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National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Amendment)

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 24 January 1979

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4.49 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to bring within the present scheme those old workmen's compensation cases who are not covered by the present Acts, including latents.
There is an old saying that there is many a slip betwixt cup and lip. I want to point out that there has been a slip here—the fault is entirely mine—because this proposed Bill is designed to help latents. I do not know who first used the word "latents", or when it was first used, but it is a well-understood description of a particular category of old workmen's compensation cases. It will help the House if I give some background.

Broadly speaking, the pre-1948 old workmen's compensation cases fall into three categories. The first category is those who are classed as "totally or partially incapacitated". In money terms, the totally incapacitated are treated on the same footing as the post-July 1948 industrial injury cases, and quite rightly too.

One cannot say with the same certainty whether the partially incapacitated are equally well off in money terms as the post-1948 cases, but I do not think that there is very much disagreement or dissatisfaction here. The second category are those who, unfortunately, in many cases commuted their claim for a lump sum payment. In other words, they settled on the basis that a lump sum payment entirely finished their claim.

It is no exaggeration to state that many of them have forgone thousands of pounds compared with what they would have received for a comparable injury under the Industrial Injuries Act 1948. Most Labour Members, and many Conservative Members, will have heard at first hand how men were persuaded to settle at what we now know to be totally inadequate lump sums. That is part of our working class folklore. The unequal struggle between an injured worker and a rich, powerful and very persuasive insurance company is also known to many.

One of the best parts of the Industrial Injuries Act 1948 was the abolition of the lump sum payments, except for assessments of less than 20 per cent. Even when a lump sum is accepted today, unlike the old cases, there is the opportunity for reassessment should the injury worsen.

I now come to the third category, commonly known as the "latents". Latents are those who, although injured, and in many cases severely disabled, cannot prove any loss of earnings. They include people who have lost a limb, an eye, the sight of an eye or a hand or foot, but because they cannot prove any loss of earnings they cannot claim anything.

A man who worked all his life in the coal industry told me recently about an incident which is still burning in his memory, although it happened 60 years ago. He remembered a man being carried across the colliery yard and was told that he had lost a leg in an underground accident. He remembers vividly the anguish of the crowd and the sight of the injured man. But what he remembers most is someone saying "Well, there is one consolation. If that man gets better, he will have a job for life".

That is what happened to many injured men at that time. By tradition, they were given certain jobs which by common consent were reserved for injured workers. In many cases, there was no loss of wages and, therefore, no compensation was paid for the loss of faculty. It did not matter that they would carry their injuries to the grave. What mattered was that the law said one had to prove loss of earnings before getting compensation. The latents, as we now know them, could not do so, and that is the way it has stayed.

It will stay that way unless we alter it. I believe that the time to do so is now. I am seeking permission to bring these men within the existing scheme, so that they will be able to claim disablement benefit and be on the same footing as the post-1948 cases.

The Government are sympathetic to the claims of the latents, but they feel that administratively it would be very difficult to bring them within the scheme. The main burden of their argument is that in many cases it will prove impossible to authenticate claims. I agree that in many cases it will be difficult, but not in all cases because many hon. Members will have had the same experience as I—of constituents being able to produce papers and documents of great age in support of one claim or another. In particular, injured workers have kept their papers, and more so those who have a burning sense of injustice. We have an opportunity to remove that grievance.

I rely upon the deep well-spring of compassion that this House always shows in matters such as this. This House has a long history of remedying such injustices. In my short time here I have seen amending legislation introduced to bring in groups of people who previously have been quite deliberately left out of earlier legislation. That was done for what were considered to be perfectly good reasons. So it is with the latents, and so it was with them in 1948.

Now is the time to continue our proud tradition of bringing in the necessary amending legislation. I hope that the House will give me permission so to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Michael McGuire, Mr. George Rodgers, Mr. George Grant, Mr. Eric Ogden, Mr. Adam Hunter, Mr. Alec Woodall, Mr. Alan Fitch, Mr. T. W. Urwin, Mr. Leslie Spriggs, Mr. James Lamond, Mr. Roy Hughes and Mr. Sydney Tierney.