HL Deb 12 November 1940 vol 117 cc664-6

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, byssinosis is a term which has found its way into medical terminology to describe a disabling condition of the lungs attributed to the inhalation of very fine particles of cotton dust which penetrate deeply into the lungs. The effect of this inhalation is to produce a chronic bronchitis, complicated by emphysema and, in some cases, by asthma, after not less than twenty years' employment in the dusty processes of the cotton industry. The disease has been found to be prevalent amongst operatives employed in cotton rooms, in cotton blowing rooms and also among workers in card rooms. Your Lordships will note that the Bill applies only to male workers. I am informed that that is because the trouble is occasioned by the heavier processes in cotton mills in which women are not employed and there is no incidence of this disease among women workers.

Your Lordships might well suppose that this might be an industrial disease which could be scheduled under, the Workmen's Compensation Act, but it is not, the main reason being that although the dust is largely responsible for the workman's illness, in many cases the diagnosis is extremely difficult, so difficult that the ordinary general medical practitioner, or even the factory examining surgeon, could not be quite certain about the diagnosis as being occupational in the case of any particular individual. Owing to this and other difficulties of scheduling the disease under the Workmen's Compensation Act, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, who was at the Home Office at that time, set up a Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir David Ross to consider and report whether an equitable and workable scheme could be devised for providing compensation in the case of persons who, after employment for a substantial period in card rooms or certain other dusty parts of cotton spinning mills, become or have become disabled by respiratory illness.

That Committee, whose Report was published in 1939 reached the conclusion that where there is total incapacity after not less than twenty years' employment in the industry, a properly constituted medical board should be able, after considering the industrial history as well as the medical evidence, to decide whether the respiratory disease was occupational in origin or not. They recommended therefore that such cases occurring in the future should be brought within the framework of the Workmen's Compensation Acts by means of a scheme on the lines of the scheme for other lung diseases, such as silicosis and asbestosis, under which a special medical board has been set up to make the examinations and give the necessary certificates. For cases of men who, disabled by the disease, have already left the industry and who could not properly be brought within the framework of the Workmen's Compensation Acts, the Committee recommended a special scheme which has already been substantially agreed between the cotton employers' and operatives' associations, under which the benefits to which the workman is entitled under the Health Insurance Act would be supplemented by ten shillings a week, payable out of a fund maintained by subscriptions paid by occupiers of factories in which the spinning of raw cotton is carried on.

The Government accepted the Committee's proposal and this Bill is the practical outcome. It consists of two parts. Clause 1 enables the Secretary of State to make a compensation scheme for future cases; and Clause 2 enables statutory effect to be given to the benefit scheme for old cases. The schemes proposed to be made under this Bill has been submitted to both the cotton employers' and operatives' associations concerned, who have accepted them subject to further consideration of minor points of detail. I trust therefore that your Lordships will be prepared to give a Second Reading to the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(The Duke of Devonshire.)


My Lords, I have only to say on behalf of those associated with me that we welcome this Bill and are glad to support its Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2ª: Committee negatived.