HC Deb 22 June 1948 vol 452 cc1309-19
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. Steele)

I beg to move, That the Draft National Insurance (Mariners) Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 9th June, be approved. These Mariners Regulations were drafted after discussion with the National Maritime Board, were then submitted to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, and have been more or less agreed.

Resolved: That the Draft National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Mariners) Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 9th June, be approved."—[Mr. Steele.]

Mr. Steele

I beg to move, That the Draft National Insurance (Airmen) Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 9th June, he approved.

12.45 a.m.

Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

With reference to paragraph 2 (2), will the hon. Gentleman say why an employer should be liable to pay under the Act in respect of an airman employed on board a British aircraft? It seems to me the employer is being put under an unfair obligation as compared with the airman himself.

Mr. Steele

This has been agreed with the Joint Air Council, and no objection has been raised to it. Therefore, we submit the Regulation as the Advisory Committee have agreed to it.

Resolved: That the Draft National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Airmen) Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 9th June, be approved."—[Mr. Steele.]

The Minister of National Insurance (Mr. James Griffiths)

I beg to move, That the Draft National Insurance (Married Women) Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 7th June, be approved. These regulations have been before the National Insurance Advisory Committee which has consulted the organisations interested in them. Since they are important, let me say they give married women the choice of paying or not paying to the national insurance scheme. We have prepared a guide for the women, and copies are available in the House; and I hope hon. Members will secure copies so that they will be able fully to answer all the questions which, no doubt, will be put to them concerning these provisions.

12.48 a.m.

Mr. Richard Law (Kensington, South)

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that these regulations are of very great importance. If I have one mild criticism to offer, it is not because I oppose the regulations but simply that the Minister may have an opportunity, if these regulations are ever revised, of taking into account the point I would put to him. The point is this. Under these regulations and, I think, under the Act, if an individual contracts out of the insurance, the employer has to continue to pay the contribution even though the individual affected is not in the insurance scheme. I doubt very much whether that is a good principle.

However, in this particular case it does seem to me that it may be damaging to the employer concerned, and not only damaging to the employer, but damaging to the interest which, I am sure, the Government as a whole have in view. The point relates to part-time workers. I gather that it is the desire of the Government as far as possible to encourage women to come into industry even on a part-time basis. The effect of these regulations is that if an employer engages a married woman on part-time, and if she contracts out, he has to pay, so to speak, a whole-time contribution in respect of that woman. If he should, in order to make up his complement of workpeople, engage two married women on part-time, he has to pay a double tax on those married women. It seems to me that the effect of these regulations must be to discourage the employment of part-time women workers, if they elect to contract out of the insurance scheme. I hope that if he comes to revise these regulations the right hon. Gentleman will bear that point in mind.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I think the point the right hon. Gentleman has in mind is more relevant to another set of regulations dealing with part-time workers, but I note his comments and will look at this again. We permit an option to the married women to pay or not to pay. We do that because the insurance scheme provides benefits for wives through their husbands' insurance. I am sure, however, that because of this we should not allow the employer to be exempt from paying his share. I know the point the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, but I think it is much more relevant to the other problem we shall be discussing—that of the part-time workers.

12.51 a.m.

Mr. J. H. Hare (Woodbridge)

There are two points to which I should like to draw attention. The first is that it seems to me that a married woman who is non-employed at the beginning of the scheme and has married a husband of over 65 is going to come out very badly. These women really have the worst of both, worlds. It is difficult to assess who will come under this category, but there are many husbands who have been fortunate enough to marry wives 15 or 20 years younger than themselves. The Minister should look at this rather closely, because it seems to me that these women should be allowed, if they so wish, to elect to contribute, so that after 10 years they shall be able to draw the normal benefits under the Act.

My second point concerns paragraph 8 of these regulations. There it is laid down that where a woman's marriage has been terminated certain procedure can be undergone, and the woman can elect to contribute under the Act. But we know that, unfortunately, there are many cases of wives who have been deserted by their husbands who may have gone abroad or have disappeared entirely. I do not think the case of a woman who has been separated from or deserted by her husband has been covered by the regulations. Great hardship may be suffered by such a woman. There are husbands who have gone into the underworld and have been living with other women under different names. It is impossible for the wife of such a person to know what benefits she is entitled to as a result of still being officially married. There is a case for saying that where a wife has been separated from or deserted by her husband she should be entitled to contribute under the Act.

12.54 p.m.

Major Legge-Bourke

I should like the Minister to enlarge a little on the reason why Condition I of the Schedule has been drawn up in this way. I do not understand why it is laid down: That not less than fifty-two contributions as an employed person, whether or not in respect of continuous weeks, have been paid by or credited to a married woman, of which at least twenty-six were paid contributions. I do not see the difference between paid contributions and the 52 contributions of an employed person. This has a particular bearing on paragraph 2 (4), paragraph 6 (1) and paragraph 8 (3). As I understand it, this condition comes into operation in all those cases, and it means that where a person has contributed up to 52 contributions all is lost unless there have been 26 continuous contributions paid up. That is a little unfair, if that is what it means.

12.55 a.m.

Mr. Steele

The point has been raised regarding a man who is over 65 and whose wife is younger. This is something to which we have given considerable attention. Questions have been raised in the House about it, and it was fully discussed during the passage of the Bill. The actuarial basis of the scheme provides for men coming in at 16 and paying up to 65, while for women the ages are 16 to 60. Married women are in effect voluntary contributors, and the fact remains that if an option of the character suggested were given to this particular type of women, mainly the ordinary housewives, the only ones who would come in would be those who are going to receive considerable benefits. Therefore, the whole structure of the scheme would have to be looked at again and no doubt increased contributions would be required. We have given this class of women, housewives and others careful consideration but we cannot bring them in.

The provisions of the regulations under paragraph 8 are clear. A woman continues to be subject to the Married Women's Regulations as long as she is married, even if she is legally separated from her husband. She ceases to be subject to the regulations on becoming a widow, on the presumed death of her husband or if she receives a decree absolute of divorce. The question was raised, what does she get? Although she is separated from her husband she is legally married to him, and, of course, if the husband should die she would become entitled, provided the contribution and other conditions were in order, to the widow's pension if of course she was not prohibited from having it by reason of cohabitation with another man or because of any other disqualification. She would also be entitled, as the legal wife of her husband, to the retirement pension when he qualified for retirement pension at 65 or later. A married woman or a woman separated from her husband is not precluded from again entering into insurance. She can do so if she starts work again as an employed person or as a self-employed person, when she could become insured in her own right and entitled to benefits in her own right.

That brings me to the point raised by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) with regard to the 52 contributions. Where we have a married woman who is able to exercise an option as to whether she is going to contribute or not, certain special conditions are required to govern the receipt of benefit. Everyone entering insurance for the first time is entitled to certain pre-entry credits, but married women, if they have gone out of insurance or failed to pay the necessary qualifying contributions in the contributions year, cease to be entitled to be insured. They have opted out or ceased, because of disqualification, to be insured persons when they come back into insurance again. We say in the Schedules that they ought to have 52 contributions or credits before any benefit can be paid to them, and 26 of these must be paid. I hope with that explanation that the House will agree to these regulations.

Resolved: That the Draft National Insurance (Married Women) Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 7th June, be approved.

1.0 a.m.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I beg to move, That the Draft National Insurance (Extension of Unemployment Benefit) Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 2nd June, be approved. In February, 1947, powers were given to us to bring in certain of the new scheme provisions during the transitional period and we brought the Section of the Act relating to the extension of unemployment benefit into operation. We did it by means of transitional regulations, and these will lapse when the Act comes into operation on 5th July. Since the transitional regulations came into operation we have had nothing but commendation for the way the tribunals have done their work, and we propose to make them substantive under the Act. They will operate from 5th July.

1.2 a.m.

Mr. McCorquodale (Epsom)

I hope the Minister will not mind one personal comment. Since coming back to the House after two and a half years' absence nothing has surprised me more than the way in which the Government bring forward regulations dealing with the lives of thousands of people of this country at the most extraordinary hours. I can only think that if the regulations were brought forward in this way by Governments before the war, hon. Members opposite, who were then on this side of the House, would have kept us here for days discussing these matters, particularly if there had been any suggestion of trying to rush them through.

This is undesirable especially today when there is such a shortage of newsprint so that practically nothing done in this House is reported in the popular Press, while things that are dealt with at one o'clock in the morning are not mentioned at all. When important insurance regulations were taken the other night at a late hour there was not even mention of them in "The Times" the next morning. I do not think that anything appeared in any other paper. It is most undesirable, because it is most important that the public should know about these important considerations coming before Parliament. I hope that in future it will be possible to take important matters of this kind at an earlier hour so that the Press will be able to take some notice of them.

There are two points I want to raise about these regulations. One is with regard to paragraph 3 (b, ii), which says: any genera] directions issued for the purpose of the said Section 62 and of these regulations by the Minister shall be for the guidance of local tribunals. If these new regulations are issued at any time in the future will the House of Commons get some intimation in regard to them? Will they be reported to the House? It is desirable that we should know what are the general regulations which from time to time will be issued.

The only other matter on which I wish to comment is this. Those who will come within the scope of the regulations and who, in actual fact, are not employed persons but are unemployed and running out of statutory benefit under the Unemployment Fund and are about to appeal to the tribunal to get further unemployment benefit because they have no private means—and this particularly applies to those unemployed men with wives and families—would be better off not to go to the tribunal but to go to the Assistance Board as their rates are higher than would be paid out of the Unemployment Fund. I think I am right in saying that if a person still wishes to get further benefit from the Unemployment Fund beyond his statutory right, then, in addition, he may go to the Assistance Board and claim extra and he would get from that Board the differential between the rate of the Unemployment Fund and the rate of the Assistance Board Fund. It would appear that for those without substantial financial means of their own it would be better and much simpler if they did not go to the tribunal at all, but went straight after finishing their statutory benefit to the Assistance Board.

Therefore, if my argument is right, and I think the Minister will agree with me, these regulations only really benefit those thrown out of employment who have fairly substantial financial benefits of their own, and who therefore would not get the full amount of the Assistance Board rates. If that is so, I think it ought to be made clear, so that the unemployed who have no financial resources of their own should be steered directly to the Assistance Board, from which they get the higher rate of benefit.

1.6 a.m.

Major Legge-Bourke

The Minister of National Insurance will remember that when we were discussing an earlier stage of this Bill considerable emphasis was laid upon the training of those who were for a prolonged period unemployed. I am disappointed that in this regulation no mention is made of that matter. As I understood it, those coming particularly under paragraph (2) of this regulation were likely to be trained either under his Ministry or under the Ministry of Labour, but I notice no mention of training, but merely of an extension of unemployment benefit.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and gallant Member is not in Order in speaking of what is not in the regulation, and training is not mentioned.

Major Legge-Bourke

I abide by your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and will leave that point if you wish me to do so. Another point which I wish to make is that in paragraph (3) of this regulation there is rather the same inconsistency between sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) as was noticed in a Section of the Act. It seems to me a little difficult for a local tribunal not to consider the financial resources of an applicant and at the same time to consider the particular circumstances of an applicant, including the industrial conditions in the district. I do not know whether, since we discussed the Bill, the Minister has been able to clarify what is meant in sub-paragraph (b) by "the industrial conditions" and "particular circumstances," and how those "particular circumstances" exclude the financial resources of the applicant. It seems to me that they are so bound up one with the other that it is impossible to divide them. I know that the Minister wants to keep away from any form of means test, and if he can elucidate this matter a little, I shall be grateful.

1.9 a.m.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I do not object to the right hon. Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) complaining that we are discussing this matter at ten minutes past one o'clock in the morning. I know that they are important regulations, but if there had been a little more co-operation earlier tonight, when another Measure was being discussed, we could have avoided sitting so late. [Interruption.] That is only a matter of opinion. The Opposition cannot have it both ways.

With regard to directions to the tribunals, the right hon. Gentleman has, I know, been absent from the House for some time; but when the transitional regulations were introduced in February, 1947, the original directions issued by the Minister to the tribunals were made available to Members. There will be no new directions, as far as I can see. If at any time we feel disposed, or feel that it is necessary, to change the character of the directions, we shall make them available as we did before. It is true that we considered regulations last week dealing with assistance and also the relationship of assistance to benefit. It is open to unemployed men to seek assistance to supplement unemployment benefit long before they exhaust that benefit. We must remember the general relationship of assistance to all insurance benefits.

Mr. McCorquodale

But once he runs out of standard benefit, in order to get further benefit; his case has to go before the local tribunal, and that involves a long rigmarole. If he went straight to the Assistance Board, all that would be saved.

Mr. Griffiths

The reply is, quite frankly, that there are many people who prefer benefit to assistance, and I can give some figures which should interest the right hon. Gentleman. Since February, 1947, 132,000 unemployed persons have applied for, and received extended benefit, rather than ask for assistance, and that, I think, is a fine characteristic of our people. It is something of which we should be proud. We do not want to compel an unemployed person to ask for assistance if he does not want it. Even if the number is only 132,000, we ought to continue this provision after 5th July.

The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) asked about financial resources. We discussed this previously, and I should like to say that the tribunal is prohibited from making investigations into the financial circumstances of the applicant, and there is no means test. It is an extension of benefit, and the extension, once it has been authorised by the tribunal, has to be paid by my Department in just the same way as ordinary benefit. Instructions on this point have been issued for the guidance of tribunals, and we have been very explicit indeed in the directions we have issued. We have worked the scheme since February, 1947, and I would remind the House that when Section 62 of the Act was discussed, there were apprehensions as to how its provisions would work out in practice. I speak in the presence of hon. Members on all sides of the House, who will recall that. The instructions, to which I have given a good deal of thought, have worked well, and we have had very few complaints.

There has been a complaint about the time which we have taken over this matter, and the time at which it has been raised, but I can remember the occasion when regulations of this sort took four or five days to pass—a time when the Opposition were putting them before the House.

1.13 a.m.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, Southern)

The right hon. Gentleman has thought fit to make slighting references on the work of this Chamber during the course of today and yesterday, and claims that if we had gone more quickly in the discussions on the Finance Bill we could have got on earlier to this subject. If he had thought fit to come here earlier and to see the amount of important work which has been done by the Opposition, he would have understood why we have reached the hour of 1.15 in the morning. I might tell him that if he had only listened to the Solicitor-General and the time taken by him to explain a point, he might have decided to alter the proceedings and take this important matter at another time. Surely he recollects, as I do, the time—it was when I had a relatively unimportant post at that Box— when my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) was concerned with unemployment benefit. Hours and days were then devoted by the Government to the question of unemployment, and yet, here he comes, at 1.15 in the morning, at a time when deflation is coming to this country, when there is every likelihood of very serious unemployment before the end of the winter, and suggests to the House that these matters can be dealt with in a quarter of an hour. I hope, when we get to next Autumn and he sees what grave hardship is suffered by many people, he will regret the short time and inadequate discussion given to this matter.

Resolved: That the Draft National Insurance (Extension of Unemployment Benefit Regulations, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 2nd June, be approved.