HC Deb 09 March 1915 vol 70 cc1359-64

Resolution reported.

"That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of any further contributions that may become payable under any Act of the present Session to amend Part I. of the National Insurance Act, 1911."

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I desire to take this opportunity to find fault to some extent with the administration of the Department which is now asking the House to sanction more money. The Government are asking this money because of the War, but I do not think that they are asking sufficient to enable them to administer the Act as it should be administered. As a result of the War and the administration of the Act, a great burden has been placed upon approved societies. For instance, there is one particular approved society with a membership of sixty-five, in which one-third of the male numbers have joined the Colours. That society has made commitments with respect to rent, clerical staff and office furniture, and owing to the reduction of the amount permitted for administration from 3s. 5d. to 8d., those approved societies will by and by be in a state of bankruptcy. I raise this question in the hope of receiving a sympathetic reply from the right hon. Gentleman in charge, so that I may be saved the necessity of opposing the Bill founded upon this Resolution, Clause by Clause.

There is another point in connection with the administration of the Act, and it is this: In every single Government Department where men have joined the Colours they are receiving some proportion of the salaries which were paid to them prior to that event. The clerks of approved societies, while not directly employed by the Commissioners, are, at any rate, in the indirect employment of the Treasury. But the administration allowance which the approved societies receive is so meagre and has been so depleted by the reduction I have mentioned that they find it impossible to do anything by way of giving a portion of salary to those of their staff who have joined the Colours.

Then, again, all over the country at present wages are being increased because of the extra cost of living. The reduction of the amount of money for administration plus the fact that 3s. 5d. is altogether too little, does not enable the approved societies to increase the wages of their staff to cover the increased cost of living. I think that is a great injustice to the approved societies, and a still greater injustice so far as those employees are concerned. The money asked for by this Resolution is to some extent to cover the increased outlays of the approved societies so far as sickness is concerned and disablement. I venture to say that it is a very grave injustice to impose upon approved societies the burden of the wounded and sick as a result of the War, a charge which ought to be a charge upon the whole community and not on the employers and workmen who contribute so largely to national insurance. I hope not only that the Chancellor of the Duchy will be prepared to meet these various points sympathetically, but that he will give the approved societies an opportunity of representing to the Department the gross injustice that is being perpetrated, and of supplying data to convince them of that injustice. More particularly do I desire that there should be something immediately done to enable wages to be increased to meet the increased cost of living, and to give some greater allowance than 8d. to the men engaged at the front or in the Navy.

The CHANCELLOR of the DUCHY of LANCASTER (Mr. Montagu)

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for having raised these points, as they are of considerable importance. It is, as I think he will admit, fair that approved societies should have a reduced administration allowance for the men who are serving with the Colours. The only benefit they have to administer in respect of the soldier is maternity benefit, all the other benefits being in abeyance; therefore the administration expenses are not likely to be so great. Nevertheless it is perfectly true to argue that the administration expenses of the societies are largely permanent, and cannot be adjusted to the altered circumstances which arise when large numbers of their members join the Colours. For that reason I think the matter requires greater consideration. To-morrow morning we are to receive at the Insurance Commission Offices a deputation from one of the largest friendly societies, the Manchester Unity, when this subject of the administration allowance to soldiers is, amongst other questions, going to be raised, and I promise my hon. Friend that it shall have careful and sympathetic consideration from those concerned.

It would be very much resented by the societies, who are very proud, and rightly so, of their powers and liberties, if we attempted to dictate to them how the administration expenses should be divided. The servants of the society are not the servants of the State at all; we do not control them. They are the servants of the society, and the society must be responsible for the wages they give out of the administration allowance. As regards sick pay for soldiers, the whole of this Bill is designed to relieve approved societies of the burden which fell upon them from disablement charges resulting from the War. It carries out in its entirety the recommendation of the Select Committee of this House that the pensions for disabled soldiers and sailors should be a charge on public funds and not on approved societies, but that the other benefits arising under the Insurance Act should be maintained and paid by the societies. They took that into consideration when they fixed the scale of pensions which they recommended to the House. I suggest that if we follow them and adopt their recommendations we shall find that the relief given to the approved societies under this Bill will, as the societies themselves have recognised, be of enormous value to those societies in the working of the Act. Although the forms of the House make it necessary to have a Money Resolution for this Bill, it is only because we are redistributing sums already voted by Parliament; the passage of the Bill will involve no extra cost to the State.


I rise to express my obligation to the hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Hodge) for mentioning this matter, which the Chancellor of the Duchy admits is important. I should like to supplement in one particular his reference to the establishment expenses. It is quite true that the soldiers who have gone to the War are not requiring constant attendance by the societies except in the matter of maternity benefit. But, in addition to the point that establishment charges remain the same, I would remind my right hon. Friend that the men who have gone to the War are those certified as being in perfect health; therefore they should not be taken as people requiring an average amount of attention. They are the healthiest of the members, and those who remain at home represent a heavier draw on the establishment charges. That should be taken into account in dealing with the claim for a little larger allowance to the societies under this head. On the general question, I agree with my right hon. Friend. The purport of the Bill is to relieve the societies of a considerable difficulty, and I am sure that those societies are obliged to my right hon. Friend for the introduction of the Bill.


Once more, as one who opposed the Insurance Act at the start, who maintains his hatred of it, and will always continue to do so, I must enter my protest, at a time when normal and necessary charges in Ireland are being cut down, against any proposal to launch into further expenditure in connection with insurance. I accept the statemet of the right hon. Gentleman that this Bill will involve no further charge on the State. In my opinion almost everything connected with the Insurance Act was bad. It was a bad Act, and is proving to be worse as it goes on. The War has made a tremendous difference, and the inequalities and injustices connected with the Act will become still more glaring in the future. The original 9d. for 4d. has all gone. That was burst up by the Act of a couple of years ago, and although it was denied by Mr. Masterman that any change was being made, yet we have proved that it was so.

Power is now being taken to make further subventions without, as far as I can see, a further Statute being required. The Insurance Act in its entirety, except the maternity benefit, is, in my opinion, bad, and ought never to have been passed. The Treasury allow any amount to be given to contractors, but as soon as they see a library to which working men flock, and where good books can be obtained, they say, "Here is a grant of £1,500; cut it off." That is the sort of economy practised by the Treasury. All I can say is that any proposals for further Grants or subventions under the Insurance Act will not come under the head of uncontroversial legislation as far as I am concerned. What was bad to start with cannot be improved by further money Grants. This is no time for extending those Grants, and I certainly think it a monstrous use of this Session, in which we were told there was to be no controversial legislation, for the Government to come down and vote more money in connection with these Insurance Acts.


Whilst I welcome this Act as doing something to relieve the approved societies of the burden that would otherwise have to be borne by them after the War, I would like to say that it does not, in my opinion, go far enough, and I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite in that respect. We must not forget that a considerable number of men who will return from the War will be more susceptible to disease than before, and so far as these men are concerned this provision does not cover them at all or help the liabilities of the approved societies. It will be found, therefore, in the near future, that it will be very necessary to have a further amending Act. I am very doubtful whether the contribution of the State with regard to injured soldiers is anything like sufficient. A very large proportion of the men who have gone to the front are married men, and I am very doubtful whether the amount in that case will be sufficient to meet the liabilities as far as they are concerned. I do not see why the Government should not relieve the approved societies of the whole of the 10s. sickness benefit paid during the first twenty-six weeks. A considerable burden will be placed upon the societies in connection with the men who come back injured, and who will draw the benefit perhaps for ten, twelve, or even twenty weeks. I take it that so far as this Bill is concerned, it does not make provision for giving a subsidy or assisting the approved societies in that direction. That being so, I think the Government ought to have gone further than they have done. I am not quite certain whether the Bill makes quite secure the recovery of the benefit that may be advanced by approved societies. I am not quite certain whether the Clause is strong enough for this purpose. It may be; I do not know. But at any rate I am so satisfied that within a very short period we will have to have an amending Bill, that I am not going to offer any objection to the passing of this one. I put this point hoping that the right hon. Gentleman will give some attention to it even now.

Sir J. D. REES

The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. T. M. Healy) omitted one thing in his description of the Act, and that is that it is a German Act from beginning to end, and typical of the legislation that I hope, will be far less popular in the future than it has been in the last ten years.

Question put, and agreed to.