Orders of the Day — Workmen's Compensation Bill

– in the House of Commons on 8th December 1942.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill is less ambitious in its scope than its volume would lead one to believe. It is in no sense a far-reaching measure of social reform, but it deals with a number of practical matters affecting workmen's compensation which have become urgent as a result of war conditions. While it is a matter for regret that it is not a more far-reaching Measure, it is not, I think, an occasion for apology on behalf of the Government. When I went to the Home Office in 1939 the Royal Commission was sitting, and there appeared a reasonable prospect of my having the pleasure of being associated with a Measure completely overhauling our workmen's compensation system, which is in many respects an obsolete model of what a social service should be. Then came the war. The Royal Commission was unable to proceed with its task, and the immediate financial problem was dealt with by an agreed Measure, the Supplementary Allowances Act, 1940.

It is disappointing to me that we have not been able to bring forward more far-reaching proposals. It is equally if not more disappointing to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, because I know that nothing would give him greater satisfaction during his tenure of office than to be responsible for a large Measure of reform of workmen's compensation. Our present Act is still modelled on the Measure introduced by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain in 1897. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has taken an active part in the negotiations which have led to this Bill, and it is only his arduous labours as a member of the War Cabinet which prevent him introducing it to-day. The work begun, so far as workmen's compensation is concerned, by the Royal Commission was continued, and has just been brilliantly concluded, by Sir William Beveridge. In these circumstances it is no matter for apology that this is only a limited Measure. Explanation and apology would indeed be required if directly after the publication of that epoch-making document the Government had taken any steps in regard to workmen's compensation which might prejudice consideration of, or might prejudge the issues raised in, the Beveridge proposals.

This Bill is, therefore, limited in the first two Clauses to a matter on which the Government have been pledged to legislate for a long time past, and, so far as the remainder of the Bill is concerned, to difficulties which have arisen out of war conditions. The first two Clauses make provision for an industrial disease which has been the subject of an inquiry by a committee of the Medical Research Council which was begun in 1936. Since the Silicosis Scheme of 1929 was extended to apply to all underground workers in coal mines in 1934 the number of claims for compensation has steadily increased, and it was noticed as long ago as 1936 that the proportion of applications in which certificates were refused by the Medical Board was increasing also. This fact among others led to a suspicion that some other pulmonary disease existed among underground workers in coalmines which could not be said to be caused by silica dust but which, nevertheless, was due to the employment.

The result of the medical inquiry was published early this year. It is exhaustive and, to the lay mind at any rate, conclusive. The investigations of the committee have established the existence of a form of pneumoconiosis, which differs from silicosis and cannot be said on present information to be due to silica dust. It can be distinguished by both radiological and pathological methods, and it is due to inhalation of airborne dust in the course of employment. It was found to exist not only in the anthracite area but throughout the South Wales coalfield, though its incidence and severity varied greatly in different regions. It was also found in surface workers employed on the screens and in coal-trimmers employed in the dockyards of South Wales. Although the inquiry was confined to South Wales, the disease was found under conditions which point to its occurrence in other coalfields. There is confirmation of this from the Silicosis Medical Board, who have examined cases from other coalfields similar to those found in South Wales.

In the mines the root cause of the trouble is the dust which is inevitably produced in the normal process of coal getting and is accentuated by shot-firing. The reduction of the concentration of dust within limits which can be considered safe must be the main objective of everyone concerned.

The purpose of Clause 1 of the Bill is to extend Section 47 of the Act of 1925, which enables compensation schemes to be made for fibrosis of the lungs due to silica dust or asbestos dust, so as to enable schemes to be made for any form of pneumoconiosis. It will enable a unified compensation scheme to be made for silicosis and the new form of pneumoconiosis found in coal workers. The liability for compensation in respect of future cases will fall, in accordance with the established principles of the present law, upon the individual employer, and it cannot be doubted that the cost of this new disease will fall most heavily on those employers already bearing a heavy burden in respect of silicosis, that is to say, the anthracite areas of South Wales. While this burden can so long as the present control of the industry continues be relieved by arrangements made under the Coal Charges Order, a serious difficulty will arise if and when the anthracite industry has once more to endeavour to maintain itself in open competition with other forms of fuel.

When the silicosis schemes were introduced they applied only to persons engaged in the processes or industries at the time of, or after the passing of, the enabling legislation. These diseases, however, develop gradually over a period of years and it was thought most desirable in the present case to provide in some way for those who had already left the industry, as we recently did in the benefit scheme for workers in the card-rooms of the Lancashire cotton industry. Clause 2 of the Bill, therefore, enables a benefit scheme to be made for dealing with old cases, that is to say, the cases of men who have already left the industry since the comprehensive scheme for silicosis in coalmines was introduced in 1934, but who have no right under any scheme to compensation. It will be appreciated that employers have had no opportunity of insuring their liability in respect of such cases and there is no fund out of which provision for them can be made. It is proposed to provide a fund for them by means of a levy, spread over the whole of the coal raised in Great Britain, which it is calculated will probably not exceed one penny per ton, and that for a single year only.

Since the industry is now subject to Government control and the profit margin is, in fact, fixed by the Government, the cost of this levy will be taken into account in fixing the industry's margin, that is to say it will, in effect, be passed on to the consumer, and the capital sum thus raised will be at the disposal of the administrative board charged with responsibility for operating the scheme. The scheme will continue as long as any old cases exist. It would, I think, have been unreasonable and unfair to have imposed this liability retrospectively upon the particular employers in whose employment the disease had been contracted. Under the scheme it is proposed to pay 15s. a week in addition to National Health Insurance benefits in cases of total incapacity, and a death benefit to a widow at a flat rate of £250. I think, therefore, there will be no dispute as to the merits of the first two Clauses of the Bill.

Clauses 5, 6 and 7 deal with difficulties arising out of war conditions which we are satisfied should be dealt with if a just sense of grievance is to be avoided. Clause 5 deals with the compensation of the widow who has taken up war work and whose compensation may, in consequence of her earnings in that work, be reduced or wiped out if her husband's death subsequently occurs in an industrial acci- dent. Under the existing law compensation in fatal cases is payable only to members of the workman's family who were dependent on his earnings at the date of his death. The sum payable may be reduced by virtue of their own earnings. Cases have occurred where women have undertaken, or been directed into, work in connection with the war which they would not normally have undertaken, their husbands have been subsequently killed in industry, and in some cases the amount of compensation received has been less than it would have been had such work not been undertaken. It is, I am sure, just and equitable, especially in view of the compulsory powers now possessed by the Minister of Labour, that this matter should be remedied. Clause 5 therefore empowers the court in determining dependency and assessing its degree to disregard either wholly or partly the earnings resulting from such employment. It also covers the case of a female member of the workman's family acting in the capacity of his housekeeper, and the word "housekeeper" here, perhaps I may observe, is to be used—

Photo of Mr George Griffiths Mr George Griffiths , Hemsworth

Let us have a definition of that.

Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North

—in its natural and ordinary meaning and has no technical significance.

Clause 6 deals with a matter which has caused a considerable amount of dissatisfaction. Now that everyone, or practically everyone, who is capable of work is able to secure employment there are many injured persons engaged in industry. The amount of compensation payable to such persons is half the difference between their average weekly earnings before the accident and the amount which they are earning or, if unemployed, are capable of earning in some suitable employment after the accident. The object of this provision was, of course, to secure a gradual reduction in the workman's compensation as his earning capacity increases through improvement in his physical condition. The result has, however, been that where general all-round increases in wage rates have occurred, partially disabled men to whom wage increases have been granted have lost half of the advance through a consequent diminution of their weekly payment of compensation.

The Act of 1925 assumed a fairly steady level both of wages and of cost of living. It did, however, provide by Section 11 Sub-section (3) for a review of compensation following on variations in wage rates of a general character in the case of long-term cases. This Section provided in certain circumstances and subject to certain limitations that the compensation figure might be the subject of review. Under that Section, if a workman could show, that, for a period of 12 months preceding the review, he would have earned, owing to higher wage rates, 20 per cent. more than he did in the corresponding period before the accident, his compensation could be recalculated upon the basis of what his pre-accident earnings would have been, if he had remained uninjured and continued in the same class of employment. The limiting factors in this Section of the Act of 1925 both as to time and as to percentage increase, are very severe. No doubt they were intended to avoid frequent reviews.

Since the war, increases in wage rates have taken place over a wide field of industry. They benefit men on light work as well as the wholly able-bodied. The result has been that in thousands of cases of partial incapacity, compensation has been reduced under the rules laid down in Section 9 of the Act of 1925, although there has been no improvement in the workman's physical condition. It is, obviously, a source of grievance when a general increase, applicable to all workers of, say, 10s. a week, takes place, that disabled men, and only disabled men, should obtain half of the wage increment only, by virtue of forfeiting part or all of their compensation. It is true that, after 12 months or more, review under Section 11 (3) may be open to them, but, generally, disability does not last so long, and reduction of compensation operates immediately. Clause 6 is therefore designed so as to make a review of pre-accident earnings both immediate and automatic on changes occurring in rates of remuneration. It will operate both when wages rise and when wages fall, and the general effect will be, in cases of partial disability, to tend to stabilise the amount of the compensation payment. It is obvious that if 10s. a week, for example, is added to a disabled man's actual earnings and a similar sum is automatically added to the figure of his pre-accident earnings, the difference between the two figures will remain the same as it was before.

When we first considered this matter our intention was to deal only with changes in the rate of remuneration which took place since the outbreak of war and only with cases of partial disability. If we had, however, limited it to post-war changes, it would have led to difficult and involved calculations in the case of a man who had been disabled before the war and in whose trade there had been some increase of wages before the outbreak of war. Moreover, since we propose, by Clause 6 (4) to repeal Section 11 (3) of the Act of 1925, some injustice might have occurred had the new provision applied only to wage increases which have occurred since 3rd September, 1939. It is logical and consistent to apply similar methods of automatic and immediate review in cases of total incapacity and, indeed, as Section 11 (3) is to be repealed, it is necessary to do so.

Clause 7 deals with a minor point which has been urged upon us by the Trade Union Congress, in regard to the duties of the examining surgeon. Under Part II of the Act of 1925, in the case of industrial disease, a certificate of disability can be granted only by the examining surgeon for the district in which the disease was contracted and in which the workman was employed. Many workpeople have during the war been directed to work at some distance from their homes. Cases have arisen where, after returning home, disease has become apparent. We therefore take power to give directions which will empower an examining surgeon in the district in which a workman resides to give the necessary certificate.

I need not say very much about the remaining Clauses of the Bill. Clause 3 gives statutory authority, as explained in the Financial Memorandum, for the Exchequer contribution towards the cost of the medical board for silicosis cases established under the Act of 1930. Clause 4 gives additional powers to the Ministry of Fuel and Power to deal with the suppression of siliceous dust produced by drilling. Clause 8 deals with the machinery established for the making of County Court rules governing the procedure in workmen's compensation cases. This Clause can be explained, if necessary, in greater detail during the Committee stage. Clause 9 has been included at the request of the Minister of Pensions. Hon. Members are aware of the terrible frequency with which deaths occur in the ranks of the Mercantile Marine owing to enemy action. The Ministry of Pensions in all cases desire, quite rightly, that there shall be no delay in granting a weekly payment to the dependants. In some cases subsequent inquiry shows that the claim is for workmen's compensation and not for pension. In such cases it is right and proper that the advances made by the Ministry should be recovered either from the employer liable to pay compensation or, where the employer has paid the money into the County Court, out of the money so paid. Clause 9 will enable this to be done and thereby assist the Ministry in its work.

I should like to tell the House to what extent the proposals in the Bill have been accepted by the parties concerned. I have had many useful discussions with various representative bodies, which have brought out and clarified points of substantial importance. As regards pneumoconiosis the Mining Association have expressed fears as to the effect of the proposals on the production of fuel at the present time, and they suggested that consideration of the question of legislation should be deferred until after the war. They further took the point that the medical inquiry was confined to South Wales, and that the case for a scheme of general application to the whole of the mining industry had not been made out. I have dealt with the latter point earlier in my speech. As regards the former, I have made it clear that the Government is pledged to introduce this legislation at the earliest possible moment and I have informed them that it cannot be postponed. On all aspects of our proposals we have consulted the Compensation Committee of the Trades Union Congress. Their representatives, and particularly their Chairman my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark (Mr. Isaacs), have been most helpful in their suggestions. They have informed us that they accept all the main proposals in the Bill without prejudice to their right to raise the whole question of workmen's compensation or any aspect of it at a later date.

The British Employers' Confederation have also given us much assistance in the preparation of the Bill. They accept the proposals set out in Clauses 5, 6 and 7, although a heavy administrative burden will be placed upon them, and on the mutual and other insurance companies in the operation of Clause 6. This Clause will come into operation immediately and many thousands of cases will become the subject of immediate adjustment and review. It will clearly take some little time to make the necessary adjustments. I am sure every effort will be made to overcome the difficulties which will be involved.

In conclusion I should like to pay a tribute to the valuable assistance rendered to the Home Office in the preparation of this measure by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power. He and I have had long association with the coal industry in days gone by. We have often crossed swords on the Floor of this House, and we did so as recently as the passing of the Supplementary Allowances Act in 1940. We are both, however, by our past experience and by our present environment deeply interested in the human problem which lies behind the dry bones of this Workmen's Compensation legislation. Nothing could have exceeded the good will which has existed between my hon. Friend and myself, and it has been a great pleasure to me to be associated with him in the preparation of this Measure, which I hope will have a speedy passage through this House.

Photo of Mr Walter Windsor Mr Walter Windsor , Kingston upon Hull Central

In his remarks on Clause I, the hon. Gentleman gave the impression that this disease applied only to the mining industry. Does not this disease occur equally in the pottery and other industries? Many of us are deeply interested in the subject.

Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North

My hon. Friend will observe that Clause I extends Section 47 of the 1925 Act, to enable schemes to be made applying to workmen suffering from any form of pneumoconiosis—that is to say, that in future, where a form of pneumoconiosis is established by medical inquiry and is proved to be specifically due to the employment, we shall be able to make schemes without coming back to this House.

Photo of Mr Walter Windsor Mr Walter Windsor , Kingston upon Hull Central

My only point was that the hon. Gentleman never mentioned it, although I read it in the Bill.

Photo of Mr David Grenfell Mr David Grenfell , Gower

The hon. Gentleman said that this was not a very far-reaching, but a very useful and ser- viceable, piece of legislation. I do not think he put his claim too high. Everybody on this side is agreed that this is an admirable amendment of a law which is unscientific and I think the hon. Gentleman said obsolete. No workmen's compensation is payable, under the law as it stands, unless it can be shown that the workman has suffered pecuniary loss in consequence of disablement through an accident in the course of his employment. This legislation deals with the position in regard to pecuniary loss. The first Clauses deal with silicosis, or pneumoconiosis—whatever term we give to this serious complaint—which is one of the deadliest enemies of men working underground in certain conditions. It is true that the incidence of silicosis is worse in some areas, and is only slight in certain coalfields, but it causes very serious loss indeed of man-power and of health. It is a very expensive evil, which has been manifest now for well over 20 years. In the area where it has become most prominent, the South Wales coalfield, I have observed in the last 30 years the effect on friends and workmates of my own who were strong workmen. Generally the best type of workmen were chosen particularly for the most hazardous places in the pit, and they became subject to strong concentrations of dust, which caused their death.

I want to emphasise once again, as I have done for nearly 20 years, the point that, if the concentration of dust is heavy enough, there is no escape. In the South Wales coalfield, silica and possibly other mineral elements are in the rock more than is the case in any other coalfield, and wherever men work drilling stone in confined spaces without sufficient ventilation—and they breathe almost as much stone as air in some of these places—these men break down. You can measure their life almost with a sort of annual tape measure. I have seen these men dying. I am very glad that we have gone one stage further—not to the end I am sure—to establish a kind of diagnosis or test of these men to ascertain at what point they become entitled to attention and compensation.

I hope that out of the scheme provided for in Clauses 1 and 2 and the further provisions of Clauses 3 and 4, there will come a regularly constituted board with a fund, financial resources, medical advice and a clinical organisation. I hope that the first and lasting result of the work we are trying to do will be to save lives and reduce the incidence of these terrible complaints and enable men to retain their places in an industry where men, normally, have a fairly long working life. We know that that life is very much shortened and there is much suffering and loss in consequence of this disease. I remember that when I was on the Royal Commission for Safety in Mines, I was very much touched by a letter I received from a woman in West Wales in the anthracite area. She wrote to me because she knew my name and the fact that I was on the Royal Commission. She told me, in simple and eloquent terms, of six deacons who had gone—elders of the Church, respectable, good men who played their part in the church life of the neighbourhood. Six of them no longer attended the services; they were to be found not on the elders' seats inside but in the churchyard outside. I could name more than 50 men that I have known very well, the very best of men, good and strong men, who have gone. The difficulty in getting anything done has been the difficulty of establishing the causation of disease and establishing a means by which something could be done to remedy and reduce the concentration of dust—dust is the enemy—to improve ventilation and give better health standards to men working under these conditions. I believe that this will be done by the Measure that the hon. Gentleman has rightly introduced.

I take credit too, because I really did pioneer this proposal. I have for years and years worked in this House, and my name has been known to the Mines and Home Departments for nearly 20 years in connection with this subject. I have raised my voice in this House and I have been to the Home Office, and I am very glad to say that I believe they are coming nearer to the stage which leads to development of prevention. After much trial, X-ray photographs and post-mortems—horrible things but quite necessary in the effort to trace the disease—there has been discovered what is called dust reticulation, which is mentioned in this Bill. In my opinion it is not a disease but a skiagrammatic symptom which can be seen only in X-ray photographs. It is a symptom of the disease which previously eluded detection. We had not noticed it in the earlier stages. X-rays photography has also developed. We want to catch these cases as soon as we possibly can and take them out of the industry. The first and urgent need is prevention, and the second is clinical treatment. I have not given up hope of pharmacopeial or some kind of treatment which will arrest fibrosis and reinforce and strengthen the undamaged tissues. We welcome all these provisions and I am glad that the employers have consented to a levy. It is a joint responsibility; it is not the responsibility alone of an employer who happens to have a heavy disablement rate in his pit. This is the cost of coal and the price of coal must be adjusted to meet this liability. I do not think there are many Amendments which could be suggested at this stage but there is much work to be done yet. Years and years of hard work are ahead of us and if this is a beginning by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the Home Office and this House, with the task of removing this evil from our mines, then it will be a good job of work.

I want to say a few words about Clause 5, which deals with compensation to be paid to a widow who would qualify under the very difficult and complicated series of Acts passed since 1898. I have watched the working of them all. I was working in a pit before any one of those Acts had been passed and I remember as a boy helping to carry home on stretchers men who had had their spines broken. They were taken upstairs to bedrooms from which they never emerged alive. Every meal was carried up to them by their wives or children; they were faithfully attended sometimes for as long as 12 or 14 years before they died. They did not receive a penny piece in compensation. I played some part in the agitation which was necessary to move this House to deal with that matter. There has been much improvement since those days. When compensation was introduced a person had to be proved to be within a certain category of relationship before compensation was paid. The person had to be a father, mother, sister, brother or wife to receive compensation on the death of the breadwinner and not only had it to be proved that the beneficiary had a certain standard of relationship but the person had to prove actual dependency at the time of the death of the breadwinner.

In these very difficult times women who were formerly engaged in minding the homes of the country have gone out to work, and there are cases in which women who formerly were fully dependent on their husbands are now earning more than the husbands who formerly maintained them. Under the law as it was, there is no possibility of establishing a claim for compensation unless they can prove actual dependency at the time of the man's death. This Bill puts that right. There is one small point to which I would like to refer, because it may be raised in Amendments on the Committee stage. In Clause 5, lines 34 and 35, it is provided that: The tribunal may disregard those earnings…and accordingly may treat the widow as wholly or partly dependent upon the earnings of the workman at the time of his death. We shall propose that the word "may" be deleted and the word "shall" inserted. We feel that if this is not done, it may lead to a terrible amount of unnecessary litigation and controversy when the war has finished and the time comes, which we hope may not be long, when the wife becomes dependent on the husband, as she normally would be, and should be, in my opinion. Clause 6 contains a very well deserved provision. I have been associated with other hon. Members on this side in the past in making constant appeals in regard to this matter. I have known some very hard cases. This provision attempts to put right something which has been wrong for a long time.

The basis upon which compensation is paid to a man, whether he is totally or partially incapacitated, is that if he was earning £3 a week before being injured, the compensation would be 30s. a week. In 1940, some addition was made to that, but the basic idea is that he should get one-half of his wages up to a maximum of 30s. If the person then recovers sufficiently to do light work, although he still suffers from partial incapacity, and goes back to work, he may get £2 a week, for instance, instead of the £3 a week he got formerly. He then gets half the difference by way of compensation, making a total of £2 10s. a week. He is, therefore, 10s. a week worse off because he was injured, although he works all that he can and does the job given to him and the one he can perform having regard to his disabled condition. During the war wages have gone up, and a man who earned £3 a week before the war may earn £4 10s. a week now because of war advances. Under the law as it is at present—this Bill will change it—such an injured man, getting £2 a week on light work and receiving half the difference, that is to say 10s., would, by reference to the wages now paid in the industry, suffer a loss of 30s. a week. This Bill, instead of putting such a man's pre-accident wage at £3, would put it at £3 plus the 30s. a week by which wages in the industry have been advanced since his accident. He can now come again to within 10s. of his neighbour's earnings, because he gets the full wage advance without sacrificing the 10s. a week partial compensation which had been based upon 50 per cent. of the difference between £2 and his actual pre-accident earnings of £3 per week.

There is something else to be done in this case, but that is not before the House to-day. This is putting the thing very much more right than it was before, and every workman will welcome it very much. Those whom I know so well who were injured in 1927 and 1928, when wages were not more than £2 5s. a week, and who have mow gone back on light employment will be very grateful to those who have brought this concession about. There are one or two other little Amendments in this paragraph which will be dealt with by other speakers. I am sure we are doing a good job of work to-day. I hope the Government will not resist these suggested changes but will give way and join with us to make as good a job of this as we can until an opportunity comes for a larger review of the whole thing.

Photo of Mr Clement Davies Mr Clement Davies , Montgomeryshire

I, too, welcome the Bill as an instalment long overdue which ought to have been passed years ago. I was very glad to hear the Under-Secretary say it is now recognised that our Workmen's Compensation Acts are obsolete. Whereas we were the pioneers in this matter in 1897, I believe that to-day our system of dealing with workmen's compensation is almost the worst of any country in the world, for this reason, that all We have contented ourselves with doing is to pay half wages at a time when a man requires much more, and no steps have been taken to rehabilitate him and put him back into industry. Surely we, who have been pioneers, should have attended to that long ago. Injury has been caused to men arising out of their work and during their work, and the only reason why compensation was not being paid was that it was not regarded as an accident.

I should like to draw attention to the position of quarrymen, especially slate quarrymen. I was glad to hear the question put to the Under-Secretary, and his reply that this is to be extended to other matters than coal. The only two speeches that have been made so far have dealt purely with the position of coalminers, but the position of some of those working in the slate quarries of North Wales is even more serious. I shall never forget hearing the evidence of doctors attending to quarrymen at Festiniog. They go down to the bowels of the earth in the same way as the coalminers, and they have now reached a gallery which is about the 17th down. The evidence was that the amount of air was so small and the dust so bad that candles would not burn if they were allowed to stand upright, and they had to have their heads turned down to keep them alight. I sent the evidence straight away to the Home Office and other Government Departments, asking that something should be done forthwith, but nothing has been done to this day. The evidence of the doctor was that that very morning before he came to give evidence before me he had conducted a post-mortem examination of the body of a strong man of 41. At 28 he was a shepherd, and therefore absolutely healthy. At 41 he was dead, and the doctor said that his lungs were like two bricks. Festiniog graveyard is full of such men. I want an assurance that this Bill and the Regulations will be extended to meet these terribly hard cases. The Bill is not enough, but for the time being we shall have to accept it. I hope that in a short time we shall have a Bill, not to keep these men on half pay, but to rehabilitate them.

Photo of Mr Ness Edwards Mr Ness Edwards , Caerphilly

I want to join the hon. Gentlemen who have extended a welcome to this five-point Bill, which is the result of a reasonable amount of negotiations. The proposal to provide for the victims of mine dust will be welcomed very much in South Wales. The recent report indicates the extent of this disease throughout the industry. In some collieries as many as 50 per cent. of the men engaged have reached the stage where they have become disabled by pneumoconiosis. The proposal to disregard the earnings of widows in war work will reassure the womenfolk. The proposal to transfer to the injured some of the benefits of the increasing wages which they would have had were it not for the accident will lessen the injustice which these men and their families have laboured under for a long time. Although it lessens those injustices, it does not remove them. We shall have something to say about that during the Committee stage. The other points of the Bill are more or less helpful in meeting the small injustices which have arisen cut of framing and paying workmen's compensation.

In general, we welcome the Bill, and we are satisfied that it is an honest attempt to meet a number of grievances. The necessity for its speedy passage is a reflection of the need of remedies. Our men want relief and want it soon, and mining Members do not want to delay the Bill. May I compliment the Home Secretary, in view of what has been said outside, upon his readiness to deal with the obvious injustices which we have brought to his notice? He has been subjected to criticism outside, but it is our view that he has shown a commendable readiness to meet all the representations that have been made to him in South Wales. In the negotiations he has been assisted by the Under-Secretary for the Home Office and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel. There is every reason to commend them for the efforts they have made in trying to arrive, at this solution. The only fear we have is that they may weary in well doing. This Bill amply redeems what was promised except for one of the Clauses which we will discuss on the Committee stage.

While we pay tribute to the honesty of the endeavour which has so far been made and which we hope will be continued, it must not be assumed that the incomes of industrial casualties are such as to give us satisfaction. It is still a matter for shame that we treat the victims of industry in the way we do. Let me cite one example, a silicosis case which was mentioned before the Royal Commission. This man is and was totally disabled by silicosis. He; was paid 20s. 5d. per week for total disablement. He has a wife and six children to maintain on that. That was in 1938. Since then, I agree, he has had the benefit of the War Additions Act, 1940. Because of the seven-eighths rule he now gets 35s. instead of 20s. 5d., but is it a matter for pride that a man who has sacrificed himself in the mining industry has to keep himself and six others upon 35s. a week? Under these proposals he will, it is true, get £2 15s., but is that adequate to maintain seven people? That is what the Under-Secretary for the Home Department will have to justify when we come to discuss Clause 5. I have taken the worst case I can find, a case in which the maximum benefit obtainable under this Bill is shown with clarity.

The best this Bill will do is to even up injustices; it fails to provide a standard comparable to that which obtains in any of the administrative departments of our social life. I chose the worst case deliberately, but let me take the average case. It is safe to assume that 27s. is about the average weekly payment under the 1925 Act. That figure may now go up a bit. All this Bill will do on that point, and I agree that it is something which we were not promised, is to level up those payments to 30s. a week. Can this House defend such a payment when recently it agreed in the case of women rather raising their rate when they are idle or casualties from £2 12s. to £3 10s.?

The injured miner is still the worst-treated casualty in the life of the nation. If his wife gets hurt in a Royal Ordnance factory she will get her full wages for 13 weeks. If his daughter gets hurt in Civil Defence work, she will get her full wages for six months. If his son falls on the pit top when he is doing fire watching, he will get £3 12s. a week for six months. But if the miner himself stumbles over the same obstacle at the same place on the pit top the most he can get is 35s. a week. Surely this is a matter to which this House ought to give more attention. Let me put it this way: A man who may be careless about the national interest and his responsibilities and who takes a day off to go to dog-races will, if he is injured by an enemy bullet, get 7s. a week more compensation than a man who goes down into the pit and gets the coal with which to make the bullets to fire at the enemy. How can we defend that? The Government in our view must keep it firmly in mind that excellent as some of the proposals in this Bill are it is not to be regarded as a substitute for the pressing need of raising the rates of workmen's compensation.

Photo of Mr George Isaacs Mr George Isaacs , Southwark North

The hon. Member who introduced this Bill said that the Acts as they stood were an obsolete model. To some of us they are not an obsolete model but a garment that is worn out and smothered with many patches. To-day the Government have brought forward a new series of patches, which are very welcome, but we must bear in mind that some of these patches do not cover the bare spots. It reminds me of a little boy at school in London. The teacher noticed that he had a new patch on his trousers and that it was rather light in colour. She said to him, "Johnny, that is a very light patch," to which he replied "Garn, that's not a patch, that's me." I am afraid some of these patches will still leave some great injustices. There have been enough references to the mining industry to make it unnecessary for me to say anything more about it, even if I were competent to do so, but on the question of diseases I would mention that it is 10 years since the Trades Union Congress suggested to the Home Office that pneumoconiosis should be covered by workmen's compensation. It has taken all these years for the Home Office to find out that what the Trades Union Congress said 10 years ago was right, and that it is included in this Bill is due very much to the Under-Secretary, whose activity and interest in this matter we so much appreciate.

I would like to mention something about the widows and their loss of earnings. Even here not everything is covered by the Bill, which is limited to a female member of the workman's family, if she was acting as his housekeeper. We all agree that in this case "housekeeper" has the meaning given to it in the dictionary and not what was given to it in a certain police court in London. There are other female members. They may be a daughter, a sister or a mother who was absolutely dependent upon the workman and upon his compensation, but is able to do in the war some minor kind of work of a character which will not exist when the war ceases. We might find that injustices will remain there. With male members of the family, there may be a son who was absolutely dependent upon the family before, but to whom war work of some kind has been possible. I could quote instances of men who thought they would never be able to do work again because of their disability and who were dependent upon their fathers, but who have now found work in the war effort, which will shortly come to an end. We shall still get difficulties remaining.

On Clause 6 and the question of partial earnings, it is clear that a workman is entitled to half the difference between his pre-accident earnings and his post-accident earnings, but there are three examples of how this works out quite differently. Let us assume that he is in a lower-paid job. His pre-accident wage was 60s. per week and in the new job is 40s., a difference of 20s., which gives him 10s. as the partial loss of wages. If his pre-accident job is now raised to 70s., and his present light job remains at 40s. there is a difference of 30s., and he is entitled to 15s., that is, half the loss. He therefore earns 40s. and gets 15s., a total of 55s. He is only 5s. better off, and so is the insurance company, which save 5s. out of his compensation. Why that should come into the picture we do not quite know.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

That is not the point. It would be an advance in wages, and it would go on to his present earnings.

Photo of Mr George Isaacs Mr George Isaacs , Southwark North

There are three separate instances: the case where a man's post-accident earnings increase, but not his pre-accident earnings; the case where his pre-accident earnings increase and not his present earnings; and the case where both increase. I was trying to give the example of one of these cases. In the case where his present earnings increase by 10s., going on to 15s., and at the same time his pre-accident rate is increased by 10s., making it 70s., there is still a difference of 20s. and no difference in the amount of compensation which he receives. In the case where the injured man is doing light work and his wage of 40s. is increased to 50s., and there is no increase in his pre-accident rate, which remains at 50s., his compensation could be reduced, because there is only 10s. difference between the pre-accident rate and the present earnings. Compensation is reduced to 5s. in that case, and the man loses 5s. therefore, of the wage increase. We appreciated, in the discussions with the Ministry, that these were difficult points, though if we had approached them in the way the Ministry first suggested, there would have been injustices and inequalities elsewhere. We feel that we should take the best that can be got under the circumstances and although we point these things out we do not raise them as matters of objection.

Clause 7, which deals with the question of the Home Office certifying surgeon being allowed to certify in the district where the man lives in addition or in place of the locality where he worked, is a very valuable concession indeed. I have had experience of a man who came from Leeds and worked at Watford. His home was in Leeds. He became ill at Watford and went back to Leeds. There he was advised that his trouble was an industrial disease. He had to travel back to Watford to get his certifying certificate from the surgeon. While accepting this Bill, we want to place on record our claims for the early correction of other faults in workmen's compensation. We have had statutory committees, rehabilitation committees, Royal Commissions, all of which have pushed matters off. I want to set out the particular things we want to see remedied: the basic rate of benefit; the calculation of average earnings; compensation for women workers with children dependent on them; complete alteration of the medical referee system; and the necessity for a rehabilitation system.

In spite of these shortcomings, this Bill is welcome. I speak for the Trades Union Congress and its Compensation Committee to say that we welcome this Bill, especially as it is to be put through very quickly. In spite of being charged with exchanging a battle of bouquets with the Parliamentary Secretary, and while thanking him for what he said, I wish he had not said it, so that I might say what I am going to say with less embarrassment. In our frequent interviews with him we have been impressed, first, by his great knowledge of this Bill, the painstaking care he has always exercised in dealing with it, and, above all, his courtesy and gentlemanliness to us when we have worried him over such long periods of interviews. In thanking him, we say this merely in anticipation of the favours to come.

Photo of Sir Godfrey Nicholson Sir Godfrey Nicholson , Farnham

I do not think it would be right if all the tributes paid to my hon. Friend came from the other side of the House, because there has always been a section of the Conservative Party which has taken a keen interest in Workmen's Compensation measures. As one of them I welcome this Bill as fully as anyone in the House. But I do not wish just to hand out another bouquet. I rise for the purpose of saying that I welcome the Bill particularly, because it shows that the Home Office is coming round to the point of view that it is worth while amending details of the Workmen's Compensation Acts in piecemeal fashion. I cannot help feeling—I have often said it—that the interests of the injured workman have suffered very materially because neither the Home Office nor any party in this House has been content to deal with the Workmen's Compensation Act bit by bit, piecemeal. The hon. Member who preceded me has enumerated a list of points that need attention, and I could add others. I re-echo what he said, and if the Home Office are not weary of well-doing, and are not content to sleep on their few laurels, I suggest that later on, perhaps even during this Session, they introduce other Bills covering other points regarding workmen's compensation.

The volume of literature on the subject is colossal. I should like to refer in particular to the monumental and comprehensive work of the late Sir Arnold Wilson. I miss him more deeply and mourn for him more deeply than for any other Member of Parliament who has lost his life or died, since I entered this House. He died a hero's death in this war at the age of 54. He is one of the greatest men I have had the privilege of knowing. He wrote a remarkable work on workmen's compensation. His collaborator, Professor Hermann Levy, still happily with us, has brought out a second volume, which I think some Members have read.

His works and those of certain other students could suggest several useful minor reforms in the Workmen's Compensation Acts, which could be brought forward as this Bill has been. In particular, there is the question of rehabilitation. I believe that all along we have gone on the wrong principle. We have said that the employer's responsibility is fulfilled if he gives a partially-injured workman a pit- tance upon which to eke out his existence. It ought to be considered just as much in the interests of employers as in that of individual workmen that men should be restored to a wage-earning capacity. I will not go on, because I know that my hon. Friend is anxious to get up and reply to some of the bouquets that have been hurled at him; I will only say this. The Beveridge Report refers to workmen's compensation. That is all very fine and large; but does that mean that once more reform of the whole system is going to be put off until the Beveridge Report is adopted? I hope that this precedent of introducing small, detailed, piecemeal Amendments to those Acts will be followed. I welcome this act on the part of the Home Office, and I hope they will carry on.

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

I would be less than human if I did not say how grateful I am to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to the Home Office for his tribute to what little I have been able to do in bringing in this Bill. With regard to Clauses 1 and 2, my interest in this subject of occupational chest diseases goes back 32 years. I remember that, in the days when we used to talk about Lowe's disease in the Loxley Valley, we had a committee of inquiry, through the Y.M.A., in 1911 and 1912. We had well-built men with their biceps and triceps completely withered, and frequently they used to die. In the course of examination, a lung which was petrified was brought down to the Home Office, and that largely led to the initiation of the first scheme for some form of payment for silicosis disease. Members of my own family who after the Boer War went back to South Africa and worked in the gold mines got what we then called miners' phthisis, and they paid the penalty. This Bill, which confers on the Home Secretary wide general powers to make schemes as occasion warrants, is a big departure from the first scheme which came before the House of Commons. Those who are familiar with Macaulay's Essays will recall that, even at that time, he referred to grinders in Sheffield dying like flies from the silica coming from the silica wheels.

It ought to be made perfectly clear that this does not apply only to the mining industry. The immediate scheme, indeed, was a result of the Medical Research Council's Report, largely on South Wales. Silicosis was an internationally-agreed definition, agreed at Johannesburg in 1930. There were a large number of people in the South Wales coalfield, particularly in the anthracite portion, who had undoubtedly a disease which totally incapacitated them, and which made death almost certain; but they had no claim to compensation, because their disease did not come within the definition of silicosis. Now we get the wider definition of pneumoconiosis. I am certain that as time goes on we shall find a less tongue-twisting word; though I have said it so often lately that I could repeat it backwards. I think we are all agreed that Clause I is welcome and much overdue. The very big scheme we can talk about later. It is not merely the fact that we have to pay compensation for occupational chest diseases. That is all right. We have to get down to prevention and, if needs be, cure. I was myself tried as an experiment 25 years ago for a preventative measure of curing silicosis in a certain coalfield. I worked a full day in the coalpit, with respirator, cutting coal to see how it worked out. We were in a hard end heading where the pick used to fly about to within 1–16th of an inch from either ear. Stripped to the waist and with sweat pouring from one, the respirator became like a piece of blotting paper within 25 minutes. But I still believe that there is something in preventative measures, and in Clause 4 of the Bill the House can take it that we intend, as a Ministry of Fuel and Power, to do everything we possibly can to bring about preventative measures.

Certain things have been done. I may say without egotism that a good deal was done while my hon. Friend the. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) was Secretary for Mines. When I went to the Department I made it my duty immediately to ask for papers relating to any preventative measures which had been put either into operation or suggested in different coalfields. I went through them very carefully indeed. I found that a good deal had been done, but that there was still a good deal more that needed doing. Whatever might be said about hostility and suspicion in the industry—and perhaps we in the mining industry have been rather prone to delay preventative measures because we have had to pay for them—there is the utmost co-operation in trying to bring about whatever can be done by way of prevention and cure. A Section in the 1911 Act, under which Regulations were issued, was considered to be perhaps a little too narrow or too restricted to permit the preventative measures we had in mind coming into operation. Therefore, Clause 4 is put into this Bill for that purpose. There is not time to go into detail about preventative measures, but hon. Members can take it that preventative measures have been developed to suit the various dust-producing operations in mining districts, including the control of shot-firing, the removal of debris and dust from roads, and so on, and we shall endeavour to do all we possibly can in that direction.

With regard to the cost, two or three references have been made with regard to the pneumoconiosis scheme. It so happens that of all useful reforms in this country, the only one that has cost the State nothing is workmen's compensation. That is the liability of the individual employer, who covers himself, therefore, by insurance or by co-operation among employers. We would have liked to have spread the cost of this risk over the entire mining industry. But the opposition does not come from us. Among miners there are good comradeship and a good deal of clannishness, but do not imagine for one moment that when the pneumoconiosis scheme comes into operation all the cases will be from South Wales. In my opinion, there are quite a number of cases in other districts which will come in under the pneumoconiosis definition. It perhaps would have been as well if we had had the risk spread over the entire industry, but we have had to do the best we can. With regard to the benefit scheme, it will not possibly need more than one levy of a penny a ton. That may be sufficient to deal with all cases which at the moment anyone can see with accuracy.

With regard to Clause 1 and 2, whatever the joint Ministries can do to ease the burden and provide some remedy will be done. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) rightly stressed the position of those in slate quarries. I understand that in 1939 underground workers in these quarries were brought within the scheme. If there is any doubt on the matter, I will certainly look it up in the next two or three days and communicate with him, but I think he will find that the point has been met.

This Bill never aimed at altering the structure of the present workmen's compensation; it aimed at removing and remedying three or four different anomalies or injustices that were created by the war. Take, for instance, the question of the woman who is working and whose husband is killed. Because she is working, the widow has been denied the £300 because she was not totally dependent upon her husband. Instead, she gets £175. We were asked to try and safeguard the partially incapacitated man with regard to war-time earnings. Well, this Bill is not limited to mining. It would have been a social injustice and politically inexpedient to try and legislate for one particular industry on that point. It applies to all. This gives automatic review both of the totally incapacitated and the partially incapacitated cases, and I will show where there is some benefit in it. Suppose a man was injured in 1933 or 1934 and had an average wage of £2 per week. He was then drawing compensation of 22s. 6d. a week, being half his earnings and half the difference between £1 and 25s. In his particular class of work now his wages have advanced. That man will be able to get automatic review and go up to the ceiling figure. The partially incapacited man, as a general principle, will have restored to him his partial compensation that may have been removed as a result of any wartime increases in his wages.

Photo of Mr William Foster Mr William Foster , Wigan

Will full compensation be restored in every case?

Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

We want to get this Bill through in the next few minutes, and I cannot go into that now, but when we come to examine the Clause in detail there will be an opportunity to deal with that point. All I have time to say now is that this is a very welcome Bill, and I am sure my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, with whom I have crossed swords so often, is very happy about the way in which it has been received. I am more concerned about the welfare of our injured workmen than in making a long speech, and I will conclude by asking the House to accept this Measure.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for the next Sitting Day.—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]