Industrial Noise and Industrial Deafness

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:19 pm on 11th March 1983.

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Photo of Mr Michael Welsh Mr Michael Welsh , Don Valley 2:19 pm, 11th March 1983

The reason is probably that after the age of 35 there are only six months in a year.

I am grateful for the Minister's comments about deafness during the previous debate. Deafness is not accepted as the evil that it is. I am reminded of the story of the gentleman who took a blind lad to the circus. Afterwards he was asked whether he had enjoyed it and he said "Yes, but I felt sorry for those who are deaf and who could not hear the beautiful noises of the animals." It shows that the incapacitated think seriously about others, but generally deafness is not accepted or talked about as much as it should be.

My right hon. Friend quoted the words of the Minister of State for Health and Social Security during that Adjournment debate. He said: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the recommendations that the council makes when its review is completed will be looked at with care and sympathy by the Government."—[Official Report, 14 December 1981; Vol. 15, c. 136.] I am sure that that is true. I have every sympathy with the Minister of State, and I am sure that the Government think the same way. The report has now been out for four months, and I am grateful for its recommendations. It still leaves much to be desired, but, as the Secretary of State said earlier, one cannot move the world overnight. Its recommendations are welcome, and I hope that the Government will accept new recommendations that will improve the lives of those who suffer from industrial deafness.

An important recommendation in the report is the extension to the "immediate vicinity". It has been extended to any occupation involving work wholly or mainly in the immediate vicinity of the prescribed process. The recommendation will bring many individuals into the scope of the regulations. Another recommendation is that the additional audiological examinations should not overburden the National Health Service, but the Health Service has given an assurance that it will not be so overburdened. It is strange that justice has not been done to those who suffer from industrial deafness because audiological examinations could not take place. They were considered to be too heavy a burden on the NHS. This recommendation goes some way to alleviating the problem. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should support the recommendation.

The fourth recommendation is that a claimant should be required to have worked for 10 years in the prescribed occupation. That is still not good enough, but it is a step in the right direction. Canada, the United States of America and European countries have no time limit. In those countries, if one becomes deaf in the first six months of employment, one will receive the industrial deafness benefit. Britain is the only country in the free world that has such a long time limit. If the Government accept the recommendation, 20 years will be reduced to 10. I trust that the Minister will pass those comments on to the DHSS, and to the Minister responsible for implementing these recommendations. A total of 10,500 claims have been made for industrial deafness benefits in the 25 months to 29 September 1981, but only 1,850 were accepted. That was due to the application of the infamous 20-year rule. When the period is reduced to 10 years, many more people will come into the net. I want to see justice done. That is one of the main features of the recommendations. Britain should get nearer to Europe in the way in which it treats its workers.

The fifth recommendation is vitally important because the period from leaving a prescribed occupation within which a claim must be made should be increased from 12months to five years. That was explained by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster. That is good. This provision will allow claims to increase by 10 per cent. Justice will be done to those claims. The nation should be pleased and the Government proud to accept a recommendation of that description.

The sixth recommendation (vi) provides that the DHSS should ensure that audiological testing is carried out by fully qualified people. An arrangement has been reached with the DHSS on the standard of audiological technicians and consultants. Hon. Members can be assured that examinations will be carried out by fully qualified people. It is wrong for examinations to be carried out by those who are not fully qualified. I hope that that recommendation is accepted. The 12th recommendation states that the word "permanent" should no longer appear in the statutory definitions of occupational deafness. I welcome that as it allows the well-tried practices that are employed in other prescribed diseases to continue. Doctors can re-examine the matter.

I recommend that the standing working group of the council, recommended in the 17th paragraph, should be set up. I trust that the Government will accept this recommendation. New industries and new technologies are beginning to become involved. If a council is set up, it will help to prevent deafness.

Hon. Members have waited a long time for the report by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in accordance with section 141 of the Social Security Act 1975 on the operation of the provisions for occupational deafness and on whether these should be extended. The report has arrived. I hope that the Minister will take cognisance and implement these findings as soon as possible.