Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Scheme 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 26th January, be approved.—[Mr. Harold Davies.]
§ Mr. Geoffrey Howe (Bebington)
With respect, Mr. Speaker, the Order needs an affirmative Resolution of the House. It has not been explained by anyone on behalf of the Government.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Harold Davies)
Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if, at the same time, we discussed and sought approval for the second Scheme on the Order Paper:That the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit Scheme 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 26th January, be approved.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have no objection if the House has no objection. The right hon. Lady has moved the first Order. The House can debate both Orders together, and I will put the two Questions separately.
§ Mr. Davies
The two Schemes put into effect the changes introduced by the Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Amendment) Act, 1965 for old cases—that is, for persons with a disability due to employment before the Industrial Injuries Act came into force on 5th July, 1948. Although the Industrial Injuries Act, 1946, repealed the Workmen's Compensation Acts, their provisions continued in force for these old cases. Compensation for old cases remained the liability of employers and was related to the loss of earnings—as defined in the old legislation—due to the injury.
Many measures were adopted after 1948 providing for payments from the Industrial Injuries Fund to meet hardship among these men, with the result that a very complex system evolved. The Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Amendment) Act, 1965, not only extended the scope of these allowances to another 10,000 men, but also rationalised the whole complex of allowances. At this 150 point it is only just that I should pay tribute to both sides of the House for the ease with which the original Act went through Parliament and enabled us—so early tonight—to bring this scheme before the House.
Old cases fall broadly into two groups. First, men on workmen's compensation. They will be dealt with under the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Scheme. Secondly, the time-barred men, who will be dealt with under the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit Scheme.
The current schemes will be replaced by the new ones, for which the present administrative board will continue to function. The board for each scheme consists of the same personnel, namely, a chairman and a deputy chairman, who are both experienced lawyers, members appointed by the Ministry after consultation with the employers' and employees' association, two from each side, and two senior members of the Minister's staff.
The draft schemes reproduce much of the material of the existing schemes, for example, the rules for claims and payments, adjudication and conduct of business. The only changes are those necessary to give effect to the requirements of the 1965 Act. It is important, because these are complicated matters, that I should emphasise that the only changes are those necessary to give effect to the requirements of the 1965 Act. Both also contain the usual provisions to ensure a smooth transition from the old to the new Schemes.
Some of my hon. Friends and others who are interested in these matters have expressed the view that the interpretation of Schedule 1 is somewhat difficult. I am not surprised that those who have had to follow these matters over the years—and I pay tribute to the trade union and miners' groups on this—have found some difficulty in this matter. However, the leaflets which we will issue will have a table set out in a more direct form.
The Schedule must be read with particular reference to Article 5 (2) of the draft Statutory Instrument. The first column refers to the loss of earnings as estimated by the board and not the loss of earnings as estimated for workmen's compensation purposes. A loss of earnings of between 1s. and 9s. 11d. will 151 qualify for the 2s. 6d. rate of allowance, and a loss of earnings of between 10s. and 19s. 11d. will qualify for an allowance of 5s., and so on, down the table of allowances.
It is important to note that a person with a small loss of earnings for workmen's compensation purposes could qualify for the top, 47s. 6d., rate of lesser incapacity allowance if the board found loss of earnings of 125s. or more. A study of the first 1,000 cases being dealt with by the board suggests that a very high proportion of claimants will benefit in this way. That is why, on Second Reading, we felt that hon. Members who represented industrial areas where these old cases existed would find that a number of people who deserved it would receive benefit as a result of the implementation of this legislation.
The implementation of the 1965 Act called for a recasting of the existing supplementation scheme. This is effected by the draft scheme now before the House. Similarly, a scheme was required to deal with time-barred men, and the opportunity is taken to incorporate in the second draft scheme now before the House the existing schemes applying also to those men.
Altogether, the two new schemes will affect about 27,000 men. These include getting on for 5,000 totally disabled men, of whom over 1, 000 benefit under the "time-barred" scheme; and a further 12,000 partially disabled existing beneficiaries of whom about half are dealt with under each Scheme. Lastly, about 10,000 new beneficiaries will receive the new "lesser incapacity allowance". The cost of these improvements will be rather more than £1 million in the first year, declining thereafter.
The 1965 Act, which received the Royal Assent on 22nd December last, comes into operation on 1st March, and in order that these men will get their benefits from the earliest possible date these draft schemes are also planned to come into operation on 1st March. Once affirmative Resolutions have been secured from both Houses of Parliament, the schemes can formally be made, and the board administering them can go ahead with that part of its work which can only be initiated after these essential preliminaries have been completed.
152 To save time, all that can be done in advance of the normal making of the scheme will have been done, to bring into payment as many new allowances as possible on the first pay day after 1st March.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Howe (Bebington)
I join with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in paying tribute to all concerned with this Act and these schemes for the speed with which the schemes have been brought before the House in accordance with the undertakings given when the Measure was receiving its Second Reading. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) then made clear, we on this side at that time gave our undertaking to do everything possible to get the provisions implemented as quickly as possible, and we are glad to be able to do so.
It is rather a solemn reflection that, as the hon. Gentleman has explained, these two very cumbersome and complex Statutory Instruments represent rationalisation of that which went before. "Rationalisation" is a word much in favour with hon. Members opposite, and it is as well for them to bear in mind, when they apply it to other things, the complications that can flow from any attempt to rationalise even such a small matter as this.
One or two questions occur to me when comparing the two schemes. The answers may well lie in the fact that the schemes have different historical origins, but it will be useful to the House to have a precise explanation. First of all, both schemes provide—one in Regulation 14 and the other in Regulation 15—that the decision of the board shall be final. Are we to take it that that excludes, as I think it must, any right of appeal in the ordinary way from the decision of the board to the courts, or any other independent body?
The second question really flows from the first. It is odd, if the right of appeal in general is so excluded, to find express provision in Regulation 15 of the pneumoconiosis scheme for a limited right of appeal on the one point dealt with in that regulation. The hon. Gentleman will recollect that that regulation provides for the board to have a right to refer to an insurance officer certain 153 questions if it is of the opinion that they arise.
It goes on to provide that where the insurance officer decides those questions there shall be the ordinary right of appeal in accordance with the Industrial Injuries Act. It seems odd that that limited right of appeal should be preserved under one scheme and not on the other on that one point but not apparently on anything else. Am I right in thinking that there is in general no right of appeal in either of these schemes?
Why is there the discrepancy between the two schemes as between Regulation 21 of the pneumoconiosis scheme and Regulation 19 of the workmen's compensation scheme? Regulation 21 makes special provision in sub-paragraph (2) for death benefits, but the corresponding regulation for the workmen's compensation scheme makes no provision for death benefit. There may be a perfectly good reason for this, but it does not strike one at first sight. Perhaps the most important point is that in both regulations it is provided that, in general, no allowances shall be paid for a period of more than six months before the date on which the claim is made. I take it that it means there will be no retrospective payment of allowances and people brought into these schemes for the first time will be entitled to only six months' back benefit.
I take it that that is the general intention and I quite understand why, but what I am not clear about is what the limits are to the discretion of the board and the administrative board under these regulations. Under both it is provided that in any particular case the board may determine that the allowance shall be payable from some earlier date. No specific limit is drawn to that discretion to give retrospective allowances. The death benefit provision is on quite specific grounds. It is provided that the board may give back payment when there is reasonable cause for failure to make payment earlier.
I am a little concerned with the words giving the board the right to determine as they may lead to a wide-ranging and not necessarily consistent discretion being exercised. It will be difficult when a man requires back payment and says, "You have the right to determine that my back payment should be more than six months. 154 Why do you not take account of my hardship and make payment for longer than six months?". I am a little disturbed that there is no guidance given to the board under that provision.
If I read the schemes aright, I am glad to see that they both take account of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham, who expressed the hope that no one would be penalised by the changes being made and no one would be worse off now than before the Act was passed. That seems to have been achieved. I should like to know, however, whether the provisions of the schemes have been considered, or are to be considered, by the Council on Tribunals before the regulations and schemes are brought before the House. My understanding of the procedure since the Tribunals and Inquiries Act was passed is that any administrative or quasi-administrative body of this kind has to have its procedure and establishment approved by the Council. I should like to know whether this procedure has been thoroughly approved in that way by the Council.
During the Second Reading of the Bill under which these schemes are made my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharpies) drew the attention of the Government to the necessity for giving the utmost possible publicity to these schemes and the changes so that all the 27,000 potentially affected should know about them. My hon. Friend made the point expressly that it must not be assumed that all of these people, some of them unemployed now for some years, are necessarily in close contact with their trade union organisations and thus able to learn about it on the industrial grapevine. The Parliamentary Secretary said that revised leaflets would be prepared setting out the pattern of the scheme. I hope that this debate in itself will have served to give additional publicity to the fact that these changes are being made with the approval of both sides of the House.
I should like to have the Parliamentary Secretary's assurance that some more specific attempt will be made to publicise these measures as widely as possible so that no one who is entitled to these benefits will go without them through ignorance of what has been done.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I rise with some diffidence because, like my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary but unlike some of my hon. Friends, I do not have the benefit of expert trade union advice in this matter. My hon. Friend will know what I refer to, since he and I were recently at a conference which dealt with problems confronting the mining industry in our constituencies.
I ask two relatively short points. First, can my hon. Friend offer information about the technical efficiency of the medical board in the diagnosis of pneumoconiosis and byssinosis? I imagine that many hon. Members who represent mining areas will appreciate that the technical efficiency of a medical board as provided under this scheme may justify some further scrutiny in the light of more modern methods of diagnosis.
I mention the point because, speaking for myself, I have had many occasions when there have been long-drawn-out claims and considerations of claims for benefit which have ultimately taken place in an atmosphere when our constituents have been in a very poor state of health as a result of their work in the mining industry. I should like my hon. Friend's assurance that his Ministry plays some part, presumably in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, in ensuring that the medical board not only has the funds but has the expertise to ensure that a diagnosis is really up to date.
My second point concerns the question of delayed claims. My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that many cases arise where a man has come out of the industry for a period of years and, as a result of a post mortem, it has been established that he has, in fact, suffered from his work in an industry from which he may have retired many years before. This has produced a degree of uncertainy in establishing claims to benefit or to the death allowance and I would ask my hon. Friend whether he is satisfied that the principal board takes into account the delay factor in establishing claims.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)
I want to raise a point very similar to that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow). 156 The administrative board is given very wide powers by Regulations 16 and 29. Regulation 13 empowers the board to refer the case to a registered medical practitioner. One's experience of byssinosis in the cotton trade is that, apart from the clear and obvious cases, the medical world is frequently in much doubt as to whether the case is established. The man before them may have all the environmental history which would lead an ordinary layman to the opinion that his condition has resulted from his work in a certain industry, but that opinion cannot be reached unless there are some medical facts to justify it. The situation is frequently and regrettably resolved by the post-mortem examination. When I see in my local newspaper reports of post mortems which reveal byssinosis as the cause of death, I believe they are the most distressing cases that one can find.
I therefore ask the Minister, without trying to take sides in the medical arguments whether an appellant has got the disease or not, to appreciate that there is a vast number of in-between cases—cases in which one cannot say "black" or "white"; it is not a case of "yes", nor is it a case of "no". Ultimately, we have the situation in which one says "I wish we had known, but now it is too late."
I therefore suggest that one medical practitioner is not enough. I believe that at least two opinions are desirable, and, if possible, opinions from two medical people who are known to have really healthy, although probably different, views about the matter.
Another point I wish to put in connection with the administrative board is this. In matters involving common law rights the House and the country have approved of people having access to legal aid, the assumption being that many of our constituents are uninformed about the law, which is perfectly true, and equally that very large numbers have not the money with which to purchase that knowledge. I have no complaint about that, except that it is a fine heyday for the profession. However, I have no complaint of the general picture.
I say to the Minister as sincerely as I can that, in this matter of industrial bad health arising from industrial conditions, there is no legal aid. No aid is given 157 to the man who feels, nearly always correctly, that his health is undermined because of his work. We give legal aid to the citizen who is doubtful about his common law rights. But where he is doubtful about medical opinions, where he firmly believes that the disease has arisen from his work and where medical opinion is cold and abstract, we ought to be able to say to the appellant, "We are prepared in reasonable circumstances to pay for whatever outside medical opinion you care to get, so that that opinion may be submitted to the appropriate board." This is elementary justice.
I know the trade unions do all they can in: this direction. The cotton unions in Lancashire co-operate to a marked degree in this respect, but there is still a large area of doubt. I would feel much happier if I could say to the people who visit me—and I am sure that this applies to other hon. Members as well—"Let us get an opinion from any doctor you care to consult. So long as the fee is not unreasonable, it can be borne by the Ministry so that there can be a fair medical assessment from that doctor and from another medical practitioner drawn from the Ministry."
I make that suggestion to the Minister so that in the operation of the administrative boards this essential human lubricating oil can be administered, thus making the scheme much more satisfactory.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Am I right in my interpretation of the scheme in thinking that a person suffering from byssinosis or pneumoconiosis is entitled to benefit and not limited by having to be engaged in a scheduled occupation? Is it not obvious that anyone suffering from byssinosis or pneumoconiosis has contracted the illness through his occupation?
I recently had an unfortunate case of a constituent who had been working in a factory where both cotton and woollen goods were made and who had contracted the disease, but who, because he was working in the cotton section of the industry, was not able to receive benefit. I want to be clear that my interpretation is right and that now if a man is found to be suffering from either disease he will be entitled to benefit, quite apart from the occupation in which he is engaged.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) has raised a very important matter. Historically, no one who has suffered from either of these diseases has caught it other than as a result of his occupation and it is a bit hard if a chap who works on the cotton side of the industry, which is not scheduled, does not qualify for benefit while if he had worked on the woollen side he would have qualified because that is scheduled. I hope that the Minister will go into that.
I rose mostly to support what the hon. Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Mapp) had to say about medical advice. It is not much consolation to a widow to be told that as the result of a post mortem it is clear that her husband should have been drawing benefit for many years. It is then a bit late in the day to say that he was suffering from the disease.
The hon. Gentleman made a very powerful speech in a short time—perhaps because it was short, it was more powerful—on the subject of a medical examination. I do not entirely agree with what he had to say about having two medical examiners, because that might lead to an impasse. If there is to be more than one doctor, perhaps there ought to be three rather than two. However, apart from that disagreement, I strongly support what he had to say.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
My hon. Friend spoke of sending out leaflets so that those who deserve the help to be provided by the scheme would know about it. Can he tell us more about what methods he proposes to use? For instance, does he propose to use the services of the Post Office and have notices displayed in post offices where people collect their pensions? Will the notices be shown in doctors' surgeries, for instance? Are they to be sent direct to the trade unions, to branches, and so on?
This excellent scheme is to be welcomed. The impression that because industry is being modernised the incidence of these two diseases is being reduced is not borne out in fact. Certainly, the machinery going into the pits is likely to cause more pneumoconiosis than did the 159 old machinery. However, my main comment is that it is no good having all these provisions unless every effort is made, and not only through leaflets, to draw them to the attention of those concerned.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies
As always, both sides of the House have shown intense interest in these issues of workmen's compensation and industrial diseases and injuries, but the House does not seem to be fully aware of what is being done. Without wishing to sound pompous, I want to try to clarify the position, and I will give further clarification if hon. Members want it.
Hon. Members have missed an important point. While hon. Members are naturally interested in the fundamental problems of industrial injuries and diseases which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) pointed out, were discussed with the miners not long ago, the problem of the diagnosis of pneumoconiosis is not what we are now considering. That does not mean that we are neglecting this vital problem because we are daily looking at ways of approaching the question of diagnosis. On the question about publicity, we are using all available methods but I will see that the suggestions made reach the Minister.
Let us see what we are doing and what these Schemes are about. The Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Scheme, 1966, improves and extends allowances payable out of the Industrial Injuries Fund in respect of injury or disease arising out of employment before July, 1948. That means that if we are to go in depth into some of these questions I would be ruled out of order.
The other scheme, the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit Scheme, 1966, provides for payment of benefit out of the Industrial Injuries Fund in respect of disablement or death for certain diseases arising out of employment before 5th July, 1948 in cases where neither workmen's compensation nor benefit under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1965, was payable. I think that the Opposition will agree that that is a succinct summary of what we are talking about.
§ Sir D. Glover
I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that even someone who contracted this disease before 1948 has still to establish medical grounds to qualify.
§ Mr. Davies
That is quite right, but we know all of these people who contracted it before that date. This is one of the things which we are trying to put right so that the medical people are not dragged in quite so much. I do not use the words "dragged in" in any derogatory sense.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) will accept the general statement and will realise, through his knowledge of the procedure of the House, that if I were to follow this matter in depth I would be ruled out of order.
§ Mr. Blackburn
My knowledge of the procedure of the House was responsible for the form in which I put my question.
§ Mr. Davies
With due respect to my hon. Friend's knowledge of the procedure of the House, he has shown lack of knowledge of the affirmative Motion with which we are now dealing.
Several points were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Litchfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow). I want to keep the debate on the narrow issue. The House has accepted my interpretation. What follows is important and I want to get it crystal clear. We are now dealing with the questions raised about the adjudication systems in these two schemes—
§ Mr. Snow
I hope that my hon. Friend will not discard my point. He said that I was on a bad point because I was talking about claims which might be of a recent type. I was, on the contrary, talking about claims in respect of a man who might have contracted one of these diseases prior to 1948. My hon. Friend must know from his experience that cases arise where old men suddenly become extremely ill or even die. In the post mortem and by reference to the man's history, there is a prima facie case that the man worked for a long time in industry and contracted the disease before 1948 but has never had benefit. Perhaps, therefore, my hon. Friend will be a little more patient with me. I think that I was in order.
§ Mr. Davies
I did not say that my hon. Friend was out of order.
I wanted at that moment to deal with the question of the adjudication system, to which the hon. and learned Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) referred. I acknowledge that it is an important point which one should try to clarify. If at the end of my explanation the hon. and learned Member and his hon. Friends are not satisfied, I will certainly see that they have a complete interpretation of it this week.
Without going into the question of claims perhaps I may deal with the rather technical problem as it concerns this difficult Statutory Instrument. The Workmen's Compensation Scheme is a scheme for supplementing existing workmen's compensation. Death grants are payable under the Workmen's Compensation Act and fall to be determined by the ordinary courts between the two parties, namely, the employer and the employee. Consequently, they do not form part of the scheme.
The Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit Scheme is for those persons who, although their disease was contracted before July, 1948, were not able to claim compensation because they were time-barred—this replies to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth; we have discussed this concerning miners—when the disease first manifested itself. The scheme is intended broadly to give them what they might have had by way of workmen's compensation. In other words, the scheme is broadly to try to give them, as we agreed, rough justice. It is complicated. There is no easy mathematical formula by which one can arrive at the answers.
The scheme does this, however, by way of flat-rate allowances—not wage-related allowances—death benefit and also special weekly increases in special circumstances for dependent wives and children. Certain death benefit and dependency allowances are determined not by the Board, but by the normal statutory authorities established by the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. This is to make sure that they are dealt with on exactly the same terms. These claims, therefore, are not dealt with by the Board.
162 Questions comparable to the compensation issues arising under the Workmen's Compensation Scheme are dealt with by the board and not by the industrial injuries statutory authorities. The Board to which the Scheme relates is of a different status to the insurance officers and local appeal tribunals with whom we are all familiar under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. Indeed, in my opening speech I referred to the board. It consists of two eminent lawyers who provide the chairman, two representatives of employers, and two of the workers, and two senior officials of our Department. The issues they deal with are not the particulars of interpretation of the industrial injury law, and they do not deal with industrial injuries matters, but with matters involving knowledge of the workmen's compensation law and the application of wide discretionary powers which turn on knowledge of working practices.
That may sound somewhat involved, so I will repeat it in simple language if the House wishes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the House especially wishes it in very simple language I will do it. What we are really asking for in this scheme—and the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), with their training, will put it into different terms—is not men dealing so much with industrial injuries law: we want men with wide knowledge of the old Workmen's Compensation Acts, with wide knowledge of industry, and with knowledge of the interpretation of some of those old Acts. There are Members on both sides of the House who dealt with workmen's compensation, and among them men from the mining industry, and they understand exactly. Manv of these people have had no training whatever in law as such but because of their proximity to these problems of industrial injury they can give very accurate answers.
§ Sir D. Glover rose—
§ Mr. Davies
I do not want to delay, but I will give way if the hon. Gentleman wants to raise a question for information.
§ Sir D. Glover
I should like to put a question. Perhaps it would clarify my mind, because I admit that at this 163 moment it is not clear on this problem. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that under this scheme if I had worked in a coal mine right up to today and got pneumoconiosis I would be dealt with by one authority, but that if I left the mine in 1948 and developed this disease 12 years later and were Statute barred, I would be dealt with by another organisation? If so, why did he not say half an hour ago? Then I would have understood it.
§ Mr. Davies
It is not quite as simple as that, as the hon. Gentleman knows very well.
Let me take, finally, this question about the tribunals. My advice is that they do not need to come before the Council on Tribunals. That is the direct answer to a specific question.
The six months' provision is very technical, but it follows similar provisions in the Industrial Injuries Act which, I am sure, those who have dealt with it understand fairly well. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to probe that to any 164 depth I would ask him to give me time to give him a written reply, because it is indeed a very technical question, and I think it would be wiser to give an answer in writing.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Scheme 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 26th January, be approved.
§ Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit Scheme 1966, [draft laid before the House 26th January], approved.—[Mr. Harold Davies.]