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I beg to move, in page 18, line 32, after "have," to insert "not."
I have on the Paper a similar Amendment in line 34, and also a further Amendment, in page 19, line 1, after "contributors," to insert:
and have within the prescribed time elected in the prescribed manner that the principal Act and the Insurance Act shall no longer continue to have effect in relation to them.
These three Amendments all cover the verbal alterations necessary to meet one point. Should I be in order in speaking on the general situation?
The purpose of these Amendments, as the Minister, of course, knows, is to change the method with regard to contracting out and contracting in. Under the provisions of the Bill, voluntary contributors will have to contract in, so to speak, in order to retain the position which they at present
occupy. It seems to us that it would be much simpler, far less troublesome to the approved societies, and in accordance with the ordinary normal way of dealing with a situation of this kind, to allow a voluntary contributor, if he desires that there shall be no change in his status under the insurance scheme, to continue without being required to sign any additional documents. The scheme laid down in the Bill will involve the approved societies in very considerable trouble and difficulty, and it may work in a way to the disadvantage of voluntarily insured persons. This point was raised during the Committee stage, when the Parliamentary Secretary intimated that he had had some consultations with representatives of the approved societies, and I gathered that he imagined that they were divided on the point. This morning there has been issued the ordinary weekly edition of the paper which speaks for the approved societies, the "National Insurance Gazette," and it seems from their leading article that they are in favour of the proposal of allowing existing voluntary contributors to retain their rights without any further formalities.
says this journal, which is the only national journal dealing with the business of approved societies—
Our belief is that there is considerable feeling in approved society circles in favour of the Motion.
The Motion was a Motion moved in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Simpson).
If nothing is done in the Commons to-day"—
that is to say, this morning—
we hope that interested approved societies will write to all such persons as can influence the Debate in the Lords. This option business is likely to be a thorough nuisance, and the two-card system a bigger one still.
There are 650,000 voluntarily insured persons, and many of them will require to continue under exactly the same conditions as at present; but they will be told that, if they want to continue as they are at the present time, they will have to notify, to sign a document, to complete a formality, in order that no change may be made in their condition. We feel that the normal and reasonable and proper method in a situation of that nature would be for the Minister to have
said to these people, "If you desire no change, no notification of any kind will be required of you; but if you desire to change from your existing insurance conditions to the new insurance conditions of this Bill, you must signify that fact in some recognised manner." I hope the Minister will see the force of this argument. To oblige the approved societies to correspond with every one of their members will involve an enormous amount of clerical work, and, of course, there is the possibility, in dealing with 650,000 people, that many of them, who really desire to continue as they are, will, because of something happening in their lives, some illness or some absentmindedness, omit to fill up the prescribed form, and then they will pass from their existing conditions to the inferior conditions that are provided by the present scheme. I do not know whether the Minister of Health wants that to happen. It is the old principle of contracting in and contracting out as applied to insurance. I hope the Minister will see his way to intimate that in another place the arrangement will be altered to conform with normal and reasonable practice.
I beg to second the Amendment.
It seems extraordinary that the Minister should be so difficult and, indeed, adamant towards a change which obviously makes for simplicity. The people who are affected by this proposal are already established and included in the scheme which they elected to join under certain conditions, and obviously, unless they indicate a desire to change that relationship, they desire it to continue. In this respect, as in other aspects of the Bill, there seems to be almost a desire to interfere with past legislation, although there is no good reason for doing so. It seems to me that, in the case of changes such as are included in this new Measure, the obvious and sensible thing is that, if people desire to avail themselves of those changes, they should indicate that desire.
We hear many complaints about circumlocution in legislation and administration, but this seems to be a deliberate effort to achieve a change in the most difficult and roundabout way. It will involve very considerable cost, to say nothing of the trouble and inconvenience, to the societies who will be called upon to act on behalf of their members in this entirely unnecesary way. My hon. Friend, in moving the Amendment, has indicated the possibility that, through ignorance or indifference or mischance, people who have benefited under the old Act may very well be deprived of their benefits because they do not contract in. It is extremely difficult to understand the reasons behind the Minister's determination to insist on a change of this character, instead of leaving well alone and enabling people who are already covered by the Measure to retain their existing rights without being subject to the necessity of filling up further forms and contracting in. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see the wisdom and desirability of making this small concession.
I desire to reinforce the plea that has been made for a reconsideration of this matter. Members who, like myself, live in or near their constituencies, where people can get at them day by day and come to see them with regard to various points, will have been struck by the fact that, when it is a question of filling in forms of any kind, the great majority of people have not the remotest idea of what the thing means. That operates in a manner that is terribly distressing in connection with widows' pensions. A large number of widows are to-day debarred from receiving pensions because of the neglect of their husbands, if it can be called neglect, or their inability to understand what they had to do when they might have become insured voluntary contributors, and the amount of suffering that is caused in this way must have struck every Member of the House.
The same thing will occur in connection with this scheme. Probably tens of thousands of people who are voluntarily insured to-day will know nothing about it. However much it is advertised, however much it is posted up in the post offices, Employment Exchanges, and other public places, as happens in regard to many other matters, they will not see it. They never read these things; many of them never read anything; and they do not become acquainted with anything unless you actually go to them and explain exactly what they have to do. If their organisation or friendly society sends them an intimation, it is generally a long one, typewritten or printed, and they glance at it but do not understand it.
What can be the purpose of this new arrangement? There can only be one purpose that I can see, and that is that the Ministry are hoping that these people will not see and understand what they have to do under the new arrangement, and, as a consequence of their not seeing and understanding it, will be transferred from a system under which they get certain benefits to-day to a system under which they will get less benefits than they get now. One does not like to be so ungenerous as to imagine that the Minister of Health or the Parliamentary Secretary, or, indeed, anyone, would desire to see that happen, but what other view is it possible to take? I cannot see any other view that can possibly be taken as to the purpose of this arrangement. I hope that the Minister will not make it plain to the House and to the world that that is the purpose, but will say that on reflection he will at any rate agree to this Amendment. He represents a constituency where people can get at him, or at any rate could get at him when he was in a less important position than he occupies to-day, and when he was accessible to everyone—
I am very glad indeed to hear it. That being so, I am sure he will agree with me that, in all the interviews he has had with his constituents, his experience has been the same as mine, and therefore I hope he will accept the Amendment and free these people from a duty which many of them will not perform, not because they do not desire to do it, but because they do not understand it.
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee), because he has really provided the very best argument that could possibly be required in favour of the proposals as they stand in the Bill, and against the Amendment. In our view, the proposals of the new scheme are more favourable to the existing voluntary contributor than the present system, and we are therefore anxious that the maximum number of people in the country should be able to take advantage of the new scheme. The hon. Member for West Walthamstow says that his experience—and he has much more experience of this matter than I have—is that people do not really trouble to learn what the advantages of a new scheme are. Therefore, they are very apt indeed to remain under an existing system. He recalled the number of people who would be enjoying widows' pensions to-day if their husbands had realised in time what they had to do. That is precisely why we have included these provisions in the Bill. Think of the position of an existing voluntary contributor, supposing the Amendment were accepted. If he took no action at all he would be bound to remain under the existing system. He would have forfeited his opportunity to come under the new scheme. In five or six years' time he might find that his circumstances had so changed that he wanted to drop one form of insurance or the other. But there would be no means of doing it. The man who to-day is not sure of what his position is going to be in the future, provided he sits tight and does nothing, is automatically to be given an option at any time in the future to decide, as his circumstances change, which form of insurance is most suitable to those changed circumstances.
It is precisely because we believe in the hon. Members' arguments, and because very large numbers of people will not to-day be able to decide finally which is the best system for them, that we think they ought to be given a continuing option, which they have not got to-day but will have under the Bill, of changing over at some future date from one to the other or of dropping one or the other. I understand the position of the hon. Members for Central Hackney (Mr. Watkins) and Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Simpson). They represent societies whose members may be particularly affected, and therefore the attitude that they are taking up is a quite reasonable and understandable one. My right hon. Friend proposes, when we get to the Third Reading, to give some fairly full information about the actual procedure that we contemplate and the way in which we propose to help societies to obtain the views of their members. I think hon. Members will find that those measures will be satisfactory and will go far to remove many of the difficulties which they anticipate.
The Parliamentary Secretary has not given an answer which will satisfy us on this very important point. This refers to people who are ordinary voluntary contributors. The first thing the right hon. Gentleman must understand is that some of us have never seen any reason at all why there should be any voluntary contributors under the National Health Insurance scheme. The right hon. Gentleman looks aghast at my saying that. How does it come about that a shop assistant, because he is a non-manual worker, whose income exceeds £250 is cleared out of the compulsory scheme altogether while a manual worker remains compulsorily insured even if his income goes up to £300 or £400 a year. There is an unfairness there against the person who is a voluntary contributor at present. There is going to be another unfairness thrown upon him, namely, that the Government are going to induce him to drop his National Health Insurance, cut his connection with his approved society and hand over his pension business to the State. I know what they are after. They want to reduce as far as they can payments from the Treasury in respect of National Health Insurance benefits to voluntary contributors in order to gain for pension purposes what they have lost on health insurance. What they gain on the swings they are going to lose on the roundabouts, and vice versa. The right hon. Gentleman is going to introduce a two-card system instead of one. There are 750,000 we are told. These people will be told that in future they will have two cards. one for contributions for this new scheme and one for health insurance, and because they are not getting medical benefit under National Health Insurance as voluntary contributors—the doctors of course have seen to that already; they are a formidable problem in this business—
Why should I not be? The right hon. Gentleman is so suspicious of them that he is setting up a tribunal to inquire into their case. Having provided these voluntary contributors with two cards, the Government look to the ordinary human element in a man to say to himself, "Why should I bother to pay the larger contribution for health insurance? I will only pay the smaller pensions contribution," and he loses all connection with health insurance. Although human beings are bent on making provision for their declining days, I know of very sad cases of persons who die long before the pension age when they ought to have been receiving some benefit from these funds, and who, through neglect, have left the National Health Insurance scheme and have left a good deal of money that they had already paid into the fund which ought to have been available for them later on. All this is a game to induce them to leave National Health Insurance. It is all arranged accordingly. I am not so sure—I speak with a little diffidence on this point—whether these people will not be induced to drop both. That is part of the game too, because the Bill, while it is indeed a very important Measure in offering a generous pension scheme, is deficient in this respect, that all the inducements are against these people continuing for pensions at all. Of course the approved societies will be in a quandary.
What happens now? A non-manual worker whose salary exceeds the limit receives a notification from his approved society that he is entitled to become a voluntary contributor. He takes no notice. He is written to a second and a third time and he still takes no notice. In the end he dies suddenly leaving a widow and three or four children. Then, of course, it dawns on the whole family what has happened. That is exactly what is going to happen in connection with this business, and I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman is not literally conniving at the idea, because he knows that people are so neglectful, in order to prevent them from securing benefits from these funds. I hope that greater wisdom will prevail some day on the Front Bench opposite than we have now. We welcome the Bill—there is no doubt in my view that there is a growing desire in the country to attain security in old age—but I ask my hon. Friends to press this Amendment to a Division.
I am very sorry that the Minister has not seen fit to accept the Amendment. It means that the present voluntary contributor, who is not only a voluntary contributor for pensions but for sickness benefit as well, would not have to contract out of his sickness benefit and the present pension scheme.
I am a voluntary contributor. I was a compulsory contributor for some 22 years until I got a fresh job—that is my present job. There are people who have been compulsory members who have a better "screw" than I have and are still in the scheme. After a certain time I got a notification from my society that I could be a voluntary contributor, but I should have to pay 1s. 5d.per week, which gave me all the benefits of the present Act with the exception of medical benefit. As it happens, that did not affect me, because I am in a weekly scheme, and have been for 30 years. The doctor said, "George, you have paid as far as your family is concerned for a quarter of a century and you can go on now until you peg out." So that it did not affect me, but it would affect those who had not got what we call a weekly doctor.
There are thousands who are paying their is. 5d. a week and the possibility is that, if they do not sign to say they want to stay in, they will automatically contract out and they will not have the monetary benefits that they are entitled to now. I prophesy that there will be thousands who will omit to sign this. If a voluntary contributor is turned 6o he will pay the first half-year's contribution. He does not pay his second half-year's contribution. He waits till his society sends him an arrears card with 12 stamps, making 38 instead of 50, which means that he is paying 54s. 5d. per year and, if he falls sick between 60 and 65, he will draw 15s. a week monetary benefit. If I am out of this scheme and I pay 52 elevenpences, which amounts to 47s. 8d., or only 6s.9d. a year less, I run out of my monetary benefit altogether. Am I going to do that for the sake of 6s.9d. for five years from 60 to 65? I know that the Parliamentary Secretary has told me personally that this will be to my benefit, but I have since sat down and thought it out, and I say to him that it will not. Suppose I lose this gainful occupation—and I am putting a personal case which is applicable to hundreds of thousands of other people—and I fall sick, I shall not get the sickness benefit of 15s., but a paltry 6s.9d. That will mean something to me and my wife if I fall sick.
I ask the Minister, having put this personal point, to reconsider the question and to state that he will accept the Amendment, so that insured persons may Mill remain in their present society without any contracting of any kind. Let them go on as they are at present, so that they may be doubly sure. I am afraid that thousands of our people will automatically lose the monetary benefits. This is an amusing point, but it is possible—I do not say that it will occur in my case—that a man who has turned 60 may marry a young wife. Members on the opposite side of the House who are bachelors have been telling us about the decline of the birth rate, and on that occasion one of us shouted across and asked them whether practice was not far better than theory. Suppose a man of 60 with a young wife becomes a father, the maternity benefit will have gone as far as they are concerned. I know that the Minister has never thought about that position, and I hope that he will say that he is prepared to accept the Amendment.
With the leave of the House, I would say to the hon. Member, who has been in communication with me that I thought we had succeeded in persuading him that, in his own particular case, it was probably of advantage to him to continue to contribute to both health insurance and pensions. In his speech he used the expression "automatically go out," and, I think, possibly that is the basis of the misunderstanding of the position. A man who comes under the new scheme by virtue of not having asked his approved society to allow him to remain under the existing scheme does not automatically go out of insurance, but remains insured as a voluntary contributor for health and for pensions, and it is only subsequently, if he decides that he wants to contract out, that he will go out. The ordinary voluntary contributor who does not give any answer at all to his approved society within the period of time will remain insured for health and for pensions.
The hon. Gentleman has stated that the insuring body or society does not require to give notice individually to each Member, but that automatically these people, without signing, will keep on the list.
No, each approved society will have to ask in a circular to its members, "Do you wish to remain in the existing scheme, or do you wish to join the new scheme?" If they do not make any reply, they will come under the new scheme, but they will continue to remain insured both for health and for pensions.
They will continue to remain insured for health and pensions purposes on separate cards. At any future date, if they so desire, they can drop one or the other, but until they so desire, they will remain insured for both purposes on separate cards.
After the speeches of the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister, I think that I am entitled to say that we have had an indication in the discussion of the policy and methods adopted by the Minister in regard to these proposals. Questions have been put to them as to the position of those who will be affected by the changes which we are criticising. The Parliamentary Secretary has implied that the hundreds of thousands of people who will be affected by these proposals, those whose points of view are indicated by specialists responsible for the leading article in the journal which has been quoted this morning, are not adequate judges of their own position, and do not know whether, in fact, the conditions which will apply under the proposed new legislation will be better than those which they now enjoy, and are not competent to decide for themselves whether the new conditions are beneficial or whether they are not. All we have asked the Minister to do, as we have begged and prayed of him elsewhere as well as here, is to allow those who are under the existing conditions to remain undisturbed, but for some penal purpose, it seems to us, the Minister is determined to apply in this legislation the contracting-in arrangements that have been applied in other legislation, obviously for penal purposes. I hope he will appreciate that his object in this matter has been sufficiently revealed, and that the arguments advanced this morning will induce him seriously to reconsider the position. He has favoured us to-day, as he has on other occasions, with soft words and a smiling countenance, and his assistant is following him in that worthy course. But there is substance in the request which has been put forward, and I seriously urge upon him the desirability of reconsidering the position.
If the circular is to make no difference, why send it out? Will not the Minister answer the question? The House has been very friendly this morning in regard to this very serious and intricate business of insurance. The bulk of hon. Members on this side of the House have had some experience of insurance and are up against this kind of problem almost every week. Is it not in order to demand that the Minister should give a direct reply to a direct answer?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that when we come to the Third Reading of the Bill, I will explain in detail, and more consecutively than is possible on a single point like this, the exact procedure that we propose as far as the approved societies are concerned. It will be more desirable that I should describe the whole processes of this matter. We have on many occasions, when no doubt the hon. Gentleman had not the opportunity of being present, both on the Second Reading and in Committee, explained the reasons for this provision. It is not a matter such as he apprehends.
The right hon. Gentleman says that on the Third Reading lie will describe the administration to be employed, but can he give us any hope that he will alter his attitude towards the problems we have raised? The approved society will send to a voluntary contributor to say that he has now the option of contracting out of his health insurance and going into this new scheme. Does the right hon. Gentleman support what the Parliamentary Secretary said just now that, if the contributor does not reply to that circular at all or does not take any notice of it, he will still remain a voluntary contributor for both purposes? We understood on the Second Reading that if he did not offer any response to the circular he would automatically fall out of health insurance and come into this scheme.
I think that I had better say a few words upon this matter. Although the House has heard one series of suggestions this morning against the proposals in the Bill, about a fortnight ago I received a deputation from the National Conference of Friendly Societies who supported the proposals of the Bill. It is true that I elicited from the deputation that there were Members present who took the view of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, but the spokesmen on behalf of the National Conference of Friendly Societies considered that the terms of the Government Bill were right as far as the insured person was concerned. I need hardly assure the House that there is no ulterior motive whatever in these proposals. The whole idea is to do what is fair for the insured person having regard to the coming into operation of this scheme. The simple question, in as much as pensions and health insurance are now going to be interlocked, is, What shall we do as far as the existing voluntary contributor is concerned. We propose that his rights shall not be affected, except to this extent. If he elects, he can remain as he is at present, with health insurance and pensions insurance still interlocking, but he is then in the unfortunate position, that once he has made his election there is no going back.
I was very much impressed by what was said by the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee)—I know the difficulties of which he complained as well as anybody—these people will, unless you make them definitely elect, through carelessness, to which we are all subjected, remain in their present position, and that will deprive them in the future of ever being able to elect either for health insurance or for pensions. Therefore, the proposition is simply this, that unless they contract-in, and by that means cast their die for ever, they will be deemed to come under the new scheme. That is a benefit to them inasmuch as they will then be deemed to be under two contracts, one for health and another for pensions, and as their circumstances change, or as they so desire, they can determine in the future for themselves whether they will go on with health insurance or not. That puts them into the favourable position of deciding for themselves as far as the future is concerned.
I have an additional reason for standing by this arrangement, because a very considerable number of people think that the present scheme offers better benefits to them than the old one. They will be able to come to their own conclusion about it. I can assure hon. Members opposite that as far as contributions are concerned existing contributors if they do
If we put it the other way round and said: "If you do not elect, you shall remain exactly as you are," we are afraid that through natural disinclination to do anything or through disinclination to read circulars they will be finally committed to remain insured both for National Health Insurance and pension and never be able to change in the future. Under the Bill we give them the opportunity of deciding between the two contracts at any time they like. We do not want them to commit themselves to the old scheme unless they definitely desire to do so. That is really the reason for the Government's proposal. There is no ulterior motive of any kind. There are four or five approved societies which will be adversely affected by this scheme. Their postion has been very ably advocated in Committee and in the House, and I have assured them that in connection with any losses which they may suffer arising out of their administration I will endeavour to deal with them as far as I can. I have kept before me simply the interests of the insured persons.
|Division No. 185.]||AYES.||[1.19 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Lunn, W.|
|Adamson, W. M.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||McGhee, H. G.|
|Batey, J.||Grenfell, D. R.||MacLaren, A.|
|Bellenger, F. J.||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Maclean, N.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Mander, G. le M.|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Groves, T. E.||Messer, F.|
|Burke, W. A.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Montague, F.|
|Chater, D.||Hardie, G. D.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Nathan, Major H. L.|
|Cove, W. G.||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Noel-Baker, P. J.|
|Daggar, G.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Paling, W.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Potts, J.|
|Dobbie, W.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Price, M. P.|
|Ede, J. C.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Kelly, W. T.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Ridley, G.|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Kirby, B. V.||Riley, B.|
|Foot, D. M.||Lathan, G.||Ritson, J.|
|Gallacher, W.||Lawson, J. J.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Leslie, J. R.||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Carn'v'n)||Logan, D. G.||Rowson, G.|
|Seely, Sir H. M.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)||White, H. Graham|
|Shinwell, E.||Thorne, W.||Whiteley, W.|
|Short, A.||Thurtle, E.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Simpson, F. B.||Tinker, J. J.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)||Viant, S. P.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Smith, E. (Stoke)||Walker, J.|
|Smith, T. (Normanton)||Watkins, F. C.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Sorensen, R. W.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mr. Charleton add Mr. Mathers.|
|Stephen, C.||Westwood, J.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd)||Hannah, I. C.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Holmes, J. S.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Blair, Sir R.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Horsbrugh, Florence||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Samuel, M. R. A.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||Savery, Sir Servington|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Hume, Sir G. H.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Hunter, T.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Cary, R. A.||Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Leckie, J. A.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Clarke, F. E. (Dartford)||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.|
|Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Spens, W. P.|
|Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Lindsay, K. M.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Colfox, Major W. P.||Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Stewart, William J. (Belfast, S.)|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Lloyd, G. W.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Courthope, Col. Sir G. L.||Loftus, P. C.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Cox, H. B. T.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||McCorquodale, M. S.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Crooke, J. S.||McKie, J. H.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Maitland, A.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Touche, G. C.|
|Denville, Alfred||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Donner, P. W.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Dugdale, Major T. L.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Duggan, H. J.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Morris-Jones, Sir Henry||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Elmley, Viscount||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H.||Wise, A. R.|
|Ganzoni, Sir J.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Withers, Sir J. J.|
|Goodman, Col. A. W.||Peat, C. U.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Penny, Sir G.||Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Perkins, W. R. D.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Peters, Dr. S. J.|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.||Pilkington, R.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hamilton, Sir G. C.||Power, Sir J. C.||Sir James Blindell and Commander Southby.|
Question, "That this House do now adjourn." put, and agreed to.
Very few words are required from me in connection with the Third Reading of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) was to have undertaken this task, but he has another engagement. In spite of some criticism that we have levelled against certain provisions in the Bill we regard it as a useful Measure. I think those who are interested in our social security services will agree with that statement. The Bill seeks to meet the legitimate demand made by people in business on their own account who have a very small income and who say that they are at a disadvantage compared with those who are employed for wages, and who are better off than they are. In so far as the Bill does that it meets a very urgent demand. I wish, however, that the right hon. Gentleman while he was dealing with pensions would have looked into the very distressing problem under our present pension scheme of the man of 65 whose wife has not reached that age. We are all well aware of these distressing cases, and regret that they are not dealt with in the Bill. As to the method of dealing with the voluntary contributor in an approved society, even those who are actually administering these schemes have come to the conclusion, probably wrongly, that when an approved society sends out a circular to the voluntary contributor, unless he replies, he automatically drops his national health business and goes into the central pension scheme. The right hon. Gentleman has cleared up that point to some extent, but has not removed the fear that if the contributor does not reply the Department sends him two cards in the hope that he will ultimately drop his national insurance.
The Bill is valuable because it is the first time an attempt has been made to establish a central State pension scheme entirely unconnected with any other scheme. In that connection I can foresee a time—I am not talking about any particular party or any particular Government—when we shall find bigger pension schemes extended on the basis of this small Measure. I wish the Measure were more generous and that more money were spent on our social services than on rearmament. That, of course, does not appeal to the present Government. We shall not be foolish enough to divide against the Bill, and, indeed, I only rose to say that we wish it had been a better and more comprehensive Measure. Some day there will be a Government in power with much more humane instincts than the present, a Government which will do the right thing towards the people of this country in the matter of pensions.
There is one thing that can be said in favour of our country. While we have fallen back in many respects in comparison with some foreign countries in respect of industrial legislation, we are indeed well to the front with our social security schemes. In the letters I get from the United States I am constantly asked what we are doing in this country. When I was in America in 1927 they laughed with sheer contempt when I talked about unemployment and health insurance schemes in this country. In spite of my political views, I want our country to lead the way. in such schemes, and while we regret that this Bill does not go far enough, at the same time it is another brick in a building which will give more security to our people in old age.
In his Second Reading speech the Minister recommended the Bill on the ground that it was one more Parliamentary Measure of security and justice, and suggested that it would play a considerable part in the social services of this country, which were second to none. We agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but I would point out that, like every other Bill which deals with social insurance schemes on the instalment plan, the Bill, while filling some gaps and deficiencies, will inevitably create other marginal and borderline cases where fresh anomalies will appear. In spite of the development of our social services it has been my experience that a considerable proportion of our correspondence is taken up in dealing with difficulties which arise under the system which exists to-day. The right hon. Gentleman has played a considerable part in the development of our social services, not only in connection with the present legislation but in other Measures which have been introduced in recent years.
I was hoping that in the present Bill he would look still further afield and review the whole situation of our social services, especially as regards pensions and superannuation. The age structure of the population of this country changes rapidly, and one result is that there is accumulating steadily an increase in those of older age, who will have to be provided for by a decreasing number of actual workers. That is a matter which, I hope, is receiving careful attention. If we have trade fluctuations in the future a national superannuation scheme will do away with many anomalies, and is, therefore, not only desirable for its own sake but because it would be a very substantial buffer in economic difficulties of that kind. The right hon. Gentleman has played an important part in the development of our social services. I hope he will render one more service and review the whole field and bring forward a Measure which is comprehensive. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said that the Americans laughed at him when he referred to National Health Insurance. I refer to that because I hope some one is keeping an eye on what is going on in America. They are attempting in one fell swoop to do what we are doing by stages. They are attempting something which is without parallel in the history of bookkeeping, and by the time they are through we may have something to learn from them. I hope the Minister of Health has an observer in America taking stock of what is going on.
There is one other small point. I hope the Minister will make every conceivable effort to make the provisions of the Bill known. I have noticed that whenever anything is proposed for the benefit of some section of the community, numbers of people fail, for one reason or another, to make their claim, and then come to their Member of Parliament or the Minister to try to get the situation rectified. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will call in aid the B.B.C. or some other agency to see that the provisions of the Bill are known. I cordially welcome the Bill, although it is not an entirely unqualified reception. I had hoped that in the Committee stage some of the defects in the Bill would have been rectified, notably the discrimination in the income limit between men and women, so that we might have had a Bill to which we could have given an absolutely unqualified reception. We are not in that happy position, I regret it, but, at the same time, I cordially support the Bill.
With other hon. Members, I should like to congratulate the Minister on the passage of the Bill. I am sure he and we are equally glad that it has got through the Committee stage and its other stages so quickly and will rejoice when it becames law. At the same time I regret more than I can say that there is still the great flaw in the Bill which was in it when it came before us on Second Reading—I refer to the inequality between men and women. It is particularly regrettable that we should have this wholly new differentiation between men and women in this year and that it should have been introduced by the present Minister of Health. The right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary gave reasons for this discrimination on the Second Reading and also in the Committee; all of which were wholly unconvincing. The Minister based his argument chiefly on the fact that women as a rule have fewer dependants than men. That has been proved, particularly among those women who will be affected by the Bill, often not to be the case, and, as I said on the Second Reading, we have never yet based our salaries or wages on the question of dependants and, therefore, to start that argument on this Bill is wholly irrelevant. The Parliamentary Secretary in Committee said the reason why there was this discrimination was that women could get insurance outside the national scheme, but the hon. Member omitted to say that it was only a few friendly societies which, in actual practice, give these benefits, and even if a woman enters these friendly societies at the age of 25 she has to pay three times as much as she would under the nation scheme, and at a later age she pays four to six times as much.
Yesterday the Prime Minister in a very powerful and beautiful speech told us something of what democracy stood for and of the difficulties of democracy. He said:
Under a democracy, every individual in some degree or another has to do his own thinking, and on whether he thinks rightly or wrongly, the whole success or failure of that democracy will rest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May, 1937; col. 1185, Vol. 323.]
I suggest that you will never have right thinking in the community until you have the maximum of equality of opportunity between one individual and another, and between men and women. Thinking that is founded on bitterness can never be right thinking, and if you introduce these inequalities and injustices between men and women you inevitably create bitterness which must always weaken democracy. To-day, from all parts of the Empire we have our kinsmen, guests in this country, and there is not one who would not readily acknowledge the great services which have been rendered by women in the building up of the Empire. No little part of the strength of the Empire is due to the courage and endurance of wives of the settlers who went out and helped to found the Empire in various parts of the world. The services which women have rendered have been frequently acknowledged by the Prime Minister and other Members of the Government, and it is a tragedy, therefore, that when the Government are bringing in a Measure as fine, and of as great value as the present one, they should have introduced a wholly new inequality between men and women.
It is all the more regrettable because it will affect to a large extent the most deserving class of women. It will affect a large number of women who, because of the War, have had to support themselves and to support relatives for whom otherwise perhaps their brothers and fathers would have been able to make more ample provision.
It is very regrettable that these women are to be excluded from the benefits of this Bill. I will give as an illustration the case of a woman who is a widow and carries on a farm left to her by her husband. Perhaps in the heyday of youth or in middle age she may be earning more than the £250 limit, but as old age comes upon her it becomes increasingly difficult, and she falls below the level of £250, but she has been debarred from entering this scheme. We are very proud that now there is a longer expectation of life. We are very proud that this Bill will give a happier and more prosperous old age to a very large number of people to whom old age has always been something to be faced with fear and dread. I regret more than I can say that so many women who most deserve the benefits of this Bill are—so unjustly —left out of the scheme, and that such a magnificent Bill contains such a very grave flaw.
I wish to join with other hon. Members in thanking the Minister and the Government for this magnificent Bill. The inclusion of black-coated workers in an insurance scheme is very good, and I heartily support it; but a great many of my lady constituents are very sorry to see the different limits placed on the incomes of women and men in this Bill, and they very much object to it. I raised this question in the Second Reading Debate, and the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary gave a most courteous explanation, for which I thank them very much. I circulated that explanation to the associations concerned with my lady constituents; but, although they very much appreciated the consideration which had been given to their views, they did not think the Government had given entire satisfaction. They think it a pity that the Government have overlooked the fact that there is a very large number of women to-day who have practically the same responsibilities as men; for in- stance, unmarried women supporting old parents, married women supporting incapacitated husbands and children, and widows of uninsured men. The times are changed, and more and more women are going out into the world on their own. Marriage is not, as it was, the only career.
From the more practical point of view, we can look at the matter in this way. Women now have votes. In my constituency there is a very large number of educated women who are following their own careers, and I am afraid that the differentiation between the sexes in this Bill, which they consider to be unjustifiable, will make a considerable difference in the votes. It does not matter very much to me, but in my constituency the voters have two votes, one for the University and one in their local constituencies, and in the local constituencies it will make a good deal of difference. While thanking the Minister very much for what he has done and for his great courtesy, I hope that in the future there will be some way of rectifying this differentiation. I doubt whether it is a matter which could be dealt with in another place, because it is concerned with finance, but I hope that at some subsequent date it will be dealt with in some new Measure which will operate more fairly and favourably to women.
I am sorry I cannot join in the general chorus of praise of the Minister for this Bill. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) referred to the Bill as a magnificent one, but it is nothing of the sort. There are some very good provisions in it, which we on this side welcome, but the Minister has taken the opportunity offered him by this Bill, which is ostensibly a Bill to extend insurance provisions, to incorporate penalising, unfair and totally unnecessary provisions. That being so, I cannot find it in my heart to call it a magnificent Bill. I have heard the Bill referred to as the black-coated workers charter; it is certainly not a Magna Carta, but a very minor charter.Every organisation of black-coated workers is full of criticism of what the Bill does, and of what it does not do but ought to do.
During the discussions on the Report stage, the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the provisions of the new insurance scheme as being an improvement on the old one. That is not true. In many respects the scheme in the present Bill is inferior. For instance, there is the proposal to compel sick people to bear the burden of the first 13 weeks' sickness. There is the arrangement whereby concessions are granted to elderly contributors. At the present time, the concession in the case of a man is an exemption from payment of two-and-a-half years' pensions contributions during the previous five years and in the case of a woman of five years' contributions during the previous ten years. Both those concessions are abolished. Under the present scheme, 45 stamps a year keep a man in benefit, but under the Bill 50 stamps are required. The position is worse. In other respects also the scheme proposed in the Bill is inferior to the existing scheme.
Moreover, hon. Members on these benches very strongly criticise the Bill because of the manner in which it treats men and women in excepted employment. We raised this matter on the Committee stage without success, but still I feel that our case is a sound one and that we have not been treated fairly by the Minister. This Bill will deprive new entrants into railway salaried service, local government salaried service and the Civil Service of the right to become voluntary contributors to health insurance and old age pensions. The present arrangement is that a young man going into the railway service serves a period of probation; he is then placed on the establishment and goes into the superannuation scheme; and under the present law such a young man has the right to contract-in as a voluntary contributor for all benefits. That right is taken away from him by the provisions of this Bill.
Moreover, this Bill will deprive persons now in excepted employment who are compulsorily insured for widows' and orphans' pensions of the chance of taking out full insurance on passing the income limit of £250 a year. Those are very real grievances. In his speech in the Second Reading Debate, the Minister referred to the scheme as bringing an advantage to 2,000,000 people. The people of whom I am speaking number 750,000. Therefore, in a scheme which is put before the country and before the House as being one to enlarge the insurance scheme, proposals are made to rob 750,000 people of advantages and privileges which they have at the present time.
The Parliamentary Secretary shakes his head. It does not take those advantages away from those who are at present in insurance, but the successors to those people will not be able to get the advantages enjoyed by the present holders of the jobs. The right of people in excepted employment to become national health and pensions contributors. was first given in 1911 by a Liberal Government; it was extended in 1925 by a Tory Government; it was further extended by the Labour Government in 1929; and it was consolidated in an Act of the National Government in 1936. After this principle has been applied to employés in excepted employment for 26 years, the Minister of Health, in a scheme that is meant to be of advantage to the community, denies these people insurance rights which they have had for the whole of that period. That is a blot on what otherwise would be a very good scheme. From the discussions which have taken place, I understand that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary are averse to providing pensions benefits to people who are already in some superannuation scheme which will provide pensions for then in old age; but whatever may be the superannuation schemes in which they are, they pay for themselves.
In the case of the civil servants, it may be regarded as a kind of deferred pay, and in the case of the railway workers, money contributions are deducted from their pay envelope week by week or month by month. The man or woman who makes provision for his or her old age other than in a statutory fund is allowed to become a voluntary contributor, but if he or she is in employment where superannuation arrangements are made, are a condition of that employment and are statutory funds, the provisions of this Bill deny that right. We put our case, which we consider to be an unanswerable one, to the Minister, but he refused it. In the first place, a deputation of representatives of these organisations was received by the Minister and I believe also by the Parliamentary Secretary, but they refused. No argument that could be employed moved the Minister. We raised the matter, I think very moderately and courteously, on the Committee stage, and we put our case before the right hon. Gentleman as plainly as we could, but again he refused it.
It has been said that it is a matter of expense, but to that my reply is that there are certain citizens' rights. The railway man will pay his share of national revenue and will be compelled through taxation to contribute to an insurance scheme which he is denied the opportunity of entering. That seems to me to be completely unfair. I do not know whether it is too late now to ask for reconsideration of this matter, but I would like the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to consider it again. I ask them to consider whether the insurance status now possessed by people in excepted employments should not be continued so that they may be able to augment their pensions—which may be very meagre in some cases—by their own money under the National Insurance scheme. I mentioned in a previous discussion the deplorable case of postmen whose wages are never very high, and do not, I suppose, range much over £3 per week. They are debarred by this so-called "munificent" Bill from improving their 15s. a week or 20s. a week pensions when they reach the age of 55. This scheme rules them out, and that seems a genuine hardship. I ask the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to see whether, even now, it would not be possible to make a change which would give to people in excepted employments in the future the same measure of benefit as they have at present.
With regard to the differentiation between men and women, that seems to have been gratuitously inserted in the Bill. It need not have been put into the Bill at all. The number of additional cases that would be brought in by making the arrangement the same as between men and women would involve only a small outlay. We have approached the Minister again and again on this subject, but it seems to me that the right lion. Gentleman has lost the capacity for saying "Yes." I do not know whether, when he was a boy, he attended Band of Hope meetings as I did. If so I think he may have over-learned one of the lessons then taught to him.
No, there was an even more popular hymn than that. It was "Have courage my boy to say 'No'." I think that philosophically, religiously and psychologically that is all wrong. I think "No" is a wretched word, and the people who say "Yes" are more popular in all circles of society. I urge the Minister, therefore, to try to say "Yes" in this case, and to allow the advantages and benefits which have hitherto attached to people in excepted employments to be continued.
I join in congratulating the Minister on the successful way in which he has piloted this Measure through the House, and on the fact that it has now reached its final stage. I am sure we all agree that, as far as it goes, it is an excellent Measure. Some of us think it might have gone a little further and covered many of the cases which have been left outside its scope. It redresses a good many anomalies, and I am sure we all rejoice at that fact, but it leaves others untouched. I hope the Minister himself will agree that another Measure, following up the present Bill, will be very welcome and very necessary later on. I have had a great many complaints from constituents of mine who are not, unfortunately, included in the provisions of the Bill. There is the small shopkeeper class.
I apologise. Many of the proposals made in Committee were turned down on the ground that this was an insurance Measure, but I think there are many of its provisions which would not stand actuarial consideration, and I feel that had the Minister been a little more generous in connection with these matters, it would have helped the Bill considerably. I welcome the Bill as a step towards a larger Measure in the future. We all want a comprehensive Measure covering pensions, and I hope that the Minister will remain in his present office long enough to have the honour as he has the ability, to introduce such a Measure and get it through the House. We know what he did as Postmaster-General in cutting away much of the red tape which had collected around the administration of that Department. I am sure that if he remains in his present office a little longer he will be able to use his tomahawk with good effect there also, and that he will do something even larger and better than he has done in this Bill. If he does, he can rely upon the warm support of hon. Members not only on this side but in all parts of the House.
I, also, join in congratulating the Minister upon the successful passage of the Bill so far, but those who have followed the progress of the Bill through all its stages regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to meet the two substantial criticisms which have been offered. One has already been referred to by the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate). That is the differentiation between men and women. Had the right hon. Gentleman been able to meet the demand that men and women should be treated equally under the Bill, he would have received overwhelming public support for that line of action. It is also sincerely to be regretted that he has not met the well-reasoned, moderately put and persuasively argued case presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Hackney (Mr. Watkins) and other hon. Members on this side in regard to excepted employments. I think that those hon. Members in Committee presented arguments which proved conclusively the reasonableness of their case. This is one more example of how a Minister's better instincts may be prevented from getting full play because of the pernicious method of passing a Money Resolution which restricts subsequent legislation. I think if the Minister had been free to consider the case presented to him in Committee he would have been disposed to accede to my hon. Friend's request. I hope that the Committee which is to deal with this matter of procedure will expedite its recommendations, because the present method of legislation does not get the best results and Members of the House are not able to make their proper contributions in the framing of these Measures.
I believe I am the only Member who got something out of the right hon. Gentleman in connection with this Bill. During the Second Reading Debate I drew his attention to the cases of hardship which would result from fixing the limit of the age of entry at 55. I asked him to give a concession to a class of people who have, while in employment, contributed to the compulsory scheme, and who will now lose the value of those contributions. The State is indebted to those men who have been paying into the compulsory scheme for 10 or 15 or 20 years while they were at work. After a year or two of unemployment, a man may say to himself, "I will not remain idle. I will start some sort of business myself." As a result now, men in that position if they are over 55 cannot come under this scheme. They are shut out if they are even six months over the age limit, and they have completely lost the value of their contribution to the compulsory scheme. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman was not able to give those men the concession for which I asked.
I am discussing the age limit and pointing out how this Measure, like all other Measures which deal with such questions in a piecemeal fashion, is going to create anomalies. I am glad to say that the Minister was able to give some concession and in a case where a man is over 55 and his wife is not over that age, she will be enabled to come within the scheme. I hope that wide publicity will be given to that fact because I have been surprised at the volume of correspondence which I have received upon this matter and the large number of cases in which this concession will be of material benefit.
The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) hardly showed a true sense of proportion in describing this Measure as "munificent." The most that one can say is that it adds one more brick to the great edifice of social insurance, but it is time that we reviewed this question as a whole. All sorts of anomalies exist and the time has come for building up one comprehensive insurance scheme. What is the Measure which has been described as "munificent"? We are bringing within the scheme men who have incomes of £400 a year, because they feel that their livelihood is so insecur e. An income of £8 a week is regarded as a prettty good income in this country, and yet people in receipt of that income are scrambling over each other to make sure that they will get a pension of l0s. a week. I hope the House does not miss the significance of that fact. With rationalisation and mechanisation encroaching upon every industry, there is a growing sense of insecurity, which is most poignant in relation to the fear of poverty in old age. There is a great problem which this Measure does not touch fundamentally but deals with only in a very small way, and I hope that shortly steps will be taken towards providing a comprehensive pension system.
I have had experience of trying to create a pensions scheme within the limits of an industry, and I know that the difficulties are immense. But there is a clamant desire to-day for such schemes. We never have a conference in the miners' organisation and seldom have a public meeting at which questions are not asked about the prospect of a pensions scheme. The right hon. Gentleman by this Bill has, as I say, added one brick to the edifice. I hope that sooner or later this Government or some other Government will deal with this tremendous problem and with this widespread feeling of insecurity in the country. The fact that such a feeling exists is bad for the country because who can do his best for the nation when he feels that his old age is insecure? I, therefore, join in the suggestions that have been made that we should follow up this small Measure by taking a very early opportunity of reconsidering the whole matter and co-ordinating the whole of the social insurance system, so as to give the people of this country that security for which they are asking.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen:
I suppose I ought to apologise for intervening in this Debate, because this Bill does not refer to my part of the country, at any rate at the moment, but I have always watched with very close attention the various Acts of Parliament which pass this House, with a view to following them up in my country if they are advantageous. I have been very much impressed by some of the speeches that have been made on the Third Reading of this Bill, and especially with their sincerity, with the desire to see everybody included, and with the wish that none of the benefits which have hitherto been enjoyed shall be curtailed. As with many other Bills that have been passed in this House, there is somebody left out. Recently we have heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the inequalities of the incidence of taxation, and it would seem that we cannot have any Measure that is absolutely without defects. It is therefore usually a question of accepting half a loaf.
I am hoping, nevertheless, that Northern Ireland will follow suit in this matter. I have no doubt that we have exactly the same conditions there as are to be found over here and that they are looking foward to this Measure being extended to Northern Ireland. I would like to join in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on having introduced a Bill of so far-reaching a character, which, although it does not go the entire way that one would like it to go, does go part of the way, and we accept it as such. I have no doubt that, as frequently happens in the operation of these Measures, defects will appear, and that not only hon. Members opposite, but hon. Members on this side as well, will be appealed to from time to time to repair deficiencies; and it will be the duty of Members in all parts of the House to make an appeal to the Minister for the time being to put those deficiencies right. I should like again to join, from my part of the world, in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on having safely got this Measure through so far, and in hoping that my people on the other side will take it up and follow suit in the not too distant future.
The Minister of Health must feel a sense of wearied satisfaction at the chorus of approval that has come from almost every quarter of the House. Perhaps I might be allowed, while joining in that chorus with qualifications, to mention that I think I am the only Member of the House now in the Chamber who was present in 1911 during the long discussions on the first social insurance Measure. I think it is a very remarkable thing to cast back one's memory to that time and to notice the difference of tone in the debates in this Hous ein confronting this subject. There was an intense feeling of heat and bitterness then, in the long discussions on that Measure, and it seemed at one time as though it was a Measure which would have to be repealed, according to what was said by some of its leading opponents, but that Measure is now the basis of a great social fabric, and the Minister who is in charge of this Bill is rightly taking pride in the fact that he is adding a further stage to this great social fabric. Everyone throughout the country accepts this as part of the essential structure of our social life, and it is a great thing that we should have had that consensus of opinion and that on all sides there should be a willingness to contribute to this great structure and a sense that we are joining in a common effort which is above party.
When one realises that, and realises also that it is felt in all quarters of the House that this is something in which we can all share and to which we can all bring some contribution, it is with the greater regret that one feels that there still remain defects which the Minister has not been able to remedy as the Bill has passed through its various stages. The hon. Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) and the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) have alluded to what I feel to be the gravest of those defects, and I still hope that when the time comes, as come it must, for a further revision of this legislation, the Minister, or it may be his successor—but, let us hope, a Minister as able and far-seeing as he—will be able to remedy this grave defect, because it leaves a sense of injustice, not only among those women who will be shut out from the benefits of this Bill in its present form, but also among a large number of other women, and men too, who resent any thought that there is a principle of sex inequality introduced into the law.
I know that that is not in the intention of the Minister. He has pointed out that in the Bill as we have it the differentiation comes because there is a larger burden to be borne by the man than by the woman, but, if that be the case, the law itself should provide that the income limit should be fixed having regard to the burden borne by the person and not having regard to sex. I believe that that change can be made in the future, and I hope very much that when the time for a consolidating and amending Measure comes, the Minister will see his way to remove that defect and possibly, I hope, also to deal with other defects that have been pointed out during the course of these discussions. With all that, I think we can feel, in spite of our regret, that a very big step forward has been made in this Measure, and we are very grateful to the Minister for having made it.
I am very much indebted to hon. Members in all parts of the House for their observations, personal to myself and in reference to the Measure, and I would like particularly to thank the Standing Committee upstairs for their close examination of it. I think it is fair to say, as so many hon. Members have already said, in all parts of the House, that this scheme undoubtedly has a very wide popular appeal. We can tell that by the correspondence in my Department, and I have been impressed by the many and varied walks of life in which persons who will benefit by the Bill are to be found. I think we can claim without exaggeration that it is abundantly evident that it will fill a definite gap in our existing social insurance scheme and that it will afford, I hope, to large numbers who have been too often forgotten by the State, a welcome opportunity, on favourable terms, of providing against life's greatest anxieties, to which many hon. Members have referred, namely, premature death and old age. Whatever may be the defects of the scheme and whatever it may or may not include, I think it can be claimed that, so far as the insurance provisions provided in it are concerned, it does provide the best and the cheapest and, I think, the safest policy of its kind in the world.
There have been a few notes of criticism, but none, I think, as regards the desirability and the need of this Measure. It is perfectly natural that there should be a number of people who should desire that certain of the conditions laid down in the Bill should be waived or varied, so that they might enter the scheme. That is to be expected. The last speaker, the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. T. E. Harvey) referred to the Debates of 1911, which I remember so well, and I also remember serving on the first National Insurance Advisory Committee. It was natural that any such Measure should be criticised. When you introduce such Measures it seems that you must have criticism from people who are just on the borderline, and it is inevitable, I am afraid, in any insurance scheme that we endeavour to devise.
As regards the position of women, I am rather inclined to let the other sex, as I generally do when I meet them in private life, have the last word. I have endeavoured to put the point of view of the provisions of the Bill to my hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate), but I always recall that when she first came to me about this matter she said to me, "Whatever you may say, I shall remain of the same opinion." I cannot forbear, having regard to the observations of my hon. Friend on the respective needs of women and men, to fortify myself by some quotations from a recently issued book which has caused a considerable amount of public attention and which was written by one of the most eminent social reformers of the day, Mr. Rowntree, on "The Human Needs of Labour." In one of the chapters in that book he discusses the particular question which was raised by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) as to whether, in fact, although he recognises that there is a number of women who have many claims upon them, women as a section of the community bear any real burden in respect of dependants.
Mr. Rowntree finds himself much in the same position as I do, that there is undoubtedly a number of cases that could be given of women who have dependants upon them. He refers to an investigation made by Mr. Stewart and himself in 1921 which covered 11 cities. They examined the cases of 13,637 women workers of 18 years of age or over, 11,800 of whom were single, 951 married, and 806 widows. Of this total, Mr. Rowntree found 11,982, or 87.94 per cent., supporting themselves only, and only 1,645, or I2.06 per cent., wholly or partially supporting others. He examined the question whether women's wages ought to be
augmented, and he says for the purposes of his argument that, so far as the dependants upon women were concerned, he does not think, while there were a number of exceptional cases, he is called upon to make special provision for them. He goes on to say:
We further ascertained that no less than two-thirds of the cases where women workers were responsible for the support of others were due to the death of the normal breadwinner. Since the results of this investigation were discovered in 1921 pensions for widows and orphans have been granted and thus the responsibility of women workers for the maintenance of dependants have been materially lessened. Taking all the circumstances into account, we should not be justified in assuming that more than a small minority of women workers are responsible for the complete or partial maintenance of dependants.
I think that is a judgment which I am entitled, so fiercely assailed as I have been this afternoon, to seek in aid of the view I have taken.
I would like to add one or two observations on points which were put to me on the operation of this scheme. I would like, first, to remind the House that, apart from the matter referred to by the hon. Gentleman, the Committee on my instigation made a number of valuable extensions of the scheme, and it is as well that they should be widely known in order that people will be able to take advantage of them. The first allows men to elect whether they will enter the new scheme for all the benefits or, at a reduced contribution, for the purposes of widows' and orphans' pensions only. Representations were made to me after the Second Reading by a number of organisations which said that many men, while welcoming the opportunity of securing protection for their wives and children in the event of their premature death, did not desire to effect one for old age because they had made other provisions, and might be deterred from entering the scheme if they were compelled to pay for a benefit which they did not require.
Another provision has been made for the benefit of women who cease to be insured on marriage to insured men. One effect of the Bill, I am glad to say, is that for the first time a woman on marriage can be a voluntary contributor for pension purposes. It has always been difficult in national health insurance—and I remember the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) having to wage a stiff fight on this matter —to bar women in this respect, and now, for the first time, married women can be voluntary contributors for pensions. This is a valuable right where the husband is not an insured person. Where, however, an insured woman marries an insured man she will reasonably count on benefiting from his insurance and she will, therefore, no doubt think it unnecessary to maintain her own insurance on a voluntary basis. Cases will arise, however, where through the early death of her husband the title to a widow's pension is imperfect, and the effect of the Amendment we have made in Committee is that the widow on again becoming insured, whether as a voluntary contributor or as an employed contributor, will be allowed to pick up her old insurance to help her qualify for the old age pension. Her insurance before marriage will be treated as having continued throughout marriage, and she will not in any way be prejudiced by the non-payment of contributions during that period. That, I think, will be of assistance in a number of cases.
Another Amendment we made was for the purpose of securing that all elderly voluntary contributors under the Insurance Acts should enjoy the benefit of a reduction in the number of contributions which must be paid each year if insurance is to be maintained. The Bill as introduced limited this concession to a particular class and it was extended in Committee. Another Amendment of which I should like hon. Members to know in order that they may be able to explain it to their constituents, will enable widows who otherwise have beeen excluded to become insured under the new scheme. It arises in a certain class of case. Men are excluded from the new scheme where the terms of their employment provide benefits at least equivalent to all the benefits of the scheme, including the benefits for widows. I have the case of a police officer in mind. Where a man in this class married after he left the service and the terms of his employment did not provide for his wife if she survives—for instance, a police officer if he marries after he has left the force—no provision is made for his wife. Therefore we thought it right to provide for this class and this will be done by the Amendment which was carried in Committee. I hope the House will agree that these are four valuable extensions which prove the benefit of the Committee stage of the Bill.
I want to say a word or two for the information of the public about the position of the existing voluntary contributor, and the steps that will have to be taken by the societies with regard to existing voluntary contributors. The Bill provides that until a prescribed date the present position will remain unchanged. I am going to make the prescribed date one which, I hope, the approved societies will find reasonable, namely, 4th July, 1938. I think that that will give a reasonable period. From that date those who have not notified their societies that they wish to continue as before, that is with their health and pensions insurance interlocked, will be separately insured under the two schemes. I emphasise that in view of the misapprehensions which still existed this morning. They will still be insured under the two schemes. It will, therefore, be necessary for approved societies to give voluntary contributors the opportunity of making their choice before 4th July, 1938. I shall see that a circular is issued to approved societies early in the autumn explaining the procedure in detail. I would like to say what we propose to do because hon. Gentlemen opposite desire to know.
It is proposed that societies should issue to every voluntary contributor, with the contribution card for the half year beginning in January next, a form on which he can notify which course he proposes to adopt. The form will be supplied to societies by my Department, and will explain fully the two courses open to the contributor and what his future position will be according as he decides one way or the other. That will be clearly set out for him. When that has been done, the societies will need to furnish my Department before 4th July, 1938, particulars of those members who have not notified them that they intend that their position should remain unchanged. I recognise that this will involve some work on the part of the approved societies, and, as I am a believer in the labourer being worthy of his hire and of trade union rates for Ministers, and matters of that kind, I think that the societies ought to be remunerated for the additional work involved. I am ready to give effect to this to the satisfaction, I hope, of the approved societies.
The only further point I want to say about voluntary contributors is that the existing voluntary contributor who does not elect to remain exactly as he is will become subject to certain of the conditions of the new scheme, including the proision in Sub-section (7) of Clause 5 relating to the excusal of contributions after the first 13 weeks of protracted illness. Persons who will in future become voluntary contributors on ceasing to be compulsorily insured will be subject to that condition.
Suppose a man transfers from his present voluntary condition and is in other friendly societies and falls sick, will he have to pay his contributions to the pensions fund when he is sick and is drawing friendly society benefits?
If he is insured with other societies his contributions will remain payable under the scheme, and he will, as I have stated, be subject to the provisions of Sub-section (7) of Clause 5 relating to the excusal of contributions after the first 13 weeks illness. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will discuss the point with me privately. I would like to say a word about applications for admission to this scheme. The Act comes into operation on 3rd January next year, and many intending entrants will wish to be sure of being in a position to qualify for the benefits of the scheme at the earliest possible moment. It is plain that contributions cannot be paid for any period before the actual date of application for admission, so that persons who wish to be in from the beginning must make application by 3rd January, 1938, at the latest. The application forms must be examined and the applicant informed that he has been admitted before he can begin to pay contributions, and therefore, if he is to be in a position to begin his contributions in the first week application must be made some time in advance. For that purpose I propose to have application forms and explanatory leaflets on issue at Post Offices throughout the country very soon after the Bill receives the Royal Assent, and I do hope that all who desire to take advantage of the extremely favourable terms offered to initial entrants will make early application. While it is true that these terms remain open until 2nd January, 1939, it will be most unfortunate, from the point of view of my Department, which in any event has to bear rather heavy burdens in connection with the administration of this scheme, if it is flooded with applications when the initial year is on the point of expiring.
I think that most people—a t least, I hope so—will, after reading the explanatory leaflet, be in a position to decide whether to send in an application form or not; but there may be difficulties, and I can understand that it will be so, in view of the complexities of insurance schemes of this kind, and I should like it to be known that advice and assistance will be freely given at any of the 170 local offices of the Insurance Department in England, Scotland and Wales, and people will also have the assistance of very many thousands of approved societies' workers and officials throughout the country. Although there have been criticisms I have consulted the approved societies through their consultative council, and I know they will be the first to see that the terms of this Bill, when it is on the Statute Book, are properly explained, and will do their best to see that all whom they think it will benefit avail themselves of the scheme.
I have only to say this word in conclusion, that while I hope that I have not put the claims of this scheme too high, I trust that it will be by no means the last insurance Bill to be introduced. For instance, I hope that it may soon be possible to introduce another Measure which will fill another gap. The Government have already announced their intention to introduce national insurance legislation to entitle boys and girls to receive medical benefit immediately on taking up employment after leaving school, instead of having to wait until the age of 16, as at present. I should very much have liked to have introduced that Measure a little time ago, but its introduction has been postponed pending a settlement of the terms of remuneration of the medical practitioners. I announced to-day that the question of remuneration was going to be settled, I hope quite amicably, and certainly by agreement, between the medical practitioners and myself, by an arbitration court at an early date. Therefore, I am looking forward to an early settlement of the only matter which prevents the introduction of that Bill, and in that way I hope to see another gap in insurance filled.
I should be one of the first to desire to see a good many gaps filled, but we have to recognise that this social protection of our people must be an evolutionary process, and in case some criticisms are made, I should like to point out what this country does provide already in the way of pensions, an accomplishment to which all parties in the State have contributed, because they have all had a hand in it. It is remarkable to note that there are in Great Britain to-day more than 19,000,000 persons insured under the Contributory Pensions Acts, and, if their dependants be taken into account, it may be said that 75 per cent. of the population are protected by this scheme. Already, 4,250,000 persons have participated in the pensions and allowances, and £350,000,000 has been paid out in benefits to persons under 70 while a further £170,000,000 has been paid to persons over 70 entitled to pensions by virtue of the Contributory Pensions Acts.
An hon. Member was speaking a few minutes ago about what the State had or had not done. This achievement has meant considerable financial aid from the State. The Exchequer contribution to the cost of pensions payable to persons under 70 was no less than £15,000,000 during the financial year 1936–37 alone. These contributions rise by £1,000,000 a year to £21,000,000 in 1942–43, at which figure it will remain until 1945–46, after which Parliament is to determine the further subventions required. The cost to the Exchequer in 1936–37 of pensions for those over 70, payable by virtue of the Contributory Pensions Acts, was approximately £25,600,000, and the cost of the pensions to people over 70 payable under the Old Age Pensions Acts, by reference to means, was approximately £18,400,000. I must confess that I have played my part in running up the bill, and I do it with a clear conscience, and to those figures must now be added the considerable cost of this scheme. If there are 700,000 entrants, and I shall be disappointed if there are not, then, if we exclude the consideration of the financial commitments in respect of pensions for those over the age of 70, the Exchequer liability will be £43,000,000. Therefore, I suggest that we can legitimately claim that no country makes such a financial contribution, or has a wider range of social protection for its people, as ours. I claim for this Measure this afternoon that it is another considerable step forward, another, and I think considerable, contribution to the great schemes we already have, and I submit it with confidence to the House as a Measure which meets a real need, one which encourages self help and preserves self-respect and one which, I hope, will bring a further measure of happiness and contentment to many British homes.