HC Deb 23 May 1946 vol 423 cc565-619

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [22nd May], "That the Clause (Arrangements with friendly societies) be read a Second time," proposed on Consideration of the BUI, as amended (in the Standing Committee and on recommittal).

Question again proposed, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Raikes (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I understand from your Ruling last night, Mr. Speaker, that the Amendment to Clause 46—in page 41, line 8, after "payment," To insert: and for the payment of sickness benefit, maternity benefit, widows' allowance, death grant and such further benefits as the Minister may decide to or in respect of a member of an approved society by and through the approved society of which the insured person is a member on such terms and conditions as may be prescribed in the regulations." —standing on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friends and myself, may also be discussed upon the new Clause which we are debating at the present time. In point of fact the Amendment asks, to all intents and purposes, that not only friendly societies but all competent approved societies should be made part of the scheme under discussion.

The suggestion is not an unwise one because one realised last night the real dilemma in which the Government are placed. I am not going to spend much time talking about pledges or giving a lecture on morality. But we are in this difficulty—200 hon. Members on the Government side have, in perfectly good faith, pledged themselves to support the case for the inclusion of the friendly and approved societies. The Minister, on the other hand, has taken the view that the friendly societies cannot as such be incorporated in the scheme. We have not yet heard the Minister's reply but I imagine that the argument he will put forward will be that these societies represent 8,000,000 insured persons only, while his full scheme will include about 24,000,000 persons, and that, in his view, it would be impossible to expand bodies covering 8,000,000 people, to cover 24,000,000 people. Secondly, he will say that from the administrative point of view, it would be difficult to have 8,000,000 persons being dealt with by friendly societies, and 16,000,000 being worked by a State organisation, and have the two running together.

That is probably the Minister's view, and the result is that one of two things will happen. If the new Clause were put into the Bill and nothing else, the Minister would find himself compelled to administer something about the possibilities of administering which he is extremely reluctant and depressed. On the other hand, if the new Clause is not inserted in its present form, a number of hon. Members will be bound to go contrary to the pledges they gave at election time. I am not going to indulge in any personalities, but I say that it would be unfortunate if we could not devise a way of avoiding considerable sections of the people of this country feeling, in their bones, without perhaps realising all the difficulties involved, that the Government can say one thing at the Election, and then when the Election is over, can go back on the pledges made. That is the difficulty which hon. Members are feeling.

If we have the full scheme as envisaged by the Minister without either the friendly societies or the approved societies taking part, we shall have, as long as voluntary insurance continues, a degree of duality which is unsatisfactory from every point of view. We shall have on the compulsory side the State service administering benefits, and entirely different people administering voluntary benefits to the same persons. That is a duality which should be avoided. My suggestion, to which I ask the House even at this late stage to give some consideration, is that all competent approved societies should be brought into the scheme as agents. First and foremost, we should have the organisations which today cover 17,000,000 persons. The Minister I am sure would agree that it would be mechanically possible for such an organisation to be expanded to cover the 24,000,000 people, including the new entrants to the scheme. It could work, and it would avoid duality.

Certain objections have been raised to this. At the start Sir William Beveridge made a differentiation between the forms of friendly and approved societies that might be included in the general scheme. From that differentiation in his Report have arisen many of the difficulties in which hon. Members have placed themselves or are now placed. What are the main objections? In the discussions in Standing Committee, both the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister touched on certain of the objections. If I paraphrase the arguments put forward, it is because I do not want to waste time by reading long extracts from speeches made in the Standing Committee, and I hope either the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary will pull me up at once, if I say anything which gives a wrong impression in what I might describe as a curtailed version of speeches of a certain length which were made. First, the Parliamentary Secretary made the observation that, in due course, he thought there would be no voluntary side to approved societies at all. I gather the inference was that as the voluntary side would grow smaller and smaller there is no particular object in meeting the danger of duality to which I referred. In my view, the Parliamentary Secretary was begging the question. It may or may not be that the voluntary side will grow less in the future. I think it is doubtful, but, be that as it may, for a considerable period we shall have voluntary and compulsory insurance going on side by side. In fact, the idea was encouraged by the Minister himself in what he said on the Second Reading of the Bill.

The second objection is twofold. It was pointed out by the Parliamentary Secretary in the discussion on home service. I am one of those who believe in home service. It is of very great importance in the administration of sickness benefit. It was said by the Parliamentary Secretary that, after all, home service is not of such vital importance because already so much that is done, particularly by friendly societies, is either administered by post or in some other rather indirect way. The Minister went a stage further. He said that he was not prepared to impose home service upon people who did not want it and he pointed out—I think with some justice—that there might be a considerable number of persons from the middle classes coming under the new scheme who would not require or desire home service. That is what I understood him to say, but if the latter phrase is mistaken, I will withdraw it.

The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. James Griffiths)

I want to get it correct. My experience of the working class is that not every one wants persons calling on them.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Raikes

The right hon. Gentleman went a little further in Committee because he referred to the new middle classes and suggested that they would not like it much and said that he was not prepared to provide something which the middle class and the working class did not want. I would say that if we retain all the approved societies acting as agents under the scheme, it would not mean that everybody need have a home service. It would mean undoubtedly that in a large number of cases, where persons are enjoying home service at the present time, it would be maintained by the agents who are visiting people now. But it would also be perfectly possible under the scheme to make it clear that any person who preferred to have his benefit administered by post, could have that done rather than have personal visitation. On the other hand, in the Minister's scheme, it is admitted that the home service itself will largely disappear. I am convinced that the less home service you have, the greater will be the dissatisfaction among the very Large number of persons who believe in personal contact and who enjoy it.

It was argued by the Parliamentary Secretary that a good agent would be just as good if he were working for the State as if he were working for a friendly society or any other approved body. No one would deny that. All that I would observe is that if your home service goes, and if the very men who otherwise would be giving the home service are put into a social security office, while they may be just as keen they will not have the opportunity to do the work they are doing at present. It would be circumscribed. Beyond that, I think it is certain that a good many of the better men at present employed by the industrial societies, will be tempted by the voluntary side, and may not find their way into the State scheme at all.

Those were the principal objections made by the Government—bar one. Here, if the Minister will forgive me for saying so, I think he was a little disingenuous in one point that he raised, tie said that the fundamental defect of the approved societies in the past had been that equal contributions provided unequal benefits. He certainly gave the impression to me and, I think, to other Members of the Committee, that he regarded that as a reason for not employing them now. Yet the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that under the 1911 Act, the approved societies had no alternative but to do that. They were not drawing for their industrial societies any surplus that they made in their approved societies. They were, to all intents and purposes, told by the State if they had a surplus that it ought to go to the beneficiaries in their society. The suggestion that because they did what they were bound to do, and because they did not leave off doing it under the system which encouraged them to do it, therefore they must be left out, is not worthy of the extremely able case which the right hon. Gentleman generally makes when points are put to him.

The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that under the new Bill, under which the approved societies would be prepared to work, the question of unequal benefit for the same contribution could not possibly arise. There would be equal contributions and equal benefits, whoever was administering it. Do not let the House forget this further point, that in spite of the suggested undesirability of the approved societies, during the transition period of the next two years, probably longer, the Minister has to rely upon these very societies to carry out his scheme, because at the moment he has nothing on paper, and has to use the machinery which is working now. I maintain that that machinery which will carry him on in the months and years ahead, could perfectly well be made permanent.

There were only two other objections raised against the approved societies as a whole to which I shall refer. They were the two main arguments raised against the approved societies by Sir William Beveridgc himself. The first was that the industrial offices have a profit motive and, therefore, it is unsatis- factory that in any way they should be connected with the administration of Government funds. Yet Sir William Beveridge's great leader, Mr. Lloyd George, did not consider that was a reason for debarring them in 1911. Let hon. Members remember, that the profit motive would be immoral only in this case. No one would consider the profit motive of itself immoral, otherwise we should not be proposing to increase our salaries in a short time. But the profit motive, it is said, would be immoral if it meant that the societies would be able to make money for themselves out of Government funds. However, that cannot happen. All hon. Members know that the approved societies are completely separate from the life offices. They are administered on their own. Their offices cannot touch the surplus, or make any profit whatsoever. The agents of the offices are employed merely as a matter of convenience for enrolling persons in approved societies, very often, in fact generally, in the very home which the agent already visits for voluntary purposes. There is nothing immoral in an approved society, which can gain no funds for the industrial side out of the Government, acting as an agent for the Government.

I refer to only one other objection. It has been said that if all the approved societies were no longer able to administer their own funds, there might be lack of incentive, and laxity in regard to claims. Every hon. Member knows that the safeguards against laxity are very great. Under the Minister's scheme first there is the doctor's certificate; there is no sickness benefit without the doctor's certificate. Secondly, there is the sickness visitor who will be employed by the Stale; that is check No. 2. Thirdly, there is the provision of the reference to medical officers of the State wherever there is any doubt Obviously every case will be under constant review by the Government auditors from time to time. Those are reasonable safeguards which make utterly fantastic the idea of approved societies acting as agents being lax over claims.

I have tried to put the case against the objections raised to the approved societies. I hope the Minister will deal with some of those points when he replies, because, as I said at the beginning, here is a way out of a real dilemma. Here is a way to use the existing machinery and avoid duality, to maintain the home contact and the home service, to avoid any suspicion of the broken pledge and, beyond that, there is the machinery which the Minister knows he could expand and which could do the job. I have put forward those suggestions, I hope without heat, because I believe this is a case which should be argued on its merits, and, when tempers begin to rise, wisdom generally begins to thaw.

Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)

During my long association with this House I think this is one of the most serious Debates in which I have taken part. It involves a problem that each hon. Member must set himself to answer, the problem of how he is to vote on this occasion. This is much more than a mere matter of administration. The Minister in his Second Reading speech, and in Committee upstairs, seemed to regard it merely as a matter of administration. To me there are two great questions of principle involved here. One is the position of any voluntary scheme when a State scheme is introduced. Is it to have any position, or is it to go altogether? The other question is, what is our position as Members of Parliament, having made statements to the electors as a result of which we were elected as their representatives in this House? It is a serious problem which has to be considered as carefully as it was considered by our great predecessor Edmund Burke. He faced up to this question and gave his decision. Those two questions are more far-reaching than a matter of administration.

Everyone has been paying tribute to the excellent work which has been done now for almost two centuries, certainly for more than a century and a half, by the approved societies. They were the pioneers in this, and this scheme which we are now to make of universal application is their scheme. No people have been more anxious for the unification of that scheme. No people have been more anxious to make it available to all, than the members of the friendly societies. They know the difficulties through which the people of this country have gone, and they are fully conscious of the position. They were, without exception, anxious to take part in working out a general, universal scheme. This was a matter present to the minds of all when Sir William Beveridge was set the task of considering how he could frame a general scheme to get rid of want. He was not alone in considering that matter. He was given the assistance of some of the ablest civil servants and it was not realised until he had actually finished his job that they could not join with him in signing the Report. Letters passed between the right hon. Gentleman the present Lord Privy Seal—who had really initiated the inquiry and set Sir William Beveridge to work—and Sir William Beveridge, in which Sir William had to say that he would take full responsibility for this matter as political questions might be involved, and it was not right that the civil servants should be brought in.

The point is that the civil servants considered this question with Sir William Beveridge, and the Report said that when we came to the administration we could and should bring in the friendly societies in order to assist in working out the scheme. Since then, something has happened. I am sure that the Minister has taken the best advice available, but it looks as if the advice which has now been tendered by the civil servants, is that the friendly societies cannot be brought in. No one has a greater admiration for the civil servants than I have, but, if they are solemnly tendering that advice, my respect for their capacity—

Mr. J. Griffiths

I am sure the hon. and learned Member will not mind my clearing up this point. Long before I became a Minister, when speaking for my party in this matter, I took precisely the same view as I now take.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. C. Davies

I am much obliged, but will the right hon. Gentleman also realise that although he had very great experience of administration in South Wales, this is the first occasion on which he has sat on the Treasury Bench at the head of a great State Department? Against his view, and the advice which must be tendered to him now, I would prefer the longer experience of two people who really initiated this work, in 1911, Sir William Beveridge and the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter). If I remember rightly, the Senior Burgess for Oxford University was the head of the Department dealing with the approved societies and got the whole thing into shape. During the Second Reading Debate, he said he agreed that not all friendly societies could be brought into the scheme, but that certain of them could and should be brought in. That is what is now being proposed. It is suggested that not all, but such as the Minister would select, should be brought in.

Surely when the Minister had advice of that kind tendered to him, the matter ought to have been debated, not merely across the Floor of the House, but between those who say they cannot be brought in, and the friendly societies who say they can and should be brought in. Such a thing has not been done. On the other hand, what has happened is that the Minister himself turns to the friendly societies and asks them to help him to steer this ship out of port, to begin its voyage for the benefit of the people. He says "Come and work your passage—not right across so that you will be part of the scheme, but work it for a time, and then I will drop you." Surely it would have been better to say" Come and help me to work the passage right across." These are old mariners who have had a longer experience than either the Minister or I in regard to this matter, an experience of a century and more of how to deal with this human problem. But the Minister says, "I cannot do it. It will make my scheme untidy; it will not be uniform, it will not be compact."

It will not be less compact it these people are brought in. Already, under the Minister's own scheme, there are three offices through which benefits can be paid—his own office, the Post Office and the employment exchange. In the Committee the Minister said that it would be paid in three ways. People could have persons calling upon them, but he did not want to press that, because certain people do not like too many visitors of that kind. The money could be sent to them through the post, or they could call on the officers. What is the objection to doing this through the old friendly society which has looked after them in the past, which they know and understand and which contains fellow workers whom they know by their Christian names or by some pet name? But the Minister says, "No, I must have this done in this particular way."

I should not have thought he would raise the question of administration on to a higher level than the question of principle. May I put to him the real principle which is involved here? Whenever a State scheme is introduced, is the voluntary system then to be entirely ignored and left out, or can it still render some assistance? We have started on a great programme of social reform by legislation. A great number of things have been done which I consider should have been done long ago; much more has still to be done. But are we now to give a warning to all voluntary associations in this country that as these matters come forward, the moment the State comes in, then it is "Good-bye, we have no further use for you "? Suppose, perchance, a national wages scheme is introduced in this country; will the trade unions receive the same cursory "Goodbye" as the friendly societies are now getting under this Bill; or will the Minister responsible turn to them and say, ' You have done excellent work in regard to wages in the past. Now come and help me to work the national wages scheme "?

Voluntary associations cannot be expected to be completely tidy. They have been a slow growth, fostered by the people of this country. They are like our common law, of which we are immensely proud—elastic and ready to meet new needs as they arise and so much better than a code which has been put upon the people from above. It is not tidy, like the Code Napoleon, but it is far more ready to meet new situations that arise. The same is true of trade unions and friendly societies. They will not be so tidy and compact as something designed in a Whitehall office, but they will be nearer the needs and hearts of the British people.

I turn to the other point of principle. I regard the giving of my pledged word to anyone as placing upon me a sacred obligation to carry out that word, whether it is given by word of mouth, or in a document, whether it is given under oath or in some other way. My word is my bond. My word was given to the people who trust me, to whom I had to give, as had other Members in their own constituencies, an account of my stewardship and of my hopes during the General Election. This point was put to me and I answered it, as I am sure all candidates answered it, after due attention. Am I now to say that I gave my word thought, or without realisation, or am I to say what an hon. Member opposite horrified me last night by saying—that he would prefer to break his word rather than turn out the Government? I would prefer to turn out any Government, however great, rather than go back on my word. I say so with all the sincerity that is in me.

May I make a suggestion to the Government? Hon. Members on their side of the House are put in an awkward position. I was very sorry for, and sympathised with, the mover and seconder of this new Clause last night. I have myself on many occasions had to take a view different from that of the Front Bench. It is not comfortable or easy; it does not make one popular with one's fellows. Those two hon. Members performed their task extraordinarily well, and with deep sincerity. Other hon. Members are in a difficulty. Do not let this be made a mere Treasury Bench matter. May I appeal to the Government to throw this open to the House; let there be a free vote upon this matter? I say to them, "You ought not to constrain any man against his will in any circumstances. Do not constrain him to go back on the word he has given to his constituents. Let him exercise his own free will and his own free vote tonight. What have you to fear? You will gather greater strength by doing it."

My feeling is that this is only a point of administration so far as the Government are concerned, but that there are also two points of principle. One is whether, within the State scheme, use can be made of the voluntary organisations which have done such excellent work in the past. The other is the sanctity of one's pledged word. I urge the Government not to make it more awkward for those who want to support them, who wish to help them to go on to the other great things they want to achieve. This scheme is only part of the much bigger tasks that are coming. This scheme will break unless there is full employment. I say to the Government, "You desire and we desire to conquer want, squalor and disease. Do not make our position more difficult on a mere point of administration."It would be far better if the Government said that this was a matter which they would leave to the free will of the House. The House has never lacked courage when its own freedom and the position of its Members were at stake. Let Members exercise a free vote tonight.

Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)

I listened to last night's Debate with great interest, and today I have listened with great interest to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). I say quite frankly that when a pledge is given at a particular time, and circumstances change after it has been given, those who have given it are entitled to alter their opinion, if they think that to be in the best interests of the whole community and not in the interests of a minority. I met no deputations; I had no questions addressed to my platforms. I received a letter, which I signed, in accordance with what I thought at that time could be fulfilled. Many things have happened since which have made me change my mind, and I shall face my electorate courageously and honestly, and tell them the reasons why I have done so. In 26 years' experience as a trade union leader, in the case of many of the aspirations I have intended to fulfil, after meeting the employers I have had to change my ground, in order to keep the men in employment, or to try to ease their particular demands at that particular time. Therefore, I am courageous enough today to tell the House quite frankly the reasons why I have changed my mind. It is because of my past experience in connection with these matters.

Under this Bill, there are to be one card, one stamp and one administration. I ask those who have argued in favour of this new Clause how they propose to allocate the one card for stamp purposes between the unemployment side and the friendly society side? It is easy to do that today when the unemployment card is separate from the national health insurance card. But if a man is sick, or is unemployed, who is to have his card under the new arrangements? But who is to determine what number of stamps he has on the card in relation to his benefit? And will (the applicant have to run between the Ministry's office and the friendly society's office to see what his stamp position will be under this new scheme?

5.0 p.m.

What is the position, under the present scheme, of a sickness case who goes on to unemployment benefit? If a man has been off sick, and is then declared fit for work and is unemployed, he gets Form 221 at the employment exchange. That form gives him his last three days of sickness as his waiting days on coming directly on to unemployment benefit. The man has to go to the employment exchange to get Form 221, then he goes to the approved society secretary to verify it—it may be half a mile or a mile, he may need to go on a bus—and then he has to go back to the exchange. Time and labour have been spent on trying to get his three waiting days. Under this scheme, with one social security service, there will be direct contact between the local area office and the employment exchange, and when the man presents his card there will be no running about to get Form 221 because one office will deal with it and the man will go on to benefit immediately.

There is another matter. If a man has been on compensation and was off work, say, in the month of October of last year, he gets his arrears card in October of this year. The ordinary working man is not an encyclopaedia of dates when he has been off work. He has to go to the doctor, and perhaps pay for a doctor's note. He has then to go to his approved society and put it in, to get his arrears abolished for the week during which he was on compensation. These are facts and there is no one in the House who can deny them. Under the single social security scheme, at the local area office they know when a man has been on compensation. They have tabulated his dates and there is no arrears card to look for. There is no running to the doctor, it is an automatic change from one department to the other, in which the man has no running about at all.

We recently passed a Measure in this House—it is now in another place— known as the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill. Under that Bill a benefit is paid to a man who has had successive accidents. If a man has a right to compensation for his first accident and sustains a second, that man has to choose whether he will take his compensation payment plus sickness benefit, or whether he will take the £2 5s. 0d. under the Injuries Insurance Bill, whichever is the higher. If the man elects to take his sickness pay because he is likely to get compensation, what will he have to do under the scheme that has been suggested? He will have to go to his approved society secretary for his sick pay and then to the Government local area office for his compensation. He will have to go to two places which may be a mile apart. I see some hon. Members shaking their heads, but there can be no argument put against it. If two separate organisations are to deal with it a man who has had two successive accidents will have to go to two places to receive his weekly income.

Let us take, again, the case of a man who is on light rate. He falls sick, and again he has to go to two places, when under the Bill as suggested by the Minister there is only the one office with which he will have to deal. There is another side to it. Under the present Act if a man suffers an accident and the employers contest his claim for compensation and refuse to pay, nearly all the friendly societies refuse to pay sickness benefit until the case has been decided. The result is that in the past such men have had to go to the public assistance committee in order to live. At the end of the period, when his case has been decided—it may be two or three months later—whatever he has had from the guardians is paid back out of his compensation. if compensation is paid, and if he loses the compensation the guardians must be reimbursed out of his sickness pay. What will happen under the scheme suggested by the Minister? If the case is contested the Minister is bound to pay the man his sickness pay, saving him wending his weary way in front of boards of guardians, who determine whether he shall live or not.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam(Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)

Surely all these matters were known to the hon. Member before he gave his pledge?

Mr. Blyton

When I gave the pledge the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act was not then an Act. It has become one since I came in last year.

Mr. House (St. Pancras, North)

The hon. Member will be aware that under that Act an injured person has not only to go to his friendly society, but he has to go to the public insurance office, and in those circumstances, it is three directions in which he has to go.

Mr. Blyton

He has so many directions under the present Act, but they will be entirely eliminated under the scheme proposed by the Minister. What happens in relation to pensions? An applicant has to get a pink form on which he puts the name of the approved society and his branch and number. When the form goes to Blackpool there has to be correspondence between the approved society and the Ministry to test the applicant's record. That will be eliminated by the new scheme and administrative costs will be saved.

Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)

The hon. Member seems to be arguing as if this new Clause would affect the method by which people who are not members of approved societies would get their benefit. This Clause only refers to members of friendly societies. If a member of a friendly society drawing benefits from his society is entitled also to State benefit, surely it is infinitely more convenient for him to draw the two parts of his benefit through the same institution, and other persons are not in any way affected.

Mr. Blyton

It is impossible even for a member of a friendly society to do any other than the way I have illustrated. If a man is a member of a friendly society and is on compensation, he will have to go to the area officer under the Ministry and then to his approved society secretary for his sickness pay. He still has to go to two places.

Mr. Goodrich (Hackney, North)

Even under the Minister's own scheme, he will first have to go to the local office and then to the area office, and I suggest that there is no difference.

Mr. Blyton

When he goes to the local office the job is finished, as far as the actual man is concerned. Some 28,000,000 people are to be brought in under this insurance scheme, 8,000,000 of whom are members of approved societies, but there are not 8,000,000 who are members of the friendly societies for sickness benefit. It is well known that many miners' sons and daughters who never went near the pit were members of the Miners' Provident Fund Approved Society, and it is that which gave them their huge membership. So that if we halve this figure and give the friendly societies a membership of about 4,000,000. that is the matter involved in the figures I am now placing before the House.

I should be the first to agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that friendly societies have done very useful work. They have carried on something that ought to have been a State obligation many years ago. Now we are reaching the position in which the State is recognising its obligations, and the question that arises is, Who is to conduct the work? A very important question which I wish to ask hon. Members is, Why are the private insurance companies so very quiet in this agitation? My suspicion is that they hope, if the friendly 'societies get through, to be able to get through also, and to establish approved societies under the scheme.

Mr. Goodrih

Is it suggested that the Labour Party in this House shall again go against the memorandum that was sent out from Transport House stating very definitely that in no circumstances would the industrial societies be included in the scheme?

Mr. Blyton

I am not suggesting that. I am suggesting that once the friendly societies come in we could not keep the private insurance companies out, if we were to be fair [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If hon. Members say "No," may I ask the reason for the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) putting forward his Amendment, in which he wants to bring them all in? On top of that, I would point out that the co-operative and trade union approved societies have said that they are prepared voluntarily to go out of existence in the interests of a State scheme as suggested by the Minister. The trade unions and the cooperatives make up a very big bulk of approved society membership. Reference has been made to equal benefits. It cannot be denied that many friendly societies would not touch with a barge pole occupations of a hazardous character. As a member of a miners' approved society, which I still am, I have paid subscriptions week after week; because of the high incidence of sickness among miners we only received 15s. a week, if we were sick, while the friendly societies were able to give dental treatment and other treatment and £1 a week sickness benefit. I am very pleased that the Bill will bring this unequal situation to an end.

Now a word about sick visiting. My father was a sick visitor many years ago for the Free Gardeners. He was a secretary of their friendly society. Sick visitations in origin were—and let us not be mealy mouthed about the matter—to protect the funds of the friendly societies. Their rules were quite plain. If a person on benefit was out of his house after eight o'clock at night the benefit was stopped. I hope that if a man on benefit under the Bill goes out for a glass of beer after eight o'clock my right hon. Friend will not stop his benefit. That was the origin I have spent all my life among the working class and I know that they do not like people coming to their houses, knocking on their doors to see them and give them their 15s. or 16s. a week. When I was a trade union official I preferred people to come to my door rather than that I should go and torment them by knocking at their doors. I believe the idea of the sick visitor being the link between the home and the society is very far fetched.

I finish as I began. I have changed my outlook. I have given my reasons and I shall face the reaction, if there be any, in my constituency. I say to my colleagues on these benches: "For Heaven's sake, do not abstain. That is cowardice. If you have changed your opinion, go into the Lobby with the Minister. If you feel that you cannot change, go into the Lobby against him."I feel sure, in view of the conclusions which I have reached, that I am acting in the best interests of all the people.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Oliver Poole (Oswestry)

I support the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) to include all the approved societies and not only those of the friendly societies. I was very surprised at the speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) suggesting that this is only a matter of administration. I hope that in the colder light of today, compared with the heated atmosphere of last night, this problem will be properly considered. There is a very great deal in what was said by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) that if the friendly societies are included we must logically include the other approved societies. That is a logical point of view.

There are 21,000,000 people covered by the approved societies. If there has to be some agency to assist in the administration of this scheme it is obvious that they cannot be only the friendly societies. I am trying to make my position clear. If we cannot have all the approved societies, I would rather have the friendly societies than none at all. The real crux of the matter is whether the administration that the Minister is to set up will be more efficient and cheap and more what the people want than the machinery now in existence. On that test alone this matter will be decided.

A great deal has been said on this point on the Second Reading and in Committee, and representations have been made to the Minister. I do not intend to weary the House by repeating it all. We must be clear, before we reject the Amendment, exactly what it means. Every Amendment, every Clause, resolves itself into a question of administration—the self-employed person's sickness benefit, for example. The most important and vital question is: How is the scheme to be administered? The Minister says he can in two years set up an organisation to train people and to administer the scheme that will be more efficient and humane than the system which the approved societies have built UP in 35 years. He may be right in thinking that he can. He cannot deny that that is the need with which we are faced, and I am bound to confess that I am extremely doubtful whether he will be able to do it.

I think the Minister will have very great difficulty in getting the people he wants. When we discussed the question of compensation, the right hon. Gentleman said he thought he could provide employment for all the ex-insurance agents I quite agree, but I think he will find that he will get only the second best insurance agents, because the best will remain with the life societies, and continue to do their work under the life offices. It is a matter of opinion, but I think it is obvious that a vast number of the best men will not leave the life offices. The question of the difficulty of using the approved societies can be considered only in the light of the difficulties the Minister will have in administering the scheme. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring rightly referred to the difficulty of administering the scheme with only one stamp. The hon. Member has much greater knowledge of this than I have, but I feel that in any scheme which the right hon. Gentleman sets up, he will have great difficulty in administering sickness benefit and unemployment benefit with only one card and one stamp. That, however, remains to be seen.

The great objection which the Minister will put forward to using the approved societies will be that this is a compulsory scheme. He will say that it is not a voluntary scheme, but a compulsory scheme into which everybody has got to come, and that, therefore, he cannot delegate the responsibility for administration. That is entirely right. But all that we suggest in this very broad Clause is that the right hon. Gentleman should leave the way open to using the approved societies' organisation in any way that he likes, without delegating responsibility to them, in order to enable him to conduct the administration of the scheme. The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring said how very significant it was that the industrial approved societies had not been engaged in the same clamour as the friendly societies. I do not wish to misrepresent what the hon. Member said, but I think it is very remarkable that, simply because a group of officials or employees of the societies have not gone round the country stirring up enormous feeling, as has been done by the friendly societies, that should lay them open to adverse criticism in the House. I think everybody will agree that during the last 35 years the industrial life offices have done, through their approved societies, great work in administering the National Health Scheme. They are ready to continue to do so. The fact that they have not made great agitation should not be a cause for adverse criticism of them. I ask the Minister, at this late stage, to reconsider his position. If he cannot do so, I ask him to tell us how he intends to administer this scheme in the transitional period, and to what extent he intends to use the approved societies during that period; I ask him also to give us more details of how he intends to set up his own organisation and from where he intends to get the people he wants. If he rejects the new Clause, we are entitled to a full answer on those points today.

Sir Arthur Salter (Oxford University)

I had not intended to speak in this Debate, since I expressed my views on this matter in the Second Reading Debate, and made a proposal very similar to that which is now under discussion. The principal reason I rise now is that an interjection by the Minister seems to me to have thrown an important new light on our problem. Until this afternoon, I had assumed that the Minister, on coming into office, had been so overwhelmingly advised that the friendly societies could not be used, that he felt compelled to depart from the promises of which we have heard so much; but he has now told us that already, before he came into office, he took this line, so that it was when he, the future Minister, was holding the view which he has now expressed that the contrary promises were given and policies announced. In view of his statement, we need no longer assume, as I had previously been compelled to assume, that the whole of the advice that he has received since be came into office was against his use of the friendly societies.

Even when I made that assumption, I felt rather reluctant to accept the advice which I assumed had been given to him as being necessarily decisive. In view of the opinion of Sir William Beveridge, who has had enormous experience in this matter and was advised, when he wrote his report, by very able officials, and in view of my own experience of the approved societies at the time of the first National Insurance Act, I could not see why the Minister was obliged to take the line he was taking. Now that we have no longer to assume that he has had any such overwhelming advice overcoming his original intention, and he has told us that he has put into effect in office the intention he had before he came into office, I feel very much confirmed in the line taken by those who have advocated this proposal.

Where do we now stand? We are not asking the Minister to utilise all the friendly societies. We are not asking him to employ friendly societies under unreasonable conditions, without prescribing arrangements that he finds to be practicable and convenient. The Clause under discussion is not mandatory, but permissive. In all these circumstances, would it not really be a very much more honourable course for the Government to accept a permissive arrangement of this kind, and then, in the months ahead, to consider what friendly societies can be brought in, with advantage both to their own members and to the scheme as a whole, while still retaining the normal system for dealing with the benefits of all those members who cannot be conveniently arranged in that way. I appeal to the Minister, and to many of his supporters who are not only anxious about pledges that have been given, but are seriously concerned in a decision of such importance to the great friendly societies of this country, to reconsider the proposal that is now before the House.

Mr. Proctor (Eccles)

I support the new Clause. We are considering a very serious matter. I have listened to the whole of the Debate on it, and I have yet to hear any valid reason why this new Clause could not be accepted. The National Insurance Scheme is a very great Measure, and I am sure that the names of all those associated with bringing it into operation will live in the history of this country. I want also to say that the organisations that have played some part in educating the people of this country up to the present stage are worthy of some consideration. Those organisations are the trade unions and the friendly societies. The trade unions have voluntarily given up any claim that they had to administer this Bill. The friendly societies are pleading; that they shall form a part of the administration. Let it be remembered that this problem was referred to a very able committee of investigation, that recommendations were made upon it, and that one recommendation which I am very sorry the Government have not proceeded with—the one proposal that might have settled the whole matter—was that the State should take over the whole of industrial insurance. That would have completed the job. I believe that it is still the duty of the Government to take over the whole of the industrial insurance in this country, to employ the whole of the staff, to rationalise the friendly societies, and to put the whole thing on a sound basis. That is the proper solution of this problem.

5.30 p.m.

I turn to the fact that the Government have decided that they could not do this. They have shut out the profit making societies and the friendly societies. We cannot escape the fact that during the General Election this thing was placed in front of us. We were asked: If elected to Parliament will you support the friendly societies' claim to be retained as responsible agents of the Government in the new scheme of national insurance administration and sickness benefit? To that questionnaire, I answered, Yes."I answered fortified, as I thought, by the support of the head office of my party. We have all to make our own judgment upon it. Let every man say that no man must break his word. That is the suggestion which for some extraordinary reason is put forward with great eloquence by hon. Members opposite. It is a new suggestion to come from that side of the House. I look back over the years and think what a pity it is that that was not carried out. There would have been no Munich, no war, no breaking of our word to Czechoslovakia and the other nations. We can go back further than that. There would have been no strike in 1926, no unemployment, and none of the terrible things from which we have suffered, if only hon. Members opposite had kept the Election promises which they gave to the people. It seems very strange to hear a lecture on broken promises from hon. Members opposite. I take the view that every man must answer for himself. Every man is the custodian of his own conscience in this matter.

It is not right for me to stand on a platform and say, "I promise you this, or that "To a section of the community, and then to come here and attempt to carry out that promise if I am convinced that it is wrong in the national interest. I have to be convinced that it is wrong. On this issue I am not so convinced; I am convinced that it is right. It is right for me to carry out that pledge and to appeal to the Government to accept this Clause, and to review this matter and to look into the thing very carefully. There is no Member of this House whom I hold in higher esteem than the Minister of National Insurance. I believe he is perfectly honest in the advice which he is tendering to the House of Commons. Every Member must weigh very carefully the advice which he gives. I appeal to him to have another look at this. After all, we do not come to the House of Commons simply to sit down and to follow this or that Whip. We come here to express an opinion, and, if possible. to influence the Government in the direction in which we want them to go. The Minister has suggested that there are three ways in which this scheme might be administered. He has accepted three means—through the Post Office, by a visiting officer, or by a social security office. I submit that he can easily work in the friendly societies without com- plicating his accountancy or experiencing any great difficulties in administration.

I ask him in all sincerity to look at this problem very carefully. Much has been said in this Debate by the representatives of the workers about the differentiation in benefit. No one has said more on that topic outside this House than I have myself. That is not an issue this afternoon. There is no question of any hon. Member asking the Government to pay a different set of benefits as between one person and another. All the statements which have been made on that point are entirely extraneous to the subject under discussion. This is purely a question of administration. When I have visited a house carrying benefit to a member, I have never had any experience that he felt resentment when he saw me. My only difficulty was to get away in order to carry on my other work. I do not think an argument that there will be resentment because someone visits a house is valid. I believe that if this Clause is carried and the Government review their scheme they will find they can easily bring in the friendly societies in order to carry out this administrative job. If a man falls sick and he is in a friendly society it pays him a substantial sum as sickness benefit. He is the only person that we are asking should come within the orbit of the friendly societies.

Is there anything beyond the administrative genius of the British race to say that one officer cannot do two jobs? This must be looked at from a national point of view. Could not the friendly society man do the two jobs? From an economic point of view, I would point out that the Minister sends two people to a house. Quite candidly, I believe that we could settle this thing amicably by adopting this Clause. I do not think the scheme would suffer seriously. It is not an easy task to stand up and say what I have said. I have said it only as a result of the most careful consideration and thought. As some of my hon. Friends know, I would have much preferred to have dealt with this in another way elsewhere; but when I approached the Minister of National Insurance he said, "It is for the House of Commons."I must play my part in the House of Commons, because there is no other way in which I can express my opinion and carry out my responsibility. I appeal to the Minister most sincerely. This is a permissive Clause. I do not want to hide behind that and throw the responsibility on to the Minister. If the House passes this Clause, there will be a heavy responsibility on the Minister to carry it into effect if he possibly can.

Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)

The issues which come before the House of Commons divide themselves into three categories—the practical, the political, and the moral. From time to time, a question comes to us which involves all three. It seems to me that we are dealing with such a question today. There is involved in this, first, the practical issue. Is it desirable and workable to bring the friendly societies into the administration of this scheme? That is the practical issue. Secondly, there is the issue of whether we ought to be restrained from voting on what we conceive to be the merits of this case by reference to the effect of that vote on the fate of the Government. Thirdly, there is the issue of how far the elected representatives of the people are at liberty to go back, at the behest of the Government, on pledges made by them to their constituents. I should like to say a few words on each of those three issues.

So far as the first and practical one is concerned, we have to ask whether it is desirable and workable to bring the friendly societies in. I think that, first, it is desirable, and, secondly, that it is practicable. I think that it is desirable, and not merely to preserve the friendly societies, although the mover of the new Clause, in a compelling speech yesterday, indeed made out a very good case on merits for preserving the friendly societies. There is, indeed, a considerable case, because they are a peculiarly English institution, they have a great history, and they have done good work for the people of this country. But I think the real reason is even deeper than that, and it is this. Every time we extend the functions of the State, we must take ever greater precautions to ensure that, at the point of contact between the State and the individual, we have something warm and personal, and not something cold and official. I know the poor folk of this country, and I know that you cannot put a poor man or woman from a back street into a big public building, looking across a table at a public servant, without putting him or her immediately at a disadvantage He imagines the State to be a vast mechanism which is largely inimical to him, and, in any case, coldly impersonal towards him.

He feels about the State as I feel whenever I see a policeman. Whenever I see a policeman—[Laughter.]—I never believe it is necessary to be solemn in order to be serious, and I do not want to be unduly solemn now, but, whenever I see a policeman, I wonder what I have done, even though I know I have not. That is a relic of my boyhood days, when, if a policeman came down the street, it meant trouble for somebody. It meant either that Mr. Whitehead at No. 53 had been drunk and disorderly and had been run in, or that somebody was being summoned for rate arrears, or that the boys at No. 33 had been up to their tricks again. It always signified trouble, and, immediately I see a "copper," This impression of my youth springs in my bosom, and I wonder what I have done, even though I know I have not.

I am not arguing against the State taking over this job. I am a strong supporter of the Bill, I think it will mark a milestone of tremendous significance in the development of social security in Britain, and I envy the Minister the great privilege of being able to introduce this Bill. On the Bill, he has my full support and heartiest commendation. But, every time we are compelled by the necessities of life to expand the fields of the State, we must take the utmost care that, at the point of contact between the State and the individual, we have the most human, the least impersonal, and the warmest and least official contact that we can possibly devise. So the answer to the first question is "Yes. It is desirable."

Next, I ask "Is it practicable?" Sir William Beveridge says it is. The Senior Burgess for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) says it is. And I say it is. These three alone would be enough for me, but, presumably, there are 196 other hon. Members of this House who also hold it to be practicable and workable, otherwise they would not have signed the pledge which we are now discussing. There are enough brains in the public service—brains which have solved vastly more difficult problems than this one, such as problems connected with many of the war operations—to find a way of solving this problem.

5.45 p.m.

The second issue is political. I hold that, whenever we go into the Lobbies of this House, although we vote on hundreds of things during the year, under our present set-up we actually only vote on one thing all the time, and that is whether the Government should stay or go. We are never free to vote on the merits of a case, because, if the Government are defeated on some minor aspect of some minor Bill, which may be only one of hundreds of Bills dealt with in the course of a Parliament, the Government have been defeated and, according to our tradition, must resign. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."'] Governments have been defeated in this House on comparatively minor things, and have had to go out in consequence. [Interruption.] I agree that there have been others. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Education Bill."] Well, they were beaten by one vote in a Coalition Parliament and under abnormal wartime circumstances. We ought not willingly to accept that tradition that the Government has got to go merely because it is beaten upon one aspect of its policy. I think the Government should only be dismissed by a straightforward Motion of Censure by this House, and, if that were the case, we would have freedom to vote on the merits of all other issues that come before the House, without feeling that we are throwing out a Government which many of us want to sustain in existence. That is the political issue, and there are bad boys on both sides. Every Government has retained that set-up because it gives the best disciplinary weapon for ensuring that hon. Members go into the desired Lobby.

Sir A. Salter

May I suggest that, supposing the Government were beaten on this issue, they would not be obliged to resign? They would certainly take the view of the House as to their general confidence and remain in office.

Mr. Bowles (Nuneaton)

Surely, it is only on a Motion of lack of confidence or on a denial of Supply that a Government is constitutionally bound to resign?

Mr. Brown

I am either right or wrong, and, in either event, I am right. If it be the case that the Government would not have to go out, then everybody will be free to vote according to his conscience. If it be the case that it would have to resign, we would have to ask ourselves how much longer we are to be subjected to political blackmail, from whatever quarter it comes. So whether I am right or wrong on that, I am right.

The third issue is the moral issue. [Interruption.] I never mind interruptions, but I do like them to be audible; otherwise, it cramps my style in replying to them. I come now, I say, to the third issue, the moral one, and, to my way of thinking, this is the simple fundamental issue. If a man gives a pledge to another man, or body of men, he is in honour bound to carry out that pledge, unless it is physically impossible for him to do so. If it becomes physically impossible for him to do so, then he is bound to try to seek release from the obligation. But there are two things which he is not entitled to do. One is to deny the obligation, and the second is to misrepresent the character of the obligation. These two things are excluded, in my submission, from an honest man's conspectus of his duty in carrying out the pledge. Any man who does not observe these fundamentals, and who votes for what he knows to be wrong or against what he knows to be right, does three things. Firstly, he dies a little in his own soul every time he does it. Secondly, he hurts even the party he is trying to help. And, thirdly, he does deep damage to the prospects of Parliamentary democracy in Britain, and to the faith of the common people in the word of their representatives. He does those three things when he votes against his conscience.

Mr. Tiffany (Peterborough)

May I ask the hon. Member whether that morality applied in the case of the 1929 Government?

Mr. Brown

I cannot speak for all the hon. Members in that Parliament, but I can speak for my part in it, and older hon. Members in this House will know what I said in the 1929 Parliament. I spoke and voted as I thought right, and got into some considerable spots of trouble because I did so. It might almost be said that I was permanently "on the carpet," until I decided to get out on to the " lino." I know that the Minister will not take anything that I have said as being directed against himself personally. I admire him, and think he is doing a great work. I approve his Bill, but, on this issue, I think he is wrong, and I must vote against him, although, as I have said, I hope he will not regard that as anything personal. There is enough bitterness in politics to admit of a little kindness now and again. If hon. Members think that I have established the three points which I have tried to make this afternoon, I urge them to go solidly into the Lobby in support of the new Clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for North Hackney (Mr. Goodrich).

Mr. Dairies (East Ham, North)

During the few minutes that I intend to speak, I want to try to bring this Debate back to the fundamental question of administration. I must confess that when I listened to the Debate last night, I felt that it was a prolonged session of soul saving which was in progress rather than a serious discussion of what is still fundamentally an administrative problem. The reference of the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) to the Minister seemed to convey to me that it was due to the Minister having made up his mind that this situation has arisen. I wan*, to call the attention of hon. Members on the other side of the House to the fact that this question was not only dealt with in the Beveridge Report, but was also exhaustively dealt with in the Coalition White Paper. I have searched through the Debates of that period and I cannot find that any of the hon. Members who have had so much to say in this Debate raised their voices in protest against the decisions made during that period.

Mr. O. Poole

If the hon. Member will refer to the proceedings in Committee, he will see there a speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) relating the Coalition White Paper to the Amendment.

Mr. Daines

I think there is some truth in that, as far as the Committee is concerned, but I am dealing with the White Paper. The logical case—and I put this particularly to my own colleagues—from the standpoint of administration, has been put by the hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Raikes) and the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Poole). This is the case the Minister will have to face if there is to be a redirection of policy. The major criticism I have to offer against that scheme, as well as against the friendly society scheme, is that if we continue to operate the approved society scheme it means, of necessity, that the operation of this great scheme of insurance is going to be continued as a sideshow to other existing insurances. That is fundamentally what has happened so far as insurance offices are concerned and it will happen in the case of friendly societies.

I listened with great interest to the moral exhortation which came from the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and the impression he conveyed to me, judging it purely on what he said, was that the Government propose to abolish, or take steps to abolish, the friendly societies themselves. There is no suggestion at all that the future or the actual existence of the friendly societies is at stake. It is rather difficult, judging from the Amendment, to know exactly what is proposed in the friendly society scheme. Is it proposed that the present set up should continue and that 200 friendly societies should operate in one small town? I am told by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Clause that they have a rationalised scheme which gets over that difficulty. Let us examine, point by point, what are the actual differences when we reduce it to the case of the friendly societies as against the industrial societies. It is all very well saying that we dislike industrial insurance or the profit motives which are there. The hon. Member for Wavertree can tell the House that in actual fact there is no profit motive in many of the large insurance corporations of this country and that, from the standpoint of effective or non-effective democracy, the same test could be equally applied, for example, to the Liverpool Victoria as to the Hearts of Oak. Take the standpoint of service. Can it really be claimed that the service of the friendly societies was better than that given by the approved societies of the industrial offices? As to the question of additional benefits, while some friendly societies of a highly specialised, selective type can produce a higher rate of benefit, nevertheless, taking an overall picture, there is no substantial difference between the additional benefits of the two.

The main point of objection is that industrial insurance offices have deliberately used their approved society sections for the purpose of securing industrial insur- ance business. That is the argument. Let us apply the facts. I will take the Prudential Assurance Company, which is the most highly organised and, in many ways, the most efficient from the standpoint of expense ratio, of industrial offices and has probably the largest and, I believe, the most efficient approved society in service, in membership, or what you will. It is a fact that, from the standpoint of new business produced in industrial insurance against debit, the Co-operative Insurance Society, which does not operate State business, shows a substantially higher increase. I challenge anybody to disprove that fact. That is evidence which can be obtained quite easily from the handbook of the insurance industry. Where, then, is the argument that the industrial insurance agents of approved societies are using their approved society sections for the purpose of procuring industrial insurance business? I will tell the House quite frankly where the insurance agent really uses it. It is certainly an advantage to an industrial insurance agent when he pays the maternity benefit because he has the advantage of issuing a policy on the baby's life.

6.0 p.m.

If the Government make the mistake of accepting the friendly societies, the industrial insurance offices can take the objections point by point, and can say that under this head the Bill will prevent life assurance being issued on the children on the occasion of maternity claims. There is no logical case, although there may be a case of prejudice, against the approved societies or the industrial offices once we admit the friendly societies in as well. If we let the friendly societies in on this issue, the inevitable consequence will be that we cannot resist the case for letting in the industrial offices either.

I now turn to what is one of the major actuarial objections to this scheme which, I take it, is the proposed rationalised scheme issued by the friendly societies. It is fundamental in an insurance scheme that there must be a continual flow of new entrants into the scheme in order that it shall live. The friendly societies lay down as a condition of membership of their section that the person shall also have voluntary membership as well. Where are the new entrants coming from? The new entrants into the friendly societies scheme, or any other scheme, can only come from the 16 to 18 year olds. The youngster of 16, therefore, faces the position that he has to pay a contribution of 2S. 8d. to the State scheme plus 2d. for industrial insurance. Is it to be imagined that that same youngster will then be prepared to pay 6d., 8d. or 10d., in order to join the voluntary section of the friendly societies? It is all very well for the friendly societies to boast of their rationalised scheme. I submit that it is actuarially quite unsound and one that cannot possibly exist.

My final word is on what I think is the real problem. I say sincerely that the real problem that is shown in this piece of legislation is one which appears right through the whole of the major Bills which this House tackles. It is comparatively easy to force Bills through the Lobby; it is comparatively easy to settle points by debate. The real problem of this Parliament and of this Government is the creation of administration that is human, flexible and efficient. I suggest that the Minister has to absorb into his administration all that is best of the friendly societies' system. From my life time's experience of insurance, I say that it will be a fatal mistake if good administration is sacrificed to cheap political clamour. Now is the day of the new beginning when the new scheme can be truly born.

Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)

I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) that the level of this Debate, which has now gone on for a number of hours, has been exceptionally high. Indeed, I think it is almost always so when there is a subject upon which Members feel deeply and about which they are sincerely perplexed. I ask the Minister to believe that I shall not seek to make any of my observations from the point of view of party advantage, but I shall try to sum up what I believe are the sentiments of a number of Members in all parts of the House. Many of the speeches to which we have listened have been remarkable in their quality, and I hope I shall not unduly embarrass the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Lang) or the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) when I say that I was greatly impressed by their speeches.

No Member in any part of the House denies the importance of the issue which we have to decide tonight. We are here presented with, and the Minister has had to consider anxiously for some months, a human problem affecting the daily lives of many millions of people. We are all agreed that the predominant aim must be the convenience and comfort of those millions. On the one side, we have the Government with the administrative plan —and I agree that it is essentially a problem of administration—neatly perfected with all the virtues of a good administrative plan, and with some of the faults of a neat administrative plan. On the other hand, the House has listened to speeches from hon. Members who have argued that appropriate use could and should be made of the great experience and organisation of our historic friendly societies.

It is not at all surprising that this issue, which involves the individual happiness and future of great domestic institutions, should cut across party lines. Indeed, I think our Parliamentary life would be a good deal poorer if it did not. I say sincerely that I am not insensible of the Minister's difficulties in this matter. He has upon his shoulders the burden of welding together into a new administrative machine the main structures of a number of schemes, which in the past have all been largely independent and have all done good service within their limits. But will he know, as others with administrative experience also know, that in administrative matters paper schemes, however admirably devised, do not always stand up to practical tests? I know that the Minister is anxious, and rightly so, that this new insurance scheme which he has the great good fortune to father, and in which we wish him all success, shall come into force smoothly and swiftly.

Let me say first of all where I believe there is common ground between us all. First, in the administration of the scheme it is agreed that we must seek only for the convenience and comfort of the insured persons, and more especially of those who are sick. Our machinery of administration, therefore, must be efficient in its handling of cases, swift in its payment of benefits, and helpful to the beneficiary in making payments in the way that he or she desires. Second, whatever the future may hold as a result of the vote which the House has to take to- night, we can all join in paying tribute to the services of the friendly societies in the past. On those two points we are agreed. In the last 30 years, through their approved societies, they have helped to build up a system of health insurance which is the envy of many less happy lands, and without their efforts the Minister would not now be in a position to take this new step forward with the same ease and assurance as he is doing today.

I am not sure about the ease at the moment, but that will come later on. Moreover, these friendly societies are far older than National Health Insurance. In some cases for more than a century they have provided a channel of voluntary thrift, carried out through self-governing institutions, and, as we know from hon. Members who have spoken in the last two days, they have been the training ground for democracy, so characteristic of British voluntary institutions. There again we still agree.

I now come to the third point on which I hope we agree. None of us regard this Bill as the last word in providing social security. No national scheme—I do not care how good it is—can completely meet the needs of 28 million contributors. None of us want to see the virtues of thrift entirely supplemented by a compulsory levy. On the contrary, we all wish to see this scheme supplemented by voluntary insurance on the widest possible scale. Therefore, on all these matters I do not think there is any disagreement. Before I pass to the points on which I think we do disagree I want to draw the attention of the House for a moment to the wording of the proposed new Clause, which seems to me to be couched in the widest possible terms. It simply enables the Minister to use the friendly societies as he may consider necessary and desirable. It leaves open to the Minister to have the fullest discussion of the terms and conditions upon which the societies shall be brought into the scheme. I cannot conceive of a Clause more essentially permissive than that. I draw the attention of the House to this point because I think it meets a number of the difficulties which I observe were put forward in the debates in Committee upstairs, difficulties which I have no doubt are in the mind of the Minister.

It is said, for example, as one hon. Member said a while back, that the societies cannot be used as agents because they give unequal benefits for equal contributions. We all know now that in reply to that the societies have already conceded that these unequal benefits for equal contributions must cease; that Government supervision of the administration of public money must be strict, and that financial assets which have arisen from National Health Insurance must be transferred to a central fund. Therefore, that particular difficulty is now a nonexistent difficulty. It has been said by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary upstairs that the number of societies is too large, and that the membership of some of them too scattered.

I am aware, and so is the House, that in respect of that the friendly societies put certain proposals before the Minister, which he found unsatisfactory. I have read the correspondence which passed, and I am bound to say the grounds of his dissatisfaction do not appear to have been altogether clear to the friendly societies, nor, I confess, after reading the correspondence, are they altogether clear to me. It may be that we shall have a little more elucidation on that point when the Minister comes to reply. However that may be on that particular issue, I do not suppose that those proposals of the friendly societies are necessarily the last word.

6.15 p.m.

If that were the only difficulty, I have not the slightest doubt that it could be overcome by patience and good will in negotiation. AH these questions, of the size and the shape of the societies, are clearly matters for detailed discussion. I cannot believe that the Minister would base his objection upon details of that kind.

I think there is no doubt—and I hope I am putting the case fairly—that the Minister's main objection to using the friendly societies is that he feels he will be operating a unified scheme which must. in his view, have a unified administration, united in one central office with a uniform system of local offices. That is what I think he wants. I would say to the Minister, let him not be led away in this by verbal logic which is attractive on paper but does not always give the best service in practice. He is a member of a very distinguished race, whose gifts we humble Englishmen have often admired. I have always thought that the greatest gift of his race was the gift of imagination, and I would have thought that the last inhabitant of these islands who would stand upon rigid administrative correctitude was someone who represented a part of the British Isles made celebrated recently by the right hon. Gentleman the former Member for Caernarvon Boroughs. Let the right hon. Gentleman be true, if I may say so, to his racial traditions and to what I believe are his own instincts, and do not let him be troubled by administrative correctitude, otherwise he will disappoint himself and us.

It is quite obvious that under this new Bill a number of schemes which were formerly separate schemes have to be brought into relation. There is no dispute about that. There will be one card, and there will be one stamp. We agree with that. But because the money is to come in through one channel it does not follow that it should be paid out through only one channel. I do not believe for a moment that the Minister proposes to do that at all. I suppose he will go on paying pensions through the Post Office, as they are being paid today; he will go on paying unemployment benefit through the employment exchanges, as it is being paid today. In fact, for the payment of pensions and unemployment benefit the Minister will use the channels of the existing scheme. Why then, I ask him, cannot he use the existing channel for sickness benefit, too? Why not adapt the existing channels for the payment of new benefits, as, for instance, the death grant? The Minister has never denied that he cannot begin to put the new scheme into operation without the help of the friendly societies. I think that is accepted. It is common ground that we wish voluntary insurance to continue and to prosper. Does the Minister really think that in those conditions he will get the keenest and best officials of the friendly societies at a given date to transfer their services to him?

Surely the Minister cannot reasonably ask the friendly societies to carry out an extensive reorganisation, as they have to do, and an expansion of their work to fit into his administrative plans, if a large part of that work is to disappear within two or three years. If the Minister is prepared, as I understand he is, to ask the friendly societies to administer sickness benefit during the transitional period, why can he not carry on the experiment a little longer? Why not see if these very old and, in every sense of the word, popular institutions can be adapted to the needs of the present day? That, after all, is the usual practice of the British people —English, Welsh and Scots alike. Those are the questions that the Minister, if he will allow me to say so, has to answer and which so far, despite my reading of the Committee stage, do not seem to me to have been satisfactorily answered in the discussions of this Bill. Before I conclude, one word on other and more delicate matters—on the pledges. Here I walk like Agag.

Mr. Bowles

Betore the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, may I ask him if he did not support the Coalition Government's White Paper? Did hi not support the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) in the last Parliament? Why does he come to the conclusion to which he has now come?

Mr. Eden

I am infinitely obliged to the hon. Gentleman. That is the point I have arrived at. Before walking into questions of other people's pledges, I was just going to deal with my own sticky past. It is a good practice, on such occasions, to look behind one first. I am not pretending— and I hope nothing that I have said has pretended—that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of National Insurance has not an immensely difficult administrative problem in this. Of course, he has. There is no dispute whatever about it. [An HON. MEMBER: "What was Conservative policy? "] I was about to tell the House about it. The hon. Gentleman is so anxious to recount my past. I have got it here. Let us look at it, because it is not only the party opposite that issues little bits of instructions at General Election time. I sympathise with something that the right hon. Gentleman said about the flood of questionnaires at Election tune. It is very troublesome. In times gone by I used to find it more vexatious than I do now, when I have achieved the attitude of consigning them to their proper place. One has to watch this matter, and I, therefore, charge myself and my memory as to what we said about this in the Election and of our attitude in the White Paper. I will read two paragraphs which, I think, not un- fairly state the position and the Minister's real problem. Having described the position we say: Another alternative is to use them simply as paying agents. This, also, would involve duplication of administrative arrangements and will present further difficulties, including payments of claims "— I make the right hon. Gentleman a present of all that, and of the next sentence, too: There would obviously be great difficulty in retaining as agents for this purpose those approved societies which are not carried on in conjunction with other activities. Then we go on—and this is the answer that I hope my hon. Friends gave without any slip by any young man: None the less, this is a possibility which, in spite of its disadvantages "— and they are admitted— The Government will be right to examine further, if there is a clear desire by insured persons that they should do so. That is our position, and I do not think it is an unfair or unreasonable position. Curiously enough, it comes extraordinarily near to this Clause. I hardly dare suggest that the hon. Gentleman had a sight of this before he put it down,, but it is close to our own.

Having said something about ourselves, realising the difficulties, I turn now to the pledges in general, with special relation to the decision we have to take tonight. I have been a Member of this House for some few years, and I know it is a difficult business, and a very disagreeable business, to differ at times from one's own colleagues or to take a different view from one's own leaders. It is extremely uncomfortable and altogether disagreeable. But it is an old tradition of this House that those who are Private Members, who do not hold Office, are not committed in the same way as those who sit on the Government Bench. Sometimes, on the Government Bench, one has to make up one's mind whether to agree always with one's Government colleagues, or not. That is also disagreeable. But as a back bencher one is not so rigidly bound to accept the discipline of one's leaders, to the extent that one cannot obey private conscience. This is not new doctrine: it is very good old doctrine. It is one of the features of our life. It is one of the things that has enabled our democratic institutions to meet the sudden changes of a moving world.

There are three courses—and I will try to put them fairly—which seem to me to be open to hon. Members who have given a pledge in respect of this issue. They can, if they think fit, write off the pledge as having been made by mistake, on account of a slip of Transport House, made in the heat of a General Election, by what is called, I think, "an inexperienced young man." Here let me say that no inexperienced young man should have been put into such a position as to enable him to make such a slip. Moreover—and I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me on this—in the same way as a Minister takes full responsibility far any decision of his subordinates and does not even refer to it—I have known Cabinet Ministers come here to the House and take the blame for something they had not done and the House has not known that it had been done by a junior official—I think that, in the same way, if a party sends out documents in a General Election the leaders of the party-have to take responsibility for the documents. I do not think it is fair to talk about the young man. At any rate, I am not interested in him, and I do not think that hoi. Members ought to be interested in him in deciding their vote tonight.

I come to the second course. It will be perfectly fair, I think, for an hon. Member to say, "I gave that view at the time of the General Election—." [An HON. MEMBER: "A promise."] A promise, yes. I am putting it as low as I can. I say that it would be perfectly fair for an hon. Member to say, "I gave that view at the time of the General Election and expressed myself in that way because I thought that it was right; but since then I have heard arguments which were not known to me then, and I am reviewing my position."If hon. Members say that—and I have not heard an awful lot of that—but if that is the line that hon. Members take, then it is their duty to go to their constituents and tell them so and get their verdict on their change of view. That is open to hon. Members, and of those who take that course I should have no complaint. The third course is that, having said something, one should simply stick to it. That is not a bad plan.

One final word to the Minister. Hon. Members talk about the effect on the life of the Government. Of course, I have no control over the life of the Government. It is something that goes on irrespective of anything I say or do. [Interruption.] I thought that would be comforting to hon. Gentlemen. I am not endorsing the request made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery that the Government should take the Whips off tonight. I am not doing that because I think that if I did they would be less likely to be taken off, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman, that if ever there was a case in the life of this present Parliament or, indeed, in the life of many Parliaments, where a Minister should listen to the voice of hon. Members, to the feelings of this House, then this is one of them. All that he is asked to do is to take a Clause into his Bill which gives him a permissive power. He is asked to do it by the House. I think it can truly be said that, if they could freely express their opinion, that is the view of the majority of his own supporters. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I can only express an opinion. Very well, then, I will say, of a large proportion of his own party. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] What did that 199 mean, then? Nothing? Hon. Members cannot have it both ways. Have all the 199 changed their minds? Let us put it this way—I want to get agreement of a large proportion of the right hon. Gentleman's own party as expressed when they appealed to the electorate, and, also, by a considerable proportion of the rest of the House. That is the feeling. The right hon. Gentleman is a democrat. He comes from a country which instinctively believes in democracy. I ask him to accept a democratic verdict, and to accept this Clause tonight.

6.30 p.m.

The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. James Griffiths)

We have had a long and interesting Debate on this very important question. When the matter was considered in Standing Committee, I indicated that I desired to give the fullest opportunity for a full discussion on this matter. We gave two days to this subject, and in the end, by common consent, we felt that the subject had been completely covered, that every point of view had had the fullest opportunity of finding expression, and that we were ready to come to a decision. I am glad that last night and again today we have had a full opportunity to discuss this matter. May I begin by saying something which struck me last night and today in this Debate? Since the Prime Minister gave me the very great privilege of becoming Minister of National Insurance, I have had to pilot a very important Bill, which has now passed its Third Reading and is in another place.—the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill. This Bill is now reaching its final stage. At every stage in the consideration of both these Measures, I have indicated to my colleagues in the House that I regard the spirit and method in which these Bills are administered to be one of the prime considerations which I ought to bear in mind.

Let me, therefore, express my disappointment that when we came to discuss the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill, the administration of which is far more difficult, far more complex, and far more human than this problem, there was an empty House. I leave that without further comment. When we considered that very great Measure we had a very thin House. In this Debate of last last night and today we have had quite a number of speeches, and I join in paying tribute to their sincerity. Last night the Debate became rather irrelevant, all kinds of issues being brought into the discussion, and there was a danger, from which to some extent we have recovered, of seeing this issue clouded and befogged by all kinds of considerations, creating an atmosphere, in which in the full consideration of all the issues involved, the House might have come to a wrong conclusion. It is many years since this question was first discussed in this House, when my great compatriot, to whom reference has been made, and to whose work I pay tribute, admitted the friendly societies into the administration of the first National Health Insurance Act. If what I have read and what I have been told is true, it began with the determination to include them and to exclude everyone else. They half-opened the door, and the door was then pushed wide open, and that system of administering sickness benefits under the National Health Insurance Act by approved societies began.

That system, which has continued ever since, is unfair and inequitable and has now been roundly condemned by every Member in this House, and by everyone outside. Therefore, what we have to do today, is not to consider whether the old system of approved societies in its present form should be continued or not, but what should be the system of administration incorporated in this Bill, and in this very great scheme which will affect vitally the lives and the well being not only of 8,000,000 people who are members of the friendly societies, but all the 28,000,000 people who will become contributors to this scheme, and the millions of men, women and children who will be dependent upon them. Let me say from the outset what I regard as the test in this matter. The test is not what is best for me as Minister, nor what is best or most convenient for my Department, nor is it what is best for the approved societies or the friendly societies. The real test is what is the best kind of administration for the people who will depend upon this administration. I began with that, and it is the test which I have applied all the way through. The real question is what is the best system of administration for the people who will be vitally affected by this scheme.

I began with this consideration, which is very important. The task which confronts me in 1946, is different from the task which confronted my compatriot 30 odd years ago, when he brought forward his scheme which provided sickness benefit, and one or two other allied benefits, for a limited portion of the community. He was able to delegate the whole of the administration of the scheme to the approved societies, and that is where it has remained ever since. I think it will be accepted all round, that this time it will be impossible for me to delegate the whole of the task of administering this scheme to any outside body. I have to create an administrative machine, and the whole administration in order that this scheme shall come into operation. Already, in the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill, I am committed to create machinery of that kind. Therefore, I cannot delegate.

The second question which arises, and is strictly relevant to the discussion, is whether we ought to delegate the administration of part of the benefit for part of the people covered by this scheme. The problem of whether we should admit the friendly societies was given consideration in the context of the new Bill and the new scheme. It was considered first by Sir William Beveridge. In his Report, he came to the conclusion that was essential, in a scheme of this kind, to have one unified system of administration, a single Ministry, a single Department, being an essential corollary for a scheme which abolished all the separate schemes, and brought them into one unified scheme, with one card, one stamp and one contribution. He began by emphasising in his Report that one unified system of administration was essential. Ever since the Report was published, in 1942, I have taken part in every Debate on this question of social insurance. He suggested, in his Report, that we ought to make one exception, and that the exception should be that of the friendly societies. I want to recall to the House that when Sir William Beveridge made that suggestion and that proposal, he did not suggest, neither did he recommend, that friendly societies should be brought in unconditionally. He laid down certain definite conditions to which he attached great importance, and he laid it down that no society which could not meet these conditions should be admitted into the administration of the scheme.

I want to deal with this point in some little detail, because it is relevant to what has been raised by some Members of my own Party, as well as by Members on the other side of the House. I do not want to refer to all the conditions that were laid down by Sir William Beveridge in his Report. I want to refer to two only— the most important. The first was that no friendly society should be invited or permitted to become even an agent for paying the benefits under the new scheme, unless they were able from their own resources, on the voluntary side, to pay substantial sickness benefits. The reason why he laid down that condition was that it was essential for good administration — for correct administration—in order to give the right incentive that no societies should be allowed to pay out public money unless, at the same time, they were using money for which they were themselves responsible. That is the first test. The second test was that no society should be admitted which worked for profit. I began, therefore, to apply the test of the last condition—that no society shall be admitted which works for profit. That means that all the approved societies associated with the insurance companies are excluded on that ground; and that means—and I want the House to realise this—that if you carry this new Clause now, you are telling 9 million members of the approved societies, as from now, that they cannot belong to those societies. Nine million members belong to approved societies associated with insurance companies—and they go out. They will have to come over to this cold State machine, because we will have excluded the societies to which they belong now; because they are approved societies connected with organisations which work for profit.

As to the condition that no society would be admitted unless it paid substantial sickness benefit from its own funds, I have examined that very carefully, and let me tell the House what it means. It will exclude practically all the small approved societies and small friendly societies in this country, which are the only ones which have the human touch to which reference has been made. All that will be left will be the big centralised societies—as remote as any Government machine; sometimes even remoter. In Lancashire, as elsewhere, there are large numbers of these small societies, with local contacts, which have grown up in the areas and out of the conditions of the people themselves; with close associations and friendly contacts, and by that test all the societies go out, because they are small, and because, generally speaking, they are in the old industrial districts, and their membership is drawn from men and women working in arduous industries, whose toil involves a considerable incidence of sickness—-and they are just the kind of society that will fail by the test of being able to pay substantial sickness benefit. The friendly societies which will meet this test have nothing like a membership of eight million. I would put it at no more than five million, if that.

Consequently, in the three or four million that will go out by this test will be included the societies that have, in my view, the closest contact with the people in their homes; and we will be left with only the great centralised societies, many of them without branches, many of them just agents for collecting and paying, with no real contact with the people at all. For those reasons, I came to the conclusion—and the Government came to the conclusion—that we could not accept, either the friendly societies as a whole or accept any outside body as an agency, but we must proceed ourselves to establish our own unified system of administration, which will be essential to the carrying out of this scheme.

We have listened to very interesting speeches in the course of this Debate, and in Committee. That leads me to say that the most interesting speeches from the other side of the House are those that have not been made. (An HON, MEMBER: "We have not had time.") I am obliged to the acting Leader of the Opposition for the speech which he made just now, and its good spirit, good humour and good argument. I was interested to see that he was winding up for the Opposition. We have been considering this Bill for months. We had 16 or 17 days in Committee, since the Second Reading, and right through Committee, and up to an hour or so ago, all the speeches on this Bill that have come from the other side have come from the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) and the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). Why have they stopped now? Because tonight, apparently, and particularly last night, of one of the things which the Opposition had been trying not to discuss in this issue. They think that it is a good stick with which to beat the Labour Government later on. Therefore, they have not asked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden or the right hon. Gentleman the Member far North Leeds to speak.

6.45 p.m.

I am going to refer, first of all, to the consideration that was given to this matter by the Coalition Government and to the conclusions they came to; and I want to ask the House to consider them particularly. I want to direct the attention of the House to the conclusions arrived at by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they had the responsibility which is now in my hands. They have no right, therefore, to speak irresponsibly now when they took another view when they were in office. I want, if I may, to quote from the White Paper submitted to this House of Commons in the Debate in November, 1944, when I sat on the other side of the House—the White Paper on "Social Insurance, Part 1," paragraphs 162 and 165. And I want hon. Members to listen with very great care, not to my words, but the words of the right hon. Gentlemen who are sitting opposite, and who will shortly have to vote. This is what they said in 1944. I begin by quoting from Paragraph 162: The Government fully recognises the value of the services rendered by Approved Societies in the development of the National Health Insurance scheme, and they have given the most careful and sympathetic consideration to the possibility of retaining the services of the Societies in some form in the administration of the new scheme. They have given the matter mature consideration. The Beveridge Report was published in 1942, and the White Paper in 1944—so they have given it two years' consideration. The Debate on the Beveridge Report took place in this House in February, 1943, and the White Paper was issued in the autumn, 1944. So it is not a rash decision. It is a mature decision arrived at after very careful thought. This is the position: In the result, therefore, that they have been reluctantly forced to the conclusion that it is not practicable to retain Approved Societies as agents on any basis, and the only sound course is to administer benefits solely through the Social Insurance Department. I speak with great frankness, on a matter of very great importance. Here, we get a touch of political irresponsibility.

In 1944, we are told on the authority of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the scheme was examined carefully, sympathetically, from every angle, with every desire to help, and the Government arrived at the mature conclusion that it was unsound. They submitted it to the House of Commons, and not only that, but they submitted a Resolution at the same time asking the House to approve the conclusion arrived at. A vote was given in this House of Commons, with right hon. Members opposite voting in favour. I voted for it myself. We talk about pledges and votes. Are hon. Members opposite going to run away from the conclusion of 1944? Look at the conclusion arrived at in the White Paper. The only sound course is to administer benefits solely through the Social Insurance Department. One of the great responsibilities which the Government, the House and I, as Minister, have, is—and I have given anxious thought to it every day, for I am worried about it—that we are asking for increased contributions from all contributors for better benefits. I shall ask workers all over the country, including mine workers, steel workers and farm workers, to contribute 4s. 11d. per week towards this scheme. As a result of the decision arrived at by this House last night in response to my request, I am going to ask the self-employed to pay 6s. 2d. to come in under this scheme. There was great anxiety at first about the size of the contribution by the self-employed, and there was great anxiety that there should be good administration when we ask people to pay such high contributions. Now we are being asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen with him on the Front Bench opposite to tell these men and women who have contributed these high rates that the administration of this money will be done in a way which the House has already condemned as unsound. I put that point quite frankly. These gentlemen cry, "Come and give us your 5s. and 6s., and we propose to entrust the administration of your money to a system which, after careful, sympathetic and wide consideration, we came, to the conclusion was unsound."It should also be remembered that we are asking the employers for increased contributions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on behalf of the nation, will make substantial contributions out of public money towards this scheme. Are we now being asked to entrust the money of the workers and the employers as well as public money to a system which every right hon. Gentleman opposite has condemned as being unsound? I say quite frankly that in this matter that is political irresponsibility which I hope this House will reject.

Time is going on and I should like to make one more observation. I think I am entitled to quote from the Debate which was held in 1944. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the pledge in 1945?"] I am coming to that. I will not run away from it. The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden spoke on 3rd November, 1944, for the Government, for the right hon. Gentlemen who occupy the Front Opposition Bench tonight and for many of my colleagues who sat with him and who are now standing by the 1944 decision. This is what the right hon. Gentleman said: The decision that the services of approved societies should not be used, was reached after that mature consideration promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Debate on the 16th February, 1943. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time was the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). He then feared there was only one answer to the question, ' Could the approved society system be retained in the present form?" And his answer was in the negative. The question is whether we would have been able to fit them in any other way? We have considered this matter from every angle, and the Government are convinced that it is impossible, within the new unified scheme, to use the societies administering … the National Health Insurance … scheme."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1944;.Vol. 404, c. 1118.]

Mr. R. A. Butler: (Saffron Walden)

The right hon. Gentleman might quote me accurately. I said: …within the unified scheme, to use societies administering only the National Health Insurance part of the scheme. I wonder would the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to look later on in the speech, and see what I said at the bottom of column 1120: The real difficulty of' the use of the friendly societies is that we cannot use agents for one aspect of a unified scheme. I adhere to that view I went on to say: What we can do is to give utmost consideration in continuity of policy in continuing the personal touch by the use of as many agents of the friendly societies as we can manage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 1120–1.] The right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to quote me, and I would remind him that when we debated this matter for two days in the Standing Committee, I drew his attention to Appendix II of the White Paper, which he did not quote in his speech, and to Sub-paragraph (5) in Appendix II, which is: If the alternative plan were adopted of allowing societies to be mere paying agents without being responsible…. —which is now all that is suggested and to which my main speech was directed when I spoke in the Coalition Government, because it should not be forgotten that all we are considering now is permissive powers as to the use of these paying agents, and this aspect of the Appendix, published by the Coalition Government, was the basis of a speech which I made in the Committee upstairs without being challenged by the right hon. Gentleman but rather being thanked by him for my contribution. If I might read the whole of the quotation: If the alternative plan were adopted of allowing societies to be mere paying agents, without being responsible for controlling claims, there would be no case for retaining the conditions set out in paragraph 2 above, or for excluding any particular type of society. Those are the very conditions to which the Minister devoted the greater part of his speech.

Mr. Griffiths

I do not object at all, indeed I am very glad to give way to the right hon. Gentleman in order that he might make his point. It is true we considered this matter in a cooler and calmer frame of mind in the Committee, but that was because we did not have in the Committee what we have had for the last two days, an attempt to befoul and befog the issue. We did not there have the attempt made by the Conservative Party to make capital out of this, and it is because of that that I am entitled to quote these things. I will go on quoting: This new plan involves many benefits beside the National Health portion of the scheme. It is, in fact, unified; and what does that mean? It means that there will be a single stamp on a single document, involving unified administration of health, unemployment and pensions, and the scheme for death grant. They are all to be the responsibility of a single Minister. It means the setting up of a register of insured persons and the maintenance of records of contributions. Therefore, it seems clear to us that the central machinery should operate in regard to all benefits, and that one class, that is health, should not be handed over to another agency. In fact, economy and efficiency point to the wisdom of administering all benefits directly through agencies run from a central point."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1944; Vol 404, c. 1118/9.]

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Butler

I did not depart from a word of that in Committee, and I do not depart from it now. What I say is that we want the administration to be central. All we are suggesting is that in view of the situation that has arisen in all parts of the House about the friendly societies the Minister should have permissive power to use the agents of them in a centrally administered and controlled scheme.

Mr. Griffiths

All I will say about a permissive scheme is that, as a Minister, and on behalf of my colleagues, I beg this House not to "pass the buck "In that way. I made up my mind that it was my duty to establish a single unit. My colleagues in the Government and I arrived at that conclusion and it would, therefore, be wrong and dishonest of me to tell the House now to give me permissive power.

What are the reasons which compelled me to arrive at this decision? I did not come to this conclusion because I am unfriendly to the friendly societies, or because I do not appreciate the work they have done, are doing, and will do. The circumstances of my life have thrown me into closer contact with the trade unions than with friendly societies, and I know that the trade unions have done a good job in this respect, that they have a history and traditions equal to those of any friendly society in the country. I speak as a trade unionist with many years' experience, and when I discussed this matter thoroughly with my friends in the trade unions and friendly societies they agreed unanimously to accept the scheme as we have drafted it, and to work for its success. From the beginning, I thought that in this scheme, which is a unified scheme, bringing in virtually the whole of the population, to cover people for almost every kind of adversity, unified administration was essential, not only on the grounds of administrative efficiency, but on the grounds of convenience.

What happens now? I referred, earlier, to the fact that there is now on its way to the Statute Book the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill, which we will have to administer. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown I agreed to hand over, without a murmur or a protest, to the cold State machine, men and women injured in industry. Believe me, the administration of sickness benefit is child's play compared with administering benefit to injured men and women. We decided that the whole administration of industrial insurance should be entrusted to an administration created by the Minister. There will be cases in which there will be dispute as to whether the accident is one for which injury benefit ought to be paid. Because of that dispute the poor chap concerned has to try and get sickness benefit, or public assistance, or both. He is chased about from one place to another. What people want under this new administration is one place, accessible to their home, to which they can go for guidance, for help with their claims, whatever they may be—claims for sickness, injury, widowhood, old age or death. They want to go to a place where a decision will be made quickly, instead of having to go from one place to another, looking for the right person to administer the right benefit.

By our scheme, we propose to establish a network of local offices. I want to make these offices worthy of the great task which lies before them, great community centres to which people can go, staffed, it is true, by people who will become civil servants. On that point, I should bate to think that there was any Member on my side of the House who accepted the view that if a person works for the State he becomes cold and bureaucratic.

Mr. Keeling (Twickenham)

On a point of Order. May I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that the Minister is constantly turning his back on you, which makes it difficult for us to hear him?

Mr. Griffiths

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, if I was in any way discourteous. I am sure no one would charge me with deliberately being discourteous. I was merely turning to my hon. Friends behind me, as I think I was entitled to do. I was referring to the fact that we shall have a unified administration, and a network of local offices, in which men and women will be employed by the State, and I was rejecting the idea that anyone employed by the State will become cold and bureaucratic, will become a "copper," To be feared by the sick, the maimed and the injured. It will be our aim and purpose to establish an administration that will be discriminate—and I emphasise the word, "discriminate." If there is one system of administration that needs to be discriminate, it is what is called, "home service." Home service can be something other than service; it can become the means by which the dignity of a worker is reduced and destroyed. I want the service to be discriminate, to be humane, to arrive at quick decisions, and to be accessible to the people. I believe that that will be the case. If the House votes as I ask it to vote, we shall set about that task. We shall invite he cooperation of the approved societies. In fact, they are now discussing with us how their staffs can be absorbed into the administration of our scheme.

I have thought about this matter long and earnestly, and my colleagues in the Government have also given it their fullest consideration. Since I became a Minister, I have met deputations from all those who are now engaged in this great work. I have met representatives of the friendly societies on many occasions, the last being on Monday night when I met my hon. Friend the Member for North Hackney (Mr. Goodrich) and his colleagues from the National Conference of Friendly Societies. They put a last proposal to me, which I took to my colleagues in the Government. We gave it the fullest consideration, but we rejected it for the same reason that we rejected all other proposals, namely, that it would involve the breaking up of the unity of the scheme— which I regard as one of its essential features. That is why, from the very beginning, I have resisted pressure and, although I do not complain, there has been both pressure and lobbying. I have been asked by hon. Members on all sides of the House to change my view about this and to try to persuade the Government to change theirs. I have been pressed and am still being pressed on many of the provisions in this Bill. I have listened to all the suggestions which have been made and have given them careful consideration, and although I have made changes in the Bill where I could, some I have had reluctantly to refuse to make. There is one thing which I have not changed from the beginning. After listening to the Debate last night and today I am more convinced than ever before that I am doing the right

thing in advising the House, as I am advising it now, not to break up the unity of this scheme but to permit us to build the kind of organisation I want, which we want, and which I am sure is the right one in the interests of the people.

One last word about the pledge. I have never asked any hon. Member in any part of the House, or any colleague, to treat a pledge lightly. I said that in the Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "They should not."] I agree, they should not. What I ask the House to do now is to judge this case on its merits, examine it in the light of the discussion and to give attention and consideration to what I have said, weighing it against what has been said by others. Believe me, my colleagues in the Government and I, with years of experience in this field and of handling administrative problems of this kind, have come to the conclusion that this is the right thing to do. I believe an hon. Member is entitled to change his mind. As a trade union officer, before coming to this House, I did it myself where I was convinced that it was the right thing to do. I did it on the merits of a case, and then said that I had looked at it and was certain that if I did what I had originally promised to do I would be doing the wrong thing for the scheme and the people. I am convinced that that is the choice now and I invite hon. Members on all sides of the House to join us in the Lobby.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The House divided: Ayes, 184; Noes. 279.

Division No. 183. AYES. 7.11 p.m.
Agnew, Cmdr. P. G. Carson, E. Fleming, Sqn.-Ldr. E. L
Allighan, Garry Challen, C. Fletcher, W. (Bury)
Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. Clarke, Col. R. S. Fox, Sqn.-Ldr. Sir G.
Astor, Hon. M. Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G Fraser, Maj. H. C. P. (Stone)
Baldwin, A. E. Conant, Maj. R. J. E. Fraser, Sir I. (Lonsdale)
Barlow, Sir J. Cooper-Key, E. M. Gage, Lt.-Col. C.
Beamish, Maj. T. V. H. Corbett, Lieut.-Col. U. (Ludlow) Gales, Maj. E E.
Beechman, N. A. Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)
Bennett, Sir P. Crowder, Capt. J. F. E Glossop, C. W. H
Birch, Nigel Cuthbert, W. N. Giyn, Sir R.
Boothby, R. Davidson, Viscountess Granville, E. (Eye)
Bossom, A. C Davies, Clement (Montgomery) Gridley, Sir A
Bowen, R. De la Bère, R. Grimston, R. V
Bower, N. Digby, Maj. S. W. Gruffyd, Prof. W. J.
Bracken, Rt. Hon. Brendan Dodds-Parker, A. D. Hannon, Sir P. (Moseley)
Braithwaite, Lt. Comdr. J. G. Donnor, Sqn-Ldr. P. W Hare, Lt.-Col. Hn. J H. (Wdb'ge)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W Drayson, G. B. Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V
Brown, W. J. (Rugby) Drewe, C. Head, Brig. A. H.
Buchan-Hepburn, P. G- T. Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond) Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C
Bullock, Capt. M. Duthie, W. S. Henderson, John (Cathcart)
Burden, T. W. Eccles, D. M. Hinchingbrooke, Viscount
Butler, H. W. (Hackney, S.) Edelman, M. Hollis, M. C.
Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A (S'ffr'n W'ld'n) Eden. Rt. Hon. A. Holmes, Sir J. Stanley (Harwich)
Byers, Lt.-Col. F. Erroll, F. J Hope, Lord J.
Horabin, T. L Manningham-Buller, R. E. Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)
Howard, Hon. A. Marples A. E. Ropner, Col. L.
Hudson, Rt Hon. R. S. (Southport) Marshall, D. (Bodmin) Ross, Sir R,
Hulbert, Wing-Cdr N. J. Marshall, S. H. (Sutton) Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Hurd, A. Maude, J. C. Sanderson Sir F
Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'orgh W.) Medlicott, F. Scott, Lord W.
Hutchison, Col. J. R. (Glasgow, C.) Mellor, Sir J. Shepherd, W S. (Bucklow)
Jarvis, Sir J. Molson, A. H. E. Smith, E. P. (Ashford)
Jeffreys, General Sir G Moore, Lt.-Col. Sir T. Snadden, W. M.
Jennings, R. Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen) Spence, H. R.
Joynson-Hicks, Lt.-Cdr. Hon. L. W Morris-Jones, Sir H. Stanley, Rt. Hon. O
Keeling, E. H. Morrison, Maj. J. G. (Salisbury) Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Kendall, W. D. Mott-Radclyffe, Maj. C. E. Strauss, H. G. (English Universities)
Kenyan, C. Neven-Spence, Sir B Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray)
Lambert, Hon. G. Nicholson, G. Studholme, H. G.
Lancaster, Col. C. G. Nield, B. (Chester) Sutclifle, H.
Langford-Holt, J. Noble, Comdr. A. H. P. Swingier, S.
Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H. Orr-Ewing, I. L. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Lennox-Boyd, A. T. Osborne, C. Teeling, William
Lewis, T. (Southampton) Paget, R, T. Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)
Lindsay, M. (Solihull) Palmer, A. M. F. Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)
Linstead, H. N. Peake, Rt. Hon. O. Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Lipson, D. L. Pickthorn, K Touche, G. C.
Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral) Pitman, I. J. Turton, R. H.
Low, Brig. A. R. W. Poole, O. B. S, (Oswestry) Vane, W. M T.
Lucas, Major Sir J. Prescott, Stanley Wadsworth, G.
Lucas-Tooth, Sir H. Price-White, Lt.-Col. D. Wakefield, Sir W. W.
Lyttelten, Rt. Hon. O. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. Walker-Smith, D.
MacAndrew, Col. Sir C. Proctor, W. T. Ward, Hon. G. R.
MacDonald, Sir M. (Inverness) Raikes, H. V. Watt, Sir G. S. Harvie
Macdonald, Capt. Sir P. (I. of Wight) Ramsay, Maj. S Wheatley, Colonel M. J.
Mackeson, Lt. Col, H. R. Rayner, Brig. R. White, Sir D. (Fareham)
McKie, J. H. (Galloway) Reed, Sir S. (Aylesbury) Williams, C. (Torquay)
Maclay, Hon, J. S. Reid, Rt. Hon. J. S. C. (Hillhead) Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Maclean, Brig. F. H. R (Lancaster) Renton, D. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
MacLeod, Capt. J. Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth) York, C
Macmillan, Rt. Hon. Harold (Bromley) Roberts, H. (Handsworth)
Macpherson, Maj. N. (Dumfries) Roberts, Maj. P. G. (Ecclesall) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Mr. Goodrich and Mr. Lang
Adams, Richard (Balham) Cocks, F. S Gibson, C. W.
Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South) Coldrick, W Gilzean, A.
Allen, Scholefield (Crew[...]) Collick, P. Glanville, J. E. (Consett)
Attewell, H. C Colman, Miss G. M Gooch, E. G.
Attlee, Rt. Hon C R Comyns, Dr L. Gordon-Walker, P. C.
Awbery, S. S. Cook, T F. Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Wakefield)
Ayles, W. H Corbet, Mrs F K. (Camb'well, N.W.) Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)
Ayrton Gould, Mrs. B. Corlett, Dr. J. Greenfell, D. R.
Bacon, Miss A. Cove, W. G. Grey, C. F.
Balfour, A. Crawley, Flt.-Lieut. A. Grierson, E.
Barnes, Rt. Ho A. J. Crossman, R. H. S Griffiths, D. (Rother Valley)
Barstow, P Daggar G. Griffiths, Rt. Hon. J. (Llanelly)
Barton, C Daines, P. Griffiths, Capt. W. D. (Moss Side)
Battley, J. R. Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Guy, W. H.
Bechervaise, A. E Davies Edward (Burslem) Haire, Flt.-Lieut. J. (Wycombe)
Belcher, J. W. Davies, Harold (Leek) Hale, Leslie
Bellenger, F. J. Davies, Haydn (St. Pancras, SW) Hall, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Aberdare)
Benson, G. Deer, G. Hall, W. G. (Coins Valley)
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) de Freitas, Geoffrey Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.
Bevin, Rt. Hon. E. (Wandsw'th, C.) Delargy, Captain H. J Hannan, W. (Maryhill)
Bing, Capt. G. H. C. Diamond, J. Hardman, D. R.
Binns, J. Dobbie, W. Hardy, E. A.
Blackburn, A. R. Dodds, N. N. Harrison, J.
Blenkinsop, Capt. A. Donovan, T. Hastings, Dr. Somerville
Blyton, W. R. Douglas, F. C. R. Henderson, A, (Kingswinford)
Bottomley, A. G. Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich) Holman, P.
Bowdon, Flg.-Offr. H. W. Durbin, E. F M. Holmes, H. E. (Hemsworth)
Bowles, F. G. (Nuneaton) Dye, S. House, G.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'p'l, Exch'ge) Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Hubbard, T.
Braddock, T. (Mitcham) Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty) Hudson, J. H. (Ealing, W.)
Brook, D. (Halifax) Edwards, John (Blackburn) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayr)
Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell) Edwards, N. (Caerphilly) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Brown, George (Belper) Edwards, W. J. (Whitechapel) Hughes, Lt. H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)
Brown, T. J. (Ince) Evans, E. (Lowestoft) Hutchinson, H, L. (Rusholme)
Buchanan, G. Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury) Hynd, H. (Hackney, C.)
Burke, W A. Ewart, R. Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)
Callaghan, James Fairhurst, F. Irving, W. J.
Callaghan, James Farthing, W. J Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Follick, M. Jeger, G. (Winchester)
Champion, A. J Forman, J. C. Jeger, Dr. S. W. (SI. Pancras, SE.)
Chater, D. Foster, W. (Wigan) Jones, A. C. (Shipley)
Chetwynd, Capt. G R Fraser, T. (Hamilton) Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)
C[...]lherow, Dr. R Gaitskell, H. T. N. Keenan, W.
Cluse, W. S Ganl[...]y, Mrs. C. S. Key, C. W.
Cobb, F. A. Gibbins, J.
King, E. M. O'Brien, T. Symonds, Maj. A. L.
Kinghorn, Sqn.- Ldr. E. Oldfield, W. H. Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)
Kinley, J. Oliver, G. H. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Kirby, B. V, Orbach, M. Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)
Lavers, S. Parker, J. Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)
Lawson, Rt, Hon. J. J. Parkin, Fit.-Lieut. B. T Thomas, I. O. (Wrekin)
Lee, F. (Hulme) Pearson, A. Thomas, John R. (Dover)
Lee, Miss J. (Cannock) Peart, Capt. T. F. Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Leonard, W. Perrins, W. Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Ed'b'gh, E.)
Leslie, J. R Platts-Mills, J. F. F. Thorncycroft, H. (Clayton)
Levy, B. W, Popplewell, E. Thurtle, E.
Lindgren, G. S. Porter, E. (Warrington) Tiffany, S.
Lindsay, K. M. (Comb'd Eng. Univ.) Price, M. Philips Titterington, M. F
Lipton, Lt.-Col. M. Pritt, D. N. Tolley, L.
Logan, D. G. Pursey, Cmdr. H. Tomlinson, Rt. Hon. G
Lyne, A. W. Ranger, J. Ungoed-Thomas, L.
McEntee, V. La T Reid, T. (Swindon) Usborne, Henry
McGhee, H. G. Richards, R. Vernon, Maj. W. F.
McGovern, J. Ridealgh, Mrs. M. Viant, S. P.
Hack, J. D. Robens, A. Walkden, E.
McKay, J. (Wallsend) Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire) Walker, G. H.
McKinlay, A. S. Robertson, J. J. (Berwick) Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)
McLeavy, F Royle, C. Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)
Macsherson, T. (Romford) Sargood, R. Warbey, W. N.
Mallalieu, J. P. W. Scollan, T Watson, W. M.
Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping) Scott-Elliot, W. Wells, P. L. (Faversham)
Marquand, H. A. Shackleton, Wing-Cdr. E. A. A. Wells, W. T. (Walsall)
Marshall, F. (Brightside) Sharp, Lt.-Col. G. M. Westwood, Rt. Hon. J
Martin, J. H. Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes) White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)
Mayhew, C. P Shawcross, Sir H. (St. Helens) Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.
Medland, H. M. Shurmer, P. Wigg, Col. G. E.
Middleton, Mrs. L. Silverman, J. (Erdington) Wilkes, Maj. L.
Mikardo, lan Silverman, S. S. (Nelson) Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)
Mitchison, Maj. G. R. Simmons, C. J. Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)
Monslow, W. Skeffington, A. M. Williams, J. L. (Kelvingrove)
Montague, F. Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.) Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Morgan, Dr. H. B. Smith, S. H. (Hull, S.W.) Williams, W. R. (Heston)
Morley, R. Smith, T. (Normanton) Williamson, T.
Morris, Li.-Col. H. (Sheffield, C.) Snow, Capt. J. W. Wills, Mrs. E. A.
Morrison, Rt Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.) Solley, L. J. Wilmot, Rt. Hon. J
Mort, D. L. Sorensen, R. W. Wise, Major F. J
Moyle, A. Soskice, Maj. Sir F Woodburn, A.
Mulvey, A Sparks, J. A. Woods, G. S.
Murray, J.D Stamford, W Yates, V. F.
Nally, W. Steele, T. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Naylor, T. E. Stephen, C. Younger, Hon. Kenneth
Neal, H. (Claycross) Stewert, Capt. Michael (Fulham, E.) Zilliacus, K.
Niohol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.) Stokas, R. R.
Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford) Strachey, J. TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Noel-Buxton, Lady Stubbs, A. E Mr. Joseph Henderson and
Mr. Collindridge

Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.

  1. CLAUSE 12.—(Exhaustion of and requalification for benefit) 20,765 words, 1 division
  2. cc671-2
  3. CLAUSE 12.—(Exhaustion of and requalification for benefit.) 472 words
  4. c673
  5. CLAUSE 13.—(Disqualifications and special conditions.) 182 words
  6. cc673-4
  7. CLAUSE 14.—(Maternity grant and attendance allowance.) 382 words
  8. cc674-5
  9. CLAUSE 15.—(Maternity allowance.) 228 words
  10. c675
  11. CLAUSE 16.—(Supplemental provisions as to maternity benefit.) 67 words
  12. cc675-7
  13. CLAUSE 17.—(Widow's benefit.) 995 words
  14. cc677-98
  15. CLAUSE 20.— (Retirement pensions.) 8,654 words