HC Deb 22 May 1946 vol 423 cc449-76

(1) Subject to prescribed conditions the Minister may make an arrangement with any friendly society whereby in respect of any class of benefit covered by the arrangement claims to benefit by or in respect of any insured person being a member of such society shall be made to the society in accord with the arrangement and payment of benefit shall be made by the society on behalf of the Minister and the. provisions of this Act and regulations made under it as to determination of claims and questions and administration of benefit and other relevant matters shall be modified accordingly in the application to such an insured person.

(2) Arrangements may be made under this section to relate to sickness benefit, maternity benefit, widows' allowance and death grant.

(3) "Friendly Society" means a friendly society (not being a collecting society within the meaning of the Industrial Assurance Act,.1923) registered under the Friendly Societies Act, 1896, the rules of which provide for voluntary subscriptions of the members thereof (with or without the aid of donations) for any of the purposes mentioned in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of Section eight of that Act.—[Mr. Goodrich.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Goodrich (Hackney, North)

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

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) has referred to this new Clause as being of great importance. I am of the opinion that his view is correct. It has been put down for obvious reasons, which I shall endeavour to explain as I proceed. Before I explain the fundamentals of the Clause, it is well that I should make my position clear to the House having regard to rumours which are prevalent. It has been said that I am interested in this Clause only because I am a prominent official with a very high salary. I am not a prominent official of any friendly society so I do not draw any high salary. It has also been said that since I have been in the House I have been made a Parliamentary agent, again with a salary. I would remind those critics that I am doing what I have done for the past 35 years—doing my job without a salary. Having explained that, I am sure that I am on better grounds than are some of my critics.

The reason for this Clause is fairly obvious. First, the House has riot yet heard why the friendly societies cannot be included within the framework of this National Insurance Bill. We have heard some excuses as to why they should be kept out. This is the first objection I see: It is regrettable, and I understand the reason, that an important matter such as this had to go to a Committee upstairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Apparently I am getting support from hon. Gentlemen opposite. I shall depend on their support later. By committing this important Measure to a Committee upstairs, this House was asked to accept a report from 50 Members of the House nut of a total of 650. What is more, the deliberations of that Committee, although reported, excluded a large number of Members of the House who were interested in this matter. For that reason this Clause had to come before the House tonight. Arising from that is the fact that when the vote was taken on a proposal very similar to the Clause we are now discussing, the margin between the "Ayes" and the "Noes" was so small that in my view it is imperative that the whole House should have an opportunity of discussing this matter and voting upon it. It will be recalled that the result of the vote was: Ayes, 24; Noes, 19. I am sure hon. Members would agree with me that the margin on this issue was extremely small.

Before hon. Members vote on this issue, they should have the whole facts before them. The main factor—and this must not be forgotten—is that this proposal deals with over 8,000,000 friendly society members— 8,000,000 potential voters — [Interruption]. Hon. Members cannot get away from it. This deals with 8,000,000 people who have said, individually and collectively, that they do not want a dual payment of their benefits when they are sick. They have said clearly and definitely that they want the payments made at one time, through one channel. I remind hon. Members that these 8,000,000 members of friendly societies represent approximately one-third of the insured population. We have not heard any real reason why the friendly societies should not be included We have heard some objections, however, and I think it is right in view of statements which have been made, both inside and outside this House, that I should refute them. One of the real reasons why friendly societies are not to be included in this Bill is said to be because they administered unequal benefits under the National Health Insurance Act. I am not going to deny that. However, I think I am entitled on behalf of the friendly societies to explain how that came about. The National Health Insurance Act made provision for friendly and approved societies to run the funds belonging to the Government on a quinquennial basis, leaving to the friendly societies, according to the manner of management of their concern, the right to give additional benefits if that could be done. That went on and still goes on today.

It is right and proper that hon. Members should know that the friendly societies saw the evil of that 20 years ago. Twenty years ago a friendly society approached the Minister of Health and said to him, "It is wrong that some friendly societies, because they are not asked to take certain classes as clients, have greater funds at their disposal than others and that some members of the community are, therefore, receiving greater benefits than others." Having regard to what has been said, that everyone is entitled to the same rate of benefit, the logic of the argument was quite true, but what did the Minister say? The Minister said "No"; he refused to adopt the suggestion of the friendly society, that the surplus cash accruing at the end of the quinquennial period should be utilised for helping the less fortunate brethren in the insured world. As a result, the extra money has been accumulating year after year, going into the central funds when it ought to have been going into the pockets of the members, and today it stands at over —300 million. I say quite sincerely to all those who criticise the friendly societies regarding unequal benefits, that they should bear in mind that it is not the fault of the friendly societies, but of various Ministries since the inception of the Act—and I am not too sure that some hon. Members on this side of the House are immune from blame.

The present Minister has said the new Bill will make provision for everyone, and, therefore, unequal benefits are not possible. The friendly societies under the new Bill would be giving what the Minister says they must give. There will be no more quinquennial valuations; the statutory benefit is already laid down. There can be no variation, and so far as the administration of the Fund is concerned, it is clearly laid down within the framework of the Bill. The Minister said on the Second Reading of this Bill, and in Committee, that he wants a unified administration. I suggest to him that he has it, and that the friendly societies are with him. What has he done to get this unification? Let the minds of hon. Members go back to the Amendments we have been discussing this evening. He has brought three Ministries into one. He has brought together the Ministry of Labour, the Post Office, and his own Ministry, which he took away from the Ministry of Health. He has unified the scheme of insurance in that way, but that is a different kind of unification from the unification of payments. He has three different kinds of payments; he will continue to pay the pensions through the Post Office, he will continue to pay the unemployment benefit through the employment exchange, and now he is to pay the sickness and death benefits through his local offices. I suggest then to the Minister that he has three different forms of payment to which could be added one more if he so desired, and on this I will speak in a moment. The fact is, how ever, that these payments are to be deal with at one centre in Newcastle, from which he will direct the local offices and the other offices to which I have referred When my right hon. Friend refers to duplication, I say that in my view tha duplication is continued.

10.15 p.m.

I am entitled to ask the House to sup port my Clause and when I say the, House, I mean the House. This matte is not of recent development. The Beveridge Report and the White Pape have been the subject matter of interviews and conferences extending over a period of three or four years. During that time, friendly societies, together with all other societies, have seen the Ministries in exactly the same way as the trade unions did. It is not good enough to say that, when a certain memorandum was issued at the time of the Election, it was issued without prior conception, deliberation and consideration. I know differently; I know exactly what transpired. That memorandum was sent out in good faith and there is every reason why those Members of the House who voted or gave a pledge, as a result of that memorandum, should have the support of the House now. Those Members who gave that pledge, gave it in good faith. It is the wish of most of them to keep faith with the pledge and it is my objective to help them to do so, without breaking away from their political allegiance. It has been said by the Minister that the Ministry have received no communications from individuals supporting the claim of the friendly societies. One does not doubt that that is true. Probably the only communications the Ministry have received have been from lodges and branches who have sent in expressions of a collective view by means of resolutions. I would like to know how many hon. Members can say that they have not received a letter of some kind on this issue. Moreover, I have observed a considerable amount of lobbying of hon. Members by individual members of friendly societies on this matter. It is true that the individual effort in support of this claim has been very substantial.

I am not one who stands up for the purpose of criticising without putting forward some constructive policy. On two previous occasions overtures have been made to the Minister with a view to finding a way out of our joint difficulties in this matter of the inclusion of friendly societies. At a meeting in the House last week I put a certain proposition to the Minister requesting him to look into the matter with a view to finding a way out of the difficulty, bearing in mind the pledge which Members had given. Following that, I sent a telegram from Manchester to the Lord Privy Seal as acting Leader of the House. I said: Further to discussion yesterday morning at Parliamentary meeting in House relating to Friendly Societies and National Insurance Bill, you will remember I stated that if Minister still declined to include Friendly Societies under his statutory powers it might be possible to provide for their inclusion under his administrative powers without detriment to Minister's own scheme. From conversation with Members after meeting I gathered my suggestion received considerable support. I have now had an opportunity of discussing my proposal with my colleagues who welcome it. They have asked me to approach you with a request that you and Griffiths will meet Newman Townley and myself on Monday next, 20th if at all possible with a view to discussing this proposal in order to reach amicable settlement which can be announced by Minister on Report stage of Bill. Could you arrange for such a meeting any time Monday next for this purpose. I followed that up with a confirmatory letter, and in this I said: I beg to confirm my telegram of yesterday, suggesting a further interview on the matter of the Friendly Societies in relation to the National Insurance Bill. The telegram was as follows.' which is what I have just read. As I explained to the meeting on Wednesday morning, I really think that an amicable settlement can yet be made in this matter without loss of prestige or injury to dignity to Jim Griffiths, in the following way. It is well that hon. Members should listen to the proposition that I put: As you know, my amendment suggests an addition to Clause 46, but it necessitates an amendment to the Bill in the House, which I fear will give rise to acrimonious discussion, and this I am most anxious to avoid. It occurred to me, and it is now confirmed by my colleagues, that the existing Clause 46 is wide enough in its terms to permit Griffiths to utilise the Friendly Societies through the operation of Regulations. Such a course would make the voluntary Friendly Societies a part of the Minister's administrative machinery in the same way as he intends to utilise Post Offices and Unemployment Exchanges, but it would have the advantage of bringing them in without amending the Bill. If you and Griffiths can see your way to effect an amicable settlement of this very disagreeable dispute between the two sides in the manner suggested, it will be regarded as a Godsend to all those Members of ours who are feeling very much under the weather because of the pledge they have given in all good faith. 10.30 p.m.

I am very pleased to say that the Ministers met us. There was a time when I thought an amicable settlement would be reached. We discussed the matter at great length and were very hopeful that the end in view would be attained. I think it is only right that the House should know what the proposals were that we put before the Ministers. They were as follow: (1) In framing his administrative regulations, in addition to the three proposed alternative methods of obtaining benefit (as stated by the Minister in Committee) a fourth alternative method to be given to the insured person, namely, the option of obtaining his sickness and allied benefits through an Authorised Friendly Society. During the Committee stage the Minister indicated that it was his intention to ask those reporting sick to state how they wanted their benefits paid, and he said it would be either at their homes, at the local security offices or through the Post Office. The proposal here suggests that he should add a fourth method, namely, through the friendly societies where the members would draw their own voluntary benefits. This proposal also gave the Minister power, under his regulations, to determine for himself what shall be an authorised friendly society. Comment has been made about friendly societies who are not friendly societies dealing with sickness benefits. That is perfectly true; some friendly societies deal with death benefits only. As the Beveridge Report and the White Paper have said, those friendly societies which pay voluntary benefits from their own funds should, or could, be included within the administration of the scheme. I say that the Minister would have power, under his regulations, to determine who shall be the authorised friendly societies for the purpose of administering this scheme to their own members. The second proposal was: Officers of ' authorised friendly societies ' to have the same responsibility relating to the payment of State benefit claims as those. attaching to officers of Local Security Offices. (Authorised Friendly Societies to he subject to the direction of the Minister in this respect.) There, again, this compromise with regard to friendly societies did not seek to take anything away from the Minister. It rather sought to put this under the control of the Minister, who would direct everything in relation to the payment of benefit. The third proposal was: The actual detailed administration of such a scheme to be worked out between Officers of the Ministry and representatives of Friendly Societies. I now come to the crucial point. Up to now, all that the friendly societies have been told is that the 'Minister does not like this, and does not approve of it, and so on and so forth. In no single instance has the Minister explained—although he may no doubt explain tonight—why men like the friendly society officials who have 35 years' experience could not administer public funds. [HON. MEMBERS: Some of them."] Some of them may have done less than others, but speaking as a member of a friendly society for 35 years, with a clean record and all my contributions paid, I say it is right and proper that these friendly society officials should be allowed to sit down with the officials of the Ministry to hammer out a scheme to show that it could be done. Instead of that the Minister has all along said that he could not possibly do this or that or the other. We, that is the friendly societies, have sought, through the Minister, for consultation with his officials in order that the two sides could get down to it, and one could tell the other—as indeed they will tell the Minister—what it is proposed to do with his scheme for the transition period. However, I proceed with the memorandum: If the Minister agrees to the above, the friendly societies will agree (1) That the above arrangements will give friendly societies full satisfaction in this matter; (2) to intimate through the Press that the friendly societies will regard the above arrangement as complying with the pledge given by the Labour Party to the friendly societies at the General Election. Then follows a statement of the advantages: '(1) a settlement of the present controversy will be effected to the satisfaction of all parties without the necessity for any amendment to the Bill; (2) The insured person would be enabled to make simultaneous payments of both State and voluntary sickness benefit; (3) The utilisation of one medical certificate for both State and voluntary sickness benefits could be effected. As I said earlier, the friendly societies hoped that, at last, they had found the means whereby this controversy could be ended without dividing the House on the issue, and whereby Members of the House who were committed by a pledge would, ipso facto, have complied with the promises they gave. What it really means is this. The Minister was asked in the circumstances to allow the working out of a scheme between the officials of the two parties. I can say this, that the Minister said he would give a reply this morning. I am satisfied that this scheme has been properly looked into, and my regret, my very great regret, is that the amicable settlement for which I have sought all this time did not accrue. I was unfortunately told by my right hon. Friend the Minister that the further suggestions could not be accepted by the Government. [An HON. MEMBER " Hear, hear."] My hon. Friend says "Hear, hear," but 8,000,000 people will not say "Hear, hear" Tomorrow morning. I should have thought that after all these overtures, and the sincerity attaching to this claim for inclusion in the scheme, the Minister would have cooperated with us in an endeavour to find a way out.

I shall not trouble the House to explain what hon. Members have already heard or have read themselves—namely, what the friendly societies have done for this nation. No one can deny the fact that they acted as the pioneers of insurance benefits in this country, and they want to go on. The friendly societies are afraid that with their exclusion under this Bill they will be seriously damaged and their lifetime curtailed. That is serious, having regard to the fact that this nation of ours, of which we are so proud, has always claimed credit for the thriftiness of its working folk. Some of us, 35 years ago, thought that the introduction of the National Health Insurance Act would have a serious reaction on voluntary insurance, but let me say, with a good deal of pride and satisfaction, that the National Health Insurance Act increased the membership of the voluntary societies by over 25 per cent. in two years. The reason was that the people became more thrifty and more insurance-minded. They saw the necessity of not depending on the 10s. a week. They saw the necessity of getting away from the Poor Law when they were sick, and they increased their membership of the friendly societies with that end in view. As it was good in 1912 to encourage thrift among the working classes of this country, so they ought not to be prevented from exercising it in 1946.

Mr. Kirkwood

We are not stopping them.

Mr. Goodrich

I want to say exactly how this will stop them. It will stop them because of the lack of contact between the members of voluntary societies and their families and the compulsory insurance. It was through compulsory insurance that the contact was made—it was the man on the doorstep, telling the people how they could improve their status through increased benefits from a voluntary source. That is what I say must go on in future. But take away from the voluntary societies the administration of the new scheme, and I and my colleagues are afraid that it will be a serious blow not only to the friendly societies of this country but also to the whole thrift movement. I beg now that this House will seriously consider the ethics of the matter, and the right that this new Clause has to be supported because of the need in this country for the continuation of good fellowship and thrift and all they mean to the people we represent.

Mr. Speaker

I have decided that this new Clause and the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) to Clause 46, should be discussed at the same time. That Amendment relates to the approved societies and it could be discussed now, on the understanding of course that when we reach that stage, there will be, if desired, a Division upon it without discussion.

Mr. Goodrich

If we are to take the two together, will they be voted upon separately?

Mr. Speaker

The discussion on the two will be somewhat similar, but there will be two separate votes if that is the desire of the House.

Mr. G. Lang (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I beg to second the Motion.

I do not desire at this stage to indulge in any repetition of the arguments which have been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for North Hackney (Mr. Goodrich), but there are some things which need to be said, and need to be said very plainly, upon this new Clause. I am extremely sorry that this great and important Measure should be associated with this controversy. It is a Measure which is largely accepted by all Members. Its passing is an historic occasion, and I should have liked it to have gone through without any of this misunderstanding, which at this moment is by no means resolved. I believe emphatically in the wisdom of the retention of the friendly societies, because I believe that this Measure, however good and well designed, will lose a great deal of its value and much of its purpose, unless there is humanity in its administration.

I do not want to see any extension of the sort of thing which we too often see, of tired people going to unwanted places to see people who have no desire to see them. I do not want miniature White-halls in every town and city in the land. I want personal and human contact. There must be a great many Members who have had much experience in social work, and they know perfectly well that the agent of a friendly society is much more than a collector of payments or a disburser of occasional benefits. He is a genial philosopher and friend in so many directions. It is quite right, as my hon. Friend has said, that all the time there has been an incentive to thrift. It will be a serious thing if that personal contact is lost. So often, when things are done through the State, there is delay. Those who have had dealings with the State in other directions will know how long we can be kept waiting. I am afraid that people will have to wait for cheques to be sent and for payments to be made. Without this personal contact, they may have to wait a considerable time.

Every social worker knows what will happen. In each town, at the end of the street, in the working class area, there is always someone with ready money, from whom, in time of need, people can get cash, often at exorbitant prices, and because of immediate necessity, these people will borrow a few pounds, and in consequence lose a great deal. Again and again that has been avoided by the personal work and self-sacrifice of members of the friendly societies. There is no doubt that they have done more than the work they were paid to do. They have given advice and assistance, and they do work which is outside the schedule of their employment, for which they receive no remuneration.

10.45 p.m.

Finally, a good deal has been said in this dispute about the question of pledges. I will make my own position perfectly clear. I gave a pledge, because I believed, as I still believe, in the value of the friendly societies. I met a deputation of these people, at a round-table conference one afternoon, from the three towns which I now have the honour to represent. We thrashed out the matter, and I gave my pledge. Again and again after that, as the Election campaign developed, at large meetings, people jumped up and said: "We are insurance agents and members of friendly societies. What will the candidate do, if elected?". My answer invariably was: "I have already met your representatives and given my pledge. The pledge which I have given is in accordance with the policy of my party—you need not worry." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite were not quite so pleased when I said that then. At any rate, I did say it, and I meant it; and I hope that, as long as I remain in public life, a solemn pledge given will be redeemed to the best of my ability.

I do not legislate for any other man's conscience, and I will allow nobody else to legislate for mine. As long as I remain a Private Member of this House—a position which has great privileges, even if the House has perhaps unwisely parted with one or two—I am in a position of freedom. If I were a Member of the Government, I might say, "The Government—right or wrong ". I am glad that I am not in that position, because I think that, on this matter, the Government are wrong. I propose to take such steps as are necessary to vindicate the pledge which I have given and maintain my belief in the right of the people, who have given years of experience and service, to be used as far as they can be.

The time may come very soon when, in more than one direction, we shall be glad of the co-operation and experience of men and women of good will and of service. These are not days in which we can afford to throw that kind of thing on one side. I believe inhuman contact, and I believe in redeeming one's pledge. Although I am sorry that there should be any disagreement, and it would be no pleasure for me to find myself in the Lobby opposite to my friends—I should regret being in that position even for a few minutes—I shall have no hesitation, if this Clause goes to a Division, in supporting the Opposition and in maintaining what I believe to be the right decision for the country.

Mr. Maude (Exeter)

There are occasions, in this House, when it is really difficult to follow on the lines of the preceding speaker. May I be allowed to say, quite humbly, to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang), that we on this side of the House know that he spoke from his heart, that he meant what he said, and, when the Division comes—if, indeed, it has to come to that sorry pass—we shall know exactly where we shall find him.

It is not inappropriate to quote from the observations of one who may one day be a great Prime Minister. I refer to the present Prime Minister. That remains to be seen. At any rate, in an age when, not lip service, but so much wholehearted tribute is paid to efficiency and science, it may have struck some hon. Members, as it did me, that there is much wisdom in the words of the right hon. Gentleman contained in a pamphlet, which, no doubt, we have all received. When, speaking from the heart, as he almost always does, he said: Science without conscience is the ruin of the spirit. Despite the fact that to-night one is open to attacks on the ground that what one is saying is a Party matter—that is inevitable and I am prepared for it—is it not possible to deal moderately with such a matter as this without bitterness, and to see the arguments which have been advanced by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, and by hon. Members upstairs, with the object of inducing others to break the pledge which they gave? Surely, that would not be time wasted, particularly if they are good arguments, but if they are bad arguments the proper thing to do is for those hon. Members who gave the pledge to honour their word.

It needs great power to induce the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde and others to break their word, because, in spite of the cynical atmosphere with which we are sometimes surrounded, possibly because of the lateness of the hour, this is really a thing of great importance. As the hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion said, this is a moment of supreme importance, because the direct effect will be to draw the attention of eight million people to the position. They will wonder whether, in fact, a Parliamentary election is not a dirty business, in which a private individual may go to a candidate and get a pledge, and afterwards may find that a Minister of the Crown has said that the promise made is of no effect because it was a promise given to an individual. If one finds that that is the argument advanced—and I propose to deal faithfully with the matter, otherwise it is futile and a waste of the time of the House—then there can be only one result, a dignified and sensible withdrawal—the same sort of confession and admission as was made by the Prime Minister the other day when he came down to the House and said, "I should not have said that."That is leadership, but not so that which the right hon. Gentleman has done in Committee.

I also want to refer to helpful observations made by the Lord President of the Council and by the Lord Privy Seal. Both of them have earned the admiration of countless numbers of their fellow citizens, as well as of Members of this House, for their integrity and skill. The Lord President of the Council, in this House in 1943, said: There will always be a lot of voluntary effort of one sort and another, voluntary effort, voluntary social service, voluntary public service and if it dies in this country British democracy is dead. That was the Lord President of the Council, and, of course, he meant it. The Lord Privy Seal away in 1930, when he was Minister of Health, said in a speech at Blackpool: A real living partnership should be forged between Governmental machinery on the one hand and the machinery of the big voluntary movements on the other. What, in fact, will be done if the "new Clause is accepted is that the chance will be given to make use of these voluntary organisations, which. have never worked for profit. No matter how much we like things that are for profit, we cannot help admiring these societies which the Lord President of the Council and the Lord Privy Seal were both led to praise. We want these things that work on a voluntary basis. It should be noticed that the new Clause is not a direction to the Minister; it is simply permissive. If it is accepted there will be a chance of using these voluntary organisations.

Let us examine the position and see what has happened. Let us take it stage by stage and see whether the facts have been put by the Minister, who is in a special position. The Minister is in a position that many people might like to be in tonight. He did not sign the paper, and so he stands in a different category from those who did. If we find that a lot of our friends are committed to something which may be rather disagreeable, it is a matter of honour that they should discharge their obligations. This is what honour means in this connection. In the constituencies a person may go to an hon. Member and say, "You gave a promise that afternoon, and you have not kept your promise."

Mr. J. Griffiths

I gather that the hon. and learned Member intends to come to the advice I gave my friends. In the meantime, he is using a lot of paraphrases which purport to convey A: hat I said. I am prepared to stand by every word I said in Standing Committee, and I shall repeat that advice to my friends tomorrow.

Mr. Maude

Naturally the right hon. Gentleman may be going to do that tomorrow. I may also assure him that I do not propose to deal with this matter on a basis of paraphrases. That would be grossly unfair. What I propose to do is to deal with the actual words the Minister used. They are quite short, so there is no difficulty about it I shall show what the contents of the arguments are. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to urge them upon his friends tomorrow. I suppose he will be urging them not merely upon his friends, but upon every person who signed this pledge. He is appealing to the House and saying that this is a thoroughly bad Clause; he is appealing to everyone, not merely to his friends. When the Labour Party victory took place on 26th July, it was possible then to look back, as some of us did, to the pledges we had received The Minister—I will read the passage in due course, and I do not think he will find I am being unfair, or that I have been unfair so far—made complaint to his friends about the questionnaires in the Election. They are very tiresome. I remember a particular one, which no doubt other hon. Members received, asking whether I would agree to the extension of the protection of the Statute to cats in the same way as to dogs. There was a long discourse on the miseries of the cat, with which I sympathised. I read it, and as a young candidate I found myself in serious difficulties; so I know what the Minister means when he speaks about some of the questionnaires. But is it not true to say of the questionnaires that we were capable of dealing with them all? When the Election had taken place the Parliamentary Secretary was not in a different position from that of the Minister, except that his memory was at fault. I am not trying to be sarcastic about it. [HON. MEMBERS: " Oh."] Perhaps hon. Members will listen to me for a moment. His memory was at fault and he has said so. I accept that. I will tell the House what I mean? The Parliamentary Secretary said he did not recollect the pledge he had signed.

11.0 p.m.

If he said it, we will accept it. That is the proper attitude. But if he says he forgot it, then, very well. But what eventually happened was this. His attention was drawn to the fact that it was eyident that something had been done which was very awkward. It was the Liberal Party who drew attention to the matter in very strong words, and, in the Second Reading Debate on 6th February, attention was drawn to the questionnaire. The hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe) said that at the time of the General Election there were 199 hon. Members opposite who signed. Therefore, the allegation that their word had been pledged was perfectly clear. One waits, after such an allegation, to see why the pledge should not be carried out. Obviously, it was impossible to contemplate that there would be an apology. There has been no apology, and hon. Members who attended the proceedings upstairs say that the hon. Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) gave an explanation that a young gentleman—that is the description of him —had made a mistake in the Central Office. She believed it, and would not have said it unless it were so. But, if one looks at how she described the incident, he gets the impression that it was some incompetent youth who got the Labour Party policy wrong, and that is what she really believed. But there is something distressing about the argument.

This is what she said, speaking in Committee upstairs on 26th March: I want to deal with what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Waver-tree (Mr. Raikes) about a body of opinion being ' ed up the garden.' I would like to refer to the directive to the Labour Party for a special reason. I feel rather sensitive about it, because for a number of years before the election I was the chairman of a social insurance committee of the Labour Party, and I knew party policy. Two directives were sent round. The first was simply a factual explanation of the position. The second one, in answer to a number of questions, unfortunately, because we were very short staffed at Transport House. and the secretariat was hideously overworked, was written by a not very experienced young man, and it got through with a bit left out. [Interruption.] I am giving the whole truth, and if hon. Members do not believe it, I cannot help it, but I propose to give the truth."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, Standing Committee A, 26th March, 1946; C. 365.] I propose to give the truth, and I must point out that an examination of the document would have revealed that at the bottom are two initials. It is not without significance that they are "M.P." That might, of course, mean that one had had a successful candidature, but they are the initials of Morgan Phillips who was not then, but is now, secretary of the Labour Party. It is difficult to believe that, in such circumstances, the Labour Party had made a mistake. There was not an overworked or inexperienced young man but somebody with experience who directed the candidates, who are now hon. Members of this House, in such a way as that, having read it—because they cannot all not have read it—they put their signatures to it, and their signatures are there still. That being so, as hon. Members will see if they look at the report of the Committee for 26th March, they will find that some of the Members of the Committee felt deeply disturbed about this matter. For instance, the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) spoke deeply and genuinely, just as we have heard the hon. Member who seconded this Motion speak deeply and genuinely, about the difficulty of not honouring his word, and he abstained from voting. Hon. Members opposite have been given that discretion tonight which one would expect as being in the highest tradition. They have been given the discretion to honour their pledge and to abstain in this Division. That is evidently so.

Mr. Nally (Bilston)

On a matter in which conscience is at stake, members of this Party have always had the right to abstain.

Mr. Maude

No doubt there are occasions on which without any penny revolver or anything like that an unwilling Member can be induced to keep out of the Lobby which he really wanted to enter. But surely, generally speaking, one's Party expects one to do very much what the Party feeling directs is necessary to govern the country. [An HON. MEMBER: "You should know."] I am afraid I do not know, never having been a member of a Government Party, but I think that is the principle. The matter was brought to a head when the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) made his speech on the Second Reading. Personally, not being an expert in the particular subject, I try to listen, to speeches particularly, for instance, the speeches tonight of certain hon. Members who obviously knew what they were talking about, and I try to learn. One of the greatest administrators we have in the House is the Senior Burgess for Oxford University; that nobody will deny. When I read the right hon. Gentleman's speech and discovered he was satisfied that some scheme was workable, then I find it difficult not to commend that view to the 199 pledgers. Am I not right in saying—I am sure hon. Members on the other side will agree with me—that if there is one thing on which the Labour Party prides itself, and I think justly, it is knowledge of such affairs as the affairs of approved societies? Therefore, adding these two things together and thinking about it long before there was any question of this Clause I came to the conclusion that it was a reasonable thing, in all the circumstances, for the persons who had given this pledge to say "Now we have an argument here which makes it possible for us to honour this pledge. We have the Senior Burgess for Oxford University, we know about Sir William Beveridge, and that is ample."

May I turn now to the reasons that are given when the question arises of a breaking of the pledge? I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is going to argue that there are two ways of leaving it open to the House: either to go straight to a Division, or to make speeches trying to get people who have pledged their word, not to stick to it. The arguments that were put forward for breaking the pledge were those of the Minister, and as he has asked me to do so, I will read to the House what he said. Before doing so, however; may I say that it is possible that those 8,000,000 persons in the country who are waiting tonight, as the hon. Member for North Hackney (Mr. Goodrich) said, and who take an interest in this matter, will be in a position to say this to hon. Members on both sides of the House. For it does not apply only to the Labour Party; it applies to hon. Members on this side as well. Those 8,000,000 people will look at those who do not honour their pledge, and, remembering the day when we were elected—a day which seemed important to us, probably more important than it really was to each individual, for one seemed to get on a sort of pinnacle—

Mr. Medland (Plymouth, Drake)

The hon. and learned Member was lucky.

Mr. Maude

I can assure the hon. Member that I am always lucky.

Mr. Medland

The hon. and learned Member was lucky on a minority vote.

Mr. Maude

It would be possible tonight to draw particular attention to the hon. Member for the Drake Division (Mr. Medland), because, having drawn attention to me and to himself, he is one who has already voted in the Standing Committee against his pledge. It will be possible for people to say of such hon. Members on both sides, thinking back to the day of the Election: His promises were as he then was, mighty, But his performance as he now is, nothing.

Mr. Medland

Might I inform the hon. and learned Member that I took the trouble to meet the whole council of representatives of the friendly societies, with my colleagues, and I put to them this question: Do you want me to keep my pledge, or do you want me to defeat the Labour Government? [Interruption] I will give the reply when I can be heard. The reply was, "We prefer to keep the Government."

Mr. Kirkwood

Come away, now, Hamlet.

Mr. Maude

What could have been more interesting than that? What could have been more illuminating? May we follow that out for a moment? I think I can best do so by reading what the Minister said in the Standing Committee on 26th May: As to the pledge, the question of questionnaires at election time requires attention. It is becoming pressure politics of a kind which will destroy democracy in the end… Why? If constituents want to write and ask one's opinion about cats, or mice, or treacle, or anything that they are interested in, why should it be an end to democracy? Hon. Members could, of course, take the opposite course and not answer them, but if they do answer them and put their signature to the answers, I say it is not possible to admire a course of action such as the hon. Gentleman has just told us he is prepared to adopt in saying, "I do not honour my pledges because I prefer my Government more."The right hon. Gentleman went on: Members of Parliament daily receive circulars from all kinds of people, and many Members will not sign any of them. In my experience, this kind of thing has become worse It may have become worse. That is perfectly true. It may be a fearful nuisance, but hon. Members should not give their word unless they mean it. The right hon. Gentleman now goes on to a different defence: The question of who shall administer these benefits was not an issue at tie election. Not single seat was won on it or lost on it.

An Hon. Member

That is perfectly true.

Mr. Maude

It would be utterly incapable of proof. I cannot help feeling that the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hackney knows that the people who work with him in the approved societies know their own people, and there are 8,000,000 of them. It is worth while conciliating them; otherwise hon. Members opposite would have put the thing in the wastepaper basket immediately. Of course, it was worth while. How many votes were gained by it nobody knows, but that the Labour Party were astonished by the size of their majority is past dispute. If the hon. Members will follow the argument a little further they will see the absurdity of it. If one is to be allowed to dishonour a pledge because one did not win one's seat by giving it, then what on earth is the good of it? If somebody comes along—it may be a poor man or a sick man—and says, "Look, if you are returned to Parliament will you do this? This is a serious matter. There are only a small group of us. We want to know. Are you our man? Are you for us or against us?"—what is one to say? If one is really honest is one to say, "My dear friend, am going to say Yes ' and I give you my hand on it, but if I come to the conclusion that as a result of doing that no seat was won, I do not propose to honour my word"? That is what it amounts to. It is fantastic. The right hon. Gentleman proceeds: I did not give the pledge, and I have the largest majority of any Member in this room, and that in a town which has as strong a friendly society and trade union tradition as any town in this country. The issue was not who shall pay the benefit, but what shall be the benefit. Social security was the issue. It was a live and vital issue. I agree that was a great issue, but that is not the point. Surely hon. Members would agree with me it is not the point. The point is: Do hon. Members in the sanctity of their office, in signing a piece of paper, pledge their word, meaning it. I believe there are hon. Members sitting opposite who are not cynical, who are not completely wedded to this rather old-fashioned view, but who came here believing it was going to be a straight game and who were horrified when they discovered there was a division of this sort. I believe there are hon. Members—men from the North, from Scotland, men from Northumberland, Lancaster and York, Cornwall and Devon—who were horrified when they found what in fact had happened was that they had got just a scrap of paper. We have almost got to the end of the right hon. Gentleman's argument: I know that Members have given the pledge. I have not given it. In my so years in Parliament and as a trade union officer before I came to this House, I gave undertakings. I sometimes failed and sometimes had to ask to be released from them. That is leadership. Leadership sometimes means being big enough to go back and say, I have made a mistake '. Members will find themselves in the position of having got in at the Election, possibly on pledges, regarding which they have now to say "I cannot keep this promise."If you are the hon. Member for the Drake Division you do not go back and say "I am sorry "but rather you say "I prefer the Government to my word."It is fantastic. What is the use, having been elected, of saying to the persons to whom you have pledged your word "I am sorry; I have made a mistake. I propose in your absence, hoping that the thing will be forgotten, to go into the ' No ' Lobby tonight."They will not let you do that. They will remember it. The right hon. Gentleman then went on: I knew that this pledge had been given by hon. Members. My attention was called to it when I made a statement in November. I looked at it again with every desire to help them and all like them in a difficult situation…My only way to help them is to do something which I know would be bad for the scheme and for insured workers and I am honestly convinced that they themselves would regret it in five years' time. If I am right in that, the Lord President of the Council gave a promise that members could abstain because their consciences hurt them, in that the hon. Members who moved and seconded this believed in what they said, in that the Senior Member for Oxford University is a person of great experience and integrity and therefore his words have the greatest weight—if I am right in all this, what justification will the right hon. Gentleman the Minister have if tomorrow, after he has had time to think, or even possibly tonight, he comes down to the House and urges hon. Members to break their word? Finally the Minister went on to say: I want to see one great unified service. I shall not ask hon. Members to act one way or the other. Is he' saying "I am asking you not to go into the ' Aye ' Lobby "or" I am asking you not to go into the No ' Lobby." Anyway he concludes: Each one has to make up his own mind. …I believe it would be worth their while to put the matter of this undertaking fairly and squarely to their constituencies. How many Members have, in fact, taken his advice and gone back to their constituencies to talk to them about this pledge? We do know that one has done so, and we know what his attitude is. We know that the Parliamentary Secretary has done so, at a public meeting attended by some 200 to 250 which passed a resolution adverse to him.

Mr. Lindgren

I am sure the hon. and learned Member does not wish to mislead the House. The Parliamentary Secretary did attend a meeting which was attended by well over 1,000 people and a resolution of confidence was carried in him. Another meeting was held by the friendly societies, at which he was not present, but at which about 200 people were present, and when the vote was taken 67 voted against, and three for. The remainder abstained.

Mr. Maude

The point is that the resolution was against him. He was asked to go and debate the matter with Sir William Beveridge, and agreed to do it, but asked that it should not be until after the Recess. That, of course, was no use. Perhaps other hon. Members will take the Minister's advice—

Mr. Yates (Birmingham, Ladymoor)

On a point of Order. What has this to do with the new Clause under discussion?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Member appears to me to be in Order.

Mr. Maude

Whether the advice of the Minister has or has not been taken, how on earth can hon. Members be released from pledges so given? Of course they cannot. The first person to do that would have been the hon. Gentleman who seconded the new Clause; if he had known he could really be released, I have no doubt he would have tried. My suspicion, and the suspicion of my hon. Friends, is that this scheme is workable, but that the right hon. Gentleman has been convinced— and quite honestly convinced— by the civil servants. If that were not so is it conceivably possible that the Labour Party, with all its great administrative experience of working these non-profit-making organisations over many years, putting in untiring work on their behalf, should not have found out long ago that it was impossible administratively? Why should not that be so? Why is it only at the eleventh hour?

This is the way the matter was put to them by the Minister upstairs: Very few pledged themelves to their constituency on this matter. They pledged themselves to a private deputation. Is there a difference between pledging your word to some man or woman in your constituency in a house, and pledging it on the platform or in an election address? If you pass your word and say, "Yes, I will do that," Is there a difference between doing it in a private room, and doing it in public? I think there may be, in the minds of some— perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary, because surely otherwise how could he have forgotten, which he obviously did? That must be the explanation—that he thinks there is a difference between pledging your word to a group, perhaps a society for the protection of cats or dogs, or the approved societies, one of the greatest and noblest organisations in Great Britain, and pledging it publicly to his constituency. He had forgotten about it, because it was not done publicly.

The final words of the hon. Member were: I believe it would be worth their while to put this matter fairly and squarely to their constituencies, and to argue that, in the interests of this new scheme, and in view of the fact that the people want real social security, we are now beginning a new chapter, and we must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Do not let us break up the unity of this Scheme. Let us keep it as one unified Scheme. That is my honest advice to every Member of this Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 26th March, 1946, C. 394–396.] If that is done, will it not be the proper criticism of the country to say, "Look out, they do not keep their word "? They have got the shackles of the Juggernaut car upon them; the machine has in fact gripped them, although they have made a disclaimer. If in fact they go into the wrong Lobby and vote against this new Clause, it will be possible to use the old quotation, and never most justly: The shackles of an old love straitened him, His honour rooted in dishonour stood, And faith, unfaithful, kept him falsely true.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Logan (Liverpool, Scotland Division)

I have listened with the deepest attention to the mover and seconder of this new Clause and I commiserate with both of them, in regard to the attitude they have adopted. I have listened also to the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude) and I must say that, as an actor, he has well fulfilled his par: tonight.

Mr. Maude

It is a very honourable occupation.

Mr. Logan

I am fully aware of that. He has spoken "Trippingly on the tongue "—it has been well done—but what relevance had it to the subject under discussion? [Laughter.] I have heard that laughter many times before, but we are dealing here with a matter of some importance, and because it is of some importance I rise now for the first time in this present Parliament after having been 17 years with the House. I have a right to speak because I have been for 34 years general secretary of an approved society, and 40 years a member of a friendly society. These credentials are justification enough for me to say to the House that at least I know my subject. I was amused when the mover of the new Clause said that for 34 years he was on a board connected with approved societies. I know that there are many dummies on boards, but in executive work you have to be more than a dummy—you have to understand your subject. Therefore, knowing the Act from A to Z, I intrude in this Debate without apologies. It is a remarkable fact that the valuable work of all the other approved societies and the trade unions is not to be taken into consideration. If one says, "Place all friendly societies in a proper position, and then all will be right," applause goes up from the other side. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) goes frantic. I never saw such contortions in all my life. When the new Clause was moved against us, it was very amusing to see the antics of the Noble Lord.

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

Listening to the speech of the hon. Member, I am in danger of dying of boredom.

Mr. Logan

Although I am amused, I am also sorry. I would ask the Noble Lord, for the sake of this great Assembly and its traditions, to keep quiet and to sit and listen. The Act of 1912 is about to go, and we are seeing an evolution in the theory of insurance and economics, the like of which the world has never seen before. That being so, I cannot for the life of me understand the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter on the theme, "You pledged your word." I have taken many pledges in my time, and some of them have been good and some of them have been bad, but when I was being judged on management of affairs, I was judged in regard to the policy I adopted and whether it was a success or not. I would say to both sides of the House: "Get rid of this childishness, and get down to hard matters of fact." Let Members, on the opposite side, consider what it is that we are attempting to do in this Bill. Am I to take it that right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not want this Bill? Do they want stagnation and revolution, which are likely to come, if we do not go along in progressive style? There is sanity in the things that I am saving to you; but why speak to the insane?

Have hon. Members thought of the anomalies that are being wiped out under this Bill? I would ask what some hon. Members in this House are trying to do away with by this Bill. They are trying to wipe out the greatest grievances which our people have had to suffer. The question of the valuation of societies has been brought up on the matter of what benefits can be given: but half the population who are insured today receive no additional benefits from any of the societies to which they belong. The greatest tragedy of our age has been the fact that, although paying contributions, they have never been able to receive the benefits that those in a better position in life have been able to get. Those in the industrial areas, those at the dockside, those who went to build up the nation in fields of commerce or industry were in such a deplorable condition that never were they able to get additional benefits. But the people in easy jobs were always able to get additional benefits. The Act was intended for those in want, for those who could not provide the necessities of life for themselves; and from 1912 until now—34 years—you have gone along with that anomoly, and only tonight do you speak of the pledge and the broken word. You have been traitors—all of the successive Governments have been traitors—in not making an equalisation of benefits.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

On a point of Order. Were you a traitor, Mr. Deputy-Speaker?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

I think that the hon. Member had recovered himself, and, therefore, I did not make any comment.

Mr. Logan

I do not know that it shows any sign of intelligence that you are grinning.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I beg to inform the hon. Member that I am not grinning.

Mr. Logan

I want to point out to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—to the intelligence of the House—something in reference to this Bill. I want the House to consider, not broken pledges, or any lapse on toe part of any Minister, but the purpose for which we meet in the British Houses of Parliament. We meet here to decide on legislation, and if the Cabinet has 30 decided that, as regards this Bill, none of the approved societies will be able, or will be allowed, to operate, what they say is that they are bringing in a Measure of national importance that will get rid of the anomalies, and not only of the friendly societies and approved societies, and will give an opportunity such as never before existed for the poor to get better treatment. Because of that, although I am a member of an approved society and its general secretary, and although I have been 40 years in the friendly society movement, T am fully convinced that the best thing that can be done in the interests of the people is to get rid of the anomalies.

May I point out that in the place in which I live 90 per cent. of the men went to the war? Many of them were torpedoed six and seven times. Yet when they applied to their approved societies not one of them could get additional benefits. That meant that none of them was able to get convalescent treatment; none could get extra medical treatment in convalescent homes, none could get optical or dental treatment and none could get the normal amount allowed under the Act. Yet other societies that were better off, were able to give the cash benefits and all the other additional benefits under the Act. I understand that all these anomalies will be wiped out, under the Bill. Where is there a Member in this House who would dare to say, if we are going to wipe out the approved societies, which are trade union bodies, that recognition should be given and preferential treatment allowed to a particular class mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Exeter I cannot understand that at all. This will be a system set up within a national system. Let me read to the House what is to be done. I hope the hon. and learned Member for Exeter, who was so tragic a short time ago, and who is able to give us Shakespearean quotations, will be able to understand the merits of this arrangement with the friendly societies. The part I want to read to the House is: Subject to prescribed conditions, the Minister may make an arrangement with any friendly society "— although it is a national system— whereby in respect of any class of benefit covered by the arrangement, claims to benefit by or in respect of any insured person being a member of such society, shall be made to the society and so forth. There is so much of it one gets all mixed up. Then we get this provision: Arrangements may be made under this section to relate to sickness benefit, maternity benefit, widows' allowance and death grant. We are going to have a national service set up, and what is wanted by hon. Members opposite is that the approved societies should be thrown out and a place found for the friendly societies. I have never heard anything so illogical in my life. I am convinced that if the Government gave in on this matter they would be making the greatest mistake not in regard to 8,000,000 people—which is fantastic; 4,500,000 would he nearer the mark—but in regard to 18,000,000 or 20,000,000 outside, who will be pleased when the Government remove the anomalies that now beset the scheme, and so bring into the homes of our workers those benefits that the people so sadly need, and which the better classes are able to enjoy.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Whiteley.]

Debate to be resumed To-morrow.