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National Insurance (Seasonal Workers)

Volume 480: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1950

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The following Motion stood upon the Order Paper in the ame of Mr. CARSON:

"That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 25th July, 1950, entitled the National Insurance (Seasonal Workers) Regulations, 1950 (S.I. 1950, No. 1220), a copy of which was laid before this House on 25th July, be annulled."

7.4 p.m.

I am unable to call the Prayer which appears on the Order Paper. My attention has been drawn specially to the composition of Statutory Instrument, 1950, No. 1220, which is the subject of the Motion in the name of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Carson). There are four regulations in the Statutory Instrument. Two of these have already been approved in draft by this House and also by another place. The remaining two are wholly different in character, for they are regulations of the type that are not laid before this House in draft but are immediately operative when made and are subject to annulment within 40 days by Resolution of the House. I think that the whole four regulations have now been laid before this House in a single Statutory Instrument, indivisible and, apparently, subject as a whole to annulment, which is what the Motion on the Order Paper seeks to do.

I must rule that, as this House must not be put in a false position of being asked to annul regulations which have already been approved, a composite Statutory Instrument in this present form cannot be received by the House, nor can it be debated, either affirmatively or with a view to annulment.

On a point of order. With great respect, Mr. Speaker, this is a very important statement by you. I have always understood that a Statutory Instrument drawn in this way was liable to be prayed against. This, I respectfully submit, is a very important question. It is a denial, or it can be a denial, of hon. Members' rights to pray against Statutory Instruments of a normal character, and if other composite Statutory Instruments are similarly drawn, the right of a Member of Parliament to pray against orders will be severely compromised I suggest that this sort of order should not be allowed to come before the House if it is not allowable to pray against it.

I think that the hon. Member missed my point. As he said in his last words, this order ought not to come before the House—that is exactly what I have said. The opportunity to pray against what the House has not passed will he the right of the hon. Member who put the Prayer down. In the meantime, this order is not one which can be received by the House. We should not have discovered this if the hon. Member had not put down the Prayer; therefore, we are grateful to him.

May I have your guidance on this point, Mr. Speaker? What is to be the position of one's constituents who are at present in the position of not being allowed to get unemployment benefit, when their seasonal work has been during the summer and now it is winter time? Does this mean that the Minister will be asked to bring forward another order, or shall we be in the position that the first order is illegal?

The Ministry will have to bring forward another order. The present position is that this order cannot be laid before the House. I have ruled that it is not acceptable.

But what is the position of my constituents who are not being allowed their unemployment benefit?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Insurance
(Mr. Bernard Taylor)

May I thank you, Sir, for the statement you have made to the House? We are all greatly indebted for your guidance. I want to make only a short observation. There are difficulties in the making of regulations under the provisions of the National Insurance Act, 1946. My right hon. Friend was advised by the appropriate authorities that the presentation of these regulations in this form would be for the convenience of all concerned. However, my right hon. Friend will endeavour in future to present such regulations in a different form.

I am not clear what the position will be. Will another order be laid, against which we can pray, or will the Government try to lay an order within the terms of the National Insurance Act, against which we cannot pray?

There are two orders which can be prayed against. There are two which have been passed in draft which cannot be prayed against, because they have been passed by both Houses of Parliament.

Does what has happened today mean that the points in this order are not legal, and that everything contained in it is not the law of the land?

Those sections which have been passed by both Houses of Parliament are the law—they have been passed—and therefore they cannot be prayed against. The other two sections which are left can be prayed against within 40 days.

I do not know whether it would be permissible to raise this as a point of procedure. Surely, in view of the muddle which has been occasioned, quite unwittingly, by the Government in this matter, it would be fairer to withdraw the original orders and to keep the new set of orders before the House so that we might have an opportunity of raising the matter in Debate.

That is exactly what I thought the Parliamentary Secretary said. This order cannot be presented; it does not have to be withdrawn, because it cannot be here. The Minister now must re-present another order embodying the two which can be prayed against.

On a point of order. This question goes much further than has been stated so far. Not only are people to be deprived of their benefit, for which they have been contributing for two years, but this is retrospective for two years; people have to be registered under the category of casual labour for two years. That is quite unheard of so far as I know in Parliamentary orders of this kind.

The merits of the order do not arise here, because the order does not exist—it has not been laid. The merits no doubt will be discussed when the order again is laid.

Would the Minister make it quite clear to the country as a whole, that from now until this matter has been cleared up, people who are not being allowed their unemployment insurance benefit will not be asked to go on to Public Assistance?

I am very much in your hands, Mr. Speaker. You have given a definite Ruling that these regulations cannot be discussed tonight. Until they have been relaid, they cannot be discussed.

Further to that point of order. If the last two sections are not valid, the first two are not valid either, because they are embodied in the order.

We must see what is in the new order when it is laid. That can be retrospective also, I have no doubt.

It appears to me that the first two sections are valid because they have been in a previous order. There have been faults on both sides in this matter; we neglected to raise the matter in debate in this House on the first two sections, and the Government have made a slip on the present order. I submit to the Government that the generous action they might take is to say they will produce a completely new order, embodying all these matters, thus giving hon. Members an opportunity of debating the order, and withdraw the earlier orders.

I am afraid that would be impossible as the earlier sections have been passed by both Houses of Parliament. We cannot amend orders that have been passed; we can only annul these two which can be prayed against in 40 days.

May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary when his Ministry will lay the new order, as that is very vital?

I cannot answer at this stage. I am very much in the hands of Mr. Speaker, who has given a Ruling by which I must abide.

For the last five days it has been known by the Ministry that this order was to be prayed against and every effort has been made by the Ministry to stop the order being prayed against. Surely they have had time to come to a conclusion?

There was no effort by the Ministry to stop the discussion; it was because we discovered that it was out of order and it was just as much a surprise to the Ministry, I have no doubt, as it was to the hon. Member. Now we are wise in the matter I do not mind telling hon. Members that there have been five orders of this kind which have got through. They were not opposed and it did not matter, but now, thanks to the Prayer, we have discovered a loophole and the matter must be looked into.

Are not these examples of the great harm done by governing by regulation?

I do not want to be a nuisance, but I want fair shares for all. It appears to me that the Government are at perfect liberty to withdraw the previous orders, or even to ask for them to be annulled and then to produce a completely new order embodying all the powers and give hon. Members an opportunity of raising the matter in debate. I admit there have been mistakes on both sides, but I ask the Government to be generous about the matter and give us an opportunity for debate.

Although it may look as if this is a large sum, involving a large number of people, in actual fact it is not. It is only a matter of allowing people to show they have not much work to do in the coming months. It would not hurt the Government if they were to allow the matter to drop.

The matter is not for me. I was concerned only with whether the order was in order or not, and I have found that it is not. No doubt a new order will be presented and it will be possible to pray against it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Bowden.]