HC Deb 05 November 1934 vol 293 cc792-6

Order for Second Reading read.

11.0 p.m.


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

I hope the Bill will be non-controversial. The House will remember that certain amendments were made last Session in the Poor Law as applied to Scotland. This Bill does exactly the same thing as regards the Poor Law in England, so that we can march side by side with Scotland. Under Clause I certain income is to be disregarded in the calculation of income from the point of view of public assistance. The first 5s. of trade union sick benefit is to be disregarded. The first 7s. 6d. of national health insurance benefit is already disregarded under statute, and the first –1 for a wound or disability pension is also to be completely disregarded, and the first maternity benefit. In Clause I (5) the definition of the person who may get the benefit of this disregarding of the –1 wound c r disability pension is made to assimilate to the exact definition in the Scottish law. Under Clause 2 (4), as in the Scottish Act, the Minister of Health will fix the appointed day from which the operation of the law as to disregarding the first –1 of the disability pension will operate. With these few words I commend the Second Reading of the Bill. It will be a step forward in the administration of public assistance which is in keeping with the general sense of the country and general public opinion.

11.4 p.m.


I do not think that anyone will wish to divide against the Second Reading of the Bill. As I have said on more than one occasion, we like the Bill as far as it goes. We are not sure that it goes as far as it ought to go. It is right that the Government should at this stage introduce a Bill which to some extent assimilates the Poor Law to what has now become the practice as regards the treatment of unemployed persons. This Bill is an indication that we are getting into a first-rate muddle as between the Poor Law and unemployment assistance, and if the Government live as long as some Members who support it believe it will we shall have this conflict between the new Unemployment Act and the Poor Law raised again in the House.

In 1932, under the Act dealing with transitional payment, it was mandatory on those administering transitional payments to persons outside insurance to take certain things, as for example sick pay, into account. Every person who applied for transitional payment had taken into account any sick pay, that was not new law, disability pensions, at least the first part, house property up to a certain amount and half workmen's compensation, but as regards the Poor Law, these things, except as regards sick pay, remain discretionary. The Scottish Poor Law Act did attempt to bring into line the law as regards unemployed persons who were outside the Poor Law and persons who had to apply for poor relief. When that Bill was before the Committee, some of my hon. Friends on the Scottish Standing Committee raised the question of workmen's compensation. It is true that in the Scottish Poor Law Act some of the discretionary power which was given to Poor Law authorities was made mandatory, but not as regards workmen's compensation. The difficulty is this. Under the 1934 Unemployment Act, shortly to operate, there are certain benefits accruing to an unemployed person which the Unemployment Assistance Board must disregard. It must disregard sick pay, maternity benefit and –1 of disability pension. It must also disregard one-half of workmen's compensation. That is mandatory on the Unemployment Assistance Board, whether they think it is a good case or a bad one; if a man appears before the board and is in receipt of workmen's compensation, it must be taken into account. They must disregard it.

The one outstanding point on which we have a quarrel with the Government is on the matter of workmen's compensation. I do not want to be party political on this point, but in the interests of good administration, if the new Unemployment Assistance Board, which on the showing of the Government is taking over most of the responsibility with regard to the able bodied unemployed, are going to have regard and discount workmen's compensation, then it ought to be done with regard to the Poor Law. That seems to me to be reasonable. After all, it is nearly 16 years since the War ended, and we are now in what we hope will be a period of peace. If it be right for the Government to make a concession as regards those who have disabilities because they fought for their country, what is the logical reason for denying some concession to workmen who have lost their health and suffered disabilities by working for their country in times of peace?

It seems to me that that is a reasonable suggestion. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of assimilating the Poor Law of England to the new legislation. It does not do it in respect of workmen's compensation. Most of my hon. Friends who are more closely associated with industry than I am, and who know how important a part payments in respect of accidents arising in or out of the course of employment may play in the life of workmen, feel that it would have been generous if the Government had provided in the Bill sufficiently to cover people under workmen's compensation.

That is my case. I am not trying to make any kind of capital out of it. We accept the Bill, and we are glad that it is before the House, but we do wish to point out very earnestly to the Government that we regard not merely as a weakness in the Bill, but as a grievance which some of us are entitled to feel, that in widening the power to include consideration of certain forms of income which go into the working class family in times of destitution, no regard is paid to workmen's compensation. I hope that the Government, even if it means widening the Title of the Bill and giving a little further consideration to it, will consider this point. A man who has been injured in the course of his work is entitled from the community to the same treatment, whether he be dealt with by the National Unemployment Assistance Board or by the Poor Law. If the Government cannot accept this proposal, I am afraid we must try to find some way of raising it during the Committee stage. But I beg the Government to consider it before the Bill enters the Committee stage on Friday. We are not opposing the Bill, but I make this appeal to the Government.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)

It would be almost discourteous, in view of the very moderate reply of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) to the Parliamentary Secretary, if I did not say a word on the specific point he has raised with reference to workmen's compensation. The point is one which, no doubt, as he suggested, may be more usefully discussed in Committee. But even at this early stage I would point out to him, in reply, why it is that the Bill has been framed precisely as it is framed. We are here assimilating the law in order to prevent unjustifiable discrepancies arising between the law of England and that of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that, when the Scottish Bill was under consideration, Parliament decided in that connection, when the question of workmen's compensation was specifically raised, that the power given to the public assistance authority to ignore one-half of any compensation should be a discretion of the authority, and that is the manner in which we propose to leave it in the present Bill.

11.16 p.m.


It is true that this Bill is assimilating the Scottish Poor Law and the English Poor Law, but, surely, the motive of the original Bill was to assimilate the Scottish Poor Law with the new law which is now to operate under the Unemployment Act of 1934. It may be accidental that the Scottish Bill came first. Scottish Poor Law is more complicated than English and I do not understand it. This is a bolt out of the blue. If it is not a process of assimilation with the Unemployment Act of 1934, this Measure is not one that should be taken after eleven o'clock at night.

11.17 p.m.


The position will be that after 7th January the partially incapacitated man will be dealt with by the Unemployment Assistance Board, and in assessing his need one-half of his partial compensation will be allowed to him. The totally incapacitated man will not be dealt with by the Unemployment Assistance Board, and if he needs extra assistance, he will be compelled to apply to the public assistance authority. Suppose you have a partially incapacitated man with –1 a week compensation, 10s. of that will be taken into account and 10s. allowed to him. But there are thousands of men who, owing to irregular work and low wages are, while totally incapacitated, drawing less than 25s. a week in compensation and when such a man has to apply to the public assistance authorities nothing is allowed to him out of his compensation. We certainly hope the Minister will give this matter consideration between now and the Committee stage and try to meet what we believe to be a point of substance.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Captain Margesson.]

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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