§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I hope that the Second Reading of this Bill will be very readily disposed of, though it may be said that it is not a very intelligible Bill, and some criticism may be urged against it on that ground. The Bill deals with two points. The first arises out of a legal derision which, I felt, had to be put right. It will be remembered that in the Contributory Pensions Act of 1929, we followed the precedent of the Act of 1925 in adopting the normal occupation condition as a qualification for pre-Act widows' pensions. There were many widows then under the Act of 1925, whose husbands had been ill for a long time prior to that date and their claims to pensions were admitted on the strength of a legal opinion that the normal occupation of a person, existing at the commencement of the period of incapacity, could be regarded as persisting throughout incapacity. That, no doubt, was what the law intended. I may remind hon. Members that the contributory pensions scheme is very closely interlocked with the health insurance scheme and that in the health insurance scheme an insured person's status remains unaltered throughout the period of incapacity for work.
That view was taken with regard to the normal occupation qualification as regards pre-Act widows. That was so under the Act of 1925. Similarly, under the Act of 1929 we adopted the same practice, and many claims were admitted where a deceased person had done no work for three years or more before his death. Hon. Members will remember that under the Act of 1929 it was necessary to show that the normal occupation of the deceased had remained the same for three years before his death. It may be asked why we had different interpretations. It was unchallenged as regards the Act of 1925, but it has been called in question under the Act of 1929. The answer is that under the Act of 1925 the final decision on the question of normal occupation 924 was left with the Minister, but under the Act of 1929 there was a right of appeal on that question. As the 1929 Act was originally drafted, I proposed to leave the final decision to the Minister. That seemed to me to be reasonable, and, if that had remained, this situation would not have arisen. It will be remembered that at that time there was a great deal of controversy with regard to the powers of Ministers, and I was strongly pressed—indeed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) strongly pressed—that this power should be taken out of the hands of the Minister and given to the referee to whom there should be an appeal.
When cases came up where we were satisfied that incapacity had in fact existed continuously from the date when insurable employment ceased, no difficulty arose, but there were certain cases where the evidence was not at all clear, and a number of those persons exercised their right of appeal to the referee. That was where the real trouble began, because the referees indicated that, while in certain cases they might be satisfied as regards the existence of incapacity, they could not accept the view on which. I and my predecessors had consistently worked, that normal occupation persisted throughout the period of a man's incapacity, and in his view incapacity terminated normal occupation, so that, where the illness began more than three years before death, it was impossible to hold that a man had a normal occupation at some time previous to his death, and the widow was excluded from pension.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I cannot be quite sure, but several cases were taken. I do not, however, quite understand the hon. Gentleman's point.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
A number of people exercised their own right to appeal to the referees. So far as I know, it was not anybody outside. It certainly was not done by us, but arose through the normal exercise of the rights of 925 insured persons. That raised a situation which could not be left unsettled, and it was necessary to arrange for a case to be stated for the opinion of the High Court. They did not get us out of our difficulties, because the effect of the decision was to exclude, on the one hand, the view that had always been taken that periods of incapacity, whether temporary or permanent, ought to be left out of account in deciding whether a man had retained his normal occupation or not, and, on the other hand, the view which the referees were disposed to take that the claim could not be admitted unless a man was actually employed within three years of his death.
After that decision in the High Court we examined in great detail all the outstanding cases, and it seemed to be clear that only about one type of case would be met, and that would be a case where a person became incapacitated, and it was assumed that it would be temporary, but where, in fact, it proved to be permanent in character; and as many of those cases happened some years ago all that is very difficult to prove. Even if all the information were available in these cases a strict application of the High Court decision would necessitate a revision of all the cases of this type in which pensions had been awarded before there had been any challenge of the correctness of the Department's view. That would lead, of course, to the exclusion of a number of widows who at the time of the passing of the Act were regarded by the House as being within its provisions. It is to deal with that situation that the first part of the Bill deals.
The inset lines, starting at (a), in line 5, on page 2, are inserted to give effect to the original intention of the Act. I am satisfied that the original intention was that those widows should obtain pensions, and, indeed, financial provision was made for it. Though there is a Money Resolution, it is not a case of having to provide new money, because it was assumed that these women were covered. At the same time, as the Scottish referees have raised certain doubts we have included paragraph (b) in line 8 to make it clear that genuine unemployment does not terminate normal occupation. That is really to make the law tight and satisfactory. The number 926 of cases may not be very large. At the moment there are outstanding between 4,000 and 5,000 cases which have accumulated whilst we have been getting this problem settled. Those people will not suffer when the Bill goes through, because their pensions will be payable for that time.
Then there is another small group of people. Their case is really duo to an oversight, for which I apologise. They are the small handful of widows of men surviving on the 4th of January, 1926, when the Act of 1925 came into operation, having reached the age of 70 years before July, 1912, when the National Insurance Act, as it was then called, came into force. I had not realised that there were such persons who were over 70 in 1912 and were surviving in 1926. They are not a very large group, of course, but the wives of these men comprise a class who, on the conditions laid down in Section 1 of the Act of 1929, were not qualified for pensions, because the condition imposed was an insurance condition, and their husbands had passed the contributive age for health insurance before the Act came into operation, and so were outside the scope of the Act. Therefore, the original paragraph of the Act, Sub-section (1) of Section 1, has been taken out and two paragraphs, (c) and (d), on page 2 of the Bill, have been inserted in their place. The revised paragraph (c), starting on line 23, deals with those for whom an insurance test is appropriate, and paragraph (d), imposes the normal occupation test for those who, by reason of the age of their husbands, could not pass the insurance test. Here a few hundred widows are involved, and, again, financial provision was made for them because it was thought that they were in the Bill. I do not claim this to be a large Measure, but I think it is a Measure which will meet with the approval of the House for dealing with two classes of cases, one of which, quite unwittingly, would have been ruled out now unless this matter were put right, and a smaller class who were excluded owing to our having overlooked the proper drafting necessary to bring them in. In these circumstances, I hope that the House will give the Bill Second Reading.
§ Sir K. WOOD
As the day has been a very bad one for the Government, it is right that we should try to bring some 927 measure of harmony into it. So far as the intentions of this Bill are concerned, the desire to carry out the original meaning of the Act and to provide for those widows whom it was originally intended should be provided for, there can, of course, be no objection in any quarter of the House. I venture, however, to suggest to the Minister that it is a little late in the evening to bring on a highly technical Bill of this kind. A number of us are in some difficulty, for, obviously, we do not want to detain the House at this time. I think, however, the House is entitled to a certain measure of consideration, because, after all, it has been owing to a mistake in drafting that we have to consider this matter now. I do think that the Attorney-General ought to have been present to assure us that this Bill, at any rate, carries out the real intention of the Government, and that these widows are safely secured under its provisions.
I remember very well, in 1929, the Attorney-General was present, and I remember his statement, when he first entered upon his high office—high in many ways—that it was essential that the Legislature should turn its mind to the necessity of passing whatever enactments it did pass in language which was capable of being understood by the ordinary people of the country. Yet, apparently, he overlooked putting it into language such as would satisfy the courts. It is only fair to say, on behalf of the referees who have to consider the cases, that one of the most eminent referees, well known to every member of the legal profession as a man holding very high position, wrote a few days ago to the following effect:I see that the Minister of Health proposes to amend the Act of 1929 relating to Widows' pensions. As I happen to be one of the referees who refused to distort the English language by holding that a man who had been totally incapacitated for 10 years and then died had within three years of his death the normal occupation which he followed before his illness, may I be permitted to make one suggestion?I think, in fairness to the referees who have to decide these cases month after month and deal with these difficult facts, the particular position which has arisen should be explained to the House at the present time. We shall have to look into that aspect of the matter so far as we can, because we must be certain this 928 time that the Minister has really got the matter right. I hope the Attorney-General will be present at the next stage of the Bill, because I think he ought to be here in order to carry out the duties of his office.
I remember that in 1929, when this subject was being dealt with, the Minister of Health was pressed to tell the House why he was not carrying out the pledge of the Prime Minister, who promised definitely that the system of pensions would be extended in such a way that a widow in need would be the one qualification for the pensions register. It is a surprising fact that the Minister of Health to-night, after an interval of a considerable period, has not said one word about the position of the Government and the undertaking which they gave on the occasion which I have mentioned. I remember that the Minister of Health endeavoured to avoid this difficulty by saying that the whole question had been referred to a Cabinet Committee. A month ago I asked the right hon. Gentleman if the Cabinet. Committee had reached a conclusion on the subject, and the answer I received was: "Do not press me; it was a Cabinet Committee." Consequently, when a Cabinet Committee does something we are not allowed to go any further.
I think we must ask, when amending legislation is brought forward, what were the conclusions of the Cabinet Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman must not say that the conclusions of a Cabinet Committee are never to be communicated to the House. I think we are entitled to ask why the Government are saying nothing about the pledges to which I have referred, and what are the conclusions to which they have come. No one can pretend that this Bill deals with anything but a very small part of the injustices which have arisen as a result of the legislation of the Government. It may be said that that is a partisan view of an opponent of the Government, but only on Saturday one of the best known insurance workers in the country, a man who has spent, I suppose, nearly the whole of his time—at any rate, the whole of his spare time—in social work. Mr. Lesser, the President of the Faculty of Insurance, made this observation, which was reported in the "Times": 929In the case of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Acts they saw the abuse of the insurance principle in a different form. Widows of persons who might have died before national health insurance was even thought of in this country, and who never contributed a penny piece under the scheme, were entitled—as an insurance benefit—to a pension; whereas the widow of a man who might have contributed 103 contributions and died before he could pay the one-hundred-and-fourth was denied any benefit whatever. Was that just or even sensible? Let them by all means act with kindness and sympathy towards the pre-insurance widow, but not under an insurance scheme.Therefore, to-night, in according the right hon. Gentleman himself a Second Reading for this Bill, in order to bring within this Act a number of widows whom, quite rightly, none of us would desire to leave out, inasmuch as this matter was within the original intention of the Act and was dealt with in the Financial Resolution, let no one think that by this Measure the Government are carrying out the pledges which they gave to the electors, by which they obtained votes, and by virtue of which they sit on the Treasury Bench at the present time. Let no one think that by this very minor Measure they are remedying the injustices which are growing more and more apparent every day to everyone who is engaged in this scheme, as the result of the Government departing from the insurance principle and endeavouring to graft on to the 1926 pensions scheme that disastrous principle which has proved so fatal to our Unemployment Insurance.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I am not so optimistic as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) on the question of the Prime Minister's pledge about every widow in need. I happened, within 10 days of the meeting of this Parliament, to put a question asking if the Government had ever made any calculation as to the number of widows in need in the country. The answer was startling, and I shall never forget it. It was that the Government had made no such calculation, nor did the Minister believe that such a calculation was possible without an inquiry into the means of every widow in the land. However long the Cabinet Committee has been sitting, I cannot believe that they can ever carry out inquiries of that kind, and I know they have not done so. Therefore, I cannot be as optimistic as the right hon. 930 Gentleman in thinking that we are going to get a reply, either in Debate or in answer to a question, to that very pertinent question.
I had occasion to notice the other day at the Sunderland by-election that the senior Member for Sunderland (Dr. Phillips) had the audacity to make a statement—and she was the chief adviser to the Prime Minister in the matter of widows' pensions before the Election—that the Government had kept all their promises, so the Minister must not blame us if we take a minute or two to remind him that all the promises have not been kept. I have no doubt that the hon. Lady's statement has been repeated by her and other members of the Ministry, but it does not happen to fit the facts. The facts are that, when the Prime Minister, before the Election, was like Moses in the wilderness, he only had to promise the milk and honey to the widows, but when he arrives, like Joshua in the Promised Land, he has to produce it, and he does not do it. That is the difference between the two occasions. Then the Chief Woman Adviser, whom, for the purposes of the parable we may call Miriam, is asked to excuse her Leader, which she does by saying that he has kept his promise. We cannot accept that view.
I did not rise merely to make this remark, because it can be carried further on another occasion, and no doubt hon. Members on this side of the House, and hon. Members on the opposite side also, who know perfectly well that the pledge has not been met, will need to put their views to the Prime Minister, because every one knows that there is no subject on which the women electors felt more keenly than this. At that great meeting at Buxton of women labour delegates, where that speech was made, it had, no doubt, a tremendous propaganda effect. I did not understand the Minister in his speech on the Measure, which we all welcome. The Minister seemed to me to destroy his own case. He says this would not have happened if he had not altered his original draft. He wanted to carry on the arrangements of the previous Act, but the House said, "You must have an appeal." It is only because of the appeals that this has happened. Five minutes afterwards he pointed out that some widows had made 931 their claims to him, and he had turned them down.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
That was only on the question of evidence. Evidence has to be submitted. Every case that makes application does not get a pension.
§ Mr. BROWN
If the evidence did not satisfy the Minister and he turned the case down and there was no appeal, nothing more would have been heard of the cases. It is not a case of evidence and no evidence. He himself refused the cases. These people appealed and now, by some obscure process which we are not familiar with, there was a challenge made. We do not know who made it, but someone challenged the decision of the court of referees and then the Minister states a case to the High Court. The Committee is entitled to know who began the challenge. We all have widows in our constituencies who are concerned in this Bill. The thing that bothers Members and adds interminably to our labours, especially those who have no secretaries and have to write their own letters, is this continual stream of letters and visits to our correspondents to explain that we do not understand, after we have had correspondence with the Minister, why these things crop up. This is only one type of case out of scores. I should like to ask the Minister precisely how this challenge was made, by whom, and under what process, so that he is bound to state a case to the High Court under the Act. If the courts of referees are to blame, we ought to know. If they are not, they ought not to be blamed. If there is blame on the Department, the Minister has to answer for the sins of his Department and, if the Department is responsible for the challenge, the Committee ought to know and we ought to tell the officials through the Minister that what the Committee wants is for the Act to be drafted and carried out in the spirit and letter that Parliament intended when they were drafted.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
I congratulate the Minister on the new Bill that he is bringing in to right some of the wrongs that are done, but it leaves out a small group of widows who ought to come into the Bill. I hope that they will be brought in, and that the Minister will give further consideration to their case and in Committee insert some provision that will 932 make it possible for widows who are in need, and who have made 102 contributions to have their pensions. Surely they are as entitled to have a pension, having made 102 contributions, as other widows.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I suppose the hon. Member is aware that this is not a Committee point? Directly we pass the Financial Resolution, none of us can move Amendments like that.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
I am sorry to hear that. I did think it would be possible to have the opportunity of putting this matter right, which after all, is causing so much heart-burning. It seems to me to be one of the hardest cases we can have, that, these widows should be excluded from pension rights while others are getting pensions under easier terms. I have tried to do my best with successive Ministers to get this matter put right, but without result up to the present. If the Minister can give these widows that justice to which they are fully entitled, I beg him to do it now.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I would ask the Minister if it is not possible for us to be told to-night when it is the intention of the Government to bring in a Measure to right the real wrongs and inequalities of the present Widows' Pension Act. No one disguises the fact that this Bill is not righting a wrong. This is merely a case of oversights in Parliamentary draftmanship being put right. This is what the last Act intended to do, but nobody can suggest that this Bill is righting the wrongs that were previously so much before us. The last speaker spoke about persons who had made 102 contributions without getting pensions, but I could give worse cases than that. I see the Lord Privy Seal here, who used to be Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, and I had a case with him which was very much worse. A man was employed and paid health insurance contributions from 1912 to 1926, in other words, he paid in, when an employé of the Glasgow Corporation, something like 740 stamps. The Corporation promoted him to be a foreman, and for two years and one month he was a foreman, and then, owing to a change of work, he was shifted back to being an ordinary workman, and he paid then for nine months, bringing his contributions up to about 800. He died, and 933 there is no pension payable, and he has left behind him something like three children. He contributed 800 stamps, and to-day other people are receiving pensions with very many fewer contributions.
Some time ago all parties in this House combined in an effort to get men settled in our Dominions. Men went out in good faith in order to relieve the parish councils and the Employment Exchanges. They started life anew, and they found in Canada, after being there for some time, that things were going from bad to worse. Men with 10 or 12 years' contributions went to Canada and struggled for two or three years, leaving their wives and families in this country and keeping them all the time. The men came back, and some of them died, and their widows are outside the provisions of the Act. Nobody can defend that sort of thing.
There is a further case, that of the person who, by virtue of the 1925 Act, was given the right to become a voluntary contributor, so that he only needed to pay a contribution, and if he could show 103 or 104 contributions previous to going outside of insurance, he could come up to the 104 contributions. The man who goes out and comes back again through the ordinary insurance method cannot become eligible until he has made 104 contributions again. That, surely, is an inequality. In Scotland the position is clear. The voluntary contributor can get the pension after having made a few contributions by means of the two periods being linked up, but in England he cannot get it. The fact of the matter is that the age of 55 is an arbitrary one. I can make out a stronger case for the widow of 48 with young children than for the widow of 55 whose family has grown up. The widow of 48 and her children with nobody at all to help them are the most pathetic of all.
The Lord Privy Seal when he was Under-Secretary of State for Scotland sent me a nice, kindly letter saying that the Government were undertaking a review of these matters. He held out hope to some of us, and I seriously believed that the thing would be undertaken. Two years have gone, and we are asking the Government to state what is going to happen in regard to those inequalities. I think that the Minister 934 stated when introducing the 1929 Measure that Health Insurance, Widows' Pensions, Old Age Pensions, Unemployment Insurance, Workmen's Compensation, needed to be co-ordinated and inequalities to be swept away. This Parliament within a few months will be faced with the prolongation of old age pension rights. It is time the Government faced up to these inequalities. They are indefensible. Our party promised that they would put them right—nay, we promised higher pensions. I am not pleading for higher pensions to-night, but that the widow with her children should be treated the same as others. I welcome the fact that 10,000 are being brought in, and I hope that they will live long to enjoy the pension when they get it. But there are hundreds of thousands left out. I earnestly plead with the Minister to bring every widow and every spinster within the ambit of his Act.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
I am sure we all agree with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that a great opportunity has been lost in not bringing in a Bill to remedy the many injustices which arose through the 1929 Act. I ventured to point out when the Bill was being discussed that for every single widow who came within the ambit of the Bill at least six would be disqualified. In my own experience that is what is happening. We all remember the circumstances in which the Bill was brought in. In those days a married woman would say: "O to be a widow now that Labour's there," but after the Bill was brought in, "The widows of England are loud in their wail." For months I have been trying to get these cases attended to, without success. I congratulate the Minister of Health on bringing this Bill forward. It will have the support of every Member in the House. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) asked the Parliamentary Secretary what was the cause of the controversy which made it necessary to bring in the Bill? I will save her the trouble of answering my hon. Friend. The reason was that the Government refused an Amendment proposed from these benches supported by the Conservative party, and, I think, by the majority of the rank and file of the Labour party, which would have made this Bill absolutely unnecessary. That Amendment was to leave out 935 the three years, and to provide that the qualification should be if a man had at any time been insured. If the Government had not been hard-hearted and had accepted the Amendment, this Bill would not have been necessary. The Bill should have a Clause D, which should be a vote of censure on the Government from those who for so long have been deprived of the, benefit to which they were entitled.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
On a point of Order. Will there be some Minister to reply to those of us who intend to take part in this discussion? The Minister of Health has exhausted his right and the Parliamentary Secretary will have exhausted her right. I intend to speak on the Bill.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not know that any point of Order arises. The Minister of Health, having introduced the Bill, will probably be able to reply by leave of the House.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I thought the Debate was exhausted. As it is not exhausted, I should like to listen to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
A protest should be made against this matter being raised at this late hour. I do not know of any subject that is of greater importance. The House should have an opportunity of discussing the present position in connection with the working of the pension system. If the experience of other lion Members is like mine, there are many old people and widows who are denied pensions who ought to be in receipt of them. It is a subject that would have been well worthy of a day's consideration by the House. The Minister was a little ingenious in the explanation that he gave for the introduction of the Bill. He said that a certain thing was in the mind of the Department when the Bill was introduced and that afterwards it was discovered, owing to the decision of the court of referees and a decision of the High Court, that the intention of the Government had not been fulfilled. He was a little disingenious in his explanation, because the decision of the referee was not a decision on the other circum- 936 stances of the applicant for pension; the point was decided by the court of referees because the Minister refused the pension on particular grounds.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
A pension was refused and the applicant went to the Court of Referees to get that decision reversed. When he goes there, he goes to contest statements made by the Minister and which have led him to his decision. The referee only decides the case on the points brought before him, and consequently I hold that the referee came to his decision because the Department or the Minister had refused the pension on this particular ground.
§ Miss LAWRENCE indicated dissent.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
The Parliamentary Secretary shakes her head. I shall be glad to hear how it came that the applicant was refused a, pension on some other grounds, and that the referee said, "You are disallowed on other grounds as well." If that be the case, it is an extraordinary position for the referee to take, and there is something wrong if a referee acts in this way. When an applicant goes to the referee, a series of issues are involved, and he is asked to judge upon those issues. He is not entitled to judge upon some other issue upon which the applicant has had no opportunity of offering evidence. If he does he is acting outside his province, and should be asked for an explanation as to why he has decided a case upon a new issue which has not been put before him by the Minister or the applicant. If it is so simple as is indicated by the Parliamentary Secretary, why did not the Minister of Health give us the exact circumstances as to how the matter has arisen? There would then have been no need for any discussion. It is evident that hon. Members opposite any more than myself have not understood the Minister's explanation on this point.
It appears that the Department, in considering these claims for pensions, have scrutinised the applications to see if they can find any way of shutting the applicants out of pensions. Take the administration in Scotland. There is a lawyer who goes to the referee to present the case for the Minister. There is no lawyer for the poor person with a very moderate amount of education, 937 faced with the complicated wording of the Act. The lawyer presses the case, and when my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) appeared in one case the lawyer was very browbeating in his manner, in an attempt to get a decision against the applicant. But he had the wrong individual to deal with, and a decision favourable to the applicant was given. When that is taking place and the applicant is a person of timid disposition there is very little chance of that person getting a successful appeal. I believe it is the business of the Department to try to bring out all the points in favour of the applicant, to see how the pension could be given, and to strain the law, if necessary, in favour of the applicant, but in my experience it seems as if it is all the other way, and the law is strained in order to try to bar the applicant from receiving a pension.
I also join in protest against the fact that we are getting no information as to when there is to be an endeavour made to improve the whole system of pensions and to provide for cases which are just as glaring as the case with which we are dealing in this Bill. There is the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. R. Richardson). Every one of us has experience of similar cases. But there is nothing to he done to remedy them. I cannot understand the state of mind of the Minister, who comes here with this amending Measure and offers no hope of providing for these other cases which the House generally thinks should be remedied—the case of the person with 103 stamps, whose widow is unable to receive a pension, and other very shocking cases where a pension has been denied.
On one thing I can congratulate the Minister, and that is on the way in which the Bill is drawn. It is drawn so tightly as to shut out any Amendment that might include a few more people within its ambit. I have seldom seen a Bill more cleverly drawn in that respect. The Minister can have my compliments if he so desires, though I do not know whether he will take my statement as a compliment or not. I believe opinion in the country demands that an attempt should be made to remedy the injustices which are being suffered by widows and old people. I ask for some information 938 as to the mind of the Government on the matter, and whether we can hope for a further Bill this Session to bring comfort to these people in their difficult circumstances.
§ Major WOOD
I have two points to make arising out of this Bill. The first, I need not elaborate, because it has been dealt with rather fully already. I think that the paragraph of the Memorandum dealing with Clause 1, is not quite as frank as it ought to be. The suggestion in it is that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister was anxious to get in all these pensioners, but that some bold bad person prevented him from doing so. It is quite obvious that the Minister could have granted the pensions if he had liked. He was the only person who could have challenged this decision; nobody else was in a position to do so. It does not seem to me that the Memorandum puts the position as it ought to be put before the House. There is another consideration which I desire to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman now, in the hope that before the Committee stage he will give it attention. It is with regard to the words in Clause 1, Sub-section (1, a):his normal occupation immediately before he became incapable of work.The test that has been employed in other cases is that if a widow is to get the pension, it must be shown that her husband had been, some time, during the three years before his death, engaged in an insurable occupation. But these words would tie an applicant down to the actual date upon which illness started. If the widow is to get a pension the husband must have been engaged in an insurable occupation on that very day. The Sub-section assumes that everyone has and can only have, one normal occupation, but I hold that assumption to be wrong. A great many people have more than one insurable occupation. I could give a number of cases. It is a common case in the North of Scotland that a man who, during the summer time, is a salmon fisher, during the winter is a crofter, or a hawker, or a small shopkeeper, or is engaged in some uninsurable occupation of that kind. If these words are adopted you will have this absurd result. If such a man were to fall ill while engaged in salmon fishing, his widow would get the pension, whereas if he fell ill when engaged as 939 a hawker or shopkeeper she would not get the pension. In other words, if he fell ill in the summer time, she would get the pension—[HON. MEMBERS: "If he died!"]—but if he fell ill in the winter time she would not. Of course the assumption is that he dies eventually, without having resumed his occupation. The Clause only deals with such cases. I think I have put my point clearly, and I hope I have put it fairly. I believe it to be a good point, and I hope to move an Amendment on it in Committee, which I hope the Government will receive favourably.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
As there has been a demand for further explanation, if I intervene at this stage, it, may enable us to dispense with a certain amount of discussion. We have had two classes of speeches in this Debate—those addressed to the Bill and those addressed to what a real Insurance Bill ought to be. There has been a very strong demand for a large insurance Measure bringing in spinsters and widows and everybody. I want hon. Members to realise that in asking for a Measure of that kind, they are asking for something which is very difficult to accomplish, having regard to Parliamentary time. Such a Measure would be a major subject for a Session of Parliament and would occupy a very considerable amount of Parliamentary time.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The case mentioned by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. R. Richardson) is precisely one of those cases which stir the largest question of all, namely, whether it is to be an insurance matter or a matter independent of insurance. As long as it is an insurance matter, there must be a line of demarcation drawn somewhere. It is well known that the Government in one of their first Measures dealt with some of the hardest cases and brought some 300,000 widows into insurance. It is also well known that in the King's Speech this 940 Session many other Measures were mentioned, and they had from the Labour movement precisely the same sort of support as the case of the widows. There was an important demand for a trade union Bill and a whole list of Measures in the King's Speech, which afforded a very full programme for the Session. That list is not exhausted. The battle is still raging on some of these Measures, and the commitments for this Session are such that a further major Measure is impossible, however desirable. Therefore, when Members ask that the Government should introduce a comprehensive Bill with regard to pensions, I have to say, what every Member knows, that it is impossible. If a Measure is introduced, it must be a Measure for the next Session of Parliament.
As to what will be brought forward in the next Session, those responsible—the Prime Minister and the Cabinet—will, as they have done before, weigh one against the other the conflicting demands for the remedying of various injustices in this country, and will, using their best consideration, select for first treatment those which are most urgent. The widows have their claims. There are hundreds of thousands of other grievances and other wrongs which other Members, or the same Members at other times, press forward. So large a Measure as is asked for cannot be introduced in this Session, occupied as it is with many other matters. Here is a little thing which can be slipped in during an afternoon Session. It is not a matter affecting some 300,000 widows like the original Bill, only about 10,000 or 11,000, and it is a Bill worth putting through.
Hon. Members have pressed to be informed why the referees ca me in to turn down the widows' claims. I will respond to that invitation and say exactly what happened. Certain widows put forward a claim and the Minister was not satisfied, on the facts, that the conditions which have to be fulfilled had been complied with. They were a few cases where it did not appear that the husband had been totally incapacitated during the necessary period. The Minister has no discretion in these cases, he has to judge according to law. If the law says "incapacity" we cannot wink at it. We must be satisfied that the conditions are fulfilled. A Minister who did not act in 941 that way would be setting an atrocious precedent. If one Minister is to strain the law to bring widows in, another Minister, equally unscrupulous, might strain the law to keep them out.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I say that if any Minister strains the law to keep widows either in or out he is failing in one of the first duties of a Minister, which is to administer the law as it stands. Certain widows were turned down on the question of incapacity, and they appealed to the referees, claiming that the conditions of the law had been fulfilled, arguing that their husbands were genuinely incapacitated. The referees then broke what was entirely new ground. They said, "These people may be justified according to the facts, their husbands may have been totally incapacitated, but the. Minister, is wrong according to law." Though their husbands were totally incapacitated for the three years preceding death, nevertheless occupation does not persist during incapacity, and the widows were turned down on the question of law.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Is not the Parliamentary Secretary now saying that which she denied, when I was speaking, by shaking her head, namely, that the referees introduced new methods—
§ Mr. STEPHEN
—and decided something that had not been put to them either by the Minister or the applicant.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I did not under stand that I shook my head at that statement. I shook my head at previous remarks which I have explained. The referees gave a decision that the Minister was wrong in law, and that occupation could not persist through incapacity. One must not blame the referees. They also have a duty, they have to decide according to the law and the facts, and however disagreeable one may think their view of the law to be, the fact remains that the judges of the High Court did not turn it down.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I have been attending those courts for years, and as far as I understand it there can be only two cases—the applicant's case and the Minister's case. The court of referees 942 to which I go would never dream of deciding a case other than the applicant's case or the Minister's case. Am I to understand that this court of referees have been allowed to decide a case on facts which were not put before them by either the Minister or the applicant?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
They decided that on law the Minister was wrong. It was not a question of facts. The Minister had said that this man was not incapacitated, and the widow said he was. It went to the referees, who said, whether incapacitated or not, occupation does not persist during incapacity, and they must be turned down on that ground. The referees have a statutory duty, and, if they think any Minister of the Crown is wrong in regard to the law, I cannot see that they are wrong in saying so.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Am I to understand that the referee decided a question of law that was not referred to him either by the Minister or the applicant?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Certainly. The Minister believed occupation persisted during incapacity. A case comes before the referees, not on this or that point but as a whole, and they turned this case down, not on the facts but on the law. Finding that the cases of several thousands of widows were called into question, the Minister asked for the decision of the High Court. As a result of the judgment of the learned judges—and I am not criticising the judges but simply explaining it was very unsatisfactory from the point of view of what we wanted to do—it appeared that some 4,000 or 5,000 widows would lose pensions.
The object of the Bill is to restore the law to what we believed when the Act was passed it would be and to make it what the Law Officers of the Department assured us it would be. An hon. Member has suggested that words should be inserted to deal with alternative occupation. I think that is a Committee point, and I should like to consider it, without pledging either myself or my right hon. Friend.
§ Sir THOMAS INSKIP
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
It is now nearly midnight. We have heard the Parliamentary Secretary ex- 943 pounding her ideas as to what widows' pensions should be. I think the Prime Minister, who said earlier in the day that he did not intend, in moving the suspension of the Eleven o'Clock Rule, to keep the House at any length, would be astonished to know that the hon. Lady has been discussing the Measures which will be included in the King's Speech for the next Session of Parliament.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I really must protest. All I said was that, if any large Measure were introduced, it could not be introduced this Session, but would have to be the subject of consideration by the Government in the next Session.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
I said that the hon. Lady described her ideas of what such a Bill would be if it had to include all the proposals made, and she added that it must be a Measure for next Session and would be considered with the claims of other competing Measures for the available time of Parliament next Session. Therefore, I am right in saying that the hon. Lady discussed the possibilities of such a Measure with a view to the arrangements for next Session and not for this Session. That is a matter which ought to be discussed in the presence of the Prime Minister or someone in a position to speak as to the business and as to the intentions of the Government. It ought not to be discussed here at midnight.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must point out that we are discussing the Second Reading of this Bill. It may be my fault that I have not called hon. Members to order for going outside the Second Reading of the Bill, but it is customary on the Second Reading of a Bill for Members to express regret that something was not included in the Bill which ought to be included. I do not think, on the other hand, that we can go into this matter and discuss a question which is quite outside the Bill.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
I shall comply with the letter and the spirit of your Ruling and confine myself strictly to the Motion for the Adjournment. There are two reasons why it should be accepted. In the first place, we have on this side shown a real desire to help the Govern- 944 ment. The Minister explained that this Bill was necessary to rectify two mistakes made by the Government—
§ Sir T. INSKIP
The right hon. Gentleman asked us to assist him in the passage of this Measure. The right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), in a five minutes' speech, said we had no intention of resisting it and would co-operate in passing it. Not a single other Member from this side of the House above the Gangway has spoken. The Debate has ranged over a number of interesting topics raised by hon. Members opposite. These are matters which the Government should consider and reply to when there is more time and a less jaded House. One reason why this Debate should be adjourned is that obviously there is some dissatisfaction below the Gangway opposite as to the facts explained by the hon. Lady with regard to the ruling of the referees. It is plain that further consideration of that aspect of the case is required. In view of the fact that a number of hon. Members opposite still desire to continue the Debate, I beg to move its adjournment.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading without any further unnecessary delay. We have largely discussed what is outside the Bill. There is no controversy about the desirability of legislation on these lines, and I should have thought that, after this discussion, it would have been possible for the House to agree with unanimity to the Second Reading.
§ 12 m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I hope the hon. and learned Member will withdraw this Motion. I have sat here all day, but have not had any chance of taking part in the Debate. I do not want in any way to criticise the Bill; my only object is to urge the Minister to get it passed as quickly as possible, and I should like an assurance that he will take the quickest possible steps and use all his Parliamentary power to get these widows put right. Many in my constituency have been urging this matter upon me. If hon. Members opposite are in agreement with us now, let tham not press this Motion, but let them help us to get the Bill passed into law.
§ Mr. R. A. TAYLOR
On a point of Order. May I ask your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, as to whether it will be in order, under the terms of the Financial Resolution, to move Amendments with regard to the point which has been raised by an hon. Member on the Liberal Benches? Would such Amendments be out of order in Committee?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is not my business to say what is or is not in order in Committee; that is entirely a matter for the Chairman of the Committee, and I can give no Ruling upon it. All that now concerns me is what is in order on the Second Reading.
§ Sir T. INSKIP
May I say that I am perfectly willing to withdraw if hon. Members do not desire to continue the Debate now; but, if they desire to continue the Debate, we really must, on this side, have an opportunity of joining in it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that, if the discussion is continued, the Motion for Adjournment will not be withdrawn.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I am concerned, as every other Member of the House must be, about this matter. The most distressing experiences that we have are in regard to these cases in which widows are disappointed of being able to get their pensions, and undoubtedly there was a promise of something far more effective. On that score I am anxious to make an appeal to the House for something more effective than is being done at the present moment. We approve of what is being done, but desire that more should be done.
§ Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and negatived.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Greenwood.]