HC Deb 19 May 1969 vol 784 cc188-200

10.54 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Services (Mr. Norman Pentland)

I beg to move That the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit (Amendment) Scheme 1969, a draft of which was laid before this House on 29th April, be approved. The Scheme will help a small number of men suffering from a rare disease which has now been found to be a hazard of their particular employment.

I should explain that the draft Scheme is made under the Industrial Injuries and Diseases (Old Cases) Act, 1967, an Act consolidating earlier legislation and providing for special schemes under which allowances are payable out of the Industrial Injuries Fund for disablement or death resulting from certain industrial diseases in circumstances which are not covered either by the Industrial Injuries Scheme, which began in July 1948, or by the Workmen's Compensation Acts which it then replaced.

Pneumoconiosis, byssinosis and a number of malignant or potentially malignant diseases develop so slowly that in many cases where a man left the causative employment before July 1948 and so is not covered by the Industrial Injuries Scheme they have become apparent too late for workmen's compensation to be claimed within the time limits of the old Acts. The occupational origins of some of these diseases have only been established in recent years and for these cover was not provided by the old Workmen's Compensation Acts.

The Scheme which gives effect to this provision for allowances is the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit Scheme, 1966. The draft Scheme now before the House extends Schedule 1 of the principal Scheme, which lists the malignant or potentially malignant diseases covered, to include adenocarcinoma of the nasal cavity or associated air sinuses for any one attending for work in or about a building where wooden furniture is manufactured.

The disease is also being prescribed under the Industrial Injuries Act for those employed in the industry after 1948. This follows the acceptance by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of a recommendation by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council which has been studying the results of independent research into the incidence of the disease and its link with the wooden furniture industry.

10.56 p.m.

Mr. Peter Tapsell (Horncastle)

The House has always discussed the problems of those suffering from pneumoconiosis, byssinosis and other industrial respiratory diseases with particular sympathy, partly because of their nature; partly because of their particular association in our minds with the mining community, to which, over the years, this country has owed so much; and partly because of the devoted work in earlier years of hon. Members, some of whom are still with us, representing mining constituencies, many of whom have spoken on this subject with such authority and feeling.

The Under-Secretary of State has explained these proposals, and they have been considered by the Special Orders Committee of the House of Lords, which reported: That the draft Scheme does not raise important questions of policy or principle; That it is founded on the precedent of previous schemes made under the Industrial Injuries and Diseases (Old Cases) Act, 1967; That, in the opinion of the Committee, the Draft Scheme can be passed by the House without special attention. There are, however, three points on which I should like clarification.

First, am I right in thinking that benefit under this Scheme is strictly confined to those suffering from adenocarcinoma of the nasal cavity or associated air sinuses if, and only if, those affected have been in an occupation involving attendance for work in or about a building where wooden furniture is manufactured? If so, are we to take it that the medical advice given to the Minister is that this disease can be contracted only in this way? Are his advisers certain that no other form of industrial activity can produce this hazard to health? To a layman such as myself this seems surprising. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give that unequivocal assurance, for otherwise the occupation qualification in the Instrument would seem to have been narrowly drawn.

Secondly, what is the estimated cost to the Fund of this extension? Thirdly, would the hon. Gentleman explain the procedure for obtaining death benefit under the Scheme for the widow of somebody who has died from adenocarcinoma? My experience of constituency cases under this range of benefits is that the procedures for scrutinising applications for benefit are far more stringent in the case of death than of disability.

For example, with pneumoconiosis—and, I assume, adenocarcinoma cases will, administratively, be similarly treated—the sufferer is asked to produce evidence to satisfy the insurance officer that there is reasonable cause for suspecting that he is suffering from pneumoconiosis; and normally this evidence consists of a certificate from a doctor, a hospital or a chest clinic. I understand that, normally, this is sufficient and benefit is paid without the sufferer being required, except in cases of doubt, to go before a special medical tribunal.

But when death occurs it is sometimes difficult for dependants to qualify for benefit unless they have insisted on an immediate post-mortem to establish that death was caused by the prescribed disease. Many dependants may not know of this provision. Indeed, does every doctor know of it?

Mr. Pentland

On a point of order. The hon. Gentleman is now dealing with matters affecting the statutory authorities, which are entirely outside the terms of the Scheme before the House. We are merely discussing an additional disease which will come within terms of prescribed diseases.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

I am obliged to the Minister for raising that point of order. The hon. Gentleman was tending to go rather wide of the Instrument before the House, which is designed to add one additional disease to the prescribed list. The matter cannot be debated too widely.

Mr. Tapsell

I will, of course, abide by your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, since the Instrument adds a new respiratory industrial disease—in this case adenocarcinoma—to a group of existing diseases, including pneumoconiosis and byssinosis, I thought that it would be in order for me to discuss the way in which the regulations governing the existing illnesses will apply to this new illness if it is added to this special group. May I continue to comment on this narrow point?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am afraid that we must all abide by the rules of order. This is a quite narrow Instrument and the hon. Gentleman must restrict his remarks to the aspect mentioned in it: the additional disease to which it refers.

Mr. Tapsell

It is difficult, while keeping within those rules of order, to make constructive comments on the application of the Instrument on one's constituents and on the way in which it will affect them. I hope that the powers concerned will, in their wisdom, consider the more humane administrative handling of applications for death benefit.

Subject to the three points I have raised—first, the narrowness of the occupations definition; secondly, the cost to the Fund; and, thirdly, the procedure for claiming death benefit—I welcome, on behalf of the Opposition, this extension of the Industrial Injuries Act.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

I, too, wish to pay a tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and his Department for bringing forward this extension. I find no difficulty in adding constructive comment, because members of my union the National Union of Furniture Trade Operatives, have been subject to this disease for a long time and they are much gratified that the Government have had the foresight to bring forward this extension at such an early date. The study which brought this disease to the forefront of the furniture industry was only undertaken and reported on on 8th June, 1968, and it does the Government extreme credit that they have acted so expeditiously to ensure that people employed in the furniture industry will now be covered under the Industrial Injuries Act.

It has been extremely difficult to prove cases, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows. To be able to urge a Department to add something to a Schedule one has almost to turn oneself on one's head, because no matter what one brings along it is not sufficient to prove the point or one finds it has not been proved to be only within that industry, and I became a little worried when the hon. Gentleman opposite, the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tap-sell) got onto this point. I have had many discussions with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who has had to put up with so much from me as a result of what he has said about whether it affected only this industry, that I am grateful for his courtesy towards me.

This is one more step to adding more justice for those working in the industry where they are at risk, where they contract nasal cancer. Members of my union will feel that the Government are seized of this. I pay tribute to the Oxford Study Group under Dr. Acheson and his colleagues who highlighted what the Government are now putting right.

11.7 p.m.

Mr. R. B. Cant (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I, too, would like to congratulate the Government on this extension of the list of industrial diseases. This is one of the small things the Government have done which will make a contribution to human welfare but will not strike the headlines as will some of the other things they have done in the recent past. I rise to repair an omission by the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) in relating the problem to pneumoconiosis to mining and to remind the House that in the constituency I have the honour to represent this terrible scourge—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member is going out of the bounds of order. Perhaps he wanted to relate his remarks to the Order.

Mr. Cant


Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

On a point of order. I have been here a long time waiting for this to come on. The Explanatory Memoranda which were circulated through the Vote Office are utterly impossible for anyone to understand and questions must be put to my hon. Friend in our efforts to understand what on earth he is talking about.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Questions on the Orders would be quite in order if the hon. Member were to catch my eye.

Mr. Cant

I am sorry that my route to the discussion of a narrow point was rather devious. Pneumoconiosis is a terrible scourge not only to the mining industry but to the potters, and I pay tribute to my predecessor for his work on this. My final point relates to—

Mr. Tapsell

Since the hon. Member slightly chided me on this, I would point out that I said that pneumoconiosis was particularly associated with the mining industry. We all know that it affects other industries as well.

Mr. Cant

Indeed it does. Having been slightly churlish, I wish now to support the hon. Member for Horncastle in asking whether or not the addition of adenocarcinoma would be applicable to the pottery industry if it is relevant.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Pentland

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown) for what he said, because I have known of his interest in this disease for a number of years and I knew that we would be delighted that it is to be prescribed under the Act.

On the point about which some of my hon. Friends appear apprehensive, I repeat what I said in my speech. This draft Scheme now before the House extends Schedule 1 of the principal Scheme, which lists the malignant or potentially malignant diseases covered to include ardenocarcinoma of the nasal cavity or associated air sinuses for anyone attending for work in or about a building where wooden furniture is manufactured. It is an addition to the diseases we had prescribed.

The hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) asked for information about benefits. Benefits available for sufferers from this disease will be 55s. a week for partially disabled and £7 12s. a week for totally disabled, who may qualify for additional allowances. For the dependants of a man who dies as a result of this disease, there will be a death benefit up to £300 and benefits under the main National Insurance Scheme will continue to be available in addition.

Mr. Tapsell

Can the hon. Gentleman give the House an estimate of the total annual cost of this extension?

Mr. Pentland

I could not do that without notice, but it will be small in the beginning because the numbers involved will be small. I take note of what the hon. Member has said and I will see that he gets the information in regard to the cost.

Mr. Tapsell

I do not wish to be discourteous nor to score party political points, because we are all in support of this Measure, but I think it a little strange that the Under-Secretary should come to the House with a proposal which undoubtedly will cost money and not be able to tell the House what it will cost. We have had a number of examples of this from his Ministry in recent weeks and we had hoped that we would have no more.

Mr. Pentland

The hon. Member says that he does not want to be discourteous or to make party political points and then makes a party political point. If I wanted to make party political points I could do so. In 13 years his Government did nothing about these matters. We are trying to right a wrong. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury said, for many years the woodworkers' union and people in the furniture industry have tried to get this disease presented. By the additional prescribing of this disease we are covering people who have suffered as a result of it pre-1948 and post-1948.

Mr. Tapsell

I fully accept everything that the hon. Gentleman has said, but any Minister who comes to the Dispatch Box with a proposal which will involve Government expenditure ought to be in a position to tell the House what that expenditure will be.

Mr. Pentland

The hon. Gentleman will be given information about the cost. I can tell him categorically that it is not excessive, because the numbers are small. He will surely accept that from me.

It was said that there are other people who could be brought into this. The research showed no evidence of an increased risk of nasal cancer in carpenters, joiners or other woodworkers outside the furniture industry. But further research is under way on the whole question, and should it establish that there is a higher risk in woodworkers outside the industry the cover given by the Scheme can be extended.

It is with great confidence that I commend the Scheme to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit (Amendment) Scheme 1969, a draft of which was laid before this House on 29th April, be approved.

11.17 p.m.

Mr. Pentland

I beg to move, That the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Amendment Order 1969, a draft of which was laid before this House on 30th April, be approved. The Order amends the Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme which was introduced in 1948 at the request of the coal mining industry. The Scheme provides supplementary benefit for colliery workers, or their dependants, who receive benefit under the Industrial Injuries Acts for colliery accidents or diseases. The scheme is administered by a National Committee comprising of equal numbers of representatives drawn from both sides of the industry. Contributions to this Scheme's fund are made by employers and employees only—there is no charge on the Exchequer or the Industrial Injuries Fund.

The present Order seeks to extend until 2nd December 1969, the arrangements for a standstill on the rates of supplementary injury and disablement benefits made in previous Orders, and it provides that increase in industrial injuries benefits before 2nd December shall not result in higher supplementary payments.

This extension has been asked for by both sides of the National Committee, because I understand the detailed negotiations involving not only the future of this Scheme but other benefit Schemes in the coal mining industry are not yet complete. These negotiations are between the two sides of the industry and are not ones in which my Department plays any part. Both sides have asked for this Order to avoid prejudicing their discussions.

11.19 p.m.

Mr. Tapsell

I listened with considerable sympathy a few minutes ago to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies), when he said that he had found the explanatory notes to the Scheme and the Order difficult to understand.

If the explanatory notes are difficult to understand, what view is one to take of the draft Statutory Instrument we are now considering? I was able to understand the one we have just discussed, but this one must be incomprehensible to anyone but a Parliamentary draftsman with a positively encyclopaedic knowledge of the subsections of all the social service legislation of recent years. I hope that there is such a person in the hon. Gentleman's Ministry, because I feel that he will agree that at the present time his Ministry is in need of all the help it can get.

Mr. Pentland


Mr. Tapsell

I shall not stray out of the bounds of order into the broad realms of policy, but in the debate we have just had, the Minister seemed quite brazenly to defend his position—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot debate the Scheme which has just been approved.

Mr. Tapsell

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely trying to reply to the intervention of the Under-Secretary of State.

What this Order appears to do—I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will speedily correct me if I am wrong—is comparatively simple and straightforward. Stripped of the legalistic mumbo-jumbo, it seeks to deny to the pensioners under the Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme any increase in their rates of colliery supplement above those which applied before the last up-rating of Industrial Injuries benefit, that is, until December of this year.

Since, as the Parliamentary Secretary reminded us, this is a contributory scheme wholly unsupported by any Parliamentary vote of money, this linking of these benefits to the State scheme seems, on the face of it, a little odd.

The explanatory memorandum gives two explanations for the proposed restriction: first, that the Scheme is administered by a National Committee on which employers and employees are equally represented that both sides have asked for this restriction, and, therefore, the House ought to accept it; and second, that it is essential to the industry to maintain the present standstill whilst the general negotiations aimed at a major re-shaping of this and the industry's other benefit schemes are still proceeding. The hon. Gentleman also made those two points in his speech.

I have some questions to put on both those points. I have some experience of the management of funds myself. To anyone who has had such experience, the words administered by a National Committee on which employers and employees are equally represented strike a chill to the heart. If one wants a really badly managed fund, appoint a committee to run it.

May we, therefore, hear more about this contributory fund? The Explanatory Memorandum says that it is unique. Is it a real fund or a notional one? What is its size? What is its range of investments? How has its growth compared with the performance of the F.T. index over the past three years? Has the National Committee appointed a professional investment adviser to run it? In a word, has it been properly run?

I see the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary smiling at that. But these are highly relevant points for the contributors and pensioners, as I hope to make clear.

That leads me on to the second broader point made in the explanatory memorandum about "a major reshaping" of all the coal industry's other benefit schemes. I know from my own constituency experience in both Nottingham and Lincolnshire that there is growing discontent among the pensioners of some nationalised industries when they compare the benefits which they receive and, in many cases, the performance of the funds on which they have to depend with the benefits and performance they see in the private enterprise sector in such funds as those of I.C.I., Unilever and Imperial Tobacco.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a narrow Order, and it would be out of order to discuss the merits of existing schemes. All we are concerned with tonight is whether the benefits should remain as they are for a further six months. We cannot debate the merits of the scheme.

Mr. Tapsell

But, with respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I draw your attention to the final sentence of the explanatory memorandum circulated to all hon. Members? The final argument used in support of the proposed amendment which we are debating is that: It is essential to the industry to maintain the present standstill whilst the general negotiations aimed at a major re-shaping of this and the industry's other benefit schemes are still proceeding. Surely I am entitled to discuss the reshaping of this and the industry's other benefit Schemes and relate them to Schemes in other industries?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No. It is out of order to discuss the negotiations which are pending at this stage. We are tonight debating only whether the benefit rates should remain as they are for the next six months. We cannot debate the merits of the scheme or the negotiations.

Mr. Tapsell

I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I come, then, to my final point. The House is entitled to have from the Parliamentary Secretary a detailed explanation of the Scheme under discussion and of the other Schemes mentioned in the Memorandum. We have not yet had such an explanation from him.

11.25 p.m.

Mr. Pentland

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's attitude. In our de-date on the last Scheme, he chastised me on certain aspects of my knowledge of it. Yet, now, speaking for the Opposition, he shows that he has not got a clue as to what this Order is about or its intentions. He then says that my Department needs all the help it can get. He surely needs some help if he is going to deal with these matters from the Opposition Front Bench. He should look at the information he needs as Opposition spokesman if he is to help. He should have all the information necessary at his command before coming here in such a rôle.

Mr. Tapsell

It is not the job of the Opposition spokesman to provide information about proposals being brought forward by the Government. That is the hon. Gentleman's job.

Mr. Pentland

But it is also for the hon. Gentleman to know what he is talking about. He got up at that Dispatch Box and showed by what he said that he has not got a clue about what he is talking about. I shall try to explain the matter to him.

Both the National Insurance Act and the Industrial Injuries Act give the Secretary of State power to approve supplementary Schemes, and this is a supplementary Scheme. It is a Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme. The Colliery Workers' Scheme is the only one for which approval has been given by the Secretary of State. It is administered by a national committee comprising five employers' representatives—four acting for the N.C.B.—and five representatives of the workers in the mining industry. It is contributory on both sides. The ratio of employers' to employees' contributions is about 8.5 to 1 and provides supplementation to injury benefit, disablement benefit and industrial death benefit paid under the Industrial Injuries Scheme.

Because the Scheme is made by an Order under the Industrial Injuries Act, it falls to Ministers to negotiate any legislation which is asked for by the National Committee, and that is what we are doing. This Order seeks the extension of a standstill on supplementary rates. The main rates in the original Order were expressed as a proportion of the industrial injuries rates.

Both sides of the National Committee have requested this standstill because the industry is engaged in negotiations involving this Scheme and the industry's other benefit schemes. Proposals have been made for the overhaul of benefit provisions in the industry and this Scheme is only one of the provisions involved. Because the detailed negotiations are taking longer than expected, a further extension of the standstill has been sought by both sides of the industry.

Mr. Tapsell

The hon. Gentleman has merely repeated the content of the explanatory memorandum. He has not amplified it in any respect.

Mr. Pentland

As Mr. Deputy Speaker has already explained, I would be out of order in dealing with the wider context of the Colliery Worker's Supplementary Schemes. All we are asking the House is to agree to the request of both sides of the industry. We do not want to prejudice the discussions and consultations which are already taking place. They have asked for a standstill by this Order, and that is what we are seeking to give them.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Amendment Order 1969, a draft of which was laid before this House on 30th April, be approved.