§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.4 a.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I count myself very fortunate in that, by the luck of the Ballot, I am able to submit to the House, at so early a stage in the Session, a Bill dealing with the grave social problem of workmen's compensation, a problem which, in my view, by its very gravity, calls imperatively for urgent and immediate treatment. If I had had any doubt as to the need for this urgent and immediate treatment, those doubts would have been entirely set at rest by the amazing postbag that I have had during the last four or five days. Letters have come from all parts of Great Britain, from men and women alike, telling me of the poverty and privations which the present inadequacies of workmen's compensation compel them to suffer, and praying that the House may do something to save other people from the same experiences. A letter which I received yesterday was from a man who was at one time a Member of the House, a man whose name is respected and revered wherever it is known, Mr. Ben Tillett. He writes:It is a great pleasure to realise that you have been fortunate enough to come out on top of the Ballot, and that you have selected workmen's compensation, the kindliest and sanest of selections you could make.He goes on to write of his early experiences, of his 60 years of struggle to get some kind of modest reform, and begs us to fling all our power and energy into a challenge for a higher evaluation of human life. It would be a matter of very considerable pride to my hon. Friends on these Benches if the House could be persuaded to-day to take a small step further along that long road to social emancipation on which Ben Tillett and his colleagues started 60 years ago. This morning I received a letter which I regard as all the more moving because of its stark simplicity. It reads:I trust you will excuse me writing you, but as I cannot get any satisfaction in Birmingham—1226 Of course, that is not to be wondered at. The more speedily people realise the truth that lies in that statement, the more quickly will the City of Birmingham show a condition of political sanity which it has not so far displayed.I noticed in the Press that you were introducing a Bill regarding the Workmen's Compensation Act. I am 42 years of age, and served in the Royal Artillery during the War and am one of the Old Contemptibles. Now, through my work, I am suffering from silicosis, accompanied by tuberculosis, for which I receive 30s. per week to keep my wife, three children and myself. I only hope you will be good enough to give some of these extracts to the House on Friday. There must be hundreds like myself watching this Bill. I trust you will do this for me.I cannot believe that the Hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) and those who support him need the report of a Royal Commission to tell them that that sort of inadequacy is a crime in our social life.
This brings me to the Amendment. It is true that the whole question of workmen's compensation has been referred to a Royal Commission, but the Bill which I am asking the House to support does not pretend to deal with the whole question of workmen's compensation. The Bill deals only with the more urgent and imperative aspects. I am willing to assume that there are major questions, such as the doctrine of common employment, which ought rightly to be the subject of prolonged inquiry, but I am also entitled to insist that there are aspects of workmen's compensation which are so unjust and so inequitable that it would be monstrously unfair not to deal with them for no other reason than that a Royal Commission is sitting. A Royal Commission, most optimistically viewed, cannot be expected to complete its labours in less than two or three years. Then, even if the Government of the day accepted the report and recommendations of the Royal Commission, it would take two or three years for legislation implementing the recommendations to materialise, and for another five or six years, therefore, these inadequcies would have to be endured by the people who are now suffering from them. The House, by rejecting this Bill, would impose upon itself a very heavy responsibility for the inadequacies. Therefore, I hope that a majority of hon. Members will vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, so that its general principles may be considered in greater detail in the Standing Committee.
1227 On 24th November, 1937, I asked the Minister of Health how many persons in receipt of workmen's compensation were also in receipt of public assistance. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health had no information on that point. On 11th April of this year, my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) addressed a similar Question to the Minister of Health, and again the Parliamentary Secretary had no information; and not only had he no information, but he said that he could not even proceed to try to get the information. I do not complain that the hon. Gentleman had not the information. I do not complain even that he would not try to get the information, although I think he might at least have made an attempt; but in the absence of information of that character, I am entitled to rely upon the experience of my hon. Friends, many of whom are members of public assistance committees and know of thousands of people in receipt of workmen's compensation who are compelled by dire poverty to seek relief from public assistance committees. In those cases, therefore, the local authorities have to bear the financial burden and the employer is relieved of what is his moral responsibility. If, to those thousands of known cases, there are added the thousands of cases where people prefer poverty to ignominy and prefer to suffer inadequacy rather than submit to what they still conceive to be the humilation of appearing before a public assistance committee, there is substantial and irrefutable evidence that the public assistance committees themselves regard the existing provisions as being totally inadequate for human needs.
I ask the House to consider two or three of the main provisions of the Bill. Most of the provisions will be covered by my hon. Friends, and they will be able to cover them more adequately than I can. First of all, I will deal with the cases of death. What are the existing provisions? For a widow without children, £300 is the maximum, and the amount may be less than that; for a widow with children, no matter how many children she may have, the amount is £600, and it cannot be more than that—600 as a maximum is the complete and final discharge of the employer's responsibility to the bereaved. I ask the House to agree that it is impossible for the widow, in either of those cases, to 1228 live on either of those two amounts. Consider what may be taken to be the relatively less favourable of the two cases, that of the widow without children, who receives £300. If she is 55 years of age for instance, what is she to do? Is she, for the first time in her life, to scrub somebody else's doorstep or somebody else's floor, or to go through the ignominy and humiliation of being interviewed by a public assistance committee? Take the other case, that of the widow who has, say, three children, and receives £600. The wisest possible investment of the amount would give her an income of about 8s. a week. How is she to keep herself and three children, paying the rent, buying clothes and food and satisfying every material necessity and every social need, on the shockingly inadequate sum of 8s. a week? I urge the House that it ought not to hesitate for a moment to put that injustice right. It certainly ought not to find excuses in a Royal Commission for not doing so.
What are the main provisions of the Bill? Instead of a lump sum, weekly payments with a minimum of 30s. per week, or not less than 50 per cent. of the husband's normal weekly earnings, whichever is the greater. Are either of those two figures exorbitant? Will any hon. Member say that a bereaved woman should be expected to live on less than 30s. a week? Would any hon. Member like to contemplate the possibility of his own wife being in that position if he died? If anybody on the other side of the House thinks that a woman should be expected to live on less than 30s. a week, I hope that with the courage which the House has a right to expect sometimes, he will take the opportunity which this Debate provides of saying so in a way that will allow his opinion to be known throughout the country. But if nobody says that a woman should be expected to live on less than 30s. a week, then we are entitled to assume that nobody thinks so. There are specific provisions for dependent children where the wife is alive at the time of the husband's death, where she died previously and where she dies subsequently. The extra provision for children is reasonable, and not extravagant.
May I ask the House to consider a typical case? It is the case of a man earning 65s. a week who dies leaving a widow and three children. If he left a 1229 widow with no children she would be entitled to 32s. 6d. a week. If he left a widow with three children, she would have a total income of 65s. a week. There are frugal economists—I use the phrase for the purpose of Parliamentary politeness—who will point out that the widow with three children in that case, has the same income as though her husband were alive. Both the hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs) and the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull) expressed themselves on this point during the Debate on a similar Bill last year with what was, I think, exquisite delicacy. The hon. Member for West Birmingham said that the woman would no longer have her husband and that she might be better off without him. I am sorry that the hon. Member is not here, for he might have entertained us with a description of his own personal experience, out of which he apparently drew much too general a deduction. He went on to point out that the compensation figure proposed in the Bill then under discussion would be demoralising.
The hon. Member for Enfield said it did not seem right that the family should be a great deal better off on account of the father's death. It is, apparently, assumed that the family would regard itself as a great deal better off because it had the same amount of money, although it had been bereaved in this terrible fashion of the husband and father. But if the income in those circumstances be the same, why not? The widow, certainly, has no longer a husband to keep but she has no longer her husband to look to in difficulties. She has been robbed of her major happiness. There is no one left to share her problems and her life's anxieties. There is a simple standard by which the House can determine what is equitable—whether the family should be allowed to continue to enjoy the same economic level of happiness as previously, or whether it should have to submit to a lower level of economic happiness. If it is to be the latter, how much lower? Is it to be 10 per cent., 15 per cent., 50 per cent.? How exquisitely cruel have we to be in our careful calculations in that event?
There are two other provisions in this sense about which I would say a word. First, provision is made—properly in my view—for the woman who is not the wife of the man who has been fatally injured 1230 but who has been living with him under conditions of both happiness and affection. That case is left within the discretion of the judges who will, no doubt, be very wisely guided by the circumstances. Then for invalid children beyond what is regarded as the normal age of dependency there is a provision by which the weekly compensation will be carried on as long as the invalid child is dependent on somebody else. So, the Bill seeks, in my view within the bounds of modest equity, to lift the present shockingly inadequate compensation in the case of death, to a point which will ensure a minimum standard of sufficiency and decency. I do not think—and I say this with all respect to the hon. Members who have put down the Amendment—that the House should refuse to do what it obviously ought to do merely because a Royal Commission is sitting for the purpose of considering, not only this matter but a great number of other things as well.
I come now to the question of incapacity, total and partial. Again, let the House be reminded of the existing provisions. For total incapacity now there is a maximum weekly payment of 30s. a week, no matter how many there may be in the family. That is the maximum. The actual payment may be lower either because a man has been earning low wages or because he has been a short time at work. I ask the House to consider the case of a friend of mine whom I will call Mr. X. He has a wife and three children. He has had a bad fall and though he did not quite break his back, he has lost the use of both legs. He will never move again of his own volition. The maximum compensation in that event is 30s. a week. His rent is 7s., leaving a balance of 23s. For five people, 23s. is supposed to provide clothes, food, special attention for the disabled husband and every other physical and domestic requirement. Will anybody in this House seek to justify that position, or will anybody in this House seek to justify waiting for another five years of painful procrastination until we get the report of the Royal Commission? Does anybody want a Royal Commission to enable him to decide that 23s. a week is insufficient for all those purposes? But in this case the total compensation is not even 30s. The man was a short time working and his total compensation now 1231 is 28s. 2d. per week. He must provide shelter, food, clothing and every other physical and social requirement within the bounds of 28s. 2d. a week. How dare we calmly tolerate the imposition of such cruel poverty on top of the most painful form of total incapacity?
The Bill provides for 75 per cent. of the man's normal earnings with a minimum of £3 or full normal earnings if they are less than £3. Take the case to which I have just referred and assume that the man was earning 65s. He has not only been robbed by his incapacity of his employment: he has been robbed of his enjoyment. He has been robbed of the opportunity of football, cricket, cycling, swimming, rambling, gardening and all the wide range of household activities as well. We have no right to add to those denials, the cruel privations of what the House must recognise to be intolerable poverty, and I hope that this afternoon, at last, the House will be big enough to say so. The provisions for partial incapacity are relative to those I have described in the case of total incapacity, except that I would say this. My own experience in my own constituency has made me conscious of the fact that one of the grimmest cruelties of workmen's compensation is the fact that, in the mining areas particularly, men are being certified as available for a type of employment which, in fact, is not available for them. In order to diminish workmen's compensation payments it is said that men are available for light work in areas where in fact there is no light employment for them. Total compensation ought to be sustained in the absence of the employment for which the medical certificate states that the man is now fit. A man should not be regarded as available for certain employment unless that type of employment is available for him.
As to compulsory insurance, the House is familiar with the existing situation, which is that, except in the mining industry, and there only for the last two or three years, there is no obligation on the employer to lay off the risks with an insurance company or under funded conditions and circumstances. Many employers hope never to experience the risks of workmen's compensation and make no preparations for it, but it may come, not only unexpectedly, but very substantially 1232 indeed, and I have been surprised at the large number of my own personal friends who do not lay off the risks of workmen's compensation so far as their employés are concerned. Indeed, I would ask hon. Members of this House to consider where they are not themselves carrying substantial potential risks in the matter of workmen's compensation. An employer may bear the risks and then, when an accident happens, carry them for a time but then have to go into liquidation, or he may die without means and his business disappear altogether, in which case compensation disappears as well. I regard this as a very strong point in the case of the small employer, where friendly relations may exist between him and his workpeople. The invalid employé may have been working on terms of very pleasant association with his employer, and when an accident happens he is entitled to substantial compensation against his employer, but because he knows it will be a very serious financial burden upon his employer, he declines in fact to make any claim at all. If it were the case that all claims for compensation had to be made against an insurance company or a corporation, they could be made much more easily and equitably, and these vital matters would not be left to the mercy of chance.
Again, in periods of bad trade, when one liquidation succeeds another in astonishingly rapid succession, thousands of decent men otherwise entitled to compensation have to be driven to the ignomy and humiliation of the Public Assistance Committee, only because of the financial experience of their employers. I will conclude this point by saying that compulsory insurance, so far from being a hardship on the employer, would be in fact a relief to him and certainly a relief to the small employer. It is a relief. I should think, of which every sensible employer now avails himself, and the whole purpose of this kind of protective legislation is to ensure that the non-sensible employer shall be obliged to behave in these matters like any sensible employer now does.
I would like the House to consider the case of my own constituency, so typical of many other constituencies represented in this House, and mainly on these benches. It is a mining constituency, a constituency filled with men who go deep into the bowels of the earth to win 1233 warmth and light for society, risking their lives at the rate of three or four a day, risking every kind of physical disability, blinded with nystagmus, in many cases gasping their lives out with consumption and silicosis, bearing upon their faces in nearly every case the mark of some physical injury or some physical disability. I say that this House ought not, in the moment of their deepest anxiety, add to those anxieties the burden of the most cruel kind of poverty. This House may not be responsible for their accidents or injuries, but if we refuse to give this Bill a Second Reading, we make ourselves responsible for their poverty, and I hope that in these imperative and urgent circumstances the House will have enough conscience to do the decent thing by giving the Bill a Second Reading for careful examination upstairs.
§ 11.31 a.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
I beg to second the Motion.
This Bill has been repeatedly before this House during the time that I have been here, and we put it forward because we believe it is one of the most human measures, and one that stands preeminently for the relief of suffering and mental anxiety. After very heavy pressure by the trade unions and Members of this House, we are promised a Royal Commission, but the lapse of time between the promise of a Royal Commission and the findings of the Commission, and the Measures that emanate from those findings, is so long, according to history, that we believe it would be a disservice to the wage-earners, men and women, of this country to defer bringing in this Bill until the Commission presents its finding. This morning one of the formidable sources of opposition to Members on this side in bringing in this Bill does not appear to be here in strength, and that is the legal fraternity, though probably they will come in with more battalions later on. It is a remarkable thing, when we endeavour to bring in Measures of this description, how we are up against two kinds of persons, those behind the scenes, probably the big insurance companies, and the legal fraternity, who undoubtedly must reap a very big harvest in fighting for the workmen to receive their fair dues and also in fighting on behalf of industry to resist the workmen getting their fair dues. If I had words 1234 that could remove that opposition, I would gladly use them, but I am afraid I am unable to do so.
As the Act now stands, there is a part of it in which there is a very grave injustice and anomaly, with which this Bill proposes to deal, and that is that where, in the case of total incapacity, an injured workman receives no compensation for the first three days. That is an improvement on the old Bill, and it does rather look as though the employing class were having a little more confidence in their employés, because in the old Bill there was no compensation for the first week, and definitely there must have been some arguments urged in this House and some mercy displayed, because that has been reduced to the first three days. How do hon. Members propose that the injured workman shall live for these three days when he is not in receipt of any compensation? Why was this provision made? Was it done to induce the man to go to work earlier? My experience is that a man is forced by destitution to return to work earlier than he should. The result is that the future claims its toll and we have prematurely aged men who, long after the date on which they could have claimed compensation can link up their present position with the injury that occurred years ago, because they were compelled to return to work by force of circumstances. I put that as a very strong point in favour of this change. An injured man has to live these three days, and it is ridiculous to suppose that his claim is not as just on the, first day as it is after he has had four weeks' absence from work on account of injuries. I find from the returns of workmen's compensation that in the mining industry there were 81,789 cases of men whose absence from work on account of injury was less than four weeks. The records of the various industries show that there were 218,987 cases of people who were deprived of three days' compensation because they had not been absent from work for four weeks. That is one anomaly which we propose to remove in this Bill.
I come to the compensation for widows. I would like hon. Members who intend to oppose the Bill to come with me in imagination to see what happens in the case of a fatal accident. It is nine o'clock in the morning and there is a shift in the pit. A man left his home at two o'clock.
1235 Suddenly things begin to slow down and we wonder what is the matter. The telephone bell rings, and the conversation runs something like this: "Send for a doctor." "What is the matter?" "There is a man here." "Is he badly hurt?" "We do not know: he is buried with stones." "Who is he?" "We do not know yet, we have not seen him, but send for a doctor so that he will be there when we get the man out." Probably an hour or an hour and a half later the man is brought out with three or four others. Anybody from a mining district has had the experience of seeing the cage come slowly to the surface and two men emerge carrying a stretcher bearing a recumbent figure who has breathed his last. I wish that hon. Members opposite would try to imagine that experience and bear it in mind in their arguments to-day. The news has to be carried, not to the wife, but to the widow now. Then there is the funeral. The manager and the workmen come to the funeral and for a few moments capital and labour have everything in common beside the open grave.
What are we on the workman's side thinking? We are beginning to think of the widow's compensation and how much she will get. We make our claim—this is an actual case—but we are informed by the insurance company that there is a son living in the house and that he is contributing to the household expenses. They endeavour to prove, and do prove, that the husband has not been wholly responsible for keeping his wife. The son, however, is to be married in two weeks' time and will go out of the home, leaving the mother by herself. The first offer we get is £210, and after a good deal of agitation, fighting and bargaining we get it up to £230, and that is the limit. We are asking in this Bill for 30s. a week for a widow. This widow receives £230, and if she is able to invest it at 3 per cent. she will have £6 18s. a year, or a little more than 3s. 7d. a week compensation for the death of her husband—the man who has given his all. Yet we have to squabble and fight with the insurance companies for that. What a crime against civilisation! We have lately been speaking about war, armaments and that sort of thing, but this happens in our own country where you have people battening and fattening and making profit out of the lives and the broken bones and maimed 1236 bodies of the men who are responsible for keeping this country strong and vigorous. Some day, when the people of this country become awake, they will take profit-making from insurance. They will do all insurance themselves and pay themselves instead of wasting huge sums in squabbling and fighting to reduce a widow's compensation by a shilling.
I turn next to the maximum compensation. We are asking that it shall be 75 per cent, of a man's wages, with a maximum of £3 or the actual earnings. At present the maximum is 30s. a week irrespective of what the man is earning. Are we asking too much? A man may be making £5 or £6 a week, but if he has an accident his maximum is 30s. We say that this is unreasonable and that it should be £3. The man still has to live and maintain his family. He has given his all and his service to the country; he has been broken on the wheel of industry and why should he not be able to maintain himself and his family with a measure of independence and a standard of decency which he could enjoy when he was working? My hon. Friend has said that attempts have been made to ascertain the number of men in receipt of compensation who are on public assistance. I have endeavoured to get the figure. We can be referred on most matters to documents in the Library and seek the information for ourselves, but in a case like this, where the Minister is the only person who can get the information, it is a remarkable thing that he is unable to get it for us. We all know, however, of men who have had to seek public assistance after they have been idle from work for a week or two because of injury. It is the greatest mistake in the world to believe that working men can live in comparatively the same state on 22s. or 23s. a week as full compensation because they have some unlimited reserves in the bank or the co-operative society. How many men get 30s. a week? Very few. I should say that in our mining industry the bulk of our people are not getting more than 23s. 6d. or 24s. 6d. a week full compensation—that is after the value of the house and coals has been taken off.
Next I wish to deal with partial incapacity, which probably causes more trouble and more litigation than any other aspect of compensation. A man goes to a medical referee, who certifies him to be fit for light work. In the Debate the 1237 other night an hon. Member quoted the Biblical phrase about an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and afterwards an hon. Member opposite said to me, "I was thinking of interrupting your speaker to point out that the phrase does not literally mean that. It means compensation; that in the old Mosaic days if a servant lost an eye, he had to be compensated for the loss of an eye, just as we give compensation to-day."
§ Mr. Taylor
The Germans can speak for themselves. We do not want any Englishman to speak for Germany just now. The point is that we do not pay compensation for the loss of an eye. We pay compensation only during the time when the socket is healing. It is argued that a one-eyed man can produce as much coal as a two-eyed man, and I dare say he can turn out as much work in steel works or shipbuilding yards or in the docks, and because he is able to earn what he earned before he lost his eye then there is no compensation for him. The same things applies to the loss of a limb. Even in the Army there is a recognised rate for the loss of an arm or a leg, and surely the soldier in industry ought to be able to claim some compensation for the loss of a limb or an eye. As long as he can find employment in the occupation in which he was previously employed the man may be able to carry on, but if the one-legged man or the one-armed man or the one-eyed man comes into the open market he is competing under very severe handicaps.
This Bill would introduce one very important improvement in regard to partial incapacity. Under the present law if a man can prove certain things to a judge he may have his total incapacity rights restored, but that seldom happens, because the lawyers on behalf of the industrialists are able to prove that the position is affected by the state of the market or some other factor, and therefore the man has to continue on the low rate. We propose this important change—that the judge of the county court must be satisfied in all the circumstances that there is suitable work. Some of my hon. Friends have gone, as I have gone, to the medical referee in regard to nystagmus. Much depends upon whether the medical referee can find that there is oscillation. In 1238 some cases we find that a man has been certified fit to do a job that, in the phrase of the referree, "a postman could do." No stooping. Fancy a job around a pit where there is no stooping. As a result of that the man is informed that his compensation is reduced to 7s. 6d. a week, and it is then for his union to do the fighting in order to get the compensation raised to, probably, 11s. or 12s. a week, but there must be thousands of men whose compensation has been reduced to 7s. 6d. a week and who cannot get more because they have no organisation behind them to assist them, and so the insurance companies get away with a barefaced robbery. The medical referee must certify the man as he found him on the day he examined him. Medical referees have told me "If the man were to come back to me to-morrow he might be in a condition in which I should find there was nystagmus, but I have to certify him to-day, and I am unable to find oscillation." Unless the judge is satisfied that there is work for the man, the colliery company will, in the future, have to show that the man should lose his compensation because there is a job, instead of the onus of proof being on the man.
Then there is the question of the computation of average weekly earnings. Owing to circumstances over which he has no control a man may be working short time, but his earnings for the year will be divided by 52 in order to get at his normal weekly earnings. The man is ready for work and has been waiting for work. Even the Minister of Labour has recognised that under the unemployment insurance scheme the only qualification for benefit is that a man shall be able and willing to work. If that is equitable in the case of the unemployed surely it should be equitable in regard to compensation. In my view the wages should be divided by the actual days worked and then the sum which is the difference between the normal weekly earnings if full time had been worked should be added, and that should be regarded as the normal weekly earnings.
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 1239 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. We get adverse decisions, we get wise decisions, we get decisions against the employers—all sorts of decisions, but at least 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. I second the Motion with the greatest pleasure. There are thousands of men in the country who are waiting for the removal of the anomalies which will be removed by this Bill. It is said that we should wait for the Bill until after the Royal Commission has reported, but in that interval something approaching 1,000,000 men may have been injured and probably 2,000 or 3,000 killed. For that reason alone, apart from that of common justice, I appeal to hon. Members that, while we may have their sympathy this morning, we shall have also their active support.
§ 11.56 a.m.
§ Mr. Levy
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:in view of the decision of the Government to advise His Majesty to appoint a Royal Commission on Workmen's Compensation for the purpose of making a comprehensive inquiry into the whole subject, this House declines, pending the Report of the Commission, to give a Second Reading to a Bill which involves fundamental and far-reaching alterations in the existing system.I would preface my remarks by saying that we have just listened to speeches that have risen to a very high standard, and that both speakers put their case very fairly. Both mentioned various examples which may or may not have been extreme: I am not complaining. They have produced well-reasoned and powerful speeches of which Members in all parts of the House could not fail to take note.
§ Mr. Levy
The question of workmen's compensation is complicated, and various Acts of Parliament deal with it. I have been a large employer of labour, and on occasions I have had a good deal to do with workmen's compensation. At the outset I agree at once that there is a tremendous amount of anomaly which ought to be cleared up. I do not think any hon. Member can honestly say that he is satisfied with the present condition of workmen's compensation. It must be altered. My colleagues and I have put down a reasoned Amendment which has a bearing upon the few observations which I propose to make. The Royal Commission to which it refers has got as far as having its Chairman appointed. His name is Sir Hector Hetherington, Principal and vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow. The terms of reference of the Commission are:To inquire into and report on the operation and effects of the system of workmen's compensation for injuries due to employment and the working and scope of the law relating thereto, and the relation of this system to other statutory systems for providing benefits or assistance to incapacitated or unemployed workmen, and to the arrangements for the treatment of injured workmen and the restoration of their working capacity; and to make such recommendations whether by way of amendment of Workmen's Compensation Acts or otherwise as may appear desirable; and further to consider in relation to workmen's compensation, and advise, whether any alteration is desirable in the present position in regard to the civil liability of the employer to pay compensation or damages in respect of such injuries, independently of those Acts.I emphasise the word "Acts," because it is common knowledge to Members of this House that if you want to create anomalies and complications you cannot find an easier way than to deal with various Acts relating to workmen's compensation which have been brought before this House in a piecemeal and haphazard fashion. It is because the various Acts of Parliament have been passed in piecemeal and haphazard fashion that those complications have been created. What is really wanted is a consolidation Act to deal with the whole question of compensation.
§ Mr. Levy
I understand that the Common Law, as well as various other acts, applies to some of these questions. That is as my lay mind understands it. I am not pitting my experience or knowledge of the law against that of the hon. Gentleman opposite. Nobody would expect me to do it. This is really a lawyer's job, and not a layman's job at all.
Let me give my own experience. I understood that this matter came under various Acts. The hon. Member said that there was one other Act besides the consolidation Act. Anyhow, it is not very efficient. If it were, those anomalies would not arise. I say that the time has arrived when the whole of this legislation should be reviewed and there should be a consolidation Act to deal with the question once and for all. Compensation is not a party matter but one which affects every man, woman and child throughout the country. Very few Acts passed by this House are more extensive than Workmen's Compensation Acts, and there are no Acts more important. They are just as important as those relating to unemployment and health insurance. We want equity and justice, and nobody wants to make a profit out of the matter. Let it be settled justly and equitably but, because the Royal Commission is to be set up, I say that we should wait until we have its report, so that when the legislation is put upon the Statute Book it shall be of such a character that all the anomalies will be eliminated and the law will be equitable and just.
In this House to-day we have to deal with the Bill that is before us, and we have to ask ourselves whether this Bill is the right Measure to deal with workmen's compensation, which is such a large subject and covers such a tremendous field. If it is the right Measure, it ought to be passed, but if it is not, why not wait until we have had this searching investigation into all the aspects of the subject, so that, when we 1242 do put an enactment on the Statute Book, it will be one so comprehensive that it will do what we desire it to do? It appears to me that, if we passed this Bill, we should be making a very dangerous leap in the dark. No one knows what it is going to cost; no one knows how it might affect employment. There is one thing that we do know, and that is that it would put an additional burden of millions upon industry, and we have to be careful that, whatever we do in this House, we do not create unemployment. We want to create employment, and any enactment that we put on the Statute Book should be to the benefit of the people as a whole, and not detrimental to them. This Measure might have the effect of reducing opportunities of work for certain classes of people. It provides compensation, on what some people might call a very generous scale, for whole families. As the Mover of the Bill says, it would provide compensation for a mistress, that is to say, as he very properly pointed out, for a woman who was not married at all, but was living with the man.
§ Mr. Levy
I think my interpretation is correct, and will be accepted by anybody who reads the Bill. Then there is nothing at all in the Bill which limits the period of compensation; it may continue for life. Take the case of a young childless widow. She is going to get a minimum of 30s. a week for life, and that is to continue, according to the Bill, even if she re-marries. I can find nothing in the Bill to stop that. It may be said by Hon. Gentlemen opposite that there is no reason why her present husband should shoulder the burden of the employer of her former husband, but surely the question of dependent need arises in this case. A widow who re-marries is no longer dependent upon the provisions made through her first husband. [HON. MEMBERS: "She is no longer a widow."] I say that a woman who re-marries is no longer dependent upon the provision made by her first husband. In fact, if it were continued, and if she were to receive for the rest of her life 30s. a week, I suggest that that would be attaching an attractive profit to a widow to the detriment of a good many spinsters. [HON. MEMBERS: "She is not a widow then."] I do not 1243 know whether I have made myself clear or not. Let me try again. A young, childless woman unfortunately loses her husband, and she is entitled to a minimum of 30s. per week, which, according to the Bill, she will receive for the rest of her life. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] There is nothing in the Bill that I can see to stop it. If there is, perhaps hon. Members will be good enough to point it out.
§ Mr. Silverman
I have no doubt that the hon. Member has the Bill before him, and he will see that Clause 1 amends Section 8 of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925, so as to read:Where death results from the injury the amount of compensation under this Act shall be—(b) where a widow or an invalid husband is the sole dependant a weekly payment of thirty shillings …Obviously, the Bill contemplates that she shall be both a widow and a dependant. The hon. Member is putting forward a case where she ceases to be either.
§ Mr. Levy
Let us carry on. I am coming presently to that part of the Clause. It goes on to say:(c) where the dependants are a widow or an invalid husband and one or more children, the same weekly payment as is provided in paragraph (b) of this subsection, with a minimum addition of one-third of this amount, to be increased to one-half on the death of the widow or invalid husband, for each child under sixteen years of age, or until its time of leaving school, whichever shall be the later date.I am reading this now because, with permission, I am going to refer to it in an observation that I propose to make in a moment or two. Under this Bill it would be possible for a widow and a family, as the hon. Member says, to be financially better off owing to the death of her husband than she would be if the husband had not been killed.
§ Mr. Ridley
I would not like the House to think I said that in those circumstances I regarded the widow as being financially better off. What I said was that, in those circumstances, she might be in receipt of the same income. That is not the same thing.
§ Mr. Levy
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I have said, nobody desires that a profit shall be made out of 1244 death, but I am referring to this Bill, and, as I read it—perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite will correct me if I interpret it wrongly—under Clause 1 the widow of a man whose wages were, shall we say, £3 a week, is to receive 30s., and, if there are three children, 10s. a week for each of them.
§ Mr. Levy
I am not saying that they do not. That is another 30s., making a total of £3. The man was in receipt of £3 a week, and the compensation is £3 a week, that is to say, as much as he was getting when he was in full work. The widow has not the husband to keep, and has no expenses in regard to him, and I am suggesting, with great respect, that that would be making a profit out of his death. Hon. Members opposite ask, Why not? This is my answer: If there is to be compensation of this character, employers may think twice before employing men with large families. I do not think they would; it is not the sort of attitude that any hon. Member could recognise as correct; but it is a point that has to be remembered.
There is a saying that it is never wise to try to get too much, because one runs the risk of not getting anything at all. I am not so much concerned with these detailed points of criticism, substantial though I think they are, but what I want to emphasise is this: Here is a Bill making great and expensive changes, changes involving possibly social consequences of an unsuspected and undesirable kind, and it has not been preceded by anything like the careful and exhaustive inquiry which this subject demands before legislation is embarked upon. I am not suggesting that hon. Members opposite have not given this subject much consideration. I am sure they have done so, but it is obvious from the defects in the Bill and from the necessarily limited resources of inquiry open to hon. Members opposite, that this Bill is not based upon the results of such an investigation as this subject requires.
As I have said, such an inquiry is about to begin. Why, then, seek to push through a Bill of this kind in advance of such an inquiry? Surely if an inquiry is essential—we all agree that it is—into the whole of these matters so as to clear up the anomalies, why not let us have this Royal Commission, let them 1245 make their thorough investigation, let us listen to their report and let legislation be framed upon those reports in the ordinary way. I am suggesting with all earnestness that that is the procedure which Members of Parliament ought to adopt. I am not blaming them for bringing forward this Bill. In fact I am glad they have done so, because too much attention cannot be focused on any anomalies that occur with regard to compensation. Therefore, I suggest that the Bill requires revision. There are defects in the law that have to be made good in the legitimate interests of the workmen and I would not oppose that being done; but this Bill is a partial and a very party Measure and it is based on very inadequate investigation. It might do more harm than good to the very people whom it is intended to benefit. There is no real advantage in industry or in any walk of life in trying to do too well for dependants and doing too badly for employers, because that has a material effect upon employment and industry as a whole.
I repeat that it is most important to have a general reviewing of the subject and a consolidating Measure on workmen's compensation, and the Government can be relied upon to do that at the earliest possible moment. I am not at all sure that a service of this kind should be left entirely to private enterprise. After all, we have insurance against industrial death or injury. That is no less important than insurance against ill-health and unemployment, and, as we know, the State is very closely and deeply concerned in it. But there again that is an extremely complicated matter which calls for the most careful inquiry and consideration. This is a matter the issue of which should not be prejudiced at this stage by a Bill of this kind, and I sincerely hope that the House will not proceed with it, but will wait for the findings of the Royal Commission so that we can get a comprehensive consolidating Act dealing with workmen's compensation in all its forms, clear up the anomalies and put the whole matter right once for all.
§ 12.22 p.m.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon
I beg to second the Amendment.
I would like to say at once how much touched the House must have been by the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion. In the industrial life of this 1246 country there is nothing more pathetic to-day than the position of dependants of injured and partially injured workers who have insufficient means to maintain themselves and their families. The case made by the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) in all its cogency must have made a strong impression on us all. This Bill or a Bill of a similar kind has been before the House on several previous occasions. I am bound to say quite frankly to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department that I think the Government have been somewhat dilatory in setting up a definite and searching inquiry into the subject of workmen's compensation. On the last occasion when a Measure of this kind was debated we thought that immediate action would be taken to set up a Royal Commission to inquire into the subject. I am glad to hear from my hon. Friend who moved the Amendment that a Royal Commission is now in fact contemplated, that its chairman has been appointed and that the terms of reference are already made public.
This Bill does not go to the root of the matter. It does not deal as it should with insurance in relation to the small employer. I think that the provision made in the first Clause is more than industrial conditions can carry at this moment. With reference to the remark which was made by an hon. Member opposite about Birmingham. I am bound to say that the relations between employers and workpeople there are on the most friendly footing, and the settlement of cases arising out of workmen's compensation claims has generally been done by mutual agreement. So far as the great variety of industries in operation in the Midlands is concerned, Birmingham employers have done everything possible demanded by the Acts.
I would like to add a word to what my hon. Friend has said about the position of the widow who again becomes a married woman. I do not think, notwithstanding the interruption of the hon. Gentleman opposite, that this Bill does provide definitely for the cessation of the weekly payment to the widow who becomes again a married woman. I do not think the Section of the principal Act, considered in relation to this Bill, makes it plain that the payment will not continue.
§ Mr. Silverman
I understand that the point made by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment was that under the Bill the widow would continue to get the 30s. a week even though she remarried. What I ventured to say was that Clause 1 of the Bill provides no such thing. It provides that the widow shall get 30s. a week while she is still dependent. She has to satisfy the two conditions that she is still a widow and that she is still dependent.
§ Sir P. Hannon
That is a matter of legal opinion, and I am not qualified to challenge it; but in the text of the Bill we see that there is nothing to prevent the widow continuing after remarriage to receive the payment. And what happens in the event of commutation? Suppose a young widow manages to effect commutation of her weekly payment; say that she is about 30 or 35, she would receive a very substantial sum—not the sum that would have been awarded by a county court judge, but a very substantial sum. For a woman of 30 to 35 it would be something over £2,000. Does the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading contemplate that that is a fair arrangement? Industry has to pay for it. That would, of course, leave the lady free to enjoy her capital for the rest of her life, even if she married again; and I understand, from the text of the Bill, that that would actually happen.
There is one Sub-section in the first Clause which should not appear in any Measure brought before this House. That is the provision that a woman living with a man and not his wife, even if his wife is living, is to be treated as if she were his wife in the event of that man being fatally injured in the course of his employment. That is introducing an immoral principle. I feel very strongly that we ought not to put the impress of Parliamentary sanction on measures that would only conduce to the wider spread of immorality among the people of this country.
I hope the Government will proceed without delay with the appointment of the Royal Commission. I hope that the appointment of the Chairman is only an indication that the announcement of the names of other Members will be made by the Under-Secretary this afternoon. At any rate, we should go to work without delay upon the examination of all the 1248 factors connected with the principles of workmen's compensation. The position of workpeople and the position of their dependants in the event of accidents should be fully safeguarded and secured. I believe that our employers in this country, taking them by and large, have a continuous interest in the welfare of their workpeople. In my experience, every trouble that arises from accident or misfortune is carefully considered and sympathetically dealt with as far as we can. We have introduced every sort of provision to make the comfort and welfare of our people better from year to year. The standard of living, the standard of comfort and the opportunities for enjoying the pleasures of life throughout the industrial system of this country, are at a higher level than in any other country under the sun. I would be very happy to see a wisely-conceived system of compensation for accidents to work-people introduced and made part of the law of the land.
The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading spoke of "thousands of cases," and used, in the only instance he did give, some exaggerated language. He said there were thousands of cases throughout the country of injured workmen appealing to the public assistance committees for relief. I wonder how far that is true. I cannot imagine that it can be on the vast scale suggested by the hon. Gentleman. From my own experience of conditions in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry and elsewhere. I cannot think that the number of injured workpeople is on that scale.
§ Mr. Ridley
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House in what other way a totally injured workman with a wife and three children can manage to live except by supplementing the amount he gets by additions from public assistance?
§ Sir P. Hannon
That is not precisely the point. The hon. Gentleman made the statement that there were thousands of cases. I am not challenging the suggestion that an injured workman and his family will, in many cases, be under the necessity of applying to the public assistance committee; but I am challenging the suggestion that the number of cases is so great as the hon. Member says.
I hope we shall not, in this House, again have the necessity of debating this 1249 question; but that during the coming months His Majesty's Government will appoint the Commission, and will urge it to proceed with its investigation as rapidly and helpfully as possible, and that we shall have, before Parliament opens for another Session, a report from that Commission and a Bill brought in, as a Government Measure, to deal with this very important national question. I agree with my hon. Friend that this is not a matter that ought to be dealt with by means of a private Member's Bill. It should be dealt with by a Measure introduced by His Majesty's Government, after investigation by a Royal Commission, with all the facts put before them and with every grievance catalogued by hon. Members opposite brought into consideration. In these circumstances, we hope that something will be done next year. I should have liked to have seen a great many more hon. Members on this side of the House present to-day.
§ Sir P. Hannon
I feel aggrieved that more interest is not taken throughout the House on this very important question which affects the welfare of so many wage-earners in this country and their families. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who has taken the greatest interest in this subject, and who is himself profoundly concerned for the welfare of workers in a very important industrial constituency, will make it his business to accelerate the work of the Commission and use his influence with His Majesty's administration to have a Bill ready at the instance of the Government for the consideration of this House at the opening of the next Session of Parliament.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
Once again we are dealing with a Measure which we had hoped might have obtained some support from hon. Members opposite, but we have met with the usual opposition. I remember that when we brought in our other comprehensive Bill we were told by many Members opposite that, if we had just been dealing with the anomalies, we would have obtained support from them. They pointed out that the Bill was far too big a Measure to be accepted by the House, and that the question of the administration of the Act was far too large for them to attempt to deal with in such 1250 a Bill. I realised that hon. Members opposite were not in favour of the bringing in of a large Measure of workmen's compensation, and I could see the line of argument that it would be well for hon. Members on this side to try to get support from hon. Members opposite by dropping out that major point. The trade union and labour movement have had meetings for the purpose of trying to get something which we thought would be agreed to by hon. Members in the present Parliament. That is why we dropped the major part of our old Bill and confined ourselves to trying to get something for the time being to alleviate much of the suffering with which our work-people are contending at the moment. We are told by the extreme section of our movement that whenever we try to compromise, "whatever you do, you will never make any progress, because the other side will fight you all the time."
It comes hard upon us when we try to compromise and make a gesture, to be met with the same stern opposition as would have been the case if this had been a major Bill. There is not an hon. Member opposite but who will agree, on examining the contents of this Measure, that there is much good in it and much that wants doing. I am sorry that it should be urged to-day that they cannot accept the Bill. Surely they can accept the contents of the Bill, and then, whatever comes afterwards, if it goes beyond what we have already agreed to in the Bill, the Government should be ready to introduce a major Bill. It is not fair to many of the injured workmen to be denied what we claim to be their rights and justice by putting it off until what is termed "the right moment." I trust that hon. Members opposite will try to recognise that point of view before the Division takes place. It will be very hard for those who oppose this Measure to meet their constituents in any part of the country and say that they delayed the passing of a Measure of this kind for some other purpose. They will have a job to get away with it, and I assure them that they are doing a grave thing in objecting to this Measure.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Would the hon. Gentleman deal with Part II of the Bill dealing with "Insurance by Employers," and say how that could be detached and embodied in this Bill instead of being part 1251 of a more comprehensive Measure dealing with workmen's compensation as a whole?
§ Mr. Tinker
I do not quite follow the line of argument of the hon. Member, but I shall try to deal with the Bill as I see it. I was not sure of the point he made.
§ Sir P. Hannon
The provisions of Part II of this Bill dealing with insurance is something which requires much further investigation, and should not be embodied in a Bill immediately concerned with the amendment of workmen's compensation.
§ Mr. Tinker
That is a matter of opinion between the hon. Member and myself. Some of the things for which we are agitating require immediate redress. There is the question of fatal accidents. My hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley), in the course of his moving speech, mentioned the case of a man permanently injured, showing the amount of compensation he was receiving and how hard it was for his family to live. I want to deal with that point a little further in order to show the anomoly of the present Acts of Parliament. Supposing that man does not recover from his accident—and judging by the report he will not recover—and dies, his widow will have £100 taken from the total amount of compensation because of the compensation paid to him during his life. If that is not an anomoly of the present Act, I do not know what is. Here we have a man on a sick-bed drawing weekly compensation which is far from adequate to meet the needs of his family, and if he dies, £100 can be deducted from the total amount of compensation because he will have drawn it in his lifetime. It would appear to be far better for a man to be killed outright rather than to linger for a period, because his widow would lose an amount equivalent to 12 months or more of compensation because the man would have drawn it during his lifetime. That is one of the cases that require immediate remedying, though some hon. Members opposite argue that that is not a point that requires dealing with at once but that it should wait.
Another point to be stressed is that with regard to "normal weekly earnings." Can any hon. Member opposite justify the line of argument in regard to 1252 the present Measure, that if a colliery or works is on short time, say, three days per week, compensation should be based on half the weekly earnings? A man is subjected to practically half his compensation because, through no fault of his own, the works at which he is employed is on short time. We are trying to remedy that by saying the "normal weekly earnings." If a man earns £3 a week when working full time, his compensation should be based upon that amount and not upon half that amount. Nobody can justify the present state of workmen's compensation.
§ Mr. Levy
We do not want to do anything that will interfere with employment and create unemployment. What hon. Members opposite are trying to do is this, that if a person is employed only two days a week the employer is to be responsible and will be called upon to pay compensation, in the event of an accident, as if the man were in full employment all the time and earning a full wage. I am not arguing whether this would be right or wrong, but I do say that before we come to any decision upon these points, a searching investigation should be made, in order that we may get at some comprehensive scheme as to what the amount should be.
§ Mr. Tinker
I am glad of that intervention, because it brings out very forcibly the fact that the position of hon. Members opposite does not depend upon examination by a Royal Commission but is a fundamental objection to making things better for the injured workman. I can well imagine now that even when the Royal Commission reports, we shall meet with the same stern opposition that we are getting from hon. Member opposite. If injustices are suffered by workmen in the present circumstances—and nobody can deny it—the grievance ought to be put right. It is not right that an injured workman should be subject to the miserable pittance he gets now, in the circumstances that we have explained. When the workman is deemed to have partially recovered and to be fit for a light job and we cannot get a light job for him, he is assessed on what he would have earned at that job had there been such a job for him. He, perhaps, gets a few shillings a week. Nobody wants him. When he goes in search of work he is asked where he worked before. If he is honest—we tell 1253 him to be straightforward—then he is told that he had better go back to the place where he met with his injury, because they have enough of their own difficulties to deal with. We have hundreds and thousands of cases of men who have been certified as fit for light work and who are thrown idle on the labour market because no work can be found for them. If this is not an injustice, I do not know what is. We say that if work cannot be found for the man, full compensation should he paid to him until a job is found, and that the State and the employers should find some method by which this can be done.
Another point is in regard to what is described as the medical referee. When a man is drawing compensation and there comes a time when the employers say that in their opinion he is fit for work, notice is given to him that he must be examined by their medical man. If his doctor thinks that he has not recovered, he issues a medical note to that effect. After the examinations, if the matter is in doubt, the case goes to the medical referee, who may or may not give a right verdict. It never removes the sense of injustice from the mind of the workman if one man decides against him. It may be argued from the other side that whereas one gets a wrong decision another gets a favorable decision, but there remains a sense of injustice in the mind of the man who has been reported as fit for work on the decision of one man. We have hundreds and thousands of cases where there is a burning sense of injustice in the minds of men that they have not had fair play.
We say that there should be three medical referees and that it should not be left to one man to decide. We all know what happens on a particular morning, because most of us are subject to it, when a man may feel out of tune and may look on mankind in a harsh way, with the result that when a workman goes before him he may unjustly decide that he is malingering and that he ought to go to work. We want three medical referees so that the workman will feel, whatever the decision, that he has had a fair examination. We want to give a feeling of satisfaction in the minds of men, whichever way the verdict goes. If the verdict goes against him, he is never satisfied if it is the decision of one man. Therefore, 1254 if we had three referees greater satisfaction would be given.
I would ask hon. Members opposite to pay close attention to our argument. The Minister of Health stated recently that hon. Members opposite try to recognise the feelings of humanity which animate us on this side with regard to the sense of injustice that applies in many instances. He mentioned pension cases and the unhappy and sordid conditions under which many of our people have to live, which we stress. We are stressing today another important matter, with which we probably come into contact more than hon. Members opposite, and that is, the grave injustices of the present Workman's Compensation legislation. I would ask hon. Members opposite not always to take the line of resisting what we suggest, but try to help us in the matter of compromise. Otherwise it will be difficult to hold our men back from demanding the full pound of flesh. If hon. Members meet us in that spirit it will be doing an act of great injustice to the working men we are trying to represent.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Errington
I have listened with great interest to what the last speaker has said, and I should like to say that it is not of any value to compromise if the result of your compromise may be extremely bad legislation. Some of us remember that when the original Workmen's Compensation Acts were passed it was anticipated that it would be quite certain that legal gentlemen would have very little to argue about, because the law relating to these matters had been so clearly codified. In fact, those of us who are connected with the law know that there is no greater body of case law than has arisen in regard to the Workmen's Compensation Acts. In considering the Bill before us we must try very carefully to see exactly where we are going. There is what I should describe as a sweet simplicity about this Bill which may be, and I suggest is, rather a snare and a delusion. Workmen's compensation is not the only method of compensation of workmen. They have their rights at common law. The most obvious case in regard to common law which needs consideration is the question of common employment, because common employment in certain circumstances deprives 1255 the workman of compensation that he otherwise would have had. That is one feature which requires careful consideration and examination. I think it was argued that that was the case when a Bill to abolish common employment was brought before this House two or three sessions ago.
There is another feature, less well known, which needs further consideration, and that is a peculiar Act which was passed in 1880—the Employers' Liability Act. That Act is an extremely technical method by which compensation can be obtained. It is limited to the county court. The amount of compensation which can be obtained is also limited, and there are certain technicalities which must be fulfilled before it is possible to obtain payment. I have said before that I think it is probable the Employers' Liability Act could by amendment be made into a very useful Measure, but certainly as it stands at the moment it is not very useful. The amendment of the compensation Acts which is before us today is another facet of the same problem. I agree that there has been delay. That is extremely unfortunate, but it is no excuse for passing bad legislation to say that there has been delay. In this matter we are all desirous of getting the relationship between employer and employed on a basis which is satisfactory to both parties. In saying what I have about the various sides of this matter I hope I have indicated to some extent the width of the problem as well as its importance.
We have to consider the Bill which is now before us, and I submit that it is not a satisfactory Measure. Various points can be shown to indicate that that opinion is correct. There is the point put by the hon. Member opposite as to whether a widow when she remarries is still to be entitled under the Bill to compensation. The relevant provision reads:where a widow or an invalid husband is the sole dependant a weekly payment of thirty shillings or of not less than fifty per cent. of the workman's normal weekly earnings, whichever is the greater;I submit that once a widow has been proved to be the dependant, there is nothing in the Bill which prevents that widow going on and receiving the money even if she marries again. It may be that hon. Members opposite do not agree with that view, but they will, I think, 1256 agree that the position is not free from difficulty in deciding whether the Bill does or does not mean that. A simple Clause to say that on remarriage a widow shall not be entitled to any payment would put the position beyond any doubt whatever. Then with regard to the question of the widow and the mistress, which is paragraph (f) of the same Clause:where a woman, not the wife of the workman, was living with the workman as his wife at the time of his death, such weekly payment as the judge of the county court in his discretion having regard to all the circumstances of the case may order to be paid to such woman as if she were the widow of the deceased.Suppose a workman has been keeping two homes going, perhaps inadequately, but in fact has been keeping two homes going, a county court judge has no right under the Bill to apportion as between the wife and the mistress. I agree with the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) in regard to the morality of the situation, but we are not dealing with morality in the Bill: we are trying to make good law; and its seems to me that you are putting the county court judge into the position of having to decide whether or not the mistress or the wife shall receive money which during his lifetime the workman was in the habit of paying to both. That seems to me to be an impossible position.
Nobody has said anything about the cost of these proposed Amendments. I agree that it is hard to conceive that any cost is too great for a proper dealing with these important matters, but as responsible people in this House we are entitled to know the cost and how much it is really going to cost industry. I do not say that necessarily the cost will be too much, but we ought to know, and so far no one has even made an approximation of the amount which these alterations would cost industry. Then there is the question of compulsory insurance. Some of us are not unacquainted with the effect of compulsory insurance in the case of motor cars, and we realise that once again the sweet simplicity of compulsory insurance is not really so sweet or so simple as one would think, and that in cases where people justifiably imagined that they were going to get compensation they have found that in fact they could not get it. I think you may find under the Clause which deals with this matter in the Bill, that although the promoters 1257 have sought to achieve compulsory insurance, they have not, in fact, got it.
There is one matter which I should like to mention. The really big claims which workmen may make upon their employers are under the common law, and not under workmen's compensation. It has been frequently the case that at common law a workman's dependants have got £2,000 or £3,000 when under the Workmen's Compensation Acts they would be entitled to only £200 or £300. Compulsory insurance under this Bill deals only with workmen's compensation insurance. Surely from the point of view of those who are sponsoring the Bill it would be an invaluable thing to extend the proposed compulsory insurance to include liability under the Employers' Liability Act, and, more important, also under common law. Then there is the question of the normal weekly earnings. No doubt it is a very desirable thing to change the basis on which compensation is arrived at. That, again, needs careful consideration, and so far I have not heard any hon. Member who supports the Bill give an exact description as to how the Bill will improve the position in this respect.
As hon. Members know, there is a recent report by the Departmental Committee on three questions which arise out of the Workmen's Compensation Act—miner's nystagmus, general medical procedure and lump sum payments. The Bill before the House does not deal with lump sum payments. Whether one thinks lump sum payments are a good thing or not is neither here nor there—the important thing is that the Bill does not deal with them. It does not deal with general medical procedure, and it does not, in particular, deal with miners' nystagmus. All those items are of great importance. One often hears from hon. Members opposite the suggestion that piecemeal legislation is a mistake, but I think that on this occasion they are indulging in the very thing which they complain hon. Members on this side indulge in.
There are many things about which I could speak at great length in connection with the improvement of the present Workmen's Compensation Acts. For instance, the case of one-eyed men needs extremely careful consideration. One knows of cases where a man engaged in quarrying loses the sight of one eye. Undoubtedly, such a 1258 man is fit to work arid after a time can go back to work; very often he is offered work on the same quarrying job on which previously he had the accident. Can hon. Members blame such a man if he does not want to go back to such a job and possibly lose the sight of his other eye also? One must have such questions in mind when dealing with an immense subject of this nature. For all these reasons, I suggest that this really is not a question of hon. Members on this side of the House desiring in any sense to delay the passing of any Bill that will benefit relations between workers and employers. We feel convinced in our minds that the Bill before the House does not deal with the position as a whole, that it would in many cases result in hardship, and that it would not achieve the objects which the promoters have in view: and it is for those reasons, and those reasons alone, that we propose to speak and vote for the Amendment.
§ 1.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Hayday
The hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy), in moving the Amendment, spoke of justice and equity, and undoubtedly wanted us to believe that the arguments he used contained those attributes of justice and equity. He asked us what would be the cost of this Bill—as did the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Errington)—and what would be its effect on unemployment. We know, hon. Members opposite know and the general public knows what is the cost to the injured persons, their families and their environment. We know that the cost on that side cannot be adequately weighed if, on the other side of the scales, there is the question of what it will cost in money terms. The argument that the cost in pain, suffering and deterioration cannot be balanced because the money cost will be too great has no weight with me. If a man who has been injured while at work is consequently unable to provide for the bare necessities and comforts of life for himself and his family, there is no justice in saying that the inadequacy must continue because the money cost of giving him just and equitable treatment would be too great. Hon. Members opposite always want the sacrifice to be on one side.
The hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) also said that we do not know what the effect of the Bill would be on unemployment. That seems to me to be 1259 a very strange remark. The argument that if an injured workman was reasonably compensated for the loss of health, limb or employment it would have the effect of causing the employer to say, "I will not employ, because the cost of insurance is too high," seems to me to be a very peculiar argument, particularly if one considers it in relation to the hon. Member's dictum of justice and equity. The hon. Gentleman said that in the case of men who have large families, the employers might not want to employ them because the provisions made for dependants under the Bill would represent too great a risk. I have never heard such a low level of reasoning without a scrap of logic or justice associated with it; it was really an attempt to put fear into the hearts and minds of many people. The hon. Member also said that, when all is said and done, the Bill has its limitations and that it could not give the detailed information that is necessary because of the limited means for inquiry at the disposal of hon. Members on these Benches. I want to tell the hon. Gentleman that there are open to hon. Members on these Benches and to trade union officials generally experience, knowledge and means of inquiry in these matters such as are open to no other section of the community. Every hour of the day, day in and day out, we have to deal with the problem of the workman who has been injured while at work. We know and speak from experience, and not on the basis of cold calculations or the study of charts and graphs which are too often meaningless, especially when they attempt to work out an average.
I have one or two general remarks to make on this question, but they will be brief. In the first place, I would point out that as regards the measure of financial compensation to injured workmen, there has been no readjustment for the last sixteen years. For that period it has been static. But the administration of compensation has not been made any easier. Indeed, by reason of changes in industrial processes, much larger problems have arisen than those which existed previously, and many of the persons who suffer disabilities as a result of these new methods, cannot secure any compensation at all. Therefore, we do not get the full measure of the problem if 1260 we consider it merely on the basis of those actually in receipt of compensation. During the last fifteen years there have ben many readjustments in money values in relation to the general maintenance of the economic standards of the people. No one knows the numbers of the industrial army who have been laid by, as the result of injury or disease arising out of their occupations. There is a record, no doubt, of those who are receiving compensation, but there are large categories of workers who are outside the compensation area altogether.
I sometimes wonder whether hon. Members might not try to apply their minds to this problem and endeavour to cut out all their prejudices about it and seek to picture, in their own minds, the injured and the disease-stricken units of the industrial army pasing before them. When hon. Members speak on this question here they speak in terms of cold figures. They cannot always appreciate the human aspect of the problem. If they could picture to themselves what it really means they would see passing before their mind's eye not only the lame arid the halt, but the badly-clad and ill-fed dependants of those who have suffered. They would see that there is something more in this matter than the measure of compensation which is paid for the actual injury—the injury which is known, which is seen, which is understood. There is another side to it. I know many men who, by reason of physical incapacity resulting from industrial accident or disease, have to spend long periods watching a gradual deterioration taking place among the members of their own family. They see the increased anxiety of the wife who is called upon, in addition to her other cares, to give extra attention to the injured husband. There is a mental aspect as well as a physical aspect of the question in these cases. There is the mental depression which is a consequence of inactivity. I hope it will not be said on the Floor of the House to-day that if we make these payments too high we shall be giving encouragement to persons to linger on the injured list, as long as they are able to draw compensation. Never was a greater libel uttered against this country than such a suggestion.
I pass to one or two points of detail. It is sometimes said—I think I heard it said to-day—that sufferers from silicosis automatically fall within the purview of 1261 the Compensation Acts, but I suppose there are as many silicosis cases outside compensation, as there are included, in compensation. It is a strange fact that in this country a person who is engaged in freeing sand from steel castings can claim compensation if he is injuriously affected, but if he is engaged in freeing sand from cast-iron castings he is outside the Act, although the disease is identical in both cases. There is one other aspect which has been brought out in connection with Clauses 5 and 6 of the Bill, in which a medical board of three is proposed to take the place of a single referee in dealing with these cases. I am informed by the social insurance department of the Trades Union Congress that infective jaundice is growing. It is a disease associated with contamination by rats, and although it may be contracted in the course of certain Occupations, no compensation allowance is made for it. There is also the effect on the nerves and the general system of the use of pneumatic drills. Everybody knows the terrible vibration of these drills, but diseases arising from their use are not scheduled. The Home Secretary is in his place, and I would point out to him that here is a definite problem.
We are asking in this Bill that more adequate monetary compensation should be made for injury or inability to work due to industrial diseases already scheduled. To say that the amount indicated here is so great that employers might be afraid to employ men with large families, in consequence of the increased liability which they might have to undertake, seems to me to be begging the question. I have been in the House long enough to know that when a Private Member's Bill is introduced somebody is sure to get up and say, "Yes, we are in full sympathy with the proposal; our minds are very much disturbed at the present state of things; our hearts bleed for those who are in distress and we want to help—but, but, but." There is always a "but." The legal gentlemen will quibble about phrases which to a layman appear nonsensical, because the very lawyer who is advising to-day a particular interpretation of a particular Clause might to-morrow if we employed him tell quite another side of the story. We do not want that kind of juggling where human suffering is concerned. Hon. Members either mean what they say or they do not. Either they want to do something in this 1262 matter or they are merely endeavouring to avoid doing something and giving lip-service to these ideas, by talking a lot about justice and equity. I ask the House on this occasion to give a Second Reading to this Bill, and if there are any doubts or equivocations in the minds of hon. Members, they can be aired in the Committee-room upstairs when we get down to details.
§ Sir P. Hannon
The hon. Member used that emphatic "But, but, but." Does he not realise that sometimes a little delay would enable us to get better legislation, through having an opportunity for a more complete examination of the facts?
§ Mr. Hayday
You can get all the detailed examination of the facts as soon as the Bill goes up to Committee. As to the point about piecemeal legislation, it is always a get-out for any Government in difficulties to say, "We will have a commission set up in order that we may consolidate." That goes on for years and years, and in the meantime the victims of to-day become the corpses of to-morrow.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Wilson
This is a depressing occasion. I am speaking to about three hon. Members on my own side of the House who have done me the honour of forgoing their luncheon for the time being. Presently there will be 200 Members of the House who, without having heard any of the arguments, will vote on one side or the other. I shall await the speech from the Government Front Bench before I make up my mind. Not long ago we had a Holidays with Pay Bill, which put a burden on employers of no less than 2½ per cent. per annum on their wages bill. It was received by a large and enthusiastic House, and the financial difficulties of the problem were treated very lightly.
Before I come to this Bill, I want to look backwards for a moment. The Act which we are asked to amend is, in substance, that of 1923, which was merely consolidated in 1925. It has lasted for 15 years, and this is the 10th occasion, I think, on which an amending Bill has been pressed, unsuccessfully, upon us by the united voice of the Opposition. It deals with a subject which, to many of us on both sides of the House, is very familiar. There is something seriously wrong if, after 15 years, the most that 1263 the Government can do is to promise a Royal Commission—a promise which of itself is all to the good—but to decline to take any action in the meantime. I hope that is an incorrect interpretation of the coming reply of the Government.
The Act of 1923 was not accepted by the House at large or by the Opposition as being a reasonable and satisfactory compromise or a minimum of justice to the injured workman. When they sought to amend the Bill in 1924 the Home Secretary said, "Let us give the Act of 1923 a chance; let us watch its operations, and if necessary we can amend it." But 15 years have passed, and there has been virtually no amendment. That Bill was rejected, on an Amendment moved from the Government side to the effect that no useful purpose would be served in reopening the matter after such a short interval. I think it is wrong to have to wait 15 years for a thorough re-axamination of this problem. In all "the years that the locusts have eaten" since then, no serious steps have been taken to remove the worst defects of the Act, nor even to obtain the necessary statistical information, as the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley), who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, was at pains to point out.
It was left to a private Member, in spite of Home Office reluctance, the hon. Member who now sits for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) to deal with one gross scandal which has arisen, namely, the failure of colliery companies under mutual insurance systems to provide continuing compensation. The Government did nothing, until it was made clear that the House as a whole wished that Bill to go forward. Then the Home Office came to the rescue and helped to make the Bill into the thoroughly workmanlike Measure which it now is. I hope that something of that sort may arise from this debate.
The Act of 1923 had one grave omission. The Holman-Gregory report emphasised that the whole essence of the Bill was that there should be a Workmen's Compensation Commissioner, who should be in a position to watch the working of the Act and to report to Parliament every year. He was to have considerable powers. The Holman-Gregory Committee, representing both sides, was unanimous on that point, and the Bill put forward by Mr. Thomas, when in 1264 Opposition, which received a Second Reading without a Division and was followed by the Government Bill, did contain a Clause providing for a Workmen's Compensation Commissioner. Had such an appointment been made, we should know much more about the matter than we do now. The annual report from the Home Office is poor stuff. Year after year it repeats similar statistics in precisely the same way. It admittedly lacks a proper statistical basis either as to the incidence of accidents or as to the nature of the accidents themselves, and only refers to the seven great groups of industry. The great mass of men and women outside those seven groups are virtually ignored, for lack of information. It makes no reports as to the effects upon the working of the Act of recorded judgments in the courts of this country or in the House of Lords, and the Home Office do not even know how many injured workmen have had to have recourse to the public assistance committees or the Unemployment Insurance Board, although I have no doubt that it would have been very easy to obtain that information at any time during the past three years.
In 1934 the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs told the House that he had been for some time past in communication with the Lord Chancellor on the subject of the training and rehabilitation of injured men, and now, four years later, we are still waiting for the report of a committee which is considering that question of rehabilitation. We have had an interim report, but we are still awaiting the final report. If I have one criticism of this Bill, it is that it makes no reference to that matter. The Stewart Committee, which sat for two and a half years, has only just published its report, and has even then suppressed the evidence it received. It is impossible for anybody who gives a fair study to this subject to feel that it is a matter in regard to which Parliament can possibly feel either satisfied or proud.
I suggest that the Government should announce, at the earliest possible moment, that they will promote after Christmas an agreed Bill to remedy the gravest defects of the present Act, within the framework of the existing system, leaving, as I think we must, to the Royal Commission, a decision upon the major issue of compulsory insurance. I agree that compulsory insurance is necessary, and I am 1265 fortified in that opinion by the fact that Mr. Joseph Chamberlain took the same view. It has been accepted as necessary by employers in the mining industry, and, for reasons already given during this Debate, it would probably not be opposed by employers. But it is a very large issue, and it has to be considered in connection with insurance generally. A three-party conference, held at the Home Office, to deal with the most urgent aspects of workmen's compensation would be of immense assistance, and then we could look to the Royal Commission for a broad general scheme.
Part 1 of this Bill deals with the most immediate urgencies of the situation. I believe that we could reach a fair and reasonable compromise as between the views that have been expressed in the Debate on both sides by taking Part 1 of this Bill and modifying it, broadly speaking, subject to other details which would have to be considered, as follows. In the case of death I should make it 25s., or not less than one-third of normal weekly earnings, whichever is greater. Otherwise, I should accept the Clause. Where the dependants are a widow or invalid husband with one or more children wider 16, the weekly compensation should not be £2, but 30s.
§ Mr Levy
There was difference of opinion between hon. Gentlemen opposite and me as to whether it was clear that a widow, having been awarded 30s., was entitled to that award for the remainder of her life. I said there was nothing in the Bill to prevent that. I have since looked into it and I understand that there is nothing in the Bill to debar the widow from continuing so to receive it. As my hon. Friend was passing away from that subject, I was wondering whether he had any observations to make as to an amendment of that provision.
§ Sir A. Wilson
I am uninformed as to the precise working of this Clause in relation to the rest of the Act which it purports to amend, but, as I understand it, the general intention of workmen's compensation, so far as recompensing widows is concerned, is to apply the law that generally applies for military and other service pensions. If the Clause is 1266 deficient in that respect it should certainly be amended. There is no reason why the widow of a victim of industry should receive more favourable treatment than the widow of a victim of war. The two should be placed as near as possible on the same basis.
§ Mr. Silverman
Is it not a fact that the first Clause does not provide, as is the case now, for a lump sum payment, but that it provides for a weekly payment of 30s.? Is it not also clear that the Act provides that a weekly payment may be reviewed if the circumstances change, and, further, that the requirement for the weekly payment are that the woman is a widow and a dependant, and that if she ceases to be either, the circumstances will have changed so as to entitled the employer to review the weekly payment?
§ Sir A. Wilson
That is probably correct, but it does not cover the point that the widow might demand commutation at some point.
§ Sir A. Wilson
I was going to deal with that point. I am convinced that it is not possible for hon. Members who are backing this Bill to abolish commutation altogether without arousing a good deal of feeling among their own supporters. There must be some provision for commutation in the long run before we can really regard workmen's compensation as having been put upon an equitable basis. I dislike commutation on the whole, but if it is to be excluded the Bill will have to be altered to some extent after further consultation.
Thirdly, for total incapacity for work I suggest it should not be three-quarters but two-thirds. That is the amount allowed in Sweden, throughout Germany in the last 40 years, in most great industrial countries, and in certain states of America. I think that we could very well adopt it. As to the normal weekly earnings as in Clause 3, there are various drafting points to consider, but, broadly speaking, I think the Clause represents what is required in order to bring the law into line with what the Judges in the Court of Appeal have repeatedly said in regard to normal weekly earnings. It deals with hard cases. I know that hard cases make bad law, but the test of good 1267 law is the fewness of hard cases it creates. As for the review of weekly payments, I see little wrong with the Clause as it stands.
I should have no hesitation in urging the Secretary of State to accept Clauses 5 and 6, which deal with medical referees. I know no lawyer or medical referee who would defend the present system. I believe that opinion is completely unanimous on the subject. The question of medical boards to replace medical referees was surged upon the Government by a committee as long ago as 1903. The Holman Gregory Committee said that it deserved the most earnest consideration at the hands of the Government. It could really be a completely agreed Measure, and if it were introduced under the Ten Minute Rule there would not be a word said on either side of the House, most Medical referees, and, I have good reason to believe, the British Medical Association, would welcome it. The present system cannot be defended for the simple reason that it has no defenders in the House or elsewhere.
It is suggested on my side of the House that this Bill would throw a heavy and undisclosed burden on industry. I frankly do not believe it. In the six great groups of industry, excluding mining, the average cost of compensation per person employed is less than 10s. per head per annum. In the case of mining it is about 3d. per ton of coal raised. A Bill is to be introduced, I understand, to increase the Miners' Welfare Fund Levy. I am delighted to know it, but I am certain that if we asked the miners whether they would prefer to have that increased levy or workmen's compensation, there would be little doubt as to which they regarded as the most urgent. I do not see any reason why they should not have both. In the one case it is money invested and expended upon a capital object. In the other case it is disbursed for consumption purposes. The whole cost of this Bill, modified to the extent I propose, as far as I can estimate it, would not be more than one halfpenny per ton of coal raised, and probably only one farthing. Outside the seven great industries there are no statistics to show what the cost per head is, but I should he surprised if it was more than 2s. 6d. for per £100 paid in wages, and this Bill might cost another 3d. or 6d.
1268 There is really no reason why there should be any additional cost to industry if those responsible would co-operate to reduce overhead charges. The Holman Gregory report suggested that the maximum overhead expense ratio of Accident Offices should not exceed 30 per cent. The Home Office in 1925 laid down 37½ per cent., excluding legal and medical expenses, which means that the Accident Offices are at present enjoying an expense ratio of 42½ per cent. per annum. That is enormous. There have been such changes in office systems during the past 10 years, that I am convinced that the expense ratio could be reduced from 37½ per cent. to the figure accepted by the representatives of the insurance world on the Holman Gregory Committee, making it 30 per cent. They were men authorised to speak for the insurance offices on this committee, and they accepted 30 per cent. With the improvements of machinery and amalgamations that have taken place in the past 15 years, it should not be impossible to get it down to 30 per cent., in which case this Bill would not cost industry a penny.
Men partially or totally disabled in industry and the dependants of men who died on the job are scattered all over this country, and very often are forgotten and cold-shouldered even by their own fellows, and sometimes by their own unions when they have ceased to be members. Once their claim has been met then, like broken and maimed animals in a flock, they tend to go away into corners and fall out of the stream of life. They have no organisation like the British Legion to represent them, and it is a peculiar obligation upon this House to do so. Unlike the victims of war wounds they have no organisation such as the British Legion, for once they have been dealt with they often fall jut of the trade unions. Every ex-service man, whether a general or a private, is a member of the British Legion, but, alas, in this matter the captains of industry are not on the same side as the injured workmen, though individually they desire to be. As my hon. Friend the Member for the Moseley division of Birmingham (Sir P. Hannon) said, the captains of industry desire to do their best for the men, but there is at present no organisation which enables them to keep in touch with injured ex-employés. I am convinced that 1269 we could devise such an organisation. That will be a task for the Royal Commission.
§ Sir P. Hannon
I should like to tell my hon. Friend that a much more intimate association exists between employers and workmen than perhaps he realises. We have our welfare committees and they provide the channel through which we can keep contact.
§ Sir A. Wilson
The point my hon. Friend makes is a perfectly good one, but my point is that once men have been injured and have left the industry it is not possible to keep in touch with them, and my object is to see that contact is maintained. I do not question that there is close touch between workmen and employers, but once a man has been injured and has fallen out of the trade there are no means of keeping in touch with him and seeing how he fares. As has been said every year in speeches from this side of the House for the last three or four years, many of us are getting rather tired of waiting for a lead from the Government. The Home Secretary has shown human sympathy and wisdom in dealing with the minority who fall foul of the judicial machine. I beg him to display now, this year, this Session, a like sympathy in dealing with those who have fallen foul of the industrial machine, and to see that justice is done to the victims of industrial accidents and industrial disease. We hear, perhaps, too much in this House of industrial disease, and people are led to think it is a very heavy burden, but all the industrial disease put together does not cost 10 per cent. of industrial accidents. If we deal rightly with industrial accidents, disease will very soon take its proper place; it is not a heavy burden.
In 1917 the Prime Minister of that day appointed a series of Commissions to go all over England to inquire into the industrial unrest which was making the production of munitions so difficult and he selected Mr. G. N. Barnes, M.P., as general chairman of all the Commissions. One of the recommendations they made was that there should be an immediate modification of the Workmen's Compensation Act, as its inadequacy was one of the causes of the unrest. Within three months the Workmen's Compensation (War Additions) Act was passed which increased the amount payable to workmen 1270 under the original Act, and discontent was allayed. Would it not be well on this occasion to act before and not after trouble arises?
The Chief Inspector of Factories, in his last annual report to the Home Secretary, notes that an increase in accidents is the price which this country must pay for the return of a measure of increasing prosperity. But we are not paying. The victims of accidents are paying. The country must pay, I agree, for returning prosperity by an increase of accidents, which is quite inevitable, but we ought to pay in the literal sense as well as in the metaphorical. As the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday), has said every new machine, every new process, involves fresh industrial hazards which, in point of fact, cannot be anticipated in advance by medical officers of health or Home Office inspectors. Some fresh risk is constantly appearing. The cry of "carelessness" so often heard, particularly in the Courts, is not really valid. Familiarity is bound to breed contempt. The phrase goes back to the Latin classics. It was Publius Syrus who wrote nearly 2,000 years ago:Parit contemptum nimia familiaritas."Familiarity breeds contempt." If any of us had to do a dangerous thing a million times in four or five years and we once made a mistake we should not regard that as carelessness. It is a permanent factor which cannot be greatly influenced by either education or publicity. I again urge the Government to call a three-party Conference to consider the Workmen's Compensation Act as it stands on the general lines of Part I of this Bill, in order that we may have an agreed Measure, an agreed minimum, before the Royal Commission sits. I am the first to welcome the Royal Commission. Indeed, I did myself the honour of suggesting it last year, holding that it was not possible for any Government Department overworked as is the Home Office to take a sufficiently large view of the whole situation without the advantage of such an inquiry.
I must deal briefly with Part II of the Bill, because, frankly, I do not like it as it stands. I believe that compulsory insurance is necessary, but I am not satisfied that it should be dealt with on the lines suggested. I believe we have to get 1271 right away from the conceptions of workmen's compensation and go back on the one hand to rehabilitation, on which we expect a final report very shortly from the most competent Committee set up by the Home Office, and on the other hand must try to get the matter away from the Courts. There are three possible ways of dealing with the question. One is to have workmen's compensation administered by the Courts of Justice, the other is to have it administered by a Commissioner, the third is to have it administered by industry, with the men and the employers working in joint committees, and I believe this to be the final solution. There was a time not very long ago when in Durham a joint committee of coalowners' and coalminers' representatives sat to discuss every question that could arise within the industry. It broke down, I am informed, in 1923 or 1924, but so long as it worked every compensation case in which a dispute arose was dealt with by the men and employers together.
§ Sir A. Wilson
I am delighted to know that it is still in operation. I have been looking into the subject of contracting out. That is suspect by some hon. Members of the Opposition, but if they had given the same amount of study to it that I have they would see that it has great merits. Two great shipbuilding firms, two great gas companies and all the employés in Government Departments have contracted out. How do such schemes work? Even though a man is willfully negligent and careless he still gets the minimum required by the Act, but if the accident is not due to his own fault, if there have been other factors involved, he can get all that compensation, and something more. Under the contracting-out schemes which I have studied, and they have been working for 25 years or so, every accident is examined by a committee composed as to three-quarters of representatives of the men and one-quarter of representatives of the employers, who reach a decision as to whether it was due to carelessness or was unavoidable, and see how it can be avoided in future. They themselves adminster the fund, they themselves see that the man gets the best and the most effective treatment, and they themselves see that the payments due to widows and orphans and dependants are wisely and 1272 sensibly administered. In the case of those four great firms not a single case has ever been sent to court. There are great possibilities in getting away from the spirit of "How much shall I get?" on the one hand and "How much must I give?" on the other which is almost inevitable when an insurance company of necessity interposes between the firm and the employé.
A joint committee of both sides, working under a regional direction arid the whole under a workmen's compensation commissioner appointed by the Home Office is a very different matter. That, however, is the sort of thing which only a Royal Commission can handle. I do not want to make up my mind how to vote on this Bill before I hear from the Secretary of State whether he will accept the possibility of getting an agreed Bill dealing with the most urgent matters which are embodied in Part 1 of the Bill, and as to which I believe there is, subject to the modifications I have proposed, substantial agreement on all sides of the House. This is the fourth workmen's compensation Debate in which I have taken part, and I have yet to hear that any Member is opposed to raising the present scale of contribution, and objects to the principle of recognising weekly payments as against lump sums, subject to certain comparatively minor modifications, which the Bill will have to undergo before it will have general consent.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hall
I wish to say only one or two words in order particularly to attract the attention of the House to certain features of the Bill. The Mover of the Amendment expressed, or implied, that there would be antagonism on the part of big employers in this country when he suggested that if the Bill were placed upon the Statute Book workers with large families would not be given employment because they would mean increased liability to the employers. At the present juncture of world history, and in the conditions of to-day, I cannot conceive that a man would be penalised because of a large family. The right of a workman to obtain compensation for injury has been recognised for a number of years, but I think it would be true to say that compensation law brings about a limitation of the right that he has 1273 possessed. The main difficulty confronting those who seek to obtain compensation is lack of specific instruction laid down by Acts of Parliament which should, in my judgment, be the guiding principle for compensation for injury.
One of the difficulties that always attend claims for compensation concerns medical evidence. Very often one medical man finds himself in opposition to another, and it is always difficult to obtain medical evidence or opinion that states very clearly what may be the result of an accident or the conditions under which people work. For some period of my life I was engaged in looking after a number of people whose work was the manufacture of artificial silk. They had to work where the fumes of acids were continually filling the workshop. It was essential that there should be a certain degree of humidity, and it was impossible to allow the fumes of the acids to escape. The result was a good deal of gastric trouble and consequent illness, and it was difficult to get medical men to give a certificate that the gastric trouble of those workers was the result of the conditions in which they worked.
A difficulty encountered by workers in covering the risk of injury is that insurance companies may find it difficult to settle claims. It must be the business of the companies to keep their premiums as low as possible, and they can retain them there only if they can repudiate claims wherever possible and pay the lowest amounts where repudiation is not possible. Insurance against workmen's compensation is essential, but there must be a fair basis of payment enacted by Parliament. The Bill asks that workmen's compensation for incapacity should be increased from 50 per cent, to 75 per cent, and there are many strong arguments in favour of doing so. The maximum is restricted to 30s. a week at present, but that may inflict very great hardship upon an injured workman because in almost every case he has to run into debt during his incapacity. That factor retards recovery, especially where there is an element of neurasthenia. We cannot disregard the mental difficulties too often associated with the laying aside of a workman. Men are often much too worried about future opportunities in employment, and because of such worry 1274 and anxiety improvement does not take place as rapidly as one would wish.
The Bill makes provision for those who are declared fit for light work, and particularly where light work cannot be provided. One of the tragedies of injury is that many men improve sufficiently to be given light work but that no such work is available. I took up a case of this character recently with one of the largest employers in London. The managerial staff would have been only too happy and ready to give the light work, but the work simply was not there. There was no opportunity for it, and the man has become a human derelict. In such cases a judge should be able to order that for the purposes of this Measure incapacity should continue as total incapacity, as laid down in the Bill.
I regard Clause 3 as of very great importance, because it makes provision for casual workers. In this House and in my trade union I represent casual workers such as dockers and waterside workers. Because of the fluctuating character of their employment and the necessity that there shall always be a reservoir of labour to be tapped whenever employers find it necessary, these men are, to a large extent, the human spare-parts in industry. Work can be provided for them only occasionally, but it is very necessary work. When they meet with an injury the casual nature of their employment works against them to a tremendous extent, because of the very low average wage and the amount of the payment that can be made. If the amount paid because of the injury could be computed, not upon the average wages, but upon the normal wages of the industry, I think that that would be the most just and equitable method.
It is not uncommon, too, where men whose earnings are considerably above £3 a week have been unemployed for a period and then, having started work again, meet with an injury shortly afterwards, for them to suffer because of their period of unemployment. Part II of the Bill makes compulsory insurance by employers against liability for their workers. This is a very necessary and desirable provision. At the present time, a man meeting with an accident has no certainty that compensation will be forthcoming. This may apply principally to small employers, but I want to give 1275 a few cases where injured workmen have suffered, not always because they were employed by small employers, but where fairly wealthy firms got into financial difficulties and the injured workers suffered accordingly.
I will give four cases. The first was that of a carter in London, employed by a man in a small way of business. The carter lost his life as the result of an accident, and his widow was awarded £300, the maximum amount. The accident occurred in 1920. The full amount was not paid, and has not been paid. There is still over £100 owing to the widow, without any possibility of her being able to get the amount, because the small man simply has not the money. In another case, a coal worker in London was injured in 1922, and compensation was awarded at the rate of 35s. a week under the Act of 1906. The payments were always heavily in arrear, and the union to which I belong had to threaten bankruptcy proceedings in order to get any money at all out of a firm that certainly was able to pay. Unfortunately, as those who have any knowledge of legal matters are aware, it is impossible to attempt to take proceedings under the Bankruptcy Acts unless the payments are much in arrear, so that, when our organisation was prepared to take action, the injured workman, totally incapacitated, had not received anything for weeks and months. Since that time the position of the company has gone from bad to worse, until now it is impossible to get anything at all for that man, who, as I have said, is totally incapacitated.
The third case is that of a dock labourer at Swansea, who met with an accident in 1929. He was paid compensation for a while. Then the firm got into difficulties and it was merely a question of our organisation getting for that man what we could. The capitalised value of the claim made against the firm was £600, for which an agreement was recorded. The firm went bankrupt, and a dividend of 3s. 1d. in the £ was paid from the bankrupt's estate, with the result that we able able to get £93 for that man instead of the £600 that had been agreed upon. The last case is that of a docker in London, who met with an accident in 1918. He became totally incapacitated as a result of the accident.
1276 Compensation was paid for a while, and then the employer died. There was no estate worth attacking, so that here is a man totally incapacitated without its being possible to obtain anything for him.
I submit that, if the Bill attempts anything at all worth while, it attempts to safeguard those workers who meet with accidents, because, whatever may be the financial position of any firm at any time, no one can say what will be the future of the firm. Therefore, it appears to me that the whole matter should be put on a stable basis, so that those who meet with injuries will be able to know that they will be paid the compensation to which they are justly entitled. Penalties for employers who contravene the provisions regarding insurance against risks are a very fine feature of the Bill. This is surely necessary in the interests of justice to employeés. The Bill is an attempt to introduce more humane considerations into compensation law, and I hope that the House may feel that justice can only he done to workers by agreeing to give the Measure a Second Reading.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I hope that the hon. Gentleman who has just made a most interesting speech on this difficult subject will forgive me if I refrain from following him in a discussion of the detailed criticisms which he directed to the present system and the observations which he made about the proposals of the Bill for remedying the defects which I think are generally recognised to exist under the present arrangements. I think the House will go wrong if it approaches this Bill from the standpoint of asking whether one is in agreement or in disagreement with many of its detailed provisions. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) found himself in a difficulty because he adopted that line of approach towards the Bill, and that the attitude which he announced he was going to take when the time for a Division comes shows that, even in the case of an hon. Member who possesses the very special knowledge which my hen. Friend possesses on this matter, the result of that attitude produces a state of mind which is not very conducive to a solution of these difficult and, I agree, urgent problems.
Notwithstanding what was said by the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. 1277 Hayday), I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the House feel a very large measure of sympathy with many of the proposals of the Bill. If I may speak for myself, I have listened with great interest and, if I may say so, with the respect which I always feel in such matters, to the speeches which hon. Members on the other side have made, drawing attention to the grave hardships to which our present system of workmen's compensation gives rise in very many cases. I always listen with respect to speeches which I know are made from a more intimate acquaintance with the personal results of legislation of this kind than I claim to possess. But this Bill raises matters of a much more far-reaching and fundamental character than that. If it is right that the present system of dealing with these difficult and sad cases of industrial accidents is producing the hardships to which hon. Members opposite have so eloquently drawn attention, then surely the time has come when a complete investigation into the whole system should be undertaken.
When one turns to the provisions of the Bill it becomes very plain that if these injustices and hardships can only be put right by the fundamental changes in the existing system which the Bill proposes, then surely a case, and a strong case, has been made out for a complete and far-reaching investigation into the existing system. I have spoken of the changes which the Bill will introduce as fundamental. I do not think that it is capable of argument that the changes which the Bill proposes are changes of a most far-reaching nature. I am told that the amount of compensation paid now in these cases will be more than doubled if the proposal for increased allowances becomes law. It necessarily follows—I do not suppose hon. Members opposite would dispute this—that if the compensation for which employers and insurance companies become liable is to be increased to such a far-reaching extent, there will be a very considerable increase in insurance premiums. Whether one looks at it from the standpoint of the employer who himself has to bear the compensation, or from the standpoint of the employer who insures against these risks, as a good employer should, if he can, it does mean that a very considerable financial burden is to be placed on employers.
1278 The Bill goes on to provide something there that is quite new in workmen's compensation. It provides that an employer shall be under a statutory obligation to undertake the cost of the insurance of his workmen, increased as it would be under this Bill. The two propositions I have mentioned, which are the principal proposals of the Bill, can be fairly described as a fundamental departure from the existing system of compensation. If the existing methods, producing the results which have been described by supporters of the Bill, are only capable of being remedied by these far-reaching changes in the existing system, then surely the strongest case has been made out for a complete investigation of the whole system as it exists now.
There has been some discussion of the question whether the increased charges which employers will have to bear will constitute a hardship on the employer or a deterrent to the employment of labour. I think that discussion can be fairly said to have proceeded very largely from the standpoint of considering the affect of these matters upon the larger employers. My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin when dealing with this aspect of the matter gave some figures, and I think it was plain that his observations were directed to what he referred to as the great groups in industry; but I think that if the House is to appreciate the full effect of what is to be done in this Bill it must consider the matter from the standpoint not of the bigger employers but from the standpoint of the very large number of smaller employers to whom this additional financial burden will be a very serious matter.
I should like quite shortly to draw attention to the position of at least one class of these smaller employers, the small retail traders. The small retail trader, as the House knows, is, taken in the bulk, an employer of a great deal of labour. The House is also aware that the smaller retail traders to-day are carrying on their businesses under very difficult conditions. They have to withstand the competition of businesses which are organised on a very different basis and which have at their disposal resources much wider than those which the small trader can command—the multiple shop, and indeed, the co-operative society, too. The smaller retail traders are working to-day on very 1279 small margins indeed. We must not let our sympathies for the injured workman run away entirely with our sympathies for the smaller employer who may well find that this additional burden is a final handicap.
§ Mr. T. Williams
Would the hon. Member apply that same principle and reasoning to the poor person who owns a motor car and is obliged to insure?
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is no obligation to own a motor car, and very few persons who are not in a position to meet an insurance premium own motor cars for the purpose of earning their living. But that is not the case with the small trader. This is not a burden which is placed upon a man's recreation but upon his means of earning a livelihood. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill, when dealing with this aspect of the matter, said something which in a sense is true. He said that insurance will be a relief to the smaller employers. That is perfectly true, provided that the insurance premium is not excessive; but if this Bill is carried into law what safeguard is there; and what indication is there of what the financial burden of insurance would be that this Bill would impose on the smaller class of traders? Hon. Members on the other side of the House might fairly ask whether the position might not be the same when the Royal Commission have completed their labours; but it does not follow necessarily that that is going to be the case. The terms of reference of the Royal Commission certainly suggest that their inquiry is to be of a much wider and more comprehensive nature than a mere inquiry into the question of the workmen's compensation risks. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment read the terms of reference, and it was quite plain that what is contemplated is an inquiry not only into the question of conpensation but into other statutory systems for benefits; and it may very well be, as I hope it will, that, as a result of that far-reaching inquiry, the Royal Commission will be able to make recommendations which will overcome the hardship which the increased insurance premiums, which will be necessary under this Bill if justice is to be done, are likely to impose on a very large number of traders who are at present not in a position to carry such costs. I would 1280 suggest that that is the most appropriate way of dealing with the whole of this difficult question.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
Does the hon. Member not think that in a matter of this kind the Government should take notice of the movement of public opinion which has just returned the Opposition candidate at Bridgwater?
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to explain whether that by-election was fought on the question of workmen's compensation. I think there is a general measure of agreement that the time has come when all these questions of making additional provision for victims of ill-health and accident ought to be considered, and that the right way is not to consider them in watertight compartments, as this Bill proposes to do, but to consider whether the whole question of sickness insurance, unemployment insurance, civil liability and workmen's compensation ought not to be the subject of a complete and comprehensive inquiry, which may very well result in means being found of overcoming the difficulties which this Bill would impose on a very large number of small traders.
I do not want to occupy the House for many minutes on a discussion of the details of the proposals of this Bill, but there are one or two matters to which I would like to call attention This Bill proposes that the system of lump-sum payments should come to an end.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
Generally, what it proposes is that the system of lump-sum payments should come to an end. Some of us who have had experience of cases settled on this basis and have some knowledge of what sometimes happens to the money, have certainly been critical of the system of lump-sum settlements; but I think the House ought not to forget that the Stewart Committee, which investigated this matter, reported that the lump-sum system ought to be retained. It would, in my submission, be a mistake if, after a report of that authoritative nature had been made, this House disregarded its recommendations. Surely if the committee's views are to be reconsidered, the proper way to do so is as part of a complete and comprehensive 1281 investigation into the whole question. If one is considering the details of the proposals which this Bill contains, it is also true to say that there are many matters that some of us would like to see included which have been omitted. If I had been introducing this Bill I would have included a proposal for altering the present system by which the workman is required to give notice of claim. This often results in considerable hardship to workmen, and it is a matter which might well be dealt with when amending legislation is introduced. So, both for what it includes and what it omits, it would be much better if the proposals of this Bill were made the subject of a complete and comprehensive inquiry into the whole of this difficult and important matter.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The chief arguments made to-day by opponents of this Bill have been directed not so much against the Bill as to the fact that the Government has appointed, at least, the chairman of a commission and propose to appoint other members shortly. It is argued that, therefore, the Bill is inopportune. There has been little criticism of the merits of the Bill itself. The hon. Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) said, in effect, that we should have a comprehensive inquiry, followed by a Government Bill; and that, therefore, the Bill is unnecessary. To the last portion of the hon. Member's argument, with regard to what the Bill did not contain, I give no consideration, because if the Bill got a Second Reading, anything he wanted to see included could be proposed in Committee. His argument for opposing the Bill, on the grounds of what it did not contain, is the flimsiest I have heard from any hon. Member. I have no doubt that, if he proposed those things, the omission of which he has referred to, the promoters, knowing them to be an improvement, would accept them at once.
I come to this argument that the Government are setting up a Commission—and may I say that it has taken the Government at least the best part of seven or eight months to appoint the Commission. It is a long time since they announced that they were setting up a Commission—I think it was in the month of June last year—and after that they announced the appointment of the chairman. What has happened in regard to 1282 the rest of the Commission I do not know, but so far the members have not been appointed. I agree with the last speaker that the terms of reference are wide. That is one of the reasons which cause me to-day, much as I desire to go to Scotland, to wait here to vote on this Bill. The terms of reference are so wide that when the Commission have been appointed it will be years before they present their report. When a report is presented, not only has the Home Office to consider it, but the Ministry of Labour, and the Ministry of Health have to be consulted. The Government will then have to make up their minds. In fact, by the time that a report can be given effect to, possibly a new set of workmen's compensation conditions will have arisen.
I am a bit sick of this Commission business on questions of this kind. There are certain questions for which a case can always be made out for an inquiry. On the question of mechanical necessities in respect of aeroplanes and the like, our opinions here may not be the best informed, but there are other matters upon which Members of the House of Commons are usually far better informed than most of those sitting on Commissions. Members on both sides of the House as workers, employers and advocates have to deal with subjects with which they are familiar from day to day and week to week. When a Bill goes upstairs to Committee it is considered by men and women who sit on these benches and on the benches opposite who have first-hand knowledge of the particular problem. There is enough in this Bill to enable Members sitting in Committee upstairs to produce one of the finest workmen's compensation Measures it is possible to enact. I am not pledged to every line contained in the Bill, nor are, I think, the Promoters. It is the attitude of mind that counts, and if a group of men and women went upstairs in Committee and started with the attitude of mind that they were going to hammer this Bill into an efficient Measure, we should be able to produce a better Measure than will come as a result of the proposed comprehensive inquiry.
The argument of the appointment of a Commission is merely a delaying argument. I am against every day's delay in passing a Bill for improving the lot of human beings who are being adversely affected week by week. I noticed the report of a case in the "Daily Herald" 1283 the other day which was headed "Judge refuses to sanction £50 award." It appeared that a man had lost an eye and had applied to the Court to sanction an award of £50 which the Judge refused to sanction on the ground of the sum being inadequate. It is well that the House should realise the position of such a man. A man loses an eye. It is an accident easily to define, and is not like one which causes internal troubles. The loss of an eye is something upon which there can be no medical dispute. A man loses an eye and his employer comes along and says, "I propose to give you a job at your normal rate of wages." The same thing happens in respect of the loss, say, of four fingers. It is an easily defined accident and no medical opinion is really necessary. The employer says, "I propose to employ you at your normal weekly rate of wages," and the wage-earner, who may be a carpenter, moulder or pattern maker, takes the job. Perhaps twelve months later the man is dismissed because of slackness of work. He goes to his union and they instruct their solicitors to open the case again. The employer says, "I refuse to pay any compensation because you are not unemployed now as the result of the loss of your eye, but because there are nearly 500 men unemployed, and you are unemployed owing to slackness of work." We had a case not long ago. The man had lost four fingers and returned to his old employment where he continued to work for some considerable time. We produced foremen and managers to show that the man was not fit to be employed, but that did not matter. There was only one worker found in the whole of Glasgow to go into the box to say that the man was working with the same effect, and at the close, after we had lost the case, one of my craftsmen said, "I have come to the conclusion that it is useless for a pattern-maker to have four fingers, as they are only in the way."
§ Mr. Buchanan
No, and that is why I want the Bill to go upstairs. I recollect that the Scottish Poor Law Bill, which no doubt some hon. Members can remember was taken when there were 1284 only six Scottish Labour Members in the House of Commons. It was a Government Bill and I pay this tribute to the Government. Lord Normand, then a Scottish Law Officer, was in charge of it. It went upstairs a bad Bill, but it emerged, in my view, as the best Poor Law code in the world. The whole Bill was recast and remodelled. Therefore, we should examine this Bill upstairs. Under the compensation law to-day a man, say, receives the maximum of 30s. a week. He has four children. What happens? He draws the 30s. for six or eight months. That is not sufficient upon which to live. He goes to his union and says "Good Gracious, I cannot live on this. They have offered me £100." His union says that it is nothing like enough, and he says that he must get back to work. The union tell him that he is not fit, and he says "I do not care whether I am fit or not fit. I cannot live on 30s., and must get back to work." The result is that this insufficient payment drives men to make a settlement which every decent man knows is an impossible and bad settlement to make.
On the general question of compensation, this Bill is a considerable improvement. It sets up a minimum of £3, and it also sets up a basis of 75 per cent. of earnings. I agree with the abolition of the block sum payment in the case of the widow, but I am not sure that I do so in the case of the man. I sat for some years on a committee to advise ex-soldiers who were starting in business, and I must confess that my experience influenced me almost entirely against the lump sum payment. In regard to workmen's compensation to-day there are two things that require to be altered. One is, that the law is not clear. It ought to be as simple to the layman as it is to any other person. It ought to be such that the ordinary workman can read it and understand it. It is, however, a whole mass of case law, a whole mass of contradictions and difficulties. The payments of compensation to-day are grossly inadequate, and the payment to the widow no longer foots the bill. In the case of accidents, employers can, by a long drawn-out process, practically reduce the worker to such a state that it is impossible for him to resist their proposals.
This Bill, in the main, makes a big step forward, and, therefore, I hope it 1285 will go to a Committee upstairs, composed of Members of this House, of all parties, and that there will be a decent approach to the subject, so that the Bill may be a speedier and better way of getting the desired results, than by trusting to a Royal Commission. There is a tendency among Members of the House of Commons to belittle their job and to hand it over to Royal Commissions and other people, as though they were not expert enough themselves to deal with it. I know of no subject on which the House of Commons is more capable of arriving at a right judgment than on this question of workmen's compensation. The honourable profession of Members of the House of Commons renders them capable of dealing with this subject. Therefore, I trust that instead of handing it over to a Royal Commission, the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, be its own commission, and tackle the subject adequately.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey Ellis
I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), and one must make this reservation, that while I agree that there are plenty of people in this House who are perfectly capable of dealing with individual subjects, there is rather a tendency when an individual subject comes up to treat it on a national basis, from the expert point of view, and there is a danger that the larger issues and the repercussions of a particular question may be lost sight of. Therefore, there is something to be said for a thorough examination of this subject. Moreover, it would be very much to the benefit of this House that a good deal should be eradicated from a Bill of a technical kind before it reaches this House.
On general principles, as a representative of industry, I agree with a good deal of what has been said, but on reading the Bill very carefully I feel that it is trying to do too much, to regulate too far, and to go too much into detail. In that process it may be missing a good deal of what it really intends to do. Undoubtedly, the best form of insurance is that given by proper mutual indemnity societies representing the industries concerned, and the developments that have taken place in industry during recent years are helping in that direction. I do not think that, as a general rule, criticism can be levelled at the larger firms and 1286 the larger industries in respect of this form of insurance, because there are enough funds in these mutual indemnity societies to provide for the individual compensation that may be given under the Act. I am more particularly anxious over the persons employed by smaller concerns, and who very often are employed by an individual. I can quite appreciate that my trade union friends are more interested in the bigger industries and the bigger employers, where they themselves are part of the organization which deals with these matters.
There are, however, very grave troubles on this question among quite small people who are employers and the real difficulty which the workman has to face is that if he is employed in a small undertaking by people working with a minimum of capital, and who are always on the margin, it is very likely that if an accident happens, he suffers because his employer is not able to find the amount of capital required to pay the compensation. This Bill does not deal with that matter, and yet it is a very big consideration. Therefore, I am surprised that hon. Members opposite have not thought of the question of an alternative national insurance for people of this kind who, when you take them in the total, are very many. In regard to such national insurance, we ought to examine very carefully the position of the so-called family in industry, because it will be found that there are just as many cases of hardship among the so-called families in industry as among people who are not related at all. The Bill does not deal with that.
If you are to make a drastic alteration in the law of workmen's compensation, the time has come when you must make it complete. If you fix yourself to the authorised insurer you are met with this difficulty, that you may make the position so expensive for the small man, by reason of an agreed basis of premiums and a reduction in the number of competitive companies, that a process of evasion, even helped by those employed, is likely to go on. Therefore, the best thing to consider is a carefully-prepared plan of national insurance for those who are not able, for some reason or other, to come under a system of authorised insurance, and I would ask my hon. Friends opposite to consider that matter.
1287 There are one or two points in the Bill which cause me a considerable amount of concern. They arise from an attempt, perfectly honest and perfectly right, to deal with social conditions, in themselves very difficult but which cannot be defined. I am afraid that difficulty will arise in the way that the attempt has been made to define these things in the Bill. In Clause 1 that question arises. If you are going to give benefit to the children of a man who has suffered death as a result of an accident, why attempt to keep going an artificial household? You should fix your objective on the child itself. Therefore, this attempt to set up an artificial household, in the name of a foster mother, is quite wrong, socially. You should follow the child, and if the Bill is to be effective in following the child, there should be provision for the child wherever it goes. My hon. Friends from mining districts know perfectly well that in the old days when there was a great disaster the charity of the miners always took in the children of those who were killed, and that is the proper basis on which we should go in this case, not of providing the artificial position of the household. I do not like the penalties on members of a corporation. It will be exceedingly difficult, I think, to follow through the penalties which are suggested in Clause 7.where an offence under this section committed by a corporation has been committed with the consent or connivance of, or facilitated by any neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary or other officer of the corporation, he, as well as the corporation, shall he deemed to be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.I do not wish any corporation to escape the result of any offence against the law it may commit, but this paragraph is a deliberate attempt of the Parliamentary draftsman, who knows all the difficulties of the case, and who realises that once you have put the corporation in you must attempt to get round it in some way or another, to punish the corporation by a fine and also to punish some of the individuals connected with the corporation in the hope that they will behave themselves and do their duty. The first principle in any penal charge is that you should prove your case up to the hilt, and quite rightly, and, therefore, if you put a penal charge on individuals as well as 1288 on a corporation, you are going to have the courts against you from the beginning. Having charged a corporation it is far better to leave to the management of the corporation the punishment of those who have not done their duty, which will soon follow if the corporation has to pay a fine. The assumption underlying the Bill may be correct in a few cases, but for those few cases are hon. Members opposite going to upset a principle which, at any rate, leaves us with a certain amount of logical definition and understanding?
§ Sir G. Ellis
That surely is not the case here. I wish well to the changes which the hon. Member suggests in the Bill, but when he says that all the details can be worked out after the Second Reading is passed, my answer is that the Bill is presented in such a way, and is so full of contradictory details, that I do not think hon. Members opposite have made the best of their case.
§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Collindridge
I am a comparatively new Member of the House and I am glad to have an opportunity of saying a few words on this Bill. With my colleagues I have sat here since Eleven o'clock this morning listening to the Debate and, frankly, I am very disappointed at the way hon. Members opposite have received these proposals. Except for the very chivalrous speech of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) there has been hardly a redeeming feature in the speeches of hon. Members opposite. I am not very well versed in the Latin tongue, and I am afraid I did not understand the Latin used by the hon. Member for Hitchin, but one motto associated with my mother tongue I will hand out to the hon. Members opposite, "Never put off any good thing you can do to-day until to-morrow." The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill suggested that we should await the result of an examination by a Royal Commission. There seemed to me to be a suggestion of a levy upon people who have to submit to meagre compensation. Perhaps 1289 he will permit me to say that if his attitude is not that of a Christian it is, I feel, the attitude of a Levite.
§ Mr. Collindridge
During recent weeks we have heard constant appeals in this House for national unity from hon. Members opposite, which have been largely in an idealistic form. If there is one thing more calculated to improve national unity than another, it is a better treatment of the masses of the country, and there is no section of the community more deserving of this than those who are injured in industry. I feel that if we were to take the opinion of the masses of the people, even in the division of the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill, there would be an overwhelming majority in favour of the proposals of the Bill. I feel sure that whether they are likely to be recipients of compensation of not, they would, in common fairness and in justice to their fellow citizens, decide in favour of the Measure.
The fundamental question in the Bill is that we are proposing to deal with the woefuly inadequate payments which are now given to injured workpeople. I want hon. Members opposite to see the position as we see it. I came to the House in July. Prior to that I had been engaged in the mining industry, in which on an average every man is injured every five years. If one is lucky to escape, then some other poor miner gets it twice. I want hon. Members to consider the anomaly of the payments. If a man is vigorous and fit, is in a good job and is earning over £3 a week there is a levy—the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) I hope will pardon my using the word—on his payments, and he gets only a maximum of 30s.; if his wages are lower than £3 he receives a payment under 30s. In some places—I think that in Doncaster in the racing parlance of our September meeting—we call that the "skin game."
One hon. Member referred to the result of the by-election in the Bridgwater Division. Perhaps that may have some effect on the hon. Gentleman who is to reply for the Government. I hope it will. The hon. Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) expressed doubt as to whether this was one of the issues on which we fought the election. Let 1290 me say that the speech which I made at Doncaster on Monday night, while dealing, perhaps somewhat imperfectly, with foreign policy, concluded with references to matters relating to home policy, and in my last sentences, in asking for the support of the electors for the representative of these Benches to be elected I said that it would give encouragement, if he were elected by an increased majority, to two things—first, it would give an impetus from these Benches in support of a new compensation Measure, as instanced by the Bill of the hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley), and secondly, it would be something in the nature of a warning to hon. Members opposite to remember that the electorate is concerned with the subject of this discussion.
I would remind hon. Members that while this Debate is going on people are still being injured. I would quote what is happening in the mining industry. This morning, perhaps before most hon. Members had risen from their beds, one man had been launched into eternity, perhaps leaving fatherless children and a widow. Before the Debate is concluded, another man will have met a similar fate, and before we go to bed to-night, there will be a third man whose dependants would be recipients under this Bill. Can hon. Members opposite feel that in these circumstances we should await the findings of a Royal Commission, which, however good its intentions may be, will cause a sad delay in giving what is fair and just to the people concerned?
I want now to touch briefly on the subject of nystagmus. The poor individuals in the mining industry who suffer from this disease, as a consequence of the unfair treatment which they now receive, are removed from workmen's compensation when they are partially recovered or fully recovered. In the case of these men, there is a fear in the mind of the employer that the men are fit subjects for a return of that disease, and very often this prevents the men from getting a job. Moreover, as a consequence of the bad treatment which the men receive under the present compensation law, they are often prone to psycho-neurosis.
I want to put the matter to hon. Members opposite from the point of view of industrial towns such as Barnsley, which 1291 I represent. Is it fair that there should be inflicted on a largely industrial constituency, such as Barnsley, by reason of the law on compensation, an increased charge on the rates? We say that it is unfair that inadequate compensation should often have to be augmented by public assistance; and that by reason of compensation being taken away from men who are termed to be fully recovered from their accident or industrial disease, but who are unable to get work when they are recovered, the local authorities should have to bear the burden. It is not only a charge on the rates, but also a charge upon the trading community. If a new compensation Bill were accepted by the House, it would relieve that position.
The hon. Member who spoke last said there were certain difficulties and weaknesses in this Measure. We admit that the Bill does not represent the full 100 per cent. Of compensation treatment which we on this side would give to injured workers if we were the Government of the country. We admit that it is a compromise Measure. It has been introduced with the motive of inducing hon. Members opposite at least to move part of the way towards us on this question and with the idea that right now, at the present time, we should take steps to afford some relief to those who suffer from the position which I have already described.
When hon. Members opposite suggest that this Measure, if put into operation, would cause great difficulties, my reply is that it is true patriotism on the part of Members on these Benches to claim that what has been accomplished in other lands can also be accomplished in Britain. I have no great love for the political system of Soviet Russia, but my investigations there as a miner, two years ago, at least convinced me that a measure which provided for the injured Soviet worker 75 per cent. of his average wages of the previous year for the first 20 days and the full Too per cent. after 20 days, was a measure worthy to be copied. If there are any susceptibilities among hon. Members opposite as to following the example of Russia, I would refer them to our own Dominions. The Ontario Act and the New Zealand Act are patterns which I feel with respect the mother country ought to emulate, and, indeed, try to improve.
1292 I hope that hon. Members opposite will take it that this is no partisan Measure. The suggestion has been made that the whole question of compensation generally should be taken out of the ambit of party politics, and I hope hon. Members will bear that idea in mind. The hon. Member for Hitchin said he did not know how the Government were likely to move and that that would determine how he would vote in the Division on this Bill. I hope hon. Members irrespective of party will vote solidly in the Division Lobby in support of the Bill. If, in their view, there are any embarrassments or weaknesses in the details of the Bill, though not in its principles, they can seek to have those difficulties removed when the Bill goes into Committee. But I am satisfied that if hon. Members who support the Government turn down this Bill, then the fate which is awaiting them in the country will be even worse than that which has been indicated in the results of recent by-elections.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)
I could not agree with all the statements made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) a little earlier, but with one statement of his I did agree, and that was that when discussing this question we had always to remember the human beings who are involved in it. That point was also elaborated by the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge). It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of workmen's compensation to the working population of the country. Happily, not everyone suffers from accidents or industrial disease, but the risk is always there, and the fear of it is often in the minds of careful men and their wives. When serious accidents or disease do come, the effect is immediate, extremely serious, and in some ways cumulative. Employment and wages both stop at once and they are both important. I do not need to go into details, but the loss of both those things at the same time may, and sometimes does, mean internal difficulties in the family which serve to embitter a misfortune that is already hard enough to bear. Therefore, I say, that the question of workmen's compensation is one of vital interest and importance to the workers of the country.
But, of course, the question of industrial accidents and disease is not the 1293 only risk and anxiety that working people have. There is the question of unemployment, there is the question of ill health, there is the question of working conditions, and there is the question, for example, of old age and widowhood; but there is a distinction between all these questions and workmen's compensation that I should like to point out to the House. All these other great questions have been dealt with in fairly recent years by comprehensive Acts of Parliament, decided upon in the light of modern conditions. That is not the case with regard to workmen's compensation. The Act of 1897 was the earliest of the great measures of social legislation, and it may well be that the reason why that subject came to the fore at that time, when men's minds were not so moved in the direction of social progress as they are at the present time, was because of the depth and poignancy of this question to the working people. It is true that the original Act was considerably revised in 1906, but there has been no comprehensive overhaul by Parliament since that time, and it is true to say, therefore, that the workmen's compensation system of to-day is, broadly speaking, still based on the pioneer Act of 1897.
Therefore, I think it is not unnatural that there should have been a good deal of discussion of workmen's compensation in this House and also a great deal of action by the Home Office, partly administrative and partly legislative. For example, there are the considerable extension of the lists of industrial diseases made by the Home Office, the introduction into this House of measures providing for silicosis and asbestosis schemes, and the increase of compensation in fatal cases, and a good many other improvements in detail. We have also had a number of Bills introduced to this House, and I am well aware of that fact, because this is the fourth occasion on which it has been my duty to state the Government's attitude to them. Until a short time ago hon. Members opposite introduced Bills which proposed what I think is not unfairly described as a grandiose system of State insurance, and I had to criticise those views as, in the view of the Government, both inequitable and impracticable. But last year hon. Members changed their plans and produced a Bill which did not propose to scrap the existing system and which indeed presupposed its continuance, 1294 but which did make fundamental changes in the principles of the existing Act. That Bill was defeated, but it has come forward to-day.
The Bill deals with three great workmen's compensation issues—the question of benefits, the question of compulsory insurance and the question of medical procedure. I should like to make a short examination of each of these important issues. With regard to benefits, the Bill proposes drastic changes, which the official estimates describe as likely to lead to incalculable effects. It throws over the principles upon which the principal Act is based, and the official estimate is that it would double the cost of compensation as the result of the direct provisions of the Bill without making any allowances for the indirect effect of some of its provisions. My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) was inclined to-day to doubt these estimates. He thought, for example, that in the case of the mining industry that effect would, be to add only one halfpenny per ton to the cost of coal on top of the present cost of 3d. My hon. Friend and the official calculators disagree on this point. It is a very important point, and I should have thought that the character of that disagreement between people who have had considerable facilities for studying this matter was a sign that some further inquiry was necessary.
§ Sir A. Wilson
May I make it clear that my basis was the revised calculation that I myself put forward, taking two-thirds instead of three-quarters, 25s. instead of 30s., and 30s. instead of 40s. I cut the provisions of the Bill by something like 50 per cent, before I made my calculations.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I still doubt whether even that explanation is sufficient to account for the great difference between the two estimates. However, although that is important it is a question of detail. A question of principle is not involved. Part I of the Bill proceeds on the principle that the employer should be made liable to see that the injured workman is not financially worse off than he was before his injury, and that the compensation is sufficient to maintain him and his family. The existing workmen's compensation aims at making the employer provide the workman with substantial relief, That is 1295 the present principle. Whether that principle should be modified or abandoned is a matter for discussion, but I suggest that it cannot be properly considered without going into other principles upon which the present system is based, namely, that the employer is liable, irrespective of whether there is any fault on his part, and that he has to compensate for a great many accidents which are due to the fault of the workman; and also that no contribution to compensation is paid by either workpeople or the State. We are not aware at the Home Office that there is any compensation system abroad based upon the principle of relieving the workman of financial loss without a workman's contribution.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Does the Under-Secretary say that the cost of compensation is a charge on industry and not a charge on the workman?
§ Mr. Shinwell
In the peculiar method of ascertaining miners' wages there is what is called the ascertainment, and the costs of compensation are included in other costs which are a charge on the workmen.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I agree that there is a special system of ascertaining wages in the mining industry, but I am not dealing with the mining industry alone. I am dealing with the broad question of workmen's compensation applying to industry and workpeople over the whole country. I have endeavoured to point out that it is difficult to make alterations along the lines suggested in this Bill without raising very important questions of principle. I have not said how they ought to be decided, but they are questions which I suggest, require a good deal more inquiry than was given to them before the provisions were inserted in the Bill.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I have said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin that there is no question of principle involved. 1296 I think the House will agree that the question of benefits is a very complex one in itself, and must depend very greatly on what are to be the general principles and scope of workmen's compensation. I would suggest that regard must be had to other arrangements for giving financial assistance and affording help to the injured workman. There is at present sitting a rehabilitation committee, which is pursuing important inquiries along new lines with the object of helping a workman to restore his working capacity, and their conclusions may have a bearing upon the question of benefits, but I suggest that the benefits proposed in this Bill have not been sufficiently considered and that in any case a good deal more inquiry is necessary before the matter can be satisfactorily settled.
Now I come to the question of compulsory insurance. We know the object of the proposals, and, indeed, we all agree with it. It is to prevent the hardship which arises to the injured man in the case of the bankruptcy of an employer who is not insured, but what this Bill proposes is to apply over the whole field of industry the provisions of a Measure which was specially applied to the mining industry and which, I hope, dealt with the matter satisfactorily in the case of that industry. In our view that is too simple a proceeding, and we are deeply afraid that it may be setting up what would prove to be only an illusory safeguard. Conditions in the mining industry are very special. It is a highly organised industry, both on the employers' side and on the workmen's side. There are special facilities for insurance which are already highly developed.
Workmen's compensation covers an immense variety of miscellaneous and unorganised trades. There are thousands of so-called "employers who are really little more than workmen themselves, though they employ two or three men, and there is little doubt in our minds that great numbers would continue not to insure unless much more elaborate measures were proposed to deal with that question. This is a very serious problem indeed, and it is difficult to see the lines along which it may be solved. It might, perhaps, be solved along the lines of some form of central fund. This was an idea which was discussed by the 1297 Cassell Committee on compulsory insurance, but apparently no regard is paid in the Bill to the considerations raised in that Report. I hope that I have convinced the House that the proposals in the Bill respecting compulsory insurance are not acceptable and that a good deal more inquiry must be made.
Next I come to the question of medical boards. I am afraid I must say that in the view of the Home Office the proposals with regard to these boards are even more ill-considered. What the Bill does is simply to substitute a board of three referees for a single referee.
We all know the objections that have been felt and expressed, undoubtedly in some cases properly, to the position where one man is capable of giving an absolutely final decision in the case of a workman, affecting him or his dependants vitally. The Stewart Committee, which was a very important committee, dealt with this matter, and upon it were three trade union representatives. It presented a unanimous report, and the solution which it proposed is that you should keep the one referee because, as a matter of fact, there are substantial advantages in that system, as you discover when you go into the matter. By far the great majority of the cases dealt with by him go through to the general satisfaction, and it is much easier to provide one referee who is accessible to the workman near his home than an elaborate medical hoard sitting in the nearest largest centre. In rejecting that idea and keeping the one medical referee the Stewart Committee proposed also to provide for medical tribunals of appeal. The Bill proposes an entirely different solution from that proposed by the Stewart Committee, and that is a very important matter, of which further consideration is necessary.
I hope I have said enough to support the view that I am going to put to the House. The Government are not able to agree with the proposals in the Bill for dealing with these very big workmen's compensation issues. Secondly, these questions are very complex and require a good deal of investigation. There are serious difficulties to surmount. The Government have considered how best to solve them and at one time thought that the committees that had been appointed would serve that purpose and that, after 1298 consultation with employers and employed, they might possibly be able to frame legislation. However, the task was found to be so vast and complicated that it was decided that a much more comprehensive inquiry was required. The hon. Member for Gorbals suggested this afternoon that it was some reflection upon hon. Members of this House that a Royal Commission was appointed, and he thought the work could have been done easily by a Standing Committee. I cannot accept that proposition. There is proper work that can be done by a Standing Committee, other committees, or by Royal Commissions, and surely the work of a Standing Committee of this House, generally speaking and from the practical point of view, is to work upon the details of a well-considered and well-planned piece of legislation, the general principles of which have been passed by this House.
It is no reflection upon a Standing Committee to suggest that it is not the right body to conduct an expert inquiry into a very technical matter which involves enormous questions. For instance, a Standing Committee is not in a position to take evidence and examine witnesses. To inquire into legislation a Select Committee and not a Standing Committee would be more suitable. It is no reflection on Members of this House to say that even a parliamentary committee involves some restriction upon the freedom of choice. You need to get a very wide range of expert people. Take also the question of the representation of trade unions. There are, of course, trade union representatives in this House, but it might well be found desirable, for one reason or another, that trade union members of a committee should not be members of the House of Commons. I do not think we ought to limit our choice in that matter. I come finally to the question whether it would be possible to introduce any legislation pending the report of the Royal Commission, and here I must take my stand—and I would ask my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin to note this—on the words of the Prime Minister, who, when he was questioned on the matter, said:I think it is obvious that, if we set up a Royal Commission, it would not he proper to introduce any legislation which affected the general system until we have had its report. 1299 I should not consider, on the other hand, that we should be debarred from introducing legislation dealing with particular aspects of the question in the meantime."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1938; col. 1065, Vol. 337.]I would emphasise that last sentence, and would say, with regard to the question of nystagmus, which has just been raised by the hon. Member for Barnsley, I think that that may well be a subject which is so self-contained and so special in the scope of its problems as to require some different treatment, which need not impinge upon the general principles of a workmen's compensation system.
§ Mr. Collindridge
May I suggest that there is nothing in the Bill to interfere with that investigation? The Bill, however, would in the meantime provide that workers suffering from nystagmus would receive an increased payment as compared with what they receive now.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis). I do not think the hon. Member for Barnsley has quite realised the intention of what I was saying. The intention was that the Government would look favourably upon a Bill which might be brought forward to deal with the question of nystagmus, which is one that we feel could be dealt with without interfering with this general consideration of the principles of workmen's compensation.
§ Mr. Lloyd
I cannot make a statement about that this afternoon, but we want to get on, and we are ready to deal with a matter like nystagmus, which we feel can be done without interfering with the general inquiry. With regard to the general principles of a scheme of workmen's compensation, I would suggest that our best course is to await the comprehensive inquiry of the Royal Commission, and hope that they will give some authoritative guidance on the principles of a modern workmen's compensation system. In the meantime I would suggest that our best course is to reject the Bill and agree to the Amendment.
§ Sir A. Wilson
Could my hon. Friend indicate whether he regards it as a breach of principle or a new principle to make some small increase in the present scales of benefit on death or incapacitation.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Whiteley
Twelve months ago the hon. Gentleman stood at that Box, and, speaking on the Bill which was then before the House with regard to workmen's compensation, suggested that we might wait until the Stewart Committee had made its Report. This afternoon he comes here and tells the House that workmen's compensation is a very vital and important matter for the workers of this country, and that we ought to get on with it immediately, and then he goes on to give reasons why there should be a further delay in dealing with this important matter. He acknowledges that the principles of compensation laid down in 1897 are still practically the same to-day as they were then, and he goes on to argue that you cannot deal with big matters like the benefits provided in this Bill without a much fuller inquiry than has apparently been made about those benefits. Every Member of the House, no matter where he or she sits, is agreed that the present compensation payments to workers are absolutely too low and too inadecuate to meet the requirements of present-day circumstances. We are all agreed on that.
The Under-Secretary points out that to increase the benefits as suggested in the Bill would be a tremendous cost to employers. But he had to admit that so far as the mining industry was concerned the Bill would not interfere with that industry as it does with other industries. In the mining industry our system of calculating wages includes workmen's compensation as part of the cost and workmen's wages suffer in consequence. I assume that there is no industry in the country paying compensation to workmen that will not include that risk in the cost or production. I am certain that the difficulty which the Under-Secretary describes is merely a putting off of the real issue when all of us are agreed that this matter ought to be attended to immediately.
The Under-Secretary dealt with the question of compulsory insurance. Compulsory insurance has been talked about 1301 for a very long time. I notice in the Stewart Committee Report a suggestion that in dealing with the question of miners' nystagmus there could very readily be brought into operation a national pool, or some other pool agreed to by various industries, to cover all the risks involved in miners' nystagmus. I am certain that when it is possible, as it is to-day, to ensure against ill-health and unemployment, it is possible also to insure along the same line for workmen's compensation, which is just as vital a matter as these other things. So far as medical boards are concerned the Under-Secretary had to agree that the Stewart committee had gone a very long way towards our proposals. The report did not call them medical boards but medical tribunals. We are not here today standing hard and fast on certain words. When this Bill goes into Committee we are prepared to discuss the question whether the medical tribunals suggested by the Stewart Committee would not operate quite as well as the medical hoards which are proposed in the Bill.
It appears to me that the hon. Members opposite have a tremendous amount of sympathy for the workmen when a Bill like this is brought forward. They say they take a tremendous interest in the workers, that they look after their welfare and are pleased to know that the standard of life of the workers is far superior to that to be found in any other nation. I suggest to hon. Members that if they feel so proud of the present standard of life of the workers, if they are sympathetic to the workers and have such a great interest in their future welfare, they should begin to set an example by increasing the standard of life and encouraging other nations to follow our lead. I do not agree that this compensation question is a matter for lawyers. I am convinced that this important matter should lie in the hands of laymen to a far greater extent than ever before, because it is the laymen who go through the practical difficulties of life and have experienced themselves, in many cases unfortunately, what this all means to the family and home life of the people.
We are frequently condemned for bringing in Measures that are too comprehensive. To-day we are condemned for bringing in a Measure which is not 1302 sufficiently comprehensive. How can we do right? As a matter of fact I have come to the conclusion that if we bring in any Measure that is to assist the working classes in this country, those on the opposite benches seem to think that it is a very serious matter and is going to make inroads into their particular interests. [Interruption.] Of course it is. The experience of this House proves that. We are putting this to the test to-day, not by a party Bill but by a private Member's Bill. We have selected this Bill, not as a party Measure but because it affects the interest of so many private individuals in this country. We ask hon. Members to-day to keep in mind that this is a private Members' day, that there are no Government Whips in connection with this, and we want them to respond to the appeal made on behalf of millions of men and women of this country. The Under-Secretary said that the case of nystagmus might be taken as a separate issue. While talking about the Royal Commission, he pointed out that the Prime Minister had said that this would not debar certain elements of workmen's compensation from being dealt with, although the Royal Commission would be sitting. If a private Member in this House brings forward a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule, dealing with miners' nystagmus, as a section of the matter, there will be tremendous opposition. I, myself, brought in a Bill under that Rule in June this year dealing with a limited section of what is covered by this particular Bill. It dealt with benefits, and nothing else. That Bill was accepted unanimously on First Reading, but every night when it came up for Second Reading there were shouts of "Object" here and there; the sympathy which had been shown for the First Reading had absolutely disappeared.
In Durham County to-day we are dealing with 2,000 to 2,500 cases each year, and we have been going on for years. When one makes a careful examination one finds that only 6 per cent. of those cases dealt with ever receive the whole 30s. That is a scandalous situation, and I suggest that that will be appreciated when one reads the remarks of men who have to conduct inquiries, such as have been reported in the Press, on the question of silicosis. Here is a report of such a case: 1303It is shocking to hear what this man must have suffered,' stated Mr. T. R. Ludford, coroner, at an inquest yesterday on John Dunn, aged 55, examiner at Amman-ford Colliery. Dr. R. Dalton said areas of the lungs were hard, and scarcely half could function. It was one of the worst cases of silicosis he had known. Verdict: Death from silicosis.There is a man going through great agony; and he had no more than 30s. a week coming into the home, in order that he might secure the necessary means of assuaging that agony—which he was not able to do—and obtain some ease and comfort, and possibly restore himself to health. Those are the issues we are anxious that hon. Members should face very definitely. We shall be told, when the Royal Commission comes along with its report—which may be five years hence, or possibly more—"the Government find things so complicated, with all the evidence the Commission has received, that they cannot yet bring in a comprehensive Measure dealing with the question of compensation on the lines suggested. "There is one thing I want hon. Members to realise. There has been a good deal of talk about lump sums.
The hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) raised the question of the man, who after an accident, leaves the particular industry in which he has previously been engaged. It says in paragraph 96 of the Stewart Report:To provide adequate facilities for keeping in condition those disabled men who are certified fit for light work but for whom no suitable light work can be found we recommend that arrangements be made with the Ministry of Labour for them to be received on a voluntary basis at an instructional centre. We understand that the Ministry of Labour have no objection in principle to the admission of nystagmic miners to their instructional centres, one of the objects of which is to 'recondition' men for the purpose of facilitating their return to work.I want to point out the experience of a man in my Division who had an accident to his elbow. He was treated in Newcastle Infirmary, and they came to the point when they could do nothing further for him, and certified he could do light work. He went back to the colliery and commenced light work, and worked for a fortnight. They then said that there was no further light work for him, and he must return to his old work. He went back to coal-hewing, but after seven or 1304 eight days he found that it was impossible to go on coal-hewing and reluctantly had to give up. He applied for light work and was told that there was no light work for him to do. He was laid idle, and, being a young man, he thought that this would never do, and he went to an employment exchange. They sent him to a training centre. He went through all processes there in order to become a grinder. After he had spent nineteen weeks there and had passed through all the tests, the centre sent him to a firm in London. They wanted grinders and he applied for work. When they knew he was on compensation they would not accept the responsibility and would not give him work. The lad returned home. He could not get work, and he said to the people at the training centre: "If I commute my claim will you recommend me for work?" They said, "Of course, if you are not receiving compensation you will have a better chance." He commuted his claim, left the industry and went back to the employment exchange. They said that they could not do anything for him; they could not even recommend him to go back to the centre. If the recommendation of the Stewart Report is to have that effect it might as well have never been in the report. I mention that fact because the position of people who are definitely finished with the industry altogether has not really been touched upon. This is a very important phase and will have to be considered very seriously in future days.
I want to impress upon the House that there is no harm in allowing this Bill a Second Reading and sending it to a Committee upstairs. I am quite certain that there are sufficient brains in the House of Commons, and experience of the facts of industrial life and accidents that have happened in past days, to lead hon. Members to come to such a conclusion as would bring a great amount of comfort to the industrial workers of this country. I am sure that we are capable of doing that, and therefore I urge, as a private Member, every Private Member in this House—because this is a Private Members' day—to give this Bill his vote in order that it may receive a Second Reading. The Bill will have a very great effect upon the minds of those people who are receiving compensation and of those who now happen to be in full health and 1305 strength as to what is to happen in future days. Therefore, I very earnestly urge all hon. Members to give their votes for the Second Reading of this Private Member's Bill, and let us get down to the difficulties in Committee upstairs and bring back here a Bill that will bring
§ some relief and joy to our people in industry.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes 131; Noes 157.1307
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Hall, J. H. (Whiteshapel)||Poole, C. C.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Hardie, Agnes||Price, M. P.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Harris, Sir P. A.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Hayday, A.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Riley, B.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Ritson, J.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Hicks, E. G.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Barnes, A. J.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Batey, J.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Sanders, W. S.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||John, W.||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Sexton, T. M.|
|Broad, F. A.||Kelly, W. T.||Shinwell, E.|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Kirby, B. V.||Silkin, L.|
|Buchanan, G.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Cape, T.||Laihan, G.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lawson, J. J.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Chater, D.||Leach, W.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lee, F.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees-(K'ly)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R||Leslie, J. R.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Lunn, W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Collindridge, F.||Macdonald, G. (lnce)||Stephen, C.|
|Cove, W. G.||McEntee, V. La T.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||McGhes, H. C.||Thorne, W.|
|Daggar, G.||McGovern, J.||Thurtle, E.|
|Dalton, H.||MacLaren, A.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)||Tomlinson, G.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||MacNeill Weir, L.||Viant, S. P.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Mainwaring, W. H.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Day, H.||Marshall, F.||Walker, J.|
|Dobbie, W.||Mathers, G.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Maxton, J.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Ede, J. C.||Messer, F.||White, H. Graham|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Milner, Major J.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Findlay, Sir E.||Montague, F.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Frankel, D.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Muff, G.||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Nathan, Colonel H. L.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Naylor, T. E.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Paling, W.|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Parker, J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Groves, T. E.||Parkinson, J. A.||Mr. Ridley and Mr. R. J. Taylor.|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W.||Cary, R. A.||Ellis, Sir G.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Castlereagh, Viscount||Elliston, Capl. G S.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Emmott, C. E. G. C.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Channon, H.||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Barrie, Sir C. C.||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Everard, W. L.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Fyte, D. P. M.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Gluckstein, L. H.|
|Bossom, A.C.||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Crooks, Sir J. Smedley||Grant-Ferris, R.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Cross, R. H.||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Crossley, A C.||Grimston, R. V|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Crowder, J. F. E.||Gritten, W. G. Howard|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||De Chair, S. S.||Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||De la Bere, R.||Harvey, Sir G.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)|
|Bull, B. B.||Dunean, J. A. L.||Hely-Hutohinson, M. R.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Eastwood, J. F.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Eekersley, P, T.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)|
|Butcher, H. W.||Edmendson, Major Sir J,||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.|
|Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'ld)|
|Hewitt, Dr. A. B.||Moreing, A. C.||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.|
|Hulbert, N. J.||Morgan, R. H.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Clrencester)||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-(N'thw'h)|
|Hutchinson, G. C.||Munro, P.||Suteliffe, H.|
|Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Nicholson, G. (Farnham)||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Joel, D. J. B.||O'Connor, Sir Terenee J.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Taylor, C. S.(Eastbourne)|
|Latham, Sir P.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Law, R. K. (Hull, S. W.)||Plugge, Capt. L. F.||Thomson, Sir J. O. W.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ponsenby, Col. C. E.||Thorneyeroft, G. E. P.|
|Lewis, O.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||Titchfield, Marauess of|
|Little, Sir E. Graham-||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Touche, G. C.|
|Lloyd, G. W.||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Loftus, P. C.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)||Ward, Lieut.-Cot. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|M'Connell, Sir J.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Warrender, Sir V.|
|MeCorauodale, M. S.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Watt, Major G. S. Harvie|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (Londonderry)||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Macdonald, Capt. T. (Isle of Wight)||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Maitland, A.||Russell, Sir Alexander||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Sandeman, Sir N. S.||Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Marsden, Commander A.||Simmonds, O. E.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf"st)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Maxwell, Hon. S. A.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||Mr. Levy and Sir Patrick Hannon.|
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ Mr. E. J. Williams rose—
§ It being after Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.1308
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at Five Minutes after Four o'Clock, until Monday next, 21st November.