Workmen's Compensation (Pneumoconiosis) Bill

Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 1945.

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Considered in Committee, and reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be read the Third time."

1.2 p.m.

Photo of Mr Somerville Hastings Mr Somerville Hastings , Barking

I should like in a few words to commend this Bill to the House. No-one who has seen sufferers from pneumoconiosis, with their shortness of breath and trying cough, can but agree that anything that can be done to relieve and succour these people, must have the blessing of all concerned. It is because I hope that this Bill will also help in explaining some of the difficult problems of the disease by teaching us something of its natural history which must be a first preliminary to the prevention of any disease, that I especially welcome this Bill today.

Silicosis, a chest disease affecting particularly the miners of South Wales, has been known for a long time. It is a curious disease which apparently affects almost exclusively the miners of South Wales, and particularly those engaged in the anthracite mines. In the anthracite mines every year between 1931 and 1937 there were just over five per thousand new cases suffering from the disease, whereas in the coalfields of the country generally, the proportion was only 06 per thousand of those working. There are other chest diseases, somewhat similar, which affect those who work in stone, asbestos and other industries in which they are subject to inhaling dust. Because of this, pneumoconiosis compensation schemes have been evolved by which those who are suffering from these diseases are excluded from the industries concerned, by which they are given benefit while incapacitated and by which compensation is also given to the dependants of those who die from the disease. But an essential factor in receiving any compensation, is that the sufferer from the disease must have shown evidence of it within five years of having been exposed to the dust which is the principal cause of the disease. At first, the time was three years, then it was extended to five, and now people who are concerned in the study of the disease are wondering whether it cannot develop after a much longer period than five years since the last exposure.

This Bill, by extending the period of observation which those who during the war period have been engaged in war services or war industry, will enable us to obtain information about the disease which we did not know before, and I submit that anything that helps us to know more about the incidence and what one might call the natural history of a' disease is the first step in the elucidation of its causes and therefore its prevention. There is one point more I would like to call attention to. In the Bill the words "war employment" occur. I do not know whether "war employment" is a statutory term, but if it is not, I think perhaps the Minister in charge ought to explain it to us.

1.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Lindgren Mr George Lindgren , Wellingborough

May I reply to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings)? The Minister of National Insurance, with whom I have the honour to work in association, has had the tragedy of first-hand experience and knowledge of the conception and development of this terrible disease. In fact, I have heard him say on a number of occasions that in his village he is the only man of his generation now left without the disease, and the only reason he escaped was because he, to use his own words, "was fortunate enough to come out and serve the miners and mining industry in a capacity outside the mine itself."

It is a very dreadful disease, and at the moment the research to which the hon. Member for Barking has, referred, has been extended. It is not being developed to the extent to which my right hon. Friend would like, mainly because of the shortage of those experts who are so necessary to give particular and intensive thought, time and energy to inquiry into the origin and the extent of this disease. In so far as that research can be assisted by the opportunities with which this small Measure gives, we shall be only too pleased to use those opportunities. They will be interesting because we have men coming back into the industry by the extension of this period of observation, who have been in many varied types of activities since they left the industry itself. There is, perhaps, one interesting feature that might arise from the difference between those men who have been in the service of His Majesty's Forces—leading an open-air life with extensive physical training, and opportunity for physical development—and those who have been engaged in various types of war industry, which varied again between open-air arduous work, factory work which is arduous, and work which is what one might term light work. We hope we will be able to get a measure of experience from the observations that take place in regard to the cases which come before the Board as a result of the opportunities the Board will now have, and which they would not have had but for the provision this Bill makes for ignoring the war period for those who have been on any term of war service.

If I may refer to the question my hon. Friend asked in regard to Subsection (3) of Clause 1, as to the definition of war service; that is intended to cover the service which was undertaken by a man, and which he would not have undertaken but for the fact that the war occurred, and he was required by the Ministry of Labour or the War Office or one of the other branches of the Services, to leave his industry, or, where the industry itself closed down, and he was forced to get another means of livelihood. There are bound to be, and we recognise there are bound to be, cases in which men will claim that their absence from the industry was due to war service, and it may be doubtful whether, in the terms intended in the Bill—that is, that war service was service occasioned from circumstances arising from the war—will be contested. The tragedy is that many men who desire to come within the provisions of the Bill because of the necessity of getting workmen's compensation may attempt to come within the provisions of the Bill, although they have been specifically excluded, because they cannot really be brought within the term "war service." They may have been fortunate enough to get outside the mining industry, and for reasons which are not the subject of this Bill, there are very many who do try to get outside that industry. They may have got outside the industry in a voluntary capacity, and have taken up some other form of employment, or even non-employment, in a voluntary manner.

This Bill does not intend to cover those people. Whether it ought to or not, is not a matter we ought to discuss here today. The question was asked, and the answer is they are not included in this Bill. If there is a dispute as to whether or not it is a war service, that will have to be determined through the normal procedure. The procedure varies between the various schemes which have been established in a number of differing industries. In some, the case has to be determined by the county court, and in others there is a board set up in the industry itself. That board covers a fund which has been provided because and it is responsible for the monies which have to be disbursed. Because of the accidents covered by the fund, the board will be the body to determine whether the man concerned is covered by this Bill and eligible to be certified, and to have his disease recorded and, therefore, registered as an accident. I thank the hon. Member for Barking for his interest and his intervention in the Debate. I can assure him that the opportunities which this Bill gives for the development of reseach will be remembered and taken in hand.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.