HC Deb 09 December 1942 vol 385 cc1636-40
Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 34, to leave out "may," and to insert "shall."

I hope that on this Amendment we shall be a little bit more successful than we have been on our Amendments up to now. So far we have been skirmishing, and the skirmishing has been partly geographical, because, practically speaking, the provisions so far have applied to South Wales. I am pleased to say that this Clause brings in the entire country. It makes provision concerning the widow of any man in any industry. When a man is involved in a fatal accident, the widow is to get in future compensation more satisfactory than widows have received in the past. I hope that the two Under-Secretaries concerned will have sufficient common sense to say that they will make this Clause definite. We want to be definite and to say "shall" and not "may." We have found under the compensation laws that where it has been possible to twist a word, the trade unions have been bled almost white by the lawyers. We do not want any of that in regard to this provision. The Clause states that: The tribunal may disregard those earnings. That means that the tribunal may in Lancashire do one thing and in Yorkshire, just over the edge, they may do something else, and South Wales and Scotland will be watching. I ask the Undersecretary to accept this Amendment. It is the most common sense Amendment that has been moved. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) put his case very well, but he used a great many words. I do not want to do so. The Under-Secretary knows where I am straight away, and I hope that, without any more words being wasted, he will get up at once and say that he is prepared to agree to the insertion of the word "shall" in place of "may."

Mr. Peake

I have listened to the very good-humoured speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths). I remember that some 10 years ago, in the silly season, someone wrote to "The Times" asking where Hemsworth was. My hon. Friend has certainly put it on the map. Evidently, he feels keenly about the inclusion of the word "shall" instead of "may." He told us that the workers had been bled almost white by the lawyers over a word. I must warn him, in respect of his proposed Amendment, that it opens up the possibilities of applications to the Court of Appeal which would not be open if the word "may" were to stand where we have placed it. One of the reasons we preferred to use the word "may" was that it would enable the county court judge to deal with the matter finally without the probability or possibility of successful access to the Court of Appeal. However, from soundings which I have taken, I understand that hon. Members generally would prefer the word "shall" to be included and as it makes very little difference, apart from the factor I have mentioned, so far as the Government are concerned, we are prepared to accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 34, to leave out from "earnings" to the end of the Sub-section.

In this provision we are concerned with the woman who has gone out to work because of war contingencies. What we ask is that the earnings of the war period shall be disregarded altogether. The Clause states that they may be disregarded either wholly or to such an extent as the tribunal thinks proper. That seems to be contrary to what is meant. I cannot see why the Under-Secretary of State should not accept the Amendment and say that it is the intention that the whole of the earnings shall be entirely disregarded.

Mr. Peake

I regret to say that I cannot repeat what I have just done in regard to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) and accept this Amendment, but I do not think that, when I have explained the matter, the hon. Member will altogether regret it. He proposes that in line 34 all the words from "earnings" to the end of the Sub-section shall be left out. The result of that would be that the last part of the provision would end bluntly with the words: The tribunal shall disregard those earnings. Those earnings are the earnings of a widow in respect of employment which she entered into on or after 3rd September, 1939. There are two qualifications contained in the last words of the Subsection, and I will deal first with the words: And accordingly may treat the widow as wholly or partly dependent upon the earnings of the workman at the time of his death. Those words are absolutely essential to the purpose which we have in mind in this Clause. Fatal benefits are payable under the principal Act only where dependency exists, and if, therefore, one were simply to say that the earnings of the widow are to be disregarded, that would not by itself establish the fact of dependency. Let us suppose that the widow had been directed by the Ministry of Labour to join one of the women's Services or to work in a munitions factory. She might be separated perhaps 50 or 100 miles from her husband, and if the tribunal were instructed simply to disregard her earnings in that employment, that would not of itself clearly establish dependency upon the husband. You have to have in the words: and accordingly may treat the widow as if she were dependent at the time of the husband's death. They are absolutely essential to the purpose we all have in mind. As regards the words: wholly or to such extent at the tribunal thinks proper they are included for this reason. The earnings that are to be disregarded are war earnings in work which the widow would not have undertaken but for the war. There may be fairly numerous cases where a childless widow was in employment before the war. She may have been earing 30s. a week as a shop assistant. After the outbreak of war she goes into munitions and earns, perhaps, an increased wage. It would not be right for the county court judge to treat her as wholly dependent upon the earnings of the deceased workman. She is dependent to some extent and she may have become, as a result of the war, dependent to a greater extent, but we must obviously allow latitude to the tribunal in assessing the extent of the dependency due to earnings in war work or work which would not have been undertaken but for the war. I therefore regret that I cannot invite the Committee to accept the Amendment.

Mr. David Adams (Consett)

Is there an appeal against a decision of the tribunal?

Mr. Peake

Dependency, of course, is a question of fact and is for the county court judge. Hon. Members know better than I that an appeal to the High Court is usually upon the ground that the county court judge his misdirected himself by disregarding the law.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. S. O. Davies

I beg to move, in page 4, line 38, to leave out "in any such case."

I move this formally in order to obtain an explanation of these words.

Mr. Peake

They are just to save the trouble of repeating the words at the beginning of Sub-section (1): In the case of injury to a workman resulting in death. We have shortened the phrase into "in any such case."

Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)

The hon. Gentleman need not be surprised at our raising points of this kind. Miners are hardly ever out of the courts with compensation cases, and, when little phrases of that kind creep into Acts of Parliament, we look upon them with suspicion. I understand that the phrase is meant to cover the case of a female relative acting as a housekeeper, in the same way as the case of a widow in an earlier part of the Clause.

Mr. Peake

That is so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: In page 4, line 40, leave out "may" and insert "shall,"—[Mr. G. Griffiths.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.