§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.47 p.m.
The Minister of National Insurance (Dr. Edith Sunnerskill)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I believe that the Bill will commend itself to both sides of the House, as it seeks to help a category of workers who must command the sympathy of all hon. Members. The Bill was brought forward to deal with the problem inherited from the days before the industrial injuries scheme began. Hon. Members will recall that when that scheme was being debated in Parliament a good deal of attention was directed to the position of the men who had existing rights under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, the old cases. Some people thought then that these men should be included under the Industrial 1374 Injuries Acts, but it was generally recognised that any suggestion of this kind raised difficult problems which should be examined further in the light of the working of the new Act.
In the meantime, the most seriously injured of the men were made eligible for two benefits under the new scheme, the unemployability supplement and the constant attendance allowance, which have, I believe, gone a long way in easing their burdens. Since those days the whole problem has been examined and discussed with both sides of industry, and our conclusion is that the workmen's compensation scheme and the industrial injuries scheme are based on such different principles that they cannot be assimilated in any way which would be fair to the men concerned and administratively practicable.
Hon. Members know that it is a basic principle of the Workmen's Compensation Acts that payments should be related to earning capacity. Thus, a slightly injured man may receive the same compensation as one who has been much more seriously injured if the effect of the injury on earning capacity is the same in one case as in the other. Under the Industrial Injuries Act, on the other hand, disablement benefit is related to loss of faculty, that is, loss of health, strength and the power to enjoy life. But under the more generous provisions of the Industrial Injuries Acts it is a fact that the most seriously injured men are often at an advantage over those under workmen's compensation. This is not, of course, necessarily the case with those with slighter injuries.
Apart altogether from this, I want hon. Members to recognise that assimilation would create a serious administrative problem. To transfer people still on workmen's compensation to the new scheme would involve an examination by a medical board in many thousands of cases. This would put a very heavy burden on the medical manpower of the country which might jeopardise the smooth working of the industrial injuries scheme. Therefore, after the most careful consideration we have decided to leave the Workmen's Compensation Acts untouched so far as they still apply. I should like to emphasise that nothing in the scheme alters in the slightest degree the existing rights and obligations of workers and employers under these Acts.
1375 The examination which we made, however, showed that there was one special group of old cases in a rather unfortunate position, the survivors of industrial accidents which happened before 1924. They were left outside the main provisions of the 1925 Workmen's Compensation Act because their existing terms of compensation were, in some ways, more favourable than the terms in the new Act. Unfortunately for them, however, they were also excluded from later legislation which materially improved the position of the post-1924 men. The result is that today they are at a serious disadvantage. For instance, their maximum is lower and they do not receive any wife's allowance. Moreover, and in my view this is very important, they cannot have their pre-accident wages, on which all compensation rights depend, recalculated upwards in the light of current wage rates. Neither do they enjoy the privilege of having partial incapacity treated as total incapacity in certain special circumstances.
As a result of all this, they are worse off in many cases by a substantial amount than men who came under the later Acts. It is widely recognised that these men have a genuine grievance, and I have decided to remedy this. The Bill is designed to put men who have suffered an accident, or who have contracted an industrial disease, before 1924 in approximately the same position as if the later Workmen's Compensation Acts had applied to them, and to bring their compensation up to the level of the later Acts by means of allowances paid out of the Industrial Injuries Fund.
I now come to the Bill itself. It will be seen that it is an enabling Measure, laying down the broad lines on which I can make a detailed scheme. I have already presented to the House an Explanatory Memorandum which indicates what I have in mind by way of provision. Later, the scheme will be submitted for the approval of both Houses, so there will be ample opportunity for hon. Members to examine it.
Although the principle in the new scheme will be quite simple, the scheme itself will have to reproduce the substance of some of the provisions of the later Workmen's Compensation Acts. The allowances to be provided will vary, of course. One of the most important pro- 1376 visions will be that the pre-1924 maximum of 20s. for the partially incapacitated man will be raised to 40s. Again, a man who, because the calculations of his pre-accident and post-accident earnings did not disclose any loss of earnings, is getting no compensation at all, will be entitled to have his pre-accident earnings recalculated by reference to increases in wage rates since his accident. If the result of this is to disclose a loss of earnings, he will get an allowance. If the gap is £3 a week or more, he will receive 40s. a week. The totally incapacitated man who now gets 35s. will get an extra 5s. to bring him up to 40s.
Then there is an important provision for the man who, although he is considered to be capable of some work, has not been able to get it. Certain circumstances comparable to those laid down in the 1931 Act enable men to get compensation in these circumstances, and men who are in the same position will have their incapacity treated as total and have any workman's compensation they are getting made up to 40s.
Now I come to the allowance for a wife. As you know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, this was introduced into workmen's compensation in 1943 as part of the supplementary allowances provided for by various war-time Acts. The provision is really rather foreign to workmen's compensation principles, based, as they are, on loss of earning power. It is rather complicated and took the form of saying that if a man had a wife before he was injured, he could get 10s. a week, or such proportion of that sum as the total amount of compensation he was getting bore to the maximum. There was a further provision regarding the proportion which all this bore to the loss of earnings.
On the other hand, we know that under the new industrial injuries scheme disablement benefit does not carry with it a wife's allowances. It is the man who is incapable of work and who is drawing hospital treatment allowance, unemployability supplement, or sickness benefit who gets an allowance for his dependent wife. As is well known, the allowance is at a flat rate and does not depend upon the degree of disablement.
Having regard to all this, we came to the conclusion that instead of a rather complicated scheme of wife's allowance, it would be better to have a simple rule 1377 that if a man were totally incapacitated, or treated as totally incapacitated for the purpose of other allowances provided by the Bill, he would, in addition, be given 16s. a week if he had a wife dependent upon him. These allowances will accordingly be paid, subject to the same conditions as the wife's allowances under the Industrial Injuries Act. Furthermore, we are giving this allowance to the man who married his wife after the accident and not limiting it to the pre-accident wife.
Another matter I want to mention is that the scheme will cover only people whose workmen's compensation rates are still effective at its commencement. It is quite impossible to go back and bring within the ambit of the scheme men who have commuted their weekly payments or had them redeemed before it starts. Commutation or redemption after the scheme begins, however, will not put a man outside it. The same limitation, it will be recalled, was recognised in respect to the various amending Workmen's Compensation Acts themselves, and in connection with Section 82 of the Industrial Injuries Act which extended to the old cases the benefits I have already mentioned.
I should like to say a word about the organisation I am setting up to administer the allowances. The House will have gathered from what I said earlier that the administrative machinery of the industrial injuries scheme is not well adapted for dealing with problems of workmen's compensation. I propose, therefore, to set up a statutory body rather on the lines of various analogous bodies operating under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, some of which have dealt very successfully with a smaller block of old cases.
The members of the board will be drawn from both sides of industry and from my Ministry. An independent chairman will be appointed in consultation with the Lord Chancellor, and I hope to obtain somebody of high legal standing. The board will decide all claims to allowances and the procedure, which they will more or less settle themselves, will, I hope, be kept as informal as possible. They will always be able to review a case on representations being made to them, and I am sure that a board of this kind will have the confidence of the workmen concerned.
Since the money is coming out of the Industrial Injuries Fund, the Minister of 1378 National Insurance is to be made responsible for payment of the allowances once they have been awarded by the board. It is proposed, in this connection, and also in some other matters of procedure, to apply various provisions of the Industrial Injuries Acts and regulations which have been tested by experience. As I have said, there have been discussions with both sides of industry, and I have no reason to suppose that these proposals will be otherwise than acceptable to workers and employees.
Finally, hon. Members will want to know how many people will be affected by the scheme. It is limited to pre-1924 workers and, unfortunately, no reliable up-to-date statistics are available. It is particularly difficult to estimate the number of men whose rights to workmen's compensation are in abeyance because of their post-accident earnings but who would benefit by the new allowances. As a round figure, something like 5,000 people will probably benefit. The total cost, including administration, is expected to be about £250,000 in the first year and will decrease year by year.
These men have been waiting a long time for this measure of justice and I am very pleased to be introducing a Bill which removes a long-standing grievance. I sincerely hope that with the explanations I have given—and I have endeavoured to be short so that my hon. Friends behind me will have an opportunity of making their contributions to the debate—the House will be prepared to give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading and to assist its passage into law as soon as possible.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
This is, I think, the first Bill which the right hon. Lady has sponsored since her translation to her present office, and I think it would be the wish of the House that I should congratulate her not only upon the way in which she has sponsored the Bill, but upon her translation from the Ministry of Food to the Ministry of National Insurance.
From long experience, I know how thorny a subject is workmen's compensation. It has sometimes led to heated debates in the House, but the Bill which we are now discussing will be quite noncontroversial. It is, I think, somewhat like its sponsor, the Minister. It is a 1379 modest Bill, it is a useful Bill, and it is a Bill which is pleasing to contemplate.
§ Mr. Peake
The Bill is at present like one of those models which we see in a dressmaker's window.
The detailed scheme is bound to be extremely complex, and we must look at the Explanatory Memorandum and at the Minister's speech this evening to see the true picture. I fully agree with what the right hon. Lady said about the utter impossibility of assimilating the old workmen's compensation scheme with the new scheme of industrial injuries insurance and the impossibility, therefore, of the Industrial Injuries Fund completely taking over responsibility for all cases of accidents which occurred before 1948.
The old scheme was based upon loss of earning capacity and the new scheme—so far as the long-term cases are concerned—was based upon the degree of physical disability or, as the right hon. Lady called it, on loss of faculty. That is to say, the long term cases are now treated in exactly the same way as men disabled in His Majesty's service are treated by the Ministry of Pensions so far as the assessment of their disability and of their pension is concerned.
The House will remember that Sir William Beveridge, as he then was, proposed in his Report to continue the basis of calculating compensation by reference to the loss of earning capacity. He went on to suggest that if that was done, it might be possible for the new fund to take over the financial responsibility for all existing cases. The Coalition Government in 1944 threw over the recommendations of Sir William Beveridge in this respect and decided to adopt what I may call the "wounded warrior" prin- 1380 ciple for treating workmen's compensation cases.
I am quite sure, as a result of such experiences as we have had of the workings of the Act, that the method then proposed is far superior to the old method of assessing compensation by reference to loss of earning capacity. Nevertheless, the problem of the old cases still remained to be dealt with, and at that time the suggestion which we put forward was that they should qualify for the unemployability supplement at the cost of the Fund. To that was added, with our approval and agreement, by the right hon. Gentleman who is the present Secretary of State for the Colonies, the allowance for constant attendance, which was introduced into the original Act in 1946. Let it be noted, of course, that these two provisions apply to all cases of accidents occurring before 1948, including those which occurred before 1924.
That, of course, still left the pre-1924 case worse off than those who had been injured between 1924 and 1948, and I should like the House to appreciate the reasons why it was not possible to apply the war-time increase Acts of 1940 and 1943 to cases of accidents which had occurred before 1924. The 1940 Act, the first of the war-time Acts, raised the maximum payment only to the level of the maximum already existing for the pre 1924 cases. It would, therefore, not have done those cases much good if the 1940 Act had been applied to them. The 1943 Act went far beyond the compensation levels prescribed for the pre-1924 cases by the Workmen's Compensation (War Addition) Acts of 1917 and 1919.
But the House should observe this. At the time when we were passing the 1943 Act the insurance companies who were being made responsible for the increased payments of compensation to all existing cases for which they had received premiums, upon the old basis of compensation, were already threatened, as a result of the publication of the Beveridge Report, with the extinction of their workmen's compensation business. They had already met us so far as to accept responsibility retrospectively for all cases going back to 1924. They were prepared on all those cases to pay the increased rates of benefit provided by the 1940 and 1943 Acts, without any increase of premium.
1381 Let the House also bear in mind that by an agreement with the Home Office, made in 1923, a fixed relationship was established between the premium income on the one hand and the payments of compensation on the other. Anyone who had to take out a workmen's compensation insurance policy knew that his premium was adjusted restrospectively after the end of the year to bring it into relationship with the ratio laid down by the Home Office from time to time.
At the time I was making these arrangements with the insurance companies I was extremely gratified that they were able to pick up all the old cases as far back as 1925 and to undertake to see that all those cases got the increased rates of benefit then provided. It would have been utterly unreasonable and unrealistic either to have asked or to have compelled the insurance companies to pick up all the back cases going back as far as 1897, at a time when their business was threatened with extinction and they had no source at all from which they could recover the necessary funds.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
I am sure that in fairness the right hon. Gentleman will admit that at that very time when those arguments were in his mind, in 1943, he received the most strenuous representations from the National Union of Mineworkers and the Trades Union Congress and that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) and myself had the pleasure of attending on the right hon. Gentleman at that time. I want him, in fairness, to accept that the strongest representations were made on those points at that time.
§ Mr. Peake
I say that everyone, including myself, would have liked to deal with the pre-1924 cases at that time, but I am pointing out that there was no fund available upon which it would have been fair and reasonable to have imposed this additional liability. Now the Industrial Insurance Fund is established there is someone upon whom responsibility can fairly be placed for assimilating the position of those injured before 1924 to those injured between 1924 and 1948.
I am not at all sure that the cases are quite as numerous as the right hon. Lady stated. My own recollection is that there were some 800 or 900 cases of this 1382 character in the mining industry alone. That would probably indicate 3,000 or 4,000 cases, or perhaps 2,000 or 3,000 cases altogether, since a great proportion occur in the mining industry. At any rate, I am sure that there are not very many cases.
I would like to ask a question of the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply, about the number of these cases which have been redeemed or commuted by means of a lump sum payment. I think it is clear that the right hon. Lady is right in saying that we cannot re-open cases where a lump sum settlement has been made, but I wonder whether, since the Industrial Injuries Insurance Act was passed five years ago, there has been an acceleration in the rate of commutation and redemption of past cases by means of lump sum payments. After all, the insurance companies, the mutual indemnity societies, and so on, who have lost any new business in this field would, one imagines, be anxious to clear as many of the old cases off their books as possible.
§ Mr. Holmes (Hemsworth)
The right hon. Gentleman talks about accelerating lump sum payments. A good deal of pressure or persuasion has been put on the man receiving compensation to receive a lump sum.
§ Mr. Peake
That is exactly the question I was putting to the Parliamentary Secretary. I wondered if he had any evidence that there had been increased pressure on the past cases to accept lump sum payments since the passing of the Industrial Injuries Act, 1946.
My own experience is—and I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to check me if I am not correct—that as regards the pre-1924 cases in respect of the supplement given by the Act of 1919 that Act expressly prohibited redemption by means of a lump sum payment of the supplement but permitted the basic payment to be redeemed by means of a lump sum payment. If that is the case it is unlikely that very many of these pre-1924 cases have been redeemed in recent years, because it was only open, as I understand the law, to the insurance company to redeem part of the weekly payment and not the whole of it. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to confirm that my view of that point is accurate.
1383 This Bill is bound to cause some administrative headaches. In any scheme where there is a double source of payment there are bound to be administrative difficulties, and in these cases for some years to come a man may continue to receive his weekly payment of workmen's compensation and also receive something from the Industrial Injuries Insurance Scheme. The Fund will make up the deficiency to the figure stated in the Memorandum explaining the Bill. With these administrative difficulties facing her, I am quite sure the right hon. Lady has taken the right course in appointing a board and not leaving these cases to be settled in the county court.
There will be need for publicity about the provisions of the Bill. Among the highly organised coal mining community the news will very quickly spread to the pre-1924 cases, but I am equally sure that there are many other places where men will not learn anything about the additional rights which are given them. In fact, they may almost have forgotten that they are in receipt of a weekly payment of workmen's compensation. I know of an old gentleman who was injured in 1897, who has been in receipt of a small sum of workmen's compensation ever since. He lost a foot on the railway that year and was one of the first cases under the Act. I am quite sure that he will never hear of this Bill unless the right hon. Lady takes steps to publicise its existence, and I am quite sure she will have machinery at her disposal which will enable her to do that. I believe that the Bill is a just Bill, a fair Bill and an equitable Bill and that it will be very generally welcomed.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I hope the right hon. Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake) will forgive me if I do not follow the line of thought he expressed regarding the many Compensation Acts placed on the Statute Book. I remember that he spent a long period with high-level officials at the Home Office and had the opportunity of dealing with the problem with which we are dealing tonight. But they failed to stand up to the problem then confronting them. I would remind him that many men, if they had lived, would have obtained benefit from this Bill, and it ought to have been placed on the Statute Book many years ago.
1384 I wish to offer to the right hon. Lady, and to her predecessor who now occupies the responsible position of Secretary of State for the Colonies, my profound gratitude for at least keeping the promise made in 1946 when the Personal Injuries Bill was before the House. It may be somewhat belated, but the outstanding point is that the promise has been kept. I believe it was the great Apostle St. Paul who said that it was better not to promise than to promise and not to pay. The right hon. Lady has promised, and has paid by presenting to the House this small, though very important, Bill which, as an ex-miner, I would describe as a token of remembrance to forgotten men. Those men had the misfortune to be broken and bruised upon the wheel of industry prior to 1924.
The method of calculating compensation payable to injured workmen was at that time manifestly unfair and the statement I have just made stands unchallenged. In the mining industry we have always said, and it may have been said in other industries, that the method of calculation of compensation to an injured workman was manifestly unfair. Men who met with accidents before 1924, particularly in the mining industry, were subject to under-employment and very low wages. The wages in the mining industry before that period were down at rock bottom. We experienced short-time, and no industry in this country suffered from the economic blast which blew over this country in those years more than the mining industry. In 1921, 1922, 1923 and 1924 we were working on an average only three days per week, and receiving very scanty wages upon which the compensation to an injured workman was based. Low wages, under-employment and many other factors had a tremendous effect upon the economic situation of men who had the misfortune to be injured prior to 1924.
It is as well that we should examine briefly the records of this House. Since 1897, the year referred to by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North, there have been placed on the Statute Book seven main Compensation Acts, and not one of them had any regard to the pre-1924 cases. I know there may have been difficulties, but difficulties are a means of progress if they are tackled in the proper way. Difficulties are surmountable 1385 if the will and determination is applied to overcome them.
I am not unmindful of the advantages, referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, which were contained in the 1948 Personal Injuries Act, which did provide some improvement in two directions; but they applied only to the serious cases. One was the unemployability allowance, and the other the constant attendance allowance. We were very grateful for those improvements when they could be claimed and the claim could be sustained, but they are a minor proportion of the cases which will be affected by this Bill. The vast majority of unfortunate men who will be affected by this Bill have not had any improvement in their rates of compensation since 1924, and one can quite understand why we on this side of the House welcome this Bill and wish for it a speedy passage through all its stages.
The aim of the Bill is, so far as is practicable, to put the pre-1924 cases into the same position as the pre-1948 cases. I should have liked to see a clean sweep made, and all the pre-1924 cases brought into the 1948 Bill. I fully appreciate, however, that there are administrative and financial difficulties, but it would have been a good job if it could have been done. I understand that what is proposed will be done by providing special allowances payable out of the Industrial Injuries Fund to make up weekly payments which would have been received by these men if the later workmen's compensation Acts had applied to them.
Although the supplementary allowances are paid out of the Industrial Injuries Fund, I am glad to note that compensation payments which pre-1924 cases are at present receiving continue to be the liability of employers. I hope the employers will not escape the liability which rests upon them for the pre-1924 cases. This Measure does not in any way affect the rights and obligations of workers or employees under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, in so far as those Acts are still in force.
I want to refer to three or four major injustices which this Bill is designed to correct. First, the pre-1924 total incapacity cases never qualified for the higher rate of compensation introduced for post-1924 cases by subsequent legislation. Thus, under the war additions 1386 legislation they were limited to a maximum of 35s. compared with 40s. for the post-1924 cases. Even in the calculation of the 35s. maximum, they were penalised because they could not get their pre-accident earnings reviewed to take account of changed wage rates. The new Bill brings the compensation of the pre-1924 cases to a maximum of 40s., and that is a remarkable step forward.
Secondly, the partially incapacitated are also to have their maximum compensation brought into line with that paid to post-1924 cases. Except in the industrial areas where many of our men have the misfortune to sustain accidents, it is not generally realised that the existing maximum for these people is that fixed by the first Workmen's Compensation Act, 1897, namely, 20s. That was the maximum governing the pre-1924 cases.
I know this House always listens to one who is relating his personal experiences. Unfortunately, I was carried out of a pit with a broken limb and I was off work for a considerable time. My full compensation—and I had to be off work for three weeks before I had a week's compensation under that Act—was 13s. I had to live on 13s. for a considerable period. If that accident had resulted in rendering me totally incapacitated or partially incapacitated, I would have had to be satisfied with that amount of compensation for the rest of my life.
Does anyone suggest that that is a fair way of assessing compensation payable to an injured workman? I could never understand the mentality of those men who devised the formula by which one had to wait three weeks before one received one week's compensation. So far as the basic rate is concerned, the partial incapacity pre-1924 cases will now achieve equality with the post-1924 cases for the first time. They will qualify for an allowance which, added to compensation, will bring them up to two-thirds of the loss of earnings, subject to a 40s. maximum for compensation and allowance.
Thirdly, the pre-1924 cases never had the right given them by the 1924 and 1925 Acts to have their pre-accident earnings reviewed to take account of changed wage rates. That is a vital point. Why was it so? Because the old workmen's compensation scheme related benefit to the 1387 difference between pre-accident and post-accident earnings, the deplorably low level of wages received by many of those men 30 years ago has meant that throughout the intervening period their compensation payments have been reduced to an utterly inadequate level.
They have remained, and still remain until this Act is on the Statute Book, the victims of industrial conditions which prevailed in this country a quarter of a century ago. Clause 2 (4) is an overdue recognition of this injustice. In assessing the loss of earnings the basis of comparison will not be the actual pre-1924 earnings but the average weekly earnings of a similar man today. That is a remarkable step forward. Those under 21 years of age were covered by the 1925 Act. In their case promotion prospects will be taken into account, and their cases will be reviewed when they reach the age of 21.
Another important aspect of the Bill is the provision enabling certain partial incapacity cases to have their partial incapacity treated as total incapacity. I spent some years of my life dealing with compensation cases, particularly under the 1931 Act, when we used to describe men who had sustained injury, recovered to a degree that they could undertake work and, having searched, could not get any work at all, as the "odd lot." The "odd lot" will benefit by this Measure. In my judgment, some of the most tragic cases with which I have had to deal under the Workmen's Compensation Acts are those men who had partially recovered from their injuries but were nevertheless unable to get work. It is a crying shame that men who, in performing the daily round and common task, had the misfortune to sustain an accident, should be unable, after their partial recovery, to get work anywhere, because they were the unfortunate victims of the industrial machine. In spite of the fact that their inability to get work was due to the continuing effect of their accident, their incapacity was treated as partial and not total.
One could go on dealing with this aspect of the Bill, but I should like just to say this. This Bill reveals to me the Minister's genuine concern to see that justice is done to these people. During the last war, when allowances for wives 1388 were introduced, they were limited to post-1924 cases; the pre-1924 cases had not the advantage of those allowances which were conceded to the post-1924 cases. Under the new scheme the total incapacity pre-1924 case will qualify for a wife's allowance on broadly the same conditions as apply under the National Insurance Scheme. I should like to put a question to my right hon. Friend. Will she clarify what is meant by "public funds" when she is dealing with this type of case?
The administrative machine for dealing with claims is outlined in paragraph 12 of the Explanatory Memorandum. I should like here to pay a tribute because to me, as a humble layman, this Explanatory Memorandum is very comprehensible compared with some which have been submitted to this House. A board is to be set up, consisting of a legal chairman and an equal number of employers' and workers' representatives. I plead with my right hon. Friend to be extremely careful to see that the representatives on this board are men of experience in the industrial world. That is of paramount importance for a board which is to administer this Measure.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, North, that there will be work to be done in publicising this scheme. A great amount of work will have to be done in order that it may be brought to the attention of those who are to benefit by it. I know that the trade unions will do their best; I know that the organisations of which many men are members will do their best; but let us remember that many of the men who should benefit by this scheme are outside industry and outside insurance, and it will be difficult to get at them.
I conclude on this note. I have always held that it is not possible to assess life and limb in terms of s. d. As long as we have wars, we shall have wounded and disabled men. As long as we have industry, we shall have injured and disabled men. And whether on the field of battle or in the industrial field, if men are maimed and disabled it is the duty of the State and of industry to see that those men are protected from hardship and want, The Minister has done her duty. She has kept her promise. It now remains for this House to follow by giving the Bill a 1389 Second Reading. I welcome the Bill and wish it all speed throughout its remaining stages.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)
I was interested, in particular, in that part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) in which he referred to people excluded from the Bill, because I also want to refer to them, as I may in a Second Reading speech. I do not know whether I should say that I hoped there would be more people involved here, but certainly I hoped there would not be fewer. It seemed rather small beer that, after all these years—27 or 28 years—we should now be catching up with injustice, but for only 5,000 people. If I said I was sorry that there are only 5,000 people involved, it might sound as if I were callous. Of course, I am not. My hope is that the Minister may be persuaded to go a little further. She used one phrase in her speech, which I noted, "I have decided to remedy this"—the position of the pre-1924 men. I hope she will decide to remedy something else—something about which I put down three Questions last Monday week.
I had the experience, which is not uncommon to my hon. Friends, of meeting three different constituents from the mining industry. The first told me that he was a partial compensation miner, that he followed the representations of the Prime Minister and worked harder on Saturdays, that he earned another 10s. a week and, as a result, found he was no better off in the end because the 10s. was deducted from his partial compensation. These things can be put right when superior Ministers take control of them. If the Prime Minister were able to pay attention to this I am sure he would realise that this kind of thing is frustrating the appeal which he so genuinely made.
The next case concerned a man who was sitting next to the miner about whom I have just spoken. He also obeyed the recommendations of the Prime Minister and the chairman of the National Coal Board and did an extra shift. He found that not only was his extra money deducted from his partial compensation but that he was charged Income Tax on the increased earnings and was worse off at the end of the extra effort than he was before he made it. These facts are known to my hon. Friends and to the Minister, 1390 and I hope that more Members of the Government will learn about them by reading the report of this debate.
The third and most fantastic case of all concerned a miner who had retired through old age. He was a partial compensation miner and he found that when the general wage of the industry rose by 3s. or so a shift, about October, although he was not working because of old age, the increase in the wages of the other men in the industry resulted in his weekly income falling by that amount.
Those are three fantastic and ridiculous situations which the Government and the Minister permit to continue. I asked three Questions on the subject the other day. Unfortunately, they were rather late in the day and were not reached with the Oral Questions. I asked the Minister of National Insurance, first:Whether she is aware that a partial-compensation miner does not benefit from an increase in his earnings, because it is deducted from his compensation, which discourages extra effort; and what action she proposes to take to remedy this matter;The second Question was:Whether she is aware that a partial-compensation miner is worse off when he receives a rise in his earnings, for not only is the rise deducted from his compensation, but also he has to pay Income Tax on the rise; and what action she proposes to take to end this deterrent to increased effort;The third Question was:Whether she is aware that an old age retired miner in receipt of partial compensation suffers a reduction in his compensation when there is a general wage increase in the industry, although being retired he does not share in the rise and what action she proposes to take to stop this anomaly.The Minister replied:It has for many years been inherent in the principles underlying Workmen's Compensation that a man's compensation might in certain circumstances be affected by changes in wage rates and I cannot undertake to re-open the question now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 22–3.]Perhaps the word "now" may give us hope, but I still think she should. I still think she should make representations to senior Ministers—to Ministers in the Cabinet—because these anomalies I have referred to really should cease. I know of a number of cases. There are 123 cases in one colliery alone. It is obvious to me—I hope it is to other people as well—that it is a most ridiculous thing that the Government should allow this to continue, knowing, as they do, the facts 1391 —and not one of my hon. Friends who knows more about this than I do has contradicted me.
I appeal to my right hon. Friend, and I appeal, through her, to Cabinet Ministers, and particularly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to wipe out the Income Tax payable in these cases, though I think that, probably, the best way to deal with the matter would be simply never to interfere with the partial compensation. If a man has partial compensation and then works an extra shift, let him keep his compensation and his extra money. If there is an old, retired miner with partial compensation, do not let us deduct the pay rises of others from his money. All these things as they are seem to me to make no sense whatever.
I feel very strongly about this matter and I shall pursue it until it is rectified. I know I have the good will of many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and particularly those who are connected with the coalmining industry, where injuries are more numerous and more serious than in other industries. Without taking up any more of the time of the House, for I know that many of my hon. Friends want to speak of this and other matters, I beg the Minister of National Insurance to put these things right. She said she had decided to remedy the position of the pre-1924 men. I hope that she will also decide to remedy the anomalies I have mentioned.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain MacLeod (Enfield, West)
This very pleasant and, of course, non-controversial Bill is in one sense—and it is important to look at this because it was brought up by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown)—an admission of failure. It is a failure for which nobody, and particularly the right hon. Lady and her Department, is responsible; but it admits that it has been found impossible to unify as many people hoped, Workmen's Compensation and the Industrial Injuries Scheme.
I should like to say a word about that first. When the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act was before the House for Second Reading five and a half years ago, the then Parliamentary Secretary said: 1392The leaving of those old cases … is, so far as the Minister is concerned, not good enough. He is very much concerned, and very desirous, that there should not he this difference of benefit for workers who are injured."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 352.]The Secretary of State for the Colonies, whom I am glad to see in his place, because I know that this subject is as near to his heart as any, repeated in Committee the same promise, and said that conversations were then proceeding. Five and a half years have since passed.
Not in complaint in any way about that time, for I know how difficult and how complex those negotiations may have been, I should like to refer—and, perhaps, the Parliamentary Secretary will take up this point—to paragraph 2 of the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill, which says:Detailed examination of the problem has shown that the Workmen's Compensation Scheme and the Industrial Injuries Scheme cannot he assimilated.All right. With regret, and with no special knowledge of the subject, I accept that. It goes on to say:The examination did not disclose the need for any further provision for the general run of these old cases …Frankly, that rather surprises me, and I should like to know whether the Minister is quite satisfied that that is true now. I do not know when this examination took place—whether it has been a continuing examination from 1945, or whether the examination of this aspect of the problem was, perhaps, completed three or four years ago. This much is true, that if the Minister were satisfied there was no need for special provision for the general line of cases in, say, 1947, that does not mean that there is no need for general provision—apart from the special provision which I will come to in a minute—in 1950, still less in 1951. True, the Explanatory Memorandum later hopes that employers may be relieved of direct responsibility for workmen's compensation cases.
As I understand it, that means merely that there may be a financial arrangement, presumably in return for a lump sum, and it still gives no hope that the basis of compensation, which is the real crux of the problem, can ever be altered for the workmen's compensation cases. Many of these people are, of course, below the 1948 level. I know that many hon. Members listening to me have more personal knowledge of this than myself, but 1393 I should have thought that many of them were perhaps below the minimum National Assistance scales, and I do not think the National Assistance benefits were in any way designed, anyhow when they were introduced, to supplement what was supposed to be an existing social service.
I want to ask one question on the finance of the scheme. The payments are to be made out of the Industrial Injuries Fund. We have recently had the balance sheet of the Fund for the year ending 31st March, 1950, which tells us that contributions were £36¼ million, benefits were £12 million, and there was an increase in the Fund of £23 million. It is true that there is bound to be a surplus in the early years, because, obviously, the long-term cases have not had a chance to accumulate. I am not suggesting—and it would be wholly irresponsible to suggest it—that that Fund is available in any way to reduce contributions or to increase benefits, but it is an impressive addition in one year, and two questions seem to arise. I should like to know when we shall have a report on this scheme, in the same way as we have had an interim report on the National Insurance Scheme.
In particular, I doubt—and I put a similar Question to the right hon. Lady a few weeks ago in regard to the National Insurance Scheme—whether we should wait five years for the quinquennial review of these two schemes. Many things have altered in these five years: there are competing demands; there are cases on leaving school, as was anticipated—and I am not blaming anybody but merely making the point. I hold very strongly to the view that the House should have an opportunity of reviewing these schemes and these surpluses in the two funds much sooner than the five years that was planned when these measures were introduced.
§ Mr. MacLeod
I am very glad to hear it. All that has happened is that we have been given an interim report—I may be wrong in this—by the Government actuaries, but I do not think there has been a Government pronouncement that Parliament will have an opportunity of reviewing the scheme in full before the 1394 five years is up, which is what I am now asking for.
Lastly, on the small points of detail I want to raise a question on Clause 2 (4, b). Although this may appear to be a Committee point it is not, and I raise it because if my hon. Friends attempt to mention this on the Money Resolution they will probably be stopped. As I understand it, this provision in subsection (4, b) has been copied from previous Acts. It was certainly in the 1923 and the 1906 Acts. Do we really need line 23 with the restriction:less than twenty-one years of agebecause a man does not always come to the highest grade in his particular class of employment just because he is 21? It may conceivably take him some years after that. I would have thought that this subsection might have read better if we left out that line and said that a person's weekly loss of earnings shall be ascertained "with due regard to the reasonable prospects of advancement at that time of a person of similar age in his grade of employment," and not go into the details of whether he was or was not at the time 20 or 22. I am raising this point now because we may be stopped from putting down an Amendment, because of the Money Resolution. Therefore, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look at this matter and see if there is justice in it. If there is—and I rather think that there is—perhaps the Government will take up the question.
Finally, the hon. Member for Ince talked about previous legislation in this field. It is very difficult for me, because I am younger than he is and have no personal but only theoretical experience of that field, to understand to the full extent the bitterness with which he talks about this matter.
§ Mr. T. Brown
I have no bitterness in my mind at all. I was perhaps led away because of my enthusiasm that the right thing should be done.
§ Mr. MacLeod
I accept that, because, as we all know, there is no bitterness in the hon. Gentleman's mind or heart. Nevertheless, there is bitterness in this field. I think that it is a mistake to look at previous legislation with the eyes of 1951. It is a mistake to look back to Joseph Chamberlain's 1897 Act as if it had been passed within the last three or four years. In its time and the circum- 1395 stances of that time it may well be that the Act of Joseph Chamberlain was just as great as any of the workmen's compensation Measures which have been passed.
§ Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
The most pernicious Compensation Act, that of 1924, was passed by a Conservative Government.
§ Mr. MacLeod
That may be so. But I think that it is a mistake to look back with the eyes of today on the legislation of yesterday. The Elizabethan poor law system, founded in 1661, looks monstrous and ludicrous to our eyes today, but it was generations, and, in many cases, centuries in front of the legislation of other countries at the time when it was passed; and that was even before there was a Tory Party.
Let me end by welcoming the Bill. It does, as I said at the beginning of my speech, remove a hope that we might unite workmen's compensation with industrial injuries, and that is a great disappointment, not only to the practical people but to the people who have studied this from a theoretical point of view. That hope has gone, but I think that one hope of unity is still left, and that in time we may assimulate industrial injuries into the National Insurance Scheme itself.
I believe that, just as the workmen's compensation scheme became out of date, the conception of industrial injuries compensation will inevitably become out of date. I look forward to the time when we shall have not only greatly increased sickness benefits, but when the price of injury will be included. It matters little to the widow or wife whether her husband was injured at work or in some other field of activity. It is because the Bill is a step towards unity in that field that I give it all the welcome I can.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Finch (Bedwellty)
I was very pleased to note that the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod) and the right hon. Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake) supported the Bill. I was very interested in the right hon. Gentleman's speech, because I had the privilege in 1943, in company with other representatives of the National Union of Mineworkers, of meeting him when he was at the Home Office. I know that he 1396 has had a wide and varied experience in matters of compensation. Looking back over the years, I can only regret that an insurance fund on the lines we are discussing today was not created to bring in these older men.
I welcome the Bill because it will enable the Ministry to give some redress to those who sustained injury in the course and arising out of their employment prior to 1st January, 1924. We know that there are many men who have had long periods of hardship, men who have lost their limbs or suffered spinal injuries, whose maximum payment has been 35s. a week. In many cases the amount has been less. There are men in the South Wales coalfield who have been most seriously disabled and have had no pension at all. I am sure that the miners will welcome the Bill because it gives some relief to their older comrades in the industry. This is another instance of the Government implementing the promise that was made.
I would point out that the Compensation Acts of 1906 and 1925 are based on earning capacity. That means that a man cannot get compensation until he can show there is a difference between his pre-accident and post-accident earnings. Years ago the skilled craftsman, the skilled engineer and the miner might have been earning £2 10s. a week. That meant that when a man suffered injury and was given a light job to do because of his disablement he might receive no compensation because wages had increased beyond his pre-accident earnings. This was recognised in 1943, when an Act was passed to enable men under the 1925 Compensation Act to have their pre-accident wages reviewed. That meant that if a man was receiving £2 10s. a week before his accident, he could come along and say that there had been an increase in the wages for the job of some £3, £4 or £5 a week, which would enable him to obtain a partial pension.
As I have already said, it is quite clear that these cases were not brought under the 1906 Act, with the result that they were still tied to £2 10s. or £3 a week irrespective of the fact that subsequently they had a job at higher wages. In my own district of South Wales there are men who, because of this, are not getting any compensation at all. It did not apply only when a man was in work but when 1397 he was out of work. Then he was deemed able to earn £5 a week. When he went before a county court judge invariably he was asked what his earnings were. He may have had a sitting-down job which was well paid, but he was tied to the £2 10s. a week, with the result that when he was out of work or when he had to go out of industry at 65 or 70, he had no compensation at all. For those reasons there are many people in South Wales who will welcome this Bill, because after many years they will obtain some compensation.
Reference was made by the Minister to cases of people totally disabled. If a man is totally incapacitated, he will receive a wage and the maximum of 56s. a week, but the question arises—will those men who may not be regarded as totally disabled be treated as such? Under the 1931 Act it was provided that when a person could show that he made efforts to obtain employment and failed to get it, he could be regarded as totally incapacitated and obtain compensation; but that did not apply to the men under the 1906 Act, and I should be very interested to know from the Minister whether it is quite clear that there will be provision for those persons who can show that they have made all reasonable efforts to obtain employment to be brought within the provisions of this Bill.
I want to congratulate the Minister on bringing in this Measure and abolishing an iniquitous piece of legislation. Under the 1925 Act, supplementary allowances for a wife were paid only if there was a wife at the date of the accident. Many of the men I know were single at the time of accident, and then later, getting light work, they got married. For the purposes of compensation they were still treated as single men. I congratulate the Minister on bringing in a Bill which does not restrict compensation to the position obtaining under the 1925 Act. Under this Measure a married man, irrespective of the date of marriage, will be able to obtain the maximum payment—16s. for the wife and 40s. for the man, making 56s. in all.
There are two points to which I wish to call the Minister's attention. First, there is the question of the person who has two accidents. In this Bill it has been restricted to a total amount of 56s. Under the 1925 Act a person can receive two rates of compensation and can exceed the 1398 maximum in certain instances. Take the case of a person who has an accident and whose pre-accident wages were £5 a week; he partially recovers, and the compensation is based on half the difference between his post- and pre-accident earnings, so that he gets £2 10s. a week. Ultimately he returns to light work and there he sustains another accident. His pre-accident earnings may have been £5 or £6 per week. Again, he partially recovers from the second accident and he is entitled under the Act of 1925 to another partial compensation. The result is that he can get £3 or £4 per week with the two rates of compensation. I know that may seem an exaggerated case but such cases exist.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
There is also the case where the first accident is very slight and the man goes back to light work for a short period while he is recovering. He then has a very grave accident while at the light work, and afterwards for the rest of his life his compensation is based upon the earnings he was receiving in the light work.
§ Mr. Finch
That is quite true, but I am giving the case of a man with far higher wages prior to both accidents. Under the Bill, it does not matter how many accidents a man may have; he is tied to compensation of 56s. per week. I wonder whether the Minister could have another look at that matter.
The Minister has referred to the question of lump sum payments. I draw her attention to the fact that there have been cases where colliery companies have gone into liquidation and they have commuted the men's claims not on redemption value, in accordance with the conditions of the Act, but have paid the men at the rate of 1s. or 1s. 6d. in the £. I have in mind the case of the Mardy Colliery Company in the Rhondda. It went into liquidation, and could pay only about 1s. to 1s. 6d. in the £. The same happened with the men who had been employed at the Bargoed Colliery, in Argoed, Monmouthshire. Again they received only 2s. in the £. We cannot regard those cases as lump sum commutations, redeemed under the terms of the Act. It is most unfortunate because many of those men have lost their compensation.
There was the case of the Lewis Merthy Company that went into bankruptcy and 1399 where only 1s. 6d. or 2s. in the £ was paid, equalling a lump sum of less than £100. That is not lump sum commutation. It is different from the case of a man coming to terms about a settlement with his employer or an insurance company. These men were compelled to settle when the companies went into liquidation. I have raised these points, but I fully appreciate that they are rather difficult. I have drawn attention to them in the hope that something may be done about them.
In conclusion, let me say that we welcome the Bill wholeheartedly because it is another pledge that has been carried out. The men in the mining industry who are affected will look upon it with great satisfaction as the redemption of a promise which was made so long ago.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver (Ilkeston)
I should like to take the opportunity of congratulating the right hon. Lady upon introducing the Bill. Like other hon. Members who have spoken I want to say, as representing a constituency which is mainly mining, that the Bill will be very welcome. It has been my misfortune to meet many men who were injured at the time that the 1924 workmen's compensation scheme was in operation. I was glad that the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) raised the point about the men who fell within the statute of 1931. They were men who were injured and tried to get work but could not do so because of their injury. Will my hon. Friend tell us whether they come within the compass of the Bill?
The men for whom we are introducing this legislation have long been forgotten. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake) mentioned 1943. I think it should then have been possible to make provision for these cases. It is true that that would have brought a large number of people into the increases we are now contemplating, but, if the House had said that the increases must take place, the matter could have been adjusted by means of the premiums payable by the industries to the insurance companies.
§ Mr. Peake
My point was that the wartime increases were made in 1943 when this type of business, so far as insurance 1400 was concerned, was already doomed by the proposed coming into force of the Beveridge Plan and that there would not have been time for the insurance companies to recoup by way of premium the large sums they might have had to pay out.
§ Mr. Oliver
Do I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that it was by treason of the fact that the Industrial Injuries Act was in comtemplation and not the failure of the employers or insurance companies to incorporate these men if it had been possible to do so and had time permitted? That undoubtedly provides an answer, but otherwise there is no reason why, if the House said that the benefits the men were receiving were inadequate, they could not have been incorporated in 1943 just as easily as they can be incorporated in 1951.
The points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) go to the root of the benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The points he raised under the 1925 Act, as well as the earlier Acts, cannot be remedied at this stage. I wish they could. The only answer appears to be that all the old cases should be brought within the ambit of the Industrial Injuries Act. I am told that negotiation is now taking place under which that may be achieved.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale
Would my hon. and learned Friend say, in addition to that, that all the cases which fell outside the Workmen's Compensation Acts—cases of industrial disease—should also be considered under the Industrial Injuries Act?
§ Mr. Oliver
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. In the course of operation of the Workmen's Compensation Act, diseases have been brought within its ambit which in earlier days were completely excluded. All those cases should be reviewed.
Here is a matter that I wish to put to my right hon. Friend the Minister. It is a question concerning partially disabled men. By reason of the great changes which have taken place in the wages rate since the old Act was superseded, it must mean that dozens, scores or hundreds of men—I do not think anyone knows the precise number—are today debarred from drawing workmen's compensation because they are earning much more now than they were at the time of their accident.
1401 I want to know whether, under the pre-1924 statute, compensation was computed not only on the basic rate but also on the number of days the men worked. In other words, if they worked half a week, that was their wage provided that the short time which the men were then experiencing was an incident of the employment, which meant that not only at that time were their wages exceedingly low but unemployment was rampant. It would be extremely helpful if we could know on the Committee stage whether there will be any change in the computation of pre-accident earnings, whether of the actual days worked or by some other method. Otherwise, it will mean that the rates of many men will be depressed, not only by reason of the pre-accident wages being low but by reason of the short time which was then being worked.
I see that in the Explanatory Memorandum it is suggested that if a person who is totally incapacitated, or treated as such under paragraph 6, has a wife dependent on him and is not already receiving an allowance or increase of benefit for his wife out of public funds will be given an allowance of 16s. for her. If a man is totally incapacitated and is drawing full benefit, even assuming he has been drawing his 35s. a week, which many are not doing, it is unlikely that he has been able to maintain his wife without drawing on public funds. Would it not have been better to suggest that where a man is drawing an allowance for his wife from public funds workmen's compensation should be substituted for this payment?
Everyone who has spoken about this Measure has paid tribute to the benefits which will be conferred on the people affected. I want to express my appreciation to the Minister for bringing in the Bill. I trust that not only will it get a Second Reading with the unanimous approval of the House, but that it will go through Committee expeditiously and before long find its way on to the Statute Book.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
The time is late and I will try not to make my speech too long, but, like other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, I too have been for very many years deeply interested in this subject from a medical point of view in my association both with miners and with pottery and 1402 steel workers, and in my humble attempts have been of some service to them. If I say that there are two points, at least, which enable me to give a very warm welcome to the Bill, that does not mean that there it does not have very many more good points.
The first of the two important points—indeed, this has been dwelt upon by every Member who has spoken—is that the Bill gives justice to men and women to whom justice is long overdue. We cannot but remark upon the fact that the numbers of those who are left are now somewhat, shall we say, attenuated, for many, obviously, have died, and many more, we know, settled their claims for inadequate lump sums in the past. If we take, for example, the average age in 1924 of these injured men and women as 35 years, which is a fair assumption, they would now be of an average age of 62. Obviously, therefore, many of them have gone and their grievances have gone with them.
Another reason why I welcome the Bill is that, as I notice from the Explanatory Memorandum, my right hon. Friend considers that she will be able to administer the first full year of the scheme, which will be a most expensive year, for a cost of administration of only £10,000, whereas the gross cost of payments out in that year will be £230,000. The right hon. Lady and her Department must be congratulated on their efficiency if they succeed in administering the proposals of the Bill for so small a sum. It works out at about 4 per cent., and compares favourably with the days before the war, or the days in 1924, when the cost of administering workmen's compensation was nearer 40 per cent., as compared with this present figure of 4 per cent. I know that I am not allowing for the 12 per cent. profits that were made; I am speaking of the bare administrative costs, which were about 38 or 42 per cent.
§ Dr. Stross
My right hon. Friend states, and I am sure she is quite right, that she will manage all this for 4 per cent. To all of us, therefore—certainly on this side—it is a source of pleasure and enjoyment—
§ Dr. Stross
It is a source of pleasure and enjoyment that when the nation tackles a job jointly it is done so much more efficiently than private companies used to do it, in this sad field of enterprise.
§ Dr. Stross
I am grateful for the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, but none the less we know that, by and large, there is an enormous saving. I shall explain how it happens that we get this kind of saving, and again I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend.
Those of us who, like myself—and I am sure that the lawyers will agree—were engaged in this work found that it was anything but a happy sort of work.
§ Dr. Stross
My hon. Friend is not sure about that, but those of us—my hon. Friend will agree with me now—who know how bitterly we had to fight these cases to get justice for some men, will agree that the word "happiness" should not be used in association with it. What happiness we got was in our success in helping these injured men who had arrayed against them in these overhead charges of 38, or 40 per cent., learned medical men who were bought by the insurance companies to come and give their evidence. There were very learned counsel and they and their solicitors were arrayed against the men—
§ Mr. Leslie Hale
We have had two comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith). May I tell him that 90 per cent. of the solicitors refuse to take workmen's compensation cases because they do not pay? My biggest damages for a workman was in a case a fortnight ago, where a man was not a member of his union and there have been many cases where solicitors have agreed to act for men without any thought of payment at all.
§ Dr. Stross
If I may continue my speech after this slight misunderstanding between two of my hon. Friends who normally entirely agree on these points, it is a fact that in areas like the potteries most solicitors lend their services without any thought of remuneration on behalf of the workers.
§ Dr. Stross
My hon. Friend understands it well. A man left alone, without assistance except that which the union could give him, was in a sorry plight and had to face a great array of talent. It was not only doctors and lawyers whom he had to face, but he was harassed by insurance officials who tried to persuade him to accept a small lump sum. Then, a retired police officer was employed by the insurance companies as a spy to see if a man was fit for light or heavy work and how he spent his evening, whether he had a glass of beer at night. Such things, with increasing impoverishment, forced him, in the end, to accept a settlement which was much lower than his wounded flesh was worth.
I am sorry if I speak with some feeling about the matter, but I have heard it said that we should not look with the eyes of today at the legislation of years gone by. After all, we have eyes and memories and must use them to see that we progress continually into a more humane type of society. We cannot do that if we always forget that which used to rankle so much in the past and of which I am sure all medical men in the House and all learned hon. Members are as well aware as I am.
We have been asked why it is that we have not had this done before. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake) has given his opinion on why it was not possible for a previous Government to apply a remedy. He told us there was not a fund available but today we have a fund, the Industrial Injuries Fund and there is money there which can pay for it. But this, after all, is national money and not money coming out of the pockets of the employers who originally employed 1405 these people. If it is possible to use the national purse today it would have been possible to use it at some time in the past, for the principle is surely the same. We have no way by which we could have done this without bringing forward new legislation. I am not complaining because we all wanted this improvement. We had to accept this way of doing it and the nation should know that it is doing it collectively and it is not done by the employers in whose employment the men were originally injured.
I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary will take cognisance of three short points. The first is in paragraph 13 of the Explanatory Memorandum, where I note that the decision of the board is to be final except that they may review a case again themselves. That is a principle that not all of us find easy to accept and I hope it will be reconsidered because we will have to discuss it again at some time in the future.
Second, regarding Clause 2 (8) I do not understand why, when we are not changing the principle of the Workmen's Compensation Acts we should deny men the right for payment for two accidents or that the limit must be a claim total of 40s. or 56s. Third, I notice that a workman is to be subject to medical examination. Who is to examine him? I hope the Minister will bear in mind that these men must not be examined in the way medical boards today assess injuries, on the loss of faculty. It will be essential to ensure that men experienced in the work, and who know the industrial conditions in the areas in which the workmen live, should see what work they are fit for.
I am delighted to know there is to be no treatment imposed upon these men. To impose treatment as a condition towards an offer of an increase in compensation to people whose average age is about 62; to ask them to have an amputation of a bent or mutilated finger to improve their capacity for work, or to have a further operation upon a hernia which has perhaps twice already broken down, would be ridiculous. The time has gone by when we can impose medical treatment as a condition of giving compensation. As has been said by other hon. Members, I hope that we shall soon see the Bill—and we are all grateful for it—put on the Statute Book.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I would urge my right hon. Friend not to abandon hope of being able to do much more than this Bill proposes to do to get rid of all the evils and anomalies of workmen's compensation. I wish to reserve my opinion on the point expressed in paragraph 2 of the Explanatory Memorandum, because much of what we have listened to in the course of this all-too-short debate relates to the anomalies, complexities and injustices of workmen's compensation. I ask my right hon. Friend whether we are to go on living with workmen's compensation for the rest of our lives. That is the question.
It is suggested that there are almost insuperable difficulties in "assimilating"—that is the term used—the old cases into the new scheme. I would prefer to use the term "transfer" and to bring the old cases into the new scheme on the principles of the new scheme. After all, Lord Beveridge in his Report did say that workmen's compensation was based on a wrong principle. If it was a wrong principle—and everything that we hear about workmen's compensation confirms that opinion—why, then, should not we make a determined attempt to get rid of the wrong principle and transfer the cases of living men and women who are suffering from the injustices of that wrong principle into a scheme which we all agree has so much greater merit?
My right hon. Friend referred to administrative difficulties, but are we to allow administrative difficulties to stand in the way of a remedy which is so abundantly necessary, if we are to end such cases as my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) gave to this House, and which none of us can defend? It might place great additional work on the medical services for a time, but surely the medical services of the Ministry of Pensions are greatly eased under present conditions, they having discharged a great deal of the work left over from the war. Could not they be used for the purpose of examining workmen's compensation cases when they were being transferred to the new scheme?
As to costs, reference has already been made to the flourishing condition of the Industrial Injuries Fund, but we must admit that there will be heavy liabilities in the future. Could not a scheme be 1407 agreed upon with employers, and especially with their insurance companies, for the redemption of their liabilities under the workmen's compensation scheme for a sum of so many years' purchase of their liability, an agreed sum that could be transferred to the Industrial Injuries Scheme?
Finally, it is true that there is the suggestion that in some cases a transfer to the Industrial Injuries Scheme would not be in favour of the workman, whereas it would be in his favour in other cases. On that point, I suggest that we should not abandon the possibility of a scheme of opting into the Industrial Injuries Scheme where it would be to the workman's advantage. I think I am expressing the sentiments of a number of my hon. Friends when I say that while we welcome the Bill, and feel that all that is in it is good, we must reserve our views if there is any suggestion of acceptance of the opinion expressed in the first sentence of paragraph 2 of the Explanatory Memorandum.
§ 9.42 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. Bernard Taylor)
This Bill, although very short and containing only four Clauses, has given rise to a very interesting debate. I think it would be expressing the feelings of both sides of the House, and certainly of this side, if I were to say that the debate could have gone on much longer than the two hours it has taken.
I know that my hon. Friends on this side of the House, in particular, have seized every opportunity in the past of calling attention to the pre-1924 cases, and rightly, if I may say so. I also know that they have been looking forward to the time when legislation of the kind which is proposed in this Bill would be brought forward. I think that all the evidence contained in the speeches we have heard from this side of the House, and even from the Opposition, is a clear confirmation of what I have just said.
I should like to make one point before coming to some of the very valuable and important points that have been raised in the debate, and that is that the brevity of the Bill in no way detracts from its importance. That has certainly been indicated in every speech that has been made. The proposals in the Bill will 1408 affect only a small part of the working population, but I submit that they are important because they propose to confer benefits upon those who, as has already been pointed out, had the misfortune to meet with an accident or to contract a scheduled industrial disease before 1st January, 1924.
Another important point is that the majority of these men are no longer young and the youngest cannot be less than 40. For example, suppose that in December, 1923, which was the last date to be included in the pre-1924 cases, a boy of 15 met with an accident. He would be now 43, and that is about the youngest age to which these proposals can apply. The oldest case may be 70 or even 80. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake) referred to a case which had come to his notice of a man who had sustained his accident as far back as 1897. May I reiterate what I said, perhaps inaudibly, when the right hon. Gentleman intimated that that man might not get to know about these proposals? If he will forward his address to us, we will see that his case is brought before the board when the scheme is operating.
Some of these people may be 70 or 80 years of age, and they have had compensation or have been entitled to it for more than half a century. There was brought to my notice this week a case in the small colliery town of Ashington in the Northumberland coalfields, where a man had a serious spinal injury in 1917, and from then until 1948 his maximum compensation was only 35s. per week. I will not go into details about the improvements that have been made in that sort of case arising out of the Industrial Injuries Act, 1946.
I should like also to repeat what my right hon. Friend said, that the number of cases will diminish steadily as the years go by. Some indication of this was given when my right hon. Friend estimated that the cost in the first year would be £230,000 and it is expected that in five years' time it will drop to £150,000. I should like to make another point about the cost, because I know it has been bothering some of my hon. Friends. Before July, 1948, the compensation for industrial accidents and scheduled diseases was the responsibility of employers alone. As my right hon. Friend stated, this responsibility remains. The difference between 1409 the compensation or entitlement of these pre-1924 people, and what they will be entitled to under these proposals will be borne by the Industrial Injuries Fund. I should like to make one other point before I deal with the many questions which have been raised in this debate. The proposals in this Bill, giving as they do the same rights and advantages as are enjoyed by the post-1924 cases, will resolve the problem of the old cases, which, as has been pointed out on both sides of the House, is a vexed problem.
May I now deal with some of the points which have been raised in this debate? I was interested in the speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, North. I am sure the House will agree that he was in one of his happiest and perhaps lightest moods, and he drew one or two analogies respecting my right hon. Friend which certainly caused great amusement. He also entered into the realm of adjectives and I enjoyed the adjectives which he employed about this Bill. He said—and this is certainly something in this Parliament, particularly in view of the last few weeks—that this was a non-controversial Bill, very modest and very useful. I subscribe to that view 100 per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman asked us how we were going to make these proposals known. The question of publicity is, of course, important. The Ministry of National Insurance have not been backward on this point, and long before the appoi1948, wide publicity was given to the National Insurance Act and the Industrial Injuries Act. So far as these proposals are concerned, that procedure will be followed to the full so that they can be brought to the notice of the public. We shall use the Press and the radio, and leaflets will be available in the National Insurance offices. It is hoped that employers and insurance companies may be able to put to the proposed board the cases which come under their jurisdiction, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned commutation, and that is a very tricky question. We are here entering realms of speculation and uncertainty. As I think the right hon. Gentleman will understand and appreciate, no accurate figures are available. He asked whether there had been any pressure to commute.
1410 I have had fairly extensive experience of work in the Nottinghamshire coalfields, and I have known circumstances in which there has been pressure to commute, both by the employers and the insurance companies. There has sometimes been great pressure to take advantage of the very unfavourable circumstances which existed for the injured workman. I am informed that, while no figures are available, the rates of commutation accelerated before July, 1948, but since then there has been a considerable drop.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale
I hope that my hon. Friend does not intend to sit down at 10 o'clock and close the discussion, because he himself said that he would like the discussion to continue and there are many hon. Members on this side of the House who want to make points which can be made only on Second Reading. Is it not a fact that month after month settlements were being forced because of the threat, month after month, to re-try the case before a medical referee?
First, I would say, Mr. Speaker, that the business of the House will close at 10 o'clock, and that is in your hands and not in mine. On the question of numbers, as far we can ascertain there are 1,660 pre-1924 cases who are receiving compensation in the mining industry at the moment. It will be appreciated that there are many more who are not receiving payments because of the amount of their earnings. With respect to commutation of the war-time additions, the right hon. Gentleman knows all about that situation.
The hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod) spoke of assimilating the old cases into the Industrial Injuries Act. That is a very difficult problem and great consideration has been given to it by my right hon. Friend and by her predecessor, now Secretary of State for the Colonies. If I had time I could give the House one or two interesting examples to illustrate the difficulties in this field. We will look at the point concerning Clause 2 (4, b) which he raised.
I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) on a very clear, concise and informative speech. I should like to say one thing to him on something that appears to be troubling his mind in respect of the partially- 1411 incapacitated men. He need have no fears about that. It is the intention of my right hon. Friend, in the preparation of the scheme, that the partially incapacitated men, under the conditions laid down in the Explanatory Memorandum, shall be treated as totally incapacitated. Another point made by the hon. Gentleman was with regard to employers who have gone into liquidation. It is the case that those injured workmen who had claims on employers who have gone into liquidation are regarded as commutees.
My time has almost gone—
There were one or two other things I wanted to say, but my time is up, and my right hon. Friend did answer three Questions put down by my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). However, I would say to him, in passing, that it is the case that the Workmen's Compensation Act is based upon principles which relate compensation payments to earnings, and that is really why the difficulty has arisen so far as the three cases to which he referred are concerned.
§ Mr. Bowles
Are we to understand that that is my hon. Friend's last word on this matter? It will not satisfy many people on this side of the House.
I will certainly take note of what my hon. Friend has said, but I would point out to him that the principles upon which the Workmen's Compensation Acts are based relate payments to earnings, and that is the reason for the position in the cases he brought to the notice of the House tonight.
In conclusion, let me repeat what I said at the beginning, that this Bill covers only 1412 a few thousand people, it is true, but it will remove a long-standing grievance felt by men who have given good service to industry in their time, and many of whom are still doing so. I saw quite recently in one of our national newspapers a reference to these pre-1924 cases as "forgotten men." I hope that both sides of the House will see that they are not forgotten, by passing this Bill through all its stages as quickly as possible, so that they can participate in the benefits. My last word is this: he gives twice who gives quickly.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.