HL Deb 09 November 1943 vol 129 cc559-62

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which I invite your Lordships to read a second time to-day would have reached this House at a somewhat earlier date if it had not received a temporary setback during the course of its journey through another place. Nevertheless, the important Government proposals which are embodied in the Bill have remained unaltered since its introduction, with the exception of one or two minor amendments. The measure, as its short title denotes, is only of a temporary nature and it is not, and never has been, designed to amend the whole system of workmen's compensation. If your Lordships approve of this Bill to-day, it will not relieve the Government of an undertaking and a pledge which has been given, and which I repeat again— namely, that it is our intention to present legislation amending the whole system of Workmen's Compensation Acts.

This Bill, like others which have gone before it, is complicated, and indeed difficult of explanation, and the detail which is embodied in the five clauses of the Bill is far from simple. I would here utter a fervent prayer that, if I should be connected in the future with any new comprehensive scheme which may be introduced, I shall find it easier to picture and still easier to explain to your Lordships. I have no desire to delay the House unduly in view of the other Motions which stand on the Paper this afternoon, but I would ask your Lordships to bear with me for a few moments while I endeavour to elucidate the benefits which are contained in the five clauses of this Bill.

Some noble Lords may recall that at the beginning of this year it fell to my lot to present a Workmen's Compensation Bill in this House, to which your Lordships agreed. That Act enabled compensation to be reckoned on the basis of the sum which the workman would have earned if changes in rates of pay since the date of the accident had been in force at the time of the accident. The Act in itself did not increase benefits, but the effect of the new basis of reckoning resulted, as was intended, in increases in a large number of cases. But owing to the legal ceiling of 30s. in the principal Act it has not increased compensation in total incapacity cases where the pre-accident earnings were over £3 a week. This Bill, as I have just said, is of a temporary nature. Its primary object is to increase benefits in long-term cases, and all such increases will be applicable to old as well as to new cases. At the present time the amount payable in disablement cases is 50 per cent, of the average weekly earnings, with a maximum of 30s., but with a flat rate addition of 5s. under the 1940 Act, which therefore brings the figure to 35s. per week. The House will observe that, in point of fact, the maximum figure of 30s. which has been laid down in the principal Act, has no relation to the high wage levels in existence to-day. In addition, the 1940 Act gave children's allowances. There were 4s. for each of the first two children, and 3s. for every other child, under the age of fifteen, subject to the total amount of compensation, including supplementary allowances, not exceeding seven-eights of the pre-accident earnings. It is now intended, due to the ceiling difficulty to which I have just referred, to increase the benefits to single and married persons.

I have no desire to weary your Lordships with sums, but I think it would be useful if I gave some of the benefits in figures which will be achieved if your Lordships pass this Bill. Let me take the single man first. After the first thirteen weeks an additional sum of 5s. a week will be paid, making the maximum 40s. a week, subject to a limit of two-thirds of pre-accident earnings. For the married man an additional sum of 5s. per week will be paid from the commencement of the benefit, making 40s a week, plus a further sum of 10s. a week after thirteen weeks, making a maximum of 50s. a week, but subject, as in the case of the single man, to the limit of two-thirds of pre-accident earnings. It is further intended to increase the supplementary allowances in respect of children to 5s. per week for each child, and this will operate from the date of the operation of the Act. We also propose that the children's allowances, which under the 1940 Act ceased on their reaching the age of fifteen, shall continue to be payable after the children have attained that age, provided that full-time instruction is still being received or until the 31st July next, whichever in fact is the earlier date. In the cases of the lower-paid workers the seven-eighths maximum will continue to apply, and in partial incapacity cases the benefits will be proportionate to that which is payable in cases of total incapacity, as at present.

I should like here to say that I hope I shall not be drawn into controversy upon the Beveridge Report, but if I might anticipate such reference in the case of benefits to be provided for the single man, let me say at once that the benefit of 35s. a week, which is already payable under existing workmen's compensation provisions, is considerably larger than the benefit proposed under the Beveridge scheme for single men during the first thirteen weeks. Under Clause 2 of the Bill it is proposed, in all fatal cases, where a wholly dependent adult is left, to increase the minimum lump sum payable from £200 to £300 and the maximum lump sum payable from £300 to £400, and to increase the aggregate maximum where children under fifteen years of age, in addition to an adult dependant, are left, from £600 to £700.

Thus in a few minutes I have endeavoured to give your Lordships a very brief outline of the main beneficial objects of the measure which I present for Second Reading. It only remains for me to refer your Lordships to Clause 4, where provision is made for these new benefits to come into operation on November 29. A short period must be allowed from the date of the passing of the Bill in order to enable employers, who are, after all, meeting all the extra liabilities, and the insurance companies, to complete their necessary arrangements. With these few words on, a measure which, as I have said, is extremely complicated, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

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