I beg to move, in page 3, line 4, after "years," to insert:
or, if his normal occupation is one of the employments specified in paragraph (g) of Part I of the First Schedule to the Insurance Act, he has been engaged in that occupation for a continuous period of at least ten years and has been an insured person since 1929.'
I am grateful to the Government for introducing this Measure, and I have put down this Amendment with considerable hesitation. I considered it very carefully and have had advice as to the effect it would have, and I feel it my duty to ask the House to consider the point. Clause 1, Sub-section (3) provides for practically an indefinite prolongation of pensions and insurance for insured persons who can show that they have been insured for a continuous period of 10 years. My point affects a class of people who are very often found in an odd position in relation to the general classes of workers. Share fishermen cannot take advantage of the provision, because they cannot prove continuous insurance for 10 years, as they were only brought into the schemes of insurance in 1929. Hon. Members do not require to be told that the share fisherman has been going through a very difficult period in recent years, and I am rather afraid of the future in regard to employment for him. I cannot predict what the next few years may bring to him, but it is right that if anything can be done to safeguard his position it ought to be done. The provision which I would ask the Government to make is embodied in the Amendment, which provides that where a share fisherman can show that he has been continuously employed as a share fisherman for 10 years in such conditions that, had the law been as it is to-day, he would have been insured, and if he came into insurance as soon as the
law permitted him to do so, he ought to get full advantage of the provisions which the Government are making to deal with the vexed question of unemployment.
It has been put forward that provision is made under which the share fisherman can take advantage of the Bill in other respects. It is said that he can have an extended period of insurance, but the conditions under which this extended year of insurance are given are very difficult for the share fisherman to comply with, because he must have had four years of insurance and 160 contributions in that time. This is a very technical matter, and very difficult to argue out on the Floor of the House. I put the position to an insurance society with which I am connected, the Scottish Fishermen's Approved Society, and the reply which I received from them was:
None of our members had up to 31st December, 1934, qualified for the extended year's insurance and out of 131 members whose ordinary free period of insurance is due to terminate on 30th June, unless they surrender a stamped card for the first period of 1935, only five have the necessary qualifications for the extended year, namely, four years' insurance and payment of at least 160 contributions.
That shows that these share fishermen are in a very difficult position, and it is very difficult to see how they are to get the benefit which the Government intend they should get out of the Bill. The future is obscure for them. I hope the Minister will look upon this proposal sympathetically. It is clear, and it will not in any way upset the machinery which he is providing for insurance in general.
I am in sympathy with the objects of the Mover of the Amendment, and I hope the Minister will look kindly upon it. I rise to ask a question to which I hope he will reply. Am I not right in saying that there are other classes, such as slaughtermen, who will fall into the same category as share fishermen? I ask the Government to give to the slaughtermen, if that be the case, whatever they give to the share fishermen.
Not for the first time my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir M. McKenzie Wood) has urged the claims of the share fishermen. I would not for one moment attempt to minimise the difficulty of the times through which they are passing, but it is impassible for the Government to create under this Bill a special class who are to get a special benefit which is not available for other classes of beneficiaries.
Every share fisherman, irrespective of his contribution, will get his 21-months' free insurance period, and, during that period, he has to do eight weeks' work, or eight days in eight weeks, in order to qualify for another free insurance period. I imagine that the great majority, by finding this eight weeks' work, will be able to extend or renew their free insurance period from year to year. If they do not, my hon. Friend will realise that the scheme would be keeping in benefit for ever persons at the back of whom there are very few contributions, and with regard to whom there may be some doubt as to whether they are seeking their livelihood in this occupation at all. Many of these men, when they are not fishing, become crofters—
My information is that quite a number of them—in fact, a large proportion—do a little seasonal work on the land, and one of the conditions of getting this extended year is that, except for 12 weeks in the 21 months, the person is genuinely employed, so that under these conditions a number of them will not qualify for the extended year. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) raised a point which is very pertinent, namely, that, if this special class is to be created, there are other classes which came in subsequently, such as slaughtermen, and also persons who are called manual labour contractors. How would it be possible to differentiate between the share fisherman who came in in 1929 and the boy who was 16 in 1929 and had to wait for 10 years in order to qualify for the extended year?
May I point out that the boy of 16 is in exactly the same position as the share fisherman of 16? I am not asking that any distinction should be drawn between these two classes.
But my hon. Friend is asking that such a distinction should be drawn. What he says is that, after five years' insurance, these share fishermen shall have the right that is extended to all other persons after 10 years.
My hon. Friend must listen. I listened to him without interruption, and perhaps he will listen to my point. I do not say that I shall convince him; I am not so optimistic; but I am making my case, and am giving rasons which I hope he will appreciate. It is true that there is a, certain period, which we say is a reasonable one, for which everyone must qualify in order to gain the very generous benefit that for the rest of his life, subject to proof of continued unemployment, he will be kept, in medical benefit and insured for pension purposes. We say that any unemployed man who gets these benefits must have had a reasonable period of insurance, and we say that that period is 10 years. My hon. Friend, owing to his regard for the share fishermen, really wants to give them, after five years, an insurance privilege which is extended to others after 10 years. If that were done, it would open the door very wide, and I very much doubt whether we could maintain the position and treat 99½ per cent. of the beneficiaries in one way and this small proportion in another way. What will happen will be that in three or four years' time these share fishermen who have been kept in insurance will then qualify by satisfying the 10-years condition, and, like everyone else, subject to proof that they are genuinely unemployed, will get the benefit of the Act.
I hope the Government will consider this point again. I venture to think, if I may say so without offence, that the Parliamentary Secretary on this occasion has spoken with imperfect knowledge of the conditions of the class of people for whom my hon. Friend has been pleading. For example, he said that most of them are crofters, but I can assure the Parliamentary Secretary that only an insignificant number of these share fishermen are crofters. I am sure that, if the Parliamentary Secretary would ask any representative of the Scottish Fishery Board about that, he would confirm my statement that the large majority of these share fishermen are men living in the fishing towns, like Peterhead, Fraser-burgh, Wick and other places round the Scottish coast, who have no land at all, and are not in any sense of the word crofters. With all respect to the Parliamentary Secretary, I venture to tell him that he has based his argument upon a false point, and I would ask him to get what I have said confirmed or corrected by consultation with the Scottish Fishery Board, who know the circumstances of these men and whose arbitration I should be prepared willingly to accept.
Then the Parliamentary Secretary said that, if the Amendment were passed, it would make a special class of these men; but the converse is the truth. If we pass the Bill in its present form, without this Amendment, the share fishermen of England, Scotland and Wales will be made into a special class who will not be able to enjoy the effect of this Bill for one reason, and one reason only, and that is that Parliament did not deal with their case until 1929. All the other industries in the country got the benefits of the insurance scheme much more than 10 years ago, but the share fishermen of this country only got the benefits of the scheme in 1929. That was not their fault, and it was not their responsibility; it was the responsibility and the fault of Parliament; and it would be most unfair for Parliament to continue to penalise these men by preventing them from getting the benefits of this Bill because Parliament did not so widen the scheme as to bring them in until 1929. The Parliamentary Secretary also tried to draw an analogy between boys of 16 and share fishermen, but that analogy will not hold water. The Amendment would not say that share
fishermen would get their insurance at the end of five years, but only that they should be eligible for insurance as though the scheme had extended for five years before 1929. As the Parliamentary Secretary himself has said, at the end of 10 years from 1929 the share fishermen will be on exactly the same terms as every other industry, and all that we ask is that for the next four years they should not be penalised owing to the fact that the legislation extending the unemployment insurance scheme to them was not passed by Parliament until 1929.
The Amendment says, too, not that the share fishermen are to get benefits if they have been in insurance for five years, but only if they have been in that occupation for a continuous period of at least 10 years. Boys of 16 cannot say that, so that that is another false point on which the Parliamentary Secretary has based his case. I have now pointed out two false points on which he has based his case, and really there is no foundation for it at all. Therefore, I would ask the Minister of Health and the Government to take this matter into consideration again. If they would give us the assurance that they will consider the matter again between now and the time when the Bill goes to another place, I am sure my hon. Friend would not wish to press the Amendment. As he has said, we want the Bill, and we applaud the Government for introducing it. We do not in the least want to embarrass the Government, or to trip them up, or to score points against them. If they would assure us that this matter will be considered in another place, now that their arguments have been explained to the House of Commons and it has been possible for me to show that they are absolutely without foundation, I am sure my hon. Friend would not wish to divide the House on this occasion; but, if the Government cannot see their way to do that, I hope my hon. Friend will press the Amendment to a Division.
|Division No. 272.]||AYES.||[6.12 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Buchanan, George||Daggar, George|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. Clement R.||Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)|
|Banfield, John William||Cove, William G.||Edwards, Sir Charles|
|Batey, Joseph||Cripps, Sir Stafford||Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Lawson, John James||Rothschild, James A. de|
|Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen)||Leonard, William||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Lunn, William||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)|
|George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||McEntee, Valentine L.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||McGovern, John||Thorne, William James|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Groves, Thomas E.||Maxton, James||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Grundy, Thomas W.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)||Wilmot, John|
|Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Paling, Wilfred||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Harris, Sir Percy||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Jenkins, Sir William||Pickering, Ernest H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|John, William||Rea, Sir Walter||Sir Murdoch McKenzie Wood and|
|Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)||Sir Robert Hamilton.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Everard, W. Lindsay||McLean, Major Sir Alan|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander|
|Albery, Irving James||Fox, Sir Gilford||Maltland, Adam|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Fraser, Captain Sir Ian||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Ganzoni, Sir John||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Assheton, Ralph||Glossop, C. W. H.||Martin, Thomas B.|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Glyn, Major Sir Ralph G. C.||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Goldie, Noel B.||Meller, Sir Richard James (Mitcham)|
|Balniel, Lord||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.)||Grimston, R. V.||Mitcheson, G. G.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Guy, J. C. Morrison||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Moreing, Adrian C.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Hales, Harold K.||Morgan, Robert H.|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Hanbury, Sir Cecil||Morrison, William Shepherd|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Muirhead, Lieut.-Colonel A. J.|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Harvey, Major Sir Samuel (Totnes)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Nunn, William|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. Ernest (Leith)||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford)||Orr Ewing, I. L.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks., Newb'y)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Patrick, Colin M.|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Penny, Sir George|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Percy, Lord Eustace|
|Burnett, John George||Hopkinson, Austin||Perkins, Walter R. D.|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. Leslie||Petherick, M.|
|Carver, Major William H.||Horobin, Ian M.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Horsbrugh, Florence||Pike, Cecil F.|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Potter, John|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Clarke, Frank||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Pybus, Sir John|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.|
|Clayton, Sir Christopher||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.||Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.||Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)|
|Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Jamieson, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Reid, David D. (County Down)|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)||Reid, William Allan (Derby)|
|Cooper, T. M. (Edinburgh, W.)||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Remer, John R.|
|Copeland, Ida||Ker, J. Campbell||Rickards, George William|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univ.)||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Kirkpatrick, William M.||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quintal||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Galnsb'ro)||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir Edward|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter|
|Cross, R. H.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Runge, Norah Cecil|
|Crossley, A. C.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Levy, Thomas||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Lewis, Oswald||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Liddall, Walter S.||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Dickie, John P.||Lindsay, Noel Ker||Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)|
|Doran, Edward||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-||Salmon, Sir Isidore|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Duggan, Hubert John||Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).|
|Eastwood, John Francis||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. Anthony||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. Sir Charles||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||MacAndrew, Major J. O. (Ayr)||Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dine, C.)|
|Elmley, Viscount||McConnell, Sir Joseph||Smithers, Sir Waldron|
|Emrys, Evans, P. V.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)||Somervell, Sir Donald|
|Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Bassetlaw)||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)|
|Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Spencer, Captain Richard A.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||White, Henry Graham|
|Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)||Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Storey, Samuel||Tree, Ronald||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Straws, Edward A.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)|
|Strickland, Captain W. F.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Turton, Robert Hugh||Withers, Sir John James|
|Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|Tate, Mavis Constance||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley|
|Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Thorp, Linton Theodora||Watt, Major George Steven H.||Major George Davies and Lieut.-|
Bill read the Third time, and passed.
I beg to move, in page 3, line 32, after "sickness," to insert "or."
On the last occasion that we discussed this Bill I gave an undertaking to examine the possibility of providing maternity benefit to insured persons during their extended insurance period. It was a desire that was expressed in all parts of the Committee and one which, I think, must command everyone's sympathy, not least my own. The matter has not been without difficulty, as hon. Members opposite will appreciate more than anyone else. I am sure the House will appreciate my desire not to place a further charge on the funds of the approved societies, who have already so willingly undertaken to bear their share of the considerable cost of the benefits made available under the Bill. Another matter was that it was, and is, difficult to forecast with any precise accuracy the cost of this proposal, as it depends on so many uncertain factors, including the number of persons who would pass into the extended insurance period and the birth rate prevailing among such persons. We have made a close investigation into the finance of the health insurance scheme with all these matters in mind, and, particularly, modifications have been introduced into the Bill in connection with the setting up of the Unemployment Insurance Arrears Fund. As the result, we have found a source from which the additional cost can be met, namely, the balance of the unclaimed stamps money, which is not, under the Act, required to be paid to the central fund. Therefore, I am able to meet the wishes of the House in this respect, and at the same time not cast any further burden upon the funds of the approved societies. In this way I am very glad to be able to secure to insured persons in the extended period not only medical benefit and additional treatment benefits, but maternity benefit as well.
I should be a very ungrateful person if I did not say on behalf of Members of all parties how delighted we are that the right hon. Gentleman has found a nest-egg from which to meet this expenditure. I hope, however, that he will not feel himself so elated as to put this also on the hoardings, because he knows well that there was pressure by Members of all parties, and that he gave way on the point. At any rate, I am pleased that the cost is not coming out of the funds of the societies, because that would only mean a decline in the surplus on valuation. I have an impression that, if he remained at his post for very long, we might get the scheme back once again to the financial position that prevailed before money was taken out of it. We are grateful for the concession.
This concession shows the difference between the present Minister of Health and many past Ministers. I suggest that the others would not have been so ready to move, because they are not the keen students of public opinion that I think he is. I shall not blame him if he puts it on the hoardings. Governments yield to pressure, and it does not matter who puts the pressure on. I do not think, however, that the concession is as large as some may think. It comes only after 10 years, and that means that it is only to persons who are less likely to be at the age of giving birth to children. The great mass who will benefit by it are the group below the 10 years period—the newly married couples or those who have not had 10 years in insurance. While giving very little, the right hon. Gentleman gets all the kudos of making a very elaborate concession. In so far as it means a concession I accept it, but the thing that I welcome is the acceptance of the principle that maternity benefit is as important as old age or any other benefit within the four corners of national health insurance.
I should like to say one word of commendation as one of those who spoke on this point in Committee and urged the Minister to reconsider his decision. It is with very great satisfaction that we learn that he has conceded the point. I hope, whether it appears on the hoardings or not, no party will seek to make capital out of the concession. It is a thing that will give very great satisfaction in the industrial areas. It is an important addition, and we welcome the concession very much.
As a Scottish Member who asked the Minister to reconsider this question, I wish to join with other hon. Members in offering him our gratitude as far as Scotland is concerned. I think he has really done better than he knows, because we had a very serious report on this question from the medical officer of health in Edinburgh on the very day of the discussion. At any rate, my right hon. Friend has done the right thing, and done it quickly. It shows that he is going to occupy as prominent and as successful a position in his new office as he did in his old.
As one of the Members who asked the right hon. Gentleman to consider making this concession, I wish to add my thanks to him for having acceded to our request. I take this concession as an earnest of the very real intention of the Government to deal with the maternal mortality problem. It is obvious that my right hon. Friend has in mind the complexities of this problem, and that every opportunity will be given in all ways to try to deal with the very serious difficulties which arise in connection with it. I have found, on going round the various Government Departments, that there is a great deal of work done behind the scenes, which is not put on the hoardings and about which my right hon. Friend does not tell the House. I know from remarks which I have heard in the big industrial centres that soy right hon. Friend is carrying out a series of inquiries, and I am certain that the Government will have a policy to lay before the country dealing with this very serious problem. I regard this concession as an earnest to the country that the Government intend to deal with the question, and I cordially offer my right hon. Friend my very grateful thanks. I know that the country will warmly applaud the fact that he has acceded to the request which has been made to him from all parties.
In line 24, at the end, insert:
(3) In Sub-section (2) of Section sixty-eight of the Insurance Act for the words 'and as to the residue thereof shall be applied in such manner as may be prescribed' there shall be substituted the words and as to the residue thereof shall be applied in the repayment to approved societies of so much of the sums expended by them in paying maternity benefit in respect of the insurance of persons for the time being disentitled under Sub-section (4) of Section three of this Act to sickness and disablement benefit as is not defrayed, in pursuance of Section four of this Act, out of moneys provided by Parliament, and, so far as not so applied, shall be applied in such manner as may be prescribed.
In this Sub-section the expression "maternity benefit" does not include any increase of maternity benefit by way of additional benefit.'".—[Sir K. Wood.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I do not think that we ought to allow this Bill to pass its final stage here without a word or two on its provisions. I want to say how very pleased the administrators of National Health Insurance are that it is the intention of the Government, after the passing of this Measure, to consolidate all the Acts relating to National Health Insurance, but there is one point I want the right hon. Gentleman to clear up, if he will, before we pass the Bill finally. He was good enough in the earlier stages of the Measure to deal with the case of the man who became a voluntary contributor and who, being unemployed, thought that the provisions of this Measure would never come to pass. Transitional regulations are to be drafted in order to deal with that case, and the question has been put to me as to when the voluntary contributor who is unemployed will stop paying his contributions. It will be remembered that it has been a great hardship for an unemployed man to be called upon to pay the whole of the contributions of both his employer and himself on the assumption that he was doing so in order to keep himself in full insurance and pension benefit. I do not know whether the insured person in that category will stop paying at once, or whether he will be called upon to continue for a short period further.
The hon. Gentleman opposite, and the hon. Lady particularly, were very fulsome in their praise because the right hon. Gentleman had given way on the question of maternity benefit. I was rather sorry to hear of the large way they looked at the concession. Quite frankly, in the administration of maternity benefit, it is a very infinitesimal sum, and it must be remembered, too, that the Government are not finding the money for this maternity benefit. It is true that it is not coming out of the funds of the approved societies, but it will be found from the contributions of the insured population and the payments made by the employer, with just a modicum from the State when the benefit is paid. So there is nothing after all to put on the hoardings. The Bill it will be remembered, is the outcome of a great agitation conducted by the Parliamentary Labour party for a number of years. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] At least I have one supporter who cheers me. It is true to say, however, in spite of all that, that were it not for the feeling that was shown among Members of all parties that the unemployed were not getting a fair crack of the whip in respect of their pension, this Bill, naturally, would not have been produced. Indeed, in spite of partisan feeling, we are glad that the unemployed are to be saved from one of the gravest tragedies that could befall them. I know nothing that would be psychologically so depressing to an unemployed man as to find that he was to lose even his 10s. a week pension at 65 years of age. The Government have come down in the end and granted, within this scheme, the sum of £750,000.
I want to make a parting shot by way of repetition—it is almost in grand opera style by this time—and to thrust it home at the expense of this Government, which is made up in the main of the Tory party, that were it not for the Tory party in 1926 this Bill would not have been necessary at all. The time will come when the approved societies and the insured population of this country will want not only the £750,000 provided in this Measure, but the other £2,000,000 per annum which is due to them, and which was taken away from them by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in 1926. Having said that, we are thankful for a few crumbs from the table of the capitalist class.
Before this Bill receives the Third Reading, I wish to draw attention to one matter in which I claim that it makes some change of procedure as compared with existing legislation in respect to free insurance and the extended insurance periods. It is a change which, I think, may prove unfortunate for claimants to pensions whose title thereto is found to be dependent on whether they were qualified on an extended insurance period, or whether they have been entitled to postponement of the commencement of the free period owing to incapacity, or whether they are entitled to prolongation of the free period or extended period owing to illness. No reference has been made to this point. The House will be aware that under the National Health Insurance Acts disputes and questions arising fall, in the last resort, to be decided by the Minister. In contrast to that, under the Pensions Acts, every dissatisfied claimant has an unqualified right, because he does not need to obtain leave to have his case referred to a referee. This Bill provides for certain people an extended insurance period after the free insurance period. The people who may qualify for that are those who have had 10 years' continuous insurance, and the further condition that is necessary is, that during their free insurance period they should have been available for, but unable to obtain, employment. But how is that fact to be ascertained? According to this Bill it has to be ascertained in one way, namely, it must be approved to the satisfaction of the approved society, or, in the event of a dispute, in the manner provided by this Act. That occurs in a new Sub-section of the 1924 Act and, therefore, means in the manner provided by that Act.
Accordingly, the sole jurisdiction to determine questions of unemployment during the free period for the purpose of entitlement, to an extended period will rest with the Minister, and in Scotland his functions are exercised by the Department of Health. Therefore, even where the question involved in a particular case is not a health insurance question but a pensions question, the pensions referees will not have jurisdiction to deal with it, and the claimant to pension will not have, as he has had in other matters, the right to go to the referee, but his right to an extended insurance period will depend upon the decision, in the last resort, of the Government Department under the Health Insurance Acts. I should have said, of course, that for pensions purposes, insurance means insurance under the Health Insurance Acts, and that in other matters the pensions referees have jurisdiction, and exercise it, to decide whether or not a person is insured at a particular time. I must contrast this new specification of the mode of proof of unemployment to qualify for an extended period with the existing one under former legislation. In the 1928 Act, which in this particular is not affected by the 1932 Act, all that is said is that the extended period shall be allowed, if the man proves, without any further specification, as there is here, by a particular mode of proof. That provision left it open for the referee under the Pensions Acts where a pensions question was involved to exercise jurisdiction upon the question of whether or not a man was entitled to an extended insurance period.
I do not know what has been the practice in England, but I am told that in Scotland the referees under the Pensions Acts have asserted jurisdiction in these matters, and have exercised them. I am told that their intervention was resented by the Department of Health, who thought that they had no authority in regard to this question and threatened to have the matter tested by taking a case to the Court, but they did not do so. I am informed that it is upon this kind of question that the referees under the Pensions Acts have not uncommonly differed, to the advantage of the claimant, from the Departmental point of view. Accordingly, I cannot but suspect that the insertion of new words in this Bill is deliberate and designed to prevent the referees under the Pensions Act, even where the Pensions Act is involved, from deciding whether or not during unemployment and during the free period a man is entitled to the extended insurance period. This matter was brought to my notice by one of the referees who explained that he had no interest in the matter, because it would mean less work for him, but it struck him as rather a deliberately unobtrusive way of getting rid of jurisdiction in certain matters which the Department dislike.
Exactly the same thing occurs in the Bill in two other places. The Bill provides that where a person is incapacitated by illness at the end of the period of employment his free period will not begin until the end of the incapacity. There, again, under the Bill the incapacity requires to be proved to the satisfaction of his approved society or, in the event of dispute, in the mariner provided by this Act, that is, by the Minister. The corresponding provision in existing legislation simply says that the free period will be postponed if he is incapacitated at the particular time, without any reference as to how the incapacity is to be determined. There, again, in pensions questions in Scotland the pensions referees have exercised jurisdiction and decided upon the matter. Similarly, in one other place the Bill provides that if a person is sick at what otherwise would be the termination of the free or extended insurance period, the period shall extend to a certain date after the termination of incapacity. Again, proof of incapacity by this Bill is required to be made in a particular way which excludes any jurisdiction, even if a pensions question is involved, upon the part of the referee under the Pensions Act.
I do not want to labour the matter. It is a Committee point, and I am sorry that I did not know about it sooner. I am bound to say that in this particular the Bill makes a change from former Acts dealing with free and extended insurance periods. It is a change in phraseology which involves a change in law, and in Scotland a serious change in practice from the point of view of pensions claimants. It is the duty of those who make changes in the law to justify them, but no word of justification of this change has been offered. It is an infringement of the general right of the pensions claimant, given to him by the Act of 1925, of having his case, if he is dissatisfied, referred to the referee. It is true that when the Pensions Act was passed there was no such thing as an extended insurance period, but when the extended insurance period was introduced it was introduced in such terms as to leave it open to the pensions claimant to go to the pensions referee upon the question of whether he was entitled to the extended period. Lastly, this change is bad in principle, because wherever possible it is highly desirable to have all these questions decided by an independent tribunal and not to have them left to the decision of the Government Department which is responsible for administering them. Having drawn attention to the matter, I hope that the Minister may see his way, in another place, to revert to the same phraseology that has been used in these matters in previous Acts.
The Bill has gone through with such smoothness, and so free from criticism from the Opposition, that my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) rather spoilt the praise which is due on this occasion for the concession which the Minister has made. This is not the occasion when we want to look a gift horse in the mouth. The case was put for some consideration to be given to those persons who were to be deprived of benefit. The restoration of maternity benefit is a real concession. It was said earlier that it would be a great concession and a matter of great importance. I am sure that it will be much appreciated by those who would have found themselves in the unfortunate position of not being able to get the maternity benefit when an addition to their family came along.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton has said that the Labour party have been largely responsible for working up an agitation and bringing about this improvement in the conditions of those persons who are likely to pass out of insurance. My hon. Friend was prevented by innate modesty from paying a tribute to the approved societies. The approved societies have for a number of years made contributions towards keeping in benefit those persons who might otherwise have passed out of insurance from year to year, and it is very largely due to their action in coming forward to the Ministry and placing the facts before it that we have had this Bill introduced. The approved societies are making quite a considerable contribution, and the Government have followed their example and have lent their aid and come forward with the assistance which we are all applauding to-night.
I am sure the House would like to take note of the fact that the finances of the National Health Insurance scheme have been conducted throughout in a remarkably good way. From time to time in this House for many years, long before I came here, suggestions have been made for improvement, but the answer has generally been: "The suggestion is very excellent, but where is the money to come from?" The actuary brought forward the scheme in the first place, but matters were so arranged that although we were met with a blank refusal he has been able to find some cranny where the money could be got. In their difficulty the approved societies have turned to the widow's cruse of oil, which faileth not. We were told that there was no money available for this concession with regard to the maternity benefit, but it has been found. If other schemes of social insurance had been framed and conducted on the same lines as the National Health Insurance scheme, there would have been much more content in regard to those schemes than there is to-day.
I want to add my word of congratulation to the Minister, and in doing so I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton will agree with me that the approved societies are entitled to their share of congratulation. They have throughout these difficult years from time to time lent their aid on behalf of their distressed members and have sacrificed some of the benefits which might have gone to their more fortunate brothers. Now, we have arrived at bins stage when at last we are going to remove from the minds of people the distressing feeling that from year to year they do not know whether the benefit for which they have looked and on which they have counted, namely, their pension, will be secured at the age of 65. The provision has been made that 10 years insurance shall make such a person's pension position secure. Whether it appears on the hoardings or not, whether or not my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton says, "I have done this for you," and whether or not he gives due credit to the Government, we can say this that we are all very pleased that the Government have been able to accept the very reasonable request that has been made.
I want to follow up a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) when he expressed the hope, which is certainly felt by those of us who are connected with approved societies, that we may get a consolidation Bill as soon as possible. The hon. Member opposite raised a point in which he said that the referee would not be called in. That is one of the points which shows the absolute necessity for a consolidation Bill. It is extraordinarily difficult for the ordinary man to follow the ramifications of the National Health Insurance Act, and the sooner we get a consolidation Bill the better. My hon. Friend opposite made a plea for the referees that they should be engaged to consider disputes under the Bill. I am not at all sure that the referee is the best person. Referees must be lawyers. If it came to a question of a case being decided by a lawyer or by the right hon. Gentleman's Department, I am not at all sure that I would not prefer my case to go before the Department than before a lawyer. I am always interested when an hon. Member says that a referee has told him that it would make less work for him, and that he did not want it, but he goes on to say, "You might draw attention to it." That means, of course, that they want to get hold of the job if they possibly can. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that so far as that point is concerned the case is fairly well met within the provisions of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Sir R. Meller), who is connected with the approved societies, naturally declares: "Look what good chaps we are in the approved societies. Look how excellently we manage the business." While I am satisfied that so far as finance is concerned the approved societies on the whole have administered the National Health Insurance Act in a way that is to be admired, I think it would be a great mistake to imagine that the present method of administration is necessarily one that is best for the people. I am satisfied that the position that has been disclosed during the discussion of this Bill under which certain approved societies can give benefit while other societies cannot, is capable of very drastic amendment. I want to put in a plea which I made in the Committee stage. The intention of the National Health Insurance Act was that where people paid the same amount of money for benefit they should be equally entitled to the same benefit. It seems to me unreasonable that some societies, not because of any fault of their own but simply because of accident of trade and occupation, are left in a position that they cannot give to their members the same benefits as other societies.
It would be ungrateful if we did not acknowledge, from whatever source it comes, that this Bill is a step in the right direction. I am not concerned very much—and I do not hink any Member who studies the interests of his constituents is concerned either—as to who may claim the credit for this particular bit of work. As long as the job gets done, and some injustice is removed, then I think the House as a whole, irrespective of party, is proud to be able to take part in helping forward work of this kind. It would have been rather unfortunate if the right hon. Gentleman had left this job undone. Whatever may be said about its having been caused by Labour party agitation, public opinion generally was in favour of this concession to the unemployed. Had the Minister put this demand aside and done nothing about it, he would have found on an appeal to the country that there would have been a strong expression of opinion that the Government, having the opportunity, and the power and the finance, merited condemnation for not having dealt with the matter, but they have dealt with it and I believe that on the whole it has been dealt with in as satisfactory a manner as possible, taking into consideration the finances of the approved societies. It is quite true that the approved societies are finding £750,000 and that the Government are finding the other £750,000, but there is in the balances of the approved societies generally a tremendous amount of money; and I suggest that it is no use piling up balances in the approved societies unless you are prepared to see to it periodically that these balances are used to give benefits to those who have paid in their contributions for benefits.
I am particularly pleased about the concession in relation to maternity benefits. It may not represent a great deal of money but however small it may be the fact remains that it would have been a hit of a scandal, if the House had not seen fit to find money for maternity benefit in cases where the wife of an unemployed person gives birth to a child during the time that the man is unemployed, however few cases there may be. It does credit to the good heart and to the good sense of the House that a way has been found of dealing with this matter, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on being able to find the little nest egg which has made this possible. He may find another nest egg yet. Anyway, I congratulate him on being able to find the necessary money, and I feel that the House can part with this Bill with a feeling of great satisfaction.
I cannot agree with the last speaker in all his statements, for in his fulsome praise he has outdone supporters of the Government. To say that this Bill provides a satisfactory solution of the whole matter is to carry praise far beyond its proper measure. The most that can be said is that this Bill makes some improvement in the present position. To say that it provides a satisfactory solution is altogether wrong. I would also say to the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) that when a lawyer says a thing it does not necessarily follow that the lawyer is wrong. I say frankly that I have a great regard for the legal profession, and I could not possibly take that view. The point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. W. Johnston) is a genuine point, and if the hon. Member for Wednesbury had had the experience which we have had in Scotland he would know something about it. I wish that before making his condemnation the hon. Member for Wednesbury would have done the hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan the courtesy of trying to understand the point with which we in Scotland are faced. The issue raised by the hon. Member is quite a legitimate one. Under the procedure under the Act certain referees are lawyers—and I cannot see the point of the condemnation of the hon. Member for Wednesbury of lawyers when it comes to this Bill. The last Labour Government have not a bonnie record in this matter. I remember that it was the last day of the year in Parliament before they introduced a prolongation Bill and I did not feel too happy about that. I say that the point raised by the hon. Member is one of some substance. We have been dealing with referees in Scotland and they have helped to make the Act more tolerable to poor people—in spite of what the last speaker has said. I happen to know a sheriff who did a great deal to make the Act more tolerable to poor persons and I should be less than a man if I did not say that, because I came into contact with him day in and day out in the earlier days of the Act.
One point I want to raise is that those who are qualified by 10 years of insurance are to have guaranteed their medical benefits and pension rights. I find that many approved societies are issuing buff-coloured post-cards to these people and notifying them that they have ceased to qualify for medical benefits. So far as the position exists at the moment, this is correct. But it is not the position with regard to new applicants. I have interviewed during the past week-end from all parts of the City of Glasgow between 40 and 50 of these people who have received these notifications; and I have sent two of the cards to the Secretary of State for Scotland to raise with him the principle of the whole thing. The people who came to me thought that their medical benefits were safeguarded, and naturally when they got these post cards they were alarmed, annoyed and worried about the matter. I would ask the Minister if something cannot be done by approaching the friendly societies to get this thing stopped. It is on the border-line to do it. Legally speaking, this is not an A ct yet, and consequently these people have passed out. But everyone knows that this Bill will be an Act, and it is useless to add to the anxiety of people who have already suffered from a terrible spell of unemployment. Another point which I would like to raise is with regard to information about this Bill. I say nothing about the provisions for consolidation, for if you consolidate the law it becomes more difficult to alter and I want to have those Insurance Acts considerably altered. But it is very important that the Minister should make the provisions of this Bill known in as simple a fashion as possible. I would like to see issued through the approved societies and the post offices simple literature explaining the provisions of this Bill in a simple way to the persons concerned. I trust that the Minister may be able to do something of that kind.
I desire to thank the House very much for the friendly reception it has given to this Bill and also for the number of very helpful suggestions which have come from all quarters of the House to improve and complete the Bill. When a Minister makes a concession he may himself claim credit for having made it, but, on the other hand, the Opposition Member or other gentleman who suggested it can always say that he forced the Minister to do it. I have observed that on several occasions, and it may very well be that this will happen so far as this Measure is concerned. This does at any rate show the value of a careful examination of measures of this kind by a Committee of the House and the value of all the processes that Bills have to go through. I read in certain books of people who sometimes get impatient and want to issue decrees and matters of that kind. At any rate so far as this Measure is concerned, he would have to be a powerful dictator who could issue a decree which would be sufficient to meet all the varying requirements of a scheme of National Health Insurance.
I readily admit that very valuable suggestions were made on the Committee stage. After all, that is what the House of Commons is here for. I claim that improvements have been made in the Bill which will bring a number of benefits to a number of persons affected by unemployment which they would not otherwise have received. So far as the point put by the hon. Gentleman opposite is concerned, I would like to say that under the Pensions Acts insurance means insurance under the National Health Insurance Act and the last named Act provides machinery for determining disputes as to the continuance of insurance; and the Bill makes it clear that the referees under the Pensions Act are bound by the final decision given under the National Health Insurance Act machinery as to continuance of insurance under that Act. So far as we know that position has never been disputed in England, but in Scotland, I understand, pension referees claim that they have jurisdiction on the question. If I can elucidate the matter further—and it is obviously complicated—I will endeavour to communicate with both the hon. Gentlemen on that point.
Another question was put to me by the hon. Gentleman opposite about the position of those persons who became voluntary contributors with a view to preserving their insurance rights and I am glad to say that these persons will not have to make any further payment at all, not even up to the end of the year. It will be unnecessary for them to make any further payment under this scheme. Therefore I think the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied so far as those persons are concerned. I only want to say further that I am particularly glad that a way has been found so that insured persons who have suffered from a prolonged period of unemployment will not be deprived of their title to maternity benefit. This is all the more satisfactory as it will not impose further cost either on the Exchequer or on the approved societies. It is also satisfactory to know that those who have elected as voluntary contributors to continue their insurance will not suffer any disadvantage from having taken that course. They will be able, on complying with the usual conditions, to obtain the benefits now given to unemployed persons in connection with the continuance of insurance.
There was another matter dealt with on the Committee stage to which I should like to refer. It is, I think, particularly desirable and fair to provide that on the death of a man who received old age pension under the special provisions of the Measure, his widow should be covered for pension whenever he died. That is, I think, a very useful concession. On one point I disagree with the hon. Gentleman opposite for I am one of those who are glad that a number of Amendments have been made in the Measure which will facilitate the task of the consolidation of the Statutes respecting National Health Insurance. I know that many persons desire that course to be taken because in the process of consolidation you can perhaps make the Measure itself a little simpler.
The Bill certainly secures that an insured person who has occasional periods of unemployment not exceeding 21 months in duration shall not suffer any reduction whatever in benefits to which he or she may be entitled. His arrears will be completely excused, and the benefit periods for a person will be treated in just the same way as if he had been in continuous employment. This will be a real and welcome benefit affecting some 5,000,000 insured persons. The Bill goes further and provides for the still more unfortunate person who suffers from prolonged unemployment. Any person who has been insured for 10 years before becoming unemployed will be entitled to medical and maternity benefits and his old age and widows' and orphans' pension will be maintained unimpaired as long as his unemployment continues. It is all the more satisfactory that in making these changes the financial stability of national insurance will not be in any way jeopardised, and so far as approved societies are concerned not only will they be of great value to those members who unhappily suffer from unemployment but will result in a great simplification of the working of national insurance. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), I will see if it is possible to give a simple description of the Measure, and so far as the cards which have been sent out are concerned I will see what can be done in that matter.
I thank the House for the rapid progress it has made with the Bill. It will be possible, within a short period now, not only to proceed with the necessary steps to put this Measure into operation, but also to avoid certain distasteful and onerous tasks which would otherwise have been necessary. Within the next few weeks in the ordinary course of things approved societies would have been engaged in the heavy task of preparing and sending out some 5,000,000 arrear notices to their members, and many millions of insured persons would have received the unwelcome information that unless within a limited time they could find a substantial sum of money their benefits would be reduced or altogether suspended during the year. Such notices, consequent upon unemployment, will happily be no longer required and approved societies will be relieved of this unwelcome task. Above everything else, insured persons themselves will be spared the heavy blow of receiving these notices. It is in that respect that Parliament, I think, can claim that this Bill will really bring substantial advantages to insured persons.
There is one further observation I want to make for the benefit of the hon. Member opposite who has given various reasons why this Measure has been made possible. I will put this for his consideration as the real, practical reason why the Measure has been possible and why these benefits will be given to the unemployed. I hope the hon. Member will note it for his next week-end speeches. There has been 30,000,000 weeks' more work, more employment, in 1934 than in 1932. It is because of this and the increased contributions which approved societies have received that the financial position has been restored and that these benefits can be given. Hon. Members opposite, I hope, will pardon me if I issue a poster in that respect.