§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
I beg to move,That, as the Royal Commission on Workmen's Compensation is committed by its terms of reference to an extensive, complex and lengthy inquiry, this House is of opinion that, without prejudice to such inquiry, immediate action should be taken to deal with the urgent and growing necessity for an increase in the rates of compensation payable.The weather conditions may have prevented many Members who would have wished to be present taking part in the Debate to-day. This Motion deals with a human problem of first-rate importance. We have on many occasions in recent years debated the question of workmen's compensation in its many aspects. Today I do not propose to discuss any far-reaching scheme for workmen's compensation, although I would like to make it clear that Labour remains pledged to the comprehensive policy which has been debated on the Floor of the House. Nor shall I go over the detailed proposals which have been made from these and other benches in previous Debates. I shall not harrow the feelings of Members by attempting to describe the mental and physical suffering and hardship caused by the death or injury of a father, son or brother. Members on all sides ought to be aware of the unchallengeable facts. Hon. Members on this side of the House have close relatives and friends whom the industrial Juggernaut has crushed or maimed, with untold suffering or privation to those near to them. Therefore, I accept the horrors of the situation and hope that the House will accept the implications.
My object to-day is a simple one. It is to assert that the casualties of industry should be treated with human sympathy and justice, and that, notwithstanding war conditions and the stringency of the economic situation, immediate steps should be taken to remedy and redress an old grievance. Before the war, 1000 almost a year ago, after the Royal Commission on Workmen's Compensation had been appointed, the whole House realised the urgent need for action to remedy an admitted evil. By a majority of one our Motion asking for immediate amelioration was defeated—by 135 to 134 votes. The majority, however, in an Amendment which they were prepared to support, but which was talked out, pressed for an early interim report of the Royal Commission. A year has passed. In the interval, though we have asked for action—and I stood at this Box before the House rose at the end of July and pressed on behalf of my hon. Friends for immediate action—the Government have stubbornly withstood the demand. To-clay they apparently still try to shelter behind the Royal Commission. They have for a year tried to do so. The Government appointed the Royal Commission; did they do so with an honest heart, or did they appoint it in order to stall off any criticism there might be in this House?
Notwithstanding what I venture to say is the majority opinion in the House for something to be done at once, the Government have not lifted a finger. The Royal Commission would not challenge the right of the Government to deal with the single question of rates of compensation if the Government so chose. The Government have not chosen to take any action, and we have to-day to deal with the Motion which I am moving, to which what is obviously a Government-inspired Amendment has been placed on the Order Paper. That Amendment timidly really admits our case. It asks for a temporary scheme to deal with cases of hardship. It asks that industrial discussions shall be opened. The inclusion of industrial discussions makes me suspect the sincerity of the Government's intentions, for industrial discussions can be, and often are, very protracted. It indicates also that the Government itself has not a mind of its own in this matter. At least it does recognise that hardship exists. But hardship is the common lot of the poor. Poverty is hardship, and for the masses of the people it is permanent and not temporary, and when workers, even relatively prosperous workers, fall on evil days, whether through unemployment, through sickness or through accident, hardship then becomes acute. Therefore, this Amendment does not meet our case.
1001 Our demand is for an immediate all-round increase in rates of compensation, irrespective of individual cases of special hardship, and this Amendment—I shall speak strongly on this matter, as my hon. Friends would wish me to do—is one of many attempts by Members opposite to profess sympathy for the stricken at the minimum of expense and the minimum of inconvenience to the existing order, and to offer ex gratia payments out of the overflowing sympathy of their hearts Without fully admitting elementary human rights. That is part of the technique of this Government. A day will come when we shall debate the Chancellor of the Exchequer's scheme for old age pensions. It is the same there: not one penny more of justice to the people; deal with hardships. I repeat that hardship is the common lot of the mass of the people, and it does not satisfy us, not by one jot or tittle, to pick out special cases of hardship when the 95 per cent. of lifetime hardship still remains.
The views of the House, if Members on the other side were allowed to express their judgments, are overwhelmingly in favour of some immediate substantial increase for these stricken soldiers of industry. In 1922 the Committee presided over by Judge Holman-Gregory recommended substantial increases in workmen's compensation payments. They said that it should be possible for an injured worker to get two-thirds of his wages up to a maximum of £3 a week. To-day the sum is 30s. maximum. Whatever a man's income has been, whatever are his family responsibilities and commitments, the sum is 30s. I remember what happened in the last war. In 1917, with extraordinary rapidity, the rates of workmen's compensation were increased by 25 per cent. In 1919, after the war, again with lightning rapidity, workmen's compensation was increased by another 50 per cent. The Holman-Gregory Committee reported in 1922, and the answer of the Conservative Government of that time was to reduce the figure of 35s. to 30s., at which it has remained ever since. This Government appointed a Royal Commission on Safety in Mines. It has been talked about in this House, questions were put, and the then Secretary for Mines said that he hoped to take administrative action. Nothing effective has been done, and if the Government is not pre- 1002 pared to work for the safety of people employed in industry then it must pay the Bill for shirking its own proper responsibilities.
I do not want to weary the House, and will make my speech short, but I want to put before the House what is fundamental to us on this issue. This is an opportunity for the House and for the Government to prove their good faith and their belief in democracy. This Government asks for sacrifices. When the more fortunate people in the community know something of the plight of the disabled workers, know something of the plight of their families and of their sufferings and hardships, then we shall be prepared to believe that sacrifice is genuine. But that time has not yet arrived. I put to the House this test; I put it first concretely and then in terms of general principles. If there be a Member of this House who honestly believes that a disabled man and his family, whether in peace or war, ought to have no more than 30s. a week, let him rise in his place to-day and say so. That is a challenge to which we require an answer to-day.
Put it next on grounds of general principle. We are fighting against dictatorship, and I put this to the House in all seriousness, What is the difference between the concentrated horror and agony of the concentration camp and the slow torture of harsh poverty endured in the so-called freedom of the industrial world to-day in this country when the soldiers of industry become casualties? If you concentrate horror into two years in a German concentration camp it is no worse than condemning a working-class family to years and years of semi-starvation with the appearance of liberty. I ask, Are the victors of industry less flesh of our flesh, less blood of our blood, than the victims of war? There are appeals to help the people who are fighting, and, quite rightly so; nobody objects to them. The more that can be done for the comfort of the fighting man the better, but if that spirit is a real spirit what can be done for the comfort of the industrial casualties left at home is equally important.
I would ask, Is there to be real national solidarity both on the war front and on the home front? In other words, as a gesture of our faith is Parliament to-day prepared to declare its practical sympathy 1003 with the less fortunate brethren in our community? Are we, a democratic people, a free people, fighting for a common objective, prepared to undergo equal sacrifices and prepared to do justice where we can, or are we, under this facade of great phrases, to keep hundreds of thousands of our people in this country in unmerited misery? That is the question that hon. Members have to face to-day. Delay, promises, a meticulous separation of one case of hardship from other cases of hardship, will not do. I promised to speak briefly, I hope I have spoken pointedly. In moving this Motion, I leave the issue to the House. We shall stand by our Motion, we shall spurn the Amendment, we shall stand by our principles, and our consciences will remain clear. Whether the consciences of hon. Members opposite will be equally clear is a matter for them, but when the issue is faced the public of this country and the people of the world will finally judge.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Wilson
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House recognises the importance and urgency of the question of amending the law relating to Workmen's Compensation and urges the Government to enter into discussions with representatives of industry with a view to devising a temporary scheme for meeting cases of hardship pending the receipt of the report of the Royal Commission.I should not come here in uniform to make a speech on party lines on a subject which concerns hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of men now wearing uniform—officers, N.C.O's., and men alike—belonging to all three parties—and a much larger number belonging to none—who could not imagine that such a subject could be dealt with on party lines. I would not have put down this Amendment did I believe that the Government, should they accept it, would regard it as a mandate for delay. We are not greatly separated from the Opposition on the subject of workmen's compensation generally. Where we differ is on the question of how changes can best be made, and I regret in this connection as much as does the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and as does any other Member of the Opposition—and there are few on my own 1004 side who would disagree with me—" the years that the locusts have eaten." I have listened to 21 Debates on the subject during the past seven years, and never have I heard from our side of the House any speech which indicated contentment with things as they are.
I do not pretend to understand why it is that no action has been taken during those seven years. The Stewart and Delevingue Committees were only the last of a number of dilatory committees whose leisurely reports were received, but not acted on. I am bound to say that the employers' point of view lost some interest for me when I discovered that by September of last year, after more than a year's notice of the appointment of the Royal Commission, they had not submitted their proof of evidence. They were beaten by a short head, I may say, by the Trades Union Congress, which just managed to get theirs in before war broke out, and the employers, as far as I know, have not yet done so.
Organisations representing employers as a whole have not by any means done justice to their members, for there are very few employers who are not anxious for prompt action in this matter. The great virtue of the Amendment is that it will give employers' organisations an opportunity of getting immediately into direct touch with the workmen's organisations and to produce a workable scheme which will take into account the very great changes in the structure of industry since 1917. The right hon. Member for Wakefield referred to the flat-rate increases which were made in 1915 and again in 1917, and commended similar action to the House to-day. I regard flat-rate increases as unsuitable because industry to-day is far better organised than it was and these flat-rate increases would have two effects. They would not be retrospective, whereas our Amendment, which deals with cases of hardship, could make action retrospective, and, secondly, there is a very great difference between conditions in different industries. The mining, shipping, and cotton industries have all been fully organised. London transport, which was chaotic, is now under a single head. It is possible for the Government, if they so desire, to undertake negotiations with 20 or 30 groups of employers and employed men, who would cover at least 80 per cent. 1005 of all accidents occurring in industry and 95 per cent. of all the more serious accidents.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that if his Amendment were carried, it would affect cases retrospectively? Will he point out in the Amendment anything which would authorise that?
§ Sir A. Wilson
An immediate flat-rate increase by statute has never in the past been retrospective.
§ Mr. Goldie
I think that increases paid under the earlier Acts of 1917 and 1919 were in fact left open under the 1923 Act.
§ Sir A. Wilson
I am speaking from memory and may be wrong. Our Amendment would make it possible to provide for the free provision of medical treatment in serious cases, of artificial limbs, and of aids to locomotion, which are automatically and as a matter of course provided for the disabled warriors of the armed Forces of the Crown. The Mining Industry Welfare Fund did not exist in 1917, but it exists to-day, and it is an organisation on which employers and employed men are jointly represented. That fund has a separate fund which already makes such provision. I see r o reason why the operation of that fund should not be greatly extended, and to other industries. Shipping is fully organised to-day. It is quite possible for the Government, with complete control of all shipping, to devise a scheme suitable for the shipping industry and another scheme suitable for the iron and steel, and London transport have their own schemes, which could be used as a basis for something better. One-eyed flat-rate Statutes providing for a certain minimum all-round addition do not produce anything like as good results as a negotiated scheme between two fully authorised bodies of employers and employed.
The whole structure of workmen's compensation has been ruined in the past 20 years by the intervention between master and servant of a third party, namely, an insurance company, which is in no way interested in either the ultimate 1006 interests of the master or man, but in giving the minimum of satisfaction to the man which the law requires, without any reference whatever to the true needs of the case. A year ago a great employer of labour came to me to tell me of what he described as a scandalous case, in which one of his own private servants had been injured, was refused free medical treatment, and got only 30s. a week. He was astonished when I told him that it applied to every one of his own employés. He said he had never had the occasion, as far as he could remember, to consult the law on the matter, as it had always been covered by his insurance. As soon as he realised the real state of the law as it applied to his own employés, he introduced a more liberal scheme.
I have long held, and I have repeatedly submitted to this House, that the first concern of the Legislature should be, if possible, to cure the injured man. The second, if he could not be completely cured, would be to rehabilitate him, so far as might be to fit him for alternative employment and to find him that employment, and to this end something might be done. I make here a constructive suggestion to the Government. Give the Disabled Men's (Facilities for Employment) Act, 1919, a wider scope by covering men injured, not only in the armed Forces of the Crown, but in industry generally. That Act provided that insurance companies should be indemnified by the Treasury for any expenditure which might result from employing disabled or partly disabled men in industry. Why not extend that Act to the victims of industry as well as of war and make the provision of light work far easier by taking it out of the hands of insurance companies? These men are serving their country in industrial life, and in a war like this their claims, while they must be secondary to those of the armed Forces of the Crown, cannot be excluded without danger to the national unity. To that extent, I wholly agree with what the right hon. Member for Wakefield said. The third duty of the Legislature should be to provide such a scale of cash compensation, in the form of weekly payments, as would enable men to maintain their civil obligations, to maintain their families, if any, and to ensure that they or their relatives should not become a charge on the State, as some thousands do every 1007 year, according to official figures placed before the Royal Commission.
The law of workmen's compensation is dealt with in Halsbury's "Statutes of England" and in the index of Statutes under the heading, "Master and Servant." So long as that is the legal position, it is the duty of Parliament to secure whatever changes are necessary, if possible by agreement between master and servant and not by statutory action. With good will on both sides the position can be met by a more elastic contracting-out scheme under Section 31 of the Act. The spirit of workmen's compensation has been obscured by the letter of the law. There is no practising lawyer on either side of the House who does not realise the difference between the intention of the Act and of employers, and the strict letter of the law as enforced by insurance companies, who have the power, very freely exercised, of taking cases to the courts in the names of the employers. In this respect, mutual insurance companies are not much better than the profit-making companies. I know one mutual with 9 per cent. debentures.
§ Mr. Cassells
Does the hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that, even where you have a mutual insurance company, the employer has no jurisdiction, as far as procedure is concerned?
§ Sir A. Wilson
In practice, employers who are in a mutual association seldom deal with cases themselves but refer them over to their mutual association. I know the percentage figures of litigation are paraded in the Home Office reports, showing that only 1 or 2 per cent. of cases are subject to litigation. Those figures are utterly misleading. It is 1 per cent. of all cases over three days' absence of work, but, in practice, litigation never arises until a man has been absent from work for at least 13 weeks; so the 1 per cent. comes to 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. of all serious cases, which is quite a different thing. To leave things as they are, subject to a general increase, would be of little help to serious cases. It would increase the tendency of insurance offices to press for lump-sum payments, which I hope will be abolished except under strict limitation. It will not diminish, but may increase, litigation, and the commissions and the profits which are based on the total sums payable.
1008 I am not attempting to apologise for the failure of this Government and their predecessors since 1923 to deal more liberally with this question. I am sick of hearing of there being no Parliamentary time for this matter. I have heard it every year for seven years, and I earnestly hope we shall not hear it again, but I submit that it is far better to deal with this matter by negotiation, particularly in the present frame of mind of employers and employés, than by a flat rate of increase all round without distinguishing between cases of incurable disease and cases of severe accident, which have unfortunately been increasing in the past 10 years, and the minor injuries. We need to have an ascending scale. There has been an increase in the cost of living recently, but to-day it is precisely what it was when the Act of 1923 was passed. The cost-of-living figure was 80 in 1922, and to-day it is 74. It fell in 1923 to 75, and it is probably going to rise to 76 in the next month or two; therefore we can regard them as virtually identical. The Amendment does not dispute—very few Members on our side of the House have ever disputed— that the dates should be increased in certain cases. I hope they will be increased now, but if I thought that this Amendment was going to delay change and improvement, I should not be in the House. My sole object is to try to secure that this change should be brought about by direct negotiation between employers and employed.
§ Mr. Silverman
If the sole object of the hon. Gentleman is to have an agreed scheme by negotiation instead of one imposed by legislation, why did he think it necessary to introduce into his Amendment the words: "for meeting cases of hardship"?
§ Sir A. Wilson
Cases of hardship are those, for example, where there is serious permanent disability, or long incapacity, and they require very different treatment from short-term disability.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am afraid that I did not make my meaning clear. If the hon. Gentleman believes that in any case the rates ought to be increased, and if he and the whole House have believed it for seven years, why does he wish in his Amendment to limit the present improvement to cases of hardship?
§ Sir A. Wilson
I should exclude payment to injured persons for the first month or so, and should pay thereafter on a rising scale. Acute hardship begins after the first month or the first three months. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That might not be an acceptable opinion to hon. Members, but I say that the greatest hardship is after the first month.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that for miners who lose their work and who have large families the hardship starts after they have missed their first week's wages?
§ Sir A. Wilson
There is mitigation, little as I like it, in the fact that they are free to go to the Unemployment Assistance Board, if partially employed—the Board doled out last year f £150,000 in such cases—or to the public assistance authorities in case of total incapacity. I would ask the Government to appoint here and now a workmen's compensation commissioner, recommended by the Holman-Gregory Committee in 1922 with the approval of everyone except two or three Treasury officials. The appointment should be analogous to that of the present Industrial Assurance Commissioner, who was appointed in 1923. In 1923, the Home Office were wholly in favour of such an appointment. The draft agreement by the Accident Offices Association contained the following clause:Members"—that is to say, insurance offices—will co-operate with the proposed commissioner for workmen's compensation.The accident offices agreed to such an appointment. The commissioner would report direct to Parliament, as does the Industrial Insurance Commissioner and, like him, he would have statutory authority. His duties would include those laid down by the Holman-Gregory Committee and most of those which are now administered by the Home Office. His first duty would be to negotiate, on the lines indicated in the Amendment, a series of agreements with the principal industries in this country. To that end he should temporarily have half-a-dozen competent assistants with legal experience, who would be in a position to make these negotiations effective as rapidly as possible. He would take the seven principal groups of industries, beginning with mines, which has the heaviest toll 1010 of accidents and is fully organised on both sides. He would bring masters and men together through their respective organisations, which cover something like 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 workers; and also the municipal organisations, which have a pretty bad reputation at the bar of law in this matter, and an even worse reputation at the bar of humanity. He would negotiate improved conditions of workmen's compensation in each of those groups, based upon a contracting-out scheme under Section 31 of the Act, and to approve a scheme he would have power such as is now vested in the Registrar of Friendly Societies.
He should make it clear, and so should this House, that the minimum to be agreed upon by those industries should be the existing Treasury scheme under Section 31 of the Act. It covered 111,000 employés in 1938, and to-day I think covers about 150,000 persons. The Treasury is not famed for generosity, but that scheme provides for a maximum of 50s. instead of 30s., and for free medical attendance. It is a scheme which might well be made the basis of all schemes in the heavy and the principal industries of this country. The Treasury know precisely how much that scheme costs per head and they are fully aware of the facts. With that scheme as a basis, the Workmen's Compensation Commissioner could go forward rapidly. He would have power to enforce such schemes, subject to modification to meet various trades, and to make them retrospective in cases where the disability had lasted for more than three months. I should like Government to lay it down, on the basis of the fair-wages clause, that any contractor who was doing Government work on a large scale should not only pay fair wages but should, before the end of the year, have a compensation scheme approved by the Workmen's Compensation Commissioner.
There would remain, of course, a large residue of hotel workers, domestic servants and a host of small industries which would not be covered by these schemes. Nine-tenths of all accidents occur to the 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 persons employed in the seven principal industries.
§ Mr. Lipson
If the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman is carried, has he the authority of the Government to say that this scheme will be put into operation?
§ Sir A. Wilson
I need not say that I have not consulted the Government. I put down this Amendment on my own responsibility, and I am speaking upon my own responsibility. It would be most improper for me to suggest, and quite impossible for the Government to say, whether at the end of a discussive Debate on this subject, any particular scheme sprung upon them in the course of the Debate had their blessing or not. I am putting this scheme forward as a constructive one on behalf of myself alone. This is not a Government Amendment, but it is put down by half a dozen Members of Parliament on one side of the House who hope that agreements will he made by negotiation and not by Statute.
Nine-tenths of all accidents occur in the seven groups of industries which the Commissioner has to review. The cases remaining will include cases of occasional hardship, and those I should deal with exactly in the same way as cases of hardship are dealt with by the Unemployment Assistance Board, or by whatever name that body is known in future, and by money provided by the Treasury instead of by the lcoal authorities, as at present. It is as improper that cases of injured workmen should be dealt with by the public assistance authority, at the cost of the rates, as it is for cases of inadequate pensions, even more so than in the cases of pensions, being dealt with by the rates. I can see nothing in asking the Unemployment Assistance Board to bring up the standard of weekly payments of persons injured in accidents who are not covered by the commissioners. The cost may be £150,000 a year for the first year; there is no reason why it should be more than £50,000 in the second year if the workmen's compensation got quickly busy.
The cry may be raised outside this House that any such increases as I have referred to would be too great a burden for the industry to bear. I would like to trouble the House with a few figures. The cost per head in compensation in the mining industry was 76s. 9d., or 3d. per ton of coal raised; that is far greater than any other industry. In docks the cost was 56s. per head; shipping, 34s., or 4½d. per ton of shipping not laid up; quarries, 31s.; railways, 12s. or so; and factories, 8s. 4d. per head. A penny a week on wages would give 50 per cent. increase of compensation all round. The 1012 entire cost of retrospective action can be met by reducing the expense ratio of the accident offices. In 1922, when the insurance industry was far less organised than it is at present, the Holman-Gregory Committee thought 40 per cent. was enough. It has stood at 37½ per cent. since 1923, and the time has now come for the reduction to 30 per cent. The Home Office, with the Holman-Gregory Committee, were prepared to accept 30 per cent., and I understand that the accident offices were prepared to accept 30 per cent. in 1922. Both mutual and accident offices are getting much bigger sums in premiums than ever before, for their premiums are based upon £100 of wages paid, and wages have been going up, but not rates, and there is less competition and no need for any.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am very anxious not to interrupt the hon. Member unnecessarily, because the House knows that he is a great authority on this subject, but we are also very anxious that there should not be too discursive a Debate upon an Amendment and upon a Motion which are objective. The hon. Member has gone far from the boundaries allowed, and this will lead to a discussion which will take the whole Debate away from the Motion or the Amendment.
§ Mr. Speaker
There is no reason why the hon. Member should not take the line that he has. A full discussion can take place on both the Motion and the Amendment.
§ Mr. Bevan
In my further submission, the Motion speaks only of the rates of compensation and makes no reference to the general structure of workmen's compensation. The Amendment makes reference only to hardship. I am not anxious to be obstructive, but I submit, in order that the Debate may not be too discursive, that we should confine ourselves to the limits of the Motion and the Amendment.
§ Sir A. Wilson
I have referred to a "temporary scheme" pending a report of the Royal Commission, and I do not think I am out of order by debating possibilities. The great possibilities of a contracting-out scheme, such as is 1013 adopted in the case of the South Metropolitan and Suburban Gas Company and two great shipbuilding firms of which I know, is that it brings masters and men together, and every case of compensation is dealt with between them, which makes the men mere careful, conduces to better feeling, and makes far better treatment possible.
We frequently hear mention of industrial unrest. There are plenty of persons who are ready to accentuate it in order to pursue aims of their own. There are others who will emphasise it for the benefit of the privileged few in some industries. There.is a greater number on both sides of this House who are anxious to discover what underlies it and to treat the causes of which industrial unrest is the symptom. Wages cannot possibly be increased indefinitely to meet the cost of living without involving us in the vicious spiral of which we have heard so much. We—if I may use the plural—members of the armed Forces of the Crown, who include to-day a large proportion of the active male members of society, are much more concerned to secure generous treatment for the wounded and for the dependants of those who are disabled or killed in war than in extra pay for ourselves, and I have no reason to believe that that spirit is not abroad in industry also There is a great desire on the part of all classes in this country to ensure that those who are disabled and unable to follow their employment shall receive such sums they are disabled as will enable them to avoid the worst types of hardship. The right hon. Gentleman made much of the hardship of poverty. That is true. We know, as Oliver Goldsmith told us:How small of all that human hearts endureThat part which kings can cause or laws can cure.We cannot cure much by Act of Parliament, but we can make the money go further if we do it by agreement.
I have spent two years in studying workmen's compensation, and it led me, with a colleague of this House who is now on the Front Bench, to place on record acts of gallantry in industry in civil life which have been recognised and rewarded by His Majesty—deeds which are but a tiny fraction of those performed almost daily. What hurt my pride as an Englishman and as a Member of Parliament when we had finished writing 1014 the book was the reflection that many of those who had been disabled and had risked their lives in saving a fellow workman from disaster and his employer from heavy loss had been rewarded by the highest award His Majesty can bestow but received from the employer under the law if he survived, or bequeathed to his descendants if he died—a shamefully inadequate pittance. If anything to-day should ensure that cases of hardship should be dealt wtih liberally, by ad hoc schemes, it is the reflection that in industry men are no less vital to the conduct of war than those on the battlefield or in the air. There is a difference between those who are seriously injured and those who are temporarily absent from work, and it is for the seriously injured that I wish to see the most substantial rises.
A man serving with the armed Forces of the Crown was speaking to me 10 days ago. I will not mention his name or rank or the Service in which he was. He said to me, "I will take the bloody cup, drink it down, and chance my arm, but what about my wife and children? Why should they drink the cup? Will the country do the fair thing for them? That is what I want to know." It is those cases of the seriously injured which we seek to emphasise rather than cases of injury involving a few days' absence from work. I hope the Government will accept this Amendment. After the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, I cannot hope the Opposition will support it, but I hope they will realise that so far as I and many hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned we expect something to be done at once, and we should not support this Amendment if we thought it meant delay. We want action, and we want it now. We want it by agreement between different industries and between different groups of employers and employed. We look to the Government to take their action as soon as possible.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Beechman
I beg to second the Amendment which has been moved with so much knowledge and force by my hon. Friend. The first reflection that occurs to me after we have listened to emphatic criticisms of workmen's compensation legislation from all quarters of this House, is how far, and rightly far, we have travelled in our ideas on this matter since 1015 this legislation was first introduced in the year 1897. Nowadays our ideas of social progress receive their impulse from the feeling that there should be a minimum in respect of all the needs and, as I think, in respect of reasonable comforts of life below which no home should be allowed to sink. We feel everybody should have access to the things which are essential with regard to health—holidays, decent homes and decent food.
This legislation was not founded on these ideas at all. No doubt there was behind it a humanitarian impulse in the days when the matter was debated and brought into existence by Mr. Asquith, as he then was, in conjunction with Mr. Austen Chamberlain. The object of this legislation was something entirely different. I would like to pause for a few moments in considering this, because I believe we cannot rightly determine in what way we should remove the glaring defects of this legislative structure unless we see what this legislation was intended to do, what it can do, and what, in my opinion, it cannot do. If, as the hon. Gentleman opposite has suggested, we merely extend the machinery and raise the power that is given in it, we may find that what we are in fact doing is to intensify certain mischiefs which are already sufficiently apparent in the Act and its working. This legislation does not involve social service at all. Its object was to give damages and to get round certain defects and difficulties in the common law of this country which restrict the opportunity of the working man to obtain damages in respect of an injury. From that circumstance of its origin, three fundamental propositions emerge that must greatly affect our consideration of its working. In the first place, these damages are not related in the least to needs.
§ Mr. Beechman
I am going to explain what they are for. The hon. Gentleman does not assist by intervening to ask me to explain what I am about to explain. 1016 These damages seek to replace the earnings which have been lost. Secondly, they do not seek to replace those earnings in full, but only in part. The employer was liable only in circumstances of negligence. Under this new legislation, a cause of action, or rather a right to damages, is given where negligence does not exist; so it was said, "As the employers are divesting themselves of this protection, offering themselves to the spears of attack in regard to actions for damages in this wider field, it is not fair to allow the workmen the same measure of damages as he would obtain in a court of law, because the employer is giving up so much." Therefore, quite absurdly, it was said that, at the most, the workman should obtain only half of the earnings he was getting before, and that in any case the amount should be limited to 30s.
§ Mr. Beechman
One pound a week at the start, and then 30s.; I am obliged to the hon. Member. Being based on earnings, and not on needs, the amount of compensation is in proportion to the pre-accident wage, and therefore, whether it be right or wrong—I think it is absurd—higher amounts are paid to those who have been earning higher wages. I ask the House to consider, in all seriousness, whether it is right to take this machinery as it stands and extend it in the unscientific way proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. An all-round advance would, in fact, intensify this objection of giving higher compensation to those who happen to he in receipt of higher wages.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
All the questions that the hon. Member is now raising were being discussed when the war broke out by a Royal Commission set up by the Government. That Royal Commission is now held up by the war. I suggest that all we should consider is what we are to do in the meantime.
§ Mr. Beechman
I am dealing with exactly what the hon. Gentleman wishes me to deal with. The right hon. Gentleman has proposed an all-round, flat-rate increase. I was investigating that proposal, with a view to showing that I was not satisfied that that was the best way to deal with the position and with the existing defects, in view of the nature 1017 of the legislation that we are considering. These matters are under consideration horn a long-term point of view by the Royal Commission, and we are all agreed that something immediate must he done. This is not a State service, as I have said, and it has no compulsory insurance at the back of it. It has been said that "the insurance company comes along and discusses matters." It does not always come along, because insurance is not always there. A proposal that we should increase the rate all round brings this defect at once to the forefront. You are going to ask employers, rightly or wrongly, to increase the rate of compensation, and that makes it more important than ever that there should be a certainty that the workmen will get his compensation, and not be done out of it, as happens in too many cases now. Therefore, when one talks about a flat-rate increase, one has to consider whether there is to be compulsory insurance. Is it thought that to combine individual employers' liability with compulsory insurance is the right way of dealing with this matter; or is there to be a fund to which the employer shall contribute? I hardly think that it will be said that, as we now stand in this war, we shall be able to have a State scheme—which, without having the opinion of the Commission, I would prefer.
I should like to associate myself emphatically with what my hon. Friend the M ember for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) has said about the employers' evidence. We have had evidence from the trade unions—I think it took too long coming—and it would be most unstatesmanlike and unwise, in my judgment, if the employers should give the impression that they are in any way slow to produce their evidence. I wish to emphasise that we on this side of the House would like to see this matter dealt with as soon as may be, arid, therefore, we hope that the employers will now produce their evidence. I realise that not everybody can give evidence at once, but there should be no further delay, I think, in that matter.
I come to the question of hardship. As the right hon. Gentleman has said, it is not necessary to belabour the point, as where the maximum is 30s. a week there must be cases of hardship. I began by emphasising the main structure of this 1018 legislation, because I wanted to make it clear that where compensation has no relation to needs there must, in the nature of things, be hardship. For that reason, I and my hon. Friends wish to see this matter dealt with as soon as possible. We all know from our own experience of cases of hardship. I hear constantly of cases from Cornwall of unfortunate men working in the tin mines who contract silicosis. In a case of a young man with a young family bowled over by silicosis, compensation of 30s. a week is utterly inadequate. Whether the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman are intended to be made retrospective or not, I urge upon hon. Members on all sides that when this matter comes to be implemented, as I hope it will be, it should be seen that the extra benefits which are introduced are made retrospective, in the sense that they shall not apply only to the victims of accidents after the new legislation comes into force.
There is another reason why I utterly oppose the mere superimposing of an extra layer of compensation upon the existing system. When this legislation was first introduced Mr. Asquith expressed the opinion that this method of giving compensation would work through a domestic forum in a reasonable sort of way, taking into consideration the actual needs involved. But this method of giving compensation has become so legalistic that I venture to say that there is no field of law so filled up with absurd technicalities as the Workmen's Compensation Acts. The more I see of this matter, the more I think that our legal processes are very ill-suited to solving the type of social difficulty that this legislation seeks to relieve. Anyone could give a whole list of the most arrant absurdities which have cropped up. Only a few years ago a doctor's certificate, on which compensation could have been granted, was held to be invalid by the Court of Appeal because the doctor had used the word "therefore" instead of "thereby."
I could multiply instances of that sort. For example, where a man is able to earn in a case of partial incapacity, the measure of the compensation is the difference between his pre-accident earnings and his post-accident earnings. It has to be ascertained whether the man is able to earn, and it has been held that that is simply a question of whether he 1019 is physically able to earn, without reference to whether the job is there at all. I know that that decision has been open to doubt in certain quarters. It has been upheld in Scotland that the compensation should be refused; in Ireland, the decision has gone somewhat in favour of the man; in England, the judges have been equally divided. I think it is time that that exhibition of judicial tact or impartial delicacy should be resolved by this House in favour of the working man. It has even been solemnly debated by judges whether a man who has lost an eye in a certain employment can yet find suitable employment in that same trade where he may lose the other eye. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite may regard these legalistic decisions with greater favour than I do; but I say that this is greatly relevant to the matter that we are considering now, and I hope we shall find some method of dealing with these cases without using the machinery which has given rise to the absurdities to which I have referred.
In conclusion I appeal, despite what I heard from the right hon. Gentleman, to hon. Gentlemen opposite, since we all know we cannot deal with this legislation in the way it ought to be dealt with by ripping it up and having something which bears relation to modern ideas, or by co-ordinating it with other social services, to join with us in bringing into being as soon as possible something which will adequately, quickly, and practically deal with these cases of hardship which are causing misery in so many homes throughout the country.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I wish to take part in this Debate this afternoon because for 30 years I have had day-to-day experience and direct contact with injured workmen, and because I think a little definite experience will help the House a good deal more than some of the legal sophistry to which we have been listening.
§ Mr. Isaacs
The hon. Gentleman told us that Mr. Asquith had in mind some 25 years ago what happened under the Compensation Act when men were injured, and does he not know that many of these men are now dead?
§ Mr. Beechman
The hon. Gentleman is not quite fair in what he said. I referred to what had been said then with a view to exposing and explaining as well as I could how defective is this Act of which he himself, with me, has complained.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I am aware that the hon. Gentleman was anxious to expose that Act, but I am also aware that in exposing it he was at the same time trying to induce the House to accept something which will bear as much value to it now as did the views of Mr. Asquith in those days.
I listened with very great interest to the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. He supports our claim in sentiment, but he opposes it in practice. He says that his Amendment is not a mandate for delay, but I would point out that it is a mandate for evasion. He is asking that we should adopt his Amendment, which deals with the meeting of cases of hardship and provides that there should be direct negotiations. What will happen while negotiations are going on? People will still be suffering and will still have to await the result of those negotiations, and in the meantime the position will be no better than it is now. When I read the Amendment and also listened to the hon. Gentleman's argument, I wondered whether he meant individual cases or classes of cases. He did not deal exclusively with the point that we are trying to make this afternoon, namely, an increase in the weekly rate of compensation, but he covered many other points, which led me to the opinion that he was dealing with classes of cases and not individual cases. He gave a number of instances of the provision of surgical appliances, grants, and so on. I am sorry that the hon. Member has to leave the Chamber, because I want to quote some other things that he said. He spoke about clubs, charitable grants, and so on, but I would say, on behalf of injured workmen. "We do not want your charity or your appliances or to have to go before a committee. We want justice and proper, decent, and reasonable compensation, and, above all, we want fair play."
As I have intimated, I have handled thousands of these cases in the last 30 years. They have passed directly through my hands, and I have come in direct contact with the men and their families, and I know their needs and difficulties. 1021 I recognise the hon. Gentleman's great knowledge of the subject, his great skill in expounding it, and his great earnestness in wishing to see some proper measure of reform brought about. I am sure that he means that. I have read his book, and the evidence that he gave before the Royal Commission. His great point in that evidence was that 30s. was not enough. He quoted some medical evidence—the medical officer to the Bank of England and to one of the big cornpa.nies—to the effect that this low weekly compensation brought malnutrition and other things in its wake.
§ Sir A. Wilson
On a point of Order. May I inquire whether it is in order for a member of the Royal Commission, which has not yet reported, to take part in Debates in this House? If, as I understand, the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Royal Commission, I should have thought that it was inappropriate that he should speak in Debate in this House until such time as the Commission—of which he is a member—and we are glad to have him as a member—has reported.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The hon. Member was called by Mr. Speaker. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has adduced any reason for my not allowing the hon. Member continuing to speak, and I must allow the hon. Member to proceed.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I will say no more about that, except that the evidence to which I have referred is printed and is available for everybody to read. I was saying that I recognise and appreciate the hon. Member's knowledge and skill, and his desire to do something to bring about better conditions, but I earnestly assure him that, if his Amendment is persisted in and carried, he will not be helping the injured workmen but seriously delaying their getting the assistance which we desire. Half-pay is not justified under any consideration. There are thousands of injured workmen who do not get half-pay.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I was about to consider the question of evidence when the hon. Member rose to a point of Order, and seeing that the evidence to which the hon. Member has referred has, if I am right, not yet been published, I do not think that, as a member of the Commission, he is entitled to deal with it. If it has been published, I stand corrected.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The trade unions of this country were invited to submit evidence to the Royal Commission, and the evidence which they have submitted has been published to their members and is available to every hon. Member on this side of the House. Therefore, my hon. Friend and all of us have evidence here to-day which has been submitted to the Commission. As a matter of fact, we have assisted in collecting it in order to help the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member will no doubt realise that any witness who gives evidence naturally knows that evidence and can give it to his friends, but I understand that this evidence has not been published officially, and, that being the case, I think the hon. Member will be well advised, if, as I understand, he is a member of that Commission, not to discuss that evidence too much.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Would you, Mr. Deputy- Speaker, regard as being officially published any evidence given before the Commission which is obtainable by hon. Members or the public from the Stationery Office?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I do not exactly know the print to which the hon. Member refers, but I confess I believed it had not been printed and published officially.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The Minutes of Evidence at each sitting of the Commission are published by His Majesty's Stationery Office and are available to the general public.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If that is so, then I was under a misapprehension on the subject, and I do not raise any objection to the hon. Member proceeding. I would only ask him to bear in mind in speaking that he is a member of the Commission.
§ Mr. Isaacs
I appreciate the point that has been raised. The evidence has been printed, and, what is more, the Press was invited to the discussion, and details have been published in the Press. It is not my intention of saying anything, one way or the other, about the Commission, 1023 but, after all, I am a Member of this House. I was elected by constituents to speak on their behalf in this House, and as I have some knowledge on this matter, I venture to bring up the point, which has not in any way been definitely considered by the Royal Commission, and anything that I may say will not, I hope, embarrass them. I was saying that I have direct contact with these people. A man earning £3 a week may get his full 50 per cent., which is 30s., and, as my right hon. Friend who moved the Motion pointed out, that is an inadequate sum. His full wage of £3 a week only gives him a standard of life on the poverty line. It does not give him any margin of any sort to enable him to look after his future, especially if he has any family. It is a continual struggle for existence when he is in full work and earning full wages. He gets a bare livelihood. It must be recognised that the labour of the man earning £3 helps to create dividends and profits for shareholders, who take no risks of injury or maiming or insecurity. They draw their dividends whether a man is injured or not. It is the worker who suffers this loss.
We heard a good deal in the old days that a man had to work a week in order to live a week, and that is still absolutely true. These men just get enough one week to enable them to drag along until the end of the next week until pay day comes round again. Who will suggest that 30s. received as half-pay by the man earning £3 is sufficient to maintain a family? It has to be borne in mind that wages are fixed, not by some haphazard district, but by careful negotiation between skilled people on the employers' and workmen's side who know all the risks and dangers and the necessity for skill and capacity. Special skill, arduous toil, unpleasant work, and dangerous employment bring higher pay, and, in addition, men who are employed on night work obtain better pay than men on day work, but if they are injured, they get only the same ratio of compensation with a maximum of 30s. I can assure the House that men who are on compensation, and who have had compensation, are offended at the use of the very word "compensation." It really means that they have to break up their routine of life, and in addition to their own suffering, they have to experience misery and 1024 privation in their homes. I urge upon the House that it is a very short-sighted policy and a foolish and dangerous one. The strain and worry of a period at home after meeting with an accident and then receiving only 30s. a week is a very great contribution to retarding a man's recovery. It brings neurasthenia and all those other worries. It used to be said in a sneering way years ago that it was astonishing how a man recovered and went back to work when he received a lump sum. The theory is now held by some large insurance companies and employers' organisations that payment of a lump sum relieves a man of worry.
May I give to the House a few examples, which I have collected in the last week or two, of what these weekly payments mean? A member of my society, a highly skilled worker in the newspaper industry, earning £5 per week, was getting 30s. per week compensation. He had a home of his own and lived in decent circumstances, but through being away from work for some months was forced into such a condition that he had to seek Poor Law relief and sell his home and furniture. When he got back to work and received a lump sum in settlement, he had to face a demand from the Poor Law authorities to pay back the money they had advanced. Another man, suffering from dermatitis, was totally incapacitated for 14 months. He had been earning £5 per week and was then reduced to 30s. a week compensation. Ultimately he got a settlement of £200 and went back to work, but with it came a claim for £83 4s. from the Poor Law authorities. Imagine the condition of this man after 14 months out of work—up to his eyes in debt and nothing but misery and trouble around him. Here is another case of a member who had a crushed arm. He was a highly skilled workman, one of the best we have in the industry in London, and was receiving £7 a week. He was totally incapacitated for 7 years, and I hesitate to tell the House how many times the insurance company dragged the man to court in that time to try and get the compensation reduced. In each case, however, the judge was satisfied and did not reduce the amount. This man had a house and two girls at a high school and eventually had to take them away. 1025 When he got back to work his employers found him a light job, and his workmates helped him along.
§ Mr. Holdsworth
Would not the case have been better dealt with in the way that the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) suggested rather than by a flat-rate increase?
§ Mr. Isaacs
No. We are fed up with the means test and with "Nosey Parkers" coming to our houses, and many employers are of the same opinion. They say they would willingly pay if it was the law of the country that they should pay, and here I would like to pay a tribute to the employers in my industry, who in many cases pay to their injured workmen far more than the Act allows, because they know that the amount allowed is not satisfactory. But what we want is something that a man can claim as a right and not that he should have to go to somebody to fill up a form and expose his means and circumstances. We would rather go on with the miserable 30s. as it is than have to beg, cap in hand, from somebody else. There are many more cases that I could give of men who have lost their homes and everything they valued in life. I would like to point out that this state of penury arising out of the 30s. a week grant existed long before the war started and that the grievance which existed this time last year is much more acute now. How our people are to get along on these moneys I do not know.
My experience, perhaps, is not so useful as that of some of my colleagues in the House, for two reasons. First, many employers in my trade give something extra, and, second, the printing industry is well known for its friendly organisations, and many of our members themselves come forward with grants to those who are injured. It may be that the many cases which come to me are not so bad as those of others who are not in the printing industry. We claim a revision of this 30s. The need is more urgent than ever before. I can assure this House that there is real and intense pressure throughout the ranks of organised workers in this country for something to be done. They point out that the Government have subsidised agriculture and controlled prices at a level which gives high profits to producers and merchants. The Government must face up 1026 to this demand. Members on these Benches, and trade unions generally, have helped the Government in this present emergency. This is not a request for a favour; it is a demand for justice for the soldiers in industry whose good will and energy are essential to the nation's well-being.
If Members of this House are in earnest, and I believe many of them are, in securing some advantage to the workers, I would ask them to consider the lines on which the workers themselves think it is right to have it. I would ask them not to deal with the matter in the same way as those who are looking at it from a theoretical point of view. This matter is of sufficient urgency for the Government to deal with it, and I am satisfied that while they are doing it they will not find opposition from the ranks of enlightened employers in the country. I hope that those who introduced the Amendment will not press it, so that we can get our Motion through and that the Government will support us in our efforts to get justice for the workers.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir John Anderson)
The right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate made an eloquent and powerful plea for an immediate all-round improvement in the existing terms of compensation for the victims of industrial accidents. In the course of his short speech he contrived to pass some rather severe strictures on His Majesty's Government for what he described as their inaction in this matter. He even came near to suggesting a lack of good faith on the part of the Government in connection with the appointment of the Royal Commission, and suggested that when the Government appointed that Commission they did so without an honest heart and as a means of stalling off criticism. Therefore, before coming to the purpose for which I have now risen—to define the attitude of the Government towards the original Motion and the Amendment—I feel bound to offer a few comments on the case as presented by the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that nothing I am going to say will be thought to imply any lack of sympathy with the real cases of hardship which undoubtedly do arise in the working of the existing scheme.
I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman contrasted what he called the 1027 inaction of the present Government with the action taken in 1917 by the then Government. He spoke, and his words were remarkable, of the extraordinary rapidity of the action taken on that occasion. What are the facts? When the last war broke out workmen's compensation was on a basis of 50 per cent. of earnings for total disablement, subject to a limit of £1. To-day the limit is 30s. and the scale is not a flat one of 50 per cent., but a tapering scale from 75 per cent. for the poorer paid workers down to 50 per cent. So far from action being taken with extraordinary rapidity, it was not until the cost had risen 75 points, after more than two years of war, that the rates I have specified were increased. It was after protracted negotiation and as a matter of general agreement that they were increased by 25 per cent. At that time, August, 1917, when the increase was given, the cost of living was practically the same as it is to-day. The index figure was, I think, 175. The cost of living when the present rates of benefit were fixed in 1923 was, by a coincidence, practically the same then. Wage rates were not, I believe, materially different, taking industry as a whole, from what they are to-day. It seems abundantly clear that such case as can be made for the improvement in rates and conditions of workmen's compensation does not rest on anything that has happened to the cost of living since the existing rates were fixed, or on any change that war conditions have brought about.
On what then does the case in fact rest? I suggest that the case is a reflection of the defects in the existing scheme of workmen's compensation, defects which are bound up with that scheme when it is brought into comparison with other schemes of social provision which have been developed in the intervening period. I suggest that the terms of reference to the Royal Commission bear that out. There have been many inquiries into workmen's compensation during the last 20 years, but I think that the terms of reference to the present Royal Commission for the first time include an instruction to consider the scheme in relation to other schemes of social insurance. There is, after all, no fixed standard in these matters. These things are all relative. What seems good and generous to-day 1028 may seem poor and niggardly to-morrow. I suggest that the case for dealing now with workmen's compensation is really based upon improved standards which have developed in this country during the last 17 years. In its origin workmen's compensation was not a scheme of social provision at all. It rested on a particular doctrine of liability and it was only by slow degrees and to a very limited extent that an element of social provision came to be included in the scheme. For example, provision was made for giving a more generous measure of relief to the poorer paid workers.
As hon. Members know, the work of the Royal Commission was suspended for a time at the outbreak of war. I think it was inevitable that it should be suspended, having regard to the prevailing uncertainty as to the conditions under which we should all be carrying on our work. Since it became apparent that the work of the Royal Commission might be resumed on a more or less normal basis, the Government decided to ask the Royal Commission to take up its work again and press on with it. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the last Debate on this subject—towards the end of November—that messages had passed between the Government and the Royal Commission, and the House is also aware that I have been recently informed by the chairman of the Royal Commission that the Commission had unanimously agreed, notwithstanding the inevitable handicaps which affect members of the Commission and also those who have to give evidence before the Commission, that they will press on as speedily as may be with their vitally important task.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I think the Commission must have had clearly in their minds the terms of reference.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am not referring to that. The Minister says that they are pressing on with their work, and we understand that to be so. But the right hon. Gentleman is now countenancing a principle 1029 which is a departure from the existing structure of workmen's compensation. Have the Commission merely in mind an increase in the rates of compensation?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I have no evidence of that at all. The Commission are obviously bound by their terms of reference. I was going on to say that the fact that the Commission have resumed their work is surely all to the good. At the same time, there is a new factor in the situation, because in the communication to which I have referred the chairman of the Commission informs me that their task is clearly going to be a lengthy one, and that until they have heard the evidence relative to the inquiry and have formulated the main principles on which in their view any amending workmen's compensation system should be based, they will not be in a position usefully to frame their conclusions on any particular aspect of the problem. I think it was on 15th January that I informed the House of this communication.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
On the last occasion when this matter was discussed in the House an Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) to the effect that the Government should ask the Royal Commission whether they would be prepared to publish an interim report dealing just with the matter of scales, the implication being that the Commission should not deal with the other matter, which was the responsibility of the Government and of this House.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The hon. Member will recall that that Amendment was not carried, and the Government have, in fact, always taken the view that they mist leave to the Commission themselves td determine—
§ Mr. Griffiths
On that occasion a Motion moved by the hon. and learned Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) was lost, and the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hitchin was talked out. But the view was expressed on all sides of the House that the matter should be taken up and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department gave a promise in regard to an interim report.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The Government have always taken the view that it must be left to the Royal Commission to determine whether or not they should make an 1030 interim report, and, if so, in what circumstances. The point I was making is this —that now, for the first time, the Government have officially from the Royal Commission a clear statement on that very question, because the chairman says that they will not be in a position usefully to frame their conclusions on any particular aspect of the problem until they have heard evidence relative to the inquiry, and that this will be a lengthy task.
§ Sir A. Wilson
The Royal Commission sat from the beginning of January until September and yet only sat during the whole of that period on 13 days. Is it not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to induce it to sit somewhat oftener than once a fortnight?
§ Sir J. Anderson
I do not think that I can do any more than I have, and that is to ask the Commission to press on with their inquiry. That communication from the chairman of the Commission does introduce a new factor into the situation and the Government are perfectly prepared to take account of it. What I have to say to the House this afternoon is that His Majesty's Government are prepared to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson). I cannot anticipate what may emerge as a result of the discussions which will be entered upon by the Government forthwith, but the Government will do their best to bring such discussions to an issue at the earliest possible date.
I would like, before I sit down, to indicate in general terms some of the conditions to which it seems to me any interim arrangements which may be made will have to conform. I think it is very unlikely that we shall come to the conclusion that the purpose to which the hon. Member's Amendment is directed would be suitably served by an all-round percentage increase in rates of benefit. That was the remedy adopted in entirely different circumstances in 1917. I say nothing about the means test at all. Quite clearly, there are many cases under the existing scheme which cannot fairly be described as cases of acute hardship. [Interruption.] Take the case of a single man in good employment who has suffered an accident which disables him for a comparatively short period. He receives 30s. a week. Surely that cannot fairly be said to constitute the sort of acute hardship which must be dealt with 1031 in advance of the findings of the Royal Commission?
§ Mr. George Griffiths
What do you expect a single man to pay for his board and lodging? He pays 27s. 6d. a week.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I think that the amount of 30s. which is payable in that case cannot unfairly be compared with what would be payable under unemployment insurance in similar circumstances. You will find that the amount payable under workmen's compensation is in fact very greatly in excess of the amount payable under unemployment insurance.
§ Mr. T. Smith
As one who has had experience of this difficulty may I say that there is a vast difference between a single man out of work, physically fit and able to look for a job, and the man who is incapacitated and in lodgings with people who are not relations at all. I suggest that the illustration is not a good one.
§ Mr. Greenwood
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that 30s. is a maximum and that a considerable number of single men do not draw that maximum? The average which is paid is 25s. a week. Is the right hon. Gentleman really playing the game with the House by putting forward an argument of that kind? May I ask him what reason there is for suggesting that the proposed discussions between employers and work people are likely to be successful, and in what respect the circumstances are different now from what they were a year ago when such discussions might have been carried on? Is there any evidence of any change of heart on the part of the employers? I do not want the Debate to become disorderly but I must say that the right hon. Gentleman is not treating the House fairly.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should take that view, but, in fact, he has made my point because he has contrasted the case where a single man does not get 30s. a week with the case where he does. I was arguing against the theory that an all round flat percentage increase was the best way of giving any additional relief 1032 to any injured workman. I was going to contrast that case of a single man with the case of a married man, who may have been on short time, who may have dependants, who may have been disabled for a long period, who may find, perhaps, after a considerable period of disablement, that under the provisions of the Act as it stands the allowance he gets, which may be less than 30s., is subject to a reduction of 25 per cent. I was going to concede that at once as obviously a case of potential hardship. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to believe that I am by no means unsympathetic. I do not want to give verbal sympathy; I would rather see something practical done. The right hon. Gentleman must recognise that I am making practical suggestions to that end.
It is clear that any scheme which we are able to evolve must be of a temporary nature such as will not prejudice the ultimate decision on the whole of this very difficult, very important, and complicated problem of workmen's compensation. The right hon. Gentleman asked, what assurance can we have that these discussions will have a satisfactory outcome? I would like him to take note that the word used in the Amendment is not "negotiations." In 1917, there were negotiations, which were very protracted. What is contemplated in the Amendment is discussions, and I take it that some significance attaches to the word "discussions." The Government will take upon themselves the responsibility of endeavouring to evolve some temporary scheme which they will discuss—and surely, it is eminently proper that they should discuss it—with representatives of industry from both sides. But I am not suggesting that the whole thing may collapse in default of agreement. We do not contemplate negotiations; we contemplate, as the words of the Amendment make clear, discussions.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I should like to be clear as to what the right hon. Gentleman means. I understand there are to be discussions, and not negotiations. From my experience of trade union life, it is a distinction without a difference. There are to be discussions with whom? With the Federation of British Industries, with the employers, with the Trades Union Congress—with whom? And after the discussions, if any scheme is evolved, is it to be embodied in legislation?
§ Sir J. Anderson
Certainly. I know of no way in which a matter of this kind can be dealt with except by legislation introduced in the House.
§ Sir J. Anderson
The next point I want to make—and I am making these points in order to simplify the discussion and direct it as far as I can to practical issues —is that any scheme we try to evolve will have to be of a simple character. My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin threw out some very interesting suggestions with regard to the future development of the scheme of workmen's compensation, but anything that involves a recasting of the machinery, or the introduction of entirely new principles, must take time. I think we want something simple which can be brought into force speedily. I am sure that I carry the House with me in saying that.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I do not want hon. Members to misunderstand me. I do not think it is a simple matter; I do not think it is an easy task on which we are at present engaged; but we intend to do the best we can. Finally, I think it is clear that any scheme that we evolve must not be such as to offer a challenge to the basic features of other schemes of social reform for which the Government have taken responsibility in the House. By that, mean that any obligation which, as a result of a temporary scheme of the kind we are now contemplating, may be imposed on industry must be in keeping with the general standard of obligations assumed by the Government in cases where they accept responsibility; for example the case of the scheme of compensation for civilian injuries in time of war.
§ Sir A. Wilson
May I ask whether my right hon. Friend accepts that as regards the Treasury scheme for injured workmen, which has been in operation for 20 years, and which covers workmen in all Government factories? If so, it will be quite adequate as a basis of discussion for all of us.
§ Sir J. Anderson
I think my hon. Friend is not quite right. I think that scheme covers only a few factories.
§ Sir J. Anderson
That is only a proportion. But I shall be happy to receive suggestions from any quarter. I have now indicated the lines on which the Government suggest that this important matter should be dealt with. I have undertaken that if the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin is passed, the Department will address themselves at once to their task. They will not regard the passing of the Amendment—to use the words of one hon. Member who has spoken in the Debate—as giving them any "mandate for delay." Certainly, I hope, as I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the House hope, that fruitful results may come from the decision to be taken by the House this evening.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Foot
I am sure that many hon. Members must feel profoundly dissatisfied with the speech delivered by the Home Secretary. From Replies given to Questions in recent weeks, we had understood that the Government were contemplating making some change, and we had supposed, naturally enough, that they would follow the precedent of 1917 and give some temporary increase all round in order to meet war circumstances. But instead of that, what have we heard from the right hon. Gentleman? First of all, he told us that there are many defects bound up with the history of the scheme, without giving any explanation why his own Government, during the nine years they have been in office, have made no attempt to remove the defects and why the only Measure passed during those nine years was a Private Member's Bill in 1934. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say there had been a great many inquiries; again he was correct, but he did not explain why even the report of an inquiry as long ago as 1923 has not been carried out, or an attempt been made to carry it out, by any Government since that time.
§ Mr. Foot
Surely, the right hon. Gentleman does not suggest that the recommendations of the Holman-Gregory Commission were carried out. To take one simple instance to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), one of the points on which the Holman-Gregory Commission were most emphatic was that there should be a compulsory obligation on employers to insure against accidents and against the risks of workmen's compensation. That was not carried out in the Bill which followed, and it is something which no Government have attempted to carry out since. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he is against an all-round increase in the rates of benefit. That seems to me to foreshadow a new and, to my mind, a very dangerous principle in workmen's compensation. The House has to choose between the Motion and the Amendment. The Motion is straightforward; it suggests that we should do what was done in 1917, that we should take advantage of our experience during the last war. It is true that in 1917 there had been a somewhat greater rise in prices since the beginning of the war, but all hon. Members know that prices are now rising very much more steeply and rapidly than they did in the last war. What is proposed in the Motion is that we should follow the precedent set in 1917.
I should like, in passing, to remove a misapprehension which may have arisen out of something that was said a little earlier in the Debate. What was done in 1917 was that the Act was made retrospective so as to apply to any claim which a workman might have, even if the accident had taken place before the Act was passed. It was done then, and it is difficult to see why it cannot be done now. But instead of that, the right hon. Gentleman prefers the terms of the Amendment. That Amendment, whatever may have been said by the Mover and Seconder, is simply a blanketing Amendment. I was not sure what the Amendment meant, and I am still in ignorance after having heard the speeches of the Mover, the Seconder, and the Home Secretary in accepting the Amendment. The Mover outlined an entirely new method of workmen's compensation which had nothing much to do either with the Motion or the Amendment, and the Seconder gave us a review of the origin 1036 of workmen's compensation at the end of last century and showed considerable acquaintance with the leading cases of 12 or 13 years ago. In considering the Amendment which the Government accept, we have to look at its exact terms. It does not envisage any sort of general increase in the rates of workmen's compensation, but it speaks ofdevising a temporary scheme for meeting cases of hardship pending the receipt of the report of the Royal Commission.We have already gathered that it will be a very long time before we receive that report. I must confess that the words which made me rather apprehensive are—for meeting cases of hardship.Whenever those words have appeared in any Regulation or Statute, they have always indicated some discrimination between one applicant and another. As an hon. Member above the Gangway pointed out, they always indicate some kind of means test, some kind of inquiry into the circumstances of the applicant. There you have something which is almost wholly new in the law of workmen's compensation. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary spoke of cases of hardship. I should have thought that every case where during a period of injury a man got only half the wages he had been getting was a case of hardship; but apparently what is intended by the right hon. Gentleman is that one sheuld pick out a few cases of special hardship. In order to do that, one has to look into the circumstances of the applicant.
Now, in accepting this Amendment, obviously the Government have some form of procedure in mind, some scheme which they intend to discuss with the employers when they meet them, in a week or two's time, or whenever it may be. The right hon. Gentleman gave us little indication as to what that scheme is or the lines on which the Government intend to proceed. What I should like to know, and what perhaps I may be told before the end of the Debate, is who is to decide upon the cases of hardship. Somebody will have to distinguish one case from another. Who is it to be? In many cases it would be a rather difficult matter to leave to a court, and from what I know of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, I do not think he willingly leaves anything to a court of law if he can help it. Does this mean 1037 that somebody else is to be imported from, outside in order to distinguish between one case and another? If so, that is a principle which ought to be very fiercely resisted by the House. It may be that at some time in the future we shall entirely change the whole basis of workmen's compensation. Possibly it may be as a result of the report of the Royal Commission. Workmen's compensation may cease to be a statutory liability on the employer, and become a form of social service; but at present it remains simply a legal obligation upon the employer, and as the Seconder of the Amendment pointed out, when he was discussing the history of the Measure, it was brought in as the result of an agitation in the 90's against the defence of common employment. The Government of the day said that they were not going to abolish the legal expression defence of "common employment," but that they were going to bring in a measure of workmen's compensation which would give compensation for accidents sustained during work irrespective of the negligence of the employer. Instead of getting rid of a doctrine which I do not think any lawyer would defend on its merits, the workman was given another form of legal right.
I suggest that it would be a vicious principle to distinguish between one case and another as is suggested in the Amendment. It would mean that, although the law as it stands gives two applicants the same rights and although both may be injured in the same way, nevertheless we propose to set up machinery to distingnish between them and decide whether or not a man is to get some increase on the present rates. I hope that when the Government consider, as I gather they intend to consider, an amending Bill to IV introduced in the not too distant future, they will take into account some of the obvious difficulties to which attention has been called in this House again and again. I shall not describe them now, partly because they are familiar to most hon. Members and partly because I have done so on several previous occasions.
Apart from major issues, such as the form which workmen's compensation law should take in the future, we all know certain obvious defects which could be cleared away with a very small con- 1038 sumption of parliamentary time. First, there is, for example, the perfectly absurd rule of election—that if a man has elected to take his compensation payments, he shall lose his right to claim damages on account of an employer's negligence. We all know cases in which men have been induced to sign some form giving them workmen's compensation and in which afterwards it has been found difficult, if not impossible, to get the damages to which they were entitled because they had signed that form, possibly in ignorance of their legal rights. Secondly, it seems desirable at the present time that the Government should introduce a measure of compulsory insurance against claims of this kind. I drew attention in a previous Debate to the case in which a man who has received an award in the county court, finds that it is a barren judgment because the employer goes bankrupt. With the dislocation caused in certain businesses and industries by the war, we may be faced with an increased number of such cases. If the Government want to show their good will in this matter they might carry out the recommendations of the Holman-Gregory Commission in 1923.
Thirdly—though perhaps it is a comparatively small matter—some alteration might be made in the position of the medical referee. It seems entirely wrong that in certain circumstances a doctor should he placed in the position of a judge. I am thinking particularly of the cases of workmen who believe that they are suffering from silicosis. In such a case the man's doctor may be of the opinion that he is suffering from the disease, but it may not be possible to get the necessary certificate from the medical referee. The doctor is merely an expert in his own line, and the decision of one doctor ought not to be final. It should be possible to try out the evidence of one medical witness against another before a properly constituted tribunal. Fourthly —though perhaps it is asking too much—it seems to me that the Government would command the good will of the industrial community and remove a good deal of hardship and injustice, if, in their amending legislation, they went outside the usual boundaries of workmen's compensation Measures and got rid of the doctrine of common employment. There have been many Debates on this subject in 1039 recent years and I do not think any hon. Member on either side has defended that doctrine or suggested that it was anything but a legal monstrosity.
I wish to make it clear that if this issue goes to a Division my hon. Friends and I will support the Motion and vote against the Amendment. The hon. Member for Hitchin, at the opening of his remarks, said he did not regard this as a party question. I do regard it as a party question, because, although we have many sympathetic speeches from the Front Bench opposite, looking back over the Debates of the last seven or eight years during which this subject has been raised again and again, I remember that on every occasion—with possibly one exception, in 1933—those Debates have been raised from this side of the House and not by hon. Members opposite. The demand for immediate action and an immediate alteration of the law has always come from this side of the House. The excuses and the reasons for delaying action, have always been given from the Front Bench opposite. That is the kind of speech which we have heard again from the Minister 'this evening. For those reasons, we "intend to go into the Division Lobby in support of the Motion.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Goldie
It is right and seemly that at a time when the voice of political controversy is still, we in the High Court 'of Parliament should discuss, with freedom and impartiality, what I think we are all agreed is one of the most important matters of internal discussion. With the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion, I deprecate dealing with this matter on a party basis, or as if any real distinction existed between the attitude of the honest employer and that of the honest working man. I have had the honour of being connected for some 12 years with a purely industrial constituency, and I have seen for myself the relationships which exist between employer and employed. I refer not merely to welfare systems and matters of that sort but to wider industrial relationships and such names as those of Crossfield and Rylands stand high among examples of good relationship between employer and employed. With the one exception, 1040 which I do not wish to emphasise, of the local co-operative society there has never been in that constituency during all the time that I have known it the slightest disagreement between employer and employed.
Further, I am in the happy position of being able to look upon this question from a dispassionate point of view. I have never been an employed person and I have never had the honour of employing my fellow men. My whole life has been a professional one and I think there is no Member present to-day who would not agree with me that the basis of the question which we are discussing is how to provide adequate compensation for the injured workman. When I first read the Motion I was rather attracted by it. I thought 4-hat what it really asked for was an increase in the rates of compensation, and I must confess that when my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), in moving his Amendment, at once deprecated any hard and fast increase in the rates of compensation, I was considerably concerned. I was still more concerned when I heard the Home Secretary rather endorse the attitude of my hon. Friend. I say, plainly, that I cannot agree with the view which has been taken about the cost of living. If in 1917 and again in 1919 it was morally justifiable to do something to meet the cost of living, I, for one, with great respect, shall require greater evidence before I am satisfied that what was economically justified in 1919 is not equally justified in 1940. I sincerely trust that the Government will see their way to change their attitude en that matter and that before long we shall have legislation similar to 1919 in order that the rates in relation to compensation for injuries may be increased.
I pause here in order to say that upon consideration I am not prepared to support the Motion. Let me say once, with absolute frankness, that while I am in favour of raising the rates of compensation, I think that, if you do it in the way suggested in the Motion, you may be tinkering with the subject, and for reasons which I hope the House will allow me to develop, you may while temporarily increasing the rate of compensation prejudice the claims of the injured man. The first point which I wish to make is that it is most difficult to 1041 define an accident. Then you come to this question—Is it sufficient that a man should have sustained an accident? I think it was during the present Parliament that an hon. Member opposite moved the Second Reading of a Bill on this subject which I thought went too far. Under his proposals one had merely to show that a man was employed and that an accident happened to him while he was in that employment, and, automatically, he became entitled to compensation.
The House will forgive me if I recall a case in which I was concerned, to illustrate my point. In my early days al the Bar, when the delivery of a brief was regarded as the divine intervention of Providence, I appeared for a young lady who would be described by the local Press as "of prepossessing appearance." She was a landlady's daughter, in the employment of the landlady, and she had been engaged in the manual task of scrubbing a floor outside a bathroom when she sustained injuries. She promptly proceeded to bring workmen's compensation proceedings against her mother. I, as her counsel, not unnaturally thought I was "on velvet," bat unfortunately it came out in evidence that a lodger who was an equally attractive youth, had started playing "tip" with the landlady's daughter and that the latter had been pushed by the lodger right through the glass in the bathroom (bor. The case was dismissed almost with ignominy. Under the Bill to which I refer that unfortunate landlady would have had some difficulty in that case in escaping from liability.
On the other hand, I recall another case which is probably known to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) in which it was solemnly argued in court that a seaman who had ally three fingers on one hand was physically capable of doing the work of an A.B. as well as he did it before he lost the other fingers. I am glad to say that that contention was rejected by the county court judge with vigour and promptitude. I suggest that this is a matter which must be dealt with on the lines that the accident, as a result of which compensation was claimed, is one arising out of and in the course of the applicant's employment. Hon. Members will I think agree that decisions on workmen's compensation are so voluminous that one can, 1042 with comparative certainty, advise on a given set of facts whether a case is within the Act or not. Page after page of decisions are given in the text books dealing with this aspect of the matter, and all we are dealing with now are questions of procedure and matters such as that.
We must then ask ourselves what is the purpose of compensation. Is it to put the injured man, as he ought to be, in a better position or in a worse position than if he was to rely on his Common Law rights, and other rights, as compared with workmen's compensation? A very little time ago I had the privilege, in connection with my own work, to study closely some of the reports to which hon. Members have referred, and I was astonished to find that, going back before the Workmen's Compensation Act, even in the Employers' Liability Act, 1883, the Factory Act, 1885, and the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1897, no less distinguished Statesmen than the right hon. Gentleman Joseph Chamberlain, Mr. Asquith, and Mr. Gladstone all took the same line, with emphasis, that in many cases the real remedy of the workman was in a breach of a statutory regulation, or in other words, you had to show negligence. If you go back, you find the extraordinary position that at a very early stage, at the time of the industrial revolution, factory inspections on the basis of humanity came in. It came in at about 1833, and in 1860 there was the first Factory Act. But the extraordinary thing was that no attempt was ever made to do anything other than to leave the injured workman to his Common Law rights, which were liable, as the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) has told us, to be defeated by the doctrine of common employment, which has become weaker and weaker every year. Then, in 1905 came the great Factory Act, coupled with the epoch-making decision of Groves versus Lord Wimborne which held that for a breach of the factory regulations the doctrine of common employment did not apply.
We now have three remedies open. First, there is the workmen's compensation; secondly, common law; and, thirdly, a breach of the statutory regulations. One often hears the term "a speculative action" used. In my opinion there is nothing more speculative in the legal world than the speculative advice you 1043 have to give, because you cannot tell whether your hypothesis will come out right, as to whether a workman in a trade union should take the risk and proceed under the Factory Act or, on the other hand, be content with his rights under the Compensation Acts. May I give an instance of the point which I am trying to make? It was my privilege a few years ago to be engaged in the most serious personal injury case in which I have ever appeared. It was the case of a lad of 22 or 23 who had slipped on the floor of a factory in the North of England and had fallen into an unguarded machine. Both of his hands had been taken off, and the lad was doomed. I asked friends of mine what compensation, if they had been sitting on the jury in this case, they would have awarded. The figure varied, and some of the amounts, to my mind, were quite ridiculous. The figure varied, right up to the amount in this case of £10,000 awarded by a former Member of this House and confirmed by a court of appeal. The lad was unable to do anything at all and had to be taken about by his mother. He received 10,000, but what would he have received under workmen's compensation? Probably it would have been £650. Therefore, was I right in giving the advice that I did?
§ Mr. Cassells
With all respect to the hon. and learned Member, would the figure payable under the Workmen's Compensation Act have been much less than £650, or was that on the basis of redemption?
§ Mr. Goldie
I apologise to the hon. Member: on the basis of redemption. I was trying to make it perfectly clear in comparison between the redemption sum in workmen's compensation and what was eventually awarded. The insurance company in this case, I must say, met us fairly. The liability under workmen's compensation would be, let us say, about £700. I want to see a definite increase in these compensation cases, but I am afraid that if you bring the redemption figure up to a higher and higher basis, you will get nearer to what the man would receive under a breach of a statutory regulation, with the result that, in many cases, perfectly properly, his trade union officials might induce him to accept a sum far less than he would expect.
§ Mr. Goldie
"Yes" and "No," with the greatest respect. In the case of the seriously injured, "Yes," but in the case of the less seriously injured, say, of £1,000 to £1,500, you would get very near the figure. Why do I not support the Opposition Motion? It is because I want to see the whole of this workmen's compensation system, and the whole of the system on which damages are awarded, absolutely overhauled from top to bottom. I shall not be content by tinkering about with a system, with which I totally disagree, by a temporary measure which we have already been told may be for a short period. What is the remedy? The first is one which the hon. Member for Dundee mentioned. Abolish the election Clause.
Apart from the doctrine of common employment, I know of nothing in the whole system of English law which has led to greater hardships than Section 29 (1) of the Workmen's Compensaticn Act' Every Member of Parliament, no matter what are his political views, who is doing his duty in his constituency to help people in difficulty in these cases, meets this Section. The man, the breadwinner of a family, meets with a serious accident, and what does he know about the differences between Common Law damages and workmen's compensation? All he knows is that there are rent and insurance to be paid and food to be brought into the house, and perhaps there are little luxuries to be paid for on the hire-purchase system—in the case of a clerk, a refrigerator, and in the case of a workman, a radio. The man agrees to have some money to carry on and to fight afterwards. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne will, like myself, pay tribute to the Law Society, which stops ghouls going round to the hospitals touting for cases after an accident but is there nothing to keep down the men who go round with a little bit of paper saying "Sign here" and "Sign there"? In the first instance, I would never allow a workmen's compensation settlement to go through unless the Registrar of a county court had been satisfied that the man had no rights at Common Law under the Factory Acts. I would go further than that. 1045 I would in every case where there was a solicitor, as there generally is in trade union cases, insist on having the document witnessed by the man's solicitor, not only as a solicitor but as an officer of the court, an honourable position and one in which his answer is of course accepted by the court. I suggest that no workmen's compensation case where there is any possibility of an alternative claim should ever be allowed to be put through unless some such steps are taken.
I, personally, would like to see every breach of a statutory duty case tried in the first instance by demurrer. I would like to have an investigation to say "Yes," or "No," and whether there was a prima facie case, and, if so, let the man go forward, and if not, do not let him go forward. The "election" having been abolished it should be made absolutely impossible for one pennypiece of the compensation which the man will receive, or in cases where he has received payment before, to be deducted for costs. By doing that, you will open a line which will in the very serious cases go far to alleviate hardship in a considerable number of cases. I would like to see the doctrine of common employment struck out, lock, stock, and barrel. Tear the horrid thing out and get rid of it once and for all. The doctrine of common employment is, I am thankful to say, whittling away in a way which would have been incomprehensible a few years ago. The judicial opinions in another place show that we are getting very near the day when contributory negligence is to be no defence in cases of breach of statutory duty.
When the Factory Act was passed, we all patted ourselves on the back and said what a marvellous Measure it was. It was, but I deprecate the tendency of the last two or three years for important Government Measures to go to Committee upstairs instead of remaining on the Floor of the House. I believe that the Criminal Law Bill would have gone through Committee a far better Bill if, on the Floor of the House, those of us who have to administer criminal justice could have pointod out its anomalies and crudities, So with regard to the Factory Act. Although I welcome it, I am not certain that when we come to administer it we shall find that, so far as the accident sections are concerned, we have improved 1046 the position of the injured man. I would ask the representative of the Home Office whether we can have statutory regulations that somebody understands.
§ Mr. Goldie
I was just concluding. I was about to pick up the Order Paper to look at the Motion to assure myself that I was keeping in order. It contains the words "extensive, complex and lengthy inquiry," and the Amendment contains the words "amending the law relating to workmen's compensation." I think, therefore, that I am in order. I want these statutory regulations to be made in such a form that the men actually working them in the workshops and trade union officials can understand them. I want them in such plain language, not merely so that the lawyers can understand them—and they often cannot—but so that the ordinary working-man, when he has explained to him what his remedies are, can say straight out which he will choose. If we could only have simpler regulations, we should be enabled to do what we all wish to do to carry out the purposes we have in view.
I have spoken at greater length than I intended, but the longer I sit here and the longer I represent a working-class constituency, the more I am convinced of the absolute urgency of this problem. The legislation of 1917 and 1919 was in no sense a social service and did not cost the Government a penny, and I trust that on somewhat similar lines the Amendment which the Government are prepared to accept will be carried out. I only regret that I cannot support the Motion. I know that it is brought forward in the utmost good faith, but I am not satisfied that it is the best way to attain the object we all desire.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith
Nobody in the House is more interested than I am in workmen's compensation. No other class or profession knows the defects of the present law, and has known it since 1897, better than the legal profession. Some lawyer friends of mine have taken a keen interest in workmen's compensation, not only for its 1047 own sake, but because it has found them plenty of work in the courts. Of all the lawyers I have heard talk of workmen's compensation since I came to the House 18 years ago, I have never heard one who tried to justify the inadequacy of the present law. Ministers and hon. Members opposite sometimes try to justify a good deal in our social services by pointing out that they are relatively the best in the world. The Workmen's Compensation Acts since 1897 have been pretty rotten so far as they affect the injured workmen. As one who can claim to be well versed in the history of compensation, I have been astonished to-day at the distortion of it that we have heard from hon. Members. The hon. Member who seconded the Amendment seemed to speak as if he had forgotten certain facts of history. He spoke of one Act, which was Mr. Chamberlain's rather than Mr. Asquith's, as a great piece of legislation, but it was accepted by the industrial workers on the principle that half a loaf was better than no bread. What a glorious piece of legislation it was! An injured man had to be off work for three weeks before he got the first week's money. It also contained a Section providing that in the building industry a man had to fall from a building for 30 feet or more before he could get compensation. If he fell 29½ feet, he got nothing.
From 1897 to 1940 there has never been any attempt to put workmen's compensation on anything like a humanitarian basis. The compensation is not paid for loss of limbs or loss of life, but it is paid for loss of earning capacity. If a man can earn as much after his accident as before, he gets nothing. Hon. Members on these benches have not the same experience of advocacy in the courts as some hon. Members opposite. Some of us, however, have had to give evidence and have had to advise county court judges on the practical side of the industry to which a case referred. We have had a practical experience in workmen's compensation, and that is why we feel so bitter about the present situation. We could give from our own family experiences illustrations that would almost fetch the tears to the eyes of Members. Before I went to Australia our family was of a certain size, but 12 months later I got back and found the last remaining one on the male side had been killed 1048 while I was away. I want the hon. Member who sits opposite and represents an industry which is largely in my constituency to believe me when I tell him a few home truths. Why did we have the 1923 Act? It was because Mr. Bridgeman refused to put the two war-time Measures, about which we have been talking tonight, into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. Then when Mr. Baldwin decided upon the election in 1923 the Government were faced with the position that if they had gone to the country without passim the Workmen's Compensation Bill, every incapacitated man drawing 35s. a week would have been drawing £1. Therefore they had to rush through the present workmen's compensation. For 13 days in Committee we tried to knit it into shape, and it came out of Committee as the best Bill we could get in the circumstances. For the first time in the history of the country the great Conservative party, which boasts about the history of this country, reduced a piece of social legislation by 5s. a week. They said that men drawing 35s. a week would continue to draw it, but that those who became injured afterwards would get only 30s. at the most.
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary argued as if every man who gets injured in industry gets 30s. That amount, however, is the maximum. I can point out to him hundreds of cases of fully skilled and qualified craftsmen who, after meeting with an accident, are receiving less than 25s. a week because of low wages and irregular work. A man may be earning £5 a week at some periods of the year, but his irregular work at other periods is taken into account, and his average may be less than £3 a week. He gets in many cases only 22S. 6d. The law is that if a man's average is £2 a week, he gets £1 and half the difference between £1 and 25s. There are thousands of good men to-day drawing less than 30s. If the Home Secretary had paid the attention to this question that it deserves he would not have said that the Government were prepared to accept the Amendment. It was an admission that if it had not been put down by arrangement the Government intended doing nothing. If evidence was wanted, he could have sent inspectors into industrial districts and made inquiries; he would have interviewed not merely trade union secre- 1049 taries and business men, but public assistance officers and the men themselves, and thus obtained information as to what the position was. He would have found in nearly every industrial district scores of industrial derelicts about whom nobody seemed to care a hang.
The crucial point in this Debate is what is the best method of attacking the problem. We say it is to give an immediate increase. The first thing to do is not, as the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) said, to get the injured man better. The first thing to do is to maintain him and those dependent on him, and then by every means to get him back into industry. Those of us who went through the last war connected with this and allied subjects heard a good deal of blarney from men who are in the present Government. I looked up last night a verbatim report of a conference in the Opera House, Kingsway, which was addressed by the Home Secretary of that time, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He spoke of what great fellows the workmen of this country were, what fine men the miners were, as footballers, as cricketers, as sportsmen generally and as soldiers, and said that if only They would give us all that was necessary win the war anything that had been taken from them would afterwards be given back and there would be a period of great reconstruction. There has been no period of reconstruction in workmen's compensation, and if this House had the "guts" to do it the best thing to do would he immediately to increase the rates of benefit.
By all means let the Royal Commission go on with the consideration of this very big problem, because it is a big problem, and I would make the suggestion that the Commission should not take evidence merely from employers and trade unions in this country, but examine the workmen's compensation legislation in some of our Dominions. I discussed the present workmen's compensation law of this country with the people in New South Wales when I was there, and they could not believe that 30s. a week was the maximum compensation, because there it is £5 a week. Let the Commission examine what happens in Ontario and in New Zealand and then ask themselves how it is that our Dominions can be so much more generous than we are without injuring industry. And ask also how is it 1050 that every time workmen's compensation is discussed in this House not a single Member supporting the Government justifies the present state of affairs, though nearly all of them turn it down on the ground that we cannot afford an improvement?
I recognise that we are at war. Nobody wants to see this war ended successfully more quickly than do the organised workers of this country, but I also recognise that the argument which has been used for a number of years, "We would like to give more, but we cannot, because industry cannot bear it," cannot apply to-day. Nine-tenths of the accidents occur within eight industries which are all doing well, as the Stock Exchange records show. The colliery to which I was attached for 22 years had a director in this House who in 1897, when the first workmen's compensation legislation came before Parliament, predicted that that Bill, under which the maximum compensation was £1 a week, would ruin every friendly society, would destroy the mining industry, would discourage thrift, would, in short, do many things which have since proved to be fallacious. I say that this House ought to insist upon an increase in the scale of benefits for the injured; and as regards the question of making the increase retrospective, I would point out that in the last war the workmen's compensation Measures then passed were made retrospective. That is, the increased benefits were paid to those already in receipt of compensation as well as to those who were injured after the Bill became law.
The Government have intimated that they are prepared to accept this Amendment. What does that mean? That they will approach the representatives of industry with a view to discussions. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) tried to ascertain whether there were to be discussions with each industry, or whether it meant the Federation of British Industries. If it does mean the federation, for Heaven's sake let me say to them, "Take a different attitude from that which you took in Committee upstairs in 1923, when the present Bill was moulded, because there you were opposed to every Amendment." Or does it mean the mineowners separately? Have they had a change of heart? There has been an advance of 8d. a day in the pay of miners, but when it was suggested that 1051 the partial-compensation men should share in it, did the Yorkshire coal-owners agree? I believe only one county has agreed to it. I am told that now there are two, and I am very pleased to hear it. The others have not.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
Perhaps I may inform my hon. Friend that the parties with whom we contemplate discussing these proposals are the Trades Union Congress on the one hand and the representative organisations of the employers as a whole on the other.
§ Mr. Smith
I am pleased that we have at last brought someone on the Treasury Bench to his feet. This matter has been discussed with the Trades Union Congress for a long while, and they have made their position plain. They want an immediate increase. Therefore, it boils down to who are to be the employers whom the Government are going to meet. Are they to be the Confederation, the Mining Association of Great Britain, or those dear fellows who tell us, "Now, we would like to do it, we recognise that there is here an evil that wants remedying, we have a lot of sympathy with you, but, you know, we just can't do it."? I am not entitled to discuss ascertainments in this House, because they are more or less private and confidential, but I should hesitate to believe any mine owner who told me that the mining industry could not carry the cost of additional benefits to the injured, and I should very much doubt whether any one of them would say it. The cost of this compensation is 3d. per ton in normal times, which is half what we used to pay to the royalty owners, who never get injured. The Government cannot oppose this Motion on the ground that it will hurt the Exchequer, because workmen's compensation is one of those pieces of social legislation which are a charge upon industry. I maintain that industry ought to maintain its own injured, and it could do so by a slight adjustment of the insurance premiums.
I used to regard the Home Secretary as a good stonewaller, almost as good in his Department as Don Bradman, but tonight he has shown himself to be very weak [Interruption]. He did not make a century to-night; he went out almost for a "duck." He spoke about not 1052 wanting to introduce new principles into workmen's compensation, but then began to talk about accepting something which appears for the first time in the history of workmen's compensation—his references to cases of hardship. What does that mean? [HON. MEMBERS: A means test.] I will tell hon. Members something which they will do well to remember. There will come a time when the war will end. Some of us have retentive memories, and have not forgotten the end of the 1914–18 war. We have not forgotten the promises that were made then and how they were broken. Some of the supporters of the Government are obsessed with the means test and try to justify it. It is a tragic fact that of all the people who to-day draw money from the State—agriculturists, shipowners and the others—the only ones to whom a means test is applied are the poorest of the community.
Believe me, some Members opposite will have to alter the story they tell in the constituencies. What does the introduction of the hardship consideration mean in the case of an injured man? Does it mean that he will get nothing extra if he happens to have two sons living in the same household with him who are at work? Does it mean that the same household means test is to be applied as operates in the case of unemployment assistance? Or, in effect, to tell the plain, blunt, truth, does it mean that the Government are not prepared to give any immediate increase, and fall back upon this Amendment because they know in their hearts that it means delay? I say here and now that whether the Government accept this Amendment or not my colleagues and I will persist in carrying this Motion to a Division to-night, and we shall continue with our propaganda until the injured in industry are treated better than they are to-day.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Higgs
I fail to see much difference between the Motion and the Amendment. This House desires some modification of workmen's compensation; the public require some modification of it; I am sure the employers are ready for it and the employers are demanding it. We are all of one accord that some modification must be made, and quickly. When I hear the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) suggest that the Amendment is a blanketing 1053 Amendment, I cannot follow his reasoning. I did not hear the Minister suggest that some cases of hardship only would be picked out and only those dealt with if this Amendment were passed.
§ Mr. Foot
If you are not going to distinguish between one case and another, why pick out cases of hardship? The argument we put up was that every case in which a man is injured and gets only half wages is, in one sense, a case of hardship. The Amendment obviously does not meet that. The words of the Amendment clearly involve some selection, some discrimination, between one case and another.
§ Mr. Higgs
The Home Secretary did not define cases of hardship. I agree with the hon. Member that the case of anyone getting compensation of 30s. a week as a maximum is a case of hardship. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) suggested that the Government were sheltering behind the Royal Commission. I was surprised, after he had made that statement, to see him read the Amendment. Hon. Members opposite suggest that we on this side are not allowed to express our opinions. I am going to express mine, which is favourable to modification of the law. From what I have heard of this Debate, far too much has been made of the exceptional cases. What we want is an improvement, a modification, in the upward direction, not for the exceptional cases only, but for the hundreds and thousands of cases which never come before the law courts at all. I represent an industrial division, and I have been employed in industry all my life, and I am looking at this problem, not from the legal point of view, but from the aspect of the employer and of the man with whom he has to deal. I have had several meetings in my constituency upon workmen's compensation, and more interest has been shown in that particular problem than in many others which I have brought forward.
§ Mr. Higgs
I had a meeting after that, and I explained what I had said, and I do not withdraw a word of what I said last year. Another year has passed, conditions are altered, and now my opinion has altered with those altered conditions. I agree without any hesitation that 30s. is not enough. I am repeating what I said last year, that 30s. is not enough. Again repeating what I said last year, I say that industry can stand a modification in an upward direction. All the employers to whom I have spoken agree that they are prepared to stand the increase. If they are insured in a mutual society, their premium is to some extent based upon the claims, and if a factory is efficient and there are not many claims, then one w ho is insured in that type of society gets the benefit. If the compensation is increased, and the employer is insured in a mutual society, his premiums do not necessarily increase.
I consider that this modification is not a war Measure. Since I have been in the House, hon. Members opposite have brought forward two or three—I think it is three—Bills to deal with this problem, and all of those Bills have been based on the original Measure. I agree that this is the most pressing legislation necessary, but if hon. Members had been more reasonable in their demands and had produced a Bill which could have been accepted by the employers and the employés, the Government would have had very great difficulty in not accepting it. The Bill of 1937 was an impracticable proposition. I repeat what I said in the House 12 months ago. The liabilities of the employer would have been unknown. It would have been practically impossible for an employer to accept men unless they passed a medical examination, and men with large families would not have received consideration from employers. There would have been unlimited medical expenses. I am not withdrawing what I said. I think the hon. Member opposite has my speech.
§ Mr. Higgs
It is much easier to criticise a Bill, I agree, than to construct one, but, on the other hand, this problem has been so pressing that had those hon. Members' enthusiasm for reform not run away with their reason, we should probably have legislation of a 1055 satisfactory character on the Statute Book to-day.
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Member should remember that, in addition to the Bill to which he refers, there was a Motion before the House by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) almost in the terms of the Motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) this afternoon. The Government found it easy to turn ii down, and the House defeated it only by the narrow majority of one. My hon. Friends have tried in every possible way to meet every viewpoint on this matter, but so far they have been unable to succeed.
§ Mr. Higgs
I was dealing with the Bill when I said that we should have had a satisfactory Measure if hon. Members had been reasonable. As to the Motion, the nearness of the Division shows the desire of this House to get some improved legislation on this matter. Workmen's compensation is more important than unemploymert insurance. Workmen do not injure themselves for the sake of compensation, but, as the Act stands to-day, an unemployed man with three children receives more than a man who is disabled.
Now, with regard to the rates of compensation, I am not afraid to state what I consider they should be. Workmen's compensation has not kept pace with other legislation, such as the Factories Act and National Health Insurance. Where I find an anomaly in the present rate of remuneration—not the total value of the remuneration—is that when a fellow is getting 25s. a week he receives 75 per cent. of his wage; when the wage is 35s. a week, the compensation is reduced to 61 per cent. of the wage. When he gets 45s. a week, the compensation is reduced to 53 per cent. of his wages, and when he gets 50s. a week it is reduced to 50 per cent. of his wages. That graduation is in the wrong direction. The more money a fellow gets the older he generally is, and the greater are his responsibilities. If there is to be graduation it should go up as the fellow's wages increase. I prefer a straightforward percentage of wages rather than this graduation, for which I can see no reason at all. Hon. Members have referred to the conditions existing in the Dominions in 1056 regard to workmen's compensation. I would refer them to France, Belgium, the United States—
§ Mr. Higgs
Yes, and Germany, where they get approximately two-thirds of their weekly wages. The maximum should be increased from £1 10s. to £2 10s. Look at the OFFICIAL REPORT; I said £3 last year. I modify it because I consider that we are more serious about the problem, although I have always been serious about it. I consider that the Government are much nearer doing something on this occasion and that a £2 10s. maximum would be a very reasonabie figure. I suggest that compensation should not be less than 75 per cent. Many hon. Members on this side of the House are among those who will have to pay this compensation, but we are willing to do so. The nation is doing it at the present moment. If it is not being paid by the employers, it is being paid by the State or by local government. Those fellows have to live. It gives them a great sense of respectability if they are getting compensation and are not on charity, as has already been said from the other side of the House.
The present method of calculating the average wage is too complicated. It takes an average of 52 weeks and pays on that basis, but very few fellows can say what they had during the last 12 months, and they cannot check it over. The fellow at the bench is not a mathematician; he would not be there if he were. The simpler way to make things better for all concerned is that the rate of compensation should be based, not upon the last week's pay, but upon the last full week's pay. That is the simplest method of doing it. You get heaps of cases where men have left one job and gone to another and have changed their employer half a dozen times, particularly in the building industry. That makes it impossible to arrive at the amount of compensation which should be paid under the present law. I suggest also that the payment of compensation to the widow should be increased from £300 to £500 maximum.
I wholeheartedly support compulsory insurance. They have it in the mining industry, but why should that industry be picked out for it? I have made inquiries of certain insurance companies, 1057 and am informed that the cases of bankruptcy are not excessive. If we are to modify the law let us do it in the best way we can and make it all compulsory. The fellows that default have no business to be in industry. It is that sort of fellow we want to catch. He is the sort who does not fence his machinery properly and who is likely to have many more minor accidents than those which he reports. If the applicant is aggrieved, an appeal against the finding of the certified surgeon has to be made by 10 days. Ten days can be extended by another seven days, but the appeal has to be made within 10 days, and, considering that the certificates have to go to the workmen, the employer, the broker, and the insurance company, the period is altogether too short.
As I have said before, workmen's compensation will not cure accidents; it is co-operation that will do that. In 1937 £6,500,000 was paid out in workmen's compensation, but the bright spot on the horizon is this; that, in 1913 the average disability payment was £5 16s., and in 1923 it had increased to £14. I give those figures in order to show that the workman is at present getting some consideration and that we, the employing classes, are not those hard-driving classes that a lot of people think we are. We are all human, and we all have sympathy for tile worker. Vices and virtues are not by any means confined to one class. From 1933 to 1937 payments in respect of death increased from £222 to £282.
I agree that we want this legislation modified at the earliest possible moment. I hope the Government have listened to the criticisms from both sides of the House. They do not know the attitude of the employer so well as some of us, but I can assure them that there is a g real desire for a modification in an upward direction, and no opposition at all. I think it would be one of the simplest pieces of legislation with which this House has had to contend. A solution of a problem of this description would be for the good of the Government, and I hope that they will take advantage of the suggestions which have been made. Another example of the consideration show n to workmen is that 75 per cent. of those cases taken to court are adjudged in favour of the worker. In 1920 there were nine fatal cases in every 20,000 employes, and in 1937 that figure 1058 was reduced to six. I must remind hon. Gentlemen that in regard to workmen's compensation the employer pays the whole of the premium, and he is not always responsible for any accidents that occur; a number of them are due to carelessness. As I said at the commencement of my speech, employers can reduce accidents by taking precautions, not merely by conforming to the letter of the Factory Act, but probably by going a bit further. Two or three years ago the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) advocated a contributory scheme. I do not advocate that, but I do think the Royal Commission should not overlook investigation, and if we can do anything by way of simplification it is desirable that that should be done, for instance, by combining this employers' liability with national health insurance and so forth.
When passing legislation we never seem to endeavour to simplify the problem. If we can simplify it, let us do so. Many people have no idea of the columns that we employers have in our wage-sheets every week; if these things can be put together and be simplified we are directly and indirectly cheapening production. This is no party problem. The solution is simple. I hope the Government will go ahead, that at an early date we may have some satisfactory solution to the question of the present rate of compensation and that we shall have no further delay. I repeat that it is the wish of the employers that the modification should be made forthwith.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Hicks
I support the Motion standing in the name of my party. I urge the Home Secretary to review this matter before finally accepting the Amendment which I understand he has expressed his willingness to accept. The hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs) has expressed in very generous terms the attitude of himself particularly and, if he is representative, of many employers in industry who would willingly agree to a substantial increase in the maximum amount of weekly compensation. I feel sure that if one had the opportunity of assessing the whole of the local sentiments of hon. Members who are here to-day, added to my party's Motion it would enable this Motion to be carried adequately to-night, and I hope the Government will not insist upon their Members taking a 1059 line of action to support that which the Home Secretary has apparently found himself able to accept.
The statement by the hon. Member for West Birmingham, that 75 per cent. of the cases taken through the courts were adjudicated in favour of the injured workmen, is, I believe, substantially true. I believe our county court judges do what they can in the main to assist injured workmen. On the other hand, before an injured workman can go before the county court judge an enormous expense has frequently to be incurred by the unions to get the necessary medical and legal advice. In the union of which I am honoured to be the general secretary I have always 300 live cases in my office to be reviewed every week in order to see that their weekly compensation is being continued or, when application is made to reduce the weekly amount or to terminate it and other necessary arrangements have to be discussed between the insurance companies and ourselves. That number is substantial. I would appeal to the House to respond to the request that has been made for increased compensation. Over a number of years I have listened in this House to many Debates initiated chiefly by my own party when Bills have been proposed or Motions moved. At the Trades Union Congress this matter has been discussed frequently and they have urged the importance of giving the necessary support in this direction for those in industry.
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) made a fine speech, upon which I congratulate him. He pointed out some of the human sides of the matter, to which I do not propose to refer because they have been covered adequately during the day. The excellent speech he made ought to convince the Government of the necessity of giving something more. We are not asking for something new. Before the war the need for this was understood and accepted. It was because of the need for some provision that the Royal Commission was appointed. Among the most important proposals at that time was that certain parts of the law should be altered. Some of the lawyers have said to-night that neither the Act nor the regulations were sufficiently clear. I am not skilled enough in these matters to deal with that myself, and I 1060 generally take the opinion of those with professional qualifications to interpret the Acts. But the main purpose of the recommendations was to increase the amount of compensation to be paid.
These unfortunate victims of disability have for years had to exist in a state of semi-poverty. Now, with the increase in the cost of living, that condition is intensified. Surely it is not too much to ask that they should receive some help. Many have had to obtain public assistance. My own legal department have reported that men receiving compensation have had to apply in increasing numbers for public assistance. They do not tell me that to cheer me up, but to show that there is need for an increase in the scales of compensation. The hon. Member for West Birmingham referred to the industry with which I am associated, and the casualties among those employed in it. I suppose that, on the average, six weeks would be the term of employment of building operatives in this country, and after a man has finished one job it is usually several days before he is able to find employment again. As a result of this, the average wages of many skilled craftsmen are brought below the level of 30s. a week. There is in my office plenty of evidence of that. Can the usual cry that "industry cannot afford this" be honestly put forward in this case?
What is the position so far as the insurance companies are concerned? Most employers are insured; or if they are not, they ought to be. I would make insurance compulsory, if possible, for every employer of labour. There are many instances in my own industry of people who start in a humble way, with a wheelbarrow and a ladder, and employ a man or two. Many of them have no money with which to meet claims for compensation. A person working for himself may have the right to please himself about the risks he takes, but when he is employing others he ought to be made to produce evidence that he can meet any claims for compensation or be insured. I have to insure about 65 people who work in my own office, and the procedure when an insurance company's representatives go to an employer is that they ask for the total wages bill—not the wages bill of those people who are receiving £3 a week or less; if they did that there would be no insurance at all in my office, because all 1061 the employés there are receiving more than £3 a week. It is the total wage bill that the insurance companies ask for, and upon which they base the insurance premium. The premium is fixed on a percentage basis. When there is any general increase in wages—as there has been recently, though not to a great extent—the premium is adjusted according to the increase, but the liabilities of the insurance companies are not increased.
I think that is an important point. It is not a question of the burden that would fall upon industry, but of how the insurance companies, out of the total amounts they collect in premiums, will meet this liability. When the rate of wages falls below £3 a week, the weekly compensation paid is less than £1 10s. That is another point to remember. When the insurance company insure the employer upon this basis, although the premium is still paid on the collective amount of wages, the compensation paid is less. We are not asking for something new. It has been stated several times that in 1917 there was an increase of 25 per cent. and in 1919 there was an increase of 50 per cent., making a total increase of 75, per cent. The Royal Commission have now been instructed, we are told, to resume and speed up their inquiries. How many months must elapse before the Royal Commission will give us a report?
§ Mr. Hicks
As my hon. Friend says, it may be years before they will have examined this question adequately and brought forward a report that will command the support of all sides in this House. We are receiving urgent requests from members who are receiving weekly compensation payments to try to settle for them on payment of lump sums, because they cannot live on the compensaton that they now get. We know from experience how willing insurance companies are to take advantage of people who are in such a desperate plight. Anyone who says that that is not true is stating what is not the fact. As a trade union, we are doing our best to give advice, and, in so far as we can, we try to prevent men from making unfortunate and improvident settlements through poverty.
The Amendment, if carried, would result in interminable and indefinite delay. Just imagine if this matter is referred to 1062 the Trades Union Congress and the Employers' Confederation. How long would it take us to get down to a discussion, and to be in a position to recommend to the Government an increase in workmen's compensation scales? No employer would be able to speak without consulting the industry he represents, in order to get a representative point of view which he could put forward with any degree of reliability. It must take months, and perhaps even years, before it would be possible to get authority to make some recommendation. If we speak to the individual employers in the confederation they generally say, "I am in favour myself, but I must consult my industry." They ought not to be denied the opportunity of doing that.
Then, it is proposed to devise a temporary scheme of workmen's compensation "for meeting cases of hardship." Every compensation case is one of hardship. There must be degrees of hardship. Some cases may be harder than others, but there is not one that is not a case of hardship and we must recognise that fact as the fundamental basis of the examination of this problem in any shape or form. Who is to determine whether a particular case comes within the definition of hardship? What is the standard upon which we are prepared to treat hardship? What is hardship? It is so indefinite and difficult. It is a mistake for the Government to lend their ear at all to introducing into workmen's compensation any definition of hardship. They ought not to do that. In view of all the experience that the Government have had in dealing with unemployment benefit and public assistance, they ought not to introduce the principle here. That sort of thing has not been introduced into workmen's compensation as far as I know at any time previously. If the Government are prepared to accept a means test at the Income Tax level we will consider it, but if they want to go lower than that so that the investigations would become evil, nasty and inquisitive, they ought to be ashamed of lending their ear to such a proposition. An inquiry would be followed by prying into family and private life. It would be too mean.
I know that all good people in this House and outside are agreed that the amount of compensation payable to-day is inadequate. We want the Government to agree to increase it. It would not be 1063 a burden upon industry in the way that many statements that have been made have tried to indicate. If the Government neglect this opportunity they will be doing an injustice to the workers in industry, and if they try to introduce any other method of inquiry by means test, it will lead to tricks and subterfuges on the part of the workmen in order to get round the position, and the honest man will very likely be left behind. I appeal to the Home Secretary not to agree to accept this principle. I am sure that it is wrong, and he will fail if at any time, and in any circumstances, he agrees to allow a means test to be introduced into this question of workmen's compensation.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson
I do not intend to take up very much time of the House, but I am very anxious not to give a silent vote on this very important problem. I do not want to speak of it as a legal problem but as a human problem. I have listened very carefully to the whole of the Debate, and I agree with those speakers who have said that it is not a party question—certainly it ought not to be a party question—as to whether the maximum possible rate of 30s. a week for compensation for accidents should remain or should be increased. Therefore, the only question, it seems to me, that this House has to decide is whether the Motion put forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) or the Amendment is the better way of dealing with the problem. I want to say at the outset that some good anyhow will come of this discussion to-day because, either the House will accept the Motion put forward from the Opposition benches, in which case there will be an immediate increase, or at any rate the Amendment will be accepted, and that, we are told, will be followed by action, which will deal with what are called hardships. But I cannot help feeling that a great deal of what has been said in favour of the Amendment is really a very strong case for the Motion.
The hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson), who introduced the Amendment, and spoke with considerable knowledge, and with a great deal of sympathy, seemed throughout the whole of his speech really to be making a very strong 1064 plea for immediate action, and though he said that the intention of the Amendment was not to delay—and, of course, I accept that statement—I am quite satisfied in my own mind that in point of fact it is bound to mean delay. Therefore, I personally prefer the action recommended by the original Motion moved from the other side of the House. We have been told that in the last seven years there have been 21 Debates on this subject. Surely, after 21 Debates in seven years, the time has arrived when the Government ought to be in a position to make up their mind that action should be taken. I think that one can apply to this problem the words which the Prime Minister has applied with regard to the German Government. He has said, with general agreement, that this is a time not for words but for deeds, and I think that, as there is general agreement that a maximum of 30s. is quire inadequate, really the Government could agree to accept a Motion which says that there shall be an immediate increase in the rates payable.
The hon. Member who introduced the Amendment put forward what he described as a constructive scheme dealing with the evils, which everybody agrees exist at the present, in the workmen's compensation law. He said that he was putting that forward at his own suggestion and that he had not the authority to say that the Government would accept it, but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in his speech, said that it was not possible to accept the particular proposals because they were too complicated, and that what the present situation demanded was a simple way of dealing with an admitted evil. What more simple remedy for the state of things that exist to-day can there be than an all-round immediate increase in the flat rate? The Amendment claims that it will deal with cases of hardship, but it is generally agreed that under the present compensation law cases of hardship are not the exception; they are the rule, and that an all-round increase in the flat rate is the most effective and immediately practicable way of removing such hardships as exist, or, if not of removing them, at least of lessening them. The hon. Member who introduced the Amendment, quoting Goldsmith, said quite rightly that there were many evils that could not be cured by Act of Parliament. We will all agree 1065 with that, but it is the duty of Parliament —and indeed that is one of the reasons why Parliament exists—to cure such evils as it can.
I submit that, if we were to accept the Motion which has been moved from the Opposition Benches this afternoon, it would go as far as is immediately practicable in removing an evil, which, it is admitted on all sides of the House, does exist. The Amendment, inevitably, must result in delay. We have not been told what the Government proposals are or w hat they are going to discuss with the representatives of industry. These discussions are bound to take considerable time and we do not know, in the event of a deadlock, whether action will be taken. I submit that the evil has gone on too long, that the social conscience, which is much more sensitive now than it used to he, is not satisfied with the admitted evils of the present compensation law and that it does demand that the Government should accept and recognise its responsibility in the matter. This subject has been discussed a great many times in this House. From all sides it is admitted that while there are a great many problems which have to be dealt with under the present compensation law, there is an outstanding evil—the rate of compensation which is causing suffering all the time and which can be remedied in a simple way, would appeal to the Home Secretary, in the interest of national unity, to recognise that a case has been made out for the acceptance of the Motion. If he can get up later in the evening and say he is prepared to respond to the appeals made to him it would be one more example of the vindication of the valuable pert that this House can play in the national life.
§ 7.43 P. m.
§ Mr. Bevan
I have sat here listening to the Debate from the first moment it started, and I am bound to say that I have become more and more alarmed. The reason for my alarm is the extent to which the two Oppositions appear to he unable to exercise any influence on the Government. This business of workmen's compensation has to be considered against the political framework of existing circumstances. Here we have an admittedly bad case. The Opposition has put down a Motion which ought never 1066 to have been needed. The Government should have acted long ago. One would have thought that, having regard to the self-evidence of the case, and the generous support it finds in all parts of the country and the House of Commons, the Government would have found itself able to cement the existing desire for national unity by immediately accepting the Motion. It would have caused rejoicing in the House and would have given inspiration to large numbers of people who believe that, at a time when the nation is making a common effort, there should be an attempt at dealing out common justice. But instead of that employers and insurance companies have proved stronger than the Government.
The Home Secretary stood up at the Box, not as the Minister for National Security, but as the spokesman for the insurance companies and the Federation of British Industries. What has the right hon. Gentleman said in the course of his speech? He said that the existing flat rate principle is all wrong, and if I put a plain question to him perhaps he will be good enough to reply. If the Opposition had not asked for this Debate would he have been moved to deal with that principle at once? Would he have waited until the Commission had reported before he dealt with the principle? Is it not a fact that that argument occurred to him after the Opposition had put the Motion on the Paper and that his concern for the flat rate principle is merely a method of dodging the issue before the House? The flat rate principle has been in existence ever since the Act came into force. If the flat rate principle is so bad why has he waited for this Motion and Debate? The evil has been there all the time.
It is clear that the right hon. Gentleman is doing a piece of political dodgery. What does he say? He says it is necessary to have consultations. With whom? Not with the trade unions, because they are in favour, not with the Opposition, because we put the Motion down, and not with the Independent Liberal party, because they support the Motion. With whom is he going to consult? With the insurance companies and the employers. He is going to ask what his masters want clone and it is all boloney for people to discuss this matter in this House as though we were merely discussing varieties of this principle or that. It is a 1067 power war—a tug of war between two forces, and the right hon. Gentleman is going to consult the people from whom he gets his mandate. It is no use attempting to conceal it behind words. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that these consultations are to be discussed upon a certain basis. He is not going to the Trades Union Congress, employers and insurance companies in order to ascertain how much increase can be agreed. He has said that any measures the Government bring forward must conform to a principle—the principle that there cannot be a general percentage increase. He means that at this time he is going to insult the Opposition and the trade unions by introducing a principle most repugnant to them.
The Government are taking advantage of the war to introduce Tory principles into legislation. They are doing it for old age pensions and now they are doing it for workmen's compensation. In other words the Tories do not mind what injury they do to the unity of the nation so long as they can secure a triumph for Tory principles. It is time that we told them we are not to have a continuation of cooperation so long as we are to be blackmailed by the national situation. The Opposition may as well make up its mind. We are being driven into a completely intolerable position by the action of the Government.
The right hon. Gentleman had a very bad case indeed to make to-day. The Government inspired the Amendment. Why? In order to have a rambling and desultory Debate which would divert public attention from the main issue—that men injured in industry to-day are half starved through trying to live on the compensation allowance. There is not an hon. Member on this side of the House who would not have been delighted to have discussed all these principles of insurance. We know more about them than anybody in the House, not excluding the lawyers. We have to teach lawyers on workmen's compensation; indeed, we have to pay them for the privilege of teaching them. But we have had a rambling discussion over a vast number of matters which have no concern at all with that issue.
§ Mr. Bevan
I did not intend to reflect on the Chair, but it is almost a superhuman task for the Chair to keep a Debate always strictly to the point. There is no doubt that the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment have taken advantage of the occasion to be as discursive as possible and have strewn the Floor of the House with a whole shoal of red herrings in the hope that we should pursue them. We want to bring the Home Secretary back to the real point, and that is that it is not a matter of 30s. but that the overwhelming majority of workers get 24s. and 25s. and 26s. a week. We ask the Home Secretary to do what was found to be practicable last time, that is, to put a percentage increase on the lot. What does he do? Instead of that he does what I have never known a Minister do before. There is a Royal Commission sitting dealing with a very complicated piece of our legislative structure. It is bound to take a long time. The principles upon which workmen's compensation are based have been there since 1897 without any important modification in their general structure. The Royal Commission can come to a useful conclusion on general principles only if the area of that legislation is at the moment undisturbed, and not impinged upon any other principles.
The Home Secretary in his desire to dodge the issue of raising workmen's compensation rates at once is going to introduce a principle which will disturb the whole area of workmen's compensation. It will disturb all the actuarial calculations, all the tables will be falsified, because you will have to have some years of experience of the working of these differential rates which are indicated before you know their actuarial results. You may not even know then. The distribution of compensation payments to families of different sizes is bound to have an effect on the income side of any insurance calculations. The right hon. Gentleman is going to disturb the whole area of workmen's compensation and pro vide a framework, a setting, for the Royal Commission which reduces its calculations to the minimum of predictability. That is a monstrous proceeding. All the Government need have done in order to satisfy opinion in all parts of the House, and certainly in the trade unions, is to have accepted the simple principle of an increase in the flat rate. The right hon. 1069 Gentleman has not made out his case at all and is treating the Opposition in an irresponsible fashion.
May I speak even more bluntly? What is going to be the effect in Yorkshire, in South Wales and in Durham, when we have to report on this matter? The figures of profits made by insurance companies are monstrous. The employers of Great Britain are at the moment making exorbitant profits. Is the Under-Secretary, a coalowner, going to get up and defend the principle that injured colliers should be subject to a means test in the middle of a war? If this is the Government that is going to fight the war, then the sooner we get rid of them the better. They are providing Lord Haw Haw with excellent material. These proposals will be bitterly resented in every trade union and in every industrial community. Does the Under-Secretary realise exactly what is meant by the principle which he is going to defend? The Home Secretary used the phrase "necessary to bring workmen's compensation into conformity with the principles that govern the rest of our social services." That is the way the means test is wrapped up. It has been introduced into unemployment assistance, it is proposed to introduce it into old age pensions, and into dependants' allowances, and now it is proposed to introduce it into workmen's compensation. That is the meaning of the phrase.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that when he begins to touch workmen's compensation by the means test he is really touching a branch of our activities where the means test is bound to have the worst possible results? Does he appreciate that if he accepts the principles put forward by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) that you should have ad hoc schemes in industry and you have a means test, it is a direct encouragement to employers not to employ men with large families? Do not answer us by saying that employers are good-natured, because we know that is bunkum. We have had too much experience of them. We know what happens in the mining industry when young men become of an age t3 earn higher wages. They are dismissed. Do not suggest to us that employers, when considering the premiums which they have to pay to insurance companies, will not reduce their premiums by selecting from the labour market those work- 1070 men who will have the least insurance if they are injured. That is the case where insurance companies are concerned. But some employers have their own indemnity society. In South Wales the coalowners pay premiums for fatal and serious accidents. As I have said, many employers have their own indemnity schemes and the right hon. Gentleman is going to give them a vested interest in not employing husbands with large families because if they are injured they will get more workmen's compensation.
The House may think I am exaggerating, but in what I say I am speaking from experience. It is true that in some industries they might send young men, who would not get much compensation, to do the most dangerous tasks. I have seen even that happen. Therefore, the introduction of a means test into this branch of legislation might lead to endless repercussions and consequences. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to pause. If this principle is to be introduced, let it be introduced after mature consideration by the Statutory Commission, where all the aspects could be challenged. Do not introduce it hurriedly in this manner after the consultations that have been suggested.
Most of the arguments that can be made on this matter have been made already in the Debate, and in conclusion there is only one thing I want to say. There is no matter which causes greater bitterness at the present time than this one. If a man comes home from the pit, suffering from weakness caused by loss of blood —and almost every accident involves the loss of blood—he is very lucky if he can get 30s. a week in compensation. With short time, many accidents and much sickness, it is very difficult to earn an average of ģ3 over the previous 12 months. Therefore, the man gets less than 30s. a week. He cannot go to the public assistance authority without being subjected to a family means test, and in any case the public assistance authority will not give him anything for a little while, because he has just been working. Thus it happens that during the time he is suffering from loss of blood and needs more money than he did when working, he gets less money.
When the Home Secretary discusses hardship, he must take a number of factors into account. Does he mean hard- 1071 ship in the sense that when the injury is serious a man needs more nourishment than when the injury is less serious? Does he mean that a man living by himself should have more compensation, and that a man with a family is to have less compensation because his family can keep him? I assure the right hon. Gentleman that in introducing such a scheme he would throw an apple of discord into the whole of the trade union world. We have not seen very many hon. Members of the Conservative party here this evening. They packed the House last week when, in the Debate on agriculture, it was a question of the rents which the landlords get. They were here then, but they are not here now. I warn the Government that if they persist in this sort of attitude, they will create such a storm as will bring them down. We will not be blackmailed into acquiescence by any talk of patriotism, because we know that behind the patriotic cries of the Conservative party, hon. Members pursue their own party ends.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Levy
I have had an opportunity of listening to several of the speeches that have been made, and I should like to begin my remarks by contrasting the speech which we heard from the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) with the speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). The hon. Member for East Woolwich made a moderate and reasoned speech, but the speech to which we have just listened was wild, extravagant, over-stated every case, and was little short of abusive to every hon. Member who has spoken from this side of the House. During the last seven years we have had many Debates on this subject—one hon. Member said we have had 21—and I have had the privilege of taking part in the majority of them. I was one of those who advocated the setting up of the Royal Commission which is now sitting. All hon. Members recognised that the present Acts of Parliament dealing with workmen's compensation do not deal fairly with it, and we recognised that an improvement had to be made. There is no question that a review and consolidation of all the Arts of Parliament, together with the fresh legislation that will have to be introduced when we receive the report of the Royal Commission, should deal comprehensively 1072 with everything appertaining to workmen's compensation. There is no reason why deaths and injuries in industry should be less important than health and unemployment, and in health and unemployment the State takes a very deep interest.
The difference between the Motion and the Amendment is that the Motion calls for action to be taken at once, without any consultation with anybody. Obviously, industry as such ought to be consulted where its interests are concerned in exactly the same way as the trade unions ought to be consulted if their interests are concerned. The hon. Member for East Woolwich rightly said that if the Government were to introduce any Amendment, whether good, bad or indifferent, he would be one of the first—and quite properly so—to say that the trade unions ought to be consulted; and he said that if they considered the Government's action right, they would agree with it, and if wrong, disagree with it. I think every trade union leader will agree with that attitude. Surely, industry as such ought to be consulted and not ignored. Would the framework of any legislation which the Government introduced—for they are going to introduce legislation of a temporary character to deal with this subject pending the report of a Royal Commission—be any the worse if the Government had the good will of industry? Would it not be better? And assuming that they could not carry industry with them—which I doubt very much—then it would be up to the Government to introduce legislation without the consent of industry.
§ Mr. Levy
Is it not obvious? If I may say so, the hon. Member's interruption was quite irrelevant. The only difference between the Motion and the Amendment is that the Motion says, "Ignore industry, have no consultations whatever, bring in legislation off your own bat in order to create a rise in the compensation that is paid and which everybody agrees ought to be raised." That is the difference. I have been in business for a good many years, although 1073 I am not in business now, and I can say that there is no hon. Member, either on the employes' side or the employers' side, who has had anything to do with business who is not aware that workmen's compensation is acting very harshly at the present time. It needs amendment—
§ Mr. Levy
To-morrow? To-night? I complimented the hon. Member for East Woolwich on making a well-reasoned and balanced speech. I should like to pay that compliment to all hon. Members opposite, but certainly I cannot do so if they make extravagant cases, if they say, without any thought or consultation with anybody, "Do it now." I have always found that what you do in haste you repent at leisure. Any temporary Measure will have to be considered and balanced out, so as to carry with it, if possible, the good will not only of employers but of employes. Thus you will get legislation which can he worked with good will; otherwise you will not. I shall support the Amendment for the reasons I have given.
§ Mr. E. Smith
I see that the hon. Member on 19th November, 1937, voted in favour of the following—this is what the then Under-Secretary said in reply to the Debate at that time:I conclude by saying that when the reports of these Committees are received the Government intend to consider as early as possible any recommendations which they may make."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th November, 1937; col. 814, Vol. 329.]Then, on 8th February, 1939, these words were carried on the Motion of the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson):That this House … relies on the Commission to proceed with its work as quickly as possible.Yet the hon. Member still says that we want further inquiry.
§ Mr. Levy
No. I was one of those who advocated the setting up of the Royal Commission. I recognised that the Acts of Parliament dealing with the various aspects of compensation were not acting equitably. I felt that, instead of conflicting Acts, what was wanted was a reviewing and consolidating Act bringing all this legislation up to date and improving it so as to make the compensation com- 1074 prehensive, equitable and just. The Royal Commission has been set up and no Member of this House can say that it is possible to bring in comprehensive legislation before receiving the Commission's report.
§ Mr. Levy
I am trying to answer the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith). I repeat that I intend to vote for the Amendment because I do not see how I can be a party to asking the Government to introduce legislation which would ignore industry and without any consultation whatever with industry. I hope that when this question is put to the vote hon. Members will support the Amendment so that industry may have some voice in legislation which will affect employers as well as employed.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Hollins
It is rarely that I claim the indulgence of the House but I wish to do so on this occasion, because, like my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), I represent a trade union which has to deal with hundreds of compensation cases. In 1929 a silicosis scheme which affected 22,000 of our operatives was introduced, and in that connection I wish to emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith). It was unfortunate for our industry that when we were brought under that scheme, we had the deep depression of 1929 to 1932 and the result was that only a small percentage of our people came in for the full compensation of 30s. During the week-end I have been examining our ledgers for the years 1929–32. The silicosis cases in which there was total incapacity during those years numbered 182 and of that number only 50 received the total compensation of 30s. while 36 received between 25s. and 3os.; 78 received between 20S. and 25s. and 18 received under 20s. some being even below 15s. Stated in percentages the figures show that full compensation was received by 27 per cent.; while 20 per cent. received under 30s. and over 25s.; 43 per cent. received under 25s. and over 20s., and 10 per cent. received less than 20s. That was the result of the depression of that time and I was more than astonished at these figures which I think will also astonish 1075 the House. There has been some improvement during 1938 and 1939 because trade has been a little better. The average rate has gone up and in 37 per cent. of the cases total compensation was received in those years. We have lost all the cases receiving under 20S., and 42 per cent. are receiving between 25s. and 20s.
I hope that a Bill will be passed by this party when we come into power to provide that average earnings shall no longer be the basis of calculation for compensation but the normal earnings. Unless we get away from the basis of average earnings on to the basis of normal earnings, whatever increases may be offered by the Government, there will still be a very high percentage who will not be able to take advantage of those increases. I will give a case in point. In 1929 in one section of our trade, which afterwards had a very bad slump, men were earning £4 10s., £5 and £6 a week. There was one case of a man who would have gone on working had he not been tested by a medical board and informed that he had some silicosis, whereupon he decided to get out. That man had been getting £5 a week but the average earnings came to only 18s.11½ and his compensation worked out at about 14s. 10½d. a week. The firm offered him a light job at a labourer's wage, £2 6s, a week and he then got is. 10½d. a week compensation based on the difference between his pre-accident earnings and the labourer's rates of wages.
With regard to lump sum settlements, my hon. Friend the Member for East Woolwich and I can speak from experience, as can other hon. Members on this side. Most of us have had to deal with hundreds of these cases and to give the best advice we could. Sometimes our advice is not regarded as very acceptable. Sometimes men regard us as suggesting something to their disadvantage when we try to persuade them against accepting lump sum settlements. I could give cases in which, against my advice, men have taken lump sum settlements for the purpose of living on a standard a little higher than that to which they were accustomed, with the result that four or five years' compensation has been commuted and has all gone in two or three years leaving the man in a worse position than before. I have known other cases of men who 1076 have put £200 or £300 into speculative business. They have been caught by some sharp or other and the whole amount wiped out.
An hon. Member speaking during the Debate said that he would like to see the amount due to widows raised from £300 to £500. So would we all, but unless you remove the great injustice which is now in the Act, even if you raise the amount to £1,000, it will have very little effect, as far as the widows are concerned. I am referring to that part of the Act which states that all compensation which has been received by the husband, while alive, shall be taken into consideration. and thereby reduce the amount of compensation of £300 down to £200. I can never reconcile that with the widow, whose husband is killed, and therefore receives £300 without any reduction, to the case of the woman who has had to make sacrifices all through the years in providing extra nourishment, particularly in the cases of some of my own people suffering from silicosis, who, because the husband has had compensation. has her money cut down.
There is one further matter to which I should like to refer and which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for East Woolwich, and that is the question of compulsory insurance. I would like to call the attention of the Under-Secretary to the Compensation Act, 1925, Section 47, where there can be mutual arrangements between employers and employes for the purpose of creating a fund which can be managed by a joint committee of the operatives and employers jointly. This is working extraordinarily well in the refractories industries schemes in Yorkshire. The chairman of the committee and myself have talked this over and we have tried to advise the employers in the pottery industry to accept a similar scheme. I know one of the difficulties in the pottery industry is that in the old days there was a Potters' Insurance Company formed of pottery manufacturers to insure against the risk of lead poisoning and later silicosis came along. The same company took over this additional risk. The result has been that they will not allow any other manufacturers to come in, except under certain conditions, and they will not look at the question of having this mutual arrangement amongst the whole of the employers in the industry, jointly administered by 1077 operatives and employers. I would hope that the Act might be examined so that something could be done, and if we cannot do it by pressure then let us have some compulsion to bring in separate industries under similar schemes to the refractory industries scheme. If this had been the case we should not have had five or six terrible cases where employers have not insured their operatives. We have spent money in taking them into court, and where we have been successful we have found that there was no money to obtain. We have had a lump settlement in court of £662, but the firm was in liquidation and the sum total we could get after stocks had been sold was £120. In another case we got nothing because, as the old saying goes, "You cannot take a stocking off a naked leg." I will conclude by again calling the attention of the Under-Secretary to what I have previously mentioned. Out of 182 cases there were only 50 having full compensation and there were 78 receiving less than 25s. These are astonishing statistics. I hope the Minister will bear in mind that if we do get any increase on the amount of 30s. it will be useless in many cases I have mentioned unless there is a fresh basis of calculations.
§ 8.26 p.m.
I do not wish to speak to-Light in my normal capacity as one who has some connection with the Minister, but as a Private Member. I wish to speak not as one who has detailed knowledge of this subject, but simply as one who finds himself in a genuine difficulty as a loyal, or normally loyal, supporter of the Government. I am asked as a supporter of the Government to support this Amendment, and I do not think that I can fail to support it without offering some very brief explanation. I am aware that there is a very long past history to this question, and if on coming down to this House I had any intention of speaking I should have taken more pains in preparing my remarks, but having listened to the Debate, despite the fact that I did not intend to speak, I feel bound to do so now. It seems to me that what has happened is that as a result of long agitation and long dissatisfaction, which I have no doubt is well grounded, a Royal Commission has been eventually appointed. Had there been no war it would have been a long time before any 1078 result could have been reached, but owing to the war there have been no sessions of the Commission for some months, and it may be that their sessions will be further delayed through the war. On top of that it may be that the legislation which will follow the report of the Royal Commission will in its turn be greatly held up, and so we have an accumulation of delays for which no one is directly responsible and the result of which we have to face.
I believe that the Government support given to this Amendment is an attempt to try and meet that situation, but in listening to this Debate, I must confess that I have come to the conclusion that although the attempt is particularly well meaning it is none the less not well directed. This is not to say that I wish to suggest that all the arguments put forward by hon. Members opposite have been equally valuable. It has been easy to detect, however, that a large number of the arguments put forward by them were not put forward simply to defend their Motion against any Amendment, whatever it might be, simply because it was an Amendment, but were genuinely based on facts known to them and causing in their minds a feeling of grievance. That being so, what is to be done? I would like to ask the Government whether it is possible even now to consider making some concession. I do not know whether it is possible for them to go the whole length of supporting the Motion. I do not suppose it is. I do not know either whether it would be possible for hon. Members opposite to consider the Amendment in a slightly different way.
I realise that there are two main objections to the Amendment by hon. Members opposite. One is that it introduces further delays, and the other is that it introduces a new principle which they do not like. The delays would not be insuperable. Would it not be possible for the discussions which are mentioned in the Amendment to take place, not on the basis mentioned in the Amendment, that is to say, for meeting cases of hardship, but on the basis of trying to find some satisfactory scheme? Would it not meet the case if the words "for meeting cases of hardship "were omitted from the Amendment, so that the Amendment read, 1079discussions with representatives of industry with a view to devising a temporary scheme pending the receipt of the report of the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Silverman
I do not know whether the hon. Member was in the House when the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) moved the Amendment. If he was, he would have heard the interruption I made. Would it not be better, even from the hon. Member's point of view, instead of merely leaving out the words "for meeting cases of hardship," to substitute for them "for raising the rates of compensation"? No one on this side objects to discussions as to how that could be done as long as effect be given to the principle that the rate of compensation is to be increased.
I would not like to accept that suggestion. I would much rather that the discussion took place and that it was left open to the people taking part in it to try and find some way of providing a temporary basis for what must inevitably be a considerable length of time. As I see it, the basis now before us, which is supported by the Government, will not produce that result. The basis put forward by hon. Members opposite will not meet with general agreement. Would it not be possible therefore for the Government to say that they would like to see the discussion take place but that it should not necessarily take place on the basis of the Amendment?
§ 8.34 P.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
The House could not have listened to two speeches from the other side of the House in more striking contrast than the two to which we have just listened. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) made a speech which deserves warm appreciation from these benches, and we commend his courage in making it. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) has ever been psycho-analysed. If so, he was probably found to have a delaying complex. I am sure that if ever he reaches the celestial regions—and he knows more about the possibility of that than I do—and a Motion is proposed on the highest authority, he will move an amendment, "That the Motion be considered on this day six months." In my two or three years in the House I do not think there has been a Motion about workmen's compensation when the hon. 1080 Member has not moved or seconded or supported an Amendment and tried to do something other than doing something now in connection with a seriously urgent problem. I have always been an orderly Member of the House and hope to remain so, but to-night I feel strangely and strongly tempted to say things which I fear would not be regarded as orderly by Mr. Speaker. Many hon. Members on this side have, in the course of their long experience, been accustomed to deal with the hazards and fatalities in a way in which in my more sheltered occupation it may have been more difficult for me to become accustomed to until I came to represent a great mining constituency.
To-night's Debate has run true to type. It is a characteristic of the Tory party to be constantly in retreat, always to be discarding something of its Toryism, but discarding as little as possible, and always to be surrendering to popular demand or, in other words, always to be succumbing to political pressure when it becomes unpopular not to succumb to it. We have, therefore, had retreat to-night, a minor retreat, but a party, mean, and miserable retreat. We have had a succession of platitudinous and sententious speeches that meant nothing except to attempt to show the constituencies which the speakers represent that they are really kind-hearted gentlemen who want to do something about this matter but do not want to do it now.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) is not in his place. Perhaps other duties have called him away. He will probably be interested enough to read the Debate to-morrow, if only for the purpose of reading his own speech. He may, therefore, spend an idle moment or two in reading mine. The hon. Member told us that he had been in the House seven years and had either listened to or taken part in 21 Debates on workmen's compensation. I do not think he completed the list of his experiences, for if he had, he would have said that in connection with those Debates he voted in every possible way and made every possible kind and variety of speech. For instance, there was a major Bill before the House proposed by one of my hon. Friends. The hon. Member opposed it because it was a major Bill and went too far. Twelve months last November I had the luck to propose what might be 1081 called a minor Bill, and at the moment of its submission to the House the appointment of a Royal Commission had been announced. The hon. Member for Hitchin voted for my Bill. Subsequently there was a Motion before the House moved by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) which the hon. Member opposed and told against.
It therefore is the case that the House would not be in the position it is tonight if the hon. Member for Hitchin had voted consistently on the Motion proposed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kingswinford, because if he had voted on that Motion in the way in which he voted on my minor Bill, the Motion would have been carried by a majority of one, which would have put the Government in the dock and made them unable to face the withering scorn which would have fallen on them from all quarters for not having carried out the instructions of this House.
I have observed in this kind of Debate, the sort of Debate that, by its very nature, is likely to provoke warmth and indignation, the exercise on the part of Ministers and some Members opposite of a very special technique. When they get in a jam, they play what I call the flattering card. They compliment my hon. Friends on the wonderful restraint they have exercised in stating their case, the moderation of their language, the pleasing nature of their speeches. I desire to earn no such compliments and will do my best to make it difficult for anybody to pay me such a compliment. I regard the present position as a first-class scandal. In Debate after Debate, no matter how the Debate has gone, there has been in the House every evidence of anxiety and great disquietude. Nobody has been satisfied; nobody could be satisfied. From this side of the House, during the three years in which I have known it we have offered Government supporters every variety of opportunity of doing something, but they have stubbornly insisted upon doing nothing. Early in my membership of the House my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mt. Lee) submitted a Bill for the abolition of the doctrine of common employment and was kind enough to ask me to second it. It is an archaic doctrine, which has been criticised by bench and 1082 bar alike as entirely inappropriate to modern industry and large scale employment. It is a cruel doctrine, because it denies to the working man or his widow access to reasonable damages. The Bill was supported in every quarter of the House by lawyer and by layman. The Government opposed it, and it was dutifully defeated.
Then, some of my hon. Friends submitted what may be called a major Bill for the complete reorganisation of the whole system of workmen's compensation, drawn up by responsible industrial leaders and by eminent lawyers. The Government would not have it, and it was defeated. So, with the persistence worthy of a cause we seek to serve, we offered the Government a Motion in January of last year, drawn in terms which we hoped would not give hon. Members opposite a painful dose of class indigestion. It was again supported-by Members in every party in the House, but the Government opposed even a Motion, and so the Motion failed. I remember the occasion well—and I hope the precedent will not be repeated to-night, though I very much fear the defeat of my own hopes—because of the platitudinous and sententious speech made by the then Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department who is now the Secretary for Mines, who, in a performance that lacked every kind of intestinal fortitude, soporifically soothed the consciences of the majority of his own supporters.
Again we asked whether it was impossible to persuade the Government to do something in this matter. We tried once more to persuade them, and again we were defeated, defeated by the narrowest majority this House can register, a majority of one. Victory was coming our way, and the House was growing more and more uncomfortable, but still the Government insisted on doing precisely nothing. And so to-night, though it may be again in vain, the House is insisting upon the Government doing something with this problem. It should not hesitate to do something to meet the worst evils of a situation that grows steadily more tragic and more desperate, and I regret, and in this I may not carry all my hon. Friends with me, that the Home Secretary who has some reputation and some esteem in this House beyond most Members of the administration to which he belongs, 1083 should have made a speech to-night that has crashed all our hopes and has sent him to join the rest of his Ministerial colleagues who enjoy, or endure, not the esteem but the derision and the contempt of my hon. Friends on this side of the House in this matter.
There is a Royal Commission. My hon. Friends and I do not deny the necessity or the desirability of having a Royal Commission to consider certain major problems, such as the doctrine of public employment or a State scheme, but there are questions to be dealt with which need no Royal Commission to inquire into them, and on which we need no advice. In a speech in moving my Bill on the 28th November, 1938, I said: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 Nears for legislation implementing the recommendations to materialise and for another five or six years, therefore, these inadequacies would have to be endured by the people who are now suffering from them." —OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1938; col. 1226, Vol. 341.]This Debate resolves itself, in my mind, round simple questions. They are immediate questions. They are few and simple, and I put them in interrogatory form to the House in order that every Member may answer them for himself and cast his vote in the division Lobby according to the answers which he gives. Is 30s. a sufficient weekly income for a totally disabled man to feed, clothe and shelter himself and a wife and three children? There is a man in my division, a short-time worker, who is expected to do that on 28s. 2d. And thousands of men, for the same reason, are compelled to do it on even less than 28s. 2d. Does any hon. Member, does the Under Secretary of State for Home Affairs, think that 30s. is enough in those circumstances? Would anybody on the other side of the House like to make a martyr of himself by getting up and saying so; or an even greater martyr by trying to live on 1084 28s. 2d.? This man has two legs that are useless; he will never be able to use them again. He cannot garden or play cricket, or paint or paper his house, or walk abroad to enjoy the summer sunshine. He cannot do those things which hon. Members enjoy doing in every season of the year. Added to this infirmity, there is the horrible poverty, the grinding poverty, of an income of 28s. 2d. a week and the ignominy of a weekly visit to the public assistance committee. If 28s. 2d. or 30s. is not enough let us say so boldly and courageously to-night.
Take the fatal cases. I am not a miner, but I represent a great mining constituency, and in my Division somebody "goes" nearly every week. Three men went in Christmas week, and two men went the week before. They are all hardship cases. Hardly less tragic are the cases of some of my friends working in the next stalls to the men killed. Even they, I think, in broad terms deserve some compensation. There were three in Christmas week, as I say, and two in the week before. Their widows cannot in any circumstances get more than —600 each, and there may be two or three or even 10 children depending upon them. Is that adequate? Has this House any right to add to the anguish of grief the tortures of physical starvation? Does any hon. Member opposite wish to make a martyr of himself by saying that £600 is enough in the circumstances? If so, I will cheerfully give way for martyrdom. We ought to be agreed about the horrible inadequacy of these payments and not to be arguing about a shameful and ternporising Amendment such as that proposed by the hon. Member for Hitchin. The one thing that can be safely prophesied about the work of the Royal Commission is that the Royal Commission will also agree that these amounts are shockingly and horribly inadequate. The probability is that that will not happen for a year or two.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his speech to-day because of one thing. I have been trying at various conferences of my party to persuade my friends that there is no political truce. If there had been one, that speech would have ended it. It would have torpedoed it. It would have sent it sky-high. It would have made it absolutely plain that, whatever our common purpose may be 1085 about the war and the war objective, there is no bridging the wide gulf between this side of the House and that side; between this side, believing in ever-widening measures of social justice and equity, and that side, believing in keeping as long as it can without endangering its political prestige all the social inequities and injustices that are bound up with the present system of society. I have no desire to use language that would be exaggerated to the occasion, but I must say that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman has done almost incalculable harm to the major purposes with which this country is now concerned, and that it will take a big effort on the part of the Government to repair the very serious breach that that speech has made.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Smith
I am beginning to despair of this House. As I have sat here during the whole of this Debate listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and to speeches made by hon. Gentlemen on the other side, I have been examining the OFFICIAL REPORT for the past few years. When I come to consider the way with which this question has been dealt, I get a little pessimistic.
§ Mr. Smith
When you come right out of the industrial centres where our people are suffering you cannot help speaking as I am speaking. Time after time promises have been made, and if I had time—I want to conclude as quickly as possible in order that my hon. Friend who is to wind up on our behalf may get up—I could produce documents to show the promises which the Government have made. Early in 1937, a deputation from the General Council of the Trades Union Congress waited upon the Home Secretary, who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He replied to that deputation. He said that they had set up at the Home Office a special workmen's compensation committee to make investigation. He went on to say:The Factories Bill will take all our time, but if there is a chance of getting on with workmen's compensation it will be taken laterThat was three years ago. In answer to a Question of mine on 22nd June, 1938, the Prime Minister replied: 1086I 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 had its report.Then he went on to say—and this is what I want to emphasise:I should not consider, on the other hand, that we should be debarred from introducing legislation dealing with particular aspects of the question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1938; col. 1063, Vol. 337.]The particular aspect of the question which we want considered at the present time is that immediate action should be taken to deal with the urgent and growing necessity of increasing the rate of compensation payable.
During the brief time that I have at my disposal I want to concentrate upon making a special appeal for the victims of silicosis. In the district which I have the honour to represent it is common to see living corpses walking about, the men and women suffering from silicosis. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hanley (Mr. Hollins) stated, there have been great improvements in the past few years by the introduction of new processes and as a result of the attention which the Home Office, the employers, and the trade unions have given to this question; but we cannot expect to get benefit from these improvements for many years. Our people are still suffering as a result of the neglect of the past, and we say that they ought not to be suffering in that way. They are suffering and dying from this deadly industrial disease.
The people who suffer mostly from silicosis are the miners, the sandstone workers, and the pottery workers. In addition, more of our people are suffering as a result of contracting a relatively new industrial disease known as asbestosis. Despite the fact that the disease is found within the limits of the firms which have a monopoly, the relative profit that these firms are making is higher than in any other section of the industry, but their people are suffering in the same way as those in less prosperous industries.
In recent times there has been, in the area which I represent, an initial examination of 357 people, bringing the total up to 1,500. Examinations for disablement certificates have been 89 in the past month, yet, after passing through the medical and legal quibbles and all that they mean, only 41 certificates were 1087 granted. Having secured total disablement certificates, these men and women find that only 42 out of the 48 have been granted compensation at death. The average age of death was 56 years. These figures portray the terrible suffering in this locality. It takes place principally in South Wales and North Staffordshire, and we say it is time that the Government dealt with this very serious question. I am speaking within limits as narrow as possible, and I say it is essential that when this question is being examined it is urgent that the very best attention should be given to dealing with this deadly industrial disease.
In order that a certificate may be obtained from the medical board, it is first of all necessary to go through a long, legal struggle. Then there is a long, legal battle, if you are a member of a trade union, between the legal representative of the union and that of the employers. It means also a tussle with the medical board, and in many cases, even when compensation has been paid while the person is living, the dependants have to go through a long legal tussle in order to obtain a death certificate, despite the fact that death has been attributable to silicosis. I have been dealing with a case during the last few weeks in which a man died of silicosis from which he had been suffering for 15 years and up to the time of his death. Owing to the fact that the medical man put upon the death certificate, "Tuberculosis, a growth in the lung, and silicosis," it has been impossible for the dependants of this man to obtain compensation. We, therefore, say that the present arrangements are totally unsatisfactory. If a person has contracted silicosis, that should be sufficient evidence for compensation. If a person dies from silicosis, whether it is accompanied by any other disease or not —whether or not that death is due to silicosis—there should be compensation.
We need a complete review of legislation in relation to industrial diseases. This is why we stress the importance and the urgency of this question. We say that the most important and urgent question is the increase of the rates for workmen's compensation, and the reason we do that is because of the concrete evidence which has been provided by the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) and by the hon. Member for Hanley as 1088 well as by the legal department of my hon. Friend who represents Motherwell (Mr. Walker). Here are some concrete examples which they published in "Iron and Metal" a short time ago. The highest earnings of one of their members in a week was £3 4s., yet owing to the method of computing the weekly earnings, his workmen's compensation is only £1 13s. Another example is that of a tin-plate roller, a very highly skilled man, whose highest weekly earnings, according to their department, were £3 17s. 11d. Yet, owing to the method of ascertaining the average weekly earnings under workmen's compensation, that highly skilled man's average earnings were only £1 15s. 6d.
§ Mr. S. 0. Davies
Would my hon. Friend allow me to interrupt? Surely he is referring to the average weekly wage on which his compensation was fixed, which determined the amount of compensation, which must have been very substantially below 30s.
§ Mr. E. Smith
Despite this, owing to the maximum being 30s. a week, they are not able to draw even the average of their weekly earnings. Therefore, we say the method of ascertainment should be by taking the average earnings in a full week over a full month, and not the method adopted at the present time. As I have already said, we could produce documentary evidence to show that in answer to deputations Home Secretary after Home Secretary has promised that this matter would be dealt with during the past 10 years. Debate after Debate has taken place in this House. For example, I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) introducing a Bill one Friday, and on the other side Member after Member, particularly members of the legal profession, getting up and saying, "If only you had left this out," or "If only you had left that out, we would have supported you."
A few weeks after I attended a special compensation committee held under the auspices of the Trades Union Congress, and I remember a debate taking place as to what attitude should be adopted when another of my hon. Friends had the privilege of introducing a Bill. It was agreed that it was necessary to get even 1089 the minimum improvements that we could obtain in this House, having regard to its present personnel, and although I did not like it I agreed, in order that some immediate benefits could be brought to our people. When every objection had been cut out, hon. Members on the other side again got up and said, "If you had only left this out," or "If you had only left that out."
So it has gone on for the past 10 years, and we say that the time has now arrived when there should be no further compromise on this question, when our people cannot afford to wait any longer. The temper and the spirit of our people have been reflected in the speeches of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), and in those of other hon. Members, and unless this question is dealt with in a relatively short time, the temper and the spirit of the people will be reflected in the industrial centres to an extent of which the Government are not aware.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
In a speech to which we listened some time ago the Home Secretary said he was not sure whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), in the speech he made, had doubted the good faith of the Government. I will commence by saying that I will impeach the good faith of the Government—[An HON. MEMBER: "All three of them"]—all three of them—and I hope I shall be able to prove my reasons for doing so to the satisfaction of hon. Members on that side of the House and to the satisfaction of the injured men in this country. What is the setting of this Debate? Many hon. Members have said this is the fourth, the fifth, or the tenth Debate which they have attended on workmen's compensation. I do not know how many I have taken part in, but they have been many. I do know that there has not been a single Debate in which those on the other side have dared attempt to justify their attitude in this matter. On each successive Debate there has been an admission.
I will ask the Under-Secretary of State, who will reply to-night, a straight question on behalf of the injured men. Are the present rates satisfactory? It is because the Government were driven in the end to admitting that they were not 1090 satisfactory that they had to resort to a time-saving device and appoint a Royal Commission. When the Prime Minister announced in this House that a Royal Commission was to be set up, hon. Members on the Front Bench, on the back bench, and in other parts of the House pressed the Prime Minister in a series of Supplementary Questions, and in particular they pressed him on this particular point. The Government were appointing a Royal Commission with very wide terms of reference to deal with the problem of workmen's compensation in all its aspects and to deal also with the problem of employers' liability. That is a very big task and will take a long time. In the meantime, while they are sitting and discussing the evidence presented before them, does the appointment of this Royal Commission prevent this House passing legislation to deal with the urgent problems of compensation? The Prime Minister gave a pledge to the House that the House was entitled to pass legislation to deal with urgent problems. I say, therefore, that the Amendment moved here to-night is a betrayal of the pledge made by the Prime Minister to the House of Commons.
My second point is that the acceptance by the Government to-night of the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) is also a betrayal. We are asking to increase the amount, and that is a matter for argument but not for to-night; it is neither in the Motion nor in the Amendment. Whether we ought to reconstruct workmen's compensation, take it to the court, revise it, or build up a new structure are problems for the Royal Commission. We did not ask for the appointment of the Royal Commission, neither did the Trades Union Congress. It was the Government who appointed it, and the Government therefore have obligations.
I am sorry the Home Secretary is not here; I think he ought to be here. The Government asked the Royal Commission to examine this whole problem of workmen's compensation, and to recommend, if they thought fit, any changes in the structure and principles of workmen's compensation. The Government have tonight accepted a change in the principles without consulting the Royal Commission. That, I say, is a betrayal of the Royal Commission. When an hon. Member was speaking, the hon. Member 1091 for Hitchin rose to a point of Order, to ask whether that hon. Member, having been a member of the Royal Commission, had a right to take part in the Debate. It is not for me to give an opinion on that; you, Sir, ruled on it, as it is your place to do so. But I ask, What right have the Government to change the principles of the Workmen's Compensation Acts without consulting the Royal Commission? What they have accepted to-night introduces a new principle, and I believe, a vicious one; and an indefensible one, as I shall seek to show later.
I am not mincing my words, and I make no apology for that. The Home Secretary has said something else tonight which has prejudiced the work of the Royal Commission. He has stated that 30s. per week is enough, not in all cases, but in some. Is not that a question that the Royal Commission has to decide? The Government said, when the Commission was set up, "We are not going to decide whether 30s. a week in compensation is right or not; that is a matter for the Royal Commission." If that is so, what right has the Home Secretary to stand up here and defend a scale of 30s.? The Home Secretary, on behalf of the Cabinet, I presume, and after mature consideration, stands up and says, first, that they accept a new principle which must prejudge the issue that the Royal Commission has to investigate, and, then, that it is only in some cases that 30s. is inadequate, and that in other cases it is ample. That is much more than a betrayal of the Royal Commission; it is a betrayal of the injured men in this country. It is accepted in this House that the payments are inadequate. The one request which this House has pressed the Government to make to the Royal Commission has not been replied to tonight.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) and others have referred to the Prime Minister's pledge, and to the Debates which have taken place since that pledge. One of those Debates was on a Motion such as we are discussing to-night, and on that occasion we were defeated by one vote. That was 12 months ago, when the situation was very different from what it is now. If we are defeated to-night, the country will want to know why. On that occasion, it was agreed on all hands that the 1092 amount was inadequate, and hon. Members on the other side, who were in much more of a difficulty than we were, said, "How can we decide without hearing the views of the Royal Commission?" The Government, or whoever plans the strategy of the Government, found a way out for them. The Under-Secretary to the Home Office at that time was pressed on all sides—and by no one more strongly than by the hon. Member for Hitchin—that the Royal Commission should be requested to publish an interim report on the scales of payment. There was a promise that that desire of the House should be conveyed to the Commission. I would put a very simple question to the Home Secretary: Was that desire conveyed to them, and, if so, what did they decide? Did they or did they not decide that this was a question on which, not they, but the Government, ought to accept responsibility? It is a matter on which the Government should accept responsibility, and on which they should decide. Now that the Home Secretary is here, I will put this question again? Were the Royal Commission asked to present an interim report, and did the Commission reply that the question of what should take place in the interval before they presented the report was one for the Government to decide, arid that they had no responsibility for it?
§ Mr. Griffiths
What I said was that he undertook to convey to the Royal Commission what was the unanimous desire of this House. The date was 8th February, 1939. Every Member who spoke that night pressed that the Royal Commission should present an interim report on the scales, and the Under-Secretary promised that that should be conveyed to the Royal Commission. I presume, from the Home Secretary's reply, that no request has been made for an interim report.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Column 1080, of 8th February, 1939. The Under-Secretary said: 1093I cannot give my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Erskine Hill) the assurance which he would like"—that is the assurance about an interim report—but I think if he considers the matter further he will see that an expression of opinion by this House on the lines of the Amendment will really have more force than any request which I myself could make."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th February, 1939; col. 1080, Vol 343.]What was the request? It was a request for an interim report. That was the expression of opinion that was contained in the Amendment. It is true that the Amendment was not carried; it was talked out; but there can be no question that the feeling of the House was that an interim report should be asked for.
§ Mr. Peake
The lion. Member may read that into the decision taken by the House on 8th February, 1939, but it is obviously not the case that the Under-Secretary gave any undertaking that he himself would make any request to the Royal Commission. He expressly said that the opinion of the House would be more powerful than any request that he himself might make.
§ Mr. Griffiths
What the Under-Secretary undertook to convey to the Royal Commission was the general feeling of the House of Commons that an interim report should be presented. Was that desire of the House of Commons conveyed to the Royal Commission, and, if so, what was their reply? My whole point is this: It is tic good the Government hiding any longer behind the Royal Commission. This is a matter for the Government to decide. Hon. Members to-night must vote on their own responsibility; they cannot hide behind the Royal Commission. It was agreed that the rates were too low, and ought to he raised. We expected an interim report. The Home Secretary's speech to-night gave a clear indication that there is to be no report from the Royal Commission until they present their final report. The Commission have to look at the problem of common employment and at the problem of employers' liability—two great problems. No other Commission in recent years has had two such great problems to consider. How long will the Royal Commission have to sit before they present their final report? I suggest, not less than three years. Therefore, the problem that confronts this House to-night is whether, in the 1094 interval, we shall take the straight course and increase the payments.
No one here justifies the existing payments. Hon. Members on this side of the House to-night have quoted examples. We all can quote examples. I will just quote an example which I came across at the week-end in discussing the matter with the public assistance officer for my county. Here is the case of a man, with wife and eight children, certified totally disabled by silicosis five years ago, compensation 23s. 2d., public assistance 225. 6d. The Home Secretary talked about 30s., and may I ask him this question? I have been able to discover reliable estimates in that part of the world that I know best—South Wales. The average rate of compensation for people incapacitated in the South Wales coalfield to-day is 24s.; 30s. is the maximum. It has been admitted on all sides of the House, and by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) who has just come in, that 24s. is the average, and 30s. is the maximum. The payments to which hon. Members referred in this House were considered inadequate when we discussed this matter a year ago, and, if they were inadequate then, what are they now, with the cost of living up 19 points since the war began? Men are suffering injuries—broken spines, broken limbs—and there are the men about whom the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) spoke—82 of them from the pit where I worked—who are suffering a living death from silicosis.
Does the Home Secretary realise what he is doing? I am not asking him offensively, but as one with some industrial experience. Have we not a means test Government? There was first the means test for the unemployed, then for the old, and, worst of all, adding insult to injury, a means test for the injured. [Interruption.] Yes, and soldiers' dependants. If we lived in a decent human society, the men who are injured would have an increase and not a reduction in income. Everybody knows that when a man is injured the needs of his home increase. He needs bed clothes, and the facilities required for the purpose of tending a sick person, such as extra nourishment and extra fuel. It so happens that this is the thirtieth anniversary of a tragedy in my division. Everybody knows that there is extra cost at this time, and in a really sensible and sane 1095 society the income of such men would be increased and not decreased.
All that we ask is that the Government should deal with this question. We ask for bread, and we get the means test. I urge the Home Secretary to remember that there is intense feeling in the country about this matter. I have just come back from my constituency, where aged people have told me what they think of a Government who apply the means test to them in the eventide of their lives. What will they think of the Government tomorrow that applies the same means test to the injured of this country? I have a letter here from an old miner in my constituency. He tells me that he too has fallen, like so many others, the victim of the white plague. I know him well. The letter is written partly in Welsh, and is an example of that working-class culture which is equal to any culture I have found anywhere. He says:I see there is a Debate to-night, and I note that you are to speak. I am now bedridden, being unable to get up, and all I get is 30s. Here is My balance-sheet for last week—Compensation £1 10s., rent 8s. 4d., necessities £1, extra milk and eggs 4s. 2d., total expenses in the first week £1 12s. 6d.He concludes by saying:My two boys are to-day taking part in the British Army in the fight to crush Hitlerism once and for all, while their father is being crushed by Hitlerism at home.What will these two sons think when the Government are to apply the means test to their father who is injured before he gets any extra compensation? What are the boys of other fathers to think? In conclusion, I do not want to urge—we have urged enough on this matter—so let me warn the Government and the employers of this country. The hon. Member who is to reply to me is connected with the mining industry, which he knows in these days is making handsome profits. The cost of workmen's compensation in normal times is less than half the cost of royalties. We do not have empty benches in this House when the discussion of royalties takes place; we have full benches. When it was a question of making full compensation to royalty owners, those benches were filled, but now that it is a question of compensation for the injured, look at those benches. I warn employers and coalowners who are making profits. I am told that we are 1096 spending £7,000,000 a day on the war. How much of that is profit? Is the profit less than 1,500,000? Every industry in the country is making profits.
No employer ought to take the responsibility of voting for this Amendment tonight, and the Government ought not to do so. This will be resented. It will be deeply felt. It will be regarded as an injury and an insult to these men who have been broken in the service of this nation as much as any man who takes a gun and serves the nation. The means test is an insult. I end by warning the Government. This Debate will end shortly, and a Division will take place, and if it ends here tonight it will begin outside to-morrow in the coal mines, in the factories, on the railways, and in the workshops. If the Government win the Debate to-night, they will lose the Debate that the workers begin to-morrow.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Peake
We have listened to a very eloquent speech from the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House on a subject which has often been debated in this House and which arouses strong emotion in the breasts of many hon. Members. I hope that nothing that I shall say will tend to raise the temperature, because I am fully conscious of the very human problem with which workmen's compensation endeavours to deal. There is, I think, a great deal of misconception about what the Government intend as a result of adopting the Amendment put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson). Perhaps the biggest misconception is connected with the idea that it means a means test for the men on workmen's compensation. I should like to scotch that idea at the outset. But I will come hack to the point in a few minutes. The hon. Member who has just addressed the House dealt with the Debate on 8th February of last year, and he claimed that the Amendment which was put forward on that occasion by the hon. Member for Hitchin was carried. In point of fact it was not. It was talked out, and the result of the Debate that day was that the House decided nothing at all. But if the Amendment had been carried it would have read as follows:That this House relies on the Commission to proceed with its work as quickly as 1097 possible and when the inquiry has sufficiently advanced to consider the issue of an interim report.That is to say that had the Amendment been carried this House would have relied on the Commission itself to consider the issue of an interim report. There was at no time any pledge by the Government that they would request the Royal Commission to present an interim report because the Government always realised and recognised that it is as well to allow a Royal Commission to settle its own lines of procedure. It might have been fatal to securing a good result from the Royal Commission if the Government had pressed them at an early stage to produce interim reports on limited aspects of this enormous problem—
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
He said nothing of the k nd. The Prime Minister's reply has to be read in conjunction with the Supplementary Questions which did not deal with the Stewart Committee's report at all but dealt with the question of increased scales. Therefore, we are entitled to read the reply in relationship to the Question.
§ Mr. Peake
I do not think it is a matter of vital importance what the Prime Minister's supplementary answer meant since it was delivered 14 months ago when the Royal Commission was first being established. The issue we are discussing to-day is very limited. The Royal Commission itself is charged with the whole problem of the structure of the workmen's compensation system in relation to other social services and I accept the view of the hon. Member who has just addressed the House that it is not for the Government at this stage to deal with the structure or principles upon which the workmen's compensation system is based. I am perfectly ready to accept the view of the hon. Gentleman upon that issue. The Government are concerned with a very much more limited problem. It is perfectly obvious that there are some cases of special hardship in regard to workmen's compensation. 1098 [HON. MEMBERS: "Some?"] I will say, if you like, that there are many cases of hardship in regard to workmen's compensation. It is clear that some cases are harder than others.
§ Mr. Peake
For 10 years in this House I have listened to hon. Members opposite putting forward a claim for changing the workmen's compensation scheme upon the basis of cases of hardship. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) referred to this matter when we were discussing workmen's compensation and other social services on 29th November last. He said:There are tens of thousands of industrial workers, many disabled for life, whose compensation is fixed at between 20S. and 21s. Workmen's compensation is so low that thousands of men have to seek public assistance to eke out a miserable existence."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1939; col. 120, Vol. 355.The evidence given before the Royal Commission has been cited this evening, and in that connection I might refer to a paragraph of the evidence tendered by the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. They refer to cases of special hardship in paragraph 55. They do not go quite so far as the hon. Member for Aberdare, but they say:In most of the coalfields in this country it is estimated that the average rate of compensation paid at the full rate—That is for total disablement—amounts to 241. or 25s. per week. It follows that in all cases in which the full rate is paid to a workman with a family it is insufficient to provide even the barest necessaries, with the result that during his period of total incapacity the workman has to seek relief from the public assistance committee.In an Appendix they give a list of typical cases in which public assistance is having to supplement the payment of compensation.
§ Mr. Peake
I will look at the Appendix and will communicate with the hon. Member. [Interruption.] Glancing at the Appendix I see that there is such a case. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) asked how we were going to ascertain which were cases of hardship and which 1099 were not, and he seemed to fear that we intended some interference with the structure of the present system of compensation. I am not going to be dogmatic about what course the Government are going to adopt, because, to be quite frank, we have not got a cut and dried scheme, and it is for that reason that we want to enter into consultation with representatives of both sides of industry. But I will specify to the House two classes of case which can be easily ascertained without any means test where greater hardship inevitably must arise. In the first place, nobody will for a moment challenge the statement that cases of long duration are inclined to be much harder than cases of short duration and, in the second place, I do not think anyone will challenge the statement, in fact it has been made from the benches opposite this afternoon, that the case of a man with a wife and children is harder than that of a single man.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
That means that the Government are going to look at the cases of men who have been injured for six and seven years. Does the Under-Secretary know that these cases are covered by the insurance companies, and has he any hope that they will be covered by them?
§ Mr. Peake
We have not as yet consulted anybody. We are entering into these discussions, and it is precisely to meet the sort of difficulty which the hon. Gentleman has raised that we are having discussions. What I cannot understand is why, after the House has for years been discussing workmen's compensation on the basis of cases of hardship, and cases of great hardship—
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell us of any cases of which he knows of totally incapacitated workmen who are well off under workmen's compensation?
§ Mr. Greenwood
The hon. Gentleman is putting into the mouths of my hon. Friends words which they have never uttered. This is sheer misrepresentation. We have to-day put a simple question to which we have received an answer from the Home Secretary. He regards the present scales as adequate—that is one admission we have got—but he says there may be specially hard cases. We have never said anything against specially hard cases having special treatment; what we have said—and it is on this that there is misrepresentation—is that the normal case is being inadequately treated. Poverty is hardship, and there is not one case in a hundred under workmen's compensation where a person is being overpaid. I am bound to say that the Government have treated the Opposition in a very scandalous and cavalier fashion.
§ Mr. Holdsworth
Before my hon. Friend replies, may I put a Question, as I think he has been misrepresented? Do I take it that if the Government thought a flat rate increase was the best method of relieving hardship, that would be the action of the Government?
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) asked the Under-Secretary whether, if the Government, as a result of their investigations, are satisfied that a flat rate increase is the best method, they will agree to that. The Under-Secretary said "Yes." What did the Home Secretary say? He said that the Government accepted the Amendment. Does one find anything about a flat rate increase in the Amendment? The Amendment refers expressly to a temporary scheme to meet hard cases.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I do not think we are being treated fairly. The Amendment 1101 deals with cases of hardship. The Under-Secretary cannot have it both ways; either the Government are dealing with cases of hardship, or they are prepared to consider—what is not in the Amendment—an all-round increase. This afternoon the Home Secretary argued against an all-round increase. He argued for increases iii special cases of hardship. The Under-Secretary now tells us that if, as a result of the discussions, negotiations, conversations—whatever they may be called—the Government consider it right, there may be an all-round increase. The whole point of the Debate is whether the Government will or will not accept an all-round increase. The Amendment which they have accepted is diametrically opposed to an all-round increase.
§ Mr. Peake
At the beginning of his last speech but one, the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that I had misrepresented the situation and that I was putting into the mouths of hon. Members opposite words which they had never uttered; but I would remind the right hon. Member that that when he was not here this afternoon, the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said that the action of the Government was driving hon. Members opposite into an intolerable situation. They have complained at the course which the Government propose to adopt, and I think the right hon. Gentleman himself is under a misunderstanding here because he was rot present when I began my remarks. Hon Members opposite cannot help associating in their minds the word "hardship" with a means test. There is no intention, as long as the structure of the workmen's compensation scheme remains on its present lines, of introducing any means test whatever.
§ Mr. Peake
In answer to the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) I said that if, after these discussions, the Government came to the conclusion that an all-round increase—whether the hon. Member was referring to flat rate or percentage I have not the faintest idea—was the best way of meeting hardship, the Government would adopt it, but the Government are definitely of opinion at the present time, before these discussions have taken place, that it would not be, by any means, the best way of meeting cases of hardship.
Let me pass from that to this question of the means test. The means test has been defended in the past on the ground that if you tax the tobacco, the cigarettes and the sugar of, say, the agricultural labourer who is getting 37s. 6d. a week and who may have a wife and four children to support, and if you impose that taxation in order to relieve somebody else's needs, you must have some method of ascertaining what that other person's needs are. But I have not yet heard of any sort of means test in connection with a fund which is raised wholly by the employers. As long as the structure of the workmen's compensation scheme remains as it is to-day, I can give a perfectly categorical denial to the suggestion that there is the slightest attempt on the part of the Government to introduce any form of means test into the compensation scheme. Our aim, far from being to subject people to a means test who are not so subject to-day, is to help people who are now subject to a means test and who have to go to the public assistance committee or the Unemployment Assistance Board, to get out of the scope of the means test; to have fewer people on the means test than there are at the present time.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I suggested, as other hon. Members did, that this involved a means test on the injured. We are asked in the Amendment to accept hardship as the test. How can you assess hardship except by a means test?
§ Mr. Hicks
The hon. Gentleman has said that as long as the structure of the 1103 workmen's compensation scheme remains as it is, the Government will not, in any circumstances, introduce a means test. Do I understand from that statement that if a Bill is introduced, as a temporary Measure, beween now and the report of the Royal Commission, the Government would propose to change the structure of workmen's compensation?
§ Mr. Peake
Let me assure hon. Members that there is no intention of changing the structure of workmen's compensation until after receipt of the report of the Royal Commission. The only conceivable circumstances in which, I think, the means test could be introduced into workmen's compensation would be if the State, instead of the employer, were made responsible for finding the money for benefits. I hope that I have cleared away some of the doubts about the means test, because some Members who have spoken in the Debate have directed their argument entirely to the wickedness of the Government in introducing a means test into workmen's compensation. The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale actually paid me a personal compliment on the fact that I was to be the first to introduce this vicious principle.
§ Mr. Peake
The proposed discussions appear to be a bone of contention between the two sides of the House. I should have thought that in a matter of this kind where we wanted to meet cases of hardship to the very best advantage, it might be a good thing for the Government to consult bodies such as the Trades Union Congress and the National Confederation of Employers' Organisations. I can see no disadvantage whatsoever in that course being pursued. I can assure hon. Members in all parts of the House that it is our desire to have action taken as speedily as possible in this matter, and, I believe, action will follow as speedily, and possibly more effectively, as the result of entering into these discussions, than if we had embarked on a scheme of our own without first submitting any suggestions or proposals to the representatives of industry.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Might I ask whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of the fact that this proposal which he is putting forward to-night was actually put forward 1104 by the Miners' Federation of Great Britain to the employers, and that the employers turned it down on the ground that compensation was a matter of law and should be decided legally? Since the most important employers concerned, the coalowners of the country, have turned it down, what hope has he got that the others will accept it?
§ Mr. Peake
I think there is so much misunderstanding in this Debate that it is very difficult to get anything into the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite. There is no suggestion as the result of the Government accepting this Amendment that agreement has to be reached before any action can follow. That is far from the case. We are entering into discussions, and we have our own ideas as to the basis of a temporary scheme, but these ideas may well be modified in view of our discussion. But the Government, and the Government alone, will take responsibility for the proposals which are finally laid before this House.
§ Mr. Shinwell
This is the first we have heard from the Government Benches about the Government's ideas on this subject. The hon. Member has just said the Government have their own ideas about the basis of a scheme. Will he inform the House what these ideas are?
§ Mr. Peake
I honestly think it would be far better for me to submit my half-baked ideas, and the Government's less half-baked ideas, to representatives of industry to see how far agreement can be reached before talking about them now. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to try and give the House a little information about the extent and scope of this question of hardship. Of course, there are cases of hardship where the man in receipt of compensation does not go either to the public assistance committee or to the Unemployment Assistance Board, but the figures of applicants to those two departments where public assistance can be obtained are of some interest in assessing the scope of this problem. It may, therefore, interest Members to know that for a sample week in February last there were in England, Scotland and Wales just over 4,000 men receiving workmen's compensation who had to apply to public assistance committees for means of supplementation. It may interest them further to know that the average compensation payment in 1105 those cases was 24s. and the average supplementation from public assistance 15s. per head. These are cases almost entirely of total disability. The man who is only partially disabled can, for such time as he is entitled to it, draw unemployment insurance benefit because he is, at any rate in theory, capable of and available for work. A sample count was made about the same time by the Unemployment Assistance Board, who found that there were 2,400 cases where recipients of weekly sums under workmen's compensation were being supplemented by the Unemployment Assistance Board.
There are, therefore, somewhere about 7,000 cases where supplementations out of public funds are being given and where a means test is being operated. It would be the object of our proposal to take as many cases as possible out of these two categories and to use the available resources in such a way as to reduce the number of people who have to go to one or other of these two bodies.
§ Mr. Greenwood
Do I take it, therefore, that the purpose of this proposed discussion is to assist 7,000 cases of special hardship?
§ Mr. Peake
I hope that the hon. Member will not try to read more into my words than they are intended to convey. I was giving some statistical information about the size of this problem of hardship under workmen's compensation. I was not saying that we were able by anything we can adopt to single out all these cases. I am not suggesting that any general scheme we may embark upon will remedy all those cases which are at present in receipt of some form of public relief. It is obvious that we cannot go into every case without having inquiry into means, and that, as I have explained, 1106 is the one thing which above all others we should like to avoid.
§ Mr. Kingsley Griffith
If there is to be no inquiry into means, how will it be known what is a case of hardship?
§ Mr. Peake
Had the hon. Member been in the House when I began my speech he would have heard me explain two methods of ascertaining particular classes of cases of hardship. One is to take the cases which have gone on for more than a certain period, and the other is to take the cases where a man has a wife and family to support. In practice it is found that the great bulk of the cases which are being supplemented are cases within these two categories.
Let me say a word about the burden on industry which was referred to by the hon. Member for Hitchin. It is true that the burden of workmen's compensation is, on the average, a very slight cost. The average annual charge on the employer is somewhere about 14s. per head.
§ Mr. Peake
Yes, on the industry. But there are, of course, very wide variations within that general average rate, and the hon. Member for Hitchin has told us accurately that the charge in the coal industry is the highest, something like 76s. per head per annum, and that in textile factories it fell as low as, I think, 5s. or 6s., and I dare say there are other spheres of life where the risk is even less. I imagine that in domestic service, for instance, the risk rate is a very low one. But one thing, I think, is obvious, and that is that the burden on industry is heaviest in what we call the heavy industries, and those are the industries which are largely engaged in the export trade. We, therefore have to pay some regard to the burdens which we place upon industry.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Take the case of the South Wales coalfield. Does the hon. Member suggest that a coalfield which at this moment is paying 8½d. per ton in royalties and less than 3d. per ton in workmen's compensation cannot bear that burden? That is an exporting industry.
§ Mr. Peake
I do not think it is a question of dealing with the burden on industry in the light of the particular situation of a particular industry at this particular moment. Whatever we do as regards increasing the burden on industry is likely to continue over a period of years, and we have to consider industries and their prospects as a whole. I was saying that the heaviest burdens fall upon the heavy industries, and it is those industries which are largely engaged in the export trade, and although hon. Members opposite sometimes seem to think that the whole of this burden of workmen's compensation falls upon the employer, that, of course, is not the case. The right hon. Member for Wakefield just corrected me to say that the burden falls upon the industry, and I accept that definition. The effect of putting a heavier burden on the heavy industries is that it reduces their competitive power in the export market. Alternatively, the burden might be passed on to the consumer, but that is rarely the case; and if it cannot all be passed on to the consumer, even then it does not by any means all fall to be borne by the employers. It does, in fact, in some industries, have an immediate repercussion upon wages. In other cases, it is obviously a factor in the negotiation of wages agreements. It is, therefore, a profound mistake to imagine that you can double or treble workmen's compensation rates and that the whole of the burden so imposed will fall upon the pockets of the employers.
The Government have not, in my view, to deal with a simple problem. There are great difficulties even about devising a temporary scheme. I will mention two or three of them to the House. The Act of 1917, which increased by 25 per cent. the compensation, in cases of total disablement only, after the cost of living had risen 75 points after the outbreak of war, applied retrospectively; that is to say, to cases where the compensation had already been ascertained. In theory, that is a very desirable thing to do, but there is the great difficulty that you may have two cases of an exactly similar character except that in one case the man is in receipt of a weekly payment and in the other he has already accepted a lump sum in commutation. You may be able to increase the weekly payment retrospectively but I cannot imagine any suitable machinery for increasing retrospectively 1108 a lump sum which has been accepted in full discharge.
§ Mr. Peake
I am not at all sure that the hon. Gentleman is right. I think the Act of 1917 increased only weekly payments in cases of total disability. There is, of course, another difficulty in dealing specially with cases which have been on compensation for a very long time. Suppose you deal specially with these cases and give an increased rate of benefit after a certain period. Immediately you make a milestone in the recipient's journey; you fix a point, a number of weeks,which it is very desirable for that injured workman to attain, because if he can do so he increases his likelihood of getting a large lump sum in commutation. It is not at all easy to devise a scheme for increasing compensation rates which does not involve considerable difficulties. I have already pointed out one or two of the special difficulties which the Government have to face. I want to appeal to both sides of industry outside this House and to hon. Members opposite to co-operate with us in bringing these proposals into speedy operation, in order to get suitable proposals adopted. It has been recognised, in what the Government are doing in regard to old age pensions, that recourse to public assistance represents for many individuals some stigma and loss of self-respect. Certainly that feeling is very common amongst the working population, but it seems to me that recourse to public assistance to supplement the necessities of life for industrial casualties is a stigma not upon the man who receives it but upon industry itself.
There are in operation throughout the country at the present time schemes of co-operation between masters and men—to which contributions are made, very often, by the workpeople themselves to the extent of 1d. or 2d. a week—to supplement the weekly incomes of the homes of men who have gone to the war. Those schemes involve some cash contribution from the workers which they do not in any way grudge. The proposals which we shall bring before the House will involve no contribution from the workers, and the only contribution for which we ask is good will in our discussions and good will from Members 1109 of the Opposition when we bring these proposals forward.
Finally, let me say that, when we bring these proposals to the House, by all means let hon. Members opposite denounce them as niggardly and inadequate, if they please, but let them not, I pray, take up too much Parliamentary time in their discussion. Almost every hon. Member in this House has his pet grievance in regard to workmen's compensation, and his own remedy for it, but we
§ cannot redraft the whole workmen's compensation scheme at this stage. When these proposals are brought before us let us get them brought into operation with as little delay as possible.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 115; Noes, 155.1111
|Division No. 7.]||AYES.||[10.14 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Parker, J.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Pearson, A.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Pethick-Lawrance, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Ridley, G.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Riley, B.|
|Atlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Ritson, J.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Hicks, E. G.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Barnes, A. J.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Barr, J.||Hollins, A.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Bartlett, C. V. 0.||Isaacs, G. A.||Shinwell, E.|
|Batey, J.||Jagger, J.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Beaumont, H. (Batley)||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Bunn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||John, W.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Benson, G.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Bsvan, A.||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Buchanan, G.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Burke, W. A.||Lathan, G.||Stephen, C.|
|Cassells, T.||Lawson, J. J.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Cluse, W. S||Leach, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Collindiridge, F.||Leonard, W.||Thurtle, E.|
|Cove, W. G.||Leslie, J. R.||Viant, S. P.|
|Daggar, G.||Lipson, D. L.||Walker, J.|
|Dalton, H.||Lunn, W.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Watson, W. McL.|
|Davies, R, J. (Wasthoughton)||McGhee, H. G.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||McGovern, J.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Dobbie, W.||MacLaren, A.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Maclean, N.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmere)|
|Ede, J. C.||Mathers, G.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Messer, F.||Wilmot, John|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Milner, Major J.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Foot, D. M.||Montague, F.||Woodburn, A.|
|Frankel. O.||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:—|
|Gibbins, J.||Nathan, Colonel H. L.||Mr. Charleton and Mr. R. J.|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Naylor, T. E.||Taylor.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Oliver, G. H.|
|Acland Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Dodd, J. S.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Burghley, Lord||Drewe, C.|
|Albary, Sir Irving||Campbell, Sir E. T.||Duncan, J. A. L.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Se'h Univ'l)||Cary, R. A.||Dunglass, Lord|
|Assheton, R.||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Eastwood, J. F.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Channon, H.||Edmondson, Major Sir J|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Elliston, Capt. G. S|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Entwistle, Sir C. F.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Craven-Ellis, W.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.|
|Bird, Sir R. B,||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Etherton, Ralph|
|Blair, Sir R.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Fremantle, Sir F. E.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.||Cluddas, Col. B.||Gluekstein, L. H.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Culverwell, C. T.||Goldie, N. B.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Davidson, Viscountess||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Crigg, Sir E. W. M.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||De la Bare, R.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)|
|Brass, Sir W.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)|
|Brooke H. (Lewisham, W.)||Denville, Alfred||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.|
|Hammersley, S. S.||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Shakespeare, G. H|
|Hannah, I. C.||Medlicott, Captain F.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.||Simmonds, O. E.|
|Harbord, Sir A.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Haslam, Henry (Horncaslle)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Smith, Bracewell (Dutwich)|
|Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Munro, P.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)|
|Higgi, W. F.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Spans, W. P.|
|Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Peake, O.||Storey, S.|
|Holdsworth, H.||Peters, Dr. S. J.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Taylor, Vice Adm. E. A. (Padd., S)|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||Touche, G. C.|
|Jennings, R.||Pym, L. R.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Joel, D. J. B.||Radford, E. A.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Jones, L. (Swansea W.)||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|King-Hall, Commander W. S. R.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Leech, Sir J. W.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Levy, T.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Robertson, D.||Walls, Sir Sydney|
|Lloyd, G. W.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Weston, W. G.|
|Loftus, P. C.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Lucas, Major Sir J. M.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Russell, Sir Alexander||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|MeCorquodale, M. S.||Salt, E. W.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Sandeman, Sir N. S.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Schuster, Sir G. E.||Mr. James Stuart and Mr.|
|Markham, S. F.||Scott, Lord William||Grimston.|
§ Question put, "That the proposed words be there added."1112
§ The House divided: Ayes, 155; Noes, 100.1113
|Division No. 8.]||AYES.||10.23 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Magnay, T.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Se'h Univ's)||Entwistle, Sir C. F.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Assheton, R.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Markham, S. F.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Etherton, Ralph||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Medlicott, Captain F.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Gluckstein, L. H.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel Sir T. C. R.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Goldie, N. B.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)|
|Beechman, N. A.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)|
|Bernays, R. H.||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Munro, P.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Guest, Maj. Han. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Hammersley, S. S.||Peake, O.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hannah, I. C.||Peters, Dr. S. J.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Boyes, H. Leslie||Harbord, Sir A.||Plugge, Capt. L. F.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Haslam, Henry (Horncaslle)||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Hely-Hutthinson, M. R.||Pym, L. R.|
|Burghley, Lord||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Radford, E. A.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Cary, R. A.||Higgs, W. F.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.|
|Channon, H.||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Ramsbotham, Rt. Hon. H.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Holdsworth, H.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Howitt. Dr. A. B.||Raid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Hume, Sir G. H.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Craven-Ellis, W.||Jennings, R.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Joel, D. J. B.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Robertson, D.|
|Culverwell, C. T.||Jones, L. (Swansea W.)||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Russell, Sir Alexander|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||King-Hall, Commander W. S. R.||Salt, E. W.|
|De la Bère, R.||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Leech, Sir J. W.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.|
|Denville, Alfred||Levy, T.||Schuster, Sir G. E.|
|Dodd, J. S.||Lipson, D. L.||Scott, Lord William|
|Drewe, C.||Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Loftus, P. C.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Dunglass, Lord.||Lucas, Major Sir J. M.||Simmonds, O. E.|
|Eastwood, J. F.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Edmondton, Major Sir J||MeCorquodale, M. S.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Smithers, Sir W.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.||Weston, W. G.|
|Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||Wakefield, W. W.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Spent, W. P.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Storey, S.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Thomson, Sir J. D. W.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Touche, G. C.||Warrender, Sir V.||Mr. Grimston and Mr. James|
|Tree, A. R. L. F.||Wells, Sir Sydney||Stuart.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbre, W.)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Adamton, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Ridley, G.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Harris, Sir P. A.||Riley, B.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Ritson, J.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Hicks, E. G.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hills, A. (Pontefrast)||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Banfield, J. W.||Isaacs, G. A.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Burnes, A. J.||Jagger, J.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Barr, J.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Bartlett, C. V. O.||John, W.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Beaumont, H. (Batley)||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Benson G.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Buchanan, G.||Lathan, G.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Burke, W. A.||Lawson, J. J.||Stephen, C.|
|Collindridge, F.||Leach, W.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-lo-Sp'ng)|
|Cove, W. G.||Leonard, W.||Thurtle, E.|
|Daggar, G.||Lunn, W.||Viant, S. P.|
|Dalton, H.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Walker, J.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||McEntee, V. La T.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Davies, R. J. (Wesihoughlon)||McGhee, H. G.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||McGovern, J.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Dobbie, W.||Maclean, N.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Dunn, E. (Rolher Valley)||Mathers, G.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Ede, J. C.||Messer, F.||Wilmot, John|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Milner, Major J.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Montague, F.||Woodburn, A.|
|Fool. D. M.||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Garro Jones, G M.||Nathan, Colonel H. L.|
|George Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Naylor, T. E.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Gibbins, J.||Oliver, G. H.||Mr. Charleton and Mr. R. J.|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Parker, J.||Taylor.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Pearson, A.|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
That this House recognises the importance and urgency of the question of amending the law relating to Workmen's Compensation and urges the Government to enter into discussions with representatives of industry with a view to devising a temporary scheme for meeting cases of hardship pending the receipt of the report of the Royal Commission.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.