HC Deb 18 April 1917 vol 92 cc1788-94

(1) For Sub-section (1) of Section one of the National Insurance (Part 1. Amendment) Act, 1915, the following Sub-section shall be substituted:—

"(1) Where, in pursuance of any Order in Council relating to pensions of officers or seamen and marines, or of any Royal Warrant relating to pensions of officers or soldiers, disabled in consequence of the present War, there has been granted, whether before or after the passing of this Act, to any person to whom Section forty-six of the National Insurance Act, 1911, applied at the time of his leaving naval or military service, a pension in respect of disablement in the highest degree, the rate of any sickness or disablement benefit to which that person may be entitled in respect of Ms insurance under the National Insurance Act, 1911, shall, throughout the period in respect of which that pension, or a pension of a greater amount granted in lieu thereof, is payable, be reduced by five shillings a week, notwithstanding anything in the said Act to the contrary:

"Provided that a person to whom such a pension has been granted shall not be subject, or shall cease to be subject, to such reduction in the rate of benefit—

  1. "(i.) as respects sickness benefit, if he proves that since leaving naval or military service he has been employed within the meaning of the National Insurance Act, 1911, during twenty-six weeks, whether consecutive or not, and that twenty-six weekly contributions have been paid in respect of him; and
  2. "(ii.) as respects disablement benefit, if he proves that since leaving naval or military service he has been so em- 1789 ployed during one hundred and four weeks, whether consecutive or not, and that one hundred and four weekly contributions have been paid in respect of him.

"For the purposes of this Sub-section—

  1. "(a) an allowance in lieu of pension to a person undergoing a special course of medical treatment or undergoing treatment in an institution or receiving training in a technical institution or otherwise; and
  2. "(b) a pension in respect of total disablement suffered in consequence of the present war, granted before the first day of April, nineteen hundred and seventeen,
shall be treated as if such allowance or pension were a pension in respect of disablement in the highest degree."

(2) Where benefit at the unreduced rate has been paid for any period between the first day of April, nineteen hundred and seventeen and the passing of this Act to a person to whom a pension in respect of disablement in the highest degree has been granted since the first-mentioned date, then the amount of the difference between benefit at the unreduced rate and at the reduced rate for such period shall be treated as an advance, and Sub-section (2) of Section one of the National Insurance (Part I. Amendment) Act, 1915, shall apply to the recovery thereof.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


We ought to have some explanation of the Clause. It is rather difficult for me to understand it. As we have plenty of time before eleven o'clock—


The Eleven o'Clock Rule is suspended.


Not for this Bill. I should like an explanation of the Clause.

Sir EDWIN CORNWALL (Comptroller of the Household)

I explained the object of the Bill when the Second Reading was taken. It is necessitated by an alteration in the terminology of pensions. In the new Warrant the expression "total disablement" disappears and the expression "highest degree of disablement" is substituted, and it is necessary to amend the National Health Insurance Act of 1915 in order to regularise the payment of benefits to discharged soldiers under the altered conditions arising out of the new Pensions Warrant. The Clause has no other object.


This Clause deals with a subject which has caused considerable discussion in Ireland among the benefit societies, and a conference has been held within the past week or two at Dublin of representatives of benefit societies at which the question was discussed. The onus thrown on benefit societies under the National Health Insurance Act in consequence of the War is a very serious one, and they fear that as the result of the charges for disablement benefit arising from the cases of men who have been wounded their reserve funds will be seriously diminished. When the Act was passed no one expected this great War in the immediate future. Wounded men who are not pensioners in respect of disablement in the highest degree are thrown for 10s. a week for a period of twenty-six weeks on the benefit societies, and are further thrown on the benefit societies for 5s. per week for the remainder of their lives. Last night, on the Motion for the Adjournment, I raised a case of this very kine where an Irish Guardsman was seriously wounded and discharged from the Army on 17th August last as unfit for further service, and was getting a pension of 18s. 9d. a week, and now has a right under the law as it stands—and this Clause does not alter it in any way—to claim from the benefit society which he joined in 1912, 10s. a week for twenty-six weeks and 5s. a week thereafter, unless under the new scale his pension is increased to 27s. 6d. Certainly the contributions under the National Health Insurance Act were not devised on a basis which was meant to cover the liability to be incurred for wounded men in a great War of this kind. It is a very serious matter. The representatives at the recent conference of benefit societies in Ireland took the view that the State, through the finances of the National Government, ought to bear the entire charges consequent upon the wounds received by men in this War, and that the benefit societies should not be charged or their funds in any way trespassed upon by reason of men coming back from the War disabled from wounds but not sufficiently disabled to receive a pension in what is called the highest degree. Why should a distinction be drawn? If a man is unfit for further service the State should provide for whatever pension that man should receive. Why should he be thrown upon the benefit society? Take the case of life insurance. Does not everybody know that if a man receives a wound or is killed in this War his relatives cannot claim after his death under a life policy? In the case I have outlined why should a charge be thrown upon the benefit society which it was never intended should bear such a charge. I should like to know what answer the Minister in charge of the Bill can give on this point. It is a very serious point, and I think our opposition to this Bill must be pressed unless some attempt is made to solve this problem in a rational and satisfactory way.


I can assure the hon. Member that nothing in this Clause affects the position of the discharged soldier who is wounded and receives a pension below the highest degree of disablement. In regard to the case he mentioned last night and to which he has just referred, an arrangement has been made between the National Health Insurance Commissioners and the Ministry of Pensions that any disablement or sickness arising in consequence of wounds or any damage to health in consequence of the War should not fall on the insurance fund, but upon the Pensions Ministry. Therefore, there is no idea whatever that the insurance fund of the societies the hon. Member has referred to should be charged with something which properly falls, upon the State in consequence of injuries due to war service. That point has been entirely met, and the hon. Member can assure the societies with which he has been in communication that the matter has been dealt with satisfactorily. Those of us who are in charge of National Health Insurance have been as anxious as the societies are, and as the hon. Member is, to protect the National Health Insurance funds, which, as he rightly says, were never intended to bear charges other than the ordinary charge provided for by the ordinary contributions. The cost of providing for any incapacity arising from the War will be met by other funds. The disabled soldier will be entitled to the benefits, whatever they are. Sometimes the question arises as to what those benefits are. Whatever they are, he will be entitled to those benefits in the ordinary way from his society, but the cost of providing benefits for sickness arising in consequence of the War will be made good to the society out of funds provided by the State.


May I ask whether this arrangement which has been come to between the National Health Insurance Commissioners and the Pensions Ministry is in this Bill or in any Bill? Is it an arrangement between these two Departments as Departments, or is it proposed to incorporate it in this Bill?


The Bill does not touch that point. I am only explaining the question raised by my hon. Friend, but it is not necessary to have it in the Bill at all. This only deals with the case of the men to whom I have referred, but the point mentioned does not arise in the Bill.


The point I desire explained is this. The hon. Gentleman has been dealing with this very point, and he says, in order to allay any mistrust which may exist among members of the Committee, that there will be no charge on the funds of insurance societies. The only reason he gives for this is that an arrangement has been come to between the National Insurance Commissioners and the Minister of Pensions. If there is any arrangement of that kind it should be incorporated in this Bill and made part of it. Otherwise, the assurance of the hon. Gentleman with all respect counts for nothing, and cannot satisfy the distrust of those who are interested in protecting the interests of societies carrying on the business of national health insurance.


As I understand, this is to relieve the friendly societies of any possible liability. That seems to me to impose a charge, or the possibility of a charge, and if that is so I think that there ought to have been a Money Resolution. I would ask the hon. Member for Bewdley whether he has not considered this point. whether money may not have to be paid by the Treasury in consequence of this Clause, and if this Clause imposes a charge, ought not there to be a Money Resolution? On previous occasions the hon. Member has recognised very rightly the rights of this House in the matter of financial control, and if this is a case in which a charge may be imposed he ought to say so.


The hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Cornwall) has made a pretty important statement. He has stated that an arrangement has been come to between two Government Departments. Does he mean that this arrangement does not necessitate a Bill or Act in order to make it effective? If it does, what is the Bill which legalises it? If it does not, of course, if it is a matter which may be arranged between two Departments, there is no necessity for any further discussion, because his assurance would be regarded as satisfactory, in that case, by my hon. Friend; but if it requires an Act of Parliament, then the assurance of the hon. Gentleman is not worth a single sixpence.


Of course, I should be most happy to accept what the hon. Gentleman has said if I were satisfied that it enables to be carried out what he says will be carried out. My hon. Friend has said that an arrangement can be made between the two Government Departments, but how can that arrangement between two Departments alter the law as it is proposed to be laid down by this Clause? Since the hon. Member spoke I have again read the Clause, and I see that it does not relieve the societies from the charge for the disabled soldier or sailor who has been wounded and is receiving pension for disablement, except in one case, where the 10s. per week is reduced to 5s. This would only mean £6 10s. altogether. That man may be during the whole of twenty or thirty years of his life a charge on his society, which is liable for 5s. per week. That is the serious part of it. This Clause, instead of bearing out what the hon. Member has said, confirms my view that this is a most serious proposal, as it leaves nearly the whole of the liability of the societies unaffected. It goes on to say that even that reduction from 10s. to 5s. shall not take place in the case of the person who receives disablement pension in the highest degree if he has been in employment for twenty-six weeks after he has left the Army, and after he has been in employment for twenty-six weeks he shall again be entitled to pension at the full rate. My contention is that no charge whatever should be put on these benefit societies in respect of pensions for men who have been wounded in the War, and that no disablement money should be paid in respect of anything except sickness or accident arising out of or because of the civil employment of these persons. I fear that the benefit societies under the Health Insurance Act in this country have not had their attention called to this Bill. I doubt whether public attention has been called to this matter or whether the benefit societies of this country knew that this proposal was being made.


The assurance which I have given is quite correct, and I trust that before eleven o'clock we will be allowed to get this stage of She Bill.


I confess that to those of us who are not lawyers it seems an extraordinary thing that we have not some member of the legal profession belonging to the House to come here to-night and guide us in these matters. The House is well aware that there are many legal authorities connected with it. We have the Attorney-General for England, and the Solicitor-General, and I am very glad to see that the Solicitor-General for Ireland is here occupying a very modest position on the Front Bench—a position entirely inconsistent with his highly intellectual and physical qualities. Therefore, I think it is the greatest insult to the House of Commons that the hon. Gentleman, who, I know, has a very considerable grip of this question of insurance, and is anxious in a most conciliatory fashion to carry this Bill through Parliament, that those of us who are not lawyers, who have not the good fortune to be successful solicitors, like my hon. Friend behind me—

It being Eleven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.