HC Deb 09 March 1915 vol 70 cc1364-9

(1) When upon his discharge there has, whether before or after the passing of this Act, been granted to any person to whom Section forty-six of the National Insurance Act, 1911, applied at the time of his discharge, a pension in respect of total disablement suffered in consequence of the present War, the amount of any sickness or disablement benefit to which he may be entitled in respect of his insurance under the said Act shall as from such date as may be prescribed be reduced, so long as he continues in receipt of such pension, by five shillings a week, notwithstanding anything in the said Act to the contrary.

(2) The society, committee, or other body by which the sickness and disablement benefits of any such person are administered may, pending the settlement of his claim for pension, pay him benefit at the unreduced rate, and the amount of the difference between the benefit at the unreduced rate and at the reduced rate paid, pending such settlement or between the prescribed date and the date of the passing of this Act, shall be treated as an advance, and shall, without prejudice to any other method of recovery, be recoverable by deductions from or suspension of any benefits which may subsequently become payable to the person in question, or may, if the Admiralty or Army Council think fit, be repaid by them out of any arrears in their hands of the pension due to that person.


I beg to move, in Subsection (2), after the word "and" ["and the amount of the difference"], to insert the words "where benefit at the unreduced rate has been paid pending such settlement, or has been paid between the prescribed date and the passing of this Act."

This Bill bears on the point of the hon. Member (Mr. Tyson Wilson). I have two Amendments which are purely drafting Amendments. The object of the first Clause is to ensure that the insured person shall not suffer by delay. He is to get the full amount to which he is entitled, and then the approved society shall get any excess they have paid back when his claim for a disablement pension has been settled. The second part of the Clause is to meet the case of the disablement pension which may possibly have been made before the passing of this Bill. It is also to meet the case of the man receiving pay from his approved society in excess of what he would be entitled to when he has got his disablement benefit permanently settled. I agree with my hon. Friend that the Clause as drafted is not free from ambiguity. Therefore I suggest the insertion of the words which stand in my name, and which make no difference whatever to the intended effect of the Clause, but merely improve the drafting of it and make it quite certain that the approved societies will be paid.


I think the Amendment is an improvement upon the Clause, although I did not rise for the purpose of saying so. I rose with more particular reference to the remarks which were made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Cork. We are not asking for the subsidy in this Bill; we are only asking—


That is away from the point. We are now dealing only with an Amendment, the effect of which the hon. Member seems to approve. He cannot reply in Committee to speeches which were made in the House. The hon. Member will have to wait for the third reading to do that.

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In Subsection (2) leave out the words "paid, pending such settlement, or between the prescribed date and the date of the passing of this Act," and insert instead thereof the words "for such period."—[Mr. Montagu.]

Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Bill reported; as amended, considered.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be read the third time."


What I could not say in Committee, I am now to be privileged to say. This Bill is not giving the approved societies any subsidy. The point of my observations was: That it was unfair that a man wounded in the War or men who came home sick as a result of the conditions under which they have been engaged at the front, should be a burden upon a section of the community. If they have been disabled from disease or wounds in fighting the battles of their country, they ought to be a charge upon the whole community and not upon a section of the community. I think the hon. and learned Member for Cork will agree with that contention. Another thing, so far as this Act is concerned, if the hon. and learned Member for Cork had the same experience as I have had amongst the poorest section of the community, he would say that the National Insurance Act was one of the finest bits of legislation which this House ever passed. That has been my experience, not only in regard to the point he named, of maternity benefit, but so far as sickness is concerned it has been a real blessing in thousands and thousands of homes of the poorest in the land.


I quite agree with my hon. Friend that men who are wounded in the War should be taken care of by this House—in fact, I think we should insist upon it, and it should not be a burden upon anyone except the Imperial taxpayer. It would be most unfair to throw these burdens on any society whatever. As regards the Insurance Act, we know the fate of the Minister who has been most connected with the Act. It is a most extraordinary fact that a man greatly gifted and very popular in this House has not been able to secure his re-election at all. I am sorry I have to illustrate my argument by a personal allusion. The few people I employ have never been called upon to pay anything under this Act, because I think it is unjust to burden poor people with this system, which I cannot see the good of. I cannot find anybody who has been benefited by it so far as my people are concerned. As for this system of licking stamps, it is a ridiculous system. There is something wanting I quite agree, but this is one of the most mischievous and irritating Acts that has ever been passed.

The hon. Gentleman opposite now holds out to us a fresh vista of another Insurance Act. When is this tinkering with insurance to cease? Holes are always being found out, and then you have to put on a fresh patch. Here we are at this stage, and we are told that the result of this Insurance Act is that it will throw upon approved societies the burdens of war which we ought to undertake. Is it not a pretty example, if it be correct, that these approved societies should have thrown upon them the burdens which should be borne by the general public? I say it is a monstrous thing. There is not a Session since this Insurance Act was passed in which there has not been some amending Act. We are like a board of directors. We do not have to pay ourselves. We pass legislation and throw the cost on the taxpayers. The promises of four or five years ago, the 9d. for 4d., are forgotten, and, having started on a bad system, we proceed to put on bad Amendments. I verily believe, and I do hope, that one of the benefits this War will bring, and I believe it will bring many benefits to this country, will be that we shall have to overhaul the entire system connected with this Insurance Act, and I think it will be a happy day if we can jettison this Statute altogether. No doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer will continue to bolster it up, but the time will come when some man with clear-seeing vision will make up his mind that we cannot make fresh Grants to keep up the system.


I have spoken with scores and hundreds of very poor people in both Dublin and Belfast, and in other parts of Ireland, who are sincerely thankful that in time of great stress the Insurance Act contributions have come into their domestic economy week by week. I venture to say that at the present time the Act is being worked by the Catholic societies on the one hand, and by the Orange and Protestant societies in Ulster on the other hand, in a way which is second to nothing on this side of the Irish Sea. They are getting very good results out of the Act. Every week that passes means thousands of more homes assisted by the contributions. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would go amongst the democracy of this country or Ireland, he would find that complaining has ceased. The opposition to the Act has entirely died away; the employers of labour no longer object to stamping cards, and the workpeople themselves have quite come to see that the Act is not a burden upon them.


It acts as a dead letter over the whole of rural Ireland, and the Government dare not enforce it.


The hon. and learned Gentleman is now saying something I know is not true. I have made investigations in rural Ireland, and the hon. and learned Gentleman cannot get the Catholic society in his own district of Cork, or the great Hibernian Society of Dublin, or the Orange or Protestant Society or the Presbyterian Society in the North of Ireland, to bear that out. They go into the rural districts as well as towns, and they are endeavouring to get the best out of the Act. After all, the huge machinery was set up by this House, and I am sorry to find that the only living person I have heard for months speak of it as a burden is the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is not true with regard to his own country, and it is not true with regard to this country. I do not think this is quite the Bill on which to enter into a long discussion, but I did feel it my duty, not on prejudice or hearsay, but on personal investigation, to give the House some inkling of what is going on at the present time.

I venture to say there is no Member of this House who from actual knowledge, and from the visiting of his own wife, knows more about this Act than I do. For months my wife has visited hundreds and hundreds of homes in London and in the provinces, investigating with regard to this Act, paying personal visits and hearing from the people themselves what they think about it, and she told me, after having gone into some thousands of homes in London, that she did not find one person, either employer or employed, who any longer complained of the Act. They, of course, want it administered well, but not a single one was in opposition, and if the hon. and learned Member would do me the honour of consulting the societies and the people who actually go into the houses distributing the benefits and collecting the cards, I feel sure he would entirely change his view on the subject.


I cannot accept the hon. Member as an absolute judge, not only of this country, but of Ireland as well. The hon. Member is a man of great ability no doubt, but I should prefer to trust the opinion of the hon. and learned Member as to the feeling of Ireland itself to that of the hon. Member opposite. So far as this country is concerned, I do not pretend to have made an inquiry comparable to that which he says he has made, but I certainly cannot admit for one moment that there is nobody in this country who regards this Act with disfavour. My experience is very different indeed from that of the hon. Member.


My hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth) said the Act was the finest piece of legislation which had been passed by this House. The Act itself is not a bad one, but it is so bound up by harassing and irritating regulations that it is most difficult to administer. Instead of making it work smoothly the Commissioners and their officials seem to make things as difficult as possible. I am glad that the hon. and learned Member for Cork (Mr. T. M. Healy) seems to be of my opinion in regard to this Act. Personally, I believe that the sickness benefit ought to be paid by the taxpayers without having to lick stamps, and that is the only way the Insurance Act ought to be worked. We have not, however, got to that stage yet. I wish to point out that our Insurance Act is not framed on the same lines as the German Insurance Act. So far as the Act of this country is concerned we have a substantial contribution from the State towards the financing of the Act, whereas in Germany almost the whole of the money is paid by the workmen themselves; therefore there is a great deal of difference in the construction of the German Act and our own Act. I would like to support what has been said by the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord Robert Cecil). I know many societies appreciate the Act, but what they object to is the regulations that surround the Act, and the inquisitive manner in which the work of the Commissioners and their officials is conducted. They do not seem to recognise that the men connected with these societies have been practically administering an Insurance Act for many years, paying sick and maternity benefits, and they do not recognise that these men are perhaps better qualified to administer the Act than the Commissioners. The sooner they recognise that these men do know something about this business the better.

Sir J. D. REES

Although this is a contributory Act the contributions of the poor are paid with very great difficulty and suffering. I differ from what has been said by the hon. Member for Pontefract, and so far as my investigations go I believe the Insurance Act to be still as unpopular as it was proved to be by the position of Mr. Masterman.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.