§ 1.0 p.m.
§ The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Margaret Herbison)
I beg to move, in Clause 1, page 2, line 3, to leave out "subsection (3)" and insert "subsections (3) and (3A)".
It may be for the convenience of the Committee if we take with this Amendment the remaining two Amendments.
These Amendments implement an undertaking which I gave on Second Reading. During the Second Reading my hon. Friends from mining areas expressed disappointment that we had the figure of 5s. in the Bill. I promised that I would study this matter before the Committee stage. At the same time I emphasised that the reduction of the figure below 5s. would raise formidable difficulties because of the necessity to exclude the latent cases.
I have given a great deal of thought to this and I believe that the Amendments which we are now discussing will meet the desires of my hon. Friends, and at the same time solve the problem which I saw, of the need to exclude, at this stage, the latents. The first Amendment is really a consequential one and I shall use the 1898 short time I intend to to take to deal with the second and third Amendments. The second Amendment deletes that part of the Bill which limits the lesser incapacity allowance to those in receipt of workmen's compensation of not less than 5s. a week. That is what my hon. Friends wanted. The words which we propose to insert will enable any person to qualify for the lower incapacity allowance who is entitled to any weekly payment at all, whether by way of a basic allowance, or a weekly payment by way of workmen's compensation. We make it clear in the Amendment on the other hand that this payment must not be a notional payment. This Amendment ensures that anyone who is in receipt of a weekly payment which really compensates for loss of earnings will benefit. At the same time it excludes those latents who are also in receipt of a small nominal sum, whether this nominal sum is a weekly payment or one made at longer intervals. The words "notional payment" in the Amendment cover this.
The third Amendment defines what we mean by notional payments. Such a payment is one that is awarded or paid to safeguard a potential entitlement to compensation. In other words, there is no loss of earnings but the notional payment is to safeguard a potential entitlement to compensation. It is in place of a formal declaration of the employer's liability when there is no loss of earnings in the sense of the Workmen's Compensation Acts. The Amendment also gives power to provide in the scheme for payments to be deemed to be notional payments in certain circumstances, unless the contrary is proved. This enables two particular situations to be dealt with.
Almost all very small weekly payments will be notional. On the other hand there may be cases where only a few pence are payable by way of genuine workmen's compensation. That was one of the matters which worried my hon. Friends on Second Reading. It is important that the conditions for the allowance, as given in the scheme, should give the clearest guidance. As far as is possible we wish to avoid hopeless applications. I have always felt in any work that I did that it was terribly wrong to raise hopes when there was no chance at all of fulfilling them. We have tried, by the wording 1899 of this Amendment, to ensure that we shall not have hopeless applications. We also wish to avoid unnecessary burdens on the Board administering the scheme. In the initial stages of this scheme the Board is going to have a great deal of work as we think that there will be about 10,000 men, and perhaps some women, involved.
My hon. Friends may be wondering how we are going to use this power. It is intended to provide in the scheme, which will be made following the Bill, for weekly payments of below some small figure, for example, 6d., to be treated as notional payments, unless the applicant proves otherwise. We also intend to provide in the scheme that, where payments were not being made during the 12 months preceding 30th November, 1965—the date on which these Amendments were put down—or were being made at a lower rate, any increased payments after that date shall be deemed to be notional payments unless the contrary is proved.
We felt it important that there should be no misunderstanding of the nature of these Amendments. Taking the three together, I think that my hon. Friends will be able to agree that I have met the points made by them, from their wealth of experience, on Second Reading. It seems that these Amendments would improve the provisions of the Bill for a number of people.
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to the Minister for the very obliging way in which she has dealt with these Amendments. At this time last week my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Bernard Taylor) and myself were very anxious about this matter indeed. We feel, on behalf of thousands of people who were injured in days gone by and who are now receiving very small sums by way of compensation, that a load has been lifted from our minds. Every credit is due to my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friends in her Department for the admirable way in which they have dealt with the requests and suggestions made from the Floor of the House last Friday.
We suggested last week—and it seemed, on the fact of it, a very good suggestion—that the floor of the beneficiary figure should be reduced from 5s. to 1d. However, on reflection, we understand the 1900 difficulties of the Department to reduce the figure without some qualification within the 1d. and 5s. 0d. range. I do not think that many people will have difficulty in proving beyond doubt that any sum, however small—from 1d. to 5s. or from 1d. to 6d.—has been paid, and continues to be paid, as a result of loss of earnings.
As I said in the Second Reading debate last week, I was very dubious at the suggestion that these very small sums were paid as token payments to keep men from the courts. Some cases have been settled in the courts and 1d. or 3d. or anything up to 6d. has been fixed as the payment. Case law shows beyond doubt that those figures were proved to the judge by the applicant or his counsel as figures which arose from loss of earnings.
I am very pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister has changed the word "token", which was used last week, to "notional". It sounds a lot better, but in many cases it means the same. I am not too good in the use of words, but I am reasonably good at the interpretation of one word or another in a Bill. We in the mining industry have always been used to calling a spade a spade and the legal trimming up of language in a Bill very often annoys us. However, the miners' Members of Parliament and their trade union compensation agents will be very busy in the not-too-distant future in advising people who have been receiving these very small sums on how to proceed, what grounds for a case they have and what their chance of success is when they make their representations to the Board.
The onus of proof will inevitably be on the individual. I can say from experience that men who have been receiving compensation payments for a very long time have kept more records of their payments than any other men in the mining industry. They have done so because it has been necessary for them to do so. They know the manifestations of the compensation Acts. They know that in the event of a wage increase their compensation payments begin to diminish. We shall not, therefore, have too much difficulty in assisting these people to prove their case.
I await with very keen anticipation the introduction of the scheme. I hope 1901 that it will be fair and equitable. I will not say anything about the scheme because if I did I should be hopelessly out of order. However, the miners' Members of Parliament hope that its introduction will not be long delayed.
I earnestly repeat on behalf of the men whom I represent and thousands of men in Great Britain who have been suffering as victims of accidents our deepest and sincerest thanks to my right hon. Friend the Minister and her colleagues in the Department; and I must not leave out the advisers and civil servants in the Department who must have worked very hard indeed to bring such a magnificent Bill to Parliament in such a short time.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
I will not detain the Committee long, but it would be very remiss on my part if I were not to express my pleasure at the introduction of the Amendments which have been very lucidly explained by my right hon. Friend the Minister. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) in expressing appreciation at the favourable second thoughts which my right hon. Friend has had about those receiving partial compensation. It seems to me that the floor is about as low as it can be for anybody who can prove that they are receiving partial compensation payments on the basis of loss of earnings and who will be entitled to participate in the supplement proposed in the Bill.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will push on with the promise which she gave in the debate two weeks ago concerning the latents. Since that debate, I have had quite a number of letters of disappointment from the latent cases. While expressing my pleasure at what has been done for those receiving partial compensation, I hope that my right hon. Friend will push on with what she said concerning the latent cases.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Howe (Bebington)
Like those who have spoken before me, I do not want to detain the Committee for more than a few moments.
I add my voice to those of other hon. Members who have welcomed the Minister's introduction of the Amendments. She said a fortnight ago that, although she gave no express undertak- 1902 ing, she was optimistic that something could be done, and she has been able to achieve it. Hon. Members will recollect that a fortnight ago the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) said that his compensation agent had told him that on reading the Bill as drafted his hair had turned white overnight. We shall all be interested to know whether the introduction of the Amendments a few days ago has reversed the process and restored his hair to its normal colour.
My hon. Friends and I welcome what the right hon. Lady has done, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said, we share responsibility for any rough edges in the Bill, and it is good therefore to see the rough edges removed.
One point which I wish to raise is this. The fact that I am raising it indicates my failure to comprehend the Amendment. I should like to be certain about it in case something of greater consequence is involved. In paragraph (b) of the Amendment in line 27, it is visualised that the presumption of a payment being a notional payment shall arise in one case where, during the period of 12 months, the weekly payment was being made at a lower rate. I am not entirely clear what the phrase "at a lower rate" means. If it means at a rate lower than the rate at which it is being paid at the date of the application, I should have thought, from my limited comprehension of the scheme, that the presumption would be the other way. In other words, if the rate of payment had risen from a lower rate to a higher rate at the date of the application, it would follow almost automatically that at the date of the application the higher rate was in respect, not of a notional payment, but of a proven loss of earnings.
I suspect that what was in the Department's mind in paragraph (a) was to specify that in a situation in which a payment was not being made for 12 months, or where for the period of 12 months it was made below a certain very small figure, the presumption arose. The intention is not to suggest that the presumption arises when during the relevant 12 months a lower sum was being paid than the sum being paid on the date of the application.
1903 If I am right, then it might just be possible that the phrase "at a lower rate" is not as clear as it might be and that it should be replaced by some such phrase as "or being made at such lower rate as the scheme shall specify". I hope that I have made my meaning clear on what appears to me to be an obscure point and that even at this stage this doubt may be dealt with.
On Second Reading the Parliamentary Secretary made it plain that one of the reasons for not trying to do what the right hon. Lady is now doing—and no doubt it was a very small reason—was the cost of administering a much smaller allowance by a weekly order book. I should be interested to know whether the right hon. Lady has in mind any method of administering what will presumably be very small weekly payments by some less expensive method, using the words in the technical sense, than the weekly order book. I know that special hardship allowances, which are comparable, are paid often by weekly order book. But the right hon. Lady will recollect that the Select Committee on Estimates in its Fourth Report, published on 14th July this year, discussed, without arriving at any conclusion, the possibility of less expensive methods of payment, and it may be that this kind of case, in which the sums would be very small, could serve as a pilot case for introducing a system whereby the sums could be paid monthly or quarterly at the option of the man concerned. In some cases the amount may be so small—apart from the cost of the orders—as to make almost every other stage of the process very expensive.
I am glad that the right hon. Lady once again referred to the necessity of not arousing false hopes by a change of this kind. I express the hope that when the Amendment and the scheme as a whole are publicised, the publicity will make as clear as possible the fact that, regrettably, nothing is being done for the latents, so that, as the Parliamentary Secretary said on Second Reading, we avoid stimulating false hopes in a large number of men.
§ Miss Herbison
I am pleased that the Amendments have been accepted so readily on both sides of the Committee. I was interested in the suggestion of my 1904 hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) that in the language in the Bill and even in the language which Ministers use from the Box, it would be better if the language were used which is used in pit villages. A number of people might find these pieces of legislation much more intelligible if they were in the language to which they were accustomed, but I am afraid that such a proposition would put an impossible task on any Minister or any Department.
The hon. Member for Bebington (Mr. Howe) raised two matters. He wanted to know the method by which we should make these payments—by order book, or could we find some other way of doing it? I understand that they will be paid by postal draft, which meets the point which he made about a more inexpensive way of doing it—although sometimes postal drafts can be as expensive as having one book containing 52 payments. One has to look both at the cost of administration and at the convenience of those who are to get the payment, and we shall try to do the best we can, keeping both those points in mind.
He was worried about the third Amendment. The first part is clear. Anyone who during the past 12 months was having no payment and then suddenly gets a payment after 30th November, will have the onus of proof placed upon him that that payment is for loss of earnings. The second case is that in which during the 12 months before 30th November, 1965, the man may have been receiving a very low payment. In this case, where this payment is raised, where he then receives a bigger payment, he will have to prove that this is not a notional payment but is a payment for loss of earnings.
I want to tell the hon. Member why this is so. I have said that under the scheme which will follow from the Bill we shall take power to put down a figure, and I suggested that the figure might be 6d. and that in any 6d., or any figure below it, the onus of proof would be on the man. There may be a man who during the past year has had 2d. or 3d. and the onus of proof, when there was not an increase, would be on him to show that there was a real loss of earnings. We say that if there is increase after 30th November, the onus of proof must again 1905 be on the man, and I think that that is a sensible provision.
As I said on Second Reading, we must take the greatest care, since unhappily we are unable to do anything for latents at the present time, that there is a clear dividing line between those who are getting payments for loss of earnings and the latents. We felt that by the provisions which we had made in the Amendments we were making it absolutely clear where that dividing line was. I hope that I have cleared up the points which worried the hon. Member for Bebington.
§ Amendment agreed to.
Further Amendments made: In page 2, leave out lines 18 to 20 and insert:
either a weekly payment by way of basic allowance or a weekly payment by way of workmen's compensation which is not a notional payment;".
In page 2, line 27, at end insert:
(3A) For the purposes of a lesser incapacity allowance, a weekly payment by way of workmen's compensation shall be treated as a notional payment if awarded or paid for the purpose of safeguarding a potential entitlement to compensation and not related to any existing loss of earnings; and a scheme under the Supplementation Act may provide that—
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 2 to 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Schedules agreed to.
§ Bill reported, with Amendments.
§ As amended, considered.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Miss Herbison
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I shall detain the House for only a few minutes. I want to thank both sides of the House for the very speedy progress which this Bill has made, and I hope that when it goes to the other place it will 1906 have the same speedy progress. We desire to get the scheme ready as quickly as possible, and, naturally, we have been doing a great deal of work on it. As I said on Second Reading, we hope we shall be able to make the first payments under the provisions of this Bill in the first week in March.
The Bill is now an improved Bill, and this is entirely due to the respect I have for the deep knowledge of my hon. Friends from mining areas. It is clear, as we said on the Amendment, that now everyone who has a real payment for real loss of earnings will benefit under this Bill. Indeed, I think I must say that had we not been so keen to get this Bill before the House and to get the payments as speedily as possible we might not have had to make the kind of Amendments which we have had to make. I am quite certain that the T.U.C. itself possibly with the same knowledge as my hon. Friends would have made representations. I wish to thank the T.U.C. most sincerely, I did on Second Reading. As a result of representations which have been going on for years by the T.U.C. and by Members from the mining areas an inquiry was set up, and the final result came from the T.U.C. representations. Also, before the passing of the Bill I want to thank the T.U.C. and the employers' representatives for the very fine work they did so speedily in getting us the information which made it possible to do this.
I had a letter after Second Reading from a very old friend, a friend who has been greatly missed in this debate. I am talking about the former Member for Ince, Tom Brown. I do not think there was a Member more loved in this House than Tom Brown was. His voice was always heard in debates of the kind we have had today. I do not think anyone devoted more time or energy than he did in attempts to remove the injustices which were being experienced by the old cases. I thought that, perhaps, hon. Members who know him well would like me to quote a little of his letter. He says to me:I cannot describe my feeling of joy and gratitude when I read in the Manchester Guardian of the Bill you introduced on Friday last to give a measure of justice to what we know as the pre-1948 cases. Many hundreds if not thousands have gone to their graves suffering from grave injustice. For more than 20 years I have with you and others fought 1907 for this reform. You have been the medium through which it will take place. Good luck to you and to your Department.I am not at all surprised that Tom Brown sends his wishes to the officials of my Department. I do not think that I ever once heard him speak in this House without his giving the thanks he always felt due to them. I think that his words will express the deep feelings not only of Members for mining areas but of almost everybody from a mining area—the deep feelings they have always had for their disabled friends. All I wish now to say—I think on behalf of all of us—is, Thank you, Tom Brown; and to wish him happiness in his retirement, happiness amongst his friends in his mining town, and in his beautiful garden, which has always given him such great pleasure.
Again I thank both sides of the House and everyone who has made it possible to get this Bill through so speedily.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Howe
I join the right hon. Lady in congratulating ourselves, perhaps—both sides of the House—on the speed with which we have got this Measure though, congratulating her on the speed with which her Department has prepared it and been able to work out all the immense technical difficulties which are involved in it. It is a Measure, which really enshrines competence of a very high order, necessary to solve these problems with compassion, of which she can rightly be proud.
At the risk of perhaps moving momentarily out of order I hope I may be allowed 1908 to urge the right hon. Lady and her colleagues not to rest unduly on their laurels. The whole basis of compensation for disability, particularly industrial disability, is still riddled with anomalies. There are many schemes which still coexist, and some fall on the right side of the line and some fall on the wrong side of the line. Perhaps the right hon. Lady will not take it amiss if I urge her to press on to see whether the methods of compensation for disability, whether arising from domestic accidents or traffic accidents or industrial accidents, can be brought more closely together so that these anomalies, which any scheme produces, can be ironed out of the way. If her achievement in this Bill can be regarded, if I may use the word, as a pacemaker of what we can expect of her in the future then we can rightly expect a great deal.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.