HL Deb 24 July 1979 vol 401 cc1839-42

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, I beg to move that the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit (Amendment) Scheme 1979, laid before the House on 15th June 1979, be approved. It may be helpful if I first say something in general about the principal benefit scheme—the Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit Scheme 1966—which the amendment scheme alters, before I go on to explain the purpose and effects of the amendment scheme.

Benefits for accidents and diseases due to employment after 4th July 1948 are provided by the main Industrial Injuries Scheme under the Social Security Act 1975. Workers suffering from accidents or diseases due to employment before 5th July 1948 receive weekly payments under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. But there are some workers who suffer from certain diseases which develop slowly and appear long after exposure to the cause at work. These workers cannot benefit under either of the two provisions I have mentioned. They cannot claim under the Industrial Injuries Scheme unless they were employed in a relevant employment on or after 5th. July 1948; and they cannot claim under the Workmen's Compensation Acts because of the absolute time limit for claims. The principal Pneumoconiosis, Byssinosis and Miscellaneous Diseases Benefit Scheme was therefore enacted, under what is now the Industrial Injuries and Diseases (Old Cases) Act 1975, to ensure that these workers should not be deprived of benefits. The purpose of the principal scheme is to ensure that they may receive benefits which are broadly in line with those payable under the main Industrial Injuries Scheme. The benefits are paid from the National Insurance Fund.

The principal benefit scheme covers pneumoconiosis, byssinosis and six other slowly developing diseases. The amendment scheme before us today adds a seventh disease to the list of six other diseases covered by the principal scheme: nasal carcinoma in workers engaged in the manufacture and repair of leather footwear. This same disease has just been added to the schedule of prescribed industrial diseases in the main Industrial Injuries Scheme, by means of the Social Security (Industrial Injuries) (Prescribed Diseases) Amendment (No. 3) Regulations 1979, S.I. 1979 No. 632, which was laid before Parliament on 15th June 1979 and is due to come into operation on 8th August 1979. The amendment scheme is, therefore, a consequence of that change.

I should now like to say a little about the background to the change which the amendment scheme makes and the effect it will have. The decision to add nasal carcinoma in leather footwear workers to the diseases covered by the principal benefit scheme is based on a recommendation by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council which, as your Lordships may know, is an independent statutory body which advises the Secretary of State for Social Services on matters to do with industrial injuries benefits. The council based its decision on independent research findings presented to it about the incidence of the disease in the footwear industry. The council concluded that there was strong evidence that the disease was occupational in origin and it found that cases were occurring as many as 40 years and more after exposure. The exact nature of the carcinogen is not yet known, but it is believed that the disease is due to one or more constituents in the dust arising from the working of leather or fibre board.

The disease can be severely disabling and the prognosis is poor but, fortunately, the number of people who suffer from it is very few. It is expected that 20 or so persons may benefit initially under the main Industrial Injuries Scheme with four or five new cases a year thereafter. The amendment scheme is likely to benefit even fewer people, but I hope it will be agreed that, however few, it is right that these people should be entitled to benefits.

Turning now to the amendment scheme in a little detail, Article 1 is formal. Article 2 adds the new disease, numbered 7, to those to which the principal scheme applies. Article 3 brings the new disease within Schedule 6 to the principal scheme which specifies the date, in relation to each of the diseases, after which death must have occurred if the relevant provisions are to apply for death benefit purposes. And the schedule to the amendment scheme contains the description of the disease and the nature of the occupations covered. Finally, I should add that the date of coming into operation of the amendment scheme is 8th August 1979. This is the date to be entered in Articles 1 and 3; and it is the same date as that on which the change in the main Industrial Injuries Scheme also comes into effect. In conclusion, I hope that I have made it clear that the amendment scheme is beneficial—albeit to a relatively few people—and is a consequence of a similar change made recently in the main Industrial Injuries Scheme. I, therefore, commend the amendment scheme to your Lordships for support. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15th June, be approved.—(Lord Sandys.)

4.27 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for what has been a very clear and helpful description and, if I may say so, analysis of the events leading up to this order. It is a wholly good measure and, if there is any criticism at all, it is one which we all bear, that perhaps it ought to have reached this stage some years ago. That has nothing to do with the Government. As I understand it—and the Minister has made this perfectly clear—this particular scheme covers not only pneumoconiosis and byssinosis, but six other slowly developing diseases, all of which, as I understand it, are various forms of cancer.

In some measure this would be a suitable opportunity to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Hale, because ever since I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, which goes back over some years, my noble friend has consistently fought for some measure of this kind. This is perhaps a suitable moment to say that we are glad his efforts have come to this kind of fruition—largely, because of pressure that he has put on successive Governments.

As the noble Lord said, this order adds a further disease to the list, that of nasal carcinoma. It is a slowly but severely disabling disease, which fortunately few people suffer from. But it can take—and this is the point which the noble Lord made—many, many years before it is discovered. It is good that, when we are thinking so much about other matters, we can spend time to put on to the Statute Book a measure which would be of considerable benefit to perhaps only a small number of people.

As the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, pointed out, before 1948 there was no compensation at all. As a result, people suffering from this particular complaint were not covered by normal National Insurance industrial injuries benefit. The existing scheme will fill the gap and, as I understand the scheme, the benefits are identical to those available under the National Insurance Scheme. This is a wholly good scheme, and I can do no more but thank the Minister and commend the scheme to your Lordships.