HC Deb 20 April 1964 vol 693 cc865-7
39. Miss Lee

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he will introduce amending legislation to enable any mineworker suffering from pneumoconiosis, chronic bronchitis or emphysema to claim full insurance benefit if he has worked for five years or more underground, even though doubt may exist as to whether his condition arises directly from his work in tae mines.

Mr. Wood

No, Sir. I assume the hon. Lady has in mind the higher rates of benefit under the Industrial Injuries scheme. To justify the preferential benefits of that scheme it is essential for the connection between a person's work and his injury or disease to be clearly established. This is not so with bronchitis and emphysema, which are common complaints among all sections of the community; but with pneumoconiosis the position is quite different, because its connection with the conditions of employment has been clearly established. Where a miner is found to have the disease, it is assumed to have been caused by his occupation providing he has worked in the mines for over two years.

Miss Lee

Is the Minister aware that there are some heart-breaking cases in which there is disputed medical evidence? If the bringing of all men suffering from those complaints up to the highest possible payment level cannot be covered by the present insurance provisions, surely a compassionate Government ought to find some other way of ensuring that the end result is achieved; that no man who has been working underground and is suffering from any of those diseases should be deprived of maximum benefit.

Mr. Wood

The Government are bound by Section 55(2) of the 1946 Act which, as the hon. Lady knows, requires a disease to be a risk of the occupation and not a risk common to all persons. The incidence of bronchitis and emphysema is common not just among miners.

Sir B. Stross

Would the Minister bear in mind, however, that workers in the cotton industry who inhale dust from cotton and sustain a disease called byssinosis—which is asthma, with bronchitis and bronchial spasms—after 10 years' work qualify for Industrial Injury benefit. Would he not agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) is right in asking for a similar 10 years' grace, so that men who enter fit into the mining industry and later suffer from pulmonary disability, bronchitis, bronchial spasm, emphysema and shortness of breath generally, should be classed as suffering from industrial disease?

Mr. Wood

Many of the issues mentioned by the bon. Lady obviously arise in the cases mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Sir B. Stross). If the hon. Gentleman likes to put down a specific question on the subject, I will do my best to answer it.

Mr. Dalyell

The Minister says that chronic bronchitis is to be found among all sections of the community, but is he aware of the high correlation between chronic bronchitis and employment in the mining industry?

Mr. Wood

It is true, as the hon. Member says, that the incidence of bronchitis tends to be higher among miners, but it tends to be higher still among miners' wives. That is one of the things that makes the problem very difficult to deal with.

Miss Herbison

But is not the Minister aware that for many years now there has been agitation to have not only pneumoconiosis scheduled as an industrial disease but to have general chest disabilities so scheduled? Will the Minister at least promise to have this whole matter investigated again, because great hardship is certainly caused in the mining industry, and in the steel industry, with things as they are at present?

Mr. Wood

I am always ready to consider any evidence brought forward about this matter, but while it is certainly true that bronchitis is more common among some groups than others—for instance, it is more common among smokers than among non-smokers, and more common in towns than in the country—it has not yet been established that it is an occupational disease of miners.