HC Deb 24 July 1958 vol 592 cc803-7

9.34 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Draft Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Amendment Scheme, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th July, be approved. This draft Scheme seems somewhat complicated, but there is only one material point in it: that is, the adjudication on the cause of death arising on claims for death benefit. I will try briefly to explain how this arises. The Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Act was designed to bridge the gap between the old Workmen's Compensation Acts and the new Industrial Injuries Act. The adjudication provisions followed the pattern of the old Workmen's Compensation Acts and the decision as to the cause of death was made by the Silicosis Medical Board, from which there was no appeal. This draft Scheme is in no sense a criticism of the Silicosis Medical Board, but experience during the last few years has suggested that this could be improved and some appeal allowed. We should bear in mind, too, that the decisions are not wholly medical, but that there are also legal implications.

The Franks Committee, in its recommendations, supports this line of thought. This Scheme, in effect, substitutes the adjudication procedure which is familiar under the Industrial Injuries Acts. The new procedure will be, first, the cause of death determined by the insurance officer appointed under the Industrial Injuries Act, with, of course, medical advice, and from his decision a right of appeal would lie to the local appeal tribunal and then there could be a further appeal to the Commissioner. Once again, there is no criticism of the Silicosis Medical Board. We do not expect there to be a large number of appeals, but experience leads us to believe that a few people would have been better satisfied if they had been able to exercise a right of appeal.

This step is in keeping with the general development of our social services. My right hon. Friend has, therefore, laid this Scheme and commends it to the House.

9.37 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)

First, I should like to offer my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman. I think that this is his first appearance at the Box in his new office.

As he has rightly said, this Scheme is very limited in scope. Nonetheless, it is important. The first thing that it does, and which we on this side have had in mind for a long time, is that it regularises the position between those who come under the Industrial Injuries Act and those pneumoconiosis and byssinosis cases that come under the 1952 benefit scheme.

I have only one question to ask the hon. Gentleman arising out of the Scheme. I am not clear about it, and maybe the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us some information on this point. Paragraph 1 (e) of the Schedule reads: any question arising on a claim for death benefit whether the deceased died as a result of pneumoconiosis or byssinosis. Will the medical diagnosis of the Silicosis Medical Board be the subject of an appeal to any of the statutory authorities; in the first place, the insurance officer; secondly, the local tribunal; and thirdly and finally, the Commissioner? This matter has for some time caused perturbation to some of us on this side.

Those are the only comments I wish to make on the Scheme, except to say that we give it our support and we are grateful to the Minister for bringing it forward. We hope that it will be in operation at the earliest possible moment.

9.39 p.m.

Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)

I want to join my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) in thanking the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for introducing the Scheme which now allows the right of appeal to the dependants of those who die as a result of pneumoconiosis and who do not come under the Industrial Injuries Act. There has been an anomaly in these cases because, as has been said, under the Industrial Injuries Act the dependants of those who are believed to be suffering from pneumonociosis as a result of their employment on and after 5th July, 1948. have had this right of appeal. Cases have gone to the Medical Board and, through an insurance officer, there has been the right to go to the local tribunal and thereafter to the commissioner. That has never been allowed in the time barred cases.

I would point out that there are three types of cases. First, there are those under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act with a right of appeal. Secondly, there are the time-barred cases. They are men who were debarred from claiming compensation or even from being examined owing to the fact that they finished work more than five years since the date at which it was suspected they were suffering from pneumoconiosis. The third type of cases are those under the Workmen's Compensation Act.

We pass this scheme tonight and give it our blessing because it will give a right of appeal to be made against the Medical Board's decision. It will give a right of appeal to a widow to appeal against the decision. That will be welcomed by a large section of workers, particularly in the mining industry. As the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has said, widows and dependants have always felt aggrieved at not having this chance.

I was hoping that perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary would have brought in a scheme for those under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. Had we had that we should have put the whole matter in order and have been able to deal with all three types of cases. At it is, we are still left with compensation cases in which there is no such right of appeal. However, we welcome the Scheme.

9.41 p.m.

Lady Megan Lloyd George (Carmarthen)

I wish to join my hon. Friends in welcoming this Scheme, which is putting right an anomaly which has created a great deal of hardship, and not only hardship but a sense of injustice even as between claimants and dependants themselves. There is one question I would ask the hon. Gentleman, and that is whether the Scheme will act retrospectively, so that claims which have already been turned down will be considered again. I should be very glad if the hon. Gentleman would answer that question.

9.42 p.m.

Mr. Vane

First, I should like to thank the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) for the kind words he said about me. In fact, this is my second appearance at this Box. On my first appearance there was not a single hon. Member belonging to the other side of the House here to hear what I had to say, not even a Whip.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

I was here.

Mr. Vane

The hon. Member must have been well hidden.

As to the question which the hon. Member for Mansfield put to me, the medical advice which will be given to the insurance officer is advice and not a decision. Therefore, there is no question of appeal from the pneumoconiosis medical board's decision, because it no longer represents a decision but a recommendation.

As to the question asked me by the hon. Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George), the answer is, "No". Cases which have been decided under the existing arrangements will remain as decided finally.

I should like to thank hon. Members for the kind words they have said about this Scheme and I hope that they will now approve it.

9.43 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

I should like to join in the congratulations to the hon. Gentleman.

This matter is rather more important than I thought it was at first sight. I am not for the moment objecting. However, do I gather that the pneumoconiosis panels will make only a recommendation and not a decision in cases of death? Therefore, if they say that death was caused or accelerated by pneumoconiosis, or if they make a contrary decision, will it be open to either side to appeal? Will the insurance commissioner be able to make an appeal if, let us assume, the decision is that death was caused by pneumoconiosis? If the contrary decision is arrived at, will the workman's widow or other claimant have an appeal?

It is rather an important departure. Will other medical advice be admissible? I want only to get this matter clear for everybody concerned, and I hope that the Government will make it clear, as the trade unions will, of course.

I used the word "accelerated" deliberately, because it is not interpreted as generously as I hoped. In these cases, the Medical Board will make recommendations as to whether the death was caused or accelerated by pneumoconiosis, and when it has decided that it makes its recommendations to the insurance officer who makes a decision upon it, and unless the claimant appeals to the tribunal and from the tribunal to the Commission, presumably the claimant will, as in normal cases, be entitled to seek evidence from his or her own doctor or consultant.

This is a fairly important change in the whole of the judicial machinery established. It will be more costly and complicated and will take time. On the other hand, the important thing is not only that justice should be done but should appear to be done, and to the extent that it will give people at once the realisation that they have an opportunity to appeal we welcome it.

It is very important that this should be known. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Ministry will take every step possible to make known this new procedure to claimants, because it is very important that they should know what their rights are.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Draft Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Amendment Scheme, 1958, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th July, be approved.