§ 11.13 a.m.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I had hoped that this would be a red-letter day in my political and Parliamentary history. I wanted to put on the Statute Book, with the agreement and co-operation of all parties in the House, a Bill for the establishment of new and comprehensive machinery under the workmen's compensation laws for dealing with miners' nystagmus cases and other industrial diseases to which underground workers are subject; but, as the House will appreciate when I unfold my story, I am asking hon. Members to-day not to take part in a feast but to take part in a funeral. When the luck of the Ballot came my way, I determined to apply three tests to any Bill which I might undertake to introduce. The first test was that it should be a practical Bill, and I believe that the Bill which is now before the House satisfies that test, because I have obtained the support of my hon. Friend and, indeed, I think the House will agree that it was rather unusual for a private Member to introduce a Bill which involves a Financial Resolution. The second test which I applied to my Bill was that it should be of benefit not only to people in all parts of the country, but should have some relation to the people in my own constituency.
I can say with deep sincerity that no one who had the honour of representing what is partially, at any rate, a mining constituency, could be unaware of the distress which can occur in the lives of miners who have contracted miners' nystagmus. There have been many commissions and committees investigating this disease, and medical evidence has proved that the cure of the disease is bound up with the provision of work; in other words, in the language of the Haldane Committee, work is the salvation of the nystagmic miner. I regret to say that it has been the practice of colliery owners in some districts to differentiate against the nystagmic workers. In 1492 many districts such workers have had very little opportunity of getting that work upon which their cure depends. I would like to quote to the House a few figures in substantiation of that statement.
In my own County of Northumberland the number of nystagmic workers partially incapacitated and out of work is 76 per cent. of the men so certified. In Durham County the percentage is 8z, in South Yorkshire 74, in West Yorkshire 75 and in South Wales 76. In view of the fact that part of the scheme for the provision of work for these nystagmic miners is bound up with the comprehensive policy which I have embodied in my Bill, I felt that if the Bill were put on the Statute Book it would be of real benefit to those men in my constituency who are sufferers from miners' nystagmus. Therefore, I think I can claim that my Bill would be of benefit to a section of the people in my own constituency.
Thirdly, the test that I applied was that the Bill should be non-controversial in its basic purpose. I quite realise that there are always differences of opinion on details, but I wanted to find a Bill which, in its basic purpose, would be non-controversial, so I chose a Bill based on the recommendations of a Departmental Committee known as the Stewart Committee. I took that section of the Stewart Committee which dealt with the whole question of miners' nystagmus. I must point out to the House that on that Committee were two trade-union leaders, members of the trade union council, and the then president, and now ex-president, of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. Their recommendations were unanimous. There was no minority report. There were no reservations. In view of the questions put in this House by Members of the Opposition above the Gangway and of the references made in speeches in this House to the recommendations of the Stewart Committee, I believed that hon. Members wanted the implementation of the essentials in those recommendations, and in the very short time during which one is permitted, under the Standing Orders of the House, to decide upon what Bill one is going to present, I felt there was ample justification for believing that I was introducing a Bill which, in its main purpose, was non-controversial. 1493 The House will appreciate what a surprise it was for me to realise, after consultation with the appropriate Members of the Opposition, that the miners' representatives in the House were unanimously opposed, as I understand it, to the introduction and Second Reading of the Bill. Indeed, so far were they opposed to it that they very kindly sent me a copy of their workmen's compensation sub-committee's report upon my draft Bill, and I found that they were opposed to some recommendations of the Stewart Committee and that they intended to oppose every Clause of the Bill. Hon. Members can very well imagine my feelings when I realised that the Bill which I had legitimately assumed to be non-controversial was to be opposed point by point and Clause by Clause. So, I come before the House not believing now that my Bill will reach the Statute Book, but for the purpose of asking for a Second Reading in order that I may hear the objections which hon Gentlemen opposite offer to the Bill. I am no expert on mining problems. My desire was the genuine one of frying to help the implementation of the recommendations contained in that unanimous report and to assist in helping the miners who suffer from miners' nystagmus. If hon. Members above the Gangway feel that they cannot support my Bill I, being a strong believer in democracy have no intention of asking them to accept it. I say so with very great regret, but that is the position that I would be bound to take up in the circumstances, much as I regret having to do so.
It seems to me a most extraordinary thing that the Bill is to be opposed Clause by Clause, after three trade-union leaders, including the president of the Miners' Federation, signed the unanimous report. I have always understood that in trade-union organisation you obtained leadership of your particular union because of your outstanding knowledge and services in relation to the union of which you were a member. It is most remarkable that although three men who have won the confidence of their unions were prepared unanimously to sign the report as a sound and proper basis for new legislation, not a single point in the recommendations subsequently embodied in the Bill receives the support of the Miners' Federation.
1494 I have no intention of wearying the House now with the whole of the details of the Bill, because I realise that other people are following me with Bills which, fortunately for them, are unopposed, but I would like to make clear one or two points. I said earlier in my remarks that one of the main objects of the recommendations of the Stewart Committee was to get away from the differentiation exercised against nystagmic workers. I want now to read a statement and a proposal made by the sub-committee of the Miners' Federation on my Bill, and that portion in the Report which relates to this specific proposal. It is a most remarkable thing, to my mind, that there should be any doubt as to what was the intention of the Stewart Committee in regard to this question. This is what the workmen's compensation sub-committee of the Miners' Federation said in relation to that portion of the Bill which is designed to correct the differentiation against nystagmic workers. Referring to Clause 3, they say:This section cannot be properly considered without reference to the policy of differentiation which has been so long followed by the employers in relation to the employment of nystagmic workers. The Bill contains no provision which in any way discourages that policy. Workmen who are partially disabled are in most cases not provided with suitable employment, notwithstanding that emphasis has been laid by all parties on the fact that suitable employment is an essential part of the treatment towards recovery. In the case of those who have recovered sufficiently to enable them to return to their own employment underground, and have been certified accordingly, they are in the majority of cases excluded from work for all time. The practical effect of present legislation is to enable and encourage the employers to continue this policy. This Bill contains no provision which in any way modifies that policy, nor does it restrict its continuation in any way; and, in the absence of clear statutory provision on this point, this section will tend to give even further encouragement to and reasons for the perpetuation and extension of this policy.I say to hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, and I think they will do me the honour of believing what I say, that, if I believed that the Bill I was about to introduce was reflected in the words I have just read out, I would not have touched it. But let me give the other side of the picture. Here is what is said on it at page 30 of the Stewart Committee's Report:Unless the Mining Association can give an assurance on behalf of employers generally we think that the Home Office 1495 should seek a definite undertaking from, or on behalf of, the employers in each district that they will do their utmost to re-employ men who have suffered from miner's nystagmus when they are certified, or agreed, to be fit either for their old work or for other suitable work above or below ground. So far as work on the surface is concerned the undertaking which we suggest does not go further than that which the Mining Association was prepared to accept as reasonable in 1925, or indeed beyond what we believe to be the actual position in most districts at the present time. To enable the Home Office to watch the position we think the coal owners should be required to include in the returns which they already send to the Home Office a return showing the extent to which nystagmic workmen are being provided with work.That proposition is embodied in the Bill, and presumably also comes under the condemnation of hon. Members above the Gangway. The Report goes on to say, and I would call the attention of the House specifically to this paragraph:It is in the highest degree desirable that the arrangements which we have suggested above should be brought about voluntarily. Any form of compulsion must of necessity give rise to difficulties and is on general grounds undesirable. We hope that nothing of the kind may be necessary. We are of opinion, however, that in the event of any district refusing to give an undertaking, or failing to implement it if given, intervention, which might lead to the imposition of obligations of a very drastic character, would be imperative. The precise form which the intervention should take would depend on the cause of the trouble and the circumstances generally.I had intended in my speech to ask the Under-Secretary to give me an assurance that he would so approach the Mining Association, and I have no reason to doubt, because the Government are behind the implementation of all these recommendations, which are faithfully embodied in my Bill, that my hon. Friend would have given me that undertaking. The Bill provides, as I have already said, for enabling the Home Office to watch the position, and I cannot see why hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway should have felt it necessary to accept the statement in their workmen's compensation sub-committee's report that the Bill made no provision whatsoever for trying to better the position, but rather contains provisions which would worsen the position. That makes it extraordinarily difficult for me to understand what is at the back of the minds of my hon. Friends on the other side of the Gangway.
1496 There is one other point that I should like to make. In order to enable employment to be found for nystagmic workers, we have suggested, in accordance with the recommendations of the Stewart Committee, giving power to the medical boards, when the consideration of the case of any individual man is before them, to ask for information from the individual colliery as to what provision is likely to be made for the re-employment of the man if he is put off compensation. That is an additional provision in the Bill to try to remedy the position so far as differentiation against nystagmic workers is concerned.
There is still one other point on which I would touch. I think that the real objection of hon. Gentlemen to the Bill is on the question of a new definition of the disease. I think I can claim that, if one reads the Report and the medical evidence, which, indeed, is substantiated by the signatures of the trade union representatives on the Committee, that a new definition involving a test as to oscillation is a possible and sound recommendation. But I want to go one step further. We have attempted to meet the objections to the decision being in the hands of a medical referee by proposing the establishment of a medical board, which would be selected by the Home Secretary, which would be paid for out of moneys provided by Parliament, and on which would sit two experts, one an ophthalmic surgeon and one a physician, not only in order that they might raise the whole question of the incapacity or capacity of the individual workman to work, but in order to try to assist by reassuring the men, offering them advice and treatment, and, indeed, carrying out a friendly test rather than simply regarding themselves as people who are there to get the men off compensation at the earliest possible moment. I have noticed on many occasions, in speeches which have been made by hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, that they have taken very grave exception to the present system, which makes a man's whole future dependent on the decision of one man. Many speeches have been made by hon. Members in this House, and I have one here which I should like to quote. It was made on the Workmen's Compensation Bill which was introduced on 18th November, and it was made by 1497 an hon. Member who represents a constituency in my own part of the country. He said:I want to conclude with this: To-day the decision of the medical referee is the decision of one man. I have heard legal gentlemen speaking in this House quote a maxim laid down by the Lord Chief Justice or someone else, that not only must justice be done but that justice must appear to have been done. We want the man who goes before a medical referee to have the feeling that justice has been done. We say that it is not right that the destiny of an injured workman should be in the hands of one man, that one man should determine what is to be for all time the standard of life of that man and his family, and, therefore, we propose a board of three medical referees."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1938; cols. 1238–9, Vol. 341.]It is true that my Bill proposes a board of only two medical referees; but, at any rate, that is an advance on the present system, which has been, so rightly I think, condemned by hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway. We want the workman to feel that he has had a fair examination, and that nothing more could have been done as regards the examination. That new proposal of mine covered what hon. Gentleman were asking for in the Bill they introduced.
The new definition of miners' nystagmus is, I think, a point to which the attention of the House should be called. We embarked on this new definition because it was recommended by the Stewart Committee. At the same time, we also agreed to the recommendation for the establishment of a medical board. The medical board was to have power to hear an appeal, and we did not carry the definition of miners' nystagmus, so far as the oscillation of 15 seconds, stooping and in the dark, was concerned, to the medical board; we gave the medical board power to decide on all the relevant evidence. But in response to representations made by hon. Gentlemen, and because I was so determined that no man who suffered from miners' nystagmus should be done an injustice, under the new procedure, I asked my hon. Friend whether the Government would consider a concession which even went outside the recommendations of the Committee. I asked that the medical board should be entirely free to certify a man to be suffering from miners' nystagmus without any definition. I am glad and proud to say that my hon. Friend, with- 1498 out any question, though after consultation with the appropriate authorities of course, accepted my request and told the mining Members in the House that the medical board would be perfectly free in all circumstances, with no terms attached, to consider the case of any man who might appeal from the decision of the certifying surgeons.
There is no point in my taking up the time of the House further. I have done my best to introduce a Bill which I genuinely believed would be of benefit to the nystagmic workers. I say this—and I do not think anyone can challenge my statement—that, whatever the result of the turning down of the Bill may be, the nystagmic workers will be the losers. But I am not going to press the Bill. Those who are the trusted representatives of the miners must take their own course. I, so far as the miners are concerned, am an outside person: I am not of them, so to speak. But I did hope and believe that this Bill would be beneficial. The miners are not prepared to accept it, and I would not dream of asking either my friends in the House or the Government to press a Bill on the miners which they are prepared to work against Clause by Clause. I, naturally, am disappointed. I believed that I might perhaps even have created a Parliamentary record as a woman Member by being so fortunate as to get two private members' Bills on the Statute Book. That goes by the board, but I am not defeated. I would far rather go down in fighting a good cause than I would win in achieving a bad one. I am going down fighting, because, although I lose to-day, I believe that in the future I shall win. It may be that one day hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway will introduce a Bill to deal with the people whose interests I have served to-day. If they do, I hope that the Bill will be as good as the one I have introduced to-day. I am neither defeated nor downhearted. One day I shall come again.
§ 11.42 a.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson
I beg to second the Motion.
I am sure the House will want me to congratulate the hon. Member—
§ Mr. Nicholson
As I was saying, I am sure the House will want me to congratulate my hon. Friend on the manner in which she introduced the Bill, and to mingle with those congratulations the sincere condolences of hon. Members on all sides that she has not been able to achieve what is the ambition of every hon. Member by getting the Bill on the Statute Book. We should all have been pleased if she had achieved the record of being the first woman Member to get two Bills on the Statute Book in the same Parliament. I do not wish to waste the time of the House any more than my hon. Friend has done. She has taken the stand that she has "come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." I thought it rather ominous that we should see in the House at present my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), who has a book in the press on the compensation laws, and who has just published one on burial reform.
I want to pay this tribute to the hon. Lady. I am sure nobody in this House doubts her deep sincerity and her profound wish to do something to help the miners. We have both contested the same constituency. In one case I was successful; in another, I was defeated by the hon. Member who sits above the Gangway, but I got 20,000 miners' votes. I hoped myself that this would have been a day of good omen, because this is my own subject. With the help of hon. Members above the Gangway, I got a Bill through four years ago dealing with this same subject. In addition, this happens to be my birthday, and I hoped that I was going to get a birthday present from the House in the shape of this Bill, or, at any rate, its Second Reading. This Bill, obviously, is for the benefit of miners, and it is entirely the business of the miners' representatives what is done with it. But I would remind them that, it is also their responsibility, and that if they reject a Bill, introduced with the sincere intention of benefiting the miners, it will not be forgotten in their constituencies. I quite understand that there may be objections, and I quite agree that any Bill that affects workmen's compensation, if it is to be successful, must be more or less an agreed Bill. But I am faced with this dilemma. Every person who has to deal with miners not only 1500 expresses, but feels, the deepest sympathy with the victims of accidents, and particularly with the victims of nystagmus.
§ Mr. Nicholson
The hon. Member has said truly that sympathy is all they get. We have opposed each other's Bills, I voted against the Bill which hon. Members introduced in November, and they have voted against this Bill to-day. We lavish sympathy upon them. My hon. Friend said that she was not downhearted about this Bill, and hon. Members above the Gangway are not downhearted, but I can tell them who will be downhearted about the Bill, and that will be the sufferers from miners' nystagmus.
§ Mr. Nicholson
It will not be forgotten. I beseech the House to have some sense of reality. If we go on voting against each other's Bills, the victims of accidents in the mining industry will be downhearted. I regard this matter as the most serious to come before this House, as nobody representing a mining constituency can ever get out of his mind the position of those who suffer from accidents and disease in that industry. I certainly cannot.
I have a proposition to put before the House, and I ask hon. Members to consider it seriously. I ask hon. Members to look at the long Title of the Bill. The hon. Lady was kind enough to ask my assistance in drafting it, and, having made the mistake in my own Bill of drawing too narrow a title, I made this long Title the most comprehensive that I possibly could. Hon. Members will observe that it embraces the whole of the recommendations of the Stewart Report. The suggestion I make is that we should let the Bill go to Committee—perhaps this is out of Order, Mr. Speaker, but I hope not—not with the intention in our minds of getting the Bill on to the Statute Book, but with the intention of using the facilities of the Committee stage to get all the recommendations of the Stewart Report thrashed out. I, on my part, speaking for myself and, I think, for certain other hon. Friends of mine, will 1501 be prepared to give a pledge, if the miners' representatives in the House, who are more or less unanimously opposed to any suggestion, that I will back them up in that opposition, and will not try to get the Bill through. It is a thousand pities, when you have had a Committee sitting for some time and a most interesting report has been produced that that report should not be discussed either by this House or by a Committee of this House. The proper place for it to be discussed is in Committee, and, apart from that, I still think that bits of it will be accepted by everybody. I refer particularly to Clause 11, which is, perhaps, small but none the less valuable as far as it goes. That is the whole tenor of my speech to-day.
I suggest that the Bill be sent to Committee in order that all the recommendations of the Stewart Report may be debated at as great a length as hon. Members may think necessary. When I was a small child, on my birthday, I used to be allowed to choose my own dinner—I expect that most hon. Members have been in that happy position—and the dinner that I choose for to-day is that, as quickly as possible, cutting the cackle as far as we can, we should agree to send the Bill to Committee in order to thrash out every aspect of the Stewart Report.
§ 11.49 a.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald
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."
It is with some little regret that I rise to move the rejection of this Bill, partly because I would have liked to have seen the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) secure a record. I fully appreciate her disappointment. She and I have been in constant and very close contact for two or three days in the presence of the Under-Secretary for the Home Department, and we agreed yesterday that, however, kind she was to me, I was to be kinder to her, and I shall certainly keep to my promise. I feel that this Bill is like all Bills that are introduced in this House. There are some portions of it which are acceptable, other portions which are less acceptable, and there are also provisions which are thoroughly objectionable. That is my case as regards this Bill. 1502 There are provisions in the Bill to which I should extend a whole hearted welcome if there was nothing else in the Bill but those provisions. I have sympathy with the provisions of Clauses 3 and 6—the differential clauses—and I am very pleased to know that the Government, along with the hon. Member, realise that the coalowners have been very unfair, unreasonable and harsh in their treatment of nystagmus cases in the past. I am very pleased to know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department also takes the view that these cases have been very unsympathetically dealt with in days gone by. I accept these Clauses as far as they go; they are feeble, and, I am afraid, ineffective Clauses in achieving that purpose. Nevertheless, knowing as I do what sufferers from nystagmus have experienced with regard to re-employment, I welcome these Clauses as far as they go. The hon. Member for Wallsend rather emphasized the reference to the fact that an appeal was to be made to coal-owners to be more sympathetic towards these cases in future and not to be so unready to re-employ these men.
A week last Saturday—and this is months after this report was published—I was present at the meeting of the executive committee of the Miners' Federation for Lancashire, when one of the miners' agents brought forward a case of nystagmus from which the sufferer had fully recovered. The pit where he used to work having closed, he was reemployed at another colliery. He worked there for several weeks and gave every satisfaction, every official being pleased with his work. It was then discovered that at some time in his life the man had suffered from nystagmus, and he was immediately given notice that his services were no longer required. Therefore, it is evident that there is need for something to be done on these lines, and that appealing to the coalowners is not sufficient. In Lancashire to-day it is almost impossible for any man who has suffered from miners' nystagmus to be reemployed by the colliery. The Clauses in the Bill are an indication of what should be done—they do not go far enough—and as far as they go, I welcome them.
Clauses 4 and 5 dealing with lump sum settlements are in the right direction. To-day the position is very unfair to the worker. The employer can at any time, if 1503 he thinks fit, apply to the county court for a lump sum settlement and ask the judge to make an award which the man has no option but to accept. There are cases in which, perhaps, the workman himself would like a lump sum settlement, but no matter for what purpose he wants it, or how anxious he may be to get it, he cannot go to the county court and ask the judge to make an order for a lump sum settlement. This Bill does provide for that in nystagmus cases, and I welcome the provision. It is a good and a very necessary provision. It is very unfair that the employer should be in a privileged position as compared with the workman. I do not object to the qualifications in the Clause. I think that it must be dependent upon the medical board agreeing that it is a good thing for the workman to have a lump sum settlement. This is a good provision. When one considers the danger of nystagmus cases, nervy and anxious as the sufferers are, and frequently abnormal in their outlook, it may sometimes be in the interests of the sufferer to have a lump sum settlement, and advice from the medical board as to whether he should have such a settlement or not is a good provision. But the decision still remains with the man as to whether he will accept the advice. It does not put the coal-owner in a better position than that in which he is to-day, when he can go in any case to the county court to make an application, but it does put the worker in a better position. Clauses 4 and 5 are in the right direction, but they need drastic Amendment.
I also welcome Clause 7. The setting up of medical boards in place of medical referees is in the right direction. I am not prepared to agree that one medical referee should have it in his power to determine the future of a workman and have the final and conclusive voice governing the remainder of the man's life. A medical board is a good thing. I and my hon. Friends have worked for a medical board in the past for disease and accident cases, and we shall continue to do so in the future. Clause 7 is a very good clause. I do not see any objection to Clause 9, which deals with compulsory insurance; it is in the right direction also. We ought to be quite clear on this point. The hon. Member for Wallsend is entirely wrong when she says that she has had 1504 some document which convinced her that we were opposed to this Bill entirely. There are objectionable features in almost every Clause, but there are certain Clauses which we would welcome, provided they were subjected to some drastic amendment.
Now I come to the Clauses which are most objectionable. We did not see the Bill until last Tuesday. That is hardly fair, for a Bill of this importance. Since Tuesday we have had some very hurried meeting's to consider the Bill and to arrange consultations with all concerned. No one need think that we have not considered the miners' interests in coming to our decision to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. Miners' representatives have never been as unanimous on any Bill as on this. The hon. Member for Wall-send suggests that a man becomes a trade union leader because of his go-ahead spirit and because of the confidence that is placed in him and that, therefore, the trade unionists under his leadership should necessarily accept his views. That argument can be applied to the Prime Minister. There are hon. Members who support the Prime Minister but who differ from him on certain important questions. Not long ago, for instance, he dropped the Milk Bill because of opposition. With regard to Mr. Jones, we put him into his present position in the miners' movement because we believed he was the best man for the job; but we do not think that everything that he does is necessarily right. We do not think that of any leader, because we do not accept the doctrine of infallibility. Mr. Jones has appended his signature to a report to which, in certain respects, we take exception.
Why do we particularly object to Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill? We object because we think they would operate directly against the interests of the miners. If anyone could convince us that it would be in the interests of the miners that these Clauses should go on to the Statute Book, we should gladly support them. We cannot take that view. We have considered the matter very carefully and we have taken the best expert advice we could get, and we are satisfied that those Clauses would operate adversely to the interests of the miners. Let me try to illustrate my argument. Let us say that a mining friend of mine has something wrong with his eyes. He goes to his panel doctor and says: "I do not know what is wrong 1505 with me, but I suffer from headaches and dizziness." The panel doctor says: "I think, but I am not sure, that there are signs of nystagmus. You had better see your branch secretary and go to the certifying surgeon." The man sees the branch secretary and goes to the certifying surgeon, who examines him and says: "Yes, quite definitely," and he issues a certificate that the man is suffering from nystagmus. The certificate then goes to the coalowners, and they almost inevitably send him to their own colliery doctor, who examines him and says: "Yes, I think the certifying surgeon is right. It is nystagmus." If, on the other hand, the colliery doctor says that the man has eye trouble but it is not nystagmus, the case goes to the medical referee, and expert on the disease, who either says, "You have nystagmus," or "You have not nystagmus." That is the end of it. The case cannot be carried any further.
We say that the machinery is sufficient to diagnose the disease and that it needs no alteration. It does not need anything in an Act of Parliament to say that if you do not find oscillation in the eye, continuing for 15 seconds, you must say that the man has not nystagmus. That is not fair. We know that there are times when oscillation is not there. It may be that just at the time when the man presents himself to the certifying surgeon there will not be oscillation. In the morning, for instance, after he has had a good night's sleep, it is possible that his eyes will not show oscillation for 15 seconds. The Bill says that provision is made for that. It says that the man can go at a later stage to a medical board of two experts, one a physician and the other an eye specialist, and that they can decide that he has nystagmus, even if there is no oscillation present. Where are we getting? A man is turned down by the certifying surgeon because he cannot say that there is oscillation for 15 seconds, and then there is power proposed in the Bill that a medical board shall be able to say that he has nystagmus even if there is no oscillation of the eyes. That cannot be right. Surely, if it is to be in the power of a medical board to grant a certificate without oscillation being present, it ought to be in the power of the certifying surgeon to do so.
I hope the Under-Secretary will not object to what I am about to say. The 1506 hon. Lady in her speech practically made out our case, because she constantly quoted from our documents. I hope the Under-Secretary will not mind my stating that I asked him whether he could give me the precentage of cases of nystagmus receiving compensation at the present time that would not be receiving it if this Bill had been in operation. He said that he could not give the percentage. asked him whether it would be 5, 10, 15, or 25 per cent. He again said that he could not give the figure, but he added: "There are a large number of cases now receiving compensation for nystagmus which under this Bill would not be receiving compensation." We do not want men to receive compensation for nystagmus if they are not suffering from nystagmus. If we thought that men were receiving compensation for nystagmus when they were not entitled to it, and that was happening in anything like large numbers, we should take steps to prevent it. We certainly do not want men to receive compensation for disease from which they do not suffer.
We oppose the Bill, Clauses 1 and 2 in particular, because we are not satisfied that the methods suggested for diagnosing the disease are the best methods. Doctors differ in their opinions. The majority of doctors say that oscillation must be present before there can be nystagmus, but I could produce an important minority of doctors who differ from that view. We do not think that this Bill is the right way to deal with this difficulty in connection with cases of miners nystagmus. There is a grievance, and we think that the legislation dealing with nystaginus cases should be amended, but not on these lines. We are asked to say what we would do if the Bill got a Second Reading. We are asked whether we could agree to the Second Reading, and then in Committee agree to certain Amendments or to the deletion of certain Clauses, so that the hon. Member for Wallsend would have the privilege of saying: "Not only have I piloted one Bill through the House of Commons, but I have piloted two." I was pleased to hear her say that she did not want to pilot a Bill through the House merely because it was a Bill, but that she wanted to pilot a Bill of substantial character. This Bill cannot be made a Bill of a substantial character in Committee—not 1507 with our approval. You may get non-mining Members to go on to the Committee to defeat the mining Members, but this Bill could not get through in any substantial form with the approval of the mining Members, because we are convinced that it is in the interests of the miners to keep it off the Statute Book.
Miners' nystagmus is a dread disease. Some of my friends have suffered from the disease and I have seen them, strong men physically, sitting with their heads in their hands, distressed and in pain, and finding life of no interest. I have always said that something must be done more than is being done for nystagmus cases. A friend of mine committed suicide and his wife received compensation because it was decided that he had committed suicide in consequence of miners' nystagmus. It is not a disease that troubles a man temporarily, but it is a very serious matter for him. I suggest that it should not be left to a private Member to deal with this urgent question, but that the Government should take it up themselves and see that the legislation which is introduced is not only in the interest of the employers, in taking away from them a certain burden which they resent carrying, but is in the interests of the miners who are suffering from this disease. I want legislation which will deal with the victims of this disease. It is their interests which is our concern, and it is because the Bill does not deal effectively with the interests of the victims that we oppose it.
§ 12.6 p.m.
Mr. W. Joseph Stewart
I beg to second the Amendment.
I do so as a miners' representative, and after due deliberation, because I believe that certain Clauses of the Bill, if it became law, would be prejudicial to the best interests of thousands of miners in this country who are suffering from miners' nystagmus. We often have compensation Bills introduced into this House dealing with the remuneration to be paid to workmen who are injured during the course of their duty, but I suggest that there can be no real compensation for loss of health, loss of pleasure, loss of economic security and a lowering of earning capacity in the future. It is only one of a multitude of efforts to placate a workman who has been injured, or who 1508 is suffering from disease as a result of his work. I suggest that the time has arrived, as far as compensation is concerned, when we should get away from piece-meal methods of dealing with this matter and introduce something which will bring a greater measure of justice to the great mass of people who are broken under the industrial machine. We are considering to-day a Measure which, I suggest, is in certain parts prejudicial to the best interests of our people. We strongly object to Clause i. We consider that the present description of the disease known as miners' nystagmus should be retained. Under the present statutory provisions the disease is described in the following terms:The disease known as miners' nystagmus, whether occurring in miners or others, and whether the symptoms of oscillation of the eyeballs be present or not.We object to the provision in Clause that no certification can be made unless the certifying surgeonfinds that oscillation of the eyeballs persists for not less than 15 seconds when the eyes are tested in a darkened room after the workman has performed suitable stooping exercises.If, for instance, the persistence of oscillation for 15 seconds results in a certificate of total disability in the case of A, would B be excluded from compensation, although the sole difference between his case and that of A is that in the case of B the oscillation is only for 14 seconds? It has already been observed that there is a proviso at the end of Clause 2 where a medical board, after examination of the workman and considering all the relevant evidence before them, are not prevented from determining that a workman is suffering from nystagmus if they are satisfied that oscillations of the eyes has been present in his case. Under that provision it is quite possible for the medical board to issue a certificate certifying that the workman is suffering from miners' nystagmus, notwithstanding the fact that there is no evidence whatever to prove that he has at any time had oscillations which have persisted for the 15 seconds set out in the Clause. Under the Clause there are two types of cases. The first is that a workman is excluded from the right to receive compensation because his oscillations do not persist for the specified period of 15 seconds, and, secondly, the case of a workman who is entitled to compensation without proof 1509 relating to the persistence of oscillations. In our view this will lead in practice to gross and unsatisfactory anomalies which could easily be avoided if the present statutory definition of the disease were retained.
In my experience as a miner I remember during the years preceding the War and during War years being troubled with this dread disease of nystagmus. While on the surface it would not be discernible to the man in the street or to a medical expert that I had the disease. But getting below into the working place, where I had to proceed in a stooping position, where the lighting was bad and where the conditions altogether militated against me, the oscillations were prevalent and were clearly discernible. In more ways than one I realised that I was the subject of nystagmus. In fact, in going in and out to my working place—some of my comrades can bear me out—in meeting a light coming towards me or overtaking a light, I had to step on one side until the lights got out of the way before I attempted to proceed on my journey in or out of the mine. I submit that while these symptoms may be clearly defined below ground, there may not be above ground the necessary oscillations set out in Clause r which must determine whether a man supposed to be suffering from this disease has really got it or not.
The Bill does not say definitely that anything is to be done in regard to the provision of work for men who are incapacitated from nystagmus except in Sub-section(1, c) of Clause 7, where it is stated:giving advice with respect to that disease and with respect to suitable employment for a workman examined by the board.The Bill contains no provision for the employment of men who are suffering from nystagmus and are certified for light work. Workmen who are partially disabled are in most cases not provided with suitable work, notwithstanding the fact that all parties, medical men and others concerned, agree that work is necessary for recovery. In looking at the Stewart Report for the autumn of 1936 I find that there were 2,488 men suffering from partial incapacity and fit for light work, but for them practically no light work was available. In West Yorkshire we had 180 men, in South Yorkshire 483, in Northumberland 179, in Durham 895, in 1510 North Wales 57 and in South Wales 694, or a total of 2,488 men who had been certified as fit for light work. Yet the owners did not provide that work which the medical fraternity suggested should be provided in the best interest of the men. Instead, in West Yorkshire we had 44 employed, in South Yorkshire 123, in Northumberland 42, in Durham 153, in North Wales 23 and in South Wales 165. That is a total of 550 persons for whom light work was found out of 2,488 cases, or 22 per cent.
We strongly object to the provision contained in Clause 6 for this reason: The practical effect of the Clause is to impose a penalty upon the men affected. The fixing of an arbitrary period of 13 weeks is objectionable because it ignores the question of fruitful earning capacity and therefore violates one of the principles upon which the right to compensation is based. Under this Clause the workman is deprived of his right to compensation notwithstanding the fact that it is admitted that he is disabled in consequence of a scheduled disease; and thus without the slightest justification the employer is relieved from his obligations. If this Clause were put into effect what is the person to do when compensation is no longer payable? We have many in-stances of what happens in the county of Durham. I was going through some papers this year, and I found that in Durham there are 520 persons receiving compensation who have to make application to the Poor Law because their compensation is inadequate to meet their immediate needs. The result is that this year Durham has had to spend approximately £21,000 out of the rates to meet the needs of these people, who ought to have sufficient compensation from other sources instead of having to seek assistance from the pockets of the ratepayers.
I could go on dealing with other Clauses of the Bill. I do say that with many parts of the Bill we are in agreement, but there are one or two Clauses with which we are in disagreement and which, if they became law, we believe would militate against the best interests of those suffering the fell disease of nystagmus.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Wilson
I sympathise with the hon. Lady who has moved the Second Reading of the Bill. She is the 1511 victim of the futile Rules of this House, whereunder no Member successful in the Ballot has adequate time to draft his Bill, and to discuss it with others. This elaborate, de-tailed and difficult Bill was put before Members of the House at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, was on the Order Paper on Wednesday and did not reach country Members until the first post on Thursday. That is not a system at all; the sooner it is altered the better. If the hon. Lady has six weeks or two months in which to frame the Bill and to discuss it with the interests concerned, I do not doubt that the nystagmic miner would be better off. If the nystagmic miner is not getting the satisfaction he deserves, it is thanks to our Rules and our failure to bring them up-to-date.
The speeches of the hon. Members who opposed the Bill certainly suggest that, like the curate's egg, the Bill is good in parts, and that they would be prepared to accept those parts. That being the case, I cannot but think that suggestion of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson), that the Bill should go upstairs for further consideration, has much in its favour. I should be sorry to see the Bill withdrawn. Clause 9, if nothing else, is worth having, and there are certain other Clauses which are good and my only fear is expressed in the words of the late Lord Morley in his book on "Compromise" (1st Ed. p. 185–7) where he says—A small and temporary improvement may really be the worst enemy of a great and permanent improvement unless the first is made on the lines and in the direction of the second." Otherwise "it makes it more difficult to return to the right lines and direction when improvement is demanded.He goes on to say:The second possible evil of a small reform is not that it takes us out of the progressive course, but that it is represented as settling the question…setting men's minds in a position of contentment not justified by the amount of what has been done, which makes it all the harder to arouse them to new effort when the inevitable time arrives.As a Royal Commission is about to be appointed, I do not think the second objection holds good, and as long as the mining industry is as well represented as it is in this House, there is not much in the first objection. The case for giving the Bill a Second Reading is thus a strong 1512 one. The Bill concerns four Departments of Government; it is the concern of the Mines Department; of the Medical Research Council, which works under the Lord President of the Council; and it should concern the Ministry of Health. It is merely an historical accident that it should be under the Home Office.
Nystagmus costs the employers £450,000 a year; it costs miners as a community at least twice as much as that. The hon. Lady has done a great service to the whole community by raising the matter; but I very much doubt the first two Clauses of the Bill will help sufferers. These Clauses are based on the report of the Stewart Committee. I feel sure that they were wrong. If they felt sure of the argument, why did they not publish the evidence given before them? Why did they assure all the witnesses that they would be heard in private and that nothing would be ever said as to what they told the Committee? This House ought not to act, in general, upon the reports of Committees, however learned and representative those Committees may be, if they deliberately suppress the evidence on which they base their reports. That is more particularly the case when no Member of the House is a member of the Committee. It is clear from the Committee's Report that there was a great divergence of evidence given before them, and when they say that some witnesses thought this and others that, we are entitled, as the High Court of Parliament, to know who took one view and who took another.
As has been said by hon. Members who moved the rejection of the Bill, the Bill leaves virtually untouched the two main sources of trouble. One is inability to find alternative employment which is really the cure for nystagmus, and the other is the question of medical boards and medical referees. It is true that a medical board of two is substituted for a medical referee; but the miners do not trust the medical referee to-day, and the Stewart Committee, in language of studious moderation, have explained why, in paragraph 15:it is well known that individual medical referees take different views on the question of increased susceptibility, and that the decisions they give vary accordingly" with the result that there is "great lack of uniformity.1513 A referee acts under a Statute, as a final Court of Appeal, and it ought to be impossible for anyone to say of an English Court of Justice that the decision varies with the personality of the judge, particularly when the court is the final court of appeal. The Report of the British Medical Association on Miners' Nystagmus, published in 1936, contains statements based upon the statements of certifying surgeons, and which are a discredit to those who made the report. In that report which was before the Stewart Committee, it is stated that:In America, where compensation is not payable, no cases [of nystagmus] are reportedThat suggests that if no compensation were payable, there would be no nystagmus. What else could it mean? If it does not mean that, it is meaningless. The report, which is written on the evidence of or by men to whom the miners must go for a decision, goes on to say:From the relatively mild affliction of pre-compensation days, miners' nystagmus has become the dread of all colliers and the despair of insurance companies.That is a statement which ought not to be made by men acting in a judicial capacity. They ought not to tell a man suffering from nystagmus that because he gets compensation he has become the despair of insurance companies. The report goes on:The only part of his disease that can be directly and invariably attributed to his occupation is the oscillation of the eyes.The words "directly and invariably" form no part of the Workmen's Compensation Act. The question is whether it arises out of and in course of his employment. The words suggest the application of illegal criteria. The report then says:To go on indefinitely paying compensation to a miner who has lost his nerve in this manner long after he has ceased to have any oscillations, and to call his disability miners' nystagmus, is a mistake and tends to perpetuate in the minds of sufferers, and of medical men who are asked to certify them, a false conception of the disease.This might be an insurance company's pamphlet, but it comes from the British Medical Association, and it does no credit to that body. I urge the Home Office, when they introduce something on the lines of this Bill, dealing with the same case, to cut out the practising expert altogether and to bring it, as was long ago 1514 urged, under the existing machinery of the Ministry of Health, whose officers would unquestionably enjoy fuller confidence.
A neurasthenic disposition may indeed incline a workman to over-estimate his malady. Nystagmus, as the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Macdonald) has reminded us, leads in some cases to grave mental derangements and sometimes to suicide, but there is no reason to think that this frame of mind is more common than the sanguine and courageous temperament of the man who continues to work long after he should have stopped, and continues to carry on until his condition becomes chronic and incurable. Moreover, it is not unreasonable to regard this psycho-neurotic condition itself as an industrial disease, and the real objection to any change in the definition is that, for practical purposes, as it stands, it covers certain forms of psycho-neurosis.
In a judgment in such a case, where the victim committed suicide—the case of Dixon v. Sutton Heath and Lea Green Colliery Company—Lord Justice Scrutton emphasised that the victim had been a cheerful man before he onset of miners' nystagmus, and he based his judgment largely upon that fact. The Medical Research Council in its Third Report on Nystagmus in 1932, in conclusion No. 4, suggested that the psychological conditions connected with nystagmus should be regarded as analogous to shell-shock. Under this Bill, cases of industrial shell-shock would be completely excluded, and so long as workmen's compensation remains in its present lather chaotic state, I agree with the miners in preferring to see no change in this respect.
But there is an alternative. The Miners' Welfare Fund, under the Act of 1934, provided £20,000 for research into safety and health, but in all those magnificent reports there is no recent reference whatever to nystagmus. Nystagmus is purely a mining disease. It should have a special scheme, like silicosis and be administered in connection with or under the Central Miners' Welfare Committee of the Mines Department, which is appointed by the Secretary for Mines and on which miners' and mineowners' interests are equally represented. We should then get away, almost at once, from the present unsatisfactory position.
1515 The Miners' Welfare Fund is well established, is popular, is trusted, is independent and under the general control of the Ministry of Mines. I do not doubt for a moment that there would be a substantial reduction both in the cost of nystagmus and its incidence if it were dealt with by a non-party and impartial committee. At present, the percentage of new cases of nystagmus has fallen from 1.61 in 1932, to 1.28 in 1936, which is good. The actual number of cases has fallen from 11,083 in 1932 to 7,724 in 1936, and the figures for 1937 are better still. With only 7,000 new cases a year, we should get the whole thing out of politics, out of this House and under the Welfare Fund. As for the medical referees, the Miners' Welfare Fund has a medical assessor whose opinion is taken as final by both sides. Surely the hon. Lady, with the assent of the interests concerned, could insert some provision of that sort into the Bill and get us away from the medical referee who may be acting for an insurance company on Monday, sitting in court as an assessor on Tuesday and giving his services to a hospital on Wednesday. It is impossible that that system should continue. It is universally condemned. The Stewart Report killed it.
The question of employment is vital, but is not dealt with by the Bill. It could be dealt with once we got this question out of party politics, out of insurance and into the hands of the Miners' Welfare Fund. In Germany, the compensation authority is also responsible for the berufs-sorge—employment-finding committees—and it is to the financial interest of both sides to find employment for nystagmic miners. That is not possible here. The miners themselves would object to it; it cannot be done by the employers because the insurance companies object to it and the Ministry of Labour or Mines has no adequate machinery. But if nystagmus as a disease were treated, like silicosis, as a separate scheme, financially independent, worked by the Welfare Fund under the auspices of the Ministry of Mines, then I am convinced that, in four or five years, we should find a profound and beneficial change.
§ 12.38 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
I share the disappointment which has 1516 been expressed by the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) at the attitude of the miners' representatives towards this Bill. Perhaps the best contribution I can make to-day is to explain, as briefly as I can, the attitude of the Home Office towards this whole question. Everybody acquainted with mining districts knows the great seriousness of this disease. I have been looking into the matter, and I find that, although it has been known and has continued for a long time in mines, it was first described by that great pioneer in the investigation of industrial diseases, Thackrah, in 1832, and it first came into real prominence when it was scheduled under the Workmen's Compensation Act in 1906. From 1908 onwards there was a steady and rapid increase of disablement cases due to it. The total number of cases rose from 460 in 1906 to 2,500 in 1911. The number was 6,000 in 1914 and 11,000 in 1923. It is satisfactory to know, as the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) has pointed out, that the number dropped in 1936 to 7,724. It would be of interest to inquire into the cause of that fall, apart from the fall in the number of miners at work.
Everybody will probably agree nowadays that the cause of the disease is inadequate and unsuitable lighting. I am glad to say there has been a good deal of improvement in lighting conditions, particularly in certain areas. The Mines Department sent out a circular recently and progress in this respect will be expedited by the lighting regulations which came into full operation in 1937. I would draw attention to one point in regard to lighting to which the Stewart Committee attached considerable importance. That is the use of cap lighting. Those who have read that report and are familiar with this matter will probably agree that from the medical point of view, with regard to nystagmus, there is a great deal to be said for cap lighting. But there are certain inconveniences and certain difficulties with regard to upkeep. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that it is an important factor in improving the lighting and has considerable technical advantages. The number of such lights in use has increased considerably. It has risen from 33,000 in 1934 to 94,000 in June, 1938, and there 1517 is an increase of 13 per cent. in comparison with 1937. In Scotland, practically all the electric safety lamps used at the coal face, are now cap lamps.
There has been a great deal of medical disagreement in the past about miners' nystagmus, and what I am about to say will not, perhaps, be agreed to entirely by hon. Members opposite. But after the very considerable and careful investigations which have been carried out by medical research committees in recent years, there is practical unanimity of authoritative medical opinion about this disease. The Home Office secured the appointment of such committees in 1922, 1923 and 1932 and one of their findings was that there is not a large increase in the amount of nystagmus actually existing among the miners in the pits, but there is an increase in the amount of disablement which is largely due, in the opinion of the committees, to unsatisfactory arrangements for medical supervision and certification. That is attributed to the fact that erroneous ideas have been present in the minds of many medical men who have had to deal with the subject, and who have given extremely discouraging views of the disease to the miners. For example, it has been said to men that nystagmus would permanently affect their sight and that it was extremely important that they should not go down into the pits in future. That, I am informed upon authoritative opinion at present, is quite erroneous and has an extremely discouraging effect upon the men who, in many cases, partly as a result of the disease, are peculiarly susceptible to discouragement.
Therefore, the Home Office set up a Committee under Judge Stewart to reconsider the problem in the light of the reports of those medical committees. It was a very strong Committee. It included two members of the medical profession and three trade union Labour representatives—including Mr. Joseph Jones, late President of the Mineworkers Federation. I do not quarrel at all with the attitude of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) to the advice given by the Stewart Committee. I think it was a perfectly common-sense attitude, and we do not expect representatives to act in what I may describe as a totalitarian way. On the other hand, I think the hon. Member should appreciate the point of view 1518 of the Home Office that, having taken a good deal of trouble to get the best trade union representation it could, it naturally attaches very considerable importance to the report which the Committee produced, because they did go very carefully into the matter and they did reach unanimous recommendations. Therefore, we are faced with a Bill the object of which is to give effect to the recommendations unanimously reached by this very strong Committee.
I would like to go over the ground for a moment or two. The Committee did find that there were considerable defects in the present system. The main defects were, they thought, that there were unsatisfactory arrangements for medical certification and supervision, and I should like to point out to the hon. Member for Ince that there is not quite the antagonism between the two sections of the report with regard to medical opinion that he indicated, because it is not necessarily wrong to give power to an expert medical board to do something which you are not prepared to allow a certifying surgeon to do. One of the facts that came out of the inquiry was that the medical specification was not satisfactory; the matter is somewhat similar in a way to the silicosis problem in that it is a complicated and difficult disease to diagnose and the certifying surgeons are not experts in nystagmus, at any rate not the kind of experts that we regard as necessary to make authoritative diagnoses. The Committee had to choose between setting up an elaborate and expensive system and adopting a simpler and more common-sense plan. From a common-sense point of view, it is wise, if you can, to find a simpler plan than to set up an elaborate and expensive plan.
§ Mr. G. Macdonald
Does not the Bill say to the certifying surgeon, "You cannot certify where oscillation is present for less than 15 seconds" and to the medical board that it can?
§ Mr. Lloyd
That is true, and when the Committee had come down on the side of the view that on the whole it was better to keep the simpler procedure, the more commonsense procedure, of keeping the certifying surgeons, who, after all, are on the spot and more accessible as compared with the medical board, it came to the conclusion that it was essential to give 1519 some simple and readily understood guidance to the certifying surgeons to deal with this complicated disease, in view of the fact that the certifying surgeons are not experts and that at present they are inclined to take widely divergent views on this disease. It is not a very difficult test, as I am advised. When it was first mooted the proposal was oscillation for five minutes. Later it was reduced to 30 seconds, and in the Bill it is 15 seconds. I am authoritatively advised—I am not a doctor myself—that it is not possible to have the disease of miners' nystagmus without that degree of oscillation occurring at some stage. Therefore, the proposal of the Committee in the Bill is to allow the certifying surgeons to give the first decision on cases that come before them on the basis of this simple rule of guidance, but it is proposed to deal with exceptional cases, such as those mentioned, for example, by the hon. Member when as he said, and said rightly, that oscillation might have gone off at the time that a man came before the certifying surgeon, and the man's position might be prejudiced if there was not some further provision for dealing with cases of that kind. That is the reason why the Committee does propose to have a very expert medical board and not to restrict them by giving them guidance in the same way as it is proposed to give to the certifying surgeons, because they are expert diagnostic physicians and they are in a position to diagnose without this rather simple guidance which it is proposed to give to the others who are not so expert. The Committee proposes that they should have the power to give an award in favour of a workman being nystagmic without him showing, at their examination, oscillation.
I am wishing to put these proposals as fairly as I can before the House. That was one of the ways in which the Committee found that the present situation was unsatisfactory, and that was one section of their proposals to remedy it. The other side of the question which the Committee found to be unsatisfactory was with regard to the very great difficulty that the nystagmic workman finds in getting work. It is no part of my purpose to dispute what hon. Members opposite say about those difficulties, but I want to point out, what was emphasised 1520 by my hon. Friend the Member for Wall-send, that it is very important, in their own interests, that they should get work and that they should get it as soon as possible after the preliminary period of rest which they ought to have after the first onset of the disease. The Committee fully recognised the desirability of these men getting work, and they went into the question whether it was possible. They considered, for instance, whether it was possible for the mineowners in all cases to provide light work on the surface, and after going into it very carefully, they regretfully came to the conclusion that it was not possible in all cases to do this. They then tried to push the inquiry further and to see whether there was any underground work in which nystagmic workmen could reasonably engage, having regard to the very great importance of getting them back to work. If there was underground work, in well lighted positions, which was suitable for them, it would be in their interests to have it, and the Committee thought they had found a certain amount of that kind of work as well.
Therefore, the second part of the Committee's proposal was that the mineowners should be approached to give an undertaking to do their utmost to provide work in as many cases as possible. There were also provisions in the scheme whereby, in the case of men for whom it was impossible to find work and having regard to the very great importance of getting them back into activity, they might, if they wished, go to some Ministry of Labour instructional or training centre, because as I say, the Committee were strongly in favour of getting them back into industrial activity. These proposals in the Stewart Report and those in the Bill form a single co-ordinated group of recommendations, and it is the case that the coalowners attach a good deal of importance to the acceptance of the proposals for improved medical supervision and the alteration of the definition of the disease, in order to enable them to carry out the second part of the recommendation in regard to finding suitable work. I should like to sum up the arguments on this point by quoting the Committee:The Committee think it is established that the present position is unjust to employers inasmuch as they may be called upon to pay compensation in circumstances, when, in our view, a certificate of incapacity 1521 should not have been issued; and it is unjust to the disabled miner who is largely deprived of the means of recovery and the hope of further employment.Broadly speaking, these are the two wings of the co-ordinated group of recommendations. I have endeavoured to draw attention to the way in which the Home Office sees this problem. There is a good deal in the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin that this Bill shows the disadvantage of a highly complicated Measure of this kind being introduced by a Private Member, because inevitably it is not possible for a Private Member to give the same kind of consideration to the preliminary stages in the preparation of the Bill as it is when a Government Measure is introduced. With the best will in the world—and I am not making any criticism of the hon. Lady, because she does not deserve any—it was impossible for her to get a complicated Bill of this kind properly drafted as quickly as she desired in this case. Everybody has worked as hard as possible, but the time available was not sufficient for the miners' representatives to consider the terms of the Bill. Had it been a Government Measure, on the other hand, there would have been prolonged consultations with the miners' representatives before the Bill was introduced. However much hon. Members opposite might be inclined to think they would have succeeded in pointing out where some of the proposals were wrong, I am inclined to think that we should have been able to convince them that a good many of their objections, if not all of them, were based on misapprehensions, albeit honestly held. That happens again and again in the case of Bills. We regret that hon. Gentlemen opposite have felt that it is necessary to take up this attitude, and since I understand that the hon. Lady is not intending to press the matter, I would advise the House not to divide on the Bill.
§ 12.59 p.m.
§ Mr. John
I will not detain the House very long in view of the fact that the hon. Lady is not going to carry the Bill to a Division, and the Parliamentary Secretary has said that the Home Office cannot recommend the House to accept the Bill in the present circumstances. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that a Bill of this nature is too critical for a Private Member to undertake. If the 1522 Government feel that the subject is of sufficient importance to appoint a Royal Commission about it, it is the duty of the Government to introduce a Bill based on the recommendations of the Commission. I am glad that the Home Office had not introduced a Bill just now, because I gather from the conclusions of the Under-Secretary that there would not be much difference between the Bill of the Home Office and the present Bill.
§ Mr. John
I may infer, therefore, that they gave assistance not only in the drafting, but in what was to be the composition of the Bill. We would have opposed it, even if the Home Office had introduced it, for two or three fundamental reasons and because of objections to some of the major Clauses. We would have opposed it because of the drastic change which is made in the diagnosis of the disease. At present a man can be certified as suffering from nystagmus notwithstanding the fact that the oscillation of the eyeballs is not present. Why was that definition arrived at? It was arrived at as the result of another Royal Commission in 1912, which came to the conclusion that a miner could suffer from nystagmus regardless of the fact that oscillation was not present. The definition was given as it is at present contained in the Act. They made another statement, however, and said that it could not be considered that oscillation was invariably present in cases of nystagmus. What would be the position if this Bill became an Act? Why did the Stewart Committee suggest this change in the diagnosis? They gave two reasons. The first was that the medical evidence was overwhelmingly to the effect that 1523 nystagmus cannot occur without the presence of oscillation. The other reason was that in occasional instances a miner was wrongly certified and that it was unfair to the employer who might be called upon to pay compensation.
With regard to the first reason, it may be true, and undoubtedly is true, but even the Stewart Committee does not say that the medical evidence was unanimous. There are eminent men in the profession who still are prepared to certify on the same lines precisely and arrive at the same conclusion as those arrived at by the Departmental Committee of 1912. There is no change in the views of a large number of eminent men in the medical profession as compared with the conclusions arrived at in 1912. I doubt whether, if any medical question arose in this House, hon. Members who belong to the medical profession would be able to give a unanimous opinion. Therefore, the question of oscillation being present and being certified as a condition for the receipt of compensation must be an arbitrary matter. Some members of the medical profession say that nystagmus cannot be present unless there is oscillation. Other members say a man can have nystagmus notwithstanding the fact that oscillation is absent.
Suppose we take for granted the report of the Stewart Committee. Is oscillation of the eyeballs a deciding factor? Here, again, there is considerable divergence of opinion among the medical profession with regard to the standard. The hon. Member said that three or four committees had been appointed. The Royal Medical Research Committee sat on the question and fixed the standard of oscillation at five minutes. The representatives of the miners raised an objection to that, and another medical research committee was selected. They fixed a standard at 30 seconds. The Stewart Committee have fixed it at 15 seconds. It is a purely arbitrary time limit. Oscillation cannot be a deciding factor. It is not continuous and of daily occurrence; in fact, from the medical science point of view, it sometimes depends on the weather. When a man is examined, it may be a sunny day and there will be no oscillation. If it is a cloudy day there will be oscillation. It is unfair for a workman who has contracted nystagmus for compensation to be dependent on the 1524 vagaries of the weather and the temperament of the individual. Temperament plays an important part with regard to the oscillation of the eyeballs.
We have heard about the anomalies in Clause 2 with regard to a certifying surgeon not being able to certify unless he finds oscillation existing for 15 seconds, but the medical Board will be able to certify when oscillation is not present. I do not think, even if the Home Office introduced a Bill to that effect, they could avoid that, because the medical board is taking the place of the county court judge and the judge has the right to do that. Therefore, if this Clause provided that the medical board also could not certify an individual unless oscillation was present, a large number of genuine nystagmus cases would be deprived of compensation. Certifying surgeons, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, are not specialists, but they have had considerable experience and a number of them have been doing this work for years. They are fully acquainted with the symptoms and the conditions of nystagmus, and are able to judge with a fair measure of accuracy whether an individual is suffering from nystagmus or not.
In certain instances, in regard to making oscillation a condition of certification, a miner may be wrongly certified. An employer may be called upon to pay compensation in a case where an error has been made. I would ask hon. Members: Is it worse for an employer or a rich insurance company to have to pay compensation where an error has been made in certification, or for a workman to have to suffer in consequence of that error? The workman loses the opportunity of earning his living. He is unable to earn wages and unable to obtain or to claim compensation, with the result that, because of that error in diagnosis, he is thrown upon the scrapheap.
We do not want men to be paid compensation if they do not suffer from injury or from disease, but where an error has been made and if the benefit of the doubt is to be given in any direction, we think that workmen ought to get the benefit of that doubt and not the insurance company or the employer. Adequate provisions are made in the Bill to safeguard these errors if they are for a continuous or long period, and there is 1525 power given in doubtful cases for the medical board to call men up for periodical examination. The Bill would operate very unfairly against workmen. At the present time an employer has the right to demand that a workman submit himself for examination. The medical board are empowered in the Bill to call men up for examination, and workmen who have contracted nystagmus will be subject not only to examination at the behest or the request of employers but to periodical examination at the request of the medical board.
The recovery of the nystagmic man is dependent upon work, but can anyone say, after reading the Bill, that there is any provision in it to provide work for the nystagmic worker? There is no provision; in fact, the Bill goes quite to the contrary, Clause 4 would mean the weeding out from compensation and from the industry altogether of the man who has contracted nystagmus, because it says: "We are going to give to the medical board the right to say that it is to the interest of the workman that a lump sum should be given, provided that we find that it is not conducive to the interest of the man to continue in mining work."
A great deal of play has been made this morning that the Clause gives equal right to the workman with the employer to demand and to ask for a lump sum, but it does not. The employer has that right at the present time. He will have further rights under the Bill because of a decision of the medical board, but the workman will have the right only after the medical board has certified that he is not longer fit for the industry. If there is failure to arrive at an agreement, only then will the workman have the right to claim a lump sum. What is the position of the nystagmic man at the present time? Under the present Acts he is certified as suffering from nystagmus without regard to oscillation not being present, because oscillation was not a condition. Formerly, when the certifying surgeon issued a certificate to that effect, the certificate was accepted by the employer as a justification or as a guarantee of total disablement, and full compensation was paid. Later, the employers made an appeal against the certificate of the certifying surgeon, not for the purpose of getting the certificate set aside but to get a decision for the payment of partial compensation. There was a development of the 1526 methods of the employers; they refused to accept that certificate, either for partial compensation or as recognition that the man was suffering from a disease.
Then it was for the workman to make an appeal to the medical referee, who would decide in some cases only upon partial compensation. When the employers were paying partial compensation the practice adopted was to go to the individual and to say: "You are capable of doing light work and you are receiving partial compensation. The best thing for you to do is to go to the employment exchange, because you will receive more in unemployment benefit than you would in full compensation." The employers did not say that they were being relieved of their financial obligations. That is the practice at the present time. Does the Bill do anything to relieve that situation? Does it relieve the situation which arises at the present time when a man who has suffered from nystagmus, and recovered, goes to work at another place and certifies in writing that he has not contracted the disease? Then he is not liable to claim any more compensation? Does the Bill deal with that particular case?
§ Mr. Lloyd
The Bill would meet the situation by making it not so necessary for the workman to take up a position of that kind in regard to the new employer, because the rule with regard to the three-year period will automatically put the burden upon the old employer. There are other provisions in the Bill to take away some of the deterrents which at present exist upon employers from taking on a man who may have had nystagmus.
§ Mr. John
Still, that Section is in existence, and the Bill does not repeal it; in fact, it makes it worse. The three-year limit, applies, it is true, so far as the Bill is concerned, but prior to the three years the present Act still operates. What about the three years? If workers who are under 30 years of age have contracted nystagmus for two years, what happens? The Bill does not provide work for them. It does not say to the employer: "This man is capable of suitable employment and we would like to provide it for him because it is necessary in order to bring about his recovery." What they tell the individual is: "Now you have to be removed from industry altogether. True, 1527 you will be paid compensation, but the amount of compensation is to be agreed upon between yourself and the employer, and failing that agreement, the county court judge can decide; but the county court judge cannot give you more than 50 per cent. Neither can that 50 per cent. or whatever sum is agreed upon, operate for more than 13 weeks." Because that individual is under 30 years of age and is susceptible to the disease, they have the right to certify that he is incapable of work and that he cannot carry on his ordinary work. At the end of 13 weeks, after the medical board have so certified him, he has to go. He has no work.
I hope the hon. Member will forgive me, as I do not like to interrupt him again, but I think if he were to give the facts relating to that Section he would not make the mistake that he has just made.
§ Mr. John
That is the central principle of that Section. There is another provision which the hon. Lady mentioned when she introduced it—or if not introduced it, at least spoke about the matter. She did not go into the Clauses of the Bill—of which I am not making a complaint—because of the reasons. In regard to the medical board, it is true that we have been advocating for many years such a Board, we do not believe that the medical referee should be judge, jury and House of Lords as well as everything else. We welcome the principle, but I am afraid that more is being claimed from the medical board than it really would have the power to do.
The medical board is to talk to the man about suitable employment, but where is he to get suitable employment? At the coal face? I should like to know from the hon. Lady her definition of "coal face," because that would include workmen of every grade underground. All of them, with the exception of two or three grades—electricians and officials—are liable to contract nystagmus. Where are the men to find suitable employment? Not in the mine and not on the surface. With the restriction and the limitation of 1528 work at present time there are not sufficient jobs to go round. Therefore, it would be impossible to provide work there, and to put in that Clause that the medical board will have a talk about suitable employment with a man who has contracted nystagmus, when the man himself knows that it is not possible for him to get suitable employment, is nothing but a farce. Then about sending to the Home Office figures with regard to the number of men contracting the disease: that simply means that the promoters of the Bill have not sufficient confidence that the medical board will be able to do anything with respect to the provision of work. If the hon. Lady had put in a Clause that in the event of the employers being unable to provide work for a man who had contracted nystagmus he should be paid full compensation, we should have been quite prepared to support it.
For the reasons that I have mentioned and others that have been put forward by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, we shall vote for the rejection of the Bill. Having regard to the fact that other Bills are to come on we do not want to continue the discussion, and we are now prepared to go to a Division on the matter.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Proposed words there added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.