This is the section which enables the Minister to remove particular employments from the scope of the Bill and the Minister is amending that section now in a way that probably gives him greater powers. I should like to know what his real intentions are in this respect.
Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Bill, 1936—Money Resolution. - Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Bill, 1936—Committee Stage.
This clause 5 is intended to amend Section 4 of the Principal Act. Under Section 4 of the Principal Act, persons who are engaged in what are known as excepted employments are made insurable for the purposes of the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act and excepted employment is defined in Section 4 of the Principal Act. Under sub-clause 2, paragraph (a) of sub-section (1) of Section 4 of the Principal Act, persons who are employed by a local or public authority in an employment which is excluded from national health insurance by an Order made under the Act of 1913 are in excepted employment and are consequently insurable under the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act. The employments referred to are all employments under a local or public authority which are permanent and pensionable, and also certain employments, such as that of chaplain, for which insurance under the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act is obviously not required. This clause gives power to the Minister to exclude by Order from the operation of the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act employments of such a nature that it is desirable they should not be insured.
Has the Minister any range of classes in his mind in connection with this section which he is now amending? I will raise the matter on Report Stage, if the Minister wishes.
We will try to get a list for the Deputy on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 1 on the Order Paper:
Before Section 23 to insert a new section as follows:—
Section 57 of the Principal Act is hereby amended by the insertion at the end of the said section of the following additional sub-section, and the Principal Act shall be construed and have effect accordingly, that is to say:—
(5) Nothing contained in sub-section (4) of Section 23 of this Act or in sub-section (5) of Section 26 of this Act shall, in any case in which a pension has been paid as the result of any statement or representation (whether written or verbal) which is to the knowledge of the person making it false or misleading in any material respect, be construed as affecting the operation of this section.
Sub-section (4) of Section 23 of the Principal Act is a new sub-section which it is proposed to insert under clause 15 of the Bill, and sub-section (5) of Section 26 of the Principal Act is also a new sub-section which it is proposed to insert under clause 17 of the Bill. The effect of these new sub-sections will be that where after the award of a pension, the means of a widow or orphan change, then, any resulting change in pension shall take effect as from the Friday following a decision by a deciding officer that the change has occurred. These new sub-sections are required mainly for purposes of administration.
Section 57 of the Principal Act provides for recovery of pensions overpaid. If no amendments were made to this, the new sub-sections referred to above would have the effect that Section 57 would be inoperative because all overpayments up to the date of revision of the pension would have been legalised and this would apply even though the old rate of pension had been paid as a result of fraudulent misrepresentations.
The amendment now proposed is for the purpose of ensuring that in all cases of fraud, the power of recovery given in Section 57 will still continue, notwithstanding that under the new proposals, in clause 15 and clause 17 of the Bill, the pension is reduced or discontinued only from the Friday following the deciding officer's decision.
Is this drafting correct? Would the Minister say which is sub-section (4) of Section 23?
This is to insert a new sub-section.
Section 23 of the Principal Act.
Would the Minister say what is the explanation of the change in policy indicated in this section as compared with the policy enshrined in other legislation which has passed through this House? Under Section 23 it is possible for the Minister to bring a prosecution within 12 months after the commission of an offence, but under the Conditions of Employment Act the Minister for Industry and Commerce is required to bring a prosecution within six months, although he would be prosecuting a wealthy employer with great resources to defend him. In this case we propose to double the period given to the Minister for Local Government. Twelve months seems a long time, and I think it is rather unusual in legislation of this kind. What is the explanation of the difference in policy?
Luckily for myself, I do not know anything about the operation of the Conditions of Employment Act. I have enough to do with the administration of my own Acts, and I know with regard to national health insurance that frequently more than six months have elapsed before we have discovered fraud. There are provisions whereby, by an order or declaration of the Minister, the length of time can be extended, and it is to make it administratively easier for the Minister that this change has been introduced into the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act. In the case of national health insurance, we are not prohibited from bringing people before the court when we discover fraud, even after six months, but there is certain procedure necessary—orders to be made by the Minister and a good deal of formality to be gone through—and this would make it administratively easier for the Department and for the Minister to follow people who have been found to be guilty of fraud.
I am not at all satisfied with the reading of this amendment. It says: "Nothing contained in sub-section (4) of Section 23 of this Act..." I want to know where is sub-section (4) of this Act.
The amendment has been agreed to.
We are now discussing the section as amended.
The amendment did not amend Section 23. It was itself a new section.
Where is sub-section (4) of Section 23 of this Act?
This is an amendment of Section 23.
The procedure prescribes that in inserting a new section it must be prefixed to some special section in the Act. In this case it came before Section 23.
Perhaps we have got into a difficulty out of which there is no escape, and the matter will have to be postponed until Report Stage, but there does seem to be obscurity in the way the amendment is set out. Are we to understand that in the draft of the 1937 Bill the words on the Order Paper, after the figure 5 in brackets, will be inserted, or are all the words from "Section 57" going to be inserted in the 1937 Bill? That is not the question. If all the words from the words "Section 57" are inserted the thing may mean sense. If only the words after the figure 5 in brackets are inserted, then this amendment does not achieve the purpose which it is designed to achieve. The simple way out of it is to direct the Minister's attention to it with a view to his examining it between now and the Report Stage, and, if an amendment is necessary, to bring in such an amendment.
I take it the Minister will agree to let it stand over to see if anything in the Bill now has not been understood. We will be prepared to give the Minister the remaining stages of the Bill on the 31st March.