§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. Osbert Peake)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
On looking up the old records I found that I had a previous association with the subject matter of this Bill. By long tradition and custom, as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who was Home Secretary, knows, matters relating to workmen's compensation fell within the province of the Under-Secretary of State of that Department. I see, on looking back, that I piloted through this House in 1940 the first Measure dealing with byssinosis and also the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1943, under which the first comprehensive pneumoconiosis scheme was made. There is, therefore, no need now, after these years have elapsed, for me to do as I had to do on those occasions—explain the meaning of these new diseases.
Both of those Acts, besides bringing future cases within the scope of workmen's compensation, made provision for the establishment of benefit schemes to do something in a limited way for cases of hardship which were bound to arise under the then existing workmen's compensation law, that is to say, the cases of men who had already left the prescribed industries at the time when the new compensation schemes came into force.
I am not, therefore, wholly unfamiliar with these dread and terrible diseases of the lung caused by industrial dust, nor with legislation of the character in the Bill which it is now my privilege to 1308 explain to the House. If the chances and changes of electoral fortune have deprived the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) of the opportunity of furthering an exactly similar Bill which she introduced into this House on 25th July, it is perhaps not wholly inappropriate that it should fall to my lot to do so today.
Before dealing with the provisions of the Bill, I should like to explain how it comes about that there are still some persons without entitlement to benefit, either under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts, or the new Industrial Injuries Insurance Scheme. This latter scheme came into force on 5th July, 1948. It provides for all persons employed in a prescribed occupation after that date who become disabled.
The compensation schemes made at different times for various industrial diseases, including those with which we are concerned today, under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, contained two different time limits. The first was that they did not apply to men who had already left the prescribed occupations before those schemes were made and the second time limit was that the effective date of the medical certificate that the workmen was disabled by the disease had to be within a specified time of the date when he last worked in the prescribed occupation. This period within which the medical certificate had to be obtained was, in the case of byssinosis, 12 months, and, in the pneumoconiosis schemes, more recently, five years.
The justification for the first time limit, under workmen's compensation law, was that it would have been inequitable to make an employer retrospectively liable to a risk against which he had had no opportunity to provide by insurance or otherwise. The second limitation, the period for obtaining the medical certificate, was imposed mainly in the light of medical knowledge as it existed in relation to the diseases covered at the time the various schemes were made. I may say, in passing, that these time limits do not exist under the Industrial Injuries Insurance Scheme as there is no need for them there.
The two benefit schemes contained in the Acts of 1940 for byssinosis and 1943 for pneumoconiosis were novel features at that time. For the first time in those 1309 two Acts we did something for the late case in respect of which no legal liability to pay compensation could be imposed.
The Byssinosis Benefit Scheme, which I had the privilege of negotiating at the time with the employers concerned, when I was at the Home Office, originally provided for a weekly payment, in cases of total disability, of 15s., which has been gradually increased to 30s at present. A fund was provided by a levy on carding machines in the cotton industry. No death benefit was provided, and the scheme was operated by an administration board whose members served without remuneration.
The Pneumoconiosis Benefit Scheme covered only coalminers employed in the coalmining industry between 1934 and 1943. It provided a weekly payment in total disability cases of 15s. a week and a death benefit of £250. A fund was provided originally from the Coal Charges Account and later by the National Coal Board.
These two schemes will be wound up, under Clause 5 of the Bill, when the new and more generous arrangements proposed in the Bill come into operation. I should, therefore, like to pay a final tribute to the voluntary work of the administration boards which administered those two schemes for a good many years, and especially to their two eminent chairmen, Sir Edwin Burgis and Judge L. C. Thomas. These two eminent county court judges served voluntarily for many years and administered those schemes to the satisfaction of the persons concerned.
Now I come to the main object of the Bill, which is to provide benefits out of the Industrial Injuries Insurance Fund for those totally disabled or for the dependants of those dying from these diseases whose workmen's compensation claims have been barred by either one or other of the two time limits that I have described. We shall also take over and improve the position of those who come within the two benefit schemes.
There are probably more cases debarred from workmen's compensation because the men concerned left the prescribed occupations before the schemes were made than cases debarred by virtue of the time limit for obtaining the medical certificate. I have no doubt that some disappointment will be expressed that it 1310 has not been found possible to provide in this Bill for time-barred cases in which the disability is only partial, and I must state frankly to the House what are the difficulties in such cases.
In the first place, we have no knowledge whatever of the numbers of such cases, which may be very considerable. We estimate the cost being imposed on the Industrial Injuries Insurance Fund by the Bill at about £250,000 a year. As Minister of National Insurance, I am in the position of a trustee of the National Insurance Fund and I should be treating my position as a trustee very lightheartedly were I to undertake a liability the amount of which I have at present no means whatever of estimating.
In the second place, the inclusion of partial disability cases, a great many of whom are no doubt in regular employment at present, would involve immense difficulties in ascertaining what loss of earning capacity has been suffered and how it should he dealt with. The House will be aware that this Bill will pick up cases which may have arisen 20. 30 or even 40 years ago.
In the third place, the medical panels would almost certainly have thrown upon them a burden which they could not possibly discharge. We all know the difficulties there were in the days when the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was Minister of National Insurance after the war, when these medical panels became overloaded with applications. The diagnosis of pneumoconiosis is a highly technical matter, and in order to deal with the numerous applications in the years following the war the medical panels had to be diluted to some extent with doctors who I think were not fully expert in this subject.
At all events, I am quite sure that it would not be possible to deal with the flood of cases which might result from admitting claims from anybody who claimed some degree of partial disability. Neither I nor, I think I am justified in saying, my predecessor the right hon. Member for Fulham, West, who presented an almost identical Bill on 25th July last, have been able to find a method of making provision for this type of case. Certainly, in the short time I have been at the Ministry I have not been able to see how these difficulties could be overcome.
1311 I am willing, after the Bill has become law, to consider very carefully any scheme which is put forward by the T.U.C. or other persons with knowledge of these diseases with a view to assisting the cases of partial disability, but I can hold out no hope that these can be dealt with in this Bill. I am most anxious that the Bill should become law speedily so that a scheme may be presented to Parliament and the benefits paid out at the earliest possible date.
As to the origin of the Bill, I have already referred to the fact that I have inherited it from my predecessor. I must also make reference to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather). Since he was first elected in February, 1950, he has persistently drawn attention to these time-barred cases by every means in the power of a Private Member. He has done so by Question, by raising their case on the Adjournment, and he obtained leave under the Ten-Minutes Rule to introduce a Private Bill dealing with them.
I will not discuss my hon. Friend's Bill. Indeed, for one thing it would be out of order. For another, I always think it ungenerous for Ministers at this Box, with the whole resources of the Civil Service behind them, to criticise Private Members' Bills, which are inevitably imperfect when they deal with highly technical matters.
That is the Bill's parentage. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North, was given leave to introduce his Bill on 25th May this year and the right hon. Lady introduced what is virtually the present Bill on 25th July. That is the parentage of the Bill. In cases where, after an election, one Government succeeds to Bills previously introduced by another, it is common form to make some rather commonplace jokes on the subject of the parentage of the Bill. I will spare the right hon. Lady those jokes today. I will merely say that I appear to be in the position of a godfather at the christening, holding the baby and hoping it will not cry.
I will explain to the House the content of the Clauses.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
The Minister has dealt very fairly with the question of people who are partially dis- 1312 abled. Could he say a word or two about the possibility of including people chronically sick from other industrial diseases, who do not qualify under this Bill?
§ Mr. Peake
I cannot go into them on this Bill. I can only say that there is no evidence so far as other diseases are concerned that the time limits are debarring groups of people from obtaining workmen's compensation.
Clause 1 enables the Minister of National Insurance to provide for these cases by means of a scheme. In spite of all the criticism we hear about delegated legislation, I think that, in a technical matter of this kind, it is both wise and right that it should be done by a scheme; because under a subsection of the Clause a scheme of this character can be amended much more speedily, if amendment is found necessary, than if we had to go back to Parliament for a Bill.
Clause 2 makes it clear that the persons who have entitlement under the industrial injuries insurance schemes or other workmen's compensation Acts will not have a claim under this benefit scheme. I think it wise and right that these restrictions should be set out in the Bill and not left to the scheme itself.
Clause 3 describes the nature and amount of the benefit. The amount of personal benefit will be a weekly sum of 40s. in the case of total disability; and cases of total disability are I think, always entitled to sickness or retirement benefit as well under the National Insurance Act. Then there are further supplements for unemployability, as an alternative to the sickness or retirement benefit, constant attendance allowance and the allowances for wives and children.
The rather formidable words at the beginning of Clause 3 (2) which say that subject to any provisions of the schemefor the adjustment of benefit thereunder by reference to pensions, allowances or other benefits payable out of public funds,are put in to enable the scheme to prevent the duplication of benefits in respect of the 1313 allowances. That is a perfectly normal thing and is designed to prevent, for example, two separate allowances being paid for a wife or a child.
I am proposing to take out the words appearing in line 20 in subsection (2):or to compensation payable otherwise than out of such funds. …I believe those words were originally intended to curtail the benefits where a man was in receipt of workmen's compensation payments in respect of a quite separate accident, or possibly some other industrial disease such as nystagmus. I think it right that these benefits should not be reduced, because a man has workmen's compensation payments in respect of some quite separate accident or disease.
§ Mr. Peake
It is a change in the Bill. I propose to put down an Amendment on Committee stage to delete those words and I have little doubt that the right hon. Lady, had she had further time to consider this matter, would have taken the same course.
Subsection (3) provides that the death benefit should be a capital sum of £300 where there are persons wholly dependent on the earnings of the deceased at the time of his death. There again, I have made a slight alteration in the Bill to make it plain that the total payment will invariably be £300 in the case of someone wholly dependent. The original Bill had in the words, "not exceeding three hundred pounds," which may have made it appear that in some cases the payment would be smaller.
Clause 4 deals with administration, and is on very similar lines to the administration provided for by the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Act of 1951 which dealt with pre-1924 cases and so I need not describe it in detail. Special provision is made in the clause for dealing with the medical issues which will arise in this Bill. I have already referred to Clause 5, which is the clause under which the existing benefits schemes can be wound up.
I think I have given a description of the Bill which will be adequate for hon. Members to appreciate its content. Undoubtedly, since the days when I first dealt with these matters medical science 1314 had made progress in the diagnosis of these diseases. But they still remain, and, I am afraid, are likely to remain, diseases for which at present no cure has been found, or will be found in the near future. For that reason it is all the more important that we should do all in our power to prevent their occurrence.
This question of prevention is, of course, outside the field of my Department and the scope of the Bill, and for that reason I have not referred to it. But I have no doubt that the Ministers responsible, the Minister of Fuel and Power in the case of the coal industry, and the Minister of Labour in the case of other industries concerned, would welcome the opportunity of telling the House what has been and what is being done in the matter of taking preventive measures against these terrible diseases. This is a limited Measure, but I think a useful and a good Measure, and I have no hesitation whatever in commending it to the House.
§ 11.28 a.m.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
I have no intention of speaking at any great length on this Bill, because the Minister has gone into it in some detail, and I am aware that there are a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who wish to make contributions to the debate. The Minister quite rightly said, or implied, that I perhaps might claim a maternal interest in the Bill. I certainly do, and I was very gratified to have the opportunity in July of introducing this Bill before the House adjourned.
As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman this morning expounding the Bill, I was very conscious of the fact that there are hon. Members on both sides of the House who, when the time comes, will find in it some congenital defect. I see the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) here and the Minister is quite right when he said that the hon. Member has always evinced great interest in this matter; no doubt because he has a number of miners in his constituency and is continually in touch with them, as are other hon. Members on the benches behind me who represent mining constituencies.
The hon. Member for Somerset, North, must recognise that hon. Members behind me who have worked in the pits for many years have also evinced a great interest in this matter since they were boys, when 1315 they were closely in touch with these horrible diseases—diseases which in those times were not recognised. It was known in those days that men who worked in the pits for many years developed a shortness of breath. They became sick and ill, but the medical nomenclature with which we are familiar now was unknown then.
Although pneumoconiosis and byssinosis are comparatively new terms to the House, and, indeed to the whole of the medical profession—when I was a student we had never heard of them—the symptoms were well known to the miners in the past. Hon. Members behind me and my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for the Colonies have for many years made representations to successive Governments that something should be done for these men.
Finally, the diseases were prescribed under the Workmen's Compensation Act. But even then the diagnosis of these diseases in the early stages has baffled the medical profession. Unfortunately, an X-ray does not reveal the condition in its early stages. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Somerset, North, assent to that. It will not serve any useful purpose for him to demand that the partially disabled men should be included in the Bill unless, at the same time, he can tell us how to overcome the administrative and technical difficulties which, in great part, are of a medical nature.
During my comparatively short term of office at the Ministry of National Insurance, I found that there was a special interest in the administration of the Industrial Injuries Act. I received a number of deputations from the T.U.C. composed of men who had a particular interest in industrial diseases. I heard what they had to say on this question. In fact, I think I can say that I soaked myself in this problem. I have always held the view in politics that if the complete solution of a problem does not present itself, then a Minister should try to tackle that part which is comparatively easy to resolve.
That was my approach. I recognised the difficulties. As a doctor, I recognised the technical difficulties, and I realised that at this stage perhaps we were unable to introduce a comprehensive Bill—the kind of Bill which hon. Members on both sides would have welcomed wholeheartedly. But I saw a possibility, at long 1316 last, of introducing a Bill which would help those who were most severely incapacitated. The Minister has mentioned some of the technical difficulties and I want to stress them.
I realised that if we included in this Bill the partially disabled, we should immediately have had to make provision for the examination of every miner and ex-miner in the country. Indeed, every man who has been out of the pits for many years would have had the right to go to a medical board for examination. The House knows that our medical boards are very busy and, as I said when I was Minister of National Insurance, the number of chest specialists available is limited. I have no doubt that the position today is very much the same as it was when I was at the Ministry.
The demand for these men and women is overwhelming. There are other Departments who need their services. Therefore, if we had introduced a comprehensive Bill, including the partially disabled, it would have been right and proper to invite every miner and ex-miner to go before a medical board for examination. The boards would have been absolutely swamped. The work would not have been done and, further, the whole administration of the Industrial Injuries Act would have been hampered. The result would have been that many men would have had a new sense of grievance.
But in the case of those who were examined, we should have been faced with something else. A man who has been in the pit 10 or 15 years ago would have come for examination, and a doctor would have been asked to determine what degree of pathological disability he was suffering from. If I am wrong in any of these comments, I am sure that my hon. Friends who have served in the pits will correct me. When we talk about partially disabled men we must recognise that there are degrees of partial disablement.
It is possible for a miner to suffer from some distress because of shortness of breath but to feel that he is capable of undertaking some other job, perhaps in the vicinty of the pit. We might say that that is the first or the second degree of partial disablement. But there is the third, the fourth and the fifth degree of partial disablement. I am going into this in detail so that the hon. Member for 1317 Somerset, North, will recognise the difficulties with which we were faced.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The doctors, if they were obtainable—and they have to be experts—have to decide the degree of partial disablement, and the men must feel that they were being fairly treated. On the decision of the doctors we should have to assess the disability benefit. If the House considers the administrative difficulties I think it will be realised that at the moment it would have been impossible for us to embark on a Bill of that nature. We are all anxious to give these men justice, and it is long overdue. I did not want to feel that, in trying to given them justice, we were perhaps instilling in them a new sense of grievance.
I was glad to hear the Minister say that he would consider further representations from the T.U.C. and that he would try to overcome all these difficulties. There is no doubt that the administrative arid technical difficulties are such that this Bill had to be limited. When all this was put to me I recognised why, in the past, successive Ministers had felt unable to frame a Bill completely acceptable to everybody. But I thought that there were some totally disabled men, and the families of men who had died from these diseases, who could benefit immediately.
That is why this Bill has been introduced, and I commend it it hon Members on both sides of the House. The Bill, limited as it is, will benefit the tragic victims of these horrible industrial diseases. I ask that the Bill shall be given a Second Reading.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Edwin Leather (Somerset, North)
I am in entire agreement with the Minister and the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill). I welcome this Bill enthusiastically. I welcomed it previously when the right hon. Lady first introduced it last July. It goes a very long way towards solving a part of this problem. I fully appreciate the problems which the right hon. Lady mentioned and the difficulties which make it impossible for us to go on to do all that not only I and the right hon. Lady, but all of us in this House, would like to do if it were practicable. Those prob- 1318 lems, the right hon. Lady rightly said, are medical and administrative problems.
Obviously, either on the Floor of this House or anywhere else I am at a severe disadvantage in arguing this, because I have not the opportunities for obtaining the advice of the medical advisers and others with the experience of the problem which the right hon. Lady had and which my right hon. Friend now has: and, therefore, I can do no more than urge. The right hon. Lady said that I should not demand certain things unless I could give the answers to the questions arising. Not being a doctor or a Minister, I cannot give the answers. I am in no position to make such a demand. I wish to heaven I were, I and many of my hon. Friends on both sides of the House with whom I have been associated in these problems would be only too happy to make such a demand, but unfortunately we are not in a position to do so.
However. I think that this question of partial disablement is a major difficulty and a defect. I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for the remarks he made, and to the right hon. Lady, but let me give an example of the kind of people whom I think—perhaps wrongly—are the majority of the people concerned. It depends so much on what we mean by "totally disabled." In my view, the majority of these chaps are not totally disabled. They are only hopelessly disabled. The Minister referred to men being in regular employment. If they are in regular employment and earning good wages, they are not our problem at the moment. Let me give a typical example from my own constituency of quite the other case.
There was a miner who nearly 20 years ago was suffering from constant colds, shortage of breath, chest trouble, and spitting of blood. His doctor, in all good faith said, "I do not know quite what is wrong with you. It seems to me like chronic bronchitis. Still, mining does not agree with you. Get a job on the surface." And the man did. He got what kind of job he was capable of doing. He was a man of about 40 who had been doing rough work, and it was no good his trying to go into an office or trying to become a doctor or an accountant. He could do only heavy manual work. He got a job on the roads, working for the 1319 county council. It was hard manual labour in the open air, and he got along reasonably well until four years ago, and then, as so often happens to these chaps, in a tough winter he went down with pneumonia. I am informed by my friends—and I believe it is correct—that pneumonia is one of the most common causes of finding out about these other diseases.
He went down with pneumonia and went into the local hospital to be X-rayed, and they X-rayed him. It was the first time in his life that he had been X-rayed. They said, "You have got pneumoconiosis, and you must have had it at least 15 years." His doctor told him, "This is a different proposition. If you have pneumoconiosis, you cannot go back to your regular employment. If you do, I shall not be responsible for you. You may be dead in six months. You can do only very light work."
What light work can he do? He is now about 50. He has no qualifications for any kind of clerical work at all. He is unable to do the work he has always done. So he ekes out a pitiful living. He sweeps out the miners' welfare hut after parties or dances. He makes perhaps 30s. a week. If he is lucky and somebody has a wedding, he may make £2, or he has a smallholding and grows a few vegetables and his friends' wives buy them from him to help him out. He may make £2 on that. Another chap I know of has a pony and cart and delivers coal to his friends in the village.
That chap is surely not totally disabled. How much is he allowed to earn and still come within the conditions of this Bill? That is the problem to which I most earnestly urge my right hon. Friend to give his best consideration.
The biggest difficulty in this Bill, and the biggest argument against doing what many of us on both sides of the House would like to see done, is the fact that there is no knowledge of the numbers concerned. The only estimates given have been those given by Dr. Fletcher in his very excellent memorandum published last year. Quite frankly, I think they are against me. His estimates are very high and would put me quite out of court. However, none of us knows. The first estimate I gave to the House was that there were 30,000 people con- 1320 cerned. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), said that he thought my guess was far too high and that the figure was more like 5,000. Now I find myself in the unhappy position that I have to agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, and would put the figure at about 5,000; but the Ministry seem to have accepted my estimate of 30,000—which I should like formally to retract.
The reason, of course, the Minister does now know is no fault of his or, indeed, of anybody else. I hope I am right in understanding—and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will confirm this when he winds up the debate—that the Ministry have now taken steps, which I have been urging for some time, to find out the number—and many hon. Members opposite have told me privately that they think I am right about this course—by asking the N.U.M. I know quite well that we cannot get an exact figure, but if we want to know how many there are in my constituency, we have only to put a telephone call to the mining agent, and ask him what the figure was two or three months ago and what, with his knowledge and experience, he thinks the figure is reasonably likely to be now.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that a large number of disabled men are certain to have left the coalfields completely, and that the N.U.M. cannot possibly trace them.
§ Mr. Leather
The hon. Gentleman may be right, but I would not accept without some strong proof that a large number have left the coalfields. Some have, unquestionably. However, I should have thought that the majority were still in or about the mining areas, and certainly it is common practice in the N.U.M., and in the union to which I belong, as the hon. Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo), can confirm, that many of these chaps who fall into ill-health or upon evil days are carried on the union books indefinitely. So while I entirely agree that we cannot produce an exact figure, I am sure that we can narrow the figure down to a smaller margin than there is between 5,000, on the one hand, and 30,000, on the other. We may not get an exact figure but we can go some way to getting a reasonable estimate, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will 1321 tell Us that efforts to get it are now being made.
The reasons for excluding the partials as given by both my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Lady are two, primarily the fear of flooding the medical machine, and secondly, the difficulty of assessing partial compensation. With great respect, I did not quite follow the right hon. Lady's argument that if we included the partials every miner and ex-miner in the country would immediately be thrown into the pool, because I have been assured by the former Minister of Fuel and Power that the scheme, which is supplementary to what we are discussing today, for a compulsory annual X-ray examination is now in the pilot stage, and that it is hoped to get it into effect fairly soon. He gave me that assurance in answer to a Question some months ago.
It will take some six months or a year to get it working, but it will take account of nearly all working miners today, and therefore I do not think that it will be by any means necessary that they should be thrown on to this scheme, because there will be another scheme within the Coal Board Organisation to deal with them. That, of course, cuts out 700,000 people at one swoop, and brings down the figures to much more manageable proportions.
Secondly, it may be perfectly right that every ex-miner could immediately demand examination. I am not a doctor and therefore am not qualified to answer that, but I suggest that it might be practicable for an initial screening to be made by the doctors in each coalfield, or even by a man's personal G.P., who could then say "It is a sheer waste of time for this man to go up," or, "I think this man is a borderline case and should go up." Therefore, again, a considerable saving could be made by a man's doctor before getting to the medical panel.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Gentleman has completely ignored the argument put to him. The whole point is that the ordinary doctor really cannot interpret an X-ray plate.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Member is suggesting that a man's ordinary doctor can say to him, "It is no good your going up." That is what he said.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The man may have certain symptoms—shortness of breath, a cough—similar to a friend whom he knows is suffering from pneumoconiosis. The ordinary G.P., as I say, is not an expert and cannot read an X-ray plate, but the man demands a chest X-ray. That disposes of the hon. Gentleman's argument. In order to satisfy these men, an X-ray must be taken, and it must be interpreted by an expert. Therefore, for the hon. Gentleman to dismiss the whole thing by saying that we can get rid of most of these men simply by their G.Ps. saying, as he suggested—it is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head—"Now old man, there is no need for you to go up," is nonsense. The miners would not be satisfied with that diagnosis.
§ Mr. Leather
With great respect to the right hon. Lady, I am not just dismissing the case. It is unfair to say that, because I am concerned with it. I agree that the doctor in the local hospital is not an expert in reading an X-ray plate in order to diagnose pneumoconiosis, but he is expert enough to look at an X-ray and to say either that the lung is normal, or that it is abnormal. If he is capable of doing that, he can decide whether a man goes forward or not.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I just do not accept the hon. Gentleman's contention. I say that if he goes to the Pneumoconiosis Clinic at Cardiff and discusses it with the experts there, they will certainly not agree with what he has just said.
§ Mr. Leather
The right hon. Lady puts me in a very difficult position, because the gentlemen with whom she is concerned are civil servants, and I must not embarrass them.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I must protest. A doctor employed by a Government Department is a doctor first. He is not a dishonest man just because he is a civil servant, and the hon. Gentleman must not suggest that he is.
§ Mr. Leather
The right hon. Lady is completely misinterpreting me. What I meant was that as a servant of the Government the doctor has to be very careful what he says to people other than his employers. There is nothing dishonest in that. I have discussed the matter at length with people and there is a con- 1323 siderable body of them who think that I am right. I am not saying that they will definitely agree or not. The question is open to argument, but some of the doctors there will agree with me. The right hon. Lady knows quite well that in the mobile X-ray units the people doing the initial reading of the plates are not top-line specialists, but people trained to recognise the difference between the normal and the abnormal. The abnormals they sift out and pass on to the experts.
What I am suggesting is that that principle might be worked in this case. I believe it could. I can produce medical evidence to show that it can, and therefore, before my right hon. Friend or the right hon. Lady simply dismiss the suggestion and say that I do not know what I am talking about, I ask that they give it most serious consideration and produce their proofs on the other side, because I think their evidence is open to argument.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I do not want miners in this country who read this debate to think that I or the Minister opposite have not carefully considered this matter. I say deliberately that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that these men should have third-rate treatment, while we want them to have first-rate treatment.
§ Mr. Leather
I am making no such suggestion, and it is grossly unfair for the right hon. Lady to suggest that. I am certain that hon. Members on both sides—and there are many with whom I have worked in the closest and most friendly co-operation in this—will bear me out. The suggestion that I want to give these men third-rate treatment is most unjust.
My next point—and this is most important—is whether the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what is the primary limiting factor, what is the definite reason this cannot be done? Is it because there is a shortage of doctors or because there is a shortage of equipment, because, once we know what these definite reasons are, then possibly we can tackle them and try to overcome them. If the limiting factor is that there is X number of doctors who can only deal with Y number of patients a year, whereas Y plus 50,000 patients have to be treated, then we know what must be done, and we must make an effort to find more doctors.
1324 Is one of the reasons we have not the necessary number of doctors in this service the fact that they are not sufficiently remunerated? There is a very interesting report—the Howitt Report—in "The Times" this morning on the question of pay in the Government service, and along with that Report is the protest by the Joint Committee against the findings of the Report. The Joint Committee state that medical men have left the Government service for other means of service in industry and private practice because of the low remuneration and the lack of a secure future for themselves. I may be wrong, but I should like to be told, because, if I am right, then these are things which can be corrected.
If it is a fact that the remuneration of the doctors comes into the matter, would it be fair to say that by spending another £20,000 or £30,000 a year in raising their remuneration we could solve the problem? If that is so, then there is a very easy solution, because surely we cannot say to the miners, whether their number be 5,000 or 30,000, We are awfully sorry for you; we would like to do something, but we cannot do it." We cannot leave it at that, and none of us wants to do so. I do not suggest that the right hon. Lady does, and again I think she is most unfair in suggesting that that is what I want.
Is it a question of training? If so, can that be put right? We all know the excellent work which the Pneumoconiosis Research Unit at Llandough is doing. Can something be done to help them? Can we persuade more young doctors, particularly in the valleys and in my division, to go in for this work? After all, they are brought up with it, like some hon. Members opposite and myself. Could we do something to encourage them to take up this specialised training so that we might be able to say that, although we cannot put the position right straightaway, there will be a definite solution to it in another one, two or three years' time?
Has anyone suggested looking in Germany for medical men? We might perhaps find four or five young doctors there who are knowledgeable and whom we could induce to come and serve us. I know that would only be a very small number, but when we realise that at the 1325 moment we have only about 20 doctors engaged in this work, it would be a fair percentage increase to their number. Has that avenue been explored?
Finally, there is the technical point. Are the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary completely satisfied that those who serve them have explored every avenue? Are they quite certain that the very latest techniques in diagnosis and radiography are being employed? I have mentioned before in the House that Dr. Fletcher and his colleagues in the Pneumoconiosis Research Unit have as sound a medical and scientific knowledge of this subject as anyone else in the world. I have satisfied myself by speaking to foreign experts that there is nothing known in the United States or anywhere else that our people in Cardiff do not know.
But I am not satisfied—and this does not come within the province of Dr. Fletcher and his colleagues—that we have explored methods of mass diagnosis and radiography which have been used in the United States especially. I believe that in organisation, as opposed to the scientific side, we could learn something which would be helpful in securing the right solution.
I must accept the statement of my right hon. Friend and I must accept this Bill, because it would be tragic if, in trying to grasp too much, we lost what we have; but this is a very important matter, and I find myself heartbroken at being forced to do so. I believe that if every possible effort is made and the Ministry get everyone on his toes and up to the mark over the next few months, this problem can be solved. If it would prove to be any incentive either to my right hon. Friend or to the Ministry to get on with solving it, I would seriously consider putting down another Private Member's Bill to which I hope the Minister and his Department would have no objection.
I apologise for keeping the House so long, but there is another point with which I should like to deal. It is concerned with Clause 1 (1, b) which states in reference to pneumoconiosis, that benefits will be payableto the dependants of persons who, having been so employed, die after the commencement of the scheme as a result of that disease.1326 Obviously the Minister is in a position where he must draw an arbitrary line and say, "That is the date on which we must start." Therefore, I ask the Minister to be as generous as he can and to draw the line back a little, because this is really a most difficult position.
If the wage-earner dies next February, we hope and pray care will be taken of his dependants, but if he dies today his dependants will not be entitled to benefit. I ask the Minister to consider seriously some method of back-dating this scheme. I suggest two methods to him. Perhaps the first is too wide and impracticable, but nevertheless I suggest it for what it is worth. The dependants of those men who died in recent years will have been given in most cases a death certificate stating that death was due to pneumoconiosis. Is it possible for us to say, without a date-line at all, that those who can produce such a death certificate will be entitled to benefit?
If that is not practicable and there must be a date-line so that death certificates cannot be taken back too far, I urge my right hon. Friend—and I hope I am within my rights as a Private Member in doing so—that he chooses 8th May, 1951, as the starting date of the scheme. That was the date on which my Bill was introduced in this House. We have been delayed for a very long time in discussing it, through no fault of his or mine, or because of anything to do with the unfortunate victims—and their position is certainly more important than mine or his. Because of the Recess and the General Election, and so on, we have been delayed in dealing with this problem for about six months. I hope, therefore, that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies, he may be able to give an assurance that the operation of the Bill can be dated back six months.
I fully appreciate the Minister's difficulties. I accept the position as it stands at the moment with the greatest regret. I am not satisfied, but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will satisfy me that every conceivable avenue has been explored. The Minister will be blessed by thousands for this Bill. If only he could find a way to do what I want to do, he would be blessed by many thousands more.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)
At the outset I wish to congratulate the right hon. Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake) upon his appointment as Minister of National Insurance. The years that he spent at the Home Office in administering the Workmen's Compensation Act should now be a very valuable asset to him in his new sphere; but I am sure he is already conscious of the vast changes which have taken place in the treatment of disabled men since he was in the Home Department.
Since then we have had the contributory insurance scheme of 1948, sickness benefit, industrial disablement benefit, industrial injury benefit, benefit for widows, and pensions. I feel sure that the right hon. Gentleman has now a wider scope in dealing with the problems of the disabled than he had when he was at the Home Office. Indeed, the decisions of the Department have a profound effect on the social life of a considerable section of the community. I was very interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather). I know that he has taken a deep interest in silicosis and pneumoconiosis for some time. While I share with him the desirability of the partially disabled being brought within the provisions of an Act of Parliament, I can assure him that this matter is still being discussed by the T.U.C., the National Union of Mineworkers and other interested parties in an endeavour to come to some just arrangement which will meet the many problems he has raised. We were glad of the Minister's assurance that something definite will be done in the near future. I shall watch these developments closely, because I think the inclusion of the partially disabled had been long overdue.
This Bill provides for what I can only describe as the "forgotten men" of the mining industry. I am glad that the Labour Government did not forget them and that they introduced this Measure for First Reading in July last. I am equally pleased that the Minister of National Insurance has not hesitated in coming forward to see this Measure through. The Bill represents another milestone in the long and weary way we have travelled to secure some measure of security for men from the mining 1328 industry who suffer from pneumoconiosis. The Bill is very welcome for that reason.
Two categories are affected under the Bill. The first category has been referred to by the Minister. It comprises those men in the mining industry who have been excluded from benefit or compensation on the ground that they have not been employed in any process within the meaning of the Act during a period of five years dating back from disablement certified by the medical board.
The first Act dealing with this subject in connection with the mining industry was passed in 1928 and came into force on 1st January, 1929. We had a further amended scheme in 1931; but both those schemes laid down that a man must show that he had been employed in a specified occupation within a period of three years of the date of his incapacity. It was not until July. 1939, that the period was amended to five years.
These Acts of Parliament or Regulations have never been made retrospective, with the result that men who left the industry before July, 1939, still come under Regulations relating to the schemes of 1929 and 1931. In other words, men who had worked in the industry for many years but who left the occupation four years before the date of disablement were deprived of compensation. Those men have had no compensation up to now. Unfortunately, many of those men who were totally disabled by pneumoconiosis have since died and their widows have had no compensation at all. It is indeed tragic that though, as a result of investigation and medical science and the close scrutiny of this problem, doctors ultimately declared that pneumoconiosis was in many cases a progressive disease, the Government at the time did not take steps to bring within the scheme those men certified back in 1931 and 1929.
In this respect, I quote a statement in the Report of the Medical Research Council in South Wales. Dr. Fletcher and Dr. Jones and his staff have done yeoman service in assisting men suffering from pneumoconiosis. As a result of very close inquiry into the causes of the disease, recommendations have been made to the Minister of Fuel and Power with regard to conditions underground. All these recommendations made by them have received the full support of the National Union of Mineworkers. The 1329 miners of this country are very thankful indeed for this Research Council, and for the excellent work they have done in South Wales on behalf of the miners.
What does the Medical Research Council say on this question of the progression of the disease? In the Report dealing with the consequences of pneumoconiosis in South Wales, it says:Thus we may say that pneumoconiosis is in general a progressive disease, but the rate of progression is very variable. In some cases, especially those with complicated pneumoconiosis, the progression may be relatively rapid … but in the majority it is slow. An estimate of the likely rate of progression may be made from the X-ray appearance, so that the chest X-ray is of importance in prognosis as well as in diagnosis. From the point of view of employment, this progression is important, in that a man may be at a certain stage of the disease when he leaves the industry and takes up post-mining employment, while after the passage of a few years his disability may have so increased that a job which was formerly suitable for him may now be beyond his capacity.That is the tragedy of these cases in the South Wales coalfield in particular. The men did not know they were suffering from pneumoconiosis. They felt the effects in the lungs slightly or had a cold, or were suffering from what in South Wales is called diffyg Anadl; and it was not until years after they had left the mining industry, or processes in the industry, that they discovered, after medical examination, that they were disabled as a result of pneumoconiosis.
Under the Industrial Injuries Act there is no limitation of time now at all. Yet this legislation does not provide for the old cases. I would remind the hon. Member for Somerset, North, that this Bill has only been made possible because there has been established a National Injuries Fund under which benefits can be paid. In 1943, the National Union of Mineworkers proposed that there should be retrospective payments for men suffering from pneumoconiosis. The Minister was then in the difficulty that the employers and insurance companies were not prepared to face a liability which went back many years. I therefore submit that this Bill today, which does give, or will give, benefit to men totally disabled and to widows and dependants, has been brought about solely by the activities and measures which the Labour Government have taken. Another class under this Bill are those who have been refused benefit because, 1330 at the time of their certification, they were not regarded as being employed in occupations that gave rise to the disease.
§ Mr. Hale
I should like my hon. Friend to add that thousands of cases were turned off by certifying surgeons under the old procedure, whereby insurance companies could send men from doctor to doctor until they found someone to say that they had not pneumoconiosis, and these men are now chronically disabled by this disease and have no benefit at all.
§ Mr. Finch
I appreciate that many were turned town under those circumstances. The original Act stated that for a man to be entitled to compensation he must show that he had been handling rock which contained 50 per cent. of silica. The men who could not do that could not claim compensation and have never been paid a penny. In 1931 an amending Measure came into operation which abolished certain restrictions, but it was not applied retrospectively. In 1934 there was a further Amendment which stated "any occupation underground in any coalmine."
Now we were getting nearer to it, but it was not made retrospective. Men who came under the old scheme were left out. It is true, of course, as the right hon. Gentleman said when we met him in 1943, that there was a suggestion to put into operation the benefit scheme which has been referred to and which did give some assistance, but he could not get the insurance companies or the employers to make payment, and he got it out of the coal industry. The benefit payable is 15s. 0d. a week. I am glad that this Bill will now give these men 40s. 0d. a week with allowances. I hope that the Minister and his Department, and indeed any other Minister who may occupy his position, will not make this mistake again, and that when there is a widened diagnosis or when occupations are widened which bring men into the pneumoconiosis scheme, regard will be had for those who had left the industry prior to the new regulations coming into operation.
I mention that because at the present moment negotiations are taking place with the T.U.C. and the National Union of Mineworkers to establish that coke ovens and furnace ovens, and those ancillary 1331 industries to mining, are occupations which give rise to pneumoconiosis. It may well be that after a very close investigation it will be discovered that men employed in coke oven plants can sustain pneumoconiosis. If that can be established, I hope that benefits will be made retrospective to these men who may have left the coke oven plants some years previously.
I welcome this Bill, but I am also anxious that partially injured men should be included. The Bill has become a very urgent matter, because men are dying with this disease in South Wales every week and their dependants are left without any compensation at all. The quicker the Bill passes through Parliament, the better. I have been engaged on this problem for many years in the South Wales coalfield, and I speak with some feeling on this subject. I see many men die from this disease, and I see many dependants left without any compensation at all. I have heard young men say, "My father died from pneumoconiosis without compensation being paid: then no mining industry for me."
When I have sat here on many occasions listening to debates on the necessity for increasing the production of coal in the mining industry and I agree that mining is our basic industry and that a greet deal depends on the output of that industry—I have realised that if we are to get greater output in this industry and increased manpower, then the first consideration—and I hope that a representative of the Ministry of Fuel and Power is here—is the welfare and the security of the men in the mines.
Measures which will further safeguard the welfare of the men in the industry are essential, so that the men can feel that, if they have had an accident or are disabled, There is some measure of security for them and their families. We have not arrived at that position yet. We have gone a long-way towards it, and if we want to increase production in the mines we must go ahead with the programme of dust suppression in the mining industry so as to make it a healthy industry as far as that is possible. If that is done, we can congratulate ourselves in the House of Commons on the improvements which are taking place and the added inducements for men to enter the industry.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Arbuthnot (Dover)
Hon. Members in all parts of the House are glad to have this opportunity of paying a tribute to the gallantry of the men in the mining industry, and the cotton and other industries in which these dust diseases occur, who jeopardize their lives in the interest of their industry and of the nation. I feel it is uppermost in the minds of all of us that no form of monetary compensation can ever be adequate to repay the men for the injury and the loss of full efficiency of their lungs.
What we are trying to do this morning is to bring some measure of compensation to them, in so far as we can, and I particularly welcome the improvements that have been made in this Bill since it last saw the light of day in this House, especially the alteration which provides that a sum of £300 will be paid to dependents as a definite amount. There can now be no argument whether a man's dependents should have the full £300 and this change does away with the possibility of controversial litigation on the issue of whether some dependents are to have the full sum or only a portion of it.
Some hon. Members previously referred to the parentage of this Bill, and I should like to support the contention of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), who asked the Minister to consider whether, in view of the parentage of the Bill and the fact that the first efforts in this direction were made in a Private Member's Bill which was introduced by himself and which I had the honour to support, he would not be prepared to antedate the operation of this present Measure to 8th May, the date when he first introduced his Bill.
It is no fault of the men in the industries concerned that we have taken some time about this matter and have been rather dilatory in putting on the Statute Book this Measure to provide compensation for these people. This Bill should have been introduced at least three years ago—all of us would be agreed about that. It seems to me of special significance, particularly in view of the fact that we have recently come through a General Election, when some hard things were said about "the wicked Tories," that this Bill, to look after people suffering from dust diseases, of whom the majority are in the mining industry, 1333 should have been the first Bill to be launched by a Conservative Government.
I should like now to turn to some of the details in the Bill itself, and, first of all to refer to the remarks that have been made about trying to bring in those partially incapacitated as well as those who are totally incapacitated. We have been told that the difficulty of bringing in the partially incapacitated are, first, the difficulty in diagnosis due to the shortage of doctors with the skill needed to diagnose definitely whether a man has had pneumoconiosis or not. There is also the danger of the mining panels becoming overloaded, and I do not think there is any doubt that if we were to press for the inclusion of the partially disabled we would find that the best was becoming the enemy of the good, and we would, in effect, wreck the whole scheme.
I shall not dilate upon that particular aspect of the problem, but what does disturb me is the question of what is total incapacity. Supposing a man is growing cabbages in his back garden and selling them, thereby earning from, say, 10s. to 30s. a week. Is that man to be regarded as outside the purview of this scheme because of this small income which he is able to scrape together? If we find a man in that position outside the purview of this scheme, what we will do, in effect, is to say to this man that because he has small means through selling cabbages or through doing some service to his neighbours we cannot help him. Alternatively, must he stop doing that particular thing in order to be able to receive the benefits to which he is otherwise perfectly entitled under this scheme?
The Parliamentary Secretary, when he comes to reply, would be extremely helpful if he found it possible to fix a generous limit of earnings before a man come out of that category of being totally disabled. That would go a long way to meet the difficulties which my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North, was talking about when he wished to include partially incapacitated people.
The second point I should like to make on the details of the Bill is concerned with page 3, line 20. The Minister has told us that he proposes to remove from the Bill, on the Committee stage, the words:… or to compensation payable otherwise than out of such funds.1334 I gather that what he is going to do is to say that if a man is getting compensation in other ways that does not debar him from benefit under the Bill. If it is right to remove these words then I suggest it is also right for the Minister to look again at Clause 2 (1, c). There again the emoluments of a man in compensation for disablement from another disease or injury should not be taken into consideration when the question of his rights under this Bill arises.
The third detail to which I should like to draw attention is the question of payments not being capable of being commuted. There are many people who would be entitled to benefit under this scheme who would rather receive a lump sum payment. They may want to set up a son in a business or they may want to embark upon some enterprise which would bring them an income in the years ahead. Under the provisions of this Bill they are deprived of the power to commute this payment. If the alternative of a lump sum payment for the man who wants it is granted, it must be hedged around carefully with safeguards to make sure that the lump sum is not endangered. He may squander it, and then have nothing left, and be no longer entitled to benefit. We must make sure that the lump sum is not unreasonably taken and that the use to which it will be put is sound, before permission is given.
I come now to the question of payment for dependants. On page 4, line 7, the Bill says that benefits shall be payable to those who were wholly dependent upon the deceased's earnings. I believe that we should delete that word "wholly," so that those who can show that they were partially dependent might be entitled to a proportionate benefit, and 1 would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider that suggestion.
I feel that it has been a privilege to speak in support of this Bill. As Member for the Dover division of Kent I represent the mining district which has the highest incidence of silicosis outside South Wales. I know what an enormous benefit the putting of this Bill on the Statute Book will be to large numbers of miners and their dependants, not only in my constituency but throughout the country as well. I therefore give a hearty welcome to the Bill and particularly to the assurance by the Minister that if a further 1335 scheme is put forward by the unions which will enable the partially incapacitated to be included he will consider bringing in another Bill.
We realise the difficulties and that if we were to press for the partially incapacitated to be included at this stage there would be the certainty of wrecking the beneficial effects of the present Measure.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
I join with the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) and other hon. Members in welcoming the Bill. It is a very short Bill, restricted in its scope and limited in its objective. It may not be so comprehensive as some of us would like it to be, and there may be disagreement on what it should contain, but I do not think there can be any difference of opinion on the importance of its provisions or about the extreme urgency of bringing these proposals into operation as soon as possible. Because of that, I welcome the Bill, and I know it will be welcomed in South Wales, where this dreadful disease of pneumoconiosis has been a cause of grave anxiety for a very long time. It will be especially welcomed in my own constituency, which is one of the worst afflicted areas in the British coalfield.
The object of the Bill is to bring in cases of disability which have been excluded from the earlier schemes. It applies to people who have been totally disabled as a result of their employment in the mines, and to the dependants of people who die as a result of the disease. This is a step in the right direction, but I agree with the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) that it is a step which does not go far enough because it does not apply to people who are partially disabled.
I accept the Minister's statement of the reasons why these people are not included now. To bring them in would cause delay, which is the one thing we want to avoid at this stage. The immediate need is to bring in the urgent cases, who are dying every day and getting fewer in number. I do not think anyone will disagree that these are very urgent cases. They have been disabled for a very long time. They contracted the disease in the course of their employment and through 1336 no fault of their own they have been deprived of compensation. The Bill, therefore, provides a measure of justice to people who have been neglected for far too long, and who naturally regard themselves as the forgotten men of the mining industry.
These men were not covered by the Industrial Injuries Act, 1948, because they left the mines before that Act came into force. They were not covered by previous schemes either because they left before the schemes came into operation or they were disabled more than five years after they left the pits. The Bill removes these restrictions and disqualifications. It brings in men who ought to have been brought in a long time ago. There was never any justification for the five-year disqualification. Originally the period was three years. A man had to apply for a certificate within three years of leaving his employment.
That disqualification belongs to a period when medical knowledge of the disease was in a very embryonic stage. The mineworkers' union never accepted it, and we constantly pressed for the complete abolition of any time bar. We felt that men who had been disabled as a result of working in the pits were entitled to benefit under the compensation scheme. It was largely due to the consistent representations which were made by the union that the three-year limit was extended to five and that, in the Industrial Injuries Act, 1948, the time limit was removed altogether.
The Bill brings in some of the people who have been excluded in the past, but it does not bring them all in. It excludes the partially disabled men. I can only hope that the Minister will find it practicable before very long, in consultation with the organisations concerned with the problem, to work out a scheme to cover the partially disabled men. I know there are innumerable difficulties. I know the problem in my own district. Large numbers of these men have left the coalfield and we are not in touch with them in the Mineworkers' Federation. It is very difficult to trace them. If the partially disabled men were brought into the Bill, we can understand that that would cause unconscionable delay in bringing this urgent Bill into operation.
I do not know how many men will be affected by the Bill, but whatever the 1337 number is, I am certain that the overwhelming majority will come from South Wales, where this has been a problem of serious gravity for a whole generation. In South Wales it is a special industrial problem, and it has created a very serious social problem. It has no parallel in any other industry or in any other part of the country. Between 1931 and 1948 over 22,000 miners in Britain were certified and suspended from their employment, and 19,000, or 90 per cent., of them came from the South Wales coalfield. These figures are all the more striking when we remember that the South Wales coalfield employs only one-sixth of the total number of miners employed in Britain.
In South Wales we have had a long and difficult struggle with the problem, which has passed through many stages. In the first stage the problem was to recognise the disease for what it was as dust on the lungs. When that had been done, vie had long and abstruse arguments from the experts as to what kind of dust caused the disease. In those days it was thought that the men could be disabled only by dust from silica rock. Coal dust was regarded as quite harmless. Orders and schemes were passed on that assumption, and we had to operate Orders which were completely unworkable.
This view created endless difficulties for us. We had to prove that the men had worked in silica rock. We had to hunt about in old and abandoned workings to find samples of silica rock. When we found them we had to submit them to experts to be analysed, to find if the samples contained 50 per cent. or more of free silica. We then had to take the case to the county court. Some cases went all the way to the House of Lords in order to try to establish a claim for a mere pittance of 20s. to 25s. a week as compensation. We have gone a long way since then, but we have not yet solved all the problems connected with this disease.
I want to call the Government's attention specially to three problems. The first is that of the men partially disabled by silicosis who are still excluded from benefit. We hope that before long the Minister will find it possible to bring these men in. Secondly, special attention ought to be given to the adoption of preventive measures inside the colliery. In the last two or three years the National Coal Board has done a great deal in this 1338 direction, but much more needs to be done. The view of the miners' union is that the adoption of preventive measures should be compulsory, especially in South Wales where the problem has been acute for so many years.
Thirdly, I want to call the attention of the Minister of Labour to the need for a special effort to provide, employment for men who have already been suspended from the industry because they have been partially disabled by pneumoconiosis. There is still a very large army of these people in South Wales. Under the Labour Government a great deal was done to find suitable employment for them. The problem is by no means solved, and I hope that the Minister of Labour will give the matter his special attention.
Finally, I welcome the Bill as a step towards providing a long-overdue measure of justice for men who have been disabled in the service of the mining industry and in the service of the nation, and I hope that before very long there will be another Bill to bring in the partly disabled men.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain MacLeod (Enfield, West)
I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. D. J. Williams) in this pleasant debate, and I am also in full agreement with some of the things that were said by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch). I join them in congratulating and welcoming my right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary to a Ministry which is of the first importance and which, perhaps more than any other, concerns itself with the ordinary human problems of our countrymen and countrywomen.
It is pleasant that the Bill was introduced by the previous Government and is being continued by the present Government. On the other side of the picture, it is true that to a large extent the parent Bill, the Industrial Injuries Act, 1946, was taken up by that Government when it came into power. That shows that, although we are apt to deny all virtue to our opponents in the hustings, there still is a continuing and abiding interest in the subject which is by no means confined to one side of the House.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us, in more detail than 1339 the Minister was able, when the scheme is to be introduced. The date of the commencement of the scheme will have a considerable effect on the benefits, and perhaps on the lump sums, which will be paid to those who have suffered from these terrible dust diseases. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us how far the consultations have gone. I hope that he will be able to tell us the approximate date on which it is proposed to bring a draft scheme before the House and also the approximate date of the commencement of the scheme.
To use an Irishism, the biggest issue in the Bill is not in it at all, and that is the question of partial compensation. We had a strange alliance between the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), and the Minister on this subject, and we listened to the right hon. Lady replying to a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), which he had not delivered. Three reasons have been given why it is impossible to bring partial cases within the Bill. I find two of the reasons not completely convincing and I found the third reason a good deal more difficult, as did, I believe, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North, although he skated over it with great skill.
In spite of what was said by the hon. Member for Neath about the difficulties of people leaving the mining areas, I believe that one could make a reasonably accurate estimate if enough trouble was taken—I believe it is being taken—to find the number of people who may be affected. On the second argument, that we should be putting an overwhelming burden on the medical services, I was not completely convinced. I thought the right hon. Lady was less than fair to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North, when he showed to what a considerable extent it was possible to reduce the bald statement that every miner and ex-miner would immediately have to undergo X-ray investigation.
The third reason, and the one which I find very difficult to combat, relates to the degree of earning capacity. With the amount of medical knowledge that we have, that is a great stumbling block, but, more than anything else that has been said, we all welcome what I take to be a 1340 very satisfactory assurance from the Minister that he is ready, in consultation with the mining interests, and, no doubt, with those who represent the workers in the cotton industry, to see whether something can be done to bring in the cases which are so very much in the minds of us all. I should be the last person to urge the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who is not at the moment in his place, to make more speeches in the House. I was rather sorry, however, that he mentioned the possibility of other diseases and does not, I gather, intend to intervene in the debate. The hon. Member speaks so very fast that it would need only a very short intervention by him to explain what was in his mind, and it is a pity if he does not intend to make that contribution to the debate.
We have been talking very much about the dust diseases as they affect miners. There is also, of course, byssinosis, which is covered by the Bill. How tragically little we know about this disease is very clearly shown by the provision in Clause 2 (2), in which it is laid down—it is repeated, I think, from the 1942 Act and the scheme made thereunder—what certainly appear to be strict time limits in regard to this disease. The Clause says that a man cannot obtain compensationunless he has been employed for a period or periods amounting in the aggregate to not less than twenty years…It goes on to say that the Billshall not provide for the payment of benefit to a person so disabled unless it is determined in accordance with the scheme that the disablement is likely to he permanent.This shows how very difficult it is for many people to qualify under this part of the scheme, and it shows that there are still great fields for medical advance in the treatment of all these dust diseases.
The other point with which, I hope, the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to deal, has been raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) and Somerset, North, that is, the question of what is meant by "total disablement." Either my hon. Friends are under a misapprehension, or I am, and I very much hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to settle this. As I understand it, there is, I hope, no question, as was suggested by both my hon. Friends, that we should 1341 have to say to a man who was earning a few shillings by, for instance, sweeping out a miners' canteen or engaging in market gardening, "You must stop that in order to qualify for the benefits under the Bill." That is not how I read the meaning of "total disablement."
The Bill refers to people becoming totally disabled by the disease. I take that to be a term of medical art which means that a miner is incapable of following his particular occupation. I do not in any way take it to mean that we are to introduce a sort of means test on a man's other casual light occupations and that we say to him, "You shall not pursue that occupation unless you reduce your earnings to bring you within the purview of the Bill." I hope that when he replies, the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to clear up this point, which is obviously of great importance.
I was interested also in a statement made by the Minister in introducing the Bill. Of course, we all know in this matter that prevention is a good deal better than cure, and it is a good deal better also than compensation. Behind everything we can do to alleviate the sufferings of the men with whom the Bill is concerned must be the determination that in time—one hopes it will be a comparatively short time; it may be far shorter than we dream of, with the great strides that medical advance can make—we shall be able to banish diseases of this sort from our lives.
The Minister stated that something would be said—I was not clear whether it was to be at some stage of the Bill or at some time to the House—by the other Ministries concerned—Fuel and Power, Labour and, no doubt, Health—about the progress that was being made in doing what science and the Government of the day can do to remove the dangers to which the men in these industries are subjected. In a sense, it is even more important than the Bill itself to ensure that these diseases are removed altogether from this field.
For these reasons, and not because I have miners in my constituency, because I have not; not because there are cotton workers, because there are not; but because I have always tried to interest myself in subjects that affect health and insurance, I am very glad this afternoon to support the Bill.
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
In the first place, I wish to extend my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the ex-Minister of National Insurance on speedily bringing the Bill forward. Since its First Reading on 25th July, my right hon. Friend has moved with greater rapidity on this very important question than any of her predecessors. I also take the opportunity of congratulating the right hon. Gentleman who has succeeded the right hon. Lady, because he now has an opportunity, in the position to which he has been appointed, of doing something in the direction of assisting the men for whose interests he has in the past received so many representations.
I am delighted also by the support of the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather). I welcome the unbounded enthusiasm that he has exhibited since he came to the House, and I have often expressed the opinion, "Would to God that some of the enthusiasm he has revealed had been manifested in days gone by". Had that been the case, a vastly different position would have been the lot of the miner suffering from silicosis.
I am one of those who believe that so long as we have wars, we shall have sick and wounded men, and that so long as we have industries we shall have injured, bruised and broken men. Our task in this Assembly is to pool our ideas in trying to bring about a degree of protection to those who are unfortunately overtaken either by disease or by accident. That is of paramount importance, and I hope that as the Bill proceeds through its various stages the Minister will lend an ear to those of us who have had experience in dealing with silicosis and pneumoconiosis cases in days gone by. After all, it is only those who have practical knowledge of underground conditions who can help the Minister, together with his permanent officials, to bring about some amelioration and minimisation of the difficulties with which we are confronted.
I know that we on this side are sometimes described as being unreasonable, but we are not unreasonable when it comes to dealing with human problems. What we are dealing with this afternoon is an intensely human problem and one which has been in the very forefront of the minds of many men in the mining industry, just as it has been in the mind 1343 of the hon. Member for Somerset, North. I remind the House that as far back as 1922–29 years ago—we were dealing with this problem. It was the subject of a committee of inquiry and I am the only surviving member of that committee which met in 1922—I am the only one left.
I have regard to the investigations we made we gathered together a great deal of evidence as to the incidence in the rise of silicosis among mine workers. We endeavoured in every conceivable way to find out how this dread disease affected our men and the evidence we collected was produced to the Home Secretary. His son is sitting on the Front Bench now. The Home Secretary at that time was Sir William Joynson-Hicks. That evidence was presented in February, 1926, which is a long time ago.
Further evidence was sent to him from time to time, but it was not until 1928 that the first scheme covering men totally disabled by silicosis was introduced. Even when that scheme was introduced miners as such were not covered by the scheme and a man had to prove that he worked on rock strata which contained 50 per cent. of free silica compound. That clause was not even included in the draft.
It was a strange thing that the importance of that clause was not discovered by the Miners' Federation until the scheme had become law. As a practical miner, I say that to put in a determining factor of that character was entirely wrong. If the hon. Member for Somerset, North, will go into the evidence submitted at that time he will find that there were only two coalfields in this country where 50 per cent. free silica compound could be found and they were in Somerset and the Forest of Dean.
When we in my county of Lancashire discovered that clause we had very careful and exhaustive inquiries made to see if we could find a rock strata which contained 50 per cent. free silica compound, but we could find no rock strata in Lancashire, Cheshire or the North-West areas containing more than 43 per cent. Therefore, our men could not claim compensation. What a tragedy it was.
We tried to get it amended and it was subsequently amended but then the 1344 Regulations did not include the man who had unfortunately contracted the dread disease of silicosis and, because of the stringent Regulations, no miners applied under the scheme. The Miners' Federation continued to press for an amendment and, following pressure by the Federation, the Trades Union Congress and a deputation to the Home Office, a mining scheme was passed in 1930 which removed the necessity of proving 50 per cent. free silica compound and the 1931 silicosis scheme extended compensation to partially disabled workers. That was another improvement, but I am seeking to point out the long period and protracted negotiations that had to take place before our men got assistance to relieve their economic position.
It was not until 1934 that a scheme was introduced which covered men on any operation underground, coal mining, and there again it was largely due to representation by the Miners' Federation. In 1943 the pneumoconiosis scheme came into operation in coal mines, on the surface, provided that the men who had the misfortune to contract this disease had been handling coal and it widened the conditions under which compensation was applicable. That was another step forward and, as a result of the provisions of that scheme, many more men were able to obtain compensation. It is remarkable to note these figures: the total number certified jumped from 799 in 1942 to 1,268 in 1943 and in 1944 the total was 2,001.
I hope that the hon. Member for Somerset, North, will listen to this, because he has dwelt on the importance of getting sufficient medical men to make the examination. In 1944, in South Wales, the panels of the medical boards were overwhelmed and a large waiting list of men awaiting examination for silicosis was built up. More doctors were appointed in 1944 and certification reached the peak in 1945, in which year more than 5,000 men were certified in South Wales alone.
We are happy to see that the incidence is going down year by year. That may be due to the effect of the preventive methods brought into being by the Ministry of Fuel and Power as a result of very important research work done by Dr. Fletcher. That is a remarkable advance in the direction of preventing the 1345 increasing wastage of manpower in the pits. This Bill seeks to obviate the time limit for last working in the processes, and the period of working in the industry required to warrant compensation has been changed from time to time as a result of pressure brought to bear by the Miners' Federation.
When dealing with matters which involve human suffering, whether physical, mental, or economic, I have often asked myself why there should be such a manifestation of stupidity by the powers that be when the life and destiny of the man or men with whom we are dealing is concerned. I hope that when the Minister of National Insurance deals with the problem in the Committee stage, and deals with the partially incapacitated, he will act with all speed and that there will be a manifestation of quickness and alertness in dealing with the problem.
Under the 1928 scheme, men were only entitled to compensation provided they had worked in the processes during the three years previous to certification and that continued in spite of continuous pressure from the Miners' Federation. It was not until July, or June, 1939, that the period was altered from three to five. We have always believed—and now we are seeing the results of that belief expressed in no uncertain terms—that the time period has to go once and for all.
I dealt with this matter on the industrial side long before I came to the House and I happen to have in my possession a copy of an X-ray photograph taken of a young man who entered the pits at the age of 14. At the age of 18 he withdrew from the pits and joined the Royal Navy and, at the age of 23, he went down with disablement arising from silicosis. We went to the trouble to try to prove that the young man's incapacity arose out of his working in the pits. That X-ray photograph is in my mind now. I needed no doctor to tell me his condition, because silicotic nodules appeared on that photograph as big as blackberries; but because of the time he had been out of the industry neither he nor his parents could claim compensation.
That proves conclusively that the time limit was wrong when it was fixed. I am glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman is now in the happy position of presenting to this House a Bill which eliminates the time limit once and for all. It 1346 was only when the Industrial Injuries Act was passed by the late Government in 1948 that there ceased to be a time limit. What troubles me is that those unfortunate victims who have been certified to be suffering from silicosis or pneumoconiosis have lived a life of pain and suffering, of anguish and anxiety, and never received a farthing compensation.
This ought to have been remedied many years ago. Under the 1931 scheme—I crave the indulgence of the House because I have been interested in this matter for many years, and I wish to present the historic background of the evolution of the problem with which we are confronted—men were presumed automatically to be entitled to compensation unless they had not worked in the industry for at least five years. As I have said, the Miners' Federation has for many years pressed for legislation in respect of men who are not entitled to compensation either because they left the relevant employment before the silicosis compensation began or because they were certified as suffering from the disease more than five years after they had left such employment.
Happily, the Industrial Injuries Act, 1948, does not impose any time limit. We were delighted to know that that had been established in the 1948 Act. It was a thousand pities, as we say in Lancashire, that we could not have made that Bill retrospective and have included in that Measure the men whom we are now including.
The negotiations which led up to the Bill which we are now considering were begun just 18 months ago, when representations were made to my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), when she was at the Ministry of National Insurance, and she did a remarkable job in bringing forward this Bill. If her predecessors at that Ministry, in whatever Government they were, had acted with as great a rapidity as she did, many of the unfortunate victims in the coalfields would have had their lot eased many months ago.
The seriousness of silicosis and pneumoconiosis will be seen from the figures I am about to give. I do not intend to weary the House with year by year figures, but I wish to give the following to show how the incidence of silicosis has been rising over many years. Between 1931, when the first Regulations 1347 became operative, and July, 1948, the number of pneumoconiosis cases certified by the Silicosis Medical Board totalled 22,605, of whom 19,135 were in South Wales. So, if this Bill does nothing else it will at least help the unfortunate victims the greater number of whom are in South Wales.
It is true that certain cases are still certified under the Workmen's Compensation Act. In the last five months of 1948, 500 cases were certified in Great Britain under that Act, nearly 1,000 in 1949 and 650 in 1950. Under the Workmen's Compensation Act and the Industrial Injuries Act combined about 7,000 men—that is a colossal figure in face of the man-power wastage in the pits today—are coming forward each year for initial examination. Of this number, about 4,000 are diagnosed as suffering from that disease. Today, there are about 20,000 to 30,000 pneumoconiosis cases.
I agree that there is no accurate figure available as to the mortality rate, but it is estimated, and I believe this to be a very moderate estimate, that between 800 and 1,000 people die of pneumoconiosis each year. I take the trouble to show the effect in varying degree upon our men, because it has been mentioned in the course of this debate that there are varying degrees of disablement, after they have been certified. I have extracted a number of cases from my personal records. I had to deal with this problem for many years and it was always a pain to me to see those men going slowly to their graves.
The cases which I shall quote reveal the urgency of this Measure. Case No. 1 concerns a man aged 60 years. The date of his disablement was 29th May, 1937, and the date of his death was 5th January, 1939. That man lived 84 weeks after the date of certification. Case No. 2 was a young man, as we understand age, of 59. The date of his disablement was 7th December, 1937, and the date of death 11th June, 1938, so that that unfortunate victim lived for 27 weeks after the date of certification.
Case No. 3 was a man aged 43. The date of his disablement was 1st November, 1939, and the date of death 25th January, 1941, so he lived for 69 weeks after the 1348 date of certification. I come to my last case—and these cases could be multiplied by the score. Case No. 4 was a man aged 51. The date of his disablement was 23rd November, 1940, and the date of death 10th February, 1941. He lived for eight weeks after the date of certification that he was suffering from pneumoconiosis.
The approximate time these men lived after the date of disablement was 48 weeks—less than 12 months after the date of certification. I recall attending an inquest, and saying, after I had dealt with the examination of various witnesses:When a man is certified to be suffering from silicosis it is almost like a sentence of death because sooner or later—sooner in some cases, later in others—he will pass into the Great Beyond.No one in or outside this House can lay any blame at the feet of the past Government because they attended in every conceivable way to the bringing of a little sunshine into the lives of those who are unfortunately overtaken by accident or disease.
Let me say a word about partial compensation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will listen to my plea and that we shall have no procrastination on this point. After all, we welcome this Bill and we are prepared to support it in every way we can in order to bring needed relief to the unfortunate victims of silicosis and pneumoconiosis. We beg of the Minister to bring in either Regulations or a Measure at a very early date to give some relief to the partially incapacitated. They are the men who could be useful in other spheres of industry, provided they are fairly treated.
I would say a word to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who has been listening to the Debate. I hope that there will be no hesitation by his Department to stimulate and intensify the measures for keeping down dust. We are happy that the incidence of the figure of men suffering from silicosis is on the decline, but we may have a repetition of what happened in 1945. The figure may rise to 5,000 or 6,000 again. But that will not happen if the scientific and technical knowledge obtained from research work is utilised to prevent the further growth and development of the number of silicosis cases.
1349 I think it was the newly appointed Minister of Fuel and Power.who estimated that the man-power wastage in the mining industry would be approximately 20,000 a year. If that is so it reveals a very serious state of affairs in these days, when there is a limit to the manpower and resources on which we can draw. Therefore, it behoves everyone, including the Ministry of National Insurance, the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Ministry of Labour, to get together to try to arrest the development and growth of this dread disease; and to fit men into industry where they can become useful citizens.
If we do that we can say that we have accomplished something to bring into the lives of these unfortunate victims a little much needed sunshine. I see them every week in my constituency, and I say that we should go forward with this Bill as speedily as possible. I welcome it, and I wish it a speedy passage through the House.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Miss Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
It is obvious that everyone is extremely anxious to find some solution to the problem of the partially disabled men. I would put forward one suggestion which I hope may be of use to my hon. Friend who is to reply, and I commend it to my right hon. Friend who has introduced this Bill.
I well remember in the 1930's, when we were trying to find an answer to the problem of miners' nystagmus—a disease which also presented some very stubborn problems—that the Home Office, then the appropriate Government Department, established a Departmental Committee on which sat representatives of the medical profession, the National Union of Mineworkers, the Trades Union Congress, the Employers' Federation and experts from the Home Office, who were concerned with the problems arising out of this particular disease. They examined all the aspects of the problem, and went very fully into the possibility of establishing some regional organisation to look into these matters and deal with them.
In the case of miners' nystagmus there was a very real problem arising out of the measuring of the incidence of the disease and finding employment for men so afflicted, which was essential to a cure of the disease. I remember that after 1350 some considerable time that Committee put forward some practical proposals. It occurs to me that in dealing with the problem arising regarding this Bill we might well decide to set up a committee comparable with the one which dealt with the problems arising from miners' nystagmus. It could be composed of all interests, and could be charged with the responsibility of looking into all aspects of the problem of these partially disabled men.
From the point of view of a layman like myself it is quite obvious that there is a wide variety of questions on which there is a difference of opinion; on treatment, on the numbers affected, on the number of medical men who could examine these cases. It would seem that there is not nearly sufficient evidence available to arrive at a real solution of the problem created by this class of men. As the whole House feels that the partially disabled will be left out, and that from the point of view of humanity we ought to find some means of compensating them, it would appear that the first step towards this end would be to gather together representatives of all the interests concerned, so that they could try to devise a scheme which they could recommend to my right hon. Friend. From that we in this House could be put in a positon to expand this scheme to cover these partially disabled men.
I hope my right hon. Friend will call for the papers, which will be available at the Home Office, showing how that other problem was examined and how the evidence was collected. Then we may have some information and be put in a position to offer a solution. It has always been one of the difficulties in the mining industry that there have been large numbers of what have always been termed compensation cases who were capable of being offered light employment at the pits. The problem has been that there have been too many men for the employment available. On some occasions laymen, and I always call myself a layman, have been apt to dismiss the problem of the employment of these men by saying that the industry should give them light employment.
It does raise a very real and a grave problem. It is of the greatest importance that, where possible, we should try to find employment for men who have been 1351 connected with the mining industry and who have contracted one of these industrial diseases as a result. It may not always be certain that they will be able to continue to be employed by the mining industry itself. We cannot simply dismiss the future of the partially disabled men by saying that light employment at the pithead will be available for them.
This is a most difficult problem but, in the case of some industrial diseases, light employment is a partial solution in the treatment of these men. That aspect should be examined by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Fuel and Power. I hope that this is a practical proposition which will receive the due consideration of my right hon. Friend, and that some action will be taken on the lines I have suggested.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. David Thomas (Aberdare)
Judging from the speeches already made, it is clear that this Bill is warmly welcomed by all hon. Members. It will also be warmly welcomed by the unfortunate men who have been certified to be totally disabled from silicosis or pneumoconiosis, but who are completely outside the present pneumoconiosis scheme. When I listened to the right hon. Lady for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) interjecting when the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather) was speaking about medical researches and the ability or otherwise of certain medical men to diagnose this complaint properly, I was reminded of a case which came to my notice many years ago.
A man had been certified by his local doctor to be totally disabled. Application was made to the medical board. Obviously, the board had examined more men than the local doctor, but the local doctor thought from the X-ray report that the man was seriously disabled. When the man was examined by the board he was refused a certificate of disablement. I advised the man to make application to the board again after a reasonable period had elapsed. He did so. Again, he was turned down by the board. I remember telling his wife that if something happened to her husband she should not regard these decisions as final, because it might be proved at the post mortem 1352 examination that the man had been suffering from the complaint. That is what happened. The man died. A post mortem was conducted and death was certified to be due to silicosis.
I agree with what several hon. Members have said about the long time which has elapsed since the first silicosis scheme came into operation. Indeed, it is shameful that it has taken all these years for a Bill such as this to be brought forward. Medical men in the mining valleys have dealt for many years with the complaint which was not covered by any compensation scheme. This complaint, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) was diflyg anadl or miners' asthma, as it was then termed. But no compensation was given in the old days.
I do not intend to mention once again the number of Orders which have come out since 1928 but, so that it can be stressed, I should like to mention how unfairly and unjustly the miners have been dealt with throughout the years whenever any effort has been made to introduce measures to improve their position. Several of my hon. Friends have mentioned the provision that a certified man had to prove that he had worked in strata which had contained 50 per cent. free silica.
I remember two men being certified locally to be suffering from silicosis. They had worked in the same seam. Samples were taken from their working places and sent to the geologists. In one case the geologist decided that the sample contained slightly over 50 per cent. free silica and that enabled the man to have compensation. In the other, it was stated that the samples examined contained slightly below 50 per cent. free silica. Both men were totally disabled. One had compensation and the other had not.
No more vicious stipulation was ever placed in any Order than the three-year and the five-year rule. Hon. Members on both sides have said this morning that the medical profession could not possibly say how long it takes for this disease to show itself. As an official of the Mineworkers' Union I have dealt with thousands of cases, as have a number of my hon. Friends. I would say that in hundreds of those cases I have had to tell the man concerned that, unfortunately, he was completely outside the scheme and 1353 could not be sent to the medical board. I have had to say that if he was sent and certified he would get no money.
This Bill will cover many of those cases. I recently received a set of papers about a man in my constituency who last worked underground in 1928. He left the mines and worked in London and elsewhere. In 1948 he was examined by the medical board, 20 years after leaving the mine. I asked him why it was that he took such a long time before he applied to the board. He replied that he was completely outside the scheme. When I asked why he thought that he was inside the scheme now, he stated that during the war he worked for a short time in a quarry for one of the Ministries and that he made application on those grounds.
He succeeded in going before the board which certified him as totally disabled through silicosis. Obviously, that disease was contracted in the mines 20 years or more before. Until recently I have had to tell men that, though they might be certified as totally disabled, they would get no payment, but I made the additional statement that my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West, had introduced a Bill last July. I am very grateful to the present Minister for so speedily bringing this Bill before the House for Second Reading. Judging from the sympathetic note in his speech today we can certainly look forward to getting some alleviation anyhow for the partially disabled.
I cannot guess what the figure is. Neither can anybody else, because many who knew they were outside the scheme made no effort at all to go to the medical board, and they are resident in other parts of the country by now. It is not, however, an impossible task—I agree with the hon. Member for Somerset, North—to ascertain approximately the number concerned. My right hon. Friend is right. If all were to make application to the medical board at the same time the board would be snowed under, as they were a few years ago. The Minister certainly can set the machine going in order to ascertain approximately how many of these men would desire to apply to the medical board. All cases since 1948 are covered. It is those who left the mining industry prior to that date, and who were outside the five year rule, who will come in.
1354 I do not want to prolong my speech, because I know there are several others who want to make a contribution to the debate, but I would point out that there are workers in the ancillary industries attached to the mining industry who also are working in clouds of dust and who, up to now, have been outside the pneumoconiosis scheme. I know that my right hon. Friend has taken much interest in these men. I know that the National Union of Mineworkers is interested in them, as is also the Trades Union Congress, and I hope that every Member of this House will also be interested in them, in order that those in the ancillary industries situate near the collieries, situate 30 or 40 or 50 miles from the collieries—where they make patent fuel, and are working in coal dust—can be covered by the scheme. If certified to be suffering from these diseases they cannot be sent to the medical board, or, if they are, the board will say that their industry is not covered at all by these schemes, as they relate to the mining industry.
I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will make a special note of these points so that we can go forward as speedily as possible to mete out the justice which these men deserve. They are the producers of wealth, and without them the prosperity of this country—and of every other country—would fail. In thinking of them, I am thinking also of productive workers in all countries, many of whom have been shabbily treated, I would say, until recent years. Sufficient tribute has not been paid to those valiant workers—the miners—such as should have been paid to them, but now we realise their real worth to the nation.
I know that I am only repeating myself when I say that this Bill will be warmly welcomed by those who up to now have not been able to get any compensation at all for the reason that they were completely outside of the three-year and the five-year rule. This Bill will certainly help. There are many men who left the mining industry years ago because of slight chest defects. If I were told by my doctor, "Mr. Thomas, you have a residue of dust on your lung," and although it were slight, if the medical board could not give me a certificate of disablement I should leave the pit. I have given advice in that sense to many. 1355 I pay tribute to the ex-Minister of Fuel and Power, the N.C.B. and the N.U.M. for the changes made in recent years in their efforts to suppress dust in the mines.
I am not one of those who think that we have solved this grave problem of pneumoconiosis. We shall never make the conditions at collieries anything like those which obtain at factories. Let any one who thinks otherwise go underground at any time and use the eletric lamp, and it will show him that in the best of pits dust is always lurking in the atmosphere. Men have to work all day long in it. However, efforts are now being made to overcome these problems. Let us hope that they will meet with the success they deserve. Let us never forget those who work in the mines, who toil throughout the whole of their shifts and risk dangers even apart from the dangers of industrial diseases. It is the duty of the Government to do and to continue to do everything possible to alleviate distress in all cases where it arises.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
I welcome this Bill, and, perhaps, even more I welcome the statement of the Minister that he will keep an open mind about the possibility of the extension of the services provided under it. I do not minimise the present difficulties for a moment, but we have, as has been already stated today, a very valuable research department near Cardiff, the Medical Research Council Laboratories, where Drs. Fletcher and Hugh-Jones and others are working very hard and I hope that, as a result of their work, they may find, by X-rays or other means, that it is possible to recognise this disease, not only in its early stages, as now, but in the condition in which it is impossible to arrest it, and in which it is bound to extend and progress. I think that if this can be determined with accuracy it should be a reasonable basis for compensation. At any rate, as I see it, the extension of the possibility of doing justice to these men is to be looked for in the direction of the work of the Medical Research Council.
I wish to detain the House for a few minutes today for two reasons. First, because, as a doctor, I have seen the sufferers from this disease. Except, perhaps, for those who were suffering from the after effects of gas poisoning in the First World 1356 War they are the most distressing cases I have ever met with. It is not only the shortness of breath, but it is the asthmatic attacks they get—attacks of tightness of the chest and coughing and difficulty of breathing which may come on when the men are exposed, to very slight changes of temperature or to a little smoke. The condition of these unfortunate people is very sad indeed, and although I know we cannot relieve them by financial payments we certainly ought to do all in our power for them.
The other reason why I venture to detain the House is because in the constituency which I have the honour to represent there is a very large asbestos factory. I have been in this factory at different times, and I know that today everything possible is being done to prevent asbestosis, as it is called, a disease which is now realised to be identical with silicosis and pneumoconiosis. At present, infinite trouble is being taken to protect the workers, and it is being done exceedingly well in this factory. Indeed, half the cost of the factory, and, I believe, half the power of the machinery, is expended in fans and other means for purifying the air.
But this is the present. In the past things were, unfortunately, very dfferent through no fault of anyone, but simply through lack of knowledge of the dangers of this and similar industries, and so, in my constituency, there are people who are now suffering from the late effects of this asbestosis, even though they left the industry many years ago.
This brings me to the point that this condition may result from dust to which the individual was exposed many years previously. It is another example of the fact that whilst everything must have a cause, the cause may be remote as well as immediate. Psychologists tell us that anti-social behaviour in middle life may result from deprivation of affection in the first two years, and I from my own experience know that people who worked with me with X-rays many years ago have developed X-ray cancer perhaps 10, 20 or even 30 years later. So is the case with pneumoconiosis. The results of exposure to dust may only become apparent many years afterwards.
This arises, I think, from two causes. First, from the natural history of the 1357 disease, which in its early stages produces no symptoms and can only be accurately recognised by X-rays. If the individual is removed from the dusty atmosphere at this stage the disease may cease to develop, and if he takes on another job, no further trouble may occur. But that does not always happen even if he is removed from the danger, because, as is well known, the disease goes on to the second stage of progressive massive fibrosis, by which the lung is gradually replaced by fibrous tissue, or this is probably due not only to the dust, but also to infection by, possibly, tubercule baccilli.
The point I want to emphasise is that while the removal of an individual from the danger generally results in the disease becoming quiescent it sometimes slowly progresses and only causes serious symptoms many years after the man has almost forgotten that he was ever employed in the industry. There is another reason for the delay. Some of us are only wise after the event, and all of us are rather slow to realise facts. The miner or other person concerned may appreciate that if he leaves the industry and tries to get other work he may find it very difficult, and he may prefer to remain in the industry for longer than he should if he really considered his own interest.
For those two reasons we find that in many cases the disease has a latent period and that there are few or no symptons between the time that the individual leaves the industry and the time in which the serious symptoms develop. Now, at last, we are hoping to do something for the worst of these cases, and, therefore, I warmly welcome the Bill.
Before I sit down I want to raise a point with the Minister. Clause 1 says benefit will be given:to persons who, having been employed in Great Britain before the fifth day of July, nineteen hundred and forty-eight in any occupation, being a prescribed occupation in relation to a disease to which this Act applies …but the Bill makes no suggestion as to how long they need have been employed before being eligible for benefit. I am wondering whether that is quite equitable and just.
To take an example, perhaps a miner had been employed in a mine in South 1358 Wales for a few months 20 or 30 years ago, and decided, because of the appalling conditions in the industry at that time, to have no more of it and to go, for instance, to Kimberley where he got work in a diamond mine in a supervisory capacity. Having done that, he then develops pneumoconiosis, as many do, and comes back to this country. Can the Minister say whether such a man would or would not be eligible for the benefits under this Bill?
I look upon this Measure as a very good effort and as a first step towards giving justice to the sufferers from this dread disease.
§ 1.59 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Droylsden)
I am rather glad that I have succeeded in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on my return to this honourable House, on a subject which is so important to many workers in this country. I wish to add my tribute to those already paid in regard to the beneficial effects which the provisions of this Bill will have upon the conditions of the miners and the mining communities. I know from my experience in my early days of the tremendous effects that these diseases had, not only upon the lives of individuals, but upon those of their families, and indeed upon the communities in which they were working and living.
I do not propose to develop any further arguments with regard to the miners, except to say that I am very glad to have been able to listen to the excellent speeches in this House by representatives of miners, and I am glad to know that they are fairly satisfied with the provisions of the Bill. But I feel constrained to speak this afternoon to satisfy myself that the provisions of the Bill apply also to slate quarry men and to workers in the sett quarries. I do that because I feel quite certain that if my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts), who unfortunately is too ill to attend, had been here, he would have wished to satisfy himself about these provisions.
I have very vivid recollections of my early days in the quarry areas of North Wales, round Llanberis in particular, where thousands of quarry men were employed. I remember the dreadful effect which silicosis had on the workers in 1359 that area, workers from my own as well as other families. I should not like to be too dogmatic about this, but possibly the incidence of tuberculosis has been higher in the Gwyrfai district of North Wales than in any other district in England, Scotland or Wales. I imagine that if the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) had been in his place today, he would have been the first to testify to the accuracy of my statement because he was chairman of a special Commission in the 1930's which examined the incidence of tuberculosis in Gwyrfai and in Wales generally.
I shall be very pleased if the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary is able to give me an assurance that the provisions of this Bill will apply to the workers in the slate and sett quarries in North Wales. As one who was born and bred in that area, I am very pleased to note the tremendous research in recent years into the elimination of dust in the slate quarries. In my early days the scourge was devastating. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) will agree that slate dust is specially harmful. A tremendous amount of slate dust was inhaled by ordinary quarry workers in my early days. I am sure that tremendous strides have been made towards eliminating dust, but I also understand that it is possible to do a good deal more and that the resources of science are such that if they were applied in certain ways in these quarries, the result would be still more effective than it is at present.
I ask the forgiveness of hon. and right hon. Members for having detained them longer than I intended. My own constituency is not directly affected by this Bill, but having spent my early life in quarry areas, I felt an obligation upon me to ensure that these men, many of whom have left the quarries now, will come within the ambit of this Bill, including the partially disabled. I am glad to have had the opportunity to make this small contribution on behalf of these fine men in the industry.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
All of us have listened with fascination and interest to the short speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Droylsden (Mr. W. R. Williams), and we 1360 fully understand his point of view. This subject has had an interest for me for many years, partly because my constituency is the very centre of the greatest aggregation of pottery workers in the world and partly because it contains very many miners. As I am medical officer to the North Staffordshire miners and to the pottery workers of Great Britain, I have had to make it my business to learn something about this subject.
I first came across it when I was asked to represent pottery workers at a meeting in North Staffordshire in 1928, when, I remember, to my dismay medical opinion was brought by employers to say there was no such thing as silicosis among pottery workers. That astonished me at the time, for I knew that at the very beginning of the 18th century a patent had been taken out by one pottery manufacturer to grind flint under water. The preamble to his patent, when he prayed that it might be granted, was to the effect that it was out of recognition of the sad fate of those who lived such a short and pitiful time when they were exposed to the inhalation of flint dust through grinding it dry, and it stated that their average expectation of life was less than three years when engaged in that occupation.
We are dealing today with what is actually the oldest known occupational disease in the world, whether we go back to the Cromagnon man or to the man of the Stone Age. Wherever flint weapons were manufactured in a closed space by those who specialised in their manufacture and did nothing else, those people had silicosis within a few years. I remember in my own small researches finding that Hippocrates gave a very accurate description of silicosis and that later Vesalius described it among the tin workers of the Carpathians.
I am very glad that speakers in this debate have pointed out that this is not only a problem for miners. In fact, the definition in the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946, Section 57 (3) reads:In this section the expression pneumoconiosis means fibrosis of the lungs due to silica dust, asbestos dust or other dust, and includes the condition of the lungs known as dust-reticulation.The words "other dust" makes me say at once that I am sorry that this Bill is essentially so limited, not that limitation 1361 lies in the Bill itself but in the fact that we have so narrowly drawn the prescribed process which allows men, whether they suffer or not, to apply for compensation. All of us know that even pattern-makers who have inhaled sawdust for some years suffer from pneumoconiosis. We know that foundry workers have been found to suffer from it; and many of us who are interested in these matters have had many men brought before us who, it was agreed, suffered from the disease but who, because they were not employed in the prescribed process, could have no redress.
The Parliamentary Secretary must expect from some of us constant pressure until the whole of this subject is simplified. Once I was so bold as to say to the House that I did not think pneumoconiosis was ever sustained through a man being kissed by his sweetheart. It is caused by the replacement of the elastic tissue by fibrous tissue. When flint dust is inhaled, it remains trapped in the lungs and in some cases one can have a rocky deposit the size of a fist.
There should be no single case of pneumoconiosis that should not have the right to claim compensation. I have had 25 or 26 years' experience in the intimate handling of this disease, and in attending and performing hundreds of post-mortem examinations. I must have examined 2,000 or 3,000 cases. I cannot see that there are such great difficulties as are sometimes suggested in the advice offered to Government Departments. I say that with some diffidence and respect, but that is my opinion.
May I say how happy I am to see the Bill receiving a Second Reading? It is no secret that some of us have agitated for years about this, reasoning that it was unjust and unfair. Today the Minister told us that in his view, and on the advice given to him, the majority of the cases would be confined to people who left the scheduled or prescribed industries before any Acts came into force. This I heard with a little apprehension, for if they were totally incapacitated then, I should have thought that they would have been mostly dead by now.
If the Minister had in mind, or his advisers had in mind, that what is happening is that men who have left the industry partially incapacitated some years ago have now reached total incapacity through 1362 progression of the disease, then, indeed, he may be, in part at least, correct. Our advice in North Staffordshire is that the immediate cases that the Minister will find coming before him and asking for compensation, and receiving it, will be those who have been denied it because of some fault of which we were guilty of ourselves in this House in 1946.
In 1946, you will remember, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, we had an amending scheme which was associated with extending the five-year limit. In that 1946 amending scheme by some incomprehensible mistake, we were referring to the 1943 Pneumoconiosis Act, and in that scheme of 1946 we forgot to mention the word "pneumoconiosis." As a result, we shut out nearly all the miners who would have benefited through the extension of the five years, because they were doing war work. We find that the majority of our cases are due to that mistake and we must all collectively accept that we were guilty in allowing it to go through like that.
Today we are putting that right, and that is a very good thing indeed. While the intervening years have rolled by, sad cases of injustice have occurred and, unfortunately, too many of the cases have taken their complaint away with them where their voices are stilled for ever. That is all the more reason why I am so happy that the Minister has not waited before bringing forward this Bill for its Second Reading.
Of course, all of us are influenced by our environment and the things that we are interested in: our life's work and the things that come to our notice, and this particular matter has been a grievance which has to me seemed an unfortunate one, and one which should have been remedied some time ago. May I offer my compliments to the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), for his persistence in pursuing this matter? I know that he will accept from me that I believe his original Bill was a bad Bill, but that does not matter; it was very helpful, none the less, and I will leave it at that.
We have heard a good deal about the question of the difficulty of diagnosis, and, indeed, that is true. It is true that we do not yet know as much as we would like to know about the disease itself and the way it behaves. Many of us believe 1363 that the reason some people get the disease and others do not is because there are obvious differences in the persons themselves, and there may be an infective element which precipitates the fibrosis present in some cases which is not present in others.
I remember seeing at the headquarters of the Silicosis Board at Stoke-on-Trent X-ray photographs of two potters who worked for nearly 40 years side by side on the same bench, doing the same work all their working life. One had third stage silicosis, which meant the most advanced possible stage of massive silicosis in both lungs, and the other had nothing the matter with him at all. They had never been separated by more than a yard while they were at work. I have seen other cases where men have left the industry apparently quite clear of disease according to the X-ray evidence, and three or four years later have had advanced silicosis, although they had no longer been exposed to any inhalation of a noxious kind.
Therefore, it is right that we should be chary and very cautious in our estimates of how many cases may or may not fall to us to handle. Where numbers are concerned, I still adhere to my original view, which, I admit, is partly guesswork, that I do not think that, so far as total incapacity is concerned, there are 5,000 cases available in the country. If we take partial incapacity as five to one, there are fewer than 30,000, or not more than 30,000 if we include all the partial cases.
I should be very surprised—and I think that the Minister's advisers will agree with me—if the total number of cases—and they will not all rush in on the same day to the Pneumoconiosis Board—envisaged under this Bill were not between 20,000 and 30,000, including partials, and in a few years many will not come under this Bill at all, because they will have gone. Therefore, when the Minister is making up his mind on the next step which he mentioned—
§ Dr. Stross
I entirely accept that suggestion. Some that are partial, if there is an infective element and the fibrosis is progressive, will rightly come forward and say, "I am now totally disabled and my condition has worsened."
I hope that the Minister will agree with our estimation of what is total incapacity, and continue, as it is now interpreted by the Pneumoconiosis Board, and it should be a liberal interpretation, with the same care, discretion and understanding. For example, I remember when I was a young man in the potteries, seeing potters, as skilled men as any in the world, being half-carried to work in the early mornings. They had a colleague on each side of them supporting them as they shuffled their way to work, unable to walk of their own accord. They were unable even to lie down, and, towards the end, they spent their nights sitting in chairs, because that was the only position in which they could breathe.
They were taken to work because economic circumstances forced them to work, and because their life was a misery and they were a little happier at work. Once they got to work and sat in their chairs, with their pelvis and chest fixed and only their arms working, in the hot atmosphere of the rooms of the factories to which they were accustomed, their life was happier for those few hours than it would have been if they had stayed at home. The Pneumoconiosis Board are humane in their attitude, and I am sure that the Minister will keep his eye on them and see that there is never any change for the worse.
May I stress once again before leaving this point that sometimes the workers accuse the Pneumoconiosis Board of making mistakes. I have a typical case sent to me a few days ago, actually on 16th October, of a man, aged 56, who had been a potter, a china turner all his life, and he was examined by the Pneumoconiosis Board in 1945 and again in 1946. In both cases there was no evidence of pneumoconiosis. When he died a month ago, a postmortem examination was held and on the death certificate it was stated that death was due to pneumoconiosis. What is not understood is the method of the progress of the disease. It is true that there was 1365 no evidence radiologically five or six years ago, but what has happened is that in the five or six years there has been massive infiltration, although he was not at work.
That sort of thing has happened again and again, and I hope the public will not blame the Pneumoconiosis Board for what they call their mistakes. I do not think they make mistakes. They are the most skillful diagnosticians of this particular disease that we have in the country, and when I find cases brought to my notice where the Royal Infirmary, or the City General Hospital and the tuberculosis officer all diagnose pneumoconiosis and yet the Board rejects the claim, I always remember that no one knows more about the reading of films and the technique of making diagnoses than do the Pneumoconiosis Board.
I am only sorry that the suggestion I made some years ago has not been carried out, that there should be meetings and conferences between tuberuclosis officers, physicians and radiologists in each area with the Pneumoconiosis Board so that they can always have the same attitude towards the same thing. If they do not meet and discuss these matters frequently, then I do not think they ever can have the same attitude, and the same approach. Differences of opinion and confusion will arise in the minds of the public generally.
I should like shortly to criticise the Bill. First, I agree with those who said it would be a good and proper thing if partial incapacity were accepted under this Bill. It is not, but the right hon. Gentleman has given us his promise that he is in consultation with the T.U.C. and the mineworkers. No doubt, when they have made up their mind on the subject he will not be slow in coming to us again with further suggestions.
There is another small point which is interesting. In Clause 2 (1, e) there is a definition, which says that the scheme shall not apply to a workman… otherwise than as a workman within the meaning of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925.There may be a few people who have been working underground in the mining industry, but who were earning more than £540 a year and who have had to retire from their underground jobs because of silicosis or pneumoconiosis. It seems a 1366 little unfair that these few people—there may not be 20 and certainly not more than 50 in the country at the moment—should be dismissed simply because they were over the amount and do not come within this definition. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary, when replying to the debate, would take up this point. I do not think it would be expensive, and it could easily be introduced, so that those who think they have or may have pneumoconiosis can be brought within the Bill even if they were not workmen according to the definition.
Lastly, I welcome this Bill and I am most grateful for it. I feel that I shall always sleep better because of it. In welcoming it, may I urge on the Minister to bear in mind that piecemeal legislation of this type is no longer necessary. If he will conduct a survey and gain all the information which he possibly can from all over the country, he will find that the estimate of the cost of dealing with pneumoconiosis and the compensation for it is reasonable. I do not think it would be as terrifying a problem as some people think. If that could be done, it would take a reproach from society.
My last word is that I agree with everything that has been said about prevention. It is true that we know no cure for this disease. In North Staffordshire, as in other parts of the country, we have our own units where the victims of this disease, whether miners or potters, are cared for and looked after. I note that they are living much longer now than in the old days. Their expectation of life is longer, partly because when they feel ill with pneumonia, it is no longer fatal, as they are treated with antibiotics. In the olden days they nearly always died of pneumonia, because there was so little lung tissue left. Now the expectation of life is increasing, and there is the assurance that a person suffering from it will be given the utmost care and he will have many years of life without excessive discomfort.
But prevention is obviously the ideal way out, and we have not reached anything like the limit of our preventive measures in the different industries. I have in mind all the industries where the hazards lie. Although I expect coal-mining is never going to be palatial or clean, it can be made much better than it is now. It will always be dusty and 1367 dirty to a certain extent, but by and large we can get rid of this disease in the proper way, which is by prevention. I am glad that hon. Members on all sides of the House really understand what this disease means, and how people in the past have suffered from it. Some people still suffer, and we are determined to help them in every possible way.
§ 2.27 p.m.
§ Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)
I shall not detain the House very long because many of my hon. Friends who are well qualified to speak on this subject have put most of the points that can be put on this Bill.
In welcoming the Bill, I have in mind not only the men who have suffered from these diseases, but also the women. I am thinking of the mothers and wives of the men who have suffered, because I can think of few fates worse than to see either husband or son dying in great pain and discomfort from these horrible diseases. Anyone who, like myself, has grown up in South Wales and knows something of the valleys, knows that the women have had a terrible burden to bear. In so far as there is any solace in financial compensation, then I welcome this Bill.
I hope very much that when the Bill is passed—I trust that it will go through rapidly, because there seems to be general agreement upon it—everything will be done to make sure that the clearest possible information on its range and scope is made available to the medical profession throughout the country. We are in the Bill dealing with persons who have left the industry in which the disease was contracted. Often they left it many years, indeed, so long ago that when they did the very word "pneumoconiosis" was not in current medical use.
We are very much afraid that there may be some areas of the country which are not mining areas where people will be on the look out for the disease, and naturally both the sufferers and their medical advisers will be considering whether or not they are eligible for compensation under this Bill. I can well suppose that there may be other areas which have not mining or quarrying communities, yet where there may be individuals, perhaps very few, for whom this condition of the lungs is none the less distressing. They may be eligible under the Bill. It is most 1368 essential that their medical advisers should have the point brought very strongly to their attention that they should look at these people again.
In my area we had a number of small coalmines which were closed down some years ago. I am happy to say that in the North Wales coalfield the incidence of pneumoconiosis is by no means as high as in South Wales. It is very important that in areas where diseases occur which are scheduled under the Bill, the medical profession should be strongly advised to look at all the possible cases.
That brings me to another point. Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I wish that the partially disabled could have been brought within the scope of the Bill, but I recognise that, among other possible difficulties, one might cause a good deal of heartburn among the people concerned because of the difficulty of diagnosis. The Bill covers only particular groups of occupations which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) said, might very well be extended.
There is one direction in which the scope of a future Bill might be extended. The Bill we are discussing covers only people whose lungs are affected definitely by material particles of dust. I have had a number of distressing cases in which the dust had not been traced, although it might be traced later on. We have these cases of emphysema—miners' emphysema—in which, for the man himself, the condition does not seem to be very different from pneumoconiosis. I have looked up the definition of emphysema in the library and it is:The chief symptom is shortness of breathing, more or less constant, but greatly aggravated by exertion. In severe forms of the disease the patient comes to acquire a peculiar bluish and bloated appearance.A man suffering from that may not be covered by the Bill, because the actual dust in his lungs has not been traced, and it might not be there.
While I say that partial disablement should be covered by future legislation, we must be very careful how it is handled. I hope, in particular, that we shall urge the medical profession to avoid what my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, has referred to, the use of the word "pneumoconiosis." That 1369 can cause great individual distress. A man may be incapacitated for work for the rest of his life but he does not happen to comply with the requirements of the Industrial Injuries Act or of this Bill. He cannot work, any more than can the man who has pneumoconiosis. If we arouse in him and in his family the idea that he has the dust-ridden form of lung disease which makes him liable for this additional benefit, and then it is proved, at any rate for the time being, that there is no dust to be found, he is thrown back into the double despair of knowing that he is in future industrially useless and of realising that there is none of this extra help for him. I hope that this point will be borne in mind by those who are in charge of this matter.
This has been a very long story, and we have not reached the last chapter yet. I am not a miner or even the daughter of a miner, but I want to pay my tribute to hon. Members in this House, now and long before this, who have struggled with this problem, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), for example They have put up a very fine fight in this matter. This little Bill must be an encouragement to Dr. Fletcher and his friends, whom many of us have talked to, in making them feel that this House has not forgotten them. We hope that we shall hear more about this matter in the not-too-distant future.
§ 2.35 p.m.
The Reverend Llywelyn Williams (Abertillery)
I cannot but feel the contrast between the practical atmosphere of our deliberations today and the hurly-burly of the earlier part of this week. The contributions to today's deliberations will bring much more gladness and happiness into the lives of people than the controversies of the early part of the week. Before I entered this House I was a minister of religion. Some hon. Members might think that that would be a disqualification for entering this important place, but I believe that in a very real sense it was a very valuable qualification.
I spent the larger part of my ministerial life among the quarrymen of North Wales and the miners of South Wales. When in a few minutes I express what I have in mind, I shall be showing what has been borne in upon me by personal experience about the terrible tragedy of pneumoco- 1370 niosis; both in the households of the quarrymen of North Wales and in the homes of the miners of South Wales.
We have listened to hon. Members approaching this problem each from his particular standpoint. We have had some very useful historical reviews of the fight throughout the years for greater recognition of this terrible disease and for better compensation for those who suffer from it. We have also listened with interest to medical authorities contributing from their store of medical information, about the possibility of a cure or a remedy one day for this disease My words I would like to frame in the context of what is called the human angle.
My job took me to the homes of the people. I have sat for many years in the kitchens of quarrymen and miners listening to them trying to tell me—in some cases it was a case of trying—about their lives and about the tragedy which had come upon them slowly but surely from this terrible disease, pneumoconiosis. Later—and I would not have this understood in sentimental terms—I have followed the coffins of these people and have performed the last rites at their funerals. Many of them have had relatives.
One of the most terrible things I have ever heard in my life was a remark which has haunted me more than any other. It was made by a miner in Tonypandy, in the Rhondda Valley, when I was a young student preacher. He was evidently suffering as a victim of pneumoconiosis. He spoke to his wife, who was in the kitchen preparing a meal, and this is what he said, "Maggie, when I am dead, the company"—he named a colliery company, but there is no point in mentioning the name now—"will be after you." She said, "Why?" He said, "Because my inside will be a lump of coal and they will be claiming it as their property." As a young man, hearing that from a person who was obviously slowly dying, I was compelled immediately to think of drastic remedies for a drastic situation.
I shall return from this Chamber to my division where, for once, I shall be able to give some comfort to people to whom the provisions of the Bill will mean a tremendous amount. There are people there who should have benefited years ago and will now benefit in the very near future, we hope, by these provisions. I am glad that both sides of the House 1371 have accepted the Bill so warm-heartedly and sincerely.
I re-echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) in an excellent speech. The mining industry will never be an attractive industry—surely we are honest enough to know that it will never be attractive in the way that many other industries can be attractive—but this is one way of proving to the young people in the valleys of South Wales—the disease seems to have specialised in South Wales more than in any other region in Britain—that neither party in the House of Commons is unaware of the suffering of the past and that both parties are determined to do all that is humanly and economically possible to prevent that suffering. In that respect, the Bill will be a great contribution to the full development of our nation.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Horace E. Holmes (Hemsworth)
I want to express the voice of Yorkshire in welcoming the Bill. I am sure that the Minister, with his background in the mining industry, will know something of my feelings on this subject. On 2nd January, 1902—nearly 50 years ago—I went into the coal mines. I have experienced 50 years of the history of the industry, and I have seen the slow progress which has been made in this direction.
My reason for rising is to pin-point the importance of prevention. No Bill has been received more warmly than this one, but if someone had risen this afternoon and said, "We are coming forward with something which is eradicating pneumoconiosis," we should have been far happier. I hope that the Minister in his sphere, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power in his, will provide every incentive possible to the mining industry, the geologists and the medical experts to do all they possibly can with preventive methods.
Shortly before I came to the House of Commons, I was asked, as a trade union leader, to go to a colliery to settle a dispute which had arisen about excessive dust. I went to the colliery and heard what the men had to say. We went into the colliery office. One of the local men on the deputation carefully drew from his pocket what I thought 1372 was a newspaper. He opened two sheets of newspaper and on each could be seen a fairly good gathering of dust. He told the meeting, "The first sheet of newspaper was laid on the floor for 10 minutes at the end of a 240 yd. face and that amount of dust was collected. The second sheet was laid on the floor just past the ripping edge when the borers had been at work and this accumulation of dust gathered in five minutes. We are living in this element of dust."
I hope that every possible preventive measure will be used, because I shall not be happy until someone can say that the "epidemics" that we know—pneumoconiosis, silicosis, and byssinosis—can be eradicated just as medical science eradicated the epidemics of a few years ago. The House and the nation at large want to alleviate this human suffering. I am proud to have been in the House to hear the Bill introduced, and I hope it will have a speedy passage. It will bring pleasure, joy and some sense of satisfaction to the people of Yorkshire. It has been slow in coming, but it has now arrived. Nevertheless, there is more to be done yet.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)
In joining in the general unison of approval for this admirable Bill, I want to say a word or two on behalf of the shale oil miners who are confined, in this country, to my own constituency and the neighbouring area of Midlothian. I hope that we may have an assurance that the Bill will cover those workers. Although the workers are not affected by these severe and dread diseases to the same extent as coal miners, they are, nevertheless, affected to some extent, and many of the men coming into the industry come from the neighbouring coal mines where they may have contracted the beginnings of the disease years before.
The industry has had a chequered career. At the moment it is of some economic importance to the country, as it has always been. It would be a very great encouragement to the workers to know that they are covered by the Bill in exactly the same way as all other underground workers. I should also be grateful for an assurance from the Minister in regard to workers in the brick making industry, of whom there are a fairly large number in my constituency.
1373 With those two points, I again express our deep and heartfelt gratification and joy that this extra piece of overdue legislation is being added to the continuous procession of increasingly beneficial legislation which has been passed in an attempt to deal with these awful diseases.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
I welcome the Bill on behalf of those in my constituency who are engaged in mining and other occupations which brings workers into contact with dust. Unfortunately a number of my constituents suffer from the dread diseases covered by the Bill. I want to plead with the Minister that between now and the Committee stage he will see if it is possible to antedate the benefits of the Bill for a period of, say, three years. I have a number of constituents whose husbands died from the disease, and they are excluded from the benefits of the Bill. I appreciate that in a Measure of this kind a line has to be drawn somewhere, and I welcome the Bill even though the concession for which I ask cannot be granted, but it would be a very generous move, which would find support in all parts of the House, if the Minister would undertake to see if it is possible to do something for the dependants of men who have died from the industrial diseases covered by the Bill.
I want to add my voice to the voices of my hon. Friends who have pleaded that everything that can be done should be done in an attempt to find means of eradicating pneumoconiosis from our pits and industrial processes, to build up preventive medicine so that, when the disease is detected, men can have access to the best possible medical attention and, by the use of mass radiography, to discover people who are peculiarly susceptible to pneumoconiosis and similar diseases.
I have no medical knowledge whatever, but I remember attending a conference with my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) when the point was made that there are considerable numbers of people who are very liable to pneumoconiosis and who really ought never to engage in any occupation which brings them into contact with dust. This seems to me to be a practical step which, I am sure the Minister must have constantly in mind.
1374 What I have said is in no way a criticism of the Bill. I welcome the Bill. It is a great step forward, and I shall be pleased if the Minister will see whether the proposal I have made is practical. If so, he will, I am sure, have the backing of both sides of the House.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I hope the House will permit me to intervene in this debate. I do this because it deals with part of a problem the whole of which I examined very carefully when it was my very great privilege to bring the Industrial Injuries Act into operation on 5th July, 1948. I should like, first, to congratulate both the right hon. Gentleman the Minister and the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary upon the occupancy—I believe, the temporary occupancy—of a Ministry in which I spent four very happy and profitable years.
The Industrial Injuries Act was in many ways the most revolutionary of all the social insurance Measures which were brought into operation in 1948, for it marked a very fundamental departure from the old system, upon which the responsibility for payment of compensation was placed entirely upon the employers; and we converted it into a social insurance scheme. I believe we were the first country to do that. I am not now as familiar as I was with what is happening in this field all over the world, but I am inclined to think that we are still the only country that has made this very great change of removing it from being the responsibility of industry into being a responsibility of society and of the nation as a whole.
The reason why I welcome that change—as, indeed, did the Minister—was that I knew perfectly well that in the industry, with which both of us have been connected for very many years, compensation was one of the causes which created bitterness, which, I am afraid, still remains. We know what happened. A workman might receive an injury. The employer was often covered by an insurance company—in the latter years, some kind of mutual insurance society which they formed themselves—and cases went to court. They were harried by doctors specially employed for the purpose. The whole thing was poisonous, and I thought, and I still think—and I 1375 believe everybody will agree with the view now—that to remove this responsibility from the ambit of industry and, possibly, of industrial conflict, and to make it a national service, was a contribution to good industrial relations.
What I should like to have done—the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will know this, for all the files are in their Department—on 5th July, 1948, was to have brought within the scope and ambit of the Industrial Injuries Act all the old cases from before that date. We know from bitter experience that one of the most difficult things we have all had to meet, both in the House and outside, in our constituencies, whenever any improved Workmen's Compensation Act came into operation, was the anomaly of the man who was left outside.
I gave a good deal of time and thought to the problem of whether it was possible, and in what way it would be practicable, to bring all the old cases within the scope of the Industrial Injuries Act. The officers in the Department, to whom I pay a very sincere tribute, worked very hard on it. I consulted employers and with the T.U.C. I had long consultations with my own trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers, and eventually, to the regret of all of us—certainly, to my very sincere regret and that of the Department, the T.U.C. and everybody else concerned—we had to give it up.
I took the view, as the right hon. Gentleman has taken today, that we were beginning the new scheme from scratch. On 5th July, 1948, there was not a penny in the funds. The first week's contributions were the first funds that we had. Therefore, we could not have taken over the liability, which was an X liability. It was impossible to seek to arrive at any kind of sound actuarial estimate as to what the cost would be of bringing all the old cases into the scheme. Therefore we had to have discussions with the employers. The practice had grown up by which employers themselves covered this liability from year to year, and it would have meant that they would have had to pay to the funds very large sums in commutation.
That is how we tried to work out what would be the cost of taking over the old cases upon the fund. In taking them over, therefore, we should have been 1376 taking away a liability, which beforehand had been the liability of the employer, by trying to find out as best we could by commutation what lump sum the employers would have to pay to the fund in consideration of its taking over the liability.
It was very difficult to arrive at a figure. We made guesses. It was equally clear that the major employers in the heavy industries could not have met the bill. The result was that, much to my regret, we had to give up the idea. Had it been possible, there would in a sense have been no need for the Bill today, because all the old cases would have been brought in.
What we are doing—let us be frank; I do not complain, but we ought to know it—is to provide £250,000 a year from the funds of the Industrial Injuries Act to meet a liability which is not the liability of the Fund nor of the nation, but is the liability of the employers. Had the old Acts before 1948 been what they should have been, the employers would have paid this money. Therefore, in this scheme, we are meeting liabilities which should have fallen upon those who owned the coal mines or who own the cotton mills. I do not object that it is costing, according to the estimate, £250,000.
I welcome the Bill. There are two points I want to raise, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will look at them, because they are of some importance. There is a very warm welcome amongst all of us to the Bill. None of us wants to use a North Country expression to go back to our constituency and in a couple of months' time, when the scheme is in operation, to have the experience of meeting ourselves coming back and finding somebody who is left outside the scheme.
I therefore ask the Minister to look at Clause 2 (2) of the Bill. If the point has already been raised, I can quite well raise it a second time. Clause 2 (2) provides that to qualify for benefit under the scheme. a worker must prove thathe has been employed for a period or periods amounting in the aggregate to not less than twenty years in an occupation being a prescribed occupation …I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at the 20 years' provision again.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Even if it applies only to byssinosis, I ask him to look at it again because this is one of the things about which the experts would quite honestly admit they do not know. This 20 years could only apply in any of the diseases if it were shown that it could not have been contracted in a shorter period and no expert will say that. I do not know so much about byssinosis as the other industrial diseases, although I was intimately concerned about it as a Minister, but if a man has contracted byssinosis within 20 years, why should he be denied compensation?
In these matters we are prompted to draw on our personal experience. I worked for 17 years in the pits and, as far as I know, I am not disabled by pneumoconiosis, but I have known people who have been disabled in five years and in fewer than five years. There is a personal factor about this and a lot we do not know. I am sure that this provision will shut out people from benefit who ought not to be shut out. We can discuss this apart from the old context; it is not a liability on an employer and we need not bother about that aspect of it. It is a liability on the Fund and I hope it will be looked into.
The second point, which certainly does refer to pneumoconiosis, is that this scheme will only apply to those who are certified to be totally disabled. I want to raise the question of total disability which I think is of some importance. Inevitably, in a scheme of this kind we are very much in the hands of the experts. The diagnosis is partly clinical, partly radiological, largely radiological. If the medical board says that from a clinical examination and an examination of the film a man is or is not totally disabled, we have to accept it. I wonder whether we could look again at the problem of total disability and whether the definition is too tight. I join in the tribute which has been paid to all the members of the medical boards.
Let us look at the history of this matter. After all, pneumoconiosis was only scheduled—or prescribed as we say now—in 1943, but it existed a long time before that. None of us has any right to be finally definite about this. Pneumoconiosis, which includes silicosis and 1378 that condition of the lung called reticulation, has been suffered from by men for generations. Yet it was not scheduled or prescribed and a man did not get compensation for suffering from it. We extended the definition first to silicosis and then to pneumoconiosis, which included silicosis and reticulation. I throw this out as a suggestion: I believe that within a measurable distance, three, five or ten years, we shall see further extension of the definition.
I believe we ought to consider it very carefully. I am glad that in the School of Medicine in Cardiff, as well as by Dr. Fletcher, examination is revealing already an arguable case—I put it no higher—for an extension of the definition of pneumoconiosis to include emphysema. If a man, suffering from emphysema, and a man, suffering from pneumoconiosis, were seen by us we would not know the difference as the symptoms are exactly the same and I think that eventually we shall have to consider the extension of the definition.
We have been told by the Minister about methods of making investigation, which I think ought to be made. In the meantime we ought to look again at the standard which the board sets itself. The board determines the standard of total disability and I hope that the question will be examined again by the medical board whether, particularly in the context of this Bill, the term, "total disablement" is not too narrowly drawn and might be widened. I agree with everything that has been said about partial disability and I am glad that that is to be looked at again.
I know all the difficulties and one difficulty in particular, to which I wish to make passing reference, is the fear that medical boards would be swamped. I understand and appreciate that difficulty but I do not believe that it is insurmountable, although I know of the difficulties of getting qualified men. We are short of doctors for every kind of work, including this.
The other day I had the privilege of visiting Central Africa, and I went to the silicosis clinic in the Copper Belt in Northern Rhodesia. Let me confess that it made me feel ashamed when I saw the provision made in Northern Rhodesia for those who worked in this 1379 field of examination and diagnosis, when I saw the magnificent building and equipment and the facilities for all the men, Africans and Europeans. I accept my share of responsibility, as I was a Minister myself, but I am bound to say that when I contrasted that magnificent building and equipment in the heart of Africa and Northern Rhodesia with the kind of places in which our own medical boards have to work, I felt ashamed.
I believe that the offices and the old houses and the rest in which the medical boards here work are really not worthy of the work they have to do, and I believe that to some extent the fear of the boards being swamped by work of this kind is due to the fact that they are working in very difficult conditions. If, when opportunity comes and the facilities are available, we can establish in several coalfields buildings and equipment equal to those I saw in Northern Rhodesia we can get over that difficulty.
I hope that everyone concerned with the Ministry of National Insurance, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Ministry of Labour will look very quickly into the effort we are making through the Grenfell factories to provide employment for disabled men. I have myself written to the Board of Trade this week on the subject. We set up a Committee presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), and I would pay a tribute to him for his work in this field. It was decided to set up 10 Grenfell factories as an experiment to see if by that means we could provide work for some of these people. I am afraid that the experiment is not turning out a success.
I visited, last Saturday, in my constituency, a village where one of these factories was established two and a half years ago. Only a half dozen are now working there and there have never been more than 72 employed in it although it was established to provide work for 200. I do not wish to go into the reasons for the present position. I have referred to them in a letter to the Board of Trade. But I ask that the scheme should be reviewed quickly as it is not turning out as we hoped.
Providing work for these men is of great importance. The worst thing that can happen to them is to be certified, 1380 prescribed, and, unable to work in the pits, to have to go on doing nothing for month after month and year after year. Their disease becomes a kind of psychological one as well as a physical one. Everyone who has studied this problem knows how important it is that we should seek to provide work for these men.
I agree with everything that has been said about prevention being best. That is what we ought to work at and what we are working at, but it is very difficult to know what success is being attained by all these present methods of water infusion and water spray. It will take perhaps five or 10 years before we can gauge the result because the men who are being certified today have been contracting silicosis over the years gone by, and it will take several years to find out whether we are now on the right lines.
Although I hesitate to do so, I venture to say that there is one problem about which we have no reply, and I am glad to notice that the Minister of Fuel and Power is here. Why should 90 per cent. of the cases be in South Wales? There are coalfields all over this country. What is there peculiar to the South Wales coalfield that produces silicosis? I do not know.
As a layman with some experience I have always sought to try to find out but so far we have had no answer. I attach enormous importance to the fine work that Dr. Fletcher and his team are doing. I would ask whether there is to be a published report of their work. Will there be the publication of an interim report? I think it would be very useful indeed—is there one already?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. R. H. Turton)
There is the report by Dr. Fletcher on the consequences and incidence of silicosis among miners.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I appreciate that. I was thinking for the moment of the other aspect of the work; the medical side, the examination side, the definition of the disease and its relationship to tuberculosis and all those problems; and whether there would be a report on that. It would be a great advantage for us to read that, and we might have a very profitable discussion about it in the House.
1381 It has always been my own view and I commit no one except myself, that, to a very large extent—I may be wrong because I am not an expert and only a layman—the increase in silicosis and pneumoconiosis is due to shot-firing combined with modern methods. It is the dust—not the dust that can be seen, but the dust that cannot be seen—which is present in the air when shot-firing takes place. Every shot which is fired discharges so much dust, no one knows how much into the atmosphere. In Africa in the coal mines and other mines they regard as one of the main contributions to reducing the incidence of silicosis the removal of shot-firing from the working shift to the off shift. There is provided in that way an opportunity after the shot-firing for the dust to clear from the atmosphere before the full working shift goes on.
I have always held that view and I know of the technical difficulties. But if it were possible to move more shot-firing on to the off shift it might be that that, combined with water diffusion and water spray might prove an important contribution towards the prevention of this disease.
We all welcome this Bill and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will pay attention to the point we have raised. I have been associated with the mining industry for many years and I have been right through the history of this thing; it goes back a long way. Hon. Members can find in the Library the report of a Commission appointed by the House to investigate the conditions in 1842. In almost every coalfield one meets with the disease which was called "Black spittle"; but whether it be pneumoconiosis, silicosis, reticulation, call it what we will, it is due to the dust. We once asked what kind of dust. We do not ask that now. We know it is any dust. Dust is the enemy.
I join in the welcome extended to the Bill and would express my personal regret that I found it impossible, as have my predecessors, to do what we should like to have done which was to deal with all the other cases. We are making provisions for men suffering from byssinosis and pneumoconiosis who were left out of the 1948 scheme. There are others who are suffering from this disease who have lost their claims under the 1382 old schemes and I would like to have brought them all in. It was found impossible but, nevertheless, I welome the Bill, which deals with one very important problem. I hope it will be given a speedy passage through the House and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary will look at the points we have raised and, if possible, provide means for amending the Measure.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. R. H. Turton)
What has become clear during the last few hours is that this question of dealing with the two diseases belatedly is no party matter. There is no party issue at all. We are all most anxious to see that these men who have waited so long have ample justice as soon as possible. In the long history of dealing with these social insurance cases, it has always happened that the parties have inherited Meaures one from the other. Today my right hon. Friend is inheriting this Measure from the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill). A little time ago the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) inherited the industrial injuries scheme from my right hon. Friend. We are all together in making progress.
We are rather apt to take all the credit to our own parties in this matter, but this Bill would have been impossible if it had not been for the long and hard service of the medical profession in making progress in the diagnosis of this disease and finding the causes of it. The reason this Bill could not have been introduced three, four or five years ago is that the medical profession had not then the knowledge which they have today of the diseases of pneumoconiosis and byssinosis.
I should like to pay my tribute to the work of the medical profession in general and, in particular, to the work of the Pneumoconiosis Research Unit under the able directorship of Dr. Fletcher. Perhaps at the same time I could deal with the last point mentioned by the right hon. Member for Llanelly, who asked whether there would be a further report by Dr. Fletcher on his work. If the right hon. Gentleman studies the Report published this year, he will find in it a substantial amount of information on the reasons for and the incidence of these diseases in 1383 South Wales. It is not for the Minister of National Insurance to ask Dr. Fletcher to produce another report. Dr. Fletcher comes under the Medical Research Council, and the question would be one for the Lord President of the Council. I am sure that the words used by the right hon. Gentleman will be brought to the attention of the Lord President of the Council.
It appears that most of the cases which we shall be helping by this Bill will be cases of men who left work in the mines as long ago as before the diseases were scheduled. I was very much struck by the state of affairs shown in the number of cases dealt with by the medical boards in the last 20 years. In 1931 fewer than 100 new cases of pneumoconiosis were certified. Here I am dealing with the figures for the mining industry only. By 1945 the figure had risen to 5,750. Today, dealing with cases of pneumoconiosis not only in the mining industry but in other industries, the figure of new cases boarded is over 7,000.
This is a factor which will weigh with hon. Members when they consider how far we can extend the provisions of this Bill. It also shows how many men in those early days left the mining industry without compensation who, if medical knowledge had been as great as it is today, would have received compensation. It will be our endeavour to consider all the constructive suggestions made during the debate. As my right hon. Friend said at the beginning, we are ready to consider whether we can improve this Bill in any way. That perhaps is one of the advantages of being a godparent rather than a parent. One is more anxious than ever to improve the child.
There are two criteria which must be applied in considering any amendment. First, we must remember that this is an extension of the Workmen's Compensation Acts, and, therefore, any improvement we make must conform with the provisions and Regulations of the Workmen's Compensation Acts. We cannot by this Measure attempt to amend the Workmen's Compensation Acts as a whole. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), asked that the definition of "workmen" in Clause 2 (1, e) should be reconsidered. That, I think, would be impossible for us to do 1384 under that head, because, after all, that is a part of the Workmen's Compensation Act, and we could not alter it for this Measure without dealing with the other Measures.
The second criterion we must always bear in mind is that any amendment must be administratively practicable. It is for that reason that, with great regret, we have come to the conclusion that at the present time it is quite impossible to include those who are partially disabled. My right hon. Friend has given in full the reasons for that decision, but there were questions put to me in the debate on that point, and therefore I should like to say a word or two about what is total disablement under the terms of this Bill, for it struck me from the speeches of one or two hon. Members that they were not fully aware of what we are trying to do by using these words "total disability" from the Workmen's Compensation Acts.
That is not the same thing as total disability under the Industrial Injuries Act. This condition under the Workmen's Compensation Act was defined by Lord Loreburn as:The man who has a physical defect which makes his labour unsaleable in any market reasonably accessible to him.That is the test, really, of employability. Under the Industrial Injuries Act, the test is one of loss of faculty, and I am instruced that many cases that would be 80 per cent. or 90 per cent. partial incapacity under the Industrial Injuries Act will be classed as total disability under the Workmen's Compensation Act. We are, therefore, using a wider definition.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Yes, but will the hon. Gentleman allow me to intervene? It is a very important point. I appreciate that very much, but under the old Workmen's Compensation Act the decision would be made by a county court. Who will make the decision under this scheme? The decision whether it was or was not total incapacity under the old Act was made by the judge and the court. Who will make it now?
§ Mr. Turton
The decision will be made by the Administrative Board under the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Act, 1951—the Board presided over by Mr. Paul Sandlands, and of which Sir Will Lawther, once our colleague in this House, is a member. If there is 1385 a medical question, they will refer the matter to the Medical Board, the silicosis medical board which we have at present.
§ Mr. Turton
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Arbuthnot) and my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), gave examples of men whom they feared would have to give up growing cabbages in order not to lose benefit under the Bill. My hon. friend the Member for Somerset, North, instanced a man sweeping in a miners' lodge. I can assure them that it is not a test of earnings. It is purely a test of unemployability, and therefore that factor will not enter into the matter at all. If the men are totally disabled, under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, then it does not matter that they—let them: we hope they will—grow cabbages or have any other pastime they can to help them forget the tragic state they are in.
Now I will come to the debate. The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) and some other hon. Members asked what was to be the position about other occupations which later became prescribed occupations. The hon. Member for Bedwellty suggested that we should look into the question of coke ovens. This Bill says that when those occupations become prescribed occupations, they will be caught up in the ambit of this Measure, and I should like to assure hon. Members that there is therefore no need for any anxiety that we shall again have the problem of the men left out because they left the industry before it was prescribed.
In that connection I was asked by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) about men working in the shale oil mines. The position at present is that they are covered if they are working in silica rock. The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council are looking into the question of whether shale oil mines should be generally prescribed. If, therefore, as a result of the recommendations of that Council shale oil mines are generally prescribed, those men will all be covered by the terms of this Bill. The hon. Member for West Lothian also asked whether brick-making was covered. Of course, silica brick-making is at present covered by the Bill.
I was asked by a number of hon. Members to deal with Clause 2 (1, c) of 1386 the Bill. It was suggested that as my right hon. Friend was taking out of Clause 3 the words:compensation payable otherwise than out of such fundshe should reconsider the wording of Clause 2 (1, c). I think the hon. Gentleman was under a misapprehension on that point. Clause 2 (1, c) excludes men who come within the scope of a workmen's compensation scheme for their pneumoconiosis, but who, before it was discovered, became totally incapacitated owing to some industrial accident or other disease, and therefore had no further working capacity to lose which could be compensated for.
It appears that that is quite a different position from the concession which my right hon. Friend is giving under Clause 3. These men are already getting the maximum they can get under workmen's compensation. Of course, if for any reason they fail to get the maximum benefit for the accident or other disease, then their claim for benefit under the Workmen's Compensation Act for pneumoconiosis will revive, and they will then get the full maximum.
The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. D. J. Williams) asked what preventive measures were being taken, and that question was also asked by a great many other hon. Members, and, indeed, by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). This is, as hon. Members know, a responsibility not of our Ministry, but of the Ministry of Fuel and Power. But I have asked them for advice on this subject, and I can tell the House that they are in full sympathy with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Neath and others. They are at the moment working out, in full co-operation with the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers, a campaign to secure maximum dust suppression during mining operations.
Representative committees are very active in each coalfield in keeping dust suppression work under constant review and stimulation. These committees are presided over by the divisional inspector of mines concerned. The mines in the coalfield are inspected and a specialist branch of the Ministry of Fuel and Power are constantly engaged in furthering the technique of dust suppression. 1387 Much success has been achieved, particularly in South Wales, where the gravity of the disease was first felt. Dust suppression measures in operation include water infusion of the coal seams and automatic spraying.
The hon. Member for Neath asked me about the employment of men suspended from the mines. That, again, is not a responsibility of my Department, but is a responsibility of the Ministry of Labour who have assured me that their disablement officers are trying to place disabled persons in other employment. Some very badly disabled men are employed in the Remploy factories. They hope that hon. Members who are interested in this matter will give every encouragement to their activities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North asked me some questions about what we were doing about bringing in the partially disabled. I can repeat to him the assurance which was given that we have invited the Trades Union Congress, with the National Union of Mineworkers, to go further into this problem and we understand that the T.U.C. are doing what they can to find out the number of men who will be affected.
It appears to me that there is a wide disparity of views on this matter. I have read Dr. Fletcher's Report in which he puts the number of men who are affected in South Wales alone as some 6,000 who are out of employment at present and 21,000 who are now in other employment. If we are dealing with a figure of 27,000 in South Wales alone, in coal mining, it will appear, if Dr. Fletcher is right, that the total figure for the whole country not only in coal mining but in other industries like the potteries and the cotton industry will be very large.
It is quite clear that, without going into this matter in much greater detail with the T.U.C., we should be very unwise to include it in this Bill; and if we were to await the termination of those investigations before the Bill was introduced, justice would be denied over a very long time to those whom we want to help.
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North, also asked me what we were doing about mass radiography. 1388 Again that is not a matter of our responsibility but a matter for the Ministry of Fuel and Power, though we take a very deep interest in what they are doing. The present position is that the Ministry of Fuel and Power are already undertaking an initial X-ray examination of all the new entrants to the mines in South Wales and they are now consulting with the National Coal Board in order to consider the possibility of introducing initial X-ray examination in other coalfields. I think that my hon. Friend can have the assurance that mass radiography is under very active consideration at the present time by the two Departments concerned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover asked me one question which I should like to dispose of, because I feel sure that he is under a misapprehension. He asked me why we had no provision for commuting benefits under this Bill. The hon. Member will remember that the Beveridge Report referred to commutation as one of the great disadvantages of the workmen's compensation scheme. I believe it would be a very retrograde measure to reintroduce commutation into this scheme. What we are trying to do in this Bill is to see that a man totally disabled may have a weekly income, not a lump sum as if he wanted to enter business, and for that reason I suggest that the hon. Member for Dover should not press that suggestion.
But my hon. Friend did make, as other hon. Members have made, one or two suggestions which, I think, require further consideration. In particular, he suggested that the position about dependency was not entirely satisfactory in fatal cases under Clause 3 (3). It will be remembered that my right hon. Friend explained that in re-drafting this Bill he had inserted a sum of £300 instead of, as in the July Bill, a sum not exceeding £300. The July Bill, however, was also limited to total dependency. It does seem that a case has been made for reconsideration of the Bill in this respect, and that where there is not anyone wholly dependent on the deceased's earnings, the board should have a discretion to award a lesser sum to a partial dependant. We shall try before the Committee stage to devise an appropriate form of words in that respect.
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg), the hon. Member for Somerset, 1389 North and the hon. Member for Dover, all asked, on Clause 1 (1 b), whether we could not possibly back-date the provisions of this Bill. It is quite clear that it would be impossible to back-date the Bill for the purpose of weekly payments of benefit, because that would involve an unscrambling under the National Assistance Act. It would be administratively impossible. We should like to think again on the question of back-dating for those dependants of a deceased person who died before the commencement of this scheme.
You, Mr. Speaker, know that retrospective legislation is never very popular, but we think that in this matter a case has been made. How far we can go back must depend on administrative practicability, which must be one of the two criteria by which we look at all the Amendments to this Bill. Before the Committee stage is concluded, we hope that we shall be able to put forward to the Committee an Amendment on these lines.
I was asked to make some mention of the time-table of this scheme. It is quite impossible to say how long it will be before a draft scheme under this Bill can be presented to the House, because it must depend on how many Amendments are made to the Bill in the course of the proceedings through this House and through another place, but we have made great progress with the preparation of the draft. It will be our endeavour, if this Bill reaches the Statute Book swiftly, to try to present the approved scheme to the House, if possible, before the Christmas Recess, and if that is not possible, immediately afterwards. We shall have to take a little time, for it requires the Affirmative Resolution procedure.
I was asked by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) what we were doing about publicity. We are arranging that the trade unions will give full publicity to the provisions of this Bill to all their members. We realise that it is not only the present members of the unions who will be concerned, and my right hon. Friend will be giving attention to the speech of the hon. Lady to see that every device is used for publicity. I hope I have covered most of the points that have been raised, but my right hon. Friend and I will look through 1390 the speeches made today and if any points remain which should have been answered, we will write to the hon. Members about them.
Finally, I commend this Measure to the House. It repairs an omission in our social security legislation about which hon. Members of all parties in this House have long been concerned. It is an urgent problem, and in order that those who should be receiving benefits under the Bill should get them with the least possible delay, I ask the House to give the Bill a speedy passage into law.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]