HL Deb 02 February 1943 vol 125 cc863-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Many of your Lordships will be acquainted with the general arrangements and provisions contained in the Workmen's Compensation Act, but let me very briefly recall that that Act made provision for all employees who might be injured by accident arising out of and in course of their employment and who were thus disabled from earning their ordinary wages. Further, in the event of death, provision had been made for the payment of a lump sum to persons dependent upon the workman at the time of his death. From time to time various amending Bills have come before your Lordships and in July, 1940, the House gavé approval to a measure which substantially increased the rates of benefit payable under the Workmen's Compensation Act. This legislation was, I am told, accepted on the understanding that it represented a settlement pending a review of the whole working of the Workmen's Compensation Act. This revision, as your Lordships know, was undertaken by Sir William Beveridge who has now completed his work and the Report been made public. I think I should, however, make it clear that the passage of this Bill will in no way prejudice the issues which he raises in that momentous document.

With these few introductory remarks let me turn to the provisions of this Bill and try to explain the intention and purpose of some of the formidable looking clauses. The Bill seeks to extend the scheme-making powers in respect of diseases of the lungs due to the inhalation of dust, and also to provide for other difficulties which have appeared or which have become acute as the result of war conditions. In 1936 it was alleged that a number of coal-miners, both underground and surface workers, were disabled by fibrosis of the lungs which could not be certified as silicosis, which incidentally has an international definition, and therefore no claim for compensation could be made under the existing silicosis scheme. The Medical Research Council were asked to undertake an investigation in the South Wales coal mines and a pledge was given in Parliament that, if the inquiry revealed other forms of disabling fibrosis, the necessary steps would be taken by legislation to bring it within the scope of the Workmen's Compensation Act. That investigation established that workers chiefly engaged in the working and handling of coal were found to be suffering from a form of pneumoconiosis which differs from silicosis and cannot, as far as we are aware at present, be due to silica dust.

Clause 1 of the Bill therefore will enable schemes to be made for any form of pneumoconiosis in coal workers. At the same time this extension gives power for schemes to be made for other forms of pneumoconiosis in any other industries should investigations establish the need. Clause 2 gives power to make a benefit scheme to provide compensation for coal workers who may have contracted the disease before the scheme which I have just outlined can come into operation and effect. This scheme will provide for payment of a weekly sum in addition to any benefit received under National Health Insurance Acts out of a fund which is to be raised by means of a levy on coal output. In addition, it will provide a lump sum to dependents of men where death has been certified to be caused by the disease. Clause 4 will enable further steps to be taken by the Minister of Fuel and Power to reduce by all possible means the incidence of this disease. A great deal, I am informed, has been done and is being done in this direction.

Clause 5 is of some importance and its provision is intended to be limited to the period of the war. The attention of my right honourable friend had been drawn to the case of a widow of a workman who has either taken up employment or has been directed to some work to assist the war effort, and where the amount of compensation she has received as the result of her husband's accident has been less than she would have normally received if she had not taken up or been directed into particular work. Under this clause the Court—the County Court—will be able, in assessing the degree of dependency, to disregard the war earnings of the widow and, if she was wholly or partially dependent on her husband, to award compensation accordingly.

Clause 6 deals with a question which I know has caused considerable grievance on account of wage increases since the war and more particularly in the case of partially disabled workmen. I have been told that under the Act partial compensation is generally one-half of the difference between the workman's average weekly earnings before the accident and what he is earning or is capable of earning after the accident. Your Lordships will observe that whenever wage increases are given the workman's compensation is automatically reduced by one-half of the increase, so that in fact he does not get the full benefit of any rise in wages that may have taken place. Under this clause the workman will be entitled to a recalculation of his average wage earnings before the accident whenever a. change occurs in the rate of remuneration in the class of employment in which he was employed at the date of his accident. The clause will be applicable to both past and future cases.

As I have mentioned, I am aware that some difference of opinion has been expressed in another place on the wording of this clause and my right honourable friend has given a pledge which I think your Lordships will desire: me to repeat in this House. The pledge which my right honourable friend gave is as follows: His Majesty's Government propose that the method of calculating pre-accident earnings upon a basis that shall fairly assess the earning power of the workman shall be the subject of immediate examination, with a view to regotiation with the representatives of employers and workmen at an early date. The last clause to which I think I need draw the attention of your Lordships is Clause 9. which is designed to assist the Ministry of Pensions to secure the repayment of any pension paid under the War Pensions and Detention Allowances Scheme to the dependants of a seaman in cases where it is found that the dependants are entitled to compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act. I hope I have said sufficient to give your Lordships an indication of the provisions of this Bill, but may I just add one other thing? If it had not been for some delay in another place this Bill would have become law before Christmas. We are anxious to get it passed as soon as possible and with the agreement of your Lordships we propose to take the remaining stages at the next sitting of the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Munster:)


My Lords, you will no doubt be grateful to the noble Earl for his very clear exposition of a Bill of only ten clauses but which has a portentous title extending to no less than fourteen lines. The length of the title indicates the complexity of some of the matters which are dealt with in this Bill. Before the war a Royal Commission was engaged upon making a comprehensive review of the operation of the law relating to workmen's compensation. It was of course inevitable that the proceedings of that Royal Commission should fall into abeyance in view of the situation created by the war.

To meet the immediate situation in 1940 the Supplementary Allowances Act, to which the noble Lord opposite referred just now, was passed. Despite the fact that the Royal Commission had suspended its deliberations on the question of workmen's compensation, as will be in the knowledge of your Lordships, it has been the subject of profound consideration and long exposition by Sir William Beveridge, in his Report, whereby he proposes that the whole question of workmen's compensation should be brought within the four corners of a scheme for social security and as an integral part of such a scheme. No more than the noble Lord opposite do I propose to pursue that matter here and now. It will obviously be a subject of the fullest consideration by your Lordships on some future occasion.

This Bill is a useful Bill, as the noble Lord opposite has said. In its two opening clauses it provides an extension of the provision already made in case of silicosis. The remaining provisions of this Bill are directed to clearing away certain anomalies and to clarifying certain situations which have arisen in the operation of the existing Acts and which will not brook delay. These are difficulties which have been disclosed by the war and it is right and proper that opportunity should be taken now of putting right such difficulties. That, in the opinion of my noble friends, is done by this Bill. We welcome the measure and we welcome the reaffirmation by the noble Lord opposite of the undertaking given in another place on behalf of the Government. My noble friends hope that this Bill will now find its way on to the Statute Book. Naturally, as suggested by the noble Lord opposite, they will facilitate the passage of this Bill.

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