HC Deb 14 November 1944 vol 404 cc1912-7

Amendment made: In page 5, line 44, leave out "Social," and insert "National."—[Sir H. Williams.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)

On a point of Order, Major Milner. I think you will have noticed that the Secretary of State for Scotland has been much discussed here to-day during the Committee stage of this Bill. I find on looking at it that the Bill is not backed by the Secretary of State for Scotland—

The Chairman

I am afraid that is not a point of Order. Perhaps the hon. Member will raise it at some later stage of the Bill. It is not a matter for me.

TITLE (Ministry of Social Insurance Bill).

Amendment made: In line 1, leave out "Social," and insert "National."—[Mr. Ralph Etherton.]

Title, as amended, agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments [Title amended], (changed to Ministry of National Insurance Bill).

As amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

4.58 p.m.

Sir H. Williams

I would say just one or two words of good will to the Minister-Designate. As he knows, I am rather critical, but not of this Bill nor of the powers which are to be given to him. What I am worried about is the cost of the additional powers. I think Members ought to realise that even if no further legislation takes place the Minister has a very big job. People are thinking that this Bill does not matter, but we are transferring to this Minister services which at the moment are costing £500,000,000 a year. In peace time this Ministry will be far and away the largest spender in the Government, bigger than the Defence Services. This Ministry will be one of the biggest spending Departments, and one which in times of difficulty will be the subject of the biggest number of Debates. When my mind goes back to the Debates about unemployment insurance and assistance I can foresee the Minister having a very busy time. We all wish him well. We can accept it that he is to be the Minister, because approval has been given to the announcement in advance that he is the Minister-Designate. Next week he will have a Portfolio in which he can keep his bits and pieces—betting slips if he goes in for such things, or unpaid bills and that sort of thing. I have never discovered what a Minister keeps in his Portfolio. A portfolio means the thing in which to carry around bits of paper. People think of a portfolio as being something like a seal, but I presume that really a portfolio is one of those beautiful black bags, decorated with the Royal arms. We shall look with curiosity at the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he comes into the House in the new Session, to see with what kind of portfolio he has been decorated.

Aside from that frivolity, I wish him well. He has an enormous task. He has to master the contents of the National Health Insurance Acts—fortunately for him, they were recently consolidated—the Old Age Pensions Acts, the Contributory Pensions Acts, all the provisions with regard to widows—I know how complicated some of them are—all the provisions in regard to social insurance—which at the moment do not loom very large, for when we live on borrowed money there is not much difficulty, but after the war it will be a very different matter. Then there is the problem of the Assistance Board. I presume that it is all coming to him. I do not know what is to happen to the Chairman and the existing organisation of the Assistance Board. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has the biggest problem which any Minister ever had in peace time. For that reason, I wish him good luck.

5.2 p.m.

Mr. Kirkwood

This is one of the most important Measures that we have had before us for some time. The Secretary of State for Scotland has been mentioned time and time again, because he has to put this Measure into operation in Scotland; yet I looked at the back of the Bill, and found that his name was not there. The Bill is presented by Mr. Attlee, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Sir Archibald Sinclair, Mr. Ernest Brown, and Mr. Peake. Why is the Secretary of State for Scotland not here? Did he agree to this Bill? This is a serious business. Here is something that has to be operated by the Secretary of State for Scotland—

Sir H. Williams

No, he has no powers under the Bill; he loses them.

Mr. Kirkwood

We were given to understand something quite different in the explanation given by the Minister who is to be responsible for operating the Act here in London.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I have given the hon. Member a little latitude, but on Third Reading he is entitled to deal only with what is in the Bill. As I understand, he wants to deal with some- thing that is not in the Bill; I hope, therefore, that he will not proceed with the matter.

Mr. Kirkwood

The name of the Secretary of State for Scotland ought to have been on the Bill, and we Scotsmen have a right to an explanation. Either he has backed this Bill or he has not.

5.5 p.m.

Mr. Ralph Etherton

I do not propose to occupy the time of the House for more than a moment, but I would like to say a word of welcome for this Bill, and to congratulate the Minister-Designate on the very conciliatory attitude which he has adopted in accepting Amendments during the Committee stage. I think it is a matter for comment that, although I see two hon. Members who are Members of the Liberal National Party in their places, there is no Member of the Liberal Party on the other side of the House in his place. Although they have told us from time to time that they alone have been responsible for this Bill, they evidently are not interested at this stage.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. McKinlay

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us why the right hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) is interested in this Bill, and what are the functions of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air in the scheme? I think that the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs {Mr. Kirkwood) is one of substance. It appears that the Secretary of State for Scotland has not backed the Bill, and that he has accepted it under pressure. Considering that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leith and the Secretary of State for Air are backing the Bill, some explanation ought to be forthcoming. Either the names on the back of the Bill mean something or they mean nothing.

5.7 p.m.

Sir W. Jowitt

I think I can guess why those particular names were selected, and I rather suspect that the hon. Member can guess. I should think that they were selected because they were the leaders of the various organised political parties in the Government. My hon. Friend can be assured that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is well able to look after himself, and that he is not a person who submits to any considerable political pressure—certainly not from me. If my hon. Friend had seen him sitting by my side this morning, smiling happily, he would realise that an undue amount of duress had not been imposed upon my right hon. Friend. I sincerely thank the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) for wishing me well. I am very conscious that the task I have is an immensely important task. On its being done well depends the happiness of tens of thousands of people. For that very reason, I have been anxious not to try to paint it as an even greater task than it is. Taken by itself, without a great many other things, such as full employment and the rest of it, it cannot, of course, bring security or happiness to everyone; but if I am to be entrusted with this task. I shall do the best that in me lies in introducing a Measure which, I ask the House to realise, will be of immense complexity. It will be an enormous task to get it ready, and I wish it were true that, as I have heard, the Bill was nearly ready, because it is by no means true. I must ask for kindly consideration from the House, and I believe that I shall get it. I shall do my utmost to see that no undue time is lost in getting on with the job.

5.9 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I want to say a word or two in reply to the observations of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Etherton). I am very sorry that he introduced a needless note of party feeling into what would otherwise have been general good wishes to the Minister from all sides of the House. He called attention to the fact that just at the moment of his speech my hon. Friends on the Liberal bench were not present. But he knows that a number of them have been taking the deepest interest in the progress of this Measure and all that has gone before it. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White) has pleaded for years for such a Measure of co-ordination as we now have in this Bill, while the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed {Sir W. Beveridge) has done more than any other man in this country to make possible the work to which the Minister-Designate is going to devote himself. I am glad that the name of this most important Ministry has been altered to correspond with the reality. It is to be a Ministry of National Insurance. But I hope it will lead the way to a Ministry of Social Security, and I think that, however difficult the path may be, every hon. Member of this House will be glad when that day comes, and we shall all wish the Minister-Designate every success in the great task he has undertaken.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.