§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE EARL OF DUNDEE)
My Lords, when I introduced the last National Insurance Bill but one, in June, 1959, we had a short debate of only an hour-and-a-half on the Second Reading: and when I introduced the last one in December, 1960, we had a still shorter debate, the only speakers being the late Lord Pethick-Lawrence and myself. On this occasion it is the general wish of your Lordships that we should devote the whole afternoon to the debate on unemployment. In these circumstances I should have been glad to move the Second Reading of this Bill completely formally, but I am told that your Lordships would like me to give a short, two-minute explanation of the Bill. I will do my best to make it not only extremely short but also entirely non-controversial, so that we may get on to the next business.
As your Lordships will remember, it was the 1959 Act which introduced two novel features into our insurance legislation: the graduated pension for those earning £9 or more a week, and the contracting-out provision. The graduated scheme exists in other countries, but, so far as I know, we are the only country which has the contracting-out provision. Before the 1959 Act came into force in April, 1961, another Act was passed at the end of 1960 which raised benefits for a single person from 50s. to 57s. 6d. and for a married couple from 80s. to 92s. 6d., but the framework of the 1959 Act was left as it was, with the range of wage limits from £9 to £15 for payment of graduated contributions entitling the insured person to a graduated pension in addition to the basic pension.
1249 This Bill does nothing to alter that framework except that it extends the top wage limit for graduated contributions to £18, so that insured persons will begin paying graduated contributions at £9 and those contributions will be payable on a sliding scale up to £18. In other respects, the only differences are the increases in the flat rate contribution and flat rate benefits, which your Lordships will see in Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 of the Bill; and the changes in the graduated provisions, which are in Clause 3 of the Bill. The flat rate benefits, as your Lordships know, are increased in the case of a single person from 57s. 6d. to 67s. 6d., and in the case of a married couple from 92s. 6d. to 109s. As to the graduated pension, the total amount obtainable is larger, but the rate is the same—that is, 6d. a week for every £7 10s. paid by a man in contribution.
My Lords, from reading the discussions on this Bill in another place, I think that the main criticisms of the Bill are very similar to those which were advanced against the two previous Bills of 1959 and 1960, and the Government's replies to those criticisms are, likewise, not easy to distinguish from those which have been put forward before. On Committee stage, which is down for next Tuesday, I shall be moving at least one Amendment to the Bill, the substance of which is described in the form of a Written Answer, which I gave last Thursday to my noble friend Lord Jessel, and which your Lordships will see in the OFFICIAL REPORT [col. 1152]. Since your Lordships do not desire to discuss the Bill to-day, I shall look forward on Committee and Third Reading next Tuesday to dealing with any further points which your Lordships may wish to raise. I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Earl of Dundee.)
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his short, yet clear, explanation of the provisions of this Bill. It is an important Bill. The need for its introduction in regard to the aid it gives in certain directions is recognised by all Parties. We have agreed, through the usual channels, that we will not discuss it to-day, but there will be 1250 matters which we shall require to raise, both from the organisational point of view and in relation to the administrative work that arises out of the Bill, and certain social questions. We have agreed with the Government, through the usual channels, that we shall discuss the whole of that in one day, so that the Bill may come into operation at the necessary time.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.