HC Deb 25 June 1951 vol 489 cc1129-40

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Draft Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Scheme, 1951, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th May, be approved.—[Mr. B. Taylor.]

10.3 p.m.

Mr. Iain MacLeod (Enfield, West)

I do not think we should let these very important Draft Statutory Instruments go without a word. Although there is nothing in them to which anybody would choose to object seriously there are one or two points on which I think it would be an advantage to have a short explanation from the Parliamentary Secretary. They carry out the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Act which was passed with considerable good will by the House in the first week of March.

The first and important point that occurs relates to the date on which this draft Scheme is to become effective. I asked the Minister to discuss this point on Second Reading, and she replied that if she received the Royal Assent before Easter, which she did, she hoped to have the Scheme ready on resumption. In fact, we seem to have lost a considerable amount of time, because this draft was laid before Parliament on 10th May and so far from being immediately after the Easter Recess it was the day before we adjourned for Whitsun. I cannot remember how long we have been at the House since Whitsun. No doubt it seems like years, but it is in fact some four or five weeks.

The date of the commencement of the Scheme, as the Parliamentary Secretary understands, is the important date for these 5,000 people and not the date of the commencement of the Act. If this Scheme is to come into effect 14 days after the date which we assume is tomorrow, then after that there is still the Board to be set up. There is no doubt that there is certain administrative work to be done, and that all the time the 5,000 pre-1924 cases are waiting for the allowances to start. On Second Reading the Minister said that she hoped that the payments would begin about the middle of the year. We have already reached that time, and by the look of the timetable I find it difficult to imagine that any payments will be made until August and perhaps well on in August. I am sure the House would like some words from the Parliamentary Secretary to remove such fears as there may be about this.

The second of my three points is a passing matter in relation to paragraph 5 of the Scheme, which relates to the calculation of loss of earnings. In the Committee I tried to take a part of the calculation out of the Bill, but I was not successful, although I had a fairly sympathetic hearing. No doubt the provision of alternative remedies in a Statutory Instrument is wholly out of order, and doubly out of order in relation to a measure concerned with workmen's compensation, and I must leave that alone, but I still regret that the restriction on the under-21's remains.

My third point is one of great importance, however few people may be involved. It arises out of paragraphs 8, 9 and 10 of the Scheme, and particularly out of paragraph 10. The three paragraphs set out the composition of the Board, its procedure and the determination of claims. I particularly direct the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to paragraph 10 (2), which says: Any claimant may make a request to the Board for a hearing…and the Board shall grant such request unless they are satisfied that the claim or question can properly he determined without a hearing in which event they shall inform the claimant in writing and may proceed to determine the case without a hearing. Although I am certain that no injustice whatever will be done to a single man, it is also important for us to try to remove any possible source of grievance. The Minister informed us that there are only 5,000 of these cases, and I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake), saying that his experience led him to believe that the number would be even smaller. In that sense it is a very small problem, and of the 5,000 no doubt only a fraction will appeal and an even smaller fraction will be dissatisfied if they cannot appear in person or with a trade union or friendly society representative. I do not know if another order will be made. I am not suggesting that we should oppose this one, but I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to consider whether it is possible to have a more or less automatic right of hearing if these people so desire. Only a tiny fraction of the 5,000 claimants are likely to take advantage of it, but it is important for us to remove every possible sense of grievance.

The final point which I want to emphasise—it is a particularly strong point—is that the decision of the Board or a sub-committee of the Board is final, and as there is no appeal from that except the Board's own review, which they would no doubt undertake at the request of the Minister, it is all the more important that these cases should on every possible ground be given an automatic right. Although it would be impossible for the Parliamentary Secretary to alter the draft Scheme, I am sure he will consider the point sympathetically and no doubt the Board itself will take notice of the point which has been raised and will bear it in mind when considering the cases of any claimants who would like to appeal and whose case at first sight the Board or the sub-committee might decide to dismiss without a hearing.

Having made those points, I should like to end by saying that whatever delays it appears, on the surface, that there may have been, I am quite certain that this Scheme comes forward with the good will of the whole House. We shall be very glad to see it in operation at the earliest possible date.

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I do not want to keep a tired House for more than a few seconds, but I want to make a short and very important point. We all welcome the Scheme, but there are some sufferers who still remain quite outside its scope. The Act gives the necessary relief to the pre-1924 cases, both accidents and industrial diseases but, unfortunately, for industrial diseases the provisions are limited to silicosis, because silicosis was the only industrial disease scheduled by 1924. At any rate, whether I am right in my recollection or not—[Interruption.] Well, that is all that is referred to in the Section. If hon. Members refer to the Section, it may be that they will find others, but certainly byssinosis was not scheduled until long afterwards and pneumoconiosis was not scheduled until long afterwards. As for anthracosis, I cannot remember.

We therefore still have a very small class of sufferers, and a very tragic class, who contracted industrial diseases over this period, some before 1924 and some just after 1924, who do not come under the new provisions and who are suffering quite tragically. There are those who are suffering acutely from byssinosis and there is absolutely nothing medically which can be done to assuage their suffering in the later stages of the disease, and very little institutionally which is being done to provide any relief or any treatment. I do not think much can be done; all one can do is to provide an adequate standard of life.

The Parliamentary Secretary will say, quite rightly, that of course they get National Health benefit under the Insurance Scheme and so on, but there is a moral value about the right to compensation. The cost would be relatively very low and would, in fact, be trifling. There are few sufferers and all these years have gone by, so the cost is really small. I urge my hon. Friend to consider whether he can introduce new regulations under which the Insurance Scheme would accept the liability to maintain this ever-dwindling class. New cases are covered already and it is really a question of relieving this ever-dwindling class of genuine sufferers who get no benefit under the Workmen's Compensation Act because their disease was contracted before it was scheduled as an industrial disease.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

These are draft Statutory Instruments only in a technical sense. It is not possible for minor points to be altered, except by the cumbrous procedure of their being withdrawn and re-laid. Thus, those of us who wish to draw attention to minor points about which we feel uneasy can hope only to secure from the Parliamentary Secretary an undertaking that the administration of these Statutory Instruments will take account of those points. It is from that point of view that I support the request which has been addressed to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod) in regard to hearings of claimants by the Board and hope that he will give an undertaking that the only cases in which the Board will be satisfied that they can determine the claim without a hearing will be those in which they are giving an affirmative decision.

There is a further undertaking which, if possible, I should like to have from the Parliamentary Secretary. Under paragraph 15 of this Scheme the Board may require a claimant to undergo a medical examination. As the Scheme is worded, they may require him to undergo that examination in not less than three clear days after the date of the notice; that is to say, a minimum notice of three days for attending a medical examination is laid down by paragraph 15.

In practice I think that is an unreasonably short period. The date of the notice is presumably the date on which the notice is posted, or possibly even the day before, so that the claimant may receive the notice that he has to attend for a medical examination on the day before the date of the examination, or even on the day itself. So I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give an assurance that, in the administration of this Scheme, a much longer period will in fact be allowed to these claimants—a much longer period of warning of the place and time at which they are required to attend for medical examination.

Finally, I hope that the hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will be able to give the House some explanation of what on the face of it is the remarkable delay that there has been not only in laying the Scheme—it was laid on 10th May—but in bringing it before the House for approval. It must be a purely Parliamentary reason. There can have been no Departmental ground why this House was not asked to give its approval at an earlier date. It must be some purely Parliamentary reason, and unless the Parliamentary Secretary can make it quite clear what that is, it will be necessary to conclude that hon. Members opposite attach more importance to the timetable of public transport than to the timetable of the implementation of the Act upon which this Scheme is based.

10.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. Bernard Taylor)

I regret that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) should have ended on such a discordant note a series of speeches which have been so harmonious. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod) made some reference to the date. Let me assure him that my right hon. Friend all along has been very anxious that the Scheme should be brought into operation as soon as possible so that the allowances to which any claimant may be entitled should be paid quickly. I regret that I cannot give the exact date to the hon. Gentleman tonight.

However, when this Scheme has been approved by both this House and by another place, the Board, I can assure him, will get to work immediately; and we are hoping that before many weeks are past—in a very short period of time—these allowances will be paid to the applicants who are successful. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with that, although I am not in a position to tell him the exact date.

As to appeals from the decisions of the Board by the applicants who go before the Board, I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that there are precedents for this both in the Byssinosis scheme and in the Pneumoconiosis scheme. We feel, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel, that the Board will receive the cases with sympathy, so that there will be no difficulty at all in the direction the hon. Gentleman has in mind, respecting appeals from the Board's decisions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. L. Hale) made some reference to what I know exercises the minds of all hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is the case that there are people suffering from silicosis and pneumoconiosis who left the process before it was scheduled. We cannot do anything for that particular type of case in this scheme, but I would remind my hon. Friend that a committee is already sitting, and meeting the T.U.C., about that subject, and I hope that, before very long, we shall have something to say about it.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, raised a very important point as far as the three days' notification is concerned, if the Board thinks a particular applicant should be medically examined. That is laid down in the Scheme, and, of course, if the Scheme is accepted tonight, and in another place in the very near future, the three days' notification will stand. However, I am sure that what he has said on this point will be borne in mind by my right hon. Friend, and I have no doubt that it will be brought to the notice of the Board itself. Concerning the delay in this Scheme coming before the House for approval, I am afraid that the Parliamentary timetable is not in my hands. That is a matter for another authority, and I cannot pursue that point.

May I make some brief observations regarding the Board and its composition, because I know this is a matter which is exercising the minds of both sides of the House. In the first place, I should like to inform the House that my right hon. Friend proposes to have eight members upon the Board which is mentioned in the Scheme. Two of the eight will be the Chairman and Deputy Chairman who will be lawyers of standing.

It will be understood that no appointment can be made until the Scheme comes into operation, but following consultations which my right hon. Friend has had with the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Advocate she proposes to appoint Mr. Paul Sandlands, K.C., Recorder of Birmingham, as Chairman, and Mr. James A. Crawford, K.C., a member of the Scottish Bar, as Deputy Chairman. The Members which it is proposed to appoint, after consulting both sides of industry, are: Sir William Lawther, President of the National Union of Mineworkers, Mr. A. McAndrews of the Transport and General Workers' Union, Mr. R. Pilkington who is adviser on Workmen's compensation to the National Coal Board, and Mr. W. C. Stansfield, who has had much experience of workmen's compensation as an insurance official. The remaining two members will be from the staff of the Ministry of National Insurance.

Bearing in mind the composition of the Board, we have every confidence that this Scheme will be well and sympathetically administered, and we feel that there will be no cause for either regrets or disappointment on that score.

Mr. Iain MacLeod

I was dealing with a slightly different point. I fully agree with the Board which the hon. Gentleman has read out, and I feel that full justice will be done. My point was that not only should justice be done but that it should seem to be done. It seems to me a possibility that if these old people of an average age of something like 70 are refused a hearing, even with a representative, they may feel some grievance, even if it is non-existent. No doubt members of the Board will read the report of the debate in the House tonight and will take up that point. I have no doubt whatever that this Board is going to do justice. I am merely concerned that the people who want their case reviewed shall feel that justice has been done.

Mr. Taylor

Unless there are very strong grounds for thinking an oral hearing would not be justified, the Board will in no case refuse a hearing to any applicant. The Scheme provides, as the House knows, that the Board shall not turn down a case without an oral hearing, unless, as I have intimated, there are strong grounds for so doing. One other point, which I am sure will appeal to the hon. Gentleman, is that all the hearings will he held in public.

It is intended that the claimant should be represented at the hearing, if he so wishes, by his trade union, by a barrister, a solicitor or any other representative he wishes. It may be that this is not clear from the wording of the Scheme, and for this I express my regret, but we are advised that the wording of paragraph 10 (6), if read in conjunction with paragraph 10 (7), does what I have said, and I think I can give an assurance to the House that the Board will interpret these paragraphs in that particular way. Subject to that, the procedure will be for the Board itself to determine, but personally we hope the Board will keep the proceedings quite informal. I hope what I have said to the House about the constitution and the procedure of the Board will give satisfaction generally.

One other point is that when the Board has made its award it will fall to the Ministry of National Insurance to pay allowances out of the Industrial Injuries Fund. The House, I am sure, will want to know when payments are to be made. I have given an answer on that particular point, and while I cannot mention the exact date, when this Scheme has been approved we shall go ahead as expeditiously as we can so that the payments can be made at the earliest possible moment. Once this draft has been approved here and in another place, the actual Scheme can be made. The Board will have the cooperation of the insurance companies and of employers, such as the National Coal Board, from whom come probably the greatest number of cases, and of the many who are likely to benefit from the Scheme.

We shall use all the publicity of which we are capable, and it will be available al the appropriate moment in the form of leaflets in our National Insurance offices. As I said on Second Reading, we shall disseminate this knowledge as quickly as we possibly can. Even if the calculation and award of the allowances take several weeks, all arrears will be paid back to the commencement of the scheme.

Before closing, may I make one other observation? The claim in no way alters the basis of workmen's compensation in those cases to which workmen's compensation still applies. This Scheme, is purely supplementary, and the obligations of employers and workers remain quite unchanged. After these few observations and answers to the questions raised from both sides of the House, I hope this draft, like its parent Act in 1951, will be unanimously approved so that we can get on with the job and do justice to the people whom it will serve.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

The Parliamentary Secretary has replied to the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain MacLeod) with his usual charm of manner, but I am not sure that he has entirely set our minds at rest about the procedure likely to be followed. I shall not pursue the question why it was that this Scheme was laid on 10th May and that it is only on 25th June that the Government have found the Parliamentary time for it to be discussed. The Parliamentary Secretary said that is not his responsibility. That I fully recognise, but it is the responsibility of the Government, and it seems an extraordinary thing that a matter of this importance should have been delayed during the whole of this time.

The most important point raised by my hon. Friends was the question of the right of audience for those aged persons who are claiming benefit under this Scheme. I was partly reassured by what the hon. Gentleman said would in fact be the practice of the Board. I would point out to the hon. Gentleman, however, that this Scheme has to be understood by the people who are likely to claim under it.

Anyone reading paragraph 10 would not realise what I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say—first, that any applicant will be entitled to be represented by counsel, or by anyone else whom he desires to represent him, and secondly—and this is the point on which I want to be reassured—that no claim which is made will be turned down without the applicant having an opportunity of a personal hearing. That is what the Parliamentary Secretary said, but I cannot find that that is laid down in terms in paragraph 10.

There is no reason why that should not become the practice of the Board. Naturally, they have power to hear any applicant they desire, and I think it of the utmost importance, as my hon. Friends have said, that justice not only shall be done, but shall appear to be done. The applicants under this Scheme who do not obtain all they ask for should at any rate be assured that they have had a fair hearing. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would let me know whether I understood his speech aright. Even though it may not be necessary for applicants to be heard by the Board in cases where their applications are going to be granted, applications will not be turned down without giving the applicants the opportunity for an oral hearing.

Mr. B. Taylor

By leave of the House, I should like to supplement what I said to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). Every claimant will have the right, if he wishes, to be heard before the Board at an oral hearing, unless the Board decide that this cannot be justified. I can say with a high degree of assurance that, with the constitution of the Board as it is, the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) need have no fears on that score

10.34 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

The Parliamentary Secretary has done his best to reply to my hon. Friends on at least two of the points which they raised. I think it will be agreed by the House that they have done a service in raising this matter this evening and allowing these points of explanation to be made. There was a point made by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Lain MacLeod), which has not yet been fully cleared up, about the date of the Scheme coming into operation. In our previous discussion in March the hon. Member for Enfield, West, said: I am more concerned with the date of the commencement of the Scheme than the date of the commencement of the Act."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th March, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 188.] It was hoped then, according to the Minister, that the Scheme would come into operation and that payments would be being made about the middle of the year. We are now past the middle of the year. The Scheme has not yet come into operation, nor can it for at least another two weeks, and the Parliamentary Secretary has said that payments will of course date back to the date of the operation of the Scheme.

Mr. B. Taylor

To the date of the commencement of the Scheme.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The hon. Gentleman used some disquieting words when he said that the Board would get going as soon as may be and that before many weeks the Scheme would be in operation. It is now almost July, and "many weeks" will take us to the Recess, and we shall not have an opportunity of seeing the payments made which the Minister suggested would be made. Is that not a longer date than the Department really needs? Cannot the hon. Gentleman give an indication that before the House rises the Scheme will be in operation? "Before many weeks" is a pretty elastic term, and I should have thought that it might have been possible for him to give an assurance that the Scheme could be in operation before the House rose. Can he perhaps give that assurance?

Mr. B. Taylor

As I said to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, I could not give an exact date. All that I can say is that when the Scheme has been approved by this House and another place, the Board will get to work immediately, and we are hoping that as a consequence payments will be made in a very short time. I regret that I cannot give an exact date. It would be wrong of me to do that, but I can assure the House that the work will go on expeditiously once the Scheme has been approved, and payments will not he long delayed.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

The hon. Gentleman has not found it possible to add to what he has already said, and I do not wish to press him unduly. We all realise that he cannot go further than the expression of hope he has already given. But it falls some distance short of what the Minister was in a position to give as long ago as 5th March when she said that actual payments would be made about the middle of this year. I trust it will be possible for the Scheme to come into operation before the House rises. Nobody wishes to delay it, and my hon. Friends and myself will be only too glad to let the Minister have the Motion approving the Scheme.


That the Draft Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Scheme, 1951, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th May, be approved.