§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 4.4 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. Lindgren)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
In doing so, may I express on behalf of my right hon. Friend and myself our deep appreciation of the cooperative spirit shown by every member of Standing Committee A during the progress of the Bill through Committee? As Ministers, we were indeed fortunate to have this help, guidance and critical scrutiny of the Bill by Members with a wide and varied experience of life and an expert knowledge of the field covered by the Bill. This Bill comes before this House for its' Third Reading a better Bill, by reason of the unstinting manner in which Members of the Committee applied themselves to the task of examining it. May I too, on behalf of Standing Committee A, express thanks to the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) for the very able manner in which he presided over the Committee? Firm, but always courteous, always smiling, he gained the confidence of every Member of the Committee. In my very short Parliamentary experience, it has been my good fortune to have the honour and privilege of assisting my right hon. Friend in piloting two very important Measures through the various stages in this House and through Committee. To me, one of the most valuable parts of that very interesting experience has been the progress through Committee and sitting under the chairmanship of two very competent chairmen —the Industrial Injuries Bill with the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr and Bute Northern (Sir C. MacAndrew), and this Bill with the hon. Member for Holland with Boston; as they have given Rulings, put Amendments and collected voices, I have got as near to envy as I think I have ever been.
In reviewing the main changes in the Bill since it left this House after the Second Reading one is immediately reminded of the important improvements made by Members of this House who were 1375 not privileged to be Members of Standing Committee A, those improvements being secured during Report stage. There was the easement and extension of the terms of admission to the scheme of persons employed abroad—a concession gladly given by my right hon. Friend following representations made to me in correspondence by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor).
The income limit for exemption from insurance has been raised from £75 to £104. May I make it quite clear that it is not intended that this exemption shall be granted to Class 1 or regularly employed persons -but only, by regulation, to self-employed and non-employed persons? It is the earnest hope of my right hon. Friend that such exemptions will be few, for with the exemption from contribution goes the exclusion from benefit. It is our hope that a rising standard of life through a rising national income will, in course of time, reduce to negligible proportions the number of persons who wish to claim exemption.
During the Second Reading Debate, in response to demands from all sides of the House that the self-employed should be placed on the same footing as employed persons in regard to sickness benefit, I indicated on behalf of my right hon. Friend that, whilst we could not commit the Government, my right hon. Friend would look favourably upon an Amendment to that end if it were moved in Committee. That undertaking, Mr. Speaker, has been kept to "the full. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who so ably, and with great fairness, led the Opposition in Standing Committee A during the examination of this Bill, claimed it, on the Report stage, to be a victory for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Well, we do not mind. The important fact is that it is a good step forward in the provision of insurance, cover for this class of person. But if credit is to be given, let it go to the proper quarter, to the effective use of representation to this House and of responsible negotiation with the Minister by the National Trade and Kindred Organisations—and with due modesty to my right hon. Friend for being so responsive to the representation of a good cause when it is made to him.
This provision will be approached with a desire to see that the administration 1376 shall protect the insurance fund and the self-employed person. My right hon. Friend has asked me to say that in considering the administration which will be set up to deal with it, he would welcome any representation not only from the National Trade and Kindred Organisations, who have already offered their help, but from any other organisation representative of self-employed persons who would like to cooperate, make suggestions, or enter into negotiations.
May I take this opportunity to try again to correct the fallacy which has, more than once been expressed in this House, in Committee, and even by that great national daily "The Times "That the self-employed contribution is on a less generous basis so far as the Exchequer supplement is concerned than the contribution in respect of the employed person. It is not. The contributions of the two classes, in so far as they relate to the same benefits, are on exactly the same basis. But employed persons are insured additionally against unemployment, and unemployment insurance is financed by contributions of equal thirds from the Exchequer, the employer and the employed person.
By bringing the Exchequer contribution for this insurance into account, and then comparing the total Exchequer contribution in respect of employed persons with that in respect of self-employed persons, without regard to the fact that the self-employed persons are not included for unemployment, the fallacious argument is built up that the self-employed contribution is not built up on an equitable basis. I hope that clears the point which was made during the Report stage by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) and which was emphasised a little later by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden.
Improved provisions for maternity have been made by giving the maternity grant of £4 for each child born at a confinement. I was surprised to learn from the Government actuary that it is anticipated that this concession to " payment by results " would cost £30,000 per annum. The payment of the maternity grant prior to confinement will, I am certain, be appreciated by the mothers-to-be. For widows an easement in the earnings rule has been made and widowed mothers and widows will now be able to earn up to 1377 30s. without any effect upon their pensions. The insurance position of married women was under discussion both in Committee and during the Report stage. May I emphasise the observations of my right hon. Friend when he was replying to the discussion on this point yesterday? This is a national insurance scheme. The actuarial calculations have been on a national basis. One cannot take individuals or groups of individuals and relate individual or group contributions to individual benefits. Particularly is this so from an actuarial point of view in regard to women. May I say once again, emphasising a point I tried to make in Committee, that the retirement pension of 26s. for women at 60 years of age, or the 16s. to wives on the retirement of their husbands, would not actuarially 'be possible but for the fact that women entering insurance at 16 and leaving direct insurance on marriage have—because the period of insurance from 16 to marriage is a " good insurance life "—left in the insurance pool a valuable reserve.
Unemployment and sickness are small and there is no, or very little, claim for maternity benefit. Also, of course, retirement pensions are not claimed. Therefore, on exit from insurance on marriage these women have, in fact, left a very good reserve in the Insurance Fund which goes to contribute to the pension for women, obtainable at 60, of 26s., and of the wife on the retirement of her husband at the age of 65. By the option to married women to come in in their own right or rely on the rights created by their husbands' insurance, we are giving them a very favourable option, for in the main it will only be taken up when it is, from the individual's point of view, likely to show a profit.
Whilst dealing with the actuarial basis of this fund, one might perhaps call attention to the fact that the incidence of adversity to which this Bill gives insurance cover, does not come equally to all sections of the community. Teachers, civil servants, local government employees, and railway clerks are groups of employed persons who do not suffer unemployment, loss of salary through sickness, and even have a guaranteed standard of life when they reach the retirement age. One of the pleasant features of the discussion of this Bill in this House, in Committee, and particularly in the country, is 1378 that those groups of people—privileged persons one might almost call them— have not stressed in any shape or form the privileges they have had until the present time. They have rather expressed their gladness to come into a national insurance scheme and to place their " good " lives at the disposal of the community as a whole in order that a much better financial basis can be given to the national insurance scheme.
Clause 62 was the subject of discussion on Second Reading and of a Division on the Report stage. During the Second Reading Debate both my right hon. Friend and I gave an undertaking that this important Clause would be clarified so as to make it clear beyond peradventure that no finance or other means test could be applied to applicants for extended benefit. That such should be the case was always the firm intention of the Minister and the Government. Ira the light of my right hon. Friend's record in this field, and the consistent and persistent attitude of the Labour and trade union movement on this subject, I must say I was surprised that the intention of the Government was ever in doubt. However, I think it can now be agreed on all sides that the intention of the Clause is clear beyond shadow of doubt.
I almost hesitate to mention friendly societies and approved societies. It is a subject on which there has been honest difference of opinion. We have had long debates—not too long in view of the importance of the subject. All will, I think, agree that the issue has been freely, frankly, and thoroughly examined. A decision of this House has now been taken and may I express the hope, may I make an appeal, that all concerned will now cooperate with my right hon. Friend, and the Department, in the very important, onerous, and difficult preparatory work which has to be completed in order to bring the scheme into operation?' Both the Minister and I have stressed on many occasions our consciousness of the vital importance of the administration. The consultative preparatory work has-already begun in this connection and my right hon. Friend has given me special responsibility. The cooperation we seek has already been evidenced by these consultations and I am certain we shall now go ahead with increased speed and zeal, reach a very satisfactory conclusion and 1379 establish a very satisfactory standard of administration.
Some may say that in this Bill too much is left to the Minister to settle by regulation. This feature of the Bill, however, presents possibilities of flexibility and elasticity, in the field where such features are very necessary. In this respect the Bill is a great experiment. In the approval of this experiment the House has rightly required safeguards. Those safeguards are, first, scrutiny of regulations in draft by an Advisory Committee; the representation of views by all interested parties to the Advisory Committee whilst the regulations are still in draft, and the publication by the Minister of the reports and recommendations of the Advisory Committee on the draft regulations submitted to it, and second, the affirmative Resolution and Prayer procedure of this House, in regard to regulations made by the Minister. The effectiveness of this experiment in legislation will, I am sure, be watched with interest.
Good though this Bill was on its introduction to this House, substantially improved though it is as a result of Parliamentary scrutiny, I would not claim that it is a perfect Bill, but, at least, it is another milestone along the road of social progress in our country. The hope of a new era opening before the British people will become established fact by good will, responsibility and cooperation of all sections of the community with Parliament in giving effect to the opportunities created by this great Measure.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. Butler (Saffron Walden)
We on this side of the House congratulate the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on bringing this Measure to the Third Reading, and I hope that any anxieties the Minister may have exhibited in the anxious task he has had, will now be relieved by my statement that I think he will have a fairly easy day. All good luck to him. The Minister has combined the humanity which derives from his lifelong experience of these matters, with a courtesy in paying attention to the points which we have put before him in so importunate a manner. He now has only to place on this record the culminating achievement of being a great administrator, because the Bill is going to 1380 depend on administration and on the creation of a machine because the machine which will be necessary hardly exists at all at the present time. The Minister will not be in the position of taking over a Government Department already running. which does as it is told. He will now have to prove himself, in the eyes of the country, a man who can administer this Measure, for which he has been responsible in Parliament—and, no doubt, other Measures as well—and I feel that he will be ably assisted by the Parliamentary Secretary, who has just moved the Third Reading of this Bill.
I think we should take pride that the British race has been able, at this time in our history, shortly after the terrible period through which we have all passed together, to show the whole world that we are able to produce a social insurance scheme of this character. This Parliament should congratulate itself on having passed, with, I hope, efficiency and certainly, at the behest of the Government, with rapidity, a Measure of this scope and volume. The hon. Gentleman, in moving the Third Reading, expressed his gratitude to those sections of the population now coming for the first time into an all-in insurance scheme, for bringing, as he said, their " good lives " with them. We welcome that, and look forward not only to an all-in insurance scheme but to an all-in society, in which this Bill will be a feature, just as other Measures— educational, health and others—will take their place in a society in which, if differentiations are to go, ignorance must also go, the ignorance of one section of the community about the lives of the others. I think one of the most salutary features of a Measure of this all-in character is that every section of the population will learn to understand better the trials and difficulties which beset the other sections—trials and difficulties derived not only from want, but, sometimes, from too much plenty. Therefore, I trust that all sections will learn to respect the position of the others, and that we may go forward together as a happier family.
We have heard a great deal, since the early days of that great pioneer Sir William Beveridge, of those words " social security."I have always felt that those words are not very adequate to describe the reform in framing which we are all taking part. The word " security " gives a rather negative im- 1381 pression. I should prefer to call it " social certainty."There should be, at the basis of everyone's life in this country, certainty about certain things, and, upon that certainty, people should be able to build a fuller and better life. I have never taken the view, and we on this side of the House do not take it, that, because a person has certainty over some aspects of his life, he will necessarily sink back into a negative position, undertaking no creative work whatever. It is much wiser to put a basis into the lives of people, so that they may be enabled to have more time to devote to the creative things of life, and to help the country through the difficult times ahead.
The Opposition has attempted to play a constructive role in Committee and throughout the Report stage of this Bill. We guaranteed that this Bill would be brought through the Commons in time to be made the law of the land by the Summer Recess, and I think we have carried out our undertaking without the need for any form of Guillotine or any odious procedure of that sort. I myself always prefer that sort of understanding and that sort of procedure. We have been agreeable to the suggestion, which we have warmly welcomed, that the payment of pensions should take place this autumn. We are in favour of these pensions being paid, indeed, I do not see how it is possible for many old persons to live upon the money they get at present. While the Government have undoubtedly improved upon suggestions made by previous Governments, improvements which are welcomed, there is no doubt that the improvements were necessary, and that it will be necessary for these payments to be made as soon as possible. We on this side want those who are old to have security from worry when they desire to retire. The words " retirement pension " are a great improvement on the previous words, and to draw these benefits at the first possible opportunity will be an important provision. Therefore, we have deliberately hastened rather than delayed the passage of this Measure.
In speaking of the payment of moneys, it is necessary for me to say that we trust that this scheme will not affect the policy adopted by the Government for a general improvement of the standard of living, and that, as a further strengthening of 1382 the British character, people will be encouraged to hard work and enterprise to make possible a standard of living and an economic system in this country which will enable the value of money to be retained. It is of no value to the working classes of this country, who most need these benefits—including retired persons —if, at the moment they are offered an increase in the amount of money, the value of money sinks so that the benefits mean nothing to them. There have been noticeable recently regrettable tendencies towards inflation, and there is no doubt that we are now in a period of rising prices and rising costs. Therefore, I cannot sufficiently stress the need for accompanying this Measure with assurances from the Treasury Bench that every step will be taken to retain the value of money, as we understand it at present, by a wise and provident policy of administering the National Exchequer.
I raised this matter in the Debate on the Second Reading, and I then asked the Government and the Prime Minister, who was present, for a picture of the cost of the services to be borne in general by the Chancellor, including the Defence Services. At that time, I named a figure of something like £1,768 million as being the total charge which would fall upon the Exchequer. In his Budget speech, the Chancellor was good enough to give an answer to this request from the Opposition for a further picture of what the cost of the social services, as a total, would be. He forecast that the social services would come to a sum amounting to some £500 million in 1946–47, rising to some £700 million in 1948–49, and that they would go on rising after that, although more slowly." He forecast the Defence charge as amounting to £1,000 million, comparing it with the late Sir Kingsley Wood's figure of only £500 million as the proper level for Defence Services in times of peace. The Chancellor said:We may not be able to get down as low as that for a long time.…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th April, 1946; Vol. 421, c. 1822.]It looks to me, therefore, if we are to take the Chancellor's words as an accurate type of forecast—as we should—that the burden on the Exchequer may well be over £2,000 million and, thus, considerably above the figure which I mentioned in the Second Reading Debate. The Chancellor, however, has never given—and I do not know whether the 1383 Minister will be able to give it tonight—in relation to what I am saying on the need for economy and a constructive policy in dealing with the national finance, one very important figure which was mentioned by the Lord Privy Seal in his speech on the Second Reading. The Lord Privy Seal said:The truth is, the national cake is not big enough.…It is not enough to provide an adequate subsistence for all our people, and it is not sufficient to provide those opportunities of life arid services which all the people of our country in a democratic community are entitled to enjoy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, nth February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 98.]The figure which the Chancellor and the Government have, so far, not let out, is the estimate of the size of the national cake. If the right hon. Gentleman can give us any indication of that, in relation to the social services expenditure which is going to rise so steeply, we shall be in a much better position to understand what are likely to be the liabilities of this country in taking on such an immense scheme as this. It is important to stress these matters because, on the prudent management of our finances and on the hard work and enterprise of our people, depend absolutely the value of money upon which in turn the success of this scheme itself depends.
I say this in no censorious manner, except that I should have liked to hear a little more from the Chancellor, and I hope we may hear a little more from the right hon. Gentleman. I have been a sinner myself in steeply increasing education costs at a vital time in the history of British education, and I quite understand the necessity for a scheme_ of this sort. What we want to be sure of is that this scheme fits into a picture which is fully understood by the contributor, who is going to pay large sums under this Bill, and who will want to feel that the benefits he gets are stable and not liable to be taken away by a decline in the value of money. Throughout the proceedings on this Bill we have naturally examined the question whether it really is an Insurance Bill. If we look at the Report of the Government Actuary on this Measure— than which few more able documents have been presented to this House—we find that, by the year 1978, more than half of the total sum necessary to finance this scheme will be borne by the Exchequer. Therefore, if we look 50 odd years ahead 1384 we see that it is not, in the literal sense, an insurance scheme; it is a combination of an insurance scheme in which the contributors are asked to pay large sums, indeed larger than some realise, with a scheme towards which the taxpayer will, in 1978, make a very large contribution indeed. In certain countries—I believe in Australia—the social services are financed more directly through taxation, and in that way the contributor achieves his benefits and knows where they are coming from, although we often forget taxation when we are eating, smoking or drinking the articles on which we pay it.
We must leave the Bill and look ahead in order fully to understand the extent to which this is an insurance scheme. In 1978 it is only going to be an insurance scheme to the extent of 50 per cent. I trust, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman will pay attention to the remarks I have made about the need for administering the finances in such a way that we shall be able to afford to pay from the Exchequer the sums necessary to make this scheme work. I feel certain that the contributor will not be able to pay larger sums than those desired under this scheme and, if he is to.pay more as a taxpayer, let him be satisfied that things are prudently managed. The Opposition have tried not to increase the charges, except in some small respects, to which the hon. Gentleman referred when moving the Third Reading. In one respect, we have tried to decrease the charge—in respect of the death grant. We thought it might be possible, in Committee, to reduce the amount of money paid in the death grant, by permitting certain policies which exist to go on and bringing only new entrants into the scheme under a certain age. My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) and others who have helped me as a happy team on this side of the House will no doubt make reference to this and other matters.
It only remains for me to refer, following upon the remarks of the hon. Gentleman, to some of the detailed improvements. We welcome the fact that the self-employed are now to be treated on all fours with others in the scheme. I, who am so frequently inspired by the journal to which the hon. Gentleman referred— this national daily from which we get so much of our inspiration, especially when we are in the wilderness, and which was misled by the calculation of the extent of 1385 the Exchequer grant in relation to the self-employed—fully confess that I and that estimable journal will have to stand corrected. We welcome the fact that the exemption limit has been raised to a certain extent, as also the maternity. grant, and the concession to the widow, that she may earn a little more money before part is taken away.
I do not want to make undue claims for my hon. and right hon. Friends and myself, but it would be straining too much my loyalty to my friends if I did not point out that the initiative in many of these cases lay with us, although we were glad to take help from every side of the Committee and the House. The position of married women has, I think, been left so that it does not satisfy many of them outside this House. The Minister has put forward cogent arguments for carrying on the principle of the Coalition White Paper that a married woman should be entitled to opt whether she will continue in her own insurance, or whether she wishes to insure by right of her husband's insurance. I feel that that is fair. An option is given and the married woman may choose. If she is dependent, like certain married women we all know, she may well choose the one path, and if of an independent type she may choose the other. That is a fair offer. What is not so satisfactory is that we do not know what the Minister has in mind, owing to the fact that the Clause relating to married women is to be operated almost entirely through regulation. There we must reserve our right to make representations when we read the regulations.
There still remains a blurred edge, and that is in regard to the future position of the Assistance Board. I should like to pay a further tribute to the work of that Board, which has gained an estimable reputation throughout the country. We are obliged to accept the Minister's view that he cannot use it for the purpose of paying extended benefit, and it would be idle to go back on that subject now. But I would not like it to be thought in the country that that' implies, or casts any slight on the operation or function of the Assistance Board.
I would like to point my finger at the Minister, if I were permitted to do so, and remind him that he himself will be obliged to use the Assistance Board in cases where extended benefit is not granted by his tribunals, so that he is not escaping the 1386 Assistance Board, as many of his own supporters have pointed out to him far more pungently than I could do. We believe there is a necessity for further legislation to clear up some of these blurred edges, and I believe the Minister has in mind a new Bill relating to assistance and the poor law. I would like to say categorically, that we on this side of the House do not believe in going back to the old poor law system in any respect whatever. We have no intention that those circumstances shall be brought back. We shall look forward to reading the right hon. Gentleman's Bill when it comes forward and offering him the same sort of constructive help as, with some few exceptions, I think we have tried to give from our limited resources on this occasion.
Now for a few words on administration. We still think that Clause 62 is very unwise. We think that the method of using the tribunals as prescribed in Clause 43 is not sensible, because it combines a mixture of judicial and executive functions, which is not likely to be successful. We would have preferred a method in which the Government Departments were more closely brought in, so that expert advice about long term unemployment and the economic situation could be introduced into the administration of this question of extended benefit. I hope this method will work and, while it is true that the Exchequer grants made under Clause 62 will not bring the Fund into disrepute, we trust that lax administration will not mean that Exchequer contributions will bring the National Exchequer and the national finance into disrepute. We do not think the whole administration of that system is properly centralised, nor can we see how the lonely, self-employed man's benefit for sickness during the linking up period, can possibly be made to work, however high his moral character may be, and however much the Minister may have a far seeing eye. If the Minister would give some assurance on that point it would give us satisfaction. The Minister has made a concession about the self-employed man, but that detail of linking it up with the days of unemployment will make the administration of that aspect of the scheme very difficult.
I very much regret that the Minister has not agreed to put in the Statute something about a regular report from the Insurance Advisory Committee. Perhaps 1387 he can give us an assurance that the reports of this committee will be regularly published. I understand that in the Act of 1935 there is no such provision and, therefore, the Minister is carrying on the old practice. I think it would be better if we could be assured by the Minister, in the concluding stages of this Bill, that it is his intention that we and the country shall have full information about how this scheme is working, through reports from this committee. We would also like a statement from the Minister about overlapping benefits. I do not think we have had information on that point, and I hope he may be able to tell us more about the operation of Clause 30.
What I think is most mysterious is how the Minister intends to use friendly and approved societies in the interim period, and then to drop them overboard and start off on his own ship. I understand it is vital to the scheme that these agents shall be used in that interim period. If that is the case, we regret that the Minister has not been able to be a.little more elastic, not about using these approved societies as autonomous financial units, nor about depriving the scheme of that centralised control and unification which it must have, but of using the agents as paying agents' under his scheme. The Minister will not be able to say much more about that here, and I do not know what the future history of this question will be, but we would like to know on the Third Reading of this Bill what interim arrangements there will be for using the friendly and approved societies and for carrying on their administration into the future, and what arrangements there will be for using these agencies if they cannot be used as paying agencies under the scheme.
Here I think it would be appropriate that this House should pay a tribute to the magnificent work done by the approved societies since the Act of 1911. [An HON. MEMBER: " And the friendly societies."] The hon. Gentleman will probably be aware that the expression " approved societies " can be taken to include " friendly societies."I intend that it should be so taken. It is well known that Mr. Lloyd George, as he then was, would not have made his scheme operative had he not called in aid the approved societies. Without them we would not be where we are now, and the 1388 Minister will be hard put to it, through his own agents, to create that same friendly and human atmosphere which has been created by the visits of the agents of those friendly societies to the homes of the people.
We would also like to hear from the Minister, on the administrative question, a statement about the dates for the corning into operation of the various Parts of this Bill. I understand the pensions are to be paid in the autumn. What is the position about the contributions for those pensions? I understand the Measure is to come into force in 1948. Does the right hon. Gentleman propose that any Part should come into force before then? If he expects us to understand the jargon of Clause 73 (4), I am afraid he will be disappointed. It is really incomprehensible. A combination of parentheses, safeguards and modifications, make it almost impossible to understand it. I shall not detain the House by reading it, although I think I would draw a smile, if I did so. I would simply draw it to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and ask him to tell us if he proposes to put into effect any Parts of this Bill before other Parts; whether he proposes to introduce modifications or not; how this scheme will link in with the health scheme and how it will be synchronised with the benefits under the health scheme, and, altogether, to tell us a little more about the happy days when we shall see the results of his Bill.
In moving the Third Reading of this Bill, the Parliamentary Secretary told us, with some satisfaction, that the use of regulations would be an interesting experiment. I can only tell him that we are already kept up sufficiently late at night in this House by this use of regulations. The Advisory Committee is already overburdened and overworked. As the operation of this Bill depends in some 97 places on the use of regulations, as far as I can see, we shall have to sit weekends as well as during the week to deal with them, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has made advance arrangements with the London Passenger Transport Board for the purposes of getting hon. Members home in the early hours of the morning—and, not only us in this Chamber but the staff of the House as well. I trust that we shall hear from the Minister of Transport a less gloomy statement than he gave us yester- 1389 day, and that there will be special workmen's fares for Members of Parliament to go home at an early hour in the morning on specially constructed moving staircases, after dealing with the regulations which the right hon. Gentleman will have to submit to the House on many occasions in the future. He is proving a great friend of the London Passenger Transport Board and a great enemy of the health of many of us in this House.
In conclusion, I would say that we are at the beginning of a new chapter in the history of social insurance which goes back many years in this country. We shall all want to watch the effect of this scheme on the individual character of our people and, I would stress what I said in my opening remarks, it will have the effect of giving them not security, but certainty upon which they can build for themselves better and fuller lives. I trust that it will not, to any great extent, result in a reduction of voluntary savings. There is nothing so satisfactory to character as feeling that one has done something for oneself. The right hon. Gentleman has a heavy responsibility. I think it will depend a great deal upon the operation of this Measure what attitude the individual takes to the State.
As a result of this Measure, will the individual regard the State as a friend or as a machine? Upon that will depend a great deal of the success, not only of the Minister's plans but of the whole happiness of the country in the future. Is this to be a partnership or charter between the individual and the State, in which rights are balanced with duties? I trust the State will not be regarded simply as a universal provider which shells out for the benefit of the individual, but rather as an intimate friend. I trust the State will not be regarded as a target for grumbles, but as a ready help in trouble. With those few words I wish the Bill well on its Third Reading.
§ 4.51 P.m.
§ Mr. Blyton (Houghton-le-Spring)
I feel honoured to take part in this Debate. I congratulate the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary on the magnificent way in which they handled, not only this Bill, but the Industrial Injuries Bill, which was the first of the Bills dealing with security. In August of this year, when this Bill operates for benefits, a lot of people will enjoy the benefit of increased 1390 pensions. As the pensioners are, in the main, working class people, there is no doubt that it will ease their economic situation. It has also been made clear in this Bill that supplementation of pension will still take place. There are many people up and down the country who think that because there is a fixed figure of two guineas for a man and wife, there will be a reduction on the amount they are receiving now. It ought to be made clear that under this Bill supplementation will still take place.
A very important factor is the sickness benefit which will be paid under the Bill. For years our people, when they have been ill, have received 15s. to £1 a week, and have had to supplement that by having to appear before boards of guardians during their periods of sickness. It has meant that at the end of their period of sickness a debt has accrued against them, which has had to be paid to the public assistance committees, or it has necessitated them having to spend their savings. It has also meant that the ratepayers have had to find a certain amount of money in their poor law estimates to meet the incidence of sickness among working class families. The rates to be paid under this Bill will obviate men and women having to return to work before they are better simply because of their economic position. It will clear away the necessity for estimates by local authorities in dealing with sickness. People may now be assured that debts will not accrue against them, and they will not have to go before boards of guardians to enable them to live during their periods of sickness.
Under this Bill it is proposed that for inmates in institutions the Minister shall pay to local authorities the full 26s. I have no objection to that. However, I would ask the Minister to get into touch with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in regard to old people whose families do not want them, or who have no families and find that the eventide of their lives has to be spent in an institution. Their old age pensions of 10s. a week are received by the local authorities—under this Bill they will receive 26s. —and some local authorities give is. or 2s. pocket money to the old people in the institution; there are some authorities who give nothing. As the local authorities are now to get 26s., I would ask the Minister to consider laying down the rule 1391 that these old folks should be given 6s a week pocket money out of that sum, so that they can buy their " baccy " or sweets, or whatever they need in the eventide of their lives, instead of being left as they are now. That would mean that the local authorities would get a 100 per cent, increase and, at the same time, it would bring a little sweetness into the lives of these old people who have to finish their days in institutions.
In Committee I raised the question of " wholly or mainly maintaining,"In relation to dependency. The Minister and myself have discussed this matter. While I am still opposed to the principle of the 50 per cent., which hits the lower income groups of this country very hard, I agree with the Minister that it would not be prudent at this time to alter the mathematical formula in the transitional stage of the development of this Measure. Whereas today widows get 10s. a week, under the Bill they will receive 26s.; therefore, they will not be able to get two benefits in relation to that. Children are to be eliminated, because their amounts are 7s. 6d. to 5s. While I am prepared to accept the Minister's point of view in regard to giving one or two years' administration under the new Bill, I suggest he should abolish what happens now, namely, deducting public money from the amount which the applicant gives to his mother to go into a common pool. I also suggest that in the calculation of an application for a dependant, the applicant's net wages should be taken, thus preventing the cooking of figures which has gone on for years. When a lad paying his mother board and a certain wage went before a court of referees, we always told him that he was to say he gave his mother the lot; if, on the other hand, he gave his mother all his money we always told the court of referees that he never got more than 2s. 6d. or 5s. a week pocket money. We had to do that to so arrange the figures in order to get the lad benefit. It will not cost the Minister a great deal if those two anomalies are excluded in the calculation of " wholly or mainly maintaining " during this period of the operation, and it will render it unnecessary for men to be sly and cute in order to cook the figures to obtain benefit under a particular Section.
In regard to the tribunals, the method of having an employed man, an employer and an independent chairman is that used 1392 at present to determine extended benefit cases with regard to unemployment. With the three sections of contributors, namely, the employed, self-employed and non-employed, it may be, if something is not fixed by regulation, we shall find a self-employed man and an employer will be determining an unemployment case. The result will be that the man will be tried by two employers instead of having an employed representative sitting on the tribunal. I impress that very important point upon the Minister, because it means so much to a working man appearing before a tribunal for extended benefit. Another point in this Bill about which we are pleased is that the pernicious means test has been abolished. No longer will trade union officials have to advise sons and daughters to leave home and go into lodgings so that their fathers and mothers can get unemployment pay. I was a little surprised last week, when the Division was forced after the Minister had given an undertaking that it would be an objective test and not a subjective test in relation to extended benefit. If the test for extended benefit as described by the Minister is to be a definite offer of work, and if the man is to refuse that work after all the available provisions of the Bill have operated to test his case, I consider that this Bill cannot cater for anti-social people. Seeing that we got a definite undertaking from the Minister that the consideration of applications for extended benefit by the tribunals shall be based upon an objective test and not a subjective one, a considerable advance has been.made upon the present position in regard to unemployment pay as we know it today.
Coming to the question of the duplication of benefit I, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), am wondering what the Government will do. In the North, particularly among ex-soldiers, it has been given out that if they have a war pension they will not get their retirement pension under this Measure when they reach the age of retirement. I am pleased to state that the Minister, in a letter to me, has categorically denied that any partial case will be denied the right to a retirement pension, and has said that the present conditions will continue. The important question I would like to ask—and it is a very important one—concerns ex-soldiers 1393 and compensation cases arising under the National Insurance (Industrial. Injuries) Bill. If a man is killed in the pit, or if a soldier dies as a result of wounds received in the last war, and if under the operation of this Bill the dependants of one are entitled to a pension under the Industrial Injuries Bill, and of the other to the full war pension, will they receive their national retirement pension as well when they reach the retiring age? That is a question which ought to be cleared up very quickly, so that we shall know exactly where we stand in relation to the duplication of benefits.
I do not intend to speak at any great length on this, but I do ask the Minister most particularly, in relation to chronic cases on our unemployment lists, to try and rehabilitate those men and get them back into employment. Under the old Unemployment Insurance Acts we have seen sick men, of no use in the labour market and unable to compete with ordinary men for any particular job, have to go to the doctor and get a note to say that they were fit for light work; they have then gone to the employment exchange to sign on because they could not live upon the sickness benefit they were receiving. The result has been that right through the war we could not place those men into any kind of job. The same applies to the men whom industry has discarded with light rate compensation. There are many hundreds of these men whom it is practically impossible to place in industry because of their incapacity. Cannot we do something on a national basis and, if they cannot be rehabilitated, take these hard luck cases over and regard them as permanently sick and of no further use for employment, and pay them in accordance with the benefit schemes of this new Bill?
In conclusion, I hope that the Government will speed the day when they will introduce their new national assistance Bill which will see the end of " Bumble " and " Boodle," and which will give to our people the security to which they are entitled, so that after years of work in producing the wealth of this country they will see their future assured in economic security, as far as this nation can provide it.
§ 5.6 p.m.
Mr. Beeehman (St. Ives)
Having taken advantage of my opportunities of 1394 contributing to the discussions on this Bill in Committee and on Report, I do not wish to weary the House for more than a few moments, but I should like to say that I feel it a privilege to have played a part, however humble, in these discussions, because we have here produced what I feel sure is a great Measure which will be of benefit to countless homes throughout the country. Our discussions, as the Parliamentary Secretary has said, were constructive, and the hon. Gentleman very rightly spoke well of the efforts of everybody concerned They were constructive and went well because this Bill is based upon principles to which all parties in this House assent. The success of the work of the Committee was due to the work done in the past by the Liberal Party in building up social services. I often think that the wide acceptance nowadays by all parties of those beneficial liberal principles accounts, perhaps, in some measure for the smallness of the representation of the Parties concerned.
I also wish to pay my tribute to the Minister. The success of the Committee and of the work in which we were engaged was to a great extent due to the fact that we knew, as I have known for years, that the Minister is one who not only knows a very great deal about these social service questions, but who also has his heart really and sincerely engaged in the welfare of the people The Parliamentary Secretary is a newcomer in these matters, but I would like to say that, perhaps after a little bit of bellicosity here and there, he settled down and became a firm and helpful cobelligerent with us all. Incidentally, may I say how much I welcomed the tribute to the Chairman, whose work was undoubtedly exceptionally good?
The success of this Measure will depend on the labours of the people of this country. What we are providing here is not a gift. I am one of those who think that the financial provision can be made; it will depend upon whether we have as much production as can reasonably be expected in the world as it is now. It is not for me to argue now what measures should be taken to ensure that there is sufficient production to guarantee the success of such a Measure as this. Let the country be clear that what is here provided will be the fruits of their own labour.
1395 The Minister made an appeal just now to friendly and approved societies to help. I take the view that the friendly and approved societies, having made their case, have not been at all unhelpful in their attitude. They have stated, by expressions in this House and outside, that they welcomed the Measure and wished to assist its progress. I therefore hope that the Minister will remember that approved societies of all sorts have shown themselves helpful in that way. I hope also that he will remember the great services they have rendered in the past, and that the industrial insurance offices and friendly societies will have their work to do in the future. I hope he will think of them with due regard to what their position must be. We have been told of the committee on the subject of compensation. I would like to feel more assured than I do that the committee will be representative of all the approved societies. I am not altogether happy about the position, or that those who ought to receive compensation have not been left out.
With regard to the self-employed persons, I greatly welcome the step which the Minister took of reducing the waiting days. That means that the self-employed person is brought in. If the waiting period had been left as it was, to all intents and purposes the self-employed person would have been left out. As regards the actuarial computation, I shall have to accept it from the Parliamentary Secretary that I was behind the times, but I must maintain that the amount of the contribution from the self-employed person is disturbingly high. The Minister has also given us a pledge about the share fishermen. I am not going to ask him whether they are in or out. His word is good enough for me. I understand—no doubt he will correct me if I am wrong —that the unemployment benefit referred to will be dealt with by regulation, and that the Minister will see deputations from communities and districts which are particularly affected- I fully understand that there will have to be certain definitions, and possibly some safeguards.
Finally, the Minister, at a very early stage, was not quite so keen on the home service as I was, but he did make it clear that there is to be a home service. I agree that not everybody wants a home service, but in rural areas and remote 1396 places, the fact that somebody comes to the home with the cash and that help is given in person, is of vital importance. Indeed, if there is not a home service in such cases the scheme will break down. Certificates from doctors have to be considered and claims to be looked at. By the time all that is done and the postal draft is sent, the time will have gone by when the assistance was needed. The Minister will require to have a home service and he will require to have a large number of offices. I ask him to see that those offices, both subordinate and chief, are in the right places.. In the Committee I was rightly told that I was out of order when I began to raise this matter but I shall not be long about it now. I would like to give just one example.
Administration of the West of Cornwall is managed from Bristol in the case of many Departments. I am full of praise for the work done by various Departments in Bristol, but I think it is absurd to imagine that Bristol is the right place from which to manage the detailed work that has to be carried on in the extreme West of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. There are probably other cases of that sort in the country. I ask the Minister to make sure that he has his offices in the right place. His headquarters are to be in Newcastle, and, from what I hear, that plan is working out quite well, although the Minister has his difficulties.
In conclusion, I welcome the Measure because I know that it will relieve many homes from anxiety. I feel sure that a great deal of the disease in this country arises from anxiety, as we realise more and more. Here is a fine example of the way in which the State can help, by laying down sound foundations beneath which homes cannot sink. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) that the foundations of this Measure do not prevent people from engaging in adventures which will carry them forward into interesting, and even thrilling, ways of life.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
We have now reached the Third Reading and final stage of the Bill, in an atmosphere of compromise and good spirits. I am sure that I shall be forgiven if at the outset I pay my tribute, with that of hon. Members on all sides of the House, 1397 to my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance. I was one of those who was rather surprised when he was given this appointment. I knew, as did many other people, of his warmheartedness and great natural ability, by virtue of his having been a miner and having devoted a great deal of his life to problems associated with mine-workers. I wondered, however, whether he could face, without previous notice, the problems associated with this great office and could discharge the immense and onerous duties which would inevitably fall upon him. To our surprise—and this is no reflection upon his natural ability—he has won the admiration of everybody. National insurance is a most complex problem, involving the most intimate functions that a Minister can discharge and going more directly into the hearts and homes of the people than anything else. The Minister has had to deal with many problems, and must have delved deeply into statistics and facts and previous enactments on this great subject. He has acquitted himself with astounding versatility, but nevertheless, has been very pleasing to us all. He owes this great humanity to his earlier training.
I have had the unenviable task in this House of having to defend—perhaps that is the wrong word—insurance agents. Standing almost alone in this House in that respect, I have been the object of much good humoured fun. But nevertheless, I have tried to put the case of these men. without exaggeration and as fairly as possible. There are 65,000 of them, and I think everybody will agree, whatever may be thought about industrial insurance as an industry, that those men have proved very fine citizens, performing their duties unsparingly and carrying out vital functions which have helped to ease greatly the domestic burdens of the population of this country. Naturally, they are very disturbed, and in many cases agitated, about their future, for they see in this Bill—which they support because they believe the good of the community must take precedence over any sectional interest, however important it may be— dangers which might affect their livelihood.
The function of a trade union is to defend the livelihood', the conditions and terms of its members. My union has had a number of misgivings about what might happen under this Bill, particularly on the 1398 question of compensation and the absorption of redundant insurance workers into the new scheme. I have had private conversations about this with the Minister, who has been very kind and understanding; in the Committee I tried, as tactfully as possible, to draw from my right hon. Friend a statement about what he was prepared to do in regard to compensation. His reply was that when the State, by its own action, transfers functions from one body to another, the States accepts liability for absorption or compensation. It is for that reason that there are three or four categories of workers to whom tie Minister is to pay special attention in the matter of absorption.
The first of these categories is, of course, fulltime workers engaged in the business of National Health Insurance. In this connection, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for North Hackney (Mr. Goodrich) will recognise that I have tried to be not unduly controversial, although I could not support him in the very loyal manner in which he conducted a campaign on behalf of the approved societies. The workers of the approved societies have done their work manfully and well over a long period of years, and it is right and proper that due regard should be had to that fact and that they should have priority in absorption. But when we speak of the work of the friendly societies, we must not neglect to remember the work which has been done by the industrial insurance agents in regard to National Health Insurance. It has been done equally well as that of the friendly societies, and it would be unfair, because of the natural anxiety of some hon. Members to preserve the friendly societies, to neglect to pay a tribute to the work of those who did their part in the industrial insurance side of the business. The industrial insurance side has developed so much that at the present time it numbers more members than the purely friendly society side of the business. The insurance agents have rendered to the State and to the people of this country exceptionally fine service, which I think the House will recognise.
The second category is the industrial insurance agents. They are not fulltime workers in approved societies, but many of them depend to a large extent for their livelihood upon approved society work. They have a wide and intimate knowledge of the business. I want to remind my 1399 right hon. Friend that there will be, from the very nature of things, great redundancy in this industry. I know he has not lost sight of that matter, but no harm will be done by repetition at this very late stage. I fail to see how all these 65,000 workers can be fully employed, for the reason that industrial insurance will be faced with State competition at certain points. Industrial insurance will be deprived of a portion of its business by virtue of the compulsory death benefit which has been introduced. Moreover, the fact that 5s. or 6s. a week will be drawn from workers in order to pay for national insurance means that they will have less money to pay for voluntary insurance over and above that amount. There is also the fact that the State can more cheaply provide death benefits than would be possible in the case of companies or societies. The industrial insurance agents are beset with many difficulties of a nature which must adversely affect their business.
That being so, 10,000 or 20,000—I do not want to give any figures that may be regarded as concrete—may be redundant. What are they to do? They will go the Minister, and he may say, " We want something like 20,000 or 30,000 people."I hope that my right hon. Friend will regard these people, in the case of absolute redundancy, as being equally important to those workers of approved societies who will lose their livelihood. Moreover, it should be borne in mind that no man more than the average insurance agent is better fitted, by personal qualifications and experience, to deal with the public. What are those qualities? I remember that, in Committee, the Minister pointed out that he had absolute faith that if the Government took over national insurance in a vigorous and determined manner, people working for the State would do so with the same zeal, enthusiasm and kindly qualities which they show when working for private enterprise. I would go further arid say that they may well be expected to work with greater zeal, because they will be working for a greater cause.
We want to bring more of the spirit of kindness and service into our lives. I am bound to say that, to some extent, kindness has gone out of people Largely because of the privations and difficulties of war, rationing, queueing, and all the 1400 anxieties which are heaped on the heads of the population, there is a lack of courtesy and human understanding I hope that these new State servants, working under the scheme, will help to revive this kindly spirit, and that old people who are looking forward to a home service and closer care—perhaps by virtue of their ignorance of these matters, or through loneliness and isolation and not being able to keep abreast of things—will have courtesy and kindness shown to them. I agree with the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) that there is a great deal to be said for the home service, although it can be over-emphasised; to some extent the home service will provide the soul of the administration of this Bill I hope that it will not be a case of people applying at an office and expecting to be treated in a cursory manner, but that, on the contrary, they will be shown every consideration in attempting to help them in their various difficulties.
I should like to say to the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) that I was amazed at his metamorphosis. The right hon. Gentleman made a splendid speech He has a streamlined brain; he is not only fluent, but generally well informed. I would like indeed to pay a generous, though not a fulsome, tribute to those Members of the Opposition who have seen fit to give us a conditioned measure of support on this Bill. It is true that they have the right to claim a certain amount of credit, although they have played a minor role. Such are the vicissitudes of political fortune. I hope that in future they will earn still more credit by supporting other Bills which the Government may bring forward from time to time. I am happy to think that the many Opposition storms that might have been expected on a Bill of this sort have to some extent subsided, due to the wise generalship on this occasion of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden. If there is anything in the theory of reincarnation, I trust that, since he and I are contemporaries, fate may ordain that we may be on this side of the House in a future Parliament, working for the same ideals. I hope the House will forgive me for that digression. I was taken by surprise.
§ Mr. Mack
Perhaps the introduction of a little diversion of that kind, as long as it is human, may be forgiven. I do not want to trespass on the time available for other hon. Members beyond saying this— that on the question of compensation we did have some difficulty, and the difficulty rested upon the phrase about workers who are "wholly or mainly " dependent upon National Health Insurance income. It is unfortunate in the case of a number of workers. I have here a statement made by my right hon. Friend, who said:I do not accept the principle of compensation, except on the basis that the State pays compensation where it transfers functions by its deliberate action.He also remarked in the same speech:The insurance agent at his best is no more than an insurance agent He has played a very good part."—I agree.There will be vacancies over and above those for whom the commitments in Clause 66 stand, and we shall give consideration to insurance agents for those vacancies, for they have the experience and qualifications which we shall require."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 4th April, 1946; c. 564–5.]I do trust that the staffing committee which will be advising him is not to be a mere adjunct, but something on which he can rely for counsel and experience, and that he will have regard to their recommendations and find some way of dealing specifically with those insurance agents who find themselves excluded, either through redundancy or by virtue of the fact that the Minister cannot take them into the scheme. If he will do that, and can go into the question of compensation, I think he will win the respect and affection of many people. After all, if we on this side of the House can compensate the directors and shareholders of banks, surely there is a case for dealing with these poorer members of the community who are being deprived of their living, or a part of it, through no fault of their own, but because of the necessity of advancing along the line of national insurance. I appeal to the Minister to pay regard to this, and I am confident that we—I am speaking as an ex-insurance agent and on behalf of that body of men—can assure him in return of our loyal service and cooperation which he has a right to expect, and which will be gladly forthcoming when the time arrives.
1402 5.33 p.m.
Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington): On 2nd November, 1944, I made a speech in this House on the Beveridge proposals. On nth February, 1946, on the Second Reading of this Bill I again made a speech in which I uttered very serious notes of warning from a financial point of view about the possibility of this scheme being carried out. I will not repeat these arguments today. They are on record. But it would not be honest of me, having been called on the Third Reading, not lo remind the House of what I said on those previous occasions. I have no regrets whatever. I am convinced that one day what I said then will come true. I know I may be alone today in opposing this Measure, but I am sure that hon. Members on all sides of the House will allow me to speak, because I speak with great sincerity, and I have some knowledge of the matter.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that this Bill is to get its Third Reading at one of the most critical, grim and grave moments in the history of this country. The increase in the freight charges and fares on the railways announced yesterday, the increase in M.Ps.' salaries, and the expenditure through this Bill are all typical instances of the mad rush to inflation which is going on in this country. This Bill is another mile down the inflation road. It is another step up the vicious spiral. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I do ask them to believe that I want to put this point of view very seriously.
During this Debate reference has been made to so many pounds and shillings a week. But what sort of pounds? What are they going to be worth? If this inflationary process goes on, the purchasing power of the £ sterling will go down arid down. I want to put this to the House, not from any political point of view, but as a hard fact—that all this enormous increase of expenditure is inflationary. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) gave us the figures—I hope I quote him rightly —showing that £500 million was the cost of social services now, rising to £700 million in a few years. I would point out that in 1910 expenditure on the social services was £63 million. All this Governmental expenditure, and expenditure from contributions, must come out of industry. It has to be earned. It must 1403 increase the cost of production at a time when we are going cap in hand to America for food and money.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. Member is going very far away from the Bill. We cannot discuss inflation now.
§ Sir W. Smithers
With great respect, I do not know if you were here, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden made a very strong point of this in his speech.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I was not here, but so far as the hon. Gentleman's speech is concerned, he is out of Order.
§ Sir W. Smithers
All I will say, then, is that it is important that the financial policy of the Government should be directed to maintaining the purchasing power of the £ sterling.
If for no other reason, I am against this Bill because of the extinction of the friendly societies and of the splendid home work that they have done. I would ask hon. Members if they have read the leading articles in the " Statist " of the last two or three weeks, because those articles are not written from any party political point of view. They are objective, and I would ask hon. Members to read them. I do ask the Government to tell the people of this country the truth about the difficult situation in which we are placed and how, in many cases, it is not possible to increase expenditure at this critical time. What is the good of a benefit of £100 a week if the money is worthless and if there is nothing to buy? That is a situation to which we are rapidly approaching. [An HON. MEMBER: " Nonsense."]
This Bill is introduced by the Socialist Government as a result of the promises they made at the General Election. It was part of the policy of mass bribery. They made promises and raised hopes which I for one do not believe are capable of fulfilment. The soap box has triumphed—[An HON. MEMBER: " Let us have a clean up."]—and soap box policies have yet to be realised.
§ Sir W. Smithers
This country will be faced with a major disaster if we have a 1404 repetition of the 1931 crisis. I would do anything to help anyone, but I believe that these proposals are brought forward at a most dangerous moment in the history of our country.
§ 5.41 p.m.
Mr. Dairies (East Ham, North)
I hope the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments, which I think the House will realise are peculiarly his own. My reason for intervening in this Debate is to deal with the question of administration, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) rightly said is the most important aspect of this Bill. It is a tradition of this House that Third Reading Debates are occasions for handing out bouquets and saying nice things to the Minister, but for my part I do not look upon this stage as anything more than the beginning of the real problems yet to come. We have taken decisions within the content of the Bill, whereby we have not only to seek the cooperation of existing agencies, but to create an administration. In my view it is not generally recognised how vast and complicated this is going to be.
I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to one of the Clauses in the Bill, which indicates to me a lack of imagination, or of appreciation of the task which lies before us. In Clause 42 we find thatlocal advisory committees shall be composed of local people representative of employers or insured persons, or both.That may have been all right under the old approach to social insurance, where it was a question of the relationship between the employer and the employee. But this Bill, by its comprehensive nature, brings in the whole of the community, and therefore this Clause should have been drafted in terms which encompass the whole of the community. New classes are coming into insurance. We now have shopkeepers and the non-employed, and as a generalisation we can say it covers the whole community. I look upon local committees as representing the whole of the community and not being narrowly confined in their scope. When the Minister gets down to the job of dealing with the local committees and the work they will undertake, I hope that he will bring real imagination and grasp to the problem. I am strongly opposed to over-centralisation in attempt- 1405 ing to administer this scheme. I take the view that we have to bring people close to the scheme, enable them to play a great part in the creation of the service. I have had discussions with the Minister on the question of giving sufficient powers to local committees. I can see the Minister's point of view, and that the same sort of system of transfer, as in the case of the Inland Revenue, may be necessary. But unless we have counter checks, we shall not have the right type of service, and we shall not be able to make the system work. It is not good enough to say that we can go to the Ministry of Labour, and apply the same type of committee which operates in Labour exchanges.
I have taken an active part in public life, and I make no apologies for having been a soap box orator in my early days. I really know my locality, and I have entered into many phases of its life. I confess that I do not know how the local committees of employment exchanges are constituted. Local committees must not be bodies remote from lives of the people. We must show imagination and scope so that they have the widest representation, if we are to get the scheme to work. I ask the Minister to let us know, too, how payments are to be made. We recognise that some of the payments are to be automatic. I want the Minister to tell us something about what appears to me to be a danger in removing so many of our old people from the scope of the Assistance Board. With the right hon. Gentleman the Member for. Saffron Walden, I pay tribute to their work. They have developed a true social service, particularly in regard to the old people. Old age is a most difficult and heartbreaking problem, particularly among the working classes. These very old people have outlived their generation, and the assistance boards have provided them with a living contact with the community that it would be disastrous to lose.
In our discussions on friendly societies we heard a lot about home service, but I prefer personal service in the administration of this scheme. I have tried to picture an ordinary woman, not necessarily from the working class, but someone who is living on restricted means, coming to a great big office for a death claim to be paid out. As far as that type of pay- 1406 ment is concerned, we must pay attention to our methods of approach. We must be prepared to give a personal service, because death is so personal and grief resents the eye of the casual intruder.
This administration is going to absorb great numbers of our people within its ranks. I want to see an administration grow up, based upon the experiences of the past which will give us a live, expanding service. This is a beginning, and in five years' time the Minister will have the duty thrust upon him of a quinquennial valuation, which will indicate the lines to be taken in the future. I look upon this scheme in reality as merely a beginning. I would utter the warning— and I am not being controversial—that if it is to be successful we shall have to devise an expanding service that will bring within it not only the existing scales of benefit, but the whole of the industrial insurance of this country. I have often heard the Lord President of the Council, in dealing with these questions, say that they are decided on lines of what is in the " Public interest."I want to tell him, and other Members of the Government that on these benches there is arising a. school of thought that will not always interpret as being in the " public interest "The nationalisation of derelict and bankrupt industries. For a change we want to see brought within the public service some of the financially successful businesses that can be harnessed to the public need.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowen (Cardigan)
I hope that the Third Reading of this Bill will not be brought to a Division, because it is a Measure which is. in the best Liberal traditions. The Parliamentary Secretary told us that this was an important milestone on the road of social legislation. I should like to remind the House that this is not journey's end. We have still a long way to travel on the road of social reform. This is not the appropriate time to make detailed criticisms or comments on the scheme as a whole. Many of us still think that it has some serious blemishes, but, at least, we cannot complain that we have not had every opportunity to discuss and debate them during the various stages of the Bill. I should like to join in the observations of praise which have been made on the change of position with regard to sickness benefit for the self-employed man. To one who 1407 represents a constituency which has probably as high a proportion of self-employed persons as any other represented in this House, that change is particularly welcome.
The Parliamentary Secretary invited us to state any suggestions we had to offer, with regard to the peculiar position of the self-employed persons. May I accept that invitation? The self-employed persons in the rural areas—the rural craftsmen and people in that category—are going to find that their contributions to this scheme are very heavy. Six shillings and twopence a week are going to mean a great deal to them. They are people—and this is a psychological factor which has, I think, to be taken into consideration— who are going into an insurance scheme for the first time. I respectfully ask the Minister to consider, in the light of his experience, as this scheme is operated, whether it would not be possible to bring in some sliding scale of benefits and contributions for these people. I think that it will be found that the payment of the heavy premium of 6s. 2d. a week will create grave difficulties in the implementation of this scheme in relation to the self-employed. Some sliding scale system of benefits and contributions might well produce successful results.
It has been emphasised by the Minister and by other speakers today that the key to the success or failure of this scheme is effective, sympathetic and efficient administration. There can be no doubt that the scheme deserves the wholehearted cooperation and help of all insured persons, and I think that we, as representing our individual constituencies,, should help to create a proper understanding and attitude towards the scheme by the insured public. It is our duty to do so. Whether the scheme is to have the good will and cooperation of the general public, which it deserves, depends, I suggest, on how the machinery which is to implement this Bill is operated.
Without detaining the House long, may I make one or two suggestions in that direction? I think that if this scheme is to be sympathetically received, it should be operated with the greatest measure of decentralisation consistent with efficiency. I hope that the region which is to be set up in Wales will be given the largest 1408 measure of autonomy possible? If we are to have this scheme implemented by a soulless system of remote control from Newcastle, it is doomed to failure. As a representative of a rural district, I welcome particularly what has been said about the establishment of local security offices, and in particular of local advisory committees. I hope that when this scheme comes to be operated the rural areas will be given generous treatment in regard to the establishment of these offices. Some of these areas are very scattered, and people have to travel very great distances. I hope that when the Minister comes to decide how many offices are to be provided in particular areas, he will do all he can to provide the maximum number in the rural districts.
That incidentally is going to assist him in carrying out his promise in relation to the home service. I hope we are not going to have a number of offices, for example, in my constituency. If there are only going to be offices in the main towns of that constituency the payment of benefits to persons who wished to have a home service would involve the officials in journeys of 40 to 50 miles. Obviously the administrative costs in carrying out something of that kind would be prohibitive. I hope the insured public will be told of their right to a home and personal service.
The Minister is going to have a difficult task in building up administrative machinery, in training the necessary staff and in grouping the necessary machinery. But at least he has the advantage that he can—as I feel he will—see to it that the individual members of the staff will approach all these problems in an intimate and personal manner. A great deal will depend, particularly in rural areas, on the way insured persons are treated by the officials. If they are treated with suspicion as if their claims were, on the face of things, of a dishonest or fraudulent character, the Minister will not get the cooperation which the scheme deserves. I hope that the Minister will get local officers who know and understand their own districts and be in sympathy with the community as a whole. If people of that kind, who are determined to administer this scheme sympathetically, are procured I feel certain that this scheme will receive the blessing, cooperation and good will which it really deserves. I am sure that all of us here, and particularly the fellow 1409 countrymen of the Minister, wish him all success in his great administrative duties. May I say with regard to the Parliamentary Secretary, that his close co-operation with the Minister and his Celtic temperament have been such that we would be glad to issue him with a naturalisation certificate.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mrs. Castle (Blackburn)
Now that we are coming to the end of the more tempestuous stages of this Bill and into the calmer waters of congratulation to the Minister on having brought it safely to harbour, I want to begin by assuring him that as far as I am concerned my congratulations are very genuine and very sincere. I say quite honestly that I think we have here not only a great Bill but a great Minister. Of course, he strayed occasionally from the perfect path of righteousness, and some of us with all kindness tried to lure him back. That docs not alter the fact that he has shown throughout this Measure, and in particular throughout his handling of the discussions on this Measure, a breadth of approach and a humanity which augur very well for the administrative future of this scheme. I agree with the hon. Members who have stressed the importance of the administrative side of this Bill, and I can add to that my belief that there is no other man in this House to whom we could more safely entrust the breathing into the administration of this scheme a spirit of humanity.
I do not want to spoil that nice opening note by raking over old fires, and I do not want to go into some of the details of controversy which have been occupying us, but I just want to glance at what seem to me to be the three major principles behind this Bill. I suggest to the Minister that we are in danger at certain points of not fulfilling those principles. In some cases it may be difficult for the Minister to avoid that, but in others there may still be time. The first principle underlying the scheme, a revolutionary innovation in our insurance system, is its universality, and I know that my right hon. Friend is as concerned as any of us that the scheme should exclude as few people as possible. Some of us had occasion to go to him on the Committee stage, and ask that the income limit for exemption should be raised from 30s. to 1410 £2 a week. We did so reluctantly, but we did so because we felt that those persons who are trying to eke out an existence on the small income of 30s. a week just could not carry the 3s. 8d. We have got to face up to that fact. So we raised the exemption limit, and that means that we are faced with the problem of many thousands of people who, by our doing this, will forfeit the cover of the scheme when they will probably need it more than anyone else. I have always felt about this scheme that, although I support the contributory principle, perhaps we have driven it too far, for there is nothing sacrosanct even in a contributory insurance scheme about the figure fixed for the Exchequer contribution. I should have liked to have seen the proportion of the burden borne by the Exchequer raised and the contributions lowered, in order that we should thereby have been able to include in the scheme more of the people whom we want to have in, but whom we have now to leave to a later measure of National Assistance.
It is also from this point of view that I have regretted some of the provisions about married women, because we do say in this scheme that when a married woman becomes a widow, if she is still in her early years, she should expect to stand on her own feet. Therefore, we are refusing, I think rightly, to say to the married woman that, as a married woman, she is covered by the provisions and by security for the rest of her life. She may have to go back into the labour market, and I feel more should have been done to keep her in the scheme. The second principle which is revolutionary in this scheme, is that benefit should be paid as long as the conditions which gave rise to the need for it last. We have faithfully and completely applied that principle in the case of sickness benefit. It is a very great improvement on the Coalition Government's White Paper scheme for which I congratulate my right hon. Friend. I only deeply regret that I cannot congratulate him on being consistent in also carrying out that principle in relation to unemployment benefit. I do feel that Clause 12 remains the serious blemish on the new principles of this scheme, which I would hope that there might still be time to improve.
1411 The third principle is the principle of subsistence. We have applied this principle in a rough and ready way, to secure that the benefits paid under this scheme should be adequate in themselves to keep a man and his family in healthy existence without recourse to other forms of assistance. That is the principle at which we were aiming, and as my right hon. Friend explained in his Second Reading speech, it was with this intention in mind that he increased the adult scale of benefit under the scheme above that suggested even by Sir William Beveridge.
He did it on the following argument: When Sir William Beveridge suggested that 40s. was adequate benefit for a man and his wife he was taking as his assumption a cost of living figure 25 per cent, above the prewar level. My right hon. Friend has pointed out that the cost of living figure today is nearer 33 per cent, above and, consequently, he has increased his adult rate of benefit to 42s. for a man and his wife. We welcome that improvement but, unfortunately, owing to the way in which children's allowances have to be paid under this scheme, we are faced with the very serious situation that under the provisions of this Bill the more children a man has in his family, the lower he is likely to drop below the subsistence level when he comes on benefit.
I can give the House a few simple examples. A man and his wife and one child, under the Beveridge proposals—and it will be remembered that Sir William Beveridge suggested a family allowance of 8s. for a child, giving 8s. benefit for each child— would get 48s. From my right hon. Friend they will get 49s. 6d., that is, 42s. for the parents and 7s. 6d. for the first child. But if there are two children in the family the allowance, under the Beveridge scale, would be 56s. whereas, under my right hon. Friend's proposals, it is only 54s. 6d. For three children, the Beveridge scale is 64s., and my right hon. Friend's scale is only 59s. 6d. We get a progressive drop in the comparison as we increase the number of children. I know that the reason is not entirely ' under my right hon. Friend's control. It lies in the fact that under the Family Allowances Act an allowance of 5s. per child is payable, and that where that is payable no other benefit can be drawn in respect of the child. The Family Allowances Act applies only to the second child and onwards.
1412 My right hon. Friend has done his best to adjust the balance by making the benefit for the first child 75. 6d., but when that child is added to by others they can draw only 5s. I appreciate that that is outside my right hon. Friend's control in this Bill. But this Bill is only a beginning in the perfecting of our structure of social security, and I urge him to treat as one of his most important priorities the adjustment of this state of affairs. It is clearly inadequate to expect an unemployed or sick man to keep his children on 5s. a week. We have, in this, a complete condemnation of the Coalition Government's Family Allowances Act, which fixes the allowance at only 5s., and then states that that should be paid in lieu of any other benefit which may be drawn when a man is unemployed or sick.
Sir William Beveridge most clearly indicated in his very scientific assessment of a child's needs that even at a cost of living figure only 25 per cent, above the prewar figure a minimum of 9s. a week was needed to maintain that child. He appreciated that children are now drawing a certain amount of subsistence in kind through milk and meals in schools, and he allowed Is. deduction for that, leaving the figure, at 8s. I appreciate that this Government have gone even further in the provision of free milk and meals, which will adjust that figure to some extent, but we have to remember that the cost of living has risen. It is, therefore, condemning the children of the unemployed and the sick to inadequate standards of subsistence to perpetuate for a moment longer than is necessary a Family Allowances Act, which gives them merely a 5s. benefit for every child after the first. I know my right hon. Friend cannot do everything at once, and that his eyes are on the future. I know he will not rest on his oars when this Bill is on the Statute Book. I ask him not to rest while this flaw, this serious danger to the health of children in this country, remains to be remedied.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)
I would like to say a few words about the rural districts. The contribution to be called for from the rural worker will appear to be a high one for them, particularly in the case of many self-employed who have not been in any insurance scheme before, and many of whom have quite small in- 1413 comes. I am aware that below £104 a person may contract out, but there will be a great many people whose earnings are between that figure and,, say, £3 and £4 a week, and who will find the contribution which they have to pay as an employed person, and more so as a self-employed person, a considerable drain on their resources.
Yet I think it is our duty to do our best to persuade these people that it is in their best interests to come into this universal scheme. I would do that with greater assurance if the Minister were to indicate to the House something about the plans he has for making his scheme understood in the rural districts It is a problem enough in the cities and towns, where it is easier to get into touch with people, to have them understand a new and complicated scheme such as this. How much more so in the rural areas. I would like to know that the Government will have these areas well covered by offices to which the people can go for advice, and where their claims will be dealt with quickly, as well, of course, as sympathetically. Much will depend on the way in which the Minister puts across this scheme to the rural workers. I hope he will use every means of doing so. including the B.B.C.
There is one other matter to which I would like to call attention, and to which I would like a reply. Clause 30, Subsection (1, a) places in the Minister's hands very great power to make regulations. Indeed, he may make regulations which may go so far as to render nugatory many of the most valuable provisions in the Bill. He could regulate that a person in receipt of a disability pension might thereby be excluded from receiving sickness benefit, old age pension or any other of the benefits under his Bill. That is a very wide power to give to a Minister, and it is made worse by the inclusion, in line 18 of that Clause, of the words:(excluding an allowance under the Family Allowance Act …The moment you place in a Measure words like that, which limit the power of regulations, it is surely implied that that is the only direction in which you will limit them So, I ask the Minister to give us a most solid assurance that it is not his intention to make regulations which would in any way diminish the benefits which are due to disabled soldiers, sailors, air- 1414 men, and others under the Royal Warrant, Orders in Council, or similar instruments. As I have said, the assurance is all the more needed because of the particular reference in the Bill to the family allowance. I should be out of Order were I to pursue much further matters that are not in the Bill, but perhaps I may ask the House to assent to this principle and to encourage the Minister to tell us that he assents to it also. The principle is that he who pays a full contribution must receive a full benefit. If the Minister assents to this, then he will have made us feel happier that his power to regulate is not going to take away from any disabled soldier the pension he has earned as the result of his wounds or service, and which has nothing whatever to do with this Measure. Can the Minister, on this Third Reading, give us this assurance? I hope he can, and, better still, I hope that at this late stage he may say that in another place he would welcome an Amendment which would make this clear.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)
In speaking on this very important Bill which is; now reaching its conclusion, I would commence by congratulating the Minister upon the method and manner in which he has. piloted this great social reform Measure through this House. Like him, probably, I find that as I stand here my mind goes back some 25 years to the time when I first became associated with the poor law system of this country. I was elected to the old board of guardians and was associated with it during its transition period when it became the public assistance institution and authority. Many cases come back to my mind very vividly as I stand here of the tragedy of the social system which was in operation in this country at that time, and when I longed for the day when I should see a change in the system whereby men and women would be recognised as human beings belonging to a great and mightly country and Empire, and have the rights, freedoms, and privileges which belong to them as citizens of this country.
For too long have we been content to impose upon them untold hardships, man-made through the fault of an inability to understand and appreciate that no man or woman in sickness or during times of unemployment can themselves, in the main, have any control over those 1415 things. Yet in the past, as the result of the operation of this social system, men found themselves, because they were sick, in an uneconomic position which was tragic in the extreme; and if they were sick for long periods they found their wives and families suffering, with a huge bill being built up which they could never hope to pay, simply because they were ill. That is a tragedy which comes back to my mind. I think of those who, in the past, could not afford to be ill. When sickness overtook them they knew perfectly well that they would not only be ill, but that the economic situation in the home would worsen during that time.
Now at last today, after many years and down through many centuries, I feel that we shall give our approval to this Measure because we know it is a Measure of social justice long overdue. I pay my appreciation to hon. Members opposite who have made their contribution to this, although perhaps in some senses and to some degree I have disagreed with things they have suggested. In the matter of sickness benefits I welcome all that has been included in this Measure. If I had any comment to make it would be simply that to my mind the benefits are still small, but I recognise that, as many hon. Members have said, there is no finality about this Measure and that it is only the first step along the road of social progress and one which we shall continue to improve upon as time goes on. I have to accept for the time being the period of time allowed for sickness benefit and the amounts themselves in the very determined hope that very soon we shall improve even upon them.
May I now turn my attention and that of the House to what has been the greatest tragedy of all, that of unemployment? As a member of the poor law assistance committee I have seen men come to that body when they had exhausted their benefit and had been refused further unemployment benefit when they had been unable, again as the result of circumstances over which they had no control, to obtain employment. We have penalised a man or woman because of the system which we have created and maintained and which forced a man into idleness against his will. Because of that system we have given a man what he has regarded as mere charity—and indeed it was and was doled out as such—and he has resented in the 1416 extreme the method in which the country has recognised his services.
This Measure gives benefit to a man as a right, and by virtue of the fact that during the time he is in employment, he will make his contribution. That contribution, as has been said, -is a fairly high contribution, but he will make it as an insurance policy against the time when he is unemployed in the safe and certain knowledge that, if he becomes unemployed again, he will at least receive maintenance which will enable him to keep himself in decency and maintain his status and that of his wife and family. I say in all seriousness that I welcome very much the fact that I have been privileged to be associated with the Government which has introduced this great Measure of social reform. It is only part of a final scheme which has yet to be put into operation, and I congratulate the Minister very heartily upon the manner in which he carried it through because I know he possesses the sympathetic understanding of a man who has passed through the hard school of life and has suffered some of the evils I have related. With that great sympathetic understanding he has endeavoured to introduce into this House and the country a measure of social reform which will, for the time being at any rate, alleviate some of those evils. May it be that before this Parliament comes to an end we shall witness the Minister introducing a further instalment of this Measure which will be final and complete in as much as it will give to our people that sense of justice and equity to which they are rightly entitled.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Major Digby (Dorset, Western)
Like other hon. Members who have had the privilege of participating in the consideration of this Bill from the Second Reading through the Committee stage and Report stage, I take this opportunity of congratulating both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on their success in a very arduous task, on the very conciliatory spirit in which they have piloted this Bill, and also on the very reasonable way in which they have tried to meet the suggestions and Amendments which were put forward.
A great deal has happened to this Bill since it had its Second Reading. We have considered it in very great detail. I feel that at times, perhaps, we have 1417 been a little apt not to see the wood for the trees. Now on the Third Reading it is fitting that we should remember again some of the principles lying behind this Bill which are going to be very important in its administration. The first feature of this Bill is its universality. It is a scheme which will introduce great benefits by using the magic of averages, and there has-been very little disagreement that that is the right principle. To use the phrase of the Parliamentary Secretary, we are going to bring the " good lives "In to the help of the "bad lives."This will be advantageous to the bad lives, but it is also in the interests of the community.
Another principle which should lie behind this Bill is that of simplicity. Once or twice I have wondered whether we were not in danger of departing from that rule, and when the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary were resisting our arguments on the question of friendly societies, I was not sure that they satisfied the principle of simplicity so very well. Certainly it will be an important principle for them to uphold in the administration of this Bill. It follows from this universality and simplicity that the Bill fails to cater for every case. We ' cannot have both simplicity and the means to meet complicated cases. The two simply do not go hand in hand, and that is a point which has to be weighed very carefully in drawing up the regulations and in the actual administration of this Measure when it is on the Statute Book.
I turn to another of the main principles of this Bill which once again, I think, we are a little apt to forget. That is the principle of uniformity of contributions and benefit—the principle that benefits are in no way related to wages. Hon. Members will have noticed that Appendix F to the Beveridge Report points out that of the insurance schemes which are in force in other countries, there are only two based on this principle of uniformity. All other countries have related benefits to the actual wages normally earned. I have no doubt that we were right in continuing along the old lines of uniformity, but it has very serious drawbacks. There are some to whom the contributions will seem high. There are others to whom the benefits will seem small. If I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer aright the other day, benefits are to be taxed, so that those who are used to the higher wages, will feel 1418 this lack of relation between benefits and normal wages more than would otherwise be the case and it will be a very real problem for them.
To take only the case of the self-employed, we have here a very wide range of people used to a very wide range of wages. We have everything from mole catchers, whom we discussed upstairs, to rich industrial magnates, and whereas the contributions which are necessary for the self-employed people will seem very large indeed to the mole catchers, I daresay, the benefits will seem very small to some of those who are more fortunate in the size of their normal income. There is no doubt that here we have possible difficulties in the administration of this scheme. We see when we consider this question of uniformity how very important it is that everything possible should be done to encourage voluntary schemes, and to make it easy for voluntary insurance to go on among those who are used to medium-sized earnings. I hope that when he is drawing up his regulations, the Minister will bear this in mind. I am perfectly certain that he can make voluntary insurance very much easier if he so wishes, as I am sure he will.
I had hoped that we would hear more upstairs about the way in which this scheme was to be administered than was actually the case. So far as I am concerned, the picture is still very incomplete. A great deal of it has to be filled in by regulation. As to what these regulations are to be, in more than one case the Minister has given us a broad hint. There are other cases, however, where we know little or nothing about them. For example, we know very little about the machinery which is to be used during the transitional period. Obviously the transitional period—before the Minister has been able to set up his own staff and his own machinery throughout the country —will be a difficult time. We want to know what kind of structure there will be in place of what is now being done by the approved societies. I hope that, when he winds up this evening, the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us a little more about that. We know that he is choosing—I think probably wisely—a flexible method of payment of benefits, so that people can draw them in several ways. They can go and collect them; they, can apply for somebody to bring the payments to them; or they can receive them through the post. Can the Minister 1419 give us any idea how much each of these three respective ways of distributing benefits is likely to be used? Will it be possible to have the home service in country districts?
That brings me to the question of the national insurance offices which we soon hope to see throughout the countryside. Where are they going to be—in the same towns that now have employment exchanges? Are they going down to the smaller towns? In districts such as my constituency, people are often a very long way—exceeding ten miles—from the nearest town where there is an employment exchange, so that this is an important matter. Will the home service cater for these rural districts, or does the Minister intend to make other provision for them?
I should like to say a word about the retirement problem, which I believe to be a very difficult question. In a new scheme of this kind it is so very difficult, with the best will in the world, to see exactly how it will work out in practice. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am a little worried about this retirement problem. We must strike a balance somehow between the inducement to men not to retire at 65, or women at 60, if they can go on and also the inducement to them, if they have to retire, to undertake casual work. That is a point which the Minister will want to watch very carefully in his regulations.
The importance of preventing inflation, from the point of view of the benefits, has already been stressed. I know that there will be a review of the scheme in five years and that it will be possible to adjust the contributions and benefits, but it is most important if this scheme is to get going, and to work properly, that prices should remain fairly stable. It is not a question of 26s. or 28s. The point is. What will 26s. buy? It cannot be judged on the present cost of living index, which fails to take account of a great many things which we today must regard as necessities for the ordinary families of this country, and it is not fair to consider the cost of living entirely from the point of view of the present index.
May I say what a privilege it has been to be associated with this Measure which is, I am sure, a very great step forward. 1420 As has been rightly said by another hon. Member, we are only at the beginning. We have made a plan; it is for the right hon. Gentleman to carry it out. I am sure he will do so to the best of his ability, but we have many difficulties ahead. It is fortunate that this Measure has gone through with such wide cooperation from all parties, and with such a happy spirit. Nevertheless there there may be points in regard to which all of us have failed to foresee exactly how it will work out, and we shall need a number of qualities when this scheme is put into effect. The officials of the right hon. Gentleman will need a high degree of patience and courtesy. The insured persons will need a high degree of understanding, and a high degree of patience, too. This country as a whole will need a good, healthy, industrial life to make this scheme the success which it should be.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
An hon. Member said a little while ago that he thought Third Reading Debates were designed solely for the exchange of kindly and friendly compliments. I do not believe that. I believe, however, that when compliments have been deserved, they ought to be paid, and I begin by paying my compliments and congratulations to my right hon. Friend on having steered this great Measure, not merely so skilfully, but so quickly, to the stage which it has now reached. It would be difficult to exaggerate the important effect upon the development of our social history that, on the first occasion when the House of Commons—I think largely by common consent—is enacting an epoch-making Measure of social security, there should be in charge of our deliberations a man who knows the problems with which we deal from his own personal experience I think it true to say that there is no problem raised by this Bill now before us of which my right hon. Friend has not had first-hand experience in his personal as well as in his political career. We have had evidence of that at every stage. I need not remind the House that I have not agreed with everything my right hon. Friend has done. But even where I have differed, and differed rather deeply, as my right hon. Friend knows, I have recognised that he has been making an honest approach to a problem which he 1421 understood, and that if he does not agree with me today, he will tomorrow.
Having said that—and my right hon. Friend knows that when I say these things to him, I say them in all sincerity—I wish to make a short contribution to the general Debate. I do not propose to refer again to the many discussions we have had, to the points on which we have differed, or to the points on which we have agreed. I think, however, that a Third Reading Debate can serve another function than conveying the congratulations which are deserved. I think we ought to see what it was that we set out to achieve in this Bill, and how far we have gone towards achieving it. Why is it such an epoch-making Bill? Because it has achieved the first, the basic, objective. For the first time in the social history of this country it has brought all the changes and chances of ordinary life, which have involved so many millions of our countrymen in undeserved adversity, into one general scheme designed to see that when such misfortunes occur, the results are not visited solely upon the unfortunate individual who happens to come nearest to them, but are spread among the community as a whole. The shock is thus borne as a whole, and the unfortunate victim no longer feels deserted by his friends.
An hon. Member opposite hoped that in the administration of the scheme, anyone who claimed benefit would come to feel that the State was his friend, and was not merely neutral. All too often in the past such a victim has felt, and with justification, that the community was his enemy, and that the community's design was to see that it did not share his misfortunes. The great merit of the scheme that we now have before us is that that state of affairs will be for ever at an end. Full social responsibility for poverty caused by social mal-administration or social inadequacy—that is what we have set out to achieve, and we have brought into one scheme children's allowances—although there is a separate Act—sickness benefit, unemployment benefit, and retirement benefit. All are covered by the same social insurance scheme, all paid for in a single contribution, all administered by the same administration, and all belong together, so that the problem is dealt with in a coherent way. Social insurance in the future will never be the "Thing of shreds and patches "That it has been in 1422 the past. That certainly we have achieved.
When we come to consider whether we have actually achieved social security, as distinct from a unified scheme for social security, then I think we cannot be quire so complacent. Many speakers have said that this is only the beginning and not the end. They have gone on to explain that the passing of the Measure is only the beginning, and that we must then go on to administer it. I say to the House that this is only the beginning in quite another sense. People talk sometimes as though by the passing of this Bill we had achieved a social revolution. We certainly have not; we are at the beginning of a social revolution, not at the end of one. We have a long way to go before we achieve freedom from want and adversity.
I have sat through the whole of this Debate and have heard only two references to the actual scales in the Bill. One was by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). She compared the scales adopted by my right hon. Friend with those advocated by Sir William Beveridge in the famous Report which bears his name. I want to compare them with something else—with the level of subsistence figures assessed by the Assistance Board now, and assessed by the more enlightened poor law authorities. Remember that what we set out to do was to guarantee and ensure in the case of everyone who qualified by reason of some social misfortune, the maintenance of a reasonable minimum of subsistence, as of right, that is to say, without any test of means, so that there shall be no discouragement of saving, so that when a man falls sick, or becomes unemployed or considers what he can save for his old age, he does not say, "I had better not save too much, because if I save more than the next man, the State will give the- next man more than it gives to me." We, therefore, state that these payments shall be payments as of right, the only condition being whether the person qualifies for the benefit, whether he was really sick, genuinely unemployed, had really reached a certain age, or was retired from employment.
The Assistance Board in the old days did not do that. It took all kinds of means, the man's means, the family's means, or household means, into account. They no longer use quite the same crude 1423 brutality as in earlier years. Much social agitation, and much social experience, taught even the most reactionary of us a lesson, and the harsher crudities of the means test were softened down. The means test that the Assistance Board now operates, is certainly not the means test of old, nor is it operated in the same way. Nevertheless, it is there. If one compares the benefits under this Bill with those paid by the Assistance Board in comparable circumstances, or by the more enlightened poor law authorities in comparable circumstances, one finds this. I have a lot of figures but do not want to trouble the House with them as I do not think it is necessary—everyone can find them for themselves. But we find, and this is beyond controversy, that these figures in the Bill are far below the figures thought by the Assistance Board and the more enlightened poor law authorities to be the necessary minimum. Therefore, the maintenance of the minimum standard of life which we set out to achieve by this social security scheme, cannot be achieved on these scales of benefit without recourse to supplementation by the Assistance Board.
I do not say that anyone under this scheme will get less than he got before. But the only reason I do not say that is because my right hon. Friend gave us the most explicit assurances that his regulations would be so framed that that would not result. But if we were left with the Bill as it stands, without the regulations which the Minister has power to make, and without the assurances he has given, we would have to say that the 42s. which has been taken as a kind of deadline throughout the Bill for all kinds of purposes, is below the level accepted now by the Assistance Board as the proper scale of relief. It is so for oil age pensions, it is so for sickness, it is so for unemployment. We cannot, therefore, say that we have achieved the target which we set for ourselves. We have not yet achieved a social insurance scheme which will provide, as of right, a benefit which will not need supplementation from some other source We have not got as far as that.
I am sure my right hon. Friend would be the first to admit that among the anomalies left by the Bill there are very hard cases. They are cases difficult to 1424 justify if we consider them singly as we read them in our correspondence from constituents, and there are anomalies of people still outside the scheme. There is the widow, whose husband may have paid his insurance contributions from 1911 for 20 or 30 years and has then become unemployed and neglected to pay, or has been unable to pay, for the sufficient number of stamps. She loses the whole benefit, and my right hon. Friend does nothing for her yet. She can still get nothing. I do not want to multiply such cases. I picked that one out, but I am sure my right hon. Friend knows of these cases as well as I do, and knows how many there are.
How does that come about? It comes about because we have deliberately chosen to have what is called a contributory scheme, an insurance scheme, so that the test of whether one is entitled to be relieved from want in adversity, is whether one has paid enough contributions, whether there are enough stamps on one's card. I am not blaming my right hon. Friend for this. He had to choose between getting the machinery of the social security scheme on to the Statute Book and into operation quickly, or beginning all over again from scratch and trying to build up a new scheme. He made his choice. He chose to adopt the work that had been done so far. He continued it and improved it where he could, as much as he could, but had to have it quickly. In order to have it quickly, he had to take what was there, and develop it to the best of his ability. I am not complaining. I think he was quite right to do that. I think any of us faced with that problem would have made the same choice as he made. But it results in these anomalies.
When we come to consider the working of this scheme, I hope my right hon. Friend will not exclude from his consideration the advantages of having an altogether non-contributory scheme. Some people talk as though there were some difference in the finances of such a scheme, as though the money that comes into the social insurance fund and the money that comes into the Treasury came from different people. It does not. The only difference is the mode of collection. The Treasury owns not one single penny of revenue that does not come from exactly the same people as those who will be contributing to the social insurance fund. We are not spending private money when we 1425 spend from the social insurance fund and public money when we spend from the Treasury. We are spending the same money in both cases—public, if one looks at it from one point of view, but private, when one considers from where it came in the first instance. There is not a fundamental difference of principle between the contributory and the non-contributory scheme. All schemes are contributory in the sense that the money to finance them comes from the citizens who make up the community, either in the form of stamps on a card, or of Income Tax on wages. It makes precious little difference to the man who has to pay, what form is adopted. Certainly there is no difference in the money that is collected.
But if we did not have the stamps and cards and did not pretend that there is some kind of difference between a contributory and non-contributory scheme, we would not have these anomalies. We would not have to stop to consider whether a man had paid enough stamps at the right time, through the right agency, and whether he had done it long enough. I should have thought that a non-contributory scheme was better. The hon. and gallant Member for West Dorset (Major Digby) thought we had established a scheme which gave equal social security to the mole catcher and the millionaire.
§ Major Digby
I did not intend to infer that the security was equal. I said that the benefits were equal.
§ Mr. Silverman
Let us say then that the hon. and gallant Member thought that the benefits were equal, but they are not. They are equal in the sense that the Ritz is open to the mole catcher and the millionaire. Of course, the benefits are the same in amount, but they are not the same in nature, in quality and in importance. I prefer the New Zealand way of dealing with these matters. If everyone is to be given exactly the same benefit they should not have taken from them exactly the same amount of contribution. The millionaire can part with 5s. a week far more easily than can the mole catcher. I should prefer to have, as in New Zealand, a graduated social Income Tax, in order to provide the fund. I cannot pursue that point in detail, or I should be ruled out of Order. I only want to compare the difference between on the one 1426 hand either a non-contributory scheme or a contributory scheme based on a graduated contribution and on the other a flat rate contribution, with all the anomalies which inevitably result from having an insurance scheme of this kind on the basis we have adopted.
I repeat, in spite of what I have said, that we are today marking a real advance in the social history of our country. It has been said that the people of this country take their pleasures sadly. Looking at the state of the House today, and comparing it with the attendances on some other occasions, it occurs to me that we pitch our triumphant chants in rather too low a key. I think we are doing so today. We are here making a real advance. We have created a foundation upon which we can continue to build, and I hope we shall continue to build courageously and with vision, until in the end we have solved for the first time the problem of unnecessary poverty.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
I intervene only to join with other hon. Members in paying a compliment to the Minister and to the Parliamentary Secretary for the way they have conducted this Bill through the House of Commons. The various deputations which the Minister has had to receive, like the representations made to him, were always received with generous consideration and kindly courtesy, and with as much sympathy as it was possible for him to accord in the light of the merits of each case. I agree with the suggestion which came from an hon. Member opposite that the Minister should not too closely concentrate the administration of this scheme. It has been suggested by more than one hon. Member that in the administration of the scheme, the personal contact between the officers in charge of it and the insured public should be maintained at as high a level as possible. I am certain that when the Minister comes to form his organisation, and to create the machinery for the administration of this great scheme, he will have due regard to the material available among the personnel of the approved societies, which, unfortunately, in my view, the Minister has decided not to use in the structure of this great scheme, I happen to be associated, as president, with a comparatively small but very live insurance benefit society, and I have persona] experience 1427 of the valuable work done by those engaged in that work in their contact with the insured people. It would be a great pity if that personal contact were not maintained in the administration of this Measure. I am sure that the Minister will consider any opportunity that may arise of making use of the experience and local knowledge which has been accumulated over so many years by the agents of the various societies.
It is true that this Bill marks a great step forward in the social outlook of this country. It ought to be said in this House, before the Bill passes its final stage, that the structure of the Bill was laid down in the days of the Coalition Government, and an immense amount of examination of the possibilities of this great social scheme had been done with great care. We ought at least to remember the contribution which Sir William Beveridge made at the very beginning, in the Report he issued, prior to the introduction of a great social security scheme of this kind. In bringing the Debate upon this Measure to a conclusion, I am sure we all agree that the services of every person throughout the country who has made a contribution to the scheme —industrial and provident societies, insurance societies, and public organisations—by giving the Minister all the cooperation and assistance possible, should be acknowledged when the Bill becomes an Act.
It is a great pleasure to me to see a comprehensive Measure of this kind leaving the House of Commons in an atmosphere of friendship and good will, and the tribute paid by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Butler) was eminently deserved. I was particularly gratified by the compliment paid by the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). I am sure that the Minister would agree that he would like to have it written down and signed, to keep as a permanent memento. It was generous and kind, and struck one or two notes on which there was substantial agreement between the hon. Lady and the Minister. This is the kind of atmosphere one likes to see. We are embarking upon a great measure of social security, which, notwithstanding what has been said about the financial consequences involved, opens up a new era of hope for the vast majority of the people 1428 of this country. While the burden will be severe, I am sure that everyone will take the responsibility in the spirit manifested throughout the discussions in Committee and in the House. As one of the old Members of the House I wish the Minister the greatest success in the creation of his administration. I hope that he will exercise that wisdom, which we all know him to possess, in the creation of that machinery. I hope that at the conclusion of the five experimental years, if the Government have not vanished before then, there will be, through this Bill, a record of social advancement of the greatest possible credit to the people of this country.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Brown (Ince)
I feel I must join with right hon. and hon. Members in the tributes they have paid to my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance. It has been truly said that circumstances and conditions throw up the man. I think that is applicable on this occasion, and that the circumstances and conditions have thrown up the man in my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). His intense humanitarianism, not only now, but also when he sat on the other side of the House, has always appealed to Members of the House. His success in piloting this Measure to its present stage is to a very large extent due, first, to his experiences in the coalfields of South Wales and, second, to the intense humanitarianism which he applies to all matters which he takes in hand. I pay my tribute to him on behalf of the section of the community who, in the past, have been sadly neglected. I refer to the old age pensioners. Since I became a Member of the House I have tried in every conceivable way to advance the cause and the claims of old age pensioners. At last we see some ray of hope for the old people. I venture to suggest that this Bill, if it does nothing else, has brought to the front the old age pensioners who hitherto have been at the back end of the queue.
During the early period when this Measure was being formed and discussed, I had the opportunity to talk over the matter with the Minister and on every occasion I was impressed by the great sympathy which he manifested for old people. Whilst he has not given us ail that we desire, by meeting us on every 1429 point, he has certainly gone a long way towards meeting the needs of the people. The single pensioner will have his pension increased by 160 per cent, at one stroke in the near future, and married pensioners will receive an increase in their pension of no per cent. It is a great accomplishment that we in this country after six years of devastating and destructive war, whilst people on the Continent are trying to fix up Governments according to their ideas we in this country can legislate for the social requirements of our people in this way. From the point of view of the old age pensioners we have not attained our objective. This Measure, however, will give some relief and, in that connection, I hope the Minister will speed up the Regulations. At one stroke we are giving relief and improvement to at least 4,000,000 people. For that reason I pay my tribute and express my appreciation.
There is an idea prevalent in the country that when these regulations are applied, there will be no need for the Assistance Board. I plead with the Minister not to allow the Assistance Board to go out of commission. It was strongly objected to when it came into operation some years ago, but slowly and surely, by a simple and human approach to all the problems affecting our old people, the officers of the Board have won their way into the hearts of the people. I plead with the Minister that he should retain the Board and rechristen it. Call it not '" Assistance Board," but the " Welfare Board," and let it devote itself to attending to the needs of our old people. I hope the Minister will consider that matter. There are many other points that I could mention but I promised that I would not detain the House for more than a few minutes. Sincerely, and most profoundly, I pay my tribute to the Minister and his staff for the successful way in which this Measure has been piloted through its various stages. I see in this Measure now reaching its concluding stages the extinction of the last smouldering embers of the old poor law system which has been a curse and a blot upon the social legislation of this country. I hope the Minister will get the regulations into operation quickly. May the appointed day come soon in order that our old age pensioners may receive the benefits of this great Measure.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint)
This is a day of thanks and congratulation. I will start by thanking the hon. Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) for his graceful remarks about my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler). I will not follow his remarks about reincarnation. All I will say is that in my next incarnation I hope I am not a representative of the insurance agents. Before making some general reflections on the Bill, I would like to say one or two things about its administration. A number of hon. Gentlemen have mentioned this point but I would like to be a little more specific than they were. The first point arises on Clause n. As the House will remember, on the Report stage we put forward an Amendment to reduce the waiting time of the self-employed from 24 days to three days. I think that was a very reasonable proposal; but the Minister is always rather fond of trumping our aces. He was not content with that suggestion and he went on and gave the self-employed the benefit of the linking up days of sickness. It is worth while to remember what these provisions are. There are two rules. There is the 13 weeks' rule and the "Two and six " rule. The 13 weeks' rule is this:A person shall not be entitled to either benefit for the first three days of any period … unless, within the period of 13 weeks beginning with the first of those days, he has a further nine days of interruption of employment.…The "Two and six " rule is this:… any two days of interruption of employment, whether consecutive or not, within a period of six consecutive days shall be treated as a period of interruption of employment…Those are the two rules. The Minister says—and I am sure he is absolutely right —that the self-employed have expressed a wish to be treated in exactly the same way as the employed. If any person was to go out into the street and say to the first self-employed man he met, " Do you or do you not wish to be treated in the same way as an employed person? "I have no doubt at all that every single one would say, " Yes."If, on the other hand, one went to him and read out these extracts from the Clause and said, " Do you think it really is possible to apply this linking-up provision to self-employed 1431 people, and how do you think it is going to work? "I am not sure that one would get such a confident answer. I strongly suspect that most self employed people are quite ignorant of this particular provision.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden asked some questions which have not yet been answered. He asked how this was to be administered and he instanced the case of the lonely farrier who lives on the top of a mountain. People who live in flat constituencies always think that those who live on mountains are fools. Those hon. Members who represent mountainous constituencies can tell them they are wrong. It may be because the Minister felt an implied slight on the mountaineers round Llanelly that he gave rather a tart answer. What he said was that he very well understood the linking-up provision at the age of 12. The boy is father to the man and I have no doubt that the Minister was a very charming and intelligent child and understood all these things very well. But let us get away for a minute from intelligent children and people living on the tops of mountains and come down to people whom we all know something about; I mean Members of Parliament. I would remind hon. Members that, in the Committee upstairs when we were discussing this question, there was a good deal of confusion, particularly in the right hon. Gentleman's own party, on the provisions of this Clause, and such an astute lawyer as the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Asterley Jones) got very much a1 sea over it.
Let us suppose that the self-employed will be more studious and intelligent than the hon. Member for Hitchin and will understand these provisions. The real difficulty then begins and that is how the Minister is going to administer the scheme. There are two requirements for good administration. One is that any scheme should be simple, and the second is that it should be watertight, and by " watertight "I mean that the opportunities for fraud should be as small as possible. Obviously, I am not going to say that the self-employed are less intelligent or more fraudulent than anybody else—far from it—but there are peculiar difficulties in their case. May I take Members of Parliament, who, I understand, are self-employed, as an example? Supposing an 1432 hon. Member had three days' illness at the beginning of a Session and he was certified by a doctor, it might well be that he could be ill in his constituency every Friday, Saturday and Monday for the rest of the Session. How is that to be checked up? I am not saying that any hon. Members are going to be fraudulent, but it would be open to an unscrupulous man to try to draw what might be termed an uncovenanted subvention to his £1,000 a year by these link-ups at the week-ends. It is a little difficult to see how the Minister is to get round these problems. All one can say about Members of Parliament is that, in addition to their ordinary occupational diseases, such as lassitude on Fridays and depression on Mondays, they are also subject to a good deal of temptation.
Then there is the question of the payment of benefit other than unemployment benefit, particularly during the transitional period. We have pressed in vain for more information about this, and the Bill itself is very vague. Clauses 46 and 69 are very general indeed. I am not going into the approved societies question all over again, but what one wants to know is how the hand-over is going to be worked. There are two slightly discouraging answers which we have had already. The Parliamentary Secretary disclosed upstairs that two committees had been formed to study this, but that, at the time when we were deliberating upstairs, one of them had not even met. I think that it is fair to assume that they cannot have got far yet. One other remark caused me some anxiety, and that was when the Minister was talking about the option of people to have a home service if they wished..The Minister said that he would set up literally hundreds of local offices. That sounds a lot, but, in point of fact, if we are to have an option on a home service, I should have thought we should require thousands of offices not hundreds, and the fact that we have that very general figure shows that the distributional basis has not been worked out, because, if it had been we may very well have had an answer within say 50 or 100 offices and not this meaningless figure. We ought to get something a little more precise.
It appears to be the Minister's intention to make use of the approved societies and all their full-time and part-time agents 1433 in administering his scheme, and to use these people for exactly as long as he likes —which may be quite a long time—and then, when he has done with them, he will scrap the whole system. He will squeeze the orange and throw away the peel. The attractions of that are very obvious to the Minister, but whether they are so obvious to the people he is making use of I am not so sure and I can see difficulties arising. The Minister has hardly begun to squeeze the orange but the pips are already squeaking vigorously. I think one has to conclude that this is another instance, of which we have had several, of new Government policy—legislate first and think afterwards.
I turn from the administrative side to make a few short comments on the Bill as a whole. In the Debate in this House on the Coalition White Paper in November, 1944, the present Lord Privy Seal made a very interesting remark. The right hon. Gentleman said:I do not believe that a party Government on the peacetime model could carry through a Bill like this without facing very grave perils." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1944; Vol. 404, c. 999.]When I read that, I thought it a very curious remark because everyone remembers that, at that time, there was a very strong agitation for immediate legislation in spite of the fact that the crisis of the war was only just past. Thinking more deeply about it, I now believe the right hon. Gentleman was probably right, not for the actual reasons he gave, which were those of commonplace party controversy, but because what we are really doing is redistributing income, not from the rich to the poor, but redistributing it at very low levels. That is really the effect of this Bill, and, under full employment such as we now have, when all our resources are being used, it inevitably means certain real sacrifices to those who are in employment. The problem is to remedy social evils without imposing on people burdens which they feel are unacceptable. The inevitable consequence of imposing higher taxation than is acceptable is to weaken the resistance to rising prices and the result is inflation. There is also a political danger, because at any one time more people are putting pennies into the slot than are drawing out benefits. If prices do rise, of course, the people who really. suffer are the beneficiaries under this 1434 scheme, because inflation results in the unplanned redistribution of income.
I feel that it may well be that this Bill itself can help us in our great task, not only of stopping inflation but of increasing the national income, because that is really what we have to do. If the Bill is rightly understood it will help, because the moral is to the material as three to one in peace time just as much as it is in war. What we are trying to do now is to build up the people's morale, to put under them a floor to ensure that, whatever happens, there is a certain minimum standard below which they cannot fall, and to give them sufficient confidence to go out and change their jobs if they want to and to strike out a line on their own in order to try to better themselves. That is a great conception, but I think it is a mistake to try to boil it down to just a list of benefits. That is the inevitable consequence of talking so much about insurance and the actuarial side. I am rather in agreement with the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) in that matter because, after all, no insurance scheme in the ordinary sense of the word would give exactly the same retirement pension,to those who enter at 16 as to those who enter at 55, and the distribution of contributions between State, employers and employed is after all, purely arbitrary. I do not believe in talking too much about insurance because if you do people will look at the benefits in the same way as an endowment policy which they have paid for entirely themselves.
People may forget that all the citizens of this country stand together in this scheme, and that we all owe duties to our fellow citizens. I will end by saying that I believe this scheme can work provided it is put across properly, and that it can give this country life and progress. But in order to do that, the people of this country have to realise that their duties to their fellow citizens are greater, rather than less, than they were before
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Earlier this afternoon the hon. Member for Chislehurst completely eclipsed the Fat Boy in " Pickwick Papers " —
§ Mr. George Wallace (Chislehurst)
If my hon and learned Friend will allow me, may I crave your protection, Mr. 1435 Speaker? I am not a fat boy by any means. Furthermore, it is I who have the honour to represent Chislehurst, not the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) who made the remarks to which I think my hon. and learned Friend is alluding and with which I do not associate myself in any way
§ Mr. Hughes
I tender my most abject apologies to the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. G. Wallace) for making the mistake as to the constituency for which he sits. It was the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) who, a little earlier this afternoon, completely eclipsed the Fat Boy in " Pickwick Papers " by attempting to make our flesh creep. He painted a picture of horror and of the ghastly things that would happen to us if this Bill were implemented and became law. Having harrowed our feelings, he got up and walked out and left us to our fate, but it was a very pleasant thing to realise that many other hon. Members remained to tell us of the great humanitarian Measure which is now before us. Many of them have pointed out that it is only a beginning. May I say that it is a good and a great beginning, and one of which any Minister or any Government may well be proud? But one of the most remarkable features of this Measure is its unity and the number of opportunities it confers upon its beneficiaries. It emphasises family obligations, it drops the disintegrating Means Test, it diminishes the agony of unemployment, it assists the sick, it encourages maternity, it provides solace and comfort for the aged, it helps the widow and provides security for all in the evening of their days. The unity of this Measure is one of its most remarkable features. I agree that the principle upon which it is based has been only reluctantly accepted. It is true that it was embodied in the White Paper of the Coalition Government, but in a less generous form. That White Paper did not go anything like so far as the present Bill in applying justice and mercy to the principles with which it is designed to deal
It was rather interesting to listen to the speeches which have been made in the course of this Debate and in the Standing Committee, and to note the gradual conversion of the hon. Members of the Opposition to what seems, now, to be 1436 complete acceptance of this Bill. I recall that the right hon. Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law), at quite an early stage in these Debates and after paying some compliments to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of National Insurance, claimed that the Tories had a good record in this and that Labour was a most reactionary Government where national insurance was concerned. He compared the Government with an old couple who had waited long for their inheritance and then, having got their inheritance, did not know what to do with it. I deprecate, and I imagine that hon. Members opposite now deprecate, the intrusion of the party spirit into this Debate, and I was glad to note that most hon. Members opposite welcomed this Bill in a nonparty spirit. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) said that the people had waited long years for this Bill and that now he welcomed it in the form in which it was before the House. But we may recall that even at the date when this Bill received its First Reading, some of the newspapers supporting the Opposition described it as "Ill-balanced, extravagant and fearfully imprudent," and said that it wasclearly intended to pick the pockets of the rich in order to secure the welfare of the poor.I venture to suggest that it is a tribute to the manner in which the Minister has piloted this Bill through and the arguments which he has put before Parliament and the country, that statements of that kind are no longer used in regard to this Bill, and that critics now realise that it is one which is based upon, and designed to implement the principle of, the greatest good for the greatest number— not to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, but to secure a really rich life for all citizens, in the fullest and best sense of the word.
I do not propose at this late stage in the Debate to go into the Bill in detail —indeed, I fear it would be out of Order for me to do so—but I would point out that another of the very beneficial features of the Bill is that which provides for quinquennial consideration of the rates of benefit. That is a really elastic, statesmanlike and farsighted feature of the Bill, because it will enable its administration to keep pace with the advances of our civilisation. It will adjust itself to 1437 economic changes, to price levels, to cost of living, to standards of living and to ideas and tastes in living—and who can tell what will be the conditions five years hence? The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden indicated that, in his opinion, the benefits which this Bill will undoubtedly confer may help forward the intellectual and psychological development of the people so that, five years hence, they will be a different kind of people from what they are today. This provision for a quinquennial consideration of the rates of benefit is one which will enable the administration of the Bill to keep pace with the development of the country.
I am greatly impressed by the magnitude of the Minister's task and by the effective way in which he is discharging it. It is worth recalling that others have attempted something similar in the past, but in a much smaller way, and the seed which was planted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. A. Greenwood) when he appointed the Commission out of which the Beveridge Report sprang, has now grown into a great tree. It has enabled the Minister to introduce this Bill, to implement that idea and, in my respectful submission, he is entitled to the very greatest credit for doing it. I hope that this Bill will receive its Third Reading without a Division.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I would like to follow the hon. and learned Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hector Hughes) for a few seconds if only to bring him up to date. I wish to say however that I support the Third Reading of this very great Bill and I would tell the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary that I think they deserve all the credit they have been given today, and a good deal more besides. I must say that some of the expressions which have been heard from the other side today have been in great contrast with the agreement which we really all feel. In the first place, we had an hon. Lady suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman's own party were trying to lure him to agree with them. On the other hand, we had the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) clenching his fist and banging an invisible tub. Perhaps it was a habit which he acquired in Bulgaria—I do not 1438 know. Anyway, I think the House is generally agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, and I would like to say that I, too, wish him luck with this Bill.
However, as the Minister knows, I am not in agreement with everything in the Bill, nor am I in entire agreement with every hon. Member on this side of the House. I cannot associate myself fully with the belief that universality and absolutely rigid uniformity are quite the right way to go about this matter. I believe that the harm which will come of this Bill—and there is bound to be some— is a great deal less than the harm which would have come without it. I am quite satisfied about that. But I think that is a poor consolation. If I may be allowed for a few moments to reminisce, I cannot help going back to those early days in November, 1942, when the news was first announced over the Empire service of the B.B.C. that the Beveridge Report had been published. I do not suppose I have ever been, or am ever likely to be, further from civilisation than I was on that occasion. I was somewhere between Bir Hakim and the desert, I think. I must-say the inaptness seemed rather outstanding at that time because victory seemed so very far away, but now that victory is with us, and even as early as 1942, I think one can say that hopes for the future were kindled in the hearts of a great many people. Anyway, the way in which the " base wallahs " who had the time to do it, if nobody else, went at the Beveridge Report was remarkable. In fact, so greedily did they go at it that I was rash enough, not having read the Report, but only the newspaper reports of it, to broadcast from Cairo and say what I thought about it. At the risk of " old soldiering "The House to too great a degree, I would like to read one sentence from that broadcast, because I think it applies to this Bill to which we are giving the Third Reading today. This is what I said;We must keep on reminding ourselves that when this is all over we.shall have to build a new life, not fit for heroes to live in because no one will ever admit himself a hero, but for you and me to finish our lives in, for our families and for our children's children. t believe the Beveridge Plan is a big step in the right direction, but it is our bounden duty to make sure it is the best one. If not, let us find one that is.Today I cannot help asking myself whether we have achieved that, and I think there is no doubt that this Bill will 1439 leave this House a very great deal better than the Report was. In saying that I do not mean to detract in the slightest degree from the Beveridge Report, which, if not the greatest White Paper ever published in the sense of greatness, at least must win pride of place for sheer bulk if nothing else. It was a great review of our existing system and it certainly produced an idea which the Minister has used to very fine advantage.
There are, however, one or two matters in particular about which I think the Minister knows only too well I am a little perturbed; Throughout this Bill almost between every line one can read the word " compulsion."I agree that it is impossible in the very early stages, when endeavouring to incorporate as many people as possible, to give everybody complete liberty whether they come into the scheme or not, but I believe there are certain types of people who will eventually have to come in only voluntarily. I am sure that there will be some people who will find this scheme extremely difficult. The self-employed have been mentioned, and there are others as well. In particular, I would like to mention the single person who has a housekeeper who goes sick. I mentioned that point in Committee and I think that that is one class of person who will find this scheme extremely difficult to manage. I am also in great agreement with what my hon. Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) said with regard to war pensions. I also appreciate what was said by the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) both in Committee and today, that it is hard to differentiate between industrial injuries and war injuries. I do not say that there should be complete discrimination there. I believe that the work done and the injuries suffered by those in industry during the war merit just as considerate treatment as those who have suffered from the enemy.
This has been an interesting Debate, and many of the points I hoped to raise have already been covered, so I shall not detain the House much longer. I would, however, like to say one word on the whole principle of national insurance as I see it. I believe national insurance is an enormous gamble. It is an enormous gamble in that, from the point of view of the State, it is a gamble on certainties or very near certainties, because when one 1440 is dealing with averages of millions the eventual figures become almost certain. With the individual it is also a gamble, but it is not a gamble on a certainty. It is a gamble with unemployment, sickness, death, maternity and with every aspect of this Bill. I am not really satisfied in my mind that because this system of gambling is placed in the hands of the State, therefore, automatically it is put upon a higher plane. I would go so far as to say that it tends to be put on a lower plane unless we ensure that the contributor has additional safeguards. I believe this Bill has many of the safeguards, although I am not satisfied that they are all there. I believe as time goes on this great scheme which is being launched by this Bill will have its growing pains. We have the assurance of the quinquennial review, and I would only ask the Minister to bear in mind the possibility of perhaps announcing to Parliament periodically a little more often than every five years how progress is going.
In particular, I would like him to bear in mind the whole time a matter which I had to raise at a very inconvenient moment to the House and particularly to the Minister on the Report stage, and that concerns old people who continue to work after the age of 65. I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) said about the old people. The more we can do for them the better pleased I shall be, but I still believe that those people who go on working after reaching pensionable age will be contributing too much for the scheme to be absolutely fair should they die before retiring. Those are the people I particularly hope the Minister will watch, and I hope he will keep us informed of progress.
Last of all, I believe administration is the key note to making the scheme work. It is not only a matter of the approved societies and the friendly societies. That rather sad aspect of the passage of this Bill is, I hope, dead for ever so far as this House is concerned. I still believe there are some people who, in the past, have done wonderful work in national insurance but who will suffer as a result of this Bill. In view of what occurred in this House yesterday, I think we should bear in mind that we are probably taking away £13 a year from all the part-time employees of the approved societies who have been administering 1441 national insurance, at a time when we are increasing our own salaries. I am not at all sure we are justified in doing that. I know it is difficult for the Minister to guarantee taking on everybody who has worked in administering those schemes. However, I believe he should do everything in his power to try to get those people incorporated into the scheme; if not, he should give them fair compensation for what they will lose each year.
This scheme can be either a milestone in progress or a millstone round the neck of the nation. I believe it to be a milestone. It will be a milestone so long as the nation accepts it in the same way as the first Report indicated it should be accepted, namely, as an inspiration and an opportunity for honest work to earn social security. The alternative is appalling to think about, and we must not let it become that. I do not believe a country which has stood what it has during the war will let itself down in peace. That is the issue before us today, during the Third Reading of this very great Bill. The cry to the nation should be, " Here you are; you now have what you have been longing for We know it is not perfect; we believe it could be better, and we shall try to make it so. But you, too, have a part to play. Let us pray that neither of us fails."
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Oliver Poole (Oswestry)
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) said that in November, 1942, he was to be found somewhere near Bir Hakim. If he had travelled some 900 miles due South he would have come to the oasis of Kufra, and, sitting under one of the palm trees, he might have found me. When the news of the Beveridge Report seeped through to that rather distant spot I, who had always taken a great interest in national insurance and social security, thought that at last we had something really concrete to which we could look forward when we returned from the war. In offering my congratulations to the Government, to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Parliamentary Secretary tonight I would like to do so, not only on account of this great Bill which they have sponsored and the opportunities which it has given, but because they have, by their action tonight provided me and 1442 many hundreds of thousands of other ex-Servicemen with what we had looked forward to as an opportunity in the postwar world. I do not want to fall into the difficulty which many hon. Friends en this side of the House are apt to do when congratulating a Minister on a Measure with which they heartily agree, that is, to start off with great praise and then drift into a criticism of the Bill. I feel this Bill is a tremendous step and affords a big opportunity for the whole of this country.
Most of the points which could be raised have already been touched on during the Debate today. However, I do want to comment on two or three points, and I hope they will not be too repetitive. Great play has been made by almost every speaker, particularly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) on the importance of the administration of this Bill. Having had the honour to be a Member of the Standing Committee, I know the Minister is well aware that today he is in the position of the promoter of a big enterprise who has received the financial and other support necessary, but has still to launch out and turn the plan into a concrete reality. The Parliamentary Secretary called attention to the fact that during the very difficult transitional period they would look to the insurance community to help. The right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary know that I, for one, very much regret certain decisions which have been taken about the administrative machinery. Be that as it may, though I am in no way qualified to speak for the insurance community, I am quite certain the Government will receive from all the approved societies, both industrial and friendly societies, the maximum amount of cooperation. What I am concerned about is that during this transitional period the Minister will ask of the approved societies, and particularly the industrial life societies, more than they can, in fact, undertake. I would ask him to remember that it is not practicable for them to readjust their organisation to tike on and to administer these additional benefits when they are not to be included in the longterm administration of the scheme. We have heard about the committees set up with the insurance community and the work that those committees are doing I hope we shall have 1443 reports from time to time, because what I am afraid of is that in this transitional period the insurance community will be asked to do more than it can. I hope, too, that the. Minister will not be disappointed in the calibre of the agents administering the scheme whom he expects to find and take over from the approved and friendly societies. The agents who have actually "administered the scheme have been the ordinary industrial life agents, and a great many of them, the best ones in particular, will continue to do their work.
I now turn to two points of detail which have not been referred to unduly in the Debate today. Under Clause 22 of the Bill, which deals with death grants, there is still considerable doubt amongst many people as to how this Clause, once the Bill becomes law, will affect industrial insurance policies In the Committee the Minister realised this doubt which has arisen, and undertook to introduce legislation before the Bill becomes law, in order to clarify the position. I do not necessarily accept the view that, once this Bill becomes law, an ordinary industrial life policy insuring the life of another will become illegal or unnecessary. But in view of the discussions which have taken place, it is essential that that position should be clarified When the right hon. Gentleman winds up tonight I hope he will say something about the new legislation I understand he intends to introduce, which he undertook to do in the Committee. Not only are many hundreds of thousands of insurance agents affected —I admit they are of secondary importance—but there are hundreds of thousands of policy holders who are concerned, not about the paid-up value of their policy but whether their policies can continue after this Bill becomes law. It is a very important point, affecting a large number of people. I do urge that we should have a clear answer in regard to the position under the new legislation about which we were told in Committee.
Earlier in the afternoon the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under Lyme (Mr. Mack) raised a point in regard to compensation to insurance agents. I should like to associate myself with him in the plea which he made. Once the Parliamentary Secretary has got over this rather unusual alliance between the hon. Member and myself I hope he will accept our plea. 1444 When we discussed it in Committee the position was made quite clear by the Minister, who said that an opportunity would be given for people who were displaced from their normal employment because of this Bill to find employment under the Government. There is, however, one class of persons to whom I wish to refer who will not be so fortunate. They are the men who were employed part time as insurance agents under the old National Health scheme. Under this Bill the Minister does not intend, and has no power, to compensate those who were only part time employees. As was pointed out upstairs, this means that a man who was employed 51 per cent, of his time on National Health Insurance work will get compensation, whereas the man who was only occupied 49 per cent, will not. I agree that the line must be drawn somewhere, but I feel that very great hardship will be caused by this new arrangement to many people who have done great work under the National Health scheme in the past. I do not ask the. right hon. Gentleman to reply to this tonight, but when he makes his regulations regarding compensation I hope that he will give full consideration not only to whole time but also to part time insurance agents who were employed by the approved societies. I do not wish to prolong the discussion on this point, because my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, speaking with great authority, has made the point very clearly. I ask the Minister to consider what the hon. Member said, with which I associate myself.
One last word. I urge that we in this House should not, because we have passed this Bill, this great new Measure which is to pass into law, feel any great sense of complacency. I have heard hon. Members on both sides of the House say what a wonderful scheme this is, because it provides security and freedom from want. I would not go so far as that. I would say that it is a great start, a great foundation on which we can build. It is absolute nonsense for us to pretend that in these days, because we have promised an old couple 42s. a week, we are giving them complete security against want or necessity for the future. Do not let us think, because we have brought in this Bill, that all the old people, the sick or the unemployed will have complete security and freedom from necessity. They will not. They will be far better 1445 off than they have ever been before, and I wholeheartedly offer my congratulations to the Minister and.to the Government for what they have done, but let us remember that we have a great deal still to do, and a long way to go, before we can honestly say to this country that all the old people, the sick and the unemployed are free from necessity and want.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
May I briefly associate myself with the shower of congratulations that have been given to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for the work they have done since the Second Reading of this Bill? In welcoming the Bill, I would like to associate myself with the concluding words of the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. O. Poole). I agree with him that this Bill will not give complete security to the old people of this country, nor to the sick or unemployed. It will give them a substantially greater measure of security than they have ever had in the past.
I was sorry this afternoon to hear the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) strike a discordant note. I do not object to the hon. Member holding the point of view that he does, but I thought he was a little unkind in his concluding remarks, in accusing hon. Members on this side of the House of engaging in mass bribery at the General Election. That was quite uncalled for and quite undeserved, because if the charge be true it certainly does not lie only on this side of the House, but on all parts of the House. If there was one document published during the war which raised the morale of the people of this country in those dark days, it was the Beveridge Report. One was led to believe that whatever party differences there might be on other issues, this issue of the Beveridge Report and its implementation at the earliest possible moment was the general desire of all parties, inside and outside the House. I therefore thought it was rather unkind of the hon. Member for Orpington to say what he did, but after all, it is an opinion which he is perfectly entitled to hold, and though I disagree with him I have no objection to his taking that point of view.
This Bill today assumes quite a different aspect from that which it had on the occasion of its Second Reading some 1446 months ago. It was my privilege on that occasion to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I had one or two words to say about it. I believe that the self-employed will be grateful to my right hon. Friend for having brought them into line with the other sections of the people who are covered by the Bill. I believe that they are entitled to be regarded on the same basis, and they will be genuinely grateful for the step my right hon. Friend has taken to bring them in. It has been said in a number of speeches this afternoon that we are beginning a new adventure. Although we have had a measure of experience in the past, our future experiences will be quite new, and the success of this Measure will largely be determined by the manner in which my right hon. Friend and his Department administer it. I want to remind him, if he needs reminding, that the trade unions of this country have a long and honourable record in the administration of unemployment and National Health insurance in the 35 years gone by. I have reason to believe that their administration has met with the approval of their members throughout the country. If my right hon. Friend can bring into his Department's administration the quality which those of us who have been acquainted with him for some years know he possesses, he will achieve the success which this Measure deserves. Reading through the Bill, I find that there are no fewer than ten occasions on which my right hon. Friend will be called upon to draft Regulations. His success, and the success of his Department, will be determined by the Regulations which they draft.
§ Mr. O. Poole
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he said there were ten occasions. There are 97.
§ Mr. Jones
I will certainly not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman on that, but rather will I say that there are a substantial number of sets of Regulations which my right hon. Friend will be called upon to draft. The drafting of these Regulations will require courage and imagination, and I hope my right hon. Friend will exercise the imagination we know him to possess. In conclusion I would like to read to the House a short passage written by a trade union official quite recently in connection with this Measure:We are on the eve of a great adventure. As one who has spent a lifetime in the admini- 1447 station of social insurance, and as one who was the original pioneer of 'all-in' insurance, I view with grave anxiety the taking out of the hands of the working class organisations the vital welfare of the sick and needy and placing not only sickness benefit but also unemployment, industrial injuries, old age pensions, and transferring them to a body which has had little experience in this direction and whose knowledge of and outlook of the workers cannot be compared to the existing administration which gives a substantial measure of democratic control as against bureaucracy.That is the view of a trade union official who has spent a lifetime in trade union approved society work. The Minister can prove this official to be completely wrong by the humane way in which he administers the scheme.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
The hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) complained that my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) not only struck a discordant note, but criticised hon. Members opposite for having indulged in mass bribery by offering the Bill to the country. I am grateful to the hon. Member opposite for pointing out that there was no division between the parties in the undertaking given to implement the Beveridge Report. On a more convenient occasion I might perhaps repeat the charge made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington, but I agree with the hon. Member opposite that there is no ground for it on the present occasion.
It is gratifying to me to have been asked to wind up the Debate for this side of the House because the Tory Reform Committee, the body with which I work, came into existence in the last Parliament in order to secure the adoption of the Beveridge Report by the then Government. There was a rather colourless Resolution submitted to the House by representatives of all three parties, including the present Lord Privy Seal. We regarded it as not sufficiently strong in its acceptance of the Beveridge Report and put down another Resolution. I give that fact as evidence of the fact that the Bill which is now receiving its Third Reading has had the support of all parties in this House.
The Minister has been rightly congratulated on the Parliamentary skill with which he has piloted the Bill. I am sure that he would be the first to admit that a 1448 Bill so largely agreed as is this one is not a very great test of his eloquence or of his adroitness. I suppose there can have been few Measures of this magnitude and importance on which there have been so few Divisions, either in Committee or in this House. As one looks back to the Second Reading one finds that a good many of the points expressed by hon. Members on this side of the House have been accepted and are now incorporated in the Bill We have reason to feel reasonably satisfied about the position of the self-employed. The cost will, of course, be heavy, and I am bound to say that we do not yet know how the sickness benefit will be administered among the self-employed in order to avoid abuse. My hon. Friends asked that the self-employed should be accorded better treatment than they were in the Bill as originally introduced, but it was obvious from the speeches of the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary that there will be great administrative difficulties in preventing abuse of the Fund. We shall naturally await with interest, if not with anxiety, the regulations which the right hon. Gentleman will make, to ensure that there is as little abuse as it is possible for good administration to ensure.
I will say nothing on the subject of the friendly societies, except that when successive Governments have come under the influence of the bureaucracy they have always felt there were great advantages in having one centralised organisation. On the other hand, hon. Members not in office and in contact with public opinion have always been impressed with the fact that a large number of people in the country have given all their spare time to the work of the friendly societies and that those people bitterly regretted that a great reform of this kind should be carried out at the cost of those friendly societies. It is more than a coincidence that, at the last General Election, hon. Gentlemen opposite were approached by the friendly societies, and that many gave a pledge on the subject; and that we, now in the Opposition, have had a great deal of pressure brought upon us, during the General Election and subsequently, to try to procure the incorporation of the friendly societies in the administration of the scheme.
I come now to Clause 62. I think the right hon. Gentleman would be fully justified in saying to us that, over the last 1449 25 years, a number of different expedients had been tried, in order to deal with the problem of long-term unemployment and that no satisfactory solution for it had been found in the past. There is only one way to deal with long-term unemployment and that is to provide employment. In considering this matter, we must think of the White Paper on Full Employment. I am one of those who believe that, thanks to the late Lord Keynes, we know how to prevent a recurrence of long-term mass unemployment, except when there is some special cause, such as the closing down of a mine.
During the discussion of this Clause, there was what seemed to be a large scale revolt among the right hon. Gentleman's own supporters. Because no scheme for extended unemployment benefit beyond the scope of the Bill was satisfactory, we tried, at the risk of going outside the Bill, to devise a means by which the different Government Departments could cooperate to ensure that there was no long term large scale unemployment in particular areas of the country. I would still say that this is a thoroughly bad Clause. It means that men who are out of work through no fault of their own are compelled to go before a tribunal, which will decide whether or not they are to continue to draw standard benefit, according to a number of criteria which cannot be laid down with any. precision. There is no guarantee that the same principles will be applied in different parts of the country. I prophesy that the day will come when the Government will bitterly regret having introduced a Clause of this kind which is completely out of keeping with the whole of the rest of the Bill.
There is also the question of the death grant, upon which I spoke at some length both in the Second Reading Debate and in the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of National Insurance and the Prime Minister gave me an undertaking that steps would be taken to ensure that, so far as funeral expenses were concerned, there should be no exploitation of the death grant by those who provide the funerals. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has been looking into that problem, and perhaps he may be able to say something about it when he speaks tonight. I also pointed out that the whole question of industrial assurance must be profoundly affected by the introduction by 1450 the State of the compulsory provision of a death grant, which was the original purpose for which industrial assurance came into existence. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will be yet in a position to indicate the line that the Government propose to take upon this subject, but I would remind him that it is a matter which will have to be dealt with, and that he has promised to deal with it.
I come to the question of the cost of the scheme—first, the pure finance of it, and secondly, its real cost in goods, man-hours and materials. As far as the pure finance of the Bill is concerned, I have argued—and I believe it is true to say— that an insurance scheme of this kind is, in fact, only a transfer of wealth from one part of the community to another. It is a transfer from the young, the able-bodied and the employed to the old, the sick and the unemployed. In so far as it is a transfer of wealth, it is not an additional burden upon the community as a whole, but it is, of course, an additional burden upon certain sections of the community, and if you transfer the weight, as any hiker will tell you, it makes almost as much difference as an actual increase in the amount of weight carried. We have to consider how far it will be possible to go, or would be desirable to go, in. imposing burdens upon the more productive part of the community for the benefit of those who, for one reason or another, are unproductive. I feel that under this Bill we have probably gone as far in that direction as it will be possible to go by compulsion. It does leave, of course, a great realm open for voluntary insurance by those who wish to make voluntary arrangements to ensure against any of these hazards. As far as the self-employed are concerned, it has been said many times today that the burden of 6s. 2d. a week will bear very heavily upon those sections of the self-employed who have the smallest incomes.
But I am more concerned with the burden which this insurance scheme will throw upon the Exchequer. After all, those who contribute know that they will get something in return. In the case of the Exchequer, this is only one of a number of different and extremely heavy burdens which are being thrown upon the Exchequer. Many of them, such as education and housing, have a more direct effect upon the future prosperity and 1451 health of the country than a scheme of ' this kind, which is primarily a scheme for the relief of the casualties of life. I hope that we shall have from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the near future, a general conspectus of what the total burden of all the social services is likely to be over the coming years.
Having said so much about the great cost of this scheme, I have to ask myself and the House whether it would have been possible for this scheme to have cost less. Except in one particular, the answer, I think, is. No. As far as unemployment is concerned, this Measure actually increases by very little the unemployment benefit which is at present payable to the unemployed. In fact, when we take into account the increase in the cost of living, and still more the increase in the cost of small luxuries, such as beer and tobacco, there really has been no increase in the benefit. In regard to sickness benefit, all that is being done under this Measure is to put the sick man on a level with the unemployed man, and who will say that the sick man is not in need of as much money to sustain himself as the man who is perfectly fit and just happens to be out of work?
The real increase in the cost arises out of the retirement pensions. By 1958 the retirement pensions will amount to £301 million a year, or 45 per cent, of the total expenditure under the Bill. That arises out of the alarming fact that the birthrate of the country has so far declined that the number of the aged is perpetually increasing, while the number of those who have to work to support them is already diminishing. There was only one major economy which my hon. Friends and I felt that we could make without really depriving anybody of what he or she required under this Measure, and that was to limit both the scope and the amount of the death grant. The Amendment which we moved, and which was not accepted, would have economised the burden upon the Exchequer by something not very far short of £150 million spread over a number of years.
I pass from the financial cost of the scheme to what I may call the real burden; I mean the increased consumption of food, clothes, and houses. All of us now accept the Keynesian view of how to maintain full employment, and that it is 1452 in times of depression that expenditure should be increased and not reduced, as has been done in the past. Therefore, so far as this Measure will help to steady the demand for consumption goods at all times, it will tend to even out the booms and slumps of employment and as such is, we believe, economically sound. But at the present time we are not dealing with a problem of mass unemployment. On the contrary, we are confronted with a problem of shortage of labour over the country as a whole.
We have to. recognise that this country has been impoverished by the loss of its overseas investments which brought us in £200 million a year before the war. Therefore, if we are to get back even to the standard of living that we had in 1938, when we had a million unemployed, it will be necessary for us to export at least 50 per cent, more than we were in 1938 It was Sir Godfrey Ince, of the Ministry of Labour, who pointed out in a speech at the weekend that already our labour force is diminishing. Whereas in 1939 the school leavers coming into industry were 417,000, they have in the present year fallen to 335,000, a reduction of 82,000 recruits to industry in seven years; and by 1950 the reduction will have been still further to 300,000. Add consideration of the raising of the school leaving age next year, and the continuance of conscription which was announced by the Government today— if I may say so, a most wise decision in my view—both, however, will withdraw more men from industry. We have to realise that the effect of this Measure is going to be to increase the demand in this country for consumption goods at a time when there are very few consumption goods available and when the working course in this country is already diminishing and is going to diminish rapidly in the years to come.
This Bill will divide more equitably amongst the people of the country such wealth as there is; but if there is to be any substantial increase in the general standard of living it must come—it can only come—out of a great increase of production of wealth by the community as a whole. That is a task to which we have got to put our hands. It is one that, I believe, this country can accomplish, but if is the duty of all of us to show to the country plainly that this Measure, in itself, 1453 is only a more equitable distribution of the wealth that exists at the present time. It is by no means certain we can get back to the standard of living we had before the war; if we are to have the standard of living we desire, and greatly increased social services of all kinds, then they must come from a great increase in the production of wealth in this country as a whole.
The actuarial basis of this scheme is a matter upon which the Minister has prided himself, and I would congratulate him upon the constancy and courage with which he has resisted the pressure, chiefly from his own side of the House, but, perhaps, from all parts of the House, to give specially favourable consideration to this category or that; which would have meant a departure from the actuarial basis of the scheme. But he will bear in mind that he has amalgamated the sickness fund, the unemployment fund and the pensions fund, and that the solvency of this great fund depends upon the maintenance of full employment in this country. If there is any failure by His Majesty's Government to maintain full employment, then this fund, upon which the aged and the unemployed and the sick all depend, will go bankrupt. Let there be no illusion about it. If unemployment on a great scale does recur, the Exchequer will not be in a financial position to come to the assistance of that fund, nor shall we be producing enough goods to maintain the unemployed, the sick and the aged at their present standard of living.
Before I resume my seat I should like to say that I support this Bill because I believe it to be a great Measure of social justice. I believe that it is another step forward in the direction in which this country has been moving with the general acceptance and consent of all parties. My right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) was the author of the Education Act, which is the real foundation upon which the Britain of the future will be based. Speaking in the Standing Committee upstairs on this Bill, he said:We on this side " —that is the Conservative Party—have been moving deliberately towards what has b'"n so felicitously described as a classless society. This is the object of the Education Act, and the Bill we have before us today."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 12th March, 1946; c. 195.]
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ The Minister of National Insurance-(Mr. James Griffiths)
We have reached the concluding stages in this House of the Bill which "The Times "Today rightly and properly described asone of the great legislative Measures of the century.It has been for me a very great privilege and a very great honour to have had the opportunity to pilot this Bill from its Second Reading through the Committee and Report stages to what I hope, when I have concluded, will be a unanimous Third Reading. I am very grateful to hon. Members in every part of the House for the very kind things which they have said about myself, and about my very good, hard-working colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary. I should like to share, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary would like to share, these thanks with those people to whom he and I both owe so much, the staff of the Department. In the ten months during which I have had the privilege to be Minister of National Insurance, I have had to work myself, and have had to ask my staff to work, upon three great tasks; upon creating and bringing into being an organisation which will enable us to pay family allowances on 6th August this year—and that has been a very great task.—and upon the preparation of and piloting of two great Measures through this House, the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill, and the Bill which we are discussing tonight.
It has been ten months of hard work. I believe that it has also been ten months of solid achievement, and I am indeed grateful for the way the staff have responded in those hectic months. It has been work which has brought its own enjoyment to every one of us. Thirty-five years have gone by since, in this House of Commons, we began to build the system of social insurance, which tonight we shall be bringing together, and weaving into a unified and coordinated pattern. Almost every year during that period has seen the addition of some Bill, or some amendment of the law, to what became and still is a piecemeal system of social insurance. Tonight we begin a new chapter, as we give birth to this new comprehensive, coordinated and unified scheme of social insurance In my final speech to this House on this Measure, I commend it in the conviction that this can 1455 become a real charter of social security for the whole of our people.
I should like to begin by expressing my personal disappointment at the fact that, tonight I know when we are rejoicing, there will be some people who are disappointed with this Bill. Hon. Members have expressed concern about the level of benefits, and there will be persons not included in this Bill who believe quite sincerely provision ought to have been made for them. They have pressed their claims upon me. In the course of the last ten months I do not think I have refused to receive any deputation from a responsible body outside, or from a group of Members in this House. They have pressed their cases upon me, and I have given the fullest consideration to them, and I hope that they will do me the kindness now of believing that it is with reluctance that I have had to say " no."
I want to say something upon the problem raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) in a speech delivered with great force. Tonight, for once, he and I are in complete agreement. When the Beveridge Report was published in 1942, Sir William Beveridge convinced us, among other things, that the best kind of scheme suited to the British character, and which would be most acceptable to the British temperament, was an insurance scheme based upon the traditional contributory principles which we have developed in this country over the last 35 years—that is contributions from the insured persons, from the employer and from the State. If we accept that system, and if that is the system which is most acceptable to our people, and if that is the system which they will welcome most, because it gives them the feeling that the benefits they get are a right, there are definite limitations to what I can do in that way.
In the very early stages, as my hon. Friends know, I used to worry them in the Lobbies of the House and in Committee by asking them to tell me from their experience of working among miners, railwaymen and people in all walks of life what was the maximum contribution people would stand for. In the contributions I have gone as high as I possibly can. The contribution for the employed person is now 4s. 11d. and has 1456 become 6s. 2d. for the self-employed. Those are the limits of contributions, and they are fiat rate contributions, which the man earning £3 10s. od. a week pays, as well as the man earning £9 a week. It is 6s. 2d. for the barrow man selling flowers at Charing Cross, and 6s. 2d. for the barrister earning £10,000 or £20,000 a year. I think that all of us—because this is a scheme which affects all of us— must watch its progress with great care during the next five years, and, when we come to review it, give serious consideration to the possibility of devising some way of financing the scheme in which the contributions will be better equated to capaciy to pay. In an insurance scheme of this kind, in which we aim at comprehensive cover, we shall inevitably find that there will be gaps. I have come to the conclusion after my experience of the last ten months, and with a background experience of 25 years, that we cannot cover every contingency in an insurance scheme. Therefore, there must be something else.
As hon. Members know, it is the intention of the Government during the lifetime of the present Parliament to complete this scheme. Family allowances are now on the way to coming into operation, the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill is in another place, this Bill will have its Third Reading tonight, and the Minister of Health is piloting through Standing Committee a scheme which is closely related to this one and must be integrated with it—the great National Health Service. Later, in the lifetime of this Parliament there must be a Bill to round off and fill in the gaps, a Bill to create a form of national assistance which will both settle these benefits and provide for those who are outside its cover. I therefore at the outset offer these few words, for I think it is important to remember, and I have now convinced myself of this that we have reached almost the limit of what we can do in insurance and in the future we will have to think again of the fundamental principles if we are to get the comprehensive scheme which we desire.
A very large number of points have been raised this evening. I do not think, without speaking for an inordinate length of time, I could deal with all of them. May I begin by saying I know perfectly well that under this Bill I have the power to make a very large number of regula- 1457 tions. I think one hon. Member tried to count them and arrived at the conclusion it was over 70.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Anyway it is somewhere pretty near 100. I do not want to argue this point, but it may be said that this is a wrong way to do things. I just want to observe that if this House is to survive as a great democratic institution, one of the things it has to see to is that, in legislation, it must endeavour to keep up with the pace of the masses of the people. If this Bill had been drafted in the old-fashioned way it could not have been got through the Committee in less than two years. I know it is a great responsibility upon a Minister to have to frame these regulations, and in many ways it would be easier and better for the Minister and certainly for his Department, if I may say a word for the bureaucrats, to have everything in the Bill than to have to make regulations. However, we have adopted that method and there will be a large number of regulations. I have already indicated in the House the safeguards which we are adopting for the purpose of enabling the people who are affected to make their voices heard and their views known, and also the methods by which the House of Commons can in the long run have the last word on any of these regulations. I, therefore, say we shall do our best to present these regulations in the simplest form possible and to see that the machinery provided will be really effective to enable the people affected by them to present their views.
I should like to say one other word on this. One or two Members have asked me that, when the Measure begins to operate, I should use every means in my power to issue literature and use instruments already fashioned for making the Bill known to the people. It has been suggested that the B.B.C. might be used for making the provisions of this Bill known to the people. I want to assure Members in every part of the House that no one is more conscious of that than I am, and I have already begun discussions on how best to achieve it. I want to put this scheme simply to everyone. Millions of people will be affected. I shall do my best to see that the literature that is prepared will be the best possible, in order that before the Bill becomes operative, people will be enabled to understand 1458 clearly what it means. I am told that when my great compatriot, David Lloyd George, got his Bill through the House, he created an organisation of propaganda throughout the whole country to make the Bill known. Whether that is the best way to do it I do not know, but I do give an assurance that I will do everything in my power to make the Bill as easily understood as possible by the bulk of the people in the country.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) was concerned about how the self-employed would understand the sickness benefit rule which links up the two days in six within the 13 weeks. Well, I do not think that self-employed persons, which include Members of Parliament, solicitors, shopkeepers and the like, will find great difficulty in understanding what every coalminer in the country understands. There is no need for a contributor to understand it. A man who makes a claim for sickness benefit has to prove it by medical certificate. Whether his benefit links up in such a way as to give him the first three days is something which he need not bother about, unless he wants to check it. It can be done simply by the officer. In fact, it is done now with regard to unemployment benefit. I can assure the House that there will be no difficulty whatever in explaining the matter —
§ Mr. R. A. Butler
The right hon. Gentleman says that there will be no difficulty. Sir William Beveridge and the late Government dilated at great length upon the difficulties put before them by the administrators. I based my case simply on the great volume of evidence which exists that there will be difficulty, and I am, therefore, glad to hear that it has been resolved.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I was not referring to that; I was referring to the question of the two days in six, which link up with the 13 weeks. This link-up does not make the problem of administration greater or less. When an employed contributor claims sickness benefit, and claims that he is incapacitated, there is a check on whether he is incapacitated. That is done by his employer. But if he is self-employed he has, of course, no employer, and there is not the same check. We have made the sickness benefit a benefit which can link up within 13 weeks by the. two in six rule. I do not 1459 seek to minimise in any way the real seriousness of the administrative problem of the check and control of sickness benefit, but I believe it can be solved. Since I was going to reduce it, I thought I ought to go the whole hog and put the self-employed person on the same level as those in Class I.
I have been asked about overlapping benefits, which is another very difficult problem. This was referred to in the Beveridge Report, and in the Coalition White Paper. The position is that we are flow providing a wide range of benefits which are bound to overlap. We are also making provision, for the first time, in our benefits as a whole, for dependants, for a wife, for adult dependants and children. It was recommended in the Beveridge Report and in the Coalition White Paper—and I have made provision for it in this Bill—that attention should be paid to the question of overlapping benefits. There are two things we must avoid in approaching this problem. The first is to be so mean and stingy as to bring upon us the justified indignation of the people we are dealing with and, second, to be so lax as to create the possibility of endless trouble so that there will be, in the end, unfairnesses beween one beneficiary and another which would bring the scheme into disrepute. My colleagues in the Government and I are looking at this matter most carefully. I do not make any apology for the fact that at this moment I am not in a position to make a fully detailed statement of the Government's proposals with regard to overlapping. We are considering this matter and for the moment I must leave it there except to say that there has been some misrepresentation, of which the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. Blyton) has given some examples.
Let me say that while it is not possible to make a general or, even less, a detailed statement upon this matter, I do want to make it clear that there is no intention to use these powers so as to withdraw from an individual benefits accruing in respect of himself in different contingencies. I will give two examples, and must then ask the House to leave the matter there for the moment and take my word for it that the Government are giving it anxious and urgent consideration. Take a person Who is in receipt of a war pension and 1460 might sustain an industrial accident. It is not the intention in any way to interfere with the separate basic benefits accruing to him under both schemes. Similarly, a war pensioner or an industrial pensioner under the new National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Bill becomes entitled in due course to a retirement pension. He can draw both in full. Those are two decisions which are clearly in line with what I have said. We want to be fair and to have equity in our approach.
The problem is that while laying down this general principle we have to decide whether there shall be any limit and if so, what limit, to the possible duplication of dependents' benefits when a man or woman is entitled to more than one benefit. It is a problem to which the Government are giving attention. Having given the House this assurance, I would say one word further. The hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) was concerned as to what safeguard there would be. As I have indicated, whenever we make Regulations under Clause 30 or under any other Clause they will be submitted to the Advisory Council. The Advisory Council will publish such Regulations in draft form so that it will be possible for every organisation, including the British Legion with which the hon. Member is associated, to make known their views. The utmost public discussion will be possible and finally the Regulations will come before this House of Commons. That, I think, is a real safeguard.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
The Minister has said that a person getting a war pension can draw a retirement pension also. Does that mean in every case, or are there to be exceptions?
§ Mr. Griffiths
When I say that a person gets the retirement pension I mean under the conditions in the Bill and assuming that he has qualified for it. In those circumstances he would get both pensions in full. Several questions have been asked about the local advisory committees to which I shall come in a moment. The right hon. Gentleman also raised the question of the Assistance Board. He will appreciate that the whole future of the Assistance Board is involved in the legislation which will have to be considered by this House when we come to the other Measure of which I have spoken.
1461 Before coming to the very great problem of the administration and the timetable of this scheme I would refer to one or two small points that have been raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton-le-Spring has raised the problem of " wholly or mainly maintained," both in the Committee stage and, as he indicated, in discussions with me, and I appreciate the point. It is well within my knowledge and experience. He has agreed that in the circumstances of the new Bill it would not—I use his words— be prudent to risk making a change just now. I have noted what he said, and will take it into consideration. I will say a word, when I deal with the administration, on the other problem in regard to the constitution of committees.
The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) has made a speech tonight of the kind, character and-quality that we expect from him. We had the advantage of his association in Committee upstairs, and he has referred again to the question of death grants. I told him then that this question, and the responsibility of the Government for seeing to it that the grants when provided are not abused, was accepted and the matter is engaging the attention of the President of the Board of Trade. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Central Price Regulation Committee have given consideration to this and have presented reports to the President. They are, I understand, being asked to reconsider it. I can, therefore, assure him that the matter is not being allowed to drop but is being considered in very great detail indeed.
Several hon. Members have asked what the time-table is to which we are working. When the House gives the Third Reading to this Bill tonight, as I know it will, tomorrow starts a new task for me, for I have to create the administration under which this great scheme will work. I begin that task fully conscious of what has been said in every part of the House. I have said it myself. This scheme is the best we can do so far as legislation is concerned. When all is said and done, when the scheme is launched, its success or failure will depend upon the spirit in which it is administered. I know that perfectly well. Therefore, I have a task, and I want to say a word about that problem of administration. The time- 1462 table is bound to be conditioned by my progress in creating the administration. I am not able to give an indication of when the scheme will come into operation. It is conditioned by the time-table according to which I create the administration. It is a big problem upon which I do not want to say anything until I have given full and mature consideration to it.
It will be realised that this scheme and the industrial injuries scheme closely linked with it have to be integrated in the administration with the associated national health scheme which will emerge out of the Bill which is now going through Committee, for the contributions which I charge includes an element of contribution for the health service scheme. There must therefore be synchronisation in bringing the schemes into operation. I cannot give a definite pledge. I think the House will realise how impossible and how imprudent it would be for me to give a definite date when I indicate, in briefest outline, the task of building the organisation which confronts me after the Third Reading.
We were under a pledge, and we had to get the Bill through according to a time table. I am very grateful to everybody, including the Members of the Opposition, who have cooperated in our time-table for the passage of the Bill through the House. It will be seen how essential that was, when I say that we have pledged ourselves to bring the new retirement pensions into operation before next winter. During the last few weeks, in the few intervals there have been, I and my advisers have looked at the problem to find out the earliest possible date on which we could begin to pay the new retirement pensions. It is complicated because it is not simply old age pensions but retirement pensions. There are 4,000,000 existing old age pensioners—not one million, as was stated by an hon. Member—including widows of 60 or over, who are beneficiaries. After making absolutely certain that it is the earliest date upon which we can do it, after looking carefully at the very big problem involved, we shall begin payments of the new retirement pensions to these 4,000,000 people in the first week of October next.
Let me indicate to the House the kind of organisation which we are aiming to build. First, there will be a headquarters staff here in London numbering about 1463 400 or 500, a ministerial staff. There will be a central records office at Newcastle. Hon. Members in every part of the House will realise that we have to build a new organisation and move house at the same time, and it is not easy. The staff we are building up at the Central Records Office in Newcastle will number about 7,000. Then we propose to build a central regional organisation in Wales for Wales as a unit, including Monmouthshire. My Scottish friends will be glad to know that we shall have a central regional organisation for Scotland and Scotland will be treated as one unit. Now, I come to England. I think it is the right way to travel, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, from Wales, via Scotland into England—anyhow, this is where most Welshmen and Scotsmen seem to end.
In England we shall have nine regional offices, corresponding largely to the areas that were regions for the purpose of Civil Defence. Each of these regional offices will be headed by a regional controller assisted by two deputy regional controllers. The regional controller will be an officer of high standing. That is essential, for we want to work as far as possible and practicable with the utmost measure of delegation. They will have a staff of between 50 and 100. These regional offices in the main will be directing and controlling agencies covering the local offices in the area. Then there will be the local offices,.the number of which I shall not at the moment. estimate. The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Birch) talked about hundreds, another hon. Member talked about thousands. We have to work it out. The first thing we have to do is to create a regional organisation, and then let the regional controller and his staff, with assistance, plan out the organisation of local offices' within the region. We shall therefore have what is finally decided as being the necessary number of local offices.
§ Mr. Griffiths
No, I thought I had made it clear that I cannot. The general policy regarding the work to be done at the local offices will be that nothing that can be done there with reasonable efficiency will be left to be done anywhere else. I use these words, having chosen them carefully 1464 as a kind of instruction to fix up the local offices. I realise perfectly well that these local offices must be places staffed: by people who will have to take responsible decisions. I do not want them to be merely people who take a case and send it somewhere else. We must have people who can take decisions, or the scheme will break down. That is the organisation side. Then we have to create a new system of adjudication, with a new machinery. We have to set up our tribunals. We have to set up machinery for commissioners. That has to be ready when the scheme comes into operation.
Finally, there are the advisory bodies. There is the National Advisory Committee which I hope to set up as soon as it is possible to make the appointments when the Bill goes through. There are the local advisory committees, which are organisations to which I attach the greatest importance. We want to make them a" widely representative as possible in order that they may be the channel through which we will get to know, not only at the local offices but at the regional offices and the centre, how the people regard the job we are doing. Through them can come complaints and suggestions and and comments. Through those local advisory committees we hope—and I am sure our hopes will be fully justified—to secure the full cooperation of people who have a wide experience in this field and who will be able to bring their wisdom, and particularly their knowledge of local conditions, to assist us and to assist the local offices of the Ministry in the great job it has to do.
That is the machinery. I know perfectly well that the machinery will work well or ill and it will make the success or failure of the scheme not only by becoming efficient—it must be that—but by providing the place where people can go, not in fear and trembling, but to obtain guidance.
§ Mr. Griffiths
As a matter of fact we have this Bill because the present system has broken down. I am having discussions with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works. We both talk the same language, though with different accents. He and I know perfectly well that so far as it is possible within our rower in these difficult days, these social 1465 security offices must be made worthy of the place they will fill in the life of the community, and that the officers who are there must come to be regarded as friends of people who are in trouble and adversity, who go to them for guidance, and to discuss their personal problems. They will go to these places to be helped and told how they should claim benefit. That is how we hope to do it. We are considering what ways to adopt in order to find out what kind of service the people want, whether they want or do not want a home service, and so on. I am convinced that we can do that in the spirit which I have described.
In reply to the hon. Member for The High Peak and other hon. Members, may I say I know that this scheme of social security cannot succeed in a vacuum? It cannot succeed in an unplanned society. I have never had any illusions about that, and have never recommended this scheme to the House, or to the country, as something which can stand alone. The party to which I belong, and to which I am proud to belong, in submitting its programme to the country last year, pledged itself to bring about these great Measures and to give them high priority, because they are worthy of high priority, and because the people need them. They need that sense of security and, as I said on the Second Reading, it is not security that paralyses the will, it is insecurity. For those reasons we decided to give them a high priority, as we stated in our pamphlet, " Let us face the future," which the nation accepted. Now we are making our future.
I do not regard this Bill, which I ask the House to accept tonight, and for which I ask a unanimous Third Reading— except for the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers)—as being anything but part of a plan of social progress. Sir William Beveridge stated that social security can only succeed if it is part of a larger plan of social progress. I know that. I know that the work I am doing depends on the success of the work which my colleagues are doing in laying the foundation for a new economic order. But when I put this Bill and the other Bills side by side with what my colleagues are doing, I believe that, woven together into a pattern, they can lay the foundation of that new and better Britain.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.