previous debates what is the case against the Bill, and if they have not thought fit to put any of the matters right on what conceivable ground can they ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading? They have had every opportunity to improve the Bill but have not done so. One hon. Member opposite attempted to deal with the argument, which has been put forward 1286 again and again from these benches: If the Opposition believe in this Bill, why did they not introduce it when their own Government were in office? Let me read what was said in 1928 and 1929 in pamphlets put out by the Labour party and the Trades Union Congress about this very Bill:The present Tory Government would not be likely to pass the Bill, having regard to the powerful vested interests which must be disturbed in the process, and it is intended to present the Bill to Parliament at the earliest favourable opportunity.I ask the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite why they consider it a more favourable opportunity to present the Bill when there is a Conservative majority than when their own party form the Government? Perhaps that very simple question will be answered by the speaker who replies for the Labour Opposition.
What are some of the points against this Bill which have been made again and again and have never been answered? Take Clauses 60 and 61, which deal with claims and appeals. Under neither of those Clauses has the employer any right to be heard at all. The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith asks "Why should he? How is he concerned?". Let me show one matter in which he is clearly concerned under the terms of the Bill. Clause 1 has this proviso:(b) If it is proved that the injury to a workman is attributable to the serious and wilful misconduct of that workman, any compensation claimed in respect of that injury shall, unless the injury results in death or serious and permanent disablement, be disallowed."If it is proved." Is it very likely to be proved if there is nobody before the tribunal with any interest whatever in proving it? It is said that the Board itself will look after that. When I made a similar point last time the hon. Member who summed up the case for the Opposition asked whether I had not overlooked the representation of employers on the Board. But I should think that no hon. Member, irrespective of party, would want a Board when acting in its judicial capacity to have its members representing different interests. We should want the Board to act as far as possible as a legal tribunal, and is there any legal tribunal which is not assisted by arguments put before it for and against an applicant? The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith says that the 1287 employer is not concerned. If he is right what does that mean? It means that there is nobody there at all to represent the interests of the Fund and to say "This is a claim which the Fund ought not to be called upon to bear." If that be so, will it not necessarily follow that the levies which must be made upon employers will be very much greater than they would otherwise be? How is it possible to say that the employer would not be interested in that?
§ Mr. J. GRIFFITHS
Employers in this country are compelled to insure, as employers, against the risks of illness and unemployment. They pay contributions to the Unemployment Insurance and the Health Insurance Funds, without any right of appeal. May I ask whether there would be any intrinsic difference if the same employers made a similar contribution to insure against the risks of workmen's compensation?
§ Mr. STRAUSS
There is always a difference between decisions on undisputed facts and decisions upon disputed facts. Under this Bill there are many questions of fact which will have to be decided. However much hon. Members opposite may try to excuse the absence of any right of the employers to be heard or represented, not one of them has explained it. Is the employer a sort of kulak, that his rights are not to be recognised at all? What is the idea of this exclusion, which shocks everybody's sense of fairplay, no matter in what part of the House he sits? So much for the undisputed facts as to the absence of the right or power to appeal by any employer.
What are the powers of the Board itself? Very little was said about this in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I would point out two or three of the Clauses. On Clause 29 I need say very little more than has already been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) and the hon. Member for Dundee. I want to repeat something which I pointed out in the last Debate, and which has not been disputed by anybody in this Debate. The impotence of the courts to interfere with the decisions or actions of the Board, is not confined to those matters in which the 1288 Board is acting within its jurisdiction: it applies equally if the Board goes entirely outside its jurisdiction. Therefore, the Clause about the powers of the Secretary of State to make regulations, which was quoted by the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith, is entirely impotent to give any redress whatever to a person injured by the Board, even if the Board goes outside its proper jurisdiction.
There is another matter which has not yet been pointed out in all the numerous Debates. If the House will be good enough to refer to Clause 32, they will find that there is power to make regulations, and that those regulations, when approved by the Secretary of State, have the force of law. Those regulations can be made not only on a number of matters which are dealt with in the Bill, but they can also be made—I ask the House particularly to note these words—to meet cases not specially provided for by this Act.If in any Bill which we put forward we provided that something done by the Secretary of State and an outside committee, upon a matter not dealt with in the Bill, should have the force of law, I can imagine what the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith would say. I have a confidence, not only in the distinguished and learned Gentleman who at present occupies the position of Home Secretary, but in future Home Secretaries, to whatever party they may belong, but I should hesitate very much before handing over such wide powers to anyone.
I do not want to weary the House, but I do want hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to consider a very serious question which I will put to them. I quite appreciate that hon. Members opposite are sometimes in a dilemma. They genuinely believe, I suppose, many of them—certainly some of them—in a Socialist Commonwealth; they want to transform the state of society. On the other hand, they know that at the present moment we have not such a commonwealth, and that certain Measures which they may desire to introduce are more appropriate to the present stage than to the final Socialist Commonwealth which is the object of their ambitions and their creed. Hon. Members 1289 opposite can, with perfect honesty and sincerity, either bring forward a Bill which they think will establish some part of the Socialist Commonwealth, or bring forward a Bill which they think appropriate to a dying capitalism; but at least they should know which they are doing. This Bill which is now being brought forward, for about the third time, is obviously not in their belief any part of the Socialist Commonwealth which it is their object to introduce. Liabilities are left on the individual employer, and the relationship of employer and workman is the whole basis of the Bill. Therefore, the Bill is presumably what the Opposition believe to be appropriate to a dying capitalism, but I think they should explain whether it is in their opinion designed or calculated to hasten or postpone its death. [Interruption.] I gather that it is designed to accelerate it—
§ Mr. STRAUSS
That is a skilful evasion of the question, and the House will note the evasion. If it is designed to accelerate the death of capitalism, I think it would be well that that should be known, and that it should be known that the Labour party are putting forward a programme which no doubt is designed to bring about that process through chaos which Members on the Front Bench opposite, from the Leader of the Opposition downwards, constantly prophesy as a necessary step before the Labour party can come into power. If, on the other hand, they think the Measure is designed to postpone the collapse of capitalism, perhaps they should explain their support of it to their own supporters. I believe that these questions have never been faced by hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite. I believe that, whatever may he their intention to exclude lawyers from practising under this Measure if it went through, the real lack of the work of lawyers is seen in the draftsmanship of the Bill itself. Some of us have occasionally had to consider what could be deduced and inferred from a document by internal evidence. I have done that in regard to the Bill which is before the House to-day, and have observed the same master-hand that no doubt was 1290 represented on the Drafting Committee of the Edinburgh Conference—the same clear thinking, the same lucid English, the same firm decision as to where they were intending to travel.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
I do not want to say anything harsh about the lawyers of Ontario, but I can only assume, if that he the case, that there is a great sympathy between them and the Drafting Committee of the Edinburgh Conference. I do not think hon. Members opposite have taken the trouble to read the Bill. Clause 42 (1) says:Subject to the regulations every employer shall not later than three months before the clay and yearly thereafter on such date as shall he presented by the Board.This is the beginning of a Clause which creates a criminal offence and makes it obligatory on an employer to do something not later than three months before the day. Nowhere in the Bill is it suggested what that means and what day is referred to or anything about it.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) for that suggestion.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
It is so good that it is worthy of either. I am reminded of the story of a statement of claim for £100 with 4 per cent. interest thereon until the Day of Judgment. I am not going to speculate as to what is meant by that reference to the day, but it is an insult to the intelligence of the House to bring forward again and again a Bill which has been riddled with unanswered criticism, and to ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. STRAUSS
I think not. If any-think like that were intended, the word "such" would appear before "day" instead of "the." The word "as" must refer to "such date" and not to "the 1291 day." I do not think you could make sense of it in that way.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. TAYLOR
I do not want to address myself to the legal side of the case as, if I attempted to do so, I should very soon be lost in the morass. I was very interested in the situation portrayed by the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) in which he might be thrilled by reading the OFFICIAL REPORT and 'might absentmindedly fall downstairs and claim compensation. I thought when he was saying that, that if an employer were able to prove that a man was in such a state as a result of reading the OFFICIAL REPORT, even under present legislation it would come under the head of culpable negligence, and he would be unable to claim any compensation at all. I want to draw attention to what I believe would be a very great advantage. The Bill would be just the difference to the workers between the miserable humiliating state of begging from public assistance and the decency of recognition by the nation by being paid for the work they were doing in the service of the nation. Under the present compensation laws, unless a man who suffers an accident is disabled for a month, he loses the first three days.
I have been looking through the returns for 1934, and I find that there were 403,538 cases, of which number 65 per cent. related to men who were injured and disabled for less than four weeks. It means that of the total number of cases in that year entitled to the first three days by way of compensation, roughly 265,504 lost the benefit of the first three days, on that account. Approximately, 796,612 days were lost to the workmen of this country because of that rule. I assume that the average wage is in the neighbourhood of 25s. a week, and, therefore, it would appear that 4s. per day would be the accepted figure of compensation in 1934 or for any other period that we may take. The loss to the workmen of this country because they were not off work a month would amount to £159,322. Why on earth and in all fairness should one man lose half a week's compensation because he has recovered from injury at the end of three weeks, compared with the man next door who 1292 has not recovered at the end of a month? The Bill would get over that difficulty.
I wish to draw attention to one or two things of very great importance as far as we are concerned in the present legislation, and which, I think, would be a great advantage under the Bill. Clause 10 deals with average earnings. If there is one thing over which we have had very great difficulty in this country it is on the question of average earnings. The lawyers have had a lot of trouble in giving a definition of average earnings. We find in the ordinary course of employment that, if on account of bad trade or for some other reason men are working half time, their earnings, taken over the period, average out at 25s. or 23s. a week in respect of compensation. This Bill would correct that, and the average earnings of the workman would be a normal working week's wage. If there is anything unreasonable in that proposition, then I question my idea of the meaning of the word "reasonable."
A few things have been said about the judges. I have the greatest possible respect for the judges of this country, not only for their learning, their great knowledge of the law, but also for their knowledge of the men who come before them. Let me give an illustration. It is the case of a man who was a slave to his work and who, unfortunately, had a sinew of his right hand severed. He continued working until he was prevailed upon to stop, otherwise he would lose his arm. It was found that the sinew had been severed. It was drawn together and the man was given full compensation. The colliery company's insurance business was handled by an insurance company. If some hon. Members opposite were workmen instead of advocates, and they knew what it meant to be harassed by an insurance company, they would soon change their opinion, unless they are just talking for the sake of talking. The man was taken to court by the insurance company. The case depended upon what percentage of grip the man had with his hand. The learned Gentleman who was representing the insurance company took hold of a thick ruler and put it into the man's hand, and held it there, and then said to the judge: "My Lord, you see what grip he has. He can hold this ruler." The judge said: "Will you 1293 stand aside so that I can see?" The advocate did so, and the ruler fell to the ground. The man got an allowance of 21s. on account of the light grip he had.
The other day a man came to me with a certificate given by the medical referee for light work, and the certificate said that the man was not to do any stooping. He was a miner. I have not time to emphasise this point, but it is so ridiculous that a man should be certified for light work in a mine and that he is not to stoop. That man has worked 50 years in the pit and has got so many tons of coal from the pits of Northumberland that if he had been paid a decent wage he would have been independent, instead of having to go to the guardians. The present law is an abomination, especially to the poor men who have to claim compensation. We shall never be satisfied until we have a law that will allow the medical examination of a man and ensure that the man shall have a job if he is certified fit for it, and that he shall have an opportunity of trying the job and then be examined again medically to prove that he is able to do the job.
This Bill would render a very great service to our people in the way of lump-sum payments. Under the present legislation there are workers with one arm who are following their occupation and who have never received one penny compensation except during the time when the wound was healing. If an employer gives a man a job at the wage he was earning before he is not entitled to compensation. It is not compensation we have in this country, but a pretence of compensation. The Bill also provides compensation for disfigurement. Where a man has lost an eye or an arm he will be entitled to a lump sum. For these reasons and many others which I have no time to expound now, I say that instead of lawyers and solicitors on the Government side quibbling so much about the Bill, let us try to get a little humanity into our compensation law. In the mines there are 22 per cent. of the men injured every year arid, therefore, I would urge in the name of fair play and decency that this Bill should be given a Second Reading and, if necessary, it can be amended in Committee.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
Several hon. Members opposite have asked that we should not meet this Bill with clever lawyers' arguments, and I can assure them that I am not in a position to do that. I am not a lawyer and I agree with the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) that we must consider this question from the humanitarian point of view. It is a most important matter, and everyone ought to be interested in the subject of workmen's compensation. There is no one who knows anything about working-class homes who will not agree with that view. One must think of the kind of burden which falls on the wife and the inconvenience which falls on the whole family when there is any long-standing industrial disablement in a working-class home. I remember some 10 years ago seeing my first case of industrial disablement in Birmingham and it cured me of any tendency I might have had for taking such matters lightly. As the House knows, there are many light industries in that district, and a great deal of work is done in brass and copper; men have to pour molten metal into moulds, and certainly before modern methods were introduced those men must have suffered severely in their work. I saw one man of about 55 years of age who should have been in the best condition of health but was instead in a most miserable condition, and I have never forgotten him and never shall. There is one important point, however, which we should all realise. When I was going round some of the works I noticed that sometimes modern safeguards were not used. I think there is a certain amount of truth that in some cases it is difficult to get the men to use modern methods for safeguarding their health.
§ W. LLOYD
I am not blaming the men, but I do say that this is a problem which employers and trade unions ought to realise, they should do all that is possible to get an improvement. The hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) said that compensation for workers has been recognised as a right for a long time. Yes, it has been recognised as a right since that great indus- 1295 trialist Mr. Joseph Chamberlain brought in the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897. But the hon Member for East Rhondda went on to speak about general dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs, and I could not quite follow him in that. He actually said that the present situation offered almost insuperable difficulties to the individual. Before we go any further we must get this matter in some perspective. We have to remember that the vast majority of claims for compensation go through without any trouble at all in a perfectly businesslike way. On the question of litigation I am afraid that I cannot follow hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they push so far the alleged weakness of the workman in face of the employer, because on the one side the workman very often has his trade union, and my legal friends inform me that the trade unions brief extremely able lawyers, and it must be remembered also that the approved societies, of which such a large number of people are members, are empowered to obtain benefit, if necessary by legal action, and to give benefit in the meantime. That is a very great help for hundreds of thousands of workpeople. Indeed there is no doubt that in some cases—I am not seeking to push the point too far—certain big trade unions are in a better position with regard to money than some of the smaller employers.
So, there is another side to the question and the House must realise that fact. It must be remembered also that even in the industries that make returns to the Home Office some 400,000 claims are paid yearly under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. If we make a reasonable calculation for all industries it is probable that between 500,000 and 600,000 claims for compensation occur every year. As the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) stated when speaking of litigation, the number of cases that come into court is certainly less than two per cent. and of the cases that come into court a number are settled out of court. For example, in 1933 there were in the end only 2,514 cases, out of perhaps 500,000 or 600,000 claims, that had to be finally settled by the court, and of those nearly 80 per cent. were settled in favour of the workman. I give those facts in order that the House may realise that when we are discussing this question of litigation 1296 we are talking about difficulties that may arise in a relatively small number of the total of workmen's compensation claims every year.
I would add that there are 16,000,000 of our people covered by the Workmen's Compensation Acts, and that some £9,000,000 is paid yearly in workmen's compensation. Therefore I think we must start discussion on the basis that we have here a great going concern, which is in fact giving alleviation to large numbers of our people in industrial disablement. But, of course, there is room for improvement. In my view we ought never to be complacent in these matters. We should always be ready to bring our social services into line with the higher standard of living now prevalent, and in accordance with scientific progress and the new ideas of organisation.
I would now like to examine some of the points of grievance which hon. Gentlemen have brought forward as justification for the Bill. I hope to show that they are not sufficient justification for the Bill, and that in so far as difficulties exist they can be dealt with in other and better ways. I would like first to turn to the question of nystagmus, which the hon. Member for East Rhondda mentioned at the beginning of the Debate. I have no personal experience in this matter, but from what I have heard from medical inspectors and Home Office and other doctors, it is a terrible disease. I listened with perhaps a certain sympathy to the hon. Member's criticism of doctors, although I think he went a good deal too far; but it is true that medical ideas concerning nystagmus have changed a good deal during the last generation. [An HON. MEMBER: "More than once."] Yes, but it must be remembered that the doctors in a given situation are doing their best, and it is difficult to think of any Act of Parliament which is not founded on the accepted medical ideas of a particular time. It is true that in the old days doctors considered that nystagmus was specifically an eye disease, that the oscillation of the eyeballs was not a feature of it, but was the disease itself. I understand that the more modern view is that, although one aspect of the disease may take the physical form of oscillation of the eyes, there is at any rate associated with it—perhaps even the most important part of it—a psycho- 1297 neurotic illness which afflicts the whole personality and of which the disease of the eyes is one expression.
If that view is accepted—and I think it is now to a very considerable extent—it makes the question of nystagmus, from the point of view of compensation and from the point of view of curing the men, extremely difficult. I think it means a special scheme. Everybody who has considered the problem will, I think, say that in present circumstances there is a sort of vicious circle in nystagmus. A man gets nystagmus, he is in a very difficult general condition, he is taken off his work, and he is not likely to recover while he is drawing compensation—which is clearly much less than his wages—and while he is doing nothing and becoming more and more depressed, so that the psycho-neurotic part of the disease may even be aggravated, the employer, I suppose not unnaturally, realises that there is an added compensation risk in re-employing somebody when he either has nystagmus or may have had it and recovered from it to some extent. It seems that the line of progress may be that of providing some form of suitable light work, together with compensation, so as to relieve the man while he is suffering from the disease by taking him away from the conditions in which he cannot possibly get a real cure. Whether that be so or not, this problem is, at any rate at present, under the examination of the committee presided over by Judge Stewart, which is going into the matter most thoroughly.
I will pass now to the question of medical referees, which was raised by the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Cassells). I am, of course, familiar with the hon. Gentleman's views, and I realise that there may be a case as to whether a medical referee should be employed in private practice or whether he may on some occasions appear for employers or trade unions and at the same time be a medical referee. I see the hon. Gentleman's point, but, on the other hand, it must be remember that we need referees who are on the spot and of a high professional standard, and that in many of the districts there is not an unlimited supply of medical men, so that they have to be used for more than one purpose. That is one aspect of the problem. The other aspect, of course, is the feeling that 1298 some people have—and I can well understand it—as to whether one man should be in the position of having to take an absolute decision on a case. I wonder whether there is not a case for consideration as to the desirability of a right of appeal in these cases. However that may be, that is another matter which is being considered at the moment by the Stewart Committee. As regards the system of lump-sum settlements, there seems to be no doubt from inquiries which I have made that lump-sum settlements are popular among the workmen.
§ Mr. J. GRIFFITHS
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that what he calls the popularity of lump-sum payments and what we would call the menacing growth of lump-sum payments is due to increasing poverty?
§ Mr. LLOYD
I appreciate that in some parts of the country there may be other points of view upon this matter, but I must adhere to my statement which, as I say, is supported by inquiries, that among large numbers of working people lump sums are popular, probably for good reasons. I was, however, just about to come to a point which relates to what the hon. Member has said. No doubt there are features of lump-sum settlements which may cause anxiety. There may be cases in which the workman feels that he is up against a great and powerful insurance company and wants the money at once and in which he may, therefore, settle for an inadequate sum.
§ Mr. GEORGE GRIFFITHS
Will the hon. Gentleman make inquiries from the Yorkshire Miners' Association as to why they are so bitterly opposed to lump-sum settlements? They will give him some interesting information.
§ Mr. LLOYD
Certainly, I shall be glad to have information from trade unions as regards this and other aspects of workmen's compensation. As regards the system that settlements should be approved by the registrar of the county court judge, it may be that some tightening up of the machinery in that respect 1299 is necessary, possibly in the direction of making it clearer that the registrar ought to pay considerable attention to this aspect of the question. Before concluding I wish to touch on the subject of the restoration to health of injured workmen. I devoted a considerable amount of time to that subject when we last discussed a Bill of this kind, and I wish to repeat to the House that it, is undoubtedly the most important aspect of the question. In the last few years there have been great developments not only in new methods of treating fractures, but in knowledge among doctors of the psychological factors which affect recovery, and there is at present a strong inter-departmental committee going into the whole subject.
I sum up by saying that in regard to most of the grievances raised by hon. Members, I think I have been able to show that they are at present being investigated by strong committees. The Stewart Committee which covers such a large field has been holding a large number of meetings. It is a very strong Committee and has taken evidence from trade unions, doctors, legal and official sources, and from every sort of expert whose knowledge bears upon these problems. My contention is that if we want to remedy those aspects of the scheme which need to be improved, the right way to do it is the way in what the Government are setting about it at present. That is to accumulate information after the most careful inquiry by expert committees and people who are capable of forming a judgment, and then deciding what are the practical improvements that ought to be made in the system. The method of improvement which should not be adopted is the method of giving this Bill a Second Reading to-day, because I do not believe it would in fact result in improvement at all.
I need not refer to the really devastating criticism that has been made of the scheme which is contained in this Bill by the hon. and learned Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) and, on the legal side particularly, by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) and
§ the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss). It is not for me to go into these complicated legal points, but I would, as a layman, take this view that if I had to have a case of any kind brought up—and I think most people in this House would share this view—I would much prefer to be in the hands of the ordinary English court, run according to proper British law, than in the hands of this extraordinary Commission that would be set up under this Bill.
§ I wish to emphasise the fact that this Bill is a revolutionary Bill. It would revolutionise the workmen's compensation system by sweeping away the jurisdiction of the courts, by sweeping away the system of insurance companies and mutual indemnity associations, and by radically altering the medical arrangements, and it would provide instead that the system should be administered and applied by a small body of dictators uncontrolled by the ordinary law of the land, who would take the place of the courts, replace the insurance companies, and have the power to raise levies from employers at whatever rates they thought fit for the purpose of paying claims.
§ No doubt there are defects in the present system of workmen's compensation, but to persist in bringing forward destructive proposals of this magnitude, open to the formidable objections to which attention has been drawn, argues a lack of constructive capacity on the part of those who bring them forward. This Bill is a Socialist Bill and is a bad Bill. It raises the whole general division of practical principles between the Opposition and the Government supporters. The Bill seeks to make a Socialist change in the structure of workmen's compensation. In our view, it would make a change for the worse, and we, on this side, propose to make the improvements in workmen's compensation which we believe from time to time to be necessary by working in the way that we do in another sphere, that is, by practical investigation and then making real, constructive improvements.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 109; Noes, 115.1301
|Division No. 7.]||AYES.||[3.59 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Ammon, C. G.||Barnes, A. J.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Barr, J.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Banfield, J. W.||Batey, J.|
|Bellenger, F.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Benson, G.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Potts, J.|
|Bevan, A.||Hopkin, D.||Price, M. P.|
|Broad, F, A.||Jagger, J.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Brooke, W.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Ridley, G.|
|Cassells, T.||John, W.||Riley, B.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kelly, W. T.||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)|
|Chater, D.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Rowson, G.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kirby, B. V.||Sanders, W. S.|
|Cocke, F. S.||Kirkwood, D.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Shinwell, E.|
|Daggar, G.||Lathan, G.||Short, A.|
|Dalton, H.||Lawson, J. J.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Lee, F.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Davies, R, J. (Westhoughton)||Leslie, J. R.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Day, H.||Lunn, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Dobble, W.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||McEntee, V. La T.||Thorne, W.|
|Ede, J. C.||McGhee, H. G.||Thurtle, E.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||MacLaren, A.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||MacNeill, Weir, L.||Viant, S. P.|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T, H.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Frankel, D.||Marshall, F.||Walker, J.|
|Gallacher, W.||Maxton, J.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Messer, F.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Gibbins, J.||Milner, Major J.||Whiteley, W.|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Montague, F.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Muff, G.||Williams, T. (Don valley)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Naylor, T. E.||Windsor, w. (Hull, C.)|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Oliver, G. H.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Paling, W.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hardle, G. D.||Parker, J.|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Parkinson, J. A.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr Mathers and Mr. Groves.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col- J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Rankin, R.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir w. J. (Armagh)||Grimston, R. V.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Assheton, R.||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Reed, A, C. (Exeter)|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Hannon. Sir P. J. H.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'nderry)|
|Bennett, Capt. Sir E. N.||Holmes, J. S.||Russell, A. west (Tynemouth)|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Hulbert, N. J.||Samuel, Sir A. M. (Farnham)|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Jackson, Sir H.||Savery, Servington|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Keeling, E. H.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Bull, B. B.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st),|
|Cary, R. A.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Channon, H.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Chorlton, A. E. L.||Lewis, O.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Lloyd, G. W.||Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Loftus, P. C.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Craddock, Sir R. H.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Mabane, W. (Hudderfeild)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|De Chair, S. S.||Maitland, A.||Touche, G. C.|
|De la Bère, R.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon H. D. R.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Doland, G. F.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|Duggan, H. J.||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Elmley, Viscount||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Munro, P.||Ward, Lieut-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Errington, E.||Neven-Spence, Maj, B. H. H.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Wells, S. R.|
|Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||Palmer, G. E. H.||Williams. H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Everard, W. L.||Patrick, C. M.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Foot, D. M.||Penny, Sir G.|
|Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Petherick, M.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Fraser, Capt. Sir I.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Mr. Erskine Hill and Mr. A.|
|Gluckstein, L. H.||Procter, Major H. A.||Chapman.|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Words added.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.