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National Insurance

Volume 480: debated on Tuesday 14 November 1950

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Weekly Payments, Essex

22 and 23.

asked the Minister of National Insurance (1) how many persons in the Rochford Rural District Council area are in receipt of regular weekly payments from the National Assistance Board;

(2) how many persons in the county borough of Southend-on-Sea are in receipt of regular weekly payments from the National Assistance Board.

Separate statistics for the areas mentioned are not available, but at the Board's Office at Southend-on-Sea, which covers them and some adjoining territory, 9,024 persons were receiving regular weekly payments of assistance or non-contributory pensions at 31st October.

Industrial Pneumoconiosis

24.

asked the Minister of National Insurance what further processes have been prescribed under the regulations relating to industrial pneumoconiosis since the hon. Member for Norwich, North asked a question on the subject on 25th July last.

Since my hon. Friend asked his Question on 25th July, I have extended insurance under the Industrial Injuries Act against Pneumoconiosis to persons using power-driven tools to free metal castings from adherent siliceous substance.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this extension will be much appreciated? May I ask her for information on two points: first, is provision made for cases which have been incurred before the regulations became operative, and, second, in view of the very wide importance of industrial dust diseases, is she continuing her inquiries with a view to a still further extension of the protection?

I have made the extension retrospective to cover those men who suffered from the disease since the appointed day. I am fully aware that pneumoconiosis requires very careful investigation, and, therefore, I am referring the whole question to the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House will appreciate the sympathetic spirit in which she has approached this matter?

Small Savings

25.

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether, in respect of applicants for national assistance, she will consider applying the same principle of disregarding small savings of a fixed amount invested in co-operative societies and other banks as is applied to savings invested in National Savings, Post Office and trustee savings banks for the purpose of computing the income of the applicant.

I assume my hon. and learned Friend has in mind the special provisions about war savings. I do not think it would be appropriate to extend these to investments in cooperative societies and other banks as he suggests. In any event, legislation would be needed.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that, particularly in respect of old age pensioners, the present arrange- ment is a great cause of dissatisfaction? One person may have £375 invested and another may only have £50; the £375 is disregarded, while anything over the £50 in, say, co-operative society or other banks, must be brought into account in assessing income.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will recall the special circumstances in which this decision was made—old people were asked to invest in war savings—and realise that it would have been very inconsistent to have penalised them when the time came for them to apply for assistance.

In view of the savings and investments of these people and their need of assistance, will the Minister discontinue the practice of assuming that their savings have attracted interest at 5 per cent., whereas, in many cases, it is restricted to 3 per cent.?

Pensions Schemes

26.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if she will consider revising the regulations regarding late entrants into insurance and reducing the qualifying period for pensions from 10 to five years.

No, Sir. This proposal would require legislation to reverse a carefully considered provision of the National Insurance Act, 1946.

Is the Minister aware that a man who was 63 in 1948 cannot reach pension age until he is 73, and that during those 10 years he has to make a contribution out of any superannuation funds he may be receiving? Is not that a hardship?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will realise that in devising any scheme we must take into consideration certain actuarial calculations. It is unfortunate that certain people at that period will not benefit perhaps as much as their children or grandchildren may; but that has always happened, whatever the scheme may have been.

Is it not a fact that those coming into the scheme in 1946 were allowed to pay for five years in order to receive benefit? Cannot we make the period five years for people who came into the scheme in 1948?

Pre-1924 Compensation Cases

27.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if her Department is now ready to bring in legislation to deal with the pre-1924 compensation cases; and when will legislation be brought before the House.

My consideration of this difficult question has reached an advanced stage and I hope to be able to make a statement before long.

While thanking the Minister for that reply, which will at least bring a ray of hope to those unfortunate citizens who have waited so long, may I ask if she will give a further assurance to the House that there will be no delay in bringing forward this legislation when it is ready?

Communicable Diseases (Health Workers)

28.

asked the Minister of National Insurance if she is aware of the anxiety felt by many nurses owing to the long delay in reaching a decision to include tuberculosis and other communicable diseases generally in relation to nurses and other health workers within the prescribed industrial diseases under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act; and if she will make a statement on the subject.

I have just received from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council their report on this question and I am giving it urgent attention. The matter is one of considerable detail, but I hope to make a statement shortly.

Is the Minister aware that the House was informed in February of last year that her predecessor was consulting this council? Is it not time that we had a decision?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I take the greatest personal interest in this matter. I have only just received the report, and I will try to expedite the statement.

Will the report include certain other diseases in addition to tuberculosis, such as smallpox?

Sickness Certificates

29.

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether she has received the letter from the hon. and gallant Member for Renfrew, Eastern, enclosing statements from doctors about dishonest attempts to obtain sickness certificates from them, for which she asked on 24th October; and what action she intends to take to put an end to these practices.

I have received the hon. and gallant Member's letter of 9th November enclosing four letters written to him after I had answered his Question on 24th October. I am giving these letters my attention, and am consulting my right hon. Friends.

Does the right hon. Lady admit, in view of the fact that there are more than 900,000 people absent from work through sickness every day in this country, that when I asked her a Question she challenged me to produce even three letters from doctors to justify my suggestion, and that I not only gave her more than three but gave her quotations from others as well? Would it not be as well——

I will certainly not withdraw it, for this reason: The Question asked me was on 24th October, in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman implied that I had information which I was not disclosing.

I therefore challenged the hon. and gallant Gentleman to produce the information he had. That was on the 24th October, and on the 25th the Press gave wide publicity to this matter. Since then—and not before the 24th—four doctors out of many thousands have come to the help of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and he has sent me their letters.

On a point of order. The right hon. Lady has entirely misinterpreted the original Question. My original Question asked her if she was aware——

The hon. and gallant Gentleman will now resume his seat. He will obey the Speaker.

Is it not in order, Mr. Speaker, for a questioner to give notice at the end of his Question, when he is dissatisfied with an answer, that he wishes to raise the matter on the Adjournment? That, I think, was what my hon. and gallant Friend was trying to do.

I should like to have been entitled to do more. In view of the grossly inaccurate statement and misrepresentation of the right hon. Lady—doubtless by accident, as I respectfully say—I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Sickness And Pensions Benefits

30.

asked the Minister of National Insurance whether men and women registered at Ministry of Labour appointment offices and employment exchanges have their cards franked to enable them to remain in credit for sickness and pensions benefits; and, if not, what procedure should such men take to ensure that full credit is given to them.

Yes, Sir. If a person is in receipt of unemployment benefit his card will be franked automatically. Others registered for employment, whether at an appointment office or an employment exchange, should apply to an exchange if they desire credits.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will forgive me for not hearing all that she had to say. I am not suggesting that it was her fault. I would like to ask whether she is aware that there are cases in which people have applied for benefit and have been told that they have not been able to obtain it, although they have been attending at the employment exchanges?

If my hon. Friend will give me particulars of the cases, I shall be only too happy to look into every one of them.