HL Deb 01 August 1922 vol 51 cc1014-20

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill is a hardy annual which comes up for consideration every year. It has already passed through all its stages in another place, and I beg to move that it be now read a second time by your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Hylton.)

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

Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX, having been suspended) it was moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Hylton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL of DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clauses 1, 2 and 3, agreed to.

Clause 4:

Amending enactments.

4. Any unrepealed enactments amending or affecting the enactments made permanent or continued by this Act shall, in so far as they are temporary in their duration, become permanent or be continued in like manner, whether they are mentioned in the First or Third Schedule (as the case may ho) to this Act or not.

LORD GAINFORD moved, at the end of Clause 4, to insert "except the Workmen's Compensation (War Additions) Amendment Act, 1919, which shall not be continued by virtue of this Act." The noble Lord said: I wish to draw the attention of your Lordships to a point which appears to have escaped notice in another place. It is in connection with compensation for accidents. In 1906 a Bill was passed which compensated men in the event of accidents incurred in the course of their calling. In 1917, owing to the cost of living, that Bill was amended by an Act which increased the compensation by one-fourth. In the year 1919 a further Bill was passed through Parliament which increased the compensation by 75 per cent. over the amount paid under the Act of 1906.

The Mining Association of Great Britain asked me to direct your Lordships' attention to the very high compensation which is now being paid, at any rate to men engaged in the coalfields of Great Britain. I cannot speak for other industries, but I can speak for the coal milling industry, and what we have found in recent months has been this. A large body of men, and especially the younger men, instead of returning to work after their disablement has ceased, continue to draw benefit allowances from benefit societies as well as secure the amount of compensation paid under the Act of 1919, which is 75 per cent. greater than the amount which was originally intended to be given.

It has been difficult for me in the course of a few hours to obtain any definite statistics to enable me to make my case quite clear to your Lordships, but I have obtained figures relating to one small district. In this district the number of men receiving compensation is very similar to the number of men receiving it for the same three months ending April, 1914, but the amounts are very different. The amount of compensation paid by the industry to these men in the 1911 period was £3,066; it is now £7,609; so that, although the compensation has gone up by only 75 per cent. the amount of compensation paid is more than double that paid in the 1914 period. It is suggested by the coal-owners of that district that this is due to malingering, and the facts appear to bear that out, because, whilst a similar number of accidents have taken place, the number of those who apply for compensation for a period of under eight weeks has decreased from 761 to 640, and the number of those who have applied for compensation for a period of over eight weeks has increased from 164 to 226.

If these figures are an indication of what is going on throughout the country it is obvious that an unreasonable amount of compensation is being paid at the present time to men who have suffered accidents. I know your Lordships will feel that in such a matter as compensation for accidents one would rather be on the generous than on the ungenerous side, but after all it is unfair to the men who work that they should be receiving less money than those who are fit for work but who, having met with accidents, do not care to resume work, although they are fit to do so. Under the law as it at present exists I understand that there is practically no inducement for a workman to return to work unless he is compelled by a decree of the Court to do so.

In these circumstances I suggest to your Lordships it would be right and fair that the increased amount given by the Act of 1919 over the amount given by the Act of 1917 should be chopped, and that we should continue to pay an increased rate of compensation of 25 per cent. over and above what was originally intended. If that be done it will correspond very much with the cost of living that prevailed in 1917. Since 1919 the cost of living has gone down considerably. This change will, at any rate, put the industry in a better position, and, although the men themselves might not admit it, I am sure that it is in their interest that the cost of working coal should not be increased by items of this character which prejudice the hard worker and favour the malingerer. It is with a view to meet that position that I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 4, at end insert ("except the Workmen's Compensation (War Additions) Amendment Act, 1919, which shall not be continued by virtue of this Act.")—(Lord Gainford.)


The Amendment which the noble Lord seeks to make in this Bill is, I understand, to omit the Act of 1919. The Act of 1919 is a complement of the Act of 1917, which increased the benefits received under the Act of 1906. I think the object of the noble Lord is really to amend the law in regard to the amount of compensation to be paid, and I would submit that to omit from the Expiring Laws Continuance Act this Amending Act of 1919, which in effect only increased the benefit received under the previous Act, is not a very convenient method of dealing with the situation. The effect of the Amendment would be to go back to a 25 per cent. increase on the prewar scale, while the cost of living is still 80 per cent. above the pre-war scale. I admit that since 1919 the cost of living has decreased, but not, I submit, sufficiently to make it convenient or fair to go back absolutely to the 1917 level. As I think I explained three years ago when I introduced the Bill, it is in the nature of a temporary measure.

The Government, in 1920, appointed a Committee to go into the whole of this question with a view to general legislation, and that Committee reported in favour of substantial increases in the benefits. The Government have in view now a comprehensive measure to amend the Workmen's Compensation Act, and my right honour- able friend the Home Secretary is in touch with the representatives of employers and workers with a view to settle a Bill. I would suggest, therefore, to the noble Lord that the moment for the exhaustive consideration of this question is when a measure of general legislation is introduced, and not on the Expiring Laws Bill. The noble Lord touched on the question of malingering, and, of course, it is true that if a man is earning 40s. a week and is able to get 35s. a week by doing nothing there may be a temptation to him to malinger, but I think that would only be the case where a man is receiving some comparatively small sum such as 40s. a week as wages. If he is earning 50s. a week or more he does not gain very much by malingering, and I doubt whether malingering is generally practised.


The amounts which he gets from benefit societies will really induce him to absent himself from work.


Even if the man is earning as much as 70s. per week? I rather doubt whether this is the moment to change the legislation on this matter. I admit that it requires consideration, and the Government are looking into When general legislation is introduced the question of fixing a better system of compensation will certainly be considered—such as adopting a sliding scale—but it is impossible at the moment to make a change in the existing system. There is the further point that the noble Lord's proposal would cut down the compensation received from 35s. to 25s. per week. Summarily to introduce a change of this nature would inflict hardship and injustice on a number of perfectly deserving persons. The only way to do it is by a general review of the law, and I trust a Bill will be introduced without any avoidable delay. I cannot give any undertaking as to when this Bill will be introduced, but the whole position will be reviewed by the Government. I trust the noble Lord will not insist upon the Amendment.


It would be almost unprecedented to introduce into this Bill such an Amendment as is suggested by the noble Lord. This Bill exists for a totally different purpose, and may be fairly described as an omnibus Bill. But there is another objection to the Amendment. It deals only with a fragment of what is undoubtedly, a great difficulty; I had almost said a great evil. We are confronted now with a problem, in greater dimensions and more serious in its effect upon society than any which has confronted us for a long time—namely, the question of unemployment. It would be undesirable to deal with one small branch of the subject. on a Bill like this when the whole question calls for the most urgent and careful consideration by the Government. What is the effect upon unemployment of the present contributions made by the State, and from other sources to aid those who are temporarily out of work? And how far has the original intention of the "dole" to the unemployed passed from what it was intended to be—a bridge between service in the Forces and employment in civil work—and become a powerful attraction which induces those who can work, and have work offered them, not to take that work or not to work to their fullest extent? This is a serious evil just now, and it has a bearing on unemployment which is not recognised by those who have not taken the trouble to look into the subject.

I hope the noble Earl represented the view of the Government as a whole when he told us that the matter was being carefully considered. I hope the Government will be able to deal with it, and that they will deal with it in a comprehensive way. So long as from State resources, or from charity, or from benefit societies, an inducement is given to men not to take work because they can easily get what they regard as sufficient money without working, you will have the unemployment problem before you in little reduced degree from what it is now. The noble Earl asked a question as to whether a man who can earn good wages is likely to be tempted to remain out of work because he could get a lesser sum by not working. That is not a hypothetical question at all; that is a fact at the moment. Both men and women are content to take smaller sums, which they can easily get without working, than a larger sum by working. That was never intended by the State; it should not be allowed to continue, as it is a serious menace to the reduction of unemployment and to the manhood and womanhood of our people. It is thoroughly bad that they should be induced to remain out of work because they can get a "dole" which gives them enough to live upon. I hope the Government will take the whole question into consideration. Unless some- thing is clone the question of unemployment will continue to be one of the greatest evils with which we have to contend.


I do not propose to deal with the larger question to which the noble Viscount has just alluded, but I regard the matter as somewhat serious so far as some industries are concerned. Under this Bill, I understand, these rates will prevail until October, 1923, unless legislation is introduced between now and then. The noble Earl has said that the Home Office intends to introduce at an early date a Compensation Bill which will put all these matters on a more satisfactory basis. In asking leave to withdraw the Amendment I rely on the Government looking into this question between now and the autumn. I hope the Bill will be introduced then, or, if not, very early in the following session, and that it will deal promptly with these unjust and unreasonable rates which should not exist any longer than is necessary.


It would be premature for me to say whether it will be possible to pass such a Bill this session. It is one of considerable perplexity and difficulty. But no unavoidable delay will be permitted.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

First and Second Schedules agreed to.

Third Schedule:

  1. THIRD SCHEDULE. 258 words