HL Deb 15 November 1944 vol 133 cc1177-86

Brought from the Commons.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 1ª. (Lord Templemore.)


My Lords, I think that perhaps it is only due to your Lordships that I should say a word of explanation to the House before we proceed to the further consideration of what is the principal legislative business for to-day's sitting, that is, to take the Ministry of National Insurance Bill through all its stages. I regret very much that the Bill does not appear upon the Order Paper today, as the Message of its passage through another place was delayed last night until after your Lordships had risen. We had expected to receive the Bill in ample time before we rose; indeed, the main question as respects the relations between the two Houses yesterday appeared to be whether we should find the House of Commons still sitting at the time that we terminated our own discussions on the Town and Country Planning Bill, in order that they might receive the Amendments which your Lordships had made to that Bill. However, as so frequently happens in Parliamentary business, the unexpected occurred, and moreover, as a result of the deliberations in another place yesterday which prevented our receiving the Bill earlier, the Title of the Bill, your Lordships will have noticed, has been changed so that it now appears in your Lordships' House under the name of the Ministry of National Insurance Bill and not of Social Insurance, the name under which it first came to be known to both Houses of Parliament.

I should like to assure your Lordships, however—and I am quite certain that my noble friend who is taking the Bill will explain this later in detail—that this change in the name does not involve any material change in the substance. It is still substantially and in all important respects the same Bill as it was before, so that the violation of the rules and customs of your Lordships' House is not so serious as might at first appear. I might of course have suggested the postponement of the discussion of this Bill until to-morrow. That would have been a possible course, but I believe it will be more convenient to most of your Lordships to take the debate this afternoon, as originally arranged, than to ask your Lordships to sit specially to-morrow for a discussion which I understand will be concerned with machinery upon which I hope and believe that it will be found there is general agreement in all quarters of the House. I hope very much the House will share that view. The discussion of the Government's insurance proposals has been arranged to take place early next Session and it is in no way anticipated by the present Bill. I hope therefore that your Lordships will have no objection to our proceeding to take this Bill through all its stages this afternoon. As I have already said, the Bill is in fact by no means new to your Lordships as it was circulated to you nearly a fortnight ago on presentation to the House of Commons. For the convenience of the House the Clerk of the Parliaments has arranged for the circulation of a separate sheet to accompany the prints of the Bill on the Table to-day, showing the changes made yesterday in another place.

2.6 p.m.


My Lords, it had been my intention to make some comment here on the fact that this Bill comes before your Lordships so late and that there is no mention of it on the Order Paper. The fact of its not being mentioned on the Order Paper arises of course out of the suspension of certain Standing Orders of your Lordships' House. Frankly I think it is inconvenient to members of your Lordships' House in every quarter that the Bill should be brought before it so late in the Session and at such short notice, though in certain circumstances that may well be unavoidable as regards measures of great urgency relating to the prosecution of the war, and your Lordships would always be willing to facilitate the Government's business in matters of that kind. I am sorry that we have not had a longer notice of this Bill, and indeed we have not even the Bill before us at the present moment in the form in which it left another place, for we have to relate the script of Amendments to the text of the Bill which was circulated some time ago. The Leader of the House however, sensing the feeling of the House, has fully explained the position, and I am sure we shall all of us most readily accept his explanation, which he has put in such agreeable terms that any further comment that I had it in mind to make I will refrain from making.

2.8 p.m.


My Lords, in the closing days of the Session this House is often faced by difficult contingencies and as a rule it is very ready to accede to any proposal of the Leader of the House to offer special facilities, and I think that in this case also we must agree to do so. Of course if this had been a Bill of the first rank, a Bill dealing with Social Security or National Insurance in general, it would have been impossible for the House to accede, and I am quite certain that the Leader of the House would not have suggested it; but since it is a comparatively very small measure for the establishment of a new Ministry, which from this quarter of the House we have already very strongly urged on a previous occasion and would therefore certainly not demur to now, I think the noble Lords on these Benches would concur with the Labour Party, the Official Opposition, in acceding to the request of the Leader of the House.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lords and I share their regret that they have not had longer notice, but it was unfortunately on this particular occasion unavoidable. It will be my business to see that it does not occur again, if it can be avoided.

On Question, Bill read 1a.

2.10 p.m.

Then, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended, in pursuance of the Resolution of yesterday:


My Lords, I move that this Bill be now read a second time. I do not propose to take up any undue amount of your Lordships' time in commending the Bill to you. The discussion on the First Reading has been very helpful from that point of view. Clearly, this is purely a machinery Bill and nothing else, designed as it is to implement the Government's proposals in the White Paper, which in another place they have discussed in some detail and which, unfortunately I think, we have not had an opportunity of discussing in this House. In that White Paper we did indicate that it was the intention of the Government at the earliest possible moment to set up a Ministry and to transfer to that Ministry responsibility foe the existing national insurance schemes.

There is one point which I think is of some public importance that I want to take the opportunity of speaking about here, if I may. I have heard from several sources that some people who are not well informed on these subjects have wondered whether, as there is going to be a new Bill and a new Ministry, they are going to lose the rights that they have under existing measures. Perhaps your Lordships will therefore allow me to take this opportunity of reassuring them and of explaining that the existing schemes will be continued unaltered, except that the Ministers responsible will now be the Minister of National Insurance, instead of the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland in so far as health benefits and contributory pensions are concerned and the Minister of Labour and National Service in so far as unemployment benefit is concerned. The insured population will continue to get their present benefits as heretofore—sickness benefits from the approved societies, unemployment benefits from the employment exchanges.

One of the reasons why the Government think it important to proceed with this Bill is that we have come to the conclusion that the appointment of one Minister, and the transfer to him of the existing staffs experienced in the organization and administration of national insur- ance, is the quickest way of putting in hand the really very considerable task of translating into legislative form the proposals in the Government's White Paper, and that that is also the best method of preparing the new organization that will be needed before this scheme can operate. Therefore, in this Bill, your Lordships are not concerned with the merits of the proposals of the Government's White Paper, which you will have an ample opportunity of discussing when that legislation is prepared. We are merely concerned in this Bill with the machinery for the setting up of a new Ministry. Since members in another place decided somewhat late last night to rechristen this Bill, I commend to you the same child under another name. Had I spoken yesterday I should have strongly recommended you to adopt a social insurance measure. I am not going to say anything about a National Insurance Bill except that perhaps it does not really matter what you call it, and there is this merit about a National Insurance Bill that it does bring out the comprehensive nature of the scheme and the fact that we are all in it. It is also perhaps a somewhat fitting tribute to the original work done by that very brilliant Government which did so much for social reform and which was responsible for Mr. Lloyd George's Act of 1911.

May I direct your Lordships' attention very briefly to the Bill itself as you have it before you? The appointment of the new Minister is dealt with in Clause 1, which contains a general description of the functions that are to be transferred to him, Broadly these functions are these: First, the function of the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland in regard to national health insurance and contributory pensions; secondly, the functions of the Minister of Labour with respect to unemployment insurance; and thirdly, the functions of the Home Secretary in regards to workmen's compensation. I would ask your Lordships to note that the new Minister will also be answerable in Parliament for the work of the Assistance Board covering not only unemployment assistance but also supplementary pensions. As regards the Assistance Board, the Minister will take over simply the existing responsibilities of that Board and the Parliamentary responsibilities which devolve under three Ministers. Clauses 2 to 5 are the usual common form for the setting up of a new Ministry, with the limiting factor that only one Parliamentary Secretary shall be appointed.

Clause 6, which is the operative clause deals with the transfer of functions. It provides that the transfer shall be effected by Orders in Council which will be laid before Parliament as soon as they are made. Your Lordships will have observed that in another place Parliamentary control was increased by an Amendment in subsection (8) of Clause 6 which lays it clown that Parliament is in a position to vote against any of the Orders and that they shall be annulled if either House resolves within twenty-eight days of the making of an Order that it shall be annulled.

I think perhaps I ought to mention that in Clause 6, paragraphs (a) and (e) of subsection (1) contain two specific exceptions to the general plan that the responsibility for the existing insurance schemes shall be transferred to the new Minister. The first of these exceptions relates to the functions of the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland with respect to the administration of medical benefit—that is free medical attendance and treatment, including medicine, for persons insured under the national health insurance scheme. This will be provided for the whole population under the projected National Health Service, and it is clearly right that until this service comes into being medical benefit for the insured should remain the responsibility of the two Health Ministers and not of the new Minister who will be responsible for the administration by the approved societies of the cash benefits of the National Health Scheme. The second exception concerns the functions of the Minister of Labour under specific sections of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1935, relating to courses of instruction and the promotion of employment. I hope that I have said enough to deal adequately with this measure and that what I have said will commend it to your Lordships' acceptance. I beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Woolton.)

2.20 p.m.


My Lords, in this Bill I take almost a personal interest because in February of last year, speaking in a dis- cussion of Sir William Beveridge's Report, I expressed on behalf of my noble friends the opinion that the creation of a Ministry of Social Security was a test showing whether or not the Government meant business in the matter. I remember very well how in reply the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack in the most friendly way castigated me, and whilst I recognized then as I do now the cogency and force of the formidable arguments which he deduced, I must confess that I was not convinced although those arguments won my reluctant admiration. But reading again the speech which the Lord Chancellor made on that occasion, I think his attitude was rather criticism of the fact that I was suggesting a Ministry there and then than a suggestion that there should be no Ministry whatever. I think perhaps in the light of experience and as things have developed no harm has been done in fact by the delay which has ensued, but I am glad indeed that this Bill is now before your Lordships to be passed into law.

I should have been inclined to say, as the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading has said, that this was purely a machinery Bill were it not for the change In the title of the Bill introduced in another place last evening. I myself feel that there is much substance in the criticism made in a closely reasoned leading article in The Times of this morning, which expresses the opinion, which I myself accept, that this is not a change for the better. The term "social insurance" is almost a term of art not only in this country but in every country where social reform has become part of the legislative and administrative functions of government. "Social security" was the phrase which attracted the attention and warmed the enthusiasms of the great mass of the people of this country when they first came to study the proposals made by Sir William Beveridge and later the suggestions in the Government's White Paper. When the Bill was originally brought forward as a Social Insurance Bill there were many who felt that they had already lost the security, and now that the Bill is called the National Insurance Bill there are many who feel that a good deal has been lost by the omission of the term "social." Indeed, it looks like the old National Health Insurance Act but with health taken out. I think it was a psychological mistake, I think it was a political error to change the name of the Bill to the National Insurance Bill.

I do not propose—it would indeed be unsuitable even were it in order—to discuss to-day in any way the provisions of either of the Government's White Papers and the proposals that are contained therein. I would make but this observation. I think it a pity, perhaps, that it has not been possible to order the business of your Lordships' House in such a way that these White Papers might, in your Lordships' House as in another place, have been discussed before this Bill was introduced rather than, as will be the case, after this Bill has been introduced and indeed passed into law. In that respect the House of Commons has had an advantage over your Lordships' House. There is nothing in the terms of this Bill upon which on behalf of my noble friends I would wish to comment, except that did time allow and the procedure of your Lordships' House make it easier—for all stages are to be taken in the next few minutes—I might have brought forward a suggestion for reinstating the original title of the Bill or even substituting in addition the word "security" for "insurance." As matters stand, however, on behalf of my noble friends I commend this Bill to your Lordships' House and I have no doubt that within a few minutes of my sitting down it will have been passed.

2.28 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, when these matters were discussed comprehensively in February last year I strongly supported the suggestion in the Beveridge Report that there should be established a Ministry of Social Security. At that time the proposal was rejected by the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place, and the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor in your Lordships' House expressed the view that at all events at that time the appointment of such a Minister was not expedient. Now they consider, as we are glad to know, that the time has arrived. Precisely the same course of events has occurred on two previous occasions. Before the outbreak of the present war, for a period of at any rate two years some of us were strongly advocating both in your Lordships' House and in another place the creation of a Ministry of Supply, which the Government then said was inexpedient and wrong and unnecessary and would indeed be harmful, with results to the national interest that were most lamentable. Again, in the case of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning, incessantly we urged that it should be created, and continually the Government gave a negative answer or a temporizing answer until at last they were converted. Now we have the third case and I can oily regret that the step was not taken earlier.

These new Ministries, which are somewhat numerous one must confess, are a necessity of the changing times in which we live when the State is called upon to assume all kinds of new functions which previously were not conferred upon it. But there are certain economies to be set off against the creation of a Ministry. The present Minister Without Portfolio is to become the Minister of National Insurance, and consequently there will not be any addition in that regard in the numbers of the Ministry. Here let me add in parenthesis that I hope when the title Minister Without Portfolio ceases to have a Minister to bear it, the title itself will disappear and never be revived. It is a continental title which is quite foreign to British traditions and which is clumsy and, indeed, meaningless. As I have said before, no Minister in this country has a portfolio. Therefore how can you properly designate a Minister for the non-possession of that which does not exist? In the second place, it is possible that the functions of the Minister of Pensions may be absorbed in those of the Minister of National Insurance, and I hope that will prove to be the case. If the noble Lord the Minister of Reconstruction can add a word before this Motion is put to the House to say whether the Government do in fact contemplate that the Ministry of Pensions will be absorbed in that way, I am sure that we and the public would be glad to know it. I find no mention of the Ministry of Pensions in the clauses of the Bill which provide for transfer of certain powers to the new Department.

As to the title of the Bill, if this were a matter on which the House would wish to arrive at a fresh decision after discussion I should have a good deal to say. But as the House of Commons decided yesterday in favour of the present title, by a majority of two to one, I imagine that your Lordships would not wish to revise that decision. Therefore it is unnecessary to occupy your Lordships' time by discussing that particular point. For my own part, and on behalf of my noble friends sitting on these Benches, I may say that we give to the Second Reading of this measure a cordial welcome.

2.33 p.m.


My Lords, if I may be permitted to thank the noble Lords who have spoken welcoming this Bill I should like to do so. In reply to the question that the noble Viscount put to me, it is quite true that we have deliberately not included the absorption of the work of the Minister of Pensions in this Bill, because it seemed to us that for a period of a few years after the war it was likely that the Minister of Pensions would be very considerably occupied with very special responsibility, and we thought that it was advisable to leave him with that responsibility. Subsequently it may indeed be that when that responsibility becomes less it will be possible to make such an amalgamation as that to which the noble Viscount has referred. It clearly would not be proper for me to make any commitment as to what the intentions of what obviously will be a future Government may be in this matter.

On Question, Bill read 2ª: Committee negatived.

Bill read 3a, and passed.

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