HC Deb 05 August 1966 vol 733 cc895-900

11.42 a.m.

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

I beg to move, That the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Amendment Order 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 27th July, be approved. This Order amends the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Order, 1963, made under the powers now contained in Sections 46 and 47 of the National Insurance Act, 1965 as applied by Section 82 of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1965.

These provisions enable the Minister to approve a supplementary scheme asked for by any body of insured persons and their employers and also give certain powers relating to the administration of an approved scheme and the supervision of the funds. Section 47(1) of the National Insurance Act, 1965 empowers the Minister to vary or amend an approved scheme, if requested to do so by those concerned. These powers are to be exercised by orders which, under Section 107(1) of that Act, are subject to affirmative resolutions in both Houses of Parliament.

The Special Orders Committee of the House of Lords requested in 1961 that the original 1948 Order and its amending orders should be consolidated. This was done in 1963 and there has since been only one other amending order, which I had the pleasure of bringing before the House on 15th March, 1965.

The Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme is the only one approved under the Sections to which I have referred. It was made in 1948 and provides supplementary benefits for colliery workers receiving benefit under the Industrial Injuries Act in respect of colliery accidents or diseases. It is a contributory scheme and the cost of the benefits and the administration is borne by a fund formed by contributions from the National Coal Board and the colliery workers. At present the Board's contribution is 6¼d. a ton of the saleable output of deep-mined coal and the worker's contribution is 6¼d. a week, with lower rates for women and juveniles.

The general administration of the Scheme rests with the National Committee, consisting of five employers' representatives and five workers' representatives. Four of the five employers' representatives are appointed by the National Coal Board and one by the Federation of Small Mines of Great Britain. Four of the five workers' representatives are appointed by the National Union of Mineworkers and one by the Minister to represent workers who are not members of the N.U.M. At present this fifth member is a nominee of the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shot-firers.

The Scheme pays benefits in supplementation of injury benefit, disablement benefit, industrial widow's pension and the allowance to a woman having care of a child of a colliery worker who died as a result of a colliery accident or disease. The supplements to injury and disablement benefit are expressed as a proportion of those benefits—for example, one-third of injury benefit, plus 2s. 6d. rounded up or down to the nearest 6d. The supplement to the present rate of injury benefit and 100 per cent. disablement pension of 135s. is, therefore, 47s. 6d. The supplements to widows' pensions and to the allowance for women having care of a child are expressed as figures in the Order and are at present 47s. 6d. a week for a widow with a child, or aged 40 or over, and for a woman having care of a child, and 14s. for a childless widow under 40.

The supplementary benefits are paid by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance with the related industrial injuries benefits with certain exceptions, where, for example, the beneficiary is working for the National Coal Board and the benefit can be paid with his earnings by the Board.

The National Committee has agreed upon, and requested, the Minister to make all the amendments in the Order. Consequently there is no dissension, it being an agreed arrangement. The Government Actuary has approved the revised contributions. With the exception of Article 5 of the Order—which brings about a minor procedural change—the amendments result from the introduction by the National Insurance Act, 1966, of an earnings-related supplement which will be payable with injury benefit and will, by the proposed amendments, to a large extent replace colliery workers' supplement to injury benefit.

The colliery workers supplement will be paid only where and in so far as the earnings-related supplement falls short of the normal colliery workers' supplement rate of £2 7s. 6d. a week, subject to an income limit on total benefits. The limit operates at present after the first three weeks and restricts the amount of the colliery workers' supplementary injury or disablement benefit to the difference between "pre-accident earnings" and "post-accident earnings", if any, plus certain benefits.

This limit will be brought forward to the dates when the earnings-related supplement comes into payment; that is, normally at the end of two weeks, but in some cases earlier than that. Administration is simplified by altering the period to which the "pre-accident earnings" relate to coincide normally with the relevant tax year. Colliery workers' supplement will, however, be unaffected by any income limit and will continue to be paid in full when an earnings-related supplement is payable with industrial death benefit for widows during the first six months after bereavement.

There will be a saving in payment of benefit from the Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme of approximately £1.1 million in 1967 and it is proposed that the contributions paid by employers and workers should be correspondingly reduced. As this Scheme is agreed by the National Committee and by the Minister, I hope that it will commend itself to the House.

11.50 a.m.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

Before turning to the substance of the Order Mr. Speaker, I should like to draw your attention to the fact that this is, in a sense, a rather historic moment because this is the last appearance at the Dispatch Box of the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. I am sure that we should like to take our official leave of both of them and to thank them and, indeed, their predecessors, for what they have done in a remarkable Ministiy and that we will be able to welcome the same distinguished Members in their new titles which, in the short space of time that the Government have to run, we hope they will continue to enjoy.

As the hon. Gentleman said in his clear explanation, there is no dispute about the Order, which we certainly hope to see come into effect. I think, however, that we should highlight the fact that this is a very remarkable Scheme that we are amending. For example, no part of the cost of it falls on any moneys which are voted by this House. To that extent, it must be something remarkable and I do not think that we should allow however modest or right an Amendment to the Scheme to go by without some reference to that fact. I understand that the Amendment is necessary because of the new arrangements which both sides of the industry support for the earnings-related benefits.

I have two small points to raise. They are not controversial in any way. The first concerns the actuarial review. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to refer to this and I understand that the Government Actuary has looked at the revised figures, has considered the scale of contributions by both sides and has satisfied himself and so advised the Government that the proposed rates of contribution by both sides are appropriate for the benefits which will now be paid under the new arrangements.

I also understand that there is to be a further actuarial review at the end of the year. I take it—and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will be able to confirm whether this is so—that if there should be at the end of the year, although it will still be early days, any signs that the calculations are in any way wrong, he will not hesitate to come to the House again so that we can get the matter into the right balance.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman will remember from previous discussions that this House is very watchful to ensure that those affected by any of these schemes have the opportunity of understanding very clearly what is afoot. I have in mind the new Article 14A, which is introduced by Article 6 of this Order, because this touches the very special case of those with pneumoconiosis.

The hon. Gentleman will recall how anxious we in this House have been to ensure that those affected by this dreadful disease—although small in number when taking the country as a whole, but nevertheless an important group—should benefit by the changes now proposed in the new Article 14A. As I understand it, in the case of pneumoconiosis, injury benefit is not paid. I think that that follows from the Explanatory Memorandum which, the Ministry has helpfully issued. Disablement benefit is paid, attracting sickness benefit with earnings-related supplement. That is why we have to have the new provision of Article 14A.

It is all very well for us to go carefully through these matters in this House. The hon. Member is ably advised and even hon. Members on this side may have the training as well as the ability to understand these words. But we are dealing here with people who do not have pretentions to that advice or to that training and we must make these provisions as simple as we can. If the hon. Gentleman could explain a little more how the Scheme works with pneumoconiosis it would be a little more helpful, but I shall understand if he feels that he should take more time to consider his reply. I hope that the facts will be made available in simple form and in laymen's language so that the Scheme is intelligible to them. If he could give that simple assurance, we should be happy to see the Order go through.

11.55 a.m.

Mr. Harold Davies

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) for his kind remarks about the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and I should like to say that his tribute is due to Administrations from both sides of the House, for much of the work done by the Ministry transcends political issues because we all want the best social security and pensions that we can get. I am grateful for the courteous tribute he paid to my right hon. Friend the Minister, to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and to myself.

I will try now and answer concisely and constructively the questions he put. I am grateful to him for pointing out that no part of the cost of the moneys falls upon the Exchequer as such but comes from both sides of the industry—the National Coal Board and the miners.

The hon. Gentleman asked that this scheme should be made clear. I assure him that the National Union of Mine-workers and the National Coal Board do their utmost to see that the working of the Scheme is put in crystal clear language so that it can be understood in the mining and industrial areas. He will also know of the high I.Q. of people in the mining industry. It does not take long for those working in the industry to master the details of such schemes.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the actuarial review and I confirm that in December another actuarial review is to take place. I would not like to commit myself in detail without deeper thought, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that if there is need to come back to the House and explain anything of importance that the House should know we will not on any account withhold that information from the House.

There is also the question of the interpretation of Article 6 which introduces the new Article 14A. It deals at paragraph (b) with the replacement of the colliery workers' supplement by earnings-related supplement in cases of pneumoconiosis. As the hon. Gentleman said, in this case no injury benefit is paid but disablement benefit is paid instead from the date of the development of the disease and sickness benefit with earnings-related supplement—and I think that this is the point he wanted on record—can be paid in addition to the disablement benefit.

Provision has therefore been made for reducing the colliery workers' supplement by the amount of any earnings-related supplement paid with the sickness benefit in respect of the incapacity due to pneumoconiosis during the period when injury benefit would otherwise be payable—that is, the 26 weeks following the date of development of the disease.

I have tried to answer the hon. Gentleman's question but if, on reading HANSARD, he is not quite satisfied or wants some clarification, it will be my pleasure to write or talk to him and get it clear.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries), (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Amendment Order, 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 27th July, be approved.