HC Deb 18 March 1940 vol 358 cc1642-6
65. Mr. Gordon Macdonald

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he can now place before Parliament the proposals of the Government to amend the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Acts?

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir John Anderson)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with the leave of the House, I propose to make a statement on this subject at the end of Questions. Perhaps the hon. Member will be good enough to await that statement.


Sir J. Anderson

In the light of the Debate in the House on 30th January on the subject of workmen's compensation and of subsequent confidential discussions with representatives of industry and of insurance, the Government have given further consideration to the question of devising a temporary scheme for meeting cases of hardship arising as a result of the existing scales of workmen's compensation pending the inquiries of the Royal Commission. It was at once apparent that any temporary measure, to be brought into operation speedily under war conditions, must be of a simple character, not involving any large changes in the structure of the existing system and unlikely therefore to prejudice any proposals which the Royal Commission may make when they have completed their review.

The Government also regard it as important to avoid introducing into the existing scheme, administered as it is by non-official agencies, procedure which involves inquiry as to means, such as would be unavoidable if any attempt were made to adjust benefits to the degree of hardship in individual cases. The conclusion to which the Government have come is that the best method of meeting these conditions would be to provide improved benefits for men with wives and young children—this being the class of persons among whom hardship most commonly occurs.

Accordingly, the Government propose to prepare legislation on the basis of a supplementation of 5s. in respect of the man's wife and 3s. in respect of each of his children under 15 years of age, with proportionately reduced scales in cases of partial incapacity, and subject to an overriding maximum of seven-eighths of the man's loss in weekly earnings. The supplementation will be payable by the employer who is liable to pay the weekly compensation.

One of the main problems presented by any scheme for improved benefits is the difficulty of dealing with past cases, but I am glad to say that under the scheme proposed means have been found for overcoming this difficulty, and it is intended that the Supplementation shall not be limited to cases of accident occurring after the proposed legislation comes into force. Whilst the discussions were of a confidential nature, and the Government take sole responsibility for these proposals, I am at liberty to state that I have received definite assurances that it would be the policy of the British Employers' Confederation to discourage discrimination against the employment of men with families on account of this supplementation, and that the Accident Offices Association would make no such discrimination in the matter of insurance.

Mr. G. Macdonald

May I ask whether any date is to be fixed? Is an accident to have taken place after a certified date? Is the right hon. Gentleman also quite sure that in the case of a man with children the proposal will not have the effect of penalising the employment of a married man?

Sir J. Anderson

As regards the first point, the proposal is that supplementation should be made from the appointed day at which the Act comes into operation, but such supplementation will not be confined to cases of accidents occurring after that date, but will be available in exactly the same way from that date as compensation already at that date payable. But it will probably be found necessary to fix some date in the past and to provide that accidents occurring before that date shall not attract these additional allowances. The suggested date, and the most natural date, is the day on which the Act of 1923 came into operation. With regard to the hon. Member's second question, as to whether I am certain this will not have an adverse effect upon the employment of men with dependants, this is a temporary scheme designed to carry us over the war period and until the Royal Commission have reported. I think that during the war the risk of such adverse discrimination in any event would be less than in normal times, but I have a definite assurance from the Employers' Confederation that they will discourage any such discrimination, and I have an undertaking from the Accident Offices Association that in the rates of premium they will make no discrimination between the man with dependants and the single man.

Mr. T. Williams

Will an unmarried man responsible for the maintenance of perhaps a mother or father, or other members of the family, be entitled to benefit on the same lines as a man with a wife and children?

Sir J. Anderson

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will realise where that question leads. We have tried to devise a scheme which will be capable of automatic application without vexatious inquiries of any kind. If we enter into the question of dependants, then at once we get into the region of a means test and all the rest of it.

Mr. Attlee

In the drafting of the Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman see that the House will not be cramped in its discussion by too narrow drafting; and can he give any indication as to when the legislation will be introduced?

Sir J. Anderson

In reply to the right hon. Gentleman's first question, speaking subject to correction I think that if there is no Financial Resolution the question of cramping the discussion is very unlikely to arise, because anything within the scope of the Bill, subject to the Rulings of the Chair, would be open to discussion. As to his second question, the Bill is in course of preparation, and certainly it is the desire of the Government that it should be introduced at the earliest possible moment after the Easter Recess.

Mr. T. Smith

In view of the fact that there is to be an over-riding maximum under the new legislation, will there be any legislation to deal with the method of ascertaining the weekly average wage, because many men's compensation is low on account of irregular work during the preceding 12 months?

Sir J. Anderson

I am aware of that difficulty, but the hon. Member will realise that we have fixed an over-riding maximum of seven-eighths, a very high proportion, and we have done so with that point in mind.

Mr. Thorne

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he has received a pledge from the Federation of British Industries. Will he be good enough to get into communication with the shipbuilding, engineering and ship-repairing firms, and see whether they will give a similar pledge to that received from the Federation of British Industries?

Sir J. Anderson

It was not from the Federation of British Industries but from the Employers' Confederation that I got a pledge, and the hon. Member will know that that is a very widely representative organisation.

Mr. Leach

Will the Bill be restricted to injuries, or will there be any provision with regard to death?

Sir J. Anderson

The Bill will be restricted to injuries. As the hon. Member will recollect, the death benefits already include an allowance in respect of children.