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1961 Dec 7 Th
Margaret Thatcher

HC Standing Committee [Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill]

Document type:public statement
Document kind:House of Commons Committee
Venue:House of Commons
Source:Hansard HC Standing Committee B [205-216]
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:1030-1105. Extract from the Fifth Sitting. The debate on the amendment to which MT spoke is reproduced in full. She spoke at c.209.
Importance ranking:Minor
Word count:3812
Themes:Social security and welfare
205

FAMILY ALLOWANCES AND NATIONAL INSURANCE BILL

Standing Committee B

OFFICIAL REPORT

Thursday, 7th December, 1961

[Mr. H. Hynd in the Chair]

New Clause.—(Benefit in respect of sickness outside Great Britain.

(1) Notwithstanding anything in section twenty-nine of the National Insurance Act, 1946 (which provides for disqualification or suspension of benefit in cases of absence abroad or imprisonment) section sixty of the said Act (which provides for regulations to modify the provisions of that Act in relation to insured persons outside Great Britain) shall have effect with the addition at the end of subsection (2) of the words: "and, if he suffers from such sickness as in Great Britain would have entitled him to sickness benefit, shall be entitled on his return to Great Britain to receive sickness benefit".

(2) Section forty-six of the said Act (which relates to the administration of benefit) shall apply to matters arising under this section and in particular (but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing) regulations may be made providing for or modifying any administrative requirements and limiting the benefit payable under this section to benefit for a period of not more than eight weeks in a year.

(3) Regulations made under section sixty-three (which relates to arrangements with Northern Ireland for a unified system) or under section sixty-four (which relates to Dominions, colonies and foreign countries) of the said Act may make or include provision for co-ordinating this section and those sections or either of them and for securing that double benefit is not payable in respect of the same matter under this section and either of those sections.—[Mr. McKay.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion moved [5th December], That the Clause be read a Second time.

10.30 a.m.

Mr. John McKay

When I began to move this new Clause at the last sitting of the Committee, I started by saying that it was breaking into new ground and to that extent might not have the approval of the Minister. It is a Clause which does not need a great amount of explanation or advocacy, and I therefore do not intend to take up much time with it. It may be that there are objections to it because of the fact that it breaks 206new ground and may be making an addition of consequence to the provisions of the original Act.

I suggest that it is not what is contained in a new Clause that matters so much as the way in which its provisions are interpreted. I am here suggesting that this new Clause should be added to the Bill to enable the payment of benefit to be made to anyone in a foreign country who is there taken ill and if that person, had he been in his own country, would have received benefit. It will not affect the kind of thing for which the benefit can be paid, but is only related to the foreign country in which such cases may happen.

It might be said on occasions that to add a new Clause of this character to a Bill might create many complications. That might be true if it provided no limitation on the time for payment of benefit. The very fact that the new Clause has been so drafted that where these benefits are granted to our people who have gone abroad they are limited to a period of eight weeks, removes that difficulty, and I conclude that there could be no complications because of the fact that it is so limited to eight weeks. The whole question, therefore, is whether this is a matter of sufficient importance to be worth while making this change in the Act.

The ordinary man in the street, in a case like this, wonders why this embargo should be placed on the payment of benefit because he happens to be on holiday for a fortnight or so abroad. He knows that he will be paying his contributions for the time which he is on holiday, and because of that he wonders why he is not allowed the benefit in such cases. It may be argued that the Clause may affect a great number of cases and thus create a great liability, but in the ordinary course of events I cannot see that that point could be substantiated.

The Wallsend miners had a case of this kind, in which a man was taken ill abroad and was not able to get back home for about eight weeks. When he applied for his sickness benefit in regard to the time when he was in France, it was not allowed, though the claim was acknowledged in respect of the period of illness sustained after he returned to this country. The number of people 207going to other countries for their holidays has greatly increased. This is now a common practice and is far more widespread than used to be the case. There is the possibility that if, at the time the original Act was passed, increasing numbers of people were going to foreign countries on holiday, as they are now, they would have been covered in the Act. I therefore have great hope that this new Clause will be accepted, because it seems to me that a very small liability would be incurred if it were inserted in the Bill.

I do not know what this concession would cost, but it cannot be very much, and the very fact that we do not get very many cases of this kind seems to support that view. I have known of only one case like this, because it happened in my own locality and I was asked to follow it up. The ordinary man will no doubt imagine that this proposition is so reasonable that we shall have no difficulty in approving the new Clause today. This is the viewpoint of the Wallsend miners, and I hope that it will also be the viewpoint of this Committee.

This is not a provision likely to raise difficulties in its future effects, because of the stipulation of the eight weeks' limit in the payment of benefit, and, to that extent, I invite the Committee to give the matter due consideration. I am wondering whether it will receive that due consideration, whether we in this Committee are prepared to examine a case of this kind on its actual merits, or whether the Committee may take the view that because this is a new Clause which breaks new ground we ought not to accept it.

As to its ultimate effect, in twenty, thirty or forty years' time, I do not think that the liability created will be very large. Perhaps the Minister could tell us how many such cases have been brought forward during, say, the last ten years. If we had that information it would, I think, help the Committee. Let us suppose that there have been 1,000 cases in the last ten years and that in the next ten years there will be another 1,000. What is the national liability involved? I should like to know that from the Minister before we come to a decision on the Clause. 208

For instance, let us take the case of a man who is ill for eight weeks and who will be paid the benefit that he would receive had he stayed in this country. What would be the liability in such a case? To take an ordinary single man, who in this country would receive £3 per week benefit, the maximum amount of benefit to be obtained in the majority of cases by any individual would be £24. If there are 100 cases a year, the liability would be £2,400, and if there were 1,000 cases it would be £24,000. If the financial liability is, as it is admittedly, very small, the only question remaining is whether there is any justifiable reason why we should not make this change in the law.

Let us try to put ourselves in the place of this man Gilligan, an ordinary working man who, in the usual course of things, finds that it is all he can do to keep his affairs financially sound. He needs a little help, especially if he takes a holiday abroad where there is no reciprocal arrangement for sickness benefit to be paid unless the change which I am proposing is made. In the cases of ordinary men and women, is not this a concession which we should encourage? Is it asking for such a great change that we cannot estimate the future liability? I admit that one of the vital factors in this discussion should concern the question of what the financial obligation is likely to be, and, if it is admittedly small, the next thing we have to do is to say to ourselves, "Here are men and women going abroad to enjoy themselves for a little time each year and who are taken ill. In 75 out of 100 such cases they would probably have been taken ill if they had never gone out of the country."

Taking these simple factors into consideration, I believe that most people would agree that ordinary people who have heavy liabilities and not a great deal of financial backing should be helped as far as we possibly can help them. That is the simple position, which I think would appeal to almost anyone on grounds of humanity, especially when such a small item of expenditure is involved. This would give satisfaction to the men who have to pay the money regularly week by week, and even when they are on holiday. 209

The position is so simple that I hope that hon. Members on both sides of this Committee will give it serious consideration, as we are supposed to be representing not only the good will of the nation out to be helping, as far as it is possible, the people who are insured under this Act.

10.45 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I have, of course, checked up on the case of the Wallsend colliery worker to which the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) made reference. I believe that he was injured in a car crash in France this summer, on the third day of his holiday there. He was in hospital there for just over three weeks. He returned to this country, received sickness benefit from the day after his return and for the remainder of his incapacity, which was some two months, but not for the period during which he was abroad.

I should like to explain to the hon. Member, and to the Committee, the terms and conditions upon which we allow sickness claims to be payable abroad. We do not make universal provision for such sickness claims to be allowed but only where we can make certain supervisory arrangements. It is not entirely new to us to pay sickness benefit abroad, but we have to watch very carefully that we can supervise those claims for benefit in exactly the same way as we supervise similar claims when they arise in this country. We feel that we cannot pay sickness benefit abroad, as a general rule, unless we can exercise a similar degree of control to that which we exercise here.

The hon. Member will perhaps be familiar with the kind of control that we exercise here. He will know that benefit is paid on the basis of certificates of incapacity for work signed by a doctor and submitted by a claimant week by week. If the Department has any doubt about the soundness of the claim, then it can refer the claimant to an independent doctor, to a Ministry of Health doctor, and we know that all of these doctors are familiar with the scheme and the kind of standards which the scheme adopts. So, in fact, over here we exercise fairly close supervision over the 8 million to 9 million claims which 210we receive annually for sickness benefits. We think that in fairness to the general body of the contributors we must keep an eye on claims to see that the fundamental conditions for benefit are, in fact, fulfilled. That is our general view here, and what we try to do is to pay sickness benefit abroad in those circumstances where we are certain that we can exercise a similar degree of supervision.

Those cases, broadly speaking, fall into two separate classes. The technical point is that we do this under Sections 29 and 64 rather than under the Section which the hon. Member has found and to which he seeks to introduce his Clause. We have certain powers which enable us to allow sickness claims arising abroad, and we do so in two broad general classes.

In the first class, under the Residents and Persons Abroad Regulations, we allow sickness benefit when a person is absent abroad temporarily and is there for the specific purpose of being treated for an incapacity which began before he left Great Britain. If the hon. Member examines this closely, he will see that before the person left Great Britain we knew that he was ill and we knew the kind of incapacity that he had. We pay the benefit where we know that he is being treated abroad by a doctor and is not merely going abroad for convalescence, and where that doctor is, in fact, prepared to send us certificates of the man's incapacity. That applies anywhere, to any country, provided that those conditions are satisfied in the particular case. The second class under which we allow sickness claims abroad is where we have reciprocal agreements with other countries.

The reciprocal agreements vary, as the hon. Member knows. Some of them, in fact, provide that sickness benefit should be payable when the person is on holiday abroad; others provide only for claims which arise when the person going from this country works for a United Kingdom employer, when special provision is made for him to remain within the scope of our scheme for up to twelve months, or, alternatively, when he goes to the other country to work for an employer resident there. There are those three types of provisions within the various reciprocal agreements. But before we 211sign a reciprocal agreement, we are, of course, certain—and the other country is certain—that both of us are prepared to make proper provision for the supervision of these claims. So that we are satisfied that they are properly supervised by doctors in the other country, and the other country is satisfied about similar circumstances prevailing here. Naturally, the reciprocal agreements are not, in fact, signed unless that basic condition can be fulfilled.

In fact, we have reciprocal agreements with Cyprus, Malta, the Irish Republic, and fourteen foreign countries which make provision for sickness benefit abroad when one of our people is working either for a foreign employer or for a United Kingdom employer abroad. The holiday provisions are not quite so wide. We have not been able to get them with quite as many countries. The hon. Member may be interested to know that we have agreements with Cyprus, Malta, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, West Germany, Turkey and Yugoslavia, so if his Wallsend colliery workers have holidays in those countries and fall ill whilst they are there, then, because we are certain that those countries have adequate provision for supervising the claims, they will, in fact, be permitted to make a claim for sickness benefit here, and it will be granted subject to the approval of the Minister. So it is not entirely breaking new ground to say that we should provide for sickness benefit abroad.

My right hon. [ John Boyd-Carpenter] Friend feels, however, in fairness to the general body of contributors, that he must be sure that those claims can properly be supervised. In the countries of which I have given details, and in the general instances under Section 29 to which I have made reference, we can be certain and, where we can be certain, we do in fact make the provision. I will not deal with any technical points as, obviously, they are not really very material. We already have the powers to do this.

As far as France is concerned, we do not have a reciprocal agreement relating to sickness benefit while on holiday abroad. We do have the provisions relating to people working for ‘employers, but we do not have the extra one. So far as we could get it 212with France—we are not able to do it at the moment—we already have the power, so we really do not need the special power which the hon. Member seeks to give us.

I would ask the Committee, in view of the extensive provision which we have made and which we continually try to make, to say that it is not necessary to give this Clause a Second Reading and that it would be inavisable to do so.

Mr. McKay

Am I to understand, then, that without this Clause being passed at all, if any man, whether he is on holiday or not, can get substantial evidence of the fact that he is ill, and has been ill and under medical supervision, there is no necessity for the Clause at all? If the whole medical position can be substantiated and proper evidence given, then, as I understand what the hon. Lady has said, in those particular cases, the Ministry will pay benefits. Is that so?

Mrs. Thatcher

No. I am sorry if I have not made it entirely clear to the hon. Member. We could not possibly do that in every individual case, regardless of the country from which the claim came. We have set up systems throughout the world, but a person can claim only where we have a reciprocal agreement or, alternatively, in the specific instance to which I referred, where he is absent abroad temporarily, specifically for the purpose of being treated for an incapacity which arose before he left Great Britain. But apart from that general case, he can claim only where we have reciprocal agreements, and we only sign reciprocal agreements where we are certain that the country concerned makes proper provision for the supervision of all sickness benefit claims.

Mr. McKay

I understand, therefore, that if we are to help the Wallsend miners and others who support me there needs to be a new Clause. Is it correct to say that the Ministry is only prepared to give benefit where we have reciprocal arrangements? That is what I understood the hon. Lady to say and, therefore, I think that there is a necessity for an addition to the Bill. It is not a question of the Wallsend miner or of any particular individual; it is a question of principle. The whole point is that a man or woman who suffers disease 213or accident has to pay in this country, and benefit should be paid for at least eight weeks whatever country he or she may be in. I think that this Clause should be accepted.

Mr. Douglas Houghton

After listening to the hon. Lady's very clear explanation I am not sure, although a new Clause may be necessary to do something, that this new Clause does what needs to be done. This is a very complicated matter, and I am subject to correction, but, as I understand the position, if the Wallsend miner had been ill before he started, and if the Ministry had known that he was ill before he started, and he had gone to France for treatment under proper medical supervision, then he would have been covered by the regulations which extend the sickness benefit to a person who goes for treatment to another country under those circumstances. That is not, of course, what the Wallsend miner did. He started off on a holiday and he was unfortunate enough to suffer a motor accident while on holiday. The reciprocal agreement with France does not cover sickness benefit for a person who is taken ill or suffers an injury while on holiday, but if the Wallsend miner had been sent over to France by the National Coal Board to do a job of work and had been taken ill, then I understand that he would have been covered by the reciprocal agreement.

I think we are all in the difficulty that when we hand over our intentions to our draftsmen it is sometimes not very clear when we see the result whether the draftsmen are doing what we want them to do. But I should pay them this tribute, that if we had not got our draftsmen we should be in a pretty poor pass. The present position seems to enable sickness benefit to be paid to the Wallsend miner not whilst he was in France but on his return to England.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am so sorry. The man in question did receive sickness benefit after he returned to England. It was not retrospective. It was for the period during which he was ill in England, but not for the three weeks when he was away.

Mr. Houghton

I am very grateful, because that shows that I have not got it right either. The new Clause wants 214sickness benefit to be paid up to eight weeks for the period of sickness while abroad, and to be payable on return to England.

Then the question arises as to whether the man has been really ill and properly certified to be ill during the period for which he would claim sickness benefit while on holiday. It seems that that can only really be covered by reciprocal agreements. Where there is a wide exchange of holiday makers between one country and another, that would seem the most satisfactory way of dealing with this. For instance, a holiday maker from France may be taken ill in this country and we would wish him to receive from his national insurance scheme the sort of benefits that we should like our people holiday-making in that country to have. 11.0 a.m.

This represents a sort of new international change of social security, and very laudable it is. It means that we each take each other's burdens and we each render certain services—of certification, and so on—although I understand that these reciprocal agreements differ in scope. I should like more information on this matter because I should not have thought that there would be any difficulty in having a reciprocal arrangement with France. As I say, I realise that these agreements differ—in regard to holiday makers going to Communist countries, for example—and I also understand that we have better reciprocal agreements with some countries than with others.

Mrs. Thatcher

The broad answer is that we have provisions for holiday-makers only in the later signed reciprocal agreements. This is probably because of later social developments and the fact that more people are going abroad. That with France is one of the earlier signed agreements. From time to time we make supplementary agreements and when this is done, providing the other country shares the same views as do we—and that is not always the case—we try to include this provision. The reciprocal agreements do not differ in scope because we want them to. They differ because of differences in what we are able to agree with the other country.

Question, That the Clause be read a Second time, put and negatived. 215New Clause.—(Extension of benefit in respect of special hardship.)

For the purposes of section fourteen of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946, a person shall not be precluded from an award of benefit within the terms of the section by the fact that his assessment for disablement benefit is nil, if it is established by medical evidence that his return to his regular occupation, would be likely to lead 216to a recurrence of the relevant loss of faculty or would be inadvisable for reasons arising from the relevant loss of faculty.—[Mr. Prentice.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 15. Division No. 12.]

Ayes

Finch, Harold

Houghton, Douglas

Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)

McCann, John

McKay, John (Wallsend)

Prentice, R. E.

Robertson, John (Paisley)

Ross, William

Silverman, Julius (Aston)

Noes

Bossom, Clive

Boyd-Carpenter, J.

Browne, Percy (Torrington)

Chichester-Clark, R.

Fisher, Nigel

Gammans, Lady

Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe)

Holland, Philip

Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)

Marten, Neil

Sharples, Richard

Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)

Tapsell, Peter

Taylor, F. (Mich'ter, Moss Side)

Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret