HC Deb 16 May 1966 vol 728 cc1065-79

10.21 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit (Amendment) Scheme 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 21st April, be approved. Some points of explanation may be required, but I am sure that both sides of the House will welcome this Scheme, which implements the recommendations of the McCorquodale Committee, an inquiry which was originated by right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in power. I do not think that there will be any great differences between the two sides of the House, but, nevertheless, it is the Government's duty to make the Scheme as clear as possible.

This draft Scheme is made under the Industrial Diseases (Benefit) Acts, 1951 and 1954, as amended by the Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Amendment) Act, 1965. The principal Acts provide for special Schemes under which allowances are made available out of the Industrial Injuries Fund to men disabled by pneumoconiosis, byssinosis or certain malignant diseases contracted as a result of their employment before 1948. These diseases develop so slowly that in almost all the cases they become apparent too late for workmen's compensation to be claimed within the time limits of the old Acts. Hon. Members from industrial and mining areas have long been acquainted with the issue of the time-barred men.

The scheme giving effect to these Acts is the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit Scheme, 1966. The draft Scheme now before the House amends Article 8 of that Scheme. It implements Section 6(4,d) of the National Insurance Act. 1966, which introduced the new weekly allowance of £3 for exceptionally severe disablement. Members will recall that this new allowance was recommended, as I have mentioned, by the Committee on the Assessment of Disablement, better known by the name of its distinguished chairman, as the McCorquodale Committee.

The new allowance will thus be payable to beneficiaries with exceptionally severe disablement. The criterion for the allowance is to be that adopted for constant attendance allowance, either at the special intermediate rate of £4 2s. 6d. weekly or the special maximum rate of £5 10s. weekly. These rates are limited to those who are almost entirely dependent upon attendance for the necessities of life. The type of men concerned are quadriplegics, severely-handicapped paraplegics and those similarly disabled.

Constant attendance allowance is not payable when the person is in a hospital, or similar institution, because he will already be receiving the attendance for which that allowance was devised to help pay. However, this rule does not apply to the new exceptionally severe disablement allowance because its purpose is to help in the mitigation of the loss of faculty suffered. Without labouring the point, I believe that I have explained what we are aiming to do. We shall now be giving the £3 exceptionally severely disablement allowance, as recommended by the McCorquodale Committee.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

I am sure that the House is very grateful to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for the careful way in which, as always, he has sought to explain this small but very important addition to legislation. It is necessarily a complicated piece of legislation, and once the lawyers get their hands on the matters of this sort, goodness knows where the ordinary person will be. The Parliamentary Secretary has cut through the terminology admirably and I want to confirm what he supposed to be the case, namely, that there is no intention on this side of the House to hinder the passage of this Scheme.

The Scheme stems from the Report of the McCorquodale Committee which was set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood). Both sides of the House will know the very special interest which he has taken in these matters. Over a period of some time, a number of hon. Members on both sides have interested themselves in these Schemes, and I want to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman in all friendliness that we on this side will be scrutinising the Schemes which his Department produces, and, on appropriate occasions, we shall take opportunities to raise them.

I must apologise to the hon. Gentleman personally in that, when he was good enough to be here with those who advise him on Thursday night, other matters intervened and we were not able to go into another aspect of the same principle. But, as he well knows, that was not my fault.

I have three questions to raise on this simple Scheme. Two of them are points of very small detail, and one is a rather bigger question. I make no apology for raising the points of detail, because neither side of the House wants the Scheme to be at all faulty. It is one which affects a comparatively small number of people, but it is immensely important to them, and no one need apologise for taking up a few moments to make quite certain that it is absolutely right.

I do not understand the actual wording of the Preamble. The House is invited to approve a Preamble which … hereby makes the said Scheme". What the hon. Gentleman is seeking to do is clear, but I should have thought that what he should be doing was … hereby to make the following Scheme What it means is that there has been a previous reference to a scheme about to be made, but I should not want there to be any kind of difficulty later in interpreting the regulations, and I should be grateful if he could satisfy himself that he is quite happy about the wording, … hereby makes the said Scheme". The second point is very important, and I shall be grateful for his guidance. I was not clear that the point came across in his helpful opening remarks. When he last laid a similar Scheme before the House dealing with civilian war disablement, it was in a different form and, to raise the matter, we had to pray against it. However, it was clear that the exceptionally severe disablement allowance, which is a new feature of this Scheme, was additional to the constant attendance allowance. That was the point of it, and, had there been an opportunity, I should have welcomed it from this side.

I am not satisfied that it is clear from the face of this Scheme that the position is the same. There may be a point which I have missed, but all of us are accustomed to dealing with certain cases where Parliament clearly intended one thing but where, unfortunately, the actual wording precludes us, because we were not sufficiently careful when the time came.

If the hon. Gentleman looks at the Schedule to the new Scheme, where there is set out the wording as it will become if the Scheme is approved, it appears that the weekly rate of allowance is payable either under Section 15 of the Industrial Injuries Act or, in the alternative, under Section 6 of the National Insurance Act, 1966. In other words, it will either be constant attendance allowance or exceptionally severe disablement allowance.

The word "or" is used, which appears to make it an alternative. This may be what the hon. Gentleman intends. If it is, it appears to be different from what he intended in previous Schemes, if I may use the civilian Scheme as an example. If the hon. Gentleman intends it to be different, I think that he owes it to the House to make it clear why, in the case of pneumoconiosis, byssinosis and allied diseases, he wants a different system.

On the other hand, because of the legal complexities with which we are faced, and because we have to work with cross-references in the various Schemes and enabling Bills, I may have misread this point. But even if I have, I do not apologise for raising it, because I think it will be helpful if the matter is made absolutely clear.

I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would tell the House when the new rates of benefit were settled with the Treasury, and, in particular, the new rate of £3 which is to be payable under this Scheme. I am concerned about this—because now, quite rightly, and with all party agreement, we are discharging some of our obligations to the men affected by these diseases, by giving them an additional allowance. These men are 100 per cent. disabled. They are the old cases, and they are therefore much older men. They are severe medical cases.

The combined effect of various Schemes means that in some cases there is financial provision for paid attendance on them. A large number of them are devotedly looked after by their families. Probably few of us know of the devoted work of families in this respect. A considerable number will be helped by welfare services of one sort or another, but there must be some—I do not know the numbers, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman does—who have at their disposal the necessary finance—and I rejoice in this—to afford attendance on them.

I must not stray too far into the realms of tax law, but the hon. Gentleman will know that under the new Selective Employment Tax such a person, who may well be a very heavy lifting case, and for whom, therefore, male attendance is appropriate, will, as at present advised, pay a tax of 25s. a week. I should, therefore, like to know the date on which the hon. Gentleman settled these rates. The hon. Gentleman has a rather special responsibility in this matter because, as he knows, his Ministry is the collecting unit for this new Tax, and I should like to be very clear—

Mr. Harold Davies

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not having heard his last few words. I wonder whether he would be good enough to repeat them?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I know how difficult it is when dealing with high technical matters, even when very well advised from behind.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)

Not only well advised from behind; well asked from the front.

Mr. van Straubenzee

We are on the most happy terms tonight.

I was asking the hon. Gentleman to state the date on which he settled the new rate of exceptionally severe disablement allowance with the Treasury, and whether it bore any relationship to the incipient liability for tax which some of the recipients will bear if the Chancellor's proposals go through unamended.

There will be much room for discussion about this, and my hon. Friends and I will take this up at the appropriate time and place. But when we are discussing new allowance for a small group of exceptionally disabled people, for whom Parliament is now making appropriate additional financial provision, it must be equally appropriate to have regard to the possible tax liabilities of such people. I was merely saying that if such a heavy lifting case as that to which I have referred is employing someone for longer than eight hours he will be responsible, as I am at present advised, for a Selective Employment Tax on 25s a week, which makes a nasty dent in the additional financial provision which the hon. Gentleman is now making.

If, at the end of the day, the law should so go out from this House that that is the tax liability placed upon a certain number of people who are very severely disabled from pneumoconiosis, byssinosis and the other diseases, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will, without hesitation or delay, ask the House to rectify that in terms of the allowances made to these people, so that the House does not give £3 with one hand and take away 25s. with the other. I hope that he will be able to give that clear assurance for a group of people who unquestionably have the sympathy of the House.

With those two detailed inquiries and one major point of principle, I have very much pleasure in recommending to my right hon. and hon. Friends that we should in no way attempt to prejudice the passage of one further modest but important link in the provision which we make for a group of people who deserve well of the whole House.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I shall try to limit by brief remarks to the question of byssinosis, in respect of which I have a constituency interest, although, since in some cases there is no split between the diseases, I shall occasionally have to use the collective figures for the two diseases.

First, the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said that he would like to know something about the figures. I do not know whether the figures are available, but it seems to me that if, as I understand, this Scheme applies only to those byssinosis cases who were affected by the previous Scheme, to which this is supplementary, and, therefore, applies only to people whose employment dates from before 5th July, 1948, it must be a very small number indeed. In my view the number of people who are getting awards under this Scheme in respect of byssinosis is disgracefully low, and as far as I can see the situation is getting worse.

The point of 5th July, 1948, in relation to byssinosis is a very special one. Byssinosis was the last of the major industrial diseases to be scheduled. A person does not qualify until after the Scheme comes into effect; he has to work under very special conditions, and he had to have had 10 years' consecutive employment exposed to danger in order to qualify—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. The hon. Member is talking about the parent Scheme, when he is not allowed to. In this debate he can speak only to the Amendment Scheme.

Mr. Hale

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we have had 10 minutes discussing the Budget, and I was not proposing to touch on the Finance Bill. I venture to suggest that my remarks are precisely relevant. The hon. Member for Wokingham was permitted to ask how many people were involved. I am asking how many people are involved, and saying why I think it must be a very small number. The Scheme applies only to those who worked before 5th July, 1948.

But I would call in aid—because these are the only figures available—the figures in the last Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance Report, which, in fairness to the Parliamentary Secretary, relate only to the period up to July 1964 and, therefore, to a period for which he has no Ministerial responsibility. These are the last figures available: they are the only ones in use. They will show that for severe and very grave disability, in that year, one pension for total disablement through byssinosis was awarded to a male applicant—only one. They will show that, too, that one pension for total disablement through byssinosis was awarded to one woman applicant.

The Scheme provides that although this new Board has been established—and this will be handed over to the new machinery set up by the Scheme of 7th February and the Act which was discussed on the same day—the determination of liability is still a matter for the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Board. I would ask my hon. Friend whether he is satisfied that the Scheme which maintains that position is satisfactory, in view of his own figures, which would give Dr. Gallup himself some cause for alarm.

The figures relating collectively to pneumoconiosis and byssinosis—they are given collectively—show astonishing variations in the determination of the medical tribunals in the various areas which the Minister has set up for the purpose. In Manchester, over 50 per cent. of all cases of byssinosis are entitled. In other words—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman refers to the way in which the entitlement is determined. That is a matter under the parent Scheme and not the Amendment. He is out of order.

Mr. Hale

I am not—

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

If the Chair says that the hon. Member is out of order, he should get back to order as quickly as possible.

Mr. Hale

Never before in my 20 years in Parliament have I heard that one cannot refer to the Chair in order to refresh the memory of the Chair. I do not want to refer to every document that we have had in these long days, from industrial development to Budget Resolutions, but merely to return to the terms of the Scheme. The terms are that this is supplementary to the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit (Amendment) Scheme, 1966, and shall be read as one with it, and I invite the Parliamentary Secretary to correct me if I am wrong.

I am not disputing the Ruling of the Chair, but we are now approving allowances which will be allocated on the basis of a determination by a pneumoconiosis and byssinosis tribunal, and, in the towns in the Manchester area, I would respectfully submit that it is appropriate to ask, in considering whether to pass the Scheme, whether those tribunals are satisfactory and whether their determinations are satisfactory.

In all cases in Manchester, 51 per cent. were entitled. If one excludes coalmining—we do not have the figures split up otherwise—Manchester is still about 51 per cent., but the figure is as low as 22 or 23 per cent. in Cardiff and as high as 80 per cent. in London. This needs explaining. Many of my constituents who come to see me about byssinosis have a deep-seated feeling of grievance.

Finally, concerning the figures for 1964, I said in generosity that one 100 per cent. pension had been granted, but, of course, three or four were determined. The number of pensions in issue for total disablement was four or five less at the end of the year than at the beginning, and at the beginning the grand total was about 34 for males and, I think, slightly less for females.

So when one talks about an industry which used to employ 320,000 people under a Labour Government and 180,000 under the Tories—even if one allows for the disgraceful fact that half the industry or more still does not qualify for the award for this particular disease—I turn to the medical evidence. In the debate on 7th February—I do not want to open this again—we constantly expressed grave doubt and dissatisfaction about the methods and standard of diagnosis and the definition of the disease. Although I wish to be generous to the Minister, for whom I have a deep regard and affection, and while I congratulate him on giving birth to this small child from the point of view of byssinosis, one is bound to wonder whether anyone will qualify under it.

I say that because nobody under 55 years of age ever seems to qualify, and if people must have been 55 in 1948 it is not very likely that many will qualify to draw a pension today. Remember, we are talking about 1948 in terms of 1966. Having made that clear and wishing to conclude my remarks—I had hoped to conclude them earlier—I ask the Government to look into the whole matter again and to examine carefully the issue in the light of representations that have been made and are constantly being made to them. The cotton unions are particularly anxious to see something much more satisfactory achieved for these people.

10.51 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

This draft Scheme seeks to amend the main Scheme, No. 164 of 1966, particularly in regard to Article 8. It will be within the recollection of the House that when we were discussing the main Scheme reference was made to appeals from decisions under that Scheme. I would like to know, therefore, how this draft Scheme falls in line with the right of appeal under the main Scheme from decisions made by the industrial officers. To spell out my question more clearly, under the main Scheme, Article 14 excludes appeals in general. It says that … any decision … by the Administrative Board … shall be final …". However, Article 15 goes on to set out certain cases in which there shall be a determination and the occasions when that will happen are set out—and, from that determination, there is a right of appeal. One of the questions dealt with in Article 15 comes under paragraph (d), which states: … any question whether the conditions for an increase of an allowance on account of unemployability or in respect of the need for constant attendance set out in Article 7(1) and Article 8(1) respectively are or were satisfied and as to the amount of any such increase. So there is a right of appeal from a decision under Article 8(1), which is the very article which is being amended by this draft Scheme.

In saying on what grounds there can be an appeal, two conditions are enumerated. They are in Article 15(1,d) of the main Scheme. Those two conditions are, first, when the question is on account of unemployability and, secondly, when it is in respect of the need for constant attendance. But by this draft Scheme a third condition is included, and that is the question of whether the claimant is suffering from exceptionally severe disablement.

There seems to be a possibility that, having amended Article 8 of the main Scheme in that way, we have overlooked the question of appeal from a decision on the exceptionally severely disabled point and that an amendment should have been made by this draft Scheme not only to Article 8 but also to Article 15(1,d) to sweep these new provisions into the appeal provisions of Article 15.

I am afraid that this is complicated. I have had to refer to a number of letters and numbers, but I have tried to spell it out slowly. I hope that I have made my point to the Parliamentary Secretary. It is of some importance that we should preserve the right of appeal. When it has been granted under Article 8 of the main Scheme we should see, when amending that Article by this draft Scheme, that the right of appeal is still preserved.

10.56 p.m.

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

I welcome this draft Scheme, which continues the welcome process of implementing the McCorquodale Report by giving additional assistance to a comparatively small but very deserving number of our fellow citizens. The Parliamentary Secretary emphasised that the people we are now considering are all very severely disabled—in most cases they are 100 per cent. disabled—and that they are all dependent upon assistance in their place of living for their very existence.

In view of that, I should like to follow the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). In some cases, these people are being looked after free of charge. In other cases, they are being looked after by devoted relatives, and therefore come within the normal family framework. But every hon. Member—and certainly the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who has very considerable knowledge of these matters—will know that some of these disabled people pay for the assistance they require in their homes. I do not know how many of them there are, but we all know that there are such cases.

If those people who are employing others to care for them are to be subject to the Selective Employment Tax, it will mean that this new allowance will be devalued when the new tax comes into operation in September. I therefore hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will answer the question put by my hon. Friend. I hope the fact is that we are wrong; that the new tax, should it come into operation, will not apply to this category of people at all. I hope the hon. Gentleman will assure us that, if it is to apply, these people are not, at the end of the day, to suffer as a result of it.

10.58 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, it is only because of my affection for my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), and because I was courteously treated by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) that I did not jump to my feet a number of times to raise points of order. However, even if I had never before learned the value of doing my homework, I learned it tonight. Let the House realise what my hon. Friend is talking about. I was not trained in law, but I did a little logic and semantics, and if I, as a layman, get between two learned gentlemen, I am sure the House will forgive me if I use what I consider to be clear English.

What are we doing? We are not talking about the right of appeal, we are not talking about the main Industrial Injuries Act, 1948. We are not talking specifically about Section 15 of that Act, although there are indirect references to it. We are talking about the simple effect of this little draft Order before us tonight, of which both sides of the House can be proud, because both sides contributed to it. They are giving £3 to the exceptionally severely disabled.

Throughout the Civil Service, in Parliament and in the newspapers these days abbreviations are commonly used, such as E.S.D., D.E.A. and N.A.T.O., and after three weeks nobody knows what they mean. As for E.S.D., we are giving £3 to the exceptionally severely disabled. What we did was to take the original Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit Scheme, 1966 by means of which—as hon. Members on both sides of the House and people in the industrial areas have seen—we were giving to compensation cases allowances which nobody thought could be given. Now we say that those people who were treated under the old compensation rules and who in many cases were treated very harshly, are, if they are exceptionally severely disabled, to have £3. That is all that we are saying in all this complicated language.

Now I come to a point which was courteously put to me. The hon. Member for Wokingham is quite right in saying that in all cases this £3 will be given to those who are exceptionally severely disabled.

Mr. van Straubenzee


Mr. Davies

Additional, correct. It does not matter whether they are in hospital or whether they have enough money to pay for attendance themselves. Following the McCorquodale Report, in Section 6 of the National Insurance Act, 1966, these words are used: … the weekly rate of the pension shall, in addition to any increase thereof under the said section 15, be further increased by three pounds. This is given because of the condition of the person concerned. In other words—if I may here refer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean)—no matter what is the individual's position, he will get the £3.

I will leave the question of Selective Employment Tax till later. I do not want to get out of order. But I should like to deal with this point which I regard as important; I do not think it is quibbling. It has been said "You have used the phrase the said scheme'" I will not bandy words with the hon. Member, especially in view of his training, but I took the trouble to look up the most recent edition of "English Usage and Abusage" and I found that even a layman can understand the words "the said Scheme". In the latest Penguin production of "English Usage and Abusage"—I am not getting any money for advertising it—the term "The said" is referred to clearly.

But here, in this Instrument, it is even clearer. "The said Scheme" refers to the words: … a draft of the following Scheme was laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. "The said Scheme" is this one to which we have been referring.

I was asked about the weekly rate of allowance and whether it would be in addition. I have already answered that. Yes, it is in addition, and there are no qualifications; it is as recommended by the McCorquodale Committee.

Mr. van Straubenzee

It is very helpful to have it quite clear on the record, and, naturally, we accept without question what the hon. Gentleman has said. I do not want to detain the House, but will the hon. Gentleman, nevertheless, look afterwards at the actual wording eventually used in this Scheme, because it seems to be not additional but alternative, and I want to be quite sure that the wording is as he thinks it is?

Mr. Davies

I have taken great care to get this right, and not only have I spent time myself but, in my wisdom, I have taken legal advice, as the hon. Gentleman would expect me to do. I am told that it is as we wanted it to be. But, if the hon. Gentleman wants at some time to take up this meticulous point, we can have the pleasure of going into it again.

I was asked—perhaps the question came from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West—if this new allowance did not initiate benefit for only a small group. My hon. Friend is quite right in saying that the old cases are a very small group indeed.

When was the rate settled? It was settled—with Royal Assent—on 10th March, as soon as we could implement it after the findings of the McCorquodale Committee. The House will be pleased to hear that we shall pay arrears in respect of the old cases who have now come in. We have put them in exactly the same position as the war pensioners, the civilians who were injured in the war and the industrially injured so that everyone will now be on the same level.

I have already mentioned the point about some people being able to afford paid attendance. We take no notice of that because this Scheme is based on the exceptionally severe disablement these people have compared with normal people of the same age. The £3 is paid to them all, provided they have the constant attendance allowance or underlying title to it.

I am in some difficulty if I try to deal with the question of the Selective Employment Tax. Were I to go into that I would be out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I did not want to ask for your protection because, in all fairness, it is a matter which must be looked at. There is no need either to underline for me the fact that there are organisations concerned with the problem. They are well aware of it, and I shall certainly see that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows of the observations coming from the House on the subject. But the House will realise that, if I were to develop the matter now, I should be out of order.

I know exactly the points which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West makes, but I beg the House to believe that I am not trying to hide behind a security device when I say that a lot of what he said was out of order. I have been in the House 21 years, and I know when I am out of order or in order. I assure my hon. Friend—it hurts me to tell him—that he was miles out of order. Consequently, while I always agree with all that he says, this has nothing to do with the case.

Mr. Graham Page

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, might I ask him to deal with the question of appeal?

Mr. Davies

Yes. But I must be careful here. I agree that it is important to know what the House is doing. Frankly, most times when Orders are brought up many hon. Members do not seem to know what they are doing. I say that with respect. I think that that is a fair comment. It is very difficult to keep within the rules of order on these cases. However, I would not be so pompous as to make that accusation against the hon. Gentleman. All I would say is that I should like to have his point in writing rather than deal with it orally here. I should like to have notice of it in order to give it the attention which is due to it. I hope that he will take that this evening as art answer and allow the Scheme to pass.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit (Amendment) Scheme 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 21st April, be approved.