§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Viscount Gage.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1:
§ General provisions as to persons entitled to become special voluntary contributors.
§ 1.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person, not being a person mentioned in the First Schedule to this Act, shall, if he gives notice in that behalf in the prescribed manner and if he fulfils the requirements hereinafter mentioned, thereupon become insured for the purposes of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1936 (in this Act referred to as "the principal Act"), as a voluntary contributor thereunder, and pensions shall become payable in respect of his insurance accordingly.370
The said requirements are as follows, that is to say:—
(c) in the case of any person, whether an initial entrant or not—
§ LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH moved, in subsection (1) (c) (ii), to leave out "in the case of a man, or two hundred and fifty pounds a year in the case of a woman." The noble Lord said: The Amendment standing in my name is designed to remove the Income limit which at present stands in the Bill of £250 in the case of women. As your Lordships will recollect the income limits in the Bill are £400 in the case of men and £250 in the case of women, of which in each case up to one-half as a maximum may be unearned income. The object of the Amendments which I have put on the Paper is to put men and women on the same footing, and thus to remove what I am going to suggest to your Lordships is a very great hardship and a great blot on an otherwise very admirable Bill. This point was referred to on Second Reading and I will endeavour as far as I can to avoid repeating things which were said on that occasion, but I am afraid that to some extent repetition will be inevitable.
§ The women who will be hardly treated if the Bill is passed in its present form are very largely those of the small shopkeeper class. There is a great number of small shop-keepers and I will refer later in detail to the numbers in different trades. There will also be excluded a large number of professional women, such as doctors and other people working independently on their own account, that is to say, other than salaried women. Numerous teachers, headmistresses in private schools, teachers of music, teachers of gymnastics and teachers of all kinds will be excluded. There are, indeed, a large number of salaried women earning over £250 a year who will be 371 excluded if they are not qualified as voluntary contributors under the existing compulsory insurance arrangement.
§ The point which at the outset I should like to mention and get rid of is that this differentiation is based on sex and apparently not on any other consideration. If it were to be based on dependants, that ground could be so expressed in the Bill. The assumption is made, however, that a woman has no dependants and that a man has dependants. I will give examples later of hard cases; it is the only means which I have of bringing the facts in detail before your Lordships. I did discuss the matter in a general way on the Second Reading, and for the moment I will not re-elaborate that point. I would only repeat that if, in fact, the differentiation were to be in respect of need, then it could be enacted that the person, man or woman, who has dependants should be admitted to the scheme and the man or woman who has no dependants and can afford to make provision without such help should be excluded from the scheme. Unless that distinction is observed, then this disqualification of women with incomes over £250 a year is based on sex and on nothing else.
§ I mentioned to your Lordships on Second Reading, and I repeat, that of course all the women's societies are very much moved about this Bill and are making representations. All the women Members of Parliament have united in a deputation. I should be very sorry, however, if your Lordships thought that this was a question about which women exclusively are concerned. There exists a very representative association called the National Association for the Extension of Health and Pensions Insurance, and I believe that this association did a great deal to bring about the introduction of this Bill. That is to say, they have been responsible for many years for moving public opinion, agitating and spreading propaganda in favour of the measure which has now been brought in. This association has a National Council, and represented on the National Council are seventeen national federations of different tradesmen. All sorts of tradesmen are represented on this National Council: the national federations of such divers traders as the meat traders, the Master Farriers and Blacksmiths, the National Union of 372 Retail Confectioners, the Federation of Hairdressers, the National Federation of Employers of Vehicle Builders, the drapers, the cycle-makers, the Union of Retail Tobacconists, the newsagents, booksellers and stationers, the boot traders, and so on. All these people have made urgent representations to the Government on this point and are united in demanding that this difference in income limit between men and women shall be removed. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will realise that this is not simply an agitation on the part of women in any theoretical way.
§ There are only two lines of argument open to the Government in resisting this Amendment. They may say that it is exceptional for a woman to have dependants, or they may say that these unmarried women and other women who are excluded are well able to afford to make provision not only for their dependants—those of them who have dependants—but also for their own old age. The crux of the matter is the question whether it is exceptional or not for women to have dependants. The Government think that it is quite exceptional for a professional woman of this kind—a shopkeeper, a doctor and so on—to have dependants, and therefore that it is quite fair, right and reasonable that she should be left to her own resources. I should like to state the matter quite impartially. We are dealing here with a class which is not a large class in relation to the total population; it is the class of earning women, and, while it is not large in relation to the total population, it is, of course, large enough to be numerous in terms of thousands of women. We are also dealing with a particular subdivision of that class of earning women: women earning their own livings who have incomes of over £250 and under £400 a year. That is, in the main, women of the age of thirty and upwards, because it is unusual for a woman at an early period of a professional career to be getting more than £250 per year.
§ The whole question between the Government and those who support this Amendment is, what proportion of that class need the help of the Exchequer in providing for old age and dependants? The Government say it is so small as to be negligible. We say it is very much larger than the Government think, and so large that it deserves inclusion in this Bill. 373 It is very difficult to give your Lordships convincing evidence, because I do not think that any really fundamental inquiry has been made. I am going to ask the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill to tell us later what inquiry has in fact been made. I can only indicate to your Lordships where hard cases undoubtedly exist. There are three categories: there is the widow of an uninsured man, particularly in the shopkeeper class; there is the wife who is supporting an incapacitated husband who is unable to work; and lastly there is the unmarried woman who has her own old age to provide for and is so often greatly hampered in making that provision by the need to support dependent relatives, who may be parents, brothers or sisters, or others.
§ Of the shopkeepers there are a large number. I have done my best to get definite information for your Lordships, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to contribute the definite information which the Government have. He did not give us very much on Second Reading, and I have tried to see what can be found. The Census returns say that there are 106,000 women who own retail businesses of various kinds. It may be news to your Lordships that among newsagents, for example, one-third are women. The same is true of the boot and shoe shops. There are nearly 20,000 boot and shoe shops carried on by women, 15,000 confectionery shops and 15,000 grocers' shops. I am not, of course, prepared to say that all the women in those many thousands of businesses have incomes between £250 and £400, but I think it is a very fair assumption that those figures represent a fair average income for that class of person. Then, apart from those trades which I have named, there are the dressmakers on their own account, of whom there are 22,000; and there are the lodging and boarding-house keepers, of whom there are 54,000. There again, we have to see what their income is and what dependants they have. In a trade like lodging and boarding-house-keeping it is a fair assumption that a very large proportion will have dependants, because that trade is so obviously one suitable for a woman who has dependants to keep who, be they parents or children, have not only to be supported by money but actually looked after and provided for.374
§ Now with regard to professional women. These will be women in the main of greater education than the shopkeepers. Take women doctors. I am informed that as a rule a woman doctor does not begin to earn very much until she is in the late twenties. Then for ten or twelve years she will be earning £250 to £400 a year, and will be excluded from the Bill. I mentioned the case of housing estate managers. At least half will be excluded from the Bill. In my endeavour to get exact information to put before your Lordships I applied to a lady who was formerly principal of a women's college. She wrote to a number of women whom she knew might be affected by the clause. She received thirty-three letters in reply, ten of them relating to cases which would be excluded by the Bill, and eight to cases in which parents or children were being supported. Then I heard from another friend living in Hertfordshire, who had made inquiries, and she produced three or four hard cases which require assistance, and will be excluded. Another friend who has been working longer on the subject produced thirty-five cases. I cannot say that all the incomes were over or under £250, but they were cases in which hardship appeared, and they were excluded by the Bill.
§ I have one or two detailed cases, and I must ask your Lordships, I am afraid, to bear with me when I give you particulars, because it is of no use merely generalising. These particulars are common everyday stories, and can be multiplied indefinitely. To begin with, there are women with dependants whose incomes always have been above the remuneration limit under the compulsory insurance scheme. Your Lordships will recollect that that has been increased from time to time, and some scepticism has been expressed as to whether there were such cases. They were common, and they are still common, because of the position created by the War. Many educated women took on jobs during the War and began at fairly high salaries. The War was responsible for many cases which will be hard cases if the Bill is not amended.
§ I have here one case, that of the daughter of a clergyman. She was employed in 1912 as a sanitary inspector at a salary of £165. She left to take better paid work in the War and received in 1919 when demobilised £295. She 375 obtained a post as secretary at £275, and is now earning £360. Ever since she began to earn she has been helping her family. On the death of her father in 1920 she became almost entirely responsible for her mother and wholly responsible for two sisters and a brother unfit for work. She has nothing but the old age pension at 70 before her. If included in the Bill she could get protection for her old age for 6d. per week. Another case is that of a woman graduate. On the death of her father in 1914 she obtained a position in a bank at £150, but did not remain long enough to qualify as a voluntary contributor. She obtained work in the Ministry of Food at £168, and rose to a responsible position. On being demobilised she obtained work as a secretary at £21 a month. £21 a month, being £252 a year, is quite a common salary given by employers, because it avoids the need of including the employee within compulsory insurance. She is now earning over £300, but all this time she has had responsibilities for a sister, nephews and nieces.
§ I have pages of these cases, but I would ask your Lordships to take them as read. Although I have plenty of them, it is of no use repeating them one after another. I am sure that the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill would be ready to look at them and verify them for himself. There is, however, one more case of a particular kind to which I will refer. It is the case of a fully qualified masseuse now earning £260. When employed at a lower salary she was insured. She did not become a voluntary contributor, and expected her earnings to increase. But she is now not physically strong and is unlikely to earn more. She bitterly regrets her failure to become a voluntary contributor. For twenty years she was the sole support of her mother, now dead. If that girl were a man she would be given, in the words of the Minister, a last chance to come in. Because she is a woman she does not get that last chance.
The last case that I will read is rather a special one. This lady states that in 1912, when she was 24, her father failed in business and lost his health, which he has never recovered. A few months later he left his wife and seven children. The home was sold up. Two sisters got posts
as governesses, but neither having very good health they could not do much more than support themselves. The lady who explains this had herself no training and could not get employment without it. She borrowed the money to get the training. Two elder boys, still in their teens, got junior clerkships at very low pay. She obtained a post, and when war broke out the two elder boys joined up and were killed. She got a fair salary for ten years. Both her younger brothers married as soon as they were financially independent. She still has to support her mother who is 75. This lady adds:
if I had only myself to keep I could have saved enough between 1918 and 1932 to provide a modest income for the rest of my life. But my earnings all went in supporting some one else's wife and children, which I was not legally bound to do, though I felt, and still feel, that I was morally bound, and I am penalised for having done it on every hand. If my mother had been my wife, and my little brothers my sons, the authorities would have given me a married man's allowance on Income Tax and I should have had a better chance of employment now because of the sentimental consideration given to a married man which does not seem to apply to a woman with dependants. I am told on every hand that I am an exception to every rule; but I know a good many women myself whose experiences have been comparable with my own, and I believe there are thousands suffering under the same injustice.
That is what I have to try and convince the Government of, and I am wondering what is going to be the Government's reply.
§ At one time it was asserted that there were no hard cases, but I was delighted to hear in the Second Reading debate that it was admitted there were hard cases, and the Government proceeded to rely on averages. It was of the Ministry of Health that I saw not long ago this statement had been made, that the average incidence of a certain physical condition was at the age of forty-five. It transpired that there were only two instances of which one was aged ninety and the other was that of a child of twelve months; and so the average was in fact forty-five. If the condition referred to was toothlessness, as it may very well have been, it becomes quite credible. I suggest that the noble Viscount in relying on averages is falling into just the same trap which, if the public Press is to be believed, his own Ministry fell into a short time ago. Therefore I hope he will not rely on averages, 377 more particularly as this is not a Bill which deals with averages. This is a Bill which admittedly and on the authority of the Government actuary deals with selection against the Government and specially hard cases. That is the point that the noble Viscount has to meet. The actuary says that he anticipates that only 20 or 25 per cent. of the eligibles are going to join. He does not anticipate that the unmarried men are going to join until there is a prospect of their getting married, and therefore, as it is a case of selection against the Government, why not include the hard cases among the women as well as among the men?
§ There is also Mr. Rowntree. The noble Viscount may rely on Mr. Rowntree, who says in his book that only 12 per cent. of women workers have dependants. I took some pains to study that because, if that were true, it would be rather damaging to my case. But, to begin with, that would be an average over all the earning women, and my case is that this salary limit between £250 and £400 does not apply to all women: obviously it applies to women who are getting up in their profession and who are therefore of a rather more advanced age. It is an age group as well as a salary group, and Mr. Rowntree in dealing with the particular age group says that they have a ratio of dependants of 28 per cent. That is not the main point about Mr. Rowntree. This is why I warn the noble Viscount not to depend upon it, because it appears that Mr. Rowntree's investigation was specifically directed to women in industrial areas. They were working women, and the cases were obtained by house to house visitation in industrial areas.
§ There is another inquiry by another group, which was directed towards the same interesting problem, and produced results widely differing from Mr. Rowntree's. In fact, it gives the percentage of women with dependants at over 50 per cent. Mr. Rowntree says he does not accept that figure, and for a very interesting reason. He says, first, that their inquiry dealt mainly with a different social group: over 1,600 of the cases were those of professional women, including 1,295 teachers. Again, he says he avoided selecting members of the Workers' Educational Association or of the educational classes for investigation, as those would 378 be thoughtful and intelligent women who would accept responsibility for aged parents or for dependants more readily than the average worker. With great respect to the noble Viscount I think that blows up Mr. Rowntree as far as any reliance on his estimate of women having in only 12 per cent. of cases dependants; firstly, because he is not referring to this particular group of hard cases; secondly, because he is referring to an entirely different class of women.
§ I want to ask the noble Viscount to tell us what inquiry was in fact made into these points before the decision was come to that this was the proper way to frame the Bill. Who made the inquiry? Who was asked to give evidence before the tribunal, and what reason is there to think that this Committee, or whoever it was, really went exhaustively into the matter? We all know what the Treasury attitude is. The Treasury very rightly wants to spend as little as it can. If the Treasury sees a way of saving the £100,000 or a million it will very likely take it. The attitude is very like the traditional attitude of a Scotsman, who is supposed to want to give nothing for nothing and devilish little for sixpence. That is the Treasury attitude; but it is not the right attiude for dealing with this Bill, admittedly a Bill for hard cases, and I submit we are entitled to more information before we allow this Bill to pass.
§ I made inquiry of this federation to whom I have already referred—a federation embracing seventeen different trades and the national federations of their associations—who have all these men and women among their members. I asked them if they had been asked to give evidence and they said "No"; they were not asked to go before this Committee and say why they hold the view, which they do so strongly, that this income limit ought not to be different for men and women. I suggest very seriously to the Government that in a case like this, where there is no hurry, they are not justified in simply telling the House as a general thing that everybody knows that a woman has fewer dependents than a man, that women as a rule do not have dependents, and that therefore they are going to exclude them.
§ Now I should like to refer to a statement made on the Second Reading when by a slip of the tongue I said something which 379 I did not mean. The noble Viscount said that this had been exhaustively debated in another place. I rejoined that it had not been exhaustively debated. What I meant to say was that this particular point had not been divided upon in another place. What happened was that the Bill was received with a chorus of praise; everybody said "This is a splendid Bill," but nearly everybody who spoke said "There is only one blot on it—this differentiation." They sent the Bill upstairs to a Committee. In Committee the Amendment was defeated. When the Bill came back to the House that Amendment could not be moved again, and never was moved again, and the House as a whole never had an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon it. I submit that there is no particular urgency for a few weeks, and if the noble Viscount cannot tell us what inquiry was made and what evidence was called for I think we have a case for asking for delay.
I understand the point has never been made that it will cost too much. I do not think it is urged that to include these women will upset the whole finance of the Bill. I think the Government are afraid of women coming in who do not need the money and so getting a large Exchequer contribution. Why should they be afraid of them? They are not afraid of that in the case of the men. They say expressly of the bachelor who corresponds, the man without dependants: "We do not expect him to come in until he is going to have dependants." The women who do not need the Bill will not come in; if they are independent they are independent; only the women will come in who have bitter need of it, and they are the very people whom your Lordships will not wish to see excluded. It is the unmarried woman who solves the problem of the ageing generation. As the family grows up the sons go off, get married, and found their own families, and it is the unmarried woman, the sister, who is left to look after those who, either through physical incapacity or for some other reason, are not able to look after themselves. This is not throwing open the gates to every woman with an income between £250 and £400, and it seems to me that is a very great safeguard.
This is not the case of women wanting more benefits for less money. They are not allowed to have the higher benefits for the higher contribution. The noble Viscount made a slip on the Second Reading—I do not blame him. He said:
It gives the opportunity to a man to make provision for his widow in old age. Examples I am sure can also be produced where a woman might desire to make provision for her husband and family if she pre-deceased them.
As I read the Bill that is not so; she can only make the smaller contribution, which is for her old age. The woman who has dependants and an invalid husband cannot make the higher contribution, even if she wants to. The noble Viscount will correct me if I am wrong.
§ I ought to express my thanks to the noble Viscount and to the Government for permitting the postponement of this Committee stage from last Wednesday until to-day. I dare say last Wednesday would not in any case have been a very suitable day. There may have been some of your Lordships who had an engagement in the neighbourhood of Epsom. But, whatever the reason, I am very grateful to the Government for postponing the Committee stage, and I beg them very sincerely to consider carefully if they cannot accept this Amendment. I am quite certain that it would be received with a chorus of satisfaction throughout the country, and I am equally certain that it would not involve any great expenditure of Parliamentary time in another place.
Page 2, line 22, leave out from ("year") to the second ("of") in line 24.—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)
I just want to say one word on behalf of my Party in support of the noble Lord's very well reasoned and carefully documented case. The conditions of employment of women have changed, and I am afraid the Government Department concerned has not quite appreciated the extent of the change. It is partly the result of the War, but it is partly the result also of economic evil, and there are many more women earning now than was foreseen twenty years ago. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has said, a 381 great many of these, for perfectly well-known social reasons, have dependants. The War, after all, wiped out about half a million young men and, as a result, what are known now as the "surplus" women are earning their own living, which they started to do during the War. They are going to be very hard hit by the Bill if they have not an opportunity of coming in. I suggest that the attitude of the Government so far has been, if I may so express it, a little old-fashioned. They have not really kept pace with the changing economic conditions.
The only other point I wish to make is this. Let us take the, ordinary fairly large family. As Lord Balfour of Burleigh says, the boys in the family are expected to marry, and do marry, and as soon as a boy marries his whole income goes to support his own children. In other words, he starts a new branch of the family tree. But the girl who does not marry, who goes on earning in one calling or another, is expected to help to support the widowed mother, or the invalid sister as the case may be. That is the fact, and your Lordships know it, and these are the people who are going to be penalised in many cases if the Bill is left as it now stands. I therefore trust very much that your Lordships will support the noble Lord in his Amendment and, if it is necessary to divide, we shall on this occasion help to put the Government right.
I suppose it is inevitable that questions of equality should rouse controversy. My noble friend Lord Cecil has had a good deal of experience in endeavouring to persuade international politicians as to the point at which equality of arms is reached. I do not know whether he will find it any easier to persuade men and women that equality of status as between them has been reached. If it is a difficult matter to prove at any time, it is doubly so when we are discussing an insurance Bill because, by taking selected cases on the one hand or on the other, you can make almost any deductions you like. All I can hope to do in dealing with this matter is to take fairly broad classes of women—that is to say, spinsters, married women, and widows—and compare their position with that of the corresponding classes among the men—that is to say, bachelors, married 382 men, and widowers. Even if we do that, the comparison is not going to be altogether satisfactory, because people are always moving from one group to another; and when we come to the married group, which is one of the most important groups, we find that the Government have not unnaturally placed the whole duty of making the contributions on the shoulders of the husband.
Let me begin by taking the case of the spinsters who remain spinsters all their lives and comparing their case with the bachelors who remain bachelors all their lives. The first thing we notice is that the benefits which both of them derive from the Bill are the same—10s. a week pension at 65. Then we go on to see that though the woman secures this pension for a weekly contribution of 6d., the man has to pay more than double—that is to say, 1s. 3d. There is an anomaly at once which obviously favours the woman. The explanation is exactly the same as the explanation of the other anomaly of which the noble Lord has been complaining—namely, the higher income limit in the case of the man. The explanation is simply this, that they are ensuring against totally different risks. The woman is insuring against the risk of remaining a spinster all her life and of being unable to support herself in her old age, whereas the man is insuring himself against, if I may so describe it, the risk of getting married and having to support a family. It is true that this risk may never materalise, and that a man may remain a bachelor all his life, but from an insurance point of view that is really immaterial. From the insurance point of view he has paid a contribution equal to that of the married man, but if he omits to supply himself with a wife he is really doubly unfortunate, because not only does he miss the joys of matrimony, but the Government gain by saving that part of his contribution which otherwise would have gone to his wife.
This anticipation of the risks of marriage in the case of the man accounts for the higher income limit, and it also accounts for the point which the noble Lord has emphasised—namely, that we do not expect many bachelors to avail themselves of this scheme unless they are pretty confident they are going to get married. The Committee will understand 383 that the unmarried woman has no need to worry about what will happen to her if she gets married because in that contingency she will be covered by her husband's insurance. What we say is that the married man with £400 a year and actual or potential family liabilities is no better off than an unmarried woman with £250 a year and none of these particular family liabilities. The man has to insure against his own old age, his wife's old age, and against the possibility of predeceasing his wife and leaving her a widow and making provision for their children. The woman has only her own old age to consider. The noble Lord said on Second Reading, and he has repeated it to-day, that this was not true and that there were a large number of spinsters who had dependants in the shape of aged mothers, invalid sisters, and so forth. I have not the smallest doubt that he can produce numerous cases. I should think, further, that he could, without much trouble, produce similar cases where single and even married men are supporting such relatives. I agree; but arguments of that sort, while they could be brought forward to support a proposition to extend the whole scope of the Government's insurance scheme, are not, I submit, really relevant to a discussion of equal status for men and women under this Bill. I suggest that such an argument relates to matters entirely outside the scope of this Bill.
I pass on to the position of the married woman as against the married man. I do not think I need say very much about that class for, as your Lordships know, the man's insurance covers the whole of his wife's risks and she has nothing whatever to pay. It has already been made clear that out of the 1s. 3d. contribution which a man pays, no less than 10d. goes to the benefit of his wife and children, and if there is any grievance there I suggest it is the man's grievance.
Finally I come to the position of the uninsured widow as opposed to the uninsured widower. There I admit that a case of discrimination could be argued, because if a widower and a widow both with £300 a year and no children wanted to effect an insurance then I agree the widower would be eligible and the widow would not. But the number of uninsured widows between the income limits and with children of this particular age is 384 relatively small, and it is constantly diminishing, or will be when this Bill is passed. At one end of the scale you have the children of the existing widows growing out of insurable age, and at the other end of the scale you have the new widows or widows who, if this Bill were not passed, would take the place of those whose children grow out of insurable age. They will be covered, because there is no reason why their husbands should not have insured for them when they were alive. I have tried to show that, with the possible exception of this latter class, which is a very small class and that only for a few years, none of the groups of women can say there is unfair discrimination against them because they are women. I do not think I can go much further than that.
I agree that there will be hard cases when you compare certain women with certain men, and I think also there will be hard cases when you compare the position of certain men with that of certain women, or if you compare the position of certain men as opposed to that of other men and so forth. The noble Lord talked a great deal about these hard cases. I think perhaps he omitted one point, and that is that some of these self-supporting women, as I should describe them, are, I imagine, married. When these women are running hairdressing establishments and so forth there is no rule to say that they should remain single, and if they are married the husbands can effect the insurance on their behalf. The noble Lord also referred to the case of the invalid husband. Here I would point out that provided the income of the invalid husband and the wife does not exceed the limits of this Bill there is again no reason why the husband should not effect the insurance. The only possibility of doing what the noble Lord suggested would really involve this, that you would have to have a sort of scheme with a kind of individual means test within it, in which there would have to be considered the exact relationship between the insured contributors and their various dependants, and how far those dependants did rely on the insured persons. I feel that that would be a very unpopular and quite unworkable scheme.
The noble Lord suggested that all these points could easily be met by raising the income limit of women to that of men. 385 By doing that you would have this position, that the bachelor would have to pay more than double what the spinster pays, and she would be in exactly the same position as a married man with all his responsibilities, although, within the limitations of this Bill, she would have none of those responsibilities. I must say, if the noble Lord calls that equality, I feel a greater respect for his sense of chivalry than I do for his sense of mathematics. I have been at some pains to try to find out what proportion of the Government money is destined for men as compared with women. It is a difficult matter to arrive at where so much estimation is required, but the general opinion of the Ministry of Health is that out of the whole Exchequer contribution about two-thirds will go to the women and children and one-third to the men. Perhaps the noble Lord will take some consolation from that fact. He would like to make the disproportion greater. Finally I would point out that, apart altogether from this equality argument, the State liability in respect of spinster pensions as provided for in this Bill will reach somewhere about £4,000,000. The Bill as a whole is a generous Bill. It provides opportunities to people who have never had these opportunities before, and we believe it is a Bill of a sort unknown anywhere else in the world, and we do not think we should be justified in increasing our liability in favour either of men or women, the majority of whom we believe are quite able to look after themselves.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Before the question is put I should like to say a word joining in the appeal that was made from the Front Opposition Bench to His Majesty's Government to reconsider this question. I am sure your Lordships all appreciate the pains which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has taken in promoting this debate, and the skill with which he marshalled his arguments and stated the case for the Amendment which he has moved. The noble Viscount on the Front Bench put the Government case as strongly as it could be put, but in my judgment he did not prove his case as against that advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh. There is an old saying that hard cases make bad law. That is one of the trite and glib observations to which we are all accustomed. But it all depends 386 upon the number of the hard cases, on the proportion which the hard cases bear to the whole number of cases. After all, most legislation is promoted and passed with a view to dealing with hard cases, if they are numerous enough, and it does seem to me, although I do not pretend to have studied the facts at all in the manner in which Lord Balfour has done, that the number of hard cases here is sufficient to justify some reconsideration of the question.
One important factor undoubtedly is the matter of further expense. We on this Bench are inclined to boast that we are more concerned about economy than the occupants of any other Benches in your Lordships' House, but it does appear on the face of it that the further liability to the Exchequer which the adoption of the noble Lord's Amendment would cause would be in essence small, and, as against that, you have to set the deep-seated feeling which apparently actuates the minds of all women, because I believe this is an almost unique case in which all the women members of the House of Commons are united in protesting that this is an unfair differentiation founded on the difference of sex. The noble Viscount has endeavoured to point out that this is not in fact a real differentiation and not much more than a nominal one, but I question whether his argument will satisfy those who are convinced that there are so many women who are likely to suffer if the Bill is enacted in the form in which it now stands that a real state of hardship will be created. For that reason if the noble Lord desires to press his Amendment to a Division we shall undoubtedly support him.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I rise only because I confess that I am entirely bewildered by the defence made by the Government. I will put my difficulty—possibly an ignorant and stupid difficulty—in as plain language as I can Very likely a complete answer can be given. As I understand it, this Bill many of the objects of which we agree are admirable, offers to certain persons additional benefits in return for voluntary contributions. It defines the classes which are to be entitled to take advantage of that offer. There are various conditions which do not affect the present discussion, but it says that a man is entitled to take advantage of the scheme 387 if he is receiving less than £400 a year but no woman can do so unless she is receiving less than £250 a year.Prima facie that seems unquestionably a hardship on the woman who is receiving that lesser sum. This is where my difficulty arises. It is not disputed that this is prima facie an injustice, but it is said that the number of cases in which women will be treated unfairly is a small one because the number of cases in which they have dependants—and this additional insurance is mainly on their account—is a small one. On that we are in great difficulties. My noble friend Lord Bal-four, who has made a very elaborate investigation, says on the contrary that the number is very considerable. He asks the Government what inquiry they have made, and I observe that my noble friend Viscount Gage, no doubt making as he always does the best of the case given him, was unable to answer that question. He did not tell us what inquiry had been made.
May I be allowed to interrupt? I am sorry I did not make the point clear. What I tried to explain was that this is a Bill to provide for certain specific persons, such as a wife and family, and that it also contains provisions for old age pensions. Nothing in the Bill provides either man or woman with the opportunity to ensure for other dependants, and no inquiry has been made on that point because it has not been brought within the scope of the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am still in difficulty. My noble friend said, "Yes, there are some hard cases. We do not deny it. Hard cases are inevitable, but they are very few." That I thought was the burden of his argument. Then he was asked, what inquiry did the Government make to find out whether they were many or few? Did they have a Committee; did they have an inquiry; what evidence was there? My noble friend did not reply to that question, and I presume therefore there was no such inquiry. The other argument that my noble friend Viscount Gage put forward, if I understood him rightly, was that on balance women would gain more largely by this Bill than men. With great respect that does not seem to me an answer at all. You cannot treat 388 women in that sense as a corporate whole. You have to deal with individual women. What the Government are saying to certain women is this: ''You are to be treated unfairly because you are earning £251 a year, because if you were a man you would be entitled to benefit but as a woman you are not. We admit you are treated unfairly, but other women are going to get advantages greater than the men will get." That is no answer. You have to treat individual women fairly. If a woman complains that she is not being treated fairly it is no answer to say that other women are treated extremely generously.
Those are my difficulties, and I admit that I am utterly puzzled by the attitude of the Government. Here is a matter which is causing the greatest possible anxiety and even indignation amongst all the organised women in the country. I have heard of it, and my noble friend has heard of it still more completely. Surely you must have a much clearer answer than has been given if you are going to meet that great difficulty. I still hope that the Government will see some way of removing the very strong feeling of injustice which, as my noble friend said, is felt all the more keenly because of the history of this question of the equality of men and women, which goes back a long way and makes women extremely sensitive to any renewal of what they regard as discrimination against them.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I would like to say a few words in reply to the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill. A great part of his remarks was devoted to what is quite uncontroversial—that is, that men as a rule have larger responsibilities and therefore pay larger contributions. That question is quite separate from the question of unfairness which I am trying to put before your Lordships. The statement that this Bill is largely for the benefit of women in general has nothing to do with the point I am trying to make. The noble Viscount said that of the contribution of 1s. 3d. by the men 10d. will go to the benefit of women. Granted, but that is for the dependent women. The women for whom I am trying to plead are independent women, women who have not got a man on whom to depend much as they might have wished to be in that enviable position. 389 These independent women have had to stand on their own feet and make their own way, and to support—to the great benefit of the Exchequer—aged relatives and others who would otherwise have come on the public funds. Why should they be denied help in making that provision for old age which they have been prevented from making because in early and middle age they have been supporting dependants when otherwise they might have been making provision for their own old age? These women are suffering a double hardship. However great the family responsibilities of a woman, it is not open to her by paying the larger contribution to receive the larger benefit. That is to say, a woman supporting a husband and children does, not receive the help offered to the man supporting a wife and children. That seems to me to be quite indefensible.
Again there is the hardship that if her income exceeds £250 she is not permitted to contribute towards the lesser benefit which would bring her an old age pension on easy terms, and in many cases she needs it very badly because of the dependants that she has to support. In reply to one point the noble Viscount, speaking about these women shopkeepers, said, "Why, their husbands can make the insurance." But I told your Lordships that, to take one example, no less than one-third of the whole of the newsagents in this country are women. They would not be newsagents if they had husbands to support them; they are women who have not got husbands to support them, probably widows whose husbands were newsagents and therefore uninsured people. That is the whole gist of the grievance. The noble Viscount turns round and says that many of these women have husbands; let them do the insurance. The whole point is that I am pleading for women who have not got husbands and are therefore supporting dependants and are not dependent themselves.
Bear in mind, my Lords, that a person who is in, stays in for good. A man who goes into this scheme when he has an income of £250 can rise to £400, or £800, or even £1,000, and he is still in the scheme. Not so with a woman; she goes in at under £250 but there she stops. Therefore the women in the hard cases I have shown you are going to 390 have to support their dependants and to go miserably to the workhouse in their old age, having paid their Income Tax and having contributed towards the benefits that are going to be drawn by a man earning four or five times their income. That is an anomaly which is enshrined in the Bill. The noble Viscount says that I would put it right by raising the income limit. So I would. That is the simple, fair and straightforward thing to do. It is not a very heavy charge on the Exchequer; it would remove a burning sense of grievance; and it would set the Bill parallel to and on the same line as the existing Insurance Acts, in which there is no such discrimination and which have always given absolute equality between men and women.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I should like to make one contribution to this debate, if I may. It has happened that during the last thirty years I have been one of a body of trustees charged with administering pensions to a class consisting mainly, though not exclusively, of widows and spinsters. In the course of those thirty years I have had cognisance of a vast number of applications, and I am indeed surprised' that the noble Viscount in charge of the Bill thinks that the number of women of these classes who have been unable to save because they have had to support dependants is a small one. My experience is that it is a very large class indeed. I cannot tell your Lordships of the number of cases in which I have had cognisance of a woman who has worked all her life ever since she left school and has been able to save almost nothing because she has had to support some crippled sister, invalid mother, or father who cannot work. Many causes may be combined. The number of cases in which these women would have to go to the workhouse, although they have lived a very strenuous life and could have saved if they had had no dependants, is not in my judgment a small one but a large one.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HALIFAX)
I think it is right that I should say a word or two on this Amendment before the discussion closes, because I appreciate, as do all your Lordships, its importance and the extent to which it has been canvassed and support has been enlisted on one side 391 or the other during the recent debates. I cannot, of course, claim the technical knowledge of my noble friend who moved the Amendment, nor indeed the technical knowledge of my noble friend who replied to him. I think, however, that it would perhaps be right that I should endeavour to put before your Lordships one or two of the more general considerations that appeal to me as of some importance and on which I should have thought that it was not unreasonable at this stage of the discussion that our judgment should be based.
No one, of course, could have listened to the debate without being greatly impressed by what fell last from my noble friend on the Cross Benches, or from the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, or indeed from all those of your Lordships who have taken part in it. I was struck by one observation that fell from the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, when he said that he thought that it was either wrong, or I am not sure that the word he used was not "irrelevant," of my noble friend to deal with the matter, as it were, by classes. I think he said the only right thing to be done was to endeavour to treat the individual woman fairly. I go so far with him, as far as I understand him, as to say that I should quite agree that, if it were administratively possible, the only ideal way in which a great scheme of this sort could be worked would be to make provision by which regard was had to the particular circumstances of every individual. That would, I conceive, be the only way in which you could approach to the realisation of ideal justice. That, however, the noble Lord agrees, would be administratively quite impossible. Therefore, wherever you put your line, on whatever basis you devise your scheme, you are inevitably driven to doing the greatest measure of rough justice that you can, and you must not, in my judgment, be unduly deflected by the fact that—as, I think, the noble Marquess opposite said—there will inevitably be hard cases under whatever scheme you try to adopt.
It is also worth remembering that we are in this Bill introducing a great measure of social reform for the first time. A great many noble Lords seem to me to have spoken as if the right to this social reform had been long enjoyed and that all classes had an equal right 392 to enjoy it at once and immediately. That is to state the case on that side far too high. It has always been the history, as far as I know, of every new reform introduced into this country that Parliament has had to select, and to adjust the measure on lines as wise as it can conceive at the time, with its eyes fully open to the possibility that it is making, certainly not final provision, and perhaps not "the provision that experience will decide ultimately to be the most wise in all the circumstances. We cannot tell; we have to do the best we can, and therefore I am left, I must admit, rather unmoved by the suggestion that by conferring new benefits on great classes I am also doing an injustice to classes that are not brought into a reform which at present nobody enjoys at all.
Surely if you admit that there are likely to be hard cases wherever you draw the line, the broad fact is that as between men and women the men inevitably have to bear in the world a very much larger burden of obligation than do women. Therefore this Bill does not distinguish between men as men and women as women, but between those who have to bear a heavier obligation and those who have to bear an obligation, speaking broadly, less heavy. That is the answer I should venture to give to women, and I think it is an answer which would entirely exonerate me from any charge of dealing unfairly with either sex as such. With all respect to those who have spoken, and especially having regard to what fell from the noble Earl just now, I would suggest that it was almost impossible with accuracy to appraise the number of cases which might fall into the category of hard cases from the sources which the noble Lord who moved had in mind, and I do not think that any amount of inquiry could give us anything better than an approximate estimate, which might be misleading.
I thought, with great respect to him, that the noble Lord dismissed Mr. Rowntree somewhat too easily. I have not had an opportunity of reading all his book, but I have a natural respect for him because, like myself, he is a Yorkshire-man, and Yorkshiremen are apt to be good at figures. I thought his argument was worth rather more weight than the noble Lord was disposed to give to it, and I think it is worth drawing your Lordships' attention to one sentence at 393 the end of the argument. He says distinctly that, in assuming that no allowance should be made for dependants when fixing the limit for women, he was not dealing with men and women on a different principle, his arguments being exactly what I have endeavoured to put before your Lordships, though no doubt better marshalled.
The last word that I want to say is this. We all, in this House, are actuated by a single desire to do what is fair in a very complicated and technical business. As I have said, I do not suppose that any measure which any Parliament could introduce could be found after the passage of time to be the wisest measure that Parliament could have passed. But I do suggest that the right course; to adopt in a matter such as this is to take the best advice we can get, which, in this case, is, I think the advice received from the skilled advisers of the Government, who have done the best they can to weigh and adjust and balance the facts. If experience shows that this scheme ought to be extended, then it will be possible for Parliament to review the matter and, if it is thought fit, to take such further action as may be desired. At this time it is, I am afraid, impossible for the Government to go further than my noble
§ friend went in replying to the noble Lord, and if the noble Lord feels that it is necessary to press this Amendment to a Division, I shall be bound to oppose it.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I do not wish to occupy your Lordships' time longer than just to say, with respect to the Leader of the House, that I feel bound to press this matter to a Division after the support that I have received from all quarters of the House. We have put a strong case before the Government, who have done no more than talk about averages. The noble Viscount admits hard cases, but we have had no answer as to how many hard cases there are. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House recommends your Lordships to follow the guidance of the skilled advisers of the Government. Well, my Lords, if we are always to do that, we may just as well not come here at all. I hope your Lordships will go into the Lobby in support of the Amendment.
§ On Question, Whether the words proposed to be left out shall stand part of the clause?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 49; Not-Contents, 25.393
|Hailsham, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Onslow, E.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]|
|Halifax, V. (L. President.)||Radnor, E.||Hutchison of Montrose, L.|
|De La Warr, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Kilmaine, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)|
|FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Lawrence, L.|
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||Goschen, V.||Mancroft, L.|
|Zetland, M.||Plumer, V.||Marks, L.|
|Swinton, V.||Merthyr, L.|
|Beatty, E.||Monkswell, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Cautley, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Clanwilliam L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Remnant, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Rockley, L.|
|Iveagh, E.||Clinton, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Stonehaven, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Cromwell, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Elton, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Strickland, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.)||Templemore, L.|
|Munster, E.||Woodbridge, L.|
|Aberdeen and Temair, M.||Winchester, L. Bp.||Daryngton, L.|
|Crewe, M.||Denman, L.|
|Arnold, L.||Gainford, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Askwith, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Balfour of Burleigh, L. [Teller.]||Jessel, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V. [Teller.]||Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)||Pentland, L.|
|Elibank, V.||Charnwood, L.||Snell, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Clwyd, L.||Stanmore, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2:
§ Special provisions as to persons already possessing pension rights or other analogous rights.
§ 2.—(1) The following persons, if they become special voluntary contributors, shall become insured only for the purpose of widows' pensions and orphans' pensions, that is to say, male persons who are employed in, or have been granted a superannuation allowance on retirement from—
- (a) an employment which is one of the excepted employments specified in paragraphs (b) and (c) of Part II of the First Schedule to the National Health Insurance Act, 1936 (in this Act referred to as "the Insurance Act"), and is an employment as respects which the Minister has certified that provision is made by a superannuation fund established by Act of Parliament, or by means of any other statutory enactment, or by other means approved by the Minister, for securing in respect of men employed therein benefits on the whole not less favourable than the benefits by way of old age pensions conferred on men and their wives by the principal Act;
- (b) an employment which is one of the excepted employments specified in paragraphs (d), (e), (f), (g) and (h) of Part II of the said First Schedule.
§ LORD STRABOLGI moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "are employed in, or." The noble Lord said: The effect of this Amendment, which I move on behalf of my noble friends, would be that persons in excepted employments would have the same rights as others similarly situated in other occupations, in other words, those receiving between £250 and £400 a year would be able to insure for old age pensions as well as for widows' and orphans' pensions under the new arrangement. Certain classes of railway employees are particularly hit by the Bill as drafted, and in effect the Bill is taking away a right which they have now. I am sure that that is not the wish of Parliament. In the railway service there are many cases of men who retired under the old age pensions scheme and who now enjoy very small pensions compared with the salaries which they drew when they were working, and the men in the same position who are still in the employment of the railway services, even although their income is above that laid down in the Bill, want to have the same right as other workers of coming into the scheme. They at 396 present suffer in another way, because the railway companies are inclined to say as soon as a Bill of this sort passes, "Oh, very well, that is looked after by the State," and thus these men are left out. It is to remove that anomaly, which I cannot help feeling must have been an oversight or a miscalculation on the part of the draftsmen of the Bill, that I have been asked to move this Amendment.
Page 3, line 28, leave out ("are employed in, or").—(Lord Strabolgi.)
This Amendment and most of those that follow have one common object, which is to extract a little more money out of the Government on behalf of certain classes of contributors. It is not the first time, nor do I suppose it will be the last, on which Amendments with that rather time-honoured objective have been put down in this House, but I do think it is my duty to remind your Lordships that they nearly all raise questions of Privilege, and I mention that fact because some of them were actually ruled out of order in another place on the Report stage because they imposed a further charge. I am not suggesting, however, that your Lordships' House has not a perfect right to discuss and vote on such matters.
With regard to this particular Amendment, I think it should be remembered that when the main contributory insurance scheme was started it was found that in certain professions the terms of the employment carried with them certain rights to superannuation and so forth, and it was decided that when the value of those rights equalled those provided by the Government scheme it was wrong to compel the individual to pay double contributions so as to secure double benefits. Therefore it was decided that they should be excepted from the general obligation. I gather that the noble Lord wants us to allow these people to go into the full voluntary insurance scheme, including old age pension rights, unless they are actually in receipt of the superannuation from their employers, and he says that there are many contributors who would be glad to have these double benefits. That may be so, but we do not feel that we should be justified in spending the taxpayers' money in subsidising benefits for people for whom provision has already been made. They have the right to enter 397 the voluntary scheme on the limited lines, that is to say, in respect of those risks for which they were not already covered by the terms of their employment, and we see no reason why that limitation should be exceeded. I think there is more on similar lines to follow, and later Amendments rather relating to this kind of point, and I shall have a little more to say on those Amendments, but I think what I have said is an answer to what the noble Lord has put forward.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5:
§ Provisions as to special voluntary contributors who cease to pay contributions, or pay contributions irregularly.
§ (7) If it is shown to the satisfaction of the Minister, or is decided on appeal in manner provided by the principal Act, that a special voluntary contributor who is normally engaged in some gainful occupation, and by whom not less than one hundred and four contributions have been paid, has, while so engaged, been rendered incapable of work by some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement of which notice has been given in the prescribed time and in the prescribed manner, then, for the purposes of subsections (1), (2) and (3) of this section and of the Third and Fourth Schedules to this Act, contributions shall Lie deemed to have been paid by him to such extent as may be prescribed in respect of any period of that incapacity after the first thirteen weeks thereof.
§ Regulations made by the Minister under the principal Act may require special voluntary contributors, as a condition of obtaining the benefit of this subsection, to furnish evidence of incapacity at such intervals as the Minister may require, and to submit to medical examination.
§ LORD STRABOLGI moved, in subsection (7), to leave out "who is normally engaged in some gainful occupation, and." The noble Lord said: My noble friend Lord Snell has been called away on other public duty and has asked me to move this in his place. The other two Amendments which follow are consequential, and should be read in conjunction with the new subsection (4) to Clause 9 which appears later on the Order Paper. The noble Viscount says that these Amendments are designed to extract more money from the Exchequer. That really is not so. They are meant to defend people who have certain rights now, of which the Bill would deprive them. And indeed this subsection which we are now discussing 398 is a new departure altogether. It takes away certain rights granted by Parliament under previous Acts. At present persons who are ill are excused contributions under the Insurance and Pensions Acts. If the words that I propose to delete stand part of the Bill it will mean that persons whose illness exceeds the normal thirteen weeks, and who have been rendered incapable of working, will not thereafter be able to claim exemption from contributions if they subsequently fall ill from the same disease. In other words, you are worsening their position. It is rather curious, in a Bill which in almost every other respect has been welcomed, if in this particular case an injury is done to a certain class of persons. Persons who recover and subsequently become ill will also be unable to claim exemption, and this will be serious for people who retire before the age of 65, as they do in a good many callings. This is indeed an entirely new principle. This Amendment, far from robbing the Exchequer as the noble Viscount would say, or extracting money from the Exchequer, really is intended to maintain the status quo. We only want these people to have the rights they at present enjoy and which I do not think it could have been the intention of the House of Commons to take away from them.
Page 7, line 27, leave out ("who is normally engaged in some gainful occupation, and").—(Lord Strabolgi.)
I withdraw the word "intended" if that is displeasing to the noble Lord. I would only say that these Amendments will actually have the effect I indicated. This particular Amendment deals with the concession which is made to voluntary contributors. The Government thought it would be a hardship if some voluntary contributor, having paid his contributions regularly for a time, should then fall ill and on account of illness be unable to pay his contributions and should lapse in this way from the scheme altogether. It is clear that illness will only affect the contributor's capacity to pay if he is incapacitated by illness from doing work and obtaining wages. In cases where he does not earn wages or where he is not working for profit on his own account—if, for instance, he is drawing all his money from investments, his power to pay these contributions would not be 399 directly affected by his illness. Therefore we see no reason for accepting this Amendment. I must also point out that the position of existing voluntary contributors is not affected. This provision only deals with new entrants to the scheme.
I hope the noble Viscount is not going to treat all our Amendments in this very stern way. He has, to my disappointment, shown no sign of any concession at all. It is true that this leaves the position of present contributors unaffected, but new entrants, the people whom it is intended shall become members—I am particularly thinking of railway officials—will be deprived of rights which they would have had but for this Bill. If that is the Government attitude, I suppose there is no means of altering it, and I can only regret it.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clauses 6 to 8 agreed to.
§ Clause 9:
§ Persons entitled to become voluntary contributors (otherwise than as special voluntary contributors).
§ 9.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person who, having been employed in an employment or employments in respect of which he was insured under the principal Act for a period, whether continuous or not, of one hundred and four weeks or upwards, ceases to be so employed, shall, if he gives notice in that behalf within the prescribed time and in the prescribed manner, thereupon become a voluntary contributor under that Act:
§ Provided that, if a person who, at any time during the said period, was an exempt person, or was engaged in an excepted employment entailing the payment of contributions at less than the ordinary rates, becomes a voluntary contributor, he shall, subject to the provisions of the next succeeding subsection, be insured only for the same benefits and subject to the same conditions as while he was insured as an exempt person or as a person engaged in that excepted employment.
§ LORD STRABOLGI moved, in the proviso to subsection (1), to omit the words "or was engaged in an excepted employment entailing the payment of contributions at less than the ordinary rates." The noble Lord said: There is a series of Amendments to this clause, the first of which I beg to move. Briefly the deletions proposed, with the new subsection to which I referred a few moments 400 ago, will have the effect of maintaining the status quo so far as the taking up of voluntary insurance on the part of persons in excepted employment is concerned. The original situation was as has been stated by the noble Viscount in his reply to the previous Amendment, which dealt with the same principle. If these Amendments were accepted, it would have the effect of retaining young entrants in the scheme and inducing them to take up full voluntary insurance which. I suggest, would be good from the point of view of the Exchequer. These Amendments would really bring money to the Exchequer. They do not attempt to extract money from the Exchequer or from the funds. Supposing enough young entrants are prepared to enter this scheme—and my information is that a good many will be prepared to do so—that will strengthen the funds, and it will maintain for persons partially insured the right to take up full insurance on passing the £250 per year datum line.
§ I admit there are not many in the latter class, but, even so, the position with regard to the young entrants is, I submit, important. Supposing they come in at the age of 16 and pay throughout their lives, that is a very good thing for the scheme. If they want to do that, why not accept them? The Government's case for leaving the Bill as it is, is that compulsory insurance for a particular type of benefit is no ground for bestowing a right to voluntary insurance for other types of benefit. I suggest that the whole case for the "last chance," the voluntary entry of the bachelor, of the man who expects to be married to take up his insurance rights in time, is a direct negative to that argument. Because certain people are compulsorily insured is no reason why you should not encourage others to come into the same scheme. As the Bill is drafted you not only do not encourage but you forbid this, perhaps, numerically small but nevertheless important class of people to enter the scheme. That is the main outline of the case which we submit, and it is not an unreasonable one. I suggest it would be a benefit to the scheme to have these young entrants who are sufficiently prudent and far-sighted to take advantage of these proposals.
Page 11, line 11, leave out from ("person") to ("becomes") in line 13.—(Lord Strabolgi.)
As the noble Lord has explained, this Amendment and the next six on the Marshalled List all hang together. The noble Lord realises the conditions on which the certificate of exemption is granted—namely, on the ground that the terms of employment provide benefits at least equal to those from which the Minister excludes the execpted contributor. Your Lordships will be aware that the contributor was, in the first case, only eligible for the compulsory scheme if his circumstances conformed to certain prescribed conditions. If he was, for instance, transferred to a non-insurable occupation or if his income rose to more than £250 per year he lost the benefit of those contributions. That was considered unfair, and a scheme was devised to enable such people to continue in insurance on the same: terms but on a voluntary basis. In devising this voluntary scheme, account had to be taken of the position of these excepted contributors—that is to say, people who were insured for certain purposes and excepted for others. There was clearly no reason why, when these people came into the voluntary scheme, they should have had at that point to start contributing to those benefits from which they had previously been excluded. But a difficulty arose. While they were under the compulsory insurance for the limited benefits, it was quite possible to deal with them through their employers on a group basis, but when an individual, having ceased to be insured, came into the voluntary scheme on an individual basis, it was then that the task of setting up special central machinery to deal with this class was found to be too great, and it was decided to use the machinery of the approved society for this voluntary insurance.
It was purely to suit administrative convenience that every voluntary contributor had become insured for all purposes of the Act—that is, for health and pensions purposes. Of course, it created an anomalous position, and anomalies are apt to be resented. In this case it was followed by the Government being compelled to take another step, and that was to extend the same facilities to those in similar occupations who were still within the compulsory scheme. That did not make the position any less anomalous, but it had to be done because of the resentment created in the lower paid groups against the higher paid groups in 402 the same occupation. Under this Bill an entirely new class of voluntary contributor is set up, who is insured for pensions purposes only, and, now that we have the new central administration to deal with the voluntary contributors, it is possible to break the interlocking of the main scheme so far as the voluntary contributor is concerned. Some people argue that that is a bad thing. I do not think the noble Lord put it quite so high as that. He said that some people might well wish to go on, as they had done in the past, contributing, although excepted, to the full benefits when they came into the voluntary scheme.
I think it may be a bad thing for the approved societies who have come into existence solely to deal with these voluntary contributors, and it may be a bad thing for those who can afford to pay these double contributions. But we believe that it will be a very good thing for those who cannot afford to pay the double premium, and for those who think it is unreasonable to be compelled to insure for other benefits if they wish to maintain the benefits for which they were originally compulsorily insured. It really amounts to this, that if we are taking away a privilege from some of these contributors which always, incidentally, was as anomalous privilege, we are merely putting these contributors in exactly the same position as other members of the community, and nobody will be able to say that this class is receiving preferential treatment. I am sorry to remain stern, but I have again to decline to accept this Amendment.
I am very much obliged for the very careful reply that the noble Viscount has given, and at any rate I am glad to hear that his conscience is pricking him a little. He expressed regret at not being able to give any concessions at all. I only want to make this observation, if the Committee will allow me. The situation has altered a great deal since 1911. I say this in answer to the point that these people could have come in before. Since 1911 a great many additional benefits are available to insured persons. In 1911 for example, there were not the adv [...] of dentistry and optical services [...] was no convalescent home treatm[...] the provision of medical and[...] appliances was very meagre. M[...] as the noble Viscount knows, th [...] 403 service was rudimentary. But since 1911 we have made tremendous advances, and it has been calculated that there are seventeen additional benefits. Therefore, the advantages now are very much greater than they were then, and it seems rather hard on these people to take away their rights to come in voluntarily, for that is the Government's policy. I can only hope that the Leader of the House was giving the views of a Cabinet of the near future when he suggested that the result of experiments would be used to amend the Act.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 9 agreed to.
§ Clause 10 to 12 agreed to.
§ Clause 13:
§ Repeal of certain provisions of Insurance Act, and consequential and minor amendments of principal Act and that Act.
§ 13.—(1) The following provisions of the Insurance Act, that is to say, paragraph (c) of subsection (1) of Section three, subsections (3),(4) and (5) of that section and Section one hundred and twenty-one (being provisions conferring on certain persons rights to become voluntary contributors for the purposes of that Act) and subsection (2) of Section nineteen (being a provision enabling elderly persons to pay contributions as if they were voluntary contributors for the purposes of that Act) shall cease to have effect.
§ LORD STRABOLGI moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "and Section one hundred and twenty-one." The noble Lord said: This Amendment really deals with one of the most curious matters in this Bill. The Amendment, as your Lordships see, is to leave out the words "and Section one hundred and twenty-one." Your Lordships will be aware that Section 121 of the original Insurance Act conferred certain clearly defined rights on persons employed under the Crown or by local or other public authorities, or as clerks or other salaried officials in the service of the railways and certain other statutory undertakings—I believe the Port of London Authority is one. This Bill takes those rights away. It may be said that they have other things in their place, but they do not think so, and my noble friends and I have been asked to champion their cause. Up till the passing of this Bill these people will have had the right to take up voluntary insurance for health purposes, subject to certain prescribed conditions, if they are on an 404 excepted staff, and that right has been re-affirmed in every Health and Insurance Act, or similar Act, since 1911. This is the first Bill to come before Parliament that has denied the extension of voluntary insurance to the staffs in those excepted employments. Worse than that, it takes away their existing rights.
§ I do ask your Lordships to think twice before acquiescing in this deprivation of the rights of a very decent and law-abiding set of permanent officials. You can call them petty bureaucrats if you like, but they are doing important work in the statutory undertakings, and I think they deserve better treatment than they receive in this Bill. I cannot see the reason why the Government are taking this line, unless it is that they think they can save a little money. For myself I think that is rather doubtful. After all, these are men who are usually in good physical health. They are not always ailing and sick. It is rather the pick of our young men who go into this class of work for statutory undertakings. Those undertakings can pick and choose their younger clerical men, and therefore the health insurance funds are not going to suffer very much, I venture to say, if these men are included in this scheme. I do not know what the actuarial position is, but generally speaking they are the cream, so to speak, of the younger clerical workers. It seems rather curious that they should be deprived of this particular advantage. I hope therefore that the Government have decided to accept this Amendment, for which I venture to say the arguments are very strong. I beg to move.
Page 15, line 20, leave out ("and Section one hundred and twenty-one").—(Lord Strabolgi.)
The answer to this Amendment is very similar to the answer I gave to a preceding Amendment. The position is that none are excepted unless the terms of their employment provide benefits as good as those from which they are being excluded. I really feel that I have already dealt with the points raised by the noble Lord and this Amendment seems to be in the nature of a consequential Amendment to the one we have just debated. I am afraid I am not in a position to accept it.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.405
§ Clause 13 agreed to.
§ Clauses 14 to 16 agreed to.
§ Clause 17:
§ Transitory provisions.
§ (2) Until such date as may be prescribed, the principal Act and the Insurance Act shall, in relation to all persons who immediately before the commencement of this Act were voluntary contributors, continue to have effect, as if this Act had not been passed, and on and after the said date the said Acts shall continue so to have effect in relation to such of those persons as either—
- (a) have before the said date ceased to be entitled to pay contributions; or
- (b) not having ceased to be entitled to pay contributions, have before the said date elected within the prescribed time and in the prescribed manner that the said Acts shall continue so to have effect in relation to them:
§ Provided that the provisions of this subsection shall cease to apply in relation to any person if at any time he ceases to be insured.
§ LORD STRABOLGI moved, in subsection (2), paragraph (b), after the first "have," to insert "not." The noble Lord said: This Amendment should be read in conjunction with the next two Amendments on the Paper. The joint effect of the three Amendments is to reverse the procedure in the Bill governing the right of voluntary contributors to opt—if I may use that horrible word, as I do not know a better one—to remain under the existing arrangements or to transfer to the new arrangements. The procedure provided in the Bill is that unless voluntary contributors specifically declare their desire to remain under existing arrangements they will be automatically transferred to the new arrangements. If the Amendments are accepted they will automatically remain as at present, unless they express a definite desire to come under the new conditions. The Government's argument, I understand, is that their proposals are in the interests of insured persons, but I do not think that is really the experience of people who have to deal with them. It is the old story of the very careful man who fills in the necessary forms and writes the necessary letters, as against the man who for temperamental reasons is not so careful and loses his chance. That man later on may fail in health or have family responsibilities, but because he failed to remember to fill in certain forms and do certain things he will find himself outside the 406 benefits of this Bill. It is not a great matter, but I think it would be better to reverse the procedure and do things the other way round.
Page 18, line 32, after ("have") insert ("not").—(Lord Strabolgi.)
This appears to go rather deeply into the intricacies of insurance administration, but I think one or two points ought to be perfectly clear. We have so far been dealing with people who are either compulsorily insured or who, if this Bill did not pass, would go into normal voluntary insurance. This Amendment deals with a third class, those who are actually at the moment in the voluntary insurance scheme. Those people will be left in exactly the same position under the Bill as if the Bill did not pass, except for one comparatively minor change, which, as the noble Lord said, we believe to be to their advantage. Now that there is interlocking of pensions and health insurance we are going to ask contributors: "Do you wish to be insured exactly as you are now, or do you wish to have your health and pensions insurances separated?" We give them their choice, but we make the stipulation that if they decide to go on as they are they cannot drop health insurance separately without dropping out of the whole; scheme. If they decide that their insurances should be separated they can drop out of one or the other at any time they like. We have told them that unless we hear to the contrary we shall assume that they wish their insurances separated, but I would like to make it clear that we are doing nothing to take these people out of either pensions or health insurance. What we are doing is to give them the right to decide in which way their insurances should be administered.
If a contributor elects in favour of separation he will have two cards, whereas he now has one. As against that slight inconvenience he will have the right to drop out of whichever one he likes at any time he likes. It often happens that a man at some stage in his career may prefer to pay the smaller contribution and get the reduced benefit. I must deny that we are putting temptation in the way of men to get out of health insurance. If a man desires to drop his health insurance he just does not return his card. We feel that this may perhaps 407 be unpopular with some approved societies, because anybody who drops out of voluntary health insurance is, if not a loss, certainly no profit to them. But it is a mistake to assume—I am not sure that the noble Lord did not assume it—that by contracting out a man contracts out of insurance. He simply contracts out of the present system under which insurance is administered and in future has two cards instead of one.
It is admitted that the advantages of this Bill taken as a whole are very great, but there are one or two improvements which we on these Benches thought might be made. That is why I put down this Amendment. The argument seems to be that, while the conditions required to be fulfilled are rather more onerous with regard to the period allowed for incapacity and so on, nevertheless the concessions to the elderly contributors are much better under the old system than under the new. It is rather difficult to strike a balance, but I think, if I may say so, that the Government have done their best in the matter. I think on the whole that the measure is a very good one. These comparatively small matters do not really affect the principle of the Bill. They do, however, affect the particular people concerned, and it is on their behalf that I have tried to get these concessions from the Government. I am only sorry that they have not seen their way to concede them.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 17 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ Schedules agreed to.
§ Bill reported without amendment.