HL Deb 14 December 1965 vol 271 cc611-7

3.20 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. When three or four weeks ago I was asked to take charge of this Bill in your Lordships' House, I studied the speeches and debates upon it in another place. I also took a great deal of trouble to try to understand what changes had taken place since the Industrial Injuries Act, 1948, came into force, which changed completely the old position under the Workmen's Compensation Acts up to then. I found that the amount of jargon and the amount of technical knowledge that anybody would need to understand this subject in order to put the whole matter across to your Lordships, would entail a very long speech indeed, much longer than any of your Lordships would put up with. Therefore, I have boiled down to a rather shorter statement what this Bill is about and what it proposes to do.

Before I come to that, may I congratulate my right honourable friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, Miss Herbison, on the very dogged way in which she has persisted in benefiting those suffering from injuries or diseases of an industrial character under the Workmen's Compensation Acts and the Industrial Injuries Act? I would also pay a compliment to the members of the Ministry of Pensions staff. I have been there on a number of occasions, and I have always noticed a very great spirit of devotion and desire to do everything that possibly can be done to help anybody who comes before them. Incidentally, when one comes to think about it, at one stage or other almost everybody in the country is in some contact with the Ministry of Pensions or National Insurance.

The Bill which I now have the honour to commend to your Lordships is a measure which is designed to benefit persons disabled by an injury or an industrial disease which is due to employment before July 5, 1948, when the present industrial injuries scheme came into operation. These conditions fall in the first place to he considered under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. The compensation under those Acts is a liability of the employers and is related to the earnings lost as a result of the injury or disease, being two-thirds of that loss, subject to a maximum of £2; or, where the workman has a wife to whom he was married at the date of his accident, £2 10s. a week. The provisions of these old Acts were interpreted by the courts and a considerable volume of complex law was built up. When the Industrial Injuries Act came into force it repealed the Workmen's Compensation Acts for the future, but continued them in force for those whose condition arose from pre-1948 employment, who have become known as the old cases.

At the time of the change serious consideration was given to the possibility of absorbing the old cases into the new scheme, but the basis of the whole structure of the two schemes was so different that such a step was out of the question. The possibility of it has been examined from time to time by successive Governments, but the passing of the years has seen no development which would simplify the problems. Indeed, in some respects they have become more complex, and by common consent it is accepted that no move of this description is feasible. The repeal of the old Acts did, however, leave serious problems. These arose partly from the fact that the maximum rates of compensation remained unchanged, though they would almost certainly have risen in view of the rise in the general level of earnings and prices since 1948. Secondly, the provisions of the old Acts themselves were in some respects unsatisfactory and the vast technological and structural changes which have taken place in industry since the last war have exacerbated the effect of these features of the old Acts.

The problem of the old cases has thus ever since 1948 been the concern of successive Governments. This is illustrated by the list of enactments designed to alleviate some of the difficulties. The underlying principle of these has been to provide help by means of allowances, the cost of which has been met out of the Industrial Injuries Fund, and which have been designed to meet hardship when it emerged. The Industrial Injuries Act itself made constant attendance allowance and unemployability supplement available to men entitled to workmen's compensation under the same conditions as applied to men injured after the new provisions came into operation.

The scheme made under the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Act, 1951, provided supplementary allowances payable to men injured before January 1, 1924, to bring their compensation up to broadly the same level as that available for men who were injured later and were dealt with under the more favourable provisions of later Workmen's Compensation Acts. Shortly afterwards benefits were introduced for time-barred "men—that is, men suffering from certain slowly developing diseases, mainly pneumoconiosis, due to pre-1948 employment, which manifested themselves too long after the sufferer had left the industry where he was employed for a claim for compensation to be made within the time limits under the old Acts. Under the Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Supplementation) Act, 1956, further allowances were provided for persons totally disabled or incapable of work for prolonged periods to supplement both workmen's compensation and the benefit provided out of the Industrial Injuries Fund for time-barred cases. The most recent of these special provisions was made in 1961 when the 1951 Supplementation Act was extended to enable allow ances to be paid to those post-1923 cases whose compensation was payable at the maximum rate and who did not benefit under the 1956 Act.

The provisions which I have briefly described have been accepted as satisfactory so far as they go, but their scope does not extend beyond men whose workmen's compensation is at the maximum rate. This limitation has left some dissatisfaction and uneasiness. For this reason a general review of old cases, including the working of the provisions affecting them, and including also a fact-finding survey of their circumstances, was undertaken. In conducting this investigation my right honourable friend the Minister was able to secure, and gratefully acknowledges, the assistance of the T.U.C. and of several major employers who were closely concerned in the field of workmen's compensation. From these sources a good deal of light was thrown on the circumstances of old cases and also upon their numbers. It was decided that an extension of the existing scope of supplementation from the Industrial Injuries Fund was both practicable and necessary, and that the opportunity of this could reasonably be taken to make certain improvements in the existing provisions. Further consideration led to the present Bill which takes another long stride forward in providing for old cases.

The main provisions of the Bill may be summarised quite briefly. Clause 1 deals with workmen's compensation cases. In the first place, it provides an allowance, entitled the "basic allowance", for men injured before 1924, and this, like the original allowance under the 1951 Act which I have already mentioned, puts the pre-1924 men on all fours with men injured later. The other allowances payable under Clause 1 are payable in addition to the basic allowance, and for their purposes the basic allowance is regarded as workmen's compensation. The second allowance under Clause 1 is the major incapacity allowance. This is for totally disabled or incapacitated men entitled to workmen's compensation. It replaces the existing allowance under the 1956 Supplementation Act for such men.

A substantial change is made in that the future rate of the allowance is to be that of the 100 per cent. disablement pension under the Industrial Injuries Act, less the amount of any compensation being paid. This has two results. First, any change in the industrial injuries disablement pension rate will automatically affect the rate of the major incapacity allowance; secondly, since compensation is to be raised to a maximum level, all totally disabled compensation cases will receive the same amount regardless of whether they are getting the extra 10s. for a "pre-accident wife," which the Workmen's Compensation Acts provide. This means that the allowance for totally incapacitated workmen's compensation cases will in this respect be precisely similar to the industrial injuries disablement pension which also takes no regard of dependency. This change means that over a thousand men on compensation will receive 10s. more than at present.

Clause 1 also provides a "lesser incapacity allowance" for partially disabled men. The maximum rate of this allowance is to be £2 7s. 6d. It will be available subject to the provisions of the implementing scheme to men entitled to weekly payments of compensation. This provision will apply to 6,000 men already receiving supplementation, and to perhaps 10,000 more. Details of the allowance will be included in the scheme which will in due course be presented to your Lordships for your approval. It is envisaged that the scheme will provide a series of allowances each related to a certain range of loss of earnings. The loss of earnings will be computed on an entirely new basis. It will be based on the experience gained in the administration of the special hardship allowance under the Industrial Injuries Act, and will be sufficiently flexible to cover the extremely varied patterns of earnings to be dealt with, unlike the rigid and narrow approach adopted in workmen's compensation. It will, in effect, amount to a complete break from the workmen's compensation rules, and it is confidently expected that this departure will go a long way to remedying some of the much-criticised effects of those rules.

The new provisions do not extend to "latent" cases (there is a great deal of jargon in workmen's compensation law and practice and I am sure that the two noble Lords who are down to speak, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and my noble friend Lord Blyton, will understand these phrases without their being explained); that is, to persons who are not entitled to compensation because by workmen's compensation standards their injury is not affecting their earning capacity. The number of these is not precisely known, but it is estimated to be about 200,000 in a very wide variety of circumstances.

Many men whose title to compensation is, in fact, latent are actually, by arrangement, paid small sums weekly by way of notional compensation, to maintain their potential title against the possibility of a fall in their earning power. In order to distinguish clearly between such men and partially disabled men on compensation. the Bill proposes that entitlement to weekly compensation shall be a condition of entitlement to a lesser incapacity allowance, and specifically provides that notional compensation payments are to be disregarded. In Clause 1(4)(a) the Bill enables the scheme to define circumstances in which payment shall be regarded as notional.

Clause 2 of the Bill deals with pneumoconiosis and other "time-barred" men, whom 1 have previously mentioned. At present, totally disabled men receive weekly a supplementary allowance of £4 5s. 0d. under the 1956 Supplementation Act, in addition to £2 benefit under the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefits Act. The Bill increases the £2 to the rate of the 100 per cent. industrial injuries disablement pension, now £6 15s. 0d., thus associating the two rates in the same way as was done with totally incapacitated workmen's compensation cases, and also securing an improvement of 10s. a week for the 1,400 men affected. Clause 2 extends this benefit to "time-barred" men who are totally disabled as a joint result of their disease and some compensatable condition, and who at present are within the 1956 Supplementation Act. The Bill thus provides allowances for the totally incapacitated or the totally disabled which meet all the circumstances covered by the 1956 Act, which is therefore to be repealed.

Clause 3 makes various supplementary provisions. It enables allowances to be adjusted where there is entitlement to more than one; it enables existing awards to be continued where there is sufficient information to award a new allowance, and it enables the new allowances to be paid at the same rate as the present ones if the changeover would otherwise result in a lower aggregate of benefit. Clauses 4, 5 and 6 deal with the necessary technical matters involved in bringing the proposals of the preceding clauses into operation. Clause 4 deals with definitions and explanations. Clause 5 is the usual money clause authorising administrative expenditure. Clause 6 deals with the citation—"This Act may be cited as", and so on. The Schedules cover consequential and minor amendments and the repeal of the superseded provisions.

The Bill is an enabling measure, which contains in outline the provisions which have to be filled out and included in an implementing scheme. Only when this scheme has been approved by an Affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament will the new provisions become effective. In commending this Bill to your Lordships, I should draw attention, again, to the fact that it makes a radical departure in the provision from the Industrial Injuries Fund for men who were injured before the Industrial Injuries Scheme came into operation.

To sum up, it does this, first, by relating the amount of the benefit for the totally disabled and incapacitated to the level provided for the Industrial Injuries Scheme counterparts; and, secondly, by introducing for partially disabled workmen's compensation cases a system of allowances which differ both in their nature and in the basis on which they are calculated from allowances under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. Although these proposals may involve an element of rough justice, they will certainly benefit everybody within their scope. I suggest to your Lordships that this measure takes a worthy place in the succession of enactments which have been made since 1948 to help men suffering from industrial disablement originating before that year. It secures a significant advance, albeit in a comparatively small field, and I am sure that it will give general satisfaction. I beg to move.

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