HC Deb 05 February 1962 vol 653 cc173-87

10.12 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Richard Sharples)

I beg to move, That the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Amendment Scheme, 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 23rd January, be approved. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Speaker, if, with this Scheme, we were to discuss the other two Schemes on the Order Paper, namely, the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Amendment Scheme, 1962, and the Industrial Diseases (Miscellaneous) Benefit Amendment Scheme, 1962.

Mr. Speaker

If that be the wish of the House.

Mr. Sharples

The main purpose of the first Scheme is to amend the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Scheme to take account of the changes that have been introduced by the Family Allowances and National Insurance Act, 1961. For the pre-1924 partials on maximum it raises by 10s. the maximum allowance payable under the 1951 scheme. For the post-1923 partials on maximum it provides a new allowance of up to 10s.

A considerable part of the Scheme is taken up with the conditions for the post-1923 partials, as this is a new allowance. These conditions follow very closely the conditions laid down for the pre-1924 partials. Paragraph 3 (b) of the principal Scheme, alters the condition for entitlement to the existing 16s. allowance for a dependent wife with whom the beneficiary is not living. In future, provided that he is contributing at least 16s. a week towards his wife's maintenance he will be entitled to an allowance for her. This replaces the "wholly or mainly maintaining" formula beneficially, and brings the Scheme into line with a similar provision in the 1957 National Insurance Act.

The other two Schemes apply to partials who are receiving benefits under the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Scheme and the Industrial Diseases (Miscellaneous) Benefit Scheme. They have been brought before the House to ensure that where a person qualifies for an allowance in respect of total disablement under the 1956 Act he shall not also qualify for the new 7s. 6d. increase under these Schemes.

In all three of these Schemes the opportunity has been taken to substitute the "due care and diligence" formula for the existing "good faith" formula in respect of repayment of allowances wrongly paid. This corresponds to the change made in the main Act. All three Schemes are due to come into effect on 28th February, which is the date when the enabling Section of the 1961 Act comes into force and from which the new allowances will come into payment.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

I might as well say right away that we shall not be opposing these Schemes. In fact, we welcome the speed with which the Government have brought them forward, making sure that what benefits are to come under the Act come with relative speed. But I must say a word or two about some aspects of these Schemes and confess that to a certain extent I was taken by surprise when I read the Scheme relating to industrial diseases and the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Amendment Scheme.

A cursory reading will show that we are not giving anybody much benefit under these Schemes, but that rather we are limiting the benefit. I was rather surprised at that, because the purpose of these two Schemes is to ensure that if at any time those who are under partial disablement come under total incapacity or disablement under the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Act—which is a very wide umbrella covering those receiving Workmen's Compensation for injury as well as those under the benefit scheme—they are to be limited to an increase only in the case of the main scheme.

If this has any relevance at all, it means that there must be particular cases, and I should like to know how many there are. There are people receiving or entitled to the allowance under the 1956 provisions. Under the Scheme they get an additional 15s. which brings the total supplementation up to 32s. 6d. It means that they must also be in receipt of an allowance under the pneumoconiosis and byssinosis Scheme which at the moment is £1 for partials and is going to be raised to 27s. 6d.

Here we are with a person who has an entitlement for two separate injuries or diseases under Workmen's Compensation, or, in the case of a person not covered by Workmen's Compensation, under a benefit scheme. We go out of our way to increase the benefit by way of supplement. Yet under the Schemes we deny the increase in respect of one of these allowances.

Under the Benefit (Supplementation) Act, 1956, a person must have a full payment and at the same time, if he comes under the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Scheme, he must be suffering from pneumoconiosis or byssinosis, for which he will have been granted a payment hitherto of £1. Now we say that this payment is inadequate and must be increased, but we add that this man will not get the increase because he is receiving an increase in the other grant. In logic, if we grant a person two allowances for separate injuries or disease, why should we refuse him two increases?

In both cases we are doing this by making amendments to the Schemes. This is dealt with at the end of the Schedule, where we read: Provided that for any period during which the disablement due to pneumoconiosis or byssinosis is partial and for which as a result of that disease, with any other injury or disease, the Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Supplementation) Act, 1956, applies, the allowance shall be at a weekly rate of twenty shillings. In other words, these people will carry on getting 20s. for that if they are getting an additional 15s. There may not be many people concerned, and I wonder how much money the Government are saving by this action.

Whence springs the power to do this? I have looked through the Act and I find nothing specific in it related to this new power. It may well be that it is covered overall by the Minister's regulation-making powers, and it is true that what is done in the First Schedule to the third draft Instrument is covered, but that is only in relation to the new Scheme, and it would have been much more appropriate, if the Minister intended to do this, had he allowed us to discuss it in Committee. This part of the Scheme was non-controversial; we thought that the benefits were inadequate, but we welcomed the Government's proposals. But if we had known at that time that by virtue of these schemes the Minister would deny a benefit in relation to one class of person in receipt of assistance under both the Benefit (Supplementation) Act, 1956, and the benefit schemes, we might have taken a different point of view. Will the Parliamentary Secretary comment on this?

The dissatisfaction which has been expressed is that a person who is injured industrially in an accident at work today gets better terms from the Industrial Injuries Scheme than does a person who was covered under the old Workmen's Compensation Scheme. It all depends on when the man meets with the accident. If he met with an accident in the pit before 1948, then for a married man the difference between his payment and that of a miner who meets with a similar accident today is 25s. a week. We increased the industrial injuries benefit last year, and the person in receipt of an industrial injuries benefit and also in receipt of a benefit under the byssinosis scheme will receive an additional 7s. 6d. compared with a man covered by the Workmen's Compensation Scheme.

We are creating a new anomaly by this and we are aggravating the position in respect of a few people. The 25s. becomes 25s. plus 7s. 6d. in those cases to which it applies. We should have some explanation from the Government of why they consider it essential for this 7s. 6d. to be denied to other people.

The other items are not so unexpected. One is in relation to overpayment. I think that it is clearer in the Statutory Instrument than it was in the Bill when it was before the House, and we welcome the change of wording in relation to claiming. The words "due care and diligence" are far better than the old words "good faith".

With those few criticisms, I hope that we shall get an adequate explanation of why the Government consider it essential to do this. How many men will be involved? Surely the sum involved makes all this printing hardly worth while. I hope that some day we shall get the position cleared up.

The Statutory Instrument is confusing, and obscures the position rather than provide enlightenment. It says: … is any period during which the disablements total, as a weekly rate of forty shillings … The 40s. is not relevant, because it was increased first by 17s. 6d. and then by another 15s. in the recent Act. Anyone who hoped to be enlightened by reading this Statutory Instrument will still not be clear about the position in relation to the change being made by this proviso. We got quite a shock when we saw them, and we are giving these Statutory Instruments a more tepid welcome than we would otherwise have done.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I made my maiden speech in this House many years ago on the Industrial Injuries Bill. I remember I then said that the suggestion that the final adjudication of claims should be done without appeal by a State doctor was not a Socialist dream, but a Marxist nightmare. I am inclined to think that that is one of the observations I made which have been adequately justified since.

I have no reason to quarrel with the Parliamentary Secretary, because I have recently received from him letters about cases which seem to mark a distinct improvement in the attitude of the Ministry, certainly over the immediate past, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the courtesy, ability and industry he has devoted to the examination of individual cases.

I am not sure that his explanation tonight, while it may have been adequate for the cognoscenti of the House, is sufficient for me, because I am still not sure what all this is about. I am sure that my hon. Friend has studied this with his usual ability, and I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary has studied it, and, perhaps has, also been briefed with the collective ability of his Department, but I venture to say, without much fear of contradiction, that if anyone wants to be sure what the position is and comes to us we would have to say, "It will cost you 50 guineas for the opinion of an eminent counsel who will look into it, but we think that when you get his advice you will come to the conclusion that you have lost a few bob a week".

The reason why we say that is contained in what is optimistically referred to as the Explanatory Note to the Scheme with which I am principally concerned, the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Amendment Scheme, 1962. I do not intend to guy it. I will quote it as reasonably and fairly as I can, and not read out all the long titles, and so on.

It says: This Scheme amends the provisions of the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Scheme, 1952, in consequence of the Family Allowances and National Insurance Act, 1961, to provide that the increase in the rate of allowance payable in cases of partial disablement by virtue of the amendment to the principal Scheme made by the 1961 Act, shall not be payable to a person who is entitled to an allowance in respect of total incapacity or disablement under the Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Supplementation) Act, 1956; the rate of the latter allowance having been increased by the 1961 Act. That is the first complete paragraph of the Explanatory Note.

What my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) says is completely confirmed by the second paragraph of the Explanatory Note: The Scheme, in addition, makes changes corresponding to those made by the 1961 Act in the condition under which a person is liable to refund an overpayment of an allowance or death benefit, and provides for the set-off of overpayments made under the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Scheme, 1951, against allowances payable under the principal Scheme. There is, in other words, merely an amendment of the words. In anticipation, claimants, by a draftsman's mistake, have been entitled to allowances. This is now corrected, so they will no longer be entitled, but on the whole, if these cases arise and they are bona fide, and due care and diligence has been exercised, they will not be stung for repayment. But this is not something on which we should indulge in paeans of praise.

I want to say what I have to say with all the reserve I can, because I do not believe in developing controversy over these matters any more than is necessary. Compensation for lung diseases has a long history into which I have no desire to go into tonight. Some diseases were scheduled under some conditions. Some have been contested over the years. My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) has a long connection with the fight for byssinosis compensation. It was one of the last of the industrial diseases of that kind to be conceded at all, and then conceded only in certain circumstances.

If, in my humble clinic in Oldham, a man says to me, "I suffer from byssinosis" I go into his military service. He may have served in the desert under Montgomery in the years before he said he would draw his sword in defence of South Africa. He may have suffered from silicosis as a result. Years of service may be responsible for a percentage of the silicosis, but a doctor would say, "I am, personally and clinically, unable to distinguish certainly between chronic lung disease and industrial disease".

These things are names for dust infections of various sorts and they are very similar. I have a case of a man who is supposed to have chronic bronchitis, but I know it is byssinosis. I have produced to the Parliamentary Secretary a case where an inquest found chronic byssinosis as the cause of death of a man who had been declared after three medical examinations not to be suffering from it two or three years earlier. Yet the inquest verdict was that it was longstanding.

This amending Scheme amends a Scheme which deals with these things. Quite clearly, it comes within the terms of the Scheme now being amended and the amendment is by reference to that Scheme. I have said before and I say again that if a man has chronic bronchitis he gets sick benefit if he is insured, as nearly everybody is, but we have erected this fantastic superstructure of legislation which means that the Minister has to produce three Schemes and three Explanatory Notes referring to different things. We have compensation schemes, certification schemes, domiciliary schemes, pneumoconiosis boards, silicosis boards, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all, when a simple amendment of the law in a con structive, decent, Christian way would be to say that any man who is suffering from chronic disease, and is disabled by it, should get the same benefit. The expense involved to the State is really only the slight increase between sick benefit and the industrial injury benefit.

With that simple amendment, we should be able to wipe out all this fantastic mass of statutory paper and abolish the boards and say, "If a man is crippled by lung disease, he gets the benefit. We do not care whether he got the disease in the sands of the desert, in a cotton mill, or in an unscheduled industry, or whether he has been working in one industry for five years or in another for seven years. All that does not matter. Because he is a citizen of this country and is crippled by disease and needs the care of the State, we shall give it to him."

Although I cannot give figures—I doubt whether anyone could get out the figures—my hunch is that we should save a great deal of money and a great deal of unnecessary argument by doing that, and create a good deal of good Will.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)

I support what has been put forward by my hon. Friends in connection with these Schemes. In doing so, I would remind the House what the Family Allowances and National Insurance Act, 1961, really provided for by way of benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Act.

The Act stated, first, that where a person under the old Workmen's Compensation Act was totally incapacitated he was to receive, under the Act, an additional 15s. to the 40s. he already received plus a supplement of 17s. 6d. Secondly, it provided that where a person was partially disabled under the old Workmen's Compensation Act, he was to receive up to a maximum of 10s. per week where he was in receipt of the maximum partial compensation. In addition, it was provided in the Act that where he came under the old pneumoconiosis and byssinosis benefit scheme he was to receive for partial incapacity another 7s. 6d. in addition to the £1 that he was already receiving.

That was the Act some of the provisions of which we regarded as very unsatisfactory. The Parliamentary Secretary will be aware that we had some days discussing this in the Standing Committee. But that Act passed through this House and another place, and the Schemes arise out of it. I submit that the Schemes are not strictly carrying out the Act that we passed.

In this respect we must also look at para. 2 of the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Scheme and para. 3 of the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Amendment Scheme, where these increases are limited. In other words, a restriction is placed upon the increases provided for in the Act. It is stated that where a person is partially disabled as a result of an accident under the Workmen's Compensation Act and he is already in receipt of benefit under the old pneumoconiosis scheme, he is not to receive the full 10s. in respect of the accident and the 7s. 6d. in respect of the benefit scheme. Yet the Act that we passed provided that in both cases the person concerned was to receive the 10s. a week for partial incapacity in respect of accident and 7s. 6d. per week where he was disabled as a result of pneumoconiosis or byssinosis under the old benefit scheme.

There may not be many of these cases in the country, but there are quite a number in the mining industry. A person may have been declared to be partially disabled under the benefit scheme many years ago. This scheme provided for men who were left out of the Workmen's Compensation Act because they had finished their work in the industry years before. It is a benefit scheme for the old cases going back many years. Where men were partially disabled, they received £1 a week. Some of these men subsequently had other work and then sustained an accident by which they were partially disabled, and this came under the Workmen's Compensation Act.

In accordance with legislation, they became entitled to £1 per week in respect of the benefit scheme and £2 per week in respect of the accident, for partial incapacity, and they are today receiving benefit in that way. First, a single man receives £2 a week under the Workmen's Compensation Act for partial disability. In addition, he is certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis and under the benefit scheme he has £1 a week. He has £3 in all.

When this matter was debated in Committee and in the House, we assumed that these men would become entitled to the 10s. in addition to the £2 in respect of the injury and to the 7s. 6d. in addition to the £1 but we find that that is not so in these Schemes. A person receiving benefit under the two, the Pneumoconiosis Benefit Scheme and the Workmen's Compensation Act, can only receive 10s. a week. He cannot have the 7s. 6d.

This limitation is a completely new feature of workmen's compensation. As one of my hon. Friends has already said, even if a man has an accident today for which he has an assessment under the Industrial Injuries Act of 40, 50, 60 per cent. or whatever it may be, he will have, on the basis of partial incapacity, 38s. or £2 as the case may be; but he might have previously been declared to be suffering partially from pneumoconiosis under the old benefit scheme, and he is entitled to the £1 a week. Also, he will have the 7s. 6d. a week, so he will have the full benefit under the Industrial Injuries Act and full benefit under the Pneumoconiosis Scheme. But, according to these Schemes, if he is receiving benefit under the old Workmen's Compensation Act, not the Industrial Injuries Act, he cannot receive the full benefit provided for.

We take a serious view of this. It is quite foreign to workmen's compensation. It is a new feature to restrict the payments in these circumstances. We quite understand that, if a man is totally disabled, he cannot under the Industrial Injuries Act have more than is provided for total incapacity. But that is not the case here. We are dealing with men who are entitled to payment under the old benefit scheme. If they are entitled to two rates of benefit, why are the increases limited? It is illogical to pay two benefits at one moment and then, because additions come along, to say that we cannot pay two additional benefits.

This requires an explanation. We never had it in our earlier consideration of the matter, and we view with concern a deviation from the policy and provisions which were ultimately agreed by the House when the Act was under consideration.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Sharples

The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) was right when he said that these were complicated matters. Although it is not the Industrial Injuries Scheme which we are considering, but the old, complicated Workmen's Compensation Schemes, the payments which we are discussing come out of the Industrial Injuries Fund to supplement payments of workmen's compensation. In nearly all cases, the methods of payment under the old Acts have long been established and have an entirely different basis from the Industrial Injuries Scheme.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) asked what was my right hon. Friend's authority for making these Schemes. I refer him to the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Act, 1951, Section 1 (3) of which states: Subject to the following provisions of this Act, the right to benefit in pursuance of a scheme under this section shall be subject to such conditions as may be provided by the scheme, and the rate or amount of any such benefit shall be such as may be so provided. That is the Minister's authority.

Mr. Ross

The Parliamentary Secretary will agree that we had no indication from the Minister on Second Reading or in Committee that he would apply this, which is not in the original scheme, to conditions in relation to the double benefit.

Mr. Sharples

I do not think there was ever any indication that it was intended to provide out of the Industrial Injuries Fund benefit of more than 15s. for the totally disabled and more than 10s. for the partially disabled.

To adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) would mean that, with the 10s. allowance under one scheme and the 7s. 6d. under the other, a partially disabled person would be able to receive more by way of supplement than a totally disabled person.

Mr. Finch

Under the Workmen's Compensation Act, a person who is disabled, totally or partially, can receive the maximum payment of 40s. per week. If he is certified as suffering from pneu moconiosis, under the benefit scheme he also receives the £1 per week. He gets both payments. The benefit scheme payment was something additional, in respect of pneumoconiosis. All we are asking is that the same principle should apply with these increases, the 10s. in respect of the injury and 7s. 6d. in respect of the benefit. We are not asking for any change in the legislation.

Mr. Sharples

I do not think my right hon. Friend ever gave any indication that it would be possible to pay anybody, out of the Industrial Injuries Fund, more than 15s. in the case of total disablement and more than 10s. in the case of partial disablement.

Mr. Finch

We are not asking for that.

Mr. Sharples

If a person is totally disabled, perhaps by reason of two partial disabilities, he receives the allowance of a totally disabled person. If, however, in spite of his two disabilities, he still remains partially disabled, he can get only the 10s. supplement as a partially disabled person.

Mr. Finch

I must correct the Parliamentary Secretary, because we are getting confused about this. Under the Workmen's Compensation Act, in respect of partial or total disability, a person receives, say, the maximum payment. In addition, he may be one of the cases which come under the old benefit scheme. The Parliamentary Secretary keeps referring to the 15s. and the 10s. We are not asking for more than that. We cannot get more than that under the Act.

I am referring to those persons who become entitled, and they are few, but there are some men, in the mining industry, who are also suffering from pneumoconiosis under the benefit scheme, and they are entitled, in addition to the compensation, to benefit of £1 per week, which they are getting. I can cite to the Parliamentary Secretary quite a number of cases of men getting 40s. and the £1, one under the benefit scheme for pneumoconiosis, and 40s. for the accident.

All we are saying is that this increase of 10s. for the partially disabled under the Workmen's Compensation Acts and 7s. 6d. under the benefit scheme is already in operation. Now the Parliamentary Secretary is saying it is restricted to the 10s. That is our point. That is not in accordance with what we debated in Committee and in the House.

Mr. Sharples

I am quite clear what the hon. Gentleman means, but what my right hon. Friend made quite clear at the time the Bill was going through was that the allowance, which comes out of the Industrial Injuries Fund should be restricted to 15s. for the total, and a maximum of 10s. for the partial. Where a man is receiving benefit under one or more schemes as a partial it was not indicated at all that he should receive more out of the Industrial Injuries Fund, as a partial, than a supplement of 10s. I put it to the hon. Gentleman that if a man is a partial it would be wholly illogical for him to receive more in supplementation out of the Industrial Injuries Fund than somebody who is totally disabled.

Mr. Hale

Let us forget logic. There is no logic in this Scheme. What about the pre-1948 people now being paid out of the Fund to relieve employers from their insurance liabilities at different rates and on different scales of benefit? Would the hon. Gentleman tell us—after all, this is the material point for us to consider—how many cases are there, or are there cases, where people entitled to two of the main benefits have received double supplementation and are now being asked to surrender it and repay it, and how many will be liable to have it collected off them?

Mr. Sharples

There are no cases at all, if only because the Scheme does not come into effect till 28th February. The purpose of introducing these Statutory Instruments now is to enable the Scheme to come into operation on 28th February.

Mr. Hale

Really, this is a verbal correction. I apologise for putting it in a slightly misleading way. We are now being asked to pass an amending Scheme to give what is proposed technical retrospection in a sense a retrospective correction, because the provisions of the Act have not come into force. The hon. Gentleman is fairly accurate about that. How many people have qualified for benefit or will qualify for benefit but for this corrective measure? He cannot ask the House to pass an amending Scheme unless there is some thing to correct. He cannot ask the House to say we are not going to enforce this retrospection harshly unless there is likely to be need for retrospection. To how many people is this likely to apply?

Mr. Sharples

I must take up the hon. Member's point about this being a corrective measure. It was made clear, at the time the Bill was being passed through, that these allowances would have to be brought in by means of regulations. In fact, the post-1923 partials had no supplementary allowance at all until the allowance brought in by these amending Schemes. There is nothing corrective in this. It was made clear that the payment of allowances would be brought in by regulation. That is what I am attempting to do now.

Mr. Ross

The people who will be affected by this must presently be receiving two allowances—one for total incapacity under the. 1956 scheme and one either under the Industrial Diseases Benefit Scheme or the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Scheme. If these Schemes were not approved, they would get the benefit of both increased supplements. Surely we should be able to have the information as to how many there are.

Mr. Sharples

Though I do not know the exact number, I understand that it is very small.

Mr. Ross

Then why do this?

Mr. Sharples

Because it would be wrong for a partially disabled person to be receiving more by way of supplementation from the Industrial Injuries Fund than somebody who is totally disabled. I do not think that I shall be able wholly to convince the hon. Gentleman of what I say, but he will have to accept from me that that is the reason why these amending Schemes have been introduced concurrently with the main Schemes, which provide for the first time, an allowance to the post-1923 partially disabled. I hope now that the House may see fit to pass these amending Schemes.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Amendment Scheme, 1962, a draft of which was laid before this House on 23rd January, be approved.

Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Amendment Scheme, 1962 [draft laid before the House 23rd January], approved.—[Mr. Sharples.]

Industrial Diseases (Miscellaneous) Benefit Amendment Scheme, 1962 [draft laid before the House 23rd January], approved.—[Mr. Sharples.]