HC Deb 09 December 1942 vol 385 cc1618-26

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

Mr. A. Hollins (Hanley)

I want to raise a point arising out of a reply given by the Under-Secretary yesterday, in which he said, in answer to the hon. Member for Central Hull (Mr. Windsor): My hon. Friend will observe that Clause I extends Section 47 of the 1925 Act, to enable schemes to be made applying to workmen suffering from any form of pneumoconiosis."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1942; col. 1513. Vol. 385.] In the future where a form of pneumoconiosis is established by medical inquiry and is proved to be due to the employment the Minister will be able to make schemes without coming back to Parliament. I appreciate the fact that will facilitate things, but what I want to know is whether it is necessary for industries which are now operating under or are scheduled under the various silicosis and asbestosis schemes to make a further application to be brought under the regulations applying to the disease of the lungs known as dust-reticulation. I am inclined to think that such an application has to be made, although they may be operating under the Schedule, because in the Schedule it says: Different schemes may be made under this section with the respect to different forms of pneumoconiosis as well as with respect to different industries or processes or groups of industries or processes. Why should it be necessary to have an inquiry when various industries are now operating under these various silicosis and asbestosis schemes? My society, the National Pottery Workers Society, has been operating the various industries scheme of 1928 and also the silicosis and asbestosis scheme of 1931. Will it be necessary for my society to make an application for the industry to be brought within the scope of the regulations as to the new disease pneumoconiosis? In my view it ought not to be necessary to have to make a further application; we should automatically be brought within the scope of Clause 1. I have been very much concerned about this matter, because quite a number of pottery workers have been before medical boards and have not been certified, although there is quite definitely some lung trouble, and I am inclined to think we shall find they are suffering from some form of dust-reticulation in the lungs.

Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)

I am very glad to see that the word pneu- moconiosis is used in the Bill, and I was interested in the remarks made by the hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. A. Hollins). Perhaps the word "pneumoconiosis" has given rise to some difficulty. I believe that I am right in saying, and I think the Minister will confirm it, that the term "pneumoconiosis" applies to the inhalation of any kind of harmful dust, and that he will make schemes whenever required. The words "silicosis" and "anthracosis" and so on, merely particularise the effect of the special dust inhaled; "pneumoconiosis" means inhaling any form of dust. The point I should like to make is that in the operation of this Clause it is most important for the Minister to look into the question of the stage at which he grants compensation. I think that is the crux of the whole Clause. On that the success of the whole scheme will depend. I know from experience that anthracite coal workers quickly develop a cough—very quickly indeed; but they do not get pneumoconiosis at once. The cough is caused in the first place by the irritation of particles of coal dust on the bronchial tubes. The miner is not incapacitated immediately, and he is able to go on working. The cough makes him take deeper breaths in the closed space in which he works, say at the coal face, and thereby he inhales small spear-like particles of the anthracite which pierce the lung and as a result fibrosis, well known to some of my hon. Friends opposite, is set up in the lungs. He might still go on working for a considerable time, in some cases for a very long time, while in other cases the ill effects might follow very quickly. The Minister should bear in mind that he must hot wait until this man has developed the dire symptoms of the complaint before saying that he can be compensated.

That should not be the object of this Clause at all. If that were so, all that would happen is that the Minister would be compensating a man in order to prepare him in a short time for another world. He should if possible try to operate this Clause as early as possible. As soon as the cough becomes constant he should take steps to compensate the man and to rehabilitate him and take him from the industry even if no gross signs of fibrosis can be found. By doing so he would not be removing men from the industry unduly, because although he would be removing a considerable number yet if he left them there death would eventually remove as many.

Without wishing to be sentimental, I should like to describe to the Committee an experience of my own. When I was a small boy I used to spend a few weeks every year with an aunt who lived in an anthracite area in South Wales. The hon. Members for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and Gower (Mr. Grenfell) will know the place very Well. I noticed at that time one thing which impressed me very much; indeed, there were two things which I noticed. One was that although my aunt's house was a mile from the colliery the window panes were covered every day, both inside and out, with anthracite dust. One could clean those windows every day but, nevertheless, the dust returned. My cousin, who was accustomed to follow up these matters, and I used to examine this dust. We found that it was not composed of dust in an ordinary sense. Each particle of the dust was nothing but a little spear of black diamond, that is of anthracite coal. If such dust was to be found on a house so far away, let us imagine the effect that dust would have on the lungs of a miner when he was working at the coalface in a pit. The other point which impressed me has a direct bearing upon this matter, because I want the Minister to operate the Clause before the trouble has reached the stage which I have been talking about, when it develops into a disease which is progressive and produces ill effects which can never be put right. My aunt always knew, although she lived some way from the lane which led to the mountain side where this colliery was, without looking at the clock and without being able to see the miners going to or from work, when the change of shifts took place. The thing which impressed me very much as a child and still impresses me was the answer she gave when I asked her, "How is it you know when the shifts are being changed?" She replied, "I know it by the coughs." That was a very striking answer. I should like my hon. Friend to take steps to help these men before the damage is irreparable.

These are men of great determination, character and intelligence, God-fearing men, and yet, as I know, in the parish churchyard in that place there are many stones above the mounds on which we read: "William Davies, aged 41; John Jones, aged 40; William Evans, aged 43." Indeed, I used to pass those graves often, and I frequently remarked on them as a young man. That was what happened to them at an early age, and I was very much moved by it. We must not allow that to continue to occur. Admittedly, many of these men have followed doctrines, political and otherwise, which might not suit the opinions of all my hon. Friends, but nevertheless they followed them not for any material gain but in an ecstasy of the spirit.

Mr. E. J. Williams (Ogmore)

I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the House are very grateful to the hon. Member for the speech he has just made. We might take exception to the last phrase or so, because we think that in South Wales we are following the radical doctrines which were advocated by the hon. Gentleman's predecessor. The point which I rose to put to the Minister is a very small one. I wish to know whether the Minister proposes, before schemes are actually prepared, to consult the interests that were consulted before the appearance of this Bill. As the Minister said yesterday, consultations took place, prior to the Bill being prepared, with the T.U.C., the Miners' Federation, and other unions and employers of labour. We are most anxious that, before schemes are actually prepared, those consultations should continue. In addition to the schemes, I include the Regulations which will be based upon them. I realise that time is against us to-day as regards having a long Debate, but I hope I may obtain a reply. The point shortly is: Will consultations take place before the schemes are actually prepared and Regulations are drawn up based upon them?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

In reply to the hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. A. Hollins), who asked what it was proposed to do as regards making schemes under Clause 1, I would say that the evidence is that this new form of pneumoconiosis exists among coal workers and among coal trimmers in the South Wales docks. It is therefore proposed to make a scheme which will cover their cases. In order that a disease may become the subject of workmen's compensation two conditions must be satisfied. First, it must be clear that the disease exists among the workers in the industry. Secondly, it must be clear that the disease is due to the employment. A great deal of medical inquiry is necessary before the second condition can be satisfied. In 1906, only six diseases were scheduled under the Act, but the hon. Member knows that there are now no less than 43 diseases scheduled. We shall not proceed to make general schemes for pneumoconiosis affecting industry, and indeed it would not be proper to do so, until there is some evidence that the disease exists and that it is due to the employment.

This scheme therefore will apply only to coal workers in the first instance. I should not like at this stage to give a close definition of the term "coal worker." It will obviously include all workers in coalmines, but whether it will go outside coalmines to people who have to handle coal at docks and other places, I should not like to say definitely at present. That is one of the matters in regard to which we shall consult the bodies with whom we have been in consultation in drafting the Bill. I can assure the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. J. Williams) that full consultation with the interests concerned will take place before the scheme is finally settled. I think that reply meets the two points raised by hon. Members opposite. I doubt whether the hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. Russell Thomas) will expect any reply at this stage on his rather general remarks.

Dr. Thomas

No. I only wanted to ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind the necessity for treatment and compensation before irreparable damage is done.

Mr. Peake

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. That point Will certainly be borne in mind.

Mr. Burke (Burnley)

Do I understand that the benefits of the Bill, as far as pneumoconiosis is concerned, will, in the first instance, be confined to mine workers and therefore that it is wrong to say that this new word will cover all kinds of dust disease contracted in any industry? Is it the case that persons who are not working in coal mines but who may contract the disease by breathing dust, will not be covered by these new powers until evidence has been submitted?

Mr. Peake

That is right. Evidence will have to be brought and a scheme will have to be made. We have taken power under Clause 1 (2) to go ahead with further schemes without again having to come to Parliament for the necessary authority.

Mr. Marshall (Sheffield, Brightside)

I understood yesterday that workers in other industries would be covered in the same way as miners. On several occasions I have spoken in this House about silicosis as it affects grinders. The scheme needs to be expanded and ought to include pulmonary diseases, which affect grinders intensely. Last time I spoke on the subject in this House I was able to say—I do not know what the figures are now—that the mortality among this class of worker was four times that of the ordinary population of this country. I should be very sorry if the Bill were so drafted that those people were not brought into it immediately. I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give us a complete assurance on that point.

Mr. Peake

The Bill is so drafted as to cover new schemes Which can be made in respect of any industry, where disease is due to the inhalation of dust, but we shall require specific evidence before schemes are made under the Bill.

Mr. A. Hollins

While thanking the Minister for his reply, I would say that I am not yet satisfied. I am still of the opinion, apart from the fact that medical evidence must be brought, that a potter operating under a scheme for silicosis should immediately be sent to a medical board and brought within the ambit of the Bill, without having to go for inquiry, medical investigation and so on. A number of our people have been before a medical board and are not certificated, but they still have lung disease. Something ought to be done about it. If it is a question of inquiry and investigation, delay is involved. We had a very sad experience in our industry from 1923 to 1928, when we were trying to get scheduled. First, we met the Home Secretary and he said: "If your employers and you are agreed, we shall produce a scheme." The employers would not agree. In 1926 a special investigation was made and it lasted 12 months. In 1927 a committee of inquiry was held. I was on the committee. We finally got a scheme in 1928. I feel that men who are working in silicotic or asbestos industries ought to be brought into the ambit of the Clause without special inquiry. Who is to make the inquiry? Is it to be made on the application of the trade unions or will the Home Office do it for us? Have we to make application? Are the trade unions to be brought into it or not? I should like to know whether we are to have a speedy investigation.

Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)

Is it not clear that Clause I gives the authority to make schemes and, as set out in the Schedule, to make consequential direct alterations in the conditions laid down in the existing schemes? One finds in the Schedule, in Subsection (1): After the words silica dust or asbestos dust there shall be inserted the words or other dust; in paragraph (a) of that subsection for the words the disease known as "silicosis" (that is to say, fibrosis of the lungs duo to silica dust) or from fibrosis of the lungs due to asbestos dust or from either of those diseases there shall be substituted the words pneumoconiosis or from pneumoconiosis. I understood that this came as an automatic substitution of pneumoconiosis for the diseases for which compensation is already paid. Clause 1 gives authority to the Ministry, I had thought, to authorise additional schemes on condition that Section 47 of the Workmen's Compensation Act and other Sections are varied in accordance with the terms of this Schedule, so that in all industries where compensation has been payable for damaged lungs from dust the word "pneumoconiosis" will take the place of "silicosis," "asbestosis," or other words. I thought that was satisfactory to my hon. Friends who represented this particular industry.

Mr. Peake

My hon. Friend is quite right. We are taking this word "pneumoconiosis" and giving it a very wide definition to include silicosis and asbestosis and any affection due to the inhalation of dust. With regard to the making of schemes, all that is contemplated at present is to make a scheme affecting coal workers. If and when medical evidence is forthcoming which necessitates the extension of these schemes to other industries, then, of course, they will be able to be made under this Bill without the necessity of coming back to Parliament. I think that is as far as I can go. There are a great many industries obviously where dust is inhaled, but it is not in every case that it can be satisfactorily proved either radiologically or pathologically, that the inhalation of the dust causes a disease connected with the employment. These are very technical matters. Anybody who studies the very full report by the Committee of the Medical Research Council on this matter will realise how very technical they are. Therefore, I cannot give definite assurances that further schemes will be made until a specific degree of medical evidence is forthcoming.

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