§ 9. Mr. Ellis Smith
asked the Paymaster-General if he will make a statement on the information about pneumoconiosis contained in the Digest of Statistics, 1956; what action is being taken to reduce the numbers affected and the suffering to a minimum; what is the explanation of the relatively high figures for North Staffordshire; and what special action is being taken in the area.
§ Sir I. Horobin
Four thousand, eight hundred and fifty-three new cases of pneumoconiosis were reported among coal miners in 1956. Though this figure reflects the increased readiness of the men to present themselves for examination, it represents a slight improvement over the figures for 1955 and I am glad to say that in 1957 the number of new cases fell steeply to 3,756.
861 The figures for North Staffordshire are higher than the general national average because, in the past, dust conditions were bad in the pits in that area.
The National Coal Board continues to make vigorous use of all possible means for eliminating dust from the pits, and the National Joint Pneumoconiosis Committee is satisfied, as a result of a recent survey, that medical treatment facilities throughout the country are satisfactory. A special chest clinic and a hospital unit for pneumoconiosis cases were opened in the North Staffordshire area in 1956.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
May I thank the hon. Gentleman for that part of his reply which confirmed my view against the reply that we have just had from the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance? While we appreciate most of his reply, is the hon. Gentleman aware that the miners are becoming increasingly concerned about the amount of dust which arises from modern machine-mining? Is he also aware that the general secretary of the miners' union in the area is also of the opinion that it is the deeper mines that contribute to this? In view of that fact, will the hon. Gentleman ask his right hon. Friend to consider having an investigation made in the area?
§ Sir I. Horobin
I do not think that the situation is quite so serious as the hon. Member suggests. He must remember that this dreadful disease is one of those which takes 10 years and even 20 years to become diagnosable. Therefore, one cannot take today's figures as indicating present risks but rather risks of the past. The dust suppression methods now being used in this coalfield are very substantial, and we should hope that as time goes on and the old cases come forward for diagnosis the figure will tend to fall. At any rate, all that can be done is being done.
§ Mr. Snow
Arising from the last part of the Minister's answer, may I ask whether it is not possible that this rather alarming increase demonstrates that diagnosis in the past has not been all that accurate? In view of this, is not it desirable to give some form of instruction to the authorities that old cases which have been rejected should be reconsidered?
§ Sir I. Horobin
I should not like to reply to that without consideration, but I repeat that we should not give the impression that there is an alarming increase. In fact, the most recent figures for the country as a whole show a very satisfactory decrease. We are not content with that, but we do not want to be over-alarmist.