HC Deb 29 May 1946 vol 423 cc1211-23
Mrs. Castle (Blackburn)

I beg to move, in page 50, line 33, at the end, to insert: (b) for conferring on a woman who, at the time of her marriage, has been in insurable employment for not less than ten years, the right to continue to be insured for a full retirement pension in her own right at sixty years of age by paying the reduced rate of contribution set out in the First Schedule to this Act. This question was raised in Committee and was very thoroughly discussed with my right hon. Friend; and as a result of that discussion he agreed that a point of substance had been raised, and that between then and the Report stage he would have a look at the matter to see whether he could meet the point. I am sorry that there is nothing in his name on the Order Paper to meet the point. I can only hope that the reason is the same as that which was given by the Parliamentary Secretary on a previous Amendment, and that it means that my right hon. Friend is waiting his time, to tell us he is accepting our Amendment as being adequate. The purpose of this Amendment is to remove some of the discouragements which exist against married women insuring under this Clause. On more than one occasion some of us have suggested that it is made very hard for married women to continue their insurance under the Bill. They are discouraged from doing it, although my right hon. Friend has denied this and has told us that for the sake of the Fund he is anxious that as many people as possible should insure. We are drawing attention in this Amendment to the disadvantages which face married women who do not continue in employment.

Most young women—and we are encouraging them to do so—go into insurable occupations under Class I from the time they leave school until they are married, which may be from the age of 16 to 26, or even later. They may have 10 years of contributions under Class I before they marry, when for the time being they give up their jobs. When they are married they can continue to be insured under Class I by paying not only their own contribution, but those which were paid by their employers, or, alternatively, they transfer to Class III as non-employed persons. If they transfer, they have to pay 3s. 8d. per week to continue in insurance, and the only benefit which accrues to them in addition to the benefits they would have had in any case as married women insured by their husbands' contributions, is an old age pension of 26s. a week at 60 years of age. They are merely paying for the difference between 16s. which they would have received by way of the insured rights of their husbands and 26s. a week which they get in their own right at 60 years of age.

For many of these women it is an important consideration to keep in insurance. After all, affairs are very precarious these days. There is no permanent security in married life. One of a number of things may happen to a husband, but I will deal only with the economic ones. The husband may be out of work. It is not unknown in my area for a woman to be working and the man to be out of work. A woman may desire when she goes back to insurable employment to keep up her full insurance rights, but she can only keep continuity of insurance by paying at the high level of 3s. 8d. when she is out of employment. I suggest that as an insurance proposition no woman would wish to pay 3s. 8d. per week to get the difference of 10s per week at the age of 60 between the pension she would' receive when her husband retires. It is not an insurable proposition worth considering and it is not on any actuarial basis.

The effect of the Bill at present is to make it not worth while for women to make these contributions. It is out of keeping with the Minister's assurance that he wants married women to be insured, and to be included as much as anyone else in this scheme. There is a psychological aspect as well. At this time when women are being encouraged more and more to go into employment, whether they are married or not, they should feel that they have the backing of this Scheme behind them. The maintenance of insurance rights should be linked with the insurance rights of employment, and women should not have to take a very bad bargain at a certain period to provide for continuity. I ask the Minister to tell us that as a result of his consideration he will accept this Amendment.

Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)

I beg to second the Amendment.

As it stands this is a bad Clause from the point of view of married women, and it would be considerably improved by the inclusion of this Amendment. When we were discussing in Committee the position of married women generally the attitude of the Minister in the early stages was rather flinty, but towards the end of the proceedings he had become much softer. We thought we would see an Amendment on the Order Paper in his name, and it is a disappointment to us that he has not put one down As the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) has pointed out, a married woman who has been working from the time she left school and has made a number of contributions to the Fund is taken out of Class I when she marries and becomes an appendage to her husband. She has to accept his protection The intention of the Amendment is to put the position straight.

There is a much more important point than that which was raised by the hon. Member for Blackburn. When a large number of professional and business women marry they give up their employment for a short time. It is their intention to go back to their profession or business, and they do not want to drop out of insurance while they are unemployed. For that reason they wish to have continuity of insurance. The Government are constantly impressing upon married women the importance of going back to their work or profession, but this Clause is a discouragement to them, and I ask the Minister to look at this matter again. It is bad business for a woman to pay 3s. 8d. over a long period of years to gain what is, in fact, only 10s. when she comes to draw her pension. I hope that the Minister will remember all the things which he said upstairs, and that he will remember the promise he more or less gave to reconsider this matter. I hope that he will give us some assurance that a woman who has been in an insurable occupation for ten years before she was married will be regarded as an insured person in her own right, and that she will be able to continue her insurance and obtain her pension at 60 years of age in her own right, instead of having to be a appendage to her husband.

6.00 p.m.

Mr. Beechman

Speaking as a bachelor, I am very much in sympathy with what the hon. Ladies opposite have said on behalf of married women. Marriage is a very serious matter, and I do not know why such a serious obligation should be added to in this way, or why a woman should lose these rights. A constituent has suggested to me that all women should get married and no men. Like-many desirable schemes, that is impossible; and, as so many good ladies get married, it seems to me wrong that this benefit should be denied to them. Although it might be unwise to carry this matter to a Division, I think there is real matter of principle involved.

Mr. J. Griffiths

We had a discussion in Committee about the problem raised by this Amendment, although the proposal then put was not the proposal now embodied in the Amendment. This is not a question of my being hard or flinty or soft. In this Bill we provide for insurance under one of three classes. The position is that everyone will be insured under one or other of those classes, unless it is provided otherwise. The major exception is one which I made myself, at the request of hon. Members on all sides of the House, which is relevant to this matter. We provided in the original Bill that persons whose income was below £75 per annum, 30s. a week, should be allowed to claim exemption from being insured under the scheme under classes 2 and 3, that is, if self-employed or non-employed. I was pressed in Committee to increase the £75 to £104, and I accepted that. The position now is that the income limit below which persons can claim exemption from payment of contributions and from becoming insured persons is £2 a week, and, apart from that, everyone is insurable under Classes I, II, and III.

A woman who has been in industry and who has, therefore, an insurance record, and who decides to get married and to give up industry, if she wants to preserve her insurance record and her insurance rights may do so by continuing to pay contributions as a non-employed person, and she thus not only has her right to benefit as a dependent of her husband, but also preserves her own independent right of benefit. Therefore, a woman who has done 10 years' work and, on marriage, gives up work, has to make up her mind whether she will continue her insurance in her own right. By paying 3s. 8d. a week, which is the non-employed contribution, she qualifies at 60 for a pension of 26s. a week, whether her husband is then qualified or not. If her husband qualifies for a pension at 65, and she is then 60, they both retire, she will get 16s. as pension. The husband will get 26s. and she will get 16s. If the husband dies, the wife's pension goes up to 26s. automatically.

The suggestion was made in Committee that when a woman, in the circumstances described in the Amendment, goes out of work, she is certain, if her husband is entitled to a pension, of a pension of 16s.' at 60, and that I should make provision, if possible and practicable, by which, when the woman gave up work and stayed at home, and became a non-employed contributor, I should create another class, for that is what it means; the creation of another class under which she would insure, not for a pension of 26s. in her own right, but for a pension of 10s. I have looked at that and other suggestions which have been put to me. I have had pressure put on me by hon. Members who represent certain parts of Scotland, where there are many crofters, and by hon. Members who represent my own country, in which there are many small farmers, and their suggestions would mean the creation of a little scheme within this major scheme. It would mean providing another scheme with a lower rate of contribution and a lower rate of benefit. Quite frankly, I have decided that I ought not now to accept those proposals.

This Amendment is associated with an Amendment which my hon. Friends have put down to the Schedule, and I would point out to them that the amount of the contribution which they put down for insertion in the Schedule is completely inadequate to cover the cost of their proposals. If a woman is to be insured, when she gives up work on marriage after 10 years, for a pension of 26s. in her own right at 60, the cost of the benefit will have to be met in a lesser number of years. But a person may go on being an employed contributor until within five years of pension able age, and in a scheme of this kind you have to average out what it will be. Some will pay for one year, some for five years and some for 10 years. If you permit someone to continue as a non-employed person to insure themselves for a pension of 26s. at 60 years of age in their own right, what is the contribution that must be provided, on the average, knowing that some will come in the non-employed class at 16, some at 20, 30, 40 or 55. I am sorry, therefore, that I cannot accept this Amendment.

An. essential part of this scheme from the very beginning is that we provide for one rate of benefit. If we depart from that, it is quite clear that we are going to have this scheme, which provides this uniform rate of benefit, and a smaller scheme, which provides a smaller rate of benefit—two schemes with obvious options. I examined it without any prejudice—indeed, why should I have any prejudice against it? My desire is to see as many people as possible covered by this scheme. I examined it—and I hope in this connection that I will not be misunderstood—from the point of view that the married woman's contribution of 3s. 8d. may be paid by her husband. My concern is with people of less than £2 a week. Obviously they cannot pay that contribution. I have had deputations on the subject, and I have met hon. Members who have discussed with me the difficult problem of the crofter and the family farmer on the hillside of Wales. I have tried to find is there any way in which this could be met? My conclusion is that there is no way except the creation of another scheme inside this scheme— to allow someone to contract out of the main scheme into another with smaller benefits and smaller contributions.

On the Third Reading I shall have something to say about the considerations which were impressed upon me and some of the conclusions I have come to. There are limitations on what we can do in an insurance Measure. At the moment we have got to let the scheme run as it is for five years. Then we shall review the whole of it, and see how many gaps are left, how many people are unable to keep up the payments and how many people are unemployed. As the Amendment is framed it suggests that the benefit is paid for by the individual's own contributions, but hon. Members must remember that the 3s. 8d. contribution is not fixed on its own. The contributions in general are fixed in relation to the whole of the benefits, and, therefore, if I were to accept an Amendment of this kind I must warn the House that I would have to go back and recast all the contributions. The Amendment refers to married women who after 10 years give up their work. It is implied in the Amendment that such women, when they give up their work, have created a reserve for their own pensions which ought to be used for them. That is not how the scheme is worked, but everyone is contributing towards the reserve, which will be used for the various benefits. During the Committee Stage I promised that I would consider this matter and have done so. I did not commit myself further. I do not think that this can be done and I regret that it cannot be done. If it could be done I would have done it.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. S. Silverman

I cannot help saying at once, that I found the Minister's reply disappointing. I agree that he did not give in Committee any undertaking that could have been regarded as binding, or as implying that he would put a proposal on the Order Paper in the sense desired. I acquit him of a breach of an undertaking of any kind. However, when I look at the words which were used I think one might have been pardoned for supposing that if, in the end, he felt compelled to reject this idea, he would have given good and compelling reasons for doing so. I should like to read the sentences. I think I was responsible for making the suggestion which led to the Amendment now being discussed by the House. When my right hon. Friend came to reply he said this: I assure the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that I will look at what he has suggested, which seems to me to be a new proposition. I am sure he is not expecting me to reply to it straightaway. If I gathered correctly what he said, he asked me to look at the possibility of making provision by which a married woman when leaving an occupation after a period of years can have the opportunity of contributing in order to qualify for the full pension instead of something else.


To qualify for the difference between the full pension and what she will get.


As the wife of an insured contributor?




I will look into that. The hon. Member will not expect me to give an undertaking one way or the other this morning. I shall have to look into it and see what the repercussions will be."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee "A, " 2nd April, 1946; c. 458–-9.]

I hope my right hon. Friend will not think I am in any way unfair if I say that one would have hoped today that he would have told us what the repercussions would be. I expected him to say, "These are the repercussions, and they are so serious that I am compelled to reject the proposal." He has not said anything like that. He has not indicated any serious repercussions, and I should have hoped, therefore, in the absence of any such repercussions that he might have found it possible to accept this.

Let me state again what he is asked to do and why he was asked to do it. It is an important point and I hope I will not be too long, but I think it ought to be understood'. My right hon. Friend said: " You cannot have options." But you can have options; you must have options and there are options in the Bill. The question is not whether you have options or not, but whether you have right options, fair options and equitable options. Take the case of a girl going into a cotton mill, in Lancashire perhaps, at the age of 14. They used to go in much earlier. One of the Government's principal difficulties in the cotton industry is that they could not get juvenile labor because the positions were so bad. A young girl goes straight from school at the age of 14 into a cotton mill, and she becomes an insured contributor right. away. She pays the full employed person's contribution from the age of 14. Let us suppose she gets married at the age of 26. She has then paid the full employed contributor's contributions for 12 years. My right hon. Friend in his Bill will give her nothing' for that.

Mr. William Adams (Hammersmith, South)


Mrs. Manning

No, nothing.

Mr. S. Silverman

Nothing whatever. What does he say to her in this Bill? He says, " When you come out of industry and marry you have two options, the choice of two courses, or rather three."

Mr. J. Griffiths

Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to make the position clear. He said emphatically that that girl would get nothing. That might be taken as meaning that that girl would get no benefits. That girl will get benefits from the very first day she enters employment. For the first time in her life and for the first time in the history of this country a single woman will get the same benefit as a single man. Moreover, at the age of 18 she becomes an adult for the first time.

Mr. Silverman

I think that is quite right, and I was going to say so. I hope I did not say anything to suggest that she was not fully insured during those 12 years. She is fully insured for sickness and for unemployment benefit, and she is fully insured up to 26 for the old-age pension. What I said and what I repeat is that if she comes out of industry at the age of 26 because she is married, she gets no further benefit whatever from the contributions she has made and that is true. The options she has are these: First she can continue, if she likes, as a full contributor, non-employed. She can pay both the employer's and employee's contribution. But I am sure my right hon. Friend would not advise her to do that, because she would be paying far more than she could afford, and would get very little for it. Or, she can say, "I will not give you another penny," and if she says that she gets, in virtue of her husband's insurance, at the age when he becomes entitled to retire, 16s. a week.

Mr. Lindgren

I am certain my hon. Friend wants to' be fair, but the fact is that the 16s. is not obtained wholly by her husband's contribution. Some of it is met from the actuarial pool formed from the contributions which she makes be- tween the time of her entry into insurance, and the time of her exit from industry, on marriage.

Mr. Silverman

I concede that at once. All the contributions and benefits are the result of actuarial calculations. But I am comparing one with another to see whether there is a fair result as between one class of person and another. I am not suggesting that there is anything non-actuarial about the matter; I am saying that if this woman pays not another penny she will get 16s. So will the woman who becomes married at any age, who has never been in industry, and who has never paid a penny. That cannot be denied, and I hope nobody will attempt to deny it. The married woman who has paid her contributions in full for a dozen years, and pays nothing in future, will get exactly what a woman would get if she had never been in industry, and had never paid a penny.

There is a third course. The woman can say, "I will pay you 3s. 8d. a week, and for that I will have all the rights of a self-employed person. That means that I need not depend on my husband's insurance, and that I need not be content with the 16s. I will get my retirement pension of 26s. in my own right at the age of 60, instead of 16s." What is she gaining for that 3s. 8d.? Two things. First, the difference between 16s. and 26s. when she or her husband retires and, second, she gains it in her own right at the age of 60, and does not have to wait until her husband retires. Consider that case with the case of the woman who has never been in industry, and who has never paid a penny piece in contributions. She, too, will get 26s. at the age of 60. Is it not clear that in the one case the woman pays 3s. 8d. a week for 26s. at the age of 60, and that in the other the woman pays 3s. 8d. a week for the difference between 16s. and 26s? That is an anomaly and an inequity, and there is no justification for it of any kind. Indeed, no justification has been attempted. My right hon. Friend says, "That would be creating a special class, paying a different kind of contribution and receiving a different kind of benefit." But if it is fair to do it why not do it? My right hon. Friend knows that when he thinks a thing is fair he does do it. He has just done it for the sake of the self-employed person, in respect of sickness benefit. He has, in that case, created a special class of contribution—

Mr. J. Griffiths

I am not creating a special contribution. All I have done is to put the self-employed on the same basis as everybody else, and increase their contribution.

Mr. Silverman

My right hon. Friend has created a special contribution in order to put them on the same basis.

Mr. Griffiths


Mr. Silverman

An increased contribution must be special

Mr. Griffiths


Mr. Silverman

If an increased contribution is not a special contribution, then a reduced contribution is not a special contribution. My right hon. Friend can have it which way he likes. If he accepted the Amendment he would not be creating a special class; in altering the rules he is creating a special class. Either both or neither are special classes. He has made an alteration in benefit by altering the contribution. I think he is quite right—and I supported him—and I see no reason why it should not be done here.

My right hon. Friend has said repeatedly that this is an insurance scheme, and must be dealt with as such. So be it. In an insurance scheme there must be equal contributions for equal benefits. I have demonstrated that you have here equal contributions for unequal benefits All you can do is either to increase the benefit or reduce the contribution. My right hon. Friend says, " You have not provided enough money." Well, if we have not let him produce his actuarial calculations, and we will accept his figures. But when he says that those figures will be the same figures as now, I cannot accept that. I would like to examine the figures very closely before I did, because it seems impossible mathematically to arrive at a calculation that it will cost exactly the same amount to pay 16s. as 26s. That is what the Minister means when he says that contributions will have to be the same in order to get that made up. I do not think my right hon. Friend has made out his case. This is not a world-shaking matter, and I recognise—and I am not complaining— that in the endeavor to have this Bill on the Statute Book, and in operation quickly, it is inevitable that there will be a number at anomalies that may be corrected at any time. I would rather have a lot of anomalies and get the main scheme than wait until we have cleared all the anomalies, which would mean keeping people waiting in the meantime. I am not complaining, but when a patent anomaly has been discovered before the Bill gets on to the Statute Book why in the world not correct it?

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Griffiths

If I accepted my hon. Friend's argument I should not have a scheme at all. If I were to decide how much each separate section ought to get on the basis of its own contributions this scheme would be wrecked. I am bringing railwaymen into this scheme. They might say, "The scheme is unsound and unfair because you are compelling us to pay benefit for people who will be unemployed, whereas, by the terms of our contract we have a guaranteed week."They might say that they ought not to pay unemployment contributions because they have a guaranteed week. They have a very strong case, but if I were to accept that case, it would wreck the scheme. This is a universal scheme, into which everybody has to come as a contributor or a dependant, unless excepted by reason of the income limit. The contributions of all the contributors are pooled to provide these benefits. If we started to dig out one section of contributors and see whether they would get back exactly what they contributed, it would kill this scheme. The scheme would not be workable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) has referred to a wife who will qualify for a 16s. pension, and he wants to give an extra 10s. The Amendment on the Order Paper seeks to give the wife 26s. at 60 in her own right. The figure of 3s. 8d. which we have arrived at is an average. It may be that a young woman starts work at 14 years of age and leaves work at 26 years of age, and then has to pay for the remaining years 3s. 8d. a week in order to get a pension of 26s. On the other hand, someone may go right out of class one at 58 years of age, and still pay only 3s. 8d., and get the 26s. at 60. We have had to make an average. It is true that the contributions are high, but they are high because the benefits are high. They are the contributions that are required to give benefits on this scale It would be possible—I do not say it would [Mr. Griffiths.] be impossible, and it might even be practicable—to provide, side by side with this scheme, a scheme which permitted lower contributions because it provided lower benefits.

Reference has been made to the self-employed. All that I did in their case was to deal with an administrative problem. It was a question of reducing their waiting period and making it the same as that of everybody else. The benefit remains the same, and in order to have that benefit for the extra four weeks, they have to pay 5d. extra contribution. I have examined carefully every proposition that was made in the Committee, with a desire to meet the points that were put to me, but I could not accept this Amendment, which would ruin this scheme.

Mr. C. Williams

I listened to the speeches of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and the hon. Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), who spoke with great force about the position of women who marry after having paid contributions for 10 years and think that they lose all of them. Obviously, on the surface, there would seem to. be a case for voting in favour of the Amendment. I listened to the remarks of the Minister. Nothing would be easier than for me to say a great deal on the value of uniformity, but I am convinced, by what was said by the Minister and by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who in the last part of his speech completely reversed the arguments used in the first part of it, that if we once began at this stage to go into these details, however important they may be, we should never get the main benefits of the Bill, which I happen to want. I urge upon the hon. Ladies that it would be in the best interests of the scheme that this Amendment, which cannot be practicable at this stage, should be withdrawn.

Amendment negatived.