HL Deb 11 December 1945 vol 138 cc598-600

7.5 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill was given a unanimous approval in another place, and it has been accepted by the representatives of the employers and by the trade union organizations. The Bill relates to the industrial dust disease known as pneumoconiosis, which is defined in the Workmen's Compensation Acts to mean fibrosis of the lungs due to silica, asbestos dust or other dust, and includes the condition of the lungs known as dust-reticulation. The object of the Bill, to put it very briefly, is to try to place those who have served in the Fighting Services or been engaged in other forms of world war-work in the same position, in relation to this disease, as they would have been had they continued to be employed in their pre-war occupations. The special problem here arises from the character of this dreadful disease, which is a slow progressive disease and which may take a very long time to show itself. Perhaps the importance of a measure of this kind can be deduced from the facts stated in another place concerning the present Minister of National Insurance, Mr. James Griffiths. It seems that of his generation who came from his home place in South Wales, he is the only one who does not suffer from this terrible disease. As he pointed out, he left the mining area in order to serve the miners in another way.

That shows how widespread this horrible disease may be.

Your Lordships will recall that compensation is provided for workmen who contract these diseases by schemes made under Section 47 of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925, and there is a provision in these schemes that compensation shall not be payable in cases where the workman has not been employed in the industry giving rise to the disease nor in receipt of weekly payment of compensation at any time within five years previous to the date of the injury. Owing to the war, workers in a number of industries affected by these schemes have left their normal employment to go into other occupations and the Forces, and a period of five years will have elapsed before they return to their old occupations. While away, the development of the disease may have been retarded by the new conditions, or may not have been detected by medical officers with little or no experience of the disease. I understand that you require to be an expert on this disease to diagnose it in its early stages, and therefore a medical officer without experience might not be able to diagnose it.

It is reasonable to assume that but for the war these men would have carried on, and their right to compensation is desired. If, however, the disease should develop or be detected now, they would be precluded under the schemes as they stand without this legislation for such cases. A number have already come to the notice of the Government and a further number are awaiting examination. The object of the Bill is to enable the Minister of National Insurance to deal with this difficulty, and to provide by amending the schemes that in the application of the time-limit any period since September, 1939, spent by workmen in His Majesty's Forces or in war employment which they would not have entered but for the war, should be disregarded.

I do not know whether your Lordships wish me to develop the subject at greater length now, but that is the object of the Bill, and, as you are studying its provisions, I beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Pakenham.)

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