Orders of the Day — National Health Insurance and Contributory Pensions Bill.

– in the House of Commons am ar 6 Mehefin 1935.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Order for Second Reading read.

3.42 p.m.

Photo of Mr Edward Young Mr Edward Young , Sevenoaks

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a Bill of very great social importance to very wide classes in the country. As a Measure for the alleviation of the evil of unemployment, I am confident that its object will command the general as sent of all parties in the House, whatever criticism there may be of the structure or methods of the Measure. In a way, the Bill is a happy augury, because the opportunity for its introduction arises from an improvement in the general conditions of the nation's industry and employment which makes a Measure of this sort possible. The extremely widespread nature of our system of National Health Insurance is well known to the House. It is of extreme importance, for it is, as it were, the foundation of all our social services, affecting no fewer than 18,000,000 insured persons in the country. Well known, to o, is the wide and extremely important nature of the benefits secured by this system—cash benefits in sickness and in a long period of disablement following sickness, and medical benefits during sickness. The cash benefit on maternity is, perhaps, one of the most important of all.

Further, linked up with our National Health Insurance system there is the great pension system, which is of more recent creation, and which, by means of the same machinery, secures to insured persons on a contributory basis old age pensions at 65, and a novel feature, in which I think we are the pioneers of the world in the development of social insurance, namely, insurance for widows and orphans on the death of the wage-earner. This is a mighty instrument for the foundation of safety and happiness of mind in the lives of the wage-earners. The particular aspect of this great system to which we attach special significance in. this House is that, since it is a contributory system, it promotes the forces of character, because every participator in the system is aware that the benefits that are secured by it are secured as a result of his or her own efforts and thrift.

The wide extent of this great system itself makes it peculiarly susceptible to changes in the general state of employment and of national prosperity. It is, as it were, a very sensitive barometer of the state of employment. The state of employment reflects itself upon the finances of the system in a very closely related and prompt manner. In consequence of that, those who are responsible for the guardianship of the system and its maintenance in a sound condition—namely, this House and the Government of the day, as responsible to this House—must exercise a very special measure of vigilance and promptitude in relating the system from time to time to the conditions of national prosperity. To put it simply, it is a matter on which it is never possible to go to sleep; one must always be taking care of the system of National Health Insurance and making sure that it is sound in its finance.

That was particularly felt at the time of the great depression, which brought to us an extreme degree of unemployment and which, through unemployment, had a very marked effect upon the finances of National Health Insurance. That great depression affected the whole basis of the scheme adversely. How adversely the scheme had been affected by the general depression and unemployment was clearly revealed on the occasion of the Third Valuation, when the Government Actuary's report dealt with the summarised results of the valuation for the third valuation period. The report disclosed that, owing to the diminution of the contribution income on account of unemployment, great evils were impending over the National Health Insurance system. Many of the approved societies, who are responsible for the administration of the system and whose finances provide the units of which the finance of the system as a whole is made up, were threatened with being driven down into a deficiency, and it became urgently necessary to take emergency measures to protect the basis of National Health Insurance, for the preservation of its solvency and for the preservation of the contributory principle. Had such measures not been adopted, National Health Insurance would have followed the course of unemployment on its downward track, which would have led to complete financial disaster. At that time, also, owing to the generally adverse state of the national finances, the Exchequer was unable to give any exceptional and additional financial assistance to the National Health Insurance scheme, and for that reason the scheme had to be fortified and re-based with out help from outside. That was done, as the House will remember, by the Act of 1932.

I must briefly mention the history of the Act of 1932 because with out recalling the history of it to the House I should not succeed in making clear the purposes of the present Measure. What were the measures taken in 1932 to protect Health Insurance and its continuance from the evils which then threatened it owing to the great depression? In the first place, it was found impossible to continue some of the special concessions made to the unemployed in easier financial times. It was found impossible to continue them indefinitely from year to year owing to the fact that the unemployed had been for a long period unable on account of their unemployment to make their contributions to the Scheme. That was the first measure of fortification which it was necessary to give to the Scheme.

The second was that it was found impossible to continue the system which had been introduced in 1928 for the further relief of the unemployed. That was a system under which the unemployed were credited with all arrears of contributions due to unemployment, so that in weeks of unemployment they were excused all contributions and the arrears which subsequently arose in their contribution records had no effect in reducing their cash benefits in the subsequent contribution year. That was the second concession which it was necessary partially to diminish in 1932 by going back on the 1928 arrangement to the extent that only half of the contributions due to unemployment were there after excused. This meant a relief of 21,500,000 a year in the finances of the approved societies. The se were the two principal measures of underpinning which had then to be taken.

There was another matter which was dealt with on a rather different footing. The experience of the sickness of women under the Scheme had been found to exceed expectations so that on an actuarial basis the Scheme was unable to maintain the benefits it was originally designed to maintain. Action was taken to protect the finances of the Scheme by reducing the benefits to women to the amount which actuarially the Scheme was capable of maintaining. That stands on a different basis. It is not directly related to the bad times. The subsequent experience of women's sickness has tended to confirm the forecast that was then made and to justify the reductions as being sound in relation to the actuarial aspects of this Scheme, and it is not now proposed to make any further change in the particular matter of women's benefits.

As regards the health part of the Scheme, the structure was underpinned, but, at the same time, the House will remember that we protected the highly valued pension rights from any source of interference. No final law was passed, because it was desirable to wait and see whether things would so improve in time as to enable us to prevent anyone going out of pension rights owing to un employment. Accordingly all the unemployed were continued in pension rights until the close of the current year, that is until the 1st January, 1936.Such was the state of affairs which was left by the Act of 1932.I would remind the House of certain undertakings which, speaking on behalf of the Government, I gave to the House at the time of the passage of that Act. I pointed out—and I have again referred to it to-day—the necessity of constant vigilance in dealing with Health Insurance in relation to national conditions, and I also pointed out that if and and when there was an improvement in the national conditions sufficient to make it possible to reverse any part of the then withdrawal of concessions, it would be the duty of the Government to come before the House, in view of the new circumstances, and again propose concessions of that sort.

The second and more direct undertaking which was then given was that all pension rights were to be continued until 1st January, 1936. But the House very naturally as ked, what then 1 the answer was as follows: A review of the decennial period was due from the Government Actuary in the course of the first part of the present year, and on the occasion bi that review I undertook that the Government should go into the whole position over again and see what it was possible to do in the way of the continuation of the pension rights after the date on which they were due to expire in some cases on the 1st January, 1936. The results of that decennial review by the Government Actuary have been received and there has been time for their study. The Measure which I am pro posing to the House to-day is one brought forward by the Government, as far as the pensions question is concerned, in fulfilment of the pledges then given, that they would deal with the pension situation before the time came for people to go out of pension rights.

What is the state of affairs now that the Government have to review the situation on the occasion of this actuarial report for the decennial period? I do not want in any way to exaggerate, but the state of affairs is marked by one clear characteristic, and that is a very great improvement in all those factors of national prosperity which are relevant to the question of health insurance and pension schemes. We have the good fortune to stand before the House to-day in a position in which we can say that the optimists of three years ago are justified, and with in the time of the decennial review, we are able financially to reconsider the steps it was necessary to take in order to preserve the solvency of this scheme and protect the benefits of the insured. The unemployment figure, the underlying factor, which was then approximately 2,750,000 on the live register, now stands at approximately 2,000,000, a reduction of 750,000 persons. That is reflected in the finances of the insurance scheme by this most vital circumstance, that the contribution increment available to the scheme between 1932 and 1934, which is the last year with regard to which I have the figures avail able, increased by£2, 375, 000 a year, a most encouraging circumstance and one which enables one to take a different view of the state of affairs from that which it was necessary to take at the time of the great depression. the re has been another circumstance of very great significance in the general restoration of prosperity, and that is that we have now stabilised national finances and a balanced Budget. That will be welcome in every part of the House. When we come to a subject like this we enjoy some of the fruits of that balanced Budget, for when it is useful and proper that there should be some contribution from the Exchequer to health insurance then with a balanced Budget the Exchequer is in a position to make it.

I come to the measures proposed in the Bill for dealing with the present situation. We fulfil our undertaking by dealing with the pensions scheme before the beginning of 1936. We take this occasion, and particularly the occasion of the increase of contribution income, to deal with the national health insurance situation in accordance with the undertakings I gave two years ago to see what can be done in the way of improvements in the terms and conditions for the unemployed which three years ago it was necessary to tighten up. What we are able to do is in the Bill, and the House will see it amounts to improvements in the conditions for those who fall into unemployment and that they are fundamental and most important. In the first place, I will deal with the question of continuance. We find ourselves in the position of being able to go back and to continue in national health insurance those who fall into unemployment from year to year with out those limitations which, on that previous occasion, it was necessary to adopt. The result will be that we secure to all one and three-quarter years on an average free insurance which is at present secured upon the termination of insurable employment. At the close of that period of free insurance, which everybody has, we deal with the unemployed in this matter. Subject to a certain qualification, with which I will deal in a little more detail later, those who are unable to maintain their contributions by reason of unemployment will be maintained in insurance year by year if unemployment continues. Thus, if they are still unable to get work and so pay contributions, then if unemployment is the cause of their contributions not being aid, they will be continued in insurance from year to year indefinitely. Therefore, no one will go out of insurance, subject to the qualification to which I will call attention. What will be the result of that continuance 2The continuance will not secure health insurance cash benefits. I do not think it ever can be possible to secure a relation between contributions and benefits which can possibly secure the indefinite continuance of cash benefits for the unemployed. The benefits secured are medical benefit and additional treatment benefits, including institutional benefits of a medical sort.

Viscountess ASTOR:

Are maternity benefit secured.

Photo of Mr Edward Young Mr Edward Young , Sevenoaks

No, that is a cash benefit. What are secured are medical benefit, additional treatment benefits and, of course, pension benefits. Pension and medical benefits are secured indefinitely from year to year.

Photo of Mr David Logan Mr David Logan , Liverpool Scotland

Are we to take "indefinitely" to apply to both periods—no cash benefit at all?

Photo of Mr Edward Young Mr Edward Young , Sevenoaks

In the free insurance period the cash benefits are secured. I am referring to the extension beyond the free insurance period. The point to which I was coming was that of persons who, under the Act of 1932, owing to unemployment, had to have their health insurance benefits discontinued. Are they to be left out? the number involved in round figures is about 200,000 persons. A certain number have passed out of insurance already, and a certain number will come back again owing to re-employment. It is difficult to estimate how many, but on 1st January next approximately 200,000 will be passing out of insurance for all purposes unless we help them. I am, fortunately, in a position now to take power to make transitory regulations under the Bill, and those transitory regulations will enable me to prevent those who were going out on 1st January from going out, and to bring all those who have gone out of insurance owing to unemployment back into insurance again on 1st January, so that, at the same time that we make concessions for the future, we make it good for the past.

I said I would deal with the condition for the continuance of insurance. The condition is that there shall be 10 years of continuous insurance when work ceases. The precedent for the 10 years continuous insurance is in the 1929 Act, for which hon. Members opposite were responsible. I think it is completely justified if hon. Members will look with me and see what it means. Does this mean that many unemployed will be un able to be continued in insurance because they cannot make good? the answer is No. If hon. Members look at it care fully they will find out that, owing to successive Acts for continuance in insurance, all unemployed with four years continuous insurance and 160 contributions have, in fact, been continued in insurance from year to year. So that, generally speaking, the unemployed will not find any difficulty in fulfilling this qualification. As a matter of fact, I will reduce it to statistical estimates based on the actuarial examination. It may be inferred from the Actuary's report, that not more than nine per cent. of the 200,000 persons to whom I have referred will fail to qualify under the 10 years' condition. He estimates further that at least half of those will come back to employment with in a short time. So that it will be seen that it is only about five per cent. Of the 200,000 who will fall out of insurance for more than a short period.

Photo of Mr Edward Williams Mr Edward Williams , Ogwr

Is that the average for the whole country?

Photo of Mr Edward Young Mr Edward Young , Sevenoaks

It applies to the whole country—an average. That may be the number who will fail to qualify under the 10 years system. These will not only be people who are going out because of un employment, but they will include people going out for different reasons, such as taking up uninsurable employment. But for the most part they will be young people with good prospects of coming back to insurance again. The re is another point. We retain the concession given in respect of pensions under the Act of 1932, that is, an additional year of cover for pensions for those who fail to satisfy the 10-years test and so would go out of insurance, but have a four years' record of continuous insurance.

I pass to what we can do under the arrears part of the scheme. Fortunately, we are now in a position, as it were, to let out the slack we had to take up hitherto, and we are in a position, with the increased contribution income and some financial help, to go back to the full excusal of arrears, so that all arrears of contributions due to unemployment will be fully excused, and will have no effect at all upon the cash benefits of the unemployed as it was before 1932and after 1928. That, of course, will mean a very great benefit on the cash side to millions of insured persons—something between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 persons, and nearer 5,000,000 than 4,000,000. It will also certainly mean an enormous simplification of administration and saving of expense to the approved societies, who will be able to leave off sending out some thing like 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 notices. That will apply to the year 1934–5, so that arrears for that year due to unemployment will be fully excused.

Photo of Mr Edward Williams Mr Edward Williams , Ogwr

It does not apply to 1933?

Photo of Mr Edward Young Mr Edward Young , Sevenoaks

No, to 1934–35, so that for the current year it is retrospective to that extent. The re is another advantage to be derived. As the House knows, many approved societies make use of surpluses to pay up arrears, and so enable the unemployed to get their cash benefits. Now that we are excusing their arrears, these moneys will be released for additional benefits. It will mean some thing like £300,000 a year to be released for additional benefits—a by-product of the main scheme.

The finances of this proposal are simple. They must be dealt with under two heads—the finance of the pensions scheme, and the finance of the arrears scheme. As regards the pensions part, it is quite simple and straightforward. The Actuary's report on the decennial period shows that we can give this continuation of pension rights for the unemployed from year to year indefinitely in the manner I have described. We can give it now in view of the existing state of the fund, the reserves of which will be adequate until the next decennial period, 1946, and no further money will be necessary to finance this concession until that period, in view of those existing reserves. As the House knows, in 1946 it can make fresh arrangements for Exchequer contributions to the pension fund, but, until that period, no fresh finance will be required.

Let me remind the House of this point, in order that we can get a, complete picture of the state of affairs, that under the existing law there will be an automatic increase in the contributions for pensions at the end of the present year of 2d. for men, equally distributed between employer and employee, and 1d. for women. That increase of contribution has to be made under the existing law. A sum of about £1,500,000 a year is required to finance the excusal of arrears due to unemployment, and this includes the much smaller sum necessary to finance the medical benefits for those who are continued in extended insurance. We propose to deal with that on the principle of an equal distribution of the financial burden between the approved societies and the Exchequer, half being found by the approved societies and half by the Exchequer. They will find about£700,000 or £750,000 each. Let me here recognise the far-sighted and statesmanlike way in which the approved societies have faced the position and have agreed to make this contribution from their funds. It amounts to an expression on their part of the conviction, and I am sure that it is a true conviction, that it is a right policy for them to spread the burden of employment to some extent over the whole system of the approved societies and to make some contribution from the more fortunate to the less fortunate in order to assist in the alleviations we are now introducing.

I will not trouble the House with the form of the finance, which will be found in detail in the White Paper, but I would point out that it is a pound for pound arrangement between the Exchequer and the approved societies. The approved societies meet the burden by a general levy on contributions. It has something of the effect of a pool, but "pool" is not a very popular term and is always suspect. Its effect is to bring the societies with less unemployment to the assistance of those with more unemployment. Those who have a high proportion of employment among their members will pay more and receive less and those with a high proportion of unemployment among their members will receive more and pay less. There is one circumstance which I should like to ex plain, and that is that for the first year we are able to finance the Exchequer contribution by appropriating a balance from the Army, Navy and Air Force Fund. That might give rise to the suspicion that we are stealing money from the soldiers, sailors and air men, in order to save the Exchequer, but that would be a complete error and one which well informed persons would not entertain. Let me explain the matter. The Army, Navy and Air Force Fund pro vides insurance for serving men when they leave the Services if they cannot find their way into approved societies. Its amount is fixed so as to provide the regular benefits enjoyed by anybody else in national health insurance together with additional benefits upon a scale that has been arrived at after careful inquiry and by agreement between all parties. Those additional benefits are in excess of the additional benefits commonly enjoyed by persons under the ordinary national health insurance scheme. The funds necessary for that purpose—this is the point to which I would call attention—are not provided by contributions from the soldiers, sailors and air men, but are put up by the Exchequer, so that if there is any balance available after providing for the ordinary benefits and the additional benefits the natural destination of the balance would be to go back into the Exchequer. But we have done better than that, because we have kept the. Balance out of the Exchequer and are devoting it to national health insurance and the unemployed, in which category some of the men catered for by the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Fund may and themselves after they have left !lie services. In this matter, like Caesar's wife, we are above suspicion or the possibility of reproach.

There are many minor Clauses in the Bill which have to do with the simplification of the administration and there are small concessions for the insured persons, but they are mostly matters for Committee, and I will not detain the House dealing with the m. The scheme has the general approval of the societies and particularly of the highly influential consultative council which advises the Ministry of Health. I am well aware of the lines of criticism which will be adopted by hon. Members opposite or, at any rate, I can foresee the legitimate criticisms. It will be as ked: "Why should there be the 10 years' condition It is to o harsh." the 10 years' condition will not prevent the unemployed getting the advantage of the continuation con cession, as they have already been continued in insurance for many years. I can satisfy the House that the numbers of unemployed who will be able to satisfy the 10 years' condition will be small. The y will be mostly young men. It may be asked why the Exchequer should not find the whole of the provision and why any of it should come from the approved societies in respect of arrears and continuation. The answer is that we must maintain in this scheme the proper relations between benefits and contributions if we are to maintain its very basis and the chief reason for its existence as a promoter of thrift, pride and self-help. The desire of the societies to spread the burden of unemployment by means of this scheme is far-sighted. I feel sure, however, that hon. Members will ask why we are changing our minds from two or three years ago, and why we are undoing what we did the n. The answer is that this is a continuation of the policy which was then adopted and is an adaptation of the scheme to the circumstances of the day. It is because the scheme was then underpinned and made sound that by reason of our returning prosperity we are now in a position to do what we propose. As a result of our timely action then we are able to profit by the improved position to-day.

Three great benefits will be continued to the unemployed and the wage earners under this scheme. First of all, there will be certainty as regards their pensions. When you are considering pensions there is nothing which so con tributes to an appreciation of the benefits than that there should be absolute certainty that the pension will be available when the time comes. We are securing also continuity of that most desirable medical benefit which enables the unemployed person to go to the same chosen doctor throughout the period of unemployment, so that there is no break in his relations with the chosen doctor, which has been so much complained of by those who have fallen out of insurance. Finally, in regard to the scheme for arrears we are securing to the un employed, by the help of the Exchequer contribution, a very substantial cash benefit to assist them in the exigencies and difficulties of their situation. For these reasons, in view of the great benefits secured by the scheme, in view of the fact that owing to the improved conditions of to-day we are able to ensure these benefits whilst maintaining the insurance principle and the solvency of the scheme, I feel that the House can have very little difficulty but great satisfaction in making this additional provision for unemployment in connection with national health and pensions insurance.

4.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

To the intentions of the Government as explained by the right hon. Gentleman I take no objection, but as regards the methods there are some parts of the scheme which in our opinion might be made considerably better and under which a great deal more might be done for those to whom the right hon. Gentleman desires to give security of pension and security of benefits. The Bill is a natural sequence to the schemes put forward by the unemployed, to the demands made by Members of Parliament and to the demands made by public minded individuals who were beginning to realize as the last day of December of this year came nearer the great amount of misery and hardship that was going to be accentuated when that day arrived, to the detriment of large numbers of the community who would be subjected to greater hardship than they had experienced before. Instead of bringing forward the ordinary annual prolongation Bill the Government have yielded to public opinion. But they have not come forward with any ideal or proposal con sonant with their own policy. We have heard a great deal from the Minister about the fact that it is no longer necessary for us to tighten our belts. He did not refer to the belt but to stitches, and he says that we have to count the stitches that were put in two or three years ago. If the Government had not let out the stitches on this occasion I am afraid that the whole garment would have been torn as under by an angry community because something had not been done to placate public opinion.

The Government have retracted entirely from the position of 1931. They have accepted now the social responsibility which they were denying in the earlier part of the year and which they were trying to throw upon the people. The people who are going to benefit from the proposals of the Bill will benefit only because of the contributions paid by those fortunate enough to be in employment, plus the contributions to be paid by the Government. The Minister tried to appear in a white garment as a personification of Caesar's wife, and said that in taking the surplus from the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen's Fund he was not doing anything wrong, because the Treasury had found the whole of that fund. But that was not the be ginning of the fund. It was built up by payments that were deducted from those who were in the forces.

Sir H. YOUNG indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Does he not remember the Economy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act that was passed when the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and £2, 800,000 a year was taken from the Government contributions to the National Health Insurance Fund, and in addition £1, 100,000 from the Navy, Army and Air Force Funds. In his speech the right hon. Member for Epping admitted that the fund had been built up since 1920 by deductions from these funds, and I hope that the Minister of Health is not going to maintain that this fund is based upon payments made by soldiers, sailors or airmen. As I have said£2, 800,000 was taken at that time and has been taken every year. In 10 years the total amount of these deductions would have been £28, 000,000. How much could have been done with this money for those who have passed through long periods of unemployment if the Government had not robbed the insurance scheme of these funds? the number of those who have less than 10 years employment has been put forward by the Minister as being quite a small item; only 9 per cent., which he reduced to 5 per cent. For the whole country, are likely to be thrown out of their pension rights.

Photo of Mr Edward Young Mr Edward Young , Sevenoaks

Nine per cent. Of 200,000.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

Yes, 9 percent. Of 200,000 will be thrown out of pension rights. It is not very satisfactory to towns like Glasgow or to areas like South Wales and Durham, to derelict areas, to say that, taking the average for the whole country, it is only going to be 9 per cent. Of 200,000, when, as a matter of fact, the greater proportion of these people will be found in the areas I have mentioned.

Sir H. YOUNG indicated dissent.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

The Minister of Health shakes his head. I doubt whether he understands what derelict areas are. He will find long periods of unemployment.—

Photo of Mr Edward Young Mr Edward Young , Sevenoaks

I did not deny that unemployment exists in these areas; what I was negativing was that a bigger pro portion of the persons who would not qualify would be found the re.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

I maintain that it will be a bigger proportion than 5 per cent. The point is that the average in these areas may be 15 or 20 per cent. Does the Minister deny that?

Sir H. YOUNG indicated as sent.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

In that case the right hon. Gentleman denies the basis of his own calculations. An average is a result taken over the whole of the country, and there must be some parts with a higher percentage than others. If the Minister denies that, he is denying the basis upon which he has arrived at his 9 per cent. The n there is the question why it should be 10 years' continuous employment. The Minister tried to explain it, but his reasons do not weigh very much with those who have any experience of the working classes and the insurance scheme. Why not split the 10 years Why must it be 10 years? Is it to safeguard the Fund? How many people in a shipbuilding area like the Clyde, or a mining area like Durham or South Wales, how many men of 50 and 55 years of age can show a continuous record of employment of 10 years?

Photo of Mr Edward Young Mr Edward Young , Sevenoaks

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but I am very anxious that there should be no misunderstanding. It is not a record of 10 years' employment but a record of 10 years' insurance. Insurance goes on when employment ceases.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

How many are going to show 10 years' continuous insurance? How many have dropped out? How many have been subject to the decision of the umpire? When an individual has been constantly unemployed for five years he ceases to be in an insurable occupation.How many have been subject to that decision?

Photo of Mr Luke Thompson Mr Luke Thompson , Sunderland

Is there not some distinction between "consecutive" and "continuous"? "Continuous" will apply to the whole period of insurance, but "consecutive" may not necessarily mean for 10 years.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

That is for the Minister of Health to explain, not for me. If the hon. Member is in any doubt as to whether it should be continuous or consecutive, he should apply to the Minister. I am not here to remove his doubts. What I am anxious about is that the rights of those who are, employed, or at any rate the position of these people is safeguarded, and that the Government shall do in the Bill what they are trying to make the country believe is the effect of their proposals. The Minister in the memorandum to the: Bill has said that after so many years and, if a contributor has so many contributions, he shall have an extended period of free insurance; he is to have medical benefit and certain other benefits. If the scheme had been kept on a proper basis, he would have had a right to all these benefits. The Minister of Labour seems to be taking over the whole question of unemployment maintenance, and there fore, I fail to see why the Minister of Health cannot safeguard the rights of those who are in health insurance to the benefits which they were to ld they would enjoy. It may be a more costly scheme of insurance, but it is something to which they can look forward, and, faced with many difficulties and the possibility of being thrown out of all manner of benefits, including pensions, they will want a far greater amount of satisfaction than the Minister has given this after noon. I hope there will be opportunities on the Committee stage for a clearer explanation and that something more will be done in the Bill. Ever since I came into the House I have always taken exception to any Clause in a Bill which has been drafted in the same way as Clause 14 in this Bill. It says: Regulations may be made under the Insurance Act providing, in the case of any persons who are insured on the thirty-first day of December nineteen hundred and thirty-five, for the transition from the pro visions of the Insurance Act and any sub sequent enactment affecting the m, other than this Act, to the provisions of the Insurance Act as amended by this Act, and for the application to them of any of the provisions of the Insurance Act or of any subsequent enactment, including this Act. The Minister of Health smiles. He may think that I want to poke fun at the vagueness of the Clause. I am not trying to poke fun at it at all. I want to point out that, instead of providing these powers by regulations they should be given by distinct Clauses in the Bill. I hate provisions in a Bill which enable departments to come to this House and ask for powers to do certain things by regulation. It is undemocratic and unfair to hon. Members who can only voice their objections to such regulations after 11 o'clock at night. I suggest that in this case the regulations should be definitely inserted in the Bill. This is not a hastily conceived Bill; it has been before the Department for a long time, probably for two years, and the nature of the regulations must be perfectly clear in the minds of the officials in the Department. I think the House should have these proposals in the Bill itself so that it may have an opportunity of discussing the m, understanding exactly what they mean, and what it is proposed to do. We shall on the Committee stage put forward proposals which we think will improve the Bill. We want to see pension rights pre served and health benefit rights pre-served—

Photo of Mr Edward Young Mr Edward Young , Sevenoaks

In regard to Clause 14, I am sure that the hon. Member appreciates that the regulations to be made deal with transitional matters, that is with persons who are out of health insurance but not pension benefits and that it is a Clause to apply to them the provisions of the Bill. It will not be possible to deal with any regulations affecting general matters under that Clause.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

That is quite true. Regulations may be made under the Insurance Act, but I am taking exception to regulations being brought in. We shall do our best to improve the Bill because we are thoroughly in accord with the desire of the Government to preserve the rights of the people to their pensions. We wish to preserve their rights to benefits. We wish to make it easier for them to qualify. We desire that instead of there being at any future time any effort on the part of the Government to deprive them of benefits by taking away any surpluses in the funds, those surpluses shall be used for the purpose for which the funds are built up, and that not again shall we have the possibility of a Minister coming to this House, and through the operations of an Economy Bill robbing the fund of£28,000,000 over 10 years, and then coming before the House and trying to make a great to -do and a wonderful parade of being exceedingly generous to the contributors from whom he has previously taken services away, by saying that he is doing some thing to preserve their benefits.

4.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Henry White Mr Henry White , Birkenhead East

It must, I think, be due to the difficult economic times through which we are passing, and also to the office which he holds, that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has had occasion more than once to come to this House to explain Bills of an extraordinarily difficult, technical and complicated character. To-day, as on the occasion a few weeks ago when, he introduced the Unemployment assistance (Temporary Provisions) Bill, the right hon. Gentleman has given an exposition to the House for which I, for one, am grateful, and which must have facilitate consideration of the Bill to all those Members who have not had occasion to give special study to the subject. This must be to my right hon. Friend, and indeed to the House, a much more agree able occasion than the day in 1932 when he had to come here fortified with a formidable report and a warning from the Government actuary. I am glad that the situation has to-day been so far restored, and also that the Bill which we are asked to consider is not one of a stop-gap nature. If it is not of a permanent character, at all events it gives an assurance to large numbers of people who have felt considerable anxiety regarding the matters dealt with in the Bill. If it is not a permanent Bill, I hope it may be permanent until such time as the Minister can come here and propose the removal of the remaining stitches, and an extension of the benefits which can be provided under National Health Insurance.

But if the Bill is of a technical and complicated character, it certainly has to deal with one of the most serious and most humane problems that the country has to face. It centres around the problem of the long-term unemployment of that mass of people who are the most unfortunate in the community, who have been obliged to live for years at a mere subsistence level, who have been bereft of the amenities which many of us enjoy, and have been deprived of their economic liberty in large measure. To these people the prospect of losing their pension rights seemed to be the last blow from a society which had used them exceedingly ill. For that relief they and everyone interested in their welfare must be exceedingly glad. Relief from the necessity of paying contributions in respect of arrears at a time when their resources have been reduced to the lowest possible level is a boon which will be welcomed by a very large number of people.

This Bill is another indication of the way in which our economic and social liberties are centring around the intractable problem of long-term unemployment. It ought to be a spur now to the adoption of a many-sided attack upon that urgent problem. We had an example yesterday of a bold step and an encouraging step being announced by the Government, and one which I hope may be the forerunner of many others, because there is very little elasticity unfortunately in the fund with which this Bill has to deal, and it can only be from a further measure of economic recovery that we can re cover some resiliencyinthis fund and enable further benefits to be given.

I am not able to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr Maclean) in his criticism of the 10 years qualification period and its effect upon the depressed areas. It is true that a large number of people affected by this Bill will be found in those areas. I have been making some inquiries in my own district, and have been surprised to find that there are from 2, 500 to 3, 000 people, not who will be excluded under the Bill, but who will be brought back into medical benefit by it. That is a very satisfactory conclusion. There is, however, a matter which might be cleared up. We were to ld of 9 per cent, of some 200,000, so that there would appear to be the number of 5, 000 who may be excluded by the Bill. That is a very different conclusion from that on which the hon. Member for Govan based his argument.

Photo of Mr Henry White Mr Henry White , Birkenhead East

I thought the Minister said that the number permanently ex cluded under the 10 years qualification would be perhaps 5,000.

Photo of Mr Edward Young Mr Edward Young , Sevenoaks

I said that the total number concerned was 200,000, and the estimate was that a maximum 9 per cent. Of that 200,000 might fail to qualify. Of these it was supposed that at least half would re-enter employment soon, so reducing those who failed to qualify to about 5 per cent. Of the 200,000.

Photo of Mr Henry White Mr Henry White , Birkenhead East

The criticism that I would make is not that of the hon. Member for Govan, but that if the number is only 5,000 surely the whole arrangement is somewhat complicated. Even if the number were 20,000 I would as k, "Is it worth while maintaining this structure and this particular arrangement in order to exclude that comparatively small number?" That is the only criticism I would make in that connection But we are here, in effect, with in the terms of the National Health Insurance scheme giving unemployment benefit, and I would like to suggest, not for the first time, that it is an urgent matter that we should have a survey of the finances of these different social ser vices. Anyone examining the finance of the National Health Insurance scheme must be struck by the fact that there is. No resiliency in it at all, and that our pension system is being maintained with difficulty. One frequently hears promises made of great extensions of the old age pension system, in various quarters; they may be very attractive, because the whole tendency of modern industry is to wards a reduction of the hours of work, and as that process is going on there must arise a demand for efforts to concentrate the new leisure on those who are entitled to rest after a life's work. But there is no such probability contained in the finance of the National Health Insurance scheme so far as it relates to contributory pensions. It is, therefore, a matter of importance that the whole finance in relation to un employment funds and our social services as a whole should be reviewed, as they were in 1924, to see what possibilities there may be of extensions either under this scheme or other schemes. We on the Liberal benches welcome this Bill. I would be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary, when he comes to reply, would say something in explanation of Clause 7 to which the Minister did not refer. It appears to re-establish the rights of people disqualified by law, by the decision of the courts. I wonder whether it covers the casual or semi-casual employment of those who are employed in the lairages on Merseyside, who are not paid weekly but are paid so much per animal dealt with. Is that type of worker covered? I understand that some of them have been disqualified. Will that be set right? We hope that the Bill will become law quickly, with such modification as may be necessary. The re are some points which some of my hon. Friends may wish to raise if they are fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in this Debate, or later in Committee.

4.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Morgan Mr Robert Morgan , Stourbridge

I would like to join in the welcome to the Bill and to echo the statement of the last speaker in welcoming the conditions that make the Bill possible. I realise how very difficult it is for an ordinary back-bencher, certainly for a layman, to go through one of these Bills and understand it. It is very much like a jig-saw puzzle I want to show how difficult it is to follow, and perhaps the Parliamentary draftsman will take note. The Bill, as soon as one gets to Clause 1, refers to Sub-section (1, a)(5, a), (6, a)and (6, b) of Section 3 of the Act of 1924. But these Sub-sections are to be found in Section 1 of the National Health Insurance (Contributory Pensions) Act of 1932. Yet Sub-section (4) of Section 15 of the Act of 1924, referred to in Clause 11, appears in the Act of 1932, Section 4, and substituted by another Sub-section which in the Act of 1928 had been added to Section 15. It would be a very great convenience if some reference could be made in the Bill to Statutes containing the provisions referred to or proposed to be amended if they are not in the original Act but were inserted in some subsequent Act. The time seems to have arrived when the National Insurance Act, 1924, and the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Con tributary Pensions Act, 1925, should, pending a consolidating Act, be available in a form indicating the amendments made by subsequent Acts.

With regard to the main purpose of the Act, I think we are all in agreement that it is a great improvement and very welcome, especially in regard to the 10 years' insurance. I am rather inclined to agree with the hon. Member opposite that the continuous 10 years does make a rather hard and fast rule, and, with out going into any particular detail, I wonder whether in Committee we might not possibly have a composite number of 10 years made up of different periods. I do not know how that would affect the actuarial balance. With regard to the other part, the person insured for four years and less than 10 years, I think that will meet with general approval.

There are one or two points to which I wish to call attention. By Clause 6 it is proposed to amend Section 89 of the Insurance Act of 1924. Unless we look at Section 89 for a moment we cannot follow what is actually proposed. The re are four questions which may be dealt with. The first is whether employment is employment with in the meaning of the Act or whether a person is employed or a voluntary contributor; the second gives the rate of contribution which applies in respect of the insured person; the third deals with the rates of contribution of the employer and the contributor respectively, and the last is as to the per son who is or was the employer. The se questions were to be determined by the Minister.

I think this brings me right up against Clause 7 to which my hon. Friend has referred. The point, in regard to questions 1 and 4, is that where a person is aggrieved by the decision of the Minister, that person is allowed to appeal to the High Court. Under Clause 6 "any per son" appointed in accordance with the regulations made under Section 89 has really the powers of the court. He may. by summons require any person to attend, at such time and place as is set forth in the summons, to give evidence or to pro duce any documents in his custody or under his control which relate to the question to be determined, and may take evidence on oath…. I want to know what particular kind of person is meant to be defined here. He is going to have tremendously wide powers and before conferring them upon these persons we ought to have some idea of the type likely to be appointed. The Minister has given him powers equivalent to those of a court. It certainly seems to me that he will have powers very much in the nature of an inquisition. The other part of Clause 6 states that a man can be given necessary expenses if he comes a distance of 10 miles. I do not know why 10 miles was selected, or whether it means that a man who comes only nine miles will not be able to claim any expenses, and whether the expenses include a claim for time and work lost. Under Section 7 it seems to me that the Minister is going to be put in a position of overriding the decision of the High Court. That may be very reasonable in a case of hardship or in borderline cases, but I suggest that it is a power we should give in this House very reluctantly.

Clause 13 is certainly an improvement on the provisions in the Act of 1924, as while the accounts are to be prepared in such form and manner and at such times as the Treasury may direct, the Comptroller and Auditor-General is to examine and certify them with out any direction on the part of the Treasury. This is an improvement on the Act, but I very much question whether the new provision will make any alteration to the old practice. I do not quite understand Clause 18, and I hope that will be made clear in the Parliamentary Secretary's reply. By Section 33 of the Widows' Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1925, provision is made for reciprocal arrangements with other parts of the Dominions. By Clause 18 it appears to be intended to provide that these arrangements, where already made, are not to cover insurance for the purpose of the present Bill. I do not know whether that is the ruling of the Minister. Presumably the intention is that where arrangements have been made the passage of the Bill should not impose any further obligation.

I have drawn attention to one or two points, and I do not know whether I should be in order in calling attention to a general point. I think most of us are agreed that in a Bill like this, which improves the condition in which the people work, we should give particular attention to the way in which the people who come with in the ambit of the Act are treated. Generally speaking, they are treated remarkably well, but there are cases of patients who are treated rather in a "panel" sort of way which the Minister might investigate. I do not know whether these panel doctors have to o many patients on their list, but these poor people have grounds for grumbling when they have to sit for a long time in queues and get no proper treatment at the finish.

Photo of Mr Dennis Herbert Mr Dennis Herbert , Watford

I do not think we can allow that point to be developed. If the hon. Member looks at the title of the Bill, he will find that he is now coming to something which is far outside the scope of this particular Bill.

Photo of Mr Robert Morgan Mr Robert Morgan , Stourbridge

I bow to your Ruling. All I will say, in conclusion, is that I am in hearty agreement with the Bill and the Government have my support. I hope in the Committee that several parts of the Bill which may very reasonably be strengthened will be amended accordingly.

5.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

I rise to say a few words on one of the most important Bills that this House has discussed. Whatever may be the merits or demerits of the Bill, no one can gainsay the fact that a Bill which deals with so many people and with issues of such importance demands our closest attention. I do not want to be unduly critical of my colleagues in this House, because I have many failings my self, but sometimes one does become sceptical. One sees this House packed when we are discussing issues of foreign affairs, India and other things. When we come down to the question of maternity welfare and the sick, where great human issues are involved on which the nation of the future must depend, you find comparatively few taking notice and comparatively little interest shown, Naturally one becomes sceptical. It may be true that we have become rather used to these issues. They come to us each year; they are repeated half-a-dozen times in a year, and it may be that the ordinary Member of Parliament, like everybody else, likes change, and, because this is a hardy annual, it does not involve the change that seems to be necessary.

The Bill does make for improvement, and I do not profess to deny it. It is no good my saying it does not make for improvement when it does. That does not mean to say that the Government are to be complimented on it. This Government in 1932 took away certain rights. Now they are proposing, not to restore the m, because they are not re storing them fully, but partially to restore the m. They are claiming this as good. It reminds me of the criminal who commits crime for a while and then stops it and becomes a decent citizen. Everybody compliments him, but the poor fellow who has never been a criminal at all is not complimented. What has happened is that the Government have robbed the people, and now, having got over that period and a General Election coming near, they alter their point of view. I fail to see that this is something for congratulation. I agree that they have now come forward to restore part of what they took away. I should have thought that in 1935—indeed, many years ago—instead of merely dealing with re storing certain things that were taken away we should have been engaged on a Bill which would have extended pensions far greater than before; that we should have been bending our mind and attention not merely to restoring a certain number, but how we could extend and expand these particular benefits to classes now left out. Instead of that, we are dealing to-day with this Bill which merely seeks partially to restore the position existing before the Act of 1932.

It does make for certain improvements on the present position. I must confess I find myself slightly at variance with the hon. Member and the Government in the interpretation of the 10 years' insurance. Ten years' insurance, as I find it, is not 10 years' insurance as de fined in the Unemployment Insurance Acts, but 10 years' insurance provided that the 160 contributions and the four years are guaranteed with the 10 years' insurance, or 10 years in which his approved society are satisfied that the person is with in the purview of insurance. Therefore, although be might have been disqualified for unemployment insurance purposes, if his approved society has accepted him, the position is, for him, safeguarded. While that makes for improvement and means that a large number who would have passed out under other conditions will not now pass out, and that a large number who lost medical benefit will have it restored, the Bill does not carry out all the improvements that have been suggested. I wish to direct attention to the position of those who have not 10 years in insurance, that is to say, those who have 160 contributions and four years in insurance. I suggest that a certain number of them will lose under these proposals.

Hitherto, it seems to have been accepted by hon. Members who have spoken that this Bill gives something to everybody and that nobody loses anything by it. The re is a class who will lose something. Take these people to whom I refer who have not the 10 years' insurance. Under the present Act these people are given, first, a year and nine months and then a period of free insurance of a further year. The Minister says that the further year still applies for pension purposes, that is to say that such a man, as regards pension, is no worse off. But the Bill does not make that as clear as the right hon. Gentle man suggested. The 1932 Act gave him the year and nine months and then the extra year. Does this Bill, first of all, give him the extra year for pension purposes.? the Minister says that it does, but I would like to see the provision in the Bill which gives him the year. If the Minister says that is the effect of the Bill I cannot deny it, but I would like to see such a provision definitely inside the Bill. What I am concerned with is not the Minister's statement, because the courts do not base decisions on what Members say here but on what is in the Acts of Parliament which we pass here.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare Mr Geoffrey Shakespeare , Norwich

I would refer the hon. Member to Clause 20.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Is the hon. Gentle man sure that Clause 20 provides for this matter? If he is, then I accept it, but here again I say there are people who definitely lose under these proposals. The re is the man, as I have said, who has four years and has the further year and nine months and then the extra year. Assume the Minister to be right and that such a man has the year for pension purposes. At the present time, the extra year also carries with it sickness benefit. He is now going to lose his sickness benefit in the extra year. In other words, that section who are not fortunate enough to have the 10 years—and indeed in my view, even the 10-year people themselves but at least the four-year people—will lose in this way. They now receive two years and nine months and in the extra year of that period they are entitled to receive sickness benefit. That will now go. I know that under this proposal if such a man's pension rights are safe guarded, his additional benefits will be safeguarded, but his other extra payments go, and he will not receive his cash benefits. Therefore, do not assume that this Bill gives something to every body and that nobody loses by it. It takes from the group of people I have indicated something which they now possess.

Photo of Mr Luke Thompson Mr Luke Thompson , Sunderland

At the end of 1934–35 when the cash benefits cease?

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Let me repeat what I have said so that the hon. Member will follow it. At the present time the man to whom I refer is given a year and nine months and then an extra year. In that extra year he is entitled to receive cash benefits. Under this proposal his cash benefits in that extra year cease. I defy the Minister to deny it. It can not be denied that such a man is losing those cash benefits. I take it the Minister accepts that view and I hope the hon. Member for Sunderland (Sir L. Thompson) will accept the view of his own leader. I hope also that hon. members who up to now have been assuming that everybody was to get something under the Bill will now realise that there is a class who are losing valuable cash benefits which they now possess. When we are talking about the gifts that we are making to people we ought not to forget that point. I detest the kind of legislation which seeks to give something to one poor man at the expense of some other poor man. It puts a Member of this House in an almost impossible position. To-day we are, in fact, engaged in taking away from those people a, very valuable right. I agree with the last speaker on the form of this legislation. The National Health Insurance Acts are becoming as involved as the Unemployment Insurance Acts. We now have all sorts of Acts dealing with this subject one cutting across the other and I defy any ordinary man to understand them with out difficulty. I am not referring now to insured contributors but to secretaries of approved societies. When a secretary sits down in conjunction with his colleagues to consider these Acts they can, as a group, arrive at an understanding of the m, but for a man by himself to master them is a task which presents great difficulties. I ask the House to remember that this Measure will have to be interpreted by ordinary men who at present do great work in running the approved societies.

To turn from that aspect of the question to another point may I say that we often talk in this House as if nobody had been passed out of insurance in these years, when, as a matter of fact there verse is the case. Approved societies have passed scores of thousands out of insurance because, inside the Act, a per son has to prove availability for work. It is true as the Minister may say that franked cards may be accepted but there is no compulsion on the approved societies to accept the m. The re is the type of man who says, "I am out of work but I am going out to search for work, "and who does not get franked cards. One of the things which makes me boil over in connection with this matter is that no provision is made for those who are perhaps the most deserving section of the community. Take the case of the man who says: "I am unemployed but I do not want public assistance. I am going to undertake an adventure. I am going to start a shop or I am going abroad." We are constantly hearing about initiative and adventure and thrift. The re is a case which I have raised in correspondence with the Secretary of State for Scotland.of an old man who was insured and who afterwards was dismissed. He said, "I am going to search around for work as a jobbing gardener." He did so and got the work and to-day he cannot get a pension because he worked. He did not get his cards franked. He went out to look for work. Why in heaven's name should we penalise a decent man in that fashion? When the Attorney-General was cadging for votes at a by-election in East Renfrew he said that the Government were going to introduce a Bill to bring in people such as small shopkeepers. Instead of that we are engaged to-day in this miserable kind of thing trying to see how a man can get franked cards and how he can be collared into insurance in this way. Is there any hon. Member who knows the merits of the cases which are turned down—the merits of those cases in regard to such matters as searching for work and industry and thrift—who would not agree that 99 per cent. Of the cases turned down are at least as deserving as those which are accepted. In spite of that we have all sorts of tests.

There is another Clause of the Bill to which I take exception. It is in relation to the question of local authorities and certain payments in regard to hospitals. The local authorities are to have power with the consent of the persons concerned to take certain sums from them and when that Clause is being considered in Committee I shall have a great deal of pleasure in opposing it. The re is also a Clause dealing with the voluntary contributor, and I would ask the Minister what is the position of a person who became a voluntary contributor and who now finds that as a result of this Bill that there was no need for him to have become a voluntary contributor? Under the 1932 Act he felt that unless he became a voluntary contributor he would lose certain rights. This Bill, if he has 10 years insurance, guarantees his pension rights provided he proves genuine unemployment. In other words, a man who is perhaps at the present time unemployed, has under the 1932 Act taken on a heavier burden of payments than he need have undertaken. To -day if he has these qualifications he finds that his position is safeguarded with out the necessity of becoming a voluntary contributor. What then is his position to -day? I would also like to have explained in a little more detail the position of the voluntary contributor who is out of work. Supposing a person becomes a voluntary contributor and he has a little shop and he loses his shop. What is his position under the Bill? I put these questions because I think the position to-day is insecure.

I do not intend to say more than this. The Bill does effect some sort of improvement, but it is not an improvement for which I thank the Government in any way. They had no right to do what they did to these people. Just imagine anybody congratulating them now on an extra year when they say they cannot give maternity benefit. I listened to the discussions about the distressed areas when we were appointing the Commissioners. I heard all about the fine sturdy men of character, in Durham and Wales. One would imagine that one of the first concerns of the Government would be the restoration, at least, of the maternity benefit. What angers me about this matter is that you would think that the unborn child was in some way responsible for unemployment, because he is punished in advance. You count the unemployed person's child as in a sort of fund to see if he is actuarially sound. In the one case, when you are looking for Army recruits, when you are looking for your Air Force, you spare neither time nor money to make it efficient, to kill, for death;you are piling up the millions now for death. But when somebody comes along and as ks for the miserable 21, 000,000—nay, less—to see that the un born child of the unemployed man gets a chance of the same sum as the child of the person who is in work, you say, "Oh no, actuarially it is not sound." But if it was for your Army or your Navy, not one of these considerations would enter in, not even, as the Minister said, a balanced Budget.

This Bill is meagre. It makes an improvement, but at the same time it takes from people something which they have now got. It gives them an improvement at the expense of taking something else from the m. I do not look upon this Bill with any great gratification at all, and I say to the Government and to their sup porters, and to the Opposition supporters as well, that I hope the electors through out the country in the election that is coming, if not in the immediate future, 'at least this year, will demand from their public representatives that no men or women shall come here to represent them unless pledged, even against their own Government, to vote for health services and pension rights to be extended to everyone in the community, irrespective of calling, creed, or sex.

5.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr Luke Thompson Mr Luke Thompson , Sunderland

I always listen with the greatest attention to the speeches of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), and I think that possibly, after reflection, when he gets home and has had a night's rest, he will rather regret what he has said; for after all his criticisms and his belief that this is a poor contribution, I personally think it is one of the finest contributions to one of the great social services that we have had. He would like this House to believe that practically we are doing nothing for the social services, but as a matter of fact we are spending at least £500,000,000 in actual social services, and this country has been pre-eminent in its social ser vices throughout the world. With regard to extended benefit, I understood the hon. Member for Gorbals to say that at the termination of the insurance year all benefit would cease.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

No. Let me try to put my case again.

Viscountess ASTOR:


Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Why not? the Noble Lady-.

Viscountess ASTOR:

Let me alone.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

The point I wish to make is that at the end of year and nine months a person is granted an extra year. During that extra year he is, entitled to receive cash benefit. Under this Bill during that extra year he cannot receive cash benefit.

Photo of Mr Luke Thompson Mr Luke Thompson , Sunderland

But under this Bill his benefit is made permanent. It is true that in the extended year you do not give cash benefit. When a man is out of work, as I read it, if he can prove unemployment, he will be maintained in medical benefit to the end of his days if need be.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

Only doctor's, but no cash benefit.

Photo of Mr Luke Thompson Mr Luke Thompson , Sunderland

I rise to give my unqualified support to the Bill, and I regret very much that the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) did not, as I think, speak quite from his heart. If he had, he would have said: "This is one of the finest contributions we have had for many a day to the social ser vices of the country, and I will give it my whole-hearted support, and while I believe we can make it a little better, at the same time I am prepared, with my party, to help make it one of the finest Acts that has been put on the Statute Book for many a day." I am sure that that is in his heart and that that is what he feels.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

MayIsay that that is not in my heart? I spoke with my to ngue, and I spoke from conviction.


The n all I can say is that the hon. Member must be a very hard-hearted man.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

I hope I may be a fit Member to be in the next Cabinet.

Photo of Mr Luke Thompson Mr Luke Thompson , Sunderland

After what the present Government have produced in this Bill, I am sure that every one of us would willingly have played a part in the Cabinet. When the word "continuously" is used, I take the interpretation of it that the hon. Member for Gorbals has taken; that is to say, that a man may have entered insurance when he was 20 or 30 years of age, and when he was 50 he may have gone out of benefit, but if he can prove that although he has had periods of unemployment he has had 10 years' continuous insurance, he will qualify under the Bill. I hope that is true. The hon. Member for Govan assumed that a man would have to have 10 years' consecutive contributions, but I do not think the Bill says that at all. I think it means 10 years' continuous employment. I am satisfied with the explanation of the Minister that 95 per cent. Possibly of the people will qualify. I am satisfied also that the 10 per cent. About which the Minister also spoke will apply to the young people who have just entered into insurance and who will, under the ordinary circumstances of life, have ample opportunities in the future of qualifying for insurance.

It seems to me that this is an agreed Bill, and whatever may have been said, I think we all really give it our support. I think, however, that because it is an approved Bill, there is a danger that it may not get quite the publicity it should get. I think we should make this throughout the country a very great feature. It is a great and a very good Bill. I accept it again for its permanent character and also, as the Minister said, for its simplicity and its simplification of administration. Some two or three years ago, when I was chairman of a certain committee, we had to have some departmental representatives before us, and the question of the unification of insurance came up, but the administrative difficulties were so great that that unification became very nearly impossible to contemplate. Here is the Minister of Health coming along and, with a rather fine stroke, by the act of cancelling arrears, simplifying the administration to a very great degree, which I welcome.

The provision for the diversion of unemployment arrears rather intrigues me. It seems to me that it is a kind of insurance with in an insurance. By doubling a certain contribution to wards an arrears fund, you are reinsuring or doubly insuring a man against unemployment, and for that reason I think it is a very great help to the man who is likely to be in prolonged unemployment. What ever may be said about cash benefits, there is another side to look at, and that is that his Bill, while possibly not giving all that we would like, makes provision for the future security and happiness of the worker, which cannot be estimated simply in cash benefit [Laughter.] Hon.Members opposite may laugh, but, living as I have done all my life and representing as I have done for the last 30 years a great industrial centre, I know what this will mean to the man who will get a concept of permanency in this form of insurance that he has never had before. It is a promise of a permanent solution of a very difficult problem, and I want to express my strong approval of the Bill. I hope the House as a whole will loyally co-operate with the Minister of Health in making it a very complete success.

5.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Llewellyn-Jones Mr Frederick Llewellyn-Jones , Flintshire

Although I welcome the Bill, I fear I cannot rise to the heights of eloquence which we have heard from the hon. Member for Sunderland (Sir L. Thompson), who has just sat down. The hon. Member speaks of it as a great Bill, and from the way in which he addressed the House one would imagine that it is the greatest Measure of social insurance which has been introduced by the present Government. But, after all, it is a very small Bill, and, although we welcome it, I for one would have welcomed a very much larger Bill, dealing with all those aspects of national insurance which have been prominently before the country for the last 21 or 22 years. The Government have endeavoured to do with unemployment insurance what ought to have, been done with national health insurance. The re was an opportunity, probably, not to bring in legislation for the unification of social insurance, but at any rate to do something to fill those gaps to which attention has constantly been drawn by all who have had to administer national health insurance. To take simply one aspect of national health insurance, everyone who is familiar with the administration of medical benefit realises how imperfect it is in various directions. A panel doctor has not the assistance that he ought to get in connection with diagnostic facilities; no consultant is pro vided, and no major surgical operations are available for the insured person. The se are matters which might have been incorporated in any measure of this kind. Possibly they are blessings that will come in the future. This question of the restoration of medical benefit to un employed persons has been before the House on more than one occasion, some times by questions, and on one, if not two occasions, by debate. Appeals have been made from time to time to the Minister to do something for the 200,000 men and women who have ceased to enjoy medical benefits. I am not certain whether those of us who raised this question in the past have been treater by the Minister with the courtesy to which we are entitled. Probably he did not realise the great anxiety that the insurance committees, approved societies and others evinced because they felt that a very large number of members of ap proved societies were losing what they regarded as a valuable right and were obliged to appeal to public assistance committees for medical benefit.

This is a small Measure and might very well have been introduced 18 months or two years ago. If it had been, all the anxiety to which 200,000 people have been subjected for months would have been avoided. I am certain that no one in the House will do any thing to oppose or to hinder the passing of the Bill. The re are possibly points of detail to which many of us would like to draw attention in Committee. 1 should like, in the first instance, to sup port the point of view which was put by the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Morgan) and one or two other Members as to the evil of legislation by reference. We have in the series of Acts of Parliament dealing with national health insurance some of the very worst examples of legislation by reference. The hon. Member who first raised this matter pointed out that in Clause 1 of the Bill there is a reference to the Act of 1924. The re are scores of thousands of officials of approved societies in different parts of the country who are called upon to ex plain the provisions of these Acts to insured persons. How on earth they can do so passes the comprehension of any one who has been trained in the legal profession. I suggest that the time has come, now that we have a series of Acts of Parliament dealing with one of the most important aspects of our national life, when there should be a consolidation Act at the earliest possible date. The only hope I have is that consolidation is being delayed because the Government have in view the possibility of doing something to enlarge the scope of the Insurance Acts.

With reference to the contribution which is to be made by the approved societies to wards the finance of this Bill, the Minister, in opening the Debate, referred to the fact that he hoped not only that medical benefit would now be avail able to all men and women who have gone out through unemployment, but that they would also be entitled to the additional treatment benefits. We have reason to anticipate that there may be difficulty in this connection. We talk about societies, but societies are com posed of individual members who con tribute. The contribution will not be made by societies, but by each individual member of the societies. What will be the result? the surpluses which would otherwise be available for those members will naturally be reduced as a result of this contribution of £750,000 a year. It will then be made more difficult for the societies to give the additional treatment benefits. Everyone recognises that these additional benefits are essential if medical benefit is to serve the purpose that it ought to serve. Take, for instance, the case of dental benefit. Unfortunately, a large number of societies have already failed, owing to the drop in their reserves, to give any more dental benefit. I think that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, after the next valuation for these benefits to be given to insured persons in view of this contribution.

Reference has been made by more than one Member to the relation of the unemployment Acts with the National Health Insurance Acts. I am rather disposed to think that the funds for this purpose might have been provided from another contribution. When a man is out of employment, the State has recognised his right to receive benefit as a substitution for the wages he has lost. It is, of course, an inadequate substitution, but, at any rate, he has something to wards making up to him what he has lost in wages. I venture to suggest that having gone so far, the Government ought to have gone a step further, and have said that it should be part of a man's unemployment benefit that a contribution should be made from the Unemployment Funds in lieu of the contribution which he is unable to make on account of loss of employment. Instead of the trouble of franking cards and so on, there should be a contribution week by week from the Unemployment Fund itself to enable an unemployed man, not merely to retain his medical benefit and his pension rights, but also to maintain the cash benefits which he has lost as the result of unemployment. Because of the loss of these other benefits, the State or the public assistance committees have to come to his help. I trust that when any attempt is made to bring the Unemployment Acts into closer relation with the National Health Insurance Acts, this aspect will not be overlooked. We welcome this measure as some slight contribution—not a big Bill ranking with the National Health Insurance Act of 1911—to the very difficult situation which has arisen. At the same time, we hope that it is not a permanent solution of this matter, but only a temporary method of dealing with it, and that either this Government or some future Government will deal with the situation on broader and more generous lines.

5.56 p.m.

Viscountess ASTOR:

I think I agree with all the speakers I have heard, but the bon. Member for Sunderland (Sir L. Thompson) was more to the point and more right than any of them in congratulating the Government. We know the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean), and we do not expect them to be pleased. The re is no reason why they should be. No one is pleased when he sees a Government do what a Government of his party could not do. I do not know what sort of House of Commons would please the hon. Member for Gorbals. However, I am certain that a Labour House of Commons would not please him, and I do not believe that even a Communist Government would. I thinks he finds himself more spiritually congenial with this House than any other that he has experienced, because he finds more companions among people outside the Labour party and does not feel the slightest responsibility for the Opposition. It is remarkable that the Government have done as well as they have in the last three or four years. The real trouble about the Government is that they have had such a very poor Opposition. In a democratic form of Government you must have a strong opposition in order to keep you up to the mark. The present Government have never had that, and in spite of a very feeble Opposition—I am not saying mentally feeble, but numerically feeble—they have gone on with great social reforms, and they deserve great credit for it. I have no doubt that if they had had a greater Opposition, they would have brought in a Bill even bigger than this.

This is not a perfect Bill, but it goes a long way to wards satisfying a great many people. The great friendly societies to which I have spoken are delighted. They say that, from the point of view of the country generally, the introduction of this Measure has done more good than anything they know of, because it is taking anxiety from the people who are least able to bear greater anxiety, namely, the insured unemployed. The Minister of Health appeared in the flowing robes of Ceasar's wife in presenting this Bill. I think that, as he appeared in that role, he should have made a, greater provision for maternity benefit. I really think he could have let his imagination flow on a little further in that direction. I know that it cannot be done on an actuarial basis, but of all the women who need help most, the expectant mother who is the wife of an unemployed man is in most need. It cannot be said, if the Government stretch a point and give a maternity cash benefit to the unemployed that it will encourage children, even though we have got to a point when we have to encourage the growth of the population instead of discouraging it. I know women well enough, and have had enough children of my own, to know that no woman whose husband is out of work is going to have a child just because she will get a cash benefit. That argument would not go down in any community.

I implore the Government to see whether they cannot extend the period for maternity benefit, even when the other cash benefits have come to an end. It would not cost a great deal, and would be an enormous service to the most pathetic of all women in the country. I do not want to make a long, sobbing speech like that of the hon. Member for Gorbals—we stopped "sob stuff" in the House years ago, because it gets youowhere—but I feel that if the House would only exercise its imagination it would beg the Government to go a little further and grant maternity benefit to the wives of unemployed men who have got out of insurance. In 1932 the Government said they had to cut down health Insurance benefits for women because women were drawing out more than they paid in, and one cannot complain about that, but as regards unemployment insurance women put in more than they draw out, and so when we come to unemployment insurance the women ought to receive more.

We are as king no impossible thing of the Government. We congratulate them on producing this Bill. Not half enough is being made of it. Unless there is an agitation in the country a thing does not get publicity, and one cannot expect the Labour party to go round agitating about this Bill; they want to cover it up, to make out that it has not happened, and if they did create an agitation about it they would be certain to misrepresent it —and I do not blame the m, because it is all in the day's work. I regret, however, that more Members were not present to hear the Minister and to take part in this Debate, which I regard as a very important one, not from the political point of view but from the social point of view. This is a Measure which will bring ease to many a home and many a heart.

I end up with one more plea for the ex tension of the maternity benefit. I am sure that if "Ceasar's wife" would go so far as to make a plea to the House for it, he would get it. So far the Government have come out on to p. The re has been no severe criticism of the Bill, though some have said that it has not gone far enough. I would add that I hope that this Government or the next Government —the reorganised Government, or what ever Government we are going to getting will consider the case of the small shop keepers. I hope that some day an insurance Bill will be introduced to include the m, because among them there are many cases of genuine hardship. The Government have done so well that there is no reason why they should not do even better. I congratulate them with my whole heart. I do not think any country has done better than this country in the last four years, in spite of the fact that we have no dictators. It is easy enough for a dictator to pass laws. In spite of not being a dictatorial Government, and in spite of having had no pressure from the Opposition—a very poor Opposition—the Government have done remarkably well.

6.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

The last speaker is a delightful person. She says that we are a weak Opposition and never put up our own case, and yet because the two hon. Members below the Gangway make a fight of it, she tells them that nothing will content them but a Parliament of their own. I suppose that if we were to put up a strong opposition we should be to ld that we want a Parliament of our own. The n she went on to say that we shall misrepresent the Government in the country and make out the worse possible case against the Bill, while at the same time declaring that the Opposition ought to force the Government to do what is right and proper. The Government ought not to require anyone to tell them of the wrongs that need to be righted. I think the Noble Lady ought to read over her speeches to see what it is she really wants.

Viscountess ASTOR:

I cannot conceive anything more boring than having to read over one's own speeches;it is bad enough having to make them. I am sure the hon. Member realises that in a democratic form of government it is bad to have one party overweighted, and I still say that I hope we shall never again have a House of Commons so over-weighted as this is, and I believe—

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The Noble Lady is making her speech all over again.

Photo of Mr John Tinker Mr John Tinker , Leigh

Perhaps I am to blame, through the suggestion 1 made. To come to the Bill: I listened carefully to the Minister, and what I felt all the way through was that it was a kind of act of repentance that he was reciting to the House, because it was the mistakes of the Government which rendered this Bill necessary. If they had decided to continue the prolongation Act this Measure would not have been required. For a number of years we have been left to face the difficulties which the Government created by their action on that occasion. But I say unhesitatingly that I welcome what the Government are doing now, because from time to time I have urged them to rectify the mistakes they made the n, and it would be un gracious for me to say now that they are doing the wrong thing. And I do not say that; but, all the same, I wish the Bill had gone further and, as the Noble Lady has urged, had kept on the maternity benefits for the unemployed. People have no thought of having children in order to get the maternity benefit. The child comes, and it is the direst calamity when there is no money to provide for its needs, and I should be glad if the Minister would reconsider the position later when we, or perhaps the Noble Lady, move an Amendment on maternity benefit.

Another thing I should like the Minister to consider is what has been happening while the prolongation Act has been in force. At every meeting that I have attended men and women have come to me to ask what is their position. I am speaking now of people who have not reached the age of 58k, when their pension rights are kept alive. Under the earlier Bill which the Minister brought in they have to pay 24 contributions in order to keep themselves right if they are unemployed-9d. per week, or 18s. a year. I know hundreds of people who have paid that 18s. for the purpose of keeping their pension rights alive. I ask the Minister whether the people who have paid that money are to get it back. I do not know whether it is possible to do anything in that direction, but if so it would be a great thing for those people. The n, from time to time we have cases in which employers default in the payment of insurance contribution for their employés. When such cases are discovered the law makes them make good their default, but a man who claims benefits during the period when the employer is not paying the contribution, finds that he has no legal claim to the m. I ask the Minister whether it is possible to deal with that position in this Measure. If the employer does not pay the contributions and the man makes a claim for sick benefits or other benefits the employer ought to be made to pay. Even if the employer cannot, for any reason, find the money, the man still ought not to suffer. The society of which he is a member ought to pay and be able to recover the money.

On the larger question of the Bill itself, I hope those Members who support the Government, including the hon. Member for Sunderland (Sir L. Thompson), will not shirk their responsibility for what has happened in the past few years. I know that they welcome this Bill, but they should remember that they supported the Government in passing the prolongation Act. The present position was brought about by the action of the Government and they ought to remember that when praising the Government. Another question I wish to raise deals with the position of the un employed man or woman who has not paid contributions over the necessary number of years. The Minister spoke about those who had been insured for 10 years. I think the limit ought to be removed altogether. Whether a man has been insured for one year or two years only he ought to be put under no handicap because he is out of employment through no fault of his own. If the suggestions for the improvement of the Bill which I have outlined could be adopted, we on these benches would give it greater support than we are likely to do, though I welcome the Bill as it is, as being a small measure of justice which has been kept back from the people for a long time.

6.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Joseph Leckie Mr Joseph Leckie , Walsall

I wish to join in congratulating the Government on this comprehensive and generous Bill. I know something of the hardships which have been caused by the gaps in the recent Act. Some of them have been very serious hardships indeed, and I am glad that this Bill will remove the m. The re is no doubt that this is a comprehensive Bill. The Ministry have not been con tent with a stop-gap Measure, and that is very gratifying. The Measure is of the first importance. I notice that the "National Insurance Gazette," which represents friendly societies and insurance people, calls it a big Bill, and it is a big Bill because it deals in a bold way with the vexed question, not by making the funds of the unemployment insurance scheme responsible, but by making an unemployment benefit under the national insurance scheme itself. That is a very ingenious way of settling the difficulty, and I congratulate the Government upon it. I have come into close touch in my constituency with many of the large friendly societies, and I would join in the tribute which the Minister paid this after noon to their fine, self-sacrificing work. I am glad to know that the Minister has taken them into full consultation and that, as a result, this is very largely an agreed Measure between the friendly societies and the Government.

I was present the other night at a large gathering of friendly societies, including men and women, when the outlines of this new legislation were explained, and I was deeply impressed by the warm way in which the proposals were received. I should think that no proposals to amend the National Health Insurance scheme have ever been more warmly received. I have admired the friendly societies in many ways, but never more than now because of their public spirit in sharing financial responsibility with the Government, as they are doing under the Bill. I notice that Mr. Stanley Duff, Secretary of the National Conference of Friendly Societies, sums up the Bill in these words: It is a good Bill, a much needed Bill, humanely conceived. I understand that the approved societies, and especially the friendly societies, have always had great misgivings in carrying out the Act of 1932, which requires them to insist upon the repayment of arrears from unemployed men with the alternative of forfeiture of benefit. They have always been very sensitive concerning that arrangement, which eventually meant forfeiting medical benefit, which is the most popular and serviceable of all benefits. The most valuable benefits of all because of the wives and children, are the pension rights, linked with health insurance. That these valuable rights should be put in jeopardy in respect of many thousands of men and their wives and families at the end of the present year, solely because they were unable to find employment, was deplorable, and I am glad that a happy solution appears to have been found in the Bill whereby no man who has had 10 years' insurance will forfeit those valuable pension rights.

I am confident that the approved societies will warmly welcome a Measure which preserves pension rights and retains the medical benefit of all persons who have been insured for 10 years. I think we should not quibble to o much about the 10 years' limit, which has been justified very ably by the Minister. We ought to be willing to accept it. I congratulate the Minister on the trouble he has taken to secure the co-operation of the friendly societies. It is splendid to feel that this is largely an agreed Bill, and it is vital that the co-operation of the friendly societies in the wise administration of the Health and Unemployment Insurance Acts should be retained and, if possible, increased. The Bill proceeds along those lines, and I prophesy its smooth passage through the House. I am confident that it will be received with more than gratitude by the many hundreds of thousands of people in the land whom it will most directly affect.

6.20 p.m.

Photo of Sir Richard Meller Sir Richard Meller , Mitcham

I do not think there has been an occasion when the right hon. Gentleman, during his terra of office as Minister of Health, has received so many congratulations upon the introduction of a Bill as he has received this afternoon, and I would add my congratulations to those which have been addressed to him and to his Department for the way in which they have overcome a very real difficulty, and given relief and encouragement to that class of person whose pensions and benefits under national health insurance have been jeopardised during the past few years. I would add also my appreciation of the representatives of the organisations who co-operated with the Department in the production of the Measure. The Bill stands pre-eminent among the Measures which have been introduced in connection with health insurance, because it does more than any other that I can remember to allay the fears and anxieties of a great number of people.

The Bill ensures with out any doubt the continuance of benefits in the years to come and gives an assurance which will react favourably upon the people. There is no more anxious time in the life of a man than when he is faced with the possibility that his dependants may be left unprotected and unprovided for, and when he wonders what is going to happen, not only to himself but to the m, when old age has crept upon him and he may no longer be able to look after the m. For a good many years some of the older people have found very great difficulty in securing new opportunities in the labour market. A struggle has been going on with in the m, throughout the period of depression, as to whether their pensions and benefits would be lost, and the best that we have been able to do in the past has been to prolong from year to year their anxiety, and what I would call their agony of mind. That agony of mind is now to be wiped away, because we are settling definitely the position of men who, after being employed for a number of years, have, un fortunately, been thrown out of employment. Unemployment has been pleaded in this House. It has been represented that many excellent workers who had never known what it was to be u employed for 20 years or longer, have suffered during the great depression, and have had to seek for work from day to day, only to be refused opportunity. From the beginning of National Health Insurance they have been insured persons and they have contributions for much longer than 10 years. The question of 10 years may or may not be one upon which discussion should take place in Committee. Many of the points which have been raised this afternoon are Committee points. We should be grateful that we can give some measure of satisfaction to people who have for so long been anxious in regard to their future benefits.

During the week-end I happened to pick up a. Sunday paper which thought it was necessary to draw the attention of its readers to the business which was to be discussed in this House in the following week. It said that the Commons, having disposed of the Bill for the prevention of overcrowding and sent it to the Lords, were taking in hand that other great humane Measure, the National Health Insurance and Contributory Pensions Bill. If I understand aright the feeling which has been expressed this afternoon in this House, it certainly is that the Bill is a great humane Measure. We ought not to be niggling in our criticism of it, but we should consider its broad principles. If we feel that alteration should be made, let us take our opportunity in Committee to put forward our proposals. When I got the Bill, and when I read the explanations which were given by the Government Actuary and by the Ministries for this country and for Scotland, I asked myself: "Has Capitalism failed? "I have heard it said that Capitalism had failed, and that we must look to some new form of economic organisation. I turned to what was done by this House in 1911, and particularly by way of contributory pensions schemes, since 1925. Not only in this House but outside, far more attention ought to be paid to the tremendous advance which has been made in the solution of many of the difficulties which formerly confronted the great mass of the people of this country.

Let us consider what has been done under the Widows', Orphans and Old Age Contributory Pensions Acts. From 1926 to 1934, £188,000,000 was received in contributions. The re has been an Exchequer contribution of £58,000,000, and the total expenditure on pensions has been £219, 000,000. Widows' pensions accounted for £115,000,000 and orphans' pensions for £2,713,000. The sum of over £101,000,000 was paid in respect of pensions to persons between the ages of 65 and 70. The contributions under this scheme provide pensions, not only in the event of premature death of the man, but pensions from the age of 65 to the age of 70 with out imposing a means test. At the age of 70 an insured person who then comes under the Old Age Pensions scheme has the right to continue his pension with out having to undergo a means test. In view of the enormous amount of money which has been paid out, and of the liabilities and responsibilities of the Government, we ought to have a full appreciation this afternoon of the value of the benefits which we are discussing and of what they mean to the people outside. We shall realise also why the people urged us to amend the law in order that they might know where they stood and in order to pre serve the right to benefit which was conferred upon them under the respective Acts of Parliament. Some of the figures which have been given by the Government Actuary are startling.I read through the Actuary's report, and the figures in the last paragraph were astounding. The Actuary there estimates at £1, 613,000,000 the value of the pensions which have been pro vided. Of that sum, he expects£463,000,000 will be found by way of contributions, and that the balance, probably £1,150,000,000, will have to be found by the State. Let hon. Members think for a moment of those figures which represent a State contribution two-and-a-half times the amount of the contributions of the other contributors under the scheme. We are not therefore dealing with a very small matter this afternoon, but with a really great matter.

Some of my hon. Friends below the Gangway have suggested that pensions should be given at a much higher rate than this, and that they should be given with out contribution, but these figures bring us, if I may use a common expression, down to earth, and I think that my hon. Friends in their heart of hearts must realise how tremendous has been the advance made by this country and by the Conservative Government during the last 10 ears with regard to the provision of pensions. The proposal which has been made by the Minister this afternoon with regard o keeping the insured person insured for the payment of pensions in the case of those persons who have been insured for 0 years, is, I think, a wise proposal. It has been suggested hat the number who will pass out this year, namely, some 00,000, will be in the main persons who will be protected under he 10-years pro vision. The Actuary comes to the conclusion hat some 5 per cent. Of them may be affected. He says in his report: The number of persons due to be excluded from insurance on this date is estimated at about 200,000, practically all of whom will have paid no contributions for insurance for a period of 32 years at the least and some of whom ill never have paid a single contribution since the pension system was instituted by the Act of 1925. That shows what a wonderful contribution this House has made by its prolongation Measures from time to time. It has kept in insurance a considerable number of persons who, as the Actuary points out, have paid no contributions since 1925, and, further, here are some people—the widows of men who unfortunately died in the earlier stages—who are now receiving pensions but in respect of whom no contributions have been paid at all. Taking a broad view of this matter, the proposal of the Minister this afternoon must be regarded as highly valuable, not only by the Members of his House, who are going to take their part in placing this Measure on the Statute Book, but by those outside, who, as I have said, have been extremely worried as to what their future would be, and who will now find themselves when this Measure goes through, with that contented mind which, as the old song says, is a blessing in kind. And perhaps I might venture to add, in view of the Actuary's statement that the expectation of life as been increased during the past few years, that there may be greater expectation of life coming to a number of persons who ill find that their future is more or less assured.

With regard to the question of arrears, while it is true that some criticisms may be made, I think that in the main the new proposal offers a distinct advantage. Let us remember what happens under the existing arrangements with regard to arrears. A man may have been given the extended period of insurance, but in many cases it may have become an empty thing, because he has one through a long period of unemployment, sometimes exceeding 21 months, as a result of which, although he has had an extended period of insurance, he has had nothing to come as a result of hat extended period. It is true that in the extended year he had his medical benefit, but, under the scheme which the Minister has outlined to-day, he will get full cash benefits during his extended period—not merely the possibility that if he is ill he may get his medical benefit, but actually something of a greater cash value.

I would like to go into a little detail on this point, because he hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has raised it as a very serious blot upon the proposals. I think that on reflection he will probably come to a different conclusion. Under the Act of 1932, an insured person who had been four years in insurance and had paid 160 contributions got an extended year, during which he was entitled to cash benefits and medical benefit, subject to arrears. That meant that, if he was in arrears, he might not get anything at all, and, if he had written off some of his arrears, it had been done either at his own expense or at the expense of his society, which had set aside a fund for the relief of its insured members who were in arrears. At the end of this period all insurance benefits ceased. Under the new Bill, the extended year becomes a year of continuous insurance, covering medical benefit and pension rights, but it is with drawn from persons with less than 10 years' insurance.

As regards cash benefits, the extended year was of very little use to the unemployed if they had been wholly unemployed throughout the preceding 12 months, and were therefore in arrears. Few of them had any money with which to pay the arrears, and, therefore, by reason of those arrears, they could not get the cash benefits. Half the excusal of arrears in the case of the man who had been wholly unemployed did not give him sickness benefit. The new proposal for continuance in insurance is linked with a complete excusal of unemployment arrears, in lieu of the extended year with half excusal of arrears, and, as a consequence, the unemployed person is on the whole better off. I wanted to make that statement for the benefit of the hon. Member for Gorbals, because I know that he takes a very deep and intelligent interest in this matter, and I hope that when he raises the point in Committee, as he has said he proposes to do, he may perhaps take a little kinder view of the proposal of the Minister than apparently he has taken this afternoon.