§ Mr. Paton (Norwich, North)
I beg to move, in page 5, line 12, after "respectively," to insert:but, so however, that any beneficiary who is medically certified to be unfit to continue in full employment or has been discharged from his customary employment on grounds of age, and who, being a woman, is over the age of sixty or, being a man, is over the age of sixty-five, shall be entitled to such weekly rates as if, being a woman, she is over the age of sixty-five or, being a man, he is over the age of seventy.
§ Mr. Paton
Yes, Sir. I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if this series of Amendments, in my name and the names of some of my colleagues, could be all taken at the same time.
I have put the Amendment on the Paper because I want to draw the attention of the House to what I believe is a very important omission from the Clause. The Clause makes a very important change in the general provisions for retirement pensions, as originally laid down in the Act and operated since the Act came into force. With great respect to my right hon. Friend the Minister of National Insurance, I think she was wrong when she said a few minutes ago that in this Bill she was not making any change in the principles underlying the original Act.
The Clause introduces an extremely important change in principle. In the Act we accepted the principle of equal 235 benefits for equal contributions. What we are doing in the Clause, and what we did in the last debate upon it, is to accept the new principle that after the appointed day there should be a differential rate of pension for contributors who have hitherto paid exactly the same contributions. We are here undoubtedly dealing with an extremely important departure from an original principle which governed the working of the Act. This departure has already been accepted by the House, so I do not propose to traverse the previous discussion.
I would point out that all of us accepted it as desirable, in view of the ever-increasing burdens on the productive working population, and in view of the cost of old age pensions which may become extremely formidable within a comparatively few years, that we should take all proper means to lessen those burdens by getting as many old people as possible to continue in work after the normal retirement age. While it is good and wise that we should seek that end by all proper means, we must surely adopt means that will not inflict considerable hardships, and even great injustice, upon certain sections of beneficiaries under the Act.
It is my belief that the Clause as now drafted does inflict such hardships and injustices on the two sections of insured contributors who are covered by my Amendment, namely, those who are physically incapable, by reason of waning powers or by reason of sickness, of continuing in work when they reach the retirement ages prescribed by the Act, or those who are, by the custom of the industry or occupation in which they are engaged, discharged when they reach the retiring age. There is nothing in the Clause, or in any subsequent Amendment on the Paper, to cover those two categories.
Let me take first the case of the physically incapable, who are unable by reason of waning physical powers or of actual sickness, to continue in employment after the retirement age in their customary occupation. Everybody knows that over a very wide field of what we know as the heavy industries the mass of the workers, when they reach the age of 60 in the case of women or 65 in the case of men, having spent a lifetime of useful service in heavy work, are conscious of waning 236 physical powers. They are probably quite incapable of continuing to work for any period beyond the retiral age in those industries.
What we are facing now is the proposal in the Clause that, after the appointed day, men of 65 in such industries or women of 60, who are unable to continue in their employment because of their physical condition, are to suffer a penalty by reason of that fact. That seems to me to be a quite intolerable proposal, and I can hardly imagine that the right hon. Lady, of whose sympathy in all these matters we are all perfectly well aware, will accept the Clause in its present form and allow that sort of thing to continue.
It is said that there will be room and scope for these people in the light industries. Every hon. Member knows that in the great areas of what we know as heavy industries there is hardly any light job suitable for men and women of this type available to them. These are not areas where light jobs are plentiful. It is almost impossible to conceive that the masses of the men and women with whom I am concerned, who will suffer, will be able to find light work of any description.
We are thus faced with the position that for five years they will be subjected, because of their sickness or physical incapacity, to a penalty imposed upon them by the provisions of this Clause, by which they are denied the ampler pension that will be paid to their more fortunate colleagues who have reached 60 or 65 before the appointed day, or who are over 65 or 70 years of age. It seems to me that the House cannot possibly accept a provision of this kind.
We are told that these people may find refuge in the light industries. I know that a great deal of importance is attached to that idea. I myself am extremely sceptical of the idea that any considerable number of people, either those discharged from heavy industries or those who have already left the light industries and might hope to get back, would find such employment. I think that it is an illusion. In the light industries today the overwhelming number of men and women who have reached retirement age and are still fully physically efficient carry on beyond the retirement age when permitted to do so. It is only those who are conscious of failing physical powers employed in the light industries 237 who now get out of those light industries at the statutory retirement ages.
I have in my constituency the most important of all light industries in the City of Norwich—the boot and shoe making industry. That is a typical light industry and I have tried to get some information about the conditions obtaining in it with regard to men and women in the category I am now discussing. I have in my hand a letter from one of the biggest employers in that industry in the City of Norwich. I propose to quote only one sentence. He says:I am employing at the present moment 1,600 men and women, and I cannot find one who has left me at pensionable age, with the exception of very few through ill-health.I had that opinion confirmed by a letter from the chief officer of the union catering for workers in the boot and shoe industry, who says:The fact is that where women at 60 and men at 65 do leave the industry it is because they are generally physically unfit to continue, and where men or women do feel physically able and sufficiently mentally alert to carry on they continue working.So the idea that there is in the light industries a great reservoir of possible employment for men of 65 and women of 60 who are physically incapable of carrying on in their customary employment is something of an illusion. We are thus faced with the fact that, under the Clause as it stands, unless something in the nature of this Amendment is accepted, great hardship and very grave injustice will be inflicted on people who, through no fault of their own, are unable to carry on beyond the retiring age.
Let us glance for a moment or two at the second category covered by the Amendment, namely, those who are discharged from employment with no option at 60 in the case of women and 65 in the case of men. Again, it is within the knowledge of every hon. Member that there are large sections of our industries at this time—particularly in the heavy industries, but by no means confined to the heavy industries—where it is the custom, and has been the custom for a long time, automatically to discharge men at about 65 and women at about 60. These people have no option. They have merely reached the customary retiring age in that employment, and when they reach it they must go; they are sacked.
238 Under the Clause as drafted, men and women who are discharged from their employment in that way—because it is the custom of the industry—will be penalised for at least 18 months after the appointed day by having to accept a lower pension than that to which they would be entitled if they were 60 or 65 before the appointed day. That will arise simply from the accidental circumstances that these men and women have happened to spend long working lives in an industry where those are the customary conditions. That, again, seems to me to be an intolerable injustice which ought to be removed as speedily as possible.
Now, it is no answer for the Minister to argue, as she may well be tempted to argue, that the physically sick may appeal to the National Assistance Board for extra assistance, which they would no doubt get. The point is that these are people the overwhelming number of whom have contributed to the Insurance Fund during the whole of their working lives. They are people who have an established right to insurance benefit, and ought not to be compelled to go to the National Assistance Board, which most of them would dislike.
In saying that I am not in any way trying to throw any kind of aspersion on the magnificent work of the National Assistance Board in these modern days, with its new spirit, but it is the fact that the majority of working class people are reluctant to go to the National Assistance Board, and would infinitely prefer to get their benefit from the Insurance Fund, from which these people have a perfect right to get it. It therefore will not do to argue that the National Assistance Board will take care of these people. I want them to get their benefit on the higher rate, as they are in my view entitled to get it because of their lifetime of contribution to the Insurance Fund.
On that I make this incidental remark. The people who will be affected by this Clause and by my Amendment are mostly people who have a far greater right to full insurance benefit than a very large number of those over 70 today who will get it without challenge under the new Clause. In nearly every case those who will reach 60 and 65 respectively after the appointed day are people who have contributed to the National Insurance Fund ever since there has been National 239 Insurance, and over a whole lifetime of effective working service for the community they have established their right and claim to full insurance benefit.
Again, it is no answer for the Minister or anybody else to say that those who are discharged from employment will be taken care of under the provisions attaching to unemployment insurance. I know that they will be expected to register at the exchanges. I also know two facts about that. One is that there is practically no prospect at all that the employment exchanges will be able to find suitable employment for women over 60 and men over 65 in any area of the country, so that they will be continual attenders and registering at the employment exchanges for an indefinite period. While they are doing that, they will, of course, be earning increments as being registered for suitable employment during the period of their unemployment.
But during the whole of the 18 months which it will take them to earn the new increments that would bring their 26s. pension up to 30s., they will be paid at the rate applicable to unemployment benefit, which is only 26s. a week, or at the rate of the lower benefit under the Clause. Not only is that a hardship, but it is an intolerable injustice that men and women who have had no option whether they would continue at work, who have been discharged because of the customs of an industry, should be penalised for 18 months as a result of that entirely accidental circumstance. This is something which the House should not allow to pass.
There is here a very important consideration. Under the new Clause, the position of those who reach the age of 65 after the appointed day and exercise their option to continue at work, is satisfactory; but the others who, being physically fit to continue at work and having the possibility of remaining in their customary employment, decide to retire at the minimum ages, are exercising a voluntary option; they are choosing to get the benefits and advantages of retirement, at the same time accepting with full knowledge a lower rate of pension.
That does not violate any idea of mine of what is socially just, but in the case with which we are now dealing—that of people who have no such voluntary 240 option, who are simply being sacked from their employment because that is the custom of their particular industry—it would be intolerable if the House were to accept the Clause in its present form and thereby allow hardships of the kind I have described to be applied to quite good and deserving sections of our industrial population.
Those are the reasons I put down the Amendments. I hope that my right hon. Friend, while she may not be able to accept the precise wording of the Amendments, will be able to say that, in principle at least, she accepts the point of view we are putting forward and will at some later stage in the proceedings seek to ensure that these grave hardships and injustices, to which I have directed the attention of the House, will be removed from the Bill by means of a suitable Amendment. If the right hon. Lady can give that assurance, we would have no desire now either to prolong the debate or to delay the House unnecessarily. I beg of her, therefore, to give this matter her earnest and sympathetic consideration.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I support it for totally different reasons from those outlined in the very able case which my hon. Friend has put forward. When the Bill was before the House on Second Reading, I referred to differential occupations. Some play was made of that suggestion, but at the same time there is a need for some recognition of the payment of pensions to people who work in the heavy industries. I speak with a long experience in the mining industry.
We have two classes of case, both of which are very difficult when those affected are suffering from industrial diseases, despite all the advancement that has been made by medical science and by the training of the mind to detect this and that. Medical science has not yet reached the stage when it can say definitely that men working in the mining industry are suffering from silicosis—pneumoconiosis is the new word—or miners' nystagmus.
What happens? When a man is suspected of being a sufferer in this way and the medical profession will not go further than that, they say "We suspect you are suffering from miners' nystagmus." The machine that operates is as follows; 241 The man has then to get a certificate from the doctor that he is suspected to be suffering from miners' nystagmus. He then goes, or is sent, to the certifying surgeon under the Factories and Workshops Act, 1901, and the surgeon says that he is or is not suffering.
The right hon. Lady, who is a doctor knows full well that in the case of miners' nystagmus it is extremely difficult for a doctor definitely to certify that a man is suffering from the disease, because it has been ruled that unless there is oscillation of the eyeball a man is not suffering from it. He may or may not be suffering from astigmatism, but the moment it is discovered that he is, or is suspected to be, a sufferer from miners' nystagmus, despite all the pleading and argument we can bring to bear on the coal owners or upon the National Coal Board, for that reason they refuse point-blank to employ him in the pits underground. It is this type of case that we want to include in the Bill as a beneficiary for the pension. That is one type of case.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
Could the hon. Member give some information whether the special scheme of supplementary pensions for the mining industry, the principles of which, we read in the Press last week, have been agreed between the parties, will not provide for some of the types of case which, apparently, he has in mind?
§ Mr. Brown
At present there is nothing definite on paper as to who will benefit by the new scheme which is under consideration. We are in duty bound not to let-this opportunity pass without putting forward the case on behalf of those men who, we think, will be victims of an injustice if we allow this position to go unchallenged. That is why we feel so very strongly about it. I wish I could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the men to whom I am referring would get some compensation at a subsequent date under the new scheme.
The men who are suspected to be suffering from miners' nystagmus are one type of case. For the man who is suspected to be suffering from silicosis or pneumoconiosis, an entirely different machine operates. Those with a long and varied experience of dealing with suspected silicosis cases know full well the procedure through which a man has 242 to pass. First, he goes to his medical adviser, who says that he thinks the man is suffering from asthma or bronchitis. Gradually, his condition becomes worse, and then the man says, "I believe I am not suffering from asthma or bronchitis, and that I have that new disease which is known in the mining industry." He cannot pronounce the word, but he gives the doctor an indication of what he means.
He is then sent as a suspect to the Silicosis Medical Board, who are supposed to be the most expert in the Kingdom on that disease. They fail to discover, even by radiography, that the man is a victim of, or suspected to be suffering from, silicosis, and therefore they give him what we in the coal mining industry know as a pink certificate. The moment he gets that pink certificate he knows that his time in the pits is at an end. He cannot get work in the pits and he cannot get work on the surface and many of these men will be over the age of 65 after the appointed day.
I think that my right hon. Friend and her Department ought to give some very serious consideration to these men suspected to be suffering from industrial diseases who fail to establish their claims for compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act when they have attained the age of 65 and are certified to be suspected of or actually suffering from these diseases. I think it is only right and proper, honest and just that they should be the recipients of the full pension. They have paid their contributions from the beginning of 1912 and many of them have never received a penny in benefit either for sickness or for unemployment. To reach that stage and then be denied the right of their pension just because they are suspected and unfortunate victims of either nystagmus or silicosis, is manifestly unfair.
§ Mr. Daines (East Ham, North)
I think quite a lot of us would have sympathy with the objects behind the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Paton) but, as the Minister has rightly said, this is an insurance scheme and we have to make rules and be quite sure that when we make the rules they are capable of application. I refer the House to what the Amendment actually says: 243…that any beneficiary who is medically certified to be unfit to continue in full employment.Who is to certify? Is it a general practitioner? Are we reasonably assured that every general practitioner is really satisfied when he issues a certificate? I have had a rather long experience of working the old National Insurance Scheme. I always found that when the football team I supported was at home the ratio of sickness went up considerably if it were a mid-week match. We have to be quite realistic about this. Much as I respect the desire for the general practitioner to have a high standard of integrity, he is very often labouring under great difficulties and I think that that part of the Amendment places a quite unfair burden on the general practitioner.
§ Mr. Paton rose—
§ Mr. Daines
Will my hon. Friend allow me to finish? If the general practitioner, after careful examination, decides that the man is not suffering from a disease, he often runs the risk of incurring the hostility of the person concerned and of the whole family. I say with all respect to my hon. Friends that, unless there is considerable qualification of that part of the Amendment, it is quite impossible for it to work. It may be suggested that a board should be set up to which these cases can be referred. The Minister can tell the House that it is really surprising to find the number of people who return to work when they are referred to a board. For people of 60 to 65 I think it extremely doubtful that that part of the rule could be applied.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Paton
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is an enormous field of medical certification today operating very satisfactorily over a whole range of industrial injuries in other fields, including even the determination of inheritability of diseases? Does my hon. Friend consider that because of the difficulty, all kinds of hardships should continue?
§ Mr. Daines
No. The point I am making is that this is a general, sweeping, provision to cover all cases. If we have identifiable diseases the rule can be worked but if there is a sweeping declaration I say the rule is quite unworkable in 244 practice. What the Amendment is really trying to do is to get round the previous decision of the House by the back door—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I will withdraw that if it offends my hon. Friends, but that is how it appears to me.
§ Mr. Daines
Very well, I withdraw it and only ascribe the purest of motives to my hon. Friends. The third line of the Amendment says:discharged from his customary employment on grounds of age.What precisely is meant by that? It does not say "at the customary age at which discharge takes place in that employment." After all we are legislating and making rules. Much as I sympathise with the motives behind my hon. Friend's Amendment. I submit to the House, in support of the Government's opposition—which I am certain must come—that, as worded, the Amendment is not possibly workable.
§ Dr. Summerskill rose—
§ Mr. Daines
I have not finished. After all, I do not address the House very often and, with respect, I would point out that I thought I was doing my right hon. Friend's job very well. A little loyalty now and again is a little refreshing even from Government Benches. While I can see that my intervention will prolong the debate, it is still early and we can certainly discuss the Amendment, but I submit that, as drafted, it is quite unworkable and that the Government could not possibly accept such an Amendment.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I thought perhaps I should intervene at this stage so that those who wish to speak on this Amendment may be fully aware of my approach to it. The House will recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Paton) had an Amendment similar to this on the Order Paper in Committee stage. He withdrew it and, although a Minister is always very pleased when Amendments are withdrawn, I did regret it in some measure because I thought I had been denied an opportunity to explain to the House and to the country why it was impossible to accept an Amendment on these lines.
§ Mr. Paton
May I remind my right hon. Friend that the original Amendment I withdrew, and to which reference is being made, except for the fact that it contained the reference to medical certification, was an Amendment which the Minister accepted by the amended proposal she put to the House. That is why I withdrew it.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am not criticising, but explaining the position. I think my hon. Friend agrees that it contained the proposal that medical certification should be accepted.
Later during the debate in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), speaking on the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," very ingeniously pursued the argument that my hon. Friend has pursued this afternoon. Then I, equally ingeniously, with your permission Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as Deputy-Chairman, replied to my hon. Friend and was able to state the case for opposing this Amendment. I must apologise to the House for repeating some of those arguments because the position has changed. The Amendment has, in some respects, appeared again, and it is necessary to explain my position.
The House will agree that no Minister should accept an Amendment if he or she believes that it is impossible to administer it, or at least to administer it in a way which would be accepted by the country as being just and fair. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North, would agree with that. It is precisely for that reason that I oppose this Amendment. It is completely impracticable, and I will give the reason. In the first place, it is suggested that the decision of the doctor should be accepted in respect of the diagnosis of old age and incapacity for work. In the second place it is also suggested that an employer should be allowed to pronounce on this very important matter—I shall deal with that aspect in a few minutes. In fact, the doctor and the employer are bracketed for that purpose.
Why did I say that in my opinion it would be wrong to ask the general practitioner to do this? Old age is not a pathological condition; it is a physiological condition. We are not asking a doctor to diagnose senility. Anyone in 246 the House is capable of diagnosing that, and some of us have done so at some time or other. Senility is easy to diagnose. There may be certain pathological symptoms associated with senility. Old age is a different matter. In my, opinion there is no objective diagnosis of old age; it is subjective.
One may examine a man and find that his eyesight and hearing are normal for his age, his heart sounds are quite good for his age, his blood pressure is normal for his age; in fact, all his faculties are, so far as one can tell, good. But he says "at 65, I am utterly sick of getting up early in the morning, going down the darkened street and doing a job," either in a factory or mine or elsewhere. He may have a little cabbage patch at the back of his house, and he may say, "I am sick of work and I want to be able to spend my time in my cabbage patch for the rest of my days."
Although when he goes to his doctor, the doctor could say "It appears to me that your heart is all right for a few years," what should that man do? I say that he should retire. He is tired of work, exhausted, weary. But as I say, there is no objective diagnosis of that. There has been no medical or surgical instrument invented which can determine the measure of sickness of work. Therefore, it would, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines) has said, be quite wrong to put that burden on the shoulders of the general practitioner.
Some of my hon. Friends who come from mining towns know that there are doctors there who have perhaps brought into the world the whole family—the children and grandchildren—of such a prospective patient. Large numbers of them are today on the doctors' medical list. The man goes to the doctor and says, "I want a certificate. I am fed up with work, I feel that I am too old; examine me and give me the certificate." The doctor may be a man of the highest integrity, but think of the family pressure which will be brought to bear. He feels he has known this man for years, knows his children, etc., and he might not find it in his heart to say "No." Although he knows that from the medical standpoint he should refuse to give the certificate he gives it.
247 In the next village or town there may be a doctor who has not known his patient for so long, and whose approach is different. He examines a man who makes a, similar application to him and says "You are quite fit to work." In a very short time it will become known that there are two standards, that there is no uniform approach to this matter. Prospective patients will, quite rightly, have a grievance. They will say to my Department "There is no uniformity in this matter. What do you propose to do?" The only thing that could be done would be to set up a medical board.
Let us assume that a medical board is set up; let us assume that we can get the medical personnel for such a board. What is the board faced with? Again, it is in exactly the same position as the medical practitioner. There are no pathological symptoms associated with old age as such, so the doctors on the medical board are in no better position to judge. Let us further assume that the board is set up and that this bit of machinery begins to creak. The patient goes to the medical board, and then he has a grievance. What do we then do?
All my hon. Friends who have spoken about industrial diseases know that if we followed the same pattern as we do today in respect of industrial diseases we would set up a medical appeal tribunal. It would be absolutely impossible today to staff such a tribunal. We have not enough doctors to see all those people who are suffering from pathological conditions as quickly as I should like them to be seen. My hon. Friends who have talked about pneumoconiosis, silicosis, asbestosis and byssinosis know full well that there are many men in their own areas who agitate for the expediting of their examination.
In the case of South Wales, where pneumoconiosis among the miners is very common, miners' representatives approach me at times, and say, "Can you hurry this on? There are people waiting." We have to say that the number of people who are expert in this disease are limited. Here it is suggested, if this proposal is followed to its logical conclusion, that we should set up this kind of cumbersome machinery which could not be staffed in order to diagnose a complaint which in my opinion is undiagnosable. 248 With reference to the industrial diseases about which my hon. Friend spoke, he will agree with me that his remarks cannot properly be related to the Amendment.
The second point about the proposal to which I wish to refer is that the decision should be left to the employer. I wonder whether, before my hon. Friends put this Amendment on the Order Paper, they consulted the representatives of the trade unions who are concerned. I wonder how the T.U.C. would feel. One has a right to consider how the representatives of the workers would feel on this question if I decided this afternoon to allow employers to make this decision. It would work both ways.
One might find a kind-hearted employer who would say, "Jim has been working for me for a number of years. I must give him a certificate." I am presuming that the employer must give a certificate that the man is suffering from old age and is no longer able to work. But what about the employer who feels that he can get more out of younger people—there are such—and who are far from being sympathetic to the desire of the Ministry of Labour that employers should keep more old people?
Such an employer might say, "I shall get rid of old Jim," although Jim wants to go on working. Jim is in a difficult position. If he says to the employer, "I am all right, I can go on working," the employer could reply, "No, I have a legal right to decide who is too old to work in this factory." That is, he has a legal right in so far as he follows certain trade agreements. I have been told during both the Second Reading and the Committee stage that there are such employers as I have described who will be only too happy to jump at the chance of dismissing people who want to work because they wish to dispense with the services of those people, and who know they are safe because their action is governed by some agreement. So, when my hon. Friend suggests that this power should be given to the employer—
§ Mr. Paton rose—
§ Dr. Summerskill
No. I cannot give way. My hon. Friend has spoken for a long time. I suggest that there are dangers in this proposal and that it might be abused, and, for the other reason I 249 have given, I hope that the Amendment will not be pressed. I think that is the only other point I wish to make, the position of the employer and the attitude of the representative of the workers to this Amendment. I am quite sure my hon. Friends put forward this Amendment with the finest of motives, but they will realise that I would be a very bad administrator if I accepted something which I knew was unworkable.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Brown
My right hon. Friend has not dealt with the point I raised about the suspected sufferer from silicosis or miners' nystagmus. There is a vast difference between a suspected sufferer and a person who is certified to be suffering from silicosis or miners' nystagmus. A person who is certified can claim a pension. That is not so in the case of a suspected sufferer; yet that man is prevented from going back to the industry where he contracted the disease.
§ Dr. Summerskill
My hon. Friend knows that we follow certain rules of procedure in the House and that one is expected to confine one's remarks to the Amendment before the House. I feel that at the moment my hon. Friend is digressing, and asking me to approach this matter from the stand point of those suffering from industrial diseases rather than from the stand point of those suffering from old age.
§ Mr. Brown
I am sorry, but the Amendment does say:…who is medically certified to be unfit…That is the point. When the man goes to the certifying surgeon and is certified to be suffering from miners' nystagmus, he is finished at his job. When a man goes before the silicosis medical board and is certified to be unfit to work in his own employment, he is finished. That is the type of case I wish the Minister to consider and she is sadly missing the point I am trying to make.
§ Dr. Summerskill
No, I am not missing the point which my hon. Friend is trying to make, but I think he is trying to make a very special point. The administrative difficulties which I have explained would relate to his point, if I accepted what he said, because I take it he is talking about those people who are suffering from these diseases and who are also old. Old age 250 would still come into it. I do not want to go into the details of these diseases but I know something about them. Is it not a fact that many young men suffering from miners' nystagmus still continue to go down the pits in the very early stages of the disease? What my hon. Friend is saying must, of course, be related to those suffering from miners' nystagmus and from old age.
§ Mr. Brown
That is all very well, but this is a very important matter to the miners and I have had some experience in dealing with men who were turned down and could not continue work. I want the Minister to realise that we are trying to safeguard her Department and not to create administrative difficulties. There are men in the mining industry who have been certified to be suffering from silicosis—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Order. The hon. Member must remember that we are not now on the Committee stage and that he must not repeat his speech.
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
I regret that I did not hear the opening speeches upon this Amendment, but I did hear the speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). I have known him for a long while and have the highest respect for him. He has put down an Amendment which deals with a particular trouble in the coal mines, and I am perfectly sure that he would not have done so, or have spoken as he did, unless he had full knowledge that, with sympathetic administration, it could probably be worked to the advantage of the miners.
I would hardly say that the speech of the Minister was filled with sympathy. She said it was impossible to accept the Amendment because of administrative difficulties. There is a very good solution to that. Let us have people to administer it in such a way that there is real sympathy revealed. I believe that, although this Amendment may not be absolutely the right form of words, there is a real point here. Some of us who have spent many years in the House have often listened to representatives of mining constituencies. Although we may not have personal experience of coal mines, we do consider that those Members—and I am sure that the Patronage Secretary will bear 251 me out—have a very real knowledge, on particular questions such as this, of how these things can be done.
I regret that, although the Amendment may not be perfect in itself, some hope was not held out by the Government on this occasion. There is a great deal to be said for the Amendment and I believe that with an administration of a rather different type it could be made workable.
Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)
I wish to address myself to that part of the Amendment which deals with medical certification. Judging from the remarks of the Minister, one would imagine that this was an entirely new principle. May I remind the Minister that in 1948, when widows were in receipt of 10s. a week, they could qualify for 26s. a week pension if they could provide a medical certificate that they were unable to continue employment. Therefore, when she says it is not possible to get a proper certification I consider that to be entirely wrong, because the principle was accepted at that time. If there had been abuses at that time, surely it was the duty of the Minister to bring it to the attention of the House, but I am not aware that there has been abuse in that respect. If medical certificates were accepted at that time surely they can be accepted now.
Hon. Members also will recall that, before the new Act of Parliament, if a person finished his insurance period at the end of a certain period. 30th June or 31st December, if he could provide a medical certificate at that time that he was unfit for work, the insurance period was carried on for another six months. Can that be said to be unworkable? The principle has been accepted by the Ministry all along.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
May I tell my hon. Friend that in the case of the widow to whom he has referred there had to be proof that she was incapable of self-support, which, I suggest, is rather a different principle from the one contained in the Amendment?
Surely one reason for being incapable of self-support would be on medical grounds, and that is a genuine argument to put forward. I cannot see where the medical board would come into it, because either we accept a certificate of the medical practitioner or we do not. 252 I think we should press for that part of the Amendment as much as possible. I am also interested in this principle being applied in other cases. It is in South Wales where there are 17 per cent. of disabled persons unemployed and those over the age of 45. I do not say that they are unemployed all the time, but it is possible that some will not be able to continue their work, and, therefore, on the production of a medical certificate there should be an increase of pension for them if they are certified as unemployable.
§ Mr. Houghton
The House will appreciate that the Amendment refers to two difficulties which arise through departing from the principle of uniformity of benefit. That is really the whole crux of the matter. The Bill as now drafted is proposing to differentiate between one person and another who, previously, had been entitled to the same amount of benefit under the National Insurance scheme. The Amendment refers to one class of person who could be given a medical certificate stating he or she is unfit to continue in full employment. That is a different form of words from that about which I reminded my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) when I intervened a moment ago, and mentioned widows who had to be certified as incapable of self-support. The Amendment is not applying words which are so rigid in relation to those who might claim a higher retirement pension under this Amendment as is the case with widows under the concessions made in the 1946 Act.
The other class of person referred to in the Amendment is that of people who are unable to continue their normal employment because of some requirement under their conditions of service, which lay it down that they shall retire at a certain age. This and the other problem which arise depart from the principle of uniformity of benefit, and suggest a need to bring forward an inquiry and review into the working of this scheme, so that we may see what difficulties this new principle creates in many directions and how they are to be dealt with.
We are moving into a period where the differential between the retirement pension of those who retire at the pensionable age, provided for in the 1946 Act, will be different from the pensions payable at a later age. I think the differential pension 253 has come to stay; otherwise, it seems to me, that the country will be committed to a very heavy financial burden which will arise from the need to pay higher pensions to meet higher living costs, so that the total cost of National Insurance will rise very sharply indeed in the coming years, leaving perhaps a burden of unexpected difficulty on the Exchequer. If that is to be a feature of the National Insurance scheme for the future, then it will be necessary to consider the many marginal difficulties which will arise in the administration of the new principle.
For instance, there is an urgent need now for considering the whole conditions of retirement in many occupations and vocations, and we must now link the proposed differential pension rates at different ages to existing schemes of occupational retirement. We must also consider, in relation to this change, the need for changing the occupations of workers in heavy industries at an age which perhaps will enable them to take on different, lighter but more suitable work to enable them to continue at work after the conventional pension age prescribed in the 1946 Act.
In various directions proposals are now being made for changes in retirement conditions in particular occupations, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already referred to changes which are now being proposed in the public service. Elsewhere, too, I think the retirement conditions in various occupations must be reconsidered in the light of the need to continue the services of workers longer than was anticipated at the time when various superannuation schemes were devised.
Very little research has yet been done into the possibility of changing occupations in preparation for the age at which, in heavy industries, the worker would have to retire, and to arrange suitable experimenting transfers to other occupations to prolong the working life of quite a number of people who otherwise would be compelled to retire. My right hon. Friend the Minister has made out a very convincing case against this Amendment on administrative grounds, and it will be difficult for us to press this upon her, although we realise in both 254 respects that there may be cases of hardship. However, I think that that underlines all the more the need for expediting reconsideration of the whole operational scheme established in the light of the new principle which the Bill now proposes to introduce. That, I believe, is now a matter of some urgency.
§ Mr. Mikardo (Reading)
That part of the Minister's speech which dealt with the proposals for a medical certificate was remarkable in that she made no comment one way or the other on what she thought were or were not the merits of the proposal. She rejected it entirely on the grounds that whether it was a good one or a bad one—and she did not pass any opinion on it or give any evidence as to whether she cared about it—it just could not be worked. I take the liberty of assuming that, if the Minister thought the proposal bad on its merits, she would have said so in inviting the House to reject it, and that since she did not she thinks the proposal would be a good one if it could be applied. What she says is that if medical certification is to be carried out by general practitioners it may not be reliable, and if it is to be carried out by an independent medical tribunal then it will set up a most cumbersome piece of machinery.
If it be a fact that there is nothing against the proposal on its merits, then it follows inevitably that its rejection on purely administrative grounds implies an admission that the rejection will leave a great injustice unremedied. The reason why this injustice has come about is the very reason that lies behind the moving of this series of Amendments; and is the logical position which the Government have got themselves into over this Bill as a result of the changes that were made during the Committee stage. What we are now trying to do is to put patches on an unsound structure. We are then finding that the patches themselves are unsound and that we have to put on another patch. Then the Minister comes along and says that it is administratively impossible to put a patch on a patch which has already been put on a leak.
The whole House will agree that there is much virtue in the idea that, with the increasing longevity of the population and its, happily, improved health, especially in the later years of life, there is much 255 to be said for encouraging people to go on working longer, not merely for the purely material reason advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) that that will reduce the cost of the insurance scheme, but also because it is better for the people themselves to continue working if they are fit and able to do so. We are all agreed that the lengthening of the period of work for people fit and willing to work is a good thing and that it should be encouraged; but we must bear in mind that it involves a revolution in our social service and a reorganisation in industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby spoke about the psychological and organisational adjustments which he said we ought now to start studying to make possible a changed outlook about the employment of older people. If the Government had come to the conclusion that it was desirable, first, that people should continue working longer, and, second, to use a differential rate of retirement pension as a means of encouraging that longer work, clearly what it ought to have done—and what it would have done if it had considered the old people first and the revenue second and not vice-versa—was to give notice that in two or three years' time a differential rate of pension as between the ages of 65 and 70 would be introduced.
The two or three years could then have been used for the study and research about which my hon. Friend spoke. The period could have been used to get employers accustomed to the idea that there was nothing sacrosanct about 65 and that a man could go on working after that age if he was fit and willing to do so. It could have been used by the Government to change its own employment rules and could also have been used for the negotiations which are necessary between employers' organisations and trade unions. It could also have been used by people approaching the retirement age to make their own decisions and to accustom themselves to the effect of their decisions as to whether they would continue at work or not after what they would normally expect to be their retirement age.
That would have been the proper and, indeed, the only honest thing to do if it were desired that people should continue 256 working longer in the interests of the people themselves primarily and in the interests of the Chancellor's Budget of this year only secondarily. The decision to introduce this differentiation without notice and under conditions in which people who were compulsorily retired would suffer, because they had no choice of going on working beyond the normal retirement age, was a grossly unfair one reached on purely short-term budgetary considerations and not on long-term social considerations.
It is idle to say to one of the railway-men in my constituency that we propose to give him less pension in order to encourage him to go on working longer when, on the day he is due to retire, he is told by his employer that he must leave whether he likes it or not. It is unfair to a man who has been a shunter from the age of 14 to 65 and is then put out of work without his having any say whether he should be and when he can go off and get an occupation somewhere else, perhaps as a progress clerk in a railway factory. Those who know how industry is run will realise that that is likely to happen in only a tiny minority of cases.
What happened between the Chancellor's Budget speech and the introduction of the Bill? A considerable number of my hon. Friends made representations, as a result of which a concession was made which has resulted in the Bill being in its present form. We should all welcome the concession because its effect is to give the higher rate to many people who would not otherwise have had it. Having welcomed it, let us bear in mind the fact that it creates an enormous number of anomalies. In spite of creating those anomalies, what does it do? It has robbed the Chancellor of the greater part of the original purpose of the proposal, because he will not now be saving anything like the money it was originally proposed to save.
§ Mr. Mikardo
If I may be allowed to develop my argument, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think you will see that it is germane to the Amendment.
257 If the sensible thing had been done and people had stopped worrying about saving their faces and had said, "We shall not get any real saving out of this; we might just as well retract altogether and now give two or three years' notice that we will introduce the principle firmly, without exceptions, medical or otherwise, in two or three years' time," the necessity for the Amendment would not have arisen.
To controvert what my right hon. Friend has said, I am trying to argue is that, if there are, as she says, administrative difficulties in the Amendment, that is only because of the administrative difficulties in the Bill as it now stands and as she presented it. Therefore, it seems to me that it is not enough to reject the Amendment on administrative grounds only and in a speech which virtually concedes that its rejection will be creating one more injustice and one more anomaly. The only way the Government can now get out of the mess into which they have got themselves—since it is too much to hope that they will withdraw the Bill altogether—is by expediting the total review of the whole scheme, and when that comes I hope that this niggardly provision, which creates anomaly without saving much revenue and which, by all admissions, does injustice to some of the community, will disappear altogether from the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo), has rather coloured the case, and I do not think that many of us who were associated with the efforts to obtain the concession would agree with him. I have never yet seen an Act of Parliament which does not create anomalies of one sort or another. If we adopted his suggestion about serving notice on the whole working population that we would do something in two years' time we should merely have been deferring the date on which he could have made that sort of speech.
§ Mr. Pannell
Although I accept what my right hon. Friend has said, particularly with regard to the employer and the difficulties of the administration of the scheme, I believe that there is, broadly, a case for very much more thought on this than has been given to it so far. In 258 another sphere my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) represents civil servants; in another sphere I represent engineers; and that is all the difference. Broadly speaking, the superannuation schemes which make it easy for people to retire apply more to people in the Civil Service and the local government service, and now such schemes are being extended into the nationalised industries. Consequently, there is a different hardship situation between people who work in sedentary occupations and those who work in heavy industry.
We are given to understand that next year a pension scheme is to be introduced for miners. The engineers, for instance, and particularly those in the private sector of industry, will be thrown completely on the national funds at the age of 65, because there is no superannuation for them. It would be useless to say that the people I represent consider that this is a popular proposal. I heard of a case the other day of a man who will reach the age of 65 a month after the scheme comes into force.
Somebody cited the case of a man who, though subject to the provisions of the Act, had never drawn a penny from national funds. I can only say that he is a very lucky person indeed. But I am not arguing that case. What I am trying to argue is the case of a man in the heavy engineering industry who, early in life, may suffer a crippling injury but carries on. Before I came to the House, I worked for a good employer who never retired anybody before the age of 65. We had a pension scheme. But the difficulty of sorting out men in skilled industries for light jobs is a very real one. I was always consulted in such matters, and there came the point when we were compelled to take in younger men to make the shop work.
As the Minister said, it is only reasonable that a man who has worked for most of his life in a mine or in heavy engineering should be entitled to say after reaching a certain age that he has had enough of it. He is certainly far more entitled to say it than, for instance, a civil servant. That view, of course, may arise from my prejudices, although I do not think it an unreasonable view. After all, the burden thrown on a civil servant who, throughout his working life, has had 259 reasonable and regular hours is far lighter than that thrown on a person in heavy manual employment who, throughout his working life, has had to work from, say, 7.30 in the morning until 5 o'clock in the evening, and who has been subjected to recurring shift work.
Therefore, I think that the solution must be found in the scheduling of certain heavy industries for the purpose of giving the men engaged in those industries the option to retire at an earlier age, together with a complete overhaul of many superannuation schemes which, in my view, give an unwarrantable advantage to those who carry the lightest load during their working life.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
There are one or two remarks I feel justified in making following upon what has already been said on this matter, and I am rather glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) specified those affected in the different industries. At the outset of this debate, the House rather tended to confine its remarks to the ageing and the disabled in the mining industry. But this is a matter which affects many other industries besides mining and engineering. There are, for instance, the ship repairing and shipbuilding industries, and we must also not forget the seafarers whom we want to go to sea up to the age of 65 or over.
I share the Minister's apprehensions regarding the question of medical certification, but I think we must admit that the Government have gone some way to meeting our opposition to their recent suggestions. However, I think we have to look beyond the Bill to find the solution to the anomaly which this Amendment is, to some extent, designed to remove. What perturbs me is the fact that the Minister has not given any very clear indication of the Government's intention beyond what is stated in the Bill regarding what is going to be done with the person of 65. I believe that the majority of the 12 million productive workers in this country will at the age of 65 not only be deserving of retirement, but will not be able to continue working very much beyond that age. Merely to say that as from next September or October anybody who reaches the age of 65 will be 4s. a week worse off than those pensioned 260 before that date will not solve the problem.
While I appreciate what is behind this proposal, the fact remains that in the years to come there will be too few workers to take the place of those who retire. Neither the Clause with which we are concerned nor the Amendment which we are now discussing will remedy that position. Whether the Amendment is accepted or not, or whether any promise is given for its further consideration, I hope that, at any rate, there will be no waste of time in getting down to this particular problem. I think there is something in what my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Mr. Mikardo), said when he suggested that some notice might have been given to the effect that this provision would be put into force in a year or two's time so that industry could have adjusted itself accordingly.
As has already been stated, it is not merely a question of whether a person can or cannot retire at the age of 65. It is a question of what the industries are going to do, and it would certainly be stupid, as the Minister said, to leave it to the employer, because no employer would be foolish enough to retain an ageing man if a younger one were available. Therefore, we have to approach the matter from a different angle, particularly as the problem varies from industry to industry. For instance, those who have been Members of Parliament for 30 or 40 years will obviously be able to continue their activities longer, compared with those engaged in heavy industry, because their minds are running to seed. In the same way, as has already been pointed out, civil servants will be physically capable of continuing at work after the age of 65.
As I have said, this question cannot and will not be resolved by what the Clause or the Amendment states. Something more has to be done, particularly if there are only 12 million productive workers who will be affected by this legislation. There are about 4,250,000 other people in the country entitled either to contributory or non-contributory pensions at the age of 65 or under, and there are over one million other people of pensionable age who are not in need of either one or other of these pensions. And they have to be carried by this diminishing 261 number of those at the bottom. I am sorry that a little consideration has not been given to the Amendment because as the Bill now stands the people affected will not be satisfied. Men who become 65 after the appointed day will have a grievance, either because they were not 65 before or have had to cease working for other reasons.
Would it be in order at this stage, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to say how much we deplore the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Paton), withdrawing the Amendment? The hon. Gentleman has put up a very good case, and I have also put up that case, though I do not entirely support the terms of the Amendment. As I understand, the right hon. Lady will not give way at all or give any promise of consideration.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it a debatable Motion that leave be given to withdraw an Amendment?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
In reply to the hon. Member, the position is that if objection to withdrawal is taken in any quarter of the House, I have no option but to put the Question.
As a representative of an industrial area, I object to the withdrawal because it does not seem as if full consideration has been given to this point which was raised on Second Reading and on the Committee stage and is raised again now on Report. I do not think it serves the interests of workers in the heavy industries for hon. Members to come to this House to move an Amendment and then, when their own Government refuse to give way, to get up timidly and say, "I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment."
As I feel very strongly on this matter, I propose to challenge the Government 262 on the Amendment and see how this supporter of the Labour Government proposes to vote. I hope that some hon. Friend on this side will act with me as a Teller if the hon. Member for Norwich, North will not accept my offer to act with him as a Teller. Therefore, when you put the Question, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I propose to refuse my permission for the withdrawal of the Amendment.
§ Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas (The Wrekin)
Would it be in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to ask the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward), if she feels so strongly about the principle she says is involved in this Amendment, why she did not either add her name to the Amendment or arrange for a similar Amendment with the support of her hon. Friends?
As I gave way and the hon. Member tempts me, may I give the history of this matter? In fact, I did put down an Amendment under my own name on this point. It was not called on the Committee stage because the Deputy-Chairman at that time quite rightly ruled that in the circumstances I could make my speech on the main concession which the right hon. Lady made on that occasion. Hon. Members opposite may criticise me or my party as much as they like, but I am not going to allow them to say I am not courageous. The fact that I put down an Amendment in my own name is the answer to the hon. Member for the Wrekin (Mr. I. O. Thomas).
I made my speech on the main concession on the Committee stage of the Bill and I quite expected that in due course the right hon. Lady would be in a position to tell us what is to happen under this new scheme to those people who, by virtue of their employment in heavy industries or because they are medically unfit or because as many women are, they are not enabled to find work, cannot continue working. Unfortunately, I was at another Committee dealing with the business of the House and therefore I did not hear the right hon. Lady's reply; but I understand she was adamant, and that does not suit me or my area or my constituents. Therefore, I am not prepared to give permission for this Amendment to be withdrawn, even though in detail I preferred my own 263 Amendment to the Amendment now moved by the hon. Member for Norwich, North.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
§ The House proceeded to a Division—
§ Miss WARD was appointed Teller for the Ayes, but no Member being willing to act as second Teller for the Ayes, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER declared that the Noes had it.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I beg to move, in page 5, line 43, at the end, to insert:(2) As from the appointed day, in the case of any woman who is between the ages of sixty and sixty-five on that day or any man who is between the ages of sixty-five and seventy on that day, paragraph 9 of Part I of the second Schedule to the principal Act, as amended by the preceding subsection, shall have effect as if for the entries of sixteen shillings and twenty-six shillings in the second column thereof there were substituted the entries of twenty shillings and thirty shillings respectively.The Amendment gives effect to a promise which I made on an earlier stage.
§ Mr. Peake
I believe that the right hon. Lady has moved the Amendment, although I could not hear a word she said. I am not surprised that she said so little, for this is indeed a most painful moment for us all. This is the Amendment which the hon. Lady conceded after great pressure between the Second Reading and the Committee stage from the benches behind her. I feel this afternoon as if I were present at the registration of an illegitimate birth.
§ Mr. Peake
The right hon. Lady is the sponsor of this child this afternoon and she certainly did not want it, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer did his very best to strangle it at birth. I feel, therefore, that we had better pass on as quickly as possible, and I note that a great many 264 hon. Members opposite, out of a sense, I suppose, of shame and decency, have made the speeches which would more properly have been made on this Amendment upon the preceding one.
I therefore do not want to delay the House, but I think there are one or two things which must be said at this stage about this proposal. This is the proposal that all those who have attained 65 in the case of men or 60 in the case of women on the appointed day shall be granted the higher rates of pension automatically, and that all those who are unfortunate enough to attain these respective ages after the appointed day, whether it be only a day or a week or a month after the appointed day, are going to be deprived of it.
The weakness of this proposal was pointed out in considerable detail on the Committee stage by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), who was, I think, for nearly three years the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of which the right hon. Lady is now the Minister. Of course, the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West, has been in an unequalled position for seeing the weaknesses of this proposal, both regarding its merits and the administrative difficulties to which it is bound to give rise.
I would only point out that it is going to come into operation on an appointed day. Obviously, in order that old people may get the benefit of the Amendment it will be desirable for the appointed day to be delayed as long as possible. On the other hand, if it is delayed too long some of those who might otherwise have benefited by it may be dead before the appointed day arrives. But there is also, of course, to be another appointed day for a different purpose. The right hon. Lady hopes that the appointed day for this Bill will be on or shortly before 1st October, but the other appointed day to which I refer will be appointed, I suppose, by the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, and that is the appointed day for the General Election.
§ Mr. Peake
I feel quite sure that I am in order. I am speaking to this Amendment which lays down an appointed day on or after which persons will get the increased rates of retirement pension, and I am pointing out that it is within the competence of the right hon. Lady under the Bill to settle when that day shall be.
§ Mr. Peake
I will explain to the hon. Gentleman who, if I may say so, is being a little denser than usual. Subject to any powers exercised by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), it will be the Foreign Secretary who will decide the appointed day for the General Election, and what I am seeking from the right hon. Lady is an assurance that at least one payment at the increased rate of 30s. to the single men and of 50s. to married couples shall be given on or before the appointed day for the General Election. Surely it would be extremely fortunate that 4½ million old age pensioner voters should receive at least one benefit, and perhaps two or possibly three, before the appointed day for the General Election.
If the right hon. Lady leaves it too long, let her note that as every week passes after the day which she appoints, there will be approximately 8,000 people who have attained these retiring ages and who will be deprived of the increased rates of benefits. Therefore, let her not make her appointed day too soon before the day appointed by the Foreign Secretary for the General Election.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. N. Macpherson
I beg to move, in page 6, line 9, at the end, to insert:(4) Subsection (3) of section twenty-one of the principal Act shall have effect as if the following words were added at the end of paragraph (b) thereof:Provided that she shall be entitled, in any period of employment in which she may engage after her husband has died and she has attained pensionable age to make so many contributions as were made by him but not taken into account for the purposes of that subsection; and in respect of each twenty-five such contributions the weekly rate of her pension shall be increased by one shilling and sixpence.266 This Amendment has to do with married women who are more than five years younger than their husbands and who, therefore, under the National Insurance Bill as it now stands, as I understand it, cannot benefit from any contributions made by their husbands after the date when they become 65, so that a woman cannot get the increments resulting from those contributions made after her husband becomes 65 if she becomes a widow. That is the situation which exists at present.
I think that I might perhaps explain the situation most easily by reference to an Amendment which was moved at an earlier stage by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers). He sought at an earlier stage to bring in an Amendment which would have enabled women to benefit from contributions made by their husbands provided that they were not more than 15 years younger than their husbands, and provided that the women themselves, as widows, had attained the age of 60 at the time when they were to benefit.
In answer to that, the right hon. Lady argued that it would be wrong to make such a change because if such a change were made the widows in question would be at a very considerable advantage in comparison with spinsters who, on attaining the age of 60, would themselves have to go on working in order to earn those increments. This is a very complicated part of the Act, but it seems to me that by refusing that Amendment the right hon. Lady is placing these widows at a disadvantage in comparison with spinsters, because at the age of 60 these widows will not then be in a position to earn the increments for themselves.
If I am right, this is the kind of situation which would arise. To take a possibly limited case, but nevertheless a clear one, let us see what happens where the husband is exactly 10 years older than his wife. The husband contributes for five years after he has attained the age of 65 and then dies, at the age of 70. The widow is then 60. She benefits in no way from the contributions which her husband has made for those five years and, so far as I can see, under the Act she is not in a position, if she goes out to work at the age of 60, to earn the increments herself. If that is so, then it seems that this is a grave injustice which 267 ought to be corrected. It is obvious that this will not affect a great many women, but nevertheless it is something which ought to be corrected.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that this is a highly complex Amendment. Probably very few hon. Members appreciate the intention behind it. As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman seeks to deal with those cases where a man predeceases his wife, after having worked for, say, two years beyond pensionable age and so earned four increments. Let us assume that he dies at 67, having worked from 65 to 67 and earned four increments. Let us assume that his widow is 58. She does not benefit from any increments because she is under 60, and I gave the reason for that during the Committee stage, as the hon. Gentleman has already said.
But he now suggests that When she reaches the age of 60 she should be allowed to work to the extent of earning increments equivalent in number to those which her husband earned—but only equivalent in number. At 60 she would not be allowed to work to 65 and earn the full number of increments. I understand that she is to earn only the equivalent in number to those earned by her husband. I cannot understand why he decided on that.
The hon. Gentleman says he has framed the Amendment very carefully, and it is quite clear that on the Committee stage I impressed him with my argument that it was rather unfair to spinsters to allow a woman to have increments accruing to her before the age of 60—increments which her husband earned after he was 65; and the hon. Gentleman accepts that. Having accepted it, he then says, "Let her start working at 60 and earn increments." The spinster would start at 60, if she wished, to earn increments, and he says that it would be fair to spinsters to allow the widow also to start at 60.
§ Mr. Macpherson
Perhaps I may clear this up. The right hon. Lady has taken a case where the widow is 58. Supposing the widow starts working at 58. Is she or is she not entitled to earn increments when she gets to 60?
§ Dr. Summerskill
If she is a widow who has been insured under her husband's insurance, she cannot earn increments. She can earn increments only if she is insured in her own right, and those increments commence at 60. The position at the moment is that if a man works after 65, and his wife had already reached the age of 60, he can then earn increments in his own right and also increments for her right; but the amounts are different. The hon. Gentleman suggests that the widow should be allowed to start working at 60 and to earn increments in her own right because her husband died before he had been able to earn his full amount of increments. That is the proposition.
First of all, let me remind the hon. Gentleman that this would be a complete departure from a principle which is embodied in the scheme—that a woman should benefit from her husband's insurance or from her own. The hon. Gentleman comes along with a rather ingenious scheme which aims at combining the two but, as I am sure the House will realise, it is possible to sit back and think out all sorts of combinations of the most intricate kind.
The hon. Gentleman has forgotten this: while the man who has earned increments for his widow has continued working after 65, he has surrendered his pension. It is conditional on the earning of increments that the pension should not be claimed. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt agree with me there. When the spinster at 60 decides to earn increments for herself, she is not entitled to claim a pension either. But the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the widow at 60 should first, claim her widow's pension, and secondly, claim the increments that her husband has already earned for her—
§ Dr. Summerskill
I presume she would not refuse. If the hon. Gentleman suggests that she will refuse her husband's increments, why should she go on working for increments in her own right? He suggests, therefore, that at 60 she should be in a position to claim her widow's pension; she should also be in a position to claim the increments earned by her husband; and she should also begin earning increments for herself.
269 I believe he accepted my argument about spinsters and agreed that it was not fair that increments should accrue to the woman at 50. The spinster has to start working for them at 60. I ask him to examine what he is now proposing. At the age of 60, through no fault of her own, the spinster cannot claim a husband's pension, cannot claim increments earned by a husband for her, cannot claim a widow's pension and, as an insured worker, has to start earning increments in her own right.
§ Mr. Macpherson
May I reply to one point? As the Amendment is drafted, there is no possibility of the widow claiming increments earned for her by her husband. That is excluded by the Act, and it is to correct that position that this Amendment suggests that she should be enabled to go on working and to earn those increments which her husband has earned but to which she became disentitled because she was more than five years younger than her husband.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Gentleman has got the basis of his argument all wrong. I know it is a most detailed problem. She can claim increments earned by her husband in his own right. There are two lots of increments. There are those earned by a man by his own work on account of himself and there are those earned on account of his wife.
The Amendment put down on the Committee stage was on this point: I was asked whether a man who worked after 65 could earn increments not only in his own right but for a wife who was under 60—who was in the fifties. That was the point. I think the hon. Gentleman would agree that that would be wrong. There was no question of her being entitled to increments which he had earned for himself. I am sure I am right in this, and I believe the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Summers), who has studied this question, agrees with me.
I think perhaps the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. N. Macpherson) was under a misapprehension. If he had understood the position, perhaps he would not have put down the Amendment. What he is asking is that a married woman of 60 should have her widow's pension, and the ability to earn increments in her own right because of her husband's increments. That is as against the spinster 270 who has no pension from a husband, who does not claim her pension at 60, who has no increments from a husband, and has to earn increments in her own right. That, I think the hon. Gentleman will agree, would create so many anomalies that it would not really be fair to accept the Amendment.
But let me remind him of this further anomaly. Let us think of the effect of accepting this Amendment on the man of 65 who is sick, who is unable to work, through no fault of his own, and earn increments for himself; who has a wife who has been caring for him—because he may have been bedridden. He dies, not having earned any increments. Then she goes out to work at 60 because possibly she may be in a difficult financial position. She has had a sick husband on her hands for years, but because her husband has not earned any increments she then is not entitled to earn increments. She would be working side by side with a woman of 60 whom the hon. Gentleman wants to be entitled to increments because her husband has earned them before her. So I think that on those grounds I must refuse to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Macpherson
In view of the charming and patient way in which the Minister has explained this matter to the House—and it is an extremely complicated matter—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.