HC Deb 04 December 1956 vol 561 cc1199-204

Draft National Insurance (Married Women) Amendment Regulations, 1956 [copy laid before the House, 20th November], approved.—[Mr. Oakshott.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Oakshott.]

10.58 p.m.

Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green) rose

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I understood that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was going to explain the National Insurance Regulations. They are of the greatest importance to thousands of women all over Britain, and it seems to me that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary should have been on her feet when you put the Motion to approve these Regulations. We on this side of the House were waiting for some statement from the Minister.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I did collect the voices. Mrs. Butler.

Miss Herbison

But, with respect, if the Minister does want to make an explanation, and the Regulations are important, surely she should be allowed to make it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

But I put the Question, and another Motion has been moved.

Mrs. Butler

The question of school uniforms, which I wish to raise tonight, was the subject of a number of Questions in the House on 28th June, in which the Minister made statements with regard to holding—

Miss Herbison

On a point of order. I understand that these Regulations cannot be passed in this House unless the Minister responsible indicates that she is moving them. So far as I understand, the Minister was taken as much by surprise as we on this side were and they have not been moved at all. I should like your advice, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Does that mean that these Regulations will have to come before us again if they have not even been moved by a nod of assent?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

A member of the Government moved them. Someone said "Now."

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

Further to that point of order. It would be of great help, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if you could tell us exactly which Member on the Government Front Bench did move the Motion. We were watching the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary and we certainly had no indication that either of them was moving it.

The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)

There is no desire on the part of the Government to obtain these Regulations by any subterfuge. I was myself out of the Chamber. As I understood that the Regulations were about to come before the House, I was obtaining my papers. I understand that my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, who in any event was to move the Motion, did so. However, I am entirely in your hands, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Mr. Greenwood

In view of that statement, would not it be possible to have some explanation from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary of the nature of the Regulations?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The Adjournment of the House has been moved. I am sorry if I went too quickly.

Mr. Greenwood

This is certainly no criticism of you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. None of us would dream of doing that, but it is a little disconcerting for the House if hon. Members expect the Parliamentary Secretary to move the adoption of the Regulations and then we find that they are accepted "on the nod."

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

As I understand the position, the Motion has been carried, and the only circumstance in which it would be possible for my hon. Friend or myself to explain the Regulations would be during the debate on the Adjournment, but that involves interfering with the rights of the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), who has the Adjournment, and in whose hands I think the House is.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Perhaps we could get over the difficulty if the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green does not want all the half-hour. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am only trying to assist. When I put the Question on the Regulations nobody said "No."

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

I was sitting here and watching the Parliamentary Secretary. She actually started to rise to her feet. Unfortunately, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, at that moment you were looking at your Notice Paper and you did not see her. I do not know whether that makes any difference, but that is what happened. She was on the point of starting her explanation when you, if I may say so without offence, put the Question rather quickly.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do speak rather quickly, I know. If someone had said "No" it would have drawn my attention to the matter, but when I put the Question nobody spoke from either side of the House, and I concluded that the Motion was accepted by the House.

Miss Herbison

I wonder whether you would give us some advice, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. These Regulations must have an affirmative Resolution of the House. I take it that, in that event, they must be moved by someone. We on this side of the House do not know of any Minister who moved them. I would say to the Minister that we do not think that he or his Parliamentary Secretary wanted to get out of making a speech about them. We are certain that that is not so.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

A member of the Government said "Now" when I read the name of Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.

Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)

When you collected the voices, the Parliamentary Secretary was rising to her feet.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If anybody had said "No" my attention would have been drawn to that. I am sorry if I went too quickly. I thought that this was one of those Motions which would go through automatically, but I did not speak as quickly as I sometimes do. Mrs. Butler.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

On a point of order. The point which we want to put is that no one actually physically moved the Motion. Although you certainly collected the voices and declared the Motion carried, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, we are wondering whether it was carried, in view of the fact that no one moved the Motion, or spoke or even nodded.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I was not in the Chamber at the time but I heard the right hon. Gentleman say earlier that my hon. Friend rose. No doubt that did involve the normal nod; but it seems to me, subject to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the only way in which anything could now be said would be if the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) would be prepared to allow some of her time to be at our disposal. In that event, my hon. Friend or I would be glad to say a few words.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Does the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) agree? Miss Pitt.

11.5 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Edith Pitt)

These Regulations are what were colloquially known as the "Flying start" Regulations when the House discussed the Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill earlier this year. They are the last and most important proposal of the National Insurance Advisory Committee's Report on widows' benefits. The Committee proposed that widows who do not qualify for permanent full-rate benefit should be able to receive sickness or unemployment benefit if they need them when their temporary widow's resettlement benefit comes to an end. The Regulations go rather further than the proposals made by the Advisory Committee.

The necessary enlargement of the regulation-making powers were made by Section 2 (6) of the Family Allowances and National Insurance Act of last Session. I think that all hon. Members are in agreement with the general objective of the Regulations. The House discussed widows' benefits fully last summer, and I have no need to fill in the detailed background.

The accepted principle of the present provisions for widows provides for a temporary resettlement benefit, and long-term benefits are limited to those who, by reason of age or having to care for young children, cannot be expected to support themselves. These principles were reaffirmed by the National Insurance Advisory Committee, as a result of their comprehensive survey of widowhood problems. But the Committee also took the view that the structure was not complete unless widows expected to support themselves were put in a position to receive appropriate benefits if they needed them. That is the object of these Regulations. They are technical and complicated, partly because we in the Ministry are very anxious to help any widows who might benefit from them.

Briefly, they establish widows without long-term benefit in unemployment or sickness benefit at the standard rate. To be fair, they also provide, in the small minority of cases where widows get continuing benefit but at a reduced rate because of deficiencies in their husbands' contributions, that they can, through these proposals, bring their total personal benefit up to the full standard rate of 40s. where sick or unemployed. The Regulations further provide the same improvements for any woman who, at any time since 5th July, 1948, has been entitled to any widow's benefits under the National Insurance scheme or to the 10s. basic pension, provided she has not since remarried.

The majority of widows to benefit will be those called the "ten shilling widows." I hope that hon. Members will be glad that these provisions will also help those whom we call the "no shilling widows." In all, we estimate that 55,000 widows will benefit in the first twelve months. Those partially insured in their own right will have records filled out, and others not now insured will be given full current records for unemployment and sickness benefit.

The Regulations are wholly beneficial in their content, and I commend them to the House.

11.8 p.m.

Miss Herbison

I will speak for only a few minutes because my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) has given up some of her time. There is one point which I should like to stress about these Regulations, and that is publicity. We on this side of the House welcome the Regulations and what they will do for many thousands of women in this country; but we want to make absolutely certain that these women do know their rights under these Regulations, and we want to urge the Minister to use every possible form of publicity so that these women will know their rights. It seems to me that those widows known as the "ten shilling widows"—and many of them have suffered great hardship—will benefit substantially under these Regulations. Can we be assured that this publicity will be given? That is the only point which I felt I must make.

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I do not know if the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) would allow me to respond for a moment. I agree that it is extremely important that the people concerned should know of the additional rights which, under these Regulations which the House has passed, will accrue to them. I am using all the resources of my Department to secure that they are made aware of them.

It is my intention, if another place follows the example of the House and approves the Regulations, to bring them into effect on 7th January. I propose to concentrate publicity in the period immediately before that date, and I am seeking the aid of the B.B.C. and the Press to bring the facts home to those concerned. By own offices and those National Assistance Board will give full particulars. I shall be very grateful for any assistance that the House can give, and for the help of hon. Members in their constituencies, in their individual capacity, in drawing attention to the considerable improvement in the position which these Regulations will provide for a large number of people. I want again to thank the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green for her assistance.