Before I call on the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) to move the Motion which stands in his name I must say to the House that there is a little difficulty about order in this Motion. As the House will be aware, the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946, replaced the existing system of workmen's compensation by a system of benefits set up by that Act. At the same time it preserved the rights of persons under that Act to receive the benefits to which they were entitled.
There is now before the House a Bill to be read a Second time—the Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill—which makes changes in the rates of benefits for industrial injuries, and so on, and our discussion today must not, by the rules of order, anticipate the discussion of that Bill. So it seems to me that the Motion standing in the hon. Gentleman's name is really, by the rules of order, strictly confined to that small class of persons who were entitled under the old legislation to continue to receive the benefits to which they were entitled. I ask the House to assist me in keeping the discussion in order by not anticipating the statutory system in regard to which there is a Bill before the House to be discussed in due time.
I beg to move,
That, in view of the continuing rise in the cost of living, this House is of the opinion that the time has now come for an increase in the amount of weekly rates of compensation for workmen disabled as a result of accident or disease arising out of or in the course of their employment and would welcome a declaration of the policy of Her Majesty's Government.
We had, Mr. Speaker—I mean particularly my colleagues—anticipated the Ruling that you have been good enough to give. In fact, the Table has assisted us considerably, and we shall do what we can in the circumstances to keep within the new and limited terms of the Motion.
I wish to call attention to the inadequacy of the weekly rates of workmen's compensation and pensions payable to workmen disabled as a result of accident or disease arising out of or in the course of their employment. As you have indicated, Sir, the scope of the Motion has been considerably narrowed compared with that of the original Motion which stood in my name some days ago, but, narrowed as it has been, I have no hesitation in placing the greatest emphasis upon its extreme importance, even in its restricted form.
Although it is so narrow, as a result, as you have explained to us, of accepting the rule against anticipation, we still have no apology to make for taking time this morning to draw the attention of the Government and the House to the plight of those still subject to the old Workmen's Compensation Act. It is estimated that more than 30,000 workmen of the mining industry alone are at present in receipt of weekly payments of workmen's compensation and there are many more thousands who have received permanent injuries, or who have contracted industrial diseases before 5th July, 1948, who would have been paid compensation were it not for the fact that their post-accident earnings exceeded their pre-accident earnings.
If the old formula still holds good—one which has been used not only by miners but by others engaged in other industries—one in three of the industrial accidents which take place in our country are suffered by mine workers, and we can safely say that there are at least 100,000 injured persons in the country either in receipt of weekly compensation payments or who would have been in receipt of such compensation were it not for the earnings rule. The plight of many of these was vividly in our minds when the Minister of National Insurance announced the recent increases in social insurance benefits. Modest as these increases are, they have, nevertheless, emphasised more strongly than ever the unhappy position of very many of the injured workmen who are still subject to the old compensation Act.
For comparison, I will give a few figures. The totally disabled single man would, under the Workmen's Compensation Act, receive £2 a week, but, under the Industrial Injuries Scheme, having regard to the new increases now being proposed, he would be paid £2 15s. a week. A married man with no children, under the old compensation Act would receive £2 10s. a week. Under the new scheme, with the increases now proposed he would receive £3 16s. 6d., a difference of £1 6s. 6d.
I know that the Minister will say that the problem of transferring those who are in receipt of workmen's compensation to the Industrial Injuries Scheme is not a simple one. We concede that immediately. We know how difficult it will be to reconcile the different principles on which payments are based and also to apportion the financial liability of the employer responsible for the payment of workmen's compensation. I also believe that the effect of the transfer of these compensation cases on the present administrative machine could, on the whole, be coped with easily once the principles of transfer had been agreed upon. We admit that the Minister has a problem to face and, with all respect and sincerity, we would like to help him in the interests of those who are calling for our help.
Will he look at the problem of transfer in this light for a moment? The transfer from workmen's compensation payments to those of the Industrial Injuries Scheme, of course, should be voluntary. The workman would be called upon to decide whether or not he would like to opt into the Industrial Injuries Scheme. In coming to a decision he would act upon the advice of his trade union. Should he decide to transfer, his weekly compensation payments could be commuted in accordance with the Post Office annuity tables and his employer would pay this sum into the Industrial Injuries Fund, after which his liability would be at an end.
The workman would then be examined by the medical board, with a right of appeal to the medical appeal tribunal, should he so decide, and would receive an assessment according to his percentage loss of faculty. We are getting used to this phraseology now, thanks largely to the Industrial Injuries Scheme. Admittedly, the transfer scheme would take some time, but not as long as some people are inclined to believe. It would take very little time to bring over those certified under the Workmen's Compensation Act as being totally disabled. Their medical examination would be largely a mere formality. Those who had sustained accidents resulting in the loss of a limb, or in disfigurement, would not take long because their degree of disablement has already been fixed under the disablement schedule of the Industrial Injuries Scheme. Their examination would be considerably of a formal nature.
It is with the remaining cases that some time would be taken, but I think they could be expedited by dividing them into groups determined by preliminary examinations carried out by the National Health Service as to whether they were more or less than 50 per cent. disabled, or whether the disablement was due to accident or industrial disease. The problem is not insoluble for the very good and humane reason that a solution has to be found for it.
No Minister of National Insurance can hope for much peace from the trade union movement, whoever that Minister may be, so long as this problem exists. My own trade union, the National Union of Mineworkers, certainly feels most keenly the sad state of most of those injured workmen to whom I have referred this morning. The heavy rate of casualties in our industry compels us to stress on every possible occasion the need for the decent treatment of the injured.
I know that we miners are often severely criticised for our impatience, but sitting with me on these benches are hon. Members who have either spent years in the coalmines or have lived for many years in coalmining communities and we cannot be other than painfully conscious of the toll of life and limb that is ever associated with the mining of coal. If the House and the Government were to pay heed to what happened only last year in the mining industry they would agree without hesitation that our request to the Government this morning is extremely modest.
To give one or two figures, last year, out of a complement of slightly more than 700,000 engaged in the mining industry, 487 were killed and nearly 250,000 were disabled for more than three days. Those are appalling figures. Deaths from pneumoconiosis exceeded 800; new certifications in respect of pneumoconiosis numbered about 4,000. There are probably as many as 20,000 suffering from pneumoconiosis at this moment. I have given those figures merely to illustrate the gravity of the case which we are making today, and in the hope that contemplation of those figures might move the Minister, difficult as the problem appears, to meet what is desired and expressed in the Motion which I have the honour to put before the House.
I beg to second the Motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S.O. Davies) is to be congratulated on bringing before the House and the country the plight of our unfortunate friends who, as a result of meeting with accidents prior to 1948, find that owing to the legislation of 1948 it is legally impossible for them to receive any increase in their weekly rates.
The first Workmen's Compensation Act was passed in 1897. Since then numerous Acts have been put on the Statute Book. In 1934 an Act was passed imposing au obligation on owners of coalmines to insure against liability. That might mean nothing to laymen, but some of us who have spent our lives in the mining areas know full well the position of many men who were injured and lost limbs prior to 1934, whose employers, the colliery company concerned, went into liquidation before 1934. Through no fault of their own, these men who are now walking the streets as middle-aged men, having lost either an arm or a leg, receive no compensation.
In 1943, a further Act was passed providing allowances for the wife and the eldest child. My hon. Friend has mentioned the allowances which have already been made under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The other part of that Act dealt with partial compensation for men who lost a limb. The basis for their compensation was not, as today, a percentage related to the loss of limb but on the earning power or capacity of the man concerned.
The way it worked was that a man who lost a limb in industry received, after he was certified fit for some kind of work, 50 per cent. of the difference between his pre-accident earnings and his post-accident earnings. There was no obligation on the employer to find him a suitable job, and many such men could not get a job; but their partial compensation was assessed on what they might have been able to earn if there had been a job for them.
Therefore, we see today, especially in our mining areas, where we are short of able-bodied men, men who, having lost a limb are signing on at the employment exchanges and are still looking for suitable work, and whose partial compensation amounts to very few shillings. These men are in a very unfortunate position.
We also have the other type of man who met with an accident in the 20's and 30's and was dealt with under the rule of 50 per cent. of the difference between pre-accident and post-accident earnings; and who, owing to the fact that during those years men in the mining industry were working short time, two or three days a week, found themselves adversely affected. These men are now in receipt of a very small sum of partial compensation. There are many others who have received permanent injuries and contracted industrial disease who have been debarred altogether under this rule.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil has mentioned the difference of treatment between those men on workmen's compensation and the man who is dealt with under the Industrial Injuries Scheme. I remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying, in his Budget speech—and in this he was followed on subsequent occasions by the Minister of National Insurance—that to make up for what a person was likely to lose as a result of the cut in the food subsidies he was prepared to increase old age pensions and payments to persons receiving unemployment, sickness and industrial injuries benefits, National Assistance and war pensions. We welcomed that announcement, but the type of person of whom I am speaking has been omitted altogether. There has been no mention of this kind of person, whose sole income is derived from the terms of the old Workmen's Compensation Act.
It may be said that in some cases the partially-disabled man is better off than the totally disabled pensioner. Let me assure the House, as one who for the 20 years prior to coming here handled hundreds of compensation cases, that there are very few of that type. One type of case in which I have been and still am keenly interested is that of the man who received a back injury—what we call the paraplegic miner. These individuals, and there are thousands of them in the coalfields, have lost the use of the lower part of their body altogether. The man who sustained his accident prior to 1948 cannot receive any increase in his weekly amount, because the new Act supersedes the old one.
I was pleased when my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) was able to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Wednesday last to make a concession to the disabled
ex-Service man in the form of a grant of £3 a year for an all-weather invalid chair and £2 a year for the other type of chair. During that debate the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) said:
There is no one whose heart is not touched by the sight of the cheerful disabled soldier in his little three-wheeled chair going to his job or to a football match."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, 1952; Vol. 499, c. 1563.]
Every one will agree with that. But we also have in our mining villages these disabled miners who cannot go to their work, but they can go to football matches or the local welfare institution in their chairs, provided for them by their comrades at the pits in many cases, and in some cases by the Ministry of Health.
These men will have to pay the increased tax on petrol, but will receive nothing extra, as will the war disabled man. I do not wish anyone to think that I am quibbling about the war disabled receiving anything extra, but these civilian men will also have to pay the extra tax and will receive nothing extra. I ask the Minister therefore to take that into consideration.
These men are in a pretty hopeless position. There are only certain things they can do. The wife of one of them told me, "I am always pleased when it is a fine day, because if my husband has to stay in he gets very despondent and downhearted." If by means of these chairs and small cars these men can get out into the village lanes and among their comrades in the recreation grounds and the institutions it brings a little light into their drab life.
If other injured and sick persons are getting an extra allowance promised by the Government, I feel it is not beyond the wit of the Ministry of National Insurance to find some device to enable this type of injured person to receive similar benefits. As a long-term policy, so that we do not have this recurring system every time an increase is given whether it be for sickness cases or industrial injury, my hon. Friend has put forward what I think is the nucleous of a workable scheme. In 1946 the Minister of National Service felt it would be impracticable, and I appreciate the difficulty. But since 1948, fours years having elapsed, it is fair to assume that men now entitled to full workmen's compensation, are likely to be so entitled for the remainder of their lives. So it is possible for the Minister of National Insurance to obtain actuarial figures and examine the scheme suggested by my hon. Friend.
If the Minister can do something it will be but justice for men who have been crippled and disabled in the industrial war, and especially in the industry in which I spent the greater part of my life, which is one of the most hazardous industries in the country.
On a point of order. The words "rates … and pensions" appear in the introduction to the Motion, read by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S.O. Davies), but in the Motion you have read, Mr. Speaker, "and pensions" are left out. This is a matter of considerable importance in relation to the Motion you have just read to the House, Mr. Speaker. May we, therefore, have your ruling on the matter?
I think we all realise the difficulties which exist in this matter. I must declare my interest as I am the director of a small insurance company. I remember discussing the problem of workmen's compensation with the managing director of the company about the time when the Act was being passed. I put to him the quite selfish question of what would be the effect, and I remember that he said, "I shall be very glad to get shut of the business, but I am sorry for the work people. I am certain that they will be worse off as a result."
It is rather interesting that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S.O. Davies), in the earlier part of his speech, expressed the view that workmen ought to have been given the choice of whether they came under the Industrial Injuries Act or continued under workmen's compensation. In other words, they should not have been nationalised compulsorily but only voluntarily. That was the logic of his remark. I do not know whether he will be able to apply that over a wider field.
An insurance company has nothing to do with the workman. They guarantee the employer although, by way of convenience, companies handle a great deal of the negotiations; but they have no official relationship with the workman. Most of the companies, if my small company is typical, have been doing all they can to get their cases closed, which is understandable, because the business so far as they are concerned has come to an end. There are, of course, still cases outstanding.
I think I am right in saying that a very large proportion have been determined by a lump sum settlement where that is convenient, and I also think I am right in saying that the lump sum settlement procedure needs the approval of the courts—
Of the registrar, so that there is protection afforded in that way.
The difficulty is that if something is to be done about this, who is to do it? Clearly, the insurance companies are out of the picture. They had a contract which they have discharged, and their reserves have now vanished. The employers have ceased to exist, particularly employers of the type the hon. Member has in mind. Government offices have destroyed the employing companies. The mining industry has been nationalised and the employers liable have been wiped out of existence.
I believe that some employers have their own insurance fund which was protected and put under trustees and taken outside the business, so that the fate of the business did not affect the trustee fund. Of course, the insurance companies still have their liability, but the employers have vanished from the scene in most cases; they have been destroyed by the action of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I sense the point which the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) is trying to make—that by nationalising the coal industry the responsibilities which should have rested on the coal owners ceased, and the question arose whether the Coal Board would take them over. Of course they took them over. They are paying compensation now.
Towards the end of the time before the 1948 Act was passed there were very few of the coal owners who were doing this business through insurance companies. In the main, they were doing it through their own societies, which they had set up.
Well, apparently it was done in both ways, but I am not sufficiently familiar with that aspect of the problem, because I do not think the insurance company with which I am connected had any of that business. But the question which we have to determine is, Who is to pay? One proposition is that the Coal Board should pay. They are not very prosperous at the moment and I foresee a certain measure of reluctance on their part, because in the long run it will have to come out of the wages of the miners who are now working. If we diminish the prosperity of the Coal Board, then the only recourse is a request for lower rates of pay. Hon. Members may say that it is proper that existing miners should pay towards the increased pensions or benefits for those who suffered in the past.
The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) is making rather heavy weather of this point, because it was, in substance, before the House in the pre-1924 cases. Would he not agree that a similar solution could be found in the present cases? If he disagrees, will he say where he thinks that action in the present cases should differ from what he did on the last occasion?
We have to determine who is to pay. We are all sympathetic. [Laughter.] Certainly, we are all sympathetic. It is like the case about poor old Bill's widow—"I am sympathetic half-a-crown. How much are you sympathetic?" Let us see who is going to be sympathetic in this case.
I am not very familiar with it at the moment. A lot of things happen in this House; I try to remember a lot of them, and I have a fairly good memory, but I frankly admit that I do not remember everything, although I remember more things than do most people.
But whatever we did about those cases we come back to the question—if we are to give effective expression to the sympathy which we all share, who is to pay? Everybody hopes that somebody else will pay. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Wells) says it should be the nation. Well, the nation is the nationalised board, the system of National Assistance now administered very sympathetically by my friend George Buchanan, who formerly sat in the House, whom we all respect, and who seems to be doing a good job.
May I point out to the hon. Member that in some cases, where workmen's compensation payments are inadequate, the Assistance Board are already making up the sum on grounds of need, so that this is not a new suggestion? The hon. Gentleman is really advancing the suggestion that the means test should continue to apply if industry has failed to give payments to provide a reasonable living standard.
I was well aware of that, and it may well be the solution to the problem. Nobody suggests that people should take money out of the public till except under a means test. I know of no Member in the House who does not believe in the means test—otherwise, anyone might be able to go to the Assistance Board and say, "I want £5,"and they would be under an obligation to give it to him without his proving that he needed it. Of course we are in favour of a means test. If the hon. Gentleman will read the Acts of the last Parliament and the Statutory Instruments made under the National Health Service Act he will see the means test referred to again and again. Everybody believes in a means test and, of course, there should be a means test. What right have we to say that people are entitled to rob the public till without a means test?
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I was driven to this by the somewhat disorderly remarks of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I was merely saying that the solution to this problem depends on the answer to the question—Who is to pay? Clearly, the insurance companies are out of the picture and the old employers are out of the picture. The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who has considerable experience in this matter, and has had considerable responsibility—he has considerable knowledge of it, because he was connected with the mining industry and was responsible for the administration of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act—thinks that the Coal Board ought to pay. I think there is a better claim against them than against anybody else, because they are the successors in title of the former employers.
It is no good being sympathetic on broad lines unless we make up our minds where we shall place the responsibility. If the responsibility is placed on the Assistance Board, who are accepting it today because it is their duty to accept it, it means that the nation as a whole will pay. That is one solution. An alternative solution is for the industry to pay, and today that means the Coal Board. I think hon. Members who have raised this issue, and others who have supported it, should make up their minds. As I have said, I am as sympathetic as anyone in the case of the class of person who has been gravely injured by the increased cost of living, although such persons are not limited to injured coal miners.
There are masses of people who worked hard and built up small savings and who are now living lives of acute poverty. One hopeful feature about the situation is that there is every indication that the cost of living will fall. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Certainly. One thing I am afraid of is that it may fall too rapidly and precipitate an economic crisis. It is quite clear that over a wide range of commodities a very large fall has already taken place. Over a whole range of clothing the fall was abrupt and caused the widespread unemployment which now exists.
Prices are falling over a considerable range of non-ferrous metal; even in today's paper there is an example of a drop of I do not know how much in the price of lead. Take the case of those things which are affected by the cut in the subsidies. Already it is quite clear that the increase in the price of tea will be substantially less than the amount of the cut in the subsidy, and there are indications in many other directions of a fall in commodity prices both in this country and in other countries.
There has been an increase in the price of coffee, and I have not the slightest doubt that prices are going up and down all over the world, but at the moment the general tendency is a downward tendency, which, I hope, will be continued, provided it does not continue in a form which leads to unemployment, which it has already caused in the textile industry.
There is, therefore, a note of optimism to be found in connection with the future trend of the cost of living. I hope that there is, and I hope that our taxation system will be directed very much to that purpose. I will not pursue that line any further, Mr. Speaker, otherwise you will catch me out, but the cost of living is a question raised in this Motion and some reference to it seems, therefore, to be in order.
When hon. Members quite legitimately make an appeal to our sympathies they ought to make quite clear whose sympathies they wish to touch in the financial sense and from whose pockets they wish to extract the necessary funds. We have two proposals made—one that the nation should do it and the other, from the right hon. Member for Llanelly, that the Coal Board should. That is what he seemed to suggest. Before the Government or the Opposition reach a conclusion I think they must make up their minds whose pockets they wish to burrow into.
I listened with great attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), and I hope he is alone on the benches opposite in suggesting that an industrially disabled man should be subjected to a means test in order to get a decent standard of life because he cannot earn it for himself owing to his injuries. The hon. Member was very concerned about the insurance companies. I take the view that if the insurance companies who represent the employers had been prepared to pay a lump sum into the Treasury to cover their liabilities, then these people would before now have come within the ambit of the National Injuries Act.
I want to speak about the pre-1948 cases. These men are governed by the 1925 Compensation Act, and their standard has been brought up to its present level by the 1943 Act. But they are still well below a decent standard of life. The National Injuries Act does not apply to these men except in respect of unemployability or attendance allowance, or in some cases sickness. There must be, on the most conservative estimate, over 100,000 people in this country in receipt of workmen's compensation. In addition, there are many thousands who have received permanent injuries or have contracted industrial diseases who receive no compensation at all because their post-accident earnings are above their pre-accident earnings.
No reference at all was made to these cases by the Minister of Insurance when he announced the recent inadequate increases in insurance benefits. We think that the compensation paid to the pre-1948 cases is totally inadequate. The new increases have emphasised the disadvantageous position of those in receipt of workmen's compensation. What is the position of these people? The 1925 Act laid it down that workmen's compensation could not exceed 30s. a week or a sum not exceeding 50 per cent. of a man's weekly earnings 12 months prior to his injury.
This position continued until 1940 when a supplementary rate of 5s. was fixed, increasing the compensation to 35s. a week, and at that time 4s. a week was given for the first two children under 15 years of age and 3s. for the other children. But even these payments were subject to the rule that the total compensation must not exceed seven-eighths of the wages earned by the man before his accident.
The 1943 Act again altered the position so that after 13 weeks of incapacity, during which a man received £2 a week for himself and his wife, he then received a further supplementation of 10s. a week, making a total of £2 10s. a week for himself and his wife. At the same time the rate for each child under 15 was raised to 5s. a week. The 1943 Act laid it down that the total sum received by the man by way of compensation, including any supplementation, could not exceed two-thirds of his pre-accident earnings.
There is a serious anomaly in this Act to which I should like to draw the Minister's attention. If a man was not married at the date of his accident, but married subsequently, he received no supplementation for his wife or children. This anomaly as regards war pensions was abolished by the last Government, but it is still in operation under the 1943 Act. Therefore, the totally incapacitated man injured between 1925 and 1948 still receives compensation at the rate laid down by the 1943 Act. This man will be in a worse position after the new Bill is passed.
A man with a wife who was injured before the appointed day in 1948 receives compensation at the rate of £2 10s. a week. If he was injured in 1949, he will in future receive £3 16s. 6d. a week for himself and his wife, a difference of £1 6s. 6d. a week with the pre-1948 case. If there are children under 15 years of age, he will receive an allowance of 10s. 6d. for the first child as against 5s. a week for the first child paid in respect of a man injured before 1948.
Since these rates were fixed in 1943, the cost of living has risen enormously. The hon. Member for Croydon, East, talked about the cost of living coming down. I have not met a housewife who would accept that argument, because she knows what she has to pay for goods when she goes shopping. The most difficult thing about statutes which relate to benefits is that when prices rise there is a time lag before such benefits are raised to meet the increased cost. The value of money goes down, and it is always months after before something is done to adjust the benefits accordingly.
Rising world prices have seriously undermined the effectiveness of the 1943 Act as regards the pre-1948 cases. According to the cost of living index, prices have risen out of all proportion since the 1943 Act was framed and debated. The London and Cambridge Economic Service, based on the old cost of living index and the interim indext of retail prices between 1946 and 1952, states that costs have risen by 40 per cent. during that period. I believe they have gone up even more. The cost of living index was based on a family budget in 1904, and the interim index was based on the 1938 family budget. But the pattern of spending has changed considerably since those years, and in any case many items were excluded. Therefore, even on the basis of the cost of living, these men are entitled to consideration by the Minister.
As regards partial incapacity, I know of men who have lost one eye or a limb who still receive very meagre amounts by way of compensation. I know of men who have lost an eye who receive only 10s. a week, and I know of other such cases where they receive no compensation at all because they were told that a one-eyed man could go back to his pre-accident job. But when they have gone back they have been unable to claim compensation because of the earnings rule. I know the position was altered for the better under the 1943 Act, but it is still inadequate.
Another point I want to raise is the question of a boy who was injured between 1925 and 1948. The law lays down that a man must claim a review of his case within six months of reaching the age of 21 years. If through an oversight or ignorance of the law the application was not made by these youths who are men now, they must exist on a ridiculously low rate of compensation even for total incapacity. There is no review of their case to ascertain what their earnings would be if they had not met with an accident and were still working. The Minister should look at this matter and extend the rule so as to allow these people to have some adjustment and a review of their case.
What can be done for these unfortunate people? They must have some consideration. We ask that the 1943 Act be amended so as to give those who are totally or partially incapacitated some recompense and some adjustment of their basic pension to meet the increase in the cost of living since 1943. I should like to see the Minister bring their compensation up to the new scale he will be introducing next month under his Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill. As prices are going up, I seriously suggest that the Government should consider inserting an escalator Clause in all Bills, and even in the 1943 Act, so that instead of our having to fight and haggle constantly in this House to secure justice, benefits, by statute, would rise or fall according to the movement in the cost of living.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S.O. Davies) has talked about the scheme which is now being canvassed by trade unionists. I know that we are told that a transfer of these cases into the main Act is impossible because of the difficulty of reconciling different principles of payment. We are also told that there is difficulty in apportioning the financial liability of the employer responsible for the payment of compensation. Thirdly, we are told of the difficulty arising from the effect on the administrative machine if thousands of people elected to transfer.
I support the scheme put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil, which has the support of some of the unions, and I suggest that the transfer can be taken in three stages. The hon. Member for Croydon, East asked why some men do not want to join such a scheme. They are very few and far between, and the reason is that they are better off under the old compensation provisions than they would be if they transferred to a national insurance scheme. We do not want to put those men at a disadvantage, but those who have lost limbs and have been totally incapacitated ought to be brought within the ambit of the national Bill, and insurance companies should be compelled by statute to pay to the fund on the basis of Post Office annuity tables so that these men should be brought within the ambit of the new Bill on national injuries.
I ask the Minister to consider today the case of people who come within the ambit of the 1925 Act. We ask the Minister to consider increasing the rates for these men and to abolish the anomaly that if a man is married after the date of his accident he cannot claim for his wife and children under the 1943 Act. We ask him to review the position of those poor people who, through ignorance failed to claim and therefore do not have their compensation reviewed, and we ask him to consider the scheme enunciated by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil and to have regard to the position of those men who have been suffering in past years from the rising cost of living without increased benefit.
Although it is quite true that this debate inevitably is a narrow one and has been made still narrower by legislation now in contemplation there are something like 40,000 cases involved. They are cases which have a special claim on the sympathy and consideration of the House of Commons.
The Motion—which, of course, I will not oppose in any way—implies two distinct possibilities. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S.O. Davies) seeks to increase the rates payable to these men. As I see it, that can be done in one or two ways and I propose to examine those ways briefly and see whether they are practicable or not.
It can be done by an increase in the rates by the fiat of Parliament, although we certainly have to consider the problems raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) if that be the method selected. The second possibility is that they be assimilated in the greater scheme, which, of course, would have the same effect as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil desires because it would follow automatically that the rates themselves would increase.
The history of workmen's compensation in this country is immensely complicated. I make no apology for speaking to the House although I am not a Member for a mining constituency, because it is a subject which has loomed very largely in the memories of all of us and in the knowledge of some of us. I think it is 55 years since, in Mr. Balfour's Conservative Government at the end of the last century, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain brought forward his Workmen's Compensation Act. However imperfect, with all its faults, it was the first of the modern social services. Before that there was nothing but the Elizabethan Poor Law.
Although it is true there have been good employers in all fields, what makes this problem so very difficult, and what has left behind a legacy of bitterness that is with us still today, is that there were employers who, by legalistic means, by using various measures which the House of Commons, particularly in the field of workmen's compensation, put into legislation, miserably sought to deny or to diminish the rights of the workmen who became casualties in what has been described as the battle of industry. It is the legacy of that incomparable folly that, to some extent, we have to discuss in this House today. One of the finest things in the structure of what is called the social service State was the conception of the new principle on industrial injuries which came into effect in 1946.
I have said there are two possibilities. Let us first look at the flat possibility of increasing the rates and let us carry on from the point where the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East, was interrupted by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams). As I took the hon. Member's interruption—and I am sure he will develop it if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker—he was suggesting that to find this money we use the Industrial Injuries Fund in a way not dissimilar to that in which we used it a year ago.
The hon. Member should wait until I deploy my argument. My interruption was merely an attempt on my part to ascertain whether the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), knew anything about this subject.
I will not follow the point, because it is not one with which we can deal in question and answer and I assume that the hon. Member does not intend to develop it.
The Industrial Injuries Fund, it is true, has a very large surplus indeed. I do not know the exact figure at the moment, but it is £30 million more than it was a year ago and has considerably increased since. On that basis, the money for what we seek to do is there, but it is fair to remember that that Fund was bound to have a surplus in its early years, in the same way as the National Insurance Fund, and would have failed entirely in its object if it had not.
It is also fair to observe that it is already bearing the burden of bringing the pre-1924 cases up to the average of the workmen's compensation figure, and, in addition, it is bearing the unemployability and constant attendance allowances for these men as well. Although I concede that a case can fairly be made in that respect and that the money is there, I believe that there is in fact a better way.
Let me say one word about the possibility of assimilation. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) is in his place. I think that it is fair to say that probably there was nothing nearer his heart in the years when he was Minister of National Insurance than the hope of bringing the workmen's compensation cases into the new scheme. His Parliamentary Secretary, in 1945, said that it was hoped that this would be done. Conversations opened, I think, in 1946, and they went on for a number of years and finally the right hon. Gentleman had to admit defeat.
No one was more bitterly disappointed than he. But we have to face the fact that a man with the great knowledge and the great sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman, with all the resources of his Ministry behind him, and with a firm determination, if this could possibly be done, to see that it would be done, eventually had to say that the administrative difficulties, and, no less, the medical difficulties, were too great.
The right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), when she came to the House a year ago with a Bill which has been referred to in relation to workmen's compensation, said this:
… I want hon. Members to recognize that assimilation would create a serious
administrative problem. To transfer people still on workmen's compensation to the new scheme would involve an examination by a medical board in many thousands of cases. This would put a very heavy burden on the medical manpower of the country which might jeopardise the smooth working of the industrial injuries scheme. Therefore, after the most careful consideration we have decided to leave the Workmen's Compensation Acts untouched so far as they still apply."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 1374.]
That was the end of a very honourable and diligent attempt by a series of Ministers, with great sympathy in their hearts, to bring these cases, by assimilation, within the major scheme. I do not agree with the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Sylvester) that as a number of years have passed the problem seems to be easier now. In my view it gets more difficult.
There is the other side, that as the years go by more and more cases are being taken off the books of the insurance companies by agreements which have been approved by the Registrar. The administrative complications, in my view, must mount, on balance, as the years go on.
I should like to give one more quotation before I mention, in a sentence or two, what I think is perhaps a better answer. I will quote from the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill on workmen's compensation introduced a year ago. It says:
Detailed examination of the problem has shown that the Workmen's Compensation Scheme and the Industrial Injuries Scheme are based on such entirely different principles that they cannot be assimilated in any way which would be both fair to the men concerned and administratively practicable.
Then comes these words, which I found then, and find now, a little strange:
that is, the examination of all the cases—
did not disclose the need for any further provision for the general run of these old cases.
That is to some extent a little contradictory of some of the things we have heard
today; but I am happy to accept the personal knowledge of hon. Members opposite on these matters. I found that sentence in a Socialist Explanatory Memorandum a year ago strange then and, quite frankly, I find it strange now. I would be surprised to find that there is really no need for any such provision.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S.O. Davies), who moved the Motion—and this is the last consideration I want to put before the House—said that the 40s. which is the standard basis for workmen's compensation, corresponded with 45s. at the moment and 55s. if a Measure before the House goes through, as, of course, it will. It goes further than that. It is not only that comparison. It would be out of order for me to go into the slightest detail at all about it, but any improvement in sickness benefits, any improvement in Assistance rates and any improvement in unemployability supplements and in retirement pensions will all help, beyond doubt, very greatly the 40,000 cases which we are considering this afternoon.
I am not going to enter into arguments about the cost of living, but it is true that there are signs that it may hold steady. I go not further than saying that. I has been held steady very recently and that may continue. I believe that the Government's determination should be directed not to the field of assimilation, which I am afraid we must agree is impossible: not to the field of the flat increase paid for out of the Industrial Injuries Fund—although I conceded that a case could be made, and I am sure that a case will be made from the other side—but that the Government must seek in all these matters that touch on the benefits of these 40,000 cases in the field of sickness, retirement, unemployability supplements and everything like that, to try to make the lot of these unfortunate people a little pleasanter.
They must also try, by determined attack on the cost of living, to make the amounts more attractive than the fall in value has made them in the last few years. It seems to me, if that be done, then the Government will be meeting both in spirit and in fact the Motion which the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil has put before the House this morning.
Let me at the outset refer to what I regard as being a rather unfortunate event which has happened today in this debate, which, after all, should not involve any party question at all. I am pretty sure that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he will approach this matter in a most helpful and conciliatory way. I base that prediction on the most pleasant experience with him and his Department. I really think he will be looking for ways in which to solve this extremely difficult problem.
The unfortunate event to which I wish to refer is this, that the speeches of Members opposite today have been directed to reasons for doing nothing for these men in the field of workmen's compensation—to do anything else incidentally outside, but to do nothing to help them here at all; and they said that there were many good reasons for that view. It would have been helpful on this occasion, I think, if the speeches had been directed to indicating to this House what possibly may be done, if not to solve the question completely, at least to help many of these cases.
There is a second point arising out of the speeches from the other side upon which I must be perfectly frank. I do feel extremely irritated when I hear Members on the other side say that when we present claims of this sort we base our arguments upon sympathy. It does really make me feel most annoyed with them. They should behave themselves better. We are not presenting our arguments on the basis of sympathy with these people. Certainly, the subject is one which should evoke sympathy in the heart of any civilised person, but it is not because of that that we present our case. We are presenting our case because we consider that it is unanswerable on logical grounds and because we consider that these men are justly claiming something that is long overdue. That is the spirit in which we present the case.
There will be before the House next Monday a Measure which will be debated in relation to increases in another field. I shall make no comment upon the arguments which will then be relevant. I should be out of order if I were to do so. However, I do put it to the Parliamentary Secretary that in general it is true to say—in general—that people who are provided for under the Industrial Injuries Scheme receive more than those who are provided for under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. I think that that is a self-evident proposition.
If that be so, and if the Government are convinced that some increase must be made in the case of those under the Industrial Injuries Scheme, which gives the higher benefit, I should think that the unavoidable implication is that they could not resist the assertion that something obviously should be done for those under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. In other words, the arguments which have directed them to make the statement of policy, which they have, apply with even greater force to the workmen's compensation cases than they do to the cases to which they refer.
That being so, if the Parliamentary Secretary is with me up to that point, the question arises, if there is a right here—and a long overdue right—to supplementation; to an addition being made to the payments which are to be received; where is the money to come from? How is it to be done. The first question that one should naturally ask there surely is, "Has this question ever arisen before?" Have we been faced with a similar position in relation to supplementation? The answer to that is, of course, that we have on many occasions.
Within the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act we were considering supplementation extending to workmen's compensation cases and payable out of the Industrial Injuries Fund. We considered supplementation from that standpoint, and we have solved that problem—or tried to solve it. We considered supplementation before the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act came into operation at all. We considered it in general terms on the last occasion when we were debating the Workmen's Compensation (Temporary Increases) Act, 1943. When we were faced with the need for supplementation then, of course, we did not have some of the difficulties which we have to face today, but the need for supplementation was there. This House recognised it, and this House provided for it in that supplementation Measure.
I am going to suggest as strongly as I can to the Parliamentary Secretary, with these precedents before him, some of them within the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, by way of supplementation, and some outside that Act, that, he is forced by the logic of his own position in conceding the increase to the industrial injuries cases, to agree that his attitude of mind today should be, "I will do what I possibly can. There are administrative difficulties. Give me all the help you can, and if there is a way to solve those difficulties we shall jolly well do our best to do so." It is on the assumption that the Parliamentary Secretary, irrespective of any question of sympathy in this matter, is conceding the case, but finding difficulty as to how to provide for it, that I proceed with my argument.
One of the difficulties which is inherent in the question of supplementation, quite apart altogether from any difficulties arising from the Industrial Injuries Acts, is that under the Workmen's Compensation Acts we have maximum rates and, subject to certain provisions into which I need not go for the purposes of my argument today, it is generally fair to say that one maximum is that, in the case of the totally disabled man, the amount must not exceed half the average weekly pre-accident earnings, and that in the case of the partially disabled man the amount must not exceed half the difference between the average weekly pre-accident earnings and the average weekly post-accident earnings.
When we considered the question of supplementation in 1943, we realised that we were in a difficulty because, if we merely supplemented and left that question alone, then many people would receive an increase on paper but would receive no increase in their pockets. So the 1943 Act—the Temporary Increases Act, to which I am now referring—made provision in certain circumstances that, in the case of total disablement, the proportion should be not one half but two thirds, and in the case of partial disablement, not one half the difference but two thirds.
The point I am making here is that if the Parliamentary Secretary can bring himself—as I sincerely hope he will—to make supplementation today, that supplementation, whichever way he does it, ought not to leave the maxima where they were left in the 1943 Act. What I am suggesting to him is that the supplementation should proceed to the maximum point that he finds possible, and that there should be an overriding provision that, in the case of total disablement, the amount payable by way of compensation and supplement should not exceed the pre-accident earnings and, in the case of partial disablement, should not exceed the full difference between the average pre-accident earnings and the average post-accident earnings. In that way he would be going a long way to put many of these men into as good a position as they occupied before the injury, so far as that can be done by money payments. That would be an advance about which the Parliamentary Secretary could be very proud indeed.
I proceed now to the question of where the money is to come from. We have faced this question quite recently. As has been pointed out, we faced that when we were considering the pre-1924 cases, and if hon. Members will consider that point for a moment it will be recognised that this is substantially the point which we have before us today. On that previous occasion there were a large unspecified number of cases where it was generally conceded that the claim for advancement was long overdue—where supplementation was clearly something which cried to heaven to be brought into effect, where there were administrative difficulties, where there were questions relating to former employers and former insurance companies, and where there were questions of how these were to be met and whether the National Coal Board should do it or not.
All these were solved in the 1951 scheme. It was decided that in the circumstances, because the money was available and there was sufficient to meet this particular charge, that it would be paid out of the Industrial Injuries Fund. So we got over the administrative difficulty which we are facing today. Consequently, if the Parliamentary Secretary conceded that there is enough money to do it, he is in no administrative difficulty at all, because he has already faced a similar situation, and it has brought great relief to many people who very much deserve it.
I will put this point to the Parliamentary Secretary. He and the Government are under a pressing duty, because the Government are calling upon industrial workers to engage in industrial hazards and take risks inseparable from the speed-up in production. Then when those workers are injured and disabled questions arise as to the administrative difficulties involved in providing for them. The industrial workers of this country will not accept, in my opinion, the fact that there are administrative difficulties which prevent the post-1924 period being provided for by way of supplementation which did not prevent the pre-1924 cases being provided for. I would say that without being involved in any way in a transfer to the Industrial Injuries Acts, the Parliamentary Secretary and his advisers could find a way and should find a way of supplementation in these cases.
There is another way of providing for supplementation, though it is a much more difficult way and I would be the last to underestimate the administrative difficulties. I have repeatedly made the observation in the country—and it is not an original observation of mine—that to reconcile the principles which obtain under the Workmen's Compensation Act with those which obtain under the Industrial Injuries Act is to try to reconcile a quarter of a pound of tea with a quarter to four in the afternoon. They are dissimilar, and holding that view I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate that I do not approach this part of my argument with the assumption that here is something which can easily be solved.
I put to the Parliamentary Secretary that there are certain classes of case which can be related to each other. A man who is totally disabled under the Workmen's Compensation Act is sufficiently clearly identifiable, as a category of case, with a person who is 100 per cent. disabled under the Industrial Injuries Act that it is quite possible for the man himself to make an assessment of his own position and to be pretty clear about the matter in his own mind, taking all the future possibilities into consideration such as wages going up and down or himself getting better or worse.
Take the case of a man who is totally and permanently disabled. No alteration of wages can possibly arise in that case, and it may fairly be compared with the man who is 100 per cent. disabled and who is permanently in that category. Those cases compare with each other and if the man who is totally and permanently disabled under the Workmen's Compensation Act is in a worse position than he would be if transferred to the Industrial Injuries Act, why should he not transfer? Why should he not be given the right to transfer if he wishes to go to the new scheme?
I know one of the difficulties is that there is at present in the case I have quoted a liability resting upon the employer, but I submit that there is a way out of that. Under Section 13 of the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925, the employer always had the right to enforce redemption against a worker, and it needs just a slight amendment of that provision to enable the obligation to be placed upon the employer so that he would be relieved of his responsibility to pay a weekly rate. Thereby he would receive a benefit. In return for that he would have to pay a sum into the Industrial Injuries Fund. The matter could quite easily be calculated in such a way that both parties would be reasonably satisfied.
It could be done in the total and permanent cases and it could be done in the cases of men who are suffering from clearly identifiable disabilities, such as certain types of amputation. There are many of these cases where men are suffering today from a particular type of amputation, and it is referred to in the schedule of specified degrees of disablement. That man will know whether it would be to his benefit to transfer to the new scheme or remain under the Workmen's Compensation Act. What possible reason can the Parliamentary Secretary or his advisers give for not including that type of case?
It may be said that if I go on long enough with this argument I will soon come away from the field where comparison is relatively easy to the field where it is extremely difficult, where, for instance, the person concerned is suffering from an injury which is not specified in any schedule under the Industrial Injuries Act or in any scheme under that Act and is receiving a rate of compensation. How is he to opt? In his case, until he has been examined, he will not know the full facts, without which he cannot exercise an option. I recognise that difficulty, and I think it will be some time before that could be resolved.
It would be true to say that in that class of case, because of our lack of knowledge of the medical position, and because there are administrative difficulties in setting up all over the country medical boards to deal with the thousands of cases, there would be considerable difficulties. The Parliamentary Secretary might say, "I would rather not start all these cases, for I do not see how long it would take or how it could be done." But why should the others wait? Why should cases which can be solved be left in an unsatisfactory and unsolved state, because there are other cases diminishing in number for whom it is difficult to provide administrative arrangements.
I submit in complete confidence to the Parliamentary Secretary that he is under an obligation to provide for these men; that he and the Government can fulfil that obligation without being involved in a transfer from the old scheme to the new; and that there are respects in which they can provide for many of these men by transfer. I hope we will have a most encouraging declaration of policy from him today on this vitally important question.
I want to make one or two observations, and to compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S.O. Davies) upon introducing this subject and spotlighting the great problem that exists in the lives of men who are tied to the Workmen's Compensation Acts, as well as the inherent and dependent hardships that result from the operation of those Acts on their lives.
I enter into the debate for an entirely different motive, and that is that the voice of industries other than the mining industry might be heard. Hon. Members on this side of the House will welcome points of view from other trade unions than the National Union of Mineworkers. I concede the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil that the majority of men suffering under the strictures of the Workmen's Compensation Acts are miners. Their industry is the most hazardous, and the incidence of injury, both fatal and partial, reveal the greater figures.
But there are other heavy industries, such as steel, merchant shipping and engineering, in which men are inevitably subject to the difficulties and hazards of industrial injury. I hope that the Government will heed the very strong case that has been made out on behalf of injured workmen, and I wonder whether we shall get the same type of reply that I got in answer to a Question some months ago, when I asked the Minister of National Insurance if it was his intention to make further provision for workmen receiving payments under the Workmen's Compensation Acts so as to wipe out the disparity existing between workmen injured before 1948 and those receiving the higher rates paid under the national industrial injuries scheme.
The simple answer I received was, "No." The Government had no policy on this matter five or six weeks ago, but I am hopeful that after the statement made from this side of the House, despite the lack of appreciation shown by the two Members who have spoken from the Government side today, the opinions of the Government and of the Ministry of National Insurance will have changed.
We have had a statement from the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod). I can only sum it up in a few words. He said that our case had been made out on grounds of sympathy.
Yes, "on grounds of sympathy," and he referred repeatedly to "these unfortunate people". Who are the unfortunate people? They are men and women in industry who have been maimed in the service of their country.
If the hon. Member really wants to make a ridiculous party speech like that he can go ahead and do it. I deliberately said all through my speech that these men were, and should be treated as, casualties.
And that they should have some sympathetic consideration. We are not asking for sympathetic consideration. We are asking for justice for the men and women who have been injured in industry in the service of their country.
A very desirable principle was followed by the Labour Government in regard to war injury, when the rate of pension under the Royal Warrant was extended to include pensioners prior to 1948. The same highly desirable principle was extended from 1948 to men injured in industry, when the same payments as existed under the Royal Warrant and the same principle of determination were to obtain in the matter of pensions. What is being asked for today is that the injured workpeople who were left outside that highly desirable principle of uniformity in this range of cases should be brought within it. Quite a number of men and women who were injured during the war years were brought from unemployment in order to man our war industries. They are now suffering lower payments and a lower standard of living, compared both with war injured and with those industrially injured after 1948.
The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) showed an abject ignorance of this subject. He was only brought into the debate by the fact that he had an interest to declare, which was that he is concerned in an insurance society which looks after a section of injured workmen, responsibility for whom has been farmed out from industry. He could see no further than the amount of dividend that he receives and the question whether that dividend was to be disturbed by any action of the Government in raising payments under the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1925 and the Acts which were subsequent to it, in 1940 and 1943.
I am concerned with the statement made by the hon. Member for Croydon, East, that the Government should not do anything in the matter but should, by a negative attitude, see that the people injured and coming under those Acts receive up to the maximum payment obtainable under National Assistance. An injured workman who receives a less payment than 59s. per week which will obtain in June this year under National Assistance, should have the right to make application and to receive the difference by a supplementary payment from the Assistance Board, subject to a means test. The trade union movement are very determined on this matter. They are going to see that the difference in rates between workmen injured under the same conditions as those who were injured after 1948 should have the serious consideration of the Government.
It is very easy to say that nothing was done by the Labour Government in the matter. The provisions of the national industrial injuries scheme for supplementary payments and total disability, sickness and other benefits, were extended to injured workmen. That is not sufficient. Injured workmen should not be in two categories, in one of which they receive what are considered to be reasonable payments from a fund, and in the other, because their accident occurred prior to 1948, they should come under two or three schemes in order to receive benefit which might approximate, with the difference of a few shillings, to the industrial injury payment.
I want to make one or two comparisons. A pre-1948 injured workman with a wife and child is entitled to a basic payment of 55s. compared with the existing payment of 68s. 6d. under the Industrial Injuries Scheme, a sum which will go up to 87s. within the next few months. That gap must be bridged. Suggestions have been made how it can be done. The proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil and my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Sylvester) is that it should be done by a supplementary payment, or by opting from one scheme to another.
Both suggestions ought to be considered seriously. There would be no difficulty about opting from the first category of injured workmen, the totally injured. The totally injured workman is much worse off than the one under the National Industrial Insurance Scheme. Even with the supplementary payments of sickness benefit, of total disability and constant attendance allowances for which he can qualify, he is always much worse off than his fellow worker injured after 1948. So there is no problem about opting into another scheme as far as he is concerned.
The difficulty arises in the case of the partially injured workman, the category for which my Union—the National Union of General and Municipal Workers—caters, that is, the semi-skilled and unskilled. Their pre-accident notional or equated earnings are similar, in most cases, to their post-accident earnings if they were employed in light employment. Therefore, they qualify for no partial compensation payment. In the post-1948 case the determination is quite different in regard to earnings or loss of earning capacity. It is pensionable on medical calculation, that is to say, on the pure medical determination of the man's physical injury, and he probably carries his pension throughout life.
There is a case there for giving the man the right to opt to receive the supplementary payment from the National Insurance Fund, but in the case of the skilled workman injured prior to 1948 who is on light employment, it is often the case that the partial compensation to which he is entitled may be higher than would be his qualification under the 1948 Act. That is a problem which should be considered between the trade unions and the Government. Indeed, I believe that serious consideration was given to it by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) when he was Minister of National Insurance, and by the Trades Union Congress.
There is a desirable principle in industry which determines collective bargaining negotiation on wages and conditions which I commend to the Minister of National Insurance. That is the "Better Conditions Clause" whereby workmen, when conditions are determined for them by collective bargaining, carry their better conditions with them and suffer no injustice. That principle should be kept in mind in trying to find a solution of this problem and I hope for many reasons that the Government will do so.
In addition, the social and psychological fields have to be considered. In the latter field a man who has had an injury get a monthly payment for that injury which, by pension, is safeguarded with regard to his post-accident earnings. That is one of the fundamental problems solved by the incidence of the 1948 scheme. We have also to consider the wider social problem of giving a right to the industrially injured workman to carry on in employment to the maximum of his restricted capacity.
During the last war there were hundreds of men who might have been absorbed in light employment and played their part in production in the interests of the prosecution of the war effort if the stricture on their earning capacity determination under the Workmen's Compensation Act had been removed. The Government must consider whether the old determination by loss of earning capacity should be abolished once and for all by the Amendment of the Act or by a qualifying payment under the Industrial Injuries Act from the Insurance Fund, so that men who have been injured, and who are merely safeguarding the few miserable shillings they receive from the Insurance Fund through fear of the loss of that money, may be free to take a slightly more skilled job and to earn higher money in the interests of the productive capacity of this country.
I hope that the Government will take note of the arguments that have been adduced from this side of the House. It is not a matter into which political considerations should enter. It should be looked upon as an acute social problem. I see no difficulty in the suggestions of my hon. Friends being accepted. Insurance companies are knocking at the doors of injured workmen and making repeated representations to trade union officials to commute payments by lump sum settlement. Therefore, there should be no difficulty if men elect to opt from one scheme to another. I hope that the Government will promise to give serious consideration to this matter, and that the full advantage of the experience of the Trades Union Congress will be taken with a view to arriving at a settlement of this problem.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Ewart) that this is not a political problem but a difficulty that was bound to arise and must have been foreseen when the Industrial Injuries Act was passed in 1948. It was quite clear then that there must be two classes of workmen, those who received their injuries before 5th July, 1948, and those who received them afterwards.
I am probably speaking in a minority of one when I say that it is my firmly-held view that injured workmen suffered a great loss when they lost their rights under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. I am not dealing with figures because figures can always be altered as the cost of living or anything else varies. I am talking of ordinary people who suffered a diminution of their rights when the transfer from the Workmen's Compensation Act to the Industrial Injuries Act occurred.
I see hon. Gentlemen opposite shaking their heads, but it is so. I could quote many cases. I know of a man who suffered a terrible injury to his neck and his back by falling on his head. Because he was able to walk into the marble palace at Carlton House Terrace and because he could walk upstairs and could dress himself he was classed as not totally incapacitated. I believe that his incapacity was assessed at 50 per cent. Yet he could not earn a penny. He was uneducated and could not do the work of a clerk. Under the old Act he would have been drawing the full rate of compensation. I know one case does not make a rule, but that is certainly a good example.
Perhaps I might give the hon. Member a case, that of a man who did not go to court but went before the medical referee. The medical referee pronounced him completely recovered, and, therefore, he was not entitled to a penny compensation. A subsequent medical examination revealed that the man had a broken spine. Yet he could not claim a penny.
The man's great mistake was to go before the medical referee when it was not necessary to do so. He should have taken the matter to arbitration.
Formerly workmen never contributed towards the benefits as they do now under the Industrial Injuries Act. The right today is a different one. The old right was a statutory one against the employer, and the workmen paid nothing towards the benefits. Now the workman claims because he has paid a weekly sum towards the benefits. It would be a large drain on the fund if the old cases, all of which are liabilities, were transferred to the new fund.
That is the problem which exists not only in this form but also in the case of people who are no longer able to work by reason of old age and who receive old age and retirement pensions, whether they be from private or public funds. Many of these people are living on pensions calculated at pre-war rates. If we deal with one hard case, is there any reason why we should not deal with others? The problem exists not only in the cases which have been mentioned.
It would be impossible to bring the old cases under the new Act, for that would upset the calculations and the principle of the Act. That was foreseen by the late Government when it passed the Industrial Injuries Act. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Ewart), said that the insurance companies were knocking at the doors of the workmen trying to settle up the old cases. They have no need to do that; they can go to court to redeem them, whether the workmen like it not. It would be simpler if redemption was made compulsory.
In the case of redemption by court decision, it is only the payments under the principal Act which are redeemed and not the supplementary payments. The insurance companies have been reluctant about this because they would still have to pay the supplementary payments.
I think it would be possible to have redemption by agreement with both parties. By far the greater amount can be redeemed. It might well be that for the purpose of winding up the old and difficult cases redemption should be made compulsory. I do not know whether that suggestion attracts hon. Members, but it is a way in which the old cases might be disposed of. Transferring the old injured workmen to the new scheme would probably be of no assistance to the workmen, some of whom might find themselves much worse off, and it is also not practicable because the scheme is supposed to be self-supporting.
A significant thing about the debate is that all my hon. Friends who have taken part in it, with one exception, belonged at some time or other to the coal mining industry or had some connection with it. During the 10 years that I have been in the House there have been many debates which have married the questions of coal mining and compensation. Once again we are facing the problem of what is obtained by these hard-hit people under our social services or under the compensation laws.
I shall not go into the economics of the Motion, because the case has already been very well put. However, I was distressed to hear the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams), take the line he did. I listened to all that he had to say, but could find no semblance of a proper approach to the situation. I was reminded of what my old mother used to tell me. She used to say, "Harry, if there are two persons of whom you should not take notice they are the man who is drunk and the man who does not know what he is talking about." The hon. Member for Croydon, East, was completely sober. It was evident that he did not know what he was talking about, and he admitted it on more than three occasions.
We who have been connected with the mining industry have not had to talk about compensation; we have had to live it. I do not want to go back to the bitterness and sadness which used to be in the industry, and I certainly do not want to make a political point of it in this debate, but I remember cases with which I dealt soon after I came to the House. Compensation at that time was only 32s. 5d. a week. There were many cases in which small advancements in wages did away altogether with part of the compensation. The rotten compensation laws of that time brought about such a feeling among the people in the industry and those connected with it that the effects are seen in the recruitment to the mining industry today.
My point in rising was not so much to join issue on the mechanics of this scheme or other schemes, but to appeal to the Minister to give a backing to my colleagues who have pleaded for something to be done for those unfortunate people who suffer and do not receive the payment which should come with the increase in the cost of living.
We have already made provision whereby this can be faced. In Committee on the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill we occasionally even differed from our Minister because we knew all about compensation. Provision had already been made by the supplementation allowance and the constant attendance allowance and these things were brought into the 1948 Act to make provision so that people outside, receiving compensation, should receive these benefits. Then came the pre-1924 cases. Provision has been made and a loop-hope provided, so that this can be done by the Minister.
I appeal to the Minister to give serious consideration to the problem and to do what he can. I am sure he will have the support of all who have spent many years not only talking of, but living and working with cases of men who have met with injury in the industry on which the country so much depends. It does not apply only to this industry, but to every other industry, but the great number of cases that occur in our industry have been such that it has been part and parcel of the great case we made. Because of that I give support to what has been said and the appeal which has been made today.
Most of the points I thought I might make in the course of this discussion have been more ably made by hon. Friends and my contribution will necessarily be short. However, I want to say one or two things.
I was absolutely shocked to learn that there were still hon. Members on the Government side of the House who think that the workmen who have suffered injury in industry should have their weekly earnings provided by the Assistance Board under the National Assistance scales. I think it monstrous that any hon. Member should make that suggestion, and it was made in the course of our discussions today. It is a dreadful suggestion. I thought it a pity that hon. Members supporting the Government should hasten, as they did, to consider where the money is to come from. I should have thought that it was a very proper matter to consider, but that it should come afterwards when we had decided whether or not the money should be found at all.
The terms of the Motion conclude with the words that the House
would welcome a declaration of the policy of Her Majesty's Government.
I should have thought that the vast majority of hon. Members would accept that there is a need to provide more adequately for these workmen who suffered injury before 1948. I should have thought that the House would have been unanimous that that was so and that then we would have proceeded to discuss where the money was to come from, how this was to be done, whether by assimilation in the new scheme, or by some other means.
As hon. Members on the Government benches discussed where the money was to come from they expressed regret that injured workmen had taken from them the rights they had under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. When that point was made quite recently, I thought of my very limited experience in this field. Almost all my hon. Friends who represent mining constituencies have had a wider experience than I. My experience is confined to my circle of friends and to the colliery in which I worked and where I was a branch official of the union for some years before I came to this House.
One of the last cases with which I had to deal was that of a married man, about 25 years of age, who was injured by a fall of roof. He was completely buried, but the stuff that came down on him was not heavy. He received many cuts and lacerations and was taken to hospital where his wounds were stitched. Two days afterwards he was at home and in two weeks he was going about. Then he was called in to the Coal Masters' Mutual Defence Insurance Society, or whatever they call themselves, for examination and interview and they convinced him that he would be all right for work in a few weeks' time. They offered him a lump sum settlement. He accepted it, £9, and it was duly recorded in the sheriff's court of Lanark.
This young man was offered, in insurance offices in the City of Glasgow, the sum of £9 in settlement. Unfortunately, he was not accompanied by a trade union official to advise him and he accepted. Of course, if he had sought the advice of the trade union—[Interruption.] Is the hon. Member saying that every injured worker must take the advice of his trade union in seeking protection against an unscrupulous employer?
I apologise for interrupting again, but the whole purpose of recording agreements was to stop that kind of what appears to be a dishonest agreement and, as the hon. Member said he was a branch official, I naturally asked if he objected to recording the agreement.
The hon. Member has anticipated that this was a piece of swindling, but I have not said so. I have only said that this young man agreed to accept £9. I did not say how serious his injury was. He thought he was recovering. After he had accepted this £9, and the sum had been duly recorded, he discovered that he was not getting fit as quickly as he had expected. Serious headaches developed he found that his eyesight was becoming worse and worse.
He was told by the doctor that he had better have spectacles and he discovered that he was not likely to be fit to resume his previous work in the mines. His headaches became still worse, he was taken to hospital and he was found to be suffering from a tumour on the brain. Half his skull was removed. He is still living, but will never be fit for any heavy manual employment. As I said, he received £9 in settlement. The Workmen's Compensation Acts were, of course, of great advantage to some people. The insurance companies and the legal profession made a lot of money out of them.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the workers made no contribution to the finance, he is wrong. Most of the speeches on this side of the House have been made by miners, and the significance of the miners' contribution to discussions such as this lies in the fact that one in three of all workers who suffer industrial injuries are miners, compared with one in 30 in the working population as a whole. That gives some idea of the importance of this matter to the mining industry.
Between 1921 and the nationalisation of the coal mines the wages of miners were determined under the ascertainment system. After all the other costs of the industry had been met the mineowners received 15 per cent. of the remainder and the mineworkers received 85 per cent. In those circumstances the miners were paying 85 per cent. of the contribution to the insurance for covering compensation in the mining industry. I submit that 85 per cent. is a bigger proportion of the contribution than is paid under the present scheme or than is paid in any other insurance scheme provided in this country by statute.
It is perfectly true to say, in reference to any industry, that those who contribute to production in that industry therefore contribute towards meeting the cost, but that is not a very sound argument. Now they contribute directly by weekly payment, which is totally different.
I do not want to continue to argue this point, as it might be out of order to develop it. The hon. Member has, however, completely failed to understand the point that I was making, which was the method of calculating wages in the mining industry.
I should have thought that the House would unanimously agree that those men who were injured before 1948 in the industries of this country should enjoy some improvement in the weekly sum paid to them in compensation. Everyone else has been given some increase, most of them in very recent months. We are to give an increase to post-1948 injured persons under the provisions of a Bill which is to be debated next week. Only two days ago we discussed new National Assistance scales. We are seeking to put more money into the pockets of all those who have to live on low, fixed incomes. Why we should draw the line at those who have met with injury since 1948 I do not know.
I think my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), who developed this argument in great detail, pointed to a way in which it could fairly and properly be done.
I say that the House should agree in the first place, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say that the Government accept the view, that something shall be done. If we get an undertaking that something will be done, we will find the means of doing it. One of my hon. Friends said, when the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) was speaking, that the nation should pay.
We have just increased the pensions of the war disabled. It is very right that we should do that, but what is the difference between the war disabled and the industrially disabled? Let us take the case of a man who was not called up for the Services during the war, a man whose number ended with a digit which resulted in his going into the coal mining industry instead of into uniform. If he met with injury—as some Bevin boys did and are still disabled, partially or totally—is he not entitled to some increase in his weekly benefits comparable to the increase given to their comrades who went into uniform and met with injury or wounds in the Service?
I should understand the point which the hon. Member is making but for the fact that if the Bevin boy met with his injury in 1943 or in subsequent years up to 5th July, 1948, his benefit is not being increased. We are asking in this Motion that that man should enjoy an increase in benefit in like manner to all other people in the country, and that those in coal mining and the other industries ought to enjoy a similar increase in benefit.
I do not want to go into details about how we should do it—whether it should be by way of assimilation, though I think it should. The case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S.O. Davies), and developed in greater detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, is a strong one to which I should like to hear the answer before I am convinced that it is not a workable proposition.
I think that it is a workable proposition, and I trust that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us today that it is also the view of Her Majesty's present advisers that these men—the totally and partially disabled—should be given an increase in benefit. I should be delighted if he could also say how it is to be done but I should be satisfied if he told us that the Government have decided in favour of something being done and that they will endeavour, in consultation with industry, to find a means of doing it at a very early date.
I wish to stress that hon. Members opposite appear to have a real case with which I think Members on all sides of the House can sympathise, but I think that they can damage or have damaged that case, in some instances, by overstating it. So large a part of recent speeches appeared to be designed to attack the old forms of compensation and the insurance companies which were part of the organisation which carried out the old system.
There were abuses under the old system. I recall in the old days being in a branch bank and seeing a man come in with a cheque, accompanied by perhaps a lot of his friends, and being paid out a sum of hundreds of pounds. I remember reflecting, when I was quite a youngster, that that benefit would have a very short life, indeed judging by the number of people who were combining in drawing it out. That was possibly a defect not only of the system but of some of the participants in it. That was human nature. I also recall instances of men who preferred to have a capital sum, because they had made up their minds to open a small shop and these amounts enabled them to do so. In some cases I have known they made a modest success in later life.
But the question before the House today is a limited one. As hon. Members will note from my injured finger, I speak as one who has been injured by the Nationalised Railways, and I should like to have both union and legal advice. My objection is that hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to arrogate to themselves all the virtue of concern for these people. There are many hon. Members on this side of the House whose concern is just as real for what might be described as the "lower tenth."
I remember very well an old Parliamentarian telling me, "If you ever go to the House of Commons, you will start off by imagining that all the men of sound sense are on your side and all the other kind on the other side. But the longer you remain, the more you will be convinced that there are some men of sound sense on the other side and some other kind of men on your side." I think that some hon. Members opposite have the wrong formula. They are assuming that all the men of sound sense are on their side.
There are hardships and there is a case here. I am sure that the arguments put forward today will be listened to and considered very sympathetically by the Government. But do not let us imagine that there have not been other hardships. I know that throughout the life-time of the recent Government there have been certain classes of widows whose needs were never met, and who have been under as severe hardship as are these disabled men today. All Governments have their defects, and all parties have gaps in their administrative record.
The sole trouble today is that all these things are not coming in isolation on the Order Paper at a time of real financial stringency for this country. We shall at a future date be called upon to consider a Motion on the Order Paper dealing with equal pay in the public service. That was a matter which was never attended to by hon. Members opposite during their period of office, but now many of them are promoting it with full vigour because they have not to bear the responsibility for payment.
I ask the House to be realistic about these things and not to study them in isolation. Those of us who have some acquaintance with these Acts, either in union or legal circles, know that after some of the more flamboyant arguments have been disposed of there is a basic hardship, a basic need and an inconsistency which I am convinced the Government will look at most sympathetically.
I am very familiar with this problem and cannot very well remain silent. Like the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower), I think we have to look at this as a whole, but I think the hon. Member would agree that it would be most unfair for this section of the people to be ignored. He is wrong in his reference to equal pay. My voice, with that of other hon. Friends, has been raised down the years for equal pay in the public service. It is a very old claim, and I suggest that the sooner it is remedied the better will be the response from the public service—
I agree, Sir, but I felt that the hon. Member for Barry was wrong in what he said in that regard. The hon. Member also said that there was some commonsense on both sides of the Chamber. I do not dispute that, but I have always thought that more commonsense is to be found on the Labour side. I do however hope that today we shall find plenty of commonsense on the Government Front Bench.
No one will dispute that the cost of living has risen and is still rising, and therefore there is a case to be considered here on that basis. I do not think anyone would contend that the rate of compensation is high enough. In fact, how these people manage to exist I do not know. There are many employers in this country who make up the benefits of full pay for a period, and I think that is the right way to approach this matter. The case is one which cannot be disputed, and has been admitted by the Government because they are to review the rates.
I consider the present situation of the country is one capable of being faced, and if there have to be sacrifices we would agree that they must be shared. But we cannot ask people below the subsistence line who have been broken in industry to share them. I hope that we shall hear from the Government Front Bench that there is a case for the review of these rates, and I hope that the suggestion for a 50 per cent. increase will be favourably considered.
I do not think anyone with experience of this matter can fail to be sympathetic toward the case outlined in the Motion before the House, or fail to be sympathetic towards the points expounded in the speeches which have been delivered. But this is essentially a matter in which it is necessary for hon Members to be sure they are keeping their feet firmly on the ground. No motion of sympathy in general terms should detract from our consideration of the very real practical difficulties about this highly complicated question.
I think I am correct in saying that this whole matter has, during the past four years, been under review by more than one Minister. The reason action has not been taken before is not due to a lack of sympathy so much as to the very real practical difficulties which exist. I wish to draw attention to one defect, as I think it to be, in the phrasing of the Motion. I consider it a point of some substance, as possibly the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S.O. Davies) will agree. I am referring to the words
… disabled as a result of accident or disease arising out of or in the course of their employment.
That phrase occurs twice. I think I am correct in saying—and I have taken advice on this—that in the statutes dealing with this matter we have "and" and not "or," and I feel sure that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, and certainly any legal friends who are in the House, will agree that there is a wealth of difference between the two cases.
The word "or" implies that there are two conditions, only one of which need be fulfilled before a claim can arise; whereas the word "and" implies that there are two conditions, both of which need to be fulfilled before any question of a claim can arise. Those who have any knowledge of the many legal cases which have arisen from workmen's compensation legislation know quite well that a great many cases have been fought on this issue of whether a case falls within the framework of the two conditions. I suggest that it is not merely a question of splitting hairs or anything of that kind, but that there is a wealth of difference between "and" and "or"
inserted between these two conditions. I am sure the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil will take no objection to my drawing attention to the point.
I am quite sure that it was a clerical error, but it was a clerical error of some substance, and I thought it proper to draw it to the attention of the House.
A point which ought not to be overlooked is that, according to such information as I have been able to gather, this is very much a diminishing problem. One large insurance company, from whom I sought information on the matter, told me that of all the cases which they had on their books four years ago, 90 per cent. have now passed off the books and only a residue of 10 per cent. remains. The 90 per cent. of the cases have been settled in one of three ways—by lump sum payments, by the individual concerned having been able to return to work, or, of course, in the third case, by the death of the individual.
I have only the figures in the case of one insurance company, but my information leads me to think that their experience is probably general among the insurance companies—that the residue, after four years, is not more than 10 per cent. of all the cases which were on the books four years ago.
That seems to me to be a reason why the Government, even in these times of financial stringency, might look at the matter with as much sympathy as possible, particularly on the ground that the number of cases involved is not very great today and in any case is a residue which is very rapidly diminishing, as I have shown from the figures I have put forward.
Fortunately, I am responsible only for the statements which I myself make in the House, and I am simply telling the House the undeniable fact that one leading insurance company, who have participated in this business extensively, have given me the information as far as their experience is concerned; and they were good enough to advise me that, as far as their information went, the experience of other insurance companies was similar.
I shall be very pleased to see my hon. Friend at a suitable time and to discuss the matter with him. I have given what I believe to be the correct information.
It seems to me, therefore, that we have a problem which is not very great either in the number of individuals concerned or the amount of money involved. What seems to be the difficulty is to find a proper means of paying the money and of deciding who should accept the responsibility, because, after all, the claim of the men concerned prima facie and primarily is upon their employers. It is true that the employers often under-wrote the risk with the insurance companies, who clearly are honouring the obligations which they assumed, but any increased obligations the insurance companies could not be required to shoulder.
It would be an intolerable situation if the men concerned had to have recourse, for any increase, to their former employers. They would first have to find the person in whose employment they were four years or more ago. If they found him, he might not be in possession of the necessary means with which to meet the claims, and in case, in a question of justice as between two private citizens, it would be quite unjust that he should be required now, four years later, to shoulder an obligation of which he previously had no knowledge.
Perhaps when we are given a reply from the Front Bench we may have some light thrown on what seem to be the practical difficulties of dealing with a case about which I think every hon. Member feels a good deal of sympathy.
I should like, first of all, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) upon his good fortune in obtaining facilities to move this Motion and in calling the attention of the House to those who have been regarded in our coalfields as forgotten men—the men who have not had the treatment from the State to which they were entitled. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Sylvester) seconded the Motion in a speech which was packed full of local knowledge. An outstanding feature of the debate has been that no time has been wasted. It has been a debate packed full of factual evidence, all of which has been very closely related to the narrow scope which was defined earlier by Mr. Speaker.
I observe that we have had five speakers from the opposite benches, and I was interested in their reactions to this very human problem. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Black) said that this was not a very great problem, but it is a very grievous one to those who are affected. The hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) bewailed the rich and palmy days when the workmen had small compensation and the lawyers and the doctors had their fees.
Let me assure him—and I speak with great knowledge of this, for I have been at the pain end as well as the paying end—that those with whom I have come into contact are deeply grateful that the Labour Government, with the support of both sides of the House, agreed to abolish the old Workmen's Compensation Act in relation to accidents in this country. I know the hon. Gentleman will disagree; he has disclosed his interests, and I suppose that in this matter material interests play a great part.
Now those juicy pastures have been withdrawn from the professional gentlemen, the workmen get their compensation and the lawyers have to look for other business. I was shocked that we had the revolutionary doctrine from the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) that people whose basic incomes are not large enough should go to the Assistance Board.
That, surely, is a Poor Law mind which is a disgrace in this Chamber today. The suggestion was that men who are injured in the service of the State, and whose incomes are inadequate, should go to the Assistance Board. The next step would be to tell the disabled soldier to go to the same place—and goodness knows where that policy would stop.
The hon. Member whom we regard as speaking for the Conservative Central Office in this matter, and who has great knowledge of it—I mean the hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod)—was a little more forthcoming. He said, "There is a problem; it is a very difficult problem; you cannot easily find an immediate solution to it." He came down, finally, on this basis, "What we must seek to do is not to increase the main income, but to increase the trimmings"
In other words, do not increase the size of the main meal, but give them a few crumbs. That is what he suggested. But to increase the subsidiary allowance and the unemployability allowance is dodging the issue with a vengeance. The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) made, I thought, a very revealing intervention in our debate when he recalled seeing a man, accompanied by some friends, presenting a cheque in a branch bank for £100 which he had received by way of a lump sum settlement. The hon. Gentleman said he thought the money would be squandered judging by the number of people who were combining in drawing it out.
But surely, the villain in the piece is the giver and not the receiver, not the poor fellow who has very little resources and who is afraid of meeting the medical referee on a bad morning, after, perhaps, he has had a night out. Tempted with a cheque for £100 when he has not 4d. in his pocket, he is the victim, and the person to be condemned is the insurance tout going round in inveigling men and their wives to take a bit of quick money.
I admit that there were defects in that system, but the right hon. Member is doing the very thing which I deprecate. He is pretending to a sort of superior virtue to his colleagues on his side of the House and presuming that nobody on this side has any knowledge of the matter or any sympathy with it.
That is not true. I have very great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman in the industrial accident which he has suffered. I only wish, of course, that his knowledge had been so superior as to avoid the accident. However, be that as it may, what I am concerned about is that there are no virtues so far as I am concerned in the old system. I had to live with it. It is said that love is a woman's full life. I can assure hon. Members that workmen's compensation was our full life. We came to hate it, and one of the best things the Labour Government did was to remove that blot and fear from the lives of the people in our industry.
The right hon. Gentleman said that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod) had suggested that we must increase the trimmings but not the main rate. I agree, of course, with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but, nevertheless, that surely was the principle on which the late Labour Government worked in regard to war pensions.
That was introducing something very substantial and new in the case of the war disabled. What is now suggested is that the little trimmings should be increased, but that the main source of income should not. I described that a little earlier as throwing some crumbs to the people concerned, but refusing to put something more substantial on the table. I do not think I was at all unfair in my description of what the hon. Gentleman said.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) will be remembered with affection throughout the country for the grand job he has done in this field. One of the two problems left is that of pneumoconiosis and the other the problem of old cases. I know that my right hon. Friend was pressed and did his utmost when he was the Minister to try and find a solution to this problem, and I will concede immediately to the Parliamentary Secretary that it is a problem which is extremely difficult to solve. But the first thing we must agree about is that it is a problem and that it is a worse problem today than when my right hon. Friend attempted to deal with it.
We must make up our minds whether or not the incomes of these men are sufficient in the circumstances of today. I think the fact that everybody else in this field of social services—persons in like circumstances—is to have substantial increases is proof that these men also are entitled to an increase in their personal incomes. If we can start off on that basis, I think we might be able to make some progress. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will admit that here is a problem of 50,000 families whose incomes are inadequate and that something ought to be done about it. As I say, if we can start off on that basis, we might be able to find some way of solving the problem.
The hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) asked where the money was to come from. The first thing we have to be satisfied about is that we want the money. We have to look at the problem that has to be solved and at the mechanics of the job. The problem has been simply posed as one either of assimilation into the industrial injuries scheme or of supplementation. Those two things have been regarded as alternatives. I immediately concede that whichever of these alternatives was applied it would not meet the need of all the cases concerned.
I have three types of cases in mind. There are the permanently and totally disabled men. They are easily identifiable and could easily be assimilated from the point of view of identification. Then there are the permanent partial cases. They are in an entirely different category because the amount of their partial compensation changes with their earning capacity. Then, of course, there is the other category which neither proposal affects, the category of the partially disabled men who would be receiving compensation but for the earnings rule.
I appreciate that assimilation is difficult because if we assimilate them all a minority of men will be worse off under the new scheme than they are at present under workmen's compensation. I would say that such men would represent about 7½ per cent. of the total. One difficulty is that a man who receives more under workmen's compensation than under industrial injury does so as a result of a personal contract. He made that contract with his employer, and part of the contract was that he should have those benefits. It seems to me that if he is to be assimilated we must honour the original contract, and it would seem that on the principle of assimilation we should have to lay down that no one should be worse off. That is the only basis upon which assimilation could be accepted.
If assimilation is accepted the next problem is the translation of the payment to the partially incapacitated and workmen's compensation into terms of the provision for industrial injuries. I am afraid I am not making this point very well, but partial and workmen's compensation are not necessarily a percentage payment under the provisions for industrial injuries.
Then there is the question whether in taking over and assimilating, the employers or mutual indemnity societies should be relieved of their obligation. I am not putting these forward as final views. In fact, throughout this debate none of the views put forward by my hon. Friends are to be regarded as final. They are views for discussion and exploration. What we want is some form of relief for these cases. We are not very much concerned about how it will be given as long as it is given.
It was suggested by the hon. Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) that there should be compulsory redemption. There is something in that and it might be looked at, provided that the redemption is made to the fund and the fund makes weekly payments to the recipient. If redemption is to be made compulsory I certainly would be against the workman being given a lump sum no matter what his prospects in life. If he were an old man there might be something to be said for it, but if he were a young man disfigured and disabled, and were given a lump sum with which he would not know what to do with it would certainly be inviting him to come to the State for assistance.
It might be that if there were redemption weekly payments could be made through the National Insurance scheme. Indeed, the Parliamentary Secretary might consider whether or not all weekly payments in workmen's compensation should not be made through the office responsible for payments for industrial injuries. Let us find out the size of this problem. I do not think there would be great administrative difficulty; and we should certainly have a fuller knowledge of the problem than we have now.
The supplementation scheme is easy, simple and apparently has a precedent in the 1951 Act. I am not prepared to come down on one side or other in favour of the two alternatives I have mentioned. I am concerned about the fellow who has lost his actual compensation—his money—but still retains his liability. I am afraid he would be missed by either of the two proposals I have mentioned.
We have had a very good debate. It has been well worth while. I hope the Government spokesman will say that there is here a problem, a hardship, a grievance and an injustice and that the Government agree that these men and their dependants are entitled to relief and to an increased personal income. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say that all the ideas that have been canvassed today will be looked at. I hope he will be able to go further and say that, having considered what has been said in this debate, he, on behalf of the Minister, will give an undertaking that discussions shall take place through the usual channels—the T.U.C. and so on—and that at some future date he will tell the House what the Government are able to do and how they propose to do it. I hope that some benefit will come to a deserving section of the community through our deliberations in this very good debate.
I should like to join in the congratulations offered to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S.O. Davies), not only on his good fortune in the Ballot, but also on the manner in which he presented his case and inspired this debate. It has been a most useful debate. It has taught me a great deal, and I hope that we may profit from it.
It cannot teach my right hon. Friend the Minister a great deal about this subject because, as hon. Members opposite will acknowledge, no one knows as much about workmen's compensation as he does. With the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) he initiated the 1943 Bill, which provided for temporary increases in workmen's compensation. And, as the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) said, the last time workmen's compensation rates were increased on a broad level the move was initiated by my right hon. Friend after discussion with the T.U.C. Therefore, it is absolutely certain that his interest in the debate and in the proposals put forward by hon. Members on all sides of the House is assured.
The position is no new one. This Motion contains the words
… in view of the continuing rise in the cost of living …
But hon. Members must remember that this rise in the cost of living has continued for a very long time. The following figures may interest the House. In 1943, the maximum compensation for a single man was 40s. By July, 1945, that 40s. had dwindled in value to 38s. 5d. During the period of office of the two Labour Governments of 1945 and 1950 an extra 8s. was lost, and since the last Election there has been a further loss of 11d. I present those figures so that hon. Members may see the perspective when they look at the rise in the cost of living.
This problem has been examined by our predecessors, and it must be remembered—and it was not made absolutely clear by all hon. Members—that the Industrial Injuries Act, 1946, repealed, by Section 89, workmen's compensation except in so far as it affected existing rights at that time. That is why I had a little difficulty in following some hon. Members who were putting forward what would have been no doubt quite good amendments to the Workmen's Compensation Acts if those Acts were still in operation. The problem, as has been fairly stated, is not only a problem in the coal mining industry. There are vast numbers of men—probably two-fifths of the whole total involved—in other industries outside coal mining, though it is quite impossible to give exact figures.
Our predecessors worked on this problem during their period of office. Only as recently as February of last year, the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) said that after careful examination her Government had come to the conclusion that nothing could be done with this problem, and that they had decided to leave the Workmen's Compensation Acts untouched so far as they concern these cases. Therefore, we have only had a few months in which to examine this problem, which up to then had met with failure of solution. We do not intend to be satisfied with that position. We are determined to see whether this problem really is insoluble.
Let us examine the difficulties. I join issue a little with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser), who said that it did not matter where the money came from. It seems to me important that we should first of all resolve the dilemma that results from the repeal by the 1946 Act. Are we to say that in view of the fall in the value of money these limits should be increased, and that the burden should be placed on the employer before the 1946 Act? In many cases it would either fall on the insurance company or on the mutuals. It is rather hard to see how the funds could be provided if the premiums had not been paid, because the Act of 1946 repealed any payment of premiums in respect of rates other than the existing rates from 5th July, 1948, and, therefore, there is the problem of where we can get the funds to pay for this.
In many cases, the employers have disappeared. In many cases they have made financial arrangements by passing over to their successors an actuarial value of the existing rates. For all these reasons, the Government have come to the conclusion that it would not be fair and reasonable to say that there must be supplementation of the burden and that the supplementation should be placed on the pre-Act employer. The other alternative is to place it on the Insurance Fund. When we consider that, we must recognise that the Insurance Fund would then be bearing a liability not contemplated in the comprehensive insurance scheme.
I submit to the House that such a step could only be justified where we could prove cases of real hardship, and that it would be wrong to apply it in cases where a man was receiving more under workmen's compensation than he would be receiving at present under the Industrial Injuries Act. That is a real difficulty. I am purposely trying to put before the House the difficulties of this problem because I want the help of hon. Members not only now but later, and it is only right that we should try and see some of the difficulties.
Some of the difficulties arise, as hon. Members on both sides agree, because the two Acts provide two different systems. Under the Workmen's Compensation Act, we are dealing with the loss of earning power and under the Industrial Injuries Act we are dealing with the loss of faculty. I believe that because of that difference, the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East, liked the old system best. But it is because of that difference that a lot of our problem arises. It is quite true, as the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East, and other hon. Members have said, that there are a considerable number of cases in which a man is receiving more under the Workmen's Compensaton Act than he would be receiving under the Industrial Injuries Act.
One can think of a case in which a man under the Workmen's Compensation Act who was suffering a slight injury which resulted in considerable loss of earning power would, under that Act, if he had a wife and child, be receiving 55s. a week, whereas if he could be regarded as 10 per cent. disabled as many of these men are, he would be only receiving under the Industrial Injuries Act one-tenth of 45s. which is 4s. 6d. and, in addition, a special hardship allowance of 20s., which makes the man under the Industrial Injuries Act some 30s. 6d. worse off than he would be if he came under the Workmen's Compensation Act. I want the House to realise that there are a number of cases on those lines.
I appreciate that.
The next problem which is inherent in the suggestions of the mover of the Motion and of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams), who gave a very careful explanation of the suggestions, is that of option. Both hon. Gentlemen, and I think other hon. Members opposite, suggested that we should work this by giving the man who is at present on workmen's compensation the option either to remain on workmen's compensation or to go over to the Industrial Injuries Scheme. I see considerable difficulties in offering that option.
It would not be easy for the man himself to take the decision whether it was better for him to remain under the old workmen's compensation system or to go over to the Industrial Injuries Scheme. I am informed that the Trade Union Council have examined this matter in consultation with my Department and have been impressed by the grave difficulties that arise under any system of option. It is a gamble, and I would not like myself to put forward a gamble to these men who, if they made an unfortunate choice, would be the financial sufferers. Also, of course, it means that if we have a system of option there would have to be a period of delay for many thousands of men before we could give them the material on which they could make their option.
There is another problem which has not been mentioned directly by hon. Members. It is the problem of those who have had their weekly payments commuted. I was interested in the figures given by the hon. Member for Wigan, when he said how many lump sums had been arrived at in the last few years. Nothing can be done to help them, but I believe that many of the cases of real hardship are to be found in that category. That means that any solution at which we might arrive in the future will, I fear, have to exclude what are probably the hardest cases.
A further matter is that whatever figure we estimate to be the number at present drawing weekly rates, there are probably just as many not drawing weekly rates because of the effect of the earnings rule, and in any solution that we find we shall have to include the 50,000 or so men who are affected in that way. That will mean that those men will have to be boarded to discover their degree of disablement, under the Industrial Injuries Act so that they may be given their chance to opt if we have an opting scheme.
Those seem to me to be the main headings of the difficulties. The difficulties were too great for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West. Let us remember that they tried to help the people who were in this grave predicament.
I see that the hon. Gentleman is now going on to other matters. I had hoped that he would examine the whole of the problem so that we could have had all the matters before us. He has not referred to the cases of very greatest hardship, those men whose incapacity under the Industrial Injuries Act has been assessed at 50 per cent. and who are getting no compensation whatever because their post-accident earnings exceed their pre-accident earnings. If such men are omitted from any scheme, a very grave sense of injustice will be left behind.
I referred to latent cases, having in mind the men who were not drawing compensation because of their earnings but were industrially injured men and would have to be boarded and would have to be given a chance to opt if we had an opting scheme.
Although the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly failed to solve the problem on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, he was fully alive to it. Let us not forget what was done under the National Insurance Act and the Industrial Injuries Act to ameliorate the conditions of these men.
I took exception to only one point in the speech of the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), and that was when he chided my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain MacLeod) and said that we were not increasing the main income but merely the trimmings and that we were dodging the issue. If it is so, we are erring in good company. What the right hon. Member for Llanelly and the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West did was to improve the trimmings and not the main income.
I thought the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West, was a very helpful one. The charge was levied against him that he was dodging the issue because he suggested that we should add to the trimmings given by the previous Government. I should like to recall what was done. It should be on record so that we may not exaggerate the problem.
When a man is working he gets the benefit of wage increases. If wages have gone up, it is usual to find that the difference between his pre-accident and his post-accident wage will enable an increase up to the maximum allowed under the 1943 Act. To that extent, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly did not touch that section of men.
However, in the case of a man who is not working, his position has been considerably improved by the National Insurance Act, 1946. Before that Act was passed the man could obtain sickness benefit of 18s. a week only, which was reduced to 10s. 6d. after six months. Under the National Insurance Act he can now receive the whole of the sickness benefit; except, of course, that if he is totally disabled and his sickness is proved to be derived from the same disability as the workmen's compensation disability, he is not allowed to claim dependants allowance under both schemes.
I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out what was done. I was responsible for the Act, and if my recollection is correct the benefits we provided by this duplication were rather more than he has said. I believe that a totally disabled man receiving compensation could not receive sickness benefit, for the two payments were not payable at the same time, but before 1948 totally disabled men were entitled to receive benefit for their wives and children. The trimmings were rather larger.
I am sorry if I was not quite accurate, but nor is the right hon. Gentleman quite accurate. Before that Act the man could receive sickness benefit if it were the larger of the two benefits.
I used to be a local branch secretary, and I have a very vivid knowledge of this. If the man was receiving workman's compensation he could not receive sickness benefit.
I am informed that the man was entitled to receive the amount of sickness benefit which exceeded the workmen's compensation; that is, he receives a total equal to the larger of the two payments.
In the case of a man on workmen's compensation who is eligible for what is now the retirement pension, prior to the National Insurance Act he could receive only 10s. a week for himself and 10s. a week for his wife, but under the National Insurance Act he is entitled to receive 42s. and any dependant's allowance that is appropriate. Before that Act a man could receive only 24s. a week unemployment benefit plus 16s. for his wife, but after the Act he could receive 26s. a week plus 16s. for dependants.
When sickness benefit was exhausted before the Industrial Injuries Act came into force, the man could receive nothing. After the Act was passed he could receive an unemployability supplement of 20s. a week in addition. Many cases have been mentioned today of men who are totally incapacitated and are unable to work and require someone to look after them. A man can receive a constant attendance allowance up to 40s. a week in certain cases. Those benefits have all been operating since July, 1948, and they have not changed except for the increase of retirement pensions which was given last year.
I do not think it would be easy to extract those figures, but I will see if it can be done and will write to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not know if our staff could do it.
If the hon. Gentleman is going to circulate that information to my right hon. Friend, would it not be better to circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT Of in some other way so that we all could have it in time for the debate?
I will consider that suggestion, but I am not very optimistic of being able to provide the information.
We have borne very much in mind the position of the workmen under the Workmen's Compensation Acts, and we have been reviewing the general position. It is not for me to go into details or to anticipate Monday's degate, but let me point out one fact—in future the unemployability supplement that was 20s. will be 32s. 6d. That will have a tremendous effect in many of the old Workmen's Compensation Act cases. I will be able next Monday to go into a lot more detail on that side of it, but we have, in fact, improved the trimmings, which was done without any intention of dodging the issue. We believe there are many men suffering real hardship and we want to pay something to meet those cases.
It is quite clear that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, when asking for an increased weekly rate, was entering a field that in the past has been pretty well turned over. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring said the proposals which were put forward had the support of some unions. I noticed how he qualified it in that way. There are certain features of the proposals put forward by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil which are not supported. Therefore, we think the best way to deal with this matter would be for us to have a discussion with the T.U.C. In fact, prior to the Motion being put down we had some preliminary consultations.
Hon. Members will agree that this is a problem requiring very careful consideration. The Motion calls for a declaration of policy by Her Hajesty's Government. Let me give it. Our policy is to examine the whole position of workmen's compensation in consultation with the T.U.C. and see whether any just and equitable solution of it can be obtained.
There is no division between my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, any more than there is a division between him and his right hon. Friends when they were the Government of the country only eight months ago. This is not a party matter. It is a technical problem of great complexity. I hope, in view of the assurance I have given, that the hon. Member may see his way to withdraw this Motion so as to enable these negotiations with the Trade Union Congress to go forward in a clear field.
We have listened to a very good declaration of policy and as much as we could expect on a debate of this kind but, before suggesting to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S.O. Davies) that he might withdraw his Motion, there are one or two things I should like to say in summing up. This debate this afternoon has taken place in a very friendly atmosphere, and when one thinks back on the many debates on workmen's compensation in this House over many years, compared with the tone and attitude of the speeches today, then one can say that a real revolution has taken place, and that it is the best answer we can give to the hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) when he bemoaned the loss of the old Workmen's Compensation Acts.
The strongest words I heard today were from my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. R. Williams) who talked about irritations and being annoyed, but I can assure him and other hon. Members that in the old debates to which I have referred very much stronger language was used. I appreciate the problem which confronts the Minister of Pensions and his Parliamentary Secretary. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and I had many discussions on it, and the piles of papers which mounted over a period during my term of office was surprising. As in this and in other matters dealing with insurance generally, the old cases and the transferring of them into the new scheme were definitely the ones that supplied headaches.
The decision on this matter does not lie with the Minister of National Insurance alone. If anything has got to be done, as we hope and trust something will be done, the other Members of the Government will have to be seized with the importance of it. Therefore, this has been a very useful debate. Useful points have been put during the debate, particularly by the Members from mining constituencies who have spoken logically, clearly and effectively, without any heat or anger, because they are deeply concerned about the question and will look forward to something being done. We hope that this debate, having taken place, will help and assist the Minister of National Insurance and the Parliamentary Secretary in their negotiations at this meeting.
The Parliamentary Secretary said something about the cost of living index for 1943, and even his remarks about the cost of living having gone up during the period of the Labour Administration were spoken with moderation and sympathetically in accordance with the tone of the debate. His own argument later on rather destroyed that, because he then outlined the improvements that had been made in these cases by a Labour Administration through the Act of 1946. It is true we did something for them.
The discussion today is not merely on how it has got to be done but the problem of assimilation. It was generally desired that this should be done and, naturally, if it had been a lot of problems would have been solved. Today we are not merely discussing assimilation. Behind the debate is a desire to do something for these people and to find some method of easing their hardship.
The Parliamentary Secretary paid a tribute to the knowledge and experience of his right hon. Friend in these matters, I think justifiably. When his right hon. Friend was sitting on these benches and we were discussing the Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Bill, 1951, in which the pre-1924 cases were brought in, his speech consisted, so far as I could gather, of giving the reasons why he did not bring those cases in in 1943. He pointed out the difficulties and problems he had at that time. History sometimes repeats itself. Occasions arise when errors can be rectified. I hope that the Minister of National Insurance, who could not help the pre-1924 cases in 1943, may be able to do something now for the pre-1948 cases.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wishes to be fair to my right hon. Friend who, when he made his speech on 21st February, 1951, was pointing out that he could not have given assistance in 1943 out of the Industrial Injuries Fund because that fund had not then been established. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not try to ascribe any other words to my right hon. Friend in that speech.
I trust that I have not been saying anything which I did not intend. That was exactly what I intended to say. His right hon. Friend was giving an indication why he could not do it in 1943, and I assumed that his conscience was troubling him. Up to 1948 we had the pre-1924 cases hanging over us. Since 1948 we have got rid of the 1924 cases in isolation, but now we have the pre-1948 cases; and curiously enough the same right hon. Gentleman is now Minister of National Insurance. He could not do anything in 1943 for the pre-1924 cases, and it is rather too bad that he should be faced with another situation of a like character.
I am certain that, with the help of the Parliamentary Secretary and the officials of his Department, and in consultation with the Trades Union Congress, he will try to find some solution in order to do what we all wish to see done, which is to give assistance to the pre-1948 cases in whatever way possible. We have had a very useful discussion bringing to light House of Commons points of view on this matter. I hope that my right hon. Friend will now withdraw his Motion.
In view of the declaration of policy made by the Parliamentary Secretary upon the matters that we have been discussing and of the conviction he has expressed that the problems dealt with by the Motion are not insoluble; and further, in view of the fact that he has stated his determination to pursue the problem to its solution, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.