Amendment proposed [11th February], in page 37, line 34, to leave out from the beginning, to the end of line 13, page 38, and to insert:
It will be remembered that the last hour of yesterday's Sitting was a somewhat difficult period, and towards the end of it the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement which I thought encouraging, and which delighted me. When I read it this morning, however, it sounded not quite so good. No doubt, in the meantime the Chancellor has given some consideration to the point that many of us made, that there should be a serious effort to introduce a compulsory scheme, in order that the risks might be fairly distributed and a more reasonable premium fixed. If the Chancellor is able to give any assurance, now that he has considered this matter further, it seems to me that it would be wise for us not to consider the bulk of the other Amendments to this Clause. If we are to have a new Clause, it would be waste of time to consider all these Amendments. I say that on the optimistic assumption that the Chancellor is going to make more concession to us than he was prepared to do yesterday.
I will say a word about the proceedings on the Bill generally, and also deal with the point that my hon. Friend has raised. I have been accommodating on every possible point, and I hope that no one will be unduly critical of my attitude towards Amendments which have been moved. I think it will be seen on the Report stage that I am dealing with many of the suggestions that have been made. I am anxious, particularly in view of the Business for the next Sitting Day—the household means test—to complete this stage of the Bill to-day if possible. That is desirable, for a number of reasons. I have still to give consideration to various points which have been raised in Committee. We must get on with the Report stage as quickly as possible. I also wish to get the Commission, with its very extensive machinery, set up as soon as possible; and to have the authority of the House to make the advances which have to be made under one of the Clauses. Therefore, when I say that I hope we shall be able to finish with the Bill in Committee to-day, I am not making an idle request without reason.
I think that when this one matter which we are now discussing has been disposed of, we shall really have dealt with the main considerations on the Bill. The other matters—for instance, the Clauses to be introduced by the Government—are not, I think, matters of considerable controversy. Although the task may look formidable, I think it may be well within our power; and if we achieve this, we shall not have to rearrange the business.
With regard to this Amendment, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and I have given further consideration to the matter, in the light of yesterday's discussion. We had a conference with our advisers as I was naturally anxious to be able to say something further to-day. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) and others stressed the position of those with incomes below the income limit which apply to the present system of free grants for essential furniture and clothing. We recognise that we have, in some way or other, to dovetail the existing system of Exchequer grants into the insurance scheme for chattels, and in the light of the discussion that we had last night, I think I can say that we believe it will be possible to devise arrangements which will provide for people within those income limits to cover their chattels for a reasonable amount. My right hon. Friend and I are satisfied that it will be possible to come to some reasonable arrangement.
As regards the question of compulsion, we still feel—and I will be perfectly frank with the Committee—that there are still formidable arguments against, and obstacles to, a compulsory scheme. They have not been put forward either by myself or my right hon. Friend simply from the point of view of objecting to a compulsory scheme. I think that hon. Members will realise that, from the point of view of the Treasury, for instance, the more money that we were able to get into this scheme the better it would be for the Exchequer, but as I indicated yesterday there are real and formidable difficulties. On the other hand, I recognise the substantial feeling and the very strong grounds that could be urged in favour of a compulsory scheme, and which, indeed, were advanced by hon. Members in all parts of the Committee yesterday, and I undertake on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself again to examine the matter with an open mind. There is no prejudice as far as I am concerned at all; I only want to do the right thing and evolve something which is workable and practicable. We will examine again with an open mind the arguments and the suggestions which were advanced in different parts of the Committee, and other suggestions which we had under consideration last night. I do not want to be open to charges that I am simply saying that the matter is under consideration, and thereby putting it off by uttering a few pleasant words or giving a smile, and, therefore, I would emphasise the difficulties of the situation. Obviously this Bill is being very largely formulated and framed by the House, as we shall see on the Report stage, and we will look at this question from that point of view. In any event, we will endeavour—and I can say this much more positively—to make this scheme more attractive from the point of view of encouraging a large number of people to take advantage of it.
If we are obliged to adhere to the voluntary scheme—which will be very considerably affected by the arrangements we have in mind as far as the people below the income limit are concerned—then, we must make the scheme much more attractive than it is at the present time on the lines I have already laid down.
I hope that the Committee will be satisfied with what I have said, and in the circumstances, follow the suggestion which has just been made by my hon. Friend that we should leave the remaining Amendments to this Clause and allow me to examine the position in conjunction with my experts and advisers, and to confer, if necessary, with some of my hon. Friends. It is not an easy matter to devise a scheme, and if some of my hon. Friends will consult with the insurance experts they will receive confirmation of what I have said. I will, as always, I hope, be ready to consider the matter, and I trust that in these circumstances the Committee will rest upon the assurance that I have given and allow us to leave this portion of the Bill in the light of that undertaking, so that we can confer between now and the Report stage.
I am sorry to have to enter a slight caveat as the result of what my right hon. Friend has just said. May I, without disrespect to the Committee, call attention to what occurred yesterday? There were only some 70 Members in Committee out of a House of 615, and there were some 10 or 12 Members like my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) who were greatly in favour of this proposal. I have never listened to a proposal with which I was more fundamentally in disagreement than that which he put forward in his speech. I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. There were some interruptions, but the arguments which he gave against the compulsory principle in respect of this particular Clause constituted as strong a case as could possibly be put from either the Front Bench or this bench. My right hon. Friend referred to consultations between himself and hon. Members on this side of the Committee, and if there are to be any consultations before the Report stage, other hon. Members who have taken a prominent part in the Debate will request to be consulted.
I want to say a word on the question from the point of view of the insurance company. I have been connected with an insurance company for thirty years, except during the time when I was in office, and I can say that it does not affect an insurance company in one way or the other; it does not matter to them. But some statements were made in the Debate that were calculated to make insurance experts fly up in the air—they were of such an extraordinary character. One was that it is easy for any number of policies in time of war to be worked out by any Government department.
What my Noble Friend does not quite understand is that the ordinary insurance company produce a policy containing reams of stuff in very small type, and introduced for the purpose of dealing with frauds as they may arise. If you have a statutory scheme of insurance, the terms of the policy are in the scheme, and all you have to do is to put in the name and the amount.
May I commend my hon. Friend to the simple proverb, "Do not teach"? I probably know as much about insurance as he does. I do not want to raise any further controversial issues, but I certainly hope that my right hon. Friend will not, in order—for the most meritorious purposes with which we all agree—to get the Bill through as quickly as possible, concede a principle, which, in the opinion of his advisers, should not be conceded. What we all want to see is voluntary insurance made more attractive; there I think we can all agree. I am fundamentally opposed to compulsory insurance of chattels—I do not propose to argue this—and the only reason that I have risen is to make the statement that, if there is to be a fundamental alteration—because it is a fundamental alteration that is proposed in this part of the Bill, involving a tremendous rearrangement and perhaps delay in putting the Bill into operation—I hope there will be full consultation, and that other hon. Members who are in disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon will have something to say on the Report stage.
It is generally held—and I think rightly—that if property is destroyed by enemy action, it is the responsibility of the State to provide compensation for those citizens who suffer as a result of that action. Under the present difficult circumstances the State has rightly found it necessary to put on a special form of taxation as a contribution towards expenditure. I listened carefully to what the Chancellor said, and I read his speech of yesterday, and if he will forgive me for saying so, one is obliged to come to the conclusion that there is very little hope of his coming down on the side of compulsory or universal insurance. In my view, no scheme is any good unless it brings in everybody. Even accepting the Chancellor's suggestion that most people will come in, all argument against the possibility of a universal scheme falls to the ground. What is the difference if three-quarters of the population or all the population are insured? That is not a vital difference in a question of machinery. I have not gone into the question of policies, but I am quite convinced that any scheme carried out will not involve the writing of any policies. We have National Health Insurance and all kinds of universal schemes, and if they can be carried out, I cannot see why this too should not be universal.
Unless we know whether the Chancellor will adopt a universal scheme, we must continue to discuss the Clauses relating to the business scheme. I feel strongly on this matter, and I do not think I should be right if I did not stick to my convictions. Here to-day we have a National Government and a National Parliament, and if Members do not stand by their convictions and, if necessary, vote against the Government, it does not mean any lack of confidence in the Government, still less in my right hon. Friend, who, I know, has worked very hard and spent a lot of time on this Bill. It simply means that it is desirable that, in the interests of the nation and especially of the National Government, where a difference of opinion is voiced and, if necessary, taken to a Division, the Government will know what is the real feeling of the Committee.
I am sure we all agree with the concluding remarks of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir I. Albery), because it is the essence of democracy, for which we are supposed to be fighting to-day, that we should come to our decisions by the methods adopted in this House if there is a difference of opinion. I know that the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has taken a great interest in this Bill and that we agree on many points, but I was surprised to hear him say that he was quite satisfied with the explanation given yesterday by the President of the Board of Trade.
I think the opinion of the great majority of Members of this Committee is that the right hon. Gentleman did not give an overwhelming answer. In point of fact, he put up a number of dummies and proceeded to knock them down. For example, the right hon. Gentleman did not deal with the ordinary question of fire insurance for furniture. I think 90 per cent. of those who own furniture worth £100 or more have such a policy, and, therefore, there is not the slightest difficulty in taking that policy as the basis for the great majority. The right hon. Gentleman did not deal with that at all. There can be no difficulty whatever in insisting that this fire-insurance policy should be taken as the basis of value of goods for which the owner would be prepared to pay a premium before this Bill came into existence. The Noble Lord spoke of writing 2,000,000, 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 policies, including long lists of furniture and this, that and the other. Nothing of that sort is in our minds. It is, I imagine, merely a matter of handing out something in the nature of a ticket, just as the millions of wireless licences, many thousands of dog licences and many hundreds of millions of War Savings Certificates are written out by the post office.
It is intended to assess the damage after the event, and, if that be so, there would be no difficulty at all in issuing something in the nature of a ticket. The whole Committee has endeavoured to make this Bill a workable proposition. Our Debates have been conducted in the happiest fashion throughout, and I pay a tribute to the way in which my right hon. Friend has endeavoured to meet us. I do not think one should cast a stone at one who, impressed by the volume of opinion in the Committee, goes a consider- able distance indeed to meet that opinion. I think the Chancellor should be congratulated and thanked for it. As I understand it, my right hon. Friend has in mind now some proposal which will follow the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), whereby each class of those owning furniture of a comparatively small value should be dealt with by paying a fixed sum.
That is what I understood, but I do not press the point. I should have hoped that it might have been possible to extend the present scheme, which many people regard as giving free insurance at present to all those whose incomes are less than £400 in one case and £250 in the other, but which in fact guarantees only the replacement of what are, in the opinion of those administering the scheme in practice, essential goods, which would mean the payment of a very small sum of money indeed. I hope the Chancellor will give thought to the question of having something in the nature of free insurance for all those below certain income limits, but if that is not done I hope the amount to be paid by way of premium will be a small one, within the means of all those who might be affected, and that it will even be payable by instalments. In any event, if the large class of persons to whom I have referred could be completely insured—for we must insist on that—then, clearly, it would much simplify the operation of the Bill when it becomes an Act.
In this Bill we have to endeavour to obtain two things—first, that every person owning chattels is insured, for as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh has said, there are at present quite serious gaps in the scheme; and secondly, that all contribute in proportion to their interest in the scheme and that all contribute to provide the means to recompense those whose goods are damaged. If the Chancellor will ensure that those two principles are carried out, he will go a long way to meet us, and it may well be possible then to come to an agreement on the Bill. Notwithstanding what was said by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham, I feel certain that in practice it would not be more difficult to carry into effect a scheme on these lines than it is to carry out many other schemes that are in force in this country. If the right hon. Gentleman will ensure, in particular, that the great majority of the workers in this country get insurance either free or for the smallest possible payment, I think there will be no complaint from any quarter that he has not done everything possible to meet us in difficult circumstances.
I suggest to the Committee that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made a most sensible and practical proposal. It is very important that the Bill should be placed on the Statute Book as soon as possible. Neither those who want the Clause amended nor those who, like the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), would prefer the Clause to remain in its present form, would be committed if the Chancellor's suggestion were followed. As I understand it, the Chancellor is prepared, between now and the Report stage, to meet hon. Members who are interested in the Clause.
Hon. Members on both sides, both the Noble Lord and the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). The Chancellor's suggestion is that there should be consultations and that an effort should be made to knock into shape a new Clause of a practical character. If we were not satisfied with that Clause, then we should reserve the right on the Report stage to move Amendments and, if necessary, to vote against the Chancellor's Clause.
After listening to the speeches that have been made, I find myself in this difficulty. The right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) said that, after consultation, a new Clause could be drafted and that all rights would be reserved for the discussion of Amendments on the Report stage. But no hon. Member knows what Amendments will he accepted on the Report stage, and that is a very important matter. If the Chancellor's suggestion is followed, it will mean, in effect, that the initiative in amending the Bill will pass from hon. Members to the Chancellor. If we part with the Clause now, there is no guarantee that any Amendment by any hon. Member can be moved on the Report stage, and the only Amendment that can be moved will be one from the Government. Suppose that the Chancellor, after consideration, decided against the extension of this insurance to make it universal, then, unless Amendments were called by Mr. Speaker, the only way open to us to make our views known would be by rejecting the Clause, which would be of no advantage. If my right hon. Friend the Chancellor would guarantee that, in the event of his deciding against those hon. Members who believe that this part of the Bill should be made compulsory, the Clause would be recommitted, so that the initiative in putting down Amendments would remain with hon. Members and not pass to the Chancellor, I should be prepared to accept my right hon. Friend's suggestion.
If we part with the Clause now, and if the Chancellor's decision, after consultation, is that lie cannot make this part of the Bill compulsory, hon. Members will not have any opportunity on the Report stage of reversing that decision, short of voting against the Clause, and possibly wrecking the Bill. I believe that this part of the Bill should be made compulsory, and I am reluctant to part with this Clause without voting against it, unless we can get some more definite and concrete assurance from my right hon. Friend. It is no good his saying that be will consider the matter and that it can be gone into on the Report stage. That is not enough. The Clause would have to be recommitted, so that we should have an opportunity to put down other Amendments and discuss those Amendments which are now on the Paper but which will not be discussed if we give the Chancellor the Clause now. Therefore, in view of the difficulty which would arise on the Report stage, unless the Chancellor accepted the principle of compulsion, I suggest that he should reconsider his statement, amplify it a little, and give some further guarantee to the Committee.
I am in the hands of the Committee with regard to the Report stage. I may be wrong, but I do not think it would be impossible for my hon. Friends to put down Amendments on the Report stage. In any case, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) would be in exactly the same position then as now. If there were a Division now, I should have to ask the supporters of the Government to stand by the Government and accept my advice in the matter. My hon. and gallant Friend would then have the pleasure of voting against the Clause, but from the point of view of getting a workable Bill, that would not help very much. It would not be in the spirit in which we have conducted these proceedings. My hon. and gallant Friend has not been here very much—
I will withdraw the personal remark. As far as I can see the issue as to whether this part of the Bill should be compulsory or not could be raised just as easily on the Report stage as now, and on the Report stage hon. Members would be in a much better position to decide how to vote in the light of the consideration which I should then have given to the proposals and the consultations I should have held. I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend that, no doubt, the whole matter could he raised on any Amendment which might be moved on the Report stage, but obviously, it would be better for consideration first to be given to these proposals by the Government. I would also remind the Committee that in the end the Government have to take responsibility in this matter. Directly the Committee comes down on one side or on the other, the Government have to take a very serious responsibility. If I said that, in view of all the discussions, I thought a compulsory scheme would be right, I should have to be absolutely assured of that, because I should have to take the responsibility of administering the scheme. On the other hand, if I said I was sorry, but that in the circumstances it could not be done, again, I should have to be responsible for the administration of a voluntary scheme. Therefore, in the end the Government are bound to take responsibility in this matter, and the responsibility cannot easily be put on the shoulders of private Members. I hope that hon. Members will be assured by the undertakings I have given. I know my hon. Friends feel very keenly on this matter, but we will endeavour to do the best we can in the circumstances, in the light of the consideration which has been given to this matter. I shall approach the matter with an open mind because my only concern is to get a workable scheme which will be practicable and helpful to the community.
Many sensible things have been said during this Debate, and the Chancellor has, I think, put forward a quite reasonable proposal. The hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) is possibly confusing procedure under a Finance Bill, where it is impossible on the Report stage to move certain Amendments. It is quite true that there is rather more restrictive power, but I do not think any Speaker would rule out an Amendment which was expressing the will of a large part of the House. I have been a Member of the House of Commons for a good many years, and I have never known the Speaker to rule out a discussion on such an Amendment, unless, of course, it was out of order. Therefore, the hon. and gallant Member can rest assured that there will be an opportunity. I can only add that there would be no good in pressing this matter to a vote, because only those who did not want to give the Chancellor of the Exchequer time to look at the matter again could vote against the Government. Therefore, I hope that at an early hour the Committee will consent to take the course which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has proposed. I am exceedingly glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer may adopt the idea, which is certainly not my own, although I put it forward yesterday, of taking out of the scheme that numerous body of people who fall within the £400 and £250 limit. The great difficulty, which the President of the Board of Trade has clearly foreseen, is that we are dealing with an enormous number of householders.
The proposal which I understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer is willing to consider, or at least to which he seems favourably inclined, is to remove from the 13,000,000, or whatever it may be, 7,000,000 or 8,000,000 straight away. What is really required if we are to have anything like a universal scheme, is to try and handle the considerable number of people still left. I would suggest that upon whatever basis the Chancellor of the Exchequer considers it may be possible to work this proposal, he should take some conventional basis—lots of them have been put forward, and there are lots which he can consider—and assume that everybody comes in, and that where a person's circumstances render him, in his opinion, inapplicable to come under that conventional basis, then his position might be separately considered. I do not know whether that is possible, but I throw it out as a suggestion. Under the present scheme we are calling upon everyone who wants to come in and trying to settle the amounts and get out the insurance policies. I suggest that we could get away from a great deal of that on the assumption that most people do want to come in and will come in on a conventional basis. We should then be left with a much smaller number of people who objected to that who would want to come in on some other basis. It is the question of numbers which will present difficulties. I do not think anyone would object to the conventional basis—the premiums would only be a few pounds—particularly in war-time, when we reflect that this is a rough and ready scheme. In that way we might get rid of the numbers, and we should be left with a very small number, which would make the thing easier to handle. I hope that it will be looked into, and that the Committee will accept the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I listened very carefully to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposal. He has convinced me that we ought to dispose of this matter to-day and not leave it to the Report stage. If we cannot convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade to-day, I do not think we should revive all our arguments again when we come to the Report stage. If we agreed to-day to a scheme of compulsion, it would involve the job of reconstructing the machinery which would delay the whole scheme. I do not follow all the arguments which were put forward yesterday by the President of the Board of Trade. In his opinion, there was a lot of difficulties which might arise; but if everyone approached the framing of a Bill by simply looking for the difficulties, there would be no Bill at all. I can imagine thousands of difficulties, but if half our time was spent in finding out how to solve them as they arise, we should then have a scheme which would work on a reasonable basis. If the President of the Board of Trade will forgive my saying so, I think that a good many of his examples were oddities and not general. The very fact that he had to take the exceptions proves the points which we have been trying to make. It is not a question of compulsion for its own sake but an all-in insurance scheme which is wanted.
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade assumes that if everybody was insured, there would be up to 12,000,000 policies to write out. His argument meant that we do not want everyone to insure because we shall have more policies to write out, and that the fewer people who insure the fewer policies there will be. Therefore, if no one insured, there would be no policies to write out. Either there are going to be policies, or there are not going to be policies, and if 13,000,000 people are voluntarily to insure, the problem will still remain the same as if they were compulsorily insured. These difficulties have to he got over. I can see the difficulty of saying to-day that this must be a compulsory scheme and that the Chancellor will have to set up an entirely new scheme. I would make this suggestion to the Chancellor. He could give a pledge that, if the matter cannot be settled between now and the Report stage the Commission, when it is set up, should, as one of their additional tasks, review the whole question of all-in insurance and then, when the next period comes along, this scheme could be brought in.
But there are simple ways of dealing with the main part of the problem, which is to replace the homes of the industry outside as well as inside, and if you insure the homes of the country on an essential furniture or chattels basis, that gets rid of nine-tenths of the problem. The odd ones can be left to a voluntary scheme, and that would satisfy most of us who have been raising the matter, and it would bring most people in. The Noble Lord delivered a speech which, I thought, might have been delivered on the Second Reading because, if he objected to compulsion, the compulsion is in the first two parts of the Bill, and I do not recollect his delivering anything like so vigorous a speech when they were discussed. While we enjoyed his vigorous contribution to the Debate to-day, it was rather a surprise to us that he should plunge into this discussion and suggest that he has all along been opposing compulsion when the first two parts of the Bill were definitely compulsory.
The hon. Member seems to suggest that anyone who dares to support the Bill is introducing heat. I was merely supporting it, and shall do so, however hon. Members may object.
I am sorry to be misunderstood, but the vigorous and heated way in which the Noble Lord attacked the principle of compulsion seemed not to refer to this, but to other parts of the Bill. I am satisfied that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer is prepared to consider all that has been said and go into the matter in a sympathetic way to endeavour to find a solution on the principle of all-in insurance, and that if it cannot be done during the passage of the Bill, he will give a pledge that when the Commission is set up, it will be its business to find out from experience whether it will not be more satisfactory at a later stage to make it all-inclusive. That will obviate rushing us and rushing him, and it will give time for consideration. This is not the law of the Medes and Persians and experience will be beneficial to him, and perhaps to us. I leave the suggestion with him as a possible way out.
I think, in all the circumstances, we could not fairly ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say more than he has said. He has promised to approach the whole matter with an open mind. The only difficulty that remains is that I do not quite know how he proposes to deal with the remaining Amend- ments on the Clause. If we are to debate them without knowing what is to happen eventually, it will be rather a waste of time, and we are all anxious to expedite the Bill.
I suggest that hon. Members should leave their Amendments. If I come to the conclusion that I can make changes, I will put down Amendments myself. In any event, if hon. Members are not satisfied, when we come to the Report stage they will be able to move Amendments themselves. I do not think there are any Amendments here which it would not be possible to consider on Report, but it would be convenient to see the Government's Amendments on the Paper and it may be that hon. Members will be satisfied with what we propose.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to what I said yesterday about his repeated statements that he will give consideration having become a classic. That was no reflection whatever on him personally, because I realise as much as anyone, the great efforts that he has made to try to get the Bill through and to assist the Committee. My statement was made simply to enforce my argument for prior consultation with individuals and associations representing interests that are affected. I am in favour of the compulsory side. That is my ideal, but a policy cannot be an ideal unless it is practical. Consequently, I am asking that he should give the ideal of compulsion as much expression as he can in a practical way in the Bill. I am entirely in agreement with the undertaking that he has given that we should defer the matter to a later stage of the Bill.
I have a small point to raise here. Assuming that the Bill is to be a voluntary one, representations have been made to me that there is great dissatisfaction among those who will have to earn their living by collecting premiums with the 2S. 6d. per case to be paid them. Evidently they regard it as not providing a living wage. If this is to be a scheme based on collectors going from door to door, I should like to ask, when the details are being worked out, that the remuneration of the people involved should be taken into account.