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Clause 17—(Interpretation)

Volume 440: debated on Friday 25 July 1947

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Lords Amendment: In page 9, line 37, after ("Food") insert ("the Minister of National Insurance").

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

At the present time the Minister of National Insurance is not empowered to obtain information for statistical purposes under the National Insurance Act, but I think that it will be quite obvious that in the course of his administration of that Act it will be found necessary for the Minister to collect quite a lot of information for statistical purposes. This Amendment, therefore, seeks to add the Minister of National Insurance as one of the competent authorities under the Bill so that if he needs statistical information about the insured population, additional to that which becomes available to him in the normal administration of the Act he may be able to collect it.

While we are not opposed to the Government acquiring knowledge, it is rather odd that at this late stage we should be asked to add to the list of Government Departments which can all ask any question they think fit under Clause I. I am at a loss to know from what the Parliamentary Secretary has said what particular type of statistics it is thought that the Minister of National Insurance will require. I have not studied the whole of the list in Subsection (3), but if any Government Department of any magnitude is omitted from it, and if this is the last big Government Department to be included, surely it would be much simpler to say "every Government Department" instead of setting out this list of Departments, row numbering 20 I believe, which can ask any questions they like of any individual and make it a criminal offence not to answer?

Like my hon. and learned Friend, I am rather doubtful why this list should include the Minister of National Insurance. It seems to me that all the information which the Minister of National Insurance might require could be obtained from the figures which are produced by the Ministry of Labour or those which come into the hands of the Board of Trade or the Registrar of births and deaths. I cannot see what kind of statistics it is expected that the Minister of National Insurance may require, and I imagine that the Parliamentary Secretary was unable to see either; otherwise he would have given the House some instances. He has not done so, and I would like him now to tell us what exact set of statistics will be produced by including this Minister in the Bill which would not be available from the Ministry of Labour or the Registrar of births and deaths. If the hon. Gentleman does this I feel sure that we shall be much happier about it than we are at the present time.

2.30 p.m.

I do not favour the inclusion of these words because we have been told that the purpose of the Bill is to collect statistics quickly and easily. The more Government Departments concerned there are, the more difficult that will be, because the more they are piling up figures, the slower the process will be. There has been an enormous increase in the amount of statistics coming in at a time when we have a shortage of staff of the quality needed to do this work.

The hon. Member must really address himself to the Amendment on the Order Paper. He appears to be ranging over the whole question.

I am very sorry if that is so, but I am trying to show that by adding this Department the process of the Bill will be slowed up. It would lead to delay. I say that on behalf of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who should be protecting his own interests, and cutting down the number of Departments to be included. If he is not going to protect himself and support me on this question, all I can say is that it is quite hopeless to try to help the Government in any way.

I do not propose to say anything about the desire of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) to assist the President of the Board of Trade. My opinion on that might well be guessed. In answer to the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd), in connection with the Unemployment Insurance Acts the Ministry of Labour took a complete count of the insured population each July when the employment books were exchanged. They will no longer be the competent authority to do that, and under present arrangements it would be impracticable for the Ministry of National Insurance to have all the cards exchanged on the same date. Because of that, there would be no complete count of the insured population on any particular date. Therefore, we have to find some other means to obtain what is very necessary statistical information about the insured population. In order that it should be as nearly comparable as possible in scope and completeness with that which is now obtained, it is essential that it should be closely related to the operations of the Ministry of National Insurance, and this Amendment is designed to give the opportunity to collect those necessary statistics.

From where is the Ministry of National Insurance to get the figures if not from the Ministry of Labour?

Question put, and agreed to.

Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to.