HC Deb 22 May 1946 vol 423 cc364-8
Mr. J. Griffiths

I beg to move, in page 50, line 26, to leave out from "woman," To the end of line 27. and to insert: , if she so elects or if she does not elect otherwise (as may be provided by the regulations). There was a good deal of discussion in the Standing Committee about the treatment of married women under the scheme, and there was, in particular, criticism of the proposal to exclude employed married women from insurance unless they specifically elected on marriage to continue in the scheme. I undertook to look into the matter to see whether the position could be reversed. I was urged to make the election a positive one on the part of the married women, and not to deem them to be outside the scheme unless they elected to come in. It was a question of contracting in or contracting out. I have given serious consideration to the matter, and I have decided to amend the Clause on the lines indicated in the Amendment.

Briefly, it is proposed that women who are employed persons and who get married will then have to choose whether or not they wish to be in the scheme. The decision will be a positive one. Unless a woman elects to contract out of the scheme, she will be deemed to be inside it. If a woman is in employment and then gets married, we shall treat her as still being in insurance unless she elects, by her positive action, to go outside the scheme. I think that is a fair position, I think it right to put upon the married woman the obligation to contract in or out of the scheme. On the other hand, the position is different with women who are self-employed, and women who go into the non-employed class. For those who are self-employed, I propose that they should elect to come into the scheme. We want that action to be a positive one also. Similarly, in the cases of the very large number of women who are employed, who get married, and who then cease to follow a gainful occupation, and become housewives and work in the home, they may from that time become members of what are described in the Bill as the non-employed section. They have to elect to come under the scheme. In the case of women who are in industry, in class one, on marriage, if they want to go outside the scheme, they have to elect to do so, and if they do not so elect, we treat them as being inside the scheme. For the self employed and the non-employed it must be a positive action by the people themselves. I thought it better to make a clear-cut line and to leave the choice and the action to be taken by the insured contributor herself. I think the change which is proposed will meet the desires of those hon. Members who pressed the matter in Standing Committee, and I hope it will commend itself to hon. Members.

Mr. Naylor (Southwark, South-East)

What happens if an employed woman who elected to contract out of the scheme on marriage, wants to return to industry later on? Does she lose any qualification arising from her previous membership owing to her having elected to go out of the scheme after marriage?

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

Question proposed, "That those words he there inserted."

5.30 p.m.

Mrs. Castle

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, in line 2, to leave out from "elects,"To the end.

I appreciate the gesture which my right hon. Friend has made in response to the representations which I and others made to him on this point in Standing Committee. I am glad that he has agreed with us that it is a point of substance whether or not a married woman should have to contract in or contract out. His Amendment, so far as it goes, is very good, but I cannot understand why any distinction should be drawn in this matter between a married woman who continues as an employed person or as a self-employed person or who is a non-employed person. I suggest that right through this Bill my right hon. Friend's approach to married women is unsatisfactory. We have dealt with other facets of that complaint upstairs, and I should be out of Order if I were to attempt to deal with them now. I wish to remind my right hon. Friend that his distinction in the treatment of married women is one which is not drawn by Sir William Beveridge in his Report, where it is suggested that, as with other classes entitled to exception from the scheme, there should be a process of deliberate contracting out in every case. I fail to see why this distinction should be drawn. I wish to urge upon my right hon. Friend that he is giving the impression in this Bill that he is not anxious for married women to insure under his scheme. I believe that that is a most unfortunate impression. Therefore, I urge him to accept my Amendment.

Mr. S. Silverman

I support the Amendment to the proposed Amendment. It is a little difficult to see why, having gone so far to meet what he recognises to be a perfectly genuine and substantial point, my right hon. Friend should falter at it or hedge it around in some way. The plain principle, which I think he accepts, although the wording of hi, Amendment does not really implement it, is that a married woman shall not, on ceasing her employment, cease to he insured unless she so decides. She is to remain insured unless she elects otherwise. I should have thought that the plain way to do that was to insert the words "If she so elects."

Mr. J. Griffiths

I have given a great deal of thought to this matter. The woman who is working, who gets married and continues working, is in the scheme unless she herself, by her own deliberate action, contracts out. Secondly, there are the self-employed women who get married. In their case I say that they ought to take a positive action to come inside the scheme. Thirdly, there are the women who, on marriage, give up work in a factory or workshop and are thereafter housewives at home. Suppose say that, unless they themselves contract out, I deem them to be in the scheme. I ask hon. Members to consider where I should get to administratively. This is not something which will affect a woman here or there, but it will affect the bulk of women. Suppose we had the position in which, 12 months after a woman was married, one of my inspectors was to say to her, "Twelve months ago you were married and gave up work. Since then you have been a non-employed person and you have been liable to pay 3s. 8d. a week, which you have not paid."The woman would say, "I had not thought of that."That is avoided if she elects to become a non-employed contributor. This is a Bill for the millions, for the mass of the people in this country. Therefore, I am certain that under my proposal I am doing the right thing, and avoiding administrative difficulties which would be impossible to cope with, and which might sink the whole scheme. If, by anything I have said or have not said or done, I have created the impression that I wish to make it difficult for married women to come into this scheme, I say at once that that is not so. On the contrary, I believe that to place the obligation upon them in the way I propose is the better alternative from their point of view.

Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)

I understand my right hon. Friend's position with regard to the woman who gives up work when she gets married; that is reasonable. But I do not know why it should apply to the woman who is self-employed, because a great many women who are self-employed before marriage find it quite simple to keep on their business of, say, milliner or dressmaker, after marriage, and I do not know why they should be subject to this differentiation.

Amendment to the proposed Amend-merit negatived.

Proposed words there inserted.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I beg to move, in page 50, line 34, to leave out paragraph (b).

This is consequential on the Amendment which has just been accepted by the Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

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