§ (1) In addition to the moneys which under Part I. of the National Insurance Act, 1911 (in this Act referred to as the "principal Act") are required to be contributed out of moneys provided by Parliament towards defraying the cost of any of the benefits conferred by Part I. of that Act or the expenses of administration of any of those benefits or otherwise for the purposes of that Act, there shall be contributed out of moneys provided by Parliament towards such cost expenses and purposes, such additional sums as Parliament may from time to time determine, and the provisions of the principal Act as to the manner in which the cost of benefits and the expenses of administration are to be defrayed shall be construed as applying only to the balance of such cost and expenses after such additional sums have been applied for the purposes for which they have been provided.
§ (2) Any additional sums so contributed for the purpose of medical benefit shall be applicable towards the payment of medical attendance and treatment of members of societies who are not insured persons mentioned in Paragraph (e) of Sub-section (2) of Section 15 of the principal Act as amended by this Act in like manner and to the like extent as if such medical attendance and treatment were medical benefit.2846
§ Mr. CASSEL
I beg to move in Subsection (1) to leave out the words "towards such cost, expenses and purposes," and to insert instead thereof the words, "for the purpose of medical benefit."
I desire to explain to the Committee the exact objects I have in view in the various Amendments to this Clause which I have placed on the Paper. If I make that clear in moving this Amendment, I do not think it will be necessary for me to occupy the attention of the Committee at any length on the other Amendments which I have put down. Generally I may say that my object is to introduce some limitation on the generality of the words of this Clause. As it stands at present it is absolutely general, without any limitation whatever either as to the purposes to which the moneys can be devoted, or as to the amount of the moneys which can be voted in this way. The Committee will remember the reason why this Clause has found its way into the Bill. This is not a Clause which finances the Amendments in the rest of the Bill. It does not do that at all, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me as to that. It is a Clause intended to carry out a pledge given by the Prime Minister during last Session to regularise what was done then. On the 11th February of this year a Supplementary Estimate was brought forward by the Treasury for the amount of £1,825,000, mainly intended to cover the two and six pence per head per person extra for the doctors. When that Supplementary Estimate was brought forward objection was at once taken on the ground that this was in conflict with Section 3 of the National Insurance Act of 1911, which laid down the provisions under which the employer and employed on the one hand, and the State on the other were to provide the moneys required for the benefits and cost of administration of those benefits. That objection was taken as a point of Order, and Mr. Speaker ruled on it on the 11th February, 1913, and it is that which has really led to this Clause being inserted in the Bill. Mr. Speaker on that occasion said:—I do not think it is really a question for me to rule upon. The matter has been very clearly put in the debate we have had. I think it must he evident that this procedure does vary Section 3 of the Insurance Act. The question then arises does it vary it to such an extent as to become illegal. That would he a question of law—as to whether the Appropriation Act when it appropriates this sum will over-rule the Insurance Act or not, and upon that the House will receive the report and advice of the Comptroller and Auditor General who is the officer appointed by the House to consider and to 2847 see whether all sums paid out are paid out under proper authority. The House would be advised by him in due course."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1913, col. 898, Vol. XLIII.]Upon that the Prime Minister said that he was prepared to take steps to regularise what had been done, and put it formally into an Act of Parliament. He accepted the principle that it should not be done merely with an Estimate and Appropriation Bill, but that it ought to be done by Act, of Parliament. This is in order to carry out that—
§ Mr. CASSEL
I am speaking of my Amendment and explaining the reasons for bringing it forward. After Mr. Speaker's ruling, the Prime Minister promised that the procedure should be regularised, and it is to carry that out that this Clause has been put into the Bill. But the Clause goes very much further.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not think it is in order to elaborate too far the past history of the point which the hon. Member has raised. As I understand it this point is that he wishes to argue that this Clause must be limited. That question is not a point of Order. He has a perfect right to move the omission of these words but he need not elaborate that.
§ Mr. CASSEL
I was not going to elaborate it any further, as I had come to the end of my explanation of the genesis of the Cause, which goes very much further than what was necessary to carry out what the Prime Minister then said he was going to do. In fact, it goes so far, as I read the Clause, that it would enable the whole Act to be made non-contributory by a mere Estimate and Appropriation Bill. There are some Members of the Committee who think it would be an advantage that the Act should be non-contributory, but I am not going, for the moment, to discuss that question. Whether it be an advantage or a disadvantage we think it is a thing which ought to be done by Act of Parliament and not by mere Estimate and Appropriation Bill. As the Clause stands at present the whole of the provisions in the original Insurance Act are made subject to this Clause. The original Act by 2848 Section 3 provides that two-ninths is to be provided by the State and the remaining seven-ninths by the employer and the employed, and it then goes on to provide how the employer and the employed respectively are to contribute, but in the words of this Section all that is made subject to additional moneys being provided. If you read the latter part of this Section you will see that the provisions of the original Act are only to apply to any balance that remains over and above what has been provided by Estimate and Appropriation Bill. So that assuming the total required from employer and employed is 20 millions per year, and assuming that by Estimate and Appropriation Bill you vote a sum of 20 millions, the result will be that there will be no balance at all to which the provisions of the original Act could apply. If the 20 millions voted by Estimate and Appropriation Bill is sufficient to meet the total expenditure, in that case what balance will there be to which the whole of the original provisions of the Act can be applied. There will be none, because there will be no balance upon which those provisions will have any effect at all. What I propose is by these words, to limit the generality of this Clause. I was endeavouring to explain before the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lloyd George) came in that the Clause as it stands is so general that the whole Act could be made noncontributory by a mere Estimate and Appropriation Bill. I do not think that is the intention of the Government, and I think if they had realised that that is the effect of the Section they would not have framed it in the way in which it has been framed. My proposal will limit the moneys which can be provided in that particular way by an Estimate and Appropriation Bill to the case of medical benefit, because that was the purpose—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member has already explained that to the Committee and I do not think he is entitled to go aver the argument again. We must have it explained by the Minister in charge of the Bill.
§ Mr. CASSEL
This is the first time I have had the privilege of serving on Grand Committee, and I am not so familiar with its procedure.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Therefore I wished to explain to the hon. Member we are not accustomed to repetition.
§ Mr. CASSEL
I wish to make it quite clear that the object of the Amendment is to limit the Clause for the particular purpose for which the Supplementary Estimate, out of which it all arose, was brought in. But I am willing to extend the words which I have put down, if the right hon. Gentleman thinks they are not wide enough in the case of Ireland, to moneys voted in lieu of medical benefit for the purpose of medical certificates, because I think under the original Estimates of the 11th February, 1913, in addition to medical benefits there are also moneys provided in Ireland for the purpose of defraying the cost of medical certificates on sickness, and the expenses of administration arising owing to the absence of medical benefits in Ireland. I am quite willing to add those words to the words of my Amendment. I do suggest to the Committee that there ought to be, either as to the nature of the medical benefits, or the amount of money, some limitation on the generality of this Clause. I submit that regularity of financial procedure is a most important thing in a Democratic country, and I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to be the first person to welcome a continuance of the safeguards which regularity of financial procedure provide. The temptation to vote money for purposes that may be considered temporarily popular is undoubtedly very great, and one which it is difficult even for any Government to resist, and therefore, I submit to the Committee that it is of the utmost importance that we should maintain regularity in our financial procedure, and that so vital a question as to whether the Act is to be contributory or not ought not to be determined upon an estimate. I believe there is no precedent whatever where a Clause of this kind is so general in its character, and so unlimited in its scope, has been inserted in any Bill, and, therefore, I beg to move the Amendment in my name.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Before proposing the Amendment to the Committee, I will call upon the clerk to read the Money Resolution.
Mr. COLOMB (Acting Clerk)
read the Resolution, which was as follows:—That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of Moneys to be provided by Parliament, of such additional sums as may be required for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend Parts I. and III. of the National Insurance Act, 1911.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Masterman)
The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just 2850 spoken is proposing that the Committee should limit the powers of Parliament and really impose the new rule upon the House of Commons. The House has always from the beginning taken what course it pleases in voting Aids and Supplies for the Crown. It has not only done so in connection with Bills every day, but it has done so from time to time in direct contradiction of Bills. It is the one fundamental principle that Parliament has always determined it shall possess. What is the history of this Clause? This Clause is put into the Bill practically in response to the request of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Parliament voted last January, by a Supplementary Estimate, which was afterwards included in the Appropriation Bill, a sum of money for doctors, and special purposes connected with the Act. It was then suggested that the Public Accounts Committee had criticised from time to time, or brought before the attention of the House for criticism, moneys voted in contradiction of a Statute, and the point was whether this was or was not in contradiction of the National Insurance Act. But in any case the Prime Minister said, in order to make this quite clear in the future, that in addition to gathering up these Supplementary Estimates in an Appropriation Bill, he would propose at the first convenient opportunity that the moneys voted for the National Insurance Act should be placed in exactly the same position as money votes voted for any other of the various purposes for which Parliament voted money. Money is not voted to any great extent in. Bills or Acts; it is voted through Estimates and the Appropriation Act. Take, for example, education. All Estimates increasing from time to time the money voted for Education are voted on Estimates, and the Appropriation Act without any special Act. All the Navy expenditure, all the Army expenditure, and practically, I should think, three-fourths of the expenditure required by the House of Commons or which ought to have the approval of the House of Commons, is so voted. We could not consent to any such limitation as this Amendment proposal placed in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is wrong in stating that two-ninths was the limitation in all cases in the Act.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
There are provisions that do not refer to two-ninths, and there was a Supplementary Estimate 2851 brought forward, at the request of hon. Gentlemen opposite, while the Bill was in Committee. This Bill does not commit us to half-penny expenditure beyond that in the estimates of the year, but as more experience of the Act is realised, it is well that it should not be necessary for Parliament to reopen the whole Insurance Act in alteration or amendments on all kinds of clauses, with the opportunity of unlimited expenditure of time, if it simply wants to add a small sum to the administration of other expenses of the Act. We have done nothing more or less than carry out the promises made by the Prime Minister, and I therefore invite the Committee to reject this Amendment.
The right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary to the Treasury, said this Clause was put into the Bill at the request of the Opposition, and he proceeded to say the Government would not accept any limitation on the powers of Parliament. This Clause was never put in these words at the request of the Opposition. What the Opposition did was this: They pointed out to the Government the irregularities of which they were guilty when they were voting a Supplementary Estimate of £1,800,000, and they challenged that position in the House, and the Prime Minister himself, differing from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, thought the position we had taken up was quite right, and that it was an irregular procedure, and in consequence of that he made a promise at the earliest possible moment to regularise the procedure. The right hon. Gentleman is also unfortunate as regards the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night stated this first Clause simply regularises the vote of £1,800,000 already made by the House of Commons. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had no doubt about the necessity for this Clause for the purpose of regularising the vote already made. The Secretary to the Treasury, unfortunately, I suppose did not hear what the Chancellor said last night in the House. The point really of my hon. and learned Friend's Amendment is this: What is intended by the first Clause? Does the Government intend it to cover more than medical benefit, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night, upon the financial Resolution, assured the House it was intended to cover? The 2852 Chancellor was asked what is intended by the Financial Resolution? Is it or not intended to give powers to do anything beyond regularising the Supplementary Estimate? and the right hon. Gentleman said: This first Clause simply regularises the vote of £1,800,000. If it is intended to regularise this Vote, it ought to be so stated in the first Clause of this Bill. My hon. and learned Friend pointed out it could be made to cover something much more than medical benefit as the Clause now stands, and the Secretary to the Treasury admits that, because he says that the Committee has no right to limit the power of Parliament. The Chancellor of the Exchequer last night said it was merely intended to regularise the vote already given, and the Secretary to the Treasury this morning says: "We cannot be expected to accept that limitation. We are going to use this for any purpose we think fit in the future." The Committee ought to have before it a definite statement of what the Government do really want this power for. If it is simply to regularise something, there seems to be no reason why the powers should not be limited to dealing with medical benefits If it is not for that purpose, the Government ought to tell us, and not leave us in doubt as to what is intended to be done by the first Clause. The Secretary to the Treasury says: "We could do it at a future time by a Supplementary Estimate giving us the aid for the Crown, without coming down to the House."
For an Amending Bill but coming simply for an Estimate. The right hon. Gentleman knows there is a very great difference. A Supplementary Estimate is put down by the Government and the Government choose the Amendment to be made. The House does not, in fact, choose them. If, on the other hand, the Government brings in a Bill to amend the National Insurance Act, everybody interested in insurance throughout the country immediately considers what can best be done with the money. If the sum is £500,000 the various approved societies and organisations can say: "We would prefer it used in this or that manner." If, on the other hand, it is done by estimate by the Government then the Government can choose the objects for which that money is to be applied, and can in effect prevent the House, or those 2853 most interested in National Insurance, from choosing how that money ought to be spent. I think my hon. Friend has made a good case which has been in no way met by the Government, except by a mass of contradiction, and before the Committee rejects this Amendment, I think there should be some better argument from the Government.
§ Mr. CASSEL
I would like to correct the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. When he stated that I said the Insurance Act provided that in every case only two-ninths should be found out of State Funds. I do not think I said anything of that kind. The cases where more than two-ninths are found by the State are specifically set out in the Act of Parliament. Just in the same way, we want specifically set out in the Act the purposes for which more than two-ninths are to be found. The other point that the right hon. Gentleman made was to express a doubt as to whether this really was contrary to section three of the National Insurance Act.
§ Mr. CASSEL
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that, but if there is any doubt upon the subject, I would refresh his memory by reminding him of the fact that Mr. Speaker said: "I think it must be evident this procedure does vary Section 3 of the National Insurance Act." Then the right hon. Gentleman said that I am trying to limit the powers of Parliament. Nothing of the kind. It is quite impossible to limit the powers of Parliament. What I am trying to do is to limit the effect of this section, which is introducing a novel procedure into Parliament, and which the Speaker thought to be an irregular method. It is for that purpose that I have moved this Amendment, and in no way with the intention of limiting the powers of Parliament, but to limit the powers of imposing new burden's by a mere estimate and Appropriation Bill, so as to vary the terms of an Act of Parliament, a procedure which I think has hitherto been regarded as irregular.
§ Mr. H. W. FORSTER
I would like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give the Committee some clear indication of what method he really intended to pursue. It is pointed out by my hon. and learned Gentleman that this Clause gives to the Government of the day far wider powers than they now possess with regard to amending or providing funds for the 2854 purposes of the National Insurance Act. My hon. and learned Friend behind me points out that if the Government do so desire they really ought to lay Estimates before Parliament; if they desire to substitute a non-contributory for a contributary basis of National Insurance. I am sure that nobody wants to make so drastic a change in the Insurance Act without the full discussion in the House with all the details of the proposals before the Members. My hon. and learned Friend raised this question in this House when this Financial Resolution was under discussion, and the Chairman of Committee then said that although my hon. and learned Friend would not be in order in going into the matter fully on that occasion, his contentions were sound, and it did appear to him (the Chairman) that some amendment of the Bill ought to be made.
§ Mr. FORSTER
If the hon. Member for Pontefract wishes to lay his recollection before the Committee, I should have thought he would have been able to take the regular opportunity of doing so without interrupting me. I do not want to labour the point, but I do think that we ought to have from the Chancellor of the Exchequer some reason for the extraordinary width of the Clause.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I think that as this is the first sitting of the Committee I might appeal to hon. Members, especially those beyond the Gangway [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, Oh!"], that we should conduct ourselves in a businesslike way so far as possible, and avoid interjectory remarks. It is very difficult in this room to hear what Members are saying, and particularly for the public and for the Press at the other end of the room. Unless we consider these matters it will not conduce to peace.
§ Mr. FORSTER
The only point I wish to make is this: The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself said in the House that this Clause was simply to regularise what had been done. My hon. and learned Friend points out that the Clause, as drafted, goes a great deal further than that. What I want to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer is: Is it the intention of 2855 the Government to go further than what he undertook to do? If it is not the intention of the Government to go further, to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he cannot see his way to accept the Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend?
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)
I rise in response to the appeal of the hon. Gentleman; not because I do not think the position has been clearly stated by my hon. Friend, but because I feel bound to answer the courteous appeal made to me. I think I really have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend has said. This is, in my judgment, an attempt to restrict the powers of Parliament, a very futile attempt, as the hon. and learned Gentleman admits. Suppose you incorporated this in the Bill to-day, that would not prevent your voting a sum of money which would make the scheme noncontributary in spite of it. Why should you put words of this kind in? If these words, or similar words, had been inserted in the Education Bill of 1870 and the Education Bill of 1876 for every additional grant for education, you would have required an Act of Parliament. [An HON. MEMBER: No!] Just imagine how that would have hampered the work of education in this country; not merely the work of education which had been engaged in by our party, but by the party opposite. When they were in power they were constantly making new grants. It is true that they embarked upon a policy which involved not merely additional sums of money but something like a new departure. I refer to free education. The party opposite then had a Bill. But I cannot conceive any Government attempting to introduce a non-contributary scheme merely by means of the Appropriation Act. That, I agree, of course, would really be an outrage upon precedent. But you cannot limit the powers of Parliament. We are simply pursuing the same policy in regard to this. The hon. Member has asked me what the view of the Government is. The view of the Government is that we should pursue exactly the same course in regard to National Insurance as has been pursued with regard to education. Where you are spending small sums in order to improve and extend in certain directions you ought to be free to do it without having to go through this (indicating the Amendment Paper) because the moment you introduce an Act of Parlia- 2856 ment every conceivable Amendment is germane, and the Committee will have to sit for long and late and every day in order to get through all sorts of Amendments, while the one thing you want for the time being is in jeopardy for that very reason. That is really what you want. I will give an illustration. Suppose you wanted a little more money for Sanatoria services? You are getting pressure from local authorities constantly. Suppose you want £40,000 or £50,000 for the purpose of improving Sanatoria service in this country?
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
We have only got the power by putting the sum down in the Estimates, that is all! You have to put the sum down in the Estimates and then you have the power, and unless you do put it down and have your Appropriation Bill, you have not got the power. If you are going to do that with Sanatoria, why not do it to ease some other branch of National Insurance Administration? I think Parliament ought not to be restricted in that way. I think it is exceedingly undesirable. The proposition is always stated in this form and would have been so stated by the hon. Member if I had not interrupted him: "The Government can of its own will always put down £50,000 or £100,000 without consulting Parliament"! It can do nothing of the kind. The Government cannot spend a single penny without taking sanction of Parliament. If we claimed to extend the provisions of the National Insurance Act or to increase the sum of money which is necessary in order to make it effective, we would have to put the sum down. It would have to be voted in Committee. It would have to be voted by the whole House, and be incorporated in the Appropriation Bill. You would have to discuss it on Second and Third Reading. The Appropriation Bill is an Act of Parliament. I do hope that we will not, by any action of ours, restrict the freedom of Parliament to vote sums of money from time to time for the purpose of supplying any deficiencies which experience may discover in the working of the National Insurance Act.
§ Mr. CASSEL
I do not propose to press my Amendment to a Division. In view of what has been stated by the right hon. Gentleman that this matter would be treated on a somewhat similar footing as 2857 to education, and that no such large proposal as, for instance, making this scheme non-contributory would be introduced without an Act of Parliament. In view of that, I think I need not press my Amendment. May I just answer one point that the right hon. Gentleman made? I think he will find there is a provision in the original Act.
§ Mr. CASSEL
Under the circumstances I felt it my duty as a matter of procedure to bring the matter to the attention of the Government.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
had an Amendment on the Paper, in Sub-section (1), after the word Parliament ["Parliament may from time to time determine"], to insert the words "have already been granted and."
This is really a drafting Amendment. I do not care whether it is moved or not, if the Section as it now stands regularises the payments referred to. It is a matter for the Government and not for me.
If not I withdraw it, but I trust the Government will reinsert it on Report if they find that I am right.
§ Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Mr. CASSEL
I think, Mr. Chairman, you have left out the last of my Amendments, to the effect that the Section shall be deemed to have been in force on and from the 11th day of February, 1913.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I consider that that is absolutely consequential on the Amendments of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Colchester. I must put the Amendments in the order on the Paper, and the Amendment has already been disposed of by the previous ones.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I am very sorry, but I cannot go back to the Clause. Hon. Members will kindly observe when I say 2858 other Amendments are consequential, and proceed to put the Clause. Provided I have not taken the vote, I will, of course, go back to any matter to which my attention is called. It is quite possible to overlook an Amendment, but I do not think I have overlooked it in this case.