§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ "That a sum, not exceeding £3,300,356, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Insurance Commission (England), and for Contributions and Grants in respect of the Cost of Benefits and Expenses of Administration under Part I. of the National Insurance Act, 1911, and under the National Insurance Act, 1913 (including certain Grants-in-Aid)."—[NOTE.—£1,600,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I notice that in Item H, which deals with sickness, disablement, and maternity benefits (Grants-in-Aid), there is an increase of £1,396,300, while on Item K, medical benefits (Grants-in-Aid), there is a decrease of £996,000. I see that in the following Votes, dealing with Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, the same thing has occurred. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why there should be this very large increase in the sickness and disablement benefits, and that there should be this decrease in the medical benefits? No doubt it is right, but I do not quite understand how it is arrived at. Last year, 1914–15, the amount for sickness, disablement, and maternity benefits was £1,701,200, and this year it is £3,097,500. This increase of £1,396,300 for sickness, disablement, and maternity benefits may be owing to increased sickness and disablement, or an increased number of children or a variety of circumstances. I am not criticising; I only want to know how it is. Item K, medical benefit, has gone down from £1,371,400 to £375,100, or a decrease of £996,000. I do not quite understand 702 why sickness should have gone up to a very large amount and medical benefits should have decreased by such a very large amount. I think it is the same in all the Votes relating to England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, and I should like to have some explanation.
I am afraid I cannot, give an explanation immediately on the points raised by the hon. Baronet. I think, perhaps some explanation will be found in the notes on page 9, which the hon. Baronet may refer to. I am afraid that I cannot on the spur of the moment give: him a full explanation as to details.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am aware that the hon. Gentleman is new to his post, and I do not want to criticise his action or to-ask him any inconvenient questions. I do not know whether any hon. Member is going to say anything on the subject, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman may seek a little information while the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. H. Booth) addresses the House.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I will give the hon. Baronet some information. I do not think he is a very close student of the Insurance Act or he would know that one of the benefits, namely, the disablement benefit, does not come into operation until a certain number of payments have been, made. A specific time has to pass before permanent disablement benefits can be paid at all, a period of really two years. Unless a man has made 104 payments he cannot qualify for a benefit, so that really this disablement benefit is practically a new one now, and it will grow as the years go on. There is no doubt about that. The ordinary sickness benefits will probably grow, because more people will come into insurance, and people are also getting a little older. The main answer, however, to the hon. Baronet's question is that these are merely cash advances. It does not follow that that particular amount has been spent in that particular year, and the other particular amount in the other-year. The Treasury has to keep these people in funds. It takes care of their money, and as they want money it pays it out to them. They have to give security for the money until they have disbursed it weekly, and it does not follow that it has all been spent. Some societies do not spend as much money in proportion to their numbers as other societies do, because of the more hazardous trades in 703 which the members are engaged. You cannot draw really from that that there has been any increased sickness pay. It means that a larger amount has been paid the Treasury in advances to the various societies. As to the disablement benefit that now comes into the purview of the scheme, it could not do that until 104 payments had been made.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am obliged to the hon. Member for supplying me with this information, but I am afraid I do not altogether follow it. It is quite true that I have not studied the Insurance Act very closely. Do I understand from the hon. Member that the Treasury advances money haphazard as the societies want it, and that the money is not always spent in one year; that sometimes it is spent and sometimes it is not spent? As to disablement, I understand what he said about that, namely, that it only comes into force after a certain period has elapsed, and the Act having been in operation a certain period, disablement benefit is coming into force. The hon. Gentleman did not tell me why medical benefit has gone up so much. I cannot understand why one should go up and the other should go down in such an extraordinary way.
The hon. Baronet asks me to explain this conundrum, and to the best of my ability I will endeavour to do it. It is an accounting point which is rather technical, and I am not quite sure whether I can give a full explanation of it. So far as the medical money is concerned, it is only for a quarter of the year, and not for a whole year. As a matter of fact, there has been no real increase in sickness, disablement, and maternity benefits, and there is no real extra charge upon the taxpayer, which is the point that I think the hon. Baronet is anxious to have cleared up. The difference in these sums is really due to the fact that the basis of the Grant has been altered as compared with last year. The money this year has been granted in proportion to the amount of money which is issued to the 'approved societies as distinct from the amount of money which was audited. That is how the difference arises.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am very much obliged for the explanation, but I cannot quite understand it. No doubt that is because I have not understood all the intricacies of this Insurance Act; if I did, I should be in my grave and not here. I am 704 afraid the explanation of the hon. Gentleman does not quite coincide with the explanation of the hon. Member (Mr. H. Booth). I do not know which is right. I recognise that it is impossible for the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Roberts) to answer all the questions concerning a very complicated Act of this sort, when he has only been three or four weeks in his present office. Perhaps if we are sitting opposite each other next year he may be able to give me a little further information upon this point, which seems to me to be extremely complicated. He says it is a matter of accounting, but it seems to me that it should be a matter of voting money, and not a matter of accounting. Apparently the result is that these sums do not represent the sums which are paid out by the taxpayers. However, I do not follow it, because I frankly admit I do not understand it. It seems to me to be very extraordinary that sickness should have gone up and the amount of medical benefits should have gone down. The hon. Gentleman apparently does not agree with the hon. Member for Pontefract about disablement benefits, because I understood him to say that disablement benefits had not increased and that it was a matter of accounting, while I understood the hon. Member for Pontefract to say that the amount of disablement benefits has gone up. I will not press the subject further.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I do not think there is any difference at all between us. It is a matter of a cash account. The custom of the Commissioners is settled by Act of Parliament, They advance moneys to these various societies, who are distributing weekly benefits. These societies must be substantial people, and if they are not very substantial societies the individuals must give securities, otherwise they cannot get money from the Commissioners. Naturally we want the payments to be made weekly, because it is very important to the people receiving the benefits that the weekly payments should not be overdue. Unless the societies have the funds in hand they cannot distribute them. The Commissioners in London invest the money for the societies. The societies do not accumulate the money in the way of ordinary friendly societies, because it is paid in stamps and it finds its way to St. Martins-le-Grand. The whole of the money finds its way to London. Therefore they do not get the money locally, and unless that money goes back to the provinces the societies will not have it to 705 distribute in ther weekly Grants-in-Aid. Therefore the Commissioners make these Grants-in-Aid. One society may have larger claims than it anticipates, but it makes its estimate, the Commissioners see how much is paid in for the week or the month, and by a friendly conference between the Commissioners and the society a certain amount is agreed on to finance it. In the actual working out, the amount required may be heavier or lighter according as the amount of sickness claims is heavier or lighter, and then the matter is readjusted on audit. Disablement benefit is an increasing benefit. I do not think that the hon. Member meant to say that it was not. If he did, I hope the hon. Baronet will not believe it. It will be larger next year than this. I simply introduce it because the hon. Baronet overlooked it; he also overlooked the fact of the Grants-in-Aid.
§ Mr. BOOTH
He rather talked as if this amount had been spent. I do not see how the system could be improved upon. Of course, from that the Commissioners made the estimates, which the hon. Member for Lincoln gave to the House. The Commissioners cannot possibly know what is the amount of sickness benefit until they get the final figures from the society, but they judge by the amount that has been asked for to finance it, and of course they get approximately near the figure. That part of the system is working very well, and there is no complaint on the part of any society against the considerate treatment which the Commissioners have given it.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
Looking at these Estimates, it appears to me from the manner in which the two Items, G and K, that is the Grants-in-Aid for medical and sanatorium benefits, are presented, that practically in the medical benefit and sanatorium benefit (G), as compared with last year, there is a decrease of £664,000; while in the Grants-in-Aid (K) there is a decrease of £996,000, and if you add these two and compare the total reduction with the increase of £1,396,300 in the sickness, disablement and maternity benefit, it looks as if last year the whole of these benefits did not come under that head, and were given as Grants-in-Aid. It is a very extraordinary thing that these two items more or less coincide with the sickness benefit, and it may be that they are involved in those two things, but I quite agree with the hon. Baronet that these 706 items ought to be made so clear that every Member of the House of Commons could understand exactly what is paid under the different heads, and if there is an actual increase it ought to be shown. That is really the point of the hon. Baronet. I would like to suggest to the hon. Member for Lincoln that it would be interesting to Members of the House of Commons if we could get the percentage of cost of administration of benefits. Taking the whole income of the insurance, including what is paid into the approved societies—because we have to take that into consideration along with what is granted by Parliament—I think that it would be interesting if we could get the percentage of cost for administration of this Department.
Yes, I can give that. If the hon. Member had paid me the compliment of listening, he would know that I spent a good deal of time in dealing with that.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I am sorry that I was outside writing letters when the hon. Member was speaking, but I shall have great pleasure in reading his speech to-morrow.
Mr. TYSON WILSON
It is quite clear that nobody in the Committee understands the way in which the accounts are put, and it is a bad example of the methods adopted by the Commissioners. The Commissioners themselves may understand their system of accounts on the White Paper, but nobody else seems to understand them. The same argument applies to many of their regulations, and there should be somebody who would be able to tell people in simple language what ought to be done.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question? I see in item J, Expenses of Administration Grants-in-Aid, £713,400. Last year it was £455,800; that is an increase of £260,800, or 60 per cent. I want to know why these expenses of administration, Grants-in-Aid, have gone up so much. I must press for an answer to this question. I did not intend to put the hon. Gentleman in an awkward position; I am endeavouring in my humble way to be extremely pleasant to him. He is in a very difficult position at the present moment, and he is new to it, but we should have some reason given to us to explain why these expenses have, increased so much.
I shall be very happy to attempt to convey the information in my Department to the hon. Baronet, especially if he will give me notice as to the kind of points which he is going to raise as to these very technical matters. The point which he is on at the present moment is exactly the point with which I was dealing before. He has merely gone from one item to another.
It is the same point. It is simply a question of accounts, and it really is a matter of the period for which the Grants are being voted. I believe that I am quite correct in saying that there is no real increase in expenditure. There is simply a change in the period for which the accounts are dated.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I accept what the hon. Gentleman states, but if this is merely a matter of accounts which does not represent any increase in expenditure at all, then we should have some, footnote to explain it. We private Members are at present in a very difficult position, because we are not allowed to divide against hon. Gentlemen on the Bench opposite. I see opposite my Noble Friend the Member for the Hitchin Division, who, a few months ago, discussing this particular point, supported me in the Lobby. I know the difficulty in which the hon. Gentleman is, and I will not press it further, but I hope that he will represent to the Department that the intelligence of the ordinary private Member of Parliament is not very great, and that they should remember that fact and put their accounts in such a form that the ordinary Member of Parliament can understand them, so that he shall not be obliged to ask for explanations from the Front Bench, which may sometimes, perhaps, be a little inconvenient to give.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
It appears to me, according to the description which has been given, that the accounts are very puzzling. I have not taken the trouble to go over them myself, and I am glad that I have not done so, because I should be in exactly the same position as the others who do not understand them. There ought to be some explanatory notes, where any-particular item such as sickness pay, maternity benefit, or any other item under this Act seems to require explanation, so that we may know, if possible, why there has been a reduction or an increase. Such 708 a course would save all this discussion. All of us feel extremely for our hon. Friend in consequence of the awkward position in which he finds himself placed. We quite recognise that it is almost impossible for a man who has been in office simply for two or three weeks to grapple with all these difficulties. If the hon. Baronet were in his place he would experience exactly the same difficulty. I do suggest that when we get next year's accounts, explanatory notes should be incorporated in them, so as to show the causes of the increase or the decrease.
§ Question put, and agreed to.