§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.8 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.
As the House knows, measures affecting National Insurance and its related social services are broadly in three classes. There are Bills which effect major changes in the structure of the schemes, like the 1946 and 1959 Acts. There is the class of Bills that make general improvements in the rate of benefit, of which there have been four since 1951. And there is the third category, to which this Measure belongs, consisting of a number of changes and modifications Which experience of the working of the scheme, a changing social climate or, indeed, judicial decisions, have made necessary in order to bring the scheme up to date.
This Bill is in this third category and, as the House will see when we come to examine the details of the Measure, quite a number of its provisions stem and derive from that last-mentioned cause—the fact that under the scheme the decision in individual cases is made not by the Minister but by independent statutory authorities. That system has great advantages from every practical point of view and I think that both sides of the House accept it.
But it means that, however carefully one drafts a Measure, one cannot be absolutely certain that the drafting has done exactly what was intended. Therefore, when that turns out not to have been the case, as has been so in one or two of the matters under consideration, adjustments must be made. I can perhaps best serve the House, not by attempting to take it through every detail of this Measure, for I might well commit the Parliamentary offence of trying to talk out my own Bill, but by touching on a number of the minor and all, I hope, of the major matters in the Bill and then leaving it to my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary who, if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, will 1181 seek to wind up the debate, to deal with specific and particular points which hon. Members may be good enough to raise.
The first Part of the Bill relates to industrial injuries, and certainly the most important and significant provision in that part of the Bill is Clause 1. That deals with the case, which the House has often discussed, of what are colloquially called workmen's compensation "old cases". I am sure the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) will remember that in the course of our Committee stage discussions on last Session's Bill the point was raised, and I undertook—though I said at the time that that particular Measure was not a suitable one for dealing with this matter —to consider it further and to see whether something more could be done.
I think this is part of a very difficult problem in social service administration. It is the problem of what one does when one introduces an improvement or a reform in relation to people who suffered their injury or acquired their rights before the scheme in question came into effect. I do not hold the view which some hon. Members and some people outside take that one should seek to assimilate pre-scheme cases with cases which have arisen under the scheme. I believe that if one were to adopt that as a general principle, one would almost certainly inhibit and handicap social progress in general. On the other hand, I am sure that one cannot ignore completely, where big improvements have been made, as they have been in respect of industrial injuries, the fact that those who had their accident before the Industrial Injuries Scheme came into effect do not receive as much by way of benefit as those who had their accident after the scheme came into being. It is, I think, a question of degree and, as I have often said to the House, of judgment as to what one should do about it.
There is one justification for some measure of action, and it is this. I think I can say without a shadow of doubt that if the Industrial Injuries Scheme had not been passed through Parliament in 1946 there would have been since 1943 some improvement in the rates payable under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. I think it is inconceivable that Parliament would 1182 not have made some change over that period. Certainly I myself accepted that argument in 1956 when I had the honour of moving the Measure under which a supplement of 17s. 6d. was paid out of the Industrial Injuries Fund to the totally disabled workmen's compensation old cases.
This Measure follows that precedent in respect of old cases and also opens up new aspects of the matter. It provides on this occasion a further supplement of 15s. on top of the 17s. 6d. in respect of those totally disabled, so that the total supplement paid from the Industrial Injuries Fund will be 32s. 6d.
The House will remember from our previous discussions—and I do not need to stress this—that the great majority of the men concerned also benefit and have, in fact, benefited from the improvements in the rates of National Insurance benefit—sickness benefit, unemployment benefit or retirement pension —which equally have taken place over the period.
As I have said, in scope this Measure proposes to go further and to do some-ting in respect of the partials under the old workmen's compensation scheme where they are on the maximum rate— that is to say, where they come up against the two-thirds rule under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. The proposal here is to pay a supplement of 10s.
It is proposed also to deal with the partials under the special schemes. Without wishing to weary the House, hon. Members will remember that those special schemes mainly deal with those who, in fact, contracted their disability—in large measure it is pneumoconiosis—before the Industrial Injuries Act came into operation but who were time-barred under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. It is proposed—and this follows closely the proportionate precedent of earlier steps—to provide an increase in their supplement of 7s. 6d.
The House will want to know how all that works out. As to the old cases, the totals, so far as we can see, who would be affected by this further increase are some 6,600 in number and the cost to the Industrial Injuries Scheme £260,000 a 1183 year. The partials number altogether, if I may for this purpose lump in together the pre-1924 and post-1923 classes, about 6,500; and the special schemes' partials 6,200. The cost respectively of those two categories of partials is £170,000 and £120,000.
The provision for the totals builds on the existing structure of the Act of 1956. I hope, therefore, to be able to get the further increase into payment within a matter of two or three weeks from the Bill receiving Royal Assent. In respect of the partials, I am afraid there will have to be some administrative work, including the provision of new schemes, and I shall have to ask the House to approve affirmative Resolutions in respect of those schemes after the Royal Assent. Therefore, the partials, I am afraid, will not get their improvement until a matter of months from the Royal Assent, but I shall naturally—and so will my Department—seek to deal with this as speedily as possible.
The only other point that I want to refer to now is this. As the House will see, in Clause 3 (2) it is proposed to raise the limit of earnings which are consistent with entitlement to unemployability supplement from the present figure of £52 a year to £104 a year. That follows a change made a little time ago in respect of war pensions, and it follows also an undertaking which I gave across the Floor of the House to try to deal with this as soon as legislation proved to be possible.
What I should like to do, in line with what I said a minute or two ago, is to touch briefly on a number of points in the Bill, reserving for rather fuller treatment the provisions of Clauses 5 and 8. May I touch quickly on some of the, I will not say smaller provisions, because a good many of them matter considerably to many of our fellow citizens, but on what I might perhaps describe as the less difficult provisions.
Clause 2, which is in the industrial injuries part of the Bill, Part I, seeks to deal with the problem which has arisen as to the cover given by the Industrial Injuries Act in respect of what are called common risks. As the House knows, the Industrial Injuries Act, following old 1184 workmen's compensation legislation, uses the well-hallowed words,arising out of and in the course ofa man's employment. The difficulty which has arisen is that a number of accidents have been found by the statutory authorities to be in the course of a man's employment but not to arise out of it. The House will remember, because I think it was raised on the Floor of the House, that there was, for example, the case of the bus conductor who had the misfortune to be set upon by a gang of teddy-boys, and the statutory authorities found that, though it was clearly in the course of his employment, it was a risk common to anybody who might be in that street and, therefore, did not arise out of his employment.
There have also been a limited number of cases where the injury has been caused by animals. There is at least one leading case where injury was caused by lightning. What we are seeking to do in the Clause is to provide that where the injury was suffered in the course of the employment and caused by the various causes listed—assault, animals, lightning and so on—the cover of the Act shall apply if the injured person did not himself contribute to its happening by an action not incidental to his employment.
The kind of occurrence which we would seek, I think rightly, to exclude in those circumstances would be, for example, the case of an assault occasioned by something in the man's private life and having nothing to do with his employment. The mere fact that the assault took place while he was on the job would not of itself entitle him to the cover of the legislation.
I hope that this change in the law will enable us in the future to deal with the kind of case about which I know that the trade union movement in particular has been concerned.
Clause 3 (1) also deals with another matter on which representations have been made to me by the trade union movement. It seeks to take into account, for the purposes of the special hardship allowance which, as the House knows, is an allowance paid to an injured man in respect of loss of earnings resulting from the injury—rather in contrast with the main loss of faculty 1185 basis of the scheme—the normal prospects of advancement which the man had in his occupation. I hope that this again will help to deal with a certain number of cases which have given rise to understandable unhappiness. On this part of the Bill I should like to say how much I am indebted to the T.U.C. for the advice it has given and the views it has been good enough to express to me in the course of discussions.
The only other industrial injury provision—this was not a subject matter of that discussion—that I wish to mention is that in subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 4 in respect of the widow receiving an industrial injury pension who cohabits with another man. The Clause proposes to alter the provision under which such a widow, if she cohabits with another man, loses her pension for life, and to provide that the pension may be restored when the cohabitation ceases. That will have the advantage of putting the widow in receipt of an industrial injury pension on the same basis in this respect as the widow in receipt of a National Insurance pension, and I am sure that it is in accordance with up-to-date social thinking on the matter. It follows again a somewhat similar change recently made in the war pension provisions.
Clause 6 deals with the extension of guardian's allowance. The House will remember that the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) raised a particular case, I think last year. It was a very curious one and perhaps the House will permit me to recall the circumstances. It was the case of some children who were being looked after by their grandparents as the result of the murder of their mother by their father. As the law stood, if the man had been hanged, the guardian's allowance would have been payable to the grandparents in respect of those children. But as he was sentenced to imprisonment for life, under the law as it stood I was advised that it was not possible to pay a guardian's allowance. The Clause proposes to give power by regulation to deal with the class of case where both parents are not dead but where one of them is dead and the other, for all that he could do for the children—because he is serving a long term of imprisonment—is as good, 1186 or as bad, as dead. I hope that that class of case, which I am glad to say is extremely rare, will be dealt with by the regulations which we are prepared to make if the House permits.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making this change in the law and for notifying me personally that he had met the difficulties of my constituent, which are still very real, and therefore my constituent is very happy about this change. May I ask whether the Clause is limited merely to those cases where a person is serving a life sentence, or would it be possible under the regulations to make this happen in any case where one parent is in prison and is not able to be operative as a parent to the child?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am speaking now of regulations which can be made only if the House approves the Clause. There would be power to prescribe the length of sentence which would enable a guardian's allowance to be paid. It certainly would not be limited to cases of life imprisonment. On the other hand, I do not think that it would make sense— it certainly would not make administrative sense—if it were applied in the case of a sentence of a few months. The precise period which would be prescribed has not yet been decided upon and the views of the House on this matter in due course would be helpful.
In view of the kind things the hon. Lady said, I ought to make clear that the effect of regulations such as are contemplated would not be retrospective. Benefit would become payable in a current case provided the condition continued, but payment would not be retrospective. I say that in order to prevent any misunderstanding.
Provision is made in Clause 7 (3) to increase the figure for what is called small income exemption. Self-employed persons or non-employed persons on a very small income are and can be exempted, if they apply, from the payment of National Insurance contributions. The present figure is £156 a year and the Bill proposes to put it up to £208. The same Clause deals with the related matter of what are called low wage earners. Because their wages are low, a larger proportion of their total contribution is paid by their employers. It is proposed 1187 to raise the limit of remuneration from 60s. to 80s a week.
Clause 9 effects in substance a change of language. I have had representations from my hon. Friends, and from hon. Members opposite on the provisions in the present law in respect of the recovery of benefits overpaid. Under the present law the test which the statutory authorities have to apply is whether the recipient of the benefit overpaid acted "in good faith in all respects as to the obtaining and receipt of the benefit." In cases where people have been careless or a bit hopeful and taken the benefit, they understandably resent a finding that they have not acted in good faith, which carries with it perhaps more than a suggestion of fraudulent behaviour. Though I think that in substance the law is sound and I am endeavouring as near as may be to maintain it, I do not think it right in a social security scheme to cause unnecessary offence to people who have never had a fraudulent intent. Therefore, the new formulahas throughout used due care and diligence to avoid overpaymentis proposed in Clause 9 in substitution for the good faith provision.
I do not propose to trouble the House with the latter part of the Bill which deals with the simplification of procedure as regards the making of regulations, the obtaining of the authority of the House for various small payments and other matters which are more suitable for discussion in Committee.
I should like to take the discussion to Clause 8, relating to family allowances. It has two parts. Paragraph (a) completes the provision in respect of incapacitated children. The House may remember that the Act of 1956 extended the family allowance in respect of an incapacitated child up to the age of 16 if the child had never been to school, or, because of its incapacity, had had to leave school before 15. The choice of the age of 16 is based on the fact that at 16 a child becomes eligible to apply for National Assistance in his or her own right and the scale rate payable— it is in fact 32s.—is much more advantageous than the family allowance. But under 16 there has been a gap in the case of the child who was able to attend school—perhaps one of the many special 1188 schools which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education is developing— but was unable to look after himself or to earn or work when he left school, or even perhaps, as the result, say, of poliomyelitis, was stricken down after leaving school but before the age of 16. Paragraph (a) of the Clause proposes to close that gap by enabling such incapacitated children to qualify their families for family allowance up to the age of 16.
The other provision in the Clause relates to the position of apprentices under the Family Allowances Scheme and in particular to the earnings qualification under the Family Allowances Act, 1945.
Perhaps I ought to remind the House of the history of this matter. The 1945 Act provided family allowances for all children up to the age of 15 and for children remaining at school and for apprentices until 31st July in the year following their sixteenth birthday. The 1956 Act raised the age in respect of school children and apprentices to that of 18 years, but I think that it is important that we should have in mind that both school children and apprentices are, in a sense, exceptions to the general basic provision of the Family Allowances Scheme, which covers all children, except the first, up to the age of 15.
It is material for the House to consider the purpose of the Family Allowances Scheme. The earliest reference to it which I can find is in the then Chancellor of the Exchequer's White Paper of 1942—Cmd. 6354—outlining the scheme. That White Paper states:In principle an allowance should be payable in respect of a child as long and only as long as he is dependent on his parents.This point was stressed and repeated when we discussed the 1945 Bill. It was said in another place by my noble Friend now the Earl of Woolton thatThe object of the Bill is to provide a measure of cash assistance from public funds so that the burden of rearing the next generation may not be too heavy for the individual parents and may be shared by the whole community."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords,13th June, 1945; Vol. 136, c. 568.]The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), whom I am glad to see present, said:We regard it"—1189 that is, the family allowance—as a contribution to meet particularly that kind of poverty which is related to the pressure of circumstances upon families where there are a number of dependent children still at school."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1945; Vol. 408, c. 2284.]In other words, the whole purpose is to deal with the child who is dependent on his parents.
Section 23 of the Act, which prescribes the conditions, has been subject to construction by the statutory authorities from time to time. There are, of course, two conditions. The first condition, which is not affected by this Clause, defines an apprentice asa person undergoing full-time training for any trade, business, profession, office, employment or vocation",and the second condition, which this Clause does affect, is that he isnot in receipt of earnings which provide him, wholly or substantially, with a livelihood.It is the latter words which have been subject to construction, and a Tribunal of Commissioners last year construed them as meaning that family allowances should still be payable under them to boys of 17 whose earnings did not exceed 89s. 6d. and to boys a little younger whose earnings were a few shillings less. It is perhaps material that the grounds of that decision of the Commissioners indicate that as apprentices' earnings rise—they have certainly risen a great deal in recent years—under that construction of the Section the figure would tend to rise further.
As I understand, it was never the purpose of the Family Allowances Scheme to subsidise earnings. The quotations which I have made indicate 'that the intention was to help families with dependent children. As dependency is the test, we have gone to what is in another context the test of dependency. Under the National Insurance Scheme, if a man seeks to claim an increase of National Insurance benefit in respect of a dependent wife he can do so only if her earnings do not exceed 40s. a week. The Bill proposes to incorporate that test of dependency in the earnings test in respect of apprentices. To qualify, the apprentice will still have to fulfil the condition about full-time training. But his or her—of course, girls also come into this—earnings must not exceed 40s. per week.
1190 It is interesting to note—the hon. Member for Sowerby particularly will notice this—that it brings the dependency provisions of the Family Allowances Act very closely into line with those adopted by the Inland Revenue, since the qualification for a child allowance for Income Tax purposes depends, among other things, on the child not earning more than £100 a year. This does not indicate any lack of determination on the part of the Government to secure the full and proper development of apprenticeship, but we take the line that the Family Allowances Scheme is not the proper and appropriate method of dealing with that issue. It is simply not the function of the Family Allowances Scheme. And when one considers the amounts involved in respect of family allowance, they are not likely to have any very great significance in any individual decision.
The effect of this proposal will be to reduce by about 50,000 to a total of about 20,000 the number of apprentices qualifying for family allowance, and to effect an economy on the family allowance Vote of my Department of about £1¼ million in a full year. I stress that this saving is achieved, in the view of the Government, without touching the income of families whose children are unable to make a contribution to the family income and thereby, in our judgment, follows in full the original intention of the Family Allowances Act to make provision for dependent children.
As I have said, the Government in general and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour in particular attach the greatest importance to encouraging apprenticeship, but in dealing with family allowances we must consider in what circumstances it is right to distinguish apprentices from other young employed persons for the purposes of the scheme. Under the scheme, allowances are not paid for an only child, or for the first child of the family. The object is to give help to families with dependent children. What we have to do is to identify those cases where, because a child is an apprentice, his earnings are low and he continues, as a result of that, to be dependent on his parents. This was, of course, the original object of the scheme.
1191 I wish to say a word or two about the somewhat complicated, as they appear at first sight, provisions of Clause 5 concerning increments earned by married women. We have discussed this issue at length, and no one has been more pertinacious in it than the hon. Member for Sowerby. He spent a good deal of time on it—I make no complaint about it —in our discussions on the Act of 1959.
It was as a result of our discussions in the course of those proceedings that I undertook to make the reference, which I subsequently implemented, to the National Insurance Advisory Committee about the whole of this tangled and complex question. The Committee's Report is available, and I am sure that hon. Members have seen it. The House may remember that last summer I informed hon. Members, in reply to a Question, that the Government accepted their recommendation. No doubt we shall have the opportunity later to discuss the provision in detail, so I will not weary the House with it now. As I understand it, the Clause follows completely the recommendation which the National Insurance Advisory Committee made after several meetings and after hearing a good deal of evidence.
If I may simplify at the risk of over simplification, what it does is this. It continues the present position in respect of wives. A wife cannot have increments earned for her by the deferment of her husband's retirement during a period while she is under 60 years of ago. If, however, she becomes a widow, she will receive half her husband's increments, which will cover, of course, also any period when she was under 60. The ultimate cost of this provision to the National Insurance Fund when the whole thing has worked through will be about £2 million a year.
I need only commend to the House the conclusions of the Advisory Committee that, while it was an extremely difficult matter, this appeared to iron out as well as possible some of the inequalities which had given rise to considerable apprehension and controversy. It also has the great practical advantage that the position of the widow inheriting half her late husband's increments ties up precisely with the analogous position made under the 1959 Act in respect of increments of graduated pension.
1192 I apologise to the House and to any hon. Member for those points of the Bill which, out of, I hope, deference to the House, I have not touched upon at this stage. One had to make some selection if one was to indulge in any reasonable measure of brevity. I commend this Measure to the House, however, not as one of the great changes like the 1959 Act, but as an attempt to deal with a number of difficulties which have appeared to us to come into being in the workings of the scheme. Although its provisions may seem comparatively small against the vast scale of our social security schemes in general, when taken out of the shadow of that comparison they are quite substantial in themselves and have considereble importance to quite considerable sections of our fellow countrymen.
I often think that with the sheer scale of our National Insurance operations— we are expecting to pay out this year in National Insurance benefits alone something in excess of £1,100 million— any changes in the scheme appear small in comparison. If considered in isolation, however, they would not appear to be so small. The best analogy, perhaps, is that a substantially-sized cargo ship looks comparatively small when moored alongside the "Queen Elizabeth", but when met on her own in the open sea is quite large.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
One thing that the House can always say about the Minister is that he is a master of his subject and can explain complicated matters lucidly and courteously. We are grateful to him once more for having done this on the Bill which is now before us.
The Minister said that National Insurance and kindred Bills divide themselves into three categories: first, Bills containing major reform of the structure of social security; secondly, Bills providing for general improvements in the level of benefits; and, thirdly, Bills containing a number of changes and modifications which experience of the working of the scheme, a changing social climate or judicial decisions make desirable.
The present Bill, the Minister told us, falls in the third category. We must regard it, therefore, as one of the right 1193 hon. Gentleman's minor triumphs. It spreads jam thinly here and there, which is welcome, but when we come to Clause 8 we find a somewhat bitter pill. By monkeying about with the National Insurance Commissioners' recent interpretation of the Family Allowances Act as regards earnings of apprentices, the right hon. Gentleman will save more money by Clause 8 than he will pay out in all the concessions under the Bill. On that ground alone, by taking back more than he will pay out in concessions under the Bill, we should be justified in voting against it. There are, however, benefits in the Bill which we should not wish to obstruct, still less to imperil, so we shall not divide the House tonight.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am sure that the hon. Member would not wish to give a false impression. Although what he has said is true if one takes the next financial year, it is not true in the long run, in view of the steady build-up of expenditure which I described of up to £2 million as a result of Clause 5.
§ Mr. Houghton
A very long run indeed. It is, perhaps, doubtful whether, in comparing savings and cost, one can compare savings in one year with cost over forty years.
Before we go any further, however, I want to ask the Minister a question. Is this the only Bill on social security matters in contemplation in this Session of Parliament? Is this all that we are to get? That is important for us to know. The Minister might care to tell us whether this is likely to be the only Bill bringing improvements in National Insurance and social security in the current Session. Would he care to answer now? Apparently not. I take his silence as confirming our impression on this side of the House that this Bill is all that the Government have in contemplation to bring about favourable changes in the scheme of social security.
If that deduction is correct, it is a very disappointing position. It reveals still further the inadequacy of the Measure that is before us. There is nothing in the Bill about general levels of benefits under the National Insurance and Insurance Injuries Scheme. This time last year, we were considering a substantial Bill, one which comes within the second category 1194 mentioned by the Minister in the earlier part of his speech. Those improvements came into operation last April. Since then, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put up prices by his "little Budget" and, while there is a pay pause or a partial pay pause now in operation, there are signs that it will be relaxed, if not completely ended, in the spring.
What, then, will happen to the pensions pause? If we are to do anything for National Insurance beneficiaries next spring, at a time when higher incomes may be given to the great mass of wage earners, we ought to be dealing with it now, because experience shows that the Minister requires, quite naturally, a reasonable period to carry out the administration of substantial changes in the level of benefits. I wish to put on record, therefore, at this stage the profound disappointment of my right hon. and hon. Friends that we have no encouragement to hope that there will be bigger and better improvements to come during this financial year.
Now for the Bill. Naturally, we welcome what is good in it. We welcome almost everything in it except the "fiddle" in the middle. That is a substantial one, as I shall seek to show. First, I come to Clause 1 and workmen's compensation old cases. This Clause makes a welcome though relatively small improvement in the supplementation of these old cases. These cases belong to the past—the obsolete past—and I think that many of my hon. Friends, and probably many hon. Members opposite, wonder why we continue to tinker with them in this way. Why cannot the Minister put his arms around these surviving industrial casualties of thirteen, or fourteen, or fifteen, or twenty years ago and lift them bodily into the Industrial Injuries Scheme?
We know that there are difficulties— there always are. None the less, I believe that, if the Minister were to say, as the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) is reputed to have said on more than one occasion, "This shall be done; I do not want to hear about your difficulties," I am quite sure that it could be done. The main difficulty, probably, is that to transfer these old cases wholly to the Industrial Injuries Fund would relieve some 1195 employers or their insurance companies of continuing liabilities under the Workmen's Compensation Acts.
On what terms could that be done? My reply is that the interests of these few thousand totally and partially disabled people should come first. They are the people we must take care of. If the right hon. Gentleman is hesitating about relieving existing employers or insurance companies of continuing obligations, I say to him that he is getting far more free service from the employers on the graduated pension scheme than he would have to concede if he were to take over these cases.
At the very least, we think that what the Minister should be doing about these cases is to make up fully the difference between what these disabled persons are getting under the old Workmen's Compensation Scheme and the corresponding benefits under the Industrial Injuries Scheme. There are 6,500 totally disabled men who will still be getting less than the 100 per cent, disablement pension even after the additional 15s. a week has been added by Clause 1. The difference in the case of a single person will be 15s a week, and in the case of a married man it will, I believe, be 20s. a week. Thus, the proposed increase of 15s., welcome as it is, should really be doubled if parity is to be given between the old cases and the corresponding benefits under the Industrial Injuries Scheme.
There was, for a short time after supplementation, parity between the old cases and the industrial injuries 100 per cent. disability pension, but the industrial injuries benefits were increased twice after that. This has established a substantial gap between what the old cases get and what is given for 100 per cent. disablement under the Industrial Injuries Scheme.
We shall go into Clause 1 very closely indeed. I submit that this legacy of the past in its present unsatisfactory condition is a reproach to the House. Even when we pass Clause 1 it will leave these totally disabled persons on a maximum weekly compensation of 82s. 6d., in contrast with the 97s. 6d. for 100 per cent. disabled persons under the Industrial Injuries Scheme.
1196 We welcome the improvement given in the case of partially disabled persons, but, there again, we shall wish to scrutinise the comparison between the old cases and corresponding benefits under the present scheme. Our verdict on Clause 1 is that it provides welcome improvements, though somewhat belated and certainly inadequate, and they shall receive attention during the Committee stage.
I turn now to Clause 2. Although this will not, we hope, affect a great many people, those to whom the extended definition of industrial injuries is to apply will benefit very substantially indeed from it. The Trades Union Congress has, as the right hon. Gentleman said, made representation to him on the case of the bus conductor who was set upon and very badly injured in the course of his duty and the decision of the appropriate authorities that, while the injury arose in the course of his employment, it did not arise out of his employment. Hon. Members who may wish to study the matter in greater detail, and the wider range of considerations involved, will find a very interesting memorandum on this subject beginning on page 142 of the Report of the Trades Union Congress for 1960.
We are not entirely satisfied that the Clause is free from weakness. We are not by any means certain about cover for workers who may be injured during breaks in their daily hours of work— for luncheon or other purposes. As we understand, a worker who goes to the works canteen will be covered by this Clause, for he will still be on his employers' premises and may sustain an accident in the course of his work by being there, even though it does not arise directly out of his employment.
But what about the worker who goes across the road to a tea shop and is injured on the way there? Will he be covered by this Clause, or will it cover him only where no suitable canteen arrangements are provided by the employer? These are difficult points which we shall wish to go into more closely when we examine the Clause in Committee.
We want the Clause to be as comprehensive in its cover as is reasonable. There will be other cases where workers are sent away from their employers' 1197 headquarters to do work outside. Will they be covered during a luncheon break on a building site or somewhere else? Will that be in the course of their employment, or will that meal break put them outside the cover of the Clause?
There are some specific accident risks mentioned in the Clause which will cover particular though rare cases—the Minister has mentioned a man being struck by lightning while on his employers' premises. The House will notice that the Clause provides for the misbehaviour of insects, birds, and even fish. I do not know whether that means that up to now a deep-sea diver has been outside the provisions of the industrial Injuries Scheme if bitten by a shark, but we shall, no doubt, have further information about exactly what this Clause will do.
Not ignoring some of the important improvements in between, I come now to Clause 5. The Minister has referred to the fact that I have been very persistent in seeking a measure of reform in the treatment of younger wives. I ought, I think, to declare my interest. I have a wife in this position, though I must say that I have not been motivated entirely by that in my desire to bring about this change. I have always been active in movements affecting the position of women, in equality in pay, in civil liberty, the removal of legal handicaps, and the rest, and I do not like to see wives under 60 or widows under 60 shabbily treated by the National Insurance Scheme.
In Committee on the 1959 Bill we raised the matter. I made a rather passionate speech in support of it. I may even have been rude to the then Joint Parliamentary Secretary, now the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. However, at least the Minister acknowledged the strength of the case, and promised that the matter should go to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, and we have its Report before us.
Naturally, I was disappointed at the conclusion the Committee reached in paragraph 29 of its Report. It said, as regards the younger wives:Our conclusion, therefore, was that, notwithstanding our recognition of the sense of unfairness in the present position, it was not practicable within the framework of the 1198 existing pensions provisions to solve the problem by abolishing the age limit for the increments of wives and widows.But it did go on to find a partial solution to the handicap under which the young widow suffered, or the widow who would otherwise have been disqualified from inheriting some part of her husband's increment for postponed retirement because she was under 60 at some period during his deferred retirement. For that proposal, I am bound to say, we on these benches are grateful.
The Minister has fully explained what the Advisory Committee proposes to do, and he said that he hoped and believed that Clause 5 of the Bill carried out its recommendations. I am sure he will not mind if we pursue this matter a little further in Committee. It is significant that the three organisations, and individuals, and including the Trades Union Congress, who made representations to the National Insurance Advisory Committee were all in favour of wanting to remove this anomaly, and I think that we have to be very satisfied indeed, at the stage of legislation, that the difficulties and complexities in the way of removing this anomaly are insuperable.
Now I come to Clause 8 and that part of it which changes, or proposes to change, the definition of apprentices for the purposes of the Family Allowances Act. The Minister has told us that in the White Paper in 1942 a description was given of the purposes of the Family Allowances Scheme, and what Ministers have said since. I am going to submit to the House that it is not what the White Paper of 1942 said and not even what the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day said and not even—with great respect—what my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said. I am concerned with what the Act said. That carried out, surely, the intentions of Parliament.
What the Act said was that a boy —or girl, for that matter—should be regarded as an apprentice provided that he isnot in receipt of earnings which provide him, wholly or substantially, with a livelihood."Livelihood' is the word. Livelihood. "Wholly or substantially with a livelihood." Not pocket money; not money for lollipops, or ice-cream, or the pictures, or for bingo; a livelihood. We 1199 have to consider whether we are justified now in changing the intentions of Parliament in 1945.
Now we know that what has troubled the Minister is the decision of the Commissioner last year as to what is meant by the definition in the Act. He said, taking the definition which I have just quoted and repeated, that in present conditions an apprentice under 16 earning less than £4 4s. 6d. a week was not in receipt of earnings which provided him wholly or substantially with a livelihood. For the apprentice between 16 and 17, he said, the limit was £4 7s.; for an apprentice between 17 and 18, the Commissioner said, the limit would be £4 9s. 6d. Those were the limits at the several ages which the Commissioner put on the definition of the 1945 Act.
Now, quite naturally, that ruling embarrassed the Minister more than somewhat. Not only did it take the definition of apprentice further than he wanted to go; it gave the old-age pensioners a most effective stick with which to beat the Minister on the inadequacy of the retirement pension. If, they said, £4 9s. 6d. is not wholly or substantially a livelihood for a young apprentice what is 50s. for a retirement pensioner, and what is £4 12s. 6d. for a married couple? The associations of old-age pensioners were not slow to use the Commissioner's decision in their representations to hon. Members of this House.
So Clause 8 of this Bill has a double purpose, to overturn the Commissioner's decision for what it does to the Family Allowances Scheme, and also to remove the scornful comparison between apprentices and old people of which the associations of old-age pensioners have been making the most of.
This offending ruling by the Commissioner was made in the summer of last year. What was the position before that? Between 1956 and 1960 the decision of the referees on family allowances had put the limit of earnings at 55s.: Decision 121. So that since 1956 at least the limit of earnings has been higher than the Minister now proposes to write into the Bill. One could understand, even if one did not agree with the Minister, if he were to say that the 1960 decision went too far and that he must restore the previous amount which 1200 had applied for four years prior to 1960, but to put in the Bill a figure which has not been relevant to this decision for years past is surely objectionable. Before the Commissioner had a go at this question in the summer of last year a local tribunal had registered a view upon it, and it wrote up the amount of 55s. to 67s. 6d., on the ground, it said, of the increased cost of living. The Commissioner put it up still further.
The question here goes very much wider than the narrow issue of whether 40s., or 55s., or 60s., or 70s., or 80s. shall be the limit. What this proposal in Clause 8 will now do is strike a blow at apprenticeship generally. Over £1 million a year is now to be taken away from the parents of apprentices who will fall outside the scope of family allowances under Clause 8. That will "l'arnem" to make their boys apprentices! These few shillings a week of family allowances which mothers and parents of many apprentices are getting enable them to take a little more for the housekeeping than they could feel justified in doing if they had to ask their apprentice sons to make their full contribution to running their homes.
This is a mean thing to do. It is an objectionable thing to do, when we in this House have had a whole day of debate on apprenticeship, the encouragement we want to give to young people to acquire skill in their vocations. We know that the country is desperately short of talent. It needs to encourage people to acquire it, and we all know the problem of encouraging young people to become apprentices, which means study and very often evening classes and getting half the money of boys of their own age who do unskilled jobs in industry.
They are the boys who grumble about the disabilities of apprenticeship, and that is reflected in the attitude of parents. These family allowances gave the mother 8s. to 10s. a week which she did not have to argue about with her son. This is an encouragement which, apparently, is now to be taken away. I must warn the Minister that he will have a rough time on Clause 8 in Committee.
I want to refer to one or two matters which we on this side of the House think the Minister might have brought into a miscellaneous Bill of this kind. 1201 As he has said, the Bill deals with matters which, in the course of experience, have been shown to be in need of some change. The first is the unemployment benefit for a five-day working week. That is still in an awful mess despite the Minister's attempt in the 1957 Act to remove what he considered to be the possibility of abuse of unemployment benefit in these cases. At this very moment day and night workers in the car industry are being treated differently for unemployment benefit because of the "two-days-in-six" rule under Section 11 of the National Insurance Act, 1946.
There is also growing dissatisfaction with the working of the 1957 Act. The Minister knows that the T.U.C. has been to see him more than once on this subject. He knows also that while he introduced the 1957 Act at a time when he was dealing particularly with short-time working in the car industry, many more workers on a five-day week have realised since then the effect of the 1957 Act on their unemployment benefit whenever they have been employed on short time.
Another thing that I would like to see in the Bill is the removal of the quite unjustified anomaly in these days of paying married women lower unemployment and sickness benefit than single women. I see no reason for continuing this discrimination. Whatever it was based on, it was a reproach to married women. Surely we should have got over that by now. It was assumed, I suppose, that one could not be sure whether a married woman was sick or unemployed. She might be doing the spring cleaning. But the country depends today on married women, and where they opt to go into the scheme I see no reason why we should stigmatise them or discriminate against them.
I make no apology for raising another matter. I feel passionately that it is a scandal that the non-contributory pensioner should have had no improvement either in the conditions of the means test or the amount of the pension for thirteen years. To be continuing for the non-contributory pensioner the 1946 level of benefits, subject only to the concession made at the time of the withdrawal of the tobacco concession, is manifestly unfair. We on this side of the House have men- 1202 tioned this before and the Minister has defended leaving these people out. The numbers are falling, but that is perhaps an added reason for dealing fairly if not generously with them now.
We on this side of the House still feel dissatisfied with the treatment of the 10s. widow. I know that the Minister will say that he has heard it all before. He has, and he will hear it again. When there are grievances there is only one way of dealing with them, and that is to keep on talking about them until one day something is done. I would say to the new Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, whom we welcome on the Front Bench today and whom we shall welcome still more when she takes part in the debate, that she must not fall for the guile of her advisers when replying to questioners about the 10s. widow.
On 6th November the hon. Lady replied in a Written Answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd), who had askedhow many widows are now drawing pensions at the 10s. rate; and what it would cost to put them on the same basis as other widows.How the hon. Lady's advisers must have chuckled over that one.
The reply was:About 90,000 widows are receiving the 10s. widow's pension as a reserved right under the old scheme. The circumstances of age or family under which all these ladies were widowed are those under which widows whose rights depend on the National Insurance scheme receive no pension at all. To put these widows on the same basis as other widows identically circumstanced would consequently result in a saving of the whole cost of their pensions. This amounts to about £3 million."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1961; Vol. 648, c. 16.]The hon. Lady knew that that was not the point of that Question and that what we are after here is the restoration of the purchasing power of a reserved right. It may be said that that was not the question, but neither was this the answer to that question. The House should not be content to see a reserved benefit under the old scheme reduced to the value of a postage stamp by erosion. I hope that it will be possible to give further attention to this matter in Committee.
Despite a very careful reply that the Minister gave recently, some of my hon. Friends are still not satisfied on the position under the Industrial Injuries Scheme 1203 of workers going abroad. We may wish to look at that again, and my hon. Friends may have other omissions from this miscellaneous Bill which they will wish to raise.
We give the Bill a welcome for what it does to help, but, by its very nature, we cannot give an unqualified welcome to the whole of it. Above all, if this is the sum total of what the Government will do for millions of poor, aged, sick and disabled people in Britain this Session, it makes us all the more determined to keep the matter before public and Parliament in the hope that there will be a greater realisation in the country and on the benches opposite of the social obligations of a so-called affluent society.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord Balniel (Hertford)
I begin by apologising to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance that it was not possible for me to be present during the earlier part of his speech. In following in the debate the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), I will not be tempted to follow him in his disquisition on aspects of social insurance which are not contained in the Bill. I should like to confine myself to the points contained in the Bill and, like the hon. Member, I echo the general welcome which he has given, admittedly with reservations, to the Bill.
It is true that this is not a Bill which will hit the headlines. It is not a Bill that contains any new dramatic enunciation of social ideals. It is to some extent a Bill which even one or two of our colleagues in the House will find difficult to follow beyond the Explanatory Memorandum. It is a difficult Bill to follow and to speak upon unless one brings to the debate the knowledge which the hon. Member for Sowerby brings after many years of experience in this field.
Whilst the Bill is of limited significance, it is a Bill which adds to the sum of human happiness. So far as money compensation can add to happiness, it adds to the happiness of sections of the community, such as widows, those who have been afflicted by industrial disease, and those who have suffered industrial accidents, who are more deserving of 1204 our sympathy and help than any other section. There is a small personal reason for welcoming the Bill. I think that this is the first amendment to the first major Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend when he took over the office of Minister of Pensions and National Insurance as long ago as 1956. It must be welcome to him to be able to amend his first child in this more generous way.
Like the hon. Member for Sowerby, I give a particular welcome to the additional help which the Bill proposes to give to the supplements for certain totally and partially disabled people whose accidents occurred, or whose diseases were incurred, before 1948, and who consequently have not benefited from the Industrial Injuries Act which was introduced in that year. I presume that the majority of these people are in fact persons who are connected with the coal mining industry and, of course, to them in particular we are glad to give what assistance lies within our power.
The Bill proposes an increase by 15s. in the supplement which is to be paid to the 6,600 totally disabled persons, bringing up the total payment to such persons to a level of 72s. 6d. The Bill also proposes an increase of 10s. in the supplement to those who are partially disabled. I, in common with other hon. Members, welcome this because it is generally agreed, to use the jargon of people expert in the field of pensions, that these "old cases" have in fact suffered a relative hardship when compared with those whose compensation is paid out of the Industrial Injuries Act.
I should like to comment on a point made by the hon. Member for Sowerby who says that we should lift the numbers being compensated out of the Workmen's Compensation Act and incorporate them in the Industrial Injuries Act. He brings immense knowledge to this, but I think that I am right in saying that there must be certain people who obtain greater benefits under the Workmen's Compensation Act than they would if brought within the Industrial Injuries Act, and also that there are certain people who are getting compensation for some injuries which are not covered by the Industrial Injuries Act. I quite accept his desire to incorporate the two, but those are very real difficulties indeed.
1205 There is one point about which I should like to ask my right hon. Friend —and I apologise if he mentioned this in his speech during my absence. My right hon. Friend is proposing in the Bill to increase the supplement for the totally disabled by 15s. I should like to ask him whether in fact this is a compensation for the increased cost of living or, as I suspect, a real increase in the benefits that are being paid out, and how much of it is offset by the increased cost of living.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The great bulk of this is an actual improvement. The other is only a comparatively small proportion—I can, if necessary, give my noble Friend the exact figure, because I have worked it out—but the great bulk of it is an advance in standards.
§ Lord Balniel
It is kind of my right hon. Friend to give me this information. The second point in connection with this follows on the remarks made by the hon. Member for Sowerby about Clause 2. Under Clause 2 we are legislating for the purposes of the National Insurance Industrial Injuries Acts, 1946 to 1960, that an accident shall be construed as arising out of a person's employment— that is as being brought within the Industrial Injuries Acts—if the accident arises in the course of the employment and is caused by another person's misconduct or negligence.
I suspect that in introducing this Clause my right hon. Friend is doing not much more than giving legislative sanction to what is an existing practice when claims are brought before the tribunal. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] He is proposing adding to it, but in practice most of such claims come within the existing law. The point that I wanted to make was: are we really being very wise in extending this definition too far? Is it wise to bring within the Industrial Injuries Acts claims for injuries which in fact have nothing whatever to do with the industry in which the man is involved? For instance, is it not more appropriate that the kind of case mentioned by the hon. Member for Sowerby of the man who, during a tea break, decides to go off for a cup of tea in a local restaurant and who happens to be hurt in a road accident, or some similar accident, should be dealt with by the 1206 ordinary common risks law and not by this particular Industrial Injuries Act? This is only a small point, and I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend, in introducing this legislation, has given great thought to it.
I turn to Clause 5, the additional help which is being given to widows. The emphasis in National Insurance legislation in recent years has been placed upon the particular difficulties which face widows and, in particular, those widows who have children. I think that it has given very general pleasure to both sides of the House that my right hon. Friend has been able to give preferential treatment to the widows in virtually every piece of legislation he has introduced. This clearly meets the social needs of today and is, I am sure, the right preference which he should give.
For instance, my right hon. Friend, when increasing the widow's pension standard rate to 57s. 6d., has given to the widows a larger proportionate increase in cash terms than in any other section of the National Insurance Scheme. He has also relaxed the earnings rule for widows to a greater degree than for other sections of the community. He has also given greater provision for the children of widowed mothers. I think that I am right in saying that the provision for children of widowed mothers has, since 1951, in real terms, not in cash terms, increased 90 per cent. for the first child, 153 per cent. for the second and 174 per cent. for subsequent children. It is very pleasing that now there is to be a further opportunity of giving additional help to widows my right hon. Friend has taken it.
I do not think any of us can do anything except welcome the proposal whereby wives under 60 whose husbands have deferred their retirement and who are paying increments shall on widowhood obtain pension increments on the husband's insurance to the value of 6d. for every twelve contributions. This will be very generally welcomed, because in the past there has been a real sense of discontent, indeed, a sense of unfairness, that widows under the age of 60 have not been able to obtain some part of the increments paid by their husbands. If my right hon. Friend finds it possible to pay out of the scheme an additional £2 million, I can 1207 think of no people more deserving of help than those who are widows.
There is another point about which I should like to ask my right hon. Friend on this part of the Bill. Does it apply to increments which have already been paid by men deferring their retirement whose wives are under 60? My impression of the Bill is that this does not apply to increments which have already been paid. It will apply only to increments which are paid as from the passing of the Bill. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, perhaps in winding up the debate, could elaborate on this point. Is it not perhaps slightly illogical to apply it only to increments as from the passing of the Bill and not to apply it to increments which have already been paid by persons who are at this moment deferring their retirement.
Lastly, I wish to refer to Clause 8, the controversial Clause, of which the hon. Member for Sowerby disapproved. It is the Clause dealing with family allowances for apprentices. I am not going to pretend to the hon. Gentleman that this Clause is going to be very popular with the families which come within its scope and which find that the family allowances being paid to them at the moment will cease on the passing of the Bill.
I understand that the present position is that family allowances are paid to boys and girls—and here I quote from Section 23 of the Family Allowances Act which the hon. Gentleman mentioned—who areat present undergoing full-time training for any trade, business, profession, office, employment or vocation and not in receipt of earnings which provides him wholly or substantially with a livelihood.The hon. Gentleman said that he was solely concerned with the Act. But that, surely, is not the case. We are concerned with the interpretation being placed upon the Act by the Tribunal of Commissioners. The present position is that the decision recently taken by the Tribunal of Commissioners about a boy or a girl earning between £4 and £4 10s. a week, according to the age of the boy or girl, means that any boy or girl earning more than that sum comes outside the scope of family allowances.
§ Mr. Houghton
Would not the noble Lord agree that the meaning of the 1208 Word "livelihood" was the same in 1945 as it was in 1960?
§ Lord Balniel
That may be so, but the decision of the Tribunal of Commissioners seems to me to have strayed outside the meaning of family allowances as originally conceived.
Family allowances, incidentally, are paid for out of taxation—they are not paid for out of National Insurance contributions—and I really cannot see that we as the guardians of the taxpayer's money can justify the paying of family allowances to boys and girls who every week are bringing home £4 10s. when, in fact, we refuse to pay it to boys who are not apprentices but who are bringing home from other sections of industry the same amount of money.
The purpose of family allowances is, surely, solely to ensure that families with large numbers of dependent children are not placed in a worse position than families with fewer children. I really do not think that it is reasonable for the House when introducing legislation on this subject to treat apprentices bringing in £4 10s. a week in exactly the same way as we treat dependent schoolchildren. If we were to treat them in exactly the same way, we should be subsidising the earnings of these boys and girls.
I think that it was necessary for a change to be made for this reason. Family allowances are extremely vulnerable to criticism. They are given at the taxpayer's expense quite indiscriminately to rich and poor families alike. I, with four children, am the happy recipient of family allowances, but I am never really quite convinced that I should receive moneys taken by compulsory taxation from persons who, in fact, are earning substantially less than myself.
I am a great supporter of a scheme of family allowances, but I believe that this criticism has a certain justification. I support family allowances because it is beyond dispute that they have done a great deal to improve the health of the larger and poorer families in our community. But if we are going to support family allowances, and if they are subject to this entirely justifiable criticism that they are distributed irrespective of need to rich and poor alike, then surely it behoves us to see that 1209 family allowances are paid where they are in fact really needed.
We say that we cannot afford to pay family allowances to an only child. We also say that we cannot afford to pay them to the first child of a large and desperately poor family. If that is so, how can we possibly justify a refusal to pay family allowances to the eldest child of a large and desperately poor family and, at the same time, justify the payment of family allowances to a boy or girl aged 17 who is bringing in £4 10s. every week?
Whereas I appreciate that this Clause cannot be a popular Clause, in that it withdraws family allowances from families in receipt of them at the moment, I believe that it can be justified to the hilt. It is for that reason that I welcome the Bill without the reservation which the hon. Member for Sowerby so understandably made in his general welcome to the Bill and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on its introduction.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)
I think that the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) was in some ways even more disappointing than that of the Minister. After all, we expected that the Minister would make a disappointing speech this afternoon, because he had to commend to the House a disappointing Bill. Although the Bill contains one or two modest reforms it leaves out an enormous amount that needs doing and on which there is overwhelming evidence in favour of change in the National Insurance Scheme.
I thought that the noble Lord's speech was the more disappointing because of the terms in which he dealt with the Bill. He welcomed it here and there, was a little afraid that it went a bit too far at one point and gave no evidence of any really constructive thinking on the benches opposite that changes were needed and were, indeed, overdue in the National Insurance Scheme.
The noble Lord made a number of points on the first part of the Bill dealing with industrial injuries, and I will, perhaps, take up one or two of them later, because I intend to deal with that 1210 part of the Bill myself. I cannot resist making a brief comment on Clause 8. My name being what it is, I have a natural feeling about apprentices. This is a matter of profound importance to the national economy and, indeed, to the young people concerned who enter industry and undergo voluntarily a period of apprenticeship at a lower income to fit themselves for more skilled and constructive work later.
I believe that when a Minister does something which is liable to reduce the number of those who will undertake apprenticeships and, perhaps, reduce the number who will complete apprenticeships, he is doing something not only unfair but something which shows colossal ineptitude on the part of the Government at the present time. The Minister said that he doubted whether in many cases the change proposed in the Bill would dissuade young people from becoming apprentices, or lead their parents to discourage them from doing so.
I ask the Minister to consider what may happen where there is, perhaps, a large family and where the father is receiving a very low wage. I think that hon. Members opposite are liable to generalise too much on the level of wages at the present time. There are many getting low wages today. In such a family it is often a marginal decision as to whether the son can enter an apprenticeship or not. Such a family will have to take into account the family allowances. I believe that in cases of this kind this may lead to some young people not becoming apprentices after all or withdrawing from apprenticeships too soon.
It is not only the family with the father on a poor wage. What about the family where the father has died and the children are trying to keep their widowed mother? In such a case family allowances may be the deciding factor as to whether or not a boy or girl becomes an apprentice. This Bill, which will affect thousands of these people, is almost bound to reduce the number of apprentices in British industry.
The Minister need not take all of this from me. Let me recommend him a little homework. Between now and the Committee stage he might read the Report of the Committee presided over by his 1211 hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr). He might also read the speeches made by the Minister of Labour to industrialists during the summer, urging them to increase their apprenticeships. I have some of the Press releases in my file at home, and will lend it to the Minister if he requires it. Let him also read the newspaper reports of what the Duke of Edinburgh had to say during the Commonwealth Technical Training Week, a few months ago. It is absolutely vital for the country to increase quickly the quality and the quantity of its industrial training. For a member of the Government to come along in the present economic situation and do anything to damage the position shows great ineptitude on the part of the Government.
I now turn to Part I of the Bill, and I want to deal with some aspects of the Industrial Injuries Scheme. The Minister passed over this rather quickly, which is not surprising, because the improvements which he puts forward are very modest. As far as they go they are to be welcomed, but they are very modest indeed compared with what could have been done at the present stage.
We are now considering the Industrial Injuries Scheme against the background of rising industrial accidents, which take a terrible toll at present. During 1960, there were more than 190,000 accidents reported within the industries which come within the ambit of the Factories Acts, and there are many other places of work outside those Measures. The figure last year was 9 per cent. higher than the figure for 1959, which was in turn higher than the 1958 figure.
A very large number of our fellow-citizens are involved. This is not the time and place to discuss industrial accidents and their cause, but I hope that the House will have a chance before long to give consideration to this question. Meanwhile, the situation has a lesson for us. When we examine the Industrial Injuries Scheme we have to be scrupulously careful to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done to those who suffer injuries which may last a lifetime and to the widows and dependents of those killed in industry.
It is worth reminding ourselves that in so far as we enjoy a relatively high standard of living now compared with 1212 previous generations, part of the price for that is the toll of industrial casualties. We owe a debt to those who have suffered in this way. We particularly owe a debt to the older casualties of industry, the people covered by Clause 1. Many were injured in the past when the safety measures in industry were not as good as they are today. Many of them contracted industrial diseases, such as pneumoconiosis, before the preventive measures were as good as they are today. They are people to whom we owe a special debt and of whom we should take great care.
I wish to add something to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Soworby (Mr. Houghton) about the old cases. I have made the point in previous debates, and I make no apology for repeating it, that I think there is a parallel here between the Industrial Injuries Scheme and the war pensions scheme. Both are schemes which provide a system of disability pensions based on an assessment of the disability, and they also provide certain supplementary allowances which are broadly similar. Both schemes, as it happens, deal with both old and new cases.
In the case of the war pensions scheme there are pensioners from the 1914–18 war and pensioners from the more recent war. No Minister of Pensions would ever dare to put before the country a higher rate of benefit for the pensioners from the Second World War than he was prepared to provide for those of the First World War. Obviously, any improvement made would apply equally in all cases. I put it very strongly that exactly the same principle should apply to the casualties of industry. Those who were injured before 5th July, 1948, ought to receive treatment as generous as that given to those who have been injured since then.
I shall be told—this was one of the noble Lord's points—that the two schemes are different in character and that here and there some of the older cases are getting a higher rate of benefit than they would under the new Measure. However, in most cases they are getting much less. Admittedly, the two schemes are different, and, admittedly, it is difficult to get a precise formula in terms of a supplementary allowance which will bring the old cases up to the position 1213 of the new cases. But a rough and ready formula is possible. One was achieved by the Minister in 1956; he then produced a supplementary allowance which gave rough and ready justice to the old cases.
Since then there have been two increases under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act without any increase being given at that time to the old cases, and now the Minister is again dealing with the matter. What is the justification for saying at this moment that the supplementary allowance which he is prepared to grant should be on the modest scale proposed? The total cost of achieving parity in this field would be modest, and the industrial workers who contribute to the industrial injuries fund, and their employers, would certainly not object to the extra cost being borne by the fund.
This is a particularly mean Clause as it stands. We are being mean to a relatively small group of people. Because of the passage of time, the number is becoming smaller every year. Also, because of what they have done for the country in the past and the price that they have paid as industrial casualties they deserve treatment as good as that which is now afforded to those who have been injured more recently.
I welcome Clause 2 as far as it goes, but one might apply to it the phrase "too little and too late". It is certainly very much overdue. A number of the anomalies removed by the Clause have been known for many years. They have been the subject of representations by the trade unions over many years. I remember drafting, some years ago, a memorandum covering many of these points, and I know that that process has been repeated over the years.
If a man is struck by lightning at his place of work, in a place where he would not be except for the conditions of his work, it seems very artificial to say that that is not an accident arising out of his employment. There is a reference in the Clause to animals and insects. I remember the case of a lorry driver who was injured because an insect entered his cab and got into his eye, thereby causing him to go off the road.
There was also the case of an assault upon Mr. Richardson, the Salford bus conductor, injured by a gang of hooligans who got on his bus. That was a 1214 case fought by the Transport and General Workers' Union all the way through the machinery of the Act. When it was turned down by the commissioner, the union tried to obtain a writ of certiorariin the High Court to overthrow the decision. I feel that the pressure exerted by the union in connection with that case has probably been instrumental in bringing about this change.
All this is certainly an advance, though a small one and one which is overdue. But there are many other things which ought to be done now in the light of experience to improve the scope of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, and particularly to improve the scope of the wording of Section 7 of the main Act, which includes the formula:injury…by accident arising out of and in the course of…employment".That formula was lifted from the old Workmen's Compensation Acts, and when that was done it was generally expected in trades union circles that in many ways it would be interpreted more liberally than it used to be in the old days.
There is a subsection of the Act which says that, if an accident arises in the course of employment, it shall be presumed to arise out of employment, unless there is evidence to the contrary. In the early days, the trade unions had hopes that that would have widespread effects. But experience has been that it has not made much difference, because the commissioners have broadly followed the lines of the decisions of the old Workmen's Compensation Acts and, in some cases, have been even a little stricter than some of the judges in the old days.
There are a number of issues in this connection which will have to be examined in Committee, and some of us will want to examine them in great detail. I will mention only two now. One is the difficulty which arises about the phrase "course of employment", when it is applied to passenger transport and commercial transport workers, and perhaps to other groups who work away from their employer's premises.
A man who is working on his employer's premises, in a factory, shop or office, is generally in the course of his employment within those premises. 1215 He may leave the place at which he is working to go to the toilet, or to get a cup of tea at the employer's canteen, or for similar purposes. Generally speaking, if he is injured in the corridor, or on the stairs, he is still in the course of his employment. The trouble is that a bus or lorry driver is out of the course of his employment when he steps out of the driving cab.
A bus crew may have a route involving a long journey. At the terminus they may have a break for six or eight minutes before starting the return journey. They are not free agents in that six or eight minutes, because they cannot go away for any purpose. They have to stay near the vehicle, although they may go to get a cup of tea, or go to the lavatory, or do the other things which they may then have to do because of the type of their employment.
In that sense, they should be within the scope of the Industrial Injuries Scheme, in the same way as the factory worker is when he goes along a corridor to his employer's canteen. I can see no difference in principle between the two sets of circumstances, but there is a series of leading decisions by the Commissioners ruling out cases of that kind.
I remember having been concerned in many of them myself. I remember a man who was killed within a yard of his bus while he was crossing from the bus stop to a canteen, provided by his employers, on the other side of the road. Because he was in the road at the time, he was considered to be a member of the public. I remember the case of a coach driver who took a party to a cricket match some distance from his home, and who went with the party for a meal after the match. On walking back from the place where they had had their meal to his coach, he suffered an accident, but he was outside the scope of the scheme. It is absurd that there should be that type of distinction.
I understand that in the past the Minister has replied to representations on this subject by saying that it was difficult to find the right form of words to cover this type of case. That excuse is not good enough. In fact, a form of words has been sent to the right hon. Gentleman by the Transport and 1216 General Workers' Union, worked out on counsel's advice, which could cover that type of case.
The Minister may come back at us and say that if he shifts the borderline of the Act, there will be a further series of borderline cases and difficulties of interpretation. I accept that, for this is a complicated subject. One has to draw the line somewhere and Parliament probably does not intend to compensate anyone who is injured while going home for an hour's lunch break from his place of work. However, we have to try to draw the line and, although wherever it is drawn there will be difficult cases and disputed cases and fine points of distinction to be made, that does not absolve us from the duty of trying to put that borderline where it operates fairly as between one group and another. We are failing to do that now in respect of workers such as bus crews and lorry drivers and their mates and other classes of people whose work may take them away from their employers' premises.
I am sure that the Opposition will put down Amendments in Committee on this issue, perhaps in the form I have suggested, perhaps in a slightly different form. I hope that the Minister will think constructively about the matter in the meantime. It should not be beyond the wit of his Department and his draftsmen to find a form of words which will give simple justice in cases of this kind.
The other matter which troubles me is in connection with Section 7 of the main Act, which provides for compensation for injury by accident. To establish a claim, a workman must establish that there has been an accident, or, under another provision of the Act, he can get benefit if he suffers from a prescribed disease. There is a list of prescribed diseases relating to various industries. However, there are many people, disabled as a result of their work, who have neither suffered an accident nor suffered from a prescribed disease. They suffer as the result of some process at their work.
People who handle spray guns, or who are subject to some particular pressure on their hands, for instance, are liable to various complaints. I am thinking of complaints like Reynaud's disease and Dupuytren's contracture. A 1217 larger and more general group are those who suffer chest complaints because of their work as miners, or through working in confined places, diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema, often connected with pneumoconiosis in the long run. Many people suffer occupational deafness because they work in conditions of loud noise.
All these cases and many others are outside the Industrial Injuries Act, often when there is clear medical evidence that the employment has caused the disability concerned. We ought to consider this subject very carefully. It involves one of two things—either amending the main Act so that the words "by accident" are cut out and we accept any disability caused by the employment, or, for the Minister to take steps to enlarge the schedule of prescribed diseases to include a great many things not now included.
This is a finely balanced argument and there are reasons for and against preferring one course or the other. Some years ago, the Beney Committee examined this matter in great detail and came down against cutting out the words "by accident". However, if the Minister is to stand on that, he should do more about the prescribed diseases Schedule.
Since the Act came into force in 1948, there has been only one major addition to the list of prescribed diseases—that of tuberculosis in relation to nurses and other groups who run special risks. That was an important concession, but the other additions have been small and of limited application, although useful in their own spheres.
There should be a great deal of research into this subject and the Minister ought to try to step it up. For some years now, I have been questioning him about occupational deafness. I have pointed out in supplementary questions that many other countries include occupational deafness as an industrial disease within the scope of their workmen's compensation or industrial injuries schemes. With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, he always gives me evasive replies, saying that the subject continues to be under review, but that there is nothing to report yet and that he cannot foresee doing anything in the near future, with all the other cliches from the Box to which one becomes accustomed.
1218 There are several things we shall want to do about Clause 3 and the subject of special hardship allowances. The Clause contains a concession about regular occupation which is long overdue and which has been urged on the Government for a long time. In Committee, we shall want to study the problem of people who go back into regular employment, but who cannot earn as much as they did because their doctor says that they must not work overtime, or because they have to work fewer hours, or because they have to work on time rates instead of piece rates, and so on. We should take the opportunity to consider whether we can amend the provision which says that a man must be permanently, or likely to be permanently, incapacitated from his regular occupation. The permanence rule is bad and should be replaced by a minimum period, such as thirteen weeks.
I should like to see us do something for those who have a nil assessment for disablement benefit, but who, nevertheless, are prevented from going back to their regular occupations. I have in mind people suffering from dermatitis. They leave their old occupations and recover from dermatitis, but are told by a doctor, "You cannot go back to your old occupation because you will get dermatitis again if you do." These people are rightly assessed by medical boards as having a nil assessment. They have no disablement, and, therefore, under the present rule they cannot get hardship allowance, though they may be losing several pounds a week. I think that they should be able to qualify just as much as other people do.
I could go on presenting practical points. Practical experience of the working of the Industrial Injuries Act —and the same applies to the National Insurance Act if one deals with that— has shown that although this was good legislation back in 1946—in fact it was excellent legislation—and made a tremendous advance in our social insurance scheme, in practice we have learnt that a number of changes need to be made.
I would have thought that the Government, having taken this opportunity to bring forward this Bill, would have gone wider than they have in trying to correct these anomalies. Indeed, I would like 1219 to go beyond that and say that this modest, disappointing, Bill is indicative of the whole approach of the Government to the problem of the Welfare State. Not only does the administration of the scheme need overhauling, but the whole scope of the National Insurance Scheme needs to be enlarged, in the way it is being enlarged in other countries. Wage related sickness benefits are being paid in Western Germany. There is a European Social Fund to deal with unemployed workers in the Common Market countries. The rates of benefit for retired people in nearly every civilised country are very much higher than in Britain.
All this is a matter of some urgency in the conditions of the 1960s, and the only new thinking on this is being done by the Labour Party and not by the Government. There is a need in the 1960s to give a new deal to the elderly, the sick, the disabled, widows, and other groups of people who should be allowed to approach more nearly the standard of living of the rest of the community. That, I think, must await the time when the reforming zeal of a Labour Government takes the place of the fuddy-duddy thinking of the Conservatives opposite.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)
Apart from his last few remarks, I listened with a great deal of interest to some of the constructive suggestions made by the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice). He dealt at some length with Clause 2, and I shall return to that later.
I thought that both he and the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) damned the Bill with faint praise, but I was encouraged by the hon. Member for Sowerby who spoke at some length about the things he would like to see in the Bill which were not now in it, for I had been afraid that later in my speech I would become out of order.
It has been suggested that this is a small Bill, but the many things it does are of absolute value in our social service scheme. We are broadening the cover, because we are giving more meaning to certain words and correcting some of the anomalies. This is a notable achievement for a Government Department. I think that it is at last learning something from the private insurance companies.
1220 I should like to say a few words about Clause 5, which deals with widows' increments, with subsections (3) and (4) of Clause 7, which raise the limit below which contributions are either extinguished or lowered, and Part III, Clause 8, which deals with apprentices and family allowances.
On reading the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Council, I was struck by the complexity of the problem in trying to improve the lot of wives and widows in dealing with the increments. The nub of the problem is that the retiring age for women is 60. I was very impressed by this well-argued document, and it was apparent that there was no alternative in the mind of the Committee other than that which it recommends at the end of its Report, the difficulty being that a wife under 60 does not have a retirement pension if her husband has retired. She has dependant's allowance, and that one cannot stick increments on to that.
While I understand the reason for the solution embodied in the Bill, I believe that there are sound arguments for changes other than those proposed in Clause 5. To me the most significant phrases in the Committee's Report are in paragraph 21. It says:Nor is there any doubt that over the years the present conditions have caused a sense of unfairness not only among those personally affected but among people who make it their business to study these questions.More significantly, it says earlier:A married couple is a family unit, a fact which the scheme recognizes by paying higher benefits to the married man.Further on it says:The husband's responsibility in work and in retirement to support his wife is no less because his wife is more than five years his junior.That seems to make a great deal of sense.
I turn now to paragraph 18 of the Report which gives the statistics and the number of those working after 65 and earning increments. I find that about 15 per cent. retire or reach the age of 70 when their wives are still under 60, so that the wives get no increments at all from their husband's insurance. I believe that it is sensible and right to change this.
1221 Of that 15 per cent., it is pretty certain that 10 per cent. have wives not more than fifteen years younger than themselves. This family unit is of the utmost importance, and I discount the figures in paragraph 25 which give an average pension which people may expect, depending on the time at which they start to get it.
Any man of 33 to 35, when he is picking the girl of his choice, does not, I am sure, look at the National Insurance Acts before he starts. If that is true, to keep intact the sanctity of the retirement age for women at 60, I suggest that we should add the 6d. increment which goes to wives over 60 to the husband's increment if he has earned full increment. That would make his increment 1s. 6d. This would mean a certain amount of adjustment to the widow's increment. This addition to the husband's increment would remain in being only until his wife reached the age of 60. At that age, under the present scheme, she will attract the 6d. to herself unless she goes on working.
As regards the widow, I believe that the increment should go to her prior to the age of 60. This would be an alteration to the proposals in the Bill. To avoid any possible abuse, I suggest that there should be a proviso that the wife must be over 55 before she starts attracting these increments, because I believe that there can be only a very small proportion of husbands with wives more than fifteen years younger than themselves. This proviso for widows under 60 would not apply if they were working.
It may be suggested that this is unfair to spinsters; but a wife who has been married for many years is surely in a different category from a spinster who has been fending for herself all her life. I have spoken before of my desire to see a two-tier pension system. I will not deal with that now, but it would be of great benefit to spinsters.
I turn to Clause 7 (3) and (4), which increase the limit below which no contribution is necessary in respect of various classes of contributors. I applaud the adjustments, but subsection (3) is wrapped up with the problem of the seasonal worker. At the moment, if men and women, through no fault of their own, are thrown out of work, they 1222 can go to the employment exchange, register and draw unemployment benefit so long as they satisfy certain regulations and are prepared to accept suitable jobs if they are offered.
But there is a further regulation. If at the end of a three-year period it is apparent that a man, through no fault of his own, is employed only for a part of the year because of the district in which he lives, he ceases to be eligible to draw unemployment benefit. If he wants help he has to go to the National Assistance Board.
In my constituency there is a bachelor who has certain physical disabilities but who is, nevertheless, employed for part of the year. Until this winter he has been drawing £2 17s. 6d. a week in unemployment benefit in his off-season period. Under the present regulation, as a result of the three-year pattern he will be obliged to ask for National Assistance. He will therefore receive £2 14s. 6d. on grounds of need, but at the same time he will be expected to pay a contribution of 12s. a week. I am advising him that under the regulation the only thing for him to do is to apply for exemption for a small income limit, so that he does not have to pay contributions. That is why I say that this subsection ties up very closely with the problem of the seasonal worker. As the law stands, he has no way of receiving unemployment benefit. In this respect the law is unfair, and an ass, and I must tell my right hon. Friend that I intend to try to move a new Clause in respect of this matter in Committee.
I now turn to Part III, Clause 8(6). This subsection has caused and will cause the most argument between the two sides of the House, because it decreases rather than increases the scope of the benefits in the Bill. I am sure that the Minister is right to do this. The average wage received by an apprentice in any reputable firm is considerably above the £2 limit, but a stronger reason —and one in respect of which my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) clashed with the hon. Member for Sowerby—is that family allowances were not meant for this purpose. They were meant to benefit children who were not earning, that is, to benefit the children as children. This seems a fair compromise. We extended 1223 the benefit from 15 years to 16 years and then to 18 years, while boys and girls are totally at school, and now we have extended it to new apprentices.
I do not think that it is wrong to set a limit. If further help is needed it should be provided in some other way. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford started arguing against himself when he suggested that it might be wrong for him to draw family allowances. I draw family allowances for my children. My wife gets the money, which pays for the children's clothes, and I pay tax on the allowances, in any case.
I turn now to Clause 2, and to what the hon. Member for East Ham, North said. Here I must declare an interest, because I am a road haulier and this Clause deals with a particular problem for the long-distance lorry driver and the long-distance coach and bus driver. The hon. Member for East Ham, North asked where we should draw the line. I agree that it is very difficult. The long-distance driver is bound by Statute to have a certain number of breaks while he is doing his job—5½ hours and 5½ hours, as the hon. Member knows. At the end of his period of work he must knock off for a specified number of hours, which may be 10 or 12, or even more, depending upon how many days he has worked before. That is by the way.
In the course of his job a long-distance lorry driver may have to drive from Devon to Glasgow and back again, and if he is to keep within his statutory number of hours he will be away from home for three or four days. The question is whether his half-hour breaks, which he is bound to take, should be included—and I suggest they should— in the time during which he is employed, so that any injury he sustains as a result of going into a cafe, or any other place to which he may have to go, should be covered under the Bill.
There is one difficulty. A Question was put to the Home Secretary today about lorries being left in the streets of London. There is no doubt that certain lorry drivers take their lorries when they go to see their girl friends. Nobody minds a lorry driver going to see his girl friend; the objection is that he 1224 should take his lorry with him. In order to improve the Bill so that we can include these classes of people, and also prevent abuse, I wonder how we can draw the line with respect to the short break and the night period. That is a matter which we can discuss in Committee.
In conclusion, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing in a worth-while and useful Bill. I have spent a certain amount of time criticising it, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will appreciate that I have meant to be constructive. The Bill provides equity where it was previously lacking, and it does a thing which is of the utmost importance—it concentrates help where it is most needed.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)
When in the Gracious Speech the Government declared their intention of introducing legislation to supplement workmen's compensation, many of us thought that at long last all those persons who come within the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Acts would now have an increase in their compensation. It is evident from the Bill and from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman—in which he gave a clear explanation of the Bill—that that is not so and that the majority of persons in the mining industry who are receiving partial compensation will not receive any compensation under the Bill.
Although we welcome the increases provided in the Measure, especially for the totally disabled and those who come under the benefit scheme, I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that there will be a feeling of keen disappointment among those in a great section of our industrially disabled when it is realised that the partially disabled—those on the lowest rates—will not receive any redress under the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that in Committee we shall endeavour to convince him of the need, in the interests of justice, for these men to be brought within the Bill's provisions. This restriction derives from paragraph 2 of the First Schedule, which restricts compensation for partial incapacity to two-thirds of the difference between pre-accident and post-accident earnings, or, in the case of a married couple with a child, seven-eighths of the difference. This is maintained under the 1225 Bill, with the result that men are restricted to the old two-thirds difference.
I do not want to bare the House with examples, but I will give two to illustrate the point. I take, first, a man with pre-accident earnings of £14 a week. He was one of those fortunate men, years ago, who had fairly high wages, and since that time he has had a review of his pre-accident earnings under the 1943 Act, his pre-accident wage years ago having been, say, £10 a week. He is now on light work, earning £9 a week. The difference between the £14 and his present £9 is £5, two-thirds of which is £3 6s. 8d. But there is the other ceiling for a person under the Workmen's Compensation Act, that he cannot have more than £2 10s. a week as a married man. The result is that he will now, under the Bill, receive another 10s. a week and still be within the two-thirds. He will receive £3 a week, an increase of 10s., still within the two-thirds maximum.
The other man—I stress that he represents the majority—had lower pre-accident earnings of, say, £9 a week. He is now on light work, earning £7 a week. The difference between £9 and £7 is £2, and the two-thirds basis would give him £1 6s. 8d. a week. He is already on the two-thirds, and he will not receive anything under the Bill.
In the mining industry, the majority of partially disabled men will not receive any compensation under this Measure. In coalmining, 4,790 men will benefit from the Bill by increases in their partial compensation, but 8,979 will not receive a penny. In the Durham coalfield, under this Measure there will be 552 men who will have an increase in their partial compensation, but 2,324 will not. In Wales we are more fortunate because 2,589 will benefit under the Bill while 1,663 will not.
This all stems from the restrictive provision in the First Schedule of the Bill. As I understand it, the Minister feels that he should maintain the two-thirds maximum proportion because it has been a feature of workmen's compensation for some years. It has been there for some years, but there is nothing sacrosanct about the two-thirds. It does not apply to some extent under the Industrial Injuries Act. I know that it is a question of loss of faculty, but when the question is one of hardship allowance, a man can by hardship allowance have his 1226 money made up to his pre-accident earnings in certain circumstances. There is no two-thirds about it. A man can go to 39s. a week, which may bring him up to his pre-accident earnings. There is nothing sacred in the two-thirds proportion.
I would remind the Minister that these partially disabled men have been without any increase in their rate of compensation for eighteen years. The cost of living has doubled since those days in the 1920s and 1930s when they had their accidents. The Minister recognises that there has been an increase in the cost of living by increasing compensation both for total and partial disablement. I suggest that the increase in the cost of living is now double, and there is, therefore, I submit, added reason for people feeling very dissatisfied at not having any increase under the Bill.
It must be remembered that this is a dying Act. The Minister would not be committing himself for the future in other legislation. Men who are covered by the old Workmen's Compensation Act are dying out, in the mining industry, at any rate, at the rate of 500 or 600 a year. The injured men who are still with us, men who had their injuries years ago, see about them now, in the evening of their days, a better standard of living and a higher cost of living. The right hon. Gentleman could have said, in a more comprehensive Bill, that this Government would give to all those who come within the provisions of the old Workmen's Compensation Act some increase in their compensation.
It is sometimes argued that these men have had a right of review. We know that there has been a right of review under the 1943 Act, but that review is restricted so that a man has to prove that there has been an increase in rates of wages since the date of his accident. Put in broad terms, that is the 1943 Act basis of review.
While it is true that many men have been able to claim a review of their pre-accident earnings on the ground that there has been an increase in wages, many cannot do so because they are not in a position to show that there has been such an increase in wages or remuneration, although, at the same time, they can easily show that they would now 1227 be receiving a higher income had it not been for their accidents. We have seen a revolution in working conditions in the mining industry. Price lists may not have altered much, but as a result of mechanisation and different methods of work a man may well be in a position today to say that were he a collier now, without having had his accident, he would be earning £5 or £6 a week more than he did in the 1920s or 1930s. This comes about not as a result of rates of wages but of changed methods of working, and what applies in the mining industry can apply in industry generally. There has been a change in methods which in many instances has resulted in men earning higher wages.
Many men are unable to claim a review of their pre-accident wages; they are tied to wages of £4, £5, £6 or £8 a week and they cannot move from them. Today, they are on light work earning an amount equivalent to their old pre-accident wages, and they are in receipt of no compensation whatever. These represent to the latent cases under the Act. The "latent" men will not have any compensation at all. I know many men who are suffering serious incapacity and who are doing light work, perhaps sitting-down work, but, because of their low pre-accident wages, they receive no compensation. These cases are not covered by the Bill.
Although I appreciate that it might be difficult for the Minister to put forward a formula to bring in the latent oases, I ask him seriously to consider the possibility of widening the method of reviewing pre-accident earnings so as not to confine it to mere rates, to an increase in wages or remuneration, but to take into consideration other factors so that, where a man has been following a certain employment, if he can show that had it not been for his disability as a result of an accident which took place many years ago, he would now, as a result of new working conditions in the job which he used to occupy, be earning higher wages, he would be able to have his work pre-accident earnings reviewed for the purposes of compensation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think about this seriously because there are many men on light work in industry today who receive no compensation.
1228 A large number of these men are unemployed. Many of these men receiving partial compensation, who will be left out of the provisions of this Bill, are unemployed. There are 7,000 of them in the mining industry. I quite agreed with the remarks of the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) who, I thought, made a very constructive speech. The unemployment benefit of many of these men has expired. They are not in receipt of pay and have been idle for more than three years. Their extended benefit has ceased. As they are disabled they find it very difficult to get other work. As they are without unemployment benefit they are on National Assistance. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider allowing these men to be brought back into benefit.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for increasing the payment of those in receipt of total compensation, but they will still not be on a parity with those who come under the Industrial Injuries Act. They will have 15s. a week less. Under the Compensation Act they get £3 7s. 6d. a week. They had £2 10s. before and it was supplemented by 17s. 6d. They will still be behind by 15s. a week, the amount granted under the Industrial Injuries Act.
Men under the Workmen's Compensation Acts are in some respects worse off than those under the Industrial Injuries Acts, because an employer will not pay full compensation to a man under the Workmen's Compensation Acts unless he is quite incapable of doing any work. Under the Industrial Injuries Acts a man can receive 100 per cent. assessment. If he is fortunate to get a sitting-down job, although to all intents and purposes he is totally disabled, he may be able to earn some wages. That is not so under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. That is very rigid. It means that a man on workmen's compensation who takes some light job cannot then obtain the full compensation. I ask the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider increasing this amount. In 1956, for eighteen months, the Government kept these two classes on parity. Why should they go back now?
Many of these men are far below their pre-accident earnings. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would realise that when 1229 they had their accidents many years ago wages were very low. A wage of £5 a week was considered reasonable, but often a man lost time owing to trade depression and his compensation has been assessed on his average pre-accident earnings over twelve months during which he may have lost two months employment. The fact that he was idle for two months because of trade depression brought down his average. Although some of these men can get a review, that does not bring their average up to wages entitling them to compensation.
I welcome Clause 3 dealing with loss of promotion prospects in connection with special hardship allowance. That will certainly help young boys in certain occupations when they suffer accidents. Up to now, when they have been able to prove that but for the accident they would have had a higher grade of employment, they could not get the promoted figures assessed for compensation purposes.
This provision should go a long way to put that matter right. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) pointed out, this is only part of the problem. We have debated the question of hardship allowance before. The basic principle of the allowance was to compensate a man for the loss of earnings. The provision is restricted. The man has to show that he is permanently incapacitated or that he has been idle since the original benefit period. As a result many of these men cannot receive the allowance.
My hon. Friend referred to dermatitis. That is a classical example. I know of cases in South Wales where skilled men have suffered from dermatitis and received injury benefit, and, maybe, some disablement benefit of 5 per cent. or 10 per cent., and have then resumed employment. The fact that they have gone back at the end of their industrial injury benefit period means that they cannot get hardship allowance. These are irritating and unjust provisions. We hope to deal with them in Committee, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give attention to them.
Whatever the Minister may think about Clause 8, it is a blow to apprenticeship schemes. I do not know what 1230 industrialists and education authorities in South Wales will have to say about it, for they have taken an active part in promoting schemes in industry. They have been doing all they could to get young boys from grammar schools to train to go into industry. This provision will impede the training of young men for industry. There will be a drop in the income into the home where there are two apprentices of 18s. a week as a result of this Measure. That will not encourage families to allow their boys to go in for apprenticeship schemes.
In the interests of the economy of the country we shall be forced to put down Amendments dealing with this question in Committee. This is a shocking proposal. It is amazing that at a time when we want to encourage young men to go into industry and to help production and the economy of the country there should be this setback. If there were more hon. Members present opposite I am sure that they would support us on this. The hon. Member for Torrington has expressed his views about it.
§ Mr. Finch
The hon. Member seemed very critical of some parts of it. Many employers in the country, when they are made fully conversant with the meaning of the Clause, will look upon it with a great deal of anxiety when considering the future industrial progress in the country.
There are other matters to which I might have referred in this complicated Bill. The main outcome of the Bill will be that the Government will save money because these increased benefits will come out of the Industrial Injuries Fund. By their action in respect of family allowances for apprentices, the Government will save £1¼ million a year, according to the Minister. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has earned the gratitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is the first time that we have had a Measure by which the Government intend to save on apprentices. But this is the pattern, the general line, of Conservative policy. We had it under the National Health Service Act, whereby prescription charges were imposed on the lower income groups, and we had it in the pensions schemes, whereby those receiving £9 a week and 1231 less were to have no increase. We have it here in connection with the disabled. The more lowly-paid partially disabled will not receive a penny under the Bill.
While there are aspects of the Bill which I welcome, there are so many other aspects which I do not like that my approach to the Bill is bound to be lukewarm. The Bill is like the curate's egg, good in parts. If the Minister will consider some of the points put forward by my right hon. and hon. Friends he can make this a much more comprehensive Measure in Committee. He can make it a charter for those people who years ago did so much for our economy in mining and other industries. He can say to them in the evening of their days that they will have at least an extra few shillings to give them an extra sense of security. I hope that in Committee the right hon. Gentleman will seriously consider at least some of the points which have been made by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the debate.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Robertson (Paisley)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) will not expect me to follow his approach to the Bill. Being of a trusting nature, and perhaps being a little naive, my first reaction to the Bill was one of welcome, perhaps a qualified welcome, but on a further examination it turned out to be a teeny-weeny, miserable little Bill which should have a sub-title, "He giveth, but he taketh away". The trouble is that the right hon. Gentleman taketh away more than he giveth. This is the whole tenor of the Bill.
The Minister mentioned representations which were made to him by the T.U.C., but I hardly feel that the T.U.C. thinks that it has made a major break-through with the concessions which he has given. The reforms contained in the Bill can be judged by their probable cost, while, on the other hand, the Bill means a considerable saving for the Treasury as a result of the changes in the family allowances which affect apprentices. I want to deal mainly with Clause 8.
It is odd that the provisions in their present form were originally introduced in 1956 by the Minister, and no one then extolled their virtues more than did the Government spokesmen. They were regarded as a great boon, and the under- 1232 lying principle was said to be right. We were told that we needed to encourage parents to put their children to apprenticeships. I feel sure that the alterations made in 1956 had that effect. In introducing the Bill in 1956, the Minister said that this modest concession, costing a little over £2 million, would help parents to apprentice their boys. That was the intention. He told us that it was a Measure of encouragement.
But the limits now imposed in practice mean that only a very few apprentices will qualify for the allowance. I was about to say that no apprentices would qualify, but I may be wrong. Remembering that the engineering apprentice at 15 has a minimum wage of £2 l1s. 4d. and that the engineering industry has never been noted for paying high apprentice wages, I am inclined to think that the Minister's estimate of the reduction in the number of apprentices covered by the provisions of this Section is rather overstated. I suggest that the calculation of the saving to the Treasury must be revised.
What has happened since 1956 to make the Government change their mind and their argument? Why is it that an action which was then good has now ceased to be good? If the existing Measure was encouraging, surely it follows that this Measure must have the opposite effect. Have we an abundance of apprentices? Perhaps apprentices eat less and their clothing costs less. Does the protective clothing which they are required to buy cost less? Do their tools cost less? Are the wages paid to apprentices so good in relation to the needs of young men that these allowances are no longer required?
I have an interest in this matter in that one of my daughters is an apprentice. If anyone here would like to try to pay for her keep on the wage which she receives as an apprentice, plus the family allowance, I am willing to let him try. I will give him the wage if he will pay for her keep. A boy of 15 does not eat less or wear fewer clothes, because he is an apprentice, than he did the year before. It is impossible to keep an apprentice on the wages which he earns.
When we approach an employer we are told that the reason for these low 1233 wages is that this is a period of learning, and that one must make sacrifices and accept low wages because, at the end of the period, one will have become a skilled man. But, in the meantime, other boys will go to semi-skilled trades which do not require apprenticeship or skill and they will earn much higher wages. The principle of giving an allowance to an apprentice was right; it meant that he was not at so great a disadvantage compared with other boys who went into other trades which paid higher wages.
In my opinion, the present proposals will be a disincentive to boys and parents alike when they are considering apprenticeships—and this at a time when it was never more important that there should be a further encouragement for them to do so.
In view of the wages paid to apprentices in the engineering and building trades, and in any of the other major industries, it is clear that about 90 per cent. of apprentices will fail to qualify under this provision. I wonder about the underlying motive of the Measure. Is it a question of saving £1¾ million? If it is, it is being penny wise and pound foolish. Or is it that the Bill is just a smokescreen and that the reforms it contains, which are welcome, are the price which the Minister is prepared to pay to make his saving of £1¾ million on family allowances paid to apprentices following the decision of the Commission? I think that this is the right answer.
The Bill is not an honest one. Its purpose is achieved only in Clause 8. The rest of it is the price the Minister is prepared to pay to achieve his purpose in Clause 8.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I want to take advantage of the debate to advertise one or two little local matters which have been brought to my attention. I want to mention the position which arises when insured people leave this country —for example, for a holiday—and, when they reach a foreign country, either fall ill or have an accident.
A Wallsend colliery worker went to France last year and had an accident there. He was incapacitated there for 1234 about three weeks. He Chen returned home and for the rest of his incapacity after he landed in this country he was paid insurance benefit. Benefit was refused him in respect of his three weeks' incapacity while he was in France.
This is a general matter, although it is brought out by an individual case. The miners in my constituency have drawn attention to this aspect of insurance and have asked me to ventilate it and, if possible, to get the Regulations changed. A large percentage of workers now go abroad for their holidays.
The matter to which I am drawing attention is not an exceptional thing. Nowadays it is quite usual. If this colliery worker had suffered from ordinary sickness in this country, he would have received full benefit whilst it lasted. The constituents of all of us think that we Members of Parliament are wonderful. If we ventilate a grievance they think that there is a strong probability that it will be remedied. I hope that their estimates of our ability will be fulfilled.
Still on the subject of insurance, I have received letters from various people about retired men and women who have lived and worked in this country for many years, have qualified for retirement pensions, and have then gone abroad. Many people have contacted me about this. They complain that whatever pension they may receive before they leave this country, as the years pass and the retirement pension is increased they are not awarded the increases. They think that they are justified in their claim that the increases should be awarded to them. They believe that, as they have obtained their retirement pension in this country, when they go abroad they should receive the increases which are from time to time awarded to recipients who live in this country.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. Member, but he realises that I am permitted to allow matters to be discussed only if they are reasonably related to the scope of the Bill. The Bill does not deal with retirement pensions in any way.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
On a point of order. As this is an amending Bill covering the whole aspect of 1235 our National Insurance Scheme, are we not entitled to discuss the type of amendments which we fed ought to be introduced in the Bill as well as the amendments which are dealt with in the Bill?
§ Mr. Speaker
Certainly. The hon. Member is right in saying that hon. Members can discuss omissions—amendments which they would like to be introduced—but always subject to their being reasonably related to the scope of the Bill. The Long Title will give hon. Members a rough indication of what can be discussed. We cannot treat this as a general discussion on the administration of the right hon. Gentleman's Department.
§ Mr. Lawson
Further to that point of order. Would not this be administration of the right hon. Gentleman's Department? Would not such a proposal as that which my hon. Friend is talking about require legislation? If it would require legislation, does not that bring it within the scope of the Bill, which is concerned with amending the National Insurance Scheme?
§ Mr. Speaker
No. The Bill is concerned, as the hon. Member will realise, with amending it in certain respects and matters. The Long Title gives a rough indication of those respects and matters.
§ Mr. Houghton
Further to that point of order. The Long Title contains these words:and as regards matters connected with the administration of the Acts and the making and operation of orders and regulations there-underI know that that can relate to some of the provisions of the Bill, but the advice I received before the debate began from one of my hon. and learned Friends was that the Bill goes very wide indeed and covers a range of miscellaneous matters. Up to now the debate has ranged fairly widely over things which might be brought within a miscellaneous Bill, even though they are not directly related to some of the matters in the Long Title. We should all be obliged if you could help my hon. Friend, Mr. Speaker, because we are in some difficulty.
§ Mr. Speaker
The test is that I will seek to allow everything reasonably 1236 related to the scope of the Bill. I will accept a correction from the Minister, if need be, but I have great difficulty in understanding how anyone can bring within the scope of the Bill a suggestion for some study with regard to increases in retirement pensions or anything related to that. It was on that point, unless I misheard the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay), that the hon. Member was speaking, and I think that it is clearly outside the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. McKay
In any case, Mr. Speaker, I had said as much as I wanted to say on those two issues. You have greatly curtailed what I had intended to say but, as the 10s. widow has been referred to, I presume that I, too, can mention her. It seems odd to me that we, as intelligent people who are expected to lead the nation and give reasonable consideration to existing grievances, should have allowed this subject to remain a sore point and a difficulty for thirteen years. I will ventilate it once again; we will try and try and try again to get this and other grievances remedied.
This Measure seeks to remedy certain difficulties and complaints. It is amazing that we have at last got the Government to improve matters in that respect. They may not have gone as far as we would have liked, but there is some improvement and, to that extent, we are glad.
When the 10s. widow class of beneficiary was created the politicians concerned probably had some justifiable case for that sum only to be paid. Since then, however, other National Insurance sections have had their benefits increased, particularly on the ground of increases in the cost of living. That being so, one would naturally think that the widow who received 10s. in 1948 would also have had that amount increased over the years. Any man or woman who looks at this case in an unbiased way must ask, "Why is it that the 10s. widow cannot get the same kind of increase, based on the increased cost of living, that other classes of beneficiary have had since 1948?"
I have tried to find a reason for this treatment, but my mind must be weak because I can see no reason to justify the Government's attitude in refusing to 1237 pay an additional sum to this one type of beneficiary. I think that we are just playing about with something on which the Government intend to stand still. One appeal after another has been made one year after another, and various improvements have been introduced for other national insurance classes; surely, the position of the 10s. widow can now be improved to some extent, if not to an extent representing the full rise in the cost of living. I will not labour the point further. Perhaps improvements will be attempted one day. In the meantime, by tabling Amendments, we may get the matter fully thrashed out in Committee.
It is very pleasing to note that after a very long interval the Government have seen the necessity for increasing the benefits payable to the old compensation, cases. Those of us who represent mining constituencies are particularly glad to see that this is being done. It meets a long-felt need. Although not as much is being done as we should have liked, we are thankful that an attempt is now being made to improve that situation. We shall have many points to discuss in Committee, when we shall try to improve the Bill. Meantime, however little is given in this case, we are glad of that little because we are so poor.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I must apologise to the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) and to the House for my mistake. Having looked at the terms of Clause 5 of the Bill, I think that indicates a range of scope which means that I was wrong to stop the hon. Member when he was talking about some people failing to get an increase in pension if they moved abroad. I hope that I did the hon. Gentleman no harm, because he was good enough to tell the House that he had already said all that he wanted to say, but I want to acknowledge my mistake and to apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to the House.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Stepney)
I want, first, to congratulate the Minister on introducing a Bill that means some improvement in the position of those in receipt of family allowances and National Insurance. I strongly support 1238 my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) in what he has said about the 10s. widows. It is absolutely disgraceful that these people, who have qualified for benefit as a result of the death of their husbands, should have been tied for so long to this limit of 10s., regardless of the present worth of 10s. If one says that 10s. was worth 10s. in 1947, I suppose we can say that the 10s. widow is now a 4s. widow.
We might as well cut out the hypocrisy about this form of National Insurance and say that these people should get either a proper pension or nothing at all. If we go on as we are at present with regard to the cost of living, in 1967 the 10s. of 1947 will be worth nothing at all. If it is permissible in Committee, something should be said to the Minister and something should be done by him concerning this case.
On the question of the people affected by the old Workmen's Compensation Acts, my miner friends are always able to tell the Minister the exact position and what he should do about it. Despite the fact that the Bill makes improvements in that regard, however, the fact remains that a large number of these people, not only miners but dockers, railwaymen and all kinds of industrial workers who were receiving benefit under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts, are not now receiving the benefit which they should receive in comparison with those who are receiving benefit under the National Insurance Act.
Again it is a matter of cheeseparing. There should be equality in these matters. Nobody who has been entitled to benefit from 1947 onwards should get more than anybody who suffered from the same disability before the passing of the 1947 Act. Whether an accident occurred after 1947 or in 1946, the disability and the expense are the same. I hope that at least these points will be borne in mind, if not during the course of the Bill at a later stage.
My main reason for speaking is to express my appreciation to the Minister for what he has done in Part II of the Bill. In a speech in the last Session of Parliament, I made an appeal to the Minister on behalf of public service employees on the buses, whether drivers or conductors, on the railways or in any form of public service who under the Industrial Injuries Act appeared to be 1239 denied industrial injury benefit because it had been decided by the Commissioner or by the divisional court that the accident to the person concerned—when, for example, somebody hit him on the head with a bottle while carrying out his duties as a conductor—had not occurred in the course of his employment. This denial of industrial injury benefit meant that such a person had to resort to National Health benefit.
I made a personal appeal to the Minister, and I believe that the Trades Union Congress also took steps to draw his attention to the matter. My appeal was made on behalf of the members of the Transport and General Workers' Union employed mainly in bus services and in public services in general. I am sure that those employed in those services will thank the Minister for bringing about a situation in the Bill which makes it quite clear that if a bus conductor, conductress or driver is interfered with and assaulted by members of the public during the course of his or her employment, such an employee will without doubt become entitled to benefit under the industrial injury register. I hope that the Minister agrees with this.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member has stated what I believe to be, and am legally advised is, the effect of the provision, subject only to the point, which I am sure he has in mind, in paragraph (b,)that the assault or whatever it is must not have been occasioned by something in the man's private life. Subject to that point, what the hon. Member has said is what we believe the effect of the Clause will be, although, of course, it will have to be construed, as other provisions are construed, by the statutory authorities.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am obliged. The Minister has made the situation a little more clear than anything which appears in writing. Those of us who speak in debates are happy to get words from a Minister in reply rather than leave matters simply to the words contained in a Bill. If, however, there is any doubt, I am certain that we shall hear more from the Minister in Committee.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
To get the record absolutely straight, not having 1240 the Clause before me I referred to the qualification or proviso in paragraph (b). Looking at it, I see that it is under paragraph (c). Without this correction HANSARD might look less lucid than it should.
§ Mr. Edwards
Having said that and helped to make clear the position of employees in public services and of the unions connected with them, all I want to say is that I am pleased to see that part of the Bill. Other parts of it may be subject to criticism and amendment. My main purpose tonight, however, is to express appreciation for the fact that these people in public service now stand a far better chance of being covered by industrial injuries benefits.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
The Minister would be surprised if I were to express any sense of appreciation of what he has done. In the long course of our arguments on the 1959 National Insurance Bill, I did not have much to say by way of compliment to the right hon. Gentleman. On the occasion of the present Bill, however, although it is a very small one, what little it does is welcome, even though there remain features in which it does not go as far as the Minister might have gone.
There is, for example, the complexing those increments. I have argued with man whose wife is not yet 60 years of age during the period when he is earn-question of the increments earned by a and supported my hon. Friends in their concern about the, not young, but younger widow. She need only have been ten years younger than her husband. Under the existing position, if she is ten years younger, her husband could not have earned any increment on her behalf. I tend to think in terms of the younger rather than of the young widow. The fact that something is being done now for the younger widow has our support, and it is on this point that I wish to express my appreciation of the right hon. Gentleman's efforts.
I have read the White Paper on this subject, and I appreciate that it is a complex matter—rather more complex than I saw it to be, I must admit, when we argued about it upstairs. But, even viewing it from the standpoint of the complexity of the problem as presented, 1241 I am still inclined to feel that the younger widow might have been given full benefit and not part. She is getting half and not the full benefit Had she been five years older she would have been enabled to get the full benefit.
Perhaps the soundest objection advanced in the White Paper is that the spinster can begin to earn these increments only when she has reached the age of 60, whereas the younger widow, on reaching the age of 60, will have 50 per cent. of the increments earned by her husband, on the assumption that her husband worked on for five years in order to get the increments. I agree that there is a validity in the objection that women who have not been married—and this could also apply to a woman widowed early and who has worked for most of her life—would also be in the position of having no possibility of obtaining this addition without working up to the age of 60 or possibly later to get the increments.
I do not place much weight on the argument of a single man paying the same contribution as a married man but not getting the same benefit because he has no wife and is not getting dependants' allowance. That argument is also advanced in the White Paper. Our social system being what it is, I feel that, if we are to multiply at all, we require to be married, and we must recognise the fact that a married man normally undertakes many more obligations than does a single man. Something might be said about the spinster from choice. I do not know whether there are such spinsters, but I take it that there are. Probably there are bachelors from choice and some not from choice, but I suggest that the same sort of argument applies to the spinster from choice.
For example, there is the professional lady who decides that she will continue as a professional lady. I would have no more sense of any wrong being done to her because she could only begin to add to her increments when she reached the age of 60 than I would in applying the provision to the bachelor. For most people, there is a burden—a welcome one, but nevertheless a burden—in rearing children, as my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Robertson) pointed out. Most of the women I have in mind have no profession, and little in 1242 the way of jobs, except in offices or factories or shops. If a woman marries and rears a family, then, unless she has some special skill, one finds that in most parts of the country, certainly including mine, there is no facility for her to pick up a good job.
This sort of thing should be seen to. When a woman gets married and is then widowed, she should be seen as being in a different category from a spinster who has always carried on her work. One should treat a married woman in a different way from a spinster. We need not necessarily be weighed down by how she compares with a spinster. That argument has some weight, but not as much as has been given to it.
In the White Paper there is a fair amount of talk about the younger widow because, if she were given full incremental position by her husband, she would be better off than a woman of the same age without a husband. She would get the benefit at 60. The younger widow under these circumstances would be substantially better treated than the older widow. But again I put it that, as things stand, the younger widow is in many ways rather unfairly treated.
Now, under the existing National Insurance law, if the widow has no children, or has children who have left school, then if she is aged just under 50 she does not qualify for a pension. This is the point we are often inclined to forget in talking about the 10s. widow. There are many widows—an increasing number—who get nothing. This might be seen as an aspect of a widow's age— the fact that she is under 50 and, the other circumstances being present, qualifies for no pension and has then to begin to work and to contribute in order to have a pension at retiring age. There are many women either in that category or in the 10s. widow class. Certainly in my area some of the widows are in the 10s. class because they are older. Some of them are suffering hardship, and this sort of thing should be taken into account.
I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman a short time ago drawing his attention to what I considered to be an injustice —perfectly legal under the existing law, but nevertheless an injustice. The case concerned a woman in this category. He 1243 transferred the matter to his hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, whom I thank for his reply, which was courteous but not satisfactory.
The typical job available for women is that of school cleaner or shop cleaner—on their knees scrubbing floors —'and they get very little money, at least in the North, for this kind of thing. Here we find examples of the kind of injustice to widows in this category. The case I have in mind is where widows worked overtime over a period of five months, cleaning up after painters, but got their ordinary weekly wage. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman studied the case or merely had it transferred to his hon. Friend, but I hope that he will listen to the point I am making, for it is a fair one. I am speaking of women working about five months' overtime cleaning up after painters but not paid for the overtime over the period of five months. They get their normal weekly wage, and their weekly wage is a very small one, and they receive the overtime for five months plus holiday pay. In one week their income would be pushed up, of course, and they would get something like £18 or so in that week. Of course, they paid graduated pension contribution.
Now this is a point I raise. Their employers are compelled to take that off. Suppose they work another ten years on this basis and they get their overtime on this basis. Ten times this will be done, with just about, say, 5s. for wages, making about 50s. They will be 50 or over 50 by the end of that time. They cannot possibly in that period of time make up the £4 10s. which is necessary for them— that is, half. It is £18 in total, with the 6d. "brick". Half of £9 is £4 10s., which the woman contributes. She cannot possibly contribute £4 10s. in this period of time. She must necessarily be paying after the age she can receive any return. That is clear. The money she is paying has been taken from her and it cannot be returned.
This, I am sure, is an injustice which a very considerable body of widows are suffering. I would say that if we are to bring all these factors in, as is done, for example, in this White Paper, weighing the pros and cons of nice insurance balance of how much the total amount of 1244 benefit is worth on the assumption that they will live till about 80 years of age, then though this kind of thing may be justifiable from one view, I do not agree that it is a nice scheme from a social point of view. We press this point as hard as we can and certainly we do not say that we agree with what is being done in this case.
I would ask, too, that the Minister consider this, that despite the technicality—that what the man receives for his wife when he is retired does not become a pension till she reaches the age of 60; it is only a dependant's allowance —despite that technicality, it is the same amount of money that he receives, whatever we call it, and if he forgoes this and continues to work he is forgoing the same amount of money—a married man—as the fellow whose wife was in pensionable age. I work it out that if a man carries on at the present time, paying as he is for man and wife, for a pension for the man and an allowance for the wife, in that five years he will forgo something over £1,000—£1,072 I take it to be. That is what he forgoes, by way of continuing for five years, and what is legally his if he stops work and draws. Add to the £1,000 which he forgoes the contribution he and his employer will make over those five years.
I think that the joint contribution is 19s. 2d. a week—quite a bit. We tend to talk only of employee's contributions, but the employer's contribution is made on his behalf, and the State receives the employer's contribution, so that I submit that when we talk of contribution we should talk of joint contribution—just as I always object to somebody's talking of the "brick" of 6d.—which amounts to £18 jointly.
When we take into account the amount of money forgone in terms of benefits which would have been paid to him plus the amount of money which will be paid by him and on his behalf over this period it works out, in my calculation, to something over £1,300 in the five years.
Consider the case of a man whose wife is ten years younger than he. I know of such a case, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) does, for he has a wife ten years younger than he. Men have wives who are ten years younger, and a very good 1245 thing. Take the man himself under the present arrangements. The husband when he retires would receive increments over the period working out to a maximum of 21s., and get nothing for his wife. It would take him a little time at 21s. a week—twenty-five years or so—to have returned only to him the amount of money he had forgone or had paid or had had paid on his behalf during the period of five years. The State gets an excellent bargain on this basis. A man, irrespective of the age of his wife, is paying as much and forgoing as much during this period.
Even under this Bill and the alteration in this Bill the wife will not receive as much; she cannot receive any more than half—10s. 6d. on this basis if she is widowed; whereas if she were five years older she would be in the position of receiving 21s., and if she were something in between she would receive shillings plus sixpences. So there is still this injustice in that a wife who is ten years younger than her husband is not being treated yet as the wife who is five years younger than her husband, and I can see no reason why. I will not say I see no reason why. In fairness, I can see reasons why this position is adopted, and, as I say, I am grateful that something is being done, but I still maintain that the arguments being advanced for it are not sufficiently valid for the purpose, and by stretching the Measure, and without doing many injustices, we could easily have treated the younger widow on the same basis as her older sister. It is not a question of the young girl wife receiving these increments over the longer period. It is not payable till she reaches the age of 60. So it is not a very great deal to ask.
I think that on this sort of basis we could have gone still further and I say that I would have liked and I still would like to achieve this kind of change. Were I to be in the Committee on this Bill—I am afraid that I shall not be— I would certainly play my part in trying to achieve this change.
I would briefly say something about another aspect of this Measure. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that when we were dealing with the 1959 Bill —and if he does not remember, as perhaps he may not, he will see if he looks 1246 back over the record—he gave us an undertaking that he would look very closely into the suggestions as to a breakdown of pension and pension increments. We have a graduated pension accruing to a man who, because of a breakdown in his health, does not reach retiral age at all. The right hon. Gentleman will remember the point. It was argued very vigorously here. As we see it, a growing feature of these retirement schemes, private schemes, is the possibility of the man who does not reach and cannot reach retirement age getting something back, or, if he does not get something back, having an addition to his flat-rate pension. I am disappointed that in this Bill, which presented the opportunity, nothing has been done at all about this.
There is no suggestion that the Minister has given no thought to what he said at the time. It was a very valid point and one which impressed him quite a lot, and one which, he said, he would look into. I admit that he then said that he would like to see the scheme working a bit more. I will grant that, but the shadow of what was to follow was perfectly clear, and I should have thought that he would have had plenty of time by now to have seen how the scheme has been working out, and that he could have done something on that type of scheme.
There are many features throughout the National Insurance Scheme which should be looked into. I see that Mr. Speaker is ready to pounce on me and, therefore, I will not pursue that line other than to say that I should like to see much less emphasis laid on the insurance principle when we have already deliberately departed from that principle. I should like to hear the Minister say that when the White Paper accompanying the 1959 Act was issued it was agreed that the insurance principle had gone and that we were concerned now with current payment for current benefit.
I should like to see the implications of that followed up but, as I and many of my hon. Friends said during the Committee stage of the 1959 Act, the Minister tried to have it both ways. When it suited him he argued from the point of view of the insurance principle. When it did not suit him he argued from the point 1247 of view of the abandonment of that principle and the adoption of current payment for current benefit. We have tied ourselves up needlessly by taking this huge block of retirement pensions on a supposedly insurance principle when we know that that principle has been abandoned long ago.
We might treat sickness benefit, industrial injuries benefit and unemployment benefit as genuine insurable risks, but take retiral out of this principle and treat it in the sympathetic and humane way in which it should be treated. I am sure that the Minister could do this. I am sure that he is not such a harsh fellow as all that, judging from some of his speeches, and I am sure that he could fight more determinedly for the great mass of older people if he were not tied to these double standards.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The importance of this subject should not be judged by the attendance in the House. The attendance may well be the criterion of the complexity of the subject rather than its importance. I disagreed with the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) when he said that this was a Bill of limited significance. He was very wrong indeed. It is a Bill of significance to a limited number of people, but to those people it is very important. We must be very careful, therefore, of the accuracy of what we say about the contents of the Bill and careful that when we are not sure we admit our difficulties and hesitations.
It was very wrong of the noble Lord to say that people with partial disability will have an increase of 10s., because only certain of them will receive it. The point is that under Clause 1 the people with whom we are dealing are mainly old people who have lived with this problem and these grievances in many cases for years and years. They are terribly sensitive to every piece of information that they can obtain on the subject. They therefore tend to pick up information that may well not be quite correct. I shall return later to some of the things that the noble Lord said.
I wonder whether the Minister felt that he had been through all this before and that there was a certain familiarity 1248 about it all. I have no doubt that there is for him. The right hon. Gentleman may recall that when he first became Minister of Pensions and National Insurance he appeared on his first day at the Dispatch Box not with a Bill but with two Bills. The noble Lord the Member for Hertford was wrong again. It was not the Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Supplementation) Bill. It was the Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill.
§ Mr. Ross
The noble Lord may wish to interview the Minister of Works on the question of two Bills presented on the same day. This legislative child has precedence over a twin that was born a few hours earlier.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance had two Bills on that day and both were concerned with this subject. As I have said, one was the Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill and it may well be that it is that Bill that is causing the right hon. Gentleman all the trouble today with apprentices. The other Bill, now the Workmen's Compensation and Benefit (Supplementation) Act, 1956, dealt only with total incapacity covered both by workmen's compensation and the benefits schemes for pneumoconiosis and byssinosis.
There is no doubt what will happen to these people. They then received 17s. 6d. supplementation. They will now receive an additional 15s., but what must be asked is why the Minister then decided that he should give the additional supplement of 17s. 6d. I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he said. He announced then what was called the principle of equity and it is a principle of which my hon. Friends the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) and the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) spoke today.
The right hon. Gentleman said:…the broad purpose is, I think, clear, and will I hope prove acceptable; it is that we should use the Industrial Injuries Fund in order to provide a supplement to those 13,000 or 14,000 men who because, and only because, they draw their support from a workmen's compensation system which was superseded in 1948 have found that the money that they draw from that is not only insufficient for their needs, but is out of line with what is drawn by their friends and colleagues who may have 1249 suffered an industrial accident a year or two later…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1956; Vol. 552, col. 1916.]We welcome the Bill as far as it goes, but it does not go even as far as the Minister went in 1956. He will remember that in 1956 he brought the married man on workmen's compensation up to parity with a man on industrial injuries benefit. Before that time there was a gap of 17s. 6d. But two years later, when we increased the industrial injuries benefit, the disparity once again was 17s. 6d., and when the change made last year came into operation in April, when the industrial injuries benefit went up to £4 17s. 6d., the disparity became 30s. The right hon. Gentleman then proceeds to put that right according to his own definition of purpose in 1956, and after he does it there is a disparity of 15s.
In other words, we have been here before. We are right back where we started in 1956. The Minister has done less than justice even to himself and to what he declared should be done and to the reason he gave why it should be done in 1956. The question whether or not this is in keeping with the rises in the cost-of-living index is beside the point, as the Minister admitted in what he proclaimed to the House on 15th May, 1956.
I have my own feeling, and I think that it is shared by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, that we missed the opportunity in 1956. I hope that it is not too late to get back to the position. When we had that parity we could have made a change and transferred this whole matter to the Industrial Injuries Act. It was suggested even earlier—in 1951. Regrets were expressed When we were the Government that we had not been able to do it, but that was after only three years' working of the 1946 Act.
I am wondering whether the person who made that suggestion in 1951 will now use his influence to get this done. He is now the Leader of the House. I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber. I recollected that he made a speech on this subject and I refreshed my memory about it the other night. He thought that there should be that transference or assimilation of the Workmen's Compensation Act with the Industrial Injuries 1250 Act. In fact, I think that he went further. He hoped to see the Industrial Injuries Act taken over by the National Insurance Scheme. But one step will be enough for me. Until we get that done we shall get these continual grievances.
Let us remember the people to whom this applies. These old workmen's compensation cases apply to people who are fairly old. Most of them who would come under some of the Clauses with which we are dealing, would be well over 70. If we take subsection (2) we are harking back to the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1951, which dealt with pre-1924 cases. I think that there is a case for far greater generosity. We are grateful that something is being done in regard to total incapacity, but we think that it is far too late and too little. The extra 15s. to restore the position of parity in 1956 should at the least have been given.
The question of the partial compensation cases has, I think, been very unsatisfactorily dealt with. I should like to know whether there is any assurance at all about the figures that the Minister gave or about the people who are to benefit. It is a very obscure formula. Although, in relation to the pre-1924 cases, we have raised the limit from 40s. to 50s., we have left the gap formula as it is. If that formula keeps them out now, it will keep them out after this Bill has been passed. The difference shall not exceed the difference between two-thirds of the loss of earnings and the amount of compensation. Then we get the formula for the loss of earnings being what a man would be able to get in his old occupation compared with what he is able to earn now. I would say that that formula on the basis of all pre-1924 cases is much more generous than the formula now presented for the 1924 to 1948 cases.
We have to turn to the First Schedule to find out whether that is so. The calculation in relation to the loss of earnings is…the amount of his average weekly earnings before the happening of the accident"—it has nothing to do with the occupation and the earnings in that occupation—and the average weekly amount which he is earning or able to earn in some suitable employment or business.1251 I wonder whether all these will qualify at all. I have considerable doubt. I do not think that it is a generous formula and I think that it is wrong to say that all the partially disabled will get the 10s. I think that a considerable number of them will be very disappointed.
In relation to the extension of class of accidents under Clause 2, I think that this was very well covered by my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North. We are grateful for the extension of the industrial injuries insurance cover, but we should like to see it go a little further. A suggestion of whimsicality struck me right away when I read the cold language of the draftsman:…or by the behaviour or presence of an animal (including a bird, fish or insect), or is caused by or consists in the insured person being struck by any object or by lightning;We are to be covered not only by the bull in the china shop, but by the flying saucer as well. But this is not a joking matter. We are dealing with people who have hitherto been affected and who are now to get industrial injuries benefit. This means a tremendous lot to them.
My hon. Friend made a very striking speech about the effect on transport workers. I think that he was supported in this by the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne). It is, when we consider the very nature of things, a tendency to hark back to the Workmen's Compensation Act attitude if we insist on these persons being on their employers' premises. By the very nature of his work, a man may have to be out on the road and away from the premises, or having a break for meals or for other purposes, and he would inevitably be ruled out under the wording of the Clause. I hope that when we come to discuss all these matters in Committee, the Minister will be prepared to listen to the suggestions that have been made.
I turn to the question of apprentices, and to the meaning of "child", because we jump now to the Family Allowances Act. As I have said before, the Minister may well have brought this upon himself. This did not matter a tremendous amount when family allowances ended at 16. Very few apprenticeships started before 16. In the first year of apprenticeship wages tend to be very much lower 1252 than later. The Minister himself, with considerable eclat,extended the meaning of the word "child" to cover a person who is still at school until his eighteenth birthday, and out of simple justice he had to extend it in relation to an apprentice, which he did without any prompting from this side of the House.
This is where I cross swords with the noble Lord the Member for Hertford once again. The noble Lord has quite an important position on the Tory Party's Health and Social Security Committee. He proclaimed the means test mind when he dealt with apprenticeships today and in relation not just to apprentices but the whole aspect of family allowances. Did the Minister agree with the noble Lord? I think there has been a complete misunderstanding of, certainly a misstatement about, the original purposes of family allowance in the speeches which we have heard today from the Government side of the House. Hon. Members have talked about family allowance going to the child. It does not go to the child. Family allowance is not attracted to any individual. It is given to the family. The child never sees the money. It is the parent who gets it.
The noble Lord said that the object of the family allowance was not to subsidise wages. I do not think that anyone ever suggested that it was. If the noble Lord thinks that we are subsidising the wages of the apprentice, what about the earnings of the noble Lord, who is quite prepared to draw his own family allowance and to vote it away for the parent of the apprentice, whether that parent is rich or poor?
§ Lord Balniel
I think that the hon. Gentleman has slightly misunderstood what I was trying to put to the House. What I was trying to ask was: if we look at this objectively, who has the greater priority for the family allowance? Is it the eldest child of a large family, say a family of six or seven, which is on National Assistance, a family to which we refuse family allowance to the eldest child, or is the higher priority to be given to a family containing an apprentice of 17 who is bringing in every week £4 10s.? I was putting to the House whether our application of family allowances was, in fact, on the highest priority.
§ Mr. Ross
If we tabled an Amendment to give the family allowance to the 1253 first child even in limited cases, I should be interested to see what support it got. Let the noble Lord appreciate that he is taking away the family allowances attracted in respect of apprentices and given to the parents of, it may well be, a poor family, but he is putting nothing in its place. I wonder whether he has read the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum and appreciates exactly what is being done in this respect. He was very disappointing on that point.
I would remind the noble Lord of exactly what we have already had from the Government about this. I wonder whether he looked back to 1956 to ascertain what the Ministers who put this matter forward had to say about it, for they had to justify it. He never opposed it. The same considerations applied then as apply today.…family allowance is a family benefit…is intended to assist all families, irrespective of income. Earnings are not related to the number of children in the family."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May. 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1902.]That was said on 15th May, 1956, by the hon. Lady who was then the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. That is the answer not only to the noble Lord, but to the Minister himself in his new approach today to the very extension which he introduced in respect of apprentices in 1956.
A fair answer was also given by the Commissioner in his publicised decision, when he said, about the definition:In our view this means that his earnings are sufficiently substantial to enable him to maintain himself on the assumption that he will be thrifty in the conduct of his affairs and be willing for the sake of learning a trade to forgo for the time being some of those amenities which a youth could enjoy by taking advantage of the wages which he could earn in an occupation in which he received no comparable training.Later, it said:This is a course of conduct at once beneficial to the children and the community at large.This is where we meet the conflict that we so often get. We have the Minister of Labour and those concerned with education in Scotland proclaiming the great need for skilled apprentices. They say that nothing must be done to prevent the apprentices from reaching 1254 out for this skill. But this 8s.—or it may well be 10s. in respect of a family—may be the one thing which will pull the child, guided by his parents, away from apprenticeship and into a more immediately higher-paid job which makes no demands on his spare time for attendance at technical college, and so on, such as we get with apprenticeships.
I am disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman, who was responsible for the extension in 1956, should now be willing to take it away, and not only take it away but go right back beyond 1956. The new limit is to be 40s. It is to be an unchanging limit; it will be written into the Bill. But in 1956 the limit, as interpreted by the referees at that time, was 55s. When the decision was made by the National Insurance Commissioner that an apprentice could earn this greater sum of 89s. 6d. at the age of 17 and 18, I was told by the Minister that the number of apprentices affected would be 30,000. But he told us today that the number of apprentices in respect of whom parents would be able to claim family allowance was being reduced by 50,000.
Here is progress under Toryism. We extend a benefit to 30,000 in 1956, but we take it away from 50,000 in 1961. Either we mean business on this question of apprenticeships or we do not. Quite apart from the intention and actual interpretation of the original Act, the realisation of the importance of apprenticeships should be such that we should allow no bar, no matter how small, to boys and girls entering into apprenticeships.
I sincerely hope that the Minister will be prepared to think about this again, but "I hae ma doots", because I think that this is the real reason for the Bill. The answer that we are likely to get from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is, "You have made some wonderful suggestions, but they all cost money, and the country is in economic difficulties and this is no time to increase personal incomes." That has a familiar ring about it. I wonder whether the Minister has appreciated that there is a familiar ring about what has been happening. He ought to have done.…this is a time at which additional expenditure, on however admirable a cause, is particularly difficult. It is perfectly obvious that a restraint on increased expenditure is 1255 necessitated by the general state of the economy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E.31st May, 1956; c. 11–12.]Those words were uttered by the Minister himself during the Committee stage of the Family Allowances Bill in 1956. We have come full circle, not for the first time in an economic crisis, and we have had the same call from the right hon. Gentleman—"I would like to do it, but the country cannot afford it". I sincerely hope that we will get a different attitude this time.
The hon. Member for Torrington said that when a man was contemplating marriage he should have a close look at the National Insurance Acts. It is not the man but the woman who should do that.
§ Mr. Ross
I thought that the implication was that he would do well to do so. There would be much more point in it if the young lady, who usually does the choosing as well as the man who pops the question, had a look at the Acts, because she is the person who will suffer.
The Advisory Committee considered what is a grievance felt by the wife who is more than five years younger than her husband, and especially the wife who is more than ten years younger than her husband. I was going to declare an interest in this, although not saying how much younger than I am my wife is. The younger woman suffers in this respect as a wife as well as a retired widow. She suffers a double hardship.
If she has been under 60 all the time that her husband has been deferring his retirement pension and, when he eventually retires, is still under 60, she cannot get the increments which would go to the wife over 60, because she has no pension. The increments go only with the pension. She probably does not know that she does not get a pension. But it is the husband who gets the pension and there is a dependant's allowance for her if she is under 60, and a dependant's allowance does not attract any increment, for the increment relates only to pension.
1256 She suffers all the time that her husband is retired and she is under 60, and she is permanently in that position. When, eventually, she becomes a widow, and gets a retirement pension, the disability continues. She never gets the increments which her husband earned. She does not get the half increments which her husband earned and which would be passed on to the widow who was less than five years younger than her husband.
We should pay our due need of praise to the Advisory Committee whose Report is logical and clear, very much more clear than any of the Schedules to the Bill. I have a strong feeling that the Advisory Committee would have liked to have met the grievance completely, but it was governed by its terms of reference which related to increments on retirement pensions. As the whole trouble arises because the widow concerned does not get a pension, the Advisory Committee could not deal with the question of the wife. It could deal only with the question of the widow when eventually she received a retirement pension. We are grateful to the Advisory Committee for what it has done.
For the wife who is under 60, the position will remain what it now is. For a widow who is over 60 all the time her husband was deferring his retirement, the position will remain as it now is. That is to say, she will be able to get her own 6d. increments for every twelve contributions made, and she will get half of her husband's increments when she becomes a widow. For the widow who is between five and ten years younger than her husband, the position will be that she will get half of her husband's increments and that portion which accrued to her while she was over 60 and her husband was deferring retirement. The younger widow will be able to get half of the increments earned by her husband, but nothing in respect of her own earnings.
It would be far better if we gave wider terms of reference to the Advisory Committee and asked it to devise a scheme. I do not like the complications and controversies implicit in the scheme suggested by the hon. Member for Torrington. That would bring all the women in the country down on our 1257 heads. There must be a much simpler scheme and it may be better to go the whole hog and treat the family as a unit, paying the addition to the wife irrespective of her age.
I cannot get away from the Advisory Committee's conclusion:Nor is there any doubt that over the years the present conditions have caused a sense of unfairness not only among those personally affected but among people who make it their business to study these questions.The best that we can do with this is to call it unfinished business and accept the suggestion embodied in the Bill, sincerely hoping that we will return to remedy the second part of the grievance as early as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) asked the Minister if this was the only Bill which he was to introduce this Session. He need not have asked that question. All he had to do was to read what the Minister said when dealing with a major Bill to raise benefits. We raised the question of the workmen's compensation cases and the Minister said that that Bill was designated for raising benefits and that workmen's compensation questions could not be dealt with then. When he was raising compensation benefits and supplementary payments, he spoke about the general level of benefits and said that we could then deal only with questions of hardship. It is, therefore, obvious that this Bill is our task for this Session and that the crying needs of the old people will go unheeded.
Let us appreciate exactly how the cost of living has risen for old people since the announcement of increases in their pensions exactly a year ago, increases of 7s. 6d. and 12s. 6d. for the single person and married couple respectively, and 5s. and 3s. 6d. for those on National Assistance. During the intervening year, the cost of living has jumped more than in the year previous to the last improvement. It is a great disappointment that the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance is prepared to let this opportunity pass without seeking some improvement in the general level of benefits.
We welcome the fact that he has done something about these difficult and trying cases. We regret that he has not reached 1258 parity and we hope that, in Committee, we shall be able to persuade him that something more should be done.
§ 8.19 p.m.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Richard Sharpies)
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) spoke as he always speaks in these debates with great force and with great knowledge, but I would take up his last words. Like his hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), he asked my right hon. Friend whether he was going to introduce a Bill to raise the general level of National Insurance benefits. If the hon. Gentleman thinks about it, I am sure he will agree that it is not realistic to suggest introducing a Bill at this stage to increase insurance benefits generally when, in April, they were increased in real terms to the highest level ever.
§ Mr. Houghton
It is not realistic in considering the policy of the Conservative Government, but, otherwise, I see nothing to stop benefits being raised still further.
§ Mr. Sharples
Perhaps we need not pursue the point in great detail, but I think that in comparison with the record of the Labour Government our record stands up very well.
This is a technical and complicated Bill. I agree with the hon. Member for Kilmarnock that the attendance during the debate does not in any way reflect the importance of the Bill and of the interest which I know it has aroused among many hon. Members. I will try to answer as many points as I can, but there are some points which I think hon. Members will agree would be better left to the Committee stage.
The hon. Member for Sowerby raised one point which is not in the Bill. He referred to industrial accidents occurring abroad. I am sure the hon. Gentleman realises as well as anybody that this is an extremely difficult subject. The extension of the Industrial Injuries Act to cover accidents in countries with whom we have no reciprocal agreements raises all sorts of problems.
It raises, first, and most important, the difficulty of investigating such claims, and the best way of dealing with this 1259 problem is to extend reciprocal agreements wherever we can. My right hon. Friend has examined this matter in great detail, and everywhere has come up against the difficulties of investigation, under different conditions of work, in countries overseas, particularly those which are less industrialised than we are.
It would be wrong to raise false hopes. People who are sent abroad to work should realise that if they want industrial cover it must be arranged through private insurance schemes which can be tailored to meet the particular circumstances and difficulties of each case. My right hon. Friend will continue to consider this, but it would not be right at this stage to hold out any hope of an extension in that direction.
§ Mr. Houghton
Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that it is possible to arrange this private insurance cover for, say, a man going to work in Albania? Is it any easier for the insurance company to verify and certify? Is the hon. Gentleman too optimistic in thinking that this cover is available?
§ Mr. Sharples
I think that, in practice, most employers do this, and I have not heard of any cases of difficulty in arranging such cover.
I turn now to the Bill itself. Clause 1 has been discussed by a number of hon. Members. Although I know that some hon. Members would prefer them to go further, the increases in the benefits payable to people under the Workmen's Compensation Acts have been generally welcomed. The criticism is, first, that the increases do not go far enough, and, secondly, that these old workmen's compensation cases should be incorporated into the Industrial Injuries Scheme.
The latter point was made particularly by the hon. Member for Sowerby, the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), and, of course, by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock. I think that there would be the greatest difficulty in trying to merge the two schemes, because they are based on entirely different principles. The Workmen's Compensation Acts are based on the principle of loss of earnings. The Industrial Injuries Act is based on the principle of loss of faculty. Also, completely different 1260 criteria apply in assessing the amount of compensation under both Acts.
If we were to try to incorporate those receiving workmen's compensation in the Industrial Injuries Scheme, we could not do so fairly unless we reboarded everyone who was getting workmen's compensation. I think, too, that there would be tremendous difficulty in trying to decide in each case what proportion of a man's disablement was due to an accident many years ago and what proportion was due to age, or other causes. I do not think that it would be possible to do that.
This matter was raised in 1951, when Miss Edith Summerskill—as she then was—said, in reply to the suggestion that the schemes should be merged:the whole problem has been examined and discussed with both sides of industry, and our conclusion is that the workmen's compensation scheme and the industrial injuries scheme are based on such different principles that they cannot be assimilated in any way which would be fair to the men concerned and administratively practicable."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1951; Vol. 484, c. 1374.]I do not think that the position has changed in any way since that statement was made, and I do not see how it would be possible to merge the two schemes.
The other suggestion is that the level of compensation payable to persons under the Workmen's Compensation Acts should be brought up to the same level as that of those who receive the 100 per cent. rate under the Industrial Injuries Act. I am now referring to those toally disabled. There again we are up against two difficulties. First, the Industrial Injuries Scheme is an insurance scheme which has been paid for by contributions. Secondly, I am advised that a large number of people qualifying under the Workmen's Compensation Acts would not qualify for the 100 per cent. industrial disablement benefit. The 100 per cent. rate implies a very high degree of disablement, whereas the "total" is given benefit because of loss of earnings.
§ Mr. Finch
I am surprised that the hon. Member should say that, because under the Workmen's Compensation Acts employers will not pay compensation unless a man is quite incapable of doing any work at all. Under the Industrial Injuries Act, however, although 1261 the assessments are very rigid, even if a man receives a 100 per cent. Assessment it may be possible for him still to do a job, however light, without losing his 100 per cent. assessment.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the answer he gave in relation to the Industrial Injuries Fund was exactly the answer given us in 1956, which we are now breaching, since we are going to pay a possible 10s., as well as the 7s. 6d. that goes to the benefit scheme, out of the Industrial Injuries Fund.
§ Mr. Sharples
I do not think that that point in any way goes against the principle that we should use the Fund for the relief of hardship, which I am sure is right. If we tried to assimilate the two schemes—whether wholly or partly, simply by keeping the rates level—we should have to pay some attention to the insurance principle.
§ Mr. Sharples
The fact that they were level at one time does not mean that they must be level for all time. Also, in our present proposal we are dealing with some partially disabled people for the first time since 1943.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch), the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and others have criticised the two-thirds earnings rule. We must recognise that the rule goes back a long time, and was an integral part of the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. We cannot get away from that consideration. My right hon. Friend will certainly study carefully the speech of the hon. Member for Bedwellty, but it would be a great departure in principle to abandon that rule.
§ Mr. Sharples
It may be a dying Act, but many people are still drawing benefit under it.
I want to amplify a little the remarks of my right hon. Friend about the timing and the machinery which we shall have for putting these changes into effect. I think this will be helpful to the House. There is no difficulty in respect of those totally disabled, and the new benefits will come into force as soon as 1262 practicable after the Royal Assent to the Bill. The day on which they come into effect will be fixed by an appointed day Order. The allowances for the totally disabled—most of which will be dealt with by local offices—will be brought into operation without the need for fresh claims having to be made. Immediately after the Royal Assent, before the appointed day, order books will have to be called in to be up-rated. Generally, it will take about three weeks for this to be done. In some cases, for one reason or another, it will take longer, but all the allowances will be operative from the appointed day even if they have not been settled by then. We hope that the appointed day will be within a month of the Bill receiving the Royal Assent.
The partially disabled present a more complicated picture. We propose to use the existing machinery of the Workmen's Compensation Supplementation Board and of the Pneumoconiosis and Byssinosis Benefit Board to implement the new rates. Before they can be paid, however, we shall need to introduce to the House amending schemes which will require affirmative Resolutions. This means that even if the Bill receives the Royal Assent before Christmas, which we hope it will, it will not be possible to bring in the new rates for the partially disabled until about the end of February. We intend, however, to bring the Resolutions before Parliament as early as we possibly can.
§ Mr. Finch
I quite appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, but this is where complications will arise. Very many men on partial compensation are receiving below the maximum and, as the Bill now stands, they will not be entitled to any increase. But, once we start making inquiries from all these sources, men will feel that one is to receive something while another is not. It will have to be dealt with very carefully because, as I explained before, there are men without any increase while there are others with increases. It is a question of earnings. This is why I hope that we shall consider the question carefully in Committee, in order to avoid all the discontent that inevitably will arise in this complicated business of pre-accident and post-accident earnings.
§ Mr. Sharples
I agree that this will be quite a complicated operation. We 1263 already know who those partially disabled before 1924 are because they are already on our books, having received supplementation under the earlier Act. It will not be necessary for them to submit claims, but those partially disabled after 1923, who have never received supplementation before, will have to submit claims.
For this purpose we shall have to rely a great deal upon the good offices of organisations such as the National Coal Board and the insurance companies which deal with compensation business. We shall need their help in trying to identify as many men as we can. When that is done the Workmen's Compensation Supplementation Board can invite claims and get in touch with the disabled directly.
I emphasise, perhaps for the benefit of those who are not in the House this evening, how important it is that we should have this help from outside bodies if we are to get the allowances into payment as soon as possible. We hope very much that they will co-operate with us, as they did at the time of the Workmen's Compensation Supplementation Scheme in 1951. When the claims begin to come in we shall have to make inquiries in some cases from employers. Employers have given us their assistance in these matters in the past and we very much hope they will do so again.
We in the Department will do all we can to get in touch with those we know who are likely to be affected and to bring the new provisions to their notice. In that connection we shall appreciate very much the help of officials and branch secretaries of trade unions. I am sure we can rely on them, as we always have done in the past, and on the trade unions generally, to do all they can to ensure that no former trade union worker on compensation shall be left unaware of these provisions.
This will mean a fairly considerable amount of additional work for the Workmen's Compensation Supplementation Board. We have already arranged for its staff to be increased and for the training of additional people. I wish to emphasise the intention of my right hon. Friend to get these allowances into payment as soon as he can after the Bill receives the Royal Assent. I think hon. 1264 Members will recognise that in the case of those partially disabled after 1923 there will be a considerable amount of work to be done.
I now turn to Clause 2, which has been referred to by a number of hon. Members, in particular the hon. Member for Sowerby, the hon. Member for East Ham, North and my noble Friend the Member for Hertford. They referred to meal breaks. It has been extraordinarily difficult to find a means of including meal breaks under the Industrial Injuries Scheme without widening the scope of the scheme too much. I realise the difficulties particular to the transport industry, especially the case of a bus driver who leaves his bus to cross the road to go to a canteen, but the problem about legislation of this kind is that it has to be framed in general terms. The whole principle of the Industrial Injuries Acts is to give additional compensation over and above what is received under the normal National Insurance Scheme to a person who receives an industrial injury.
A difficulty about covering the bus driver or transport driver crossing the road to go to a cafe is whether one should also cover an office worker who crosses the road to go to a canteen in Whitehall and is knocked down by a bus. One must compare the position with that of a housewife who is injured when crossing the road in similar circumstances. This is a complicated and difficult problem for one is dealing with compensation for the industrial worker over and above that in the normal National Insurance Scheme, and in extending this one must be careful about how far one goes.
§ Mr. Prentice
Many of us ask not so much for an extension of the scheme as a whole as for an attempt to bring certain groups, who at the moment are in an unfortunate position, into line with the majority of their fellow workers. For example, the bus driver and the lorry driver from time to time obviously need to stop driving their vehicles. Sometimes it is at an authorised, scheduled stop. Sometimes the lorry driver stops for refreshment. We want to see that they get the same benefit from the Act as the shop worker or the factory worker gets when within his employer's premises. We all agree that this is complicated. Will the hon. Gentleman 1265 undertake to have another look at this between now and the Committee stage, when we shall put down an Amendment? Will efforts be made to try to meet us on this important point?
§ Mr. Sharples
My right hon. Friend has studied this matter in great detail, and I should be misleading the hon. Member if I held out any hope that it will be possible to make a change in this Bill. There is bound to be a borderline somewhere. The difficulty about shifting a borderline, as the hon. Member rightly said, is that although there may be anomalies on either side of it, we may create even deeper anomalies by moving it. The hon. Member intends to raise the point in Committee, and perhaps that would afford a better opportunity to discuss the details.
§ Mr. Sharples
The hon. Member for Sowerby referred to the question of injury arising from accidents with fish and birds. I recall many years ago that a doctor friend of my father was struck while on his rounds by a duck flying down St. James's Street. But I do not think that this kind of thing is very likely. In the provision about animals, as the hon. Member for East Ham, North rightly said, there is the question of the driver who receives a sting from an insect, or there could even be the case of a bird flying through the windscreen of a car. It is quite right that circumstances like this should be included.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford said that this provision did not change the existing situation. I do not agree with him about that. This changes the existing situation quite a lot and, in going as far as it does, it will be of considerable help in a number of cases of a kind which have been of extreme difficulty, particularly cases of larking about and assault.
The hon. Member for Bedwellty referred to the special hardship allowance provisions in Clause 3. He said that these were intended to cover loss of earnings, and he suggested that if they were to do so there should be a considerable increase in the allowance. As I said in the debate just before the Recess—and the hon. Member for Sowerby referred to the point in that 1266 debate—we want to consider very carefully where we are going if we are to convert the Industrial Injuries Scheme from a scheme which is based upon loss of faculty into a scheme which is based upon loss of earnings.
There are great difficulties about introducing an element of graduation into a scheme which depends upon flat rate contributions. I do not want to come to any final conclusion about it, but I think that we should be very careful before we convert the scheme—by the back door, as it were, by extension of the special hardship allowance—into a scheme based upon loss of earnings. The whole merit of the original Industrial Injuries Scheme was that it got away from the principle of loss of earnings, which was the feature of the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. To go back to that principle would be a very dangerous step.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) referred to seasonal workers and gave notice that he intended to move a new Clause concerning them. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not deal with this matter now. It would probably be much better to do so in Committee. The House knows of his special interest in this problem and that some while ago he tried to introduce a Private Member's Bill.
I turn to the much more controversial and difficult point of Clause 8 (b,)which deals with apprentices. The hon. Member for Bedwellty and other hon. Members opposite described this as a blow to the apprenticeship scheme. In considering this we must be very clear about what the purpose of family allowances is. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock said that the allowance went to the parents, and that is right. The allowance is intended for the parent to support the dependent child. This is where I disagree very strongly with the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. J. Robertson), who said—I took his words down—that family allowances meant that apprentices were not at a disadvantage compared with other boys with higher earnings. If we are to look upon this payment as a supplement to earnings, family allowances are entirely the wrong way of going about it. It is a complete misconception.
§ Mr. J. Robertson
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us for what reasons his right hon. Friend introduced the extension of the Family Allowances Scheme in 1956?
§ Mr. Sharples
The 1956 alteration was entirely a matter of age. A young person can still be dependent on his parents if he is not earning, even though he may be of a greater age than that which was originally laid down. The level of age was raised which does not in any way interfere with the principle of dependency. With family allowances one must stick to the principle of dependency, which was the purpose for which they were originally introduced—
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate, of course, that in the decision, a copy of which I have here, this was the very point on which the National Insurance Commissioner adjudicated, and stated that the figures to which the Minister now objects and says are far too high did reflect this question of dependency.
§ Mr. Sharples
I do not see how one can differentiate dependency between varying classes of people. We accept a wife as dependent with earnings of 40s., and I do not see how one can differentiate with other dependants. I agree with the hon. Member for Paisley, to the extent that it may well be that the apprentice is forgoing the high earnings he might get if he were to take a dead-end job, but that does not in any way destroy the principle of dependency. I think, too, that since the extension to apprentices was originally brought into the family allowances Measure, earnings by apprentices have increased very largely in almost every industry.
My right hon. Friend has already emphasised the importance which the Government place upon the apprenticeship schemes, but we say that when it comes to family allowances, and supplementing apprenticeship through family allowances, we have to consider very carefully where it is right to differentiate between apprentices and other young people in similar circumstances. The present level that has been allowed by the Commissioner in deciding these cases puts the apprentice in a completely different position from that of the young 1268 person who forgoes all earnings of every kind by remaining at school. That is the person who really is dependent upon his family.
Hon. Members will have noticed that the subsection gives us power to decide how earnings are to be calculated, and my right hon. Friend will in due course explain to the Standing Committee how it is intended that the regulations shall be framed in order to calculate these earnings. The National Insurance Regulations, under which earnings are to be taken into account, refer to net earnings and, as such, are more generous than the rules which the Commissioner has applied to apprentices, in that they allow expenses for travelling to and from places of work to be taken into account.
This is, of course, a two-part Clause, and only my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford has referred to the increases in family allowances for handicapped children. I would also say, while not wishing to anticipate future legislation— but I hope that I can say this and yet keep within the rules of order—that the Education Bill which is to be discussed in the next few days means an additional cost of about £1 million in family allowances.
Most hon. Members who have spoken have welcomed Clause 5 as far as it goes. It was welcomed by the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson), who gave us the benefit of a thoughtful speech which deserves careful consideration. The hon. Member for Sowerby, my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington, the hon. Member for Motherwell and others have referred to the question of the age condition. The National Insurance Advisory Committee examined this question carefully. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock referred to the sense of unfairness upon which the Committee remarked, not only amongst those personally affected, but amongst people who make it their business to study these questions. It was in spite of this sense of unfairness, which it recognised, that the Committee concluded that it was not possible to solve the problem by abolishing the age limit. I am sure the House will agree that the reasons advanced by the Committee for reaching that decision should carry considerable weight in dealing with what the Committee rightly 1269 described as a particularly difficult problem.
The Committee pointed out that when a wife was appreciably younger than her husband—and, like other hon. Members, I have to declare an interest in having a younger wife—a couple could expect on average to receive considerably more from the National Insurance Scheme than other married couples taking into account the benefits that would be received over a lifetime as opposed to the weekly rates of benefit.
What the hon. Member for Kilmarnock said about the weekly rates of benefit is quite true, but one must take into account the benefits that people will get from an insurance scheme throughout the whole of their lives. In the examples given by the Committee, in which the wife was ten years younger than her husband, to give full increments would increase the already favourable position of the wife by as much as £800. She already has the longer expectation of life and would in any event draw greater benefits from the National Insurance Scheme as a whole.
§ Mr. Sharples
But she still draws greater benefit from the scheme as a whole.
The Committee also compared the married couple in which the wife was younger than the husband, with other insured people and pointed out that the single man, who already pays the same contribution as the married man, might well consider it unreasonable to have to contribute towards the greater expenditure on benefits for younger wives in the shape of easier conditions for pension increments. Also, of course, there is the case of the spinster, to which hon. Members have referred. It would be very difficult to abolish this age condition. The House recognises that the Committee, in considering this question, gave full weight to all the points which have been raised in the debate, and came to the conclusion that it would not be right to abolish the condition.
My noble Friend the Member for Hertford asked the direct question of whether this would apply to increments in the past. As the House will be aware, the answer to that is "No". It has never 1270 been the policy to make increments retrospective. They differ very much from ordinary basic benefits under the scheme, and it would be quite wrong to depart from that principle.
As I said earlier, this is a complicated and technical Bill. It covers a very wide range indeed—the workings of three major systems and a whole complex range of Acts dealing with workmen's compensation. I know that, particularly on the benches opposite, there are hon. Members who have had a lifetime of experience in the workings of these Acts and whose knowledge of them goes back to the earliest days. I could not possibly hope to rival them in that experience.
The main purpose of the Bill is twofold. First, as my right hon Friend said, it is to put right some of the anomalies and defects in the workings of these Acts which have come to light over the years as a result of experience. Secondly—and perhaps I should have put this first—it is to bring some help to those who received injuries or disablement in industry at the time when they did not have the benefit of the cover of the Industrial Injuries Act. The whole House will think that this is a worthwhile purpose. I commend the Bill to the House and ask that it should receive a Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).