10.54 p.m. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Harold Davies)
I beg to move,
That the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Amendment Order 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.
This Order amends the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Order, 1948, made under Section 83 of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946. It is simple and it follows the precedent set by my right hon. Friend's predecessors.
The Scheme which was approved in 1948 by the then Minister of National Insurance, under the power given to him in Section 83 of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1964, was set up at the request of both sides of the coal mining industry. The Scheme provides supplementary benefits for colliery workers and their dependants who are in receipt of benefit under the Industrial Injuries Act for colliery accidents or diseases. It is a contributory scheme and the cost of the benefits and of the administration is met by contributions from the National Coal Board and the colliery workers. The supplements to injury and disablement benefit are expressed in the Scheme as a proportion of those benefits and are increased automatically when industrial injury rates are increased as under the National Insurance &c. Act, 1964. The supplements to death benefit are expressed as sums and can be increased only by an amending Order.
This Order proposes to raise the rate of supplementary compensation for a widow who has children and who is aged 40 or more from 41s. to 47s. 6d. a week and for the childless widow under 40 from 12s. 3d. to 14s. a week. These increases are broadly proportionate to those made under the National Insurance &c. Act, 1964. To pay for the increased benefits which the Scheme will provide it is proposed to increase the employers' and the employees' contributions from 5½d. to 6¼d. These are the major amendments proposed in this Order. [column 1026] 10.37 p.m.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)
This is a unique Scheme in that it is the only Supplementary Scheme which has been set up under the Industrial Injuries Act, 1948. I should like to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary a number of questions about it. As I understand, the Order does three things. It raises the contributions, it raises the benefits, and it makes certain changes in the Section dealing with investment provisions.
It is difficult to adjudge the increases in contribution or indeed the increases in benefits without having a copy of the annual accounts. I understand from Article 54 that the annual accounts are prepared for the Minister by the National Committee. I have not been able to find that they are published and, therefore, have not been able to find the figures for myself. Can the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tell us whether in the last accounting year the fund was in deficit or in credit? If so, by how much, and what is the value of the investments which it holds?
The second point concerns contributions. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the contributions of the National Coal Board. There are, of course, other contributions, calculated on a different basis, payable by other employers. The Coal Board, as the hon. Gentleman said, pays 6¼d. per ton of saleable output of deep-mined coal, but the other employers appear to pay, or will pay under the Order, 2s. 4d. a week in respect of each colliery worker.
These are quite different methods of calculating contribution by two kinds of employer. Do they nevertheless result in the same amount being paid per colliery worker? This seems to be the important point. Also, could the hon. Gentleman tell us what proportion of the fund is paid, in effect, by employer and what proportion by employee? As I say, I do not think that I have ever seen these accounts, and they may not be published. However, if they are published, and the hon. Gentleman tells me where I can find them, I can sort out the figures for myself.
It is rare on these occasions for the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Bernard Taylor) to be absent. He almost always [column 1027]makes a short speech about such Orders, congratulating the Government, whichever Government it be, on the wisdom of approving a scheme which increases to widows under 40 years of age under the Industrial Injuries Scheme as well as to those over 40, and he usually takes the opportunity to ask whether the Government will make increases for the Industrial Injuries “20-shilling” widow. Could the Parliamentary Secretary tell us how this matter is coming along? I believe it has been referred to the Industrial Injuries Advisory Committee.
My last point concerns a quite new amendment of the original Scheme. Paragraph 7 of the Order amends Article 52 of the Scheme, and the hon. Gentleman did not refer to this in opening. It gives the National Committee an entirely new power to enter into certain bonds. Can the hon. Gentleman give any precedent for incorporating this power in the Scheme, and tell us whether any specific incident has given rise to the need for it? It is unusual for a National Committee of this kind to have power to enter into special contracts of this nature. It has not had it before. Usually, its acts through a trustee or nominee who has to be approved by the Minister, and, if there are plentiful funds at the back of the Scheme, I should doubt the need for the National Committee itself to have power to enter into bonds.
Those are rather detailed points, and I should not dream of holding up the Order, which, I am sure, has been approved by both sides of the industry. But, if the hon. Gentleman could either now or at some other time let me have answers to the questions I have raised, I should be very grateful.
10.44 p.m. Mr. Harold Davies
With the leave of the House, I shall be very pleased to reply to the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). I realise that both she and other hon. Members know about the Scheme, but, at this late hour, I had some sympathy for the House and did not want to go deeply into the whole question. I fully appreciate that the hon. Lady, who, at one time, exercised responsibility from this side of the House, takes a real interest in these matters and is just as much concerned about them as we are [column 1028]on this side. It is my responsibility both to her and to the House to give as much information as I can in response to the constructive observations which she made.
The answer to her question about the accounts is simple. I have here a copy of the Annual Report and Accounts of the National Committee, which gives all the details. The national Committee consists of 10 members, five broadly representing the Coal Board and five representing the miners. It has a special group known as the Investment Advisory Panel for all its investment schemes. The hon. Lady can obtain a copy of this document from the Coal Board, but it will be a pleasure to send her one if she wishes to increase her knowledge of all the facts and figures of the investments. I shall see that my Department sends one to her as soon as possible. I hope, therefore, that, without boring the House, I may give her the percentages and position of the investments and be allowed to call that an answer in depth to the hon. Lady's first question.
On the second point—the value of the credits—perhaps for the benefit of those who may not know the scheme I might say that, as the hon. Lady said, it is unique, but it has been possible since 1920 under the Unemployment Insurance Acts for any employer and his employees to introduce such a scheme. However, it was not until 1948 that we had progression on the scheme—it is important for the House to note this—whereby the Ministry could act as agent for the scheme. But this does not cost the public purse any money whatever because the agency cost of managing the scheme is met by funds collected from the mining industry and the miners by the National Committee. I hope that that clarifies the position.
The other interesting question, which I did not avoid purposely, was in reference to Article 7, about the power of investment. In the draft we have given power to the National Committee to acquire through their investment powers the right to enter into bonds. If, for instance, it wanted to invest its money in leasehold property, until the amendment now proposed the National Committee would be in the anomalous position that it could go to an insurance company and would have to invest as a guarantee for any development a sum of money which would be [column 1029]dead because it could not earn interest during the investment period.
The amendment in Article 7, which amends Article 52 of the consolidated scheme, enables such a bond to be obtained more cheaply from an insurance company if the National Committee can give a bond by way of indemnity to the company. As I said, the alternative is to deposit a large sum of money which would earn no interest. The Committee discovered by trial and error that under the consolidated scheme it had no power, and unless the House gives it this power, it still will not have the power to enter into such bonds. If the House agrees to the Order that power will be given to it.
The hon. Lady asked about the 2s. 1d. and 2s. 4d. Those who know the mines know what checkweighmen are, and also the pick sharpeners and all the other ancillary workers in and around the mines. These men have grown up over the ages to protect the rights of the colliers in respect of rates and weight of coal cut. They are not employed directly by the Coal Board. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady deserves constructive answers to her forthright questions. Since they are employed not by the Coal Board, but by the colliers in the mines, it is the colliers who have to find this extra money for the checkweighmen and the ancillary workers. They are, however, a small number in relation to the whole group in the mines. This does not mean that anybody is being penalised.
An incisive question was asked about the 20-shilling widow. These are matters which the National Committee must deal with. The hon. Lady asked what we were doing in this direction. If I were to develop the point, I might be considered to be out of order, because it has more to do with the current general review. Having given these answers, therefore, I hope that the House will give us the Order.
Does it not seem strange to the hon. Gentleman that just at the time when one Government Department is bringing in a Bill to enfranchise leaseholds another Government Department is asking for powers for the National Committee to invest in leaseholds?[column 1030]
Mr. Harold Davies
There are many anomalies in human existence and it takes a lot of time for common sense to seep all the way down through the human chain of thought. Rather than get into metaphysical and philosophical discussion with the hon. Lady at this stage, I will grant her that one. Perhaps I had better leave it at that and say, as a quid pro quo, that I was surprised that the hon. Lady should object a little to the National Committee having the power of investing funds occasionally at a profit.
Question put and agreed to.
That the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) (Colliery Workers Supplementary Scheme) Amendment Order, 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 24th February, be approved.