Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."I had prepared an extensive brief in order to explain the provisions of this Bill, but in view of the late hour I hope the House will not take it in any way as discourteous if I briefly give the provisions of the Bill rather than go into detail. The provisions for dealing with the industrial dust diseases known as pneumoconiosis, silicosis, and asbestosis, arise from the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1925, Section 47. One of the provisions of the schemes set out in the Act is that any workman who is out of the industry for more than five years, who has not received weekly compensation in respect of injury arising from the disease during those five years, is excluded from claiming under the scheme. There is, too, in certain of the schemes, a requirement that persons in the industries covered by the scheme shall be examined each three years, and if they leave the industry and return to it after three years, they have to be re-examined; if they do not reach a certain physical condition, they cannot re-enter the industry. The purpose of this Bill is to cover what has arisen from the war. Certain men and women who have been in these industries have either been in His Majesty's Forces, or engaged in war work. But for the war and their service in the Forces or on war work, they would have remained in their normal industry, and, therefore, retained their rights under the various schemes. The intention of the Bill is to allow the schemes to be made to exclude the war years—that is, from September 3rd, 1939, until a date to be fixed under the schemes. The men would, further, be allowed to go back into the industry, or to claim compensation as though they had been in the industry during that period. The Bill has been agreed in conjunction with the British Employers' Confederation and the Trades Union Congress, and as it is to deal with a situation which has arisen from the war, I am certain that the Bill has the sympathy of the whole House. I hope we shall have its Second reading, and that the House will facilitate its being brought into effect.
It is a pity that a Bill of this description should be discussed so late. It is typical of all Governments that measures of this kind, having important medical aspects, are discussed at the most inopportune moment. All I would like to say—and I could say a lot—about this Bill, is that it is unfortunate that legislation of this kind should always be brought in piecemeal. Why the waiting period should be abolished only in the case of men who have been on war service or war employment, and not generally for all civilians in employment who have previously worked in a dangerous industry, beats me. If it is justice that men who had work in a dangerous industry, inhaling dust, consequently injuring their lungs, liable to certain complaints apart from pneumoconiosis, liable to tuberculosis— if this concession could be granted to men who have been on war service and war employment, why could it not be extended generally to all civilians in the employment? After all, industrial disease developments are slow and insidious. The whole question of a waiting period when these men must put in a claim, or lose compensation, is right or wrong. Having made that protest, I am satisfied to let this Bill go through, because, at any rate, it will be helping a certain section of the population.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr.Morgan) has entered a protest against what has happened tonight. To take an important Bill of this character at this time of night speaks very badly for the future of legislation in this House. Many of us have been about this House since 10 0'clock this morning. We have not had from the Front Bench any attempt to answer the reasoned arguments put forward by this side of the House. The Bill is deserving of better treatment. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman who introduced it, thanks to the mismanagement of the Government, has been prevented from giving a full explanation, which I know that he would wish to give. I would like to ask him questions which I am sure he would be quite prepared to answer. Can he give us any indication of the numbers of men who are likely to be concerned? The second question deals with war service, and I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would give an explanation of Subsection (3) of Clause 1 on page 2.
So far as the first question is concerned—the numbers affected—
:The hon. Member cannot speak again unless with the leave of the House.
I am sorry. Perhaps I may have the leave of the House. We cannot say what numbers will ultimately come under the Bill. The reason why it has been brought forward at the moment is that we already have a number of cases. Five have already been before the board. They are men who have returned. from the Services. There are 20 other cases who have made application for consideration by the board. Whether they will grow, of course we do not know. We hope they wall not for the sake of the individuals concerned. Subsection (2) arises in this way. A number of men may have been by reason of their war service at work in industries or processes from which silicosis or asbestosis arises. It would be unfair if these men who have been on war work in association with these industries or their previous employment without compensation were not brought within the scope of the Bill.
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether this covers Bevin boys or people taken out of the Forces to go into the mines who might quite easily get this disease?
:Yes, Sir. It covers everyone, and the result is that the five years period will cover everyone who was in the industry before the war. In the case of the Bevin boys, the five years will go on from now. There is no question of their being in the industry for five years.
Question put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Monday next.— [ Mr. R. J. Taylor.]