I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.
My hon. Friends and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will no doubt be gratified to see that at last some move has been made in this section of Workmen's Compensation benefit. There is not the slightest doubt that great credit can be taken for the part which my hon. Friends have played over the years in drawing the attention of various Governments to this need, and at last we have been able to do something about it. This is in no small measure due to the energy and tenacity of purpose of the Minister. I also pay tribute to the devoted and meticulous work done by the officials who are in the background, but without whose professional help this little Bill, of great importance in the industrial and mining areas of Britain, would not have been before the House. It is fit and proper that in introducing the Bill I should pay tribute to the expert work of the officials of our Ministry.
The Bill extends and improves provision made from the Industrial Injuries Fund for "old cases "—that is, men disabled by an injury or industrial disease due to employment before 5th July, 1948, when the Industrial Injuries Act came into operation. The consequences of such disablement are dealt with under the repealed Workmen's Compensation Acts. Under those Acts, compensation is a liability of employers, being two-thirds of the amount of the earnings lost due to the disablement, subject to a maximum of £2 a week, or, where the man concerned has a wife to whom he was married before the accident, £2 10s.
The problem of old cases has exercised successive Governments since the repeal of the old Acts, as is illustrated by the list of enactments dealing with it since the inception of the Industrial Injuries Scheme. The problem has two main aspects. First, the maximum rates of compensation, which have remained unchanged at levels last fixed in 1943, would almost certainly have been subsequently increased had not the whole Workmen's Compensation legislation been replaced by the Industrial Injuries Acts. Secondly, the way in which the courts applied the Workmen's Compensation rules in determining loss of earnings had the result that some men were unable to establish title to compensation as expected on a layman's concept of loss of earnings. This problem is inevitable when it is necessary to use a precise definition for a general concept, such as is involved in the loss of earnings, in order that it can be brought into a Statute which falls for determination by the courts. It is impossible to account for variations in industrial practice, or to anticipate changes which can take place in the structure and economics of an industry years after the making of the Statute.
It proved impracticable to devise a means whereby these men could be satisfactorily assimilated into the Industrial Injuries Scheme. The solution to the problem has been by way of providing help to meet real hardship when it emerged. Over the years a series of Measures has been devised to this end, each of which widened the concept of hardship to be remedied and most of which relied heavily for their feasibility upon experience derived from running earlier schemes. Help was given by way of providing supplementary payments from the Industrial Injuries Fund for these special categories of old cases. We have five different ways which I will enumerate, because it is important to get the background to the Bill on the record at this stage.
First, the Industrial Injuries Act, 1946, extended unemployability supplement and constant attendance allowance to persons on compensation on the same conditions as for Industrial Injuries Act beneficiaries. Secondly, the Workmen's Compensation Supplementation Act, 1951, tackled the problem of the "pre-1924" compensation cases and enabled supplementary weekly allowances to be paid to bring their compensation broadly to the same level as that payable to "post-1923" men. Thirdly, the Industrial Diseases (Benefit) Acts, 1951 and 1954, applied to the time-barred cases and enabled allowances to be paid for both the totally and the partially disabled. Fourthly, the Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Supplementation) Act, 1956, provided a supplement for "totals". Fifthly, the Family Allowances and National Insurance Act, 1961, extended the 1951 Act to "post-923" cases and provided for a supplement to "partials" on maximum compensation. As hon. Members will see, various Governments have had several bites at this difficult cherry.
The history of this subject, as I have indicated, has been one of continuous Parliamentary activity on behalf of old cases. Dissatisfaction has arisen from those excluded from the scope of succeeding schemes and, in particular, from the partially incapacitated men on less than maximum rates, many of whom, it is said, will never be able to qualify for inclusion in the present schemes because of the way in which the Workmen's Compensation loss of earnings rules work out in their cases. There has been a series of deputations to Ministers, the most recent from the Trades Union Congress in July, 1964, which was received by the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) who agreed to re-examine the whole question.
A necessary first step to any reexamination was a fact-finding inquiry to get a better idea of what was happening to partially incapacitated men on compensation. The present Government proceeded with that re-examination. The inquiry was put in hand in the autumn of 1964 and the Ministry is very much indebted to those employers and trade unions who co-operated by providing confidentially the mass of data about individual men on compensation. The employers were able to set out the problems regarding loss of earnings from their records, while the unions were able to complement the picture by specifically illustrating their allegations about the inadequacy of the measure of loss of earnings arrived at under the workmen's compensation rules.
The inquiry was followed by consideration of various possible schemes for meeting the remaining difficulties of old cases by means of an equitable system of payments out of the Industrial Injuries Fund. An extension of supplementation to "partials" on less than maximum compensation was shown to be practicable, provided that a certain measure of rough justice as between beneficiaries was accepted.
Clearly there has to be an entrance ticket to the new scheme, and this will take the form of a certain level of genuine workmen's compensation. But once a man is included in the scheme all the old difficulties arising from the workmen's compensation loss of earnings rule will be swept away. Under the Bill we plan to gear the supplement to loss of earnings as measured by the Workmen's Compensation Board and not to the amount of Workmen's Compensation in payment. I will repeat that, because this is naturally very closely argued, and, having to deal with courts and the law, it is a point of importance—if the House will bear with me and not think that I am pedantic I will repeat it. We plan to gear the supplement to loss of earnings as measured by the Workmen's Compensation Board and not to the amount of workmen's compensation in payment.
The Board will have discretion to deal with the out-of-run cases. Also, this presented an opportunity of making some minor improvements to the present provisions and rearranging the existing enactments to form a more closely integrated system with a view to consolidating them in the near future.
It may be that experience of the proposals in the new scheme to deal with partially incapacitated men will bring in large numbers of cases of a type which will enable a good deal of light to be thrown on the small, special group of "latents" said to be suffering hardship from the way in which the Workmen's Compensation rules apply to them. But even when this is done there is still the overriding difficulty of devising some way of sorting them out from the overwhelming mass of old cases to bring any scheme within practical bounds. At present, there are no signs that this can be overcome in the near future.
The Bill, therefore, is an enabling Measure, and relies on powers in the 1951 Supplementation Act to make schemes which will give substance and form to the bare outline of the Bill. The implementing schemes will be subject to affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament, who will thus have an opportunity of studying the details of the way in which effect is given to the Bill. I now want to describe the main provisions of the Bill and to indicate briefly how it is intended to use the powers taken, and how many persons will be affected by them.
Clause 1 continues the provision for what I now want to call the basic allowance. This relates solely to the "pre-1924" men. Its object is to put a "pre-1924" man on all fours with men injured after 1st January, 1924, when he comes to claim his supplementary allowance under the new scheme. The effect of this basic allowance is to raise his compensation to what he would have had had his compensation been assessed on the post-1923 Workmen's Compensation rules. I admit that it sounds difficult, but the House will have ample opportunity in Committee and at other stages to go into it in depth. It is important, however, to get all this on the record.
The Bill provides that this allowance should accordingly be treated as if it were compensation for the purposes of qualifying for the "major- "and" lesser-incapacity" allowances, which I shall describe in a moment. It is for this reason that I term it the basic allowance. The two new allowances are payable on identical terms to all men on compensation, whether compensated under the pre-1924 provisions or later provisions.
The "major incapacity allowance" is for long-term total incapacity or total disablement. The conditions for it are the same as for the supplementation allowance provided by the Supplementation Act, 1956, which is repealed. The Bill, however, makes an important change in the terms in which the rate of the allowance is described. Paragraph (4)(b) lays it down that this shall be the rate of the 100 per cent. industrial injuries disablement pension, less the amount of any workmen's compensation, and also, for pre-1924 cases, less the amount of any basic allowance in payment in lieu of compensation. The first effect of this change is that any alteration in the rate of the 100 per cent. disablement pension payable under the Industrial Injuries Act will automatically be reflected in the rate of the "major incapacity" allowance, and at present there is no such link.
When the Supplementation Act 1956 was introduced the rate of the allowance was set at 17s. 6d. This, together with the £2 10s. rate of compensation payable to a man with a "pre-accident" wife, enabled him to receive in aggregate the sum of £3 7s. 6d., the then rate of 100 per cent. disablement pension. Succeeding increases in the rates of disablement benefit were not, until 1963, matched by parallel increases in the supplement for totally disabled "old cases", notwithstanding the pressure from Labour benches at this time for this to be done. However, the National Insurance Act, 1963, was amended—and this is where, as I said, both sides of the House had their bite at the cherry—in the course of its passage through Parliament to include provisions which restored the measure of parity reached in 1956 and this was maintained in the National Insurance &c. Act, 1964 when the supplementary allowance was raised to its present rate of £4 5s.
The second effect of the new provision is that it will remove the anomaly whereby the totally disabled man on maximum compensation who happened to have a "pre-accident" wife was in aggregate better off than the others. Under the Industrial Injuries Act dependency plays no part in the compensation for disablement itself, and all the 100 per cent. disablement pensioners receive the same whether or not they are married. Under the new proposal all men on compensation will receive the same rate. The effect is that 1,200 of the 3,500 men on compensation in receipt of the present supplement for total disablement will receive a further 10s. The comparable time-barred men are similarly dealt with in Clause 2.
The "lesser incapacity" allowance is an entirely new allowance payable to all partially disabled men in receipt of compensation of 5s. a week or more. It replaces the existing allowance, which is limited to those men who have reached the maximum rates of compensation. Like the "major incapacity" allowance, it aims to iron out differences in treatment between men with "pre-accident" wives and others. Such men get £2 10s. in compensation, plus the supplementary allowance of £2 2s. 6d. Other men get £2 plus £2 2s. 6d. The new allowance is a maximum of £2 7s. 6d., 5s. more than the present allowance.
As I have said, the rate of the allowance will be geared to loss of earnings, and will be calculated by rules derived from the experience gained by the Department in administering the special hardship allowance under the Industrial Injuries Acts. It is to be associated with new provisions ensuring that, in future, the aggregate benefit payable by way of supplementary allowance and compensation shall be the same, irrespective of whether or not the beneficiary has compensation in respect of a "pre-accident" wife.
A few men would stand to lose a few shillings as a result of this change, but power is provided elsewhere in the Bill to secure that no person shall be the loser as the result of the new provisions. Newcomers will, of course, have their benefit assessed solely in accordance with the new scheme. The newcomers are expected to number about 10,000, and existing beneficiaries about 6,000.
The inquiry showed that it was impossible at this stage to do anything reasonable for the "latents". There might be more than 200,000 of these, of whom only a tiny handful could be said to be suffering hardship. Practically all the "latents" examined in the inquiry had little or no residual disablement and the isablement which existed was due principally to old age—
I apologise to the House for the terrible cold I have today.
There also appeared to be appreciable numbers of people who, although "latents "were in receipt of token payments: this is a device used by certain employers as an alternative to the usual declaration of liability to workmen's compensation, to keep the compensation title alive during periods when there is no actual loss of earnings. At some times, the amount is a shilling or so; at others, the payment is nothing. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from the industrial and mining areas know quite well what this implies.
In order to exclude all "latents", whether receiving this token payment or not, a figure had to be arrived at and 5s. seems to us an appropriate one, since the inquiry suggests that the number of men in receipt of genuine, rather than mere token, compensation of a lesser amount was probably only about 1 per cent. The minimum supplement is intended to be set at a comparable figure: we think it might really be rather disproportionate to pay this—and greater— amounts in addition to trivial amounts of compensation. And, of course, the cost of administration of a much smaller allowance by weekly order book might also be disproportionate to the benefit which it would give to claimants.
I need hardly say that if the appreciable number of latents receiving token payments were to gain the impression that they might qualify, there might well arise a flood of claims which would seriously jeopardise not only the timetable worked out but the whole administration of the new scheme. So we really want to avoid stimulating false hopes in a large number of men. Not only would much unnecessary disappointment be caused, but it would also prevent us from getting the money out quickly to the men who need it.
I turn now to a handful of men who— although classed as totally incapacitated solely for the purposes of the Workmen's Compensation Act—are not totally disabled in the more modern sense adopted in the insurance schemes. This situation has arisen because some employers for the convenience of their own administration, classified the men as totally incapacitated more or less because they had been in receipt of maximum workmen's compensation for a long time.
These men did not satisfy the criteria of the 1956 Act for totals and this position still obtains. Clause l(5,b) therefore makes special provision so that such men are entitled to the "lesser incapacity" allowance, notwithstanding the misleading classification adopted for compensation purposes.
The detailed conditions for the "lesser incapacity" allowance are to be left to the implementing scheme, the proposed Workmen's Compensation (Supplementation) Scheme. It is envisaged that the main provisions of the scheme will be these. The administration of the scheme will be for the present Workmen's Compensation Supplementation Board. The scheme will set out a series of flat-rate allowances ranging from about 7s. 6d. a week up to £2 7s. 6d. a week; each rate will be related to a specific range of loss of earnings.
The appropriate flat-rate allowance will be decided by the Board in accordance with the new rules to which I have referred which get away from the rules used for workmen's compensation purposes. This was the only way in which a formula could be found to meet these old cases. Studies of the cases submitted by unions in the course of the enquiry show that these new rules will help the man whose weekly payment of compensation is said to be based on an unrealistic estimate of his loss of earnings.
We are satisfied that this should overcome the short-time working problem and produce a more realistic result in those cases where "rates of remuneration" adopted for workmen's compensation purposes are out of touch with the current earnings. The effect of these changes should be a major advance in dealing with old cases.
The award will be based on the best estimate the Board can make, given a wide discretion, of the loss of earnings which a worker can be said to be suffering at the time this scheme comes into operation. Too rigid a rule in this respect could give rise to injustice.
The appropriate allowance will then be put in payment at a rate which will remain unchanged notwithstanding minor or temporary fluctuations in the loss of earnings. There will, of course, be a right of review, but this will only be applicable where exceptional and unforeseen changes in the circumstances of the individual take place.
The scheme will ensure that the aggregate benefit payable by way of allowances and compensation will be the same, whether or not the claimant has the extra 10s. workmen's compensation for his wife merely because he happened to be married to her before the date of his compensatable accident.
Although the new rules will mean that an entirely new group of men will now come within the scope of the supplementary allowances, and that most of the existing beneficiaries stand to gain something, it has been quite impossible to ensure that all those in receipt of the present supplementary allowance will gain under the new scheme.
This situation arises almost exclusively in relation to those men I have just mentioned, who are in receipt of the maximum amount of the existing supplements. The provision in the Bill will enable a rule to be made to ensure that no man in receipt of such an allowance will lose as a result of the change from the old to the new rules. All others will, of course, have their allowance determined on the basis of the new scheme.
The scheme will be introduced as soon as is possible after the Bill has received the Royal Assent.
Clause 2 deals with time-barred men who are totally disabled. Its object is to secure for the recipients the same benefit as the aggregate of compensation and supplementary allowance received by their totally disabled counterparts on compensation. They will receive a weekly allowance of £6 15s., the rate of disablement pension for 100 per cent. assessment. Like the benefit for men on compensation, this new rate is, as I have indicated, deliberately framed in terms of the disablement pension rate to ensure that any subsequent changes in the latter will automatically be forthcoming to these men as well.
The effect of the change is that 1,400 totally disabled time-barred men will receive an increase of 10s. a week. The Clause also continues the provision in the existing 1956 Act for men who are totally incapacitated by a combination of injuries attracting workmen's compensation and industrial diseases qualifying under the Industrial Diseases (Benefit) Acts.
No changes are made in the rates of the supplementary allowance for the partially incapacitated time-barred men. These have received a flat-rate allowance since 1954; it was originally set at £1 a week but is now payable at the rate of £2 10s. This compares favourably with what their Industrial Injuries counterparts would get on the one hand, and others in receipt of compensation on the other and is, therefore, not being changed.
Clause 3 makes overlapping and transitional provisions. Power is taken in Clause 3(1) to adjust the rate of, or extinguish entitlement to, an allowance where there is title to more than one. The general purpose of this is to enable the schemes to prevent a claimant being at a considerable advantage merely because his condition is attributable to causes dealt with under different provisions. The overall intention is to secure that benefit paid from the Industrial Injuries Fund in respect of pre-1948 conditions shall not exceed the rate of the 100 per cent. disablement pension. This parallels the rule under the Industrial Injuries scheme.
Clause 3(2) enables allowances to continue in payment at the present rate, should it happen that the change-over results in a lower aggregate of benefit than the present arrangements. This might possibly be called for if there should happen to be an odd case— although none are known—when an existing beneficiary is receiving more than £6 15s. in "old cases" benefit. but it is more likely to arise from the adjustment of the new "lesser incapacity" allowance by reference to the extra 10s. workmen's compensation for a man with a "pre-accident" wife.
Clauses 4, 5 and 6 and Schedules 1 and 2 deal with the necessary technical matters to give force to the general proposals of the preceding Clauses. Clause 4 deals with definitions and explanations and makes provision to consolidate the provisions of the existing schemes which will have to take place shortly after the new schemes authorised by this Bill. Clause 5 is the usual money Clause. Clause 6 deals with citation. The Schedules deal with the usual miscellany of minor consequential amendments and are highly technical.
It is planned that the Bill should come into effect by March next year, but this is absolutely dependent on the Parliamentary timetable. The schemes to be made require affirmative resolutions of both Houses of Parliament and cannot be laid until Royal Assent is obtained to the Bill itself. To reduce delays to a minimum, as much administrative work as can be tackled is being pushed ahead concurrently with the Parliamentary programme. Much of this work consists of inquiries of employers about the earnings situations of claimants, and their progress naturally depends on a continuance of the ready co-operation that has always been forthcoming in the past to assist in the administration of the schemes.
The programme which is being worked out to do all this work reduces by one week the time taken to bring into force the extensions made to the earlier schemes in 1961 and 1962. This has been done notwithstanding the fact that 9,000 existing awards will have to be looked at afresh. In addition, there may be as many as 10,000 new beneficiaries involving a correspondingly large number of claims to be examined in full detail for the first time. The time-table is so finely worked out that it is absolutely dependent on no unexpected snags developing.
The Bill makes major and radical changes in the provision for old cases and tackles problems formerly thought to be quite intractable. This entails a recasting of the existing schemes and although everything has been done to ensure that no one will be the worse off, the new approach is so different from that of the old that a certain measure of rough justice has had to be adopted. I am confident, however, that once the scheme has been operating for a while the rough edges will disappear.
I apologise to the House for having taken a good deal of time to explain the Measure, but I am sure that hon. Members appreciate that it is a technical piece of legislation which needs to be carefully explained.
I am sure the whole House feels that there was absolutely no need for the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to apologise for the way in which he explained the Bill. It is a Measure which we have all found extremely complicated, and we thank the hon. Gentleman for the great care and lucidity with which he explained it to us; and added his own explanations to those with which he had been provided, so increasing the lucid way in which he explained it.
It is with the utmost diffidence that I say anything about the Bill. However, I was fortified to see, when reading the earlier debates on a former Measure, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) pointed out that he had been fortified by the advice given to him by his Department and added that in the relatively short connection which he had had with the subject of work- men's compensation he had found two things—first, that it looked difficult and, secondly, that it was a great deal less simple than it looked. I re-echo that sentiment.
I count it a privilege to speak on this subject. I was born and brought up in the South Wales coalfields and from my earliest childhood I can recollect the impact made on my father, who was coroner for West Glamorgan, as he went to the ends of all the mining valleys in those coalfields, by the tragedies arising in the coal-mining industry, not only from injury and accident but from the incidence of silicosis, pneumoconiosis and other diseases. I therefore could not fail to be aware of the importance in that context of workmen's compensation and. therefore. of the necessity for keeping it up to date.
My hon. Friends and I are genuinely glad to welcome the Bill and we will do everything we can to assist in every way its speedy passage to the Statute Book, for the reasons the Joint Parliamentary Secretary indicated.
It is appropriate that I should extend congratulations to the right hon. Lady the Minister for her success in having got the Bill before the House so quickly because we know the extent to which she has been personally interested in this subject for many years. We can congratulate her as well on the fact that while the Bill does not positively simplify our understanding of the problem, it does not seem to make it much more complicated than it was. We therefore welcome the undertaking given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the effect that a consolidating Measure will shortly be introduced. I join with him in paying tribute to the officials in his Department for the immense amount of work which must have gone into the preparation of the Bill and to the members and officials of the Workmen's Compensation Supplementation Board who must have played a great part in the shaping of it.
I was glad that the Parliamentary Secretary went out of his way to make plain that this Bill is part of a long-continuing process in which both sides of the House have played a part. It began with the 1946 Act, and there was another Measure in 1951. Then a number of Measures were introduced by the previous Government, often in response to suggestions made by the then Opposition. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was one of those who introduced an earlier Bill. I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) is in his place, because he introduced the 1961 Bill.
The position was that by 1963 more than 17,000 beneficiaries were covered by Measures then on the Statute Book, and this Bill is the logical conclusion of this process. It springs from the inquiry set in train by the present Government after representations made to my right hon. Friend in July of last year. As the Parliamentary Secretary says, it fills most of the gaps in a way that we welcome. I would, perhaps, be in danger of being misunderstood if I said that the Government had succeeded in abolishing the pre-accident wives, but they seem to have succeeded in abolishing most of the anomalies arising from the existence of the pre-accident wives, except where the anomaly is advantageous to the claimant himself.
The Government also seem to have gone as far as seems possible in moving away from workmen's compensation as a system. The right hon. Lady will remember that her right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster asked many years ago whether we were to continue for the rest of our lives with the complications of the workmen's compensation system. It rather looks as though we shall have to do so but, equally, this Bill, in its departure from the old workmen's compensation earnings rule, takes away most of its unattractive aspects.
The right hon. Lady tried, in her own Bill, to get away from the workmen's compensation system of assessment of disability. The workmen's compensation system assesses actual disability in terms of loss of earnings, whereas the present system deals in terms of loss of faculty. In her Bill in 1954 the right hon. Lady tried to jump from the one to the other, although that involved a great deal of reclassification, fresh boards, and so on. This Bill seems to provide a simpler way of arriving at the answer, and I assume that the attempt to depart from that part of the workmen's compensation system has been abandoned; and that this is the best way, and it seems so to me, of getting over the hurdle.
One matter with which the Parliamentary Secretary did not deal was the cost of this Measure—although he dealt with so much else that one does not criticise him for that. The cost is to fall on the Industrial Injuries Fund. Perhaps I may be allowed to welcome that part of the Bill as well, but the right hon. Lady, 'way back—and this is not a matter on which one wants to draw too heavily from history—suggested that it should, perhaps, have had to come from the employers and the insurers, or even the Exchequer, and was then doubtful about the wisdom of putting the burden on the Industrial Injuries Fund.
I cannot see any alternative. From the recent Report of the Government Actuary on the state of the Fund, it looks as though the contributions currently coming in are little more than is necessary to keep the fund in balance well into the 'seventies. I take it that the Bill will not affect the validity of that calculation, but it will be interesting to know just how much it will cost, and how it will affect the Fund.
We quite accept the explanation of the Parliamentary Secretary about the difficulty of doing anything about "the latents". His explanation was so clear as to make me see the reason for excluding those whose compensation is less than 5s. His explanation also satisfied me on the point that for the future we are not to have separate Bills of this kind to improve the position of people dealt with under these schemes, but that there will be automatic review as a result of Clause 4(1,b).
Looking further ahead into different territory, all hon. Members have been aware that one category of people who have always been excluded from help are those who settled for lump-sum compensation before these Measures started. A sub-category particularly adversely affected are those who settled for lumpsum compensation on a percentage basis because of the bankruptcy or business failure of some of the firms involved. It is right to remember that many years ago my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) introduced a Bill making provision for compulsory insurance, at least in the coal mining industry. But the problem remained, though it may not be precisely within the right hon. Lady's responsibility. Still less does it arise in this Bill.
As will be known, there are still situations in which Common Law liability is involved; accidents arising, and someone with a perfectly good claim for substantial damages finding that the claim is quite unsatisfiable because the employer is not insured in respect of Common Law liability.
I can remember the particularly tragic case of a girl in the laundry industry who had lost virtually all the ringers of both hands. She was obliged to accept in compensation a very much smaller sum than was proper, if only to ensure that the business that was liable to pay her the money remained in business. It was, indeed, a case of not killing the goose that laid the somewhat tawdry golden egg.
This is a difficult problem, but perhaps we can be told whether the right hon. Lady or any of her colleagues is giving consideration to making compulsory insurance for employers' liability under the lump-sum Common Law damages system, which is now so important, so as to prevent difficulties of that kind.
I will not detain the House longer on this complex and technical measure. We on this side are extremely glad to welcome it, and I renew my assurance that we shall give it all possible help on to the Statute Book. It has often been said, and it is perfectly true, that the best guide to the standard of civilisation of an community is the standard of care and compassion it shows to those who are casualties of the industrial process which gives us all the wealth and prosperity we enjoy. It is therefore important and right that Measures like this—small, detailed and technical though they are—should be continually introduced by Governments of whatever colour, and be welcomed with equal warmth on both sides of the House.
We have had a most interesting speech from the hon. and learned Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) born out of his experience in the Welsh valleys, as he intimated. He raised two very interesting points and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister will take notice of them. The first dealt with those who have commuted. We have heard of the experience of men who have taken lump sums and their liabilities have increased as the years have gone by. The hon. and learned Member also raised an interesting point about employers who had gone bankrupt and even those who were prepared to commute did not get anything like the amount they would have had but for the financial position of the firm concerned. I join the hon. and learned Member in hoping that the Minister will look at those two important points and will be able to say something about them.
As has been indicated by the two speeches we have heard this afternoon this is by no means the first debate in the House on this important topic. In the past 15 years particularly the question of accidents and industrial disease has been debated many times. I think I can say with due modesty that on every occasion I have been present. The number of debates which has taken place on this question leads to the conclusion that the problem of the pre-1948 compensation cases has become almost a hardy annual. Debates have been held, Questions have been asked, speeches have been made and there have been deputations to successive Ministers since 1945 on this question.
Even more important, attention to the problem has not been entirely focused in this House but also outside where bodies such as the Trades Union Congress, and especially the National Union of Mine-workers, have considered it. The percentage of accidents and suffering from industrial disease is greater in coalmining than in any other industry. We pay compliments to the Trades Union Congress and the National Union of Mineworkers for the interest they have taken over the years, not only in the general question of workmen's compensation and industrial injuries but particularly in cases of people injured before 1948.
In spite of the multiplicity of approaches to this problem, I re-echo what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. and learned Member for Bebington said. To say that nothing has been done in the past 15 or 16 years in this regard would be entirely wrong. Quite a a lot has been done. The "totals" have been provided for and the time-barred cases, particularly with reference to pneumoconiosis. We must admit that even the polishers have had benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Act supplemented. We should say freely and honestly that each successive Government have had a hand in this business since 1945.
In the main, the particularly disabled cases are the subject of our debate today. They have had less than the maximum rates of compensation. It is not news to anyone interested in this subject that they have had no provision made in the form of supplement. The position is serious because it is not only cases immediately prior to 1948 with which we are concerned but those beyond 1924, and many of these cases are getting very old. Up to now they have been left out completely from any supplement while some of the other cases, the "totals" and time-barred disease cases, have been able to participate in supplements. It has been said by a number of hon. Members in past debates that all these partial cases on less than maximum rates are forgotten men. I must have said that myself in previous debates. I repeat that unless something is done quickly because of the incidence of the calendar it will be too late.
Year by year the partial cases are diminishing. They get fewer as each year passes. I looked up some statistics provided by the National Union of Mine-workers and I was staggered to see the size of the numbers of those who drop out every year from the category of partials on compensation. The deduction I made from those statistics was that in coalmining alone in the last two years the average rate was about 570 a year. I deduct from those figures that in industry as a whole there were something in the neighbourhood of 1,000 a year. If it is necessary to draw the attention of the Minister to the fact, I point out that time is not on our side in this respect and something must be done in these circumstances.
I have mentioned only a few of the matters which could be referred to in a debate of this kind. Much more could be said about the degree of disability and hardship and suffering consequent upon these men having accidents many years ago, but I feel sure that my hon. Friends will fill in any gaps that I have left. I turn to the Bill and join the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. and learned Member in congratulations to the present Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). It is well known, and this is an appropriate occasion to mention it, that she is the daughter of a coalminer. She came from an area which provided her with a mining background. Because of that it is no exaggeration to say, as I say sincerely, that the problems of industrial accident and disease exercised her mind and evoked her sympathies long before she became the Minister.
I have one reservation, to which I will refer later. I say immediately that this is quite a good Bill. I am disappointed that it does not embrace the "latents". I was rather intrigued at the figure of 200,000 "latents" given by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I believe this is a vastly exaggerated figure. I have no evidence to prove this, except that about two years ago, in reply to a Question from me asking what was the number of "latents", the right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood), who was then Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, said that the best estimate he could make was about 50,000. It might be more than 50,000, but I do not believe it is in the neighbourhood of 200,000.
I could not dispute that figure, but I am staggered that it is so high. Whether it is 50,000, 100,000 or 200,000, I am disappointed that the latents are not included in the Bill. I hope that in reply my right hon. Friend the Minister will be able to tell the House that she has not dismissed this problem entirely and that the Bill, admirable though it is, is not the end of the road.
Paragraphs (a) and (b) of the Explanatory Memorandum explain the provisions with regard to the totally disabled. I am delighted that the pre-1924s are to be put on the same basis as the post-19248. This should be of great comfort to many people.
I think this point has been cleared up, but perhaps my right hon. Friend will re-emphasise it when she replies. In future if industrial injury benefits are increased—let us take the 100 per cent. disabled—would the benefit of the pre-1948 totally disabled automatically be increased, as it is now, up to the rate of 100 per cent. in the Industrial Injuries Act?
Paragraph (c) is the fly in the ointment. It is a very big fly indeed and it spoils an otherwise admirable little Bill. I refer to the statement:
for all temporarily or partially incapacitated persons entitled to 5s. a week or more …
Why divide the "partials" into two categories, those who are getting more than 5s. and those getting less than 5s.? I put it as strongly as this: why fix a floor at all? Why deny to those receiving the lesser benefit in the form of workmen's compensation any benefit at all under the Bill?
We have heard something about the number of "latents". Why put those under 5s. into the "latent" category, because that is what this proposal does? It makes confusion worse confounded. I know of "partial" cases receiving less than 5s. a week who have a much greater disability than those receiving more than 5s. a week, even up to the maximum of 50s.
What is the reason for this arbitrary figure? Is it cost? I do not think it can be that. Is it the technicalities of administration? Despite all my praise for this admirable little Bill, I am sorely disappointed with this part of it. It smells a little of discrimination, for which there is no justification. I say, with all the modesty I can, that with this provision in the Bill I do not relish the prospect of meeting many of my constituents who are "partials" receiving less than 5s. a week. Their language will be much stronger than the language I am now using. There will be bitterness, frustration and disappointment amongst those who are receiving less than 5s. a week.
I will give an example to emphasise my point. In an isolated mining community two men may be living as neighbours. This is not a fantastic example, nor is it exaggerated. Both have had an accident. One has been unlucky once, in having the accident. He is getting a decent rate of partial benefit. The other might have been unlucky twice—once in having the accident and again in having it at a time when short-time work was in operation and wages were low, accounting for the difference between the benefit these two men receive. Let us say that one receives 5s. a week. Under the Bill he is in. His next-door neighbour may be getting only 4s. l1d.—1d. less. He is out. When lines of this kind are drawn, it is very dangerous indeed.
I ask the Minister not to spoil this ship for a halfpennyworth of tar. She should make it all-embracing and have a clean sweep for the "partials". If this is not done today, we shall have to have another bite at the cherry some day. If I were asked for my opinion on this point, I should make the floor Id. I am disappointed that the "latents" are not included, but the exclusion of some of the "partials" below 5s. passes my comprehension. It is a serious matter. If nothing is done about it, the Minister will have missed a great opportunity. It has appeared to be an intractable problem for the past 15 or 16 years, but so soon after taking office as Minister my right hon. Friend has faced up to the problem of the "partials ". Having brushed aside—not exclusively, but to a certain extent—what was regarded by her predecessors as something which was sacrosanct, namely, the two-thirds difference between pre- and post-accident earnings, I ask her to complete the job. It can be done, and it should be done.
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that I am not speaking too long, but I should like to raise one final point. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary indicated that we might have to wait a little while before the scheme comes before us. It looks as if it may be a little complicated. I should like to know whether the existing "partials" who are receiving more than £2 7s. 6d., which is the ceiling in this Bill, will participate in any of the supplements.
With the reservation that I have made, and in the hope that the omissions from the Bill of the under-5s. will be remedied, I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill.
It is a great pleasure indeed to follow the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Bernard Taylor). He speaks with great knowledge of and feeling for these matters. He mentioned that the task of remedying the position of the old cases had been a continuing process under successive Governments. What he did not refer to, naturally, was the part which he himself played when occupying the position now held by the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) and once held by myself, and the contribution which he made to thinking on this very difficult and complex subject.
One hon. Member whom we miss from this debate because of his other preoccupations and duties is the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch). I know that when I had responsibility for these matters I would often go and seek the advice and help of the hon. Member for Bedwellty who had a mass of knowledge on the whole subject.
I should like also to congratulate the hon. Member for Leek on introducing the Bill. Speaking from experience, I believe there is hardly any greater satisfaction that an hon. Member can have than to be allowed to introduce a Bill of this kind. I am sure we all appreciate the very clear manner in which he outlined its most complex provisions. I know that even with the help of the most able staff at the Ministry I have found it extremely difficult to master all the complexities involved.
The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill states that it
is intended to simplify the complex structure of supplementary allowances.…
I read the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum and I also read the Bill. After doing so, I went to the Library and got a copy of the Press notice which was of considerable assistance to me.
I wish to congratulate the right hon. Lady the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary upon having found a solution to a problem which has been of concern to many of us and to which previously no satisfactory solution had been found. I refer to bringing together, so far as is possible, the old workmen's compensation cases and the new cases covered under the Industrial Injuries Act. I realise that difficulties still remain, but the formula which has been found and the solution contained in this Bill constitute probably as good a solution as can be found, making allowance for all that has gone before and for the complete difference in concept of the two schemes. This is a matter on which the Government certainly deserve congratulations.
I have only one or two points to raise about the Bill itself. I understood from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that the vast majority of the old workmen's compensation cases would be covered by this Bill. There are, I believe, a small number of "totals" who will not be included in the Bill, for reasons which the hon. Gentleman explained very clearly and which I understand. What I am not quite clear about is this: these "totals", although not included in the Bill, of course suffer from the loss in the value of money which has occurred since the last Bill raising the supplements was introduced. I am wondering whether it is contemplated that any provision should be made at least to bring up the supplements of those who will not benefit otherwise from the Bill to make up for the loss in the value of money which has occurred since the supplements were last raised.
My second question is about the administration of the major incapacity allowance. The criteria for entitlement to the major incapacity allowance is contained in Clause 1(5) which refers to a person being
totally incapable of work and likely to remain so incapable for a considerable period.
I think the House will be grateful for a little further explanation of how those words are to be administered. What is to be the method of making a claim? Will it be entirely the responsibility of the Workmen's Compensation Board to assess these claims? It is, I know, a complex and difficult matter, but I am not quite clear from the explanations which we have had whether all "totals", except for the very small minority referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary, will be covered. It would be helpful to have a little further explanation about that.
Another point that I should like to raise concerns the "partials". I am sure it is right that we should go further than including simply the "partials" on maximum as we have done hitherto. The hon. Gentleman said that probably some 10,000 additional "partials" would now be entitled to compensation under the new scheme. I shall be grateful if the Minister will say how those additional 10,000 "partials" are to be notified of their rights and what steps are going to be taken to bring them into the scheme. I am sure the trade unions and other bodies will play a great part in this, but we should like to have a reassurance about it.
The other point I wish to raise relates to a matter which has already been raised in the debate concerning those who have commuted their pensions for one reason or another. I hope that the right hon. Lady will be able to say something about that, although I appreciate from my own experience that it is an extremely difficult problem and one which we were not able to solve.
My final point is on the timing. I appreciate the complex and difficult operations involved in implementing a Measure of this kind. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said something about the measures that must be taken to bring the Bill into operation as soon as possible. I hope very much that even during the passage of the Bill through the House it will be possible to take some of the preliminary measures, which are many and complex, at least to the extent of setting in hand an inquiry about those who are being brought into the scheme for the first time. I echo the words of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) that we on this side of the House congratulate the Government on bringing in the Bill, and we shall certainly do all we can to assist its passage as quickly as possible.
Since 1948, and perhaps even years before that, we have been making representations to successive Ministers of Pensions and National Insurance to have benefits provided for those who are commonly called "part-difference" men. At long last we have a Minister who has the courage and tenacity to introduce a Bill which will do that very thing. I should like to add my own congratulations to those already accorded to the Minister and her colleagues on bringing the Bill forward so early in the new Session. This is a good Bill, with one main exception, with which I will deal in a moment.
The class of men for which the Bill caters have been over the years the poorest of a very poor group in the industrial community. These men received their injuries as a result of accidents in industry when wages were very low and short-time was the rule rather than the exception. Pre-accident earnings were the criteria used for fixing part-difference compensation payments. At a result, no matter how serious or permanent the injuries were, in most cases the partial benefit was very low.
I should like to take up the word "token" which was used by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. My hon. Friend said that for people below the 5s. mark there were token payments to keep them on the books for compensation purposes, but in 21 years' experience in the coalfield, negotiating on behalf of the men, I never found a case where any man was kept on the books by a token payment for compensation purposes. The old pre-1937 coal owners got rid of their responsibilities the very moment wages were increased. It is proof of that that when wages began to be increased immediately after the commencement of the war there were many men in Derbyshire who were receiving 5s. or less compensation and in the first wage increase in 1941 and the Greene Award of 1942 the whole of that 5s. for partial compensation disappeared in the company and in the coalfield where I worked. We therefore collected immediately a great number of those whom we now term "latents". I therefore suggest to my hon. Friend that no employer was so charitable as to keep up his responsibilities for one moment longer than the law required of him.
As I have said, this is a very good Bill, with one main exception which has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Bernard Taylor). This is in paragraph (c) of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum which my hon. Friend quoted. I cannot see any justification for the 5s. base figure. I have searched through compensation law and I cannot find any precedent where a base figure has been inserted in an Act for the purposes of assessment. I hope and trust that the base figure will be seriously looked at.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield has already quoted a perfect example with the differential in part-difference compensation at 2d., that is, the difference between 5s. 1d. and 4s. l1d. This proves beyond doubt the injustice of a figure of 5s. In the case which my hon. Friend mentioned the two people had sustained exactly the same injuries but the pre-accident earnings of one were slightly lower than those of the other and as a consequence he is now left out of the benefits payable under this Bill.
We made representations time and again to the last Government and we were always told that nothing could be done for these people, but what we have tried to get successive Governments to do is to create some equity in the compensation benefits payable to victims of accidents in the past. I hope that my right hon. Friend and her colleagues will take this suggestion back. I must reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield said—that the only sensible base for the Clause is a base of 1d., assuming that it is not possible now to deal with the latents. If the base were 1d. it would be all-embracing and we would include all beneficiaries, down to 1d., under the present compensation law. If my right hon. Friend could provide for this I am sure that all industry and particularly all people on compensation would be very grateful to her.
I had a telephone conversation with my compensation agent the other day and he said that after reading the Bill his hair had turned white overnight because he had seen the base figure of 5s. in this Clause. The trade union compensation agents in my area are terribly worried about this base figure. They have impressed upon me the urgency of my right hon. Friend thinking again about it and seeing whether anything can be done. If anything can be done I am sure that she will do her best to cater for this group of people.
My other great disappointment is that the Bill does not cater for the "latents" I quite appreciate the tremendous difficulties which my right hon. Friend and her colleagues would have to face in picking up and bringing the "latents" into a compensation Measure at this time. The problems are enormous. I would not dispute the figure of 200,000 which has been mentioned, but I am convinced that, if the categories were sorted out correctly, it would be nearer 60,000 than 200,000 for those who would benefit under a Bill. I speak with a fair amount of experience in these matters, and I think that that is probably right.
I shall not weary the House with figures, but here are two examples of "latents "both known to me personally. One of them had his accident at my own local colliery and still works there. He was a coalface worker and his accident occurred on 13th December, 1937. Both these examples come from the time when wages were comparatively low just before the war. The accident resulted in the amputation of his left hand above the wrist.
He is now on light work. In 1963, he received only occasionally any part-difference, and a very small part-difference at that. Under the Industrial Injuries Act, his benefits at this moment, taking as the criterion the only other cases of comparable injury, would be a disability pension of 60 per cent., that is, 81s., colliery supplement of 27s., and special hardship allowance of 54s.—a total benefit of £7 2s. Because he had his accident at that unfortunate time when wages were low, that man is not in receipt of a penny compensation for the serious permanent injury he received.
My other example is even more far-reaching. An underground worker at Alfreton Colliery in Derbyshire had an accident on 10th August,, 1939, resulting in a fractured leg and amputation of the left arm. The House will agree that those are very serious injuries. He returned to work as a telephone operator underground. He is in receipt of no part-difference, and he is only 59 now. Under the New Act, again using the same criterion, his assessment would be 90 per cent., that is, £6 1s. 6d., with a colliery supplement of 40s. 6d. and special hardship allowance of 24s., according to his scale—a total of more than £9 a week benefit. Up to this moment of time, he has not drawn a penny benefit under the old compensation law.
These two examples prove beyond doubt that there is grave need to look seriously at the problem of the "latents," the poorest of the poor group in our industrial set-up. I could quote many more examples, but the two I have given serve to show that these men are the real victims of bad compensation laws in the past. At long last, we have before us a Bill which, though it will not correct things completely, will assist them greatly in their lives.
I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend and her colleagues will soon be able to tell the House that they can do something for the "latents" who—I say it again—are in a serious plight. I must take issue with my hon. Friend when he suggests that there are only a few of them suffering hardship. I could bring him a file as big as the Dispatch Box of cases in my own county all involving people who are suffering grave hardship as a result of permanent injury but who are receiving no compensation at all.
I trust that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind what we have said on this matter and assure us that she will look again at the 5s. base, and I reiterate my hope that she will very soon be able to tell us that she is doing something about the latents.
I was interested in the remarks made by the Minister of Education and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Sir E. Boyle) in discussing the Teachers' Superannuation Bill earlier this morning. The Minister said that the subject was tedious and dry as dust, and he went on to describe the human problems involved. The right hon. Member for Handsworth said that it was not a subject which attracted the attention of the Press. All hon. and right hon. Members present now will agree, with no disrespect to the Minister of Education, that his remarks would be more appropriate to this subject than to the one he was discussing then.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) for the admirable way in which, as Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, he introduced this difficult subject. I extend my congratulations to the hon. and learned Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe), who spoke so admirably and, obviously, was influenced by the experience which he, like me, had of the valleys in South Wales. All speakers, with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples)—I mean no disrespect to him because, after his experience in the Department, he has been much influenced by what he learned there—have been influenced by our experiences in the coal mining industry. I say at once that not only do I represent constituents in the coal-mining industry, but the union to which I belong, the Transport and General Workers' Union, is closely involved in this subject because it is not only in mining that these questions arise.
No one who has been a Member of the House for ten years or more can fail to be pleased at the presentation of the Bill. I know that I do not speak for this side alone when I say that. Congratulations have come from the other side as well. I must add that, while we were dissatisfied, during the years I have been a Member, with what was done in the cases which have been put forward time and time again, I have been grateful for what was done by the previous Government through the Parliamentary Secretaries and Ministers of Pensions and National Insurance. I shall touch on that again later.
All my hon. Friends present can recall occasion after occasion when we have got to our feet in the Chamber and exposed some of the anomalies which have arisen as a result of the different approach to industrial injuries and diseases initiated by the legislation of 1946. A fundamental change took place then and the criterion of loss of earnings was replaced by that of loss of earning power. I shall not weary the House by dealing with the problems raised by the pre-1946 legislation, save to point out that one of the gravest faults was that of retrospection, when one had to calculate backwards, as it were, in an almost hypothetical situation, in order to assess what was due to a person under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. The procedure was quite farcical.
No one with any knowledge of the subject will wish to go back to the old yardstick of loss of earnings, but the difference of treatment thrown up by the initiation of the 1946 and 1948 legislation itself brought about great hardship because of the disparity of treatment. This is the sort of anomaly which has worried successive Governments since 1950. For years we have been told by successive Ministers—and I say this in no disparaging sense—that the two systems could not be mixed, that one could not be taken over by the other, that the Industrial Injuries Fund could not be held liable for the financial obligations of employers and insurance companies and that there was an important issue of principle.
Of course there is an important issue of principle here, but perhaps I differ here, in part at least, from hon. Members opposite. The important difference of principle as we saw it on our side of the House was that, as a result of the introduction of new legislation, we had two sets of people suffering from industrial injury or disease but being treated differently according to whether they came under the 1946 Act and subsequent legislation or under the workmen's compensation legislation. We had the farcical position of people in the same country receiving entirely different treatment. As many of us know, a man could be enjoying benefits under one set of legislation when his next-door neighbour received much lower benefits under workmen's compensation provisions. We thought that this was wrong and that this was the issue of principle.
Nevertheless, let it be said straight away that the principles have been breached by Ministers in the Tory Administrations which preceded this, and in our opinion quite rightly breached. On one occasion the then Minister of Pensions, the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), defended his action in breaching these principles. In 1956 he said:
I stress that, because I will probably carry the House with me in saying that we ought not to put on the Industrial Injuries Fund —that is to say the contributors to that Fund —a charge in respect of an injury not within the scope of that Fund, except where we are really satisfied that some real hardship or real injustice arises. In other words, we ought not to do this merely to obtain exact symmetry or equality, but only where there is a point of substance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1912.]
He went on to do precisely what he was warning us against, and he carried the House with him. We certainly approved of his action. However much he tried to cloud his action with such sophistries—and I do not say this in any unkind way—the truth was that the Industrial Injuries Fund was being asked to support the increase being given to the categories then covered by the proposal. Such action may have appeared illogical, and perhaps any such action would be anathema to the Whitehall or bureaucratic mind. We were not worried by such illogicality, nor were we concerned with the anxieties of the bureaucratic mind. What we were concerned with, and what the Minister of Pensions was concerned with at the time, was that there was hardship and that something had to be done, however difficult it was, to put an end to that hardship. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames on the action which he took at that time and his hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, then Parliamentary Secretary, for the action which he took later. They should not be ashamed of it in any way and should not be ashamed of offending the proprieties of Whitehall. I realise that the Minister's defence of his actions—and here again I am not being critical of him—arose from the fact that he knew full well that there were many more cases which were not covered by the proposals.
It was a proud moment for my hon. and right hon. Friends when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions presented the Bill. As has been said previously, and, indeed, quite graciously by hon. Members opposite, she has been a worthy champion of this cause for many years, as she has shown us repeatedly in her efforts to bring about improvements. I am not a lawyer. I know of no more difficult piece of legislation than that dealing with workmen's compensation. The impact of the Workmen's Compensation Act upon the social insurance Acts which followed 1946 created many anomalies. This is the cause of the present trouble. I congratulate the Minister on having had the courage to deal with it—I am not making a political point because this has been referred to by hon. Members opposite—-so very early in this Parliament and about 12 months after having taken office. I was encouraged to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary that in the autumn, immediately she took office, a fact-finding inquiry was set up to look into the matters with which we are dealing.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam referred to the first paragraph of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. It states that this Bill
is intended to simplify the complex structure of supplementary allowances and benefits for such persons provided by several enactments passed since 1948.
Like the hon. Member, I felt that we were about to be given some elucidation of this very difficult subject, but I must confess straight away that I have not found it very simple, except—and here again I congratulate my hon. Friend— that the Parliamentary Secretary helped to elucidate many points. Whether the Bill will succeed to any degree in consolidating the previous Measures I do not know, but this will be revealed in Committee. My right hon. Friend, again, is to be congratulated on having attempted to do this.
I wish to make two final points of complaint. First, I must add my word of criticism, if that is the right word, about the floor of 5s. described in Clause 1(3). I wish to be brief, but I want to appeal to my right hon. Friend to look again at this matter. I do not think that there can be as many people involved as all that, and it is tragic to consider that this figure is decreasing. The Bill is to some extent a consolidating Measure. Why not, therefore, bring in this category at once and make the consolidation complete.
In the last point which I wish to make I am encouraged by the support of the hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) and of my hon. Friends for a class of people who provide a problem which is almost intractable—the problem of those who have commuted their claims. It is not generally appreciated that the conditions in which many of these people were forced to commute their claims were such that it was virtually Hobson's choice. I will not weary the House with details and examples of the many people who commuted their claims for sums of £100, £200 or £250 in very difficult days indeed.
I know that my right hon. Friend and her Parliamentary Secretary are fully aware of this type of case and that I do not have to persuade her of the circumstances and indeed the claims of these unfortunate people upon her. What makes the position so difficult is their lack of legal status. They are virtually no longer anyone's responsibility. May I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is possible to set up a fact-finding inquiry into this category of person, to find out exactly how many of them there are, how they can be classified into categories, such categories indicating the amount paid to them and their present condition. I do not know how easy or difficult that would be, but I presume that it would be very difficult. At least something should be done to discover the true situation.
Having made those two points, I conclude by once more offering my most sincere congratulations to my right hon. Friend on a small but excellent and worthy Measure.
I have listened with great attention to the debate and have enjoyed it immensely. But I am always perturbed when both sides of the House seem to be in amicable agreement on an issue, for I feel that perhaps there is something wrong with the issue or that the House has not carried out its responsibilities in the past as it should have done.
I have been reading what has happened in the past on this problem and have been surprised at the number of occasions when both sides of the House have talked about assimilation of latent cases within industrial injuries provisions. May I add that I have been no more pleased in this debate than to hear the hon. and learned Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) on his first occasion from the Front Bench. He gave a very cogent and warm speech. I appreciate most sincerely his welcome of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary did his best to explain the intricacies of the Bill, and I congratulate him upon it I hope that the Government will take every opportunity of unwinding the workmen's compensation legislation and making it less complicated and easier to understand. Every time the Government bring in a Measure that does not remove workmen's compensation in its entirety, more confusion is created as between the Workmen's Compensation Acts and the Industrial Injuries Acts. I have had much experience of this, and I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary have not realised that there will be numerous inquiries from people uncertain as to whether or not they are to receive benefits under this Bill and who will not be satisfied that they should not be included in the Bill if in fact it excludes them.
Undoubtedly the Workmen's Compensation Acts were based on a pernicious principle. They have played an important part in destroying the happiness and welfare of many injured individuals and their families, including interfering with the future of the children. The Acts have proved iniquitous in practice and have caused misery to many. The serious injury or death of a man has resulted in the ruin or in the stunting of the lives of every member of his family. Every one of us can quote the cases of family after family whose future has been impaired because of a serious accident and the lack of proper compensation.
The hon. Member for Bebington said that society is judged on how it treats the unfortunate persons who have sustained injury. Up to the 1948 Act, except for a few supplementary measures which came into operation during the war, our society was not one of which we could be proud in its treatment of injured men.
These cases will be greatly affected by the Bill. I take it for granted that the totaly disabled will continue to receive 100 per cent. disablement pension, like any person who is registered as totally disabled under present industrial injuries legislation. That is a great step forward. But when it comes to those partially disabled and on partial compensation I am not quite so happy. When I first read the Bill I thought the minimum was to be £2 2s. 6d. plus 5s. making £2 7s. 6d. Now I understand that the figure can be up to that amount, which means that some time later we shall have the issue raised again. I hope, therefore, that the figure will prove to be the full £2 7s. 6d.
If it is to be 5s. plus 5 s., although this is a step forward, it will not be recognised as something as beneficial as these people ought to have, considering the amount of time they have suffered from injury and lack of remuneration, which, of course, varies according to the degree of injury. I hope that my right hon. Friend can give us more help about these figures of rates of benefit.
Many people sustained their injuries under the old methods of working in the mines. This is one of the things that we have frequently been critical about. I remember cases at the colliery where I worked. Men who lost an eye or injured a hand were incapable of going back to coalface work. That system of working has been abolished. We changed to conventional mining, with men loading coal by hand on to a conveyor, and with different rates of remuneration.
The amount of wages in that method was higher than for a person who was injured in the 1920s or 1930s who was on partial compensation with his 2s. or 3s. a week, who soon found that as the systems were changed, his partial compensation diminished and then disappeared altogether. It is hard to convince men in that position that we are doing something for them.
By 1948, when the new Act was introduced, the system of work was changed again, from conventional to power loading, and we now have more men on partial compensation injured from conventional mining. Because wages and rates of remuneration had changed and it could not be proved that their injury was applicable to the kind of work they were doing at the time, they, too, have been slowly but surely ground down into latent cases. These are the kind of people that I was hoping the Bill would do something to assist.
Because of the lateness of the hour, I do not want to go into the intricacies of the Bill, but I must say a few words about the 5s. and the latent cases. I do not accept that it is impossible to cater for these people. I do not suggest that it is an easy task—I know that it is difficult —but if we are to prevent progress, if because of the difficulties we do not allow fairness to operate, justice will be long delayed in many more matters than simply these two instances.
With my hon. Friends, I cannot understand why the 5s. has been included in the Bill, except, possibly, for one reason. My right hon. Friend the Minister and her advisers may be of opinion that if a person on partial compensation must go down to the level suggested, there will be numerous applications from people who, having been on the latent side, will want to establish that they are receiving some partial compensation. I hope that this is not the reason. If, to prevent that kind of person making application, we fix the figure at 5s. because there is a gap between the penny and the 5s., that would mean trying to prevent fair play and justice for these people whom we want to help.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind what has been said about this issue. I felt so strongly about it that I was inclined to criticise the Bill from this viewpoint, but I do not want, as some people do, to praise a Bill and then do my best to destroy it. The Bill itself is a good step forward, but we must not allow that step forward to be marred by something that we can overcome by being a little more generous.
Let me say something about the latent cases. When I looked at the Bill last week, I thought about some of the men at the colliery near where I live, and my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) has referred to some cases. I have clearly in mind the case of a man who lost a leg in the early 'thirties when working underground on haulage. He is now in his late fifties. As he was over the age of 21 he was not allowed to apply for reassessment. Through their workmen's compensation board, the employers compelled this person, against the wishes of himself and his family, to work below ground in the mine. He refused for a long time and no compensation was payable. But eventually circumstances drove him into the mines and he worked in the pit bottom. Except for a very short time, that man has never had a penny since his accident, although his leg was amputated just below the knee. He wears a stump, for he has not taken advantage of modern facilities for providing artificial legs. He has now been told by the new management that he is not fit to work below and has to work on the surface, and I have been informed that he has even been told that he has to wheel a barrow. How can anyone justify the treatment which this gentleman has received over the years to his satisfaction or that of any other decent citizen?
I have mentioned one case, but such cases are to be found throughout the country and not only in the mining industry. It is time that we moved forward from the attitude of 21st February, 1951, in our views on what ought to be done for men on workmen's compensation. It is no good saying that we ought to assimilate these men at some time. We are judged not by what we say, but by our actions and if we do not do something soon, it will be too late to do anything.
In spite of what I have said, I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept that I regard the Bill as a step forward. But I beg her and her Parliamentary Secretaries as quickly as possible to set in motion the steps which will allow these people in their latter few years to appreciate that we want to do something of practical help to them. If my right hon. Friend says that the time is not yet opportune, I shall not be able to agree with her as much as I would like on an issue of this kind. The Bill is a step in the right direction. Let us keep walking forward so that eventually we can assimilate into the Industrial Injuries Scheme all the men receiving workmen's compensation who want to be assimilated.
I think the whole House feels that we have had a short but nevertheless very useful debate. Before he entered on the very serious and moving passages in his speech, the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) opened on a lighthearted note, as was entirely consistent with his character, of surprise that there was so wide a measure of agreement between both sides of the House, and he felt a vague sense of back bencher's unease that that was so. I would have thought that the second half of his speech gave the justification for the atmosphere of the House, and that that was the case through all the debates on this subject since 1951.
I cannot possibly claim—and I hope that the House will accept that I even speak on this matter with very considerable diffidence in the presence of so many who know so much about it—to have as much knowledge and experience as many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, but in preparation for the debate and together with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) I have read every debate on the subject on the Floor of the House since 1951.
I recall a happy phrase used in the debate on the very Bill that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Dearne Valley. That, he will remember, was introduced by the noble Lady, Baroness Summerskill, as she now is, and the principal Opposition spokesman on that occasion was my noble Friend, now Lord Ingleby. It is always very difficult to remember the camouflage that people assume in later years. Looking across the Floor of the House on that occasion at the noble Lady, and talking about the 1951 Bill—as it then was—he said:
It is, I think somewhat like its sponsor, the Minister. It is a modest Bill, it is a useful Bill, and it is a Bill which is pleasant to contemplate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 1378–9.]
I am sure that I carry the House with me when I say that those in the House now have even more reason than did our predecessors to echo those sentiments.
As has been pointed out clearly, not least by the hon. Member for Dearne Valley, the fact that we are having this discussion at all, and that there have been so many previous discussions, has its ancestry in the decision of the present Secretary of State for Wales that the Workmen's Compensation Act provisions should be wound up, as they stood at that time, but that men receiving workmen's compensation were not to be absorbed into the Industrial Injuries Scheme.
I thought that it was symbolic of all this that there was a moment of time when the House was glad to welcome the right hon. Gentleman, who has many other duties, to listen to our discussions, and I would say to those who, drawing upon individual cases, have been understandably critical of Workmen's Compensation Act provisions, that it is possibly unwise to judge, with the judgment of 1965, provisions originally introduced many years ago and, in their day, thought to be extremely enlightened. I have a feeling that if that judgment is applied to many of the things which we do today we shall, from whatever position we may occupy in future years—above or below —not find ourselves without criticism from our successors.
But those compensation provisions, applying as they did to a claim by a workman against his employer—the basis being the loss of earnings—were often a claim against an insurance company. I want to re-echo or to buttress the exceedingly powerful query raised and subsequently reiterated by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bebington on this aspect of the matter in respect of those people who have settled for lump sum payments in previous years, whose predicament attracts the anxieties of hon. Members on both sides of the House. We shall be grateful to learn from the Minister whether she has in mind proposals to deal with those people by means of this Bill, bearing in mind the limitations of her ministerial responsibility.
If hon. Members want to go further and deeper into the difficulties of completely absorbing the two schemes, a course which has been advocated in previous years, there are few better explanations of the difficulties than those set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) in the debate on 7th March, 1958. I do not propose to weary the House with a rehearsal of them, but they are very formidable, although over the years attitudes on both sides of the House have changed.
I have a particular liking for Clause 2. If I had to single out one aspect of the Bill which I would commend more than any other, this would be the one. It affects only a very small number of people, but, even for those who, like myself, have not been and make no claims to have been closely associated with the mining industry—from which these two diseases particularly derive—know, sometimes at firsthand, the misery and discomfort which they bring and, therefore, the greater advantage which will flow when the Bill, as we trust, becomes an Act.
But I should like to raise one question on Clause 3. The difficulty of our discussions on these matters is that, if we are not careful, we have a Committee stage discussion, which is wholly inappropriate. Yet, as has frequently been said, these are highly complicated provisions and the Bill itself is a complicated one. However, my question can be put simply like this. I can understand why the Minister seeks power under Clause 3 to extinguish a right to an allowance under the Act. I can understand the need for adjusting rates where more than one is payable. I am sure that we all understand this.
I hope only that, when the scheme is drafted, the Minister and those whom she must, in such technical matters, necessarily lean upon will be particularly careful to make certain that the drafting is not such that, in the end, a very small number of people is actually penalised. It is so easy in these matters, when a right is extinguished, to find. because of the maze of drafting through which the skilled advisers have to find their way, that—completely inadvertently and with no one's intention: for purely legal reasons—somebody is actually worse off.
As a lawyer myself, I have a horror of anything going wrong in this way and a strong fellow feeling for those who would like to make all these matters simple, easy and straightforward to understand. I am certain that the lawyers would like to do that in this respect, although it must be said that there are other matters in which, if it were only realised how easy the law is, people would not employ lawyers.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary, to whom I should like to pay a very warm tribute for the expert way in which he introduced the Bill, made a perfectly frank admission—which we do not for a moment hold against him—namely, that there was a measure of rough justice in all this. I accept that and I think that he in his turn—both from his present experience and from his previous experience as a back bench Member—will accept that whenever there is a measure of rough justice there is also a measure of anxiety and sometimes resentment on the part of those who find themselves just "outside the rough". There has been some reference to this point today.
If the Opposition are supporting a Bill, as they are today, some responsibility falls on Opposition Members too. If we are supporting rough justice, we must also measure and accept the anxieties and, sometimes, resentments which result. Some of the problems were mentioned extremely cogently earlier. As a very junior hon. Member, I would add that I have read all the debates on this subject in the House since 1951, and I have not read one report in which the name of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Bernard Taylor) does not appear. He, if anyone, has the right to claim to have been absolutely consistent throughout in the representations which he has made to Governments of all colours.
I am equally certain that the House would like to know more from the Minister about the numbers of what are called "latents" who are in existence. I come fresh to this matter, but I do not recall the figure of 200,000 being mentioned previously. As the right hon. Lady explained in a helpful intervention, this arises from an inquiry which originated as a result of representations being made to my right hon. Friend the then Minister and continued later, but the House has not had a previous opportunity of going into the subject. That, of course, entitles the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to considerable respect for the argument which he adduced about the difficulty of lessening the complicated terms of the Bill.
I welcome the neat provision of Clause 1 (4,b).The House will be grateful for the way in which that has been drafted, linking the disablement rate and the much simpler provisions which flow from that in terms of the future movement of benefit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) mentioned that the advantages of debates in the House is that they achieve publicity for the subjects being discussed. It may be that the subject matter today appears as dry as dust, as the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) pointed out when referring to the terms of the Bill from the technical point of view. This publicity is of advantage because it may enable a number of men who would not otherwise appreciate that they may have rights under the Bill to make the appropriate inquiries. I understand that those who are in touch with, for example, their unions will be well serviced in this respect. But it might be helpful if the Minister would say what plans she has for making the provisions of the Bill more widely known. We would always regret if, through sheer inadvertence on our part, men who had entitlement to benefit lost the occasion for doing so, particularly since for so many of them time is running out.
I reiterate what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beb-ington. The Opposition will do everything possible to assist the Minister in the passage of this legislation and in the appropriate examination of schemes made under it. However, if the Opposition appears, purely technically, at a later stage to be praying against something, that will, of course, be the only device at the disposal of my hon. Friends and I for giving publicity to any factor involved. That is well understood in the House but it is not always understood outside. With that purely technical reservation, the Minister may be certain that she will have the fullest assistance of the Opposition.
The number of persons concerned under the provisions of the Bill, taken against the population as a whole, is small. The size and importance of this legislation taken against some of the great national and international matters we debate may be considered by the cynic to be small and minimal. Nevertheless, its effects on the community—however small the section of the community and however unimportant any one member of that section may seem—are of great importance. It is when dealing with a subject of this nature that I believe that the House of Commons is at its best, and it is a privilege for all of us to take part in this type of debate.
I am very grateful for the reception given to this Bill by both sides of the House. The hon. and learned Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) deserves the congratulations of us all. I only wish that more people had been present to listen to him. He gave us his background, and in everything he said he showed that he had an understanding of and a sympathy for the men for whom we on this side have been so concerned, at least in my time in the House, for 20 years. I understand that this is the first time the hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken from the Front Bench. I hope that we shall see him there often, and we look forward to his taking part in further debates involving the work of our Department.
He asked what the cost of the provisions of this Bill will be. We reckon that for a complete year the additional cost to the Industrial Injuries Fund will be around £1,140,000. He reminded me that at some time when I was on the Opposition benches I had said that this was a cost that the employers or the insurance world should carry. Looking back, I have no doubt that I would say that and, as has been mentioned today, other people took the same line, but my recollection is that I said that since we could not get those people to do so, the only other source from which we could get money to do justice to those whom we have in mind today was the Industrial Injuries Fund. That is the Fund we shall use to carry out the present provisions, and the Fund that has been used since 1951. Indeed, the special-hardship allowance and the constant-attendance allowance have been paid right from the inception of the Industrial Injuries Act in 1948.
I shall deal, first, with what are, perhaps, smaller questions, and then come to fundamental points raised on both sides of the Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Bernard Taylor) who, at one time, was a Parliamentary Secretary in this Ministry, and who, in every debate on National Insurance, has played an important part and has benefited the House by his great wealth of experience in these matters, has today once again shown his concern for these men. He asked whether the totally incapacitated would in future be linked to the 100 per cent. industrial injuries. That is exactly what one of the provisions in this Bill does. It means that whenever there is an increase in the 100 per cent. rate for industrial injury, the totally incapacitated will benefit at the same rate.
My hon. Friend also asked whether any existing "partials" who are now receiving £2 7s. 6d. will get any increase under the Bill. They would not get any increase, but any who are getting £2 2s 6d. —and I do not need to explain this to my hon. Friend—will remain as they are; they will not lose 5s.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) asked who the totally incapacitated were who would not get any increase under the Bill. They are the men with the pre-accident wives—"pre-accident" seems an awful description; but men who had wives before they had their accident have 10s. more. To make it more clear, let me say that at the present time the 100 per cent. industrial injury payment is £6 15s. The man with the pre-accident wife already has £6 15s. —the extra 10s. The man without a pre-accident wife has only £6 5s., so that these men will benefit to the extent of 10s.
I think that covers most of the smaller questions that were raised on the Bill. I come now to the statements which have been made about lump sum payments and the "latents". My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, when moving the Second Reading, dealt fairly fully with the question of the "latents" and the difficulty presented to us in any attempt to do anything, at least at this stage, for them. There has been some doubt expressed about their number. I do not think anyone could have had any idea of the number until the inquiry was carried out. It seems from the inquiry that the number may be around 200,000, or even up to a quarter of a million, but we just do not know. We know that it is a much greater number than any of us had ever thought of before.
A question was raised about the lump sum for those who commuted compensation and perhaps had not got their due even in a lump sum because a firm went into liquidation. All of us, particularly those from industrial areas, will have heard the complaint time and again that even those not in that position received a lump sum payment under duress. They often accepted it because of hardship in their homes. I am glad that it is no longer the practice to commute a war disability pension into a lump sum, although there, of course, there was fairness in the amount given. From my own experience, I understand very fully the feelings of some hon. Members on either side of the House on the question concerning the man who commuted his compensation in favour of a lump sum payment.
The Parliamentary Secretary outlined the very serious difficulties and problems which face us in trying to deal with the "latents", but the problems which would be presented in trying to deal with those who received lump sum payments would be even greater. We would have some difficulties and there would be added difficulties and problems if we wanted to do something for those cases. To give an example, how are the rights and wrongs of a case to be distinguished at this late stage without readjudication? If there is readjudication, the medical assessments are almost impracticable because there is complete lack of documentation in these cases. It is not that we have not looked both at the question of "latents" most seriously and at the lump sum cases most seriously, but at this stage we have not found a way in which to deal with any of these cases, even the most glaring of what in some instances my hon. Friends have called injustices.
I hope that once the provisions of this Bill are in operation we shall gradually gain experience in dealing with many of these matters. It may be that through that experience, which will take some time before it builds up, we might find some way of at least giving some help to the kind of cases which have been mentioned in this debate today. That is our intention at present.
Before my right hon. Friend leaves that point, can I take it from her that some form of inquiry has already been made into this, or that she will promise some inquiry in the future?
We have not carried out any inquiry in regard to commutation for lump sums, but we think that from the workings of this Bill when enacted we might be able to do something. I can assure my hon. Friend that if an inquiry is necessary we shall conduct one.
I want to issue this warning. All my hon. Friends will be aware of the amount of work that my Department is involved in at present, not only the work that has had to go into the preparation of this small Bill, but the work involved in the preparation of the Bill which we hope to present just after the new year—the Bill dealing with earnings related benefits—and the work which is going into the general review. If we put any more work on to our people, I can see a breakdown occurring in the job that we are all anxious should be done. I give the assurance that we shall watch the workings of the provisions of the Bill most closely to see how it will help us in the future, particularly in dealing with the worst cases among the latents and perhaps—this is all I can say; I can give no guarantee today—with some of those who commuted their compensation for lump sums.
Can my right hon. Friend say whether any of those who commuted their compensation for lump sums are possibly included amongst those who filled in the forms which were sent out to make inquiries about the latent cases?
My right hon. Friend referred to lack of documentation in regard to those who have commuted. I think that all those who commuted had to go before the registrar of the county court for approval or otherwise. In that case there would be documentation.
My hon. Friend is quite right in saying that they went before the courts. When I speak of documentation, I mean specifically medical documentation, not registration of the lump sum payments.
I think my hon. Friends will now appreciate the difficulties facing us. I have never been one to say that because there are difficulties nothing will be done. My attitude has always been, if there are difficulties, that if it is humanly possible to overcome them we shall do so. It would be quite wrong of me in winding up this debate to tell my hon. Friends that in a very short period of time we can find solutions to all the problems they have raised this afternoon.
I come to the last point before I deal with the nature of the scheme and with the publicity measures we shall use. My hon. Friends have expressed regret that the scheme is to be confined to men receiving 5s. a week compensation or more. I listened very carefully to everything that my hon. Friends said on this matter. I am always conscious of the first-hand information which they have on these matters. Like myself, they live in mining villages and they see their constituents every weekend and during the Recesses. Of course, I appreciate that this matter does not affect only miners. Some of my hon. Friends have raised the question of the man with 5s. 1d. and the man with 4s. l1d. There may also be cases of the man with 5s. 6d. and the man with 4s. 6d. I have been very impressed by the weight of the argument presented by my hon. Friends on this matter. I have to say, though, that a reduction in this figure raises formidable problems—I think my hon. Friends will understand this—because of the necessity to exclude the latent cases at this stage. That is why the 5s. limit was put in, to try to get some justice between what might be classed as the latents.
I am dealing with a very important part of my speech and I would rather complete it.
I want to emphasise that a reduction in this figure raises formidable problems because of the necessity to exclude latent cases. However, I promise that I shall study this matter between now and the next stage of the Bill. Having looked at it previously and having listened to the representations that have been made, I think that I can go so far as to say that I am optimistic in the matter. However, I know my hon. Friends will appreciate that I cannot say any more than that at this stage.
Now I come to the question of the scheme. The House will be aware that the scheme will have to be presented in Regulations and that those Regulations will require an affirmative Resolution. Since they require an affirmative Resolution, an opportunity will be given to hon. Members on both sides of the House to raise any questions they wish. The Compensation Supplementation Board will be working out the scheme. The Board already has a great deal of knowledge in this field, and I have no doubt that that knowledge will be of great assistance in getting the scheme off to a good start and enabling it to work smoothly. As has been said, there are rough edges, but as the scheme proceeds and we get more and more knowledge we trust that these rough edges will disappear.
The hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam and for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) asked 'how we can ensure that everyone who should benefit under the Bill will know about it. First of all, we hope there will be about 10,000 new awards. Those who already have an award will have no difficulty at all. For the 10,000 new awards we are planning to begin inquiries from employers for the further information needed about the existing cases—so that we should not have any difficulty with these—and we shall also ask certain large employers to assist us by identifying possible beneficiaries under the new provisions. We shall do this while the Bill is going through the House. In other words, we shall not wait until the Bill is on the Statute Book before the job is done.
I know that the National Coal Board will be one of the employers most involved but there are others, as has been said in the debate. I am quite certain that we shall get from the employers the same co-operation as we have had from them in getting the information that has made it possible to bring this Bill before the House. We will also see that as soon as the Royal Assent is received and a commencement Order is made, claim forms will be made available in local offices and also issued directly to prospective beneficiaries whose names and addresses have been supplied. I hope that these measures taken together will bring our Scheme before all those who will benefit from it.
The right hon. Lady has dealt very carefully with all but one of the points raised in the debate. Can I ask her to deal with the one she appears to have omitted, that is, my suggestion that the Government, though probably not her own Department, should look closely at the possibility of legislation for compulsory insurance in respect of common law claims so as to avoid some of the hazards which have attended some compensation commutation cases?
The hon. and learned Member is quite right. This is not a matter for my Department, but it is a matter to which I understand some thought has already been given. I readily give the assurance that the hon. and learned Gentleman's comments will be passed on to the right quarter.
It was only in July, 1964, that my predecessor gave a promise to representatives from the T.U.C. that an inquiry would be started on the subject matter of the present Bill and here we are, a little over a year later, discussing the Second Reading. The credit goes to a number of people. It goes to the employers who have co-operated to a great extent in providing the information. It goes to the T.U.C. and the individual unions who have also worked very quickly in giving us the information which we desired to have from them. It is only because both sides of industry have co-operated so well that it has been possible for us to get this Measure before the House. But even with all that cooperation, like my hon. Friend I have also to thank the officials in the department in my Ministry who are dealing with this matter.
This was not an easy job. Even when the information was brought to them they had a great deal of meticulous work to do. I feel that they have done it very speedily and have brought forward what a number of people feel is a rather complicated Measure but one which in the end will simplify the comparisons between industrial injury cases and the old compensation cases.
I am glad that the Bill has had such an easy passage on Second Reading. I hope that we shall have the other stages of the Bill brought forward as quickly as possible, because we wish to have the Bill on the Statute Book before the Christmas Recess and we hope to be ready to bring these provisions into operation by the first week in March.
The Bill deals with a very human problem. All of us who know these cases realise that although the Bill affects only a small proportion of the population of these islands, many of those affected have been living under a sense of injustice since 1948, and for those 10,000 at least we hope that we shall have got rid of this sense of injustice. As for those for whom we have not been able to do anything in this Bill, we hope that the workings of its provisions in the future will help us to help them.