Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC PQ [Pensions and National Insurance]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [673/14-20]
Editorial comments: Timings uncertain. MT spoke at cc16 and 19-20.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2205
[column 14]

Pensions and National Insurance

Pneumoconiosis (Post-mortem Confirmation)

31. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many times during 1962 a post-mortem revealed that a man, previously examined and found to be void of pneumoconiosis by a Pneumoconiosis Medical Board, [column 15]had, in fact, the pneumoconiosis disease at death.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Lieut.-Commander S.L.C. Maydon)

I refer the hon. Member to the reply my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr Kelley) on 25th February.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Parliamentary Secretary take steps to ensure that marginal cases are given more benefit of the doubt?

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to these facts. Despite the recognised difficulties in diagnosing pneumoconiosis in life, of the 2,103 persons who had been examined by a medical board at some time in their lives and who died in 1962, only 34, that is, 1.6 per cent., failed to be diagnosed as pneumoconiotics when they had the disease; 58, or 2.8 per cent. of the total for the year, had only insignificant traces which cannot have contributed to their death, while 57, or 2.7 per cent., had no trace at all although diagnosed as such.

Mr. Dalyell

Does not the Answer accept that there is a margin of error here, and will not the hon. and gallant Gentleman give people the benefit of the doubt?

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

The Answer certainly accepts that there is a margin of error, but if the hon. Gentleman examines the figures which I have given he will see that benefit of the doubt is implied in a considerable number of cases.

Dr. Stross

Will not the Parliamentary Secretary agree, as in part he seems to do, judging by his Answer, that error is possible using the techniques that we use because we know no better ones at present? Is it not quite clear that a wider type of diagnosis is required and that the words “pulmonary disability” should be brought in rather than rely only on X-ray appearances?

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I note what the hon. Gentleman says, from his great experience in these matters, about doubt in all diagnoses, but the latter part of his supplementary question touches on [column 16]another matter about which he has a Question later on the Order Paper.

Widows' Pensions

33. Mr. B. Harrison

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many widows' pension entitlements have been cancelled for periods of over four weeks over any convenient recent twelve-month period because the widow was co-habiting with a man as his wife.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

National Insurance widow's benefit was withdrawn for four weeks or more on account of cohabitation from about 250 widows in 1959, industrial injuries death benefit from 14 widows in 1961, and war widow's pension from 31 widows in 1962.

Mr. Harrison

Does my hon. Friend really think it necessary, even with those figures, to have this printed so large on the back of the widows' pension books that these poor unfortunate people see it every time that they look at their pension book, whether they are genuine widows or are in the limited number

“cohabiting with a man as his wife”

to use the wording on the back of the book?

Mrs. Thatcher

I will look at my hon. Friend's suggestion. I had not realised that his Question was aimed at the printing on the back of the book.

Pulmonary Disability (Loss of Faculty)

35. Dr. Stross

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether he is aware of the large number of workers exposed to the inhalation at work of irritating dusts and fumes who suffer from pulmonary disability, and whether, as in the disease of businesses, he will arrange that such workers, particularly those engaged in coal mining, pottery and iron foundries, should be entitled to receive benefit under the Industrial Injuries Acts if they have worked for at least 10 years and can prove loss of faculty due to impairment of pulmonary function, although there is no X-ray evidence of pneumoconiosis.

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

No, Sir. Since pneumoconiosis is already prescribed in relation to dusty occupations, [column 17]I assume the hon. Member has in mind conditions such as bronchitis and emphysema. These conditions are common among all sections of the community and on present evidence do not satisfy the tests for prescription contained in Section 55 (2) of the Act, even in relation to the restricted group of workers mentioned in the hon. Member's Question.

Dr. Stross

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that that is a very disappointing Answer and is similar to Answers that we have had on this matter for about twenty years? If this is good enough for South Africa in gold mining and in Australia among miners, why should not we accept it here? Surely the ten-year period to which I refer in the Question would give all the safeguards needed, especially for miners, who are examined only at entry and who have to be certified fit before they are employed?

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council dealt with the definition of pneumoconiosis in its Report on that disease which was published in July, 1953, and advised against extending the definition so as to cover other respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and emphysema. No evidence has since become available which casts doubt on the Council's conclusions.

Mr. Snow

Is it not the fact that over the years the treatment of this sort of case has been changed time after time? Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that there is a real sense of grievance among coal workers that the rigid application of these rules in these cases is at variance with the human requirements?

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

If the hon. Gentleman will examine the facts he will see that we have been thoroughly consistent in the treatment of these cases. The only revision which has been made is the filling of the gap between the cases which were missed by the old Workmen's Compensation Acts and those which are covered by the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act. I think we all agree that the filling of that gap was a right and proper measure.

Mr. Dugdale

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that, although these dis[column 18]eases certainly can be contracted by other people, they are contracted particularly by people in the occupations referred to in the Question and that there is serious feeling not only among coal workers but among foundry workers about the results of this disease?

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I can only remind the right hon. Gentleman of the two conditions of Section 55 (2) of the Act, which are that the disease should be treated as an occupational risk and not common risks, and that it should be attributable to the nature of employment and that that attribution should be reasonably certain.

Mrs. Slater

If this matter was last looked at in 1953, is it not time that the whole question was again considered because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) said, diagnosis is by no means perfect? There are many people, particularly in north Staffordshire, who are obviously suffering, because they worked either at the coal face or in potting, from a lung condition caused without any shadow of doubt by the industry in which they worked. Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman call the Advisory Council together and ask it to get direct information from such people as the coroner in north Staffordshire, who is constantly dealing with this problem?

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

There are two separate issues here. One is the matter to which I have just referred, namely, the definition of pneumoconiosis and whether that definition should be extended. This was reported on by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council in July, 1953. The other is the question of the two rules in Section 55 (2). That was referred to the Beney Committee, which reported in 1955 that the existing conditions were right and should not be changed.

Mr. Mitchison

Is not the uncertainty of diagnosis and the very considerable margin of error mentioned by the Minister in answer to a previous Question enough ground for referring the definition to the Council which last reported ten years ago for further consideration?

Lieut.-Commander Maydon

I will certainly look into that aspect of the matter.

[column 19]

Dr. Stross

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

National Assistance (Wage Stop)

36. Mrs. Castle

asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance how many families in receipt of National Assistance are effected by the wage stop; how many dependent children are involved; and in how many cases the deduction from assistance under the wage stop regulation is more than £1 and £2 per week, respectively.

Mrs. Thatcher

The National Assistance Board estimates that, in December last, some 25,000 weekly National Assistance allowances payable to persons registering as unemployed were restricted in amount by reference to the recipient's earning capacity; that the total number of dependent children in families whose allowances were so restricted was of the order of 100,000; and that the amount deducted in the assessment of the allowance exceeded £1 a week in about 10,000 cases and £2 a week in about 3,000 of the 10,000.

Mrs. Castle

Does not the reply show that thousands of children in this country are being penalised because they belong to large families and their father is an unskilled worker on a low wage? By allowing this state of affairs to continue, is not the hon. Lady encouraging, or, perhaps, doing nothing to prevent, the child neglect which it is the purpose of the Children and Young Persons Bill now before Parliament to prevent? Will she raise the matter with the National Assistance Board in order to get this regulation changed, or have a word with her right hon. Friend in charge of the Children and Young Persons Bill to see whether special children's allowances can be paid under that Bill in cases where the wage stop applied?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Lady knows—because she sat through most of the debate on the National Insurance Bill—that the limit here is the amount which the man earns during work and that while he is in receipt of National Assistance he does not get more. I am sure that she and the House will be happy to know that the Board's officers are on the lookout for any special hardship so that they can give special grants to alleviate it.

[column 20]

Mr. Lawson

Is the hon. Lady aware that in some cases at least the National Assistance Board appears to reduce the scale or the classification of the person concerned? I know of a person whose classification at the employment exchange as a general labourer was changed into that of a person capable only of very light labouring. Therefore, the amount of money which he can be paid is still further reduced. I understand that in my constituency about one unemployed person in every five is in this position——

Mr. Speaker

We cannot have supplementary questions which are speeches, because we shall never get on.

Mrs. Castle

Is the hon. Lady aware that it is not a question of looking out for special cases of hardship and that by definition a family which has to be brought up on less than the National Assistance scales must be suffering hardship, because the National Assistance scales are the barest minimum for bringing up a family in standards of decency? In view of this, will the hon. Lady please look into the matter and see whether anything can be done in conjunction with her right hon. Friend under the Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords]?

Mrs. Thatcher

What the Answer shows is that National Assistance scales have risen so rapidly that they have overtaken some minimum wage rates.

Mrs. Castle

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.