HC Deb 07 August 1912 vol 41 cc3298-303

As I see my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his place, the opportunity is too good to be missed to ask him to give us if he can the latest figures in regard to the operation of the Insurance Act? I am sure that it will be an immense gratification not only to Members on this side of the House, but to hon. Gentleman on the other side who so warmly supported the Insurance Act, if my right hon. Friend can assure us that it is working smoothly, and give us, approximately, the latest details as to the number of insured persons, and any other particulars which he may have.


I would like to put a further question on this matter: Whether the right hon. Gentleman will consider what is due to the employers throughout the country, because it seems to me that he should make some acknowledgment of the cooperation which the various business firms throughout the country have rendered in accommodating themselves to this new legislation, especially in view of the fact that they have to make large payments on behalf of the workpeople? I would ask, further, if the right hon. Gentleman's attention has been called to one or two cases which are in violent contrast to those in wihich ready help has been afforded in the working of the Act? I wish to refer to the case of a laundry in Hull, of which the proprietress has issued a wild and absurd manifesto against the Act, saying that it will cost her £50 per annum, and yet she herself has been deducting the whole of the contributions, both her own and the workwomen's— sixpence a week—from the poor women in her employ, who are not in any trade union. From some of these women she deducts a penny a day, that is sixpence a week for six days, and as a consequence some of them are denied the privilege of riding in the electric car, and the poor women do not know whom to blame.

They are in that unfortunate position owing to what I consider the most deplorable action, of a tyrannical employer, without any justification. Another case which I want to bring before the right hon. Gentleman is mentioned in the "Daily News and Leader" of to-day. It gives a copy of a circular which it says was sent out broadcast to business firms in the City, where some Insurance Tax Resistance Society, of which Mr. H. Vernon Carey is the secretary, is practically inviting employers to connect themselves with it in order to resist the Act of Parliament. They undertake to defend actions and pay fines and costs, and so on. That seems to me to be an illegal and disreputable combination, and I do not think that any self-respecting employer will identify himself with such a concern, whether it is in the form of a company or a voluntary organisation. I draw attention to these cases because they are in such strong contrast to the cases of the great business firms throughout the British Isles who administer the Act irrespective of politics. Within the last few weeks I visited a large colliery where everything connected with the working of the Act was in perfect order. All the cards were kept in special boxes, lettered and numbered, and the workmen through their check weighman, or anyone they select, have free access every day to see that the cards are all in perfect order. The action there struck me as being typical of that of most of the large firms of the country, and it is in strong contrast to the instances that I have given. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to make some announcement as to what is the view of the Insurance Commissioners of the loyal way in which the great captains of industry have met this new legislation.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)

In reply to what has fallen from my hon. Friends, I am able to give some additional information as to the way in which the Insurance-Act has been worked up to date. It has been in operation only a little over three weeks, and the testimony of the Insurance Commissioners is that the Act has been worked with extraordinary smoothness and absence of friction. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth), has invited me to say something about the conduct of employers of labour in regard to the working of the Act. I have nothing but praise of the way in which they are working the Act. It would have been impossible for the Commissioners to have done their work with such almost unparalleled success, in administering a great and complicated measure of this kind, without the ready and loyal support they have received. I include, of course, the Scotch Commission and the Irish Commission and the Welsh Commission. They all bear testimony to the assistance, and the ready assistance, which employers have given in all quarters of the United Kingdom. It is true, as my hon. Friend says, that there are exceptions, but they are almost too trivial to mar the general harmony and co-operation which we have received from employers and employed in this respect. But there are a few cases, cases of petty vindictive spite, for there-is no other name for them, but they only accentuate the loyalty with which the great mass of employers of labour have accepted the Act. Whatever their own views may be as to the Act, they recognise that it is an Act of Parliament and is the law of the land, and instead of placing obstacles in the way they have helped to-make it a thorough success. The case which my hon. Friend has referred to is a case which I will look into, and the same-thing applies to the circular he refers to—the Insurance Tax Resistance Circular. That seems to me to be a circular about which legal opinion ought to be taken, because it seems to be an attempt to organise resistance to an Act of Parliament. I am glad to say that all those attempts up to the present have been conspicuous, dismal, and contemptible failures, I should think due to the general common sense of the community.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. C. B. Harmsworth) as to whether I had any figures which I am in a position to give with regard to the working of the Act, I have some very striking figures as to the stamps. They only came in this afternoon, and I think it will interest the House to know what stamps have been sold in the course of the last three weeks. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury has already explained, all the arrangements for stamping are not included in the purchase of stamps at the Post Office. There are cases where arrangements are made through the Labour Exchanges for stamping, and by which employers send their cheques. I am including these in the figures which I will give. Up to the present the arrangements made with the Labour Exchanges and otherwise for quarterly stamping, cover 1,300,000 workmen in this country. The total number of stamps, including those arrangements, sold in the first week was 16,548,960. The total number of compul-sorily insurable persons is 13,180,000. That shows that a very considerable number of persons must, in the first week have bought stamps for more than the week. In respect of many of those persons the time for stamping had not arrived. The wages in some cases are only monthly, as in the case of domestic servants and others, so that during the first week there were a good many employed persons in this country in respect of whom no stamping was required by the Act. In the second week the number was 10,903,134, and last week is was 15,178,594. When it is borne in mind that the total number of compulsorily insurable persons is a little over 13,000,000 I think my hon. Friend need not worry very much about the circular to which he has referred.

There is only one other figure I should like to give; that is with regard to the number of persons who have already joined approved societies. As the House knows, the term within which insured persons are obliged to join approved societies under penalty of becoming deposit contributors, expires on 5th October. But in spite of the fact that they have another couple of months before they are compelled to join an approved society, already nearly 11,000,000 insured persons have joined various societies. The vast majority have joined friendly societies. In the second place, come industrial insurance companies, and then come the trade unions; but up to the present the friendly societies are well ahead. Our estimate was that something like 1,000,000 persons would be deposit contributors. That means that we reckoned that probably a little over 12,000,000 persons would join approved societies. Out of the 12,000,000 11,000,000 have already joined, so that there are about one million and a quarter still left before we come up to our estimate. My own opinion from all that I have heard is that there would be nothing like 1,000,000 who would become deposit contributors. In fact, the number will be a very limited one, and it will be confined to those who deliberately prefer to be deposit contributors. There is a feeling among a certain class that they would prefer to be deposit contributors. I think they are mistaken, and sooner or later they will probably reconsider their opinion on that point. I shall be very much surprised if our estimate of the probable number of deposit contributors is anything like realised. That estimate was based on the assumption that the friendly societies would demand medical examination or medical inspection as a preliminary to joining the various societies. As a matter of fact, they have not demanded it at all, and I am very glad of that. They are taking insured persons frankly for better or for worse, and I think it is right that they should start by doing so. I am not sure whether there is any society demanding medical inspection as a condition precedent to membership.


Very small ones.


There may be some very small ones, but I am sure that the great friendly societies, trade unions, and industrial insurance companies are not demanding medical inspection. The result of that will be that the deposit contributors will be a very limited number indeed. There will be a certain number who deliberately prefer to become deposit contributors, and there may also be some who do not think it worth while to join. These will have to be shepherded into joining. The Germans have taken a good many years to do that, and have not altogether succeeded up to the present moment. We have taken much less time undoubtedly than the Germans to secure a very large proportion of the casual population of this country—a class that stands more in need of the Act possibly than any other. There is a prospect of a very considerable portion of them coming into the Insurance Act. I never thought that we would get them all in within the first few months or the first few years. There may be defects in the Act, but whatever they may be, and whatever may be the desirability of amending the Act in any particular, the unity is really doing its best to work the Act and it is only in that way that defects will be discovered. You may point out in argument how an Act of Parliament needs amendment, but you have to discover the weak points of legislation by experience. It is a great experiment. It contains novel proposals. It is a matter of very great gratification that without question the Act has worked in a great measure with that success which I will not say was a surprise to those in charge, but which has been extraordinarily encouraging to those who have worked so hard in connection with it.