HL Deb 08 March 1951 vol 170 cc985-9

4.26 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. It is a short Bill, and— if it is wise to use the term in your Lordships' House—it is non-controversial. Personally, I am glad that it falls to my lot to take charge in your Lordships' House of a Bill the objects of which are so manifestly designed to remove hardships suffered by a small class of workpeople, many of whom must now be getting on in years. Having regard to the clear statement of the objects of the Bill to be found in Command Paper 8150, I doubt whether I need say very much about the details. A short summary is that a man injured before January 1, 1924, is now at a serious disadvantage compared with men injured after that date. In some cases they may be worse off by as much as £2 a week. The objects of the Bill are extremely simple. They are to enable a scheme to be made by means of which the pre-1924 men will have made up to them the difference between what they are actually getting by way of compensation—and in some cases they may be getting nothing at all because their current earnings exceed their pre-accident wages—and what they would have received under the Workmen's Compensation Acts if they had been injured after January 1, 1924.

The money will come out of the Industrial Injuries Fund, and the nearest estimate that can be given of the cost is that in the first full year the payments may amount to £230.000, falling, it is estimated, to £150,000 in five years and continually diminishing by the mere lapse of time. Broadly speaking, compensation from their employer, plus the allowance provided by the scheme, will equal the compensation actually being-received by those workmen who have been injured since January 1, 1924. A feature of the present scheme to which I ought to devote attention for a moment or two is that relating to the question of a wife's allowance. Bearing in mind that the primary concern is with the man who was either totally incapacitated or who was going to be treated as totally incapacitated, the conclusion was reached that instead of the rather complicated scheme of wife's allowance provided by the war-time Acts, it would be better to have a simple rule that if a man was totally incapacitated or deemed to be totally incapacitated he would, in addition, be entitled to 16s. 0d. a week if he hail a wife dependent upon him. These allowances will be paid subject to the same conditions as the wife's allowance under the Industrial Injuries Act. The main conditions, as your Lordships no doubt know, are that he is residing with or wholly or mainly maintaining his wife and that she is not earning more than 20s. 0d. per week. The allowance will be given to the man who married his wife after his accident, and not limited to the pre-accident wife as was done under the Workmen's Compensation Acts.

The Workmen's Compensation Acts themselves are not altered so far as they still apply, nor does the Bill alter in the slightest degree the existing rights or obligations of workmen and employers under those Acts. Neither does it affect in any way the provisions of the Industrial Injuries Acts which have now superseded the Workmen's Compensation Acts. The Bill is an enabling measure, giving the Minister power to make a scheme. The scheme will require the approval of both Houses. As will be seen from the explanatory memorandum to which I have referred, the allowance to be provided will vary in different circumstances. A partially incapacitated man receiving only 20s. a week compensation will, if his loss of earnings is £3 a week, be given an extra allowance of 20s, to bring him up to the 40s. maximum. Again, a man who because the calculations of his pre-accident and post-accident earnings did not disclose any loss of earnings is getting no compensation at all, will be entitled to have his pre-accident earnings re-calculated by reference to increases in wage rates since his accident. If the result of this calculation is to disclose a notional loss of earnings he will get an allowance, and if the gap is £3 a week or more he will receive 40s. a week. The totally incapacitated man who now gets under the pre-1934 Acts 35s., will receive an extra 5s.

Then there is what may well prove to be one of the most important provisions regarding the man who, although he is considered to be capable of some work, has not been able to find such work. Those who are acquainted with the Workmen's Compensation Acts will recognise these men for what is known as the Section 9 (4) type of case—the "odd lot" in industry. We are proposing that in certain circumstances, comparable to those laid down in the 1931 Act, men who have been unable to secure employment because of their injuries will be entitled to have their incapacity treated as total and to have any workmen's compensation they are getting made up to the 40s.

It may be well, perhaps, to refer to one or two matters arising out of the Bill itself. First, it covers only those men who are receiving weekly payments of work-men's compensation at the date when the Bill becomes law, or who would be receiving them but for certain eventualities covered in the Bill. It does not cover any workman who has commuted his compensation, or had it redeemed before the Bill becomes law. It would be impossible to reopen settlements already made. The proposed scheme follows the precedent under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, which made the unemployability supplement and constant attendance allowance available to men on workmen's compensation. Moreover, this applies also to the special kind of commutation which arose when the employer went bankrupt, and the workman proved in the bankruptcy. The difficulties of bringing in these cases would be insuperable and would raise much wider issues. On the other hand, men who commute their compensation or have it redeemed after the Act comes into force, whether or not the scheme itself has come into force, will be covered.

The Board which the Minister is to set up to administer the scheme will consist of an independent chairman, appointed in consultation with the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, sitting with representatives of both sides of industry and of the Ministry of National Insurance. It is hoped to secure a chairman of high legal standing. The Board will be given very wide powers of review, which will deliberately be made wider than those of the adjudicating authorities under the Industrial Injuries Act, and therefore it will always be able to reconsider a case if fresh representations are made. A Board of this kind should have the confidence of the men concerned. This Bill was described in another place as a token of remembrance to forgotten men. Those men had the misfortune to be broken and bruised upon the wheel of industry prior to 1924. The purposes of the Bill being understood by your Lordships, I am confident that it will receive a Second Reading.

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

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kershaw, who has moved the Second Reading, is fully entitled to congratulate himself on being able to present to the House a measure the aims of which are undoubtedly beneficent, and which will rereceive little or no criticism from this side. At the same time, like the noble Lord, Lord Tweedsmuir, I have one preliminary plaint which I feel compelled to air. I am unable to analyse what it is in the soil of Workmen's Compensation and Industrial Insurance legislation that is responsible for a crop of such abominable words. I shall always recall with modest pride that when the Industrial Insurance Act was before the House I was successful in inducing the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to substitute for the somewhat exotic phrase, "loss of personability" the more pedestrian word "disfigurement." It seems to me that here again we might have avoided so spurious and unsightly a word as "Supplementation" in the title of the Bill. Could we not insert in the title some such phrase as, "additional or increased rates or allowances," and thereby produce something more approximating to basic English than to bastard Latin?

As regards the contents of the Bill, I propose to say little. As I understand its purpose, it is in the main to cover the case of a certain limited number of men who in the years prior to the end of 1923 sustained injuries by an accident arising, in the familiar phrase, "out of and in the course of" their employment, and who have been in the interval receiving payment under the Workmen's Compensation Act, but who, for various complex reasons, now find themselves in a position inferior to that occupied by those of their fellow workmen who have sustained injuries since the beginning of 1924. If that be the position, it is obviously the wish of this House that steps should be taken to remedy that situation. Justice demands it. The number of men involved is obviously small, and will diminish in the course of no very long time. It is worth remarking, in passing, that no payments contemplated under this Act are to have retrospective effect. I think we should also welcome the provision which, while not establishing an allowance for a wife, permits a provision for the payment of an allowance in respect of a dependent wife to be included in the scheme to be prepared under the Bill by the Minister, It is a modest sum, as indeed are the amounts to be made up under the general provisions of the Bill.

I would add only one thing more. I observe that in this Bill there is the power, to which the noble Lord referred, to set up yet one more special Board. In the past few years the Government have amassed a collection of these extraneous tribunals—incidentally without any right of appeal from them —and I confess that I have no particular affection for them. It may be in this case there is no practicable alternative, and I pause to make no more than the comment that, as in the maxim embodied in the old nursery rhyme, in their case multiplication is vexation; and I hope that the maxim will be stringently applied. With those few welcoming remarks, we shall support the continued progress of this Bill.

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