§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. Osbert Peake)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This little Bill is a good little Bill. It covers a number of miscellaneous points affecting the structure or machinery of the new scheme embodied in the Act of 1946. We are all concerned to make the new scheme operate successfully. To give credit where credit is due, I should like to say at the outset that all the matters covered by the Bill, with one exception, are the outcome of discussions between the Ministry and the T.U.C. initiated while the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) was Minister. Indeed, it was agreed during her tenure of office that legislation was desirable on these matters, and my only regret is that, owing to the exceptionally technical nature of the subject, and pressure upon Parliamentary time, it has not been found possible to bring it forward sooner.
We have not yet reached a time when it is possible to express any very definite judgment upon the entirely novel scheme embodied in the 1946 Act. At present, few facts and figures relating to it are available beyond the end of the year 1950. The forthcoming annual report of my Ministry will be published very shortly, and it will contain many interesting and important facts and much detailed information regarding the progress of the scheme. As hon. Members know, a comprehensive review of the National Insurance scheme is due next year. Clearly, in connection with that review we shall have to look at the industrial injuries scheme, since the two schemes are in many respects closely related and interlocked. For the purpose of that review, I shall welcome any suggestions that hon. Members have to make.
I think we may, however, claim at this stage that the new scheme has been broadly successful, and that it is immeasurably superior to the old system 2108 of workmen's compensation which it superseded. This House has always taken a keen interest in the subject of industrial injury and disease, and I can recall many debates on the old system which were severely critical of many of its provisions. There were, in fact, many features in the old system which were profoundly unsatisfactory, which were a constant source of friction and ill-will, and which did great harm to satisfactory relations between the two sides of industry. If the more senior Members of this House compare the tone and temper of our debates on the new system with the tone and temper of the debates in the old days on workmen's compensation, there is clear evidence that the new scheme has completely dissolved and dissipated the atmosphere of suspicion and bitterness which was engendered by the old and now superseded system.
Under workmen's compensation, every industrial accident became a potential source of dispute, and, indeed, of litigation, between the workman and his employer. Unless the employer was covered by insurance, the workman had no certainty that his claim would be met; and if, as was the case over most of the field, insurance existed, the employer was deprived of any direct interest in retaining the good will of the workman or in promoting his recovery. The insurance interests, on the other hand, were mainly and naturally concerned to settle the claim as soon and as economically as possible. Moreover, the assessment of compensation by a comparison of earning capacity before and after the accident led to much dispute, too often retarded the workman's recovery, and, in many cases of serious injury, provided little or no compensation.
The new system has minimised the area of possible conflict between employer and workman. It provides from the outset flat rates of benefit during the period of incapacity for work. This is known as the injury benefit period, which may last for a maximum of six months; and, of course, the vast majority of industrial injuries are, happily, of short duration, over 90 per cent. of the casualties returning to work without any permanent disability within a comparatively short time. This part of the scheme—the injury benefit part—has worked satisfactorily, 2109 and there is only one minor provision in the Bill dealing with it. This is contained in Clause 3 (1), which makes the definition of the injury benefit period less rigid so that disablement benefit can start when injury benefit leaves off in certain cases where at present there is a gap between the two benefits.
It is in the field of disablement benefit —the long-term benefit—that more difficulty has arisen. The most important, and the most costly, provision in the Bill is designed to relax the conditions for this long-term benefit. This point also is covered in Clause 3. At present, disablement benefit, with its supplements, can only be paid if either the loss of faculty is assessed at 20 per cent. or more, or if it is likely to be permanent. Indeed, in certain cases, both of these conditions may have to be fulfilled, and failure to satisfy either of them may result in loss of benefit. As a result, we find that some 8,000 claimants, or nearly 10 per cent. of those who claim this long-term benefit, fail to qualify although they have some residual disablement when injury benefit ends. Not only are these people losing disablement benefit, usually in the form of a gratuity, but a proportion of them also lose the special hardship allowance attached to it.
The Bill, therefore, does two things. First, it abolishes the condition of permanence for drawing this benefit, and. secondly, it enables disablement benefit to be paid whenever there is an assessment of only 1 per cent. or more. I should also like to make it clear that those who have failed to qualify under the present conditions, but who are still disabled at the appointed day, can claim afresh from then. I am sure that this relaxation of conditions is just and fair, and will give great satisfaction. Together with the minor amendment regarding the injury benefit period, it will account for £100,000 or the £140,000 a year which is the additional expenditure due to the Bill.
Before leaving this subject of disablement benefit, hon. Members will expect me to say something about the special hardship allowance. They will recall that, when we discussed this allowance during the consideration of the National Insurance Bill in Standing Committee last year, I referred to the difficulties which had arisen, and undertook to examine 2110 them in conjunction with the T.U.C. These discussions have taken place, and, while they have been useful in revealing the extent of the problem, I am afraid that they have not produced a satisfactory solution.
The subject is fundamental to the whole basis of the new scheme, it bristles with complications, difficulties and technicalities, and I am sure that it is not at present very fully understood. I am also sure that it cannot be dealt with in this Bill. The quinquennial review which is due next year is certain to bring out important financial factors, of which we have not yet gained adequate experience. In the meantime, more information is becoming available about the way in which the allowance has developed. We are making a close study of this information, and I will be very glad to arrange to pass it on to hon. Members in order that they may consider it, in the knowledge of the facts which are at present available. In due course, it may be necessary to arrange for some kind of formal inquiry, which may have to go deeply into the whole basis of the present scheme.
The effect of the other Clauses in the Bill is explained in the Memorandum attached to it. Clause 1 will enable the scope of insurance for industrial injury to be extended, as has already been done for National Insurance purposes, so as to include some classes of mariners and airmen who are not at present covered. These changes are desired by both sides of the shipping industry, and we shall discuss with the interests concerned the precise scope of the regulations. Clause 2 will enable us, by means of regulations, to solve difficulties which have arisen in the collection of contributions to the industrial injuries scheme where group labour is employed for seasonal purposes in agriculture or horticulture. Hop-picking is a typical example.
Clause 3 (3) will enable an injured workman who has received a gratuity to obtain hospital treatment allowance in a modified form while he is in hospital for treatment. Clause 4 deals with a few minor difficulties which have arisen on the adjudication of claims, and Clause 5 will enable us, in agreement with the Treasury, to pay remuneration to members of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council as can already be done in the 2111 case of the National Insurance Advisory Committee.
Clause 6 (1) will enable constant attendance allowance out of the Industrial Injuries Fund to be paid to people getting special pensions for injuries received before 1948 in respect of service in the police or the fire brigade. Subsection (3) of the same Clause enables dependants' allowances to be paid with the unemployability supplement to old workmen's compensation cases. There are at present a number of such cases where there is no entitlement to sickness benefit and the dependants' allowances that go with it. For the future, full dependants' allowances under the Industrial Injuries Act will be paid. This carries out the undertaking given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in the debate on 17th April, and completes the action I have promised to take in connection with these old cases.
Finally, it only remains to add that it is not proposed to make any amendments to the contribution rates, which can be considered when the actuarial review of the scheme takes place. I think I have said enough to show that all the provisions in the Bill are of a beneficial character, and it is my hope that we shall be able to get it speedily on to the Statute Book and bring it into operation at an early date.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)
We are accustomed in the House these days to hear Ministers blame the previous Labour Government for any unpopular Measure which they can conveniently place on the shoulders of the previous Administration. Rarely do we receive praise for the preparatory work done which enables a Conservative Minister to come here and introduce a humane piece of legislation, but today is the exception to that rule.
I must confess that only recently—on the National Insurance Bill, which made provision for expectant mothers—I found myself in the embarrassing position of having to claim credit for that Bill. I agree that on that occasion the Minister did not repudiate the claim, but he was not very generous about it. I am glad that on this occasion he recognises that, except, I think, for one small proposal 2112 in this Bill, all its other proposals which are of a beneficial nature, as he has just said, are the result of the work of the previous Labour Administration.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is right when he says that the sick and injured will benefit from the provisions of the Bill to a quite remarkable degree. I would not call it a little Bill, and I thought that the Minister was being a little ungenerous when, in his first few words, he tried to belittle it. It will affect a large number of workers, particularly sick and injured miners, whose needs should have been attended to a quarter of a century ago.
I had conversations with representatives of the Trades Union Congress in May, 1951—two years ago—and it was in May, 1951——
§ Dr. Summerskill
That is even better. One characteristic of the British is that we are masters of under-statement. Although the right hon. Gentleman reminds me that I started my conversations in April, 1950, I recall giving my approval to these proposals in May, 1951. However, that is three years ago, and the Minister comes to the House today with this Bill and tells us that for certain technical reasons he has been unable to introduce it before now.
Why was it—perhaps the Minister will tell me—that the brewers and the bankers had to wait for only three or four months before their demands were met? Is it the same old story—it was the same with the maternity benefit: the poor, expectant mothers and the sick and disabled workers are right at the end of the queue, and the Government's friends have been attended to first? There can really be no other explanation, and I am surprised that the Minister who, I think, has a humane approach to these matters, should have lent himself to this practice. Three years have elapsed before a Bill of this nature, and one which was very much overdue, has been introduced.
I hope that if the right hon. Gentleman does consider any amendment—from what he said it is clear that there will be no amendment to the original Bill— 2113 which the T.U.C. may advance, he will consider it in the review next year. It is, perhaps, quite a fair proposition. I take it that there will be no possibility of the Minister initiating any legislation of his own between now and then, so I cannot at this moment encourage him to expedite matters in his Department on another occasion.
I am not disposed to criticise this Bill because it is my own child, and I propose to relate my remarks to the different Clauses. It certainly deals with the points which, as I recalled, I discussed in some detail with the T.U.C., namely, the amendment of Section 12 to provide that disablement benefit shall be payable for any period during which the disablement is assessed—at 1 per cent. or more— whether or not it is likely to be permanent. Then there is the amendment of Section 16 to provide for the payment of hospital treatment allowance to a man who has only been awarded a gratuity; the relaxation of the review position, and the alteration of the regulations to correct the anomaly of the nightshift worker, and the alteration of the regulations to permit dependency allowances to be paid with unemployability supplement in workmen's compensation cases.
The Minister has made it quite clear that the most important of these changes is undoubtedly the amendment of Section 12. One of the greatest problems of the miners has been the "low assessment" case, and probably one of the main reasons for complaint has been the comparison in many of these cases with the Workmen's Compensation Acts. In fact, it could be argued at this point that the workmen's compensation case very often had a better deal. Under workmen's compensation, the man with a high pre-accident earning power who had to change his job after, for example, damaging a finger, would do very much better than the industrial injuries cases if the damage was found to be not substantial and not permanent.
The change proposed in this Bill will certainly help a lot of these cases. If they qualify for disablement benefit, they can also qualify for special hardship allowance. This change will permit of special hardship allowance in many cases where before it has not been payable, but until the special hardship allowance 2114 is raised the Minister will not have met a very real grievance.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman said just now that he could not consider it in this Bill. I hope he will give it further consideration between now and the next stage of the Bill, because he knows and I know that the miners, in particular, feel very strongly on this point. It is a grievance which could be very easily remedied.
I now want to discuss certain medical aspects of the administration of the Industrial Injuries Act. I understand that certain dissatisfaction has been expressed with the quality of many medical board and medical appeal tribunal decisions. It is evident that in many cases there has been over-emphasis of the amount of the disability attributable to a pre-existing condition which has been offset against the total disability.
I will give the Minister an example. To take one South Wales case. A young man of 36 was injured in November, 1951, when he was buried by a fall of stone. Prior to the accident he worked regularly as a packer underground, and I am informed that in his particular area he enjoyed a certain reputation as an athlete. The case went as far as the medical appeal tribunal, but the final decision was that, although he was 70 per cent. disabled, this was entirely due to a pre-existing osteo-arthritis, and that the effects of the injury were neither permanent nor substantial.
The workman had shown no signs of osteo-arthritis before the injury. I am told that there was no evidence of this when he consulted his doctor. His friends had seen him very active in the field of sport. Nevertheless, when he was subjected to this injury, he had a thorough examination, and no doubt an X-ray, and the existence of osteo-arthritis in a joint was revealed. The benefit which he then received was related to this condition, which previously had not hindered his work in any way.
I am told that there are many of these cases, but I do not want to exaggerate. I have no doubt that some of my hon. Friends could produce cases of this kind for consideration by the Minister. Behind me are men who have worked in the pits for many years, and I believe that 2115 one of them came straight from the coal face. If I am making an overstatement in this respect I am sure that my hon. Friends will contradict me. I am told that what I am stating now is fact.
In consequence of this particular approach to a man's condition the medical board, or the medical appeal tribunal, have offset from their percentage disablement the effects of a pre-existing condition which, prior to the injury, had not affected the man at all. The last thing I would do is to criticise harshly these boards and tribunals who try to do their very best, but it seems that they have set themselves a series of precedents in how to deal with these cases, and may have got into a groove from which it will be difficult to extricate them without a clear directive on the policy which they should adopt. I am told that there are cases where workmen have been given inadequate assessments, although their claims have been supported by specialists.
When I was in the Minister's place I took a special interest in these matters. I think that all of us, when we find ourselves in a Department dealing with matters with which we have been associated for most of our life's work, find that our interest is stimulated. I could say that in certain fields of surgery there were not enough surgeons. Perhaps more men who are specialists in this kind of work might be invited to serve on the tribunals. The danger of ignoring the specialist's advice in the first place would be lessened if provision could be made for attendance by the proper specialists at the medical board's final assessment of disablement.
The Minister may reply that the specialists are not there, but the fact is that specialists are being turned out every day. The Minister could make representations to the teaching hospitals. There is the difficult question of dermatitis which the Minister often has to face. There are too few dermatologists. The medical schools could be approached with the suggestion that if there are promising students who do not quite know how to use their ability they might be informed that certain fields are not overcrowded, and they might care to specialise in those directions.
Those are the only points I wish to raise at this stage. Amendments which 2116 the T.U.C. wish to bring forward may well be considered later. I express the hope that the Bill may have a speedy passage in order to compensate in some measure for the quite inexcusable delay.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I am sorry that the right hon. Lady began and concluded her remarks on the Bill in so acidulated a tone. When she was referring to the three years' incubation, or, to follow her own metaphor, gestation, of the Bill she seems to have forgotten to cast her mind back to October, 1945, when her right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) introduced the Bill which became the principal Act.
The very date upon which he introduced that Bill proves that nearly all the work in preparing it must have been done under the previous Conservative and Coalition Administrations. There is nothing to be gained by attempting to talk away the real continuity of legislation on these subjects which links the two parties together in, I should have thought, a very happy connection, or to score off the very natural fact that one Administration profits by the preparatory work which is done by its predecessor.
I do not think that any of the provisions in the Bill will be criticised from either side of the House. Nevertheless, as it is the fifth Measure in the last two years increasing the charge upon the Industrial Injuries Fund, it would be appropriate that the House should for a moment reflect upon the actuarial situation of that Fund and the impact of these Measures upon it. It is just as important to study the production and collection of the Fund out of which benefit is to be paid as to study the manner in which benefit is distributed.
We are in a quite different position, in studying the Industrial Injuries Fund, from what we are in when we consider the National Insurance Fund, where we can foresee the actuarial future for 25 years ahead. There are, indeed, grave problems looming over the horizon, but we can, at any rate, clearly discern them. We are in almost complete ignorance about the future of the Industrial Injuries Fund.
When the original proposals for industrial injuries insurance were put before Parliament in 1944 it was estimated, more 2117 or less as a guess, that the cost might amount to £23 million per annum when the scheme had attained balance. After the alterations and improvements which were introduced into the scheme between 1944 and 1945, that estimate was raised, equally conjecturally, to £27½ million. The last accounts of the Fund available are for the financial year 1951–52, ending in March, 1952. They show that before the increases introduced last year, either in contributions or in benefits, the cost of the scheme was then already running at £20 million a year. That includes the administrative costs.
We have so far, unfortunately, only two reports upon the scheme from the Government Actuary. It is—I imagine inevitably—18 months after the end of a financial year before we get the Government Actuary's report upon the operations of that year. In the two reports that we have already, the Actuary has not left Parliament in any doubt as to the extreme obscurity of the future. In 1951, he said:The statistical information forthcoming from the operation of the Act is, at this early stage, quite inadequate as a means of forecasting, with anything approaching precision, either the total cost of benefits in successive future years or the ultimate level of expenditure when … the total number of disablement pensions in payment has become more or less stationary.That was after nearly two years' operation. After three years, the materials and the statistical information available still afforded no further light. In October, 1952, the Government Actuary concluded with these words:These figures "—that was his analysis of various samples—indicate that the long-term liability in respect of pensions payable for life is emerging rather slowly, but the significance of this cannot be assessed until the experience of a longer period is available.
§ Mr. Joseph T. Price (Westhoughton)
While there is bound to be a great deal of force in the doubts expressed by the Government Actuary, which are consistent with the doubts expressed by all professional actuaries, the hon. Member surely is not suggesting that the Actuary is entirely restricted to experience of this Fund from its inception in July, 1948. Surely all the companies which contract for the old workmen's compensation liabilities and other insurance liabilities 2118 have immense data which ought to be available to the Government Actuary. He is not quite in the dark.
§ Mr. Powell
That possibility was taken into account in the Financial Memorandum to the original 1945 Bill, where the Treasury specifically denied that that sort of information could be of much benefit in forecasting the future. They there said:It is impossible to estimate with any precision the cost of benefits when the scheme reaches maturity because existing statistics of the incidence of industrial injury and disease relate to a section only of the persons who will be insured under the provisions of the Bill, and because such information as is available is derived from the working of a system of compensation which differs radically from the new scheme.I feel, therefore, that we must acquit the Government Actuary of having failed to utilise collateral sources of information which would have enabled him to give us more guidance.
Against that background of uncertainty I would remind the House of the quite substantial and, in some cases, automatically growing increases which have been made in the last two years in payments due from the Fund. The 1951 National Insurance Act, by increasing the benefits in respect of children, placed an annual cost of £300,000 rising to an unforeseeable extent but to at least £400,000 upon the Fund, because the death benefits and disablement benefits are by their very nature liable to increase at an unforeseeable ratio up to a date which we cannot fix with certainty.
Then the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Act, 1951 involved a cost of £250,000; the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Act, 1951 involved another £250,000. In 1952, as will be well within the recollection of all hon. Members, the Family Allowances and National Insurance Act made substantial increases in benefits. At the same time of course, certain employers' contributions were also increased. But even at the beginning there was still a deficiency of £100,000 a year between the increase in contributions and the increase in benefits, and again those benefits are benefits which by their very nature will tend to increase unforeseeably with the years. Finally, in the present Bill we are making an increase of £140,000, most of which is attributable to the provisions of Clause 3 (1).
2119 That Clause brings within the scope of the Acts cases previously outside them, which are estimated to equal 10 per cent. of the total cases dealt with by the Industrial Injuries Scheme. So the proportionate increase of eventual burden involved in the provisions of Clause 3 (1) is by no means negligible.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I am obliged to the hon. Member for giving way. I have always followed with rapt attention the arguments on compensation which he puts before the House. He has been dealing today with actuarial calculations and the amount that these benefits will cost. He says that this Bill will add £140,000 to the cost of the Act. Having said that, will the hon. Member be good enough to tell the House what the men have suffered in economic and physical disadvantage while they have been waiting for this Measure to be put before the House?
§ Mr. Powell
If the hon. Member had waited he would have found that I was coming to that, but I ask him to recognise that there is at least as much danger to our growing structure of social services from those who are prepared to initiate legislation without fully foreseeing its financial consequences as there is from those who overestimate and unduly emphasise the financial side. But I do not think that in talking about the actuarial implications of what is, after all, an insurance scheme, one is at all denigrating the advantages of the scheme or showing any lack of appreciation of the need to extend the benefits.
The Measures to which I have referred impose an extra annual charge initially of about £1 million upon the scheme. There is no doubt that in its present condition the Fund is, of course, amply able to meet a very much larger burden. Nevertheless, even at this stage I think it worth while to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the actuarial prospects of the Industrial Injuries Fund are almost totally obscure.
After a period of, say, 10 or 15 years we may find ourselves in a position where there is a chronic deficiency in the Fund which might endanger the scheme. That is why we shall look forward with great interest and anxiety to the quinquennial review and why we also hope that the actuarial report, due 2120 I think in the autumn, on the working of the scheme up to March, 1952, will at least be able to cast some light on the future.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
I am sure that the hon. Member must be aware of the fact that in regard to all the proposals to which he has referred, which brought in the totally disabled pneumoconiotic, and so on, the Actuary has advised the Minister that the Fund is quite able to carry these additional benefits.
§ Mr. Powell
Certainly, so far as the next few years are concerned, there can be no doubt about that. But in due course we shall have the quinquennial review of the 1946 Act, and I thought it worth while when on the fifth occasion in two years we are adding to the burdens on the Fund without a corresponding increase in the income to draw attention to the actuarial problem.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)
I join in welcoming this Bill, which seeks to remove some of the anomalies under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946. That Act was introducecd by a Labour Government and was a complete change from the old system of workmen's compensation. The establishment of the National Insurance Fund and the Industrial Injuries Fund has given a wider scope in the treatment of disabled men and, generally speaking, has resulted in an improvement in the rates of benefit. It was only to be expected that in legislation which contained such radical changes in the administration of compensation there would be found by experience certain defects and anomalies.
In all new legislation we learn by experience that certain defects arise. They have arisen in this case. My only complaint is that it has taken such a long time to remedy what are obvious injustices. This is not a party matter. Anyone listening to the Minister would have to agree at once that the remedies he is proposing today should have been carried out a long time ago. I do not think that there will be any disagreement on the various Clauses of this Bill.
The most obvious injustice is that which has already been referred to—the 2121 case where a person has been unable to get industrial injury benefit because he has been assessed at less than 20 per cent. disabled and his condition has not been regarded as permanent. In the last few years thousands of men have failed to get benefit because of those conditions. What is more—and this is a feature which I have never understood about the Industrial Injuries Act—when that person came up for examination by a medical board at a later period and the board assessed his disablement at 30 per cent. or 40 per cent., he could still get no disablement benefit because he had failed in the first instance either on the ground that he was less than 20 per cent. disabled or that the condition was not permanent. In other words, on the second occasion he had to prove that his degree of disablement was substantial and permanent. This Bill removes that injustice, and we are very glad, because it will at least bring in many men and give them a sense of justice in this instance.
The second point we welcome is the benefit for dependants where unemployability supplement is payable. The existing Act provides for the payment of an unemployability supplement to the workman, particularly in those cases where he is unfit for remunerative employment and, owing to the shortage of stamps on his card he could not receive sickness benefit. He then had redress by way of the unemployability supplement. But this supplement only provided benefit for himself. Unlike sickness and unemployment benefit, there was no payment in respect of his wife or children. This Clause helps to put that matter right, so that an unemployability allowance will in future be paid in a similar way to sickness and unemployment benefit.
There is another important improvement, which has been referred to by the Minister. That is in the case of a person who is injured and goes to hospital and is only paid a gratuity. He can now be regarded as totally incapacitated and will be paid additional benefit while in hospital. I want to raise a point in connection with pneumoconiosis cases. Under Clause 3 benefit will be payable to an injured man as long as the disablement is 1 per cent. or more, but the Minister will be aware that in cases of pneumoconiosis no payment is made where the assessment of incapacity is less than 5 per cent. I 2122 see no reference in this Bill to the position of a pneumoconiotic man who may be assessed at a disablement of less than 5 per cent. Provision is being made for the injured whose disablement is less than that, but not for the person suffering from pneumoconiosis.
Whilst I welcome the various Clauses in this Bill, which remedy quite a number of injustices, I am afraid that the Minister has left some glaring injustices which we had hoped he would remedy. What I am about to mention may be regarded as a controversial subject, but it is one which is causing a great deal of dissatisfaction, particularly in the mining industry. I refer to the application of the hardship allowance. Quite apart from the rate of hardship allowance, I want to deal with its administration. I want to draw attention to the position of a disabled man who, for the time being, sees fit to go back to his regular occupation after the injury benefit period has expired.
After his return to his normal work he may continue at it for six, eight or 12 months and then have a relapse. In those circumstances one would have imagined that he would be entitled to the hardship allowance. He has done his best to continue at his work and has failed. He has a disablement benefit; indeed, the disablement benefit may have been increased owing to his condition, but the Industrial Injuries Act, which in this case is not remedied by this Bill, states that before he can receive a hardship allowance he has to show that he is permanently unfit to follow his regular occupation or an occupation of an equal standard.
I know that regulations have been made which are somewhat helpful, whereby if a person undertakes regular occupation for under three months for rehabilitation and training purposes—or for more than three months if he is receiving special medical attention—that period may be disregarded. That provision has been very helpful, particularly for a man suffering from hernia, who has been awaiting an operation, but where he is not receiving any particular medical attention he cannot get a hardship allowance if he continues his regular occupation and later fails. This means that a penalty is being placed upon a man who endeavours to continue at his work.
In these days much is said about coal production. In today's "Manchester 2123 Guardian" there is an article dealing with the present situation in the mining industry. We must never forget that it is very irritating to a man engaged in this industry who returns to his work at a time when we are asking for the production of more coal and says, "I will do my best and see how I get on" when he fails later on and is told, "You cannot get hardship allowance for the simple reason that you have proved that you are able to continue with your regular occupation, and in order to get the allowance you will have to establish that you are permanently disabled."
The man cannot establish that. The medical board would be quite right in saying that although the man's condition had worsened they were not in a position to say that he would be permanently incapable of following his occupation in the future.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
When my hon. Friend says that the miner fails, does he mean that he returns to the same condition of disability that he had before?
§ Mr. Finch
No, he has a relapse. He may or may not be getting disablement benefit all the time. He fails at his employment, and when he goes before the medical board to be assessed the question arises whether he is entitled to this hardship allowance, which is an additional payment. I am saying that he is not entitled to it because he cannot establish that he is permanently incapable of following his job. He has done so for a period, and the Board are not in a position to say that he is permanently incapable of doing the job, and they may be quite right.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. R. H. Turton)
It is a question whether the man is continuously unfit, and not whether he is permanently incapable.
§ Mr. Finch
I shall come to that point In a minute. I want to point out that if a man tries light work, or does not go back to his regular employment, he is not called to prove permanent incapacity for work, but where he returns to his ordinary work and later fails, in order to receive hardship allowance he has to show that he is permanently disabled from following his employment.
2124 In the case of a man suffering from dermatitis, for example, the medical board cannot say that he will never be able to go back to his normal work. They say that he is incapable of doing so for the time being, but that does not satisfy this condition. I would refer the Parliamentary Secretary to the Schedule in the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1948. It is stated:The weekly rate of a disablement pension shall, subject to the following provisions of this section, be increased by an amount not exceeding twenty shillings, if as the result of the relevant loss of faculty the beneficiary—In South Wales, in particular, men are very alarmed at this restriction.
- (a) is incapable and likely to remain permanently incapable of following his regular occupation; and
- (b) is incapable of following employment of an equivalent standard. …"
Let me quote a typical example. Here is the case of Albert James, of Llanhilleth, Monmouthshire, who developed dermatitis on 8th May, 1952. He was idle until 11th June, 1952, then restarted his normal occupation. He applied to the medical board and was then assessed at 20 per cent. to the end of the injury benefit period. On 10th December, 1952, this was reduced to 10 per cent. for the period of six months from 10th December, 1952, but on 7th March, 1953, he failed. His condition had deteriorated.
He applied for a review and the assessment was raised to 25 per cent. Then he applied for special hardship allowance and the local insurance officer asked the medical board's opinion about the permanency, and the board certified that he was not permanently incapable of following his normal occupation. The local insurance officer rejected the claim to special hardship allowance on both counts, that he was at work for nine months, and that he did not suffer a continuous condition and was not permanently disabled from following his normal occupation.
I am concerned about this matter, because it seems to me that a penalty is being placed upon a man who tries his best to continue at his work. It is so alien to the whole position in the country at the present time. We are asking men to do all they can to increase output in the mining industry, and it seems to the injured workman so contradictory that when he tries to do his work and fails he 2125 suffers a penalty. I think it is sometimes thought that these matters of industrial injury benefit and workmen's compensation are far removed from the general industrial situation. Believe me, in the mining industry all this is an integral part of the miner's life. He looks upon this subject of industrial injury and compensation as one of great importance because of the large number of men who sustain accidents from time to time.
I understood, when we were debating formerly legislation providing for family allowances, that although, perhaps, the Minister did not give us a definite promise on the subject of hardship allowance, he did at least say he would have a look at the matter. I am very sorry that he has not seen fit to agree to increase the benefit of hardship allowance. Other benefits have been increased, but this seems to be isolated. For some reason or another Ministers do not seem to want to bother for the time being with the subject of hardship allowance.
I would remind the House of the tragedies that arise out of the rate of the hardship allowance. There are many men who sustain injuries who are skilled men, who have been apprentices and learned their trades, and have been at a job for many years. There are many who suffer injuries who, before their accidents, were earning fairly good wages. They worked themselves up to a good position in their particular industries and earned fairly large wages. Then they sustain an accident. They may have a light job, but they cannot perform their pre-accident work. There is nothing more irritating to a skilled man, to a man earning high wages, than to find that while he may be entitled to disablement benefit he cannot be compensated to a maximum of more than £1 for the loss of his occupation.
Consider the case of such a man. He has been an apprentice and he has become a skilled man. Perhaps his parents encouraged him to go through his apprenticeship and to become skilled at his trade. He suffers the accident and then is robbed of his future position. The amount of compensation he can have, apart from disablement benefit, is a maximum of £1 a week. It is true that the disablement in itself may not be very serious, but the hardship to him is that it is sufficiently serious to prevent him 2126 from following his old occupation. We all know the old instance of the compositor who loses a finger: he can never return to his old occupation. Yet the amount he can get by way of hardship allowance is £1.
Similarly, an engine driver may lose an eye. The loss of an eye, if the other is good, is not in itself so very serious, but for the engine driver it is fatal, because he cannot continue with his employment. He has to take another job, perhaps a labouring job at low wages, and for the rest of his life looks on at his fellow engine drivers earning high wages that he cannot earn. Why? Because he has sustained an accident in his employment. I say that the least that the Minister can do in these circumstances is to look at the question of the hardship allowance and make an increase, if only to compensate those men who. as a result of accident, are unable to continue their ordinary employment.
Section 73 of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act provides for consultation between the Minister of National Insurance and the Minister of Labour from time to time on matters affecting rehabilitation and training. I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary, in his reply to the debate, will give us any information as to whether negotiations have been taking place with the Minister of Labour on training and rehabilitation or the employment of disabled men. There are men unable to do any but the very lightest work who are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain employment. The Remploy factories have come to their aid, I know. There are 6,000 seriously disabled men at present at Remploy factories.
I wonder whether some further instructions could be issued by Government Departments whereby the commodities produced by Remploy factories could be given some preference by the nationalised industries. Could local authorities and Government Departments give some priority to the products of Remploy factories that are doing their very best to give employment to injured men? I think the Minister of National Insurance should be interested in this subject, although, I know, it is primarily one for the Minister of Labour. If the Minister of National Insurance took the matter in 2127 hand he could use his influence to help men to get employment.
Section 83 of the Industrial Injuries Act allows for supplementary schemes to be put in operation by any particular industry. The right hon. Gentleman will know that in the mining industry they have a supplementary scheme. The miners and the National Coal Board make contributions to a fund out of which the miners get additional payments to those payable under the Act. It is a very good scheme. It is working very smoothly, and——
§ Mr. Finch
Yes, it is actuarially sound, though that has nothing to do with the Government. The men pay into it, and out of it, in case of injury, get benefits that accrue. There are regulations affecting it which, I understand, are to be placed on the Table. Regulations are placed here from time to time when changes take place in the payments to be made under a supplementary scheme.
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some information on this matter. Very often when the National Coal Board and the miners negotiate an increased rate under the supplementary scheme it takes time to come to an agreement, and ultimately, when the payment is agreed, it is desired that it should be made retrospectively. For instance, the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers have been negotiating an increase under the scheme under that Section 83. They have now agreed to a new rate to be paid. They are told by the committee dealing with these schemes that they cannot make this payment retrospective to, when the negotiations commenced because it means getting Parliamentary sanction, and I understand that Section 83 does not give that permission.
I ask the Minister whether, when this Bill goes to a Committee, he can give us an assurance or bring forward a new Clause which will enable supplementary schemes in any industry to be made retrospective, if that is the desire of both parties. It is a very simple matter but one which is causing the committee which deals with these supplementary schemes some difficulty, because the men agree on 2128 the new rate and expect the payment to be made retrospective. I hope that the Minister will consider very seriously the question of hardship allowance. It is one of the most controversial features of the Industrial Injuries Act. Many of the difficulties have been smoothed out, but this is one of the most serious that remains. We know how difficult it is. It may be a long time before we get another Industrial Injuries Bill.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) referred to the question of valuation and the state of the Industrial Injuries Fund. I thought his speech would have been more appropriate when quinquennial valuation is under discussion because I think that at the moment the Industrial Injuries Fund is worth £60 million and the amendments to be made under this Bill will cost only about £140,000. While I share his view that in years to come this Fund may get into a rather serious position, we have to deal with the situation as it is. There is a quinquennial valuation in the offing, and when that comes about we shall have the opportunity of going into the whole position.
Some of us on this side of the House have views about how we should meet the future position, but the first thing to do is to give security to disabled men who have sustained accidents in the course of their work. That is one of the burning questions that exist in the minds of industrial workers today, and I hope that when this Bill goes into Committee we shall be able to remove the few remaining injustices which still exist.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry White (Derbyshire, North-East)
I was rather astounded by the contribution to the debate made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). He appeared to think that insurance in this country was like something handed down from father to son— a family affair—because he intimated that there had been only one trend of thought in dealing with National Insurance schemes and so forth. He appeared to have no conception at all of the political strife and struggle which took place in this House when the compensation Acts were discussed in years gone by.
The situation, when it came to dealing with compensation and the compensation Acts, before the inception of the National 2129 Insurance Scheme does not leave many happy memories. The Minister today set himself out to explain to the House that from the inception of the National Insurance Scheme and the Industrial Injuries Act a great change had taken place in the attitude of those who deal with the insured men. We are happy about that.
I do not think that anyone is anxious to cause political strife in discussing this Bill because, so far as it goes, it is a good Bill. For my part, as an old miner who has been through the struggles that took place under the old compensation Acts. I do not care who claims to be the father or mother of this Bill because I know that it will provide benefits which will be acceptable to the people concerned. I know that a great many of those who will benefit from this Bill are in the industry in which I played a part for so long, and that, numerically, that industry will receive as much benefit as any other section of the community.
Therefore, taken on the whole, I think that this is a satisfactory Bill so far as it goes, because it brings about several improvements. That section of the community which sought to bring about and improve the original Act will gain many of the benefits. The amendment to Section 12 of the Act, which provides for disablement benefit to be payable for any period during which the disablement is assessed at 1 per cent. or more, is one which will be specially welcomed not only by those who receive the benefit that it will give but by those whose job it is to look after the people in industry. I am also happy that Section 16 of the original Act, which caused so much concern in the past, is to be amended by this Bill, and that the changed review position under Clause 4 of the Bill is to be faced.
I am glad of the many other things in the Bill which bring about great changes for many hundreds of people. Although it has taken a long time to bring in the Bill, we are glad that it is here, and I hope that the House will help it along as quickly as it can so that the regulations which have to be made will be produced and people will be able to receive the benefits. Section 12 of the Act, as amended, will do much to help many cases, but the position is not cured.
The special hardship allowance, with a ceiling of 55s., is something which 2130 ought to be looked at again with a view to raising it and making it fit in more with the times in which we live. I regret that the Minister, in this respect, has not been more resilient to the approach of the N.U.M. and the T.U.C. and I hope that, even at this late hour, he will give further consideration to these matters.
I substantiate what has been said by my hon. Friend about supplementary schemes. Negotiations between the National Coal Board and the N.U.M. began before the increases in the standard benefits came into being. Agreement was reached after many months. The N.U.M. agreed to withdraw its demand for payment in retrospect from the date when the increases in the general scheme came into operation. It was then possible to get some agreement about the payments under the supplementary schemes, but they cannot be made until regulations have been put into force by the Ministry.
We ask that a clause should be embodied in the Bill giving the Minister the power, where a scheme has been agreed upon before regulations have been signed, to bring the scheme into operation from the date of the original application. That is an old trade union principle. Whenever we have made applications in the trade union movement for rises in wages or differentiations in conditions, they have always operated from the date of the applications. There should be no great difficulty about it because it will not cost the Government anything, and it will give people who have suffered injury the full benefit when supplementary schemes come into operation. The Bill is not a bad one, and I hope it will soon be on the Statute Book.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I hope the House will bear with me while I make a few remarks, although circumstances prevented my hearing the Minister's opening speech. It is always pleasanter to speak in support of a Measure which increases benefits than a Bill which enjoins national or local economy, although the latter may be equally in the interests of the community at large.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
Does not the hon. Gentleman mean that it is easier to support a Bill that one likes than a Bill that one does not like?
§ Mr. Gower
That may be another interpretation of what I said. Nevertheless, hon. Members on both sides of the House always find it more agreeable to speak for Measures which are designed to assist individuals. Benefit to an individual is something which we can easily understand, whereas benefit to the community may be remote and may sometimes be difficult to comprehend. Be that as it may, my right hon. Friend seems to be a happy man. He may well come to be regarded as one who increases benefits. Just over a year ago I spoke in support of another Measure introduced by him to increase benefits payable under the National Insurance Act.
It has rightly been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell)—it was also referred to by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) who always speaks with authority on these matters— that in a year or two we shall have a review of the National Insurance Fund. That is the other side of the question. I urge my right hon. Friend and his hon. Friend to reflect that the real strain on the Fund comes not from Measures like the present one, but primarily from the scheme of pensions for people who in their old age require, and are now entitled to, whatever their means, a measure of assistance from the State. Owing to the better health of our nation and to our ageing population, the burden of those pensions has increased tremendously.
It may well be that in due course we shall have to divide our insurance scheme into two main halves one part being designed to keep people in their old age and the other being designed to protect those who fall by the wayside during their active working life. It may be that, ultimately, the State will be able to rely upon funds and contributed payments to cover one part of the scheme, but in the long run we may have to revise our ideas about funding the other section of it.
It has been pointed out that the Bill may still have some deficiencies which may be remedied in Committee. Perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite desire in some respects to go a trifle further than the Minister is prepared to follow them in existing financial circumstances. Be that as it may, I hope that in our system of industrial national insurance and in 2132 the pensioning of ex-Service men we shall always "lean over backwards" to assist the applicants. That is our duty. I hope that, subject to our duty to protect public money and the public weal, we shall try to fulfil that duty in discussing any Amendments dealing with defects in the present scheme.
The more we can do by Measures such as this one to ameliorate the conditions of those who are in need, the better it must be. We all desire to do so. But there is another aspect of our whole system of insurance which may not always be remembered, and that is that we must never seek thereby to discourage or overlook voluntary thrift. I was perturbed the other day to read how the achievements of the great friendly societies have diminished in recent years. We desire to help those who cannot help themselves, but those who are in a position to make some modest provision for themselves should have some opportunity to do so and should do so because that must be to their benefit and to the benefit of the community at large.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
With the cost of living as high as high as it is, and with their other responsibilities, not many can do that now.
§ Mr. Gower
I quite accept what the hon. Gentleman has said that there are great difficulties. At the same time, I hope that we are not envisaging a future of continual rising costs of living but that we are envisaging some amelioration in this respect.
With those few remarks from this side of the House I commend the Bill. I trust there will be no opposition to it, and I hope that in Committee we may by agreement be able to iron out any anomalies which may be indicated to us.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Dr. H. Morgan (Warrington)
Unfortunately, I have to see many of the cases which come under this Bill, both in a private and a public capacity. From the point of view of legislation the present situation is very unfortunate and very pathetic. The difficulty is that the medical profession, the finest in the world and the keenest if they have the knowledge, are taught too little of the subject in the medical sense. There are few 2133 medical schools in which there are really competent tutors or teachers of this particular subject of pneumoconiosis. Even in some universities today there are no diplomas or degrees given; in others there are given what are called diplomas or degrees, but they are not very satisfactory. Consequently, many of the officers who are doing this work, even men in Government Departments, are not up to modern standards.
Let me say, quite frankly, that Government Departments have improved enormously in the last two decades. When I started in industrial medicine the lack of knowledge not only in the ordinary medical officer but in the medical officer in Government Departments was pathetic. Some of these men have been appointed to various medical boards and they have to make decisions on cases which were brought before them. I hope it will not be taken that I am lambasting good men who try to do their best on medical boards. They do. They try to do their best with the knowledge at their disposal, but they simply have not got the full knowledge or experience.
I sometimes interview these men privately and I find out that they feel very deeply about criticism which is advanced over their decisions in certain cases. They tell me they did not get the facts, they had not got the knowledge and they did not know exactly the conditions under which the particular man was working. So many of the officers who attend these boards find it is a most difficult subject. So many of these men have never been down a mine. They have never seen dust in its various forms or in slag. They never have seen the ventilation of a mine. It should not be beyond the General Medical Council to see that men in certain districts are adequately and properly trained in these subjects. Take, for instance, the subject of dermatitis, one of the most puzzling and intricate cases associated with industry—because there is plenty of civilian dermatitis as well as industrial dermatitis. I see cases nearly every day either in hospital or at T.U.C. headquarters. I have to ask myself whether I am justified in giving an opinion that in a particular case it is really industrial dermatitis or occupational dermatitis which cannot be dissociated from a man's work. When I am finished with that I have to decide 2134 the liability of the disease and then what hospital treatment should be given for this man. It is a most complicated business.
The debate today, while well-intentioned, will not touch the fringe of the subject until we get to the position when we start revising medical education. We have one of the most highly industrial civilisations in any country in the world, and I beg of hon. Members, who will be talking about this subject, to remember that we are not only concerned with the loss to a person suffering from this disease and the length of time it will take him to recover, particularly if he has bad treatment, but that there is also the aspect of the question that the men who are dealing with the cases, and even those in Government Departments, really do not know much about the subject and have not seen many real cases of industrial disease spreading to almost every part of the body.
I want to confine myself to my speciality in this subject and though it may bore the House tremendously I would urge that we must make an effort to get, in our Government Departments particularly, officers who are properly trained in the treatment of industrial diseases. Some of them were trained 20 or 30 years ago and though they have been taught industrial medicine they have not modernised themselves on the subject as I had to do. I was not taught industrial medicine. The T.U.C. did not give me an appointment because my name was Morgan, or because I was pretty. The T.U.C. appointed me because I provided proof that I had knowledge of these diseases through various trade unions, that I had studied the subject and that I had got as much information as possible on the various diseases which were then being scheduled and put on a special list and recognised as industrial diseases.
I want to make my speech short, and, therefore, to confine myself to the subject of medical education. Many of the hospitals have improved within the last 10 years or so on this subject. They have excellent tutors, doing very fine work, but there are some who are really not up to date in industrial medicine. When a man gets a disease like dermatitis he develops what is called allergy in some cases, just as the man who suffers 2135 from hay fever, as I do, gets an irritation from pollen during the pollen season. After a time a man working with a particular kind of wood or chemical substance gets a response through his body and finds that there is a considerable irritation. Sometimes it is much worse as a result of this allergy.
Then there is the question of scheduling these diseases. Who is responsible for the scheduling or special list for recognition? Again, I fall back on the men in the Government Departments? They are responsible, but they simply do not have, and have not got, the experience. I know, because I have been through the mill. At one time I had not got the knowledge. I had to get it under modern conditions from various schools and also by attending the provincial universities and London University. I had to try to pick up this knowledge as fast as I could. I was not employed by the T.U.C. because I did not know the work.
We have also got the legal men who are defending the victims of these diseases and who make out a case to prove that the men are suffering from a disease which is associated with their work. I do not know whether I am in order, but the relationship of compensation to disease is a most important subject and it is not easy to relate disease to industry. I see these men and their solicitors every day. I see them at hospitals and in T.U.C. offices. The question which often arises in my mind is whether their advisers know whether what these men are saying is right or not.
One of the first things the Government must do is to reform the medical boards. Who sits on these boards? Who decides whether the case coming before them is one for compensation or not? Some of them come from the general practitioner field. They are well-intentioned men, experienced in ordinary ailments, but they have never taken classes in industrial diseases because there are few classes of this kind of a post-graduate nature.
These men decide not only whether the man has a disease due to his work but, what is much more onerous, they have to decide his degree of disability. Sometimes it is amusing to hear them deciding that the degree of disability is 2 per cent., 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. 2136 when it is really 20 per cent., 30 per cent., 40 per cent. or 50 per cent. A man may be able to go home and eat his dinner, but may be incapable of working in a place where he meets sawdust and other irritants.
I want to urge two things. First, the medical schools should be asked by the Government to devote special attention to this subject from the point of view of teaching students and getting them interested in it. Secondly, the medical schools should ask the mining industry, the chemical industry and others to send them as many cases as they can to demonstrate to the students the effect of environment on the workman, sometimes over a period of years. The doctors who are put on to medical boards, who sit there as judges of a case sometimes have a limited knowledge either of the disease or of the industry in which the man is working, with the result that the man is assessed at a disability of 5 or 6 per cent. when, on his history, he should be given a much higher disability.
I hope that this Bill will be passed as quickly as possible, so that we shall have some reform in teaching in the medical profession with the result that the boards will give better decisions.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I shall not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan) in his remarks on the medical aspects of disablement and compensation but will confine my remarks to two matters which the Minister mentioned in introducing this Bill. May I say at once that all of us on these benches welcome all that the Bill contains, and that the Minister will get every assistance from this side of the House in passing it through all its stages.
The Minister referred to the consultations he had with the T.U.C. This raises a rather important question affecting hon. Members of this House. I am a member of the General Council of the T.U.C. so that nothing I say in this connection is likely to be misunderstood. There seems to be a growing tendency on the part of Ministers, when introducing Bills of this character into the House of Commons, to refer to the fact that they have had consultations with the T.U.C., and sometimes they add that the contents of the Bill have been agreed with the T.U.C.
2137 That is desirable up to a point, but it seems to be a weakness in our procedure here if consultations with the T.U.C., and presumably with the employers' side of industry as well, cannot be accompanied by consultations with other informed opinion at the same time. When the Minister refers matters to his advisory committees, there is usually a public announcement of the fact, and I presume that it is open to any hon. Member of this House and to anyone else to make representations to those committees. I presume, however, that on this occasion no public announcement was made of the matters under review, so that many hon. Members who may have had important contributions to make to the Minister's consideration of these matters were unaware that they were under consideration until the Bill was given its First Reading.
I can only suggest to the Minister that on occasions such as this it would be suitable—whether in accordance with tradition or not—for him to let all hon. Members know that he has certain matters under consideration and would be glad to receive any suggestions or opinions which they might like to let him have. In the course of his speech this afternoon the Minister has thrown out some such invitation to us on the wider issues to which he has referred. I am not complaining, but it seems undesirable for it to be thought that when a Minister has reached agreement with the T.U.C., and with the employers' side of industry at the same time, that is the end of the matter, that there is no more to be said, that it is an agreed Bill and that thereafter, while he will listen patiently to what hon. Members may have to say, he will not really be influenced by them because he has in his pocket, so to speak, the stamp of approval of a powerful body outside this House.
I have said all I want to say about that, except to underline the fact that as a member of the General Council of the T.U.C. I am naturally aware of consultations which take place. I think there would be no harm done and much good if hon. Members with experience, most of it appreciable, most of it long, could have an opportunity to say something useful.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I accept the reasoning of my hon. Friend provided he accepts this note of caution arising out of ex- 2138 perience. We must be careful not to commit ourselves too far, but must keep ourselves free for acting in the House and in Committee.
§ Mr. Houghton
I fully understand that sometimes we should like the best of both worlds. We should like to form the mind of the Minister and, at the same time, keep ourselves free to criticise if it does not form in the way we should like. On matters of this kind, however, where expert experience is of great value, no harm could be done if hon. Members were aware of matters under consideration, so that individually and without prejudice or commitment, they could offer the benefit of their experience at a stage when it is easier for the Minister to listen to that advice rather than at a much later stage when Money Resolutions are being drafted and the Bill is going to Committee, with all the customary difficulties of amending it when it gets there.
I want to come now to the much more important question—from the point of view of the Bill—of the special hardship allowance. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), who speaks with such authority, referred to the profound distufbance in the minds of many men who have to claim disablement benefit about the inadequacy of the hardship allowance and the conditions upon which it is granted. Here the Minister came very close to fundamentals when referring to the wider principles behind the Bill. The fundamental question is whether we are to base compensation under the Industrial Injuries Scheme upon the loss or impairment of faculty, the loss of earnings, or a combination of the two.
There is no doubt that we all clearly understood we embodied that in the 1946 Act, a deliberate decision to raise compensation primarily on loss of faculty rather than on loss of earnings. But, with the rise in the level of wages—far in advance of the level of industrial injuries benefits—the question of the hardship allowance has assumed much greater importance today than ever the authors of the 1946 Act thought it would. I believe I am right in saying that initially one out of every three claims for disablement benefit is accompanied by a claim for a hardship allowance. At the end of 1950 one-half of all those receiv- 2139 ing disablement pensions were in receipt also of special hardship allowances. That shows the proportions to which the special hardship allowance has now reached with relation to the total number of disablement pensions.
There is not only the question of the special hardship allowance, but the general level of compensation benefits in relation to the present level of wages. The mineworker, working at the coal face, or highly skilled productive workers in other industries are earning what are, relatively speaking, high wages, but, when they have the misfortune to suffer industrial injury, or become the victims of industrial disease, the highest level of payment they can receive is far below the level of their earnings before the accident or the disease. In those circumstances, it is not surprising that many workers take a backward look and, with all its faults and all its problems, look upon the principle of workmen's compensation with some nostalgic sentiment. They feel that if that scheme could have been brought up to date it could have given them benefit far in advance of that which they receive under the Industrial Injuries Scheme.
We all recognise that a compositor who loses a finger, or an engine driver who loses an eye, is placed in a less favourable position under this Scheme than a clerk who loses a finger or an eye and whose earning capacity may not be permanently impaired, but an eye is an eye and a finger is a finger under the Industrial Injuries Scheme. On the basis we adopted in the 1946 Act of compensation for loss of faculty, the finger of a compositor carries no higher compensation than that of a clerk and the eye of an engine driver carries no higher compensation than the eye of a shop assistant. This is the fundamental question to which consideration has to be given by all sides of the House and both sides of industry.
Regrettable as it is that the Minister has not been able to bring into the Bill this much more important fundamental aspect of the Industrial Injuries Scheme, I think we must forgive him for not having done so, having regard to the profound importance of the matters raised. At the same time, he might have introduced, as an interim measure, some improvement 2140 of the special hardship allowance which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty said, is the only benefit which we did not improve when we had the National Assistance and the National Insurance Bills under consideration in the Committee upstairs last year. There is no doubt that with the widening gap between pre-accident earnings and post-accident earnings, in many cases the special hardship allowance, with a maximum of 20s., is now manifestly inadequate. Although I do not pretend that the continuance of the special hardship allowance will of itself solve the fundamental problem, on whichever leg we stand—or if we try to stand on both— in respect of the principles of compensation, such an improvement would have been a desirable measure to meet what is undoubtedly a considerable hardship in the operation of the Scheme at present.
I am quite certain that before long we shall have to tackle this important question, if only to get some coherence and uniformity in the administration of the special hardship allowance. Although, as we all know on both sides of the House, the basis of the special hardship allowance is the necessity for a change of occupation and inability to follow one's previous employment, it is becoming more and more a matter of differences between earning capacity rather than differences in the nature of employment. I believe that as things are we are in danger of straying in administration from the very principles upon which the special hardship allowance was based, thus leading to much confusion, difficulty and misunderstanding in the minds of claimants and observers of the operation of the Industrial Injuries Scheme.
Whilst welcoming the Bill, we are bound to do so under the shadow of these much bigger questions which will have to be settled. Whether that will be in the relation to the quinquennial revaluation or not—sometimes I think we tend to put too much off to the quinquennial revaluation—the time is coming when we shall have to review the whole of the principles of this Scheme and decide whether we want it to continue on the existing basis.
Since the Minister has consulted the Trades Union Congress on so many of these matters, it is worth while recording that the Trades Union Congress, when 2141 they first put forward their views on industrial injuries to the Beveridge Committee, were not in favour of this type of scheme. They were much more attached to the principles of workmen's compensation because, as one can understand, trade unions are obsessed with earning capacity and attach primary importance to the effect of industrial injury and disease on the economic life of workers. Although this new principle—novel in an industrial injuries scheme, but very familiar in the scheme for war disabilities —was brought into the Industrial Injuries Scheme, it may be that experience will show that we tended not to take full account of the economic circumstances of a worker being unable to follow his previous employment. We may be giving relatively better compensation for loss of faculty than we are giving for loss of earning power.
That might strike us as needing some adjustment because whatever we may feel about compensation for lack of faculties, we cannot give it priority over compensation for loss of earning power, which goes to the very root of the domestic and human lives of those who are the victims of industrial injury and disease. With these things in mind, I hope we may proceed to the matters in the Bill, which is of great importance to those affected by it, with the full realisation that this is merely an interim Measure towards the consideration of the wider issues in this great Scheme for industrial injuries, which we wish to make much better than it is.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Slater (Sedgefield)
The last two speeches from hon. Members on this side of the House have been from men who are specialists in their own fields, both connected with the Trades Union Congress. As one who has just come from the industrial field, I want to tell the House that I believe the workers in industry were grateful when the National Insurance Act came into operation in 1946. It was the culmination of the desires which had been expressed for a very long time by trade unionists in the country.
The State, through the efforts of the Labour Government, accepted the responsibility of furthering the efforts which had repeatedly been made, and the Government introduced this comprehensive 2142 Scheme, in which benefits for industrial injuries play a prominent part. It was thought that at last the people inside industry would be able to look forward to a true state of security, for the essence of the Act was to cover everybody and to provide them with benefits during periods of domestic crisis.
What has happened since that time? From the time of the implementation of the Act, even up to the present moment, world prices have been threatening to undermine the effectiveness of these benefits, and no one will deny that since the time the proposals became effective for the injured worker, the cost of living has increased out of all proportion. The result has been that even the proposals envisaged in the Bill—and my hon. Friends and I are grateful for the provisions in the Bill—will not ease the position to the extent to which we should like it to be eased.
What is the principal proposal in the Bill? It is to relax the conditions for the payment of disablement benefit. This action will remove a sense of grievance which many workers inside industry have had for a very long time because the assessment of their injuries was below 20 per cent. The Bill proposes that in future benefits shall be payable for any period during disablement which is assessed at 1 per cent. or more, whether it is likely to be permanent or not—and we cannot go much lower than 1 per cent.
When we had under consideration the main proposal for increasing benefits from 45s. to 55s. a week we were, in fact, requesting the Government to increase industrial injury benefits by no less than 50 per cent. We asked that that increase should be made in industrial injury benefits to meet the rise in the cost of living which had taken place from 1946 until that time. We got two-ninths on the basic benefits, with additions to the dependancy allowances. Our proposal of 67s. 6d. was turned down and we were granted 55s. instead.
This injury benefit of 55s., which is paid for a limited period during incapacity for work, may be followed by disablement benefit at a maximum rate of 55s. a week, but all this depends on the medical assessment of the severity of the disablement and not upon the loss of earnings. In addition, the special hardship allowance of 20s. a week, about which 2143 much has been said in connection with this issue, may be paid if the injured person is unfit to resume his regular work or equivalent work. I am given to understand that at present 8,000 people in this country are missing disablement benefit, and there are also supposed to be 2,000 who, under the existing Regulations, are as yet unable to get a special hardship allowance. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, for clarification, whether it is now proposed in the Bill that these people, whose claims have previously been rejected because the disablement was neither permanent nor substantial, will now be able to claim benefit under the new Regulations.
The last time I took part in a debate of this nature I presented to the House certain figures of the great part which has to be played by men and boys in my industry in producing the commodity upon which this country depends to the greatest extent at the moment—coal. The provisional figure of those who lost their lives in the mines of this country in 1952 is 420, which is a decrease of 67 when compared with the previous year. Even that figure is still too high, in cost in human life, for giving us the coal which our people in industry demand. I make this impassioned reference to this matter because of certain statements made in the country, against the people inside my industry, by hon. Members of the party opposite—statements denigrating the efforts of our people in the industry in giving of their best in this day-to-day battle with Mother Nature.
Approximately 775,000 claims for injury benefit in Great Britain were made in 1952. One-third of those killed were killed in industry; and about one-third of the one-third were killed in the mines of this country. Seven hundred men died of pneumoconiosis and a further 3,000 have been certified to have contracted this terrible disease. It will therefore be appreciated, I think, by hon. Members on both sides of the House that we have every cause for alarm when such revealing facts are represented to us by those with whom many of us worked before we came to the House.
I believe, therefore, that these figures ought to be sufficient evidence to prove that we as hon. Members must at all times ensure that those who are disabled 2144 through their calling, whatever the industry, and even the dependants of those who have lost their lives, can at least look forward to financial security. I do not think any of us can evade that responsibility, no matter with what employment we have been connected. It is also true that, no matter what Government are in power, they also lay claim to the efforts which can be made by those in industry, the return from whose efforts will substantially assist in improving the country's economy. If that be so, much responsibility rests on us to ensure that these people, from whom we expect so much, are not forgotten.
I wish to refer to injury by process, which should have special consideration and which is not mentioned in the Bill. Since the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act came into operation a number of cases have caused great concern in the mining industry because of the interpretation of the law by the Industrial Commissioner. Such interpretation would appear to be contrary to common logic and has prevented workmen, incapacitated because of their employment, from receiving benefit.
I support that contention by quoting two types of cases. In the one type there may be a single accident or a series of ascertainable accidents followed by an injury and incapacity. In the other there is a continuous process which is going on from day to day, though not necessarily from minute to minute or even from hour to hour. Over a period, that process produces incapacity. In the first type of case the incapacity is held to be an injury by accident, but in the second it is not. The present position cannot be changed without amending the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, and there are arguments against that.
Surely there is no logical distinction between the case of a man incapacitated by a series of cuts, scratches or bruises and the case of a man who, because of his arduous occupation, is subjected to a series of strains which eventually result in complete incapacity. Is there any difference between fibrositis following two bad wettings and fibrositis following a period of working in wet conditions?
It is argued that if the grounds for benefit claims under the Act were 2145 widened there would be an increase in the number of contentious cases brought before tribunals. But could anything be more embarrassing than for the Commissioner to have to explain to a man, totally incapacitated by sciatica caused by the unhealthy conditions in which he has been working, that he may not receive benefit; but that if he had been slightly disabled by dermatitis through the same cause he could receive benefit?
Many men in the mining industry are incapacitated because of the bad conditions in which they have to work. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) referred to some of her hon. Friends who had come from the coalface to this House. I am one of them. In 1950 I came straight from the coalface to become a Member of this honourable House. I know of men who have been incapacitated because of the bad conditions under which they have had to work for many years. Some have had to work in seams from 16 inches to 20 inches in height, with water coming on to them during the whole seven hours of their shift at the coalface. They have had either to lie down or to sit in the water in order to win the coal.
I know of men suffering from serious chest complaints who have had to kneel down to work all day. As one who has worked in the coal industry for over 30 years, I believe that the acute strain imposed on the chest muscles is one of the reasons for the chest complaints from which miners suffer, as well as the dust and other unhealthy conditions. Hon. Members who have had experience of working in the mines will know about this, and it should be our concern to see that miners need have no fear of being forgotten should they become incapacitated.
§ Dr. Morgan
My hon. Friend is referring to a very important matter, the widening of the ground for making claims for incapacity resulting from the indirect effects of employment. The environmental effect of a man's work has a great effect on his health and must be distinguished from incapacity arising directly from his employment. It is sometimes difficult to do that. I do not wish to handicap my hon. Friend in the argument he is advancing but I would ask him to distinguish between what is caused by the direct effect of employment and the 2146 results of the indirect effect of employment.
§ Mr. Slater
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, which will no doubt enlighten the minds of hon. Members.
I wish to refer to something, not mentioned in the Bill, relating to paragraph 83 of the Regulations, which gives certain powers relating to industrial supplementation. It seems rather ridiculous that before parties who have agreed to proposals can implement those proposals, they have to seek the consent of the Minister in accordance with the Regulations. It means that the case is agreed upon by both parties but that the benefit is withheld for many months.
I believe in retrospective payment. Wherever we on these benches have managed to improve conditions or wages for our people, we have always sought to establish that the operative date should be the date when the application was first made. I hope that the Minister will consider whether, under the provision to which I have referred, when a decision has been arrived at the operative date shall be the date when the application was first made.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. J. T. Hall (Gateshead, West)
I am certain that this Bill, which makes a number of changes in the insurance scheme as laid down in the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, will be widely welcomed by industry. I agree with the Minister when he says that the old Act has gone a long way towards removing the shortcomings of workmen's compensation. Those of us who have dealt with cases day by day for many years when the benefits were insufficient and when there were legal actions to establish claims, felt that much had been done to advance the cause of industrial injuries benefit.
While the 1946 Act has been more beneficial to the vast body of men and women who come within its scope, such a revolutionary change could not be expected to be perfect in every detail. There had to be prudence and caution in the drafting of the original Act. I am glad to think that industrial injuries benefit has stood the test of working experience. I think we ought to praise the former Labour Government for its conception of 2147 the project, and the National Insurance officers who have so ably administered the Act. We also appreciate the efforts of all the ordinary people who have co-operated in the success of the Act.
This Bill seeks to go further than the original Act. The Minister is entitled to be commended for seeking to improve some of the provisions of that Act. I assume that he has been advised by the T.U.C. to a great extent, and I would say that the relaxations about disablement benefit will be of main concern to trade union members. I am sorry that the Minister has not gone further in this Bill. I feel that something should be done about the whole range of benefits. The benefits have not increased to the same extent as the cost of living, and there is too great a disparity between wages and industrial injuries benefit. Those who become incapacitated nowadays through injury are once again subject to the same privations as existed under workmen's compensation in the old days. I hope that the Minister will deal with this side of the matter as soon as possible.
I want to raise another matter which is not in the Bill, but about which there is a great deal of concern and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) referred. It relates to the clarification of Section 55 of the main Act which deals with the extension of insurance to diseases, etc. On this point I think the test for benefit is far too narrow. There is benefit for injury by accident, and injury by disease but no benefit for injury by process. That is the point I want to make.
A case came before my union, in which a man named Crooks, who worked in a brick works, was injured by process. This man had to lift clay pipes weighing about 1 cwt. from a barrow and carry them against his body to where they were required on the kiln floor. Crooks was an extremely strong man and he carried from 60 to 70 tons of these objects each week. He took a pride in his strength and was willing to work overtime whenever extra effort was required of him to keep production going. But strong as he was, he overdid his lifting and he developed sagged shoulder muscles.
He applied for industrial injuries benefit, but his application was turned down. 2148 The claim was disallowed and he was awarded sickness benefit. The doctors were satisfied that the disability was due to the nature of his occupation, but according to the Act he could not be allowed benefit. I quote the findings of the tribunal in case No. 39/1 Blaydon, 18th October, 1951:We are of the opinion that the claimant's claim has arisen out of the nature of his employment. We are, however, unable to find that there has been an accident within the meaning of the Act, and that the complaint is the result of a process rather than a specific incident.This is an anomaly. Crooks was laid off work because of a disability arising out of his occupation. Yet he was disallowed benefit under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act because an injury by process is not deemed to be an accident.
§ Mr. Hall
Not in this case.
The Commissioners have tried to define these cases. In one such case, C.I. 29/49 KL, the claimant was allowed benefit, but two later decisions, C.I. 257/49 KL and R.I 42/50, hardened the position, and claims were thereafter disallowed. The first decision was at least an attempt to try to dispense justice. There should be no question of doubt in the matter of benefit for such cases. The applicant is told that the condition of shoulder girdle, or sagged shoulder muscles, is not an industrial disease prescribed in respect of his or any other occupation, and therefore he has no claim to injury benefit. He has not suffered injury by accident, so he has no claim.
It is readily admitted that the lifting of weights results in injury by process, for which the only entitlement is sickness benefit. The earlier decision of the Commissioner—C.L. 29/49—did afford some sort of halfway house between injury by accident and injury by disease. Perhaps the Commissioners in a later decision modified their opinions because they were afraid of the distinction that they had made between injury by accident and injury by disease.
2149 It is very unfortunate for a workman who sustains an injury without regard to the fine distinction so jealously guarded by the decisions of the Commissioners. The solution is simple. The present position is untenable because it is artificial. Injury by accident, injury by disease and injury by process are all the same family. If injury arises out of employment, the entitlement to benefit should not be questioned, and I hope that, even now, the Minister will bring this matter within the scope of his Bill.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
The Minister, I am sure, has been most interested in all the speeches he has heard, and he has heard almost every word of every one of them, because he appreciates that they have been made, in the main, by men who speak from a great depth of personal experience.
The Minister indicated, at the opening of his speech, both appreciation and criticism of the Bill. He said that it was a good little Bill, and, of course, is. My criticism is that it is little and not comprehensive enough, and that, though the Minister intends to remove some grievances by virtue of the Bill, it will still leave a great many more which will not be touched by it. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is also looking forward to the Committee stage upstairs, when we shall assist him to find some betterment, as it was described by one of his hon. Friends.
I have five suggestions to make, some of them covered in part or wholly by previous speakers, and these five suggestions refer to matters omitted from the Bill which, I feel, should have been brought within its scope. We have just heard a most graphic description of the question of injury by process in a case in which a man's shoulder muscles were affected. I have seen a great many cases concerning men who place sanitary ware, in the old-fashioned way, into the bottle-shaped ovens which are associated with the pottery industry. They have to place these things in great containers, and the weight is rarely less than 90 lb. or 1 cwt.; and they have to climb a ladder holding these articles on their heads, and then lift them into position with their hands.
After firing has occurred, after three or four days. the reverse process occurs, 2150 and they must be taken down again. Again and again. in scores of cases, I have seen men who had reached maturity in years, when they are between the ages of 50 and 60, whose muscles on the shoulder girdle and in the upper part of the arm have begun to waste.
This is further evidence of what my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) said about injury by process, but men could never get benefit in such cases under the old Act, nor can they get it under this Bill. After one of my hon. Friends on this side had attempted to bring forward a Private Member's Bill making injury by process a legal matter entitling the workman to benefit, the Minister told us that if he would withdraw the Bill the right hon. Gentleman would set up a committee, which I am sure he has done.
His Parliamentary Secretary suggested on that occasion that suitable words would be found, if it were at all possible, whereby these men could obtain justice, and that, if such words could be found, they would be inserted into the parent Bill. We have not yet had any report about this, and I presume that the Minister has not had such words offered to him.
§ Mr. Peake indicated dissent.
§ Dr. Stross
The words that are wrong are "injury by accident." We could have had some more suitable words, such asinjury arising out of or in the course of employmentwhich would be an umbrella to cover all these three things.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
Is my hon. Friend aware that, not long ago, one of the most fruitful sources of litigation was the doubt about how to interpret what was arising out of and in the course of employment? If I am successful in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I intend to deal with that point.
§ Dr. Stross
I am looking forward to listening to my hon. Friend.
What we have heard about the three things we are discussing—the scheduled diseases, injury by accident and injury by process—are all things that happen in the employment of men, and we have an 2151 ample supply of examples which we could offer as illustrations. For instance, writer's cramp is scheduled as a disease, and compensation is payable because it is assumed that there is loss of faculty. I am familiar with the case of a painter, a girl who was handling a brush more often than clerks handle a pen. She got writer's cramp, but could not get any compensation or payment at all, but she was not a writer, although using a brush as everybody else would use a pen. I suppose that if she had lived in China she would have been entitled to benefit.
There are many anomalies of that type which we could mention, and the Schedule is by no means complete. The Minister knows that the Schedule has been extended in all directions, and the very fact that it has had to be increased from time to time is evidence of the unsatisfactory nature of the position at any particular time. I remember that, a few weeks ago, when we were debating a similar matter, the Parliamentary Secretary said with pride that we had scheduled beryllium poisoning without finding one single case in this country. That was done on the evidence of a couple of cases reported in the United States of America.
I asked the Parliamentary Secretary a question which he never answered, and I therefore address it now to the Minister. Does the right hon. Gentleman know that, since 1924, we have had reported not one but several cases of cadmium poisoning, and yet cadmium is still not in the schedule? The right hon. Gentleman will be hearing more on that point from one of my right hon. Friends.
If I may come to another point, may I ask the Minister whether he has ended the anomaly connected with workmen who are injured while travelling to work? It is Section 9 of the 1946 Act which deals with this matter, and I understand that that Section covers workmen who are passengers in transport operated by their employer, but that, if the workman rides a bicycle or drives his own vehicle at the request of the employer, he is not covered, unless it is a term of his employment that he should actually so ride or drive. That is not fair, and it would not cost much to cover a point of that description.
2152 I am sorry that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) is not in his place because I can assure him that we are not very poor as far as this Fund is concerned; not yet, anyway. It is an insurance fund, and, when we come to the review next year, we may find that we shall have £80 million or £90 million saved from these last few years.
So much has been said about the question of special hardship allowances that I can cover my point in a sentence or two. My objection to the rigidity of the hardship allowance and the way it is allotted rests upon this argument. I know that, again and again, injured workmen may so recover as to be considered fit for their former occupation or its equivalent.
But that judgment is based upon one solitary fact—can he do work at a similar rate of pay? It is never taken into account that the man may, in fact, be unfit to do overtime, whereas formerly he could; that he may have lost his capacity for working at the same speed at which he worked before the injury, and that he may be subject, as has been said already, to a breakdown. The two big groups of cases where breakdown occurs after apparent recovery are those of hernia and dermatitis due to the result of the first injury, or to the primary attack.
Therefore, new words should again be sought to deal with special hardship so as to include the man who is incapable of earning his normal wages, including overtime, bonus payments and all other payments equivalent to those which he would have been earning had he not suffered the relevant accident. I hope that this is not boring the Minister. I do not think it is, though I can well believe that he has heard about this from many quarters before. But we must say it again and again, until we are successful in getting the Act altered to cover all these grievances.
My fourth point is the matter of the machinery of appeals. Here I must speak with diffidence and must tread, like Agag, very gently. I think it was gently.
§ Dr. Stross
I must tread delicately. I believe that someone else was accused of treading with tinkling anklets, but I must tread delicately.
2153 As the House knows, at present the medical tribunal consists of three people, the legal chairman and two medical assessors. I do not want to be misunderstood when I say that I think that a man is best tried by his peers, and that lay people, who understand the environment of an injured workman, may often be more successful in estimating what loss has really been suffered by the injured man than are the medical men.
The medical men are there to assess loss of faculty, but the exact percentage should not be left to the medical men alone. I am not sure that they should do more than advise lay people, or, if it is desired that medical men should sit on the tribunal, that more than one of the three should be a medical man and the other two laymen.
§ Mr. Houghton
My hon. Friend will realise, of course, that the test under the Act as at present is the loss of faculty, and not the loss of earning capacity.
§ Dr. Stross
I recognise that type of yardstick, but, when estimating loss of faculty, it can be done either by having a printed schedule with little power to vary its terms or there can be the possibility of varying them. If a man is a layman, he is more likely to give justice than if he is a strict professional person.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
Would my hon. Friend apply this criticism to cases of industrial disease? Hon. Members on both sides of the House have, from time to time, objected to cases of industrial disease being assessed by people without proper qualifications.
§ Dr. Stross
I am sorry that the impression has been given that assessments are made by people who have not the proper qualifications. I do not think there is any substance in that criticism.
§ Dr. Stross
There is no substance whatever in the allegation that men on pneu-moconiosis panels do not know what coalmining is like. The reason I have made this criticism is that I believe that, on the whole, the assessments are too low. Indeed, I think they are abominably low. and this is what is going to happen if we are less fortunate than we have been collectively in the past.
2154 The cover far the Act has been full employment, but if we get unemployment and these miserable assessments in so many of the case still continue, how are men to live unless they go to the Assistance Board? In that case, we shall find a great spate of criticism about this Bill which we have been saying today is so much better than the old workmen's compensation Acts.
I have here a few illustrations provided by my colleagues in North Staffordshire and which were obtained from the National Union of Mineworkers. There are three cases. The first is of a man who was certified in September, 1948. The appeal tribunal awarded him a 2 per cent. loss of faculty from 20th March, 1949, for the rest of his life. As a result, he receives £22 10s. Miners present will be interested to know that nystagmus can be diagnosed at the outset as giving only a 2 per cent. loss of faculty.
The second case is even more interesting. The man was certified in May, 1949, and he accepted work on the surface very shortly afterwards. The medical board saw him in July of that year and found no loss of faculty. This decision was upheld by the medical appeal board in December of that year. This is a fascinating illustration. One can make a diagnosis of nystagmus which can be one of a few types. It can take the form of oscillations of the eyeballs, lid spasms, tremor of the hands or of the psycho-neurotic type with increased knee jerks, tachycardia, and so on.
To say that one can both make a diagnosis and know at once that there is no loss of faculty is arrant nonsense, because, if there is no lack of faculty, it cannot be diagnosed. There must be loss of faculty for an appreciable time. I will not bother to say anything more about dermatitis except that I am amazed, and so are others, to find that men can be certified as suffering from dermatitis and then, in an incredible number of cases, there is a change and industrial dermatitis becomes constitutional eczema with no loss of faculty. That is very remarkable, and it has only happened since our constituents have fallen beyond remedy into the hands of my colleagues, the medical profession.
Finally, I wish to refer to Section 39 of the original Act, which gives the Minister the right of appeal at any time 2155 against the injured workman when the assessment is only provisional. But the workman, on the other hand, must wait two years before he can appeal against the Minister. That is a very strange state of affairs. I can understand the background for that argument, because, when in 1946 we first set up the machinery of this Act, it was said that if there were too many appeals the machinery would break down. But we now know that it would not.
How can we offer the people the semblance of justice if we give the Minister certain powers over them and do not give them similar powers over him? It is not equitable. On this side of the House we feel very deeply about this matter and all matters of this kind, because they are human problems. Throughout a long Parliamentary career the Minister has shown himself capable of the deepest sympathy with this type of suffering. That is why he is now the Minister of National Insurance. We will help him in Committee upstairs to make this good little Bill into a better big one.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Bowles (Nuneaton)
Having sat all through the debate I am sure that the Minister's request to hon. Members to make suggestions to him has been very well carried out and that we shall have a good time in the Standing Committee as a result. My hon. Friends have made many of the points that I was going to make, but I should like to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan), in which he mentioned the medical tribunals.
I have been in communication with the General Secretary of the Warwickshire District of the National Union of Mine-workers and I have had a chat about the Bill. I understand that his union are quite satisfied with the Bill so far as it goes, but he writes to me as follows:On the broader issue, however, I do feel that we are getting to the stage when the insurance officers and medical boards place too rigid an interpretation on the words of the original Bill rather than to view it in the light of the explanation given by the then Minister of National Insurance"—my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths)—wherein he stressed that the Act should be administered with rather a different outlook 2156 than the old Workmen's Compensation Act had been administered, and also that in the case of doubt, the workmen should be given the benefit.Mr. Pratt goes on to say:Because this is not always carried out there is a considerable amount of time and expense involved in appeals to local appeal tribunals, medical appeal tribunals and to the Commissioners, and I feel that if the cost could be ascertained as to the amount of money taken to pay doctors, chairmen of the tribunals, insurance officers, insurance clerks, trade union officials, and workmen, who all have to lose time from other work to attend the various tribunals, it would be found that, in my opinion, a great deal of money and time is involved, and it would be much cheaper to the nation as a whole, and certainly of greater benefit to an injured workman, if the insurance officers and first medical boards did give a more liberal assessment of our members' cases.If my right hon. Friend could, by the end of this debate—or perhaps I could put down a Parliamentary Question to him on the subject—give the House an estimate of the cost to the nation arising from all these things which the General Secretary of the Warwickshire miners has set out in that letter to me, we should be grateful.
That is all I have to say, in view of the excellent speeches to which the Minister has listened from half-past three this afternoon. I hope that in Committee he will see his way to adopt some of the alterations that have been suggested. I hope also that the Money Resolution has not been too tightly drawn to permit of the alterations that some of my hon. Friends have pointed out ought to be made.
It is 56 years since, in 1897, the original Employers Liability Act was passed, providing some compensation for injured workmen. In that period there have been very great improvements, but I always come across in my constituency cases which are referred to as "pre–1924." I hope that some of my hon. Friends may be good enough to take up that point in Committee and to see whether the Bill can rectify these sad anomalies, which are outside the present progressive legislation in regard to industrial injury.
Perhaps the Minister might see his way to put down Amendments along those lines. Present conditions are causing more distress in parts of the mining industry than any other anomaly under the workmen's compensation Acts. I hope 2157 the Bill will come into effect soon, and that the alterations suggested by many of my hon. Friends will be received favourably by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
Some of my colleagues believe that when the workmen's compensation Acts system ended there was general mourning among the lawyers in the Temple. Those reports are grossly exaggerated. But whatever was contemplated when the old workmen's compensation system was abolished, what was not contemplated was that any workman should be worse off under the new system than under the old.
Unfortunately, far too many workmen in the country are undoubtedly worse off under the new system than they were before. The old days of payment for partial incapacity are looked at with nostalgia by those who are now not adequately covered by the arrangements under the National Insurance Act for special hardship allowance. It was contemplated under that Act that the special allowance would meet the case, but we know from experience that it does not do so. I should like to hear from the Minister or his Parliamentary Secretary—if I can secure the attention of one or other of them for a moment—whether we might have a little more information about the action which is contemplated to remedy the inadequacy of the special hardship allowance and the restrictive interpretation of Section 14 of the 1946 Act, which is causing real hardship and a real sense of grievance among injured workmen today.
We were assured in the opening of the debate that inquiries were being made and investigations were being carried out and we should like to know whether action is contemplated now under the Bill or not. If not, I fear we shall have to spend a little time in Committee seeking to assist the Minister—whose heart is with us in this matter—in his intellectual processes by putting down the necessary Amendments to end the injustices that exist in this part of the scheme.
The real difficulty which has arisen under Section 14, is, as I understand, this. The test that is applied is whether a person is capable of following his regular occupation or employment of an 2158 equivalent standard. This phrase, unfortunately, is being narrowly interpreted so that a claimant's employment is judged to be of equivalent standard when the basic rate is the same. No regard is had to inability to work overtime or to such factors as reduction in the speed of work, the need to change to a job which involves longer hours or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) has pointed out, to temporary breakdowns which can occur from time to time with an injury such as hernia or dermatitis.
All I want to say about this matter is that we certainly contemplate putting down for the Committee stage the kind of Amendment which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) has already mentioned. Of course, if we can get a definite assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary during this debate that he has something tangible and immediate in mind in regard to special hardship allowance, we might withdraw that threat or proposal. We should like an assurance that the matter is receiving active attention.
There is another part of the Bill on which I should like a little elucidation, because it is drafted in such wide terms that it enables the Minister to deal with some of the points that my hon. Friends have raised, and, in particular, the problem of the failure of the Act to provide for disease or illness arising from an industrial process. Indeed, in its present form the Bill is wide enough to enable the Minister, by regulation, to allow injury benefit in the case of diseases which are not prescribed.
I am referring to Clause 3 (2). It is a most admirable draft. If the Minister interprets it generously, and if it is deemed to be capable of such generous interpretation, it enables him to deal with almost all the illogicalities, injustices and inequities in the present scheme. The words are:Regulations may provide for treating a person for the purposes of the principal Act as incapable of work by reason of some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement, or as incapable of work as the result of an accident or injury, when he would not he so treated apart from the regulations, …Then the paragraph states that the regulations may also do something else.
Those, indeed, are noble words to insert in this Bill because they give the Minis- 2159 ter—and we now have a sympathetic Minister—power by regulations to abolish all the anomalies of which we complain. In my submission, that is what these words mean at the moment. If that is the correct interpretation, we give the Minister the assurance that we shall fight hard against any change in the words of the Bill. But I fear that that optimistic view of their intention and meaning may not be held by the Minister, because I note that in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum there is a somewhat miserable note thatClause 3 (2) allows the days on which an insured person is to be treated as incapable or as not incapable, of work as a result of his accident to be defined by regulations.As it stands the use of the conjunction "and" in the 25th line of Clause 3 (2), the line which states:… would not be so treated apart from the regulations, and may …indicate that the matters before that line stand on their own feet and give the Minister power, by regulation, to remedy those anomalies for which, as time has shown, the best thought and planning in 1946 did not provide.
If these powers are permitted to remain in the Minister's hands, then, manifestly, the most urgent problem to be dealt with is the difficulty that has arisen for the insured workman through the fateful inclusion in Section 7 of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act of the words "by accident." The Minister will say what actuated the insertion of the words:by accident arising out of and in the course of employment.It may be that it was the principle that the devil one knows is better than the devil one does not know, because similar words were used in the workmen's compensation Acts. But events and time have proved that the inclusion of those words "by accident" has resulted in many men who were injured in the course of their work being deprived of the industrial injury benefit which it was intended that they should receive.
Many illustrations have been given by my hon. Friends. I read a case this morning where a claimant suffered from a foot ailment which was not a prescribed disease. It was caused by working in gum 2160 boots in cold and wet conditions. It was held that he had not suffered from an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment and he received no industrial benefit at all.
It seems to us on this side of the House that there is no reason in logic or, what is perhaps more important, in equity why injuries or diseases caused by bad or unsatisfactory conditions of work should not be covered, especially when we have an Industrial Injuries Scheme which covers injuries caused by an unexpected event, and which has gone so far that it covers a workman acting in disobedience both of his employer and statutory regulations.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
I am willing to be corrected by my hon. Friend in due course if he succeeds in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker.
I submit that the result of the interpretation and inclusion of the words "by accident" has been hardship in several individual cases. It is resulting in a fantastic situation in which a man cannot claim compensation where his sickness is due to manifestly provable unsatisfactory or bad conditions of work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central drew attention to the somewhat unsatisfactory fact that whereas the Minister can appeal against a provisional medical assessment within two years, the claimant cannot do so. That is particularly undesirable when it is recollected that in many cases, though not, of course, in all, the Minister intervenes not to seek to decrease the percentage of assessment but to increase it; and very often the Minister's appeal is made in the interest of the applicant. In this matter what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the unfortunate victim of. an accident whose living conditions are very much at stake. There should be a principle of equality and equity as between Minister and applicant.
Hon. Members have already referred to the unsatisfactory state of the law with regard to injuries which a workman receives while travelling to his place of work. It is indeed most unsatisfactory from the workman's point of view. This morning I looked at one or two cases which have been decided on this point and I can illustrate the kind of situation that has arisen. In one case a 2161 workman was required under his contract of employment to present himself each morning at his place of work with a motor-cycle so that he could travel round a number of building sites. He was employed by a builder. It was held by a majority decision that an injury which he suffered in a road accident on the way to work was not an injury which arose out of and in the course of his employment.
In another case a claimant arranged with his employer that he should motorcycle to work and carry a fellow workman on the pillion. It was held in that case that the injury which the claimant suffered in a road accident while travelling in that way was one that arose out of and in the course of his employment, because by carrying his fellow workman he was performing a duty to his employer.
§ Mr. Bowles
It was because he had started work then, but in the other case the claimant was on the way to work.
§ Mr. Elwyn Jones
Yes. When we come to the Committee stage of the Bill it will be convenient to deal with the small anomaly in Section 9 of the Act by eliminating the words "as a passenger." A workman is covered if he is travelling as a passenger in a specified vehicle to and from his place of work, but if he is travelling on his own bicycle he is not covered.
There is another class of accident which is not at present covered by the Industrial Injuries Scheme. That is a case where a workman is injured by reason of a fellow-workman larking. There was a case recently reported, not without perhaps a certain element of humour, where a workman was struck by a snowball. It was thrown by a fellow-workman, not at the victim but at another person. The aim of the larker was bad. The snowball hit the claimant while he was in the employer's premises, crossing a colliery yard. He was quite badly injured, it may be because there was a piece of coal in the snowball, which was perhaps inevitable in that place. It was held by the Insurance Commissioners that the injury he suffered did not arise out of and in the course of his employment. We think that this scheme should remedy that situation.
2162 There are other cases where the present law has resulted in innocent workmen— if one may so describe them—or temporarily inattentive workmen, not being protected. There was the case of a girl working in a laundry who was chatting to a fellow-worker at an adjoining machine, and showing her some photographs. Unfortunately in the course of this odd moment of inattention and relaxation, her hand was caught in the machine. In that case she was held not to be protected under the Industrial Injuries Act because that accident was deemed not to have arisen out of and in the course of her employment.
There are many such anomalies which exist under the present scheme. We promise the Minister an interesting and, we hope, fruitful time in Committee. I entreat him to retain the promising words contained in Clause 3 (2) and to give them the generous interpretation which I have sought to put upon them.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I think it was the late George Bernard Shaw who said, "When you find a perfect man you will find a perfect nuisance." I would add that when we find a perfect Bill it will become a perfect nuisance. This Bill is far from perfect, but it goes a long way towards erasing some of the hardships which have been experienced during the last two or three years. The Minister said that this was a good little Bill. I assure him that if he will take a little notice of what is said by hon. Members on this side of the House when the Bill is referred to a Committee upstairs, we shall make a good little Bill a much better Bill.
The Minister also referred to the review of the principal Act. I am not suggesting that he is sheltering behind that review, which is to take place in 1954. I appreciate that he is imbued with the idea that, having regard to the many anomalies which are now showing themselves, it is of paramount importance that this Bill should be brought forward in 1953 rather than that it should wait until 1954, and I congratulate the Minister on having brought it forward now.
The Minister then gave an open invitation to Members on both sides of the House by saying that any suggestion that we could make for the purpose of investigation when the present Act was under 2163 review would be gladly considered by him. We welcome that opportunity, and I should like to make one suggestion now. What the Minister and his Department have to do is to apply their minds to increasing the benefit rates of workmen's compensation. The present rates are far too low to meet the increase which has occurred in the cost of living since the rates were fixed. He should take that suggestion into consideration. In my judgment, as one who has had a very long experience in operating the various compensation Acts since 1897, that compensation either for loss of faculty or loss of complete ability to earn one's livelihood has never been what it ought to be. Compensation and benefits have never borne a proper relationship to the wages earned by the injured workmen, and I suggest that the Minister would be well advised to apply his mind to increasing those rates.
He then expressed a very strong desire that the Bill should operate successfuly. I am sure that everyone on this side of the House—representing as we do men and women who earn their livelihood in industry—join him in that desire, but I assure him 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.
We have a saying in Lancashire, "Speak your mind and yet be kind. Give good advice and yet be nice." I am going to speak my mind and try to be nice. In order that this Bill and the regulations made under it should meet with the success they so richly deserve, the machine will have to operate speedily. We find that many of the delays under the 1952 Regulations are causing grave concern in the mining districts. I have the greatest admiration for the Minister, his Parliamentary Secretary, and all the personnel working in his Department. It is not they who are wrong; it is the machine which they operate that is wrong. In my judgment that machine requires some overhauling and speeding up.
I shall seek to prove that. I have had several cases brought to my notice. The Minister and his Department should 2164 remember that we are dealing with men who had been waiting many years before they were brought within the Scheme. This is the fifth Bill we have had to bring forward within the last few years, which is conclusive evidence that when we passed the major legislation we omitted to bring within its scope certain men who were entitled to compensation; they were left by the wayside.
I wish to cite one or two cases, the first of which arose under the 1952 Act, which brought within the ambit of compensation men who had been denied compensation, because of the period during which they had been unemployed, when they were found to be suffering from silicosis or pneumoconiosis. The fact that they had been out of industry for a longer period than five years meant that they were denied the right to receive compensation. The 1952 Scheme gave them that right, but what is the present position?
In the case to which I wish to refer the man has been out of the pit since 1924. For 29 years he has been out of industry and without any compensation, for an industrial disease which he contracted in the pit. I want the Minister and his Department to remember that men such as this have been waiting for a very long time and speed is essential in order that they may be given a crumb of comfort in their days of want.
I started on that case on 5th March. The Minister knows about it, because he has been very kind to me in discussing it with me to see if we could bring about an improvement. Today is 25th June. Fortunately I have received today a letter from the North of England intimating that the compensation claimed in this case has now been admitted by the Department and the man will get compensation. Consider, however, the time that has elapsed between 5th March and now. In my judgment it ought not to take that length of time to determine a case of entitlement to compensation.
I am the first to admit that there are difficulties in these cases. There are difficulties which the ordinary man in the street does not understand. There are difficulties because men have been out of industry so long that the pits at which they worked have gone out of commission and one cannot find the under-manager, or the registers of the collieries have been destroyed. Some of these cases require 2165 a great deal of time, I know, for securing the evidence by which a man may prove his entitlement to compensation, and upon which the Department must pay compensation or benefits if the man proves his case. I admit all that, but it ought not to take so long to determine a case.
There is another disquieting feature of the present Act. I want to remedy it if I can. In the speeches heard from these benches there have been remarks about the operation of the old workmen's compensation Acts, and the Industrial Insurance (Personal Injuries) Act. I agree that these operate on two entirely different principles. One used to pay compensation for loss of earning capacity. The one operating now pays for loss of faculty, and there is a vast difference between the two things, between loss of wages and loss of faculty. Why is it that we are receiving so many complaints from our injured workmen on the ground that they are not being assessed correctly on the basis of loss of faculty?
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) hit the point. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Morgan) also emphasised it. I want to make clear that I am not finding fault with the medical or surgical qualifications of the people on the medical boards. What I do say is that we have now on the medical boards men and women doctors who have very little or no knowledge of industrial conditions. I beg of the Minister, when he is setting up his medical boards or improving the medical boards to which the injured workmen are submitted for assessment, to see that there are on them medical men who understand the industrial conditions under which these men and women sustain accidents. They will be in a better position correctly to assess loss of faculty than a medical person who does not know what industry is.
I am glad to find that important Clause, Clause 4, in the Bill. The Minister referred to it. I am not under-estimating the importance of the other Clauses, but I think that Clause 4 is very important, having regard to the complaints which we are receiving about the very low assessment of loss of faculty. I promise the Minister that we shall make an attempt to amend the Clause, so he had 2166 better arm himself with all the information necessary. The Clause makes a number of minor changes in the provisions for the review of decisions on the assessment of disablement, and it gives an enabling power under which regulations may modify provisions for obtaining relief.
That is a step in the right direction. However, in 1946 we in this House attached very great importance to the humanitarian operation of the scheme, and I regret to say that I have found that as the legislation and the Regulations are operated in the regions and in the offices there is not the same humanitarian spirit as there was on the Floor of this House. I hope not only that we shall express our profound human sympathy with these men who have the misfortune to sustain accidents, or contract diseases, but also that, when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, our sympathetic approach will be adopted in the districts and the regions by the regional officers, and that they will understand what we mean in this Chamber when we discuss compensation payable to injured workmen.
I quote another Lancashire saying: "Sympathy without relief is like mustard without beef." It is very sharp. We want to bring relief to these men. If we do, we must do it with all speed. There was a great deal said in 1952 about the number of men concerned. I am amazed at the number of cases now coming forward under the 1952 Scheme. I am speaking about Lancashire. The Minister and his Department were good enough to tell me the number of men who have been examined. In the nine months from 1st July to 31st March 880 have been examined under one Scheme; under another, 26; under another, 278. All told, in Lancashire from July, 1952, to the end of the first quarter of this year 1,174 men who had hitherto been denied the right of compensation were brought within the ambit of the compensation law. If that is the figure for Lancashire, what must it be throughout the country?
The Minister will have a difficult task. He will face more applications for compensation than the Department has ever received. They will be cases that will be very complicated and complex. However, there is no reason on earth, in my judgment, why the cases should be held 2167 up in the manner in which they have been, for a number of months.
I refer again to the loss of faculty, and to how that operates to the serious disadvantage of the injured workmen. There is a case in my village of a man who contracted silicosis. He was examined, and brought out of the pit. He had to come out of the pit for it would have been suicidal had he continued in it. Out he came on my advice. "What must I do?" he asked, "I cannot live on the miserable benefits that they are paying, and I am not going to the National Assistance Board." Any injured workman who is compelled by sheer economic circumstances to seek recourse to the National Assistance Board reflects disgrace upon this honourable House. No injured workman, no matter what his politics are, ought to be compelled to go to the National Assistance Board for help when he has suffered an accident or contracted a disease while providing some commodity for the nation.
To return to the case of the man who had to come out of the pit, he asked "What must I do?" I told him that he would have to find a light job. Anyone who knows the mining industry knows very well that it has few light jobs. The lightest jobs are those occupied by the managers and the under-managers.
§ Mr. Brown
Their work is mental work, while ours is physical. All the other jobs in the mining industry entail heavy work.
The man had been earning about £10 a week at the coalface. When brought out of the pit he secured a job to keep body and soul together and was paid £6 a week. Thus there was a difference of £4 between what he would have earned had he continued in the pit and what he earned when he left the pit. That man cannot get one penny compensation because the Silicosis-Asbestosis Board at 64, Bridge Street, Manchester, have laid down that his condition is not impaired as a result of contracting the disease. That is wrong. His condition certainly has been impaired, and his wage-earning capacity reduced, and I believe that man ought to have compensation.
We accept the Bill, in spite of all its shortcomings. I hope that I shall be a member of the Standing Committee which 2168 deals with it. I assure the Minister that we shall make every effort to bring about some improvements to make the Bill a much better one. I know that he has done his best. I hope he will not misunderstand me: I have had some experience of the way in which he deals with compensation. We shall do our level best to help him, but I beg him not to adopt the same attitude as he did when we sought to improve an earlier Measure in Standing Committee. I welcome the Bill, because, by bringing them within the scope of our compensation law, it will bring a crumb of comfort to men who were left by the wayside many years ago.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Horace E. Holmes (Hemsworth)
I always listen with sincere appreciation to contributions by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). More than 30 years ago I was running contemporary with him in Yorkshire, and we have shared a great human experience as the result of what we have seen of the application of various compensation Acts.
Tribute has been paid to the Minister for his human approach to the subject. Speaking personally, I expect it from him, for I know his background. I knew his father and his brother in the coal industry, and they always had a very human approach. They were the most enlightened people in the West Yorkshire coalfield in dealing with human problems. As the Minister has a background of that character, we expect this approach from him. If he has not gone quite far enough, during the Committee stage we shall try to make him go a little further.
About 30 years ago this month I was elected secretary of a large miners' branch in Yorkshire. After 23 years I resigned, and I handed to my successor a file of more than 10,000 cases of all kinds of industrial accidents and diseases which had occurred during that service. That was equivalent to every man at that large colliery being injured or suffering disease three times during the 23 years. Since then I have had something to do with every new Act of Parliament. I was in office when the 1923 Act became operative, on 1st January, 1924, and I knew the human problems that we left behind when we did not deal with the pre-1924 cases.
2169 Every Act which has gone on the Statute Book has contained anomalies and has left behind some forgotten men. I rise tonight to emphasise that it is the duty of the House of Commons to eliminate as far as possible these injustices and iniquities. The Bill gives us the opportunity to do so. We shall never secure satisfaction and reduce the anomalies to the minimum unless we constantly develop closer research into all our industrial diseases and other problems. I pay tribute to the various Ministries for what has taken place in recent years.
I am satisfied that diagnosis is now far better than it used to be. I remember a workmate of mine who spent many years on drifting and developed what his doctor said was silicosis. The medical board said that it was not silicosis but bronchitis and asthma. The man then had to wait a while for a second examination. At the second examination he was certified as suffering from silicosis. Ha died less than six months later. A pathologist examined his lungs and reported to the coroner that they were solid with dust. Yet only a short time earlier the medical opinion had been that the man was suffering from bronchitis and asthma. I urge all the Ministries concerned to remedy such anomalies and injustices by means of thoughtful and careful research into the diseases.
I remember a row I once had with a Ministry of Labour representative. Before the First World War I was a victim of nystagmus and had to come out of the pit. In later years I was speaking to a Ministry of Labour representative who did not know my experience. He spoke to me about men who were suffering from nystagmus and were registered for light work. I was a branch official representing one of the men. The Ministry of Labour representative said "'Nystagmus' is only a substitute for 'light work'." That was then the approach. I am pleased with the new human approach to these problems.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ince said, we have examined the Bill and we find that it goes a long way in removing some anomalies and injustices, but there are still one or two more points which will need to be looked at more closely and carefully. I am sure that every hon. Member who has spoken appreciates what has been done, and we 2170 give our blessing to the Bill, but at the same time we must make as sure as we possibly can that it will not leave behind another list of anomalies and forgotten men.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I should like to comment on something which has not been discussed so far during the debate. All kinds of difficulties and problems have been put before the House, and I want to put one to hon. Members of which both sides should take note. My main purpose in rising is to point out the weaknesses that exist in the scheme for the payment of benefits to women who are widows because of fatalities in industry as compared with those who are widows because their husbands are killed in the Armed Forces.
It has been said that peace is indivisible. There are many other things which are indivisible, too. Production is one and so is national safety, and there are others. They all go together, and if we are to make the best of the situation it is absolutely essential that they should interlink. That does not seem to be the case when I look at this particular question, which has been drawn to my attention because it happened to one of my constituents. She is receiving benefits as a widow under our social service schemes. We are all agreed that the Bill as it stands is good as far as it goes, but, like everything else, it does not go to anything like the length we think it ought and which it could go. It is all a question of how far we ought to go and how far we will go, and those issues will be for the Committee upstairs to decide.
In dealing with industrial accidents and fatalities, I cannot separate the economic needs of the widows of men who are killed in industry from those of the widows whose husbands died on the battlefield, in the air or on the sea. The resulting difficulty to a widow is the same in each case. When I examined the problem I began to wonder where was the justice which allowed one widow to get so much more money in one case than the widow in the other. The widow of the Service man gets more than the widow of the industrial worker. Does it mean that these widows have a different economic need, or are physically different, or that their needs should be 2171 greater or less according to where their husband met his death?
If the husband dies in the Army, the Navy or the Air Force his widow is financially set above the widow of the man who dies in the pit or in the engineering shop. Surely the payment to the widow should not depend upon where the husband died. There is no logic and justice in that. A widow's needs should be determined not by where her husband died, but by how she and her family can exist.
When comparing one benefit with another under our social services there is another point of view which I should like to put forward. Those who are in the Forces make no payment toward their pensions whereas those who are in the workshops have to pay all the time by way of insurance contributions. So there exists this anomaly in our social legislation, that the Service man who is killed pays nothing towards his pension but his widow gets a larger weekly sum than the widow of the man in industry who has had insurance contributions deducted from his wages.
Is it to be said that a higher value is placed on the man in the Forces than upon the man in industry? Take, for instance, the miner. The State will not take him into the Army because it is believed that he is rendering a more valuable service to his country where he is than the men in the Army. Yet when a man is killed in the pit his widow gets less than the widow of the man who is killed in the Army. How can we reconcile those two things?
On 22nd June I put a Question to the Minister of National Insurance on the subject and I propose to read his answer to the House. It smacks of complacency. I asked him:(1) If he is aware that a widow, 40 years old at the time of the fatal accident to her husband, only receives, under the Industrial Injuries Act, 20s. per week pension if there are no children, but that under the Army pensions scheme a widow of the same age, under similar circumstances, receives 42s. per week pension; why the industrial injuries scale is so much below the Army scale; and if he will take steps to bring it up to the higher level;(2) if he is aware that a widow, under the Industrial Injuries Act, only receives 37s. a week even at the age of 50, whilst an Army 2172 widow gets 42s. a week pension in addition to special rent allowances; and if he will consider taking steps to bring widows' pensions under the Industrial Injuries Act up to the higher level in this instance.His answer was:There have always been a number of differences between the industrial injuries and war pensions schemes. Under the Act passed last year, the relative position of widows under the two schemes was maintained and I see no reason to disturb it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1953; Vol. 516, c. 109–110.]The Minister of National Insurance enjoys the respect of the House. There is no doubt about that. His personality is recognised by us all, but is his judgment good when he gives an answer of that kind? It is too complacent for me.
Hon. Members have related personal instances, and I am going to give the House one. I know of a case where a man had been working in the pit for years. He brought up a family until they could all go out to work for themselves. They all had left home, so that only the parents were left together. Then the husband was killed in the pit. What did his widow get? It has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) that under the old compensation schemes, in some cases the amount paid was greater than under the new schemes, despite many of their other advantages.
This woman was aged 49, and after bringing up her family she was left alone through the death of her husband in the pit. A widow of a Service man who is over 40, and whose husband is killed in one of the branches of the Armed Forces, is so provided for that she is not expected to go into the labour market. Therefore, they give her what they consider to be a pension on which she can live. In this case of a woman of 49 whose husband has paid contributions to industrial and other funds for years, because she is one year less than 50, she can get a pension of only 20s.
Where is the justification for that? It may be said that there has always been a distinction, but that does not matter to me. Under the old Act a widow of 20 or 30 in similar circumstances would get about £300 but, despite the so-called improvements, the widow of 49 gets only 20s. That payment was decided on in 1946. Since then the cost of living has gone up by at least 50 per cent. so, to 2173 have the same purchasing power, that widow should have at least 30s. today. During the revision of 1952 we raised most of the benefits under the National Insurance Act and under the Industrial Injuries Act but we left that benefit as it was; and I do not know why. It may be because fatal accidents are more widely spaced than ordinary accidents in the pits.
I believe it is a matter of psychology, which is having its effect even on the trade unions because fatal accidents do not seem to weigh even on the minds of the trade unions. I do not know the exact proportion of deaths which take place in civil life compared with deaths in the Army, but to the nation the life of a man in a civil occupation is just as valuable as the life of a man in the Army. An examination over a long period would show, I think, that there are more fatal accidents in the mines than in the Army. According to my figures there were 549 deaths in 1950 in the mines and 799 in the factories, a total of 1,348 deaths. In 1951, the figures were slightly higher.
Despite the fact that there is to be a revision a year hence, is there any real justification for delaying consideration of this matter? I hope that during the Committee stage of the Bill we shall consider the question of the widow whose husband meets with a fatal accident. I hope that we shall decide that there is no difference between a man in the Services, a man in the pit, and a man in the engineering shop and that their widows and children need the same opportunity to live in decency.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph T. Price (Westhoughton)
The debate on this small but important Bill has now been in progress for nearly four hours and it has proceeded with good sense, a great deal of good humour, and good will towards the Minister. I want to associate myself with the kind things that have been said about the confidence which all hon. Members feel in the deep interest which the Minister takes in Measures of this kind within his Department.
At this time of the day, after all the excellent speeches that have been made, I do not wish to take up the time of the House in repeating the points already 2174 made. In what small contribution I may be able to make to this debate, may I say that during the early years of the operation of the principal Act, from 1st July, 1948, onwards, I had the advantage of handling personally a large number of applications for benefit under the Act on behalf of workmen? I also had the special advantage of appearing for those workmen at every medical tribunal in the British Isles between Edinburgh and London, and of arguing many of the finer points that arose in the interpretation of the Act.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting on a number of occasions, at daily sessions, the Commissioner himself, who has the power to settle entitlement to benefit within certain limits. Arising from that experience—and I speak purely from experience and not in any theoretical sense—I believe we can honestly say to the Minister and the House that whilst the small improvements represented by this Bill are welcomed by everyone in the House, there are some of us who think that after five years' experience of the day-to-day administration of the Act this Bill needs to go much further.
Reference has been made by my hon. Friends to the unsatisfactory state of Clauses relating to industrial disease. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will forgive me labouring some of the points I have tried to convey to him through his Department. I ask him to compare the administration of this Measure as it will affect sufferers from dermatitis, in particular, with the sort of treatment they are getting under medical assessments now being given by medical boards, with similar cases which no doubt are within his experience under the administration of the old workmen's compensation Acts, with all their faults.
I remember taking up, in 1946, a very critical attitude towards the industrial injuries Bill then before Parliament. At that time I was not privileged to sit in this House as I had not been elected. Perhaps I took a minority view, but it was a view derived from experience, that what was primarily wrong with the workmen's compensation Acts was not so much that they gave rise to a great deal of costly litigation, but that the Act of 1925 in particular, and subsequent Acts, 2175 had the major fault that the benefits were too low. I know it has often been flung at the lawyers—sometimes with justice and sometimes wrongly—that those Acts provided many lucrative briefs. That may be so; it may be that many lawyers were able to send their sons to good public schools through briefs on which they were employed under the old workmen's compensation Acts. But the large institution—my trade union was one of the principal trade unions in the country —never needed in the course of a year to litigate in more than 1 per cent. or 1½ per cent. of the cases. There was a great restraining influence in the obtaining of settlements in the vast majority of cases. Now when, one after another, hon. Members speak of the inadequacy of the present compensation, even under the improved Measure which we are operating, they are complaining not so much about the machinery by which the benefits are arrived at, but because the gap has now widened between the loss of earning power and earning capacity and the actual cash benefits received.
I say in all seriousness that the time will come when possibly many of us in this House will begin very seriously to consider whether a fundamental revision of this legislation is not required, and that we should proceed along the lines of restoring the old principle of loss of earnings. I know that has certain dangers. Nevertheless, when I see that medical appeal tribunals are frequently disposing of serious cases of industrial dermatitis with 3 per cent. final assessments, I am rather shocked to know, and to have to admit in this House, in my constituency and in my trade union, that in a considerable number of cases the injured workman is relatively less favourably treated under the present Act than he would have been under the old workmen's compensation Acts. Cases of industrial disease are possibly as good examples as any to illustrate that point.
The other type of case is that in which a workman has suffered a strain, or hernia. It is all very well for medical men—who are conscientious in trying to assess these claims, I have no doubt, to the best of their ability and professional knowledge—to make an assessment based as it were in vacuo on the degree of disablement and arrive at the figure of 5 2176 per cent. or 10 per cent. or some other notional figure and then wipe it off when the man shows signs of recovery. Under the old Acts men suffering from hernia or strains had to be considered in relation to other factors such as loss of earning capacity and loss of field of employment.
There was consideration of whether the man was no longer fit for heavy work, or, if he were a middle-aged man who could not go back to his normal work, whether his field of employment was limited. All those factors were taken into account. Hernia and strain cases under the old law were often the subject of very handsome final settlements by lump sum payments because the man could say he was no longer able to continue in the type of work to which he was normally accustomed. I hope that that matter will be explored very fully in Committee upstairs.
Another matter which was hinted at by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) was the anomaly in the case of a girl working in a laundry. The laundry girl strayed from the machine on which she normally worked in order to gossip, or have a friendly word, with a girl at the next machine. During that little diversion she was injured on the other girl's machine, and claimed benefit. That claim was decided against the applicant. It was held that she was not injured in the course of her employment.
That brings us back to the old Achilles' heel of the workmen's compensation Acts—the provision that the accident had to be caused by, or arise out of, employment. I should have thought after all the litigation which took place under the old Acts—which this House, rightly or wrongly, superseded by the Industrial Injuries Act—it should be sufficiently apparent that the general decision of county court judges under the workmen's compensation Acts was completely to remove the doctrine of the "added peril." That arose when the person was in a position which was not normal in the job he or she was called upon to do. But it was held by the Court of Appeal that if a workman was doing something which could be shown to be in the interests of his employer, on his employer's premises, that brought him within the terms of the Act.
2177 I am not speaking in a party political sense, because there is a great measure of agreement between us, but what is the use of hon. Members being critical of the old Acts because they gave rise to a lot of case law which was difficult to interpret and often obstructed applicants from getting the benefit they thought they ought to have? Already, after five years of the present Act, a very substantial amount of case law has been laid down by the Commissioners which forms the authority for settling many cases.
It is fallacious to pretend that the system of Departmental justice, of ad hoc tribunals and of a sole arbiter in the person of the insurance Commissioner, who gives the final decision, is necessarily a better procedure than that of the decision of the courts in contentious matters. We still have the doctrine of case law which is constantly being built up, tier upon tier, until ultimately the administrative man in the office will have to decide issues in relation to that case law. From personal conversations I have had outside the House with people in authority and in official posts in the Ministry, I believe that insurance officers are becoming increasingly bewildered in trying to settle cases on the case law already built up.
I am happy to be able to say quite sincerely that the Bill has my support as far as it goes. Many of the points which I have mentioned, and others which I will not introduce, ought to receive very close examination in the Committee stage, but over all the administrative difficulties and the criticisms which have been ventilated today, the major issue, in my opinion, is this: whether we restore the principle of loss of earning capacity or not, we ought to find ways and means and the necessary finance—subject, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said, to proper actuarial information—to give benefits to an injured workman under these provisions which bear a greater relationship to his loss of wages and to the rising cost of living which has to be met by all of us.
Loss of earnings is a matter on which various opinions can be expressed, but I believe that the sooner we get back to some principle which removes the arbitrary assessment of cases on loss of faculty—whether it is by adjusting the 2178 hardship allowance, or by some other device—the happier I shall be. I feel that in improving these benefits, which are of such great assistance in times of distress and misfortune to citizens of this land who suffer industrial injury, we should be doing something of which this House, irrespective of party, might well be proud.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)
I will try to confine what I have to say to five minutes. This is a United Kingdom Bill. We have had contributions from hon. Members from the heavy industrial areas of this country—from Lancashire, Yorkshire and Wales, and other similar areas—but not from Scotland. I want to add a few words, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends from Scotland and, indeed, on behalf of the industrial workers of Scotland, of approval and welcome of this Measure. My right hon. and hon. Friends would have been here in greater force had it not been for the very important events which are taking place in Scotland this week, and I would rather have delegated this responsibility to some of my hon. Friends who are more expert in the details of Measures of this kind.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Holmes) said that every piece of legislation of this character had produced anomalies and had left a number of forgotten men. I think that is inevitable. Every piece of improving machinery leaves some more anomalies. It has been said that freedom narrows itself down from precedent to precedent, and I think it could equally truly be said that progress broadens itself out from precedent to precedent. With every new piece of improving machinery in social legislation, new anomalies arise.
It is inevitable. It is not altogether a bad thing, because we then tackle the new anomalies, and the improvement increases as legislative Acts follow each other. If this Bill creates a few new anomalies, most of which have been mentioned by hon. Members, and the existence of some of which has been recognised, as the Minister hinted, it also wipes out a good many existing anomalies.
I wish to give a special word of welcome to Clause 6, which wipes out a glaring anomaly, probably the most 2179 noticeable anomaly in all the post-war history of compensation legislation. It was indeed an anomaly that two victims of pneumoconiosis, living next door to each other and receiving 100 per cent. compensation, should draw different amounts of compensation each week. On the one hand there was the man who was assessed prior to the 1948 Act and on the other hand there was the man who was assessed subsequent to that Act. The wiping out of that anomaly is one of the most valuable parts of the Bill.
This is a Bill which could be, and I hope will be improved, during the examination in the Committee upstairs. In post-war years this has been a happy Ministry, part of whose duty has been to improve the conditions of people who are the sufferers and casualties in industry. It is a Ministry which must give its servants, both public and paid, both elected and professional, a very great deal of immense personal satisfaction. In discussion in the House the Ministry has almost always met with general approval, such as has characterised the tone of this debate. This Bill will be improved in Committee, but, as it stands, it is an improvement on past legislation—on the long history of past legislation—and therefore is to be welcomed; and, on behalf of Scotland, I add these few words of welcome and praise.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
This is the kind of subject on which it is only too easy to become bogged down in a mass of medical, legal and other technicalities. So far as I can, I will try to avoid being bogged down in that way.
I have a few points to make; they must be made briefly and, therefore, will not perhaps be as carefully qualified as they might be. In the first place, at the earliest possible moment benefit ought to be paid in respect of all injuries suffered while the insured person is at work. The Bill limits itself to injuries by accident instead of covering all injuries arising from and in the course of employment.
There are a number of cases in which compensation should be paid, but which are not covered by the formula at present operating. I know that by the Prescribed Diseases Regulations an attempt is made to deal with the matter, but the fact that 2180 they have been extended on a number of occasions reveals how unsatisfatcory is the position. We all know that there are a large number of industrial diseases which are due to the nature of the work being carried out, but which cannot be attributed to an individual accident or a series of accidents.
Reference has been made to injuries sustained while travelling to work which are not covered adequately. At present a person driving his own vehicle at the request of his employer is not covered unless that is a term of his employment. That is a simple matter which should be dealt with. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) was justifiably emphatic on the subject of loss of earning capacity. As a matter of principle the special hardship allowance should meet all loss of wages due to the accident.
The 1946 Act has been too narrowly interpretated because employment has been judged to be of the equivalent standard when the basic rate is the same. That sounds all right, but it operates most unjustly, because no regard is had to inability to work overtime, a reduction in the speed of working, changes in the job or temporary breakdowns which occur from time to time because of injuries such as a hernia or dermatitis. That is a matter of great importance which should receive attention.
The machinery for medical appeals has not worked satisfactorily and as a result injuries are under-assessed. Many people think it would be better to refer medical appeals to the local appeal tribunals which have two lay members and have worked well in dealing with other matters. These tribunals could sit with a medical assessor when dealing with medical questions. The differential treatment accorded to an appellant and the Minister should be discontinued. A claimant has no right of appeal against a provisional medical assessment within two years of the assessment being made, whereas the Minister may appeal. There is no reason why such an anomaly should continue and I hope that matter will receive sympathetic consideration.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
I can say with great sincerity that we have had a useful and informative debate today. I must apologise for the absence of my 2181 right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), who has another engagement.
Hon. Members who have spoken in this debate evidently know quite a lot about both workmen's compensation and the administration of the Industrial Injuries Act. Speeches have been made by hon. Gentlemen who are members of the legal profession and the medical profession, and by hon. Gentlemen who represent mining areas. I am sure that the Minister will take note of what they have said, and it may be that tonight, when he replies, the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to deal with some of the points which have been made.
It has almost been a one-sided debate and perhaps it would be appropriate, on this second day of the Test Match, to say that hon. Members on this side of the House have batted very well indeed. There have been only two speeches from hon. Members opposite. I thought the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), when dealing with the actuarial calculations of the Industrial Injuries Scheme, was rather pessimistic about the possibility of the Fund meeting, on a long-term basis, the benefits granted and those proposed in this Bill. I would repeat what I said when I ventured to intervene during his speech. I am sure that the Minister would not take any financial step without being satisfied, on the advice of the actuaries, that such a step was warranted, and I do not think the hon. Gentleman need fear the financial consequences.
The Minister must have blushed when my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) gave him a new designation. He described him as the Minister who increased benefits. I would merely comment that this Bill does not increase benefits at all, although it is true that it makes it much easier for a number of people to participate in the existing benefits.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the contents of the Bill and made vital and important comments about the principal Act. I propose to deal with some of the issues that have been raised. I should like to refer to the very vexed, important and difficult question of injury by process. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary could tell us what progress has been 2182 made by the committee who are to deal with this subject. My hon. Friends the Members for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater) and Gateshead, West (Mr. J. T. Hall) and others referred to this point, in which keen interest is taken in those industries where the incidence of accidents is very high. I believe the committee has actually been appointed, and I hope that they are getting on with their work.
Reference has been made to low assessments and special hardship allowances, about which I hope to say something later. A number of other topics have been raised, and I have no doubt that today's debate has given the Minister plenty of material, sufficient evidence, and much food for thought on the administration of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act.
When I first read this Bill my immediate reaction was echoed in the phrase which was used by the Minister when he began his speech. In his usual lucid and charming way he made what is a very complicated and technical Bill look very simple. He has done it in the past and he did it with equal force this afternoon, and I should like to express my gratitude to him for unfolding in such a simple way the meaning of the various Clauses.
My immediate reaction to the Bill was, "This is a good little Bill." But it all depends what we mean by "little." It is little in the sense that there are not many Clauses, and if we compare it with some of the Bills with two and three times the number of Clauses that this has it is a far more important Bill than other bigger Bills that have been introduced into this House. I agree with the Minister that, for what it contains, this is a very good little Bill, but I am sure that everyone recognises that it has some omissions and that it could be made better. I have no doubt that every effort will be made during the Committee stage to make this good little Bill even better.
When I examined the Bill and tried to get through all the legal jargon which one always finds in Bills, one of my earlier impressions was not changed. It has not changed because this Bill makes desirable and necessary improvements which we all welcome in the existing National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. My mind went back to a few years ago. Today, the Minister reminded me 2183 of the time when he was in the position that I now occupy and he was speaking for the Opposition on the Second Reading of what is now the principal Act which this Bill seeks to amend.
Before coming to what he said, I should like to make this one observation, because it is necessary that we should know what were the purposes of the principal Act. It was a new beginning in the sphere of workmen's compensation, and I do not regret that, coming, as I do, from a mining area and knowing some of the evils of the old workmen's compensation legislation. It was a break with tradition. It was, as has been pointed out today, a fresh start based entirely on different principles. Neither my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) nor the present Minister were in any doubt upon that point seven years ago.
I should like to read some quotations from the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate on 10th October, 1945. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly said:…the Bill marks a fundamental departure from the present Workmen's Compensation Acts. It is… a radical change, and will be far-reaching in its implications, yet I am absolutely convinced that it is a desirable change.In the same debate the present Minister said—and I am not quoting this against him, for it is to his credit:This Bill, in my view, is a great scheme of reform.He went on, in his usual manner, to summarise the Bill, and at the end, he wandered, which is unusual for him, into the realms of poetry. He quoted a poet named Robert Herrick, and these are the words that he applied to the Measure in 1945:When I thy Parts runne o'er, I cant espie In any one the least indecencie.That was the right hon. Gentleman's opinion of the 1945 Measure, and I entirely agree with it. He said in his concluding remarks, speaking for the Opposition of that day:There will be no danger to the passage of this Bill from this side of the House."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th October, 1945; Vol. 414, c. 274–90.]I only quote that passage because it echoes our sentiments on this present Bill.
2184 I have no criticisms to make of the contents of the Bill, but I am a little apprehensive about the delay in its introduction to the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West said this afternoon that the discussions began in 1950. Agreement on major issues was arrived at in 1951. In the proceedings upstairs on the Bill last year the Minister referred to this fact, and yet it has taken the Government a long time to make up their minds. It is 20 months since the occasion to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I would have hoped that the influence of the right hon. Gentleman in the Government might have been more effectual and that there might have been more speed in the introduction of the Bill.
I do not think any serious objections can be raised on Clause 1 because it extends the scope of the schedule of insurable employments. Clause 1 also brings in those who are at present outside, and who will now be able to participate, should the occasion arise, in the benefits of the Bill. Clause 2, however, rather puzzled me at first, because it makes reference to the introduction of regulations to depart from the principle of weekly contributions for the purpose of industrial insurance. After listening to the explanation which the Minister gave, however, my fears were allayed, and, from what he said, it seems to me that the changes made in this respect need cause no alarm.
Now we come to Clause 3, which is really the kernel of the Bill. This is the main proposal, and I particularly welcome it because it amends Section 12 of the original Act. After five years' experience, there is complete unanimity on both sides of the House that Section 12 has not worked at all well, and it would be a mistake if, in the light of what experience has proved to us, we should stick to our preconceived ideas of five years ago, and close our eyes and ears to any improvements that could be made in the operation of that Section. Clause 3 makes this Bill a good Bill, because it provides that disablement benefit will be paid for loss of faculty as low as 1 per cent.
I come from an area in which there are many thousands of coal miners, and in the coal mining industry there is a high incidence of accident and industrial 2185 disease. I have no doubt at all that experience of the operation of Section 12 has shown that the provision regarding a 20 per cent. assessment has worked very harshly in many cases. I could cite many cases in which there has been temporary disablement, but in which the assessment has been less than 20 per cent., and, because disablement has been neither substantial nor permanent, there was no entitlement not only to disablement benefit but to the receipt of special hardship allowances. This is a two-pronged problem, and for that reason I am gratified more than I can say to find that Section 12 of the original Act is being amended in Clause 3.
For the past three or four years, the annual conference of the National Union of Mineworkers has discussed resolutions expressing dissatisfaction with the operation of Section 12, and there is another of these resolutions on the agenda this year for the conference to be held in a fortnight's time. I have no doubt, however, that this Bill will draw the teeth of those who are responsible for it.
I am also glad to see the removal of the anomaly regarding night-shift workers. The right hon. Gentleman knows the point extremely well, and I am pleased that it is at last to be dealt with. Next, there is the provision regarding the hospital treatment allowance, which is important. Under the former provision, the man with a 20 per cent. assessment who was going into hospital could receive the 100 per cent. hospital treatment allowance, but the man with an assessment of less than 20 per cent. who had to go into hospital could not get that allowance. That position is now to be rectified.
When I was at the Ministry of National Insurance, and it was a very pleasing sojourn, I must have visited at least 300 offices. I certainly went into every region, including Orkney and Shetland, and met people, including members of the local advisory committees. These people often expressed disappointment that they were unable to discuss and give advice on the Industrial Injuries Act, and this Bill, which removes that anomaly, will empower them to do so in future.
I wish to make one or two general observations, first of all, on the special hardship allowances. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), who 2186 probably knows more about this matter than anyone else in the House, argued his case very effectively, and I hope that the Minister will take notice of it. It beats me why the Minister should be so parsimonious about this. I know there are difficulties about its application, but there is no reason in the world why the right hon. Gentleman should not, at least, bring this particular benefit into line with all the other benefits which have been increased. This is the poor little orphan, left out in the cold. The Minister wrinkles his brow, but I think he will find that this is the only benefit that has not been increased, and I hope he will reconsider it. I also hope that he will give his attention to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty about the rehabilitation period.
On the question of assessments, there is growing dissatisfaction in the country on two points—low assessments, and ascribing too much of a man's disability to what is known as a pre-existing condition. This applies only to disabilities that are not amputation cases, because they are fixed. If a man loses an arm a certain distance below the elbow he receives so much, and if he loses it a few inches above the elbow, it is so much more. But, in cases of injury to the back, the head and the abdomen, there is no fixed rate at all, and there is growing dissatisfaction among the trade unions and in the country on this point.
§ Dr. Stross
Is my hon. Friend referring, for example, in particular to the whole group of cases—and there are very many—where there is, say, pre-existing osteoarthritis to the spine, where an injury to the back follows, where we then find the medical boards separating the pre-existing injury, of which the man never had any knowledge and which caused him no loss of faculty, and where, though a pre-existing condition is now painful, it is not taken into account after a few months?
§ Mr. Taylor
I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West particularly mentioned the case from South Wales, which covers the point raised by my hon. Friend.
I have had sent to me from an area in the coalfields a long list of cases that have been before the medical boards and the medical appeal tribunals since January, 1952. Quite frankly, I am shocked 2187 at the offset of pre-existing conditions which is being made by the medical boards and by the medical appeal tribunals. I know it is a difficult matter and that one could argue it a long time, but I wish to make a suggestion to the Minister which I think will be helpful in regard to the very difficult points of low assessments and pre-existing conditions. The Minister has the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, and I think it would be a good thing to submit to that Council these two questions. I will leave it at that.
I close by congratulating the Minister on making the Bill so simple and easy this afternoon. On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I welcome the Bill for what it contains and hope that in our deliberations in Committee we may make it an even better Measure than it is at present.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. R. H. Turton)
On behalf of my right hon. Friend, I wish, first, to thank hon. Members on all sides of the House for the very responsible and friendly reception they have given to the Bill. My right hon. Friend asks me to thank hon. Members for the very nice personal tributes which they have paid to him. I thought that nothing could have been nicer than the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Holmes), not only to my right hon. Friend, but also to the work that his father and brother had done to help people in the coal industry. That type of personal relation encourages us in the work we do.
We have just heard a very constructive speech from the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor). I think it was a very able winding-up speech on behalf of the Opposition because it dealt with all the different points which had been brought out during the debate. I shall try in the course of my reply to answer the main points that have been made today. It is, of course, quite impossible, after a debate of four and a half hours, to answer every one of the points raised. All the speeches have been good ones and all have contained important points. I shall follow my usual practice of reading through the debate, and. if I cannot answer a point orally, I will do so afterwards in writing.
2188 First, there was the speech of the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), who was at pains to show that she was the mother of this Bill. Like the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. H. White), I do not care who is the mother or father of this Bill so long as it is a good Bill. Let the right hon. Lady have all the credit for motherhood, but I hope that she will help to mother it as it goes through its remaining stages. It may want a bit of nursing, and we hope that the right hon. Lady will help it to grow up as speedily as possible.
Both the right hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Mansfield had a word to say about the delay in the introduction of the Bill. I thought that from the point of view of the right hon. Lady this was rather unhappy. The period of gestation was rather abnormal in her time. I gather from what she let out in the course of her speech that it was some 18 months. This idea was conceived, and then, at the end, when we had the change of Government, we found there was no child there. I feel sure there was all the friendly inclination in the world towards the child, but no child. We had, of course, to go through the very complicated points involved, and I found great difficulty, in this completely strange field, in going through some of the details of this Bill.
At a very early stage, my right hon. Friend decided that in the first Session of Parliament we would raise the benefits. We picked out one of the matters to which the right hon. Lady referred, the over 60 per cent. increase in unemployability supplement, and put that into a Bill in the first Session. In the second Session, which we are in now, he decided to deal with the machinery provisions. We have added to those machinery provisions, which were being considered by the right hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Mansfield, one feature that will help many people who are old workmen's compensation cases. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know that we have given very close attention to this very difficult problem.
We do not say that we have reached complete success, but we have done a good deal to improve the position of the old workmen's compensation cases, and 2189 I think hon. Gentlemen can acquit us of any blame for delay. Hon. Members have to consider, when they want to talk exhaustively on other subjects, that it means there is less time for these little Measures on which agreement can be reached. I admit that there have been times in recent weeks when, listening to the debates in which subjects have been most exhaustively treated, I should have preferred debates such as that upon the Industrial Injuries Bill which we are discussing today.
The right hon. Lady made a point which has been stressed by many other hon. Members about the medical boards and the medical appeal tribunals. We had not up till now heard of this great dissatisfaction with their work. There are appeals from the decisions of medical boards in only about 10 per cent. of the cases where there is a right of appeal, but my right hon. Friend will pay careful attention to what has been said by hon. Members on the other side of the House on this matter, and to the point which was emphasised by the hon. Member for Mansfield about the rate of assessment in cases where there is a pre-existing condition such as osteo-arthritis. We will look into the whole problem.
We must remember that under the Act all these adjudicating authorities are independent and that the Minister has no right to give them any directions how they are to make their decisions. We pay great tribute to the medical men who compose medical boards and medical appeal tribunals. The right hon. Lady suggested that there should be a specialist on every medical board. I do not think that is practicable. Where there is a difficult case we have the evidence of a specialist put before the medical board. That seems to me a reasonable and economic way of dealing with this problem. I can assure hon. Members who spoke on this matter that we shall read their speeches with close attention and see what can be done.
We had a very valuable speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). The hon. Member for Mansfield said that he thought my hon. Friend was unduly pessimistic. I think that the hon. Member misunderstood the purport of my hon. Friend's speech. It is quite right to look 2190 at the actuarial position of the Industrial Injuries Fund because we are getting near the time of the quinquennial review. The House can feel quite confident that my right hon. Friend, in bringing forward his measures to improve the position under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, has been right not to ask for any increase in contributions. We are quite satisfied that we can carry this Measure until the quinquennial review takes place, but it is very wise for any hon. Member to make a speech, like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, pointing out the actuarial consequences of these matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West was followed by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), who is recognised to be the expert on many of these industrial injuries problems. He made a very interesting point when he said that the pneumoconiotics would not be affected by the provisions of this Bill because it is only when their disablement is 5 per cent. or more that they come under the provisions of the Act. The position of men whose disablement from pneumoconiosis has been assessed at less than 5 per cent. has been specially drawn to the attention of the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council by my right hon. Friend in connection with the current investigation into pneumoconiosis under the Act and Regulations. I hope that the matter will be dealt with on lines which will meet the wishes of the hon. Member for Bedwellty.
The hon. Member asked me questions about the Coal Board supplementary scheme. In fact, we have not yet had submitted formally to us any proposals for modifications. What the hon. Member said will be carefully considered. Both he and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East asked that there should be some retrospective powers in Section 83 of the principal Act. They made two different approaches. The hon. Member for Bedwellty asked that retrospection should go back to the time when the first approach was made to the National Committee, whereas the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East limited his retrospection to the time when there had been agreement and proposals were being put forward by the National Committee.
2191 It is very difficult to have retrospective Clauses in insurance legislation. If we have retrospection of benefit it inescapably follows that we should have retrospection of contribution. What the hon. Member has said will be closely examined. My own personal view, not that of the Ministry, is that it will be better to see whether the scheme cannot be so modified that more benefits are adjusted automatically when there is an increase of benefit under the principal Act.
Hon. Members will recollect that the disablement benefit in the National Coal Board's supplementary scheme is adjusted automatically with the main disablement benefit. The injury benefit for those under 18 years of age is adjusted automatically, but the injury benefit for those over 18, the benefits for widows and the death benefits have no automatic adjustment. I throw that out only as a suggestion. The remarks which hon. Members have made on this subject will be very closely considered by my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. B. Taylor
Do I understand the hon. Member's argument on this point to be that retrospection would be difficult and inadvisable so far as benefits are concerned because it would mean retrospective contributions? Suppose a fund is healthy, prosperous and able to stand what is proposed in the way of increasing benefits—as I understand is the case with the miners' supplementary scheme—is the argument that no retrospection in benefits should take place because it would mean retrospection in contributions?
§ Mr. Turton
I could not have made myself clear. That is always a danger when one gives one's personal view. In insurance generally there is no precedent for retrospection, because if there were retrospection in the case of benefits there would have to be retrospection in the case of contributions.
§ Mr. Turton
No, but it may well be in the future. It would apply not merely to insurance but to the whole system of benefits. Hon. Members opposite have a far greater knowledge of trade union law and practice than I, but I do not think it is the general practice in trade 2192 union law to have retrospection in the case of benefits.
§ Mr. Taylor
This is an important question, particularly in view of the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch). In the case of the National Coal Board and the National Union of Mineworkers it is not unusual—in fact, it is almost the general thing—that when an agreement for an increase in wages is arrived at retrospection takes place, to the date when the application was first made.
§ Mr. Turton
I quite agree with that, in connection with wage claims, but we are now dealing with a contributory insurance scheme. It is for that reason that I voiced my personal view that retrospection would be a very dangerous precedent to introduce.
Do not let us get this subject in the wrong perspective. The House of Commons and the Minister must pay attention to the recommendations made by the National Committee. They are the body responsible for governing this Fund. Not only have we as yet had no modification scheme formally submitted to us, but we have had no request from them, and they are the people to make the request to make this completely new innovation in contributory insurance and trade union law. What has been said by hon. Members opposite will, however, receive very careful attention by my right hon. Friend and the Department.
I shall leave the rest of the speech of the hon. Member for Bedwellty for the moment and come to the speech of the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater), who asked me a definite question whether it is proposed, under Clause 3, that claims previously rejected should now be met. The answer to that question is, yes, if any residual disability exists at the date of claim, which will be after the appointed day. That is the best we can do to see that there are not too many forgotten men as a result of this Bill. One of the features of improving legislation is that there are always unfortunate forgotten men. We believe that we can bring in those men who have some residual disability existing or after the appointed day.
The hon. Member for Sedgefield, the hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. J. T. Hall), the hon. Member for Stoke- 2193 on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stress) and the hon. Member for Mansfield asked whether the Bill could not be altered to include injury by process. They did not like the limitation of the words "by accident." We discussed this very exhaustively in the House quite recently on a Friday, and as a result of the representations made by hon. Gentlemen my right hon. Friend has appointed the Beney Committee to examine this very question.
I remind the House what the terms of reference are:To review the present provisions of the Industrial Injuries Act under which benefit is paid for diseases and for personal injuries not caused by accidents, and to make recommendations.I do not think we could have done better than that, and I think that that really meets the points on the question of injury by process. We are well aware of the difficulties and of the very involved case law on this subject; we are trying to deal with that subject, and that Committee is getting to work.
A number of questions have been asked on the matter of the appeals to the medical appeal tribunals. I thought the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central used a rather unfortunate phrase about the Minister having the right to appeal and the man not having it. That is not the position. The Minister does not appeal for himself. He appeals for the man, or if he thinks the medical board's decision is in any way not right. It frequently happens that it is on the Minister's instigation that a figure decided upon by the medical board is increased. That is the function of the Minister in this matter. He is the arbiter to see that a decision of the medical board appears to be fair, and I think that in quite 25 per cent. of the cases where the Minister has intervened the figure has been increased.
We have been aware of the fact that there is an apparent disability in matters of appeal against provisional assessments within the first two years, and, in view of that dissatisfaction we found when we came into office, we made administrative arrangements so that in cases where a union represented to us that they thought the provisional assessment was not satisfactory, and on their recommendation, we referred the assessment back to appeal. That arrangement has been in 2194 operation since last summer. In cases where the man is not represented by a union, if we are satisfied that the body representing him makes the same recommendation, we see that that assessment goes to appeal.
I think it would be unwise, in the interests of the injured workmen generally, if we allowed appeals against provisional assessments in all cases. That would fill the appeal courts and cause some of those administrative difficulties which the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) was talking about in another connection, and to little purpose in many cases. I am sure that if hon. Gentlemen went through my files they would appreciate the point I am making. I think that our present administrative arrangements are wise.
The hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) put to me a number of difficult and weighty legal questions. We recognise that there are difficult questions of skylarking and of riding on a bicycle, but let us look at them in their true perspective. These difficult problems have existed throughout the time of our workmen's compensation legislation. No one has yet found a form of words better than the wordsarising out of and in the course of his employment.The hon. and learned Gentleman's party considered the matter in relation to the 1946 Act, and, after full debate, they rightly came to the conclusion that it would be unwise to depart from those words. In relation to the bicycle about which the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke, the words "as a passenger" were put in by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), with some protest from my right hon. Friend. It may be that my right hon. Friend was right and that the right hon. Member for Llanelly was wrong. There it is; it was the Labour Government which adopted the words. We should not hastily depart from that form of words. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman and other hon. Gentlemen opposite will wish to pursue the matter in Committee, where we can deal with it in true Committee style.
§ Mr. B. Taylor
There was no departure in regard to the words "arising out of and in the course of," but there was a departure in the application. Under the 2195 workmen's compensation Act the onus was upon the injured workman to prove that the injury arose out of and in the course of his employment. Now the onus is upon the Minister of National Insurance to prove that it did not. That is a vast difference.
§ Mr. Turton
Then I feel sure the hon. Member for Mansfield agrees with me that there is good reason for sticking to our form of words and not being led away by the blandishments of the hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South. That is just what I want.
§ Mr. Turton
The hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) referred to rate of benefit for those widows who are limited to 20s. per week, and asked why that rate was not raised when all the other rates were raised in 1952. That matter was fully debated in the Standing Committee stage of the 1952 Act. Because both sides of the House had accepted the Beveridge view about the incapacity of widowhood, the Committee came to the decision that the rate should not be raised. That was only one year ago. One has to recognise the different attitude about incapacity which has arisen since the acceptance of the Beveridge Report.
I have dealt with all the major matters which have been raised except one raised by nearly every hon. Member, that of the special hardship allowance, and I have purposely left that to the end. Nobody could have put the position more clearly and more forcibly than did the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). This is something which goes right to the root of the Industrial Injuries Scheme. It is true that there are anomalies, and the hon. Member for Bedwellty pointed to some of them. We admit that there are anomalies, but one has to recognise that the scheme, as drafted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, was designed to give compensation to an injured workman on the basis of loss of faculty. What many hon. Members were saying today in fact was, "We were 2196 wrong to base it on loss of faculty. Let us have it on loss of earning power."
The Minister made it absolutely clear in his speech that we must have further inquiry into this vital point in relation to the Industrial Injuries Scheme. We have been collecting information on this subject. We have had considerable discussions with the Trades Union Congress on the point. We are ready to offer such information as we have got to hon. Members on all sides of the House. Very shortly we shall have to consider how this matter is to be further considered. What is absolutely clear—and I wish to emphasise it—is that while we have this major problem before us it would be very wrong to overburden this Bill by tinkering with it. That is my personal belief.
Let us put this Bill in its proper perspective. It is a Bill to execute running repairs on an Industrial Injuries Scheme that is working pretty well at the present time. I believe that in a very short time this ambulance or vehicle will have to go in for inspection and general overhaul. It is due for it on the financial side some time after the end of the next financial year. If we are going to get these running repairs through let us try and do it at full speed, as was mentioned by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). I paid great regard to what he said. I know that there have been certain delays in working out the benefits under the Byssinosis and Pneumoconiosis Act which we passed in 1952. The hon. Member should appreciate in that connection that the number of experts on this disease is limited, and we are not only operating that 1952 Act, but we must also keep on operating the full flow of the Industrial Injuries Act so far as it affects pneumoconiosis.
We have also to deal with old cases, and in that connection may I reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles), who asked when we were going to deal with the pre-1924 cases. The answer to that briefly is that the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West and the hon. Member for Mansfield dealt with them two years ago.
My final appeal to hon. Gentlemen is that they should help in the speedy passage of this Bill into law. We want adequate discussion of it in Committee, but I would ask hon. Members not to 2197 protract the Committee proceedings too long because after this Bill receives the Royal Assent we shall have to go to the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council for them to look at draft regulations dealing with certain parts of the Bill. Therefore, time is an essential factor if we are to have these provisions brought into operation at the earliest possible date.
§ Mr. T. Brown
On the question of speed, might I suggest to the hon. Gentleman and his Department that they should set up a radiograph clinic of their own, and not depend for assistance on the county or borough councils' clinics, for we find that some of those clinics are overburdened with tuberculosis cases. The men whom we suspect are suffering from silicosis have to take their turn there, which causes some delay, although the responsibility does not rest upon the Department. I think it would be well worth while, in view of the large number of oases, if they were to set up a chest clinic of their own, because the money is there and available.
§ Mr. Turton
The remarks of the hon. Gentleman will be carefully considered because I am anxious to reduce delay in these cases. However, I thought the case put by the hon. Gentleman was not such a bad case of delay. The man waited only three months and he had been away from the pit for 29 years. We had to prove how the pneumoconiosis arose, and that he came within the prescribed diseases, and we also had to get him X-rayed, and facilities are limited. I should be grateful to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mansfield if he would let me have the list of cases mentioned in his speech, so that we can go through them. If he will do that, it will help my Department very much. I shall also be glad to hear from hon. Gentlemen in regard to cases of delay or other cases about which they are unsatisfied.
Finally I ask the House not to overburden this Bill. As my right hon. Friend said, it is a good little Bill and there are a large number of people from whom a sense of grievance and injustice will be removed when this Bill receives the Royal Assent. Let us remember that that sense of grievance and injustice has gone on ever since the Act first came into operation in 1948. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members will not only 2198 give this Bill a Second Reading, but will see that it gets through all its stages quickly.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.