HC Deb 15 March 1929 vol 226 cc1431-6

I beg to move, in page 1, line 16, to leave out the word "such".

The word "such" as it stands in the Bill, limits anything which is done to the policy which has been issued. The insurance company undertook to pay certain amounts to the insured, but the word "such" enables the company to get out of their liability and to pay what is termed a sum not exceeding a reasonable amount for funeral expenses. If the insurance company has made a promise to people that if they will pay certain premiums they will be entitled to certain benefits, that insurance company should be prepared to keep its promises. I am afraid that the insurance companies of this country are able often enough to secure advantages for themselves which it is not possible for other people to secure.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)

There is an Amendment upon the Order Paper standing in the name of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—in page 2, line 1, after the word "aforesaid" to insert the words "issued after the commencement of this Act." That Amendment is, in substance, the same as the second Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) and other hon. Members—in page 2, line 1, leave out the words "as aforesaid", and to insert instead thereof the words "issued after the passing of this Act." The Amendment which stands in the name of the Financial Secretary is intended, in substance, to meet the point which was raised by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough East (Miss Wilkinson), which is the same point that the hon. Member for Rochdale desires to raise. I hope he will withdraw the present Amendment and not move the next one and allow me to move the Amendment standing the name of the Financial Secretary. In that way, his purpose will be effected.


In view of the explanation by the Attorney-General, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made:

In page 2, line 1, after the ward "aforesaid," insert the words "issued after the commencement of this Act."—[The Attorney-General.]


I beg to move, in page 2, line 7, at the end, to add the words: (3) In relation to such policies, subsection (2) of section four of the Industrial Assurance Act, 1923 (which makes provision as to the persons to whom payments may be made on the death of a child under ten years of age), shall, in lieu of section sixty-three of the Friendly Societies Act, 1896, apply to all registered friendly societies as it applies to collecting societies. This Amendment is a purely formal one. It was found that Section 63 of the Friendly Societies Act, 1890, forbids a friendly society which is not a collecting society, from paying any sum on the death of a child under 10 years except to the parent of the child. A friendly society which is a collecting society may pay such sum; there is another Act which brings about that result. The new Sub-section will put friendly societies which are not collecting societies in precisely the same position as friendly societies which are collecting societies.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, after the words last inserted, to add the words: (3) "No such policy shall be issued dependent on the life of any child born in wedlock except with the consent of the father of the child, if surviving, unless he is divorced or separated from the mother or insane. The reason why I think it is necessary to move this Amendment is that the bulk of this industrial insurance business is conducted by house-to-house canvass on the part of the agents of insurance companies, and that the people they meet are almost invariably the mothers of the children and that they do not have any transaction with the fathers. The father is away at work; he is the breadwinner of the family, and in many cases he is never consulted about the matter. I have had cases brought to my notice where the mother seems to have had a positive mania for this kind of insurance. In one case there were six policies on the life of the husband and of two children, and there were other policies taken out, all without the consent of the father. In this case, as in the bulk of these industrial cases, the man has to provide the money for the family, and if excessive deductions are made from his earnings, even in times when he is employed, it may reduce the standard of living of the family below what it ought to be and make this insurance positively a burden instead of a benefit to the family as a whole.

Although this Bill does much to improve matters so far as industrial insurance is concerned, particularly in respect of lapsed policies, and in giving more reasonable returns to the policy holders for the money which is extracted from them week by week, it does not touch the question of whether the husband who is living with his wife should be consulted in a matter which concerns the money which he has to provide for the family. That is the broad principle on which I should like to hear the views of the Attorney-General. It may act as a drag on the number of these policies taken out, but it is a reasonable provision that the husband should concur in these policies being taken out, where he is living with the wife and supporting the family. That is the principle laid down in this Amendment, and I commend it to the consideration of the Committee.


However admirable may be the purpose of the hon. Member to maintain the rights of the father to guide the destinies of his children and control the family purse, I am afraid that the Amendment is really unworkable. Let him visualise the visit of a collector of one of these societies. In order to put his Amendment into practice the first question he would have to put is: Was your child which you want to insure born in wedlock? The second question would be: Have you divorced your husband? The third question: Are you separated from your husband? And the fourth question: Is he insane? I do not know what the chances are of securing a policy of insurance after all these ques- tions have been asked. But there are other objections. The word "insane" is really impossible to put into an Act of Parliament. Does my hon. Friend mean "a lunatic so found by inquisition." Then, what does the hon. Member mean by being "born in wedlock." Does he mean to give effect to Acts of Parliament which have been passed, by which a child is legitimated if the parents afterwards marry? There are so many difficulties in carrying out what is no doubt an admirable object that I hope he will not press the Amendment.


I canot accept the Attorney-General's reply as satisfactory. He has dealt with minor points which can be got over quite easily. As to the difficulty of effecting an insurance policy when the agent has to find out whether the husband is living with the wife and supporting the family, I do not think there is any substance in that at all. There may be objections to the form of the Amendment. I do not claim to be a skilled draftsman, but the purpose of the Amendment is quite clear, and I would ask the Attorney-General to put in words more suitable than "wedlock" and "insane" in order to secure the broad principle of the Amendment, which is that the husband of a family has a right to be consulted in this matter and as to how the family money is spent. That is a perfectly clear principle, and as I feel strongly on the matter I should like to press it on the Committee.


I wish I could find myself able to agree with the Amendment. I agree entirely with the spirit of it, and I cannot understand the Attorney-General's reasons for objecting to it. He does so on the ground that there is a difficulty in putting such questions to those who happen to be at home when the collector calls. The Government find no difficulty in putting these questions when it is a claim for old age pension or for a widow's pension, or for anything for which the Government is paying out. I think the reasons given by the Attorney-General do not justify the Committee in turning down this Amendment.


I hope the Committee will not accent the proposal. It is very ambiguous. What does the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) mean by "separation." Is it a legal separation. There are many cases in which people agree to separate. And the hon. Member is assuming that in all cases the husband maintains the family. There are many cases in which he is a most undesirable member of society, and the wife chiefly maintains the family. It is a dangerous policy to say that a woman shall not be able to insure her own child without the consent of the father. If the hon. Member had suggested that the consent of both parents should be required there would be something in it. In addition to the difficulties mentioned by the Attorney-General it seems to me that the principle of the Amendment is wrong. The Attorney-General referred to insanity. What about the man who spends a good deal of his time in prison? He is separated from his wife. Would it be considered a voluntary separation? There are many reasons why it is almost impossible to accept such an Amendment.


I hope the Amendment will not be carried. I agree entirely with the reasons given by the Attorney-General and I do not agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr Kelly). There is a great difference between agents who are working for their living and collecting industrial insurance policies and the necessary questions which have to be put in order to obtain State benefits for applicants. If you adopt the principle of the Amendment the very fact that you are going to require the signature of the husband in each case would mean, in effect, that where any industrial insurance business is done that the whole army of agents would have to do a great deal of their work after 6 o'clock in the evening. That would be a very serious thing for a large number of persons engaged in making a livelihood.


The wife could get the husband's signature and give it to the agent when he called.


That does not meet the real point. What we want in industrial insurance is a rapid decrease in the amount of expenses and to move as rapidly as possible to the block system of canvassing and collection in order that increased benefits may be given. If you are going to duplicate the visits which have to be made in the case of policies of even one penny per week you are going to make it difficult to put industrial insurance on such a footing as will enable larger benefits to be paid to the insured. Other reasons could be given why the Amendment is undesirable and I hope the hon. Member will not press it.


As the Committee is not with me in this matter, I bow to the general feeling and beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.