HL Deb 19 May 1931 vol 80 cc1277-81

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. The Bill is the result of an agreement which has been reached after full debate in another place. After the debate on the Second Reading conferences took place in private between representatives of the three Parties and effect was given to the agreement which was reached in Committee. At the Third Reading, although debate took place, there was no Division. Indeed, harmony prevailed to such an unusual degree that members recalled the Prime Minister's appeal to treat Parliament as a Council of State and mutual congratulation was so warm at the Third Reading that other members described the affair as a bouquet-throwing competition.

The Bill deals not with any new proposal but solely with the interpretation of the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1925. It repeals subsection 4 of Section 9 of that Act, The object of this Bill is to give effect to the intentions of Parliament as they were understood to be expressed in that Act laying down the conditions entitling to compensation. Paragraphs, (i) and (ii) of the substituted subsection (4) embody the intentions of Parliament as they have been previously understood in a form which satisfies the draftsmen and all Parties in another place. Those intentions as they have been understood for a long period proved to have been inadequately expressed by the operation of the judgment of this House in the case of Bevan versus Nixon's Navigation Company. The Bill merely restores the law as it had been understood until then.

That case itself indicates the nature of this Bill. Bevan was a miner disabled by the disease known as nystagmus, a disease which in itself gives rise to legal difficulties because its effects vary markedly even from day to clay, so that a man may appear one day entitled to compensation on the full disability scale and on the next day to compensation on it different scale. Bevan proved to be unfitted for the work at the face which he had previously fulfilled, but he became fit for light surface work. In that sphere of work there was less demand than at the face and in that new field he found himself out of work. It was a typical case and the judgment was appealed against in order to arrive at a final decision. The judgment laid down that Bevan was only entitled to compensation on the partial disability scale, and as a result in very many cases men have been awarded merely trifling amounts compared to the scale on which compensation had been awarded previous to the Bevan versus Nixon judgment. This House, by a majority of three to two, held that no account should be taken of the fact that work was not available for the man Bevan in the field to which he had been lowered owing to his physical disablement. The judgment, of course, affects not miners only, but a very large class of men in other trades.

I need not take up more of your Lordships' time on that point, but there is one other point to which perhaps I should call attention. Clause 1, subsection (2), of the Bill deals with retrospective action. It is needed by common consent because there are very many cases which have been otherwise treated contrary to the intention of Parliament and it may be that there are a considerable number of people who will have injustice remedied through the retrospective action contemplated in the Bill. In the absence of expressed provision the Bill would not be retrospective for technical reasons in the light of the Interpretation Act, 1889. The Bill, although it is non-controversial and deals with a simple point, is an important Bill because it should remedy a class of grievance which is large. Probably very many thousands of cases have suffered through the Bevan versus Nixon judgment. Very many are out of work but are receiving compensation based on the assumption that they are at work. For instance, a skilled fitter may be in a grade which earns exceedingly high wages. That man, if partially disabled, may not be disqualified altogether from doing fitter's work, but, though able to earn wages on a somewhat lower scale, he is thrown on to a market of less skilled workers which ends in his being out of work altogether. It is typical of many cases. To sum up, and not needlessly to occupy your Lordships' time, injustice exists on a considerable scale in the eyes of the law as it was understood. The Bill removes it and all Parties in another place cordially agree as to the method which is adopted by the Bill. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. (Lord Noel-Buxton.)


My Lords, I should not feel justified in detaining the House more than two or three minutes upon this matter, but I desire to give the Bill the same welcome which was given it by the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs in another place. The principle is quite a short one. It stands like this. Your Lordships are well aware that when a man has suffered an injury from accident arising out of and in the course of his employment he may be either totally incapacitated or partially incapacitated, and according to whether he is one or the other there is a different scale of compensation applied. There has never been any difference in the matter of compensation payable for total incapacity, but with regard to partial incapacity there has been a difficulty for many years. Suppose a man who has been injured and has recovered partially so that he is able to do some light work but is not able to do his old heavy work, then endeavours to get some light work, but there is no light work available. On that hypothesis he is out of work.

There have been two schools of thought with regard to that. One school of thought says—it is rather a philosophical point—really this man is still suffering from the effects of the accident. He can get no work and, therefore, he ought to be compensated on the basis of total incapacity. On the other hand, there are people who say: "Oh, no. The real reason why he is out of work is not because he cannot work—he can do some work—but because he cannot get work, and the employer is not liable for the state of the labour market." For many years that second way of looking at the matter prevailed, owing to a judgment in a very famous case called Hall versus the Cardiff Corporation as far back as 1911, pronounced by Lord Justice Fletcher Moulton, as he then was, who afterwards became a member of your Lordships' House. That case has been repeatedly criticised, and I agree with the criticism passed upon it by my noble and learned predecessor on the Woolsack, who said that the case ought to be reconsidered. By an Act passed in 1923 it was thought that the matter had been put right, and that Act was reenacted in 1925; but when the Act of 1925 came to be considered in this House in the case of Bevan versus Nixon's Navigation Company, it was found that, although everybody intended that the law should be altered, the words in question did not in fact bear the desired interpretation.

The result was that this Bill was promoted in the House of Commons. At first it went too far, and the pendulum swung in favour of saying that the man should always be entitled, in the circumstances which I have detailed to your Lordships, to be compensated on the scale of total incapacity. Then, happily, an Amendment was moved in Committee, and now all interest concerned, including both employers and workmen, are agreed that the terms of the Bill are very reasonable. What your Lordships are asked to do to-day is to assent to the compromise that has been reached, which, if you will allow me to say so, being not without experience in these cases, seems to me to be extremely fair and reasonable. I have great pleasure in supporting the Second Reading.

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