HL Deb 16 July 1918 vol 30 cc856-60

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is, in effect, a development of the Workmen's Compensation Act, which provides compensation for workers contracting industrial diseases. It provides for compensation in the case of those killed or disabled by an industrial disease known as fibroid phthisis which arises from siliceous dust that is to be found, for example, in mining or quarrying of what is known as Bannister rock, a very hard rock, and also in the making of silica brick.

It was considered long ago whether this idea could not be incorporated in the Workmen's Compensation Act, but owing to the slow development of the disease and insufficient knowledge it was decided not to recommend that course. Now, owing to the advance of science, to deeper medical research, and to improved diagnosis, the change is recommended, and is considered necessary. It is intended by the Bill to empower the Secretary of State to make schemes for different industries, and by the schemes to establish in each industry a compensation fund from which all claims are to be paid. The burden will be distributed among the whole trade, and therefore no question of apportioning the liability among the different employers will arise.

The scheme has two aims—one precautionary, the other compensation. The process of the disease is extremely slow, and the Bill provides for the suspension from employment of those for whom this particular trade has become dangerous. In such cases, if the Committee to be set up find that the workman's capacity for work is impaired by the disease as the result of following the occupation, compensation will be given. For the purpose of this compensation joint committees will be set up of employers and workmen, and there will be an independent chairman. Among the provisions of the Bill is one for the appointment and remuneration of medical officers and advisory medical bodies who will have to do with this particular disease and with these workmen. The outlines of this scheme have already been worked out, and, while I cannot say that agreement is absolute, there is a very large measure of assent. The Bill is the result of continuous conference and lengthy negotiations by which many outstanding difficulties have been overcome. I hope I have said enough to show the useful and beneficent nature of this measure, and I ask your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. (Viscount Sandhurst.)


My Lords, your Lordships will be anxious to give favourable consideration to this measure, which is obviously designed in the interests of workmen in a difficult and dangerous occupation. I rise only for the purpose of asking the noble Viscount whether he can give me a little information on one or two points which occur to me on cursorily glancing through the measure Is it assumed that this particular disease at the present moment is outside the scope of the existing Workmen's Compensation Act; and, if so, why? It seems that the disease obviously arises out of and in the course of occupation, and I do not for the moment understand why the Workmen's Compensation Act is not capable of dealing with it. I could have understood it better if this Bill had provided for a more extended and liberal scheme of compensation, but it appears by subsection (2) of Clause 1 that the scheme of compensation is that prescribed by the Workmen's Compensation Act. Obviously there must be something at the back of it which has caused the advisers of the Government to think that this Bill is necessary. I should like to know what it is, because, if the workmen have, in fact, at the present moment rights under the Workmen's Compensation Act, I should not like to see those rights in any way weakened or impaired by the passage of another measure.

The second question that I wish to ask is, if the object of this Bill is to provide a fund out of which compensation is to be paid and to relegate to workmen the rights against that fund and against that fund alone, what provision is there in the Bill to secure workmen if the fund happens to be insufficient? There is a general fund which is to be compensated by subscriptions, and out of that fund the expenses are to be met and the compensation is to be paid. But suppose the fund is inadequate when any workmen takes proceedings to recover compensation, what is his remedy then?

The noble Viscount, I am sure, will understand that I am asking these questions with a genuine desire for information, and with particular anxiety that no existing right should in any way be weakened by a Bill passed on the hypothesis that the right is, in fact, unsound or untrustworthy.


In regard to the second question of my noble and learned friend, I believe the intention is that these workmen shall, by being taken in time, be prevented from becoming seriously ill from this particular disease. At present I understand that there are a large number of these workmen who are seriously ill, but after the improved medical inspection, and so on, we hope that that severe condition will be avoided. In reply to the noble and learned Lord's first question, I should like to inform myself a little better and I will make communication at the next stage of the Bill, as this particular disease is not confined to gannister quarries only but also exists in certain Cornish mines which are very difficult to work, and affects Sheffield grinders and certain pottery workers. Whether the actual conditions of the existing Workmen's Compensation Act would be sufficient I am unable to say, but I will in from myself and tell the noble and learned Lord at the next stage.


My Lords, I think I can answer the question of my noble and learned friend below me, because I am somewhat interested in this particular kind of production which of late has become specially important. If you want to make munitions you must have steel, and if you want steel you must have furnaces, and those furnaces must be lined with a certain kind of brick, and those bricks must be made of this particular kind of clay called gannister. The noble and learned Lord may remember that when the Workmen's Compensation Act was passed it dealt solely—I think I am right in saying—with accidents, but there was a clause which said that it might he extended, and it was a very important extension, beyond accidents to disease by a certain process. The process provided in the Act was that it might be extended by Order in Council made on the advice of the Home Secretary. Here we have an industry in which it is said that a certain disease arises from the processes in which the workers are engaged—the mining processes and the brick-making processes. No doubt the Secretary of State could exercise his power of extending the Act to that industry by a mere Order in Council, by executive action; but it was felt, in view of the extraordinary importance of this production, that it would not be fair for any individual employer to bear alone the whole of the very serious financial liability which might be laid upon him; therefore it was necessary to set up—what this Bill really sets up—a compulsory insurance scheme for the whole trade. In my opinion it is a fair scheme; and not only is it a fair scheme, but it gives the workman a stronger fund against which to proceed. The noble and learned Lord asked, supposing the compensation fund became insolvent, what would be the workman's position? The answer is that, even supposing you make that extreme supposition, he would be in a better position than under any other Act which left his recourse against the assets of an individual employer. I think I have answered the questions of my noble and learned friend.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.