HC Deb 13 July 1953 vol 517 cc1840-53

9.28 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected as a new point the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay), in page 5, line 11. This morning the hon. Member submitted to me a re-draft of his Amendment as a manuscript Amendment in place of the one on the Order Paper. It is not usual to accept manuscript Amendments on Report, but having studied them both, I have come to the conclusion they both cover the same point and so I will ask the hon. Member to move his Amendment in the manuscript form in which he submitted it to me.

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

I beg to move, in page 5, line 11, at the end, to insert: (4) Section nineteen of the principal Act (which deals with death benefits for widows') shall be amended in subsection (3) by the substitution in paragraph (b) of the words was over the age of forty at the end of a period for which she was entitled to such an allowance for the words, has attained the age of fifty during a period for which she was entitled to such an allowance. For the information of hon. Members I will now read the paragraph as it will read if the Amendment is accepted. The provision will then read: … where the widow was over the age of fifty at the deceased's death or over the age of forty at the end of a period for which she was entitled to such an allowance … If a woman loses her husband and then brings up the children until they cease to be dependent, by which time she has reached the age of 40, or up to the age of 49, her allowance is reduced from 37s. to 20s. The Amendment would mean that, regardless of when the children cease to be dependent, if the widow is 40 years old or more she will continue to draw the 37s. instead of suffering the reduction.

I have been pressing this matter for some time to try to help widows in these circumstances. An examination of our social security Regulations shows that the industrial widow, if I may call her that, is worse treated when she has brought up a family than almost any other recipient of benefit. The position is that under National Insurance a widow who reaches the age of 40 when her children cease to be dependent continues to draw the allowance of 37s., but the industrial widow whose children cease to be dependent at the same time loses her 37s. and draws only 20s. The widow of someone in the Forces, who might not have had any children, draws 42s. at the age of 40.

This Amendment would place the industrial widow in the same position as the widow who draws benefit under the National Insurance Act. This would do no more than justice to the widows of men who have died in industry. I ask the Minister seriously to consider this question. Within our ordinary industrial occupations there are nearly 2,000 fatal casualties every year. Under present Regulations this position has created a good deal of friction and anxiety, and sometimes despondency. We are trying to remedy that as far as we can. I hope that the Amendment will receive support.

The position is that, for generations, we have always recognised that the case of a fatal accident is different from the case in which a man dies as the result of gradual though natural illness. It has been recognised that there is something different, because the man himself, no matter in what industry he was working—and he may even have been in the Army—was doing some practical work on behalf of the country, and, where death results from a sudden accident, we have recognised those conditions as a special case in which some recompense should be given to the widow.

It may be said that we want the widow to do a day's work, even if she is receiving a pension. There is nothing in my Amendment which will create such economic conditions as will encourage these widows to cease working. Under National Insurance, they are getting 32s. 6d. a week, and, under this Amendment, they will get 37s. Many of these women occupy houses in which much of the furniture may not be paid for, but, even if it is, when the husband is fatally injured the widow will naturally expect to continue in occupation of the house, and there is then a liability for rent.

Is anyone going to argue that an amount of either 37s. or 32s. 6d. will be a discouragement to such women going into the labour market and doing a day's work? I know there will be exceptions in which widows will take advantage and try to live on the money they receive as pension, but, if they attempt to do that, their economic situation will be extremely difficult, because they will not have sufficient money with which to keep themselves, and, therefore, any argument of that kind need have no weight attached to it.

When a man is injured in any industry, he receives a disability pension, may be one of 20s. or even 30s. But he may be able to do a certain amount of work. Here, we are only asking for the application, in the case of the widows of men who died in industry, the same principle as has been admitted for years in private enterprise—the principle that, in these circumstances, the widow has an outstanding claim to some special recompense. I therefore hope that this Amendment will be carried so that some improvement may be offered to these widows.

Dr. H. Morgan (Warrington)

I beg to second the Amendment.

The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. Osbert Peake)

The manuscript Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) embodies exactly the idea which was clear from the Amendment which he had originally tabled, but which, for highly technical reasons, did not have the precise effect desired by the hon. Gentleman.

Let me say at once that the Amendment in its manuscript form is acceptable to the Government, and that I was glad to be able to place at the service of the hon. Gentleman the skill of the Parliamentary draftsmen to ensure that his Amendment was in proper form. The hon. Gentleman has pursued the subject of the National Insurance widow and also of the Industrial Injuries widow with an earnestness, an assiduity and a tenacity characteristic of a North Countryman whose forebears came from over the Border. Indeed, his efforts remind me of the story of Robert Bruce and the spider.

The hon. Gentleman has tabled Parliamentary Questions on this subject, and he spoke upon it on the Second Reading of this Bill. He even put down Amend- ments in the Standing Committee, of which he was not a Member, and which the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) had to move for him; and, last but not least, he has forgone his supper this evening and stayed here since half-past seven, through a debate on Scottish affairs and a further debate on education, in order to move his Amendment. His efforts seem to me to be entirely praiseworthy— If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. The hon. Gentleman's ingenuity has discovered a curious discrepancy between the provisions of the National Insurance Act and those of the Industrial Injuries Act in the treatment of the widow at the time when she ceases to be entitled to the widowed mother's allowance. His Amendment brings the two Acts into line and ensures that the widow under the Industrial Injuries Act gets the benefit of the higher rate of widow's pension if she is over 40 at the date when she ceases to be entitled to the widowed mother's allowance.

We do not need on this happy occasion to go into the reasons why this flaw in the Industrial Injuries Act, 1946, existed, but I am very happy to be able to accept the Amendment. I would only add that it will be incorporated in the principal Act upon the appointed day. There will, of course, be quite a number of widows between the ages of 40 and 50 who are now in receipt of the 20s. pension and who will qualify for the higher rate proposed in the Amendment.

I can pick up these cases for the future, and I think I can also pick them up for the past, where they qualify but are at present in receipt only of the 20s. benefit. Let me make it clear that they will not get a back payment for past years of the difference between the two rates, but that, as from the appointed day, there will be, I think, no difficulty in picking these cases up and giving them the higher rate of pension straight away.

Mr. McKay

May I thank the Minister for all his help in these cases? I am sure I can also thank him sincerely on behalf of these women.

Amendment agreed to.

9.46 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. R. H. Turton)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

The Bill has been well received on all sides of the House, perhaps rather naturally, because it has the unnatural origin of having been fathered by the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) and mothered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake). Nobody has made any complaint about anything in the Bill, although there have been suggestions about what might have been but are not in it.

The House agrees, I think, that this is a useful and necessary piece of repair to the provisions of the Industrial Injuries Act. It was to be expected that so novel a scheme of compensation as that introduced under the Act of 1946, would, after the passing of some five years since it came into operation, need running repairs. The fact that we have had to make these small running repairs does not reflect at all upon the Industrial Injuries Scheme as a whole.

The main provision of the Bill is the relaxation effected by Clause 3 (1) in the conditions for disablement benefit. This will enable some 8,000 claimants a year to qualify for disablement benefit and perhaps 2,000 of them to qualify for special hardship allowance. There are other provisions which, though technical in character, will benefit many claimants and will enable the scheme to work more smoothly.

The Bill has received a very speedy passage through the House, and I thank hon. and right hon. Members on both sides for the contributions they have made to that speed. The Government hope that it will pass through the other place and receive the Royal Assent before the Recess. We are concerned to bring it into operation as soon as possible. Some little time will be needed to bring in the essential regulations about transitional problems, and so on, and to complete the administrative preparations for these technical changes but, if the Royal Assent is received before the Recess, it is hoped to have the appointed day towards the end of August.

The main changes will then come into operation automatically. These include the relaxation of the conditions for disablement benefit; the changes in the definition of the injury benefit period, which will enable disablement benefit to follow straight on where injury benefit leaves off in cases where at present there is a gap between the two benefits; the provision of a modified hospital treatment allowance for a man who gets an assessment below 20 per cent. and who has been awarded a disablement gratuity; and the provision proposed by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay), and now embodied in Clause 3.

Some of the other changes depend upon regulations on which the Advisory Council will have to be consulted. Priority will be given to those regulations which directly affect benefits, including those about night workers and those giving dependency benefit with the unemployability supplement to men on workmen's compensation. This will be referred to the Advisory Council immediately after the Royal Assent, and, if all goes well, should be in operation by the middle of September.

I said during the Second Reading debate that people who have had claims for disablement benefit rejected before the appointed day under the old conditions will be able to claim again from the appointed day, under the new conditions in Clause 3 (1), if there is still some residual disablement at that time. Where a claim has been rejected not long before the appointed day and it is known that there will be some residual disablement, the Ministry will take steps to review the case automatically.

The others will have to come forward and make a claim, but every effort will be made to let people know of their rights. A leaflet will be made available in every local office as soon as possible after the Royal Assent has been given to the Bill. Press publicity will lay stress on these transitional cases and it is hoped that the trade unions will do all they can to make the news known.

The longer I remain at the Ministry of National Insurance the greater is the gratification I feel that although we may be bitterly divided on many important questions of policy there is in this House a united desire to make the National Insurance Scheme as perfect as possible. This Bill is a very good illustration of that fact. It is very appropriate that in Her Majesty's Coronation Session this Parliament should pass, first, a Bill to give improved maternity benefits, and, secondly, this Measure to improve the Industrial Injuries Scheme.

9.52 p.m.

Dr. Batnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

It is certainly true that, although we had some words on the Committee stage, everybody on this side of the House thinks that the contents of this Bill are good. I am not sure whether the Minister did not introduce the Bill on Second Reading by saying that it was a good little Bill. But however little it be, and even though it be too little, we entirely agree with him about its merits so far as it goes.

I am particularly happy to have heard the Parliamentary Secretary make his important statement about men who have been recently rejected because they had only a small loss of faculty, and who can now come forward and have their cases reopened. We who deal with these cases personally know how real the grievance is when a man falls by a few days or a few weeks on the wrong side of what he feels is his right to justice. It is good to hear that we shall be able to go back to our constituencies, as I am sure that we shall do, and tell the trade unions associated with these men, "Pick up all these cases and let us get their rights for them, because this new Act of Parliament enable us to do that."

On its first page this Bill is described as a Bill to: Make further provision with respect to the system of insurance established by the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946 What discussions we have had on the Bill have been about the words "system of insurance." I am speaking tonight because I was most unfortunate in that I missed the second morning of the Standing Committee upstairs. I was called away to Staffordshire to speak in the courts on behalf of a man who was injured in industry. Unfortunately, or perhaps I should say fortunately since the issue was successful, I had to go there.

In my absence the Minister was good enough to refer to my views on the principle of this Bill. As I only discussed the principle I must have done badly for the Minister misunderstood me. I am sure that I am not only speaking for myself but for everyone on this side of the House, and probably for the whole House, when I say that we do not want the principle of the 1946 Act altered and that we do not want to go back to the principles of the old Workmen's Compensation Act.

The reason that we are happy about the Act is that in the old days we were so conscious of the brooding and ill-will, the loss of production and all the other evils of which I am sure the Minister is conscious. The Minister himself referred to what he felt might be considered wrong with the term "Loss of faculty." I will not go into the details of that point; it would be wrong to do so at this stage, but I would point out that his interpretation of what I meant was mistaken. I think that we can trust the present arrangement so long as we have a better and wider form of interpretation.

Any faults or difficulties in the Act or in the present Bill can be dealt with by thoughtful methods, by trial and error, and I am sure that already we are far better off than we were before the principal Act was introduced. It is true that soon, perhaps within a year's time, we shall have a further opportunity to discuss similar matters on this subject, and perhaps there will be a better interpretation of some of the principles if we act together with good will and understanding.

Until that time comes it is only right and proper to say that we are grateful to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for most of what they said in Committee upstairs. They gave certain promises, one of which was to consider the period of time, which is now three months, after which a man Joses his chance of special hardship allowance should he succeed in continuing his former work during that time. As a medical man, I can assure the Minister that if he doubles the three months to six months, there will be practically no one falling on the wrong side of the line. I hope he will remember that some men, if they have dependants whom they must keep, can work for two or three months in pain and suffering, but are not likely to avoid a breakdown if they are given six months' grace.

9.57 p.m.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

I wish to compliment the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on the speed with which this Bill has gone through its various stages. The Minister and I have different opinions about the question of workmen's compensation, opinions born from our experience in dealing with such cases, but if the speed with which this Bill has gone through its various stages is reflected in the speed with which it is administered we shall have no complaint. The Second Reading took place on 25th June; we had the two meetings of the Committee on 2nd and 7th July, and now on 13th July we are having the Third Reading.

I am reminded of the war-time Measures with which we used to deal. They went through with great rapidity. I think this is the first time in history—certainly within my recollection—when we have put on the Statute Book a Measure of this description with such speed. Many of us remember the long wrangles of the past on the subject of workmen's compensation, many of them bitter and obnoxious. Within the last few years there has been a mellowing in the approach to this subject.

I want to refer to my Second Reading speech, in connection with the necessity for speed in this matter. I do not want to make a Second Reading speech on Third Reading, because I should be out of order, but this is what I said: … I assure him "— the Minister— that one of the things required to make this Bill work successfully is speed. The moment it gets upon the Statute Book it is absolutely essential that the machine which is called upon to operate the Bill and the regulations under the Bill shall move as quickly as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th June, 1953; Vol. 516, c. 2179.] I hope that the Minister and his Department will take note of what I say, not because I say it, but because it is of paramount importance. We are now finding, under another Measure that was passed by his Department—the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Bill—that delays are causing great anxiety in the coalfield, and it is particularly the slow administration of that scheme which is affecting the people concerned.

Speed in this matter is essential, and I was very sorry to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that the regulations would not be ready before September. Surely it was possible to get them ready before September. It is only 13th July now, and it ought not to take eight weeks to put the regulations into operation. I am convinced that there is something radically wrong with the operation of some of the regulations. I have not been able to find out what it is, though I am not blaming the Minister or the personnel of his Department, in London.

It may be that if I pursued the matter, like my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay)—who has been successful with his Amendment—I should find the solution, but I can assure the Minister and his Department that I shall leave no stone unturned in my efforts to find out what is causing the machine to operate so slowly.

I want to say a word on the question of the appointment of medical boards, which, I think, should be reconstituted. We are finding, particularly in the mining areas, that many of the medical men and women who sit upon these boards have no knowledge of working conditions. I am not blaming them, because they have not had the experience, but it is essential that these boards should consist of men, and perhaps women, who know something of the industrial conditions under which these men and women have sustained their accidents. If the Minister will give his attention to that matter he will improve the administrative machine which will operate this Measure.

On the question of the period of three months in connection with the hardship allowance, I think the Minister will agree that it is too short a period. He ought to extend it. I remember the arguments which were once advanced by the Home Office in regard to silicosis—I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman was in office then—when we were told that one year was enough. We found by experience that that was inadequate. It was extended to five years, and we found that that was wrong, and the period has now been cut out altogether. I believe that the Minister should cut out the period in this case. Why three months, six months, nine months or 12 months? If a man feels he is able to go back to his work at the end of three months or six months and, when he goes back, fails to do it because of the results of his accident, why should he be debarred from receiving his hardship allowance?

Perhaps I may draw from my own experience. As I have said many times before in the House, I am an ex-miner, and my body bears the wounds of accidents in the pits. My right leg was injured about 40 years ago and I am troubled with the injury even today. Suppose I had gone back to mining at the end of three months or six months and then had had to give up. I should have been debarred from receiving my hardship allowance.

In my opinion, the periods are all too short. They ought not to exist at all. I plead with the Minister, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) and others of my hon. Friends have done; and we do not make the plea because we are asking for something for nothing. We are asking that these men who decide to go back to work at their pre-injury jobs and then fail at the end of three months shall not be debarred from receiving their hardship allowance.

If the Minister will give consideration to the points which I have hurriedly raised he will receive not only our congratulations but the gratitude of those who, unfortunately, sustain accidents in the pits.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

I join my hon. Friends in congratulating the Government on this useful little Bill and on accepting the Amendment. I also join them in commending the Government on the speed with which they propose to implement the provisions of the Bill. If my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) will permit me to say so, I think six weeks for the preparation of the appropriate regulations to incorporate matters which reek with technicalities does not seem to me at any rate, to be an excessive period of time.

Mr. T. Brown

It is too long.

Mr. Jones

I share my hon. Friend's impatience on behalf of those who will benefit from the scheme, and it is reassuring to be told that some provision will be made in the regulations for the interim period.

If the rules of order permitted me to do so, I would go on to say that I hoped the same speed would be applied by the Government in dealing with the numerous outstanding problems of great importance which were referred to in the course of the debate upon this Bill and, in particular, the inquiry into the benefits for disability caused by industrial processes. I had upon the Order Paper today a Question to the Minister which had the misfortune to be No. 87 in the list. I asked him whether the Industrial Diseases Sub-Committee (Pneumoconiosis) has yet reported on the question referred to it early in 1951 of the method of prescribing pneumoconiosis for the purposes of insurance under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946. The reply which I received from the Minister was, I have just received a very full report from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council on the cover to be provided for pneumoconiosis. I am studying this and hope to be able to announce what action I propose to take on its recommendations shortly. One appreciates that these committees, in which professional men and others busy in their practice give voluntarily of their services, cannot move as fast as one would wish. All I ask is that the Government will press on this matter by exhortation and encouragement to the appropriate committees which they have appointed so that the outstanding matters may be fully covered in early legislation which we look to the minister to introduce.

10.10 p.m.

Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)

The Parliamentary Secretary said that this Bill was characterised by its unnatural parentage. I must confess that it will be associated in my mind with the Minister's death-bed repentance. It will be recalled that in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for West-houghton (Mr. J. T. Price) moved an Amendment very similar to the one moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) tonight. The Minister shakes his head, but he knows that the principle was very much the same. My hon. Friend could make no impact upon the Minister at all.

The right hon. Gentleman rejected our appeal, and, indeed, I was so incensed that at the end I felt it necessary to castigate the Minister. Then my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton rose up and said he wanted to apply balm to the Minister's wounds.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

My right hon. Friend is confusing me with our hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), or his constituency.

Dr. Summerskill

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. He knows that my admiration and respect for him are such that the last thing I would wish to do would be to forget his constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said he would apply balm to the Minister's wounds. When the Minister came to the Dispatch Box tonight and for the first time manifested a generous attitude I wondered whether it was my castigation or my hon. Friend's balm that had such a successful outcome. Whatever it was, we congratulate him. A death-bed repentance is always very acceptable.

I join with my hon. Friends in saying that the Bill is a little late. Its provisions have been discussed for three years. However, I agree that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have expedited the business, and I join with my hon. Friends in congratulating them.

In the debates we have tried to persuade the Minister to give disabled workers a greater measure of security, and it is a matter of great regret that the Minister, in an important subject of this kind, has not thought fit to give way on any one of those points although in the Committee it was quite clear that he was sympathetic. Indeed, on the question of hardship allowances he was very receptive to our appeals, yet still he was adamant. I hope that he will in the next few weeks reconsider this matter.

I should say that the only jarring note in the debates on this Bill has been the excuse, frequently repeated by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for not taking action, that the whole scheme was designed by their Labour predecessors and that any miscalculation was their fault. We are a little tired of this excuse. It is given, I know, in letters to hon. Members; it is given in answers to Questions. The reason why the Minister will not take action is that I or my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) were originally responsible, and that if we did not think fit to make any amendment the Minister himself does not consider it right and proper to make any change.

If every Government and Minister adopted this attitude no legislation would ever be amended. Furthermore, if the authors of the industrial injuries and National Insurance Schemes had considered themselves infallible it would not have been necessary to make statutory provision for a quinquennial review. We can only hope that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will change their attitude in the weeks and months to come—however long it may be before we on this side once more sit on those benches and have the courage to take the initiative in these matters.

Meanwhile, it is the desire of us all, of course, to see the provisions of this Bill no longer delayed but put into operation as soon as possible. I welcome the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary that the appointed day will be at the end of next month. My hon. Friends behind me, and, indeed, the whole House, identify themselves with what the Parliamentary Secretary said in his opening remarks. All of us here are only too anxious, I am sure, to try to the best of our ability to improve this Measure. We on this side of the House are particularly anxious to do so and we would ask for a little more co-operation from the Minister in the future.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.