HC Deb 30 January 1934 vol 285 cc299-321

9.20 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 7, line 36, to leave out from the second "or" to "is" in line 38.

Our Amendment leaves out the words "is between the ages of fourteen and sixteen years," and is intended to provide that a child at any age if it is dependent upon anyone drawing benefit shall be entitled to the children's allowance. Take the case of a child at school whose father is unemployed and entitled to draw benefit in respect of the child until it is 16 years of age. I had a case during the Recess where a child reached the age of 16 but was not allowed to leave school until the end of the school term, which meant staying at school for two or three months after attaining 16 years of age. Although the child is compelled to remain at school until the end of the school term the benefit has been stopped to the father in respect of the child. When the age was put up to 14 there were words in the Act that benefit had to be paid in respect of a child until it reached the age of 14 or until the end of the school term. The words "the end of the school term" are missing now, with the result that the benefit stops when the child reaches the age of 16, although it has to remain at school until the end of the school term. We say that so long as the child is dependent upon a father in receipt of benefit the parent ought to be able to draw benefit for the child.

9.23 p.m.


The effect of the Amendment if it were passed would go beyond what appears from his speech to be the intention of the hon. Member. I gather that his intention is merely to provide that benefits should continue to be paid up to the end of the term in which the child attains its 16th birthday. But the effect of the Amendment would be that the benefit would be payable in respect of children over the age of 16 for an indefinite period. That is an Amendment which cannot be accepted, and I hope the hon. Member will not press it.


Are we to understand that the Parliamentary Secretary will be willing to bring up words on the Report stage to meet the point to the end of the school term?


I must not be misunderstood to give any definite undertaking. It is a very difficult point, but I will see if it can be met, although I do not think that that is very likely.

9.25 p.m.


A number of education authorities, where a child agrees to take the higher classes of the school after the age of 14, make him give a written undertaking that he will remain at the school until 16. In many cases, if the child's 16th birthday should happen before the end of the school term, he must, according to the signed declaration, remain until the end of the term. As a consequence, there might be a period of two or three months after he reaches the age of 16 during which, according to the wording of the Act, his parent, if unemployed, may not receive any allowance in respect of him.


I was quite aware of the particular circumstances mentioned by the hon. Member. The difficulty has been brought to my attention during the last two or three days, and it was that difficulty which I undertook to look into in order to see if we could find a solution. But I must not be taken to say that a solution is probable.


Then the hon. Member implies that the difficulty is a severe one. The principle that has been mentioned is a fairly general one. I do not want an undertaking, but may we hope that where a child has to remain at school from his 16th birthday until the end of the term, the Government will put down an Amendment along the lines of ours, to carry on the benefit until the school-leaving period of that child?

9.27 p.m.


I am very glad that the Parliamentary Secretary says that he will endeavour to find some solution of this problem. I was rather disturbed when he seemed to indicate that no solution could be found. Obviously, it is in the interests of the secondary school child even more than in those of the elementary school child. As I understand it, it would apply more particularly to the child who had been put into a secondary school. Here, I should imagine, from the educational point of view, and from that of the prospects of the child, it would be a greater hardship to prevent the payment of the allowance beyond the age of 16 than it would be for an elementary school child beyond the age of 14. It is generally known that, before the children are accepted—particularly scholarship children—into the secondary schools they have to give an undertaking that they will remain there for a certain length of time, and it often happens, of course, that the qualifying examinations—matriculation and so on—do not come at the exact age of 16, but there is a lag over of a few months. It would be a very good thing to help these children to remain at school until they had qualified; and it would certainly ease the position of this type of parent, who has already been making great sacrifices to keep the child in the secondary school, if the Minister could find some way out. I frankly confess that, as he said, it may be difficult. I do not know whether this is a practical suggestion, but it has just occurred to me and I give it him now for what it is worth. Some provision might be made for the allowance to be carried over until the child has a chance to qualify, for instance, for the matriculation examination. I hope that the Minister will consider the matter very seriously and very sympathetically, and that some result will follow.

9.31 p.m.


I wish to support the proposals put before the Committee by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove). I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary limits the promise he made to the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) to the question of the child of 16, and that he is prepared to consider the two or three months that may be necessary to complete the school term before the child leaves. Since he is going to consider the problem, will he consider it on the wider ground? I do not know what are the exact terms that govern this question of dependency so far as Income Tax rebates are concerned, but I know that Income Tax rebates in respect of dependent children continue up to the age where a boy has completed his scholastic course. I think that the Noble Lady has had experience of that provision.

Viscountess ASTOR

Not at all; my income is taken away without a means test.


I find no objection to that, if the Noble Lady's possessions are as is commonly believed. I hope that no undue hardship has been imposed on her; if it has, she will become subject to my sympathy instead of my envy. If the Minister examines that provision I think he will find that it is quite possible for an Income Tax payer to have exemption for a son or daughter up to the age of 24, 25 or even more who is being educated at some recognised institution. I cannot see why the same principle should not be applied to the dependant allowance of the unemployed man. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) raised in the House the other day the very hard case of a young man in Glasgow who had been denied a bursary to maintain him at a secondary school or a university on the ground that his father was unemployed or too poor to maintain him there. Surely we are not going to visit the father's unemployment sins on the child to a greater extent than is absolutely necessary. If an unemployed father is by some desperate device or other endeavouring to give his son an extended education, why should we not at least give him the amount of recognition for the dependency of that son which is given to an Income Tax payer in similar circumstances? I do not know the exact terms, nor do I know the place where the Income Tax provision is laid down by Statute, but I ask the Minister, in his consideration of this matter, to examine that provision and see if it cannot be applied in exactly the same way to unemployment dependency.

9.35 p.m.


I was going to make the same point. There is a class distinction in this matter. The parent who is unemployed, and who has a child on full-time education does not get dependant's allowance when the child is over 16 years of age, but in the case of the son of a person paying Income Tax

who is undergoing full-time instruction, up to whatever age, dependant's allowance is given. We are asking that, irrespective of the age of a child, if a boy or girl is undergoing full-time education the parent, as long as the boy or girl is entirely dependent on him, should enjoy dependant's allowance. That is a reasonable request. As the situation is now there is this class distinction. If a person pays Income Tax he gets, shall I call it, this dole, but if, on the other hand, he is a working-class man out of work and the child is over 16 and completing a term at school then the dependant's allowance ceases just at a time when the strain on the parent is much greater than ever before. I think the Government might concede this request. They have made two concessions, and three is a good round figure. There is no reason why they should not, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will accept the Amendment or give an undertaking of a somewhat firmer nature.

9.37 p.m.


I should like to urge the Parliamentary Secretary to consider the possibility of including boys and girls whose parents have undertaken to keep them at a secondary school until they are 16, or until the end of a term. They have undertaken this secondary course, and it is of the greatest importance that it should be completed; otherwise, much of it will be wasted. No doubt it is a matter of some technical difficulty, but I cannot think it is beyond the ingenuity of the Parliamentary Secretary or the Parliamentary draftsman to meet these cases.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 239; Noes, 66.

Division No. 80.] AYES. [9.39 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Bateman, A. L. Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th.C.) Burghley, Lord
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B. Burnett, John George
Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)
Albery, Irving James Boothby, Robert John Graham Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Boulton, W. W. Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton Caporn, Arthur Cecil
Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K. Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Castlereagh, Viscount
Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe Boyce, H. Leslie Cautley, Sir Henry S.
Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton) Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.) Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough) Clarry, Reginald George
Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet) Brass, Captain Sir William Cobb, Sir Cyril
Balniel, Lord Broadbent, Colonel John Colfox, Major William Philip
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Brocklebank, C. E. R. Conant, R. J. E.
Cooke, Douglas Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton Ross, Ronald D.
Cooper, A. Duff Latham, Sir Herbert Paul Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Copeland, Ida Law, Sir Alfred Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.
Cranborne, Viscount Leech, Dr. J. W. Runge, Norah Cecil
Crooke, J. Smedley Lees-Jones, John Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro) Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth
Croom-Johnson, R. P. Levy, Thomas Russell,Hamer Field (Sheffield,B'tside)
Crossley, A. C. Liddall, Walter S. Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)
Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard Lindsay, Noel Ker Salmon, Sir Isidore
Culverwell, Cyril Tom Llewellin, Major John J. Salt, Edward W.
Dalkeith, Earl of Lockwood, Capt. J. H. (Shipley, Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)
Denville, Alfred MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G.(Partick) Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart
Donner, P. W. MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Salley, Harry R.
Dower, Captain A. V. G. MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham) Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Drewe, Cedric MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) McKie, John Hamilton Shute, Colonel J. J.
Eady, George H. McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston) Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Eastwood, John Francis Macmillan, Maurice Harold Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-in-F.)
Eden, Robert Anthony Macquisten, Frederick Alexander Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hailam)
Edmondson, Major A. J. Maitland, Adam Somervell, Sir Donald
Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M. Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.
Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.
Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool) Martin, Thomas B. Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Essenhigh, Reginald Clare Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.) Spens, William Patrick
Everard, W. Lindsay Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)
Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst Meller, Sir Richard James Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)
Fleming, Edward Lascelles Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Stevenson, James
Fox, Sir Gifford Milne, Charles Storey, Samuel
Fremantle, Sir Francis Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chisw'k) Stourton, Hon. John J.
Gault, Lieut.-Col, A. Hamilton Molson, A. Hugh Eisdale Strickland, Captain W. F.
Gibson, Charles Granville Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.) Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Gledhill, Gilbert Morrison, William Shephard Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.
Gluckstein, Louis Halle Moss, Captain H. J. Sutcliffe, Harold
Goff, Sir Park Munro, Patrick Tate, Mavis Constance
Gower, Sir Robert Nall, Sir Joseph Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)
Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rl'd, N.) Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Thompson, Sir Luke
Graves, Marjorie Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth) Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid Thorp, Linton Theodore
Greene, William P. C. North, Edward T. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Grimston, R. V. Nunn, William Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)
Gritten, W. G. Howard O'Connor, Terence James Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)
Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A. Train, John
Gunston, Captain D. W. Palmer, Francis Noel Tree, Ronald
Guy, J. C. Morrison Pearson, William G. Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. Peat, Charles U. Turton, Robert Hugh
Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Penny, Sir George Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)
Hanbury, Cecil Perkins, Walter R. D. Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n) Petherick, M. Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Haslam, Henry (Horncastle) Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)
Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) Pike, Cecil F. Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Heilgers, Captain F. F. A. Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H. Watt, Captain George Steven H.
Hepworth, Joseph Procter, Major Henry Adam Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-
Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge) Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich) Wells, Sydney Richard
Horobln, Ian M. Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Whyte, Jardine Bell
Horsbrugh, Florence Ramsbotham, Herwald Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Ramsden, Sir Eugene Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)
Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport) Ratcliffe, Arthur Wills, Wilfrid D.
Hume, Sir George Hopwood Rawson, Sir Cooper Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)
Hurst, Sir Gerald B. Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter) Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)
Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H. Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham- Windsor-Clive, Lieut-Colonel George
Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Reid, David D. (County Down) Womersley, Walter James
James, Wing-Com. A. W. H. Reid, William Allan (Derby) Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'oaks)
Jamieson, Douglas Remer, John R. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Jesson, Major Thomas E. Rickards, George William Major George Davies and Commander Southby.
Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan) Ropner, Colonel L.
Kerr, Hamilton W. Rosbotham, Sir Thomas
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Harris, Sir Percy
Attlee, Clement Richard Dobbie, William Holdsworth, Herbert
Banfield, John William Edwards, Charles Janner, Barnett
Batey, Joseph Evans, David Owen (Cardigan) Jenkins, Sir William
Bernays, Robert Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin) Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield) Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)
Buchanan, George Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Kirkwood, David
Cape, Thomas Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Lawson, John James
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro',W.) Leonard, William
Cove, William G. Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Logan, David Gilbert
Cripps, Sir Stafford Groves, Thomas E. Lunn, William
Curry, A. C. Grundy, Thomas W. McEntee, Valentine L.
Daggar, George Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton
Davies, David L. (Pontypridd) Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd) Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)
Mainwaring, William Henry Price, Gabriel Tinker, John Joseph
Mander, Geoffrey le M. Rathbone, Eleanor Walihead, Richard C.
Maxton, James Rea, Walter Russell White, Henry Graham
Milner, Major James Roberts, Aled (Wrexham) Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Nathan, Major H. L. Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen) Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)
Owen, Major Goronwy Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)
Paling, Wilfred Smith, Tom (Normanton) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Parkinson, John Allen Thorne, William James Mr. C. Macdonald and Mr. John.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

9.47 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 8, line 1, to leave out "prevented from receiving," and to insert "unable to receive."

This, of course, is a rather narrower Amendment than the last, but it is still of some importance to those whom it will concern. The Clause defines the dependent child. It states that a child is dependent when it is between the ages of 14 and 16 years and is maintained wholly or mainly by him and is either

  1. (i) a person under full time instruction at a day school; or
  2. (ii) a person who is prevented from receiving such instruction by reason of physical or mental infirmity."
I want to delete the words "prevented from receiving" and to insert in their place the words "unable to receive." I understand that the position at the present time is that the umpire has ruled that those children who are ill and whose parents therefore cannot enter into any agreement that they shall go to school, are not dependent; in other words that before dependency can be claimed and a dependant's allowance accrue, the parent must have entered into an agreement that the child shall have continued education to the age of 16 years. The Amendment provides that if a child is ill and its parents cannot enter therefore into such an agreement, the child shall be regarded as a dependant and shall be able to get the dependant's allowance. I understand also that the umpire says that if an allowance of that kind is paid it will not be a dependency allowance but an allowance for sickness. We desire that the child should not start with this handicap. It may be that the physical infirmity will pass away and that the child may come under the qualification for being a dependant. I hope that the Minister will be able to meet us in the matter.

9.52 p.m.


I beg to support the Amendment. I know that the Minister and members of the Committee may think that this is a sentimental appeal, but sentiment in the life of a nation—


May I interrupt? I am advised that the Amendment would make no difference whatever to the Clause. It would merely put back the words that exist in the law as it stands to-day. The umpire has interpreted the words "unable to receive," used in the Act of 1930, as meaning "prevented from receiving," and we have merely made the alteration in order to conform with the ruling of the umpire. I have no objection to accepting the Amendment, though it does not make any difference in the law. It will not achieve the object that hon. Members have in view.


Do I understand that although this Committee may decide what the future of this Bill is to be, no matter what determination the Committee may reach it is the opinion of the Minister that we are to be governed by what the umpire may think?


The only reason why I interrupted was for the convenience of the Committee, to try to explain that the two sets of words mean exactly the same thing.


I am thoroughly aware of the meaning of words, but what I am at a loss to understand is the meaning of the Parliamentary Secretary. There are so many things that are accepted in this House just by words that it is better to know exactly where we stand here. Does the Minister now make a definite statement that he is accpting our Amendment?


If the hon. Member presses it, certainly.

9.54 p.m.


The Parliamentary Secretary's two statements do not carry us any further forward. First he said that the Amendment makes no difference in the law, and secondly he said that it does not achieve our purpose. What we want to know is whether he is prepared to achieve our purpose, and whether, with all the skill of the draftsmen behind him, he is prepared to deduce a form of words which will meet the point we have in mind. It may be that in the view of the umpire prevented from means the same as "unable to." But there is a point of substance which has been put to the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove). It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary getting up and saying flippantly that he will accept our words, but that they do not make any difference and do not meet the point that we are raising. Are the Government prepared to accept our view that hardship does occur because of the unfortunate prevention of continued education owing to the sickness or infirmity of a child and that where such child would normally have been dependent it will still be regarded as dependent when the father is unemployed? The Committee are entitled to a reasoned answer and not to the rather flippant answer which the Parliamentary Secretary has made.

9.56 p.m.


I had no intention of being flippant and if the right hon. Gentleman will put on the Paper an Amendment designed to carry out what he has in mind, we shall be very glad to give it sympathetic consideration—the consideration that it merits. All we are dealing with at the moment, however, is the actual wording on the Paper and I am advised that these words do not make any material alteration in the existing law. If hon. Members opposite prefer the words of the existing Act, I am prepared to accept the Amendment, and to retain the words that apply at present. I cannot do more than that.

9.57 p.m.


The hon. Gentleman is not making any attempt to meet us. It is a great concession to accept words which the Government tell us do not mean anything at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why put them down?"] The Parliamentary Secretary says he is advised that the words in the Amendment do not make any substantial difference and that the position would remain the same as it is at present.


Of course I suggest that, because the words proposed in the Amendment are the words of the existing law.


I accept that position. I am not going to argue about that point. If the Amendment does not meet the case put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) what I am asking for is not an opportunity to put down another Amendment, because we can always do that if we choose on Report. Whether such an Amendment would be debated or not if the Government take up all the time with their own Amendments is another matter. What I am asking now is: Do the Government agree that there is a point of substance here and are they prepared to accept our point, instead of throwing the onus of drafting the necessary Amendment on the Opposition who have not the resources possessed by the Government? Let us admit that we have not those resources. Will the Parliamentary Secretary say specifically whether in the view of the Government this is a point of substance and whether they are prepared to accept it?

9.59 p.m.


On a point of Order. The Committee has had presented to it an Amendment which means exactly the same as the wording in the Bill. That obviously is a sign of the complete ineptitude of official Oppositions.


Not so great as the ineptitude shown by the Government.


They have put down this Amendment and solemnly wasted the time of the Committee allotted under the Guillotine and they have done so for the purpose of trying to insert a form of words which they now agree themselves are the same as the words in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman, then asks the Committee to consider some other words which are not on the Paper, words which he himself has not attempted to formulate, in order to give expression to something which is not in the Amendment before the Committee. Is that in order?


In reply to the hon. and learned Member, when I saw this Amendment on the Paper I was somewhat puzzled as to the object which the hon. Member who moved it had in view, but I thought that he might explain its meaning in his speech. The hon. Member in moving the Amendment did indicate the point which he wished to raise although possibly the words of the Amendment are not exactly suited for the purpose which he described.

10.0 p.m.


We have had a contribution from a very superior person, a man who is learned in the law but who is obviously not very sympathetic as far as these children are concerned, in the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor). The Parliamentary Secretary admitted that there was some substance in our point and offered no objection at all to what we were striving to put forward. He went so far as to say that if we defined the form of words the Government would have no objection to accepting it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, he said he would consider it sympathetically and obviously that meant that he was expressing the view of the Department that they would look into the matter. If they were going to consider it sympathetically I take it that such consideration ought to mean and would mean that they would accept our case. This is a small incident showing how valuable the Minister of Labour is to the Government in piloting this Bill. If the hon. Gentleman's chief had been here, I am sure we would not have had the attitude towards this Amendment which has been taken up by the Parliamentary Secretary. It is obvious that this Bill would not have such an easy passage as it is having if the Under-Secretary were in charge and I would advise him to reflect the attitude and the spirit of his chief.

Is the hon. Gentleman really concerned about these children? He has expressed a sympathetic attitude. He has at his disposal technical resources which a small Opposition cannot command. He has around him a good many hon. Gentlemen who are learned in the law and he has experts in his Department. It seems a mean and a miserable thing for the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Central Nottingham to suggest that we are wasting time in discussing a matter of this kind. For the first three or four hours of this Sitting we were unable to discuss a single Opposition Amendment because this unready Government had presented a manuscript Amendment. Not a single point that we put upon the Paper could be discussed in the earlier stages of this Sitting owing to the Government's action. To-day's proceedings have been a disgraceful exhibition on the part of the Government and I want to tell the Parliamentary Secretary now that if the attitude which he has taken towards this Amendment is going to be shown throughout these Debates, very stormy times are in store for the Government in connection with the passage of this Bill. I advise him not to get up with a supercilious air and poke fun at the Opposition but to deal with the point of substance which we have put forward and to use the technical resources at his disposal to find the appropriate words which will effect justice in the case of these children. Never mind beating a little Opposition. Never mind sneering at it. Do something for these children with the resources that you have at your disposal.

10.5 p.m.


The Parliamentary Secretary says that the words of the Opposition's Amendment mean precisely the same as the words in the Bill, and he submits that our words are the words of the Act. Are we to understand that he has made a meaningless change in the law by inserting the words in the Bill that are already covered by the previous Act of Parliament and the wording of which could easily have been the words that we are seeking to insert? Or do he and his chief believe that the alteration in the wording of the Bill really means some kind of alteration in the administration of the Act? If that is the case, will he inform the Committee in what way the umpire's decisions based upon the wording of the present Act will be affected by the new wording of the Bill as submitted by the Government? If there is to be an alteration, let us know how it is to be made, since he maintains that our words will not alter the umpire's decisions.

10.6 p.m.


The reason why we have made the alteration is that we thought it would be for the general convenience to use the words that are currently used by the umpire in his decisions. The umpire has interpreted two sets of words as meaning the same thing, and for the general convenience we thought it desirable to make this alteration accordingly. There has been no alteration in the meaning of the law, and there will be no alteration in administration. That is why I am perfectly prepared to accept the Amendment standing in the name of the party opposite to restore the words which are in the Act of 1930.

10.7 p.m.


Are we to understand that the Government accept the umpire's decision as being the law—[Interruption.] I am asking a question of the Parliamentary Secretary, not of the First Commissioner of Works, who would be doing his job properly if he were giving employment to some of those in his Department who are unemployed. I am asking the Parliamentary Secretary if the Government are accepting the umpire's decisions now and are standardising them in the present Bill, seeing that they have inflicted hardship upon many working-class families in which there are sick children who are unable to go to educational institutions after the age of 14 years.

10.8 p.m.


I should like to ask the Leader of the Opposition, whoever he may be at the moment, whether he admits that there is nobody in his party capable of drafting an Amendment containing the views which have been expressed by himself and two or three other Members of his party. We have come to an extraordinary pass when an Opposition admits in the House of Commons that they have views, but that they are quite incapable of putting them on paper. If that is the alternative Government, God save the country.

10.10 p.m.


The Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to inform us that because the umpire has interpreted the words "unable to receive" as being prevention from receiving, they immediately assume that they are interchangeable. I submit to the hon. and learned Member opposite that that is a form of interpretation that none of them would accept in a court of law, that the two sets of words are interchangeable in that manner. The words "unable to receive" are, in the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, really no less than prevention to receive, and, on the other hand, prevention to receive may be nothing more nor less than unable to receive. If the Government have seen it well to consult the umpire in the first place before daring to use his name here in justification of what they now say, they should also invite the umpire to express an opinion on the alteration now proposed. If the umpire is to decide it, they should ask him to decide it before coming here. They are extending the powers of the umpire. I know that under the Unemployment Insurance Acts the umpire is entitled to interpret words, but they have now advanced to a stage where he is responsible for legislation itself.


On a point of Order. If the Government accept the Amendment put down by the Opposition, cannot we get on with more serious work?


That appears to me to be a matter for the Opposition.

10.12 p.m.


If the Parliamentary Secretary would give us a little attention, and if hon. Members opposite would also give us a little attention, it might be well for the Committee, and it might be to the advantage of the children concerned. The words of the original Act mentioned by the Financial Secretary were not very clear to interpret, and as a consequence of that they were submitted to the umpire for his decision. The umpire gave a decision, and as a consequence a considerable number of sick children were prevented from being considered dependent children. The point arises as to whether or not there is a desire on the part of the Government to place these children in the position of dependent children. It is not unusual in this House for words to be put down by an Opposition, and I and other hon. Members have known scores of occasions when replies have been given by the Minister concerned to the effect that he sees the purpose of the Amendment, but that the words suggested do not meet that purpose, and that therefore, although not willing to accept the actual Amendment, he will give considera- tion to the purpose intended and at a later stage will himself suggest words to meet it.

Either the Parliamentary Secretary desires to bring these children within the category of dependent children, or he does not. They were struck out and came outside the Act because of a decision of the umpire. Nobody disputes that. The desire of most Members would be to bring them within the term "dependent," and all we are asking is that the Parliamentary Secretary shall say one way or the other whether the Government desire them to be considered dependent. To try to ride away, as he and his friends are doing, on an attempt to score a cheap point off the Opposition is very mean, and most of us thought that he, at any rate, would act in a bigger and broader way than that. I want to ask him definitely if it is the desire of the Government to shut these children out of benefit? If it is, why does not the Parliamentary Secretary say that they are invalids and that the Government do not desire to give them benefit under the Act? It was undoubtedly the intention of the framers of the original Act that they should be considered as dependent. If it is not the desire of the Government to put them out of benefit, is he willing to do what has been done on hundreds of occasions and meet the Opposition, framing a set of words to insert in the Bill the intention of the original Act?

10.17 p.m.


I want to press the Parliamentary Secretary to give a reply to the questions which have been addressed to him. I remember in the last Parliament, when we had the Widows' and Old Age Pensions Measure before us, the Conservative Opposition of over 200 strong put down a number of Amendments, many of which did not incorporate their intention, and my right hon. Friend, who was then Minister of Health, pointed out on many occasions that the words that had been selected by experts like the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) and others did not meet their own intentions, and that he would incorporate words that would do so on the Report stage. All the public school boys were in that party and with all their intelligence they failed to put down Amendments in a proper manner. I want to know whether the Government supporters are anxious to provide benefit for these children or provide half an hour's amusement for themselves? This Chamber was empty for most of the evening when we were discussing other Clauses, and so badly worded is the Bill itself and so uncertain were the Government about their intentions in the Bill, that they accepted one Amendment. All day yesterday we were discussing the Ministry's own muddle about their Bill, and now hon. Members opposite are suggesting that we are committing a grievous offence because, in putting an Amendment down, we have committed a blunder.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary treat the Committee with the courtesy with which up to now the Government have been treated on this Bill, and tell us that he agrees that a sick child who is unable to attend school up to 16 shall be eligible for benefit? Will he tell the Committee that he agrees that parents should receive benefit in respect of such children and, on the Report stage, insert words in the Bill to give effect to that intention? Is that unreasonable? It has been asked for over and over again. It is perfectly reasonable for the Opposition to say that the Minister must answer a plain question in which, as he admits, there is a point of substance; but he will not answer it, and I want to suggest to hon. Members that by this sort of nonsense—[Laughter]—by that sort of nonsense—the Government are really bringing the House and themselves into discredit. The House knows very well that the Opposition is composed of a very small number of Members, and of Members who are unable to obtain the assistance of private secretaries such as many hon. Members in other parts of the House possess. We have not got legal help. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cripps!"] Hon. Members know very well that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has not the time at his disposal. He is engaged in making trouble for the Conservatives in the country, and cannot devote all his time to matters of this kind.

I therefore suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should now bring this discussion to a close by replying to the question which has been put. Is he prepared, on the Report stage, to insert in the Bill words which will give effect to the intentions of the Government? I am sure that, despite the hilarity and good humour shown over this question, Members in all parts of the Committee are anxious that this anomaly should be put right. Obviously, it is an anomaly. The old law intended that the parent should receive the money in respect of the child. Everybody knows that this is a reasonable request, and I feel that the Parliamentary Secretary would be meeting the wishes of everyone if he said he was prepared to insert words to give effect to that intention.

10.24 p.m.


I rise to deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). This is an Amendment which was on the Paper proposing to insert certain words, and I accepted it on behalf of the Government. It has turned out, in the course of the Debate, that some point which was not raised by the Amendment at all and which, to the best of my knowledge, has nothing to do with the Amendment, was the point which hon. Members really had in mind. I have said that if hon. Members will draft an Amendment and come and discuss it with me I will certainly give it consideration. Obviously I am not in a position to give an answer on a particular point which has never been put on the Paper but is raised suddenly in Debate and does not arise out of the Amendment. I think I have met reasonably the appeal that has been made by saying that if hon. Members will draft an Amendment and come to see me I will certainly give it consideration and see whether anything can be done.

10.25 p.m.


I have listened for a considerable time to the discussion, and have been trying to find out what it is all about. I can conceive circumstances under which the words "prevented from receiving" are different from "unable to receive." One might be prevented from speaking, as I have been in this House, but I recollect no occasion up to now when I was unable to speak; but that is obviously a case where the words have a different meaning. Reading these words with their context, they clearly have no different meaning. The hon. Member who spoke last from the Opposition Benches made a very earnest appeal to the Minister to make a concession. My hon. Friends and I have been trying to find out what he wanted. He has not expressed in any words which are intelligible to a person of ordinary intelligence what it is that he desires. Nobody sitting here has the faintest idea. Obviously the Minister is right not to give any pledge as to his treatment of any Amendment that may be drafted, until he knows precisely what it means. I am surprised at an Opposition which can move an Amendment, be disgusted when it is accepted, and then express profound dissatisfaction because nobody has understood what they are incapable of putting into plain English. [An HON. MEMBER: "Legal English!"] Not legal English. All that we want to know is what is the meaning? Ultimately the decision lies with this Committee, and we are entitled to be informed of the complaint of the hon. Gentleman. On the Report stage ultimately, when this matter is raised again, we shall need to have some understanding as to the issue that has been raised to-night, but neither my hon. Friends nor myself who have been listening to the discussion, have the slightest idea as to what is the subject under discussion.

10.28 p.m.


A few minutes ago I made some remarks about the attitude for the time being of the Parliamentary Secretary. I now wish very heartily to thank him for the spirit that he has displayed in the latter part of this Debate, and to say that we appreciate it on this side of the Committee. We shall take advantage of the offer that he has made. I hope that we may now draw this discussion to a close.

Amendment agreed to.

10.29 p.m.


I beg to move, in page 8, line 35, at the end, to add: For the purposes of this Section and of the Unemployment Insurance Acts a child, younger brother, or younger sister, of two or more persons entitled to benefit who is not maintained wholly or mainly by any one of them but is maintained wholly or mainly by their joint contributions shall be deemed to be maintained wholly or mainly by the elder or eldest of them, and in such cases that part of paragraph (f) of Sub-section (2) of Section 2 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1930, which relates to the contribution when in employment of an insured person to the cost of the maintenance of another person shall apply as if it referred to the joint contributions of these persons. In order that benefit may be paid in respect of a child, it is necessary that the person who is to receive benefit should be someone who wholly or mainly maintains the child. Under the Unemployment Insurance Acts a person is not regarded as wholly or mainly capable of maintaining a child unless in normal circumstances that person is in employment and contributes at least one-half of the cost of the maintenance.

It may sometimes happen, and does sometimes happen, that a child is maintained by the joint funds of two or more elder members of the family, who may both or all happen to be out of employment and in receipt of benefit at the same time. In these circumstances neither all of them nor any one of them singly can obtain the dependant's benefit for the child, because no one of them singly wholly or mainly maintains the child, and in such circumstances the cost of the child's maintenance may be thrown upon the local authority and the rates, although ordinarily that child is wholly or mainly maintained by people who for the time being are in receipt of unemployment benefit. For instance, if a child is ordinarily maintained by equal contributions from, let us say, an elder brother and a father, and if both the elder brother and the father are out of employment, it sometimes happens that neither the one nor the other nor the two together can obtain the dependant's benefit for the child, because neither normally contributes at least one-half of the cost of the child's maintenance.

I believe it has been held that, where normally a father and an elder brother equally maintain a child, and they are both unemployed, the father may be regarded as the person who wholly or mainly maintains the child. But if between them they normally contribute only nine-tenths of the cost of the child's maintenance, and if they are both unemployed, neither of them is regarded as wholly or mainly maintaining the child, whereas if the child is maintained to the extent of six-tenths only by one person, that one person may obtain the de- pendant's benefit for the child. My purpose in moving this Amendment is simply to secure that dependant's benefit as regards a child may be paid either to two or three people or to one of two or three people who normally are joint contributors to the maintenance of the child, and that they may not be deprived of that benefit to their detriment as compared with the case of the child who is maintained by one parent or elder brother or sister.

I would only say further that I do not want merely to be told that my Amendment has this or that defect, or will not work in this way or in that way. I do not in the least care how the object is achieved, and, if the Parliamentary Secretary would say that he is prepared to meet the point, I have no doubt that he could find much better words and means for doing it than I have attempted to find. All that I have tried to provide for is that in such cases as I have figured, that is to say, where normally a child is maintained by joint contributions from two or three people, when all those people are entitled to unemployment benefit the one who is the oldest should be regarded for these purposes, and for these purposes only, as the person who wholly or mainly maintains the child.

10.35 p.m.


I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this point. It is one with which we have great sympathy, but we cannot accept the Amendment in the form in which it is drawn. There are other dependants besides children, for instance, mothers, and it is not certain that the eldest person is necessarily the best. If my hon. Friend will accept my assurance that we will bring in a new Clause embodying the substance of what he wants. I hope he will withdraw his Amendment.

10.36 p.m.


I hope the Minister will allow within the category any person, even though not a brother, who is held to be the person responsible for the upkeep of the child. Dependency has to be proved in order to secure the housekeeper's allowance, and the point that I wish to safeguard is that a person who is cut out and loses dependency for the child shall not also lose dependency for the housekeeper.


If the hon. Member will see me at the Ministry when we have the Clause drafted, I will go into the matter with him.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

10.33 p.m.


As I read the Clause, it is confined to dependent children, brothers and sisters to the claimant for benefit, but there is also the question of adopted children. A grandfather may have grandchildren in his charge. Under the Adoption of Children Act anyone can adopt children whose parents are dead, but I am informed that under the law of Scotland grandparents cannot adopt their grandchildren although the grandparents are responsible at law for their maintenance. I ask that in this case the law that applies to a brother or a sister should apply to grandparents as well. In many cases it is not the brother who is responsible for the child's maintenance but the grandfather. In view of the fact that the law has held grandparents responsible, I think that they ought to get the benefit of any Unemployment Acts which are going. The grandparent is the only person held to be in the same relationship as the mother and father, and should be put on the same footing.


The point which has been raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) is, I confess, a new one to me. I will certainly look into the matter and let him know whether there is anything we can do to meet the question.