§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill derives very largely from the review of the working of the National Insurance scheme which was initiated by my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Ingleby. It would, perhaps, not be inappropriate if I began by saying how impressed all who have studied this very intricate subject have been by the care and skill which the noble Lord devoted over a considerable number of years to the efficient working of the scheme.
The review which he initiated, and from which this Bill in large measure derives, was undertaken with the help, and very largely through the medium of, the National Insurance Advisory Committee, the statutory body which, as the House knows, was set up under the original Act. The country owes a great deal to the former Chairman, Sir Will Spens, who served until the end of last year, and a number of whose reports have their conclusion in this Bill. I should like, if I may, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to say how grateful we are for the help given by the extremely busy men and women who are members of the Committee, and that we do welcome the new Chairman, the Provost of University College, London, Sir Ifor Evans.
I am afraid that any Bill on National Insurance must inevitably, in present circumstances, present a highly untidy, and, if I may say so, almost incomprehensible appearance. That is the inevitable price which we pay for the fact that legislation is, I think rightly, required for the making of substantial changes in a scheme which is still a very new one, and which is an immense one covering the whole of the country.
Most of the proposals contained in this Bill result from practical experience of the working of the scheme. Therefore, I am afraid that National Insurance legislation still has to present a form which is 567 to lawyers, perhaps, particularly disagreeable—that of legislation by reference. That is because we are still engaged, in substance as well as in form, in amending and adjusting in the light of experience the original Act and those immediately following it. Although the time may come when it is possible to consolidate this legislation, I think that that time is probably still some way off, because there are still obviously adjustments which will have to be made from time to time in the scheme, and which involve legislation.
I should also like to say that while this Bill embodies a good deal of the advice given to us by the Advisory Committee, and though it contains, in a number of cases, also the decisions of the Government upon it, it does not cover the whole of the advice of the Advisory Committee which we are accepting. In other directions, where we are able to proceed by regulation, regulations are being prepared and submitted through the Advisory Committee to Parliament in the normal way.
The Bill itself covers a variety of topics. Indeed, there is an inevitable risk in connection with Bills of this kind that a Second Reading speech will consist solely of a consolidation of the notes on Clauses, a speech which it would be as tedious to deliver as it would be insupportable to listen to. I will, therefore, if I may, confine myself to referring to sonic of the main features of the Bill, leaving to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary the responsibility for dealing at the end of the debate with specific points which hon. or right hon. Gentlemen may care to raise.
Plainly, there emerge from the considerable mass of proposals in the Bill three which are of greater importance than the rest. They are those providing for retired persons to go back into employment and earn increments, which are dealt with in Clause 1 and, to some extent, in Clause 2, those dealing with an increase in the earnings limit for dependent wives, in Clause 3, and the provision for a change in the law with respect to unemployment benefit in connection with certain short-time workers, which is dealt with in Clause 4. I will, if I may, confine the greater part, though not all, of what I have to say to those three topics.
568 In Clause 1 we deal with—I apologise to the House for the word—" de-retirement ". It is an inelegant word which, when I first used it in this House, produced a highly adverse reaction from both sides; but subsequent study has convinced me that, though the word is inelegant, there is no alternative word which precisely expresses what we here have in mind. I have attempted to elicit suggestions from other quarters, but have been wholly unsuccessful.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The theological implications of that word might, perhaps, cause a certain confusion in lay minds. I was about to say that only the fact that the House of Commons Disqualification Bill is going through Parliament prevents me from offering a prize this afternoon; though I am sure that no hon. Member would be displaced from his seat in the House if during the course of the debate —I mean this seriously—he were to offer further suggestions for suitable nomenclature.
The idea is important, and it is an idea which, I think, commends itself to opinion generally. The present position is that there is, of course, nothing to prevent the retirement pensioner when he has retired from ordinary work resuming full-time work, but, if he does so during the first five years from 65 to 70 in the case of a man—or 60 to 65 of a woman—he forfeits under the earnings rule his pension and does not obtain by way of compensation an increment on his pension when he stops work. Putting it quite frankly, he therefore gets the worst of both worlds.
The difficulty which experience has shown springs from the fact that the decision to retire is, under the present law, an irrevocable one. It is the common experience of hon. Members, in their own lives and contacts, to meet people who, not being very well perhaps or being a little tired, have retired from regular work and gone on pension at or soon after reaching pensionable age, but who, after a few months, have changed their ideas; they became rested, they perhaps feel better, they may perhaps be a little bored by the absence of regular work, or there may even be domestic factors such as the wife's enthusiasm for having the "old 569 man" at home all day being not restrainable within the limits of decorum—there may be many human factors. Therefore, we want to give an opportunity for such a person not to be bound by an irrevocable decision to retire.
What is proposed in Clause 1, and there is a consequential provision in Clause 2, is to give to such people the option to revert to their previous position, that is to say, not to draw the pension but to earn increments or increased increments so that when they finally retire they will enjoy an incremented pension.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
Will the right hon. Gentleman clear up one point? A person who retires and who then may undertake full-time employment and be caught by the earnings rule is presumably not paying contributions when at work again whereas the reentry into employment under this Clause would, as I understand it, entail the payment of contributions. Is that difference a real one?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Yes, undoubtedly a re-entrant under this condition, in order to earn increments, would pay the full contribution. After all, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the increment is calculated on the assumption that contributions are paid.
§ Mr. Houghton
I have worked out, though my arithmetic may be wrong, that if a pensioner re-enters employment for six months it will take him fourteen years to make good his loss of benefit and the cost of the contributions.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I would never dispute the hon. Gentleman's mathematics, for which I have a profound respect, without an opportunity to recalculate the figure. On the other hand, I know his skill in debate sufficiently well never to accept any proposition he puts without further study.
The fact remains, of course, that what we are offering here is an option. There is no compulsion about it. If any person is interested—I shall come in a moment to the categories of people who, I think, may be interested—the option will be available for him. If people are not interested, there is nothing whatever to compel them to exercise the option. It is 570 an additional right, not a diminution of any right. As regards the hon. Gentleman's calculations, as I say, I reserve my position, meaning, in other words, that I shall put cold towels on my head and take some black coffee later tonight.
The proposal is to give an option. Those to whom it is most likely to appeal are those—of whom there are 25,000 at the moment—who have retired and have subsequently resumed full-time work, losing the whole of their pension under the earnings limit. Some of those 25,000 people will, no doubt, be interested. It may well be that others also who, though not losing the whole pension under the earnings rule, are losing something, may be interested.
The hon. Gentleman's intervention has really led me to one point which I was going to discuss. Until this has operated, we cannot know how much it will be used or the extent of the interest it will prove to have. That has a bearing on one of the two problems which must be solved, namely, the problem of whether we are to permit simply one act of de-retirement, and, if the pensioner thereafter retires a second time, not allow him a further option, or whether we should go further than that and allow not one, but a number. It must, inevitably, be limited in some degree, but a number of further de-retirements could be envisaged.
I would suggest that the best way to handle the matter is this. As hon. Members will see, the Clause is drafted on the basis of conferring a regulation-making power. What I would propose to do would be to make regulations, in the first instance, providing one opportunity for de-retirement, but with the full intention, after having seen how that works, of providing, if it seems desirable, for further de-retirements by subsequent regulations. That experimental method, which is one which has been followed more than once in connection with the National Insurance scheme, is probably the wisest; and, of course, the extent to which it is possible to operate it depends upon the factor mentioned by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) as to the extent to which it is used.
The other problem is this. If a man "de-retires", that will affect his wife's 571 pension if it is payable on his insurance. The National Insurance Advisory Committee, in facing that problem, recommended that the act of de-retirement should be a joint one in the case of married couples where the wife was drawing pension on her husband's insurance. That, in practice, of course, would involve, as it were, a veto in the hands of the wife; but in the vast majority of cases that would not matter because this is just the kind of thing a married couple would talk over together and come to a joint decision about.
There may well be a minority of cases, however, where, perhaps, a couple have quarrelled and separated, in which the wife's consent might be withheld for inadequate reasons. Therefore, in the Bill, as will be seen from the proviso to Clause 1 (1), we have gone a little further than the Advisory Committee and, while proposing that the act of deretirement shall be a joint act, we have said that there shall be an opportunity to go to the statutory authorities if in the husband's view the wife's consent is unreasonably withheld. The statutory authorities—that is, the local insurance officer or the local tribunal—will have the opportunity to decide the matter. That seems to be the fairest way of dealing with that difficulty, which could arise in only a small number of cases but which, it appears, could arise in them.
Clause 2, as I have said, follows on from Clause 1, because its most important provision is to open this same opportunity to widows who up to the age of 60 have been on widow's pension. The Clause provides that they also shall have the opportunity, if they wish, instead of automatically going on to a retirement pension, to earn increments and draw, therefore, the higher pension at a later date. This treatment of them is to place them in the same position as other retirement pensioners. That is the first of the three major points to which I referred a moment ago.
The second, which I can deal with more briefly and which is covered in Clause 3, relates to the earnings limit—or, to put it more accurately, the earnings disregard—for dependent wives of National Insurance beneficiaries. The House will recall that this matter was dealt with by the Advisory Committee in its Report on the Question of Earnings 572 Limits for Benefits, published early last summer, and that the other earnings limits—those relating to retirement pensioners and widowed mothers—were dealt with in a Private Member's Bill, now a Private Member's Act, which was taken through the House by my hon. Friend who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Leather). That Bill, however, did not deal with the position of dependent wives.
The National Insurance Advisory Committee considered the previous position, in which wives of very long-term chronic sickness beneficiaries had a limit of 40s., whereas wives of recipients of unemployment benefit or of sickness benefit for shorter periods had a limit of 20s. After considering the matter, the Advisory Committee recommended, and we have accepted its recommendation, that there was really no case for a differentiation between the two and that the limit in both cases should be 40s. That, among other things, will involve doing away with what has been a cause of some difficulty.
The higher limit in respect of long-term sickness has been available where the man's doctor has been prepared to make a confident prophesy that he would be sick for six months or more, but where the doctor gave a less determined prognosis, though the illness itself might continue just as long, the 20s. limit applied. That, as hon. Members with experience of National Insurance administration will know, has caused a great deal of difficulty. That difficulty will be eliminated if the House accepts the view of the Advisory Committee and of the Government that the limit should be 40s. in both instances.
As I have said, this is not a true earnings limit in the sense in which we discussed the earnings limit last summer when dealing with the Private Member's Bill to which I have referred. This is much more a test of dependency, a test whether the wife is dependent on the recipient of National Insurance benefit and, therefore, whether the increase in respect of a dependant should be paid in respect of her. For that reason, it is, and always has been, framed differently: that is, with no marginal adjustments but so that, once her earnings exceed the limit, even by a shilling or two, she ceases to be treated as a dependant at all.
573 This is financially much the most expensive part of the Bill. The cost to the two funds—the National Insurance Fund and the Industrial Injuries Fund—will be over £1½million a year to the National Insurance Fund and £¼ million to the Industrial Injuries Fund. That cost, of course, will have to be taken into account in due course when the level of contributions is reconsidered.
The third major change relates to the payment of unemployment benefit in respect of short-time working. That matter was considered by the Advisory Committee a little time ago and that Committee, being divided on the matter, came to no conclusion on this issue. This proposal is, therefore, put forward in the light of the Advisory Committee's consideration but after consideration by the Government and on the basis of the Government's consideration of the merits of the matter. It has been subject to criticism from both directions. It has been criticised for doing anything at all, and it has also been criticised, noticeably in the Press, for not having gone further. That is probably a good indication that the proposal is about in the right place.
Perhaps I may describe it. Essentially, it has to take into account the growth of the five-day week, which now covers, roughly, about half the insured workers and, of course, a much larger proportion in manufacturing industry. The present position when such a five-day worker goes on short time is that if he or she loses one day's work of his five days he is entitled, if he fulfils the other conditions with regard to waiting days and so on, to two days' unemployment benefit, whereas a six-day-week worker who loses one day is in general, unless he can link it with another day, entitled to no benefit at all.
That seems to us to be an anomaly. It seems to be wrong in principle that unemployment benefit should be paid to a man in respect of a day—normally, but not necessarily, a Saturday—on which he does not normally work and in the ordinary way of things would not be working. That has been thought in many directions to be an anomaly. Therefore, the Bill proposes simply to correct that and to provide, by a Clause which is easy and intelligible to read, that benefit shall 574 not be payable in respect of unemployment on a day on which the man in question does not normally work.
That is the proposal. We may have discussion of it later, but I think it will suffice for me at this stage to say that it does not seem fair to place on the other contributors to the Fund responsibility for the payment of unemployment benefit in respect of a day on which the recipient does not normally work.
I do not think it is necessary for me at this stage to indicate why we have not gone further in this direction, except, perhaps, to say this. It has been suggested that we should have gone further and gone back to the old three-in-six rule, which prevailed up to 1940. One great objection, it seems to me, to the three-in-six rule is that it means that a man who is out, in the case of a six-day worker, for three days gets half a week's benefit, whereas a man who is out for two days gets none at all. Undue importance is attached to the odd day which may have a discouraging effect in certain circumstances on production. We have, therefore, rejected that and confined ourselves to the proposal which I have been attempting to outline.
I should make it clear that it applies only to those who normally work for five days or less a week and that it does not apply in any respect to the six-day or 5½-day worker. Neither does it apply to the five-day worker when he is unemployed for the whole of the week. It operates only in respect of short time.
The remaining provisions of the Bill are, perhaps, of less general interest, though each and all of them matter quite substantially to limited numbers of people who will be affected by them. I might, perhaps, mention the new benefit which is created by Clause 5 and is called the child's special allowance.
That benefit originates from a recommendation of the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce and has been approved by the National Insurance Advisory Committee. Indeed, we go a little further than the Royal Commission. The Royal Commission took into account the position which arises where there is a divorced couple and where the children are living with the mother who is receiving payment for their maintenance from the father. Under the existing law, when 575 the father dies no National Insurance benefits are paid. Although the position of these children is perhaps broadly similar to that of the children of a widowed mother, no National Insurance provision is made for them.
We therefore propose—and we go further than the Royal Commission, which recommended this only in respect of cases where the parent was the innocent party to the divorce proceedings—that this should apply in cases where the person in charge of the children was either the innocent or the guilty party. I think that is right, because it is the child's interests that we are concerned with here. We propose that where payments have been made by the divorced husband in respect of the children over a reasonable period before his death, the payment shall be made up to a maximum equivalent to the child element in the widowed mother's allowance, that is 16s. 6d. for the eldest child and 8s. 6d. plus family allowances for the subsequent children, and up to the maximum of the amount that the husband was contributing before his death. That is a new benefit which will affect a very limited number of people but which will, on the other hand, within that limited number, deal with cases of very real hardship.
There are some provisions in Clause 6 with which I will not weary the House at this stage—no doubt we shall discuss them later—relating to children. I might, however, mention the variation made in Clause 6 in respect of the payment of guardian's allowance. As hon. Members know, the guardian's allowance is paid in respect of orphans who are taken into the families of other people. A difficulty has arisen in the case where there are step-parents. When the National Insurance Act was passed, step-parents had a liability for the support of their step-children. Therefore, the original Act—in my view quite rightly —provided that the existence of a stepparent should be a bar to the payment of guardian's allowance.
Since then, subsequent legislation swept away the legal liability of the step-parent to maintain his step-children. One such case was drawn to my attention by the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) a little while ago, where the existence of the step-mother, who had 576 never seen the child, provided a complete bar to the payment of the guardian's allowance to the child's grandparents who were looking after it. That will be dealt with. I have gone into it in detail, because it is a good example of the practical problems that have arisen over recent years in the operation of the scheme and which it is the object of this Bill to solve.
I think that I have given some idea of the general scope and purpose of the Bill, although I have not, for reasons which I gave in opening, sought to deal with each and every separate point that may arise. The main purpose of the Bill, as I have said, is to adjust and iron out difficulties which have arisen in the operation of the scheme. I do not suggest to the House that it is one of the great Measures of the Session or a Measure of major policy, but I do suggest that it is a useful but modest Measure for making necessary adjustments to deal with various difficulties that have arisen in our very intricate National Insurance scheme.
I am told that if the House accepts and passes the Bill it will benefit in their very different ways about 250,000 people. It is, therefore, not a wholly insignificant Measure. I think that it is a useful one. I think that it swill make our great National Insurance scheme work more smoothly and more fairly and, for that reason, I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)
I am sure that we all agree with the right hon. Gentleman's opening remarks that his predecessor Lord Ingleby was a very careful administrator of the provisions of the National Insurance Acts. We may not always have agreed with him on policy, but we gladly pay tribute to his care as an administrator. We should like also to pay tribute to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, whose various recommendations, although not all of them, unfortunately, will be implemented when this Bill becomes an Act.
The right hon. Gentleman used about his own Bill the words "untidy" and "incomprehensible".
§ Mr. Marquand
It is not for me to say anything stronger than that. This Bill is undoubtedly difficult in detail to understand. When reading through it, one becomes baffled occasionally and turns back to the Explanatory Memorandum in the hope that what one reads in the Clause really does carry through what is stated in the Explanatory Memorandum. These things we shall have to examine in Committee. I think that the difficulty of understanding the Bill in detail illustrates the complexity of the whole National Insurance scheme.
We all from time to time in our contacts with our constituents come up against what appear to be anomalies and against situations in which constituents had understood that there was a universal comprehensive National Insurance system which would provide them, in certain eventualities, with certain definite benefits who had then discovered that somehow or another they had not qualified for the benefits and were upset about it.
In one case, which the right hon. Gentleman will no doubt remember, his officers advised one of my constituents to pay contributions after widowhood in the hope of getting an insurance pension. She regularly paid the contribution, as she had been advised by his own officials, and it was found later that she could never pay sufficient contributions to qualify for the benefit and the right hon. Gentleman had to return the money to her. I am not complaining that anything unjust or illegal was done in that case, but that is the kind of case which comes forward fairly often and it is necessary to have a tidying up by a succession of amending Acts. The Minister said that the time for consolidation has not yet arrived, but there ought to have been brought forward now a more thorough and comprehensive review of the working of the whole system than we have had. We were disappointed at the hurried way in which the promise to have a review at the end of five years was only partially fulfilled by the late Government.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
While dealing with that aspect of the matter, may I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it seems to me at least high time that we not only had tidyings-up, such as the one we are being offered today and to which I take no exception, but also an investiga- 578 tion into the much wider question of the tremendous volume of case law in the form of the Commissioner's decisions, which are becoming completely incomprehensible to those who have to administer the Acts and benefits. That seems to call for very wide review at the earliest possible time.
§ Mr. Marquand
I dare say my hon. Friend is right. I am not a great expert on the Commissioner's decisions, although I know that there are several volumes of them. I hope that if he succeeds in catching the eye of Mr. Speaker, he may have an opportunity to develop that point.
The right hon. Gentleman's explanation of the Bill has, I think, clarified our understanding of it. It is, nonetheless, a little difficult when immediately following such an explanation to talk off the cuff, as it were, about the details of the Bill. We shall read what he said today quite carefully before we come to the Committee stage, and even when we have reached it I am certain that my hon. Friends and I will have many points of detail which we shall want to explore in Committee.
Broadly, in so far as the Bill implements the recommendations of the National Insurance Advisory Committee, we are in agreement with it. We need to examine it in detail, but broadly we accept the implementation, in many of the Clauses of the Bill, of the recommendations of that Committee. Clause 1 is based on the recommendations in Cmd. 9752, the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee on the Question of Earnings Limits for Benefits. The principal recommendation concerning the size of the earnings limits was agreed to last year, and the Clause is designed to implement the second recommendation in the Report. We recognise that that will be an improvement.
The form of the Clause, however, seems to give extremely wide powers to the Minister. The person who elects to return to employment, having previously retired, may do so in accordance with "such conditions as may be prescribed." The regulations which have to be made may makesuch modifications of the principal Act or this Act … as may appear to the Minister to be necessary or expedient …579 These are very wide regulatory powers when they permit the Minister to make modifications of the very Bill under which they are made. I hope that when we discuss in Committee that subsection of Clause 1 which concerns these regulations, we shall have the opportunity of having a fuller explanation of what is in the Minister's mind about the regulations before they are made.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman said that regulations of this kind are put before the National Insurance Advisory Committee for its consideration before they are promulgated, but on this occasion, when the Bill is in Committee, we shall ask to consider whether it is proper that the right hon. Gentleman should have such wide powers to make regulations. Although, eventually, the regulations may go before the Advisory Committee, I think we undoubtedly feel that a Committee of the House of Commons should have a better idea, before it approves of the proposal, how wide these regulations will be.
As the right hon. Gentleman correctly said, two main questions are raised by the Clause. I recognise that the Clause will undoubtedly carry out the recommendations of the Advisory Committee. That Committee suggested that, in the first instance, the right to elect to de-retire should be granted once only, but it went on to say that powers should be taken to provide for more frequent elections to de-retire. I was glad to hear the Minister say today that he had in mind to give a second or possibly even more than a second opportunity so to elect, in the light of experience to come of the working of this first proposal. That coincides exactly with what the Advisory Committee said, and I doubt very much whether anyone will wish to object to it.
The other principal point arises on the question of de-retirement where the wife is drawing a pension in her own right, given to her as her own pension. It is whether, when the man retires, he should be able to elect to deretire on his own or whether he should have his wife's consent. In the event of dispute, experience suggests that each partner will think the other unreasonable. If a dispute arises between the couple in these circumstances, the wife may think it unreasonable or unwise for her husband to go 580 back to work. If she refuses her consent, he undoubtedly will think her unreasonable. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is glad that the framework which we have arranged for National Insurance means that these matters will be decided by statutory bodies and not by the Minister. In matters pertaining to the Royal Warrant he has to make a decision on his own. I am sure that he is glad that that is not so in this case.
Accepting the Minister's assurance that it fulfils the Explanatory Memorandum, I have no criticism to make of Clause 2. Equally, in respect of Clauses 3, 5 and 6, which implement the recommendations of the Advisory Committee's Report on the Question of Dependency Provisions in Cmd. 9855. We welcome the acceptance of the recommendations and their implementation. It is interesting to hear that the major cost of the various improvements for beneficiaries under the Bill arises here. It is also interesting to note that the recommendations of the Committee are accepted, as far as we can see, in full except for a few minor ones concerning staying in hospital and the like. I assume that those recommendations are omitted from the Bill not because they are not accepted, but because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, they could he put into force by regulations without necessitating amending legislation.
The Advisory Committee made several recommendations of that kind. Recommendations 3 and 4 of the Report are not referred to in the Bill. We presume that they are either not accepted or are to be put into operation through the legislative powers which already exist. If the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance is to reply to my hon. Friends' questions, I hope that she will consider these points. I refer in particular to page 29 of Cmd. 9855 and recommendations 3 and 4. These recommendations do not appear in the Bill. I freely confess that I could not quite understand why, or what had become of them.
Clause 5 certainly seems a considerable improvement on the existing situation. It is clearly a great improvement in the condition of certain children that on the death of the father of the child the divorced woman may continue to receive for the child what the father paid. This is subject to a maximum amount. In 581 reading that maximum in the Bill, one is reminded of what I consider to be, and have described on more than one occasion, the inadequacy of present rates of allowances for children all the way through our system of National Insurance and of National Assistance.
I do not consider these allowances at their present level to be sufficient, despite all the arguments that the members of a family living together can live more cheaply than the same number of individuals living separately. I do not think any of the dependants' allowances for children in any part of our system of National Insurance and National Assistance are satisfactory. One is forcibly reminded of that fact by the maximum of 16s. 6d. laid down in this Clause.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
We can argue on another occasion the matter of the adequacy of these figures, but I take it that the right hon. Gentleman will not dispute the line taken in the Bill, that the maximum here should be the same as that for the child element in the general provisions for the widowed mother's allowance?
§ Mr. Marquand
No, certainly not. I was merely saying that in passing. I am not criticising that provision in particular in this Bill. Evidently this allowance must be at the same rate as the others. There would be little case for claiming any differential treatment here.
I thought, too, that Clause 6 was very much to be welcomed and that the spirit of acceptance of the Advisory Committee's recommendation was a good one. Clause 7 also seemed to me to constitute a welcome improvement.
I have gone through all those Clauses rapidly because I do not wish to take up too much time on this Bill, the greater part of which is non-contentious. I have deliberately left to the end what I have to say about Clause 4. The right hon. Gentleman, in speaking of Clause 4, referred to difference of opinion among persons unspecified about what should be done about unemployment benefit received by short-time workers, and said that he felt that his proposal lay midway between differing points of view and were, therefore, about right. I do not know whom it may have been he was thinking of when referring to the difference of 582 opinion, or what people may hold these opinions——
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
What I had in mind was the opinion represented in a very interesting leading article in The Times on the day following publication of the Bill. I think it was called "A Half Measure".
§ Mr. Marquand
I had better refresh my memory of that before we go into Committee on the Bill. It was certainly not the opinion of the National Insurance Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee made no recommendation on this. The rest of the Bill fulfils recommendations of the Advisory Committee. This Clause does not. It is the Government's own policy, and it is not backed by the Advisory Committee.
As long ago as 1953, the then Minister presented to us the Report of the Advisory Committee on "The Availability Question". In the paragraph headed "Five-days a week worker", the Committee said:Under the present regulations a five-days a week worker is not ordinarily entitled to unemployment benefit in respect of his usual idle day, but if he is unemployed for one of the five days on which he normally works, he is entitled to benefit in respect of this day and also in respect of the day on which he is usually idle. We have considered the possibility of an alteration to the regulations, but since two days is the minimum period provided in the Act in respect of which unemployment benefit is payable, all that could be effected by a change would be to deprive a five-days a week worker who worked on only four day, in the week of title to any unemployment benefit in respect of the day lost.The Advisory Committee in that Report dismissed the suggestion that anything be done about this.
It presented another Report in November, 1955, on "Benefit for very short spells of unemployment or sickness," and in that it said:As things now stand, we find ourselves almost equally divided as to whether or not there should be an extension of the full normal extent rule by providing that unemployment benefit should never be paid for a day on which a person does not normally work.The members of the Advisory Committee were divided. There was some difference of opinion, though I do not know who held which opinion in that Committee. However, although there was a difference of opinion as to whether any change 583 not a particular change, but any change —was required the members of the Committee said:We are agreed, however, that where an existing right to benefit is at issue, we should not recommend its removal save by a substantial majority of opinion. Accordingly we do not recommend any departure from the present provisionsThere is a principle laid down unanimously by the Advisory Committee, that where an existing right to benefit is at issue we should not recommend its removal save by a substantial majority of opinion, and the Minister treads on very dangerous ground, I think, when he departs from that principle, which was agreed by his own Advisory Committee. Why, in the light of that feeling of the Advisory Committee, why, in the light of that very reasonable principle that we should not deprive people of something they have already got unless there is a substantial majority of opinion behind the proposal, does he now introduce this proposal?
He spent very little time on this Clause. I must warn him that we shall have to spend a great deal more time on it before we dispose of it in Committee. He did not tell us what is the size of the problem. If there is some large new problem arising to very grievous dimensions, and if he feels everybody is not aware of it and that he ought to bring our attention to it, why did he not tell us so, and why did he not tell us the size of it?
How large will be the saving to the National Insurance Fund by this proposal? He did not say. We know from the Explanatory Memorandum that some unspecified saving may be expected, because we are told that the increased expenditure arising from other, good Clauses of the Billwill be likely to be in part offset by reduced expenditure on unemployment benefit.How much is to be saved?
How many five-day weekers register when they are unemployed for the last two days of the week? If they do not register as unemployed the problem does not arise. They are unavailable for work; they have not registered; they do not qualify for benefit. How many five-day a week workers have been registering during a recent six months or twelve months? Is the number so sub- 584 stantial as to induce the Minister to feel that some new problem has arisen since the Advisory Committee made its Report in November, 1955? Unless he can say that, he has not a shadow of justification for depriving people of an existing right.