HL Deb 12 June 1912 vol 12 cc27-70

LORD HENEAGE rose to call attention to the unsatisfactory position of the National Insurance Act, 1911, and the profound ignorance which prevails throughout the country in regard to the interpretation, policy, and provisions of the Act, especially amongst the agricultural labourers and domestic servants in the rural parishes; and to move— That it is most essential, in the interest of all those affected by its provisions as well as of the taxpayers and ratepayers of England, that the operation of the Act should be postponed by a Privy Council Order under the powers given in the Act until January 1, 1913, in order to give sufficient time for the Official Commissioners to understand and explain its provisions, and, if necessary, to suggest such amendments as will render the Act workable and really beneficial as a scheme of National Insurance.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I placed this Motion on the Paper six weeks ago in the hope that I would be able to bring it on before the Whitsuntide holiday, but unfortunately, owing to the adjournment, I was obliged to put it off, and I have taken the first day I could after the House resumed. As far as I am concerned I am content that the Motion should have been adjourned, because I am the more convinced every day that the object which I have in view is perfectly right. All that has happened since I put the Motion down shows what a great advantage it would be to the Act, owing to the way in which it has been altered and revised by the Commissioners, if its operation were postponed.

I think the Resolution speaks for itself, and I shall not detain your Lordships with many words on the Insurance Act of last year. It is common knowledge that it was introduced without any mandate from the country and without any consultation with those principally concerned in the working of it—the friendly societies and the medical men. It is admitted now to have been introduced with no sufficient care in preparation and drafting, and it was in this state that it was hurried through the House of Commons by means of the guillotine and the closure without reasonable or fair discussion. I am told that forty-nine clauses were not discussed at all in Parliament. But during the progress of the Bill clauses were inserted setting up a Commission with entirely novel and unprecedented powers to revise, amend, and alter the Bill in almost every particular. The consequence is that at the present moment we have not only to try and digest what is before us in the Act itself, but what is practically in many respects an entirely new Act. And I believe that this week there have been issued by the Insurance Commissioners 20,000,000 copies of Provisional Orders—Provisional Orders which may be altered at any time. I would remind your Lordships how different was the procedure adopted by German statesmen in regard to their measure of this kind. They took five years to prepare the Bill in consultation with everybody who would be interested, and they gave the German Parliament two years in which to thoroughly debate the details of the Bill. Our National Insurance Bill only saw the light a year ago, and we are asked to put it into force within fifteen months of the first being known about it at all.

In addition to the clauses setting up this Commission with the enormous powers to which I have referred, a proviso was inserted in the last clause of the Bill to the effect that— His Majesty in Council may, should necessity arise, substitute some date or dates not being later than the 1st January, 1913, as respects the provisions of this Act relating to health insurance. I assert that the necessity has now arisen. I would call your Lordships' attention to another fact. In the National Insurance Act which became law in December last it was provided that there should be six months before the Act came into operation, in order that it might be fully known and in order that plenty of time might be given to the Commissioners to amend and revise it. That is, in my opinion, a considerable fact in this discussion, because we shall have to see how far this six months has been made use of in any way. The Act itself is practically a legislative contract between Parliament and the contributors under the Act. Employers and employés are compulsorily forced to make these payments, and in return Parliament undertakes that there shall be given medical and other benefits under Section 8 of the Act. There is a penalty for the employer if he does not pay, not only his own contribution but the contribution of those who are employed by him, but there is no penalty as far as I know upon Parliament if they do not give the benefits of the Act. Therefore it is essential that we should see whether the Government are in a position to give the benefits which they contract to give.

The penalty of £10 under the Act applies only to the employer, but some time during May a pamphlet, marked A, was issued by the Official Commissioners on the duties of employers, and curiously enough this sentence was inserted in one paragraph— A worker who, without reasonable cause, fails to, deliver a contribution card when the employer requires it for the purpose of paying contributions or for production to an inspector, is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £10. This would appear to be creating a new criminal offence by Provisional Order, and that appears to me a very strong measure indeed. I suppose the answer will be that this is done under the vague words of subsection (2) of Section 68 of the Act, in which "other persons" are put in generally. All I can say is that it would have been more honest and straightforward to have put into the Act itself a provision that the workman was liable to this £10 penalty as well as the employer, and not put it in insidiously within six weeks of the Act coming into force. This question has been constantly raised at meetings addressed by the itinerant lecturers who have gone round the country under the command of the Government Whip, and they have always denied that there was any provision in the Act with regard to that. Two other points, however, arise on this paragraph. First, what is "reasonable cause"? because I suppose if the workman is to be prosecuted by the unfortunate employer he will be heard in defence in a Court of Justice, and I think he would be able to give very good reasons for not paying if he could not see that he was going to get the benefits under the Act. In that case I think the employer would be in a very difficult position. Secondly, are the Commissioners under the Act, entitled to make Provisional Orders and Regulations with penalties attached? They claim, or it is claimed for them, that any Regulations made by them or for them are to be read into the Act and have the force of law. I cannot find anything in the Act which allows them to repeal a law when they have once made it. But no doubt we shall have some reply with regard to that.

I should like to ask what has been done by the Government or by the Special Commissioners to explain the Act in the country and to secure the co-operation of the medical profession and the great and small friendly societies. So far as I can learn, they took no steps at all for three months. The Commissioners went to sleep for three months, or, probably acting under orders, took no active steps; and as regards the doctors the Chancellor of the Exchequer went out of his way to insult and abuse the medical profession as a "selfish trade union." My Lords, there is no more generous or kindly profession in the world, especially to the poor in the rural districts, than the medical profession. I venture to say that the demands which they have made are largely fair and reasonable, and are made quite as much in the interests of the poor people whom they have to attend as in their own interests. They will be called out at all hours and will be called out more in the future when nothing will have to be paid by the people themselves. It is absolutely necessary in a large and scattered rural district that a medical man should have either a motor-car or horses and carriages. How is he to keep horses and carriages, much less a motor-car, on £200 or, £250 per annum? Yet that is what I am told will be the average income of a medical man under the terms of the Act. How much more liberal is the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he wants to find spies and inspectors to send into your houses! They are advertised for at from £350 to £500 per annum. We could do very well without some of those officials, but the Government cannot bring this Act into force and give medical and sanatoria benefits without the medical profession.

Up to the end of April nothing whatever had been done towards bringing the Act into operation. But in April the Commissioners sent official lecturers all over the country. They were very able men. I presided at several of their meetings in Lincolnshire at the request of the Commissioners, and I heard what they had to say. They had two great disadvantages. In the first place, they had to follow a number of men who had been sent out by the Government Whip as unofficial lecturers to popularise the Act, and who had been making speeches absolutely regardless of either facts or accuracy, or, to put it in milder language, they had shown an absolute ignorance of the Act itself. Questions were constantly asked the official lecturers as to whether what they said or what had been stated by the unofficial speakers was true, and when I was in the chair at one of these meetings I was appealed to by some very stanch Radicals as to which statements were true. The answer I gave was that as they had an official lecturer there it was not for me to say which statements were right or wrong. The next day I received a letter from the Official Commissioners in which they stated that they declined to be responsible for the opinions and explanations of their own lecturers; they must be taken to be saying as far as they could what they understood to be the Act, but the Commissioners were not responsible for their opinion. It is rather hard upon lecturers to be sent down to the country and then for their opinions to be treated in this way. I think that after three months a brief might have been made for them. They did a certain amount of good, however, and cleared the decks in a great many instances.

But latterly the Commissioners have issued an enormous number of pamphlets for which they are responsible. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have followed all these pamphlets. I have done my best to do so, but they have come a great deal faster than I have been able to manage to digest them. What is really the present position? I will only speak of what had been done up to May, for anything that has been done during the last six weeks clearly can be of no use in the way of giving information in the country districts. I would like to call attention to a speech made by Sir Robert Morant on May 20 at a meeting of the London Chamber of Commerce. He then said that— There were some important practical matters to be dealt with by the Commissioners, complex and full of detail, and regulations to be framed within the four corners of the Act in a way that would suit the societies, great and small, which had to administer them. This is within two months of July 15, when it is proposed that the Act should come into operation. How are employers and employed to be informed on these complex questions of which the Commissioners two months ago could not make head or tail? But that is not all. Sir Robert Morant stated that, though some five or six sets of Regulations had been drafted, they must be taken and regarded as experimental Regulations only. The outstanding difficulty, he said, was that they had not yet a list of approved societies, nor did they know precisely what societies existed in different localities. So that when we have done all we can to master these Regulations we have to realise that they may be done away with the next day; and I am told that, in the Provisional Regulations issued this week, among other things which have been withdrawn is this notice as to a penalty in the case of the workman. At any rate, that provision has been softened down.

Remember that the words I have quoted were used within two months of July 15. I think it may be said with perfect truth that the general body of workmen in town and country have no knowledge whatever either about the general provisions of the Act or what friendly societies have been or will be approved. We know now, from speeches delivered at meetings of several of the principal friendly societies, that they never wanted the Act at all, but are willing to make the best of it provided they are given time in which to prepare the necessary regulations. I heard the other day that one of the largest friendly societies in Lincolnshire received a letter saving that their application to be approved could not be agreed to unless they sent up their rules and regulations within twenty-four hours. It is said that they sat up all night to make them, but I do not think it is very satisfactory to people who have to pay their money to know that they have to go into a society whose regulations have been revised and made up in twenty-four hours. The reason why the societies want more time is obvious. The regulations and benefits which will do for the towns will not do for the rural districts. In the towns people want a great deal of medical attendance and are to a certain extent short lived, but in the rural districts they are strong and healthy and do not care quite so much about medical attendance. What they really want is what I may call deferred benefits between the ages of sixty and seventy, when they can claim the old-age pension. At one meeting over which I presided, and at which a member of the Advisory Committee as well as the lecturer was present, it was distinctly stated on behalf of these friendly societies that they desired to form branches with benefits suitable to various classes of labour, but that it would be impossible for there to form these branches until they knew whether they would be approved themselves and exactly what the labourers required.

I do not think I need say anything more about the friendly societies. But I would like to say that it is not only for rural labourers that they wish to establish branches. They also desire to have branches for other classes, like domestic servants, fishermen, seamen, and others, who do not want exactly the same benefits as are now being provided for the towns. On the part of rural labourers there is a great distrust of any advice given them by the employers, distrust principally caused by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Limehouse speeches and the way in which employers and employed have been set one against the other; and when they are told that they ought to become members of an approved society they look upon the advice with distrust, and they cannot be got to understand that the most pitiable condition a man can occupy is to become a Post Office depositor. Again, the small societies in the villages are very suspicious. They do not know what is going to be done with them, and some of them are inclined to think that they had better dissolve and divide what money they have before the Government, as they think they will, lay hold of it. I think that one of the things most necessary at the present moment is to try and keep going these small societies in rural districts, to get them recognised as approved societies, and then to group them together for pooling purposes so as to form societies of 5,000 members each. That is one way of getting good societies for the agricultural labourer. The other way is to get the friendly societies to institute branches with particular benefits for them.

But there, again, you are met with the same difficulty. Up to the present moment no replies have been sent to any of these smaller societies, and therefore they do not know whether they are going to be approved or not, and the friendly societies will not start branches until they know how many of the smaller societies are approved and how many members they will take away from them. Therefore until it is known which are to be approved societies and which are not, it is impossible to do anything in the rural districts. I look upon domestic servants and casual labourers as absolutely hopeless at the present moment. I doubt whether there is a single Minister on the Front Bench opposite who can tell us anything about the casuals or what will happen to them. But, whatever happens, we do not want to see the hard-working healthy English labourer put into the same position as casuals. There is another question I should like to ask to which I hope I shall get an answer. Large employers do not pay the wages themselves. What will be the position of a pay clerk or a foreman who presents the stamps and the remainder of the wage to a workman if the workman refuses to accept it as full payment of his demand? The workman says. "No, I do not want your stamps; I have got no card; I want the full wages upon which you engaged me." What will be the position in that case of the pay clerk or the foreman under the Workmen's and Servants' Act? Can he refuse to pay the remainder of the wages unless the receipt is given, or must he pay the remainder of the wages and not be able to produce his receipt when he goes back to the office? This is a question which presents some difficulty.

There is only one other class to which I wish directly to refer. As far as Lincolnshire is concerned the farmers and others are quite prepared to carry out the Act if they can only see their way to do so, and to form associations purely and entirely for rural labourers, or, if that cannot be done, to get branches from the larger societies. But fishermen are in a worse position than rural labourers. At the present moment the Board of Trade and the Fisheries Department have not come to an agreement as to what is a foreign-going fishing vessel. Under the Act fishermen in foreign-going vessels are to pay a good deal less than what is paid by other workmen—I think they are only to pay a penny or twopence. But, as I say, no decision has yet been come to as to what is a foreign-going fishing vessel. I was present at the meeting of the National Sea Fisheries Association when the matter was discussed. Mr. Runciman was present, but unfortunately, although he was most desirous to remain, he was called suddenly away to a Cabinet meeting, but he left Sir Thomas Elliott to describe the position. He asked us to name three practical fishermen who could advise the Department as to what was a proper definition of a foreign-going vessel. That we have done, but no decision has yet been come to. The Board of Trade have got their own ideas, but all I can say is that the definition of a foreign-going vessel in the Merchant Shipping Acts is useless for this purpose. That is the first difficulty with regard to fishermen.

The second difficulty is that the Insurance Commissioners have declined to accept the Royal Provident Fund as an approved society, and I must say I think their decision is quite right under the Act. But if that is the law, what happens? No branches of the society can be approved. The sick funds are affiliated to the branches, and they are also disqualified by the Act. I think that the sick funds must be at once dissociated from the Royal Provident Fund and must be started as fresh trusts and apply to be approved on their own bottom. But until the status of the fishermen is known it is impossible to do anything at all. In a recent circular issued by the Insurance Commissioners they warn domestic servants, especially women—and what they say with regard to domestic servants applies to every other class—under no circumstances to become Post Office depositors. They tell them that the Post Office is not really an insurance at all and advise them strongly not to join that category.

We are now within a month of July 15, and we do not know half of the friendly societies or half of the small societies which are eventually to be approved. It is most unfair to hustle those who are to be contributors into the few societies which have been approved, some of them only provisionally approved, and it is still worse to hustle 9,000,000 people into becoming Post Office depositors. But that must be the result if you bring the Act into force on July 15. I therefore appeal to the Government to give the Motion which I have brought forward their friendly consideration. Remember that the first list of approved friendly societies was only published on Friday last, but they are not very well satisfied with the rules that they have sent in in such a great hurry. Terms have not yet been come to with the medical profession, and only last week a circular was issued to all the county councils asking them to send in their regulations for sanatoria in their counties within seven days. That is pretty strong hustling, because if the Commissioners had been men of business they would know that most county councils cannot be called together within seven days. Nothing has been done with regard to sanatoria or with regard to medical benefits. All that has been done is absolutely provisional and experimental. I do not think that in the hay season you will get many labourers to read this list of Provisional Orders which is to be circulated throughout the country, and I very much doubt the legality of enforcing fines against the employer or the workman when you cannot give in return the benefits which in the Act you have stated you will give.

I apologise for having detained your Lordships so long, but I have done my best to put the matter clearly without any controversy so far as I could help in the matter. I am satisfied more every day that it is in the interests of the Act itself, and in the interests of the system of national insurance, that the date fixed for the Act to come into operation should be postponed. Every day shows, if you would only give time to get a full list of approved societies and if you would only come to terms with the doctors, that then, long before January, or, if you like it better, by October 1, there would be plenty of opportunity for making the Act to a certain extent a success notwithstanding its unworkable nature at the present moment. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House it is most essential, in the interest of all those affected by its provisions as well as of the taxpayers and ratepayers of England, that the operation of the Act should be postponed by a Privy Council Order under the powers given in the Act until 1st of January, 1913, in order to give sufficient time for the Official Commissioners to understand and explain its provisions, and, if necessary, to suggest such amendments as will render the Act workable and really beneficial as a scheme of National Insurance.—(Lord Heneage.)


My Lords, I am sure that none of your Lordships will dispute what Lord Heneage has said as to the manner in which this Act was passed through the other House and also through this House, and I think I shall be able to show to your Lordships that the haste which is being displayed in bringing it into operation is quite equal to the haste which was displayed in making it into law. Such little experience as I have had coincides with that of Lord Heneage, that at the present time, at all events in the rural districts, the people are in a state of absolute perplexity and bewilderment with regard to this Act. Lord Heneage has already given instances of matters which are very important but which remain entirely in doubt. It would be easy to multiply them to any extent you chose. I will only mention one or two.

The question of casual labour has been raised several times in the House of Commons, and the usual answer given was that it was under consideration. Within the last few days a draft Order was issued with regard to casual labour which appears to me to leave the matter in a much more confused state than before. The Order provides that persons employed in any of the following capacities: hop-picker, fruit-picker, pea-picker, flower-puller, potato-raiser, or gardener, are outside the Act except in the case where, previous to their hop-picking, fruit-picking, and so on, they happened to be employed persons. Just think what an amount of confusion that creates! It means that every farmer who employs hop-pickers will have to examine into the antecedents of all these casual labourers. The difference it will make to the farmer is this, that whereas if they were previously not employed he will not be liable to pay anything in respect of them and they will not have to pay anything, but if they had been employed the contributions in respect of them will have to be paid.

Lord Heneage mentioned the case of fishermen. Some sets of fishermen hold shares in the vessel and in the catch. In the draft Order made in regard to them it was stated that whereas fishermen who are employed in the ordinary way will have to pay in the ordinary way, persons who hold shares in a vessel will come like other people under the Act. What does that mean? A person who has a share in a ship or in the catch is not an employé. Will those men be regarded under the Act as employed, or does it merely mean that if they like to appear as voluntary contributors they can, and if they do not they will not be under the Act at all? Then there is the case of outworkers. We have not yet had any definition of an "outworker." In the first instance, all outworkers appeared to come under the Act, with the exception, of course, of Irish outworkers, because there is a special clause which provides that Irish out-workers are to be treated quite differently and are not to come under the Act. Then, in the same way, there was a single exception made with regard to the wives of persons who are insured and whose main employment does not consist in a particular form of outworking. It is very curious, but that one exception in the Act was made in the middle of a by-election in Somerset, where it appeared that very great interest was taken in the matter. I suppose there were a great many wives of insured persons there. At all events, it was a coincidence that that particular exception, and that one only, so far as England is concerned, was introduced in the Bill at that particular moment.

Cases like those I have mentioned are without number, and they have to be dealt with by July 15 if this Act is to be brought into operation on that date. Then take the case of a jobbing gardener. He works for A on Monday, for B on Tuesday, and so on. Naturally there is a good deal of anxiety as to who is to pay for that man. I will give an instance of the value of the Government lecturer in solving these matters. One lecturer, when asked who would pay in respect of this jobbing gardener, said— The man who first employs him in the Week would pay, but he would soon get to know the others and would ask them to share the obligation with him. You must remember that these Government lecturers mere under a great disadvantage, because they had strict instructions that if any question was asked them with regard to which they entertained any doubt they were to say nothing at all, or, at all events, they were to be most careful to say nothing which could involve the Commissioners in any way. This particular lecturer seems to me to have been either a wag who was pulling the leg of his audience, or else he was a person who was not fit to lecture at all, because how can any man possessed of commonsense, and after ail these lecturers ought to have some commonsense, say such a thing as this seriously—that the man who first employs him is to pay for the jobbing gardener and then attempt to recover their proportion from the people who employ him on other days. These are instances which could be multiplied as much as you like.

But what I wish particularly to call your Lordships' attention to is this, that whether it is from the careless and slipshod way in which this Bill was drawn and in which it was allowed to pass through Parliament, or whether it is from this extraordinary hurry which is being displayed in order to get the Act brought into force on July 15—from whichever cause it is, and I think very likely it is from both, this Act is being, in some of its main particulars, brought into force by the Commissioners under Section 78, which gives them extraordinary powers which were never before given to any body of men, and which certainly I hope will never be given again. They are really working the Act in their own way, and not according to the words which the Act itself contains. I will give your Lordships an instance or two, first of all with regard to the constitution of the Advisory Committee. The Act says that as soon as may be after the passing of the Act the Commissioners are to appoint an Advisory Committee, for the purpose of giving the Commissioners advice and assistance, consisting, amongst other persons, of representatives of approved societies. There were no approved societies; there could not be approved societies for this excellent reason—that time was not given to make the regulations which would enable any societies to be approved. Therefore the Commissioners, in an Order made under Section 78, say— And whereas before the Insurance Commissioners can grant approval to a society for the purposes of the Act it is necessary that regulations prescribing the form of certain of the rules of such a society should be prescribed by the said Commissioners and by reason of the premises— whatever that means— a difficulty arises with respect to the constitution of the Advisory Committee. Then they propose to constitute the Advisory Committee in a different way. It was not a "difficulty"; it was an impossibility. The Commissioners proceed to say— The requirement of Section 58 of the National Insurance Act, 1911, that the Advisory Committee shall, amongst other persons, comprise representatives of approved societies shall be modified— that is to say, altered— so as to require that the first Committee appointed under Section 58 of the Act shall comprise, in place of representatives of approved societies representatives of such bodies of persons corporate or unincorporate as, in the opinion of the Insurance Commissioners, are desirous of transacting insurance business. The result of that is that the Commissioners just put on to the Advisory Committee the persons they saw fit. That is the result so far as the Advisory Committee is concerned. There was no time to pass the regulations which were necessary before a society could be approved. That was probably a slip in the Act. But to say that the Commissioners are to have the right to alter the Act in any way they think fit appears to me very wrong indeed.

Again with regard to the composition of local insurance committees. The Act says that a committee shall be constituted for every county and county borough, and it is further provided that every such committee shall consist of such number of members as the Insurance Commissioners determine, but in no case less than forty or more than eighty; of whom three-fifths are to represent the insured persons resident in the county or county borough who are members of approved societies and who are deposit contributors in proportion to their respective numbers. Just listen to what the Commissioners say with regard to that provision. They say— In the absence of definite information, not only in regard to the number of persons in each county or county borough who will be insured, but also in regard to the number who will belong to each of the different societies which propose to transact insurance business under the Act, and in regard to the respective numbers of the persons who will become members of approved societies and of the persons who will become deposit contributors, it is impossible to adopt any system of proportionate representation— That is going against the provision in the Act— but the spirit of the Act will, as it appears to the Commissioners, be observed if the committees are so constituted that there shall not be lacking any important element of the various kinds of experience which it is desirable should be comprised the first committes. That is, as I say, entirely to alter the provision in the Act. Your Lordships will see that what the Commissioners did was this. The Act said that insurance committees were to be set up. The Commissioners state that it is impossible to carry that out, but that they will appoint provisional insurance committees, and this is the way they proceed to constitute these committees— In Our opinion the most practical method of achieving the object in view was wherever possible to utilise the machinery in the possession or at the command of central representative bodies for obtaining the names of suitable persons for inclusion on each of the committees; and accordingly we invited the assistance of members of the Advisory Committee representing respectively (1) the National Conference of Friendly Societies, (2) the Holloway, Deposit, and Dividing Societies, (3) the Trade Unions, and (4) the Industrial Assuance offices. The representatives on the Advisory Committee of those four bodies undertook to furnish the Commissioners with the names of suitable persons to the number specified for each of the four groups in the case of each provisional insurance committee. Therefore these three-fifths who are supposed to represent the insured persons are entirely nominated at the instance and through the medium of the members of the Advisory Committee. That is the way in which the provisional committee is constituted. I merely instance that to point out how entirely the Commissioners have created a sort of Act of their own. It may be good or it may be bad, but it is not the Act which passed through Parliament.

Further than that, the Act said that there were to be representatives of the deposit contributors. There is no such thing as a deposit contributor, for the excellent reason that three months are given from July 15 during which a person may join an approved society and become an employed contributor. It is not until three months from that date that you will know who is a deposit contributor. How is that dealt with? The Commissioners state that the members selected for inclusion on each provisional insurance committee will form a temporary or nucleus committee which will be charged with the duty of representing these deposit contributors. In the first place the people do not exist and, in the second place, those appointed to represent them—and you might just as well have appointed anybody else—certainly do not represent the deposit contributors.

Then we come to the doctors. It is proposed that on these provisional insurance committees there shall be representatives of the doctors. We were told just before the House of Commons rose for the Whitsuntide recess that there were the most amicable and friendly negotiations going on with the doctors. That was what the Secretary to the Treasury said. But how were these amicable and friendly negotiations commenced? At the beginning of them, the moment that the medical profession had taken exception to some things in his Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer described the doctors in his most elegant Limehouse style. He proceeded to threaten them, and said that if they did not mind, all the privileges they enjoyed under his Act would be taken away and he would set up dispensaries and in other ways alter the disposition of the money provided for medical benefits. That may be a good way to start negotiations, but I must say I should hardly have thought it.

Have we advanced one single inch since that time? The moment the provisional committees were started the State Sickness Insurance Committee of the British Medical Association declined to take any part in forming them or in the business which was to be submitted to them. There have been several meetings. I observe that there was one with Mr. Lloyd George on Thursday last. What happened? According to the published account of what took place the doctors merely repeated their six points, and the negotiations did not advance a single step. I believe they are meeting again this afternoon. I noticed the other day that the Chairman of the Scottish Commission said— I am certain that we are going to make an arrangement with the doctors. The doctors may have to come down a bit and the Government may have to go up a hit, but that there will be an arrangement I feel positively and absolutely certain. That is just the point. Who is going to go up and who is going to come down? It seems quite clear from what has passed hitherto that before Mr. Lloyd George brings the doctors into line he will have to eat a good deal more of the Welsh national vegetable than he ever anticipated when on February 17 he was calling the doctors names and attacking them.

On July 15, or any time after that, you may have the insurance committees started. But what are they to do? What powers will they have? Will they have power to impose a charge on the rates? The Commissioners may establish a body which they call a temporary body for purely temporary purposes, but that they can give that body any powers seems to me doubtful. Suppose that some county council declines to appoint an insurance committee. What is going to happen? There is no remedy so far as I can see. Now as to the cost. This Act is being brought into operation, so far as I can ascertain, absolutely regardless of cost. There are at this moment in the offices of the Commission high officials, borrowed I suppose, from the Treasury, the Home Office, and the Board of Education. But that is a mere trifle. Is there any estimate of the cost of this Act? There never was one; and, moreover, I very much doubt whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer really cares what the thing costs. All that he cares about is that the Act should be started on July 15 in order to enable him to go and say what enormous benefits he has given to the people. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is always reminding us that this Commission is a perfectly independent body, that it acts entirely for itself, and that he personally takes no part in administering the Act. I really cannot understand how he can say such a thing. For who is the chairman of the Advisory Committee? Mr. Lloyd George.


Mr. Masterman.


No. Then who is the chairman of the Joint Committee? The Secretary to the Treasury. More than that, the Commissioners themselves were created by the Treasury, and all the things they have done and are doing have been and are being done with the advice and consent of the Treasury. Further, to show how far the present Chancellor of the Exchequer is from being in any way impartial or independent in regard to this matter, your Lordships may remember that he took the chair at the meeting which was held to establish the Liberal Insurance Committee, which committee, he said, was to be established for the purpose of "expounding the Act and pounding those who oppose it." The meaning which the Chancellor of the Exchequer attaches to the word "oppose" is this. Any one who differs from him in any particular whatsoever opposes the Act. If ever there was a measure which was made up of nothing but details this is the measure. Nobody differs from the principle of the Act. The whole question has reference to the manner in which it is carried out, and when any question is raised with regard to the careless way in which then; principles are carried out in this Act the Chancellor of the Exchequer immediately declares the questioner an opponent of the Act and proceeds to write those eloquent letters which your Lordships read about once a week in the newspapers. It seems to me that if you want the people of this country to understand the Act at all, you must give them time in which to do so; if regulations are to be made, time must be given for the making of them; and if committees are to be appointed, time must be given to collect the men who are to sit on those committees. For these and a good many other reasons I entirely agree with the Motion which my noble friend has made.


My Lords, I intervene in this debate only because this is a question which is of serious importance to the rural districts of the West of England, with which I am intimately connected. We are very simpleminded folk down there; we live very far apart; we are not like people in large towns, who can meet together and discuss Acts of Parliament. We meet very seldom, and we are now asked to discuss and understand, not only a very complicated Act of Parliament, but a series of Regulations which are constantly being altered and constantly being issued in fresh batches. The Government ask us not only to understand accurately the anatomy of their child, but to investigate most carefully every article of attire of the huge trousseau with which they are providing it. I found in my part of the world, not unnaturally, a very strong feeling amongst farmers that they would refuse to carry out the Act, and I gave them what I believed to be sound advice. I advised them that as long as this law is on the Statute-book every man must obey it and endeavour to carry it out. Personally I have, on the Bench, fined gentlemen for passive resistance to one Act of Parliament, and I should be the last person in the world to advise others to offer passive resistance to another Act of Parliament. I think we may take it as certain that the farmers and employers generally in the country do mean to work the Act to the best of their ability, but I must say I think they have been very unfairly treated. To cover an Act of Parliament with all these Regulations, which take any ordinary man days and days to read and understand, is treating employers of labour very unfairly.

We had a big meeting at which there was present a lecturer sent down by the Government. He was a courteous and intelligent gentleman, who, I think, knew the Act thoroughly. But he could not answer our questions, because our questions are not dealt with by the Act and have not yet been dealt with by Regulations. He spent a happy two hours with us and then had to catch a train to address another audience, who were quite as anxious as we were to interrogate him about the Act. The last advice he gave us was to procure all the leaflets we could and study them. I have done so. I have studied them with great care, but I was rather disgusted to find on the back of each leaflet the following notice— It must be clearly understood that nothing in this leaflet is to be regarded as determining any of the questions that have to be decided under the Act, whether by the Commissioners or otherwise. In these circumstances I do not see much use in issuing the leaflets. They give information, and then the reader is told on the back that the information is worth nothing.

There are two questions affecting rural labour which I should like to put to His Majesty's Government. The first has reference to the position of an agricultural labourer who is receiving less than 2s. 6d. a day in cash, but who is getting in addition a cottage and garden free. How is the weekly value of that cottage and garden assessed? Is it by the rateable value? And in that case would the rateable value be added to the cash value of the man's wages, and the employer's contribution and the man's contribution be adjusted in that way? Noble Lords opposite will see that it does make a difference. If you calculated the employer's and the man's contribution purely on the man's wages there would be one scale, but if you threw in the value of the cottage and garden there would be another scale.

The other question I wish to ask concerns the vexed subject of casual labour in agricultural districts. In the West of England casual labour is a very great asset to the tenant farmer, to the small holder, to the market gardener, and to the landowner. I do not know how we should get on without it. In the busy months when extra hands are wanted there is a great supply of casual labour in the West of England. There are a great number of men there who much prefer to work for different masters than to remain in the employ of one master throughout the year. I quite understand that as the Act stands the man who employs the casual labourer on the first day of the week on which he is employed, whether it be a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, is responsible for putting on the stamp. May I take a typical casual labourer's week? On Monday he goes out shooting with a neighbouring landowner as a beater. I was informed by the lecturer that if the labourer went out with the landowner in that way and the landowner gave away the whole of his game, then the beater was not employed for profit or business and the stamp need not be put on; but if, on the other hand, the landowner sold a single bird then the beater was employed for profit and the stamp had to be put on. The landowner may understand that, but I am certain the ordinary beater would not understand it. On the next day, Tuesday, or on the Wednesday, the labourer goes out with a thrashing machine. The first question the employer has to ask him is whether that is his first day's employment, and the man has to produce his card. The same thing happens on the Thursday, when he goes to work for sonic small holder.

On each occasion the man must produce his card. The employer is bound to ask him to produce it to see whether that particular day is the first day in that week on which he has got employment. It is obvious that the employer must do that to safeguard himself from the penalty of £10 for not putting on the stamp. I think one of the great drawbacks of the Act is that this penalty of £10 is much too heavy, not for the rich man or the large employer of labour, but for the small employer who might inadvertently make a mistake. The casual labourer will have to carry his card about in his pocket for thirteen weeks, and every time he works for a fresh employer he will have to produce that card. I can imagine that the card will be in a curious state at the end of the thirteen weeks. It is suggested that the employers should agree to pool the insurance. That may be all right in some forms of business, but in the case of the casual labourer in rural districts it will have a very curious reside. There would have to be a Sunday-afternoon meeting of the sportsman, the owner of the thrashing machine, and the small holder to decide how the 4d. was to be divided amongst them during the ensuing week. I think this question of casual labour should be referred to the Commissioners, and that they should bring out some scheme applicable to rural districts. If something of that kind is not done the casual labourer will cease to be employed. That will be a bad thing for him, a bad thing for the farmer, and a very much worse thing for the land.

Then there is the question of our village clubs. These village clubs are and have been for years past the centre of life in some of our best villages. They are very much older, many of them, than the great friendly societies. In the best class of village there is nothing the inhabitants are more proud of than of the village club, and I feel that if things are hurried, as it appears they are to be, many of these village clubs will disappear. Your Lordships must recollect this, that many of the members of these clubs, if the clubs disappear, are not in a position to join the great friendly societies. They will have no alternative except to become Post Office contributors—that extraordinary form of self-paid pauperism which this Act introduces into the country for the first time. We are anxious to save the labourer, and especially the more elderly labourer, from the fate of becoming a Post Office contributor.

In Devon and Somerset we are forming a county association to amalgamate all the old village clubs, but it is obvious that that work must take time. It is not difficult for the great friendly societies to enrol new members; they have their organisations and staffs. But with us, dealing with widely-scattered parishes in widely scattered counties taking in Exmoor and Dartmoor and districts of that kind, it is obvious that these county associations cannot be formed by July 15. We attach, as I say, the greatest importance to these county associations, and I believe the Government do, too. All I ask is that the Government should give us time in which to form them. I am quite aware what the answer is. It is that there will be no benefits of any kind until January 1 next. It is said not to matter whether the Act comes into operation on July 15 because no one will get any-thing until January 1 next. If that is so, what is the use of bringing the Act into force on July 15? It seems to me, especially as regards these rural questions of the casual labourer and the village clubs, that it would be very much wiser for us to be given an extra six months in which to form these associations, and for the Commissioners to bring out more leaflets and pamphlets, but leaflets and pamphlets which will give us some idea of what we are to do before the Act comes into force.


My Lords, I am disposed to apologise for intervening so early in this debate, and, indeed, for taking part in the debate at all. I was unable last year to follow the long course of the measure in another place, and I was also, through no fault of my own, altogether absent from the debates in your Lordships' House in the autumn session of last year. But I am anxious to say one or two words of a more or less general character upon the points of principle which have been raised by the three noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, dealing with any minor points that I can in the course of the few remarks which I shall make, but leaving other points of detail to be dealt with by some of my noble friends who are more conversant than I am with the ins and outs of what we all admit to be a complicated measure. I ought to say, my Lords, that His Majesty's Government are far indeed from objecting to the discussion initiated by my noble friend opposite. On the contrary we welcome it, because we fully recognise that there still exists, particularly in the remoter parts of the country, much uncertainty as to the actual provisions of the Act, and still more uncertainty, perhaps, as to what is going to happen when the Act is brought into positive operation. I also fully appreciate that the attitude of all the noble Lords who have spoken is not one of hostility to the Government in this matter; it is not one of fundamental objection to the Act as an Act, but they think it their duty to call attention to what they conceive to be certain deficiencies in the Act itself, and in particular to ask that its operation may be deferred for some time.

It is important, in the first place, that I should endeavour to deal with this demand for delay. So far as I was able to follow the progress of the measure until it became an Act, this demand, or a similar demand, has been made throughout its whole discussion in Parliament, proceeding, I think, from a complete difference in outlook between the Opposition and the Government in this matter. The ideal of noble Lords opposite, as I take it, is that the measure should not come into operation until everything is cut and dried. All the approved societies ought to be formed; every individual should have decided whether he can join an approved society, and, if so, what, or whether he should become a mere deposit contributor through the Post Office. Everything, in fact, in relation to the Act must be comprehended by practically everybody concerned. The view of His Majesty's Government has been that that is an impossible manner in which to deal with a measure of this particular kind. The view that we have taken all through—it appears in the debates in another place, it has appeared in the debates here, and it will appear in the course of this debate—is that this measure is one to which it is necessary to apply the principle of solvitur ambulando; that it is only by bringing the Act into operation, by observing the methods of societies and of individuals, and, it may be also, by discovering the existence of errors and mistakes, either, if you like, in the Act itself or in the administration of the Act—that it is only by taking such a course that it is possible in this country to bring the Act into full and complete operation.

I say in this country because I firmly believe that in a country like this, whose main dread is of being bureau-ridden, this is the only method by which an Act of this kind can be worked. There are no doubt some countries in Europe—I quite admit it—in which the more complete measure which some members of the Opposition might like to see brought into operation could be applied, other countries in which far stronger personal pressure could be put either upon employers or upon workpeople to carry out, either at short or at long notice, the provisions of the Act; but here, as we all know, things are different. People are most jealous and suspicious of interference with their personal liberty by Government, or, indeed, by anybody else, and therefore I think it is not out of place to point out that all the difficulties to which noble Lords have drawn attention, all the anomalies, if you like, which attach to the Act, are due to the fact that we are introducing the contributory principle—a principle generally admired by noble Lords opposite, but one which is, I frankly admit, in some degree foreign to the genius of the people of this country. I cannot help, in passing, making the reflection that if we had obeyed the urgent call of noble Lords opposite and applied to the Old Age Pensions Act the contributory principle with the prospect of compelling workpeople to subscribe through their employers for benefits which might only come home to them forty years hence or more, if they should live so long—I cannot help reflecting what the practical difficulties would have been in adding a principle of that kind to our Old Age Pensions Act.

The arguments against delay appear to me to be these. So far as the large benefit societies are concerned, I believe it is true to state that they do not want delay. I see that Lord Heneage shakes his head. But what I think points to the truth of that statement is the very observation that he made, that until the Act comes into operation many members of the benefit societies are in a condition of doubt, and the benefit societies themselves—


I said that until the larger societies knew whether the smaller societies were going to be approved and grouped together for pooling purposes with 5,000 members they could not themselves furnish branches specially for rural districts.


Precisely. I think it is not unfair to infer from that statement, exactly as made by the noble Lord, that the large benefit societies will welcome the early bringing into operation of the Act. I am speaking, of course, in this case in particular of a long delay—say, a delay until January 1. It has been mentioned that if the Act is not postponed until January 1, it might, at any rate, be postponed until October 1. There, again, that comparatively short delay covers just the harvest time and the hop-picking time to which allusion has been made, and also, what is not at all unimportant as regards the officers of the friendly societies, the usual holiday time. All those periods are covered by the three months interval, and I venture to say therefore that, so far as fresh active operations are concerned, not much of a new kind would be likely to be done if a postponement until October 1 took place.

The noble Earl who spoke last but one, Lord Camperdown, drew attention, with no little censure, to the provisional arrangements which are provided for by, I think, Section 78 of the Act. It is reasonable to remind the House that provisional arrangements of this kind are by no means uncommon. There are various precedents for them, and if you look at any of those precedents I think you will all admit that the actual words of the section constituting the provisional arrangements are often somewhat startling, as they seem to be in this particular Act. I take only one instance, that of the County Councils Act of noble Lords opposite—the Act of 1888. I see there a section which says that the Local Government Board may, within six months after the day fixed for the first election, make such Orders as appear to them necessary for bringing the Act into full operation; and then follow these words— Such Orders may modify any enactment in this or any other Act, whether general or local or personal, so far as may appear to the Board necessary for the said purpose. That seems to give a vast, and, if you like, most dangerous power to a public Department to play ball with any Act of Parliament on the whole of the Statute-book; but it is quite clear that in all such cases where you are bringing an entirely new force into operation, as was the case in that Local Government Act, such vague and wide powers are almost necessarily given to the public Department concerned. I feel, therefore, that the alarm which the noble Earl expressed as to what may happen under this section in this particular case is in no way well-founded.

Then Lord Heneage dealt with the question of what he called Provisional Orders, but which more properly, I think, ought to be described as Provisional Regulations, because the term "Provisional Orders" is one to which a different meaning as a rule attaches. Those Regulations are made under the section of which I have just been speaking, and what I have said so far applies to them. In our opinion you cannot bring a novel systems of this kind into operation without making some such provisional arrangement; and I also venture to think that it is quite fair to warn the public, in the terms to which Lord St. Audries objected, that such arrangements must not be taken as laws of the Medes and Persians which cannot be altered, but that they are subject, as we see the effect of their application, to various modifications and alterations.

That brings me to the question of the amount of information which the Commissioners have hitherto been able to supply to the public on the details of this Act. Noble Lords have mentioned the various leaflets which have been circulated, and they have also alluded, I am glad to have observed, in terms of generous commendation to the personality of the various lecturers who have been round the different parts of the country to explain the Act. At the same time some complaint seemed to be expressed that these lecturers were not, perhaps, sufficiently primed with information, and that they expressed themselves in certain cases unable to answer questions which were put to them. We certainly should desire that the lecturers should give every possible information on any point which has been decided, but it clearly would not have been wise of them to express a personal opinion upon a disputed point to which Government sanction had not been actually given. And, above all, I am certain that they have been most careful, in a manner which noble Lords opposite would commend, to abstain from the smallest appearance of holding a brief for the Government in this matter, using the Government in the political sense, and that they have confined themselves to the bare skeleton of the Act and the explanation of its details without anything that could be regarded as most remotely connected with political argument.

On the question of delay our argument is that, even if we postponed the coming into operation of the Act, we should not be able to bring the process of explanation and information home until the Act is actually in operation. That is to say, supposing the Government agreed to a postponement the only effect would be that the actual bringing home to the people of the meaning and working of the Act would also have to be postponed, and you would gain very little in the way of general knowledge during such an interval; whereas it may be hoped that within six months or a year after the Act has been actually brought into operation public information will be increased to a large, indeed almost to a surprising, extent. Noble Lords very naturally dwelt on the particular difficulties which attach to the dissemination of information and to the ensuring of a grasp of the Act in rural districts. We fully admit the existence of those difficulties. It is obvious, as the noble Lord who spoke last said, that in scattered districts where there is by no means the amount of conversation, in comparison, which takes place in more crowded areas, and where, without suggesting any imputation on the ability of the rural labourer, which I should be the last to make, the absence of that conversation and frequent society has a tendency to make people's minds work more slowly than is the case in crowded districts, a special difficulty exists, and we are proportionately grateful to those who reside in the country who have given time and trouble to assist both in the explanation of the Act and in the work, as to the importance of which I fully agree, of consolidating and joining together for the purposes of this Act the various rural societies. I should like to say that I fully agree with the noble Lord who spoke last as to the importance of some of these small rural societies, many of them of long standing, and I entirely appreciate that they are regarded with a peculiar and intimate sort of affection by those who belong to them, who would dislike and resent, if such a thing were possible, being forced into one of the large and to them somewhat bleak sort of societies in place of the smaller body with which they are familiar.

And among those who have contributed the help to which I have referred I am well aware that many members of your Lordships' House are numbered. I know that the noble Lord who has made this Motion has presided at more than one such meeting. I think I am right in saying that the noble Marquess opposite (Lord Lansdowne) has played a not inconsiderable part in his county in helping on this work. I am aware that Lord St. Audries has also been active, and should like particularly to mention his Lord Lieutenant, Earl Fortescue, who has given a great deal of time and trouble to helping to start the Act in Devonshire. It is only right also to mention in this regard that a great many of the friendly societies have themselves circulated private papers of information to their members, which I have no doubt have been of service in informing the public generally of the more complicated parts of this Act. I hope Lord St. Audries will forgive me if I do not attempt to deal with the interesting legal point which he mentioned, as to how far a. free cottage is or is not considered as forming part of the wages of an agricultural labourer. That is a legal point with which I have no doubt one of my noble friends will deal.

One other point I desire to mention is this, not so much because there is any misapprehension in this House, because I do not think there is, but it is desirable surely to dissipate any misapprehension which may exist outside. Noble Lords have spoken freely of the Act coming into operation on July 15 as though at that time, on that date, everybody had to be a member of an approved society or become a deposit contributor. It is desirable to make it markedly clear, although I know it has been admitted by one noble Lord, that such is not the case, but that a further three months will exist after July 15 during which that choice can be made. Everybody has a free choice until October as to whether he will join an approved society, and, if so, what, or whether he will become a deposit contributor. It is, I think, desirable to attempt to remove the confusion which seems to exist in some quarters, although again I do not say that it at all exists here, as to what has to be done with regard to domestic servants. Domestic servants bring their cards, and if a servant fails to get a card his or her employer can get one. During the three months while the servant is deciding to what approved society he or she will belong the stamps are placed on the card, and when October comes the servant takes the card to the society and gets the benefit of the value of the stamps. Even supposing the servant does not find the right approved society by October, say not for some months later, he or she would still get the benefit of the reserve value acquired up to that time.

It is important to point out that it is not the case that if the master or mistress fails to deduct 3d. from the servant's wages he or she is thereby subject to a penalty. He or she is entitled to make the deduction, but is not compelled to make it. What has to be done is to see that the stamps are affixed in accordance with the regulation. There has, I fear, been some misapprehension in the public mind as to the manner in which penalties are liable to be incurred. There have been, I think, cases before in which somewhat widespread terror has been caused by the appearance on Government circulars of the penalty which is attached to the non-performance of a public duty. That, no doubt, is an alarming fact to some recipients of public circulars, but I venture to say that the amount which, if people are merely ordinarily careful, will be received in penalties in connection with this affixing of stamps will not be such as to add to the revenue any sum which is likely to be appreciated by my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The risk of incurring penalties is, I venture to assert, a slight one. It is slight, I also venture to assert, even in the case of those casual labourers to whom Lord St. Audries drew attention in an amusing picture of a casual labourer who works on different days in the week for different employers. That, I take it, was meant to be a somewhat extreme instance. I have no close knowledge of the West of England, but the number of casual agricultural labourers who change their employment as frequently as that is, I venture to think, small in most parts of England. The noble Earl, Lord Camperdown mentioned the case of hop-pickers. The arrangements to which he drew attention were the result of a series of conversations with deputations from hop farmers in the South, and were arrived at, as I am told, by agreement between the Commissioners and the hop farmers.


Did the farmers understand that they would have to inquire into the antecedents of all their hop-pickers?


I was going to draw attention to the fact that the noble Earl had seemed to indicate that the farmer would have to apply himself to a study of the biography of every hop-picker who came into his temporary service. I take it that what would actually happen is this. When a hop-picker goes to receive his wages—whether they are weekly wages or not I confess I do not know, but I imagine they are generally weekly—the farmer would ask him whether he had an insurance card, and if the hop-picker could not produce a card—


If the noble Marquess will look at draft Order No. 1A he will see that a hop-picker is put out of the Act unless he was immediately before in employment. As I understand the Order, it means that if the man had just previously to his hop-picking been engaged, say, in a factory, he would then be liable for the 4d. and his employer would be liable for the 3d. Therefore the employer, in order to know whether he is liable, would have to ascertain whether or not the hop-picker had been previously employed.


Yes; but clearly he would have to take the word of the hop-picker as to what his previous occupation had been. I think it would take the form of saying, "Have you an insurance card?" and either the man would produce one or he would not. I confess I do not see, from the way my noble friend puts it, in what manner the employer would become liable to a penalty supposing the hop-picker failed to produce his card. However, this is one of those minor points from which I expressed my intention of keeping aloof in these few remarks, and therefore I pass from it. I will merely say that, speaking generally and after listening with close attention to what has fallen from the three noble Lords, I cannot believe that we are wrong to start the machine in the manner in which we propose to start it. It is quite easy, I admit, to produce cases, particularly what may be called typical, but which are, in one sense, imaginary cases, which indicate the possibility of much confusion arising in the minds of individuals. I do not doubt also that there is, and that there will be for some little time, in the minds of many of those affected no little share of the perplexity and doubt to which noble Lords have alluded, but I have endeavoured to show that that state of affairs is inseparable from the introduction of a great measure involving so much novelty, some novelty in principle and much novelty in detail, and affecting hundreds of thousands of people who are not accustomed to study closely the detail of any subject. Where I confess I do remain unconvinced is that that state of things would be at all bettered by a postponement, either for three or for six months, to an extent which would outweigh the inconvenience that we are informed must necessarily result from such postponement.

I do not hesitate to say that if it is found that there are sections in the Act which either involve a wrong method of proceeding, or which might be so amended or improved as to more completely grease the wheels of the machine, we shall not pause in introducing a Bill with amending clauses for that purpose. I hope that may not prove to be necessary; but I assert quite frankly that nobody—not, I believe, the most experienced of noble Lords in this house or any of those outside the House who are most conversant with local conditions and with the lives of the people specially affected by this Bill—can say with confidence whether some amendment of the terms of this Act may or may not be necessary. That is a matter on which wise people will, I think, reserve their judgment until the Act has been in operation for a short time; and I should be indeed glad if I thought that your Lordships were prepared to agree that the noble Lords opposite have not really proved their case, that in the interests of the public it is better to start the machine in the manner in which we propose, and that there are at any rate fair grounds for supposing that no harm will be done by what noble Lords consider so great an acceleration, but which we consider to be merely the most practical method of getting to work with as little delay as possible.


My Lords, my noble friends who brought this matter before the House are at any rate fortunate in one respect. They have not been met from the Bench opposite by a rebuke or by the imputation that their action has been the result of sinister motives. The noble Marquess, indeed, stated a moment ago that he was very far from objecting to the course which they had taken. In fact, be welcomed it. He even bestowed the golden largesse of his praise upon some members of this House who have interested themselves locally in preparing for the coming into operation of the Insurance Act, and he told us that in his opinion it was conceivable that amending legislation might be necessary. The noble Marquess will forgive me if I remind the House that His Majesty's Government have two voices when they are discussing this question, and that the voice which comes from the courteous lips of the Leader of this House is only one of those voices. May I be permitted to give to the House an example of the other voice? I happened to notice a few days ago a letter addressed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the course of a recent by-election to the Liberal candidate, and I find that in that letter the noble Marquess's colleague said— The Tory Party were doing their best to postpone and prevent the actual enjoyment of these great advantages by the working classes so that they [the working classes] should not find out too soon how they had been deceived by Tory canvassers…The Tory Party are getting perfectly frantic in their eagerness to put off the Act so that the people should not really know what has been done for them. That is what I ventured to describe a moment ago as the imputation, the most unjust imputation, of sinister motives to those who, like my noble friends, consider that there are excellent reasons, reasons which the noble Marquess himself thinks worthy of discussion, for considering whether the operation of this Act should not be postponed for a while.

Now, my Lords, is the request of my noble friends really an unwarranted one I think Lord Heneage was perfectly justified when at the outset of his speech he reminded the House of the Parliamentary history of the Act which we are discussing. That Act was not preceded by any inquiry, and in that respect there is a striking contrast between what happened in Germany when the question of insurance was dealt with and what happened in this country—a contrast striking both in regard to the amount of time allotted respectively in the two countries and in regard to the amount of expense to which the public was put in each case. Let me give the House the figures for the purposes of comparison. In the case of Germany—and I am taking my figures from the same letter of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which I quoted a moment ago—the total cost to the public of a national insurance which covers old-age pensions, sickness, and permanent infirmity, was £3,000,000 sterling. In the case of this country the Chancellor informs us that the expense incurred for the same purposes this year will be £15,000,000, and that it will eventually reach £20,000,000, of which I suppose £8,000,000 may be charged to the Insurance Act; and yet the German measure took five or six years to prepare, while this Act received only fifteen months' investigation. Apart from this, we have none of us forgotten that the Insurance Bill was absolutely transformed during its passage through the House of Commons, and that clause after clause of the measure went through without any discussion or examination at all. Of course, the result was what might have been expected. We have in our hands a measure which all insist is a crude and imperfect measure, and His Majesty's Government are perfectly aware of the fact, for what other reason, indeed, did they put into the Bill the proviso suggesting the idea that it might be necessary to postpone the operation of the Act? It was, of course, put in upon the presumption that when the time came none of the parties interested in the Act might be found ready.

Well, are they ready? Are either those who are going to administer these benefits or those who are going to be the recipients of them ready? It is idle to pretend that they are, and the noble Marquess himself does not for a moment suggest it. Then what was the argument of the noble Marquess? He turned to us and said, "Oh, you want everything to be cut and dried before the Act is to come into operation." No, my Lords, I do not think we do. I can well conceive that there should be omitted points and unsolved difficulties when the Act comes into operation, but before the Act comes into operation do let us emerge from the region of chaos and confusion in which we find ourselves at the present time. Do let us try and get out of this atmosphere of lecturers, leaflets, pamphlets, and Provisional Rules by which this question is fogged and confused. The noble Marquess says it will all come right—solvitur ambulando. But suppose we amble into a quagmire. Will the noble Marquess remain quite satisfied, and is he certain that this experimentum in corpore vili which he recommends may not result in great hardship to a number of people whom we all wish to treat considerately and justly? The fact is that the success of this Act depends on the construction of a vast network of machinery of an extraordinarily intricate character, partly constructed by private agency and partly by Governmental and Departmental agency, and my noble friends have been able to show that that machinery, far from being ready to be set in motion on an early day, on the 15th of next month, is at this moment out of gear and incomplete, and that the working of it is hardly understood at all by many of those who will be most affected by its operation.

Something has been said during the course of this discussion as to the manner in which the question of postponement is regarded by the friendly societies themselves. I think the noble Marquess stated that he believed the great societies were in favour of proceeding without further delay. I am told that at the meetings which took place at Whitsuntide the great societies, on the contrary, in most cases showed evident signs of a desire for more time to acquaint themselves with the probable working of the Act. But what of the Government themselves? Are they ready? They are improvising this machinery, altering it from day to day, putting it together without sufficient time for consideration, and" inundating the country with advice and exhortation and explanation which I am sorry to say in most cases has only added to the confusion of mind which prevails. Then I should like to ask the noble Marquess, What about the Commissioners themselves? Are they quite ready? Are they pressing the Government to go ahead without any delay? I have had no communication with them and do not know what their views are, but I should very much like the Insurance Commissioners to be allowed to vote by ballot on the question of postponement or no postponement. Again, the Advisory Committee, which we know will play a part of such immense importance in these transactions, was only brought together, if I remember aright, in the month of May, with three months to constitute itself and acquaint itself with the immense volume of difficult business which it will have to transact. Then there are the Insurance Committees? I fancy there will be about 260 of these altogether. They are to number between forty and eighty members apiece, and three-fifths of those members are to represent members of approved societies. But very few of the approved societies are yet in existence. If you consider the stipulations of Section 59 it seems to me quite impossible that those committees can be set up in accordance with the provisions of the Act, and no doubt it is for that reason that we are having, not only provisional regulations, but provisional committees set up to bridge the gulf.

What is true of the Insurance Committees is still more true, I think, of those district committees which will be formed under the Insurance Committees, and which will have to do what I suppose may be described as the spade work of this business throughout the country. Between 1,000 and 2,000 of these committees will, I am told, be necessary, and they are to be appointed by the Insurance Commission within six months under schemes to be prepared after consultation with the county councils and approved by the Insurance Commissioners. Now how are all those conditions going to be complied with with any approach to decency in the time which is at command? In all those respects I maintain that my noble friends are right when they contend that we are not ready, and shall not be ready by the 15th of next month, to set this Act in motion.

But, my Lords, hardest of all seems to be the case so well touched upon by my noble friend Lord St. Audries—the case of the smaller clubs. I desire to associate myself entirely with him in what he said as to the important part that these small clubs play in our village life, and as to the cruel injustice of doing anything which would have the effect of depriving them of the status and position which they now enjoy. I know that both the Act and the Regulations provide, and I think provide in a reasonable spirit, for arrangements under which these smaller societies will be allowed to retain, at any rate in great measure, their independence and their individuality. But they want time to look around, and what we are afraid of is that in your hot haste you will hustle these small clubs, either into winding themselves up and perhaps allowing their members to become deposit contributors, or into joining without adequate consideration and without sufficient knowledge of the facts other societies perhaps not properly constituted and perhaps not of the complexion which these little clubs would really desire to join if they had full opportunity of considering their position.

It is within the knowledge of most of us who have taken any interest in what is passing in the country at this moment that many of these little clubs have been seriously considering whether they should not dissolve. In fact, I am under the impression that some have dissolved already. His Majesty's Government are quite aware of the importance of this matter, and that is one of the points to which the circulars which are falling so thickly all over the country are directed. I received a circular the other day dealing with the question and offering some extremely well-meant suggestions as to the kind of action which might be taken. It is numbered A S 31, and an extremely elaborate account is given of the different alternatives which are open to the existing societies. They may fall in under a scheme of centralisation, under a scheme of affiliation, or under a scheme of association—these are all technical expressions which now will become part of the jargon of this question; but I will undertake to say that if this paper were put into the hands of the secretary of an ordinary village club and he was given an hour to read it and then told to explain what courses were really open to his club he would be absolutely incapable of doing it. There are other documents of the same character. There is a little leaflet, No. 13, in which there is more official jargon of the same kind, and in which the alternatives open to these clubs are described in language which I am entirely unable to reconcile with the language of the circular that I have just quoted. I merely mention this because it seems to me to be an illustration of the manner in which we are puzzling the people of this country by the avalanche of documents which is being scattered broadcast.

Then as to the question of postponement. Should we really be depriving anybody of any substantial advantages if the operation of the Act were postponed for a few weeks or a few months? What can you do when the Act comes into operation? You can do nothing in respect either of maternity benefit or medical benefit or sick benefit. In the case of sanatoria benefit you can do only what you may be able to do with the existing inadequate accommodation, and, as far as we know, without the co-operation of the doctors, which, after all, counts for a good deal in this matter. Disablement benefit cannot come into operation for a year's time, so that, as my noble friend put it, you are in this position. You have entered into a contract with those who will pay these contributions under the Act. They are to pay their contributions, and you are to produce certain benefits in return. You will receive the contributions, but you will not be able to produce the benefits. What you will be able to do, no doubt, will be to pay the little army of officials of all kinds with which you are covering the country, most of them, remember, appointed altogether outside the scope of the Civil Service Commission and therefore without any guarantee whatever of their fitness for the work.

One word only as to the doctors. Your Lordships probably have not forgotten that quite recently, on May 1, the House of Commons passed without a Division a Resolution that the Insurance Act will fail to confer medical benefit until the cooperation of the doctors is assured. I hope we shall be told to-night whether His Majesty's Government are in a position to hold out any hopes to us that the co-operation of the doctors has been secured. The doctors have been alternately cajoled and intimidated, but, so far as I have been able to observe, neither the cajolery nor the intimidation have been successful in driving them away from their point. A deputation of the doctors was received by the Chancellor of the Exchequer about a week ago. He treated them respectfully, I will say that, on that occasion. He then invited them to submit a statement of the facts upon which they based their claim, and they promised to do so. I should like to know whether that statement has been put in, and whether His Majesty's Government discover in it any hope of that co-operation without which obviously the Act must be to a great extent a failure. I do not know whether the point is one that I can reasonably ask for information upon, but it would be interesting to know whether, supposing His Majesty's Ministers are not able to come to terms with the doctors, they have in view any other plan for obtaining the assistance of the medical profession. If I might put it quite crudely, is it their intention to bring in "strike-breakers" for the purpose and thus obtain the assistance that they desire?

My noble friends have touched, and I do not think I need follow them except to a very slight extent, upon some of the unsolved and still outstanding difficulties of the Act. We have not received an answer to the point which was raised in regard to the employment of what I think is called seasonal labour. It has not been explained how an employer is to satisfy himself when he takes on a casual labourer whether the contribution is due in respect of the man and whether as a matter of fact it has been paid; and, as my noble friends have pointed out, this is the case where the new offence created by the Regulations comes in, and where the £10 penalty not mentioned in the Act itself but introduced in these Provisional Regulations, appears for the first time. Then there is another point that I do not think has been touched upon—I mean the case of the married woman. The history of the case of the married woman outworker is rather a singular one. At first these out-workers were included within the scope of the Bill. Then at a rather remarkable moment—the Somerset by-election happened to be going on—wives of insured persons were promised exemption with suspicious alacrity. But since that a further complication has arisen. His Majesty's Government have appointed a committee to deal with the question, and the committee has advised to the effect that if the scheme is to be an equitable one they must be included with all the other outworkers. So that first they were put in, then they were left out under pressure, and now the committee suggest that they should be put in again. Perhaps the noble Lord who will follow me will explain how the matter stands. With regard to the moot question of domestic servants I will only say this, that it is a little remarkable that, considering the extreme difficulty of that part of the case, no explanatory leaflet dealing with it has, so far as I am aware, yet been issued. If I am right in regard to that, it is a remarkable piece of evidence. The point that I particularly refer to is the question of substituted benefits under use 13. I do not think any explanation been vouchsafed upon that point.

I will not take up the time of the House by going further into these somewhat technical matters, but I would like to ask whether the noble Lord who will follow me can tell us that the postponement of the operation of the Act would really injuriously affect the interests of any of those who are concerned in this piece of legislation. So far as His Majesty's Government are concerned—and we know how closely they are officially mixed up in the whole of the machinery of the Act—would it not be to them a relief to be given little more time to turn round? So far as the societies go, would it not be a fair and reasonable thing that they should not be hurried into a decision which must so vitally affect their interests in the future? And, lastly, would it not be in entire accordance with the intentions of Parliament, which expressly provided for the possibility of postponement, that such a postponement should take place in circumstances which seem to most of us so urgently to call for it?


My Lord, if I venture to take part in this debate for a brief period, it is because I have taken a deep interest in this Act and to some extent co-operated in the preparation of its machinery. I think that no one who has listened to this debate can regret that it has taken place. It has given evidence of interest in and study of this intricate subject, and it has drawn attention to points of difficulty which only become realised when people have to consider these things from a practical standpoint. The debate has shown something else. The speeches that have been delivered have given us ample evidence that many of your Lordships, I think a good many, are doing on this occasion what you have done on other occasions—you steadily refuse to allow the issue to be mixed up with politics. Many of you may and probably do object to the way in which this Act is being worked, but I have not gathered from any noble Lord who has spoken that he has not put his best ability into assisting the working of the machinery of the Act in that part of the country with which he is concerned. I think it is a great feature in this country that this should be so. I had myself cause to appreciate it in connection with the intricate arrangements for bringing the Territorial Force into operation, and I shall ever be grateful to many of your Lordships for your assistance in that matter. Perhaps it is just this practical character of the British mind that makes this question one which is sure to be brought up in the form in which it has been brought up to-day. I think it is a great advantage that it should be so.

But the present issue is whether it would not be better to postpone bringing the Act into operation to a period subsequent to July 15. If your Lordships will allow me, I will give some reasons which make me think that postponement would he a very great evil indeed. I am well aware of the difficulties of launching a new system of the kind, well aware of the time that was taken in Germany; but in Germany the whole machinery was the machinery of the State, whereas the scheme of this Act is to work through the existing friendly and other societies. That makes a great difference. If you postponed the coming into force of this Act you would injure the societies in a very serious way. Their members are already dropping off because of the new system which is coming into existence, and if you asked the best and most experienced of them I believe they would tell you that at this moment there is no evil they would regard as so great as the postponement of the coming into operation of this Act. Up to the present time societies have been approved representing about 5,000,000 of insured persons, and they are being added to. These are the latest figures, and they show that within the last few weeks rapid progress has been made. Therefore I say it would be a very great evil to expose these societies to the risk of seeing their clientele fall off by reason of the machinery not being ready.

I turn to the side of the State. I did not gather from the noble Marquess that he had as clearly put before his mind what would be the effect of postponement as regards benefits. If payments are postponed there would have to be postponement of the time from which benefits would accrue. To take any other course, to defer payments for three months and at the same time let the benefits come into operation at the time appointed, would necessitate a sum of £3,000,000 being provided from the coffers of the State. My right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a large surplus just now, but it is possible that it may be wanted for other purposes, and it is not desirable to create a new mode of applying that surplus unless there is strict necessity. To my mind there are very formidable difficulties in postponement.

Now turn to the other kind of difficulties. I ask your Lordships to visualise what will happen on July 15. When wages become due—it may be a week later than July 15—the employer, on making the payment, would ask the servant for his or her insurance card, which the servant can obtain at a Post Office, and to this card the necessary stamps would be affixed. If the servant does not produce a card, a card will have to be obtained by the employer. It is a very simple procedure. You have to see that the servant has a card upon which the stamps can be placed or else you send for a card yourself, and you must not pay wages without going through these formalities. It is a simple procedure, and I venture to say that in a few years it will become a matter of course. I have been told in Germany that all sorts of objections were raised there at first, but the system has become so much part of the national life and the benefits of this great system have been so clearly realised in Germany that it is regarded as a matter of daily routine to do the stamping.

Various other difficulties have been put by some of your Lordships. It is asked how is the servant to find his society; it might not be ready by July 15. That may be so. There is an immense deal to be done, but it need not all be done by July 15. For three months after that there is nothing necessary except to put the stamps on the card and so secure payment of the contributions. By that time a great many more societies will have been approved than have been approved up to the present. As I have informed your Lordships, up to the present time societies approved represent 5,000,000 of insured persons. Five millions is a substantial fraction out of the 14,000,000 who will be insured when the Act comes into full operation. I think it will happen very often in the country that the servant will not wish to join a society at once, but will prefer to keep his card until the little society he wishes to join is ready. But let the system come into operation. These little societies may take the form of dividing societies, slate clubs, or what not. It is a great fallacy to suppose that no society with less than 5,000 members can be registered. The smallest society can be registered, subject to the section of it devoted to this form of insurance being managed by the members themselves and not being conducted for profit. They do not need to federate with any other society. They need only to be brought together with other societies and pooled for the purpose of valuation of assets; but that takes place at a later time.

I do not propose to go into the details of that further than to say that I listened with the greatest interest to the practical speech which Lord St. Audries made. I agree with him that it is in the most eminent degree desirable that small societies should be encouraged to work together more than they have done in the past. The business which they will have to undertake is new and on a larger scale than hitherto, and it is better that there should not be a multitude of these small societies working independently but that they should work together. We feel that these societies form part of the life of the country, and therefore it is desirable that plenty of opportunity should be given them in order to enable them to get upon their feet. As I have said, no one will need to join a society for three months, and at the end of three months he need not join a society but can become a deposit contributor, and if he does not wish to remain a deposit contributor he can withdraw his account and transfer himself to a society. So that really the 15th of July, about which date conjured up, means nothing except that persons will have to put stamps on the cards. But it will have the beneficial effect of waking a great many people up to the unknown terrors of this system. People cannot learn to swim without going into the water, and one of the advantages of bringing this Act into early operation is this, that we shall all learn to swim. When July 15 comes we shall apply our minds to this new branch of our domestic relations.

The noble Marquess asked whether the Insurance Commissioners were ready. If he had asked that question a month ago I should have said that the Commissioners were not ready, but great efforts have been made during the past month. The whole resources of the Civil Service have been placed, as far as they could be, at the disposal of the Commission, and immense progress has been made. I do not wish to trouble your Lordships in detail with what has been done, but, speaking for myself, I anticipate that the whole of the machinery will be in working order by the time when something has to be done—that is to say, by October, when people are expected to join their approved societies. The noble Marquess also asked about the position as regards the doctors. His Majesty's Government fully realise the situation as regards the medical profession and the extreme desirability of carrying the doctors with us in a cordial spirit and of enlisting their co-operation in this great experiment, but in view of the fact that negotiations are now going on I think it would be undesirable that I should say more on the subject at this moment.

Then the noble Marquess referred to the case of the hop-pickers. Hop-picking, by an Order, has been exempted from insurance as being a kind of subsidiary employment that would not ordinarily come into it; but it has been said that a hop-picker is to come in if he is a person who is ordinarily in employment. All the farmer has to do is to ask the hop-picker whether he has been in employment and whether he has a card. If the hop-picker deceives the farmer the farmer will not be fined for believing him. All the farmer will have to do will be to put the question. Another point was raised by Lord St. Audries, who asked whether, in the case of a man who, in addition to his wages, had a free cottage and other emoluments, the value of the cottage and the other emoluments would be counted in. Yes, they would. They are valued now by the pension officer, who has experience of that kind of work in connection with the Old Age Pensions Act. I think I have now dealt with the main points that have arisen in the course of this discussion. The Act does not come into operation on July 15 for practical purposes, except to the limited extent I have explained, and I think it is desirable that it should come into operation then to that limited extent. It will focus people's minds on what they have to learn, and I do not think it would be a service to the country if we postponed the coming into force of the Act. July is a good time to start, and, as I have explained, the burdensome part of the work will not become operative until October. To postpone the payments would, as I have explained, be to postpone the benefits, and it would be a great disappointment if the benefits did not come into operation in January next. I have explained also that the societies would suffer because the confusion which is causing their members to fall off would operate still more severely.

My answer to the Marquess's question as to whether it would not be better to postpone the Act is that I do not think a postponement would be advantageous to the country. I admit that it would have been better if we had considered this thing academically for a longer time, but the bulk of people will not take the trouble to learn at all; it is only practice which teaches them. The thing to do is not to postpone a great social reform of this kind, but to do the best we can to bring it into operation. The machinery is sufficiently ready to justify the very limited extent to which the provisions of the Act would impose a burden as from July 15 next. On these grounds I submit that we should be guilty of an error of judgment if we postponed the operation of the Act. That there will be difficulties I do not for a moment deny. I recognise that there are difficulties in applying the Act to the Army and Navy, but still it can be done, and the difficulties are being overcome. In conclusion, I have no hesitation in saying that in my opinion it is to the advantage of the country that this Act should be brought into operation as soon as we reasonably can do so.

On Question, Motion negatived.

House adjourned at half-past Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.