HC Deb 25 July 1940 vol 363 cc1103-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

9.39 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)

I should be lacking in my duty if I did not express the gratitude of the pottery industry and the workpeople I represent to the Government for having inserted this Clause in the Bill. The Clause will bring increased benefits to many men and women who are now suffering from silicosis in that industry, and the same thing applies to many miners and asbestos workers. I should like to ask one or two questions.

The Clause states: subject to such adaptations, modifications and exceptions as may be contained in the scheme. We have pressed for modifications many times during the past few years, and, seeing that this Bill is improving benefits, I wish to ask whether the Secretary of State, or the Home Office are contemplating further modifications in the administration of the Workmen's Compensation (Silicosis and Asbestosis) Act, 1930. This marks a great step forward as far as benefits are concerned. But is it intended, when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, to introduce Regulations—which the Secretary of State is entitled to do—as a result of Clause 6 being included in this Bill, and which incorporates the Workmen's Compensation (Silicosis and Asbestosis) Act, 1930, in the light of our experiences in the last 10 years? It states at the beginning of this Clause: This Act shall apply in relation to workmen entitled to compensation. One of the difficulties we shall have, under this Clause, is to prove entitlement. Is it proposed, when this Bill becomes law, to put a broader and wider interpretation on entitlement than has been the case in the past?

The other day I drew the attention of the Secretary of State to a very fine report published by the International Labour Office as the result of examination and research made into the question of silicosis. That report is in the Library and ought to be read by Members interested in industrial diseases, and particularly in silicosis. In that report we have the benefit of many years research carried out by medical men who have specialised on the question of silicosis. Therefore I wish to ask the Under-Secretary whether, under this Clause, it is the intention of the Secretary of State, when introducing Regulations based upon this Clause, which includes the 1930 Act, and entitles him to adapt and modify in accordance with that Act, to introduce Regulations which will be the natural consequence of the passing of this Bill in order that we may improve the position of pottery workers, miners and asbestos workers, who suffer so much from these deadly industrial diseases of silicosis and asbestosis?

9.43 p.m.

Mr. Goldie (Warrington)

I also should be failing in my duty, in sitting for a purely industrial constituency, if I did not pay my tribute to the Government for introducing this Bill. It is more or less an agreed Measure, and as a representative of an area which is almost entirely working class, I can say that it will bring untold benefit to my constituents as well as those of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith). Curiously enough, I was detained yesterday and could not be here until late in the evening, because I was engaged in a silicosis and asbestosis case. In the course of that case I have learned more about the difficulties from the point of view of the workmen than I have ever done before. It is only right that I should say that I was appearing in a professional capacity for the employer. In my experience it was the first case I have ever known in which an attempt—I am not using that offensively—was made to deal with an asbestosis case as a breach of the Factory Act. Instead of the workmen's compensation business going forward, an attempt was made, and perfectly rightly, to bring the matter within the provisions of the Factory Act. The workman found himself at once in this difficulty, that even if he was suffering from asbestosis, which the photographic evidence showed he was not, and even if the place was a factory, it was not a factory within the provisions of Statutory Rule 1104, because certain processes were not being carried on there. That is to say, though men were working on waste asbestos, because the processes specified in a particular Statutory Order were not being carried on there, it was impossible for the workman to proceed because he could not bring himself within the statutory regulations. I agree with the hon. Member that when silicosis and asbestosis are inquired into, it might well be a question for consideration whether it is desirable that the processes specified in the Statutory Rules should be exactly those which occur under the provisions of the Factory Act. I am certain that every working man and every employer who is anxious to do his duty by his workmen will welcome this Bill, and I give it my cordial support.

9.47 p.m.

Mr. Tomlinson

I am pleased that Clause 6 has been introduced into the Bill and that the Bill is to apply to silicosis and asbestosis. There is another disease which has not been fortunate enough to be incorporated in the Bill. I refer to bysinosis. It is another form of "nosey Parker," and it is an industrial disease which we have in Lancashire.

The Deputy - Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)

I am afraid that it is not in order for the hon. Member to discuss diseases which are not in this Clause.

Mr. Tomlinson

We have had a promise, and I am asking whether this Bill will be, not retrospective in this case, but prospective. A promise has been given to include in a Bill to be brought before the House the agreement which has been entered into. It will come under the Act of Parliament which is referred to in the Clause inasmuch as it will form part of the Silicosis and Asbestosis Act. I would like to know whether bysinosis will be included when the agreement is worked out.

9.48 p.m.

Mr. Peake

In reply to the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith), it is not the intention of this Clause to compel or to permit the Home Secretary to undertake a general review of all the provisions of schemes made under Section 47 of the principal Act or under the Silicosis and Asbestosis Act, 1930. The purpose of the Clause is to see that the supplementary benefits given by this Bill are extended to those schemes, subject to any suitable modifications which are required seeing that the conditions governing the receipt of benefits under those schemes are not identical or on all fours with the conditions laid down by the Workmen's Compensation Act.

9.49 p.m.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I am much obliged to the hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. Goldie) for his remarks. Coming from him with his wide experience they will carry a good deal of weight, and I hope that what he has said will be noted. I represent an area which has half the silicosis in the country. I should not be doing justice to the people among whom I have been brought up if I did not support the Clause. I was lucky enough to get out of the pit, but the generation which worked with me 30 years ago are now almost gone. Men who were boys at school with me were taken off in the prime of life. We are not saying much about it, but there is going on a special investigation into the problem of silicosis among coalminers. It is a very thorough investigation, and I should like to pay a tribute to those who were appointed by the Medical Research Council to conduct that investigation. They have been working in South Wales. I want to express our gratitude to those men, men of great ability, great scientific attainments and with a great sense of public service, who are bringing first-class scientific minds to bear on this problem. For the moment we are quiet because we want them to have full time in which to make their investigations. Of course we hope there will be no undue delay, and that no time will be lost in bringing out their report, and when that report does come to hand the first thing to do will be to end the use of the absurd term silicosis. Men are now contracting all sorts of chest diseases from the dust. There is a new phrase for it, a very long one which I hardly dare trust myself to pronounce—pneumokoniosis.

Mr. Goldie

May I suggest chronic bronchial catarrh?

Mr. Griffiths

I would just say "chest diseases" and end it there. When that report comes forward we must really consider the whole matter and end this absurdity of silicosis. With that I leave the matter, again expressing my thanks to the hon. and learned Member for Warrington.

9.52 p.m.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Like the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) I come from an area which suffers very badly from silicosis. After his constituency I think mine is the next worst. The type of silicosis which affects our men is of a milder type, and the result is that the majority of our men are on partial compensation and have been for a long time. That partial compensation has been determined upon a very low average of earnings and while we have the right under the main Act, a right which is now being exercised, to apply for a review, we have not provided in this Bill that if a review is made there shall be a corresponding increase in the allowances. I would beg that that point be considered in another place with a view to getting the matter put right.

Mr. Peake

I may explain that this Clause only extends the benefits of this Bill in general terms to the other schemes. The details will be embodied in those schemes as a result of discussions between the interested parties.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.