HC Deb 24 February 1965 vol 707 cc563-7

11.55 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Norman Pentland)

I beg to move, That the National Insurance (Mariners) Amendment Regulations, 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 8th February, be approved. Regulations have to be made from time to time to modify the National Insurance Acts in their application to seamen. This requires that a draft of the Regulations should be laid before Parliament and approved by Resolution of both Houses. My right hon Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance proposes to amend the National Insurance Mariners Regulations, 1948, in order to take account of the increases in contribution rates made by the National Insurance &c. Act, 1964. The increase in the amount of the rebate for employers of foreign-going seamen proposed in the amending Regulations follows representations made by the Shipping Federation.

Under the Merchant Shipping Acts, shipowners are required to provide aboard ship free medical treatment and maintenance for seamen who fall sick or meet with accidents on foreign-going vessels, and the Ministry is by statute relieved from paying benefits in such circumstances. For this reason, therefore, the employer's contribution for foreign-going seamen has always been at a reduced rate. The increase in the abatement of the employer's contribution now put forward, that is from 10d. a week to 1s. 1d. for adult seamen, as from 29th March, 1965, is in consequence of the new contribution and benefit rates of the National Insurance &c. Act, 1964.

My right hon. Friend has consulted the National Maritime Board which represents the two sides of the shipping industry and the Board has expressed its agreement with the changes made in the Regulations. I trust therefore that the House will give them its full approval.

11.57 p.m.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)

We on this side of the House are glad to give our approval to these Regulations and I thank the Joint Parliamentary Secretary for his clear explanation of them. We seldom address ourselves to the National Insurance provisions for mariners and I am still not quite clear on what principle this reduction is given. It cannot be that the employer is under a statutory obligation to pay the seamen, because there are a number of seamen whose terms of employment do not warrant this rebate. It cannot be that they are foreign-going seamen, because seamen of home-trade ships, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, may visit Northern European ports as well as ports in Eire, are not entitled to this rebate. There would, therefore, appear to be some totally expedient principle whereby certain seamen visiting foreign ports on certain ships get a rebate and others do not. If this suits both sides of the maritime industry, clearly it is not for us to question it, but I would point out that there are a number of seamen whose employment does not attract this rebate.

A further matter puzzles me. I know, having had to do my own research on this occasion, that in the National Insurance Regulations and in the leaflets, radio officers appear to be treated differently from mariners. Do these Regulations apply to radio officers? I would be grateful for an answer to that question.

12 m.

Mr. Pentland

If I may, with the leave of the House, reply to the questions raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), I am informed that there has always been a rebate of the employer's contribution for foreign-going seamen. As regards the different categories, perhaps I may look into the matter and pass on the information to the hon. Lady. We are informed that the justification for the rebate is that the ship owner has a statutory liability to pay full wages while the worker is ill on board ship, and this statutory guarantee of full wages relieves the Ministry from paying sickness benefit to the worker while he is at sea. Therefore, as I tried to explain in my opening remarks, there is a saving to the National Insurance Fund.

Mrs. Thatcher

The explanation cannot be that on its own, because the employer of the mariner on the home trade ship, that is, one plying between ports in the United Kingdom, Eire, the Channel Islands and the ports of Northern Europe, also has a statutory obligation to pay full wages during periods of illness on board ship, but he is not entitled to the rebate. Why? That is the question I posed.

Mr. Pentland

The simple answer to the hon. Lady is that I have no information at the moment on that specific point.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

Why not?

Mr. Pentland

I agree that, perhaps, I should have; but, as regards these Regulations, we are informed—the hon. Lady is well aware of this—that the justification for the rebate is that the ship owner has a statutory liability to pay full wages while the worker is ill. I will look into the question which the hon. Lady raises and give her the information.

As regards radio officers, I should like to look into this matter also. The information is not available to me at the moment, but the hon. Lady can be assured that she will receive a reply. It may be that the radio officers are employed through other sources and not directly by the ship owner. The information will be forthcoming.

12.3 a.m.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I had no intention of intervening in the debate, but the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's reply was quite appalling. He is asking the House to pass some amending Regulations and he does not even know the answers to questions put to him.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Harold Davies)


Sir D. Glover

If the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene, let him rise to his feet and come to the Box. It is not good enough. This is another example of the Labour Party's attitude to the House. The hon. Gentleman puts a Statutory Instrument before the House, he is asked some perfectly sensible questions—he himself admitted that they were—and he ought to know the answers. Yet he comes to the Despatch Box and says, "I apologise to the hon. Lady. I do not know the answers."

This is treating the House of Commons with grave disrespect, and the sooner the nation realises with what contempt this Government treat the House the better. Their appalling attitude is maintained day after day. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has very serious doubts about what course she should recommend us to take on these Regulations.

12.6 a.m.

Mr. Pentland

We all know the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover). I put to him an observation once made by the late Aneurin Bevan, that it is no use trying to put across a "five-bob" idea to a "half-dollar" mind.

These Regulations are put before the House in exactly the same way as similar Regulations were on the last occasion, in 1963. The hon. Lady is well aware of this. She has raised two specific questions, which might, perhaps, be outside the Regulations themselves, but the main point is that both sides of the industry have agreed the Regulations. They have had them for consideration, they have been consulted by my right hon. Friend, and we have every confidence, therefore, in asking the House to give its approval.

Mr. Richard Sharples (Sutton and Cheam)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that simply because these Regulations have been agreed between the two sides of the industry they should not be discussed by this House and that he should come before this House without any idea of being able to answer the perfectly legitimate questions put to him? It really is an insufferable way to treat this House.

Mr. Pentland

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. He did not listen exactly to what I said. I said that these Regulations have been agreed by the two sides of the industry through the National Maritime Board, and therefore I was asking, in view of that and in view of the consultations that have taken place between my right hon. Friend and the National Maritime Board, that they should have the approval of this House.

The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has raised two specific questions. The hon. Lady has done her researches, and without being rude to her she should have known the answers to those question in 1963, when identical Regulations were brought before the House. We are doing exactly the same this evening, in view of the increased contributions, as the Tory Government did in 1963.

Mrs. Thatcher

Would the hon. Gentleman make clear to the House who was in charge of these Regulations when they were presented to the House in 1963, because it was not me, and if the right hon. Lady the Minister knows the answers perhaps she would tell us.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the National Insurance (Mariners) Amendment Regulations 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 8th February, be approved.