HC Deb 12 December 1958 vol 597 cc711-40

Order for Second Reading read.

2.28 p.m.

Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill is designed to provide for the payment of allowances out of the Industrial Injuries Fund with a view to supplementing workmen's compensation and benefit, to amend the Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Supplementation) Act, 1956, to increase benefits under the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Act, 1951, and the Industrial Diseases (Benefit) Act, 1954 and to amend the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Act, 1951. There are many hon. Members in the House today who have themselves spent a great deal of time working in industry and who have colleagues and friends who were maimed while at work. This Bill seeks to try to assist people who find themselves suffering from pecuniary hardship when compared with others who may benefit under the industrial injuries legislation. It represents one of many attempts to assist men and women affected by injury or disease as a result of their employment between 1897 and 1948.

Under the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1897, when a workman was totally or partially incapacitated he received a weekly benefit equal to half the difference between his pre-accident and his post- accident earnings. The maximum was £1. Although the 1897 Act was a start, there were many restrictions, and, for one reason or another, many accidents or industrial diseases did not have recognition. After many weaknesses had been disclosed, the position was improved by the Acts of 1906 to 1926, when the maximum compensation which could be obtained was 30s.

It is because we have in mind the need for improvement that we wish to drive home with emphasis today our argument that something should be done for those people who, unfortunately, met with an accident at work before 1948. In 1943, a little was done to alleviate distress for those receiving partial compensation. That was fifteen years ago. Today, many men and women, whom we know because we live among them, should be receiving proper recognition for the service which they gave in industry before meeting with an accident.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may say that there are difficulties, but he must know that if we really face the issue, and understand the human problems, the difficulties can be overcome. It is easy for us as legislators, well away from industry, to develop academic points about the impossibility of enacting legislation which will do the job well, but, when we see these people, who have no hope in life at all, we realise at once that it is not beyond the wit of man to see that they get a square deal.

The Government have been speaking about an expanding economy and talking of our standard of life being doubled in the next twenty years. For the people with whom we are concerned this morning, the future is dark and no one is helping them. Only hon. Members who represent the industrial areas are prepared to put on one side any personal ambition they may have and introduce a Measure of this kind. I hope, therefore, that it will be possible for the Minister to be accommodating today.

It is often contended that administrative difficulties impede the path of progress, but, if I may say so, this Bill— if I may use a mixed metaphor—would do much to iron out all the bottlenecks. If I am any judge at all of the Bill, it is the simplest out of the five which have been introduced by my colleagues during the past few years. I remember the efforts made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies), by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Deer). The efforts of all my hon. Friends surely indicates the sincerity of all of us who are determined to deal with this very vexed problem.

The Bill proposes a flat-rate supplement of 17s. 6d. for the totally disabled, and a flat-rate supplement of 25s. for the partially disabled. These are the people, I remind the House, who were disabled before 1948. No medical examinations are called for, and, in consequence, the administrative burden placed upon the Ministry will be very light indeed.

There remains the very vexed question of hardship. There are many and various definitions of hardship and the degrees of hardship and, no doubt, the Minister will point out some of these. But we believe in fair compensation. The Government themselves say that they are the champions of fair compensation, particularly when they are dealing with the acquisition of land and the loss of profits. They are quite ready to see that adequate compensation is given in those cases, but it is always said that there are difficulties in the way of giving proper compensation for those who have been maimed for a number of years as a result of an accident sustained while they were following their occupation. I hope that the Government will readily accept this righteous claim which we make on behalf of those who are unable to help themselves.

Anyone with experience of compensation will condemn the old Acts to some extent as reacting unfairly against the injured workman. The Industrial Injuries Act, which replaced them, was largely an agreed Measure, developed towards the end of the last war. No effort has been made for injured workers of the pre-1948 era to secure for them just compensation for loss of faculty. If we take the 1948 Act, loss of faculty is recognised, but those who lost faculty particularly in the days before the war have not had the same recognition by a long way.

Many maimed miners and industrial workers get in touch with their Members of Parliament from time to time and ask what can be done. We realise that we are up against a stone wall at present, but we ask that some equality should be brought about between those injured before 1948 and those injured after.

No real attempt has been made to calculate pre-accident earnings on a fair basis. I know that it may be extremely difficult to estimate what a man would have been earning today had he not met with an accident, let us say, in 1934 or 1935. That is why the Minister finds it easy to evade his responsibilities. But, by evading it, he is leaving people in definite hardship. Real hardships exist in both partial and total compensation cases.

It was only during 1956, after continual pressure from the trade union movement and from the Opposition, that recognition was given to those who were receiving compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The Minister then introduced legislation to give a supplement of 17s. 6d. a week to the totally incapacitated. What was the effect? Those married men on workmen's compensation were on an equal footing with those deemed to have 100 per cent. loss of faculty under the Industrial Injuries Act. Single men remained at 10s. a week less.

I believe that the Minister acted as he did because he realised that the increase in the cost of living had badly affected the workmen's compensation cases, and the 17s. 6d. that he then awarded brought about some equilibrium. It was, perhaps, consternation in the Ministry that led him to say that there was a moral case for the old compensation cases, and we on this side rejoiced when the 17s. 6d. was given to them.

Today, the gap between the workmen's compensation and the Industrial Injuries Act cases has widened and, no doubt, will continue to widen unless something is done and it is for that reason that we feel that it is high time that the Minister gave his particular attention to this issue. Since February, 1958. married men on compensation have been in a far worse position in comparison with those receiving industrial injuries benefit, and we believe that the time is now opportune once more to seek an equilibrium.

I appreciate that only recently there has been consultation and correspondence between the Trades Union Congress and the Ministry of Pensions, but I state, quite categorically, that when the Minister gave the 17s. 6d. in 1956 he recognised a very important principle. But what has the Minister said recently? He has tried to evade his responsibility, to evade what he said in 1956. Speaking recently, he said: Neither I nor my predecessors have, of course, taken an absolutely rigid line on this"— he is referring to the Industrial Injuries Fund: and payments are, therefore, being made from the Fund under various provisions, the most recent being the Act of 1956, to people suffering from industrial accidents or diseases dating back before 5th July, 1948. The justification for these measures was the existence of real hardship. I am very doubtful whether it would ever be right to use the Industrial Injuries Fund for the quite different purpose of satisfying a predetermined concept of equality. During the Second Reading of the Supplementation Bill, of 1956, I pointed out that its object was not 'merely to obtain exact symmetry or equality' but to meet a point of substance, which was that I was satisfied that real hardship then existed among the totally incapacitated men on workmen's compensation. That is a complete denial of what the right hon. Gentleman said in 1956.

The following is the difference that exists between married men in the two classes of people to whom I am referring. In September, 1956, married men received as workmen's compensation, 50s.; supplementary, 17s. 6d.; sickness benefit, 40s., and wife's allowance 25s., a total of 132s. 6d. Married men receiving industrial injuries benefit also receive 132s. 6d. In December, 1958. those on workmen's compensation got 147s. 6d., while those receiving industrial injuries benefit got 165s.—a difference of 17s. 6d.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not say that there is no real hardship there, when that principle was accepted in 1956. Those of us who once worked in the pits realise the intimidation that often took place in colliery surgeries. Men were more or less compelled to go back to work, and are suffering from the consequences to this very day.

What about the partially disabled? I am myself now suffering from incapacity sustained in 1933. I am completely deaf in one ear, and I suffer from severe headaches. All that I received for that incapacity was £16. I know that in some respects I have been rather fortunate, but there are thousands suffering like me who have not been so fortunate.

As I say, I received £16 for a severe accident, and before I could go back on workmen's compensation my weekly income would have to fall below 38s. a week. The one thing of which the Minister never takes cognisance is that workmen's compensation was based on one's earnings, and at that time we in the pits were working only eight or nine days a month. For 16 weeks I received 19s. a week in compensation.

I have given a personal illustration, but similar cases can be met with at any coalfield one cares to visit. Some of the men, as a result of a restriction on their working capacity, are living close to subsistence level only, so I hope that, whatever is done, sympathy will be shown for them.

Totally disabled persons are at present allowed to earn 52s. or 53s. a week, and the Bill seeks to increase that amount. We are trying to get a general levelling up. I hope that I will not be misunderstood if I draw a parallel between the serving soldiers wounded in the First and the Second World Wars, who have, to some extent, been given equal recognition. Those wounded in industry have not been recognised in the same way, and I trust that it will be possible, once and for all, to remove these obnoxious obstacles to fair treatment. It can be done if the will is there, and I hope that we shall get some reassuring words from the Government Front Bench today.

I have tried to put the case on behalf of those who need this help. Coming, as they do, under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, they belong to an army that is gradually decreasing. I hope that it will not be the policy of the Government to waste time until these people have completely died out, because I am one of them. What I say is that we should live and let live. When I am in London, I think about those in all parts of the country who are struggling hard to make ends meet. I hope that the Bill will receive the universal approval of the House.

2.50 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)

I beg to second the Motion.

It is indeed a proud privilege for me this afternoon to second the Motion in support of the Bill, which my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) has so eloquently, sincerely and very ably moved. He has done so because of his direct experience of the mining industry and I hope to show that that applies also in my case. It is, however, somewhat difficult to expatiate further upon the points that my hon. Friend has raised, because he has covered the provisions of the Bill so well.

In my own defence, however, I feel that I am particularly qualified to speak and to support the Bill, because I come from a completely industrial constituency where there are approximately 10,000 miners and their wives and families. Since the day I left school, at the age of about 18, I have shared their problems with them and I had experienced with them the vicissitudes of the 'twenties and the 'thirties. I feel, therefore, that I can today express from my own experience the impact of the Workmen's Compensation Acts upon an industrial community, particularly when the industry is chiefly mining.

I suggest that in the case of the totally disabled, there is no problem for the Minister, because the supplementary Workmen's Compensation Act of 1956 created the necessary precedent, as my hon. Friend pointed out. I want, however, to say something further on that and I should like to quote what the Minister said at that time: I would suggest that there is no doubt that we ought to take action in this matter. After all, the date of the accident has, in general. determined whether a man receives his compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Acts or his benefit under the Industrial Injuries Act. As time has gone on, the amounts payable under the one scheme, certainly in cases of total incapacity, have diverged substantially from those payable under the other. There has been felt to be therefore-I think the feeling has been pretty general—some considerable element of hardship, at any rate in the case of certain of these old workmen's compensation cases, because the payment these men receive is now out of line with what would be received by a man similarly injured since the Industrial Injuries Act came into effect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1912.] The only point, therefore, that arises today is whether, since the 17s. 6d. was given on such a premise as I have stated and which the Minister himself used, the position has changed so that the totally disabled are today out of line, as the Minister said. with those who receive benefit under the Industrial Injuries Act. The answer to that is a completely unqualified "Yes". I feel, therefore, that the 17s. 6d. which was produced by the 1956 supplementation Act has now ceased to have an effect, because since the 1957 Act industrial injuries benefit has jumped another 17s. 6d. If the moral justification existed in 1956, it certainly exists today.

I remind the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of what his predecessor in office stated on 7th March this year: … my right hon. Friend will watch their position closely." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1958; Vol. 583, c. 1662.] That was a reference to the position of people who were receiving payments under the 1956 Act. I wonder whether the Minister's eyesight, which is so discerning in other directions, has become short in this connection. I am certain that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will bring to his notice what we are saying.

It is important to refer to what the Minister said on the introduction of the National Insurance Bill on 13th November, 1957. I quote: But we believe that measures of this kind, although they involve as I said in the House last week, some sacrifice by many people, are right, not only because they give comfort and help where they are needed, but because it serves the true health of a community such as ours to make sacrifices in order to make proper provision for its elderly, its sick and its disabled" [OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1957; Vol. 577, c. 990.] From the two quotations I have used from the Minister today, he could not conceivably offer any objection to what we are trying to provide in the Bill, other than, possibly, a legal quibble.

I do not propose to weary the House with figures. We must, however, remember that at least 70,000 of the totally disabled are miners. This is one other side of the price and cost of coal, a fact which we are too apt to forget. This figure does not include those who have commuted their claims, with whom I shall deal shortly. I believe, therefore, that further delay in supplementing these men by an extra 17s. 6d. is quite indefensible.

I turn now to a class of injured workmen who have still to be recognised by post-war legislation. I refer to the so- called "partials", who were dealt with by my hon. Friend. These people, who are partially disabled, were assessed on the basis of the Workmen's Compensation Act. Many of these men suffered serious loss of faculty. I impress upon the House that they have not received a single farthing for the loss of a limb or arm, or whatever it might be. Apart from this, the basis of loss of earnings is quite inadequate for present-day standards.

My hon. Friend referred to his own case. Before the war, in the 'twenties and 'thirties, areas such as mine were based on, say, a twelve months' average. The men did not work twelve months. I remember, as a union secretary at that time, having to tell men that there would be no work for them the next day or the day after. They were averaging about three days a week. The loss of earnings was based on that average. Compensation was diminished accordingly because of the low earnings factor that was assessed.

Another aspect is that before the war, the men who were injured did not have the umbrella of the comprehensive protection of the health services such as we enjoy today. In consequence, men who were partially disabled became permanently disabled. Today, however, people who are injured in industry have the protection of the health services and are able to get back into industry in normal fashion. What happened in the 'twenties and 'thirties was that a partial disability became virtually a disability for the rest of a man's life.

There is one other point to be stressed concerning the partials. I said earlier that they have not been recognised in post-war legislation. It is now sixteen years since the partials have received any increase. I refer, of course, to the 1943 Act. From my figures, I estimate that there must be about 25,000 of these cases.

In these days— and this has been going on for some time— despite the use of Remploy, which I fully appreciate, despite the use of the 3 per cent. statutory requirement upon industry in employing disabled persons, in my area, especially now that there is growing unemployment, there are thousands of these men who are partially disabled and who are unable to obtain employment because of their partial disablement. It is very important to remember that, and also that they have become in the labour market the legion of forgotten men.

I come to the third category of men, who are known as the lump-sum men. These are the men who have commuted their claims. As my hon. Friend said, it is so very easy to dismiss this problem by purely legalistic argument, but when we look at it from the moral standpoint we see that these men have certainly a case to put. I wonder whether it is generally realised outside the House— indeed, in some quarters even in the House—why these men commuted their claims.

I refer now to an hon. Gentleman who sits on the opposite benches, who was responsible for the 1935 Act which is called the Nicholson Act. I am sorry that that hon. Gentleman is not in his place today, because I should like to pay him this compliment. That hon. Gentleman, who then represented a mining constituency, is a Conservative. This is important, for if more Conservatives represented mining constituencies, though they never will, as far as I can see—

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

I should like to draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that in The Wrekin division there are two of the finest collieries in this country, the Granville and the Kemberton.

Mr. Probert

I am sorry if I gave the House the wrong impression.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

Then the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) should vote for the Bill.

Mr. Probert

I was just going to say that I hope that the hon. Member will follow the example of his hon. Friend who is now the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson), who was responsible, through his tenacity and persistence at that time, in persuading the Government, against all the advice of the pundits, to pass the 1935 Act through this House. I pay great credit to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Farnham for that.

There was something in that Act which we must remember. There were people who were receiving benefit for total disability subsequent to the passing of that Act and who, when a firm in the mining industry became bankrupt, or went into liquidation, received nothing in consequence of that Act, except the liquidation payment. Instances have been made known in this House of men receiving as little as 6d. in the £ in settlement of their claims.

I want to say this about those men who commuted their claims. We must not forget that many of them, even if they received the full benefit of £300, or £350, and so on, at that time, were forced to do so because of the intimation or feeling that the industry might go into liquidation and because they could not face the gruelling time through which the industry was going at that time. They felt they could not because of their disablement, and that £300 or £350 was attractive to them as a means of escape from the industry. Some of them and I think that this is a tribute to them—succeeded in doing so, but for many the capital of £300 or £400, as the case may have been, proved quite inadequate, and, of course, they became a charge upon the community without any recourse to any other source of income. They have suffered financially and physically ever since.

Of course, there is the anomaly, which my hon. Friend pointed out, that those people who commuted their claims after the 1956 Act are in receipt of the 17s. 6d. which the Minister gave them at that time and are still receiving the 17s. 6d. That anomaly makes the position worse for those hundreds, if not thousands, who commuted their claims under the old Act. I think we should hesitate long before we dismiss the claims of those men only because we feel that, constitutionally or legally, they cannot be included.

I will end my speech, because we who represent industrial areas and have had lengthy experience of this matter know the need, but I do ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary this and I know that he will be sympathetic. I do not think there are any hon. Members on the other side of the House, as there are certainly not on this, who are not sympathetic to these cases. However, I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will not content himself with expressing sympathy only, but will go further, and give practical expression to it by supporting the Measure that we are proposing today.

3.5 p.m.

Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)

One cannot speak third in a debate like this without beginning by congratulating the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) who moved the Second Reading upon the clear and moving way in which he stated his case. It certainly impressed the whole House. If I may say so without impertinence, the same is true of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert).

It is always difficult, and frankly rather invidious, to say anything against a Bill which seeks to help people who obviously are not in a position to help themselves. I remember that the last time that a Bill of this nature came before the House and I took part in the debate was about two years ago. It was the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill, the Second Reading of which was moved by the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason). When I resumed my seat somebody said that it was a Bill which dealt with men and that I had merely dealt with mathematics. I do not know whether I am a desiccated calculating machine or not. At least, few people have called me desiccated. But one has to look at the financial background of any Bill, and, even if one considers that it is worth the cost, that cost should he counted before one comes to vote on it.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Normanton upon his ingenuity in being able to propose giving out public money without having to get the Government to support him by a Money Resolution. He is able to do it with the Industrial Injuries Fund whereas I was informed some weeks ago that I could not do it with the National Insurance Fund. But if one intends to put out public money one ought to show, first, how much will be involved.

I cannot tell from looking at the Bill and reading the Reports of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance what the cost will be, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry will be able to give some indication when he replies to the debate. I should have thought that it might be fairly substantial, particularly as the total amount of the claims which are falling upon the Industrial Injuries Fund are increasing year by year and in about fifteen years' time will be very substantially heavier than they are today.

It is, of course, arguable that the Industrial Injuries Fund is in a very healthy position at the moment. I believe that it has about £155 million in capital reserve and I understand that this is likely to go on rising for the next five years or so. It has been rising at between £12 million and £16 million over the last five years, but from about 1965 to 1970 that surplus will probably disappear. The difficulty is that between 1970 and 1980 the capital reserve of the Industrial Injuries Fund is expected to diminish by at least half and by 1990 probably disappear altogether. That may be regarded as looking too far ahead, but it always seems to me wrong to have a scheme which calls itself an insurance scheme— and the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act is part of an insurance scheme—and at the same time so act as to make certain that the fund or account at some foreseeable date will cease to be in a position to meet the claims upon it.

After all, the whole aim of my right hon. Friend's proposals regarding retirement pensions is first and foremost to get rid of the growing deficit in the National Insurance Fund. The party opposite, in their superannuation scheme, have also put as one of their aims the elimination of the burden upon the Exchequer in the next fifteen or twenty years.

What is sought to be done here would make financially unsound a scheme which is now fairly financially sound; at any rate it is in a much better position than is the National Insurance Scheme. It seems fairly clear that one of the reasons for the apparent health of the Industrial Injuries Fund is the fact that there was a difference made between the pre-1948 and the post-1948 claims. In the National Insurance scheme the pre-1948 beneficiaries received, in general, the new rates of benefit. Indeed, now we have everybody retiring on practically the full pension despite the fact that they may have contributed only for some ten or twelve years.

In the National Insurance Scheme this has resulted in the scheme being financially unsound since it started, and it has also resulted in the present deficit into which it has run this year and will go on running until the scheme is drastically altered. With the Industrial Injuries Fund we are in a much healthier position and we ought to consider seriously before we increase the burdens upon that fund, particularly the burden that will accrue as the years go by—

Mr. George Sylvester (Pontefract)

But would not the hon. Gentleman agree that this burden will diminish as the years go by? The people concerned in those old compensation cases are getting odder and passing away and no more cases will arise under the old Workmen's Compensation Act.

Mr. Freeth

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for expressing myself badly. Perhaps I should have said, in a fund where the total demands upon it will increase progressively as the years go by.

Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)

It all depends upon the incidence of accidents that take place in the future. If factories legislation and safety measures in mining and other industries reduce the incidence of accidents then the argument of the hon. Gentleman would prove to be fallacious.

Mr. Freeth

I hope very much that I shall be proved wrong on this point. In practically every Parliament we pass one or two major Acts aimed at reducing the number of industrial accidents. Indeed, in the present Parliament there has been an Agriculture Act upon this subject, and the Factories Bill now before the House may help in this connection. We all hope that the number of accidents will be decreased, but the fact remains that it is not showing great signs of decreasing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes"] Not great signs, and also the Government Actuary took into account the general trend—if I am wrong on this point I hope my hon. Friend will tell me—when he made the forecast to which I referred earlier in my speech.

I want to insist upon the principle of insurance which I believe to be vitally important. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense"] It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say "Nonsense" The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) once spoke slightingly of the National Insurance Fund, saying that it did not exist. He was answered very soon afterwards at a Labour Party conference or at a Trades Union Congress conference by somebody who reminded him, pertinently I thought, of what happened in 1931 when the Unemployment Fund ran out and the entire burden fell upon the Treasury.

The great danger, once we leave the insurance principle is that we are left with a fund which is bankrupt, and either the Minister or the trade unions have to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and say, "The fund which has to pay out these benefits is bankrupt. Will you please give us the money out of general taxation?" If the situation is bad, as it probably would be if we reached that kind of bankruptcy, then it would be very difficult for the Chancellor to meet the request.

Mr. David Griffiths (Rother Valley)

How can the hon. Member use such an argument with logic when all the statistics show that the number of notifiable accidents is diminishing and that manpower in industry, which is a vital factor, is falling rapidly? How can the argument be adduced that the burden on the fund will be increased rather than reduced?

Mr. Freeth

The fact remains that since 1948, when the Industrial Injuries Scheme was introduced, a large number of other benefits have been added to the fund— widows' benefits, for example. These will not reach their maximum until 1970. That is why the increase in expenditure will take place. This is why I am quoting from the Government Actuary's Report, which is the best document I can obtain and which in general proves fairly reliable.

Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)

The hon. Member has insisted on the principle of insurance. Does he mean that the infringement of that principle by his own party in 1956 ought now to be repealed?

Mr. Freeth

I am not saying that anything should be repealed. I am arguing against making further infringements of the principle, which is a very different thing. There are times when it is right to depart from a principle such as the insurance principle, but one should never do so without being absolutely certain that one is not worsening the position. Nor should one depart from it unless one believes that there are grounds of hardship sufficiently great to make one break through the principle.

For example, I think that hon. Members opposite were in general right in the National Insurance Scheme to allow for the late entrant. That was a breach of the general principle of insurance, and it was done because otherwise there would have been hardship and it would have been many years before the National Insurance Scheme was going properly. When one does something like that it is for a definite reason—because there would be hardship, for instance; and one does not do it unless there is that great hardship. That is why I think that when considering the general principle of the old cases and the post-1948 cases one has to consider, before one increases the various benefits and places an increased burden on the Industrial Injuries Fund, exactly how much the scheme will cost and how much extra will have to come out of the fund.

The Bill concerns basically the difference between the pre-1948 and post-1948 cases. When we have two compensation schemes based on entirely different principles—in one case loss of earnings and in the other case loss of faculties—complicated by the fact that the loss of earnings was calculated at times of industrial depression, such as those mentioned by hon. Members opposite, it is very difficult to keep two such very distinct schemes in any kind of general line. In fact, we cannot keep them in line, because as long as the schemes remain different we shall always find that one or the other is getting out of line.

When my right hon. Friend in 1956 introduced the 17s. 6d. supplement, I do not think he did so with the idea that ever after we should have to try to make both the old scheme and the new scheme progress continually in line. After all, the position of those in the old scheme has been improved materially in real purchasing power since 1948, and both sides of the House can take their share of credit for it. The fact that today it is lower than for the equivalent disabled person under the Industrial Injuries Scheme does not detract from what we have done in the past. Equally, the fact that one is lower than the other is not necessarily a reason for making certain that the two are brought back to run in parallel again. It is only if the lower case is in a position where great hardship is caused. In 1956 there was a definite argument to that effect, and that is why my right hon. Friend introduced his Measure giving the 17s. 6d. supplement, but it has yet to be proved today that there is such hardship or that the gross national product has so increased as to make possible an increase in real terms again.

Mr. B. Taylor

It is true that in 1956 the Minister emphasised the hardship existing among the totally incapacitated, but he also said something else, that the 17s. 6d. proposal was not merely to mitigate hardship but was to bring the totals received by those under the old Workmen's Compensation Act more into line with those received by their comrades and colleagues receiving benefit under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act.

Mr. Freeth

I fully agree. It was to bring them roughly into line. However, as I say, I do not believe that, unless there are cases of hardship so that we have to act or unless the gross national product is increased so that we can give more in real terms, every time the two get out of line it is necessary to bring up whichever happens to be the lower, which I admit will nearly always be those under the old scheme.

There is something which can be said on the case against the allowance for the partially disabled. Frankly, it is very difficult to make another charge upon the Industrial Injuries Fund to give the benefit to people who have never contributed anything to it. It seems yet another breach of the insurance principle. I should like very much to stand by the insurance principle. I am not saying that the aims of hon. Members opposite are such as perhaps should not be implemented, but I do not think they should be implemented without an increase in the national insurance contribution. If as part of a general increase in benefits and contributions this was suggested, I should support it, but when it is by itself, unless someone is able to persuade me to the contrary, I cannot give my support to the Bill.

3.24 p.m.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Freeth) in his arguments about the financial position of the Industrial Injuries Fund. We are not asking that the compensation should be from the Treasury or the National Insurance Fund. We are asking that it should be from the Industrial Injuries Fund, a large part of which has been contributed by the workers.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) upon his success in the Ballot after waiting seven years—the hon. Member for Basingstoke waited eight years before he was successful—and I also congratulate him on his selection of subject.

I am the last person to accuse the Minister or his Department of lacking in sympathy. I know I am misunderstood sometimes because of my straight speaking. They do not lack sympathy, but we have a saying in Lancashire, "Sympathy without relief is like mustard without beef. It is very sharp" What we are asking is that immediate relief should be given to those unfortunate men who have been waiting so long, and that is what the Bill does.

It is sixty years this year since I left school—and that is going a very long way back. I left on the day I was 12, and the next day I started work in a pit. I well remember the words on a book which was handed to me by a schoolmaster: If at first you don't succeed, try, try try again We have been trying for many years to get something better for these unfortunate men. This is the fifth occasion in the last few years on which Measures have been introduced with that end in view.

It is true that the Department has helped us. I do not deny that we have had succour and assistance from the Department. Our trouble has been that we have not gone sufficiently far and that there are still men who have been injured or who have contracted disease and who have been left by the wayside. We want those men to be included within the scope of our compensation legislation. As I said a few days ago, when speaking not far from the House of Commons, there was a cry which came from Macedonia. This time the cry is not from Macedonia, but from injured workmen who have been forgotten, however unintentionally. As we have rumbled through our legislation, we have forgotten these men and we are now anxious that they should be brought within the ambit of our compensation law.

I know that there will be difficulties. Any Bill has its difficulties and complexities. It is our job to surmount them. I remember that when I went to technical school, a professor there used to tell me that difficulties were a means of progress if they were tackled in the proper way. The difficulties in this case can be overcome if they are tackled properly. Instead of wearying our minds with statistics and with wondering whether we can afford these provisions, we should keep the human aspect of the problem uppermost in our minds.

We are here considering the men who, at one time, had to content themselves with what I call meagre earnings, which were based on the legislation of 1897, 1903 and 1925. That legislation prevented those men from receiving the compensation to which they were entitled. Workmen were always opposed to compensation being determined by a man's pre-injury earnings. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, I bear the scars of an accident received in industry. Because of the formula, I had to be content with small compensation which eventually diminished and then disappeared.

It was not because of any inefficiency or incompetence at their work that the men for whom we are appealing today had such low earnings. It was due to the fact that they could work for only so many days a week. The formula was simple. If the pre-injury earnings were £2 a week, and the earnings on night work were £1 10s. a week, the partial compensation was 10s., and 50 per cent. of 10s. was added to the night earnings, making £1 15s. Can any right hon. or hon. Member justify a formula of that description? Slowly, but surely, when those men returned to work, their partial compensation vanished owing to the increase of wages. These men should be given some assistance in view of the position in which they now find themselves.

Coming from a mining district I know what these men are suffering, what they have suffered in the past, and what their families have suffered, socially, physically and economically. Since these men sustained their accidents their lives have been ones of drudgery, insecurity and monotony. Surely in these days, when we are putting forward the argument that the standard of living of our people is increasing—and I do not challenge that it is for many people—we must remember that these men have never had any increase. All we ask is that there shall be a deliberate attempt by the Government to give these people a slightly higher standard of living than they have experienced in the last few years.

I recall starting on the pilgrimage to secure compensation in respect of silicosis—now pneumoconiosis—cases, in 1922. That is a long time ago. I was a member of the Select Committee which had to consider the advisability of these men being brought within the scope of our compensation laws. After that, we waited for seven long and weary years. It was not until 1929 that the first Order was made, becoming operative on 1st February, 1930. Since then, on and on we have gone, and at every step we have taken we have left by the wayside one, two or three injured men, or men suffering from industrial diseases. Surely we ought not to do that. Surely the time has come for us to look back upon our apparent neglect and to realise that we have missed these men, whom we should have carried with us. Is it too late in the day to bring these men within the scope of our compensation laws?

This Bill is long overdue. We ought to have brought in these provisions years and years ago. We have to remember that although some of these men who have been unfortunate enough to contract an industrial disease pass away very quickly, others linger on for a long time, and some of them are experiencing untold agonies. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not misunderstand me, but I want to impress upon him the importance of this Bill.

I have had experience of attending inquests on men who died as the result of industrial injuries. When a man is certified to be suffering from, say, silicosis, or pneumoconiosis, it is equal, as surely as night follows day, to a sentence of death. The two Parliamentary Secretarys sitting on the Front Bench opposite can shake their heads, but I am speaking from experience. I challenge anyone to tell me that a man who contracts silicosis or pneumoconiosis ever recovers, because there is no known cure for those diseases. A man can have a mild attack. a medium attack, or an acute attack.

To prove what I have said, that when a man is certified to be suffering from an industrial disease it is tantamount to a sentence of death, I will will quote four cases. Case No. I is of a man aged 60. His date of disablement was 29th May, 1937. He died on 5th January, 1939. He lived for 84 weeks after the date of disablement. Case No. 2 is that of a man aged 59. His date of disablement was 5th December, 1937. He died on 1lth June, 1938. He lived for 27 weeks. Case No. 3 is that of a man aged 43 whose date of disablement was 1st November, 1939. He died on 21st January, 1941. He lived for 69 weeks. Case No. 4 is of a man aged 51 whose date of disablement was 23rd November, 1940. He died on 10th February, 1941. He lived for eight weeks. The average period lived by those four men was 47 weeks.

I could quote case after case of men who have passed into the great beyond without having justice rendered to them by the Government or by industry. The people of whom we are speaking have suffered long enough. They have suffered social, physical and economic disadvantages. Apart from their personal suffering, their dependants also have suffered. Surely the time has come when we ought to bring the suffering of these people to an end.

It is said, and I repeat it with all emphasis at my command, that as long as we have wars we shall have sick and wounded men. So long as we have industry, we shall have broken and bruised men. So long as that state of affairs continues it is the duty of the House whatever people may say and whatever arguments may be evinced from either side, to bring immediate relief to the unfortunate men who have borne the heat and burden of the day. We must not run away from that responsibility.

3.39 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. W. M. F. Vane)

It might help if I intervene briefly at this stage in the debate to say that I have listened with interest to the speeches made by hon. Members opposite and noticed that all of them have been made by hon. Members representing mining constituencies.

Mr. B. Taylor

That is natural.

Mr. Vane

I spent my childhood years on the edge of a mining district and, I understand the conditions that have been described. I think that everyone in the House will understand too, that the mining industry has from the very nature of its work an injury record and a history of misfortunes which many other industries are fortunate to have escaped.

Today, in general, we seem to have been speaking more about the general topic than the Bill whose Second Reading is being debated now. It is not an easy subject, but even though it is not easy, we should not let ourselves be discouraged, nor should we turn our eyes from real, marked hardship. There is reference in the Bill to a number of Statutes and schemes, which make dry enough reading—I am sure that the promoter will not object to my saying that but behind that dry language there is a story of men and women who are injured at work, and who carry the results of those disabilities about with them, it may be for many years.

Some of those disabilities will be slight, but some will be serious, but, at the same time, we must not forget that a big principle is involved here. None of the injuries about which we are thinking today has happened recently. They all happened—or were all incurred, if it was a question of the on come of disease— before 1948, the date of the introduction of the Industrial Injuries Act. We can, therefore, use the jargon, and refer to them as the old cases.

Forgetting certain supplements—and there have been supplementations when both parties have been in government—they were, or are, all in receipt of compensation from their employers, or had, or have, a claim against their employers, and the compensation that they have been drawing was based on calculation of loss of earnings. There have been several recent Measures to meet real hardship amongst them, so that it is wrong to stress that these are forgotten men.

Both parties have tried to meet their responsibility in this connection. Yet there are many and we have heard these views expressed today—who feel that more should be done, and that if it is still not possible to achieve a complete merger between the old cases and those coming within the scope of the Industrial Injuries Scheme—which is the ideal— there should be additional provision for some, if not for all.

In particular, there are, I believe many in the trade union movement who accept, at the present time, that everyone has not an equal claim, but who would like to see something done, especially for the "partials" as they are called. The supporters of the Bill go a great deal further than that. They are claiming an increase for everyone who can claim any residual effect, however slight, for any injury—

Mr. A. Roberts indicated assent.

Mr. Vane

The hon. Gentleman nods.

That is a formidable undertaking, and it is not entirely clear, either from the Bill or from the speech of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts), how all this is to be financed. However, I am assuming that he intends all the charges to be borne on the Industrial Injuries Fund.

I have just mentioned the word "merger". The Bill is merely an approach to the same objective but by another road. It proposes to give benefit from the fund, which was set up to compensate post-1948 misfortunes on the basis of loss of faculty, to those whose claims have been considered, and sometimes settled, on a different basis.

Last year, my predecessor, speaking during the debate on a similar Bill, explained at length the difficulties of doing this. I do not want to go over the ground again, but if it had been possible to do this, surely it would have been effected in the 1946 Act. It was certainly riot overlooked. It was debated both in this Chamber and in Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was at that time quite open about the difficulties.

Some may imagine, and it has been said this afternoon, that as time goes by the operation will become simpler, but that is a bit deceptive because, although the numbers may drop, that does not necessarily say that the cases will become less difficult. Moreover, the basic difference still remains. Under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, the claim was, and remains, against the employer, and the compensation was calculated on an earnings basis. We have now superseded that scheme by State insurance, financed from contributions from employer, employee and the State, and the benefit is paid on an entirely different basis, which is loss of faculty. It is not disputed that the new basis is proving more favourable for the great majority, but I believe that there are a few—perhaps more than a few—to whom the transfer would not be an advantage.

Further, at the time of the injury, no one in these old cases could have contributed, nor could his employer have contributed, in respect of the particular accident, because the fund did not exist. It is a little like making a claim on an insurance company for a fire when one only started paying the premiums after the fire. However, one does not want to put too much emphasis on that.

Some people may say that this is all very well, that the Industrial Injuries Fund, unlike most Government funds, has something spare in it and is not in deficit. "Surely the fund could stand it", it may be said, "it will not be very heavy. It is a human problem, and the money would go to meet great hardship". It could be said that the principle has already been breached, so that one cannot stand on principle. In fact, however, to argue thus would be to go wider of the mark than at first sight might appear. The charge would not be small. I notice that the hon. Member for Normanton did not venture any suggestion as to what it might amount to. It certainly would be enough to upset the calculations on which the Industrial Injuries Fund is based.

Whereas it is always possible to cite hard cases, categories and groups—I do not dispute what has been said this afternoon—the fact remains that there are tens of thousands of men covered by the Bill who, it cannot possibly he said, are suffering any great hardship, if any hardship at all. I ask the House to bear that in mind.

Mr. Probert

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what is the estimate of what it would cost?

Mr. Vane

Yes; I want to give the House an idea about that, but I do not want to take up more than a few more minutes. I want first to take a closer look at the Bill.

Clause I would change the test of total incapacity from £52 to £156 per annum. That, again, has not been mentioned. If my right hon. Friend had evidence that the present figure was badly out of date, he would not defend it obstinately, but it 'has not been criticised by the Piercy Committee, and no evidence has recently been put to him on this score. In fact, in the Department, we have been looking at it in another context. Would the House really agree that, if a man can earn £156 per annum—not a great deal, but still it is something—he can be regarded as totally incapacitated? I think that would be going a little far.

The second part of Clause I is really the crux of the Bill because, in effect, it claims parity for the "totals" with the 100 per cent. disabled man on Industrial Injuries benefit. Here, I must make my right hon. Friend's position and intention quite clear. The hon. Member for Normanton said that one of the main objects in bringing forward the Bill was to achieve this parity. My right hon. Friend is concerned to relieve hardship but not to achieve parity. During the Second Reading debate in 1956 he said: I stress that, we ought not to put on the Industrial Injuries Fund—that is to say, the contributors to that fund—a charge in respect of an injury not within the scope of that fund, except where we are really satisfied that some real hardship or real injustice arises. In other words, we ought not to do this merely to obtain exact symmetry or equality, but only where there is a point of substance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1912.]

Mr. B. Taylor

May I quote what the right hon. Gentleman said during the same debate: However, the broad purpose is, I think, clear and will, I hope, prove acceptable; it is that we should use the Industrial Injuries Fund in order to provide a supplement for the 13,000 or 14,000 men who, because, and only because, they draw their support from a workmen's compensation system which was superseded in 1948, have found that the money that they draw from that is not only insufficient for their needs but is out of line with what is drawn by their friends and colleagues who may have suffered an industrial accident a year or two later."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1916.]

Mr. Vane

I do not think that that really detracts from the main point. The object is not to achieve parity. I must say also that, leaving the "totals" on one side, when we come to the question of the "partials," they, or the great majority of them, are now eligible for the advantage of an increased sickness benefit or retirement pension.

Clause 3 deals with the "latents" and there we have a different problem. These are probably the largest number of people with which the Bill is concerned. Admittedly, we have very few records of the size of this problem but, as drafted, the Bill will include those with trivial injuries and with, presumably, no loss of earning power. They would automatically become entitled to an allowance of 25s. a week. The House might bear that in mind.

The "partials" appear to be divided into two classes. I think I can see why. One class is to be given a supplement of 17s. 6d. and the other a supplement of 25s. That again, I think, is a point which the House might care to look at rather more closely.

It is suggested that the cost of these proposals and the administration should be borne by the Industrial Injuries Fund, thus avoiding the need for an annual Vote and Financial Resolution. That would be admirable and simple, both for the Government and for Parliament, but hardly in accordance with our hallowed traditions and practice.

I have been asked about the total cost. It is not easy to be precise with the statistics available, as hon. Gentlemen will appreciate. Speaking on a similar Bill last year, my predecessor gave a figure of £4 million per annum. I am advised that that figure is too low, since this Bill goes considerably wider and that a figure in the neighbourhood of £6 million would be more appropriate. Half of this would be incurred in respect of the "latents," who have the weakest claim, and in some cases, as it must be admitted, no claim at all. My right hon. Friend realises that there is a good deal of conjecture in arriving at this figure—

Mr. Ness Edwards

Can the hon. Gentleman break down that figure?

Mr. Vane

I have told the right hon. Gentleman that half of it represents the cost of the supplements to "latents"

My right hon. Friend realises that there is a good deal of conjecture and difficulty and he will see if it is possible to get a better picture of the current position, but he would not like to make any promises.

Mr. B. Taylor

Do we understand that the global figure of £6 million will be divided in the form of £3 million for the "totals" and "partials" and £3 million for the "latents"?

Mr. Vane

Yes. Roughly half of the amount will be for the "latents" and the other half for the "totals" and the "partials".

Reference has been made to the importance of not upsetting the balance of the Industrial Injuries Fund. A figure such as has been mentioned represents between 8 per cent. and 10 per cent. of the outflow from that fund. Admittedly, there has been an extra burden put on the fund this year, but there have been increases in contributions to balance that.

I do not say that, whatever circumstances arise, my right hon. Friend would not do as he has done before, and meet a group whom it was demonstrably shown were in circumstances of real hardship. But I do say that there is no case made out for the comprehensive operation which the Bill must be admitted to envisage. In addition, the financial implications are heavy, and so in all the circumstances I cannot advise the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. J. Griffiths

May I make a suggestion to the hon. Gentleman? Surely this is a Bill which could be considered in Committee. Will he ask his right hon. Friend whether the employers do not have a responsibility here? One reason why I could not do what I wanted in 1948 was because the employers would not pay, as I thought they should, a lump sum into the fund. Will the hon. Gentleman consider, with his right hon. Friend, asking the employers to put an extra 1d. or 2d. into the fund to meet the position of these men, for whom they have a responsibility? Their responsibility for accidents since 1948 has been much lighter than it would have been but for the old Workmen's Compensation Act. I hope that the Minister will consider this suggestion.

3.56 p.m.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

In the few moments that remain, I would like to say that I regard the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) and the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert), who moved and seconded the Motion, as two good Samaritans who are anxious to help all those who have been concerned with mining—an industry within my constituency. There is a maxim which I was given for politics, "Never tell a lie when the truth will do" Earlier this afternoon. I said that there were two great collieries in my constituency. In fact, there is one. The other is about a mile from my house and the pithead is not in my constituency.

Mr. A. Roberts rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Yates

I consider this an extremely good Bill and I would like much greater time to elaborate on it. At this juncture, all I can say is that when the House has more time and gives an hon. Member like myself an opportunity to express myself more fully and to deal with these complications of the elderly and the sick, and those who are suffering because they do not have sufficient pension, I hope we shall consider this matter again. In the meantime, I am grateful for what my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has said.

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)

Earlier in the debate, hon. Members opposite said that this question cannot be decided upon a legalistic issue. To a certain point, I agree. I regret that I was not present to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. A. Roberts) in introducing the Bill, although I heard the moving speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). One knows these cases well. I do not have time to go into the details of the Bill. I think, however, that it goes much too far. If hon. Members will allow me—

Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley) rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Doughty

One wants to consider what is being suggested. I am one of the few Members of the House—perhaps the only Member—who takes the view that in 1948 a mistake was made. The basis of compensation was changed—

Mr. Mason

A fair charge can be made against the hon. and learned Member that consistently, every time a Member of the House has brought in a Bill to alleviate hardship and financial stress of workmen injured in industry, he has either delayed the Bill or purposely talked it out.

Mr. Doughty

That charge is entirely groundless and is made simply because it looks as if I shall not have time to finish my speech today. If it gives the hon. Member any great pleasure to make inaccurate charges of that nature, it does me no harm. It is likely to harm only the hon. Member himself.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

He is never here on Fridays.

Mr. Mason

That is the only time that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) looks in.

Mr. Doughty

The basis of compensation that we have been discussing this afternoon, based upon loss of earnings, was far and away the best basis of compensation— —

Mr. A. Roberts rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

Mr. Doughty

I have already told the hon. Member that I am not seeking to do any harm. I desire to say—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide"] I can assure hon. Members—

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

On a point of order. Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, for hon. Members to try to delay discussion of the Bill by making so much noise?

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 23rd January.