§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Harold Walker)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is designed to deal with a long-standing problem. Pneumoconiosis is a disease that occurs as a result of inhaling certain types of dust. It develops very gradually and continues to do so after contact with the dust has ceased.
Most hon. Members will probably be familiar with the symptoms of the advanced stage of this distressing disease. Essentially they are extreme breathlessness caused by loss of elasticity in the lungs, making the slightest exertion, even gentle walking, a painful effort. In the worst cases sufferers are confined to bed and are kept alive only by drugs, oxygen and, frequently, devoted nursing by wives or other relatives.
The majority of sufferers in this country are former coal miners. In 1974 the National Coal Board, which as the responsible employer was then faced with a large number of court cases, set up a compensation scheme in co-operation with the mine workers' unions to compensate those for whom it was responsible, without incurring the costs and delays of litigation.
There are other industries which give rise to the dust which can cause the disease. While slate quarrying is perhaps the best known, iron ore mining, foundries, potteries and others are involved. I am especially glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) has just taken his seat. 1080 He has long pressurised my Department and me to introduce a scheme similar to that embodied in the Bill to help many of his constituents who work in the pottery industry.
Work with asbestos may also form a cause of pneumoconiosis. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) is present. The House will recognise the long and sustained campaign that he fought on behalf of sufferers from asbestosis.
§ Mr. Walker
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) reminds me that miners are also affected.
Some textile workers, as a result of their employment, suffer from the very similar disease of byssinosis, and hon. Members representing textile constituencies have likewise pressed successive Governments to bring in provisions similar to those contained in the Bill.
In law, the remedy for people suffering from these diseases is to sue the employer concerned for damages, if they can show that he has been negligent. But, because of the time it takes for the disease to develop, it can often be the case, particularly in declining industries, that by the time the disease has been diagnosed the employer responsible no longer exists.
We have for a long time been mindful that consideration should be given to the problems of these sufferers. However, the Pearson Commission on civil liability and compensation for personal injury, which was set up in 1973, was known to be looking at the question of compensation for pneumoconiosis, and we thought it right to defer any consideration while the Commission was carrying out its task. When the Commission reported early last year, it feltunable to recommend that a special compensation scheme should be set upfor such people.
However, strong representations were immediately made to me from a number of sources. I mention in particular a former distinguished Member of this House, Sir Elwyn Jones, a solicitor who in the course of his practice had dealt with very many such cases as are covered by the Bill. He and other people persuaded and 1081 convinced me that we should look further into the matter.
The slow onset of pneumoconiosis and associated diseases, resulting in a higher possibility than in most other cases that there would be no surviving employers, gave ground for separate consideration of their problems. I therefore persuaded my colleagues in the Government that it was right to set up an interdepartmental working group to review all the available evidence on the question, to obtain such further information and evidence as was necessary and to report hack. That was done on 2 May 1978.
In the Queen's Speech last November, it was made clear that we intended to press on with that re-examination. The first results of the working group's consideration became available to me in late January of this year. In the light of these, the Government concluded that it would be right to introduce a Bill at the earliest possible moment to provide State compensation specifically for sufferers from pneumoconiosis, byssinosis and the closely associated but more acute disease of diffuse mesothelioma, or to the dependants of deceased sufferers, provided that there was no employer for whom the sufferer worked in work where he could have developed the disease who was still in business and therefore capable of being sued for damages, and that no claim for damages had been brought in the past against any such employer.
The effect of these restrictions is to limit compensation to those who have no employer to sue and to avoid a situation in which the State would, in effect, be shouldering the responsibilities of existing employers as an alternative to their facing action in the courts.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
Will the Minister clarify exactly how that compares with the position under the National Coal Board scheme? The NCB, of course, continues in existence. Is the scheme different, or is it the same?
§ Mr. Walker
There are close similarities between the two schemes. The difference with the National Coal Board scheme is that there is an employer to sue, except that, in order to avoid the litigation which might have ensued from the Pickles case—the House will not expect me to go into detail now—there 1082 was a voluntary scheme set up within the industry. The NCB scheme is a voluntary scheme within the industry and not one that is administered by a Government Department for which a Minister has direct responsibility.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
My hon. Friend will accept that one of the objections often posed to automatic compensation schemes of this sort is that claimants receive less in financial terms than they would otherwise get by seeking damages in the usual way. Will he give the House an assurance that the compensation rates which will be payable under this scheme will be related to the scales of compensation which, I am advised, are followed by judges in awarding compensation for cases which are brought through the usual legal procedures?
§ Mr. Walker
I am not sure that it would be possible to relate the scheme to hypothetical court judgments, because we should need to have regard to what are often inconsistent compensation amounts. We thought it right and perhaps more equitable to provide compensation roughly comparable with that provided under the National Coal Board's compensation scheme. The regulations which will eventually be produced will be related to that scheme.
The Bill does not specifically apply to Northern Ireland. However, I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that urgent consideration is to be given to enacting corresponding legislation for Northern Ireland by means of an Order in Council subject to affirmative resolution, made under the Northern Ireland Act 1974.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
I wonder whether I may refer the Minister to what he said about clause 1(3) on the definition of the diseases to which the Bill applies. He may recall that in the past I have written to him about gypsum workers in my constituency—gypsum is used in making plaster of Paris—who have had great trouble from respiratory diseases. Will he confirm that the respiratory diseases caused to gypsum workers will be covered by the definition in clause 1(3) of this welcome Bill?
§ Mr. Walker
Clause 2 sets out the conditions of entitlement. They include the requirement that the disablement benefit 1083 must be received by the person making the claim under the Department of Health and Social Security's existing schemes. If the workers that the hon. Gentleman has in mind are eligible for benefits because they are employed in one of the industries covered by the DHSS range of prescribed diseases in occupations, they will probably be within the scope of the scheme. I should not like to mislead the hon. Gentleman. It may be more sensible for me to return to that point when we reach clause 2 in later proceedings. It may be that I can then put the matter beyond any further doubt. If the hon. Gentleman will remind me of that matter in our later proceedings, I may be able to clarify it further for him.
In the circumstances in which the House is meeting and the widespread publicity that the scheme has attracted, it may be that I should bring my introductory remarks to a conclusion, although, with the permission of the House, I shall be happy to respond if hon. Members seek further information.
I hope it is clear from what I have said that some of the suggestions and comments which have been made outside the House about the introduction of the scheme are wholly unjustified. We have been anxious to help these sufferers for a long time. For some considerable time we were inhibited by the Pearson Commission's inquiry. When the Commission's report was available, we quickly set up the working group which I have described. Since the group reported two months ago, we have moved with all possible speed to publish the Bill. To suggest otherwise is an affront to all in different parts of the House, in different political parties and in different trade unions within different industries who have conducted a long and honourable campaign.
I have already mentioned my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme and Sowerby. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) had an Adjournment debate about two years ago drawing attention to the problems of iron ore miners. I understand that the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts), together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), as long ago as 1972 met representatives on behalf of these groups. It is regrettable that some people have sought to make the suffering of these 1084 groups a pawn in a party political game when others have been conducting a long and honourable campaign on behalf of these people who at last see their reasonable claims in sight of fulfilment.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
We are very glad to see the Bill before the House, even at this late hour. The Government promised in the Queen's Speech on 1 November last year that they wereexamining schemes to provide compensation for those such as slate quarrymen who have suffered respiratory diseases from dust in their employment, but who are unable to obtain such compensation through the courts because their employers have gone out of business.We welcome the fact that the Bill covers not only slate workers but workers in the textile and asbestos industries. Anyone who has seen people suffer from industrial respiratory diseases or injury will welcome any measure that provides relief and help for the sufferers.
Although my first personal experience of industrial disease of this kind was of pneumoconiosis in the Swansea valley, I have since met silicosis among the quarrymen of Bethesda in my constituency. As the Minister reminded me, one of my clearest recollections of the early days of the 1970–74 Parliament, when I came in as a new Member, was of accompanying the then hon. Member for Caernarvon, now Lord Goronwy-Roberts, to the Department of Health and Social Security to discuss with my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), then a Minister in that Department, what could be done to help slate quarrymen suffering from dust disease. Many of them left the quarry with bronchitis and emphysema, only to develop silicosis at a later stage. My hon. Friend was very sympathetic, as I am sure the whole House will be sympathetic to him now in his recent bereavement. Since then, many questions have been asked in the House about silicosis and the other respiratory diseases.
As regards silicosis, a fillip to progress was provided by the Government-NCB scheme to assist the miners. It helped to isolate the problem of those workers whose employers had gone out of business. Those employers who were still in business could be claimed against in the courts, and many have made provision against just such an eventuality through insurance schemes of various 1085 kinds. I am glad to say that at least one firm in my constituency which employs quarrymen has made such provision. It is to be commended for doing so.
Another significant step was the Government's commissioning of a survey carried out by the Welsh National School of Medicine and associated bodies on the respiratory health of the adult male population of some Gwynedd quarrying areas. A preliminary report of the survey was made available in November 1977. Since then we have had the Pearson Commission report on civil liability and compensation for personal injury. The Commission was set up by us in 1973. The report was disappointing at first sight, but it resulted in the Government's instituting further inquiry, as the Prime Minister told the House last Tuesday.
When the Commission's report was published, the Prime Minister made a statement to the House, and in reply to a supplementary question of mine he had no hesitation in saying:I am well aware that my hon. Friends and Opposition Members have followed the health problems of slate quarrymen very carefully, as I have myself ".I had put it to him then thata special scheme for slate quarrymen will have to be devised, just as there is one for sufferers from pneumoconiosis in the coal pits".—[Official Report, 16 March 1978; Vol. 946, c. 644.]Members of all parties have worked for the Bill, which has had a lengthy period of gestation because of the difficulties involved. We recognise those difficulties.
It is not only politicians, including the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), who have worked for the Bill, but trade unionists, local government officials and medical personnel. A former Labour Member for my constituency has already been mentioned by the Minister—Sir Elwyn Jones. He has contributed a great deal, as the Minister readily admitted. The Minister himself has visited the quarrying town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, where he undoubtedly received inspiration to carry on with the work of preparing the Bill.
It was unfortunate that the appearance of the Bill was delayed until the tail end of this Parliament. But to those who 1086 try to make political capital out of the Bill I would sayother men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours.Quarrymen are proud people, and I do not think that any political party will gain an ounce of credibility or an iota of allegiance and affection from them if that party seeks to make political capital out of a Bill that has been blessed in advance by both sides of the House.
I have one or two queries which arise from the fact that, because the Bill was rushed into print at a late stage, we have not had as much time as we would wish to consult representatives of the sufferers from the various forms of pneumoconiosis covered by the Bill. That point was accepted by the Lord President last Thursday.
First, with regard to those covered by the Bill, could we have some idea of how payments to them will compare with payments under the miners' pneumoconiosis scheme? My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) had a fair point in his intervention when he was seeking to point out that the pneumoconiosis scheme as applied to the miners covers the situation where there is an employer—namely, the NCB. It is quite clear that this scheme does not cover the situation where there is an employer. The implication, therefore, is that there is special treatment for the miners. The miner does not have to sue. He does not have to seek tort compensation. Therefore, some comments on that point from the Minister would be useful.
We would also like to know how payments under the Bill will compare with payments obtained through the courts from employers still in business in the slate, textile and asbestos industries. I hope that in giving an easy passage to the Bill we shall not be depriving the sufferers of anything that they might have obtained if we had time for a more detailed discussion of the measure.
Secondly, I should like to ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that all the different groups of workers that should be covered are, in fact, covered by the Bill. He will recall that the Pearson Commission's report made a significant point of this when it said:Any State scheme would in our view have to compensate all employees who had failed, 1087 through no fault of their own, to obtain tort compensation.Last Tuesday, the Prime Minister mentioned workers in thepottery industries as well as in the iron ore industries."—[Official Report, 27 March 1979; Vol. 965, c. 256.]Are those workers fully covered by this scheme?
There are farmworkers who suffer from the respiratory disease of farmer's lung, which is a prescribed disease qualifying the sufferer for special benefits. In Wales, as well as farmworkers we have crofters—tyddynwyr—self-employed farmers on a small scale, who occasionally fall victim to the disease. I should be glad of the Minister's observations on their position in relation to the Bill.
As I said at the beginning, we welcome the Bill. We trust that it will provide some consolation to those who suffer from these heartbreaking diseases. Money in itself is little consolation, but it can provide a modicum of security and comfort and ease life for those disadvantaged by disease and injury.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I am very glad to have this opportunity to express my warm appreciation to the Government for introducing the Bill.
I have a special interest in the measure because, although by today only a few of my constituents are affected, some men from Anglesey traditionally over the years have gone over the Menai Straits to work in the slate quarries of Dinorwic, and some of them are affected by this dreadful disease. But it is also probable that no hon. Member has a closer interest in the slate quarrying industry of North Wales than I have. I am the first member of my family for about 300 years not to be associated with the industry. From my birth I have had a close interest in all its workings.
The problem of the slate quarrymen—and the other categories as well; they are all of great importance—has presented complex legal difficulties for the Government. This is one of the reasons for the unfairly criticised delay in the production of the Bill.
The position of the coal miners was always different. The National Coal Board had absorbed the private com- 1088 panies and their liabilities. It was possible to achieve a scheme between the Government and the National Coal Board with the agreement of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1974 which brought equity and justice to the coal miners who suffered from pneumoconiosis.
Quite properly, the Government awaited the result of the Pearson Commission on civil liabilities. I hoped, with others, that the Commission would have reported favourably on the position of the slate quarrymen. Unhappily, when the report was published last summer, the result was unfavourable. In fairness to the Government, it should be said that following representations made by the Labour Party—the Minister of State will recall that I personally led two deputations to him—with other political parties co-operating, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment set up an interdepartmental committee immediately to examine the implications and to look into what might be done.
The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts), who has taken a great interest in this matter throughout, was perhaps slightly unfair when he accused the Government of dealing with this at"the tail end"of a Parliament. If this is the tail end of this Parliament, that is the responsiblity not of Government supporters but of the Opposition, who moved the motion of censure last week. If matters had taken their normal course and the Government had proceeded effectively, as they were doing, until the late summer or even until the autumn, the Bill would have run its normal course and become law in the usual way.
Nevertheless, we must be grateful for the Bill, and I support what the Minister said when he congratulated my old friend the former Sir Elwyn Jones, who was at one time a Member of this House and who is probably the greatest expert on this subject. He has been the solicitor to the old North Wales Quarrymen's Union since about 1929, and his service is notable. I associate with him Mr. Idwal Edwards, lately of the Transport and General Workers Union in Gwynedd, who also put in an enormous amount of work to ensure that the Bill came into existence.
The Bill will help those former slate quarrymen who are suffering from this grim respiratory disease and who have no 1089 recourse to litigation. Those men and their widows will be helped. It is high time that this was done. I congratulate the Government on introducing this necessary measure and wish it a speedy passage through all its remaining stages.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
I know that it is in order to congratulate a new hon. Member on his maiden speech. I am not sure whether it is appropriate to congratulate the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) on what may be his swan song. If it is his swan song, I imagine he would choose this subject as particularly appropriate in view of his family links with the industry which extend to my constituency. He has been interested in this subject over many years. I recognise the work of the right hon. Member and others in seeing fair play for the quarrymen.
I associate my colleagues and myself in the general welcome given to the Bill. The fact that it has come at a difficult time in the life of this Parliament makes it none the less welcome. Many people feel that the Bill is overdue, in the context not only of slate quarrymen but of many other employees who have suffered so much over the years. Many people in the coal mining industry felt that an agreement—possibly a better agreement—should have been reached earlier than in 1974–75 for miners in that industry. However, now that the Bill has arrived, it is to be welcomed.
I also associate myself with the tributes that have been paid from both sides of the House to those who have worked to secure fair play for the slate quarrymen over the years. The name of Sir Elwyn Jones, an eminent solicitor involved in this work, has been mentioned. I would also refer to the work of Mr. Idwal Edwards, one of my constituents, albeit the agent for my Labour Party opponent in the coming election, who took an active interest in the matter until his retirement two years ago. There are many others, including the medical officer of health for the area.
In the post-war years, it became apparent that men in the slate quarrying areas were not dying a slow death from tuberculosis but that, contrary to opinion two, three or four decades before that dust 1090 from the slate was good for one's health—incredible though that may now seem—the dust was causing people to die prematurely.
For hon. Members not conversant with the slate quarrying industry. I should like to underline how pernicious is this disease. It is progressive in nature. A man who may have left the slate quarries 10 years previously can for the first time show symptoms of silicosis. That makes the situation different from the coal mining industry. There is also greater difficulty in identifying the silicosis of slate quarrymen. Often an X-ray shows only a small proportion, perhaps 1 per cent., of dust, yet when a quarryman dies a post mortem can show his lungs caked with dust.
There may be another problem in terms of identification in the application of the Bill. That is no doubt a matter which future Governments will have to face when the Bill is in operation. The measure is particularly important to those living in Gwynedd, as my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) and the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) know. At the turn of the century slate quarrying was a major industry, employing 20,000 people in Gwynedd. That is an amazing number. It now employs about 300 people, which shows the decline of an industry within the lifetime of people alive today.
The fact that the industry has declined in the post-war years, particularly the 1950s and the 1960s, is significant. Over this period companies became bankrupt and defunct, landing the quarrymen and ex-quarrymen in a situation in which they could not get redress through the courts. This problem has been particularly difficult in recent years.
When the present Government came to office in 1974, the Pearson Commission was considering this problem. It was deemed appropriate, rightly, to carry on the compensation scheme for the coal miners irrespective of any consideration that Pearson may have been able to give to that question. It was also possible in the intervening years to give attention to certain aspects of other problems covered by Pearson, such as the thalidomide cases. I and my colleagues—and, I think, hon. Members on both sides—would have liked to see faster progress with the slate quarrymen's case. 1091 Possibly the Government themselves, had they realised that Pearson would take so long, would have moved more quickly. Indeed, in 1975, when the Government said that they were awaiting Pearson, I am sure that they did not expect to have to wait until March 1978 for the report—or that they would get such a flimsy report on this aspect. Pearson was very disappointing.
We were pleased in my constituency last summer to welcome the Minister of State, who attended a meeting organised by the Wales TUC, which has also played an active part in this battle, at Llanberis—a meeting which neither he nor the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones), the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, who was there with him, will easily forget. There had been a march through the village to that meeting, a march which did not go for miles, or even for half-miles. It could go only two or three hundred yards, because the quarrymen and the former quarrymen who took part in it could not walk any further. There was a slight gradient, and it was all they could do to walk up the gradient to the hotel where the meeting was held. I think that the case of these men impressed itself forcibly on the two Ministers at that meeting, had they not been aware of it before—and I know from their personal experience in other industries that they were aware of it.
What is at stake is not just compensation for the quarrymen themselves; there is a fundamental question of compensation for the widows. These ladies have often given the best part of their lives to nursing dying husbands. They have seen their husbands die from day to day. Sometimes it has been a slow and prolonged death, sometimes it has been relatively quick; but death has been equally inevitable. At the end, after the indignity of a post mortem, when everyone knew the reason why these men were dying, they have been given the pittance of 55p a week on top of their pension. This has been a disgrace, whether in slate quarrying or in any other industry. It is high time that this redress came.
I join other hon. Members in asking about the comparability between the compensation possible under this scheme and that which may be forthcoming under settlements out of court for similar suffering in the industry. In my area there 1092 will be an interesting comparison. In the Ogwen valley, represented by the hon. Member for Conway, there are settlements out of court. There will be people—perhaps cousins, perhaps brothers, of those involved—who have worked in respective quarries and who may be subject to different compensation schemes. I hope that there will be a broad similarity in the compensation available so that there is no feeling that one side or the other is missing out as a result.
There is a possibility, if the scheme is based on the NCB-NUM formula, that those whose identification of silicosis has been made only late in life but who have suffered over a number of years before that identification was made will receive a smaller sum than they might have had under the settlements which are being made in the Ogwen valley at the moment.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear to the House that the reason why settlements out of court are possible in this case is that the Penrhyn Quarry Company is the only major company left in business?
§ Mr. Wigley
That is certainly the case. That is obviously the reason why settlements are taking place between the solicitors for the trade union involved—the Transport and General Workers Union, as it now is—and the insurance company on behalf of the employers. None the less, the comparison will still be made. I am sure that no hon. Member would be in favour of people feeling that the scheme rightly brought forward by the Government could in any way be a poor relation to the settlement which is currently going on. I put that forward because the question will be raised.
There is also the question of how far back settlements can go for widows and dependants. We know that there have been certain difficulties in the coal mining industry about cut-off dates. I think that January 1970 is the cut-off date for certain categorisations. We hope that there will not be such cut-off dates in relation to this category, particularly in view of the fact that some of the major slate quarries closed in the early and middle 'sixties. I think it was the Dinorwic quarry that closed in 1967–68. If there was a cutoff date such as 1970, it could cause 1093 problems for those hoping to get compensation from this scheme.
I also hope that the figures described in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill, which show that there will be a substantial sum in the first year but relatively small sums in subsequent years, are only an annotation to say that there will be money available, and that if it is necessary to have larger sums in subsequent years those sums will be forthcoming. I presume this to be so, but I shall be glad if the Minister can confirm it.
We welcome the fact that the Bill is applicable to other industries. It is not only slate quarrymen who have suffered. We know that those working in brickworks—my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Evans) has many examples of this—and other industries, such as textiles, have suffered equally, and some may have suffered more. What is right is that if a man is suffering, he has compensation. Alhough that compensation will never bring back his health, at least it will give him something for the years of misery that he and his family have endured.
I welcome the Bill and I hope that even at this late hour it will have a smooth passage. I thank the Minister for the work he has put into the Bill and the Lord President for facilitating its passage.
§ 10.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
That was a generous and well-informed speech by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), who attempted to make no party point. This is a matter which deals with suffering of individuals essentially in North Wales which I think everyone in the House will accept is something which has been pressed and worked for by the Government on an all-party basis.
All Wales will rejoice at the Bill. We think of this problem as essentially applicable to North Wales in relation to the quarrymen, although there are other categories outside North Wales. There is a considerable fellow-feeling in South Wales because of our experience with pneumoconiosis. There must be few individuals in South Wales who do not have within their own family or that of a close acquaintance someone whose life 1094 has been ruined as a result of dust disease. Therefore, there must be that sympathy, that fellow-feeling, for those in the South.
Sadly, because of the way this matter has been treated by the media over the past weeks, this most tragically human of problems has become entangled with an apparent dutch auction between the parties. However, we all know that enormous credit is due to the Minister and to members of all parties who have worked for the Bill. The former Sir Elwyn Jones is, of course, the local expert on the matter. We were promised this Bill in the Queen's Speech. It is long awaited but most welcome and crowns the achievement of this Parliament in helping the disabled.
Finally, I should like to follow the hon. Member for Caernarvon in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) on what is perhaps his valedictory speech. I am sure that had he had the choice, over the many years of public service he has given, of speaking on any subject, it probably would have been his choice to stand here and give his blessing to this most welcome of Bills.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I shall take very little time of the House to give a general welcome to the Bill, which is long overdue.
It happens that I had contact with the area of the quarries in my young days, particularly when I was at the Bar. I was the candidate in the Conway division in 1950–51 when my Labour adversary was none other than the former Sir Elwyn Jones. We became very firm friends and he instructed me many times at the Bar thereafter. I remember the great interest he took in the conditions of the quarrymen. For whatever reason the Bill is passed, I think that the whole House should welcome it as a necessary and long overdue measure.
The right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), in about the third swan song I have heard him make, was as effective and generous as he always is. I am glad that he referred to the work of Sir Elwyn Jones in this matter. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree from his legal experience that there are many gaps left in our society of people 1095 who cannot recover damages. They cannot find the right defendant, or it is difficult to prove how they sustained, for example, a respiratory disease. I recall a case on which I had to advise not so long ago when someone had, as a result of chemical fumes over many years, sustained respiratory disease. In that case it was impossible to find a defendant. Even if he had found one, it would have proved difficult to prove the causation.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that many tribunals are still far too tardy in their recognition of the existence of industrial diseases?
§ Mr. Hooson
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. As he knows, I am very much in favour of a movement away from compensation that is allowed only on proof of fault or blame. In the next few generations, and the sooner the better, we should move away, much as I enjoy the gladiatorial life of the Bar, from the system of proving fault. We should move in the direction, as the Bill does, of total insurance for health and away from the concept of lump sums. We should come down to what is a good living for a man thoughout his life if he has sustained disease because of his employment. On that and other grounds, I very much welcome the Bill.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
I think that the speeches and the attendance tonight illustrate the general welcome and importance which the House attaches to the scheme. That was underlined by the widespread support that has been given to the early-day motion which I and a number of my hon. Friends tabled. They included my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and my hon. Friends the Members for Rossendale (Mr. Noble), Rotherham (Mr. Crowther), Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. White) and Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). That motion welcomed the scheme and noted that it would help a large number of workers who wereexposed to dust hazards, including workers in textiles, quarrying, brickmaking, potteries, thermal insulation, foundries and demolition throughout the United Kingdom; and further recognises that this important advance in health and safety legislation honours the promise contained in the Queen's Speech delivered on 1 November 1978".1096 The journal of the Royal Society of Medicine published last December contained an interesting article which drew attention to the difficulties which many people suffering from dust diseases experienced in securing compensation. It said thatIn any compensation case before British Courts, the three issues to be settled are liability, disability, and quantum".The article referred to a number of individual cases and added:Doctors may play a large part in presenting their legal colleagues with adequate histories".As an example, the article refers to the elderly lady with a mesothelioma who might not have mentioned that her work as a sack repairer as a teenager had resulted in her contracting the dust disease. It mentions the housewife with a mesothelioma who should have been questioned about her husband's occupation as a shipyard plumber. As such he had brought home clothes to be washed and had covered her with asbestos dust while she was cleaning them.
The article refers to difficulties which arose for the casual worker on lagging who may have had 20 employers, many long out of business, in the 1930s or even earlier. It said:Since it is unlikely that exposure within the last ten years will give clinically recognisable asbestosis, it is convenient to apportion the responsibility for injury according to the number of years' employment with each firm excluding the last ten years to date. Similarly exposure within the last twenty years could be excluded in apportioning for mesotheliomas".It goes on to say thatThe family of a worker dying with a mesothelioma is in need of help".It refers to a particular court case where it was found thatalthough a positive diagnosis was achieved in 39 subjects during life, in the expectation of securing industrial compensation, less than half of the dependants were currently receiving benefit.The article concluded:Improvement in diagnosis has not been matched by improved facilities for obtaining compensation and much could be done to help this.I think that this scheme will help a little, but we must remember that the core of the scheme,—its success depends upon it—is, in my view, the improved performance of the pneumoconiosis medical 1097 panels. The responsibility for deciding whether a person is suffering from asbestosis or, indeed, any other of the pneumoconiotic diseases, for the purposes of a claim for disablement benefit, is a matter for the doctors of the pneumoconiosis medical board in the first instance and then, on appeal or on a reference by the Secretary of State, for a medical arbitration tribunal.
On this latter point, I was pleased last year that the Secretary of State for Social Services was able to introduce, for the first time, a right of appeal. I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State is in his place on the Front Bench tonight. That scheme allowed for claimants who had been rejected four times in any two-year period the right of appeal to an independent medical arbitration tribunal. I am even more pleased to say that after representations from myself and others the Secretary of State has introduced a new system which allows claimants who have been rejected twice in one year to have a right of appeal. That provision comes into force on Friday.
On the very stringent grounds of appeal that now operate, more than half of the appeals have been upheld. That clearly indicates a level of concern about the diagnosis of disablement which the medical panels in some parts of the country have been making. None of us can afford to be complacent about this matter. I register my credentials in this affair by saying that nearly 100 of my constituents have died from asbestosis and another 300 are suffering from this disease.
I have heard alarming stories tonight about the medical condition of constituents of other hon. Members. I meet many of these people at my advice centres, which are sometimes on the second floor of buildings, and it is often 20 minutes before the people suffering from the disease have sufficient breath to hold a normal conversation after climbing stairs. That is the degree of disability created by these diseases. Therefore, I would say to my hon. Friend the Minister that while I do not expect answers tonight to all my questions, I should appreciate a letter from him giving me some additional information. Though none of them is new, I press these points.
1098 First, to dispel some of the suspicions about the performance of medical panels, can we have a clear assurance from the Minister that efforts will be made to rotate the doctors who serve on medical panels? That will avoid an established view of their work gaining ground and giving rise to suspicion in the minds of claimants who are rejected time and time again by panels that they are meeting on each occasion the same doctors who have rejected their claims in the past.
A constituent of mine, now dead, received over £20,000 compensation from the courts but was turned down on seven occasions by medical panels. The panels said that, in their view, he was not suffering from any disability. That is not a lone case. There are countless constituents of mine who have received compensation from the company for which they used to work but who have been turned down time and time again by medical panels when they have tried to claim disablement benefit.
I draw the attention of the House to another case which is not unique but which illustrates my concern and that of others. A gentleman who lives in the East End of London was referred to a medical arbitration tribunal by the Secretary of State. It was said that he had not suffered from pneumoconiosis at any time since 1974. That gentleman has received invalidity benefit and attendance allowance for nearly two years. I and others assume that because he is in receipt of those benefits he is disabled. We cannot understand why medical panels in this and other cases take the view that the claimant is not disabled.
Clause 2 of the Bill refers to providing for those disabled by such a disease who are entitled to the appropriate social security benefit. It is important for the Minister to spell out to which social security benefits that refers. It appears that a person cannot qualify on the ground of receiving benefits whether or not he qualifies because his employer is no longer in business.
Asbestosis sufferers and others who suffer from pneumoconiotic diseases have particular needs for which they do not qualify if they are not in receipt of social security benefits. Heating allowances are an example. These people feel cold all the time. They need high levels of heating, but they can obtain no assistance 1099 from the DHSS if they do not receive benefits to cover heating. Such people also often need bed linen which must be laundered daily. It is difficult for them to be assisted if they do not receive social security payments.
I understand that in Scotland post mortems have not been conducted even when pneumoconiosis boards have accepted a diagnosis of fibrosis of the pleura and exposure to asbestos but have refused disability benefit for asbestosis or for asbestosis and lung cancer both during life and after death. Efforts should be made to ensure that post mortems take place in such cases. Post mortems are important to dependants who wish to make a claim under the scheme.
The Minister has been asked whether all dust diseases are included in the scheme. Mention has been made of several. Are farmer's lung, beryllium poisoning, cadmium poisoning, nitrous fumes poisoning and nickel cancer covered by the scheme?
Who will administer the scheme? I assume that it will be administered by Department of Employment officials. Medical panels are responsible to the DHSS, and the Secretary of State for Social Services has a right to refer claims for independent appeal to the medical arbitration tribunal. Will the Secretary of State for Employment have a similar power under the Bill?
What efforts are to be made to publicise the scheme? If it is to be of use, extensive publicity must be given. Many sufferers live in geographically isolated areas and have little contact with people. Special efforts must be made to assist them and to bring the scheme to their attention.
As medical panels will be important in determining disability, can consideration be given to paying for medical and legal representation before the panels? Claimants have a right to be represented, but no financial assistance is available to them. Many of my constituents have been faced with paying at least £50 for an examination by a consultant, and I see no reason why examinations should not be freely available under the National Health Service.
Many companies that resist claims for compensation insist on two, and sometimes three, examinations by consultants 1100 —at £50 a time. Many poor people are deterred from pursuing claims for compensation because they cannot afford the costs. If they have no guarantee of success, they can be faced with substantial costs, particularly as the qualifying limit for legal aid is wholly unrealistic and takes no account of the inflation of recent years.
I receive numerous complaints about the way in which examinations are conducted by medical panels. Is guidance issued to panels about how examinations should be carried out? If so, will the Government publish that guidance, since I have heard extraordinary stories about the examinations that some of my constituents have been given?
Has the proposed scheme been considered by the asbestos advisory committee? Reference has been made to the Pearson committee taking a long time, but the Simpson committee on asbestos was established in 1975 and has still not reported. I was promised that it would report last autumn. Then I was told that the report would be published early this year. Then it was to be the end of this month. I now gather that the report is still some months away. When can we expect it? Has the committee considered the scheme, and, if so, what were its observations?
The scheme is a significant advance in health and safety legislation, but it assists only a relatively small number of people. An enormous number of workers are exposed to dust hazards in the ordinary course of their employment. It is estimated that 250,000 come into regular contact with asbestos alone at frequent intervals during the course of their working lives.
We are dealing with a progressive disease which can be contracted in periods of exposure of less than three months. It can take 10 or 20 years to manifest itself, and it is a debilitating disease for which there is no cure.
This is a matter which has been neglected by officialdom for too many years. The first official concern was expressed by the Home Office in 1906, yet we are still considering in 1979 ways of helping sufferers. The Bill pays a small debt to some of the sufferers, but there is much more to be done.
1101 The Government are making a modest advance and I hope that in the coming months we shall be able to make further, long-overdue reforms to help the thousands who suffer or will suffer from the effects of dust diseases.
§ 11.15 p.m.
Mr. James Lomond (Oldham, East)
My constituents have much to thank the Labour Government for, both generally and for measures that have been especially helpful in Oldham. I think of measures such as temporary employment subsidy, the mobility allowance, the attendance allowance and, more particularly in Oldham, the help that the National Enterprise Board gave to Ferranti that saved many jobs. However, I have no hesitation in saying that in my opinion the Bill will have a greater impact in my constituency than any measure that the Government have introduced in the past four years.
Oldham was a centre of the spinning and textile industries. Consequently, there are in Oldham many thousands of sufferers of byssinosis. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment may recall an Adjournment debate in which he and I took part on Friday 14 March 1975—more than four years ago—in which we examined these matters and the impact that byssinosis has on the lives of many men, and especially women, in the textile industry. We talked about how they had waited for a long time for any lump-sum compensation for their industrial injuries.
I am pleased to be able to say tonight that the Government have recognised the need. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) to say that we should not make political capital out of measures such as the Bill. However, no matter how many hon. Members from all political parties took part in the pressure that has been put on successive Governments to bring forward a Bill of this sort, it was a Labour Government who produced such a Bill. I do not make political capital, but it should be recognised by the people that it was a Labour Government who acted. If there is political capital in that, so be it.
We should also remember that much of the pressure that was exerted came 1102 from the trade union movement. That has been recognised tonight by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. The trade union movement has been the butt of many fierce attacks by Opposition Members, especially in recent months. It has been said that it is not responsible, that its members are bully boys and that the closed shop is something that it should not support. However, those same people often forget that the important piece of legislation that we are discussing and others like it arise from the humdrum, everyday work of the trade union movement.
Frequently the trade union movement is the only shield that is available for the poor people who are unable to stand up for themselves and who suffer from byssinosis. These people are not especially articulate. They know virtually nothing about the working of the law. They do not understand why their cases are not recognised by tribunals when it is obvious to them and all their friends that they have byssinosis. They do not understand these things and they look to their unions—the textile trade unions—for support and protection, and that is what they get.
When we are critical of trade unions, we should never forget that the support and protection that I have described is the sort of work that occupies a great deal of their time and results in benefits to those who perhaps have not even been in the trade union movement and who would otherwise never receive benefits or be recognised by society. I recognise that the Bill is a triumph for the trade union movement and an enormous benefit to the people of Oldham. A great "Thank you" comes from them to the Labour Party for bringing the Bill forward.
§ 11.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Mike Noble (Rossendale)
I shall be brief in welcoming the Bill. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) on a magnificent speech which demonstrated the manner in which he examined asbestosis as it affected his constituents. The degree of knowledge that he demonstrated has been unsurpassed in most debates in the House during this Parliament. For my hon. Friend, as for other hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, especially my hon. Friends, the introduction and 1103 enactment of the Bill mark an important milestone, albeit a small one.
I want to speak on behalf of the textile workers, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Olham, East (Mr. Lamond). It is worth bearing in mind that the struggle for health and safety in the textile industry in many ways preceded the trade union movement. After all, it was Shaftesbury who looked at the conditions of factory workers 150 years ago and was particularly concerned about health and safety. The thought that it has taken 150 years to deal with the problem of byssinosis, or at least to recognise it to the extent that we are recognising it tonight, demonstrates the way in which our society in the past may have been remiss. For that reason alone, we should congratulate the Government on bringing the matter forward.
This is only one of the diseases affecting people in the textile industry. I recall going into mills 15 or 20 years ago. Two things impressed me. The first was the intolerable noise levels. These still exist in many mills and still remain to be dealt with. They must be dealt with if we are to make these workplaces at all tolerable. The second thing was the haze of dust hanging over everything in the mill. Even modern extraction equipment cannot deal with that kind of problem in a manner which will prevent the disease. I have heard textile officials say that where there is cotton working there will inevitably be disease, because they cannot get the degree of exactness needed in the extraction machinery to deal with the problem. But the fact that we are moving a step forward will be welcomed by all textile workers.
The struggle for recognition of the disease will continue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby indicated. Byssinosis is in exactly the same category as asbestosis. As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East said, workers in the industry cannot understand why they cannot get their ailment recognised before the appropriate medical panel. All of us from areas such as textile areas know of cases of constituents who come to us and can barely walk into our surgeries. We know that they suffer. The problem has always been that of pinning down the exact cause of the disease.
The unions have also been fighting for many years to extend the catchment area. 1104 As I understand the position, the catchment area in the textile industry at the moment does not include man-made fibres or polyesters, yet there is evidence that similar diseases are caused in those industries by the nature of the process as much as by the nature of the product. We need to extend the catchment area in that respect.
I welcome the fact that the prescribed five-year waiting period for diagnosis in the textile industry is to be abolished on 6 April. That will be welcomed by everyone throughout the industry. What will be particularly welcomed is that at last a scheme is to introduced in an industry which has suffered even greater decline over the years than the slate quarrying industry, and in which literally thousands of employers have gone out of existence. At last there will be an opportunity for workers in the industry—who perhaps worked for half a dozen employers, all of whom have been swept away by the tide of foreign competition in the past—to have some means of redress. That in itself is the most important feature of the Bill.
I want to refer to a point raised by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) concerning the cut-off period. The most traumatic post-war experience in the cotton textile industry was the Cotton Industry Act 1959. I hope that the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) will not accuse me of being party political here, because his party sold that Act to textile workers as being a lifeline for survival. Anyone who cares to come round my constituency in North-East Lancashire will see the mansions owned by the former cotton barons and the cottages of the cotton workers. The employers were compensated by massive amounts in order to close down and break up the machinery. The workers were thrust out on to the dole, long before any redundancy payment scheme came into operation.
The 1959–61 period, when those massive closures were taking place under the auspices of a Tory Government, is a crucial date for workers in the cotton industry. Old firms, particularly family firms, disappeared and employers went into early retirement. Workers went on to the dole. Many of those people are now suffering from byssinosis. Will the cut-off period extend past that period? 1105 In the textile industry this can be a very vital date indeed.
Much as we welcome schemes of this kind—whether to deal with pneumoconiosis among slate quarrymen, asbestosis among asbestos workers or byssinosis among textile workers—the answer can be found only in a genuine attempt to secure real health and safety measures at work. Until we extend ourselves fully, until we ensure that workers have control of their own working environment in such a way that these diseases can be eliminated, we shall have to resort to measures of this kind. But, no matter what is brought forward, there can be no compensation for health. It must be the task of the Labour Party and movement in general to further the boundaries of health and safety at work as the only lasting solution to this problem.
§ Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)
Like other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, I want to add my warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Minister of State on what must have been for him considerable pleasure in introducing the Bill. I apologise that I was unable to be here for his opening speech.
I know that we have quite a bit of time because this is exempted business, but the hour is late. If the time were more appropriate, I could enter into the spirit of the debate, because this is a debating Chamber.
I want to pick up one comment made by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), who made a temperate and good speech. The hon. Gentleman said that years ago slate quarry workers were told that, far from harming them, the inhalation of the dust was in some peculiar way beneficial. We now know that that was not true. I remind the House that years ago the only certifiable disease in the mining industry was silicosis. Old miners, because of what they had been told by so-called expert medical opinion, used to suck pieces of coal to relieve heartburn. They were led to believe by much better educated and informed men than themselves that that demonstrated the efficaciousness of coal. They believed that coal dust could not harm them and that only dust from stone could.
1106 There was an elaborate procedure for proving whether a man was suffering from silicosis. He had to have worked for so many years in a place which contained a certain percentage of stone. There was a whole rigmarole to be gone through. Men were dying in their thousands from the effects of coal dust. Pneumoconiosis is the genetic term that is now used to cover these diseases, including silicosis. It was called galloping consumption and under-nourishment. Men were dying from anything but the disease from which they were dying. Therefore, the hon. Member for Caernarvon was absolutely right in what he said. Experience has taught me to have a healthy scepticism when doctors pronounce on matters about which I have doubt.
I also want to comment on whether it is unseemly to make political capital out of this matter. I unashamedly proclaim to those who need to be told that the only party which has the will and the determination to help those in need is the Labour Party. That has been our proud record since 1945. The Bill will be another milestone on that long road. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) said that there was still much to be done, and I agree.
I warmly welcome the Bill and wish it a speedy passage. I am particularly glad to see on the Government Front Bench my hon. Friend the Member for White-haven (Dr. Cunningham), who now has a Government position. We remember his valiant efforts when a Back Bencher to try to persuade the Government to act, after the Pearson report had been commissioned by the Tory Government to look at the possible solution to the iron ore workers' case. I am pleased to say that they, too, will be beneficiaries of the Bill. I do not know how many hundreds or thousands there are, but I believe that there is a considerable group.
My hon. Friend will have as much pleasure as anyone in seeing the Bill introduced and will give it his warmest support because he battled long and hard for it. He battled on when the Government had introduced the Bill to help the mine workers. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) here. He will know the history of that Bill and why it was introduced. It has been of great benefit to 1107 the miners, although there is some criticism that much more money is needed, because many matters have been uncovered since the introduction of that Bill, welcome as it was. We may find later that there are little things in this Bill that we need to amend and others that we need to add.
We must always have at the back of our minds that our duty is to help those who suffer. I agree with the hon. Member for Caernarvon that we have a duty to help not only the men who are suffering but the widows. We should enrich what remains of their lives and try to compensate them. We can never bring their husbands back. I know from personal experience in my own family, and from seeing people in the mining village where I lived and in St. Helens and in my constituency, the devotion that the widows have given in nursing sick husbands, seeing them fade away and die. If that is at the back of our minds and we try to help not only those who still suffer but the widows, it will be something well done.
I end on a note that will not surprise one of my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. There are several references in the Bill to old cases. I hope that Opposition Members will not mind my making a little political dig; I know that it is improper of me. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was trying last Tuesday to disabuse Plaid Cymru Members of the idea that they could claim that they alone were responsible for the Bill, when he was giving its history, I said that I hoped it was a further indication of the Government's determination to go into those avenues that were still to be explored, though some of them were known, and remedy those injustices that had long existed, even from the time of our first great reforming Act of 1948. I particularly mentioned the old cases.
My right hon. Friend said that he could not pronounce on that matter but said that certainly these were things that would need to be done. He hoped that the Bill and the Pearson report would indicate the way in which the matter should go. He was sympathetic. I hope that the sympathy will be more than a mere expression of words. There is an old Lancashire saying that sympathy without relief is like mustard without beef: it is no good. We want something positive.
1108 The next Bill on this subject will be introduced by a Labour Government, because we have the will and the determination to do so. The Labour Benches are packed with Members such as my hon. Friends the Member for Sowerby and for Bolsover and others whom I shall not name by constituency who have vast knowledge of their industry and what needs to be done. I hope that when Labour is returned at the election one of its first actions will be to carry on with this reform and to introduce a Bill to help those categories who fell under the old Workmen's Compensation Act and who cannot sue anybody. This Bill quite properly helps those who cannot sue because their employers have gone out of business. Certain categories arising under the old Workmen's Compensation Act could not sue because of the hurdles they had to jump. The Labour Government removed those hurdles in their great reforming Act which became operative on 5 July 1948.
I remind hon. Members that people who suffered under the old Workmen's Compensation Act and who usually earned miserable wages had the choice of accepting compensation or forgoing that and suing their employer: they could not follow both courses. If they sued their employer, the greatest hurdle they had to overcome was the doctrine of common employment. Put simply, it was a shared risk. So the old workmen's compensation cases could not use.
We are rewarding—I use that word in its broadest sense; a better way of putting it is that we are trying to help—men who cannot sue in present circumstances, for one reason or another. The estimated number of those in this category is 25,000. They are the old workmen's compensation cases, the category known as "latents". I have a Bill before the House which will tackle this problem and the implementation of which will not cost a great sum. I shall be quite blunt and say that the only thing holding it up is the fact that it is considered by the civil servants to be administratively inconvenient: it is not quite as smooth-running as they would like.
I want the message to go out to those civil servants. The message is that which can be seen scribbled on walls "Parliament rules—OK?" Let my hon. Friend pass that message on to the civil servants.
1109 I give a very warm welcome to the Bill. It is a further indication of the Labour Party's will and determination to help those most in need. I have no shame in saying that I will broadcast its merit wherever I go, as I am sure will all my hon. Friends. I feel sure that those hon. Members who have helped to bring the Bill forward are greatly delighted. I have the greatest possible pleasure in giving it my blessing and expressing the hope that it is a forerunner of those Bills which the Labour Party will introduce on its return to Government at the election.
§ 11.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Debates on matters concerned with social security in the context of silicosis, pneumoconiosis and such matters have usually been dominated, until recently, by Members representing mining constituencies. It is refreshing that tonight there have been several speeches, mainly from the Labour Benches but one from the Tory Benches, which have made it clear that there are other Members who are very knowledgeable in this subject. I am pleased that they have been able to express themselves so clearly, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Sowerby (Mr. Madden), Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), Rossendale (Mr. Noble) and Ince (Mr. McGuire).
I take the view that when the pneumoconiosis scheme was introduced, at a cost of well over £100 million—by a Labour Government—a massive gate was opened, because we were moving into completely new territory in terms of compensation at common law. The thalidomide case was an extension of that. There is no doubt that there will be many more calls in this area. This is just one of the many small areas in which, the gate having been opened, certain people are now being included in various schemes.
For the benefit of Opposition Members, principally those on the Tory Benches, my guess is that they must bear in mind that when they give general welcomes to Bills of this kind, they ought to be telling the Leader of the Opposition, and particularly the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), that such measures involve a lot of Government spending. I get a little tired of hearing the Leader of the Opposition and her close 1110 circle of friends—the gang of four, or whatever they are—complaining about public spending in general without being specific about it. I am fed up with hearing about "all this waste" when along comes the Opposition Front Bench spokesman to give a general welcome to another specific Bill.
It all adds up to money. This can be found only from taxation. I am prepared to put my hand into my back pocket as often as anyone to pay out for these cases, because the money cannot come from anywhere else. I am not one of those who think that we ought to pay for this by raising VAT and pushing up the retail price index. It should be done in a more progressive way by the taxation system attacking people such as the Duke of Westminster, who can get away with £500 million or the £2,000 million that he has managed to get away with recently.
Therefore, let us be quite clear. When we are all giving general welcomes to this Bill, let us understand that it means the expenditure of hard cash. One cannot reconcile spending money of this kind and opening up this great arena, which started with compensation for pneumoconiosis and has continued through to this measure, thalidomide and all the rest, with Opposition leaders in a general election campaign talking about the Government "spending your money"—as the Leader of the Opposition said tonight on television.
The Government spend taxpayers money mainly—not entirely, but 99 per cent. of the time—on schemes such as this, or on providing education, or wages for the Army, or the police, and all the other things. The total equation comes to the bill which must be paid by taxpayers. This is another example of it.
That is one reason why Saatchi & Saatchi never have Tory posters up condemning the Labour Government for what they have done for people disadvantaged in these areas. There are plenty of posters about other matters, but Saatchi & Saatchi are very wary about sticking up posters concerning Labour's attitude, political judgment and will in terms of looking after the disabled. I do not expect that we shall see any such posters during the coming election campaign, because people outside this place understand only too well that if there are to be any 1111 improvements in this area, they are bound to come from a Labour Government.
I say this to my hon. Friends. Never mind about what people are saying in terms of what the issues will be in the election campaign. Let us campaign upon the question of looking after pensioners, the disabled and these groups. This is one of our strongest points; it always has been. Despite all the problems that the Government have had and the failures, and the mess into which they have got themselves on occasions, we have managed in this area to hold up our heads high.
§ Mr. Noble
Has not my hon. Friend done an injustice to the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph)? The right hon. Member says that he will save money on industrial subsidies. According to the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), £200 million will be saved from the coal mining industry. Does not that mean, therefore, that fewer people will be able to find jobs at all in various industries, so that ultimately there will be fewer people to whom to pay compensation, anyway? Is not that the way in which the right hon. Member's philosophy goes?
§ Mr. Skinner
It is even worse than that. It applies to measures of this kind. If there is an attempt to cut back £200 million from the coal industry, I can say, based on experience, that some of the money that will not be used will come from that which should be spent on looking after the safety of miners. That will be the first area to be cut. The accent will not be on productivity and producing coal. It will be on saving money where it does not immediately affect productivity. The result will be even more miners suffering from pneumonconiosis because of the lack of investment in the area which concentrates on that aspect.
This debate is like many others in which we have taken part. The Bill has had a general welcome. It is a specific matter, but it is one on which we can say to people outside that we have brought forward a measure. I do not take any notice of the suggestion which was made outside this House but, incidentally, not inside it by the Welsh nationalists that this was a cynical measure. I took it for granted that, when it was included in the Queen's Speech, it 1112 would be on its way some time. I did not get terribly excited because the Government were looking into the pros and cons of including those affected in the textile industry and the pottery industry. I wanted to see that happen. I wanted further inclusions in terms of the chemical industry. There is an area here. This gate which has been opened will result in justifiable claims from all those working in such firms as Bolsover Coalite, Staveley Chemicals next door in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley), and many others up and down the country where prescribed diseases have been accepted by the Industrial Advisory Board, such as cancer of the liver and all those arising out of different processes. Here, too, there will be justifiable attempts to get those included. So there is no doubt that we are in an area where even more money must be spent.
There are some other minor matters concerning this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby touched on most of the technicalities involved in trying to improve the ways and means of people getting benefits through the medical appeal tribunals, the pneumoconiosis medical panels, and so on. When the Labour Party is re-elected, my right hon. Friend ought to be thinking in terms of trying to do something about the 10 per cent. rule and people not being able to get any benefit if they do not reach the 10 per cent. level. That is an area which must be looked at. Another aspect concerns the pneumoconiosis medical panels, which ought to be made to publish their reports saying why people have failed on successive occasions. The problem of latent cases is another good example. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ince that this week we are trying to draw up the manifesto for the next election, and I want him to give me some assistance and tell the members of the Cabinet who will be meeting us on Friday to insist that a reference to latent cases is made in the manifesto.
If we do not get it into the manifesto, those civil servants who unfortunately dominate the Government on many occasions will say to the Minister concerned, whoever he is, "I am sorry, but you cannot have latent cases brought into a Bill becasue it is not in your manifesto". The top civil servants—I am not talking 1113 about those who were outside the gates this afternoon; I am talking about those in the higher echelons—will say "I am sorry, Minister, but it is not in your manifesto." So I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ince and to others that we must lobby Cabinet Ministers before the election to get the latent cases into the manifesto. If we do that, the civil servants cannot cavil when we come back after the election.
That, in a nutshell, is how I see these matters. The Government have provided the political will and the wherewithal to introduce this measure. The Tories now say that they welcome it. But I have no doubt that they will leave this Chamber and trot along to their constituents talking about this Government and their spending. They talk about waste. This is not waste. It is looking after people who have been ignored for too long. There are many more millions in our society who want a leg over the next stile. I came into Parliament to help lift them over that stile, but I know when I am doing it that I have to find the money to pay them so that they can get over that stile. It cannot be done by saying, on the one hand, that taxes will be cut and, on the other, that these benefits will be provided by a compassionate Tory Government. The equation does not add up.
I welcome the Government's approach. This must be about the first time that I have said that in five years. I am only sorry that they have not introduced a similar measure during the past five years. If they had, there would have been no question of a poor showing in opinion polls. Nevertheless, this is a good measure. We must welcome it. People in all the constituencies will support and praise the Government for introducing it.
§ Mr. Harold Walker
With the permission of the House, I should like to respond to some of the matters that have been raised in what has generally been a good-natured, constructive and well-informed debate. Some of the speeches have shown a firm grasp of the issues and the complex matters underlying them. Not least do I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), to use his own words, has been 1114 given the rare opportunity to congratulate the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden), in a speech that has been rightly praised, asked about publicity for this measure. I have a feeling that it will be widely publicised between now and 3 May in the areas where it has most relevance. None the less, I take his point and I will see what else can be done. My hon. Friends the Members for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) and Rossendale (Mr. Noble) reminded me, in referring to their constituency interests, of the Lancashire cotton textile industry and the disease of byssinosis. I recall Lord Hale, when he was Member for one of the Oldham seats, moving the House emotionally more than most speakers I have heard with his account of the previous problems of sufferers of byssinosis in that industry. My wife's parents died in recent years from respiratory diseases incurred in their occupation in the Lancashire cotton spinning industry.
Many speakers in this debate have recognised that they raised matters which are not within my responsibility and were not directly related to issues before the House. They will have noted, however, that Ministers from the Welsh Office and the Department of Health and Social Security have been present and have listened to the debate. No doubt my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security will be writing to my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby and others. I am grateful to those Ministers for their presence and their support.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby asked whether this scheme had been put before the asbestosis advisory panel. I do not know. I can only say that when the working party was set up we asked it to take advice and guidance from whatever sources seemed relevant and appropriate. In public speeches I made in Wales, and also in a parliamentary written answer, I have encouraged people to submit evidence to the working party. I know that some outside evidence was submitted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby and other hon. Members asked whether diseases other than byssinosis, pneumoconiosis and diffuse mesothelioma were within the scope of the scheme. I stress again the general principle on which 1115 the scheme is necessarily based. In order to have a valid claim, claimants must satisfy certain tests. The first is that they are suffering from one of the diseases that fall within the descriptions of pneumoconiosis, byssionsis or diffuse mesothelioma. They must be receiving industrial disablement benefit in respect of that disease or, if the person has died, the dependant or widower must be receiving the appropriate death benefit.
This inevitably rules out some of the diseases which have been mentioned. The basic principle of our approach distinguishes the diseases in the Bill from other disabling injuries or diseases, such as farmer's lung. It often takes so long for the diagnosis to be made that the employer has gone out of business or cannot be identified. When someone is crippled by the loss of a limb or an eye, that is an event in time; the employer can be identified and is available to be sued if the injured worker has a claim on the grounds of negligence or breach of statutory duty.
I am informed that, unlike these diseases, farmer's lung is so swift in its onset that until recently it was regarded by the DHSS as an industrial accident rather than a disease. That means that invariably the employer is available for a civil action to be brought against him. This scheme is intended to give redress to those who have not been able to bring a similar claim because of the lapse of time.
§ Mr. Madden
The list of diseases that I read was contained in a table headed "Industrial chest diseases", issued by the DHSS. It included farmer's lung and the other diseases to which I referred. I should therefore be grateful if the Minister would reconsider what he has said and publish a definitive list of the diseases covered by this scheme. This is a possible cause of concern and dissatisfaction. It is something which we should clear up—certainly with farmer's lung, which gives rise to a considerable number of cases.
§ Mr. Walker
I understand the point, but I beg my hon. Friend to remember that we have had to defend, against considerable resistance in some cases, a measure to redress the grievances of those at present within the scope of the Bill. We have done so on the basis that I have 1116 described. This is the justification put to me by Sir Elwyn Jones and representatives of the Wales TUC, the Labour Party of Wales and the TUC in London, for example. They have said that these diseases, which are slow in their onset, should be distinguished. Had we not been able to persuade others to accept that, we might have prejudiced our whole approach and might not have had the Bill before us now.
I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but he will see, I think—it is open to examination and argument—that the same strength of argument does not apply to the categories he mentioned, because often those affected will have an identifiable employer against whom to pursue a civil action.
I want to be frank, on farmer's lung in particular—my hon. Friend also referred to beryllium poisoning and to nitrous fumes poisoning; and there will be others. We must stick to the basis on which the scheme is founded.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
I appreciate the underlying principle to which the Minister has referred, but are the pottery and iron ore workers referred to by the Prime Minister on 27 March covered? Does the same apply to the gypsum workers who have been referred to?
§ Mr. Walker
I want to deal with the gypsum workers in a moment. The point I wish to stress is that the scheme is related not to specific industries but to specific diseases. As described by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire), the generic term "pneumoconiosis" includes silicosis, asbestosis, kaolinosis, the disease that is contracted by the Cornish clay miners, and a whole range of such disease, including byssinosis and diffuse mesothelioma.
If a person, whether in the gypsum industry, working in a brickyard or anywhere else, has been able to satisfy the Department of Health and Social Security that he is suffering from one of these diseases and is receiving the appropriate industrial benefit in respect of that disease, or the sufferer has died as a result of those diseases and his widow or dependant has received the appropriate death benefit, he is likely to be within the scope of the scheme. I say "likely" because he has satisfied the first test. 1117 He then has to satisfy the second test, as set out in clause 2 of the Bill, which is that he is not able to identify the employer for whom he was working al the time he contracted the disease and the employer is therefore no longer available for action to be taken against him.
The third test that must be satisfied is that the person concerned has not already brought an action—whether it failed of succeeded—against that employer or has reached a compromise agreement to settle out of court.
The gypsum worker, brickyard worker or anyone else suffering from one of these prescribed diseases as covered by the Bill and receiving the appropriate benefit has satisfied the first test of eligibility for a claim under the scheme.
§ Mr. Wigley
Clause 2 (2) (c) uses the wordsthat every relevant employer of the deceased has ceased to carry on business".Will the Minister consider the situation where perhaps a quarryman or other worker has worked for two or three different companies, any one of which may have caused or contributed towards his state of health? The latest company to which he may have given the predominant part of his working life may have gone out of business but perhaps one of the companies for which he worked earlier is still in business. Will the Minister assure us that a reasonable attitude would be taken towards that person and that he would not miss out in such circumstances?
§ Mr. Walker
I shall not pretend that every case will be straightforward and clearcut. But it would seem to me that if a person had worked for a succession of employers in circumstances in which he could have contracted the prescribed disease and one of those employers was still in existence and available to be the subject of action, it might well be that those administering the scheme will have to say "No, you really ought to take your action against that employer".
It is no part of our responsibility to take on those matters which are properly the responsibility of an employer. To do so is indeed unjust to those who would be outside the scope of the scheme precisely because they are in occupations 1118 where they would be able to take legal action. Built into the scheme in the Bill are later provisions which would enable an appeal to be made to the Secretary of State. I hope that that is some encouragement to the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) with regard to the possibly doubtful cases which he may have in mind.
The comparison of the proposed payments with those available under the National Coal Board scheme has been raised a number of times. It has been said that the payments made might be worse than those that might hypothetically have been available if the person had had an employer to sue. I stress again that what the worker might have been able to get is purely hypothetical. We all know that the payments vary substantially from case to case and court to court. It is very much a matter of conjecture.
The National Coal Board scheme is, I stress, a voluntary scheme entered into by the parties in the industry to avoid the need to enter into possibly many thousands of expensive cases. In settling the appropriate rates of compensation I have not the slightest doubt—though I do not have the authority for saying so—that one of the factors taken into account is what might otherwise have been available had the individuals who will be beneficiaries under the scheme taken the legal action that might have been available to them following the Pickles case.
I was asked about retrospection, whether there would be a retrospective cut-off and whether that would affect the amount payable to widows and dependants. The National Coal Board scheme, which we have used as our yardstick, provides less generous compensation to the dependants of workers who died before 26 January 1970—that is nearly five years before the introduction of the scheme—than it does to the dependants of those who died after that date. I understand that there may be several reasons for this, not the least being the cost involved. But the DHSS records of beneficiaries are not available more than five years after their deaths. In many cases there would be no way of ensuring that a sufferer was suffering from the 1119 disease or of determining his age and percentage of disability on the first assessment which is also used to determine the dependants' benefit.
However, the regulations that would incorporate the tables of benefit for the sufferers and dependants under the scheme have not yet been drawn up, and they will be subject to scrutiny and affirmation by Parliament. I have asked that in drawing them up my officials should consider whether it might be possible to establish some scheme of compensating the widows of those who died more than five years before the introduction of the scheme, perhaps in a more generous way than that employed by the Coal Board. I do not think that I can reasonably go beyond that somewhat reasonable and tentative half commitment tonight. We shall see what happens when we put the eventual regulations before the House.
I can assure the House that there will be no absolute retrospective cut-off for claimants other than that which automatically arises under the provisions of clause 2(1) by which the applicant has to be in receipt of disablement benefit under the industrial injuries scheme which was introduced in 1948. There will be no cut-off between 1948 and the introduction of the scheme this year.
The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) asked about self-employed farmers. I have referred to farmer's lung, but let me deal more generally with the self-employed. There may be some one who is suffering from one of the prescribed diseases but is in self-employment. If he incurred his disease while working for a former employer who subsequently went out of business, he will be eligible under the scheme. If he incurred the disease while in self-employment he would not be eligible under the scheme.
I may not have answered all the points raised in the debate. I shall scrutinise the Official Report tomorrow and if there are outstanding points that I have not answered adequately I shall write to the hon. Members who raised them.
The hon. Member for Caernarvon reminded me of my visit to Llanberis last July. It was a moving experience to have those hundreds of people waiting in the rain to present a massive petition to me. I told them that I would feel it a great 1120 personal reproach if we had not been able, before the expiry of this Parliament, to devise some scheme that would help. I hope that the hon. Member is able to assure them that I have fulfilled at least that part of my job.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Tinn.]
§ Further proceedings stood postponed pursuant to Order [30 March].