I hoped that we might have a word or two of explanation from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of the purpose of these Regulations, which do something rather unusual. The House some time ago having provided for an increase in contributions the Regulations provide for a reduction in contributions. May we have an explanation?
The explanation is a Simple one and I am glad to give it. Since 1948, there have been reductions in the employer's part of the National Insurance contribution and the Industrial Injuries contribution for foreign-going seamen—that is, men who serve in ships abroad but who may be domiciled in this country. In 1948, it was agreed, I understand, that there should be a reduction in the employer's part of the contribution, because the employer is obliged to provide medical care and maintenance to seamen who fall sick or are injured aboard ship under the Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894–1948.
Contributions are to go up again early next year and there has been a request that we should review the position. The Regulations have, in fact, been considered by the Special Orders Committee of another place. They have been put before the Shipping Federation and the National Maritime Board, and it has been confirmed in writing that the proposals are acceptable to them. The Shipping Federation, as the right hon. Gentleman no doubt knows, represents the shipowners, and the National Maritime Board represents the owners and trade unions. I hope that with that explanation he feels that he can accept the Regulations.
It is entirely reasonable that if an employer provides services which otherwise would have been provided out of National Insurance funds he should pay a small rate of contribution. It follows from that that if he continues to provide the same services and the contribution has to be raised the amount of his abatement of contribution likewise proportionately must be increased. I fully accept that. I know, as the hon. Lady has told us, that both sides of this industry are in full agreement with these arrangements.
The sea-going mariner who pays his contribution as other workers do may have felt hitherto he was getting full value for his contribution, as other men for theirs. Though, unlike them, he could not always receive medical treatment in his own home, or receive the benefits of the Industrial Injuries Fund or of the National Insurance Fund in his own home, because he was abroad or at sea, he may have felt that, on the whole, he was getting value for his money since the services would be provided for him by his employer.
I wonder, however, whether, in view of the recent big increase in contributions, the hon. Lady will find that there is some misgiving on the part of workpeople now about this. For example, the workman who, in this country, is unfortunate enough to have an accident in the street will find he is picked up by the ambulance provided by the National Health Service, taken to hospital, examined, and, if necessary, given medical treatment either in hospital or at home, all out of the National Health Service, with no question.
The sea-going mariner suffering a similar accident in a town abroad where he may be by reason of his occupation, though not pursuing his occupation in that town, may find that he will not receive those advantages. Not having been injured in the course of his employment, he may find that his employer is not prepared to pay all the expenses of his hospitalisation. He may find, should there be no reciprocal agreement between that country and this, that he cannot obtain even from the Government of that foreign country the sort of medical care that he would get at home.
It may be said, it can be said, and it has been said many times, that services provided in this way, if he has an accident at home, are services of the National Health Service not provided out of the National Insurance Fund, but the unfortunate fact is that the Government have gone out of their way now to insist that a subsantial part of the contribution paid today shall be called a National Health Service contribution. The ordinary, seagoing mariner, reckoning what he will pay in contributions and what he is entitled to receive in benefits, may well feel some sense of unjustice, if he has to undergo sickness treatment of any kind, not at sea in the course of his employment, but in a.' foreign town, and as an accidental result of his employment. He may well feel he has a strong sense of grievance against the Government.
I would warn the Government that though they have the full agreement of both sides of the industry for the provisions for contributions under these Regulations, they may find representations being made to them about other aspects of the matter.
I ask the leave of the House to reply. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) raised a hypothetical case and it is a little difficult to answer him. In such a case, where a man fell sick not in the course of his employment, while in a foreign country, I should have thought that he would be in a position no different from that of any other national of this country and that the question of what benefit he then derived would depend upon any reciprocal agreement between the two countries.
The right hon. Gentleman thought that mariners would make representations about paying an increased contribution, but to the best of my knowledge there has been none. I should have thought the answer to the right hon. Gentleman lay in the fact that the trade union representing the mariners has not made any representations but has accepted the Regulations.