HL Deb 16 June 1942 vol 123 cc365-87

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Pensions (Navy, Army, Air Force and Mercantile Marine) Act, 1939, which was passed at the outset of the war, authorized the Minister of Pensions to make schemes applying the provisions of the Naval War Pensions Order—suitably modified where necessary—to officers and men of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets and other seafaring persons associated with the Mercantile Marine, such as pilots and members of the light vessels services, whose death or disablement was directly attributable to war injuries-sustained or detention caused by reason of their service in British ships. These persons may be granted compensation at the rates applicable to the Royal Navy, with whom they are so closely associated. The Act also authorized the Board of Trade, whose duties in this respect now devolve upon the Minister of War Transport, to make a scheme for compensating mariners and other seafaring persons for the loss of or damage to their effects as the result of enemy action. That Act, however, limited the cases in which compensation is payable by the State to those where the death or disablement or the loss of effects arose directly from enemy attack on ships or resulted from injuries sustained in combating the enemy or repelling an imagined attack by the enemy. Injuries caused by normal risks continued to be dealt with through the same channels as in peacetime, such as the Workmen's Compensation Acts.

Although the provisions of the original Act covered most of the field and the Minister of Pensions has been able to grant compensation for the great majority of cases where mariners have been killed or injured from causes arising from the war, experience has shown that some of the special measures which have been taken to afford protection to our ships from the enemy have increased the risk of accident arising from what would normally be regarded as marine perils. For example, the sailing of ships in convoy affords protection from submarine attacks by the enemy, but there is an increased risk of collision when a large number of ships sail close to one another and have occasionally to make a sudden change of course. The absence of the usual navigational lights and the absence of those warnings of navigational dangers which were issued in peace-time have also increased the risk of accidents. The stress of enemy attack on our sea-borne supplies is another factor that may lead to accidents at sea. The Government accordingly proposes that, where a mariner is injured through a normal risk of seafaring life being substantially increased by war measures, compensation should be paid by the State in the same way as if the injury had been caused by direct enemy action.

The main purpose of this Bill, therefore, is, as I have said, to extend on these lines the circumstances in which compensation may be paid by the Minister of Pensions under the Mercantile Marine Scheme or by the Minister of War Transport under the Compensation Scheme for War Damage to Effects; and Clause 1 of the Bill gives the necessary power to do this. The injuries, whether leading to disablement or death, which are now brought within the scope of the 1939 Act are set out in subsection (2) of Clause 1 of the Bill. They are, as your Lordships will see, injuries occurring at sea, or in harbours and tidal waters, which are attributable to the matters set out in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of the subsection. For instance under paragraph (a) injuries resulting from the collision of ships in convoy are covered. Similarly, if one ship goes to the rescue of another ship which has been attacked by the enemy, an injury sustained in the course of rendering this help will be covered.

Paragraph (a) will also enable the State to provide compensation where a seaman is injured at sea as a result of a fall due to the absence of a light which a ship would have carried, but did not, owing to the necessity of concealment from the enemy. Under paragraph (b), compensation will be payable in cases where a ship is stranded, or runs ashore, owing to the discontinuance of buoys, or radio beacons, or the absence of the usual lights from lighthouses, or where she runs into a wreck of which a warning would normally have been given by wireless or otherwise. Paragraph (c) covers cases where a ship is sent to sea with a cargo loaded in a manner which would be abnormal in time of peace and which involves possible danger to the ship or crew. This may occasionally happen owing to the extreme urgency of getting a particular cargo to its destination, and the seamen on board will then be covered in the event of their sustaining any injury as a result. Subsection (2) should, however, be read with subsection (3) which explains the circumstances in which an injury or loss or damage is to be regarded as "attributable" to the matters mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of subsection (2). Without some such definition as is given in subsection (3) it is doubtful what the meaning of "attributable" in subsection (2) would be.

The Court might very well interpret "attributable" as meaning "proximately caused by." This construction would be undesirably narrow; and would involve the Minister in the difficult question of determining whether a particular cause was, or was not, the "proximate" cause. Thus, if a ship were to go aground in a fog, at a place where there would normally be a light from a lighthouse, but where there was not a light on the particular occasion because of the war, it would be necessary to consider whether the proximate cause of the stranding of the ship was the absence of the light or the fog. Moreover, apart from such difficulties, there would be cases where it would be clear that the loss of a ship could not be regarded as proximately caused by one of the war measures mentioned in subsection (2). For example, a ship might be diverted from one route to another, and on that other route she might encounter a peril leading to her loss which she would not have encountered on the original route. In such a case, the diversion would probably not be regarded as the proximate cause of the loss of the ship.

It is to avoid these difficulties, and to make the test an appropriate one, that the Government propose that the question in all these cases should be whether one of the measures mentioned in subsection (2) has, or has not, substantially increased the risk of the peril which caused the injury or loss or damage. If this risk has been substantially increased, then the injury will be regarded as attributable to that measure. Compared with the difficulty of deciding whether one event or another has caused a particular result, this test will be simple to apply. In the instance I have referred to of a ship stranding in a fog at a place where there is normally a light but that light is out because of the war, it will be comparatively easy to determine whether the risk of the stranding is, or is not, increased by the absence of the light. The question whether the risk has, or has not, been substantially increased will, so far as it arises in connexion with the payment of compensation under any scheme made under the Bill, fall to be determined by the Minister of Pensions or the Minister of War Transport, according to whether the claim is one for compensation for disablement or death or for loss of effects. I can assure your Lordships that both the Minister of Pensions and the Minister of War Transport will give all cases the most careful and sympathetic consideration.

In addition to defining the types of injury for which compensation could be paid by the State, the 1939 Act also defined the circumstances in which the mariner was to be engaged at the time of the injury in order to be eligible for its benefits. In short, he could not normally be covered unless he was engaged in seagoing service on a British ship at the time the injury was sustained. Since the date of the Act, however, various changes have occurred in the conditions of service in the Merchant Navy, one of which has been the establishment of the Merchant Navy Reserve Pool from which mariners are drafted to ships to form part of the crew or to relieve members of the regular crew while they are on leave. Under Clause 2 of the Bill men engaged in relief duty on a seagoing ship will be eligible for compensation under the Mercantile Marine Scheme, provided they are normally persons who go to sea as mariners. Secondly, in order to facilitate the manning of ships built in Canada and the United States of America for British account, and to secure that ships sailing from ports on the other side of the Atlantic are not delayed because they have not full crews, the Minister of War Transport has set up a Manning Pool there, so that seamen may be readily available to fill any vacancies which occur. Clause 2 will secure that every seaman who sustains an injury for which compensation may be paid, while he is at the Manning Pool, or at any other place, in accordance with arrangements approved by the Minister of War Transport, or who is going to, or returning from, the Manning Pool or any such place, shall be eligible for compensation under the same conditions as if he had sustained the injury whilst on board a ship.

Now, it may happen that the seaman in the Reserve Pool or a Manning Pool is asked to serve on a foreign ship which has been employed in the transport of essential war materials. Under such circumstances compensation can only be awarded in such a case if the terms of the charter bring the ship within the definition of a British ship as laid down in the 1939 Act. This is not the case on many foreign ships now running on behalf of the Government, but it is only fair that a British seaman serving on one of these vessels should receive compensation on the same terms and conditions as his colleague on a British vessel. This Bill will enable the Minister of Pensions to include British seamen on such foreign ships in his scheme of compensation.

Clause 2 also authorizes the Minister of War Transport to provide compensation for loss of, or damage to, effects suffered by mariners in the cases in which the Minister of Pensions can provide compensation for death or disablement. I have previously mentioned that the 1939 Act enabled the provisions of the Naval War Pensions Order to be applied not only to mariners but also to pilots. It was, however, never the intention that pilots whose duty did not require them to go to sea. Should be eligible for the special rates of compensation for war injury laid down for the Royal Navy. For those whose duties are confined to canals or inland waterways, the normal civilian provisions remain appropriate. The opportunity has been taken to make this distinction clear in Clause 3, and the circumstances in which a seagoing pilot, or apprentice pilot, will qualify for compensation under the Act have also been set out more clearly in order to remove all doubt as to the power to pay compensation in certain cases which were perhaps not clearly covered by the 1939 Act. For example, a pilot who has to remain on board a vessel after ceasing to pilot her will remain eligible for compensation as if he were still piloting her.

Clause 4 of the Bill relates to persons who are regularly employed in salvage operations in or from the British Islands. These are persons whose employment normally requires them to work afloat, and they are, when at sea, exposed to as great a danger of being bombed, or torpedoed, or mined, as any other seafaring person. In such circumstances, they are substantially in the same position as the crew of the ship which is taking them to sea. It is accordingly proposed to bring these salvage workers within the general scope of the compensation schemes authorized by the 1939 Act and by this Bill, in respect of injuries or loss of or damage to effects sustained at sea.

The Government decided that, when they had responsibility for providing compensation in respect of war injuries, relief should be given from liability to pay compensation under the Workman's Compensation Act for such injuries, and that there should also be relief from any legal liability to pay damages in respect of war injuries where the liability was based on negligence, nuisance or breach of duty. Section 3 of the Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1939, gives this relief to shipowners in common with other employers. As it is now proposed that the State shall accept liability for additional types of injuries, it is considered that a measure of relief from liability should also be conferred in respect of these other types. Clause 6 of the Bill accordingly provides for the application of Section 3 of the Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1939, to an injury which is covered by Clause 1 of the Bill, and is one which the Minister of Pensions certifies to have been sustained by such a person, say a mariner or a pilot, and in such a case—for example, while a mariner is in the service of his ship—that the Minister is authorized by the Bill to provide compensation in respect of it. It is felt that this will provide an appropriate measure of relief from liability in respect of the injuries which it is now proposed to bring within the sphere of State compensation.

The House will appreciate that the proposals now made are the result of the experience which we have gained since the commencement of the war, and that owing to the provisions of the 1939 Act there have been cases of the type referred to under Clause I of the Bill in which it has not been possible to grant compensation. It is proposed by the Bill, however, not only to accept such cases as may occur in the future, but also to review any past cases as from the date when the Bill becomes law. In conclusion, I may say that the proposals in the Bill are welcomed by all the interested parties, officers, seamen and owners, and I am confident that they will commend themselves to your Lordships, who, I feel sure, regard with appreciation and admiration the gallant services which the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine, on whom the very existence of this country depends, have rendered. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, I am sure there is no member of your Lordships' House who does not welcome this amending Bill, extending as it does benefits and rights of pension to officers and men of the Mercantile Marine, and having also the great merit of being retrospective. It remedies certain injustices under which these men have been suffering. That these gallant servants of the nation—for they are now servants of the State—should have any legitimate grounds of complaint as to their conditions of service, is, I am very sure, the last thing that your Lordships would desire. It is to remove a hardship suffered by a small and unhappy section of these men that I beg the Government to introduce an Amendment on the lines which I am about to mention, and I ask for it the support of your Lordships' House.

Before I proceed with my remarks, I should like to say I have no wish to make any attack on the Ministry of Pensions. I quite realize that they are carrying out the law and their duties, but very wide powers have been conferred upon the Minister under the scheme. If your Lordships will allow me I will begin by reading a letter dated June 3, a fortnight ago, in answer to a merchant seaman who applied for a pension on the ground that he was suffering under a disability which was attributable to war conditions, in that he had contracted tuberculosis. The letter reads as follows: Sir,—I am directed by the Minister of Pensions to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 28th May, and to state it is regretted to learn of your disability. From the details given in your letter it does not appear that the disability has been brought about by enemy action, but by war conditions only. I am to explain that the War Pensions and Detention Allowances (Mercantile Marine, &c.) Scheme, under Section 34 of the Pensions (Navy, Army, Air Force and Mercantile Marine) Act, I939, provides for the granting of compensation in respect of war injuries as defined in Section 10 of that Act, war injuries being physical injuries caused by the enemy or in repelling an imagined attack by the enemy. It will be appreciated therefore that to be admissible under the above scheme, an injury must be directly connected with the circumstances already mentioned. In your statement as quoted above, you attribute the disability to war conditions only. It is regretted therefore that it is not possible to consider your claim under the scheme administered by this Department, but I am to advise you to appeal to the owners of the vessel for their sympathetic consideration. Your Lordships will note that it was not even possible to consider the claim because in the words of the letter I have just read, "it does not appear that the disability has been brought about by enemy action, but by war conditions only."

The authority cited was Section 10 of the principal Act of 1939, which is the very Act which this Bill is designed to amend and extend, particularly as regard physical injuries. Much therefore depends on what is the definition of "physical injury." The letter I have just read was in answer to a claim by a man who had served fifteen years at sea and is now thirty-one years of age. According to his own statement he has never had a day's illness in his life before breaking down under tuberculosis under war conditions at sea. He is now an inmate of King George's Sanatorium for Sailors which is maintained by the Seamen's Hospital Society. In accordance with its charter, that society receives into its wards seamen of every race, colour and creed who are in need of medical attention. The patients are maintained there not only until they are cured of their illness, but through convalescence until they are fit to go back to their ships and once again face the rigours of sea life. The society is therefore very greatly interested in the question of seamen or seamen's injuries and disabilities.

The original Act of 1939 authorized application of any Naval War Pensions Order to manners in cases where their death or disablement is directly attributable to war injuries sustained by reason of their service in British ships. Immediately on publication of the Act of 1939 the Seamen's Hospital Society asked the Ministry of Health to give a still clearer definition of physical injuries. The definition given by the Ministry of such an injury was anything which occurred at a definite point o£ time. That practically, of course, rules out all medical cases, but certainly tuberculosis, and it is as regards the latter that I desire to speak. I am not trying to pose as an authority on this subject, and I should have much preferred that someone else should bring the matter before your Lordships. Therefore I must ask your Lordships to bear with me while I try to make my case. What I say is not of my own knowledge but is based on what has been imparted to me by my medical friends and colleagues who are on the staff of the Seamen's Hospital and are gentlemen of standing in their profession.

The principal fact in regard to the case I am trying to make is that it would be impossible with any certitude to say when tuberculosis does start. No definite point of time can possibly be given, for different individuals are differently affected. The disease may take weeks to declare itself or it may take months. A seaman sufferer might not realize for some time that he had contracted it and he would continue in employment until he either broke down completely or met some medical man who diagnosed what he was suffering from. In fact, the man would not be recognized as a tubercular patient until the disease was firmly established. It can be shown that the incidence of tuberculosis amongst seamen is greater than it is among the population as a whole. This applies both to the Royal Navy and to the Mercantile Marine. It is inherent in the conditions of modern life at sea. I will not weary your Lordships with statistics which go to prove the fact, but it is generally accepted by medical men who have to deal with, and are interested in, seamen.

As evidence I would quote to your Lordships an extract from a letter written in 1936 by the medical officer of health of that maritime and industrial port, Cardiff. Referring to the state of health of the people in that City for which he is responsible, Dr. J. G. Wilson said: No industry in Cardiff, other than seafaring, specially predisposes to tuberculosis. It has also been stated in an official report that of the deaths occurring among men within twelve months of leaving seagoing employment twenty per cent. are due to tuberculosis. What, then, are the causes that predispose seamen to this disease? Briefly the principal causes are the confined atmosphere in which they live, the restricted living space, the lack of amenities and opportunities for enjoyment and exercise as compared with the population who live on shore. That applies to conditions of rest. As regards their working conditions, there are many things that are conducive to lowering resistance to infection. In the report of the International Labour Office on Occupation and Disease, 1934, volume 2, there are given many reasons why men at sea are specially prone to tuberculosis. The cumulative effect of these conditions is very considerably to weaken the ordinary man's powers of resistance to infection, and men are exposed to great risks owing to the always present possibility of having among their number a shipmate already suffering from the disease.

Those of your Lordships who are not directly interested in this question may be surprised to hear that a sea life is not a healthy one, at least in regard to this particular complaint. Under modern conditions many men spend the whole of their working hours below and thus derive no benefit from the sea breezes which might otherwise counteract undesirable tendencies. The greater percentage of tubercular cases among seamen is composed of firemen and stewards. Even if a seaman suspects that he has got the disease he is reluctant to report sick for several reasons, the principal of which are that he does not wish to throw extra work on his shipmates—there are no spare hands in a merchant ship—and he does not want to risk being considered a shirker. Moreover, there is the ever-present dread of losing his employment, the possibility of being left behind in a foreign port, and, in any case, having no money at all to send to his dependants.

To prove that men are backward in coming forward to report sick of this disease I must inflict a few figures on your Lordships. They are taken from a very interesting and important article which appears in the current number of the British Medical Journal and which is the subject of an article in The Times to-day. The article in the British Medical Journal was written by Dr. J. E. Wood, who for many years has been the medical superintendent of the King George Sanatorium to which I have already referred. Out of the last 300 British seamen admitted to that establishment who came almost directly from the sea 24 were in the earlier stages of the complaint and 275 were in the advanced stage. Of these last, 161 were in the very worst class, the B 3 class. That means that 54 per cent. of the total number admitted were in the very lowest class. Of these 161 in the lowest class, 51 died in the sanatorium and 69 made no improvement under treatment. These are terrible figures, and they go to show that there must be very many men serving afloat who are carriers of infection among their shipmates. So far I have only alluded to British seamen, but something like 20 per cent. of the men in British ships are Lascars who are particularly prone to this disease. There is no lack of T.B. carriers among sailors whether afloat or ashore. Under war conditions there are likely to be more rather than less, because more time is spent at sea and there are fewer opportunities of seeking medical advice or of weeding out potential carriers.

If your Lordships will accept these statements as indicating that men are exposed to a considerable risk of infection—and I can, in addition, show you that, under war conditions, men's powers of resistance to infection are still further weakened—then surely my case is made out for allowing tuberculosis to be considered as an "injury" directly attributable to potential enemy action, which thereby confers pensionable rights upon these afflicted sailors. And this is not very difficult to do. War conditions entail many passages being increased from 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. in length of time owing to the indirect routes that have to be taken, in many cases at reduced speeds in order to conform to that of a convoy. At night ships are darkened; every aperture is closed to prevent light showing outboard. The circulation of air is further curtailed by every opening possible between decks being kept closed to make the ship as watertight as possible. During a war almost anything which will make a ship more watertight has to be done. When taking the northern routes in winter—and this applies particularly since we have had to go to northern Russia—the hours of darkness may number nineteen to twenty out of the twenty-four. In these latitudes it is impossible for these men, when off duty, to rest on deck, for there are almost perpetual gales, and ventilation of the ship is out of the question. I believe that if the records of that northern passage were fully understood by the people of this country, they would see that these petty restrictions are set aside so that these men should be properly looked after and provided for by the country which employs them.

In the circumstances to which I have referred men have nowhere to go but to their mess places or bunks, which, in heavy weather, are almost as moist as the deck itself. This entails close companionship with all their shipmates in cramped quarters for many hours of the day, and in a very bad atmosphere where one tubercle carrier among them may affect many others. Turns of duty are far more exacting whether on deck or in the engine room, whether in convoy or proceeding alone, and above all there is the ever-present danger of enemy action to which there is no let-up. On or off duty men are equally exposed and under strain. All types of members of a ship's company, including engineers and stewards whose normal duties would not entail having to work on deck, may be called upon to act as guns' crews, and such people must necessarily be even more susceptible to exposure than the regular deck workers. The officers' responsibilities are tremendously increased. They have very heavy periods of duty and they are under this perpetual strain owing to this ever-present possibility of instant enemy action. Nobody can take it easily or turn in and sleep with a quiet mind. Everybody has got to be prepared for instant action, and consequently there is this constant feeling of strain with no let-up. This feeling may be subconscious but it is always there.

This continual strain, mental and physical, must reduce powers of resistance to infection. Is it not self-evident that every influence that tends to weaken resistance to infection in peace-time is magnified many times under war conditions? Surely these conditions are brought about by the taking of measures with a view to avoiding, preventing or hindering enemy action against ships, or as a precaution in anticipation of enemy action against ships"— words you will find in paragraph (a) of Clause 1 (2). The "measures" have no other object but to hinder enemy action and are directly responsible for the bad conditions which are created.

I am aware that already, in another place, the Solicitor-General and the Minister of Pensions have undertaken that "tuberculosis is to be considered as a physical injury for purposes of pension if it is due to war injury or anything of that kind." That brings us back to where we started, to the question, what is meant by "injury"? and we get no farther. There is no advance on the original Act. It is the question of whether there is physical injury that makes the whole of the difficulties. I do beg the Government to introduce some Amendment to this Bill which will allow of pensions being paid to these unfortunate men who are suffering from tuberculosis. I understand that proper safeguards against exploitation of such a concession will have to be created, but these should not be difficult to devise. What I am asking is that merchant seamen becoming afflicted with this terrible disease from causes that can fairly be attributed to war conditions, should be eligible for pension as a statutory right and should always receive the benefit of any doubt that there may be.

Men are breaking down with tuberculosis (mite apart from any physical injury. Mention was made of Part II of the War Pension (Mercantile Marine) Scheme, which is the authority under which the Minister exercises his rights. Under Part II, one of the objects of the scheme is given as being to see that there is certain equality of treatment between seamen of the Royal Navy and men of the Mercantile Marine who suffer from this disease. Let us see how this works out in practice. In the sanatorium which I have already mentioned men of both Services are received. The Admiralty send their patients there officially. Of twenty-six Merchant Navy officers and seamen now there, seven are of foreign nationality, leaving nineteen British, of whom five are pre-war cases, and not eligible. Fourteen are left who have contracted this disease during the war. There are thirty-six ex-Royal Navy patients and of these thirty-one are in receipt of pensions; three have not yet applied and in two cases only has the application been refused owing to the short period served before breaking down. Of the fourteen merchant sailors who were eligible, ten have applied for pensions and have been refused on the ground of "no injury by enemy action." Three have not yet received any reply and one has not yet applied.

So, out of thirty-six naval claimants, thirty-one have pensions and out of the fourteen claimants from the Merchant Navy none have pensions. The doctor who supplied me with these figures has worked almost entirely with merchant seamen thoughout the three years of war, and he writes: I have not personally come across any merchant seaman who has obtained a pension for tuberculosis although no doubt there must be some. I feel that the country as a whole, quite apart from any question of justice, would like to make a generous gesture of gratitude for their past services to these unhappy sailors, many of whom will never see the sea again. Their duty as merchant seamen was done behind the scenes—the achievements of merchant seamen do not get much of the limelight—but nevertheless it is upon their work and their duty that is founded the ability on the British Empire to carry on this war.


My Lords, I think that we should all be grateful to the noble and gallant Earl for drawing our attention to a fly in the ointment in relation to the matter which we are considering to-day. The Bill certainly has a generous appearance, but it is necessarily legislation by reference, and by reference not only to other Acts but to an elaborate code of Regulations and Royal Warrants, and so forth with which most of us are not familiar. The noble and gallant Earl read a letter to a sufferer from tuberculosis in which it was suggested that he was ineligible for pension because his disability had been due not to enemy action but to war conditions. If the noble Earl had not been so definite about this case being ruled out, I should have thought that it was just the kind of case which would have been covered by the new provisions, because Clause 1 of this Bill, which mentions that physical injuries are now to be compensated, gives a very wide definition of what I should have thought would be regarded as war conditions—namely: the taking of measures with a view to avoiding, preventing or hindering enemy action against ships, or as a precaution in anticipation of enemy action against ships and so on. That would seem to cover almost all the normal risks to health incurred on naval service, and it is really astonishing to learn from the noble Earl that sufferers from tuberculosis are to be ruled out. Surely tuberculosis is a physical injury, and it must often be quite easy to prove that it does develop from exposure, bringing on, perhaps, pneumonia, which turns to tuberculosis.

The noble Earl told us of another limitation, and I do not know whether this applies to the present Bill or to the conditions which this Bill is designed to improve. He said that a case had been ruled out because the injury, to rank for compensation, must have been incurred at a particular point of time. That is a very difficult definition. It puzzled me, and I referred with some confidence to my noble friend, the former President of the Board of Education, Lord De La Warr, to know what it meant. He was able to give me the definition of a point, as that which has position but no magnitude. Is it a point of time when men are exposed for weeks in an open boat, suffering from frostbite and incurring permanent physical disability? Will they be given compensation, or will they be excluded from the improvements which we understood were to be granted by this Bill? If there is such a distinction, it seems to me to be one which is in no way based on equity. In the last war, we all remember that those who suffered in health from serving in the Armed Forces received pensions, even if their health did not break down at the time. We know the difficulty of deciding afterwards how far physical disabilities are due to war conditions, but the Ministry of Pensions kept these cases alive for years by a machinery for rectifying errors. There is no such difficulty now, and it ought to be quite easy to determine in most cases whether a man who develops tuberculosis has developed it as a result of his months or years at sea under the exacting conditions of warfare.

The noble Viscount who introduced this Bill mentioned the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Acts, and I understand that some of these cases will be covered by them. Do the Government in these cases pay compensation, or is it left to the shipowners? If the men who contract tuberculosis come under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, is the compensation which they receive, by whomsoever it is paid, as generous as that which they would receive under the Royal Warrant, or under whatever machinery will disburse money under this Act? I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to tell us that the provision is equally generous. That would, of course, satisfy the claim; no one would ask that they should get both compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Acts and also a Service pension; but the provision under the Workmen's Compensation Acts should be made as generous as the Service provision, if merchant seamen are to be thrown back upon that system. I hope that the noble Viscount will make representations to the Minister of Pensions that he should not stand on any arbitrary distinction of this kind, but that he should recognize that the men of the Merchant Navy are facing just the same perils as the men of the Armed Services of older standing, and have an equal claim on public generosity and an equal right to proper compensation.


My Lords, I should like to support the plea of the noble Lord opposite, that the Government should give very sympathetic consideration to the case advanced by the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery. It cannot be open to question that war conditions must diminish the resistance of men to tubercle, and must also be likely to encourage its spread. The noble and gallant Earl has presented a very strong case. We recognize the difficulties with which the Ministry of Pensions may be confronted, but these difficulties can be overcome, as was done during the last war. In Clause 7 of this Bill, power is taken to make the compensation retrospective. It is clearly equitable that cases should be treated as if they had been open to compensation had this Bill been law in 1939, and should be entitled to benefit as if the Bill had applied to them, if they come within the classes of case referred to. The intention to make the Bill retrospective on any other basis would not be just in its incidence; it ought to apply to all cases to which it would properly have been applied had these extended provisions been the law. I hope that the Government will consider very sympathetically the case put forward by the noble and gallant Earl.


My Lords, I shall not venture to detain your Lordships for more than a few moments, but the case made by the noble and gallant Earl appeals to me, as a former Minister of Pensions. He has drawn attention to what is an almost fantastic position; I cannot understand how it is that there should be any difference whatever between members of the Mercantile Marine and of the Royal Navy, based on the figures which he gave us. There is one point on which I should like to have an assurance from the noble Viscount who is to reply. It arises on Clause 1 (2). I should like to be sure that the words here cover all forms of sailing; in other words that there is no loophole, owing to the existence of which a man may sail the seas and incur the disability to which the noble and gallant Earl has referred, and then find that as a result of these words, he is not eligible for a pension. It seems to me just possible that the words as they stand at present might preclude a merchant seaman sailing in a convoy from being eligible for a pension if he incurred the disease, and I should like to be certain that these words are wide enough to cover every possible form of occupation in which a seaman may be engaged.

I am hoping also that in cases of this sort the utmost consideration will be given to the seaman, and if he incurs disease, even within a comparatively short time of his serving, he will get what has been referred to as the benefit of the doubt; because, as the noble and gallant Earl has pointed out, this disease can manifest itself in a very short time, and it is perfectly possible for a man, free of the disease before joining his ship, in certain circumstances to develop it a comparatively short time afterwards. I know that when I was Minister of Pensions we had in the public interest to be very careful indeed not to make eligible for pension a man who in all probability had incurred a pensionable disease before joining. The system then—and I have no doubt it would apply now—was that a man would be pensionable in a degree for an aggravation of a disease. I presume that is covered by this Bill. But in the case of tuberculosis itself I entirely agree with the noble and gallant Earl that it can manifest itself very quickly indeed, de novo as it were from the time when the infection presented itself—in this case in the early stages of serving in a ship. I would like to be absolutely sure in my own mind that service in the Mercantile Marine will render the seaman eligible for a pension in all circumstances, and that this particular clause covers every conceivable service afloat in which he may engage.


My Lords, I would like to congratulate the Government on this further effort to improve the position of the Mercantile Marine. Letters have reached me since the Bill was introduced showing great satisfaction on the part of seafarers and their relatives, and the amending legislation has given undoubted evidence that the whole definition of war injuries has been widened. But I would appeal to the Government to treat the matter with even more sympathetic consideration. The cost would not be great, and compared with what is being paid every day on war expenditure is infinitesimal. I ask the Minister if he can give us some idea of what the cost of this would be to the nation. The principle governing the award of pensions in my opinion should be that if a man has suffered any serious deterioration in health as a result of his service in the war he should be compensated. The distinction between injury to a leg and injury to a lung is an unwarrantable differentiation. Either consequence is serious to the individual and the disability will remain with him for the rest of his life. A man goes into the Merchant Service with two sound legs, and if he loses one of them he gets his pension; another man goes in with two sound lungs and if one is affected he may be told it is not a physical injury inflicted by the enemy and he finds his claim rejected. Such a position is absolutely untenable.

I cannot understand why a leg blown off by an enemy is more deserving of compensation than a lung ruined by exposure in the case of a man who possibly has been torpedoed, who is on a raft for many days and suffers great trials during that time and is permanently disabled. In my view, such injury is equally the consequence of service on behalf on the country and I would appeal to the Government to take a more generous and humane view of such circumstances. The victim of tuberculosis is deserving of even more sympathy than the sufferer from physical injury. The loss of a leg or an arm does not necessarily involve incapacity for work, but a sufferer from tuberculosis has a much smaller chance of being able to continue in industry. Medical science has produced artificial limbs which are at least in part substitutes for the natural limbs, but medical science cannot fit a man with new lungs or an artificial lung. That being so, I cannot see why the Government should differentiate between the two cases in awarding pension.

It is well known that men on board ship are compelled to live in conditions which shore workers do not have to undergo. They are therefore more liable to these respiratory diseases. The noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, has quoted a letter from the Minister of Pensions which defines war injuries as physical injuries caused by the enemy or in repelling an imagined attack by the enemy. The sailor who takes to an open boat in the rough sea after his ship has returned the fire of an enemy submarine and as a result of exposure contracts tuberculosis has surely done his part in repelling, not an imagined but an actual attack. It seems to me that the definitions are full of anomalies. If two sailors in the same boat get tuberculosis from exposure and one had a physical wound as well it would be a glaring injustice that one should be eligible for pension and the other ineligible. Yet that would appear to be the consequence of a strict interpretation of the definition. At the same time, reading the debates in another place, I see that the Government are exercising a certain amount of elasticity in interpreting these various injuries and it is for that reason that I welcome this Bill. But I do want the Government to go further.

I support whole-heartedly what the noble Viscount said when he moved, that some steps should be taken by the Government to support these poor fellows who contract tuberculosis. How is it possible for a man to decide or define when he contracted the disease? Sailors, do not like to give way to their feelings and sometimes do not even know that they are ill until they are struck down by this foul disease and can continue their work no longer. I asked at the beginning of my speech if the Government would let us know what the cost of this could be. Is it a matter of a great amount, which we cannot afford when we are pouring out so much money in this devastating war? Let us remember that without the help of these men we could not live in this country. Let us be generous to them. If the Government approach the matter in that way, I feel sure they will do what is right, and the men and their dependants will be ever grateful.


My Lords, the Minister of Pensions and I regard this Bill as a very important one, and I would like to express my appreciation of the manner in which the House has received it. The noble Viscount who introduced the Bill has covered all the salient points in the clauses and has left very little for me to refer to; but I think I should emphasize that the proposals which we now have before us are the result of the experience we have gained since the war began. That experience has shown that the Act of 1939 does not go far enough. It shows quite clearly that we cannot decline to recognize compensation in cases which, while not being directly the result of enemy action, are related to it in various ways. We have to take a number of measures to reduce the dangers of the enemy attacks on our shipping and it is those very measures that bring about added marine perils. It is really to cover all that kind of accident and injury that this Bill has been introduced.

Ships are called upon to sail in convoy, lighthouses and other navigational lights are extinguished, and broadcasts which in normal times would warn ships of special dangers are not now made. These measures in themselves result in increased collisions, strandings, and other perils, and the main purpose of the Bill is to bring within the Government scheme cases where disablement or death results from these increased risks. The officers and men must be covered in the Government scheme, not only when they are attached to British ships, but also when they are standing by the Manning Pools. They must also be covered, as has already been said, when they are serving on Allied and other foreign vessels, because in these cases we refer to ships carrying essential war materials. I should like, if I may, to refer to one point raised by the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork. As I made a note here, he said that when seamen are left behind sick, they have nothing by way of funds to send to their families. That is not now the case.


I was referring to ordinary conditions of service. I said that what would prevent men coming forward would be the fear of being left behind in a foreign port unless it is under war conditions. I believe the shipowners are responsible for a man left behind in a foreign port.


They really are responsible for his treatment in other than war-time while he remains sick in hospital abroad, but that has been rectified during war-time. His pay now continues for twelve weeks, and the allotments are paid to his family at home during those twelve weeks. I thought it as well to make that quite clear. As your Lordships have been informed, the proposals contained in this Bill have been discussed with the representatives of the officers and men and with the shipowners, and these proposals are welcomed by all. They will secure better treatment for the men of the Merchant Navy to whom we owe such a tremendous debt for the gallant and faithful service they have rendered since the outbreak of war, and which they are performing still under the increasing risks involved—additional almost every month—and I am very grateful to the House for the sympathetic way in which the measure has been received.


My Lords, the letter which the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, read seems to be one written with regard to the 1939 definition of "war injuries." If tuberculosis is the result of the matters mentioned in Clause 1 of this Bill, it will be covered. If it is not, and it is only due to "war conditions" in the general sense of the tern, it is not covered; but neither is any other civilian workman covered for tuberculosis arising in this way. There is no requirement that the tuberculosis must start at a point of time. I would emphasize that tuberculosis and any other disease will be pensionable if it can be shown to be the result of the matters mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) in Clause 1.


Will that be put clearly in the Bill?


It is already in the Bill.


Is tuberculosis mentioned?


Not exactly; it is implied. To go further would mean it may be due to the general stress and strain of their life. That would be to do more for them than is done for other war workers. Many people are working under very hard conditions which may expose them to tuberculosis. The policy of the Government is to cover tuberculosis if it is due to the matters mentioned in Clause 1. A case arising from exposure on a raft, following an incident mentioned in Clause 1, would be covered. With regard to the question raised by Lord Moyne, the Government pay compensation where the injury is within Clause 1. It is within Clause 1 when it is the result of the matters there mentioned. When it is within Clause 1, workmen's compensation will not be paid. If it is not within Clause 1, then workmen's compensation will be paid if the case comes within that Act. The Government cannot cover a case because it is not covered by workmen's compensation. The latter is different both in kind and amount from Government compensation.

With regard to the point raised by Lord Addison, I would say that all injuries within Clause 1, whenever occurring after September 3, 1939, will be covered as from a current date. With regard to the point raised by Lord Soulbury, the circumstances mentioned in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) are the result of the most careful consideration, and represent all cases which are regarded by the Government as meriting compensation because of their connexion with the war. With regard to the point raised by Lord March-wood, there is no differentiation between legs and lungs. Both are covered, if they are damaged, by the matters mentioned in Clause 1.


I should like to know if they are covered in the same way.


Yes, I understand that they are covered in the same way.


Having listened carefully to the debate, it does not seem to me that the point raised by the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, has really been met. I am wondering whether the Government cannot accept the Amendment which I believe the noble and gallant Earl has prepared for the purpose. Really it boils down to this, that every ship that goes to sea to-day is a warship. They are all armed, and every man on these ships is really a sailor in the same way as are our sailors in the Royal Navy. The noble Lord shakes his head, but in effect, in my view, that is so. I hope the noble Viscount (Lord Clifden) will be able to meet the point raised by the noble and gallant Earl.


My Lords, are not these Committee points, and are we not getting away from the Second Reading?

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

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