HC Deb 23 May 1928 vol 217 cc1931-7

At the end of Section ninety-four of the principal Act (which contains rules as to the making of special orders) the following Sub-sections shall be inserted: (7) As soon as the Minister has published notice of the proposal to make a special order he may, if he certifies that it is expedient that the special order should come into operation forthwith, make the special order to come into operation forthwith as a provisional special order, but such provisional special order shall only continue in force until the special order made in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this Section has come into force. (8) Any provisional special order made in pursuance of the foregoing Sub-section shall be laid before both Houses of Par- liament as soon as may be after it is made, and if within the subsequent twenty-one days on which that House has sat next after any such provisional special order is laid before it either of those Houses presents an address to His Majesty against the order or any part thereof the order shall be annulled, but without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder."—[Mr. Chamberlain.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Chamberlain)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

In order to appreciate the purpose of this Clause, it is necessary to refer to Clause 19 of the Bill. Clause 19 brings within the purview of the National Health Insurance scheme certain new classes of persons, but it is provided under the Clause that, by a special Order, particular persons may be excluded from the general rules, those persons not being persons whom it is intended or whom it is possible to insure, If the ordinary procedure were followed in regard to special Orders, it is very possible that the special Order excluding any such persons could not be brought into force until some time after they had actually been brought within the Act, and the object of my proposed new Clause is to make the special Order operative forthwith, in order to avoid bringing people into insurance and making them pay contributions for a short time, when they are going to be excluded from insurance before, probably, they would have been able to get any benefit. That is the purpose of the Clause, and it will be seen that, in the second part of it, ample provision is made for Parliament to consider any special Order such as is contemplated. I think, therefore, that the powers of Parliament are strictly preserved by that second part.


I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman how it comes about that this proposed new Clause is put down at this stage without any reference to previous proceedings? Until I hear more about the Clause, I am not going to say that I am opposed to it, but I will put two or three points for the right hon. Gentleman's consideration. In the first place, the Clause has never been mentioned in any previous Debate. We sat for a long time in Committee upstairs, and dealt at length with the new classes of persons whom it is proposed should be brought into the insurance scheme, and I should have thought that, at any rate, the right hon. Gentleman would have found out the flaw to which he now refers when he was dealing with those classes in Committee upstairs. This proposed new Clause will, in fact, unless I am very much mistaken, alter our whole Parliamentary practice with regard to the issue of Orders. Section 94 of the original Act provides for what I think is the ordinary practice in relation to Orders; that is to say, the Minister of the Crown lays on the Table of the House of Commons certain Orders, and the House of Commons is entitled to petition against the Orders becoming operative. If I have any quarrel at all with the wording of the proposed new Clause, it is in relation to the last line, where it says that, if an Order or any part thereof be annulled, it shall be without prejudice to the validity of anything previously done thereunder. Let us consider what happens at the present time. A draft Order is issued by the Minister and placed on the Table of the House of Commons, and, within a period of 21 days, or such other period as may be laid down, any Member of the House of Commons may move an Address praying for the annulment of the Order. If, however, this proposed new Clause be inserted in the Bill, we are told, in the words I have quoted, that the Order will be put into operation at once, that it will lie on the Table of the House of Commons, and, if the House of Commons petitions against it, and the Order is thrown out, then nothing that has been done under the Order in the meantime is to be cancelled. Surely, there must be something wrong there; and I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to explain a little further what actually is the reason for this.

He said something else with reference to the proposed new Clause. I thought that we were going to have regulations and orders to bring certain people in for the first time—slaughtermen, share fishermen, tree fellers and the like. Now we are told by the right hon. Gentleman that the Order to which he refers, and which may be put into operation for a few days until it is cancelled by Parliament, is an Order to exclude certain people, whereas, as I have said, I thought that we were going to bring certain people into the scheme. There are, therefore, three points that I would put to the right hon. Gentleman. In the first place, what are the reasons that have induced him to make this new proposal, when in fact we discussed the whole of this problem for a long time upstairs; secondly, how does it come about that we are going to have an Order which, if it be thrown out by Parliament, may be operative only for a few weeks or a few days; and, finally, how does it come about that Orders may be issued under this Clause which will exclude certain people, when in fact we were told that any Orders that would be issued would be Orders to include certain people and not to exclude them?


I quite understand the hon. Gentleman putting this point, because, naturally, anyone who is interested in the work of National Health Insurance would desire that consideration should be given by this House to a proposal of this kind. The matter has arisen at this stage owing to the various Clauses which have been incorporated in the Measure, particularly, as the hon. Gentleman will remember, those very difficult matters which we discussed in connection with share fishermen. Not only will this proposed new Clause enable us to exclude certain people, but, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, to meet the request of many Members of the Committee, while we shall be including in our Order a very large number of share fishermen, it will also be necessary to exclude a limited number of people who are simply owners on their own account, and I do not think that anyone has ever defended the inclusion of people of that class under the National Health Insurance Act—that is to say, men who are working on their own account and are simply employers. That would be the class of person that would have to be excluded. Moreover, it is intended to revoke the existing Order, made under the principal Act, which at the present time excludes certain Cornish fishermen, in order to bring them within the new scheme which was laid down in Committee. Those are the two objects of this proposed new Clause.

The hon. Gentleman also asked why it is necessary to put the special Order into operation immediately. The answer to that is that, both under the original Bill and under a proposal with which we shall deal in a later Amendment, this new Measure has to come into force on a particular date, and, in order to make the inclusion and exclusion of these people come at the exact moment of the bringing into operation of this new Measure, it is necessary that we should have power to make this special Order. Otherwise, we might have this new Measure coming into operation, say, on the 1st January, and, under the old procedure, a good many days would have to go by before we could adopt the method, either of bringing in these new people immediately if they ought to be in, or excluding any who ought to be out, and, in that case, people might have to pay compulsory contributions when it was not intended that they should come into the scheme at all. It is also necessary that we should give the benefit of the Act immediately to those Cornish fishermen to whom I referred just now, who are at present excluded. Therefore, to enable us to bring all this machinery into operation at the one date, we are bound to have a Clause of this kind, so that, when the new Act comes into operation, say on the 1st January, we shall have an Order which will have been carefully considered beforehand—and we should, of course, as the hon. Gentleman knows, consult the Consultative Council—so that, on the day on which the Act comes into operation, our Order also will come into operation, either excluding the people who ought to be out or including those who ought to be in.


Do I understand that this proposed new Clause will be operative only in respect of the new classes that are being brought within the scheme under this Bill, and that that is the only purpose for which it is intended to utilise it?


That is our main object, but the hon. Gentleman knows, probably better than anyone else in this House, the very complicated nature of this Bill, and, to be perfectly honest, I should hesitate to say with any great certainty that we have been able to provide for every possible contingency that may arise in connection with the coming into operation of this very complicated machinery, or that it might not be necessary to use this special Order in some other similar circumstances. As the hon. Gentleman, I think, very well knows, at no time in the administration of this Act have we ever sought to do anything behind the back either of the House of Commons or of the Consultative Council. Ibis is purely to enable us to put the machinery of this very complicated Measure into operation, so that no one may lose benefits on the one hand, or, on the other hand, he made to pay compulsory contributions when it is not intended that he should have any insurance benefit. It is really to ease the wheels of the machinery, and I do not think that anyone need have any apprehensions as to what will be the effect of the Clause.


With regard to the inclusion of share fishermen among the new classes who are to come under this Measure, I have no fault at all to find with the Clause, but the point about which I am a little concerned is as to whether the Clause is really going to be limited to this particular object. The Parliamentary Secretary will remember the many discussions that we had in Committee on the question of the power of the Minister to set up clinics, and I think he realised that there was a considerable amount of opposition, even from Members of his own party, to the idea of giving the Minister absolute power to set up institutions of that kind. If this proposed new Clause is going to give power to the Minister to set up such institutions, it is, in my opinion, going dead against the general views of the Members of the Committee, and I should be very glad if we could have an assurance on that point.


Let me say at once that there is no such intention, nor could there be, because our operations in relation to the setting up of clinics would be under another Clause of the Bill, with which we have already dealt. This is only to deal with exceptional machinery. I would point out that it is very largely owing to our anxiety to help the hon. Member, and the people whom he desires to serve, that this Clause has been put down, and, therefore, I feel just a little pained that he should rise to question it. At any moment it is true the worst that eau happen will be that any evil or wicked order will be in operation for only 21 days or some short period. Anyone who gives a moment's reflection to the very complicated nature of the Act will know that in relation to a matter of this kind you really must give some power to the National Insurance Department to be able to set the complicated machinery in motion.


I think I understand what the Minister is asking for. It is for a blank cheque to do what he likes in the case of any unforeseen circumstances arising. If that it so it is a very great thing to ask the House of Commons.


There seems to be suspicion in the minds of some hon. Members about this very harmless Clause. It does.not give a blank cheque to the Minister at all. It is merely a power in certain instances to make the special orders, which the Minister already has the power to make, operative at once instead of having to wait a very long period before they become operative. Under the existing law, the periods are 21 days and afterwards 30 sitting days of either House. In the case of National Health Insurance schemes certain people are always passing in and out and that is a very long delayed process and it may be desirable, and certainly is desirable in the cases we contemplate in Clause 19, to make the machinery work smoothly. Even under the procedure contemplated here whereby the period would be reduced from 51 to 21 days Parliament has power, if it thinks the Minister is attempting to use the procedure improperly, to stop it and make the proposed special order inoperative.


In reading this Clause it seems to me too clear almost for argument. This does not give any power at all to make a special order. It only says where there is power to make orders they shall operate forthwith instead of being operative after a certain number of days.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.