§ 10.29 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Ernest Marples)
I beg to move,That the Draft Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Amendment Scheme, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th October, be approved.This Scheme provides for benefit in respect of certain industrial diseases in cases which otherwise would attract no compensation of any sort. That being so, I am informed, I hope reliably, that it is universally approved by both sides of the House and of industry. I was delighted to hear that, and as a newcomer to this Office I must confess that there was a certain amount of relief mingled with that delight.
As the Scheme is accepted by everyone, I will give only the briefest outline of its purpose. Certain people who contracted pneumoconiosis and byssinosis were not covered by the Industrial Injuries Act because they had not worked in the occupation after 5th July, 1948, when the scheme started. Nor could they get Workmen's Compensation because of various defects in the compensation schemes.
The first attack on the problem was made in the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Act. 1951, which covered only total disablement and death. To cover cases of partial disablement, the Industrial Diseases (Benefit) Act, 1954, was passed, extending the 1951 Act. The 1954 Act was an enabling Act. It enabled the Minister to formulate a scheme making the necessary administrative arrangements to pay for proved cases of partial disablement a flat rate of 20s. per week. As I understand the matter. the 20s. is laid down in the Act and cannot be varied either upwards or downwards.
Here is that scheme, laid before the House, and my right hon. Friend asks the House to approve it. All the interested parties, including the Trades Union Congress, have been consulted.
There are one or two points the House might wish me to mention. If I 2062 do not explain them as succinctly or as comprehensively as hon. Members would like, I hope that on this occasion they will forgive me. I will do my best to answer any questions during the short debate.
The main difficulty that faced my right hon. Friend was to recruit sufficient doctors to work the scheme. The doctors may have to settle anything up to 40,000 claims, which may mean 20,000 clinical examinations, nearly as many as the existing medical panels now carry out in a year. It proved difficult to recruit doctors with the special qualifications needed for this purpose. A further difficulty was that those recruited had to be given time to terminate their existing engagements.
However, the Department has now secured an additional seven doctors for full time service and some extra part-time help as well. Altogether, my right hon. Friend expects an increase of at least one-third in the medical staff. Even with this increase, it will be absolutely necessary to use the doctors' time in the most economical way, consistent with fairness.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
What is the total number of doctors serving full-time and half-time?
§ Mr. Marples
I have given the number of additional full-time doctors. The number of part-time doctors will vary and cannot be definitely stated. I have made careful inquiry, knowing that I should have to face a critical audience of doctors—
§ Mr. Marples
I am most grateful to the right hon. Lady. For the part-time doctors there are two methods of recruitment, and it is not possible to say how many will join the panel. The strength of the panel will be increased by at least one-third, which will be sufficient for the purposes of this scheme.
After dealing with the doctors—or the doctors dealing with me—I should like to pass to the question of the back-dating of claims. Criticism has been levelled at this aspect of the scheme, and in fairness 2063 to the House I would like to deal with. it now rather than in my reply to the debate. It has been suggested that these schemes should be back-dated to 10th March, 1952, when the original scheme for the totally disabled was introduced. I am advised that no back-dating is possible. Schemes of this sort, like other Statutory Instruments, cannot operate retrospectively unless the Act under which they are made specifically provides for this to be done. The 1954 Act does not so provide.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
Does that mean that the extraordinary delay of 11 months between the passing of the Act and the introduction of this Measure means that every applicant will have lost the possibiltiy of getting 11 months compensation?
§ Mr. Marples
The hon. Gentleman is a solicitor of no mean distinction, and I am only giving the hon. Gentleman the legal advice which I have received, namely, that, whatever we may think about the merits of back-dating, legally it is not possible in this case. Nobody upholds legal opinions more firmly than does the hon. Gentleman. I repeat that these schemes, like all Statutory Instruments, cannot operate before their own commencing date unless the Act so specifies. This particular Act does not so specify. Therefore, my right hon. Friend has no option but to make the schemes within the four corners of the Act as it stands. Anything else would not be possible according to law.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)rose—
§ Mr. Thomas
.I should like to have one point cleared up. The Minister stated that it is not possible to back-date this scheme, as it would be necessary to conform to the provisions of the Act. Would it not be possible to amend the Act so as to provide for this back-dating?
§ Mr. Marples
It would be possible, but to amend the Act, an amending Bill would have to be brought to the House, which would mean further delay for 2064 everyone concerned. It is much better to have this scheme brought into operation on 11th November, which is the date on which we hope it will be brought into operation, so that people can claim from that date. If we abandon the scheme and introduce legislation to amend the existing legislation, we may have to wait several months. and I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not wish that.
My right hon. Friend has no option but to make the scheme within the four corners of the Act as it stands. Therefore, I hope the House will not expect me to go into the actual merits of backdating. Benefits will be payable from the date when the scheme comes into operation, which we hope will not be later than 11th November; I think the House will agree that that is an appropriate date. Once claims are started, a man can claim at any time if he thinks he has become partially disabled.
I should like to turn to the question of publicity for this scheme, because it is important that every man who may have a claim shall know his rights and make that claim. We will do all we can in the Department to give adequate publicity and we shall follow what we have successfully done in the 1952 scheme. A leaflet has already been prepared describing the provisions of the scheme in simple terms. It will be available in all National Insurance offices and will be sent to the trade unions concerned as well as to voluntary bodies.
A short description will be printed in Welsh for the benefit of the offices in the Welsh-speaking districts, and full notice of the scheme will be sent to the Press, national and local, as well as to the trade, medical and other journals, and to all the voluntary organisations concerned in this matter. The scheme will be the subject of broadcast both in English and, I am glad to say, in Welsh, so that Welshmen will be well catered for in this respect. We know that we can rely upon the help of hon. Members in this House in making the provisions known as widely as possible.
I should like to come to two other points with which I will deal briefly. The first is the question of delay. I am told that there will be a slight criticism because the scheme has been delayed,
2065 The Act became law on 9th March, 1954, and the draft scheme for which it provided required an affirmative Resolution. Really complicated questions had to be discussed with the Trades Union Congress, doctors had to be recruited and leave their existing engagements, and so on. My hon. Friend who, I am glad to say, is with me tonight to buttress and reinforce what meagre knowledge I have of the subject, gave warning of this when moving the Third Reading. For those reasons my right hon. Friend was not able to lay the scheme in July before the House went into recess. The next possible date was the day on which Parliament reassembled, which was 19th October. The scheme was actually laid on that day, so if there is any criticism of the delay it might be directed more against the length of the recess rather than against my right hon. Friend.
Before I sit down, I must refer to some of the men who claimed benefit for total disablement and were refused. There were some 1,200 claimants for the allowance for total disablement under the 1952 scheme, who were found to be only partially disabled. Letters have now been sent to those men and replies have been received from over 1,100. The replies will be treated as applications under this scheme, so that the men who applied for the total disablement allowance and were found to be only partially disabled will be accepted as the first applicants under this scheme.
§ Mr. D. J. Williams (Neath)
Can the Parliamentary Secretary say that those people who were rejected as not being totally disabled will now be accepted without further medical examination?
The letters which they have sent in reply to the letters inquiring if they would like to make a claim will be accepted as their claims. Whether a claim is approved will depend on the circumstances of the individual case; the claim will not necessarily be admitted.
I am conscious that I have dealt with this subject very briefly, but I have done so for the convenience of the House at this late hour, and I feel sure that there are a number of hon. Members who have a deep knowledge of the subject who may wish to make a contribution. If I 2066 have not made myself clear, I would like later to answer any questions. With that, I express the hope that the House will give the affirmative Resolution for which my right hon. Friend asks this evening.
§ 10.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
I should like, first of all, to offer my good wishes to the Parliamentary Secretary on his appointment to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. I believe that everyone on both sides realises that that Ministry is one of very great importance indeed, if for no other reason than that it touches the lives and the health of the community, and also the lives of people who are in very difficult circumstances—the aged, the sick, and those who are the victims of industrial accident and disease.
From the questions already asked of the Parliamentary Secretary, it is obvious that there is great interest in the question of pneumoconiosis and industrial diseases. I was very glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary announce that the medical whole-time staff, which, I think, was very miserable, has already been increased. There is a long waiting list, and there are the cases which will come within the ambit of the scheme to be dealt with. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend will not relax their efforts to increase still further the number of members of the pneumoconiosis boards and panels so that the examination of claimants can be expedited.
I welcome the scheme, as I think the whole House does, but there are some observations and reservations which I should like to make about it. I am much concerned about the question of delay to which the Parliamentary Secretary drew the attention of the House. It is a long time between the date the Bill was passed and 19th October. It is nearly 12 months since the Bill, which gave the Minister power to make this scheme, was introduced. We, on this side, gave that Bill our full support and blessing, and we offered every assistance to facilitate its passage into law. It became an Act of Parliament early in March, and the way was then clear for the preparation and submission to this House of the scheme now before us.
2067 Many of my hon. Friends, particularly those representing mining constituencies, have had many inquiries from would-be claimants since the Bill was introduced, and more especially since it was passed into law, and I do not think that the explanation which the Parliamentary Secretary has given about that delay is at all satisfactory. I do not think it is explicit enough, and perhaps when he comes at a later stage to answer the questions which will be put to him, he will give a better explanation of that delay. I would remind him that it has meant much to those would-be claimants, particularly as he has announced that there is to be no retrospection for benefits.
In welcoming the scheme, there are one or two disturbing features to which I would draw attention. Am I right in assuming that the "specially qualified medical practitioner" will be a member of the pneumoconiosis board? I would remind the hon. Gentleman, but I am sure he has already knowledge of it although his occupancy of his present office has been very brief, that there are other mining boards for the assessment for disability arising out of injury or industrial disease. That point needs to be made clear, because it is not as clear as it might be.
Assuming that the specially qualified medical practitioner is a member of the pneumoconiosis board, cases passed on by the administrative board will still be subject to one-doctor examination. My view is that that is a reversal of the policy which has existed since the coming into operation of the National Insurance (Industrial) Injuries Act, 1948. Since that date the assesment for disability arising either from accident or industrial disease has been decided by a board of not less than two doctors. Further, the one-man examinations carried out by the medical referee under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts was responsible for much of the irritation and frustration that then existed. I regret the proposal that examinations for the purpose of this Scheme should be conducted by only one doctor.
In the event of a post mortem examination being held to decide whether or not the person in question has died from pneumoconiosis, will the necessary 2068 examination be a one-doctor examination? No reference is made to that point.
§ Mr. Taylor
I am referring to partial disability as well as death. I should like him to make that point clear.
Now I want to say a word about retrospective benefits. The case of men partially disabled by pneumoconiosis or other prescribed industrial diseases has been under consideration for a very long time. I am not unaware that this is a problem which bristles with difficulties. In 1952 provision was made for the totally disabled in the then scheme, but the partially disabled were left out because it was felt that there were so many complications and intricacies that the matter ought to be considered further before any settlement was arrived at. This consideration has now been going on for a considerable time.
In view of those circumstances, I want the Parliamentary Secretary to consider once more—whether or not it be in the form he suggests is the only way to do it—to consider the question of antedating, at any rate to 10th March, 1952, which was the date of the coming into operation of the principal scheme, or some other date between 1952 and the date when the examination takes place, if, in the opinion of the board, the man concerned has been disabled by pneumoconiosis for some time.
As the Parliamentary Secretary said, there is a number of cases—he mentioned the figure of 12,000—of people who, under the 1952 scheme, have been referred by the administrative board to the medical boards. They have been found to have had pneumoconiosis but not to the extent that they were totally disabled. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the information he has given about the claims as far as the 12,000 are concerned. He told us they may have to go to the board again to have the degree of disability assessed under this scheme, so that in that type of case benefit will begin only from the date of operation of the scheme. I had hoped that this scheme would have provided a much earlier date than that for the partially disabled.
2069 There are many other questions which no doubt my hon. Friends want to raise, and so. because of the lateness of the hour, shall conclude by saying that, with the reservation I have made, I wholeheartedly welcome this scheme. We are coming to the end of a very long and very thorny road, but I rejoice tonight in the fact that we now for the first time see the end of the iniquitous time Limits that have for so long penalised so many people. From tonight we can say that time limits in this field of industrial disease are now things of the past. For that circumstance alone I welcome this scheme, with the reservation that I have made.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)
It is certainly gratifying to have before us at long last this scheme which, if the House approves it tonight, will put into operation the necessary administrative machinery to enable persons who are suspected to be suffering from pneumoconiosis to be examined by the medical board and, if certified, to be paid the £1 per week, irrespective of the date when they were last employed in the mining industry. We acknowledge that there can be no justification for refusing compensation to workmen on the ground of late diagnosis.
For many years past it was the case that men suffering the early stages of pneumoconiosis did not know they were suffering from the disease. Many of them left the mining industry. Later, with the advancement of medical science, it was ascertained that the disease from which they were suffering was pneumoconiosis. Unfortunately, it was too late. The five-year restriction clause operated against them, with the result that they were deprived of compensation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) pointed out, this scheme now removes the last restriction that has handicapped the payment of compensation to men suffering from pneumoconiosis under Workmen's Compensation.
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary have taken advantage of the Industrial Injuries Fund established by the Labour Government under the National Insurance Act, and that they have gone to that Fund to pay this benefit to these forgotten men 2070 of industry, as I described them some time ago. We tried in years gone by to yet the old insurance companies and colliery owners to make this payment retrospective by abolishing the five-year rule, but we failed. Now the Government have grasped the opportunity of paying this money out of the Industrial Injuries Fund.
I am sure that I am voicing the opinion of the whole House when I say that we do not want any more anomalies or restrictions. We all want the scheme to work as smoothly as is possible, and we want no more misunderstandings or arguments about what is meant. If for a few moments I strike a discordant note, it is only because I want to see this scheme work smoothly and efficiently. I know that the Minister, or the Parliamentary Secretary, would be the last to desire the creation of any misunderstanding as to what this scheme really means, but I submit that in some parts of it grievous misunderstanding is bound to arise.
In the Explanatory Note, and in Article 6, it is provided that a person who is partially disabled because of pneumoconiosis may receive unemployability allowance. We are further informed that constant attendance allowance will not apply to the partially disabled man; that is understandable, because constant attendance is only payable to the totally disabled. But Article 6 does state that unemployability allowances may be paid to the partially disabled, and the Explanatory Note also states that.
I submit that this question of unemployability allowance to a partially disabled man can be only theoretical and cannot work out in practice. People will be misled for the simple reason that unemployability allowance is payable only where a person is incapable of working; and "incapable of working" is interpreted as meaning that a man cannot earn more than £52 a year—£1 a week. What possible case is there for a man capable of doing light work being able to earn only £1 a week? The authorities have placed that interpretation on this, but, unfortunately, that does not help us in these particular cases.
The Commissioner's decision on this was made when he had before him two 2071 specific cases of men suffering from pneumoconiosis. I submit this point in the hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give consideration to it. The Commissioner readily admitted, from the evidence before him, that these two men were capable only of light work. He said that he spent many hours on one particular case because of its importance, and that concerns David J. Williams of Tonypandy, in the Rhondda. This man, 56 years of age, had spent his lifetime in the mining industry, and was seriously incapacitated.
The Commissioner, on the medical evidence, stated that it was impossible for this man to do any ordinary work; even an ordinary labouring job. But he could do sedentary work, and the Commissioner had to ask himself the question, "If he can do a sitting-down job—say, a watchman's job—he would earn more than £1 a week—then how can he have unemployability allowance?" The Commissioner had reluctantly to say that he could not have that allowance. Here are his remarks:This claim is near the border-line and I have not differed from the local appeal tribunal without some hesitation. In the opinion of the medical board the claimant is capable of no more than 'very light work.' This, coupled with the impression which his appearance made upon the tribunal, indicates that his capacity for work must be extremely limited. The state of his health is not the only factor to be taken into consideration. I must also consider his age, which is now 56, his education, his experience, and other relevant personal factors, but I have to consider them in relation to the question whether there is any work or type of work which he can reasonably be expected to do, not which he can reasonably be expected to get.In South Wales, where there are many of these cases, where men are fit only for the lightest work and who are unable to get such work. The number who cannot get unemployment benefit is increasing. The House will recall that some time ago we debated the expiration of Section 62 of the Act, as a result of which a man's unemployment benefit ceased at the expiration of a period. Many of those men who are unemployed cease to be entitled to unemployment benefit. They cannot get sickness benefit because they are capable of some work. Now, for a similar reason, they cannot get the unemployability supplement. Here we have men who are entitled to 2072 only £1 a week, even though we are glad that the regulation gives them that sum. Those who are unemployed will draw nothing else unless they apply to the National Assistance Board.
The House will readily agree that this is a grievous fault. It may be that for the moment, under this scheme, the Parliamentary Secretary cannot remedy it. but I beg him to look into the matter very closely, because from the inception the intention was to follow the line of the Workmen's Compensation Act. Under that Act there was a provision that where a man was regarded as so seriously incapacitated that his sphere of employment was seriously restricted, and where he had made all reasonable efforts to get work and had failed, the learned county court judge would have power to say, "In these circumstances I must regard this man as totally disabled within the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act." I have always understood that the unemployability allowance would be treated similarly. I have always regarded this type of man as the man who would be helped the most.
It is true that many of the men concerned are in employment and will be entitled to the £1 a week because they are in lighter work. I admit that the bulk of the men are in that position. But what of the position of the men about whom we have always been concerned—that is, those who are unemployed, whose sphere of employment is limited—as the learned Commissioner pointed out in the case which I quoted—and who are left, under these regulations, with £1 and no unemployability allowance.
I invite the House to look at the Explanatory Note and Article 6, for there is an inference that these men will be entitled to unemployability allowance. I hope that, in any leaflets which are issued, the Parliamentary Secretary will not stress this question of unemployability allowance, because it would make it difficult for the trade union organisation, who want this scheme to work efficiently, if we were to be cluttered up with numbers of applications for unemployability allowance. In those circumstances, cases would once more be going to the Commissioner and men would be misled about their entitlement to unem- 2073 ployability allowance. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to improve the wording in this connection.
The hon. Member for Mansfield referred to another point to which I wish to call attention, namely, the treatment of death cases. I hope we can get from the Parliamentary Secretary information about how these cases are to be treated. I can assure him that there is still a great deal of dissatisfaction about the way men suspected of having died from pneumoconiosis are treated, and will be treated under the scheme, if it remains as it is. In the mining industry of South Wales we had 450 deaths from this disease last year, so it is a grievous problem.
What happens is that when a man is suspected of dying from pneumoconiosis a post mortem examination is made, and a doctor gives evidence at the coroner's inquest. In a number of cases the doctor says that, in his opinion, the man has died from pneumoconiosis, or that his condition was aggravated by pneumoconiosis. A verdict is given accordingly. It is given in the local Press. The man's widow imagines that she is entitled to compensation within the meaning of this Act. Everyone is satisfied that she is going to be paid; but the case is referred to the medical board, which again is referred to in these regulations. After examination of the lungs, the board in many cases decides that the man has not died from pneumoconiosis. The poor widow has two certificates—one from the inquest, signed by the doctor stating that her husband died from pneumoconiosis, and one from the medical board stating that he did not die from the disease.
That shows the difficulty into which a widow is placed in regard to compensation. It puts into jeopardy the competence of the medical board. That competence is seriously questioned throughout South Wales. It is giving rise to discontent which need not happen if the matter were dealt with more efficiently by Her Majesty's Parliament. I have raised this matter with the Home Secretary in this House, and with the Minister for National Insurance. I had a communication from the Home Secretary, to whom I hinted this morning that I would raise this matter tonight. In fairness to him, I ought to say that he has taken the matter up and has recommended coroners to call in pathologists in these 2074 cases to try, so to speak, to put the matter upon a more even keel. But that is not solving the problem. It may even aggravate it. Some coroners are already calling in pathologists. When a pathologist of some standing says that a man has died from pneumoconiosis and the medical board says otherwise, the conflict of evidence is alarming. If this situation continues, it will give rise to a serious position in the South Wales coalfield among the miners, who view the problem with considerable concern.
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield in directing attention to the one-man medical board. We are going back to the old referee situation. One of the reasons we cannot get the doctors for this work is that it is on an inferior basis compared with other departments. Specialists in tuberculosis clinics in South Wales have a status far higher than that of a specialist on a medical board. Doctors are not prepared to accept the work because higher salaries are offered in the Health Service.
The Minister of Fuel and Power, in the debate on Monday, spoke warmly of the miners who gave their lives to the winning of coal for the nation. Surely, in those circumstances, we ought to get the doctors for the medical boards; but as things are, we will not get them. We on this side are alarmed that unless the doctors' status is raised, each year will show a reduction in the staff of the medical boards and we will be left with one man to examine all the suspected cases of pneumoconiosis.
We have been waiting a long time for the Regulations and I do not want to delay their progress, but on behalf of the thousands of miners in the South Wales coalfield I beg the Parliamentary Secretary, with all the earnestness at my command, to look at the two problems of the question of unemployability allowance and of the treatment and methods of admission in cases where death is suspected to be due to this terrible disease.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
If I spoke for one minute for each year that I have been engaged on this work, I should occupy the House for 32 minutes, but I do not propose to do that, because I have been fighting for these men since 1922 and we are now reaching the last lap of the very 2075 hard and long race we have been running. I am only sorry that we did not put on the same speed in the last lap as Chataway in his race at the White City some weeks ago.
I have every sympathy for the Parliamentary Secretary, who comes new to his present job. I hope he will be as good at it as he was in his last office. It is difficult to criticise a new man at his jab, but if the hon. Gentleman puts into it the same energy and sympathy as he showed at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, we can expect something from him.
I was surprised when the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the shortage of doctors. We have always had that experience. It has been extremely difficult to get qualified men to undertake the work of examining those who were suffering from pneumoconiosis or silicosis. It is regrettable that there are only five centres in the whole of our coalfields to which men who are suspected to be suffering from pneumoconiosis or silicosis can be sent for a good examination.
I cannot understand why in any question affecting the mining industry there is always a dearth of good men. We have the same trouble with the inspectorate. We shall not get good inspectors in the mines because we are not prepared to pay the price. We cannot get highly-qualified and specialised men to examine suffering miners because we are not prepared to pay the price. Until we make this branch of medical service sufficiently attractive, we shall not attract the best men.
I am greatly disturbed about the one-man board. We have fought against that all long the line since 1921. Nothing has given more irritation, discontent, embarrassment and upheaval in the mining industry than men being certified by a one-man board, namely, the medical referee, as fully recovered. We ought to issue a warning to the Department not to attempt to fasten these men to a one-man board. On the silicosis, pneumoconiosis and asbestosis boards there are three doctors, of whom two make the examinations. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary and his Department will not go any lower than that. There must be at least two doctors to examine these men when they are suspected of suffering from silicosis.
2076 I was rather surprised about one point. I put down in my notes that I would ask for the back-dating of payment of these claims, but the Parliamentary Secretary said that it was not permissible under the Act. I accept his word, but I would point out that we back-dated the increase in Members' salaries. If we can do that for Members of Parliament, we can do it for these injured men. It only needs the will to do it.
Like my hon Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), I am disturbed about the Explanatory Note, which says:This Scheme extends the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Scheme, 1952, to cases of partial disablement as a result of pneumoconiosis or byssinosis. The benefit in such cases, which is payable out of the Industrial Injuries Fund, is a weekly allowance of twenty shillings, which may be increased where the person entitled to the allowance is unemployable as a result of the disease.The man has to be unemployable before he can get any increase in the 20s. I wonder whether the Department has ever examined what is stated on the medical certificate issued by the pneumoconiosis board when a man is not totally incapacitated. It says:I hereby certify that I have examined Mr. A or B on such-and-such a date and I find that he is unable to earn full wages at his usual occupation.It does not say that he is incapacitated. That man is therefore partially incapacitated for his pre-examination job. He cannot go back to it because he is unable to do it, and he can only get 20s. There should be a thorough examination of the wording of the certificate in order that these men may be able to get this long-overdue, elementary justice. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary and his Department to have an examination made on this point.
The next point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty referred was that of death cases. I have had considerable experience of death claims. I have known men who have been certified to be suffering from pneumoconiosis, who have been partially disabled but unable to get a certificate of complete disablement. They have received compensation over a long period. Death has then called them to their reward. A doctor has certified that the man has died from pneumoconiosis. Then there is an inquest, which is adjourned by the coroner. The lungs are sent away for a clinical and micro- 2077 scopical examination. Then there is a report from the clinic, which states that the man has not died as a result of pneumoconiosis. Yet all the time he has been receiving compensation.
That is a very disturbing matter. All hon. Members will agree that nothing causes the bereaved more anxiety, or intensifies their grief more, than to know that they have been receiving compensation for partial incapacity as a result of pneumoconiosis, which is supported by a medical certificate from their own doctor, and then, after death, when a post-mortem examination has been held, they are debarred of their right because somebody somewhere says that the man has not died as a result of pneumoconiosis.
We wish to avoid that state of affairs, and I know that all hon. Members wish to avoid any intensification of the grief and sorrow that is borne by these people after long years of suffering. I therefore plead with the Parliamentary Secretary and his Department to have a further examination of the scheme and see whether it can be improved a little in that direction.
I gathered from the Parliamentary Secretary that it will not be necessary for all those men who have so far been examined under the 1952 scheme and have not been certified to be suffering total incapacity, to make a further application. I hope I am correct in my understanding of the hon. Gentleman. I have been examining the figures of the men who have been examined under the 1952 scheme. I believe it came into operation on 10th March, and from 10th March until the latest date for which I have been able to obtain figures, which is June, 1954, there were 10,572 men examined for total disablement benefits. I am quoting from the Department's own figures. I also find that the claims that were allowed out of the total number were 3,610.
I shall not deal with the death claims. If we deduct the 3,610 from the 10,572, then approximately 7,000 men have been, I shall not say denied, but had their claims disallowed. That those 7,000 men were suffering from some degree of pneumoconiosis is as sure as night follows day, because they cannot get to the examing board until they have been certified by their ordinary doctor—and I use 2078 that word with respect—to be suspected to be suffering from silicosis. They are then passed to the pneumoconiosis board.
I am anxious that men whose claims for total disablement have been disallowed by the board should be afforded every help, because as sure as I am sitting in this House they have a high degree of pneumoconiosis. While it may be true that they are not totally disabled, I guarantee that it will be found that most of those 7,000 are suffering from the disease. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to examine those figures so that we shall be able to help those men who will come under this new scheme.
While I shall not oppose this scheme, I am totally dissatisfied with the delay. I re-emphasise the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor). I am not blaming the Parliamentary Secretary but, with the best will in the world, I cannot accept the excuse, or the apparent reason he has given for the delay. It has taken over 11 months to bring in this scheme. I make allowance for the Christmas. Easter and Summer Recesses, but I still cannot accept the delay as justifiable. The Bill which provided for this scheme was submitted to the House on 23rd November last year. We had the Christmas Recess shortly afterwards but the Bill was dealt with in Committee by 9th February. We had the Third Reading on 18th February—there was speed. From 18th February until 27th October scarcely anything has been heard.
What impressed me most was that on Second Reading, on Report, and on Third Reading every speech from both sides exhorted the Minister that speed was essential. The hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather), and the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), who lives in a mining district, told the House that speed was essential if the benefits of the Bill were to reach the men. Yet we have had to wait until today. I recall what the Minister himself said. He indicated his anxiety in the speech he made on the Second Reading.
Speaking in the debate, the Minister said:Above all, it will give some recognition of the misfortunes that these men have suffered, and an assurance that if their condition deteriorates they and their families will be 2079 entitled to a larger measure of security than they have enjoyed hitherto."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 34.]That was the Minister, yet we get the scheme 11 months later. If it is the Minister, if it is the Department, or if it is the Trades Union Congress sub-committees responsible for the back-room negotiations, who have by their dilatory methods been responsible for that delay, they ought to hang their heads in shame. It is a disgrace and a scandal that men who have been waiting all these years should be denied the elementary justice to which they are entitled.
We on this side, and I know hon. Members opposite who represent mining constituencies, are anxious to see that the scheme gives the fullest possible benefit to the greatest number of men. Here is an opportunity for the Minister, here is an opportunity for the Parliamentary Secretary to give these men that elementary justice. I speak strongly about this, because I live among it. I am with them every week-end, and during the recess not one day passed without a man suffering from partial disablement because of pneumoconiosis coming to ask me when the scheme to bring them relief would be introduced. I could not give an answer.
The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned publicity, and the action the Department was taking to publicise the scheme. We had that exhortation from the Minister when the Bill was introduced: we had the same exhortation in 1952. We did our best in the districts to publicise it among the men. Many of them had left the industry and moved to other areas, some had migrated overseas. I know they had difficulties because they told people responsible that they were going to friends and relatives. Men were driven from their native land by sheer force of economic circumstances and had to emigrate to get succour and relief, and here we are now dealing with these people after all these years. Governments of the past were warned.
I am not blaming the present Government: the Government were warned in 1922. They took no notice. The Government were warned in 1925, again no notice was taken. They were warned in 1946, in 1948 and in 1952. They took no notice. It is because of the policy of not taking notice by high-handed 2080 officials, and I say it with respect, but some of them are far divorced from industrial realities, that we have had to wait so long.
There were bouquets thrown and lots of praise given this week to the miners for what has been done since vesting day. But let us remember that these men who will get this elementary justice are comrades of those praised by the Minister of Fuel and Power on Monday. These schemes are full of legal jargon, and men on a sickbed will not be able to understand them. A man who has been waiting all these years will not trouble. Make it as easy as possible; help as much as possible to bring about the relief to which these men are justly entitled. If that is done the Ministry will be entitled to the eternal gratitude of a body of men who have waited so long for so little.
§ 11.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I venture to intervene because I was thinking that "byssinosis" must be a naughty word; it has not yet been mentioned. The cotton industry is not without importance to Great Britain, and the suffering of the workers in that industry from that disease is just as great as that of the sufferers of silicosis and pneumoconiosis. I always listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch). my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) with very real attention and sympathy on these matters, because I have some experience of the suffering of the men in the mining industry and know that their suffering is much greater numerically than it is in the cotton industry.
On the question of byssinosis, however, we have the additional difficulty that it was scheduled as a disease so late that there are many who do not qualify even now. It was not scheduled until 1940, and I believe that under the wretched regulations which still operate the applicant has to establish that he or she has done 20 years of work in a cotton mill —even if it is not consecutive work—in order to qualify.
I do not want to be ungenerous, and it is right to say that we all welcome this scheme, but there are some matters which cause great concern. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty talked about the 2081 unemployability allowance, and he put the point so clearly that I find I have nothing to add; but another difficulty which I have in mind is the question of casual work. Under the old and very wicked Workmen's Compensation Acts, if a man could do any sort of casual work he was not regarded as being totally disabled. That sounds reasonable enough, but it is not to those who know the circumstances. A man who has been suffering from byssinosis for many years will be advised that the best thing he can do in the summer is to get some sunshine, and go out and attempt to do some work, because this disease brings a dreadful depression and a sense of frustration, and often there are mental consequences.
Only this week-end in Dorset, I was asked a question which I was quite unable to answer, namely, to what extent a man who cannot engage in a normal and regular occupation—who is in every respect an "odd lot" on the labour market—is entitled under existing regulations to earn a little bit by doing something sensible and useful. I venture to say that the Parliamentary Secretary would be doing a very real service if he would discuss the whole question of disabled men's employment with his colleague the Minister of Labour, especially as we are told that, owing to some of the ozones blowing from Blackpool, there may be a little more money available.
The number of such men today is 140. In 1945 it was about 400. We have now got it down to a hard core of what, in Workmen's Compensation jargon, would be called "odd lots"—men who for one reason or another are not suitable either for normal full employment or Remploy employment under its existing terms. There is a Remploy factory in Oldham. However, I am unhappy about this regulation that makes the unemployed now seek to become merely profit making, that limits the amount that can be used for the unemployed.
Many people need this attention. There was a time a year or two ago when there were schemes for homework—work to be done at home. A good deal could be done in that way. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that if he wants to do something really useful, something to help humanity, something of which he can be proud, he should discuss this matter with the Minister of Labour. I have a sufficient respect for the right 2082 hon. and learned Gentleman to know that the Parliamentary Secretary would receive from him a good deal of sympathetic consideration. That is one of the things that really needs to be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield raised the question of single medical examination, which is a very real trouble indeed. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince gave figures. I asked for the figures on 7th June last year. They showed that at one period five out of six claims were rejected. On 22nd June, I raised on the Adjournment an individual case. I raised it in circumstances of some difficulty, in a running battle that eliminated the facts. It took me 29 minutes of my half hour's Adjournment debate to establish the fact that I was in order. and by the time I had established the fact that I was in order there was no time to mention the facts I desired.
It was the case of Mr. Alfred Slack. It was a simple case. He was 62 years of age. He went to a specialist in Manchester, who is. I understand, a very reputable specialist in these matters. He had 15 to 18 X-ray examinations. On the strength of those X-ray examinations he was certified as suffering from byssinosis. There was never any question of Alfred's being totally disabled. He was totally disabled by something. He was a very sick man indeed.
What happened? He was eventually visited by two men. He does not know whether one was a doctor. Naturally, he does not know. The two men came—very courteously: I am not criticising them at all. I know they are overworked. I know they are in difficulties. They were courteous; they were helpful. They took one X-ray photograph. And that was the end of that.
Really, it is not a satisfactory position. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if it is. I know that, in view of the short time he has held his present office, he may not be able tonight to answer all the questions that have been put to him. One would not expect him to be able to do so, to answer fully every question put to him, but these questions are important. There is a very real feeling of doubt growing about the efficacy of the present method of examination.
My hon. Friend raised also the point that is always a grievance in a Workmen's Compensation case where death 2083 occurs. Was the death caused directly by the accident? The answer always depends on the doctor. It always depends whether one has Dr. Brown or Dr. Jones. People do not die directly from industrial disease normally. A man's physical capacity is wasted for years by disease, and he gets worse and worse, and then, perhaps, he gets pneumonia, or influenza, Of perhaps a cold, perhaps a strain on the heart, and so that produces some final supervening effect. It depends on how the doctor frames the certificate, on how he starts it, whether it starts on the right lines or whether it starts on the wrong lines, as to whether compensation is paid or not.
Whether or not death was directly caused by disease is purely an ephemeral opinion. There is nothing certain about it. A man is affected by the disease; it undermines his health for years. I suggest the Parliamentary Secretary should look at this point. As the years go by it ceases to have a grave importance for the Treasury because fewer and fewer people are qualifying under the old scheme, but it still has a great deal of sentimental and psychological significance.
I put a point of view I have put before. I put it as an important matter. There are thousands of claimants for total disablement from byssinosis or pneumoconiosis and their claims have been examined, and quite a large number have been disallowed. They will come back again as claimants for partial compensation, and some of them will be disallowed. All of them are sick men. It is virtually true to say they are sick men suffering from some acute form of lung disease.
It is quite true to say that there are many cases where medical determination is a matter of very great difficulty. Indeed, the Parliamentary Secretary may remember that there was a great argument for years as to whether there was such a disease as byssinosis; and one has to remember that these dust diseases are very closely related. But surely the sensible way of dealing with this, if I may put what is my view, is to say that anyone disabled by a chronic disease shall be classified as entitled to the full benefits of the industrial diseases allowances.
2084 Why must we doubt everything—the medical opinions, specialists' opinions, and everything in connection with these boards? If disabled by chronic disease, then a man in this country of ours should be entitled to the full rate. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that, if he looks into the matter, he will find that it would not cost much. Let us also remember that there is a psychological reason for dispensing with the struggles and the arguments.
Having said this, I do very sincerely hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will look into this, because I believe that he could do a very important job. I say in the name of Oldham, which is still the centre of cotton spinning in this country, that I hope these old byssinosis cases will be fully recognised.
§ 11.52 p.m.
§ Mr. David J. Pryde (Midlothian and Peebles)
This scheme is of peculiar interest to Scotland generally, and my own constituency in particular and, while not going into ecstacies of enthusiasm about it, I must admit that it will certainly do much to correct a very great injustice and be of benefit to a great many men in my own constituency. It may interest the House to learn that, up to recent times, the mineworkers in Scotland were held by the law of this land not to be susceptible to pneumoconiosis or silicosis while following their occupation in the mines. I hold this House responsible for that because, while a mineworker in Wales and in England could be certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis or silicosis, that could not be so in Scotland.
About 150,000 of us earned our livings in the mines of Scotland at that time and men died, and it was said that they had "gone into a decline." I was secretary of a miners' lodge in a part of Scotland where many men were off for a fortnight or more each year and I know now that many had contracted pneumoconiosis. It was only when a powerful lodge in my area took very strong action and had two bodies exhumed that the existence of pneumoconiosis was admitted.
So we have a great interest in Scotland in legislation appertaining to pneumoconiosis and silicosis; but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), I have my criticisms. The single-doctor arrangement is an absolute disaster because we are here concerned 2085 with diseases which are very difficult to diagnose; and it is just because of that that I want to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary just what alterations there will be in the medical staff in Scotland, and where it is going to be situated.
Scotland has a very wide mining area. We have collieries as far west as Campbelltown, in Argyll, as far north as the proximity of Dundee and as far east as Tranent. The Minister has done something to correct a big injustice but he should do a little more and should see that two at least of the medical profession are always present at any examination and diagnosis, because, if not, we are only going back to the old order of the medical referee.
§ 11.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Williams (Wigan)
I hope that the House will approve this regulation because if it comes into full effect and is administered in the best possible way, and if, in the course of the administration, the doctors who are conducting the examinations do so with an eye upon the disasters of the past so as to seek to avoid those disasters in the future, then thousands and thousands of deserving cases will receive something valuable within the next few months.
I fully appreciate that the Ministry has been faced with a difficult situation in coping with the many thousands of claims which its expects to arise once the scheme is put into effect. To deal with that situation the Ministry could have decided either to pursue a course which would lead to the recruitment of a large number of doctors so that the boards could function as boards and so that there would be more than one doctor dealing with each examination, or it could take a desperate chance and arrange for the examinations to be conducted by a specially qualified medical practitioner—by which the Ministry means a member of the medical board—in the hope that it would get through many more cases in a shorter time.
The Parliamentary Secretary should bear in mind that when my hon. Friends say we are going back to the medical referee system they are referring to something which causes the greatest apprehension on this side of the House. If there was one cause more than another which ultimately completely discredited the 2086 Workmen's Compensation system, it was the fact that the medical referee system did not work and became so completely discredited that the whole concept of Workmen's Compensation was thrown into disrepute.
With that terrible experience behind us, we naturally look with the greatest apprehension at the proposal in the scheme. In voicing that apprehension I find some hope for the efficient administration of the scheme in that very fact, because it is one thing for medical referees to be feeling their way as they deal with cases through the years and causing the most awful catastrophe as they go along, but it is another thing for individual members of these medical boards to remember that experience and to say that it will not happen again. They should say, "When we approach these cases we must do so with a double sense of responsibility, because we are doing a job which ought to be done by a medical board, and we will act on the presumption that the man will receive the benefit of every doubt which arises in his case."
I do not think that individual members of the medical board will adopt that attitude unless they are told to do so. If the Minister is to receive—as I hope he will —the warm approval of the House in the passing of the scheme, he should see that an instruction goes out to all areas where these medical men will be conducting their examinations to the effect that that is the new spirit in the Ministry in respect of these cases.
The Minister should make clear that the one thing he fears is that his hopes will be frustrated by the old, discredited medical referee system becoming established again. If the scheme is administered with that mental attitude, we shall be able to find it in our hearts on this side of the House to forgive even the delay; to forgive the anomalies to which my hon. Friends have referred, provided that the scheme works well and quickly, and brings benefit to the people about whom we are deeply concerned.
I heartily commend this scheme to the House. Regarding the delay. I would say that the National Union of Mineworkers has not been dilatory, and it has shown no lack of diligence about pressing the Minister. The Ministry at times must have wondered what was hitting 2087 it. I should like the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, to acknowledge that there were influences at work in bringing to an end this time bar. He can, I know, make such acknowledgements in most courteous terms. With the reservations which I have mentioned, I heartedly commend the scheme to the House.
§ 12.2 a.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
When the Parliamentary Secretary replies I hope that he will elucidate the position of those who were examined under the principal scheme when they claimed total disablement, but were adjudged to be only partly disabled—the 1,200 to whom he referred. He said that they had been written to, that 1,100 had replied, and that their letters would be taken as applications under the amended scheme. An hon. Member on this side of the House asked the Joint Parliamentary Secretary whether these men would have to undergo a further medical examination, or whether the former examination would be enough.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, as I understood him, said that, while the letters would be taken as applications, the claims of those men were not thereby necessarily established. We would like to know whether men whose former claims for total disablement benefit were refused, but who were found to be partly disabled, will have to be medically reexamined. Fears have been expressed about single-doctor examination, but I suppose the Minister was faced with the problem of getting through this large number of cases if the traditional composition of the medical boards was required. The longer applicants had to wait for decisions on their cases the greater their anxiety, and the greater the possible hardship they might suffer.
I have assumed that this is an emergency measure: that it is not something which the Minister likes more than does anyone else. He had the choice of needing longer time to get through the cases with medical boards of traditional composition, or of reducing the time through the expedient of one—doctor examinations. When this problem was put to the Trades Union Congress and to the National Union of Mineworkers, with reluctance but nevertheless in full reali- 2088 sation of the difficulties of the Minister, they acquiesced in this arrangement. That should be said in fairness. We should understand where responsibility lies and have it clearly stated.
Responsibility for this arrangement definitely lies to some extent, in these special circumstances, with the trade unions, which have reluctantly acquiesced in this arrangement as the preferable alternative to having longer time taken to dispose of these cases by medical boards composed in the ordinary way. My hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) said some hard things about those who might be responsible for the delays. Of course, his good nature and his warmhearted temperament softened the hard words that he used. He said that if the Trades Union Congress Committee or the trade unions were in any way responsible for the delays, they should hang their heads in shame.
§ Mr. Houghton
My hon. Friend said that it was a scandal. Somehow, when my hon. Friend says that something is a scandal, we do not really think it is quite as bad as that, because he does not say it as if it is quite so bad. When we read his words in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow, they will seem to be fairly harsh criticism.
Upstairs, in Committee on the National Insurance (Amendment) Bill and other Measures of social legislation, I have expressed anxiety about the time that is taken and the commitments that may well be undertaken in the course of consultation with interests outside this House which the Minister concerned quite properly thinks should be consulted. I am a member of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, and I must rise to defend that council against any charges of being dilatory in discharging its duties in connection with these draft schemes.
It is a pity that hon. Members are not always kept informed, perhaps by the unions with which they should be in close touch, of action taken by the Minister to get union opinion on matters of great importance to the members of trade unions generally. If my recollection is correct, the drafts of these draft schemes were in the hands of the Trades Union 2089 Congress in June and the National Union of Mineworkers was called into consultation specially on this matter.
My contact with the discussions shows that there was no avoidable delay in dealing with the complex questions, in examining the proposals contained in the schemes and in making ready to discuss them with the Minister; and on 14th September, which is not really long ago, there was an interview between the Trades Union Congress and the Minister, and the President and the General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers were present.
The big question discussed then was the matter which still concerns us now, and which was not disposed of satisfactorily: that is. the question of retrospection, which has worried everybody, especially in regard to those whose cases I mentioned at the beginning, who have long since been adjudged partially disabled because their claims to be totally disabled were rejected. Whether we failed fully to understand the implications of what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said on 23rd November last year. as reported in c. 103 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, when he referred to those cases and how they would be dealt with, or whether we did not fully understand that they would be left in the air all these months waiting for the settlement of claims which seemed to have been already established, I do not know. At any rate, the position is unsatisfactory.
Various suggestions have been made that the Minister could, within the authority of existing legislation, grant some retrospection if he were so minded. He is apparently advised that he cannot do that. Short of fresh legislation, it appears—if his advice is sound, as I am sure it must be—that he is estopped from granting benefits from an earlier date than that of the completion of these instruments. We must, with sadness, accept that that is the position. Nobody wishes to have further delay, even to get a measure of retrospection. We have to put up with it, I am afraid, although it has caused considerable dissatisfaction.
I hope that my hon. Friends will not take my observations amiss. It is a matter of the procedure of this House to which I confess I do not know the solution. It seems a pity, when bodies outside this House are being consulted, quite properly. 2090 that hon. Members inside this House who have special knowledge and responsibility, especially in matters of social legislation, are not taken into the confidence of the Minister at the same time. I should not think there would be any difficulty about doing that. At least we should know when things were not coming before the House that Ministers and their staffs were not idle but that those matters were, in the conventional phrase, "under active consideration" I can only state the facts as I know them. It is only fair to the Minister and to the Trade Union Congress that hon. Members should know that these matters were dealt with as expeditiously as possible. They concern a frightfully complex subject, and this is the last attempt to clear it up. Everybody wants to see it satisfactorily completed. That discharges my responsibility in this matter.
I hope that we may now proceed, and that in spite of any reservations that we may have, we shall acknowledge the great benefit that these new measures will bring. We should delay no longer in putting them into effect. Let the good work proceed. Let us have these remaining claims dealt with as satisfactorily and as liberally as possible, sparing no effort finally to wipe the slate clean of the vast arrears of discontent and misery from one of the most dreadful diseases of our industrial life.
§ 12.13 a.m.
§ Mr. Marples
I am grateful to the House for the kind reception it has given to the scheme on the whole, although there were some harsh words from the other side of the House; but they were not meant to sting.
I quite realise the apprehension which the question of one-doctor examinations causes. I come from a district not far from Ince. My own family happened to be concerned with this matter intimately, and I know that it causes immense emotional disturbance. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) put his finger on the spot; when the Minister could not get the necessary numbers of doctors he was faced with the choice of having two doctors examining a limited number of men or one doctor carrying out each examination and so enabling all cases to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
2091 My right hon. Friend consulted fully the T.U.C. and various interested parties, and on the whole they were satisfied with the arrangements proposed.
§ Mr. Finch
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said, but what steps are the Government taking to get more doctors? We can go on like this year in and year out. We shall be faced with this situation again. I understand the difficulties now, but can we have an assurance for the future that more doctors will be obtained?
§ Mr. Marples
Seven whole-time doctors have been recruited and the medical panels are being increased by a third. That is a reasonable proportion by which to increase the panels. It is not insignificant. We must remember that when the first rush of applicants is over, there will be more doctors to go round.
I went to see the doctors in my Ministry in order to be fully acquainted with this disease. I saw some of the slides, which I could not understand, and I saw actual specimens of the lungs. I went into the matter most thoroughly, and I asked a lot of questions for quite a number of hours. I am certain that it is not a question of getting doctors in the ordinary sense of the word. It is a question of getting doctors with specialised knowledge. My right hon. Friend would be guilty of great folly if he insisted on enrolling a large number of doctors who did not have the necessary specialised knowledge to deal with these cases. I believe that the additional seven whole-time doctors, plus the part-time assistance from the specialists, will be sufficient.
The other point that I wanted to mention was the question of delay. The hon. Member for Sowerby was of help to me in this matter. There was a period when I was at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, when he was not always helpful to me. He was right in saying that conferences were taking place between the interested parties as late as September. My right hon. Friend went out of his way to tell me that he did not want to shelter behind any outside body which he had consulted. Consultations have taken place on the intricate and 2092 complicated details which it is necessary to work out.
The question of past claims was referred to by the hon. Members for Sowerby, Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor), Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) and Ince (Mr. T. Brown). There were 1,200 claimants for total disablement benefit under the 1952 scheme who were found to be only partially disabled. We have written to them and replies have been received from over 1,100. These replies will be treated as applications under this scheme. Each application will be treated on its merits, but those concerned will not need another medical examination because they have already had it.
I now come to the particular point raised by the hon. Member for Mansfield. I am obliged to him for the kind and moderate way in which he took part in this debate. He dealt at some length with the question of death. My difficulty is that I think I should be out of order in dealing with that subject under this scheme because it deals with partial disablement, and death has been covered under the 1952 scheme, which stems from the 1951 Act.
§ Mr. Marples
I am aware of that, but the point is that the scheme which is now being discussed deals only with partial disablement.
§ Mr. Marples
If the hon. Member looks closer he will find that the 1952 scheme, which stems from the 1951 Act, deals with death, and the 1954 scheme, which follows the 1954 Act, deals only with partial disablement.
§ Mr. Taylor
I do not wish to harass the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, but on this important point I must draw his attention to paragraph 4 (3, c) which contains the words,that he has died as a result of the disease.
§ Mr. Marples
I agree that the particular scheme mentions death, but its provisions deal only with payments for partial disablement. Of course it mentions death. Indeed, how could this scheme, 2093 which is supplementary to and should be read with the 1952 scheme, really get by without mentioning it? Out of courtesy to the House, I have studied this matter pretty closely since I took over my new duties, and I am quite certain that this scheme deals only with moneys to be paid for partial disablement. It mentions death, but I do not think that is provides any benefits for death from pneumoconiosis.
I turn now to the question of retrospection—and here I am obliged to the hon. Member for Sowerby. My right hon. Friend is advised that, in law, no payments may be made prior to the commencement of this scheme, so whatever may be the merits or demerits of retrospection it cannot be dealt with now because it is something which would require fresh legislation.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), who clearly has great knowledge of the subject, raised two points. The first was the question of unemployability supplement, and the second the question of death—which, as I have said, comes under the 1952 scheme. He had me at a disadvantage with regard to the unemployability supplement because, again, that is really dealt with under the Industrial Injuries Act, 1946. The point the hon. Gentleman raises may or may not be a good one, but it does not really affect this scheme. However, I will look into it and write to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Marples
Whether or not they are entitled to the unemployability supplement will largely depend on the interpretation of the 1946 Act.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty also drew attention to the difficulty which arises when the coroner's verdict is that death was due to pneumoconiosis but the claim for compensation is rejected on the grounds that death was not due to that disease. That is a very real and difficult point. Consultations have taken place between the Home Office, the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, the Coroners' Society and other interested parties. A fairly unanimous conclusion 2094 was come to that certain remedial measures should be taken. As a result, a circular was sent out three yeeks ago. That, I think it will be agreed, is not a really long time to see whether or not the suggested method will produce results.
§ Mr. Thomas Oswald (Edinburgh, Central)
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. It is as important to the Scottish miner as it is to his colleagues in England and Wales. In Scotland we do not have coroners' courts and we would like to know precisely what the position is to be there. Further, when there is a difference of medical opinion, is there any possibility of an independent referee being appointed to make a deter mination between those differing opinions?
§ Mr. Marples
I should not like to be drawn into that controversy. It was only out of courtesy that I was answering, because the whole question of death is not strictly relevant to the scheme, but as the hon. Member for Bedwellty had this in mind I was trying to answer him. Death is not dealt with under the scheme, and while the hon. Gentleman's point may be a good one he must raise it elsewhere.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ince for the kind words he uttered about me personally. No doubt I shall make mistakes, but I shall do my best. He asked about the certificate issued by the board. I should like to examine his contribution in HANSARD and perhaps I could write to him on the point he has raised about the certificate. The hon. Member for Oldham, West made a breezy intervention, including some comment about Blackpool, but the speed of his eloquence rather dazzles me at times. Under this scheme there is no limit on the earnings in addition to the sum of money granted. That is granted on medical certificate only. I hope that makes that particular point clear.
§ Mr. Marples
I think I have dealt briefly with all the points raised. I will look carefully through the debate, and if 2095 I find I have not answered any hon. Gentleman fully I hope he will allow me to write to him.
§ Mr. Marples
I will read the debate carefully. Some contributions to it were rather wide of the scheme, as I have studied it in the short period I have been at the Ministry, but I will write to anyone I have not answered satisfactorily.
§ Mr. Marplesindicated assent.
That the Draft Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Amendment Scheme, 1954. a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th October, be approved.
§ 12.27 a.m.
§ Mr. Marples
I beg to move,That the Draft Industrial Diseases (Miscellaneous) Benefit Scheme. 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th October, be approved.The scheme which the House has just approved extended benefits to persons partially incapacitated by pneumoconiosis and byssinosis, but the Act empowered the Minister to make a corresponding scheme for industrial diseases such as skin cancer, including mule spinner's cancer, and they are dealt with in this scheme. It is a much smaller problem numerically than the earlier one we have been discussing, and although this scheme looks large and complicated, I think it is relatively simple and brings other classes of employment into the ambit of the 1954 Act.
§ Mr. B. Taylor
I am obliged to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for 2096 his brief and important explanation of this scheme. We welcome it and are glad that at long last cancer which arises from industrial occupations is now recognised.
§ Mr. Hale
I feel that, as one representing the largest cotton spinning town in the world, and a town which has been in that category for more than a century, I must thank the Government for introducing this scheme. As the hon. Gentleman knows, when we discussed the Act I urged that mule spinner's cancer should be included. It is a long-standing grievance, and has been a subject raised in every election which I have fought in Lancashire. We are glad to see this done. As for cancer of the scrotum, if proper conditions are observed in the mills, if overalls are provided and the regulations about proper oil are followed, there is no need for the disease to occur. I hope the hon. Gentleman will keep his eye on this, for I shall be asking him questions about it in future. This very painful, serious and at one time very prevalent disease of the mule spinning mills—cancer of the scrotum—ought to have been included long ago, and we are very glad that at long last it has been.
That the Draft Industrial Diseases (Miscellaneous) Benefit Scheme, 1954, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th October, be approved.