HC Deb 16 November 1937 vol 329 cc335-43

(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person who has not attained the age of sixteen may apply to an approved society for membership, notwithstanding that he has not become a juvenile contributor.

(2) Where, either before or after the commencement of this Act, a person has, before becoming a juvenile contributor and at a time when he had not attained the age of sixteen, delivered within the appropriate period and in proper form an application for membership to an approved society, or to the duly appointed agent of such a society, being a person receiving applications for membership, then if, within a period of three months after the date on which the application was so delivered, the society

  1. (a) has delivered or sent by post to the applicant a notification in writing that his application has been accepted; or
  2. (b) has not delivered or sent by post to the applicant a notification in writing that his application has been rejected;
the applicant shall be deemed to be or to have been admitted a member of the society as on the date on which he becomes or became a juvenile contributor.

(3) Subject as hereinafter provided, any application to an approved society for membership, being an application made by a person before he becomes a juvenile contributor, shall, if it has been made before the beginning of the appropriate period, be of no effect:

Provided that where, within the appropriate period, a person who becomes a juvenile contributor before the second day of May, nineteen hundred and thirty-eight, has made applications in proper form to two or more societies for membership, then, if at any time between the twenty-first day of June, nineteen hundred and thirty-seven, and the date of the passing of this Act, he has applied in writing for admission to one or more of those societies, subsection (2) of this section shall have effect in relation to him as if any reference in that subsection to "the society" were a reference to that one of the societies aforesaid to which he has so applied in writing before the date of the passing of this Act or, as the case may be, to that one of them to which, or to the agent of which, his written application for membership was first delivered as aforesaid before that date.

(4) In this section the expression "the appropriate period" means—

  1. (a) in relation to an applicant who becomes a juvenile contributor before the second day of May, nineteen hundred and thirty-eight, the period beginning with the date of the passing of this Act and ending immediately before the date on which he becomes a juvenile contributor; or
  2. (b) in relation to any other applicant, the period of three months immediately preceding the date on which he becomes a juvenile contributor.—[Sir K. Wood.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.16 p.m.

Sir K. Wood

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

This Clause has been necessitated by events which have taken place since the introduction of the Bill in June last. This will be a very popular Bill and will be greatly appreciated not only by the approved societies but by the juvenile contributors. Since I introduced the Measure, as anyone acquainted with the affairs of approved societies knows, there has been a vigorous campaign carried on by some of the approved societies to secure the juvenile contributors as members when the Act comes into operation. The officials of those approved societies will be amused at the doubts of hon. Members opposite as to whether or not the Act is likely to be successful. The societies which have taken very active steps to secure the juveniles as members of their societies have, in a very large number of cases, obtained applications from these young people to join their societies. On the other hand, a number of societies have taken the view that until the Bill became law it was not desirable, arid might be held not to be legal, to seek applications from these young people.

In consequence of the delay in bringing in the Bill and the postponement over the Parliamentary holidays, doubt has arisen as to the exact legal position as regards those who have applied for membership of certain approved societies, and unless some provision is made by Parliament there may be many disputes as to whether these young people have joined one society or another. In these circumstances we consulted the Consultative Councils for England, Wales and Scotland as to what they thought would be the most convenient course to adopt, and they were of opinion that some expressed provision should be made in the Bill to deal with the matter. The new Clause is designed to meet the general expression of opinion of the two Consultative Councils. It is a reasonable Clause, and I hope it will meet with the approval of the Committee.

The Clause provides that nothing purporting to be an application for membership by a juvenile after the date of the introduction of the Bill on 22nd June, 1937, and before the passing of the Act, shall have any validity—I think that is right—unless it is confirmed by an application in proper form after the passing of the Act. I do not think that Parliament could approve that there should, be application for membership of an approved society in respect of a Measure which had not at the time received Parliamentary approval.

Mr. Logan

Does that mean that in regard to the forms that may have been sent out, new forms will be required, or would it be right if proof were given of the signature and they attested again? In that case, could not the date be altered, as long as it was verified that no change had taken place in the original application for membership?

Sir K. Wood

How exactly it can be done, whether by re-signing or not, I shall have to consult the Controller of Insurance, but it is perfectly clear that we must have confirmation of any application made before the passing of the Act.

Mr. Jenkins

Does that mean that the forms that have been sent out and signed by the applicants will be cancelled and a new application will have to be signed and submitted?

Sir K. Wood

No, I will make inquiries, but I think it will be sufficient if they are re-affirmed and re-signed, or something of that kind. The new Clause covers, in the first place, the special position arising out of the inception of the scheme in respect of these applications and, secondly, it provides for the permanent position with regard to the applications of juvenile contributors for membership of societies when the temporary position is out of the way. The Clause provides that with respect to boys and girls becoming juvenile contributors within the first month of the operation of the scheme, any application in proper form after the passing of the Act which is accepted by a society will establish membership from the date of the young person becoming employed. The only difficulty that will then arise is the case which the hon. Member opposite visualises, and that is where application is made to more than one society, which suggests how popular this Measure is. When a boy or girl applies to more than one society after the passing of the Act priority is to be given to a society, if any, to which he first applied after 22nd June, 1937. It goes by date. That is thought to be a fair compromise. The approved societies have gone to a great deal of trouble and expense in the matter, and where application has been made to two societies and there is a dispute about it after the passing of the Act, then the dispute is to be settled by giving priority to the society to which application was first made. These difficulties arising from early application and the anxiety to join the scheme will disappear and matters will get on to a normal basis as the scheme progresses.

As regards the permanent position, the Clause provides that application by boys and girls for membership of approved societies as juvenile contributors may be made within three months before becoming insured, and not before. We must have some limitation as to the time when application can be made in respect to people who are likely to become insured, and we have fixed the period, I think with general concurrence, at three months. This proposal to deal with a temporary difficulty will, I believe, meet with general acceptance, and I think it can be said that the young people themselves—because the interest of the juvenile contributors is the first interest that we have to consider, apart from the convenience of the approved society—will be protected under this Clause against being bound against their will by any step which they may have taken without due consideration before the passing of the Measure. It is a temporary difficulty that has arisen owing to the competition of the approved societies to obtain members in connection with the scheme, and I hope that it will be generally acceptable to members of the Committee.

Mr. Logan

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down might I ask a question in regard to transfers which are affected by insured persons under the Act of 1924? Are they allowed under this scheme? There is nothing in the Act which says anything with regard to transferring. Might I also ask what is really meant by sub-section (1) which says: Subject to the provisions of this Act"— I take it that is the Act we are now considering, not the National Insurance Acta person who has not attained the age of sixteen may apply to an approved society for membership "— and now these are the words that I am in doubt about— notwithstanding that he has not become a juvenile contributor. Well, he will apply only once. What is meant by those words?

Sir K. Wood

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is that transfers would be permitted as under the principal Act. With regard to the words, "notwithstanding that he has not become a juvenile contributor," they are inserted because in fact at that particular time he is not a juvenile contributor within the meaning of the National Insurance Act. In the case of this special class of people we are allowing them to apply at an early date before they have become employed and actually obtained the strict legal title of juvenile contributor.

9.31 p.m.

Mr. Greenwood

The right hon. Gentleman has explained this new Clause with his usual clarity—I do not put it any higher than that. As I understand, leaving aside all the right hon. Gentleman's verbiage, it really means that since the time when the right hon. Gentleman, with that optimism which is ever present with him, thought he was going to get the Bill on the Statute Book before the new Session, approved societies have been scouting for members, and he said, "This is very naughty; they should not do anything of the kind." That is the first part of the Clause, and then in the second part it says that of two societies, the one that applied earlier than it should have applied shall be the one that shall have the preference and shall have the juvenile member. The right hon. Gentleman's technique amazes me. I am bound to say that I study it with the deepest interest and with the greatest improvement to myself. He began by suggesting that this new Clause proved how enthusiastic was the support of the approved societies. Indeed, he emphasised this more than once during his speech and talked about the popularity of this Measure. I should like to know which were these approved societies which are marching behind the right hon. Gentleman's banner. It is not a question of enthusiasm for the right hon. Gentleman's Measure; it is because the large insurance societies, taking time by the forelock, have been round touting for these young people, not because they necessarily want them as members of their approved societies, but because once an agent has got his foot into the home there is further business.

The right hon. Gentleman, having been a little precipitate in introducing this Bill, having so to speak invited the large insurance companies to go round touting for custom, finds himself in some difficulty, and he comes to this House dressed in a white sheet, wearing the white flower of a blameless life, as a man who is performing a public duty. With his wide experience and his very long acquaintance with insurance he ought to have known that the insurance companies would immediately go treading on one another's heels, searching out all these wretched children in the hope of getting them into the societies, and saying to themselves, "When they grow up eight, nine or ten years from now, they will marry, and we can then insure the family as the family comes along." He ought to have realised that, and, as a matter of fact, he ought not to be congratulated on this new Clause; he ought to be condemned on it. And now as I understand—he did not put it as bluntly as I can put it—having realised that he had created an awful stir in the approved society movement, having got into this difficulty, the right hon. Gentleman to get himself out produces this new Clause, which is difficult to understand and not much easier even when the right hon. Gentleman has explained it with his usual clarity. He says, in the first place, that he is trying to rectify a wrong, but that where two wrongs have been done by a child applying to two societies he is condoning a sin, and says that the one which is to get the little wretch first shall be regarded as being legally entitled to it.

That is what I understand the Clause is about. I do not see how we can object to it. I am afraid we shall have to condone the right hon. Gentleman. My point in rising was to protest against the view that this miserable subterfuge in the shape of this new Clause should be regarded as supporting in an enthusiastic way the Bill from the point of view of the approved societies of the kind the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. I wish he had told us who they are. I suspect some of them. They are out for business, and the right hon. Gentleman, having committed this grave indiscretion in the middle of the year, wants to get out of it. I am sure the Committee will try to get him out of his difficulty but at the same time gravely admonish him and hope that in the future he will not be so precipitate.


Mr. Mander

In spite of the clarity with which the right hon. Gentleman has explained the new Clause, there is one point upon which we must ask for further information. He said that where several applications were made the one that is first received shall be deemed to be the true one. Let me put this point to him; it will arise in a number of cases. Suppose two applications are received on the same day, or three or four, and they come by the same post. Which has priority there? Is it a matter of tossing up, or is it that which was first delivered and opened? Who is to decide? It is clear that there is a problem there which cannot be disposed of in the easy way of saying that the one which comes first shall be the true one.

Sir K. Wood

In circumstances of that kind a dispute would arise under the administration of the Act and would be for my decision. I might, of course, refer it for advice to the League of Nations.

Mr. Mander

I am delighted to see that at last the Government are taking some interest in the League of Nations.

9.39 P.m.

Mr. Duncan

There is one point I want to put. In Clause one it says that a person can join the scheme if he is employed within the meaning of the National Health Insurance Act, 1936; that means that he can become a juvenile contributor only when he becomes employed. Subsection (I) of this Clause says that a person who has not attained the age of 16 may apply to an approved society for membership notwithstanding the fact that he has not become a juvenile contributor. If he has got a job he can still become a member of an approved society as a voluntary contributor under the Act.

9.40 p.m.

Sir K. Wood

The Clause means that he can make his application before he becomes employed. Its object is to meet the case of boys and girls who are about to leave school and enter on a period of employment. It is not to meet the case of the ordinary insured person. These juveniles can make an advance application to a society.

Mr. Gallacher

If a juvenile makes an application to one approved society and a further application to another approved society, it may be that the juvenile's parents might consider the second society to be the one. In that case why is there any need for a transfer? Is it not possible to find some other way of dealing with the matter? I think the Minister is making a mistake, and that he should have taken the advice that I gave him.

Sir K. Wood

I think the answer was overlooked by the right hon. Member opposite in the most interesting speech which the whole Committee was delighted to hear, that even if you have to refer back to the date when the first application was made in all cases a new application must be made after the passing of the Bill. That is essential, and it is only in the case where there have been two applications made after the passing of the Bill that the date of the provisional application arises. It is by no means one class of approved society that has endeavoured to obtain members under the Bill. One of the largest approved societies of the kind which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman had in mind has, in fact, taken the view that they should not attempt to obtain members until after the passing of the Bill, but I do not think I am to blame for approved societies taking this opportunity of obtaining membership.

Mr. Logan

Am I to understand that a stereotyped form will be issued? The old application form was stereotyped. Is there to be a new form?

Sir K. Wood

The application form will be the form as laid down in the rules of each society.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to he considered upon Thursday.