§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question (6th February), "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Mr. James Griffiths.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Renton (Huntingdon)
When the original Beveridge Report was first brought to the notice of the men and women in the Forces all over the world, it had a wonderful effect upon their morale. The war had already lasted three years and many bitter struggles still lay ahead; but when the Report and the proposals were outlined to the men, it gave them something to hope for; it made them feel that there was something further for which to win the war and many of them said, "This will save a lot of worry." We therefore owe it to them to ensure that this Bill is the best Bill we can possibly enact, and to see that it is one which will work.
Many of us also remember that from time to time during the war men would come to us and say, "When this is all over, I would like to have a job on my own; I would like to be my own master "—a very natural wish, because there are those who are temperamentally better suited to working on their own than under a contract of service. Since the war ended, it has been fairly apparent that it is not easy to become one's own master, for the way is not made smooth for those who wish to do so. The dice seem to be loaded against them; and I am sorry to have to say that in this Bill there is further evidence of discrimination against the self-employed person.
It seems to me that the proposals give him a bad bargain; and, from what the Parliamentary Secretary said in his winding-up speech on Thursday night, one may hope that the Government are also 38 beginning to be of that opinion. The Parliamentary Secretary made an alternative suggestion to that already contained in the Bill, in regard to sickness benefit of the self-employed person; and I have gone into the matter during the fortunate intervening space, but it still seems to me that he does not get a square deal. Careful scrutiny of the Actuary's Report reveals the fact that he would probably be getting quite as good a deal as the employed person, if his sickness benefit were to start after three days, as does that of the employed person, but on the rates of contribution originally in the Bill. The Parliamentary Secretary said that in order to bring the self-employed person into line with the employed person, it would be necessary for the State to contribute another£1,000,000 a year, and the self-employed another 4½d. a week.
I suggest that, without any increase in the total cost to the State under this Bill, it would be possible to bring the two classes into line. In 1948 there will be 2,800,000 self-employed persons. At 4½d. each per week, their total contribution would amount to£2,730,000 per annum. Therefore, what has to be found is£1,000,000 plus££2,730,000, making£3,730,000 in all. I suggest that that amount, without adding to the total cost, can easily be found from the£94,000,000 which has been allocated to unemployment benefit. This large sum of£94,000,000 a year for unemployment is based on an assumption of 8½ percent. unemployed.
The Government Actuary estimates that in 1948 there will be 19,300,000 employed persons and 8½ per cent. of that is 1,640,500. In other words the Government are budgeting for and relying upon a figure of about 1,600,000 unemployed. That comes strangely after the promises of full employment which we heard during the Election. It seems peculiar that we are told at Election time that under Socialism there will be full employment, whereas under Socialist majority rule, there will be 1,600,000 unemployed at 26s. a week. If the Government have faith in their own promises of full employment, and if they have the courage of their convictions, they could quite easily assume that there will be only 8 per cent. unemployment If we assume only 8 per cent., instead of8½ per cent., we find there will be about£5,000,000 to spare out of the£94,000,000 at present 39 allotted for unemployment benefit, and that£5,000,000 will easily cover the£3,730,000 which is required to give the self-employed person a square deal on sickness benefit. That can quite easily be done without embarrassing the Government financially. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the matter.
There is another factor. If we are to ask the self-employed man to wait 24 days before he gets any sickness benefit, the most obvious result will be that he will go on working himself to death when he is really ill. There will be a grave temptation not to give up, and that will mean a possible loss of manpower to the country.
Moreover—although I confess this is going considerably beyond the scope of the scheme which the Government have in mind, it seems a necessary part of national insurance and of giving the self-employed person a square deal, and surely it is not beyond the wit of man, and certainly not beyond the wit of this Government, to conceive a voluntary scheme, whereby those self-employed persons to whom it is appropriate, should have some system of insurance against unemployment.
Many of us have been puzzled, including those who served on the Committee on the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill, to find how this National Insurance Bill dovetails with that Measure. Perhaps our Welsh friends can help us, for it has been said that the Welsh have a flair for the improvement of the social conditions of less fortunate races, and the Minister may remember the Welshman's definition of a collision and an explosion. He said, "Well, in a collision, there you are; but in an explosion, well, where are you?" I say to the Minister, ''Under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill, there you are,45 bob a week; under this Bill 26 bob a week." But, when we attempt to combine the two, "Well, where are you? "We would be grateful if some clarification could be given, when the Debate is being wound up, and, if possible, a Clause inserted in the Bill at a later stage for he removal of this doubt.
On the approved society question, I would remind the House of Sir William Beveridge's original scheme, in which 40 there were three indispensable partners in the main object of achieving social insurance. They are compulsory insurance, national assistance and voluntary insurance. He said that these three partners are indispensable. Until the Government conceive some other plan, which so far they have not put before the public, the friendly societies and industrial life assurance societies—especially the latter—will have to continue their voluntary business. Both types of approved society have submitted workable, practical, suggestions for their use as agents of the Government in the operation of the national insurance scheme. I was greatly surprised to hear the Minister—for whom many of us on this side of the House have far more admiration than we have for many of his colleagues—say that there was "a lot of tosh" talked about visiting in the homes. Those of us who represent Fenland districts, know perfectly well that the visits of agents of both friendly societies and industrial life assurance societies mean a great deal to insured people in those remote parts; and when those visits cease, there will be removed from the people an amenity and a service to which they have become accustomed and to which they are entitled. If the Minister is not going to continue that service, I suggest that he must find something quite as good.
It is the pride of our Parliamentary democracy that year by year, whichever Government is in power, we in this House-do our best to see that each successive generation of British men and women get a better chance in life than did their parents. There is nothing new about this progress; but from hon. Members opposite one would gain the impression that we had never been a great country up to now. We know perfectly well that our greatness started with the Welsh Tudors and has continued ever since. Indeed, it is up to the Government and hon. Members opposite to decide whether or not it is to continue. Let us bear in mind that here in this National Insurance Bill, and on this great occasion, we have an opportunity of joining together in furthering that great cause of advancing the social progress of the British people.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ Mrs. Ayrton Gould (Hendon, North)
I was much interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton), and as regards half of one of 41 his arguments I would like to support him. I refer to half of his first argument on the question of the self-employed person. I confess that I did not follow his figures—I am sure it is my fault but I need to see figures on paper in order to take them in. I ask the Minister to consider one kind of self-employed person. In my view, self-employed persons fall into two categories. There is the category of the man who has a small business, probably in conjunction with his wife—a tobacconist, a greengrocer, or whatever it may be. If he falls ill, it is very hard lines on his wife. She has to work extremely hard, but the fact remains that she manages to nurse her husband and carry on the business, and for the two or three weeks in which he may be ill there is no loss of income. In those circumstances it seems to me that the 24 days' waiting period is fair. There is an entirely different category of self-employed person, that is the hawker, or the cobbler, or the jobbing gardener, or the window-cleaner. These men only have an income so long as they are actually working. When they fall ill, and cannot use their hands, there is no income coming into the house. I would ask the Minister to consider their position when the Bill goes into Committee.
I have been very interested in the speeches from the Opposition benches, because it seems to me that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on those benches have been torn between the desire, on the one hand, to make the public think that every measure of social security which has gone through has been furthered by them or their predecessors simply from the motive of the milk of human kindness, and on the other hand a fear that the country cannot afford a new measure of social security. I have been looking through the Debates and I have found that any time any Measure of this kind has been brought forward, the country has never been able to afford it. I have a feeling that the view of many of the Members on the Opposition benches is still that the country cannot afford it. In replying to the Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) said:I must honestly confess we do see the red light in regard to the nation's finances "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th Feb. 1946; Vol. 418. c I774.]I fancy that that is the 1946 streamlined way of saying that the country cannot 42 afford it That has happened every time since the original Old Age Pensions Measure, which has a most interesting history. I find that there had been an agitation for old age pensions for several years, largely fostered—I know the Opposition will not agree with this—by the handful of Labour Members then in the House. There was also a great agitation in the country. In January, 1908, the question of old age pensions was mentioned in the King's Speech, but was greeted with such a storm of cries of "The country cannot afford it," stated in every conceivable way, that it was dropped and looked like being shelved altogether. A curious thing happened. In April of that year the late Prime Minister, the present right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) who was then a Member of the Liberal Cabinet, was appointed President of the Board of Trade. He fought a by-election in North-West Manchester and was defeated.
The question of old age pensions was very much to the fore in that contest. The right hon. Gentleman then went on to Dundee and there things did not seem to be going very well with him by all accounts. On 7th May, contrary to the usual practice, the Prime Minister introduced the Budget, and in it provision was made for old age pensions at 5s. a week. A few days later, the President of the Board of Trade was returned for Dundee. I have always wondered, in my simple way, whether there could possibly be any connection between those two events.
At last we have a Government in power that can discriminate between what the country can afford, and what it cannot afford. It is not social insurance that the country cannot afford. What the country cannot afford is what I saw happening in the distressed areas in the early thirties. The country cannot afford what I saw, for instance, in one village in South Wales when I visited many houses. In every house to which I went, I was told that "mother was ill," so the eldest daughter was at home. Mother was ill because she was starved in trying to feed her children. That is what the country cannot afford. The country cannot afford another thing I saw there. A labour local council had provided jobs on the road to put men in benefit, and one morning I saw five men faint from sickness and malnutrition in the first hour of work of a new day. The country cannot afford that.
43 Nor can the country afford to have tuberculosis among children rising at the rate it did in the early thirties. That is the sort of thing that the country cannot afford, and which our Government realise the country cannot afford.
There are one or two other points 1 should like the Minister to consider. One matter about which I am very much concerned is the position of two classes of women who are working side by side in gainful occupation. For instance, in Lancashire, it happens that married women work alongside spinsters throughout their normal adult life. Under this Measure the anomalous position will arise that a childless married woman who has been in gainful occupation all her adult life, and who loses her husband when she is in the early fifties, can, after the period which I think she should have, of 13 weeks at 36s. a week, retire, if she likes, on 26s. a week and still do a little work to earn an extra£1 a week, and can be pensioned for the rest of her life. An unmarried woman, working side by side with her, unless she is so ill as to be incapable of work and is invalided out, so to speak, has to go on until the age of 60 before she can get a similar pension.
On the whole, it is probably true that married women who are in gainful occupation have an easier life than the unmarried women. If they, and their husbands, are working, they can far more easily afford to take a day or two off when they are not feeling up to the mark. The unmarried woman cannot afford to do that. The result in many cases is that childless women—and I want to emphasise this point because 1 think it is entirely different when a married woman has been in her home all her life and has not been in industry—childless widows, who have been in gainful occupation all their adult life, are likely to be more healthy and more fit, no less fit than their unmarried sisters beside them, to go on working. It does seem to me it is going to be terribly hard for the more delicate though not actually sick unmarried woman, and I do ask the Minister to consider that question.
There is one other thing I want him to look at and that is to consider, at any rate in the transitional period, the exemption rate of£75 a year. That does not seem to me to be high enough, at any rate during the transitional period.
44 I had a letter from my constituency from two sisters aged 57 and 59. Neither of them is fit to work, though they are not ill. They have never worked, and they would not know how to start at their age. These two ladies have a joint income of£164 a year which works out at£3 3s. 6d. a week. If they are not exempted, they will have to pay, between them, into the fund 7s. 2d. a week, and they will have to do that for 10 years before they can get any retirement pension. They will have to live during that time, if Income Tax remains the same, on a combined income of£2 14s. 6d. a week.
I do not suppose there are a great many similar cases, but I do feel that such cases are terribly hard, and I suggest that the exemption limit should be put up to£100. a year instead of the present£75 a year. I suppose nobody in this House could honestly say that during the last seven years they have never known the feeling of stark fear. What a great many people do not realise is that millions of workers in our country have gone through the whole of their lives with stark fear waiting round the corner, fear of losing their homes, their jobs, fear of being ill, and fear of dying and leaving their families to starve. When this Bill is in full operation as an Act of Parliament, that grim, stark fear, hitherto always waiting round the corner for millions of our workers, will have been abolished. That is why I regard this Measure as one of the greatest steps towards human progress that this country has ever seen.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) in detail, but I hope that in the course of my speech, which I will make as brief as possible, I shall be able to answer some of her questions. I do ask the House to believe that my purpose in opposing and criticising these proposals is just as honourable as the purpose of those who support them. I seek the welfare of our people as ardently as those who support these proposals.
The test of any scheme is "Will it work?" I say that this scheme is unworkable and that it will break down financially and administratively. It is against the natural law, and there are so many unknown factors in the proposals 45 that the Government have no right to gamble on them and to raise hopes which cannot be fulfilled. The Actuary's Report, Members will find, deals with unknown quantities and unknown factors. In order to be brief, I confine myself to one glaring, typical example. At the bottom of page 6 in the Actuary's Report reference is made to the rate of unemployment, and the Government Actuary says that it is based on a "notional basis "of 8½ percent. I ask the House to mark these words,… on the instructions of the Government.These instructions must be purely theoretical. I do not know, but it seems to me an extraordinary thing that the Government should be bold enough to give the Government Actuary, who, in my opinion, should be independent, those instructions. If that notional figure exceeds 8½ per cent., then the whole scheme breaks down. One could not run a village shop on a notional figure. It is an unwarrantable gamble and I see in this Bill a determination of the Government to enact their theories and their slogans without regard to the consequences. I say this Bill is a Bill to organise poverty and disaster.All power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutelyThis Bill gives the people a false sense of security. It gives them the idea they can get something for nothing— that the State, or somebody else, can keep them if necessary from the womb to the tomb. There is a law, a natural law, older and more sacred than human-made enactments. If any man, or any Government, breaks that law, the law will break him, and it says this, "If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat" [Interruption] I am only supporting the appeal which has been made from the Government Front Bench during the last two or three weeks. I say this scheme will break down financially unless there is adequate domestic production behind our paper money. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us the other day that, compared with 1900, the purchasing power of the paper pound today—I think this is about three months ago— is only 8s. and unless our people, all of us, are prepared to work and produce goods at the right price that piece of paper will go down and down in purchasing power, and if the matter is car 46 ried to its logical conclusion the time will come when all that the Government can give the people will be pieces of paper which they can neither eat nor wear.
What is the good of an old-age pension, or a benefit, when the money is valueless and there is nothing to buy in the shops? That is the position which we are rapidly approaching. The present Foreign Secretary, when he was Minister of Labour, is reported to have said on 4th April, 1944:I, as an old trade union official, do not want£ 10 a week if I can buy only£2 of stuff with it. I would rather have£ 5 with which I could buy£5 worth of stuff.That is the argument I am trying to support. Whatever theories may be enacted, the law of supply and demand will always operate. This Bill will break down administratively because the Government inspectors, Government officials, are incapable of doing the voluntary work that has been done by the friendly societies and by the industrial assurance societies as humanely and as economically as those societies have done it. Even Sir William Beveridge opposed the extinction of the friendly societies. I wear in the lapel of my coat today, and I am proud to do it, my membership badge of the Oddfellows, and these three links stand for "Friendship, Love and Truth" I say that, in this Bill, these virtues are given in the opposite meaning.
What is the Government proposing to do in case a man or woman cannot keep up with his or her contributions? I would ask the Government a further question. Are benefits to be paid to those who are on strike, or who indulge in voluntary absenteeism, or, in any other way, contravene the complicated provisions of this Bill? I tell the House, and I want to tell the people of this country, what will happen. I ask the people of this country to look at Clause 48. If this Clause is granted to the Government, it will give to them the same kind of power which Hitler demanded 25 years ago; that is State control, and State control can only be kept in being by force. Under Clauses 51 to 53, there are the penalties and means by which this Bill can be forcibly implemented. For six years, for 15 months of which we stood alone, we fought for liberty and freedom and to remove the shackles of State control from the distressed peoples of Europe. This Government, by this Bill, are beginning to 47 fasten similar shackles on the people of this country. I ask hon. Members of this House if they have read the remarks made by Mr. Justice Charles at Lincoln last week?
Now I turn to what I am afraid will be a rather dry topic. I want to give facts and figures showing what will have to be faced, with courage, by hon. Members of all parties. I want to give round figures for the last 36 years, during which we have fought two major wars. Thirty-six years ago, the National Debt was£ 661 millions; today it is£ 24,000 millions. Then the balance of trade was plus£ 207 millions; in 1938, it was minus£ 53 millions, which meant that we were£ 260 millions a year worse off. In 1946, it is estimated that this country is faced with a deficit of vital imports of food and raw materials of£ 750 millions; the American loan of£ 1,100 millions is not yet through the United States Congress, and I am told, unofficially, that the betting in America is six to four against it going through Congress. I want to know what the position will be if it does not go through. If it does go through, we shall be faced with a similar crisis to that of today, but with a further£ 1,100 million of debt tied round our necks. I quote from a speech made in London by the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary on 11th February, 1944. He said:We have lost our overseas investments— pawned them, sold and depreciated them, and, after the war, we shall have to live on our annual production year by year.I would add, after the words" annual production"—" at the right price." I now come to the figures of our social services.
§ Sir W. Smithers
I want to give the background against which the Government are introducing this Bill, and I want to show how, in my opinion, it is not practicable. I have tried to get the figures. "The Times" on 6th February this year said:No comprehensive financial survey of the measure now under discussion has been published.Today, "The Times" prints a remarkable leading article about the financial issues of this Bill. On 2nd January this 48 year, I received a letter from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which he said:I am not in a position to give you a complete estimate of public expenditure for the whole field covered by the annual Return which shows the total cost of public services.Well, the Government are launching this tremendous revolutionary proposal, yet no one seems to know what the cost will be or how it is to be provided. I want to make a comparison. In 1910, the cost of social services was£63 millions. The latest estimate I can get—and it is the best I can do, and I know it is based on passed or envisaged Measures— appeared in HANSARD, in column 763 of 13th December last, in which the cost of social services was given at£575 millions. In column 68 of HANSARD of 24th January this year, it was stated that the stabilisation of food prices was costing£ 308 millions. This Bill is costing£ 452 millions. That is a total of round about£ 1,335 millions. In 1978, this Bill will cost£ 749 millions. Then, of course, there are other commitments which the Government must take into account. There are pensions for this war, the health proposals, the cost of the Army of Occupation, which was mentioned at Question Time today, the cost of our contributions to U.N.O., U.N.R.R.A. and the cost of family allowances. On the basis of my calculations—and I am open to correction if they are wrong—I feel that the cost of social services is getting near to the£1,500 millions a year mark, and that is not a task which this country can afford to undertake. It is a "Rake's Progress."
It does not matter where the money comes from— from the Treasury, the masters or the men—it has to be earned. The State is not a fairy godmother with a bottomless purse. All Government expenditure, all increases in wages, family allowances, strikes and voluntary absenteeism, and social services, must increase our cost of production and must impede or destroy our ability to compete in the markets of the world, and thus to secure our vital imports. I would point out to hon. Members that Britain is different from every other country in the world in that she is not, and cannot become self-supporting. We must in order to live, import, from one-third to one-half of our food and raw materials, and, to overcome that£ 750 million deficit this year, if the American loan is not granted, we have to export goods and services at 49 world competitive prices or we shall be faced with starvation.
All this Socialist theory about social security at the present time is fantastic. The first and most vital job for this country is to earn next week's bread and butter. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, speaking of Germany— and I only heard this over the wireless last night— pointed out that Germany cannot pay her way unless the Germans can be fed and that there was a danger of epidemics. He might have addressed those words to the Government and people of this country.
I now come to a question put by the hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon, and I answer it by quoting an extract from "A Word on the Future to British Socialists," issued by the Fabian Society. It is remarkable that a society which, in my opinion, has done so much harm to this country in the past—[Laughter]— hon. Members should wait to hear what the Society says—should have thought fit to write these words:We depend, not only for the standards of living to which we have been accustomed, but for any standard that will keep us alive on a large and flourishing international commerce. It is a mere mirage to suppose that we could exist on our own foodstuffs and our own domestically produced raw materials. In the past we have paid for these and other imports with our exports. But even before the present war we were no longer doing this on a sufficient scale. We were living on capital. If there bad been no war, we could not have gone on in that way indefinitely, and the very possibility of our continuing to live in that way has disappeared.I ask the Government to look for a moment at France under M. Gouin, and see what she is doing to meet a similar position. She is taking' drastic steps. She is self-supporting and we are not. We are living— and this Bill proves it—in a fool's paradise. Another fact I would like to put before the House is that the consumer always pays. He pays for our rates, rents, taxes and our social services. I would ask hon. Members to mark this carefully. The foreign consumer refuses to pay for our social services when the cost of those social services is added to the cost of our production, as it must be. These are my last words. The Government won this election by mass bribery, by making promises, and by holding out hopes, of which this Bill is evidence, of giving to the people of this country 50 material benefits which are incapable of fulfilment.What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?The ignorance of his hearers is the chief weapon of the demagogue. We are commanded:Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,"and the things that matter. So long as any Government— and this Government especially— goes on putting the cart before the horse, disaster will surely follow. No Government can save the people. The people alone can save themselves if they are allowed to use freely their God-given talents. A prerequisite for a better world is better and more unselfish men and women, and you cannot make them by Acts of Parliament.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Smith (Hull, South-West):
When I first came to this House a few months ago, I made a mental resolve that I would not speak for the first 12 months if I could avoid it, because of the crowded rows of hon. Members eager to make their maiden speeches. I have been constrained to speak on this occasion for a number of reasons. First we have a kindly Minister, which fact encourages one. Then I believe hon. Members of the Opposition conceal their ferocity when-one seeks their indulgence for the first time, and finally I desire to make a comment or two chiefly because of the vast-importance of this Measure. I am happy to share the joy of the Minister, and I think one can say that most hon. Members— I might a moment ago have said all hon. Members, but the last speaker has made that rather difficult—join in giving a warm welcome to this most significant and comprehensive Measure.
I was also reassured when I heard the-other day the familiar voice of the right, hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law), who I am sorry is unable to be with us this afternoon. He took pride, I think justifiably, in the-helpful contribution which hon. Members, opposite have made to these proposals. It will be recalled that the Minister himself, and the Prime Minister, conceded that there had been a wide body of approval of this Measure. By general consent, the proposals of the White Paper have been improved on by the Minister. The proposals in the Bill are, in many respects, a considerable advance on the 51 proposals of the White Paper, and yet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington, after congratulating the Prime Minister on his good fortune in producing this Measure, went on in a most inexplicable way to say that this was the most reactionary Government of modern times. I confess I could not gather the point of that observation or the consistency of that sentiment. The right hon. Gentleman accused Government spokesmen and the Leader of the Liberal Party of a desire to go back, I think, to 1911. A moment afterwards he was charging this Government with going back to the "naughty nineties".
Since there is such a wide volume of support for the general proposals in the Bill, which, as I say, are regarded as an advance on those introduced in the White Paper, I think I might venture a few observations on one or two aspects on which there seems to be some difference of opinion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) put forward for consideration the suggestion that, in order to obtain a lower payment, we might consider a lower pension, and, in what was perilously near an argument for a reduction in the pensions—although, in fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, it must be admitted that he disclaimed any such intention—he said that only one-third of the present pensioners have applied for supplementary pensions. He reached the conclusion that because only one-third had so applied, there was a case for considering whether the amount proposed by the Government as adequate for that one-third was, therefore unnecessarily generous for the two-thirds who did not so apply.
I would make two observations on that point. Many persons in receipt of a pension and who did not apply for the supplementary pension, refrained from applying because of their horror of all that is involved in the means test, and because of the burden that would be placed on sons and daughters who had family responsibilities of their own. Because of that fact, many sons and daughters made contributions in aid of their parents, which they could ill afford to make, depriving their own families of essential things in order to do what they could for their old folk, rather than have those old folk submitted to the means 52 test which they dread so much. That accounts for the fact that no more than one-third of the pensioners applied for a supplementary pension. I could quote case after case of people who have suffered acute privation rather than make an appeal for a supplementary pension, and no hon. Member on the other side could rebuke any person who took that attitude. The right hon. Gentleman the member for Saffron Walden stated that this was one piece of evidence for his contention that we were, perhaps, overweighting the advantages of this Measure on the side of the aged as against the young. Were he present now, I would assure him that he will not find, on the part of any section of the young and vigorous who are making those contributions for the support of their own parents, any objection to this so-called generosity towards the aged portion of our population. They are proud that the Government are doing that, and they support the proposals as being, not over generous but the barest minimum that can be justified.
What is the overriding merit of this Bill? I submit that it is that it treats the whole community as one family, and establishes, more than has ever been done before, the principle that we are "members one of another" The hon. Member. for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) probably would not understand what is meant "members one of another" This scheme is based on human need— on our needs as human beings and citizens—but while it is based on need, it is not based on means. I think that is as it should be. It is a Measure not of social assistance, but of social insurance, with three parties to the contract— the employer, the employee and the State. There is one exception to this universality to which I wish to draw attention, and to which reference has been made. I will not stress it unduly because of the very fine gesture made by the Parliamentary Secretary in his speech the other evening. I refer to the self-employed person. Perhaps I may be pardoned for saying that I speak as one who has been self-employed from the age of eleven. I may cease to be regarded as self-employed now, but that is a matter which the Minister is considering. It has been stated on this side that the 2,500,000 or so who are included in the category "self-employed" are men and women 53 who, in the main, are economically no better situated than the majority of those in Class 1. I think that will be found from the White Paper. Although they have no better advantage economically, yet the proposal of the Government is to continue the disability of 24 days, because it was thought they might carry those earlier weeks of sickness. I suggest that comes perilously near to the introduction of a means test, and the Government accept that a means test is wholly obnoxious on this side of the House. Therefore, I congratulate the Minister and his colleague on expressing their willingness to consider anew this provision, and if the self-employed persons were prepared to pay an additional amount to consider how they would be brought into the Measure.
Let me assure the Minister that there will be no objection on the part of the self-employed persons to paying the proper premium. They have never asked for any privilege that the rest of the community have not got, but they have asked that there should be no penalty and that they should not carry the penalty of 24 days. I have seen the testimony of important officials, including the general secretary of what is, perhaps, the largest association of retailers in this country. They have said that they are willing to meet the additional cost of 5d. or thereabouts, and I am happy to congratulate the Minister on the fact that he is now willing to consider the introduction of equality in a matter of benefits. I know there is a difficulty in administration, and perhaps the details are better considered at a later stage. It is, of course, clear that a self-employed person gets a doctor's certificate which will be just as trustworthy as that concerning any other person— all doctors' certificates are trustworthy— but when the employed person is sick there is, of course, a check that he is not at work and not receiving his wages. The Minister might consider whether he would wish to have a second check for the self-employed person, by which he would be asked to sign an undertaking to the effect that he would not engage in his normal occupation. One could not, of course, suggest that he should not be on or about his place of business, because in many cases his place of business is his home, but there will be many cases in which the moment illness commences income stops. If the self 54 employed window cleaner, or the man who repairs our boots, does not work we do not pay him. They are in the same category as the employed person whose income stops when he is sick.
I am sure the large numbers of self-employed persons in this country will accept this as a tremendous advance over the White Paper. We have advanced from the long period of 13 weeks proposed by Sir William Beveridge to four weeks. Now the Minister holds out the hope that we might abolish those four weeks and bring in those persons on a footing of equality. He will earn the gratitude and respect of a large body of traders in this country who are increasingly recognising that this policy of the Government means so much to them, not only in sickness but also in their businesses because they are helping to maintain a high level of expenditure. I would like to add a word about the self-employed person who is a voluntarily insured person at the moment. Unless the Minister had seen his way to accepting the suggestions offered to him the self-employed person would have been in a worse position than formerly, because under his voluntary insurance he is covered for three days and under this scheme he would have been so much worse by having to wait 24 days.
I am glad my first words in the House have been in support of so wide a proposal, touching the health, happiness and peace of mind of the great majority of our people. There must be acceptance of the basic fact, that we are members one of another, "that we cannot have real individual success, unless it is shared by the whole community, while the sickness and. privations of a few mean, ultimately, the deterioration of the whole race. The recognition of those things has been set forth here. With regard to the complaint which has come from Members on the other side of the great speed—the bewildering speed—with which the Government are doing things, one can only say that there comes from the ordinary people of this country not a cry to put the brake on, but a cry of "More power to their elbow."
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Major Sir Basil Neven-Spence (Orkney and Shetland)
I find myself very fortunate indeed to have caught your eye on this occasion, Mr. Speaker, because to me 55 falls the privilege of conveying the congratulations of the House to the hon. Member for South Hull (Mr. Sydney Smith) on having made a most competent maiden speech. I could not detect a single trace of that nervousness which afflicts most of us on such an occasion, and indeed afflicts many of us on every subsequent occasion. I also detected a very pleasant sense of humour. I looked in vain in his speech for some clue to the hon. Member's constituency, for the hon. Member would have been entitled to seize a perfectly legitimate excuse for advertising his own constituency. However, I do not think he really needs to do that, because he has made such a very good speech that I am sure his constituents have every reason to congratulate themselves on having such a very competent representative here.
A member of the Scottish Bar was once addressing a full bench of five judges. The advocate had a rather distinctive accent and opened his remarks by saying, "M'Luds, I have three 'pints', "whereupon one of the judges leant forward and said, "Mr.So-and-So, I have to remind you that three pints are not very adequate for five thirsty judges. "I had five points at the beginning of this Debate, but by a process of elimination I have now only two left, which is all to the good because there is not very much time, and even those two points have already been touched on. My only reason for intervening now is that I want to elaborate them a little, and also because the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply the other day did not deal with either of them.
The first point is this. If the National Health Insurance scheme is successful— and I am sure everybody hopes it will be—one of the effects of the benefits it is proposed to introduce will be that as time goes on, there will be fewer and fewer people applying for relief by the public assistance authorities. It is hardly to be expected that the need for relief will vanish completely, but beyond question there will be fewer and fewer applications for relief from the public assistance authorities as time goes on. That means this, slowly but surely the work of the present social service officers is going to be diminished. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) who raised this point gave, I think, as a very fair estimate that to the 56 extent of about 70 per cent. the work of these officers will diminish and consequently they will become redundant. The estimate was that about 5,000 or 6,000 social service officers are going to be thrown out of work. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who is not here now, I thought attacked the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow rather unfairly, and accused him of raising a purely Committee point, because it was only, as he said, a matter of machinery. I did not agree with him at all. I cannot agree that where the livelihood of 5,000 men is at stake, it is not an issue which ought to be raised on the Second Reading of the Bill. I think this a very appropriate stage at which to raise that point, and I am sorry the Parliamentary Secretary did not deal with it.
That being so, it is rather surprising, I think, that the Bill contains no provision whatever for dealing with these men who are undoubtedly going to be displaced. Many of them are going to lose their livelihood, and if they do not lose their livelihood they are going to lose a large part of their work.' The Bill, quite rightly, makes provision for the displaced officials of approved societies. I want to know why no similar provision has been made for the case of these social service officers who arc going to lose their jobs I do not think the Minister can really take refuge in the excuse that the Bill does not specifically transfer any of these duties from the local government authorities. Nevertheless, the inevitable consequence of this Bill is that these duties are going to be transferred, and the duties of the social service officers are going to he progressively diminished. I do not think the Minister can take refuge either in the excuse that these social service officers are employed by the local government authorities, and therefore it is no business of his what becomes of them. The plain fact is, these men are going to lose their jobs because of action taken in the House as the result of legislation. I do think the Government ought to accept full responsibility for that and do something about it.
I do not think the Minister can argue either that, although the Government have an obligation, and have recognised it, to the officials of approved societies on the ground that they are going to liquidate them completely, they can then turn 57 round and say that because these social service officers are not being, so to speak, liquidated but merely subjected to a sort of "death by a thousand cuts"—salary or otherwise—they can therefore divest themselves of their responsibility to such officers. I think it has been the invariable practice, where officials are displaced because of legislation, that specific provision is made for them. I quote the Local Government Act, 1929, the Old Age and Widows Pensions Act, 1940—and there are a lot more that will occur to hon. Members. Another thing that puzzles me is this. Why are these social service officers who are doomed to become redundant not being invited to apply for jobs under the Ministry? By common consent, these are very capable, very experienced men, and admirably suited, by their training, for the kind of work they would have to carry out under this Bill when it becomes an Act. They have had training in administering relief, doing social welfare work of all kinds, and running advice bureaux. All those things ought to be invaluable to the Minister in carrying out what he proposes to do. I understand that recruitment began as long ago as November, and that civil servants and officials of the friendly societies have been asked to apply for posts. Why have these social service officers, whose welfare is directly affected by the scheme, not been asked to apply? What makes it worse is that apparently the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor gave a very definite pledge that there would be either compensation or transfer for these displaced social service officers. I know the right hon. Gentleman is not bound by what his predecessor said, but it seems to me that it was reasonable and justifiable, and I think the pledge ought to be honoured.
And what about the younger members of the staffs of social service offices who are now in the Forces? Their future does not seem to be a very bright one. Why are they not being asked to apply for transfer? I think they ought to have been asked before anybody else of similar age and experience. I am told that some of them have applied, but their applications have not been entertained. That is all wrong. It is most unsatisfactory, and I hope the Minister will look into it. An injustice is being done which need not be done, and I hope the right 58 hon. Gentleman will do something about it.
The only other point with which 1 have to deal concerns share fishermen and the uncertainty of their position under this Bill. There has always been a difficulty about fitting these men into insurance schemes, and that difficulty arises from the somewhat unusual arrangement under which these men organise and manage their industry. Successive Ministers of Health have been inclined to take the view that because share fishermen do not operate under a contract of employment, the usual relationship that exists between employer and employed does not in their case apply, and that, therefore, these men could not be included in any definition of employed persons under the various Acts. This problem first came to light when widows,' orphans' and old age pensions were introduced. It fame up in a more acute form during the Second Reading of the National Health Insurance Act, 1936. On the occasion of that Second Reading their position was very thoroughly discussed in the House, on all sides of which a great deal of sympathy was expressed. Ultimately, with the good will of everyone, a way round the difficulty was found, and share fishermen were included under a special arrangement whereby their contributions could be charged against the boat, the owner, owning manager or manager of the boat being deemed to be the employer for the purposes of the Act.
It strikes me that that is a sensible and practical way round the difficulty. It recognised the fact that, though share fishermen are not in receipt of a basic wage, they do operate under a sort of piece rate system. That is the way the men themselves regard it; each man is, in fact, employed by the rest of the crew. In that way their position was made secure in regard to widows', orphans' and old age pensions and National Health Insurance. The question came up again on the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill, which was before the House not very long ago. Once more we found that these men were excluded from the Bill as it was presented to us. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) and I put down some Amendments in Committee, and the Minister the Parliamentary Secretary and their advisers were all extremely 59 sympathetic. Again, by the good will of all concerned, these men were brought within the Bill, so that now, like any other working men, they enjoy the benefits of insurance against accidents which may occur in the course of their occupation. I really thought that that would settle the matter once and for all as regards share fishermen and national insurance, but I and other hon. Members who take an interest in their welfare were very surprised, when this Bill was produced, that once again there appears to be no specific provision for their inclusion as employed persons.
The case for the including of share fishermen in schemes of national insurance is an absolutely overwhelming one. The Parliamentary Secretary himself said, in Committee on the Industrial Injuries Bill, that from the normal acceptance of the term "workmen "they ought to be included. If they ought to be included in that Bill, they ought to be included in every Bill of the same kind. Theirs is an unsheltered industry if ever there was one. In normal times, taking one year with another, the average wage of the share fisherman was well below that of the sheltered industries They earn very little more than enough to keep their homes going and their boats and gear in good condition. They lead a life of very hard work, with long hours, and they are constantly exposed to the wind and sea. From time to time gales interfere with their earnings and sometimes cause the loss of their boats, or even of their lives. It is impossible for most of them to make any provision from their own resources against unemployment or old age, and their only hope lies in schemes of this sort.
They are a very bold and hardy race of men, very God-fearing men, proud in spirit and independent. I remember that once I was on one of their boats on a day of rather bad weather, and I had had a few buckets of water down my neck. Feeling very uncomfortable, I said to one of the men, "What makes you go on with a job like this? "I got the pithy reply, "Need makes the naked man run." You cannot break the spirit of men like that. They would be the last people on earth to want me, or anyone else, to express a lot of sympathy with them in public. They have chosen a hard and uncomfortable way of life, but 60 they never complain about it. I am not asking for any special favour for them, I am merely asking the right hon. Gentleman to recognise them as employed persons within the meaning of this Bill. I am sure their case commands the sympathy of everybody in this House, and I am certain that my appeal will not fall on deaf ears as far as the Minister is concerned.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Moyle (Stourbridge)
I have listened with very great interest to this Second Reading Debate and I am glad to find such unanimity in the House on this occasion. It is very interesting to reflect on the development of the acceptance by the State of duties which were formerly shouldered by the individual. In the realm of social insurance a beginning was made 100 years ago, with the development of factory legislation designed to ensure certain conditions of hygiene, safety and so on in factories. Later came the development of industrial legislation to ensure an irreducible minimum in rates of pay, together with a certain legal limitation of hours. Last year but one there was the Education Act, and today we have, presented to us by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for National Insurance, this epoch-making Bill. I think it can be said in truth that when, together with this Bill, we have the Health Bill to be later introduced by the Minister of Health, we shall have reached the stage when the State has acquired full stature in recognising the physical right of the citizen to life and health and subsistence, and, in the education sphere, the citizen's mental and moral right to the development of intelligence and character. Therefore, I do not think that whatever may be said to the contrary by the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) we need despair about the capacity of this country to make good its promises. It is amazing what we can do with the national economy when we accept the simple Christian principle of bearing one another's burdens.
Against the background of strong support of this Bill I want to make two points. The first is by way of re-affirming the excellent plea put up by the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) in support of the claim that local government officers, including servants, who are affected by this 61 Bill, should be compensated by the Government for the repercussions which will flow from this Bill and materially affect them. When 1 looked at Clause 66 of this Bill, I must confess, I was dismayed. It is a Clause which does not come up to the standards set by previous Governments. It does not come up to the standard set even by the Lord President of the Council when he drafted the London Passenger Transport Bill, in which a reasoned Clause was included to ensure compensation for those employees or displaced persons who were affected, either by redundancy or a reduction of status: loss of earnings and reasonable compensation was paid.
In Clause 66 there is no mention whatsoever of the local government personnel who are affected by this Bill. No provision is made for the transfer of those people competent to undertake the functions that will be undertaken by employees under the State; nor is there, as far as I can see, any provision made whatsoever for compensation in those cases where the employee is either displaced or suffers in any way loss of remuneration, emoluments and so forth. The facts are that there are, I believe, something like 600 principal officers involved, together with a personnel of about 10,000 officers and servants who are now engaged in the public assistance and social welfare departments of the local authorities throughout the country; and who will either be declared redundant, or who will be given new employment, probably by the local authorities, which may involve, very definitely, a loss of status and earnings. I ask my right hon. Friend to have a look at this Clause again. If he will do so he will carry with him not only the support of the trades unions and staff organisations concerned, but the whole of the local authority organisations.
I ask him to do two things—first, to accept responsibility for the transfer of the personnel concerned from the social and public assistance departments of local authorities, provided always that they are competent to do whatever may be assigned to them on transfer; and secondly, in the event of those transfers not being effected, to give them compensation rights not less favourable than those embodied in previous legislation. I refer, for example, to the London Passenger Transport Act, 1933, and the Local Government Act, 1929, and so on. I ask the Minister to be good enough to have 62 a look at this Clause, and I hope that he will do so and place this matter beyond any doubt.
The second point I want to raise is this question of relating superannuable employees to the Bill. I refer particularly to. employees who come within the scope of statutory superannuation legislation, such as the Local Government Superannuation Act, 1937, under which employees are, as a condition of their employment, called upon to pay superannuation contributions. Take, for example, county council workers. Some of those within the scope of the 1937 Act only receive, unfortunately, not more than 70s. a week. They pay superannuation of 3s. 6d. a week, or 5 per cent. of their earnings. They will be called upon, under this Bill, to pay 4s. 8d. That as far as I can see, is something like 8s. 2d. a week. When the Minister introduced this Bill I gathered, from the statement he made, that he regarded it as a matter for the local authorities to arrange. He may have been given legal advice in that direction. I do not know. But I doubt whether that will be a satisfactory way out.
Why not do in this Bill what was done in respect of the Contributory Pensions Act, 1936, in which. an enabling Section was put which enabled local authorities, by procedure laid down in that Section, in conjunction with the workmen concerned, to exercise the right to except from their earnings anything from 15s. to£1 a week, on which no pension contributions were paid, and thus contribute to what is called, technically, a modified pensions scheme; and, at the same time, could take at 65 a pension of 10s. a week under the Contributory Pensions Act? Unless the Minister puts that enabling Clause into the Bill, it appears to me that there will not be any tidy administration as far as the Superannuation Acts are concerned. I cannot see how, otherwise, it can be done, and I think it would be far better if the Minister could see his way during Committee stage, at least to include an enabling Clause, so that insofar as the Act of 1937, the Teachers Superannuation Act, and the Asylum Officers Superannuation Act are concerned, all public authorities can pursue the same kind of procedure; so that we can have general uniformity in linking this Bill with the superannuation Acts to which I have referred.
63 In so doing, he will command the general assent of the local government service, both on the question of compensation—which I have endeavoured to advance, however imperfectly—and in trying to seek to secure some uniform procedure for direction to local authorities, which will enable them to link up both the Superannuation Acts and this great Bill in a tidy, uniform way. I congratulate the Minister upon this Bill, and I sincerely hope that by the time it has passed through the Committee stage he will have an almost perfect Bill embodied in an Act of Parliament.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Roberts (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Two different bodies of constituents have asked me to bring before the House the questions of self-employed persons and of the friendly societies. I will do so very briefly, because my real reason in rising is to say a word about the finances under the Bill. First, with regard to the self-employed person, we are grateful for the concession made on Thursday by the Parliamentary Secretary, but not quite so grateful, perhaps, as we ought to be, because, after all, we have heard it said that this is a Measure of insurance, and we must all share alike. If that be so, it does not appear to me to be at all defensible, logically, to discriminate between different classes of compulsorily insured persons. There is no logical reason why the self-employed person should not be on the same footing as everybody else. Once one starts to discriminate between classes, there is no logical end to it. In regard to friendly societies, the administrative advantage of using them as agents was very clearly shown in the speech of the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter). For my part, when I consider the definite and explicit pledges given by the Labour Party and by a great many Members of this House, that is for me an ample and sufficient argument that "a gentleman" is expected to keep his word. If, in consequence of giving it, he becomes a right hon. Gentleman of this House, I feel that his obligation is not in any way diminished.
I want to say a word about the foundation of this Bill, which must be sound if we are to build anything like a super 64 structure upon it. 1 refer to finance. I wish to speak about page 16 of the Report by the Government Actuary, from which it will appear, in Table VIII, that there will be a total binding burden on the Exchequer in 1948 of about£175 million which will rise in 30 years to£452 million. That is a period which is a long way off, but in this Debate many speakers have ranged back 30, and even 40 years, so I think 30 years is not too long a period in which to look forward in order to see that we are putting up a sound building and not a jerry-built one. The burden on the Exchequer of£175 million rising in 30 years to£452 million is in itself alarming. It becomes worse when one considers that this Bill is in effect, as far as retirement pensions are concerned, a method of diverting purchasing power and income from the earning section of the community to that section which, owing to old age, is no longer able to earn. The very fact that the burden will become so much greater is, in itself, an indication that the proportion between the two is becoming very different.
As far as I can ascertain from the figures which I have, it will appear that under the Bill, in 1948, taking the population from 15 years of age to death, and dividing it into groups, one below 65 and the other over 65, that one person in eight will be over 65. Thirty years later, one person in five will be over 65, and the burden thrown upon the working section of the population will be very great indeed. Is there any way out? Of course, raising contributions, cutting benefits, and so on. But may I mention a local case which we had, some 20 years ago, in Birmingham. We had had a pension scheme for our non-manual employees for some years, and we wanted to provide an adequate pension for them. We found, in 1925, if we went on as we were doing, paying on a cash basis, that by 1955 we should be faced with a 3s. rate to put the matter right. Accordingly, we floated a fund, so computed that a 6d. rate added to the employees' contributions would maintain the fund solvent. But the fund was already insolvent on account of the people already in benefit under the scheme, and, therefore, we arranged to pay£115,000 a year for 40 years to make the fund solvent, with a result, that with a local rate of is., we have already, in 20 years very nearly 65 made the fund solvent, and we contemplate increasing the burdens on the fund for which there is ample provision.
The only sound way to deal with the actuarial problem confronted us—I have taken actuarial advice on the point—is to fund a liability. As to the amount required, one cannot speak with precision, but I think that probably a sum of£280 million to£300 million per annum from now onwards would put the fund right and maintain it in perpetuity. If we say that we cannot afford this; much less will people 30 years hence be able to afford to pay away£450 million with a smaller working population pro rata. If the Minister is not prepared to face this issue squarely, and provide for a fund and payments into it now and henceforth of an amount approximately of that magnitude, I say that this scheme is financially unsound and eventually doomed to failure. Apparently some slight recognition of actuarial danger does appear in the Bill, because there are provisions for rising contributions up to,.I think, the year 1955, but these are totally inadequate. They do not deal with the real danger confronting the scheme and I hope very earnestly that the Minister will deal at once, and seriously, with this problem. It would be a terrible thing to carry through a scheme of social insurance based on unsound foundations, and to hold out hopes now to our middle aged people which, when they reach old age, will not be realised and will cause them great disappointment.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
I desire to take the time of the House for a very few moments indeed. In the first place may I add my congratulations to those which already have been given to the Minister upon this Bill? I think 'he has described it as an epoch in the history of this nation, and I do not think that is an exaggeration, because, in substance, the position is this, that social security, which hitherto has been a charity, is now for the first time recognised in the country as a right. That means a vast difference not only in freedom from the fear of want, but also in the material prosperity of the nation.
The hon. Member for Handsworth (Mr. Roberts) raised a rather interesting point, the question of the actuarial danger in the scheme. Of course there is a danger 66 in the scheme, but I am reminded of a story about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) which may be appropriate. The right hon. Member was a subaltern in the last war and was taking certain people round the trenches. A shell dropped rather near some of these very important persons and one of them said to him, "Aren't we in rather a dangerous position? Isn't it rather dangerous? "The right hon. Gentleman said in reply, 'This is rather a dangerous war." When my hon. Friend says there is actuarial danger I say we are living in a dangerous world, a world in which there are inevitably dangers and a world in which it is not possible with complete accuracy to forecast what is going to happen in 20 or 30 years time. We have based and the Minister bases his calculations on what is going to happen upon the assumption that the productive resources of this country—as I think it can reasonably be anticipated—will be developed, and through the development of our economic industrial and financial resources we will be able to make provision for the older people.
§ Mr. Harold Roberts
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but does he suggest that this is a gamble and not an insurance scheme?
§ Mr. J. Silverman
I say it is not a gamble. It is based upon reasonable expectations, but reasonable expectations cannot take into account everything that is going to happen. For instance, supposing we have another great war—which I sincerely hope we shall not have— obviously our calculations are entirely out of joint I think, however, we can reasonably anticipate development in our productive resources and in our national wealth. After all, year by year industrial technique has improved. The capacity for production has improved and we hope it will continue to improve, and, therefore, the basis is not merely one of hope and faith but of reasonable expectation. Contingencies may possibly arise. As the right hon. Gentleman the Minister said, supposing for instance there were—and we do not anticipate that there will be— a great unemployment slump such as occurred during the years 1930 to 1934.this scheme would be unworkable, but it does not mean to say that one has got to prepare the worst, but rather for 67 what one can reasonably expect. I think that the Bill does provide for that and I think we can reasonably hope that in the year 1978 this country will be in a position to meet its liabilities. Therefore, in the broad sense the scheme is actuarially sound.
There are one or two points I should like to put to the Minister. In the first place I hope that in Committee he will find it possible to devote a little more attention to the wording and make it a little more simple and a little more capable of comprehension. I am not complaining, because the Bill was obviously produced in a certain amount of haste, and, after all, the urgent needs of the people come first before the question of polished and simple phraseology. But it is rather important that the people of this country should understand clearly what they are entitled to, and when we get a phrase like this in Clause 9(1) I begin to wonder:References in this Act to a person's employer shall not be construed as including his employer in any employment other than one which is an employed contributor's employment (or in the case of a person who is not, but would if he were under pensionable age be, an insured person, an employment which would be an employed contributor's employment in his case if he were under that age).
§ Mr. J. Silverman
I am bound to. say that when I read it I gasped, and it occurred to me to wonder whether the simple layman would understand it. I suppose even the ordinary people of this country are entitled to read Statutes and are entitled to comprehend them. Whilst I fully understand that legal precision must come before simplicity of phrase, yet I do not believe it is beyond the ingenuity of the draftsmen to put the Bill in a more comprehensible form, and I do hope that when this Bill eventually reaches its final stages the Minister will find it possible if he cannot make the Bill more understandable to publish a White Paper outlining the details of the scheme. I hear the Parliamentary Secretary laugh at the idea of yet another White Paper, but this further White Paper will be rather more than what we have, had already, something which will be a social security charter telling' the people of this country just what are their rights and 68 what they are entitled to. I think that would be the crowning act in a successful scheme and is extremely essential. Many points have been raised with regard to this Bill and I do not want to repeat any of those already mentioned. One matter has been referred to me, which is one of the transitional problems of the scheme and concerns a person who is a voluntary contributor under existing schemes. He says, "I have entered into a contract for benefit. I am particularly insured in case I happen to die. I have insured my wife, and I want her to be covered not merely when she reaches the age of 50, but right away. I have paid premiums on the assumption that I shall be covered. Now I find that under the provisions of this Bill faith is being broken with me, and my wife will not be covered until she reaches the age of 50."
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. Lindgren)
I can put my hon. Friend's mind at rest at once. Every person married at the appointed day is covered, under the terms of the Bill, for a pension at any time, irrespective of age.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am very glad to be reassured by my hon. Friend. Such minor points of criticism do not detract from my general appreciation of the great services rendered to the country by the Minister in bringing forward this great Bill at this time.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Commander Maitland (Horncastle)
I rise to support this Bill in every possible way because we want to get it on to the Statute Book as soon as possible. Those of us who have been through this war realise that any danger in which we might have been was not nearly so important to us as the fear of what would happen to us when we got back home. That is a very good reason, apart from any other, why. we should realise the importance of this Measure. I would like to draw attention to the question—and this affects Members on all sides—of bringing in this great Bill without disturbing our economic life. Various Members have spoken today about its long-term effect on our economy, but personally I am not frightened of that, because I believe the Bill will prove of benefit to our economy, and not be a drag. But I do see that there is great danger in too rapid an introduction of 69 some of its provisions. It is axiomatic to say that insurance depends for its success on stability. We are placing a very heavy financial burden on the shoulders of employees, employers and taxpayers, and everything depends, as has been pointed out on many occasions, on production.
I was glad to hear the Minister say, in moving the Second Reading, that he intended to introduce the provisions gradually, in other words, to see that its impact would be felt gradually by the community. I hope the Lord Privy Seal may be able to tell us later, in a little more detail, how the introduction of the provisions of this Bill will be effected. I imagine they must be made against some form of relief. For instance, to start with, we have the gift of the family allowances this autumn, and I imagine that that gift will be used to offset some of the burden" of contributions.
But there is a large and important employed section of the community who will not feel that benefit, namely, young men and women who are not married and, even more so, young married people. So, I hope that when the Minister introduces the provisions gradually to the public he will make it possible for the country to bear the burden. I sincerely hope that when it comes to choosing taxes to be remitted the Purchase Tax will come to the mind of the Government. Unless this great problem of insurance, which has been such a great labour of Sir William Beveridge, and also Members of this House, is equated against a comparable increase in production, all our efforts will have been wasted.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Paton (Norwich)
I am very grateful for the opportunity to say a word or two about this great Measure as one of a small number on this side of the House who have been working and fighting for something like 40 years for reforms like this. It was with profound thankfulness that I sat in this House during the last month or two, and watched this Government, of which I am a supporter, bring to achievement some of the things for which I, and others like me, have been struggling for so long. I do not propose now to traverse arguments which have been put forward by so many Members about matters in the Bill which may be safely left to the Committee stage. Rather do I 70 want to use the short time during which I intend to speak, to deal with some aspects of the Bill which have been insufficiently ventilated in the Debate.
Underlying the discussion of this Measure has been the suggestion that its provisions would throw an overwhelming burden upon our national finance and resources. Today the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) brought this out clearly in his blunt and direct way. Until then this feeling was merely an underlying theme in other Members" speeches. For instance, it was expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) in a reference to "a red light." That is a view which is profoundly wrong, which will not bear examination, and one which is largely founded—at least, so far as the hon. Member for Orpington is concerned—on a misconception of the position. The hon. Member for Orpington spoke of the burden which the provisions of this Bill would throw on the National Exchequer. In 30 years time the maximum effect of the weighting of our population by our aged people, due to the declining birthrate in recent years, would begin to be felt. The hon. Member argued as if the total figure in the Actuary's Report, as to the actual cost of this Bill in 1978, meant the provision of new money. That, of course, is not the effect of the Bill, because in the Actuary's estimate for 1978 he is dealing not only with a period when we shall have to bear the maximum rate of aged population, but he is including also in the cost all the Measures already existing and for which we now find the finances from the national Exchequer and otherwise from current national income.
The starting point in any consideration of this kind, surely, is to remember that with the present national insurance provisions, we should in 1948—if those provisions were maintained until then—be paying a Treasury contribution estimated by the Actuary at£202 million. The main item of cost in 1948, if those provisions were to remain as they are, without adding a single penny to any benefit, would be a charge on the plan of£198 million for old age pensions. The figure which the Actuary estimates will be required in 1978, when the full weight of the rapid ageing of our population will be experienced, is a total Exchequer contribution of£452 million. But we must remember that if we did not add one penny to the 71 present scale of old age pensions and supplementary pensions, it is estimated that by 1978 the number of old age pensioners would have doubled and there would be a charge, therefore, in that year, amounting to something of the order of£400 million on the present basis of expenditure. There is no hon. Gentleman opposite, and certainly no hon. Gentleman on this side of the House who would suggest that it is within the limits of possibility for any party in the House to suggest that we should scale down the existing level of utterly inadequate old age pensions, as we know them today. On the contrary, all the pressure, and, in fact, the general agreement, is that it is completely essential that we should increase old age pensions at least to the minimum level suggested in the Bill. Therefore, in all these calculations of expenditure let us remember that the extra amounts to be found by the Exchequer in subsequent years will be relatively small increases as compared with the increases that are being thrown upon the contributors themselves who are asked to contribute for the benefits under this plan.
In arguing about expenditure hon. Members have been apt—I know it is a habit not confined to any one side— to talk as though the available pool of resources from which all these things must be drawn, our national income, is a static and fixed amount. That, of course, is an utter illusion. As every hon. Member will remember when he thinks about it, one of the curious and significant things about the national income is that for a long period of years before the war, the national income had been increasing year by year by a percentage of the order of 1½ per annum, and that increase took place in the worst years of our trade as well as in the good years. There is no reason whatever to suppose that in the years that lie ahead of us our national income, which has been advancing steadily in that way all those years, will suddenly come to a dead stop and remain fixed at the level at which it now is. On the contrary, I imagine it is a safe assumption that, with the impact of the war, with the impact that comes upon us now from our changed position in the world, there will be added incentives still further to improve the technical pro 72 cesses of our industries, and still further to improve the technical skill of our people. I think it is probably a reasonable assumption that we can look for that natural increase in annual income not only to continue in the years to come, but probably to increase at a progressive rate. If that is' a safe assumption, as I think it is, we have to remember that when the full weight of this insurance plan comes to be felt, in 1978—in 30 years' time—on the assumption that our national income will increase not at 1½ per cent., but at 1 percent. per annum, which is, I think, a completely certain estimate, even at the worst, we shall have available in our pool of national resources in 1978, to meet the added expenditure which Bills of this sort and other Measures will bring about, an addition to the national income of the order of at least£2,000 million compared with what it is today. Nobody, therefore, can argue, when thinking in terms of a national income, as it will then be, of the order of£10,000 million, that the increases suggested in a plan of this nature are increases that we cannot meet. That, of course, is not so.
This is not really a question of whether or not we have the resources to meet these demands for some measure of justice for the masses of our people; it is really a question of the direction in which we want to use the resources we have, and are going to have. It is really a question of whether we should, by the Measures we pass in this Parliament, assist a process that has been going on now for some time, a shift in 'he distribution of income within our own community. I believe that one of the virtues of a Measure of this sort is that it materially stimulates that shift in the balance of income and the distribution of income within our own community, a shift that will bring about in this country economic and social good of a kind that we have never seen before. I believe that when we change the balance of distribution of national income in this country, we shall not only succeed in raising the standards of life of the masses of our people, but by that very process we shall set free fertilising influences that will have tremendous repercussions upon the whole economic organisation of our country. We cannot begin to estimate the effects of Measures of this kind merely on the basis of their social benefits, great as 73 those are, because when we raise educational levels and standards, when we raise the standards of medical treatment and get rid, at one swoop, of a large amount of preventible disease that hampers the people of this country—when we do these things and the other things in which we believe—we not only remove a great mass of human misery and suffering, but we also make the masses of our people much better educated and much better technicians in the processes of our industry. When we make this shift in the distribution of income, we not only raise social standards, but we apply incentives that will have most far-reaching effects throughout the economic system of our country.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not sufficiently realise what is happening to them and what is happening to the philosophy for which they stand. Bills like this one, Bills like the Medical Services Bill which is to come, a great mass of the projected Measures which we propose to carry through the House during the lifetime of this Parliament, are Measures which are ultimately incompatible with what is called the free enterprise society in which hon. Members opposite believe. It is my view that all Measures of the kind we are discussing now really find their place properly in a pattern of economic and social organisation other than that for which hon. Members opposite stand. They are Measures that belong to the planned economy for which we stand, and I say definitely that the ultimate result of Measures of this kind passing into law in this country means the extinction of what hon. Members opposite think of as free enterprise.
There is one final point I should like to make. I know that coming into the Debate at this stage, it is not possible for me to expand all the points I have had hurriedly to indicate. I support this Bill also because I look upon it as a broad foundation upon which to build. It is not my conception, and I am sure it is not the conception of any Member on this side of the House, including the Minister, that this Bill is an end. It is not. It is, in my view, a piece of transitional machinery. I propose, as a Member of the Labour Party—and I have no doubt that others share my view—to see that when this Bill becomes law, there shall be progressively, from time to time, new definitions of what are called basic needs 74 and basic necessities. I am not content, and no Member on this side of the House is content, to see standards of benefit laid down for old people, the unemployed, or the sick, which are calculated merely barely to support life. That is not my conception of social security. There must be, as our economic resources expand, a progressive expansion of our conceptions of basic needs, until we reach the time when we can assure our citizens who fall on bad times that they will get in those times the means of a full life.
That is the conception I have of this Bill and there, finally. is the main reason why I wish to support it. I say to the Minister that I congratulate him, and I congratulate the Government of which I am a supporter, on the fact that they have had the imaginative courage, at a time like this when difficulties of all kinds crowd in upon them, to produce a Measure of this kind. I say to the Minister, and to the Government, "God speed to your efforts. Everyone of us on this side is going to do his utmost to bring them to the speediest fulfilment."
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
I listened to this Debate with great interest during most of Wednesday, Thursday, and so far today. No one has been more attentive to it than I, with the exception of the Minister. I have two things to say.
The first, that during the weekend while I have been away, I consulted with my own constituents, the local chamber of commerce at Barnstaple, to ascertain their reactions to the suggested 4½d. increase in the contributions of the self-employed. The chairman, the deputy chairman, and the secretary had, of course, not had time to consult on this particular point those whom they represent, but they felt that if they could not get better terms, the majority of the people they represented would be pleased, or at any rate would agree to this additional contribution. At the same time it was made clear that there were, among the self-employed, many people like window-cleaners—whom I think a former speaker mentioned—the village carpenter, the blacksmith, and the man who keeps a little tobacconist shop in the village, who would find anything over 6s. a difficult sum to raise either in good times or bad.
On that point I think the Minister would agree that the Exchequer contribu- 75 tion for the self-employed is not so great in proportion, as that for the employed, or for the employer. It was stated by the Parliamentary Secretary that in the event of an additional 4½d. being agreed to, in order to bring the. self-employed into line for sick benefit, the Exchequer contribution would come to the round figure of£1,000,000. But I would ask the Minister to consider whether it would not be possible to limit the contribution paid by the self-employed to a maximum of 6s. and to explore by what means the Exchequer could find the difference. 1 am certain that we do not want to have people in. poor circumstances defaulting or being unable for one reason or another to find this contribution. My second point is that I do not know clearly whether those who are in receipt of Army pensions for wounds or disabilities are or are not entitled to full benefit under the National Insurance scheme. In other words, can a man or woman draw public funds from two sources—a pension and full insurance benefit under the National Health or National Insurance scheme, at the same time?
We have heard a good deal on the financial side of the scheme. I felt that much of it was above my head, but I think, broadly speaking, I am in entire agreement with those who say we can afford whatever we must afford. Cost will not be a limiting factor. But at the same time I much welcomed the passage in the Prime Minister's speech in which he promised that within a certain period— he did not specify when—he would give the House and the country an overall view of what the national expenditure is on social services under all headings, including education, free hospitalisation, this insurance scheme and other similar schemes, and also the cost of National Defence. I believe that when the country sees the overall picture of what is being added to a man's wages in the way of benefits, it will make for more contentment. As an Army officer, I was frequently told, when I complained that my pay was too little, that I had a great many hidden benefits that people like me should realise. My hidden benefits, when worked out, were in fact something very substantial. They were, two horses, one groom, and so on—I will not go into details—but it did come to a very large figure. I believe that if the people of 76 this country realised what is being given to them over and above their pay in the way of free issues, it would help to make for contentment.
All I ask is justice for the friendly societies on the understanding that they are efficient and self-governing, and that a scheme can be found by which they will not be duplicating other people's work. I, like many other Members on this side of the House, gave my good will during the Election to the inclusion of the friendly societies in this scheme of national insurance. Anybody who was here last Thursday evening and witnessed the discomfiture of the Parliamentary Secretary when faced with this matter, will feel averse from running the same risk himself of going back on his word. I would not like to be considered one of those who promise something in an Election and then fail to fulfil the promise. I ask the Minister therefore to include those friendly societies which are self-governing. I ask for justice for them, and justice for the self-employed. We all recollect that at Prayers every day we pray that the result of our consultations shall be the maintenance of justice; it is one thing to say that and another thing to carry it out. Let us see, in this scheme of ours—I call it "ours "because, with the exception of one or two Members, we are all fully determined to carry out the best Measure we can of national insurance—that we have justice with it, and that no one is in any case the worse off because of it.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me an opportunity of speaking on this comprehensive Bill, which deals with the poverty of our people and how it has affected them in the years gone by. I listened to the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) and the right hon. Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law). The former put forward the claims of youth, while the latter suggested that we could go into the Library and look up the Tory record of social service in this country. It is not necessary for me to go into the Library to find out what the Tory record has been. I happen to have lived during the last 25 years as a workman and a trades union leader, and I know exactly what their record is. In regard to the claims 77 of youth, all the representations that were made to Tory administration in the inter-, war years fell upon deaf ears.
The Tory Party opposite gave an unemployed man 2s. per week to maintain a child. They gave 7s. per week for a wife, and 15s. to 18s. for an applicant, in those inter-war years. As trades union officials, we have had to advise sons and daughters of working-class families to leave their homes so that their fathers and mothers could get benefit under the pernicious means test that was brought in round about 1931. I ask the Minister to break away from Tory administration in his regulations under the Bill, which I support wholeheartedly. The three days waiting period is a considerable advancement on the present law. The man who works on short time will be able to pick, up 3s. 6d. instead of the present 2s. 6d., which is the present law. On the question of 12 days and 13 weeks, a man will get a three-day waiting period, something that he has never been able to get in the past.
What disturbs me in relation to this part of the Bill is that, if a man is on sickness benefit or on compensation and he goes, either from the sick fund or from compensation back to unemployment pay, the Measure does not give any indication whether he has to put in another three waiting days. I suggest to the Minister that when a man comes from compensation or from sickness to unemployment, because of his inability to follow his pre-accident or pre-sickness employment, the last three days of his incapacity should be regarded as waiting days and he should go straight on to the Unemployment Fund and be paid on the first day of his unemployment.
Might I also ask the Minister to consider the question of the wholly or partially maintained dependant? If ever there was a mathematical calculation which has played havoc with small incomes, it is this formula. Take the case of a boy maintaining a widow or a dependant who has a pension of£1 a week If the boy's wage is£2, that makes£3 altogether. When that is divided by two, it makes 30s.a week for each of them. It is then compared with the£1 pension which is coming in, and the ruling is that the dependant is not wholly or partly maintained If the same person had a son earning£6 a week, making£7 for the two of them, the average would then 78 be£3 10s. The result is that such people are able to get benefit as against the people with low incomes. I ask the Minister to consider the point, and try to help the lower-income group and not penalise them with this mathematical formula.
I am a bit disturbed, like my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), about the tribunals on the question of the five years. We might as well face the fact that in the labour market today there are men who have not done work for five, six or seven years, even during the war, when manpower was so essential. The reason that they are not employed is either that they have been crippled in industry and have been certified by a doctor as unable to do light work, or they have had a chronic. illness which has incapacitated them so that they have become an odd lot on the labour market. These men, who will not fit into employment, may now be 59 or 60 years of age. They will be going to the tribunal from month to month, or three months to three months, to get further extended periods of benefit under the Bill.
I am given to understand that the two essential points on which persons will have to satisfy the tribunal will be that they are capable and available for work, and on their willingness to work. I worked on a court of referees where we used to have a 78-day review of a man's case. It was practically the N.G.S.W. I am quite prepared to accept the Minister's assurance that this stupid idea of testing a man for work will not be embodied in the Regulations. As the means test has gone, I am still prepared to accept his assurance on the matter. If a man refuses what he considers to be suitable employment, and if he gets six weeks' disqualification, will that be held against him at the end of the 180 days of statutory benefit, and he be regarded by the local tribunal, taking into consideration the circumstances of the area, as a person not willing to work? If I could get some assurance on those points— I believe the Minister will meet them—we would be able to get some satisfaction on that particular score
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Does my hon. Friend realise that even then this power to continue benefit would only last five years, and that after 1951, 180 days is the whole of the entitlement with nothing after that?
§ Mr. Blyton
I particularly raised the question of the odd lot in the market rather than general unemployment, because that is the problem which is here today.
There is another point in relation to this Bill which I wish to raise. This Bill says that it provides social security, and in the main I agree. I would ask the Minister what is to happen to a widow under 40, who is capable and available for work, and who as a result of the nonavailability for work in the area, has received her 13 weeks' benefit under the Act? If the 13 weeks' benefit has been received, and no work is available, this woman is a case for a public assistance committee, because she is not covered within the confines of the Act. In cases of that kind, I suggest to the Minister that she should take the right of her husband's insurance until such time as work is found for her, and she has to receive unemployment benefit.
I dealt with another feature of this Act in the Standing Committee on the National Injuries Bill. This Bill states one of the disqualifications to be if a person fails, without good cause, to submit to such medical or other examination or treatment as may be required in accordance with the regulations. I hope that this does not include the question of an operation or an amputation. It may be the doctor may say that an operation will rehabilitate a man. If the man refuses because of the fear of the knife, I claim that we are not entitled to disqualify him because he objects to operation or amputation. A person's body is inviolable; a man should determine the question of amputation or operation, without any disqualification in relation to his benefit.
My last point covers the question of a woman whose husband is killed. As the Industrial Injuries Bill stands, the age for a widow is 50 years. This Bill stipulates 40 years, so that assuming a woman's man is killed, and she is 41 years old, she will get£1. If her husband dies a natural death, she will get 26s. per week under the Bill which we are now discussing. Unless the age is altered, in the Industrial Injuries Bill, we shall have the anomaly of the wife whose husband is killed receiving£1 when she is 41 years old, while the widow of a person who dies from natural causes will receive 26s. under the present Bill.
80 I would like to raise a further point with the Minister. If a person is killed, does the widow receive two pensions, seeing that her husband has contributed to both sections? In putting these questions, I do so with the object of clarification, and also in the hope that the Minister will revise the administration of the past and make it err on the side of the working class applicant for these particular benefits.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Major Digby (Dorset, Western)
I am very glad, even at this late stage of the Debate, to have the opportunity to say how very much I welcome the introduction of this scheme, originally a Coalition Measure and one which the great majority of us wholeheartedly welcome. It was Shakespeare who wrote, in Macbeth, that security was "mortal's chiefest enemy." We would not subscribe to that view today. Rather, I think, we would prefer to use the words of Chatham "Security is our watchword "; for that indeed is the object of this whole scheme. It is by that standard that we would wish to judge it. I am sorry that rather a lot of this Debate, nearly all of which I have heard, has been devoted not to the future but to what has happened in the past, and there has been some attempt to make political capital out of this Measure. I am somewhat surprised because I thought that hon. Members opposite were very anxious to "face the future." However, in this Debate they have been looking backwards over their shoulders quite a lot.
I would say a word or two about the form of this Bill. As has been said by previous speakers, this undoubtedly leaves much to be desired. A great deal is left to regulations; the Schedules at the end, amending and repealing a lot of Acts of Parliament, are definitely difficult to follow. I think that the position with regard to regulations is well summed up in the words of the Government Actuary, who says quite baldly:A variety of matters affecting the course of the scheme and the income from contributions are to be left to be dealt with by Regulations.So that there are certain features about this scheme which are a little difficult to know until we have seen those regulations.
I wish also to refer to another matter which has already been dealt with, namely, the assumptions on which the 81 Government Actuary's Report was based. I could not help being struck with the vagueness of some of those assumptions, yet they are most important to the whole future functioning of the scheme. It will be seen, for example, that the classification of the population in the future is based on a 15-year-old census. Further, the mortality rate is based on the mortality of the war years 1942–44. I hope that the Government are confident that these assumptions are justified, and that the scheme is covered. With regard to the assumption on Unemployment Insurance, it strikes one as being on the high side, at least I hope so, because I think it has been estimated by the "Economist" newspaper that, judging by these figures, in 1948 there would be unemployed to the number of 1,640,000, a number which we certainly hope will not be reached.
I now pass to the question of the cost of this scheme; I know that amongst hon. Members opposite it is very unpopular to think about the cost of anything, but we have a high responsibility in this matter. I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton) deal with this matter, because I think it is very pertinent. To my mind this scheme, which sets out to provide security, should try to provide it in all circumstances, not just in the best circumstances. If security is to mean anything at all, it should mean security even in times of grievous economic crisis and enable the individual, to use the words of Addison:To stand secure amid a falling world.That is what we want, so I do not think it is right that we should brush over too lightly the question of the cost of this scheme in particular relation to other national expenditure, because I believe that this scheme is particularly important and that its future should be absolutely assured in connection with other branches of national expenditure.
A great deal has been said already— very rightly—about the self-employed, and I am particularly glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has announced a concession with regard to the 24-day waiting period for sickness benefit which I, like many others, regard as an injustice. However, I am still worried about the contributions of the self-employed; they strike me as being very high and, not only that, but I cannot 82 understand why the Exchequer contribution in their case is so low. If I have read the figures correctly, in five years' time when the full scheme comes into operation, the self-employed will pay 6s. 1d. contribution and the employed 4s. 9d.—twopence more than at present. The contributions from the Exchequer will be only 1s. towards the 6s. 1d. of the self-employed and 2s. 1d. towards the 4s. 9d. of the employed. If we reduce that to a proportion, we see that the self-employed is getting an amount equal to only one-sixth of the contribution contributed by the Exchequer and the employed man is getting nearly one-half. I hope that when the Minister is considering the question of the concession of sickness benefit, he will consider whether some adjustment cannot be made to meet what appears to be, on the face of it, a grave injustice.
The Minister has had to listen to many pleas on behalf of the friendly societies during the course of this Debate, and I wish to add mine. I was not pledged at the Election, unlike many hon. Members opposite; on the other hand it was from no lack of conviction that I refused to give a pledge. I feel this is a matter which justifies reconsideration. We are all quite familiar with the arguments advanced by the Minister against the inclusion of the friendly societies, but I believe there are very strong arguments on the other side as well as answers to the arguments which he has advanced. The simple issue seems to me to be what is in the interests and for the convenience of the consumers of social insurance: that must surely be the test. This scheme has to be a scheme of security for the masses and not security for any new Ministry. I believe there are a number of reasons why it would be in the interests of the consumers that these friendly societies should be found a place in this scheme, and I do not believe it is beyond the wit of man to fit them in. It is undoubted that we want to go on encouraging voluntary insurance We do not want to regard this insurance scheme as a peak beyond which people should not wish to insure themselves. Yet we are going, to the convenience of the Ministry, no doubt, to force them to have two entirely separate systems for insuring. themselves, two separate lots of medical certificates. Indeed, I gather that in the case of a man who was ill for 10 days 83 and subscribed to a voluntary insurance scheme as well as the State scheme, he might have to get as many as six medical certificates. That, in my view, is quite unreasonable.
Again, rightly, the question of the personal touch has been dealt with in this matter. The Minister rather tended to brush that aside and said that he did not think people liked to be visited so much. I very much doubt whether he did not over-stress that argument, and I would like to quote some words from the booklet of a friendly society in my part of the world which has just celebrated its centenary. In referring to the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, it says this of the scheme:When run by the State, friendliness and brotherhood would be taken away.I think that is the crux of the matter. We feel that under the present system there is a personal touch which, unfortunately always seems at present to be lacking in the work of Government Departments. We hope that will be remedied one day, but we have yet to see it actually done. Modern government is apt to be much too remote and too inhuman. Here you have tried machinery for bringing human understanding to every doorstep. I beg the Government not to discard it in favour of bureaucratic uniformity.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
Owing to an understanding between the two sides of the House, the Debate on the Second Reading is to be concluded. I understand, about 7 o'clock, and in those circumstances I feel I must intervene now if I am to give the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal sufficient time to answer the many important points which have been raised during the 2½ days of debate.
I have more than one personal connection with this Bill and with the Ministry which is adorned by the presence of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill. It was on a Friday morning in November, 1944, that we were taking in this House the. Committee stage of the Bill to establish a Ministry of Social Insurance. I was left in charge of the Committee stage of the Bill, along with the Minister-Designate of Social Insurance, who was the present Lord Chancellor, and an Amendment was moved from the back 84 benches opposite to delete the word "Social" and to insert the word "National." That Amendment, rather surprisingly, was supported on all sides of the House by, among others, the present Minister of Health, in an eloquent speech. I thought I should be pleasing everybody in the House by getting up, in the absence of any senior Minister, and accepting this Amendment, which I did; but, within a very few minutes the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal blew in, in a terrible tantrum with a junior Minister for having accepted an Amendment. I hope that, by now, he is a little more reconciled than he was then to the title of the new Ministry. I, for my part, certainly think that the title "Minister of National Insurance" is a far better one than "Minister of Social Insurance would have been.
I was also, of course, concerned in what is now known as the "Beveridge Plan" from the very outset. I remember calling on the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal to discuss who should be chairman of the Committee which it was proposed to establish. I was not myself quite so happy as he was about Sir William Beveridge; I doubted if he knew sufficiently well the extreme intricacies of the law relating to workmen's compensation to be able to weave that part of our social provisions against misfortune into a comprehensive scheme. But, I think, on looking back, that the right hon. Gentleman made a very wise choice, and I think the House should be grateful to Sir William Beveridge for the exceedingly able report he produced in an exceedingly short space of time. For these reasons, I feel it is a pleasure to take part in a Debate of this friendly character in which hon. Members on all sides of the House have made most competent and interesting speeches, containing many useful suggestions for the improvement of this Bill.
Hon. Members opposite have referred in rather disparaging terms, from time to time, to the Conservative attitude towards this Bill. May I say, therefore, speaking on behalf of my Party, that we welcome this Measure whole-heartedly? It is part of a very much larger picture of a better Britain which was planned under that-much-maligned and much-despised Coalition Government which brought this country through the war. Only two Ministers in that Government were fortunate enough themselves to be able to 85 carry through this House reforms on which they had worked for many months and many years. Those two Ministers were my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) whose Education Bill went on the Statute Book, and the present Lord Chancellor who piloted the Family Allowances Bill through this House. But there were other Measures planned by other Ministers There was the great health scheme with which the name of Mr. Ernest Brown, and that of the right hon. and learned Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) were associated; the Industrial Injuries scheme with which I had, in my humble way, some little connection, and the employment side of this picture upon which the present Foreign Secretary spent much time. It was a team of all the talents, and I think it produced some very good plans for us to work on for the future. But there is one name I am very glad the Prime Minister mentioned the other day, because, throughout all these discussions of plans, opposite points of view had frequently to be reconciled. There was always at our elbow Sir Walter Womersley, the Minister of Pensions, very anxious to make quite sure that nobody got a better deal than did the Service pensioner. Throughout all these discussions the man who presided over all our meetings and brought to our discussions an enormous wealth of practical knowledge and experience, was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). I am glad that the Prime Minister paid him a special tribute in his speech the other day.
While we welcome this Measure, we have some criticisms to make of it. We were led to believe in the last Government that no Bill dealing with such a mass of different subjects could contain less than 300 or 400 Clauses, and my surprise can be imagined therefore when the Government produced a Bill of 79 Clauses. This is streamlined legislation with a vengeance. I am told by those who have counted up the number of times that the word "prescribed" appears in the Bill, that there will have to be as many as 99 separate sets of regulations to implement the Bill. I hope that is not the case, but I think anyone reading the Bill with any knowledge of the background of the subject, will find a large number of examples either of haste on 86 the one hand or of difficulties postponed, on the other. The hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir B. Neven-Spence) mentioned one only a short time ago. Why, he said, is the share fisherman not covered by the Bill? Has not the battle of the share fisherman already been won? He had a great fight to get the share fisherman into the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill. One would have thought that the position of the share fisherman might have been assured in this Measure. Then there is the question of waiting days to which the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) has just referred. This Bill proposes three waiting days. The National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill, by a rather skilful device of counting the day of the accident as one of the days, in effect reduced the period to two days. That provision was struck out in Committee upstairs by supporters of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and the result is that we have now a Bill dealing with industrial injuries without any waiting days. I think the Government ought to make up their minds on this question. It is perfectly clear that it must be dealt with uniformly in the two great Bills at present before the House.
I think the most difficult question of all in framing these Measures is that of overlapping benefits, and, on that, this Bill is quite silent. There are cases where benefits under the old legislation were duplicated, and there may be cases in which they are triplicated. The Beveridge Report was quite plain on this matter. It said that except in the case of partial industrial incapacity the rule should be that no person should draw more than one pension or one benefit at the same time. When we came to examine that apparently simple principle, we found it very difficult to apply in practice, and all sorts of cases of overlapping benefits became apparent which would have to be dealt with by some comprehensive scheme. A great deal of work was put in on this issue long before the Coalition Government fell. I am a little surprised that eight or nine months later, we find "the whole question—I think the most difficult of all questions arising out of this Bill—shelved completely by Clause 30, and left over for regulations to be promulgated later.
There is another matter of fundamental importance upon which this Bill is abso 87 lutely silent. One of the chapters in the Beveridge Report is headed "The Problem of Alternative Remedies." Sir William pointed out that under a system where the State undertakes free medical treatment, free hospital treatment, free rehabilitation and cash payments to ensure against disability of all forms, this question of the position of the disabled person who has a claim against some third party must be very carefully considered. The question which Sir William Beveridge raised was, what is the proper relationship between the damages recoverable by the injured person and the Insurance fund? Could a defendant in an action secure the benefit of the fact that the injured person is comprehensively insured, or. on the other hand, should the injured person obtain his damages in full with all the special damages attaching to medical treatment and so on in addition, and over and above his insurance benefits? Or, as a third alternative, Sir William asked, should the Fund not have rights to recover all the expenditure by the Fund against a negligent defendant?
These questions were so fundamental to a scheme of this character that a very high-powered Committee was established under the chairmanship of Sir Walter Monckton. In July, 1944, that Committee made a report on an interim basis on a very limited aspect of these questions to enable the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Simon. to carry his Contributory Negligence Bill through the House of Lords. On all the main issues no report has yet been received from the Monckton Committee. so far as I am aware. We always understood that their report must be received and considered and that the Government must make up its mind on these difficult but fundamental issues before a Social Insurance Bill could be carried through the House of Commons. I, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply what the Government propose to do as regards that Committee? Do they hope, before this Bill is passed into law, to introduce Amendments and additions to the Bill arising out of the reports of the Monckton Committee?
I have dealt as shortly as I can with some matters in which difficulties appear to me to have been shelved by this Bill. The main points of criticism which have been made on all sides of the House must, by now, be clear to the right hon. Gentle 88 man. My first point of criticism is this: I had always hoped that eventually, as we are assimilating the benefits for sickness and unemployment, we might one day be able to assimilate the benefits for" sickness and unemployment on the one hand with the benefits for industrial disability on the other. That, if it could eventually be achieved, would get rid of a. great many difficult disputes as to the causation of disability and injury. I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of National Insurance has widened the gaps, which were inevitable at the outset of these schemes, to such an extent that assimilation can never be achieved. Take two cases, the man with a wife and one child, crippled by disease arising in the one case from industrial employment and in the other case from extraneous causes. In the former case that man may draw 455. personal benefit, 16s. for his wife, 7s. 6d. for his child, 20s for unemployability supplement and up to a further 40s. if he is in need of constant attendance. That is to say, the industrially disabled man with a wife and one child may draw'£6 8s. 6d. a week. But if he is unfortunate enough to come under sickness benefit provided by this Bill he is limited to a total sum of 49s. 6d. The gap is enormous and I doubt if it can ever be bridged. I, therefore, regret that the Minister has not been able to bring the benefits under the two schemes into a rather closer relationship. Perhaps I might give one other example, that is the youth or girl aged 17½. Sickness benefit for them is 15s., but if they meet with an industrial injury their benefit is 33s. 9d. These are large gaps and large discrepancies, and it is a great pity that we have not been able to get a closer relationship between these various scales.
One or two other points of criticism with which I have found myself in agreement have been made on this side of the House. The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) raised the question of the death grant. I know it is a legacy from the White Paper prepared by the Coalition Government. The death grant in the case of an adult is to be£20. That will cost, when it reaches its maximum,£12,000,000 a year, and it represents 2d. on the contribution. But all the evidence I have ever heard on this subject of industrial insurance leads me to believe that' the question always asked when one in 89 quires how much a funeral will cost is: "How much are you insured for?" We also know that the London County Council, under the wise guidance of the Lord President of the Council, provided before the war what I am told was a very decent funeral for the small sum of£ 7 10s. I therefore wonder whether it is wise to provide an automatic death grant of£20 in the case of all adults. I wonder whether some of that money will not be wasted, and whether the cost of funerals will not be inflated by that grant above what is really necessary. That is a small point, but one has to look after the pence in a scheme of this kind if a reasonable charge to the contributor is to be achieved.
I turn for a moment to the question of the self-employed. I and some of my hon. Friends have been fighting the battle of the self-employed on the question of industrial injuries. It has seemed to us quite absurd that in the case of the village joiner who employs a mate, or the small country builder who has a man working beside him on the scaffold, that if an accident occurs one draws all the benefits under the social insurance scheme while the other man draws nothing at all. We have therefore pleaded, and we have had a good deal of support from members of the party opposite, for the inclusion of the self-employed man in some of these schemes. Not only is the self-employed man wholly excluded from industrial injury benefits but he seems to me to have had rather a raw deal under this Bill.] know that the Parliamentary Secretary the other night promised to consider reducing the 24 waiting days before sickness benefit can be drawn. I hope that the Government will see their way to reduce that period substantially, because it seems, to me that the self-employed man is paying a very high contribution for very small benefits compared with the employed man. I think that some of the criticism that the self-employed man seems to attract such a smaller Exchequer grant than does the employed man has a firm foundation.
On the question of the friendly societies I read with great interest—I was unfortunate not to hear it—the speech of the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter). I thought his arguments upon this question were quite unanswerable. They have certainly not. been 90 answered by anybody who has spoken in the Debate hitherto. We are faced, it is perfectly true, with a choice of two forms of duplication, but if we retain the friendly societies in our administration we will preserve all the great traditions of public service, of co-operation and of knowledge of the homes of the poor people which these societies have built up by over 100 years' experience. I, therefore, trust that the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply will either give us much more cogent reasons than have hitherto been given for the exclusion of the friendly societies or better still, will tell the House that the Government are prepared to think again upon this important question of administration.
I turn to Clause 61 of the Bill, which seems to me to cut right across all principles of social insurance. What does it say? It provides that after a man's right to unemployment benefit has been exhausted he may, in certain circumstances, draw further benefit. It says:… regulations may authorise the Minister to pay unemployment benefit to insured persons, on the recommendation of a local tribunal, for such number of days of unemployment "… for which they are not entitled to such benefit "…Regulations under this Section shall provide that a local tribunal in making recommendations for the purposes of this Section shall have regard—(a) to the particular circumstances of the applicant "…I cannot see any justification whatever for including a provision of this sort in the Bill. Surely, the whole principle of social insurance is that everybody pays the same contribution and is entitled, as a matter of right, to receive the same benefits. What we are to have under this Clause is a local tribunal saying: "Well, Tom Jones is a decent sort of fellow, we will give him another three months' benefit; but so-and-so is a bit of a slacker, we will cut him off at the end of his entitlement period." I say that sort of thing is intolerable under an insurance system. Everybody should be entitled, without any claim for favour, to receive exactly the same treatment in respect of a similar number of contributions. I hope we shall have some better explanation than we have had so far, of the reasons for the inclusion of Clause 61 in the Bill.
Next I turn to Clause 3. That is the provision which enables the Treasury— not the Minister acting under the 91 guidance and advice of his Advisory Council, but the Treasury—. to vary the contribution rates from time to time. It does seem to me a most amazing proposal:Where it appears to the Treasury expedient so to do with a view to maintaining a stable level of employment, they may by order direct that contributions… be paid at such higher or lower rates… as may be so specified or determined.Can anybody imagine any Government operating the powers contained in Clause 3? We can usually tell when we have got a slump, but we are awfully bad at recognising a boom. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen may remember, as I well do, the General Election of 1929, which was fought in May. It was fought almost entirely upon the issue of unemployment. We thought we were in the midst of an unprecedented depression. The new Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, appointed a sub-committee of Ministers to tackle this great difficulty. If the picturesque language of today had been in operation then, it would have been called "the Committee for the Battle of the Jobs." I almost hesitate to remind hon. Members of the names of the members of that Committee. They were a very mixed lot. They did not all stay the' full course, but, at any rate, at that time the Prime Minister of the day thought we were in the midst of an unprecedented depression. Well, in two years' time, we knew what a depression really was. Can any hon. Member imagine that in the year 1929, in the spring, when we really were enjoying quite a fair degree of prosperity in this country—can anybody imagine Mr. Baldwin, who was then Prime Minister, saying, with a General Election three or four months ahead, "We are having such a good time in this country that we are going to double everybody's insurance contribution"?
Really, I think it is a fantastic Clause. No Government would deliberately say, "Up go all your contributions because we think the country is having a good time," and, conversely, what Government would take the risk, when things are going badly, of lowering contributions in order to try and restore prosperity? As "The Times" pointed out in its leading article this morning, it would be much better to increase the benefits of the unfortunate people receiving unemployment 92 and sickness benefit than to concede extra money to the people who were still fortunate enough to retain their jobs. There fore, I say, I regard Clause 3 of the Bill as quite unworkable. In any event, if that Clause is to be included in the Bill, the powers should be operated under the advice of the Advisory Council established by the Bill.
§ Mr. Peake
No, I really cannot give way. I want to say one word upon the question of the finances of the scheme. For myself, I am not in any way disposed to quarrel with the level of benefits proposed in the Bill. I regard them as in no way excessive having regard to the depreciation in the value of money which has taken place since 1939. After all, an allowance of 5s. for a child today is only the equivalent of an allowance of 3s. 4d. before the war. In the same way, the 26s. basic rate in this Bill for a great many of the benefits is very little more than the 17s. which was paid to the unemployed man in 1939. I, for my part, take a more hopeful view of the finances of this scheme than do some of my hon. Friends behind me.
I think myself that the Government Actuary may have been overcautious in one or two of his estimates. I think that the increased supplements given to pensioners, as result of them not retiring when they reach retirement age, may prove an economy in the long run. I think the prospect of attaining the higher rate by waiting another year or two may induce a great many of the older people to continue in harness until they die without ever drawing their pension. I also think the Government Actuary has been overcautious in estimating unemployment after the war at 8½ percent. of the insured population—
§ Mr. Peake
No. The value of this Bill to the contributors rests, in the last resort, on the value of money being maintained. It is a sacred trust for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see that money does not fall further in value. During a war it is inevitable, I think, that money must to some extent depreciate; but I do hope that the Chancellor will consider it an absolutely sacred trust not to allow the savings of the people to depreciate further.
93 It was for this reason that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) would not tie himself down to a firm figure for social insurance benefits until he could see the full post war picture of our financial position. We on this side of the House only hope that the Chancellor is not living, like the Minister of Food, in a fool's paradise.
§ Mr. Peake
It is really essential, before this Bill takes final shape, that the country should be given an estimate of our future financial prospects as a whole. As "The Times" said in a very wise leading article this morning:The social security scheme cannot be discussed any longer in isolation from a budget showing all the main components of projected public expenditure and the sources from which it is to be financed.… The conclusion of the Debate today offers an opportunity to make some amends for a serious omission.I hope the right hon. Gentleman who replies will be able to fit the expenditure under this Bill into a wider review of postwar finance. If he is not able to do so, I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take note of the universal demand for such a step and will take an early opportunity of giving it to the House. In conclusion, may I say we regard this as a fine scheme? We are proud, on this side of the House, to have played a part, an important part, even— it is alleged against us that it was a predominant part an the days of the Coalition Government in the preparation of this plan.
§ Mr. Peake
We, on this side, hope that, by diminishing the fear of tomorrow, of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke so eloquently in opening the Debate, we may help to liberate and revive that spirit of enterprise and hard work which alone can repair the ravages of war, and enable us to build a better future for the sons and daughters of what rightly deserves the name of Great Britain.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
I am not to be drawn by the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) or of his right hon. Friends, and, if he is expecting us tonight to give a preview of the April Budget, I air afraid he is going to be tremendously disappointed. We will be prepared to face the Money Resolution on this Bill, but, so far as the Bill itself goes, it would make our procedure too elastic if we were to have a pre-Budget Debate two months before the Budget is due. The Second Reading of a Bill is, broadly speaking, a battle of principles. [An Hon. Member: "Hear, hear."] That is right; I am glad my hon. Friend agrees with me for once. Details are bound to come into any Second Reading discussion, however prolonged it may be. Not all these details have a very substantial importance. The real question. in a Second Reading Debate, and the real question before the House now, is not whether this or that detail is to be accepted or rejected by my right hon. Friend tonight, but whether this Bill, as a whole, commends itself to the support of the House. And the answer to that question, in spite of some wavering and very tepid speeches from the other side of the House, is undoubtedly "Yes." We have had maiden speeches from both sides of the House during this Debate, and great interest has been shown in a very large number of the points that have been raised, many of which are points which, on the whole, I think, are more appropriate to the Committee stage, and, if need be, and if hon. Members want to go further into battle, on the Report stage of the Bill.
There is one point in the speech of my right hon. Friend to which I want to refer particularly, because, so far as I recollect, it was not raised in the earlier days of the Debate, and that is the question of alternative remedies. As my right hon. Friend said, in July, 1944, the National Government did appoint a Departmental Committee to deal with this very complicated, legal and human problem. The human issues are simple, but the legal complications seem to baffle many lawyers, and, as my right hon. Friend said. Sir Walter Monckton was made Chairman of that Committee. He had other missions abroad, and then he was made Solicitor-General in the Caretaker 95 Government, which rather interfered with his work, with the result that he was not back in harness on that job until October. I understand that efforts were made to provide another Chairman for the Committee, and I am very glad to tell my right hon. Friend that, a week from now, the Committee will be considering its final report. Obviously, I have not seen that report and do not know what it contains, but it is quite clear that, if there are any proposals, and there must be some, they will involve amendment of the Industrial Injuries Bill, and, possibly, of the National Insurance Bill, too. What I can say is that, so far as the Industrial Injuries Bill is concerned, any Amendments which are necessary—though I grieve to have to do it there—will be introduced in another place, and, if the House agrees to dissent, it can do so. As regards the National Insurance Bill, necessary Amendments will, I hope, be introduced during the Committee stage of the Bill, and I hope that will suit my right hon. Friend.
I would like to come down to what are really the broad issues of this Bill, and I shall not enter into the quarrel between Conservative and Liberal hon. Members, which has again popped up on this occasion, as to who deserves the greater credit for their contribution in the past to our social progress. I would only point out in passing that the existence of a Labour Government today is sufficient indication that the people of this country no longer-believe that the older political parties fill the Bill. I have, in the last Parliament, on more than one occasion, assessed the relative contributions of the older political parties, and I do not propose to do so today, because I think that discussion is quite out of date. During the 10 years from 1935 to 1945, from the last General Election before the war to the first General Election after the war, there was very little political activity, but, at the same time, there was a good deal of thinking going on, which, coloured by the events of six years of war, led the electors to the view that the Labour Party's policy was the one for them. [Interruption.] Agreed. As long as I get acceptance from the other side, I am quite happy; if I do not, I am equally happy. The people have given us their confidence, and that confidence we shall justify by deeds.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I come back now to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law), who spoke following the Prime Minister on the second day of the Debate. I have never heard the right hon. Gentleman make such ridiculous and wild statements as he did on that occasion They reflected very badly on the good sense of the electorate at the last General Election. He said:I honestly believe that this Government is the most reactionary Government this country has ever had. This Government is living in the past, in the nineties.I am awfully sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not present. Nobody in this country is going to believe that kind of political poppycock in the year of grace 1946. The Bourbons of politics sit on the opposite benches. Though numbers of Conservative Members are, I am specially happy to think, showing signs of life and attempting to make up a very big leeway in political thought, the most hoary Rip-van-Winkles of this House have sat on those benches.
I do not propose—it would take up too much time—to recite instances of Tory resistance to steps which the public have felt in their minds, and public opinion has proved, to be vital to our national interests. Nor would it, at this stage, be proper for me to enlarge on the vindictive and repressive legislation of the 1927 Trades Union Act. [An Hon. Member: "That is tomorrow."] But I would say this—and I have already paid my tribute to the rather trembling, but no doubt honest approaches to a progressive policy in certain elements of the Conservative Party—if stark reaction ever rears its head again in this House, its instruments will be the Tory Party. And I assert, on the facts of the political situation, that the greatest agency for sane and ordered progress in this country now—and hon. Members opposite know it—is the Labour Party. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington spoke of:This hotch-potch of legislation which is being hurled at the heads of. Members of the House of Commons…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1915.]He must know that such a description is utterly false. It describes quite in- 97 accurately the social legislation now before the House. The Social Security plan—the broad plan, I am not talking of details—was accepted by the National Government in which, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, the Conservative Party was predominant. That plan is designed to heal the wounds inflicted by a brutal economic system which was based on the slogan, "Each for himself and the devil take the hindmost." To deal with these wounds we need a comprehensive and coherent plan, the structure of which we will build on sure and unshakable foundations during the lifetime of this Parliament.
What, I ask, is the fundamental social problem? I spoke on it in the last Parliament. It is the existence in our midst of unmerited poverty—poverty over which the strongest characters may triumph, but poverty which has seared the souls, warped the minds and twisted the bodies of millions of our fellow citizens throughout the generations. The Tory Party, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington—I still come back to him— claims to be the champion of freedom.[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] In the past, the poor have been free to make the best of their poverty and insecurity, tempered by grudging concessions wrung from reluctant Governments of the Conservative or Liberal Party. [Laughter.] If that is the idea of liberty of hon. Members opposite, it is not mine. Then—and after this I shall finish with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington—he told us the other day that one of the differences between the Tories and ourselves is that they learn from experience and we never do. This impudent and, indeed, frivolous statement really deserves no reply, but it is going to get one before I finish; I am only starting. But that statement, frivolous though it may be, enables me to remind this House that silver spoons are rare possessions in the homes of those who comprise the great party which sits on these benches, though we have been fortified in this Parliament by men and women whose consciences have been touched and whose minds have been convinced by the principles of the case for which we stand and by their horror of poverty, insecurity and injustice.
98 The evils with which the Bill before us now deals are evils which have wrecked the homes and the lives of men and women who sit on these benches, of comrades and friends of those who sit on these benches, and the homes and lives of people among whom they have lived their lives, as most of us on these benches have. I claim that in these matters we have firsthand experience as against the secondhand and second-rate experience of hon. Members on the other side of the House, who are now pleading the cause of the poor.
§ Mr. Greenwood
It may seem nonsense, but a lot of what the hon. Gentleman opposite says seems nonsense to me. The moral fervour of the Keir Hardies— they were referred to last week—and other pioneers of my Party was born of bitter, searching experience, combined with a belief in the future of the common man provided he could escape from degrading surroundings and degrading conditions of life. We must, therefore, in our view—and nobody on these benches or opposite is going to disagree with me— get rid of poverty if we are to become an effective democratic community with a dignified life. Something can be achieved by a redistribution of our national income, but that is not the only problem, though I will say a word about that in a moment. The truth is, the national cake is not big enough. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I believe hon. Members probably said "Hear, hear" at something I said on those lines about four years ago. It is not enough to provide an adequate subsistence for all our people, and it is not sufficient to provide those opportunities of life and services which all the people of our country in a democratic community are entitled to enjoy. Those who were Members of the last Parliament may remember that on more than one occasion I emphasised the view that neither nations nor individuals can live on each other's poverty. There must foe on these benches now Members who heard me say that more than once, and I stressed then the fundamental importance of increased production.
To that task we have now laid our hands, and that is part of the answer to the case made against this Bill by hon. Members opposite, who have doubts about 99 its financial stability in the years to come. That increased production can only be achieved, as I have urged before—as many hon. Members now present on both sides of the House are aware— by the wise and efficient use of our national resources and by the active co-operation of brain and brawn, of management, skill and labour. This job will be a big one, and I am not going to pretend for one moment that it can be accomplished overnight, or in a Session, or in a Parliament. In any event, economic progress in itself may create temporary unemployment. In a transition period, and probably afterwards, sickness and accident may befall workers, and so, therefore, we need a social security service to prevent want during days of adversity and to avoid human deterioration. But the first line of attack must be a full employment policy, for without the production of wealth there will be large-scale unemployment and its consequences, and without it we cannot sustain a proper standard of life for our people—not even for those at work, and certainly not for those who are in difficulty and in awkward circumstances.
Secondly, we have to establish a national health service to attack again constructively the problem of preventable disease and the most effective treatment for all when illness or disability occurs. It is folly to pay out of our earnings as a people, enormous sums of money for the treatment of ailments which ought to become as rare as the plague and typhus. That is a constructive approach to our problem. Thirdly, everything must be done to create conditions for employment which will not impair, but will fully maintain the health and vigour of the workers. We must also ensure that the sick and disabled are restored to full efficiency as early as possible. We can in the very near future look forward with certainty to convalescent and remedial treatment being extended.
During the early stages of the war a great deal was done to bring back into the field of industry men who had been regarded as industrial cripples for years. On the basis of that experiment, my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary and I set up a committee to deal with the problem of rehabilitation of the victims of both accidents and disease. The chairman of that committee was my right hon. 100 Friend the present Minister of Works. Their report was a very notable contribution to the solution of many of our industrial problems, and the new methods now available will shorten the period of incapacity, and restore as far as possible to people who have fallen by the wayside full economic efficiency. The results of that will be twofold. Our productivity will be increased, which is our major problem, and the drain on the funds of the two schemes with which my right hon. Friend is concerned will be diminished. Those are the Measures in the forefront of our policy. Lastly we need a Measure of redistribution of the national income so as to come to the aid of large families, and that Measure was passed into law in the last session.
I have tried to show that the major tasks are constructive ones. We have placed them in the forefront of our activities. The social security scheme for which my right hon. Friend is responsible stands behind them, not in front of them. I hope we are getting rid of the belief that it is cheaper to keep people on the dole than to keep them in employment. The idea of the social security scheme is to shelter and care for those casualties in the battle of life through bereavement, sickness, accident or infirmity. A social security scheme is no alternative to a constructive economic and social policy. This is not to belittle the Measure which is now in the hands of my right hon. Friend. Indeed, not many Members on this side of the House will expect me to minimise its importance, but I would say this—and it is important to grasp this during our Second Reading Debate— that the primary importance of this plan does not lie in the fact that it makes substantial improvements in benefits and payments of all kinds, though that, of course, is to be warmly welcomed. The real contribution is to social justice.
As a very old student of our social legislation—I would not like to tell the House how old—I realise that we have to attack all these problems arising out of want in adversity piecemeal. I appreciate that the public did not all realise the urgency of the task, or did not appreciate the seriousness of the task in many types of misfortune. We got a whole series of Acts of Parliament over the years which bore little or no relation to each other. The scales and conditions of benefit 101 varied from scheme to scheme, and even the bases of the schemes were different and were governed by different considerations. Workmen's compensation had nothing in common with health or unemployment insurance, and health and unemployment insurance were entirely different in character and in scope. A mass of anomalies was created, so that families living in the same street, suffering the same degree of hardship, though arising from different causes, were treated differently. The proper solution is, broadly speaking—as and when we can do it, and it is going to present a great administrative problem—to secure similarity of treatment where there is adversity, however that adversity may be caused.
We have taken great strides in the Industrial Injuries Bill and the National Insurance Bill towards this end. We are erecting a structure which will be capable of expansion and improvement in the light of experience and in accordance with our desire, which is unchallengeable, to establish social justice. There will be those who, at a later stage, will argue that the present Bill is not good enough and does not go far enough. I would say to those Members that we are not writing a closing chapter to Volume I of our social legislation. We—and I mean all of us who are concerned in this, including right hon. Members on the other side of the House—we are now engaged on opening a new volume. We are beginning the opening chapters of that new volume. That old volume, the first volume, opened with very sad chapters. The high light of the rabid capitalism of the early Victorian age was reached when, in 1834, the co-called "New Poor Law" was put on the Statute Book. That Poor Law has poisoned the wells of social justice ever since. Volume I ended with the beginnings of a new conception. It now remains to translate that into practical form, and I hope this Bill will not be delayed a single unnecessary day, with a view to achieving a finality which experience and the growing social conscience of our time will prove in a few years not to be final.
In other words, this Bill is not perfect. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Well, I have said it. Hon Members need not repeat it. This Bill is not perfect. It is the best we could do, in the time we 102 had at our disposal, and in the circumstances. We have still a lot to learn. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I mean all of us. We all have a lot to learn about the developments and the administration of a social security scheme. It is not our fault today that we, on this side, do not know more about that, but that is undoubtedly the fact. An early task will be to slough off that blot of Victorian capitalism, to which I have referred, the Poor Law. We shall notbury it darkly at dead of night, The sods with our bayonets turning," as was the unfortunate case of the body of Sir John Moore. We shall bury the old Poor Law in the full light of day, with due ceremony. I hope its funeral service will be well attended, and by hon. Members opposite as well; and, as we say in the North, I hope we shall "bury it with ham." When that is done, my right hon. Friend can feel that he has done a great task in building up the structure of our system of social legislation, for then we shall be certain that the indignities imposed on indigent people in the past will never recur.
Some Members opposite, judging by their speeches, feel that this Bill has been introduced too early—I do not think they would have minded if it had been delayed quite a substantial time—and it ought to have been given a much more lengthy consideration than we think is necessary in the circumstances. No Government Report has.ever been so closely studied as the Beveridge Report published three and a quarter years ago, in November, 1942. It has been commented on in newspapers to the extent of scores of thousands of columns. It has been the subject of a very long and strenuous Debate in the House, which some of my hon. Friends will remember. White Papers have been issued on it and fully discussed. Every party at the last General Election was pledged to the broad principles of the plan.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I think the hon. Member ought to form a party of his own. I think it is unchallengeable that the people of this country for that three and a quarter years, including the time of the General Election, paid their tribute and gave their support to the broad plan of this scheme. We regard it as incumbent on us to fulfil that pledge, on behalf of 103 our hon. Friends as well as on behalf of ourselves, and to fulfil that pledge without delay. If we are to enable the old age pensioners to enjoy the new scale of pensions before they are in the grip of winter this year the Bill must be passed into law in time to make that possible. We cannot afford delays. There must be. of course, adequate debate on the more important issues which have been raised during the Second Reading, and which will be dealt with in the later stages of the Bill. The questions of the self-employed man, the friendly societies, the industrial societies, are problems—quite properly being raised by Members today—which must have adequate discussion in the remaining stages of the Bill.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
J hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. I was going to ask him something at the end of his speech. So far, we have had no reply from him to any of the points raised in this Debate. He has just touched on two of the more important matters. There are many others which have been raised, and he has said they must be dealt with later. Could he not, with his authority as a senior member of the Government, give us some indication of the attitude of the Government to the points of view put forward in the course of the Debate?
§ Mr. Greenwood:
The right hon. Gentleman knows he is pressing for something that Governments very, very rarely give. [Interruption.] I have never known the Second Reading of a Bill of this scale where admissions have been made and concessions given on this scale. Never, on the Second Reading. On my advice my right hon. Friend did it in the case of the Industrial Injuries Bill, for the first time it had ever been done within my memory. I can give this assurance in the name of my right hon. Friend. Tomorrow, he and colleagues will sit down to look at the whole situation, to consider it in the light of the time for the succeeding stages of the Bill with a view to deciding what are the issues which are troubling Members of the House, so that adequate time can be given for discussion before the next stage is reached. My right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary will then be in a position to declare the Government's policy. I do suggest that it is really "a bit hot" on 104 the part of the Conservative Party, on the Second Reading of a Bill, to want replies to questions which would require me to anticipate the Budget of 1946, as well as decisions which obviously could not be reached by His Majesty's Government in the course of these three days of discussion.
§ Mr. Butler
1 never asked the Government to give this House, or the country, the Budget for 1946. What I did ask was that we should have some conception of how the expense involved in this immense measure of social reform fitted in with the other items of expenditure on the social programme and with the rest of the Government's programme. That has not been given. either to the House or to the country.
§ Mr. Greenwood
If we consider the finances of this Bill, the rest of the social programme and defence, there is not much left of the national expenditure, apart from the National Debt. I think the right hon. Gentleman has gone beyond reasonable bounds in asking for such wide information, much of which I think will come into the Budget. When he hears the Budget it will be quite proper for" him to say, "There is too much on this, too little for defence," and so on. To raise questions of defence on this particular issue, when mighty meetings are taking place across the road, seems to be a little too much.
While we are determined to get this Bill through, we shall not shirk discussion of major issues which arise. We will give proper and reasonable time for them, but we shall press on with this Bill and put it on the Statute Book, regarding it as a major task, in the full knowledge that it will be warmly welcomed by the people who returned us to power and by those others who suffer from the same perils which this Bill is designed to end.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)
Has the right hon. Gentleman nothing to say upon the important topic of friendly societies?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I have a lot to say on the question of friendly societies. The attitude of the Government has been made perfectly clear, but views have been expressed on this and the other side of the House, and some hon. Members on this side were in harmony with certain hon. Members opposite on that subject. There is no reason to believe that we can come 105 to any fresh decision. This is a problem which must be thrashed out in Committee. I have never known a Second Reading Debate wind up with a speech making all the concessions which might be made later. Had there been an alteration in the attitude of His Majesty's Government, I should have announced it tonight on behalf of my right hon. Friend. We will fight that battle out as time goes on.
In spite of what the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) opposite said, I think it is clear that it is not the intention of hon. Members opposite to challenge the Second Reading of this Bill. I hope, indeed, that they will help it on to the Statute Book. It is a Measure long overdue, it is a contribution to the better life which, in the light of all the experiences of the war, the people of this country richly deserve. Now that we are free, now that we have overthrown our enemies, it is a Measure which will enable the people of our country to tread the path of greater freedom with great dignity, to the fulfilment of the aims for which they and their fallen comrades have fought.
§ Question put, "That the Bill be now read, a Second time."
§ The House proceeded to a Division, and MR. SPEAKER stated that he thought the "Ayes" had it, and, on his decision being challenged, it appeared to him that the Division was unnecessarily claimed, and he accordingly called upon the Members who supported and who challenged his decision successively to rise in their places, and he declared the "Ayes" had it, two Members only who challenged his decision having stood up.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether it is your intention to call any of the Motions on the Order Paper after the Second Reading and before the moving of the Money Resolution?
§ Mr. Speaker
If I had intended to call any of those Motions, I should have done so, before the end of the Second Reading Debate. It is out of Order to raise them now. We are now going into Committee.