HC Deb 23 June 1958 vol 590 cc18-20
39. Mr. Randall

asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that a workman whose sight is impaired through an industrial injury is called upon to make a payment of £3 towards the cost of two pairs of spectacles; and whether he will take steps to abolish this charge.

Mr. Walker-Smith

These charges are those normally payable under the National Health Service Act, 1951. The Act does not allow an exemption for the purpose proposed, and I do not consider there is any case for amending legislation. There is separate provision for compensation for industrial injuries.

Mr. Randall

That is a very unsatisfactory reply. Is the Minister aware that this workman, who wears glasses, met with an accident in the course of his employment, that his eyesight was impaired and he has to have two other pairs of glasses? Surely, it is within the spirit of the industrial injuries legislation that he should be compensated for the injury which occured at work. Will not the Minister re-examine the matter?

Mr. Walker-Smith

The only exemptions from these charges are for children wearing standard glasses and for hospital in-patients. As I indicated in my reply, these charges have been made under the operation of the National Health Service Act, 1951, which was commended to the House by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) when Minister of Health.

Mr. Marquand

Is the Minister not aware, however, that that Act would have ceased to be in operation had it not been for his own Government's Act of 1952, which continued the charges?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Yes. I always regarded the suggestion that it should be a temporary Measure as evidence that the Labour Government expected to be succeeded by a Conservative Government and realised that things would get better under them.

Dr. Summerskill

Would the Minister not agree that it is quite illogical to provide one workman who is subject to an industrial injury with a free limb or any other equipment which is necessary for his rehabilitation but to deny another workman, who may have had certainly a more minor injury, glasses which are absolutely necessary for him to follow his trade or work?

Mr. Walker-Smith

This general differentiation between glasses and other appliances is one which has its root and origin in the 1951 Act, put forward by a Government of which the right hon. Lady was a distinguished member.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman not aware—as a distinguished lawyer, he ought to be—that under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts, in many cases of this kind the insurance company which covered the employer would make a payment and that it was never intended by Parliament, by either side of the House, that under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, under which the workman himself contributes half the cost of the benefit which he receives when injured, he should be placed in a more unfavourable position than under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore consult the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, bearing in mind that there is provision under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act by which the payment of costs of this nature can be made to the workman from the Industrial Injuries Fund?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Yes, but I am primarily concerned with the operation of the National Health Service Act in this regard. Any question of refund under Section 75 of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946, would, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance.

Mr. Griffiths

Will the Minister consult his right hon. Friend? Is he not aware that it is possible—indeed, I hope it will happen—that some workman will sue the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance for the cost of these items, because provision is made whereby the cost can be met from the Industrial Injuries Fund?

Mr. Walker-Smith

It is not for me to give legal opinions as to hypothetical actions, but I should have thought that it would be difficult to succeed in view of the permissive nature only of Section 75 of the 1946 Act.

Mr. Shinwell

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that there is validity in the arguments adduced by my right hon. Friends on this matter? Why should he seek to shield himself always behind what the Labour Government did, indicating his commendation of what they did and yet shielding himself at the same time? Will not the Minister reconsider this? It seems a very reasonable claim to make.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The right hon. Gentleman may think it not a very strong or secure shield behind which to take refuge. On the more serious part of his supplementary question, however, of course I am always willing to give consideration to these matters in the light of views expressed in the House. Having said that, however, it would be wrong not to give an indication to the House, as I have sought to do in answer to this Question, as to how the mind of the Government views this matter.

Mr. Randall

In view of the fact that the Minister is unable to give a categorical statement to the House that he is prepared to re-examine the matter, and in view of the fact that I addressed the Question originally to the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, I give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

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