HC Deb 14 March 1911 vol 22 cc2186-92

I beg to move "That the House do now adjourn."


I wish to direct the attention of the House to some answers which I have received from Ministers relating to a most important question. The immediate answer which caused me to give notice that I would raise this matter on the present Motion was given in reply to the following question: Whether the outline of the State insurance scheme had been supplied to any unofficial Members of this House and, if so, whether such Members had been authorised to disclose the information? The remarkable answer I got to that was that the question was not understood. I am rather loath to believe that that means that the Minister does not understand the question. Surely the words of the question could not be more simple or more direct. The subject has been raised by me in a variety of questions, but I regret to say that up to the present I have not had those replies which an hon. Member is entitled to expect. The question is of the greatest importance to a vast body of insurance agents throughout the country. They are very disturbed.

Hon. Members will recollect that at the election they received communications and were interviewed on this subject. I am able to state that the majority of Members of this House were induced to sign certain papers. I do not say that means a very great deal, but it does mean that the subject was brought before the notice of hon. Members at the election. These men are not able to go into their work with that zeal which they formerly showed. Under these circumstances, I put a series of questions, and the answers I have received have been contradictory. I put a question to the President of the Board of Trade with regard to the Unemployment Insurance Bill, and he gave me a polite and specific reply, which seemed to indicate that unemployment was in his Department. Then I put a question with regard to sickness and invalidity insurance to the Treasury, and the reply I received referred not only to sickness and invalidity, but it also brought within the scope of its answer the Unemployment Bill, which we had all supposed was safely lodged in the pigeon holes of the Board of Trade. In these circumstances it has been most difficult for me to find out really what Ministers mean. I have no recourse, therefore, but to state what I think of the situation. I wish to refer to a statement which appeared in "The Nottingham Guardian," of Friday, January 20th, of this year. It contains a simple statement made by the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Sir James Yoxall). I may say that I do not cast the slightest reflection upon him in reference to this simple statement:— He had had an interview with Mr. Lloyd George at the Treasury on the question of insurance against sickness and invalidity, and he had learned a great deal about the plan of the Government. He could not at present state what he had been told, because the information was private, but he could say, without betraying the secrets of the Government plan, the allowance was from sixteen years of age to seventy years of age, to which every worker is to contribute something. The hon. Member goes on to specify the benefits. There is to be 10s. a week for the first twenty-five weeks, and after that 5s. a week for life, if the unfortunate person happens to be ill from sixteen until he dies. That is a most important statement. It strikes at the root of social and commercial life. I am not here to say whether the proposals are good or bad. I am not wishful to enter upon them at all; I am only mentioning them to show the importance of the message which this hon. Member gave to his Constituents. The hon. Member went on to say that if the Government plan were carried out they would not pay at all in the future; that is to say, they would not be paying the amount they had been paying to the friendly societies. In answer to a question, the Minister said that in no case were they going to interfere with either insurance societies or friendly societies, or ordinary business. But here the hon. Member states that the large contributions to friendly societies are not in future to be paid. That is a specific promise to every worker from the age of sixteen years to seventy years. In these circumstances I do ask that hon. Members in this House should be given quite as much information as is given to one Member. I hope I am asking nothing unreasonable. This is a question which is some matter of inconvenience to myself, and it may be of inconvenience to Ministers, but I cannot help that. Apart from inconvenience, I feel it my duty to take this course, as I take the keenest possible interest in this subject.

There is one other matter to which I desire upon this Motion to draw the attention of the House. In questions I have put repeatedly, as hon. Members know, I have referred to the head of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, a distinguished gentleman who has been made the recipient of the confidence of Ministers. In consequence his mouth is sealed, and I have appealed to Ministers to know the date when his conscience will loosen, but I can find no information. I would not press that point except for this reason, that in the Press of this country, and more particularly in the Liberal Press, there keep appearing statements which those journals claim to be authentic. They actually publish leading articles stating that every Liberal Member is pledged to a certain insurance scheme. I am not able to find out what that scheme is or whether it is in existence. I object to being told by any Liberal newspaper, however eminent, that I am pledged to support something of which at present nobody can find a trace. I say that as a friend of the Government, as one who is hoping and feeling almost confident that when the scheme does come I shall be able to support it. I hope that will be the case. It will be a distinct sorrow to me if I do not find myself in that position, but I do protest against the period of uncertainty. The consequence is that the insurance world is in a state of unrest, and men do not know what their future is going to be. Under those circumstances I appeal to the Ministry to have regard for insurance and the number of men employed. If there is a Bill let it be produced, and if there is definite information let them set minds at rest. Whatever takes place I have to repeat my request, that hon. Members shall have the same confidence that is extended to the hon. Member for West Nottingham.


The hon. Member who has just spoken has not observed the usual courteous practice of this House by intimating that he proposed to raise this matter to-night.


May I say that I gave public notice in the House yesterday.


I was going on to explain that I was not in the House yesterday at question time or anytime, and I was not aware until five o'clock to-night that this subject would be raised in the House. Some hon. Member, who in some way or other identified the statements made at Question Time with myself, informed me that that was the impression he had received, and thus at five o'clock was my first intimation that I was to be associated with the hon. Member in what is called a personal question in this House. I have not been able in the time to procure for my own use a copy of the Nottingham newspaper which reported the proceedings of some two months ago. Therefore I can only speak to the House from memory. The hon. Member has not, I think, read the whole of the report, but portions. From statements which were made, according to the OFFICIAL REPORT, yesterday, I find he informed the House:— That an hon. Member of this House, in a speech to his Constituents, confessed to giving confidential information which he had received at the Treasury in December." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th March, 1911 col. 1880.] That is the hon. Member conveyed to the House that an hon. Member, meaning myself, had confessed to giving confidential information. I find from the report which the hon. Member has read to the House to-night that the words used are quite different from that:— He could not at present state what had been settled because the information was private, but he could say, without betraying secrets, that the Government were pledged.… to so and so.

I hope, therefore, the hon. Member will withdraw the accusation that I confessed to giving private information. I deny that I gave any private information at all. The only information that appears here had already been made known long before my speech at Nottingham. The particulars referred to are contained in speeches made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; the outline of the plan and the figures had all appeared in the Press two or three months before. I might explain that I happen to be connected with two or three friendly societies of a particular kind. They are called deposit friendly societies, and there are only three of them, whereas the great friendly societies not conducted on the deposit principle are numerous. A deputation from the great friendly societies had been received; a copy of the Bill was handed to their spokesman for them to examine the details, presumably as a proof that the Government plan was not inimical to friendly societies. These three deposit friendly societies were not included in the deputation, and they were anxious about their position. I am vice-president of the Nottingham branch of one of these societies and honorary secretary of another. I was asked to be present at a deputation to be received by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask that there should be extended to these deposit societies, if practicable, the same facilities that had been given to the other friendly societies. That interview took place. Questions were asked and answers given. It was impossible to be present during the proceedings without being able to read between the lines and to obtain information of a general kind which bore out, and to some extent enlarged, the information already made public by statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by figures in the newspapers. The information thus obtained was not disclosed; no breach of confidence took place; and I regret that on so slight a foundation my name has been brought into the matter.


No one has the slightest idea of the final form in which my right hon. Friend's proposals in regard to invalidity insurance will be presented to the House. A great many statements have been made and figures quoted as to the ages, benefits, and so forth. All these statements rest on no authority of any kind whatever. Any able and careful politician who has studied this branch of the subject will have been able to assemble figures which must have a certain reasonable basis; but my right hon. Friend has not arrived at any decision of any kind which has been made public or communicated to any Member of this House wherever he may sit. The period has not been reached when any such communication could be made. I know nothing at all of any foundation or basis for any statements which may have appeared in newspapers or articles purporting to give the Government scheme of invalidity and sickness insurance. All these matters are entirely in the future. The complexity of the subject is such that with anyone engaged in investigating it, as my right hon. Friend is, from day to day, and from week to week, interviewing many different classes of persons and many different interests, examining the proposals and position of very many different societies who occupy this great field, it is inevitable that his mind must move forward from one decision to another until the final stage is reached when his proposals can be put before Parliament. I certainly deprecate very much any rumours emanating from the newspapers being countenanced or given currency to by this House, which appear to forecast or foreshadow in any way the ultimate structure and final form of the Government Bill. The production of that Bill will not be unreasonably delayed, but it is not in the power of anyone at the present time to say what the form, character, and scope of that measure will be.


I understood from the speeches that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made during the year that the Bill was already drafted; was quite prepared. I have not for the moment got an exact quotation, but I think the Chancellor said that he had the measure in his pocket. What I should like to know is why the question which the hon. Member (Mr. Booth) asked yesterday should not have a fair answer? Has any private Member seen a draft of this Bill, or has he not? The hon. Gentleman did not give an answer yesterday.


The answer is no.


Why are we told that the Grand Master of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows has seen it? Are outsiders to have preference over hon. Members of this House?


Does the hon. Gentleman really suggest that when a great scheme of this kind is on the stocks that in the preparation of it the Minister in charge is not entitled to discuss in its many aspects the scheme with the different persons who have information?


What I understood was that the Bill of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was actually in draft, and that that Bill in draft had been seen by the head of the Oddfellows. I asked, are hon. Members of this House to have the same opportunities as the Grand Master of the Oddfellows? If according to the right hon. Gentleman there is no truth in the statement, could we or not have had yesterday a straightforward statement? The hon. Member (Mr. Illingworth) who replied yesterday was instructed, I presume, by the Treasury as to what his answer should be. If the hon. Member who has moved his Motion presses it, I shall be pleased to vote for it.


The hon. Gentleman who called attention to this matter made a very searching statement with regard to the publication in advance of information in regard to the scheme. I only regret that he did not see his way to give chapter and verse from his statement, and inform us what newspapers this information appeared in. I believe he stated that it was especially in Liberal newspapers that the information appeared. It would be extremely interesting to this House to know precisely the privileges in this matter of the Cocoa Press.


I should like to ask is it not a fact when a large measure of this kind is under consideration that there may be several different drafts of the Bill, and that none of these may be the one ultimately adopted? I have seen many references to this matter in the Press. There has been a great deal of anticipation in the Press before events happen, and, if I mistake not, a great deal of it appears not in what the hon. Member calls the "Cocoa Press," but in the "Yellow Press."

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-five minutes after Eleven o'clock.