§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
If and when, as I hope will be the case, the Bill now before the House becomes law, it will be the fourth Workmen's Compensation Act which has been passed during the present war. Previous to the beginning of the war, the weekly payment in disablement cases was 50 per cent. of the average weekly earnings up to a maximum of 30s. The Workmen's Compensation (Supplementary Allowances) Act, 1940, gave a flat-rate addition of 5s. to every one, married or single, male or female, which brought the maximum allowance up to 35s. and, in addition, gave the male workman with children 4s. per week in respect of the first two children and 3s. a week for every other child under 15 years of age, subject to a maximum of seven-eighths of the pre-accident earnings. These increases were given in view of the rise in the cost of living and represented a substantial increase in the benefits. The Act which was passed last February did not increase the scales of benefit but made provision to enable compensation to be reckoned on the basis of what the workman would have earned if changes in rates of wages since the accident had been in force at the date of the accident. The Act resulted in increases in a large number of cases, particularly partial incapacity cases, but owing to the legal ceiling of 30s. in the principal Act, it did not increase the compensation in cases of total incapacity, where the pre-accident earnings were £3 a week or over.
Since 1940 there has been a comparatively small rise—about 8 per cent.—in the cost of living, and there is little justification for any further increase in the rates of compensation on that ground, but, owing to the increase in the level of wages during the war, many cases have come up against the ceiling of 35s. In these circumstances the Government thought that they would be justified in making further provision, including provision for additional rates of compensation, and I am sure that the House will 1542 feel that it is a duty which falls upon the Government and upon the House to make all reasonable provision for the victims of industrial accidents who fall by ill fortune and injury in the industrial service of the country. On this ground therefore the Government have felt, in view of the change in the wages level, that they would be justified, as a temporary Measure, pending the introduction of a new and more comprehensive scheme, in going forward with proposals for an increase in the rates, but they considered it essential that any increases given should not be such as would prejudice the fair consideration by the Government and the House of the proposals in respect of workmen's compensation, and possibly to some extent the other proposals, in the Beveridge Report. As the House is aware, the Beveridge Report proposes that during the first 13 weeks of incapacity the benefit payable should be the security benefit, that is to say, in the case of a single man 24S., or less if he is under 21. These proposals are now under consideration by the Government, but no final decision has yet been reached in framing proposals. The Government have also had regard to the rates of pension and allowances payable in respect of war injuries. The House will note that the benefit payable under the existing Acts, in the ordinary cases of single men, is much in excess of the benefit proposed under the Beveridge scheme, namely, the standard now being 35s. for the single man—and indeed for any man, apart from the children—as against the 24s. proposed for the first 13 weeks in the Beveridge Report, which also recommended 20s. between the ages of 18 and 20 and 15s. for under 18 years of age. In the case of the married man the standard now may fall short by 5s. of the Beveridge proposals.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
May I ask what is the point of referring to the Beveridge Report at all? Would it not be much more sensible to refer to the cost of living and to the needs of the injured workman?
§ Mr. Morrison
That seems a curious observation from my hon. Friend. If there is a proposal in the Beveridge Report in regard to workmen's compensation, and having regard to the fact that hon. Members, including my hon. Friend, 1543 were pressing the Government very hard to adopt the Beveridge Report, it surely is relevant to refer to that Report. I am surprised at my hon. Friend for disturbing the proceedings by making such an interruption.
The Government propose that the payment for the married man should be brought up to the amount of the security benefit, namely, 40s. As regards long-term cases, that is to say, cases exceeding 13 weeks in duration, the proposal of the Government is that in the case of the single man an additional allowance should be given, bringing his allowance up to 40s., and in the case of the married man an additional 10s., bringing the compensation up to 50s.
The Government have considered very carefully, when dealing with the long-terms cases, whether it would be better to raise the maximum limits under the Act or to proceed by way of further flat-rate additions. They came to the conclusion that the latter method, which was adopted in the Act of 1940, would be simpler and that, except in the case of the very low-paid worker, who could already get up to seven-eighths of his pre-accident earnings, it would ensure that all workers would get the benefit of the increase. They believe this method of procedure to be generally acceptable within those limitations.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (Oxford)
I am sorry to interupt my right hon. Friend, but there was one point which I did not quite catch. I understood him to say that, in the case of an unmarried man, during the first 13 weeks of his disablement the new Bill proposes to give him 40s.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am sorry if I was not clear. It may be my fault. During the first 13 weeks he remains at the 35s. Then, he gets 40s.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes. To sum up, the allowances under the Bill are, for the disabled married man, 5s. in respect of his wife from the commencement, making 40s. instead of a 35s. maximum, and a further 10s. after the 13 weeks, making a maximum of 50s., and for other cases 5s. after the first 13 weeks, making a 1544 maximum of 40s. The weekly payments including these allowances would be subject to a maximum of two-thirds of the average weekly earnings. In the case of the lower-paid workers, for example, those earning less than 40s. a week, the seven-eighths maximum will continue to apply. In addition, we have examined the children's allowances provided for in the Act of 1940, and we consider that we can make an increase here—which I am very glad can be done. We therefore propose under this Bill to increase the allowances in respect of children from 4s. a week for each of the first two children and 3s. for each subsequent child of the appropriate age, to weekly payments of 5s. in respect of all the children within the recognised age limits. This will give a further improvement in family cases.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
When the right hon. Gentleman says "to children" does he not mean all children born before the accident?
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
Does that 5s. come in at once, or has the children's allowance to wait for 13 weeks?
§ Mr. Morrison
No, the children's allowances—I do not want to get into the procedure at Question time—operate at the beginning; they do not have to wait for 13 weeks.
In addition, we have dealt, as I have indicated, with the children's allowances, and we have decided on 5s. both because we think it is right that it should be done and also because it fits in with the general conclusions of the Government in connection with the children's allowance recommendation of the Beveridge Report. Where children's allowances are payable the maximum will be seven-eighths of the average weekly earnings. In partial incapacity cases, the allowances will be such proportion as the weekly payment bears to the weekly payment which would have been payable for total incapacity, as at present.
It is proposed that the increases should apply to existing as well as to new cases. It is not easy to justify throwing on employers under the existing scheme a liability for which they have clearly not been able to make any provision. I am glad to say that the employers have 1545 recognised, as they did in 1940 when discussions took place in, relation to the legislation then, that great hardship would be caused if existing cases were excluded from the Bill. They do mean a large addition to the burden on the employers, but no objection has been raised by the employers' representatives to the old cases being treated on the same basis as the new.
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
The right hon. Gentleman says that no objection has been raised by employers as a whole, but he cannot have consulted all employers. Does his statement apply to the small employers? It might be that the wealthier ones do not object, but what about the smaller, poorer employers?
§ Mr. Morrison
The hon. and gallant Member is right that I cannot consult all employers. We consulted the British Employers' Confederation, and what I am saying is my interpretation of the attitude they adopted. I cannot go beyond that fact.
There is a criticism of the Bill that it proposes to give an allowance in respect of a wife just as the 1940 Act gave allowances in respect of children, irrespective of whether the workman is supporting his wife and children. The Government think this is justifiable in a temporary measure, though it is difficult to justify as a piece of good administration. Moreover, under the present system, much of the administration rests with the employers, and the insurance companies come in on behalf of the employers or on behalf of themselves. If the compensation were conditional on the wife being dependent on her husband, it would mean inquiries of a somewhat undesirable character by employers about the domestic circumstances of the workman and the family circumstances of his case. It would be quite different if the Act were permanent and we were making bigger changes, to which I hope to make contribution while I still hold my present office.
§ Mrs. Tate (Frome)
I cannot understand why it is justifiable in a temporary Act to pay a man an allowance for his wife and children whom he may not be supporting or seeing or living with. Why is it more justifiable temporarily than permanently? "Justifiable" is quite an inappropriate word to use in this respect.
§ Mr. Morrison
The trouble is a double one. This is a temporary Bill. We have 1546 every intention and hope of bringing in more permanent legislation. An arrangement which it is administratively difficult to defend is more acceptable if it does not last long than if it lasts a long time.
§ Mr. Morrison
The hon. Lady is wrong to bring morality in. It is a question of expediency. Under the existing structure the matter is one for the courts in the end, but it is also a matter for the employers, and I think that it would be very objectionable if employers had to make inquiries about the circumstances of employees. If and when the State comes in and this is more fully a social service, new circumstances will arise. The present arrangement is one of the things we suffer from under the existing structure. It is for similar reasons that it is not proposed to provide an adult allowance for the single man with dependants. It is obvious that in such cases, if a condition of dependency required to be proved, as I assume it would, then inquiries again would have to be made by the employers in order that an appropriate decision might be reached by the courts or otherwise. On the whole the Government think that we had better not touch that at this juncture, and I think that organised labour in its many branches would not be at all happy about such inquiries by private employers.
§ Mr. Collindridge (Barnsley)
Is not that done now in fatal cases? Do not those inquiries take place in the case of fatal accidents?
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes, but with the difference that every fatal case has to go to court. They are limited in number, but with a vast number of cases it would not be a good system. The point is, however, a fair one for consideration perhaps in connection with other legislation.
Clause 2 provides for an increase in payments in fatal cases. The present minimum, where an adult dependant is left, is £200, and the maximum is £300. We have examined the maximum payment in fatal cases, and we thought it was justifiable to make an increase in that respect also. Therefore we propose to lift the minimum from £200 to £300 and the maximum from £300 to £400. Where children under the age of 15 years are left in addition to a widow or other adult dependants provision is made by the Act 1547 for the payment of an additional sum in respect of the children, the total amount payable being fixed at £600. The Bill proposes to increase the aggregate of £600 under the existing law to £700. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame."] Increases in compensation in respect to children are not proposed, as since the amount was fixed children have been covered in other ways, including the Widows, Orphans and Old Age Pensions Contributory Pensions Act, which has provided 5s. for the first child and 3s. for every other child or, if both parents are dead, 7s. 6d. a week for each child. These allowances do not affect the compensation payable under the Workmen's Compensation Act. If, however, the lump sum payable to an adult dependant is less than the maximum of £400, the difference up to £700 can be used to increase the amount payable in respect of the children.
The House need not, I think, be apprehensive that the passage of this Bill will be taken as relieving the Government in any way of arriving at and announcing a decision on the Beveridge proposals for a permanent revision of the system at the earliest practicable date. Personally, I went to the Home Office not by any means well informed on this highly technical and complicated problem of workmen's compensation. Although I know more now, I speak on it with all due modesty in the presence of so many technical experts on the subject.
§ Mr. Morrison
Do not be unkind. When a man is confessing his limitations, I think that was a rather ungenerous observation. It is not often that Ministers are modest.
§ Mr. Morrison
That is fine. As I say, it is a very technical subject, but the more I have become familiar with it—and I am very slowly trying to keep pace with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, who is himself a real expert on this matter—the more I see of it the more 1548 I personally think that the whole structure and organisation are really inappropriate for the year 1943. It began, of course, in the 1890s and was no doubt the best kind of structure that there could be in the 1890s before any substantial social services existed, but in relation to modern practice in connection with the social services I am bound to say I like the present system less and less. It would please me if I could bring in fundamental changes for workmen's compensation on a more satisfactory basis.
The Bill will substantially benefit a large number of unfortunate victims of industrial accidents. Bearing in mind that the increases will apply to existing as well as new cases, they represent a very substantial advance over the prewar level of payments. For example, in the Debate on the 1940 Act and in evidence before the Royal Commission it was stated that the average payment to a miner in 1938 was 25s., that is, the average weekly payment as compared with the maximum permitted of 30s. The married man will now get 40s. a week for the first 13 weeks and subsequently 50s., which is an increase of 60 per cent. and 100 per cent. respectively—that is, if they get the maximum, but I think that they will tend to get it under the existing wage levels. A man with two children can get 50s. for the first 13 weeks and 60s. thereafter, increases of 100 per cent. and 140 per cent. respectively. A single man will get 35s. a week for 13 weeks, which, if my calculation is right, is an increase of 40 per cent over the pre-war average payment, and 40S. a week after the first 13 weeks.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
If a man has been drawing compensation for 12 months, does he come straight on to this, or has he 13 weeks to wait?
§ Mr. Morrison
He will come straight on to it. The House, I think, would like such information as I can give about the estimated cost of the proposals. In 1930 the estimated cost of compensation was £10,000,000. The estimated cost under the Act of 1940 was £12,500,000. The Act of 1943 and this Bill, if it is passed into law, will further increase it by something like £5,000,000.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Is that the increased amount of compensation which will be paid, or the cost of insuring against it?
§ Mr. Morrison
These are the best figures we can get: they may be questionable; but they are based on the £10,000,000 which was paid in compensation before the war. That is the basis upon which we have gone. The increase will make the total £17,500,000, an increase of 75 per cent since 1938, which, I think the House will agree, is a substantial move forward. There is then the question of the date of operation of the Act. The Government had hoped that this Bill would have been passed before the Adjournment for the Summer Recess, but there were disagreements about it—as to which I make no complaint—and it was not found possible to get sufficient general assent to pass it before the Recess. I am sure the House, in view of the interest it has always taken in the matter and of the general agreement which I hope and believe exists among us to do our best for the injured workman, would like to get the Bill in operation at the earliest possible date. I have given careful consideration to that. We must give some short time to the employers and the insurance companies to enable them to complete their arrangements. It is proposed, assuming that rapid progress is made with the Bill, that the Act shall come into force on 29th November. That will require an Amendment in Committee or on Report stage, because the original date inserted in the Bill was based on the hope that we would get the Bill through before the Recess.
The proposals in the Bill have, as hon. Members know, been the subject of very long negotiation and consultation with the Trades Union Congress and the British Employers' Confederation. I want to be quite frank. The Bill in some respects does not go as far as the Trades Union Congress would have wished, but they accepted it without prejudice to any other demands that they may make. My hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) knows all about it, for he was the very capable chairman and leader of the T.U.C. Delegation which dealt with the Home Office on the matter. The employers have criticised the proposals in several respects. In particular, they have 1550 pressed a point which they urged in 1940, that allowances for a wife and child are not appropriate in a system based on wages and ought not to be made at the expense of the employer, but ought to be borne by the State. The Government decided in 1940, as a temporary measure, that it was justifiable to place the burden of the children's allowances on the employers, and they have not felt able to depart from that now, when the children's allowances are being improved and when a new principle is being established of an allowance in respect of the wife. There is, I believe, a great deal of support for the Bill among the trade unions. Indeed, one of our greatest trade unions resolved at its conference that every step should be taken to get the Bill through at the earliest date possible. There has been some regret at the delay which occurred in giving statutory effect to the proposals, but I hope the House will give the Bill a friendly reception. These proposals mark a substantial advance in the compensation of workmen injured in industrial accidents, and I can only say again that I hope the House will give a friendly reception to the Bill and will cooperate with us in getting it through as quickly as possible, so that it will soon operate. I will continue to give my best and my most sympathetic attention to the possibility of bigger and more fundamental changes in the legal provision for workmen's compensation.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
We accept this Bill with reservations. The Bill is headed "Temporary Increases," and so it might well be. The Home Secretary said that it is a temporary Measure pending the carrying through of a great Measure. On those grounds we shall support the Second Reading. We shall support the Second Reading, too, because the increased benefits arc urgently required for those who are suffering from industrial injuries and diseases. The Minister said that we need not be apprehensive. We are bound to be apprehensive, because of our experience of this matter. I remember how in 1917, when the Government of the day were very much concerned about the growing industrial unrest, they appointed Commissioners to investigate that unrest, and one or two outstanding points brought out in their Report was the grievance that existed over the administration of 1551 Workmen's compensation. Here we are, in 1943, after all that time, with another limited Bill, which does not solve our problems. What an indictment it is against this Parliament—and I want to emphasise that—which was prepared to acquiesce in the pre-war "man's inhumanity to man," with its 30s. a week maximum of workmen's compensation. No wonder millions of us—and I include myself—are 10th to accept some of the promises made in speeches to-day. No wonder there is that cynicism and suspicion, after our experience of the past 20 years. While we like the way the Minister approached the matter to-day, while we like the spirit which found expression in his speech, we are bound to be concerned; and we shall play our part to see that that spirit and those promises are implemented in concrete form as soon as possible.
I remember how before the war, when we used to ballot for the right to introduce Motions on Wednesdays and Bills on Fridays, my hon. Friends, particularly those representing industrial areas, wanted when they drew a place in the Ballot to introduce a comprehensive Workmen's Compensation Bill. Hon. Members will remember how my hon. Friends used to come down in greater numbers than ever on Fridays, to support Members introducing such Bills. That was because there was so much pressure on every one of us coming from an industrial centre to do something to alleviate the conditions of those who were suffering from industrial injuries—and I wish there had been still more pressure. I can remember my old friend the former Member for Spennymoor, a great old soul—I only wish there had been more like him in this House—and how he would introduce such a Bill, and we would support him. Always you would see three or four Members sitting here and there on the other side. They would speak for every available minute until 4 o'clock, and then the limousines and Rolls-Royces would arrive, to vote us down. We cannot forget that. We are bound to be apprehensive. Those of us who belong to my generation in particular are smarting as a result of the way we were treated.
§ Mr. G. Nicholson
As my hon. Friend is making a party matter of this, would it not be fairer to say that in various Parliaments Governments from all parties, 1552 including the party to which my hon. Friend belongs, were funking the introduction of Bills to deal with this matter? The hon. Member must not forget that the Labour Government took exactly the same attitude to this question as the other Governments.
§ Mr. Smith
That is a reasonable point. I only hope that the country has learned a lesson from the weakness of those Labour Governments. But remember that there were 450 Members supporting the party opposite; and there is a great indictment to be built up against them for their pre-war attitude on this matter.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I cannot quite accept that. I hope my hon. Friend will not try to make this a party matter, because we want to work together to make the new scheme a success.
§ Mr. Smith
I am bound to make this a party matter, because I belong to the people who have suffered so much over this question. No matter what others do, I cannot forget that. As long as I have the confidence of my colleagues, I shall follow that line. I am glad that the hon. Member was good enough to interrupt, because that leads me to show how the Trades Union Congress put evidence before the Government year after year as to the need for improving workmen's compensation. If a workman's pre-war earnings were £3 a week or more, he is entitled to 30s. a week compensation, plus 5s. a week out of the 1943 supplementary allowance and 5s. when this Bill becomes law. That means a total of £2 a week for the first 13 weeks, plus 10s. afterwards. A married man who may have been earning £4, £5 or £6 a week, because he is injured through no fault of his own, now receives £2 a week. The maximum basic payment is 30s. a week, which is half the average weekly earnings of £3 or over. From 1920 to 1930 there was a great amount of short time, and between 1930 to 1939 there was an average of approximately 2,250,000 unemployed, which means that those who were injured during that period would not have averaged £3 a week, and many of them would only have averaged £2 a week. These are very hard cases and the benefits of this Bill will be calculated on the average weekly earnings for that dark period, which means that in some cases—not the whole of them—they will get nothing at all.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
May I interrupt my hon. Friend in order to get this matter quite clear? He said that the calculation of compensation would be based on the earnings in the years when there was much unemployment, between 1930 and 1939, but, of course, he will bear in mind that the Act of January, 1943, gives all these men a right to have their earnings reviewed in accordance with what they would be at the present time?
§ Mr. Smith
I have chosen my words very carefully, and if my hon. Friend will be good enough to try and remember, he will find that I said that from 1920 until 1930 there was a large amount of short time and some of these men will not get the benefits of this Bill. I will quote from "The Times" of 22nd July of this year:Under the new Royal Warrant the totally disabled war pensioner whose disablement prevents him from earning a living will, if he has a wife and three children, receive a total pension of 79s. 6d., to which may be added a sum up to 20s. derived from casual earnings or from an allowance for constant attendance. The maximum payment under the Workmen's Compensation Acts to a civilian in exactly similar circumstances is at present 46s.Therefore, we are bound to be apprehensive when we get evidence of that kind. A single man obtains no benefits from the Bill for the first 13 weeks. If he is on the maximum, he will only receive 35s. for the first 13 weeks, although he may have to maintain a mother, or a brother or a sister, or he may have an injured father who was injured in the mines or on the railways before he was injured himself. If a single man is injured and if he lives a normal life and marries, as he is entitled to do, and later becomes the father of children, no matter how he was injured and what his injury may be, because he was injured while he was single, he and his family will not receive an extra penny. In order to enable us to assess the benefits of this Bill, will the Minister, when he replies, give us more specific information? How many will benefit after the 13 weeks? May we have the total number? In addition to that may we have the numbers separately for the mining industry, the dockers, the railways and the engineering industry? I have here the result of an examination made by a friend of mine of 50,000 cases and this is the result—65.5 per cent, of these cases lost four weeks or under, 29 per cent. lost one month to four months. 3.5 per cent. three 1554 months to six months and only 2 per cent. six months or over. If these figures are in relation to the total national figures, it means that approximately only 5.5 per cent. of those who receive injuries or suffer from industrial diseases will benefit from the increase over the 13 weeks period.
During the year ended July, 1943, 35,637 people were injured on the railways. In only 7.9 per cent. of the cases was compensation paid for a period of over 13 weeks. Therefore, hon. Members will understand our concern when limited measures of this character are introduced and the hardest of the hard cases are not going to receive the benefits which they ought to receive. Let me quote from the Journal of the Iron & Steel Trades Confederation, and anyone who knows of this Federation realises that they are a very orthodox body. This is what they said:Seeing that the maximum payment in thousands of cases will not be equal to 50 per cent. of the wages lost, it does seem to us a little pettifogging to include the two-thirds and seven-eighths principle, which of necessity is bound to affect the lower paid workers most. It seems that we are so afraid that a workman shall receive as much money when he is injured as he would if he were working, that the principle of something less must be maintained at all costs. There are thousands of salaried people who receive full salaries when sick. It is never argued in those cases that this is an incentive for them to remain away from their duties longer than is necessary. It appears, however, that it is only the wage-earners"—and let me emphasise it—who are in need of an economic deterrent to prevent them malingering, because that obviously is the conception underlying the two-thirds and the seven-eighths provisions.I have some figures here which ought to go on the record. These are extracts taken from a Miners' Federation document. They are partial dependency cases showing the differences between the owners' offers and final settlements, and what applies to the miners in this case applies equally to the engineering industry, the railways and to other industries. The first case is, wage per week at time of accident £3 family income before accident, £4 19s., family income after accident £1 18s., number of family, five, owners' first offer £150, final settlement at court £273. Here is another case, wages per week at time of accident £2 15s., family income before accident £7 10s., family income after accident, £4 15s., number of family, eight, owners' first offer £75, final settlement at court 1555 £172. There is an organisation that has for its object the prevention of cruelty to children. If good fathers are injured while following their employment their children, through lump sum settlements, may be subject to legalised cruelty for which this House is responsible, and if they are not members of a trade union the treatment is simply brutal when they come before the court or go before the representative of the particular industry. All lump sum settlements have to be filed in court and registered.
During the last four years injured workers have been war casualties just as much as other people. This House roused itself and forced improvements for the Armed Forces. We must take similar action for the industrial soldiers, and, that is why we welcome the great support that we are getting in different directions in regard to industrial casualties. The industrial workers—and I include myself—are very resentful at the legal quibbling that takes place over their injuries. For example, the lawyers say, "The injury may have occurred during his employment, but not necessarily arising out of his employment." Then the legal battle begins. It may be over a dead miner, docker or railway man, with a broken hearted widow sitting in court listening to what is going on. I would ask the Government in this so called enlightened age how much longer are we going to tolerate and acquiesce in a cruel system which plays such havoc with our people who are injured through no fault of their own?
Silicosis is a deadly industrial disease. Far too long have our people in North Staffordshire in particular suffered as a consequence of this disease, and very few people have paid any regard to it because it was only limited in extent. But now it is affecting miners, steel workers, fettlers, sand-blasters and asbestos workers and others and we appeal to the Home Secretary to introduce the Measure which he visualises and of which he spoke as soon as possible in order that we shall do justice to these industrial soldiers who are suffering as a result of their war service. Here are a few more cases and I take the first one from South Wales. It is of a man suffering from nystagmus. He has three dependants, his weekly compensation is only 30s. and he has to apply for a P.A.C. grant in respect of which he 1556 receives 3s. 8d. In Northumberland, a man has a fractured spine. He has six dependants, his weekly compensation is 28s. and he has to apply for public assistance in respect of which he receives 10s. 6d. In Durham, a man has an injured back. He has four dependants, he receives weekly compensation of 23s. and he has to apply for public assistance from which he receives 19s.
My hon. Friends who represent the mining industry in particular have raised the issue of workmen's compensation in every possible way—in the Trades Union Congress, the Labour Party, the Co-operative movement, our own party meetings and in this House on many occasions. Some of my friends said at the time they thought that we overdid it, and I was inclined to agree with them, but since I have had to get down to this thing in particular, it is indeed a sad story which has to be told of the mining industry. Deaths and accidents take a terrible yearly toll of the men employed in the mining industry. Nine hundred and twenty-five men were killed in 1941 and 877 in 1942; 2,990 miners were seriously injured in 1941 and 2,809 in 1942. In the mining industry alone approximately 120,000 miners are injured every year. Here is another figure which helps to drive home the seriousness of it to every one of us. We all express our concern and sympathy with those who have been injured as a result of enemy air-raids, but there are more injured each year in the mining industry than the total number of people who suffered as a result of enemy air-raids from 1939 to the end of 1942. From 1928 to 1937, 1,602,497 miners were killed and injured. For ten years in each working week, 18 miners were killed and 3,000 were injured, or on each working day, three were killed and 500 injured. That means blood and death on the coal obtained in this country. No wonder a miner wrote in the newspaper in the way he did last week after the Prime Minister's speech. Here is an extract from that letter:Just fancy a procession of coffins going through the street, each touching each other with not an inch between. This would be over a mile long; and it might be followed by a procession of disabled miners, each four abreast, with a yard in between the lines of four. This would extend over 40 miles long.Miners suffer from the effects of heat, water and exhaustion. It may take years before a man has to leave his employment, but can he then secure compensation? 1557 Ask any Member who knows the mining districts. He is lucky if he gets his national health insurance and then, owing to the position of his approved society, he draws the minimum State benefit. The number of compensation cases per 100 employed in the mines increased from an average of 14.99 in 1919 and 1923 to 23.23 in 1937. Last week it was with pride and joy that I sat here listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser) making a speech in the Debate on the coalmining situation. He is typical of hundreds in the mines, yet we have tolerated for years treatment in regard to workmen's compensation which is the blackest page of the many black pages of British industrial treatment of our fellow countrymen. It is said that a fair proportion of the accidents in the engineering and steel industries, docks and railways, are due to poor lighting. I would like to know from hon. Members who know whether that is true. If so, how much more does it apply to the mining industry? I understand that inferior lighting is the greatest contributory factor to miners' nystagmus. I received a letter the other day from Dr. Barnet Stross, medical adviser to the North Staffs Coal Miners' Federation and Society of Pottery Workers of Great Britain. He indicated that he knew this Bill was to be introduced to the mining industry and contended that it would help to eliminate silicosis, and asked whether it could not be applied nationally. He went on to say:In my own experience I have found that the fall in income resulting from accident or industrial disease plays a major part in delaying recovery. Men rust and brood more easily than machinery and are less easy to replace. Debt and poverty are poor correctives for the sick yet many men and women are driven back before full recovery for these reasons and for these alone. The misery and suffering caused to families by industrial injuries and diseases cannot be assessed.The dominant factor in industry is to get rid of the injured as cheaply and as quickly as possible. Clever lawyers and plausible men, who play upon the miners' eagerness to return to work, are employed. They say, "Never mind the declaration of liability; leave it with us, we will look after you." Many a broken man has told me, years after he has received an injury, "I wish I could have had a declaration of liability. I would have safeguarded my legal rights, but I trusted the plausible people who played on my feelings at that 1558 time." We therefore welcome the statement made by the Minister to-day, and we hope it will be implemented as quickly as possible. We look upon the Beveridge Report as containing the minimum on which to take legislative action. On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side, let me make it quite clear—because it needs to be said—that we do not look upon the Beveridge Report as the be-all and end-all. It deals only with the problem within narrow limits. We look upon it as containing only the minimum and not the maximum, and we shall look to the Government to consider what improvements can be introduced and to take legislative action as soon as possible.
I would like to ask my right hon. Friend whether we cannot have a more definite pronouncement about that Report to-day. Can we be given a more definite assurance that legislation dealing with it is to be introduced? Is it intended to introduce a large measure of workmen's compensation, this year, next year or when? The trade union movement agitated for years for the setting-up of a Royal Commission. That Commission was eventually set up, but when the war broke out it concluded its deliberations. Later an Inter-Departmental Committee was set up to consider the question of workmen's compensation, but the trade union movement never agreed to this question being considered by such a Committee. They took the view—and we agreed—that industrial disability arises from contract of service, that a man or woman may be disabled for life, and that while we are living under such a system of society as at present it should be the direct responsibility of the employer so to conduct his work that accidents can be reduced to a minimum. If, afterwards, injuries do occur, it should be the direct responsibility of the employer to cover the injuries with adequate compensation. Because we were so pleased at the publication of the Beveridge Report and in order to prevent any quibbling and playing into the hands of the people who are well fixed, the small number who have wielded powerful influence behind Governments during the past 20 years—a powerful social clique—we agreed to accept the Beveridge Report as a basis for legislation.
We look upon this question as a matter of urgency. We want better treatment for injured workers although we would 1559 prefer the prevention of accidents and industrial diseases to compensation. In our view the Home Secretary should go to the Prime Minister and say: "I had my Second Reading; the House has been very decent with me, but I have heard a sad story. The House is still smarting as a result of its experience and knowledge of industrial history. The House stood by me on Regulation 18B, on Civil Defence and on the introduction of other Regulations to win the war, and in response to that spirit I want to introduce as soon as possible the most comprehensive Workmen's Compensation Bill that has ever been introduced in any part of the world."
§ Mr. Higgs (Birmingham, West)
I think it will be agreed on all sides of the House that there is nothing calling for serious criticism in this Bill. We are all agreed that the existing workmen's compensation benefits are far too low, and we all accept these increases. The employer is equally concerned with the benefits which are being paid at the present moment. I know there will be agitation for greater increases; indeed, that agitation has already commenced from the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith). But for the time being I consider that this Bill adequately deals with the situation. May I remind the House that the only people who are benefiting from this Bill are employees and their dependants? Further, it is a non-contributory scheme. Every penny that has to be found for increased benefits is being found by the employer.
§ Mr. Collindridge
Does not the hon. Member know what happens in the mining industry, where the miner has to find, out of the ascertainment, 85 per cent. of the cost of compensation for injured men and their dependants?
§ Mr. Collindridge
The hon. Member does not know his subject. Since 1921, out of the ascertainments of the mining industry, which deducts premiums for compensation, 85 per cent. is defrayed from the miners' wages.
§ Mr. Higgs
I am referring to the engineering industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I think I am justified in referring to the industry I know something about. The original Compensation Act of 1897 fixed benefits at 50 per cent. of the average weekly earnings, and that principle has been maintained. The hon. Member for Stoke referred to the relatively low compensation that could be received by a man earning £6 or £8 a week. Well, a man earning that amount of money should be in a position to put a little away for a rainy day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I am not afraid to make that statement in this House or to tell people outside that that should be their attitude towards life in general. The existing maximum of 50 per cent. of the earnings has been increased to two-thirds, and in connection with the lower-paid workers the percentage has increased to 87½, as the Minister has rightly pointed out. As I have said, we are all agreed that the present Workmen's Compensation Act is obsolete. Unfortunately, the time is not opportune to introduce an entirely new Measure. When that time does arrive it can very easily be done as a result of the 50 years' past experience we have had of workmen's compensation, and many anomalies will be removed. I am sure employers will shoulder the burden of this increased premium without complaint. Recently I put a Question to the Home Secretary asking him the approximate percentage increase in the cost to industry for workmen's compensation in relation to this Bill, and the answer I received was, "Approximately 20 per cent." Even the most severe critics of this Bill will agree that that is no meagre increase.
The main criticism of the Beveridge Report against the present system is that it fails to maintain the necessary income. I believe that the Government have answered this criticism in a very satisfactory manner. This Bill introduces an entirely new principle. That is the differentiation between the first 13 weeks and thereafter. It is admitted that most accidents are discharged within the first 13 weeks, and the Beveridge Report suggests that only 10 per cent. exceed that period. The records of a company with which I am very closely associated show that only 6.5 per cent. of the accidents exceed the period of 13 weeks. Ninety per cent. of the single persons injured will receive greater benefits under this 1561 Bill than they would under the Beveridge Report, and a married man with or without children in the middle wage group will be almost as well off. May I again remind the House that the scheme is non-contributory? I consider that the Government have dealt with the matter very generously, and destructive critics must ponder very carefully before they press for greater benefit. As a comparison, a man earning £3 a week gets 35s. for the first 13 weeks, and under the Beveridge plan he would get 24s. Thereafter, both under the Bill and under Beveridge he would get 40s. A man with one child for the first 13 weeks would get 43s. and thereafter 45s. Under the Beveridge plan he would get 48s. I think that is a very favourable comparison. The Bill leaves unaffected the right of an injured workman to claim under Common Law.
§ Mr. Higgs
He has a perfect right to claim under Common Law. Beveridge suggests that the right of one person to sue another for negligence should be severely limited if not abolished. I believe the Government should preserve this ancient right. There is no more justification for its removal than in the case of suing for compensation if a man is injured in a motor accident. Any such action is unwarranted and is an interference with the individual's freedom. Workpeople are quite alive to their rights at Common Law. Substantial increases have taken place over the last few years in Common Law claims. I can state the figures of one mutual insurance company. In 1939 there were 159 Common Law cases against it; in 1940, 285; in 1942, 439; and this year up till August there are over 400, and it looks as though it will be in the neighbourhood of 600. I consider that that is a sufficient reply to the interruption of the hon. Member opposite. This statement was made recently in reply to a Question:There has, however, been consultation with representatives of the insurance interests, and on this occasion, as in 1940, there will, I believe, be a widespread readiness on the part of insurance companies to accept responsibility for the additional allowances in cases where they are responsible for weekly payments under the principal Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd September, 1943; col. 450, Vol. 392.]1562 It would be interesting to know how these insurance interests were selected to whom the Question was addressed. Insurance companies will be prepared to cover future and retrospective liability. There is no doubt about that. The majority of them will require additional premiums, but the impression may be gained that they will accept this additional liability without additional premiums. Could some official pronouncement be made on that point? I note that the Minister has altered the date of the Bill to 29th November. I was going to make a few remarks on that, but the alteration relieves me from doing so.
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
Unlike the hon. member who has just spoken, I am not satisfied with the proposals in the Bill. He made comparisons between what is paid to-day in workmen's compensation and what was paid many years ago. If we proceeded on those lines, we could prove that war pensions, old age pensions and so on are satisfactory or are too high because a lower figure prevailed at the particular time. In my view we should judge these matters according to whether the payments are adequate to keep a man and his wife, and it should not be forgotten that a workman when injured really requires a higher income than he had when working if he is to meet his obligations when he is unable to follow his employment. I hope to be able to show that the proposals in the Bill are very unsatisfactory, particularly to the single man. I know that the increases in weekly payments will be an added benefit to many thousands of injured workmen, but there will be many thousands who will be disappointed.
I oppose the Bill first, on the ground that the increases proposed are not equitable as between the single man and the married man with or without children and as between the married man without children and the married man with children, and, secondly, because the full increases will be paid only to those with the highest pre-accident average weekly earnings and only a part of the increase to injured men with the lowest earnings. This is due to the provision of a maximum payment of two-thirds of the weekly earnings in the case of single men and married men without children and the maximum in the case of married men with children. I oppose it thirdly, because in fatal cases where there are no 1563 dependants there has been no increase in the £15 maximum funeral expenses or anything to make provision for a lump sum payment or compensation in cases where there are no dependants. In fatal cases there is a lack of equity in the minimum payable, as between the case of a widow without children and that of a widow with children. Lastly, the proposed increases in the case of married men are payable only to the wife or children if the man is married at the time of the accident.
Let us take the case of a single man. He receives an increase of 5s. a week for the first 13 weeks of total incapacity. Surely, it will be agreed that that is grossly unfair. In the mining industry there are thousands of accidents every year, and the same must apply in other industries, where total incapacity does not last for 13 weeks. In those cases a single man will be worse off than he is under the present Act. Under the war conditions of 1917–19 a workman, whether single or married, with or without children, with pre-accident average weekly earnings of £2, was entitled to a maximum payment of 35s. for total incapacity. Compare that with this Bill. To obtain 35s. for total incapacity for 13 weeks, he must have £3 pre-accident average weekly earnings. That, to my mind, is grossly unfair especially if you take into consideration the fact that since 1939 the cost of living has increased by 30 per cent. which means bringing down the value of 35s. to 25s. The single man is expected to live on that for 13 weeks and find everything that is required to keep him.
Take the case of the single man and the married man without children. The married man is to receive an increase of 5s. a week for the first 13 weeks for his wife. That is a magnificent sum on which to keep a wife! Not many Members could keep their wives on 5s. a week. I know that I could not keep mine on that. In addition, the married man has other responsibilities—rent, coal, light, clothing, clubs, insurance, etc., which do not apply to the single man except in cases where he is keeping a mother, or younger brothers or sisters. It is inadequate. The same applies to the refusal of payment to the single man for the first 13 weeks. The first 13 weeks of incapacity are 1564 generally the most severe times when the man is suffering most pain, is worried, and brooding over his injury and being harassed by doctors and by his employer to get him back to work and during that period he is to have the least payment that can be given to him.
I am inclined to think that the author of this 13 weeks business, whether it was Sir William Beveridge or the Home Secretary, had at the back of his mind that the worker, whether injured or sick, must have some drive behind him to force him back to work at the earliest opportunity. That is what it means in essence—they are attempting, by depriving him of a decent standard of life during the first few weeks of his incapacity, to drive him back to work.
The same thing applies to the married man with children. He will have for the first 13 weeks £2, plus 5s. for each child. It must be remembered that these are maximum figures and will not apply in every case. As I have said, the proposed increases are maximum amounts and subject to the limit of two-thirds in the case of the single man and in the case of the married man with a wife and children to the limit of seven-eighths of the pre-accident average weekly earnings, and because of these limits hundreds of injured workmen will not receive the maximum increases but only part increases, or even no increases at all. It may be suggested that I am exaggerating, but I shall be able to show that what I am saying is correct. I have had 14 years' experience as a compensation agent and have dealt with thousands of cases, and I know of cases even under the Act of 1943 in which men were receiving two-thirds of their pre-accident average weekly earnings and therefore were not entitled to any increase under that Act and are not entitled to any increase under this Bill.
The determination of the pre-accident average weekly earnings is arrived at in accordance with Section 10 of the Act of 1925. It is upon the average weekly earnings and the average time worked—this is important—in the period preceding the accident that the amount of compensation is based. In the mining industry in Lancashire from 1927 to 1936 the day wage rate for adult workers on the surface was 7s. per shift, for underground workers—datallers—7s. 9d. per 1565 shift, and for haulage hands 7s. 7d. In other districts the rates were somewhat similar—there were only slight variations. During the depression, the economic blizzard, the average working time was in many cases less than three days a week; the rest of the week the men were signing on for unemployment benefits to eke out a livelihood. Men who were injured during that period have very low pre-accident average weekly earnings.
There are two ways of remedying this injustice. The first is by amending Section 10 of the Act of 1925 so as to get a formula which will more fairly assess the earning power of the workman and thus put his compensation when he is injured on a fairer basis. The other way is to remove the two-thirds and the seven-eights limits. If that were done many workmen would obtain the increased payments who will not get them now. For a man to receive the maximum benefits under this Bill his minimum pre-accident average weekly earnings must have been not less than £3. In all cases where the figure is below £3 the workman will not get the full increase but only a proportion of the increase. For every shilling below £3 he will have a reduction of 2d. on 5s.; for example, £2 19s., 4S. 10d.; 18s., 4s. 8d., until when you get down to two guineas he receives nothing at all. That statement can be examined by experts at the Home Office, and if they want any assistance I will give it and I will prove my case.
§ Mr. G. Nicholson
If it is an old injury which occurred when wages were low, are not those wages stepped up to present-day levels for the purpose of enabling him to get the increase?
§ Mr. Foster
That is the next point to which I was coming. I am sure that whoever is to reply to the Debate will say that the workman is entitled under the Act of 1943 to an automatic review of his wages so as to include in the pre-accident average weekly earnings wartime increases of wages or any other increases subsequent to the date of the accident. On that account, the Home Secretary said, most cases would come near to getting full payments; but this is what has actually happened. There is the same "snag" in this Bill as there was in the Act of 1943, which deprived hundreds of 1566 workmen of the full return of the partial compensation of which they had been deprived through wartime increases of wages. By Section 10 of the Act of 1925 the period that determines the average weekly earnings of the workmen is the period immediately preceding the date of the accident, subject to a 12 months' maximum or any shorter period of employment. As I have said, there was a long period of slack time in the mining industry, and in hundreds, and even thousands, of cases the average working time fell below three days a week. I have given the wage rates in Lancashire for adults in that period. If hon. Members multiply them by three they will get the average weekly earnings of a man. Under the Act of 1943, wage increases since the time of which I have spoken can be added to those average weekly earnings, but even so average weekly earnings based on three days work a week will not come up to £3, and in every case where they are below £3 the man will not get the maximum increase, which to me is an injustice.
I have said that the two ways of dealing with this difficulty are to amend Section 10 and to abolish the two-thirds and the seven-eighths limits. If that were done it would go a long way to remove these injustices and anomalies. Dealing with the first point, the Under-Secretary said, in the last Debate on the subject in this House on 27th January, 1943, when referring to the failure of the Bill then before the House to restore the full partial compensation which had been reduced as a result of the wartime increases in wages—This difficulty is inherent in the present system of calculating pre-accident earnings.Later he said:I am not without hope that as a result of the examination proposed and of the discussions which will follow, we may be able to arrive at some formula which will be an improvement upon the present system.Finally he said:
The Government propose that the method of calculating pre-accident earnings upon a basis that shall fairly assess the earning power of the workman shall be the subject of immediate examination, with a view to negotiation with representatives of employers and workmen at an early date."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1943; cols. 565–6, Vol. 386.]That was nine months ago, and we have heard nothing about it since, and in this Bill the Government are perpetuating that 1567 difficulty by not amending Section 10 of the Act of 1925. They refuse to believe that there are these cases which we have pointed out, but we know they exist, and we know they are the people who will suffer most. The effect of the Bill will be to give to those on the maximum, that is £3, the full increases under the Bill, but to those who are on a lower level only part increases or none at all.
Let me take the case of children's allowances in the case of a married man and show the effect of the seven-eighths limit. The man will receive the 35s. maximum and 5s. for the first 13 weeks, which comes to £2 If he has one child the sum will be £2 5s., if two children £2 10s., but if he has a third child he cannot get more than £2 12s. 6d., because more would be over the seven-eighths limit—the seven-eighths of No matter how many children he has beyond three he cannot get any more than £2 12s. 6d., and he would get less than that if the average wage had been less than £3. Let me take the second period when the 13 weeks elapses. I do not think the Home Office have thought about this. After the 13 weeks the married man with three children who is on the seven-eighths maximum of £2 12s. 6d. cannot get the 10s. To entitle him to the full benefits of this Bill he must have average weekly earnings of £3 14s. 6d. Anywhere below that figure, a man with wife and three children does not get the full benefit of these increases but something less, and what he gets less is determined by his average weekly earnings, which may be less than that figure. That to me is a ridiculous situation. I always thought that when the Government legislated for the community they did so for those who were most in need. The Bill does not legislate for those in need altogether but is giving those who are less in need something which it does not give to those who are most in need. The bottom dog is still at the bottom and receives worse treatment than the man at the top.
I have made two suggestions for improving the situation, and I have given extracts from the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State in the last Debate. I would like to know what has happened since that time to remedy the injustice contained in Section 10. I want also to ask whoever is responsible that, before the Committee stage is reached, the suggestion that Section 10 be amended 1568 will be accepted and that the Section will not be perpetuated in the Bill, as that was the cause of the trouble on the last occasion. It extracted the promise from the Under-Secretary at that time that he would deal with that point. I believe that was said to placate the feeling existing at that time. The promise was made, but was not implemented.
§ Mr. Foster
While appreciating that explanation, I think it is rather a pity that the Under-Secretary was not in when I quoted from Hansard and from the latest statement he made in that Debate. He stated there that he would examine the position with a view to negotiations with representatives of employers and workmen at an early date. I am making the point that the snag in the last case was Section 10, and I am submitting that consideration should be given to the point with a view to its being put right.
I would like to say one or two words about fatal cases. If there are no dependants, the maximum sum payable, not as compensation but for funeral expenses, is £15. In the first place, I think that £15 is too low for funeral expenses, but I want to deal with a far more important point than funeral expenses. That £15 is a disgrace and a scandal and is not worthy of any Government, never mind the British Government. Has the Minister ever given a thought to the position of a boy starting to work at 14 years of age when he meets with a fatal accident before he is earning wages which would entitle the parents to claim that they were dependent upon him? We have had thousands of that kind of case. If the parents cannot prove dependence at the time of death they cannot do so at any time subsequently to that time and claim compensation. Contrast that position with the position under the Ministry of Pensions, when a son is killed in the war. If there is no dependency at the time the lad is killed, the parents cannot get a pension, but if dependency subsequently arises, they retain their right to claim a weekly payment. 1569 Why is there that differentiation between those in the Army and those who work in the coalpits? What effect will that difference have upon the propaganda for the recruitment of young men to the coalpits? Apart from the question of weekly payments, which was a point I omitted at that time, are the parents going to send their lads into the pits, knowing that if they are killed before earning wages the parents will not be entitled to recompense or compensation? Not likely. They are going to send them somewhere a bit safer, where the boys are likely to live a bit longer and bring home more wages.
At the beginning of my speech I made a point that there was inequality between the widow with children and the widow without children. The Home Secretary said there was an increase in the maximum payment from £600 to £700, which made provision for a higher rate of benefit to the children in fatal cases. The Home Secretary is in error. The £100 which has been given has been put upon the widow, namely from £300 to £400. The £300 makes it up to £700, which is the amount under the present Act which is devoted to children's allowances. So nothing at all has been given for children in fatal accidents. Therefore that is an unfair position and is inequitable as between the widow without children and the widow with children. I very much hope that that point will be looked into.
Finally, I hope that before the Report stage comes along the Minister and others who are responsible will give consideration to the point in respect of the benefit in the Bill, to apply them to the man or the wife and children if there is post-injury marriage. That point has been conceded by the Ministry of Pensions. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions smiling. I am paying that Ministry a tribute. They have conceded that point where a man was permanently disabled. Why should it not apply to workmen's compensation? Why should there be preferential treatment to the men disabled in the Army against men injured in industry? I hope that point will be looked into and put right. My final word is that I recognise and admit that the Bill confers benefit upon a large number of injured workmen. It will bring thousands of pounds to a large number of injured workmen. 1570 It will also create great disappointment among those who are most in need. I hope that before the Committee Stage comes along the Under-Secretary or the Home Secretary will give consideration to the points which I have made.
§ Mr. Quentin Hogg (Oxford)
I feel that there is always a danger in Debates of this kind lest the great human problems should be lost in a mass of calculation and detail. I should not venture to address the House on this difficult technical matter if I did not want to say something about the principle of the thing. My own qualifications to do it are, first, that I cannot forget that before this war I practised as a barrister and had a fairly extensive knowledge of workmen's compensation cases. I think I appeared about equally for the employers and for the workmen. Secondly, I have recently, with some of my hon. Friends, been engaged upon an investigation into this very matter. It would not be right to disclose what they or I might think, and what I say to-day is entirely my own personal opinion.
It seems to me that the Bill is in a sense a wasted opportunity. It is admittedly temporary Measure, a makeshift and a stopgap. It is a compromise. Of course, it must be supported, because further delay in the increase of benefits cannot be brooked. It is right to say that a very great deal of praise ought to be given both to the restraint of the trade unions and the employers and to the Home Secretary himself for having arrived at a compromise of this kind. I none the less think that the basis of the compromise is probably wrong. A temporary Measure of some sort is obviously necessary, because it is almost certain that, immediately after the war, proposals will be introduced to put workmen's compensation on the charge of some sort of social security fund instead of on the charge of the employers. Therefore, some sort of temporary Measure is necessary.
The question is, What sort of temporary Measure ought to be necessary? What we have done, in my submission, is to put another very rickety storey on to an already dilapidated structure. What is needed in workmen's compensation is not that sort of temporary Measure at all but one which would give some sort of new deal in the whole matter. I believe that such a Measure is possible. It is argued sometimes, for instance on the 1571 basis of what the Prime Minister said the other day, that such a Measure would not be possible in time of war. I believe that it would be possible. We admit that, strictly speaking, for the immediate conduct of the war such a Measure might not be necessary, but it would certainly be useful. Also, you cannot hope to get complete agreement about so complicated a matter anywhere. If I understood the Prime Minister aright when he talked about uncontroversial Measures, he did not mean that a lunatic fringe on either side would be entitled to veto any particular Measure because they did not happen to like it, but that if there was a broad strand of central political opinion genuinely in favour of certain advances, the advances would be made. Any other interpretation would be intolerable to the House, fatal to the Government and prejudicial to any programme of reconstruction.
This Measure of compensation was introduced, and is still built, on the structure of 1897. It is still substantially the same, although it has been gradually extended, as it was when Sir Matthew White Ridley introduced the Bill into the House in that year. In consequence, it needs very extensive alteration. In the first place, this House has not recognised in a formal Act of Parliament that a workman who is injured at his work is entitled, not to have the loss which he suffers mathematically calculated and then divided into two, but to a real measure of subsistence on the charge of the industry in which he was working. That principle has never yet been recognised in legislation, but I have not found among any employers that I know the slightest inclination at this stage to dispute such a principle if it were introduced. Secondly, the maximum of 30s. which has been referred to is based on the calculation of half the weekly earnings of £3. It is quite clear that the wage level at which that calculation was made is now wholly obsolete. I hope that in this House we are not going to be afraid of taking high figures of skilled workers' wages in the future. A 30s. rate on the basis of earnings of £3 is obsolete and has no relevance to the facts. In the third place, it is high time that the principle of compulsory insurance, which has already been accepted by the mining industry and, I understand, is working quite well, and which has already been accepted in the 1572 whole realm of motor accident insurance, should be applied universally to workmen's compensation.
My hon. Friend in an earlier part of the Debate spoke of the small employer. The small employer with one man who happens unfortunately to fall off a ladder and has to receive compensation for total incapacity probably finds the burden too much, with results that are disastrous alike to himself and to the workman. But there is no reasonable employer who finds insurance premiums too much, even if they have been increased. I submit that the time has come for that position to be frankly admitted. Lastly, on this matter, I would say that it is, in my opinion at any rate, time that the principle of paying lump sums on death should be abandoned. I find no real support for that principle either among lawyers who have to administer the law, or those who have to pay the money, or those who receive it. It puts a county court judge in an absolutely intolerable position if he has first to sanction payment of a lump sum which he knows to be inadequate to the needs of the family, and, secondly, when the mother comes again and again with applications for money to be paid out, to have to make up his mind whether to allow her to spend £16 on a summer holiday or wait until the child is older and can be given a secondary school education. The weekly payment system was matter of controversy at the time it was introduced, but in practice over a period of years it can be safely said now that that system is the right system and the lump sum system, subject to very few exceptions, the wrong one. The time has come to admit in an Act of Parliament that that is so.
If I were asked to say what I thought should be the temporary Measure for workmen's compensation, I would say it ought to provide for raising the basic rate to two-thirds of a man's earnings. That would bring us into line with almost every civilised country in the world. There can be no justification for Tagging behind the practice of the Dominions and the civilised countries of Europe in retaining the limit of one-half. Secondly, I think the maximum ought to be raised from 30s. to £4. I mention that not because of any magic in one figure, but because I have in mind a wage level as a minimum for 1573 the skilled worker. Thirdly, I should put the fiat-rate minimum payment at a figure which would really give subsistence to a workman. That is to say, a man in employment at all should be entitled to be paid a certain amount independently of what his earnings may be. If these proposals were carried into effect it would be relatively simple.
There is in all this legislation the bad principle of calculating the exact circumstances of a man's family. If the principle I suggest were introduced, the additional cost of bringing in people not entitled to say, strictly speaking, that they were in need would be relatively small, but the time and bitterness saved in negotiation and calculation and pure speculation would be almost incalculable. The supplementary allowances which have been introduced are not supplementary allowances of a fixed amount. In each case, I think I am right in saying, the provision is that there should be a supplementary allowance not exceeding x shillings a week. Whether the court does, in fact, allot the maximum amount is for the discretion of the court, looking to all the circumstances.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend: I was not aware that what he is saying applied to partial disability. What it adds up to is this: Parliament has introduced a number of principles which, both from the point of view of the employer and from the point of view of the workman, are open to objection. From the point of view of the employer, it is also open to objection to make the employer's liability depend not on anything he can necessarily ascertain but on the family circumstances of the man. From the point of view of the employer, it is open to objection that liability fixed as long ago as 1925 should now suddenly and retrospectively be altered by Act of Parliament, which is in fact the situation both under the Act of 1940 and 1942.
§ Mr. Hogg
Because a liability which had accrued and been fixed by a court of law is suddenly altered the original liability to pay which has accrued as long ago as 1925 was converted into a liability to pay, say, £2 10s. instead of 25s. That is rightly called retrospective. We have got into a state of complication in this matter, and in my submission simplicity is absolutely vital. I would suggest to the Home Secretary that he should consider whether before the introduction of a social security Bill he cannot do something better for workmen's compensation on the lines I have suggested.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
I find myself in agreement with the general remarks of the hon. Member who has just spoken. The Government in introducing this Measure are again merely tinkering with the general question. The Bill will give no satisfaction to the general body of employees, least of all those in the mining areas. It is time that the Government realised the inadequacy of our compensation laws and that instead of putting some new, flimsy structure on the already insecure foundations, they should take their courage in their hands, change the foundations and put up a better and more decent structure. But, having said that, I welcome this Bill, because it does contain some improvements. The Home Secretary in introducing the Measure painted what I consider to be too rosy a picture of the improvements that would follow this Bill. Taking the mining industry as a classical example, he said that, compared with the 1938 compensation rates, there would be an increase in payments of something in the neighbourhood of 40 per cent. My reply to that is that it is a condemnation of the very inadequate, miserable wages which the members of the mining industry were receiving in immediate pre-war days.
Having made that observation, I want to confine myself now to what I call the one-sided nature of the Measure. The improvements that are proposed are almost entirely confined to married men with family responsibilities. I want to call attention to the unsatisfactory nature of this Measure as far as the single man is concerned. For the first 13 weeks of incapacity the single man will receive no financial improvement at all. We have heard a good deal lately in the House about making the mining industry attrac- 1575 tive and drawing young men to it. The average age of the miner is increasing year by year, and what is needed to give an impetus to the industry is to attract young men, but the proposals in this Bill concerning single men will not be very effective in that particular direction. A single man may have a widowed mother to keep or invalid parents to maintain, but no provision at all is made for these dependants if the single man meets with an accident. If his incapacity is of not more than 13 weeks' duration, he will have to maintain himself and his dependent parents on 35s. a week. In these circumstances, especially in the mining areas, where the incidence of accidents is extremely high, I would ask the Home Secretary to look at this particular problem again before the Bill becomes an Act. The single man is as likely to meet with an accident as the married man with a family. I maintain that if this Bill goes through in its present form, with the miserable allowances that are proposed for single men, it will be one of the most grave injustices that have been perpetrated on single men. I will ask my right hon. Friend to think again in this particular connection.
I would submit that the injustice is quite as great and grave in connection with a single man meeting with a fatal accident. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) said in the coal Debate last week that the value of a single man in industry is not as great and valuable, say, as prize cattle. All that the employer is entitled to pay to the single man with no dependants in the case of a fatal accident is a sum of £15 In our mining areas—and I have had this experience on more occasions than one—a young adolescent boy, a young man, has gone to his work early in the morning and has returned no more, and the mother in her ignorance of what the law means as far as compensation is concerned has come to the door of the branch secretary and said, "My circumstances are impoverished. How much shall I get in the form of compensation?" It is regrettable that the branch secretaries have to tell them that unless the employers through the insurance companies are more generous than the law, the maximum she will receive will be £15 for funeral expenses. In view of all these circumstances I would be extremely 1576 obliged if my right hon. Friend would give greater consideration to this vexed problem of the single man as far as compensation law is concerned.
I have just two more points in brief to make. The first is that the Home Secretary in introducing the Measure made some reference to the burden that would be thrown upon employers in the payment of compensation. Pre-war, I believe, the figure was £10,000,000. With the increases that have taken place under the Act of 1940 and the proposed increases of this Measure that figure will go up to £17,500,000. He made some reference to the burden that will be thrown upon employers. So far as the mining industry is concerned, that is not the case. Payment for compensation is a charge upon the industry, and 85 per cent. Of it is borne by the workmen and 15 per cent. by the employers.
My closing word is that the time has arrived in our social history when this vexed problem of compensation, with all the miseries consequent upon the present law, when a person's earnings have been interrupted either by industrial disease or accident, should be faced. It is time that this House took its courage in its hands and made absolutely sure that in future all the mitigating circumstances should be considered when a man falls by the wayside as a result of circumstances over which he has no control, and that better, broader foundations shall be laid upon which a decent structure shall be built, and whereby justice shall be given to the unfortunate injured man.
§ Major Nield (Chester, City)
My purpose in intervening in this Debate is to express the view that, generally speaking, and in the special circumstances, the Bill now before the House should be found acceptable. Before I come to the reasons for that opinion, there are three points to which I desire to call attention. The first is the complaint which has been made and the criticism which has been levelled against the cumbersome and complex nature of our existing workmen's compensation law. With that criticism I feel bound to agree, and in particular, I would suggest that the method by which in some cases weekly compensation is calculated is almost beyond the wit of the ordinary man. It would perhaps not be wasting the time of the House on that point to read a Sub-section of Section 9 of the 1577 principal Act which purports to enlighten the county court judge or arbitrator as to the means of assessing compensation for partial incapacity. Section 9, Sub-section (3) begins:The rules for calculating a weekly payment in the case of partial incapacity shall be—and paragraph (ii) of the Sub-section reads:if the maximum weekly payment would, had incapacity been total incapacity, have amounted with such addition, if any, as is provided by Rule (ii) in the case of total incapacity, to less than twenty-five shillings, the weekly payment in case of partial incapacity shall be a sum bearing the same proportion to the said difference as the said maximum weekly payment with such addition as aforesaid bears to the average amount of the average weekly earnings of the workman before the accident.I feel constrained to say that the House surely deplores that so enigmatic a Section should remain in any Statute. As I say, the learned arbitrator who is expected to formulate his assessment needs almost the mathematical acumen of a Senior Wrangler. I feel, and it has been indicated by the right hon. Gentleman in opening this Debate, that soon, and given the proper circumstances, a new code will have to be formulated with regard to workmen's compensation. A simpler code will surely be of immense benefit to everyone concerned with, of course, the possible exception of the legal profession. This charge of undue complexity, however, is appropriately directed against the principal Act and not against this Bill.
The second point to which I desire to draw attention has been already mentioned. It is the retrospective nature of certain provisions in the Bill. It has been pointed out that as a result certain burdens fall upon employers which they could not have foreseen. For example, it is said that where several years ago an employer had assessed his liabilities and made his arrangements accordingly, he will now find an added burden. I would suggest that the answer is two-fold. Firstly the same sort of thing was done by the Act of 1940 when supplementary allowances were introduced in that year, and so far as I know there has been no substantial outcry by employers. Secondly, we are informed that the representatives of the employers have agreed to this Measure. Therefore, it seems to me that there is no great substance in that objection. 1578 The third matter to which I desire to draw attention was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg). I feel most strongly about it. If we are to have a new code of workmen's compensation law there should be in it a provision requiring the employer to insure against workmen's compensation risks, as is the case, I understand, in the mining industry. We have an example in the fact that the motor owner must insure against third-party risks. I have had experience of these cases in the courts for a number of years, and I have known cases where a man has been injured, perhaps crippled for the rest of his life; his employer has no substantial means and has failed to insure, and the result has been the gravest injustice. That could be put right by adopting this suggestion.
I think that this Bill should be accepted, in the special circumstances, for two reasons. The first is that the sole purpose of the Bill is to provide increased rates of compensation in certain cases. With that no one will quarrel. The adequacy of those increases has been called into question, but as the Bill, if it becomes an Act, will increase benefits for the workmen, it should be acceptable in all quarters. Secondly, we are told that the provisions of the Bill have been agreed by representatives of the workmen and of the employers. That means, I suppose, that after discussion around a table the representatives of the workmen have accepted for the time—this is a temporary Measure —the increases which it contains, and the representatives of the employers have said that they are willing to bear such extra burdens. That means that this Bill is an agreement, come to as a result of good will on both sides, and it would be utterly wrong to interfere with such an agreement.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
Is the hon. and gallant Member saying that it would be wrong for us to interfere with an agreement made by outside bodies?
§ Major Nield
I think my hon. Friend cannot have heard me. What I intended to say, and what I hope I did say, was that we are told that the provisions of this Bill have been agreed to. I was going to say by both sides, but in as much as there is agreement, may we not hope that labour and the employers are on the same side. They have agreed; and I say that, agreement having been reached, it would 1579 be wrong for us to attempt to interfere with it. That would, in my submission, disturb the good will which has given rise to that accord.
§ Major Nield
My hon. Friend is entitled to disagree with that view, but I advance it with considerable confidence. For these reasons, I feel that the Bill will commend itself to all fair-minded and reasonable people.
§ Mr. Ridley (Clay Cross)
When the hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs) was addressing the House, he was responsible for such an exaggerated description of the Bill as makes even a supporter of it like me move to correct him. The hon. Member said that for the time being this Bill deals adequately with the situation. I think that this Bill will alleviate very substantially many hard cases, and that it is therefore to be very warmly welcomed; but there is a long distance between that kind of alleviation and adequacy. I think the hon. Member will find hardly a supporter in the House for that description, even in the Minister himself. I welcome the Bill on the very limited grounds on which it has been put forward. The hon. Member is not here now, nor is the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), but perhaps I might refer to my interjection about the Common Law. The hon. Member for West Birmingham claimed that the workman had access to the Common Law. I demurred. The hon. Member then said that the workman had a perfect right to go to Common Law. It is a grave obstacle, the doctrine of common employment, so generally condemned in this House, does intervene against the injured workman's use of the Common Law.
As for the Bill, I think it notable that in the midst of war a democracy should pause for a moment to improve its social services. I think it a matter for some satisfaction that we are probably the only country in the world that can make that pleasant reflection. Whatever its limitations, this Bill is a welcome step forward in workmen's compensation, and, as an interim measure, my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated upon it. He has promised a wider Measure, which I hope will take us much further forward. The history of workmen's compensation is 1580 one of most callous indifference to man's suffering and disaster, not only in general but in particular. If hon. Members could all know of the fights against the employers in the courts for the establishment of the right of compensation in such cases as silicosis, the statement that this is a history of callous indifference would be regarded almost as an understatement.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Fuel and Power appealed to the miner recently in this House, rather sententiously I thought, to think only of the present. In terms of workmen's compensation, that is almost impossible. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I say that the memory of Sengenydd will linger for many generations in South Wales, not only for the size of the disaster but because of the poverty that was imposed upon the dependants of the stricken men. I ask the House to reflect that within the working lifetime of men now engaged in the mining industry there was no workmen's compensation of any kind. The victims of industrial accident were reduced to the ignominy, hardship and humiliation of the Pood Law. Let hon. Members reflect too that at the beginning of this war the maximum compensation available for the totally disabled workman, no matter what his dependants might be, was 30s. a week. It will be seen that in this matter we are only a few years from the most acute kind of poverty.
I was made aware of this at a very early stage in my constituency, and I trust that the House will forgive me if I indulge in two personal reminiscences. I had gone immediately from an occupation that knows little of workmen's compensation, and I speedily became accustomed to the "tap of the white walking-stick." I have seen men in the last stages of silicosis. I have seen in my constituency all the evidence of the kind of physical pain which man has to bear in order to provide warmth and comfort for a civilised society. I was taken to see a man whose back was not quite broken but who would never have moved his legs again of his own volition. He has since died. He had a wife and three children. His total compensation was 28s. 11d. a week. Every week his courageous wife found her way to the public assistance committee. However 1581 kind they tried to be, they are still public assistance committees. It is a kind of humiliation which this Bill to some extent, if not completely, removes and which I hope one day will be completely removed.
I had an experience which I confess distressed me more because of my own comfortable occupation. It came from the distress of the spectacle of seeing the sufferings of other people. I went to see an old friend of mine who had not come home from the pit. I sat with his wife, and we heard the alarm hooter. She rose very quietly, her face taut and strained, put the kettle on, took off her apron and put a clean one on, went upstairs to put on clean sheets, prepare towels and soap, and she came down again to wait quietly. It was the worst wait in my life. I hope never again to experience another like it. Half an hour later the man walked in as fit as possible. He had missed the cage. His wife burst into uncontrollable tears and emotion, which she would have controlled if her man had been brought home on a stretcher. It was a terribly emotional scene.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will remember, when presenting his wider Measure, that his is the opportunity of putting this great question on a basis which will at least provide a reasonable standard of comfort for the injured workman or his dependants. It is a kind of insanity that at the very moment of his life when he requires an income which is adequate it should be reduced by law to inadequacy. I hope that my right hon. Friend will find it possible, within the general problem of workmen's compensation, to adjust many of these other problems. I have referred to the doctrine of common employment, and there is no reason at all that the rights of Common Law should be denied to the injured workman. Nothing is worse in a mining area than to certify a man as being available for light employment when light employment is not available for him. You reduce his standard of life by a most unfair handicap. You recommend him to find something which is completely unavailable in a mining area.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to a point which I wish to stress—the insecurity of workmen's compensation. It has been argued in this House, on a Bill which I was fortunate enough to present a few years ago, that the small 1582 employer cannot afford to pay an insurance premium. He is the man who should be made to pay the insurance premium. If he cannot afford the premium, he will not be able to bear the heavy burden of compensation.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will in the wider Measure avoid the kind of reference to earnings which reduce the level of compensation. I feel somehow that the Bill should provide compensation for the loss of enjoyment. It has always seemed to be a horrible thing that a man whose joy in life may have been to play the violin, having lost two fingers, should not be compensated anywhere by anybody for the loss of that kind of enjoyment. I earnestly hope that my right hon. Friend will raise the levels of compensation for widows and other dependants. This Bill, recognising in a financial sense the dependency of a wife, in this case, for the first time, and raising the level of compensation for dependent children and also for injured workmen, is, in my view, to be most warmly welcomed. I will take the case of my friend who got 28s. 11d. If he had been on full compensation as a man with a wife and three children having 30s., he would have been entitled under the terms of my right hon. Friend's Bill to 65s. I do not think that that is a comparison which can be disregarded. I therefore welcome the Bill, thank my right hon. Friend warmly for having managed to negotiate it, and I look forward with confident expectation to the wider Measure which my right hon. Friend has promised the House.
§ Major Lloyd (Renfrew, Eastern)
I do not think that any hon. Member will deny the fact that the time is certainly ripe for a further consideration of the whole question of workmen's compensation, and I do not think that anybody would deny a measure of sympathy to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in the difficulty in which he obviously found himself as to whether to go the whole hog and wait a bit and produce the main permanent Bill, or whether to produce a temporary interim Bill of this character. There are some who imagine perhaps that the principal object of bringing forward this Bill now is because of an increase in the cost of living. The Minister, however, made it perfectly clear that that was not the major reason in his mind for bringing in this Bill. The reason is because the standard of wages has sub- 1583 stantially risen and that, consequently, there is grave anomaly between the present allowances and the increases in the standard of wages.
There is also another very important reason which makes this Bill desirable, and that is the fact that the Essential Work Order has made it compulsory for a very large number of people to be employed in hazardous industries, people who were not so employed before. The compulsory nature of the employment does make the bringing in of this Bill even more necessary on those grounds. At the same time I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) that it was not possible, no doubt because of the exigencies of war-time and the great pressure of work on Departments, to have brought in a permanent Bill. For my part, I would have been content to wait a little longer had a more permanent Bill been able to be brought in.
There is no doubt that this Bill, which we shall not dispute, is not all we want, is not as satisfactory as it might be, and does not really cover the principal problems involved. It still contains a substantial number of defects and injustices in so far as the retrospective action of the Bill may hit certain small employers, who have not insured against the increases, very hard indeed. The Minister told us that consultations had taken place with the organised corporations of those principally concerned, and, of course, there is a limit to the number of consultations that can be had. But I have the feeling that the little man has never had the opportunity to give his view on this particular issue. It is not a question of the little man not wanting to be generous to a workman who has had an accident maybe many years ago—for this retrospective effect goes back to Christmas, 1923—but because, with the best will in the world, he was not insured for it. This little man will be landed with this increased charge. No one can deny that that will hit some of the smaller employers very hard indeed. There is no redress or compensation; somehow or another that extra money must be found.
It is a hard thing to have to impose upon a very large number of our fellow citizens. The small employer may be in a very difficult position to meet that increased charge. He may be in the Services, 1584 his business may have been concentrated, he may have been put out of business altogether, yet we are compulsorily compelling him to pay an additional burden on an income which may be nonexistent. It is just as well that hon. Members should realise that that is what we shall do. I am not concerned about the additional burden on wealthier employers or insurance companies, who can well afford to pay it; I am speaking on this issue for, and thinking of, the small man. We are told, truthfully, that consultations have gone on behind the scenes with all the parties concerned, but it does not mean all the parties concerned, by any means. It is only the major parties concerned and mostly those who can well afford to bear the additional increase. One hon. Member mentioned to-day the fact that a single man under this Bill has a rather raw deal, because in the first 13 weeks he does not get as much as he should. But he does get more under this Bill, even during the first 13 weeks, than was proposed in connection with workmen's compensation by the Beveridge Report. I am glad that that should be so, but I cannot help being slightly amused by the fact that those who now strongly denounce the stinginess of the recommendations under the Bill are the same people who, in many cases, were shouting so vigorously in the House and outside for the Beveridge Report, the whole Report and nothing but the Report. We now find that there are certain sections of the Report which could be well improved.
I also share the sentiments which my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford so very eloquently expressed with regard to the lump-sum payment. That is being continued. None of us like it. That is another disadvantage in this temporary Bill, and I hope the Home Secretary will not delay much longer in getting down to a permanent Bill. There is all the basis for it here, and there is not likely to be much disagreement. I cannot conceive that there will be fundamental controversy, and I hope it will not be long before it is brought in so that we can do away once and for all with the lump-sum payments, which are soon "blued" with the result that the last stage is infinitely worse. I also hope that the final scheme will include compulsory insurance of all employers in connection with compensation for workmen.
§ Mr. Collindridge (Barnsley)
It would perhaps be ungenerous if I did not say how pleased we are on this side of the House about some of the speeches which have been made from the opposite Benches on this matter of workmen's compensation.
§ Mr. Collindridge
I must be candid on this matter and say that while we have welcomed those speeches, we should be glad if those who made them would transfer some of their advocacy to their party in order to support us in our plea for better workmen's compensation. The party to which I belong wants fuller workmen's compensation and has advocated it for many years.
§ Major Lloyd
The hon. Gentleman seems to suggest that Members of my party are against workmen's compensation. There is no justification in our history for saying that.
§ Mr. Collindridge
Not a bit of it; I am paying a tribute to the halting words of my friends on the other Benches. My only wish is that they would more fully support this policy. In the last five years I think we have had a score of Debates on this question, and I would like to pay tribute to the support which was always given us by a former Member of this House, the late Sir Arnold Wilson. Nevertheless, the fact is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) said, we get these speeches, yet when Divisions take place Members on the other side are "whipped up," and they vote in the opposite direction. Practice is much preferable to precept. We like the support given on this matter by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg). But could we not carry hon. Members opposite a little further to agree with us that compulsory insurance should not be with those engaged in the business for private profit, but that the premiums should be paid to the State as is the case with so many enlightened nations at present and that we should cease what is, after all, a profit traffic in accidents and death?
I want to pay a tribute to the Home Secretary for introducing the Bill. It would be ungenerous not to say that many people will derive great advantage from it. I have calculated that in 1940 a good many people in my division were receiving 1586 a payment of 30s. and less sometimes in compensation irrespective of the number of their family. A married man with four children who was injured before the 1940 Bill would get 30s. at most; under this Bill he will get £3 for the first 13 weeks and £ 10s. thereafter. It would be wrong to say that there is no improvement, but let us be equally candid. When the right hon. Gentleman makes his calculations of the improvement in the standard of compensation and quotes the percentage increase, let him make the qualification that that rather large percentage increase is because of the very low standard which obtained before the 1940 Act. It is tragic to think that the average of 25s. for miners was because wages had been abnormally low and the measure of compensation failed to meet the position as it ought to be met. The maximum of two-thirds of the former wages embodied in this Bill is sadly too low. Surely, in all conscience, we could have a higher standard than that.
It has been said that in some countries the compensation increases after the first few weeks and rises to the full amount of wages based upon the idea that the injured man the longer he is unable to work needs compensation all the more. I support those who have talked about the inadequacy of the lump-sum increase. I am glad that the increase of £100 has been granted but with the present cost of living it fails to deal even in a small degree with the commitments which the dependants of fatally injured men have. A few years ago a colleague of mine met with a fatal accident, and his widow had to fight for compensation in the courts. I reckoned up that the amount of compensation she would receive was an average of three years of her late husband's former wages. She had five little children, and after the three-year period she had to resort to poor relief. We contend that people who meet with the fate of that kind should not be placed in that unhappy position. Lump sums idea should be abolished.
I want to have a word about what I feel will be the result of the failure to recognise single men better. I have addressed meetings in my division recently, and on Sunday last at two gatherings I was met with the proposal that the way to get the matter remedied was to use their industrial might in strikes. I took the stand that inasmuch as this 1587 was a legislative matter it was our duty to adopt the democratic and constitutional way of dealing with the situation, but that did not prevent my frankly stating the position to the men, and, whatever feelings we might have about the wrong idea of using industrial action, the fact is that those who are really up against the position most, the industrial workers, are compelled when seeing sad cases to do things at times which they would not wish to do if the democratic machine had been properly used. When last week we talked so freely about making the mining industry more attractive I wonder whether we felt that on an average one youngster in four in the pits is injured in the year. On an average in every four years and nine months one adult miner is injured, and if any man is lucky and has missed it, it means that some other miner has had a double dose.
I wonder whether this Measure will induce young miners to feel we are giving them the stimulus to increase the coal output. I hope they will still keep faith and trust in what we propose to do for them. But the present position is not good. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fuller and more comprehensive Measure that he hopes to introduce, but we have to deal with circumstances as they are, and I doubt whether this will give the stimulus to the young single industrial workers that we would wish. In a four-years period in my division we have had three colliery explosions and single men have rightly had to stand by the side of their mothers in helping to maintain the other children. There are many cases in which a miner or other worker, the father, dies and a single man becomes virtually the breadwinner. This Bill provides no improvement for a man in that position. I suggest that the temporary benefits conferred by the Bill ought to have included that long-deferred concession of providing artificial limbs, etc. That should be introduced as early as possible, because it would not only be very helpful to the injured workman to be able to earn again but would be helpful to the nation and to industry in getting them back to work.
I want in conclusion to deal for a moment with some of the ideas expressed from the opposite benches on the cost 1588 of the Measure. An hon. Member for one of the Birmingham Divisions suggested that the Bill imposed a charge upon employers alone. I endeavoured gently to intervene, and it occurred to me from his reply to my interjection that he was not aware at least of the position in the mining industry. Since 1921 we have had a method of calculating wages and profits in the mining industry which does not perhaps apply to other industries. After the sale of the coal at the pit head the proceeds are aggregated and from those proceeds are deducted the costs of the industry other than wages. The costs of compensation premiums, of machinery, and all the other charges are taken before the proceeds are shared between wages and profits, and I suggest to him that if—to take a hypothetical figure—this Bill imposes a charge of £10,000 or £50,000 or £100,000, that sum will be taken out of the proceeds of the sale of coal before wages have a chance. In the county of Yorkshire, from which I come, 85 per cent. of this increased cost will be obtained by what is tantamount to a reduction from the miners' wages.
Therefore, in dealing with this position the Minister and others ought to have regard to those who will after all bear the cost of this Measure. From time immemorial the miners have been agreeable to the idea that, first, injured men, in nonfatal accidents, and certainly the dependants of men fatally injured, should have their compensation benefits increased, and if that be so, and they are the major paymasters, the Minister ought to have regard to that view. I am aware that the reply to me may be that this matter has been discussed with the bodies concerned outside and that an agreement has been come to. I am not against talks which may result in agreed Measures coming before this House, but I hope the day will never dawn when outside influences can come to an agreement, and we here abrogate the right of the British House of Commons to deal and finally settle with any Measure that may be brought before it. It is in that spirit that we are making our contribution to this Bill. I will be candid about this and say that if I had to give a vote on the Bill I should vote in its favour. Perhaps there is something to be said for the idea that if we did not accept the Bill we should be 1589 delaying improvements which are long overdue and are greatly needed, but surely that frank admission does not prevent us from asking for what will certainly come in somebody's time, and that is the much better improvements that are necessary for our community in the matter of workmen's compensation.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Raikes (Essex, South-East)
The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) referred to the faults of the Tory Party. It seems to me that this Bill is a good deal more faulty. The trouble is that, as the Home Secretary admitted, the legislation upon workmen's compensation has got hopelessly out of date. What the country and the House need is a really comprehensive Measure dealing with it. This Bill appears to be a makeshift. Like the hon. Member for Barnsley, I would vote in favour of it, but I do not like it, because I hate makeshifts. It all boils down to this, that the Act of 1925, as amended by the Act of 1940, and the Act of 1940 as amended by the Bill to-day, have piled complication upon complication without facing the fact that the old idea that total incapacity should be rewarded with a 50 per cent. compensation, with a maximum of 30s. a week, is totally out of harmony with the ideas that exist at the present time. This Bill touches only one side of the workmen's compensation problem. It deals with the amounts but it does not touch the question of liability or the methods of assessing wages. I repeat that it is a makeshift Measure.
We have been told that the personal allowance is to be increased from the 5s. granted in 1940 to a maximum of 10s. at the present time. Frankly, I do not like this sort of addition to the 50 per cent. by means of a sliding allowance which may be interpreted differently by different courts in the country when cases come before them. I know that the Home Secretary said that by giving the 10s., which raised the ceiling to 40s., we should probably get up to the 40s. level, but he honestly avoided the suggestion that though the 10s. is being given everybody will not get the 10s. It is a complicated matter.
§ Flight-Lieutenant Raikes
Do I take it that a man who is totally disabled would as a matter of course have to receive the 10s. without any possibility of that sum being scaled down?
§ Flight-Lieutenant Raikes
The overriding provisions in the Bill dealing with the maxima are of a very intricate character. It will be difficult for any workman to know how he stands after this Bill has become an Act. I am sure that I should not know what the position was if I were a workman, and I have experience of the law, which most workmen have not.
Apart from that, we come on to one or two other matters. I have been connected in my party with the study of workmen's compensation. I am convinced that the Home Secretary is inclined to think that the stumbling blocks towards a comprehensive scheme are very great, whereas in point of fact they are not. We come to the question of the wife's allowance. I was a little dubious about the Home Secretary's statement regarding the allowance in respect of a wife that because it was a temporary Measure there was no need to ensure that the man concerned was living with his wife when the allowance was received. On the face of it, there is a real injustice, whether the Measure is temporary or permanent. I have been long enough in this House to see temporary Measures obtain a substantial measure of permanence. If you have such cases where a man continues to draw money in respect of wife and children it is certainly morally wrong. The Home Secretary rather shrugged his shoulders and said that it was a question of expediency and not of morality, but even from the point of view of expediency much dissatisfaction will be caused. If the Home Secretary replies that a lot of disagreeable inquiries would be needed by employers in regard to the home life of their employees my comment would be that if an employer wants to know where he stands under the Bill he already has to hunt round and make many inquiries in regard to the family lives of the men and I do not see why an inquiry should not be made as to whether the man is living with his wife.
1591 I welcome the whole question of family allowances so far as it goes, but fundamentally it is not an ideal arrangement to tie up that question with workmen's compensation. Family allowances should be a State matter, completely outside the question of workmen's compensation altogether. Under this scheme, perhaps a man gets permanently injured, but his injury is not of such a character as to make him infertile, and perhaps he has several children after the injury. I can say by way of comment that if State family allowances ever came into operation, they would make it possible to provide within a few weeks an entirely different method of workmen's compensation from this sort of tinkering scheme which we have before us at the present moment. It really comes down to this, that the skilled workman has a rotten deal, very little better in this Bill than he has had in the past. To say that you are going to calculate the thing on a 50 per cent. basis with a rate of 30s. a week and with various oddments to make the 30s. look rather more like a subsistence wage means injustice to a skilled man earning to-day £6, £8, or £10 a week and he deserves rather more than that sort of sugared pill.
The Home Office have little reason to fear the effect in this House or outside if they bring forward a comprehensive Measure on the basis of two-thirds earnings, with the highest possible ceiling. A skilled man should be treated on a much higher standard than if he were not a skilled man. I agree with what has already been said with regard to compulsory insurance and about the difficulties of the small man. I do not like retrospective legislation, and I have not very much sympathy with the man who has never insured for workmen's compensation. If he cannot afford insurance, he ought not to be an employer of labour at all. It would be better to have a completely new Measure, which I am sure would receive the support of the House. For what it is worth, at the moment, I am willing to support the Bill, but I would remind the Home Office that there will be no satisfaction in this House or outside until complexity is wiped away and is replaced by simplicity and generosity.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I imagine that the main discussion of the Bill will 1592 occur a little later, but I must confess to have been overcome by a feeling of remorse with my political conduct in the past 15 years, and perhaps my personal deficiencies that they have not earned me a period on that side of the House. Had I been able to enjoy a period of office I might have been able to explain something which is now entirely incomprehensible to me. I might have been able to explain how it is that, when we have a Measure of this sort, it is universally welcomed, its improvements are enthusiastically endorsed, and Members of all parties ask for more, and yet it invariably takes two or three years of consistent agitation to get the matter brought before the House at all. There must be something happening in Whitehall that I do not understand. I therefore regret very much that I have not been able to add to my experience and to find out what is happening in Whitehall to produce that effect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge) said that at a mass meeting which he addressed the other day some miners suggested that it would be a good thing to strike in order to improve the Bill. Why should they not take that point of view? It is perfectly reasonable, if the Home Secretary tells us that the Bill ought to be passed, not on its intrinsic merit—because some parts of it he refuses to defend—but because it is agreed by the Federation of British Industries and the Trades Union Congress. It is not a constitutional issue at all. Why should not miners come out on strike in order to make the Federation of British Industries more reasonable in negotiation? I ask that some attention should be given to what I have to say, because I propose to make one or two sharp observations which I hope will be brought to the attention of the Home Secretary. I wish he were here. Is it going to be accepted, as apparently it is in many parts, as good constitutional doctrine that agreements should be made outside the House between interested parties, and not merely that, but that the intentions of the Government about legislation should be made known to those interested parties before being communicated to the House? In this instance the Home Secretary told the Trades Union Congress and the Federation of British Industries what the Bill was going to be before we ever saw it. I suggest 1593 with all respect that if that statement had been made in the House a few years ago, the Government would have had to withdraw the Bill.
I remember when Lord Runciman—he was then Mr. Runciman—was President of the Board of Trade in 1933 or 1934—I think that I have got the date correct—he made known to the coalowners and other interested parties the nature of an Amendment which he proposed to put before the House, and he had to withdraw the whole Measure and reintroduce it. Now we have reached the position where the Home Secretary discusses for many weeks with trade union representatives and with representatives of employers a piece of legislation. I do not at that point disagree, because it is good constitutional practice for Ministers to receive representations from specialists on what they think should be the form of legislation. It happens every year when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is preparing his Budget. Deputations are received and are listened to courteously and specialists' advice is taken and various organisations consulted.
But when the Home Secretary proceeds from that point to actual negotiation and agreement with the parties, a position is reached of the gravest constitutional impropriety. Trade unionists and Ministers of the Crown set the Constitution on one side and expect ordinary workmen to pay more respect to the Constitution than they themselves do. I say the Home Secretary has acted quite improperly in this matter and should be severely rebuked. Further, I say the same thing about the Trades Union Congress. If my hon. Friend says that the Trades Union Congress having agreed to legislation, it is incumbent upon us to adopt it, then I suggest that when he writes his next election address it should be in these terms, "I promise that at any time when any matter comes before the House I shall act in such matter as the Trades Union Congress instructs me." That would simplify his election address. Hon. Members opposite might do the same with the Federation of British Industries, and we would know exactly where we were. We should have a stereotyped election address for everybody, we should save expense and simplify politics and our constituencies know where they were.
I do not represent the Federation of British Industries, nor do I represent the 1594 Trades Union Congress. I happen to represent the constituents of Ebbw Vale. When I go back to my constituents I expect them to hold me to account for what I have done, and I do not expect if they disagree with anything I have done to be able to explain it away by saying that I did it on the instructions of some outside body. I do not want to adopt that alibi. I think it is a dishonourable one, and dangerously subversive of Parliamentary institutions. I am sorry the Home Secretary is not here. No doubt he would accuse me of constitutional pedantry, but I am bound to say that I think the Home Secretary does great damage to constitutional practice by adopting this Measure. It is easy for politicians seeking to escape Parliamentary embarrassment to twist the Constitution, but the consequences may be extremely grave if that course of conduct is persisted in.
To-day we seem to have been discussing a Bill which is not before the House. I do not blame hon. Members for that. If it is going to be the practice to present Bills that have been agreed with outside bodies, we had better discuss the next Bill rather than the one that is before us. Many of the speeches in this Debate have had nothing to do with the Bill. I do not complain of that. Hon. Members are entitled to take that line. They have all picked up the corn which the Home Secretary so dexterously strewed in their path. They have been discussing the next Bill and what they hope will be put into the next Bill. I also want to say something about that Bill. It has taken since 1940 to get this miserable Measure. How long is it going to take to get a comprehensive one? In this Bill children's allowances are going to be increased. If it had not been for the fact that we rebelled against the Government in 1940, there would be no children's allowances.
§ Mr. Bevan
We succeeded in getting substantial improvements in 1940 by forcing a withdrawal of the Bill after Second Reading. I would like to ask whether the Home Secretary is thinking of bringing in a comprehensive Workmen's Compensation Bill as part of the general legislation involved in the 1595 Beveridge Report. Or is he going to bring it in separately before any legislation on Sir William Beveridge's Report in this Parliament? I would like to know. Furthermore, has the Home Secretary obtained from the Prime Minister a statement to the effect that a comprehensive Workmen's Compensation Bill will not be regarded by him as a controversial Measure? I like to know exactly where we are. I am getting tired of this humbug. The Prime Minister used these words last week:This present House of Commons, which has so long exceeded its normal constitutional life and will shortly be asking for a renewal of the lease—a matter which does not rest entirely in our hands alone—has no right, except with a very general measure of agreement, to step outside the one function by which its continued existence is justified, namely the prosecution of the war. It is only the continuance of the war and the extraordinary conditions which it imposes and forces upon us all that justifies us in remaining together as a Parliament. I certainly could not take the responsibility of making far-reaching controversial changes which I am not convinced are directly needed for the war effort without a Parliament refreshed by contact with the electorate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th October, 1943; col. 924, Vol. 392.]I am entitled to ask this, and we ought to have a reply. Has the Home Secretary obtained from the Prime Minister an assurance that a Workmen's Compensation Bill of a comprehensive kind is regarded by the Prime Minister as not coming within that general edict? Is the hon. Member going to reply now or later? I make him the prophecy that he will not reply later either. I will tell him why, because he does not know, and if he brings the Home Secretary he cannot reply either, because he does not know. [Interruption.] Of course he does not know. If the answer is "No," he is deceiving the House. If he has not got from the Prime Minister the assurance that this is to be done, what he has said to-day misleads the House and encourages us to look forward to something which he knows it is not proposed to carry out. I suggest that this is far too grave a matter for conduct of that sort.
On the merits of the Bill itself—[Interruption]—this is the framework in which the Bill has been put; every speech has been directed to that aspect of the matter. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) has made a speech with almost all of which I agree, but it was addressed 1596 to the House on the assumption that before Parliament is dissolved we are to have a comprehensive Workmen's Compensation Bill, but he does not know that we are going to have it. The Prime Minister has not consented; therefore all these speeches, I say, have wasted the time of the House unless we can get an assurance from the Home Secretary.
From the other side of the House and from this side there have been lamentations, except for one or two backwoodsmen, that some of the categories in this Bill are not sufficiently generous. Not only are they not generous. Some of them are quite myopic. We shall be discussing in the very near future, we have been discussing in the quite recent past, the situation in the mining industry. I do not apologise for repeating this, which has been said one or twice to-day. The problem of the mining industry is to keep the men in the industry; everybody here knows that. The problem of workmen's compensation primarily concerns the mining industry. Yet we have a Workmen's Compensation Bill brought in after very much pressure, and I think most cruel delay, which gives no increase of compensation to 85 per cent. of single men in the coalmining industry. Everybody knows that if there is one man you want to keep in the mining industry, it is the single man. First, he is the robust man; in the next place, we hope he is a man who will marry and remain in the mining areas. Yet he is the one man so footloose if he is dissatisfied with his conditions that he can go elsewhere. This statesmanlike Bill gives him no improvement at all. Is not this playing with the problem?
Take the married man without any children. He gets 5s., a miserable 5s., all subject to the overriding two-thirds. He can also leave the mining area when he wants because he too is foot-loose. The two categories with the least encumbrances, the most mobile section of mining labour is treated the worst in this Bill. I say that is folly. If a single man is killed and he has dependants, they get compensation; if he is permanently injured, his dependants get nothing. If he is dead, they are dependent on him; if he is alive, they are not; that is exactly the situation.
I know that the Bill is not intended to repair the wider aspects of workmen's 1597 compensation, but these are things which can be done very simply; these amounts can be readjusted at once. As we have had from so many parts of the House criticism of this aspect of the Bill, I hope that when we come to the Committee Stage the Whips will be taken off, that there will be a free vote on our Amendments, because why should there be Whips in this matter? We will then see how far we can rely on Members in all parts of the House exercising their right to vote and improve the Bill. There is no reason why it cannot be done. If, on the other hand, the Whips are kept on, then the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary will not be able to plead that he has brought before the House the most generous Measure that he could, because to find out how much Parliamentary support the Bill has the Whips should be taken off. This is really a preliminary skirmish, because although we cannot and do not propose to vote against a Second Reading of the Bill, because there are definite improvements, as my hon. Friend has said, and we desire to have them, there are such great deficiencies in the Bill that when we come to the Committee Stage we shall strive to impress them on the attention of the House, and I hope that when we come to do it we shall have the support of hon. Members who have spoken so enthusiastically to-day. This will give us the chance of persuading the House of Commons that these improvements ought to be made so as to try to produce as far as we can a healthier atmosphere in the coalfields.
§ Major Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
I intervene not with any intention of following the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) over the wide fields he has traversed, but to make one point which it occurs to me requires consideration in this Bill. Before I do that, may I say that I too am among those who welcome this Bill? It is not a very original Bill, because one finds on the Statute Book an Act passed in 1917 called the Workmen's Compensation (War Additions) Act, and a similar amending Act in 1919. This is really the fourth time we have had a Measure of this sort brought before Parliament, and I hope that two in each war is quite enough and we shall see no further succession. I join with those who want to see the whole code of workmen's compensation and the procedure under which it is applied revised, brought up to date 1598 and improved. I would like to see an end put to the lowering of the standard of life of a family which invariably happens when the breadwinner meets with an accident in the course of his employment. These are general observations.
I will now come to the particular point I wanted to raise. A great deal has been said about there being no sympathy for the small employer who has not insured against liability for workmen's compensation. I agree that for the employer in the sense in which the word is normally used, who employs five, six or 10 workmen and who does not insure, not a great deal is to be said, but the employer in the Workmen's Compensation Act has a very wide interpretation, and you might find a farmer who employs a thatcher to thatch his ricks suddenly liable to pay him compensation for a long period of years which he never anticipated could fall on his shoulders.
You can insure against that in future, hut what about retrospective payments? It may put a great extra burden upon those employers who are liable under awards in respect of past accidents. I am concerned not so much about the employer as about the injured workman, because if the employer cannot discharge the obligation placed upon him by this Bill the injured workmen will be left with a right unsatisfied. I ask the Home Secretary to consider, therefore, inserting some provision in the Bill, so that where a small employer cannot meet the increase proposed that increase can be discharged in some other way. The same position will arise where the employer is insured with a small mutual insurance society, which has no reserves against these increases. Unless some provision is made for the workman's increase to be paid by somebody other than the employer, the workman's right will go unsatisfied. I ask the Home Secretary to consider some steps to ensure that where the employer cannot make these payments under retrospective awards, the payments will be made in some way or another—it may be after due inquiry—to the workman, who has his rights under this Bill as soon as it becomes an Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. Isaacs (Southwark, North)
Before I address myself to the terms of the Bill, I would like to comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). He made great play about the 1599 so-called agreement; and it would appear that what he has in mind is the idea that a bargain has been reached between the Trades Union Congress, the Employers' Confederation and the Government. That is absolutely incorrect, and, with respect, the hon. Member knows that it is incorrect. The parties who negotiated pressed their negotiations as far as they could, and when they realised that they had secured the most they possibly could, they decided not to press their opposition any farther, but to allow the matter to go forward. In no circumstances did we reach agreement. On the contrary, the letters sent by those negotiating for the T.U.C. made it clear to the Home Secretary that, although we would not press our case any farther and would accept this as an interim settlement, it would in no way bind our party in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Isaacs
Very well; the hon. Member has already shifted his ground from an agreement to a bargain.
§ Mr. Isaacs
Perhaps the hon. Member will let me make my case without interruption, as I listened to him quietly while he made his. Even when he advised me how to write my next election address I did not answer him back. He said that the is tired of humbug. That is a phrase which might come back to him like a boomerang if he knew the thoughts in other people's minds. He went into detail about the Bill; and, involved as workmen's compensation is, it is nothing like so involved as the logic of the hon. Member. I want to make one or two references to the Bill. We have had many Workmen's Compensation Bills introduced in this House, and they have all suffered from one of the most awkward phrases in the Workmen's Compensation Act. That Act deals with accidents "arising out of and in the course of employment." These Bills have all been injured, some fatally, arising out of and in the course of passage through Parliament. But if we can judge from the expressions of opinion used in the House in the Debates 1600 on those Bills it may be possible to improve this Bill in its passage through the House. If that is the desire of the House, whatever agreement, bargain, understanding, or, if you like, wangle or quibble, results, nobody who took part in those negotiations would object.
Workmen's compensation has always suffered from this sort of battledore-and-shuttlecock progress from one body to another. We have had inquiries, Committees and Royal Commissions. The Royal Commission could have concluded its work if the employers, who seem so anxious to improve things when the opportunity does not present itself, would have given evidence before the Commission. On the other hand, very little results from same Commissions. I sat on a Workmen's Compensation inquiry which dealt with nystagmus and referees' awards, and we are still waiting for the recommendations to become effective. There is no argument about the need for improvement in regard to workmen's compensation; that is accepted. What the argument is about is the measure of improvement. Let me quote from the recent Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories:This year has again seen a considerable increase in the total number of reportable accidents, though the percentage increase is not so high as it was in the two previous years.The Report points out that no fewer than 314,630 persons were injured. The Chief Inspector goes on to say:The number of accidents is now so great as to make an appreciable inroad on our war effort.So the matter affects the war effort. It may be argued that compensation payment has no relation to accidents, but I think it can be proved that they have. The Chief Inspector says:When we remember the amount of suffering and permanent injury involved, it behoves all concerned to take every step possible to lessen the risk in our factories.Those of us who have anything to do with workmen who have met with accidents know that in the vast majority of cases the men go back to work before they are fit to do so, because they cannot continue to live on the compensation payments. They are either more prone themselves to accidents or more prone to be responsible for accidents to others. When you have half a dozen men working in a 1601 team and one is not fit, a greater burden is thrown upon the others. Something has been said about the cost of administration. The Holman Gregory Report in 1922 showed that out of every £100 paid in premiums £52 went in costs and profits, and only £48 in benefits. The position is a little better now, but none too good, because the Beveridge Report shows that over 30 per cent. of premiums still goes in costs and expenses and profits. The Report shows that in employers' liability assurance, according to the mean of 1938–39, total administration costs for accident offices amounted to 46.5 per cent. of premiums, and for mutual companies 21.6 per cent. Medical and legal expenses accounted for something over £500,000. One lesson to be learned from this is that the mutual insurance companies, which are not profit-making concerns in the ordinary sense of the term, are able to conduct business with a lower cost of management than the others. If we were able to get the State scheme which we are anxious to see, we should be able to manage it for considerably less. In these accident cases the suffering is not only physical but mental. Also, it has a great effect on the economic life of the country. If over 300,000 people are on compensation, instead of on wages, the purchasing power of the country is reduced by that amount, and that has its effect on the volume of work.
Reference has been made to the Trades Union Congress. I do not speak for the Trades Union Congress. I represent my constituency, and I speak for my constituency, but as I happen to a be a member of the Trades Union Congress and was present at the last Conference, I am able to speak with first-hand evidence on what that Conference decided and wished. They wished this Bill to be passed. The most powerful speech, at the Trades Union Congress in support of the early passage of this Bill was made by an official delegate put forward by the Miners' Federation of Great Britain. So we find that the Bill is desirable. We are sorry it did not come long before.
If I may draw attention to one or two points about it and proceed to say what we think the Bill ought to contain, I promise not to detain the House for many minutes. We most certainly regret the introduction of the 13 weeks. It has introduced into the Bill a principle of the 1602 Beveridge Report which is not to our advantage and has not given the other parts of the Beveridge Report that would be to our advantage. We regret it, and it will cause a great deal of misunderstanding. Although it deprives single men of any benefit, it does not deprive married men of the substantial advance made to them. The Bill does not touch the general principles upon which weekly compensation is assessed. That is a matter for discussion. One has to be careful, because if the Trades Union Congress and the confederation of trades organisations are not permitted to approach the Government and say what should be done, the Government will be in a difficulty in making up their minds what should be done. It is a problem on which every citizen or organisation of citizens who could help the Government to make up their minds should do so.
The Home Secretary said that the Bill does not relieve the Government of their duty of permanent revision of the system and that he would be very happy if he could be the architect of a new Workmen's Compensation Bill. Those of us who have known him for a number of years would like to see him not only the architect of such a Bill, but the builder of a new workmen's compensation scheme. We can give him plans which Kaye stood many years of discussion and which he might have heard discussed at Labour Party Conferences. But we have plans that we are prepared to put before him. I will merely state the points so that the position may be clear. I am not speaking for the Trades Union Congress—that is not my business—but I am speaking of what the Trades Union Congress has asked for and put on record as being desirable in the Act. First, the method of computation of average weekly earnings to prevent the worker suffering loss in compensation due to unemployment or short time working. You have heard from miners whose compensation has gone lower because of the short time and unemployment previous to their accident. Second, there is the right of election under workmen's compensation Acts or other Acts which, although considerably improved by recent arrangements made by the Home Secretary, still needs improvement.
We want a drastic revision of the system of medical referees. The medical referee 1603 has power and authority equal to the House of Lords as a final court of appeal. That is a power which ought not to exist. We want to amend the review procedure. For example a youngster may meet with an accident at some time before he is 21 and, unless he gets a review of his claim within the narrow limits of six months of reaching his 21st birthday, he loses his opportunity of review for the rest of his life. We want to see the removal of the restrictions and conditions relating to industrial diseases which prevent many just claims securing relief. There was something done recently for which working people in these industries are grateful but we want the Home Office to go further. We want them to remove the limiting restriction to claims for pneumoconiosis which gives compensation to sufferers from coal dust in mining, but denies it to others exposed to coal dust, such as coal trimmers on ships, workers in gas works and other large coal using industries. At least 10 years ago the trades union movement of this country drew attention to pneumoconiosis and claimed that dust as a disease creator should be extended beyond coal. The term "pneumoconiosis" is now recognised but the application of it is very narrow.
Another point touched on is the raising of the payment in fatal accidents. It should give cover for a longer period not only for the widow and children, but for the widow after the children have grown up, and in addition should compensate the widow not only for the loss of her husband but in recognition of her work for the State in bringing up a family. We want a scheme to take away the eternal fight for justice. Claims for compensation are a constant contest between individual workers and employers. In the vast majority of cases the employers are very decent about compensation cases. I have handled cases in the great printing industry for 30 years. The employers are decent but they have passed on their responsibility to the insurance companies. We should remove the legal obstacles and quibbles that clutter up the road the worker must travel when injured. The money spent in legal battles could be better utilised in increasing the amount of compensation and preventing other mischief. We must look upon the injured worker as a citizen injured in carrying on 1604 the nation's work and not as someone who wants our charity.
I would urge the Government not to be weary in well-doing but to try to do even better and vigorously tackle all the evils that beset this vital question. Workers' organisations accept this advance as another patch on an outworn garment. It will keep out a little more bad weather, but it is time we had something new, something that will prove the talk of the brave new world is not merely talk but the preface to vigorous, bold and humane, if not generous, action.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
It is difficult to compress one's speech into eight minutes but I will do my best. I hope that the Home Secretary will carry away from this Debate two things, first that it is absolutely necessary that he should declare the date, or approximate date, when in his opinion he will be able to bring forward proposals for the new Code. I am afraid it may be very difficult for him to bring them forward before the whole social security scheme of the nation is introduced, the two are interwoven so closely. If that is the case, I hope that he and his right hon. Friend will take careful thought to see what improvements they can introduce into this Bill to make it more comprehensive.
I was very much struck with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) who described how, when he first became a Member for a mining constituency, it came as a great shock to him to see how life in a mining community is dominated by workmen's compensation. Exactly the same thing happened to me. Ever since I was Member for the constituency of Morpeth, I have felt that it is amazing how the rest of the country is almost completely ignorant of the suffering and hardship caused by the working of compensation law in mining districts. As the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said, compensation is mainly a mining question. I will go so far as to say that it is 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. a mining question. I was fortunate enough to get a Bill through this House to help the situation in the mining areas, but I cannot help blaming myself, and my own party, and Members of the party opposite, for not dealing with this question, not in a large way—because that must be the province of the Government, 1605 whether a Labour or Coalition Government — but for not persuading the Governments of the day to introduce piecemeal amendments and improvements which would have meant so much. For instance, take nystagmus cases. If, 10 years ago, we had pressed the Government as we should, a small Bill could have been introduced to deal with these cases. Again, the position of partially disabled men is, perhaps, the most pathetic feature of life in mining villages and their position could have been vastly improved. We all ought to stand repentant when considering our sins of omission in respect of workmen's compensation. I think they arise from the fact that the whole structure is so complicated that when one starts tinkering with a single brick, one is afraid that the whole thing will tumble down about one's head. The Government find themselves in that position now. They have not dared to tinker too much with the structure and now they will find themselves unable to introduce a new code until it can be dovetailed into the new social security system. In the long run I think it may have to be introduced piecemeal.
In the five minutes remaining at my disposal I would like to put forward my idea of what the new code must provide. First, a subsistence minimum. As I see it, that must come out of a national social security scheme. Neither the workman nor the employer should be deprived of the benefit of his contributions just because the accident has been an industrial accident. The basis of payment must be a subsistence minimum based on national insurance with children's allowances in the normal way. Secondly, there must be an earnings factor. All this is common ground, but where it leads us is not common ground. The earnings factor can be, say, two-thirds of pre-accident earnings or anything you like, the proportion does not matter. Thirdly, there must be provision for the best medical treatment and advice, and for qualified legal advice. Fourthly, full provision must be made for rehabilitation, again with particular emphasis on partially disabled men in the mining districts, who must be encouraged and assisted to migrate to districts where light work is possible. Fifthly, there must be compulsory insurance for the employers degree of liability, which I will come to in a minute. 1606 The question is shall we have a contributory scheme only, or try to combine it with some of the aspects of the present law? In my opinion we shall have to have a two-decker scheme, by which I mean this: The first so-much of the payment must come out of the national scheme, but the earnings factor must still remain the liability of the employer. In equity I see no reason for taking away all liability from the employer. I see no reason for having a special industrial accidents insurance scheme and making the rest of the country bear a large portion of the expense. But an even more important reason why we must have a two-decker scheme is because I cannot see how you can marry a fixed national contribution with a scheme that provides varying benefits according to earnings. If you are to have a scheme combining the two elements of subsistence and earnings, one of which is fixed for the whole nation and the other which depends on earnings, you cannot have a single scheme dealing with these two matters.
I have said nearly all I want to say except that I hope that some such scheme as this will be seriously considered by the Home Office. I do not think it will be possible to introduce a new code in the lifetime of this Parliament, or to produce a new code until some Beveridge benefit, as I might call it, is introduced for health and non-industrial accidents. It may be possible; if it is, let the Home Secretary do it quickly. If not, I beg him to see whether this twopenny half-penny Bill cannot be made the vehicle for a good many small alterations in the Workmen's Compensation Acts which would bring relief to the mining districts. It is a disgrace to us all that men injured in industrial accidents should be claiming public assistance. That is what it really comes down to. I do not want to make it a party matter, but that is the disgrace we are all up against. From my knowledge as a mining Member for four years, I know that this question of workmen's compensation is the greatest single cause of bitterness in the mining districts. More human misery is caused in these districts through this question than through any other. If we want to improve the position in the coalfields, we should insist on the Government doing something to remove this cause of bitterness at the present time and in the future.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
I think I ought to reply to the Debate now, and I hope I shall be able to make my observations comfortably in the time still remaining to us. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Foster) referred to an undertaking which I gave during the Committee stage of a Bill which was passed last January and about which I ought to say a word. In connection with that Bill, I gave a promise on behalf of the Government that the method of calculating pre-accident earnings on a basis that shall fairly assess the earning power of the workman shall be subject to immediate examination with a view to negotiations with representatives of employers and workmen at an early date. That examination took place, and negotiations followed with representatives of the British Employers' Federation and the Trades Union Congress. There were separate and joint discussions, and we explored the matter very fully, but, as the hon. Member for North Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) knows, without achieving any practical result. It was perfectly clear that the difficulties were very great and that if we were to give benefit to the workman in respect of time lost through slackness of trade, we should at the same time have to deprive the workman of the benefit which he is obtaining at the present time through working over-time and full employment. When we came to try and arrive at a definition of a normal weekly wage we realised that the difficulties of the problem were almost insuperable. It was clear that the matter was not one which could be dealt with in that way until the time came to draw up a permanent scheme for workmen's compensation.
We have heard a great deal of comment upon what is in this Bill and also what is not in the Bill, but I think it is remarkable that hardly one hon. Member has taken any exception to, or made any critical comments upon, the two features of this Bill which are new so far as workmen's compensation is concerned. These are the allowance in respect of a wife of a married man, and the differentiation between cases which last for 13 weeks and less and those which last for 13 weeks or more. These two new departures seem to have received a very large measure of general acceptance and to have passed without challenge. My hon. Friend who spoke last and made a thoughtful and interesting speech gave us 1608 the benefit of his views as to the shape the permanent scheme ought to take described this as a tuppeny-halfpenny Measure. That is perhaps putting it on the low side, because, as my right hon. Friend said in introducing it, it will add a cost of £5,000,000 to the present figure of £12,500,000, which I think we can describe as a fairly substantial measure of improvement.
§ Mr. Peake
The hon. Member is wrong in that. The £5,000,000 is what we calculate will be the additional actual payment in compensation—[Interruption.] Obviously this is not a Measure of first-class importance. When we come to the new code we shall be building up something of far greater importance than anything with which this Measure is concerned. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) in our last Debate told us of the sad case of a married workman with six children, suffering from silicosis, who in 1938 received in workmen's compensation the miserable sum of 20S. 5d. As he himself pointed out, that figure in 1940 became 35s., and in 1943 he told us that, owing to the Bill of last January, it became 55s., and on the assumption that the workman could establish that if he were at work to-day he would be earning something in excess of £4 10s. a week, the figure would become 80s. I think that the series of Measures which have been passed during the war and which have increased the compensation for a married man with six children from 20s. to 80s. can really be regarded as a fairly substantial achievement.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) made some criticism of the Bill and suggested a much higher scheme of benefit than it contemplates, but, as I understood it, at the same time he took exception to the retrospective application of the rates we propose. He proposed that the maximum should be two-thirds of the pre-accident earnings, with a £4 limit. If his suggestion were adopted, we should find that we would be precluded from applying the new rates to old cases and the man about whom I have just been speaking, who was receiving 20s. 5d. before the war, would still be receiving that sort of figure.
§ Mr. Hogg
I should not like it to go forward that I was objecting to the retrospective character of the legislation. I have always thought that the money should be recoverable from the Treasury, but I did not introduce that aspect into my speech, because it was irrelevant to the argument I had in mind.
§ Mr. Peake
I am sorry if I misunderstood my hon. Friend, but I understood that he took some exception to the retrospective application of the liability in respect of these cases. As regards his suggestion that the maximum ought immediately to be raised to £4, I think he ought to consider the effect of that upon the rates of pension laid down ill the new Royal Warrant and in the scheme of compensation for civilians injured by enemy action. I think there could be some criticism if injury in industry carried along with it compensation or pension at double the rate paid to those disabled in the service of the country in the Armed Forces. Apart from that, I think there was not very much criticism of the amount of the increases which the Bill contemplates, but at any rate whatever there is to be said upon that issue can be said in Committee.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chester (Major Nield) spoke of the appalling complexities of calculating the payments under the existing system. I entirely agree with everything that he said, and that is one of the reasons why we want to get on with the new and permanent scheme. My hon. and gallant Friend fell into a somewhat similar error as was fallen into later by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). They both seem to think that the Measure was brought before the House as an agreed Measure with the employers on the one hand and the representatives of the workers on the other. That is not the case. There was no agreement in respect of the Measure at all. The employers made it perfectly clear that they could not assent to it. They objected in principle to the introduction of a wife's allowance into a scheme which in their view ought to be related only to wages. Moreover, they objected to the burden that was being cast upon them. They made it clear, however, that if the Government decided to deal with the matter in this way, they could not take any objection to us dealing with the old cases as well as the new, so it is only with regard to 1610 that one point that I can say there is a measure of agreement on the part of the employers in regard to the provisions of the Bill.
As regards the hon. Member for North Southwark and the position in which he stands in regard to the matter, that is also perfectly clear. We discussed these matters with the representatives of both sides of industry, and we should be extraordinarily foolish if we did not do so. We have our discussions and consultations to see how far the two sides are apart. If both sides can arrive at the same point, well and good, but if they cannot, we simply have to take our stand at that point. The hon. Member's position is that at a certain stage, as far as the trade union movement is concerned, he says, "We are prepared to accept that, and we do not intend to press the Government any further in respect of this Bill," but he always reserves the right to come again and ask for more. As soon as one Bill is passed through Parliament he comes forward and asks for another.
§ Mr. Peake
We discuss various proposals—alternative proposals—with the parties and in respect of those proposals it is open to them to say "We prefer this or that." After our discussions are concluded we then say what we intend to do, and we embody it in a Bill, which is published and is available to the general public just as soon as it is available to anybody else.
My hon. Friends have explained at length the faults of the present system—that insurance is not compulsory, and that under the present system some claimants have to go without compensation altogether on account of the bankruptcy of the employer; the deficiencies of the present methods by which lump sums are paid in final settlement; the continual squabbling between the two sides, with references to the county courts, and so forth. With a great deal of what has been said on those matters the Government are in agreement, and it is for that reason that we should like to see a new system established. Nine months ago the 1611 Beveridge Report was published which proposed a complete revolution in the present system of workmen's compensation, the conversion of this antiquated system into a scheme of social insurance, and what has surprised me in this Debate is that we have had so few references to those proposals. I expect that hon. Members are profiting by the unhappy experience which befell me in the summer, when I ventured, not of course to criticise any of the proposals in the Beveridge Report but to say a few words in regard to some of the phraseology. I got such a "lambasting" from the Left Wing Press that I decided that I should be extremely cautious in the future in my references to Sir William Beveridge. I even had the honour of being criticised by the great Sir William Beveridge himself, and as for his acolytes, they were yapping at my heels for many months afterwards.
§ Mr. Peake
I therefore understand the extreme caution which hon. Members have shown in speaking of the Beveridge proposals, but I did think there was a certain measure of silent assent to the bold statement which fell, I think, from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd) that everything about workmen's compensation in the Beveridge Report was not perfect. I seem to detect a certain measure of assent to that statement in all quarters of the House.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
We have said repeatedly, and so have some of the big trade unions, that we do not agree with the Beveridge Report particularly in regard to single men and compensation.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)
And that was voiced several times during the Debate on the Beveridge Report, from all sides.
§ Mr. Peake
If my hon. Friend will refer again to the three days' Debate on the Beveridge Report he will find that there are singularly few references to workmen's compensation. I sat through the whole of that Debate in the hope of gaining some information as to the attitude of hon. Members on this question, and I am sorry to say that I got very little guidance. It may be that my hon. Friend referred to it—I do not remember 1612 —but it was a curious feature of that Debate on proposals for bringing about a revolution in workmen's compensation that there was practically no reference to them at all. But from what has been said to-day it does seem that there is a large measure of agreement that a new scheme is wanted and that it might be on lines which have not hitherto been considered, that it might embody some of the Beveridge principles, but that in some matters of detail the Beveridge scheme is capable of improvement. If that is the view of the House, I think that I can say that it is the view also of my right hon. Friend and myself.
§ Mr. Peake
When my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale asked whether a transformation of the workmen's compensation system on, that sort of lines would fall within or without the Prime Minister's statement the other day, I think the answer must be that it all depends on the measure of controversy which our proposals will arouse. We are working upon our proposals at the present time, and they will be published to Parliament when they are ready. I hope this will not now be very long, and that we shall have a Debate upon them, in the course of which it would become clear whether there is a sufficient measure of agreement in the House to make it possible to proceed with a new scheme. Speaking for myself and my right hon. Friend I can say that we both most earnestly hope that the proposals will command such a measure of agreement that we can go forward. The old system is hopelessly antiquated. The one thing upon which all are agreed is that the old system should be abolished, that it is full of faults, and that a new scheme should take its place.
This Measure only pretends to be a temporary alleviation. It would be absurd in the present circumstances to invite us to patch up piecemeal the old workmen's compensation system. We all regard it, I hope, as a death-bed case, we all hope that the old system will be deceased before many months or years are passed, but I do feel that my hon. Friends of what I think is called the Tory Reform Committee might have produced something a little more radical and practicable than the suggestion that we should introduce compul- 1613 sory insurance. After all, that was recommended by the Holman-Gregory Committee in 1920.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but evidently he was not attending to the first part of my speech, in which I made it perfectly plain that, accepting the principle of a temporary Measure, that was a temporary Measure which I should have put in the place of his temporary Measure. When the time came for a proper revision of the scheme, I should be no less radical than he would be, even with his far more progressive mind.
§ Mr. Peake
I will say something about it. After 13 weeks, as the House is aware, the maximum for the single man will become 40s. During the first 13 weeks it will remain at its present rate of 35s. The Beveridge proposals were made in December last, and they stand before the country for examination. The Government's attitude on them, so far as workmen's compensation is concerned, has not yet been announced, but Sir William Beveridge suggested that the rate for the first 13 weeks for a single man and woman of adult age should be 24s. and, if of less than adult age, something less than 24s. In face of such a recommendation, involving a reduction in the rate from the present figure of 35s., in order to bring these men and women within a single comprehensive scheme with the same initial rate in respect of sickness, unemployment and industrial accident it would be extremely difficult for the Government to go in exactly the opposite direction and to increase the rate for the single man and woman.
§ Mr. Peake
By leaving the single rate as it is, we do not prejudice the Beveridge proposals. If we were to modify that rate upwards at present while the Beveridge proposal involves a substantial reduction, it would be impossible in a year or 18 months' time to bring down a rate which had been increased only a few months previously.
§ Major Lloyd
May I hope that my right hon. Friend will make some reference to the position of the small employer?
§ Mr. Peake
I think the point raised by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale will be discussed further on the Committee stage. Broadly speaking, our attitude has been not to increase the single man's rate in an upward direction when the Beveridge proposals involve its coming down because that would be to prejudice the Beveridge proposals and to make them forever impossible of adoption. In regard to the small employer, I think the point of my hon. Friend is that some hardship is involved.
§ Major Manningham-Buller
There is also the point concerning the small employer who cannot discharge his liability.
§ Mr. Peake
We have already had some experience on that point. In 1940 we introduced supplementary allowances with retrospective effect. Although there are an enormous number of old cases of workmen's compensation at any time, there are something like 600,000 new cases every year and always a large number of old cases dating back for many years. In spite of that, we introduced a retrospective effect in 1940 and we only heard of a mere handful of cases where hardship resulted and where it was not possible for the victim of the accident to obtain the increased benefits. We, therefore, have had previous experience on this point, and I do not think that we shall hear any more about cases of hardship in regard to the present Bill than we did in regard to the Bill of 1940.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
May I ask for an explanation of the provision in clause I in regard to widows with children?
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for the next Sitting Day.—[Captain McEwen.]