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National Health Insuranceand Contributory Pensions (Emergency Provisions) Bill

Volume 351: debated on Sunday 3 September 1939

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Considered in Committee.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 6. — ( Postponement of sickness and disablement benefit in cases of war injury.)

3.38 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 5, line 26, to leave out from "that" and to insert:

" an appeal shall lie to the Pensions Appeal Tribunal established under Section eight of the War Pensions (Administrative Provisions) Act, 1919, whose."
The Committee will see that I have put down on this Clause two Amendments directed to the same point. The Clause deals with the case where a man may have been injured in circumstances which would bring him within the Personal Injuries Bill which the House discussed a few moments ago. In such a case it has to be decided whether he has been injured as a result of his volunteer service and comes under the new injuries scheme or whether his injury is not due to that and he comes under National Health Insurance. It is not possible to tell as yet whether the terms of the new scheme will be more generous, or less generous than those provided by the existing law, but I observe that the decision as to whether a man comes under one scheme or the other, that is to say whether his injury is a war injury or an injury in respect of which he is entitled to draw national health insurance, is a decision that has to be taken by the Minister of Pensions. Here, again, we are putting the Minister of Pensions in the position of a judge. It is remarkable how, in the last day or two, we have been adding to the judicial tasks of the Minister of Pensions. Seeing that it may be a matter of some importance to the people concerned, because the benefits may not be exactly equal, there ought to be some possibility of an appeal after the Minister of Pensions has given his decision. The Committee will see that Sub-section (2) of this Clause states:
"Where, for the purpose of any such scheme as is mentioned in paragraph (a) of the last foregoing Sub-section, a decision has been made by the Minister of Pensions that any injury is or is not an injury in respect of which a payment may be made under the scheme,"
his decision shall be final and conclusive for the purposes of the insurance Acts, and any other decision that may have been taken by any other authority has to be altered in order to conform to the decision of the Minister of Pensions. This may affect the rights of insured persons and it seems that it would not be unreasonable to provide a system of appeals. We have an appeal tribunal in existence under the War Pensions Act, 1919, which is accustomed to decide precisely the sort of questions which will have to be decided under this Clause. What has to be decided here is whether a man's injuries have been received in the course of his service and as a result of his service. Seeing that we have the machinery already in existence, it seems to me that it would not hold up the operation of this Measure and would provide some additional safeguards for the rights of the very many people who are likely to be affected if an Amendment of this kind were inserted in the Bill.

3.42 p.m.

I feel that this Amendment would have been more germane to the Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Bill. The House discussed a very similar problem for some considerable time on that previous Bill, and the House having decided against such an appeal in the previous Bill I am afraid that it will not be possible for me to make a change in the present one. I have no desire to be in any way stiff-necked on this matter and, as the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) knows, I shall be prepared to accept an Amendment of his which is lower down on the Paper. But he must excuse me if I decline to accept this Amendment and stand by the conclusion which the House has already come to that the decision should be made by the Minister of Pensions and that an appeal should not lie to the Appeal Tribunal.

In view of the promised concession a little later on and the way in which the Minister has answered I do not propose to press the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 7. — ( Modification of rights to benefit of persons in receipt of disability pensions and injury allowances).

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

345 p.m.

There are just one or two questions which I should like to raise. The first point is a technical one. Where-ever we have dealt with National Health Insurance benefits in the past we have always distinguished between what are called statutory benefits and additional benefits. I should like to know whether these words in Clause 7 under (a) will include both statutory and additional cash benefits for the purpose of calculating the amount to which the injured person would be entitled under the National Health Insurance Acts.

The second question is this. Where a person is injured in that way it is rather astonishing to find, by implication, in this Clause that he will receive less compensation from the State in respect of that injury than the amount of benefit that he would otherwise get from the National Health Insurance scheme, which is roughly £1 a week. The position applies in this way. We will suppose the war injury compensation will be 15s. The balance of 5s. will be thrown upon the approved society in respect of the first 26 weeks. In respect of insurance disablement benefit, however, he will get nothing at all from his approved society. That, I think, is the position as stated in the Clause. I would like to know how comes it about that any financial liability at all is thrown upon the funds of the approved society in respect of an injury arising out of the war. It seems to me that such liability is to be thrown upon them unfairly. That is to say, where a person receives an injury in the course of his employment and he gets workmen's compensation, there is no payment at all from the funds of the approved society; and where a person gets damages at common law in respect of accidents outside his employment that case, too, falls outside the" National Health Insurance scheme. I cannot see, therefore, how the State should be more mean than an employer in the case of workmen's compensation or an insurance company in the case of injuries at common law. These are the questions that bother me. I am raising these points because in the offices of approved societies they will have some difficulty in calculating these amounts unless they are cleared up before the Bill becomes law.

3.48 p.m.

As the hon. Gentleman says, these are technical matters. As to the first question, with regard to the position of additional benefit, the Clause relates to both statutory and additional cash benefits. I was not quite certain if I got his point aright on the second question, because this follows the well-established precedent safeguarding the rights of insured persons during the war of 1914-18. The approved societies will have no difficulty in working the practice that they worked previously. For the first 26 weeks of the payment of injury allowances there is no benefit payable, either statutory or additional, from the approved society. After 26 weeks the societies are relieved of half the sickness benefit and of the whole of the disablement benefit. I think, on the whole, these represent a fairly generous settlement with the approved societies and they follow well-established precedent. If there are any other points that the hon. Gentleman would like cleared up further, I shall be very glad either to write him a letter or to discuss the matters with him personally or with representatives of approved societies.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clauses 8 to 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

CLAUSE 13. — ( Suspension of right to terminate membership of approved society.)

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

3.50 p.m.

I cannot very well understand the wording of the Clause where it says:

"Suspension of right to terminate membership of approved society."
Does that refer to the case of a person who wants to transfer to the contributors' fund? There are only two places he can go to, another approved society or the contributors' fund.

3.51 p.m.

This is one of three Clauses, 11, 12 and 13, for the suspension of certain National Health Insurance work which is of a very detailed kind and causes a great deal of clerical labour. To reduce that clerical labour to a minimum, and to avoid the danger of confusion that may arise during the come and go of a great conflict, certain limitations on the freedom of individuals are proposed. It is proposed that the right of an insured person to determine his membership of an approved society should be in abeyance during the period of the war because, as the hon. Gentleman knows better than any one, the amount of work that arises out of the transfer of membership from one society to another is enormous. Like many other rights, this one must be put into cold storage until it can be restored at the end of the war.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put and agreed to.

CLAUSE 14. — ( Provision against double pensions).

3.52 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 12, line 12, to leave out "in the late War."

As the law now stands, a contributory old age pensioner who lost his son or stepson in the last War is entitled to draw the dependants' pension in respect of the loss of his son and his contributory old age pension as well. Under this Clause as now drafted, a contributory old age pensioner losing his son or stepson in this war will draw the dependants' pension in respect of the loss of the son, but it is proposed that his old age pension should be scaled down to a certain extent. It seems to us that there is no good reason for making this differentiation between two classes of persons each of whom has made a precisely similar sacrifice. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is good enough to accept the Amendment and I thank him in advance. At any rate, it says something for the House that at a time like this, when we have all these serious matters to consider, we are not too busy to make a small amendment in the interest of old age pensioners.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 15 to 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, considered; read the Third time, and passed.

There is to be a Royal Commission in a very short time and I think it would be convenient to suspend the Sitting.

Sitting suspended.