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National Insurance

Volume 467: debated on Tuesday 19 July 1949

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Local Advisory Committees

24.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if he is now in a position to state the number of local advisory committees he has decided to set up; the regions in which they will operate; the number of persons on each committee; and the names of the organisations or institutions which have been invited to submit the names of suitable persons for the newly-formed advisory committees.

My right hon. Friend is proposing to set up about 230 committees under the National Insurance Act—186 in England, 26 in Scotland and 18 in Wales. Membership will vary from area to area. It will generally be about 20, and will include persons appointed after consultation with organisations of employers and workers, local authorities, friendly societies and other bodies with special local knowledge and experience.

Why is it that this delay has taken place in setting up these advisory committees, upon whose decision depends the welfare of the old age pensioners, who, in the main, will be the people who will have to apply to the advisory committees? What has caused the delay?

I think my hon. Friend is confusing the committees to be set up under the National Insurance Act and the committees under the National Assistance Act. So far as the National Assistance Act is concerned, those committees are being reconstituted at the present time. As to the committees under the National Insurance Act, I am sure my hon. Friend will appreciate that we have had a tremendous job indeed in launching the new scheme. We are, of course, setting up the committees at the first opportunity.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that we were informed many months ago that there would be co-ordination between his Department and the National Assistance Board in speeding up the formation of these advisory committees? Will he tell us what has caused the delay?

So far as the National Insurance committees are concerned, we felt that it was necessary to have dual membership between them and the committees under the National Assistance Act, so that those committees would be acquainted with the work of the social services as a whole.

Area Officers (Instructions)

25.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if he will inform the House of the number of instructions sent out to area officers by the National Assistance Board; and if he will have copies of the same placed in the Library of this House for right hon. and hon. Members to see.

The Board, in common with other departments with local staffs, provide their officers with a code of executive directions, which is extended or varied from time to time as circumstances require. It is not possible to state a particular number. As regards the second part of the Question, I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply given to the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Randall) on 16th December last.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary not aware that some of the area officers, and particularly in his own country of Scotland, are now telling old people who come before them that they have had secret instructions from the National Assistance Board not to carry out the regulations; and is he further aware that when this House passes regulations it is the duty of the Department to carry them out, whether they are good, bad or indifferent?

In general, hon. Members and the organisations concerned have paid tribute to the work of the Assistance Board officers.

Therefore, what my hon. Friend says is rather contrary to the evidence we have at the present time. Instructions from the National Assistance Board to the officers can only be instructions on the manner and method of carrying out any regulations passed by this House. If my hon. Friend has any evidence of the facts of which he speaks, I think he ought to give it to me.

If, as the Minister said, I think a week or two ago, the decision of this House as to the scales of assistance is to be implemented, can the Parliamentary Secretary say why we should not be told the manner in which they are being implemented by means of instructions? That is all we are asking for.

As the answer will probably be very long, could it not be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Could the Parliamentary Secretary say whether the instructions which vary from time to time do so at the behest of the Treasury?

The instructions are contained in a code of procedure which enables the officers of the Assistance Board to carry out the regulations laid down by this House. If my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) has any evidence in his possession that Assistance Board officers are not complying with the wishes of this House, I think he ought to give it to us so that it may be investigated.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary not aware that this is a very important matter; that a paper published in his own country made a very bitter complaint about the attitude of area officers and the special instructions which they were carrying out; and will he see to it that his Department gets acquainted with what is being done in England, Scotland and Wales by the area officers?