HC Deb 14 June 1932 vol 267 cc369-74

(1) In section fifty-six of the principal Act (which relates to married women) for Sub-sections (1) to (3) there shall be substituted the following Sub-sections: — (1) Where a woman, being an insured person and a member of an approved society, marries she shall, subject to the provisions of the next succeeding Subsection—

  1. (a) be treated as an insured person until the expiration of two years from the date of her marriage, but not for any longer period;
  2. (b) not be entitled during the said two years to the benefits to which she would otherwise have been entitled under this Act and in lieu thereof be entitled, subject to the provisions of this Act, to the following benefits, that is to say:
    1. (i) sickness benefit for an aggregate of not more than six weeks in the twelve months next after the date of her marriage, and for the purposes of this paragraph the first disease or disablement in respect of which such sickness benefit is payable shall not be deemed to be a continuation of any previous disease or disablement;
    2. (ii) a single maternity benefit irrespective of arrears in respect of her first confinement within two years from the date of her marriage;
    3. (iii) medical benefit until the thirtieth day of June or the thirty-first day of December, whichever first occurs, next after the expiration of a period of twelve months from the date of her marriage;
    4. (iv) during two years from the date of her marriage any additional benefits provided by her approved society in accordance with a scheme under section seventy-five of this Act.

(2) A woman to whom Sub-section (1) of this section applies and who at any time in the period commencing at the end of the contribution week in which she marries and expiring on the expiration of two years from the date of her marriage is employed within the meaning of this Act, or becomes a voluntary contributor, shall, for all the purposes of this Act, be treated as if she had become insured for the first time on the date on which in the said period she is first so employed, or becomes a voluntary contributor:

Provided that—

  1. (a) if she is so employed, whether continuously or not, during twenty-six contribution weeks in the period of fifty-two contribution weeks next following that in which she marries and twenty-six contributions are paid by or in respect of her 370 then, as respects future benefits, nothing in this Sub-section shall prevent weeks of insurance which elapsed before the date on which she is first so employed, and contributions paid in respect of those weeks, from being taken into account for the purposes of Sub-sections (2) and (3) of section thirteen and Sub-section (3) of section fourteen of this Act;
  2. (b) the period for which she remains insured and the benefits to which she is entitled shall not in any case be less than the period for which she would have remained insured and the benefits to which she would have been entitled if she had not been so employed or had not become a voluntary contributor; and
  3. (c) so far as concerns additional benefits and orphans' and old age pensions nothing in this Sub-section shall prevent her being considered as remaining continuously insured and remaining continuously a member of her approved society;"

(2)In Sub-section (6) of the said section fifty-six, for the words "after her marriage continues to be or becomes an employed contributor," there shall be substituted the words "after the end of the contribution week in which she marries is employed within the meaning of this Act, or becomes a voluntary contributor," and Sub-sections (7) and (8) of the said section shall cease to have effect.

(3) A woman, who, having married within two years before the passing of this Act, became at any time before the passing thereof subject to the provisions of Sub-section (1) of the said section fifty-six shall, as from the passing of this Act, be treated as if this section had been in operation at the date when she became subject to those provisions, and if the said date was subsequent to her marriage as if she had married on that date.

(3) A woman who, having married after the thirty-first day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty-one, but before the passing of this Act, did not before the passing thereof become subject to the provisions of Sub-section (1) of the said section fifty-six shall for the purposes of this section be treated as if her marriage had taken place on the date of the passing of this Act or, if she was at that date incapable of work by reason of some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement of which notice is or was given within the prescribed time, on the date on which that incapacity ceases: Provided that, in reckoning the twenty-six weeks of employment and twenty-six contributions referred to in proviso (a) to Subsection (2) of the said section fifty-six (as amended by this section) account shall be taken of any employment occurring and any contributions paid after the end of the contribution week in which she was married. (5) This section shall come into operation on the passing of this Act.—[Mr. H. Williams.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


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

I feel it is a little unfortunate that at this hour I should be moving a new Clause. I would like to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that ever since National Health Insurance was introduced in 1911 it has been recognised that a woman who married occupied a peculiar position in relation to National Health Insurance, and in various ways Parliament has from time to time recognised this situation. In 1918 what is known as Class K was introduced, whereby a woman who married was treated in a way differently from that originally proposed in 1911. In 1924 under the auspices of the Government represented by the party opposite that principle was continued, and in 1928 some modifications took place in the situation. In 1928 there was introduced, no doubt in view of the prolonged unemployment, a system whereby people who could not pay their contributions because of unemployment could have their cards franked. I believe, as a result of the Act of 1928—of which I was one of the supporters—there have grown up certain abuses which I think it is right to correct. It is obviously wrong that people who are no longer in the field of employment should be treated as if they were in the field of employment. When an abuse grows up what is the result? It is that people who have paid for certain benefits are deprived of those benefits because certain persons not entitled, morally, to benefits get them through legal processes. I think it is important that we should correct that situation.

The position at the moment is that on marriage a woman is presumed to continue in employment provided she is not out of work at any one time for more than eight weeks continuously during the first year after marriage. Obviously, that is a condition which is very easy to satisfy by a person who is not really any longer in full employment but who wishes to appear to continue to be so in order to obtain benefit. We have at the moment an unsatisfactory position, which has led to abuse and which, because of these abuses, has led to this Bill, which is reducing the benefits to married women generally. We have to realize that there is only a certain amount of money available, and, if some people get money im- properly, that deprives others who should properly get their rights and their benefit. My belief is that in due course, when this new Clause that I am now proposing becomes law, and when things become more normal, the result will be an increased rate of benefit. Whether or not I am right depends upon actuarial considerations which are not very easy to discuss at this early hour of the morning. I want hon. Members to realise that this is an abuse by those who are exploiting the system and that that abuse involves injustice to those who are trying to play the game straight. I want to see a system in force whereby those who really cease work and go out of the field of insurance are taken out of the field quickly, promptly, and definitely, but, on the other hand, those who remain in the field because they are continuing in work shall have their status rapidly reestablished as they would have under my Clause, whereas, under the existing law, people are left in a position of uncertainty over a prolonged period. I hope that those who have been flooded with propaganda by some who have not sufficiently appreciated the significance of the Clause, will not be led away by such misleading views. I have two purposes in view, namely, to deprive of benefit those who are obtaining it improperly and to secure that benefit to those who are legitimately entitled to it. I want those who are entitled to it to get it, but I do not want those who are not entitled to it to draw money and thus in the long run deprive the righteous people of that to which they are entitled. There are many other things I should like to say, but the Committee will wish this matter to be brought to an early conclusion, and, therefore, I will content myself with now moving this long and complicated Clause.


I rise for the purpose of making a suggestion which may be of assistance both to the Committee and to the Mover of the New Clause. It will have been realized from the very clear exposition of the Clause which has been given that it raises a very important issue indeed and one which is not very closely linked with most of the issues which we have been discussing to-day. It has some relation to them but it stands somewhat apart from them. The Committee will probably be glad of an opportunity, first of all, of giving further consideration to this long and difficult Clause, and, secondly, of considering it at a more favourable time and with fresher minds. I think there would be very great advantage in being able to read in the OFFICIAL REPORT the very clear exposition of the Mover and the suggestion that I make for his consideration is that, having made his explanation of the Clause, he might be content to leave it for the present and to give it full consideration on the Report stage. I understand that under the rules of the House this important new Clause would come up first on Report stage and would therefore receive the full consideration which it deserves. My suggestion would be therefore that the hon. Member might consider it not to his disadvantage to withdraw his new Clause at present, and, as far as I am concerned, I give the fullest possible undertaking that that shall not prejudice its full consideration when it comes up on the Report stage.


I respond only too willingly to the suggestion which, the Minister has made. I beg leave to withdraw the Clause, and I hope the Committee will agree to that course.


I do not want to object to the withdrawal, but—


I must remind the hon. Member that the Clause must be withdrawn by leave and that it cannot be withdrawn if a Member insists an speaking to it.


Then I object to letting it go. The Minister has adopted a very friendly attitude indeed to the proposal. I hope he does not assume, if the rest of us do not discuss the Clause, that we accept the general contentions in it, or that the attitude of the Committee is, generally speaking, friendly towards the proposal. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) must not think that, because the Minister has been kind to it tonight, it will not meet with criticism on the Report stage.


I just want to say that after the Ruling that there is to be no discussion on the proposal to withdraw the Clause, as some discussion has been allowed—


The right hon. Gentleman does not follow me. What I said was that, if the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) insisted on speaking on the Motion, the Clause could not be withdrawn.


Then it is now open for us to discuss the Clause? I misunderstood the Ruling. I understood the Ruling was that, unless we opposed the withdrawal, we could not speak. That is really what it amounts to, but now that it has been opposed I want to say that the mover's explanation was of something that is not contained in his new Clause, and he must not think that we accept the Clause in the language which he has attached to it. If we were to discuss it, I think we should probably prove that it does not mean anything at all like what he thinks it does.


I have the utmost objection to the Clause as suggested by the Mover. Instead of it being a helpful Clause as far as insured persons are concerned, it is one of the most reactionary Clauses that has been proposed at any time in connection with National Health. Insurance. I hope the Committee will take note that the Minister has adopted a rather friendly attitude towards the Clause and that he is prepared to accept any suggestion that will worsen the position of those affected by this Measure. He is not prepared to accept anything helpful to the insured person, and therefore I look with suspicion on his suggestion that this should be adjourned and debated later. It creates in my mind a certain amount of alarm when he is friendly towards making this Bill, bad, brutal and callous as it is, greatly worse, as it would be, if this Clause were carried.

Question, "That the Clause be read a Second time," put, and negatived.