HC Deb 14 June 1932 vol 267 cc341-53

I beg to move, in page 5, line 27, to leave out the word "may", and to insert instead thereof the word "shall".

On this Amendment it might be for the convenience of the Committee if I argued the point raised by the next Amendment on the paper which deals with the question of arrears.


Do I understand that the hon. Member wishes to discuss both Amendments together?




Very good.


I do so for the convenience of us all, because both Amendments raise much the same point.


May I ask the hon. Member to which Amendment he is referring? Is it the Amendment next on the paper to the one he is moving, or is it the next Amendment standing in his own name, which is further on?


The second Amendment to which I was referring is on page 5, line 28, to leave out from the word "that" to the word "arrears" in line 29. The two are obviously connected. Let me make the point quite clear. I fully agree with the hon. Members who are going to move the deletion of this Clause and who have put down an Amendment to that effect. It is not because I agree with the Clause that I am moving this Amendment. I would prefer to see the Clause entirely deleted, but I take the view that it is likely to be carried, and, therefore, I am endeavouring to modify it. By our first Amendment we ask that the Minister shall make certain regulations providing that arrears of contributions shall be left out of account. We make it obligatory on him to make those regulations in regard to arrears of contributions accruing while a person was insured as an employed contributor during any period in respect of which he proves that he was available for but unable to obtain employment. Secondly, we propose to delete the words subject to such conditions as may be prescribed. We say, first of all, that the Minister must make these regulations, and, secondly, that they shall be according to the conditions laid down in this Bill and not subject to any conditions that the Minister may himself prescribe. In other words, we seek by this Amendment to take away from the Minister the power of prescribing the conditions under which he will grant this concession to the unemployed person. We say, in effect, that the Minister's obligation must be carried out, and we leave him no discretion in the matter as to the conditions that he shall prescribe. The Minister may tell us that he intends in all cases to use his power in a lenient fashion, but we have seen power misused in these cases, and we do not intend to leave it within the discretion of any particular Minister to use this power or not. We say that the Minister shall use it and that he shall not be able to prescribe limitations but shall grant to everybody the benefit of the concession.


I was in some doubt as to what was the object of the Amendment, but I think I follow it now that it has been explained by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). The purpose for which he proposes to make the Amendment is already provided for by the very nature of the Clause and such a limitation as he proposes would not add anything whatever to the protection which he desires. Let me show him how that is so. The provision he would like to strike out gives the Minister power to make regulations to effect certain definite things "subject to certain conditions" as stated in the Clause. The fact that the Minister may make conditions will not release him from the obligation of doing what the Clause tells him to do. In other words, the conditions he makes cannot run contrary to what is specified in the Clause. Of course, the most important thing specified in the Clause is contained in the words available for but unable to obtain employment. There is no power whatever in the Minister to impose any regulations which would restrict the rights of any person available for but unable to obtain employment. That will remove a great deal of the doubt in the mind of the hon. Member for Gorbals. The words have always been known in insurance legislation, and they are in this Clause for a necessary purpose. Their purpose is to allow the Minister to deal with minor details. I have a list here of the little matters with which we have to deal. They include such matters as adjustment of benefit where proof of unemployment is submitted late, the application of the Clause to voluntary contributors, and the time in which an insured person can submit proof of unemployment. The main point is that these conditions do not release the Minister from his obligation.


In view of the explanation given by the Minister, I do not desire to press the Amendment and shall ask leave to withdraw it. We were rather afraid that the Minister would take power to prescribe the conditions of unemployment, and what we were concerned about was whether he would prescribe the type of employment available. Provided that is not his intention, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move in page 5, line 35, at the end, to add the words: (2) The provisions of this section shall have effect with respect to arrears of contributions accruing after the third day of July, nineteen hundred and thirty-two. This is a technical Amendment which is necessary because the change in the arrears provisions will be made as from 1st January, 1934. The calculations governing benefits for the year from 1st January, 1934, will not be made until the autumn of 1933. The period to be taken into account will be the contribution year beginning on 4th July, 1932. It is thought desirable and convenient for the insured persons themselves and for the societies that they should be informed at the earliest moment what the effect of the change is likely to be.

Amendment agreed to.

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

1.0 a.m.


A word ought to be said about the provisions of this Clause. It is a Clause which provides the machinery to abolish the provisions of the prolongation scheme. The memorandum which has been supplied makes the position quite clear. It states that in the National Health Insurance Act of 1928 a provision was included to enable regulations to be made whereby all the arrears due to genuine unemployment would be excused and no reduction of benefit involved. Regulations to this effect were made and have been in operation since July, 1928. The position, in fact, was this, that no Government of whatever political colour dared to let the unemployed down. This Bill, however, and Clause 4 in particular, abolishes the prolongation scheme and thereby puts the unemployed, although safe for part of his benefits, on a reduced rate in comparison with the provisions of the Prolongation Act. I have been unwilling ever since we commenced our Debates to-day that the Government should make it appear that they are conferring a favour on the unemployed by what they are doing under this particular Clause. I want to make the position clear so far as I see it. The Government could not afford to let these people down entirely, but they are Letting them down gently, and the unemployed are, as I have already indicated, in a worse position than they would have been if the prolongation scheme had been extended.

We propose to vote against the Clause in order to indicate our dissent from the treatment of the unemployed by the Government, and I must enter a caveat on the issue raised earlier in the Debate to-night, because it pertains to this problem. An hon. Member, speaking during the evening, made a statement on a point I raised to the effect that these provisions would not have been required, if the provisions of the Economy Act of 1926 had not been carried out. He said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Ohurchill) did not, in fact, take money from this scheme. It is a misuse of words to say he did not take money from this scheme, what he did was to prevent money coming into the scheme that was contracted in 1912; that is exactly the same as saying that he took money from the scheme. It was because of the provisions of the Act of 1926 that we have the problems with which we are now confronted. After making that statement, I want to repeat once again that we are dissatisfied with what the Government are doing for the unemployed. Instead of shouldering the whole of the contributions for the unemployed to maintain them in the National Health Insurance scheme, they are going more or less to throw the whole of the weight of maintaining them in insurance upon the employed plus a little contribution from the societies. Instead of the Government helping, they will not pay a penny contribution to this scheme in respect of an unemployed person. For these reasons, we shall vote against the Clause.


I would like the Minister to explain what this Clause means. Reading it, it would appear that something is being given to the person unemployed, but, judging by the speech to which we have just listened, it is making the position worse than it was before. Anyone reading Clause 4 will find it very difficult to understand it.


As regards Clause 4, the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) has already given an analysis but I think perhaps I should try and make the matter clear. It is a clause which deals with that very difficulty in the scheme to which I referred earlier. The Committee will remember that I referred to two deficiencies. The first— the deficiency owing to the increase of benefits that had to be paid to women— we have already dealt with and the other deficiency is due to the falling off of the income of the approved societies owing to the general state of depression and the number of persons unemployed. As I pointed out to the Committee before, there is this grave burden of£2, 000, 000 a year which now rests upon the approved societies owing to the deficiency in their income due to arrears caused by unemployment. The approved societies at the present time are able to collect ninety per cent, of the income which they ought to collect, and members will appreciate that ten per cent, of their income is a grave deficiency and that£2, 000, 000 has to be dealt with in some way. I have already described to the Committee the manner in which it is proposed to deal with it. This Clause provides for the deficiency being covered—not as the hon. Member for Westhoughton suggests by small contributions from the approved societies; that would be misleading. Approximately, half of the burden will still rest upon the shoulders of the approved societies, and a very great burden it is, but they tell me they can bear it; and the rest of the burden we have to cover by reverting to that state of affairs under which, not the whole of the arrears for unemployment will be excused, but only one half.

This is all that is dealt with in this Clause and in order to keep the field open the Clause has been drafted in a manner to which I would specially draw the attention of the Committee. I think the desire expressed in the discussion tonight has been that, while regretting this is necessary now, there should be some chance when things take a turn for the better to get back to less restrictive provisions. I am conscious that that is the expressed desire, that, if and when national conditions improve, we should no longer impose restrictions such as are imposed in this Bill. That is a very reasonable desire. As regards the question of arrears, provision has been made for this in the way in which the Clause has been drafted. The Committee will see that the Clause does not tie the Minister down hard and fast to excuse only half the arrears of unemployment. It allows him to make regulations as to how much should be excused. The Clause has been drafted in that form so that if and when things improve we shall be able to restore a more generous and less restrictive treatment as regards excusing arrears than at present prevails. I should like to make it clear that that is the purpose for which the Clause has been cast in that way, and that it is the intention of the Government, if and when things take a turn for the better, to review the position, and to let out the stitches which we are now taking in.


The Minister's very detailed explanation is very welcome, because I find this Clause a very confusing one. I wish the Minister could see his way to give a similar explanation on each Clause without us having to ask for it, because that would save a lot of time. The Bill constantly refers to previous Acts and that makes it very difficult. I cannot quite follow why Subsection (2) of the 1924 Act is now to be omitted. There will be no Sub-section (2) in Clause 15 of that Act, but there will be added a new Sub-section (4). I was wondering if the Minister could tell me his exact reason for omitting that Sub-section (2)? The second point I want to make is that this Clause is bad, because, as the Minister has confessed, it reverts to the pre-prolongation period and inserts a much longer period for the man or woman to qualify for retaining his or her health insurance benefit. It is true, as the Minister has said, that it modifies it to some extent by taking powers to deal with the position when the national situation shows improvement, but I doubt whether he or I would be optimistic enough to think he would still be on the Treasury bench then. I am very hopeful that by that time his Government may have been supplanted by another Government which will bring in a new Bill. I do not think his proposal has any value, because I am afraid there will not be any improvement so long as this Government remains in office. The gesture is there that he intends, if the national situation so improves, to take steps, but I do not think even the most optimistic Member of this Committee thinks those powers will be used between now and the next general Election. Therefore, I content myself with stating the position, which is that this Bill takes away something valuable from those whoso benefits have been continued under prolongation for four years and makes the conditions very much worse in regard to qualification. We must vote against it, and, as I understand the Opposition above the Gangway are also voting against it, we shall associate ourselves with them. The last small point I want to make is perhaps really a drafting point. In the Act we have no Subsection (4) now, and, if we take out Subsection (2), there will remain only two Sub-sections. Yet if we put in one more we are to call it Sub-section (4). If we omit one Sub-section, surely this one that we are putting in will be Sub-section (3)?


I think I can explain the purpose of the change in the original Statute to which the hon. Member refers. The essence of the matter is this. Under the original Statute, the power of exempting from arrears penalties in respect of weeks of unemployment was a power made under regulations, but those legulations only gave the Minister power to exempt altogether or not at all. He had either to exempt all franks in respect of unemployment from counting as arrears or none at all. Under the present Bill, we take power to exempt half for the present. As the powers under the original regulations were not elastic enough for that, it is proposed to substitute a more elastic power which would enable one to deal with the whole or part.


The Minister at present accepts the whole of the 52 franked cards, but what he is now doing is to make it 26, and to that extent the unemployed man is in a very much worse position. At the present time the whole 52 are taken by the Minister, but the Minister now announces that he is going back to 26 and to those who have been unemployed for a considerable length of time that is an impossible position. It will be an impossible burden in 99 per cent, of the cases. It may be that by 2 or 3 per cent, it can be borne. They may have relatives to help them. To£5 or 99 per cent, lit will be an impossible burden to bear, and those genuinely unemployed people will now be placed beyond the pale. I think that anybody with any sense of right in connection with unemployed people can do nothing but fight against this machinery Clause. It is the machine for carrying a cruel Bill into operation.


I only want to ask the Minister this one point. The Minister estimates the contribution of the approved societies at£1, 000, 000. The adjusted proposal is the, t the approved societies are still to shoulder£1, 000, 000 of responsibility and the nation is shouldering another£1, 000, 000. The unemployed are losing half of the benefit they were previously getting, or rather their stamps are only valued at half that at which they have been under the prolongation Act. I want to ask the Minister if, in the various estimates, which he has made, his experts have, made: any estimate of the capital value of the contribution that the unemployed are themselves making. The approved societies' contribution is estimated at£1, 000, 000 and the State's contribution is estimated at approximately another£1, 000, 000. What is the cash value of the sacrifices which the unemployed are compelled to make? I think that is a matter that ought to be known to the Members

Division No. 243.] AYES. [1.24 a.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle, Sir Francis Muirhead, Major A. J.
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Gledhill, Gilbert Munro, Patrick
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Gluckstein, Louis Halle Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.
Albery, Irving James Goff, Sir Park Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd.) Graves, Marjorie Normand, Wilfrid Guild
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Greene, William P. C. North, Captain Edward T.
Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton) Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.) O'Connor, Terence James
Atholl, Duchess of Gunston, Captain D. W. O'Donovan, Dr. William James
Bailey, Eric Alfred George Guy, J. C. Morrison O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh
Baldwin-Webb, Colonel J. Hales, Harold K. Ormiston, Thomas
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon) Palmer, Francis Noel
Balniel, Lord Hanley, Dennis A. Patrick, Colin M.
Banks, Sir Reginald Mitchell Harbord, Arthur Pearson, William G.
Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey Hartington, Marquess of Penny, Sir George
Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury) Hartland, George A. Perkins, Walter R. D.
Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsrn'th, C.) Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) Petherick, M.
Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton) Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M. Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)
Blindell, James Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Pickering, Ernest H.
Bossom, A. C. Holdsworth, Herbert Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada
Boulton, W. W. Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Aston) Pike, Cecil F.
Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge) Procter, Major Henry Adam
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Hornby, Frank Ralkes, Henry V. A. M.
Bracken, Brendan Horsbrugh, Florence Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)
Bralthwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.) Howard, Tom Forrest Ramsay, T. B. w. (Western Islet)
Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Ramsbotham, Herwald
Broadbent, Colonel John Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport) Ratcliffe, Arthur
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg) Rea, Walter Russell
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T. James, Wing-Com. A. W. H. Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham-
Burgin, Or. Edward Leslie Jamieson, Douglas Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Burnett, John George Jesson, Major Thomas E. Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Joel, Dudley J. Barnato Ross, Ronald D.
Carver, Major William H. Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West) Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Ker, J. Campbell Runge, Norah Cecil
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Kerr, Hamilton W. Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)
Chalmers, John Rutherford Kirkpatrick, William M. Rutherford, Sir John Hugo
Chapman, Col. R.(Houghton-le-Spring) Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R. Salmon, Major Isidore
Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton Salt, Edward W.
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Latham, Sir Herbert Paul Savery, Samuel Servington
Conant, R. J. E. Law, Richard K, (Hull, S.W.) Scone, Lord
Copeland, Ida Lennox-Boyd, A, T. Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Cranborne, Viscount Levy, Thomas Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Galnsb'ro) Lindsay, Noel Ker Shepperton, Sir Ernest W.
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard Llewellin, Major John J. Skelton, Archibald Noel
Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil) Loder, Captain J. de Vere Slater, John
Dawson, Sir Philip Mabane, William Somervell, Donald Bradley
Donner, P. W. MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick) Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
Drewe, Cedric MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel McCorquodale, M. S. Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) McEwen, Captain J. H. F. Stevenson, James
Dunglass, Lord McKie, John Hamilton Storey, Samuel
Eastwood, John Francis Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton Stourton, Hon. John J,
Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E, McLean, Major Alan Strickland, Captain W. F.
Elliston, Captain George Sampson Macmillan, Maurice Harold Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F,
Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M. Sutcliffe, Harold
Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Margesson, Capt. Henry David R. Tate, Mavis Constance
Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Marsden, Commander Arthur Templeton, William P.
Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool) Martin, Thomas B. Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.) Meller, Richard James Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Thorp, Linton Theodore
Everard, W. Lindsay Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k) Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Molson, A. Hugh Eisdala Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Ford, Sir Patrick J. Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Fox, Sir Gifford Moreling, Adrian C. Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Fraser, Captain Ian Morgan, Robert H. Waterhouse, Captain Charles

of the Committee before they finally dispose of the Clause. If the figure is available-as I am sure it will be available in his Department-I hope the Minister will give the Committee that knowledge.

Question put, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 208; Noes, 29.

Wells, Sydney Richard Worthington, Dr. John V. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.) Wragg, Herbert Mr. Shakespeare and Sir Murdoch
Wills, Wilfrid D. Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'oaks) McKenzie Wood.
Womersley, Walter James
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) McEntee, Valentine L.
Buchanan, George Hirst, George Henry McGovern, John
Cape, Thomas Jenkins, Sir William Maxton, James
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Milner, Major James
Daggar, George Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Price, Gabriel
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Kirkwood, David Tinker, John Joseph
Edwards, Charles Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. David
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Lawson, John James
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Leonard, William TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Grundy, Thomas W. Logan, David Gilbert Mr. John and Mr. Duncan Graham.
Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Lunn, William