HC Deb 25 June 1953 vol 516 cc2200-5

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

9.12 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance (Mr. R. H. Turton)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

The proposals in the Bill to increase the money available for women in the event of childbirth and to improve the types of maternity benefit have met with general approval on both sides of the House. I should like to express my thanks and those of my right hon. Friend to hon. Members in all parts of the House for the way in which they have co-operated to ensure the rapid passage of the Bill through this House and through the Standing Committee.

In making changes in a scheme of maternity benefits provided by National Insurance we have followed very closely the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I thank the National Insurance Advisory Committee for the thorough examination they made of the present working of the scheme and for the excellence of their Report. We are anxious that the improved benefits should become operative with the least possible delay and our plans for bringing them into operation are well advanced. In a change of this kind those affected must be given full information in good time. Maternity benefits may be claimed well before the expected confinement and we shall need about three months between the date of the Royal Assent and the day to be appointed for its operation.

On the question of publicity, hon. Members have expressed their concern that no person who might be interested in the new proposals should lack an opportunity of hearing about them. I can assure the House that we share that concern and we are planning to use all the means at our disposal to secure that object. Not only are we trying to arrange with the B.B.C. for talks in "Woman's Hour," but we are adopting the suggestion of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and my right hon. Friend hopes to broadcast on the Bill on 29th July. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will listen to that broadcast. A full explanation of the provisions of the Bill will be given to the Press—to national newspapers and women's magazines and journals

We are pursuing a suggestion made on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) that posters about the new provisions should be placed where women work. Finally, leaflets explaining the changes will have a wide circulation throughout all our own local offices, the local offices of the Ministry of Food and the maternity clinics.

The new proposals are generous and, I think, just. They are in addition to and a reinforcement of that social provision for family life of which we in this country are rightly proud, and I am happy that it falls to me to ask the House to give the Bill its Third Reading.

9.16 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)

From this side of the House we reciprocate to the full the very kind words which the Parliamentary Secretary has said about our co-operation, which was not only gladly given but, I am sure, gladly received both by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. As I said on Second Reading, I want to join in paying tribute to the very good job of work, on a rather knotty, complicated question, which was done by the National Advisory Committee. On insurance matters the House owes a lot to the Advisory Committee. Sometimes, I think, we do not appreciate the time they give, the patience they exercise, and the number of people they see, to get right down to the root of the problem which confronts them.

This Bill has had a very easy passage, and we are all delighted about that. That was because it improves benefits, particularly to women who decide to have their babies at home. May I reiterate a point made not only by myself but by others on both sides of the House on Second Reading? I hope this additional home confinement grant will not tempt women to stay in their homes, many of which have inadequate facilities and convenience, when they would benefit from hospital treatment during childbirth? I hope they will not be tempted to do that with ill effects to the mother and the baby.

We must all be vigilant to ensure that the Bill does not produce that unfortunate effect. I suggest that the Minister should watch the position, for it is very important indeed, and I also suggest that within a short time of the introduction of the Act inquiries should be made in different areas to ascertain the number of women who have refused to accept hospital accommodation when they have been advised to accept it by doctors and health visitors. Neither my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) nor myself, nor any of my hon. Friends, will be satisfied until every expectant mother is free to choose between hospital and home confinement without financial or any other circumstances determining her choice.

We welcome the Bill and would pay tribute to the efficient organisation of the Ministry in the methods to be employed to publicise its proposals. It may be that the only criticism is that rather than give a broadcast on the subject the right hon. Gentleman should appear on television.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

Some pleasant duties have fallen to be performed by the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary during this Parliament and I am sure they must be the envy of their colleagues in the Government. I was especially pleased to hear the Parliamentary Secretary deal so comprehensively with the question of publicity. He will remember it was a matter about which we were particularly keen when discussing this Bill in Committee.

A new principle of contribution for maternity benefits is introduced in this Bill. We are most anxious that women, who in the past have opted out of contributions and relied on the insurance contributions of their husbands for maternity benefits, will now realise that the old scheme will gradually be replaced by the new. Although transitional benefits will last for some time they will end eventually and, thereafter, it will be necessary for women to pay their own contributions to obtain maternity benefit.

It would be a great pity if many mothers lost the maternity benefits be- cause of neglect or from deliberate choice not to contribute under the new arrangement. It is reassuring to hear how thorough-going are the plans of the Minister for publicity and I am glad that he is proposing to broadcast on the subject. If anything should prevent him from doing so I shall be glad to do it for him, and I cannot make a fairer offer than that.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. William Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

I feel some misgivings about the hopes which have been ventilated regarding the changes in maternity benefit. Housing conditions have not improved greatly and there are far too many women who, because of economic circumstances, will be prepared to accept the additional £3 rather than to go to hospital. I may be prejudiced because of my experiences as a boy and a young man, but I do not think that there are many of the 8 million homes of pre-first war vintage which provide adequate facilities for a confinement.

I fear that the increased grant will encourage some mothers to stay at home when they should go to hospital. I hope the Minister will watch that aspect of the situation because the consequences may be serious and retard our efforts to reduce infant mortality. Instead of qualifying, as she did previously on the right of her husband's insurance, to obtain maternity benefit the mother must now, under the provisions of this Bill, be an insured person in her own right.

I know that the principle of insurance is being more fully implemented, and I understand that it was always intended that this change should have been in operation. I have always thought that it has been a good thing that we were not so rigid in insisting on contributions in the past. But I am afraid that now, instead of mothers having the 18 weeks maternity benefit as provided under the Act, they will remain at work longer. I am afraid that where a mother has ceased to be an insured person and remains at work she will not qualify for the 18 weeks' maternity benefit but she will stop longer at her work and will return to her work sooner than she ought. I know that there have been certainly improvements, but I do not think that those two points have been met.

9.26 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

As I participated in the Second Reading and Committee stages I should like to say again that I think this is a good Bill and that I support it heartily.

Some of the fears that have been expressed are not founded upon experience or fact. I think it will be found in the delivery of the babies that the dangers are not at all serious. With reference to the last point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), most women do not go back to work after they have had their first baby and they gain special financial benefit from this Bill such as was described upstairs in Committee.

For the rest, it is worth remembering that if we want to have the lowest possible maternity and infant mortality rate we should plan to see whether women can have their first children safely. That means proof of a normal, healthy mother. Once that fact has been established, the hospital and the nursing home are less necessary than they would otherwise be. I agree that the most careful X-ray photographs and ante-natal care do not give the same assurance as does the safe delivery in a normal fashion of the first child. But once that has been assured— which means that we should make it possible for women to have their first babies in hospital or nursing home under specialist care— all we have to do is to think in terms of good nutrition, a reasonable economic standard in the home and a good personal home in which to have the baby.

We discussed this at length upstairs, and I do not think there is any need to say much more about it. I would only say that it is good to see civilised legislation come before us, even though it be in small but attractive Bills like this. I hope that the Minister will remember to urge upon the Minister of Food the fact that milk is the keynote so far as nutrition is concerned for expectant and nursing mothers. There has been a disturbing tendency lately for the consumption of milk to decline. Lately, the consumption of liquid milk by the nation as a whole has fallen by 2 per cent. I hope that if the right hon. Gentleman meets the Minister of Food outside the Chamber he will remind him that these special groups of expectant and nursing mothers must always be able to get an ample supply of cheap milk. I am very happy to support the Third Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.