HC Deb 09 December 1942 vol 385 cc1640-63
Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)

I beg to move, in page 5, line 28, after "remuneration," to insert: or in the duration of employment in each week. We regard this Clause as a source of contention in what was regarded first of all as a non-contentious Bill. It amends Section 11 (3) of the 1925 Act, which contained a wide review at 12-monthly periods when wages had changed by 20 per cent. Around this Sub-section (3) was built a tremendous amount of case law which was generally described as "cases referring to a change of circumstances." In those changes of circumstances were included a number of things which are excluded by the formulation of Clause 6 of the Bill. There were changes of wages, changes of physical capacity, changes in the conditions of the labour market and change of earnings due to change of hours of employ- ment. All those changes were provided for in the Act, and it is proposed by this Clause to make provision for an automatic review of the pre-accident average, irrespective of the size of the changes. The Under-Secretary yesterday made clear what the intention was in regard to the rate of pre-accident earnings. He said: The result has, however, been that where general all-round increases in wage rates have occurred, partially disabled men to whom wage increases have been granted have lost half of the advance through a consequent diminution of their weekly payment of compensation. The compensation could be recalculated upon the basis of what his pre-accident earnings would have been, if he had remained uninjured and continued in the same class of employment…It is, obviously, a source of grievance when a general increase, applicable to all workers of, say, 10s. a week, takes place that disabled men, and only disabled men, should obtain half of the wage increment only, by virtue of forfeiting part or all of their compensation. That is the situation it was intended to remedy by Clause 6. The contention of the Home Office is made clear when the Under-Secretary said: It is obvious that if 10s. a week, for example, is added to a disabled man's actual earnings and a similar sum is automatically added to the figure of his pre-accident earnings, the difference between the two figures will remain the same as it was before."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1942; cols. 1510–11, Vol. 385.] In other words, partial compensation would be wholly unchanged. Whatever may have been the intention of the Under-Secretary, he has created the general impression that it is the intention of the Government to put the injured workman in the same position as he would have been had he not been injured. The Under-Secretary shakes his head. The general understanding in the talks that have gone on about this business, both inside and outside the House, has been that injured workmen should not be penalised because of increases in wages.

Mr. Peake

The hon. Member has got it right this time.

Mr. Edwards

If this Clause does not fulfil that intention, the Under-Secretary has a lot to withdraw. I hope to prove that if that was the intention of the Government, they have not carried it out in this Clause. The Parliamentary Secretary has been much more forthright about it. What has he told the country and the miners? He has said: The partially incapacitated man, as a general principle, will have restored to him his partial compensation that may have been removed as a result of any wartime increases in wages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1942; col. 1529, Vol. 385.] I am afraid that the Parliamentary Secretary will not be able to say that he is redeeming that undertaking in this Clause. The intention was to give to the totally disabled man the full benefit of the earnings he might have had were it not for his accident, and to give to the partially disabled man the full benefit of the increase in wages or to freeze his partial compensation while allowing him to take the increase in wages. Those were the intentions and they have been discussed, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows, in miners conferences. He himself has made explanations. There have been negotiations and reports have been made. This House is under an obligation to fulfil the intentions that have been conveyed to injured workmen, particularly in the mining industry.

Neither intention is fulfilled in a large group of cases of either total or partial disablement. The Bill does not carry out the intention that was declared by both the Parliamentary Secretary and the Under-Secretary yesterday. Let us take the position of total disablement by considering a concrete case of a man who had his accident in 1939. His average weekly earnings were £2 a week, based on an average of three days per week throughout the year preceding his accident. His weekly compensation is, therefore, 22s. 6d. Since his accident there has been an increase in wages, of 4s. a day. Under the Essential Work Order and the guaranteed week that man while in employment is guaranteed, not 4s. a day, but 24s. a week, and the increase in his rate of remuneration is 24s. If it were not for his accident he would be working six days a week and earning 24s. war wages. He had a pre-accident average of £2 which was based throughout the year on three working days a week. If he had not had the accident he would be working six days a week and receiving the 24s. war wages. So that he would really be getting not £2 a week ordinary wages, but £4 plus 24s. war wages.

What is it proposed to do with this man under the Bill? The general undertaking was that he should be treated as if he had not had an accident and should have the benefit of the improved conditions. He will get a proportion of the increased wages only added to his pre-accident wage. He will get, not 24s. added to his pre-accident earnings, but only 12s. To start with, from the point of view of the regularity of employment and allowing for this change in regularity, the man is worse off than the Government apparently intended him to be, because the Government undertaking was to treat him as if he had not had an accident or to see that he was not penalised because of his accident. He will, therefore, get no advantage from the increased regularity of employment.

Mr. Peake

The hon. Member has taken a case of total incapacity, and the man will get 3s. 6d. additional per week as the result of this Bill. That was not the problem we set out to deal with at all in the first instance.

Mr. Edwards

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be a little patient. This is a technical business and I am trying to make it as plain as I can. When I come to the question of partial compensation the position may be a little plainer. The case I am quoting will have under the Bill his pre-accident average of £2, and will have added to it three-sixths of the increased wages of 24s. He will get a new pre-accident average of £2 plus 12s. How can it be said that he will be put into a position where he has not been penalised by his accident? In order that he may have what was intended, that is, what he would have earned were it not for his accident, he must be given the advantage of the alteration in the regularity of employment. If that is not done he is penalised by 50 per cent. of the increase in wages. The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head, but I am afraid that that is his position. Let us take the position of partial compensation. I have to admit that when application was made to the Home Office to deal with the question they were asked only to deal with partial compensation, and if there is some credit to be given for some advantage in cases of total compensation the Home Office and the Ministry of Fuel are entitled to it, but my complaint is that they have not carried out their undertaking.

Next, take a concrete case of a partial compensation man. It is the case of a man with a pre-accident average of £4, based on a four-day week throughout the period prior to his accident. This man goes to light work, earning £3 per week. He has a guaranteed week, a six-day week, under the Essential Work Order, so that he gets his £3 and a half difference of 10s. Wages rise by £1. The £3 become £4. This man had a pre-accident average of £4 and he will have added to that four-sixths of the increased wage of £1, and so therefore his new pre-accident average becomes £4 13s. 4d., and his new half difference becomes 6s. 8d. The man has had £1 increase in wages but has lost 3s. 4d. partial compensation. I have taken the Parliamentary Secretary's case which he quoted yesterday to prove that what he told the House was misleading to the men of this country. If I may say so respectfully, he was unconscious of his error. I am not charging him with deliberately misleading anybody. This man has had £1 increase in wages but loses 3s. 4d. compensation. You may make the consumers of coal pay more for their coal, you may provide more money for the coalowners to pay the initial wage, but under this Clause you allow the coalowners not only to have money to pay the £1 but allow them to "pinch" 3s. 4d. off this fellow. Perhaps I ought not to have said "pinch," because it is quite a legal deduction of money. This Bill will authorise them to do it.

I believe that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power also requires some information on one of the cases he mentioned in his speech yesterday when he said the Bill, in Clause 6, would have the effect, as a general principle, of restoring to the partially-incapacitated man his partial compensation. Will it? Here is one case in which it will not. It is the case of a man with a pre-accident average of £2, working four days a week and a post-accident average of £1 16s. on light work, giving a half difference of 2s. I am taking a case back in the 1936 days. There is a first increase in the mining industry of 10s. The new post-accident average is £2 6s., and his partial compensation has gone altogether. Then there is the second increase, 26s. a week. The new post-accident average of this man is £3 12s., and under Clause 6 he is entitled to have added to his old pre-accident average of £2 four-sixths of the new increase of 36s., which was the total increase in wages. He is entitled, therefore, to have 24s. added to his pre-accident average of £2. Therefore, we get this position, that he will get £3 4s. as the pre-accident average and he will have a post-accident average of £3 12s. His partial compensation has not been restored. The Parliamentary Secretary says that he wants to restore it, but Clause 6 does not do that.

We say that if this Clause were amended on the lines suggested in the Amendments of my hon. Friends and myself we should do one thing in particular, and that is give the workman not only the benefit of the increase in the rates of remuneration, but benefit of the increase in the regularity of employment. An Amendment standing in the name of the Minister shows that he himself has some regard for this in the case of men who had an accident before the age of 21, and in it he talks about "material conditions." Is the existence of the Essential Work Order and the guaranteed week a material condition in the employment of miners or of any workers? If it can be used and applied in the case of men under 21, why cannot it be applied in the case of adults, especially if it is introduced for the purpose of seeing that the pledges and undertakings given by both Ministers are carried out and the position of our men is safeguarded?

Mr. Foster (Wigan)

I hope that for the sake of peace in the industry the Undersecretary will accept the words of the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards). At the beginning of this agitation I was a member of a deputation which waited upon the Minister of Fuel and Power, and also was a member of subsequent deputations to the Home Secretary on this matter, and we explained to both those gentlemen the trouble there was in the industry in regard to this question of compensation. Under the Greene award there had been an advance in wages, but thousands of partial-compensation men who were employed in the industry had their partial compensation reduced by half the amount of the increase, and also by the proportion of the supplementary allowance being deducted from their partial compensation. That immediately created a lot of dissatisfaction, not in one particular coalfield, but throughout all the coalfields. An attempt was made immediately to try to rectify that position. We were assured, before anything was done in the way of presenting a Bill to the House, that if the coalowners could be got to do what we were asking first of all, the need to introduce a Bill would be avoided. This is another example of injustices existing, and employers in the industry refusing to adjust the injustices and having to be compelled to do so by legislation. I believe that the Minister of Fuel and Power and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary did everything humanly possible to get the coalowners to do this, but they failed, because of the legal position in respect of the determination of pre-accident wages and compensation.

I suggest that Clause 6 does not meet the position. It does not restore the men on light work who have had partial compensation to their original position before the advances took place. Because of that, it does not restore the wages position. What will happen if the Amendment is not accepted? I would remind hon. Members of the words which are used, and of the fact that the average time worked for the period will determine the amount of the increase of the pre-accident wages. I would also remind the Under-Secretary of State—he is probably aware of it already—that the Bill is intended to cover cases back to 1925. There are hundreds of men employed in industry whose pre-accident earnings were extremely low, due to depression following the last war, or to the dispute in the mining industry in 1926. I had experience as a miners' agent in handling cases where the pre-accident earnings were below £1 per week, and in many cases were between 20s. and 25s. per week. It was not the earnings per shift that were responsible for the low figures, but the number of shifts that the men were permitted to work during the period of depression. In the mining industry, it was common to see long queues of men in the summer time signing on two, three or four days a week for unemployment benefit. In some cases the colliery closed down for a whole week. Men were working one week and laid off the next week.

Men who were injured when their wages were very low—there are hundreds of such cases—may now be working side by side in the collieries with men who have been injured since the war started and who have been averaging six days a week, because of the application of the Essential Work Order. I quote this only as an example, but in all the cases when the Greene award applied, 15s. was added to the wages. That made half-a-crown per day. At the week-end the man on partial compensation and light work received 15s. in wages in all cases, no matter when the accident occurred. When they got their partial compensation, it was less 7s. 6d., plus their supplementary allowance.

This in some cases comes to the figure of 13s. and 14s., which is taken out of their 15s. If the words in the Bill are to apply, there will be varying rates or varying amounts added to pre-accident earnings, because the amount to be added to pre-accident average weekly earnings will vary according to the number of shifts the men worked in the relevant period, and there will be hundreds of these men working side by side. Imagine if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and the Undersecretary were working together at a colliery and both were injured on different days, and if both received the same increases during the war. Then if this Bill were applied in their case, after a reduction in compensation the Joint Parliamentary Secretary might have 3s. 9d. restored and the Under-Secretary might have 6s. or 7s. or perhaps 10s. restored. It is ridiculous, and the miners' representatives cannot be responsible for unrest due to this at the collieries. How can we hold our men in the districts if this kind of treatment is meted out to them?

We have been talking about a new world. What will the miners say about this instalment? In Lancashire our men have considered stopping the collieries until this position is adjusted. We have a conference on Saturday. I cannot go back and tell them that they will have restored to them the partial compensation deducted from their wages as a result of the Greene award, because that is not so, and I shall not be surprised if they confirm their previous decision to stop the collieries in Lancashire until the original position is restored. If there is an injustice which Parliament can remove, we should not exploit the patriotism of the men and tell them they must not strike in present circumstances. How can it be helped when men know there is an injustice which can be removed? If the Under-Secretary can tell me that it is not an injustice, I may agree to withdraw what I have said. But, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Caerphilly, the position as I stated it at the outset is the position in the mind of the Under-Secretary. This is what the Under-Secretary said yesterday: It will operate both when wages rise and when wages fall, and the general effect will be, in cases of partial disability, to tend to stabilise the amount of the compensation payment. It is obvious that if 10s. a week, for example, is added to a disabled man's actual earnings and a similar sum is automatically added to the figure of his pre-accident earnings the difference between the two figures will remain the same as before."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1942; col. 1510, Vol. 385.] Of course, it will if that is done, but it will not be done under this Section. The man with four days in his pre-accident average will have added to his wages 10s.; the man who worked six days will have 15s. added; a man who worked three days will have 7s. 6d., and so on. I am not going back to the men to tell them that they are to get back their partial compensation. I shall tell them that they are not going to get it. This matter is of immediate importance. Unless it is rectified I cannot guarantee that there will not be trouble in the Lancashire coalfields. That is not a threat; it is a reality; and it must be faced. I hope that my words have not fallen on deaf ears, and that they will be heard with the seriousness with which they have been expressed.

Mr. Henry White (Derbyshire, North-East)

We are making a plea for that class of workman who has been specially affected during the period covered by this Bill. We have heard much about the period of short-time working in the coal industry That was something over which we had no control. There has also been the quota system, upon which we had no say, which affected the earnings in the industry; and on top of that, the breakages which have taken place in the industry have affected the pay packets of the men. I want to draw attention to one other phase of mining life which has a bearing on this subject. It concerns the great number of men who have minor accidents: perhaps only a bad bruise, or a serious cut, or something of that char- acter. We are a hardy race, and after one or two days' absence such men are back at work. But many of our men have to lose one or two days a week because of minor accidents. As a result, there have been smaller pay packages, apart from the effects of the lost time our men have suffered, through shortage of trade and for other reasons. Consequently, when compensation is calculated the figure is a long way below the maximum, rate. It is evident that hardship will fall upon the individuals concerned. It is to be hoped that those Ministers who are responsible for this Bill will accept the Amendment.

Let me point out my own particular case. I came out of the pit nine years ago suffering from nystagmus, and, after a period of short time and "breakages" in the mining industry at the time, when I went to draw my compensation I received 24s. 3d. a week. Was that because I was unable to work six days a week? Certainly not. The whole point was that the work was not there for me to do. Therefore, 24s. 3d. per week compensation was my lot. That was the position nine years ago, and to-day you will have to face up to the position with regard to men not getting the full benefit but having to lose money according to the present ratio. Therefore, I hope that the Government will give favourable consideration to the Amendment.

Mr. Peake

I have no desire to shut out any speeches. There will be plenty of time for more speeches on the Amendment, but I think it would be greatly to the advantage of the Committee if I were to explain at this stage what this Clause does and why it does what it does. The problem with which we set out to deal was a limited one. It was the case of the partially incapacitated man engaged on light work, who, as a result of a general all-round increase in wages, such as the Greene award, for example, in the coal industry, lost one-half or a larger fraction of the advance by way of diminution of his weekly payment of compensation. We set out to deal only with partially incapacitated cases. In point of fact, the Clause goes beyond that and deals with total incapacity cases as well, and whereas our intention was to deal only with increases of wages taking place since the outbreak of war, this Clause deals with increases of wages and accidents going back as far as 1st January, 1924. We therefore open up for immediate review in an upward direction each and every case of workmen's compensation where any increase of any sort has occurred in the rates of remuneration since 1924 or since the accident, whichever of these two dates is the later. As regards the total incapacity case which the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) quoted, the effect in the case which he cited was that that man will, somewhat unexpectedly as a result of this Bill, get an increase in his weekly payment of compensation of 3s. 6d. He did not choose the most favourable case from my point of view, but from the point of view of the Government it may be stated that the effect of this Clause will be, in an overwhelmingly large proportion of total incapacity cases, to put the men at once on to the maximum amount of compensation allowed under the Act.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Is it not a fact that under the seven-eighths rule under war conditions a good many of these men will be robbed of shillings per week?

Mr. Peake

No, what I said was that totally incapacitated cases, some of which are receiving compensation of 21s. to 25s. a week, will, immediately and automatically, as a result of this Clause, receive the maximum weekly payment of 30s. Of course, supplementation under the 1940 Act will be added to that, but these men, whom we did not set out to help originally, will pass on to the maximum weekly payment.

Mr. Foster

Is it not a fact that it is because of the substitution of Clause 11 (3) by this Bill that you have had to include total incapacity, because you are now depriving them by this Bill of the right of review?

Mr. Peake

That is true, but we are, in fact, dealing with all cases of workmen's compensation, many dating from many years ago. Nobody under this Clause will suffer any reduction in his total incapacity payment, and practically everybody not on the maximum will pass to it. So far as partial incapacity is concerned, the effect will be threefold. First, thousands of cases where compensation has ceased to be payable altogether owing to wage increases will become entitled once more to partial incapacity payment; secondly, thousands of cases in which it has been reduced will have it automatically and immediately increased; and, thirdly, for the future a very large measure of protection will be given against reductions as a result of all-round increases in wages.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Will the hon. Gentleman admit that there will be thousands of men, who have lost partial compensation, who will not have it restored?

Mr. Peake

Clearly, there will be some cases where that will occur. The hon. Member cited the case of a man with a weekly payment of 2s. and an increase in wages of 26s. and said it would be a hardship because the man's partial incapacity payment of 2s. would not be restored. I could not agree that it was a hard case, and no doubt the hon. Member chose as hard a case as he could find. What is quite impossible is to give an absolute guarantee that in every case in the way in which we are dealing with this matter there will be a complete stabilisation of the partially incapacitated man's weekly payment.

Mr. Tinker

Why cannot you do that?

Mr. Peake

I will explain. There are two ways of dealing with this matter and two factors you have to be given. One is pre-accident earnings and the other is post-accident earnings, and the difference between the two, divided by two, is the amount of the weekly payment under the 1925 Act. If you want to protect a man receiving compensation against failure to benefit by increases in his post-accident earnings, you have either to say that as regards his post-accident earnings you will disregard such and such increases in wages or you have to say you will add something, a notional figure, to the amount of his pre-accident earnings. Those are the only two possible ways of dealing with this situation. We examined very carefully the possibility of taking the first method and disregarding, for the purpose of calculating these payments, certain additions to the man's post-accident earnings. We examined this possibility very carefully with a view to its adoption, but it was hopelessly unsatisfactory in the case of the man who is unemployed, because there is no figure of post-accident earnings as regards which we could disregard increases when the man is in fact unemployed.

Therefore, we were forced to adopt the method incorporated in Section n, Subsection (3), of the principal Act, that is, by deeming the man's pre-accident earnings to be increased. You can do that only by looking at increases granted in the industry in which he was employed at the time of the accident. Suppose there is a man who has been employed in the mines and who has transferred to agricultural employment owing to incapacity to do mining work; that man, under the method we propose for dealing with this matter, will get the benefits of any increases granted in the rates of wages in the mining industry, but if in his agricultural employment there is an increase in wages, then his partial incapacity payment will be to some extent reduced. That is inevitable once you have adopted the method of operating on the pre-accident earnings and not on the post-accident earnings for this purpose. This matter was very fully thrashed out between myself and the representatives of the Trades Union Congress. We started by trying to adopt the method of disregards in respect of the post-accident earnings. We found the difficulties were quite insuperable in regard to the unemployed person whom we wished to benefit by these provisions, and therefore, we were forced to adopt this method of adding any increases granted since the date of the accident to the man's pre-accident earnings figure.

Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

Did the hon. Gentleman say that the principal obstacle in the way of taking the post-accident earnings was the question of the unemployed man?

Mr. Peake

I will explain that. In the case of the man who is unemployed, you have to take a notional figure, which is the amount he is able to earn in some suitable employment after the accident.

Mr. Bevan

What is the difficulty?

Mr. Peake

It is this. If you set up a system of disregards, and a man is unemployed and is, therefore, suitable for work in a variety of different trades, you cannot select any one out of those trades to see what increases in wages have been granted for the purposes of disregarding them. There may be a wide variety of trades which the county court judge may have to look at, and in some there may have been increases and in others there may have been no increases.

Mr. Bevan

I am afraid that hon. Members on this side are not at all clear about the situation. The hon. Gentleman has explained quite clearly that there were two alternatives available, but he has rejected the alternative which would have met our case, because if he had accepted it it would have been very difficult to find out what were the potential earnings of an unemployed man, for the reason that that man might become employed in a variety of trades. At the present time that calculation has to be arrived at day after day.

Mr. Peake

It is not a question of finding out the potential earning capacity of an unemployed man at this moment, but of ascertaining precisely what wage increases have taken place in the work for what that man is suitable. There is a wide variety of trades for which the man is suitable. How is the county court judge to say "I will look at the building trade, at the agricultural industry, at this or that, in order to discover the precise wage increases which have been granted and which I must disregard"?

Mr. Bevan

That is precisely what the county court judge does at present. He is asked, on a question of fact to find out what sort of work the man is able to do, and then to find out what are the earnings in the kind of work the man is able to do and to fix the partial compensation accordingly. So that this difficulty already exists and is met, and, if there is no more insuperable obstacle than that, the hon. Gentleman will have to explain why the other alternative was adopted.

Mr. Peake

Obviously there is a big difference between ascertaining what a man might earn in some suitable employment and discovering what increases in wages have taken place in the employment since his accident.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that in every coalfield in the country there are unemployed men whose hypothetical earnings are determined by the calendar? This has been the position for the last 25 years,

Mr. Peake

The hon. Member must take the matter up at the annual Congress of the trade union movement.

Mr. Bevan

That is not a statement that any Minister ought to make from that bench. I have not the slightest concern with what the Trades Union Congress have decided, and he must not represent that any outside body with whom he has negotiated has any effect on our decisions here.

Mr. Peake

I was not suggesting that the hon. Member was bound by any agreement that I happen to have reached with the Compensation Committee. I am endeavouring to point out that this difficulty of ascertaining precisely the extent and amount of wage increases granted in respect of a particular employment is a difficult thing to ascertain in the case of a man who is unemployed, because you are not bound to look at previous employment alone. The county court judge has to look at what employment is suitable. It may be easy to say that if he were a bricklayer he would be earning so and so, and the increase in bricklayers' wages has been so many shillings a week, but the man is entitled to say, "I am equally suitable for work of some other nature in which there has been a more substantial increase in wages since my accident." The representatives of labour whom I met were so impressed by this difficulty that they had no difficulty whatever in accepting the alternative method and operating upon the pre-accident rather than the post-accident earnings. The adoption of that proposal had substantial benefits, in that it brought in cases of total incapacity which would not otherwise have been included.

I want now to say a few words about the effect of the Amendment. The hon. Member desires to include the words "or in the duration of employment in each week." He wishes to give the benefit of more regular work to the old cases of accidents which occurred in the days when depression was on and trade was slack and the man was working shorter time than at present. He called in aid some words from an Amendment that I am to move presently. It is suggested that the tribunal shall have regard, in the case of juveniles or minors, to any other material change of circumstances. Those words are not intended to cover the question of greater regularity of employment. They are included in order that the judge may have under consideration in those cases the improvement or the worsened physical condition of the workman at the time of the review. The hon. Member's intention is undoubtedly a good one. He wants, in the old cases of accidents which occurred during the depression, when the increase in wages conies along, the compensation to remain stabilised. In some of those cases, where a man was working four days in 1931 and six days at present, it is true that while he gets 15s. extra a week now he will suffer a reduction in his compensation of 2s. 6d. The intention is good, but I am afraid the remedy suggested is worse than the disease and would in the future be fraught with danger from the point of view of persons in receipt of partial incapacity payments. At present industry of all sorts is working at full pressure. Everyone is working a full week, and many are working many hours of overtime, and their average weekly earnings are calculated upon the basis of the greatest possible regularity of work.

While everyone hopes that at the conclusion of the war wage rates will not fall, at the same time most of us hope that there will not be so much overtime and that we shall return to more reasonable hours of employment. [Interruption.] It is quite clear. There is a good deal of case law on the point. If a man works overtime throughout the year, that is brought into the calculation of his average weekly earnings. I, for one, hope that after the war there will be shorter hours of work generally, and also that in the coalfield that I know best we shall return from the six to the five-day week. In all those cases, under the hon. Member's proposal, when hours become shorter or regularity of work becomes less, the employer will be able to apply for a reduction in the weekly payment on the ground that work was less regular, and supposing we even return, which God preserve us from doing, to the sort of position we were in in 1931, when men in the coalfields were working three days a week, it would have a most disastrous result. To my mind it would be a most disastrous result that a man's weekly payment of compensation should be cut down by half for no other reason than that he was working three days a week at that time, whereas in the period preceding the accident he had been working six days. It is at the very moment when a man's earnings have fallen because he is working three or four days instead of six that you would make him vulnerable to a reduction in his weekly payment of compensation. The principle embodied in these Amendments is wrong. They are well intentioned to deal with a small number of hard cases, but their general result would be extremely bad and it would be a great mistake for the Committee to adopt them.

Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)

After the powerful speeches we have heard and the explanation of the Under-Secretary, the impression left on our minds is that the Government have started out with the best intentions to meet a promise to carry out their pledge, and that they then seem to have faltered by the way. They tell us that we have got something in the Bill that we never expected—the case of the totally incapacitated man. Then they faltered because they found that there was an obstacle in the way of carrying out the pledge, that obstacle being the unemployed man-. This is a Bill which is not just dealing with miners. It will apply to industry generally, but as miners we are, of course, particularly interested in it on account of the short time and the irregular work from which we suffer in our industry. The Under-Secretary's statement in regard to the difficulty of finding a basis for the unemployed man so that he might or might not come within these provisions, leaves us absolutely cold. We know that the calculation of partial compensation in such cases has not been easy, but we know also that such a man has had to accept the partial compensation which has been found for him. There is no question at all that the Parliamentary Secretary has not carried out the pledge to the men who during the period of their employment were working short time? because it has been admitted that under the method of calculation proposed at least a number of men will not get their partial compensation fully restored. In view of the pledge that was given that the partial compensation would be restored, may I ask that steps will be taken when the Bill is in another place to carry out that pledge? If the words of this Amendment are not the right words and the Government are fearful about the consequences, and we respect their fears—

Mr. Peake

I am very sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I cannot allow his statement to pass that there has been a pledge in this matter. There has not been any pledge.

Mr. Taylor

Then we will say that there was an understanding, that there was a great belief that the partial compensation would be restored. It is agreed that a number of men, and it will be a very considerable number, who in the old, bad days of the coal industry, when we were working only three or four days a week, had low wages will not get the full benefit. I was asking when I was interrupted whether, if the Government are not satisfied with the words of this Amendment, they will find other words which will carry out the object which this Bill set out to achieve, and that is to restore the partial compensation to the men who ought to receive it. May we ask that in another place the Government will find the words to fit the occasion, and that we shall get what we came here expecting, and that was an agreed Bill which would go through the House almost automatically?

Mr. Isaacs (Southwark, North)

I do not know whether I am taking the risk of drawing the lightning of the Government Front Bench on to myself, but it is only fair that those who had an opportunity of discussing all the details of these changes and went very fully into the question of partial compensation should speak. Yesterday I mentioned that there are cases where the injured workman will not get all the difference in the increase in wages. We are concerned with the question of the unemployed men. There are many industries in this country where wages are fixed in the way that they are in the mining industry. Those who represent a number of industries and who negotiated these things say that if you adopted the proposal first discussed with the Home Office, it would be a hardship to the unemployed man on compensation; it would not be easy to decide how much his wages would have been increased as you could not discover in which industry he might have been working.

The coal miners' case is much easier. I was hopeful that we could have got all we asked, seeing that when we discussed the matter we went into it very fully. It was a case of two alternatives open to us. Whether new ones will present themselves later, I do not know. This matter was discussed as we were asked to discuss it, and it was reported back to those who asked us. The mining industry was represented at the discussion. We did the best we could in the circumstances.

Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)

If we were disappointed before the Undersecretary spoke, we are more disappointed now. I think he does not really understand the situation. The fact that so many miners have spoken in this discussion shows the intense feeling which exists in the mining industry in regard to the question of compensation, while the paucity of Members on other Benches to-day proves how little they are interested in the case. The Under-Secretary of State spoke about the benefits that are in the Bill, but none of us attempted to suggest that there are not tremendous benefits in the Bill as it stands. The point is that tremendous anomalies are left to be adjusted. Hon. Members on this side of the House, especially from mining districts, know how often cases have gone to the court and received adverse decisions, and all the pledges, promises, speeches and statements made in the House of Commons have no effect whatever when a case is being considered in court.

I support the Amendment, because it is clear that an undertaking was given and is not carried out in the terms of the Bill. We are accustomed to opposition from the Government Front Bench when great principles are at stake and tremendous amounts of money are involved, but we cannot understand the stubborn attitude of the Under-Secretary of State in regard to this very minor point, which is nevertheless of vital importance to vast sections of the working class. We did hope that the promises made would be carried out in the Bill without leaving loopholes for escape. In the light of the statement and promises that have been made, Clause 6 is entirely meaningless. It states: the average weekly earnings of the workman before the accident shall…be deemed, so long as the changed rates obtain without further change, to be the average weekly earnings which he would have earned during that period if the changed rates had obtained throughout that period. It has been demonstrated without a shadow of doubt that people working in a low-wage period and a period of broken time, when unemployment was rife, will be at a disadvantage. Instances have been given that show that if you are to lift a man from a low-wage period and attempt to define his wages under the Bill, he is bound to suffer tremendously.

It is disappointing to me that we have not been able to introduce a more far-reaching Measure that would at least have been able to deal with many of the glaring anomalies we have to face. This Clause leaves the unfortunate victim of accidents in the same position, when the new Regulation is applied, as he was under the application of the 20 per cent. review. We have all these anomalies in that. We can only review in the light of the wages that a person had earned and if he was a low-wage earner, the 20 per cent. review still left him drawing a low level of compensation. Only the wages actually earned are reviewed, The wages a man might have earned are not reviewed, the wages which, under the normal working system of a six day week, he could have earned. It is a false assumption to say that we are by any means doing justice to the wage-earner when the wages he could and would have earned are not reviewed. These unfortunate pre-war accident cases require all the sympathy that we can offer; we do not require to keep them down to the wages and levels of compensation they were then drawing. That has been the whole trouble among my hon. Friends, the very low rates of wages carrying with them very low compensation rates. There is no earthly reason why we should take half-a-dozen or even two bites at this cherry. This is a matter which must be adjusted in the face of things. Why cannot we do it now, when we have the opportunity?

I notice my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel. [Interruption.] He can speak when I have finished. The unfortunate thing about a Scotsman is that when he intends to say something he says it irrespective of any influence that may be brought to bear. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power stated in the Debate yesterday that the partial compensation men will, as a general principle, have restored to them the partial compensation that may have been removed as a result of any war-time increases in their wages. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) interrupted to ask a very simple, plain, straightforward question. He asked whether full compensation would be restored in every case. My hon. Friend was not going to be caught by that.

Mr. Tom Smith

Let us be perfectly fair. I was racing against time. That Bill had got to be through. I had only about 12 minutes allowed. If I had delayed matters another 15 seconds, we would not have got the Second Reading of the Bill, but I would have liked to have replied.

Mr. Sloan

I do not think it would have taken 15 minutes, or 15 seconds, to have said "Yes" or "No." But my hon. Friend, like all Labour Members who gravitate to the Government Front Bench, has developed some astuteness. Instead of answering the question, he said, "I want to get the Bill through in 10 minutes." He could have answered the question in less than 10 seconds. The question of my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan is still unanswered. On that rests the whole case. We would have had no reason to divide the Committee if that had been answered satisfactorily; and I hope that we shall divide unless we get a straight answer to the question. [Interruption.] Yes, I see the clock: the hands are still going round. The position in Scotland is very much worse than in Lancashire, where my hon. Friend says he does not want to face his conference on Saturday and tell them that many of his people to whom compensation is due are not going to benefit under the Bill. I and other Members from Scottish constituencies cannot face miners' conferences unless we are able to say, at any rate, that we have opposed this principle; and we shall oppose it in the Division Lobby unless we get a straight answer.

Mr. Peake

Cannot I make an appeal to the Committee? This Bill has given us a great deal of difficulty in drafting and preparation. We hope to get it through before Christmas; but if the Committee stage goes over another day it is most unlikely that it will get into law before Christmas, because it will have to go to the House of Lords on the second Sitting Day in the next series of Sittings and pass all stages in a single day in order to get the Royal Assent before Christmas. As the hon. Member for North Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) pointed out, we have examined this question most thoroughly. There were only two ways of dealing with the problem, and we chose the one which conferred the greatest benefit on the recipients of workmen's compensation. It would be hardly honest for me to say that we will reconsider the point again before it is taken to the House of Lords. We have examined it, and we see no possibility of meeting the point which has been made, which deals with only a limited number of cases; because in every case of workmen's compensation as far as I can see, there will be some substantial benefit under the Bill. There are two important and valuable Amendments on the Paper, and I appeal to hon. Members to allow us to get the Committee stage to-day.

Mr. Bevan

I cannot understand the position the hon. Member has taken up. He has not convinced the Committee, and I do not think he has convinced his own side. He has told us that the reason he has chosen this alternative is that if you take into consideration existing earnings, it will be frightfully difficult to apply the principle in the case of men who are not in a job. He was reinforced by what my hon. Friend said. The fact is that such a difficulty is practically non-existent.

Mr. Isaacs

Do not believe it.

Mr. Bevan

My hon. Friend will admit that we in the mining industry know more about workmen's compensation than is known by people in any other industry in Great Britain. Every day judges are making awards in the county courts on that principle. There is, therefore, no justification whatever for adopting a principle which perpetuates hardship for the most unfortunate. That is the difficulty. It is the man who had unemployment before the war whose lower rates of compensation are to be perpetuated. That is the unfair part of it. There is no reason why it should be done at all. My hon. Friend opposite may not accept the words of the Amendment before him, but there will be the Report stage, and he will have time between now and the Bill reaching another place to discuss the matter. We are not anxious to make difficulties, but my hon. Friend has to go back to Lancashire, and as far as Lancashire is concerned, the suggested arrangement is worse than the existing arrangement. Why should it be impossible to put into an Act of Parliament a form of words already embodying a practical arrangement between certain coalowners and mine-owners in the district? Why should it be impracticable?

The reason why it is impracticable, my hon. Friend said, is because of what would happen after the war. This is a wartime Measure. There are certain proposals concerning workmen's compensation in the Report of Sir William Beveridge. Does the hon. Member suggest that we ought to consider the effect of what we are going to do upon post-war workmen's compensation when everybody expects the Beveridge Report to be carried out? I wonder what my hon. Friend has to say about this, but it is impossible for us to go back to the coal pits and justify an amendment which puts the heaviest burden on the weakest shoulders. I certainly hope that my hon. Friend will find it possible to assure us that he will find a form of words before the Bill goes to another place in which our principle can be embodied in the Bill. Otherwise, as far as I am concerned, I shall divide the Committee.

Mr. Grenfell

May I make a very sincere appeal to the Committee and to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite? They can see that there are Members on this side of the Committee who are so pledged and so much in concert that they cannot fail to take the opportunity of dividing on this issue. Nobody wants a Division. We would not like to divide the Committee on this Bill if it is possible to get it through as an agreed Measure. There is yet time to overcome the scruples of those who differ from us on this side, or to overcome the difficulties of those who have to draft the words and find the responsible formula to give effect to what all people in this Committee want.

I speak more directly to the Leader of the House. He can consult his colleagues, and if he finds out that what I say is right, I hope he will exercise his personal influence, though I am not wishing to discourage the work of the hon. Member the Under-Secretary, and I am very satisfied indeed with the attempt to bridge over some of the difficulties which this Bill was intended to remove. May I ask whether it is not possible between now and the next Sitting Day to find a form of words which will meet the wishes of people in this Committee? I can assure him that there is substance in this, that it is a large problem and may lead to dangerous precedents. Nine-tenths of these cases are of men already at work. It is not worth while running the risk of dividing the Committee for 10 per cent. or a smaller proportion of disabled men who might be unemployed, or employed in another industry. I am sure he will find it worth while to secure agreement on this important issue. You could get the agreement and the good-will of the men in the most important industry in this country and it would be a large contribution towards ensuring that agreement and good-will if the Leader of the House would tell us that before the next Sitting Day what I have suggested can be done.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

I know that the hon. Gentleman is extremely sincere in what he says but at the same time, having listened to this discussion, I think I should be doing wrong if I held out any hope. Quite frankly, from the speeches I have heard I do not see any way of meeting this trouble. Obviously, it is not possible to complete this Bill to-day and the only course left for me now is to ask the Committee to report Progress. While I make no promise of any sort or kind, we will examine this matter again between now and the next time we discuss it, but I am advised by those who know far better than I do that there are immense difficulties. I think that is the fairest thing I can say now and, therefore, I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

Question "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon the next Sitting Day.