§ 4.0 p.m
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. The Bill does not effect major changes in the schemes of national insurance, industrial injuries or family allowances; nor is it one of those several Bills which, over the years, have provided for general increases in the rates of benefit and allowances payable under those schemes. It is a more modest measure, which aims, for the most part, at securing such small improvements and adjustments as have been shown to be desirable as a result of practical experience and study of the day-to-day working of the schemes. Since Bills of this kind invariably bundle together a number of unconnected items, they tend to be somewhat complicated and difficult to understand. It may thus be desired to refer briefly to one or two of the main features only of the Bill.
I should like to mention first the improvement and extension of the allowances payable to "old cases"; that is to say, those who are disabled either totally or partially as a result of employment before the Industrial Injuries Act came into force in 1948. The allowance of 17s. 6d. which was introduced under the 1956 Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Supplementation) Act for totally disabled persons in receipt of workmen's compensation or allowances under the Special Schemes is to be increased by 15s., that is, to 32s. 6d. a week. A partially disabled man on workmen's compensation is to receive an increase of 10s. a week. Finally, the allowances paid for partial disablement under the Special Schemes are to be increased by 7s. 6d. a week. It is estimated that about 20,000 disabled persons will benefit from these proposals, and that the cost in the first full year will be over £500,000.
Clause 2 modifies the basic condition for benefit under the Industrial Injuries scheme, that the accident in question must "arise out of and in the course of" insurable employment, so that accidents which happen "in the course of" insurable employment are to be held also to "arise out of" it if they result from 759 "common risk", provided that the injured person did not contribute to the happening of the accident by any action not incidental to the employment.
Clause 5 re-casts the present provisions on retirement pension increments for wives and widows, as recommended in the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee, to whom this question was referred. The result will be to give the wife who is under 60 during her husband's deferred retirement half his increments on widowhood instead of none as at present. The clause will also allow these half-rate widow's increments derived from the husband's insurance to be paid in addition to a retirement pension on a woman's own insurance, whereas at present increments derived from the husband can only be paid with a pension on his insurance.
Clause 8 re-defines "apprentice" for family allowances purposes in the light of the change of circumstances which has occurred since the original definition was enacted in 1945. In order to return to the original concept, that allowances would be payable in respect of a young person who, because he was learning a skilled trade, was earning little and was hence still dependent upon his parents the test which has been taken is that which is applied for deciding the question of whether a person is a dependent under the insurance schemes—namely, whether earnings exceed 40s. a week.
Those, briefly, are the main features of the Bill. It will not, of course, be possible to implement all these provisions immediately. In many cases regulations have to be made, and claims have to be received and determined. It is, however, desired to bring it into operation as soon as possible, and it is hoped that the present rate of progress which the Bill has enjoyed will continue. Every effort is being made to secure that those who stand to benefit will do so as soon as possible.
The main purpose of the Bill is to make provision for "old cases" and also to make amendments and adjustments to the working of the schemes. If not a measure embodying major changes of policy, it is yet one which will benefit many people in many ways. It will, moreover, smooth out several difficulties in our complex schemes of insurance and 760 thus have a beneficial effect on their administration. For all these reasons, I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill the Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Denham.)
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for explaining this Bill in such detail and in so lucid a manner. There is only one aspect of the Bill on which I should like to comment. It is customary of course in the Ministry of National Insurance to examine the grievances, hardships and, indeed, injustices which are brought to their notice. Some of these are brought to their notice through the Law Courts and some are quite obvious—they may be anomalies. But, however they are brought, they are collected together and examined, and finally a Bill is produced. The noble Lord used the expression: "You will find that this Bill is a number of items bundled together." I agree that it is a number of items, but actually it is, as I think he will agree, a number of grave hardships in one Bill. On examining Bills of this kind it sometimes occurs to one that perhaps the wrong methods have been adopted in the Ministry.
Let us examine the items bundled together which the noble Lord listed. He talked about the "old cases". I think I am right in saying that some of the cases which come under the first part of the Bill, dealing with industrial injuries and industrial diseases, will be those partial cases of pneumoconiosis. I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me that pneumoconiosis is a terrible occupational disease. These men, who I think benefited for the first time in 1950, are to be admired, because they have served the nation so well in the pits; and furthermore, their expectation of life is very limited. This has been known for many years. Representations have been made by trade unions to amend the Bill, and finally a Bill has come to the House. But it has waited until there are other grievances and hardships to be embodied in a Bill of this size.
The noble Lord has mentioned some of these, although not in detail. There is the question of the guardianship of children by grandparents, where one parent is in prison and the other one is 761 dead. Then there is the matter of the widows under 60 who will benefit from this Bill. What I want to say, and what I hope the Minister will note for future action, is this. The men suffering from partial pneumoconiosis must be comparatively few, because while this has been considered over the last few years they have been dying. Would it not be possible in future to break up a Bill of this kind and deal with it in an ad hoc fashion? After all, "hardship" is a relative term. There are greater and lesser degrees of hardship, and not for one moment would I say whether the child of the parent in prison or the widow under 60 suffering grave hardship is the worse off. But in looking at this, I think noble Lords would agree that the old miner suffering from pneumoconiosis should not be compelled to wait until his case can be embodied in one Bill.
What I would ask is that, in future, cases of this kind which can be dealt with should be dealt with, without any further delay. I am quite well aware that an omnibus measure of this kind is much easier for the Department. There is a lot of work in it. It has to be drafted, there have to be frequent conferences, and even when the Minister comes to the House of course he has the Second Reading. All the other stages of the Bill are so much easier to conduct if all these grievances and hardships are embodied in one Bill. But I would ask that there should be a slightly different approach. When it is quite obvious that a great many people, inarticulate, many bedridden, and with no pressure group, are suffering as many people are suffering, they should be picked out and dealt with solely on the merits of their case. Then, later on, a Bill of this kind should be introduced in which the other hardships are dealt with. That is all I have to say. It is simply a question of the timing and handling of the measure.
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for the welcome she has given to this Bill. I agree with what the noble Baroness has said about horrors of the disease of pneumoconiosis. It is a really frightful thing. I will pass on to my right honourable friend the remarks of the noble Baroness about the timing of the Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.
§ Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution of December 14), Bill read 3a and passed.