HC Deb 07 February 1995 vol 254 cc144-260 3.38 pm
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that those who are in receipt of an award of compensation in respect of any accident, injury or disease as a consequence of their employment or occupation shall be entitled to benefit from such an award in its entirety; that any negligent employer or other compensator shall be obliged to meet the cost of any social security or other statutory benefit paid to any worker, employee or dependant of any worker or employee as a consequence of any accident, injury or disease resulting from the employment or occupation for which an award of compensation is subsequently made; to make legal aid available in all personal injury litigation in such circumstances, and for connected purposes. As someone who has been a member of a trade union for nearly 30 years and who is sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union, I am proud to introduce this Bill. One of the reasons why I joined a trade union almost 30 years ago was that I realised, along with everyone else, that none of us could be confident that we would not suffer some illness or injury as a consequence of our occupation. Every year, some 150,000 workers suffer injury or illness as a result of their occupation. Thank goodness many workers still receive the support, counsel and advice of trade unions, which will have achieved more than £300 million worth of compensation on behalf of injured workers this year.

Many workers, of course, do not belong to trade unions. As a consequence, they are especially disadvantaged. None the less, all workers, whether members of trade unions or not, find it enormously and increasingly difficult to obtain remedies for illness or injury sustained at work. One reason for that is the lack of access to legal aid to match the resources available to the employers or the insurance companies. My Bill would ensure the availability of legal aid to workers who are injured or ill so that they could challenge the vested interests of insurance companies, which do everything that they can to resist the just claims of sick and injured workers.

My Bill also takes on board the concept of the early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), which has been signed by more than 205 members of all Opposition parties and which draws attention to the unfairness of the clawback provisions of section 22 of the Social Security Act 1989. The compensatory recovery unit currently claws back large sums of benefit from people's compensatory awards. It is demonstrably unfair, it makes nonsense of the concept of compensation and it is wholly wrong. Increasingly, hon. Members are finding that constituents are making representations to them about that unfairness, which will soon be comparable with the scale of representations that we all received about the absurd activities of the Child Support Agency. My Bill would amend section 22 of the 1989 Act and make it fairer to the taxpayer and the disadvantaged worker.

At present, the system works in favour of the selfish insurance company and the rogue employer, which are already doing everything possible to stall and frustrate fair and reasonable compensatory settlements for workers. They know that, if they stall, the likelihood of a person receiving just compensation after paying the Department of Social Security is minimal. The system further persuades sick, disadvantaged, very ill and often traumatised people to settle for derisory compensation. Some of the people involved are terminally ill. The system is demonstrably unfair and is not in the interest of the country or taxpayers.

For the sake of sick and disadvantaged workers, many of whom are in great pain and suffering disability, and who need compensation to increase mobility, diminish their discomfort and, in some cases, to provide carers if they are very sick, we must shift the burden of the payment of social security benefits to the compensator—the employer or the employer's insurance company. That would be fair and would establish a level playing field in this unhappy state of affairs. It would mean that the employer or the insurance company would reflect that if they dragged out the proceedings and did not reach a fair and early compensatory settlement with the injured or disadvantaged worker, they could face a larger burden when the case was finally prosecuted through the courts and the worker had the support of legal aid. Not only would employers or insurance companies have to pay proper compensation, but they would repay the taxpayer for social security benefits spent in trying to maintain that sick worker and his or her family.

There would also be some very useful spin-offs from the Bill. If people were paid adequate compensation early, it stands to reason that the national health service and, indeed, the Department of Social Security, would incur less expense.

Secondly, there would be a greater incentive for insurance companies to be much more robust in demanding that employers minimise hazards at work. That might ensure that there was a proper health and safety regime in our factories, offices and laboratories, which there is not at present. There has been considerable slippage in that respect, and it is absurd for people to suggest that we have a good record for health and safety in this country.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

We have.

Mr. Mackinlay

I do not call the 150,000 illnesses and injuries caused each year in places of work a good record. That figure is a disgrace and the House should be ashamed of it. Hon. Members who support the introduction of my Bill are demonstrating their desire to diminish that unacceptable toll of illnesses and injuries suffered by workers.

It is time that the House addressed itself to the great unfairness with which workers who are sick or injured because of their occupation or their place of work are treated. I hope that my Bill will be given a fair wind and that the Government will find time for it to be discussed in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Andrew Mackinlay, Ms Jean Corston, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Bill Etherington, Mr. D.N. Campbell-Savours, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Alan Meale, Mr. Gordon McMaster, Mr. Andrew Miller, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. John Spellar and Mr. Tony Worthington.

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