§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, in asking your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading I will explain, as shortly as possible, the reasons why it is necessary to ask the House to agree to a Bill to amend the National Insurance Act, 1911. I think there is no doubt that an Act of the great magnitude of the Act of 1911, which was necessarily complicated from the fact that it had to deal with a very great subject—namely, the insurance of some fourteen millions of people in the United Kingdom, ten millions of them being in England alone—no amount of labour that might have been expended by Parliament in the passing of the principal Act could have rendered amendment unnecessary, because those who have had anything to do with the working of the Act will be well aware that nothing but the actual testing of it in operation could render it certain that the provisions originally inserted were the right ones. I may say at once that the present amendments are only such as could not have been foreseen. They are not fundamental; they do not alter the general framework of the Act, and the principle of the Act of 1911 is not touched in any essential manner.
I may fairly describe this Bill as to a large extent a machinery Bill. What alterations are made in the procedure of the principal Act are really in the form of lubrication in the way of making it more easy for those who have to work the Act, whether it be the Commissioners themselves or time county and county boroughs or the great approved societies. Hardships and difficulties have arisen under the principal Act which could not have been foreseen, and one of the principal objects of this amending measure is to remove those difficulties and hardships. This condition of things is not peculiar to the Insurance Act of 1911. I venture to say that no great Act of Parliament dealing with such a question affecting the lives and interests of so many millions of people has ever been passed without its having been necessary to amend it in some form or another, no short time after it has become law.
The most important clause is Clause 1, because it deals with the extra money that 1862 has been provided for the administration of the principal Act. Your Lordships will remember that the House of Commons last session voted £1,600,000 in addition to the amount that had already been voted, and the Prime Minister promised that an amending Bill would be forthcoming in order to regularise the expenditure of that £1,600,000. The opportunity is being used, as I have already said, to do away with certain imperfections and to give greater facilities for working the Act. How was it that it became necessary to vote £1,600,000 in addition to the amount already provided under the principal Act? It was required, as no doubt your Lordships know, for the additional medical benefit payable under the Act. Medical benefit was originally estimated at something like 6s. a head. Out of that amount the doctors were to receive something like 4s. a head. Although in the past it had often been the case that the great friendly societies in this country had not paid to their medical officers more than 4s. a head for their attendance on the societies' members, the doctors took objection, and no doubt rightly, and said that the lives insured under the Act were not exceptionally good lives, whereas the lives of friendly society members were good lives.
There was a great deal of negotiation, as your Lordships are aware, between the Commissioners and the doctors, represented by the British Medical Association; and it was agreed chat further, and more liberal, terms were to be given to the doctors. If it is sanctioned by this Bill, the doctors will now receive 6s. 6d. per head, and in addition to the 6s. 6d. a head for insured persons they will receive 6s. per head for home treatment of tuberculous persons, making in all a capitation grant of 7s. In addition to medical benefit there is also provided 1s. 6d. per head for every insured person for drugs supplied by the chemist, and there is a further 6d for drugs held in suspense—that is to say, in case the 1s. 6d. is found, as a whole, not to be enough, then this 6d. per head suspense fund may be drawn upon by the panel doctor who has prescribed more than the 1s.6d. per head as a whole for the patients on his panel. If any part of that 6d. per head is not spent, then the whole of that amount, or the part that is not expended, will go to the doctor. The object of that, your Lordships will see—and I think it is one with which we shall all sympathise— 1863 will be to discourage drugging. The doctor will have a distinct inducement not to unnecessarily order drugs. On the other hand, it is a great advantage having this 6d. suspense fund so that if in any case the 1s. 6d. average for a particular year is not sufficient there will be this fund which can be drawn upon for the additional drugs or specially expensive drugs required.
By another provision 9d. is provided for sanatorium benefit for tuberculous persons. This further grant of £1,600,000 is necessary to secure an efficient medical service, and I am glad to think that this has been generally accepted by the medical profession. There is a further benefit provided in order to meet the difficulties of members of friendly societies who, on account of age, or permanent diability were disqualified from becoming insured under the Act. Therefore a grant has been made of 2s. 6d. per head for medical benefit for uninsured members of friendly societies, so that those members who are uninsured will get the advantage of medical attendance to the extent of 2s. 6d. per head, and the society will have to procure that medical attendance for them.
Further on in the Bill there is another provision which will be of great assistance to those compulsorily insured contributors who have been dilatory. I refer to the way in which the time limit has been extended from twelve to fifteen months. The object of that is to give time for them to come in without reduction of benefit, because, as your Lordships are aware, if a man did not conic in within twelve months after the date fixed in the principal Act he would be liable, and would in fact be obliged, to have his benefits reduced. Now the time has been extended for another three months, and it has also been extended in the case of voluntary contributors. They were in the principal Act only allowed six months to come in, so that they will now have the same advantage as compulsorily insured contributors and will be allowed the same to come in, making their time fifteen months, as in the case of compulsorily insured contributors. There has been a great deal of discussion as regards the hardship of men not being able to come in between the ages of 50 and 70 who are compulsorily insured except at a reduced benefit. This Bill provides that the principal Act shall be so amended that age disability shall be removed between 1864 the ages of 50 and 70 for those who are compulsorily insured under this Act. Further medical benefits are given for life to employed contributors entering an approved society after the age of sixty and who have already paid twenty-six contributions to such society. That, again, is a decided advantage to insured persons.
There is also another amendment of the principal Act which is necessary owing to a decision of the Irish Courts, under which it was held that all local authorities were exempt. That decision would have this effect, that local authorities would not have to pay the employers' contribution, for example, for the men employed on the road by them. That is to say, such employers would escape the employers' contribution, because the Courts held that they were exempt under the principal Act. That has been put right in this Bill, which provides that all persons employed, by local authorities, except those who are specially exempt, shall come in just like any other insured persons, and the local authorities will have to contribute. But there are certain cases, of course, where it is desirable that they should be exempt, and those cases are exempted under Clause 5 of this amending Bill. Parish councils, and so on, employ small farmers and also small shopkeepers to act as rate-collectors, men whose principal livelihood is not obtained by acting as rate-collectors. It is quite common in country districts for shopkeepers and small farmers to be paid £10 or £15 a year for doing duty as rate-collectors. In those cases your Lordships will agree that it would be quite right that the parish councils or the rural district councils should not have to pay the employers' contribution.
Then there is another important question which this Bill deals with, and which will remove a very great hardship. I refer to the question of unemployment. As it stands at the present moment, if a man is unemployed he is obliged either to allow his contributions to become in arrear or to pay them himself. That remains; but under the principal Act not only had he to pay his own contributions during the time of unemployment, but he also became liable for the contributions that would have been paid by the employer if he had been employed during that time—that is to say, he had to pay or to make good during the time of unemployment not only his own con- 1865 tribution but that of the employer as well. In future a man who is out of work will be entirely relieved from having to pay the contribution that would have been paid by his employer if he had been at work. That will have to be made up in some way, and for that purpose £100,000 a year will be taken from the redemption of reserve values. If that sum is not found to be enough it is provided that the further amount required shall be voted by Parliament.
The question of medical benefit for voluntary contributors whose incomes are over £160 a year is dealt with thus. They are to receive no medical benefit at all, but, in order to compensate them for that, the amount of their contributions will be reduced by a penny. That is one of the things the doctors took great exception to. They very strongly objected that voluntary contributors with an income of over £160 a year should receive medical benefit, and part of the arrangement with the doctors was that that should be altered so that for the future a voluntary contributor with an income of over £160 a year should not receive any medical benefit. On the other side, it would not have been fair to make these men pay for medical benefit which they did not receive, and therefore their contribution is to be reduced by a penny a week. Under the Act there is a provision as to insured persons who are receiving compensation under the Employers Liability Act of under 10s. a week. If a man is receiving by way of compensation for an accident a sum of more than 10s. a week, then ipso facto he receives no sick benefit under the Insurance Act. But supposing he does not get 10s. a week under the Employers Liability Act, he then receives a sufficient sum to make up 10s. a week from the insurance fund. At the present moment every payment he receives to make up that amount to 10s. a week is reckoned as a whole week of sick benefit under the Insurance Act. That obviously was a hardship, because, to take the case of a man under the Employers Liability Act who is receiving as compensation for an accident 9s. a week, he would only receive from the sick benefit 1s. a week to make it up to 10s., and that 1s. would be reckoned as if it were 10s. for one week. Under this Bill we provide that for the future that 1s. shall not be reckoned as one week's full sick benefit, and that he will not lose the other 9s. benefit.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Perhaps the noble Lord would not mind mentioning the particular clause with which he is dealing from time to time, so that we may follow it more conveniently.
§ LORD STRACHIE
The clause to which I ant referring is Clause 12. I will certainly do as the noble Earl wishes as far as possible, but some of my remarks have covered several clauses together. I was pointing out that as regards the present position it is absolutely unfair to the man who is only getting 1s. sick benefit that he should lose the other 9s., and so it will be aggregated in the future and he will only lose the number of weeks equivalent to the amount of money he has actually received in addition to the amount paid him under the Employers Liability Act.
Clause 13 provides that sick pay shall commence from the fourth day. There has been a great deal of complaint that it did not begin from the first day, but this follows the precedent of the Employers Liability Act. This alteration has been made so that for the future sick pay is to begin on the fourth day instead of on the fifth clay. Clause 14 deals with maternity benefit. I expect the House is very well aware of what happened in another place as regards that question. The position under this Bill as it now stands is that in future in every case the benefit is to be the mother's benefit, but where the benefit arises in respect of the husband's contribution the husband, if authorised by the wife to receive it, may receive it from the approved society.
A great deal of difficulty has been experienced as regards the question of treatment of a person in a hospital. When a man who has no dependants is in hospital the society can, if they think right, keep the sick pay and not hand it over to the man. Sick persons who have been making these contributions object to that. If there were no dependants they thought, naturally, that it ought to be paid over to themselves on leaving the hospital, because hospitals are precluded, unless any arrangement has been made in advance, from taking any of this sick benefit. In future what will happen will he this. In the case of a man having dependants and who is in hospital, his sick pay will be paid to his dependants, but where the man has no dependants the whole amount 1867 will go to him on leaving the hospital, subject to any agreement in advance which has been made between the hospital and his society for a part or the whole of such sick pay being paid to the hospital by all its member, when in hospital. Under the Act there is a separate valuation required for every insured person who removes from one insurance area to another. Supposing there were a friendly society in the West of England and 600 of its members emigrate to Wales in search of work—it very often happens that men do go from the West of England to the coalfields in South Wales—and these are distributed over seventy branches, each single group representing a certain number of members has to be valued separately, and the branches have to keep separate lots of books, one for England and one for Wales. These societies are subject to great fluctuation owing to small membership, and there is a liability of reduced benefits. Clause 16 provides that it is not necessary to have these separate valuations, and it does away with a decided anomaly in this matter. There is nothing in this amending Bill to destroy in any way the separate entities of these National Committees, whose present powers remain unimpaired. As your Lordships are aware, there is a Joint Committee to co-ordinate the practice of the four different areas for which there are separate Commissions in the United Kingdom. The result will be under the amending Bill that, in future the surplus on valuation will be distributed under a scheme made by the approved societies and sanctioned by the Joint Committee in the case of societies carrying on business in more than one part of the United Kingdom.
The question of casual labour has exercised employers as well as employed a great deal in this country. A clause has been put into the amending Bill which deals with the question of casual labour in this way. It is Clause 19. It provides that in future power shall be given to the Commissioners to make Regulations for different trades and different areas, but before they are allowed to make these Regulations they have to make full inquiry by one or more impartial persons, who are to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor; and in order to ensure that nothing improper shall be done or no hardship imposed on any trade or area by these Regulations, 1868 the Regulations will all have to be laid before both Houses of Parliament in order that an opportunity may be given for any objection to be taken to them. There have been many suggestions made as to how this question of casual labour should he dealt with. One suggestion has been made in the case of dockers that a man should pay a penny per day and the employer a penny per day for every day he has been employed. It does seem very hard that a man who is only employed one day should have to pay 4d., and it is equally hard on the employer that he should have to pay 3d., too, for one day only. It is suggested that in certain trades there might be a pooling arrangement by which the employers might care to pool their contributions in dealing with this question of casual labour. I think your Lordships will see it is very difficult to introduce any regulations of this sort in the amending Act itself, and in the interests of casual labour it is desirable that we should leave it to the Commissioners to think out and formulate a plan which would be good both for employers and employed. There is not only the question of clock labourers, but it is the commonest thing in the world for colliers during the summer months, on days on which they are not working in the pits, to be working on farms. In those cases the nice question arises, Who is the man to pay the employer's contribution? In that case it is at present the man who first employs him. It does not seem right, supposing the farmer employs him for the first two days, that he should pay the whole of the contribution, and the colliery owner get off scot free.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Are the Commissioners to have absolute power to settle this question with regard to casual labour, or will it be done by Regulation laid before Parliament?
§ LORD STRACHIE
No; a public inquiry has to be made by one or more impartial persons appointed by the Lord Chancellor, who will report to Commissioners, and the Regulations, if not withdrawn in consequence of the inquiry, will be laid before both Houses of Parliament, as I have already said, to give your Lordships and the other House an opportunity of criticising them and taking objection to them. I think I 1869 have said enough on the main provisions of this Bill. It would occupy too much of the time of the House to go into all the forty-five clauses in detail; but if there are any clauses of which your Lordships desire explanation I shall be only too glad to give it.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Strachie.)
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, no one, I am sure, will deny that the noble Lord who has just addressed us has given a lucid explanation of the provisions of this Bill. I cannot, however, go further and congratulate him on having made a complete explanation. The noble Lord became a member of this House a little time before the last Bill was passed in 1911, and if he will carry his memory back he will find that to make an explanation which would be complete of the provisions of this amending Bill he would have to admit that nearly every one of its provisions was pressed upon the Government from this side of the House as a difficulty with which they would some day have to deal. I think your Lordships have some ground to complain, not merely of the manner in which we were treated in 1911, but of the manner in which we are treated to-day. You will remember the debate of 1911. I do not know the precise date on which the Bill came up to this House, but it had been under discussion in the House of Commons and in the country for a great many months, and some time in the month of December it came before your Lordships' House with a halter round our necks and an intimation that if we could not agree upon it in the course of a few days the Bill must be dropped. That is exactly the position in which we are put to-day.
We have had to discuss in the course of the last few days a number of measures, all of which needed revision, and in the case of the Mental Deficiency Bill my noble friend Lord Selborne pointed out last night with great force that even the Government themselves were forced to withdraw Amendments they had placed on the Paper for fear that, owing to delay in passing the Bill through another place, it should be lost. We have to complain not only of the practice, but of the form of the operations of the Government in this respect. Nothing 1870 has been said, so far as I know, on this side of the House which at any time was hostile to the principle of national insurance. On the contrary, most of us have recognised, as I myself most certainly do, that the whole system of insurance through societies needed systematising in the interests of those who were not sufficiently provident, and that the time had come for this matter to be taken up. But it should have been taken up from a non-Party standpoint. The legislation of the present Government during the last five years has made a mark upon the finances of the country such as has been made by no war or series of measures during the last half-century. The Old-Age Pensions Act would in the minds of most men be coupled with the National Insurance Act, and the result is probably the most formidable that any nation has ever had to face in the same period.
What I want to press on this occasion is the extraordinary inaccuracy of the estimates on which Parliament has been induced to enter upon these proceedings. The present Prime Minister in 1908 estimated the cost of old-age pensions at £6,000,000. We are paying to-day £13,000,000, without any change having been made by Parliament except the change of allowing those who had taken Poor Law benefit to be candidates for old-age pensions, which represents a comparatively small sum. The Chancellor of the Exchequer two years ago estimated the cost of national insurance at £4,500,000; to-day the cost is £7,000,000, without the Bill which we are now discussing. Therefore the joint effect is that two measures which were recommended to Parliament as being likely to cost £10,500,000 are at this moment costing just over £20,000,000. The whole sum amounts to what would discharge, not merely the interest, but the sinking fund on the National Debt, and we are undertaking this charge without any sinking fund and without any chance of ever being rid of it.
In these circumstances I confess that I think we have serious ground of complaint as to what we are invited to do with regard to this Bill. I do not know whether your Lordships have studied the language of Clause 1. This clause gives a blank cheque to the Government, who will be 1871 enabled to spend any sum which they can get the House of Commons to vote from time to time without further legislation and without regard to any of the principles upon which Parliament accepted the principle of national insurance. I am not exaggerating. The wording of the clause is this—There shall be contributed out of moneys provided by Parliament towards such costs expenses and purposes, such additional sums as Parliament may from time to time determine, and the provisions of the principal Act as to the manner in which the cost of benefits and the expenses of administration are to be defrayed shall be construed as applying only to the balance of such cost and expenses after such additional sums have been applied for the purposes for which they have been provided.What does that mean in plain language? It means, first, that there is nothing to prevent the Government from changing to any extent they desire the employer's contribution on the one side, or increasing, if they so desire it, the contribution of the public; so that the Act, instead of being a contributory one, may be made a noncontributory Act without in any way coming before Parliament. That has been recognised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, whose comment upon it, on July 22nd, was that it would be an outrage on precedent. I think it was under the present Chancellor of the Exchequer that the House of Commons voted to its own Members £400 a year without legislative enactment. That, my Lords, was an outrage on precedent. There is absolutely no precedent for it in the whole history of our Parliamentary proceedings. I am not very much concerned to inquire into the Chancellor's view as to whether it would be an outrage on precedent and against the State if what we fear can be read into the first clause of the Bill; but I do say that your Lordships should not be asked to discuss this Bill on the last day but two of the session. We should have been allowed time for a full discussion of this clause at least. But beyond that, the whole principle of the Act of 1911 was that Parliament should not be asked to contribute more than two-ninths of the total sum. This clause abrogates the two-ninths, and says that supposing Parliament contributes £5,000,000 more that is not to be counted, and the provision as to the two-ninths and the seven-ninths absolutely falls to the ground. That is a departure from the principle of the original 1872 measure which your Lordships had a right to consider.
Then there are other proposals which should be the subject of serious debate. The noble Lord alluded to the extra sum to be allowed to men who had reached a certain age and had not contributed the necessary number of contributions. I do not quarrel with that, but what I do point out is this, that that provision is gained by raiding the reserve fund to the extent of some £800,000. Nothing is so easy as raiding a fund which is not immediately required. As far as I can see—and the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong—the real effect is this. The making of provision for men who have not paid a sufficient number of contributions and the relieving of men who have been out of employment and who had previously to pay the employers' share as well as their own, is done at the expense of the reserve fund and at the expense of the younger contributors, who will have to wait longer for their own relief than would have been the case if the reserve fund had been continued as the Chancellor of the Exchequer intended. That, again, is a most serious provision, and one of the things which I think Parliament has some right to inquire into on behalf of the younger contributors, who were told that they would get a great benefit in return for their compulsory self-denial. I think that is a matter upon which they will have something to say when the time comes.
There is nothing so typical both of the method and of the spirit in which this question has been approached as the question of medical benefit. I wonder if the Lord Chancellor recollects his speech on medical benefit in the year 1911. It was put to him across the floor of this House, first, that it was absolutely impossible to ask the doctors to serve for the sum which the Government were proposing to give them; and, secondly, that the number of cases which would fall to each doctor would preclude him from giving them that proper consideration which it was the intention of the Government, according to the clear statements of the promoters of the Bill, that they should have. The Lord Chancellor laughed at us on both grounds. He asked whether we really thought that sickness was going to increase in the country because these panel doctors were 1873 provided. We feared that the relief of sickness was going to increase, and that people who had not previously sent for a doctor would send for one under the Act. That is exactly what has occurred. The only result of treating our fear as if we were trying to cook up some difficulty in the way of the Government has been that although you have had to give the sum of £1,800,000 you have not conciliated the doctors; you have left a permanent sore; and while you have made this enormous charge upon the nation you have done absolutely nothing to make matters easier between the parties who are to enjoy the results of the charge.
And not merely were we laughed at at the time, but in the interval the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he had not got what he wanted from the doctors, proceeded to make a violent and outrageous attack on the whole body of the profession, a most undignified and unwise attack, and one certain to cause irritation and difficulty. In consequence this settlement has been rendered possibly nugatory, and I am quite certain that if the panel doctor continues to be deluged as he is by patients you must have a further Bill. A gentleman who has been inquiring into the treatment of patients by the panel doctors was told by one doctor that he was unable to give more than a minute or a minute and a half to each patient because he had to get rid of them at the rate of forty an hour. That cannot continue. The whole thing is due to the determination on the part of the Government to treat social reform as a sort of sandwich to be edged in between constitutional changes, and to send up Bills of this character without the consideration we have a right to expect from them. I must say that this Bill, with its forty-three clauses, does little credit to the Government. When it was introduced in the House of Commons it contained only thirteen. Does anybody remember a Bill introduced with thirteen clauses and emerging with forty-three? Does that show due consideration on the part of those who prepared the Bill? Does it not show that the thing was simply thrown on the floor of the House of Commons to be made the best of in the scramble that ensued? What likelihood is there that out of that scramble the most salient points in the Bill in the interests of those concerned have not escaped proper con- 1874 sideration? That is the objection to the Bill as it is brought forward.
I want to enter a protest against the representations that are being made on platforms throughout the country, even up to Saturday last. I protest against all these benefits being represented as a free gift from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government to the poorer classes in this country. You are collecting vast sums of money—£26,000,000 in 1913, of which £15,000,000 come from the State and the employer; and £31,000,000 in 1915, of which £18,000,000 are to come from the State and the employer. Last Saturday the insured were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that they were not paying a penny out of their money for all the administration of the Act. I wish the Chancellor of the Exchequer had gone on to tell the insured what the Act is costing the country. It was a slip of the tongue, of course, to tell them that they were not paying a penny towards administration; because on other occasions we are assured that they are paying a very much larger amount of the general taxation of the country than could reasonably be expected. At this moment these four Commissions, which involve eight sets of books being kept by the friendly societies, are costing £400,000 a year. The printing bill is a very heavy one, and it is increasing, and the administration I have no doubt will soon reach £1,000,000 a year. If by any measure of Parliament you raised £30,000,000, the least experienced among us could readily apply that so as to do a considerable amount of good to the working-classes of this country. You might by merely a rule of thumb give a million people 10s. a week and still have £4,000,000 left for sanatorium benefit. The whole point we are interested in is: Is it the best plan, is it the cheapest plan, and is it the one that will secure most permanency? I think it is very unfortunate that this Act, instead of being represented as an honest effort on the part of all parties towards the amelioration of the condition of the working-classes, is represented in the country as a class measure in which the employers have had that filched from their pockets which they desired to retain, and in which the workman has been asked to pay the minimum. It is the old story—the workman is to receive 9d. for 4d., and the doctors are represented as standing out for improper terms.
1875 Then, again, all those who are to work the Act and to contribute to it are painted as endeavouring to serve their own interests. On the top of that we have a grotesque war dance with respect to the enormous sums which have been extracted from these unwilling persons and spent by a Government which fears nobody and does justice between man and man. That is not a system under which you can hope to have a successful Act. The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it, and I believe that this Bill is not a final one. There is absolutely at this moment no class which is satisfied with the Act, not because the principle is bad but because of the hasty and injudicious manner in which it was pressed into being before it was complete, and because of the unfortunate manner in which its authors have described it. The insured are not satisfied; the doctors are now being much more largely paid, and they are not satisfied; and the employers are not unreasonably angry that for two years they have been paying the whole of the insurance which has been paid for 90,000 persons who have received no benefit at all from the Act. We always said that that could not continue. It has continued for two years, but it is now at last set right by this amending Bill. My feeling is that your Lordships can do no good by discussing individual clauses. It would certainly require a much longer time than is allowed us to set right the very wide language of Clause 1, language which we may live to regret that we passed through this House and which practically leaves Parliament at the mercy in that respect of the Government of the day. We can only accept the Bill rejoicing that a good many mistakes which were pointed out before have now at length been set right, and leaving the Government to bear the responsibility for a measure which, however good in its intentions, has been carried through in such a manner as to commend itself to hardly any class of the community.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I have listened with deep interest to the speech of the noble Viscount who has just sat down. I thought that at last we should learn something of what the ideal Insurance Bill was to be, which we gathered from his tone he had in his mind. He told us that he approved of the principle and was a warm supporter of it, but it was not this principle but a better one which he 1876 had in his mind; and because the existing Act was a bad one he set out to condemn it. I listened in vain for some suggestion from the noble Viscount of any better principle or of any better scheme than the one we have here, but I could gather nothing but a multitude of carping criticisms, many of them quite inaccurate. He began by suggesting that Clause 1 would enable the House of Commons without any further legislation to alter the proportions of the employer's and workman's contribution. Needless to say, there is not a shadow of foundation for that suggestion. The only purpose of Clause 1 of this Bill is to deal with the amount of the new contributions which the Bill provides for, and there is nothing in it from beginning to end which gives power to alter those contributions which have been laid down by the original Act.
Then the noble Viscount went back to the debates of 1911 and gave a mythical account of a speech which I made in introducing the Bill. He said that I had laughed at the fears expressed from the other side of the House that the doctors would not act and that the whole thing would be one mass of confusion. I remember the moderate speech made by the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, and who always speaks moderately and to the point, in reply to the speech which I made in introducing the Bill of 1911. He intimated certain doubts, and certain points were taken; but that was the only speech which came from that side of the House which evidenced the least interest in or study of the details of the Bill. The littleness of the interest that was taken in it is shown by this, that the benefit of none of the studies in which the noble Viscount has been immersed was given us on that occasion. The noble Viscount went on to draw a lamentable picture of the operation of things under this Act. I agree that in a great change of this kind you must have a deal of friction in the carrying of it out. It was so in the case of Germany. The experience of the first four or five years in Germany was at least as difficult and harassing as it has been here, and so it will be whenever you make any effort to raise the people up to a level which they have failed to attain because of their own inertia. Does the noble Viscount think that with 15,000,000 insured persons a change of this sort is going to be carried out without any effort, with- 1877 out causing some friction, and without complaints from panel doctors and from various other people who have to pay the cost? I think we should be serving the interests of the State best if, instead of making carping criticisms, we made an attempt to deal with a subject which is a very difficult, one by throwing ourselves in a more whole-hearted manner into assisting what is going on.
The noble Viscount used the old suggestion that vast sums were being raised representing more than the interest of any war debt and as being some huge capital burden being imposed on the nation. They represent nothing of the kind, and they are no more analogous to a capital burden than is the expenditure of the noble Viscount on his own household. It means this, that the time is coming when those who cannot help themselves must, receive outside assistance. That is the standard we are setting up, and I trust it is not a standard which the noble Viscount disowns. The sense of obligation is growing, and if a larger contribution is exacted now from those who are wealthy than has been exacted in the past it is because they are wealthier than they ever were before, and in the vast aggregation of national life the time has come, in the interests of the great majority of our population, when the means of well being ought not to be the monopoly of a small class but ought to be more evenly distributed. It is a moderate measure in this sense, and the contribution required is a small one compared to what the standards of social life in a country like ours require.
Proceeding, the noble Viscount touched on a variety of topics. He said, "Look at this Bill. Originally there were only thirteen clauses and those clauses are now swollen to forty-three." I think that is not an unhealthy symptom. The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons with as few clauses in it as would do the work, but such was the general interest taken in it—so different from the attitude of mind of the noble Viscount—such was the disposition not to carp but to try to help, and help came from a good many members on his own side of the House of Commons, that all these other clauses were proposed and accepted by the Government. The Bill contained only a few 1878 clauses at first because the Government were prudent. Had they thought that they would get the necessary support in the House of Commons the Government would have put them in at the beginning. It is infinitely better than criticism to say, "We know that this is a difficult matter and will join in an effort that can hardly be made by any one Party to make it a success; we care about social reform and we show the reality of our care, not by lip service, but by a practical contribution to this difficult subject." The noble Viscount said that he did not desire to stand in the way of the Second Reading of this Bill. But obviously he regards it as a bad Bill, and that being so the logical consequence of his attitude ought to have been a Motion to reject the Bill. Instead of that he tells us, "No, I have nothing to suggest except that the Bill should go on."
The reason why this Bill has been proposed is that we feel that it is a Bill that is needed. Two years have elapsed since the main Act came into being, and the experience which we have had since has disclosed to us points such as have appeared under the German system and have appeared in a manner analogous to the experience there. This Bill attempts to deal with those points which experience has disclosed. I do not doubt that further experience will disclose other points, and that further difficulties will arise in connection with this insurance scheme. The marvel is, not that there should be such difficulties, but that so many of them should have already been overcome. We shall go on resolutely, so long as the country will support us, in the attempt to give more and more reality to this great scheme of social reform, and we shall go on with the full consciousness that difficulties of the kind that have arisen must recur and must be overcome in the same way, by patience and by forbearance, and I trust with more disposition to co-operate in their solution than we have had from the noble Viscount to-night.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, I should like to make one or two very brief observations on this Bill, but before doing so I cannot help making one remark on the statement of the noble and learned Viscount as to the finance of the Bill. I understood him to declare that the object was to provide money for the special purposes of 1879 the Bill. It is nothing of the kind. If he had read the first clause he would see that it says—There shall be contributed out of moneys provided by Parliament towards such costs expenses and purposes, such additional sums as Parliament may from time to time determine.It is quite obvious that there is there held out to your Lordships the prospect of a continual tapping of the public purse for the purposes of the Insurance Act. I remember very well when this Act was introduced in another place that we had all sorts of statements as to the beautiful watertight compartments in which it was divided, and that they were all contained within the provisions of the Act itself. Only two years afterwards we are threatened with what I might characterise as a sort of dripping demand on the finances of the country. That is a very different matter from what one would think from the very light way in which the noble and learned Viscount, if I may say so, presented it. I do not wish to follow the noble Viscount below me (Lord Midleton), although I cordially agree with what he said about the finance of the Insurance Act. For myself, I thoroughly distrust Celtic finance, although I admire the Celts as poets.
The noble and learned Viscount referred to the experience of Germany. He is constantly making incursions into that country for various purposes, but I think if he were to draw upon his experience of the insurance system in that country and how the costs had gone up, it would not be considered a very good augury for the Bill before the House. This Bill does not touch the really serious matters at all, one of them being the question of administration. In many of the friendly societies the costs of administration have nearly doubled, and trebled in some cases, for wholly unnecessary reasons, such as the making of a mass of returns which I do not suppose anybody ever reads and which certainly occupy a great deal of waste paper. Then as to the question of the increasing demand for sick benefits. That matter has not been dealt with either. The noble and learned Viscount made a remarkable statement about wealth not being the monopoly of one class. I confess I did not see the relevancy of those observations to the Bill before us. This Bill has for its object the arranging of difficult 1880 and complicated matters, and of fairly and properly distributing the funds under it. There is no question of any monopoly of a class. I feel quite sure of this, that this is only the beginning of a set of amending Bills to the Insurance Act. It is impossible to suppose that these clauses complete the entire chapter.
I could not help smiling at the ingenious account which the noble and learned Viscount gave of the history of these thirteen and forty-three clauses in the other House. His account was not entirely the picture that I had formed in my mind. One of the reasons why the Bill only contained thirteen clauses at first was that it was to be introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule, and if a magnificent array of forty-three clauses had been inserted I do not think that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have forced the Bill through the narrow dimensions of that particular regulation; and, if it had been attempted to be forced through, there would have been so many demands from all sorts of interests that it would have been quite impossible for the Bill to have gone through on that particular occasion.
Now I turn to one or two of the points in the Bill itself. The noble Lord opposite, in dealing with the Bill, made, I thought, a great point about the sick pay commencing on the fourth day. He rather treated it as a bit of a concession. But I would point out that that was intended all along, and that this amendment is really one of a drafting nature. He compared it with the Employers Liability Act and said that it was on all fours with that Act. The noble Lord forgot to mention that under that Act when a man has been ill for a week the payments date back to the first day, which they do not do under this measure. The friendly societies in the past paid sick benefits from the first day. Why do they not do so under this Bill? The reason given was that it would cost another £600,000 or £700,000 a year. I should have thought with this extending finance that that was a matter which might have been got over by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is a matter which falls very heavily especially on young people. We have been told by the noble Viscount below me that the younger people suffer very much because under some of the provisions of this Bill the 1881 sinking fund payment is extended, and that the younger members would come into benefit sooner if this had not been the case. When they are young and are ill for three or four days they are penalised twice, once under the extension fund, and a second time in losing the payment for the first three days.
There are one or two other points to which I should also like to refer. The noble and learned Viscount has said something about the different sets of Commissions in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. These have been much criticised on the ground of expense merely. But there is a far more serious ground than that, because you have these four separate Commissions dealing in several cases with societies—international societies they are called—with headquarters in England and branches in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. What happens? For the purpose of their benefits the unfortunate people who belong to the different societies in the different countries have to deal with four separate sets of Commissioners, and these four separate sets of Commissioners all send out an enormous quantity of Regulations. I have had all these Regulations, and have been busy, every day almost, throwing them into the rubbish basket. You can imagine how difficult it is for the different societies and different secretaries to prepare and collate Regulations issued by four different sets of Commissioners. I challenge the noble Lord who has introduced the Bill to give me any reason, except that of a political nature, why you should have these four sets of Commissioners. We were told that they assisted the administration of the Act while it was being put into operation. But surely that period is approaching completion. Are we going to maintain these expensive four separate Commissions? Then there is another point. They are not separate in their action in some respects, because as regards valuation these international societies are allowed to be valued as a single unit, all the different branches; so that you have as the result the taking away from the activities of the Welsh, Scottish, and Irish Commissioners a great part of their work. In Scotland alone, I am told, half the insured people belong to societies in England which therefore will be valued as English societies; so that really the Government by that change cut at the root of the necessity of having separate 1882 Commissions at all, and I think it is high time they were abolished.
There is one point with regard to the doctors which I should like to mention. The Government have never redeemed their pledge as to the free choice of doctor. I was entertained to see in a platform speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he rather contended that that pledge had been redeemed because a man could always go to a panel doctor, and if all the doctors joined the panels the insured persons could choose what doctor they liked. That is not quite the same as the promise that was made some two years ago. I should like to ask the noble Lord in charge of the Bill why it is impossible to allow a man to have the doctor of his choice? It was promised over and over again by the Government, and it is obviously right that some of these men who are coming into insurance and have been treated for years past by a doctor should continue under that doctor if they like. It has been suggested that that would destroy the panel system. It would do nothing of the kind. And as regards the committees themselves who have the power of allowing a man to make separate arrangements, they are far too busy to deal with separate cases, and in many instances they have rejected these demands in batches without any consideration at all.
I could not help being rather amused by the ingenious way in which the noble Lord opposite dealt with the question of the casual labourer. When the Bill was introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule in another place, the Chancellor of the Exchequer prided himself that he was going to deal with the problem of the casual labourer. It is a very difficult problem, we know; but when we come to the Bill we find that Parliament absolutely retreats from the problem altogether and hands it over en bloc to the Commissioners. That is hardly the way of dealing with the question of the casual labourer, and I do not think you could have a better instance—and there are a great many instances in this Bill—of legislating by Commissioners and officials. And really it is very kind of the noble Lord that he should actually allow these Regulations to be laid upon the Table of Parliament in order that they may be discussed some time or another.
1883 Then as to Clause 8, which deals with the calculation of arrears. Under the original plan a man was allowed three weeks before he fell into arrears—three weeks did not count against him, and if he paid his contributions for forty-nine weeks he had the full benefits; and not only that but the arrears were averaged over the number of years for which he had been in insurance. If he had been for ten years in full insurance he could go for some time without paying contributions and not forfeit his benefits. But under this clause—a very complex and exceedingly difficult clause to understand, and some of it, may say, is absolute nonsense—that opportunity is taken from the man absolutely and each year is considered separately. If a man pays for one year he gets full benefits, but if he only pays for forty-five weeks the next year he falls into arrear and loses the great advantage he would otherwise get by averaging his arrears over the whole period during which he had been insured.
The last point about which I should like to make complaint is this. I think it is very hard indeed that no consideration has been given to the case of the agricultural labourer as against the town dweller. We all know that the agricultural labourer is a healthier person and poorer paid than people engaged in industrial occupations, yet he has to pay the same amount to get the same benefits. In my opinion he ought to pay a less amount for the same benefits, or have larger benefits for the amount he pays. The result is that the townsman gets the advantage of the agricultural labourer. It is very hard and very unjust. But that would not matter so much if the old societies with which we are so familiar in the country had been left in life, but they have been destroyed by the Insurance Act. They have been forced to enter these large societies, and their healthy lives have been of considerable advantage—but a most unfair advantage, I submit—to the less healthy, but better paid, dwellers in the towns. I regret that the time at our disposal makes it absolutely impossible to deal with the Bill properly. A great deal ought to be done both as regards drafting and matters much more important than drafting. I regret that this Bill is rendered necessary at all; but, as we know, the little attention, or careless attention that was given to the parent measure when it was going through the House of Commons was due entirely to the 1884 fact that room had to be made for the Home Rule Bill. The result is that to the Nationalists of Ireland the interests of 14,000,000 insured persons in this country have been wholly sacrificed.
THE LORD BISHOP OF OXFORD
My Lords, I suppose there are very many who believed that when the Act of 1911 was placed on the Statute Book the Government were taking a step forward of a very necessary kind, but it was inconceivable that a step forward on a subject so momentous, on a subject which must necessarily on so many points come into conflict with the natural indolence of mankind and the selfishness of so many different interests, could be taken without a great deal of resistance and difficulty, and without incurring a great many mistakes. I am not concerned to estimate whether the Act of two years ago was the best possible or not. At any rate, I understand that there is universal agreement that that Act was a step forward, for better or worse, in a necessary direction, and that it is to stand. That being so, it became very soon obvious that there were points on which remedies would have to be provided and amendments made. Personally I think there is hardly any more complicated individual subject than this one; therefore I was not at all surprised to find that there were many points on which amendment would be necessary. One noble Lord stated that even now we cannot expect finality. For many generations to come I, for my part, do not expect finality in this matter.
The question I ask myself with regard to this amending Bill is whether the improvements and amendments which are introduced are good ones; and on that subject I gather that the noble Lords who have spoken on the other side of the House agree that, so far as they go, the amendments are good ones. In my view the amendments adopted in this Bill are most necessary, and that is, after all, the one point from which those who desire that this subject should pursue its course in the future with as little friction as possible must consider it. Lord Peel complained about the question of the casual labourer being left so fully to the Insurance Commissioners. In my opinion there is no subject with which this Bill deals which is more complicated 1885 than the question of the casual labourer. Any one who knows anything about this subject in different departments of industry knows that it would be impossible to deal with the matter in any other way than by giving the fullest possible discretion to the Insurance Commissioners; and for my own part I believe that the proposed amendment on that point is the best which could have been made to meet the undoubted injustice in the incidence of the original Act.
The only other point with regard to which I wish to say a word is that which concerns the maternity benefit. That is one of the matters in which experience has shown the extraordinary injustices perpetrated under the Act of 1911, and I think it was necessary in the highest degree that that Act should in this particular be amended as proposed in this Bill. I do not propose to delay the House with regard to the provisions of the Bill. The question I ask myself is, Is this amending Bill one which improves in necessary points the Act of 1911? I gather from what has been said this evening that there is on the whole complete agreement upon that. The noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, recognised in the amendments now made alterations in the direction of what the other side of the House had wished for. In my view this Bill will introduce undoubted improvements into tae system of national insurance, and I trust that it will become law without delay.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I merely rise to express complete concurrence with the right rev. Prelate in what he has said about Clause 14, which deals with maternity benefit. I think the possibility of a very great wrong has been righted, and I sincerely trust that there will be no attempt in this House to undo what has been done in the House of Commons.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, after the extraordinary acerbity with which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack attacked my noble friend beside me, it really requires some courage to lift up one's voice and say anything at all disrespectful about the Bill on the Table. The noble and learned Viscount suggested that my noble friend's speech was "carping criticism" of the Bill. I listened to the speech, and I am bound to say that it seemed to me to 1886 contain nothing but legitimate comments both upon the Parliamentary history of the measure and upon those particular provisions which my noble friend singled out for his observations. And I observe that the noble and learned Viscount did not attempt to meet the criticisms made by my noble friend. The noble and learned Viscount poured forth eloquent passages in which he dwelt upon the growing sense of obligation which was noticeable amongst the people of this country, and expressed his conviction that the time had come when the wealthier classes should be prepared to make larger contributions than heretofore for useful and philanthropic purposes. There was, however, not a word in my noble friend's speech suggestive of the idea that he was in any way opposed to spending public money, the product of taxation, of which the main burden, of course, falls upon the wealthier classes, upon philanthropic objects. That was not at all the purport of my noble friend's speech. What he complained of was that this vast expenditure had been incurred recklessly and without adequate consultation with the country, and without adequate examination of the facts. That part of his case I think my noble friend made out completely, and I am bound to say that the Parliamentary history of this legislation entirely bears out what my noble friend said.
What is happening now entirely justifies, in my view, the attitude taken up by noble Lords on this side of the House when the Insurance Act came before us in the year 1911. In that year we received the Bill on the 6th of December, about eight or ten days before the end of the session. We pleaded earnestly for some postponement. We pleaded for the postponement of the Bill; we pleaded that if it was to pass into law some additional delay might at any rate be given before it came into operation. Those pleas were unheeded, and I think the result has been very unfortunate. Looking back, I cannot see why in that year His Majesty's Government should not have done what the noble and learned Viscount himself has done quite lately with regard to his measures of legal reform—that is, introduce the Bill one year, allow it to remain before the public to be criticised and examined, and then resume it in the following year in order to put it on the Statute Book. The noble and learned Viscount told us that 1887 the debate of 1911 was a perfunctory debate—I am bound to acknowledge that he made a very kindly exception in favour of something I had the honour of saving on that occasion—but, my Lords, if it was a perfunctory debate what else could be expected when we were discussing that Bill, as my noble friend put it, with a halter round our necks?
Let us turn from that to the history of this Bill. It was introduced in the House of Commons under the Ten Minutes Rule, as if it were a comparatively trifling and unimportant measure, and it then contained thirteen clauses. My noble friend pointed out, however, that those thirteen clauses were extended in Grand Committee to over forty. I do not think he told the House, but I believe I am right in saying that twenty-five of those clauses made their appearance in a single day. The noble and learned Viscount said, "What a splendid proof of vigour and elasticity! Here is this little bantling which suddenly assumes colossal importance." If the number of clauses in the Bill had increased up to a point at which the Bill could have dealt adequately with the whole of the unsolved problems of national insurance, it would have had to increase, not to forty-three clauses, but to 143. These forty-three clauses were under discussion in the House of Commons as lately as, I think, Friday last. Now we come to the appearance of the Bill in this House. It appears to-day when we have only two more working days of the session left to us. We have no time to consider, or even to make ourselves aware of, what has been happening in the other House of Parliament; and of course we shall have a debate which I dare say the noble and learned Viscount will describe again as perfunctory. It is not our fault. The fault lies with the 'Government who impose these conditions upon us. I venture to say that the treatment meted out to us is not only monstrously unfair to this House, but most unfair to the fourteen millions of insured people in this country, whose interests we have at heart just as much as the other House of Parliament, and whose interests we are not allowed to pay any attention to owing to the conditions under which these Bills come before us.
To-day we are again face to face with the old dilemma—the dilemma of having 1888 either to abdicate our functions or to lose the Bill, and, of course we make no secret of it, we do not want to lose the Bill. The Bill contains some provisions which are of Unionist origin. I could quote several of them. I could refer, for example, to the extension of the medical benefit to the older members of the friendly societies; the introduction of greater facilities for the redemption of arrears by people who have been out of employment, a clause upon which the noble Lord in charge of the Bill dwelt with great satisfaction; and I could mention other cases. But the fact remains that the consequence of this helter-skelter mode of legislation is that to begin with, as my noble friend pointed out, you can never get an even approximately accurate estimate of what a measure of this kind is going to cost. You had an original estimate of £3,500,000, which we now learn has become an estimate of £7,000,000—exactly double.
And there is worse besides. Unless I entirely misread this Bill, it facilitates great additional extravagance in the future. I listened to what the noble and learned Viscount said in reply to my noble friend as to the operation of Clause 1. I own that it did not seem to me that the noble and learned Viscount's reply was a conclusive one. Under Clause 1, unless I entirely misunderstand it, power is taken for Parliament to provide additional sums from time to time for the various purposes connected with insurance; and the clause goes on to say that the provisions of the principal Act—that is, the provisions containing all the restrictions with which we are familiar, the two-ninths and seven-ninths, and so forth—are to be—construed as applying only to the balance of such cost and expenses after such additional sums have been applied for the purposes for which they have been provided.Now, if that clause means anything it seems to me to mean this, that the Government of the day in the House of Commons, by putting down an estimate for a sum sufficient, let us sac, to double the benefits of a certain class and taking the necessary steps in the Appropriation Bill, can not only impose a fresh burden upon the country, but in doing so entirely escape all the restrictions which the Act of 1911 contains, and by which the framers of that Act intended to afford some safeguards to the public. I hope, if 1889 any noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite follows me, that that point will be made a little clearer than it has been up to the present. I cannot get it out of my head that under this Bill the Government of the day will have, as it were, two pockets to draw upon. In respect of what it draws out of one pocket it will be subject to the restrictions of the Act of 1911, but in respect of what it draws out of the other pocket it will not be liable to any restrictions whatever except those which Parliament may choose to impose from time to time.
I am not going to take up the time of the House by passing in review the clauses of this Bill. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill—he is no longer in his place—gave us a very patient and careful résumé of the contents of the Bill. I will only notice, in passing, one or two points. In the first place there is the question of the four Commissions, which my noble friend Lord Peel touched upon a moment ago. The existence of those four sets of Commissioners has always seemed to be a monstrosity. The Act of 1911 created that difficulty, a quite unknown one until it came into operation. His Majesty's Government were possessed by a morbid desire to propitiate national sentiment, and in order to do so they put this measure in the Bill which has added immensely to its cost and to the difficulty of administering it. The larger societies, until the Act came into operation, knew nothing of national boundaries. A man working on the Clyde might belong to the same society as a man working on the Tyne. Now you make this attempt—a very futile attempt, I think—to divide the United Kingdom into compartments, compartments which cannot, of course, be water-tight because one compartment is perpetually leaking into the other, and you have all the trouble of watching over these transfers from one locality to another. You have the obligation upon these four Commissions to keep going no less than eight sets of books, because there are separate books for men and women, and you also have the immense difficulties of administration which arise from this state of things inside the Commission itself. I dare say I shall be told that the Bill makes some attempt to mitigate those difficulties. I think under the Bill the four national units in one society are allowed to be valued together, and I 1890 think there is something to facilitate transfers; but the eight sets of books and the four separate sets of Regulations remain; and, as we were told just now, they are four sets of Regulations which are by no means identical. There are discrepancies between one set of Regulations and another, discrepancies which must add to the distraction of those who attempt to master the interminable literature which this legislation has been the means of producing.
A word on the way in which this Bill deals with the question of the casual labourer. We all know that the casual labourer's case was the great crux of this Bill. The casual labourer gets no regular employment; he is not able to make a regular contribution; and therefore it is extremely difficult to provide him with a benefit. That has been the difficulty, and His Majesty's Government set out with the admission that the difficulty existed and with a loudly proclaimed intention of dealing with it. Now, how do they deal with it? They deal with it under this clause simply by handing it over to the Commissioners to be dealt with, as the Commissioners think fit, by Regulations. As the noble Lord in charge of the Bill said, His Majesty's Government intend the Commissioners to think out and formulate a plan; and that is really the characteristic, not only of this Bill, but of the greater part of the Bills that come before your Lordships' House. His Majesty's Government, I know, are great admirers of the policy of devolution. This is one way of carrying it out. Whenever you come to a really tough nut to crack or a difficult problem to face you pass it on to some body to be dealt with by rules and regulations according as they may think fit to do so.
Again, grave doubts are arising in everyone's mind as to the soundness of the financial basis of all this legislation. There is the question of the sickness benefit. Is it not really alarming that there are districts in which the cost of the sickness benefit has risen to a percentage of 40, or even 70, above the expectations which were formed? And it is quite natural. It is not necessary by any means to assume that this excess is entirely due to malingering. There are plenty of other causes besides. What is happening, unless I am misinformed, is this, that all over the country the deposit 1891 contributors are being absorbed in these associations, and they are being absorbed under lenient conditions, conditions which admit of a relaxation of the strict health test. That means that instead of having, as we used to have, comparatively small bodies, autonomous, and carefully administered by their members, you have these large societies, almost in the position of a State Department, where you cannot have anything like the same vigilance, and where you have not the check which used to be exercised by one member upon another in the smaller bodies. That is quite enough to account for the increase in the cost of the sickness benefit; and I am bound to say that that seems to me to be a very alarming symptom which we shall have to take into account.
I agree with one observation that was made by the noble and learned Viscount. He told us that this amending Bill was likely to be followed by many other amending Bills. That, I think, is sure to happen. I should like to put it to His Majesty's Government whether the time has not come when we might cry a halt in this policy of legislating by driblets in connection with the subject—of adding one million one year, and two millions another year to the total cost of national insurance—and when the whole question ought to form the subject of a careful and comprehensive inquiry? As long as you deal with the matter in instalments, as long as you propose to Parliament a limited grant intended to deal with particular hard cases, perhaps those which cry most loudly for redress, you will not be able to obtain anything like a comprehensive review of the whole problem. We ought to ask ourselves, not whether the expenditure of this two and a half millions, or whatever it is that this Bill will cost, is necessary or is desired, but whether it is really the best way of spending the money, and whether this expenditure upon the lines proposed will fit in with the whole policy of national insurance. Those questions I do not believe you can answer without the kind of fuller inquiry which I venture to say we ought to look forward to in regard to this matter.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, my noble friend in charge of the Bill will deal with some, or at any rate with one or two, of the specific points which have been raised from the opposite side of the House 1892 in the course of this debate. Personally I had no desire to take part in the discussion at all. I am in a somewhat disadvantageous position for doing so as compared with other noble Lords, because, as it happened, I was obliged to be away during the time that the original Act was passing through this House. I therefore only intervene in the debate in consequence of one observation which fell from the noble Marquess opposite in the earlier passages of his speech, an observation which he repeated in its last sentences—namely, with regard to the necessity of producing an amending Bill of this kind instead of attempting to produce a final scheme which would be complete in all its parts and which would enable the country to know precisely what it is spending on national insurance. As I have said, I was not in the House when the original Bill was here, but I remember in the preceding summer we had some discussion in this House, and at that time it was the earnest desire of noble Lords opposite that further delay should take place with a view to the production of a complete and final scheme. I well remember myself pointing out that in my opinion the production of such a scheme on so novel a subject was an impossibility, and that in practice there was nothing to gain by delay, or by further consideration, or by handing the subject over, as noble Lords then desired, to the country for discussion by the public; and I ventured to point out then that the only way in which it could be dealt with was by passing an Act of Parliament in a form which would enable a start to be made on sound lines, with the certain knowledge that amendment would be required and required probably more than once.
The noble Marquess called attention to the fact that my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack—whom the noble Marquess, as I thought, accused not quite fairly of introducing acerbity into the debate—had pointed out that it was very likely that this would not be the last of the amending Bills to the original Insurance Act. That precisely bears out what we said beforehand, that we did not believe it possible to produce a full and complete scheme at once which would require no subsequent treatment. One is inclined to ask noble Lords opposite whether they believe that the particular amendments in this Bill now on the Table of which they 1893 approve, could by any exercise of ingenuity have been arrived at and framed by mere preliminary discussion and have been incorporated in the original Act. It is only by the trials that have taken place, by discovering where the shoe pinches in particular instances, that it is possible to know what amending steps have to be taken; and when the noble Marquess complains of what he considers our piecemeal method of proceeding, we must be, I think, content to differ, because we hold that a subject of this kind cannot possibly be rationally dealt with in any other way. It no doubt would be preferable, were it possible, to introduce a complete measure which would satisfy public opinion in the country as a perfect one for the next twenty, thirty, or fifty years; but it is, I believe, an unavoidable incident of this sort of legislation which you may like or dislike—it is the unavoidable accompaniment of this class of social legislation, that it is only as you proceed along the path that you can find what amendments have to be made. Therefore, as I say, we must agree to differ. Noble Lords opposite will not get any apology from us for the introduction of an amending measure of this hind, and they therefore cannot be surprised at the remark which my noble and learned friend made that it is possible that this will be by no means the last of the amending measures which it may be necessary for us, OT some other Government, to bring in on the subject of national insurance.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, I will reply briefly to the points raised by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. First of all the noble Marquess took objection to this Bill having increased in size so enormously; but may I venture to point out to him that although it is true it was introduced as a Bill containing only thirteen clauses, when it was discussed in the House of Commons some twenty-five clauses were put in, you may say, by the practically unanimous vote of both sides of the House because they thought the Bill would be very much improved thereby. Therefore this was done not by the Government, but rather by the general wish of the Members in another place. Then as regards Clause 1, if noble Lords look closer into the clause they will see, although it is quite true that provision is made for any more money which the House of Commons likes to vote, it would not have the slightest 1894 effect upon the contributions which have to be paid by the employee or the employer under the principal Act. They can neither be increased nor decreased, but will have to go on being paid in exactly the same way. I would venture to remind the noble Marquess that the Government are dependent upon the House of Commons, for any future increases of benefits to insured persons, and it is that House and not the Government who would give any extra benefits in the future.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
What is the meaning of the words at the end of subsection (1) "shall be construed as applying only to the balance of such cost and expenses after such additional sums have been applied for the purposes for which they haw, been provided?"
§ LORD STRACHIE
I take it that has reference to the earlier part of the clause which refers to the principal Act. It would only be so far as the principal Act is amended, as in this case the principal Act is amended, and it was necessary to vote additional sums of money. If a further additional sum of money is voted, that can be expended under this Bill if the House of Commons thinks fit so to vote it. But, as I have said, it does not alter the amount of the contributions of the employed or employer. As regards the question of the casual labourer, I made a mistake in using the word "Regulations." I had been previously talking about Regulations, and the noble Marquess will understand that it was easy to make a slip of that nature. When dealing with Clause 9 I ought to have referred to the Draft Orders. These Draft Orders are not Regulations. They have to be published for twenty-one days by the Commissioners so that during that period objections may be taken either by the employees or employers who object to the Regulations applying to the particular trade in that particular area. If Orders are not drawn then it is laid down by the Bill that an inquiry shall be held by an impartial person appointed by the Lord Chancellor. That is following the precedent of the Factories Acts, except that in this case the appointment is made by an independent person, the Lord Chancellor, who appoints an impartial person who has nothing to do with the Commissioners.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Is there anything in Clause 1 which prevents the Government, without legislation, turning the Act into a non-contributory scheme? Do not the words cover that?
§ LORD STRACHIE
As far as I am aware the Government cannot do that. The clause is only to provide for the case where more money is voted by the House of Commons. If there is no money voted, then of course the case does not arise; it is only in the case of the House of Commons voting more money. To return to the point with which I was dealing, the point of the inquiry. It is to be an impartial inquiry held by an impartial person who has the right to examine, if he thinks fit, witnesses on oath, and this inquiry has to be held in public. After inquiry a report is made to the Commissioners; the Commissioners have to consider that report, and they may alter it, amend it, or withdraw it. In the case of amending it, or not amending it, it becomes a Special Order. But there is this safeguard, as I have said, that the Order has to be laid before Parliament for twenty-one days.
The noble Viscount, Lord Peel, took objection to the separate Commissions, but he was under a misapprehension as to what the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said upon that point. The Chancellor of the Exchequer never said that these Commissions were set up only for a preliminary purpose and for preliminary work; he always contemplated that they should be permanent. What this Bill does with regard to these Commissions is this. It removes the difficulties of the societies, and instead of having to keep two books for a man who, say, goes into Wales from England, they will have to keep only one book. Then as regards the other point raised by Lord Peel of every man in every case not being able to choose his own doctor. I would point out that it is impossible that every man should be able to choose his own doctor after a certain time, because a popular doctor would get a very full panel indeed. And how can a doctor accept more than a certain number of people if he is to do his duty by them? Then the noble Viscount complained that it was a great hardship that agricultural labourers should be grouped in with other trades. Were that so it would be a great hardship; but I would remind the noble Viscount that these 1896 small agricultural societies have not been abolished. In the county of Somerset we have welded these small societies into one large society; the majority of the members are agricultural labourers, and they will get the advantages he referred to by being grouped together. So I think that removes the objection of the noble Viscount with regard to the agricultural labourers.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.