HC Deb 06 February 1963 vol 671 cc451-85

Any person who is entitled in respect of total or partial disablement to an allowance under the Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Supplementation) Act 1956 or the Industrial Diseases (Benefit) Acts 1951 and 1954 (as extended by the Family Allowances and National Insurance Act 1961) shall from the passing of this Act receive a weekly rate of benefit equivalent to that payable for the corresponding degree of disablement under the Industrial Injuries Acts 1946 to 1961 as amended by this Act.—[Mr. Finch.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.44 p.m.

Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)

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

This new Clause proposes to deal with those persons who come under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts, and those who come within the pneumoconiosis and byssinosis benefit schemes. In other words, those persons who sustained accidents or industrial diseases prior to 5th July, 1948.

For the benefit of the House, perhaps I had better refer to the types of persons to whom this Clause relates. First, there are those under the Workmen's Compensation Act itself, those persons who are totally incapacitated and unfit for any type of employment. Next, there are those, and they are in the majority, who are partially disabled. They are fit for some light employment only, and many of them are not in work. Next, there are those who do not strictly come within the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Acts, what we term the special cases, or time-barred cases, those suffering from pneumoconiosis or byssinosis.

The benefit payable under the benefit scheme to which I have referred, and under the Workmen's Compensation Act, to those totally incapacitated is£4 2s. 6d. Under the Bill the payment for total incapacity, or 100 per cent. assessment, will be£5 15s. There is, therefore, a considerable difference in benefits payable under the old legislation and this Measure. The difference is, in fact,£1 12s. 6d.

There may be two men who, because they are suffering from pneumoconiosis, may be 100 per cent. disabled. Because one contracted the disease prior to 5th July, 1948—if the Bill goes through without this new Clause—he will receive£4 2s. 6d. whereas the other, having been certified as suffering from the disease after that date, will receive£5 15s.

Whenever this question is raised, one of the arguments used against making a change is that these are two different schemes. One is under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts, which was originally the liability of the employer, while the other, under the Industrial Injuries Act, is the responsibility of the State, but I would remind the Committee that we are not in any way affecting the principles of the Workmen's Compensation Act, or the Industrial Injuries Scheme at all. What we are saying is that the rate of compensation under the old should be on a par with that paid under the Industrial Injuries Scheme. The difference between the two payments is£1 12s. 6d., and this is bound to cause a great deal of dissatisfaction among those disabled men who will be left out of the benefits of this new scheme.

As I said, the employer was responsible for the scheme under the Workmen's Compensation Act. He or his insurers met that obligation and paid£2 10s. for total incapacity. With the introduction of the Industrial Injuries Act benefits were increased, and the question arose: what should be done to assist the older cases? The result was that supplementations were paid out of the Industrial Injuries Fund. In 1956, the Government increased the supplementation for those cases, and made the figure on a par with that paid under the Industrial Injuries Act. But since then, due to the increases in industrial injuries benefits, these men have fallen behind. Indeed, when we last dealt with this subject, in 1961, the rate of industrial injuries benefit went up to£4 17s. 6d. for total incapacity with the result that the difference between the payments under the two schemes was 15s. a week.

If the Bill goes through as at present drafted, the payment under the old scheme will remain at£4 2s. 6d. I remind the Committee that we are dealing with chronic cases. We are dealing with men who have been disabled for 20, 25 or perhaps 30 years, and an employer does not pay compensation unless a man is totally disabled. Years of experience have taught us that insurance companies and employers do not continue to pay compensation if there is the slightest improvement in a man's condition. We can take it, therefore, that we are dealing with seriously disabled men, who for perhaps 20 years or more have not been able to enjoy life.

They have to have continued medical treatment, but they will remain on the same benefit figure if the Bill is not amended. We can imagine the feelings of these totally disabled persons when they realise that other people who come within the provisions of this Bill will receive considerably more than they will.

This principle does not apply in the case of sickness benefit. A person who fell sick before July, 1948, receives increased sickness benefit. The war pensioners of the two world wars are dealt with by separate warrants, but the methods of payment are much the same. Only under the Workmen's Compensation Act do we find that this parity does not exist.

The Minister may say that these men are entitled to other benefits under the National Insurance Act. He may say that they can get constant attendance allowances, or unemployability allowances. Very few men are drawing unemployability allowances, and they have to be in a very serious state of health to warrant the payment of a constant attendance allowance. In any event, those who are covered by the Industrial Injuries Act are also entitled to the constant attendance allowance. It is no argument to say that there are other benefits under the scheme which will apply to these men.

I now turn to the partially disabled. Here, we are treading on rather delicate ground. Today, a person's benefit is assessed on loss of faculty. Under the Workmen's Compensation Act the payment in respect of partial incapacity is based on two-thirds of the difference between a man's pre-accident wage and his post-accident wage. This fraction seems to be sacred to the right hon. Gentleman, as it was to his predecessor. A man who was earning£15 a week and who, because of disability, has to take a light job at£10 a week, and, therefore, loses£5 a week, is tied to the two-thirds fraction. Under the Industrial Injuries Act he gets a disablement pension.

Furthermore, such a man may be able to get a hardship allowance, which, in many cases, can increase his income to the amount that he was getting before the accident. A man who was earning£15 a week and is now earning£13 a week may often be able to obtain a£2 hardship allowance, bringing him up to his former position. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman regards the fraction of two-thirds, under the old Act, as sacred, when the difference in wages can be made up under the Industrial Injuries Act, in certain circumstances, to what it was before the accident.

The new Clause provides that the two classes of people shall be placed in a similar position. It will not be quite the same position, because there is the two-thirds difference under the old Act, while under the new there is the hardship allowance. We submit that these men can be given something very near parity with those who are covered by the Industrial Injuries Act.

I have drawn the Committee's attention to the problem, because it is becoming a very serious one in the mining industry. Of the partially disabled men in this industry, 7,000 are still unemployed, and have been for years. They are receiving very low rates of compensation. In addition, in some cases they have at some time signed on at the employment exchange for unemployment benefit. Since unemployment benefit is based on contributions, it has long since ceased to be payable. These men had to resort to National Assistance.

I should like to know whether the Minister can tell us how many men, classed as partially disabled under the Workmen's Compensation Act, are now receiving National Assistance because their unemployment benefit has expired. They are getting 2s., 3s., or 5s. a week. They will not be helped, but others who are covered by the Industrial Injuries Act will receive an increase under the Bill.

I now turn to those covered by the benefit scheme. I do not want to burden the House with all the details of these Acts and schemes, but many hon. Members will remember that this benefit scheme was brought in because these men, although certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis, were not covered by the provisions of the old Workmen's Compensation Act. They were time-barred cases, and special legislation had to be passed to provide benefit for them. That benefit, for total incapacity, is£4 2s. 6d. and there is a flat-rate benefit of£1 7s. 6d. There is an appalling situation in the mining industry in this respect. In 1961, no fewer than 55,790 partially and totally disabled men were certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis. In 1960, the figure was 54,950.

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has had time to visit any mining villages in South Wales, or other parts of the country. If so, his pension officers would have been able to tell him some harrowing stories of the suffering and agony of these men. They are continually coughing and gasping for breath. They are unable to sleep. They are always walking or standing about outside the institutes, locking for Press cuttings giving them news of anything that will affect their compensation.

They have given a lifetime to coal getting. Today, coughing their lungs up, they will look at the provisions of the Bill and see that others will receive£5 15s. while they stay where they are. If the right hon. Gentleman visited some of these mining valleys he would be amazed, and perhaps depressed, at the sight of these men. On humanitarian grounds, if for no other reason, their benefit should be increased.

It is no use arguing that we have not the money. On the last occasion when we had such a Bill as this before us the industrial injuries contribution was reduced by 1d. both for the workman and for the employer. The miners were amazed. This reduction in the contribution showed the state of the Industrial Injuries Fund. By the reduction the fund saved about£9 million, but the miners would have been prepared to con- tinue paying that 1d. if they could have had the assurance that the people covered by the old rules would be properly compensated. Having regard to the state of the fund, it is clear that there can be no financial argument against the Clause. There is no reason why these older men should not be compensated, so that they are brought more or less to parity with those who are covered by the provisions of the Industrial Injuries Act.

It was an essential part of the Beveridge Report that the position of those covered by the Workmen's Compensation Act should be maintained in full parity with the position of those covered by the Industrial Injuries Act. This principle has not been honoured. If we want to quote Beveridge, we should maintain that principle. There is no financial argument against this increase, and there cannot be anything against it on humanitarian grounds. What can the argument against it be? I can assure the Minister that the Trades Union Congress and the National Union of Mineworkers feel very strongly about the situation. That is so, not only in the mining areas, but in Stoke-on-Trent—

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

And the Potteries.

Mr. Finch

Yes, and the Potteries.

The Minister should come to those areas and see the suffering of these men. I am very serious about this and I beg the right hon. Gentleman to take the opportunity which is now available to him to say that he will not adhere to the rigid methods which have for so long been a feature of the administration of his Ministry. Let us give these older men benefits equal to those awarded to men who come within the ambit of the Industrial Injuries Act.

The young and able-bodied workers have seen what has happened to these older men, and I warn the Minister that there will be serious dissatisfaction among industrial workers and throughout the whole trade union movement unless these older men are placed in the same position as the recipients of benefit under the provisions of the Industrial Injuries Act.

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

Looking at the record, I find that it is forty-one years since we started on the long, hazardous and thorny road which we are still travelling. We have not yet reached a haven of rest and peace for those men who were injured in industry. As I have said many times, so long as we have wars we shall have sick and wounded men; and so long as we have industry we shall have sick and wounded men who have been broken and bruised upon the wheel of industry. It is the duty of this Committee and of the nation to protect those who are so broken and bruised.

This is the twenty-first time that we have tried to bring these men under the umbrella provided by the provisions in the compensation legislation. I hope that today we shall be able to persuade the Minister into an attitude of mind similar to that which obtained in 1951, when his predecessor lent an ear to our pleas. One is inclined to ask how does this situation arise? Why is it that so many men who were injured have been, as it were, left by the wayside? It all results from the fact that under the 1923 legislation a niggardly formula was adopted for the assessment of compensation to injured workmen.

Because of the operation of that formula the pre-1948 cases have been left out. Many of the victims of accidents before 1948 have gone to their reward. Many died without receiving that to which they were entitled in the shape of compensation and which they would have received had the formula been correct. I do not suppose that one in 25 or even one in 50 of hon. Members opposite can claim to understand the formula which is used to determine that compensation. I do not blame hon. Members for that.

I recall that when I was injured and carried out from the pit, it was necessary for me to be off work for a month before I received any compensation at all. That was a point in the formula. A man had to be off work for that period before he received any compensation. Another point was that compensation was payable on pre-accident earnings. In that way hundreds and thousands of men were robbed of compensation, because as the wages ascended down came the amount of full or partial compensation. Today, we submit this Amendment on behalf of those men who have been the victims.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), I have spent a lifetime dealing with compensation cases. What do we find today? As was said by my hon. Friend, two men may live next door to each other. One may receive compensation because he was injured after 1948. But because his neighbour was injured before 1948 the formula will have been applied to him and he will not receive any compensation. I repeat what I said yesterday. We are not playing fair with the workmen, either those who were injured post-1948 or pre-1948, and particularly thepre-1948 victims. There has been, and there will continue to be, a strong feeling of resentment among members of the National Union of Mineworkers particularly—and other industries—because more accidents occur in the mining industry than in other industries—and among the pottery workers, at the fact that these people do not receive compensation.

As I have said already, I hope that we may create an attitude of mind on the part of the Minister similar to that which obtained on 16th November, 1951, during the period of office of his predecessor who now sits in another place. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor had a lot to do with compensation. He was one of the old coal mine owners and knew something about the intricacies, difficulties and perplexities of this problem. His experience prompted him to have a great deal of sympathy for injured workmen.

All we are attempting to do today is to ensure that the pre-1948 cases are brought under the umbrella which protects the post-1948 cases. Many men have never recovered from the injuries which they sustained while working in the pits. To me, it is a tragedy that, in the enlightened days of 1963, we must come to the House of Commons for the twenty-first time to make a plea on behalf of these injured workmen and beg that something be done which should be done out of generosity and justice because of what these workmen have given to the nation.

I do not altogether blame the Minister. I give the right hon. Gentleman credit for the humane manner in which he approaches many of the problems submitted to him, but I find difficulty in giving similar credit to his Department. I am sorry to have to speak in this way. But if the senior officials would take a little more notice it would be helpful.

We do not expect them to understand all our problems, but we do expect them to take notice of the people who are knowledgeable about these problems. They should not say no every time we put before them a solution of the problem.

It is not my intention to continue this discussion at any length, but, having reached a stage at which we are afforded an opportunity of putting forward a plea on behalf of these men, we want to seize that opportunity and use it with all the vigour we can muster. That is what we are doing this afternoon. I appeal to the Minister to accept this new Clause. I repeat that it is the twenty-first time the request has been made. Let us meet with success in our desire to protect these men.

I have in my hand a list of cases I have dealt with. Every one of them has died and gone to his last reward without receiving the compensation which was due to him. Is it right, is it fair, is it just, that men who were broken on the wheel of industry in the production of the material which is so essential to the welfare of the nation should go to their reward without having their demands met? As I have said before, neither the Minister nor the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor any statistician can state in terms of£.s.d. the loss to a man who suffered injury in the pit. I know that those on the Government Front Bench will think this is sentimentalism, but it is not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty lives in a mining village, so do others of my hon. Friends, and I do. Every day I see two men walking up the road. One gets compensation because he sustained injury or contracted a disease after 1948. Walking by his side is a man who contracted a disease or sustained an injury prior to 1948. Is it logical or humane that those two men should not be treated alike? Both worked in the same pit in the same colliery and they live in the same road. One is getting compensation of a certain amount, and the other is not getting the same amount.

The reason why we plead this afternoon is that in 1923, and again in 1945, the Government of the day failed to meet their responsibilities and to bring such cases under the same umbrella. Let us not go from this Chamber today with a stain on our consciences, but with an attitude of mind and contentment of mind that at least we have done something for those who have been left by the wayside in days gone by. I sincerely hope that the Miinster will accept the new Clause.

4.15 p.m.

Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

We must all deeply sympathise with the new Clause proposed by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) and also after listening to our friend the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) in his very sincere appeal for the sympathy of this Committee. I confess that it always deeply moves me when I hear, not only of his personal experience, but of has thought for others in a similar position.

I think that every modern and humane employer has exactly the same view and sympathy as I have. Businesses with which I am associated have for a long time deeply deplored that any employee should get hurt or disabled through their fault—through failure to take sufficient precautions, or to ensure sufficient protection for their employees. I also think that every modern and humane employer is mortified at the thought that men should be hurt or disabled through their own fault. So, in every modern industry I know of there is an accident prevention committee. There are competitions in various works with a view to getting the lowest ratio of accidents.

That is all to the good, but unfortunately men still get hurt and disabled despite all the efforts that are made. What now is to be done about it? The hon. Member for Bedwellty suggested that adequate compensation should be given to make up for disability. I do not know the technical difficulties which might be presented, but I want the Minister to realise that we on this side of the Committee are equally sympathetic, keen and determined to do all we can to help those who have been injured in their daily work.

We who have been soldiers have seen men dying and wounded through no fault of theirs. That happens equally in industry; men get hurt and disabled through no fault of their own. Possibly there is a little carelessness, perhaps a foreman does not see that adequate guards are put around dangerous machinery. Since we cannot prevent disablement taking place, at any rate let us to the best of our ability see if we can compensate those who have been hurt. For that reason, I support the new Clause.

Mr. Iorwerth Thomas (Rhondda, West)

I am sure that my colleagues warmly welcome the expressions of opinion of the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). I hope that the Minister will eventually emerge from the conversation he is having on the Front Bench and, if not convinced by us of the merits of this case, that he will be influenced by the sentiments and support expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Ayr.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) led the Committee through a maze of legislation which is very confusing to the lay mind, but he eventually emerged into the clear and submitted to the Minister arguments on the principle involved in this very important Clause. I shall not deal with the complexities of the situation, but I put to the Minister a very simple question which requires a simple answer.

Why have these old compensation cases been excluded from the benefits of the new Measure? The same Government were in office when this problem was debated on the Second Reading of the Family Allowances Bill in November, 1961. All that has happened to change the situation has been a change of Ministers. I am rather bewildered by what has happened. The circumstances in 1963 are similar to those which obtained in 1961, yet there has been a change of policy.

In 1961, the former Minister of Pensions, who is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said this: …I am sure that one cannot ignore completely, where big improvements have been made, as they have been in respect of industrial injuries, the fact that those who had their accident before the Industrial Injuries Scheme came into effect do not receive as much by way of benefit as those who had their accident after the scheme came into being. I am sure that the House was surprised to note the warmth, fervour and enthusiasm expressed on that occasion by the former Minister of Pensions, who had the opportunity in 1961 to introduce the very form of improvement which we now seek to make.

On the very same day the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance said this in winding up the debate: Secondly—and perhaps I should have put this first—it is to bring some help to those who received injuries or disablement in industry at the time when they did not have the benefit of the cover of the Industrial Injuries Act. This was a very important statement, again indicating enthusiasm, warmth and delight at having the opportunity to make the very change which we suggest today.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary ended in this way: The whole House will think that this is a worth-while purpose."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 1181 and 1270.] The Committee is entitled to expect the Minister to tell us what has influenced him—because the Government and the circumstances are the same; only the Minister has changed—what new factor has arisen in 1963 which did not obtain in 1961. The financial considerations in 1963 are of less importance than they were in 1961, because these men are what we would term a diminishing liability. There are 6,600 old compensation cases. The financial liability would be£260,000. The cost of the new proposals and the new scales of payments will be£200 million, which is an enormous sum in comparison to the relatively small sum of£260,000 a year to cover the needs of 6,600 old compensation cases. There is thus no justification for denying this on financial grounds.

The contribution which the Exchequer would have to make should be a very minor consideration, because this comes out of contributions. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee know what the answer would be if we were able to ask the millions and millions of contributors to the Insurance Fund what they would like us to do this afternoon. If the man in the street were asked, "Are you prepared to allow your contributions to be used to satisfy the urgent needs of these old compensation cases?", I have no hesitation that in saying that he would express his support for the Clause.

What can the Minister say to the Committee to explain why the Government—because in this there is a certain amount of collective responsibility—are not prepared to do in 1963 what they seemed prepared to do in 1961? Having heard the expressions of opinion from both sides of the Committee, I trust that the Minister will consult the Cabinet or the person responsible for this decision and, having considered the pleas which have been made, at a later stage this evening give us an assurance that the proposals contained in the Clause will be accepted by the Government.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. J. Hill (Midlothian)

Coming from a mining area, I must take the opportunity of expressing the opinion of the Scottish miners about this anomaly. Different treatment is accorded to a man who was certified as suffering from pneumoconiosis or was totally incapacitated on 4th July, 1948, from that accorded to a man who was injured or was certified on 5th July, 1948.

Like my colleagues from mining areas, I have had much experience of dealing with pneumoconiosis cases and men who have been badly injured in collieries. I have often wondered whether the Minister and his colleagues, and indeed back benchers opposite, have ever had the opportunity of seeing these old men who when they go for a walk on a reasonably good day cannot walk further than five yards without hanging on to a dyke or a paling to hold themselves up. Their lungs refuse to function as they were meant to function. As the years pass their lungs become worse and worse. They cough their lungs out daily.

I should like to take the Minister to a hospital in West Lothian which deals with pneumoconiosis cases. The men are lying on their backs, unable to move, because of their inability to breathe in the way a human being was meant to breathe. I am sure that if the Minister saw them he would consider the appeal we are making in a favourable light.

I would remind hon. Members that so few men are involved and time is so against them that it is all the more important that we should agree to give them what is rightly theirs. Time is an important factor in pneumoconiosis cases, especially since the men with whom we are concerned are well advanced in years and as each week passes they become weaker. Surely it is time the Government took a humane view and gave these old men the£1 12s. 6d., the difference between the amount they receive and the compensation given to those who were injured at a later date, perhaps only a day later. The£1 12s. 6d. would certainly not restore them to health, but it would enable them to obtain a few of the comforts to which they are entitled.

As my hon. Friends have said, these men have spent their working lives in the mining industry. Many of them heard the appeal of the then Prime Minister in 1940 for greater effort to increase coal output to help us win the war. They made that greater effort. They have served their country well and are entitled to get the same as those who are now receiving the highest rate of compensation. That is why we in the mining industry believe that the present anomalous position should be rectified immediately.

If any hon. Member cares to come to Midlothian, which is a mining area, he would soon see what I mean. I mix with these people each weekend and on each successive occasion I see them I find them worse in health. I say without offence that those who do not belong to a mining area cannot understand what pneumoconiosis really means. If they saw the old men about whom I am speaking I am sure that they would support the new Clause. I am not asking for sympathy for these people; just justice. Considering the amount of money being spent by the Government in so many ways, surely it is possible that some of it could be better spent in helping these people.

I urge the Minister to show the country that the Government have some consideration for those to whom they appealed when our needs were great, who helped us win the war. I do not intend to go into any statistics. That is not necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) gave all the figures necessary. I only add my voice with all the sincerity I can to urge hon. Members to press the Government to give to these old people that to which they are entitled.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

Hon. Members are always impressed when a plea is made from personal experience. That certainly has been the case today and following the way in which the hon. Member—I am tempted to say "my hon. Friend" because I agree with him in so many matters—for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), ably supported by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) and the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas), have made their appeal it is difficult not to have a great deal of sympathy and support for the new Clause.

I cannot speak with the experience of those who work or have worked in the coal mining industry. But I came in contact with a number of miners during my training as a solicitor, when I had to deal with cases under the old Workmen's Compensation Act. For the first time in my life I realised the terrible ravages of the diseases and disabilities we are now considering. It is really comparable with the horrors and aftermath of war. The feelings we have on seeing an old soldier terribly mutilated are not all that different from the feelings we have when seeing a former miner or someone else suffering from pneumoconiosis, almost coughing out his inside.

One naturally hesitates to call for further expenditure in the setting of a Bill which, ultimately, will involve massive expenditure, amounting probably to£200 million. At the same time, I confess that while accepting the new Clause would not be likely to redound greatly to the electoral popularity of the Government, since the number of people concerned is small, it is the sort of thing that goes far beyond electoral popularity or anything of that nature and even if the Minister is never remembered—or even the Government for that matter—far taking a gesture of this kind, it would have its own virtue.

I realise that there are technical objections involved. I know the history of this matter and, without wishing to quarrel with the hon. Member for Ince, he might have said that apart from Governments having omitted to deal with it in 1923 and 1945, the matter was also left out in 1948; omitted at that time by the hon. Member's own Labour Government. There were reasons why that was done, but when one realises the small number of men involved and the hardships they have suffered one must agree that the modest—and it is modest compared with the whole of our welfare legislation—sum involved would mean a great deal of difference to them.

Is there not some way for my right hon. Friend to ensure, if he cannot make the concession which is sought, that these men can come under the umbrella of our welfare organisation?

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

What does the hon. Member mean when he says that the matter was "left out" by the Labour Government?

Mr. Gower

Just that the legislation introduced at the time of the Labour Government did not ensure that these men would enjoy the benefits being sought in the new Clause. That is all I meant. Had Socialist legislation at that time been framed differently, one might have assumed that these men would have been included. That is all I was saying. I realise that all legislation is imperfect and I do not want it to be thought that I am arguing on this point. As I say, legislation is imperfect and we are discovering its imperfections as we go along.

The sentiments expressed today by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee indicate the strong feeling that something should be done for these men. Unless my right hon. Friend can produce unanswerable reasons why he cannot do anything for them, I fear that I will not be able to support him.

Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)

In supporting the new Clause I would like to say at the outset that I am probably the only victim in the House of Commons suffering from the terrible disease of pneumoconiosis. I not only have experience of the trade union movement in dealing with pneumoconiosis cases, but I am also a victim of that disease. I can assure the Committee that being a victim of this ravaging disease is no pleasure in any shape or form.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) on the way in which he moved this new Clause. By the time he had finished there was not a great deal more to be said, and I am sure that the conviction with which he spoke, and the facts that he presented, were enough to impress not only the House but the Minister, who does not always pay attention to back benchers' speeches.

In my own town we there have two men of exactly the same age. One was a coal face worker but, as a result of injury, he has been a paraplegic since 1946. The other man received a similar injury in 1949, and that, too, resulted in paraplegia. The first man receives£4 2s. 6d. a week, while the other man, of exactly the same age, with the same surroundings and same type of family and home will, under the new benefits receive£5 15s. a week, although injured only three years later. That is an anomaly, and the only person who can right it is the Minister. The sole obligation is on his shoulders. If he is human—and I always use "if" when I mention Ministers and humanity—our pleas will not be in vain.

From time to time we have made a very urgent plea to another Minister for the provision of two-seater cars for paraplegic workmen. That plea has always fallen on deaf ears. It did so on the last occasion because the Minister complained very bitterly that it would cost about£2 million. I suggest that if the Minister listens to us today he will be convinced that the cost of righting this very great anomaly in the Act will not cost anything like that amount. In any case, what is£2 million by comparison with the£83 million that the Chancellor of the Exchequer wafted to the country's parasites only a year ago? I make this appeal to the Minister, not only on behalf of our miners, but on behalf of every ex-workman who received an injury prior to July, 1948.

A man who works in a brewery and gets a broken back is just as much injured as someone who worked in the pit. We are not sectarian in our plea, but appeal for all the people who have been terribly injured in industry. The men who, today, are 100 per cent. injured, whether they were injured in 1948 or only yesterday, have made their contribution, not only to the industry in which they worked but to the overall economy and welfare of the country. The finest way in which the Minister could answer us would be to say that he is prepared to accept this new Clause, so ably moved by my hon. Friend and supported from both sides of the House.

4.45 p.m.

It has been suggested that criticisms may be forthcoming from the mineworkers when their contribution goes up by a ld., but I can tell the House that every man and boy working in my own pit, the Malcolm No. 2 Colliery in Derbyshire, voluntarily contributes a 1s. a week to make as easy as possible the lot of these permanently disabled men. The money is collected and distributed at the pit, and were it not for such local efforts those pre-1914–18 cases would be living on the verge of abject poverty. But for the voluntary efforts and contributions of this great community of miners, those men would be absolute paupers.

There is in the mining areas a community of spirit, both in health and in sickness, comparable with that anywhere else in the world. Men in the mining industry are more susceptible than any to accident, so that our industry has the largest number of permanently disabled men of any.

I want to congratulate the mines safety committees on the great work they have done over the last few years. Were it not for the efforts of local managements and trade union leaders, the rate of accidents in the pit would be very much higher, because the speed at which the men now have to work makes their job very demanding, and the faster they work the less concentration they are apt to have. The consequence is more injuries.

I appeal to the Minister to look closely at these cases, to be human in his approach to the problem, and to accept the new Clause—as I am sure he will if he gives it due consideration. The cost would be so small and the praise from the disabled would be so great—not only to the Minister but to the whole House of Commons and to the whole country, The Minister will then, for once in his life, have done a good job.

Lady Megan Lloyd George (Carmarthen)

I represent many of the men affected by this new Clause, which I want to support in the strongest terms. We here have one of the worst of many anomalies in our system, and one which gives rise not only to hardship and injustice but to a very great sense of grievance. There is no justification for isolating these men who come under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. There is no possible reason for leaving them out of any present increase under the Bill.

I hope that the Government will not, for narrow and legalistic reasons, say that this cannot be done. It can be done—it has been done before, and more than once. These men have been granted increases by way of supplementation out of the Industrial Injuries Fund. If the Minister is not willing to accept the new Clause in its present form but has any other suggestion to make to carry out this same end and object, I hope that he will say so. I am one sure that we on this side will accept it gladly.

As many of my hon. Friends have said, I also hope that the Minister will not turn this proposal down on the grounds of expense and that the Government cannot afford it. This really is nonsense, first, because the sum involved is very small, and comparatively small when we consider the full range of the Bill. The numbers are very small. They are becoming tragically smaller every year. In 1955, 24,000 men in the mining industry were involved. Now there are only 16,000. This, therefore, is a diminishing problem and represents a diminishing expenditure. These men are not incurring heavy increases or heavy liabilities for the future.

We say, therefore, that having regard not only to the human aspect but also the expenditure, there is no reason why the Government should not meet my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) in some way or another. We say that there should be parity. Why in equity should one group of men receive£4 2s. 6d. while those who come under the provisions of the Bill will receive£5 15s.? The rise in the cost of living bears as hardly upon one group as upon the other. Their needs are the same. Their hardships are as great. Their suffering is equally painful. But one gets the increased benefits and the other gets not one penny increase.

I want to appeal to the Government, but not for generosity. We are not asking for that. We are asking for common justice from the Government for men whose sufferings have been described in such moving terms not only by those who live among these men in the mining villages, but also by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain), a victim of this dreadful disease. No one could have listened to these speeches which have been made without being deeply moved. I hope that the Government, also, will be moved to action.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

We have heard the arguments, and the case is well known to the Committee. It is especially to be noted that every hon. Member who represents a mining constituency or some other industrial area is, if at all possible, in the Chamber listening to the debate because of its utmost importance. The case was put precisely and clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), and completely to the point by my hon. Friend the Member for the Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas).

I, too, come from a mining family and represent a constituency which contains mining and pottery industries. It must be remembered that the pottery industry, also, comes into these considerations. We have been struggling together with the miners in north Staffordshire for years to have this anomaly removed. I do not want to make invidious comparisons between one Government and another, but I would repeat that this is a diminishing problem and that the amount of money involved is very small.

Whatever advice is given by the Treasury, it is time that some hon. Member or a Minister had the courage to twist the necks of those who say that these things cannot be done because of administrative difficulties. We can over-leap these administrative difficulties and an answer can be found. It is ridiculous that the man who was injured on a day in July, 1948, should receive£1 12s. 6d. less in allowance than a man injured two or three days later than that date.

Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have made an appeal today. Will the Minister tell us how much this proposal would cost? He has the information at his elbow. Is he prepared to consider a formula to meet this point? Many of these people, it is sad to say, will not be living with us for very much longer. I had intended to go broadly into the history of this matter and to refer to the researches made by the Medical Research Council in an effort to prevent pneumoconiosis and byssinosis in these industries, but it would be unfair to do that now and to make too long a speech when some of my miner colleagues may want to contribute to the debate.

Some of these miners went into the pits as young boys at a time when the Government appealed to them to cut coal to meet the country's needs. They cut the coal irrespective of safety devices and they produced the tonnage. As miners struggle to increase the tonnage, so they increase dust hazards. A graph of the incidence of pneumoconiosis in this period of intensive effort would show how the incidence climbed up among these young, virile, strong men.

Mrs. Slater

Would my hon. Friend not also include the large number of men and women who suffer from this disease, but who are never scheduled as having suffered from it until they die and a post-mortem is held?

Mr. Davies

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.

The point I was making was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), This fact is often forgotten. The nation owes these men something. The case has been made and it is no good reiterating the argument. Let us cut out the politics.

I sincerely hope that the Minister will say, "I cannot give the answer directly now, but I assure the Committee that I shall do something about it." This would prevent our having a Division and hon. Members opposite having to abstain. It would be a first-class act, not of mercy, but of honest-to-goodness justice to people who deserve it, and it would provide satisfaction for those of us who represent the pottery and mining areas.

Let us remember these old warriors of British industry and let us honour them by granting this request as a result of appeals from both sides of the Committee.

Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)

I speak in the debate as the first Member to take part who has neither been a miner nor speaks as a representative of miners. But I speak with some feeling on the subject, having worked for six years in the headquarters of the Transport and General Workers Union, handling compensation cases for workers on the docks, in transport, engineering and a number of other occupations, including,those of ex-miners doing other light jobs after having been forced to leave the mines because of pneumoconiosis.

I was forced to the conclusion that there was no justice in this discrimination between those who had been injured or bad contracted disease before July, 1948, and those injured or diseased after that date. The depressing fact is that those who have argued this case today have argued it again and again over the years, and again and again have had the same stale excuses from Government spokesmen. We now have a new Minister, and we have a new Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who may be replying to the debate. We hope that there will be some new thinking on this point.

5.0 p.m.

One point on which I hope we get some comments is that there is, or should be, a parallel between the way the nation treats the casualties of industry and the way we treat our Service casualties. Indeed, the two schemes are very similar. The assessment for disability for industrial injury and for war casualty are similar. The supplementary benefits and and the like are almost identical.

We do not discriminate between the casualties of war. We pay broadly the same kind of pension to those injured in the 1914 war as we do to those injured in the 1939 war. To do anything else would be intolerable. One could imagine the reaction of the British Legion or other ex-Service groups if there were a different grade of benefits for those injured in the more recent war as compared with the injured of the 1914 war.

What, therefore, is the justification for the dividing line in terms of the casualties of industry? Obviously, it is not the cost. My hon. Friends have shown how small the cost would be when set against the total obligations under the Industrial Injuries Scheme. The stock excuse to which we may be forced to listen again is that on 5th July, 1948, a different kind of scheme was introduced. Formerly, under the workmen's compensation arrangements, liability was upon the employer, but on 5th July, 1948, there was introduced the principle of disability pensions, insurance and all that.

I hope that this will not be elevated into a principle. It is not a principle. If it were, the Government have already breached it, because they already pay supplementary allowances from the Industrial Injuries Fund to the old workmen's compensation cases. If they were not doing that—I do not suggest that they should not do it—it might be more consistent to pay nothing at all. The Government are, however, paying supplementary allowances. Therefore, the point before the Committee is whether these should be raised in common with benefits to be paid to other industrial casualties.

Admittedly, it is difficult to get an exact formula to do precise justice because of the percentage disability assessment under the new Act and the lack of a percentage disability assessment under the old Act. A rough and ready formula was, however, found a few years ago when the first supplementary allowances were paid. A rough and ready equality was achieved temporarily between the old and the newer casualties.

What is not justifiable is that since then, the gap between those injured since 1948 and those injured prior to that year has been allowed to reappear and, under the terms of the Bill, is to be widened. The benefits for the more recent industrial casualties will go up—and we welcome the fact—but this will widen the gap between them and those who are the subject of the Amendment. There is no justification for this iii principle.

We are dealing with people who were injured many years ago, many of them in conditions that were far less safe than people enjoy in industry today. Many people were injured because safety precautions in those days were not as good as they are today. Many people suffered from pneumoconiosis and the other industrial diseases because health precautions in industry, certainly in mining, were nothing as good as they are now.

We owe a special debt to those people. The standard of living has been built up partly by the sacrifices of those who paid the price of being industrial casualties in the past. Therefore, we should not tolerate a position in which they are left further and further behind. It is these people, who, because of their disability, find it difficult to do a job of work, who are the victims of unemployment in the areas now hit by unemployment. The Bill would not have come before us if it were not for the unemployment problem.

Therefore, we should be concerned especially to do justice to those people. Many of them—but not all—are elderly. A young boy aged 16 or 17 who was injured in 1946 or 1947 is still in his early thirties and will face a lifetime of disability. Therefore, what we do in this matter will affect some of these people for a long time ahead. It is time that we had new thinking from the Government and we urge the Minister to have a fresh look at the problem.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

I should like to say a few words in support of the new Clause. The Minister is quite new in his Department. It is probably the first time that he and his two Joint Parliamentary Secretaries have had such an appeal put before them. If they do not respond to this appeal, which comes not only from this side of the Committee, but also from the benches opposite, it means that the humane feelings that most human beings possess are lacking in the Minister and even in the Government if they do not accept the principle of the Amendment.

Many cases have been put forward by my hon. Friends and I shall not, therefore, go into other individual cases, although, as I was the secretary of a miner's branch before I came to the House of Commons in 1959, the number of cases which I could quote are too numerous even to start thinking about.

The principle of the matter is important. I hope that when he replies the Joint Parliamentary Secretary does not tell us what the Labour Government failed to do in 1948. If lie does, he will have some strong and bitter things said to him. So far, nothing of that kind has been said today. The purpose of the debate has been to prove to the Government the suffering which has been imposed unfairly and unjustly upon these people.

Does the Joint Parliamentary Secretary know that there are men who were injured prior to 1948, who were miners before the commencement of the 1939 war but who, for other reasons, had gone into other industries, who during the war were directed back into the mines as part of the fulfilment of the war effort? A number of these men are amongst those who have suffered injury, who have lost an arm or a leg or who have broken down in health because of accident or disease and are not being considered to the extent that they should be.

When it introduced the tremendous change in National Insurance in 1948, the Labour Government would, no doubt, have liked to bring within the orbit of the National Insurance Scheme every case throughout the country. Because of the sudden change in principle, however, some features had to be left to be dealt with in the future. Unfortunately, the opportunity did not arise. It is not sufficient for any member of the Government to say that in 1948 the Labour Government did not do this and, therefore, they are themselves absolved from the responsibility of doing something which is fair and just. I hope that that kind of argument will not be used by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

I should like to add a few words on behalf of many men and women, not only in mining, but throughout the whole of industry, who were injured during the period between 1924 to 1948, who are on slack time as a result of the country's economic circumstances and who lost a limb but were capable of going back to the same kind of work as they did before, possibly even for less remuneration.

By virtue of the fact that they are now working regularly, their partial compensation is not payable, because their wages are higher than they were then. Had they been injured after 5th July, 1948, these people would have been getting a percentage increase equivalent to that received by anyone who lost a limb or an eye or who suffered some other disablement after that date.

All these things ought to be examined in more detail than has ever been done. In our modern society we must be fairer and more just than our predecessors were. When we consider the kind of industry in which men and women had to work, the lack of thought and of human kindness among the employers of that day and the conditions which existed then, and which would not be tolerated in any industry today, we surely realise that we must be fairer to these men. These are the people whom we are forgetting and leaving behind year after year. If we are to give them any feeling of faith and justice, some- thing must be done, and must be done now.

If the Parliamentary Secretary cannot accept this Amendment, I hope that he will accept the principle of it, will examine the whole problem, and will bring back to the House some recommendations which will give satisfaction to these people and make them realise that, even though they were injured before 5th July, 1948, we still have sympathy with them and give consideration to their suffering.

Mr. J. Griffiths

All hon. Members want to take action at once to help these cases. May I say a word about the history? The change from the old Workmen's Compensation Act to the new Industrial Injuries Scheme was the most radical of all changes in our social insurance scheme. It was a change in basic principle and in method and criterion, and it presented a very difficult problem. Let me confess at once that, after consultation with employers and workmen, and not being without experience myself, I found it the most difficult problem of all to find a way by which those who were already in benefit under the old Workmen's Compensation Act could be transferred to benefit under the new Act. The most difficult of all were those who were partially disabled under the old Workmen's Compensation Act.

I want to put the problem as it was in 1948 and to suggest how it can be overcome, because it is still a problem. What I could have done in 1948 under the terms of the Bill, and by regulation, was to bring the partially disabled into the new scheme by having their disability assessed on the basis of loss of faculties. Many of the partially disabled at that time, because of the working of the earnings rules, were getting the equivalent of full compensation for partial disability. The problem was that if I had assessed them under the new Act and paid them disability pensions—I went into this thoroughly and carefully with people of wide experience—in many cases the partially disabled would have received less under the new Act than under the Workmen's Compensation Act.

For the first time in our history, the payment for disablement in industry was moved from the employers and converted to a social insurance scheme. This was the second radical change. There was a change in the method of assessing disability and a change in the method of meeting the liabilities.

At that time the plan was just beginning, but now it has been running for some time. At that time the only experience we had was the experience of war pensions, and I think that I am right in saying that the diversity of the disabilities and accidents in industry is much wider than in respect of war pensions. Because of that, I felt that if we were to take over the old cases the employers ought to make a contribution towards the liability, and I entered into discussions with them to see whether it was possible for this to happen.

I do not want to go over all that now, for a long time has passed. I am simply putting it on record. But I would emphasise that it must not be said that we did nothing for the old cases in 1948. That would not be true. To begin with, they were entitled to unemployability allowance and constant attendance allowance.

In addition—and, it turned out to be much more important—for the first time the disabled workman was able to get his disability pension and sickness benefit. Under the old Workmen's Compensation Act a workman who was receiving workmen's compensation could not at the same time receive sickness benefit. In the 1930s, in South Wales, the average compensation for totally disabled persons was 22s. 4d. a week.

5.15 p.m.

Having put that or record let me come up to the present time. We have been told of the number of old cases in the mining industry there are about 16,000, of whom roughly between one-third and a half are totally disabled and the rest are partially disabled.

I see no difficulty whatever about the Minister accepting the first new Clause— Increase of benefits under Industrial Diseases (Benefit) Acts, 1951 and 1954. That would bring the totally disabled under the Workmen's Compensation Act up to the same benefit as the 100 per cent. disabled under the Industrial Injuries Act. I see no reason why the Minister should not do that now. It is not very complicated or difficult, and it is absolutely fair. I hope that he will, therefore, at least in principle, if not in the wording on the Order Paper, accept that obligation.

Before we leave the new Clause and the Bill we all want to ensure that the totally disabled under the old Workmen's Compensation Act get the same benefit as the 100 per cent. disabled under the Industrial Injuries Scheme. It may be that the draftsmen will feel that the words of the new Clause are not the right words, but the Minister should accept what all hon. Members of the Committee want—to make up this difference about which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) has spoken. Surely we can agree on that.

The second point is more difficult. I turn to the second new Clause of my hon. Friend—"Extension of benefits to certain disabled persons".

Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)

My right hon. Friend has been drawing a distinction and making a comparison between pre-1948 and post-1948 accident cases. Does he agree that the post-1948 cases have an advantage over the pre-1948 cases inasmuch as it is less difficult now, with the abolition of the doctrine of common employment, to get damages at common law?

Mr. Griffiths

Very much so. That is often forgotten, but it is important. At present, a man can get compensation or industrial injuries benefit and, at the same time, in certain circumstances, and subject to the law, he can also get substantial sums under the employers' liability, whereas previously if he received workmen's compensation he could not have employers' liability and vice versa.

I want to say this not only for myself but for my colleagues: we should take these things together—the industrial injuries benefit and the abolition of the doctrine of common employment. I know what the abolition of that doctrine has cost the National Coal Board. We have no reason to be anything but proud of the steps which we took in 1948, but now we have to go further. I see no reason why the Minister should not accept our proposal about total disability whereby the totally disabled under the old Workmen's Compensation Act would be put on exact parity with the 100 per cent. cases under the Industrial Injuries Scheme.

The second question is that of the partials, and how to find an equivalent method which will give them what we propose for the totally disabled. This is more difficult, and I am sure that my hon. Friends know this perfectly well. We should all be wrong if we thought that it was not more difficult, but I do not think that it is impossible of solution.

The Minister has the industrial Injuries Advisory Council and he has frequent consultations with the employers and with the T.U.C. I believe that the employers would be as anxious to do this as would be the miners' union or any other trade union. At any rate, I hope that they would be equally anxious to do this because the Industrial Injuries scheme lifted a considerable burden from them. I think they ought to recognise the fact that one of the changes which we made—I was responsible for it—was that whereas before the total responsibility rested on them it is now shared.

I am sure that some formula can be devised by which the partially disabled should not be left in the lurch. I am sure that the Minister, with the help of the representative bodies and the persons to whom I have referred and with the help of his Industrial Injuries Advisory Council will be able to do that. I hope, therefore, that he will accept in principle these two proposals. The Minister could not tell me last night, but promised to tell me today how much money is in the Fund. A very interesting thing about it is that it does not cost the Government a penny. What do they pay towards it? This is not Government money; this is our money, and I hope that the Minister will leave the matter to a free vote.

It is different with the National Insurance Scheme, and some day I hope to have a chance of discussing why. As it happens, the Industrial Injuries Scheme is in clover. Indeed, so good were the finances of the scheme that when the last Bill was brought forward in 1961 the then Minister said that he had too much money in the "kitty". That is what the then Minister, who is now the Chief Secretary of the Treasury, told us—there was too much money, too much balance, too much surplus in the Fund. We were getting more money than we needed. So the Minister cut the contribution by 1d.

from the employer and 1d. from the employee.

I said at the time that I deeply regretted his doing that. I thought that it was the wrong thing to do. By cutting off that 1d. we have lost£18 million to the Fund. Does not 1d. from each come to£9 million or£10 million a year? I think that that ought to be remembered, but I believe that even now the Fund is in a very good position and can meet this extra cost. I believe that if it were necessary to go to both sides of industry and ask them for another 1d. they would be prepared to pay it. But I do not think there is any need to do that. I believe that the extra involved can be covered by the Fund as it is, especially having regard to the fact, as I said, that two years ago the then Minister said that there was a surplus in the Fund.

One final word to the Minister, and I hope that what I am going to say will not be too much out of order. It concerns a matter which is worrying me and worrying everyone in the mining industry. There was a time not so long ago when we thought that we had really conquered pneumoconiosis. I have seen all the recent figures, and we now face a problem. The proportion of anthracite miners disabled by this disease was always higher than in any other section of miners in the country. It was true then, but is not true now. It is changing, and is one of the consequences of mechanisation. It is one of the things which, as an old coal miner, even now I sometimes do not understand because one of the contributory factors of pneumoconiosis is explosives. I hoped that one day machines would do away with the use of explosives, but the amount used is increasing and, therefore, we get this combination. These men are the old cases.

During the last General Election I took a friend to my constituency. We went to one of my valleys and met some of the miners. I said to one, "How are you?" He said, "Not bad, considering that I am 30." I went to another one and said, "How are you?" He said, "Not bad considering that I am 40." The friend who was with me thought, quite naturally, that the men were referring to their ages. They were not. What they were saying was that they were not bad because they were only 30 or 40 per cent. disabled. That is a language of its own.

There is something between£200 million and£300 million in the Fund, almost Al of which has been contributed by workers and employers. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will decide this afternoon to deal with the matter in the way I have indicated. The problem of the totally disabled can, I think, be easily overcome, but in the case of the partials it is more difficult, though not impossible. I hope that the Minister will accept the two proposals, because I am sure that that would be the wish of every hon. Member in the Committee.

The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

I hope that my intervention at this stage will be helpful. I wish to say how very impressed I have been by the arguments put forward from both sides of the Committee. As the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has said—he very often sums up these matters very succinctly—this is something which it is obviously possible to do in the case of the totally disabled even though it would not be possible to do it in the way suggested in the new Clause. As the Tight hon. Gentleman says, for the partially disabled it is more difficult.

What I would undertake to the Committee to do, if the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) will withdraw the Clause, is to give urgent consideration to the matter. I cannot undertake that this Bill will be the right vehicle for making this change, but I will give urgent consideration to seeing how far we can carry the principle into effect. Obviously, I cannot go further this afternoon. In the circumstances, I think that the Committee will excuse me from going in detail into all the arguments, or from replying in detail to the questions which the right hon. Gentleman has raised today, although, if he wishes, my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will answer them.

I am sorry that I missed some of the right hon. Gentleman's speech when I was out of the Chamber for a short while. If the Committee will accept that undertaking, I shall be glad to consider the matter as one of urgency and I hope that, having said that, the hon. Member for Bedwellty will find it possible to withdraw his Clause.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

Are we to understand what the right hon. Gentleman has said—this is how I understood it—in the sense that he really does believe that, given the time, he will be able to accept the content and purpose of the new Clause and assimilate it into present legislation?

Mr. Macpherson

I hope that the Committee will not press me to go further than I have. I have undertaken to give urgent and, I assure the Committee, most sympathetic consideration to implementing the principle so far as it can be done.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent. South)

I have sat here throughout the whole debate, and I think that it would have been wrong if I had not tried to catch your eye, Mr. Blackburn, since I have the privilege to represent part of a city the people of which have suffered more from these industrial diseases than have others in any other part of the world. I join with my hon. Friends from Stoke-on-Trent in adding force to the plea which has been put to the Minister. One of them, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater), who is sitting beside me now, has lived among the people who have suffered in the way I have described. The other, a great soul, who is at present lying in bed himself, has specialised in the respiratory afflictions caused by industrial disease and has earned the gratitude of the working class of our great industrial area.

There are Blue Books and records of statistics in the Library which go to prove what I have to say. The facts are well known. I can see in my mind's eye now, as clearly as I can see anyone in this Chamber, the two processions of people in the city of Stoke-on-Trent over thirty years ago, one composed of men and women going to sign on in their thousands because of unemployment, the other composed of people with cream-white faces going to meet their friends or going to the parks and recreation grounds. In those days, hundreds of people in Stoke-on-Treat and north Staffordshire generally suffered from what was known then as silicosis and potter's rot, the disease now referred to as penumoconiosis. We know the cumulative effect of the legacy we have inherited from those dark days.

Today, there are not only the miners who have suffered from these diseases over the years but there are new cases of miners being similarly afflicted. One of the most modern pits in the world is situated in my constituency. My hon. Friend and I have had the privilege of going to the coal face and seeing the mechanised processes there, the beautiful lighting, and the best possible conditions for work. But we know that, in spite of what has been done, the increased mechanisation which makes it possible to mine coal more quickly than ever before is giving rise to more dust. In spite of efforts made to minimise its effect, the dust is still causing pneumoconiosis. Water has been applied, sand has been applied, the results of research have been put into effect, but the dust still rises where the men get the coal today at a tempo which has to be seen to be believed.

I pay a tribute to all my hon. and right hon. Friends who have spoken. I have listened today to one of the most informative debates I have ever heard in the House of Commons. It is to the credit of the Leader of the House that he has been in his place almost throughout. The Minister himself has done the same. He went out for only a short time. If he went out for a cup of tea, I do not blame him; I have been very inclined to do the same, although I did not because I was so keen to speak that I did not wish to miss my opportunity. The hon. and gallant Gentleman and the hon. Lady, the two Parliamentary Secretaries, have been with us throughout.

Thus, not only will the debate be on record in cold print but those four right hon. and hon. Members of the Government will have listened to the informative and sincere speeches which have been made by my hon. Friends, among them men who have worked right at the coal face, and one of whom is suffering from pneumoconiosis himself. Those of us who represent the city of Stoke-on-Trent associate ourselves with all that has been said.

Now, a few words about the pottery industry itself. Those who have spoken have, I think, done justice to the mining industry. The pottery industry, as a result of the enormous increase in output, is suffering to an extent greater than is usually realised. I have seen wonderful improvements during the thirty years of my association with the area. I give all credit where it is due, to the trade union movement in particular, to the medical profession which has served us so well and carried out research and development based upon its findings, to the manufacturers and to the many public-spirited men and women whose efforts in accumulating knowledge and experience have led to great progress.

But people still suffer from pneumoconiosis, no matter how nearly perfect the conditions are. No matter how earnestly people desire to minimise the effect of dust, it is still there. I was very pleased, therefore, when the Minister gave his undertaking. I hope that, before we part with the new Clause, the Minister will give a further undertaking that he will implement his pledge within a given time. It will be for him to consult the Leader of the House and his colleagues on what the time should be. But this suffering has persisted for so long, and we have such an unanswerable case, that, while we appreciate the undertaking the right hon. Gentleman has given, we feel it reasonable to ask him to go a stage further and put a time limit upon the implementation of his undertaking.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

My hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) has sat here throughout the whole debate and was fully prepared and eager to press the case upon the Minister. However, having regard to his intervention a few minutes ago she feels with me that, out of courtesy to the Minister, I should make just a few remarks.

The Minister has earned the Committee's respect—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—in rising so readily to give such a full assurance which undoubtedly satisfies my right hon. and hon. Friends who feel so deeply about this matter. It would be wrong, I think, to ask the Minister to find a solution in time to put it in the Bill because the Bill itself is urgent and we do not want to delay it. Nevertheless, the Minister gave a pledge—and I am sure that it was sincerely and honourably given—that he will give urgent attention—it is more than "earnest" attention—to this matter, and that we must accept.

It so happens that my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley), on Friday week on a Private Member's Motion, will be raising many questions relating to industrial injuries. Can I hope that that day, 15th February, will provide the Minister with an opportunity of making a further statement? We shall, of course, understand if he has not found a solution by then. We do not want to he unreasonable with the Minister, but, having had this response from him, those who tomorrow, indeed tonight, will hear of this assurance will pray for the day when we hear more and will hope for a solution to a grievance which they have so long felt and which is shared by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

I am sure that the Committee has been most impressed by the powers of advocacy and deep feeling of nay right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). I can understand why, in the face of this array of wide experience and deep feeling, the Minister has felt that he must respond to the mood and spirit of the Committee. This is something of a triumph for our Parliamentary procedure. Had the right hon. Gentleman turned a deaf ear to our pleas, we should have lost confidence in the ability of this Committee to impose its will on the Executive.

Therefore, may I say on behalf of my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends that we are satisfied with the assurance which the Minister has given because we know that he will implement it and that he will not unduly delay doing so. The word of his own choice was "urgent". He knows that he must not only come here very soon with some proposals but that they must be satisfactory proposals.

In these circumstances, I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) to respond to the appeal of the Minister and to withdraw his proposed new Clause content in the knowledge that in the several hours that we have discussed this matter we have done a really good job of work.

Mr. Finch

In view of the Minister's assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.